Alphabet finalizes restructuring with a new company called XXVI

Back in 2015, Google announced that it was restructuring its company into multiple parts, with a new giant company called Alphabet to oversee all of Google’s various businesses. The reasoning behind the move was to essentially separate out some of Google’s “Other Bets” projects into their own entities, so that they would be valued separately from the core Google business. Today, Alphabet is finally wrapping up the reorg with the invention of a new company, called XXVI Holdings Inc.

XXVI Holdings will be the umbrella encompassing those aforementioned “Other Bets” projects, which include Waymo, which comes up with self-driving tech, and Verily, which specializes in digital health and medical devices. Google, on the other hand, is changing from a corporation to an LLC, because it’s now part of a holding company instead of a listed public company. As a reminder, Google is still home to the business’s bread-and-butter units like Gmail, search and YouTube.

Despite the changes though, it’s really just a formality. “We’re updating our corporate structure to implement the changes we announced with the creation of Alphabet in 2015,” said Gina Weakley Johnson, an Alphabet spokesperson. It won’t affect shareholder control, operations, or management.

As for why it’s called XXVI? Well, it’s 26 — the number of letters in the alphabet — in Roman numerals.

Tesla hit with unfair labor complaint from US watchdog

Workers say Tesla security stopped and interrogated them when they tried to hand out flyers, and threatened firing if the practice continued. Furthermore, they say Tesla forced them to “sign an overly-broad confidentiality agreement that could bar them from talking about their working conditions and safety issues at the facility.”

The UAW (United Auto Workers) is a party to the NLRB complaint, and has reportedly been working to unionize Tesla, something Elon Musk has railed against in the past. Tesla said the charges are “without merit,” and replied to the complaints with a screed against the UAW, sent to Jalopnik.

On or about November 5, 2016 and ongoing [Tesla] … violated the Act by implementing and maintaining, and repeatedly requiring compliance with, a company confidentiality agreement that coerces and intimidates employees from freely exercising their rights to engage in concerted and union activity. –NLRB complaint

“For seven years, the UAW has used every tool in its playbook: misleading and outright false communications, unsolicited and unwelcomed visits to the homes of our employees, attempts to discredit Tesla publicly in the media, and now another tactic that has been used in every union campaign since the beginning of time – baseless ULP (unfair labor practice) filings that are meant only to generate headlines,” the statement reads in part.

Tesla has said in the past, via an employee letter, that the UAW is allied with entrenched automakers. “Forces arrayed against us are many and incredibly powerful. This is David vs Goliath if David were six inches tall!” It adds that it has recently reduced forced overtime by 50 percent and that, if you take stock equity into account, its employees are paid better than other auto workers.

Despite those protestations, Tesla has been accused of exploiting cheap labor to build its factories and overworking employees to the point of illness. Another Musk business, SpaceX, was forced to settle with employees after complaints they were underpaid and forced to work through breaks. A hearing on the NLRB complaint against Tesla will be held on November 14th in California.

Twitch streamers will soon customize their page with new tools

Twenty extensions are available now, ranging from overlays and follower leaderboards to those specifically built for games like League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch and Destiny. Savvy followers might have seen their favorite content creators demo the new tools in the last few months (like Hearthstone streamer Trump in the pic at the top of this post).

Other extensions benefit creators directly: ‘Gear on Amazon,’ for example, earns Twitch Partners and Affiliates (aka streamers) commission through Amazon’s Associates program when fans buy stuff promoted by their favorite content creator (see example below). This one is the first, but not last, extension to use monetizations: In a press release, Twitch noted that they will share more ways developers can make money through extensions at TwitchCon’s Developer Day on October 19th.

Users can make their own extensions by heading to the updated Developer Portal, which will freely provide both asset hosting and fanout messaging to help promote their software. Developers can showcase their finished plugins in an Extensions Manager, which will act as a directory for creators to peruse. Twitch didn’t announce when exactly all the extensions features will go live, but noted they will be available soon.

Sony’s smart speaker harnesses the power of Google Assistant

Other than Google Assistant built-in, Sony isn’t discussing too many finer details about the smart speaker right now. What we do know is that you can pair your phone to the LF-S50G via Bluetooth or NFC and its splash-proof design means you can keep it in the kitchen if you so desire. However, Sony did explain that this isn’t a device that you’ll want to take to the pool, since the IPX3-rated gadget isn’t fully waterproof. To setup the LF-S50G, you’ll use the Google Home app to get the speaker connected to your home network. Chromecast built-in is here as well, so you can Cast your favorite audio apps over Wi-Fi.

In terms of sound, Sony says the LF-S50G beams audio 360 degrees with enough power to fill your kitchen and smaller living rooms. While we’ll be eager to judge the merits of the speaker’s audio quality, the company did say the “full range speaker” gives equal attention to vocals, treble and bass. Again, we’ll want to see if that’s the case when we spend some time with the LF-S50G on the IFA show floor. In terms of on-board adjustments, Sony’s smart speaker can be controlled with touch-free gestures to adjust volume, skip tracks or start playing music.

If you’re already hooked, Sony’s smart speaker will set you back $200 when it arrives in October and you’ll be able to choose from either black and gray color option. Of course, Google just announced that Assistant would be coming to a range of new speakers (and appliances) soon, so if the LF-S50G doesn’t entice you, chances are you’ll have a lot more audio gear to choose from soon enough.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!

Magic Leap’s rumored AR glasses may have been revealed in patent

The 10-page patent document has eight views of the AR glasses, which seem to include dual cameras on each side of the eyepieces, a long wire attached to each earpiece and some peripheral vision shields on top bottom and sides of the glasses. A Magic Leap spokesperson told Business Insider that the pictured images are not the actual product, however. “As you know, we file lots of patents that take a long time to get approved and so what you are looking at is not our product,” she said. Other sources inside the company told Business Insider that while the basic design is similar to what is being used in-house, the current hardware is bulkier to include a depth sensor between the lenses. One source said there is only one camera on each side of the specs, as well, and that they look like thicker-rimmed hipster glasses. We’ve reached out to the Magic Leap for comment and will update this post when we hear back.

Whether these specific drawings reflect current hardware or designs from two-years ago, it’s still nice to see some movement from the much beleaguered startup. Plus, these smaller spectacles are a pretty significant improvement, size-wise, over the previous backpack-style systems we’ve seen from Magic Leap.

ASUS’ latest 2-in-1 has NVIDIA graphics and weighs 3 pounds

For other work, it should perform like a champ, thanks to 8th-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core CPUs, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe x4 SSD, and a 14-inch “NanoEdge” 1080p display. The bezel on that model is so thin, “[it has] the same compact size as traditional 13-inch laptops,” ASUS says. You also get up to 13 hours of battery life, a fingerprint sensor and Windows 10. Remember, it’s a convertible laptop, so it’ll make a pretty powerful tablet, too.

The 15.6-inch Zenbook Flip 15 follows most of the same themes, but ups the ante, performance-wise. ASUS calls it “the most powerful Zenbook Flip ever,” thanks to 8th-gen quadcore Intel Core-i7 chips, NVIDIA GTX1050 graphics, an optional 4K display and up to a 2TB HDD and 512GB SSD. It’s also got precision stylus support and Harmon Kardon speakers, along with Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C ports, making it ideal “for design and creative work,” ASUS says.

Zenbook also has a very thin, light and powerful laptop for your consideration, the VivoBook S14. It has the same specs as the ZenBook Flip 14, ie, an 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U chip, up 16GB DDR4 RAM and NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics. This one tips the scale at 1.3 kg or 2.87 pounds, with an 18.8mm profile and 7.8mm bezels.

The first water-resistant BlackBerry will ditch the keyboard

Granted, TCL’s DTEK 50 and 60 phones were also all-screen, but this is different. Details are, perhaps obviously, fairly scarce about the as-yet unannounced device, but we managed to glean tidbits from TCL’s François Mahieu. Mahieu explains that TCL will respect BlackBerry’s reputation for building hard-wearing devices for clumsy international travelers who will be working in all weathers. The main feature, beyond the full-touchscreen, is the (planned) IP67 water and dust-proofing, as well as a battery rated to last for more than 26 hours of mixed use. Mahieu believes that durability and longevity will be two of the biggest selling points, a long-lasting phone that’ll keep going long after your iPhone has conked out.

Mahieu feels bold enough to claim that he expects a number of iPhone and Galaxy users to “make the switch” to BlackBerry come October. Of course, these handsets now run Android, which means that it’s far harder to make it stand out from the crowd. Mahieu continues to believe that BlackBerry’s security know-how will enable TCL to deliver the “most secure Android phone in the world.” Although given the failure of so many ultra-secure Android devices to sell, his confidence seems — at least right now — misplaced.

But TCL is used to combating cynicism with people looking down their nose at BlackBerry in its new after-life as a white label brand. Mahieu said that users shouldn’t write off BlackBerry just because it doesn’t stand toe-to-toe against Apple and Samsung. “We are there to play,” he explained, “we’re just playing with different cards,” mostly by pushing its strengths of battery life, security and durability. As for pricing, it’s likely that the device will cost less than other flagships.

Of course, we’ve already seen a BlackBerry device with a large display unencumbered by a physical keyboard. The Priv hid its physical input device in its slider, and so could actually work as a phone for touchscreen devotees. And given how well that device sold — prompting BlackBerry to abandon producing hardware altogether — it’s going to be interesting to see how TCL can avoid history repeating.

TCL is banking on certified water and dust-resistance as a draw, and it’s not clear how many people were waiting for that as a reason to make the switch. But Mahieu is hinting that the company is “marching towards millions” of device sales, although it’s not clear how many models it needs to shift before it can be considered a success.

Follow all the latest news from IFA 2017 here!

An autonomous Ford Fusion will deliver Domino’s in Michigan

Despite the full equipment, a human engineer will be behind the wheel, since the test is all about observing customers’ reactions. He’ll be hidden behind tinted windows, though, and won’t be ringing anybody’s doorbell. Customers who agree to be part of the trial will get a text when their order arrives. They’ll then have to walk out, meet the car, punch in the last four digits of their phone number on a touchscreen display installed at the rear passenger-side window and take out the pizza from a warming oven inside.

The partners will be keeping an eye on whether customers are willing to meet the self-driving car at the curb or if they want it to park in their driveway. They’ll observe how long it takes for people to punch in their codes and to take out their pizza from the oven. Most importantly, the test will help them determine if people are inclined to touch the car’s pricey LIDAR system spinning atop the vehicle. Ford will tweak the self-driving Fusion based on the trial’s results — we’ll bet the LIDAR system will end up hidden inside a tough casing if customers can’t stop themselves from touching.

The trial is a perfect fit for the automaker’s vision for its self-driving vehicles. Like many other companies working on autonomous vehicles, Ford aims to develop a self-driving car with no steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals. The automaker plans to use them for ride-sharing fleets, but it believes the vehicle has many other potential applications, including delivery. Sherif Marakby, Ford VP of autonomous and electric vehicles, said:

“It’s not just ride-sharing and ride-moving or people moving, but it’s also moving the goods. We develop the plan to go to market as we develop the tech. We work with partners (and) this is one example. There will be more in the future.”

Numworks graphing calculator is made for students raised on tech

“It seems crazy to say this, but it’s the only calculator on the market conceived for people of the 21st century,” the creator and head of Numworks, Romain Goyet, tells Engadget. As such, the team steered clear of existing calculators, and instead looked at game consoles, smartphones and other modern devices for inspiration.

Physically, Numworks is much smaller than most scientific calculators, weighing just 5.9 ounces with a thickness of 10 millimeters (0.4 inches). It’s rechargeable via a micro USB port (a cable, but not a charger, is included), and can go 20 hours between charges under normal operation. When not in use, it can hold a charge for “years” in deep sleep mode. The 2.8-inch diagonal (2.2 x 1.7 inch) screen can display over 262,000 colors.

Goyet says he and Paris-based industrial designer Alexandre Morronoz wanted a clean, Apple-like design. They succeeded in that regard, though the look borders on generic — far from the nerdcore models of TI, Casio, HP and others. That choice is deliberate, so as not to distract from its main purpose, says Goyet. “We deliberately avoided complexity in order to make something simple and logical that students will want to use,” he says.

The keyboard is split into three distinct areas: navigation, advanced calculations and a numeric keypad with widely spaced keys to reduce entry errors. There’s also a home, back, and standard On/Off button.

There’s no touchscreen, as with the pricey Casio FX-CP400 and similar models. Rather, navigation is done with arrow keys placed on the left of the device, opposite to most other graphing calculators. That’s not an accident: It’s designed to match the position of the navigation keys on gamepads. “We examined controllers from Sony and others to compare the layouts, buttons, etc. to see what made them efficient,” Goyet explains.

There are six applications to choose from: calculations, functions, sequences, statistics, probability and regression. (There’s also a Python interpreter that’s in beta.) Calculations are entered much as you’d see on paper, using numbers, operators and brackets, followed by “Exe” to get the answer. Students learning chalkboard algebraic notation will be at ease: If you tap 8π(25+6), for instance, it knows you mean 8*π*(25+6).

Functions are entered the same way, and let you see a graph and table of possible solutions (x, y and other variables are entered by selecting the “alpha” key first). The same logic is used for statistics, regression and other calculations. The suite of applications was developed in collaboration with teachers and professors to cover all of a student’s needs for high school and early college math and science.

The other main idea behind Numworks is the transparency and open source nature of the design. “When you use an iPad, you don’t really know how it works or what’s inside. We publish all our plans,” says Goyet. “How we do the plastic pieces, how we make the electronic circuits, how we write the software.”

Studying those plans and manuals could help students gain an understanding of coding and electronics, for one thing. But it also means that the product is expandable in the future. For instance, Goyet’s team added the aforementioned Python interpreter so that students can learn or test code.

The Morning After: Monday, August 28th 2017

Elon Musk reckons future teams could hit 600 miles per hour.
Hyperloop Pod Competition winner hits over 200MPH

Adjacent to SpaceX headquarters, 25 teams gathered for another Hyperloop Pod Competition. This time the winner would be judged by how quickly they could go down the 1.25 kilometer (about .77 miles) track. On the final day of competition, three teams advanced to the finals and had the chance to push their pod to the limit.

A number of Obama-era officials dropped out of the cybersecurity panel.
Trump’s cybersecurity advisors resign en masse

Another Trump panel has taken a hit after eight of its 28 members resigned en masse. Members of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), which advises Homeland Security on matters of cybersecurity, have dropped out of the panel for several reasons. In the resignation letter obtained by NextGov, they said the president doesn’t give enough attention to the country’s cyber vulnerabilities. “You have given insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend, including those impacting the systems supporting our democratic election process,” the letter reads.

Hajime Tabata explains what’s coming next.
The director of ‘Final Fantasy XV’ isn’t finished yet

Final Fantasy XV was a long time coming. After a decade of delays, it’s not surprising that both Square Enix and the game’s director, Hajime Tabata, are saying they aren’t finished with Noctis and his bro squad. With not even a whisper of Final Fantasy XVI, the rest of this year (and part of 2018) is focused on the Final Fantasy XV universe: PC versions, more chapter expansions, more mobile iterations and a multiplayer mode.

Both streams and TV were knocked out.
Mayweather-McGregor fight crashed pay-per-view servers

Did you pay for an expensive pay-per-view or streaming pass to watch the hyped-up boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, only to boil with rage as your access went down? You’re far from alone. Numerous reports have revealed that servers across the US crashed or buckled under demand for the fight, creating outages serious enough that organizers delayed the fight to make sure people could tune in. Mayweather himself said that pay-per-view servers in California and Florida crashed, while Showtime and UFC failed to load, ran into login trouble and otherwise couldn’t keep up with interest.

But wait, there’s more…