Apple Deepens Austin Ties, Expands Operations East and West

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Apple will build a $1 billion campus in Austin, Texas, break ground on smaller locations in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City, California, and over the next three years expand in Pittsburgh, New York and Colorado.

The tech giant said Thursday that the new campus in Austin, less than a mile from existing Apple facilities, will open with 5,000 positions in engineering, research and development, operations, finance, sales and customer support. The site, according to Apple, will have the capacity to eventually accommodate 15,000 employees.

The three other new locations will have more than 1,000 employees each.

Early this year, Apple said that it would make more than $30 billion in capital expenditures in the U.S. over the next five years. That, the company said in January, would create more than 20,000 new jobs at existing and new campuses that Apple planned to build.

Where U.S. companies open new facilities or plants has always had the potential for public and political backlash.

That potential has intensified under the Trump administration, which has pushed companies to keep more of their operations inside the country’s borders.

While CEO Tim Cook has steered mostly clear President Donald Trump’s ire, Apple did receive some push back three months ago from the White House.

Apple sent a letter to the U.S. trade representative warning that the burgeoning trade war with China and rising tariffs could force higher prices for U.S. consumers.

Trump in a tweet told Apple to start making its products in the U.S., and not China.

Apple uses a lot of facilities overseas to produce components and its products, including China.

Top tech executives from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Qualcomm gathered at the White House earlier this month to discuss strained ties between the administration and the industry, and trade tensions with China. Cook was not among them, nor was Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

There are already 6,000 Apple employees in Austin, its largest operation outside of company headquarters in Cupertino, California, where 37,000 people are employed.

“Apple has been a vital part of the Austin community for a quarter century, and we are thrilled that they are deepening their investment in our people and the city we love,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a prepared statement Thursday.

Apple said nearly a year ago that it would begin canvassing the U.S. for another campus.

Cities offered incentives to lure the company, but Cook avoided a high-profile competition that pitted them against one another as Amazon did over the last year and a half.

Amazon, too, expands

Amazon announced in November after a 14-month search it had selected Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Virginia, as the joint winners. Each site will employ around 25,000 people.

Cities are eager to bring in more tech employers because companies like Apple and Amazon ladle out six-figure salaries to engineers and other skilled workers.

The infusion of thousands of new and highly paid residents can ripple through an economy, with those employees filling restaurants, theaters, buying property and paying taxes.

Annual pay will vary at the new locations, but Apple workers in Cupertino have an average annual salary of about $125,000, according to a report the company submitted to the city.

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Virgin Galactic’s New Flight Test to Soar Closer to Edge of Space

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Virgin Galactic is preparing for a new flight test Thursday that aims to fly higher and faster than before toward the edge of space.

The U.S. company run by British tycoon Richard Branson is aiming to be the first to take tourists on brief trips into microgravity.

Virgin Galactic’s fourth flight test on the VSS Unity is scheduled for Thursday, weather permitting.

The flight will take off from a spaceport in Mojave, California.

The vessel does not launch from Earth but is carried to a higher altitude — about nine miles (15 kilometers) high — attached to an airplane.

Then, two pilots on the VSS Unity fire the engines toward the frontier of space, typically defined as an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers).

In July, after burning the rocket motor for 42 seconds, the VSS Unity reached a height of 32 miles, a part of the atmosphere called the mesosphere.

Commercial airplanes typically fly at an altitude of about six miles.

The VSS Unity reached a top speed of over 1,530 miles per hour, or beyond Mach 2.

“Overall the goal of this flight is to fly higher and faster than previous flights,” said a statement from Virgin Galactic.

“If all goes to plan our pilots will experience an extended period of microgravity as VSS Unity coasts to apogee, although — being pilots — they will remain securely strapped in throughout.”

Another U.S. rocket company, Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is also racing to be the first to send tourists to space, but using a small rocket to get there.

Virgin’s first flight date has been pushed back multiple times, following a test flight accident that killed a co-pilot in 2014.

Branson told CNN in November he hoped to send people to space “before Christmas.”

More than 600 clients have already paid $250,000 for a ticket.

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OMG: California Regulators Consider Charge on Text Messaging

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California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations.

The newspaper says it’s unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.

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Sports, Deaths Among 2018’s Top Google Searches

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Sports, disaster and death were among the top searches on Google last year.

Each December, the technology company releases it’s top trending searches of the year. Topics that drew the interest of Americans included the World Cup, Hurricane Florence and three people who died in 2018 — rapper Mac Miller, designer Kate Spade and TV host and author Anthony Bourdain.

Google does not come up with its lists based on the number of total searches. Instead, the company looks at the search terms that enjoyed the highest spike compared to the previous year.

“Black Panther” topped the list of most searched movies, while rising stars in the Democratic party dominated the list of most searched politicians.

Here are the Top 10:

  1. World Cup

  2. Hurricane Florence

  3. Mac Miller

  4. Kate Spade

  5. Anthony Bourdain

  6. Black Panther

  7. Mega Millions Results

  8. Stan Lee

  9. Demi Lovato

  10. Election Results

Other categories include:

News

  1. World Cup

  2. Hurricane Florence

  3. Mega Millions

  4. Election Results

  5. Hurricane Michael

People

  1. Demi Lovato

  2. Meghan Markle

  3. Brett Kavanaugh

  4. Logan Paul

  5. Khloe Kardashian

Politicians

  1. Stacey Abrams

  2. Beto O’Rourke

  3. Ted Cruz

  4. Andrew Gillum

  5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Movies

  1. Black Panther

  2. Incredibles 2

  3. Deadpool 2

  4. Avengers: Infinity War

  5. A Quiet Place

All of the 2018 Google top trending search lists can be found here.

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US Intelligence Official: China’s Hacking Against US on the Rise

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A senior U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday that Chinese cyber activity in the United States had risen in recent months, targeting critical infrastructure in what may be attempts to lay the groundwork for future disruptive attacks.

“You worry they are prepositioning against critical infrastructure and trying to be able to do the types of disruptive operations that would be the most concern,” National Security Agency official Rob Joyce said at a Wall Street Journal cybersecurity conference.

Joyce, a former White House cyber adviser for President Donald Trump, did not elaborate. A spokeswoman for the NSA said Joyce was referring to digital attacks against the U.S. energy, financial, transportation and healthcare sectors.

The comments are notable because U.S. complaints about Chinese hacking have to date focused on espionage and intellectual property theft, not efforts to disrupt critical infrastructure.

China has repeatedly denied U.S. allegations it conducts cyber attacks.

Joyce’s remarks coincide with U.S. prosecutors preparing to unveil as early as this week a new round of criminal hacking charges against Chinese nationals. They are expected to charge that Chinese hackers were involved in a cyber espionage operation known as “Cloudhopper” targeting technology service providers and their customers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. Congress is looking into the allegations of increased Chinese hacking activity.

Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department are scheduled to testify Wednesday morning at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “China’s Non-Traditional Espionage Against the United States: The Threat and Potential Policy Responses.”

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Protesters Disrupt US Fossil Fuel Event at Climate Talks

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Protesters disturbed a U.S.-sponsored event promoting fossil fuels on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks on Monday.

The event called “U.S. innovative technologies spur economic dynamism,” touting the benefits of burning fossil fuels more efficiently, infuriated campaigners and many government delegations who want the talks to focus on moving away from coal, oil and gas.

Some 100 protestors in the audience at the event seized a microphone and interrupted opening remarks by Wells Griffith, the man President Donald Trump appointed as senior director for energy at the National Security Council.

They waved banners and chanted: “keep it in the ground.”

“I’m 19 years old and I’m pissed,” shouted Vic Barrett, a plaintiff in the “Juliana vs U.S.” lawsuit filed in 2015 by 21 young people against the government for allowing activities that harm the climate.

“I am currently suing my government for perpetuating the global climate change crisis… Young people are at the forefront of leading solutions to address the climate crises and we won’t back down.”

Before the interruption, Griffiths said it was important to be pragmatic in dealing with climate change in a world still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

“Alarmism should not silence realism… This administration does not see the benefit of being part of an agreement which impedes U.S. economic growth and jobs,” he said.

The conference, in Katowice, Poland, aims to work out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, the global pact on combating climate change.

The United States, the world’s top oil and gas producer, is the only country to have announced its withdrawal from the accord.

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Google CEO Tells Lawmakers Tech Giant Operates ‘Without Political Bias’

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai insisted Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee that he runs the U.S. technology giant without political preference.

“We find that we have a wide variety of sources, including sources from the left and sources from the right. And we are committed to making sure there are diverse perspectives,” Pichai told the panel.

Pichai defended the company after accusations from Republican lawmakers that Google has developed online search algorithms to suppress conservative voices.

“There are numerous allegations in the news that Google employees have thought about doing this, talked about doing this and have done it,” Republican committee chairman Robert Goodlatte said.

Republican Congressman Lamar Smith cited a study by P.J. Media that concluded 96 percent of Google’s search results for President Donald Trump were from “liberal media outlets.”

“In fact, not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results. This doesn’t happen by accident but is baked into the algorithms. Those who write the algorithms get the results they must want and apparently management allows it.”

Smith also cited a study by “Harvard-trained psychologist” Robert Epstein that said Google’s alleged bias “likely swung” more than 2.5 million votes to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

“Google could well elect the next president with dire implications for our democracy,” Smith added.

“I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai said. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”

Top committee Democrat Jerry Nadler said Republican accusations of bias is “a completely illegitimate issue, which is the fantasy dreamed up by some conservatives that Google and other online platforms have an anti-conservative bias. As I’ve said repeatedly, no credible evidence supports this right-wing conspiracy theory.”

President Donald Trump is among those who have accused the company of censoring conservative content, tweeting in August that Google is “RIGGED” and that “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out.”

‘Dragonfly’ project

Pichai’s testimony came after he angered committee members in September by declining an invitation to testify about manipulation of online services by foreign governments to influence U.S. elections.

The CEO was also questioned about the company’s planned “Dragonfly” project, a censored search engine for China and “next generation technology” that Congressman Smith said Google is “developing on Chinese soil.”

“This news raises a troubling possibility, that Google is being used to strengthen China’s system of surveillance, repression and control,” Smith said. “We need to know that Google is on the side of the free world, and that it will provide its services free of anti-competitive behavior, political bias and censorship.”

An international group of 60 human rights and media groups submitted a letter Tuesday to Pichai, calling on him to abandon the project, warning that personal data would not be safe from Chinese authorities.

Reporters Without Borders, a signatory to the letter, said China ranked 176 out of 180 countries in its Freedom of the Press Index.

Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 after China insisted on censoring search results.

Pichai’s remarks in their entirety can be accessed here.

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Chinese Court Bans iPhone Models in Patent Dispute

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A Chinese court has ordered a ban in the country on most iPhone sales  because of a patent dispute between iPhone maker Apple and U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm.

The Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court granted Qualcomm’s request for preliminary injunctions against four subsidiaries of Apple, ordering them to immediately stop selling the iPhone 6S through the iPhone X that use older versions of Apple’s iOS operating system, according to a statement from Qualcomm Monday.

Apple said in a statement Monday its iPhones using newer operating systems remain on sale in China.

The Chinese court found Apple violated two of Qualcomm’s software patents involving resizing photographs and managing applications on a touch screen.

Apple shares fell Monday on the news.

“Qualcomm’s effort to ban our products is another desperate move by a company whose illegal practices are under investigation by regulators around the world,” Apple said in its statement.

Qualcomm’s general counsel, Don Rosenberg, said in a statement Monday “Apple continues to benefit from our intellectual property while refusing to compensate us. These court orders are further confirmation of the strength of Qualcomm’s vast patent portfolio.”

China’s court decision is the latest legal action in a long-running dispute between the California tech giants.

Qualcomm has also asked regulators in the United States to ban several iPhone models over patent disputes, however U.S. officials have so far declined to do so.

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Musk Suggests Tesla’s New Chairwoman Won’t Rein Him in

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk dismissed the idea that the company’s new chairwoman can exert control over his behavior.

Robyn Denholm, an Australian telecommunications executive, was appointed chairwoman of Tesla’s board last month, replacing Musk as part of a securities fraud settlement with U.S. government regulators.

But Musk said “it’s not realistic” to expect Denholm to watch over his actions because he remains the electric car company’s largest shareholder.

“It’s not realistic in the sense that I am the largest shareholder in the company,” Musk said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” broadcast Sunday evening, adding that a large percentage of shareholders support him and all he needs is about one-third of them.

“I can just call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want,” he said.

Musk, who owns about 20 percent of Tesla, gave up the chairman role under a settlement with the Securities Exchange Commission, which had charged the CEO with misleading investors in August with a tweet that said he had “funding secured” for taking the company private.

 The SEC settlement also required the company to vet Musk’s tweets and other comments about the company before they are released to the public. Musk also shrugged off that provision, saying none of his tweets have been censored so far and the company does not review his posts to determine beforehand whether they could potentially affect the company’s stock price.

“I guess we might make some mistakes. Who knows?” Musk said.

Musk said he does not respect the SEC, but when asked if he would obey the settlement, he said: “Because I respect the justice system.”

After the interview was aired, Tesla said in a statement that the company is complying with the SEC settlement. The part that requires pre-approval of communications that could affect the stock price technically must be in place by December 28, the company said.

Denholm’s appointment in November drew a mixed response from corporate governance experts, who praised her financial expertise but questioned her ability to carve out an independent path for a board that has been dominated by Musk.

Denholm has been on Tesla’s board for five years. She is the chief financial officer and strategy head at Telstra Corp. Ltd., Australia’s largest telecommunications company, but will step down from that company after a six-month notice period and work at Tesla full-time.

Musk told “60 Minutes” interviewer Lesley Stahl that he had hand-picked Denholm.

The SEC settlement would allow Musk to return as chairman after three years, subject to shareholder approval. Musk said he would not be interested.

“I actually prefer to have no titles at all,” Musk said.

Amid its CEO’s erratic behavior, Tesla delivered on promises to accelerate production of its pivotal Model 3 sedan, progress seen as essential to the company’s ability to repay $1.3 billion in debt due within the next six months.

The company also fulfilled a pledge to make money during the third quarter, and Musk has said he expects the company to remain profitable. He said Tesla would consider buying any plant that rival GM closes as part of a restructuring plan that could cost up to 14,000 jobs.

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NASA’s Voyager 2 Becomes 2nd Craft in Interstellar Space

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NASA’s Voyager 2 has become only the second human-made object to reach the space between stars.

NASA said Monday that Voyager 2 exited the region of the sun’s influence last month. The spacecraft is now beyond the outer boundary of the heliosphere, some 11 billion miles from Earth. It’s trailing Voyager 1, which reached interstellar space in 2012. Interstellar space is the vast mostly emptiness between star systems.

 

According to NASA, the Voyagers are still technically in our solar system. Scientists maintain the solar system stretches to the outer edge of the so-called Oort Cloud. It will take thousands of years for the spacecraft to get that far.

 

Despite the great distance, flight controllers are still in contact with Voyager 2.

 

The Voyagers launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1977.

 

 

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