Monthly Archives: September 2015

Oracle employees fear they could ‘owe’ the company vacation time, thanks to a holiday furlough

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Oracle employees.
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Oracle

As we previously reported, we’ve heard from many Oracle employees who are upset over a new thing that is forcing them to use four vacation days during the holiday season.

We’ve just learned a few more details about the situation, including the fact that some employees could “owe” Oracle vacation if they don’t have any saved up.

To recap: Oracle is closing its US offices for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. A lot of companies do that and it’s not a bad thing.

It ensures everyone gets vacation during a time when everyone pretty much wants to take vacation.

In its email to employees, which Business Insider has seen, the company explained that employees will still get Christmas and New Year’s as paid holidays, but Oracle is charging four days of vacation to cover the other days the company will close.

But here’s the catch: If an employee doesn’t already have four days of earned vacation in the kitty, they’ll wind up “owing” the company vacation hours. That’s what’s got some employees so upset.

One worker explained to us that a person who had worked at Oracle long enough to be earning maximum vacation pay, and who had no vacation days stored up at the end of the year, would need to work “just shy of 6 pay periods (3 months) to ‘pay back’ Oracle,” for the furlough days.

But we’ve also learned that Oracle isn’t exactly miserly about vacation time.

Vacation time doesn’t include sick days, for instance, we understand. Also, Oracle does limit accrued vacation, but it tops out at 184 hours, or a whopping 22.5 days, and employees can roll over all that accrued vacation from one year to the next.

In that email to employees, the company was straightforward that this was a way for the company to clear some off that accrued vacation liability off its books.

“The US closure is beneficial for employees and the business. The company is able to reduce expenses by decreasing the accrued vacation and employees enjoy a collective break,” Oracle’s email said.

Oracle isn’t alone in the furlough-for-vacation-days policies, either, we understand from reviews on Glassdoor.

Sergey Brin reportedly got one of only six brand new Teslas

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Google cofounder Sergey Brin
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Re/code, Asa Mathat

Google cofounder Sergey Brin seems be one of the lucky people taking home one of Tesla’s six brand-new electric SUVs.

At a splashy event Tuesday evening, Tesla CEO Elon Musk presented only five people with new Model X cars (he kept the first one for himself). When a woman took the fourth one, Musk was overhead saying “Stand in for Sergey?” Dana Hull at Bloomberg reports.

Brin, a friend of Musk and an early Tesla investor, has previously owned a Model S.

The first new Teslas are always nearly impossible to obtain.

Before the Model S came out, Tesla board member Steve Jurvetson carried a blank check in his wallet after spotting details about the upcoming car in a hefty Tesla information packet. Before the next board meeting started, he whipped out the check, filled out the price, and tossed it to Musk, he told Patrick May of the Mercury News in 2010.

Jurvetson managed to snag a Model X on Tuesday night, too.

The eagerly-awaited Model X seats seven (while also capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of cargo), and can hit 60 MPH in 3.2 seconds when in “Ludicrous Mode.” The car, which starts at $132,000, is on sale now, but the 25,000 pre-orders mean that even if you order one today, you’ll have to wait eight to 12 months before you’ll get it.

It was an automotive-filled day for Brin. Earlier on Tuesday, he made a presentation for the press about the progress of Google’s self-driving cars.

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hackers may have stolen credit-card information from Trump Hotels

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Facebook/TrumpNewYork

Trump Hotel Collection – owned by real estate mogul and current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination Donald Trump – have confirmedearlier reports of a cyberattack aimed at stealing the credit card information of customers.

“We are providing this notice out of an abundance of caution to inform potentially affected customers of the incident and to call their attention to some steps they may choose to take to help protect themselves,” the company said in a statement.

The hotel chain has warned that anybody who stayed at certain Trump Hotel locations in Chicago, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Toronto, Miami, and New York between May 19 and June 2 of this year may have had their credit-card data exposed to hackers.

The company said hackers snuck a virus into payment systems at several Trump Hotel destinations, potentially stealing customers’ credit-card data. The virus was located in point-of-sale systems such as credit-card machines. As customers typed their payment information into the machine, the virus may have quietly pulled the data as well, although the company cannot be sure that any data was actually stolen.

“An independent forensic investigation has not conclusively determined that any particular customer’s payment-card information was taken,” the company said.

Trump Hotel Collection is offering one year of free identity-fraud protection to any customers who may be affected by the hack.

This guy bought ‘Google.com’ from Google for one minute

Ex-Googler Sanmay Ved was the lucky buyer of “Google.com,” if only for a minute.

Ved told Business Insider that he was up late and searching Google Domains, Google’s website-buying service, when he noticed that Google.com was available.

Instead of a gray sad face that indicates a domain has an owner, the green happy face showed it was available.

The cost to buy the most-trafficked domain in the world? Only $12.

“I used to work at Google so I keep messing around with the product. I type in Google.com and to my surprise it showed it as available,” Ved told Business Insider. “I thought it was some error, but I could actually complete check out.”

Ved added it to his shopping cart and, surprisingly, the transaction went through.

Instead of receiving the normal “you bought a domain” emails from the company, his Google Search Console dashboard, which has an overview of his other websites, was updated with messages for the Google.com domain owner. He also received emails with internal information, which he has since reported to Google’s security team, Ved said.

“The scary part was I had access to the webmaster controls for a minute,” Ved said.

He frantically took screenshots along the way and detailed the whole ordeal in a LinkedIn post.

Google domains

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The messages that appeared in Sanmay Ved’s Google Search Console for Google.com.
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Sanmay Ved

His run of Google.com was short-lived though. Google Domains canceled the sale a minute later, saying someone had registered the site before he could, and refunded Ved the $12 that had already been charged.

“So for one minute I had access,” Ved said. “At least I can now say I’m the man who owned Google.com for a minute.”

Google sale

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Sanmay Ved

Ved is not sure what happened to allow him to purchase the site. It could have been a bug in Google Domains or the company simply failed to renew its domain name when the time came. A Google representative said they are looking into the issue, but aren’t currently noticing anything unusual.

Google’s not the first to run into weird domain problems. In 2003, Microsoft failed to renew its “Hotmail.co.uk” web address, and someone else bought it. While in Google’s case it was bought from Google itself and quickly canceled, Microsoft had to ask the buyer to return it to them.

While Ved’s control over Google.com may have been fleeting, he’s still surprised that his late-night searching led to actually buying the site. He has been a fan of the company since he worked there for 5 1/2 years before leaving to get his MBA. His profile picture on Facebook is just a picture of the Google Plus logo.

“I can’t shake that feeling that I actually owned Google.com,” Ved said.

The best emails from the US State Department’s massive Hillary Clinton document dump

The US State Department Wednesday released the latest batch of emails from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as US secretary of state.

There were several interesting revelations, including a bump in the number of classified emails that were a part of Clinton’s release, as well as an email about how Clinton was unhappy about the decision to make passport applications forms gender neutral.

As with the past several email dumps, most of the messages provide a behind-the-scenes look at the mostly benign and occasionally amusing exchanges among Clinton, her staff and confidants, and other government officials.

Here are some of the most interesting and amusing exchanges:

In an email with outgoing US Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), Clinton encouraged her former Senate colleague to persevere through a rough legislative session, referring to Harriet Tubman as her “home girl.”

Hillary Clinton email

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State Department

Clinton was also forced to give up during an attempt to call the White House after an operator did not believe that the caller was actually her.

Hillary Clinton email

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State Department

Driving in Long Island, Clinton repeatedly asked her aides which NPR affiliates broadcast on the island.

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State Department

Clinton aide Cheryl Mills forwarded Clinton talking points in case Clinton ran into comedian Ellen DeGeneres at a party in Los Angeles.

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State Department

Mills also forwarded Clinton an email rebutting reality-TV star Tim Gunn’s criticism of Clinton’s fashion choices.

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State Department

Clinton was keeping an eye on the politics of Sabra hummus.

hillary clinton emails

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State Department

Clinton was curious what FUBAR – an acronym that stands for “F—– up beyond all recognition” – meant.

fubar

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State Department

Confidant and ex-political aide Sid Blumenthal sent Clinton an email that referenced the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that Blumenthal said is aligned against her.

Hillary Clinton

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State Department

Asians — not Hispanics — are going to become the biggest immigrant group in the US

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Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California August 13, 2013.
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REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The Pew Research Center’s latest report on immigration suggests that the demographics of American immigration are going to see a big change in the coming years.

While Hispanics currently make up the largest piece of the American immigrant population, 47% in 2015, with Asians at a distant second with 26%, Pew projections see a swap coming.

The report projects that the Asian immigrant population will overtake the Hispanic population by 2055, reaching 38% in 2065 compared to a 31% Hispanic population.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: Asian immigrants have been immigrating to the states in bigger numbers than Hispanics for years now.

In 2008, Asian immigrants overtook Central and Southern Americans in terms of arrivals in the US within the past year.

Asian immigrants were also the most favored incoming immigrant group, according to an opinion poll in the same study. 47 percent of respondents felt that Asian immigrants had a mostly positive impact on American society

For more information, read the full study at Pew Hispanic.

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Pew Research Center

American manufacturing is in recession

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REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Here’s a bad thing: American manufacturing is in a recession.

On Wednesday, we got the latest data on manufacturing activity in the Midwest from the Chicago purchasing manager’s index reading, which unexpectedly showed that activity contracted in September. The Institute for Supply Management’s Milwaukee report on business also indicated a contraction in activity.

And Thursday’s data didn’t exactly help, with ISM’s national manufacturing index coming in at 50.2, still indicating expansion but the lowest reading for this measure since May 2013. Additionally, Markit’s manufacturing PMI remained near August’s 22-month low.

So, overall discouraging data.

But these were merely the latest in a series of indications that, broadly, the US manufacturing sector stinks right now.

In a note to clients Wednesday following the Chicago PMI report, analysts at TD Securities wrote that right now, all seven regional manufacturing PMIs have fallen in contractionary territory. The last two times this happened were in 2009 and 2001. At both of these points, the entire US economy was mired in recession.

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TD Securities

“The manufacturing sector has been like a sore thumb for the US economic recovery lately,” TD wrote Wednesday. “Since last year, this crucial sector has struggled to navigate against the headwinds coming from the collapse in global energy prices, the drag from the strengthening dollar on export activity and the weakening in global demand.”

Broadly, however, the economy appears to be doing broadly well, with US consumers driving the economy towards what is shaping up to be its best year since 2006. Additionally, the unemployment rate has plunged to pre-recession levels and job gains are still averaging around 200,000 a month.

On Wednesday, we looked at how the pressures weighing on exports – which, of course, are a major part of business for manufacturers – were a boon for US consumers. The strong dollar makes exports expensive for foreign buyers but gives US consumers additional purchasing power.

Additionally, the US manufacturing sector has really felt the squeeze from the crash in oil prices, which has brought activity in that sector way down, a reversal from the major stimulus seen during the shale revolution over the last few years.

But with the manufacturing sector accounting for just 12% of GDP – while consumer spending, in contrast, accounts for about two-thirds of GDP – TD doesn’t think the broader economy is headed toward a recession.

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FRED

“To be sure, it is not our belief that the US economy is in or about to enter a recession,” TD wrote Wednesday. “Our proprietary model indicates a 1% chance that the US economy is in a recession, and a 16% probability that it enters a recession in 6 months. The signal from the ISM manufacturing sector index, which we consider to be a far superior barometer on the health of US economic activity, has been equally encouraging.”

The firm does, however, expect that the ISM manufacturing reading will fall to 50 in September, showing an economy that is in neutral. Readings over 50 indicate expansion, below contraction.

And the disappointing regional readings do, in TD’s view, indicate downside.

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TD Securities

BREMMER: The risk of an accident between the US and Russia has gone ‘way up’

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US President Barack Obama (right) and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
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REUTERS/Andres Stapff

Russia’s move to begin airstrikes in Syria Wednesday – apparently against rebels unaffiliated with ISIS – could lead to a slew of unintended consequences, experts say.

The developments greatly increase the chances of a mix-up between Russian forces boosting the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the US-led coalition bombing ISIS-held targets in Syria on a daily basis.

And it further diminishes US influence in the region.

“The Russians have unilaterally imposed a military solution to ensure Assad stays in power, publicly defeating US stated Syria policy in so doing. That’s a clear win for Putin, especially putting the quiet – for now – Ukraine off the headlines,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider.

He added:

But they’ve also created conditions for expanded conflict in Syria. A stronger Assad without a Russian – or [international] – ground game against ISIS will lead to more conditions for ISIS recruitment. And while the US and Russia will engage in direct military talks to ‘deconflict’ any strikes, the chances for accidents go way up – especially given the many military members of the coalition. The US and allies will ignore Russian calls to avoid Syrian airspace the same way the Russians ignored the US on Assad.

Russia’s moves Wednesday constituted a major escalation of the 54-month civil war. It has the US searching for answers, apparently caught off guard by not only the strikes themselves – but how they were communicated to US officials.

On Wednesday, Russia gave the US little notice before bombing rebel groups fighting the regime of Assad, a close ally of Russia.

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Institute for the Study of War

“This morning a Russian 3-star general walked across street to the US embassy in Baghdad and told them ‘We bomb in 1 hour,” the BBC’s Paul Danahar tweeted. “‘Stay out of our way.'”

Senior US defense officials said a Russian official in Baghdad Wednesday morning informed US Embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying “anti-ISIL” missions Wednesday over Syria, using another name for ISIS.

The US officials also said the Russian official requested the US avoid Syrian airspace during these missions. The US officials, however, said the US-led coalition “will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned.”

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US Secretary of State John Kerry (right) with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
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REUTERS/Laurent Cipriani

So as the US-led coalition continues to bomb ISIS targets, Russia has begun bombing other rebel groups, including some backed by the West. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the two countries would have a military-led “deconfliction” meeting “soon,” possibly as early as Thursday.

But they’re bombing opposite sides in a fight, and it’s unclear what kind of coordination will come from that arrangement.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks back at U.S. President Barack Obama (L) as they arrive with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit plenary session.
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REUTERS/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool

“The Russians are primarily interested in shoring up Assad. They don’t want to take significant casualties – which would be extremely unpopular at home – and Putin himself has been very clear that only ground troops will defeat ISIS. Assad had been losing significant territory, though. That ends this week,” Bremmer told Business Insider.

He added: “Even without that, Russian forces will be striking Assad enemies, some of whom are directly supported by the US and its allies. That’s not a proxy war. It’s one step closer.”

I just used Microsoft’s version of the Apple Genius Bar and it was awesome

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The Microsoft Store in downtown San Francisco’s Westfield Mall.
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Matt Weinberger

The Microsoft Store gets a bad rap.

Every time Microsoft announces a soft quarter or a product fails to take off, analysts trip over themselves calling for the company to shut down all the stores.

But Microsoft has so far resisted. In fact, just today, Microsoft announced that its new flagship stores in New York City and Sydney, Australia will open on October 26th and November 12th, respectively.

I’m very glad that Microsoft is still taking the stores seriously: I stopped by the Microsoft Store in downtown San Francisco today for some laptop troubleshooting, and it turns out that it’s totally awesome.

Not a lot of people know this, but Microsoft actually has a tech support Answer Desk front-and-center in each of its stores. It’s a lot like the Apple Store’s legendary Genius Bar.

Laptop problems

My Lenovo Yoga 12 laptop, while great in many ways, has been driving me up a wall lately. It has completely lost the ability to use the built-in microphone, and sometimes randomly shuts itself down when I shut the lid.

I did some aggressive Googling, and tried Lenovo’s built-in diagnostic utilities, to absolutely no avail. But I had remembered hearing about the Answer Desk, and decided to give it a go.

What’s nice about the Microsoft Answer Desk is that they’ll help you out with your Windows computer no matter where or when you bought it. They can do anything from virus removal, to diagnosing problems, to troubleshooting technical issues like mine.

And, again, like the Genius Bar, basic help is free, though the Microsoft Store may ask you to drop $49 as a one-time fee for anything that requires a little more work, like fixing a hardware defect.

There’s also a $149/year Microsoft Assure subscription service that gives you unlimited in-store tech support, plus access to Microsoft Store classes for apps like Office and Adobe Photoshop.

Book a time online

I made an Answer Desk appointment online from the Microsoft website, which it turns out was actually the first one of the day. The store was pretty empty, though there was one college-age looking guy who walked right in and killed it at Just Dance 2016 for the Xbox One while I was there.

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A Microsoft Store Answer desk, in the San Francisco store.
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Matt Weinberger

A helpful greeter named Juan offered me a glass of water, which I gratefully accepted, and introduced me to Javier, a San Francisco State University student who was going to be my Answer Desk technician today.

Javier gingerly placed my laptop on a soft pad on the desk, and started working through it. We talked while he worked: He said that an average day at the Microsoft Store involves a lot more service than it does sales. In other words, it’s more important that they answer people’s questions than it is that they move a lot of product.

He also told me the interesting tidbit that the Microsoft Store helps people troubleshoot problems with Microsoft Office on any platform – meaning that Answer Desk techs work with a lot of Apple Macs on any given day. In fact, apparently the local Apple Store sends a lot of customers their way.

He theoretically solved the random shutdown problem that I was having by installing a new set of power management drivers, though I’ll have to use it more before I can safely say that it’s solved.

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Javier researching my problem on his work laptop.
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Matt Weinberger

The microphone issue proved a little trickier for Javier to solve. He installed a fresh set of drivers, but it still wouldn’t show up, leaving him to think that it was actually a piece of faulty hardware.

Support fee

The recommendation was that I leave my laptop with them for a few hours while they looked into it, which would entail that $49 support fee.

The plan was that Microsoft Store’s techs would open the laptop’s case and look under the hood. If it turned out to be a hardware defect, he would phone Lenovo to see if it was still in warranty. If it is, they would order the replacement part and install it for me.

They call this service “Warranty Concierge.” I had to decline for now, just because it’s my work machine and I’m writing this very post on the laptop in question.

But Javier scribbled down my laptop’s model number and serial on a piece of paper, and promised to be in touch via email if he found anything that could solve my problem. He also gave me his Microsoft e-mail address, in case I had any more questions or it turned out that installing the new power management drivers didn’t resolve my problem.

A few hours later, Javier got back to me with an e-mail informing me that my laptop was indeed within warranty, and they’d be happy to help me out setting up the repair:

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Matt Weinberger

It was a truly impressive and thorough level of service, above and beyond what I was expecting. It may not have the same ability that an Apple Store does to, say, offer you a replacement unit on the spot, but the Microsoft Store really seems like it goes the extra mile to make sure your problem gets fixed.

If Microsoft wants people to love Windows, having these Answer Desks is going to go a long way.

There have only been 2 episodes of ABC’s ‘The Muppets,’ but people already seem to be losing interest

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Singer Josh Groban guest starred on “The Muppets” second episode.
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ABC/Eric McCandless

“The Muppets” had a lot going for them going into their premiere last week and it paid off.

In its first week, it was the highest-rated new fall show of the season. What a difference a week makes. The show’s audience fled in its second week to the tune of 36% of its total viewers (9 million vs. 5.1 viewers) and 30% of its hold on the audience most desired by advertisers, adults aged 18 to 49 (2.9 vs. 2.0).

ABC poured a lot of marketing money into the show. The network disguised ads as juicy stories about Miss Piggy and Kermit’s romantic lives after breaking up with each other in Hollywood’s celebrity magazines.

It dispatched its most major stars (“Scandal’s” Kerry Washington, “Castle” leading man Nathan Fillion, and “The Middle’s” Patricia Heaton, among others) to help sell the show in promos.

Even major names like “Hunger Games” stars Liam Hemsworth and Elizabeth Banks, Reese Witherspoon, and Topher Grace have signed on to guest star on the show.

So, what happened?

This may be a case where a big marketing budget, curiosity, and nostalgia created too high of expectations. While critics collectively average an extremely positive 96% on Rotton Tomatoes, the audience score came in at just 80%. Metacritic’s score of 75% and IMDb’s 7.2/10 score appear more like it.

We’ll have to keep watching to see if “The Muppets” are able to stabilize their ratings next week.

Here are the mixed reactions people have had to the show so far on Twitter: