SF judge denies Lime’s request to block electric scooter deployment

A judge today denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order that would block Skip and Scoot from deploying their electric scooters in San Francisco on Monday. This means San Franciscans will be able to use electric scooter services again first thing next week.

Following the SFMTA’s decision to grant Skip and Scoot electric scooter permits, Lime sent an appeal requesting the agency reevaluate its application. At the time, the SFMTA said it was “confident” it picked the right companies. Just yesterday, Lime said it believed “that it has no choice but to seek emergency relief in the court” and take legal action.

“We’re pleased the court denied Lime’s request for a temporary restraining order,” John Cote, communications director for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement to TechCrunch. “The bottom line is the judge said he would not stop the permits from being issued on Monday. The SFMTA’s permit program has been both fair and transparent. Lime just didn’t like the outcome. The reality is that Lime’s application fell notably short of its competitors. That’s why it didn’t get a permit. San Franciscans deserve scooter services that are safe, equitable and accountable, which is exactly what this pilot program was designed to do.”

While Lime didn’t quite get what it wanted, Lime says it still sees this as a victory. In a statement to TechCrunch, Lime Head of Communications Jack S. Song said:

The Honorable Harold E. Kahn voiced serious concerns about the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s (SFMTA) permit process and ordered expedited discovery into the SFMTA’s selection process.  In a rare move, the Judge ordered five key SFMTA officials and staff — including Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin himself — to testify next week. There will be another public hearing on this issue before Judge Kahn in mid-November, where the SFMTA will be required to answer to the people of San Francisco, and explain exactly what happened in the SFMTA’s biased selection process.  

We look forward to having our preliminary injunction request heard in the coming days — to ensure that the people of San Francisco receive a transparent, fair and equitable process that best serves the entire City and County.

Our decision to file this lawsuit was not about preventing other operators from going forward; it was about exposing the biased and flawed process of the SFMTA, standing up for the rule of law, and serving Lime’s hometown.

Stephen Hawking’s final paper about black holes is now online

Stephen Hawking href=”https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/13/stephen-hawking-has-died-at-76/”> passed away earlier this year at the age of 76, but his incredible intellect isn’t yet done contributing to the scientific community. The acclaimed physicist’s final paper is now online for anyone to read and it revisits some mysteries of the physical world that came to define his illustrious career.

Titled “Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair,” the paper was co-authored by Hawking collaborators Sasha Haco, Malcolm Perry and Andrew Strominger. The paper is available free on pre-publication repository ArXiv and includes a touching tribute to Hawking.

“We are deeply saddened to lose our much-loved friend and collaborator Stephen Hawking whose contributions to black hole physics remained vitally stimulating to the very end,” it reads.

The paper serves as a kind of bookend to Hawking’s career, collecting some of his final work on the quantum structure of black holes — a topic that Hawking pursued throughout the last 40 years.

It’s fitting that Hawking’s last paper would be a technical dive into one of the greatest unresolved questions in physics — and one he posed to begin with: Can matter that falls into a black hole truly disappear, even though according to the laws of physics that should be impossible? The paradox is troubling because it pits the laws of quantum mechanics against those of general relativity.

In the paper, Hawking and his colleagues proposed that something called “soft hair” could resolve that tension. The “hair” refers to photons at the event horizon, the edge of a black hole. In the soft hair version of events, the so-called hair on the black hole’s border would actually store information about the matter that had fallen into the black hole. That would mean the information attached to that matter wasn’t deleted from the universe at all, rather that it only appeared to vanish beyond an apparent horizon.

“It’s a step on the way, but it is definitely not the entire answer,” co-author Malcolm Perry told the Guardian. “We have slightly fewer puzzles than we had before, but there are definitely some perplexing issues left.”

Venmo bumps up instant transfer fee to 1 percent of the total amount

If you’re a frequent Venmo user, you might want to double-check your settings because the company just changed up their fee structure for instant transfers and it may result in more of your balance slipping away.

The fee for instant transfers where a user would move their Venmo balance to their bank account via debit card used to be just $0.25, but the company shared in an email to users late Friday that the fee is increasing to 1 percent of the transferred amount with the company taking at least a $0.25 fee.

So, basically, if you’re transferring any more than $25 in the future via this method, you’re going to end up paying Venmo more thanks to this new fee structure.

A PayPal spokesperson tells TechCrunch, in part, that “The change reflects the value that Venmo’s services offer – providing speed and convenience for customers that want to transfer their funds to their bank accounts in 30 minutes or less.”

For people using Venmo as a way to process big payments quickly or get some much needed cash into their account, this is a bummer that can result in more getting scraped away by fees. Additionally, if you were trying to avoid connecting your bank account details specifically, you now have another reason pushing you to do so.

Instant transfers works for users trying to quickly move their balance to their bank account in less than a half hour via a debit card. Importantly, if you’re just using the standard bank transfer there still aren’t any fees you have to worry about, it’s still free… for now.

FCC resorts to the usual malarkey defending itself against Mozilla lawsuit

Mozilla filed a lawsuit in August alleging the FCC had unlawfully overturned 2015’s net neutrality rules, by among other things “fundamentally mischaracteriz[ing] how internet access works.” The FCC has filed its official response, and as you might expect it has doubled down on those fundamental mischaracterizations.

The Mozilla suit, which you can read here or embedded at the bottom of this post, was sort of a cluster bomb of allegations striking at the FCC order on technical, legal, and procedural grounds. They aren’t new, revelatory arguments — they’re what net neutrality advocates have been saying for years.

There are at least a dozen separate allegations, but most fall under two general categories.

  1. That the FCC wrongly classifies broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” There’s a long story behind this that I documented in the Commission Impossible series. The logic on which this determination is based has been refuted by practically every technical authority and really is just plain wrong. This pulls the rug out from numerous justifications for undoing the previous rules and instating new ones.
  2. That by failing to consider consumer complaints or perform adequate studies on the state of the industry, federal protections, and effects of the rules, the FCC’s order is “arbitrary and capricious” and thus cannot be considered to have been lawfully enacted.

The FCC’s responses to these allegations are likewise unsurprising. The bulk of big rulemaking documents like Restoring Internet Freedom isn’t composed of the actual rules but in the justification of those rules. So the FCC took preventative measures in its proposal identifying potential objections (like Mozilla’s) and dismissing them by various means.

That their counter-arguments on the broadband classification are nothing new is in itself a little surprising, though. These very same arguments were rejected by a panel of judges in the DC circuit back in 2015. In fact, recently-appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh distinguished himself on that very decision by being wrong on every count and receiving an embarrassing intellectual drubbing by his better-informed peer, Judge Srinivasan.

As for the arbitrary and capricious allegation, the FCC merely reiterates that all its decisions were reasonable as justified at the time. Mozilla’s arguments are not given serious consideration; for example, when Mozilla pointed out that thousands of pages of comments had been essentially assumed by the FCC to be irrelevant without reviewing them, the FCC responds that it “reasonably decided not to include largely unverified consumer complaints in the record.”

These statements aren’t the end of the line; there will be more legal wrangling, amicus briefs, public statements, amended filings, and so on before this case is decided. But if you want a good summary of the hard legal arguments against the FCC and a vexing dismissal thereof, these two documents will serve for weekend reading.

The Mozilla suit:

Mozilla v FCC Filing by TechCrunch on Scribd

The FCC’s counter-arguments:

Mozilla v FCC Counterfiling by TechCrunch on Scribd

Snapchat now has cat lenses. (Yes, for your cat.)

It’s 8:00 PM on Friday night and you’re home alone and already drunk. Oh, is that just me? Well no matter. Snapchat has made lenses for your cat now. Yes, that’s right. Your cat! This is what the internet is made for, friends. Not all that fake news and trolling. Not having to read tweets where people use words like “woke” unironically. Cat lenses! 

So technically, I guess, Snapchat added the ability to recognize things in your photos last November, like food, sports, and even pets, then suggest appropriate filters – like a sticker that says “IT’S A PAWTY” above a photo of a dog.

But now you can put a set of matching glasses on yourself and your cat.

Or give you and your cat rainbow unicorn horns.

Or give Mr. Fluffypants some big ol’ googley eyes.

Or put a piece of toast over his face, which makes him look even less amused than usual.

What the actual f***

You can even give you and kitty big, fat lips as you kissy face the camera.

You can be the angel, while the cat gets devil horns and wings, as is – of course, appropriate.

I mean, this may or may not solve Snap’s long list of problems, like its rushed redesign, the mess that’s Snapchat Discover, its inability to attract adult users, falling share price, and ooooh, all that money it’s bleeding. ($353M last quarter!)

And that Saudi money, don’t forget that! (No, seriously, don’t.)

But I mean, c’mon. C’MON. 

Internet, we deserve this.

This is what 2018 needs.

Cat lenses.

Cat lenses to make everything better.

Cat lenses, and this here drink.

Walmart continues M&A spree with acquisition of lingerie retailer Bare Necessities

Walmart continues to beef up its portfolio of digital brands, announcing on Friday that it had acquired Bare Necessities, an online retailer of lingerie, swimwear, hosiery and other intimates.

Walmart declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

The lingerie company, founded in 1998, will operate independently of Walmart. Over time, the e-commerce giant says it will make Bare Necessities’ products available on Walmart.com, as well as on Jet.com, which Walmart acquired for more than $3 billion in 2016 to bolster its e-commerce business.

Walmart has long been one of the most active acquirers of startups and hasn’t slowed down in 2018. Just last week, the company announced it would purchase women’s plus-sized clothing brand ELOQUII. Before that, it paid $225 million for a grocery delivery service called Cornershop and earlier this year, it completed its $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart — its largest M&A play yet.

ModCloth, Bonobos and Moosejaw are other Walmart-owned brands, all of which were acquired in 2017.

In a statement, Walmart said Bare Necessities fit into its broader acquisition strategy of buying up “category leaders with specialized expertise and assortment that can help enhance the customer experience.”

As part of the deal, Bare Necessities co-founder and chief executive officer Noah Wrubel will continue to run the company alongside chief operating officer Bill Richardson. Wrubel will also take charge of the intimates category for both Walmart.com and Jet.com. Bare Necessities’ 170 employees will continue to run the business out of Edison, N.J., where the company is headquartered.

The global lingerie market is expected to bring in upwards of $60 billion in revenue by 2024, driven in large part by tech-enabled direct-to-consumer businesses’ e-commerce sales.

AllTrails gets $75M to keep hikers happy

The app for hiking enthusiasts just secured a big round of capital that will help it map more trails worldwide.

AllTrails has raised $75 million, led by Spectrum Equity, which has taken a majority stake in the company in the process. Founded in 2010, AllTrails raised a small amount of capital years ago from investors, including 2020 Ventures and 500 Startups. It was also part of AngelPad’s inaugural accelerator class. This is its first sizeable round of equity financing.

AllTrails provides what it calls an “outdoors platform” that includes crowdsourced reviews of trails from its community of 9 million avid hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners in more than 100 countries. It also provides detailed trail maps and other content tailor-made for outdoorsy folk. The company says its app has been downloaded more than 12 million times.

AllTrails was founded by Russell Cook, who has since left to launch another fitness tech startup called FitOn. The company is now led by Jade Van Doren, who joined as CEO in September 2015.

“I grew up camping in the Sierras with my grandfather and backpacking up there,” Cook told TechCrunch. “I looked around the space and it felt like there was a lot of room to build something meaningful that would help people find places to get outdoors and feel safe once they are out there.”

“I got really excited about doing that and we’ve made a lot of progress toward those goals,” he added. “I enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing what we are building is helping people live healthier and more active lifestyles.”

Cook said the business is cash flow positive and wasn’t seeking a venture capital infusion when Spectrum approached. He says their expertise in the consumer space — the firm also has investments in Ancestry, WeddingWire and several others — will be a big value-add for AllTrails.

In addition to expanding overseas, the company will use the capital to hire aggressively.

As part of the deal, Spectrum’s Ben Spero and Matt Neidlinger will join AllTrails’ board of directors.

The team behind ‘First Man’ aims to de-mythologize the space program

Even for those of us born decades after the event itself, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon remain among history’s most iconic and indelible images. Can a Hollywood movie tell us anything new about that moment?

With “First Man” (which opens today), “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle certainly tries. The film climaxes with an eerie and beautiful dramatization of Apollo 11, and with Armstrong’s famous words about a giant leap for mankind. But it’s what comes before that feels revelatory — the film’s fastidious attention to the training, the mistakes and the disasters that all led up to that moment.

Most of those details come from real life, according to screenwriter Josh Singer (who won an Oscar for co-writing “Spotlight”). His starting point was James R. Hansen’s biography of Armstrong (who’s played in the film by Ryan Gosling), and Singer said he was also able to pepper Hansen, as well as Armstrong’s sons Mark and Rick, with questions.

That doesn’t mean everything in the film sticks to the historical record. In fact, Singer said that one of the things he tried to do in the annotated screenplay was to highlight the areas where the movie diverged from reality. But even then, it seems like the moments when Singer made things up or fudged the facts weren’t all that far from the truth.

“We felt a tremendous responsibility to Neil and his family,” he said. In addition, he noted that “anytime you’re treading in territory that’s been written about a lot, you feel that it’s a little bit of a higher bar.”

First Man

For example, while the film shows the Gemini astronauts using a multi-axis trainer to prepare for weightlessness, it’s not totally clear whether they actually used the trainer (basically a giant whirling machine) or the “vomit comet” plane.

Ultimately, Singer said they decided to go with the trainer despite the uncertainty because it “just felt better storywise,” foreshadowing a later scene in the film. Similarly, he said that while the LLRV crash shown in the movie was real, Armstrong’s actual injuries consisted of “a bloody tongue and trouble talking.” However, to convey that “he really did almost die,” Singer and Chazelle decided to show external injuries, rather than “making Ryan talk funny.”

In Singer’s view, it was the research that allowed him to write a film that “pushes [against] the historical narrative” around the space program. To be clear, it’s not a wildly revisionist film — I walked out of the theater admiring Armstrong, his colleagues and what they accomplished. But Singer said he wanted to show that “there really was a human cost here.”

“That’s a fairly provocative thing to say,” he argued. “The majority of the portraits of these men show the stiff upper lip. In that way, we’re trying to do what Steven [Spielberg] was trying to do with ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ show the human side. Why was this the greatest generation? Not because they were inherently great, but because they were willing to sacrifice.”

Singer said that the idea of sacrifice has contemporary relevance as governments and private companies plan to return to space exploration. He recalled being a child and hearing Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster, where the president declared, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”

“Those lines are just so powerful,” Singer said. “They sum up everything that this effort requires.”

First Man

Similarly, the film shows some of the broader social and political context of the Apollo missions, with protesters criticizing the extraordinary cost of the program when there were so many unsolved problems here on Earth.

“That question was much more prominent than people remember,” Singer said. “We think that at the time, everybody was all gung-ho, but it just wasn’t the case.”

For Singer, though, the answer to “Is it worth it?” is clear. It’s expressed early in the film when Armstrong is asked why he wants to go to space. In response, he recounts going up in an F15 and looking down at the atmosphere, a view that gives him an entirely new perspective on Earth.

“There’s a certain faith involved: I don’t know what I’m going to see, but I’m going to learn something, that’s why we explore,” Singer said. “I’d like to think that actually, this movie is an argument for why to buck the trends and the criticism and the questions. That it is worth our time, and effort, and money, and sacrifice.”

First Man

And it sounds like Armstrong’s family is happy with the results. Via email, Rick Armstrong told me that Gosling and Claire Foy (who plays Rick’s mother Janet) “do an excellent job of capturing memories that I have.

“For example I was very glad to see that some of my Dad’s sense of humor comes through in the film, because he really was a pretty funny guy,” Armstrong said. “Claire’s portrayal is just so spot on that I don’t know how it could have been better. She was a very tough and independent woman and I think that comes through brilliantly.”

Rick and his brother Mark didn’t just consult on the film — they also had cameos (Rick told me, “I have a new appreciation for the patience required by everyone involved in movie making, there are long hours and a lot of sitting around!”), and they spoke out after Senator Marco Rubio suggested (absurdly) that the film might not be patriotic enough.

When I asked Rick how he sees the moon landing now, he said he agreed with his father that it was far more than a personal accomplishment.

“I believe it was a national accomplishment of 400,000 people that committed themselves to a goal and who all put in long hours and extra effort to make the impossible become possible, as well as the American taxpayers that footed the bill for it, and the government that authorized it,” Armstrong said.

“It was a global one in the sense that it was done on behalf of ‘all mankind’, as they went to great lengths to present it as a human achievement,” he continued. “Furthermore, our leadership rightly used the moon landing as a platform to improve relations with other countries based on scientific achievement, and of course, used it as a bridge with the Soviet Union to bring the Cold War to an end.”

U.S. lawmakers warn Canada to keep Huawei out of its 5G plans

In a letter addressed to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio make a very public case that Canada should leave Chinese tech and telecom giant Huawei out of its plans to build a next-generation mobile network.

“While Canada has strong telecommunication security safeguards in place, we have serious concerns that such safeguards are inadequate given what the United States and other allies know about Huawei,” the letter states. The senators warn Canada to “reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in any aspect of Canada’s 5G development, introduction, and maintenance.”

The outcry comes after the head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security dismissed security concerns regarding Huawei in comments last month. The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is Canada’s designated federal agency tasked with cybersecurity.

Next generation 5G networks already pose a number of unique security challenges. Lawmakers caution that by allowing companies linked to the Chinese government to build 5G infrastructure, the U.S. and its close allies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.) would be inviting the fox to guard the henhouse.

As part of the Defense Authorization Act, passed in August, the U.S. government signed off on a law that forbids domestic agencies from using services or hardware made by Huawei and ZTE. A week later, Australia moved to block Huawei and ZTE from its own 5G buildout.

Due to the open nature of intelligence sharing between the U.S. and its closest allies, the Canadian government would be able to obtain knowledge of any specific threats that substantiate the U.S. posture toward the Chinese company. “We urge your government to seek additional information from the U.S. intelligence community,” the letter implores.

At 10 trillion frames per second, this camera captures light in slow motion

Light is the fastest thing in the universe, so trying to catch it on the move is necessarily something of a challenge. We’ve had some success, but a new rig built by Caltech scientists pulls down a mind-boggling 10 trillion frames per second, meaning it can capture light as it travels along — and they have plans to make it a hundred times faster.

Understanding how light moves is fundamental to many fields, so it isn’t just idle curiosity driving the efforts of Jinyang Liang and his colleagues — not that there’d be anything wrong with that either. But there are potential applications in physics, engineering, and medicine that depend heavily on the behavior of light at scales so small, and so short, that they are at the very limit of what can be measured.

You may have heard about billion- and trillion-FPS cameras in the past, but those were likely “streak cameras” that do a bit of cheating to achieve those numbers.

A light pulse as captured by the T-CUP system.

If a pulse of light can be replicated perfectly, then you could send one every millisecond but offset the camera’s capture time by an even smaller fraction, like a handful of femtoseconds (a billion times shorter). You’d capture one pulse when it was here, the next one when it was a little further, the next one when it was even further, and so on. The end result is a movie that’s indistinguishable in many ways from if you’d captured that first pulse at high speed.

This is highly effective — but you can’t always count on being able to produce a pulse of light a million times the exact same way. Perhaps you need to see what happens when it passes through a carefully engineered laser-etched lens that will be altered by the first pulse that strikes it. In cases like that, you need to capture that first pulse in real time — which means recording images not just with femtosecond precision, but only femtoseconds apart.

Simple, right?

That’s what the T-CUP method does. It combines a streak camera with a second static camera and a data collection method used in tomography.

“We knew that by using only a femtosecond streak camera, the image quality would be limited. So to improve this, we added another camera that acquires a static image. Combined with the image acquired by the femtosecond streak camera, we can use what is called a Radon transformation to obtain high-quality images while recording ten trillion frames per second,” explained co-author of the study Lihong Wang. That clears things right up!

At any rate the method allows for images — well, technically spatiotemporal datacubes —  to be captured just 100 femtoseconds apart. That’s ten trillion per second, or it would be if they wanted to run it for that long, but there’s no storage array fast enough to write ten trillion datacubes per second to. So they can only keep it running for a handful of frames in a row for now — 25 during the experiment you see visualized here.

Those 25 frames show a femtosecond-long laser pulse passing through a beam splitter — note how at this scale the time it takes for the light to pass through the lens itself is nontrivial. You have to take this stuff into account!

This level of precision in real time is unprecedented, but the team isn’t done yet.

“We already see possibilities for increasing the speed to up to one quadrillion (1015) frames per second!” enthused Liang in the press release. Capturing the behavior of light at that scale and with this level of fidelity is leagues beyond what we were capable of just a few years ago and may open up entire new fields or lines of inquiry in physics and exotic materials.

Liang et al.’s paper appeared today in the journal Light.