Echo Dot & Fire TV Stick Top Prime Day; Uber & Lyft-Paid Drivers To Pimp Gig Status; Twitter Web Refresh & Dark Mode Roll Out; Next Gen Tesla Roadster-Hidden Thrusters & More

Prime Day…which is really Prime 2-days now, has winners and still champs when it comes to devices. According to techcrunch.com, the top selling gear was again the Echo Dot entry level smart speaker (for the 3rd year in a row) and the Fire TV Stick (which won Prime Day overall in 2016.) As usual, Amazon hasn’t provided hard numbers, but claims ‘millions’ were sold. The Echo Dot was already on sale at a low of $24.99 before the sale started, but Amazon cut it to $22. The Fire TV Stick was slashed to $14.99 with Alexa Voice Remote. Loss leaders….it gets ‘em in the door (or in this case, into clicking mode!) If your finger is itching for a Dot, you can still get it for $22 today, but the Charcoal color is sold out…you will have to get it in Sandstone.

Uber and Lyft are still trying to quash workers’ attempts to gain employee status. Now, engadget.com reports that the companies basically bribed drivers to protest in favor of the company position. According to an email the LA Times got hold of, the companies promised drivers between $25 and $100 if they attended a rally outside the state Capitol last Tuesday, prior to a hearing on Assembly Bill 5. The rally was a demonstration in support of changing the bill to allow continuation of classifying drivers as independent contractors. The email went to drivers from the I’m Independent Coalition…a group funded by the California Chamber of Commerce…which assisted Uber and Lyft to organize the rally. The Coalition also paid drivers the cost of travel and expenses, and included a $15 in-app lunch voucher.

I have been using it for a while and like it, but now there’s no choice..Twitter is rolling out its new desktop design and dark mode options to everyone…with no option to revert back. 9to5mac.com says the process started yesterday. There are two dark modes to choose from…Dim and Lights out. I prefer the Dim, but your mileage may vary. The new look is nice and clean, with various choices on the left sidebar, a large center bar for your feed, and a right hand bar for trends and follow suggestions. Now, if only Facebook would add a dark mode….I’m nearly blinded when I switch from dark mode apps like Twitter back to the bright a**ed Facebook app!

‘To the Muskmobile, Robin!’ Elon Musk is revealing more about the next-gen Roadster. Bgr.com says the cold gas thrusters…which Musk claims will ‘dramatically improve acceleration, top speed, braking, and cornering,’ will be hidden behind the license plate. The car has already been touted as being capable of 250 mph, and a zero to 60 speed of 2.1 seconds (originally Musk said 1.9.) One huge selling point for the $200,000 Roadster: a 620 mile range before needing to hit a Tesla Supercharger for a recharge! Tesla plans to build about 10,000 of the high end sports coupes per year.

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Prime Day-Strikes & Protests; Zillow Buying in Portland; Office 365 & iWork Banned in German Schools; Bosch’s Cloud Battery

Amazon workers in 5 countries are protesting working conditions in warehouses during Prime Day…calling for better pay in addition to improved working conditions. Businessinsider.com says workers in Minnesota are walking off the job for 6 hours today, as previously announced. In Germany, workers are striking for at least 2 days in 7 different warehouses. There are 2,000 German workers on strike so far today. Workers in the UK, Spain, and Poland are also holding protests, but not striking. For its part, Amazon has claimed that unions and protesters are ‘conjuring misinformation.’

Zillow is buying in Portland…literally. According to geekwire.com, the company has added Portland to Phoenix now for Zillow Offers, which is their service that lets customers request cash offers directly from Zillow on its website. Vancouver, BC also has gone live with the service. Zillow plans to add Austin, LA, Miami, Nashville, Sacramento, San Antonio, Diego, and Tampa by the end of 1st quarter 2020.

Privacy regulators in Germany have cracked down on cloud based office suites. Microsoft Office 365, Google Docs, and Apple’s iWork are banned from some German schools now due to privacy concerns with the way the cloud services work. 9to5mac.com says the authorities in the state of Hesse instituted the ban because the platforms’ standard configurations expose personal information about students and teachers to ‘potential access by US authorities.’ The collection of the personal data is banned under the GDPR haws that went into effect in the European Union last May. The authorities note that the kids can’t even give consent to releasing their personal data by law, as they are under age. The school districts can continue to use local versions of Microsoft Office that have been installed, instead of the cloud platform.

As batteries age, they can lose ability to hold charge…as we all know. Now, Bosch has come up with a new service that will help the battery management systems in cars to reduce cell aging. According to venturebeat.com, it can cut down on wear and tear by up to 20%. What is this magic sauce, you ask? Actually, it works by connecting electric vehicle batteries with the cloud. This has actually been done as far back as 2012, but the Bosch system transmits in real time—battery data (like current ambient temperature and charging habits) and machine learning algorithms then calculate a power pack’s service life and performance. The cloud data is than sent back to the car’s system, instructing it not to change to 100% if it’s too hot or too cold, and calculates the charging curve for fast or slow charging…to ensure that the packs are charged to ‘the optimum level’ using whatever power source is available.


Apple Watch Walkie Talkie Temp. Disabled; Close to 10% of Tesla Autopilot Team Bails; Former Tesla Employee Uploaded Autopilot Code to iCloud; Amazon Retraining Workers As Automation Takes Tasks

Apple has temporarily killed the Walkie Talkie app on the Apple Watch due to a vulnerability discovered. Techcrunch.com reports that it could allow a person to listen to another’s iPhone without consent. The Walkie Talkie feature works like the push to talk (PTT) button on older cell phones. They haven’t given a time frame, but say they will patch the bug and restore the app to operation as soon as possible.

Issues at Tesla….close to 10% of the Autopilot software team has reportedly exited after a shakeup. According to arstechnica.com, at least 11 members of that team have left in the last couple months…starting with the removal of the group’s leader Stuart Bowers around the first of May.

Meanwhile, in a court filing this week, former Tesla engineer Guangzhi Cao admitted to uploading zip files containing Autopilot source code to his personal iCloud account in late 2018 when he still worked at Tesla. The company sued Cao earlier this year for allegedly stealing trade secrets and taking them to Chinese EV startup Xiaopeng Motors, also called Xmotors, or XPeng. That firm is backed by tech giant Alibaba. Cao is now ‘head of perception’ at XPeng, where is is working on autonomous driving tech.

In a candid admission that automation is taking jobs, Amazon is launching a $700 million dollar initiative to retrain its US workforce. Geekwire.com reports that the company will spend the money over the next 5 years to ‘upskill’ almost 100,000 employees…that’s about 1/3 of their US workforce. It will help workers transition into hot new areas like data mapping specialist, data scientist, solutions architect, and business analyst. Although $700 million is a hell of a lot of money, it only amounts to a tenth of 1% of Amazon’s cumulative net sales the past 5 years! The company will drop $800 billion just this quarter as they switch from 2 day to one day Prime shipping!


MacBook Air & Pro Refresh, Price Drop; Facebook Takes Cut-Fan Subscriptions; Prime Day Warehouse Strike; Tesla NOT Working on Model S or X Refresh

Apple has updated the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The new Air will have a TrueTone display. Also, according to cnbc.com, the renewed entry level Pros not only have the TrueTone Display, but also get the Touch Bar and Touch ID. Best of all The MacBook Air drops to $1099, but will be offered to college students for $999. The configurations stay the same…128 Gigs of storage. Apple has also updated the much maligned keyboard design (which already showed up on the MacBook Pro in May.) A 13 inch MacBook Pro will now cost $1299 ($1199 for college students.) The entry level one gets a quad core processor and better graphics performance. Touch ID now comes on all 13 inch MacBook Pros. You can order up to 2TB of storage, too.

In 2018, Facebook rolled outran subscriptions. The program allows creators to charge their fans $4.99 a month, with the fans getting exclusive content and a fan badge. Up to now, that money has all flowed to the creators…but not anymore. Techcrunch.com is reporting that Facebook will start taking a 30% cut off the top, starting the 1st of next year. Happy New Year from Facebook! Apple has charged off the top for years on apps and the like, and google also has for mobile subscriptions, so this just follows along with them. Actually, Apple’s 30% and Google’s 30% for YouTube are less than the 50% fee collected by Amazon owned Twitch. Note: any subscribers a creator already has will still be at the no-fee rate.

Prime Day is coming, and is a huge, huge sales time for Amazon. Now, a fly has appeared in the ointment. Geekwire.com says warehouse workers at Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota warehouse plan a strike for 6 hours on July 15th…the 1st day of Prime Day. The workers are calling for Amazon to convert more temp workers to full time employees, plus reduce the brutal pressure for meeting quotas Amazon is infamous for.

there have been rumors flying around for weeks that Tesla is working on a refresh of the Model S and Model X. Engadget.com is reporting that Elon Musk has quashed those rumors today in a Tweet.

There is no “refreshed” Model X or Model S coming, only a series of minor ongoing changes. Most significant change in past few years was to use high efficiency Model 3 rear drive unit as S/X front drive unit. That went into production 3 months ago.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 9, 2019


FBI & ICE Grab Driver License Photos for Facial Recognition; Apple Tests Biometric iCloud Sign-Ins With FaceID and TouchID; Pixel 4 May have 16MP Telephoto; Toyota-Solar Cell e-Car Tests; Plane Lands Autonomously For First Time; Russia Plans Bomb Carrying Drones for Soldiers

The FBI and ICE have been snagging pictures from state DMV records to use for facial recognition…without the knowledge or permission of drivers. Georgetown Law researchers, teaming with the Washington Post, have obtained facial recognition requests, documents, and email which have revealed the process of getting then using the photos for facial recognition. ZDnet.com says neither Congress nor any state legislature has authorized such use! Apparently, the FBI conducts 4,000 such searches a month. At least 21 states permit the FBI to scan license photos. Washington state is the toughest…they at least require a court order first.

Apple is testing out biometric sign into iCloud on iOS 13, iPadOS 13, and MacOS Catalina. The system would use Face ID or Touch ID on later model iPhones and iPads, as well as Macs. The system will show you a pop up box asking if you’d like to sign-in using your Apple ID with biometrics. It’s possible Apple may be doing this in conjunction with the rollout of Sign in with Apple. The biometrics are not only fast and easier, but are more secure than manually entering your info.

Geeks digging into the code for Google Camera’s Super Res Zoom have spotted code that indicates the Pixel 4 may have a 16MP telephoto lens! According to 9to5google.com, this may not be set in stone…the code is in the Android Q beta, and lots of times features are still being tested in a beta that don’t make it to the final product. The Pixel 4 should drop in October, so we will know for sure then.

Toyota is now testing new, high-efficiency solar cells on electric cars that may be able to extend range by 35 miles or so. Electrek.co says the original Prius had an optional solar cell pack, but it was a 50 watt panel that helped run the AC and other accessories. These new cells can convey power at a 34% rate, which is quite good. They say if the hood, roof, and deck lid are covered, it should actually generate about 860 watts.This may or may not make it into production…in hail country, solar cells all over the top of the car would make for expensive repairs in a storm with golf ball or larger hail!

Researchers at the Technical University in Munich have successfully landed a plane autonomously. Engadget.com says it uses a combination of GPS and computer vision powered by both visible light and infrared cameras. This would enable it to get a sense of both the plane’s position and the runway, even in fog or rain. Most lager airports have glidescope indicators that allow airliners to essentially land automatically with the help of a radio signal (ILS), but most smaller airports don’t have those systems. Besides landings at smaller airports, this tech could pave the way for pilotless aircraft or air taxis in the future.

It sounds like something out of a bad sci-fi movie, but the Russians are working on drones with small bombs that soldiers can carry and launch. Engadget.com reports that the idea is iffy…drones are quick, but only can stay up about 15 minutes…and haven’t fared well so far against shooters or counter-drone tech. Also, if the soldier gets hit by a round or shrapnel, it might blow up right on him! Let’s hope this plan doesn’t get traction.


Galaxy Fold Allegedly Fixed; Alexa Doesn’t Purge Your Data; China Installs Snoopware-Tourist Phones; Apple iOS 13 Re-Aims Your FaceTime Gaze

Samsung has allegedly redesigned the Galaxy Fold in an effort to take care of screen durability issues that sunk the launch of the pricey folding phablet/phone. Theverge.com reports that no release date has been set, but it looks like the Fold will be out this year yet…but is unlikely to bow at next month’s Galaxy Note 10 event in New York. Samsung says it has found a way to make the screen’s protective film ‘flow into the bezels so it would be impossible to peel off by hand.’ Some reviewers peeled off the film, thinking it was just a protective feature for transit, but destroyed the screens in doing so. Samsung has also re-engineered the hinge…some of which bulged and broke the OLED screens. The new hinge is flush with the display. If the Fold makes it out for the 4th quarter holidays, better save your pennies….it is apparently still almost 2 grand!

in 1984, Big Brother may have been watching, but today, every ‘assistant’ is always listening. According to cnet.com, Amazon has responded to a letter from Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware). He demanded to know how long Alexa kept voice recordings and transcripts. The answer from Amazon’s VP of Public Policy Brian Huseman— Alexa keeps transcripts and voice recordings indefinitely, and only removes them if they are manually deleted by users. Just another way whatever goes into the cloud stays permanently…

If you are planning a trip to China, be aware that officials there (at least in the Xinjiang region) are requiring tourists to install what amounts to a malware app at the border. Businessinsider.com says the app grabs all the text messages and scans for a variety of files liked to Islam…including extremist content, academic research, and even music! It also hoovers up all the calendar entries, contacts, and call logs, and uploads them to a server. This is a new level of snooping, even for perhaps the most intrusive surveillance state on earth.

Here’s one you didn’t see coming…in iOS 13, Apple has a feature called FaceTime Attention Correction…engadget.com reports that it uses advanced image manipulation to re-aim your eyes at the camera instead of the screen, to make eye contact look more natural. Now, you uber narcissists will be able to bat your eyes and look right into the soul of everyone with a little AI help from Apple. The feature only works on the iPhone XS and XS Max, BTW.


Samsung Confirms August 7th Unpacked; Facebook Downranks Misleading Health Info; Apparent Big Amazon Retail Space in Seattle; Tim Cook Blasts Jony Ive Report

It appears that Samsung will show off the Note 10 during their Unpacked event August 7th in New York. According to cnet.com, the event will be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The invite shows a stylus and what looks like a camera lens. There is a rumor that the new S Pen may have a cam of its own, and another that claims the new Note 10 might have 4 rear cams. Yet another rumor touts a swivel selfie cam like the Galaxy A80. Although the Note line doesn’t sell like the Galaxy S handsets, the Note has always had a rabid fan base.

Facebook is taking a baby step when it comes to preposterous miracle cures and other bogus health info. The social network won’t be banning or blocking these crazy posts, but will be using their News Feed algorithm to downlink them, and other clickbait and low quality content. Techcrunch.com reports that Facebook explained “Posts with sensational health claims or solicitation using health-related claims will have reduced distribution. Pages should avoid posts about health that exaggerate or mislead people and posts that try to sell products using health-related claims. If a Page stops posting this content, their posts will no longer be affected by this change.” Note that this applies to pages, and doesn’t affect crazy content spread by individuals or ‘social selling’ like MLM pitches. Again….a baby step.

Amazon is apparently working on a new store taking up the 1st flor of a Capitol Hill apartment complex. Geekwire.com says all the windows are covered as crews work inside the building. They note that it is a much larger space than an Amazon Go store would require, and is in what is essentially a residential area. Geekwire has tracked down permitting that names an Amazon construction coordinator as the ‘client’ for the project. There are drawings showing space for entry and exit kiosks like could bee for scanning a QR code on the Amazon Go app. There is a large general sales area. It may be a bigger Amazon Go, or possibly a checker-less mini-grocery store. It looks like it might have around 7000 square feet of shoppable space. Amazon Go stores generally have 1500 to 3000 square feet.

After reports that Jony Ive was leaving apple due to Tim Cook’s focus on operations rather than design, Cook has fired back. In an email to NBC News, Cook called the story ‘absurd’ and said that such conclusions ‘don’t match with reality.’ From Cook’s email:

‘The story is absurd. A lot of the reporting, and certainly the conclusions, just don’t match with reality. At a base level, it shows a lack of understanding about how the design team works and how Apple works. It distorts relationships, decisions and events to the point that we just don’t recognize the company it claims to describe.

The design team is phenomenally talented. As Jony has said, they’re stronger than ever, and I have complete confidence that they will thrive under Jeff, Evans, and Alan’s leadership. We know the truth and we know the incredible things they’re capable of doing. The projects they’re working on will blow you away.’ At any rate, it had already been announced that Ive’s new design firm would continue to work on projects for Apple.