Google employees demand the end of forced arbitration across the tech industry

On the heels of an employee-led protest against Google, a group of 35 Google employees is banding together to take it a step further and end the practice of forced arbitration across the entire tech industry.

Forced arbitration ensures workplace disputes are settled behind closed doors and without any right to an appeal. These types of agreements effectively prevent employees from suing companies. Following the walkout last month, Google got rid of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, offering more transparency around those investigations and more. Airbnb, eBay and Facebook quickly followed suit.

However, optional arbitration at Google is only granted for full-time employees, which does not include the thousands of contract workers at the company. Now, a group of Google employees is demanding an end to forced arbitration, as it relates to any case of discrimination, across the entire industry.

As the employees note on Medium, arbitration is still forced for discrimination cases pertaining to race, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, age and ability. Additionally, employee contracts in the U.S. still have an arbitration waiver, the employees wrote.

“We have not heard of any plan to render these waivers null and void,” employees wrote on Medium. “Google operates in 52 countries where arbitration laws vary, and leadership has not addressed these variances. What should we expect?”

Moving forward, they’re asking other tech workers to join them in their fight to end forced arbitration for all forms of harassment and discrimination. They’re also calling on elected officials to support the Arbitration Fairness Act, as well as Restoring Justice for Workers Act.

“We are already engaging with multiple organizations and can help connect the dots through educational materials and organizing resources,” they wrote. “2019 must be the year to end a system of privatized justice that impacts over 60 million workers in the US alone.”

I’ve reached out to Google and will update this story if I hear back.


Source: Tech Crunch

US tech giants decry Australia’s ‘deeply flawed’ new anti-encryption law

A group of U.S. tech giants, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, have collectively denounced the new so-called “anti-encryption” law passed by the Australian parliament last week.

The bill was passed less than a day after the ruling coalition government secured the votes from opposition Labor lawmakers, despite strong objection from tech companies and telcos.

“The new Australian law is deeply flawed, overly broad, and lacking in adequate independent oversight over the new authorities,” said the Reform Government Surveillance coalition in a statement. The tech companies added that the law would “undermine the cybersecurity, human rights, or the right to privacy of our users.”

It’s the latest rebuke since the bill’s passing, following an extensive lobbying effort by Silicon Valley to push back on the anti-encryption proposals.

The law allows Australian police and the intelligence agencies wide-reaching powers to issue “technical notices” — essentially forcing companies and even websites operating in Australia to help the government undermine encryption or insert backdoors at the behest of the government. Critics argue that there’s little oversight, potentially allowing abuse of the system. And because the notices will almost always be issued with a gag order, any technical notices are served behind closed doors in secret.

Companies that refuse to comply with the demands in a technical notice can be served heavy financial penalties.

The Australian government won in part by accusing Labor of using scare tactics, saying that the opposition party was choosing to “allow terrorists and pedophiles to continue their evil work in order to engage in point scoring,” said Australian defense minister Christopher Pyne, in a since-deleted tweet. Labor caved in to the pressure, and party leader Bill Shorten instructed his members to vote for the bill. He promised that the party would offer amendments to the law once passed in the coming months, while keeping “Australians safer over Christmas.”

The tech coalition said it’ll hold the Australian parliament’s feet to the fire, urging lawmakers to “promptly address these flaws when it reconvenes” in the new year.

The group, which also includes Dropbox, Facebook, Google and Yahoo parent company Oath (which also owns TechCrunch) — was set up after the companies were named in classified U.S. documents as participants in the secret National Security Agency program, dubbed PRISM. All of the companies denied their willing involvement, and began a collective effort to lobby the government to reform its surveillance operations — many of which rely on compelled assistance from tech companies and telcos.

Evernote, LinkedIn, Snap and Twitter, which weren’t named as PRISM partners, later joined the coalition, and also signed on to the letter.

Cisco and Mozilla joined other companies in separately filing complaints with Australian lawmakers ahead of the planned vote, arguing that the law “could do significant harm to the Internet.”


Source: Tech Crunch

Google Fit gets improved activity logging and a breathing exercise

Google Fit, Google’ s activity-tracking app for Android, is getting a small but meaningful update today that adds a few new features that’ll likely make its regular users quite happy. Some are pretty basic, like the launch of a Fit widget for your Android home screen, while others introduce new features like a breathing exercise (though that will only be available on Wear OS), an updated home screen in the app itself and improved activity logging.

The app got a major redesign earlier this year and in the process, Google introduced Heart Points as a way of tracking not just the length but also the strenuousness of your activities. Those are tracked automatically as you go about your day, but since Fit also lets you log activities manually, you didn’t really get a chance to log the intensity of those exercises. Now, however, you can adjust the intensity in your quest for getting more Heart Points.

The other major new feature is the exact opposite of strenuous exercise: a breathing exercise for those moments when you want to calm down. For some reason, Google decided that this feature is Wear OS-only right now. I’m not quite sure why that’s the case, but if you don’t have a Wear OS watch, you’ll just have to figure out some other way to keep calm and bugger on.


Source: Tech Crunch

Krisp reduces noise on calls using machine learning, and it’s coming to Windows soon

If your luck is anything like mine, as soon as you jump on an important call, someone decides it’s a great time to blow some leaves off the sidewalk outside your window. 2Hz’s Krisp is a new desktop app that uses machine learning to subtract background noise like that, or crowds, or even crying kids — while keeping your voice intact. It’s already out for Macs and it’s coming to Windows soon.

I met the creators of Krisp, including 2Hz co-founder Davit Baghdasaryan, earlier this year at UC Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, where they demonstrated their then-prototype tech.

The tech involved is complex, but the idea is simple: If you create a machine learning system that understands what the human voice sounds like, on average, then it can listen to an audio signal and select only that part of it, cutting out a great deal of background noise.

Baghdasaryan, formerly of Twilio, originally wanted to create something that would run on mobile networks, so T-Mobile or whoever could tout built-in noise cancellation. This platform approach proved too slow, however, so they decided to go straight to consumers.

“Traction with customers was slow, and this was a problem for a young startup,” Baghdasaryan said in an email later. However, people were loving the idea of ‘muting noise,’ so we decided to switch all our focus and build a user-facing product.”

That was around the time I talked with them in person, incidentally, and just six months later they had released on Mac.

It’s simple: You run the app, and it modifies both the outgoing and incoming audio signals, with the normal noisy signal going in one end and a clean, voice-focused one coming out the other. Everything happens on-device and with very short latency (around 15 milliseconds), so there’s no cloud involved and nothing is ever sent to any server or even stored locally. The team is working on having the software adapt and learn on the fly, but it’s not implemented yet.

Another benefit of this approach is it doesn’t need any special tweaking to work with, say, Skype instead of Webex. Because it works at the level of the OS’s sound processing, whatever app you use just hears the Krisp-modified signal as if it were clean out of your mic.

They launched on Mac because they felt the early-adopter type was more likely to be on Apple’s platform, and the bet seems to have paid off. But a Windows version is coming soon — the exact date isn’t set, but expect it either late this month or early January. (We’ll let you know when it’s live.)

It should be more or less identical to the Mac version, but there will be a special gaming-focused one. Gamers, Baghdasaryan pointed out, are much more likely to have GPUs to run Krisp on, and also have a real need for clear communication (as a PUBG player I can speak to the annoyance of an open mic and clacky keys). So there will likely be a few power-user features specific to gamers, but it’s not set in stone yet.

You may wonder, as I did, why they weren’t going after chip manufacturers, perhaps to include Krisp as a tech built into a phone or computer’s audio processor.

In person, they suggested that this ultimately was also too slow and restrictive. Meanwhile, they saw that there was no real competition in the software space, which is massively easier to enter.

“All current noise cancellation solutions require multiple microphones and a special form factor where the mouth must be close to one of the mics. We have no such requirement,” Baghdasaryan explained. “We can do it with single-mic or operate on an audio stream coming from the network. This makes it possible to run the software in any environment you want (edge or network) and any direction (inbound or outbound).”

If you’re curious about the technical side of things — how it was done with one mic, or at low latency, and so on — there’s a nice explanation Baghdasaryan wrote for the Nvidia blog a little while back.

Furthermore, a proliferation of AI-focused chips that Krisp can run on easily means easy entry to the mobile and embedded space. “We have already successfully ported our DNN to NVIDIA GPUs, Intel CPU/GNA, and ARM. Qualcomm is in the pipeline,” noted Baghdasaryan.

To pursue this work the company has raised a total of $2 million so far: $500K from Skydeck as well as friends and family for a pre-seed round, then a $1.5 M round led by Sierra Ventures and Shanda Group.

Expect the Windows release later this winter, and if you’re already a user, expect a few new features to come your way in the same time scale. You can download Krisp for free here.


Source: Tech Crunch

Pew: Social media for the first time tops newspapers as a news source for US adults

It’s not true that everyone gets their news from Facebook and Twitter. But it is now true that more U.S. adults get their news from social media than from print newspapers. According to a new report from Pew Research Center out today, social media has for the first time surpassed newspapers as a preferred source of news for American adults. However, social media is still far behind other traditional news sources, like TV and radio, for example.

Last year, the portion of those who got their news from social media was around equal to those who got their news from print newspapers, Pew says. But in its more recent survey conducted from July 30 through August 12, 2018, that had changed.

Now, one-in-five U.S. adults (20 percent) are getting news from social media, compared with just 16 percent of those who get news from newspapers, the report found. (Pew had asked respondents if they got their news “often” from the various platforms.)

The change comes at a time when newspaper circulation is on the decline, and its popularity as a news medium is being phased out — particularly with younger generations. In fact, the report noted that print only remains popular today with the 65 and up crowd, where 39 percent get their news from newspapers. By comparison, no more than 18 percent of any other age group does.

While the decline of print has now given social media a slight edge, it’s nowhere near dominating other formats.

Instead, TV is still the most popular destination for getting the news, even though that’s been dropping over the past couple of years. TV is then followed by news websites, radio and then social media and newspapers.

But “TV news” doesn’t necessarily mean cable news networks, Pew clarifies.

In reality, local news is the most popular, with 37 percent getting their news there often. Meanwhile, 30 percent get cable TV news often and 25 percent watch the national evening news shows often.

However, if you look at the combination of news websites and social media together, a trend toward increasing news consumption from the web is apparent. Together, 43 percent of U.S. adults get their news from the web in some way, compared to 49 percent from TV.

There’s a growing age gap between TV and the web, too.

A huge majority (81 percent) of those 65 and older get news from TV, and so does 65 percent of those ages 50 to 64. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of the youngest consumers — those ages 18 to 29 — get their news from TV. This is the group pushing forward the cord cutting trend, too — or more specifically, many of them are the “cord-nevers,” as they’re never signing up for pay TV subscriptions in the first place. So it’s not surprising they’re not watching TV news.

Plus, a meager 2 percent get their news from newspapers in this group.

This young demographic greatly prefers digital consumption, with 27 percent getting news from news websites and 36 percent from social media. That is to say, they’re four times as likely than those 65 and up to get news from social media.

Meanwhile, online news websites are the most popular with the 30 to 49-year-old crowd, with 42 percent saying they get their news often from this source.

Despite their preference for digital, younger Americans’ news consumption is better spread out across mediums, Pew points out.

“Younger Americans are also unique in that they don’t rely on one platform in the way that the majority of their elders rely on TV,” Pew researcher Elisa Shearer writes. “No more than half of those ages 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 get news often from any one news platform,” she says.


Source: Tech Crunch

JIRA is an antipattern

Atlassian’s JIRA began life as a bug-tracking tool. Today, though, it has become an agile planning suite, “to plan, track, and release great software.” In many organizations it has become the primary map of software projects, the hub of all development, the infamous “source of truth.”

It is a truism that the map is not the territory. Alas, this seems especially true of JIRA. Its genesis as a bug tracker, and its resulting use of “tickets” as its fundamental, defining unit, have made its maps especially difficult to follow. JIRA1 is all too often used in a way which makes it, inadvertently, an industry-wide “antipattern,” i.e. “a common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive.”

One thing that writing elegant software has in common with art: its crafters should remain cognizant of the overall macro vision of the project, at the same time they are working on its smallest micro details. JIRA, alas, implicitly teaches everyone to ignore the larger vision while focusing on details. There is no whole. At best there is an “Epic” — but the whole point of an Epic is to be decomposed into smaller pieces to be worked on independently. JIRA encourages the disintegration of the macro vision.

What’s more, feature-driven JIRA does not easily support the concept of project-wide infrastructure which does not map to individual features. A data model used across the project. A complex component used across multiple pages. A caching layer for a third-party interface. A background service providing real-time data used across multiple screens. Sure, you can wedge those into JIRA’s ticket paradigm … but the spiderweb of dependencies which result don’t help anyone.

Worst of all, though, is the endless implicit pressure for tickets to be marked finished, to be passed on to the next phase. Tickets, in the JIRA mindset, are taken on, focused on until complete, and then passed on, never to be seen again. They have a one-way lifecycle: specification; design; development; testing; release. Doesn’t that sound a little … um … waterfall-y? Isn’t agile development supposed to be fundamentally different from waterfall development, rather than simply replacing one big waterfall with a thousand little ones?

Here’s an analogy. Imagine a city-planning tool which makes it easy to design city maps which do include towers, residential districts, parks, malls, and roads … but which doesn’t easily support things like waterworks, sewers, subway tunnels, the electrical grid, etc., which can only be wedged in through awkward hacks, if at all.

Now imagine this tool is used as a blueprint for construction, with the implicit baked-in assumption that a) the neighborhood is the fundamental unit of city construction b) cities are built one neighborhood at a time, and neighborhoods one block at a time. What’s more, one is incentivized to proceed to the next only when the last is absolutely complete, right down to the flowers growing in the median strips.

Now imagine that the city’s developers, engineers, and construction workers are asked to estimate and report progress purely in terms of how many neighborhoods and blocks have been fully completed, and how far along each one is. Does that strike you as a particularly effective model of urban planning? Do you think you would like to live in its result? Or, in practice, do you think that the best way to grow a city might be just a little more organic?

Let’s extend that metaphor. Suppose you began to build the city more organically, so that, at a certain significant point, you have a downtown full of a mix of temporary and permanent buildings; the skyscrapers’ foundations laid (i.e. technical uncertainty resolved); much of the core infrastructure built out; a few clusters of initial structures in the central neighborhoods, and shantytowns in the outskirts; a dirt airstrip where the airport will be; and traffic going back and forth among all these places. In other words, you have built a crude but functioning city-in-the-making, its skeleton constructed, ready to be fleshed out. Well done!

But if measured by how many blocks and neighborhoods are absolutely finished, according to the urban planners’ artistic renditions, what is your progress? By that measure, your progress is zero.

So that is not how JIRA incentivizes you to work. That would look like a huge column of in-progress tickets, and zero complete ones. That would look beyond terrible. Instead JIRA incentivizes you to complete an entire block, and then the next; an entire neighborhood, and then the next; to kill off as many different tickets as possible, to mark them complete and pass them on, even if splicing them together after the fact is more difficult than building them to work together in the first place,.

(If you prefer a smaller-scale model, just transpose: city → condo building, neighborhood → floor, block → unit, etc.)

And so people take tickets, implement them as written, pass them off to whoever is next in the workflow, consider their job well done, even if working on scattered groups of them in parallel might be much more effective … and without ever considering the larger goal. “Implement the Upload button” says the ticket; so that is all that is done. The ticket does not explain that the larger goal of the Upload button is to let users back up their work. Perhaps it would actually be technically easier to automatically upload every state change, such that the user gets automatic buttonless backups plus a complete undo/redo stack. But all the ticket says is: “Implement the Upload button.” So that is all that is done.

All too often, the only time anyone worries about the vision of the project as a whole is at the very beginning, when the overworked project manager(s) initially deal(s) with the thankless task of decomposing the entire project into a forest of tickets. But the whole point of agile development is to accept that the project will always be changing over time, and — albeit to a lesser extent — for multiple people, everyone on the team, to help contribute to that change. JIRA has become a tool which actually works against this.

(And don’t even get me started on asking engineers to estimate a project that someone else has broken down, into subcomponents whose partitioning feels unnatural, by giving them about thirty seconds per feature during a planning meeting, and then basing the entire project plan on those hand-waved un-researched off-the-top-of-the-head half-blind guesses, without ever revisiting them or providing time for more thoughtful analysis. That antipattern is not JIRA’s fault … exactly. But JIRA’s structure contributes to it.)

I’m not saying JIRA has no place. It’s very good when you’re at the point where breaking things down into small pieces and finishing them sequentially does make sense. And, unsurprisingly given its history, it’s exceedingly good at issue tracking.

Let me reiterate: to write elegant software, you must keep both the macro and the micro vision in your mind simultaneously while working. JIRA is good at managing micro pieces. But you need something else for the macro. (And no, a clickable prototype isn’t enough; those are important, but they too require descriptive context.)

Allow me to propose something shocking and revolutionary: prose. Yes, that’s right; words in a row; thoughtfully written paragraphs. I’m not talking about huge requirements documents. I’m talking about maybe a ten-page overview describing the vision for the entire project in detail, and a six-page architectural document explaining the software infrastructure — where the city’s water, sewage, power, subways, and airports are located, and how they work, to extend the metaphor. When Amazon can, famously, require six-page memos in order to call meetings, this really doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Simply ceasing to treat JIRA as the primary map and model of project completion undercuts a great deal of its implicit antipatternness. Use it for tracking iterative development and bug fixes, by all means. It’s very good at that. But it is a tool deeply ill-suited to be the map of a project’s overall vision or infrastructure, and it is never the source of truth — the source of truth is always the running code. In software, as in art, the micro work and the macro vision should always be informed by one another. Let JIRA map the micro work; but let good old-fashioned plain language describe the macro vision, and try to pay more attention to it.


1Atlassian seems to have decapitalized JIRA between versions 7.9 and 7.10, but descriptively, all-caps still seems more common.


Source: Tech Crunch

Awaken offers meditations focused on healing from systems of oppression

A mindful, contemplative approach to internalized racism and sexism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of dismantling systems of oppression, Awaken founder and CEO Ravi Mishra says. That’s the entire point of Awaken, a mindfulness and meditation app specifically geared toward helping people cope with the harsh realities of today’s society.

Awaken got its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Mishra told TechCrunch. The election surfaced these “larger questions that have to do with race, gender, sexuality and power, and how they live inside of us.”

Through Awaken, Mishra hopes to offer mindfulness and meditation practices that help cultivate stability within marginalized communities. These contemplative practices center around sitting with certain questions and identity construction. Awaken’s founding teachers are Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Sensei Greg Snyder — three leaders focused on the intersection of mindfulness and social change.

Similar to meditation app Headspace, which is valued at $320 million, Awaken has a freemium plan in place. For full access to content, Awaken charges $8.99 a month. While Awaken does seek to make money, Mishra says he’s not doing it for profit. Instead, the plan is to use all the money Awaken makes for activist work.

“We’re currently running at a loss and figuring out how to break even,” he told me. “The hope and idea is once we are fully profitable, we’ll move that into activist work.”

Awaken has plans to close a round of funding from mission-aligned angel investors early next year.


Source: Tech Crunch

Why you need a supercomputer to build a house

When the hell did building a house become so complicated?

Don’t let the folks on HGTV fool you. The process of building a home nowadays is incredibly painful. Just applying for the necessary permits can be a soul-crushing undertaking that’ll have you running around the city, filling out useless forms, and waiting in motionless lines under fluorescent lights at City Hall wondering whether you should have just moved back in with your parents.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

And to actually get approval for those permits, your future home will have to satisfy a set of conditions that is a factorial of complex and conflicting federal, state and city building codes, separate sets of fire and energy requirements, and quasi-legal construction standards set by various independent agencies.

It wasn’t always this hard – remember when you’d hear people say “my grandparents built this house with their bare hands?” These proliferating rules have been among the main causes of the rapidly rising cost of housing in America and other developed nations. The good news is that a new generation of startups is identifying and simplifying these thickets of rules, and the future of housing may be determined as much by machine learning as woodworking.

When directions become deterrents

Photo by Bill Oxford via Getty Images

Cities once solely created the building codes that dictate the requirements for almost every aspect of a building’s design, and they structured those guidelines based on local terrain, climates and risks. Over time, townships, states, federally-recognized organizations and independent groups that sprouted from the insurance industry further created their own “model” building codes.

The complexity starts here. The federal codes and independent agency standards are optional for states, who have their own codes which are optional for cities, who have their own codes that are often inconsistent with the state’s and are optional for individual townships. Thus, local building codes are these ever-changing and constantly-swelling mutant books made up of whichever aspects of these different codes local governments choose to mix together. For instance, New York City’s building code is made up of five sections, 76 chapters and 35 appendices, alongside a separate set of 67 updates (The 2014 edition is available as a book for $155, and it makes a great gift for someone you never want to talk to again).

In short: what a shit show.

Because of the hyper-localized and overlapping nature of building codes, a home in one location can be subject to a completely different set of requirements than one elsewhere. So it’s really freaking difficult to even understand what you’re allowed to build, the conditions you need to satisfy, and how to best meet those conditions.

There are certain levels of complexity in housing codes that are hard to avoid. The structural integrity of a home is dependent on everything from walls to erosion and wind-flow. There are countless types of material and technology used in buildings, all of which are constantly evolving.

Thus, each thousand-page codebook from the various federal, state, city, township and independent agencies – all dictating interconnecting, location and structure-dependent needs – lead to an incredibly expansive decision tree that requires an endless set of simulations to fully understand all the options you have to reach compliance, and their respective cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

So homebuilders are often forced to turn to costly consultants or settle on designs that satisfy code but aren’t cost-efficient. And if construction issues cause you to fall short of the outcomes you expected, you could face hefty fines, delays or gigantic cost overruns from redesigns and rebuilds. All these costs flow through the lifecycle of a building, ultimately impacting affordability and access for homeowners and renters.

Startups are helping people crack the code

Photo by Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch via Getty Images

Strap on your hard hat – there may be hope for your dream home after all.

The friction, inefficiencies, and pure agony caused by our increasingly convoluted building codes have given rise to a growing set of companies that are helping people make sense of the home-building process by incorporating regulations directly into their software.

Using machine learning, their platforms run advanced scenario-analysis around interweaving building codes and inter-dependent structural variables, allowing users to create compliant designs and regulatory-informed decisions without having to ever encounter the regulations themselves.

For example, the prefab housing startup Cover is helping people figure out what kind of backyard homes they can design and build on their properties based on local zoning and permitting regulations.

Some startups are trying to provide similar services to developers of larger scale buildings as well. Just this past week, I covered the seed round for a startup called Cove.Tool, which analyzes local building energy codes – based on location and project-level characteristics specified by the developer – and spits out the most cost-effective and energy-efficient resource mix that can be built to hit local energy requirements.

And startups aren’t just simplifying the regulatory pains of the housing process through building codes. Envelope is helping developers make sense of our equally tortuous zoning codes, while Cover and companies like Camino are helping steer home and business-owners through arduous and analog permitting processes.

Look, I’m not saying codes are bad. In fact, I think building codes are good and necessary – no one wants to live in a home that might cave in on itself the next time it snows. But I still can’t help but ask myself why the hell does it take AI to figure out how to build a house? Why do we have building codes that take a supercomputer to figure out?

Ultimately, it would probably help to have more standardized building codes that we actually clean-up from time-to-time. More regional standardization would greatly reduce the number of conditional branches that exist. And if there was one set of accepted overarching codes that could still set precise requirements for all components of a building, there would still only be one path of regulations to follow, greatly reducing the knowledge and analysis necessary to efficiently build a home.

But housing’s inherent ties to geography make standardization unlikely. Each region has different land conditions, climates, priorities and political motivations that cause governments to want their own set of rules.

Instead, governments seem to be fine with sidestepping the issues caused by hyper-regional building codes and leaving it up to startups to help people wade through the ridiculousness that paves the home-building process, in the same way Concur aids employee with infuriating corporate expensing policies.

For now, we can count on startups that are unlocking value and making housing more accessible, simpler and cheaper just by making the rules easier to understand. And maybe one day my grandkids can tell their friends how their grandpa built his house with his own supercomputer.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:


Source: Tech Crunch

Apple Watch’s ECG feature is already proving its worth

When Apple announced its latest Series 4 Watch with electrocardiogram features, my mom took a sigh of relief, and then proceeded to set a reminder to order one for my dad. That’s because we found out last year, by chance, that he has atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, often times rapid heart rate that can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related issues.

The ECG feature, which monitors your heart rhythm and can detect AFib,* went live just two days ago. Already, at least one person has benefited from it.

Yesterday, a person on Reddit shared how their Apple Watch notified them of an abnormal heart rate. From there, they ran the ECG app and found out it was AFib. They went to urgent care and saw a doctor who they say said, “You should buy Apple stock. This probably saved you. I read about this last night and thought we would see an upswing this week. I didn’t expect it first thing this morning.”

The patient says they proceeded to go to a cardiologist the next day, who did an exam and confirmed the AFib diagnosis.

“I’m scheduled to go back in a week for some additional tests to start looking at the cause… blood, thyroid, etc…,” they wrote. “He also scheduled me with a partner who specializes more in the electrical side of things to have it looked from that angle as well.”

As one of the first more widely-owned ECG monitors, this could make a huge difference in the number of people who have at least some transparency into their heart health. But to be clear, once you enable the new feature, the watch is still not constantly looking for AFib. When the heart rhythm monitor detects something is off — a skipped or rapid heartbeat, for example — it will send a notification to your wrist.

That’s when you open up the ECG app, rest your arm on your lap or table, and then hold your finger to the crown for 30 seconds. From there, the watch will tell you if there are signs of atrial fibrillation.

If you want to learn more about the features, check out my colleague Brian Heater’s piece below.


Source: Tech Crunch

Dallas-based TXV Partners targets $50M for its debut fund

Marcus Stroud and Brandon Allen met six years ago as roommates at Princeton University. The pair bonded over a common interest and a shared dream: to be venture capitalists.

“We were at a lecture and there were a couple VCs on campus speaking,” 25-year-old Stroud told TechCrunch. “Being a kid from a small town in Texas, Princeton was already a huge culture shock, but hearing about a world of VC, investment banking and private equity just really intrigued me.”

In 2016, Stroud and Allen graduated. Stroud, a former linebacker on the Princeton football team, went off to Wall Street where he was a fixed income analyst, and then to Austin, where he joined the alternative asset manager Vida Capital to learn the ins and outs of investing. Twenty-four-old Allen, meanwhile, clocked in about two years as a consultant.

It didn’t take long for the aspiring VCs to find their way back to each other to finally start on the project they had discussed in their dorm room. Over the last several months, Allen and Stroud have been quietly building a Dallas-based venture firm called TXV Partners . Their lofty target: $50 million, which would be the largest fund ever for an all-black line-up of general partners, an especially notable feat given Allen and Stroud are located in a market largely ignored by the storied VC firms of Silicon Valley.

TXV co-founder and general partner Marcus Stroud

Building the next great VC hub

Stroud and Allen plan to spend the $50 million on millennials. That is, millennial-friendly startups in the consumer, fintech and blockchain verticals, of which they’ll provide between $500,000 and $3 million in equity funding. So far, they’ve invested in one company, an Austin-based blockchain music platform called Matter Music.

Thanks to Stroud’s time on Princeton’s football team and his father, who is a former NFL player, TXV has tapped some athletic talent to support the fund and its portfolio companies. Former NFL player and Northgate Capital managing director Brent Jones is a mentor, and the firm’s advisors include athletes-turned-investors Torii Hunter and Steve Wisniewski, a former professional baseball player and NFL player, respectively.

A rapid transit train (DART) with the skyline of Dallas, Texas in the background

Allen is leading the firm’s Dallas office and Stroud is scouting full-time for startups in Austin, which is already a well-known source of tech talent.

“We wanted to be part of the next great VC hub,” Allen told TechCrunch. “We felt like it made sense and we felt comfortable in Texas. The thought of moving to San Francisco was out of reach for us. Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like.”

With large universities feeding the talent pool, Texas has the potential but has yet to fully emerge as a force to be reckoned with for technology investors, even with the buzz surrounding Austin’s rising startup ecosystem. So far this year, companies headquartered in Texas have raised roughly $2.5 billion, on par with levels seen in the state in recent years, according to PitchBook. California startups, for context, have raised more than $50 billion this year.

Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like. TXV co-founder Brandon Allen

In Austin this year, startups have pulled in $1.4 billion, just north of the $1.3 billion in total capital commitments in 2017. Dallas startups, for their part, have raised just $600 million across 87 deals. Deal count in Dallas actually looks to be dropping, hitting 173 in 2013, 143 in 2016 and falling down to 106 last year, but localized funds like TXV’s may help push the city’s tech scene forward.

‘For Texans, for African Americans and for millennials’

Stroud and Allen are not only first-time general partners of what may become a multi-million-dollar VC fund, but they’re also two African Americans in a field dominated by white men. For them, it’s high stakes and failure is not an option.

VC is known for its lack of diversity. Indeed, 81 percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor, according to data collected by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures. Roughly 50 percent of black investors in the industry are at the associate level, or the lowest level at a firm, and only 2 percent of VC partners are black.

Base10 Partners’ $137 million fund, announced in September, is the largest black-led VC fund to date, but only one of the two general partners are black. Based in San Francisco, Base10 is run by two veteran investors with a well-established network in the Bay Area. The challenges for TXV are much larger, and the barriers may be much tougher to overcome.

“We’re young, black and in Texas,” Allen added. “We’re trying to do it differently. We wanted to really see if we can redefine the VC model from the bottom up. It’s important for Texans, for African Americans and for millennials.”

Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud want to bring more diversity to venture capital

Allen was raised in New England and Stroud in Prosper, Texas, a small town outside of Dallas. Neither of them comes from wealth, as many Stanford-educated Silicon Valley elite do. They’ll have to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into TXV, but if they succeed — and even if they don’t — they’ll have helped paint a new archetype for VCs.

“African Americans aren’t that well represented on either side of the table as an investor or a startup founder,” Stroud said. “I think, if anything, that doesn’t discourage us, it just makes us feel proud and empowered that we have an opportunity to help cultivate a fund that is majority minority-led. It’s something that fires me up.”


Source: Tech Crunch