Category Archives: News

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Create your own AI-powered voice assistant with Matrix Voice


The Matrix Voice development board is a Raspberry Pi add-on you can use to build your own voice assistant. I got my hands on a review unit to see if someone who is “code illiterate” could make something out of it. Some people have an affinity for programming and development. I’m not one of them. I’ve written about DIY Alexa projects before, but I’ve never had the opportunity to make my own. On first glance it seemed incredibly complex. Yet, somehow I managed to make it through the project thanks in no small part to the excellent tutorials and documentation…

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Shady cryptocurrency project brings on Steven Seagal for added shadiness


Actor Steven Seagal could be the harbinger of the ICO apocalypse. Seagal today announced his involvement with ‘Bitcoiin,’ an upcoming token that looks a lot like Bitcoin, but is built on the Ethereum blockchain. Hollywood actor Steven Seagal has become a believer of Bitcoiin2Gen (B2G), the Hollywood action star will be representing the leading cryptocurrency, Bitcoiin2Gen, as a brand ambassador. Glossing over the press release — which was seemingly written by a chimpanzee on bath salts — I have real questions about B2G, and Seagal’s involvement. For Bitcoiin2Gen, the choice of Zen Master, Steven Seagal is obvious as brand ambassador, this extends…

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Cerebrawl: The inside story of Seattle’s own hyperkinetic, tag-match fighting game

An environment concept in ‘Cerebrawl.’

For the last twenty years, the Marvel vs. Capcom series has been (in)famous among fighting-game fans. It’s a franchise that pits an assortment of characters from Capcom’s various titles—Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Darkstalkers, etc.—against Marvel Comics’ stable of superheroes and – villains. Since 1996’s X-Men vs. Street Fighter, the series has been known for being flashy and chaotic, and most of the games tend to have serious balance problems in one way or another. Despite all of that, or maybe because of it, MvC’s fans are some of the most raucous and dedicated players out there.

Cerebrawl is, in many ways, a deliberate attempt to create a sort of spiritual, independent sequel to Marvel vs. Capcom. In fact, as of this writing, there’s an automatic redirect at marvelvscapcom5.com that brings you to Cerebrawl’s website.

The game is an independent production by a six-person team, based in part in Seattle, that calls itself Zero Dimension. Its crew consists of veterans of companies such as Harmonix, Disney, Microsoft, the Indie Megabooth, and 38 Studios, and many of them are also long-time presences on various fighting games’ tournament scenes. Zero Dimension’s members have been working on Cerebrawl between other projects for the last three years, during which time they were regular sights on the Seattle indie games circuit. They’re currently working on funding the last big push to get their game finished.

The ideas was to “make a more Marvel-type game rather than a ‘gentleman’s game,’” says the game’s art director, Eliot Min. “I played a lot of Street Fighter 4 in tournaments when I lived in Massachusetts [and] there’s something about the Marvel scene… I’ve always been more attracted to that scene, rather than the game itself. I wanted to build that kind of scene. It’s sensory overload… it’s like a reflection of the game that they play.”

‘Cerebrawl’ co-founders Aaron Oak (left) and Eliot Min.

Cerebrawl’s producer, Aaron Oak, is a former “semi-pro” player with a background in Counterstrike and Starcraft. “The fighting-game community is very far apart from that. It’s way more exciting. In Starcraft, no emotion is shown… that was exciting to me as well, having that bright, vibrant community that’s really excited about what they do.”

I played Cerebrawl for a few rounds against Oak. It’s more frantic and fluid than a Street Fighter game, with big, screen-filling moves and animations, but doesn’t quite reach the explosive, technicolor heights of a Marvel vs. Capcom. In play, it looks like the game adaptation of some ‘90s independent comic or late-night cult cartoon that doesn’t actually exist; most of the characters would look perfectly at home as graffiti on a wall, or as decals you could buy at a skate shop.

A character from Cerebrawl.

You can play Cerebrawl as a typical head-to-head fighter, where both players select two characters and battle it out as a tag match, or as a four-player game, where each character is controlled by a separate player, with two fighting onscreen at a time. Much like Marvel vs. Capcom, a big part of Cerebrawl is off-screen assist moves, where an inactive character leaps in to help out the active one. Unlike MvC, however, if you’re playing with a teammate, that teammate can choose when to use his or her assist, or even tag in to get you out of a bind. (For fighting-game fans, think of the Burst Moves in Guilty Gear: it’s a limited-use, high-risk ability that’s designed to break you out of an opponent’s combo.) It’s a common sort of feature in a lot of wrestling video games, but it’s rare to see it in a tournament fighter.

It’s an ambitious project, particularly for an independent game running on relatively recent software, and it’s been on a slow boil for most of its production so far. At the start of this month, Zero Dimension launched a particularly ambitious Kickstarter in order to finally complete Cerebrawl.

“We have a team… of six,” says Oak, regarding Zero Dimension’s funding goal, “and all these people need to be taken care of. Even with the amount that we have, we’ve taken pay cuts in order to arrive at that number. Our combat designer, Wilson [Fermin], has to quit his job so that he can come work with us. …plus the licensing fees, plus the soundtrack, plus all that stuff added up to that number. We spent months getting to that number.”

“We were kind of in a pinch when we came up with that number,” adds Min. “We could go two routes. We could go the safe route, because we know that [game Kickstarters] usually aim for around 50K, but if we went that route we would have to come back for more funding before the game was… in a showable state. We decided—this is kind of hard to say—that if we were going to fail, we’d rather fail the Kickstarter rather than fail on delivery.”

In the event the Kickstarter fails, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Cerebrawl.

“It’s been a wild three years,” Min says. “We’ve been able to build up an incredible community, and with the Kickstarter happening, we’ve got all these new followers. We still want to be able to use that in some way. We have these people who would support us regardless of what happens, which is incredible. We’re still talking about it, but it’s a tough decision to make.”

Development on Cerebrawl continues as of this writing, with regular streams on the game’s Twitch channel.

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Researchers create an e-skin that shows your heartbeat in real-time


Researchers from the University of Tokyo announced last week a new advancement in wearable technology: A highly flexible electronic skin display that shows your health information, allowing you to monitor vitals at a glance. Made from nanomesh, the display is flexible, breathable, and stretchable — it can stretch up to 45 percent of its original size. It contains a display of microLEDs which read out health information such as heart rate, temperature, or blood pressure. The information updates in real time, and the skin can be worn for up to a week. Since it gives the biometric data to the…

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Zuckerberg says he wants us to spend less time on Facebook. Maybe he means it


During an earnings call in late January, Mark Zuckerberg surprised everyone by saying people spending less time on Facebook is a good thing. Moreover, time spent on Facebook will likely continue to decrease as the company implements further changes to the platform over the next year. It was a startling remark by the CEO of a company that makes money almost exclusively from advertising, but his message was simple: quality over quantity. The tech media’s response was predictable. Zuckerberg was doing a PR spin on bad numbers. Facebook made bad choices and was reaping the consequences. People don’t trust Facebook…

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Or just read more coverage about: Facebook

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Slimy seduction expert slips world’s sleaziest game onto Steam


A game called Super Seducer just oozed onto the Steam market. It’s a game in which a self-proclaimed “seduction guru” shows men the way to a woman’s heart through the use of a Mass Effect dialog wheel and a whole fuckton (no pun intended) of mumble-y acting. Said guru, Richard La Ruina, sets up a series of scenarios in which the player will have to talk to women, from playing wingman in the bar to bothering a stranger on the sidewalk. I hope you like looking at La Ruina’s face, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it as you watch him use…

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What Seattle can learn from Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Copenhagen about navigating economic upheaval

Bruce Katz, Brookings Institution scholar and urbanist author. (Brookings Institution Photo)

In this period of political, economic, and technological upheaval, Bruce Katz believes we should look to cities to solve societal challenges.

Katz is The Brookings Institution’s first Centennial Scholar and author of “The Metropolitan Revolution” and “The New Localism.” He shared his message about empowering cities at a Downtown Seattle Association event last week. Katz urged Seattle to create more intentional public-private partnerships to better aggregate and distribute the massive wealth generated in the city by industries like tech and healthcare.

Katz held up Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Copenhagen as examples of cities that found creative ways to solve problems on their own.

“The good news is, power belongs to the problem solvers,” Katz told the Seattle crowd. “The hard news is every city and metropolis is basically on their own to figure out their future and to fund the future.”

By coincidence, he focused part of his talk on a place where GeekWire has been spending a lot of time.

Pittsburgh, Katz said, is a model for investing in the future. The longtime Rust Belt town reached near ruin when the steel industry collapsed, but philanthropy and top-notch educational institutions reinvented the city as an innovation center. Pittsburgh is now a hub for artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, and health tech — each considered an innovation of the future.

“Pittsburgh is at the forefront of five of maybe 12 or 15 next-generation technologies that, within a relatively short period of time, will generate about half of global GDP,” Katz said. He then turned to Seattle. “You are also at the vanguard of many of these and other technologies. The cities that are on the ground floor of this stuff are going to be very, very wealthy.”

But Seattle needs to get better at managing and directing that wealth toward solutions that improve the city for everyone, Katz said. The city could learn from Indianapolis, where sports industry CEOs meet quarterly to collectively decide where to make their investments to have the most impact.

“They have perfected the mechanics of collaboration,” Katz said. He added, “This is the wealthiest country in the world, by far, with a lot of capital that’s sitting on the sidelines. In Indianapolis, that capital is harnessed and comes together to, basically, make transformative investments.”

Finally, Katz implored Seattle to bridge the gaps between city and state government and the public and private sectors. He believes those public-private partnerships can find creative ways to fund social impact projects without necessarily raising taxes. Take Copenhagen, where the municipal and national government created a corporation to manage broad swathes of publicly owned land. The only rule, Katz says, was that the yield from land sales and leases had to fund a city-wide subway system.

“If you go to Copenhagen today, they have built one of the great subway systems in the world without a kroner of taxes,” he said.

In the U.S., these new entities and creative methods of problem-solving are increasingly necessary as the federal government rolls back aid and investment programs, according to Katz. He believes Seattle and other west coast cities could set the standard for the nation because of their massive wealth generation and progressive electorates.

“We’re going to have to figure out new kinds of entities that come together — maybe borrowed and adapted from Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and Copenhagen — or maybe just invented here, but we’re going to have to figure out 21st-century governance that is multi-sectoral and is multi-disciplinary,” Katz said. “This is the challenge we have.”

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We tested Amazon’s new Whole Foods delivery service in Austin, the upscale grocer’s hometown

Amazon Flex driver David Melton delivers bags of Whole Food groceries to a hotel room in Austin, Texas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

AUSTIN, Texas — Gray skies, cops on bikes, microbrews and transit turmoil: If Texas’ state capital gets picked as Amazon’s HQ2, Amazonians will find much that’s familiar, plus the scent of barbecue wafting through the air.

And they’ll find something they can’t yet get in Seattle: one-hour grocery delivery from Whole Foods, courtesy of Amazon Prime Now.

Sure, Prime Now can deliver the goods in Seattle, from PCC Community Markets, New Seasons Markets and other vendors. But Whole Foods isn’t on the list in Amazon’s hometown. Yet.

Austin, however, is one of four cities (also including Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach) where Amazon rolled out one-hour Whole Foods grocery delivery for Amazon Prime members this month. You can even get free delivery within two hours if you order at least $35 worth of groceries.

It probably helps that Austin is the home base for Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired last year for $13.7 billion. (That’s a lot of lettuce.)

To try out the system, and to keep my stomach from growling during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, I put together an online order in my hotel room at noontime Sunday.

Getting one-hour delivery wasn’t just a luxury: I had a meeting to attend at 2 p.m., and couldn’t afford to dally at a downtown restaurant.

The night before, I had figured out that I shouldn’t order through the Whole Foods website, which sets you up with Instacart’s delivery schedule. (That can be confusing.) Instead, I went right to the Prime Now site, made sure I switched my “Shopping In” preference from 98005 to the Hilton’s 78701 ZIP code, and clicked around the Whole Foods offerings.

I chose a pecan feta salad, a cup of yogurt, a tray of spicy sushi and a can of Yerba Mate mint tea, plus a six-pack of chocolate croissants to share with my fellow science geeks at 2. I might have sprung for a bottle of wine, but doing a search for “wine” only brought up items such as wine vinegar, corkscrews, and lots and lots of beer. (Is that an Austin thing?)

Even though I didn’t make it to the $35 mark, I pressed the button to pay for my cart at 12:18 p.m., and within three minutes I got a text:

Text for delivery

Soon afterward, I was auto-texted a link that let me track my order on a map of Austin:

Tracking grocery order
An interactive map tracks the progress of a grocery delivery in downtown Austin. (Amazon Graphic)

Since the nearest Whole Foods store was just 13 blocks away, it’s not such a stretch to deliver a couple of bags of groceries in under an hour. Nevertheless, it was entertaining to watch the purple dot representing my shipment make its way from the store and down the street, courtesy of “David,” Amazon’s delivery driver.

There was a knock at the door at 12:59 p.m., and sure enough, Amazon Flex driver David Melton was there with my lunch. The salad, yogurt, sushi and mint drink were inside a shiny, insulated bag, still as cold as they were in the deli case. The croissants, which were bigger and a bit messier than I was expecting, were in a separate bag.

Amazon delivery bags
Lunchtime! (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)
Hotel-room still life
Salad and sushi, yogurt and yerba mate, and a tray of chocolate croissants are arrayed in a hotel-room still life. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The tip was already built into the Amazon transaction, so we had a couple of minutes to chat about the delivery routine. Melton, 61, has been an Amazon Flex driver for three years. “We’re constantly busy,” he told me. “I love it because of the hustle-bustle.”

In advance of starting up the Whole Foods delivery service, Amazon tested the limits of Austin’s one-hour delivery zone — and Melton said the service is currently offered as far out as Georgetown, about 30 miles north of downtown. He doesn’t take on those deliveries, though. His center of gravity is in south Austin, where he lives.

I asked Melton what Austinites thought about the HQ2 search, and he said the buzz has settled down. Most local folks suspect Austin won’t make the final cut — and some of them think that’s for the best. The reason? “Well, more traffic,” said Melton, echoing a common Seattle complaint. “But it’d be good for the economy.”

Sushi selfie
Alan Boyle takes a selfie with Whole Foods sushi. (GeekWire Photo)

My grocery order wasn’t as fancy, or as pricey, as a room-service burger and fries. Admittedly, the $5 tip and the $11.99 delivery charge brought the price tag to $48.33, but I did manage to get two meals out of it, plus some croissants for my colleagues and for my next day’s breakfast.

And the taste? Well, we’re talking groceries here, not fine cuisine. If I were looking for a tasty, ready-to-eat meal, I would have checked Amazon Restaurants instead. But for folks who want to do their grocery shopping online and get the goods in an hour or two, the Whole Foods / Prime Now / Amazon Flex combination seems hard to beat.

That combination could shake up the retail food industry, and it’s apparently already shaking up Amazon: There are rumblings that at least some of the hundreds of Amazon layoffs that came to light last week are related to a consolidation of delivery operations at Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and Amazon Restaurants.

Is Amazon’s winning formula for groceries being tested in Austin? Now there’s some food for thought.

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T-Mobile’s ‘abominable carriers’ holiday ad sparks formal complaint from ‘major miser’ AT&T

T-Mobile loves to get under the skin of its rival carriers and an ad over the holidays struck a nerve with AT&T.

An investigative unit of the Better Business Bureau last week kicked a formal complaint from AT&T about a T-Mobile holiday video to the The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. The video calls out AT&T and Verizon as “abominable carriers” who “only cared about silver and gold and how to take it from the people of the world.”

A snowman narrator in the video, which is a play on “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” says that the carriers “put a fog over the whole industry, a blizzard of added fees, horrifying limits and bewildering restrictions, hiding real needs and wants of customers everywhere. A claymation version of T-Mobile CEO John Legere shows up to call “bullshit” on the carriers, which he characterized as “major misers.”

AT&T filed a formal complaint with the National Advertising Division, an investigative arm focused on advertising under the Council of Better Business Bureaus, in response to the ad. The carrier claimed that the ad makes false and misleading claims about AT&T and disparages and denigrates the company.

T-Mobile responded by requesting that the NAD close the case, due to lack of merit, a move the investigative organization declined to do.

Still, T-Mobile doesn’t seem too worried about it. Legere took to Twitter last week, calling out AT&T over the complaint.

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Planetary Resources asteroid venture misses fundraising target, forcing cutbacks

Arkyd-6
Artwork shows Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-6 spacecraft in orbit. (Planetary Resources Illustration)

Planetary Resources, a Redmond, Wash.-based venture that aims to make a fortune mining asteroids, is facing a more down-to-earth challenge: a fundraising shortfall.

Just last month, the company had its Arkyd-6 prototype space telescope launched into orbit by an Indian PSLV rocket, and that spacecraft has been undergoing testing.

Arkyd-6 is designed to provide midwave infrared imagery of Earth, as a technological tryout for future asteroid-observing probes.

A spokeswoman for Planetary Resources, Stacey Tearne, told GeekWire that financial challenges have forced the company to focus on leveraging the Arkyd-6 mission for near-term revenue — apparently by selling imagery and data.

“Planetary Resources missed a fundraising milestone,” Tearne explained in an email. “The company remains committed to utilizing the resources from space to further explore space, but is focusing on near-term revenue streams by maximizing the opportunity of having a spacecraft in orbit.”

Tearne said no further information was available, and did not address questions about employment cutbacks. However, reports from other sources in the space community suggest there have been notable job reductions. For what it’s worth, Planetary Resources had more than 70 employees at last report.

A cursory check of LinkedIn turned up a number of departures between last December and this month — including Akshay Patel, who was Planetary Resources’ vice president of strategy and development.

Patel is now vice president for corporate development at OneWeb, and it’s not clear whether his departure from Planetary Resources was related to the funding shortfall. We’ve reached out to him and will update this report with anything we hear back.

Planetary Resources was founded in 2009 as Arkyd Astronautics, and emerged from stealth mode in 2012 with backing from billionaires such as Google co-founder Larry Page and former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi.

In 2016, the company conducted a $21 million funding round that focused on beefing up its Earth observation capabilities. Later that year, it forged a $28 million deal with officials in Luxembourg to ramp up its asteroid mining efforts.

Planetary Resources’ long-term business plan is to identify resource-rich asteroids and mine them for water and other materials that could be valuable for in-space infrastructure and resupply.

Last year, an investment report from Goldman Sachs said the prospects for space mining could be “more realistic than perceived,” and noted that a single asteroid could yield tens of billions of dollars’ worth of water, platinum and other materials.

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