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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Oregon joins lawsuit opposing T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Oregon this week became the 15th state (plus the District of Columbia) to sign onto a lawsuit seeking to stop a T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The suit, co-signed by 16 attorneys general, argues that a merger between the country’s third and fourth largest carriers would greatly reduce competition in the wireless industry.

“It’s important that Oregon join other states in opposing the Sprint -T-Mobile merger,” said Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the current plan will result in reduced access to affordable wireless service in Oregon — and higher prices. Neither is acceptable.”

Texas joined the suit earlier this month, marking one of only two Republican AGs who have signed onto the deal. Conservative voices have largely come out in favor of a merger, suggesting that by joining forces the new company (also named T-Mobile) would increase competition for AT&T and Verizon by getting a leg up in the race to implement 5G.

New York State AG Letitia James says the signee has added “momentum” to push against the merger, which was greenlit by the U.S. Department of Justice in late July.

“Oregon’s addition to our lawsuit keeps our momentum going, and ensures that there isn’t a single region of this country that doesn’t oppose this anticompetitive megamerger,” said James. “We welcome Attorney General Rosenblum to our 16-member coalition that now includes states representing almost half of the U.S. population. We remain committed to blocking the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint because it would bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation.”

How even the best marketplace startups get paralyzed

Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen a pernicious disease infect a number of marketplace startups. I call it Marketplace Paralysis. The root cause of the disease is quite innocent and seemingly harmless. Smart people with good intentions fall victim to it all the time. It starts when a platform has sufficient scale — such that there is a good amount of data on things like performance, quality rankings, purchase rates, and fill ratios. What a platform implements as a result of that data, and how it’s received by their user base, is what can lead to marketplace paralysis.

In this post, I will detail what Marketplace Paralysis is and what startups can do to avoid it. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, here’s a snapshot of the lessons you’ll learn by reading this post:

  1. Segment and focus on high-value users
  2. Remember the silent majority
  3. Modify company goals to include quality components
  4. Empower small, autonomous teams

The easiest way to explain Marketplace Paralysis is with a hypothetical example. So allow me to introduce you to Labor Marketplace X (LMX).

Equipped with the aforementioned data, the well-intentioned product managers at LMX will think about policies or features to try and improve a KPI, like fill ratio or job success rate. They might craft a policy that would separate users into two tiers.

Tier 1 gets a shiny gold star next to their name, along with extra pay, bonuses, and preferred job access. Tier 2 gets standard pay and standard job access. They’ve done their homework and feel this will benefit the marketplace.

So, they build the feature. They launch it and make an announcement to their users. And then… a revolt!

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Darren Bechtel (yes, of those Bechtels) has raised $97.5 million for his firm, Brick & Mortar Ventures

Brick & Mortar Ventures, a young, San Francisco-based venture firm that’s focused on startups innovating in or around architecture, engineering, construction and facilities management, has closed with $97.2 million in capital commitments.

The fund is one in a sea of debut funds that have swung open their doors in recent years, though it’s also interesting for numerous reasons, beginning with its founder, Darren Bechtel, who knows a thing or two about the building industry. He’s a scion of the family that built the 120-year-old, privately held company Bechtel into one of the largest construction and engineering firms in the world. In fact, his brother, Brendan, who was named CEO in 2016, represents the fifth generation of Bechtels to lead the company. (Their sister, Katherine, is a project controls manager with the powerhouse outfit.)

Brick & Mortar’s investors are just as notable. They aren’t the typical pension funds and university endowments that many VCs try hard to lock down. Instead, they comprise a long list of companies that are part of the “construction value chain” and so have an interest in the latest and greatest developments in their respective industries. Among the firm’s backers, for example, is the special materials maker Ardex; the software giant Autodesk; the building materials company CEMEX; Ferguson Ventures, which is the venture arm of a huge U.S distributor of plumbing supplies; FMI, a management consulting company to the engineering and construction industry; Obayashi, a major Japanese construction company; Sidewalk Labs, which is Alphabet’s urban innovation organization; and United Rentals, one of the world’s largest equipment rental companies.

Brick & Mortar isn’t the first venture firm to focus on the so-called built world. Other firms that focus largely, if not exclusively, around the same themes include Fifth Wall Ventures, Navitas Capital, Corigin Ventures, Camber Creek, MetaProp, Starwood Capital and Tamarisc Ventures.

In fact, Darren Bechtel has ties to and is an individual investor in Fifth Wall, an LA-based firm that stormed onto the scene in 2017 with an equally impressive, and very different, roster of limited partners in the real estate industry, from which it has already amassed more than $700 million in capital commitments across two funds.

As Bechtel told us on a call late last week, he was going to go into business with Fifth Wall’s founders initially, but they wanted to raise a lot of money, and Bechtel was thinking more conservatively — for a reason. “I’d done five deals on AngelList with [Fifth Wall co-founder] Brendan [Wallace] and we’d started putting together a pitch deck, and as we were thinking through ideal fund structure and size, Brendan said $500 million and I said $50 million,” says Bechtel.

Wallace was thinking big, says Bechtel, because “hospitality already had some massive players — Airbnb, WeWork. It was a far more mature landscape, and Brendan thought that if we were going to own a category, we needed the capital to secure a leadership position in the right deals.”

Bechtel thinks Wallace was right, too. He says he just came to realize that construction tech — which is what really interested him — was in its own league, and it was in its infancy. Though the construction software company PlanGrid took off like gangbusters — Bechtel wrote the largest check during the company’s seed round — it wasn’t so long ago that “there were great, billion-dollar ideas being formed but the rounds were small and the valuations were small,” says Bechtel. Because the “investment community didn’t understand what it was looking at, I had concerns about our ability to generate returns if we had too large a fund.”

In the end, the friends and former Stanford MBA classmates decided to split their respective focus on real estate and hospitality (Fifth Wall) and the actual construction of buildings (Brick & Mortar), and things seem to have gone well since. As Fifth Wall has gained traction, so too has Brick & Mortar, which is now a couple of years in the making. Indeed, though Bechtel is announcing the close of Brick & Mortar’s first fund today, he already works with two principals and two associates, and they’ve collectively sourced and funded 16 startups to date with capital they’ve been raising from investors along the way.

One of those checks went to Fieldwire, a maker of field management software for construction teams. They’ve also backed Serious Labs, which trains workers how to use heavy equipment and tools via virtual reality software, and Curbio, a real estate technology startup that orchestrates turnkey renovations for home sellers, then gets paid back once the home is sold.

Brick & Mortar even has an exit already, having helped fund the construction software platform BuildingConnected, which sold last December to Autodesk. (Bechtel’s earlier investment in PlanGrid, which also sold to Autodesk last year, was a personal investment, one of roughly 40 he made before setting out to create a traditional venture firm.)

As for whether Brick & Mortar ever hunts for companies that Bechtel — the firm founded by Darren’s great-great-grandfather — might like to acquire or otherwise partner with, Darren is quick to note that the firm is not an investor in his venture fund or any or its portfolio companies, and he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of what’s happening there.

“I don’t work at Bechtel or pretend to know what their intentions are, though my brother is CEO, so you could say I know a guy there.”

More, he notes, he doesn’t think it would make sense to fund a company that “a user would want to acquire. If one user buys [a startup’s tools] because they want exclusivity, they’re limiting the exit value of that company.” To underscore his point, he notes that “Bechtel does around $30 billion a year, but the construction market is an $11 trillion market.” In the end, he says, it’s “better to have a preferred relationship. Maybe you get the next year’s model released early; maybe you get custom colors.” But if you’ve developed a winning product, you want to make it accessible to everyone. “You benefit the most by having a technology adopted by the whole industry.”

Above, the Brick & Mortar Ventures team. From left to right: Austin Yount, senior associate; Alice Leung, associate; Curtis Rodgers, principal; Darren Bechtel, general partner; and Kaustubh Pandya, principal.

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Facebook’s AR dev toolkit exits closed beta on Instagram

Not one to let Face App and Snapchat steal its spotlight, Facebook announced today that it’s opening its closed beta of Spark AR on Instagram, letting any developer build and share an augmented reality filter on the platform.

The company announced this change was coming at its F8 keynote earlier this year.

Phone-based AR isn’t the piping-hot platform it was when Mark Zuckerberg devoted the top-half of his 2017 F8 keynote to highlighting the company’s AR Camera Effects platform, but two-and-a-half years later the company is ready to let more developers give it a whirl.

Effects published via the Spark AR app can pop up in a few ways. If a user is following someone that has shared effects on the platform, they may pop up in the user’s effects tray in the camera section of the app. The company is also introducing a new Effects Gallery where users can search for new filters. Instagram isn’t exactly throwing the Effects Gallery front-and-center; to find it, users will have to reach the end of the effects tray in the Instagram camera and click on it there. Users will also be able to see the effect being used in Instagram Stories, which is probably the real ticket to Spark AR features finding any sort of viral hype.

Apple brings contactless student IDs to a dozen more universities

Ahead of the upcoming school year, Apple this morning announced it’s bringing contactless student IDs in Apple Wallet to several more U.S. universities. The expansion will allow more than 100,000 additional college students to carry their student ID on their iPhone or Apple Watch, where it can be used for a variety of tasks, including paying for their meals and snacks and entry into buildings, like the student’s dorm and other campus facilities.

The expanded list of universities includes: Clemson University, Georgetown University, University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky, University of San Francisco, University of Vermont, Arkansas State University, South Dakota State University, Norfolk State University, Louisburg College, University of North Alabama and Chowan University.

These join the previously supported schools: Duke University, University of Oklahoma, University of Alabama, Temple University, Johns Hopkins University, Marshall University and Mercer University.

Apple brings student IDs to iPhone and Apple Watch student ID on apple watch 081319

Apple first announced its plans for contactless student IDs at WWDC 2018, then rolled out to its debut schools last October.

The contactless IDs not only serve as a means of student identification, but also work as a payment mechanism for on-campus transactions — like meals at the cafeteria or textbooks and supplies at the college’s bookstore, for example. Contactless entry into buildings is also now common on college campuses, and these digital IDs can work to open doors, too, as an alternative to swiping an entry card.

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Support for college student IDs is only one way that Apple is trying to replace the physical wallet. The company also supports the ability to add your debit and credit cards, transit and loyalty cards, tickets and even paper money through Apple Pay Cash. And now it’s launching its own credit card, too, which rewards you with cashback for shopping Apple and using Apple Pay.

“We’re happy to add to the growing number of schools that are making getting around campus easier than ever with iPhone and Apple Watch,” said Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Internet Services, in a statement about the expansion. “We know students love this feature. Our university partners tell us that since launch, students across the country have purchased 1.25 million meals and opened more than 4 million doors across campuses by just tapping their iPhone and Apple Watch.”

Related to this launch, Apple says it’s also adding support for CBORD, Allegion and HID — solution providers for campus credentials and mobile access. With these technologies on board, Apple will be able to reach other schools integrated with these systems in the future.

Phones, laptops and game consoles get tariff reprieve until December

Update: Trump confirmed to reporters that the delay is due to timing for the holiday shopping season. “We’re doing this for the Christmas season,” he said. “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.”

Electronics manufacturers are no doubt breathing a collective sigh of relief this morning at the news that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has delayed tariffs on a number of categories.

A long list of exports, including livestock, foodstuff and clothing will have the additional 10% tariff imposed on September 1. Others, including “cell phones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing” have simply been delayed until December 15.

It seems the fees are an inevitability, but many might be able to scrape through just in time for the holidays.

“Certain products are being removed from the tariff list based on health, safety, national security and other factors and will not face additional tariffs of 10 percent,” the USTR writes. “Further, as part of USTR’s public comment and hearing process, it was determined that the tariff should be delayed to December 15 for certain articles.”

That list includes a wide range of electronics, from “telephones for cellular networks or for other wireless networks” to “telephone answering machines” and “cassette players (non‐recording) designed exclusively for motor‐vehicle installation.”

Stock prices for companies like Apple have already seen a positive bump following the news. The White House is expected to have additional trade talks with China next month in Washington, though President Trump has since cast some doubt.

Asked by reporters whether he might cancel the talks, the president answered, “Maybe. We’ll see what happens.”

Spotify’s podcast dashboard comes out of beta

Over the last couple of years, Spotify has made a big push into podcasts. The tip of the spear has been major investments, including acquisitions of companies like Gimlet and Anchor. It’s all part of the company’s attempt to harness a massively growing category and build an audience beyond music.

The other great thing about podcasts for a company like Spotify is the access to a tremendous amount of free content created by third-party producers. They record it, edit it and host it, and all Spotify has to do is index the stuff. Spotify for Podcasters is a new platform for the company designed to give creators more control — or at least insight — into how that content is served up.

Why Spotify is betting big on podcasting

The feature came out of beta today and is available for all users, showing key analytics like listening time, number of listeners and episode streams. “With so many podcasts out there, it’s more important than ever that you have the data you need to help you understand and grow your audience,” the company writes. “That’s exactly what your dashboard is designed to provide.”

I’ve been playing around with the feature a bit this morning and am finding some interesting bits of demographic info based on the sample. My show, RiYL, is a mix of different interviews with subjects across a variety of mediums.

No surprise, the ones with musical guests are doing far better than any others. I suspect many or most users are discovering episodes while searching for music on the service. That will likely be the case until Spotify becomes more known for podcast offerings.

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Seems the show’s listeners are mostly male (disappointing, but perhaps not surprising), aged 35-44, located in the United States. They also listen to a lot of Beatles, Bon Iver, Velvet Underground and Radiohead. Go figure.

The feature follows the similar Spotify for Artists offering and promises additional information/insight as it matures.

Roku expands its free, live TV selection with 5 more channels, including fubo’s Sports Network

The Roku Channel continues to expand beyond ad-supported movies and premium subscriptions with today’s announcement of the addition of several more live TV channels available to anyone with a Roku streaming device or Roku TV. The company says today it’s adding five free live TV channels to this offering, including, most notably, fubo’s Sports Network.

The fubo Sports Network is streaming service fuboTV’s first-ever TV channel designed for distribution outside its own platform.

Soft-launched this June, fubo produces content for the channel, including original programming, event coverage, behind-the-scenes and other exclusives. The network is already available to a few streaming platforms, including XUMO, Samsung TV Plus and LG Channels (powered by XUMO).

However, distribution to Roku’s popular entertainment hub is a big win for the new channel, given that Roku is now the top streaming device platform in the U.S., with a 39% share of streaming boxes and sticks and a 33% share of smart TV operating systems.

Other new networks arriving to The Roku Channel today include the ACC Digital Network, USA Today, Now This (news) and Comedy Dynamics.

In addition, The Roku Channel now offers the Sports Illustrated streaming service, SI TV, to any interested subscribers through its Premium Subscription lineup.

Roku has been rapidly expanding its Roku Channel hub since it first launched in September 2017 with a focus on free, ad-supported movies — similar to Vudu’s “Movies on Us” or Tubi, for example. But shortly after, the channel began to roll out more content like news, sports, TV shows and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks. This pushed the channel to become one of the most-watched on its platform.

And this year, Roku launched its own premium subscriptions alongside its free content, allowing The Roku Channel to become not just the place to find free entertainment, but where you tune in to your favorite shows as well. Today, its paid lineup includes top premium networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX and many others.

The decision to invest in its own content hub gives Roku a powerful selling point for its devices — and that appears to be paying off with consumers and in terms of the company’s bottom line.

Roku recently closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and average revenue per user up from $19.06 in Q1 to $21.06 in Q2. Revenue was also up 59% YoY to $250.1 million.

Clumio raises $51M to bring enterprise backup into the 21st century

Creating backups for massive enterprise deployments may feel like a solved problem, but for the most part, we’re still talking about complex hardware and software setups. Clumio, which is coming out of stealth today, wants to modernize enterprise data protection by eliminating the on-premise hardware in favor of a flexible, SaaS-style cloud-based backup solution.

For the first time, Clumio also today announced that it has raised a total of $51 million in a Series A and B round since it was founded in 2017. The $11 million Series A round closed in October 2017 and the Series B round in November 2018, Clumio founder and CEO Poojan Kumar told me. Kumar’s previous company, storage startup PernixData, was acquired by Nutanix in 2016. It doesn’t look like the investors made their money back, though.

Clumio is backed by investors like Sutter Hill Ventures, which led the Series A, and Index Ventures, which drove the Series B together with Sutter Hill. Other individual investors include Mark Leslie, founder of Veritas Technologies, and John Thompson, chairman of the board at Microsoft .

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“Enterprise workloads are being ‘SaaS-ified’ because IT can no longer afford the time, complexity and expense of building and managing heavy on-prem hardware and software solutions if they are to successfully deliver against their digital transformation initiatives,” said Kumar. “Unlike legacy backup vendors, Clumio SaaS is born in the cloud. We have leveraged the most secure and innovative cloud services available, now and in the future, within our service to ensure that we can meet customer requirements for backup, regardless of where the data is.”

In its current iteration, Clumio can be used to secure data from on-premise, VMware Cloud for AWS and native AWS service workloads. Given this list, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Clumio’s backend, too, makes extensive use of public cloud services.

The company says that it already has several customers, though it didn’t disclose any in today’s announcement.

MasterClass founder launches Outlier, offering online courses for college credit

Aaron Rasmussen, co-founder and former creative director of MasterClass, has a new startup called Outlier.org. Like MasterClass, Outlier is bringing education online, but with a key difference — these are college classes offering real college credit.

The startup is launching a pilot version of its first two courses, Calculus I and Introduction to Psychology, for the coming fall semester. Each course is available for $400. (That covers all costs, including textbooks.)

Despite the .org name and address, Rasmussen said Outlier is very much a for-profit company, but he added, “We do want to make it clear that our goal is social impact. I believe in market solutions to problems. Coming up with a market solution to education, rather just relying on people’s charity, is far more durable.”

The problem in question is the cost of higher education. Rasmussen said that each year, 1 million students take a college-level Calculus I course in the United States, at an average cost of $2,500. And then 40% of them fail.

“That means we’re wasting $1 billion per year,” he said — and that’s just on a single class.

Outlier

Rasmussen is hardly the first to point out the problem, which is one of the main factors in the growing push for online learning. But he also argued that there’s not “a great online college” yet, due to four main factors.

First, there’s the issue of prestige, which he’s trying to solve by partnering with the University of Pittsburgh — students who pass Outlier’s classes will receive transferable credits from the university (though you’ll want to check whether specific institutions will accept those credits).

Next, there’s the actual content and learning environment. Rather than simply filming classroom lectures (“which can be pretty tedious to watch”) and posting PDFs of the homework and tests, Outlier is shooting classes specifically for online presentation, with instructors speaking directly to the camera, and it’s also dynamically generating the problem sets and offering one-on-one tutoring.

In addition, students can choose from different instructors (the teachers for Calculus I, for example, include Hannah Fry of University College London, Tim Chartier of Davidson College and John Urschel of MIT), or even switch between them mid-semester. And there are smaller touches, like the fact that the website was created in dark mode, so Rasmussen said it doesn’t feel like you’re “staring into a lightbulb” as you’re learning.

Third, there’s the element of social interaction, which is why Outlier will break classes up into smaller study groups of four to five students who can connect over video chat. When I suggested that this may be the hardest part of the college experience to replicate online, Rasmussen said the startup will be trying different approaches (which he wasn’t ready to specify), but he added, “Part of our approach to this is trying to stay nimble.”

Lastly, there’s the cost. Again, Outlier is charging an introductory price of $400, and while it sounds like the exact number could change, Rasmussen is committed to keeping the price tag at around this level.

He also said that the company is “flipping the philosophy of education” by offering refunds to any student who doesn’t pass. That means Outlier has an incentive to ensure each student’s success — but does it also create an incentive to simply let everyone pass?

“The real stopgap there is that we are overseen by the accrediting partner university,” Rasmussen said. “They literally have checked our midterms and finals and things like that … That puts a bit of a fail-safe there.”

While Outlier is only offering two pilot courses this fall, the obvious goal is to add more classes over time. Students might take these classes during their summer break, or as a supplement to their in-person classes, or as a way to get college credit when life circumstances make it difficult for them to attend a residential university.

Even as it grows, Rasmussen suggested that Outlier will remain focused on “the first 25 college-level courses,” rather than recreating an entire college curriculum.

“As far as the next couple years of college after that, there’s just a lot of benefit to going to a residential college for those upper-level courses,” he said. “We’re really focused on these first couple years, [where we can] hack down a bunch of the student debt.”

MasterClass raises $80M after doubling sales last year

Samsung’s Note 10 game streaming arrives in August

Update: Samsung has since adjusted timing. The app will be available this month, not early September as originally reported.

PlayGalaxy Link got fleetingly little stage time at last week’s Unpacked event. It’s true that Samsung had a lot of information to jam into the hour-long press conference, but the offering was glazed over during a brief segment on mobile gaming — a surprising choice given how big of an industry the category has become.

We got a little more information from the company by way of a quick “hands-on” video served through Samsung’s Korean video channel, but that’s about all we’ve heard. Here’s what we know to date: GamePlay Live is a streaming service that makes it possible to stream PC games to the Note 10.

We can now add that the service will be available as a downloadable app (for Android and Windows 10) at some point during the first two weeks of September. The service is free and leverages technology created by Parsec, a New York-based cloud gaming startup that we covered way back in late 2017. The company’s technology is being used in the PlayGalaxy app, allowing users to stream titles from a Windows PC with limited latency.

Is the time finally right for platform-agnostic cloud gaming?

“It’s humbling and exciting to us to be the chosen partner to provide the low latency streaming technology that powers the PlayGalaxy Link application,” Parsec’s CEO and co-founder Benjy Boxer says in a release. “This further demonstrates that our market leading technology can form the core of any game streaming product. Providing our ultra low latency high frame rate streaming software and our proprietary networking to other companies furthers our mission to democratize access to games.”

Parsec Artwork

The offering arrives as some of tech’s most prominent names are taking more active — although often distinct — interests in mobile gaming. Apple will be launching its arcade mobile gaming subscription service, while Google is offering full-on remote game streaming through Stadia. Microsoft, which recently announced a major partnership with Samsung, will provide similar console-to-mobile streaming with the Xbox.

Parsec, meanwhile, will be offering developer tools through a newly released SDK.

Nvidia breaks records in training and inference for real-time conversational AI

Nvidia’s GPU-powered platform for developing and running conversational AI that understands and responds to natural language requests has achieved some key milestones and broken some records that have big implications for anyone building on their tech — which includes companies large and small, as much of the code they’ve used to achieve these advancements is open source, written in PyTorch and easy to run.

The biggest achievements Nvidia announced today include its breaking the hour mark in training BERT, one of the world’s most advanced AI language models and a state-of-the-art model widely considered a good standard for natural language processing. Nvidia’s AI platform was able to train the model in less than an hour, a record-breaking achievement at just 53 minutes, and the trained model could then successfully infer (i.e. actually apply the learned capability achieved through training to achieve results) in just over two milliseconds (10 milliseconds is considered a high-water mark in the industry), another record.

Nvidia’s breakthroughs aren’t just cause for bragging rights — these advances scale and provide real-world benefits for anyone working with their NLP conversational AI and GPU hardware. Nvidia achieved its record-setting times for training on one of its SuperPOD systems, which is made up of 92 Nvidia DGX-2H systems runnings 1,472 V100 GPUs, and managed the inference on Nvidia T4 GPUs running Nvidia TensorRT — which beat the performance of even highly optimized CPUs by many orders of magnitude. But it’s making available the BERT training code, and TensorRT optimized BERT Sample via GitHub for all to leverage.

Alongside these milestones, Nvidia’s Research wing also built and trained the largest-ever language model based on “Transformers,” which is the tech that underlies BERT, too. This custom model includes a massive 8.3 billion parameters, making it 24 times the size of BERT-Large, the largest current core BERT model. Nvidia has cheekily titled this model “Megatron,” and also offered up the PyTorch code it used to train this model so that others can train their own similar, massive Transformer-based language models.

DJI slims down and simplifies its smartphone gimbal

As we noted last month, DJI’s camera stabilizer line began life as an offshoot of the company’s drone offerings. Since then, however, it’s grown into a pretty massive portfolio in its own right, spanning from SLR to standalone pocket offerings.

For obvious reasons, the Osmo Mobile has been one of the more popular models. Designed for smartphone users, the product is among the most accessible DJI offerings, with out of the box operation for both iOS and Android users.

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The company says it “went back to the drawing board” for the latest version of the handheld gimbal, but the Osmo Mobile 3 is really more of an evolution. The company took some customer feedback to heart and provided a handful of key changes. The new device is smaller and foldable, so users can much more easily toss it in a backpack. A DJI rep I spoke with suggested that it might fit in a pocket, but that’s a bit ambitious.

The other big piece of the puzzle is that DJI has made it a lot easier to operate the system with one hand. Most of the functions are executed using the back trigger or a combination of the front thumb buttons. There’s a new Quick Roll feature, which switches between landscape and portrait with the click of a button, while triple-clicking the trigger flips it into selfie mode. The trigger is also used to recenter the camera or lock into place.

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There’s a bunch of software features borrowed from the company’s drones and the higher-end Ronin line, including Story Mode, Gesture Control, ActiveTrack, TimeLapse and HyperLapse. I didn’t really get much hands-on time with those, but we’ll be getting a review unit into the hands of our video team soon.

All in all, it looks like a nice little update. It’s also a bit cheaper, starting at $119 for the standard version and $139 for a bundle that includes a tripod. The Osmo Mobile 3 is available starting today.

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