Category Archives: Cloud Computing

Startup CEO Arrested for Child Abuse, Assault, and Attempted Murder

News broke on Friday that Zain Jaffer, ex-CEO of mobile ads startup Vungle, was arrested for child abuse (including a charge of oral copulation of a person under 14), assault, and attempted murder. 

The company replaced Jaffer as CEO a day before the allegations were reported in the tech press. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s website indicates that an inmate named Jaffer is being held at the Maple Street Correctional Center in Redwood City, California. 

Jaffer was featured as part of Inc.’s 35 Under 35 Coolest Entrepreneurs package in 2014.

A Vungle spokesperson wasn’t immediately available. Earlier today, a company representative told VentureBeat: “While we do not have any information that is not in the public record at this point, these are extremely serious allegations, and we are shocked beyond words.” The charges are “obviously so serious that it led to the immediate removal of Mr. Jaffer from any operational responsibility at the company,” the rep told VentureBeat.

Jaffer’s next scheduled court date is Nov. 1, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s records.

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Ride hailing firm Grab secures up to $700 million in debt facilities

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Grab, the main Southeast Asian rival of Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL], said on Friday it had secured debt facilities of up to $ 700 million to help it create the largest car rental program in southeast Asia.

FILE PHOTO: People wait for the start of Grab’s fifth anniversary news conference in Singapore June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

The company also said it had signed a partnership with Singaporean public transport operator SMRT, which will give it exclusive access to SMRT’s taxi and private car fleet management capabilities, along with its network of taxis and Strides private-hire cars.

It also said it would have the largest car rental fleet in Southeast Asia by the fourth quarter of 2018.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Taiwan chipmaker TSMC's third-quarter net profit falls 7.1 percent, beats estimates

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Apple Inc supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd on Thursday said net profit fell 7.1 percent in the three months through September, slightly better than analyst estimates.

The world’s largest contract chipmaker booked third-quarter profit of T$ 89.925 billion ($ 2.98 billion), from T$ 96.76 billion in the same period a year earlier. The result compared with the T$ 88.19 billion average of 21 analyst estimates, Thomson Reuters Eikon showed.

Revenue rose to $ 8.32 billion, up 1.5 percent from a year earlier. That was better than the $ 8.12 billion to $ 8.22 billion forecast TSMC issued in July.

Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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Sonos One Review: Amazon's Alexa Is Here, But It Still Has Some Growing Up to Do

I like my Echo. In my house, we use it to play radio stations, to get the weather, and to answer questions like “When was the Edo period?” One thing I don’t often use the Echo for is music. That’s because it sounds terrible. As good as Amazon’s Alexa voice service is, the Echo’s black tin can croaks out audio just a notch better than the 20-year-old Coby FM radio I keep in the garage. Amazon has taken steps to improve the Echo’s sound quality with a reboot last month, and companies like Lenovo have coaxed Alexa into nicer-sounding enclosures. But those speakers are still boring.

What I really want—what every audiophile I know wants—is an Alexa speaker that sounds as good as the best speakers in the house. In my house, those speakers are Sonos speakers. So join me while I raise a glass to the Sonos One, the company’s first music player with Alexa built natively into the corpus. This isn’t Alexa’s first sip of Sonos. Echo devices recently gained the ability to control Sonos hardware, but that requires adding an Alexa skill, which of course means there’s some loopy syntax you have to struggle with when all you really want to do is play some Chet Baker. Also, I know a few friends with an Echo Dot plugged into their Sonos Play:5, and while that gets things moving, it’s inelegant and you’re still using two devices.

This new $ 199 speaker takes the current Alexa-Sonos relationship and removes the complexity. You could think of it as an Echo with much improved sound. It does all of the Alexa things, but it’s foremost a Sonos speaker, so it does all the Sonos things too—it works as part of a multi-room system, it streams from scores of services, and it obeys the company’s controller apps. The One has some faults. Amazon world and Sonos world are two nuanced and complex domains, and any device that attempts to bridge the two is sure to stumble occasionally. But the key point remains: The One is a great-sounding Sonos speaker, and that’s reason enough to consider one. It also so happens that you can command it with your voice.

WIRED

If you’re already hip to the Sonos product line, you’ll notice the One looks almost exactly like a Play:1—on purpose, of course. But in order to incorporate voice services and the requisite six-microphone array, Sonos had to completely redesign the inside of the box. The resulting Sonos One, sonically, is perceptually the same as the Play:1. If you like the dynamics, volume, and clarity of the bookshelf-ready Play:1, this new Alexa-endowed version will please you as well. Speak as you would to your Echo (“Alexa, play KCRW.”) and that familiar robotic voice speaks back from within a Sonos shell.

By talking to the speaker, you can play or pause music, skip tracks, change the volume, or ask what’s playing. If you have multiple Sonos speakers, you can use Alexa to launch music in other rooms. “Alexa, play Chuck Berry in the bedroom.” I also succeeded in getting Alexa to group the One with another Sonos speaker that was already playing music by saying, “Play what’s playing in the kitchen.” That feature is undocumented, so I got a little jolt of surprise when it actually worked. Sonos told me later it’s an easter egg in the beta app I was using, but it’s nice to know more features are still in development. The One can do all the fun Alexa stuff too, of course. It can dim the lights or turn on your Dyson fan. You can ask it to start a dance party, play reggae, or play ’80s hits just like you can do with an Echo—except when you request it on the One, the music that comes out sounds much, much better.

TIRED

The setup process, which involves not only adding a new speaker to your Sonos network, but also adding Amazon Voice Service to your speaker, needs ironing out. There’s too much time spent switching between the Sonos app and the Alexa app during setup, and if you lose the thread, you have to start all over.

Once you get things humming, the limitations of the voice controls become clear pretty quickly. The Sonos One can do most everything Alexa can do, but it can’t do everything Sonos can do. So, when you ask it to play music, the Alexa living inside the One can only summon streams from the services Alexa supports. If you want to play something from your local MP3 library or one of the 80-odd services supported by Sonos (Apple Music, Google Play Music, Mixcloud, MLB.com), you have to pull out your phone and tap. Once the audio is playing, you can ask Alexa to pause it or turn it up. But unless it’s Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Sirius, or TuneIn, your phone is still required to get it playing in the first place. (Spotify is coming soon after launch, Sonos says.)

These shortcomings are things Sonos is racing to improve, of course. The bright and shiny end goal here is an easily installed speaker you can, if you want, control only by talking. But the One isn’t there yet. Each streaming service connected to your Sonos has to be understood and learned by Alexa in order for the voice assistant to be able to navigate it. That’s going to take time.

Again, this speaker sits squarely on a number of borders, and data and effort will get lost in the crossing as long as the various sides fail to understand each other perfectly. But until that work is done—by Amazon and by Sonos—you’ll need to assume an early-adopter mentality with regards to the One. You can take solace in knowing that bigger things are coming via software updates (like AirPlay support and Google Assistant, both coming in 2018). For now, however, you’ll just have to be satisfied with the simpler things.

Rating

8/10 – An excellent-sounding Alexa speaker that’s worth the $ 200, even if it has some growing up to do.

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Can Taking on Debt Help Your Business? It Depends When You Use it

There are few words and ideas that strike fear into entrepreneurs and small business owners, especially Millennial entrepreneurs, more than debt. Scarred by the financial crisis, and often juggling student loan and other debt burdens, debt is correctly viewed as something that can upend or even sink a business.

Interest payments by themselves, not to mention principal repayments, can eat up cash flow, prevent entrepreneurs and businesses from expanding, and limit opportunities for future growth.

Although the concept of debt most often has a negative connotation, it is important to recognize that debt is just another tool in the toolbox that entrepreneurs have access to. Obtaining financing is a necessary part of any business, especially for an enterprise seeking to bootstrap itself off the ground.

That said, getting over the apprehension of debt and debt issues, and the legitimate fear or making an incorrect decision with your business finances can be easier said than done.

As a CPA I can attest that there are certainly situations where taking a loan, obtaining a line of credit, or accessing other forms of debt can help you and your business grow. Before anything else, remember that you are in control of your finances — debt is a tool for you to use, and can help your business grow when used correctly.

Let’s take a look at some these specific situations and facts to keep in mind:

1. For developing a new product or service.

No matter how fantastic your newest innovation may be, and regardless what type of business you’re running, you need capital to bootstrap your ideas. While you may have confidence in your ideas, the reality is you may have to produce a proof of concept before investors will believe.

After a thorough analysis of the financial pros and cons, taking on debt to help your launch or finish your new ideas can be an excellent use of this tool.

2. When you want to keep control.

Every business, after cutting through all of the jargon and buzzwords, has two sources of capital available to them. You can raise capital in return for ownership interests in an organization, and this capital is yours to keep for as long as you desire.

Debt, although it has interest associated with it, doesn’t require you to give up ownership of your business. This benefit of raising debt is not often discussed, but is something that should be taken into consideration when you are thinking of obtaining external financing.

3. Taking advantage of the tax code.

This may be more or less relevant for your business, but the fact is that business interest payments are tax deductible, as opposed to payments made to equity investors. Put another way, the benefits of this tax deduction can be summarized as follows.

Assuming you and your competitor operate equivalently profitable businesses, the business that has financed itself with debt with generate higher profitability figures than the business that used equity investors.

4. When it’s cheaper than other sources of funding.

You and I can both read the agreements that are signed when you or your business borrow money — loan duration, interest rates, and any applicable fees are explicitly spelled out. This can reinforce the notion that borrowing money is always more expensive than attracting equity investors.

Drilling in deeper, however, it is apparent that equity investors require control, possibly a share of the profits, and maybe a return on their investment through an eventual sale of the business. Taking a step back to see the big picture can save you money in the long run.

Debt, both for individuals and for small businesses, is a critically important topic that can make the difference between success and failure for your business. Although this topic, and the implications of making a mistake with debt, can strike fear into the heart of entrepreneurs, remember that you are in control of your financial future. Taking a step back, objectively analyzing the situation, and using debt when necessary can help your business grow, expand, and continue providing value to the marketplace.

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IBM and Stellar Are Launching Blockchain Banking Across Multiple Countries

The news also comes as an important validation of blockchain technology.

In a breakthrough for payments technology, IBM and a network of banks have begun using digital currency and blockchain software to move money across borders throughout the South Pacific.

The significance of the news, which IBM announced on Monday, is that merchants and consumers will be able to send money to another country in near real-time, accelerating a payments process that typically takes days.

The banking network includes “12 currency corridors” that encompass Australia and New Zealand, as well as smaller countries like Fiji and Tonga. It will reportedly process up to 60 percent of all cross-border payments in the South Pacific’s retail foreign exchange corridors by early next year.

The news also comes as an important validation of blockchain technology, which has long promised enormous efficiencies for the financial sector, but has been slow to move from the concept stage to the real world.

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Blockchain, which relies on a disparate network of computers to create an indelible, tamper-proof record of transactions, is most famously associated with the digital currency bitcoin. But it can be used in many other applications such as tracking shipments or, as in this case, to record a series of cross-border transactions.

As an example, IBM said a farmer in Samoa will soon be able to contract with a buyer in Indonesia, and use the blockchain to record everything from the farmer’s collateral to letters of credit to payment.

“This is the next step in the evolution of blockchain technology. It’s live money moving around a network,” Jesse Lund, IBM’s VP of Blockchain, told Fortune.

Digital Currency is Key

The new blockchain banking process is also notable because the banks will initially rely on a bitcoin-like digital currency, known as Lumens, to facilitate the cross border payments.

Currently, banks arrange such payments by maintaining foreign accounts in a local currency (so-called nostro accounts), and then debiting the accounts as required—a process that is both slow and ties up capital.

Under the new blockchain arrangement, banks will conduct the transactions using Lumens, and then rely on local market makers to convert the Lumens into local fiat currency. The Lumens are created by a non-profit company called Stellar, founded a Jed McCaleb, a well known figure in the payments and crypto-currency world.

Both Stellar and IBM are part of a project called Hyperledger Fabric, which is building open source blockchain tools to support payment infrastructures.

According to Lund, though, the banks use of Stellar’s digital currency is likely to be temporary. He predicts that, in the next year, central banks will begin issuing digital currencies of their own, and that these will become an integral part of blockchain-based money transfers.

The IBM-backed blockchain project comes at a time when other companies are creating efficient new ways to conduct global money transfers. These include BitPesa, which relies on the bitcoin network to replace traditional wire transfers between merchants in Africa, and TransferWise, which provides an inexpensive way for consumers to obtain foreign currencies.

This is part of Fortune’s new initiative, The Ledger, a trusted news source at the intersection of tech and finance. For more on The Ledger, click here.

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Tesla Fires Hundreds of Workers After Their Annual Performance Review

They’re not layoffs, the automaker says.

Electric automaker Tesla Motors fired hundreds of employees this week, including workers at its Fremont, Calif. factory and corporate managers, as it tries to solve production problems for its recently released Model 3.

An estimated 400 to 700 people were dismissed this week, according to a San Jose Mercury News report published Friday afternoon. That’s between 1% and 2% of the company’s more than 33,000 employees. Former and current employees told the Mercury News that little or no warning preceded the dismissals.

A Tesla spokesman would not confirm that number but told Fortune that the move follows its annual performance reviews, which typically involve both involuntary and voluntary departures.

“Like all companies, Tesla conducts an annual performance review during which a manager and employee discuss the results that were achieved, as well as how those results were achieved, during the performance period,” a Tesla spokesman said in an emailed statement. “This includes both constructive feedback and recognition of top performers with additional compensation and equity awards, as well as promotions in many cases. As with any company, especially one of over 33,000 employees, performance reviews also occasionally result in employee departures. Tesla is continuing to grow and hire new employees around the world.”

Tesla insists that the losses are not layoffs and that it plans to backfill the positions. That’s likely accurate, at least for jobs in California. State law requires companies to notify employees of layoffs through its WARN notification system. There are no records of new layoffs from Tesla. About 200 Tesla and SolarCity employees in the company’s Roseville, Calif. offices were notified Aug. 30 that they would be terminated.

The latest cuts come as the automaker tries to fix bottlenecks on the production line for its Model 3, an all-electric model designed to appeal to the masses. Earlier this month, Tesla reported that it produced 260 Model 3 cars in the third quarter, of which it has delivered 220. That figure is far less than CEO Elon Musk’s prediction that Tesla would produce more than 1,600 of the vehicles by September.

In July, Musk tweeted a production update for the Model 3, saying the car had passed all regulatory requirements ahead of schedule. After announcing that the first 30 customers would receive the Model 3s on July 28, Musk wrote, “production grows exponentially, so Aug should be 100 cars and Sept above 1,500.”

Altogether, Musk said that third quarter production numbers for the Model 3 would be around 1,630 vehicles—a prediction off by 84%.

A Wall Street Journal report published earlier this month revealed that Tesla workers were assembling Model 3 vehicles by hand until at least early September. One of the “bottlenecks” Musk alluded to was a process that involved positioning and welding body panels by hand, rather than by precision robots, according to workers interviewed by the Journal.

Musk recently delayed the unveiling of an electric semi-truck until Nov. 16 so the company can focus its attention on production problems with its new mass-market car, the Model 3.

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Princeton graduates' crypto-currency wins backing of big U.S. investors

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. investors including Digital Currency Group have taken part in a pre-sale of basecoin, a crypto-currency to be created by three Princeton University computer science graduates, Intangible Labs CEO and co-founder Nader Al-Naji said.

The other investors in Intangible Labs’ basecoin include Bain Capital Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and AngelList CEO Naval Ravikant, Al-Naji told Reuters.

Digital Currency Group confirmed its investment in basecoin. Bain Capital, Pantera, and Andreessen Horowitz were not immediately available to comment.

The investors had bought a unit of Intangible Labs, which entitled them to basecoin – a token with a rules-based monetary policy built into its blockchain system – in the future, Al-Naji said in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

He did not disclose an investment figure.

Blockchain, a digital ledger of transactions, underpins crypto-currency bitcoin and can be used to track, record, and transfer assets across all industries.

Intangible Labs is one of many blockchain start-ups creating and distributing tokens to investors to raise funds for their projects. Start-ups typically hold a token pre-sale to institutional investors before opening the token offering to the public.

Al-Naji, who founded the company with Lawrence Diao and Josh Shen, said basecoin essentially worked the same way as the Federal Reserve.

“We found a way to keep the price stable while keeping all the other great features of crypto-currencies such as decentralized, private, and international,” he added.

It originated from Al-Naji’s blog, called Nader Theory, in June in which he broached the idea of a stable coin that can shrink and grow its supply on the blockchain.

The blog went viral and Ravikant of AngelList – a website that connects startups and investors – and Bain came to see him to discuss his idea. That set the wheels in motion, he added.

Intangible Labs will release its whitepaper on Tuesday and the network will be launched anywhere between six months and two years’ time, Al-Naji said.

“The problem we’re solving is simple: because bitcoin is so volatile, your mom is never going to buy her morning coffee with it,” Al-Naji said.

“And you’d never even think about keeping all your savings in it. The fact is that bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are just playgrounds for speculation right now.”

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

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Samsung CEO Kwon Oh-hyun Announces Shock Resignation as Profits Surge

Kwon Oh-hyun’s resignation deepens concerns of a leadership vacuum at the tech giant.

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd ssnlf said on Friday its CEO and Vice Chairman Kwon Oh-hyun plans to step down from management, deepening concerns over a leadership vacuum at the tech giant after group scion Jay Y. Lee was jailed for bribery.

The surprise resignation of Samsung’s chip and display head came as he was expected to take a bigger role following Lee’s arrest in February and the departures of other key executives in the wake of the bribery scandal.

The move came on the same day the South Korean smartphone maker forecast record third-quarter operating profit on the back of the memory chip business which Kwon was instrumental in building into the world leader.

“The timing is nonsensical. Samsung tipped record earnings, it’s going to be better in the fourth-quarter, and all that’s been driven by Kwon’s components business,” said Park Ju-gun, head of research firm CEO Score.

Kwon, 64, is seen as Samsung Group No. 2. As well as being chairman of the board and a board director, he heads the components business – including memory chips – and the display business.

In a statement, the man known as “Mr Chip” said the time had come to “start anew with new sprit and young leadership”.

“We are fortunately making record earnings right now, but this is the fruit of past decisions and investments; we are not able to even get close to finding new growth engines by reading future trends right now,” he added.

The world’s biggest maker of memory chips, smartphones and TVs is set to smash its annual profit record this year, thanks partly to soaring demand for memory chips. Semiconductors were Samsung’s top earner in the three months through June, making a record 8 trillion won ($ 7.20 billion).

The global chip industry is undergoing a major shift with Japan’s Toshiba Corp partnering with home rival SK Hynix, and other firms consolidating in search of new growth areas like artificial intelligence and automobiles.

Shares in Samsung, worth about $ 350 billion, fell 0.6 percent on Friday after hitting an all-time high earlier in the day.

CHANGING THE OLD GUARD

The departure of 32-year Samsung veteran Kwon after five years in the top job comes at a time of leadership uncertainty at the company.

Choi Gee-sung, Jay Lee’s mentor, quit earlier this year for his alleged role in the bribery scandal, and Samsung Electronics now needs to fill several more key roles with Kwon’s exit.

Kwon would serve out his term as chairman of the board and board director until March 2018, the company said. He is also not stepping down immediately from his two other roles.

A Samsung Electronics spokeswoman declined comment on the exact timing of succession and potential successors for Kwon’s roles.

While Samsung Group is South Korea’s top conglomerate with businesses ranging from smartphones to hotels – it has had no ‘Plan B’ for taking big decisions following Lee’s arrest, people familiar with the matter have said.

“I‘m worried about a leadership vacuum at a time when Lee is absent from management,” Chung Sun-sup, chief executive of research firm Chaebul.com, said following Kwon’s announcement.

The leadership changes also could be an opportunity for a new generation to emerge, he added.

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Samsung scion's defense fights back as legal appeal begins

SEOUL (Reuters) – The heir to South Korea’s Samsung Group appeared in a packed court on Thursday for the first day of arguments in the appeal of his five-year jail term for corruption.

The 49-year-old Jay Y. Lee was convicted by a lower court in August of bribing former president Park Geun-hye to help strengthen his control of the crown jewel in the conglomerate, Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s biggest technology companies.

The appellate court hearing the appeal is likely to try to rule on the case by next February, legal experts said. Whichever side loses could take the case to the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal in South Korea.

Lee’s presence marked his first public appearance since the August ruling. He did not speak during the early proceedings other than giving his birth date and address.

The lower court in August had ruled that while Lee never asked for Park’s help directly, the fact that a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates did help cement Lee’s control over Samsung Electronics “implied” he was asking for the president’s help to strengthen his control of the firm.

The defense strongly challenged the lower court’s logic that Lee’s actions “implied” solicitation for help from Park by providing financial support for the former president’s close friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil.

The prosecution, which has lodged a cross-appeal against the lower court ruling that found Lee innocent on some charges, said the court’s decision to not acknowledge explicit solicitation for Park’s help from Samsung despite the evidence found “did not make sense”.

DEFENSE FIGHTS BACK

The defense, which spent much of its time during the initial trial refuting the prosecution’s individual charges, is expected to focus on a few key arguments in the appeal – including whether there was in fact an “ordinary type of bribery” as defined under South Korean law, which says only civil servants come under the statute.

Park’s friend Choi was not a civil servant.

The lower court found that Samsung’s financial support of 7.2 billion won ($ 6.27 million) to sponsor the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter constituted an ordinary type of bribery, as “it can be considered the same as she (Park) herself receiving it.”

The defense is expected to strongly challenge this by saying that the prosecution, on whom the burden of proof lies, has not proved collusion between Park and Choi.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Neil Fullick

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