Crispr Therapeutics Plans to Launch Its First Clinical Trial in 2018

In late 2012, French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier approached a handful of American scientists about starting a company, a Crispr company. They included UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, George Church at Harvard University, and his former postdoc Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute—the brightest stars in the then-tiny field of Crispr research. Back then barely 100 papers had been published on the little-known guided DNA-cutting system. It certainly hadn’t attracted any money. But Charpentier thought that was about to change, and to simplify the process of intellectual property, she suggested the scientists team up.

It was a noble idea. But it wasn’t to be. Over the next year, as the science got stronger and VCs came sniffing, any hope of unity withered up and washed away, carried on a billion-dollar tide of investment. In the end, Crispr’s leading luminaries formed three companies—Caribou Biosciences, Editas Medicine, and Crispr Therapeutics—to take what they had done in their labs and use it to cure human disease. For nearly five years the “big three’ Crispr biotechs have been promising precise gene therapy solutions to inherited genetic conditions. And now, one of them says it’s ready to test the idea on people.

Last week, Charpentier’s company, Crispr Therapeutics, announced it has asked regulators in Europe for permission to trial a cure for the disease beta thalassemia. The study, testing a genetic tweak to the stem cells that make red blood cells, could begin as soon as next year. The company also plans to file an investigational new drug application with the Food and Drug Administration to treat sickle cell disease in the US within the first few months of 2018. The company, which is co-located in Zug, Switzerland and Cambridge, Massachusetts, said the timing is just a matter of bandwidth, as they file the same data with regulators on two different continents.

Both diseases stem from mutations in a single gene (HBB) that provides instructions for making a protein called beta-globin, a subunit of hemoglobin that binds oxygen and delivers it to tissues throughout the body via red blood cells. One kind of mutation leads to poor production of hemoglobin; another creates abnormal beta-globin structures, causing red blood cells to distort into a crescent or “sickle” shape. Both can cause anemia, repeated infections, and waves of pain. Crispr Therapeutics has developed a way to hit them both with a single treatment.

It works not by targeting HBB, but by boosting expression of a different gene—one that makes fetal hemoglobin. Everyone is born with fetal hemoglobin; it’s how cells transport oxygen between mother and child in the womb. But by six months your body puts the brakes on making fetal hemoglobin and switches over to the adult form. All Crispr Therapeutics’ treatment does is take the brakes off.

From a blood draw, scientists separate out a patient’s hematopoietic stem cells—the ones that make red blood cells. Then, in a petri dish, they zap ‘em with a bit of electricity, allowing the Crispr components to go into the cells and turn on the fetal hemoglobin gene. To make room for the new, edited stem cells, doctors destroy the patient’s existing bone marrow cells with radiation or high doses of chemo drugs. Within a week after infusion, the new cells find their way to their home in the bone marrow and start making red blood cells carrying fetal hemoglobin.

According to company data from human cell and animal studies presented at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting in Atlanta on Sunday, the treatment results in high editing efficiency, with more than 80 percent of the stem cells carrying at least one edited copy of the gene that turns on fetal hemoglobin production; enough to boost expression levels to 40 percent. Newly minted Crispr Therapeutics CEO Sam Kulkarni says that’s more than enough to ameliorate symptoms and reduce or even eliminate the need for transfusions for beta-thalassemia and sickle cell patients. Previous research has shown that even a small change in the percentage of stem cells that produce healthy red blood cells can have a positive effect on a person with sickle cell diseases.

“I think it’s a momentous occasion for us, but also for the field in general,” says Kulkarni. “Just three years ago we were talking about Crispr-based treatments as sci-fi fantasy, but here we are.”

It was around this time last year that Chinese scientists first used Crispr in humans—to treat an aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial in Chengdu, in Sichuan province. Since then, immunologists at the University of Pennsylvania have begun enrolling terminal cancer patients in the first US Crispr trial—an attempt to turbo-charge T cells so they can better target tumors. But no one has yet used Crispr to fix a genetic disease.

Crispr Therapeutics rival Editas was once the frontrunner for correcting heritable mutations. The company had previously announced it would do gene editing in patients with a rare eye disorder called Leber congenital amaurosis as soon as this year. But executives decided in May to push back the study to mid-2018, after running into production problems for one of the elements it needs to deliver its gene-editing payload. Intellia Therapeutics—the company Caribou co-founded and provided an exclusive Crispr license to commercialize human gene and cell therapies—is still testing its lead therapy in primates and isn’t expecting its first foray into the clinic until at least 2019. All the jockeying to the clinic line isn’t just about bragging rights; being first could be a big boon to building out a business, and a proper pipeline.

Clinical Crispr applications have matured much faster than some of the other, older gene editing technologies. Sangamo Therapeutics has been working on DNA-cutting tool called zinc fingers since its founding in 1995. In November, more than two decades later, doctors finally injected the tool along with billions of copies of a corrective gene into a 44-year-old man named Brian Madeux, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Hunter syndrome. He was the first patient to receive the treatment in the first-ever in vivo human gene editing study. Despite the arrival of newer, more efficient tools like Crispr, Sangamo has stayed focused on zinc fingers because the company says they’re safer, with less likelihood of unwanted genetic consequences.

It’s true that Crispr has a bit of an “off-target” problem, though the extent of that problem is still up for debate. Just on Monday, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that genetic variation between patients may affect the efficacy and safety of Crispr-based treatments enough to warrant custom treatments. All of that means Crispr companies will have to work that much harder to prove to regulators that their treatments are safe enough to put in real people—and to prove to patients that participating in trials is worth the risk. Kulkarni says they looked at 6,000 sites in the genome and saw zero off-target effects. But it’ll be up to the FDA and the European Medicines Agency to say whether that’s good enough to send Crispr to the clinic.

As the Southern California Fires Rage, a Boeing 747 Joins the Fight

The largest and most destructive fire burning in California continues to grow, consuming dry brush as it races not just through but across the canyons north of Los Angeles. Strong winds and dry conditions mean flames can leap large distances, prompting thousands to evacuate their homes. The Thomas Fire has now spread from Ventura County into Santa Barbara County, burning up 230,000 acres—an area larger than New York City and Boston combined. The out of control blaze is on track to become one of the largest in California history.

So firefighters are using the largest tools they have to tackle it, including one that’s more than 200 feet long, and does its work from just 200 feet above the ground.

“We avoid flying through smoke at all costs, but you can smell the fire 200 miles out, even at 20,000 feet,” says Marcos Valdez, one of the pilots of the Global Supertanker, a Boeing 747 modified to fight the fiercest of fires. The jumbo jet can drop 19,200 gallons of fire retardant liquid per trip, nearly double the capacity of the next largest air tanker, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Fully stocked, the plane weighs in at 660,000 pounds, comfortably under its 870,000-pound max takeoff weight.

Step inside (which you can do in the interactive 3-D model below) and you’ll see that the upper floor looks pretty normal, with the cockpit and a few seats. Head down the stairs to the main floor, though, and you’ll see the key changes its owner, Global Supertanker LLC, made when it converted the Japan Airlines passenger plane to a firefighter in 2016: In what looks like the interior of a submarine, you’ll find eight cylindrical white tanks in two rows.

Holding the fire suppressant liquid in separate tanks means the 747, aka The Spirit of John Muir, can make up to eight segmented drops on multiple small fires, or put down a solid two miles of fire line, to try to protect property or contain a fire. The liquid drops through a big hose, through a series of manhole-cover-sized circular nozzles under the plane, near the back. (If you use the “Dollhouse” view on the 3-D model, you can see some of that detail on the very lower deck.)

The plane is based in Colorado Springs, but its owner contracts it out to fire agencies in need. This week it’s flying out of Sacramento, in the northern part of the state. That’s because it can carry so much flame retardant that picking it up in Southern California wouldn’t leave enough for the smaller aerial firefighters. Plus, with a 600-mph cruise speed, it can reach the perimeter of the Thomas fire in just 38 minutes.

The 747 and other fixed wing aircraft sat out the early days of the fight against these fires, because high wind speeds would have blown their liquid retardant unpredictably off course. Though the pink stuff won’t damage people or property (good news for this guy), pilots make an effort to avoid dumping it on firefighters on the ground. The 747 can actually lay such a long line of retardant that it can be used to draw a line to safety for people trapped in a “burn-over” situation, where flames threaten to engulf them.

When the Supertanker reaches a fire, it doesn’t just drop down and fire away. The whole operation is a carefully orchestrated affair. Valdez, the pilot, starts by flying at 1,000 feet up, watching a “show me” flight by a lead plane, usually a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco or Beechcraft King Air. That has likely been in the air for hours, and directs each tanker aircraft exactly where to make its drops, pointing out hazards like power lines or tall rocks over the radio. “They’re using signals like ‘Start at this tree that’s split,’ ‘Fly on the right flank of the fire,’ and ‘I want to you stop at this rock that looks like a bear,’” Valdez says.

Then Valdez pushes the yoke forward until he and his crew are flying 200 to 300 feet above the ground—in a jet whose wingspan is just over 200 feet. Valdez plays down the terror, comparing it to driving next to a concrete barrier down the center of a highway. You know it’s there, and that one wrong move could kill you, but you just keep your heading and your cool.

The whole drop is over in 10 minutes, and then it’s time to head back to Sacramento, making for a two-hour roundtrip. On Friday, the Supertanker performed three drops on the Thomas fire—each gratefully received by the firefighters trying to stop the flames reaching more property, and people.


Fire Storm

Uber heads to court in fight for London survival

LONDON (Reuters) – Uber [UBER.UL] will defend its right to operate in London in a court hearing on Monday after the app was deemed unfit to run a taxi service and stripped of its license in its most important European market.

FILE PHOTO: A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, in London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

Regulator Transport for London (TfL) shocked the Silicon Valley firm by rejecting its license renewal bid in September, citing its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

Uber’s 40,000 drivers, representing around one in three of all private hire vehicles on the British capital’s roads, can continue to take passengers until the appeals process is exhausted, which could take years.

The legal battle pitches one of the world’s richest cities against a tech giant known for its forays into new markets around the world that have prompted bans, restrictions and protests, including by drivers of London’s famous black cabs.

Uber’s lawyers will begin their appeal at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday, in what is expected to be a largely administrative hearing designed to set a date for a fuller hearing next year.

Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi has apologized to Londoners and met TfL Commissioner Mike Brown in October for what both sides described as constructive talks.

Brown told Reuters in November that “there are some discussions going on to make sure they are compliant.”

Months of legal wrangling are likely unless the Silicon Valley app, valued at around $70 billion with investors including Goldman Sachs (GS.N), can come to a new arrangement with the regulator.

“We continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London in order to resolve this,” an Uber spokesman said ahead of the hearing. “As our new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said, we are determined to make things right.”

Losing its London license was just one of many blows to Uber this year as a stream of executives left amid controversies involving allegations of sexual harassment and issues surrounding data privacy and business practices.

In Britain, Uber is looking to appoint a new boss after Jo Bertram announced her departure less than two weeks after London’s decision.

It also faces potential problems in the northern English city of Sheffield where its license has been suspended and in Brighton, southern England, where local officials extended the firm’s license for only six months to give them more time to consider the outcome of the dispute in London.

Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Keith Weir

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

How to Mirror the Transactions of the Cryptocurrency Elite

Cryptocurrencies have experienced remarkable growth this year both in terms of valuation and mainstream awareness. The early adopters claim to understand the potential game changing significance of the cryptocurrency ecosystem as they watch their investments multiply in value by the day.

There are a confluence of factors responsible for this very quick surge in value of various cryptocurrencies, and many suggest that the increased interest that Wall Street is showing in cryptocurrencies and their progeny (ICOs, Blockchain, etc.) is a significant factor for the meteoric rise. The thinking goes that greater acceptance and interest by the legacy financial industry — and particularly in the United States — is seen as a sign of validity by the mainstream.

Yet, traditional financial gatekeepers are still trying to make sense of a changing and unfamiliar world that the crypto/Blockchain natives are starting to implement through transformative use cases from which to leverage the currencies. Such is the case with London based/Gibraltar incorporated Covesting.io, which is developing a platform for information and intelligence aggregation for the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Much of what the company is doing will sound extremely familiar to financial industry veterans who have relied on this type of information curation for decades.

Covesting’s “sizzle” is an innovative platform that allows consumers to mirror the transactions of the cryptocurrency elite. Covesting takes the traditional concept to the next iteration by allowing investors to completely automate the process. “Pick the pro” to follow and the Covesting platform does the rest. The plan is for the platform to track the actual profit/loss performance of the most successful traders, which in theory will emphasize actual numbers and minimize the inevitable hype and shameless self promotion typically associated with Wall Street gurus.

The model sounds great in theory, but there’s a potential roadblock. Transparency may be great for the consumers, but not so great for the “experts.” To entice experts to spread the wealth, Covesting has built in a system that gives experts a commission. The company refers to the incentives as “success fees” for allowing the Average Joe to copy their trades. 

The success of providing this type of information to the consumer is largely predicated on the quality of experts that the company can attract.

Most of Covesting’s promotional efforts are focused on its copy trading platform, but its proprietary potion may be its information aggregation technology. Its white paper states, “We are basically creating Bloomberg for the crypto-market, plus education, plus community.”

Covesting is also involved in the creation of a utility token called COV, that has a limited offer of 20 million tokens. Every token is pre-mined, and all unsold tokens will be burned. Moreover, Technically speaking, Covesting will purchase COV tokens systematically on exchanges and “burn” them. “Burning” means taking purchased tokens off the market, the consequence being that the total COV token supply will decrease.

Covesting, like cryptocurrencies at their core, will confront growing pains. There are concerns that it may be understating the difficulty of attracting experts to the platform and the risk of creating income inequality among traders on the platform. In response to such concerns, the company points to the strength of its management team, the proprietary nature of its product and the partnerships with data and news providers that have already been built.

Lawmaker Working to Ban Sale of Games With ‘Lootboxes’ to Minors

Chris Lee, a member of Hawaii’s state House of Representatives, is drafting legislation that would prohibit the sale of games with randomized in-app purchases, known as “lootboxes,” to gamers under 21 years old. Lootbox systems have been increasingly compared to gambling, as well as drawing the ire of gamers themselves, who derisively refer to the mechanic as “pay to win.”

Lee describes lootboxes as “predatory,” and their randomized nature seems to be built around the same reward structures that make gambling addictive. Lee’s push was highlighted today by Kotaku, and Lee told the gaming outlet that since announcing his proposal, he’s heard stories of children spending thousands of dollars on gaming microtransactions. In one case relayed to Lee, a child reportedly stole a parents’ credit card to pay for game purchases.

Lee’s initative could pave the way to national legislation, and is being documented in videos posted online by his office.

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In taped discussions with aides, Lee has made clear he has no desire to prohibit or restrict in-game purchases as such, as long as rewards are not random.

The marketplace seems to be making some headway in fighting back against lootboxes. Player disgust with the systems reached a fever pitch surrounding Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront II, leading the publisher to remove lootbox elements from the game at launch. The controversy nonetheless seems to have badly tarnished the game, which as of this week has fallen dramatically short of sales projections. Lee — himself an avowed gamer — has previously referred to Battlefront II as a “Star Wars-themed online casino.”

Lootbox sales still drive big revenue for publishers including EA. Lee, a Democrat, told Kotaku that he’s seen interest in and support for his and similar legislation across party lines, but warns that game industry lobbying groups are gearing up to defend the practice.

Start Date for AT&T-Time Warner Antitrust Trial Is Set

The trial to determine if the U.S. Department of Justice can stop AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of media company Time Warner will begin on March 19, a federal judge in Washington said during a hearing on Thursday.

The trial date is almost midway between the Feb. 20 date AT&T had requested and the U.S. government’s preferred date of May 7.

Judge Richard Leon said he would likely not have a decision by the April 22 deadline in the companies’ merger agreement, but would rule in late April or May. “April 22 is not realistic,” he said.

Daniel Petrocelli, who represented AT&T and Time Warner in the pre-trial hearing on Thursday afternoon, did not protest.

“Regarding the April 22 date, I’ll let the client know,” he said.

The next pre-trial hearing was set for Dec. 21.

Time Warner and AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless company which also owns DirecTV, announced their deal in October 2016, but it was not until last month that the Justice Department sued AT&T to block the deal, arguing it could raise prices for rivals and pay-TV subscribers and hamper the development of online video.

The fate of the deal has been widely followed because U.S. President Donald Trump criticized it on the campaign trail last year and because of his repeated attacks on the reporting of Time Warner’s CNN news network.

Trump renewed his opposition to the deal last month.

“I think your pricing’s going to go up, I don’t think it’s a good deal for the country,” he said in November.

It is not clear that Trump’s comments will have an effect on the trial.

“I don’t think it is a great idea to get into all of this (allegations of White House interference) because every deal raises different facts,” said Andre Barlow of Doyle, Barlow & Mazard. “The court is going to decide this case based on the economic realities of the video distribution and content markets and not on President Trump’s public battle with CNN.”

Aside from interest generated by Trump, businesses are closely watching the case as a rare instance of an antitrust agency trying to prevent a company from buying a supplier, as is the case with AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner.

The government usually challenges companies that seek to merge only if they are direct competitors in an already concentrated market.

Once in trial, AT&T will likely push a solution it hopes will be palatable to the judge, who will decide whether the deal may go forward.

AT&T and Time Warner said in a court filing that Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting unit had offered its distributors licensing terms that forbid Turner from “going dark” on a distributor for seven years after the deal closes if they reach an impasse in negotiations. Blackouts are a negotiating tool in carriage disputes between distributors and programmers.

It is not unusual for companies facing a government challenge to respond with such a fix.

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In three cases since 2014 – Sysco buying U.S. Foods, Staples buying Office Depot and Aetna buying Humana – the companies offered a fix but their deals were still deemed illegal by the judge hearing their case and the mergers were scrapped.

Artificial Intelligence Seeks An Ethical Conscience

Leading artificial-intelligence researchers gathered this week for the prestigious Neural Information Processing Systems conference have a new topic on their agenda. Alongside the usual cutting-edge research, panel discussions, and socializing: concern about AI’s power.

The issue was crystallized in a keynote from Microsoft researcher Kate Crawford Tuesday. The conference, which drew nearly 8,000 researchers to Long Beach, California, is deeply technical, swirling in dense clouds of math and algorithms. Crawford’s good-humored talk featured nary an equation and took the form of an ethical wake-up call. She urged attendees to start considering, and finding ways to mitigate, accidental or intentional harms caused by their creations. “Amongst the very real excitement about what we can do there are also some really concerning problems arising,” Crawford said.

One such problem occurred in 2015, when Google’s photo service labeled some black people as gorillas. More recently, researchers found that image-processing algorithms both learned and amplified gender stereotypes. Crawford told the audience that more troubling errors are surely brewing behind closed doors, as companies and governments adopt machine learning in areas such as criminal justice, and finance. “The common examples I’m sharing today are just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. In addition to her Microsoft role, Crawford is also a cofounder of the AI Now Institute at NYU, which studies social implications of artificial intelligence.

Concern about the potential downsides of more powerful AI is apparent elsewhere at the conference. A tutorial session hosted by Cornell and Berkeley professors in the cavernous main hall Monday focused on building fairness into machine-learning systems, a particular issue as governments increasingly tap AI software. It included a reminder for researchers of legal barriers, such as the Civil Rights and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination acts. One concern is that even when machine-learning systems are programmed to be blind to race or gender, for example, they may use other signals in data such as the location of a person’s home as a proxy for it.

Some researchers are presenting techniques that could constrain or audit AI software. On Thursday, Victoria Krakovna, a researcher from Alphabet’s DeepMind research group, is scheduled to give a talk on “AI safety,” a relatively new strand of work concerned with preventing software developing undesirable or surprising behaviors, such as trying to avoid being switched off. Oxford University researchers planned to host an AI-safety themed lunch discussion earlier in the day.

Krakovna’s talk is part of a one-day workshop dedicated to techniques for peering inside machine-learning systems to understand how they work—making them “interpretable,” in the jargon of the field. Many machine-learning systems are now essentially black boxes; their creators know they work, but can’t explain exactly why they make particular decisions. That will present more problems as startups and large companies such as Google apply machine learning in areas such as hiring and healthcare. “In domains like medicine we can’t have these models just be a black box where something goes in and you get something out but don’t know why,” says Maithra Raghu, a machine-learning researcher at Google. On Monday, she presented open-source software developed with colleagues that can reveal what a machine-learning program is paying attention to in data. It may ultimately allow a doctor to see what part of a scan or patient history led an AI assistant to make a particular diagnosis.

Others in Long Beach hope to make the people building AI better reflect humanity. Like computer science as a whole, machine learning skews towards the white, male, and western. A parallel technical conference called Women in Machine Learning has run alongside NIPS for a decade. This Friday sees the first Black in AI workshop, intended to create a dedicated space for people of color in the field to present their work.

Hanna Wallach, co-chair of NIPS, cofounder of Women in Machine Learning, and a researcher at Microsoft, says those diversity efforts both help individuals, and make AI technology better. “If you have a diversity of perspectives and background you might be more likely to check for bias against different groups,” she says—meaning code that calls black people gorillas would be likely to reach the public. Wallach also points to behavioral research showing that diverse teams consider a broader range of ideas when solving problems.

Ultimately, AI researchers alone can’t and shouldn’t decide how society puts their ideas to use. “A lot of decisions about the future of this field cannot be made in the disciplines in which it began,” says Terah Lyons, executive director of Partnership on AI, a nonprofit launched last year by tech companies to mull the societal impacts of AI. (The organization held a board meeting on the sidelines of NIPS this week.) She says companies, civic-society groups, citizens, and governments all need to engage with the issue.

Yet as the army of corporate recruiters at NIPS from companies ranging from Audi to Target shows, AI researchers’ importance in so many spheres gives them unusual power. Towards the end of her talk Tuesday, Crawford suggested civil disobedience could shape the uses of AI. She talked of French engineer Rene Carmille, who sabotaged tabulating machines used by the Nazis to track French Jews. And she told today’s AI engineers to consider the lines they don’t want their technology to cross. “Are there some things we just shouldn’t build?” she asked.

American Airlines Just Decided To Offer Something on its International Flights That Might Upset You

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Here’s the trend.

As U.S. airlines attempt to lessen their offerings to domestic passengers, they have an eye on the world.

Why, United Airlines just decided to use its more cramped Boeing 777-200 planes on some international flights.

Now along comes American Airlines. 

It’s expanding its Basic Economy offering — the one that’s supposedly cheaper, but doesn’t let you bring a full-size carry-on, book a seat in advance, change the flight or go to the restroom (that last one is a joke, so far) — to international flights.

As the Dallas Morning News reports, American is beginning to offer what I prefer to call its Sub-Cattle Class to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Just in time for the holidays.

Yes, you too can spend an hour at the airport wondering which middle seat will be yours. 

You can also hope that your carry-on won’t offend a gate agent who’s having a bad day and incur a $50 charge for being a few millimeters too large.

The deeper truth, sadly, is that Sub-Cattle Class is a mere pricing ruse.

Airlines want you to feel so bad about the mere idea of tolerating it that you’re prepared to spend more to avoid it.

United Airlines’ CFO Andrew Levy recently admitted this was the case.

This strategy appears to be also working for American in the U.S. So why not expand it across the world?

If you can get passengers used to it on the shorter international flights, you can start to slip it onto the longer ones too. 

It used to be that there was a limit that passengers would bear. 

If a flight is over a certain length, surely airlines must offer a little more space, food and entertainment in order to stop those passengers from going doolally.

Now, however, airlines have realized that they can take away things that passengers used to think were basic and charge them more for those very things. 

Inventive, it isn’t. Hard-hearted, it most certainly is. 

The lack of meaningful competition — more than 80 percent of U.S. airplane seats are in the hands of four airline groups — means airlines are in a strong position to dictate. 

I cannot confirm that bench seating is their next big idea.

Google pulls YouTube from Amazon devices, escalating spat

(Reuters) – A rare public spat in the technology industry escalated on Tuesday when Google said it would block its video streaming application YouTube from two Amazon.com Inc devices and criticized the online retailer for not selling Google hardware.

FILE PHOTO: The new Amazon Fire TV is displayed during a media event introducing new Amazon products in San Francisco, California, U.S. on September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/File Photo

The feud is the latest in Silicon Valley to put customers in the crossfire of major competitors. Amazon and Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc, square off in many areas, from cloud computing and online search, to selling voice-controlled gadgets like the Google Home and Amazon Echo Show.

The stakes are high: many in the technology industry expect that interacting with computers by voice will become widespread, and it is unclear if Amazon, Google or another company will dominate the space. Amazon’s suite of voice-controlled devices has outsold Google’s so far, according to a study by research firm eMarketer from earlier this year.

In a statement, Google said, ”Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make (its) Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of (our sister company) Nest’s latest products.

“Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and Fire TV,” Google said. “We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

FILE PHOTO: The new Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet and keyboard is displayed during a media event introducing new Amazon products in San Francisco, California, U.S. on September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/File Photo

Amazon said in a statement, “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website.”

It said it hoped to resolve the issue with Google as soon as possible but customers could access YouTube through the internet – not an app – on the devices in the meantime.

Slideshow (2 Images)

The break has been a long time coming. Amazon kicked the Chromecast, Google’s television player, off its retail website in 2015, along with Apple Inc’s TV player. Amazon had explained the move by saying it wanted to avoid confusing customers who might expect its Prime Video service to be available on devices sold by Amazon.

Amazon and Apple mended ties earlier this year when it was announced Prime Video would come to Apple TV. Not so with Google.

In September, Google cut off YouTube from the Amazon Echo Show, which had displayed videos on its touchscreen without video recommendations, channel subscriptions and other features. Amazon later reintroduced YouTube to the device, but the voice commands it added violated the use terms and on Tuesday Google again removed the service.

The Fire TV loses access to its YouTube app on Jan. 1, Google said. Amazon has sold that device for longer than the Echo Show, meaning more customers may now be affected.

Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Andrew Hay

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Millennials Are Old News: What Do Gen Z Workers Want?

Leaders have spent so much time focusing on how to engage Millennials that most of them forget about Generation Z — the next wave of people (those born between 1995 and the mid- 2000’s) just beginning to enter the workforce.

Gen Z is already separating itself from Millennials when it comes to workplace demands. According to Accenture, the number of college graduates in the U.S. wanting to work for large companies rose 37 percent last year. They see the underemployment struggles of their Millennial predecessors and want to avoid that fate.

To appeal to a new wave of workers, employers must offer training and skills development opportunities to stand out from other recruiters and continue to attract top talent.

How to Appeal to the Next Generation

Gen Z is not entirely different from the Millennial generation. This younger class shares the entrepreneurial drive of their older siblings, with around 72 percent of current high-school students hoping to start their own companies.

Many, however, will not end up as founders of new startups, and they are fine with that fate — if their new workplaces facilitate their success. According to Adecco Staffing USA, 32 percent of Gen Z workers expect to be working in their dream job within 10 years. New college graduates name career growth as their top desire from their first jobs, with fulfilling work and stability tied for a distant second. These young workers are hungry for success, and they expect their employers to let them capitalize on that drive.

Leaders can connect to this workforce by delivering on that expectation, providing Gen Z workers the resources they need to reach their career goals. Follow these tips to position your company as a top destination for the next wave of rising talent:

1. Ask them about values and provide relevant experiences.

Discover what young workers want to do and bring them in to experience a day in the life. Steve Robertson, CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps and Programs and a Gen Z expert, advises company leaders to “Get in touch with Gen Z today. Invite employees’ children or local students to explore the workplace. Make the event meaningful for everyone by showing them career offerings. Let them react and ask them what they value.”

Sponsoring pre-professional programs can be a great way to not only train the workforce of tomorrow, but also keep your company top of mind when program graduates enter the workforce. “These events are great opportunities for Gen Z to collaborate, communicate, and create connections,” says Robertson. “They will come away feeling like their opinions matter and, in turn, you’ll be better prepared for their arrival.”

2. Establish CSR programs and charitable partnerships.

Corporate social responsibility and charitable impact appeal to Gen Z, just as they do to their Millennial predecessors. According to Marketo, 60 percent of Gen Z workers want their work to have a positive impact on the world. Look at brands like TOMS and Apple — both popular Gen Z buys — to see the types of outreach this generation admires.

3. Evaluate company culture.

Gen Z is made up of a diverse group of people, all of whom — despite their commonalities — have different motivations and desires. Create a company culture that rewards curiosity and ambition by providing the social rewards, mentorship, and feedback Gen Z craves, along with the transparency and flexibility they and Millennials both cherish.

Successful organizations today are not only building this rewarding culture, but upholding it as a key identifier for their brands. For example, the media intelligence company Meltwater designed its culture around building and reinforcing an entrepreneurial spirit in its people. This culture, represented by MER — which stands for Moro, Enere, and Respekt — is the Norwegian word for “more,” and it helps the company celebrate achievements without losing the passion to succeed.

4. Add technology to the workplace.

This new generation started using advanced technology in elementary school. Smartphones and iPads are second nature to them, and they become frustrated quickly when companies fail to address simple problems with obvious technical solutions. You won’t need to spend much time training them on technology use, but in exchange, they demand that you keep your company up to date.

5. But prioritize face-to-face communication.

In the office, where most companies now use email and apps like Slack to enable communication between co-workers, Gen Z kicks it old school by favoring more face-to-face communication. Although Gen Z workers were raised on social media, they prefer in-person conversations with their leaders. Treat them with respect by listening to their goals and ideas, then provide consistent feedback so they know their voices are heard.

Just as not all Millennials are the same, not all Gen Z workers want the same things. However, these trends indicate a shift in the demands of the next wave of workers, and companies must adapt to the new environment to attract the best Gen Z talent. Follow these strategies to address the needs of the new generation and create an environment that tomorrow’s workforce would happily call home.

Want to Raise Successful Kids? Start With Today's Google Doodle (and Then Keep Going)

As part of Computer Science Education Week, Google today announced its very first kids coding Doodle: a short interactive game designed to teach kids computer programming. A joint project by three teams — Google Doodle, Google Blockly, and MIT — the Doodle game teaches kids computational thinking as they guide a cute rabbit through a series of challenges in a quest for carrots.

The Google Doodle celebrates the 50th anniversary of Logo, a groundbreaking kids programming language developed in 1967 by MIT’s Wally Feurzeig, Seymour Papert, and Cynthia Solomon. Logo was invented well before the introduction of the personal computer, making it ahead of its time — preparing for a future in which computer programming would be fundamental to a well-rounded education.  

The Doodle also helps kick off Hour of Code, a greater nationwide push to promote kids computer programming in schools. Throughout this week, students around the world will be using their computer lab time to engage in interactive tutorials and games that teach the basic building blocks of coding.

One hour of code is a great starter, and every kid should participate. It should also be just the beginning.

Other countries like the U.K. and Estonia have already added computer science to their mandated curricula for K-12 students. Here in the United States, back in September, President Trump promised a landmark $200 million to the Department of Education for computer science and STEM education in schools. This is a tremendous step in the right direction, and will strengthen the efforts to bring computer science education to every student in the country.

But until we can get computer science into mandated K-12 curricula, here are some things you can do next (and why it’s important):

  • Bring Hour of Code to your home. If your child is participating in Hour of Code this week, ask them about what they learned and encourage them to explore this interest further. If your child’s school is not participating, you can still access the tutorials and games offered on the CS Education Week website. Consider making hour of code a family activity, maybe setting aside one night a week to turn off the tv and play a coding game together.

  • Form an after-school coding club. Consider joining with other parents and your school to set up an after-school coding club so that children can learn to code together. Organizations like Code.org offer several generous grants and provide trainers to help schools put together their own after-school coding clubs. You can also connect with a local coding academy to set up programs at your school, or use online academies with self-guided curricula.

  • Make it fun. Turn your child’s screen time at home into a productive activity by introducing them to the wealth of free kids coding resources online. Sign them up for camps or allow them to self-guide through online tutorials and games to make learning to code interactive and fun.

Our kids are growing up in a fast-paced world of rapid technological change. The way we approach education has to change with the times in order to prepare students for tomorrow’s problems and changes.

Recently I read a Facebook post from a fellow entrepreneur that stated: “Every company regardless of industry must become a technology company or die.” Considering that computing powers nearly every industry from education to farming, from law to business, and construction to medicine, I think his assessment is spot on.

Teaching our kids coding now will give them a fluency in the systems and architecture of tomorrow’s world. From increased focus and concentration to creativity to the ability to problem solve, the skills children learn from coding will aid them in their pursuit of nearly every career path on the planet.  

President Trump's Retweets Top This Week's Internet News Roundup

First off, let’s start with a simple message that is particularly meaningful this week. And really, all weeks. Click here, then come right back. Now please take a moment to consider that Jimmy Kimmel is in a Twitter war with Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, because that’s something that happens in the real world now. Happy holidays, everyone! Oh, and maybe you want to see what’s happening online, for some reason. That’s below. We promise there’s a relatively happy ending this time around.

Twitter Governance, Part 1

What Happened: Forget fiddling while Rome burns, it might be time to update the saying to “tweeting while America heads towards a federal shutdown because of a lack of funds.”

What Really Happened: At the start of the week, political voyeurs in Washington were already thinking about the possibility of a government shutdown, but were heartened by the fact that a deal to avert such a thing was already in the works, with President Trump set to sit down with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to hash out the details. Previously, it seemed to work out, but this time? Not so much. And it’s all because of Twitter.

In response to Trump’s pre-emptive strike, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a few tweets of her own.

And, just like that, the meeting was off. That wasn’t exactly what Trump had hoped for, which led to some speedy spin from the White House.

Meanwhile, some were already suggesting that Trump essentially removing himself from events was the best thing that could have happened for the government as a whole.

As the media tried to work out what in the world was happening, Trump did what he does best: tried to take back control of the narrative.

While many saw this as the spin on high school politics that it was, the ploy certainly appealed to the people it was targeted at: the president’s base.

But after all this, surely the shutdown was avoided and nobody wants it to happen, right? Right?

Oh, good.

The Takeaway: Then again, maybe the president is working on a level no one has considered.

Twitter Governance, Part 2

What Happened: Do you remember “Retweets do not equal endorsements”? It might be time for President Trump to look into that. Or at least choose his retweets a little more carefully.

What Really Happened: Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer weren’t the only people the president alienated via Twitter last week. He also shocked quite a few people when he retweeted three tweets from far-right group Britain First. (Tweets linked above instead of embedded, in case they upset readers.)

(That’s the husband of the murdered British MP whose killer yelled “Britain First” before killing her, in case you’re wondering why the name sounded so familiar.)

Condemnation came from all quarters, it seemed. It was such a breach of both protocol and common sense that British Prime Minister Theresa May responded in an official statement, condemning what the president had done:

Surely in the face of such a serious reaction, Trump would back down and apologize, right?

The response to Trump’s follow-up was swift.

Turns out, lots of people were thinking about that prospective state visit…

So, upsetting the country that has traditionally been one of the strongest allies of the US and tacitly endorsing an organization that shares anti-Muslim content? That didn’t go over well. But at least that was the extent of it, right? Oh, wait: there were also reports that Britain First’s membership was growing as a result of Trump’s patronage. So there’s that.

The Takeaway: For further evidence of how this was received, here’s a reminder that even Piers Morgan turned against Trump on this one.

Meanwhile in the Mueller Investigation…

What Happened: Christmas came early for everyone watching the Russia investigation, as Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI.

What Really Happened: How best to mark the start of the holiday month? Special Counsel Robert Mueller opened it with a gift for those following his investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible contacts with Russia.

Oh, but it turns out it wasn’t just a charge.

Let’s put this in some perspective.

To those thinking that this is a big deal… Well, it really is. (Just look at all the media coverage it’s getting, after all!) But what if it’s even bigger than it looks at first glance?

But whatever could that be? Some have a suggestion:

At the time of this writing, this is all still unfolding, so don’t be surprised if this shows up again in next week’s column.

The Takeaway: Oh, the irony of history.

A Royal Engagement

What Happened: Who doesn’t love a good wedding? Especially when it’s a modern day fairy tale come true, complete with an actual prince.

What Really Happened: But enough about politics! Maybe there are better things happening somewhere else in the world. Does anyone have any suggestions?

That’ll do. It turns out, people were very happy about this news, whether they were leading countries…

…or just pretending to be related to one of the betrothed on television:

(That’s Patrick Adams, who plays Meghan Markle’s husband on the USA Network show Suits, for those who don’t follow such things.)

Turns out, Markle’s real relatives were on board as well, luckily:

But what about the rest of the world?

Oh, you mean this interview?

Yes, it seems that people liked that one.

Of course, this is one of those stories that the media loves, but there’s one story in particular to bear in mind: someone asked Prince Harry how it felt to be marrying Markle “being a ginger”. (“Unbelievable,” was his reply.)

The Takeaway: We shouldn’t forget that this happy occasion wasn’t happy for everyone.

Did You Hear the One About the Cat and the Library?

What Happened: Just let the damn cat into the library, everyone.

What Really Happened: Sometimes it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Especially when there’s a cat who wants to get into the library and isn’t allowed.

And for those looking for a little more backstory…

It turns out, the person responsible for the sign was happy about the attention it got:

But none of this answers the important question at the heart of these things: How does Max feel about his new-found fame?!?

The Takeaway: If Max’s story does somehow turn into a kids’ book, where will this new trend end? Hopefully before this happens:

Apple Might Have Big iPhone Surprises in Store

Future Apple iPhones could be awfully interesting, if recent rumors turn out to be correct.

Over the past several days, several news reports have suggested that Apple may be considering a new iPhone design that includes the ability to fold the device. The company is also said to be working on a new chip for next year’s iPhones that would dramatically improve battery life.

But the news didn’t stop there. Apple Watch is gaining momentum, and the patent battle between Apple and chipmaker Qualcomm is escalating.

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Read on for more about everything Apple-related this past week:

This is Fortune’s latest weekly roundup of the biggest Apple news. Here’s last week’s roundup.

  1. A patent application that Apple filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week described a technology that would allow users to fold and unfold electronic devices like a piece of paper. Some market watchers wondered whether Apple is considering testing the technology on an iPhone that users could fold and take up less space in their pockets. But like other technology companies, Apple frequently files patent applications for ideas that it never brings to market, and this may be one of them.
  2. Apple is said to be working on a chip that would reduce the iPhone’s power consumption and boost its battery life. According to the Nikkei report, Apple’s chip could be added to next year’s iPhones.
  3. Apple was the third-largest wearable-device maker during the third quarter, behind competitors Fitbit and Xiaomi, according to researcher IDC. Apple shipped 2.7 million Apple Watches, just behind Fitbit and Xiaomi, which each shipped 3.6 million of their devices. Apple’s shipments rose 52% year-over-year. Meanwhile, Fitbit and Xiaomi shipments slipped 33% and 3%, respectively, compared to third quarter 2016.
  4. This week, Apple filed a complaint alleging that Qualcomm’s processors that are used to power a variety of Android-based devices infringe upon the iPhone maker’s patents. The complaint was a countersuit to a Qualcomm filing in July accusing Apple of infringing on Qualcomm patents related to processor technology that improves battery life. Both companies have rejected the other’s accusations.
  5. A security researcher this week discovered a flaw in Apple’s latest macOS High Sierra desktop operating system. The flaw allowed malicious hackers to input the username “root” into a login pane in High Sierra with a blank password. After users clicked to “unlock” an account, the operating system would accept the credentials and give hackers full control over the operating system. Apple quickly fixed the problem in a software update that’s available now as a free download to High Sierra users.

One more thing…The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a wearable device called the KardiaBand that can predict and analyze a person’s heart rate. The data is then shared with Apple Watch, allowing people to track their heart rates and get alerts about possible problems in real time.

This Scientist Wants to Bring 'Star Trek' Values to Congress

Vulcanologist Jess Phoenix never expected to be involved in politics. Until recently her life revolved around science—traveling the world to study different volcanoes and running an educational nonprofit. But the environmental record of the Trump administration has motivated her to run for Congress.

“These guys are basically gutting every environmental protection that existed,” Phoenix says in Episode 284 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It’s a trend we have to stop now. We can’t let this continue.”

Phoenix is one of a growing number of scientists who are running for public office, spurred on by the group 314 Action, which helps teach scientists how to organize a political campaign. There’s a growing recognition among them that too many elected officials are ignorant of basic science, and that the only solution is for scientists to get in there and do a better job.

“The science candidates are going to be in favor of things that are scientifically proven to work,” Phoenix says. “That’s the one thing that unites all of us.”

She also has one advantage that sets her apart—the support of Star Trek actors like Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, and John Billingsley, all of whom have appeared in her campaign videos. “John saw the correlation between my positions about issues and the Star Trek universe,” Phoenix says, “and how the ideals of Gene Roddenberry’s future matched up with what I wanted to fight for.”

She says that as a vulcanologist, Star Trek references are a fact of life, since pretty much everyone she meets makes a joke about her studying Vulcans. Her standard response is to give the Vulcan salute and say “live long and prosper.”

“Its convenient because it’s something I actually believe in,” she says. “I do want people to live long and prosper, so I’d say it’s a pretty universally OK message.”

Listen to the complete interview with Jess Phoenix in Episode 284 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Jess Phoenix on Yellowstone:

“When it does erupt again, it will devastate the US. It will basically go east of Wyoming, and it will basically go all the way to Washington, DC. Ashfall has been found—from previous eruptions—all the way over in Virginia. So it has the potential to just be massively devastating. In Southern California we wouldn’t get as much ashfall, but obviously having 75 percent of the country buried under [ash] would cause serious problems. We don’t have to worry about Yellowstone killing us in Southern California, but the rest of the country? Sorry. An eruption that size, a true supervolcano eruption, would devastate not just the US but the entire world. It would screw up economies all around the globe. So it’s not something we want to happen any time soon.”

Jess Phoenix on The Core:

“I was basically in agony through that whole movie. That stuff doesn’t happen. There are no giant crystal caverns under the Earth’s crust. Oh man. I mean, there are crystal caverns that we know about in Mexico, but that’s not the same. That movie made me a little crazy, because I was a friend of someone who knew the writer, and so we got to go to a day-or-two-early screening. And this was in Massachusetts, of all places—I don’t know how we had this connection. But I didn’t know the writer, and they said after the movie, ‘Do you want to go meet him?’ and I was like, ‘No. Sorry. Right now I would be too critical. I’d have to wait.’ I was not that mature at that age either, and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, the science was awful!’”

Jess Phoenix on climate change:

“My dad was very much into ‘Oh, climate change isn’t real’ a few years back. And I would say, ‘Dad, I’m the scientist. I went to school for this. There’s no conspiracy.’ But then I’m really encouraged, because on his Facebook page he shared something that I did, one of the media appearances that I had—I think maybe it was when I was on CNN International talking about why we need scientists in government, Earth scientists in particular—and somebody on his page said, ‘Oh John, it’s just a conspiracy. Follow the money.’ And my dad was like, ‘Well, my daughter’s not getting paid off for this, so I think there’s something to it. I know she stands firm in her convictions’—or something to that effect. So I think he’s starting to see that [it’s real].”

Jess Phoenix on fundraising:

“Some [scientists] have gotten fairly wealthy patenting their discoveries, but for most scientists—particularly Earth scientists—your biggest disadvantage will be that you don’t have a massive, built-in donor network. Because scientists haven’t been politically active. So if I were to call up—and I’ve done this—if I were to call up 10, or 20, or 50 of my scientific colleagues and say, ‘Hey, donate to my political campaign,’ they’re not used to doing that. Lawyers are used to donating to other lawyers running for office, and the same goes for businesspeople, because they make up 80-plus percent of Congress right now. There’s one physicist in Congress—Bill Foster in Illinois—and that’s it. So you can see we have a hard row to hoe.”

Elon Musk Just Delivered On a Bold Bet By Powering Up the World's Largest Battery

Seems like mega-entrepreneur Elon Musk is everywhere these days. I keep waiting to see him on Dancing With the Stars or show up in a role on Game of Thrones

Here’s the latest. The New York Times reported that the State of South Australia announced Friday that it had powered up the world’s biggest battery–the size of an American football field–ahead of an already ludicrously fast 100-day schedule. This timing is notable because the head of Tesla (an organization recently announced as an Inc. finalist for Company of the Year) usually doesn’t hit deadlines–even if he always seems to deliver in the end. 

The battery will store enough energy from nearby wind and solar power turbines to power 30,000 homes.

This matters because Australia has long been facing an energy crisis, with supply falling far short of demand and blackouts all too common. As a result, the cost of electricity has been spiraling out of control. South Australia has the highest energy prices in the world, producing jaw-dropping electric bills for the state’s 1.7 million residents. For perspective, Australians pay 50 to 100 percent more for power than Americans.

The ginormous battery (being hailed by some as “one of this century’s first great engineering marvels”) will provide a reserve of energy to help manage the surge demand times and create an overall more efficient power grid.

While debate rages between proponents of fossil fuels and renewable energy (the former cite the mega-battery as a publicity stunt, the latter as “the future”), one thing can’t be denied. Mr. Musk delivered on one big, hairy, audacious goal. A goal (and a bet) he made in a two-sentence tweet in March, 2017. 

Turns out Musk was chirping that he could and would build a battery that would solve South Australia’s energy problems. Fellow billionaire and Australian Mike Cannon-Brookes called him out, tweeting, “how serious are you” and stating he could deliver the money and politics end of the equation if Musk could do his part. Musk responded with the tweet below:

And in two sentences, Elon Musk had set another audacious goal for the world to see.

When I learned of this, it got me thinking about the power of setting seriously stretch goals. Neuroscience has long touted that the human brain is most creative, receptive and effective when it’s given near impossible goals and forced to innovate to achieve it. 

While Musk’s tweet was a huge PR play, it also illustrates the importance of not just dreaming big dreams, but putting specific goals behind those dreams. Musk is a master at this, but he’s not alone.

In 1974, the founder of Subway restaurants, Fred DeLuca, set an impossibly bold goal for the world (and his employees) to see. At a time before mass franchising was everywhere, with only 200 stores in tow, DeLuca set a goal of getting to 5,000, then 10,000 stores–something his employees couldn’t fathom (this proclamation was covered in an Inc. story in 1994). 

He didn’t have Twitter to proclaim his goal. So he turned to what he had to cement his commitment–the restaurant napkins, upon which he emblazoned the brash goal. 

DeLuca set this goal to stimulate creativity among his employees, creativity that would never have been kicked into gear without the goal itself.

No doubt when Musk committed via Twitter to his goal, employees were forced to up their game too.

So whether it’s big batteries or lots of five dollar foot longs, it doesn’t matter. Set a big goal and you’ll power up and energize more than just a battery–you’ll stimulate serious creativity and innovation. 

Pundits of moonshot goals would say, however, beware the crash of not actually hitting the goals or the risk of not getting employees behind them. There are several ways you can ensure employees are on board with big goals. Most importantly, ensure the employees have had an opportunity to weigh in on the creation of the goals and that the stretch goals are consistent with the purpose and mission of the company and its employees. That way, even if the goals seem nearly impossible, they are at least in line with what employees are used to (and hopefully motivated by).

While this article has offered a peek into the future, let’s end it with a glimpse at the past–a quote from Michelangelo: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that we high too high and miss it, but that we aim too low and reach it.”

5 Simple Ways To Boost Marketing ROI 2X, 5X, Or Even 10X

Channel synergy is an amazing thing. And when you intentionally cook up some good chemistry between paid, earned, and owned marketing channels, you can multiply your results exponentially.

I recently completed extensive research on marketing synergies. (Full disclosure: I consult with TUNE as a mobile economist.)

Here are five stories from marketing experts who synergized paid, earned, and owned channels and achieved outsized results.

Social commerce: 680% boost

Sandra Rand has worked in organic and paid marketing for 12 years, and currently plies her trade for Massachusetts-based agency OrionCKB.

Mixing organic and paid social in the right proportions has helped her massively increase social commerce.

“One client saw a branding video — one that was not product-focused or with a strong call to action to buy — really get traction on Facebook organically,” Rand says. “It resonated because it hit people at an emotional level and sold them into the importance of the company’s mission. Once we put some paid social budget behind it, it took off and sales followed.”

Sales followed, yes, but ad costs went down, and return on ad spend jumped as well:

“This approach, using a video intended for organic as an ad, reduced cost-per-action by 3.6% and increased return on ad spend by 24%. With the increased level of volume, we were also able to increase the number of purchases driven by Facebook 680%!”

Organic social boosts brand …. and sales: 50%

We know that social proof matters. It’s an indicator of success, of authenticity, of longevity, and of influence. In short, it builds brand.

“If there were two Facebook pages selling the same exact product, yet one page had 15 likes and the other page had 15,000 likes, which page would you buy from?” asks Tucker Ferwerda of Zero to Hero. “We have found that the more followers that we have, the more engagement we have, and the more optimized we can make our social media channels, the more our organic and paid reach compliment each other.”

The question is, however: By how much?

“Organic traffic, especially when it’s hyperactive, completes the marketing efforts. Our Instagram accounts that are above 10,000 followers work better and get better conversions than the pages just starting out by at least 50%,” Ferwerda says. The longer someone follows, the more valuable they tend to be, he adds:  “That’s because they are followers, have been around the block longer, and have trusted our brands. Organic traffic converts better!”

Organic social boosts paid and earned web traffic: 1000%

Doing better at organic social can lead to an opportunity to improve paid as well. Perhaps not always as much as TeliApp, a digital marketing firm in New Jersey, managed to achieve for a manufacturing client, however.

Not shockingly, it involves being human and not a sales machine on social.

“For two different clients of ours, one an insurance franchisee and another a home goods manufacturer and distributor, we noticed that posting about current events that are related to their products works better than merely posting about the product itself,” Joshua Weiss, TeliApp’s CEO, says. “The supporting data was overwhelming, and so we modified both their respective organic and paid search campaigns. For one client, we increased their Facebook page following by nearly 1,900%, and their corresponding website traffic by over 1,000% over the same three-day period.”

There are clearly multiple synergies working here.

Better organic social led to better owned media: more fans and followers. Adding paid into the mix — with the learnings from organic social — improved both fans and followers and a mix of earned and paid traffic to an owned asset: the client’s website.

Organic relationship management boosts paid SEM/PPC: 25%

Online relationship management includes reviews of a company and its products, among other things. Focusing on reputation can not only boost your brand, but also improve your click-through rate on paid search ads.

“We did some ORM for a client in Boston who sells medical equipment,” Rahal of Little Dragon Media says. “This resulted in an overall score of 4.8 stars out of 5.”

That in itself is useful, and can lead to better reputation and better organic search placement, higher organic search click-through rates, and probably even better conversion rates when potential customers arrive at your website.

But it also had an impact on paid search:

“We were then able to add the reviews as an ‘ad extension’ on our Google Adwords ads, which improved click-through rate on our ads by over 25%,” Rahal says.

Organic SEO + paid SEM/Shopping ads boosts revenue: 800%

Marketers who don’t seek and exploit synergies between paid and organic marketing channels are missing out on pure gold.

Literally.

Alison Garrison, a senior director of marketing at Volusion, an ecommerce platform for SMBs, saw a long 12 months’ worth of organic search engine optimization hit pay dirt when she added Google Shopping ads.

“After kicking off a Shopping feeds campaign, the SEO work that had been going for about a year gained significant traction, and traffic from organic search increased 325% overall and more than 400% from mobile alone year-over-year,” she says.

But revenue absolutely jumped through the roof as well … including organic search revenue.

“Revenue from organic search increased by 240% during that period,” Garrison says. “Shopping feeds ads were key to success here — overall traffic increased by more than 2,500%, mobile traffic increased by more than 10,000%, revenue increased by more than 800%, mobile revenue increased by more than 80,000% — not a typo.”

Clearly, her client was starting from a small base of web and mobile revenue. Still, the results are impressive.

Channel synergy works

Intention channel synergy building is a smart strategic move for marketers that lowers costs, improves result, and generates lasting value in owned and earned from transient bursts of paid media.

My full report, with many more examples and a deep explanation of how and why channel synergies function, is available here.
 

The Shocking Exits of Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, and Others Give MeToo Even More Urgency in the Workplace

Have you been seeing the hashtag #MeToo on your social media feeds lately? The second half of 2017 has seen an avalanche of sexual misconduct accusations and revelations of high-powered, public figures — in most every case perpetrated by males in the workplace. In response, women began posting on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #MeToo to express that they had also encountered a personal instance of sexual assault or harassment at work, no matter which industry they came from.

Soon, the hashtag took over social media platforms as woman after woman stepped forward to offer their own poignant, personal experiences, ultimately solidifying the idea that sexual harassment and outright assault is still rampant in the workplace. The movement also revealed that a number of notable male figures in a variety of industries — from film and media, to government, to Silicon Valley darlings — were culprits of sexual assault, or inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.

Just yesterday, longtime NBC host Matt Lauer was fired for “inappropriate sexual conduct” in the workplace, following a complaint from a colleague. NBC News Chairman Andy Lack stated that he had read the detailed claim and had reason to believe that Lauer’s actions were not an isolated incident.

And Lauer wasn’t the only one paying the price for a crackdown of sexual assault in the workplace yesterday. Garrison Keillor, the former host and creator of famed radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” has also been fired over a complaint of “inappropriate relations” with a previous coworker. Minnesota Public Radio was informed of these allegations last month and has only recently taken that action.

In addition to the two men mentioned, Charlie Rose was accused of making crude sexual advances toward women who worked on his show (CBS suspended him) and John Lasseter, Pixar’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, recently announced that he too would be taking a six-month leave due to colleagues feeling “disrespected” and “uncomfortable.”

All in all, the #MeToo movement has triggered a wave of important and poignant attention to the issue of sexual assault in the workplace. And companies — and the men and women who lead them — must act swiftly when these accusations and claims arise. If they don’t, not only are they are tacitly supporting a culture that disrespects women, but they are putting their organizations in legal jeopardy. Neither of those outcomes is a recipe for business success.

Promising New Cancer Immunotherapies Have Arrived—But Not For Everyone

In 1891, a New York doctor named William B. Coley injected a mixture of beef broth and Streptococcus bacteria into the arm of a 40-year-old Italian man with an inoperable neck tumor. The patient got terribly sick—developing a fever, chills, and vomiting. But a month later, his cancer had shrunk drastically. Coley would go on to repeat the procedure in more than a thousand patients, with wildly varying degrees of success, before the US Food and Drug Administration shut him down.

Coley’s experiments were the first forays into a field of cancer research known today as immunotherapy. Since his first experiments, the oncology world has mostly moved on to radiation and chemo treatments. But for more than a century, immunotherapy—which encompasses a range of treatments designed to supercharge or reprogram a patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells—has persisted, mostly around the margins of medicine. In the last few years, though, an explosion of tantalizing clinical results have reinvigorated the field and plunged investors and pharma execs into a spending spree.

Though he didn’t have the molecular tools to understand why it worked, Coley’s forced infections put the body’s immune system into overdrive, allowing it to take out cancer cells along the way. While the FDA doesn’t have a formal definition for more modern immunotherapies, in the last few years it has approved at least eight drugs that fit the bill, unleashing a flood of money to finance new clinical trials. (Patients had better come with floods of money too—prices can now routinely top six figures.)

But while the drugs are dramatically improving the odds of survival for some patients, much of the basic science is still poorly understood. And a growing number of researchers worry that the sprint to the clinic offers cancer patients more hype than hope.

When immunotherapy works, it really works. But not for every kind of cancer, and not for every patient—not even, it turns out, for the majority of them. “The reality is immunotherapy is incredibly valuable for the people who can actually benefit from it, but there are far more people out there who don’t benefit at all,” says Vinay Prasad, an Oregon Health and Science University oncologist.

Prasad has come to be regarded as a professional cancer care critic, thanks to his bellicose Twitter style and John Arnold Foundation-backed crusade against medical practices he says are based on belief, not scientific evidence. Using national cancer statistics and FDA approval records, Prasad recently estimated the portion of all patients dying from all types of cancer in America this year who might actually benefit from immunotherapy. The results were disappointing: not even 10 percent.

Now, that’s probably a bit of an understatement. Prasad was only looking at the most widely used class of immunotherapy drugs in a field that is rapidly expanding. Called checkpoint inhibitors, they work by disrupting the immune system’s natural mechanism for reining in T cells, blood-borne sentinels that bind and kill diseased cells throughout the body. The immune cells are turned off most of the time, thanks to proteins that latch on to a handful of receptors on their surface. But scientists designed antibodies to bind to those same receptors, knocking out the regulatory protein and keeping the cells permanently switched to attack mode.

The first checkpoint inhibitors just turned T cells on. But some of the newer ones can work more selectively, using the same principle to jam a signal that tumors use to evade T cells. So far, checkpoint inhibitors have shown near-miraculous results for a few rare, previously incurable cancers like Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal cell carcinoma, and non-small cell lung cancer. The drugs are only approved to treat those conditions, leaving about two-thirds of terminal cancer patients without an approved immunotherapy option.

But Prasad says that isn’t stopping physicians from prescribing the drugs anyway.

“Hype has encouraged rampant off-label use of checkpoint inhibitors as a last-ditch effort,” he says—even for patients with tumors that show no evidence they’ll respond to the drugs. The antibodies are available off the shelf, but at a list price near $150,000 per year, it’s an investment Prasad says doctors shouldn’t encourage lightly. Especially when there’s no reliable way of predicting who will respond and who won’t. “This thwarts one of the goals of cancer care,” says Prasad. “When you run out of helpful responses, how do you help a patient navigate what it means to die well?”

Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb have dominated this first wave of immunotherapy, selling almost $9 billion worth of checkpoint inhibitors since they went on sale in 2015. Roche, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Abbvie, and Regeneron have all since jumped in the game, spending billions on acquiring biotech startups and beefing up in-house pipelines. And 800 clinical trials involving a checkpoint inhibitor are currently underway in the US, compared with about 200 in 2015. “This is not sustainable,” Genentech VP of cancer immunology Ira Mellman told the audience at last year’s annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer. With so many trials, he said, the industry was throwing every checkpoint inhibitor combination at the wall just to see what would stick.

After more than a decade stretching out the promise of checkpoint inhibitors, patients—and businesses—were ready for something new. And this year, they got it: CAR T cell therapy. The immunotherapy involves extracting a patient’s T cells and genetically rewiring them so they can more efficiently home in on tumors in the body—training a foot soldier as an assassin that can slip behind enemy lines.

In September, the FDA cleared the first CAR-T therapy—a treatment for children with advanced leukemia, developed by Novartis—which made history as the first-ever gene therapy approved for market. A month later the agency approved another live cell treatment, developed by Kite Pharma, for a form of adult lymphoma. In trials for the lymphoma drug, 50 percent of patients saw their cancer disappear completely, and stay gone.

Kite’s ascendance in particular is a stunning indicator of how much money CAR-T therapy has attracted, and how fast. The company staged a $128 million IPO in 2014—when it had only a single late-phase clinical trial to its name—and sold to Gilead Science in August for $11.9 billion. For some context, consider that when Pfizer bought cancer drugmaker Medivation for $14 billion last year—one of the biggest pharma deals of 2016—the company already had an FDA-approved blockbuster tumor-fighter on the market with $2 billion in annual sales, plus two late-stage candidates in the pipeline.

While Kite and Novartis were the only companies to actually launch products in 2017, more than 40 other pharma firms and startups are currently building pipelines. Chief rival Juno Therapeutics went public with a massive $265 million initial offering—the largest biotech IPO of 2014—before forming a $1 billion partnership with Celgene in 2015. In the last few years, at least half a dozen other companies have made similar up-front deals worth hundreds of millions.

These treatments will make up just a tiny slice of the $107 billion cancer drug market. Only about 600 people a year, for example, could benefit from Novartis’ flagship CAR-T therapy. But the company set the price for a full course of treatment at a whopping $475,000. So despite the small clientele, the potential payoff is huge—and the technology is attracting a lot of investor interest. “CAR-T venture financing is still a small piece of total venture funding in oncology, but given that these therapies are curative for a majority of patients that have received them in clinical trials, the investment would appear to be justified,” says Mandy Jackson, a managing editor for research firm Informa Pharma Intelligence.

CAR-T, with its combination of gene and cell therapies, may be the most radical anticancer treatment ever to arrive in clinics. But the bleeding edge of biology can be a dangerous place for patients.

Sometimes, the modified T cells go overboard, excreting huge quantities of molecules called cytokines that lead to severe fevers, low blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. In some patients it gets even worse. Sometimes the blood-brain barrier inexplicably breaks down—and the T cells and their cytokines get inside patients’ skulls. Last year, Juno pulled the plug on its lead clinical trial after five leukemia patients died from massive brain swelling. Other patients have died in CAR-T trials at the National Cancer Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.

Scientists don’t fully understand why some CAR-T patients experience cytokine storms and neurotoxicity and others come out cured. “It’s kind of like the equivalent of getting on a Wright Brother’s airplane as opposed to walking on a 747 today,” says Wendell Lim, a biophysical chemist and director of the UC San Francisco Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology. To go from bumping along at a few hundred feet to cruise control at Mach 0.85 will mean equipping T cells with cancer-sensing receptors that are more specific than the current offerings.

Take the two FDA-approved CAR-T cell therapies, he says. They both treat blood cancers in which immune responders called B cells become malignant and spread throughout the body. Doctors reprogram patients’ T cells to seek out a B cell receptor called CD-19. When they find it, they latch on and shoot it full of toxins. Thing is, the reprogrammed T cells can’t really tell the difference between cancerous B cells and normal ones. The therapy just takes them all out. Now, you can live without B cells if you receive antibody injections to compensate—so the treatment works out fine most of the time.

But solid tumors are trickier—they’re made up of a mix of cells with different genetic profiles. Scientists have to figure out which tumor cells matter to the growth of the cancer and which ones don’t. Then they have to design T cells with antigens that can target just those ones and nothing else. An ideal signature would involve two to three antigens that your assassin T cells can use to pinpoint the target with a bullet instead of a grenade.

Last year Lim launched a startup called Cell Design Labs to try to do just that, as well as creating a molecular on-off-switch to make treatments more controlled. Only if researchers can gain this type of precise command, says Lim, will CAR-T treatments become as safe and predictable as commercial airline flight.

The field has matured considerably since Coley first shot his dying patient full of a dangerous bacteria, crossed his fingers, and hoped for the best. Sure, the guy lived, even making a miraculous full recovery. But many after him didn’t. And that “fingers crossed” approach still lingers over immunotherapy today.

All these years later, the immune system remains a fickle ally in the war on cancer. Keeping the good guys from going double-agent is going to take a lot more science. But at least the revolution will be well-financed.

British shipping firm Clarkson reports cyber attack

(Reuters) – British shipping services provider Clarkson Plc on Wednesday said it was the victim of a cyber security hack and warned that the person or persons behind the attack may release some data shortly.

The company’s disclosure, while a relatively rare event in Britain, follows a series of high-profile hacks in corporate America.

Clarkson is one of the world’s main shipbrokers, sourcing vessels for the world’s largest producers and traders of natural resources. It also has a research operation which collects and analyses data on merchant shipping and offshore markets.

The London-headquartered company said it had been working with the police on the incident but did not provide any details about the scale or type of data stolen.

“As soon as it was discovered, Clarksons took immediate steps to respond to and manage the incident,” the company said.

“Our initial investigations have shown the unauthorized access was gained via a single and isolated user account which has now been disabled.”

The company said it is in the process of contacting potentially affected clients and individuals directly, and that it has been working with data security specialists to probe further.

Reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Patrick Graham

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

BoE says banks may be underestimating fintech threat

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s banks may be overstating their ability to stop “fintech” firms stealing customers and eating into profits, the Bank of England (BoE) said on Tuesday.

The Bank of England is seen through the columns of the Royal Exchange in the City of London, Britain, November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The BoE was publishing the results of its 2017 stress test of seven major banks: HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, RBS, Santander UK, Standard Chartered and Nationwide.

For the first time, it included an “exploratory” scenario on how lenders would cope with a seven-year downturn and competition from financial technology – or fintech – firms.

Fintechs offer payment services and aggregate different bank accounts and balances via smartphone apps. New European Union rules from January will make it easier for them to compete with banks.

Fintech is creating opportunities for customers and businesses, BoE Governor Mark Carney said.

“In the process, however, it could also have profound consequences for the business models of incumbent banks,” Carney told a news conference.

The BoE said the banks tested concluded they could cope with prolonged low growth and fintech competition without making big changes to business models or taking on more risk.

The emergence of fintech, however, may cause “greater and faster disruption” to banks’ business models than the banks themselves project, the BoE said.

Fintechs may make it easier for customers to manage their money more effectively to avoid costly overdrafts. They could also direct customers to cheaper credit and avoid going into the red.

“These dynamics seem likely to impact both the quantity and price of banks’ overdraft products, which could lead to a material reduction in their profitability,” the BoE said.

Overdraft revenues contribute 2.6 billion pounds ($3.5 billion)to annual pretax profits at major UK banks, it added. Banks could also lose to fintechs some of the 800 million pounds in fees they charge for providing payments services.

Fintechs may also break or weaken the link between a bank and its customer.

“For instance, in the future, it may be possible for a customer to manage their finances with only minimal direct engagement with their banks.”

Stiffer competition from fintechs means that banks could have to double spending on marketing and cut their aggregate annual pretax profit by a billion pounds.

The BoE said banks in the test may also have overstated their ability to slash costs to maintain steady returns on equity to investors and keep offering a broad range of services.

“Supervisors will now discuss the results of the exercise with banks, including the potential implications of these risks,” the BoE said.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Mark Potter

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

20 Years Ago, Steve Jobs Revealed the Single Word That Led to Apple's Great Success

The power of focus.

Without it, you’re doomed to a life of distraction. A life in which others’ priorities dictate on what you spend your time. As you move from one shiny object to another, you may get lots of things done–but few things ever get done well.

Or, you may find your life is ruled by procrastination, where doing great work is derailed by social media and YouTube videos.

But how can you learn to achieve focus, in a world that is built to distract?

20 years ago, Steve Jobs answered that question.

[embedded content]

In 1997, Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple, the company he had been ousted from over a decade before. He was answering questions for developers at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference when someone raised the topic of “OpenDoc,” a software engineering framework that Jobs decided to kill upon his return.  

In addressing the question about OpenDoc, Jobs took opportunity to drop some major wisdom.

“I know some of you spent a lot of time working on stuff that we put a bullet in the head of,” begins Jobs. “I apologize. I feel your pain.” The audience laughed appreciatively.

He continued:

“But Apple suffered for several years from lousy engineering management. And there were people that were going off in 18 different directions–doing arguably interesting things in each one of them. Good engineers. Lousy management.

And what happened was, you look at the farm that’s been created, with all these different animals going in different directions, and it doesn’t add up. The total is less than the sum of the parts. And so we had to decide: What are the fundamental directions we’re going in? And what makes sense and what doesn’t? And there were a bunch of things that didn’t. And microcosmically they might have made sense; macrocosmically they made no sense.

…When you think about focusing, you think, well, focusing is about saying yes. No. 

Focusing is about saying no.

Boom drops the dynamite.

Focusing is about saying no.

This ability to say no was arguably Jobs’s greatest skill. When Apple brought Jobs back, his first order of business was to shrink the product line–and make sure whatever Apple made, it made extremely well.

“Steve was the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief and the man Steve Jobs once described as his “spiritual partner.” Ives went on to explain why achieving focus isn’t as easy as it appears on the surface.

Jobs would regularly ask him: ‘How many things have you said no to today?’ Ives says he would have “sacrificial” things he turned down. “Well, I said no to this. And no to that,” he would tell his boss. “But he knew that I wasn’t vaguely interested in doing those things anyway.”

“What focus means is saying no to something that you [think]–with every bone in your body–is a phenomenal idea,” he continues. “And you wake up thinking about it. But you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.”

Putting It Into Practice

Whatever your role or position, you’re faced with choices about your work on a daily basis. Should I join this meeting? Do I really want to take on this client or project? Should I focus on this task at the expense of that one?

For many, it’s not easy to say no. You may try to rationalize: ‘I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling. They won’t understand. I’ll find a way to get it all done.’

No, you won’t.

Learning to say no begins by sharpening your emotional intelligence–the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you. By refusing to let temporary emotions lead to permanent decisions, you’ll realize that lack of focus easily leads to regret.

Then, instead of trying to do it all…

You can simply do it right.

So, choose wisely.

Because every time you say yes to something you don’t really want, you’re actually saying no to the things you do.

Best Cyber Monday Tech Deals From Target, eBay, Newegg, and Google

Black Friday has passed, but Cyber Monday—the big online shopping day that falls on the first Monday after Thanksgiving—is just around the corner. That means that there are some great tech deals to be had this year on Nov. 27.

And just because the name Cyber Monday implies that people only have one day to buy something on discount, several retailers like Newegg and Target are extending Cyber Monday into a multi-day shopping fest.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best Cyber Monday tech deals.

Target

The retail giant said have everything on its website at 15% for the week, which Target is pitching as Cyber Week. Additionally, Target (tgt) will unveil special deals on several items each day throughout the week.

Some of the deals include:

  • The Sony PlayStation 4 Virtual Reality Headset, with racing game Gran Turismo included, for $300, a $100 discount.
  • People who buy BeatsX earphones or Beats EP headphones—which cost $150 and $130 respectively—will get a free $20 Target GiftCard.
  • A KitchenAid 4.5-qt. Classic Plus Stand Mixer will cost $200 instead of $260.

eBay

Although technically not a retailer, eBay (ebay) is rounding up some of the best tech deals from its various sellers and making them available for the week, starting Nov. 25.

  • A Samsung 55-inch 4K television will cost $550 instead of $900.
  • An Apple (aapl) iPad Pro with 256 GB and Wi-Fi will cost $750, a 13% discount.
  • An unlocked Apple iPhone 8 with 64 GB will cost $674 instead of $700.
  • The iRobot Roomba 980 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi will cost $760, an 11% discount.

Newegg

Online tech-focused retailer Newegg will be staggering some deals throughout its Cyber Monday event lasting from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30.

Deals valid from Nov. 26 and Nov. 27.

  • A Western Digital 4 TB external hard drive will cost $60 instead of $100.
  • A Western Digital 500 GB solid state internal hard drive will cost $138 instead of $150. There’s a limit of three.

Deals valid from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30.

  • Hyperkin RetroN 1 HD Gaming Console for the NES will cost $15 instead of $30.

Deals valid on Nov. 27 only.

  • The CyberPower Intelligent LCD battery backup and power supply will cost $75 instead of $110.
  • The Corsair Carbide Mid-Tower Gaming Case will cost $40 instead of $50.
  • H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe + State 2017 will cost $35 instead of $45.
  • A MSI gaming laptop will cost $750 instead of $850.

Deals valid from Nov. 27 through Nov. 30.

  • An ABS Lite Gaming Desktop will cost $830 instead of $900.
  • A Dell OptiPlex 3050 Desktop Computer will cost $590 instead of $660

Google

Google (goog) is cutting the price of its Google Home web connected speaker to $80 from $130 starting on Thanksgiving Day and ending at 11:59 pm on Nov. 27, Cyber Monday.

Facebook

The social networking giant (fb) is slashing the price of its Oculus Rift VR headset on both its Oculus online store as well as on Amazon (amzn), Best Buy (bby), Newegg, and Microsoft’s (msft) online store. From Nov. 21 through the end of Cyber Monday, the Rift + touch controller will cost $350 instead of $400.

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Dell

Dell’s Cyber Monday event will start Nov. 25 and last until Dec. 3. Throughout the period, Dell will have a 15% site wide sale on its video game-oriented computers like the Alienware brand as well as its Inspiron models.

Additionally, the company will debut several online deals throughout the week. These include Dell products in addition to those of third-party companies.

  • A Vizio 70-inch 4K television will cost $1,500 instead of $2,000, plus a $200 Dell promotional card.
  • A Microsoft Xbox One S with 500 GB and the video game Battlefield 1 will cost $220, down from $370
  • Dell’s UltraSharp 24-inch monitor will cost $220 instead of $350.

Canadian charged in Yahoo hacking case to plead guilty in U.S.

(Reuters) – A Canadian accused by the United States of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 breach of Yahoo accounts is expected to plead guilty next week, according to court records.

A photo illustration shows a Yahoo logo on a smartphone in front of a displayed cyber code and keyboard on December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Karim Baratov, who earlier this year waived his right to fight a U.S. request for his extradition from Canada, is scheduled to appear in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday for the plea hearing, according to a court calendar seen on Friday.

Baratov, a 22-year-old Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan, was arrested in Canada in March at the request of U.S. prosecutors. He later waived his right to fight a request for his extradition to the United States.

Andrew Mancilla, Baratov’s lawyer, declined to comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges in March against Baratov and three other men, including two officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for their roles in the 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo accounts.

Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), the largest U.S. wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo Inc’s assets in June.

Prosecutors said that the FSB officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, directed and paid hackers to obtain information and used Alexsey Belan, who is among the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted cyber criminals, to breach Yahoo.

When the FSB officers learned that a target had a non-Yahoo webmail account, including through information obtained from the Yahoo hack, they worked with Baratov, who was who paid to break into at least 80 email accounts, prosecutors said.

The individuals associated with the accounts they sought to access included Russian officials, the chief executive of a metals company and a prominent banker, according to the indictment.

At least 50 of the accounts Baratov targeted were hosted by Google, the indictment said.

Tuesday’s proceedings before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria are scheduled as a “change of plea” hearing.

Baratov, the only person arrested to date in the case, previously in August pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit computer fraud, conspiring to commit access device fraud, conspiring to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

O Tidings Of Comfort And Joy For Realty Income Investors

Last week I noticed a Realty Income (NYSE:O) press release announcing that they were redeeming $550 million of 6.75% notes that were not due until August 15, 2019 and that they were going to pay a substantial amount of unearned interest to the note holders:

Realty Income To Redeem All Outstanding 6.75% Notes Due 2019

Nov 15, 2017

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 15, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Realty Income Corporation (Realty Income, NYSE: O), The Monthly Dividend Company®, today announced that it intends to redeem all $550 million in principal amount of its outstanding 6.75% notes due August 15, 2019 (CUSIP No. 756109AK0) (the “Notes”). The redemption date for the Notes will be December 15, 2017 (the “Redemption Date”).

The estimated redemption price for the Notes will be $1,101.62 per $1,000 principal amount of the Notes, representing 100% of the principal amount of the Notes being redeemed, accrued and unpaid interest thereon to the Redemption Date and a “make-whole” amount calculated in accordance with the indenture governing the Notes. [More…]

I wondered why Realty Income would redeem these notes at this time and pay a significant amount of interest not due until 2019? One thought I had was that it would make sense if they were doing it as part of a strategy to earn a credit rating upgrade.

Well on November 21, 2017, Moody’s upgraded Realty Income:

Moodys

Rating Action: Moody’s upgrades Realty Income to A3; stable outlook

Global Credit Research – 21 Nov 2017

New York, November 21, 2017 — Moody’s Investors Service (“Moody’s”) upgraded the senior unsecured rating of Realty Income Corporation [NYSE: O] to A3 from Baa1. The outlook is stable.

The upgrade to A3 reflects the REIT’s long track record in maintaining conservative balance sheet metrics, exceptionally strong ability to obtain long-term financing at low costs, and a geographically diverse net-lease retail portfolio with steady operating performance throughout real estate cycles. The A3 rating also recognizes the depth and experience of Realty Income’s management team. [more…]

This is very good holiday news for investors in Realty Income. The new higher investment grade rating will enable the company to lower its cost of capital, which will increase profit margins and support increased distributions to shareholders going forward.

About The Company

Realty Income was “Founded in 1969 to provide investors with monthly dividends that increase over time.”

The company acquires commercial real estate leased to selected high quality tenants on long-term lease agreements, typically 10–20 years, with built in rent escalation terms. The leases are structured so that the tenant is responsible for the operating expense for the property (taxes, insurance, and maintenance), an arrangement called Triple-net. The lease payments received each month are used to support predictable monthly dividend payments to our investors.

The stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange for public trading in 1994 with the trading symbol “O.” The company is a member of the S&P 500 index and the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats index. As of November 22, 2017, the company’s stock closed at $58.56 and the yield is 4.5% paid monthly. The company headquarters is located in San Diego, California.

Portfolio

Realty Income seeks tenants with proven success operating businesses that provide non-discretionary goods and services at low price points. The company now owns over 5000 free standing commercial properties in prime locations with good visibility, evenly distributed among 49 states roughly in proportion to population, and leased to tenants engaged in Retail 79.9%, Industrial 12.8%, Office 5.1%, and Agriculture 2.2%.

The average remaining lease term is about ten years with staggered lease expirations. Current occupancy is 98.3%; the lowest occupancy the company experienced was 96.6% during 2010.

Most tenants operate commercial retail businesses that provide non-discretionary goods and services at low price points. 46% of revenue comes from tenants with investment grade credit ratings.

Top 20 Tenants

Company management is well aware of the risks posed to the retailer by expanding e-commerce development and has responded by seeking tenants with limited risk. 20% of total portfolio rent revenue now comes from tenants with no exposure to e-commerce risk. 77% of rent comes from retail tenants with at least one of four risk-controlling characteristics: service industry, non-discretionary product, low price point, or an investment grade rating.

eCommerce Defense Strategies
Performance

The company has been an extremely reliable investment since going public in 1994, outperforming almost every alternative public investment opportunity.

Realty Income Historical Performance versus IndicesThe portfolio of high-quality tenants with long-term leases with built-in rent escalators allowed the company to raise its dividend every year right through the great recession. What a great place to have your retirement savings during times of economic uncertainty and stress.

Uninterrupted Annual Dividend ncreases 1994 - 2017Quality Of Management

When I review the list of the top 20 tenants above, I see a few businesses that give me a little concern. I think Walgreens (NASDAQ:WBA) may be challenged as more prescriptions are filled remotely and delivered to the customer through the mail, which may reduce traffic in the stores. I am not 100% confident about the viability of the cinema business as it now exists. But if I see these risk factors, I have 100% confidence that Realty Income management have already considered them and have a plan to monitor and manage these risks just as effectively as they have managed tenant risks over the past 48 years.

Valuation

I am not a trader or a market timer. I only recommend investors consider this company as a long-term investment.

Realty Income stock closed at $56.35 on November 22, 2017. Based on the most recent monthly dividend of $0.212, the annualized yield is 4.52%. The price earnings ratio is 48.20 and the price/FFO ratio is 18.3 based on the third quarter FFO per share annualized. Realty Income is not cheap at this price but it is selling below its highest historical valuation.

I expect that as news of the credit upgrade is considered by the investment community, it will have a significantly positive impact on the value of Realty Income stock.

Happy Holidays!

Disclosure: I am/we are long O.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

The impacts on storage and compliance from Blockchain, robots and IoT

At Web Summit in Lisbon, key issues for storage and compliance included the internet of things (IoT), Blockchain, biometrics and always-available health data.

In this podcast, Computer Weekly storage editor Antony Adshead talks with the CEO of Vigitrust, Mathieu Gorge, about the implications for storage and compliance of always-available healthcare data, biometric security methods and the data generated, Blockchain, and human-robot interaction in internet of things deployments.

Antony Adshead: What is Web Summit, why is it important, and what key themes emerged with regard to storage and compliance?

Mathieu Gorge: The Web Summit has been held every year for the past 10 years. It grew from 400 people to more than 59,000 people this year, and is currently held in Lisbon. The founder is Paddy Cosgrave, who started it in Dublin, but it got so big it needed a new home.

Web Summit is organised in different tracks. There are tracks for startups, for scaling companies and for enterprises. It’s a mix of 24 different summits; some focus on software as a service (SaaS), some on compliance and others on next-generation IT, which is primarily the IoT and robots at the moment.

It allows people to get a feel for everything web-based, and any type of new solutions that are coming out. It also has a number of keynote speakers that come in from large organisations, but also innovative startups. It’s always excellent to learn and it’s very good for networking.

Adshead: Could you expand on key themes that emerged with regard to storage and compliance?

Gorge: If I look very briefly at four key things, the first one is startups. There is always a number of them that pitch every day at Web Summit.

There was a trend around solutions to do with health data; how we build solutions that allow consumers to have a full overview of their health status in such a way that it’s available and securely stored on the cloud, and that they can get access to that information anywhere and anytime so they can get treatment anywhere in the world. There were a number of innovative solutions there that were showcased.

The second was security and compliance; new ideas on how we can provide strong authentication and identity management. There was a lot of focus on biometrics, looking at your eyes, fingerprints and a mix of different things.

These are not necessarily groundbreaking, but there was an emphasis that wasn’t there last year. It was coupled with the question of how we store those credentials from a security perspective. Is it stored on the go, in vaults or in dynamic storage? Again, there are a number of startups in that domain.

Focusing on Blockchain

Third is Blockchain. There were a number of keynotes around Blockchains; some around what an initial coin offering is, how it works, why it is good for startups and the industry, and what it allows you to do. It was interesting to see heavy hitters like Tim Draper speaking on the main stage.

Finally, there was the concept of the IoT, focusing on the advent of the first robots coming out in the market and how those devices become intelligent through AI. From a storage and compliance perspective, they accumulate information about humans and our interaction with robots. One of the key questions asked how we make sure this is done in a correct and secure way; as well as how we make sure it is done in compliance with the new EU GDPR, because it’s going to be very hard to track everything.

Virtual reality boom brings giant robots, cyberpunk castles to China

GUIYANG, China (Reuters) – Giant robots and futuristic cyberpunk castles rise out of lush mountain slopes on the outskirts of Guiyang, the capital of one of China’s poorest provinces.

A view of the Oriental Science Fiction Valley theme park at sunset, in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China November 16, 2017. Picture taken November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joseph Campbell

Welcome to China’s first virtual reality theme park, which aims to ride a boom in demand for virtual entertainment that is set to propel tenfold growth in the country’s virtual reality market, to hit almost $8.5 billion by 2020.

The 330-acre (134-hectare) park in southwestern Guizhou province promises 35 virtual reality attractions, from shoot-‘em-up games and virtual rollercoasters to tours with interstellar aliens of the region’s most scenic spots.

“After our attraction opens, it will change the entire tourism structure of Guizhou province as well as China’s southwest,” Chief Executive Chen Jianli told Reuters.

“This is an innovative attraction, because it’s just different,” he said in an interview at the park, part of which is scheduled to open next February.

The $1.5-billion Oriental Science Fiction Valley park, is part of China’s thrust to develop new drivers of growth centered on trends such as gaming, sports and cutting-edge technology, to cut reliance on traditional industries.

In the push to become a center of innovative tech, Guizhou is luring firms such as Apple Inc, which has sited its China data center there, while the world’s largest radio telescope is in nearby Pingtang county.

Staff members stand underneath a giant robot statue at the Oriental Science Fiction Valley theme park in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China November 16, 2017. Picture taken November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joseph Campbell

The park says it is the world’s first of its kind, although virtual reality-based attractions from the United States to Japan already draw interest from consumers and video gamers seeking a more immersive experience.

The Guiyang park will offer tourists bungee jumps from a huge Transformer-like robot, and a studio devoted to producing virtual reality movies. Most rides will use VR goggles and motion simulators to thrill users.

Slideshow (9 Images)

“You feel like you’re really there,” said Qu Zhongjie, the park’s manager of rides. “That’s our main feature.”

China’s virtual reality market is expected to grow tenfold to 55.6 billion yuan ($8.4 billion) by the end of the decade, state-backed think-tank CCID has said.

Farmers in the nearby village of Zhangtianshui said they were concerned about pollution from big developments, but looked forward to the economic benefits a new theme park would bring. Most were less sure about virtual battles or alien invasions, though.

“There are lots of good things that come out of these projects,” one farmer, Liu Guangjun, told Reuters. “As for the virtual reality, I don’t really understand it.”

($1=6.5849 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Joseph Campbell in GUIYANG; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Clarence Fernandez

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Miramax, Weinstein, Hollywood and Sexual Harassment The number one way to gut-check your company's culture.

The flood of women coming forward in recent weeks to tell their stories of “Me Too” has shed a light on the fact that it’s not only Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood but our country at large that has created a culture of mindlessness when it comes to sexual harassment.

These revelations are raising awareness across the business sector as companies try to make sure they and their employees do not fall prey to a mindless culture.

Brenda’s story.

Brenda was a newly minted VP on her first business trip with Miramax. She had turned in early after dinner as to make a good impression on her boss and fellow employees leaving them in the bar downstairs.

When she woke up to a knock on her hotel room door, the voice on the other side was a familiar one, so she opened it.  

Before she knew what was happening, her boss pushed the door open and threw her on the bed. He pinned her down but was drunk and she managed to wriggle away, locking herself in the adjoining room.

Weeks later her boss had not spoken a word to her about that night. No conversations, no “I’m sorry,” it was business as usual.

When she mustered up the courage to confide in her boss’ boss, he apologized for the unfortunate incident, but he let her know that if she went public, he would deny their conversation ever happened.

I asked Brenda if the fear of it happening again stayed with her while she was at Miramax. She said, “Oh yeah, it wasn’t if, in my mind, it was when. I learned that’s how it was there.”

In business, we talk about culture. It’s a buzzword. How do you create a good, a healthy, a positive, a winning–the adjectives abound followed by the 4, 5 or 6 steps you need to create that culture.

But the culture of your business doesn’t live in your mission statement or in your HR manuals, it’s a living breathing thing. It lives in the decisions you make and in the way you handle people, especially those who have less power.

A culture is a set of set of norms, values, and behaviors of a group. One definition says it’s the way we do things around here. However, if those ideals are left to collect dust in the pages of your mission statement, your mission will get lost.

The biggest reason the culture of a business will fail is mindlessness. When a group or a company of people go mindless, they begin to accept things they would not normally accept under the banner of this is the way it’s done around here, regardless of what it says in the manuals.

In a mindless culture, all manner of bad, unsafe and repugnant behavior can become part of a company’s tacit traditions, including sexual harassment. These behaviors infect and redefine a group’s stated core values.

Mindlessness can become systemic, as employees old and new become acceptant of the prevailing culture that is practiced, not preached.

Brenda experienced the real values held at Miramax. At minimum, her bosses were supporting a culture of mindlessness with respect to women and they expected Brenda to drink the Kool-aid.

The systemic mindlessness of Hollywood is being exposed as scores of actresses are coming forward with remarkably similar stories of sexual abuse.

Many of these women, like Rachel Mcadams, were sent to hotel meetings with predators by their own agents, some of whom were also women, aware of the danger but gave no warning.

In order to weed out systemic mindlessness and any accepted norms that go against their core values, companies need to gut-check their culture.

Introducing mindfulness, the practice of being present and attuning to the people around us can help employers better monitor the direction their company’s culture has taken.

Employees trained in mindfulness are not as susceptible to the priming of a culture, especially if it is wrought with questionable values. Mindfulness practitioners are proving to be more compassionate toward others and are prone to make moral choices.

One surprising study showed that mindful people are less likely to fall prey to the “bystander-effect” and are more likely to speak up when confronted with the suffering of others or injustice.

Some of the old guard in Hollywood has admitted to knowing about the sexual misconduct of Weinstein and others but did nothing. The “bystander-effect” was a key reason so many in Hollywood stayed quiet for so long.

Creating a space that is safe and supportive for employees to speak openly and honestly about their experiences goes a long way toward maintaining a company’s integrity.

While sensitivity training is important, it falls short of creating a culture that is aware, compassionate and attuned to others.

We have an opportunity in this moment to become mindful of how power is wielded and lorded over others. It’s time for a gut-check, not only of our business culture but the culture of our country at large.

YouTube steps up takedowns as concerns about kids' videos grow

(Reuters) – YouTube stepped up enforcement of its guidelines for videos aimed at children, the unit of Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google said on Wednesday, responding to criticism that it has failed to protect children from adult content.

A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration

The streaming video service removed more than 50 user channels in the last week and stopped running ads on over 3.5 million videos since June, YouTube vice president Johanna Wright wrote in a blog post.

“Across the board we have scaled up resources to ensure that thousands of people are working around the clock to monitor, review and make the right decisions across our ads and content policies,” Wright said. “These latest enforcement changes will take shape over the weeks and months ahead as we work to tackle this evolving challenge.”

YouTube has become one of Google’s fastest-growing operations in terms of sales by simplifying the process of distributing video online but putting in place few limits on content.

Parents, regulators, advertisers and law enforcement have become increasingly concerned about the open nature of the service. They have contended that Google must do more to banish and restrict access to inappropriate videos, whether it be propaganda from religious extremists and Russia or comedy skits that appear to show children being forcibly drowned.

Concerns about children’s videos gained new force in the last two weeks after reports in BuzzFeed and the New York Times and an online essay by British writer James Bridle pointed out questionable clips.

A forum on the Reddit internet platform dubbed ElsaGate, based on the Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) princess, also became a repository of problematic videos.

Several forum posts Wednesday showed support for YouTube’s actions while noting that vetting must expand even further.

Common Sense Media, an organization that monitors children’s content online, did not immediately respond to a request to comment about YouTube’s announcement.

YouTube’s Wright cited “a growing trend around content on YouTube that attempts to pass as family-friendly, but is clearly not” for the new efforts “to remove them from YouTube.”

The company relies on review requests from users, a panel of experts and an automated computer program to help its moderators identify material possibly worth removing.

Moderators now are instructed to delete videos “featuring minors that may be endangering a child, even if that was not the uploader’s intent,” Wright said. Videos with popular characters “but containing mature themes or adult humor” will be restricted to adults, she said.

In addition, commenting functionality will be disabled on any videos where comments refer to children in a “sexual or predatory” manner.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; editing by Clive McKeef

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Uber says cyber breach compromised data of 57 million users, drivers

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] failed to disclose a massive breach last year that exposed the data of some 57 million users of the ride-sharing service, the company’s new chief executive officer said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai, India, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Discovery of the company’s handling of the incident led to the departure of two employees who led Uber’s response to the incident, said Dara Khosrowshahi, who was named CEO in August following the departure of founder Travis Kalanick.

Khosrowshahi said he had only recently learned of the matter himself.

The company’s admission that it failed to disclose the breach comes as Uber is seeking to recover from a series of crises that culminated in the Kalanick’s ouster in June.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Uber is seen on an iPad, during a news conference to announce Uber resumes ride-hailing service, in Taipei, Taiwan April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo –

According to the company’s account, two individuals downloaded data from a third-party cloud server used by Uber, which contained names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers of some 57 million Uber users around the world. They also downloaded names and driver’s license numbers of some 600,000 of the company’s U.S. drivers, Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.

He said he had hired Matt Olsen, former general counsel of the U.S. National Security Agency, to help him figure out how to best guide and structure the company’s security teams and processes.

The chief executive of Uber Technologies Inc, Dara Khosrowshahi attends a meeting with Brazilian Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles (not pictured) in Brasilia, Brazil October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Khosrowshahi said in the blog post.

“While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes,” he said. “We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.”

(Corrects paragraph 1 to data instead of date)

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Uber CEO says company failed to disclose massive breach in 2016

(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] failed to disclose a massive breach last year that exposed the data of some 57 million users of the ride-sharing service, the company’s new chief executive officer said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick speaks to students during an interaction at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campus in Mumbai, India, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Discovery of the company’s handling of the incident led to the departure of two employees who led Uber’s response to the incident, said Dara Khosrowshahi, who was named CEO in August following the departure of founder Travis Kalanick.

Khosrowshahi said he had only recently learned of the matter himself.

The company’s admission that it failed to disclose the breach comes as Uber is seeking to recover from a series of crises that culminated in the Kalanick’s ouster in June.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Uber is seen on an iPad, during a news conference to announce Uber resumes ride-hailing service, in Taipei, Taiwan April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo –

According to the company’s account, two individuals downloaded data from a third-party cloud server used by Uber, which contained names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers of some 57 million Uber users around the world. They also downloaded names and driver’s license numbers of some 600,000 of the company’s U.S. drivers, Khosrowshahi said in a blog post.

He said he had hired Matt Olsen, former general counsel of the U.S. National Security Agency, to help him figure out how to best guide and structure the company’s security teams and processes.

The chief executive of Uber Technologies Inc, Dara Khosrowshahi attends a meeting with Brazilian Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles (not pictured) in Brasilia, Brazil October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Khosrowshahi said in the blog post.

“While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes,” he said. “We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers.”

(Corrects paragraph 1 to data instead of date)

Reporting by Jim Finkle in Toronto; Editing by Tom Brown

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Whether They’re Calling It A Fraud, Bubble Or World Changer, A Lot of Companies Are Talking About Cryptocurrency

J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon thinks bitcoin is a “fraud.” Investor Mark Cuban called it “a bubble.” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is still undecided. But whether or not executives believe in the potential of bitcoin, ethereum or blockchain technology, they and their companies can’t avoid talking about cryptocurrencies.

Mentions of “cryptocurrency” (digital currencies not tied to any country’s legal tender) and related terms including “bitcoin” and “ethereum” (the two most popular cryptocurrencies), “blockchain” (the technology underlying these currencies), and “initial coin offering” (or ICO, which lets companies raise capital through the creation of a new cryptocurrency) have skyrocketed over the last seven years, according to data from Sentieo, a financial research firm.

In total, 1,200 publicly traded companies have generated over 12,000 mentions of digital currency during the past 14 years.

With another month left to go in 2017, references to cryptocurrency in corporate communications are already double what they were in all of 2016, according to a Fortune analysis of the Sentieo data. And they’re up more than 7,000% since 2010, when admittedly only a handful of companies had talked about “digital currency” during earnings calls or presentations.

It began with ‘digital currency’ … and getting bitcoin’s name wrong

From 2009 through 2012, most of the mentions only referenced “digital currency,” which includes cryptocurrencies, along with other money recorded electronically or stored in another device. Players in the digital currency space, like PayPal and Square, had to address cryptocurrencies earlier than most.

In a March 2014 statement to eBay shareholders about PayPal’s IPO, Carl Icahn calls bitcoin “the digital currency Mr. [Marc] Andreessen cheerleads for.”

Amusingly enough, bitcoin was actually misidentified in its first actual mention by name during Discover’s 2013 annual meeting.

“One of the questions I’ve put down, the subject is bio coin,” a shareholder began to say.

Discover CEO David Nelms course-corrected. “You mean bitcoins?”

“Yes, bitcoins. You’re a good listener,” the shareholder said. “You picked it up. ”

Fortune analyzed Sentieo data from earnings call transcripts, press releases, presentations, and SEC filings — 8Ks and 10Ks. Cryptocurrency and related terms pop up in press releases most often, followed by SEC filings and presentations. And that’s to be expected. Most companies publish press releases a lot more frequently than they submit SEC filings or hold earnings calls.

A lot of financial institutions mention it only to say it’s irrelevant, or deny its ability to disrupt their industry

Less than 20% of the S&P 500 appear among the 1,200 companies talking about cryptocurrencies, and only 65 hail from the 2017 Fortune 500 list. Information technology and finance companies, unsurprisingly, have discussed the topic more fervently than other industries.

Many times, large financial institutions have brought up cryptocurrency because they’re denying its importance or expressing disinterest in bitcoin. But some companies in the consumer-facing fintech subset have been talking about it because they’re planning to adopt parts of the new technology.

“Cryptocurrency will be almost a gimmick at first,” Benjamin Jessel, managing principal at Capco, told Fortune. “Institutional investment will come later.”

He leads a variety of digital risk, compliance and strategy projects and programs for financial services clients.

It’ll be a while before anyone can say cryptocurrencies have truly disrupted financial institutions, he said. But there’s signs it could come to pass. Companies like Square and American Express have been working on allowing consumers the option to pay with cryptocurrencies.

Overstock.com has embraced cryptocurrencies more than any of its peers

Of the 1,200 companies that Fortune analyzed, Overstock.com stood out. It has talked about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology more than any other firm.

The retailer has allowed customers to buy products with bitcoin since January 2014 and recently expanded payment options to include Ethereum and about 40 other major digital currencies.

“We think that at some point there will be … Bitcoin will hit a tipping point and like it took time for people to adopt PCs and the Internet, at some point there is a tipping point and this could become … Bitcoin could become as ubiquitous as PCs and the Internet are now,” said Jonathan Johnson, Overstock.com executive Vice Chairman Jonathan in January 2014.

Overstock.com’s CEO Patrick Byrne was an early believer in the importance of cryptocurrencies, too. It doesn’t just show in earnings calls and SEC filings. One of Overstock’s subsidiaries, tZero, has made it possible to trade tokens using blockchain technology in a regulatory-free environment.

“Three years ago I stood up in front of an audience for the opening keynote speech at Bitcoin 2014, in Amsterdam, and told the world that the main event of Bitcoin is not Bitcoin, it is the Blockchain, and it would change the world,” Byrne said at the Money 20/20 conference last month.

But Overstock.com executives were the outliers. There’s been heated debate about whether there is a bitcoin bubble.

“We’re certainly in something that resembles a bubble,” Jessel said.

He points to the sheer amount of capital invested in a short time period — more than $2 billion in initial coin offerings (ICOs) in 2017— along with the low sophistication of investors. More and more people are buying tokens like Bitcoin and Ethereum, but very few are using them for anything other than trading.

The infrastructure for cryptocurrencies is growing very rapidly and generating lots of conversation, like what’s been captured in the Sentieo data. But the truth is very few companies are making money from using the technology.

“It’s like a whole industry building roads,” Jessel said, “and they haven’t discovered cars yet.”