Seattle Week in Review: Watching History at the DNC, and Dick’s Drive-In

Xconomy Seattle — 

It was an historic week, and, with the end of the two major parties’ conventions, perhaps time for a summer break from politics? (Not likely.) We’re reviewing a few tech-related highlights of Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, as well as local tech news from Washington State University, which is expanding computer science programs; a new role at the Pentagon for Jeff Bezos; Amazon Web Services’ cloud dominance and record profits; layoffs at Microsoft; a major electric vehicle battery research effort based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Tableau Software’s Olympic visualizations; and the end of a (cash-only) era at beloved burger spot Dick’s Drive-In.

—I watched the first parts of Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention with my daughters and wife. Couldn’t agree more with this take:

Clinton tossed out a couple of lines to the innovation community. Listing America’s strengths, she said: “We have … the most innovative entrepreneurs.” And later, drawing a stark contrast with Donald Trump’s message that “I alone can fix it,” she listed “entrepreneurs who see possibilities in every problem” in the same breath as doctors, nurses, teachers, soldiers, police and firefighters. She pledged to go on a job-creation spree in her first 100 days, focusing on “jobs in manufacturing, clean energy, technology and innovation, small business, and infrastructure.”

Not surprisingly, the Clinton line that seemed to get the most traction on Twitter: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

—You’d expect rather un-specific rhetoric in a speech like this. Earlier this week, Wade Roush combed through recent Clinton and Trump speeches and their parties’ official platforms to compare policies relevant to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Washington State University is expanding its engineering offerings—including in computer science—as the state’s companies continue to thirst for people with these skills. Beginning in the fall, WSU will offer an undergraduate degree in software engineering at its main campus in Pullman, WA, and at WSU North Puget Sound in Everett, WA; an electrical engineering degree in Bremerton, WA, at Olympic College; and an online master’s degree in software engineering.

The land-grant university is also introducing a construction engineering degree, which it calls a first for the region.

—Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos—who is alleged to have started the online giant to finance his true passion, space exploration—was named to the Defense Department advisory board. He and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson are two of 15 members of the Pentagon’s recently established Defense Innovation Advisory Board with significant space expertise. Bezos’s comes mainly from his cameo in the recently released Star Trek movie:

Also, he has a company called Blue Origin in Kent, WA, that has done pretty well launching reusable rockets.

The board, chaired by Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt (who jointly selected other members with Defense Secretary Ash Carter), is tasked with advising the Pentagon on “areas that are deeply familiar to Silicon Valley companies, such as rapid prototyping, iterative product development, complex data analysis in business decision making, the use of mobile and cloud applications, and organizational information sharing.”

For the record, Amazon’s headquarters are in Seattle.

—Speaking of which, if anyone tries to tell you Seattle’s not the capital of cloud computing, show them this report from Gartner, which, as of July 2016, puts the two public cloud storage providers based here—Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure—in its vaunted “magic quadrant.” The leader in Gartner’s analysis of cloud computing companies, based on factors including their market understanding, product strategy, and geographic strategy, is AWS. The Amazon unit just reported second-quarter revenue of $2.88 billion and operating income of $718 million, both records. AWS was a big reason why Amazon generated a profit of $857 million on $30.4 billion in total revenue in the quarter—its fifth quarterly profit in a row.

The non-Seattle-based cloud competitors are Google, IBM, Rackspace, Alibaba, Oracle, and AT&T, several of which have significant presences here in Cloud City.

—Microsoft is cutting 2,850 more jobs in the coming year, it said in its annual report, filed Thursday. The cuts will come in the beleaguered smartphone business at the Redmond, WA-based software giant, as well as in its global sales organization. The company has not specified where the job cuts will fall. This round of staff reductions comes on top of a May announcement of 1,850 cuts, part of a larger restructuring.

The company remains a behemoth with about 114,000 full-time employees, 63,000 of whom are in the U.S.

—Add this to the list of reasons Washington is becoming a leader in energy storage: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is leading a consortium of research institutions tasked with significantly improving the weight, size, and cost of electric vehicle batteries. The Battery500 consortium includes researchers at other Energy Department national laboratories, the University of Washington, Stanford University, and several other institutions. It aims to develop lithium-metal batteries capable of triple the specific energy—energy per unit of mass—of today’s batteries.

The five-year, $50 million effort will seek a battery with specific energy of 500 watt-hours per kilogram. The typical EV battery today is in the range of 170 to 200 watt-hours per kilogram, according to PNNL, based in Richland, WA.

The funding is part of a package of White House initiatives to pave the way for broader adoption of electric vehicles.

—Believe it or not, the Summer Olympics begin a week from today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, bringing, I hope, a welcome break from U.S. politics and a fortnight for the world to come together over something positive. There are some heart-wrenching stories going into these games, such as the Refugee Olympic Team, which includes swimmer Yusra Mardini. She will compete in the 100-meter butterfly and freestyle events less than a year after she helped push to shore the disabled boat in which she and many other Syrian refugees were fleeing their war-ravaged country.

Technology is providing many new ways to view the games this year. One is from Seattle-based Tableau Software, which makes data visualization tools. The company created a gallery of data visualizations depicting things like the number of times various world cities have bid for and hosted the games; when new sports were added and dropped; medal counts by population; and much more.

 

—Meanwhile, Portland, OR-based Reflect.io, a developer-focused data visualization startup, announced a $2.5 million seed investment led by Seattle-based Draper Fisher Jurvetson partner Bill Bryant. Other investors include Seattle-based Founders’ Co-Op, Liquid 2 Ventures, Techstars (Reflect.io was part of the accelerator’s latest Seattle class), Stanford University, and angel investors.

A Dick's Drive-In in its holiday finery. Photo by Darwin Bell via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/5J8UAe

A Dick’s Drive-In in its holiday finery. Photo by Darwin Bell via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/5J8UAe

—“The only reason people still carry cash in this city is to eat at Dick’s Drive-In,” says Jim Spady, president of Dick’s Drive-In, in a news release announcing that come September, the storied local burger chain will begin accepting credit and debit cards, as well as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. (Legal weed outlets are still cash-only businesses, so there’s that.)

For 62 years, Dick’s accepted only cash, a rigid policy that went along with a strict prohibition on substitutions and a nickel charge for onions and ketchup. Spady says the change is in response to ongoing customer requests, and has been more than two years in the making.

The company is using swipe to process all card payments at its six Seattle-area locations.

Family-owned Dick’s, which pays a decent wage and offers startlingly good benefits for its industry, also makes it easy for customers to give their change to charities focused on homelessness. The company plans to continue that support as it shifts to electronic payment, allowing customers to “round up” their bills to make a charitable donation.