Big Tech &
Amazon acquires Selz, a Shopify competitor that helps small businesses build online stores (2 minute read)
Amazon acquired Selz, a company that makes tools to help businesses launch online stores, on January 15. Shopify has become a significant competitor due to the pandemic. Amazon previously had a service similar to Shopify, but it shut down the project in 2015. Amazon's third-party marketplace has more than 2.5 million sellers, and it accounts for more than half of Amazon's e-commerce sales. Providing tools for businesses to quickly move their operations online could give Amazon a more competitive edge.
Microsoft to add 'Kids Mode' to Chromium-based Edge browser (1 minute read)
Kids Mode is a new option inside the daily Microsoft Edge Canary builds that includes new themes and child-friendly content. It also includes security and privacy features like tracking prevention, InPrivate mode, and Bing Safe Search. Closing Kids Mode or changing its settings will require a device password. A Microsoft Account is not required to activate Kids Mode. The feature was launched on February 16 and it should be available to the Dev Channel branch relatively soon.
NASA helicopter to take a spin on harsh, cold Mars (3 minute read)
Ingenuity is a four-pound drone that NASA hopes to fly on Mars when it lands on Thursday. The atmosphere on the surface of the planet is about one percent the density of Earth's, with temperatures of -130 degrees Fahrenheit. It can take up to 45 minutes for instructions to reach Mars from Earth, so everything that Ingenuity does will be programmed in advance. The Ingenuity mission will start slow, beginning with a testing routine.
Russian Scientists Are Probing Prehistoric Viruses Emerging From Siberian Permafrost (2 minute read)
A Russian state laboratory is researching prehistoric viruses by analyzing the remains of animals recovered from melted permafrost. The project aims to identify paleo viruses and research virus evolution. Research has already been conducted on the recovered animals but it focused on bacteria. The Arctic is warming up twice as fast as the global average, releasing carbon stored in the melting permafrost.
Programming, Design & Data Science
Screenflow: an unfinished attempt at a cross-platform server-driven UI at Uber (12 minute read)
Uber's apps are available on iOS, Android, and the web, which means that they need to be written three times and usually by different developers. This requires time and careful coordination, and delays potentially meant that Uber couldn't operate as a business. The solution was to use server-driven UI so that the app would fetch its configuration from the server. This article discusses the Screenflow project and how Uber built an interactive UI that could be updated at any point.
Google Open-Sources Trillion-Parameter AI Language Model Switch Transformer (3 minute read)
Researchers at Google Brain have open-sourced the Switch Transformer natural-language processing AI model. While the pre-trained model weights for the Switch Transformer have not been released, the implementation code is available on GitHub. The Google Brain team has not compared the model's performance to GPT-3, likely due to a lack of information on OpenAI's published results.
Losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million in 2020 (2 minute read)
Stay-at-home and social distancing may have played a major role in romance scams reaching record levels in 2020. Total losses were estimated at $304 million. The total dollar losses have increased more than fourfold since 2016. Targets of these scams send money to scammers thinking they are helping out someone they care about. Many romance scams start on social media networks and use gift cards for money transfers. All age groups were targeted last year, but victims aged 40 to 69 were targeted the most. Victims aged above 70 reported the highest average losses.