Enable(ing) people to do more with Dr. Rico Malvar – Microsoft Research

Rico Malvar, Chief Scientist and Distinguished Engineer

Episode 61, January 30, 2019

From his deep technical roots as a principal researcher and founder of the Communications, Collaboration and Signal Processing group at MSR, through his tenure as Managing Director of the lab in Redmond, to his current role as Distinguished Engineer, Chief Scientist for Microsoft Research and manager of the MSR NExT Enable group, Dr. Rico Malvar has seen – and pretty well done – it all.

Today, Dr. Malvar recalls his early years at a fledgling Microsoft Research, talks about the exciting work he oversees now, explains why designing with the user is as important as designing for the user, and tells us how a challenge from an ex-football player with ALS led to a prize winning hackathon project and produced the core technology that allows you to type on a keyboard without your hands and drive a wheelchair with your eyes.

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Episode Transcript

Rico Malvar: At some point, the leader of the team, Alex Kipman, came to us and says, oh, we want to do a new controller. What if you just spoke to the machine, made gestures and we could recognize everything? You say, that sounds like sci-fi. And then we said, no, wait a second, but to detect gestures, we need specialized computer vision. We’ve been doing computer vision for 15 years. To identify your voice, we need speech recognition. We’ve also been doing speech recognition for 15 years. Oh, but now there maybe be other sounds and multiple people… oh, but just a little over 10 years ago, we started these microphone arrays. They are acoustic antennas. And I said, wait a second, we actually have all the core elements, we could actually do this thing!

Host: You’re listening to the Microsoft Research Podcast, a show that brings you closer to the cutting-edge of technology research and the scientists behind it. I’m your host, Gretchen Huizinga.

Host: From his deep technical roots as a principal researcher and founder of the Communications, Collaboration and Signal Processing group at MSR, through his tenure as Managing Director of the lab in Redmond, to his current role as Distinguished Engineer, Chief Scientist for Microsoft Research and manager of the MSR NExT Enable group, Dr. Rico Malvar has seen – and pretty well done – it all.

Today, Dr. Malvar recalls his early years at a fledgling Microsoft Research, talks about the exciting work he oversees now, explains why designing with the user is as important as designing for the user, and tells us how a challenge from an ex-football player with ALS led to a prize winning hackathon project and produced the core technology that allows you to type on a keyboard without your hands and drive a wheelchair with your eyes. That and much more on this episode of the Microsoft Research Podcast.

Host: Rico Malvar, welcome to the podcast.

Rico Malvar: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Gretchen.

Host: You’re a Distinguished Engineer and Chief Scientist at Microsoft Research. How would you define your current role? What gets you up in the morning?

Rico Malvar: Ha ha! Uh, yeah, by chief scientist, it means I tell everybody what to do, very simple. (laughing) Yeah… Not really, but Chief Scientist is basically a way for me to have my fingers and eyes, in particular, on everything going on at Microsoft Research. So, I have an opportunity to interact with, essentially, all the labs, many of the groups, and find opportunities to do collaborative projects. And that is really super-exciting. And it’s really hard to be on top of what everybody is doing. It’s quite the opposite of telling people what to do, it’s like trying follow-up what they are doing.

Host: It’s um – on some level herding cats?

Rico Malvar: It’s not even herding. It’s where are they??

Host: You got to find the cats.

Rico Malvar: Find the cats, yeah.

Host: Well, talk a little bit about your role as Distinguished Engineer. What does that entail, what does that mean?

Rico Malvar: That’s basically… there’s a whole set of us. We have Distinguished Engineers and Technical Fellows which are at the top of our technical ladder. And the idea is a little bit recognition of some of the contributions we’ve done in the technical area, but it’s mostly our responsibility to go after big technical problems and don’t think just about the group you’re in, but think about the company, what the company needs, what the technology in that particular area should be evolving. My area, in particular, on the technical side, is signal processing, data compression, media compression. And these days, with audio and video entering the internet, that matters a lot. But also a few other areas, but that’s the idea. The idea is that what are the big problems in technology, how can we drive new things, how can we watch out for new things coming up at the company level?

Host: You know, those two things that you mentioned, drive things and anticipate things, are two kind of different gears and two different, I won’t say skillsets, but maybe it’s having your brain in two places.

Rico Malvar: You are right. It’s not completely different skillsets but driving and following are both important and one helps the other. And it’s very important for us to do both.

Host: Let’s go back to your roots a little bit. When you started here at Microsoft Research, you were a principle researcher and the founder and manager of what was called the Communications, Collaboration and Signal Processing group at MSR. So, tell us a little bit about the work you used to do and give us a short “where are they now?” snapshot of that group.

Rico Malvar: Yeah, that name is funny. That name was a bad example when you get too democratic about choosing names, and then we got everybody in the team to give ideas and then it got all complicated and we end up with a little bit of everything and came up with a boring name instead of a cool one. But it was a very descriptive name which was good. It was just called Signal Processing when we started, and then it evolved to Communication, Collaboration and Signal Processing because of the new things we were doing. For example, we had a big project on the collaboration area which is the prototype of a system which later evolved to become the RoundTable product. And that’s just not signal processing, it’s collaboration. Well, we have put collaboration. But people use it to communicate so it’s also communication, saying okay, put it all in the name. So, it’s just like that. And on your question of where people are, a cool thing is that we had a combination of expertise in the team to be able to do things like RoundTable. So, we had computer vision experts, we had distributed systems experts, we had streaming media experts and we had audio experts, on the last one for example, in audio. Then later, we actually evolved a new group doing specifically audio signal processing which is now led by Ivan Tashev who was a member of my team and now has his own team. He already participated in your podcast, so it’s nice to see the interesting challenges in those areas continue. And we keep evolving, as you know. The groups are always changing, modifying, renewing.

Host: In fact, that leads into my next question. Microsoft Research, as an entity, has evolved quite a bit since it was formed in 1991. And you were Managing Director in the mid-2000’s from like 2007 to 2010?

Rico Malvar: ‘10. Of the lab here in Redmond, yeah.

Host: Yeah. So, tell us a little bit about the history of the organization in the time you’ve been here.

Rico Malvar: Yeah. It’s great. One thing I really like about Microsoft Research is first, is that it started early with the top leaders in the company always believing in the concept. So, Bill Gates started Microsoft Research, driven by Nathan Myhrvold who was the CTO at the time, and it was a no-brainer for them to start Microsoft Research. They found Rick Rashid, who was our first leader of MSR. And I had the pleasure of reporting to Rick for many years. And the vision he put in, it is still to this day, is let’s really push the limits of technology. We don’t start by thinking how this is going to help Microsoft, we start by thinking how we push the technology, how it helps people. Later, we will figure out how it’s going to help Microsoft. And to this date, that’s how we operate. With the difference being, maybe, is that in the old days, the lab was more of a classical research lab. Almost everything was pivoted on research projects.

Host: Sure.

Rico Malvar: Which is great, and many, many of them generated good technology or even new products to the company. I was just talking about RoundTable as one example, and we have several. Of course, the vast majority fail because research is a business of failure and we all know that! We submit ten papers for publication, two or three get accepted. That is totally fine, and we keep playing the game. And we do the papers as a validation and also as a way to interact with the community. And both are extremely of value to us so we can have a better understanding we are pushing the state-of-the-art. And today, the new Microsoft Research puts even a little more emphasis on the impact side. We still want to push the state-of-the-art, we still do innovative things, but we want to spend a little more effort on making those things real.

Host: Yeah.

Rico Malvar: On helping the company. And even the company, itself, evolved to a point where that has even a higher value from Satya, our CEO, down. It is the mission of the company to empower people to do more. But empowering is not just developing the technology, it’s packaging it, shipping it in the right way, making products that actually leverage that. So, I would say the new MSR gets even more into, okay, what it takes to make this real.

Host: Well, let’s talk a little bit about Microsoft Research NExT. Give our listeners what I would call your elevator pitch of Microsoft NExT. What does it stand for, how does it fit in the portfolio of Microsoft Research? I kind of liken it to pick-up basketball, only with scientists and more money, but you do it more justice than I do!

Rico Malvar: That’s funny. Yeah, NExT is actually a great idea. As I said, we’re always evolving. And then, when Peter Lee came in, and also Harry Shum is our new leader, they thought hard about diversifying the approaches in which we do research. So, we still have the Microsoft Research labs, the part that is a bit more traditional in the sense that the research is mostly pivoted by areas. We have a graphics team, natural language processing group, human computer interaction, systems, and so forth. Many, many of them. When you go to NExT, the idea is different. One way to achieve potentially even more impact is pivot some of those activities, not by area, but by project, by impact goal. Oh, because of this technology and that technology, maybe we have an opportunity to do X, where X is this new project. Oh, but we’re going to have the first technology is computer vision, the other one is hardware architecture. Oops, we’re going to have to need people in all those areas together in a project team and then Peter Lee has been driving that, always trying to find disruptive, high impact things so that we can take new challenges. And lots of things are coming up from this new model which we call NExT, which is New Experiences in Technology.

Host: I actually didn’t know that, what the acronym stood for. I just thought it was, what’s NExT, right?

Rico Malvar: Of course, that is a cool acronym. Peter did a much better job than we did on the CCSB thing.

Host: I love it.

(music plays)

Host: Well, let’s talk about Enable, the group. There’s a fascinating story of how this all got started and it involves a former football player and what’s now called the yearly hackathon. Tell us the story.

Rico Malvar: That is exactly right. It all started when that famous football player, ex-football player, Steve Gleason, still a good partner of ours, is still a consultant to my team… Steve is a totally impressive person. He got diagnosed with ALS, and ALS is a very difficult disease because you basically lose mobility. And at some point in life, your organs may lose their ability to function, so, most people actually don’t survive ALS. But with some mitigations you can prolong, a little bit, and technology can help. Steve, actually, we quote him saying, “Until there is a cure for ALS, technology is the cure.” This is very inspiring. And he created a foundation, Team Gleason, that really does a wonderful job of securing resources and distributing resources to people with ALS. They really, really make a difference in the community. And he came to us almost five years ago, and we were toying with the idea of creating this hackathon, which is a company-wide effort to create hack-projects. And then in one of those, which actually the first time we did, which is in 2014, Steve told us, “You know what guys, I want to be able to do more. In particular, I want to be able to argue with my wife and play with my son. So, I need to communicate, and I need to move. My eyes still work, this eye tracking thing might be the way to go. Do you want to do something with that?” The hackathon team really got inspired by the challenge and within a very short period of time, they created an eye tracking system where you look at the computer and then there’s a keyboard and you can look at the keys and type at the keys by looking. And there is a play button so you can compose sentences and then speak out with your eyes.

Host: That’s amazing.

Rico Malvar: And they also created an interface where they put buttons, similar to a joy stick, on the screen. You look at those, and the wheelchair moves in the direction of where you are selecting. They did a nice overlay between the buttons and the video, so it’s almost like they put the computer, mount it on the wheelchair, you look through the computer, the camera shows what’s in front of you, and then the wheelchair goes. With lots of safety things like a stop button. And it was very successful, that project. In fact, it won the first prize.

Host: The hackathon prize?

Rico Malvar: On the hackathon prize. And then, a little bit later, Peter and I were thinking about where to go on new projects. And then Peter really suggested, Rico, what about that hackathon thing? That seems to be quite impactful, so maybe we want to develop that technology further. What do you think? I said, well if I had a team… (laughs) we could do that…

Host: (sings) If I only had a team…

Rico Malvar: (sings) If I only had had a team… And then Peter said, ehh, how many people you need? I don’t know, six, seven to start. I said, okay, let’s go do it. It was as easy as that.

Host: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about the hackathon. Like you said, it’s about in its fifth year. And, as I understand it, it’s kind of a ground-up approach. Satya replaced the annual “executive-inspirational-talk-top-down” kind of summer event with, hey, let’s get the whole company involved in invention. I would imagine it’s had a huge impact on the company at large. But how would you describe the role of the hackathon for people in Microsoft Research now? It seems like a lot of really interesting things have come out of that summer event.

Rico Malvar: You know, for us, it was a clear thing, because Microsoft Research was always bottom-up. I mean, we literally don’t tell researchers what to do. People, researchers, engineers, designers, managers, they all have great ideas, right? And they come up with those great ideas. When they click enough, they start developing something and we look from the top and say, that sounds good, keep going, right? So, we try to foster the most promising ones. But the idea of bottom-up was already there.

Host: Yeah.

Rico Malvar: When we look at the hackathon, we say, hey, thanks to Satya and the new leadership of Microsoft, the company’s embracing this concept of moving bottom-up. There’s The Garage. The Garage has been involved with many of those hackathons. Garage has been a driver and supporter of the hackathon. So, to us, it was like, hey, great, that’s how we work! And now we’re going to do more collaboration with the rest of the company.

Host: You have a fantastic and diverse group of researchers working with you, many of whom have been on the podcast already and been delightful. Who and what does it take to tackle big issues, huge ideas like hands-free keyboards and eye tracking and 3-D sound?

Rico Malvar: Right. One important concept, and it’s particularly important for Enable, is that we really need to pay attention to the user. Terms such as “user-centric” – yeah, they sound like cliché – but especially in accessibility, this is super important. For example, in our Enable team, the area working with eye tracking, our main intended user were people with ALS since the motivation from Steve Gleason. And then, in our team, Ann Paradiso, who is our user experience manager, she created what we call the PALS program. PALS means Person with ALS. And we actually brought people with ALS in their wheelchairs and everything to our lab and discussed ideas with them. So, they were not just testers, they were brainstorming with us on the design and technologies…

Host: Collaborators.

Rico Malvar: Collaborators. They loved doing it. They really felt, wow, I’m in this condition but I can contribute to something meaningful and we will make it better for the next generation…

Host: Sure.

Rico Malvar: …of people with this. So, this concept of strong user understanding through user design and user research, particularly on accessibility, makes a big difference.

Host: Mmm hmm. Talk a little bit about the technical side of things. What kinds of technical lines of inquiry are you really focusing on right now? I think our listeners are really curious about what they’re studying and how that might translate over here if they wanted to…

Rico Malvar: That’s a great question. Many of the advancements today are associated with artificial intelligence, AI, because of all the applications of AI, including in our projects. AI is typically a bunch of algorithms and data manipulation in finding patterns in data and so forth. But AI, itself, doesn’t talk to the user. You still need the last mile of the interfaces, the new interface. Is the AI going to appear to the user as a voice? Or as something on the screen? How is the user going to interact with the AI? So, we need new interfaces. And then, with the evolution of technology, we can develop novel interfaces. Eye tracking being an example. If I tell you that you’re going to control your computer with your eyes, you’re going to say, what? What does that mean? If I tell you, you’re going to control the computer with your voice, you say, oh yeah, I’ve been doing that for a while. With the eye tracking for a person with a disability, they immediately get it and say, a-ha! I know what it means, and I want to use that. For everybody, suppose, for example, that you are having your lunch break and you want to browse the news on the internet, get up to date on a topic of interest. But you’re eating a sandwich. Your hands are busy, your mouth is busy, but your eyes are free. You could actually flip around pages, do a lot of things, just with your eyes and you don’t need to worry about cleaning your hands and touching the computer because you don’t need to touch the computer. And you can think, in the future, where you may not even need your eyes. I may read your thoughts directly. And, at some point, it’s just a matter of time. It’s not that far away. We are going to read your thoughts directly.

Host: That’s both exciting and scary. Ummmm…

Rico Malvar: Yes.

Host: What does it take to say, all right, we’re going to make a machine be able to look at your eyes and tell you back what you are doing?

Rico Malvar: Yeah, you see, it’s a specialized version of computer vision. It’s basically cameras that look at your eyes. In fact, the sensor works by first illuminating your eyes with bright IR lights, infrared, so it doesn’t bother you because you can’t see. But now you have this bright image that the camera is looking at, IR can see, and then models in a little bit of AI and a little bit of just graphics and computer vision and signal modeling, that then make an estimate of the position of your eyes and associate that with elements on the screen. So, it’s almost as if you have a cursor on the screen.

Host: Okay.

Rico Malvar: That is controlled with your eyes, very similar to a mouse, with the difference that the eye control works better if we don’t display the cursor. With the mouse, you actually should display the cursor…

Host: Ooohhh, interesting….

Rico Malvar: …with eye control, the cursor works better if it is invisible. But you see the idea there is that you do need specialists, you need folks who understand that. And sometimes you do a combination of some of that understanding being in the group, so we need to be the top leaders in that technology, or we partner with partners that have a piece of the technology. For example, for the eye tracking, we put much more emphasis on designing the proper user interfaces and user experiences, because there are companies that do a good job introducing eye tracking devices. So, we leverage the eye tracking devices that these companies produce.

Host: And behind that, you are building on machine learning technologies, on computer vision technologies and… um… so…

Rico Malvar: Correct. For example, a typical one is that the keyboard driven by your eyes. You still want to have a predictive keyboard.

Host: Sure.

Rico Malvar: So, as you are typing the letters, it guesses. But how you interface on the guess, it’s very interesting, because when you are typically using a keyboard, your eye is looking at the letters, your fingers are typing on the keys. When you’re doing an eye control keyboard, your eye has to do everything. So, how you design the interface should be different.

Host: Yeah.

Rico Malvar: And we’ve learned and designed good ways to make that different.

Host: If I’m looking at the screen and I’m moving my eyes, how does it know when I’m done, you know, like that’s the letter I want? Do I just laser beam the…??

Rico Malvar: You said you would be asking deep technical questions and you are. That one, we use the concept that we call “dwelling.” As you look around the keyboard, remember that I told you we don’t display the cursor?

Host: Right.

Rico Malvar: So, but as you – the position where you look in your eyes, the focus of your eye, is in a particular letter, we highlight that letter. It can be a different color, it can be a lighter shade of grey…

Host: Gotcha.

Rico Malvar: So, as you move around, you see the letters moving around. If you want to type a particular letter, once you get to that letter, you stop moving for a little bit, let’s say half a second. That’s a dwell. You dwell on that letter a little bit and we measure the dwell. And there’s a little bit of AI to learn what is the proper dwell time based on the user.

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Host: One thing I’m fascinated by, not just here, but in scientific ventures everywhere, is the research “success story.” The one that chronicles the path of a blue-sky research thing to instantiation in a product. And, I know, over and over, researchers have told me, research is generally a slow business, so it’s not like, oh, the overnight success story, but there’s a lot of hard-won success stories or stories that sort of blossomed over multiple years of serendipitous discovery. Do you have any stories that you could share about things that you’ve seen that started out like a hair-brained idea and now millions of people are using?

Rico Malvar: You know, there’s so many examples. I particularly like the story of Kinect, which was actually not a product developed by Microsoft Research, but in close collaboration with Microsoft Research. It was the Kinect team, at the time, in Windows. Because at some point, the leader of the team, Alex Kipman, came to us and says, oh, we want to do a new controller. What if you just spoke to the machine, made gestures and we could recognize everything? You say, that sounds like sci-fi. So, naahhh, that doesn’t work. But then Alex was very insistent. And then we said, no, wait a second, but to detect gestures, we need specialized computer vision. We’ve been doing computer vision for 15 years. To identify your voice, we need speech recognition. We’ve also been doing speech recognition for 15 years. Oh, but now there maybe be other sounds and there are maybe multiple people… oh, but just a little over 10 years ago, we started these microphone arrays. They are acoustic antennas. They can tune to the sound of whoever is speaking all of that.

Host: Directional.

Rico Malvar: The directional sound input. And I said, wait a second, we actually have all the core elements, we could actually do this thing. So, after the third or fourth meeting, I said, okay Alex, I think we can do that. And he said, great, you have two years to do it. What??? Yeah, because we need to ship at this particular date. And it all worked. I doubt there’s some other institution or company that could have produced that because we’ve been doing what was, apparently, “blue-sky” for many years, but then we created all those technologies and when then need arose, I say, a-ha, we can put them altogether.

Host: Where is Kinect today?

Rico Malvar: Kinect used to be a peripheral device for Xbox. We changed it into an IoT device. So, there’s a new Kinect kit, connects to Azure so people can do Kinect-like things, not just for games but for everything. And all the technology that supports that is now in Azure.

Host: So, Rico, you have a reputation for being an optimist. You’ve actually said as much yourself.

Rico Malvar: (laughs) Yes, I am!

Host: Plus, you work with teams on projects that are actually making the lives of people with disabilities, and others, profoundly better. But I know some of the projects that you worked on fall somewhere in the bounds of medical interventions.

Rico Malvar: Mmm-hmm.

Host: So, is there anything about what you do that keeps you up at night, anything we should be concerned about?

Rico Malvar: Yeah, you know, when you are helping a person with disability, sometimes what you are doing can be seen as, is that a treatment, is that a medical device? In most cases, they are not. But the answer to those questions can be complicated and there can be regulations. And of course, Microsoft is a super-responsible company, and if anything is regulated, of course, we are going to pay attention to the regulations. But some of those are complex. So, doing it right by the regulations can take significant amount of work. So, we have to do this extra work. So, my team has to spend time, sometimes in collaboration with our legal team, to make sure we do the right things. And I hope also that we will help evolve those regulations, potentially by working with the regulatory bodies, educating them on the evolution of the technology. Because in all areas, not just this area, but almost all areas of technology, regulations tend to be behind. It’s hard to move, and understandably so. So, the fact that we have to spend significant effort dealing with that does keep me up at night a little bit. But we do our best.

Host: You know, there’s a bit of a Wild West mentality where you have to, like you say, educate. And so, in a sense what I hear you saying is that, as you take responsibility for what you are doing, you are helping to shape and inform the way the culture onboards these things.

Rico Malvar: Exactly right, yes. Exactly right.

Host: So, how would you sort of frame that for people out there? How do we, you, help move the culture into a space that more understands what’s going on and can onboard it with responsibility themselves?

Rico Malvar: That is a great question. And you see for example, in areas such as AI, artificial intelligence, people are naturally afraid of how far can AI go? What are the kinds of things it could do?

Host: Yeah.

Rico Malvar: Can we regulate so that there will be some control in how it’s developed? And Microsoft has taken the stance that we have to be very serious about AI. We have to be ethical, we have to preserve privacy and all of those things. So, instead of waiting for regulation and regulatory aspects to develop, let’s help them. So, we were founders of – not just me, but the company and especially the Microsoft Research AI team – founders of the Partnership for AI, in partnership with other companies to actually say no, let’s be proactive about that.

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Host: Tell us a bit about Rico Malvar. Let’s go further back than your time here at MSR and tell us how you got interested in technology, technology research. How did you end up here at Microsoft Research?

Rico Malvar: Okay, on the first question, how I got interested in technology? It took me a long time. I think I was 8 years old when my dad gave me an electronics kit and I start playing with that thing and I said, a-ha! That’s what I want to do when I grow up. So, then I went through high school taking courses in electronics and then I went to college to become an electrical engineer and I loved the academic environment, I loved doing research. So, I knew I wanted to do grad school. I got lucky enough to be accepted at MIT and when I arrived there, I was like, boy, this place is tough! And it was tough! But then when I finished and I went back to my home country, I created the signal processing group at the school there, which was… I was lucky to get fair amounts of funding, so we did lots of cool things. And then, one day, some colleagues in a company here in the US called me back in Brazil and they say, hey, our director of research decided to do something else. Do you want to apply for the position? And then I told my wife, hey, there’s a job opening in the US, what about that? I said, well go talk to them. And I came, talked to them. They make me an offer. And then it took us about a whole month discussing, are we going to move our whole family to another country? Hey, we lived there before, it’s not so bad, because I studied here. And maybe it’s going to be good for the kids. Let’s go. If something doesn’t work, we move back. I say, okay. So, and… here we are. But that was not Microsoft. That was for another company at the time, a company called PictureTel which was actually the leading company in professional video conferencing systems.

Host: Oh, okay.

Rico Malvar: So, we were pushing the state-of-the-art on how do you compress video and audio and these other things? And I was working happily there for about four years and then one day I see Microsoft and I say, wow, Microsoft Research is growing fast. Then one afternoon, I said, ah, okay, I think about it and I send an email to the CTO of Microsoft saying, you guys are great, you are developing all these groups. You don’t have yet a group on signal processing. And signal processing is important because one day we’re going to be watching video on your computers via the internet and all of that, so you should be investing more on that. And I see you already have Windows Media Player. Anyways, if you want to do research in signal processing, here’s my CV. I could build and lead a group for you doing that. And then I tell my wife and she goes, you did what?? You sent an email to the CTO of Microsoft??

Host: Who was it at the time?

Rico Malvar: It was Nathan Myhrvold.

Host: Nathan.

Rico Malvar: And she said, nah. I say, what do I have to lose? The worst case, they don’t respond, and life is good. I have a good job here. It’s all good. And that was on a Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, I get an email from Microsoft. Hey, my name is Suzanne. I work on recruiting. I’m coordinating your interview trip. I said, alright! And then I show the email to my wife and she was like, what? It worked? Whoa! And then it actually was a great time. The environment here, from day one, since the interviews, the openness of everybody, of management, the possibilities and the desire of Microsoft to, yeah, let’s explore this area, this area. One big word here is diversity. Diversity of people, diversity of areas. It is so broad. And that’s super exciting. So, I was almost saying, whatever offer they make me, I’ll take it! Fortunately, they made a reasonable one, so it wasn’t too hard to make that decision.

Host: Well, two things I take away from what you’ve just told me. You keep using the word lucky and I think that has less to do with it than you are making it out to be. Um, because there’s a lot of really smart people here that say, I was so lucky that they offered me this. It’s like, no, they’re lucky to have you, actually. But also, the idea that if you don’t ask, you are never going to know whether you could have or not. I think that’s a wonderful story of boldness and saying why not?

Rico Malvar: Yeah. And in fact, boldness is very characteristic of Microsoft Research. We’re not afraid. We have an idea, we just go and execute. And we’re fortunate, and I’m not going to say lucky, I’m going to say fortunate, that we’re in a company that sees that and gives us the resources to do so.

Host: Rico, I like to ask all my guests, as we come to the end of our conversation, to offer some parting thoughts to our listeners. I think what you just said is a fantastic parting thought. But maybe there’s more. So, what advice or wisdom would you pass on to what we might call the next generation of technical researchers? What’s important for them to know? What qualities should they be cultivating in their lives and work in order to be successful in this arena?

Rico Malvar: I would go back on boldness and diversity. Boldness, you’ve already highlighted Gretchen, that, you know, if you have an idea but it’s not just too rough an idea, you know a thing or two why that actually could work, go after it! Give it a try. Especially if you are young. Don’t worry if you fail many things. I failed many things in my life. But what matters is not the failures. You learn from the failures and you do it again. And the other one is diversity. Always think diversity in all the dimensions. All kind of people, everywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter gender, race, ethnicity, upbringing, rich, poor, whatever they come from, everybody can have cool ideas. The person whom you least expect to invent something might be the one inventing. So, listen to everybody because that diversity is great. And remember, the diversity of users. Don’t assume that all users are the same. Go learn what users really think. If you are not sure if Idea A or Idea B is the better, go talk to them. Try them out, test, get their opinion, test things with them. So, push diversity on both sides, diversity on the creation and diversity on who is going to use your technology. And don’t assume you know. In fact, Satya has been pushing the whole company towards that. Put us in a growth mindset which basically means keep learning, right? Because then if you do that, that diversity will expand and then we’ll be able to do more.

Host: Rico Malvar, I’m so glad that I finally got you on the podcast. It’s been delightful. Thanks for joining us today.

Rico Malvar: It has been a pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

(music plays)

To learn more about Dr. Rico Malvar and how research for people with disabilities is enabling people of all abilities, visit Microsoft.com/research.

Go to Original Article
Author: Steve Clarke

2019 IT focus: Storage architecture for big data analytics

Revamping the storage architecture for big data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT will be a key area of focus in 2019, industry experts predict.

TechTarget polled a panel of storage technologists and analysts for their enterprise data storage predictions for 2019, and many said enterprise IT organizations will concentrate on better ways to analyze, use and manage all of the information they’ve been dumping into data lakes. Their efforts will include tuning the storage architecture for big data with the assistance of increasing numbers of tools designed to integrate, engineer and orchestrate data.

Below you can find a sampling of 2019 predictions that focus on storage architecture for big data, storage system and data management, security and other general storage trends. You can find additional 2019 predictions that focus on cloud storage here and flash and emerging memory technologies here.

Data lake becomes ‘swamp’

Chadd Kenney, CTO and VP of product and solutions, Pure StorageChadd Kenney

Chadd Kenney, CTO and VP of product and solutions, Pure Storage: The data lake quickly turned into a data swamp. It ended up becoming a landing zone for a lot of data, and there really weren’t a lot of people utilizing the data sets inside of that data lake. I foresee a focus on deploying a data hub that consolidates multiple silos into one common flash-based platform that has high concurrency, high parallelism, and performance that is linear to the scale-out capacity. Big data will be revitalized by the new large-scale data-centric architectures.

Hu Yoshida, CTO, Hitachi VantaraHu Yoshida

Hu Yoshida, CTO, Hitachi Vantara: There’s a lot of data that has value that’s not even being looked at or processed. Up to now, people have been ingesting it into databases or dumping it into data lakes. But they’re coming to the realization that they have to integrate, cleanse, enrich and engineer the data for it to become really useful. This year, the time is right. More tools are becoming available in the cloud and the private sector, and I think people will start to use them. Object stores that have the ability to customize rich metadata are going to be important to intelligently integrate data. The processes are there. The open APIs are there. All those things are working together to enable users to be more intelligent about their storage and their data. It’s not just about protecting, replicating, securing and archiving data. It will be more about what the data means to the business.

Scott Sinclair, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy GroupScott Sinclair

Scott Sinclair, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group: People have a ton of file data. It’s in disaggregated infrastructure. Finding all that data is becoming a real problem. People think of metadata as a way to solve the issue, but the ideal metadata solution has not surfaced yet.

Steven Hill, senior analyst, 451 Research: Companies in the U.S. are only starting to feel the impact of privacy initiatives like [the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation] GDPR. And, with legislation like the California Consumer Privacy Act scheduled to take effect in 2020, businesses will need to extend visibility and governance to both their unstructured data, as well as their traditional database information. Data is now both an asset and a liability, and there is a real need for businesses to better identify and automate the management of unstructured data to remain industry-compliant while continuing to gain ongoing value from the information it holds.

Tuning storage architecture for big data

Storage and memory are merging; compute and memory are merging; compute and storage are merging. At the same time, the networks and interconnects are already at speeds that would be considered pure science fiction less than five years ago.
J Michel MetzR&D engineer, Office of the CTO, Cisco Systems

Steve McDowell, senior analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy: The focus on edge computing, which is one of the hottest areas of IT expansion, has largely been on processing and networking. This changes in 2019, as those deploying these edge solutions start to understand the need for managed storage. The edge, after all, is just a micro data center. This accelerates as data-hungry AI applications are deployed into edge architectures, and as 5G network begins to be seriously deployed in 2019. The serious players in this space must have a storage solution in 2019.

Greg Schulz, senior advisory analyst, StorageIO: For 2019, enterprise data storage focus expands from core cloud and on prem to the edge to support traditional, as well as emerging workloads such as IoT, artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning and other analytics. Storage at the edge also means more non-volatile memory (NVM) SSD-based technology, including quad-layer NAND flash, as well as more storage class memory (SCM), such as 3D XPoint. Potential adoption will vary by different IT organizations. Some will expand on what they have done. Others will start looking or do proof-of-concept testing. Also, watch for AWS, Microsoft, Red Hat and VMware, among others, to expand their edge storage solutions and systems.

Phil Bullinger, senior VP and GM, Data Center Systems, Western DigitalPhil Bullinger

Phil Bullinger, senior VP and GM, Data Center Systems, Western Digital: The intersection of wireless, networking, storage and compute systems at the edge will accelerate innovation and deployment of new data center architectures. New technologies, including NVMe, composable infrastructures and fabric-attached storage on open standards, and compute architectures tailored for AI and machine learning workloads will displace general-purpose systems as more powerful endpoint devices drive new demands for distributed data infrastructure.

J Michel Metz, R&D engineer, Office of the CTO, Cisco SystemsJ Michel Metz

J Michel Metz, R&D engineer, Office of the CTO, Cisco Systems: We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in how architectural components relate to one another in the data center. Storage and memory are merging; compute and memory are merging; compute and storage are merging. At the same time, the networks and interconnects are already at speeds that would be considered pure science fiction less than five years ago. In 2019, I expect to see some pretty interesting science experiments from startups that are looking to explode the schematics and reform them into interesting new packaging. For instance, we’re already starting to see the combination of storage and compute, called computational storage, storage and networking, and “composable” architectures becoming more of a reality. Once you think out of the box, there will be new and interesting ways to shift the storage functionality around the data center. While there won’t be ready-to-play solutions in 2019, you can expect a lot of breakthroughs to be on the market in 2020 or 2021.

Storage management trends

Andy Walls, IBM fellow and CTO Flash StorageAndy Walls

Andy Walls, IBM fellow and CTO Flash Storage: The use of AI in storage systems will come to fruition in 2019. This is taking advantage of all the data that IBM and Dell and others collect about their storage systems and honing the analytics to be able to find problems before they affect clients and give that information to them in a very consumable way. In 2017 and 2018, for all the suppliers, it was early — looking at more simplistic things like the configuration isn’t quite right or this port isn’t connected correctly. Now, as we continue, you’re going to start to see more helpful information about some of the trickier problems that occur occasionally, like performance and congestion.

Marc Staimer, president, Dragon Slayer ConsultingMarc Staimer

Marc Staimer, president, Dragon Slayer Consulting: The ability to move cool and cold data seamlessly from high-performance storage to cloud storage to object storage to file storage — and not have to rehydrate it to access it — will become table stakes this year for a lot of storage vendors. In other words, it won’t be hierarchical storage management (HSM) type of tiering in the future. You won’t have to bring the data back to read it or change it.

Ranga Rangachari, vice president and general manager, Red Hat StorageRanga Rangachari

Ranga Rangachari, vice president and general manager, Red Hat Storage: The line between storage and hyper-convergence is getting more and more blurred. What used to be conversations with customers around storage today end up being conversations about hyper-convergence. It’s not that they’re starting to deploy it today, but as they look at what they need to do over the next 12, 18, 24 months, the need and the desire to build out hyper-convergence environments on prem are becoming more pronounced. People are starting to see the economic benefits of not having to manage the compute and the storage independently and having a hyper-converged way to manage compute, storage and network as one single entity on prem.

Metz, Cisco Systems: Storage management is heading to a crossroads, with different management styles beginning to intersect, including the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), NVM Express Management Initiative (NVMe-MI), Redfish, Swordfish and some vendor-proprietary ones as well. 2019 will be a year where these different formats either work well together or collide. Expect to hear about management wars by the end of 2019, and the fight could get nasty.

2019 focus on storage security

Metz, Cisco Systems: Many of the data compliance regulations that emerge out of Europe, Asia, and North America will wind up getting implemented in ways that open up and expose end users far more than they protect them. Storage companies could be left holding the bag, as IoT privacy becomes the siren call for more regulation and more “security.” IoT is a data security and privacy nightmare, and recent EU GDPR regulations will have significant unintended consequences as vendors try to play whack-a-mole with all the new threats in 2019.

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For Sale – Gaming PC – I7 3770K, 16GB, SSD + HDD, GTX 970

Discussion in ‘Desktop Computer Classifieds‘ started by Wiggz, Jan 9, 2019.

  1. Wiggz

    Active Member

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    Hi all,

    Selling my trusty I7-3770K build as I’ve upgraded and gone team red (Ryzen) in the last couple of months.

    Still runs triple-A titles without issue at 1080p

    Spec list below:

    The case itself has 2 x Corsair AF140 fans as an intake, with the Corsair H80i V2 handling the CPU and exhaust out of the back, and a 120MM (again Corsair) as a top exhaust to keep temps good (see pics).

    The 300R has been insulated with sound dampening, which I did before I even got the liquid cooler, and changed the fan curves to keep it nice and quiet.

    Individually priced I could probably get a bit more for these parts, but as a system (no monitor or keyboard/mouse) I’m looking for £500 £460 now after price drop

    Price and currency: 460
    Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
    Payment method: PayPal Gift, BT
    Location: Nuneaton
    Advertised elsewhere?: Advertised elsewhere
    Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

    ______________________________________________________
    This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
    By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
    Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

    • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
    • Name and address including postcode
    • Valid e-mail address

    DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019 at 10:45 PM
  2. Wiggz

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    bump and price reduction.

  3. NeverEden

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    Would you consider pricing without the GFX Card and HDD? I’d only need the SSD

  4. Wiggz

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    Hi

    @NeverEden – so you’d want the CPU, Case etc, all without the GPU and the HDD? I think I could do that, yes. Make me an offer on that mate and we’ll go from there I can always keep the HDD as a scratch drive, and sell the 970 separately.

  5. Wiggz

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    Bump.. Suggest £400 to

    @NeverEden via pm for system excluding hdd and GPU Awaiting response.

  6. NeverEden

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    Hi – sorry for the delayed response. It’s a good price but outside my budget for now

  7. Wiggz

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    Okay, thanks for coming back to me. Are you looking to offer anything else or not? I’m looking to sell quickly so open to offers, but I can’t let it go for a song.

  8. Coheed

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    Could you do £450 delivered?

  9. Wiggz

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    Hey

    @Coheed thanks for the offer .. I can do 475 delivered to deal with the courier charge. Where do you live ?
    Take it to pm if it’s acceptable

  10. Coheed

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    I’m going to stick to £450 for now, thanks.

  11. Wiggz

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    Hi @Coheed – I think you’re probably around London area right? If that is the case, then postage is a must (as I doubt you’ll want to come and pickup). I can’t let it go for £450 delivered, especially as there is always the chance of something happening within shipping and then causing an issue.

    Let me know if you change your mind – I’m keen to sell, but I want to ensure that whomever purchases it gets it in one piece (or picks up )

  12. Coheed

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    Hey, sorry about not including my area, I completely forgot to add that. Yeah, I live in London.

    That’s a shame as £450 is my budget! This PC looks great though, I’m sure someone else will snap it up. Good luck with your sale.

  13. Wiggz

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    Bump.. Price drop

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Windows 10 Tip: AI-powered PowerPoint Designer gets smarter | Windows Experience Blog

Do you enjoy using the digital pen to edit PowerPoint presentations? Thanks to the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, now you can do even more.
The AI-powered PowerPoint Designer has gotten smarter. Designer can now recommend slide designs based on handwritten ink. Or, if typing is more your style, Designer can take a simple block of text, understand the context using AI, and then provide design ideas using icons and Smart Art.
To provide even more design options, there are now 350 new icons in the library.
If you prefer to sketch out your thoughts first, now you can ink* your ideas and AI will transform them into perfectly formatted slides. An inked bulleted list will transform into perfectly formatted text. Or, if you’re inking a flow chart or diagram, you can draw both words and shapes, and PowerPoint will convert them into text and snapped shapes in one fell swoop.
Check it out in action:

If you like this, check out more Windows 10 Tips and the Windows Community’s video about Al and digital pen.
*Touch-capable tablet or PC required. Pen accessory may be sold separately.

Inside Xbox is Back with Its First New Episode of 2019 – Xbox Wire

Inside Xbox returns Tuesday, February 5 at 2 p.m. PT / 5 p.m. ET with an all-new episode featuring exclusive news, content, reveals, interviews and footage you won’t see anywhere else!

With the February 15 release of Crackdown 3 available with Xbox Game Pass and on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, you can expect it to take center stage in the February episode of Inside Xbox. We’ll have Creative Director of Crackdown 3, Joseph Staten, on hand to divulge details on the game’s campaign mode and more.

And that’s just the start! We’ve got reveals and new info to share on Mortal Kombat 11, The Division 2, Sea of Thieves, Astroneer, Journey to the Savage Planet, Jump Force, Metro Exodus, and of course, Xbox Game Pass and bunch of news under lock and key so be sure to tune in on Tuesday, February 5.

You will find the show live on Mixer, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We want you to watch the show where you want to watch it, but we hope you’ll check us out on Mixer for some exclusive behind-the-scenes content and a super-top-secret MixPot that will give you free stuff just for logging in. We’ll have more details on these exciting (and did we mention free?!?) giveaways before the show airs, but if you don’t already have a Mixer account, now’s the perfect time to head over to our streaming service on your Xbox, PC or mobile device and get logged in with your Microsoft account so that you’re all set on show day.

Set your alarm for Tuesday, February 5 at 2 p.m PT / 5 p.m. ET. See you then!

Go to Original Article
Author: Steve Clarke

Vexata storage gets a boost from Fujitsu deal

Fujitsu North America has picked startup Vexata as its partner for storage for artificial intelligence applications.

Vexata sells all-flash high-performance NVMe storage targeted at Oracle, SAP and VMware shops.

Fujitsu sells the Vexata VX-100 Active Data Architecture storage array, aiming it at AI and cognitive applications. The vendors have teamed on Vexata storage reference architecture for Oracle RAC, Oracle Smart Flash Cache and VMware consolidation. Fujitsu resellers will start selling product SKUs for those platforms in February.

This is the first set of turnkey appliances the two companies plan to deliver. They’re developing products for SAP HANA, SAS Analytics and Microsoft Azure Stack.

Major vendors are lining up to sell storage for AI. Dell EMC, IBM, Isilon, NetApp and Pure Storage all use Nvidia GPU-based servers in combination with the storage vendor’s scale-out file systems.

The Fujitsu-Vexata reference stacks combine Vexata VX-100 NVMe arrays, Primergy RX Series x86 rack servers and Mellanox Technologies network switches. Demonstration projects on the new Vexata platforms are under way at Fujitsu Solutions Lab.

The AI challenge

“The cognitive era is fully upon us. We’re seeing it across a variety of customer engagements,” Vexata chief marketing officer Ashish Gupta said. “The challenge with AI is to run at scale. We want to build a data system that addresses existing platforms that are transitioning from Oracle and SAP” to next-generation analytics at the edge.

Vexata storage is available as a rack-scale array, a software-only installation on commodity servers or scale-out NAS with IBM Spectrum Scale. The Vexata Data Architecture control plane resides on a CPU. Critical data remains out of the data path, on a separate field-programmable gate array.

The VX-100 provides 430 TB of usable capacity in 6U, with parallelized data access to all drives. Vexata targets data centers that need petabyte-scale storage. The vendor lists customers in government, hedge funds, insurance and payments processing.

“The file system construct and the frameworks they use are quite varied. The one thing common is the large size of the data sets. We’re talking about 200 TB per application use case,” Gupta said.

Pacific Disaster Center (PDC), an applied research arm of the University of Hawai’i, implemented Vexata storage last year. PDC develops research and planning tools for disaster preparedness to businesses and governments.

“Just from a disk IO perspective, we concluded the Vexata storage gave us a performance increase up to eight times what other vendors could provide, at about half the price,” PDC executive director Ray Shirkodai said.

Vexata VX-100 storage array
Vexata VX-100 storage array is part of reference architecture Fujitsu will sell for AI applications.

Partnership advantage

NVMe flash technology is expected to generate 50% of external primary storage sales by 2021, according to IDC. Other NVMe-focused startups include Apeiron, E8 Storage, Excelero, Exten (formerly Mangstor) and Pavilion Data. Major storage vendors Dell EMC, NetApp, Pure and IBM also sell NVMe flash arrays.

The Fujitsu partnership paves the way for Vexata to approach enterprises planning to refresh Oracle or SAP storage, IDC analyst Eric Burgener said.

“When you’re a startup, the one thing customers always throw in your face is: How do I know you’ll be in business six months from now? Fujitsu is a big company, and it completely removes that objection,” Burgener said.

Fujitsu meanwhile will use the Vexata storage system to gain a presence in high-performance NVMe flash. “Fujitsu needed to get in that space. This gives them a quick time to market with a performance-optimized product,” Burgener said.

Go to Original Article
Author:

For Sale – Gaming PC – I7 3770K, 16GB, SSD + HDD, GTX 970

Discussion in ‘Desktop Computer Classifieds‘ started by Wiggz, Jan 9, 2019.

  1. Wiggz

    Active Member

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    +40

    Hi all,

    Selling my trusty I7-3770K build as I’ve upgraded and gone team red (Ryzen) in the last couple of months.

    Still runs triple-A titles without issue at 1080p

    Spec list below:

    The case itself has 2 x Corsair AF140 fans as an intake, with the Corsair H80i V2 handling the CPU and exhaust out of the back, and a 120MM (again Corsair) as a top exhaust to keep temps good (see pics).

    The 300R has been insulated with sound dampening, which I did before I even got the liquid cooler, and changed the fan curves to keep it nice and quiet.

    Individually priced I could probably get a bit more for these parts, but as a system (no monitor or keyboard/mouse) I’m looking for £500 £460 now after price drop

    Price and currency: 460
    Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
    Payment method: PayPal Gift, BT
    Location: Nuneaton
    Advertised elsewhere?: Advertised elsewhere
    Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

    ______________________________________________________
    This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
    By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
    Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

    • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
    • Name and address including postcode
    • Valid e-mail address

    DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019 at 10:45 PM
  2. Wiggz

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    bump and price reduction.

  3. NeverEden

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    Would you consider pricing without the GFX Card and HDD? I’d only need the SSD

  4. Wiggz

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    Hi

    @NeverEden – so you’d want the CPU, Case etc, all without the GPU and the HDD? I think I could do that, yes. Make me an offer on that mate and we’ll go from there I can always keep the HDD as a scratch drive, and sell the 970 separately.

  5. Wiggz

    Active Member

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    Bump.. Suggest £400 to

    @NeverEden via pm for system excluding hdd and GPU Awaiting response.

  6. NeverEden

    Well-known Member

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    Hi – sorry for the delayed response. It’s a good price but outside my budget for now

  7. Wiggz

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    Okay, thanks for coming back to me. Are you looking to offer anything else or not? I’m looking to sell quickly so open to offers, but I can’t let it go for a song.

  8. Coheed

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    Could you do £450 delivered?

  9. Wiggz

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    Hey

    @Coheed thanks for the offer .. I can do 475 delivered to deal with the courier charge. Where do you live ?
    Take it to pm if it’s acceptable

  10. Coheed

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    I’m going to stick to £450 for now, thanks.

  11. Wiggz

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    Products Owned:
    0
    Products Wanted:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    31
    Location:
    Nuneaton
    Ratings:
    +40

    Hi @Coheed – I think you’re probably around London area right? If that is the case, then postage is a must (as I doubt you’ll want to come and pickup). I can’t let it go for £450 delivered, especially as there is always the chance of something happening within shipping and then causing an issue.

    Let me know if you change your mind – I’m keen to sell, but I want to ensure that whomever purchases it gets it in one piece (or picks up )

  12. Coheed

    Active Member

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    Hey, sorry about not including my area, I completely forgot to add that. Yeah, I live in London.

    That’s a shame as £450 is my budget! This PC looks great though, I’m sure someone else will snap it up. Good luck with your sale.

  13. Wiggz

    Active Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    Bump.. Price drop

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