Fitbit lowers guidance after Versa Lite disappoints

Fitbit continued solid device growth for Q2, up 31%, year over year, representing a 5% bump in revenue. From that angle, the company’s long-term turnaround appears to be on track — but things weren’t all cheery this time out. Notably, the company’s stock is down in after-hours trading after it lowered guidance for annual revenue.

The company laid much of the blame at the feet of the Versa Lite. Announced in March, the $160 device is a stripped-down version of the Versa, the smartwatch that helped kickstart Fitbit’s most recent act.

“While we are disappointed to lower guidance for the year, we remain confident in our long-term transformation strategy and have demonstrated good results across key areas of the business,” CEO James Park said in a release tied to the earnings. We saw growth in devices sold, increased active users and continued growth in our Fitbit Health Solutions channel, up 42% in the first half of 2019.”

All told, smartwatch revenue dropped 27% year over year, with the Lite making up a lower than expected 38% of that number. Ultimately the company’s recently consolidated tracker offers were there to pick up some of the slack, with a 51% year over year increase.

The stumbles come in contrast to this week’s Apple earnings, which found wearables on the upswing as iPhone sales continued to sputter. In addition to a newfound focus on smartwatches, Fitbit’s recent shift also includes a healthcare offering. Fitbit Health Solutions is up 42% for the year, with international growth playing a key role.

Cryptographic ICE Cube tests orbital cybersecurity protocols aboard the ISS

Encryption in space can be tricky. Even if you do everything right, a cosmic ray might come along and flip a bit, sabotaging the whole secure protocol. So if you can’t radiation-harden the computer, what can you do? European Space Agency researchers are testing solutions right now in an experiment running on board the ISS.

Cosmic radiation flipping bits may sound like a rare occurrence, and in a way it is. But satellites and spacecraft are out there for a long time and it only takes one such incident to potentially scuttle a whole mission. What can you do if you’re locked out of your own satellite? At that point it’s pretty much space junk. Just wait for it to burn up.

Larger, more expensive missions like GPS satellites and interplanetary craft use special hardened computers that are carefully proofed against cosmic rays and other things that go bump in the endless night out there. But these bespoke solutions are expensive and often bulky and heavy; if you’re trying to minimize costs and space to launch a constellation or student project, hardening isn’t always an option.

“We’re testing two related approaches to the encryption problem for non rad-hardened systems,” explained ESA’s Lukas Armborst in a news release. To keep costs down and hardware recognizable, the team is using a Raspberry Pi Zero board, one of the simplest and lowest-cost full-fledged computers you can buy these days. It’s mostly unmodified, just coated to meet ISS safety requirements.

It’s the heart of the Cryptography International Commercial Experiments Cube, or Cryptographic ICE Cube, or CryptIC. The first option they’re pursuing is a relatively traditional software one: hard-coded backup keys. If a bit gets flipped and the current encryption key is no longer valid, they can switch to one of those.

“This needs to be done in a secure and reliable way, to restore the secure link very quickly,” said Armborst. It relies on “a secondary fall-back base key, which is wired into the hardware so it cannot be compromised. However, this hardware solution can only be done for a limited number of keys, reducing flexibility.”

If you’re expecting one failure per year and a five-year mission, you could put 20 keys and be done with it. But for longer missions or higher exposures, you might want something more robust. That’s the other option, an “experimental hardware reconfiguration approach.”

“A number of microprocessor cores are inside CryptIC as customizable, field-programmable gate arrays, rather than fixed computer chips,” Armborst explained. “These cores are redundant copies of the same functionality. Accordingly, if one core fails then another can step in, while the faulty core reloads its configuration, thereby repairing itself.”

In other words, the encryption software would be running in parallel with itself and one part would be ready to take over and serve as a template for repairs should another core fail due to radiation interference.

A CERN-developed radiation dosimeter is flying inside the enclosure as well, measuring the exposure the device has over the next year of operation. And a set of flash memory units are sitting inside to see which is the most reliable in orbital conditions. Like many experiments on the ISS, this one has many purposes. The encryption tests are set to begin shortly and we’ll know next summer how the two methods fared.

Amazon acquires flash-based cloud storage startup E8 Storage

Amazon has acquired Israeli storage tech startup E8 Storage, as first reported by Reuters, CNBC and Globes and confirmed by TechCrunch. The acquisition will bring the team and technology from E8 in to Amazon’s existing Amazon Web Services center in Tel Aviv, per reports.

E8 Storage’s particular focus was on building storage hardware that employs flash-based memory to deliver faster performance than competing offerings, according to its own claims. How exactly AWS intends to use the company’s talent or assets isn’t yet known, but it clearly lines up with their primary business.

AWS acquisitions this year include TSO Logic, a Vancouver-based startup that optimizes data center workload operating efficiency, and Israel-based CloudEndure, which provides data recovery services in the event of a disaster.

Lyft pulls e-bikes in light of apparent battery fires

Lyft is pulling its e-bikes from the streets of San Francisco, as well as from those in the South Bay Area in light of two recently catching on fire. The first reported fire took place over the weekend, with the second happening today, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily making the ebike fleet unavailable to riders while we investigate and update our battery technology,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Thanks to our riders for their patience and we look forward to making ebikes available again soon.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for Lyft, which recently obtained the right to deploy its dockless pedal-assist bikes in the city following a lawsuit against San Francisco. But with its bikes catching on fire, it surely does not help its argument that it should be the sole provider of bike-share services in the city.

“It is unfortunate that this incident occurred and we are currently monitoring the situation,” an SFMTA spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We encourage Lyft to put customer safety first. We have an inquiry into Lyft as to the circumstances surrounding this incident as well as to how they intend to prevent any future fires and ensure the safety of customers and the ongoing operability of the bikesharing system. Bikeshare is an important part of the SF transportation system. The Agency is working to ensure that our residents can consistently rely on the safety and availability of bikes.”

This also isn’t the first time Lyft has experienced issues with its e-bikes. In April, Lyft paused its e-bike operations in New York and San Francisco due to injuries associated with overly responsive brakes. It wasn’t until June when Lyft deployed its newly branded e-bikes in San Jose, Calif.

It’s worth noting that Lyft is not the only micromobility service to experience apparent battery issues. Both Skip and Lime have had to pull their electric scooters in light of the vehicles catching on fire.

You won’t see that $125 from Equifax, so don’t bother claiming it, says FTC

Millions of people have been signing up to receive what they think is a $125 cash reimbursement from Equifax for its criminal mishandling and exposure of their personal and financial data. But the FTC warns that you may see only a small fraction of that, if any, because of the way the $575 million settlement with the company actually breaks down.

In the settlement, Equifax set aside $300 million to pay for credit monitoring for everyone affected by the historic hack (rivaled perhaps only by this week’s of Capital One), and you’re due that if you want it.

But say you already had credit monitoring set up because of, say, yet another of the various hacks and leaks that have plagued the careless stewards of our data in recent years. In that case you can state this is the case and receive up to $125 as an alternative claim.

There’s just one problem: Equifax only set aside a paltry sum of $31 million for these cases, which is just enough for about a quarter of a million people to receive that $125 — well under the millions that are now submitting claims. So the pie, already a small one, gets sliced even thinner than before.

If even one in 10 of the victims asks for the alternative payout method, that nets them about two bucks each. Meanwhile, the CEO received a $20 million (conservatively) golden parachute after overseeing one of the largest and most damaging hacks in history, which was called “entirely preventable.” He wasn’t fired, you know — he retired. Overall the company is in pretty good shape!

There is more money set aside for people who have out-of-pocket expenses for hack-related issues, like identity theft that resulted in the loss of a loan and such. You’ll need to document that, though, and relatively few people will be able to take advantage of it.

The FTC’s Robert Schoshinski explains that the credit monitoring is the more valuable option anyway:

If you haven’t submitted your claim yet, think about opting for the free credit monitoring instead. Frankly, the free credit monitoring is worth a lot more – the market value would be hundreds of dollars a year. And this monitoring service is probably stronger and more helpful than any you may have already, because it monitors your credit report at all three nationwide credit reporting agencies, and it comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and individualized identity restoration services.

Fair point, and given the ongoing failure of financial institutions, social networks and other companies to protect your data, it might be nice to know that you’re protected.

Of course, the credit monitoring is provided by Equifax. But don’t worry, I’m sure they learned their lesson.

India has labeled hyperloop a public infrastructure project — here’s why that matters

Hyperloop, the futuristic and still theoretical transportation system that could someday propel people and packages at speeds of more than 600 miles per hour, has been designated a “public infrastructure project” by India lawmakers in the state of Maharashtra.

Wrapped in that government jargon is a valuable and notable outcome. The upshot: hyperloop is being treated like any other public infrastructure project such as bridges, roads and railways. In other words, hyperloop has been plucked out of niche, futuristic obscurity and given a government stamp of approval.

That’s remarkable, considering that the idea for hyperloop was first proposed by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a nearly 60-page public white paper just five years ago.

It also kicks off a process that could bring hyperloop to a 93-mile stretch of India between the cities of Mumbai and Pune. The Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority will begin the procurement process in mid-August when it starts accepting proposals from companies hoping to land the hyperloop contract.

The frontrunner is likely Virgin Hyperloop One-DP World, a consortium between the hyperloop company and its biggest backer that pitched the original project to India. The MahaIDEA Committee earlier approved Virgin Hyperloop One-DP World Consortium as the Original Project Proponent.

Under the VHO-DPW proposal, a hyperloop capable of transporting 200 million people every year would be built between Pune and Mumbai. That stretch of road now takes more than three hours by car; VHO says its hyperloop would reduce it to a 35-minute trip.

“This is history in the making. The race is on to host the first hyperloop transportation system in the world, and today’s announcement puts India firmly in the lead. This is a significant milestone and the first of many important steps toward bringing hyperloop to the masses,” Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Jay Walder said in a statement Wednesday.

The hope is that India’s government will award the contract by the end of 2019, a VHO executive told TechCrunch. If that occurs, Phase 1 of the project — an 11.8 kilometer (or 7.3 mile) section — would begin in 2020.

The cost of building Phase 1 will be covered by DP World, which has committed $500 million to this section. The government is covering the cost and logistics of acquiring the land for the hyperloop.

Phase 1 will initially act as a certification track, which will be used to certify the hyperloop technology for passenger operations. VHO wants this certification track built and operating by 2024. If this section meets safety standards it will become part of the larger hyperloop line between Pune and Mumbai.

There is a lot of work to do, and technical milestones to meet, before hyperloop is whisking people in pods through a tunnel. But if it works and is built, the region’s economy could be transformed, supporters insist.

Once commercialized, the hyperloop will transform the Pune-Mumbai corridor into a mega-economic region, according to Harj Dhaliwal, managing director of India and Middle East at Virgin Hyperloop One.

Today, some 75 million people travel between Pune and Mumbai each year, and forecasts suggest that number could rise to 130 million annually by 2026. The VHO-DPW consortium says its hyperloop will have the capacity to handle 16,000 passengers day, or about 200 million people annually.

Let’s Debunk The Idea That It’s Not Safe To Use Cruise Control In The Rain

The internet is really useful for many things, ranging from letting your wi-fi enabled refrigerator to blast Yoo-Hoo ads 24/7 to letting you play Canasta with a naked man halfway across the world. But one of the things it truly excels at is spreading misinformed hysteria, often about driving. Such a case is the persistent and dire “don’t use cruise control in the rain” warning that has been floating around for well over a decade.

I only encountered it recently, a few days ago, when a friend asked me if this hyperbolic Facebook post on the traffic safety group The Pink Shorts Movement was accurate:

“A 36 year old female had an accident several weeks ago. It was raining, though not excessively when her car suddenly began to hydro-plane and literally flew through the air. She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence! When she explained to the Police Officer what had happened, he told her something that every driver should know –

NEVER DRIVE IN THE RAIN WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ON..

She thought she was being cautious by setting the cruise control and maintaining a safe consistent speed in the rain….

But the Police Officer told her that if the cruise control is on, your car will begin to hydro-plane when the tires lose contact with the road, and your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane. She told the Officer that was exactly what had occurred. The Officer said this warning should be listed, on the driver’s seat sun-visor –

NEVER USE THE CRUISE CONTROL WHEN THE ROAD IS WET OR ICY,

Along with the airbag warning. We tell our teenagers to set the cruise control and drive a safe speed – but we don’t tell them to use the cruise control only when the road is dry.

The only person the accident victim found who knew this, (besides the Officer), was a man who’d had a similar accident, totaled his car and sustained severe injuries..

NOTE: Some vehicles (like the Toyota Sienna Limited XLE) will not allow you to set the cruise control when the windshield wipers are on.

Even if you send this to 15 people and only one of them doesn’t know about it, it’s still worth it. You may have saved a life.”

Okay, so, first, being the savvy internet-users you are, you may have noticed that the whole tone of this just, you know, feels like bullshit. Like when your friend posts that their 6-year-old just articulately expressed wonder about why we humans can’t live in harmony, or like most of the shit on LinkedIn.

Also, this part:

“…your car will begin to hydro-plane when the tires lose contact with the road, and your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane.”

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…is absolute horseshit. You cannot accelerate to a “higher rate of speed” (is there any other outcome when you accelerate? And can’t you just say “speed?”) while hydroplaning because if your tires are not making contact with the road, there’s no way you can actually continue to accelerate.

Sure, you can be sliding out of control and it absolutely feels terrifying when you hydroplane, but what’s described here isn’t accurate.

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The bigger question, of course, is whether or not it is actually dangerous to use cruise control in the rain. I did a bit of research and found some pretty mixed opinions. Our sibling site Lifehacker came out supporting the cruise-in-the-rain ban back in 2014, and you can find this issue being discussed, either supporting or debunking, as far back as 2006 at least.

I wanted to get some real expert input on this question, because it’s really not as cut-and-dry as “never use cruise control in the rain” or “don’t worry at all, use cruise control in the rain.” That’s why I reached out to Robert Beaver, Continental Automotive’s Chief Engineer of Vehicle Dynamics in North America. Continental is a developer and supplier of cruise control systems for a number of automakers.

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Robert explained a lot about the situation described in these posts and email forwards and articles. First of all, he made it clear that it’s not just rain that causes possible hydroplaning dangers, it has to be a lot of rain, enough so that there’s a significant amount of standing water on the road surface. Here’s what he said:

“First of all, you have to have a certain depth of water for hydroplaning. The tire tread washes water away, and that’s what keeps contact between the tire and the ground. If you have too much water where the tire can’t wash it away, so you lose contact between the tread and the ground, and the car will skid or yaw when that happens.

Now, when that happens, the stability control system in the car will kick in, and just through physics the car will begin to slow down…it might feel to people like the car’s accelerating, but it doesn’t accelerate—in order to accelerate, there has to be some mechanism to move the vehicle.

If you do enter a traction control event, or an ABS event, or a stability event, it’ll kick the cruise control off.”

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That last line is especially significant. What that’s saying is that as soon as a car on cruise in heavy rain begins to hydroplane or skid or experience some other loss of control, cruise control kicks off.

This isn’t unique to one particular brand, this is how all cruise control systems work, and have worked since the widespread adoption of vehicle stability systems in the early 1990s.

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So, unless something is wrong with your cruise control system, if you’re using it in the rain and you encounter a situation where the car begins to lose control, the cruise control system will be turned off immediately. It will not attempt to keep accelerating the car.

Even cars older than the 1990s will kill the cruise control from even the briefest tap on the brakes; if a cruise setup keeps accelerating, something is very wrong.

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Now, while that means that accidents like the one described in that oft-copied warning post are not likely at all to happen, at least not because of what the cruise control system was doing after the initial loss of control, there still are reasons why you may not want to use cruise control in really bad weather.

Robert also made clear that the reason why you may not want to use it is simply that when you’re driving in heavy rain, with a lot of puddles on the road, you’ll want to pay more attention to the conditions you’re driving in, and cruise by definition is something that lets you not pay attention to a crucial aspect of driving.

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Cruise control just understands that you want to keep the car at a set speed; so, if you have it on, and you’ve slowed down or are going uphill, it will apply more throttle to get you back to your set speed, regardless of whether or not the conditions are appropriate to be accelerating.

This isn’t really a problem with cruise control, it’s a problem with the driver’s decision to use cruise control. Of course, for most drivers, if you’re begin to feel like the amount of acceleration is unsafe, a simple tap on the brake will kick cruise off, no problem.

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So, here’s the upshot to all this: you absolutely can use cruise control safely in the rain. At the same time, that does not mean that every single rainy weather driving situation is one that makes sense to have cruise control on. If the road conditions are really wet and slippery, it’s smarter to not use cruise because it is no longer advantageous to keep a set, unchanging speed. You may encounter road situations that demand a much lower speed, and you as a driver will want to be in control of that.

That said, no cruise control system on the market today will just keep accelerating after any sort of control loss happens, and hydroplaning does not make you go faster until you fly off the road and crash into a Chipotle.

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The takeaway here is to drive at speeds that make sense for the conditions of the road you’re on, and if those conditions are variable enough that you can feel that you’ll likely need to occasionally slow down, then of course don’t use cruise control, because that’s just not what it’s for.

All good? You can drive in the rain with cruise control, just you know, pay a little attention to the world around you, and be ready to turn it off if you feel uncomfortable, or, if not, know that it will kick itself off if there’s any loss of control.

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Please send this to your grandma so she’ll finally stop pestering you about it.

Save with group discounts and bring your team to TechCrunch’s first-ever Enterprise event Sept. 5 in SF

Get ready to dive into the fiercely competitive waters of enterprise software. Join more than 1,000 attendees for TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 on September 5 to navigate this rapidly evolving category with the industry’s brightest minds, biggest names and exciting startups.

Our $249 early-bird ticket price remains in play, which saves you $100. But one is the loneliest number, so why not take advantage of our group discount, buy in bulk and bring your whole team? Save an extra 20% when you buy four or more tickets at once.

We’ve packed this day-long conference with an outstanding lineup of presentations, interviews, panel discussions, demos, breakout sessions and, of course, networking. Check out the agenda, which includes both industry titans and boundary-pushing startups eager to disrupt the status quo.

We’ll add more surprises along the way, but these sessions provide a taste of what to expect — and why you’ll need your posse to absorb as much intel as possible.

Talking Developer Tools
Scott Farquhar (Atlassian)

With tools like Jira, Bitbucket and Confluence, few companies influence how developers work as much as Atlassian. The company’s co-founder and co-CEO Scott Farquhar will join us to talk about growing his company, how it is bringing its tools to enterprises and what the future of software development in and for the enterprise will look like.

Keeping the Enterprise Secure
Martin Casado (Andreessen Horowitz), Wendy Nather (Duo Security), Emily Heath (United Airlines)

Enterprises face a litany of threats from both inside and outside the firewall. Now more than ever, companies — especially startups — have to put security first. From preventing data from leaking to keeping bad actors out of your network, enterprises have it tough. How can you secure the enterprise without slowing growth? We’ll discuss the role of a modern CSO and how to move fast — without breaking things.

Keeping an Enterprise Behemoth on Course
Bill McDermott (SAP)

With over $166 billion in market cap, Germany-based SAP is one of the most valuable tech companies in the world today. Bill McDermott took the leadership in 2014, becoming the first American to hold this position. Since then, he has quickly grown the company, in part thanks to a number of $1 billion-plus acquisitions. We’ll talk to him about his approach to these acquisitions, his strategy for growing the company in a quickly changing market and the state of enterprise software in general.

The Quantum Enterprise
Jim Clarke (Intel), Jay Gambetta (IBM
and Krysta Svore (Microsoft)
4:20 PM – 4:45 PM

While we’re still a few years away from having quantum computers that will fulfill the full promise of this technology, many companies are already starting to experiment with what’s available today. We’ll talk about what startups and enterprises should know about quantum computing today to prepare for tomorrow.

TC Sessions Enterprise 2019 takes place on September 5. You can’t be everywhere at once, so bring your team, cover more ground and increase your ROI. Get your group discount tickets and save.

Highlight Fruit’s Sweetness With a Splash of Vinegar

Contrast is an important thing, both in food and in life. How can one appreciate the happy without the sad, the highs without the lows, the sweet without the sour? This is all to say I like to put vinegar on my fruit, and I urge you to do the same.

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Now, a lot of fruit is very good on its own, and doesn’t need any help to be delicious. But I’m not talking about changing the fruit’s flavor; I’m talking about highlighting it. A small amount of acid can brighten, yes, but it can also amplify the sweetness of a naturally sweet thing by providing that contrast I was talking about earlier.

If you’re having a hard time tasting this with your mind’s tongue, think of the ubiquitous feta and watermelon salad, which is so often drizzled with balsamic. That salad is good because it hits all the flavor hits—sweet, salty, funky, and acidic. On a smaller scale, just splash of vinegar—I’m talking one teaspoon per cup of fruit—adds that contrasting hint of tang without overpowering the flavor profile of the fruit.

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Balsamic is a natural choice for watermelon and most berries, but champagne vinegar is beautiful with stone fruits. Apple cider vinegar can also work in a lot of cases, but start with half a teaspoon, as the funk it brings can be overpowering, depending on the brand. You can eat your vinegar-spiked treat immediately, but if you let everyone hang out a while, some of the fruit’s juices will mix with the vinegar, creating a tangy, sweet syrup that’s delicious on cake, swirled into ice cream, or muddled into a cocktail.

Dreading 10x engineers, virtual beings, the fate of Netflix, and Salesforce’s acquisition

The dreaded 10x, or, how to handle exceptional employees

The reality (myth?) is that there are engineers who are ten times more productive than other engineers (some would argue 100x, but okay). Jon Evans, who is CTO at HappyFunCorp, dives into the strengths and weaknesses of these vaunted people and how to manage them and their relationships with other team members.

The anti-10x squad raises many important and valid — frankly, obvious and inarguable — points. Go down that Twitter thread and you’ll find that 10x engineers are identified as: people who eschew meetings, work alone, rarely look at documentation, don’t write much themselves, are poor mentors, and view process, meetings, or training as reasons to abandon their employer. In short, they are unbelievably terrible team members.

Is software a field like the arts, or sports, in which exceptional performers can exist? Sure. Absolutely. Software is Extremistan, not Mediocristan, as Nassim Taleb puts it.

A guide to Virtual Beings and how they impact our world

If your 10x engineers are too annoying to deal with, maybe consider just getting virtual beings instead. The inaugural Virtual Beings Summit was held recently in San Francisco, a conference designed to bring together storyline editors, virtual reality engineers, influencer marketers and more to consider the future of “virtual beings.”