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The Remorseless Confessions of a Champion Underbidder

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Aunts, uncles, homies, bartenders, barbers, gamblers, church deacons, Harlemites, Pittsburghers, grad students, school principles, lawyers, landlords, Deltas, Dominicans, felons, Ellen DeGeneres — it doesn’t matter.

If you’ve faced me in spades at any point in the last decade, you almost definitely walked away a loser, and probably wanted to fight. I’ve played approximately 70 times in that time period, and I can only recall one loss — at a spades tournament I held in my apartment in 2015. There were 16 teams, and mine (“Team Shank”) got upset in the semis. They thought I was done. They threw a parade. They documented it on Instagram. But, like Jordan in ’96 and John Wick in tapered Italian formal wear, I came back better, smarter and stronger.

The rules of spades are straightforward enough. It’s a team card game where each person gets 13 cards, and the highest cards win. A spade, however, trumps all, but you can only play one if you’ve exhausted the lead suit. There are 13 available rounds, called books or tricks, to be won, and you keep score by predicting, before the hand is played, how many books your team will win that hand. Adding intrigue is the fact that you’re seated across from your partner instead of next to them, so you have no idea what cards they have. The only thing they’re allowed to communicate to you is how many books they think they’ll get from it. Anything more detailed — succinctly known as “talking across the board”— results in penalty. (And, occasionally, “accidental” pushes down empty elevator shafts.)

Those rules are static, but part of the fun of spades is that they vary by region. Sometimes by household. The big and little jokers are the highest cards in the game, and most variations of spades make the two of spades the third most powerful card. But there are places where the two of diamonds also becomes a trump card, which is like adding sausage to a Big Mac. And there are many other house-dependent decrees, rules with shorthands like “ten for two” and “first seven” and “going blind” that all veteran spades players are familiar with.

Anyway, games are played to 350 or 500, and winning requires a mastery of the ecosystem of strategizing, card-counting, and bourbon retention this dynamic encourages. This is where my magic happens. I win so frequently because I bluff my opponents into losing.

Again, each hand has 13 books to be won, and the goal is for your team to match (or beat) your pre-hand prediction — your bid. (If you bid eight, and you get eight, that’s 80 points.) But these bids don’t happen in a vacuum, because the other team is bidding too, and a secondary goal is to set them — what happens when you prevent them from getting their bid, and they lose points. One way to set a team is to make them much more confident about their hand than they should be: a goal that can be accomplished with targeted, intentional underbidding. Let’s say, for instance, my partner and I think we have seven books. But instead of bidding seven, we bid six, with the hope that the other team will take the bait, bid seven, and fall short.

This is not a unique strategy, as this sort of gamesmanship is well-known. What distinguishes me is my commitment to it. I spend the entire game hunting for opportunities to drop my underbid bomb; a conservative cheetah lurking in the bushes for a cocky gazelle who thinks his king’s gonna walk. And all it takes is one set hand to shift the trajectory of the entire game.

The rub is that one of the unspoken rules of spades is to be as sincere as possible when bidding, and intentional underbidding spits in the eye of that rule. It’s frowned upon by the sort of people who frown upon such things — I like to call them “losers”— and there’s considerable social pressure not to be an underbidder. There’s even a rule in place sometimes (“sandbags”) to discourage it.

Unfortunately (for them), I’m impervious to spades-shaming. I play within the rules, and it’s not my fault if the possum act keeps working. I am the James Harden of spades — a highly skilled and thickly bearded mercenary whose mastery of the rules allows for a, um, liberal interpretation of them.

Adding insult to trickery is the fact that, for me, this win-at-all-costs-even-if-it-induces-throat-punches sensibility is unique to spades. I’ve played basketball my entire life, and I was taught by my father, who taught me how to play, that the way someone hoops sheds light on their personality. And even now I try to hoop as honorably as I can. I take pride in being a creative passer, I very rarely make calls, I don’t cheat teams out of points when keeping score, and if I foul someone, I’ll call it myself. And I’m 41, which means I’m in my argumentative oldhead prime, and I’m still a model citizen out there.

So what distinguishes spades? Why am I a rule-twisting cutthroat there and nowhere else? Honestly, I think it’s just about winning. When hooping, I’m competitive, but I still have fun even if my team doesn’t win. It still has cardio benefits. I still feel full of vigor. I still savor the sweat equity. It still feels great when a lefty hesi lifts someone off their feet. Spades, however, is an hourslong investment, where you’re sitting in a chair, eating lukewarm pizza, and feeling your blood pressure rise and dip like wave-pool water. It’s a war of attrition — I’d say 15 percent of spades games are ended by someone just getting up and just … doing something else and not coming back — and there’s no moral victories. If you don’t win, what’s the point?

That was intended to be a rhetorical question, but if my most frequent spades partner (my wife) were here, she’d answer it, and I know what she’d say: “It’s not fun with you because you take all the fun out of it.”

She is not a fan of my strategery. She believes it to be cheap and, when playing against her grandmother, cruel. For her, the camaraderie and community-building aspects of spades matter too. She has a point, I guess. If squinting, I could maybe see the value in that other stuff, too.

The last time she criticized me about this, I straight up asked why she continued to be my partner if my methods bothered her so. Her response: “Well … I like winning too.”

First, you need four people and one set of 52 cards. (The jokers are included, so remove the two of clubs and two of hearts.)

Then, split into teams, and sit across from — not next to — your partner, so you can’t see each other’s hands.

The dealer — which rotates after each hand (everyone gets an opportunity)—-then shuffles and deals 13 cards to each person.

There are 13 available rounds (or books) to be won.

You must follow the lead suit, and the highest card always wins — unless a spade is played. For instance, if I’m going first and I play the ace of clubs, you must play a club if you still possess one.

But if you are out of clubs, you could “cut”— which is what happens when you play a spade (any spade) and you’d beat my ace. Spades are king here — hence the name — so the more spades you happen to have, the better.

The goal of the game is for you and your partner to combine to win as many books as possible, and score is kept by predicting, before the hand is played, how many books you’ll win together, and writing it on paper. (If you predict 7 and win 7, that’s 70 points.)

Damon Young (@DamonYoungVSB) is the author of “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker” and a founder of VerySmartBrothas.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/11/style/spades-card-games.html

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Google Assistant’s driving mode for Android is nearly ready, one year later

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Google Assistant driving mode on Android
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Google promised an Assistant driving mode for phones would arrive in mid-2019, but that clearly didn’t happen — over a year passed without any sign of it. It appears to be ready, though. XDA-Developers has discovered (via Android Police) that Google Assistant’s driving mode is at least partially enabled for Android users. The interface has changed considerably from the I/O 2019 demo you see above, but the concept remains the same with large buttons and text that let you chat, message and play music while keeping your driving distractions to a minimum.

The rollout appears to be server-side, and might be part of a test. It’s not attached to any particular versions of Google’s Maps or search apps, and also works on a variety of devices. Your access might depend on your account.

We’ve asked Google for comment.

It’s rare for Google to have Android feature delays this long, and it’s not certain what prompted the extended wait. However, the redesign suggests that Google wasn’t completely satisfied with the Assistant driving mode it showed at I/O. Whatever the reasoning, this gives you one more way to handle common tasks during your trips.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/google-assistant-driving-mode-215249421.html

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Cloud leak exposed sensitive data from over 200,000 voicemails

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Some data leaks contain more sensitive info than most. Security researcher Bob Diachenko and Comparitech discovered (via Threatpost) that Broadvoice, a cloud VoIP provider for businesses, left over 350 million records exposed online in an unprotected cluster, including 2 million voicemail records with 200,000 transcripts. Many of those transcripts included sensitive data, and not just common elements like names and phone numbers — medical conditions, mortgages and insurance policies were all left open.

The largest general data collection, 275 million records, typically included full names, phone numbers, and cities.

The company told Comparitech that the data had been stored on September 28th and was locked down October 2nd, a day after Diachenko notified Broadvoice. There hasn’t been evidence of “misuse” so far, the company said. Marketing VP Rebecca Rosen told Threatpost that it believed “less than 10,000” businesses were impacted, although that doesn’t say how many of those companies’ customers were at risk.

The practical damage appears to have been limited as a result. Even so, this illustrates the dangers of insecure data. The wrong decision can expose vast amounts of info, and it can only take a subset of that data to create serious problems.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/broadvoice-voicemail-data-leak-211913573.html

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Startups

VCs reload ahead of the election as unicorns power ahead

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This is The TechCrunch Exchange, a newsletter that goes out on Saturdays, based on the column of the same name. You can sign up for the email here.

It was an active week in the technology world broadly, with big news from Facebook and Twitter and Apple. But past the headline-grabbing noise, there was a steady drumbeat of bullish news for unicorns, or private companies worth $1 billion or more.

A bullish week for unicorns

The Exchange spent a good chunk of the week looking into different stories from unicorns, or companies that will soon fit the bill, and it’s surprising to see how much positive financial news there was on tap even past what we got to write about.

Databricks, for example, disclosed a grip of financial data to TechCrunch ahead of regular publication, including the fact that it grew its annual run rate (not ARR) to $350 million by the end of Q3 2020, up from $200 million in Q2 2019. It’s essentially IPO ready, but is not hurrying to the public markets.

Sticking to our theme, Calm wants more money for a huge new valuation, perhaps as high as $2.2 billion which is not a surprise. That’s more good unicorn news. As was the report that “India’s Razorpay [became a] unicorn after its new $100 million funding round” that came out this week.

Razorpay is only one of a number of Indian startups that have become unicorns during COVID-19. (And here’s another digest out this week concerning a half-dozen startups that became unicorns “amidst the pandemic.”)

There was enough good unicorn news lately that we’ve lost track of it all. Things like Seismic raising $92 million, pushing its valuation up to $1.6 billion from a few weeks ago. How did that get lost in the mix?

All this matters because while the IPO market has captured much attention in the last quarter or so, the unicorn world has not sat still. Indeed, it feels that unicorn VC activity is the highest we’ve seen since 2019.

And, as we’ll see in just a moment, the grist for the unicorn mill is getting refilled as we speak. So, expect more of the same until something material breaks our current investing and exit pattern.

Market Notes

What do unicorns eat? Cash. And many, many VCs raised cash in the last seven days.

A partial list follows. It could be that investors are looking to lock in new funds before the election and whatever chaos may ensue. So, in no particular order, here’s who is newly flush:

All that capital needs to go to work, which means lots more rounds for many, many startups. The Exchange also caught up with a somewhat new firm this week: Race Capital. Helmed by Alfred Chuang, formerly or BEA who is an angel investor now in charge of his own fund, the firm has $50 million to invest.

Sticking to private investments into startups for the moment, quite a lot happened this week that we need to know more about. Like API-powered Argyle raising $20 million from Bain Capital Ventures for what FinLedger calls “unlocking and democratizing access to employment records.” TechCrunch is currently tracking the progress of API-led startups.

On the fintech side of things, M1 Finance raised $45 million for its consumer fintech platform in a Series C, while another roboadvisor, Wealthsimple, raised $87 million, becoming a unicorn at the same time. And while we’re in the fintech bucket, Stripe dropped $200 million this week for Nigerian startup Paystack. We need to pay more attention to the African startup scene. On the smaller end of fintech, Alpaca raised $10 million more to help other companies become Robinhood.

A few other notes before we change tack. Kahoot raised $215 million due to a boom in remote education, another trend that is inescapable in 2020 as part of the larger edtech boom (our own Natasha Mascarenhas has more).

Turning from the private market to the public, we have to touch on SPACs for just a moment. The Exchange got on the phone this week with Toby Russell from Shift, which is now a public company, trading after it merged with a SPAC, namely Insurance Acquisition Corp. Early trading is only going so well, but the CEO outlined for us precisely why he pursued a SPAC, which was actually interesting:

  • Shift could have gone public via an IPO, Russell said, but prioritized a SPAC-led debut because his firm wanted to optimize for a capital raise to keep the company growing.
  • How so? The private investment in public equity (PIPE) that the SPAC option came with ensured that Shift would have hundreds of millions in cash.
  • Shift also wanted to minimize what the CEO described as market risk. A SPAC deal could happen regardless of what the broader markets were up to. And as the company made the choice to debut via a SPAC in April, some caution, we reckon, may have made some sense.

So now Shift is public and newly capitalized. Let’s see what happens to its shares as it gets into the groove of reporting quarterly. (Obviously, if it flounders, it’s a bad mark for SPACs, but, conversely, successful trading could lead to a bit more momentum to SPAC-mageddon.)

A few more things and we’re done. Unicorn exits had a good week. First, Datto’s IPO continues to move forward. It set an initial price this week, which could value it above $4 billion. Also this week, Roblox announced that it has filed to go public, albeit privately. It’s worth billions as well. And finally, DoubleVerify is looking to go public for as much as $5 billion early next year.

Not all liquidity comes via the public markets, as we saw this week’s Twilio purchase of Segment, a deal that The Exchange dug into to find out if it was well-priced or not.

Various and Sundry

We’re running long naturally, so here are just a few quick things to add to your weekend mental tea-and-coffee reading!

Next week we are digging more deeply into Q3 venture capital data, a foretaste of which you can find here, regarding female founders, a topic that we returned to Friday in more depth.

Alex

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/17/vcs-reload-ahead-of-the-election-as-unicorns-power-ahead/

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