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  • 5:33 pm

Do any Republicans oppose the FCC’s net neutrality vote? This one does

Do any Republicans oppose the FCC’s net neutrality vote? This one does
[Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call]

Whether it should be or not, net neutrality regulation is a nearly lock-step partisan issue in Washington, D.C. Democratic minorities both on the commission and in Congress oppose the rollback of the rules enacted in 2015 during President Obama’s term. But now one Republican has joined the critics. Today, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, from the 6th Congressional District, east of Denver, sent a letter to Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai asking him to delay the FCC vote to abolish net neutrality rules, scheduled for Thursday morning.

A close read of the letter shows that Coffman is looking for more than a delay. He asks for “the opportunity to hold hearings on the network neutrality issue and pass permanent open Internet legislation.” Congressional action would, in theory, prevent the ping-pong effect of the rules changing every time a new party takes the White House. But Congress remains quite divided on the issue. Coffman is the only Republican to take a firm position against the FCC. However, GOP senators Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have criticized the FCC’s decision-making process, as have some Republican representatives.

Plenty of Democrats have come out against chairman Pai. Thirty-two of them signed on to two letters, also delivered today, urging Pai to abandon his plans.

SC

  • 5:25 pm

#VoteForRoyMoore was a favorite hashtag today for Russian-linked Twitter accounts

#VoteForRoyMoore was a favorite hashtag today for Russian-linked Twitter accounts
[Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)]

Ever since revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct were first published in early October, the growing list of harassment scandals has dominated social media, including on Twitter accounts linked to Russian propagandists. From Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer to Al Franken and Charlie Rose, these accused harassers have all been mocked and attacked on the approximately 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations tracked by the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Except for Roy Moore. The Republican Senate candidate running in a tight race in today’s special election in Alabama, who has been accused of improper conduct with a 14-year-old girl and is facing sexual assault allegations by other women, has been favored by these Russian accounts. Last week, about 14% of the tweets tracked by the Alliance’s Hamilton 68 project revolved around sexual misconduct. Of those, half defended Moore against the allegations and half attacked Democrats like Franken accused of harassment. As Mother Jones reported, of the pro-Moore articles shared by these accounts during a week in mid-November, “close to 70% attacked the credibility of the accuser(s), 38% attacked the media in general or the Washington Post in particular, and one story attacked Lindsey Graham for not defending Moore.”

And today, Moore’s official account, #VoteForRoyMoore, was the 7th most-shared hashtag by these accounts, an increase of 1,300% in activity over the last 48 hours. And VoteJudgeMoore.com was one of the top domains shared by the accounts. Bret Schafer, an analyst with the group, says he can’t recall seeing any tweets attacking Moore shared by the accounts.

“If it’s an accused Democrat or someone connected to a liberal cause, they’re just going to be attacked,” he tells Fast Company. “But generally speaking, if it’s a figure who’s in the Trump world [who is in the news for sexual harassment], typically it’s just ignored.”MB

Why the once darling social media service Storify is coming to an end

Why the once darling social media service Storify is coming to an end
[Photo: Juliette Leufke/Unsplash]

Storify, the beloved digital publishing tool that allowed writers to chronologically arrange social media posts, will soon be no more. The curation service will go offline May 16, 2018, the company announced today. For those who have used the service and want to preserve that content, they’ll have to take steps over the next few months to archive it elsewhere. (See instructions here.) Otherwise, they will have to purchase a Livefyre license in order to use its newest product, Storify 2.

Storify’s tool was once a must-have for journalists who wished to participate in “the social web” and include social media (!) in their online stories. (I even used it only a few months back for a this story, tracking the various changes Facebook made to its news feed.) But as other social networks launched new chronology and curation tools–such as Facebook’s moments and Twitter’s threading–which allowed users to embed those threads elsewhere, Storify became less useful.

A sequence of acquisitions–the digestive process of the startup lifecycle–didn’t make things any easier. In 2013, the company was purchased by the digital marketing company Livefyre. Three years later, Adobe bought Livefyre, which likely sealed Storify’s fate as a free service.

“Since Livefyre was acquired by Adobe in March 2016, we’ve been fully integrating and aligning the product with Adobe Experience Cloud and its enterprise solutions,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. Storify, they said, was “an offering that doesn’t fit in this strategy.”

The news of Storify’s departure coincides with another telling development: Today, Twitter began rolling out an update designed to make it even easier, for better or worse, to create and read tweetstorms, or, as the company calls them, “threads.” Or, as Storify once called them, “stories.”

CGW

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  • 1:05 pm

Ikea employees are getting VR headsets for Christmas

Ikea employees are getting VR headsets for Christmas
[Photo: Paul Bence/Unsplash]

Ikea wants to make sure its employees are gearing up for the future–so it’s giving them some gear. The U.S. division of the flat-pack furniture behemoth is giving 14,000 employees virtual reality headsets for Christmas.

While the press release it sent out was filled with niceties about how “IKEA understands the world around us is changing” and how the gift “represents new ways of viewing the world,” the fact is, VR headsets are just cool. (They’re the HamiltonBuhl VR glasses seen in the picture below.) Plus it helps position Ikea as a forward-thinking company, an image it’s been honing with an augmented reality app that lets people virtually see how their Ikea furniture will look in their home.

[Photo courtesy of Ikea]
Preparing for the future requires more than nifty tech, however. That’s why the company says it will allocate $113 million into the retirement funds of 123,000 employees. Each U.S. worker will receive $1,403, the company says. So this is a good place to note that I quit and am getting a job at Ikea.

Updated with additional info from Ikea.ML

  • 1:00 pm

For better or worse, Twitter is finally embracing the tweetstorm

For better or worse, Twitter is finally embracing the tweetstorm
[Photo: Flickr user World’s Direction]

For years, intrepid Twitter users have been devising workarounds to allow for greater verbosity than can be crammed into 140 (or even 280) characters. One that has stuck is the tweetstorm—a series of tweets connected to each other as @replies. But unless you knew what you were doing, it wasn’t obvious how you created a tweetstorm—and it was even less clear how to read one from start to finish.

Now Twitter has started rolling out an update designed to make it easier to create and read tweetstorms. (The company prefers the less evocative term “threads.”) When you’re composing a tweet, a new button lets you add another tweet to the storm, and you can go on concatenating as many as you like. There’s also a new “Show this thread” label which should help people read a thread in its entirety.

How this will impact Twitter’s overall character, I’m not sure. The worst tweetstorms have always been self-indulgent blather, and we don’t need more of them. But the best ones are a worthy art form in themselves. Perhaps formalizing the medium will inspire more people to give it a try for all the right reasons.HM

  • 12:31 pm

Trans people can join the military beginning on New Year’s Day, but might be banned later

Trans people can join the military beginning on New Year’s Day, but might be banned later
[Photo: Benjamin Faust/Unsplash]

A federal judge yesterday upheld a temporary pause on President Trump’s ban of transgender service members in the U.S. armed forces, according to the New York Times. That means that–for now, anyway–the Defense Department must allow trans people to enlist starting on New Year’s Day.

But don’t call it a victory for trans rights just yet. It’s no guarantee that after further legal review of the discriminatory order, the ban won’t ultimately go into effect, with uncertain (but almost definitely not good) consequences for LGBTQ service members. And not just trans folks, by the way: Fast Company spoke with one lesbian in the U.S. military who chose not to speak openly about her sexuality after Trump’s July tweets announcing the ban, a decision that affects her every day.

Also yesterday, the Supreme Court separately declined to hear an appeal in one of several cases that could have big consequences for LGBTQ employment rights. That decision only delays an eventual reckoning over the meaning of “sex discrimination” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, leaving in place a legally murky status quo in which the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission disagree as to whether sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under federal nondiscrimination protections. The DOJ says no, the EEOC says yes, and until that’s resolved, it’s LGBTQ workers who pay the price.RB

This scented candle startup wants to be the Warby Parker of self-care

This scented candle startup wants to be the Warby Parker of self-care
[Photo: courtesy of Otherland]

Home scents are a $50 billion dollar industry, according to the NPD group, and scented candles are growing at a rate of 18% a year. Much of this growth is driven by millennials, who spend twice as much on self-care rituals as boomers.

Today, a startup called Otherland hits the market with aspirations to be the Warby Parker of the industry, by selling high-end candles directly to consumers. Founder Abigail Stone noticed a big gap in the middle of the market. On the high end, brands like Diptyque are able to charge $70 for a 6.6-ounce candle–and diehard fans will wait three hours in the rain to snag one during sales. Meanwhile, the Yankee Candle Company, whose candles cost between $5 and $27, dominates 46% of the market.

A post shared by Otherland (@otherlandco) on

Otherland’s 8-ounce candles cost $36 a pop, or $89 for a three-pack, with shipping included, which puts it squarely in the center of the market. But unlike lower-end brands that use artificial scents, Stone has tapped into master perfumer Firmenich, which has created scents for Tom Ford and Le Labo, to make the first five candles in the collection. Scents range from floral bouquets to opulent champagne and suede blends.

Stone, who has a background in art history and formerly served as an art buyer for Ralph Lauren, is also interested in providing a broader sensory experience for the customer. She will commission artists to create the packaging for the candles and boxes every season, so that regular customers will have a different unboxing experience every time.ES

Nintendo Switch sales hit 10 million units, could outdo the Wii

Nintendo Switch sales hit 10 million units, could outdo the Wii
[Photo: courtesy of Nintendo]

Nintendo’s big bet on a hybrid portable and home game system is paying off, with 10 million Nintendo Switch units sold in nine months. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Variety that the Switch could even top first-year sales of the Wii–the company’s best-selling console yet–if momentum holds up through the holidays.

Strong sales will be important for Nintendo as it tries to convince game publishers to invest in the platform, whose less powerful hardware can’t always handle the same games as Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation consoles. While some publishers, such as Capcom and Koei Tecmo, say they’re going all in on Switch, others such as EA have been more hesitant. Perhaps that’s why Fils-Aime pointed to the early success of Nintendo’s own games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Super Mario Odyssey, all of which are owned by more than half of Switch users.JN

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  • 10:59 am

London Breed: 4 things to know about San Francisco’s new acting mayor

London Breed: 4 things to know about San Francisco’s new acting mayor
[Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch]

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee passed away early this morning after suffering an apparent heart attack while grocery shopping late Monday night. He was 65, and is survived by his wife, Anita, and two daughters, Brianna and Tania.

Lee was in his second term in office as the city’s 43rd mayor, a role he was initially reluctant to take on when appointed to the job after Mayor Gavin Newsom became the state’s lieutenant governor. Lee took the job after a campaign by Chinese-American civic leaders who were eager to see the first Chinese American hold the position. During his tenure, Lee helped oversee San Francisco’s continued role as a center of tech and innovation.

Now, Board of Supervisors President London Breed is serving as acting mayor. According to the SF Gate, the Board of Supervisors will either vote to keep Breed as the temporary mayor, or they could choose another candidate. If a majority of supervisors cannot agree on a candidate, Breed would remain in the office until the June 2018 election. Per the Gate, though, it is likely that Breed will keep the post.

Here are four things to know about San Francisco’s current acting mayor:

  • She is the first black woman to hold the post.
  • She is a lifelong resident of the city. She grew up with her grandmother in the city’s housing projects and public housing has been an important part and particular focus of her political career. She got her start in politics working as an intern for the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services under former Mayor Willie Brown.
  • She is known to be very frank, which has ruffled feathers and cost her key endorsements in the past. While running for the Board of Supervisors in 2012, she lost the endorsement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein after what the San Francisco Chronicle described as “an expletive-laden post” went public.
  • Breed may have been preparing for the position, as it’s widely believed she was planning a mayoral run when Lee’s second term expired in two years. She is well qualified for the job. She earned a bachelor’s degree at UC Davis and received her master’s degree in public administration at the University of San Francisco. Breed was elected as city supervisor in 2012 and became board president in 2015.

ML

  • 10:29 am

Check your paycheck next month—it might look different if the GOP tax plan passes

Check your paycheck next month—it might look different if the GOP tax plan passes
[Photo: NeONBRAND/ Unsplash]

Well, this is scary: The American Payroll Association has reportedly sent a letter to U.S. lawmakers warning them that last-minute changes to the GOP’s tax overhaul plan could wreak havoc on paychecks. Cited by CNN, the letter says employers and payroll service providers would not have enough time to sort out all the changes in employees’ take-home pay. Per CNN:

“Our members are already starting to panic, on behalf of themselves and millions of employees, about the effect on 2018 withholdings of a tax bill that will be effective a week after its enactment.”

Republicans are aiming to pass their tax plan by Christmas. Since many of the changes will go into effect on January 1, that leaves only a few days to implement the new rules.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, James Paille, an executive with a Thomson Reuters-owned payroll processor, said he worries that disruptions from the new withholding system could result in some employees seeing higher-than-normal taxes taken out of their paychecks.

Read more from WSJ and CNN.CZ

  • 8:00 am

Groupon’s Andrew Mason is back with “a word processor for audio”

Groupon’s Andrew Mason is back with “a word processor for audio”
[Photo: Steven Wang/Unsplash]

In 2013, Andrew Mason was famously fired as CEO of Groupon, a company he cofounded. His second act, Detour, was a startup that created podcast-like audio tours. That involved producing a boatload of spoken-word content. And Mason discovered that working with speech in existing sound-editing programs was a hassle.

“Trying to edit waveforms, even once you get over the learning curve, is tedious and requires you to disengage your editorial brain and engage your engineering brain. It makes it a non-delightful, non-creative process,” he explains.

Detour ended up building its own editing tools. And now Mason is leaving Detour and—with $5 million in seed funding from Andreessen Horowitz—is spinning out that technology into a new startup called Descript. The company is launching a Mac app and web service which transcribe spoken audio into written text, and then let you edit the audio by making changes to the text using a word processor-like interface, including moving sections around or deleting them altogether. Descript charges 7 cents a minute for automated speech-to-text conversion based on Google technology and 99 cents a minute for “white glove” human transcription, and lets you share your work with other folks for their comments.

Descript

Mason likens Descript to Photoshop, YouTube, and other tools that democratized various aspects of content creation and distribution. As new technologies open up possibilities such as synthesizing speech that sounds like it was spoken by a particular person, he plans to take advantage of them. “We’re on the precipice of a new age of media production where artificial intelligence is going to have a huge impact,” he says. “We see Descript as a reset button that sets that up for that future.”

HM

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  • 7:57 am

Pepsi just ordered 100 of Tesla’s new electric semis

Pepsi just ordered 100 of Tesla’s new electric semis
[Photo: courtesy of Tesla]

The sugar-water giant made the announcement on Tuesday, reports Reuters. The pre-order of 100 of Telsa’s new electric trucks is the largest publicly known order so far. That means that Tesla has now received pre-orders for 267 of the new vehicles, according to Reuters’ tally. Besides Pepsi, other customers include Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Sysco. While an order of 100 trucks sounds large, Pepsi currently has a fleet of almost 10,000 other trucks already and annually about 260,000 heavy-duty Class-8 trucks are made in North America.MG

  • 7:51 am

Local social media platform Nextdoor has raised another $75 million

Local social media platform Nextdoor has raised another $75 million
[Photo: courtesy of Nextdoor]

The social media platform aimed at connecting neighbors took in its latest haul sometime in or after August, the Information reports. It’s not known which investors led the series G round, but the new funds now give Nextdoor an estimated valuation of around $1.5 billion–that’s up $400 million from the company’s $1.1 billion valuation it received during its last financing round in 2015. The aim of Nextdoor’s platform is to help neighbors communicate about anything local, including crime, where the best parking spots are, or how good that café is that just opened down the block.MG

  • 7:41 am

Microsoft has committed another $50 million to fund AI that helps combat climate change

Microsoft has committed another $50 million to fund AI that helps combat climate change
[Photo: Evan Kirby/Unsplash]

The software giant has announced an expansion to its AI for Earth program, making the additional $50 million available to organizations that are trying to solve climate change issues through article intelligence, the company announced in a blog post. That $50 mil is a huge boost to the program. To put it into perspective, when Microsoft announced AI for Earth in June, it only committed to putting $2 million into the program. The additional funds come on the two-year anniversary of the Paris climate accord. But just how can AI help combat climate change? Here’s what Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, had to say:

AI can be trained to classify raw data from sensors on the ground, in the sky or in space into categories that both humans and computers understand. Fundamentally, AI can accelerate our ability to observe environmental systems and how they are changing at a global scale, convert the data into useful information and apply that information to take concrete steps to better manage our natural resources.

MG

  • 6:52 am

It just became more likely the Hulk will fight Wolverine at the movies

It just became more likely the Hulk will fight Wolverine at the movies
[Photo: Flickr user RyC – Behind The Lens]

That’s because Comcast has abandoned its bid for 21st Century Fox’s movie and television assets, reports Reuters. Comcast made the announcement on Monday, leaving Disney as the only company left pursuing a purchase. Reuters is saying a deal could now close between Disney and Fox as early as this month. What this would mean for Disney is it would pick up popular Fox assets including its FX and National Geographic cable channels and its movie studio. So where do Hulk and Wolverine fit in? Through the deal, Disney, which owns Marvel, would acquire the rights back to some of its most popular comic book characters including those in the X-Men and Fantastic Four. This would allow Disney to bring those teams into the Marvel Cinematic Universe–something virtually every comic book movie fan wants to see happen.MG

  • 5:51 am

Amazon just opened its second AWS region in China

Amazon just opened its second AWS region in China
{Photo: Flickr user simone.brunozzi]

The company has launched its second Amazon Web Services region in the country by partnering with Ningxia Western Cloud Data Technology, reports TechCrunch. AWS “regions” are individual geographic locations for the company’s cloud computing tech designed to protect local customers from outages. The newest Chinese AWS region is a sign that Amazon is bolstering its cloud computing muscle in the economically important country. As for why Amazon is partnering with Ningxia to operate the new AWS region, it is legally required to after strict new Chinese laws came into power earlier this year mandating foreign companies must now store Chinese user data within China’s borders.MG

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These ugly Christmas sweaters are guaranteed to last until 2047

These ugly Christmas sweaters are guaranteed to last until 2047
[Photo: courtesy of Tom Cridland]

While trends come and go, ugly Christmas sweaters stay the same. At least that’s the theory behind Tom Cridland, an environmentally conscious brand that has been embraced by celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Kendrick Lamar. All the clothes within the collection are made of sustainable materials, and they are designed to last a lifetime. The hope is that this “buy less, buy better” philosophy will keep clothes out of landfills.

After three and a half years of product development, the brand’s eponymous founder, British designer Tom Cridland, has developed a Christmas sweater that comes with a 30-year guarantee. This means that if anything happens to the garment up to three decades after purchase, the company will repair or replace it for no charge. (Many other garments within the collection also come with this guarantee.) At $91, the Christmas sweater–or “jumper” as Cridland describes it–isn’t cheap, given the bargain-basement prices of most novelty sweaters.

But if you amortize that over all the Christmases you’ll be wearing it from now till you have grandchildren, it’s just $3 a year.ES

Former Gawker employees are crowdfunding to save Gawker.com from an uncertain fate

Former Gawker employees are crowdfunding to save Gawker.com from an uncertain fate

Gawker alumni (not including Nick Denton) have come together in an effort to save the now-defunct website. As part of the site’s bankruptcy terms, the website will soon be up for auction. Peter Thiel, who helped bankroll Hulk Hogan’s campaign to kill Gawker, has said that he wanted the ability to bid on the site.

More than a dozen former Gawkerers have another idea. They just launched a Kickstarter to raise at least $500,000 in an attempt to buy back the website. Per the campaign description, the staffers are unnamed for now, as many of them currently have other jobs.

The idea is to–at the very least–save the site’s archives, which could be deleted by whoever buys the site. But that’s not the group’s only plan. According to the Kickstarter, they also want to “[r]elaunch the site under the stewardship of former editors, new writers, and an entirely membership-funded model.”

In fact, even if they are unsuccessful in buying back Gawker.com, the group still plans to use this money to relaunch the site. You can find the Kickstarter campaign here.CGW

Twitter sure makes it easy to point out the questionable ethics of politicians

Twitter sure makes it easy to point out the questionable ethics of politicians
[Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images]

Hey guys, remember the “emoluments” clause of the U.S. Constitution that restricts a president’s ability to profit from his position? In case you’ve forgotten (or blocked it all out as a form of self-care), President Trump has been accused in at least three lawsuits of having conflicts of interests between his business life and his political office. While Trump was supposed to let his sons manage his business interests, a “director of diplomatic sales” has reportedly been steering visiting dignitaries toward the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Also, rates are up at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and, as The Economist reports, according to Eric Trump, the family brand is now “the hottest it has ever been.”

Now, a recent tweet from Citizens for Ethics is serving as a reminder of our ever-slipping standards about presidential profiteering. The group yesterday called out a tweet from Lindsey Graham in which the Senator from South Carolina appeared to take part in a bit of political #sponcon—by advertising President Trump’s golf course for him on Twitter.

We present you with Exhibit A below:

ML

Google just launched its preemptive attack on Apple’s HomePod

Google just launched its preemptive attack on Apple’s HomePod
[Photo: courtesy of Google]

Google’s high-end Home Max speaker is now available from Best Buy and Verizon, two months after the product was announced. Like the existing Google Home and Home Mini, the Max uses Google Assistant voice commands to launch music, answer questions, and control smart-home devices. But instead of dinky speakers, the Home Max has dual subwoofers and custom tweeters. It also automatically makes equalization adjustments to fit the room, using its microphones to measure the acoustics.

This kind of room tuning is supposed to be a key feature of Apple’s HomePod speaker, which was originally due this month but has now been delayed until early next year. Sonos also has a similar feature in its own speakers, one of which now has Amazon’s Alexa assistant built in.

All of which means that the virtual assistant wars have finally spilled into the high-end speaker market.JN

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