Here’s how Google’s Project Loon retrieves its internet balloons (video)

Project Loon’s balloons could not be more different than your typical party variety — it’s loaded with research equipment and LTE capability, providing high-speed internet connection wherever they go. Obviously, Google’s X Lab researchers (the ones behind this crazy balloons-as-hotspot project) will want their data and expensive equipment back. So, they equipped their balloons with GPS and formed a special team to retrieve the floating hotspots when they land. Apparently, the researchers plan out when and where to land balloons for whatever reason (they mostly choose flat areas that are uninhabited but have decent road access), which the field personnel then seek out through their coordinates.

Since this process allows the Project Loon folks to clean up after themselves and reuse old equipment to save money, they take retrieval seriously. Once, team member Nick Kohli even traversed New Zealand’s waters in a small fishing vessel for two days, in order to collect balloons that landed in the area. Since he’s most qualified to talk about how retrieval operations work, you can listen to him explain it in detail and watch how it all goes down in the video below.

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Twitch’s peak viewing numbers rival CNN and MTV’s prime-time audience

So we know that Twitch’s online broadcasts trump those of WWE and traditional sports, but how does it stack up against cable networks like CNN? According to the New York Times, the game-streaming giant’s peak viewership numbers have surpassed the average prime-time viewers for Headline News, CNN, E!, MSNBC and TruTV since this January. At its best, Twitch had over 720,000 viewers in July alone, but as the NYT points out, it’s still pretty far behind the likes of Netflix and YouTube when it comes to total hours-viewed per month. It’s all pretty fascinating stuff, and there are even breakdowns for what competitive gaming tournament broadcasts are getting the most eyes, too. Spoiler: for this month it’s Riot Games’ League of Legends. Considering that we’ve seen Twitch expanding into more than just gaming broadcasts recently (hosting concerts and even entire conventions) it’s pretty likely that the outfit’s numbers will only continue to climb. Surely Jeff Bezos wouldn’t mind.

Multi-Factor Analysis Of Y-Combinator’s Summer 2014 Class

Editor’s note: Matt Oguz is managing director of Palo Alto Venture Science.

In my previous article, I wrote about how multi-factor analysis of startups helps avoid decision biases such as availability — anchoring or the famous “herd mentality.” The merits of the theories behind this approach go back to the 1950’s. But based on the feedback our team received, we felt encouraged to share a sample analysis with everyone to explain the inner workings of the process. With that in mind, we ran the Y Combinator Summer ’14 class through our models.

First, let’s take a look at the methodology to refresh our memory. The idea behind Multiple Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) is to instill transparency and consistency to the process of picking alternatives among an available batch. Professors Belton and Stewart state the following in their book, MCDA – An Integrated Approach: “Subjectivity is inherent in all decision making. MCDA does not dispel that subjectivity; it simply seeks to make the need for subjective judgments explicit and the process transparent.” A view shared by many others prominent in the field of MCDA is illustrated by the following quotes: 

Simply stated, the major role of formal analysis is to promote good decision-making. A good analysis should illuminate controversy – to find out where basic differences exist in values and uncertainties, to facilitate compromise, to increase the level of debate and to undercut rhetoric.” Keeney and Raiffa, 1972

We’ll share our results for only 15 startups here, which we named “batch one.” First, let’s go over the methodology. Prior to starting to evaluate all startups, we need to weigh the categories against one another to calculate their importance in the decision problem:


From here, we need to determine how to evaluate each startup based on all the criteria. To do that, we can assign numerical values, qualitative scales or utility functions to a given criterion. In this analysis, to make things easier, we defined qualitative scales that correspond to scores:


Next, we need to determine how we’re going to evaluate each criterion. Market size, for example, is a dimension to be maximized. Competition is to be minimized. We assign the appropriate qualitative scale to each criterion. The figure below shows the weighting of categories and criteria and how we assign parameters.


Once we establish the framework comes the fun part of evaluating each startup. This is subjective as mentioned before. Due to space constraints, we’re only able to show four startups, but the rest are evaluated the same way:


After all the startups are evaluated, we calculate scores that captures each startup’s attractiveness (or risk) levels based on their perceived scores and the weights of these scores. This process is a lot more powerful than one member of the deciding team evaluating the startups. That way, if someone missed an attribute, others will pick it up.

But it is important to perform the evaluations without collaborating; otherwise, a number of biases can arise. The group can decide on the importance of each criterion, but each member should evaluate the alternatives on his or her own.

The rankings


We’re all naturally drawn to those companies that top the charts. And out of this batch of 15 startups, Naytev, PicnicHealth and One Codex emerge as the top three. We noticed that even though data, big data or analytics weren’t part of our criteria, all three startups are data plays.

The spider web charting is useful in visualizing the strengths and weaknesses of each startup.



It’s worthwhile to examine the contribution of each criterion to the overall score. This visualization helps with that analysis. Note how the Technology/Product dimension impacts the overall score.

There are two other parameters we didn’t cover here because we didn’t have all the information: Pre-money valuations and the amounts being raised by each startup. Naturally, these two qualifications are very important in order to calculate how much “bang for the buck” one can expect. There are different ways to attack this problem.

One method is to treat these monetary parameters as part of the criteria set and assign them a percentage, as we did with all the other parameters. The second option is to factor them in later as a standalone parameter and compare them to market averages.

Another dimension we didn’t include in the analysis is “popularity.” We believe that both social proof or popularity are irrelevant when it comes to evaluating the potential of a startup, which is ultimately determined by how the market reacts to the value offering. Some VCs consider “who else invested in this” as an important parameter and label opportunities as “hot deals.” We believe that such an approach increases a number of decision biases with which most of us are familiar at this time.

It’s not easy to score attributes like ethics, energy or leadership without an in-depth analysis of a startup. But, given that this group of startups is part of a great program, we weighed those attributes heavily. However, we did wonder if that was a bias. (It is.)

This analysis helps us structure the problem, provides a focus and a language, and establishes an audit trail. It doesn’t seek to replace intuition, but it complements and challenges it. Visualizing the attributes that impact the economic merits of each startup is more important than any single element, such as the type of problem the startup tries to solve.

In this batch, there were quite a few that aimed at big problems. Issues such as legal and regulatory risk and state of technology (concept, MVP, Alpha, Live 1.0, etc.) are important to consider when attacking big problems.

We noticed that this batch of YC startups spans a variety of subverticals. The startups attack problems with varying economic and social impact. You can see the path to monetization much clearly in some of them and not so easily in others. Which ones will emerge as big winners? It’s too soon to tell.

There are three ways to invest in this batch. If you have lots of capital to deploy and are not concerned about early losses, you can invest in a lot of them at the same time. If you’re a thrill-seeker, then you can pick one of the ones you like the most and bet big. If you’re an advocate of a rational investment methodology, the multi-factor framework presented here is a great starting point. In conclusion, we wish good luck to all startups and those who bet in their success.

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The Alienware Area-51 gaming rig just got one hell of a redesign

After a few years finding itself/getting a heavy-duty industrial makeover, Alienware’s well-respected (and, importantly, customizable) desktop gaming PC has returned. The Area-51 isn’t small, but it now has a new triangular… hexagonal… something-between-the-two design, intentionally hewn that way to maintain airflow and keep it cool, even when positioned against a wall. It’s certainly come a long way since the tower desktop days of 2011. Given its size, two of the corners have handles to lug it around with — we hope you can bicep-curl 45 pounds though, because that’s how much it weights. It also looks nothing like Alienware’s incoming Steam Machine. (Ironically, the new Area-51 chassis looks far more “Valve,” in a lot of ways.)

Alienware Area-51

Inside that space-age shell, there’s support for up to three full-length graphics cards, Intel’s best and brightest Core i7 six- and eight-core Haswell-E CPUs — all overclockable and liquid-cooled. All the above is backed up with DDR4 RAM support. The early announcement unfortunately didn’t cover pricing or release dates, but expect to see the machine later this year. Oh, and the new model also has nine separate light-up zones for customization. Because customization is key to victory in Counter-Strike. (It isn’t).

Back to School 2014: The 8 best digital cameras

Whether you’re a budding photojournalist or just want to document the semester with something better than a smartphone camera, we’ve got some great picks for you. Our most affordable recommendation will set you back less than $200, while you’ll find an SLR kit that almost tops $3,000 at the other end of the spectrum. Head to the gallery below to see them all, and don’t forget to peruse the rest of our guide!

Back to School 2014: The 8 best digital cameras

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Apple’s anticipated wearable reportedly won’t ship until 2015

With event invites floating around and a whopper of a structure apparently in the works, Apple seems intent on making sure September 9 is a doozy of a day. Alas, it seems like one of the most anticipated parts of the show won’t actually hit our doorsteps for a while — according to a new report from Re/code (who, you’ll remember was right about the event’s date way in advance), Apple’s long-rumored wearable won’t actually start shipping until some time next year. It’s not exactly a surprise for Apple to put months between a device’s unveiling its and first appearance on store shelves, but just think of how the already buzzy wearable space will shift and swell before then. After all, IFA will assuredly bring a slew of smartwatches and fitness trackers with it (we’ve already seen a few), and a better sense of what Apple is up to only means competitors will have more time to try and steal Cupertino’s thunder. Will they succeed? That’s a completely different story, but one thing seems clear — the next few months are going to be a hell of a ride.

So what is it like to drive with Nissan’s Smart rearview mirror?

Despite all the changes going on in automobiles lately, one thing that’s remained pretty consistent in every car I’ve driven has been the rearview mirror. We can check that one off now though, now that I’ve taken a test drive in a Nissan Rogue equipped with the new Smart rearview mirror. Due to roll out on the company’s cars in North America next year, it’s a simple augmentation that combines a traditional mirror with a video screen. Flipping the dimmer switch usually meant for night driving drops you into video camera mode, with a feed streamed directly from a 1.3MP camera mounted in the trunk that drops out the usual blockages from the car’s interior for a clear view of what’s behind you. Back up cameras are already common — and highly necessary if you have my (lack of) parallel parking skills — but is it time to change out something that’s worked pretty well for the last century or so?

Nissan Smart rearview mirror

Based on my experience the answer is yes. Of course, I wasn’t driving a race car like the Zeod RC which doesn’t have a normal window for the driver to see behind in, but a common situation like transporting people or cargo can interfere with a normal mirror easily. According to Nissan’s Steven Diehlman, the normal FOV of a rearview mirror is about 17 degrees, while its camera not only frees the view of the normal C-pillar obstructions, but also expands that to cover 48 degrees. The difference was immediately apparent just backing out of my driveway — instead of having to turn my head to fill in the gaps between the mirrors, I could just see a fair amount of the street without shifting my viewpoint (there’s still a normal backup camera in place that feeds the display in the console, complete with the Around View birds-eye vision).

It does take some getting used to though — since the camera is right at the back of the car, everything is suddenly close up instead of 5-6~ feet in the distance. When you’re stopped in traffic it means suddenly getting very familiar with the car behind you, and depending on the height and zoom (which are adjustable) you might be able to see all of it in the 4:1 aspect ratio mirror.

Still, it easily became a part of the drive and not a distraction, and since switching back and forth between operation as a regular mirror is so easy, it could let others drive without even worrying about it (the focusing delay seen in the clip is from my camera, not the mirror). In Japan, the add-on costs around $600, but we don’t have a US price yet. Rolled into the price of a new car, it seems like a worthy feature, although I’m not sure if it would change my preference of which car to buy just to get it.

Browse astronaut photos taken from the ISS with this handy map

While you’re gearing up for the weekend, why not peruse a collection of photos snapped from high above Earth’s surface. Thanks to Dave MacLean’s interactive map, you can do just that with over 650 images taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The cartographic library plots the location each photograph was captured, color-coded orbiter on Expeditions 40 and 41. On top of that, you’re able to see exactly were the ISS is currently in orbit. Pretty neat, if you ask us.

HTC’s plasticky One E8 lands in the US courtesy of Sprint

Jonesing for a taste of the HTC One M8 lifestyle but don’t have the cash to make it happen? Never fear — Sprint has just started offering the fantastic-in-plastic HTC One E8 to customers who want M8 horsepower without the matching price tag. No, really: in case you’ve forgotten, the E8 features the exact same screen, BoomSound speakers, processor and RAM as its slightly upmarket brother. The only real difference is that the E8 only comes with 16GB of internal storage (which is mitigated pretty nicely by its microSD card slot) and the fact that HTC ditched the Duo camera setup in favor of a more traditional 13-megapixel sensor ’round the back. In the event that your gear acquisition syndrome just started flaring up, you can lay claim to your very own E8 (in either white or gray) for $400 outright, $0 down and $20.84/month for 2 years with Sprint’s Easy Pay option, or $99 with a standard 2 year contract.

HTC One E8 Vogue Edition thumbnail image

HTC One E8 Vogue Edition

Engadget Daily: Google’s delivery drone, Nintendo’s new 3DS handhelds and more!

Today, we take a look at Google’s “Project Wing” delivery drone, go crazy with emoticons, learn about Nintendo’s new 3DS and 3DS XL handhelds and more. Read on for Engadget’s news highlights from the last 24 hours.

Engadget Daily: Google’s delivery drone, Nintendo’s new 3DS handhelds and more!

Nintendo 3DS thumbnail image

Nintendo 3DS