Monthly Archives March 2017

Facebook wants to nix the crowd-funding middlemen

facebook_2015_logo_detail Crowd-funding services like GoFundMe have become very popular, helping people cover the costs of tuition, medical bills, trips, start-ups, and more. According to the Verge, Facebook recently announced its attempts to cut out the middlemen. The social media giant will soon begin letting its users create personal fundraisers directly on Facebook.

The personal fundraiser feature will roll out over the next few weeks to Facebookers in the United States. Users will have to be eighteen to access the feature and will be able to set up a Facebook page dedicated to their fundraiser, pick a donation goal and receive money directly through the site. The fundraisers will be linked to their users’ Facebook profile – making the whole thing a bit more personal.

There is a twist. Facebook moderators will not only review all fundraisers before they launch, but they will also be limiting fundraisers to six categories: education expenses, medical bills, pet bills, crisis and disaster relief, personal emergencies, and assistance for families after a death. Facebook says it is open to adding more categories in the future.

Facebook has not yet disclosed whether or not it will be entitled to receive a cut of the money raised. However, for donations and charities that run on Facebook, three percent of each donation is put towards covering fee processing, while another two percent is removed for non-profit vetting, fraud protection, and payment support.

Amazon will now be collecting sales tax across the United States

amazon_logo_RGB Online retail has created a challenge for sales tax collection. For example, if a company has no physical presence in a state, are they obligated to follow tax laws? It’s tricky – and Amazon has profited a good deal from being duty free. But according to The Verge, Amazon will start collecting sales taxes in all 45 states that require it starting on April 1st.

If you live somewhere without a state sales tax such as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, or Oregon, this news does not affect you. However, residents of Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, and New Mexico might notice an increase on their Amazon bill next month. These aforementioned states were the last holdouts after ten states were added to Amazon’s sales tax collection on March 1st.

In order to build their physical presence, Amazon has begun opening a wide range of data centers and warehouses around the country. Depending on local law, this makes them obligated to collect sales taxes in some states while being able to arrange specific tax policies for online purchases in others.

While not charging sales tax proved to be one of Amazon’s biggest early advantages over physical stores, it doesn’t seem likely that their growth will be impacted by this development.

Exploding earphones cause mid-flight blaze

batteryOverheating batteries have been the source of more than one inferno. The most recent battery disaster involved a pair of wireless headphones and an airplane. According to Entrepreneur, an Australian woman on a flight from Beijing to Melbourne had her face burned when her undisclosed-brand headphones exploded and caught fire.

“I continued to feel burning so I grabbed them off and threw them on the floor. They were sparking and had small amounts of fire. As I went to stamp my foot on them the flight attendants were already there with a bucket of water to pour on them. They put them into the bucket at the rear of the plane,” explained the owner of the headphones.

The woman said her headphones battery and cover melted into the floor of the plane, filling the cabinet with a burning plastic smell. The explosion happened only 2 hours into the long flight, forcing the passengers to spend more than nine hours coughing and choking on the smoke.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, in recognizing the increasing number of wireless devices on planes, took this opportunity to remind passengers about battery safety on planes. However, unless regulations change, there’s nothing preventing another headphone fire, even if passengers are careful.

Microsoft vs Slack in the battle of workplace communication apps

microsoftteams Slack has been making a splash as a workplace collaboration tool, taking advantage of a new and interesting business communications market. But according to the Seattle Times, software giant Microsoft has decided to give the new start-up a run for its money by unveiling its workplace-messaging software, Microsoft Teams.

Like Slack, Microsoft Teams allows users to set up chat rooms with individuals and groups, make expandable threads, and share files.

If your business or school uses Microsoft’s Office 365 productivity suite, you should already be able to access the new application with no extra charge. Microsoft Teams has been two years in the making, and is not only going to compete with Slack, but also with Google Hangouts and similar products being developed by Facebook and Amazon.

Research firm Gartner has estimated that businesses worldwide will spend $5.1 billion on conferencing in 2017. Business communication is an up-and-coming and potentially very profitable industry.

Reminder: Don’t charge your phone in the tub

1In light of a London man passing away due to accidental electrocution last weekend, we here at Schooley Mitchell are passing on a safety tip: don’t charge your phone in the bath.

CNET reported that Richard Bull, 32, was found dead in his bathtub with severe burns. When the police arrived, they found an extension cord leading into the bathroom from the hallway – and the charger element in the tub itself.

Police Commissioner Craig Pattinson said at an inquiry into the fatality that, “The extension cable was on the floor and it appeared as though he had his phone charger on his chest and the part between the phone charger and the cable had made contact with the water.”

Dr. Sean Cummings, the coroner on Richard Bull’s case said that although the death was ruled accidental, he is concerned that not enough people realize how dangerous smartphones are near water. “They should attach warnings,” Dr. Cummings insisted. “I intend to write a report later to the makers of the phone.”

Should smartphone makers give more clear warnings about electrocution hazards?  Whether you believe the company should be liable, or that this is just common sense, play it safe and keep all electronics away from water!

T-Mobile’s 911 ghost call problem puts lives at risk

T-Mobile People in the city of Dallas, Texas have died, in part because they could not reach a 911 operator in time to receive lifesaving service. The problem lies in a “ghost call” glitch in the emergency call system Dallas uses. According to CNET, the problem is currently affecting T-Mobile customers.

Dallas City Manager T.C Broadnax said the issue has existed since October and they have been working with T-Mobile executives and engineers since November to resolve it. According to him, T-Mobile customers are being redirected to 911 call centers in Dallas, creating a buildup of traffic and resulting in people who need the service being put on hold for long periods of time. Neither the company nor the city have disclosed if they know why this is happening. The problem has been coined “ghost calling.”

T-Mobile isn’t the only carrier to experience troubled with emergency services. Recently, AT&T customers in Texas, Indiana, and other parts of the Midwest have experienced an outage of 911 service. The Federal Communications Commission is investigating these incidents.

Recently in Dallas, a six-month-old infant named Brandon Alex died when his babysitter could not reach a 911 operator. The night he died, more than 400 calls had flooded the call center. His babysitter was put on hold multiple times.  Similarly, a local man named Brian Cross, 52, died in the hospital after his husband was put on hold for twenty minutes before reaching an operator.

According to T-Mobile, this specific glitch is unique to Dallas and nothing similar has happened in any of its other 4,000 911 call centers across the country.

Law-abiding robots are coming to Virginia

starship-technologiesIf you’re in Virginia this summer, keep an eye out for autonomous delivery robots travelling on sidewalks, crosswalks, and shared-use paths. According to TechNewsWorld, Virginia Governor Terry McAullife recently signed a law that would allow Starship Technologies’ Personal Delivery Devices (PDDs) to make deliveries of parcels, groceries, and food within a two-mile radius in a 15 to 30-minute time period.

Starship Technologies’ PDDs are six-wheeled robots – somewhat resembling a cooler. They weigh about forty pounds and can carry a workload of up to twenty pounds, travelling four miles-per-hour.

PDDs are required to obey all traffic and pedestrian control devices and signs. Much like a car, they must display a plate or marker identifying their owner’s name and contact info, and a unique identifier number. They are not regulated to transport hazardous materials, substances, or waste. While they are allowed to travel autonomously, Virginia also requires that a human operator actively control or monitor their navigation and operation.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is the first state to govern autonomous delivery robots in the United States.

Intel buys Israeli computer-vision company

intelComputer chip maker Intel is continuing to expand its horizons with its recent acquisition of Israeli computer vision company, Mobileye. The deal was worth $15.3 billion USD.

Mobileye was founded in 1999 and develops the technological brains behind vehicle driving assistance systems such as cruise control, lane departure warnings, and distance keeping. Major automobile manufacturers such as BMW, Volvo, Buick, and Cadillac already use Mobileye’s technology. Just this past July, BMW, Intel, and Mobileye announced plans to begin producing self-driving cars by 2021. In fact, the trio has committed to putting 40 test cars on public roads later this year.

Intel has been pretty straightforward with its desire to break into the autonomous car game. It makes sense, being that autonomous vehicles take a lot of computing power to operate.

“This acquisition is a great step forward for our shareholders, the automotive industry, and consumers,” said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. “Intel provides critical foundational technologies for autonomous driving, including plotting the car’s path and making real-time driving decisions. Mobileye brings the industry’s best automotive-grade computer vision and strong momentum with automakers and suppliers. Together, we can accelerate the future of autonomous driving with improved performance in a cloud-to-car solution at a lower cost for automakers.”

Time to say goodbye to that Socl network you never heard of!

socl_logo-100016001-mediumHave you heard of or used Microsoft’s social networking service, Socl? It started four years ago and has been the center of a lot of social media experimentation since. According to The Verge, Microsoft says it will be shutting down Socl on March 15th.

Socl started as a mysterious project from Microsoft’s FUSE research group. It has grown to include apps for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other successful services – Socl never really had a clear plan. And without filling out a specific niche on the web, its user base never grew significantly.

Microsoft announced it was ending Socl on a blog post, saying it thanked the “supportive community of like-minded people” who had used the service loyally over the past four years.

“We have learned invaluable lessons in what it takes to establish and maintain community as well as introduce novel new ways to make, share and collect digital stuff we love,” the post said.

Virtual Reality grew companies in 2016

pexels-photo-226047 We’ve heard a lot about virtual reality lately, and it seems like almost every major tech company is at least dipping their toes into the industry. If you’ve noticed this, you’re not alone. According to VentureBeat, the Venture Reality Fund reported that the companies it tracks in the virtual reality market grew over 40 percent in 2016.

The Venture Reality Fund’s cofounder Marco DeMiroz said that the largest area of growth was in content companies that create apps for head mounted VR displays. VR gaming and entertainment also nearly doubled in size, with new, well-funded companies popping up across the United States and Asia.

Some different, less expected areas of growth for VR included education, enterprise, health care, and journalism. Advertising and analytics start-ups for VR also experienced a great deal of funding in 2016.

Major players in the tech industry are taking notice of this growth. Microsoft Windows recently added its own VR platform, which launched in partnership with other major partners such as HP and Lenovo.

The Venture Reality Fund invests in VR and augmented reality start-ups.