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Microsoft Looks To Academia To Usher In Next Wave Of Holographic Computing With Research Proposal Program


Microsoft announced an academic research program Monday aiming to gather proposals for HoloLens technologies that further “the role and possible applications for holographic computing in society.”

Microsoft will be awarding $100,000 and two HoloLens development kits to the best five research proposals from academic institutions.

“This emerging technology teems with opportunity, so we’ve issued this RFP [request for proposals] to inspire the academic community to investigate the potential roles and applications for holographic computing in society,” Jeannette Wing, the Corporate Vice President or Microsoft Research said in a blog post. “Additionally, we want to stimulate and advance academic research in mixed reality and encourage exploration of new possibilities in holographic computing.”

Microsoft specified the following areas for researchers to explore holographic computing solutions for (but specified that this list was by no means exhaustive):

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Priceline Pours $60 Million Into Brazil’s Hotel Urbano


Hotel Urbano, a hotel search and booking platform and one of Brazil’s fastest growing startups, has raised an additional $60 million in strategic funding from discount travel conglomerate Priceline Group.

Launched in 2011, Hotel Urbano previously raised $75 million from Tiger Global and Insight Venture Partners.

The company declined to disclose a valuation, but co-founder João Ricardo Mendes says Hotel Urbano was valued at $365 million in March of last year and has grown significantly since then.

“We’re growing at 65 percent year over year, despite the crisis here in Brazil and the election last year which was not good for the economy,” Mendes says.

Priceline Group, which consists of six primary travel brands including,, and KAYAK, will provide Hotel Urbano access to its 680,000 international hotel listings. This will allow Hotel Urbano to expand its global offering while building out tech to boost occupancy rates within its local network of Brazilian hotels.

“The hotel industry in Brazil is very fragmented,” Mendes says. “80 percent of all hotels are in leisure destinations that are very effected by seasonality.”

Outside of major cities like Rio and Sao Paulo, hotels in Brazil see yearly occupancy rates of 35 percent on average, Mendes says. To help these hotels fill empty rooms during the off-season, Hotel Urbano is tapping into the browsing and search behavior of its 30 million users and attempting to create demand for travel.

“Through your behavior on the web we try to understand what destination you may want to go, and we try to make you think twice before spending another bank holiday in your home,” Mendes says.

Currently, 45 percent of rooms booked are user-driven, but Hotel Urbano is using push notifications and retargeting to suggest vacations for people who aren’t actively looking to travel.

According to Mendes, Priceline was one of many big players in tech and travel courting Hotel Urbano for a partnership. Last year, Priceline invested $500 million in Chinese travel site CTrip, and recently upped its stake with an additional $250 million investment in May.

The strategic funding will go toward building out Hotel Urbano’s presence in Latin America, and Mendes tells TechCrunch he plans to be the first Brazilian tech company to go public in the U.S. within the next three years.

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Reddit: “We Screwed Up”


Reddit just admitted it royally screwed up. Not just over the firing of Reddit community manager Victoria Taylor on Friday, but also for not listening to the community over the past several years.

Volunteer Reddit moderators systematically shut down threads in protest after hearing of Taylor’s dismissal last week. Many said she was the only moderator who got them and communicated with them during Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” interviews.

Interim CEO Ellen Pao posted an apology to the Reddit community today with the following message:

We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years. We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes. We have apologized and made promises to you, the moderators and the community, over many years, but time and again, we haven’t delivered on them. When you’ve had feedback or requests, we haven’t always been responsive. The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit.

Today, we acknowledge this long history of mistakes. We are grateful for all you do for reddit, and the buck stops with me.

Pao goes on with a promise to improve – and not just in words, but in deeds by appointing u/deimorz and u/weffey to work with team moderators for building and improving tools moderators need. Pao also appointed u/krispykrackers as a moderator advocate and said she would add the option for moderators to default to the old search, enabling moderators to stay updated on existing workflows.

“We’re also going to figure out the best way for more administrators, including myself, to talk more often with the whole community,” writes Pao.

True to Reddit, the community responded with demands in the comments below the post – many of them negative, though some thanking Pao for making the effort.

One interesting part of the apology is that Pao does not specifically comment on the firing of Taylor or anything she might do surrounding the action that originally led to this uproar.

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Designer Turns A Konica Film Camera Into A Digital Shooter With 3D-Printed Parts


The Konica Auto S3 is considered by camera lovers to be one of the best low-cost rangefinder pocket shooters. Originally made in 1973 it features a 38mm f1.8 lens and internal leaf shutter. But it also shot 35mm film. A designer, Ollie Baker, gave the camera a new lease on life by pulling the back of the camera, adding a few 3D-printed parts, and creating the ultimate Frakenshooter.

18-year-old Baker used the guts from a Sony NEX-5 and then designed and 3D printed a set camera plates and a case back. He was then able to attach all of the parts, connect the power button to the reel rewinder, and take pictures with the same intensity as the ones they took way back when “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” was a Billboard top hit. He did most of this about a year ago but it’s a fascinating look at what you can do with a little energy and a lot of 3D modeling.

The results, as seen below, are impressive. While the camera is no longer truly analog, the resulting images are fascinating in their own way, evocative of old snapshots found in shoebox.

Best of all Baker shows us how he did it so you can easily make your own Frankencamera with a 3D printer, a little leatherette, and a broken Sony. Perhaps it would be a nice July project?

via 3Ders

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Writers Are Going Cuckoo For KU


If you haven’t been following the Indie writing market I don’t blame you. It’s pretty crazy right now. After Amazon decided to tweak the royalties payouts to reflect how much readers actually read the books they downloaded as part of the Kindle Unlimited service writers have gone into an absolute tizzy over what’s fair and not fair and what it means to get paid for writing.

First, a bit of background. Kindle Unlimited, as you know, is essentially Amazon’s all-you-can eat digital service. If you subscribe to it you get access to thousands of ebooks for free as long as they are part of KDP Select, a service that Amazon offers authors. KDP Select isn’t amazingly valuable but it does allow you to “give away” your book for a brief period – a trick that used to get Indie fiction to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists (but no longer) – and set up pre-orders. I’ve gone back and forth about the service but now my books are part of it.

KU also has a pool of cash that it pays out to writers. Right now that pool is about $11 million. This means that popular authors get a lot of that money and everyone else gets a little – a long as someone reads you. But the news that is leading is that Amazon is paying Indie authors $0.006 per page read on the Kindle which sounds far worse.

This means many Indie authors are losing money now but a few aren’t. That’s the bottom line. There are two ways to make money in Indie publishing and neither of them are lucrative for the long tail. First you can write one or two amazing, long books and hope people buy them. Let’s call this the Wool model. Then there is the equally enticing Write, Publish, Repeat model that encourages writers to upload lots of small chapters and give them out for free via KU. As I’ve noted before, both of these models are potentially lucrative as long as the quality is there. However, if you subscribe to the W,P,R model, the fact that your “books” are 10 pages long will hurt you in the new KU market.

But cooler heads seem to be prevailing. A post on the Passive Voice breaks things down for us:

If the reader downloads the book and doesn’t read it, the writer gets nothing. But if the reader even hits a few of the pages, a few pennies will come the writer’s way. However, compared to what happens when a publishing house gets ahold of your novel, KU is a godsend. Furthermore, novelist Hugh Howey adds this:

Ultimately, writers need to face the sad (or, for some, happy) fact that Amazon is changing the way books are sold. Whereas the old method of proposal, advance, distribution, and substandard PR push has worked for most of this century, it was always inefficient. Publishers never knew what would sell, distributors didn’t care what sold, and PR people didn’t know how to sell more. Now that all of this work is in our hands I find it empowering and a bit frightening. Making a book popular is amazingly hard. I try lots of things and fail all the time. But I do know that there is no reason to go back to the old model as long as I am moderately smart about how and what I publish. Best of all, Amazon tends to listen. “You can even complain and hope that Amazon will change back to the old system, because … shocker … it appears that they listen to the indie community and take our opinions seriously and make changes accordingly,” writes Howey, and I agree with him. It’s a fun time to be a writer even if the rules are changing every day.

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Hacking Team, Which Sells Surveillance Tech To Governments, Exposed By Major Hack


One of the technology world’s most notorious providers of surveillance and intrusion software has found itself on the wrong end of an embarrassing hack.

A range of sensitive documents belonging to Italy-based Hacking Team, which is known for working with governments worldwide, appeared to leak out over the weekend, including email communications and client lists. The hackers, who remain unidentified at this time, also took over the group’s Twitter account, using it to post screenshots of emails and other details, as CSO first reported.

Hacking Team is a mysterious organization which has long been thought to sell tracking and hacking software to governments, particularly those in developing markets. The organization describes itself as providing “effective, easy-to-use offensive technology to the worldwide law enforcement and intelligence communities”. One tool that it is known to offer is Davinci, a service marketed at law enforcement organization that can purportedly access SMS, emails, web browsing and more to locate specific targets.

Last year, the organization denied selling technology to “any repressive regime” following a report from a report from Citizen Lab, but early leaks of the files — which weigh it at over 400GB — appear to show government contracts with Kazahkstan, Sudan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others.

In addition, it seems that the company also sold software to private companies. That was something that it denied doing in the past.

Further email correspondence appears to show Hacking Team acknowledge that it supplied technology to Ethiopian authorities which was subsequently used to spy on journalists and activists, per another report from Citizen Lab.

In an apparent leaked note posted to Twitter, Hacking Team COO Giancarlo Russo acknowledged the potential that the client had abused its software, but appeared to bury any concerns around ethics by explaining that a flag had been raised by “two of the newest guys… who may be frightened by this kind of press.”

A further list, posted to Pastebin, claims to show the organization’s client list, which includes government agencies from Australia, Egypt, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey and UAE. The Verge reported in 2013 that Hacking Team made a major push to lure U.S.-based clients, and according to this list, the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency had engaged Hacking Team’s services at one point.

Many of the security community may enjoy the irony that Hacking Team, which is listed on Reporter’s Without Borders’ ‘Enemies Of The Internet’ list, is being exposed so publicly, but there’s a genuine concern that if the organization’s source codes are indeed part of the leaked documentation — which experts are still looking over — then that could grant widespread access to some very powerful tools.

Hacking Team founder Christian Pozzi claimed on Twitter that the hackers falsified information about the company’s services and clients, adding that the company is working with police on the issue.

A further tweet appeared to suggest that the company is shutting down, but it isn’t clearly whether that is genuine or just a reaction to the outpouring of company information into the public domain.

Featured Image: Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock

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