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It is open season on the technology industry and its capital city. And not without reason.
The behemoth tech companies that created so much excitement, value, and utility for consumers everywhere have worn out their welcome for the time being. Facebook abetted the ruination of democracy. Twitter has helped foul the national discourse. Apple has made tech addicts of its users, young and old.
As for the city tourists love to think is charming, quirky, and beautiful, it isn’t much of any of those things lately. Homeless people litter its feces-strewn sidewalks. Rich and entitled techies hide in its nicer neighborhoods and sterile skyscrapers. Traffic is so snarled that it’s difficult to get to the gorgeous nature that surrounds the city.
The world has noticed. The New York Times profiled a man who hunts for treasure in Mark Zuckerberg’s trash. The Washington Post accuses San Francisco of breaking America’s heart. Breakingviews helpfully suggests tech companies pay an employee bounty to attend civic meetings in the hopes of making citizens out of workers. (A glimmer of hope: Google says it wants to help save a comedy club after it was revealed to be the next tenant of the club’s space.)
Then again, this is nothing new. I wasn’t here when the Hippies ruined San Francisco. But I was when the precursors to brogrammers, late 1990s MBAs, spoiled the neighborhood. That was before they all lost their jobs. What’s quaint about San Francisco, despite the smell of urine in the streets, is the city’s ability to reinvent itself.
It will happen again.
Don’t fence me in. You’ll be shocked to learn that Mark Zuckerberg thinks breaking up Facebook is a bad idea. Facebook also revealed that it removed 2.2 billion fake accounts in the first quarter, almost topping the 2.4 billion legit accounts on the service.
What’s in your wallet? Last week, we brought you news that Whole Foods and some other popular retailers started accepted a mobile payments app called Flexa that allowed customers to pay in digital currencies like bitcoin. On Thursday, wireless giant AT&T joined the party, saying it would accept cryptocurrency payments via the BitPay app. Meanwhile, Square is looking at getting into a much more chill payments segment, with a pilot program for sellers of cannabis-derived CBD products.
Hangry. Trying to remain at the center of everything, Google said it was integrating food delivery services DoorDash and Postmates into several of its services, including Maps and Search. Users will also be able to ask Google’s digital assistant to re-order past delivery orders. Perhaps not coincidentally, DoorDash raised $600 million of private backing that valued the company at $12.6 billion, almost 10 times its valuation a year ago.
One small step for man. After multiple postponements, Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Thursday finally launched the first 60 operational satellites for its Starlink broadband service into orbit. That’s 60 down, some 11,940-ish to go. But the initial commercial service will start when just a few hundred satellites go up, the company says.
Virtual light. This freaked me out. Researchers at Samsung developed a new way to produce completely fake videos of people talking. In the creepy video demo, you’ll see Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, and even the Mona Lisa.
Straight from the gut. In not-terribly-flattering profile of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Bloomberg scrutinizes his acquisitions. And not just for the business. The article claims a seemingly ancient carved statue the CEO bought for $7.5 million at auction may be a recent creation worth less than $5,000.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Ultimate Preview (Vanity Fair)
After four decades, Star Wars is drawing to its epic conclusion. Lev Grossman goes behind the scenes with director J.J. Abrams and the cast for the inside scoop on The Rise of Skywalker. With exclusive photographs by Annie Leibovitz.
The Night the Lights Went Out (Deadspin)
I am the least reliable narrator when it comes to the story of my brain exploding. This is because, from the time right before I suffered a freakish brain hemorrhage last year to the time I regained full consciousness roughly two weeks later, I remember nothing. My mind is an absolute blank. It’s like the fabled pause in the Nixon Tapes. I was not here.
The Spycraft Revolution (Foreign Policy)
A cover identity that would have been almost bulletproof only 20 years ago can now be unraveled in a few minutes. For a start, facial recognition software—mostly developed by Israeli companies and widely deployed in China and elsewhere—allows governments and law enforcement agencies to store and search vast numbers of faces.
New York’s Vanishing Diners (The New York Times)
The death of diner culture has been predicted for years, but there’s still some life remaining.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Coal dominated the 19th century and oil the 20th. If renewable energy is to move to the front for this century, one other key technology needs to make a huge advance: energy storage. In a story for Fortune, writer Jeffrey Ball looks at where U.S. and Chinese companies–from small startups to larger energy players–are placing their bets to build the next great battery. To tour one Boston-area startup called Vionx Energy, Ball hangs around with director David Vieau:
Vionx contends its technology offers one possible answer. At three government-funded test sites in Massachusetts, Vionx has deployed prototype collections of shipping containers that house its flow batteries. They’re mazes of pumps and pipes, of plastic and metal, that Vieau himself describes as “Rube Goldberg.”
In Shirley, Mass., a Vionx battery is waiting to be hooked up to a field of Chinese-made solar panels. When it’s up and running, it should be able to store enough energy to power about 160 homes. I visit the site on a late afternoon so cold my fingers, as I scribble notes, feel numb. To my eyes, accustomed by now to lithium-ion batteries that would fit in my backpack if not in my pocket, the system looks gargantuan. Not to Vieau. Vionx’s systems, he says, need to be the size of power plants to be viable. “Otherwise, it’s a joke.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
How Persian Ice Cream Found Its Way to the Center of Los Angeles Food Culture By Anna Ben Yehuda Rahmanan
Sesame Street Has a New Way to Teach Kids About Money By Chris Taylor
BEFORE YOU GO
As you ease into the long weekend, some upcoming “teaser trailers” to stoke your interest for projects coming out this fall. There’s a new Terminator movie, with James Cameron in the producer chair, called Terminator: Dark Fate. It looks super fun, with both Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising their famous roles. I’m even more excited for CBS’s new Star Trek series following the later years of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Looks like they’re still making wine, even in the far future.