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Monthly Archives: July 2020

Wannabe DevOps engineers can save 95% on this class bundle



TL;DR: The Ultimate DevOps Mastery bundle is on sale for £25.41 as of August 1, saving you 95% on list price.


In its 2017 State of DevOps Report, Puppet.com found that DevOps engineers are considered “a significant attribute to businesses”. Those that hire people with DevOps skills deploy code with 30 times the frequency of their competitors, with 50% fewer failures. 

Despite this, only 18% of those surveyed claimed that their organisations had a DevOps engineer at their company. What’s that sound? That my friends is the sound of opportunity.

SEE ALSO: Learn to grow your business by mastering these digital marketing secrets Read more…

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Trump told reporters he will use executive power to ban TikTok



President Donald Trump said he could act to ban the world’s most popular short video app TikTok from the US as early as Saturday, according to The Hill.

The president said he could use “emergency economic powers or an executive order” to bar TikTok from the US, he told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.

The news came hours after reports broke that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok. Investors are reportedly valuing three-year-old TikTok at $50 billion. In his remark on Friday, Trump signaled he was not supportive of allowing an American company to acquire TikTok.

On the same day, Bloomberg reported that Trump could order ByteDance to divest its ownership of TikTok.

TikTok cannot be immediately reached for comment.

Trump’s announcement confirmed weeks of speculation that US regulators planned to block TikTok, which is immensely popular among American teens, over concerns that it could be a spying tool for Beijing.

The question is how a divestment or ban of TikTok will take shape. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, which has emerged as the most promising tech startup in China in recent times, reportedly valued at a staggering $100 billion. It operates Douyin, the popular Chinese version of TikTok, separately for China-based users.

ByteDance has sought various ways to distance TikTok from any Chinese association. Efforts in the past few months range from appointing former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as TikTok’s CEO, claiming the app’s data is stored on American land, through to promising to create 10,000 jobs in the US.

TikTok’s comms team also tried to assuage concerns by reiterating that four of its parent company’s five board seats are “controlled by some of the world’s best-respected global investors,” including Arthur Dantchik, managing director of Susquehanna International Group; William Ford, CEO of General Atlantic; Philippe Laffont, founder of Coatue Management; and Neil Shen, the boss of Sequoia China. ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming is the chairman of the board.

It’s worth noting that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) still hasn’t released its decision on whether the Musical.ly-TikTok merger posed a national threat to the U.S. Even if it orders TikTok to shed Musical.ly, it’s unclear how the sale will happen in practice. When ByteDance merged the two apps back in 2018, it asked Musical.ly’s existing users to download the TikTok app, which already had users, so all of TikTok’s current users are, technically, TikTok users.

If the divestment is aimed at TikTok, will ByteDance be forced to sell all of its international assets? TikTok also has a substantial user base outside the US. Before India banned TikTok over national security fears, a favorite criticism among many US politicians, the country was the app’s largest overseas market.

It’s looking increasingly likely that Zhang Yiming’s worst nightmare is going to happen. The entrepreneur had aspirations to conquer the international market from the outset, and now his startup has become the latest pawn in US-China relations.

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Disrupt 2020 early-bird savings extended until next week



Even the hard-charging world of early-stage startups has its share of procrastinators, lollygaggers, slow-pokes, wafflers and last-minute decision makers. If that’s your demographic, today is your lucky day.

You now have an extra week (courtesy of Saint Expeditus, the patron saint of procrastinators), to score early-bird savings to Disrupt 2020, which takes place September 14-18. Buy your pass before the new and final deadline — August 7 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) — and save up to $300. Who says prayers (or secular entreaties) go unanswered?

Your pass opens the door to five days of Disrupt — the biggest, longest TechCrunch conference ever. Drawing thousands of attendees and hundreds of innovative early-stage startups from around the world, you won’t find a better time, place or opportunity to accelerate the speed of your business.

Here are four world-class reasons to attend Disrupt 2020.

World-class speakers. Hear and engage with leading voices in tech, business and investment across the Disrupt stages. Folks like Sequoia Capital’s Roelof Botha, Ureeka’s Melissa Bradley and Slack’s Tamar Yehoshua — to name just a few. Here’s what you can see onstage so far.

World-class startups. Explore hundreds of innovative startups exhibiting in Digital Startup Alley — including the TC Top Picks. This elite cadre made it through our stringent screening process to earn the coveted designation, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more varied and interesting set of startups.

World-class networking. CrunchMatch, our AI-powered networking platform, simplifies connecting with founders, potential customers, R&D teams, engineers or investors. Schedule 1:1 video meetings and hold recruitment or extended pitch sessions. CrunchMatch launches weeks before Disrupt to give you more time to scout, vet and schedule.

World-class pitching. Don’t miss Startup Battlefield, the always-epic pitch competition that’s launched more than 900 startups, including big-time names like TripIt, Mint, Dropbox and many others. This year’s crop of startups promises to throw down hard for bragging rights and the $100,000 cash prize.

Need another reason to go? Take a page out of SIMBA Chain founder Joel Neidig’s playbook:

Our primary goal was to make people aware of the SIMBA Chain platform capabilities. Attending Disrupt is great way to get your name out there and build your customer base.

It’s time for all you last-minute lollygaggers to get moving and take advantage of this second, final chance to save up to $300. Buy your pass before August 7 at 11:59 p.m. (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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How one moonshot VC approaches investing in the COVID-19 era 



Take one glance at Playground Global’s portfolio and a theme emerges: The firm’s investments are forward-looking, longer-term plays, a strategy that runs counter to the fast-return ethos that permeates certain Silicon Valley sectors.

The Palo Alto-based VC firm is banking on the future with investments in capital-intensive and technically complex pursuits, including robotics, autonomous driving, metallic 3D printing and infrastructure. It’s an investment strategy that isn’t for the faint of heart.

So, how does a firm that embraces futurism handle the present-day disruption of COVID-19? It looks ahead, of course.

When co-founder and CTO Peter Barrett joined TechCrunch this week for an Extra Crunch Live panel, the pandemic dominated the conversation. The executive noted that a new and common thread has emerged throughout the many discussions among Playground executives and the startups in which it has invested.

Priorities are shifting toward finding ways to be of service.

Everything feels different these days. Recent months have caused many in Silicon Valley to reconsider their investment priorities, roll up their figurative sleeves and begin the process of helping the world survive and, eventually, recover from the seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic. Like many others, Playground finds itself at a crossroads — determining how it can be of service, while examining the ways in which a crisis like this can be addressed.

“One thing that underscores this pandemic is a realization that we need to be doing other things if we want to avoid being stuck inside for six months to a year,” Barrett said. “The biggest trend is a recognition that we need to make the investments that give us agency over our biology, and to build the tooling and infrastructure, so the parade of maladies which is behind COVID won’t have the same consequences that COVID-19 has.”

The pandemic has also driven people to reflect on what they want to do with their lives, Barrett said, suggesting that this phenomenon could influence which startups emerge from this period as well as what venture capitalists choose to invest in.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, I think a dating app looks less appealing than contributing in some way,” Barrett said, adding that entrepreneurs are looking at areas that “put us in a position where we really don’t have to be stuck inside because of a certain kilobase virus.”

Playground has a number of startups that are in position to offer some support, though, as is the nature of the firm’s tendency toward long runways. Most, however, appear better positioned to consider how we can prepare ourselves for the inevitability of some future pandemic, rather than the one we’re currently battling. Click through to read the highlights and watch a video with our entire conversation.

Nearer term plays

Playground’s portfolio is a mix of companies that are building things on a longer timescale that have the capital and patience to weather this pandemic, Barrett said.

However, in the near term, there are categories of companies that have an opportunity to be of service and grow their business.

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Daily Crunch: Florida teen arrested in Twitter hack



Three arrests are made following this month’s celebrity Twitter hack, Microsoft may be working to acquire TikTok’s U.S. business and Facebook launches licensed music videos. Here’s your Daily Crunch for July 31, 2020.

The big story: Florida teen arrested in Twitter hack

In a hack earlier this month, high-profile Twitter accounts like Apple, Elon Musk, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were compromised and posted messages promoting a cryptocurrency scheme. Now an investigation by the FBI and Department of Justice has resulted in three arrests: Mason Sheppard of the United Kingdom, Nima Fazeli of Orlando and a 17-year-old Tampa resident.

The Tampa teen was described by the state attorney’s office as the hack’s “mastermind” and is facing 30 felony charges. He allegedly made more than $100,000 in a single day thanks to the hack.

“These crimes were perpetrated using the names of famous people and celebrities, but they’re not the primary victims here,” said Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in a statement.

The tech giants

Report: Microsoft in talks to buy TikTok’s US business from China’s ByteDance — President Trump has plans to order China’s ByteDance, the owner of hit social video app TikTok, to divest from the company, according to Bloomberg.

Secret documents from US antitrust probe reveal big tech’s plot to control or crush the competition — We’ve collected the nearly 500 pages of evidence made public during the House Judiciary’s marathon hearing, with added context, in a searchable version.

Facebook will launch officially licensed music videos in the US starting this weekend — The U.S. launch is enabled by Facebook’s expanded partnerships with top labels, including Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Merlin, BMG, Kobalt and other independents.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Genomics startup Helix receives $33 million in NIH funding to scale COVID-19 testing — The funding will be used to support Helix’s efforts to scale its COVID-19 testing efforts, with the aim of achieving a rate of 100,000 tests per day by this fall.

Self-driving startup Argo AI hits $7.5 billion valuation — The valuation was confirmed Thursday, nearly two months after VW Group finalized its $2.6 billion investment in Argo AI.

The iron rule of founder compensation is dead — The latest episode of Equity discusses Y Combinator Demo Day going both virtual and live.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Working to understand Affirm’s reported IPO pricing hopes — News broke last night that Affirm, a well-known fintech unicorn, could approach the public markets at a valuation of $5 to $10 billion.

Opportunities (and challenges) in church tech — Investor Will Robbins argues that this might be the perfect time for church tech companies to thrive.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Ford Bronco reservations surpass 150,000 — The reception to Bronco 2021 — Ford’s flagship series of 4×4 vehicles that was revealed earlier this month — surpassed the company’s most optimistic initial projections, Ford’s CEO said in an earnings call.

What does accountability look like in 2020? — Rae Witte discusses what happens after a company gets called out.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Trump may demand TikTok’s Chinese owners sell it, and guess who may be interested



Sell the company or face a potential U.S. ban?

That’s the decision TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, may have to make.

TikTok may soon be put up for sale in the United States due to a possible order from President Donald Trump, according to a report from Bloomberg that cites “people familiar with the matter.” The order would force ByteDance to divest from its popular viral video app.

When asked about making a decision on TikTok on Friday, Trump told the White House press pool a ban was on the table.

“We’re looking at Tiktok. We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some other things. There are a couple of options, but a lot of things are happening. So, we’ll see what happens, but we are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to Tiktok,” said Trump. Read more…

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Rocket Lab clear to launch again after first mission failure attributed to electrical fault



Rocket Lab has received clearance to launch from the FAA following the failure of its Electron rocket on July 4 and the loss of the half-dozen satellites on board. CEO Peter Beck said that it was a “This was a very, very sneaky and tricky issue,” said CEO Peter Beck. “However, the issue is well understood by the team. We’re really looking forward to getting back on the pad.”

The failure, Beck explained on a call with press, was nowhere near as catastrophic as many such incidents are. While the payloads were lost in the vehicle’s uncontrolled descent, the rocket did not explode or break up suddenly as sometimes happens, but rather seems to have calmly shut itself down during the second stage burn due to “a single anomalous electrical connection.”

“We were just cruising on our way to orbit, traveling at about 4 km/s,” explained Beck, when a single part experienced higher than usual resistance, leading to heat buildup, which caused safety systems to step in and shut it down. “The shutdown was entirely automated — naturally we would do everything we could to try to ride it to orbit, and the vehicle made a tremendous amount of corrections to try to do that. But when you pull the plug, you pull the plug.”

This meant that while the launch — ominously, the company’s 13th — failed, the rocket could still send valuable information on what had gone wrong, which no doubt contributed to the quick turnaround by investigators.

“The failure was very graceful, so we were able to pull down huge amounts of data,” Beck said, “Literally 15 minutes after we saw the anomaly the team had started to look into it, and they haven’t stopped.”

Rocket Lab’s own account of what happened is as follows:

On July 4, 2020, the Electron launch vehicle successfully lifted-off from Launch Complex 1 and proceeded through a nominal first stage engine burn, Stage 1-2 separation, Stage 2 ignition, and fairing jettison as planned. Several minutes into the second stage burn, the engine performed a safe shutdown resulting in a failure to reach orbit. Due to the controlled way the engine shut down, Rocket Lab continued to receive telemetry from the vehicle, providing engineers with extensive data to conduct a robust investigation into the issue. After reviewing more than 25,000 channels of data and carrying out extensive testing, Rocket Lab’s AIB was able to confidently narrow the issue down to a single anomalous electrical connection. This connection was intermittently secure through flight, creating increasing resistance that caused heating and thermal expansion in the electrical component. This caused the surrounding potting compounds to liquify, leading to the disconnection of the electrical system and subsequent engine shutdown. The issue evaded pre-flight detection as the electrical connection remained secure during standard environmental acceptance testing including vibration, thermal vacuum, and thermal cycle tests.

Incidentally, letting the vehicle try to “ride it out” with a blown fuse isn’t advisable for safety and other reasons. Precision is paramount and if payloads aren’t delivered correctly there is the risk of collision with another orbital object. And there is little credit in accomplishing a mission by the skin of one’s teeth — as a major launch provider, Rocket Lab needs to show caution and professionalism, and scrubbing a mission when it is no longer nominal is the only real way to do that.

Beck explained that the part failure had evaded rigorous testing, but that future testing will be even more rigorous.

“This was incredibly unusual. We’ve built over 720 of these components and this is the only one that has shown any anomalous behavior,” he said. “We can actually mitigate it very easily through a slight change to production processes, but more importantly, we can screen for it in existing vehicles in stock through more in-depth testing procedures.”

A photo of Rocket Lab’s existing production facility in New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab.

He added that during the month-long investigation process, the team made a number of tweaks that should further improve the vehicle without requiring any major design or manufacturing changes.

“Electron has earned its stripes, and we’ve brought 53 customers to orbit without fail,” Beck said, but admitted “This is the launch industry and these things do happen. The reality is anyone who flies on Electron now will be flying on an even more reliable vehicle than they were before.”

Having presented their findings to the FAA, Rocket Lab is now set to take on its next mission in August if no further delays present themselves. Although the launch failure does mean a financial setback, Beck (though he wouldn’t comment on insurance or customer reimbursement questions) seemed fairly serene about it.

“If you’re going to own a rocket company and launch vehicles, you have to be prepared for this kind of thing,” he said, noting that the company had “a big chunk of capital in the bank for… bad things. it’s nothing we haven’t planned for.”

The plan to open the U.S.-based Launch Complex 2 and reach a monthly launch cadence this year is still on, he said.

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First US apps based on Google and Apple Exposure Notification System expected in ‘coming weeks’



Google Vice President of Engineering Dave Burke provided an update about the Exposure Notifications System (ENS) that Google developed in partnership with Apple as a way to help public health authorities supplement contact-tracing efforts with a connected solution that preserves privacy while alerting people of potential exposure to confirmed cases of COVID-19. In the update, Burke notes that the company expects “to see the first set of these apps roll out in the coming weeks” in the U.S., which may be a tacit response to some critics who have pointed out that we haven’t seen much in the way of actual products being built on the technology that was launched in May.

Burke writes that 20 states and territories across the U.S. are currently “exploring” apps that make use of the ENS system, and that together those represent nearly half (45%) of the overall American populace. He also shared recent updates and improvements made to both the Exposure Notification API as well as to its surrounding documentation and information that the companies have shared in order to answer questions from state health agencies, and hopefully make its use and privacy implications more transparent.

The ENS API now supports exposure notifications between countries, which Burke says is a feature added based on nations that have already launched apps based on the tech (that includes Canada, as of today, as well as some European nations). It’s also now better at using Bluetooth values specific to a wider range of devices to improve nearby device detection accuracy. He also says they’ve improved the reliability for both apps and debugging tools for those working on development, which should help public health authorities and their developer partners more easily build apps that actually use ENS.

Burke continues that there’s been feedback from developers that they’d like more detail about how ENS works under the covers, and so they’ve published public-facing guides that direct health authorities about test verification server creation, code revealing its underlying workings and information about what data is actually collected (in a de-identified manner) to allow for much more transparent debugging and verification of proper app functioning.

Google also explains why it requires that an Android device’s location setting be turned on to use Exposure Notifications — even though apps built using the API are explicitly forbidden from also collecting location data. Basically, it’s a legacy requirement that Google is removing in Android 11, which is set to be released soon. In the meantime, however, Burke says that even with location services turned off, no app that uses the ENS will actually be able to see or receive any location data.

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