Vericool raises $19.1 million for its plant-based packaging replacement for plastic coolers

Vericool, a Livermore, Calif.-based startup that’s replacing plastic coolers and packaging with plant-based products, has raised $19.1 million in a new round of financing.

The company’s stated goal is to replace traditional packaging materials like polystyrene with plant-based insulating packaging materials.

Its technology uses 100% recycled paper fibers and other plant-based materials, according to the company, and are curbside recyclable and compostable.

Investors in the round include Radicle Impact PartnersThe Ecosystem Integrity FundID8 Investments and AiiM Partners, according to a statement.

“We’re pleased to support Vericool because of the company’s track record of innovation, high-performance products, well-established patent portfolio and focus on environmental resilience. We are inspired by the company’s social justice commitment to address recidivism and provide workplace opportunity to formerly incarcerated individuals,” said Dan Skaff, managing partner of Radicle Impact Partners and Vericool’s new lead director. 

Xerox drops $34B HP takeover bid amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Xerox announced today that it would be dropping its hostile takeover bid of HP. The drama began last fall with a flurry of increasingly angry letters between the two companies, and confrontational actions from Xerox, including an attempt to take over the HP board that had rejected its takeover overtures.

All that came crashing to the ground today when Xerox officially announced it was backing down amid worldwide economic uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company also indicated it was dropping its bid to take over the board.

“The current global health crisis and resulting macroeconomic and market turmoil caused by COVID-19 have created an environment that is not conducive to Xerox continuing to pursue an acquisition of HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) (‘HP’). Accordingly, we are withdrawing our tender offer to acquire HP and will no longer seek to nominate our slate of highly qualified candidates to HP’s Board of Directors,” the company said in a statement.

As for HP, it said it was strong financially and would continue to drive shareholder value, regardless of the outcome:

We remain firmly committed to driving value for HP shareholders. HP is a strong company with market leading positions across Personal Systems, Print, and 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing. We have a healthy cash position and balance sheet that enable us to navigate unanticipated challenges such as the global pandemic now before us, while preserving strategic optionality for the future.

The bid never made a lot of sense. Xerox is a much smaller company, with a market cap of around $4 billion compared with HP with a market cap of almost $25 billion. It was truly a case of the canary trying to eat the cat.

Yet Xerox continued to insist today, even while admitting defeat, that it would have been better to combine the two companies, something HP never felt was realistic. HP questioned the ability of Xerox to come up with such a large sum of money, and, if it did, would it be financially stable enough to pull off a deal like this.

Yet even as recently as last month, Xerox increased the bid from $22 to $24 per share in an effort to entice shareholders to bite. It had previously threatened to bypass the board and go directly to shareholders before attempting to replace the board altogether.

HP didn’t like the hostility inherent in the bid or any of the subsequent moves Xerox made to try to force a deal. Last month, HP offered its investors billions in give-backs in an effort to convince them to reject the Xerox bid. As it turned out, the drama simply fizzled out in the middle of a worldwide crisis.

What does a pandemic say about the tech we’ve built?

There’s a joke* being reshared on chat apps that takes the form of a multiple-choice question — asking who’s the leading force in workplace digital transformation? The red-lined punchline is not the CEO or CTO, but: C) COVID-19.

There’s likely more than a grain of truth underpinning the quip. The novel coronavirus is pushing a lot of metaphorical buttons right now. “Pause” buttons for people and industries, as large swathes of the world’s population face quarantine conditions that can resemble house arrest. The majority of offline social and economic activities are suddenly off limits.

Such major pauses in our modern lifestyle may even turn into a full reset, over time. The world as it was, where mobility of people has been all but taken for granted — regardless of the environmental costs of so much commuting and indulged wanderlust — may never return to “business as usual.”

If global leadership rises to the occasion, then the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity to rethink how we structure our societies and economies — to make a shift toward lower carbon alternatives. After all, how many physical meetings do you really need when digital connectivity is accessible and reliable? As millions more office workers log onto the day job from home, that number suddenly seems vanishingly small.

COVID-19 is clearly strengthening the case for broadband to be a utility — as so much more activity is pushed online. Even social media seems to have a genuine community purpose during a moment of national crisis, when many people can only connect remotely, even with their nearest neighbours.

Hence the reports of people stuck at home flocking back to Facebook to sound off in the digital town square. Now that the actual high street is off limits, the vintage social network is experiencing a late second wind.

Facebook understands this sort of higher societal purpose already, of course. Which is why it’s been so proactive about building features that nudge users to “mark yourself safe” during extraordinary events like natural disasters, major accidents and terrorist attacks. (Or indeed, why it encouraged politicians to get into bed with its data platform in the first place — no matter the cost to democracy.)

In less fraught times, Facebook’s “purpose” can be loosely summed to “killing time.” But with ever more sinkholes being drilled by the attention economy, that’s a function under ferocious and sustained attack.

Over the years the tech giant has responded by engineering ways to rise back to the top of the social heap — including spying on and buying up competition, or directly cloning rival products. It’s been pulling off this trick, by hook or by crook, for over a decade. Albeit, this time Facebook can’t take any credit for the traffic uptick; a pandemic is nature’s dark pattern design.

What’s most interesting about this virally disrupted moment is how much of the digital technology that’s been built out online over the past two decades could very well have been designed for living through just such a dystopia.

Seen through this lens, VR should be having a major moment. A face computer that swaps out the stuff your eyes can actually see with a choose-your-own-digital-adventure of virtual worlds to explore, all from the comfort of your living room? What problem are you fixing, VR? Well, the conceptual limits of human lockdown in the face of a pandemic quarantine right now, actually…

Virtual reality has never been a compelling proposition versus the rich and textured opportunity of real life, except within very narrow and niche bounds. Yet all of a sudden, here we all are — with our horizons drastically narrowed and real-life news that’s ceaselessly harrowing. So it might yet end up a wry punchline to another multiple choice joke: “My next vacation will be: A) Staycation, B) The spare room, C) VR escapism.”

It’s videoconferencing that’s actually having the big moment, though. Turns out even a pandemic can’t make VR go viral. Instead, long-lapsed friendships are being rekindled over Zoom group chats or Google Hangouts. And Houseparty — a video chat app — has seen surging downloads as barflies seek out alternative night life with their usual watering-holes shuttered.

Bored celebs are TikToking. Impromptu concerts are being live-streamed from living rooms via Instagram and Facebook Live. All sorts of folks are managing social distancing, and the stress of being stuck at home alone (or with family), by distant socializing: signing up to remote book clubs and discos; joining virtual dance parties and exercise sessions from bedrooms; taking a few classes together; the quiet pub night with friends has morphed seamlessly into a bring-your-own-bottle group video chat.

This is not normal — but nor is it surprising. We’re living in the most extraordinary time. And it seems a very human response to mass disruption and physical separation (not to mention the trauma of an ongoing public health emergency that’s killing thousands of people a day) to reach for even a moving pixel of human comfort. Contactless human contact is better than none at all.

Yet the fact all these tools are already out there, ready and waiting for us to log on and start streaming, should send a dehumanizing chill down society’s backbone.

It underlines quite how much consumer technology is being designed to reprogram how we connect with each other, individually and in groups, in order that uninvited third parties can cut a profit.

Back in the pre-COVID-19 era, a key concern being attached to social media was its ability to hook users and encourage passive feed consumption — replacing genuine human contact with voyeuristic screening of friends’ lives. Studies have linked the tech to loneliness and depression. Now that we’re literally unable to go out and meet friends, the loss of human contact is real and stark. So being popular online in a pandemic really isn’t any kind of success metric.

Houseparty, for example, self-describes as a “face to face social network” — yet it’s quite the literal opposite; you’re foregoing face-to-face contact if you’re getting virtually together in app-wrapped form.

The implication of Facebook’s COVID-19 traffic bump is that the company’s business model thrives on societal disruption and mainstream misery. Which, frankly, we knew already. Data-driven adtech is another way of saying it’s been engineered to spray you with ad-flavored dissatisfaction by spying on what you get up to. The coronavirus just hammers the point home.

The fact we have so many high-tech tools on tap for forging digital connections might feel like amazing serendipity in this crisis — a freemium bonanza for coping with terrible global trauma. But such bounty points to a horrible flip side: It’s the attention economy that’s infectious and insidious. Before “normal life” plunged off a cliff, all this sticky tech was labelled “everyday use;” not “break out in a global emergency.”

It’s never been clearer how these attention-hogging apps and services are designed to disrupt and monetize us; to embed themselves in our friendships and relationships in a way that’s subtly dehumanizing; re-routing emotion and connections; nudging us to swap in-person socializing for virtualized fuzz designed to be data-mined and monetized by the same middlemen who’ve inserted themselves unasked into our private and social lives.

Captured and recompiled in this way, human connection is reduced to a series of dilute and/or meaningless transactions; the platforms deploying armies of engineers to knob-twiddle and pull strings to maximize ad opportunities, no matter the personal cost.

It’s also no accident we’re seeing more of the vast and intrusive underpinnings of surveillance capitalism emerge, as the COVID-19 emergency rolls back some of the obfuscation that’s used to shield these business models from mainstream view in more normal times. The trackers are rushing to seize and colonize an opportunistic purpose.

Tech and ad giants are falling over themselves to get involved with offering data or apps for COVID-19 tracking. They’re already in the mass surveillance business, so there’s likely never felt like a better moment than the present pandemic for the big data lobby to press the lie that individuals don’t care about privacy, as governments cry out for tools and resources to help save lives.

First the people-tracking platforms dressed up attacks on human agency as “relevant ads.” Now the data industrial complex is spinning police-state levels of mass surveillance as pandemic-busting corporate social responsibility. How quick the wheel turns.

But platforms should be careful what they wish for. Populations that find themselves under house arrest with their phones playing snitch might be just as quick to round on high-tech gaolers as they’ve been to sign up for a friendly video chat in these strange and unprecedented times.

Oh, and Zoom (and others) — more people might actually read your “privacy policy” now they’ve got so much time to mess about online. And that really is a risk.

*Source is a private Twitter account called @MBA_ish

These Weather Apps Are Great Alternatives to the Apple-Owned Dark Sky

Dark Sky just announced it has been acquired by Apple, and with the sale come a few big problems for fans of the hyper-local weather app. First of all, the Android app is going away altogether—for obvious reasons. You can continue to use it until July 1, and subscribers will be refunded any money they’ve spent on a subscription that will soon become worthless.

Second, and just as important, Dark Sky’s API is going away next year. It’ll remain active through 2021 according to the company, but isn’t accepting any new signups starting today. In other words, your favorite weather app that taps into Dark Sky’s information to function, be it Carrot Weather or Hello Weather, will have to switch to another data source—and who can say what that will mean for their accuracy.

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Though developers have a little time to regroup, if you’re on Android, you’re going to have to find another option, and soon. And even if you’re a proud Dark Sky iOS user, I would expect changes to hit the app at some point that might make you less thrilled about it. Heck, Apple might even choose to sunset it and fold Dark Sky’s functionality directly into the native iOS Weather app. The sky’s the limit—pun intended.

In the meantime, here are some other weather apps worth checking out—assuming you trust any of them with your location data. (Your device’s built-in weather app is decent, too!)

Carrot Weather (iOS, Android)

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Yes, Carrot Weather taps into Dark Sky’s data, and it costs $5 to get started—that’s more than what you’d currently pay for Dark Sky on iOS. However, if you cough up $5 for a yearly subscription, you can switch between a number of different data sources within the app: AccuWeather, ClimaCell, Foreca, MeteoGroup, Aeris Weather, or WillyWeather. I love the flexibility this gives me to see which source feels the most accurate for my location.

Hello Weather (iOS, Android)

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Second verse, same as the first: Hello Weather also taps into Dark Sky’s API, but that’s bound to change soon. The app looks gorgeous and, like Carrot Weather, it allows you to switch your weather data sources to another service as you see fit. The app is free to use, but you’ll have to pay a monthly ($1) or yearly ($9) fee to access its premium features, which include switching said data sources. Weather costs money, but I wouldn’t mind helping out the group of three developers who made the app as, “a passion project and not HARDCORE CAPITALISM.”

Windy (iOS, Android)

Illustration for article titled These Weather Apps Are Great Alternatives to the Apple-Owned Dark Sky

Screenshot: David Murphy (Windy)

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I’ve barely used the Windy app myself, but its website is definitely pretty to look at—the perfect thing to keep up on a second monitor while you work. The app is basically an extension of the site, and it’s completely free to use for your basic weather needs. While it’s really more useful if for those interested in checking out visualized wind conditions and radar and satellite maps of the weather in your area, it does provide a simple five-day forecast every time you start the app, and you can scroll to see what conditions might be like in your area at a given time. Tap on your location to pull up even more detail—as shown in the above screenshot—or set up alerts for weather and temperature conditions for any area you want.

Weather – The Weather Channel (iOS, Android)

Illustration for article titled These Weather Apps Are Great Alternatives to the Apple-Owned Dark Sky

Screenshot: David Murphy (Weather – The Weather Channel)

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It’s hard to go wrong with #1—on the App Store, at least. The Weather Channel actually supplies the weather information you’ll find in Apple’s default app, if I’m not mistaken, but if you’d rather have a bit more information and less clean a look compared to what you typically use, its official app is a nice-to-have. It doesn’t cost anything for the basics, but going premium to remove ads and access tighter forecasts (and more data) will cost you $4.99 per month or $30 for the year. Oof.

Weather Underground (iOS, Android)

Illustration for article titled These Weather Apps Are Great Alternatives to the Apple-Owned Dark Sky

Screenshot: David Murphy (Weather Underground)

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I’ve mentioned two of the “big three” weather apps—The Weather Channel and Accuweather—so it’s only fair to finish the three-way fight by introducing Weather Underground. Odds are good that your need for up-to-date weather forecasts will be fulfilled by one of these three apps, but their varying precision is what’s important. I recommend investigating all of them—or an app you prefer that taps into their data streams—to see which is the best fit for wherever it is you live. (Or cheat and use ForecastAdvisor.)

Anyway, back to Weather Underground: It’s somewhat similar in feel to The Weather Channel app, which is fitting, as TWC owns both. It gives you forecasts and a decent UI, but it’s packed full of ads—no doubt a way to upsell you on the $4/month or $20/year subscription fee to remove them. I don’t love that aspect, even though Weather Underground is ultimately oddly cheaper than TWC’s own app, but if it’s the most accurate provider in your area… Well. It’s hard to dismiss, even with its so-so UI. After all, you probably care a lot more about what might fall on your phone from out of the sky than what’s displayed on its screen.

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If you want to check out the data other services use, weather results for Microsoft’s Bing are powered by Foreca (Android, iOS), Alexa uses Accuweather (Android, iOS) and Google uses The Weather Channel, which you now know about.

Marriott says 5.2 million guest records were stolen in another data breach

Marriott has confirmed a second data breach in three years — this time involving the personal information on 5.2 million guests.

The hotel giant said Tuesday it discovered in late February the breach of an unspecified property system at a franchise hotel. The hackers obtained the login details of two employees, a hotel statement said, and broke in weeks earlier during mid-January.

Marriott said it has “no reason” to believe payment data was stolen, but warned that names, addresses, phone numbers, loyalty member data, dates of birth and other travel information — such as linked airline loyalty numbers and room preferences — were taken in the breach.

Starwood, a subsidiary of Marriott, said in 2018 its central reservation system was hacked, exposing the personal data and guest records on 383 million guests. The data included  five million unencrypted passport numbers and eight million credit card records.

It prompted a swift response from European authorities, which issued Marriott with a fine of $123 million in the wake of the breach.

FDA introduces a new program to expedite deployment of potential coronavirus treatments

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new program today that’s designed to foster close collaboration between public and private organizations in order to “bring coronavirus treatments to market as fast as possible,” according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a press release. The program, dubbed the “Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program,” or CTAP, will see the FDA redeploy resources and personnel with an eye toward providing private companies, researchers and scientists with “regulatory advice, guidance and technical assistance as quickly as possible.”

Based on the information provided by the agency, it sounds like CTAP is a formalization of a lot of the work that was already being done within the FDA to reduce the burden placed on companies and scientists looking to field trials and the steps required by the administration to qualify new treatments and therapies for use.

In real-world terms, the FDA says that means it’s turning things around much more quickly, reviewing protocols for many freshly submitted clinical studies within 24 hours, and also turning around single-patient requests for expanded access to some therapies granted under compassionate or investigate use “generally within three hours.” The FDA is also looking at how it can build out streamlined protocols that can apply across use by different institutions and for different programs wherever possible to further limit processing time through templated strategies.

Internally, the FDA has re-arranged staffing resources to help make this possible, putting medical and regulatory staff that otherwise would be focused elsewhere on teams dedicated to COVID-19-related reviews.

There’s likely to be some debate about the implications of the introduction of a program like this. On the one hand, it should help novel approaches and even startups in the biotech space with unproven, but promising technologies in development to work hand-in-hand with the FDA on potential solutions. On the other hand, the administration has already been criticized for some of its more aggressive decisions regarding COVID-19 therapeutics, including the Emergency Use Authorization ordered for anti-malarial hydroxychlroquine earlier this week.

While small-scale studies have shown that the drug could offer some benefit in the treatment of COVID-19 patients, the key word there is “could,” and other small-scale studies have shown that standard anti-viral treatments are just as effective. The bottom line is that there isn’t enough data available to say anything definitively either way, and this particular EUA means that efforts to stockpile the drug could make it less available to those who use it for another of its common purposes: treating chronic rheumatoid arthritis, which can be debilitating in its severity.

The current coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in terms of its spread and impact, at least in terms of viral outbreaks during the modern medical era. The FDA definitely needs to address the situation in a unique manner as a result, but critics and observers will definitely be watching to see what results from increased pressure on the agency to cut red tape.

What to Watch Tonight, March 31, 2020

Illustration for article titled What to Watch Tonight, March 31, 2020

Image: Shutterstock

Ready to settle in for another night at home?

Each day we’re rounding up some of the best livestreams to check out while you’re physically distancing at home.

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Yesterday we told you about a way to virtually ride Disney World rides and catch some of the short films that were supposed to debut at SXSW earlier this month.

Today we’re refilling your queue with a whole new set of things to keep you occupied, ranging from a free tour of Buckingham Palace to a live Melissa Etheridge concert.

Below our slideshow of today’s suggestions, you’ll find a rundown of the many options out there we’ve highlighted already.

Find something great we haven’t written about yet? Tell us about it in the comments and we might feature it in a future post.

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Check out these ongoing streaming shows and events, as well

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Stocks post worst quarter since 2008 financial crisis

The first quarter of 2020 ended with a whimper — with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq posting their worst quarter in decades — as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause uncertainty and volatility across all major stock market indices.

At the beginning of the quarter, we were still basking in a decade-long bull market. The global pandemic, and the economic havoc it caused, put an end to those halcyon days. All major American indices dropped into bear-market territory March 12, after shedding the requisite 20% from recent highs.

The roller coaster continued, with equities bumping along the bottom, periodically popping up, only to fall again as the epicenter of the pandemic shifted from China to Europe and now the United States. The number of cases in the U.S. has prompted states to issue stay at home orders, putting the brakes on business as usual. As a result, unemployment benefits have skyrocketed. Last week alone, around 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, dwarfing numbers set during the 2008-era economic meltdown.

The economic stimulus bill, known as the CARES Act, along with a series of actions taken by the Federal Reserve, have provided some lift. But the volatility continues. For the quarter, Dow Jones is down 24.08%, while the S&P is down 20.67% and Nasdaq is off 15.3%.

Here’s the breakdown of what happened today:

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: declined 1.85%, or 413.11 to 21,914.37
  • S&P 500: slid 1.61%, or 42.18, to 2,584.47
  • Nasdaq Composite: fell 0.95%, or 74.05, to 7,700.10

All sectors were down today, with the exception of the energy sector, which saw a lift after being battered for weeks. Meanwhile, investors have fled equities for treasuries, pushing yields down. Case in point: U.S. 10-year yields are down 64% in the first quarter.

SaaS shares fell more than most tech equity in today’s trading, with the Bessemer cloud index off a little over 2.5%. The index, which tracks a basket of SaaS and cloud shares, is off around 20% from its recent highs. Shares of modern software companies are therefore still technically in a bear market, though just. If recent gains hold, the index will have made up around 10% of its lost ground since recent lows.

Wrapping on cryptocurrencies as we close the book on the quarter, bitcoin posted a net loss for the period. It’s worth just over $6,400 as we write this post.

What a quarter. What a quarter of surprises and turmoil and cut expectations and downgraded hope. Here’s to a better Q2, if we can manage.

Why You Should Order Your Pizza ‘Uncut’

Illustration for article titled Why You Should Order Your Pizza Uncut

Photo: Shutterstock

Since dining out (my favorite hobby) isn’t an option right now, ordering delivery has become something of an event, especially ordering pizza. And, since there’s not much else going on, there’s a lot riding on those pizzas, happiness-wise. This is why I’m ordering my pizzas un-sliced.

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It may seem overly precious, but as my friend Meathead Goldwyn explained to me in a recent phone conversation, it makes all the difference when it comes to the crust:

When you order pizza carryout, don’t let them cut it. Don’t let them cut the pie. When they cut it all the juices run down and make the crust soggy. When you order your pie, fire up the oven. Throw your stone in there or a pan or whatever. And just keep the temperature cold—keep it under 212℉. Take that pie in uncut—so the crust stays crispy—and pop it in the oven. And then, when it [the pizza] is back up to the temp, you can slice it as you need it. Never let them cut the carry-out for you.

It may not be worth the hassle for something like Domino’s, but it makes a big difference with primo pies. After all, great pizza is built on great crust, and it would be a shame if it sogged out before making it to your mouth.

You Can Get 3 Months of Skillshare Premium For Free Right Now

Illustration for article titled You Can Get 3 Months of Skillshare Premium For Free Right Now

Image: Shutterstock

If you’re hoping to use your physical-distancing time to pick up a new skill, Skillshare is offering a free three-month Premium account on its service to help you make it happen.

To get the deal, go to this page and click the “Join For Free Today” button at the bottom of the page. The promotion requires you to create an account, but you don’t have to hand over any payment details, so you’re not at risk of getting charged later on if you forget about it. A Premium account is typically $19 a month.

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The free offer is being made through a partnership with Bombay Sapphire’s “Create at Home” program. That program also includes a collection of instructions for different DIY projects on Hunker.

On Skillshare you can take classes on everything from cocktail making to web development. There are courses on creative writing, photography, and graphic design, and even productivity, If you’re having a little bit of trouble adjusting to your new WFH life.

Illustration for article titled You Can Get 3 Months of Skillshare Premium For Free Right Now

Image: Skillshare

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Courses are taught by professionals in each field and are video-based. Some courses only take a few minutes to watch, while others might involve a video an hour or longer.

You can also search the site and create a playlist of sorts of all the courses you want to take, so you can just sit down and watch them when you find yourself with a little free time and nothing to do.

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Depending on what you want to learn, you can probably find a class (or 20) worth checking out.