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YouTube will “ramp up” enforcement of its policies against dangerous challenges and pranks

YouTube announced several policy updates today, including more stringent enforcement of its ban on videos of dangerous challenges and pranks.

In a FAQ posted to its support site, YouTube wrote “we’ve updated our external guidelines to make it clear that challenges like the Tide Pod challenge or the Fire challenge, that can cause death and/or have caused death in some instances, have no place on YouTube.” Its policies also extend to pranks “with a perceived danger of serious physical injury,” like home invasion or drive-by shooting pranks.

Reminder 1⃣: Custom thumbnail images must follow our Community Guidelines. A thumbnail that egregiously violates policies (e.g. pornography, graphic violence) will result in thumbnail removal.

? In the future, this will also result in a strike.

FAQs ? https://t.co/4mClLTfzqN

— Team YouTube (@TeamYouTube) January 15, 2019

Reminder 2⃣: External sites you link to from YouTube must follow our Community Guidelines. Links to sites that egregiously violate policies (eg. malware, spam) will result in link removal.

? In the future, this will also result in a strike.

FAQs ? https://t.co/itWJSZk82X

— Team YouTube (@TeamYouTube) January 15, 2019

Reminder 3⃣: Our policies prohibit content encouraging violent or dangerous activities that are likely to result in serious harm.

? We’ve updated external guidelines to clarify what this means for dangerous challenges and pranks.

FAQs ? https://t.co/4LYlC1GqlB

— Team YouTube (@TeamYouTube) January 15, 2019

While YouTube did not mention it, its announcement comes the day after a teenager crashed a car while driving blindfolded for the Bird Box challenge, inspired by the Netflix movie of the same name. The meme, which involves doing different things while blindfolded, became popular enough that Netflix itself issued a warning (“PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE”) earlier this month.

YouTube also said it bans videos of pranks that can “cause children to experience severe emotional distress, meaning something so bad it could leave the child traumatized for life.” The platform said it worked with child psychologists “to develop guidelines around the types of pranks that cross this line. Examples include, the fake death of a parent or severe abandonment or shaming for mistakes.”

The psychological well-being of children featured in videos gained attention in 2017 when DaddyOFive, a YouTube channel run by Mike and Heather Martin, was taken down after users became concerned about the abusive nature of the pranks played by the Martins on their young children. The Martins ended up losing custody of two of the children, who were returned to their biological mother, and entering an Alford plea to child neglect charges, resulting in five years of supervised probation.

In addition to updating its pranks and challenges policy, YouTube said it will also begin issuing strikes for custom thumbnails that violate policies by showing pornography or graphic violence, as well as external sites linked to YouTube that don’t follow community guidelines.

YouTubers have two months during which videos that violate those guidelines will be removed, but they won’t be issued a strike. After the grace period is up, videos will be removed and their creators may also be issued a strike.

Roku now deleting Infowars from its platform after customer outcry

Roku is deleting the Infowars channel from its platform, a couple days after adding it as a supported channel. In a tweet, Roku said after the channel became available, “we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.”

After the InfoWars channel became available, we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.

— Roku (@Roku) January 16, 2019

Digiday first reported this morning that Roku had added the Infowars live show hosted by Alex Jones to the platform as supported channel, a decision that was immediately met with protests by customers who threatened to switch to Apple TV and other competitors.

Jones is currently the target of a defamation lawsuit filed by family members of Sandy Hook victims, who say they have experienced harassment, including death threats, as a result of conspiracy theories spread by Jones and Infowars that claim the 2012 elementary school shooting was a hoax. The lawsuit has been in the headlines recently after a judge ruled that victims’ families must receive access to internal Infowars documents.

Roku’s decision to support the Infowars channel was also especially egregious because it was purged from multiple social media and app platforms, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouPorn for violating their content policies or terms of service, about six months ago.

Earlier today, Roku attempted to defend adding Infowars to its platform by releasing a statement that said in part that “while the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint. We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.”

TechCrunch has emailed Roku for comment.

CERN’s plan for 100-km collider makes the LHC look like a hula hoop

The Large Hadron Collider has produced a great deal of incredible science, most famously the Higgs Boson — but physicists at CERN, the international organization behind the LHC, are already looking forward to the next model. And the proposed Future Circular Collider, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles around, would be quite an upgrade.

The idea isn’t new; CERN has had people looking into it for years. But the conceptual design report issued today shows that all that consulting hasn’t been idle: there’s a relatively cohesive and practical plan — as practical as a particle collider can be — and a decent case for spending the $21 billion or so that would be needed.

“These kind of largest scale efforts and projects are huge starters for networking, connecting institutes across borders, countries,” CERN’s Michael Benedikt, who led the report, told Nature. “All these things together make up a very good argument for pushing such unique science projects.”

On the other hand, while the LHC has been a great success, it hasn’t exactly given physicists an unambiguous signpost as to what they should pursue next. The lack of new cosmic mysteries — for example, a truly anomalous result or mysterious gap where a particle is expected — has convinced some that they must simply turn up the heat, but others that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The design document provides several possible colliders, of which the 100-km ring is the largest and would produce the highest-energy collisions. Sure, you could smash protons together at 100,000 gigaelectron-volts rather than 16,000 — but what exactly will that help explain? We have left my areas of expertise, such as they are, well behind at this point so I will not speculate, but the question at least is one being raised by those in the know.

It’s worth noting that Chinese physicists are planning something similar, so there’s the aspect of international competition as well. How should that affect plans? Should we just ask China if we can use theirs? The academic world is much less affected by global strife and politics than, say, the tech world, but it’s still not ideal.

There are plenty of options to consider and time is not of the essence; it would take a decade or more to get even the simplest and cheapest of these proposals up and running.

Transparency-seeking OPEN Government Data Act signed into law

The federal government produces one hell of a lot of data, but despite desultory lurches toward usability, there’s little guarantee that it’s available in a way that makes it useful to anyone. That may change for the better with the OPEN Government Data Act, which the president signed into law last night.

The act essentially requires federal agencies to default when possible to making data (and metadata) public, to publish that public data in a machine-readable format and catalog it online. It also mandates that chief data officers be appointed at those agencies to handle the process.

This bipartisan piece of legislature flew through the House and Senate mostly uncompromised, though the Treasury was removed from the list of organizations to which it would apply. I’m sure they had their reasons.

It’s a big win for proponents of open government, though considering the towering ineptitude and obsolescence of the federal information technology sector, it’s probably a bit early to celebrate. By necessity many new policies and systems will have to be updated before any agency can reasonably be supposed to comply with the law, and that could take years. However, it certainly seems like a good path for them to be on.

Another part of the law as signed (OPEN was combined with a few others for convenience and horse-trading purposes) is that these agencies are also now officially required to find and present evidence for any new policies or changes. Some agencies, like the FCC, are already required to do this, but others have a more free hand.

It may seem obvious — shouldn’t every policy be justified by evidence? — but this codifies the rules, for instance requiring the agencies to publicly present lists of relevant questions and the means (down to the statistical methods) they are taking to answer them.

If you’re curious about the act itself or its sisters passed simultaneously, there’s a history of the OPEN act here; the full text of the bill is here; the announcement of the signature is here.

The Square Off chess board melds the classical with the robotic

CES crowds can be tough — especially toward the end of the week. You’re physically and emotionally drained, and you’re pretty sure you’ve seen everything the consumer electronics world has to offer. And then something comes along to knock your socks off. Square Off was one such product, impressing the crowd at our meetup and walking away the winner of our hardware pitch-off.

The company’s first product looks like your run of the mill wooden chess board. And that’s part of the charm. Turn it on with the single button, and the system goes to work, tapping into chess AI software built by Stockfish and moving opposing pieces accordingly with an electromagnet attached to a robotic arm hidden under the board.

It’s an overused word in this space, but the effect is downright magical. It’s like playing chess against a ghost — and who hasn’t wanted to do that at some point? Players can challenge the board using 20 different difficulty levels or can play against opponents remotely, via chess.com.

Bhavya Gohil, the co-founder and CEO of Square Off creator InfiVention, told TechCrunch that the product started life as a college project aimed at creating a chess board for people with visual impairment. After a trip to Maker Faire Rome, however, its inventors recognized that the product had the potential for broader appeal.

One Kickstarter and another Indiegogo campaign later, the company had raised in excess of $600,000 for the project. After a year learning the manufacturing ropes in China, the company began shipping retail products in March of last year, launching a website the following month. In October, the product landed on Amazon, tripling sales for the holiday. All told, the company has sold 9,000 units — not bad for a chess startup charging $369 a pop. A majority of those (80 percent) have been sold in the U.S., with the remainder being sold in Europe.

In November, the company scored a seed round of $1.1 million. InfiVention is planning version 2.0 for a mid-2020 launch. That one will be more versatile, covering additional classic table-top games like checkers and backgammon. That version will be even more versatile when it’s opened up to table-top game developers looking to build their own titles into the platform via the app.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray will reunite for Apple and A24

The director and star of “Lost in Translation” are working together again, with Bill Murray starring alongside Rashida Jones in “On the Rocks,” a new film directed by Sofia Coppola.

The movie will tell the story of a young mother who reconnects with her playboy father in New York City. Production is supposed to begin this spring.

“On the Rocks” is the first film to come out of the partnership between Apple and A24, which will see A24 (the studio behind “Moonlight,” “Lady Bird,” “Hereditary” and other indie hits) producing several titles for Apple . The deal will help Apple’s yet-to-launch streaming service offer high-profile original films alongside shows like its star-studded morning news drama and an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” novels.

It’s been nearly 16 years since the release of “Lost in Translation,” which was a financial and critical hit — it remains the highest-grossing film of Coppola’s directing career, and it cemented Murray’s shift to more serious roles. It also won Coppola the Academy Award for best screenplay, and it nabbed Murray his only Oscar nomination thus far. (How is that possible??)

Since then, Coppola has only directed Murray once, in the idiosyncratic Netflix special “A Very Murray Christmas.”