19 Jun

Amazon Prime launches in another country, at half the price of the U.S.

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It took a long time for Australians to get Amazon, and even longer to get Prime.

The membership program is finally available in the country, offering free delivery on products as well as access to Prime Video and other services like Twitch Prime and Prime Reading.

Interestingly, A$6.99 (US$5.27) or A$59 (US$44.51) for the year, it’s half the price of what U.S. customers are paying for the service.

However, Prime in Australia only offers free two-day business delivery, whereas you can get free same-day or next day delivery in the U.S. for some items on Amazon. Australian Prime does offer free delivery for international orders over $49, however. Read more…

More about Tech, Australia, Amazon, Amazon Prime, and Tech
Source: Mashable

19 Jun

How to stop feeling helpless when you hear about immigrant children taken from their parents

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I held my tears back upon reading about Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran father who killed himself after being separated from his 3-year-old son. I choked on them again when I learned of Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez’s plight: She brought her 8-year-old son across the American border in May only to be deported back home to Guatemala without him. She has no idea when or how she’ll be reunited with her child.

I put off weeping by clicking out of each article when I felt a surge of panic and anguish. As the parent of an almost 4-year-old, I found the details of these stories made me want to vomit. My compulsion to hold those emotions at bay has a lot to do with my job as a reporter covering subjects like suicide and sexual assault. There are only so many times I can cry in a week.  Read more…

More about Social Good, Donald Trump, Immigration, Families, and Social Good
Source: Mashable

19 Jun

Elon Musk accuses Tesla employee of 'extensive and damaging sabotage'

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Elon Musk has discovered a saboteur.

At least, that’s what he told Tesla employees in an email sent Sunday night, according to CNBC

”I was dismayed to learn this weekend about a Tesla employee who had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage to our operations,” wrote Musk, who’s under an immense amount of pressure to ramp up production of the Tesla Model 3 sedan. 

The email was sent the same night a fire shut down operations at a Tesla plant in Fremont, California, for several hours. 

Musk claimed an employee who was upset he didn’t get a promotion altered Tesla code and sent ”large amounts of highly sensitive Tesla data to unknown third parties.”  Read more…

More about Tesla, Elon Musk, Model 3, Tech, and Big Tech Companies


Source: Mashable

19 Jun

That creepy Olive Garden commercial script is just as weird on screen

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Last week, a hilariously creepy script made the rounds online. 

Writer and comedian Keaton Patti tweeted that he forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of Olive Garden commercials, and then asked it to write its own version. The script he posted had some funny gems like describing pasta nachos as ”warm and defeated” and a character revealing her mouthful of ”secret soup.”

A group of coworkers who normally create drivers ed videos put together their version of the Olive Garden commercial, and it’s just as unsettling as the original script. Krista Doyle, one of the coworkers, tweeted that all they could talk about was the Olive Garden bot, so they ”decided to just shoot the damn thing.” Read more…

More about Twitter, Viral Videos, Ai, Culture, and Web Culture
Source: Mashable

18 Jun

Android Messages now lets users send text messages from their computers

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Google is closing the gap between Android and iOS.

In an update rolling out today, Google is (finally!) releasing desktop support for the texting service, Android Messages. The update will allow Android smartphone owners to send and receive text messages straight from their laptops or desktops. Text, images, and stickers will be supported in the web version of the service.

Android users can get started by visiting the new Android Messages website. From there, they’ll be presented with a QR code that they’ll then scan with the Android Messages app. Read more…

More about Google, Android, Messaging App, Messaging, and Tech


Source: Mashable

18 Jun

Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.

“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas.

Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.

The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting at a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.

“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money,” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”

Proving it as outsiders

St. Petersburg, Fla. isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.

That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.

Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukrainian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.

Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states including California, New York, and Texas. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up,” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”

Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas

Proveit was finally legal for the three-fourths of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate, who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.

Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to more than 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.

Quiz for cash

“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show,” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”

To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the ’90s, quotes, current events, rock ‘n roll, Seinfeld, tech and a rotating selection of other topics.

In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up and compared to your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list or cash out if you have more than $20.

The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ, where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.

Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like student loan repayer Givling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.

“The large tournaments are the big draw,” Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.

Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same… then get people playing little one-on-one games in-between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.

Gaming or gambling?

Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers a “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming,” users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependant, they’re obligated for your debts or you owe unpaid child support.

“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming,” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.

That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.

Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain,” Lehoux defends.

With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley-Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.

For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.

Source: Tech Crunch Mobile

18 Jun

SpeakSee makes it simple for a deaf person to join a group conversation

There’s a great deal of activity in the fields of speech recognition and the “Internet of Things,” but one natural application of the two has gone relatively unpursued: helping the deaf and hard of hearing take part in everyday conversations. SpeakSee aims to do this (after crowdfunding, naturally) with a clever hardware design that minimizes setup friction and lets everyone communicate naturally.

It’s meant to be used in situations where someone hard of hearing needs to talk with a handful of others — a meeting, a chat at dinner, asking directions and so on. There are speech-to-text apps out there that can transcribe what someone is saying, but they’re not really suited to the purpose.

“Many deaf people experienced a huge barrier in asking people to download the app and hold the phone close to their mouth. These limitations in the interface meant no one kept using it,” explained SpeakSee CEO and co-founder Jari Hazelebach. “But because we designed our own hardware, we were able to customize it towards the situations it will be used in.”

SpeakSee is simple to use: A set of clip-on microphones live in a little charger case, and when the user wants to have a conversation, they hand those microphones out to whoever will be talking. The case acts as a wireless hub for the mics and relays the audio to the smartphone with which it’s paired. This audio is sent off, transcribed quickly somewhere in the cloud, and displayed on the deaf user’s phone.

Critically, though, each microphone also intelligently and locally accounts for its speaker and background noise.

“Naturally the microphones pick up speech from multiple people,” said Hazelebach. “So we included sensors that tell the microphone what direction the sound is coming from, and the microphones exchange these values. So we can determine which microphone should pick up which person’s speech.”

The result is quickly transcribed speech divided by speaker, delivered quickly and with decent accuracy (there’s always a trade-off between turnaround time and how the process is). And no one has to do anything but wear a mic. (They have a patent pending for this multi-microphone system.)

Hazelebach’s parents are deaf, and he grew up seeing how their ability to interact in ordinary circumstances was being limited.

The mics aren’t exactly small… but that’s how you know they’re real working hardware and not imaginary.

“As you can imagine my parents were the first to test this out,” he said. “At first we had a lot of issues but soon we started engaging with others. We wrote a post on a deaf blog and out of nowhere 200 people signed up. So we’ve been testing in the field with groups in the U.S., and also in the U.K. and the Netherlands.”

Right now English speech recognition is considerably ahead of Dutch and other languages, so the transcriptions will be better for the former, but even so the devices should work with any of 120 languages supported by the cloud service. Transcription is free for up to 5 hours of audio monthly, after which it’s a $10/month subscription. But if it works, it may be more than worth the money.

The team has a finished prototype but is seeking crowdfunding to get production off the ground. “We need to improve the electronics to meet specifications, battery life for example. We expect to ship in February of 2019,” Hazelebach said. Pre-orders are set at $350 for a dock and three mics.

The usual caveats (primarily “emptor”) apply when backing an Indiegogo type campaign — but at the very least, having spoken to the creator, I feel pretty sure this is a real, working product that just needs a boost to get to market.

Source: Tech Crunch Mobile

18 Jun

Prisma co-founders raise $1M to build a social app called Capture

Two of the co-founders of the art filter app Prisma have left to build a new social app.

Prisma, as you may recall, had a viral moment back in 2016 when selfie takers went crazy for the fine art spin the app’s AI put on photos — in just a few seconds of processing.

Downloads leapt, art selfies flooded Instagram, and similar arty effects soon found their way into all sorts of rival apps and platforms. Then, after dipping a toe into social waters with the launch of a feed of its own, the company shifted focus to b2b developer tools — and we understand it’s since become profitable.

But two of Prisma’s co-founders, Aleksey Moiseyenkov and Aram Hardy, got itchy feet when they had an idea for another app business. And they’ve both now left to set up a new startup, called Capture Technologies.

The plan is to launch the app — which will be called Capture — in Q4, with a beta planned for September or October, according to Hardy (who’s taking the CMO role).

They’ve also raised a $1M seed for Capture, led by US VC firm General Catalyst . Also investing are KPCB, Social Capital, Dream Machine VC (the seed fund of former TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Bonatsos), Paul Heydon, and Russian internet giant, Mail.Ru Group.

Josh Elman from Greylock Partners is also involved as an advisor.

Hardy says they had the luxury of being able to choose their seed investors, after getting a warmer reception for Capture than they’d perhaps expected — thinking it might be tough to raise funding for a new social app given how that very crowded space has also been monopolized by a handful of major platforms… (hi Facebook, hey Snap!)

But they also believe they’ve identified overlooked territory — where they can offer something fresh to help people interact with others in real-time.

They’re not disclosing further details about the idea or how the Capture app will work at this stage, as they’re busy building and Hardy says certain elements could change and evolve before launch day.

What they will say is that the app will involve AI, and will put the emphasis for social interactions squarely on the smartphone camera.

Speed will also be a vital ingredient, as it was with Prisma — literally fueling the app’s virality. “We see a huge move to everything which is happening right now, which is really real-time,” Hardy tells TechCrunch. “Even when we started Prisma there were lots of similar products which were just processing one photo for five, ten, 15 minutes, and people were not using it because it takes time.

“People want everything right now. Right here. So this is a trend which is taking place right now. So we’re trying to give it to them.”

“Our team’s mission is to bring an absolutely new and unique experience to how people interact with each other. We would like to come up with something unique and really fresh,” adds Moiseyenkov, Capture’s CEO (pictured above left, with Hardy).

“We see a huge potential in new social apps despite the fact that there are too many huge players.”

Having heard the full Capture pitch from Hardy I can say it certainly seems like an intriguing idea. Though how exactly they go about selectively introducing the concept will be key to building the momentum needed to power their big vision for the app. But really that’s true of any social product.

Their idea has also hooked a strong line up of seed investors, doubtless helped by the pair’s prior success with Prisma. (If there’s one thing investors love more than a timely, interesting idea, it’s a team with pedigree — and these two certainly have that.)

“I’m happy to have such an amazing and experienced team,” adds Moiseyenkov, repaying the compliment to Capture’s investors.

“Your first investors are your team. You have to ask lots of questions like you do when you decide whether this or that person is a perfect fit for your team. Because investors and the team are those people with whom you’re going to build a great product. At the same time, investors ask lots of questions to you.”

Capture’s investors were evidently pleased enough with the answers their questions elicited to cut Capture its founding checks. And the startup’s team is already ten-strong — and hard at work to get a beta launched in fall.

The business is based in the US and Europe, with one office in Moscow, where Hardy says they’ve managed to poach some relevant tech talent from Russian social media giant vk.com; and another slated to be opening in a couple of weeks time, on Snap’s home turf of LA. 

“We’ll be their neighbors in Venice beach,” he confirms, though he stresses there will still be clear blue water between the two companies’ respective social apps, adding: “Snapchat is really a different product.”

Source: Tech Crunch Startups