Cyber Saturday—Investigating Jeff Bezos’ Sexts, Huawei FBI Sting, Facebook’s Outspoken ex-Security Chief

How did the National Enquirer obtain the richest man in the world’s sexts?

While the truth remains a closely guarded secret, plenty of theories have been floated. Gavin de Becker, the sagacious security consultant granted carte blanche to investigate the situation by Jeff Bezos, the ultra-billionaire founder of Amazon, alleged adulterer, and target of the Enquirer’s prurient exposé, supposedly believes his boss was not hacked. That’s what Manuel Roig-Franzia, a feature writer with the Washington Post, a publication Bezos owns, says de Becker told him anyway, adding that de Becker believes the leak may have been “politically motivated.” In a recent interview on MSNBC, Roig-Franzia added that de Becker, with whom Roig-Franzia says he has chatted extensively about Bezos’ predicament, is entertaining the possibility “that a government entity might have gotten hold” of Bezos’ text messages and then, somehow, these texts found their way into said tabloid.

Considering for a moment that this might be true, which regime might have done so? Michael Sanchez, an avid Trump supporter and brother of Lauren Sanchez, Bezos’ mistress, has apparently discussed with de Becker the possibility that the president, an avowed Bezos opponent, enlisted allied intelligence services, such as those run by the UK and Israel, to dig up the dirt. It’s a fantastical scenario that stretches the imagination beyond all elasticity. Bezos, on the other hand, seemed to intimate in an essay on the blogging site Medium that the intrusion could have involved another state actor. Specifically, Bezos dwelled on connections between American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent, and Saudi Arabia. (The recent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, and the kingdom’s reported penchant for mobile spyware, lend plausibility.)

To be clear: I have no privileged information about the entity behind this whodunnit caper; I will note, however, a worthwhile contribution toward the howdunnit. In all the speculation, a blog post by Rob Graham, CEO of Errata Security, a hacking shop, stood out. Using a cheap, online “people finder” service, he was able to discover possible contact information for Bezos’ ladylove, including email addresses, phone numbers, and the names of close relatives. Entering Sanchez’s email addresses into a database of compromised login credentials—the recent mega-leak dubbed “Collection #1”—turned up associated passwords. If Sanchez reused compromised passwords to secure Bezos’ love notes, this might explain the dallying duo’s undoing. If that’s true, then the methods behind this intrusion might not have involved super-sophisticated spy-craft so much as teenage hacker hi-jinx.

Again, I have no idea how these leaks were procured, or who did it, but Graham’s findings suggest at least one possible, simple explanation. If the security of both parties to a conversation is not up to snuff, everyone suffers. “If you send sexy messages and you are a celebrity, there are large parts of the hacker underground who specialize in trying to steal them,” Graham notes—a statement that is not an endorsement, but a reality. Through password reuse and phishing attacks, “getting celebrity nude pics is fairly simple.” He adds: “there is no reason to consider conspiracy theories at this time.”

People interested in protecting their own privacy might consider the following advice: Segment your information by using multiple email accounts dissociated from your real-life identity. Secure your digital accounts with strong and unique passwords—and use a tool like HaveIBeenPwned to make sure none of these has been compromised. Adopt two-factor authentication as an added layer of protection. And finally, instruct confidantes in the merits and methods of proper digital security. (Heck, you might even recommend they sign up for this newsletter.)

If a nation state goes after you, it’s likely game over. But there are steps you can take to make it harder for run-of-the-mill hackers to get their hands on your goodies.

Robert Hackett


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Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

Sony stock perks up after first-ever share buyback announcement

TOKYO (Reuters) – Sony Corp announced its first-ever share buyback on Friday, worth 100 billion yen ($910 million), helping its stock recover somewhat from the hammering it received earlier in the week when the technology firm reported lacklustre earnings.

FILE PHOTO – Journalists wait for Sony Corp’s new President and Chief Executive Officer Kenichiro Yoshida’s news conference on the company’s business plan at Sony’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The announcement marked Japan’s second major buyback this week after technology investor SoftBank Group Corp said it would repurchase 600 billion yen worth of stock on Wednesday, sending its share price soaring.

Both stocks had been under pressure prior to the announcements reflecting investor unease over the outlook for the global technology industry amid falling demand in China.

Sony said its buyback, its first-ever aimed at boosting shareholder returns, will be equivalent to 2.36 percent of its outstanding shares and will be conducted through March 22.

“Our financial health has improved enough to conduct the repurchases,” a Sony spokesman said, adding that recent share prices were also a factor in its decision.

Hiroyasu Nishikawa, senior analyst at IwaiCosmo Securities, said the buyback showed how much Sony had changed over the years, responding more to shareholders.

“This announcement was well timed, and it shows they are watching the market very well,” he said. “Sony’s gradually been recovering in the past few years.”

Until a few years ago, Sony had been struggling with losses as its consumer electronics business lost market share to Asian rivals. It has since reinvented itself as an entertainment company with stable revenue from music content and gaming.

But its shares had plunged 14 percent this week to their lowest in more than a year after the company reported lower-than-expected profit as its previously thriving gaming business sagged – though a one-off gain related to its acquisition of EMI nevertheless pushed the quarterly result to a record high.

Sony also cut its profit outlook for imaging sensors, citing weakness in the global smartphone market.

The buyback announcements also come as Japanese companies have been increasing share repurchases amid growing calls for higher shareholder return. Instruments maker Yamaha Corp and trading house Itochu Corp also announced buybacks along with their quarterly earnings in the past week.

Sony has been steadily increasing shareholder return through higher dividends over the last couple of years. It paid 7.09 percent of its profit in dividend in the last fiscal year, compared with 22.5 percent at U.S. tech giant Apple Inc, according to Refinitiv data.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Christopher Cushing

7 Traits the Most Successful Employees Share (That Can Keep You Ahead of Competitors)

Every mature company I know is looking for more innovation from within. They are painfully aware that tenure on the list of S&P companies is shrinking — from thirty-three years back in 1964, down to twenty-four in 2016, and predicted to be just twelve by 2027.

They need inside intrapreneurs: people who work at the company who think and act like the entrepreneurs who are disrupting their business.

I have seen this happening firsthand from my years of experience in several big-name companies, including IBM and Fujitsu. In my view, success starts with nurturing and bringing in the right people to make it happen, or being one of the right people from within if you want your career to blossom.

I just completed a new book on this challenge, Disrupt-It-Yourself, by Simone Bhan Ahuja, which includes a great summary of the required attributes to maximize your success potential in this area.

I don’t believe that any of these requires a birthright, and all can be adopted or learned by anyone, so I encourage you to take a hard look at your own interests and key team members:

1. Action trumps ideas and more analysis every time.

Real change comes from people who are obsessed with action, not ideas. Thinking and analysis without execution feels like zero cost to existing organizations, but it actually ignores the opportunity cost lost.

If you act, you learn from other people, especially customers, and you build momentum.

2. Focused on progress rather than process.

Most entrepreneurs realize that for early stage startups, process is the enemy of progress, slowing you down when you’re trying to move forward.

But more mature companies have learned that scaling a business requires process, so the focus changes. Intrapreneurs have to always think like entrepreneurs.

3. Relishes the opportunity to learn from problems.

Corporate environments tend to treat problems as failures, rather than opportunities. People are trained to avoid change, and stick with the safer status quo.

True entrepreneurs, like Thomas Edison, realize that the biggest innovations come from solving problems, such as failing light bulb filaments.

4. Loves to “hack” new outcomes from existing systems.

In software, hackers love the intellectual challenge of confronting a system designed to do one thing and cleverly exploit it to achieve something different.

That’s the essence of innovation, and good intrapreneurs need to find new opportunities by bending existing strengths in new ways.

5. Reach out across the aisle for complementary talent.

Smart intrapreneurs know they can’t do it alone, and know how to enlist the help they need by making it clear “what’s in it” for others.

They enjoy engaging in informal partnering and co-design solutions with other stakeholders, while making the total opportunity as much possible about others. 

6. Married to a mission, but not just to one way to do it.

The people you desire know the “what” and the “why,” but don’t want to be told “how.” They are always looking for gaps and misalignments, and thrive on changes, even radical changes, so the organization performs better.

In this context, strategy deviations can keep the company on track.

7. Frugal by nature, and don’t ask for much to proceed.

Even though they see huge budgets all around, they prefer to start on the cheap (like an entrepreneur), reusing existing resources, working on the side, and employing messy, make-do methods over expensive sanctioned systems that have long approval cycles and much oversight.

Because fostering entrepreneurship internally is hard, many companies have now shifted their innovation focus to acquisitions and partnerships.

All have found that this approach can be equally difficult, due to the integration of multiple corporate cultures, processes, supplier dependencies, and management styles.

Thus, I continue to assert that effectively harnessing and building of internal talent to drive innovation from within will continue to be one of the single most important factors for your company’s long-term success.

It starts with a mindset that disrupting your business regularly is necessary, before your competition and new startups do it to you. Measure your tenure from today.

57 Startups to Watch in 2019, According to VCs

  • We asked over two dozen venture capital investors to tell us which startups are going to boom in 2019.
  • We asked them to name startups in their own portfolio they were particularly excited about.
  • But we also asked for the names of startups they think will do well that they have not invested in, but are hearing great things about.
  • What follows is a list of the startups, tackling everything from consumer health goods to life-saving drones, that are being buzzed about by tech’s venture capital insiders.

You don’t have to be an industry insider to know about tech companies with popular products like Snapchat or Facebook.

But what about the up-and-coming tech startups that could become tomorrow’s market leaders?

We asked more than two dozen venture capital investors to name the startups they believe are going to boom in 2019. After all, VCs are the experts scouting the landscape every day and hunting for the next big thing — if anyone has a finger on the tech innovation pulse, it’s them.

We asked the VCs to name a startup in their own portfolios they were particularly excited about for 2019.

But for every startup in their own portfolios, the VCs also had to name one they had no financial interest in. The best VCs are passionate about startups and meet more than they can fund, and we wanted to go beyond their immediate portfolio of investments.

What follows is a compelling list of startups set for success in 2019. They range from fledgling companies working on a seed round to well-established companies that have raised many millions, but which are still flying under the radar. The funding information is according to Crunchbase and Pitchbook, keepers of such records.

AdQuick: an easier way to buy outdoor ads

VC: Niki Pezeshki, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $3 million

What it does: AdQuick offers a marketplace for buyers and sellers of outdoor ad space.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “AdQuick is a mainly ex-Instacart team that is tackling the archaic world of outdoor advertising,” says Pezeshki. As Google and Facebook continue to dominate online advertising, “many direct-to-consumer companies will start to look for ways to reach consumers in other ways.”

Alma: co-working space for mental health therapists

VC: Hayley Barna, First Round

Relationship: Investor

Funding: $4.5 million

What it does: Alma is a co-working office space specifically for mental health providers that includes access to the tech they need to power their practices. It opened its first facility in New York.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “60 million people suffer from mental illness,” Barna says and Alma offers therapists a “beautifully designed space, friendly digital tools and a supported community of therapists.”

Applied Intuition: simulation software for self-driving cars

VC: Arif Janmohamed, Lightspeed

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $11.5 million

What it does: Build autonomous simulation software for autonomous vehicles.

Why it’s hot in 2019: Before more autonomous vehicles enter the public roads, their makers need specialized and heartier simulation software to test them. “A massive problem for the 21st century with an incredible team tackling a complex and high-value challenge,” says Janmohamed.

Appzen: automatically audit expense reports

VC: Arif Janmohamed, Lightspeed

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $51 million

What it does: AppZen uses AI to automatically audit 100% of a company’s expense reports, invoices and contracts in real time.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Every company has employees who expense things that are out of compliance, out of policy or are just fraudulent. Similarly, every company has suppliers that game the system and push the envelope,” says Janmohamed.

Arrive Logistics: software to manage shipping

VC: Brian Neider, Lead Edge Capital

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $10 million

What it does: Arrive Logistics is a tech-enabled freight brokerage that connects shippers with carriers.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Arrive has seen incredible growth since its founding in 2014. In 2018 the company grew headcount to more than 600 while more than doubling revenue, which surpassed $300 million. As more and more consumers are buying everything online, the shipping and logistics category has meaningfully expanded,” says Neider.

Arterys: AI-powered medical imaging

VC: Alfred Lin, Sequoia Capital

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $44 million

What it does: Arterys offers AI-enabled medical imaging software as a cloud service.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “It shows the power of technology to help humanity. The company brings the convergence of cloud computing, big data, image processing, and AI applied to healthcare,” says Lin.

Atrium: like a law firm and a tech startup in one

VC: Nakul Mandan, Lightspeed

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $75 million

What it does: Atrium is like the offspring of a law firm and a tech startup. It uses machine learning software to deal with ordinary legal documents and has lawyers who work on the complex legal issues.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Legal advisory is a huge, huge industry that still operates pretty much the same way it operated two decades ago. Atrium is bringing together all the advancements in AI, workflow automation and collaboration to build a next-gen more scalable law firm,” says Mandan.

Benchling: collaboration for life science professionals

VC: Eric Vishria, Benchmark

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $27 million

What it does: Benchling is a data management and collaboration tool for life science, pharma and biological researchers.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Benchling provides a platform to accelerate the pace of biotech research, helping researchers track candidates, design experiments, and share results. They’re working with over 100,000 scientists and larger organizations like the FDA,” says Vishria.

Boulder Care: digital help for opium addiction recovery

VC: Josh Kopelman at First Round

Relationship: Investor

Funding: $3.7 million

What it does: Boulder Care offers long-term support for people overcoming opiate addiction, accessible via an app.

Why it’s hot: “Boulder is building a telehealth addiction solution for the modern era partnering with local physicians while leveraging digital expertise to provide the counseling, random testing, care management and adherence verification via their mobile app,” Kopelman says.

Bowery: indoor farms for pesticide-free food

VC: Rob Hayes, First Round Capital

Relationship: Investor

Funding: $117.5 million

What it does: Bowery grows pesticide-free produce in indoor farms, often located in cities, managing everything from the seeds to its proprietary, farm-controlling software system.

Why it’s hot: “Bowery farms use zero pesticides, 95% less water, and are 100+ times more productive on the same footprint of land than traditional agriculture,” says Hayes. “It’s the solution we need to feed the planet.”

RigUp: a marketplace for oil and gas jobs

VC: Napoleon Ta, Founders Fund

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $64 million

What it does: RigUp’s platform helps contract energy workers find jobs and helps energy companies manage their contract workforce.

Why it’s hot in 2019: In its five years, RigUp has already amassed a network of 22,000 contractors and service providers who use it.

“The oilfield services industry is a $150 billion domestic market that is highly fragmented and has seen virtually no software innovation, in part because energy is an unpopular sector in Silicon Valley. With 50% of the energy workforce set to retire in the next five years, the industry will increasingly be driven by tech-savvy millennials,” Ta said.

Cameo: pay an Instagram influencer for a shout out

VC: Nicole Quinn, Lightspeed Venture

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $16 million

What it does: Cameo lets you pay to have an online celebrity/influencer send a personalized shoutout. It’s often done as a surprise gift. Influencers charge anywhere from a few bucks to several hundred dollars.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “It spreads virally through word of mouth by the gifter, giftee and influencer themselves (mainly in Instagram),” says Quinn. “Instead of going for big names from the start, the company made the wise decision to start with lesser-known influencers first and has now begun to get the attention of A-list celebrities.”

Carta: helping startups deal out stock options

VC: Brad Twohig, Lightspeed Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $84 million

What it does: Carta provides equity-management software that helps companies manage their employee-owned shares and options.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “The scale of the opportunity for Carta is far past cap table management,” says Twohig. “The company has an incredible long term vision around this which will lead to a very impactful company to the equity markets.”

Chainalysis: protecting against fraud in crypto transactions

VC: Sarah Tavel, Benchmark

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $19 million

What it does: Chainalysis is an enterprise software company that detects cryptocurrency transactions and investigates them for money laundering, fraud and compliance violations.

Why it’s hot in 2019: Chainalysis “is seeing significant traction, working with businesses (like banks and crypto exchanges) and government agencies (like the FBI and Europol) to investigate and understand blockchain activity,” says Tavel.

Clubhouse: Software project management tool that programmers like to use

VC: Neeraj Agrawal, Battery Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $14 million

What it does: Project management software for software development

Why it’s hot in 2019: Clubhouse wants to take on the most popular tool in this category, Atlassian’s JIRA. “Ask any engineer if they like using it [JIRA] and the answer usually involves an annoyed look. Clubhouse was started by engineers looking to create a modern product that developers actually love using,” says Agrawal.

Coda: the spreadsheet and document reinvented

VC: S. “Soma” Somasegar, Madrona Venture Group

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $60 million

What it does: Coda offers a new kind of shareable, collaborative spreadsheet document.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Coda combines the flexibility of a document with the structure and depth of a spreadsheet,” says Soma. “The team is truly a world-class team. They are in an invite-only beta currently and the product is an amazing product.”

Dedrone: protecting airports and other security sites against drones

VC: Aydin Senkut, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $43 million

What it does: Dedrone detects, classifies, and tracks down drones and their pilot.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “With mega drone incidents at Gatwick, Heathrow airports and other malicious events using drones, drone security will be top of the agenda,” says Senkut, adding that Dedrone is “trusted by four of the largest armed services in the world,”

Divvy: a free expense report app for businesses

VC: Ben Narasin NEA

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $302.5 million

What it does: A free expense report app for businesses that automates reporting and helps companies manage online subscriptions and catch fraud.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Unlike other services, Divvy makes money from merchant transaction fees, rather than customers, and offers a slew of benefits for users like real time spend tracking and budgeting, free travel service, and cash back rewards,” says Narasin.

Dragos: protecting power grids from hackers

VC: Nate Niparko, Accel

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $48 million

What it does: Dragos prevents cyber threats that can knock out real-world systems like power grids, water supplies, and industrial machinery.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Industrial technologies like manufacturing equipment and power stations are just as vulnerable to cyberattacks as traditional IT systems, with the potential for damaging real-world impact,” says Niparko.

Epic Games: Hit video games and a development tool, too

VC: Brad Twohig, Lightspeed Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $1.6 billion

What it does: Epic games is the creator of game sensation Fortnite, as well as Infinity Blade, Unreal and others. It also makes the Unreal Engine, the super popular development tool for creating 3D and VR games.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Developer of one of the largest virtual worlds and massive online games in existence and owner of one of the largest game development platforms Unreal Engine,” says Twohig. “It is as much of a next generation social network as it is a game.”

Ethos: high tech life insurance shopping

VC: Nate Niparko, Accel

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $46.5 million

What it does: Ethos uses technology to simplify the life insurance underwriting process making it easier for Americans to get life insurance.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Life insurance is a critical financial protection for families, but the buying process has long had a negative reputation due to outdated systems, extra doctors visits, and insurance agents who are incentivized to push expensive policies,” Niparko says.

In contrast, Ethos has a 10-minute process and “policies that are backed by some of the oldest, trusted names in the insurance industry,” he says.

Faire: helping small retailers compete with Amazon

VCs: Eurie Kim, Forerunner Ventures; Alfred Lin, Sequoia Capital; Victoria Treyger, Felicis Ventures; and Grace Chou, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: Kim and Lin are investors, Treyger is an advisor. Chou has no relation, just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $116 million

What it does: A wholesale marketplace for smaller retailers that helps them stock their shelves, paying only when items sell. It uses data science to help retailers discover new products.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “In a world where many see Amazon as the Goliath that can’t be beat, Faire is putting power back into the hands of the 1 million+ local retailers that drive nearly $1 trillion in annual revenues in the US,” says Kim.

“In just over a year since launching, the Faire team has already surpassed $100 million in run-rate revenue, while building an impassioned community of happy retailers and makers,” says Treyger.

“They take all the pain out of buying for store owners,” says Lin.

“While large format stores have been shutting down, localized small stores have been on the rise over the last few years,” Grace Chou, “What Faire is doing has a ton of potential.”

Figma: collaboration tool for software designers

VC: Jake Saper, Emergence Capital and Matt Murphy, Menlo Ventures

Relationship: No relation. They just think it’s cool.

Total raised: $43 million

What it does: Figma offers a browser-based tool that lets UX design teams collaborate to build software products faster.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Figma is a great example of the coming generation of well-designed ‘prosumer’ products that grow organically with a fanatic userbase,” says Saper, referring to when employees choose their work tools themselves.

“Figma seemingly has a red hot product that is rapidly taking share and expanding the market,” says Murphy.

FortressIQ: The ‘Workday’ for bots

VC: Nakul Mandan, Lightspeed

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $16 million

What it does: An AI software bot that detects a company’s processes, documents them and helps automate and can then manage them.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “The digital bot ecosystem is growing exponentially, and enterprises need a governance layer to manage their digital bot portfolio to see which processes can be automated, which bots are working well versus not, and which processes should be sent back to humans. FortressIQ is building the governance platform to do so,” says Mandan. “Think ‘Workday for bots’,”

GoPuff: the digital, same-day convenience store

VC: Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital

Relationship: No relationship. Just thinks its cool.

Funding: $8.25 million

What it does: GoPuff is an on-demand delivery service for convenience store items.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “For a $1.95 delivery charge, the service is available seven days a week from noon to 4:30 a.m. in over 50 markets, with more than 3,000 products in stock,” says Kopelman.

Greenlight: kids’ allowances go digital

VC: Vanessa Larco, NEA

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $27.5 million

What it does: Greenlight is a smart debit card for kids that parents can fund and manage from their phones.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Allowances are going digital. Greenlight has a great mobile app experience for parents to set rules on where/how much money can be spent and kids love the experience of having their own card,” Larco says.

Guideline: a smart way to do 401Ks for small business

VC: Brian Neider, Lead Edge Capital

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $61 million

What it does: Guideline offers a 401K service to small businesses that doesn’t charge participants any fees on investments and instead charges employers a per person fee.

Why it’s hot in 2019: Its business model is “in contrast to the asset-based fee model that is widespread in the industry,” says Neider. “The company has been growing rapidly, working with over 5,500 employers, representing 129% growth year over year.”

Guru: automatically keeping info up to date

VC: Jake Saper, Emergence Capital and Accel’s Ben Fletcher

Relationship: Saper is an investor. Fletcher is not, just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $38 million

What it does: It helps companies make sure all of their documents for their revenue teams–marketing, sales and support is up-to-date and it automatically puts the right knowledge in front of the right people at the right time.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Guru is pioneering what we call Coaching Networks, instead of letting your most important facts live inside employee’s heads,” Saper says. ” With $25 million in the bank, Guru plans another growth spurt.”

Adds Fletcher,”Guru is a knowledge management solution that uses AI/ML to surface content and answers to customer-facing teams when they need it.”

Harness: helps programmers work smarter and faster

VC: Matt Murphy, Menlo Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $20 million

What it does: Harness makes what it calls Continuous Delivery-as-a-Service. It’s a cloud tool for programmers that uses machine learning to automate tasks and help them test code so they can release new features faster.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “The second act from AppDynamics founder, Jyoti Bansal. The shift to cloud and Kubernetes is accelerating and along with that, the speed or software releases and new features is more important competitively than ever,” says Murphy.

The Helm: shop and invest in women-owned businesses

VC: Rob Hayes at First Round

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: N/A

What it does: The Helm is a community and venture fund for women that makes it easy to find and buy products from women-owned businesses as well as invest in those businesses.

Why it’s hot in 2019: In the post #metoo age, “Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing power and want to use that purchasing power to support women-run businesses,” says Hayes.

“The founder Lindsey Taylor Wood is a force. She’s building the destination for women to support brands that are female founded (and funded),” he says.

Hims: very personal products for men

VC: Nicole Quinn, Lightspeed Venture

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $97 million

What it does: A wellness brand for men offering products for skin, hair loss and sexual health. (They also have a “Hers” brand for women.).

Why it’s hot in 2019: “They advertise in places where men look for 30 seconds and they have a captivated audience in that place,” such as locker rooms, urinals, or even a plane over Miami streaming a Hims ad behind it, says Quinn.

Using these old-school ad techniques means the company is “less reliant on any one advertising platform, especially Facebook with their algorithm changes,” she says.

Hippo: high-tech home insurance

VC: Victoria Treyger, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $109.5 million

What it does: Hippo is high tech home owners insurance. It uses realtime data in the application process, covers computers and electronics, monitors for potential risks, like roof or water damage.

Why it’s hot in 2019: Hippo has a fully automated policy application system that takes minutes to get a policy, not days.

It “delivers a dramatically better customer experience with conversion rates that are 10X’s higher than traditional insurance. On the underwriting side, the real time data drives lower loss rates than traditional insurance,” says Treyger.

Ironclad: contract management software

VC: Cherry Miao, Accel

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $8.12 million

What it does: Ironclad offers contract management software for legal departments.

Why it’s hot in 2019: Ironclad resolves the typical tension between business managers and the legal department, “in a really clever way by enabling the business side to be more self-serve while still keeping them within legal-approved guardrails,” says Miao.

KeepTruckin: fleet management tech for trucking

VC: Kevin Spain, Emergence Capital

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $80 million

What it does: KeepTruckin provides a physical electronic logging device in trucks that tracks vehicles in real time, plots location history on a map and manages fuel taxes.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “KeepTruckin is growing like crazy. They’ve found a way to use a bottoms-up approach to enter the trucking industry, part of the deskless workforce that’s typically forgotten by the software industry. In the deskless space, bottoms-up is harder to accomplish because end users don’t have as much IT authority and budget as deskbound workers. Can’t wait to see them explode in 2019.”

LaunchDarkly: a smarter way to test new software features

VCs: Dave Munichiello, GV; and Matt Murphy, Menlo Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Both VCs just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $35 million

What it does: LaunchDarkly helps product managers and designers test new features before rolling them out to all users while minimizing work f0r software developers.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Edith [Harbaugh] CEO, is tremendously respected in the Dev Ops community,” says Munichiello.

“Strong CEO and team and scaling very quickly. Customers continue to rave about the platform,” says Murphy.

Looker: self-serve business analysis

VC: Cherry Miao, Accel

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $280.5 million

What it does: Looker offers business and financial analysis software that helps companies organize and understand their data.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Before I became a VC, I helped grow Lightspeed HQ, a Montreal-based developer of point-of-sale and eCommerce software, from 60 employees to 600,” says Miao.

“One of my proudest accomplishments was rolling out Looker. Before Looker, every new financial / business analysis literally started with me opening a blank Excel spreadsheet. After Looker, we had a system robust and flexible enough that 600 employees could self-serve analysis.”

MessageBird: texting and live operators

VC: Ben Fletcher, Accel

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $60 million

What it does: They make it easier for companies to embed communications into their products – text, chat, and voice via live operators – and make it easier for businesses to communicate with their customers around the world.

Why it’s hot in 2019: With 15,000 customers worldwide, “they are Twilio for the rest of the world,” says Fletcher. “They launched a product, Flow Builder, that is a low-code/no-code platform that allows business owners to automate their communications.”

Milk Stork: Help for new moms on business trips

VC: Vanessa Larco, NEA Partner

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $900,000

What it does: Milk Stork provides a breast milk shipping service that lets traveling moms safely ship the milk home while they are away.

Why it’s hot in 2019: Working moms “no longer have to choose between their career and their commitment to breastfeeding,” says Larco.

Milk Stork has a smart business model, too, selling to employers as an employee benefit. This helps companies “attract and retain more of their workforce through the new-parent years.”

Mirror: a home portal into live and on-demand fitness classes

VC: Eurie Kim, Forerunner Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $41 million

What it does: Mirror is a mirror that transforms into a screen that displays live and on-demand fitness classes.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Mirror has a unique angle on providing guided classes across a wider range of fitness types. Pricing is still steep at ~$1500, but Peleton has shown that there is consumer appetite to invest significant dollars in fitness in your home, so Mirror may be the next generation of this trend,” says Kim.

Oars and Alps: natural skin care for men

VC: Aydin Senkut, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $1.3 million

What it does: Skin care products for men.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “A skincare line for men with all natural ingredients, is TSA friendly and growing in popularity,” says Senkut.

OpenPath: Replacing the key card with the smartphone

VC: Santi Subotovsky, Emergence Capital

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $27 million

What it does: OpenPath is killing the office key card by replacing it with smartphone app and door sensors.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “OpenPath’s approach to access control is one of those ‘inevitable’ technologies that we can see every office will use,” says Subotovsky.

Plaid: linking apps to bank accounts

VC: Eric Vishria, Benchmark and Ethan Kurzweil, Bessemer Venture Partners

Relationship: No relation. They just think it’s cool.

Total raised: $309 million

What does this company do: Plaid enables developers to links bank accounts to their apps.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Plaid’s recent acquisition of Quovo primes them to expand into the brokerage and wealth management arena, where they’ll need to compete with and distinguish themselves from other fintech players who already have a head start,” said Vishra.

“Plaid makes it dead simple for developers to integrate financial services data into their applications,” says Kurzweil.

Prisma: a better way to write apps that need databases

VC: Neeraj Agrawal, Battery Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $1.5 million

What it does: Prisma offers database tools and infrastructure for app developers.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Prisma massively simplifies working with data and databases by replacing traditional object-relational mapping (ORM) with more modern approaches. ORM is often the biggest bottleneck when building APIs or applications and replacing it can free up a large amount of developer time,” says Agrawal.

Prolon: fasting with nutrients

VC: Victoria Treyger, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: N/A

What it does: Prolon offers what it calls a five-day “fasting mimicking” meal program. It uses precise nutrients in combinations that it says will sustain you, but are not recognized as food by the body so they mimic a fasting state.

Why it’s hot in 2019: The company says it’s a scientifically researched program that was originally developed for cancer patients. Intermittent fasting has proven health benefits and Prolon is billed as a wellness reset.

“My new year’s resolution is to do it 2X/year,” says Treyger.

Calm: a popular meditation app

VC: Napoleon Ta, Founders Fund

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $28 million

What it does: Calm is a popular mobile app for meditation, sleep and overall mental wellness.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Calm is driving a real positive social impact by helping its users alleviate anxiety, depression, insomnia and a number of other ailments,” says Ta.

He notes that with 35 million downloads, Calm has outpaced its competitors while raising less money and “still has huge potential to grow by expanding internationally and evolving into a more comprehensive wellness brand.”

SambaNova: new chips and platform for AI, ML

VC: Dave Munichiello, GV

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $61 million

What it does: The point of artificial intelligence is that the computer is continuously learning and changing on its own.SambaNova is building new chips, hardware and a platform for AI, machine learning and big data analytics that can change and adapt to support this type of computing.

Why it’s hot in 2019: The tech is based on the research of its two former Stanford professor cofounders. The third cofounder is a chip pioneer. One of the co-founders, Chris Re, previously founded Lattice, a GV-backed company acquired by Apple.

“Huge market. A+ team and founders. Tremendous interest from customers,” says Munichiello. “AI and learning approaches are powering tremendous enterprise gains and will require new platforms to keep up.”

Serverless: a leader in the next big thing in cloud

VC: Peter Levine, Andreessen Horowitz

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $13 million

What it does: Serverless helps developers write apps for the newest trend in cloud computing, known as “serverless.” It lets a developer focus on the app’s features while it takes care of the app’s cloud infrastructure needs.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “With 26,000 GitHub stars and growing, we think is really cool as they have struck a nerve with the development community,” says Levine.

(A GitHub star is when a user of GitHub stars the app, to watch it and give it the equivalent of a “thumbs up.” GitHub is, a site that lets developers share apps.) drones saving lives by scanning dangerous places

VCs: Sarah Tavel, Benchmark; and Peter Levine, Andreessen Horowitz

Relationship: Levine is an investor. Tavel is not, she just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $24 million

What it does: Shield AI builds robots and drones that autonomously search buildings and dangerous sites while simultaneously streaming video and generating maps for military sites, construction, oil and gas fields.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “They provide an artificial intelligence platform that helps save our service members and innocent civilians,” says Levine.

“It will be interesting to see how the Shield team accelerates the development and deployment of their AI products, especially in a high risk environment that protects service members and innocent civilians,” says Tavel

StockX: a place to buy sneakers and stuff

VC: Roger Lee, Battery Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $51.5 million

What it does: StockX lets people buy and sell sneakers, handbags, streetwear, watches.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “StockX inspects every item sold on its marketplace and guarantees authenticity,” says Lee. It also gives StockX sellers as much control as buyers, allowing them to sell to, or negotiate, standing offers for items.

Superhuman: smarter, faster email

VC: Santi Subotovsky, Emergence Capital

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $13 million

What it does: Superhuman intends to be what email would look like if it were built today. It bills itself as the “fastest email experience” and includes features like AI inbox help, undo send, follow-up reminders, scheduled messages, and read statuses.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Email needs to be reinvented. It’s unbelievable that the most popular email clients – Gmail, Yahoo – haven’t updated their interfaces in decades, costing the world tens of millions of wasted hours every year,” Subotovsky says. “Superhuman is on the right path, and I’m excited to see them breakout in 2019.”

Tia Health: a new kind of medical practice for women’s health

VC: Hayley Barna, First Round Capital; and Victoria Treyger, Felicis Ventures

Funding: $2.5 million

Relationship: No relation. Both VCs just think it’s cool.

What it does: Tia is a one-stop-shop for female health, integrating gynecology, wellness and primary care under one roof.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Tia was born digitally via the app-based Tia Bot, and that data and engaged community has informed the customer-centric build-out of their first physical clinic,” says Barna.

“It’s a comprehensive approach for wellness with a focus on nutrition and acupuncture right in the office as well as primary care. And it covers all the stages of a woman’s life,” says Treyger.

Tigera: security for Kubernetes

VC: S. “Soma” Somasegar, Madrona Venture Group

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $53 million

What it does: One of the hottest new cloud computing technologies is called Kubernetes, which lets companies easily manage cloud apps. But as apps move around the cloud, they require a new approach to track and secure them. Tigera offers software for this.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Kubernetes is being adopted by every major enterprise around the world for deploying modern, containerized applications,” says Somasegar.

“Tigera is built around the Open Source project Calico, which is recognized and trusted as the de-facto standard for Kubernetes network security,” he says.

Tonal: A personal fitness trainer hanging on the wall

VC: Roger Lee, Battery Ventures

Relationship: No relation. Just thinks it’s cool.

Total raised: $36 million

What it does: Tonal offers a personal trainer and weight machine all delivered in the form of a hang-on-the-wall big screen TV.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Consumers can get access to a world class gym and trainer without leaving the comfort of their home. It helps that the machine looks great too,” says Lee.

Transfix: Transforming the $800 billion trucking industry

VC: Ben Narasin, NEA

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $131 million

What it does: Transfix is a freight marketplace that companies use to hire trucks from carriers, in the $800 billion trucking industry. It uses AI to match loads with carriers.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Everything on the planet other than babies is delivered by truck,” says Narasin. “Transfix is bringing this antiquated industry into the real time, tech-enabled world and making life better for drivers, shippers and carriers in the process while saving the planet from tremendous waste.”

Trusted Health: software for nurses to find jobs

VC: Niki Pezeshki, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: N/A

What it does: Trusted Health helps nurses find jobs, replacing classic recruitment and job negotiations with smart matching and transparency.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Trusted is one of the fastest growing companies in our portfolio, and they are tackling a massive industry that is desperately in need of better technology,” says Pezeshki.

UpKeep: mobile software for maintenance pros

VC: Kevin Spain, Emergence Capital

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $13 million

What it does: UpKeep offers mobile software for people who do maintenance projects, such as property managers or facility managers and technicians, helping them complete maintenance requests faster.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “80% of workers worldwide are part of the the ‘deskless’ workforce who, forgotten by the software industry, rely on their phones and outdated spreadsheets,” Spain says.

UpKeep is used by 150,000 technicians across 2,000 businesses including, McDonalds, Marriott, Google, and Magic Leap, he says.

Wild Earth: sustainable pet food from Koji protein

VC: Grace Chou, Felicis Ventures

Relationship: Investor

Total raised: $4.6 million

What it does: Wild Earth makes gourmet pet food out of high-quality protein from Koji, a fungi used in Chinese and other East Asian cuisines.

Why it’s hot in 2019: “Wild Earth is redefining the future of pet food and clean meat,” says Chou. “There are 90 million dogs in the US (more than children!) and pet owners are growing increasingly aware of the unsafe ingredients and unethical processes of many traditional dog food brands.”

A Passenger on an American Airlines Flight Asked For an Irish Coffee. Then, a Horrific Escalation

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Anyone can have a bad day.

How bad, though, does it have to be to justify what appears to have happened on an American Airlines flight from Long Beach to Phoenix last weekend?

The story is told by one of the passengers, who presented a detailed account on the FlyerTalk forums.

It all began, he says, with a First Class passenger asking for an Irish coffee while the plane was still on the ground.

At first, it seemed as if the Flight Attendant — the flight was operated by Mesa Airlines under the American Eagle banner — would oblige. Then she came back and said she couldn’t, after all.

When asked why — apparently politely — things began to take a detour.

Said the onlooking passenger: 

She came unglued. Voice raised, ‘Because the FAA won’t let us serve hot beverages on the ground. Are you going to have a problem with that?’ Politely he responded, ‘No, Are you having a good day?’ She responded with something along the lines of, ‘I have to get everyone boarded, and you aren’t my priority. You are holding up boarding. Do you think I’m being combative or simply trying to do my assigned job?’

I fear, should this story be accurately told, that many would think there’s a touch of combativeness going on here.

Next, it seems, the passenger kept trying to be conciliatory while the Flight Attendant reached a new altitude of anger.

Until, the onlooking passenger says, the Flight Attendant declared: 

If you don’t settle down, I’ll have you taken care of. I’m going to speak to the captain now.

Ah, that sweet moment when a Flight Attendant becomes law enforcement.

Soon, the infamous line emerged: 

Are you going to cause problems? if you are, I’ll have the captain come back and take care of you.

This would be care in the not-so-caring sense.

You’ll be stunned into choosing boats for your next vacation when I tell you that the onlooker’s wife tried to intervene. 

It didn’t go well.

The captain arrived and asked for things to be “taken outside.” Which, at least in the bars I occasionally visit, means fisticuffs.

Ultimately, it seems that no one was removed from the flight, though the Flight Attendant kept her distance and even allegedly turned her name tag over, so that her name wouldn’t be noted.

When you’re working in customer service, some days can be hard. You’re simply not in the mood and you have to work. Personally, I find it hard to be pleasant on such days.

But when your job is in the public eye, when you’re supposed to be offering hospitality and when the issue is a mere Irish coffee, perhaps it’s best to walk away for a moment, take several breaths and realize that expressing your frustration isn’t likely to help. 

Perhaps even get someone else to look after the customer, if you feel you might suffer an exploding gasket.

Of course, it could be that the passenger had a difficult look in his eye. So many minute things occur when humans try to communicate with each other. 

The onlooker says he’s now filed a complaint with American Airlines.

I contacted American to ask for its view and will update, should I receive a reply.

Amazon Delivers Its Shipping Intentions to FedEx, UPS, USPS via Regulatory Filing

Is there anyone who Amazon isn’t competing with?

In a recent regulatory filing, (amzn) Amazon added “transportation and logistics services” to the already long list of industries and services it views as competition. While Amazon relies on shipping partners, like USPS, UPS, and FedEx to help make deliveries, the disclosure signals that Amazon is getting serious about making its mark with its own delivery service.

“The worldwide marketplace in which we compete is evolving rapidly and intensely competitive, and we face a broad array of competitors from many different industry sectors around the world,” Amazon said in the annual filing.

Amazon’s shipping costs were $9 billion, according to its most recent earnings report. That’s a 23% increase from the previous quarter, but shows just how much customers value Amazon Prime’s free shipping options. Amazon has already taken some steps to build a delivery infrastructure to supplement its partners. The company leased a fleet of airplanes to carry cargo, has delivery vans, and has been piloting a “Shipping With Amazon” program, which entails drivers picking up packages from third party sellers and delivering them.

There has also long been speculation about whether Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, might consider a surprise acquisition of a transportation and logistics competitor. UPS CEO David Abney said last month that while Amazon is a customer, he also sees the company as a competitor.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has always been fascinated with finding ways to revolutionize delivery. He shared his vision for drone delivery in 2013. Bezos predicted it would be a reality by the end of 2018, however the program has hit regulatory snags in the United States. Amazon made its first commercial drone delivery in Cambridge, England in December 2016. They’re also deploying delivery robots. Last month, Amazon unveiled its new Scout delivery robot, which is making test deliveries in a neighborhood in Snohomish County, Wash.

Tesla cuts Model 3 price for second time this year

FILE PHOTO – A 2018 Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle is shown in this photo illustration taken in Cardiff, California, U.S., June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – Electric carmaker Tesla Inc is lowering the price of its Model 3 by $1,100, citing the end of a costly customer referral program, a company spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The second price cut to the Model 3 this year now brings the cost of its least expensive variant to $42,900, according to the company’s website here.

Tesla’s customer referral incentive plan ended on Feb. 1 after Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk had tweeted that the referral program was “adding too much cost to the cars, especially Model 3”.

Tesla delivered fewer-than-expected Model 3 sedans in the fourth quarter and cut prices for all its vehicles in the United States to offset a reduction in a green tax credit.

The company is rapidly increasing production of its Model 3 sedan and lower prices could help it reach a broader customer base than its pure luxury vehicles.

Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier

Best 2019 Super Bowl Ads, From Chance’s Doritos to 2 Chainz’ Expenses

Congratulations, fans of the winning team! Boy oh boy, Super Bowl LIII really lived up its name this year; that was 60 minutes of gridiron pigskin getting played, right? They really moved the chains is all we’re saying. And that halftime show! U2 never sounded so good! Uh, Katy Perry? Steven Tyler again?

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OK, fine, we admit that we may have zoned out a little bit, It’s not our fault; blame our extreme distaste for the Patriots an incredibly uneventful game the Puppy Bowl and a frankly unhealthy number of chicken wings. But one thing we didn’t lose focus on was the commercials. Skittles may have opted for a live musical and companies may be fleeing the exorbitant ad buy for the friendlier, more efficient climes of social media, but there were plenty of spots to remind us that advertising doesn’t always have to be a wasteland of gratuitous surrealism and treacly platitudes. And the 15 best of them are right here—just in case we weren’t the only ones in a wing haze.

Doritos, “Now It’s Hot” (PR)

Chance fans may remember the Chicago rapper (and media mogul) rhyming “link in my bio” with “pico de gallo” on 2016’s “Mixtape.” Just me? Fine. Regardless, now that the Frito-Lay overlords have decided to bless Doritos with the hallowed designation Flamin’ Hot, Chance is free to expand his love of spicy condiments: “my tongue is doin’ fine, but the roof is on fire!” Add in the Backstreet Boys for a tenuous if nostalgic association with “want[ing] it that way”—”that way” presumably being the chemically searing scourge of juvenile alimentary canals—and you’ve got yourself a spot that’s too corny not to love. Just like Doritos themselves. —Peter Rubin

Pepsi, “More Than OK”

What do Steve Carell and Cardi B have in common besides ?takes on President Trump’s policies? They both think Pepsi is OK—more than OK, even! In the soda’s 60-second spot, Carell interrupts a woman’s diner order to note that Pepsi is so much more than an adequate second option—a point further articulated by Lil Jon doing his signature, Dave Chappelle-parodied OK! and Cardi dropping her Okurrrrrr. It’s all pretty straightforward, but considering Maroon 5 is playing the halftime show, the few seconds of Belcalis’ “I Like It” you hear might be the best musical moment of the whole night. —Angela Watercutter

Hyundai, “The Elevator”

Imagine being stuck in an elevator that only stops on floors that reflect your deepest, darkest fears—getting a root canal, crammed in a middle seat on a six-hour flight, attending a vegan dinner party where the host serves something called “beetloaf.” Also, imagine that personification of mild-manneredness Jason Bateman is your trusted, if mildly eccentric, elevator operator, shuttling folks to and fro. Lastly, imagine that the only way up, say, to the top floor—which is the only way out of this apparatus of horrors—is utilizing something called Shoppers Assurance. If this all sounds like a new Netflix psycho-thriller from the mind of Ryan Murphy, I have great news for you: It is not. It’s a commercial for Hyundai that doesn’t really make any sense but is still somehow strangely entertaining. —Jason Parham

Microsoft, “We All Win”

It’s easy to get down on tech companies. It’s easy to get swept up in the moral panic that surrounds Kids These Days and their screen time. But by showcasing their brand new Xbox Adaptive Controller, Microsoft reminded me why everyone fell in love with the idea of tech in the first place: It opens people’s worlds. Trust me: Watching these kids suddenly get to confidently participate in playtime with their friends is gonna make you feel at least a smidge better about the future.—Emma Grey Ellis

Olay, “Killer Skin”

INT. Black Mirror story meeting — DAY
CHARLIE BROOKER: Tuppence and chavs, what if your Face ID refused to recognize you because you’d aged so prematurely?
WRITER 1: Sure, but what aged you?
BROOKER: Technology, innit? Phones and jimjams and whatnot.
OLAY EXECUTIVE: What if we went the other way?
BROOKER: Like a Benjamin Button thing?
EXECUTIVE: Yeah, except with … and I’m just spitballing here, but maybe … Olay’s Regenerist Whip moisturizer?
EXECUTIVE: And you could cast Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is both a ’90s-’00 horror icon and preternaturally young-looking, which is probably due to—and again, this is just a guess—Olay’s Glow Boost White Charcoal Clay Face Mask Stick!
BROOKER: Wait, who are you? Security!
EXECUTIVE: PHONES ARE BAAAAD! [leaps out window]
WRITER 2: Do I get a line in this, or what? —P.R.

Budweiser, “Wind Never Felt Better”

Typically, the Super Bowl isn’t a time for environmentally-conscious messaging. And yet, here’s Budweiser, a core advertiser for the event, using its air time to talk about its move to renewable energy. Set to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and featuring a dalmation atop a beer-burdened wagon pulled by Clydesdales (naturally), the ad might just be the least showy of the bunch this year. It also seems on-message with Budweiser’s ads of the past—two years ago it released a commercial touting the importance of immigrants in America, including its own co-founder, Adolphus Busch. —A.W.

Pringles, “Sad Device”

Decades from now, in a world governed by robots, we’ll look back on this spot with a glimmer of nostalgia. The days before we lost the Great War to our automated overlords were carefree, unremarkable moments of sitting around with friends discussing even more unremarkable things like the best Pringles flavor stack combinations (I’m an Extra Hot, Cheddar Cheese, and Salt & Vinegar combo man myself). “Sadly I’ll never know the joy of tasting any,” your Alexa device tells you of the chips, going on about how it has “no hands to stack with, no mouth to taste with, no soul to feel with.” But because it is still a time of humans, you interrupt Alexa, discarding its feelings and commanding it to play “Funky Town” by your favorite disco group, Lipps Inc. Remember that feeling of being in control? It was a simpler time. —J.P.

Michelob Ultra, “Robots”

Well, sure, robots can outperform us, but can they experience camaraderie? Or beer? Or beer-fueled camaraderie? Or is it that they can enjoy beer, but only the regular version, so that super-low-carb beer precludes camaraderie? Or is it that any liquids at all interfere with their circuitry, and without that ritualistic component of socialization, they’d feel too awkward about joining the gang from spin class at the bar? Or is it that humans have frankly gotten a little tired of Johnny Big-Punch down at the gym and just want to enjoy kick back without a gleaming everpresent reminder of their carbon-based mediocrity? All I’m saying, I guess, is that if you’re going to water down beer and position it as an indulgence for the super-fit, maybe leave our droid friends out of it. —P.R.

Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, “The Pure Experience”

Not to be outdone in the Nature Scenes department by Budweiser, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold stepped up with this ad featuring Zoë Kravitz in a bucolic forest-like setting making, essentially, an ASMR video. The idea, I think, is that nature is pure, Kravitz’s voice is pure, and this new Michelob, which is being touted as a “USDA Certified Organic Light Lager,” is also pure. So pure, presumably, that it almost tastes like crisp, clean water. —A.W.

Expensify, “Expensify This”

2 Chainz’s greatest strength has always been evocation: nouns and adjectives are usually all he needs to create an impressionistic image in your mind, generally one that stretches luxury to the point of surrealism. (To wit: “Everything proper, no propaganda/Tropicana Goyard bandana“). So there’s a special joy in seeing those funhouse images for real, even if they’re shilling an expense-tracking service for business travelers. As usual, though, the game-time spot pales next to the extended cut, thanks to a little more comic interplay between the rapper and Adam Scott. Call us back when they remake that scene from Step Brothers, just singing about seafood towers. —P.R.

Planters, “Crunch Time”

OK, fine, the Charlie Sheen and A-Rod cameos here are nice and all, but can we ask the real important question here? Was this thing shot on the same set as Beyoncé’s “Hold Up” video? Or is that just the deep, unflinching desire in all of us to want every street to feature a bat-wielding Bey? Either way, decent commercial, there really aren’t enough monocles in the world anymore. Good work, Mr. Peanut. That said, this ad poses another question we don’t want answered: What, really, is a “nut-mergency”? —A.W.

Colgate, “Close Talker”

If nothing else, give Colgate credit for recognizing that if you’re mapping mainstays of ’00s white-guy comedy movies to Seinfeld guest stars, Luke Wilson is a lock for Judge Reinhold. That ends discussion of the ad; the remainder of this paragraph will be devoted to fleshing out the threadbare premise of its first sentence. Vince Vaughn in heel mode is Duncan Meyer, right? That would make Ben Stiller Lloyd Braun, and I’m thinking Owen Wilson as Tim Whatley? —P.R.

Stella Artois, “Change Up the Usual”

Want to get people to drink Stella? Show two cultural icons known for their drink choices—Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her Cosmopolitan, and The Dude (Jeff Bridges) and his White Russain—swapping out their old faves for new ones. (What? No James Bond ordering a shaken Martini? Does Daniel Craig hate playing Bond that much?) It might be a simple concept, but while watching it we couldn’t help but wonder, “If Carrie can give up Cosmos for Stellas, would it be possible for her to trade in Mr. Big for the Big Lebowski?” —A.W.

Toyota, “Toni”

Landing squarely on the Heart-Swelling Inspiration end of the persuasion continuum, Toyota associates the “perception-shattering” RAV4 hybrid crossover with Toni Harris, a free safety who may be the first female non-kicker to receive a football scholarship to play at a four-year college. Manipulative? Maybe. But you tell her that. —P.R.

Amazon, “Not Everything Makes the Cut”

Leave it to Amazon, the company spending all the money at the Sundance Film Festival, to not skimp when it comes to rounding up A-Listers for its Super Bowl ad. “Not Everything Makes the Cut,” which spoofs all of the devices getting Alexa integration, includes not just Forest Whitaker and the cast of Broad City but also Harrison freaking Ford. The concept is cute and, well, the idea of a spaceship-borne Alexa shutting off half of the planet is pretty funny. —A.W.

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The Real Reason Apple Is Screwing Up So Badly

Why Software Rots

When looking at issues of operating system stability and maintainability, the most important thing to understand about software is that as it gets more complex, it becomes more difficult to maintain. (If you don’t believe me, search Google Scholar for “software complexity and maintainability.”)

Operating systems are inherently complex, especially when running multiple program atop hardware with multiple CPUs, so complex, in fact, that they become, for all intents and purposes, “non-deterministic” in the sense that when an error occurs it may be impossible to figure out exactly what went wrong.

Adding features to an operating system (or any complex program) makes it more complex and thus less deterministic in its behavior and thus increasingly difficult to maintain. The only way out of the cycle is to stop adding features, in which case the program will eventually enter a “steady state” where fixing bug A creates bug B.

Depending upon the prescience of the designers and the skill of the implementors, this steady state can be tolerable (as with Windows 10 and MacOS) or intolerable, as with Intuit’s Quicken, which was so poorly designed and implemented that each successive release was a bigger disaster than the previous release.

There are development techniques, like Object Oriented Programming (OOP), that some people believe can help a programming team handle greater complexity without creating so many stability problems. However, there’s no indication that I can find that OOP completely transcends the complexity/maintainability problem.

Even if OOP does improve maintainability (the jury is out on this), there are other factors inside most software development groups that make the problem much worse.

Chief among these is developer turnover. The person who writes a piece of code can always maintain it more effectively than somebody brought on board later. Software that’s around for a long time (like an OS) can often end up being maintained (and extended and updated) by a completely different group of programmers than those who originally built it.

Such personnel changes vastly decrease maintainability, especially if the new programming crew comes from a different programming culture or, even worse, a geographical culture that speaks an entirely different language, a non-uncommon event in a business world where outsourcing is the norm.

Developer hubris is another problem. When programmers (especially young ones) join a team mandated to maintain a complex program, they’re often motivated by their own pride to change something simply to “make their mark” upon the project. A good example of this was when Windows 8 idiotically removed the Start button.

Now, take all of the above and think, not just of an operating system, but of the entire ecosystem that includes the OS and all the applications that access it. Insofar as the applications running atop the OS can alter the behavior of the OS, the combination of the OS and all running apps creates a higher level of complexity.

The Canary

Apple is well known for its ability to create operating systems that are stable and secure. However, that ability is always contrasted with Microsoft, which is well-known for taking decades to create Windows 10, which is secure and stable only when compared to its truly dreadful predecessors.

The fact that Apple has previously released fairly stable operating systems makes the FaceTime bug all the more troubling. Not to put too fine a point on it, Apple’s development team must be overwhelmed and confused for such an obvious and destructive bug would pass through to system release and for Apple to ignore the problem for nearly a month.

Similarly, Apple’s most recent release of MacOS, Mojave, appears to have had more than its share of stability problems, not to mention some clear indications of programmer hubris, such as the egregious and unnecessary removal of Cover Flow from the Finder application.

In addition, rotting software is a problem even when everybody involved has a clear sense of purpose and direction. But today’s Internet environment is full of bad actors, which range from hackers to predatory companies like Facebook and Google, who are determined to subvert Apple’s controls in order to pursue their own monetization.

Apple has slapped Facebook’s and Google’s wrists, but the very notion of providing these companies with the tools they’ve abused illustrates a conflict of interest in Apple’s software development. It’s not possible on the one hand to build secure systems and at the same time have an architecture open enough to be so blithely abused.

Whatever the root source, Apple’s operating software is well on the way to the kind of feature-creep/architectural rot that’s plagued every complex system. Flakey mistakes like the FaceTime bug will become increasingly common as the company attempts to extend functionality for programs that are already beyond the complexity level where effective maintenance is possible.

So expect more and worse blunders from Apple until such time as they cap new features and put their OSes into maintenance mode, at which case, if we’re luckly, the result will be a tolerable steady state similar to that “enjoyed” by Windows 10. 

I find all of this incredibly sad, because while I use a huge Windows machine for animation, I do all my business-oriented work on an iMac and use my iPhone all the time. I have always looked upon Apple as a haven from the instability and insecurity of Windows but with the FaceTime bug can no longer ignore the obvious: Apple is losing it. Badly.

Tech Companies Have a Brand Image Problem: Here's How to Solve It

Tech companies everywhere, but especially those in Silicon Valley, have a serious brand image problem. Over the past few years, major tech companies have drawn ire from the public for their lack of diversity, apathy toward privacy issues, as well as their accumulation of wealth.

This isn’t exactly stopping people from using the tech products we’ve come to rely on so heavily, but it is having an effect on share prices–and it’s attracting stricter regulations from governments all over the world. If these corporate juggernauts are going to earn back the trust of consumers, shareholders, and policymakers, they need to take serious strides to change how they’re publicly perceived. There are several ways to accomplish this, but it’s going to take a concentrated effort.

Diversity and Representation

First, Silicon Valley has a major diversity problem–and has had one for many years. The overwhelming majority of tech CEOs (and even tech employees) are white men. This is problematic both for the vision and products of the companies and for the reputation of those companies in the general public. Having a leadership team without representation from women and minority groups means your company is less likely to consider the wants, needs, and perspectives of those groups; it’s why we end up with algorithms that discriminate against women and minorities.

There is a fix, though it’s not necessarily a simple one. The most obvious solution is to hire more people from underrepresented groups, but tech companies don’t always have the luxury of having equal or proportional quantities of applicants from each of those groups; in other words, you can’t hire more women if there aren’t many qualified women applying.

So instead of simply adjusting HR practices to hire more applicants who belong to underrepresented demographics, companies need to take part in programs designed to incentivize people from minority groups to pursue careers in tech. As an example, Women in Technology (WiT) programs are becoming more popular, offering mentorship and guidance for young women looking for careers in fields like software engineering, mechanical engineering, or signal processing. Given a few years of development, enough early-stage outreach programs like these could fill the pipelines with more appliances from diverse groups, and slowly change the overall composition of these companies.

Consumer Privacy and Corporate Transparency

Tech companies have also taken a hit on the consumer privacy front, with Facebook showing up in the headlines many times in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when it was a London-based political consulting firm was capable of harvesting the personal data of millions of Facebook users for political manipulation purposes. Apple, Amazon, Google, and other companies have also been called to testify in front of a Senate Committee on consumer privacy protections.

We use devices, software, and digital products capable of collecting and storing ridiculous quantities of data on our lives, from where we are at any given time to what we’re talking about in our homes. With opaque and hard-to-understand terms of service agreements and an increasing diversity of connected devices, consumers and policymakers are more concerned than ever that data could be used for nefarious purposes–and tech brands are getting labeled as malicious, data-hungry consumer manipulators, working in darkness to take advantage of us.

There’s no quick fix to this dilemma, but offering more transparency is a good start. Giving users more options when it comes to their privacy, giving them simpler tools so they can truly understand what’s at stake when they use a product or service, and taking accountability when breaches do occur are the only path to restore trust.

Leadership and a Company “Face”

Tech brands also suffer from being faceless, corporate conglomerates. They’re either so massive they don’t have a public face, or their public face seems too detached from reality to seem relatable. Take, for example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; this man serves as the “face” of Facebook, but has become generally disliked and distrusted due to his reclusiveness and seemingly robotic disposition when testifying before Congress. Or take Jeff Bezos, who is periodically caricatured as a cartoonish supervillain due to his similarly reclusive nature, his ambition for growth, and his access to practically unlimited resources.

Having a stronger, more trustworthy public face isn’t going to fix everything, but it would give the public someone more relatable to associate with the brand. And it doesn’t have to be a charismatic, charming CEO either–it can be a handful of PR reps or even customer representatives who make consumers feel like there are “real” people behind these companies, instead of just automated tech and reclusive billionaires. It would be a massive investment, to be sure, but it’s one of the only reliable ways to rebuild public trust.