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The first black hole ever discovered is more massive than we thought

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Einstein first predicted the existence of black holes when he published his theory of general relativity in 1916, describing how gravity shapes the fabric of spacetime. But astronomers didn’t spot one until 1964, some 6,070 light-years away in the Cygnus constellation. Geiger counters launched into space detected cosmic x-rays coming from a region called Cygnus X-1. (We now know the cosmic rays are produced by black holes. Back then, scientists disagreed about what it was: Stephen Hawking famously bet physicist Kip Thorne that this signal was not from a black hole, but he conceded in 1990.)

Now, some 57 years later, scientists have learned that the black hole at Cygnus X-1 is much more massive than first believed—forcing us to once again rethink how black holes form and evolve. This time, the observations were taken from Earth’s surface.

“To some extent, the result was serendipitous,” says James Miller-Jones of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University in Australia, the lead author of the new study, published in Science. “We had not initially set out to remeasure the distance and black hole mass, but when we had analyzed our data, we realized its full potential.”

Black holes are objects so massive that not even light, let alone physical matter, is supposed to escape its gravitational pull. Yet sometimes one inexplicably spews jets of radiation and ionized matter into space. Miller-Jones and his team wanted to investigate how matter is sucked into and expelled from black holes, so they took a closer look at Cygnus X-1.

They observed the black hole for six days using the Very Long Baseline Array, a network of 10 radio telescopes sited across North America from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands. The resolution is comparable to what would be required to spot a 10-centimeter object on the moon, and it’s the same technique that the Event Horizon Telescope used to snap the first photo of a black hole

Using a combination of measurements involving radio waves and temperatures, the team modeled the precise orbits of both Cygnus X-1’s black hole and the massive supergiant star HDE 226868 (the two objects orbit each other). Knowing the orbits of each object allowed the team to extrapolate their masses—in the case of the black hole, 21 solar masses, which is about 50% more than once thought. 

The mass of black holes depends on a few factors, particularly the size of the star that collapsed into the black hole and the amount of mass that erodes away in the form of stellar wind. Hotter and brighter stars tend to produce more volatile stellar winds, and they also tend to be heavier. So the more massive a star is, the more prone it is to losing mass via stellar wind before and during its collapse, resulting in a lighter black hole. 

But in general, scientists thought stellar winds in the Milky Way were strong enough to limit the mass of black holes to no more than 15 solar masses, regardless of how big the stars were originally. The new findings clearly upend those estimates. 

“Finding a black hole that was significantly more massive than this limit tells us that we have to revise our models of how much mass the largest stars lose in stellar winds over their lifetimes,” says Miller-Jones. It may mean the stellar winds that move through the Milky Way are less powerful than we thought, or that stars hemorrhage mass in other ways. Or it could mean black holes behave in more erratic ways than we’re able to anticipate.

The team plans to follow up with more observations of Cygnus X-1. Other instruments, such as the planned Square Kilometer Array in Australia and South Africa, could provide better views of this and other nearby black holes. There could be anywhere from 10 million to a billion black holes in the Milky Way, and studying at least a few more of them might help clear up this mystery.

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

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Flourish, a startup that aims to help banks engage and retain customers, raises $1.5M

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It’s not uncommon these days to hear of U.S.-based investors backing Latin American startups.

But it’s not every day that we hear of Latin American VCs investing in U.S.-based startups.

Berkeley-based fintech Flourish has raised $1.5 million in a funding round led by Brazilian venture capital firm Canary. Founded by Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, the startup offers an “engagement and financial wellness” solution for banks, fintechs and credit unions with the goal of helping them engage and retain clients.

Also participating in the round were Xochi Ventures, First Check Ventures, Magma Capital and GV Angels as well as strategic angels including Rodrigo Xavier (former Bank of America CEO in Brazil), Beth Stelluto (formerly of Schwab),  Gustavo Lasala (president and CEO of The People Fund) and Brian Requarth (Founder of Viva Real). 

With clients in the U.S., Bolivia and Brazil, Flourish has developed a solution that features three main modules: 

  • A rewards engine designed to incentivize users to save or invest money
  • An intelligent and automated micro-savings feature where users can create personalized rules (such as transferring $15 into a rainy day fund every time their favorite sports team wins)
  • A financial knowledge module, where personal financial transactions and spending patterns are turned into a question and answer game. 

In the U.S., Flourish began by testing end-user mechanics with organizations such as CommonWealth and OpportunityFund. In 2019, it released a B2C version of the Flourish app (called the Flourish Savings App)  as a pilot for its banking platform, which can integrate with banks through a SDK or an API.  It is also now licensing its engagement technology to banks, retailers and fintechs across the Americas. Flourish has piloted or licensed its solution to US-based credit unions, Sicoob (Brazil’s largest credit union) and BancoSol in Bolivia. 

The startup makes money through a partnership model that focuses on user activation and engagement. 

Both immigrants, Moura and Eting met while in the MBA program at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Moura emigrated to the U.S. from Brazil as a teen while Eting is the daughter of a Filiponio father and mother of Mexican descent.

The pair bonded on their joint mission of building a business that empowered people to create positive money habits and understand their finances.

Currently, the 11- person team works out of the U.S., Mexico and Brazil. It plans to use its new capital to increase its number of customers in LatAm, do more hiring and develop new functionalities for the Flourish platform. 

In particular, it plans to next focus on the Brazilian market, and will scale in a few select countries in the Americas. 

“There are three things that make Latin America, and more specifically Brazil, attractive to us at this moment,” Moura said. “Currently, the B2B financial technology market is still in its nascency. This combined with open banking regulation and the need for more responsible products provides Flourish a unique opportunity in Brazil.”

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Inside Workvivo’s plans to take on Microsoft in the employee experience space

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Maintaining company culture when the majority of staff is working remotely is a challenge for every organization — big and small.

This was an issue, even before COVID. But it’s become an even bigger problem with so many employees working from home. Employers have to be careful that workers don’t feel disconnected and isolated from the rest of the company and that morale stays high.

Enter Workvivo, a Cork, Ireland-based employee experience startup that is backed by Zoom founder Eric Yuan and Tiger Global that has steadily grown over 200% over the past year.

The company works with organizations ranging in size from 100 employees to over 100,000 and boasts more than 500,000 users. According to CEO and co-founder John Goulding, it’s had 100% retention since it launched. Customers include Telus International, Kentech, A+E Networks and Seneca Gaming Corp., among others.

Founded by Goulding and Joe Lennon in 2017, Workvivo launched its employee communication platform in mid-2018 with the goal of helping companies create “an engaging virtual workplace” and replace the outdated intranet.

“We’re not about real time, we’re more asynchronous communication,” Goulding explained. “We have a lot of transactional tools, and typically carry the bigger message about what’s going on in a company and what positive things are happening. We’re more focused on human connection.”

Using Workvivo, companies can provide information like CEO updates, recognition for employees via a social style — “more things that shape the culture so workers can get a real sense of what’s happening in an organization.” It launched podcasts in the second quarter and livestreaming in Q4.

In 2019, Workvivo showed its product to Zoom’s Yuan, who ended up becoming one of the company’s first investors. Then in May of 2020, the company raised $16 million in a Series A funding led by Tiger Global, which is best known for large growth-oriented rounds.

Workvivo, which was built out long before the COVID-19 pandemic, found itself in an opportune place last year. And demand for its offering has reflected that. 

“Since COVID hit, growth has accelerated,” Goulding told TechCrunch. “We grew three times in size over where we were before the pandemic started, in terms of revenue, users, customers and employees.”

The SaaS operator’s deals range from $50,000 to close to $1 million a year, he said. Workvivo is Europe-based and operates in 82 countries. But the majority of its customers are located in the U.S. with 80% of its growth coming from the country.

The startup opened an office in San Francisco in early 2020, which it is expanding. Thirty percent of its 65-person team is currently U.S.-based, with some working remotely from other states.

While Workvivo would not reveal hard revenue figures, Goulding only said it’s not seeking additional funding anytime soon considering the company is “in a very strong capital position.”

To tackle the same problem, Microsoft last month launched Viva, its new “employee experience platform,” or, in non-marketing terms, its new take on the intranet sites most large companies tend to offer their employees. With the move, Microsoft is taking on the likes of Facebook’s Workplace platform and Jive in addition to Workvivo.

Despite the increasingly crowded space, Workvivo believes it has an advantage over competitors in that it integrates well with Slack and Zoom.

“We’re sitting alongside Slack and Zoom in the ecosystem,” Goulding said. “There’s Zoom, Slack and us.”

Slack is real-time messaging and what’s happening in the immediate future, and Zoom is real-time video and “about the moment,” he said.

To Goulding, Microsoft’s new offering is unproven yet and a reactionary move.

“It’s obvious there’s a battle to be won for the center of the digital workplace,” he said. “We’re here to capture the heartbeat of an organization, not pulses.”

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Bitflips when PCs try to reach windows.com: What could possibly go wrong?

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Stock photo of ones and zeros displayed across a computer screen.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Bitflips are events that cause individual bits stored in an electronic device to flip, turning a 0 to a 1 or vice versa. Cosmic radiation and fluctuations in power or temperature are the most common naturally occurring causes. Research from 2010 estimated that a computer with 4GB of commodity RAM has a 96 percent chance of experiencing a bitflip within three days.

An independent researcher recently demonstrated how bitflips can come back to bite Windows users when their PCs reach out to Microsoft’s windows.com domain. Windows devices do this regularly to perform actions like making sure the time shown in the computer clock is accurate, connecting to Microsoft’s cloud-based services, and recovering from crashes.

Remy, as the researcher asked to be referred to, mapped the 32 valid domain names that were one bitflip away from windows.com. He provided the following to help readers understand how these flips can cause the domain to change to whndows.com:

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