Google Is Struggling With Friendly Neighborhood Bike Thieves

Between 100 and 250 company bicycles are stolen from Google’s campus every week, out of a fleet of around 1,100 so-called Gbikes. Or maybe ‘borrowed’ is a better word than ‘stolen’ – it’s complicated.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the bikes wind up in odd places, like schools, tavern roofs, and Burning Man. The people who take them are often residents of Mountain View, the town that’s home to Google’s headquarters. They often view the bikes as a kind of community service, even though they’re ostensibly meant for Google employees to use on the Google campus.

Google has been trying to control its losses, using roving teams to collect the bikes from around town, and recently installing GPS trackers. That’s how they learned one had made it all the way to the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

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But according to comments to the Journal from Mountain View residents, the deeper issue may be mixed feelings about the corporate giant. Some locals didn’t realize the bikes were supposed to be for Google employees only, suggesting they regard Google as a benevolent part of the community.

But others – perhaps including a man who claimed to have an entire garage full of the bikes – regard their borrowing as a kind of retributive justice against the massive company. One woman specifically cited the annoyance of Google Buses, which bring employees to work from around the San Francisco Bay, saying she borrowed the bikes to “balance it out.” The Google buses have been the target of protests in San Francisco, as a kind of proxy for income inequality and rising rents that have been blamed on the tech boom.

The bike situation is subtler and more complex, as befitting lower-key Mountain View. But it still reflects, in the words of one local speaking to the Journal, a sense among residents that “Google owes them somehow, someway.”

Ripple’s Cofounder Is Now One of the World’s Richest People

A cryptocurrency mogul is now one of the richest people in the world — at least on paper.

Chris Larsen, the cofounder, executive chairman, and former CEO of the cryptocurrency company Ripple, became the world’s fifth wealthiest person as the price of Ripple’s XRP cryptocurrency soared past the $3 mark this week.

The recent price surge catapulted Larsen ahead of Google (goog) cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (nos. 8 and 10 respectively, excluding Larsen) in terms of personal net worth, according to data from Forbes’ billionaires list. The lift also gave him an edge over Oracle (orcl) cofounder Larry Ellison (formerly no. 5).

Larsen personally holds 5.19 billion XRP crypto coins as well as a 17% stake in the company he cofounded, Forbes reported Tuesday, citing sources close to Ripple. Fortune has since confirmed the figures with people close to Ripple.

Larsen’s wealth swelled to extravagant proportions when the price of Ripple’s XRP token hit an unprecedented high of $3.84 per coin Thursday, per data from the industry tracker CoinMarketCap. Since Ripple controls 61% of the world’s supply of XRP coins — 61 billion out of 100 billion in total — the gains placed Larsen’s personal position in the cryptocurrency as well as his share of the XRP owned by his company at a dizzying total of $59.8 billion.

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XRP’s price has rocketed more than 1,400% since early December. On Thursday, the sum of Larsen’s newfound fortune technically exceeded the fortunes of Ellison ($58.9 billion), the oil tycoon Koch brothers’ ($51 billion apiece), Page ($50.8 billion), media impresario Michael Bloomberg ($49.7 billion), and Brin ($49.3 billion), in the estimation of Forbes’ billionaires list.

Larsen, who cofounded Ripple in 2012 before stepping down as CEO in 2016, has amassed a stunningly large fortune, on paper, despite the youth of his moonshot venture. The company has set its sights on an starry-eyed goal: supplanting the SWIFT interbank money transmission service and angling for XRP to become a global reserve currency held by major financial firms in order to facilitate foreign exchange markets.

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Larsen’s enlargement — and that of a growing cadre of cryptocurrency bulls, like the Winklevoss brothers — comes amid a heady, speculation-driven cryptocurrency gold-rush. You can read more about the crypto boom in Fortune’s January cover story on Bitcoin’s rise.

Last week, Ripple’s XRP rose to displace Ethereum as the number two cryptocurrency network by total market value, a title it still claims.

Astute readers will note that Larsen’s near $60-billion in digital funds are, for the most part, illiquid. And even if Larsen could easily convert the vast majority of his XRP coins into a traditional currency, like U.S. dollars, the influx of so many tokens into the market provoked by such a sell-off would no doubt greatly depress the value.

Google Explores Sale of Restaurant Reviewer Zagat

Alphabet’s Google is exploring a potential sale of Zagat, the U.S. restaurant review guide which the search giant bought for $151 million in 2011, people familiar with the matter said.

A sale of Zagat would mark a course reversal for Alphabet’s once ambitious plans for the brand, spearheaded by former Google executive Marissa Mayer, who went on to become Yahoo Inc’s chief executive. Zagat gradually became less of a priority as Google focused on drawing traffic to its Google+ social network.

Google has held informal talks in recent months with multiple companies about offloading Zagat, the sources said, asking not to be named because the matter is private. Any deal would likely involve the Zagat brand name and website, the sources added.

Google’s asking price is not known, and there is no certainty it will agree to sell Zagat, the sources said.

A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment.

Google Maps incorporates Zagat reviews into its restaurant listings, and a small team at the company maintains, which features articles about restaurants in major cities.

The unit makes up just a fraction of Alphabet, a sprawling holding company whose units include Google and an array of unrelated pursuits in areas such as healthcare, self-driving cars and urban planning.

Founded in 1979 by Tim and Nina Zagat, the eponymous service became known for its familiar burgundy pocket-sized guides to restaurants in cities around the world. Many establishments feature Zagat stickers on their doors and windows.

Over the past year, Alphabet has been pruning its portfolio and shedding smaller non-core assets.

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Last June, Alphabet agreed to sell two robotics firms, Boston Dynamics and Tokyo-based Schaft to SoftBank. Last February, it announced it would sell the satellite imaging business it acquired in 2014 for $500 million called Terra Bella, to Planet Labs, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator.

Alphabet also explored selling Nest, a maker of Wi-Fi enabled thermostats, in 2016, Reuters reported.

Why the Bomb Cyclone Hitting the East Coast Is So Unusual

Now, the first thing you should know about a bomb cyclone is it’s just a name—and unlike a sharknado, it’s not a literal one. The very real scientific term describes a storm that suddenly intensifies following a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure. Bombing out, or “bombogenesis,” is when a cyclone’s central pressure drops 24 millibars or more in 24 hours, bringing furious winds that can quickly create blizzard conditions and coastal flooding.

It’s actually not that rare a phenomenon; meteorologists estimate these kinds of storms break out in the Northern Hemisphere about 10 times a year. They can go by other names, like Nor’easter and mid-latitude cyclone, which may explain why you’ve never heard of one before Winter Storm Grayson started dumping snow in Tallahassee on Wednesday morning. But Grayson isn’t your typical bombogenerator.

It’s what happens when everything comes together just right (or just wrong). Grayson is expected to explode up the East Coast between now and Friday, intensifying as it makes its way from Florida to Nova Scotia, blowing record snowfalls around at category 3 hurricane wind speeds. “This storm is a synoptic meteorologist’s dream,” says Paul Huttner, who watches the weather for Minnesota Public Radio. “It’s a perfect alignment of the three things we look for.”

The first is a warm conveyor belt of tropical moisture, which the Gulf Stream is shuttling out of the Caribbean and right up the Atlantic coast. That’s pretty normal for this time of year. What’s less normal is the huge subzero air mass that dipped down from the Arctic about 10 days ago, plunging the Great Lakes and Eastern US into a sustained deep freeze.

Every year, around this time, the sun stops shining above the Arctic circle. No radiation means no heat, which means all that air gets real cold real quick. Most of the time, jet streams—the easterly flowing air currents near the upper reaches of the atmosphere—keep that cold air bottled up in the Arctic. But sometimes, upper air waves shift, forcing a buckle in the jet stream and allowing all that air to spill southward.

“The coldest air on the planet just happened to slide over Northeast America,” says Huttner. “And with this incredible moisture feed we’ve now got a huge temperature contrast. By the time this thing gets up into New England we’re talking about a good 100 degrees of temperature contrast across the center of the storm. And generally speaking, the stronger the temperature contrast, the deeper the storm.”

Differences in temperature, you see, lead to differences in pressure. As the pressure drops, air rushes in. The faster it drops, the faster the air moves. And thus, a winter storm is born.

Unlike hurricanes, which slow down as they head north and get away from the moist heat of the ocean, bomb cyclones tend to reach their peak intensity when they hit New England. That’s where the maximum temperature contrast usually is. It’s also where the third thing meteorologists look for—a low pressure trough in the upper levels of the atmosphere—happens to be occurring right now.

NOAA scientists are estimating that Grayson will wind up dropping between 60 and 70 millibars over 48 hours, ending Thursday evening near Nova Scotia. Not only would this be one of the most rapid rates of bombogenesis associated with an East Coast storm, but with its central pressure expected to bottom out near 950 millibars, it puts Grayson among the strongest offshore storms in recent history. (For comparison, Nor’easters such as Nemo, Juno, and Stella didn’t dip below 970 mb.)

This is leading to faster and stronger winds than you’d typically see in a storm this time of year, says Gregg Galina, a meteorologist with NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center. He’s been monitoring Grayson from the agency’s outpost in College Park, Maryland, which was just starting to get some snow and light winds by 9pm Eastern time Wednesday. It’s the first winter storm to really test out NOAA’s new GOES-16—its most advanced weather satellite ever—which first locked into position over the US in December.

GOES-16 scans the Earth five times faster than previous sats, sending back images every 15 minutes. That, along with new ozone-measuring capability, helps Galina forecast the storm’s impact. The compound acts as a kind of tracer for low pressure pulling down on the stratosphere, and gives an idea about the vorticity—or the spin—of the atmosphere. “It’s kind of like an ice skater spinning with her arms out,” says Galina. “As she brings them closer to her body she spins faster. It’s the same in a cyclone; the increased spin tightens the wind field.”

Galina and others on his team will be feeding satellite data into their models over the next few days to predict what Grayson has in store. And they’ll also use data collected from inside the eye of the storm. On Wednesday afternoon, a military air crew loaded up a WC-130J Super Hercules with about 30 dropsondes—parachute-equipped weather sensors—and took off from Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi headed straight into the storm’s path. Over the next 10 to 12 hours, they released the sensors into the frozen gale, and as they fell they sent back real-time readings on air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind direction, and speed.

All of this is necessary because there’s still a ton scientists don’t know about winter storms. In particular, how much of a power boost they draw from rapidly-warming oceans. “The global ocean is as warm now as it has ever been,” says Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “The main consequence of that is that winter storms can dump much bigger snowfalls if they combine with cold air, like the kind coming down on the Montreal Express right now.”

And at least according to some climate scientists, this pattern is likely to repeat itself even more in the future. Rutgers climatologist Jennifer Francis is one of a growing number of researchers who believe that the warming Arctic will leave less of a temperature difference between the equators and poles, weakening the jet stream. A weaker jet stream would allow cold air to push down, or warm air to wander north, more frequently, setting up more opportunities for a violent atmospheric showdown. “We expect these patterns to become more frequent, but they may align differently in different years,” says Francis.

Others are less sure. Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at MIT, notes that as you go higher up into the atmosphere, the opposite trend is true: The tropics are warming faster than the poles, 10 miles up. “Winter storms depend on both surface temperature and higher up in the atmosphere,” he says. “The models are all over the place about whether these are going to get more or less intense. Frankly, it’s an unsolved problem in the field.”

Researchers will have to wait until Grayson runs its course to know for sure whether it’s a record-breaking storm. And a little bit longer to find out if “record-breaking” is just the new normal.

Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund Goes Big on Bitcoin

Peter Thiel and his venture capital firm, Founders Fund, are big believers in Bitcoin.

The PayPal co-founder and other Founders Fund partners bought $15 million to $20 million worth of the cryptocurrency that’s now worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Tuesday that cites unnamed sources.

The report didn’t say exactly when Thiel or his VC firm first bought Bitcoin, whose value has fluctuated from record highs to dramatic declines in recent months. The volatility has alarmed some economists, who worry of a bubble.

Thiel and the Founders Fund, however, don’t appear to share those concerns, and are instead pitching Bitcoin to their investors as “a high-risk, high-reward wager similar to its other venture bets,” the report said.

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Shares of Bitcoin jumped over 13% on Tuesday from $13,412 to $15,216 after the report, according to Coindesk.

In October, Thiel reportedly said during an investment conference in Saudi Arabia that people are “underestimating” Bitcoin and he compared the cryptocurrency to gold.

“If bitcoin ends up being the cyber equivalent of gold it has a great potential left,” he said at the time. About other cryptocurrencies, however, Thiel said he was “skeptical of most of them.”

Other cryptocurrencies include Ripple, Ethereum, and Litecoin.

A Founders Fund spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

Bitcoin Is Already Having a Bad Year

Bitcoin is already having a bad year.

For the first time since 2015, the cryptocurrency began a new year by tumbling, extending its slide from a record $19,511 reached on Dec. 18.

The virtual coin traded at $13,440 as of 3:55 p.m. in New York, down 6.1 percent from Friday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s also a fall from the $14,156 it hit Sunday, according to, which tracks daily prices.

Bitcoin got off to a much stronger start last year, and then kept that momentum going, eventually creating a global frenzy for cryptocurrencies. In a sign of its phenomenal price gain in 2017, it rose 3.6 percent on the first day of 2017 to $998, data from show. It ended the year up more than 1,300 percent.

That rally drew a growing number of competitors and last month brought bitcoin to Wall Street in the form of futures contracts. It reached the Dec. 18 peak hours after CME Group Inc. debuted its derivatives agreements, which some traders said would encourage short position-taking.

Blockchain Takes a Shot at Redefining the Sports Betting Experience

In 2018, hundreds of sports betting sites and apps allow bettors to gamble discretely from just about anywhere through their smartphones. This convenience has attracted more users to participate in the action.

Traditional payment services like banks and digital wallets have been wary of supporting online gambling, leaving room for specialized payments gateways to facilitate bankroll funding and payouts. There’s also no shortage of handicapper sites and services that offer paid analyses to less savvy gamblers.

Unfortunately, the involvement of these parties brings enhanced risk of fraud and failure. Gambling payment gateways are constantly under threat from cyber-criminals. Handicappers also don’t quite produce the wins that they promise to bettors. As such, there are opportunities for blockchain – a technology that promotes shared trust – to address these issues.

Several blockchain efforts have set their sights on bettors’ needs. For example, emerging digital currency Electroneum envisions its token to be used by online gambling services. BlitzPredict provides bettors trustworthy insights through its aggregation service. Platforms like HEROcoin even aim to decentralize sports betting.

Success of these efforts could all help create better betting experiences. Here are three ways how these blockchain services can accomplish that goal.

1 – Easier Funding and Payouts

Payments using blockchain can be completed quicker compared to traditional means. Tokens do not have to be routed through different financial institutions and clearing houses. Winnings can either be readily credited to the user’s bankroll or to a token wallet. Since tokens are now fungible assets, bettors also have the option to transfer tokens to exchanges and trade them for other crypto or fiat currencies.

However, crypto tokens aren’t without their quirks. For instance, it can be hard to tell how much a bet made in Bitcoin is actually worth in fiat currency. For ordinary people, it’s easier to discern the value of “$50” compared to “0.003 BTC.” Interestingly, Electroneum addresses this by limiting its token to two decimal places just like fiat currencies. This way, users could have an easier time estimating or converting mentally making use of crypto tokens for gambling more bettor friendly.

2 – Trustworthy Insights

Blockchain startup BlitzPredict aims to provide insights by aggregating sportsbooks and prediction markets much like a stock market ticker. This helps bettors determine which sportsbook provides them with the best possible outcomes for a given bet. The platform also enables bettors to use blockchain smart contracts to automatically place bets when certain conditions are met.

Alternatively, bettors can subscribe to handicapper services that could supposedly point them to better odds. However, the credibility of many of these so-called sports “experts” have been called to question. Many offer tips and promise sure wins for a fee even if they don’t have the credentials to back their “expertise” or the data to support their picks.

In order to promote quality insights, BlitzPredict also allows analytics enthusiasts to share their prediction models to other users. High-performing models are rewarded with the platform’s own token which could then be used to place bets using the platform. Such a rewards mechanism encourages bettors to make data-driven decisions rather than settle for hunches or bad advice.

3 – Transparent Betting

Sportsbooks are often set up so that the house always wins. Even the reputable ones will have to make money by taking a cut from transactions. Without aggregation and advanced analytics, bettors are not only likely to lose in the long term, but they may also have to absorb the cost of these cuts and fees for all the transactions they conduct.

Platforms such as HEROcoin challenge this system by offering decentralized peer-to-peer betting. Through smart contracts, bettors are free to define the conditions of wagers. Blockchain’s transparency lets users trace the flow of money and the terms.

Fair Wagers

Sports betting is still a growing market and the expansion of betting to other segments such as esports is bringing in new participants. In esports alone, studies predict that more than $23 billion will be wagered by 2020. New services should strive to create easier and more positive experiences for the benefit of these new bettors joining the scene.

Fortunately, blockchain startups are already bringing transparency and trust into such activities. The use of crypto tokens could help address the lengthy and costly funding and payout processes. Better analytics and aggregation could also aid discerning bettors in making effective picks. Smart contracts can provide secure mechanisms for parties to enter and execute wagers.

How to Watch the 2018 New Year’s Countdown and Ball Drop for Free

It’s New Year’s Eve 2017, and people are saying, “Out with the old and in with the new.” If you’re one of the millions who cut the cord on their cable television this past year, you might find yourself unable to watch the 2018 countdown. But you don’t need cable to watch the ball drop in New York City or to see Mariah Carey make her ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’ comeback on ABC. That’s because 2017 was finally the year streaming television arrived. Here’s how to live stream the New Year’s Eve countdown and ball drop for free — for auld lang syne.

DirecTV Now

You can watch Ryan Seacrest host ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’ — and a whole lot more — using DirecTV Now‘s free seven-day free trial. The service costs $35 per month for a package of at least 60 live channels after the trial ends, but that stretch can get you in on should help you through the holiday and more. DirecTV Now’s basic-level plan packs local affiliates for CBS, FOX, and NBC. But before you sign up, check your local channel availability here, because not every market includes every station.

Hulu with Live TV

FOX’s New Year’s Eve coverage is hosted by Steve Harvey this year, and you can catch it on Hulu with Live TV which also offers CBS and NBC. The service also packs a big on-demand library, which could be good if you get bored of all that confetti and kissing and you just want to binge, instead. Like DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV is free for a week, but it runs $39 per month after the trial is up. One nice thing about Hulu’s offering is that it has an option to add on a cloud DVR service, which might be a smart long-run investment if you want to keep the service for 2018 and beyond.

Sling TV

Depending upon which television channel you want to ring in the new year with, Sling TV might be the choice for you. The service also offers a seven-day free preview as well as Univision and FOX, but you can only get those channels in select markets and on its higher-tiered “Blue” plan, which costs $25 per month after the trial. If you want to watch CNN’s Anderson Cooper count it down, Sling’s lower tiered “Orange” plan costs just $20 per month, and offers the cable news giant, but it doesn’t have the local networks. But while Sling TV Blue does have the NFL Network, so it might be a worthwhile investment, if you’re going to watch all the games on Sunday before the festivities begin.

PlayStation Vue

If you’ve got a PlayStation 4 under your TV, PlayStation Vue might be a good choice for you. The live streaming television service offers a five-day free trial and starts at $39 per month after the promotional period ends. The base plan caters to popular live programming (other packages focus on sports and movies), so that’s probably a safe bet for streaming New Year’s programming. But like the others, channels vary by zip code, so check their availability before you sign up.

YouTube TV

Google’s YouTube TV isn’t just a portal to its popular video-hosting website. It is also a live streaming television service that offers a seven-day free trial with 40 channels and cloud DVR capability for $35 per month (once the promotion ends). YouTube TV includes all the major networks, including CBS, FOX, and NBC — where host Carson Daly does his yearly thing — but the catch the service only available in select markets (though, there are quite a few).