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On Main Street, business owners push for greater protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits

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At Chris Purcell’s Firehouse Subs location in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, things aren’t quite business as usual.

After suffering sales drops of as much as 60% during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, customers are starting to return. Now it’s all about making them comfortable and keeping employees and patrons alike safe in his store, which means going above and beyond guidelines for operating in the new normal.

Workers are wearing masks and gloves, and washing hands every 15 minutes. Purcell has plexiglass up between the point-of-sale and customers, barriers between customers and employees and he’s operating at less than the 50% capacity he’s allowed to, just to be safe. The threat of a Covid-19 lawsuit looms over his head.

“There’s really no way to prove or disprove that someone did or did not catch it in any particular location. And that scares a lot of the small business owners, like myself and fellow restauranteurs, in town,” he said.

“We’ve done everything that the CDC, the state of North Carolina, WHO, anybody can think of, for us to do, we’re doing it,” Purcell continued. “And that’s our concern, if we’re doing everything that we’re told is correct to do, we can still be open for liability. We have no recourse against it.”

As small businesses like Purcell’s around the country begin to reopen their doors to customers after months of limited operations, Main Street advocates are putting out the call to enact liability guidelines and provide protections at the federal level.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 200 trade groups across the country sent a letter to Congress in late May addressing the issue, and pushing for temporary and targeted relief legislation related to the pandemic.

The groups ask for temporary liability protections for businesses, nonprofits and educational institutions that follow public health guidelines; workers and facilities providing critical Covid-19 services; manufacturers, donors, distributors, and users of vaccines, therapeutics, medical devices, as well as PPE and other supplies critical to the pandemic response, and finally public companies targeted by “unfair and opportunistic” Covid-19-related securities lawsuits.

“These crucial protections should safeguard businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions, as well as healthcare providers and facilities from unfair lawsuits so that they can continue to contribute to a safe and effective recovery from this pandemic,” the letter said

The International Franchise Association has also followed up with its own Congressional petition, including 7,000 signatures from members, to protect business owners from potential lawsuits. The group’s president and CEO, Robert Cresanti, said, it’s tracking lawsuits and has already seen 1,000 across the country tied to the coronavirus.

“In the midst of the economic crisis and just having stood up your business, having been shut down for a long time, and now having to face lawsuits because someone got sick, even though you may be taking the best available precautions … you end up in a situation of near hopelessness,” Cresanti said.

As the pandemic took hold and states forced nonessential businesses to close, many small businesses sought the relief of their business interruption coverage only to find that Covid-related closures were not covered.

“It turns out that business interruption insurance is not what it sounds like,” Cresanti said. “Most of the insurance companies are telling our people that business interruption insurance is actually business destruction insurance. So if your business is burned down or destroyed by a flood, you’re covered. But you’re not [covered] in a crisis like this where your business is truly interrupted.”

The insurance industry is facing new questions from small business owners, this time about general liability coverage for incidents involving a customer getting sick after patronizing a business. Specific policy exclusions vary between insurers, but most liability policies include an exclusion for virus- and bacteria-related losses. Industry executives warn without these exclusions, the large burden could bankrupt the industry or leave it unable to cover other catastrophes in the future.

Liability protections promise to be another battleground between Republicans and Democrats as Congress considers additional stimulus. Senior Republicans said they won’t consider another stimulus bill without the inclusion of liability protections for doctors and businesses.

“Liability protections would be the No. 1 thing I would look at,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNBC’s Squawk Box last month. “No bill will pass without it.”

The public, though, is divided on the issue. Data from CNBC and Change Research on liability for coronavirus risk shows that 37% of likely voters nationwide believe businesses should have protections from lawsuits, while nearly 49% think that employees and customers should be able to sue.

Still, Purcell is hopeful the government will come through.

“It’s scary for all of us that we could be bankrupt [and lose] what we’ve worked so hard for, for so many years,” he said.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/12/on-main-street-a-push-for-protection-from-coronavirus-related-lawsuits.html

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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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