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BlackBerry ‘Dallas’ to be released as the BlackBerry Passport Silver Edition


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Dropbox Arrives On Roku With An App For Viewing Your Personal Photos And Movies


Dropbox has launched on the Roku, with an app that allows you to view the photos and videos you have stored in your account directly on your TV by way of Roku’s streaming media player. The new app itself is simple to use – you can browse through your folders, view thumbnails and slideshows, and even search for items by name.

But wait, I know what you’re thinking: Does this mean you can now use Dropbox to watch your entire digital movie collection, beyond just your home videos? Apparently not at this time.

The app’s launch was spotted earlier today by Dave Zatz, who suggested that Dropbox’s arrival could make for an interesting competitor to Plex or perhaps a way to store exported TiVo recordings, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. At least, not at this point.

After uploading a handful of movie files in the following formats – .mkv, .avi, and .mp4 – I found that Dropbox on the Roku was able to play each file, but not the entire thing. Each file was roughly two hours long, and just under 2 GB in size. The files themselves worked fine in other media players and would play in their entirety from Dropbox on the web or in the Dropbox mobile app. However, via the Dropbox Roku app, the files were only around 14 to 15 minutes long – indicating there is a limit on what you can view via the Dropbox Roku app.

Meanwhile, shorter videos uploaded from my iPhone’s Camera Roll (.mov) played just fine.

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In other words, Dropbox is not ready to be home to your pirated movie collection. (Not that mine were pirated movies, of course. Ahem. But let’s say they were…it would only be for the purpose of testing this feature, naturally. I’m certainly deleting them afterwards.)

That makes the new app less interesting in terms of being a potential alternative to something like Plex’s media server, but still a handy way to view personal photos and movies on the big screen. It would be useful for things like photo slideshows at events, for instance, or watching home movies in your living room.

In addition, others who spotted the app have also noticed that it will allow you to view your email attachments from Yahoo Mail if you have that integrated. (These show up in a “Yahoo Mail” folder in Dropbox.) But the app is not meant to serve as a way to view all your Dropbox files. It won’t show your office files, PDF or Word documents, for example.

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We reached out to Dropbox for more details on the app itself, including details on supported file types, and restrictions on movie length or size of uploads, but the company declined to comment ahead of its official announcement. We understand that the Roku launch may be part of broader news.

This is Dropbox’s first app for streaming media players, as before today, Dropbox only offered desktop clients and mobile apps, in addition to its web interface. Hopefully, though, it’s the first of several apps that bring Dropbox to the big screen.

Update: We now understand that this is an integration built and owned by Roku using Dropbox’s public APIs, as opposed to something Dropbox built itself.

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Is This Flying Car Company For Real?


We’ve been promised a flying car for as long as I can remember. From The Jetsons to Back To The Future, we’ve been sold this dream for years and years. Owning something that starts out on the ground and ends up flying through the air is something I want to experience before I kick the bucket.

A Woburn, Mass., based company called Terrafugia is one of the many companies trying to bring this dream to reality, and its latest model, the TF-X, would melt my brain.

The TF-X promises to:
– be a plug-in hybrid on the ground
– drive like a normal car
– have a range of over 500 miles
– fit inside a single-car garage

It’s expected to hit the market in 2021.

Still, I’m sold. But is this company for real? Who are they? Well Terrafugia was founded in 2006 and won an MIT $100K Business Plan Competition, then started raising seed funding. To date, the company has raised $5.8 million.

Its first project, the Transition, went from prototyping to flying in about two years. It’s a street legal “car” that transforms into a plane and back. Check it out:

Terrafugia was also tapped as a subcontractor on a project funded by DARPA called Transformer in 2010. In essence, the $65 million project aimed to build a “flying Humvee.”

The founders met in MIT and asked each other: “Want to build a flying car?”

Okay, they’re not messing around.

Next week I’m going to dig in deeper with Terrafugia, and if you have questions for the team, drop them in the comments and I’ll be sure to ask them.

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Yahoo Will Acquire Fashion Startup Polyvore


Yahoo just announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire style-focused community Polyvore.

In a blog post about the deal, Yahoo’s senior vice president of publisher products Simon Khalaf highlighted “Polyvore’s expertise on community-driven experiences and retailer-supported commerce” and wrote that the deal “will accelerate Yahoo’s digital content growth strategy across the areas of social, mobile and native.”

Khalaf also said the Polyvore team will be joining Yahoo and working out of the company’s offices in Sunnyvale, San Francisco and New York, with co-founder and CEO Jess Lee reporting directly to him.

While Yahoo is highlighting its plans to incorporate Polyvore’s commerce and community features onto properties like Yahoo Style and Yahoo Beauty, a spokesperson said there will be “no change” to the startup’s website and apps: “With Yahoo’s support and investment, the technology and business are expected to grow with time.”

Lee said something in her post about the deal:

Going forward, Polyvore will still be the same Polyvore that you love, but we’ll have more resources to make it even bigger better. Our mission of empowering people to feel good about their style will stay the same. We’ll continue to add cool new product features and roll out new perks for top members. We’ve accomplished a lot on our own, but together with Yahoo we can take Polyvore to its fullest potential.

There’s some personal history here, too. Lee participated in Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s associate product manager program at Google, and she said the advice Mayer gave her during the job interview later inspired her to leave Google for Polyvore.

Founded in 2007, Polyvore allows users to browse clothing and accessories, combine them into outfits and make purchases. According to CrunchBase, the company raised $22.1 million in funding from investors including Benchmark, Harrison Metal, Matrix Partners and DAG Ventures — it’s been more than three years since its last reported round.

Yahoo has been notably acquisitive during Mayer’s tenure, but that seemed to have slowed down this year. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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Doing Good Tech Versus Doing Good With Tech


The FDA is currently considering clinical trials for a drug that would delay aging. The idea of extending human longevity is a controversial one, with some arguing for immortality and others arguing that a lifespan into the mid-70s is perfectly adequate.

So is the drug good or bad? As an investor in science and technology, this is a non-trivial question for me. With the accelerating pace of technological progress and our incredibly powerful tools of creation, this question has never been more relevant for everyone on planet Earth.

Personally, I have always thought that anything that would help us all live longer, healthier lives is a good technology. But what I consider to be “good” differs from what others do — sometimes significantly. My opinions, like all of us, are informed by my values, beliefs, circumstances, life experiences and myriad other variables.

To use a computer metaphor, my ideological operating system — the code base that I use to process and make sense of the world — isn’t the same as yours. It’s neither better nor worse, it’s just different.

So if everyone’s ideas of good and bad are different, how can we decide how to do good with technology? In exploring this, I realized this may be the wrong starting point. Instead, the following may be a better guide: The best way to do good with technology is to build good technology.

Lead With Technology, Not Values

Most of us aspire to do “good” in the world. Acting on our good intentions, what we decide to do is driven by our personal values. But, failures happen when our values don’t match those of the groups we’re trying to influence, or the approach is suboptimal in producing the best possible technology.

Take the 1960-70s model of big aid programs operating in large parts of Africa, for example. Many such programs have largely failed in their objectives, according to the World Bank’s private arm, the International Finance Corporation.

One illustrative example, described in an article last year, is the PlayPump, a water pump in the form of a merry-go-round designed to be operated by children while they are playing. The idea appealed to the values of the developed-world donors funding it, but less than two years after these pumps were deployed in Africa, pumps were not maintained, broken and abandoned.

Even though this example is a cliché in the nonprofit world, the lesson it represents is still relevant. How do we avoid such failures? My proposition is that as entrepreneurs and investors, rather than focusing on doing good with technology, let’s instead focus on building good technology. The difference is much more than semantics.

Building good technology starts with strong curiosity, pursuit of hard problems and exploration, wherever it leads. It isn’t necessarily high-minded. Rather, on an important level, it’s the age-old quest to build a better mousetrap — or maybe even to reimagine the problem in a way that eliminates a need for a mousetrap in the first place.

Good technology isn’t just a matter of mission statements; it can also come from a tinkerer with no specific overriding purpose other than the pursuit of knowledge. In either case, building good technology is an act of exploration, relentlessly pushing beyond current understanding and capabilities. These are behaviors and preferences commonly shared among scientists, inventors and technologists.

In my current venture, we are investing in companies using science to build good technology. In many cases, the technology is already advanced enough to identify tangible applications, like ameliorating sickness.

But many of the emerging science and technology efforts we are funding, such as exploring the microbiome or artificial intelligence, are simply about exploring hard questions without pre-defined motives around their potential usage. In other words, we are pursuing good technology because we believe that’s ultimately how we’ll do the most good in the world.

Design In Values Where They Matter

So I have asked myself: Is there a place for explicit values in technology at all? Yes, I think there is, but it is not at the lofty level of grand intentions; it is in the trenches of product design.

Here is a model to contemplate as we all work on merging our natural desires to do good in the world with what we build: Design your values into the technology where it helps the technology itself become better. For example, when I was building my payments company Braintree, a central design focus for our product and company culture was building transparency, trust and reliability, which made the technology better.

By contrast, going back to the PlayPump example: Children’s play is not in any obvious way connected to the problem of delivering water to places in need, and does not provide any exceptional leverage based on a scientific or technological principle. Water pumped by playing children is not better or radically less energy-intensive than water pumped by adults, oxen or electric pumps. The PlayPump grafted the value of “promoting play” onto a product to further a top-down agenda.

A Place For Profit

A new generation of entrepreneurs is now turning its attention from solving discrete business problems to solving the world’s problems, with a variety of funds, initiatives and foundations (and many with a hacker mindset). So how can we leverage individual and collective resources to build and deploy good technology?

Organizations of all types — from government and academia to foundations and corporations — can (and do) create good technology. While each has its own track record of successes and failures, pros and cons, I believe good technology often results from the intense pressures a capitalist market creates to sustainably maximize value creation for the largest number of people. In this system, inferior or incomplete solutions are left by the wayside; promising ideas are made better by market forces and competition.

That is, in part, why I decided to start an investment fund with my own capital rather than create a foundation or traditional charity. As I will discuss at a panel this week at the Googleplex for Effective Altruism Global, I believe that capitalism is a highly effective way to get good technology into the hands of more people.

By their very nature, capitalists don’t want to be in the business of defining what good is. They want to create large, profitable markets. So they’re not concerned whether you use their technology to do banking, play games, watch Khan Academy videos, or even for illicit purposes. But just because business people are often pluralist and laissez-faire does not mean that the outcome is any different than if moral philosophers had recommended the actions they take anyway.

A powerful example of these principles in action is in the education sector. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) started in 2005 with the intention of getting a low-cost computer to children in developing nations. The project, while an ambitious and noble idea, ran into all sorts of problems and eventually failed. In the meanwhile, cheap Chinese-manufactured smartphones, driven purely by commercial motives, have revolutionized Africa and Asia.

It doesn’t always work out this way, of course. Philanthropy, academia and government funding play a critical role in subsidizing innovation. For many problems, market-based solutions may simply fall short. But technology that really changes the world has an uncanny habit of standing on its own legs.

So what about that anti-aging pill? This is something I’d invest in because it promises to add to the library of human knowledge while filling an important market need. It is good technology at its best, pushing the envelope of what humanity is capable of.

I’m encouraged to see so many different models working toward bringing about positive outcomes with technology. To have a shot at solving some of our most vexing challenges, we need a diverse ecosystem of approaches. As for me, I’m betting that the pursuit of good technology will create the most favorable conditions for humanity to flourish.

Featured Image: K-Kwan Kwanchai/Shutterstock

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CrunchWeek: Twitter Soap Opera, Uber Valuation, and Ouya Gets Bought


It’s time for CrunchWeek again!

What a week it was.

The Twitter soap opera continues with earnings, no new CEO, hashtags and more. Uber keeps raising money until we lose count. Ouya gets put out of its misery bought.

As Alex would say: It’s Friday, it’s CrunchWeek, it’s time to throw down and talk some smack.

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