Google in talks with Tencent, others for cloud services in China: BBG

(Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google is in talks with Tencent Holdings Ltd, Inspur Group and other Chinese companies to offer its cloud services in the mainland, Bloomberg reported here on Friday, citing people familiar with the discussions.

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

The talks began in early 2018 and the internet giant narrowed partnership candidates to three firms in late March.

It is immediately unclear if the plans will proceed in the wake of increasing trade tensions between China and the United States, the report said.

Google and Tencent did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Google, which quit China’s search engine market in 2010, has been actively seeking ways to re-enter China, where many of its products are blocked by regulators.

Through local partnership, Google aims to run its internet-based services through the domestic data centers and servers of Chinese providers, similar to the way other U.S. cloud companies access that market, the report said.

Reuters on Thursday reported that Google plans to launch a version of its search engine in China that will block some websites and search terms.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur

Wall Street eyes more gains from Apple, its $1 trillion stock

(Reuters) – Shares in Apple Inc (AAPL.O) edged higher on Friday but stayed close to the $1 trillion valuation milestone the iPhone maker reached a day earlier, even as Wall Street predicted more gains.

An electronic screen displays the Apple Inc. stock price at the Nasdaq Market Site in New York City, New York, U.S., August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

After becoming the first $1 trillion publicly-listed U.S. company on Thursday, Apple last traded up 0.1 pct at $207.57 after falling as low as $205.48 and as high as $208.74, as it oscillated around the $207.0425 price that marked the record market cap.

Daniel Morgan, portfolio manager at Synovus Trust in Atlanta, said Apple’s lukewarm Friday was a temporary pause for the stock rather than a sign it could lose ground.

“It’s like the horse that crosses the finish line and says I’m totally wiped out,” said Morgan, whose firm holds more than 200,000 shares in Apple.

“There was a strong earnings report on Tuesday. All the enthusiasm around the $1 trillion market capitalization, both those things have just exhausted the current trading in Apple. And it’s Friday. The whole week was engulfed by Apple,” he said.

Apple still looks relatively cheap even with a trillion dollar valuation. Its shares trade at less than 16 times earnings estimates for the next 12 months, according to Morgan, who said he would be comfortable with a multiple of 18 or 19 for the stock.

“That’s a reasonable level so I don’t feel there’s any risk that people will say its trading at a $1 trillion let’s put the brakes on this … If it was Amazon or Netflix that were hitting a trillion, then we could have that conversation,” he said.

(Interactive Graphic – Apple hits $1 trillion stock valuation: tmsnrt.rs/2Mg6mZ8)

Netflix (NFLX.O) currently trades at 93.8 times estimates for its earnings in the next 12 months while Amazon.Com’s (AMZN.O) multiple is 83.74.

“If Apple trades at 20 times earnings that would be crazy,” he said, estimating that Apple shares could go as high as $220 by year-end.

Amazon, Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Alphabet (GOOGL.O) are in a tight race to become the second U.S. company to reach the $1 trillion milestone.

Most sell-side analysts also seemed to see $1 trillion as just one milestone on Apple’s way to greater gains as the median price target for the stock is $218.50 and the mean price target at $215.46, according to data collected by Thomson Reuters.

The highest price expectation for the stock is Brian White’s $275 target, which would mean a $1.3 trillion valuation, according to the analyst from Monness Crespi Hardt, who says he was first on the Street with a price target that reflected a $1-trillion valuation.

Despite the record valuation, White said, “Apple is one of the most under-appreciated stocks in the world.”

Trip Miller, managing partner at Gullane Capital LLC in Memphis, said Apple “should trade much higher.”

“They are so dependent on one product for such a huge part of their revenue that I believe that’s why it gets that discount,” said Miller whose firm also owns Amazon shares.

(Graphic: Apple revenue by segment, product units – tmsnrt.rs/2LNgw6q)

Reporting By James Thorne and Sinéad Carew in New York, Noel Randewich in San Francisco,; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown

Tesla shares spike, dealing short-sellers a $1.7 billion loss

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) shares soared 16 percent on Thursday, a day after the electric car maker’s better-than-expected quarterly report, and financial analytics firm S3 Partners said short-sellers were slammed with $1.7 billion in paper losses on the day.

FILE PHOTO: The Tesla logo is seen at the entrance to Tesla Motors’ new showroom in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District in New York City, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

S3 said the day’s losses pushed the aggregate year-to-date performance of short-sellers in Tesla into the red. Short-sellers aim to profit by selling borrowed shares, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price. Tesla is the most shorted U.S. stock.

Until Wednesday, Tesla short-sellers had, on paper, been up $276 million for the year. Following Thursday’s stock surge, they now have losses of $1.4 billion for the year, S3 data showed.

“We are not seeing a large amount of buy to covers yet,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3 in New York, referring to traders buying shares to close out an existing short position.

“With such a large price move on the open, most short-sellers that are looking to cover are waiting for a retracement before placing buy-to-cover orders,” he said.

Tesla shares rallied $48.70 to $349.54 a day after the manufacturer said it would produce its new Model 3 sedan at a profit, following several recent weeks in which output had stabilized.

The update buoyed hopes that the company led by Elon Musk will stanch its losses.

Tesla’s rapid cash burn and struggles at turning a profit have made it a favorite target for shorts, including big names such as Jim Chanos, head of Kynikos Associates, and billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital fund.

Since the beginning of 2016, Tesla is the fourth-worst performing U.S. short bet, and short-sellers have lost $4.70 billion on a net basis over that period, according to S3 data.

A sharp rally in the electric car maker’s shares since early April has hurt short-sellers.

On Tuesday, Einhorn told investors that his bet against the stock had turned into heavy second-quarter losses at his Greenlight Capital fund.

Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by David Gregorio and Phil Berlowitz

It's Never Too Late to Be a Reader Again

It was a book that drove me away from books. This wasn’t a trauma of distaste, or indulgence: not a literary bad mussel, not waking up on the floor of someone’s house with a swimming head and the knowledge that I could never again be within smelling distance of their first editions. My aversion was borne of fear.

The fear took root in 2016—which, while decidedly not-great in general, was very much a great year for books. Especially fiction. Especially especially speculative fiction. Between new releases and neo-classics I finally got around to reading (*cough* American Gods *cough*), not to mention the WIRED Book Club, the year remains the most consistently pleasant span on my otherwise dusty and shame-ridden Goodreads page. The books were an escape. Early in the year I’d been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to write a book of my own, and responded by getting as far away from the project as possible, diving into imaginary worlds as though I could take up residence there.

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Knowing the task I faced and my keen desire to avoid it, you’d think I would be able to find a balance. You’d think that once I settled into some sort of writing routine, that groove would accommodate pleasure reading. Not so much, as it turns out! Instead, books became daunting. I’d start a novel, and my focus would atrophy almost immediately. I’d get 100 pages in, or 60, or 20, and put it to the side. The reason was never dislike, but rather a host of other culprits. Seeing a published book, I’d remember that I wasn’t finished—and that I’d never be finished. I was consumed with the idea that I’d be intimidated by someone else’s gift, that I’d subconsciously mimic another’s voice. These weren’t rational concerns so much as they were whispers of pettiness and self-doubt, the same ones that haunt us all in tiny ways; still, their small voices massed in a choir that out-sang any note a book could strike. (What made this sadder still is I was working on a nonfiction book. Novels should have been a DMZ for my insecurities, not an incubator.)

That’s how 2016 ended; that’s how 2017 passed; that’s how 2018 began. Somewhere along the way, I finished my book, and the cloud began to lift. I started going to bookstores again, taking pictures of covers and spines so I’d remember them later. I started buying novels once more. But while they helped me to think of myself as a reader again, they didn’t get read. Instead, they stacked—on my coffee table, next to my bed, crowding the front page of my Kindle. As the BBC kindly pointed out recently, this was a textbook case of tsundoku: good-faith purchases that start as literature but become architecture. Turns out, though, that having a Japanese term for something doesn’t make it feel any better.

Gaining traction again was a matter of steering into the skid. Sometimes you—OK, sometimes I—don’t need challenging prose or epic scope or shifting perspectives and unreliable narrators; sometimes you need a fucking yarn. Which, for me, means crime novels. My father sparked the habit by feeding me Robert B. Parker’s Spenser books when I was a kid, and I’ve been a junkie ever since. Patricia Cornwell’s innumerable books about forensics expert Kay Scarpetta; Andrew Vachss’ series starring Burke, the child abuse survivor who took down creeps with extreme prejudice. I can’t remember what introduced me to Jack Reacher, but I read the first eight of Lee Child’s books about the ex-soldier-turned-do-gooder in rapid succession, never caring that by the fourth one I could see their templated structures like so many 1s and 0s in the Matrix. Donald Stark’s Parker novels? God, yes, that’s the good stuff.

In 2018, the hit came courtesy of—who else?—Stephen King. Reading Amazon comments while considering an impulse buy of The Outsider, I saw someone mention that it was a cousin to King’s so-called Bill Hodges trilogy of detective novels. So I got the first, Mr. Mercedes. Two weeks later, I’d devoured all three. Where they great? They were not. Did I care? Not even a little. If story is the carbohydrate of fiction, King makes a mean baguette.

Besides, they’d given me at least a degree of mojo back. I was back in that place where I would look forward to reading, where I’d reach for a book instead of my phone. But instead of starting to scale my tsundoku mountain, I surprised myself by going looking for one of the novels I’d abandoned during my exile: Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean, the fictional tale of a journalist who had gone missing after writing a book about H.P. Lovecraft’s hidden gay affair. Crossing the hundredth page— the same one that had felled me more than a year before—I felt something in my chest settle. And when I got to the last page, I realized I’d found something more than a beautifully unresolved ending. I’d found a reckoning.

Look, I’m just gonna say it. Reading is hard. Not the act, but the pursuit. There’s always something else to do—something easier, something bigger or louder, something that makes you feel better, something that makes you feel worse. (Looking at you, social media.) But none of that changes the fact that we all want to be readers. That’s why Goodreads elicits hope and inadequacy in equal measure; it’s why you keep that paperback in your bag even if you haven’t opened it since you bought it two months ago. And it’s why putting a book down unfinished creates a little scar tissue. I couldn’t do it, you think. I failed. Couple that with the ever-growing list of books you want to read, and the only choice is to march grimly on; looking back is grief.

Something happened when I went back to that fallen book, though. I found myself appreciating not just the rest of the book, but everything that had happened since the time I’d first closed it. It was story and sacrament in one, a healing that I never expected. So, instead of beginning one of the many new titles I’d amassed, I returned to the scene of the crime again. And this reunion—with Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth book in the Expanse saga of sci-fi novels—was even sweeter.

With so much life waiting in my reading list, I’m ready to leave my other ghosts behind. But next time you put down a book, remember this: It’s not you. It’s not the book, either. (OK, maybe it’s the book.) It’s the timing. A year down the road, maybe more, that book might be just the thing you need. Maybe you need to grow into it; maybe it needs to grow into you. But you’re not going to discover that connection if you pretend it never happened. Anything can drive you away from reading—but only a book will bring you back.


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Reddit Got Hacked Thanks to a Woefully Insecure Two-Factor Setup

Reddit said in a blog post Wednesday that a hacker broke into the company’s systems in June and gained access to a variety of data, including user emails, source code and internal files, and “all Reddit data from 2007 and before.” And it likely could have been avoided if some Reddit employees were using two-factor authentication apps or physical keys instead of their phone numbers.

“On June 19, we learned that an attacker compromised a few of Reddit’s accounts with cloud and source code hosting providers by intercepting SMS 2FA verification codes,” a Reddit spokesperson said in a statement. (Advance Publications, which owns WIRED publisher Condé Nast, is Reddit’s majority shareholder.) “We are working with federal law enforcement, and have also taken measures to both address this current situation and prevent similar incidents in the future. A small number of users were affected and have been notified.”

Among the compromised information was a 2007 Reddit database backup, which means if you were using the platform back then, your account information from that time—like your email address, username, and password—has been exposed. Reddit says the passwords were protected by cryptographic salting and hashing defenses, but if you still use that old password for your Reddit account, or any online account, you should change it to a strong, random password in case the Reddit trove can be cracked.

“Since the salting and hashing is going back to 2006 or 2007, it’s likely sub-optimal,” says Kenn White, director of the Open Crypto Audit Project. “Everyone should probably change their passwords.”

Reddit also noted that logs from June 3 to June 17, 2018 related to the platform’s “email digests” were exposed. This is a problem, because access to that information would allow attackers to see the usernames connected to each user email address—helpful information if you’re trying to compromise accounts. The digests also make suggestions about posts and subreddits a user might like, which potentially gives attackers additional information about individuals on Reddit.

Those are the main user impacts the company is highlighting, but chief technology officer Christopher Slowe mentions in the blog post that the breach also compromised “Reddit source code, internal logs, configuration files and other employee workspace files.” All those things combined could give hackers deep insight into Reddit’s fundamental structure and architecture, which creates a long-term risk the company will need to address.

“Once a criminal sneaks in through a window in your house in the middle of the night, yes, they can steal your china, snap a picture of your bank statements, and drink your beer,” White says.

Attackers got into Reddit’s systems by compromising some employee administrative accounts for company cloud storage and source code storage. Slowe notes in the blog post that the employees were using two-factor authentication to protect these crucial accounts, but some number of them had that layer of protection set up with SMS—meaning someone would need a code texted to their mobile number to complete an account login. The problem is that SMS-based two-factor is known to be insecure, because attackers can launch a “SIM swapping” attack to take control of a user’s SIM card and all the data coming to their phone number.

Though the average consumer may not have heard about the dangers of using SMS in two-factor authentication, the tech community has known about the risk for a few years. Yet somehow Reddit missed the memo. “We learned that SMS-based authentication is not nearly as secure as we would hope, and the main attack was via SMS intercept,” Slowe wrote on Wednesday.

“What they are saying is that their cloud infrastructure had high-privilege accounts secured by crappy two factor protections and one of their admins was popped,” White says. “A high-value property like Reddit secured with some dude’s mobile number is no bueno.”

Reddit says that it will notify users whose current account password relates to credentials compromised in the breach, and will prompt those affected individuals to change their passwords. The company is encouraging everyone to “think about whether you still use the password you used on Reddit 11 years ago on any other sites today. If your email address was affected, think about whether there’s anything on your Reddit account that you wouldn’t want associated back to that address.”

The company also says users should do as it says, not as it (apparently) does, and only use authentication apps or physical authentication tokens for two-factor protection. As Slowe notes, SMS-based two-factor is not an option for Reddit accounts.


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San Francisco Marathon App Lets Runners Visualize Course Before They Race

Admit it, we’ve all sniggered slightly at the sight of a bobsleigh pilot mentally visualizing the track before he and his teammates hurl themselves down the ice.

But with speeds approaching 90 mph and medals decided by a fraction of a second, its an important part of their preparation. After all, it’s up them to navigate the ice quickly and safely and ensure the months and years of training – especially before a Winter Olympics – isn’t all in vain.

Virtual Reality (VR) applications are already being used to assist with the process, so athletes can train without the risk of injury and don’t have to travel the world to try out different tracks.

A runner passes by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California on December 24, 2017. San Francisco is a major travel destination with over 24 million visitors a year, frequenting famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge,Pier 39 and Alcatraz Island. (Photo by Ronen Tivony) (Photo by Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Amateur technology

But professional-grade tools such as VR, GPS and analytics are increasingly finding their way into amateur sport too. And it should come as no surprise that the San Francisco Marathon in the heart of Silicon Valley should be among the events to promote their use.

Last weekend more than 27,500 runners participated in the 42nd staging of the race, with the route taking in iconic landmarks like Fisherman’s Wharf, AT&T Park and Golden Gate Bridge. Participants could choose to take on the full course, the first or second halves of it or even to complete it twice in an ultra-marathon.

Technology plays a significant part for many people’s race day, with wearables increasingly used to track speed and distance, but runners in the San Francisco Marathon were able to use a dedicated application to prepare for the big day.

Neurun allows runners to join a community of like-minded athletes who share similar goals and to access tips from professional coaches and runners in a particular group. However, the most intriguing aspect of the application is the ability to visualize the entire course beforehand.

Users can check terrain, elevation and other variables such as the wideness of roads and the location street furniture that might hinder progress. If a tricky section of the route is identified, then it’s possible to take a screenshot and make a note of its location on the timeline.

Neurun also shows the location of key amenities like water and nutrition stations, first aiders, public toilets, emergency phones and even photographer locations. These can also be added to the timeline so runners can plan breaks ahead of time or if they need to take an impromptu pit stop should they find themselves in need of assistance.

And all these notes can be shared with your groups too, enhancing the community aspect of the platform.

Marginal gains

With many people hoping to achieve personal bests, the little details can make a difference over a distance as long as 26 miles. That’s why Team Sky make such a big deal about ‘marginal gains’ when competing in the Tour de France.

It will be interesting to see how the application expands given the popularity of long-distance races held around the world and whether other famous marathons follow suit. Could we see competitors in the London Marathon be able to use this technology for example?

Although runners in the marathon had access to the application over the race weekend, the firm’s official website says the public version is still unavailable.

You can sign up to find out when it will be released or you can check out the video of the course below. The footage was captured by a cyclist and the full route can be viewed in 35 minutes below – much faster than it would take to cycle the route, never mind to actually run it!

Trump's Treasury Supports Fintech, Now What?

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Trump administration Treasury Department has called for dramatic changes in fintech regulation and have voiced their support for a new fintech charter as well as the introduction of sandboxes and opening access to consumer data.

Secretary Steve Mnuchin said: “American innovation is a cornerstone of a healthy U.S. economy. Creating a regulatory environment that supports responsible innovation is crucial for economic growth and success, particularly in the financial sector.

“America is a leader in innovation. We must keep pace with industry changes and encourage financial ingenuity to foster the nation’s vibrant financial services and technology sectors.”

In a report, the US Treasury made 80 recommendations across 222 pages and explored the government’s aim of embracing customer data in a similar way to how PSD2 is being embraced in Europe and transform regulation with the use of sandboxes, so that it innovation is encouraged.

As reported in The Hill, policymakers have found it difficult to keep up with advancements in fintech and the impact on the traditional financial industry. But with the new attitude towards the burgeoning industry, those that create the regulations will be able to work closely with industry advocates to adapt the rules.

States are also encouraged to work together to remedy money transfer rules that regulate payment systems and cryptocurrency marketplaces and prevent unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The report also encourages the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to move forward with the charter that would give fintechs a license to operate across the US in the same way that banks do.

The Treasury said the charter could “provide a federal approach to reducing regulatory fragmentation and supporting beneficial business models.” The report also makes other recommendations to expand access to financial services.

The department called for repealing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) payday loan rule and went on to support the use of alternative data such as utility and rent payments to form credit reports for consumers with limited loan history.

But what does this mean? Despite Trump promising to do away with Dodd-Frank, which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama to prevent another financial crisis, this move by the current leader will be beneficial for the fintech industry and somewhat mimics what is being done in Europe.

Collaboration is the way forward because fintechs do not have legacy and trust on their side, especially in the US where people swipe and sign, instead of using contactless cards and apps to make payments.

I currently work as an SEO Content Executive for DMG Media, optimising content across the UK, US and Australia. Before this, I was the Editor of financial technology website bobsguide and this is where my interest and expertise in global fintech was achieved. Acting as the D…

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Blueair Sense+ Review: Breathe Easy With This WiFi-Enabled Air Purifier

Your home might be your sanctuary, but the air inside it is probably not that great for you. Especially during the summer, open windows let in exhaust from passing vehicles, on top of dust, and pollen. My dogs shed constantly, putting dander and hair in the air, too. I can usually find my spouse happily drilling into walls or cutting holes in the floor, and my kids leave sopping wet towels to incubate mold in bizarre, hidden places. Although I vacuum every day, it’s not nearly enough.

Seasonal wildfires and summer heat in the western United States also contribute to poor air quality. While many people are fine with washing their sheets, vacuuming, and changing filters in their HVAC system, those might not be adequate measures if you’ve ever stepped outside to find your entire neighborhood veiled in a fine, ashy haze.

Many parents of small children buy and run an air purifier during the summer. As an allergy and asthma sufferer with two small kids, I do, too.

Just Breathe

Founded two decades ago by an Electrolux alum in Stockholm, Sweden, Blueair makes some of the best air purifiers available. I elected to test the Sense+, their Wi-Fi-enabled model. While it isn’t quite as visually striking as the Dyson Pure Cool, the sleek cuboid does come in a range of vivid colors. My tester model was in a brilliant leaf green.

At 19 inches tall and 18.5 inches wide, the Sense+ is a floor unit. It doesn’t have an exterior fan, so you have to be a little thoughtful about placement in order for the maximum amount of air to get contact with the filter. Blueair recommends that you place it about 10 centimeters, or almost four inches, away from other objects. In my bedroom, the only place that both fit the unit and had an electrical outlet was in the path around the foot of our bed.

Setup is simple. Just plug it in, download the Blueair Friend app to your phone, and swipe your hand over the top of the unit, which will start to glow like something out of Minority Report. Then, you follow the in-app instructions to connect the Sense+.

Blueair

The LED screen on top of the Sense+ looks pretty cool, and it’s fun to adjust the fan speed or turn it off by merely waving your hand. But for more fine-tuned control, you have to use the app (the Sense+ is also Alexa-compatible). On your phone, you can adjust the fan speed or the LED brightness. You can also set night mode, which will dial down the fan speed and LED intensity during a set of pre-programmed time constraints. Finally, there’s a child lock feature, if you also have a toddler who is thrilled to discover that he can turn the purifier on and off by waving a tiny fist.

And unlike the Pure Cool, the Sense+ does not come with a built-in air quality monitor. For that, you need to purchase the optional Blueair Aware, which is a small device that both does not look like it costs $200, and also seems to be comparably priced to other consumer-grade air quality sensors. AQ monitors evaluate your indoor air quality based on a number of different factors, like temperature, humidity, or particulate matter.

The manual recommends setting the Aware at “nose level”, but since the purifier is in our bedroom, a bedside table seemed to be the best place for it. The Aware requires a week’s worth of test readings before it’s calibrated.

The Aware monitors particulate matter that are up to 2.5 micrometers in size, which could range from everything from fine dust to odors; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as acetaldehyde from cooking or tobacco smoke; and carbon dioxide, in addition to temperature and humidity. The Aware sends you alerts on your phone when the air quality in your room is poor. You can also link it to the Sense+ to increase the purifier’s interior fan speed automatically when the room is more polluted; examine charts for each pollutant over time; and compare your indoor air quality to outdoor air quality.

The app uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for calculating the air quality index (AQI), and the Blueair Friend’s outdoor AQI readings tallied with the live local readings from my state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

As might be expected, when I first set up the purifier and turned on the app, it registered that our bedroom was highly polluted with both total VOCs and carbon dioxide (it should be noted that high levels of carbon dioxide are a ventilation issue, and cannot be fixed with an air purifier). It took about an hour during the day for the Sense+ and Aware to reduce the readings from polluted to excellent.

Looking back at the timeline of the Aware’s readings was like looking back at a timeline of my day. Yup, those particulate matter spikes are at the exact same time when my spouse and I fall into our dusty sheets at the end of the day. The carbon dioxide spikes are timed exactly when we get up in the morning, and when our dogs walk (or run) past the air purifier at night to chase skunks or possums. Everything flatlines during the day, while we’re at work. And as with the Dyson Pure Cool, I have stopped waking up to note our neighbor skunks’ nighttime journeys past our bedroom window. Maybe they’ve started taking another route?

In the Air Tonight

At $400, the Sense+ is very expensive. A $200 air quality monitor on top of that is pricier still. And after running the Sense+ for about a month, my Blueair Friend informs me that I have a mere 122 days left on the filter, a replacement for which appears to cost around $80. This is not a cheap investment, although the Blueair does offer more affordable options. For example, the Blueair Pure 211 is almost half the price and purifies the same square footage.

As someone who has chronic asthma-induced bronchitis, it’s nice to know when your indoor air quality worsens—even if it’s just because your toddler has started breathing directly into the top of the AQ monitor. Improving your indoor air quality can improve your quality of life, even if you’re not an asthmatic or a data hound who likes poring over charts. Vulnerable demographics, like young children or the elderly, can especially benefit.

After all, if I’m going to endure the constant aromas of fish sticks, scented markers, and Play-Doh while hiding from the sun this summer, I’ll gladly take all the help I can get.

New York, in Unprecedented Move, Votes to Kick Spectrum Cable Out of the State

The New York State Public Service Commission has moved to kick Charter Communications’ Spectrum cable and internet service out of the state, citing Charter’s “repeated failures to serve New Yorkers and honor its commitments”. The commission voted Friday to rescind approval of Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable, which would effectively end its ability to do business in the state.

The commission approved the Charter-Time Warner merger in 2016 on a number of conditions, including expanding services to 145,000 homes within four years, with a focus on rural areas. The commission says the company has failed to meet milestones for that expansion, and has now given the company 60 days to come up with a plan to hand over its customers to other providers—that is, to sell its assets in New York.

That transition is unlikely to actually happen. Charter has said it will contest the order, calling the commission’s actions “politically motivated.” Experts speaking to Syracuse.com speculated that the move is intended to “give Spectrum a kick in the pants” towards providing more rural broadband access, and said the dispute could spiral into a yearslong court battle. Charter is the largest cable provider in New York, with more than 2 million subscribers.

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The commission fined Charter $2 million this June for failing to meet milestones for expanding services, after the company improperly claimed more than 12,000 New York City addresses as counting towards the commission’s targets. The Friday vote imposed another $1 million in fines for missed deadlines, bringing the total to $3 million. Charter has in part blamed competitor Verizon for slowing its expansion, claiming Verizon has limited its access to telephone poles.

But the commission hasn’t been convinced by that explanation, and on Friday hinted at broader issues, citing Charter’s “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers”. Charter has been among the U.S. cable providers ranked lowest by its own customers, a situation widely blamed on lack of competition between providers. Though New York’s kick in the pants might motivate Charter to do some things better, that basic condition is unlikely to change until high-speed 5G wireless service becomes a reality.

45 Percent of Millennials Expect This From Brands (It Can Also Help Grow Your Business)

The power of Millennials is no joke: They’re now a leading group of consumers, at 75 million strong. With roughly $200M in annual buying power and a strong voice on social media, discerning (and some say demanding) Millennials dictate not just what happens with their wallets, but also often with national conversations.

So what Millennials want–and expect–from brands is worth grasping if you want to market to them successfully.

Ross Paquette, founder and CEO of tech startup Maropost, has built a business around customer input–improving and innovating based on customer needs, many of whom are Millennials. While the company began as an email service provider, Maropost grew to span cross-channel marketing, total sales cycle management, and everything in between–largely through customer feedback.

For Paquette, it all comes down to one thing: “Customers are more than just the people buying from you–or at least they should be. Your success depends on taking company-customer relationships from transactions to connections.”

Your success depends not on transactions, but on connections.

The old-school version of business was to see customers as passive recipients of things, whether that thing was an ad or a product someone bought in a grocery store. Before the advent of social media, for example, it was nearly impossible for a big (or little) brand to have any kind of dialogue with consumers, let alone a public one like those that now regularly take place on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Now, taking your business to the next level requires seeing customers in a fundamentally different way. They’re not passive recipients; they’re active participants–a fact that can be either intimidating or galvanizing, depending on how you look at it.

According to recent research by TotalRetail, 45 percent of Millennials expect more engaging experiences with brands than with retailers. In other words, they expect brands to build relationships with them, to listen to them, and to engage with them. They want to be part of the innovative process (especially if something isn’t working for them).

For Paquette, this approach was a founding principle of the startup: “Customer-first innovation directs every decision we make–everything we create, we create for our customers.” It’s not just lip service, either. At Maropost, everything from feature tweaks to entire platforms have been created based directly on customer feedback.

Obviously this requires investing energy into building the right kind of structure: you need a robust feedback loop that goes from customers, to customer support, to development, and back to customers.

It’s worth investing that energy, though. “We’ve been able to build out our capabilities to a level you only see at much larger companies,” says Paquette, “and we’re winning against some of the industry’s biggest players.”

In fact, Maropost is now a leading enterprise digital marketing startup, with customers that include Rolling Stone and Mercedes-Benz. Many of their key customer decision-makers are Millennials, and they keep in close touch with them.

In the past, one-way relationships were the norm. You made the sale and were done. Few companies were interested in nurturing a relationship. Now, not only does that attitude not fly, but it constitutes a missed opportunity.

When companies are committed to true partnership with their customers … it shows. They prioritize smart feedback loops that connect people in social media with people in customer support with the development team. The things customers say (and Millennials don’t tend to hold back) are crucial–and smart companies know that they’ve got to make sure those comments aren’t wasted.

Treating customers as collaborators also ensures you’re answering real business needs–instead of operating in an echo chamber. When you collaborate directly with the people using your product and consistently seek out their feedback (instead of just assuming they’ll tell you), you don’t lose sight of what they need. It’s right there, in their words. 

Obviously not every comment is worth a feature update. But wise is the company that has a strategy in place to capture those that are–and who actively, consistently, and intentionally focus on building connections rather than transactions.