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September 15, 2019 - Episode 538 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Uber's fighting off pressure, EA's testing under stress, and Vudu's hiding from bad words.

Sphero Mini Activity Kit Preview - Episode 205 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch shows off a preview of the newest addition to the Sphero lineup: the Sphero Mini Activity Kit. This kit builds on top of the existing Sphero Mini robotic ball, adding to it a variety of pre-planned activities that can be done with the ball. These activities give new owners ideas of things that can be done with their ball. This has long been a leading problem with robotic toys like this. Without ideas on how to use it, educational toys tend to be abandoned in fairly short order.

One of the activities that come in the kit is building a maze. To accomplish this, the kit also comes with the parts and pieces to build such a maze. Another activity is bowling and, once again, the kit has bowling pins to help encourage the activity. After working through some of the included activities, kids' minds can be sparked to look for new things to do or new ways to accomplish the same goals.

As with other Sphero products, the Sphero Mini can be controlled in several different ways. You can use it in play mode, where you run it like a remote-controlled car. It can also be controlled using the accelerometer in your phone or tablet, to move in the direction of the device. It can even move based on your facial expressions, with a smile moving it forward and a frown moving it backward. There is also a programming interface, which allows you to move the device around programmatically. This is where the fun of a Sphero really comes in. You can use the included block-based programming system to build logic, but you can also use full programming languages, like C#. With all of these options, you can come up with any number of ways to bowl or complete a maze.

The Sphero Mini is available now, but the Sphero Mini Activity Kit comes out in early October.

California passes new law that could effectively end the gig economy

The gig economy is the basis for companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, TaskRabbit, etc. The idea is that you can sign up to be a contractor for the company, setting your hours and working within your confines. You're never required to do a job, and your payment is entirely dependent on how much work you take on. Think of an Uber driver, who is allowed to work when is convenient for them and take or skip any ride that is offered to them. The gig economy has grown into a major player in the market over the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, one US state is making it more difficult for those companies to exist.

California has long been known for making it difficult for businesses to thrive. Over the past few years, even their main industry of entertainment has begun to head to better locations, including Georgia and Toronto. Silicon Valley has started to look for alternatives, as well, with some companies moving to other states, and other companies looking for homes abroad.

Continuing this tradition, California is working to pass a new law that risks the future of the gig economy in the state. The law would require companies that use contractors as a core part of their business to treat those contractors as employees. This would mean that companies would be required to abide by minimum wage standards, completely negating the concept of the gig economy.

While the law is still awaiting a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom, it is expected that he will sign it. If the bill becomes law, it could significantly change the way companies such as Uber and Lyft operate in the state. Rather than drivers getting to set their hours, their hours will be set by someone at the company. They won't be able to skip rides, and will likely be assigned rides. Drivers will also be assessed based on performance. All of this will be necessary to be able to pay for the increased costs of treating these contractors like employees.

Both Uber and Lyft have vowed to fight the legislation, both petitioning the Governor and preparing for a possible ballot initiative fight. If all is lost, it would not be a surprise to see these companies, and other gig-economy players, leave the state entirely.

Uber lays off another 435 employees in an attempt to save money

This has been a rough year for ride-sharing platform Uber. The company has seen increasing losses every quarter, and there seems to be no slowing it down. In just the second quarter of 2019, the company reported a loss of $5 billion, or roughly the entire GDP of Barbados. A large portion of that loss is related to the company's IPO, but the company is still losing about $1 billion per quarter without those one-time losses.

Trying to stem the ebbing tide, the company laid off around 400 marketing employees in July. This week, however, the company announced a second round of layoffs, resulting in the loss of 435 engineering and product-related employees. This second round represents about 8% of the company's engineering and product team, and the two rounds together represent about 3% of the company's total workforce. In the company's email to employees, they stated,

Previously, to meet the demands of a hyper-growth startup, we hired rapidly and in a decentralized way. While this worked for Uber in the past, now that we have over 27,000 full-time employees in cities around the world, we need to shift how we design our organizations.

It is not unusual for "unicorns" to fall victim to this mentality. When you go from having no money to having more than you can comprehend, laziness and chaos reign supreme. Hiring becomes a casual affair, and you end up with more employees than you need in offices that are too spread out to effectively accomplish goals.

Unfortunately for Uber, their profit margins could be about to take a big hit, as California has passed a new law that could drive the company out of business, or at least out of the state. The state has passed a new law extending employment benefits to independent contractors.

September 8, 2019 - Episode 537 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Apple's trying to dodge bugs, Nintendo's embracing their past, and Facebook's giving out your number.

Ultimate Hacking Keyboard Unboxing - Episode 204 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch tries something new and unboxes the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard live on the show. This keyboard is unique in that it is designed to be modular, both in itself and with accessories. The small-framed keyboard detaches in the middle, allowing you to use it as a standard ergonomic keyboard, or configure it however is convenient and comfortable for you. But, the split keyboard design gives the ability to use the keyboard with additional features.

For example, the company will offer attachments for different input methods, like a trackpad, trackball, or track pointer (like on a Lenovo laptop). They will also offer a small additional key cluster. But these add-ons are just the beginning. The name is not just cutesy, it is because the entirety of the keyboard is open source. This could lead to additional accessories from other companies, or even in the form of maker projects. Of course, all of the expandability will only come to fruition if the product and platform become commercially successful. It doesn't make sense to make add-ons for devices without customers, just ask Motorola.

The biggest challenge to the success of the keyboard could be the general layout. While a keyboard of this style would likely be targeted at computer enthusiasts, the keyboard layout is far from it. There is no function row, number pad, directional pad, navigation keys, or media controls. For most computer and keyboard fans prefer more keys rather than less. All of these capabilities, except media controls, are only available via a function key combination. Unfortunately, media controls are completely missing, though you could use the key cluster add-on to replicate the missing feature.

The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is available for pre-order, with product shipping in October. The keyboard runs $275, the add-ons run $60 each, and the palm rest runs $75.

Google discloses iOS bug, Apple claims Google is exaggerating issue

Google's Project Zero is a security team within the company that identifies and discloses security issues in products produced by the company and other high profile products from other companies. The original concept of Project Zero was very dangerous, but the company amended their ways. Today, Project Zero works with the developers of the products in which they find the exploits to determine how and when the exploit should be disclosed.

Their most recent high profile disclosure was in Apple's mobile operating system: iOS. The details of the exploit are not important, though they are available from Project Zero. The important part is that the exploit has existed for years in the platform, starting in version 10 and existing until just recently. The problem revolves around the ability for a website to exploit the operating system and the user's privacy. Google's public report says that they discovered websites in the wild taking advantage of the exploit earlier in the year. They also informed Apple of the issue and worked with them to determine a disclosure timeline.

Apple, however, takes issue with almost every aspect of the report. According to the company's statement,

Google's post, issued six months after iOS patches were released, creates the false impression of "mass exploitation" to "monitor the private activities of entire populations in real time," stoking fear among all iPhone users that their devices had been compromised. This was never the case.

Second, all evidence indicates that these website attacks were only operational for a brief period, roughly two months, not "two years" as Google implies. We fixed the vulnerabilities in question in February - working extremely quickly to resolve the issue just 10 days after we learned about it. When Google approached us, we were already in the process of fixing the exploited bugs.

This statement itself is a mischaracterization of what Google said. Either Apple didn't understand the report, or they are trying to hide something. Google said that the exploit existed for 2 years (iOS 10 through iOS 12) not that websites were operating for the 2 years. Google said that they discovered websites taking advantage of the exploit earlier this year. Since the statement, it was revealed that the websites in question were likely run by the Chinese government, and target the Uyghur Muslim community, a group that the Chinese government has been intent on eliminating in their country. With Apple's dedication to the Chinese market, in an attempt to shore up its flailing sales, Apple might be trying to save face with the Chinese government.

Curiato is helping to prevent bedsores and other skin problems (PLuGHiTz Live Presents)

It's hard to believe that, with all of the technology in a modern hospital, or even in our smartwatches, the part of the body that is completely ignored is our skin. This is despite our skin being the largest organ of the body and the first line of defense that we have against disease and injury. Patients all over the world enter medical facilities for other issues, but develop skin issues while there, all because it is difficult to track. Fortunately, Curiato noticed this problem and has developed a product to help solve it.

The company has developed a smart bedsheet, which is capable of detecting pressure, temperature, and humidity. With those 3 data points, the platform can detect, predict, and prevent injuries like bedsores. While everyone has heard of bedsores, almost no one knows exactly how big the problem of skin issues is. In North America alone, 7 people die every hour from skin issues like bedsores. Yes, you read that right: 7 people die every hour from fairly easily preventable skin issues. However, detection has always been the problem, but Curiato helps to fill that skill gap.

While bedsores may be where the company is starting, they believe that the technology can be used for far more. The intention is to use the platform as a marketplace of ideas and applications. Using the data collected by the existing hardware, other applications can use it, combine it with other data, and make even more powerful platforms. Imagine if the patient management system that helps run an assisted living facility could have Curiato built-in directly. If a patient doesn't move for an extended period, an ALF employee could be alerted to prevent a permanent or life-threatening injury.

The platform is currently in clinical trials and they hope to begin rolling it out soon. For more information, check out the company's website.

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BIO-H2-GEN is hoping to bring a new process for producing hydrogen (PLuGHiTz Live Presents)

In the next generation of energy production, hydrogen is going to play a major role. That is regardless of the energy method, whether it be hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen fusion, and even used for space travel. However, the current limitation to hydrogen as a fuel source is in the production of the hydrogen itself. It is expensive, both in terms of money and resources. That may all change if William Knapp's company, BIO-H2-GEN, can get their technology off the ground.

Knapp's patented technology uses a ready, nearly never-ending source of materials for production, coming from wastewater treatment. As it stands now, these treatment facilities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove and dispose of the bacteria that produce hydrogen sulfide in their facilities. However, this same chemical can be used to produce hydrogen with a zero-carbon process. By adding this process to the treatment facilities, they can reduce their treatment costs, as well as generate revenue from the resulting hydrogen.

BIO-H2-GEN is still at an early stage. They received 20 patents early this year for the technology. This was an important validation of the technology and the process, which helps move to the next stage: testing. The company is currently looking for a partner to help bring the idea out of the concept and into reality. This would require building one or more pilot plants, which could be distributed to treatment facilities for monitoring.

Knapp has already tapped a couple of engineering firms, with whom he will spend several weeks perfecting a prototype refinery, once partners come forward. The partners needed are for production and capital for operational and equipment expenses. For more information on the process, or to contact the company to inquire about partnering, you can check out the company's website.

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ConnectedYou is connecting cellular IoT devices around the globe (PLuGHiTz Live Presents)

The Internet of Things, better known to the world as IoT, is a complicated network of devices that are able to collect information about the world and share it. This information can be used for something as simple as maintaining a comfortable temperature in a building or can be as complex as maintaining and securing a fleet of vehicles. But maintaining these connections can be difficult, especially when the sensors are on the move. That's where ConectedYou comes in.

The company provides a special SIM card that can be used in a connected device instead of a traditional carrier-supplied card. This special SIM allows for quick and programmable switching of networks without having to involve the carriers themselves. Because the SIM is an eSIM implemented in a standard plug-in SIM body, it is usable in any GSM or LTE device from any manufacturer. Take, for example, a cargo train traveling across North America, up the West Coast. Through the heavily populated parts of California, T-Mobile might be an inexpensive data provider. However, in the unpopulated parts of Washington, AT&T might be the only option. And, when it enters Canada, neither are good choices and instead needs TELUS.

Previously, this network switch was not possible without physically swapping out SIM cards, something that is not possible in the noted scenario. Using ConnectedYou, and their management platform, this becomes a simple task. Use the company's management console to create rules and change carriers on the fly. Or, use the APIs to create even more intricate swapping algorithms. Wherever your devices are, you can create a scenario so that they can communicate with your network and your infrastructure.

The ConnectedYou SIM is available now for use in IoT devices globally. To learn more about the platform, or to purchase a SIM, head to the company's website.

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