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Senior US election official: Trump’s misinformation is “insulting”

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On Thursday, President Donald Trump sent an all-caps tweet claiming that voting machines from a company called Dominion Voting Systems deleted millions of votes for him around the country. The claim isn’t true, but he is the president—so it has had an impact. Election workers say they fear for their safety. They’re receiving death threats from supporters of the president. 

Ben Hovland knows voting machines well. He runs the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), an independent federal agency that, among other jobs, tests and certifies voting machines. The EAC writes voting systems standards and tests the machines in labs for security, useability, and safety. And Hovland says there has been no widespread fraud or malfunction that would change the result of the election. Nor has the president—or the lawyers who have unsuccessfully tried challenging the result— produced any actual evidence of Trump’s claims.

Hovland and I discussed what’s happened since the election, and the extraordinary amount of disinformation coming from the White House. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, Hovland talked about the president’s legal woes, the future of election security officials, and his message for Donald Trump.

Q: What’s your reaction when the president tweets that Dominion deleted 2.7 million Trump votes?

A: Number one, it’s pretty baffling. Number two, I just wish that if claims like that were going to be made, they would actually be backed up with something credible. I think those types of statements matter. They cause Americans to lose confidence in the process.

That’s really concerning. Look at the president’s litigation. What we see is a very different story in front of a microphone or on Twitter than we see in front of a courtroom or in front of a judge. We see bold statements on Twitter or at the podium and we see hearsay and we see laughable evidence presented to courts. There’s just not a correlation between those. 

This story isn’t new. You look back at the 2016 election, the president made claims that he lost the popular vote because allegedly millions of non-citizens voted. A presidential commission was created to find those millions of non-citizens and prove voter fraud. They didn’t. It was disbanded in embarrassment. We see that time and time again. There has been no evidence anywhere of widespread voter fraud.

Frankly, it’s disrespectful to the people who run elections, it’s disrespectful to their integrity to make these kinds of allegations, particularly, when you’re not providing evidence. Anything that has been brought up as an easily refuted because it’s largely conspiracy theories. If there is anything to this, election officials will want to get to the bottom of it more than anyone. They care about the integrity of the process and want to make sure that it was fair and the will of the voters is reflected. 

Q: It was recently reported that Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, is being pressured by the White House to change its Rumor Control page, which combats election misinformation in real time. Krebs now expects to be fired because he refuses to change the facts. What’s your reaction to seeing a well-respected election security official feeling that he’s got a sword over his head for the act of getting the facts out?

A: That alone tells you as much as anything I can say. The reality is Krebs has done a great job. Without his leadership, we would be nowhere close to where we are. I’ve said many times there’s been a sea change in information sharing between state, local, and federal partners on election security. So much of that credit goes to director Krebs and his leadership. 

Rumor Control has been a fantastic resource. We really have seen an absurd number baseless allegations made. None has been rooted in any real fact. It’s important to get the real story out there. Director Krebs has done a great job of empowering his staff and meeting election officials where they are, bipartisan and across the board, recognizing that our elections are decentralized. Each state runs elections in its own unique way. And that means you need to approach the space respecting that and knowing that it’s different states and different election officials will have different challenges and need different assistance.

He’s done a great job recognizing that and adapting the program. The election infrastructure sub-sector has been the fastest growing sub-sector that the government has ever stood up. Certainly it’s led to the most secure election we’ve ever had. 

I was at the CISA operation center on Election Day and between there and having representatives from election organizations, having representatives there from the manufacturer community, the intelligence community, and having election officials around the country in virtual rooms, we were able to have a level of visibility into what was happening across the country like we never had before. 

Look at things that popped up on Election Day. No Election Day is perfect, elections never are, but this was done really well. And the things that popped up were sort of common election problems. There were some machines that didn’t start. There were some issues with the e-poll books. There were some poll workers that didn’t show up, that happens. But we were able to see those pop up and quickly address them. There were regular press background briefings giving the basic ‘here’s what we’re seeing, here’s what we know.’ Before the e-poll book issue spun up into some grand conspiracy, the facts were ascertained, shared, and we knew it was localized, and being resolved and not a major cyber incident. 

The ability to have that visibility  to be able to keep things from snowballing also made a big difference this year. And so much of that is due to the work that director Krebs has done and his leadership in the space. I hope that he continues in the role for as long as he wants.

Q: Are you worried about further politicization of the election process? 

A: I certainly hope that doesn’t happen. What you’re seeing in Rumor Control and in so many of these efforts is a commitment to the oath that we swore to the Constitution.

It’s trying to get the truth out about how our elections run. The security and integrity of the election, the story of what this election was the will of the voters, a record number of Americans cast ballots this year. Ultimately that is our democracy. And you’ve got to respect the will of the voters. 

Q: Do you think the situation is exacerbated by the fact that it’s specifically the president who is putting a megaphone to this misinformation? 

A: I think that is alarming, particularly the press conference so many networks cut away from. I think most Americans are not accustomed to seeing the presidential seal at the White House at the podium and make accusations like that, that his lawyers and others have failed to come up with any actual evidence or proof. 

A lot of Americans listen to the president. They respect the office or they are supporters of the president. You saw in some ways how that played out in people’s usage of mail-in absentee ballots.  Some people have raised questions about how the percentage of absentee mail going to president-elect Biden was overwhelming. Well, that’s because the president spent months saying you couldn’t trust mail-in ballots.

Certainly there’s a portion of the American people that believe him, and that is very concerning because we had a free and fair election. The will of the people, they have made their voices heard and election officials have just put in an unbelievable amount of work to ensure that this was a smooth election and the election has integrity. 

Any claims otherwise just are sowing divisiveness amongst the American people. That is what our foreign adversaries want. They want to see these divides. They want to see us lose faith in our democratic process and systems. It’s really unfortunate to be doing anything that would cause Americans to lose faith in the process, particularly one that worked so well this year. 

Q: If you could talk face-to-face with President Trump today about this election, what message would you deliver?

A: More than anything, I would talk about the consequences of these statements for election officials. I’ve heard from election officials personally. I’ve seen them in the media concerned about their own safety, the safety of their staff. These accusations, these conspiracy theories that are flying around, have consequences.

At a minimum, it’s insulting to the professionals that run our elections and hopefully that’s the worst that comes of it. Our people, they’re doing their jobs but they don’t feel safe doing it. That is a tragedy. That is awful. These are public servants. This isn’t a job you do for glory or to get rich.

It’s the job you do because you believe in our country, you believe in our democracy, and you want to help Americans. I can think of few callings that are higher. And I think it’s just really unfortunate that in a year we should be singing their praises and giving them credit, instead, we’re talking about them receiving threats and being scared. That is unacceptable. 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Rock-star programmer: Rivers Cuomo finds meaning in coding

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“Hi, I’m Rivers from the band, Weezer,” Rivers Cuomo says with a slight smile and a wave. He turns away from the camera for a bit, before launching into his best infomercial pitch. “Imagine you’re on tour, and you’re sitting in your dressing room or your tour bus. You’re backstage. You have stage fright, you’re stressing out. You’re pacing back and forth. And then on top of that, your tour manager is constantly calling you, asking you logistical questions.”

As far as internet pitch videos go, it’s not the most universal. If anything, the three-minute clip loses any hope of populist appeal by the end. In a final shot, the singer in a maroon SpaceX hoodie is the last up the ramp onto a private jet. The plane door closes revealing a Weezer flying “W” logo.

“Download Drivetimes now, on GitHub,” Cuomo adds in voice-over. “This is CS50X.”

It’s not the most polished app pitch video, and Cuomo’s elevator pitch could probably do with a bit of refining before approaching venture capitalists about a seed round. As far as final projects for online programming courses go, however, it’s something to behold. The images alternate between pages of code, Google spreadsheets and POV shots as he takes the stage for a co-headlining tour with the Pixies.

It helped earn Cuomo a 95 in the class.

But while, in its current configuration, the Drivetime tour scheduling tool might have limited appeal, the musician’s final project from Harvard’s follow-up course, CS50W, is immediately apparent for an army of fans who have followed his quarter-century-plus career. This week Cuomo dropped more than 2,400 demos totaling more than 86 hours. Spanning 1976 to 2015, the songs range in quality from tape-recorded sketches to more polished fare. Some would eventually find their way onto Weezer’s 13 albums, or assorted side projects. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.

Available through Cuomo’s “Mr. Rivers’ Neighborhood” site, the tracks are gathered into nine bundles, each available for $9 a piece. “By the way,” Cuomo writers at the bottom of a disclaimer, “this market is my final project for a course I’m taking in web programming.”

For half-a-decade, the platinum-selling rock star has been moonlighting as a computer programming student.

“I was always a spreadsheet guy,” Cuomo tells TechCrunch. “Around 2000, I think I started in Microsoft Access and then Excel. Just keeping track of all my songs and demos and ideas. Spreadsheets got more and more complicated to the point where it was like, ‘Well, I’m kind of almost writing code here in these formulas, except it’s super hard to use. So maybe I should actually do programming instead.’ ”

It would be an odd side hustle for practically any other successful musician. For Cuomo, however, it’s the next logical step. In the wake of the massive success of Weezer’s self-titled debut, he enrolled as a sophomore at Harvard, spending a year living in a dorm. He would ultimately leave school to record the band’s much-loved follow-up, Pinkerton, but two more more enrollments in 1997 and 2004 found the musician ultimately graduating with an English BA in 2006.

CS50 found Cuomo returning to Harvard — at least in spirit. The course is hosted online by the university, a free introduction to computer science.

“I went through some online courses and was looking for something that looked appealing and so I saw the Harvard CS50 was very popular,” Cuomo says. “So I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give this a shot.’ It didn’t take immediately. The first week course was using Scratch. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s like kind of click and drag type of programming, and you’re making a little video game.”

A six-week course stretched out for six months for the musician. That same year, the musician — now a father of two — played dozens of shows and recorded Weezer’s 10th album, the Grammy-nominated White Album.

“When we hit Python halfway through the course,” Cuomo says, “I was just amazed at how powerful it was and intuitive it was for me, and I could just get so much done. Then by the end of the course, I was writing programs that were really helping me manage my day-to-day life as a traveling musician and then also managing my spreadsheets and managing my work as a creative artist.”

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. The band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. What has seemingly been a bigger issue, however, is organizing those thoughts. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

The “thousands” of spreadsheets became a database, cataloging Cuomo’s own demos and work he was studying from other artists.

“For years it seemed like kind of a waste of time or an indulgence,” he says. “I should be writing a new song or, or recording a song rather than just cataloging these old ideas, but I’ve found that, years later, I’m able to very efficiently make use of these ancient ideas because I can just tell my Python program, ‘Hey, show me all the ideas I have at 126 BPM in the key of A flat that start with a third degree of the scale and the melody and are in Dorian mode and that my manager has given three stars or more to.’ ”

He admits that the process may be lacking in some of the rock and roll romanticism for which fans of the bands might hope. But in spite of drawing on pages of analytics, Cuomo insists there’s still magic present.

For Cuomo, productivity has never been much of an issue. Given his level of productivity, however, organizing all of those thoughts can get tricky. That’s where the spreadsheets and database come in.

“There’s still plenty of room for spontaneity and inspiration in what we traditionally think of as human creativity,” Cuomo explains. “One of my heroes in this realm is Igor Stravinsky. There’s a collection of his lectures called “The Poetics of Music.” And he had a note in that collection. He said he has no interest in a composer that’s only using one of his faculties, like a composer that says, ‘I am only going to write what pops into my head spontaneously when I’m in some kind of a creative zone. I won’t use any of my other tools.’

“He says, ‘No, I prefer to listen to the music of a composer who’s using every faculty at his disposal, his intuition, but also his intellect and his ability to analyze and categorize and make use of everything he has.’ I find that those ended up being the most wild and unpredictable and creative compositions.”

And there’s been no shortage of compositions. Cuomo says the band has two albums completed beyond this year’s Black Album, and he’s already begun work on two more follow-ups. After decades of feeling beholden to the 18-month major label album release cycle, the singer says that after the Demos project, he has a newfound interest in finding more ways to release music directly to fans.

“I don’t feel like I’m really good at understanding the big-picture marketplace and how to make the biggest impact in the world,” he says. “My manager is so good at that, but I just told them like, ‘Hey, this feels like something here. First of all, it’s really fun. The fans are really happy. It’s super easy for everyone involved.’ The coding part wasn’t easy, but for everyone else, it’s a couple of clicks and you’ve got all this music, and it’s a cheap price, and there’s no middleman. PayPal takes a little bit, but it’s nothing like a major label. So, this could be something. And there’s just something, it feels so good when it’s directly from me to the audience.”

For now, computer science continues to take up a major chunk of his time. Cuomo estimates that he’s been spending around 70% of his work hours on programming projects. On Wednesday nights, he helps out with programming for a meditation site (another decades-long passion), and he plans to take Harvard’s follow-up CS50M course, which centers around developing for mobile apps.

There are, however, no immediate plans to quit his day job.

“I can’t see me getting a job at a startup or something or maintaining somebody’s website,” he says. “But maybe the line between rock star and web developer is getting blurred so that musicians will be making more and more use of technological tools. Besides just the music software, we’ll be making more and more use of means of distribution and organization and creativity that’s coming out in the way we code our connection to the audience.”

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Daily Crunch: Amazon Web Services stumble

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An Amazon Web Services outage has a wide effect, Salesforce might be buying Slack and Pinterest tests new support for virtual events. This is your Daily Crunch for November 25, 2020.

And for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving: Enjoy! There will be no newsletter tomorrow, and then Darrell Etherington will be filling in for me on Friday.

The big story: Amazon Web Services stumble

Amazon Web Services began experiencing issues earlier today, which caused issues for sites and services that rely on its cloud infrastructure — as writer Zack Whittaker discovered when he tried to use his Roomba.

Amazon said the issue was largely localized to North America, and that it was working on a resolution. Meanwhile, a number of other companies, such as Adobe and Roku, have pointed to the AWS outage as the reason for their own service issues.

The tech giants

Slack’s stock climbs on possible Salesforce acquisition — News that Salesforce is interested in buying Slack sent shares of the smaller firm sharply higher today.

Pinterest tests online events with dedicated ‘class communities’ — The company has been spotted testing a new feature that allows users to sign up for Zoom classes through Pinterest.

France starts collecting tax on tech giants — This tax applies to companies that generate more than €750 million in revenue globally and €25 million in France, and that operate either a marketplace or an ad business.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Tiger Global invests in India’s Unacademy at $2B valuation — Unacademy helps students prepare for competitive exams to get into college.

WeGift, the ‘incentive marketing’ platform, collects $8M in new funding — Founded in 2016, WeGift wants to digitize the $700 billion rewards and incentives industry.

Cast.ai nabs $7.7M seed to remove barriers between public clouds — The company was started with the idea that developers should be able to get the best of each of the public clouds without being locked in.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public — Metromile, a startup competing in the auto insurance market, is going public via SPAC.

Join us for a live Q&A with Sapphire’s Jai Das on Tuesday at 2 pm EST/11 am PST — Das has invested in companies like MuleSoft, Alteryx, Square and Sumo Logic.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Gift Guide: Smart exercise gear to hunker down and get fit with — Smart exercise and health gear is smarter than ever.

Instead of yule log, watch this interactive dumpster fire because 2020 — Sure, why not.

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 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Gift Guide: 5 solid tech gifts to help decrease stress and increase sleep

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Welcome to Techcrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

Even in a normal year, the holidays can be an anxiety-inducing hellscape. In 2020, though — honestly, it’s hard to say what manner of climactic finale this historically rough year might have on tap. In honor of the one of the most epically rotten years on record, we’ve cobbled together a list of gifts that could go a ways toward helping folks make it triumphantly across the finish line.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, I admit. Everyone blows off stress differently — some like to play video games, come cook, some go for a run, others meditate. This is an attempt to round up some gadgets and software that can help increase sleep, reduce blood pressure and generally help survive what’s left of 2020 intact.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Muse S

I was using Muse’s latest headband quite a bit during CES, back when that show still felt like it was going to be the apex of stress for my year. The device offers a clever kind of gamified approach to meditation — something I, as one of the worst meditators of all-time, have come to appreciate. I recognize that words like “gamify” sound counterproductive when it comes something like meditating, but Muse does a surprisingly good job getting you into the right headspace.

The company also recently added sleep tracking to the wearable. I will say that the Muse S is reasonably comfortable as far as tech headbands go (an admittedly low bar), but even so, sleeping with one on still takes some getting used to.

Price: $350 from Amazon

Bose Sleepbuds II

Image Credits: Bose

We can recommend a number of all-purpose, noise-cancelling headphones for help relaxing. The Bose Sleepbuds II aren’t that. These little Bluetooth buds are built for one purpose only: sleep. They’re comfortable, they get good battery life and they’ll stay in place while you sleep. They’re built for noisy environments — whether you’re trying to sneak in a midday nap or sleep next to a snorer.

They’re a bit pricy and not very versatile, only designed to play back Bose’s preloaded sleep sounds. But if someone in your life is having trouble falling — or staying — asleep, they’re a solid investment.

Price: $250 from Amazon

Calm Subscription

Image Credits: Calm

There’s no shortage of meditation apps these days, but Calm has been my go-to for a long time. The app has been tremendously successful over the past couple of years, even landing a star-studded show on HBO Max. With more than 50 million downloads, Calm offers some of the most extensive and best guided meditation courses and tracks to help lull listeners to sleep.

Price: $13/month from Calm

Withings Sleep

Image Credits: Withings

I really dug this thing before my rabbit chewed the cord and rendered the thing effectively useless. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s not an issue most users are going to run into. Withings Sleep is, effectively, a pad that sits under the mattress to detect your sleep progress during the night. Those results are then collected and displayed in Withings’ Health app. I’ve tested a lot of wearable sleep trackers over the year, but if you’re really invested in sleep tracking, this is a good way to go. Among other things, you don’t have to wear a band to sleep.

Withings Sleep goes deep with its tracking, including cycles heart rate tracking and even snore detection. It’s also one of the first of this class of consumer device to offer sleep apnea detection.

Price: $74 from Amazon

Dreamlight Zen

Image Credits: Dreamlight

Back when we used to do travel gift guides, I included one of Dreamlight’s masks for long flights. Even though we’re all grounded, though, I’ve actually got a fair amount of use out of the thing, dealing with some health struggles this year. Dreamlight Zen is a step up from that model, featuring built-in sleep and meditation aids that can run up to 10 hours on a charge.

Price: $200 from Dreamlight

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