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Tesla to Include Self-Driving Hardware in Vehicles But Not Activate It

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Tesla to Include Self-Driving Hardware in Vehicles But Not Activate It

In a blog post this week, automaker Tesla made an interesting announcement: all models being produced contain self-driving hardware. This means that, whether your vehicle has the capability for autonomous driving, the vehicle will have the hardware to support it.

We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory - including Model 3 - will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.

Unfortunately, just because the hardware is there doesn't mean you can use it. Not yet, at least. As the company has had a string of autonomous driving failures lately, this hardware will be software-locked, preventing its use. Before unlocking the feature, Tesla wants to do more testing and calibration of the overall system. Likely this is to prevent future issues like they have seen in past months.

In fact, vehicles with the new hardware will temporarily have a lack of existing features available in older vehicles, including active cruise control, automatic braking, collision warning and lane holding. These features will, eventually, be enabled through an over-the-air update once the company is confident in its functionality. New features, not previously available on existing models, will also be added over time in the same manner. There is no estimate on when these features will be available, though models with the new hardware are already for sale.

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Bill Belichick Complains About Wireless Communication on the Field, Internet Blames Microsoft

posted Saturday Oct 22, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Bill Belichick Complains About Wireless Communication on the Field, Internet Blames Microsoft

If you have spent any time online this week, you have likely seen at least one incredibly misleading headline about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and comments he made on a conference call. Unfortunately, the internet can be a place filed with misinformation, as seems to be the case here. I'm not sure if this is a case of an industry looking for an opportunity to make Microsoft look bad, or simply a case of not understanding the man's comments, but I'm here to try and clear up what happened.

During a post-game interview on Tuesday, Belichick was asked,

It was reported that there were some issues Sunday with the sideline technology like the headsets and tablets you use. Does that affect the number of plays you guys may be able to call and how does it affect any potential adjustments that you would make over the course of a game?

Belichick, a man who is not known to be long-winded, took over 5 minutes to answer this question. The full text of the answer is available here if you are interested in reading it. In short, Belichick said that all of the communication technology that they use on the sidelines has problems. None of it is owned by the teams or the stadiums, but instead by the NFL, and teams do not receive it until a few hours before kickoff.

These devices include the Motorola headsets, wireless microphone packs, wireless earpiece and microphone transceivers inside key helmets and sideline Wi-Fi that provides network access for the provided Microsoft Surfaces. The thing to notice about all of this technology is that it works off of wireless frequencies. While all of them work on different frequencies, the stadiums are filled with wireless technology. From hotspots setup by fans to Clearcoms used by the broadcast team, there is plenty of additional technology that could interfere.

That is exactly what happens, according to Belichick, nearly every week. In fact, the technological failures are so common and so widespread that the league has rules that allow for one team to have an outage and for the other team to have the same technology taken away. For example, if the Wi-Fi fails and the coaches are unable to access their playbooks on their Surface, the other team cannot use their Surfaces anymore, either, to level the playing field.

For Belichick, the issue is that he doesn't have control. He is tired of the league equipment not working, and he is tired of losing essential communication with his coaching staff and players. Because of this, he is going to take back control where he can. Obviously he is not going to give up the headsets, because they are easier than making phone calls every 30 seconds. He's not going to give up the helmet communication, because you don't want to lose time on the play clock while your quarterback comes to the sidelines for a chat. The only place he has left is the tablets.

He was very clear that he didn't dislike the tablets themselves. What he did say was that he was tired of not being able to use them. He mentioned liking the ability to pull up previous game video, but only when the Wi-Fi worked. And, because the tablets are owned by the league, it means none of his data is local - it all has to be retrieved from some sort of network storage, which isn't possible if the league's Wi-Fi fails. So, in this case, he is willing to sacrifice the benefits of using the Surface sometimes for the consistency of using a physical playbook.

If I were in his place and, no matter how hard I tried, a piece of technology occasionally made my life harder instead of easier, I would retire it entirely. His feelings and his response are completely rational, though misinterpreted by seemingly every publication that wrote about it.

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Netflix Just Gave A Lot of Money to Chris Rock for New Specials

posted Saturday Oct 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Netflix Just Gave A Lot of Money to Chris Rock for New Specials

As Netflix moves towards 50% original content, the company has begun approaching unlikely people for new projects. One such unexpected content producer is Chris Rock, a comedian who hasn't toured in almost a decade and hasn't been comically relevant in even longer.

According to reports, Netflix has written a very large check to Chris Rock to produce 2 exclusive stand-up specials for the platform. These two specials are reportedly valued at $40 million, a number that will set a new record for stand-up specials for a couple of reasons. First, it is the most ever offered a comedian for a special of this kind. This fee is higher than Jerry Seinfeld or Louis C.K., some of the higher paid comedians in the industry.

Second, Chris Rock has been off the road for a long time. This contract for two specials, not just one, is a show of confidence in the comedian's abilities. Normally in a situation like this, a single special would be warranted, using it as a test of whether or not he can command an audience like he could a decade ago. Theoretically, this confidence comes from his performance as host of the Oscars, where he did very well.

The Oscars are not exactly a good measuring tape, though. Not all, and sometimes none, of the jokes are written by the host. Also, the audience is not there for a comedy show; they're there for an awards show. Any comedic reactions could be indicative of nerves over their nominations rather than a host's comedy styling and timing.

None of this is to say that Chris Rock is incapable of commanding a room. It's just to say that this is a lot of money on a hope that he is as funny as he once was.

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Twitter's Corporate Sale Might Have Stalled Before It Began

posted Saturday Oct 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Twitter's Corporate Sale Might Have Stalled Before It Began

Since word broke of Twitter's interest in a sale, suitors have come, and suitors have gone. 3 weeks ago, the list was a who's who of companies interested in social and data. Today, the list appears to be empty, with the 5 major rumored suitors all backing away from the discussions.

The last potential bidder for the first round was Salesforce.com, a company that focuses on customer support and sales. Adding Twitter to the company's portfolio would have been a good move. Twitter is used by many companies for customer interaction. I have, myself, interacted with my cable company via Twitter to solve problems, and even gotten an issue resolved with our local grocery store.

Word this week, however, is that Salesforce has walked away from the table, leaving no serious bidders still sitting with Twitter. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said,

In this case we've walked away. It wasn't the right fit for us.

Twitter's next move has to be a big one. They are going to have to address the issues that have caused the bidders to leave contention. Likely, the biggest issue on the table has to do with Twitter's inability to attract new users. That has caused the company to lose around $2 billion over the past few fiscal years. The only way that Twitter can address this issue is in sale price.

The problem, of course, is that the price can only be minimized so much because there are stockholders with stock certificates that are valued at a certain amount. While the price dropped 6 percent at the loss of Salesforce, that is probably not enough to attract new bidders, or to bring back old bidders. The company is going to have to do something, though, if they want this sale to happen.

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Valve Shows Off New SteamVR Controller Prototype

posted Saturday Oct 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Valve Shows Off New SteamVR Controller Prototype

Valve has put a lot of time and effort into its SteamVR program, and its partnership with HTC on the Vive headset. While headset hardware can set the platform apart from the Oculus to a certain degree, the idea of a headset with video playing is a pretty solved problem at this point, Where Valve can really set itself apart is in controller hardware, something that has been a bit of an overall loss in the industry.

At Valve's Steam Dev Days, an event which does not allow press but does allow smartphones and Twitter, the company showed off new controller hardware which seems to address the biggest issue with other controllers, including previous SteamVR controllers, the inability to open your hands. It also eliminates the grip buttons on the side of the previous model, instead sensing grip based on overall hand movement.

A good controller could be the feature that sets one platform apart from the others, or at least encourages sales. It is less than likely that a single accessory will determine the fate of a platform, but a controller is the thing that makes VR fun or a chore. Obviously we have not yet interacted with this new prototype, but seeing video of the controller in action is encouraging.

Of course, Valve is not known for their hardware, especially controllers. When they were still trying to make SteamOS work, the controllers were bad enough that the company decided to design the platform to allow for Xbox controllers instead. Hopefully they learned their lessons from the overall disaster that SteamOS was, and have applied those lessons to SteamVR and this new prototype controller.

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Verizon's Views On Unlimited Data Might Have Already Changed Somewhat

posted Saturday Oct 15, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Verizon's Views On Unlimited Data Might Have Already Changed Somewhat

It was only 2 weeks ago that Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said on an investor call,

At the end of the day, people don't need unlimited plans.

As it turns out, that statement was either a deflection, very focused or misinformed. This week, Verizon began testing a new program called PopData, in which you can purchase small blocks of unlimited data. The program seems to be intended to provide this data in short bursts just when you need it. You can purchase 30 or 60 minutes for $2 or $3, respectively.

There are limitations to the program, though. First, of course, is that it is a test program, which means that not everyone can currently participate. If you are one of the lucky beta testers, though, you still may see times when you cannot add your unlimited data option. For example, if the network is currently under heavy load in the location you are in, Verizon will decline your purchase request. To allow for this restriction, Verizon requires that you keep your Location Services turned on while interacting with the My Verizon app when you add the data.

One restriction we expected to have but do not is on tethering. If you purchase a 30 minute block of unlimited data, you can use it to tether your phone to another device, essentially giving you short bursts of unlimited data for tablets, laptops and more. Usually promotions like this exclude tethering, which makes this a nice change of pace.

There is no telling whether this program will eventually succeed or not, nor do we know what Verizon will consider success. There are a lot of potential end-games here, including terminating the program, rolling it out nationwide, or discovering a demand for unlimited data and bringing that feature back as a whole.

Is PopData a feature that makes Verizon's lack of overall unlimited data an acceptable loss? Let us know in the comments.

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