In Fortnite’s new spy-themed season, more is more

The new season of Fortnite’s second chapter finally landed last week, shaking up a reimagined map that burst dramatically out of a black hole in the game last year. Over the weekend, we scoped out what’s changed in a game now sprinkled with secret agents, laser beams and all manner of things dipped in gold. Happily, we can report that Epic returns the game to its true colors in season 2, with some innovative ideas that deepen the game for casual players.

The black hole event and subsequent total map makeover were exciting at the time, but as the months ticked by, Epic’s decision to pare down the game’s excesses left the game feeling bare. In season 2, Epic piles a lot of new ideas onto the game’s foundation, and the game feels weirder and more chaotic with a map that’s much more alive as a result. And bananas in suits. Did we mention bananas in suits?

In season 2, Fortnite takes its most committed stab yet at a coherent theme, with spies, secret societies, dapper bananas, bulky henchmen and… a really swole cat for some reason. It’s a fun vibe and well executed so far. That theme plays out everywhere from a revamped battle pass menu designed as a spy headquarters to some very dynamic new high-risk high-reward map hotspots chock full of special new weapons, locked vaults and laser beams.

Even better, the new locations are stocked with NPC versions of the boss-like characters the season introduces us to right off the bat, making for a fun and reasonably challenging way to mix up gameplay when you need a break from the sometimes lonely intensity of battle royale play.

The new season keeps the old map mostly intact while adding added five main new locations, all heavily guarded, loot-rich fortresses. That means a new point of interest near each corner of the map, and one right on the central island (a spot inevitably destined for something more interesting than a suburban home). The rest of the map doesn’t have many visual changes, but a handful of smaller, old locations scattered around the map have been co-opted by spy organizations and staffed with henchmen, which makes for a chaotic surprise when you come across them in the heat of gameplay. Even Pleasant Park has its own underground spy hub now.

Down the line, the new season will also introduce two competing factions for players to join, Ghost and Shadow. Depending on which faction you choose, players can unlock some pretty cool variants on battle pass skins, including Meowscles, a shirtless muscle-bound catman with a pec-flexing animation that might be the best thing to ever happen to Fortnite. Well, except for the new teleporting port-a-potties. You’ll find those soon enough.

As far as changes that will affect gameplay, there are many, many unvaulted weapons mixing things up relative to last season’s stripped-down arsenal. Traps are gone, chests no longer shower you with fishing rods (thankfully) and heavy assault rifles and all manner of silenced guns have made a comeback. And if you really want to be treated to the best weapons in the game, you can raid one of the five of the new spy headquarters to take down bosses, including an explosive-happy rocker named TNTina, a sharply dressed guy calling himself Midas and Meowscles (oh Meowscles!), who hangs out on his own gigantic, laser-guarded yacht.

As you work through the battle pass, you’ll also unlock these boss characters as skins. It’s a fun way to drape some light narrative over a game loved mostly for its incoherent total cartoon chaos rather than a character-centric light and fluffy multiplayer shooter like Overwatch. And because Epic is tasked with the impossible—maintaining momentum on a game with such historic success it basically became a mainstream social network at its peak—carving out a deeper game under Fortnite’s candy-colored shell can’t hurt.

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Open Cybersecurity Alliance announces new language for connecting cybersecurity tools

The Open Cybersecurity Alliance (OCA) announced the availability of OpenDXL Ontology, its open-source language for connecting cybersecurity tools through a common messaging framework. 

“With open source code freely available to the security community, OpenDXL Ontology enables any tool to automatically gain the ability to communicate and interoperate with all other technologies using this language,” the OCA explained in a post.

RELATED CONTENT: ‘Security debt’ focus of 2019 State of Software Security report

OpenDXL Ontology is based on the Open Data Exchange Layer (OpenDXL), an open messaging framework to develop and share integrations with other tools. With the release of the language, the alliance can provide a single, common solution for notifications, information, actions and communicating with other tools. In addition, it  provides companies with a set of tooling that can be applied once and automatically reused everywhere across all product categories, while also eliminating the need to update integrations as product versions and functionalities change

“For example, if a certain tool detects a compromised device, it could automatically notify all other tools and even quarantine that device using a standard message format readable by all. While previously this was only possible with custom integrations between individual products, it will now be automatically enabled between all tools that adopt OpenDXL Ontology,” according to the alliance.

The OCA community said it is currently collaborating on GitHub and Slack to further new open-source code and use-cases for cybersecurity industry interoperability. The OCA will continue development for both STIX Shifter, an out-of-the-box search capability for security products of all types, and OpenDXL Ontology.

“The adoption of OpenDXL Ontology will help create a stronger, united front to defend and protect across all types of security tools, while reducing the burden of point integrations between individual products,” the OCA wrote. 

The alliance also announced the formation of a technical steering committee to help drive the technical direction and development of the organization. Members of the committee include leaders from AT&T, IBM Security, McAfee, Packet Clearinghouse and Tripwire.

The post Open Cybersecurity Alliance announces new language for connecting cybersecurity tools appeared first on SD Times.

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How to make a deal with a VC at a tech conference

Are the schmooze sessions, after-parties and secret dinners with investors that take place during tech conferences mere distractions, or are these events an opportunity for founders to close a deal?

Which parties should you attend? How do you get in? And above all, what outcome are you working toward?

Some events are small, while others are shows of pomp, power and pizzazz.For me, this is a time to bring value to my portfolio,” says Sid Trivedi, partner at Foundation Capital. Foundation’s RSA 2020 event is a small gathering of 50 people who fall into one of three categories: buyers from Global 2000 companies, channel partners or portfolio CEOs.

“In particular, I am focused on helping seed-stage companies because they rarely get access to such a buyer universe,” Trivedi says. At the other end of the spectrum, some events will have several hundred attendees, which raises the odds of getting lost in a crowd.

“If the event has a well-curated attendee list, it makes it worthwhile for both sides. Often, I can scan the room in 15 minutes and know if I want to stay here,” said Ariel Tseitlin, a partner at Scale Venture Partners. Some conference events are hosted by top-tier investors and partnership-heavy corporate VCs, while others are driven by consulting groups that share market trends and research content. As one founder bemoaned, “why can’t we just have a Tinder for VC-CEO match-making?”

Bypassing the firewall

If you don’t have an invitation, I don’t advise just showing up at the door; these are well-guarded events. Gate-crashing is a good strategy for a 19-year-old (who has the maturity of a 12-year-old), but not for the rest of us. Some founders use a simple tactic: get an existing portfolio CEO to take you in as their guest. Most VCs love it when they get such an introduction; it’s a great start and much better than sending a cold email or a LinkedIn to the lead partner.

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New Netflix feature reveals the top 10 most popular programs on its service

Netflix is adding a new feature that will rank the 10 most popular programs on its service in your country, the company announced today. Its top 10 Overall list will display the most popular programs from across all Netflix content, including both movies and shows. In addition, separate top 10 lists for just movies and shows will be available when you switch over to either the Movies or TV show tab in the app.

These lists will be updated daily, says Netflix, and are intended to help users find out what titles everyone is watching. Before, Netflix had rows featuring both popular and trending content — but these didn’t rank content in order.

The shows and films making the list will also receive a special “top 10” badge wherever they appear on Netflix. That means if you’re searching for something to watch or browsing through your recommendations, it will be easier to see if a top 10 program is among your search results or personalized suggestions.

Netflix says this is the first time it’s ever rolled out a top 10 ranking system. But the company has been experimenting with the top 10 feature before today in markets including the U.K. and Mexico. Users responded well to those additions, which is why the company decided to roll out its top 10 lists worldwide, the company says.

The Top 10 list will appear on your Netflix homescreen, but the list’s actual position will vary based on how relevant the shows and films are to you. For example, if you only watched documentaries and horror, a top 10 list filled with teen rom-com’s and comedies may not appear as high on the screen for you as it would for others.

The list itself is also designed in a way that makes it stand out from the other rows of recommendations. Instead of just displaying image thumbnails of the titles, it includes big numerals to show how those titles are ranking.

“When you watch a great movie or TV show, you share it with family and friends, or talk about it at work, so other people can enjoy it too. We hope these top 10 lists will help create more of these shared moments, while also helping all of us find something to watch more quickly and easily,” explained Netflix in a statement about the launch.

The feature arrives at a time when Netflix is feeling the pressure from increased streaming competition. User growth in the U.S. has been falling short, at the same time that rights holders pull back their content for their own rival streaming services, like NBCU’s Peacock and AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, for example. Netflix is producing more originals than ever, but many of these are now of middling quality or are cheaper-to-produce reality programs. It hasn’t yet won a series race at the Emmy’s and its big bet on Scorsese’s “The Irishman” was one of the bigger snubs from this year’s Oscars.

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With cinnamon, fruit and mint-flavored nicotine gum, is LA’s Lucy Goods the next Juul?

David Renteln, the Los Angeles-based co-founder of Soylent and the co-founder and chief executive of new nicotine gum manufacturer Lucy Goods, thinks there should be a better-tasting, less-medicinal offering for people looking to quit smoking.

That’s why he founded Lucy Goods, and that’s why investors, including RRE Ventures, Vice Ventures and FundRX joined previous investors YCombinator and Greycroft in backing the company with $10 million in new funding.

“We reformulated nicotine gum and the improvements that we made were to the taste, the texture and the nicotine release speed,” said Renteln.

These days, any startup that’s working on smoking cessation or working with tobacco products can’t avoid comparisons to Juul — the multi-billion-dollar startup that’s at the center of the surge in teen nicotine consumption.

“The Juul comparison is something that’s obviously top of people’s minds,” Renteln said. “It’s important to note that there’s a huge difference in nicotine products.”

Renteln points to statements from former Food and Drug Administration chief, Scott Gottlieb (who’s now a partner at the venture firm New Enterprise Associates), which drew a distinction between combustible tobacco products on one end and nicotine gums and patches on the other.

“Nicotine isn’t the principle agent of harm associated with these tobacco products,” said Rentlen. “It’s addictive but not inherently bad for you.”

Lucy Goods also doesn’t release its nicotine dosage in a concentrated burst like vapes, which are designed to replicate the head rush associated with smoking a cigarette, said Renteln.

“It is a stimulant and they will get a sensation, but it’s not as intense as taking a very deep drag of a cigarette,” Renteln said. 

The company’s website also doesn’t skew to young, lifestyle marketing images. Instead, there are testimonials from older, ex-smokers hawking the Lucy gum.

“I don’t want anyone underage using any nicotine product or any drug in general… [and] the flavors have been around for a long time.”

Joining Renteln in the quest to create a better nicotine gum is Samy Hamdouche, a former business development executive at several Southern California biotech startups and the previous vice president of research at Soylent. 

For both men, the idea is to get a new product to market that can help people quit smoking — without a social stigma — Renteln said.

“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States claiming over 480,000 lives every year and costing the U.S. an estimated $300 billion in direct health costs and lost productivity. Lucy is committed to bringing innovative nicotine products to the market to eliminate tobacco related harm and we’re proud to be part of their journey,” said RRE investor, Jason Black in a statement.

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Katherine Johnson, legendary NASA mathematician and ‘hidden figure,’ dies at 101

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who defied prejudice in the ’50s and ’60s to help NASA send the first men to the moon, has died at the age of 101. Only recently famous after the film “Hidden Figures” was made about her and her colleagues, she maintained until the end that she was “only doing her job.”

For those who don’t know Johnson’s story, it is probably best told by reading the book (by Margot Lee Shetterly) or watching the movie — which although it takes some license with the events and persons depicted, is a fascinating and revealing triple portrait of its three protagonists. NASA has also collected numerous historical accounts and anecdotes at a special memorial page.

Johnson and her colleagues struggled unceasingly against racism and sexism, being three women of color attempting to enter an industry which was, and even half a century later remains, dominated by white men. Although Johnson always said her colleagues at NASA were kind and professional, there were nevertheless systematic and deep-seated biases against her at every step of her journey.

After the film’s release and acclaim, she treated her sudden fame with bemusement, happy to be recognized but insistent that she had only been doing her job. Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015 was certainly a welcome perk.

But Johnson may have been wary of an over-concentration of credit. She more than anyone would have been aware of the others in similar positions who, while they may not have been quite as instrumental or prominent in the moment — John Glenn famously asked before a flight that a mechanical computer’s calculations be checked by “the girl,” meaning Johnson — were nonetheless indispensable and quite as hidden.

These women, like Johnson’s colleagues Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn, not only challenged the racist and sexist zeitgeist of the time, but very simply helped America achieve what is perhaps its most historically remarkable achievement — the Apollo program — but also to aid in the invention and definition of multiple industries.

Johnson was a remarkable mind and person whose achievements went for too long unnoticed. Had she not been brought into the attention of popular culture her achievements would likely never have been known outside a few colleagues and historians — and we would all be the poorer for it. Who, and where, are today’s hidden figures, and would we recognize them if we saw them?

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Deviceplane wants to bring over-the-air updates to Linux edge devices

Deviceplane, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 class is developing an open source toolset to manage, monitor and update Linux devices running at the edge,

“We solve the hard infrastructure problems that all these companies face including network conductivity, SSH access, orchestrating and deployment of remote updates, hosting, application monitoring and access and security controls. It’s 100% open source, available under an Apache License. You can either host it yourself or you can run on the hosted version,” company founder and CEO Josh Curl told TechCrunch.

He could see this working with a variety of hardware including robotics, consumer appliances, drones, autonomous vehicles and medical devices.

Curl, who has a background in software engineering, was drawn to this problem and found that most companies were going with home-grown solutions. He said once he studied the issue, he found that the set of infrastructure resources required to manage, monitor and update these devices didn’t change that much across industries.

The over-the-air updates are a big part of keeping these devices secure, a major concern with edge devices. “Security is challenging, and one of the core tenets of security is just the ability to update things. So if you as a company are hesitant to update because you’re afraid that things are going to break, or you don’t have a proper infrastructure to do those upgrades, that makes you more hesitant to do upgrades, and it slows down development velocity,” Curl said.

Customers can connect to the Deviceplane API via WiFi, cellular or ethernet. If you’re worried about someone tapping into that, Curl says the software assigns the device a unique identity that is difficult to spoof.

“Devices are assigned an identity in Deviceplane and this identity is what authorizes it to make API calls to Deviceplane. The access key for this identity is stored only on the device, which makes it impossible for someone else to spoof this device without physical access to it.

“Even if someone were able to spoof this identity, they would not be able to deploy malicious code to the spoofed device. Devices never have access to control what software they’re running — this is something that can be done only by the developer pushing out updates to devices,” Curl explained.

The company intends to offer both the hosted version and installed versions of the software as open source, something that he considers key. He hopes to make money supporting companies with more complex installations, but he believes that by offering the software as open source, it will drive developer interest and help build a community around the project.

As for joining YC, Curl said he has friends that had been through the program in the past, and had recommended he join as well. Curl sees being part of the cohort as a way to build his business. “We were excited to be tapping into the YC network — and then being able to tap into that network in the future. I think that YC has funded many companies in the past that can be DevicePlane customers, and that can accelerate going forward.”

Curl wasn’t ready to share download numbers just yet, but it’s still an early stage startup looking  to build the company. It’s using an open source model to drive interest, while helping solve a sticky problem.

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Facebook’s Creator Studio gains a mobile companion

Facebook’s Creator Studio has added a mobile companion. The insights dashboard for creators and publishers, which debuted globally in August 2018, is now available as a mobile app for both iOS and Android. Similar to the desktop hub, the Creator Studio app allows users to track how their content is performing across Facebook Pages, as well as publish, schedule and make adjustments to posts, respond to fan messages, and more.

Facebook Director of Entertainment for Northern Europe Anna Higgs took the stage along with creator Ladbaby, who has over 4 million Facebook followers, to share the news of the new app’s launch at last week’s VidCon London.

There are a few key areas where the app can be of use to creators and publishers, starting with its metrics and insights section. Here, users can analyze both Page and post-level insights, retention, and distribution metrics in order to adjust their strategies accordingly. For example, they’ll find content performance metrics like “1-minute views,” 3-second views,” and “avg. minutes viewed,” plus engagement metrics like comments and shares, and follower counts, earnings, and more.

The app also serves as a mobile companion for viewing both published and scheduled posts, allowing creators to make quick adjustments like editing the video titles or descriptions. And they can use the app for deleting or expiring posts, rescheduling posts, or publishing drafts.

From the inbox section, users can respond to incoming messages and comments while on the go.

Creators can toggle between their different accounts during the same session, instead of having to log out and back in as a different user. This could be helpful for those who have a large social media presence, as well as those whose business involves supporting multiple creator pages.

The Creator Studio app will also send out immediate notifications for key milestones and other important events.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has offered a dedicated app for its creator community. The company in 2017 debuted a Creator app, that had also offered a unified inbox and analytics, among other things. But that app was shut down early last year, and creators were pointed towards the Pages Manager app or desktop version of Creator Studio instead. Before that, Facebook had offered a Mentions app that was only available for verified public figures and Pages.

The new Creator Studio app isn’t a direct replacement for the shuttered Creator app, as it sports a similar, though not identical feature set and a new user interface. It also notably lacks Instagram integration and the ability to upload and post new content — the latter which is contributing to poor user reviews, following the app’s launch. Many complain there’s too much overlap with the Pages Monitor app, as well. But the missing features are something Facebook will likely address in the future, as it rolls out more functionality to the app.

It’s worth noting that Facebook’s desktop hub and app sport a name similar to YouTube’s service for creators — YouTube Studio, rebranded from YouTube Creator Studio in 2017. By including both “studio” and “creator” in the new app’s name, it will perform better in App Store search results — including those that appear when someone searches for the YouTube Studio app for creators. That reflects the competitive nature between the two companies, both hungry to woo video creator talent.

Facebook’s new app is a free download on iOS and Android.

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Daily Crunch: Sony unveils its first 5G smartphone

Sony announces a camera-centric phone, Microsoft offers more details about the next Xbox and a liquid biopsy startup raises $165 million. Here’s your Daily Crunch for February 24, 2020.

1. Sony announces its first 5G flagship, the triple lens Xperia 1 II

Sony has announced its first 5G smartphone: The Xperia 1 II — for the curious or confused, it’s pronounced “Xperia One, Mark Two.”

As ever with Sony — a major B2B supplier of image sensors to other smartphone makers — it has made the camera a huge focus. The Xperia 1 II packs three lenses that offer a selection of focal lengths (16mm, 24mm and 70mm) for capturing different types of photos, from super wide angle to portraits.

2. Microsoft offers a closer look at the next Xbox

The headline feature of the upcoming Xbox Series X is, naturally, a new processor. Built on top of AMD Zen 2 and RDNA 2 architecture, Xbox says the chip is able to deliver four times the processing power of the Xbox One.

3. Karius raises $165M for its liquid biopsy technology identifying diseases with a blood draw

Liquid biopsy technology has been widely embraced in cancer treatments as a way to identify which therapies may work best for patients, based on the presence of trace amounts in a patient’s bloodstream of genetic material shed by cancer cells. Karius applies the same principles to the detection of pathogens in the blood.

4. Europe’s Target Global raises new €120M early-stage fund

Dubbed “Early Stage Fund II,” the new vehicle will see the firm continue to back early-stage tech companies across Europe and Israel, leading and co-leading seed and Series A rounds.

5. Sensors are the next big thing in space, not starships

“In 2020 I really, really look forward to and hope to see different, new creative types of sensors that are utilizing low Earth orbit for benefits back on Earth,” Bessemer VP Tess Hatch told us in a recent interview. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. The Plaid ‘mafia’ begins with John Whitfield joining student loan fintech startup Summer

So far this year, one of the most eye-popping startup exits has been Visa’s $5.3 billion acquisition of fintech data services platform Plaid. Could this be the start of a brand new mafia born out of fintech, à la PayPal?

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

The latest full episode of Equity has a counter-intuitive message — equity isn’t always the answer for companies looking to fundraise. Meanwhile, the shorter Monday segment looks at declining stocks around the world. And on Original Content, we review the new Netflix series “Locke & Key.”

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Boom says its supersonic XB-1 aircraft test program will be “fully carbon neutral”

Commercial aviation isn’t typically the place to look if you’re after carbon-light initiatives. Jet fuel isn’t generally very green, and airplanes burn a lot of it when traversing the skies. But supersonic flight startup Boom wants to change the perception of commercial aviation as an emissions costly prospect, starting with their testing development program for the XB-1 supersonic demonstration aircraft that will eventually lead to the development of its Overture passenger aircraft.

Boom claims this will make it the first commercial flight OEM to achieve this level of sustainability, especially from the very beginning of its aircraft flight testing and certification process. And while XB-1 (and eventually, Overture) aren’t electric or hybrid aircraft, the way the company hopes to achieve this milestone is through a combination of using sustainable jet fuel and carbon offsets (effectively the process of buying carbon ‘credits’ by funding projects that net reduce greenhouse gases) are to reduce its overall carbon footprints to zero.

The fuel that Boom is using comes from partner Prometheus Fuel, which is a company that uses electricity from renewable power sources, like solar and wind, to turn CO2 scrubbed from the air into jet fuel. Already, Boom has tested this fuel in use during some of its initial ground tests, and its findings indicate that it should be able to use them effectively through both the remainder of ground testing, as well as into its flight program.

While there is some debate about the overall validity and efficacy of carbon offsets, provided that money from these programs is funnelled into the proper initiatives, they do seem to result in more ecological harm than not. And any attempt to offset the economic impact of a flight program like Boom’s especially if it’s carried through to flying production aircraft, should be better for the environment than had no attempt been made whatsoever. Which, by the way, is the case for most new aircraft development programs.

Already, Boom is in the process of building the XB-1, which it will then flight test in partnership with Flight Research during a program in the Mojave Desert at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The goal is to begin testing during this summer, and eventually use the information gathered from the XB-1 program (which will be able to hold a pilot but no passengers) to build out the final Overture aircraft that will offer commercial passenger supersonic flight services. Boom has secured agreements with a number of airlines for pre-orders for Overture, including JAL and Virgin.

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