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Yesterday — August 24th 2019TechCrunch

Uber tries to reassure customers that it takes safety seriously, following NYTimes book excerpt

By Connie Loizos

It’s hard at times not to feel sorry for Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, given all that he inherited when he became the ride-share giant’s top boss back in April 2017.

Among his many to-do items: take public a money-losing company whose private-market valuation had already soared past what many thought it was worth, clean-up the organization’s win-at-all-costs image, and win over employees who clearly remained loyal to Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick, an inimitable figure who Khosrowshahi was hired to replace.

Things are undoubtedly about to get worse, given the fast-upcoming publication of a tell-all book about Uber authored by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac. In just one excerpt published yesterday by the newspaper, Isaac outlines how Uber misled customers into paying $1 more per ride by telling them Uber would use the proceeds to fund an “industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, development of safety features in the app, and insurance.”

The campaign was hugely successful, according to Isaac, who reports that it brought in nearly half a billion dollars for Uber. Alas, according to employees who worked on the project, the fee was devised primarily to add $1 of pure margin to each trip.

Om Malik, a former tech journalist turned venture capitalist, published a tongue-in-cheek tweet yesterday after reading the excerpt, writing, “Apology from @dkhos coming any minute — we are different now.”

Malik was close. Instead of an apology, Uber today sent some of its riders an email titled, somewhat ominously, “Your phone number stays hidden in the app.” The friendly reminder continues on to tell customers that their “phone number stays hidden when you call or text your driver through the app,” that “pickup and dropoff locations are not visible in a driver’s trip history,” and that “for additional privacy, if you don’t want to share your exact address, request a ride to or from the nearest cross streets instead.”

The email was clearly meant to reassure riders, some of whom might be absorbing negative press about Uber and wondering if it cares about them at all. But not everyone follows Uber as closely as industry watchers in Silicon Valley, and either way, what the email mostly accomplishes is to remind customers that riding in an Uber involves life-and-death risk.

Stressing that the company is “committed to safety” is the debating equivalent of a so-called negative pregnant, wherein a denial implies its affirmative opposite. It’s Uber shooting itself in the foot.

Uber

It would have been more effective for Uber to email riders that when it talks about safety, it really does mean business — and not the kind where it swindles its own customers for pure monetary gain.

Either way, the affair underscores the tricky terrain Uber is left to navigate right now. Though campaigns like Uber’s so-called “safe rides fee” was orchestrated under the leadership of Kalanick — who did whatever it took to scale the company — it’s Khosrowshahi’s problem now.

So is the fact that the company’s shares have been sinking since its IPO in early May; that Uber’s cost-cutting measures will be scrutinized at every turn (outsiders particularly relished the company’s decision to save on employees’ work anniversaries by cutting out helium balloons in favor of stickers); and that Uber appears to be losing the battle, city by city, against labor activists who want to push up the minimum wage paid to drivers.

And those are just three of many daunting challenges that Khosrowshahi has been tasked with figuring out  (think food delivery, self-driving technologies, foreign and domestic opponents). No doubt Isaac’s book will highlight plenty of others.

How Uber handles the inevitable wave of bad publicity that comes with it remains to be seen. We don’t expect Khosrowshahi to come out swinging; that’s not his style. But we also hope the company doesn’t take to emailing riders directly, without any context. It’s great if Uber is taking customer safety more seriously than it might have under Kalanick’s leadership, but reaching out to tell riders how to remain safe from their Uber drivers isn’t the way to do it, especially without acknowledging in any way why it’s suddenly so eager to have the conversation.

Y Combinator Demo Day, revenue-based VC funding, Pivotal, Dell, Tumblr, WeWork, and more

By Danny Crichton

Editor’s note

Due to bad travel logistics (thanks SFO), I wasn’t able to get the mid-week edition of the Extra Crunch roundup newsletter out. Sorry about that. Instead, here is everything we published this week on Extra Crunch in one fell swoop — and my, we covered a lot of ground. Hope you enjoy some great weekend reading.

Y Combinator Demo Day Coverage-a-palooza

Much like the equinoxes that synchronize Earth’s calendar, Y Combinator’s biannual demo days are a key fixture of the Silicon Valley calendar. This year was no different, with 166 companies presenting from the summer batch (and occasionally from previous batches if they chose to delay their presentation).

We had a full squad on site not only covering the 84 companies from day one and 82 companies from day two, but our team also put their collective heads together to identify the top companies from each set exclusively for Extra Crunch members.

The 11 best startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 1

Read our favorite 11 startups from day one, which included:

PopSQL provides collaborative SQL query editing. You can store SQL queries you run regularly, grouping them into folders that can be kept private or shared amongst your team. Version history tracks changes so it can be reverted if/when something breaks. It currently has more than 100 paying companies, and is making $13K per month. It plans to build a marketplace for apps that run on top of your company’s database.

Why it’s one of our favorites: SQL database queries can be a nightmare, especially if they’re not something you’re used to dealing with every day. PopSQL lets you hammer on queries collaboratively until they’re working exactly as you want — then you can save them for future use and share them amongst your team members. And when you’ve spent the last 45 minutes trying to figure out why your query isn’t working only for a team mate to fix it in thirty seconds, you can use version control to see exactly what they changed. PopSQL says its product has already found customers in companies like Instacart, Redfin, and DoorDash.

Our 12 favorite startups from Y Combinator’s S19 Demo Day 2

Read our favorite 12 startups from day two, which included:

Business Score is helping companies automate background checks on other businesses. The startup is looking to stamp out tired manual processes that largely mean picking up the phone and scouring documents. The single API taps data sources across the web to build out real-time profiles that can help customers scan businesses in an effort to prevent fraud, qualify leads and onboard new clients.

Why it’s one of our favorites: Though it’s yet another startup in the batch catering to other startups, we thought Business Score stood out. The company integrates with thousands of data providers to help companies verify other startups and enterprises they are considering doing business with, using a system they’ve dubbed “the business passport.” There’s an opportunity here to create a tool essential to company-building across industry.

YC is doubling down on these investment theses in its most recent batch

Finally, amidst all the zany craziness of watching 166 companies present over two days (there should be a YC company for unmelting your brain), our venture capital reporter Kate Clark stepped back to assess what all the various companies in the batch indicated about the accelerator’s strategy these days.

YC knows its sweet spot: enterprise SaaS. One might go as far as to say it’s transitioning into a full-on SaaS incubator. Why? Because one of the greatest advantages of going through YC is the network of alumni companies you can tap into. Many successful B2B companies have emerged from the program, raised boat loads of venture capital funding and rocketed to the moon (hello Stripe, Brex, Gusto and Atrium). With that in mind, YC is doubling down on its resources for startups that sell products to other startups, which brings us to our first piece of news.

YC chief executive officer Michael Seibel and president Geoff Ralston announced this week that the accelerator has implemented something called CTO and HR demo days. In short, CTO and HR demo days are an opportunity for B2B startups to pitch their products to YC alum companies’ CTO and/or head of HR. Seibel and Ralston said 60 CTOs attended the event, as well as 30 HR heads. In total, 42 startups presented and we’re guessing a bunch of those companies booked a few customers.

The new Disney+ streaming service is oriented around fans and families

By Jonathan Shieber

You can tell a lot about a service by what it prioritizes on its home screen. With the new Disney + service the focus is initially organized by fan base, with different silos for the company’s various studios and the fans that follow them.

As the company gets the service off the ground — and casts about for content to stuff it with — curation is increasingly important. Over the course of my conversation with the Ricky Strauss, who’s overseeing Disney’s streaming service, “quality over quantity” was the mantra.

I spent some time reviewing the app and its features at the D23 expo and it seems the emphasis of quality over quantity in content didn’t necessarily extend to the app itself. The user interface and controls — at least on the AppleTV version that was used in my demonstration — were a little clunky.

While there’s going to be a rich content library of old and new titles — Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars classics and a mix of Fox content (chiefly “The Simpsons”) featured prominently on the home screen — other content is going to be a little bit more difficult to find.

Navigation over to the sidebar is required to find the new Disney+ original series (including the acquisitions like the “Diary of a Female President” series that Disney ordered earlier in the year. And don’t even bother trying to find any media from Hulu — or Hulu itself.  There are no plans to integrate any Hulu content or Fox properties that now fall under the auspices of Disney or its underlying studios (that includes the mutant corner of the Marvel Comics world that now fall under Disney’s purview after the Fox deal).

Family friendly fare for Disney means that the service (as previously reported) won’t have any media that would warrant a rating above PG-13. There won’t be a whiff of anything remotely as bloody or graphic as “Deadpool” on Disney’s streams.

While there aren’t a number of robust parental controls (since the content is designed to be more family friendly than the average streaming service) there is a kids’ mode designed for ages seven and below.

In the kids mode shows are organized by character, because that’s the way children (many of whom are pre-literate) relate to the medium. The screen for kids is also brighter and in kids accounts, the autoplay feature is turned off (the default for the streaming services is that autoplay is on for adults).

Initially the service will be available in several languages at launch through subtitles and dubbing with plans to be as inclusive as possible when the service rolls out in each of the countries it will be operating in. And eventually Disney wants the streaming service to be available everywhere.

The $7-a-month price tag will enable families to get four simultaneous streams, all the videos will be in 4K, UHD and HDR with an ability for a family to set up seven different user profiles. As CNet noted, this is in sharp contrast to Netflix, which only allows for five profiles and enables simultaneous streaming only at a higher price point.

Given the broader functionality, it’d be more apt to compare Disney+ to Netflix’s premium $15.99 per month service, rather than its basic $8.99 price point. Disney+’s content library and family friendly pitch also make it a compelling offering for families with young children.

Each profile can be designated with the Disney avatar of your choice. The service also won’t be dropping its original episodes all at once, preferring to serialize the entertainment — more like a traditional network.

For Disney, which owns Marvel, LucasFilm, as well as its own catalog of live action and animated shows through the now 36-year-old Disney Channel, and the film libraries of Pixar and the Walt Disney Co. the successful launch of Disney+ is nothing less than the future of the company.

At D23, the company’s fan service expo, that was incredibly apparent.

Driving Volkswagen’s all-electric ID Buggy concept

By Kirsten Korosec

The VW electric ID Buggy concept is delightful and bright, stout and smiling. It’s a vehicle fit for the sunshine and sand dunes, or perhaps a less committing slow roll along the beach.

And so my first drive in a prototype of the all-electric buggy — along the coast near Spanish Bay in Monterey, Calif., — was tinged with sadness. After all, the ID Buggy is just a concept. It’s not meant for this world. At least not right now.

There is still a chance that the ID Buggy will make it to production. VW is already in talks with “at least one company” to bring the buggy into production, TechCrunch confirmed.

The global debut of the ID Buggy concept at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in March was meant to showcase VW’s electric future and demonstrate the versatility of its modular electric drive toolkit chassis, or MEB. The MEB, which was introduced in 2016, is a flexible modular system — really a matrix of common parts — for producing electric vehicles that VW says make it more efficient and cost-effective.

The first vehicles to use this MEB platform will be under the ID brand, although this platform can and will be used for electric vehicles under other VW Group brands such as Skoda and Seat. (The MEB won’t be used by VW brands Audi or Porsche, which are developing their own platform for electric vehicles.)

VW has shown off several ID concepts. Some of these, like the ID Crozz and ID Buzz are going into production. A production version of the Crozz is coming to the U.S. at the end of 2020. Others, like this buggy, are not currently on the production track.

kirstenbuggy

Driving the ID Buggy Drive

The ID Buggy is simple, and that’s exactly what it should be. No clutter or whiz-bang creature comforts. Instead, this leisure vehicle inspired by the 1960s era Meyers Manx has no roof or doors — although a tarpaulin can be stretched between the windscreen frame and the Targa bar as a sun sail or light weather protection. Without doors, the driver climbs in, and with relative ease, depending on one’s general fitness and flexibility.

The ID Buggy towers over its inspiration — the iconic Meyers Manx buggy that became popular among the California beach-and-surf culture of the 1960s.

The ID Buggy was also a quieter, smoother ride than the Meyers Manx. I also spent some time in a classic bright red buggy with a four-speed manual transmission and gas engine that might have been a touch carbureted. While the Manx roared as I shifted into first and peeled away, the electric ID Buggy was silent and smooth as it rolled out of the sandy parking lot.

vw id buggy wheel

The main detail inside the ID Buggy is the lack of features and do-dads. The hexagonal steering wheel, shown above, isn’t littered with toggles; there are just a couple of controls on the crossbar. A small integrated stock to the right side of the steering wheel allows the driver to move the vehicle into drive, reverse and park. A digital instrument cluster provides the basic information like speed.

Even the brake and accelerator pedals continue this stripped-down design story. 

The dashboard and the passenger area are just as void of features. This lack of “stuff” is more about function than form, although the matte green and textured grey blue at the bottom does make a visual statement. The ID Buggy is meant to be driven in the elements, rain or shine. And so designers made the interior waterproof.

vw buggy dash

Under the ID Buggy’s body is where the good stuff lives.

The rear-wheel drive buggy is outfitted with an electric motor that produces 201 horsepower and a maximum torque of 228 pound-feet. It has a 62-kilowatt-hour battery that can travel 155 miles (under the WLTP standard) on a single charge. There is not an EPA estimate for the range. It can accelerate from a standstill to 62 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.

Unfortunately, this prototype had a kill-the-thrill speed limiter on it, scuttling my plans for a zippy ride along the coast.

Still, the ID Buggy offered a fun and easy, breezy ride. It handled the curves of the roads with ease and its wide body and higher rear end provided a sense of security even while driving amid other much larger passenger cars.

vw buggy id front

Building the ID Buggy

It’s unclear what company, or companies, are in talks to produce the buggy. VW wouldn’t give names; not even the ocean breeze and cloudless sky or the endless supercar eye candy were enough to loosen the lips of VW employees during Monterey Car Week.

It’s possible that this unnamed company is e.Go Mobile. VW announced in March that e.Go Mobile would be its first external partner to use its MEB electric platform to launch other EVs in addition to Volkswagen’s model range. A dedicated vehicle project is already being planned, VW said at the time.

A VW spokesperson told TechCrunch there’s no decision about which car will be produced under this partnership with e.Go Mobile. It could be the buggy; it could also be some other vehicle.

And then there’s Ford. Earlier this year, the two automakers announced a partnership that includes Ford producing electric cars based on the MEB developed by Volkswagen.

The VW folks on the ground in Monterey did express hope that a third party does build the buggy, or a modified version of it. As one spokesperson later told TechCrunch, “As the drive in Monterey showed, the Buggy is a great ambassador for Volkswagen and for e-mobility. I am sure it would find a lot of customers.”

In the end, the ID Buggy is a sleek cruiser rather than a beach bomber like the 1960s original. It successfully demonstrates the versatility around VW’s electric platform. After all, Volkswagen foresees critical parts in the ID Buggy used to power multiple consumer electric vehicles in the near future. And it’s a fair assumption the ID Buggy’s production cousins will have a bit more gadgets, including silly things like doors.

Startups Weekly: Diamond-encrusted disruption

By Kate Clark

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about the flurry of IPO filings. Before that, I noted the differences between raising cash from angels vs. traditional venture capitalists.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.

What’s new

Venture capitalists look for companies poised to disrupt markets untouched by innovative technology. Believe it or not, a very small percentage of jewelry shopping is done online, which means there’s a big opportunity — for the right team — to bring jewelry buyers and sellers to the 21st century.CVC Stones 02

Enter Pietra, a new startup that’s just raised $4 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz’s Andrew Chen (Substack & Hipcamp investor). Robert Downey Jr.’s VC fund Downey Ventures and Will Smith’s fund Dreamers Fund also participated, as did Hollywood manager Scooter Braun, Michael Ovitz and supermodel Joan Smalls.

I spoke to the founding team, which includes Uber alum Ronak Trivedi and Ashley Bryan, who hails from fashion e-commerce site Moda Operandi. The pair bring a healthy mix of technology and fashion expertise to the mix. Trivedi tells TechCrunch he’s drawn on his Uber experience to recruit engineers from top tech companies and to advocate for fast growth. Meanwhile, Bryan has leveraged her fashion industry connections to establish relationships with luxury designers.

 “Fashion is typically really under-resourced in terms of tech,” Bryan tells TechCrunch. “[The fashion industry] is great at the creativity part but it’s tough, especially with jewelry because you really have to put up a lot of capital.”

Pietra’s plan is to create a high-end marketplace for consumers to connect with jewelry designers. To do this, the team has adopted the standard marketplace approach, taking a 30% marketplace fee from sellers, as well as a 7% fee from buyers commissioning jewelry on the platform.

“Whether you do custom jewelry or engagement jewelry or you do jewelry for celebrities like Drake, you can come on Pietra and connect with a global marketplace,” says Trivedi.

The jewelry market is expected to be worth more than $250 billion by 2020, according to McKinsey research. And where there’s a billion-dollar market, there are VCs. 

“Even though gemstones and jewelry have been at the center of art, commerce, and culture since the dawn of human civilization — going from stone jewelry created 40,000 years ago in Africa to the trade routes between East and West to Fifth Avenue in New York to the Instagram feed on your phone — the technology for discovering, designing, and purchasing jewelry online hasn’t evolved much at all,” writes a16z’s Chen, who overlapped with Trivedi during his Uber tenure.

Pietra completed its official launch this week. It has 100 designers on the platform and counting, along with what the founders say is a lengthy waitlist.

hands signing check 1

In other news

This week I published a long feature on the state of seed investing in the Bay Area. The TL;DR? Mega-funds are increasingly battling seed-stage investors for access to the hottest companies. As a result, seed investors are getting a little more creative about how they source deals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and everyone wants a stake in The Next Big Thing. Read the story here.

Demo Day

Y Combinator graduated another batch of 200 companies this week. We were there both days, taking notes on each and every company. To make things easy on you, I’ve put together the ultimate YC reading list:

Here’s a look at some of the profiles we’ve written on the S19 companies:

Listen

We recorded two great episodes of Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital podcast, this week. The first was with YC CEO Michael Seibel, in which he speaks to trends at the seed stage of investing, changes at the accelerator program, including its move to San Francisco and more. You can listen to that one here. Plus, we had on Unusual Ventures co-founder and partner John Vrionis, who talked to us about direct listings versus IPOs and the future of DoorDash and Airbnb. You can listen to that one here.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast and Spotify.

Tips for B2B startups

Contributors Tyler Elliston and Kevin Barry share advice for B2B companies: “Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of B2B companies apply ineffective demand generation strategies to their startup. If you’re a B2B founder trying to grow your business, this guide is for you. Rule #1: B2B is not B2C. We are often dealing with considered purchases, multiple stakeholders, long decision cycles, and massive LTVs. These unique attributes matter when developing a growth strategy. We’ll share B2B best practices we’ve employed while working with awesome B2B companies like Zenefits, Crunchbase, Segment, OnDeck, Yelp, Kabbage, Farmers Business Network, and many more.” Read the full story here. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

Graphcore founder Nigel Toon to talk about AI chips at Disrupt Berlin

By Romain Dillet

It’s easy to forget that Silicon Valley starts with ‘silicon’, and that there would be no technology innovation without innovation at the silicon level. And Graphcore is well aware of that as the Bristol-based company is designing its own dedicated AI chipset. That’s why I’m glad to announce that Graphcore co-founder and CEO Nigel Toon is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Graphcore has managed to attract a ton of attention from day one. Originally founded in 2016, the startup has raised more than $300 million from top investors, such as Sequoia Capital, BMW, Microsoft, Samsung and a ton of others.

The company last raised a $200 million Series D round led by Atomico and Sofina. It values the company at $1.7 billion.

So what is the magic product behind Graphcore? The startup’s flagship product is an Intelligence Processor Unit (IPU) PCIe processor card combined with a software framework. Essentially, it lets you build your own AI applications more efficiently. Those dedidacted AI chips should perform better than repurposed GPUs.

Tobias Jahn, principal at BMW i Ventures, summed it up pretty well in a statement for the Series D round: “The versatility of Graphcore’s IPU – which supports multiple machine learning techniques with high efficiency – is well-suited for a wide variety of applications from intelligent voice assistants to self-driving vehicles. With the flexibility to use the same processor in both a data centre and a vehicle, Graphcore’s IPU also presents the possibility of reduction in development times and complexity.”

It seems crazy that a tiny startup is competing directly with giant chip companies, such as Nvidia, AMD, Intel, Qualcomm, etc. But this isn’t Nigel Toon’s first company. He has been the CEO of Picochip and Icera, two companies that have been sold to Intel and Nvidia.

Graphcore believes that there’s an underserved niche with a lot of potential. And it feels like there’s a race to create the most efficient AI chip. So I can’t wait to hear Nigel Toon’s take on that race.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on December 11-12.

In addition to panels and fireside chats, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield to compete for the highly coveted Battlefield Cup.


Graphcore (graphcore.ai) is a new silicon and systems company based in Bristol, UK and Palo Alto, USA that has developed a new type of processor, the Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), to accelerate machine learning and AI applications. Since its founding in 2016, Nigel has secured over $300m in funding and support for the company from some of the world’s leading venture capital firms including Sequoia Capital, Foundation Capital and Atomico, from major corporations including BMW, Bosch, Dell, Microsoft and Samsung and from eminent Artificial Intelligence innovators.

Nigel has a background as a technology business leader, entrepreneur and engineer having been CEO at two successful VC-backed processor companies XMOS and Picochip (sold to Nasdaq:MSPD, now Intel), a founder at Icera (sold to Nasdaq: NVDA) and VP/GM at Altera (Nasdaq: ALTR, sold to Intel for $17Bn) where he spent over 13 years and was responsible for establishing and building the European business unit that he grew to over $400m in annual revenues. Nigel was a non-executive director at Imagination Technologies PLC until itsacquisition in 2017 and is the author on 3 patents.

Confirmed: Disney is making an Obi-Wan series with Ewan McGregor

By Greg Kumparak

The rumors have been suggesting it for a while now, and fans have been pretty much begging for it… and it’s happening: Disney is making an Obi-Wan series for Disney+, with Ewan McGregor returning to the role.

Disney dropped the news at a panel during D23 this evening, almost immediately after premiering the trailer for its other live action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

Story developing…

Here’s the first trailer for the upcoming Disney+ Star Wars series, The Mandalorian

By Greg Kumparak

It’s here!

About ten months after we learned that Jon Favreau would be heading up a Star Wars series called “The Mandalorian” on Disney’s soon-to-launch streaming service Disney+, we have the first full trailer. It premiered this evening during the Disney+ panel at the D23 conference.

Everyone involved had stayed relatively hush-hush about the series until now, with only a couple of details mentioned with its announcement. We knew it takes place about five years after Return of the Jedi — so a few decades before Force Awakens. Favreau had also said that it follows “the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy” — which we later learned would be played by Pedro Pascal (perhaps best known as Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones.)

According to the New York Times, Disney is dropping “roughly $100 million” to produce the first 10 episodes.

The Mandalorian is set to debut alongside Disney+ on November 12th, 2019.

 

 

Before yesterdayTechCrunch

Vape lung has claimed its first victim, and the CDC is investigating

By Devin Coldewey

A person has died from what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention speculate is a vaping-related condition. Nearly 200 other cases of varying severeness have been reported nationwide, described by the CDC as “severe unexplained respiratory systems after reported vaping or e-cigarette use.”

No information was provided about the deceased other than that they were an adult living in Illinois, and that they had died of some sort of pulmonary illness exacerbated or caused by vaping or e-cigarette use. Others affected in that state have been between 17-38 and mostly men, the CDC doctor added on a press call earlier today.

As little is known for sure about this growing problem, the team was hesitant to go beyond saying there was good reason to believe that these cases were all vaping-related, although they differ in some particulars. They have ruled out infectious disease.

The CDC’s acting deputy for non-infectious diseases, Dr Ileana Arias, explained on the call after expressing their condolences:

CDC is currently providing consultations to state health departments about a cluster of pulmonary illnesses having to do with vaping or e-cigarette use… While some cases appear to be similar and linked to e-cigarette product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the illnesses.

In many cases patients report a gradual start of symptoms, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath and/or hospitalization before the cases. Some have reported gastrointestinal illnesses as well… no specific product has been identified in all cases nor has any product been conclusively linked to the illnesses

Even though cases appear similar, it isn’t clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar presentations.

An FDA representative on the call said that his agency is also looking into this, specifically whether these are products that fall under its authority. It’s possible they were imported, for example, or sold under the table.

Everyone involved is still in the information-gathering phase, as you can tell, but it’s apparently serious enough that they felt the need to make this announcement. Meanwhile they are asking doctors to report cases they suspect might be related.

“Right now states are leading their own specific epidemiologic investigations and we’re providing assistance as needed,” explained the CDC’s Dr. Josh Schier. “CDC is working on a system to collect, aggregate, and analyze data at the national level to better characterize this illness.”

As the mechanism is unknown, it’s unclear what the actual danger is. Is it some byproduct of the nicotine cartidges, or THC ones? Is it the vapor itself? Is it only at certain temperatures or concentrations? Is it directly affecting the lungs or entering the bloodstream? No one knows yet — all they’ve seen is an sudden uptick in respiratory or pulmonary issues where the sufferer also uses vaping products.

The CDC’s Dr Brian King went into a bit more detail on the possibilities, explaining that while no specific chemical can be said to be the problem, that’s more for a want of study, not a want of potentially harmful chemicals.

“We do know that e-cigarettes do not emit a harmless aerosol,” he explained. “There’s a variety of harmful ingredients identified, including things like ultrafine particulates, heavy metals like lead and cancer causing chemicals. And flavoring used in e-cigarettes to give it a buttery flavor, diacetyl, it’s been related to severe respiratory illness.”

“We haven’t specifically linked any of those specific ingredients to the current cases but we know that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless,” King concluded.

He also suggested, in response to a question why we were suddenly seeing lots of these cases, that the problems have been occurring all this time but only recently have hospitals and other organizations done the due diligence as far as linking them to e-cigarette use.

Few studies have been done on vaping’s potential health effects, and none on long-term effects, since the devices only recently gained popularity — well ahead of the possibility of regulation and years-long studies.

Research published just last month from Yale found that Juul vape pens produced chemicals not listed on the package, some of which are known to be irritants.

“People often assume that these e-liquids are a final product once they are mixed. But the reactions create new molecules in the e-liquids, and it doesn’t just happen in e-liquids from small vape shops, but also in those from the biggest manufacturers in the U.S.,” said Yale’s Hanno Erythropel in a news release.

That vaping works as a way to quit smoking — which we know is absolutely disastrous to your health — seems clear. But it remains to be seen exactly how much less of a risk vaping offers.

If you use vaping products and have been experiencing coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest pain, tell your doctor.

Disney introduces “She Hulk”, “Moon Knight” and “Ms. Marvel” to Disney+ streaming service

By Jonathan Shieber

As part of its big reveal of the slate of shows coming to Disney+ streaming service, Marvel head Kevin Feige introduced three new shows that would be joining the Marvel pantheon: “She Hulk”, “Moon Knight” and “Ms. Marvel” as part of the expanded Marvel Universe.

Ms. Marvel tells the story of teenager Kamela Khan, who was Marvel’s first Muslim character to lead her own series. A Pakistani-American from New Jersey, Khan can changer he shape.

Moon Knight is based on the character Marc Specter who is a mercenary left for dead in the Egyptian desert who is imbued with special powers by a spiritual force. And She Hulk is the story of Bruce Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters, who in the comics receives a blood transfusion from her relative and is transformed into her own version of the Hulk.

Other revelations from the Marvel portion of the big Disney+ presentation included the full cast for the WandaVision show, which Feige described as a combination sitcom and traditional marvel epic.

Old Marvel favorites including Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis and Randall Park as Agent Wu from the “Ant Man” movies will make appearances in the Wanda/Vision show.

Also rejoining the Marvel Universe is Emily Van Camp reprising her role as Sharon Carter, the daughter of Peggy Carter. She’ll make her appearance in Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

The expansion of the MCU with these three new shows is indicative of how deep a bench of intellectual property Disney has at its disposal to flesh out its streaming service. It can also serve to dull the pain some fans may feel at the loss of the Netflix-licensed characters like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist (somebody liked it), and Jessica Jones.

These choices also indicate how Disney is growing its roster of women in the MCU taking the role of superheroes, which comes on the back of the success of Captain Marvel.

 

 

Trump adds tariffs to $550 billion of Chinese imports in trade war reprisal

By Kirsten Korosec

President Trump announced Friday on Twitter that tariffs on Chinese imports will increase 5 percentage points in a tit-for-tat response to China’s own plans to place new duties on U.S. goods.

About $250 billion of goods produced by China and imported into the U.S. already have a 25% tariff. This newest increase will push tariffs to 30% beginning October 1, 2019. Trump also increased “List 4” tariffs from 10% to 15%. The List 4 tariff, which affects the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports, will go into effect September 1 and December 15.

…unfair Trading Relationship. China should not have put new Tariffs on 75 BILLION DOLLARS of United States product (politically motivated!). Starting on October 1st, the 250 BILLION DOLLARS of goods and products from China, currently being taxed at 25%, will be taxed at 30%…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

The increase in tariffs on Chinese imports follows news earlier Friday that China will impose $75 billion worth of duties on U.S. goods, beginning Sept. 1 and December 15. China’s foreign ministry said that it would resume tariffs on U.S. imports of automobiles and auto parts and place an additional 5% or 10% tariff on agricultural and food products like soybeans, coffee, whiskey and seafood.

U.S. automakers Ford, GM, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Tesla all saw shares fall in response to China’s new tariffs. Automakers that build vehicles in the U.S. for export to China — a group that includes Tesla and Ford — will take the brunt of China’s newest tariffs. The move could force these companies to raise prices, which could further dampen sales.

The president’s initial response on Twitter to China’s decision sent the market into a tailspin. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fall by as much as 700 points before closing the day slightly down only 623 points at 25,628.60. The S&P 500 Index fell 75.84 points to end the day at 2,847.11 and the Nasdaq dropped 239.62 points to close at 7,751.77.

Trump’s tariffs announcement came after markets closed Friday.

…Additionally, the remaining 300 BILLION DOLLARS of goods and products from China, that was being taxed from September 1st at 10%, will now be taxed at 15%. Thank you for your attention to this matter!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

 

Bag Week 2019: A whole bunch of fannies

By Veanne Cao

It’s finally Bag Week again! The most wonderful week of the year at TechCrunch. Just in time for back to school, we’re bringing you reviews of bags of all varieties: from backpacks to rollers to messengers to…

The fanny pack. Or hip pack, waist bag, belt bag, sling, crossbody and sometimes bum bag, because where you’re from, a fanny means lady parts. Whatever it’s called, I’ve been searching for an all-around go-to alternative for purses. (I don’t care much for them since they don’t match my tee-shirt and holes-in-jeans aesthetic.)

For the past two months, I’ve been trying out fanny packs (and trying to shove various objects into them) for different daily routines.

fannypacks_various_objects

I haven’t found one that gets the job done for everything, but here are a variety of great fannies.

Herschel Eighteen Hip Pack – $49.99

[gallery ids="1869526,1869527,1869528,1869529,1869530,1869531,1869532,1869533,1869534,1869535"]

 

I own three Herschel backpacks, all of which have served me well for the past two years, so I was pretty stoked about this one. The only problem though, with my 5’4” wimpy frame, I should have opted for a smaller bag in their hip pack line. Although it’s smaller than Peak Design’s Everyday Sling, the side support makes it uncomfortable to wear across the chest and only works as a back sling or fanny pack.

Pros:

  • Solid construction
  • Huge main compartment large enough to hold a water bottle, book, camera and knick-knacks
  • Comfortable air mesh padding on the back

Cons:

  • Opening for the two front storage pockets is too small, which makes it cumbersome to put things in, pull things out
  • Missing inner pocket inside the main compartment for keys and wallet so there’s a lot of digging involved

Dimensions: 7″ (H) x 11″ (W) x 3″ (D)

More details and specs here.

 

Moment Fanny Sling – $69.99

[gallery ids="1869537,1869538,1869539,1869540,1869541,1869543,1869544,1869545,1869546,1869547"]

The fine people at Moment, known for their mobile phone lenses, recently launched a series of bags and cases. Although this bag was designed with the intention of storing their lenses and gear, it has become my boyfriend’s everyday bag since I received it back in June. It withstood a grimy Budapest rainstorm, a grimy music festival and a grimy New York summer.

Pros:

  • Pockets for days (including one on the back that fits your wallet or phone)
  • Weatherproof shell and zippers
  • Comfortable for everyday use
  • Flexible, expandable — can be worn across the chest, as a traditional fanny pack or sling

Con:

  • The Velcro loop that keeps excess straps in place wore down after a month and tends to slip off

Dimensions: 5.1″ (H) x 8.25” (W) x 3.75” (D)

More details and specs here.

 

Peak Design Everyday Sling 5L – $99.95

[gallery ids="1869555,1869557,1869558,1869559,1869560,1869561,1869562,1869563,1869564,1869565"]

This was my go-to photography bag for the summer. It’s been perfect for organizing all the essentials: DSLR, two lenses, SD cards, notebook (or iPad), batteries, etc. I love everything about this bag. That’s it. That’s the review. There’s nothing else I can say.

Pros:

  • Tons of pockets, dividers of sorts and padding for all of your accessories
  • Tuck-away system to hide excess straps and front zipper
  • Quick adjusting straps for when you need to grab your camera or to switch configurations
  • Weatherproof nylon canvas shell

Cons:

  • So far, nothing

Dimensions: 7.48″ (H) x 12.2″ (W) x 4.33″ (D)

More details and specs here.

 

State Bags Crosby Fanny Pack – $150

[gallery ids="1869566,1869567,1869568,1869569,1869570,1869572,1869573"]

From the smooth leather body to the gold foil embossed logo, this is the classiest one of the bunch, and has been my date night go-to for the past month. It’s casual enough to accessorize with jeans and tee-shirt, but stylish enough to make it look like you put in the effort.

The best part, though, is that there are good people behind the products. For every bag you purchase, they donate fully packed backpacks to kids throughout America.

Pros:

  • Mesh inside pocket to separate smaller items
  • Well-made and designed
  • Slip pocket on the back for quick access to iPhone X

Cons:

  • The straps started to pill a little after a month of use

Dimensions: 5.00″ (H) x 7.09″ (W) x 1.97″ (D)

More details and specs here.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack – $29.00

[gallery ids="1869548,1869549,1869550,1869552,1869553,1869554"]

This is the fun-sized candy bar of fanny packs. It’s adorable, has an 80s throwback colorblock design and folds into its own pocket when not in use. It’s quite small and only holds the essentials (wallet, phones, keys, and in my case, an inhaler), but it’s ideal for running errands.

Pros:

  • Sturdy and small
  • Mesh back padding for comfort and breathability
  • Soft adjustable strap

Cons:

  • Nylon construction — it sometimes feels like a toiletries bag

Dimensions: 7” (W) x 4.5”(H) x 2” (D)

More details and specs here.

 

Timbuk2 Slacker Chest Pack – $49.00

[gallery ids="1869574,1869575,1869576,1869577,1869578,1869579"]

This is the most basic, yet comfortable fanny pack. It was my everyday dog-walking bag. It held a water bottle, doggie treats and a collapsible dog bowl, while my wallet was tucked into the inside mesh pocket. There’s even an in-pocket strap to hold your keys.

Pros:

  • Air mesh back panel for breathability and comfort
  • Uncomplicated design

Cons:

  • The zipper doesn’t open the entire width of the bag
  • Straps won’t adjust small enough for skinny people with narrow hips — it’ll fall right off your booty

Dimensions: 3.94” (H) x 11.2” (W) x 2.48” (D)

More details and specs here.

Generic fanny pack – free

[gallery ids="1869523,1869524,1869525"]

This is not a great fanny pack. I’m including this bottom of the barrel bag I received as Google schwag during CES earlier this year as a control. It’s made in China with visible threads, sloppily sewn together. Ugly, yet surprisingly comfortable. It gets the job done and you don’t have to worry about losing it. You can get a similar one on Amazon for eight bucks.

Chinese tariff retaliation, presidential tweets and market unease sends exchanges plummeting

By Jonathan Shieber

After a week of modest gains, major stock indexes plummeted on Friday as China retaliated against U.S. tariffs by imposing $75 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. goods coming into the country.

China’s foreign ministry said that it would resume tariffs on U.S. imports of automobiles and auto parts and place an additional 5% or 10% tariff on agricultural and food products like soybeans, coffee, whiskey and seafood.

The trouble was exacerbated by statements on President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which called for the U.S. to “immediately start looking for an alternative to China.” The president also accused China of stealing “our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year.”

Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2019

The attacks sent markets into a tailspin. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by as much as 700 points before closing the day slightly down only 623 points at 25,628.60. Meanwhile the S&P 500 Index fell 75.84 points to end the day at 2,847.11 and the Nasdaq dropped 239.62 points to close at 7,751.77.

The declines come on top of a dismal week of economic reports for the U.S. Earlier, the number of jobs the country had added over the past year was revised downward by 500,000. Meanwhile, the national debt is ballooning at a faster rate than expected, with the U.S. deficit expected to hit $1.2 trillion by 2020.

Walmart and Tesla are going to try and work things out

By Kirsten Korosec

Walmart came out swinging earlier this week in a lawsuit that accused Tesla of breach of contract and gross negligence over problems with rooftop solar panel systems installed at the retail giant’s stores.

Now, just days later, the lawsuit has been placed on hold while the two companies try to reach an agreement that would keep the solar installations in place and put them back in service, according to a joint statement issued late Thursday night.

“Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed,” the statement read. “Together, we look forward to pursuing our mutual goal of a sustainable energy future. Above all else, both companies want each and every system to operate reliably, efficiently, and safely.”

Walmart hasn’t dropped the lawsuit. The complaint is still on file with New York state court. But the two parties are going to try to reach an agreement that would avoid a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which is aimed at Tesla’s energy unit that was formerly known as SolarCity, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by the solar panel systems. Walmart asked Tesla to remove the solar panel systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and to pay for damages related to fires that the retailer alleges stem from the panels.

Now, a Walmart spokesperson said it is “actively working towards a resolution” with Tesla.

Neither Tesla or Walmart would explain the details of the negotiations.

The stakes are high for Tesla. Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk  announced a new rental offering for solar power in a bid to reboot the flagging renewable energy business.

Tesla’s share of the solar market has declined since its merger with SolarCity in 2016. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar, installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts, respectively.

Tesla’s renewable energy business includes residential and commercial solar and energy storage products. The company also has a utility-scale energy product called Megapack. While Tesla still produces solar panels for residential use, much of its focus has been on developing its solar roof, which is comprised of tiles. It still operates a commercial business, which targets municipalities, schools, affordable housing, enterprise and agriculture and water districts as customers.

The company doesn’t provide a breakdown of its solar installations, making it difficult to determine if the commercial business is flat, falling or on the rise. Language in its latest 10-Q suggests Tesla is putting a renewed effort into its solar business.

Tesla said it’s working on revamping the customer service experience for solar products, according to the 10-Q. The company said while its retrofit solar system deployments have it expects they “will stabilize and grow in the second half of the year.”

How Pivotal got bailed out by fellow Dell family member, VMware

By Ron Miller

When Dell acquired EMC in 2016 for $67 billion, it created a complicated consortium of interconnected organizations. Some, like VMware and Pivotal, operate as completely separate companies. They have their own boards of directors, can acquire companies and are publicly traded on the stock market. Yet they work closely within the Dell, partnering where it makes sense. When Pivotal’s stock price plunged recently, VMware saved the day when it bought the faltering company for $2.7 billion yesterday.

Pivotal went public last year, and sometimes struggled, but in June the wheels started to come off after a poor quarterly earnings report. The company had what MarketWatch aptly called “a train wreck of a quarter.”

How bad was it? So bad that its stock price was down 42% the day after it reported its earnings. While the quarter itself wasn’t so bad, with revenue up year over year, the guidance was another story. The company cut its 2020 revenue guidance by $40-$50 million and the guidance it gave for the upcoming 2Q19 was also considerably lower than consensus Wall Street estimates.

The stock price plunged from a high of $21.44 on May 30th to a low of $8.30 on Aug 14th. The company’s market cap plunged in that same time period falling from $5.828 billion on May 30th to $2.257 billion on Aug 14th. That’s when VMware admitted it was thinking about buying the struggling company.

Waxed canvas messengers from Trakke, Waterfield and Mission Workshop are spacious and rugged

By Devin Coldewey

It’s nearing the end of Bag Week 2019, where we highlight the best receptacles for the tech we cover daily, and we’ve got a few more winners for you. Earlier this week I collected a few excellent waxed canvas laptop bags, a sequel to last year’s round-up, but these messenger-style bags stood out. So I’ve collected them here separately.

As I’ve written before, waxed canvas is a wonderful material. The natural fibers infused with wax provide water resistance, structure, protection and a great look that only gets better with time as you use it. It’s my favorite material and it should be yours too. Only trouble is, it can be expensive. But keep in mind that these bags are the kind that you take with you for a decade or two.

Waterfield Vitesse – $159

waxed messengers 01

Pros:

  • Extremely handsome material and color
  • Great closure mechanism
  • Interior laptop sleeve is lovely

Cons:

  • Permanently attached nylon straps
  • Exterior pocket style not for everyone
  • Prominent badge

Store link

Waterfield’s canvas material was my favorite, with the possible exception, accounting for taste, of the heavy-duty Saddleback bag. While the latter is raw and rugged, this one is more refined and flexible. The canvas is much softer and more pliable than the other bags, but still thick and protective. It isn’t very stiff, though.

The Vitesse is a simple, useful bag. It has plenty of space inside for a day out or even an overnight if you’re careful. There are three simple pockets on the inside for stowing smaller items, and a large laptop compartment that closes with a Velcro strap.

Waterfield recommends a sleeve for your laptop, and I support that, especially considering how nice their sleeves are. The padded waxed canvas sleeve that they sent along has a leather base and magnetic closure that made me feel quite confident in throwing the bag around. I also used it in other bags, like the Joshu+Vela one, which lacked their own padding. There are of course cheaper and thinner sleeves than this, but I felt this one deserved a shout-out.

[gallery ids="1873239,1873229,1873237,1873238,1873236,1873235,1873234,1873233,1873232,1873231"]

On the outside, under the flap, is a single large pocket space that can be accessed through zippers on either side of the bag. These are weather-sealed, as well, so if they’re exposed a bit they won’t leak. There’s a leather handle up top that feels well balanced and won’t get in your way. On the front of the flap is a (to me) over-prominent leather logo badge. Maybe I’m over-sensitive to this kind of thing.

The closure method is unique: studs that fit into holes in leather straps attached to the flap. I thought it was weird at first but it’s grown on me: it’s easy to undo in a hurry, and not hard to attach even with one hand.

My main issue is the strap. For a messenger bag the strap is really important, and the truth is Waterfield kind of blew it here. The Vitesse basically just has a plain nylon strap, sewn on at an angle to the corners of the bag. Unlike many laptop bags, the straps can’t swivel, so they’ll get twisted. And unlike the other messengers here, there’s no big obvious pad or quick-adjust capability.

I’m a little sad I can’t recommend the Vitesse more, given its strengths, but this strap really is hard to get over.

Trakke Wee Lug (Mk2) – £225 (around $270)

waxed messengers 12

Pros:

  • Refined, well thought-out design and components
  • Comfortable strap setup
  • Low-key waxing and color

Cons:

  • Closure can take some getting used to
  • Switching strap side could be easier
  • Low-key waxing and color

Store link

This Scottish maker of waxed canvas items has a long history over there, and sources its cloth from one of the original purveyors of waxed canvas in the world. We’re talking 19th century here.

But the design and in fact the cloth itself are distinctly modern. A “dry wax” finish gives the Wee Lug very little of a waxy feel, but it’s definitely in there, you can tell. It’ll just take longer to develop the kind of wear marks you get in a hurry on the more wax-forward bags like the Vitesse above. It’s also a lighter, smoother color in person, compared with the caramel Rummy and more textured Vitesse.

The truth is this finish isn’t for everyone, in that if you really want that old-fashioned waxed look, this isn’t it. But keep in mind that you can (and should) wax or rewax the material on this kind of bag, and you’re free to do so.

Whether the material is to your liking or not, the design is excellent. The exterior has two zip-access side pockets a bit like the Vitesse, but larger and a bit easier to access. The interior has a zipping padded laptop area, smaller zipped pocket, two simple side pockets and a large general-use space. It’s also a bright, citrusy not-quite-safety orange that complements the tan exterior well.

[gallery ids="1873245,1873247,1873246,1873244,1873243,1873242,1873240,1873241"]

The zippers all have loops, a more practical alternative to ordinary pulls and, in my opinion, more attractive than leather thongs, which seem to me like they’re just a way to use up scraps. There’s a carry handle near the top of the back that feels very strong and despite sticking out a bit hasn’t bothered me while using the bag.

Closure is achieved by slipping a metal clip below through a gap in another metal clip above; it takes a little bit to get used to, but ultimately it’s both simple and robust, and very unlikely to wear out.

The shoulder strap is thick black canvas, with a generous (20-inch) shoulder pad. In the middle is a Cobra buckle for quick donning and removing. The Wee Lug is definitely intended to be worn high across the back, as the padded portion of the strap goes all the way to the edge of the bag. I should say the D-rings and hardware other than the buckle are the weakest parts of the whole bag — just ordinary plastic.

Those straps can be removed and reattached on the opposite sides so it goes from a right- to left-shouldered bag, but this process is a bit cumbersome. If it were too easy it might happen on accident, but slipping the thick canvas strap through the gap in its clip takes a lot of strength — something you might not have when you’re tired from riding and want to switch shoulders.

If I had to recommend one bag out of these three, I think the Trakke would be it.

Mission Workshop Monty – $255

 

waxed messengers 19

Pros:

  • Nice marky waxed finish
  • Truly waterproof
  • Very spacious

Cons:

  • Feels a little overengineered
  • No padded laptop space
  • No handle and strap again could be easier to switch

Store link

Mission Workshop puts together bags of obviously high quality, but they tend to have an aspect of cleverness to them that I don’t always find warranted. In the case of the Monty (and its big siblings the Rummy and Shed) they have a great basic setup that feels like there’s just a bit too much going on.

What they get right is the materials and feeling of ruggedness. If I was going into seriously inclement weather, the Monty is the bag I’d take, no question. Waxed canvas is naturally water resistant and it’ll keep your gear safe from spray or limited rain, but torrential downpour or immersion breaks the spell. If you’re going to be riding in the rain regularly and for long periods of time, you need a synthetic, waterproof layer if you don’t want anything getting damp.

That’s what’s inside the Monty: a strong tarp layer lining every pocket and space that pretty much guarantees your gear stays dry. The exterior is a lovely caramel-colored waxed canvas that was extremely eager to pick up marks and impressions (and, as is often the case with wet finishes, dirt and fuzz — Filson’s do this too).

[gallery ids="1873252,1873256,1873255,1873254,1873253,1873251,1873250,1873249,1873248"]

The other thing they get right is the amount of structured and unstructured space. The Monty has a very large main compartment in the back, big enough it’s difficult to photograph (I tried… for some reason this thing is not photogenic, though it looks good in real life). Then there’s a zippered area with two sub-compartments in the front, and two open pockets that close with a single flap in front of that. There’s no shortage of places to put your things, but you’re never at a loss where something should go.

I personally think the front pocket closure is a little much, since you can hardly reach inside them without removing the main flap and undoing this huge Velcro piece, but better too secure than not secure enough. And I would have liked a bit of padding around the larger zip pocket, or a padded sub-area where a laptop could go.

But the main issue I have with the Monty is that it tries to accommodate two styles when really there’s only one. You can close the bag in two ways: by folding the flap over and securing it with the company’s excellent Arkiv closures, or by rolling it down and Velcroing it shut with a different flap.

Rolltop stuff is in MW’s DNA, but it simply doesn’t fit here. If you roll it up, the straps have nothing to do but hang onto the front of the pockets. Meanwhile if you fold it over, you have unused Velcro all over the outside, and a flap on the inside doing nothing. You can’t roll it a little and then fold it over, since it would hide the closure rails.

I feel like MW could have made a strong decision one way or the other here and made the bag either rolltop or flap closure, but instead they did both, and whichever you choose, you still sort of run into the other. And the thing is it doesn’t matter which you choose, since your stuff will be protected fine either way and neither opens up or obscures any extra space.

So the Monty, despite being a very practical bag in some ways, feels like a weird hybrid in others. Whereas the Wee Lug knows exactly what it is and pursues that design exclusively.


These are all three great bags, but they serve very different purposes. The Waterfield is a great all-round casual bag, but the strap really makes it impractical for cycling or long wear. The Trakke is much more suited for athletic activities and has more room and organization, making it something of a perfect weekender or day bag. And the MW is sort of a prepper bag, ready for anything and a bit off-kilter.

If I had to buy a single one of these right now, I’d go with the Trakke — the attention to detail appeals to me. If, on the other hand, I knew I’d be facing lots of rain or the possibility of dropping my bag in the surf, I’d go MW. And if Waterfield gets its strap game together I’d find their bag easy to recommend as a flexible, unfussy hybrid. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Netflix tests human-driven curation with launch of ‘Collections’

By Sarah Perez

Netflix is testing a new way to help users find TV shows and movies they’ll want to watch with the launch of a “Collections” feature, currently in testing on iOS devices. While Netflix today already offers thematic suggestions of things to watch, based on your Netflix viewing history, Collections aren’t only based on themes. According to Netflix, the titles are curated by experts on the company’s creative teams, and are organized into these collections based on similar factors — like genre, tone, storyline, and character traits.

This human-led curation is different from how Netflix typically makes its recommendations. The streaming service is famous for its advanced categorization system, where there are hundreds of niche categories that go beyond broad groupings like “Action,” “Drama,” “Sci-Fi,” “Romance,” and the like. These narrower subcategories allow the streamer to make more specific and targeted recommendations.

Netflix also tracks titles that are popular and trending across its service, so you can check in on what everyone else is watching, as well.

The new Collections feature was first spotted by Jeff Higgins, who tweeted some screenshots of the addition.

If you’ve been opted in to the test, the Collections option is available at the top right of the app’s homepage — where My List would have been otherwise.

Netflix Collections is your new way of finding what you want to watch, fast. pic.twitter.com/kKfciBWCg4

— Jeff Higgins Likes Umbrella Beach Drinks (@ItsJeffHiggins) August 23, 2019

The suggestions are organized into editorial groups, with titles like “Let’s Keep It Light,” “Dark & Devious TV Shows,” “Prizewinning Movie Picks,” “Watch, Gasp, Repeat,” “Women Who Rule the Screen,” and many more.

You can follow the Collection from the main screen, or you can tap into it to further explore its titles.

ECp6oEOXsAAgddU

If you tap a collection that interests you, it smoothly expands to the show the thumbnails of the suggested titles below a header that explains what the collection is about. You can choose to follow the suggestion from here too, which presumably ties into Netflix’s notification system.

Here's a look at the smooth transitions in the new Netflix Collections 👇pic.twitter.com/5xPYRheCqn

— Jeff Higgins Likes Umbrella Beach Drinks (@ItsJeffHiggins) August 23, 2019

Collections are also found on the app’s Home page, for those who have access to the new feature.

“We’re always looking for new ways to connect our fans with titles we think they’ll love, so we’re testing out a new way to curate Netflix titles into collections on the Netflix iOS app,” a Netflix spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. “Our tests generally vary in how long they run for and in which countries they run in, and they may or may not become permanent features on our service.”

UQ4dOkhZ

This isn’t the first time Netflix has toyed with organizing content suggestions into Collections. The company’s DVD service (yes, it still exists), had rolled out a similar Collections feature in its own mobile app.

This test comes at a time when Netflix is working on features to better retain existing subscribers amid increased competition, including that from upcoming rivals like Disney+ and Apple TV+, among others. On this front, it also recently launched a feature allowing users to track new and soon-to-launch releases, as a means of keeping subscribers anticipating what comes next.

Netflix said Collections is only available on iOS. As a test, it won’t show to all users.

Backup service IDrive launches a face recognition API for developers

By Frederic Lardinois

I did a bit of a double take when I first saw this announcement. IDrive, an online cloud storage and backup service, is launching a face recognition API today that goes up against the likes of AWS Rekognition and others. That seems like a bit of an odd move for a backup company, but it turns out that IDrive has actually been in the face recognition game for a while. Last year, the company launched IDrive People to help its users find faces in photos they’ve backed up on its service. With its API, IDrive is targeting a very different market, though, and entering into the API business for the first time.

IDrive Face, as the service is called, includes the standard tools for detecting and analyzing multiple faces within a still image that are at the core of every face detection API. For this, the API provides the usual bounding boxes and metadata for all faces. There are also a face comparison and verification features to identify people by their face, and a gender, age and emotion detection option. All requests to the API are encrypted and using the API looks to be pretty straightforward.

IDrive promises that its tool’s accuracy and performance is comparable to AWS Rekognition, but at a lower price. The company offers a developer plan for $49.50/month plus $0.0001 per transaction, at up to 75 transactions per minute, with unlimited storage included. There’s also a business plan for $124.50/month, $0.0001 per transaction and up to 500 transactions per minute, as well as custom enterprise plans and free trials for those who want to give the service a try.

AWS’ pricing is, as usual, a bit more complicated and while there’s no monthly cost, most serious users will end up paying more for Rekognition than IDrive Face, though Rekognition offers a number of features like text, object, scene and celebrity recognition that aren’t available in the competing product, which only focuses on faces.

GenderAge Detection

Daily Crunch: Overstock CEO resigns

By Anthony Ha

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Overstock CEO resigns after ‘deep state’ comments

This comes after CEO Patrick Byrne released a statement declaring that he cooperated with federal investigators back in 2015 and was in fact “the notorious ‘missing chapter 1’ of the Russia investigation.” He subsequently gave interviews that also touched on his relationship Maria Butina, who’s been accused of working as a Russian agent.

The ensuing controversy sent Overstock’s share price tumbling, and Byrne said yesterday that he would have to “sever ties with Overstock, both as CEO and board member.”

2. Sphero has acquired littleBits

Founded in 2010 and 2011 respectively, Sphero and littleBits took separate approaches to creating STEM toys, but ultimately ended up in similar spaces.

3. Google says China used YouTube to meddle in Hong Kong protests

The search giant, which owns YouTube, followed in the footsteps of Twitter and Facebook, which earlier this week said China had used their social media sites to spread misinformation and discord among the protesters.

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4. VMware acquires Carbon Black for $2.1B and Pivotal for $2.7B

Although these are two very different companies, both Carbon Black and Pivotal focus on modern workloads.

5. Oracle directors give blessing to shareholder lawsuit against Larry Ellison and Safra Catz

Three years after closing a $9.3 billion deal to acquire NetSuite, several Oracle board members have written a letter to the Delaware Court, approving a shareholder lawsuit against company executives Larry Ellison and Safra Catz over the deal.

6. Tumblr’s next step forward with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

In an interview, Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg discussed Tumblr’s history and the impact of the poorly received adult content restrictions. He also shed some light on where Tumblr goes under its new owners. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. Apple exec Susan Prescott is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

Prescott has been at Apple since 2003, and she’ll be joining us to discuss the company’s enterprise strategy.

Watch a Waymo self-driving car test its sensors in a haboob

By Kirsten Korosec

Waymo, the self-driving car company under Alphabet, has been testing in the suburbs of Phoenix for several years now. And while the sunny metropolis might seem like the ideal and easiest location to test autonomous vehicle technology, there are times when the desert becomes a dangerous place for any driver — human or computer.

The two big safety concerns in this desert region are sudden downpours that cause flash floods and haboobs, giant walls of dust between 1,500 and 3,000 feet high that can cover up to 100 square miles. One record-breaking haboob in July 2011 covered the entire Phoenix valley, an area of more than 517 square miles.

Waymo released Friday a blog post that included two videos showing how the sensors on its self-driving vehicles detect and recognize objects while navigating through a haboob in Phoenix and fog in San Francisco. The vehicle in Phoenix was manually driven, while the one in the fog video was in autonomous mode.

The point of the videos, Waymo says, is to show how, and if, the vehicles recognize objects during these extreme low visibility moments. And they do. The haboob video shows how its sensors work to identify a pedestrian crossing a street with little to no visibility.

Waymo uses a combination of lidar, radar and cameras to detect and identify objects. Fog, rain or dust can limit visibility in all or some of these sensors.

Waymo doesn’t silo the sensors affected by a particular weather event. Instead, it continues to take in data from all the sensors, even those that don’t function as well in fog or dust, and uses that collective information to better identify objects.

The potential is for autonomous vehicles to improve on visibility, one of the greatest performance limitations of humans, Debbie Hersman, Waymo’s chief safety officer wrote in the blog post. If Waymo or other AV companies are successful, they could help reduce one of the leading contributors to crashes. The Department of Transportation estimates that weather contributes to 21% of the annual U.S. crashes.

Still, there are times when even an autonomous vehicle doesn’t belong on the road. It’s critical for any company planning to deploy AVs to have a system that can not only identify, but also take the safest action if conditions worsen.

Waymo vehicles are designed to automatically detect sudden extreme weather changes, such as a snowstorm, that could impact the ability of a human or an AV to drive safely, according to Hersman.

The question is what happens next. Humans are supposed to pull over off the road during a haboob and turn off the vehicle, a similar action when one encounters heavy fog.  Waymo’s self-driving vehicles will do the same if weather conditions deteriorate to the point that the company believes it would affect the safe operation of its cars, Hersman wrote.

The videos and blog post are the latest effort by Waymo to showcase how and where it’s testing. The company announced August 20 that it has started testing how its sensors handle heavy rain in Florida. The move to Florida will focus on data collection and testing sensors; the vehicles will be manually driven for now.

Waymo also tests (or has tested) its technology in and around Mountain View, Calif., Novi, Mich., Kirkland, Wash. and San Francisco. The bulk of the company’s activities have been in suburbs of Phoenix  and around Mountain View.

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