Start Up: the coming tech equity crash?, Trump’s wall collapse, ‘wireless iPhone charging’, and more


How do you decide a road’s ideal speed limit? The answer’s complicated. Photo by papanooms on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. That’s news. To someone. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Is every speed limit too low? • Priceonomics

Alex Mayyasi:

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Every year, traffic engineers review the speed limit on thousands of stretches of road and highway. Most are reviewed by a member of the state’s Department of Transportation, often along with a member of the state police, as is the case in Michigan. In each case, the “survey team” has a clear approach: they want to set the speed limit so that 15% of drivers exceed it and 85% of drivers drive at or below the speed limit. 

This “nationally recognized method” of setting the speed limit as the 85th percentile speed is essentially traffic engineering 101. It’s also a bit perplexing to those unfamiliar with the concept. Shouldn’t everyone drive at or below the speed limit? And if a driver’s speed is dictated by the speed limit, how can you decide whether or not to change that limit based on the speed of traffic?

The answer lies in realizing that the speed limit really is just a number on a sign, and it has very little influence on how fast people drive. “Over the years, I’ve done many follow up studies after we raise or lower a speed limit,” Megge tells us. “Almost every time, the 85th percentile speed doesn’t change, or if it does, it’s by about 2 or 3 mph.” 

As most honest drivers would probably concede, this means that if the speed limit on a highway decreases from 65 mph to 55 mph, most drivers will not drive 10 mph slower. But for the majority of drivers, the opposite is also true. If a survey team increases the speed limit by 10 mph, the speed of traffic will not shoot up 10 mph. It will stay around the same. Years of observing traffic has shown engineers that as long as a cop car is not in sight, most people simply drive at whatever speed they like. 

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There’s a lot more to it.
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Retailers foreshadow tech debt carnage • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide and Lisa Abramowicz:

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US retailers are dropping like flies. And it’s worth wondering whether the retail implosion could be a preview of potential pain for the technology industry. 

This year has brought a surge of retailers that are closing stores, slashing jobs and filing for bankruptcy protection in record numbers. The boom of online shopping and a glut of stores are common factors for the retail carnage.

The tipping point, however, was the private equity buyouts in recent years that left many retailers with debt that they couldn’t repay. Of the 19 companies on a Moody’s list of distressed retailers in February, 15 are owned or part-owned by private equity firms. Private equity didn’t kill these retailers, but they helped make the hangman’s noose. 

Some of the same ingredients that created the retail carnage are now present in technology, which became a surprise darling of private equity buyouts. Dell, BMC Software, Rackspace, Informatica and Marketo were among the tech companies purchased in recent years with private equity money and debt.

In the first quarter, about one in five private equity buyouts in the U.S. involved tech companies, according to data from PitchBook. That is far above the industry’s typical 10% to 15% share of U.S. private equity deals.

Silver Lake and other private equity firms have raised billions of dollars for even more technology buyouts. And the tech industry’s share of loans related to acquisitions and leveraged buyouts has risen by a factor of six since 2007, according to Barclays research published last fall.That’s not to say some of the buyouts in technology will blow up as they have in retail, but the industries have echoes.

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Squeaky bum time for Dell, one might have thought.
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Real-time expression transfer for facial reenactment • YouTube

Sounds mundane: you get a consumer-grade PC, a consumer-grade camera, and you can get the expressions of an actor to be mapped on to the TV picture of your target “speaker”.

The video has all sorts of nice ideas about how this could be used, but anyone with any scepticism will be seeing this as a tool for all sorts of misinformation and “watch the video if you don’t believe what this evil politician said”. And mis-misinformation, of course.

(Via Giuseppe Sollazzo.)
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How Trump gave up on his border wall • The New Yorker

Ryan Lizza:

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Last night, Trump officially gave up. During a White House reception with representatives from conservative media outlets, the President said that he could wait for the next spending battle, in September, to try to win financing for a real wall, rather than risk shutting down the government the week of his hundredth day in office. Late on Tuesday, Republicans in Congress followed Trump’s cue: according to a congressional aide with knowledge of the negotiations, the latest offer from Republicans to Democrats does not include money for the wall.

From a policy perspective, Trump’s reversal is welcome. There is no credible evidence that a twenty-two-hundred-mile physical wall is the best use of federal funds to deter unauthorized border crossings—never mind the message that a giant wall would send to the rest of the world. The members of Congress who know the issue the best think it’s a bad idea. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump’s request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall.” And if Trump’s retreat from insisting on wall money helps keep the government open, he should be applauded for being flexible.

But, from a political perspective, Trump has given members of Congress another reason not to trust his word.

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Sure, he can put it off to September. The question is, will anything have changed by then that will enable him to get anything through? Or will he be aiming much, much lower, and the talk of the wall will have subsided?
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‘Phony numbers and front groups’: Trump’s inaugural donor list contains massive evidence of fraud • Raw Story

Elizabeth Preza:

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In one case, Marion Forcht of Corbin, KY donated $50,000 to the president’s inaugural committee. His wife Terry also donated $50,000. Forcht owns Forcht Insurance Agency, with an estimated annual revenue of $134,500. In another, “GLM Development” donated $100,000 to the president—with an estimated revenue of $146,000. In yet another, Isabel T. John of Englewood, NJ donated $400,000. The problem? There’s no record she exists.

As the Intercept reports, Trump’s inaugural committee claimed it received $25,000 from NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson—a claim her power of attorney denies.

The Intercept also notes the filings reveal a $1m donation from American Action Network, which NBC describes as a “dark money power player”—an organization used to funnel money to campaigns while masking the identity of the donor. It also lists a $300,000 donation from Bennett LeBow, a businessman who partnered with Trump on a failed Moscow real estate venture.

Wilkie, with the help of a Twitter call to action, transferred the inaugural committee’s FEC filing to an open-source spreadsheet. Volunteers are working to verify the identities of Trump’s donors, and leaving comments on the document.

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This is very interesting – and looks like Christina Wilkie, who is leading the investigation through a giant open-sourced Google spreadsheet, is on to something.

Another example of crowdsourcing political action to shine light on what’s going on.
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Powermat CEO calls wireless charging a ‘standard feature in the next iPhone’ • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:

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Wireless charging is widely expected to be on one if not all new iPhone models later this year, and the CEO of a prominent wireless charging technology company appears to consider it a done deal. Powermat CEO Elad Dubzinski called wireless charging ‘a standard feature in the next iPhone’ ahead of any official iPhone 7s or iPhone 8 announcement.

Powermat’s CEO made the comment in an unrelated news release about the company gaining a new board chairman:

“With the recent announcement by Apple that wireless charging will become a standard feature in the next iPhone, we are finally at the threshold of mainstream adoption,” said Mr. Dubzinski.

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If Steve Jobs were still alive, Dubzinski would now be in the foundations of the new Apple building.
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Building something no one else can measure • [sriramk.com]

Siram Krishnan:

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Any large system picks a metric to goal itself on. Entire books and way-too-long Medium posts have been written on the importance of said metric – it influences everything from people’s incentives to how quickly you can optimize your business. In an organizational equivalent of Schrödinger’s cat, picking the metric itself can cause weird cultural distortion (see Goodhart’s Law).

Since it is near impossible to perfectly measure human behavior, most large teams/products pick a proxy metric to measure underlying behavior. For example – ‘clicks’ are a proxy for “did I read this?” and “will I buy this product sometime in the future?”, ‘time spent’ is a proxy for “did I enjoy this content?” and NPS is often a substitute for “do I love this company?”. You convert a nebulous human emotion/behavior to a quantifiable metric you can align execution on and stick on a graph and measure teams on. Engineers and data scientists can’t do anything with “this makes people feel warm and fuzzy”. They can do a lot with “this feature improves metric X by 5% week-over-week”. Figuring out the connection between the two is often the art and science of product management.

This is where opportunities arise for startups and insurgents.

These metrics never really capture the underlying human emotion or behavior they are trying to measure. To make things more interesting, they almost always create secondary behavior which makes the metric go up but in a way the system designers didn’t anticipate or want.

For example, in terms of what designers wanted, what they built/measured and what they unintentionally caused:

• Quality journalism → Measure Clicks → Creation of click-bait content
• Whether an ad resonates with a human being → measure how long someone saw an ad → varied tactics to game people into seeing an ad.

If you take this outside tech, you could vaguely apply this framework to broader issues.

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link to this extract


The Guardian is getting 60% of its Google mobile traffic from AMP – Digiday

Lucia Moses:

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AMP has gradually been taking over the Guardian’s mobile traffic; today, 60% of its Google mobile traffic is AMP, well above the 10% to 15% that publishers have been getting from AMP, according to a recent estimate by SEO consulting company Define Media.

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Note that the first clause in the sentence isn’t backed up by the second. We don’t know how much of the Guardian’s mobile traffic is Google mobile traffic.

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…implementing AMP hasn’t been without hiccups, which [Guardian developer Natalia] Baltazar also detailed. Developer glitches can lead AMP pages to be invalid, which costs them the speed benefit of AMP pages. In one example, the Guardian added a Facebook Messenger share button to pages before that feature had been AMP-approved.

“You can’t imagine how easy it is to invalidate an AMP page,” she said.

Pages can also become invalid when journalists embed elements that aren’t AMP-ready in articles. This happened during the U.S. presidential election, when, on the Guardian’s biggest traffic day of the year, its top story was invalid. “We have limited control over what a journalist might embed,” Baltazar said.

The AMP development team now keeps track of whether AMP traffic drops suddenly, which might indicate pages are invalid, and it can react quickly.

All this adds expense, though. There are setup, development and maintenance costs associated with AMP, mostly in the form of time. After implementing AMP, the Guardian realized the project needed dedicated staff, so it created an 11-person team that works on AMP and other aspects of the site, drawing mostly from existing staff.

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That seems like a big effort for something finicky. But the Guardian has pulled out of Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News; it’s all in on Google AMP.
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Wikitribune: evidence-based journalism

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In most news sites, the community tends to hang at the bottom of articles in comments that serve little purpose. We believe the community can play a more important role in news. Wikitribune puts community at the top, literally.

Articles are authored, fact-checked, and verified by professional journalists and community members working side by side as equals, and supported not primarily by advertisers, but by readers who care about good journalism enough to become monthly supporters.

Wikitribune is transparent about the way it operates and will publish its financials regularly. With Wikitribune your support will have more impact as most of the funds are used for paying journalists rather than expensive offices.

On that note, if we don’t reach our goal, of 10 journalists hired, we will refund all our supporters (minus transaction fees).

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As has been pointed out elsewhere, Jimmy Wales (who is behind this) is also on the board of The Guardian’s parent group – which is also calling for voluntary contributions to help pay its journalists. The writing at The Guardian isn’t crowdfunded, but it’s pretty well known.

The puzzle is why Wikipedia can’t be the news source, since it gets updates to events very fast, and does that without journalists. Also, news is short-lived; its value vanishes within moments, whereas Wikipedia’s value lies in its longevity.
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“Mindless Eating,” or how to send an entire life of research into question • Ars Technica

Cathleen O’Grady:

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Things began to go bad late last year when [Brian] Wansink posted some advice for grad students on his blog. The post, which has subsequently been removed (although a cached copy is available), described a grad student who, on Wansink’s instruction, had delved into a data set to look for interesting results. The data came from a study that had sold people coupons for an all-you-can-eat buffet. One group had paid $4 for the coupon, and the other group had paid $8.

The hypothesis had been that people would eat more if they had paid more, but the study had not found that result. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, publishing null results like these is important—failure to do so leads to publication bias, which can lead to a skewed public record that shows (for example) three successful tests of a hypothesis but not the 18 failed ones. But instead of publishing the null result, Wansink wanted to get something more out of the data.

“When [the grad student] arrived,” Wansink wrote, “I gave her a data set of a self-funded, failed study which had null results… I said, ‘This cost us a lot of time and our own money to collect. There’s got to be something here we can salvage because it’s a cool (rich & unique) data set.’ I had three ideas for potential Plan B, C, & D directions (since Plan A had failed).”

The responses to Wansink’s blog post from other researchers were incredulous, because this kind of data analysis is considered an incredibly bad idea. As this very famous xkcd strip explains, trawling through data, running lots of statistical tests, and looking only for significant results is bound to turn up some false positives. This practice of “p-hacking”—hunting for significant p-values in statistical analyses—is one of the many questionable research practices responsible for the replication crisis in the social sciences.

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O’Grady’s article is not short. But it is very, very informative.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: ‘heartbreak’ monetisation, Chrome’s blockers, Trump’s lying success, and more


Spotify’s hardware probably won’t look like this. So what will it look like? Photo by Blixt A on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. But in which number base? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spotify to launch hardware, cites Alexa and Snapchat • Zatz Not Funny!

Dave Zatz:

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A trusted source indicates that Spotify, the highly regarded music streaming service, will soon follow in Snapchat’s footsteps with a foray into hardware. While details on the upcoming “wearable” were not provided, several job listings seemingly provide clues.

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Job 1: sr product manager – hardware:

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join the Platform & Partner Experience team working to build frictionless and creative Spotify experiences via fully-connected hardware devices. You will be leading an initiative to deliver hardware directly from Spotify to existing and new customers; a category defining product akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles. You will define the product requirements for internet-connected hardware, the software that powers it, and work with suppliers/manufacturers to deliver the optimal Spotify experience to millions of users.

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Job 2: product manager – voice:

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responsible for the strategy and execution of Spotify’s voice efforts beyond our core apps. Our tribe is responsible for all Spotify consumer experiences outside of Spotify’s core iOS and Android applications. We focus on areas like desktop, TVs, speakers, cars, wearables, headphones and partner application integrations to make Spotify available wherever our users are.

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I’m tempted to say that Spotify has decided to find more ways to lose money, but hardware could actually be a clever way to lock people in to the ecosystem. Worked for Apple.
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We can do better • Unroll.me

Jojo Hedaya is CEO of the company which was revealed to be gathering data from everyone signed up to its service so it could resell it to companies such as Uber:

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Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.

And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough…

…I can’t stress enough the importance of your privacy. We never, ever release personal data about you. All data is completely anonymous and related to purchases only. To get a sense of what this data looks like and how it is used, check out the Slice Intelligence blog.

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This is probably the most hilarious use of “heartbreaking” ever. (Unroll.me offers to “clean up your inbox. Instantly see a list of all your subscription emails. Unsubscribe easily from whatever you don’t want.” Nothing in its FAQ about selling your data.
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Uber loses another top executive as Marakby departs • Automotive News

Katie Burke:

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Sherif Marakby, vice president of global vehicle programs at Uber, left his post at the ride-hailing company on Monday.

Marakby, 51, who joined Uber in April 2016 after a 25-year career at Ford Motor Co., helped the tech company launch its self-driving ride-hailing pilot program in Pittsburgh. A source close the matter said Marakby will be taking a break before deciding what comes next.

“Self-driving is one of the most interesting challenges I’ve worked on in my career, and I’m grateful to have contributed  to what will soon be a safer future for everyone,” Marakby said in a statement.

Marakby’s move to Uber after serving as Ford’s director of global electronics and engineering was viewed as a merger between legacy automakers and the Silicon Valley upstarts looking to transform the industry.

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“Unrelated to the Waymo lawsuit”, per statement. That suggests things are even worse than you think.
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Demo • Lyrebird

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Lyrebird will offer an API to copy the voice of anyone. It will need as little as one minute of audio recording of a speaker to compute a unique key defining her/his voice. This key will then allow to generate anything from its corresponding voice. The API will be robust enough to learn from noisy recordings. The following sample illustrates this feature, the samples are not cherry-picked.

Please note that those are artificial voices and they do not convey the opinions of Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

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This is all getting slightly worrying.
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How Trump succeeds without succeeding • POLITICO Magazine

Michael Kruse:

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He flopped as an owner of a professional football team, effectively killing not only his own franchise but the league as a whole. He blew up his first marriage, married his mistress, and then divorced her, too. He bankrupted his casinos five times over the course of nearly 20 years. His eponymous airline existed for less than three years and ended up almost a quarter of a billion dollars in debt. And he has slapped his surname on a practically never-ending sequence of duds and scams (Trump Ice bottled water, Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks, Trump magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump University—for which he settled a class-action fraud lawsuit earlier this year for $25m). Other risk-taking businessmen might periodically cop to falling short while pivoting to what’s next. Not Trump. He has dealt with his roster of losses largely by refusing to acknowledge them as anything other than wins.

More than a belief in the power of positive thinking or the casual audacity of a tireless salesman, Trump has perfected a narrative style in which he doesn’t merely obscure reality—he tries to change it with pronouncements that act like blaring, garish roadside billboards. Unrelenting in telling his own story, he has defined himself as a success no matter what—by talking the loudest and the longest, and by insisting on having the first word and also the last. And it’s worked. Again and again, throughout his adult life, Trump in essence has managed to succeed without actually succeeding.

This, not his much-crowed-about deal-making prowess, is Trump’s most singular skill, I’ve heard in more than a dozen recent interviews.

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Kruse also finds that some people think he’s going to continue doing this – and that for some people, that will be enough to indicate that he has succeeded, facts be damned.
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Transcript of AP interview with Trump • Associated Press

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A transcript of an Oval Office interview Friday with President Donald Trump by AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace. Where the audio recording of the interview is unclear, ellipses or a notation that the recording was unintelligible are used…

…AP: Do you feel like you’ve been able to apply that kind of a relationship [as you had with the Italian prime minister] to your dealings with Congress as well?

TRUMP: I have great relationships with Congress. I think we’re doing very well and I think we have a great foundation for future things. We’re going to be applying, I shouldn’t tell you this, but we’re going to be announcing, probably on Wednesday, tax reform. And it’s — we’ve worked on it long and hard. And you’ve got to understand, I’ve only been here now 93 days, 92 days. President Obama took 17 months to do Obamacare. I’ve been here 92 days but I’ve only been working on the health care, you know I had to get like a little bit of grounding right? Health care started after 30 day(s), so I’ve been working on health care for 60 days. …You know, we’re very close. And it’s a great plan, you know, we have to get it approved.

AP: Is it this deal that’s between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus, is that the deal you’re looking at?

TRUMP: So the Republican Party has various groups, all great people. They’re great people. But some are moderate, some are very conservative. The Democrats don’t seem to have that nearly as much. You know the Democrats have, they don’t have that. The Republicans do have that. And I think it’s fine. But you know there’s a pretty vast area in there. And I have a great relationship with all of them. Now, we have government not closing. I think we’ll be in great shape on that. It’s going very well. Obviously, that takes precedent.

AP: That takes precedent over health care? For next week?

TRUMP: Yeah, sure. Next week. Because the hundred days is just an artificial barrier. The press keeps talking about the hundred days. But we’ve done a lot. You have a list of things. I don’t have to read it.

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Lots of this is nonsense, or nonsensical. Trump hasn’t got any sort of consensus among Republicans about what to do on health care, and the clock is ticking – this week is the deadline – towards a government shutdown. Reading the whole thing is to gain an insight into someone who misrepresents, forgets, or just ignores reality.

Might work in business. Don’t see how it can work with a gigantic legislature that can block what you do.
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35% of Google Chrome users blocking ads on desktop • GlobalWebIndex Blog

Katie Young:

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Rumors emerged last week that Google could be planning to add default ad-blocker functionality to its mobile and desktop versions of Chrome – a move that could potentially halt the growth of third-party options and give Google more control over the definition of what is an ‘acceptable ad’.

GlobalWebIndex’s research shows that Chrome is by far the most popular desktop web browser at a global level. And usage of ad-blockers has taken off among its users: over a third of those who use the desktop version of Chrome are currently blocking ads on their main computers, with figures on or above the 30% mark in all the 5 regions.

Clearly, then, this move by Google could resonate with a large section of its user base. And there is another key aspect here – mobile. Mobile ad-blocking has been slower to take off in the West, but it’s not hard to see how default ad-blocking in a mobile browser as popular as Chrome could be a game-changer here.

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Looking at that graphic, it looks more like Google wanting to ensure that in fact the ads that get blocked aren’t theirs – because at the moment I bet a lot of that 40% in the US (and nearly the same in Europe) hits them. So ironically an adblocker would mean more of Google’s ads being shown.
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School Cuts • National Union of Teachers

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SCHOOLS URGENTLY NEED MORE FUNDING

Unless the Government allocates more money, schools will lose £3bn a year in real terms by 2020.

Search below for data on your local school.

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The About page explains that

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We used published Department for Education data to calculate cuts to England’s primary and secondary schools over this Parliament, 2015 — 2020.

Using the 2015/16 funding as the baseline, we calculated the impact of the cash freeze on the amount of funding for each pupil, the proposed cut to the Education Services Grant and the proposed introduction of a National Funding Formula.

The calculations were made using the following evidence:

That the national funding formula due to be introduced in April 2018 will be that proposed by the Secretary of State on Wednesday 14 December 2016.
That inflation for schools will amount to 8.7% over the lifetime of this Parliament. This figure is in “Financial sustainability of schools” published by the National Audit Office on 14 December 2016.
That the Government will cut the Education Services Grant (ESG) by 75%, as George Osborne announced in the 2015 Autumn Statement.
We have only measured the ESG cut to academy and free school budgets. For all other schools, the ESG goes to the local authority to fund services for schools. These services are now being cut.

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This makes all the noise about grammar schools look like exactly that – noise. Distracting noise from a much quieter but more important topic.
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Unite against the Tories • Tactical 2017

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UNITE AGAINST THE TORIES

Most constituencies can only be realistically contested by two parties.
This site shows which way you should vote on 8th June to prevent the Tories from getting into power again.

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With this you choose your location, and hence your constituency, and it suggests how you should vote. It’s based on a spreadsheet.

What seems interesting to me is that we now have multiple efforts to create tactical voting systems which are driven from the grassroots. (This is by David Kitchen, who I think is a centrist Labour activist.)
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I spent two hours with a mobile video genius and learned 26 useful things • Fluxx Studio Notes

Tom Whitwell:

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14. Put your finger over the camera lens and film a few seconds of fuzzy red to make a more interesting background for titles than the default black. Try filming the sky through a shirt, the sun through a leaf, or a blurry closeup of a TV or laptop screen.

15. Just before filming, clean your camera lens, then tap and hold the focal point on your iPhone screen to lock the exposure and focus.

17. For many people the word ‘interview’ means a stressful job application process or a politician being interrogated on TV. “Could we talk… do you mind if I video this?” might work better.

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These are all terrific, though I’d never come over 14 above (it’s brilliant). If you have to video, this is the video you want to do.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: re coal, Germany and Poland have more coal plants than the UK in Europe (Turkey also uses more than the UK). The graph in yesterday’s post came from this Bloomberg article, which makes the point that Germany isn’t phasing out coal as fast as could be hoped; the UK aims to get rid of it by 2025.

Start Up: the sadness of Facebook, why US retail is collapsing, ignoring robots.txt, and more


Your mouse movements can distinguish you – and machine learning will pick it up. Photo by 4lfie on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Yeah, it’s Monday, deal with it. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Uber responds to report that it tracked users who deleted its app • TechCrunch

Kate Conger:

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Will Strafach, the president of Sudo Security Group, analyzed a version of Uber’s app from late 2014 and discovered code that he says reveals how Uber tracked its users’ devices.

“They were dynamically loading IOKit.framework (a private framework), then dynamically loading some symbols from it to iterate through the device registry (also very much forbidden). They have code to nab a few things from the registry, but the only persistent identifier they actually use appears to be the device Serial Number,” Strafach told TechCrunch in an email. “I believe that in iOS 9 and beyond, this is blocked by the iOS sandbox. Just to clarify, this also shows the initial concern of ‘tracking after uninstall’ was bad phrasing. The case here is tracking between uninstall/reinstall, which is still a privacy violation as Apple forbids this kind of tracking (that is why they removed the APIs for getting device UDID).”

In order to prevent Apple engineers from discovering the fingerprinting, Uber allegedly geofenced Apple’s Cupertino headquarters to hide the code used in the process. But Apple engineers based in other offices discovered the trick, according to the New York Times and confirmed by TechCrunch, leading Cook to summon Kalanick to his office in early 2015…

…Uber told TechCrunch that it still uses a form of device fingerprinting in order to detect fraudulent behavior. If a device has been associated with fraud in the past, a new sign-up from that device should raise a red flag, an Uber spokesperson said. Uber suggested that the practice of fingerprinting was modified to comply with Apple’s rules rather than discontinued altogether.

“We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app. As the New York Times story notes towards the very end, this is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone—over and over again.

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Uber’s CEO plays with fire • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:

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A blindness to boundaries is not uncommon for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. But in Mr. Kalanick, that led to a pattern of repeatedly going too far at Uber, including the duplicity with Apple [where it had monitored phones even after its app was deleted – a trick that led Tim Cook to summon him and warn him Uber could be thrown out of the App Store], sabotaging competitors and allowing the company to use a secret tool called Greyball to trick some law enforcement agencies.

That quality also extended to his personal life, where Mr. Kalanick mixes with celebrities like Jay Z and businessmen including President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn. But it has alienated some Uber executives, employees and advisers. Mr. Kalanick, with salt-and-pepper hair, a fast-paced walk and an iPhone practically embedded in his hand, is described by friends as more at ease with data and numbers (some consider him a math savant) than with people.

Uber is grappling with the fallout. For the last few months, the company has been reeling from allegations of a machismo-fueled workplace where managers routinely overstepped verbally, physically and sometimes sexually with employees. Mr. Kalanick compounded that image by engaging in a shouting match with an Uber driver in February, an incident recorded by the driver and then leaked online. (Mr. Kalanick now has a private driver.)

The damage has been extensive. Uber’s detractors have started a grass-roots campaign with the hashtag #deleteUber. Executives have streamed out. Some Uber investors have openly criticized the company.

Mr. Kalanick’s leadership is at a precarious point.

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Plenty of examples in this well-sourced piece about Kalanick breaking the rules multiple times, right from his very first startup (which wasn’t Uber).
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Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: a longitudinal study • American Journal of Epidemiology

Holly Shakya and Nicholas Christakis:

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We investigated the associations of Facebook activity and real-world social network activity with self-reported physical health, self-reported mental health, self-reported life satisfaction, and body mass index.

Our results showed that overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being. For example, a 1-standard-deviation increase in “likes clicked” (clicking “like” on someone else’s content), “links clicked” (clicking a link to another site or article), or “status updates” (updating one’s own Facebook status) was associated with a decrease of 5%–8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health.

These associations were robust to multivariate cross-sectional analyses, as well as to 2-wave prospective analyses. The negative associations of Facebook use were comparable to or greater in magnitude than the positive impact of offline interactions, which suggests a possible tradeoff between offline and online relationships.

«

Happy Monday everyone!
link to this extract


Data science of the Facebook world • Stephen Wolfram blog

»

More than a million people have now used our Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. And as part of our latest update, in addition to collecting some anonymized statistics, we launched a Data Donor program that allows people to contribute detailed data to us for research purposes.

A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing all this data. And I have to say that if nothing else it’s been a terrific example of the power of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language for doing data science. (It’ll also be good fodder for the Data Science course I’m starting to create.)

We’d always planned to use the data we collect to enhance our Personal Analytics system. But I couldn’t resist also trying to do some basic science with it.

«

Lots of graphs, especially about what topics that people discuss, gradated by age.
link to this extract


Police now using facial recognition to spot jaywalkers in Shenzhen • That’s Shenzhen

Bailey Hu:

»

Collective jaywalking is so common in Chinese cities that netizens have dubbed it ‘the Chinese style of crossing the road.’ In an attempt to fight the phenomenon, Shenzhen police recently installed new facial recognition technology at an intersection in Futian District.

The setup, which includes a electronic display board as well as cameras, began operation at the intersection of Xinzhou Lu and Lianhua Lu on April 15. The location has long been popular among pedestrians, in large part because it’s close to Shenzhen’s Peking University Hospital.

The ‘intelligent pedestrian jaywalking evidence collecting system’ operates 24 hours a day. It captures images of jaywalkers’ faces, which then go on the display board for all to see. The system also saves the pictures, which theoretically allows it to recognize repeat offenders over time and even search for their identities through linkups to other government databases.

«

I’d suspect there’s less real facial recognition and more shaming by putting pictures up going on here.
link to this extract


Mirabook is another crowdfunded attempt to turn a smartphone into a laptop • The Verge

»

There has been no end of attempts to turn smartphones into full-blown computers. Last year’s Kickstarter sensation, the Superbook, still hasn’t shipped. Windows Continuum didn’t save Windows Phone. Samsung DeX seems like a fun novelty. And who can forget Motorola’s Lapdock?

The Mirabook is another Indiegogo campaign in that vein, but it offers some flexibility that might make it an exception to the rule of failure — if it ever ships, of course. The laptop has a 1080p 13.3-inch display, a keyboard, a yet-to-be-determined battery (a 24-hour battery life is listed as a “stretch goal” at the $3m funding mark), and it plugs into your phone over USB-C for brains. A touchscreen and backlit keyboard are also potential additions.

«

It has passed its (unambitious?) $50,000 goal, with $70k from 358 backers – that’s about $200 each on average. Also: pointless. We can store everything we need in the cloud now, and log in to any convenient system, or just carry a tablet.
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The great retail apocalypse of 2017 • The Atlantic

Derek Thompson:

»

why is this meltdown happening while wages for low-income workers are rising faster than any time since the 1990s?

First, although rising wages are obviously great for workers and the overall economy, they can be difficult for low-margin companies that rely on cheap labor—like retail stores. Cashiers and retail salespeople are the two largest job categories in the country, with more than 8 million workers between them, and the median income for both occupations is less than $25,000 a year. But recently, new minimum-wage laws and a tight labor market have pushed up wages for the poorest workers, squeezing retailers who are already under pressure from Amazon.

Second, clothing stores have declined as consumers shifted their spending away from clothes toward traveling and dining out. Before the Great Recession, people bought a lot of stuff, like homes, furniture, cars, and clothes, as retail grew dramatically in the 1990s. But something big has changed. Spending on clothes is down—its share of total consumer spending has declined by 20% this century.

What’s up? Travel is booming. Hotel occupancy is booming. Domestic airlines have flown more passengers each year since 2010, and last year U.S. airlines set a record, with 823 million passengers. The rise of restaurants is even more dramatic.

«

link to this extract


How Intel makes a chip • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin and Ian King with an in-depth look which covers all sorts of elements (including hafnium – which “doesn’t occur in nature”):

»

Shrinking the transistors is only part of the challenge. Another is managing an ever more complex array of interconnects, the crisscrossing filaments that link the transistors to one another. The Xeon features 13 layers of copper wires, some thinner than a single virus, made by etching tiny lines into an insulating glass and then depositing metal in the slots. Whereas transistors have tended to get more efficient as they’ve shrunk, smaller wires by their nature don’t. The smaller they are, the less current they carry.

The man in charge of the Xeon E5’s wiring is Kevin Fischer, a midlevel Intel engineer who sat down in his Oregon lab in early 2009 with a simple goal: Fix the conductivity of two of the most densely packed layers of wires, known as Metal 4 and Metal 6. Fischer, 45, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, started the way Intel researchers usually do, by scouring the academic literature. Intel already used copper, one of the most conductive metals, so he decided to focus on improving the insulators, or dielectrics, which tend to slow down the current moving through the wires. One option would be to use new insulators that are spongier and thus create less drag. But Fischer suggested replacing the glass with nothing at all. “Air is the ultimate dielectric,” he says, as if stunned by the elegance of his solution. The idea worked. Metal layers 4 and 6 now move 10% faster.

«

Plenty more like that.
link to this extract


Robots.txt meant for search engines don’t work well for web archives • Internet Archive

Mark Graham:

»

Over time we have observed that the robots.txt files that are geared toward search engine crawlers do not necessarily serve our archival purposes. Internet Archive’s goal is to create complete “snapshots” of web pages, including the duplicate content and the large versions of files.

We have also seen an upsurge of the use of robots.txt files to remove entire domains from search engines when they transition from a live web site into a parked domain, which has historically also removed the entire domain from view in the Wayback Machine. In other words, a site goes out of business and then the parked domain is “blocked” from search engines and no one can look at the history of that site in the Wayback Machine anymore. We receive inquiries and complaints on these “disappeared” sites almost daily.

A few months ago we stopped referring to robots.txt files on U.S. government and military web sites for both crawling and displaying web pages (though we respond to removal requests sent to info@archive.org). As we have moved towards broader access it has not caused problems, which we take as a good sign. We are now looking to do this more broadly.  

We see the future of web archiving relying less on robots.txt file declarations geared toward search engines, and more on representing the web as it really was, and is, from a user’s perspective.

«

This initially looks like good news. But others have pointed out that if you ignore robots.txt, you can be accused (it much be a stretch) of denial of service; and that it’s not good. So this seems to hang more in the balance than the IA’s post might suggest.
link to this extract


Huawei CEO speaks on P10 memory + screen issues • Android Central

Alex Dobie:

»

Huawei CBG (Consumer Business Group) CEO Richard Yu reached out on social network Weibo to address the issue, while also commenting on our biggest gripe with the P10, its lack of oleophobic coating on the display.

On memory speeds, Yu blamed a “serious shortage” of faster UFS 2.0 and 2.1 chips in the supply chain, which apparently led to Huawei having to fall back on slower, but more readily available eMMC 5.1 memory in some units. Now, it’s true that Huawei never included UFS on the P10’s spec sheet. However, customers could be forgiven for assuming the P10’s specs would line up with the Mate 9, a phone which shares the same Kirin 960 platform and was promoted as using speedy UFS 2.1 storage.

Yu insists that real-world performance isn’t impacted by the use of slower memory in some P10s, saying “a good real-life performance and experience” is maintained thanks to Huawei’s hardware and software optimizations.

As for why the P10 doesn’t have an oleophobic coating on the display — the smudge-resistant layer used in all other flagship phones to deter the buildup of smudges and grease — well, apparently a combination of Gorilla Glass 5 and static electricity is to blame. According to the Engadget report, Yu said that the touch panel in the phone’s Gorilla Glass 5 display had problems with the original oleophobic coating technique, where static buildup would interfere with the touch sensor.

«

But don’t worry! Newer batches will have the coating, and you can get one on your already-bought P10 by visiting any Huawei store. (Operational note: all Huawei stores are based in China.)
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Splunk and Tensorflow for security: catching the fraudster with behavior biometrics • Splunk blog

Gleb Esman is in charge of anti-fraud products, on an experiment to track mouse movements to distinguish users on a finance portal:

»

[The] Second task was more challenging. We wanted to determine how suitable deep learning approach may be in recognizing the individual user by his/her mouse movements.

We also added extra difficulties to this task to make it more realistic:
– The data set size for the task was extremely small: we had only 360(180+180 per class) images for training + 180(90+90 per class) images for validation. In the world of deep learning – this is *extremely* small dataset.
– We had one set of 180 training images representing mouse activity of a specific user – a portal member. Another set of 180 images belong to other people.
– “Other” people were also members of a portal.
– “Other” people exhibited very similar activity and behavior across the portal.
– “Other” people were using devices with dimensions that are similar to the first member – which means physical activity with mouse input device was as close as possible to the first member.

With all these conditions our neural network was facing very challenging task of recognizing an individual human only by his/her mouse movements after training on a very limited data set to begin with.

«

Got to 78% validation almost immediately. I get a sense that our machines will be monitoring us all the time in the future.
link to this extract


Britain is about to have its first day without coal • Bloomberg

Anna Hirtenstein and Andrew Reierson:

»

The U.K. is headed for its first full day without burning coal to make electricity since the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago, according to grid operator National Grid Plc.

“Great Britain has never had a continuous 24 hour period without #coal. Today is looking like it could be the first,” the National Grid control room’s Twitter account posted on Friday.

The U.K. was an early adopter of renewable energy and has more offshore wind turbines installed than any other country, as well as fields of solar panels with as much capacity at seven nuclear reactors. The government aims to switch off all coal plants by 2025.

Neighboring countries have similar agendas and energy companies across the continent closing and converting coal-burners at a record pace. Europe’s use of the most polluting fossil fuel is drying up quicker than many expected.

“A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again,” Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace U.K., said in an email.

«

The UK has far more coal plants and generation than other European countries:


link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: should Facebook forget, Google’s adblock plans, Trump’s 90-day mark, is Bose listening?, and more


Imagine a tumble dryer that dries with sound and doesn’t get hot. It exists. Photo by CarbonNYC on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Don’t worry, there’s reading. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Build a better monster: morality, machine learning, and mass surveillance • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski, in a speech (and piece) from which this is only a smidgen of the many great ideas: that social networks and Google should dump the data about us more quickly:

»

The online world forces individuals to make daily irrevocable decisions about their online footprint.

Consider the example of the Women’s March. The March was organized on Facebook, and 3-4 million people attended. The list of those who RSVP’d is now stored on Facebook servers and will be until the end of time, or until Facebook goes bankrupt, or gets hacked, or bought by a hedge fund, or some rogue sysadmin decides that list needs to be made public.

Any group that uses Facebook to organize comes up against this problem. But keeping this data around forever is not central to Facebook’s business model. The algorithms Facebook uses for targeting favor recency; and their output won’t drastically change if Facebook forgets what you were doing three months or three years ago.

We need the parts of these sites that are used heavily for organizing, like Google Groups or Facebook event pages, to become more ephemeral. There should be a user-configurable time horizon after which messages and membership lists in these places evaporate. These features are sometimes called ‘disappearing’, but there is nothing furtive about it. Rather, this is just getting our software to more faithfully reflect human life.

«

This is all worth reading, especially for his description of how he thought Pacman should be played as a child.
link to this extract


Google plans adblocking feature in popular Chrome browser • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

»

The ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web.

Google could announce the feature within weeks, but it is still ironing out specific details and still could decide not to move ahead with the plan, the people said.

Unacceptable ad types would be those recently defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that released a list of ad standards in March. According to those standards, ad formats such as pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and “prestitial” ads with countdown timers are deemed to be “beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability.”

In one possible application Google is considering, it may choose to block all advertising that appears on sites with offending ads, instead of the individual offending ads themselves. In other words, site owners may be required to ensure all of their ads meet the standards, or could see all advertising across their sites blocked in Chrome.

«

This has been rumbling for some time. Here was Lara O’Reilly at Business Insider in May 2016:

»

Google is exploring the creation of an “acceptable ads policy” that appears to suggest it wants to create an industry-standard for online ad formats.

Several executives with knowledge of these discussions confirmed to Business Insider that Google has been looking at spearheading such a policy. Google has been meeting with several companies and industry trade bodies to discuss how it might be implemented in practice. Whatever form it takes will likely lean heavily on new research Google is due to publish in the coming weeks about the types of ads consumers find unacceptable.

«

The antitrust implications are huge. Chrome is the dominant browser, worldwide (outside China). Google can get outside organisations to decide “acceptable ads”, but if it’s choosing which organisation feeds its whitelist – and there will be a whitelist – then it has a clear conflict of interest. Any ad definition that would block a Google ad won’t be allowed. This will require transparency on a huge scale.

But this looks like Google getting out ahead of the curve. Adblocking is a problem; it’s the equivalent of pop-up windows back at the start of the century, which browser makers all moved to block pretty fast. (Remember the X10?)
link to this extract


Trump’s claim that ‘no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days’ • The Washington Post

Glenn Kessler:

»

The first 100 days of a presidency mark a rather artificial milestone, but one by which all presidents have been measured since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s whirlwind of action when he took office in the midst of the Great Depression. President Trump appears especially conscious of this marker. During the presidential campaign, he even issued a list of 60 promises that he said he would fulfill in his first 100 days.

We’ve been tracking Trump’s promises, and so far he has not even taken action on 60 percent of the promises — and he’s broken five of them, such as his pledge to label China as a currency manipulator.

Yet here’s the president declaring that he has accomplished more in his first 90 days than any previous president. So how does he stack up?

«

The “promise tracker” is pretty good.
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The continuing fallout from Trump and Nunes’s fake scandal • The New Yorker

Ryan Lizza:

»

As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

«

I’m sure this will all be explained fully and everyone will own up to their part in what went on.
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In the duopoly’s shadow, Apple News is finding favor with some publishers • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

»

If publishers are down on Facebook Instant Articles, they’re increasingly effusive about Apple News as a platform partner.

Apple News, a pre-installed app on Apple phones and tablets, has long been the distant No. 3 in platform publishing initiatives. Introduced in 2015, Apple News didn’t elicit the kind of excitement Facebook got with IA and Google with its Accelerated Mobile Pages. But in recent months, Apple began sending more traffic publishers’ way and letting them sell subscriptions on the news aggregation app. Kunal Gupta, CEO of branded content platform Polar, which works with premium publishers, estimates that for those publishers that are benefiting big, Apple News is supplying 10-15% of their mobile traffic.

Platforms have been an uneven source of actual ad revenue to publishers, and Apple News has barely sent publishers any revenue at all. But for publishers that sell subscriptions, Apple News inspires hope because that business is becoming increasingly important as they face more competition for digital ad revenue.

“They’re getting frustrated with the lack of monetization options on [Facebook Instant Articles] and see Apple News as a direct opportunity to gain subscribers which has inherent value,” said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of digital audience analytics firm Parsely.

«

But surely in June 2015 it was “Why publishers are worried about Apple News” (that’s the page headline, though not the article headline) and publishers were told Instant Articles was “built to meet their needs? It’s as if nobody writing about this stuff was able to discern motives beyond the public pronouncements of companies.
link to this extract


Ultrasonic drying: seeking commercial partners • Oak Ridge National Laboratory

»

UT-Battelle, LLC, acting under its Prime Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the management and operation of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is seeking commercialization partners for its Ultrasonic Drying technology. 

Researchers at ORNL have developed a new approach to the traditional process of thermal drying using an innovative ultrasonic drying technology. The technology uses low-energy piezoelectric transducers to produce high-frequency vibrations to mechanically remove water from a variety of materials quickly and three times more efficiently than thermal drying. In addition to lower energy costs, ultrasonic drying technology could potentially be applied to a wide range of processed materials that would benefit from the removal of a drying heat source.

The technology utilizes ultrasound transducers to create a high frequency mechanical oscillation on the surface of the material subjected to drying. This forms an extremely fine mist of droplets about one micron in diameter that are readily entrained into an air flow. Unlike the thermal drying that evaporates water molecules only, these water droplets will carry with them all impurities that are present in the water content of material (e.g., salt, minerals and detergents), which is very beneficial in some applications and might be detrimental in other applications.

«

This is one of those projects that makes you say “wow”. It’s worth looking at the slide presentation for it too. Clothes dryers (tumble dryers in the UK) consume 1% of US energy; this uses from 20% to 33% of the standard amount, and doesn’t get hot.

General Electric is interested; one can also imagine that Shenzhen is going to be alive with companies making ultrasonic transducers. The expectation is that these are a couple of years from the market, but I’d be unsurprised if Chinese versions don’t appear sooner.

I wonder about two things: who first thought “hey, we could dry clothes this way!” (a quick literature review suggests that ultrasound’s ability to cause evaporation was discovered in 1927); and might some fabrics or parts (buttons?) be subtly damaged by ultrasound? Perhaps some helpful Chinese folk will discover this for us.
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I just love this Juicero story so much • Deadspin

Albert Burneko on Bloomberg’s report about the company which got over $100m from VCs to make a high-priced juicer which turned out to be, well, you read it:

»

Here is another good-ass sentence from what, for my money, is the best story ever written about Silicon Valley. It pairs very nicely with the previous one:

»

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.

«

Oh no! This must have been a terrible shock to these venture capitalists. Sir, we’ve received some disturbing news. I don’t know how this happened, but apparently some of our customers are slightly less stupid than the absolute stupidest they possibly could be.

I like this one, too (emphasis mine):

»

One of the investors said they were frustrated with how the company didn’t deliver on the original pitch and that their venture firm wouldn’t have met with Evans if he were hawking bags of juice that didn’t require high-priced hardware.

«

When we signed up to pump money into this juice company, it was because we thought drinking the juice would be a lot harder and more expensive. That was the selling point, because Silicon Valley is a stupid libertarian dystopia where investor-class vampires are the consumers and a regular person’s money is what they go shopping for. Easily opened bags of juice do not give these awful nightmare trash parasites a good bargain on the disposable income of credulous wellness-fad suckers; therefore easily opened bags of juice are a worse investment than bags of juice that are harder to open.

«

The last clause of that sentence is worth pondering for a bit, because it honestly is how many of these companies operate, and are funded to operate: make it more difficult to get at The Thing People Want.
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Bose headphones spy on listeners: lawsuit • Reuters

Jonathan Stempel:

»

The complaint filed on Tuesday by Kyle Zak in federal court in Chicago seeks an injunction to stop Bose’s “wholesale disregard” for the privacy of customers who download its free Bose Connect app from Apple Inc or Google Play stores to their smartphones.

“People should be uncomfortable with it,” Christopher Dore, a lawyer representing Zak, said in an interview. “People put headphones on their head because they think it’s private, but they can be giving out information they don’t want to share.”

Bose did not respond on Wednesday to requests for comment on the proposed class action case. The Framingham, Massachusetts-based company has said annual sales top $3.5 billion.

Zak’s lawsuit was the latest to accuse companies of trying to boost profit by quietly amassing customer information, and then selling it or using it to solicit more business.

After paying $350 for his QuietComfort 35 headphones, Zak said he took Bose’s suggestion to “get the most out of your headphones” by downloading its app, and providing his name, email address and headphone serial number in the process.

But the Illinois resident said he was surprised to learn that Bose sent “all available media information” from his smartphone to third parties such as Segment.io, whose website promises to collect customer data and “send it anywhere.”

Audio choices offer “an incredible amount of insight” into customers’ personalities, behavior, politics and religious views, citing as an example that a person who listens to Muslim prayers might “very likely” be a Muslim, the complaint said.

«

An app with such terrible privacy? The EULA doesn’t seem to include such a warning (by my reading). The complaint itself doesn’t provide evidence of it happening. Bose hadn’t commented in any story through the day. One images lots of “but DO we??” conversations at its offices.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Facebook’s monopoly tendency, Solv-ing healthcare, the mobile web’s drift, and more


But what if you saw the colours and wanted to figure out their match? Photo by Telstar Logistics on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook and the cost of monopoly • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:

»

Facebook’s theft of not just Snapchat features but its entire vision bums me out, even if it makes good business sense. I do think leveraging the company’s network monopoly in this way hurts innovation, and the same monopoly graphs explain why. In a competitive market the return from innovation meets the demand for customers to determine how much innovation happens — and who reaps its benefits:

A monopoly, though, doesn’t need that drive to innovate — or, more accurately, doesn’t need to derive a profit from innovation, which leads to lazy spending and prioritizing tech demos over shipping products. After all, the monopoly can simply take others’ innovation and earn even more profit than they would otherwise:

This, ultimately, is why yesterday’s keynote was so disappointing. Last year, before Facebook realized it could just leverage its network to squash Snap, Mark Zuckerberg spent most of his presentation laying out a long-term vision for all the areas in which Facebook wanted to innovate. This year couldn’t have been more different: there was no vision, just the wholesale adoption of Snap’s, plus a whole bunch of tech demos that never bothered to tell a story of why they actually mattered for Facebook’s users.

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link to this extract


Zuck says copying Snapchat was just step 1 of Facebook’s AR platform • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

»

when asked for a response to critics who say Facebook had stopped innovating, Zuckerberg brushed them off, insisting this was actually just Facebook preparing all its products for the new unified cross-app Camera Effects Platform. While Facebook Stories just launched this month, he says the strategy has been in the works for a while:

“We started it about a year ago. The point was that we kind of felt like we’re going to need cameras because video and photos are becoming more central but the unique thing that we’re going to do is we’re not just going to build basic cameras, we’re going to build the first mainstream augmented reality platform.

“​But the thing is, you try to chunk up your releases into specific things along the way. And even though we’re going to talk about it at F8, we’re not going to release it all at once even though this is kind of the next chapter. And the first chapter that made sense was to release products that people were familiar with and to kind of stabilize the product before you try to build a platform on top of that, right? It’s really tough to build the product and the platform at the same time.

“So I think internally, we just understood where we were going. We’ll roll out the different pieces at different times, but that was partially why we’re rolling all the stuff out quickly as we build a bunch of infrastructure to be able to do all that.”

Essentially, adding to Facebook’s various apps an in-app camera with basic augmented reality effects was just the start of a larger platform play.

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link to this extract


Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse • Medium

Kurt Gessler is deputy editor for digital news at the Chicago Tribune, and has spotted a worrying fall in the number of stories posted to Facebook which get any traction:

»

What I inevitably come back to is that something changed on Facebook’s side of the equation.

The last algo update mentioned in Facebook’s newsroom blog was “New Signals to Show You More Authentic and Timely Stories” on Jan. 31. This is around a month we’ve after identified our shift, but still curiously close. Of course Facebook didn’t foresee any hiccups: “We anticipate that most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed.”

Given that I hope the Tribune passes muster for “authentic,” let’s focus on the second half. What exact signals are being used to determine what “timely” means? It purports to favor topics that are being discussed in real time:

»

For example, if your favorite soccer team just won a game, we might show you posts about the game higher up in News Feed because people are talking about it more broadly on Facebook.

«

So exactly how much reach lift is conferred by dovetailing with Facebook-defined trending topics? Conversely, does this punish topics not being discussed? Or did the Facebook real-time algorithm become more like Instagram’s, prioritizing content based on the volume of immediate comments, shares, likes and reactions—and squelching posts that are initially ignored? That could be “timely.”

Beyond that, the usual sites that track Facebook changes haven’t noted anything else that would account for our massive shifts in audience.

«

He’s concerned, and doesn’t have any answers. There seems to be an implication in the Facebook post that you should be aiming to hit those trending topics – but that seems a risky game.
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Swatchmaker • Peter Chamberlin

»

Swatchmaker uses K-means clustering to analyze an image and derive a representative palette of colours.

«

This is wonderful. I’ve suggested to Chamberlin that he develop it as an app: there are tons of potential uses. Give it a try.
link to this extract


Introducing Solv: making it easy to get well soon • Medium

Heather Fernandez is CEO of the startup:

»

We started Solv because we wanted to make it easy to see a doctor for everyday health issues — concerns like colds and sore throats, cuts and sprains, stomach aches, and rashes — the things that impact, well, pretty much everyone. We’re doing that by starting with two things that hundreds of millions of people are already using: a smartphone and urgent care.

Solv is a mobile-friendly service that lets you find and book a same day doctor’s appointment at an urgent care clinic near you and skip the wait. Our technology can also check to see if your insurance is accepted, or if you’re paying out-of-pocket, see cash prices and eliminate any surprises once you get there.

«

Continually amazing how broken American healthcare is. Solv has big ambitions, but it’s up against very rich companies which have a big interest in the status quo. Wish them luck.
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Google’s health moonshot comes back to earth • Bloomberg

Caroline Chen and Mark Bergen:

»

Verily wants to collect data from our bodies, using it to guide better health decisions.

While that sounds ambitious, it’s much more modest than the missions Verily promoted when it was officially part of Google. Years ago, the biotech division promised projects such as glucose-monitoring contact lenses and all-in-one medical scanners; those remain in the lab. Former employees say the internal code name for the life sciences division was Panacea—cure-all. That’s over.

“We grew up,” says Verily chief executive officer Andy Conrad. The middle-aged geneticist has adopted the Silicon Valley T-shirt-and-flip-flops wardrobe of eternal youth, but he’s given up on a lot of the jargon, including Google’s onetime favorite word. Like some other Alphabet holdings, Verily has stopped talking about everything in terms of industry-changing “moonshots.” What next-generation technology requires in practical terms is “setting the goal and then getting down to the day-to-day practical drudgery,” Conrad says. “If you examine the real moonshot closely, you’ll see a dude whose job is to rivet and a lady whose job is to do some wiring.”

…The tricorder, which Conrad called “a few years away” in 2014, is waiting on nanoparticles that can prove consistently effective outside a petri dish. The nanoparticles Verily’s researchers bought from third-party manufacturers aren’t reliable in live animals, so now they’re making their own.

“Mother Nature defeated us wildly,” Conrad says of the tricorder project, though he’s quick to add that the research continues. Alcon says it’s pleased with the progress on its contact lenses but declined to provide a timetable for clinical trials. In the meantime, Verily and Alcon are working together on lenses that automatically adjust focus depending on where a person is looking and what she’s looking at. (Again, no timetable.)

«

Wonder if this will see people dialling back on the breathless takes on futuristic tech in future?
link to this extract


Losing my patience with Google+ • Gideon Rosenblatt

»

Over the last six months or so I have watched as the quality of engagement here on Google+ has steadily declined. I have watched my follower count fluctuate and flatline. I have watched as people I used to engage with quite a bit here have left or dramatically scaled back their investments of time here. And yes, I have seen my own enthusiasm for investing time here wane significantly.

I ask myself why and the answers are never as simple as I would like. In the end though, I have come to the sad conclusion that the real thing that is killing Google+ is just plain bad management.

One gets the real sense that many of the people now charged with running Google+ don’t really understand what it was that once made this service so good in its early days. Indeed, one gets the sense that few of the people managing the service today even really use Google+. There are a few noteworthy exceptions like +Yonatan Zunger and +Leo Deegan, of course. I once made a circle with some 50+ Googlers who were once active here, and when I click on that stream, well, it feels a lot like a ghost town.

+Bradley Horowitz, the VP in charge of Streams, Photos and Sharing, (which is where Google+ sits within the Google org structure) hasn’t posted here on Google+ in half a year.

«

There goes the attention economy. Google loses interest in stuff, and that’s it.
link to this extract


Alex Jones and the dark new media are on trial in Texas • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:

»

For the millions on either side who both adore and revile Jones, the case [in which he is seeking custody of his three children] offers the hope of answering a near-impossible question: Where does Alex Jones the character end and Alex Jones the person begin?

But the herculean task of untangling Jones from his political views has put the 43 year-old broadcaster at the center of something bigger than himself. Unexpectedly, Jones is now the star of a courtroom drama that feels less like a quotidian family law case and more like a referendum on politics, the internet, and the media in the post-Trump ecosystem.

And that’s because at present Jones and his Infowars media empire sit at the intersection of the thorniest issues across the media landscape. Jones, depending on who you ask, is either a participant in, defender of, or the driving force behind everything from fake news, online harassment, and conspiracy theories to the toxic, hyper-partisan politicization of seemingly innocuous events.

Which is what makes Jones’ trial — and his impending trip to the witness stand — so alluring. Perhaps less interesting than knowing exactly what Jones truly believes is the prospect of watching legal experts compel earnest testimony from one of the nation’s top exporters of loose facts, untruths, and partisanship.

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link to this extract


Time spent using apps is only going up, but mobile web usage has hit a wall • Business Of Apps

Andy Boxall:

»

Time spent with apps on a smartphone has jumped by more than 10% in 2017, and will continue to rise between now and 2019; but time spent with the mobile internet remains steady this year, and is unlikely to rise significantly.

This is according to eMarketer data, which shows in 2017, mobile users will spend two hours 25 minutes each day using an app on their phone, while 26 minutes will be spent on the mobile web. App usage is up 10.3% over 2016, and now represents 19.9% of the average person’s daily media time.

In 2018, it’s estimated app usage time will rise to two hours and 35 minutes, and in 2019, reach two hours 43 minutes. Mobile web time is expected to stay at 26 minutes next year, before reaching 27 minutes in 2019.

The data covers U.S. app users, and eMarketer analyst Cathy Boyle had this to say:

»

“American consumers spend the bulk of their app time conducting five activities: listening to digital audio, social networking, gaming, video viewing and messaging. Each of these are time-intensive activities that consumers conduct with a high level of frequency. An app provides a direct access point from the home screen of a mobile device, and a native app experience is typically slicker and faster than a comparable web experience.”

«

«

One begins to wonder in an age of smartphones quite what “the web” means any more.
link to this extract


Fixing your oven can cook your computer • The Register

Simon Sharwood:

»If your Hotpoint cooker or washer’s on the blink, don’t arrange a repair by visiting the manufacturer’s website: the appliance vendor has been inadvertently foisting nastyware onto visitors.

As spotted by Netcraft, fake Java update dialogs started appearing on Hotpoint’s UK and Republic of Ireland sites this week. If you click “Install” you won’t be updating Java, you’ll be firing up obfuscated JavaScript that Hotpoint did not place on its site. That script tries to hide the fact it refers to a third-party site that can send a custom payload of malware your way.

That payload won’t do nice things to your endpoint and may expose you to attacks like drive-by malware or phishing.

Netcraft says the source of the problem is almost certainly Hotpoint’s WordPress installation, and notes that the content management system “is notorious for being compromised if both it and its plugins are not kept up to date.”«

Things you didn’t have to worry about ten years ago.
link to this extract


‘It’s all over now but the screaming’: inside the unraveling of LeEco in America • Gizmodo

Christina Warren:

»

Former employees say that one of the central reasons for the immediate drain of top-tier talent from LeEco happened because the senior executives hired to run the North American business weren’t actually given the opportunity to run the company. Instead, the company was “shadow run” by Chinese executives who former employees say do not understand the US market or business strategies that work here.

For instance, the Chinese leadership was keen on selling smartphones and TVs online via “flash sales”—whereby products are sold at discounts for specific periods of time. Jan Dawson, the founder and chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, says that the problems with an online sales strategy were two-fold. First of all, no one had heard of LeEco and had no reason to be checking out the company’s website. But more importantly, “no one buys smartphones that way here in the US,” he said “so this seemed to be borrowing a strategy that’s worked well for smartphone vendors in China instead of doing something more suited to the US market.”

“The strategy seemed to be, if it worked in China, it will work here,” a former employee said. This sentiment was shared by multiple former employees, and is something many see as being partially responsible for LeEco’s current problems.

“It was ego,” a former employee said, that led the company to think it could accomplish so much in the US so quickly. “They wanted to say, ‘hey we’re not just a Chinese brand’ but didn’t realize it takes time to build a brand presence.”

Of the Chinese leadership imported to oversee LeEco’s entrance to the United States, one employee put it bluntly: “They were not the smartest people in the room.”

Ultimately, the company’s strategy failed and LeEco reportedly missed its 2016 sales projections by a huge margin. One former employee described the online sales for the first few months of availability as “dismal.”

«

Watching this zoom and plummet (Warren’s piece has plenty more detail) has been a fascinating lesson in how different countries’ business cultures can’t necessarily be transplanted. The same has surely happened many times, but with the head office being in the US.
link to this extract


eSports to be a medal event at 2022 Asian Games | Sport | The Guardian

Bryan Armen Graham:

»

eSports will be an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China, in the boldest step yet toward mainstream recognition of competitive gaming.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced a partnership on Monday with Alisports, the sports arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba, to introduce eSports as a demonstration sport at next year’s games in Indonesia, with full-fledged inclusion in the official sporting programme at the Hangzhou Games in 2022.

The OCA said the decision reflects “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation among the youth.”

“The OCA has always been committed to the inheritance, development, and improvement of Asian sports,” OCA president Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah said in a statement. “And we look forward to the forward-thinking concepts of sports by Alisports, who will be helping us with their strength and experience in eSports.”

The Asian Games, which are recognized by the IOC, are billed as the world’s second largest multi-sport event after the Olympics. Forty-five national delegations and about 10,000 athletes took part in the most recent Asiad three years ago in Incheon, South Korea.

«

Associated story: “is it time for eSports gamers to be recognised as athletes?” Unfortunately, it doesn’t examine the question of what is required in any recreation to count as an “athlete”. Merriam-Webster says “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Where’s eSports in that?
link to this extract


Exclusive: Deezer is exploring user centric licensing • MIDiA Research

Mark Mulligan:

»

Artists effectively get paid on a share of ‘airplay’ basis. This is service-centric licensing. It all sounds eminently logical, and indeed the logic has been sound enough to enable the streaming market to get to where it is today. But is far from flawless.

Imagine a metal fan who only streams metal bands. With the “airplay” model if Katy Perry accounted for 10% of all streams in a month, the 10% of that metal fan’s subscription fee effectively goes towards Katy Perry and her label and publisher. Other than aggrieved metal fans, this matters because those metal bands are effectively seeing a portion of their listening time contributing to a super star pop artist. To make it clearer still, what if that metal fan only listened to Metallica, yet still 10% of that subscriber’s revenue went to Katy Perry?

The alternative is user centric licensing, where royalties are paid out as a percentage of the subscription fee of the listener. So if a subscriber listens 100% to Metallica, Metallica gets 100% of the royalty revenue generated by that subscriber. It is an intrinsically fairer model that creates a more direct relationship between what a subscriber listens to and who gets paid.

This is the model that we can exclusively reveal that Deezer is now exploring with the record labels. It is a bold move from Deezer, which though still the 3rd ranking subscription service globally has seen Spotify and Apple get ever more of the limelight. While Deezer will undoubtedly be hoping to see the PR benefit of driving some thought leadership in the market, the fact that it must find new ways to challenge the top 2 means that it can start thinking with more freedom than the leading incumbents. And a good idea done for mixed reasons is still a good idea.

«

This is indeed a good idea – and many people probably thought this was how it worked all along.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

The (fixable) problem with Steve Ballmer’s USAFacts site: its lack of transparency

Those of us who have been in or around the technology space since the 1990s when Microsoft used to bulldozer all in front of it (for those younger than that: like Google in the 00s, and Facebook now) are completely unused to Steve Ballmer doing things that we can uncomplicatedly see as good.

But his new site, USAFacts, is one of those things. Like Bill Gates pouring money into vaccinations for developing countries, it’s a good thing to have done.

USAFacts, in case you haven’t read the New York Times piece about it (where the site is described as a “fascinating data trove”), the precis is that Ballmer has spent $10m hiring economists and others to put all the spending and other data that the US government products – particularly its budget, where it spends $5.4 trillion and gets $5.2trn (it’s left as an exercise to the reader to figure out how one bridges that $0.2trn gap) – into a site which you can query, to find out just where your money goes, if you’re an American.

Neatly, it divides expenditure into the four “missions” of the US government, which apparently are “establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defence; promote the general welfare; secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”.

There may be trouble ahead

The problem starts once you begin wandering into it and wondering: ok, how does that number come together? Take the “Crime and police” tab under the first mission: click through and you get some data showing how arrests, violent crime, and “public safety officer” numbers are moving. The prisoner data actually has a link to a set of slides – 291 PDFs – drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and reproduced as PDFs by USAFacts, which sticks its own copyright onto them (down in the bottom right).

Screenshot 2017 04 19 17 54 04

(Come on. That’s crazy. Repurposing open-licensed data as PDFs and sticking your own copyright note on them? Is this the 1990s?) In general, you’re left having to trust the site to have got it right. Plus: in almost every situation, we don’t know where the data has actually come from. The prison data is an exception. There’s no transparency in a site which is trying to make government transparent.

Unless I’ve missed something staringly obvious, there are no places where you click on a link and it says “we got this from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this from the Treasury, and this from the Department of Defense”. The methodologies (here’s one – PDF) will give you a number of the methods and sources from which all the numbers are collated, but not how they’re balanced out against each other.

This is a huge omission. I can understand that $10m only goes so far, but if you compare it to a site like Our World In Data, which has been built on a budget probably comparable to one day of USAFacts’s, you see the contrast. Not only are the datasets open and downloadable, you get pointers back to the originals.

Coins: adding up to something

Nor is it as though trying to analyse government spending is a new thing. In the UK, HM Treasury made its COINS database into open data after pressure from newspapers – well, particularly the Guardian, where we championed free data.

From COINS you could generate visualisations like these:

And you could do all sorts of visualisations of what was going on.

This was back in 2010; it’s not as though this is some groundbreaking piece of work that has only just been released to the public and might not have crossed the radar of, say, a multibillionaire who has enlisted a lot of economists and statisticians and programmers to do some work analysing a country’s budget.

Action points

In conclusion: Steve Ballmer has made a start. It’s an adequate start, and given the size of what he’s trying to contend with, it’s laudable that he’s got this far. But there are many more things that remain to be done.

Just in case he’s vanity-searching, here is my list of suggestions for how to turn USAFacts into a truly useful site that will let people explore what the US government and its states are doing with their money:

• link back to the original data. People need to be able to trust it.
• offer inflation-adjusted views of the data. It’s not hard to find inflation figures for past years.
• add trade figures. Imports and exports are relevant data for understanding your country’s performance, and some part of government definitely collects them.
• add comparative figures with other countries. It means nothing to tell people how much they’re spending on health care if they don’t know how that compares to other countries.
• find ways to let people drill down to their state, country and district, and compare them with other states, counties and districts. It’s just data and databases, after all.
• let people see how employment and other elements have changed. Show them how racial factors have changed. Show them how things have changed with different politicians. Everyone wants to apply these prisms to these data, and while you might not want this data to become partisan, the reality is that these numbers will be used anyway by people of whatever tinge to prove whatever they want. You’re already in that battle, so give people more weapons to fight it.

It’s a good start, Steve. Please don’t make us wait for version 3 for it to become a must-use. (Yes, kids, that was a Microsoft joke. Ask your parents.)

Start Up: Ballmer’s data site, S8’s so-so hello, Twitter’s pause, iMacs in September?, and more


Infect a few million of these with Mirai and set them to mining bitcoin. What’s your daily take?

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. All on a bearing to North Korea. Wait, maybe not. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Ballmer serves up a fascinating data trove • The New York Times

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

»

As he looked for a new endeavor — before he decided to buy the Clippers — his wife, Connie, encouraged him to help with some of her philanthropic efforts, an idea he initially rejected.

“But come on, doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?” Mr. Ballmer recalled telling her. After all, he pointed out, he happily paid a lot of taxes, and he figured that all that tax money should create a sufficient social safety net.

Her answer: “A, it won’t, because there are things government doesn’t get to, and B, you’re missing it.”

Mr. Ballmer replied, “No, I’m not.”

That conversation led Mr. Ballmer to pursue what may be one of the most ambitious private projects undertaken to answer a question that has long vexed the public and politicians alike. He sought to “figure out what the government really does with the money,” Mr. Ballmer said. “What really happens?”

On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.

Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.

Mr. Ballmer calls it “the equivalent of a 10-K for government,” referring to the kind of annual filing that companies make.

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The site is at USAFacts.org. My principal criticism: it isn’t open, linked data. You can’t see what its sources are, or check back against them. But it is a good start.
link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy S8 review: great phone, but that’s not all that matters • WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

In past Samsung designs, like the S7 Edge, the curved screen made the phone feel slippery, but the S8’s new symmetrical shape is easier to grip. Still, I wish the phone’s back weren’t made of glass.

There are new annoyances. It took me a while to get used to the pressure-sensitive home button in the screen, which remains lit up when the phone is locked, but isn’t carved into the glass like on an iPhone. And since the fingerprint reader is on the back next to the camera, I smudge the lens a lot. (This is a serious crime against photography, Samsung.) I would use the new iris reader or facial recognition capability to unlock, but they just aren’t fast enough on the fly.

Even with that extra screen real estate burning up battery, Samsung managed to improve battery life. In my S7 test last year, I got over seven hours. This year, using the same test and parameters on the S8, I got under 10 hours. That’s still short of the iPhone 7, however.

«

Lucky WSJ: the New York Times didn’t get a review unit.
link to this extract


Samsung has blocked remapping of the Galaxy S8’s Bixby button • Digital Trends

Adam Ismail:

»

A Reddit user discovered a way to remap the Bixby button on the Galaxy S8, but that method has now been blocked by Samsung.

Only a few days after users began remapping the Samsung Galaxy S8’s Bixby button, Samsung has taken steps toward blocking the action.

An app helping users remap the button was launched shortly after the device itself was released, and it wasn’t all that surprising to see — the button itself is pretty much a waste of space if you don’t use Bixby. In a new over-the-air update, however, Samsung is blocking the use of the button for anything other than the Bixby virtual assistant. The block was first discovered by XDA-Developers user Flar2.

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Wonder if this will turn into a cat-and-mouse.
link to this extract


Mirai, Bitcoin, and numeracy • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

»

Newsweek (the magazine famous for outing the real Satoshi Nakamoto) has a story about how a variant of the Mirai botnet is mining bitcoin. They fail to run the numbers.

The story repeats a claim by Mcafee that 2.5 million devices were infected with Mirai at some point in 2016. If they were all mining bitcoin, how much money would the hackers be earning?

I bought security cameras and infected them with Mirai. A typical example of the CPU running on an IoT device is an ARM926EJ-S processor.

As this website reports, such a processor running at 1.2 GHz can mine at a rate of 0.187-megahashes/second. That’s a bit fast for an IoT device, most are slower, some are faster, we’ll just use this as the average.

According to this website, the current hash-rate of all minters is around 4-million terahashes/second.

Bitcoin blocks are mined every 10 minutes, with the current (April 2017) reward set at 12.5 bitcoins per block, giving roughly 1800 bitcoins/day in reward.

The current price of bitcoin is $1191.

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Guess how much the daily earnings from the 2.5m IoT botnet is. Then click through.
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Apple A10 iPhone 7 speeds past Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, LG G6 & BBK 3T • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

Apple has maintained a lead in both benchmarks and real world performance through a series of factors, including its more efficient iOS and its custom-optimized A-series chips.

In a video test (pictured above, published to YouTube by EverythingApple) that involved cold launching of a series of apps (“Round 1”) followed by switching back through each app (“Round 2”), iPhone 7 Plus opened the suite of games, productivity tools and other apps in just 2:44 minutes, roughly twice as fast as a series of leading Android flagships.

iOS was also able to switch back through all of those open apps in just 33 seconds. Each of the Android phones took either nearly twice as long (the BBK OnePlus 3T) or about 4 times as long (LG G6, Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8). The huge discrepancy between those two indicates that Android itself is not very good at managing apps in RAM. The fastest Android phone packs in a whopping 6GB, making it faster than the rest but still just half as quick at launching apps as an iPhone with half the RAM

While the latter three phones have 4GB of RAM (compared to 3GB in Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus), the fastest Android phone packs in a whopping 6GB, making it faster than the rest but still just half as quick at launching apps as an iPhone with half the RAM. In addition to launching apps faster, the iPhone also booted up quicker.

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Think what it’s going to be like when Apple is designing its own mobile GPU.
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The pulse of the planet, flatlined: why Twitter’s is failing to grow • Exponents

Dan Kaplan:

»

More than any other single factor, Dick Costolo’s conclusion [in 2010] that Twitter was a media company in the advertising business is responsible for all of the struggles with revenue growth and profitability Twitter is experiencing today.

Because once you’re in the media and advertising business, your entire strategy–across product development, hiring, marketing, and sales–revolves around harvesting your users’ attention, maximizing their engagement, and selling pieces of that attention and engagement to advertisers.

Once harvesting attention, maximizing engagement, and selling both to advertisers become your objectives, you have tremendous incentives to consolidate your users on properties you control.

It was THESE incentives above all else that led Twitter to clamp down on third-party access to its APIs: when your main source of revenue comes from monetizing attention on your own properties, any successful third party client becomes an instant threat

But of course, while consolidating your users on your own website and apps is necessary for an ad business, it kinda defeats the point if they’re not coming back again and again. So you also must keep them engaged…very, very engaged.

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link to this extract


The despair of learning that experience no longer matters • The New Yorker

Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

»

The return to experience is a way to describe what you get in return for aging. It describes the increase in wages that workers normally see throughout their careers. The return to experience tends to be higher for more skilled jobs: a doctor might expect the line between what she earns in her first year and what she earns in her fifties to rise in a satisfyingly steady upward trajectory; a coal miner might find it depressingly flat. But even workers with less education and skills grow more efficient the longer they hold a job, and so paying them more makes sense. Unions, in arguing for pay that rises with seniority, invoke a belief in the return to experience. It comes close to measuring what we might otherwise call wisdom.

“This decline in the return to experience closely matches the decline in attachment to the labor force,” Case and Deaton wrote. “Our data are consistent with a model in which the decline in real wages led to a reduction in labor force participation, with cascading effects on marriage, health, and mortality from deaths of despair.”

The return to experience is not the best-known economic concept, but it is alive in most of our contemporary economic spook stories, in which the callow private-equity analyst has the final power over an industry in which people have long labored, in which the mechanical robot replaces the assembly-line worker, in which the doctor finds his diagnosis corrected by artificial intelligence. It seemed to match at least one emotional vein that ran through the Trump phenomenon, and the more general alienation of the heartland: people are aging, and they are not getting what they think they have earned.

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Not just Trumpland, I think.
link to this extract


Conservatives hated an uppity negro golfing President • NY Daily News

Shaun King:

»

No President in American history has ever golfed more per week than Donald Trump. In his first 12 weeks in office Trump took a staggering 18 golf course trips. That’s unheard of. In his first 12 weeks in office, President Obama didn’t visit a single golf course. By the end of this year, it’s likely that Trump will have golfed more than President Obama has in his entire presidency.

And that’s strange. It’s really strange. Because Donald Trump and other conservative pundits seemed to be deeply bothered by the times President Obama went out and golfed. It appeared to genuinely offend them. They obsessed over it.

Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently riffed on how much Obama golfed and pledged, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” The crowd ate it up.

Throughout the Obama administration, any time President Obama golfed, some famous conservative pundit chimed in. It was a reliable punchline that consistently got a rise out of their base.

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America’s incipient rightwing racism really is something to behold.
link to this extract


How Google eats a business whole • The Outline

Adrianne Jeffries on how Brian Warner saw the content on his site Celebritynetworth (it figures out the net worth of celebrities) being grabbed for Google’s “quick answers” after a request from the company in 2014:

»

If [the request from Google to scrape Celebritynetworth.com’s data was] approved, this meant that any Google search for a celebrity’s net worth would return that pullout answer. The answer would include a link to Warner’s site, and Google promised him it would be good for his brand. But it would also drastically cut his traffic. Most people just want the number; they aren’t as interested in the breakdown of the math. So Warner said no.

“I didn’t understand the benefit to us,” he said. “It’s a big ask. Like, ‘hey, let us tap into the most valuable thing that you have, that has taken years to create and we’ve spent literally millions of dollars, and just give it to us for free so we can display it.’ At the end of it, we just said ‘look, we’re not comfortable with this.’”

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

In February 2016, Google started displaying a Featured Snippet for each of the 25,000 celebrities in the CelebrityNetWorth database, Warner said. He knew this because he added a few fake listings for friends who were not celebrities to see if they would pop up as featured answers, and they did.

“Our traffic immediately crumbled,” Warner said. “Comparing January 2016 (a full month where they had not yet scraped our content) to January 2017, our traffic is down 65%.” Warner said he had to lay off half his staff. (Google declined to answer specific questions for this story, including whether it was shooting itself in the foot by destroying its best sources of information.)

«

Google is strangling a company and destroying jobs. What are Warner’s options? Block the Googlebot? He says he’s “at peace” with the snippets, but as Jeffries points out, “Google seemed more interested in whether the data was machine-readable than whether it was accurate.”

This is what slippery slopes look like: bad effects on good businesses, and bad effects leading to bad results.
link to this extract


Some Google Wifis randomly stop working, turn solid blue • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

»

You probably know if you’ve been affected since, well, your Google Wifi won’t be working. Other means of detection and confirmation manifest themselves via a steady blue light on the primary hub, at which point the satellite hubs may start to flash orange signifying a disconnect of the primary hub. In the meantime it seems that restarting that primary hub fixes the issue, but only temporarily.

To be very clear, this is not a universal problem. It could be related to the latest build (9202.35.8). Even then, not all users are reporting this, and the precise nature of the cause has not been reported. But, a reasonably large number of individuals on Google’s forums have been experiencing this particular issue.

Google has responded on the forum with some information, reassurance, and instructions for those affected, saying, “Our team is still looking into this and working hard on getting a fix out– we aim to have it out as soon as possible.”

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Some blame being put on Windows 10 devices and/or Xboxen. Related question: how will people be able to get the new firmware into their device, if the device has stopped working?
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Exaggerating ads: Samsung, LG run exaggerated ads about their TV-cum-PC monitors • BusinessKorea

Michael Herh:

»

The tested products were a Samsung monitor (LT24D590KD), an LG monitor (24MT48DF), a Yamakasi monitor (T320UF), a Xavvio monitor (X2700EWT), a Smartra monitor (SHE-320XQ), a Jooyon Tech monitor (D24HBFNA), a Zentview monitor (CN-F2410HL) and a Hook monitor (HT240LED).

First of all, in terms of the response speed, all the products were exaggerated. Their product information says that their response speeds are 5 to 12ms. But no products showed the speeds marked in their production information labels. The Jooyon Tech monitor measured 2.8ms.

Their contrast ratios were also different from those in the product information. The contrast ratio is a measure of how well bright and dark areas are distinguished on a screen. The higher a value is, the better a contrast is.

The LG product with a contrast ratio of 3,000 to 1 in the product information was found to be 5,866 to 1. Moreover, the Jooyon Tech and Hook monitors were also found to have contrast ratios higher than those in their product information. The products of Samsung, Yamakasi, Xavvio, Smatra, and Zentview had lower contrast ratios than those in their promotional material.

«

link to this extract


Apple prepares iMac upgrades for 2H17 and high-end iMac for end of 2017 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:

»

Apple is expected to begin production of two new iMac all-in-one (AIO) PCs in May 2017 for an official launch in the second half of the year, according to sources from Taiwan-based supply chain makers adding that Apple is also testing a new server-grade iMac for the high-end sector currently and the product’s major competitor is expected to be Microsoft’s recently released Surface Studio.

Microsoft released the Surface Studio AIO PC in the fourth quarter of 2016, which has prompted first-tier PC vendors including Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Asustek Computer to release similar products. Asustek’s high-end AIO PCs are expected to be announced around Computex 2017.

Digitimes Research’s figures showed that worldwide AIO PC shipments are about 12-13m units a year, a rather small segment of the PC market where shipments amount to about 250m units.

«

So desktops are about 5% of the world total. Are “pro towers” the same, or smaller? I wonder whether Apple didn’t realise that the Mac Pro had a problem (ie pro customers didn’t want it) was because the delta between “sales are fine” and “sales are lower than we’d expect” was so small it couldn’t be distinguished from random variation.
link to this extract


Uber loses another executive as self-driving program lead quits • The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»

As Uber continues to make the headlines for the wrong reasons, it also keeps on losing executives. The latest big name is to quit is Sherif Marakby — its vice president of global vehicle programs, and one of the orchestrators of its self-driving vehicle program.

Marakby was poached just last April from Ford, where he had spent the previous 25 years, rising to the rank of director of global electronics and engineering. In a statement issued at the time, Marakby said that he was focused on safety, explaining that auto accidents were the most common cause of death among young people.

He went on to oversee the creation and launch of Uber’s ongoing self-driving vehicle initiatives, but apparently decided to cut ties with the company before it reached the next phase of its plans. “Self-driving is one of the most interesting challenges I’ve worked on in my career, and I’m grateful to have contributed to what will soon be a safer future for everyone,” he said in a new statement that confirmed his departure, but didn’t offer a reasoning.

«

He didn’t like Uber. That is not the goodbye of someone who loved the place. Note how he doesn’t say he’s sorry to go. He joins recent departures from the head of AI labs, head of communications and VP of product and growth.

I remember when all the talk was about how Apple couldn’t hold on to staff any more.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: game theory in customer service, evaluate that tweet!, Google’s Russian deal, and more


Now you can see what sort of prescriptions your local GPs hands out – and how that fits into the national picture in the UK. Photo by gregwake on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Pack up the golf clubs, back to work. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

United: broken culture • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée recalls his time running Apple France, and dealing with angry customers:

»

After a few combative customer service encounters, I experienced an epiphany: No matter how “wrong” they may be, we’re a prosperous business, we can afford to take care of these situations, but we can’t afford to let unhappy, affronted customers damage our reputation.

Whenever a call was escalated to my office, I would immediately offer to buy back the customer’s machine. The offer was always emphatically declined, so we moved on to arrangements for shipment or perhaps a personal appointment at our service shop. Our business concluded, I would ask if the happy caller had children: “Yes…but why?” “For the t-shirts, of course, a small thank-you for bringing your problem to our attention…what sizes would you like?”

A stray behaviorist in our ranks protested that I shouldn’t condition customers to complain, that it would result in more and more jeremiads. I disagreed, claiming that people don’t actually like to complain, and, indeed, we never had any scheming or deranged kvetchers.

Over time, a customer service theorem emerged. When a customer brings a complaint, there are two tokens on the table: It’s Nothing and It’s Awful. Both tokens are always played, so whoever chooses first forces the other to grab the token that’s left. For example: Customer claims something’s wrong. I try to play down the damage: It’s Probably Nothing…are you sure you know what you’re doing? Customer, enraged at my lack of judgment and empathy, ups the ante: How are you boors still in business??

«

“Both tokens are always played”. This is the essence of game theory in this situation. And it goes on to show why United Airlines got it so wrong – and why Amazon gets it right.
link to this extract


The new Mac Pro: the audacity to say “Yes” in a design culture of “No” • Marco.org

Marco Arment:

»

The requirements are all over the map, but most pro users seem to agree on the core principles of an ideal Mac Pro, none of which include size or minimalism:

• More internal capacity is better.
• Each component should have a reasonably priced base option, but offer the ability to configure up to the best technology on the market.
• It needs to accommodate a wide variety of needs, some of which Apple won’t offer, and some of which may require future upgrades.

Or, to distill the requirements down to a single word:

• Versatility.

«

As Arment explains, the requirements that the real pros have are all over the map. So designing yourself into an unexpandable corner – as (in my opinion) Apple has done twice now, first with the Cube in 2000 and then with the Mac Pro – leads to calamity.

Things are getting fixed, but one wonders a little about instutional memory.
link to this extract


How to know if you’ve sent a horrible tweet • Esquire

Luke O’Neil:

»

by and large, the way Twitter works is that to reply means to disagree. When a tweet is good, there are simple, elegant tools for expressing your appreciation via the like and retweet buttons. There are junkier workarounds like quote-tweeting and manual retweeting. A perfect tweet is a pure thing, and ideally, is shared off into the world without commentary, letting its engagement numbers bloom unmolested. In fact, there’s nothing worse than replying to an expertly executed tweet, particularly when it comes to trying to riff off of a joke, or even worse, improve on it. On the other hand, when a tweet has pissed someone off, the user is more inclined to let the author know directly how much they suck. “Delete your account” and “Retire bitch” being two of the better known refrains.

“I would say any time you have more replies than favs, you fucked up in some capacity,” says Twitter investigative reporter Ashley Feinberg of Gizmodo. “People on this site are extremely lazy and also idiots, like myself. If you’ve pissed off enough people that they’re a) too embarrassed to engage and b) feel compelled to actually write words, you did a bad tweet.”

This, from CNN’s Chris Cillizza, whose Twitter bio quotes the president as calling him “One of the dumber and least respected of the political pundits,” is a nice solid example of The Ratio at work, Feinberg says. Not astronomical numbers, but solidly in the sweet spot of just over 2:1.

“What impresses me most about it is how reliable it is,” says David Roth, of Vice Sports. Roth is also the author of one of the finest Trump-related Twitter gags ever. “For all the examples of how markets don’t work, and Twitter’s particularly ridiculous scrambling hustle for attention, it really does seem like a bad enough tweet by a high-profile enough person is going to wind up with that like 500-to-75 ratio that Matt Lewis had going. They get discovered.”

«

I look forward to a data scientist doing this analysis on Trump’s tweets.
link to this extract


Is American retail at a historic tipping point? • The New York Times

Michael Corkery:

»

Between 2010 and 2014, e-commerce grew by an average of $30 billion annually. Over the past three years, average annual growth has increased to $40 billion.

“That is the tipping point, right there,” said Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Reis, a real estate data and analytics firm. “It’s like the Doppler effect. The change is coming at you so fast, it feels like it is accelerating.”

This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses.

More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.

The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades. About one out of every 10 Americans works in retail.

“There is a sea change happening in the retail industry,” said Mark Cohen, a former executive at Sears, who now runs the retail studies program at Columbia Business School. “And that is bringing a sea change in employment.”…

…“This is creative destruction at its best,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We are downsizing a part of the economy that is uncompetitive. While painful for those in the middle of it, this is how we grow and wealth is created.”

But Mr. Cohen, of Columbia University, said the upending of an entire industry will not be so tidy. Warehouses like the one in Red Hook typically employ a few hundred people, according to Sitex Group, a private equity firm that is expected to close on the property in a few weeks.

While these distribution centers could replace some of the work lost in stores, they likely won’t make up the entire difference. That is because much of the operations are automated and require different skills and sensibilities than selling jeans.

«

A followup to the data from Monday. This is going to be the employment shift that faces the next sets of political candidates in 2018 and 2020.
link to this extract


Fairytale prisoner by choice: the photographic eye of Melania Trump • Medium

Kate Imbach:

»

Why won’t the first lady show up for her job? Why? I became obsessed with this question and eventually looked to Melania’s Twitter history for answers. I noticed that in the three-year period between June 3, 2012 and June 11, 2015 she tweeted 470 photos which she appeared to have taken herself. I examined these photographs as though they were a body of work.

Everyone has an eye, whether or not we see ourselves as photographers. What we choose to photograph and how we frame subjects always reveals a little about how we perceive the world. For someone like Melania, media-trained, controlled and cloistered, her collection of Twitter photography provides an otherwise unavailable view into the reality of her existence. Nowhere else — certainly not in interviews or public appearances — is her guard so far down.

What is that reality? She is Rapunzel with no prince and no hair, locked in a tower of her own volition, and delighted with the predictability and repetition of her own captivity.

«

This does feel a little cod-psychological when one considers it; what would someone glean about you from the personal pictures that *you* post to social media? And yet it does seem consistent with her actions. And her unwillingness to leave New York and set up in Washington. No views, you see.
link to this extract


Google to open up Android to rivals in out-of-court deal with Russia • Reuters

»

Alphabet Inc’s Google will open up its popular Android mobile operating system to rival search engines in Russia as part of a deal to settle a two-year dispute with Russian competition authorities.

The deal sets a new precedent for the tech giant, which faces multiple complaints worldwide that it is abusing its dominant position by imposing restrictions on manufacturers of Android-based devices in order to protect its share of the online search market.

Russia’s competition watchdog, FAS, ruled in 2015 that Google was breaking the law by requiring the pre-installation of applications, including its own search tool, on mobile devices using Android, following a complaint by Russia’s Yandex.

Google will no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android-based devices in Russia and will not restrict the pre-installation of rival search engines and other applications, as part of a deal with FAS, the regulator said on Monday.

It will also develop a tool allowing users to choose a default search engine on their Android devices.

«

Fines of $7.8m – not much for Google. Applies for the next six years. How’s the EC’s case against Google, filed in October 2010, coming along?
link to this extract


Lawyers, malware, and money: the antivirus market’s nasty fight over Cylance • Ars Technica

Sean Gallagher:

»

Last November, a systems engineer at a large company was evaluating security software products when he discovered something suspicious.

One of the vendors had provided a set of malware samples to test—48 files in an archive stored in the vendor’s Box cloud storage account. The vendor providing those samples was Cylance, the information security company behind Protect, a “next generation” endpoint protection system built on machine learning. In testing, Protect identified all 48 of the samples as malicious, while competing products flagged most but not all of them. Curious, the engineer took a closer look at the files in question—and found that seven weren’t malware at all.

That led the engineer to believe Cylance was using the test to close the sale by providing files that other products wouldn’t detect—that is, bogus malware only Protect would catch.

Protect has been highly ranked by a number of industry analysts for its innovative approach to “advanced endpoint security,” the broad term used to describe products designed to stop modern malware and other threats to personal computers. Protect bases its detection and blocking of malware on machine learning technology. Rather than use heuristics that look for behaviors matching specific rules, Protect has been “trained” using “the DNA markers of 1 billion known bad and 1 billion known good files,” said Cylance’s vice president of product testing and industry relations, Chad Skipper. The company’s idea has drawn investors; in fact, the stakes in Cylance taken by venture capital firms thus far value the company at $1 billion.

One reason Cylance and other new malware protection contenders have drawn so much investment—over $1.8bn in venture capital since 2014—is that the malware protection industry is ripe for disruption.

«

Ah, the D-word. Though they are a bit like airlines – you use them because you have to, not because you necessarily love them.
link to this extract


Analyse • OpenPrescribing

»

Search 700 million rows of prescribing data, and get prescribing information by CCG or practice. You can search for any numerator over any denominator. For example, prescriptions by CCG for branded Rosuvastatin as a proportion of all lipid-regulating drugs ; or for Rosuvastatin vs generic Atorvastatin ; or for Enalapril as a proportion of its drug class . Add the name of a CCG or practice to check how an organisation compares with its peers. Don’t forget to look at time trends, and maps!

«

This is work which Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame) has played a large part in. You should read the cautionary notes about interpreting the data. But it’s a wonderful example of what open data can produce.
link to this extract


With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and ‘no transparency’ • The New York Times

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew Lehren:

»

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government.

Another case involves Chad Wolf, who spent the past several years lobbying to secure funding for the Transportation Security Administration to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new carry-on luggage screening device. He is now chief of staff at that agency — at the same time as the device is being tested and evaluated for possible purchase by agency staff…

…Mr. Trump’s appointees are also far wealthier and have more complex financial holdings and private-sector ties than officials hired at the start of the Obama administration, according to an Office of Government Ethics analysis that the White House has made public. This creates a greater chance that they might have conflicts related to investments or former clients, which could force them to sell off assets, recuse themselves or seek a waiver.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah H. Sanders, declined repeated requests by The Times to speak with Stefan C. Passantino, the White House lawyer in charge of the ethics policy. Instead, the White House provided a written statement that did not address any of the specific questions about potential violations The Times had identified.

«

Once again: this is a venal administration; if there isn’t corruption, it’s only by the most remarkable of chances, because the rich don’t tend to get rich by closely observing ethical rules. The US is turning into a banana republic.

link to this extract


Face it: smartwatches are totally doomed • Mashable

Karissa Bell:

»

I’ve never regularly worn a watch in my life. I’m not alone. Fewer and fewer people, especially young people, are wearing watches, according to analysts. In fact, chances are good that if you’re a millennial, your smartphone is your main timepiece — a trend that seems unlikely to reverse.

Now, I’m not saying that all watches are going to die any time soon. Watches will no doubt continue to be a mainstay in offices, courtrooms, schools, hospitals, and anywhere else smartphones aren’t readily accessible for the foreseeable future. (Or at least until we get the augmented reality contact lenses we keep being promised.) 

But even that doesn’t bode well for smartwatches. If you’d rather use your phone over a watch then what good is a smaller, buggier, version on your wrist? And if you’d rather have a real, old school retro analog watch, why would you ever choose a more expensive smartwatch that will become obsolete months after you buy it?

Face it: Huawei’s [CEO Eric Xu] Zhijun [who said he was confused what smartwatches are for when we have smartphones] was spot on. Smartwatches just don’t add up. 

«

I don’t agree: if you don’t have a smartwatch, you don’t know what you’re missing, which is the ability not to be tied to holding your phone. Also: these things go in cycles. Watches are cool, they’re not cool, they’re cool again.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: hacking self-driving cars, Trump hides visitor details, Shadowbrokers dissemble, and more


US retailers are going bust at a stunning rate – so where’s the help for those put out of a job? Photo by Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. None subject to referendum, since they always seem to give the wrong answer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Retailers are going bankrupt at a staggering rate • Business Insider

Hayley Peterson:

»

It’s only April, and nine retailers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of the year — as many as all of last year.

“2017 will be the year of retail bankruptcies,” Corali Lopez-Castro, a bankruptcy lawyer, told Business Insider after she attended a recent distressed-investing conference in Palm Beach, Florida. “Retailers are running out of cash, and the dominoes are starting to fall.”

Payless ShoeSource, hhgregg, The Limited, RadioShack, BCBG, Wet Seal, Gormans, Eastern Outfitters, and Gander Mountain are among the retailers that have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, and most are closing hundreds of stores as a result. On top of those closures, retailers that are staying in business — at least for now — are shutting down a record number of stores. 

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close over the next several months.

«

This is big for jobs:

»

General merchandise stores shed 34,700 jobs in March, the government announced Friday, the single most disappointing figure in a generally disappointing jobs report.

After hitting a low point during the recession in December 2009, the retail sector has reliably been churning out more jobs. Though the Labor Department’s monthly employment summary provides only a snapshot of the labor market, this is the second month in a row that retail payrolls have registered substantial losses — a possible sign that larger structural changes are in the works.

«

And also: the decline in jobs since 2001 (its peak) is more than 10 times the total number employed in coal mining in the US.

And finally: US official statistics show that coal mining is 95% a white occupation, while retail is predominantly women (47.8%), 12% black.

Yet which one gets the presidential gladhanding even at the cost of the environment and the reality of where the jobs are?
link to this extract


First resort • Remains Of The Day

Eugene Wei used to work at Amazon, where they obsessed about how to become the “site of first resort” for shopping:

»

A few years back I was in a wedding party, and I had to purchase a specific shirt to match the other groomsmen. I could only find it at Barney’s, and the local outlet didn’t offer it in my size so I ordered it from their website. The package was stolen from our apartment lobby, so I wrote Barney’s customer service asking for a replacement shipment. They refused and asked me to take it up with UPS or FedEx, or whoever the shipper was. If it were Amazon, they’d have a replacement package out to me overnight on the spot, no questions asked. Needless to say, I’ll never order from Barneys again, but it’s amazing to think that Amazon’s customer service is superior to that of even luxury retailers.

In hindsight, thinking Google might surpass us in shopping seems farfetched, but there was a time eBay had surpassed Amazon in market cap and was growing their sales and inventory in a way that inspired envy in Seattle. It turns out there was more of a ceiling on the potential of auctions as a shopping format than fixed price shopping, but in the moment, it was hard to see that shoulder on the S-curve would be.

«

His jumping-off point being the graph from a few days ago showing how peoples’ search for items to buy often starts now at Amazon, at least in the US.
link to this extract


Alphabet’s Verily shows off health-focused smartwatch • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Alphabet’s Life Sciences division, called Verily, is giving the world a peek at its health-focused smartwatch. The Google sister company introduced the “Verily Study Watch” on its blog today, calling it an “investigational device” that aims to “passively capture health data” for medical studies.

Many wearables technically capture health data with simple heart-rate sensors, but Verily’s watch aims to be a real medical device. The blog post says the device can track “relevant signals for studies spanning cardiovascular, movement disorders, and other areas.” The Study Watch does this by using electrocardiography (ECG) and by measuring electrodermal activity and inertial movements.

«

On Friday I observed that Verily was about due to do a PR push. And here it is, right on time. Not for sale, of course.
link to this extract


Google will oppose a shareholder push to publish its gender pay data • Buzzfeed

Hamza Shaban:

»

For the second year in a row, Google’s parent company Alphabet will oppose a shareholder plan that would commit the business to evaluate and disclose whether it has a pay gap between female and male employees.

Arjuna Capital, the investment firm advancing the proposal on behalf of stockholders, told BuzzFeed News that Alphabet sent them a statement of opposition ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting this summer. Google declined to comment on the plan.

Last week, as part of an ongoing investigation against Google, an official with the Department of Labor said the agency “found systemic compensation disparities pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, said there is a difference between paying lip service to gender pay equity and actually being transparent about it.

“They have been unwilling to do that,” Lamb said. “That’s unsettling given how proactive their tech peers have been, and also given what we just saw with the Department of Labor accusing them of extreme gender pay disparity. It makes one question what’s really going on here, when there isn’t full transparency and accountability.”

«

The pressure is going to continue. How does Google get out of this?
link to this extract


1Q17 global smartphone production volume fell 23% from prior quarter due to seasonality • Trendforce

»

Global smartphone production volume for the first quarter of 2017 totaled 307 million units, a drop of 23% from the previous quarter, according to market intelligence firm TrendForce. Smartphone brands, especially those based in China, lowered their production volume forecasts through the first quarter as demand slowed down significantly due to the conventional seasonal effect.

Major brands such as Samsung, LG and Huawei have begun to ship their flagship devices for the year, but the market demand going into the second quarter is expected to remain relatively weak as consumers are holding off their purchases in anticipation of the 10th anniversary iPhone devices that will arrive in the third quarter. Smartphone sales will be fairly lackluster until the second half of this year. TrendForce estimates that the global smartphone production volume for this second quarter will register a modest single-digit growth versus the preceding three-month period.

Strong sales of the Galaxy J series made Samsung the only brand posting production volume growth for the first quarter.

Samsung’s sales results for its high-end smartphones fell short of expectations in the first quarter as consumers’ confidence in the brand had yet to fully recover from the recall of Galaxy Note 7. Nevertheless, Samsung continued to do very well in the mid-range and low-end segments of the market.

«

Xiaomi doing slightly better; Lenovo doing a lot worse (as in 20% down year-on-year). Amazing that the upcoming iPhone is affecting sales already.
link to this extract


Charlie Miller on why self-driving cars are so hard to secure from hackers • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Two years ago, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek pulled off a demonstration that shook the auto industry, remotely hacking a Jeep Cherokee via its internet connection to paralyze it on a highway. Since then, the two security researchers have been quietly working for Uber, helping the startup secure its experimental self-driving cars against exactly the sort of attack they proved was possible on a traditional one. Now, Miller has moved on, and he’s ready to broadcast a message to the automotive industry: Securing autonomous cars from hackers is a very difficult problem. It’s time to get serious about solving it.

Last month, Miller left Uber for a position at Chinese competitor Didi, a startup that’s just now beginning its own autonomous ridesharing project. In his first post-Uber interview, Miller talked to WIRED about what he learned in those 19 months at the company—namely that driverless taxis pose a security challenge that goes well beyond even those faced by the rest of the connected car industry.

«

Consider how lousy the security on most IoT stuff is. Self-driving cars will be different, but you know they’ll have sockets for maintenance..
link to this extract


Facebook faces increased publisher resistance to Instant Articles • Digiday

Lucia Moss:

»

Facebook’s Instant Article push is in danger of fizzling.

Many publishers are deeply unhappy  with the monetization on these pages, with major partners like The New York Times throwing in the towel and many others cutting back the amount of content pushed to the IA platform. In response, Facebook is making concessions to publishers, including new subscription options, in a rare show of weakness for the platform juggernaut.

The Times is among an elite group of publishers that’s regularly tapped by Facebook to launch new products, and as such, it was one of the first batch of publishers to pilot Instant. But it stopped using Instant Articles after a test last fall that found that links back to the Times’ own site monetized better than Instant Articles, said Kinsey Wilson, evp of product and technology at the Times. People were also more likely to subscribe to the Times if they came directly to the site rather than through Facebook, he said. Thus, for the Times, IA simply isn’t worth it. Even a Facebook-dependent publisher like LittleThings, which depends on Facebook for 80% of its visitors, is only pushing 20% of its content to IA.

Enthusiasm has cooled elsewhere. It’s an about-face from two years ago, when publishers were champing at the bit to join the party. “It’s just a matter of time,” Hearst Digital president Troy Young said at the time.

«

Poor monetisation. Facebook is not the publisher’s friend, and now they’re realising it we are going to shift into a new era in their relationship.
link to this extract


LeEco kills EcoPass video streaming and services subscription plan • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»

Embattled Chinese consumer electronics upstart LeEco has killed its plans for EcoPass, an ambitious content and services subscription bundle aimed at U.S. consumers. News of the end of EcoPass comes just days after LeEco announced that it is pulling out of the planned $2bn acquisition of US TV manufacturer Vizio.

EcoPass combined premium video streaming content with extended warranties, cloud storage, priority customer service and more. LeEco was offering consumers who bought phones and TVs between 3 and 12 months of complementary EcoPass membership, and was supposed to officially introduce the plan and reveal monthly pricing this spring.

But on Friday, a LeEco spokesperson confirmed that EcoPass was officially dead, sending Variety the following statement:

“We have discontinued the EcoPass Beta program as of April 1. We will be replacing EcoPass with 3-months of DirecTV NOW with every purchase of a LeEco ecophone or ecotv. We believe this provides greater value to our customers since it has over 60 channels that include the latest movies and shows.”

«

LeEco now looks in serious trouble. Withdrawal from the US looks a virtual certainty.
link to this extract


A milestone moment for tidal energy • Innovators magazine

»

The eyes of the renewable energy world are firmly fixed on Scotland this week after it was announced the most powerful tidal turbine on the planet hit peak power.

And it was all an inside job. Developed and manufactured by one of the country’s leading engineering companies, Scotrenewables, the SR2000 device demonstrated its capabilities at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

The 500 tonne floating tidal turbine exported its full 2MW of power into the local grid on 12 April. A milestone moment for tidal energy, it also further strengthens Scotland’s reputation as a global leader in renewable energy.

«

link to this extract


White House visitor logs won’t be released • Time.com

Zeke Miller:

»

The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday.

The decision, after nearly three months of speculation about the fate of the records, marks a dramatic shift from the Obama Administration’s voluntary disclosure of more than 6 million records during his presidency. The U.S. Secret Service maintains the logs, formally known as the Workers and Visitors Entry System, for the purpose of determining who can access to the 18-acre complex.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Three White House officials said they expect criticism of the new policy, but believe it is necessary to preserve the ability of the president to seek advice from whomever he wants, “with some discretion.” They requested anonymity to discuss the policy before a formal announcement.

«

This is crap; it shows the Trump administration to be venal and hypocritical. All the attempts to justify this can’t hide the fact that this is an attempt to hide what is going on. “Drain the swamp” my arse.
link to this extract


April 2016: How the maker of TurboTax fought free, simple tax filing • ProPublica

by Liz Day, in April 2016:

»

In 2013, we detailed how Intuit has lobbied against allowing the government to estimate your taxes for you. So this week, we called Intuit and asked if they still oppose free, government-prepared returns. The answer: Yes. “Our legislative, our policy position on that hasn’t changed,” said spokeswoman Julie Miller. She called Intuit “a staunch opponent to government prepared tax returns.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill yesterday to allow free government-prepped returns. Her office also released a report on the tax industry’s opposition to simpler filing solutions. It cited the article below as well as another story we did on how a rabbi, civil rights activist, and others were misled into supporting Intuit’s campaign.

…Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit’s disclosures pointedly note that the company “opposes IRS government tax preparation.”

The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.

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This is quite a tale of lobbying power within the US government. Now do you see the value in being able to see who has lobbied politicians?
link to this extract


Protecting customers and evaluating risk • Microsoft blog

:

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Most of the exploits that were disclosed [by ShadowBrokers] fall into vulnerabilities that are already patched in our supported products. Below is a list of exploits that are confirmed as already addressed by an update. We encourage customers to ensure their computers are up-to-date.

Code NameSolution
“EternalBlue”Addressed by MS17-010
“EmeraldThread”Addressed by MS10-061
“EternalChampion”Addressed by CVE-2017-0146 & CVE-2017-0147
“ErraticGopher”Addressed prior to the release of Windows Vista
“EsikmoRoll”Addressed by MS14-068
“EternalRomance”Addressed by MS17-010
“EducatedScholar”Addressed by MS09-050
“EternalSynergy”Addressed by MS17-010
“EclipsedWing”Addressed by MS08-067
 

Of the three remaining exploits, “EnglishmanDentist”, “EsteemAudit”, and “ExplodingCan”, none reproduces on supported platforms, which means that customers running Windows 7 and more recent versions of Windows or Exchange 2010 and newer versions of Exchange are not at risk. Customers still running prior versions of these products are encouraged to upgrade to a supported offering.

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There was a huge kerfuffle on Friday when these were leaked; but it turns out that Microsoft had already patched against these hacks. However, there’s no protection for Windows XP, and older versions of Windows Server might be vulnerable. For the most part: run Windows 10 and don’t worry.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: losing God and finding Trump, Apple’s sweet solution, the Hitler sitcom (honest), and more


Hodgkin lived in what is now the UK’s most expensive area, per square metre, outside London. Photo by addedentry on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Enjoy Easter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

House prices by square metre in England & Wales • Anna Powell-Smith

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This map shows for the first time the average price per m2 of houses in each postcode district in England & Wales. It uses new government data on floor area from EPC certificates, matched with 6.2 million residential house sales since 2007.

Sale prices range from more than £20,000 per square metre in SW1X (Belgravia) and W1K (Mayfair) to under £1,000 in postcodes like DN31 (Grimsby) and CF43 (Rhondda). Click to see details for a postcode, or zoom to London, Birmingham, Manchester.

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Such wonderful work. As you’d expect, London has all of the most expensive space (for the top 100); you have to go to Richmond (still London really) and then Oxford to escape its gravitational pull.

Powell-Smith is amazing. Since you’re wondering:

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Methodology: Sale prices taken from Land Registry’s Price Paid dataset of residential property sales to individuals since August 2007. Floor area in m2 per property taken from Energy Performance Certificates. I join each property sale to the property’s most recent EPC, using normalised addresses: this finds a match 79% of the time, for around 6.2 million property sales. The aggregate price per m2 for each postcode district is then calculated as the total price of all sales, divided by the total floor area of all properties

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link to this extract


How the Bible Belt lost God and found Trump • FT

Gary Silverman:

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I took my place in the book-lined study of [emeritus professor and Baptist minister Wayne] Flynt’s redwood house in Auburn, Alabama, to hear his thoughts on the local economy, but the conversation turned to a central mystery of US politics. Trump would not be president without the strong support of the folks Flynt has chronicled — white residents of the Bible Belt, raised in the do-it-yourself religious traditions that distinguish the US from Europe. I wondered how a thrice-married former casino owner — who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — had won over the faithful.

Flynt’s answer is that his people are changing. The words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, are less central to their thinking and behaviour, he says. Church is less compelling. Marriage is less important. Reading from a severely abridged Bible, their political concerns have narrowed down to abortion and issues involving homosexuality. Their faith, he says, has been put in a president who embodies an unholy trinity of materialism, hedonism and narcissism. Trump’s victory, in this sense, is less an expression of the old-time religion than evidence of a move away from it.

“The 2016 election laid out graphically what is in essence the loss of Christian America,” Flynt says, delivering his verdict with a calm assurance that reminded me of Lee’s hero, Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film of her novel.

“Arguably, what has constituted white evangelical Christian morality for 200 years no longer matters, which is to say we’re now a lot like Germany, a lot like France, a lot like England, a lot like the Netherlands, and what we have is a sort of late-stage Christian afterglow.”

…Flynt says evangelical Christians are mainly mobilising against the sins they either do not want to commit (homosexual acts) or cannot commit (undergoing an abortion, in the case of men). They turn a blind eye toward temptations such as adultery and divorce that interest them.

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A fascinating analysis.
link to this extract


Investigation finds inmates built computers and hid them in prison ceiling • WRGB

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Investigators say there was lax supervision at the prison, which gave inmates the ability to build computers from parts, get them through security checks, and hide them in the ceiling. The inmates were also able to run cabling, connecting the computers to the prison’s network.

“It surprised me that the inmates had the ability to not only connect these computers to the state’s network but had the ability to build these computers,” Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer said. “They were able to travel through the institution more than 1,100 feet without being checked by security through several check points, and not a single correction’s staff member stopped them from transporting these computers into the administrative portion of the building. It’s almost if it’s an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.”

The inmates were able to get the parts from a program where inmates break down computers in order to learn computer skills and recycle the parts.

The Ohio Inspector General says investigators found an inmate used the computers to steal the identity of another inmate, and then submit credit card applications, and commit tax fraud. They also found inmates used the computers to create security clearance passes that gave them access to restricted areas.

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They ought to be locked u– oh.
link to this extract


Apple secretly working on glucose monitoring for diabetes • CNBC

Christina Farr:

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Apple has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, miles from corporate headquarters.

They are part of a super secret initiative, initially envisioned by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to develop sensors that can noninvasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels to better treat diabetes, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Such a breakthrough would be a “holy grail” for life sciences. Many life sciences companies have tried and failed, as it’s highly challenging to track glucose levels accurately without piercing the skin.

The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways, the people said.

The efforts have been going on for at least five years, the people said. Jobs envisioned wearable devices, like smartwatches, being used to monitor important vitals, such as oxygen levels, heart rate and blood glucose. In 2010, Apple quietly acquired a company called Cor, after then-CEO Bob Messerschmidt reportedly sent Jobs a cold email on the topic of sensor technologies for health and wellness. Messerschmidt later joined the Apple Watch team.

…One of the people said that Apple is developing optical sensors, which involves shining a light through the skin to measure indications of glucose.

Accurately detecting glucose levels has been such a challenge that one of the top experts in the space, John L. Smith, described it as “the most difficult technical challenge I have encountered in my career.”

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This would be a hell of a thing if – big if – Apple can get it to work: it would quickly become the single most popular wearable device for blood sugar monitoring. But the margin for error would be minimal.

I don’t think Google’s project to do it via contact lenses is going to bear fruit, even though it gets wheeled out every couple of years for journalists to swoon over. (It’s about due for another outing; the last version was a bandage, proudly announced in August 2015.)
link to this extract


Security advisory: mobile phones • Kraken

This is not short, but if you really do get concerned about the security of your systems, this is the blogpost for you:

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Somehow, the masses have been led to believe that phone numbers are inextricably bound to identities and therefore make good authentication tools.  There’s a reason that Kraken has never supported SMS-based authentication:  The painful reality is that your telco operates at the security level of a third-rate coat check.  Here’s an example interaction:

Hacker:  Can I have my jacket?
Telco: Sure, can I have your ticket?
Hacker:  I lost it.
Telco:  Do you remember the number?
Hacker:  Nope, but it’s that one right there. 😉
Telco:  Ok cool.  Here ya go.  Please rate 10/10 on survey ^_^

So, we need to achieve three things:
1.  A shift in the way we think about phone numbers
2.  The securing of your phone number (to the extent possible)
3.  The separation of your phone number from any security functions

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link to this extract


The disruption of democracy • Medium

James Allworth with a subtle analysis of what has changed about our perception of “entrepreneurship” and its effects over the past century or so:

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There is an important, and somewhat counter-intutitive insight here: the best way to keep an economy healthy isn’t by prioritizing the economy.

It’s by prioritizing democracy.

This focus on democracy is what keeps destructive and unproductive entrepreneurship at bay. When wealthy special interests come knocking on governmental doors — and given the nature of entrepreneurs, those knocks will happen, accompanied by promises of campaign contributions in exchange for favorable policy— on what basis do policy makers make their decision of what to do? I genuinely believe that most actors on both sides of this equation — in business, and in government — are good people. They’re motivated to do good. But they have a set of forces working on them to behave in a certain way in such a situation.

The business leaders? That’s easy. They’re looking to profit. They’ll do so however they can, within the rules of the game. There are two levers implicit in that statement: play the game as it stands. Or change the rules.

And the policy-makers? Well, they’re looking to get re-elected. With that as the goal, their criteria for judging whether a policy is worth pursuing is two-fold. First, how are voters going to react? Because if they don’t like this, and they change their vote… well I’m out of office.

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link to this extract


Rise of subscriptions and the fall of advertising •The Graph

Bob Gilbreath:

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Advertising has always been a “tax” on our attention. Historically the interruptions were limited and we had little control over the handful of channels we read, watched and listened to. But the rise of digital media has put more control in people’s hands. When you give people freedom to get what they want, when they want it, they will seek to get it without paying that attention tax.

The “free media with advertising” grand bargain seems more like a bad deal as the value of our attention spans rise. We have more media choices and distractions than ever before in our lives. We are multi-tasking and keeping up with many things at once. Pausing to watch an advertisement is a speed bump in our busy lives. And once we cut some of these interruptions out with subscriptions, the remaining ads we do see feel even more painful — thus shifting the value equation toward skipping and subscribing.

The media channels haven’t been in love with the advertising-supported business model lately, either. Not only do they make a lot less money by trading in analog dollars for digital dimes, but they are under constant pressure to keep up with the rapid pace change. Big brands are forcing publishers to cover the cost of 3rd party verification thanks to a system that is being overwhelmed by fraud. There is a “stack” of ad-tech add-ons from venture-backed startups and sexier social networks that are taking a growing piece of every budget.

All that cost is on top of the investment in a highly-paid sales force that must continually wine and dine clients to stay in the preference set. And don’t get me started on the Taboola and Outbrain models that add click-bait to the bottom of every page in order to try and wring out just a little more revenue — at the cost of brand equity and journalistic integrity.

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I think *Americans* are discovering this. We’ve known it outside America, which is passionate about extracting the last bit of distraction from every moment – how long does a baseball game take? An American football game? Many of the delays in tennis matches now are driven by the need to insert adverts. Soccer frustrates US TV because it doesn’t pause at predictable times (except half-time) or for predictable lengths of time.
link to this extract


Heil Honey, I’m Home! (Series) • TV Tropes

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Heil Honey, I’m Home! is a comedy show about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun moving next door to a Jewish couple.

Yes, someone actually filmed and aired a sitcom with that premise. It’s real.

The show was written by British comedy writer Geoff Atkinson (one of the main writers of Spitting Image) in the 1990s, and is an almost perfect example of a Stealth Parody show. Possibly the most bizarre example of a “reimagining”, the series set out to depict Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living in suburban bliss, with their lives interrupted only by Hitler’s dislike for their next door neighbours, an incredibly stereotypical Jewish couple. It was presented to the viewer as a “long lost”, “recently rediscovered” 1950s sitcom, parodying and distorting beyond recognition the worst features of such programs (with unnecessary canned applause for every character entrance, hideously vacuous plots and dialogue, and a truly awful title sequence).

The show’s ultimate intent seemed to be to illustrate and parody the banal, cookie-cutter nature of most shows in this style. If one changed the names of the main characters, along with a couple of lines, the show would be indistinguishable from a genuine post-war sitcom, and the humour is largely derived from the jarring fact that the domestic fool main character just happens to be Hitler. That said, it’s hard to see how the premise, originally envisioned as a comedy sketch, would’ve been maintained over a series of shows.

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I guess it could have become darker and darker.. ending up with them moving into the basement. More recently Ricky Gervais’s Extras also sought to destroy through parody the awful sitcoms that plague evenings – but which we don’t watch any more because we have so much other choice. (No, don’t mention Mrs Brown’s Boys and its gigantic viewership.)
link to this extract


Apple supplier Synaptics is at risk of insourcing: Credit Suisse • Business Insider

Rob Price:

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The Californian firm builds interface technologies, driver displays, and biometric tech, and is a partner of Apple.

But analysts at Credit Suisse took a look at Apple suppliers who could face being insourced in a research note sent to investors on Tuesday, and concluded Synaptics was deemed most likely.

It’s worth noting that Credit Suisse’s analysts don’t seem to have any hard evidence that Apple is going to ditch Synaptics (like a leaked contract, say). They’re just identifying the company as being, in their view, at particular risk, given certain public information.

Why? They identify a few reasons. It would let Apple “optimize power and performance with its internal graphics engine,” for one. And it would also “lessen [Apple’s] reliance on Samsung for OLED displays.” Apple and Samsung are long-time frenemies — the former relies on the latter for hardware components, even as they fight bitterly for dominance of the high-end smartphone market.

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Surely the point is about whether “insourcing” the product allows Apple to gallop ahead, or if it’s just part of the normal assembly stuff. Hard to know without deeper knowledge of how Synaptics stuff is used. (Thanks Sai Narayan.)
link to this extract


Android market share rises in urban China • Kantar Worldpanel

The monthly update:

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“Android has achieved continuous growth in China since last February, with its strongest year-on-year gains coming in the three months ending February 2017, when its share rose 9.3 percentage points,” said Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “As we’ve seen in the past, this was due to a strong sales period around Chinese New Year, which is always a busy promotional season, particularly for local brands. Huawei, Oppo, Meizu, Vivo, and 360 all posted year-on-year growth.”

“In the three-month period ending February 2017, iOS accounted for 13.2% of smartphone sales in urban China, a decline of 8.9 percentage points from 22.1% a year earlier. This marks iOS’ lowest share since the three-month period ending July 2014,” reported Tamsin Timpson, Strategic Insight Director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Asia. “That said, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus remained the top selling devices in the region, accounting for 8% of smartphone sales. By comparison, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus accounted for 14% of smartphone sales in the three months ending February 2016.”

“While Android continued to make gains in EU5, growth slowed to just 0.9 percentage points between February 2016 and February 2017, while iOS gained 2.7 percentage points to capture 21.8% of smartphone sales,” said Dominic Sunnebo, Business Unit Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe…

…Among US consumers intending to purchase over the next six months, 23% indicate that they will consider a Google Pixel. But since its release, Pixel has not been able to surpass 2% of smartphone sales, in part because supply constraints have limited its availability.

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The precipitous drop in apparent sales in China will probably be a concern to Apple, but what Kantar never does (because it relies on a panel who report what they’ve bought, so even very small numbers changing their behaviour can create apparently big change) is indicate how sales volumes are changing overall.

And meanwhile, yeah, the Pixel people need to get their act together.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified