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Bird is scrapping thousands of electric scooters in the Middle East

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Bird is scrapping thousands of e-scooters in the Middle East and shutting down its operations in the majority of the region as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to five people familiar with the matter.  

The e-scooters being scrapped belong to Circ, which was acquired by Bird for an undisclosed sum in January. 

There are between 8,000 and 10,000 Circ scooters across cities in Qatar, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, according to one former employee and one current employee for Circ who asked to be kept anonymous as they’ve signed a confidentiality agreement. 

Bird is paying around $300,000 to have all of Circ’s scooters in the Middle East scrapped, the former employee told CNBC.

Bird said it has “temporarily paused operations” in the Middle East because of the hot weather, adding that it is using the break to “recycle” some vehicles. Bird will continue to operate its own scooters in Tel Aviv. 

“During this pause, we are taking the opportunity to responsibly recycle parts of the old Circ fleet that were previously used in the region,” a Bird spokesperson said. 

“Following extreme wear and tear, the Circ vehicles no longer met our rigorous quality standards. Selling or re-use of these vehicles would potentially result in safety and reliability issues, which would not have been fair or ethical to the purchasers or potential riders. We look forward to resuming our service throughout more parts of the region later this year.”

On March 27, Bird laid off around 30% of its workforce on a Zoom call, or 406 people out of 1,387 employees prior to the layoffs. 

The entire Circ team in the Middle East, which comprised of around 75 people, was laid off that day and many of them had their last day on May 31, according to the former employee and two other industry sources who preferred to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situation.

“They’re completely shutting down the operation,” said the former employee. “They’ve pulled out and closed the Middle East. Everyone is unemployed.”

“They (Bird) hung around after acquiring Circ and said they were backing us because we had 70% market share out here and we were in a very good position. Obviously Covid came in and they decided they didn’t want to do it anymore. We were expecting pay cuts because it was a bad time with obviously no operation but then they turned around and made everyone redundant.”  

Hot on the heels of Uber Jump

Governments are throwing their weight behind e-scooters and e-bikes as a viable alternative to cars and public transport in the age of the coronavirus. 

E-scooter sharing companies have marketed themselves as sustainable, environmentally-friendly businesses that cut carbon emissions. But there have been questions about the longevity of their vehicles, with reports suggesting some Bird e-scooters have a life span of just a few months. 

Last week, it emerged that Uber is scrapping thousands of e-bikes and e-scooters worth millions of dollars after selling its Jump unit to mobility start-up Lime. 

The firm said it decided to “recycle” the older models that Lime didn’t want after concluding that it would be too complicated to give them away due to the maintenance and technical support that they need. 

Lawrence Leuschner, the co-founder and CEO of Berlin scooter company Tier, told CNBC that he has offered to take the scooters from Uber Jump and Bird but neither of the companies took him up on the offer. 

Frank Meehan, co-founder of environmental start-up Equilibrium, wrote on Twitter: “Some bike and scooter sharing companies have to be some of the worst environmental polluters of the last decade, and have been really irresponsible.”

Correction: A quote in this story has been updated to show that Circ had a 70% share of the market in the Middle East.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/03/bird-circ-scooters-middle-east.html

CNBC

Pinterest is reportedly in talks to acquire VSCO

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So what can Pinterest do to jump higher up the list of social networking sites? According to a report by the New York Times, one possibility is acquiring the owner of VSCO, the app for editing / sharing photos and videos that has brought in-depth tools to mobile users for years. Neither side directly confirmed the negotiations, and there’s no word on a possible price, but maybe combining forces can bring some Instagram-like glow. 

As it is, Pinterest is still mostly known for planning and organizing, and as the NYT article points out, other than some recent acquisitions, VSCO is currently best known for the “VSCO girls” meme.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/vsco-pinterest-014258107.html

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A sealed copy of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ just sold for $660,000

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A nearly perfect copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES has sold for $660,000 at auction. In what turned out to be a 13-bidder contest, $550,000 went to the game’s original owner. The copy was one of the earliest shrink-wrapped versions of the games you could buy in the US (Super Mario Bros. eventually had 11 different box variants, according to WATA Games).

Heritage Auctions, the firm that oversaw the sale, told Ars Technica it dates back to late 1986. It was reportedly bought as a Christmas gift and sat unopened in a desk drawer for the better part of four decades. “I never thought anything about it,” the seller, who asked to remain anonymous, told the auction house.

The $660,000 this copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for is crazy when you consider the Nintendo PlayStation, a one-of-a-kind prototype representing a unique piece of gaming history, sold for $360,000 at auction last year. More recently, someone paid $156,000 to buy a pristine copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It makes you wonder how much the owner would have walked away with had they simultaneously tried to cash in on the NFT craze somehow.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/super-mario-bros-auction-000001095.html

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‘Lost Tapes of the 27 Club’ used Google AI to ‘write’ a new Nirvana song

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Were he still alive today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain would be 52 years old. Every February 20th, on the day of his birthday, fans wonder what songs he would write if he hadn’t died of suicide nearly 30 years ago. While we’ll never know the answer to that question, an AI is attempting to fill the gap.

A mental health organization called Over the Bridge used Google’s Magenta AI and a generic neural network to examine more than two dozen songs by Nirvana to create a ‘new’ track from the band. “Drowned in the Sun” opens with reverb-soaked plucking before turning into an assault of distorted power chords. “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan sings in the chorus. In execution, it sounds not all that dissimilar from “You Know You’re Right,” one of the last songs Nirvana recorded before Cobain’s death in 1994.

Other than the voice of Hogan, everything you hear in the song was generated by the two AI programs Over the Bridge used. The organization first fed Magenta songs as MIDI files so that the software could learn the specific notes and harmonies that made the band’s tunes so iconic. Humorously, Cobain’s loose and aggressive guitar playing style gave Magenta some trouble, with the AI mostly outputting a wall of distortion instead of something akin to his signature melodies. “It was a lot of trial and error,” Over the Bridge board member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone. Once they had some musical and lyrical samples, the creative team picked the best bits to record. Most of the instrumentation you hear are MIDI tracks with different effects layered on top.

One thing neither AI gave direction on is how exactly Cobain would have sung the song. Outside of cadence and tone, Hogan had to interpret how the grunge star, who famously suffered from crippling stomach pain, would have channeled his anguish into the lyrics.

Over the Bridge isn’t the first group to use AI to emulate a dead artist. But the intent here is different from similar past projects. “Drowned in the Sun” is part of the organization’s Lost Tapes of the 27 Club initiative. They set out to record AI-generated songs by musicians who died at the age of 27 to raise awareness about mental health resources musicians, and people more generally, can turn to when they feel they need help. The Toronto-based non-profit has a Facebook page where it offers support. It also offers online sessions and workshops.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over an online chat.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/over-the-bridge-lost-tapes-of-the-27-club-223000315.html

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Microsoft’s online-only Build conference starts on May 25th

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Spring is fully upon us, which means the calendar is starting to fill up with high-profile tech events. And the latest addition? Microsoft confirmed today that its online-only Build developer conference will run between May 25th and May 27th, though there’s still no word on when registration will open. (If last year is any indication, our money is on “the end of April.”)

“Microsoft Build is where developers, architects, start-ups, and students learn, connect, and code together, sharing knowledge and expanding their skillset, while exploring new ways of innovating for tomorrow,” the company’s events page explains. 

Unfortunately, Microsoft has yet to update its Build-specific webpage with information about this year’s priorities or schedule, but we’re almost certainly looking at another packed event. Last year, Microsoft went on (among other things) about improved collaboration tools for its suite of Office productivity apps, an AI-focused supercomputer running on its Azure cloud platform, and new cloud tools designed specifically for healthcare practitioners. 

Historically, spring and summer are been jam-packed with large, in-person events where app and software developers get their first glimpse at upcoming platform and strategy updates, attend workshops and code reviews, and generally mingle with their colleagues. Starting last year, though, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has forced companies that stage these events to rapidly rethink their approaches.

Some, like Microsoft and Apple, quickly pivoted to informative online-only affairs that include full days worth of sessions, demos and fireside chats. (For what it’s worth, Apple announced this week that its own Worldwide Developer Conference will also proceed as an online-only event from June 7-11.) Meanwhile, Google has not yet confirmed whether it plans to stage its Google I/O developer conference at all this year — the company cancelled the show entirely in 2020, but said last month that it does plan to host some version of its annual Google Cloud Next event this October. 

Between a surge in COVID-19 vaccine production and news of relaxed restrictions for vaccinated travelers, Build 2021 may well be the last purely virtual developer conference Microsoft will ever need to put on. With any luck, devs will resume their pilgrimages to Seattle next year, and who knows — maybe those tiny emotional support horses from Build 2018 will show up again too.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-build-2021-may-25-to-27-developer-conference-official-212230206.html

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