Best HP Black Friday 2018 deals: Pavilion laptops, desktops, and more

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HP Black Friday 2018 ad

They may be second in global PC shipments, but HP isn’t playing runner-up to anyone when it comes to Black Friday deals on its systems. The manufacturer’s ad for its online store is 16 pages worth of sales on a wide variety of laptops and desktops. To help make sense of them all, we’ve broken them down below by category:

Consumer Laptops

15z (AMD A9, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, 15.6-inch display): $299.99
15t (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, 15.6-inch touchscreen): $499.99

2-in-1 Laptops

Envy x360 15t (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, 15.6-inch touchscreen): $599.99
Spectre x360 13t (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 13-inch touchscreen): $849.99

Gaming Laptops

Pavilion Gaming Laptop 15t (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card, 15.6-inch display): $749.99
Omen Laptop 15t (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card, 15.6-inch display): $799.99
Omen Laptop 17t (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card, 17.3-inch display): $799.99
Omen Laptop 15t (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card, 15.6-inch display): $899.99

Chromebooks

Chromebook 11-v010nr (Celeron N3060, 4GB RAM, 16GB SSD, 11.6-inch display): $179.99
Chromebook 14-ca060NR (Celeron N3350, 4GB, 32GB SSD, 14-inch display): $219.99
Chromebook x360 11-ae010nr 2-in-1 (Celeron N3350, 4GB, 16GB SSD, 11.6-inch touchscreen): $269.99
Chromebook x360 14-da0021nr 2-in-1 (Core i3, 8GB, 64GB SSD, 14-inch touchscreen): $449.99
Chromebook x2 12 2-in-1 (Core m3, 4GB, 32GB SSD, 12.3-inch touchscreen): $549.99

Business Laptops

x2 210 G2 2-in-1 (Intel Atom x5, 2GB RAM, 32GB SSD, 10.1-inch display): $299.99
ProBook 640 G4 (Core i3, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, 14-inch display): $549
EliteBook 850 G5 (Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 15.6-inch display): $818.79
Elitebook x360 1030 G2 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 13.3-inch display): $1,296.42
zbook 17 G5 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 17.3-inch display): $2,115.86

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Consumer Desktops

All-in-One (Intel Celeron J400S, 4GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, 19.5-inch display): $299.99
Slimline Desktop (AMD A9, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive): $349.99
Pavilion Desktop (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive): $499.99
All-in-One (AMD A9, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, 23.8-inch display): $499.99
Pavilion Desktop (AMD Ryzen 5, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, AMD Radeon RX 550 graphics card): $579.99
Pavilion All-in-One (Core i5, 12GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, 23.8-inch display): $699.99
Pavilion All-in-One (Ryzen 5, 12GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and 128GB SSD, 23.8-inch display): $699.99
Pavilion All-in-One (Ryzen 7, 16GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and 128GB SSD, 27-inch display): $999.99

Gaming Desktops

Omen Obelisk (Core i5., 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card): $769,99
Omen 880 (AMD Ryzen 5, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060): $849.99
Pavilion Gaming Desktop (Core i5, 16GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card): $879.99
Omen 880 (Core i7, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card): $1,249.99

Business Desktops

EliteDesk 800 G4 (Intel Pentium Gold, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive): $704.97
Z2 Mini G4 Workstation (Core i3, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive): $893.75
EliteOne 800 All-in-One (Pentium, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, 23.8-inch display): $990.84
Z4 Workstation (Intel Xeon, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive): $1,862.25

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Digital transformation requires paying off that technical debt, studies show

Back in the Y2K days of yore, some IT shops got around the impending millennial date expansion challenge with some interesting workarounds — such as resetting their system clocks back to 1972 (which aligned with the Year 2000 calendar-wise), and installing bridge utilities to convert dates back and forth by 28 years. This is an example of incurring “technical debt,” in which quick fixes, usually under fire-fighting conditions, solve a problem at hand, but will mean major, expensive overhauls at some future date — a way of borrowing time or resources, but often at a very high interest rate.

There are countless examples of expedient, quicker fixes installed in today’s enterprise systems, necessitated by tight budgets, tight timeframes, and uptight department heads. The patchworks add up and take their toll, bogging things down as organizations seek to evolve into fast-moving, real-time digital powerhouses. In a recent survey from Accenture, 70% of 1,000 C-level executives say technical debt is significantly inhibiting their ability to innovate from a technology standpoint, while 72% blame technical debt for difficulties in assimilating new technologies.

Similarly, a survey by IDG and Insight Enterprises finds 64% of executives cite legacy infrastructure and processes as a barrier to IT and digital transformation, along with data security, technology silos, budget and competing priorities. As a result, 51% at enterprises undertaking IT transformation initiatives have “stalled or abandoned select projects” while grappling with IT modernization and process issues.

Unfortunately, it takes time to unravel technical debt, as explained by Adam Burden, global lead at Accenture and his team of co-authors in a recent analysis of their survey in MIT Sloan Management Review. “Indecision abounds,” they write. “Some 67% of executives we surveyed said they would like to replace all of their core legacy systems. But 70% would like to keep their existing core systems as long as possible — and 50% wish they could have the best of both worlds. In other words, what leaders really want most is to enjoy all the benefits of new information technologies, such as being able to adapt quickly to new situations, while keeping their legacy systems humming.”

Burden and his colleagues do provide a strategy to keep moving while unraveling technical debt, which they call “decoupling.” Here is some of what they have to say about that, and you can be forgiven if it sounds a lot like the goals of microservice/service oriented architecture many have been working to accomplish over the past decade and a half:

Decouple data from legacy systems. Move data to data lakes, which store data in its raw format, to be transformed as needed for current and future applications.

Decouple applications from the legacy infrastructure. Abstraction is the key. “Running applications on your legacy infrastructure can be inefficient because bundled applications incur high computing costs — it’s like having to turn on all the lights in your house when you really only need one. Decoupling applications from your legacy infrastructure gives you the flexibility to scale offerings and accommodate different application workloads.”

Decouple the business process systems from one another. The authors take a page from the service/microservice oriented architecture playbook — break down the monoliths and keep essential systems and services in separate, loosely coupled domains. “The days of building software as one large, unified system — where everything runs on one machine — are over.”

Decouple IT talent and budgets from traditional silos. “For instance, a team that includes both customer-facing experts and data scientists can improve e-commerce sales by making more sophisticated use of customer data.” In addition, “instead of focusing on individual projects, budgets should go toward continuous maintenance, upgrades, and improvements of IT systems — but with the caveat that business value be the driver of spending. This not only makes spending more predictable, it also prevents new technical debt from accumulating.”

Again, there isn’t necessarily anything new or revolutionary about the above approaches. But they still resonate, and are needed more than ever, at a time in which organizations base their success — their very existence — on their ability to capitalize on information technology. We know what it takes to modernize or move away from debt-laden systems, it just takes organizational will — or pressure from outside disruptors.

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Bradesco agrees blockchain deal with Japan's largest bank

Brazilian bank Bradesco has agreed a partnership with Japan’s largest bank MUFG (formerly Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi) for the launch of an international money transfer service based on Ripple’s blockchain technology.

Clients of both banks will be able to use the service, with Bradesco describes as a “real-time and low-cost” international money transfer facility. The transfers will be available at branches by September 2019 then implemented across the bank’s digital channels.

The service is also described by Bradesco as a launchpad to extend the functionality to its international network of partner banks, which should happen within the coming months.

Currently, international bank transfers can take up to two days to be processed and fees to consumers start from $30 and can reach up to R$ 450 depending on the amounts involved.

Over the last few years, Bradesco has been placing efforts on blockchain technology to streamline operations and costs, while improving services and products.

The bank – which is one of the largest in Brazil and has acquired HSBC’s local operations in 2016 – has the technology as one of the key strategic priorities of its open innovation program, InovaBRA.

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Consumers four times more likely to dump brands after a bad experience

What customers want seems to be different to what brands think they want according to a new report.

According to South Jordan, UT-based cloud customer experience intelligence company InMoment, almost a quarter (23 percent) of consumers report they are angry after having a bad experience with a brand.

For its 2018 Customer Experience trends report, it surveyed 2000 consumers and 1000 brands across the US to find out about the customer experience. Topics included memorability, personalization, and the use of new technologies.

It discovered five trends indicating what consumers want from brands today and where brands are succeeding and failing in meeting those expectations.

Brands’ “personalization” can be perceived as “creepy” and do not benefit the end customer – especially when personalisation crosses over between the physical and digital world.

The survey showed that three out of four (75 percent) of consumers find most forms of personalization at least somewhat creepy. Almost 40 percent of brands admitted they are being creepy with their personalisation mechanisms.

Millennials are misunderstood – especially their attitudes about technology, including digital compared to in-person experiences. Brands might be making some false assumptions that could be misguiding their customer experience strategy for this group.

Flashy is fun, but basics matter most. Regardless of the fancy wrapper, consumers still appreciate the simple things.

The two basics of “human interaction” and “being treated special” with exclusive offers, or loyalty programs are highly influential on memorability, which emphasizes how important it is to get this part of the experience right.

Humans offer both the greatest opportunity and the great risk to the consumer experience. They leave the most significant and longest lasting impression on customers — whether online, over the phone, or in person.

Consumers four times more likely to dump brands after a bad experience ZDNet

InMoment

Almost two thirds (65 percent) of consumers reported that “staff interaction” highly influenced their decision to buy more products from a brand, while another 65 percent reported that access to educators and experts is highly influential.

Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of consumers report that poor staff experiences (due to poor attitudes, lack of knowledge, or other reasons) contributed to a bad brand interaction.

By comparison, less than one in three (29 percent) of brands reported the same. This could be a potential nightmare if brands do not invest in well-trained staff.

Whether they are good or bad, experiences that customers remember tend to have strong emotional components. Unfortunately brands are failing to capitalize on this.

Brands believe that three quarters (75 percent) of memorable experiences take place in-person, compared to 59 percent reported by consumers.

Phone calls also make a difference, with 28 percent of consumers reporting that their most memorable experiences occurred while chatting with staff on the phone.

Almost three quarters (72 percent) of consumers say they will choose one brand over another if they are made to feel special, and four out of five (80 percent) are willing to share personal information if they receive special or exclusive offers.

The power of memorable experiences can transform a fleeting moment into a memory that stays and inspires action for the customer — both positive and negative.

Brands can not afford to underestimate the emotional and financial impact of missing the mark, and need to have a technology solution in place that prevents common customer pain points.

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Tech loyalty threatens productivity in the workplace

Business professionals are seeking out new tools and technology to not just do their own jobs better, but to help their teams collaborate more effectively according to a new report.

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Sunnyvale, CA-based unified collaboration services provider NextPlane surveyed 750 business professionals in a range of positions and industries in August 2018 for its latest report: The fight to collaborate: A growing rift between IT and teams.

The report shows that employees are not backing down from IT as they fight for their choice of technologies used in the workplace.

As consumers build loyalty toward specific technology brands, business professionals are introducing their own technology and products into the workplace without IT’s approval, as demonstrated by the organic growth of workplace collaboration tools like Slack.

As IT attempts to remain in control, workers are not standing down, and 53 percent said they or another team have pushed back on IT or management when they tried to dictate the technology they use.

The report also shows that 73 percent of workers say they have been successful in implementing their choice of tech tools.

Almost two out of three (63 percent) expressed loyalty to the technology products they use for their job.

In many cases, teams manage to push back on IT to allow their group to use technology of their choice, with 46 percent saying IT made an exception for their team. And more than 1 in 10 people still use the technology of their choice in defiance of IT.

However, the IT organisation does still hold a considerable amount of control. Teams do comply with company mandates 42 percent of the time.

More than half (54 percent) said IT has the final say on all of the programs and technological devices used, and only 10 percent said they have full say in the technology they use.

According to the survey, almost half (46 percent) said they or their team have introduced new technology into their workplace, and 53 percent said they, or another team have pushed back on IT or management when they tried to dictate the technology they use.

Over one-third (38 percent) of respondents said they would be resistant to IT or management dictating which software or tools they use to do their jobs

Farzin Shahidi, CEO of NextPlane said: “Legions of teams and workers are introducing their preferred tools, such as team collaboration tools like Slack and Workplace, despite corporate IT policy”.

While there are no one-size-fits-all options that would suit all types of technology that workers could use the workplace, federation is one possible solution that can allow companies to collaborate in an open way.

Multiple collaboration tools to be used within the same organization, federated across the workforce. IT would then be able to maintain security and control across the business

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Marijuana means business: Everything you need to know about the cannabis industry

Overview

Although it remains illegal at a federal level, marijuana is one of the most exciting growth industries in the US as it becomes legal in some states, attracts investment, and becomes a vertical that can utilize multiple technologies ranging from the internet of things to cloud to analytics.

In a majority of US states, medical marijuana programs serve as a natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals for treating numerous conditions, like neurological and psychiatric disorders, pain control, and cancer. And marijuana has the potential to be the next big legal recreational substance after tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Canada has been among the countries leading the way to develop the marijuana industry.

The byproducts of marijuana being grown and processed in industries that have real economic potential include hemp fibers for clothing, upholstery, and other fabric use, as well as sources for biofuel, cooking oils, and green plastics.

New research shows that there are potentially hundreds of uses of cannabis and hemp beyond pharmacology, natural medicine, and recreational drug use. Many complementary industries in the agricultural, industrial, technology, and services sectors will support the overall marijuana growth industry.

Explosive growth

According to Arcview Market Research and its research partner BDS Analytics, over the next 10 years, the legal cannabis industry is poised for explosive growth. Total spend on on legal marijuana worldwide is expected to hit $57 billion by 2027. The recreational market is expected to cover 67 percent of this overall number, whereas medical marijuana is expected to comprise the remaining 33 percent.

The largest group of legal consumers of marijuana will be in North America, going from $9.2 billion market in 2017 to an estimated $47.3 billion in 2027. Here’s what you need to know as this industry grows.

Also: The legal marijuana market is catching up to beer and wine

What’s the legal status of marijuana?

The legal status of marijuana is a moving target.

Schedule 1 restricted substance

While there is draft legislation in congress to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, the cultivation, distribution, and processing of Cannabis Sativa (marijuana) currently remains illegal at a federal level. As such, it is currently classified as a Schedule 1 restricted substance, with the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), assigning it in the same legal status as narcotic drugs like heroin and LSD — and in a more restrictive category than cocaine, which is Schedule 2.

Marijuana cannot be transported across state lines, even if the states in question have medical or recreational marijuana programs.

However, there are certain legal protections afforded by states that have medical and recreational marijuana programs. There are no national marijuana firms per se in North America — with the exception of those based in Canada that have US based subsidiaries operating on a state-by-state basis. However, individual companies in specific states — those that have legalized the use of cannabis for medical and/or recreational use — are protected by specific federal legislation.

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment

The main legal instrument that protects state medical and recreational marijuana programs is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. This legislation, included in congressional omnibus spending bills since 2014, prohibits the DEA from spending funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. Consequently, cannabis companies, employees of those companies, and medical marijuana patients in those states are immune from federal prosecution. As Rohrabacher-Blumenauer is part of a congressional spending bill, it must be renewed for every congressional year.

The amendment was renewed for FY 2018 under the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on March 22, 2018. Newer legislation that would make the essential verbiage of Rohrabacher-Blumenauer permanent is currently in draft and is expected to be voted on during the next major session of Congress.

When will it become legal?

There’s more room for optimism.

The STATES Act (S.3032), a draft bill sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D, MA), would amend the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and add permanent protection to businesses and individuals in compliance with state marijuana laws. President Trump has indicated that if such a bill were introduced, it would have his probable support. Additional draft legislation, such as the McClintock-Polis Amendment, would remove the word “medical” from the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer protections so as to include recreational use.

As of November 2018, 33 states have passed marijuana legislation which legalizes it in some form. Since every state with a medical or a recreational program has different laws, consult your jurisdiction for specific guidance as to who qualifies for its use and how the specific industry in that state or territory is organized.

Additional reading:

What are the products?

There are precious few standards in the type and potency of marijuana products available for sale. The number of possible variants is dizzying.

Varying conditions

Because each state has it own policies and programs, and because plants must be grown and processed in the state in which the program originates, there is wide variation from one dispensary to another in the nature of their products.

Also, there are potency variations among growers that produce different yields of the same product during different harvests. Unlike pharmaceuticals that are manufactured to yield a consistent product, marijuana is an organic material cultivated under varying conditions.

For example, a 300mg vape cartridge at one dispensary using one particular strain might contain 96 percent THC, whereas another 300mg cartridge at another dispensary using the identical strain but from a different grower might be 80 percent THC. But because of competition, the price per milligram between dispensaries is largely consistent in vertically integrated markets.

In Florida, THC is priced at about 12 cents per milligram for a typical vape cartridge. When purchased as raw distillate or concentrate, that price can drop down to about 7 cents per milligram.

Anything goes

In horizontally integrated markets, anything goes as far as pricing, because of much wider availability of product and differences in processing methods and technology.

In addition to the selling of marijuana flower in states that permit it, the products sold at a marijuana dispensary are manufactured and packaged as a result of processing the marijuana flower into extracts or powders.

How are extracts created?

There are multiple ways of creating extracts, but the two most common methods are BHO (Butane Hash Oil) or SCE (Supercritical CO2 Extract). BHO is much more common in states with highly established programs such as California and involves the use of butane solvents. SCE is an all-natural process involving the use of high pressures and carbon dioxide gas.

Tree Sap

SCE is becoming more popular and is the exclusive process in many states, such as Florida, that have recently introduced marijuana programs. In the SCE process, the whole plant flower is first carboxylated (heated), pulverized, placed into canisters filled with extremely cold (supercritical) carbon dioxide, and agitated. All the oils, resin, and terpenes (natural organic compounds also present in other plants such as citrus, dill, and hops) are extracted, producing a sticky, gooey substance that resembles a thick tree sap.

This extract — which is often referred to as a “full spectrum” extract, because it contains all the essential phytocannabinoids, not just THC — can be sold in its pure form, placed into capsules, or blended with cutting agents to produce vape cartridges for use in vape pens.

Shatter

Using the BHO method, the extract can also be hardened into a substance called “shatter,” which provides for an extremely potent and high-quality inhalation using a specialized vaporizer. It can also be used to make thick pastes and other derivative products.

Ground flower

Some dispensaries sell medical marijuana products in proprietary cups or “pods,” which contain ground marijuana flower that can be used with specialized vaporizers. (This is the only way the whole flower can currently be used legally, for example, in Florida.) The ground flowers can also be made into pills for oral use.

Cutting agents

Alcohol can also be added as a solvent to carboxylated flower in order to create tinctures that can be taken orally, and heat-activated marijuana can be added to cocoa butter for topical use.

In addition to different packaging types and delivery systems for routes of use (oral, sublingual, topical, vaporized, or rectal), the THC and CBD percentage potency for each product, and the cutting agents used in products, there are differences between strains of marijuana used in the products between dispensaries.

The types of marijuana plants

Just as there are many different varieties of grapes used in making wine or different countries of origin where coffee comes from that contributes to differences in flavor, there are many varieties of marijuana used in the production of medical marijuana medications.

Sativa vs Indica

Generally speaking, marijuana plants can be classified into two genetic types: Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Sativa forma Indica. Sativa plants, which mostly originate from South America, are taller and have longer leaves, and typically have a more energetic high. Indica plants, which originate in various parts of Asia, are shorter and have wider leaves, and have a more calming, sedative effect. It’s not uncommon to see Indica recommended as a sleep aid.

Hybrids

Most marijuana products sold in states with medical or recreational programs are hybrids of different varieties of sativa and indica genetics that were created by breeders to produce different therapeutic effects. These plants all have different levels of THC, CBD, other cannabinoids and mixes of terpenes (which also have their therapeutic effects, and are far less understood at this time).

When the names of these hybrids are used in the product marketing, they will have funny names like “Tillamook Strawberry” or “Glass Slipper.” The names will often reflect the source of the seeds and even their country of origin. There are hundreds of marijuana strains, and depending on the state, any dispensary may have several dozen on offer at any time.

No true genetic testing standards

Some providers — such as Surterra in Florida, with its non strain-based product line — do not publicize the origins of their strains, and there are no true genetic testing standards in place in these states to prove what a plant actually is.

A marijuana producer will create unique brand names in order to try to differentiate themselves, and every dispensary has different products and has areas of differentiation that set them aside from other companies. VidaCann, for example, is a Florida exclusive licensee of the proprietary marijuana strains from Tikun Olam, which participates in the 20-year-old Israeli medical marijuana program, and also a proprietary marijuana strain licensee of the Stanley Brothers Charlotte’s Web CBD-rich hemp/marijuana hybrid from Colorado.

Also: Harvesting marijuana with robots is hard. Here’s how one company figured it out

What about CBD?

Another growing market in the marijuana/hemp industry are products that contain CBD (cannabidiol). Unlike THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, CBD has no psychoactive effects. However, CBD does have many therapeutic properties: It’s been used to treat inflammation and anxiety, as well as rare forms of child epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

CBD can be extracted from both marijuana and industrial hemp, which — unlike marijuana — is non-psychoactive, legal to grow in a large number of US states, and heavily cultivated in Canada.

The CBD industry is estimated to grow to $2.1 billion by 2020, according to a report by Hemp Business Journal.

What’s it like inside a dispensary?

If you can actually get to a dispensary, what you will find is totally different from what you might imagine a marijuana store looks like. Dispensaries in vertically integrated states like Florida are not “head shops” with black light posters, glass paraphernalia, and other trappings straight out of a Cheech & Chong movie.

While you can still find this type of environment in California, it is becoming less the norm as these facilities target the more upscale and sophisticated customer. These dispensaries resemble high-end cosmetic boutiques, and some even emulate Apple’s retail model, with “geniuses” dressed in golf shirts and carrying iPads.

Some dispensaries such as MedMen, based in Los Angeles, have gone extremely upmarket and opened incredibly lavish facilities that make even Apple’s retail facilities seem austere by comparison, with wood paneled walls and high-end strains. It provides an experience closer to shopping at Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or an expensive cigar store versus a head shop. MedMen has opened a number of facilities not just in California, but also in Nevada and New York as well, straddling both the recreational and medical marijuana worlds.

But even MedMen’s high-end experience is dwarfed by NuWu on the Las Vegas strip, which at 16,000 square feet is the largest dispensary in the world. Inside a cavernous glass-windowed facility with over 170 display counters, it’s a marijuana superstore.

All these are secure facilities that require private security personnel, video surveillance, and locked-out reception areas from the main dispensary operation, as well as physical security for the medication. For example, KNOX, in Lake Worth, Fla., is situated on the site of a former bank and secures the medication in a bank vault.

Also: How weed dispensaries fight for higher awareness through tech (CNET)

Products for sale

While MedMen and NuWu provide over-the-top types of recreational experiences, they are not the norm. In vertically integrated medical marijuana states, what you will find are, for the most part, completely sterile surroundings, with glass cabinets displaying generic-looking packaging. For sale are pills, cartridges and other vaporizer supplies, tinctures, and topical creams. You’ll also find edibles in the states that permit them, such as THC and CBD-infused chocolates, gummy bears, hard candies, waters, energy drinks, etc.

Still, your local supermarket pharmacy or Wal-Mart has more interesting-looking products in their over-the-counter sections.

What these products lack in curb appeal, however, they make up for in their ability to heal people and provide relief for chronic conditions that nothing else can address, or improve the overall quality of life for the patients who need them.

Certainly, in recreational states, and medical states where flower is permitted, there are big jars of marijuana flower, pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes (“joints”), and more interesting edibles. And you will find large displays of vaporizer systems, which can cost anywhere between $50 for the most simple pens to $1,000 for the most sophisticated rigs (“e-nails”) that use blown glass pipes.

Customer education

Most importantly, the dispensaries employ wellness consultants (also called “budtenders”) who are knowledgeable in the actual products. Many of these employees are patients themselves and therefore intimately familiar with medical conditions addressed by the products they carry. This personal touch is important for the medical or recreational marijuana neophyte who may have no idea how to navigate the array of products a dispensary offers.

Many of these facilities also run educational seminars and classes on various aspects of medical marijuana wellness, including specific conditions such as PTSD or the needs of senior citizens.

But because of the NIMBYism and the lack of locations, many of these dispensaries have logistical issues and run out of product quickly. And the wait to get into these facilities can also be very long, frequently over an hour.

Due to these shortcomings, once a patient has had their initial visit, and is able to get a better grip on the type of products they need to address their condition, it may be preferable to opt for home delivery instead and to interact with dispensary consultants over the phone when new products are released.

Who are the industry movers and shakers?

To get a glimpse of the overall size of the marijuana industry, the best place to start is the Marijuana Index. This site tracks 374 separate securities — present on both US and Canadian exchanges — that represent multiple industry sectors, including cultivation, retail, AgTech, biotechnology, consumption devices, and hemp products, as well as investing and finance, which specialize in portfolio management of marijuana-related companies.

The largest performers in terms of market capitalization, volume and overall growth are Canadian firms such as Canopy Growth, Aphria, Aurora, Cronos, and Tilray, all of which are in cultivation and retail.

What gives Canada an edge?

Canadian marijuana firms have a strong competitive advantage because of the significant investment they are making in US-based marijuana companies, and the ease with which they are able to use the international banking system to transfer funds into banks residing in different US states where marijuana programs exist.

Unique banking advantage

In Florida, for example, several of the vertically integrated marijuana companies are Canadian-owned or have substantial Canadian investment: Trulieve (currently the largest, with 22 dispensary locations) has merged with Toronto-based Schyan Exploration; Liberty Health Sciences is a division of Aphria; and GrowHealthy, which is a division of iAnthus Capital Holdings, a New York-based corporation that has been aggressively seeking and cultivating Canadian investment.

This unique banking advantage enables these Canadian-owned firms based in the US to transact with non-marijuana companies in the US and also purchase and ship non-cannabis supplies from Canada, such as packaging, so it allows these companies to be much more agile than their purely American counterparts.

Agriculture industry

Not all the top performers are necessarily Canadian or cultivators, though. A number are traditional suppliers to the agriculture industry (AgTech), such as Scott’s Miracle-Gro, which is a large manufacturer of fertilizer products and has made a number of investments in companies connected with the marijuana industry, including hydroponics firms like Sunlight Supply.

Device companies

Accessories and consumption device companies, such as PAX Labs — often referred to as the Apple of vaporizer companies — and its spinoff, JUUL Labs, are also experiencing significant growth. JUUL itself is valuated at about $15 billion due to its participation in the nicotine vaping industry and with its disposable pod system similar to that of the PAX Era, which was designed originally for cannabis oils and concentrates. The Bluetooth-connected Era itself is becoming increasingly popular as a user-friendly vaping device and the pods are licensed to a number of dispensary companies in legal states, such as Florida’s Aphria.

Additionally, many companies are considered key support players in the overall space, such as Kush Bottles, and its competitor Acology, which manufacture packaging used in marijuana products.

Any role for Big Pharma and tobacco companies?

There has been ongoing speculation that the alcoholic and soft drink beverage industry may be looking to jump into marijuana-related products at some point, although most of this is related to using CBD as an additive to beer and soft drinks. While some companies like Coca Cola are closely watching the space, others such as Constellation Brands, which is the parent company of Corona beer, Robert Mondavi and Svedka Vodka, recently invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth in Canada.

No large moves yet

The tobacco industry as a whole has not made any large moves as of yet, but UK-based Imperial Brands, which owns the Winston and Kool cigarette brands, recently announced that it had joined with seed investment firm Casa Verde (backed by rap musician Snoop Dogg) to invest in British medical marijuana research firm Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, to the tune of $10 million.

Traditional pharmaceutical players should also not be ruled out, though they so far have avoided direct participation in the industry ecosystem due to marijuana’s federal legal status. Many are waiting in the wings to see when they can jump in as cultivators and manufacturers of medical marijuana (and presumably recreational) products.

Possible investment in the future

Johnson and Johnson may not be actively investing in marijuana, but it has recently allowed two Canadian marijuana firms, Avicanna and Vapium Medical, access to its Canadian JLABS Innovation network, in order to pick the minds of its top researchers — which could lead to possible investment in the future.

Some, like UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, are straddling the line with developing cannabis-based drugs such as Sativex, for treatment of multiple sclerosis, and Epidolex, for epilepsy, which was recently granted FDA approval in the US. It’s the first such drug to use naturally-derived cannabinoids, unlike Dronabinol (Marinol), which is a synthetic THC drug produced by Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories used to treat cancer and AIDS-related nausea.

Who are the technology players?

On the technology side, large players like Microsoft and HP are partnering with companies such as Kind Financial and Flowhub, which work in sales tracking and point of sale. LED light manufacturers like Cree are seeing a boom in sales from their heavy use in indoor hydroponic grow systems.

As with any growing industry, there are the app startups. Weedmaps is a popular mobile app that allows medical and recreational users to find dispensaries and specific products, and Leafly is a marijuana strain database with Amazon-style reviews, news feeds, unique video content, and a product locator.

Cloud, machine analytics, and big data are also key areas where technology can be applied in the marijuana industry, specifically as it relates to streamlining regulatory approval for marijuana drugs, product distribution, delivery logistics, and inventory management.

Also: How IT can spark the budding cannabis industry

Banking and finance challenges

Addressing the specific logistical and operational challenges faced by marijuana firms is a niche where companies in the cannabis industry can differentiate and provide unique value.

The main challenge is banking — because FDIC-insured institutions cannot legally do business with a marijuana business. Marijuana businesses typically have to work with private, state-chartered banks, such as Seattle-based GRN Funds, which handles over $500 million in deposits from marijuana companies on the West Coast and has recently entered the Florida market.

Additionally, in order to receive payment from patients or recreational users, these businesses must either work in cash, or utilize specialized payment apps. In Florida and 16 other states, for example, the app CanPay is used as a middle-man so that patients can purchase medication from a dispensary. Patients register their bank information with CanPay, and when it is time to make a purchase, a QR code is generated by the app that the dispensary or a delivery courier equipped with a mobile device can use to withdraw funds from that patient’s bank account for that specific purchase, like an ATM or debit card transaction.

Opportunities and risks

Investing in or starting a marijuana company is not without its risks, although they are not necessarily legal ones from a personal exposure standpoint — there are long term financial risks.

Ironically, the federal illegality of marijuana actually benefits current and prospective growers and dispensary owners, because it discourages big pharmaceutical and tobacco companies and retail chains from entering the industry.

Also: How the seeds of innovation will grow a bumper crop of weed startups TechRepublic

Smaller businesses could be forced out

If the federal government were to lift marijuana’s illegal classification, the smaller businesses could be forced out — via aggressive pricing or through acquisition. Alternatively, they may have to become highly specialized, focusing on boutique types of products like organically grown marijuana or specialty strains for more discerning customers.

However, federal legalization is not expected to be a real possibility for at least five years, as decriminalization and rescheduling would have to occur first — so the “gold rush” for marijuana businesses and companies that fill the services gaps for financial and other specialized needs is very much in play until then.

Limitations

Marijuana businesses cannot take tax deductions for expenses, given that they are trafficking in controlled substances. Advertising opportunities are extremely limited as well, especially in vertically integrated states. While mailing list promotions to existing customer bases by dispensaries is common, it is difficult for marijuana companies to operate on social media platforms, as illegal drugs are against their terms of service. Facebook has been known to even take down fan pages and support communities for medical marijuana dispensaries with no notice.

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Russian APT comes back to life with new US spear-phishing campaign

A Russian state-sponsored cyber-espionage group has come back to life after a one-year period of inactivity with a relative large spear-phishing campaign that has targeted both the US government and private sector.

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The hacking group is known in infosec circles as Cozy Bear, APT29, The Dukes, or PowerDuke, and is infamous because it’s one of the two Russian state hacking crews that hacked the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 US Presidential Elections.

“On 14 November 2018, CrowdStrike detected a widespread spear-phishing campaign against multiple sectors,” Adam Meyers, VP of Intelligence told ZDNet today.

“These messages purported to be from an official with the U.S. Department of State and contained links to a compromised legitimate website,” he added. “Individuals receiving the emails worked at organizations in a range of sectors including in think tank, law enforcement, government, and business information services.

“Attribution for this activity is still in progress; however, the Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and targeting are consistent with previously identified campaigns from the Russia-based actor COZY BEAR,” Meyers said.

However, CrowdStrike was just one of the many cyber-security firms that picked up this week’s APT29 activities. FireEye and other members of the cyber-security industry have been analyzing and tearing apart the spear-phishing campaign on Twitter all week [1, 2, 3].

FireEye, in particular, confirmed that 20 of its customers had received Cozy Bear’s spear-phishing emails –customers across “Defense, Imagery, Law Enforcement, Local Government, Media, Military, Pharmaceutical, Think Tank, Transportation, & US Public Sector industries in multiple geographic regions.”

The spear-phishing campaign came out of nowhere and surprised most security experts. Before this week’s discoveries, the group had been silent for more than a year.

The last time cyber-security firms detected a Cozy Bear campaign, the hackers targeted members of the Norwegian and Dutch governments in 2017, and US think tanks and NGOs in late 2016.

In the aftermath of the infamous DNC hack, CrowdStrike experts said the group appeared to have affiliations to the FSB, Russia’s main intelligence service, a department previously led by Vladimir Putin a few years before becoming Russia’s president.

The group is considered to be one of Russia’s top hacking outfits. Cyber-security firms have seen it operate using more advanced hacking tool compared to other Russian APTs, and paying more attention to hiding its operations, unlike Fancy Bear (APT28), another Russian cyber-espionage group whose name has become commonplace for many Americans due to its lackadaisical attempts at hiding its origin and operations, and attempts at influencing public opinion on various topics.

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AI startup InsideSales asks if a machine can be taught to sell

The world of the salesperson is filled with maxims of success: “You don’t sell a guy one car, you sell him five cars over fifteen years.” In the rough and tumble world of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, the play from which that line comes, such sales tactics are part instinct, part hard-won savvy.

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A startup company named InsideSales argues such expertise can be figured out over time by mining sales data, and applying some rudimentary forms of machine learning.

David Elkington, founder and chief executive of InsideSales of Provo, Utah, was in New York last week for his own customer conference. He sat down with ZDNet to explain his thinking. The venue for the meeting was Elkington’s suite at the top of the Beekman Hotel in lower Manhattan.

The pointy-peaked tower duplex suite in the elegant 19th century hotel typically rents for $6,500 per night. The inside of the tower resembles some sort of cozy Swiss chalet, or, as Elkington observed, something out of Hogwarts — a milieu that seemed to please his nerd side.

Also: AI startup People.ai gets $30 million from Andreessen Horowitz to free up workplace drudgery

Elkington, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, was in the midst of pursuing a masters degree in computer science, with a focus on machine learning, in the late ’90s at Brigham Young University, when he put aside his thesis to form InsideSales. Back then, his ambitions for AI were grand. “I assumed we could emulate the human brain,” he says with a grin. “I was naive, perhaps.”

His thesis advisor for that masters is now working for Elkington at InsideSales. The goal today, however, is more prosaic than back then, but to Elkington it is of no less value, perhaps more so, to the company’s customers.

InsideSales plugs into companies’ customer relationship management, or “CRM” systems, such as that of Salesforce.com, and ingests vast amounts of customer data — 70 million company profiles, 200 million buyer profiles, and data on 10 billion sales transactions, a total of seven trillion data points. “We consume the entire CRM data set,” he says.

daveelkington-preferred-headshot.jpg

InsideSales founder and CEO David Elkington.

Elkington likens the system to Google’s Waze traffic app: “Waze is only good because there are all these people ahead of me” on the road. Likewise, transactions data shows what deals closed and perhaps provides clues as to why they were able to be closed. Are there things that are suggesting buying intent way before a customer is likely to buy? That’s the kind of question the software is intended to ponder.

His chief technology officer, Ryan Allphin, explained: “If there was a sales transaction with you, the customer, how many times have they called you? And what time of day, and what season of the year?”

“How did you proceed down the sales path as the customer? Maybe they first reached you on the phone, and then they sent a couple emails, and then you answered the second email.” The company’s software is able to do things such as track if a recipient opened an email and when.

By looking at a network of interactions from the millions of buyer profiles, over years, the system finds patterns, things such as which email prompted a response, which did not.

Over time there’s something of a predictive aspect that arises. “Our system knows the patterns of when they’re likely to answer,” says Allphin.

Also: Salesforce Dreamforce 2018 spotlights identity, integration, AI, and getting more for less

The data here is key, says Elkington; the actual statistical procedures are simple, and they may vary from one task to another in InsideSales’s software.

“Data is definitely the new oil,” he says. In contrast, “Most of the math [underlying AI] has been around for 60 years.”

Elkington knew from the outset that the problem of sales was about data, not algorithms. The first decade, however, was spent mostly selling productivity tools to run on top of CRM, and gradually amassing data.

“After about ten years – it was interesting – there was this tipping point where there was just enough data,” he says.

That’s when the company began to land big customers such as American Express and Cisco Systems. To fuel that march into the enterprise, the company has received a hefty $317 million in multiple rounds from a stellar collection of tech giants and venture capital firms: Microsoft, Salesforce, Hummer Winblad, Josh James, Polaris Partners, Kleiner Perkins, U.S. Venture Partners.

Also: Dreamforce: Einstein’s new friend Siri was biggest winner at Salesforce conference

The work with each client goes into a pool of anonymized data that can then feed all of InsideSales’s customers — an increasingly common practice among startups in machine learning.

ryan-allphin-1.jpgryan-allphin-1.jpg

InsideSales CTO Ryan Allphin.

“I’m comparing your data to the corpus of data I have gathered over 15 years.” The actual AI technology is not as complex as deep learning. “We use random forest algorithms to see co-occurrences of multiple data points,” says Allphin, “a certain decision tree might be better for this customer in this industry.”

And there’s a certain purposefulness with which the company applies basic statistics that has more to do with the data and the problem to be solved than with machine learning per se, Allphin indicates.

“Via association rule mining, we can go beyond simple binary suggestions such as, here’s a prospect you might want to call. In an organization, you might have only one contact, but we can tell you the others your colleagues also contacted, at that same company, and if they have a propensity to buy.”

Also: Microsoft and Salesforce race to offer a single view of customers’ data

The single “highest correlation” among the various data the system has turns out to be a salesperson’s notes, says Elkington. “Just a salesperson’s notes on the prospect, there is rich data there.”

All of this, says Elkington, dovetails with companies’ increasing propensity to hire data scientists to do just this sort of pattern-deduction. “Companies are saying this is the problem we are trying to solve, and with them we are looking for those common elements.”

Through A/B tests, where one group of salespeople are assisted by AI, while another serve as a control group, doing their normal day’s work without AI, companies can see the benefits of the technology, says Elkington. Some customers have seen a $50 million revenue “uplift” after implementing the technology, he claims.

But can it truly recreate the instinct of sales?

Elkington is very aware that machine learning is nowhere near replicating higher forms of reasoning that humans possess. But by tracing patterns such as when calls or emails can be answered, some of the acquired knowledge of sales people can be passed along to the new recruits.

Also: Analytics startup EDO teases consumer behavior from TV ads with machine learning

“The good news is, people are really bad at selling,” observes Elkington. “People are really awful at it, for a lot of reasons. Last year, 53 percent of sellers hit their quota, that’s down from 63 percent just five years ago.”

“So for us, it’s easy to create value.”

Some of the problem is simply the very green nature of the sales force: As of a year ago, more than half the people who are selling are millennials, he notes.

“A lot of the best sales people know the best practices,” says Elkington, who counts Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff as a friend and mentor. “They have so much intuition that a millennial doesn’t have, but they can’t be on the floor all the time, coaching each seller.”

Perhaps, then, a machine can’t on its own be a salesperson, but digitally savvy millennials, or digital natives, may be equipped to be better sales people over time with smarter software. At least, that’s the idea.

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Trump signs bill that creates the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

US President Donald Trump signed today a bill into law, approving the creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

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The bill, known as the CISA Act, reorganizes and rebrands the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), a program inside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as CISA, a standalone federal agency in charge of overseeing civilian and federal cybersecurity programs.

The NPPD, which was first established in 2007, has already been handling almost all of the DHS’ cyber-related issues and projects.

As part of the DHS, the NPPD was the government entity in charge of physical and cyber-security of federal networks and critical infrastructure, and oversaw the Federal Protective Service (FPS), the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), the Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA), the Office of Cybersecurity & Communications (OC&C), and the Office of Infrastructure Protection (OIP).

As CISA, the agency’s prerogatives will remain the same, and nothing is expected to change in day-to-day operations, but as a federal agency, CISA will now benefit from an increased budget and more authority in imposing its directives.

“Elevating the cybersecurity mission within the Department of Homeland Security, streamlining our operations, and giving NPPD a name that reflects what it actually does will help better secure the nation’s critical infrastructure and cyber platforms,” said NPPD Under Secretary Christopher Krebs. “The changes will also improve the Department’s ability to engage with industry and government stakeholders and recruit top cybersecurity talent.”

With its promotion to the rank of federal agency, CISA is now on the same level as the US Secret Service or FEMA, but still under the DHS’ oversight. The new agency is expected to improve the cyber-security defenses across other US federal agencies, coordinate cyber-security programs with states, and bolster the government’s overall cyber-security protections in the face of mundane criminals and nation-state hackers.

The NPPD’s current lead, Christopher Krebs, will become CISA’s first director.

The CISA Act was initially proposed last year, passed in the Senate in October, and passed the House earlier this week.

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This T-Mobile Black Friday deal gets you a free Note 9 or Galaxy S9

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When most people think about Black Friday, they think about deals from retailers such as Amazon or Walmart. But carriers usually also have savings opportunities available. T-Mobile, for instance, is offering a promo, called “Magenta Friday,” where you can get a free Note 9 or Galaxy S9.

To help you figure out how it works, we’ve combed through the details and explained it all below.

Also: Best Black Friday 2018 deals: Business Bargain Hunter’s top picks

T-Mobile Black Friday deal: How to get a free phone

T-Mobile’s “Magenta Friday” deal offers a free phone (select models) when you add an additional line of service to your account and trade in an eligible old phone. The catch? The discount will be applied via monthly bill credits over the course of 24 to 36 months.

CNET: Best Black Friday deals | Best Holiday gifts 2018 | Best TVs for the holidays

Alternatively, with this same deal, you can get up to $750 off certain phones — when you add an additional line of service to your account and trade in an eligible old phone of yours.

image-2018-11-16-at-4-17-04-pm.jpg

(Image: ZDNet/screeenshot)

Do you need a T-Mobile new line to get this deal?

You must already have one or more phone lines through T-Mobile, and you need to add an additional line of service to your account in order to take advantage of this deal.

Which phones can you get for free?

The phones you can get for free include:

The phones you can get $750 off include:

You can get other popular phones from the major brands up to $750 off, too. Or, you can get the T-Mobile REVVL 2 free and T-Mobile REVVL 2 Plus for only $84 with this deal. Again, the discount will be applied via monthly bill credits over the course of 24 to 36 months.

Which phones are eligible for trade-ins?

You’ll need to trade in an eligible device in “good condition.” Eligible devices vary depending on the phone you want to get for free or at a $750 savings. Generally, they range from the iPhone 6S or later, Galaxy S6 or later, Google Pixel, and Moto Z2 Play

You can check T-Mobile’s Magenta Friday page for the full list of eligible devices.

How do the savings appear?

You’ll see your savings in monthly bill credits spread out over 24 or 36 months.

When does this deal start?

This deal starts Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

All set? Sign up now!

See T-Mobile’s Magenta Friday page for more details.


For more great deals on devices, gadgetry, and technology for your enterprise, business, or home office, see ZDNet’s Business Bargain Hunter blog. Affiliate disclosure: ZDNet earns commission from the products and services featured on this page.

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