Start Up: Twitter and Facebook at bay, the teens opposing the NRA, Samsung cutting OLED output?, and more

Growing new teeth could be a matter of taking an Alzheimer’s drug. Photo by Chapendra on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Not the subject of MPs’ letters. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

“Just an ass-backward tech company”: how Twitter lost the internet war • Vanity Fair

Maya Kosoff:


At the same time, her defenders say, [head of Twitter Trust & Safety, Del] Harvey has been forced to clean up a mess that Twitter should have fixed years ago. Twitter’s backend was initially built on Ruby on Rails, a rudimentary web-application framework that made it nearly impossible to find a technical solution to the harassment problem. If Twitter’s co-founders had known what it would become, a third former executive told me, “you never would have built it on a Fisher-Price infrastructure.” Instead of building a product that could scale alongside the platform, former employees say, Twitter papered over its problems by hiring more moderators. “Because this is just an ass-backward tech company, let’s throw non-scalable, low-tech solutions on top of this low-tech, non-scalable problem.”

Calls to rethink that approach were ignored by senior executives, according to people familiar with the situation. “There was no real sense of urgency,” the former executive explained, pointing the finger at Harvey’s superiors, including current CEO Jack Dorsey. “It’s a technology company with crappy technologists, a revolving door of product heads and CEOs, and no real core of technological innovation. You had Del saying, ‘Trolls are going to be a problem. We will need a technological solution for this.’” But Twitter never developed a product sophisticated enough to automatically deal with with bots, spam, or abuse.


I’ve known Del Harvey for years, as a journalist, so I’m probably a bit biased. But she’s not failing; Twitter’s problem is its drive for users instead of quality. It lives up to Mark Zuckerberg’s dismissive comment that “it’s a clown car that drove into a gold mine.”
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Facebook battles new criticism after US indictment against Russians • WSJ

Robert McMillan:


The Twitter comments of Mr. Goldman, Facebook’s head of advertising, also fueled disagreement about the intent of the Russian efforts. One of Mr. Goldman’s tweets said “swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal” of the Russian ads, and that “the majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election.”

On Saturday, President Donald Trump cited Mr. Goldman’s comment in support of the idea that Russia’s actions didn’t affect the election.

Following criticism that he was obscuring the intent of the Russians, Mr. Goldman later tweeted that “the Russian campaign was certainly in favor of Mr. Trump.” He also dialed back some of his claims. “I am only speaking here about the Russian behavior on Facebook. That is the only aspect that I observed directly,” he tweeted.

Clint Watts, a fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute who studied the Russian influence campaign, said the ads bought on Facebook were only “a much smaller part of a very large effort.”

“Mr. Goldman should have stayed silent,” Mr. Watts said, adding that playing down the effect of the influence campaign risked further angering Americans. “The public is upset that they got duped on Facebook’s platform. Facebook got duped,” he said. “It makes it seem like they don’t get it.”

While Facebook’s role in the Russian campaign is in the spotlight, some researchers who have studied the efforts note that it was far from the only institution to fall short.

“Let’s not mince words. The Obama administration did not react quickly enough to this problem. The intelligence community did not react quickly enough to this problem,” said Thomas Rid, professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University.


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Scientists have found a drug that can repair cavities and regrow teeth • World Economic Forum

Kara Lant:


Dental fillings may soon be left in the ash heap of history, thanks to a recent discovery about a drug called Tideglusib. Developed for and trialled to treat Alzheimer’s disease, the drug also happens to promote the natural tooth regrowth mechanism, allowing the tooth to repair cavities.

Tideglusib works by stimulating stem cells in the pulp of teeth, the source of new dentine. Dentine is the mineralized substance beneath tooth enamel that gets eaten away by tooth decay.

Teeth can naturally regenerate dentine without assistance, but only under certain circumstances. The pulp must be exposed through infection (such as decay) or trauma to prompt the manufacture of dentine. But even then, the tooth can only regrow a very thin layer naturally—not enough to repair cavities caused by decay, which are generally deep. Tideglusib changes this outcome because it turns off the GSK-3 enzyme, which stops dentine from forming.

In the research, the team inserted small, biodegradable sponges made of collagen soaked in Tideglusib into cavities. The sponges triggered dentine growth and within six weeks, the damage was repaired. The collagen structure of the sponges melted away, leaving only the intact tooth.


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Here’s what it’s like at the headquarters of the teens working to stop mass shootings • Buzzfeed

Remy Smidt:


behind the scenes, they’re also just kids — sitting in a circle on the floor in the home of one of their parents, eating a batch of baked pasta, tweeting at each other, and comparing which celebrity just shared their post. There’s laughter and tears, and “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers plays briefly, but it’s also remarkably businesslike. There’s work to do and a seemingly endless number of phone calls to answer.

Remy Smidt/BuzzFeed News

“We slept enough to keep us going, but we’ve been nonstop all day, all night,” said Sofie Whitney, 18, a senior who estimated that she has spent 70% of the past 48 hours speaking with reporters. “This isn’t easy for us, but it’s something I need to do.”

Whitney told BuzzFeed News that “[she] wouldn’t like to return to school until the federal government starts making some progress.” Other student organizers have said the same thing. When asked how her parents might feel about this, Whitney responded, “I haven’t really discussed this with my parents, but I’ll deal with them.”

On Tuesday, the teens will travel to Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital, to push for a change in gun laws. On Wednesday night CNN will air a special town hall meeting with students and lawmakers. The teens are also planning the “March for Our Lives,” a nationwide March 24 demonstration that they hope will serve as the movement’s coming-out party.


The Tuesday attempt (to get assault rifle sales stopped) failed. But these kids are close to voting age, and they’re angry. There’s a wind blowing: 20 years ago, same-sex marriage wasn’t backed by a majority. Now, it is, quite apart from the legal side.

And guns are owned by a minority of Americans.
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The car of the future will sell your data • Bloomberg

Gabrielle Coppola:


Picture this: You’re driving home from work, contemplating what to make for dinner, and as you idle at a red light near your neighborhood pizzeria, an ad offering $5 off a pepperoni pie pops up on your dashboard screen.

Are you annoyed that your car’s trying to sell you something, or pleasantly persuaded? Telenav Inc., a company developing in-car advertising software, is betting you won’t mind much. Car companies—looking to earn some extra money—hope so, too.

Automakers have been installing wireless connections in vehicles and collecting data for decades. But the sheer volume of software and sensors in new vehicles, combined with artificial intelligence that can sift through data at ever-quickening speeds, means new services and revenue streams are quickly emerging. The big question for automakers now is whether they can profit off all the driver data they’re capable of collecting without alienating consumers or risking backlash from Washington.

“Carmakers recognize they’re fighting a war over customer data,” said Roger Lanctot, who works with automakers on data monetization as a consultant for Strategy Analytics. “Your driving behavior, location, has monetary value, not unlike your search activity.”

Carmakers’ ultimate objective, Lanctot said, is to build a database of consumer preferences that could be aggregated and sold to outside vendors for marketing purposes, much like Google and Facebook do today.


Whooaaa horsey. First: Google and Facebook do not sell your data. They sell anonymised access to profiles – people searching for lobsters, or people who own old cars and live in Uttoxeter.

Second, I recall a lot of “smartphones with Bluetooth will mean retailers can beam special offers to you as you walk past in the street!” Hasn’t happened.

Third, if cars were to do this, I think they’d get hacked pretty fast to stop them doing it.
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Israel confirms it will tax bitcoin as property • Coindesk

Stan Higgins:


Israel’s government confirmed Monday that it would treat bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a kind of property for tax purposes.

The notice confirms past indications that the Tax Authority will regard cryptocurrencies as “a property, not a currency”, making it therefore taxable as such. The Authority’s position was first detailed in a draft circular issued in January of this year.

The circular explains that profits from cryptocurrencies will be subject to capital gains tax at rates between 20% and 25%, while individuals mining or trading cryptocurrencies in connection with businesses must pay a 17% value-added tax (VAT) in addition to capital gains tax.

That latter aspect – excluding broad swaths of investors from potential VAT charges – is in line with a trend seen in recent years since the issue gained prominence. The Israeli government started exploring the taxation of cryptocurrencies as early as 2013.


OK – but how will they determine that someone owns bitcoin in any appreciable amount?
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Airfoil for Mac 5.7 rocks the HomePod • Rogue Amoeba

Paul Kafasis (of indie developer Rogue Amoeba:


Airfoil includes a built-in equalizer that lets you tweak your audio to get it just right. The HomePod sounds great, but you may wish to tone down its bass. Airfoil’s “Bass Reducer” preset is a great place to start.

Of course, if you want to go the other direction and really feel the music, the Bass Booster preset can help. Airfoil’s equalizer includes almost two dozen presets, and you can create and save custom presets as well.

Airfoil for Mac can even receive direction directly from the HomePod. That means you can use “Hey Siri” or the volume buttons to adjust playback levels. Even better, you can pass playback commands from the HomePod through Airfoil and on to supported sources. A single tap on the top of the HomePod will toggle play/pause, a double-tap will skip to the next track, and a triple-tap will jump back. Addressing Siri with these same commands works as well.

If you’re fortunate enough to have two (or more) HomePods, you can use Airfoil to send to all of them at once, with playback happening in sync. Airfoil has long been able to play audio to multiple devices in sync, and playback to the HomePod is no exception. Apple has touted multi-speaker sync as part of their delayed AirPlay 2 protocol, but it’s already possible today using Airfoil.


Not sure at this point why Apple hasn’t bought Rogue Amoeba. Its apps are so useful if you’re doing anything involving sound – which is a big part of its pro and semi-pro audience.
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Tesla’s cloud hacked, used to mine cryptocurrency • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron:


In an email to Gizmodo, a Tesla spokesperson said there is “no indication” the breach impacted customer privacy or compromised the security of its vehicles.

“We maintain a bug bounty program to encourage this type of research, and we addressed this vulnerability within hours of learning about it,” a Tesla spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. “The impact seems to be limited to internally-used engineering test cars only, and our initial investigation found no indication that customer privacy or vehicle safety or security was compromised in any way.”

According to RedLock, mining cryptocurrency is likely a more valuable use of Tesla’s servers than the data it stores.

“The recent rise of cryptocurrencies is making it far more lucrative for cybercriminals to steal organizations’ compute power rather than their data,” RedLock CTO Gaurav Kumar told Gizmodo. “In particular, organizations’ public cloud environments are ideal targets due to the lack of effective cloud threat defense programs. In the past few months alone, we have uncovered a number of cryptojacking incidents including the one affecting Tesla.”

Kumar said the attackers leveraged the Stratum mining protocol and evaded detection by hiding the true IP address of the mining pool server behind CloudFlare and keeping CPU usage low, among other tactics.

“Given the immaturity of cloud security programs today, we anticipate this type of cybercrime to increase in scale and velocity,” Kumar said.


Tired: hacking data. Wired: hacking CPUs to mine.
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Samsung to slash OLED panel output as iPhone X slumps • Nikkei

Kenichi Yamada:


Samsung Electronics is to slash production at its OLED panel plant in response to customer Apple’s decision to reduce output of the iPhone X following weak demand.

Samsung Display now plans to manufacture organic light-emitting diode panels for 20 million or fewer iPhones at the South Chungcheong site in the January-March quarter. The initial goal was to supply panels for 45 million to 50 million iPhones.

The company has yet to decide its production target for the April-June period, but a further cutback may be in store.

The new target will reduce production at the plant to around 60% of the original plan. When it comes to the facility dedicated to making panels for Apple, the rate will fall to 50% or lower.

The Samsung group unit is looking to offset the impact by securing more orders from Chinese and other customers.


Could be that Apple hit its targets early – or that it really has tapped out the buyers for the iPhone X. Or, perhaps, it has found an alternative OLED supplier – everyone has been expecting LG to come on stream.
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Say goodbye to Android Pay and hello to Google Pay • Techcrunch

Frederic Lardinois:


At first glance, the new Google Pay app is basically a redesign of Android Pay, with a look and feel that adheres closer to Google’s own Material Design guidelines than the original. In terms of functionality, there isn’t all that much here that’s new. One notable change, though, is that the Google Pay home screen now shows you relevant stores around you where you can pay with Google Pay. That list is personalized, based on previous stores where you used the service, as well as your location. In addition, the home screen shows you all of your recent purchases and you can still add all of your loyalty cards to the app.

As Google’s VP of Product Management for Payments, Pali Bhat, told me, the team really wanted to make it extremely easy to get started with Google Pay.


Personalising the list is a neat touch.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Huawei’s no-Mate, illegal deepfaking?, Facebook’s Group problem, Cape Town’s true water trouble, and more

Centaurs! They’re the future, at least if you want humans to get on with AI. Photo by Mike S on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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

How to become a centaur • MIT Journal of Design and Science

Nicky Case on the idea of “centaurs” – humans using AI, for example in chess tournaments where the human, advised by the AI, picks a move:


won’t AI eventually get better at the dimensions of intelligence we excel at? Maybe. However, consider the “No Free Lunch” theorem, which comes from the field of machine learning itself. The theorem states that no problem-solving algorithm (or “intelligence”) can out-do random chance on all possible problems: instead, an intelligence has to specialize. A squirrel intelligence specializes in being a squirrel. A human intelligence specializes in being a human. And if you’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to figure out how to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders, you know that even squirrels can outsmart humans on some dimensions of intelligence. This may be a hopeful sign: even humans will continue to outsmart computers on some dimensions.

Now, not only does pairing humans with AIs solve a technical problem — how to overcome the weaknesses of humans/AI with the strengths of AI/humans — it also solves that moral problem: how do we make sure AIs share our human goals and values?

And it’s simple: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

The rest of this essay will be about AI’s forgotten cousin, IA: Intelligence Augmentation. The old story of AI is about human brains working against silicon brains. The new story of IA will be about human brains working with silicon brains. As it turns out, most of the world is the opposite of a chess game:

Non-zero-sum — both players can win.


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Huawei Mate 10 Pro review: software sadness • The Verge

Dan Seifert:


as with any phone, the hardware is only half the story, and software is generally what makes or breaks an experience. In the case of the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei’s software breaks it.

The Mate 10 Pro runs Android 8.0 Oreo with Huawei’s EMUI user interface on top of it, and it’s wildly different from the version of Android you find on a Pixel or other modern phones. The best way I can describe it is a poorly made knockoff of iOS.

Huawei has customized almost everything about Android, and often, not in a good way. For example, you can’t expand notifications on the lock screen, so deleting an email or marking a to-do complete can’t be done without unlocking the phone. The settings menu, messaging app, and share sheet have been lifted right out of iOS and shoehorned onto Android. For some reason, most of the apps in the share sheet are hidden by default, forcing extra taps and swipes just to see them all.

Sure, you can change some of these things by downloading a different launcher or messaging app, but you can’t change things like the quick settings menu that doesn’t match the rest of the notification shade or that awful share sheet. You can’t turn on an option to make notifications on the lock screen more useful. On top of that, there are frustrating bugs — even when I downloaded another launcher and attempted to use that, the Mate 10 would frequently reset itself to Huawei’s own launcher.

This isn’t the kind of software experience anyone should have on an $800 phone, especially when there are already so many better options available. It’s bad enough that I honestly think nobody should buy the Mate 10 Pro because of its software, especially not at this price.


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Tool for journalists: Flourish, for creating data visualisations without coding •


What is it? A platform for data visualisation and storytelling, without the need for the user to code.

Cost: Free, with premium services priced at £39 per month. Flourish is working with Google News Lab to offer newsrooms free premium accounts, which include features such as HTML downloads, private projects and custom templates.

How is it of use to journalists? Although it may be true that journalists in 2018 are expected to be jacks of all trades, able to report, film, take and edit photos, produce podcasts and on top of that be social media hacks, there are many tools out there designed to help reporters with their work.

Web development is a sought after skill in newsrooms, but coding can seem daunting to journalists who haven’t had any training in basic programming.

Flourish, which was previously available in private beta but has recently opened to the public, aims to remove the complex nature of coding, helping journalists produce with data visualisations without having to enlist the help of programmers to design interactive stories for them.

After creating an account with their email address, users get access to core templates, like a variety of maps and charts. They can insert the data either directly into the webpage or by uploading an Excel, CSV or TSV file, before being able to download and embed the creations on their websites for public view.

The visualisations can be produced on mobile and desktop, and can also be saved for offline use, useful if you want to add them to a project on social media or to an offline conference presentation.


Looks interesting, and having something to do visualisations easily is always welcome.
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US lawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology • The Hill

Ali Breland:


Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon), one of the most vocal members of Congress on tech issues, painted a grim picture about what the advances could mean for the future of discerning truth in media. 

“Since we can’t rely on the responsibility of individual actors or the platforms they use, I fully expect there will be a proliferation of these sorts of fictions to a degree that nearly drowns out actual facts,” Wyden told The Hill.

“For those who value real information, there will still be some reliable publications and news outlets, and their credibility will need to be guarded all the more intently by professional journalists,” he added.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (Dem, NY), who has targeted fake news in the past through legislation, also told the The Hill that he’s concerned. 

Espaillat said that he is worried about the potential for foreign governments to use counterfeit audio and videos to manipulate the American public.

Lawmakers’ fears are backed up by concern from experts, who say that manipulated videos are another dangerous addition to the rising trend of fake news.

“Democracy depends on an informed electorate, and when we can’t even agree on the basics of what’s real, it becomes increasingly impossible to have the hard conversations necessary to move the country forward,” said Renee DiResta, one of the first researchers to sound the alarm on how social media platforms were being manipulated by foreign actors. 
“The cumulative effect of this is a systemic erosion of trust, including trust between people and their leaders,” she added.


Encouraging that they’re trying to get in front of this. That hardly ever happens. And Renee DiResta is always worth seeking out – she sounded the alarm over anti-vaccine idiots on Facebook, and how its echo chamber enabled them.
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Like Peter Thiel, tech workers feel alienated by Silicon Valley ‘echo chamber’ • WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:


Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders “have a certain way of thinking, and if you don’t fit into that way of thinking you’re not in the cool club,” said Ms. Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn’t influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project—a blockchain startup—didn’t require her to be in Silicon Valley.

Apart from ideological issues, many are being driven away from the Bay Area by soaring housing costs and increasing traffic congestion, a 2016 survey by the Bay Area Council suggested. Of the 1,000 registered voters from the nine counties making up the Bay Area, 40% said they were considering leaving the region, citing the cost of living, traffic and a lack of availability of housing.

Still, there are signs that the political discussions pervading workplaces over the past two years have alienated a section of the workforce. According to a recent survey by Lincoln Network, an advocacy group for conservatives and libertarians in the tech sector, 31% of the 387 tech workers polled said they know someone who didn’t pursue or left a career in tech because they saw a conflict in viewpoints with their employer or colleagues. Among respondents who identified themselves as “very conservative,” that number was 59%.

Dan Hackney, a 31-year-old who describes his political views as adhering to Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, said he left his job as a software engineer at Alphabet Inc.’s Google in January, after growing frustrated with what he saw as a lack of tolerance for conservative views at the company.

He said he was surprised when, shortly after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, the firm canceled a companywide product demonstration and instead held an all-hands meeting to talk about the results of the election.

Mr. Hackney said he doesn’t support Mr. Trump, but added that he worried that Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who attended the meeting, were setting a tone that it was OK to exclude certain types of political views from the dialogue in the workplace.


Libertarians and conservatives need advocacy in Silicon Valley? I thought it was the heartland of rapacious libertarian capitalism.
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Why the iPhone is losing out to Chinese devices in Asia • WSJ

Newley Purnell:


In China, Apple’s market share is roughly 8% now from 13% in 2015, research firm Canalys says. In India—which last year overtook the US to become the world’s second-biggest smartphone market—Apple has had just a 2% market share since 2013. Apple’s shipments to India fell last quarter compared with the year before, a rare contraction, Canalys says.

The iPhone maker’s market share in Indonesia, home to some 260 million people, has fallen to 1% from 3% in 2013. Apple’s market share has also dropped in the Philippines and Thailand, and has remained static in Malaysia and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Chinese rivals are gobbling up customers. Beijing-based Xiaomi has jumped to 19% of India’s market today from just 3% in 2015. While much of that rise has been on the back of inexpensive phones, increasingly it is putting more expensive devices on the market that offer the look, feel and functionality of iPhones and even a few extra features.

Chitra Patricia, a 27-year-old Jakartan, picked an Oppo over Apple for its selfie features.

Oppo’s “selfie expert” F3 offers options such as a front-facing camera for selfies with wide angle that lends itself to “wefies,” or group shots with several people crammed into the frame. The phone also has a “beautify” function that smooths out users’ selfies, making them appear younger and more glamorous.

“It can capture around a dozen people in one ‘wefie,’” making it great for gatherings, said Ms. Patricia.

Xiaomi has an edge in many markets because it can customize for each country while Apple creates the same products for everyone, said Jai Mani, Xiaomi’s product manager for India.


The debate is whether those people who buy Xiaomi or OPPO or vivo now are lost to Apple forever, or if there’s some possibility that they will shift to it in the future. That requires software and apps that they want (the hardware is a wash). The signs there are mixed, at best.
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The Mueller indictment exposes the danger of Facebook’s focus on Groups • The Verge

Casey Newton:


Last year, Facebook said 100 million people are in what the company calls “very meaningful” groups, or groups that are a primary part of the user’s social networking experience and extend to offline interactions. A parenting group might be very meaningful to a young family, for example. In his post last year, Zuckerberg said Facebook hoped to increase the number of people in very meaningful groups to 1 billion.

But what if those very meaningful groups are run by foreign actors working to make the country more polarized? It’s impossible to say how “meaningful” the groups Russia created were to its members, but the troll farms worked to create pages around subjects that generate the maximum level of emotion. Often, they were tied to identity. For immigration matters, there was a page called “Secured Borders.” For Black Lives Matter, there was “Blacktivist.” For religion, there were “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus.” By 2016, those pages collectively had hundreds of thousands of American followers…

… the dark side of “developing the social infrastructure for community” is now all too visible. The tools that are so useful for organizing a parenting group are just as effective at coercing large groups of Americans into yelling at each other. Facebook dreams of serving one global community, when in fact it serves — and enables —countless agitated tribes. The more Facebook pushes us into groups, the more it risks encouraging the kind of polarization that Russia so eagerly exploited.


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Facebook turned its two-factor security ‘feature’ into the worst kind of spam • Gizmodo

Kate Conger:


Sometimes, Facebook will send emails to users warning them that they’re having problems logging into their accounts, Bloomberg reported last month. “Just click the button below and we’ll log you in. If you weren’t trying to log in, let us know,” the emails reportedly read. Other times, Facebook will ask for a user’s phone number to set up two-factor authentication—then spam the number with notification texts.

I’ve been getting these text-spam messages since last summer, when I set up a new Facebook account and turned on two-factor authentication. I created the new profile with somewhat vague intentions of using it for professional purposes—I didn’t like the idea of messaging sources from my primary Facebook account, where they could flip through pictures of my high school prom or my young nephews. But I didn’t end up using the profile often, and I let it sit mostly abandoned for months at a time.

At first, I only got one or two texts from Facebook per month. But as my profile stagnated, I got more and more messages. In January, Facebook texted me six times—mostly with updates about what my ex was posting. This month, I’ve already gotten four texts from Facebook. One is about a post from a former intern; I don’t recognize the name of one of the other “friends” Facebook messaged me about.

The texts are a particularly obnoxious form of spam, and instead of making me want to log into Facebook, they remind me why I’m avoiding it. It’s painful to see my ex’s name popping up on my phone all the time, and while my intern was great at her job, I’m not invested in keeping up with her personal life.


The texts will actively turn people away from using 2FA, which is a really bad move. (You can use the Authenticator app to do 2FA for Facebook, rather than letting them text. They still haven’t figured out how to spam you there.)
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What’s actually behind Cape Town’s water crisis • The Atlantic

Richard Poplak explains that lack of rain is only part of it:


Since 2009, the Western Cape, of which Cape Town is the capital, has been governed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition to the African National Congress (ANC). (A DA-led coalition won Cape Town from the ANC in 2006. They now run the city outright.) The DA is a strange beast, a party with a white-dominated federal executive, and, until 2015, a white leader. There’s a longstanding perception that the party serves the white population’s agenda, described by its enemies as maintaining economic apartheid at the expense of black advancement—a notion that Cape Town’s spatial divisions reinforce. (The party’s former leader, Helen Zille, who has also served as Cape Town’s executive mayor, has a habit of posting tweets extolling the benefits of colonialism, which hasn’t helped matters much.) Culturally and politically, the Cape is a world apart from the rest of South Africa.

Accordingly, the DA has long pitched itself to voters as a “clean” version of the horrifically corrupt ANC—it self-identifies as a liberal, social-democratic party in the stodgy German mold. Back when the ANC ran Cape Town, the rains fell mostly on schedule, and planning for the worst took a back seat to systemic corruption. The DA promised that it would do better. Instead, it has been bad, but in its own special ways. Its near-messianic adherence to fiscal rectitude has meant that local bureaucrats have tended to ignore repeated warnings from civil engineers and climate scientists, who insisted that Cape Town’s water infrastructure, which relies exclusively on six dams in parched catchment areas, would not be able to meet demand should rainfall patterns change due to climate change. Theewaterskloof Dam, the biggest and most vital feeder site, is in an area of the Western Cape that has been subject to creeping desertification for at least a decade. It is currently at 11.7% to 12.5% of its capacity, and effectively unusable.

The drought is so severe that planning for it would take genuine governmental prescience. But over the years, the Cape Town government has studiously ignored reams of data and studies readily available in the public domain.


When economic dogma reigns… in the short term, expect unrest and disease. In the less short term, higher food prices and unrest. Climate change has consequences.
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Where is Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster with Starman? • Where Is Roadster

Ben Pearson (who isn’t anything to do with Tesla), using data from Nasa’s JPL Horizons:


where is this vehicle? The current location is 2,295,742 miles (3,694,640 km, 0.025 AU) from Earth, moving away from Earth at a speed of 6,732 miles/hour (10,835 km/hour, 3.01 km/s).

A plot of the Tesla Roadster's path through space
The Tesla Roadster (space edition) is on the green path; the picture shows its closest approach to Mars for a while – in 2020.

The car is 137,198,709 miles (220,799,988 km, 1.476 AU) from Mars, moving toward the planet at a speed of 42,967 miles/hour (69,149 km/hour, 19.21 km/s).


All those numbers are out of date now. Visit again regularly! And note from his graphic that it looks like its closest approach to Mars will be October 2020. Not quite close enough to, er, park though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Life on an iPad

IPad Pro with Smart Keyboard, and devil

The Mac went to the day of the dead, so the iPad had to step in

A couple of weeks ago, I opened my Macbook Pro as usual. The keyboard lit up, as usual. I waited – there’s that pause while the display gathers itself (it’s a 2012 model) and the processor pulls everything together and presents the login window.

Except this time, nothing. The display didn’t light. There was the quiet sound of the fans going, but nothing. Oh dear. Closed the display, opened it to catch it unawares – no, that wasn’t going to fool it. After a bit more futzing around, I concluded that it was not in the mood to work. But I had work to do, and so I turned to my iPad Pro.

That was, as I say, a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve been doing everything I’ve done on this iPad – a 12in iPad Pro, with Smart Keyboard. That means email, writing articles for papers, editing chapters for my book, composing The Overspill’s daily Start Up post, and so on.

A few years ago, this would probably have been impossible. I wouldn’t have contemplated it. Now? Getting along fine. In a number of ways, the iPad is preferable – particularly weight and connectivity. In only a couple of ways is it worse (the most notable being “lappability”).

The big advantage these days is that if you trust your documents to iCloud, then moving between Mac and iPad isn’t a problem. (OK, for the chapters in the book that has been a mixture of iCloud – for the Pages edits of Word documents – and Dropbox, which is where Scrivener, which I used to write it originally, stores documents.) I was able to go straight to my iPad and have all the tools I needed.

Let’s run through a few of those things.

• writing my book: wait, you didn’t know I had a book coming out? Yes, in May – Cyber Wars, looking in detail at seven big hacking incidents: how and why they happened. You can order it on Amazon. (US, UK.) I wrote it in Scrivener, which is wonderful, and has an iOS as well as MacOS version. Documents and “projects” are synced via Dropbox, and it detects if you’ve done something in one place or the other and offers to sync them up.

• editing book chapters: the publishers sent back chapters as Word documents with Track Changes. Import those to Pages (on the iPad), run through the Track Changes, export to Word documents (also in iCloud Drive) and send back. All lives in iCloud Drive, so will be available when (if?) the Mac revives.

• writing articles for papers: this is generally easiest in Google Docs (because a lot of papers are on Google Apps). Weirdly, although Google will let you write things in Google Docs in Safari on MacOS, it absolutely won’t let you do that on Safari on the iPad, even if you request the desktop site. You have to use the app. This is the only case I’ve come across where you can’t do it on the site and have to use the app.

• making and recording Skype calls for work.

• curating The Overspill. This involves spotting links, selecting content from them, perhaps adding a comment and an image from that link, and then collating all the links together in a specific format (using particular HTML formatting), and putting those into a timed WordPress post with a Flickr CC-BY licensed picture at the top. (The CC-BY has to include a link back to the original photo and the photographer’s name or username.)

The most complex part of those is composing The Overspill, where I use a mixture of Instapaper, Pinboard and WordPress for the raw content. On the Mac, I collect the links and content and comment using the Javascript supplied by Pinboard. But that’s not available (or wasn’t) on the iPad, so I used Workflow to write an Action Extension: when I’m on a page, I select the text, hit the Share button and choose “Run Workflow”, and I can put the selected text – with a comment – into Pinboard. It’s actually better than on MacOS, because Workflow has options so you can grab the author name from the page meta-content.

Workflow script for iOS

Workflow (now owned by Apple) means you can script across applications on iOS

On the Mac, I compose the daily Overspill post using a custom Applescript I wrote (it queries Pinboard and posts to MarsEdit). Fortunately, well before the Mac went into a coma I’d translated the script into Python for iOS, using Pythonista – which is a damn useful program that lets you write and run Python programs which will interact with web pages, web APIs, and the OS itself. I wish there was something like it on MacOS; it makes writing Python programs to do tasks so much easier than doing them in the Terminal and other interfaces. (Pythonista apparently can also sync files between devices, as Workflow does, if you enable a setting – I wasn’t aware of it.)

Python script, in Pythonista, with console output

Pythonista on iOS means you can run Python scripts – it’s even more convenient than on the Mac

(Please don’t laugh at my coding. It just has to get the job done, not be pretty.)

I don’t do any podcast recording (which I understand is still a problem on iPads, as Garageband fights with Skype), nor any video editing. But what I’m trying to do is “real work”, at least for me. It’s work that earns money, and isn’t that what we’re after?

So a couple of weeks in, here’s what I find to be the good and the bad points of working full-time on an iPad to do things I used to do on a Mac laptop.

The good

the weight. It’s so much lighter (even with the Smart Keyboard) than a laptop. Put it in a bag and go and you hardly know it; that’s a big difference compared to toting around the MacBook Pro (5.6lb, v 1.6lb for the iPad plus 0.75lb for the Smart Keyboard – so half the weight).

• battery life. If it doesn’t last a couple of full days, then I’m disappointed and slightly surprised. Compare that with the laptop, where you’d expect to get a morning and an afternoon, and then be hunting for a power outlet.

• connectivity. I’ve got a PAYG sim from Three, with 1GB of credit, and I use that if I find myself somewhere without Wi-Fi: just hook into the mobile network. Yes, I know you can do this by setting up a hotspot from your phone to your laptop, but being able to have the device do it on its own is far more satisfying.

• focus. The iPad lets you work on two – max three – apps at once on the screen. If you tailor notifications correctly, you can get a lot done. So if I don’t want to be disturbed by email, then I don’t let it notify me, and I can go literally hours without being interrupted. (I don’t use email in the browser.) Then you go to your email and deal with it. Remember, you might think of it as “my inbox” but it’s actually composed of messages sent out of your control by other people. In general, “your” inbox is not under your control at all; it’s other peoples’ ideas of what you should do – a task manager compiled by other people. Not looking at email is good.

• aptitude. By which I mean that some of the scripts I write (with Workflow, with Pythonista) can do more than equivalents on MacOS. My Workflow one can get the name of the author of a page/article, which the standard Pinboard bookmarklet doesn’t. (Possibly a little bit of Javascript hacking could sort that, but when you roll your own you see the gaps in what you’re provided with.) On the Mac I use Viewfinder to get details of Flickr CC-BY photos, but the Pythonista script I’ve written gets the photographer name too, which Viewfinder doesn’t offer.

• the keyboard. I really like the keyboard. The odd thing is that I don’t much like the keyboard on the new MacBooks/MacBook Pros, but the Smart Keyboard uses the exact same key design. The crucial difference is that the Smart Keyboard covers them in a layer of fabric, which has two huge advantages: it makes them much quieter (because oh my lord the bare keys are CLACKY), and it proofs them against the specks of dust which have been the downfall of recent designs. Double win. If they could make a MacBook with these keys covered in fabric they’d have solved their problems, but I’m guessing that there would be thermal dissipation problems with that – most laptops vent plenty of heat out of the gaps around the keys.

The bad

• ‘lappability’. Laptops have the huge advantage that they’re designed to work in your lap: the big flat base sits on your lap and the screen can be adjusted to your taste, and then the keyboard has a solid base too. With the iPad and Smart Keyboard, it’s difficult to get the same effect, because it’s so light and the screen angle is fixed. (That wouldn’t be improved by the Microsoft Surface’s adjustable leg, because I can’t adjust the length of my femur to cope with where the slide must rest for a specific screen angle.) With the iPad Pro, you really want a table to rest it on – or else something that can go on your lap. (I’m writing this sitting in a car, so it’s not impossible.)

• lack of keyboard shortcuts for one’s own scripts. On MacOS, I can use Keyboard Maestro (and some of Apple’s custom keyboard shortcut offerings) to create a keyboard shortcut to invoke scripts which do tasks such as adding text or HTML to a clipping. On iOS, there’s no such option. So I invoke the Share menu and Workflow a lot.

• grab problems. Sometimes it’s difficult to select a chunk of text, especially if it goes past a photo on a page.

• can’t grab inline image URLs. There isn’t a way that I can see on the iPad to find the URL to an image on a Safari page and directly copy that. It might be possible with a bit of scripting (input some text before and after the picture; script grabs the source, looks for image links between those words). Solution: presses on the image and choose “open in new tab” and grab the link from that tab. But it’s an extra step, and isn’t always available – take the example below from Techcrunch.

Confusing choices on an image menu on Safari on the iPad

An image on Techcrunch (though it happens on many sites). It’s not obvious that “copy” means “copy the image URL to the clipboard” rather than “copy the whole image to the clipboard”.

(OK, so people on Twitter have pointed out that the “copy” there is “copy the image URL”. I have to say that isn’t self-evident, and I didn’t try it because I didn’t want to destroy what was already on the clipboard. Anyway, there you have it: the solution is to “copy”.)

• information density. If you compare the number of pixels on an iPad with those on a laptop, it doesn’t seem like that many more. But the action targets (the things you have to hit with the mouse) are way smaller on the laptop than on the iPad, where they’re larger because it must expect that people will only use their fingers to operate it – even if the Pencil is an option. Smaller targets and more pixels means a lot more space can be used for information.

• you’re using a tablet? Some sites still don’t expect that. Yes, I’m looking at you, Flickr, and your impossible-to-copy text in the “embed” link. On a Safari page, this comes up as it does on the desktop – a floating window with some HTML. But trying to tap-to-select the necessary part of that code – which begins “https://farm…” and ends “.jpg” is a fight, and copying precisely what you want a truly vexing process. (I haven’t found a way to script the grabbing of the necessary code, and the Flickr app is unbelievably useless: can’t restrict a search to a specific licence, can’t do a view by date/relevance, and so on. It’s mindless crap meant for the most passive user imaginable.)

• missing web page functions. I use Instapaper to collect links through the day/week; in Safari on Mac you get icons to delete links after you’ve used them. Not on Safari on iPad. (The Instapaper app does, though.)

• easier to miss stuff. The Overspill Start Up daily email requires a specific set of things to be correct about the WordPress blogpost (correct category, launch before a certain time). I’ve made more mistakes with the WordPress interface in Safari on the iPad in three weeks than I did on the laptop in three years, which has led to missed blogpost launches and missed email deliveries (sometimes both, sometimes just one). It’s very annoying; partly it’s that some of the work was done before by Marsedit (see below) and that the web interface for WordPress is appalling when it comes to the scheduling/category stuff. (Ought to be at the top of the page; instead is relegated to the side, sometimes well down the side.)

• miss having a newsreader. I use NetNewsWire on the Mac, which I’ve been using for about 15 years now. (It’s not as good as it was.) I know it’s available for iOS; I just hadn’t set up the synchronisation, so it would have been a big slog.

Room for improvement

• Mail needs work. Quite a bit to bring it up to speed. Though you can filter your inbox(es) by all/unread/flagged/has attachment/to me/cc me, there are no Smart Mailboxes (I can’t create a virtual inbox of messages with particular characteristics, or from a particular sender or domain or set of domains). I also want to be able to see more emails on the left-hand pane – if you get any appreciable number of emails per day, they’re going to overwhelm those you were previously dealing with, which screws up your workflow.

• I’d really like a good blogpost editor, ideally scriptable – basically, MarsEdit for iPad. MarsEdit is a wonderful blogpost writing/editing program which can deal with multiple blogs, and is also scriptable so that you can fire up a script and get things done. The WordPress app (in which I’m writing this) is OK, but not very intuitive. Although – as soon as I made this complaint to myself, I realised there might be a solution. And so there was, via Workflow (which can control WordPress – you can do pretty much everything up to scheduling the post) plus Python(ista). With a bit of finagling, I had a solution which did slightly more than the version I run on my Mac.

In many ways, this post is like the real-life experience that I wrote about more as a theory in Benjamin Button moves from an iPad Pro to a MacBook Pro. But it’s reality. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but sometimes it’s just the mother of getting on and discovering what tools are actually available.

I eventually got a Genius Bar appointment for the Mac. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing (including a disk wipe that turned out to be unnecessary, but that’s for another post) the diagnosis was a problem with the NVidia video card – a known fault on my model. Weird that it took over five years to become calamitous, but that’s computers.

In the meantime, I’ve got the iPad, and over the weekend wrote a combination Workflow/Pythonista script which automates almost the whole process of compiling and scheduling The Overspill. Of course, rather as we redefine artificial intelligence to be “anything that computers can’t yet do” (where the goalposts move from “beat humans at chess” to “beat humans at Go” to “be better than us at Where’s Waldo”), the definition of “real work” has probably moved so that, because everyone knows you can’t do “real work” on an iPad, it’s now all the things that I don’t or didn’t try to do – the podcasts and video editing.

But you know what? It works for me. Plus it’s improved my Python.

TL;DR: want to do pretty much everything you do on a Mac, but on an iPad? Get Workflow and Pythonista.

Start Up: Facebook’s smart speakers (with screens?), Russia’s internet farm, China’s piece of the US, and more

Here’s your new internet router! Take care turning it off and on again. Photo by Andi Sidwell on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 11 links for you. Thank Workflow + Pythonista. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A Chinese casino has conquered a piece of America • Bloomberg

Matthew Campbell on the Chinese casino being built on Saipan, a tiny island in the Pacific that is even so part of the US:


So many laborers were getting hurt that [Dr] Rohringer’s colleagues began keeping an unofficial spreadsheet, separate from standard hospital records: a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal. The dead man Rohringer saw was not, of course, a tourist who’d stumbled over a railing—he was a builder named Hu Yuanyou, and he’d plummeted from a scaffold. His colleagues hadn’t called 911; instead, they’d pulled the work clothes off his broken body in a clumsy attempt to obscure his identity. The less that outsiders learned about the casino, the better.

Hu died building what’s become, on paper, the most successful gambling operation in history. In the first half of 2017, table for table, Imperial Pacific turned over nearly six times more cash than the fanciest gaming facilities in Macau, which themselves dwarf the activity in Las Vegas. And that was before Imperial Pacific opened its lavish megacasino in July.

Given Macau’s status as a hub for industrial-scale money laundering, the Saipan figures have left gaming veterans astonished that they could be generated on U.S. soil, under Washington’s ostensible oversight. Eight casino executives and analysts interviewed for this story, all with extensive experience of the Asian gaming trade, said they saw no way such volumes could be generated legitimately. Asked if there could be a benign explanation for such instantaneous success at a casino more than three hours’ flight from any major city, on a drowsy island where the best hotel is a 1970s-era Hyatt, one of the executives burst out laughing.

Per capita, there’s almost certainly more Chinese money moving through Saipan than anywhere else in the world.


Boardwalk Empire, Pacific version.
link to this extract

Hacker group makes $3m by installing Monero miners on Jenkins servers • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:


Hackers are targeting Jenkins, a continuous integration/deployment web application built in Java that allows dev teams to run automated tests and execute various operations based on test results, including deploying new code to production servers. Because of this, Jenkins servers are extremely popular with both freelance web developers, but also with large enterprises.

On Friday, Israeli security firm Check Point announced it uncovered the footprint of a large hacking operation targeting Jenkins servers left connected to the Internet.

Attackers were leveraging CVE-2017-1000353, a vulnerability in the Jenkins Java deserialization implementation that allows attackers to run malicious code remotely without needing to authenticate first.

Check Point says hackers used this vulnerability to make Jenkins servers download and install a Monero miner (minerxmr.exe).

The miner was being downloaded from an IP address located in China and assigned to the Huaian government network. It is unclear if this is the attacker’s server, or a compromised server used to host the miner on behalf of the hackers.

The attackers have been active for months. This has allowed them to mine and already cash out over 10,800 Monero, which is over $3.4m, at the time of writing.


Hardly going out on a limb to suggest it’s either Chinese or North Korean hackers.
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Facebook to launch two smart speakers in July 2018 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Willis Ke:


Facebook is set to officially foray into the global smart speaker market in mid-2018 by launching two new models, codenamed Aloha and Fiona – both with 15-inch touchscreens – in July at the latest, with the devices positioned as a way to allow family and friends to stay in touch with video chat and various social features, according to industry sources.

The sources said that the Facebook move is expected to further heat up the global smart speaker market, which has been crowded with heavyweight players, including top supplier Amazon and other tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and many China players including Alibaba. According to estimates by market researcher Canalys, the global market sales of smart speakers are likely to double to over 50 million units in 2018 from 2017.

Supply chain sources said that Facebook was originally slated to release the devices in May, but has decided to reschedule the launch to allow more time for perfecting the acoustic quality of the gadgets and software modification.

The two models will be fitted with 15-inch in-cell touchscreen panels reportedly to be sourced from LG Display, while Taiwan’s Pegatron is also reported to be the sole contract assembler of the devices. But both firms declined to comment on matters concerning clients.

The sources said that the Aloha model is more sophisticated than Fiona, both designed by Facebook’s Building 8 hardware lab. The Aloha model, to be marketed under the official name Portal, will use voice commands but will also feature facial recognition to identify users for accessing Facebook via a wide-angle lens on the front of the device.


1) a 15-inch touchscreen? Isn’t that what’s known as a “tablet”?
2) Will it do more than Facebook – will it do the rest of the web?
3) recall that Facebook’s last foray into hardware (the HTC-made One phone) was an epic failure. This feels very me-too.
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Spires for hire in UK government broadband deal with Church of England • Bloomberg

Angelina Rascouet:


The Church of England struck a deal with the UK government departments to encourage the church to “use its buildings and other property to improve broadband, mobile and wifi connectivity for local communities,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement on Sunday.

The accord, also involving the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, expands on an initiative that already exists in some dioceses in the UK including Chelmsford and Norwich.

“Our work has significantly improved rural access to high-speed broadband,” Bishop Stephen Cottrell of Chelmsford said in the statement.

About 65% of Anglican churches and 66% of parishes in England are in rural areas, according to the government.

The accord includes rules to ensure that any telecommunication infrastructure used doesn’t affect the character and architecture of the churches, according to the statement. The DCMS also said similar deals could be made with other religious communities.

The announcement follows last year’s pledge by the UK government that no part of the country or group in society should be without adequate connectivity, a pledge that includes the complete roll-out of 4G and superfast broadband by 2020.


Would love to know if any money is changing hands here. (Fundraising for church spire maintenance is a trope of British rural life, with giant thermometers of funds raised displayed at churches, and usually woefully far from their target.) This is a good way though for companies to bypass BT’s swingeing charges for use of its ducts and poles.
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Trolls on twitter: how mainstream and local news outlets were used to drive a polarized news agenda • Medium

Jonathan Albright has done extensive (as in, really extensive work on how (Russian-controlled?) troll accounts went to work in the US election:


The chart below is the top-line breakdown of where these 11-plus thousand external links in my set of 36.5k troll tweets from 2016 pointed to. This includes the expanded short URLs and redirects. This shows the news outlets the troll accounts (through tweeting, retweeting, and tweet-quoting) tended to re-broadcast from the middle of 2016 through election day:

Top 25 most-linked news sources across 11.5k troll tweets (using thousands of expanded short links)

Looking at this breakdown, a result from this sample of tens of thousands of tweets is that the most-shared news outlets from 11.5k links across 388 troll accounts in the six months leading up to the election isn’t your typical hyper-partisan “fake news.”

Sure, Breitbart ranks first, but it’s followed by a long list of what many would argue are credible — if not mainstream — news organizations, as well a surprising number of local and regional news outlets.

Another result from this analysis is the effect of “regional” troll accounts, aka the fake accounts with a city or region name in the handle (e.g., HoustonTopNews, DailySanFran, OnlineCleveland), which showed a pattern of systematically re-broadcasting local news outlets’ stories.

The linking pattern is also consistent: a large number of story links are Bitly-wrapped, and links to local outlets often originate through RSS or Google Feedproxy — to some degree co-opting local outlets’ content streams in an attempt to establish themselves and connect with local audiences.


The collapse in local news outlets in the US (largely mirrored in the UK) magnifies this effect.
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What Mueller’s indictment reveals about Russia’s Internet Research Agency • New Yorker

Adrian Chen:


The indictment names thirteen Russians, twelve of whom worked for a shadowy, Kremlin-connected outfit called the Internet Research Agency. The Agency has been linked to a campaign of online disinformation that included the creation of hundreds of fake political pages on Facebook and accounts on Twitter that were presented as belonging to everyday Americans; during the election, according to the indictment, this disinformation campaign was aimed at boosting Donald Trump, undermining Hillary Clinton, and sowing general “political discord” in the United States by supporting radical causes on both sides. It was sort of like a cutting-edge social-media marketing operation run, as the indictment alleges, by a St. Petersburg-based oligarch named Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Much of the information in the indictment isn’t new. The Agency was first noticed by Russian media outlets in 2014, when it was dedicated mainly to spreading online propaganda in support of pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine conflict. In the spring of 2015, when the idea of a President Donald Trump was still a laughable fantasy, I travelled to St. Petersburg to investigate the Agency, which had recently started experimenting with targeting audiences outside Russia. As I conducted my reporting, I was myself the target of an elaborate smear campaign to label me a neo-Nazi sympathizer and U.S. intelligence agent—an early use of the kind of bizarre tactics that have been documented by numerous investigations in both the Russian and Western media, and by the internal investigations of social-media companies.

Yet the new indictment offers the most complete look yet at the Agency’s internal workings. Mueller’s investigators discovered that the Agency used a network of shell companies— entities with names like MediaSintez LLC, GlavSet LLC, and MixInfo LLC—to hide its activities and funding. The indictment alleges that the Agency employed hundreds of workers, and that by September, 2016, it had a monthly budget of more than $1.25m. The document details how the Agency’s “specialists” worked in day and night shifts, and the way they were constantly trying to measure the effect of their efforts. The employees ran fake conservative Twitter and Facebook accounts, and even planned (sparsely attended) real-life rallies.


link to this extract

A former Russian troll speaks: ‘it was like being in Orwell’s world’ • Washington Post

Anton Troianovski interviewed one such:


What was the working environment like — was it really like a factory?

There were two shifts of 12 hours, day and night. You had to arrive exactly on time, that is, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There were production norms, for example, 135 comments of 200 characters each. … You come in and spend all day in a room with the blinds closed and 20 computers. There were multiple such rooms spread over four floors. It was like a production line, everyone was busy, everyone was writing something. You had the feeling that you had arrived in a factory rather than a creative place.

How did the trolling work?

You got a list of topics to write about. Every piece of news was taken care of by three trolls each, and the three of us would make up an act. We had to make it look like we were not trolls but real people. One of the three trolls would write something negative about the news, the other two would respond, “You are wrong,” and post links and such. And the negative one would eventually act convinced. Those are the kinds of plays we had to act out.

Do you think it worked?

Who really reads the comments under news articles, anyway? Especially when they were so obviously fake. People working there had no literary interest or abilities. These were mechanical texts. It was a colossal labor of monkeys, it was pointless. For Russian audiences, at least. But for Americans, it appears it did work. They aren’t used to this kind of trickery. They live in a society in which it’s accepted to answer for your words. And here — I was amazed how everyone was absolutely sure of their impunity, even as they wrote incredibly offensive comments. They were sure that with the anonymity of the Internet, no one would find them.

How much would you get paid?

Around 40,000 rubles a month [about $700 at the current exchange rate]. We’d work 12-hour days, two days on, two days off.


I love the nose-wrinkling of “who really reads the comments under news articles, anyway?”
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Apple’s new spaceship campus has one flaw – and it hurts • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:


Surrounding the building, located in Cupertino, California, are 45-foot tall curved panels of safety glass. Inside are work spaces, dubbed “pods,” also made with a lot of glass. Apple staff are often glued to the iPhones they helped popularize. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents. 

Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. However, the notes were removed because they detracted from the building’s design, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing anything related to Apple. Another person familiar with the situation said there are other markings to identify the glass. 

Apple’s latest campus has been lauded as an architectural marvel. The building, crafted by famed architect Norman Foster, immortalized a vision that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had years earlier. In 2011, Jobs reportedly described the building “a little like a spaceship landed.” Jobs has been credited for coming up with the glass pods, designed to mix solo office areas with more social spaces.


Seems more like an argument for not looking at your phone while walking, but glass demarcation is always a pain in offices.
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The false teeth of Chrome’s ad filter • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Alan Toner:


The Coalition for Better Ads [which determined which ads could and could not be shown through the new adblocking Chrome] lacks a consumer voice. The Coalition involves giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, ad trade organizations, and adtech companies and large advertisers. Criteo, a retargeter with a history of contested user privacy practice is also involved, as is content marketer Taboola. Consumer and digital rights groups are not represented in the Coalition.

This industry membership explains the limited horizon of the group, which ignores the non-format factors that annoy and drive users to install content blockers. While people are alienated by aggressive ad formats, the problem has other dimensions. Whether it’s the use of ads as a vector for malware, the consumption of mobile data plans by bloated ads, or the monitoring of user behavior through tracking technologies, users have a lot of reasons to take action and defend themselves.

But these elements are ignored. Privacy, in particular, figured neither in the tests commissioned by the Coalition, nor in their three published reports that form the basis for the new standards. This is no surprise given that participating companies include the four biggest tracking companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AppNexus. 


Taboola in particular is cited disapprovingly for “helping fund the underbelly of the net”.
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How long is long enough? Minimum password lengths by the world’s top sites • Troy Hunt

Hunt is (if you’ve not been paying attention) behind the HaveIBeenPwned site, and well-versed in security topics:


I’ve been giving a bunch of thought to passwords lately. Here we have this absolute cornerstone of security – a paradigm that every single person with an online account understands – yet we see fundamentally different approaches to how services handle them. Some have strict complexity rules. Some have low max lengths. Some won’t let you paste a password. Some force you to regularly rotate it. It’s all over the place.

Last year, I wrote about authentication guidance for the modern era and I talked about many of the aforementioned requirements. I particularly focused on how today’s thinking is at odds with many of the traditional views of how passwords should be handled. That post has a lot of guidance from the NCSC in the UK and NIST in the US and it debunked many of those long-held beliefs; get rid of complexity rules, allow long passwords, let people paste them and move away from forced rotation. However, there was nothing on minimum required lengths, and that got me thinking – what’s the correct number?

When I run my Hack Yourself First workshop, that’s one of the first questions I ask – “what’s the correct minimum password length?” I was thinking about that again just this weekend when preparing V2 of Pwned Passwords because I thought I might be able to use a minimum length threshold to reduce the size of the data set. So, rather than projecting my own views on minimum password length, I thought I’d go and check what the world’s top sites are doing.


By the end, he had answered one question and found another, more difficult one.
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Infamous Google memo author shot down by Federal Labor Board • Arc Technica

Sam Machkovech:


The National Labor Relations Board published its memo this week, which was issued in January after Damore filed a charge against his former employer on August 8. In spite of Damore withdrawing his NLRB filing in September, the board proceeded to examine and issue its own ruling:

Google “discharged [Damore] only for [his] unprotected conduct while it explicitly affirmed [his] right to engage in protected conduct.” The NLRB emphasized that any charge filed by Damore on the matter should be “dismissed.”

In explaining the board’s reasoning, NLRB member Jayme Sophir points to two specific parts of the controversial memo circulated by Damore in August: Damore’s claim that women are “more prone to ‘neuroticism,’ resulting in women experiencing higher anxiety and exhibiting lower tolerance for stress” and that “men demonstrate greater variance in IQ than women.”

Sophir describes how these gender-specific claims resemble other cases decided by the NLRB that revolved around racist, sexist, and homophobic language in the workplace. She says that specific Damore statements were “discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [his] effort to cloak [his] comments with ‘scientific’ references and analysis, and notwithstanding [his] ‘not all women’ disclaimers. Moreover, those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace.”
The NLRB memo also includes a quote from Google’s letter of termination given to Damore in August, which Sophir says focused specifically on offending, fireable content while also protecting other portions of his speech:

»I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men. It is not based in any way on the portions of your post that discuss [the Employer’s] programs or trainings, or how [the Employer] can improve its inclusion of differing political views. Those are important points. I also want to be clear that this is not about you expressing yourself on political issues or having political views that are different than others at the company. Having a different political view is absolutely fine. Advancing gender stereotypes is not.«


I’m sure that will be the end of it 🙄 But of course not. Jordan Peterson has tweeted that it’s the end for science. Google’s HR made a subtle distinction in its dismissal, and Damore might not be able to get around that. But every cause needs its martyr.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: the duo who took on Google, cracking Facebook, Dyon’s electric cars, Nokia to drop wearables?, and more

It’s written in Telugu, and it can crash your iMessage app – until a forthcoming iOS update. Photo by Sean Ellis on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 11 links for you. Also: Friday! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google will make copyright disclaimers more prominent in image search • The Verge

Thuy Ong:


Getty Images and Google announced the forming of a multiyear global licensing partnership, nearly two years after Getty filed a competition law complaint against Google with the European Commission. As part of the partnership, Google will be modifying its image search to improve attribution of contributors’ work. The changes will also include making copyright disclaimers more prominent and removing view image links to the image URL.

The April 2016 complaint, which Getty has since formally withdrawn, accused Google of creating galleries of “high-resolution, copyrighted content,” and of “promoting piracy resulting in widespread copyright infringement.” Getty also accused Google of distorting search results in favor of its own services. Today’s partnership deal means Google will be able to use Getty Images’ content in its products and services, principally the image search portion of Google search with which Getty took issue.


TL;DR Getty got Google to stop making it so easy to steal images.
link to this extract

I cracked Facebook’s new algorithm and tortured my friends • Buzzfeed

Katie Notopoulos is the one to blame:


We’ve come to accept nonchronological feeds in our social media. Even on Instagram, where people do still seem to complain the most about it, we understand the rules of the new feed. It’s in the moments where the cracks start show — when the same awful video is at the top of your Facebook page for 12 days straight — that we remember how fucked up it is having our friendships ruled by an algorithm. It’s like in a sci-fi movie where a sexy android peels off her mask and you remember she’s made of steel, or the Wizard of Oz furiously cranking his noise machine behind the curtain. This algorithm doesn’t understand friendship. It can fake it, but when we see Valentine’s Day posts on Instagram four days later, or when the machines mistake a tornado of angry comments for “engagement,” it’s a reminder that the machines still don’t really get the basics of humanity.

I’ve been down this path before. In fact, I’ve written about this problem before. In the summer of 2016, Facebook did another recalibration of its News Feed that prioritized posts from friends and family over publishers, ending what seemed to many like a three-year tyranny of BuzzFeed quizzes and cooking videos. Soon after, I noticed a post from a coworker, asking if anyone had ever tried making overnight oats, had “stuck” to the top of my Facebook feed for five days straight, even though I had never commented or liked the post. I dubbed this phenomenon the overnight oats problem…

…You can try this yourself; it’s easy to game the system by posting something that drives comments. Try asking a question, or for advice: “Does anyone have a shampoo they love?” or “What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in middle school?”

Trust me, you will get lots of replies. And it will stick to the top of your friends’ feeds for days.

And if they are like my friends, they will hate you for it. Good luck.


Personally I detest nonchronological feeds. It’s a big reason why I rarely go on Facebook or Instagram.
link to this extract

A new iOS bug can crash iPhones and disable access to iMessages • The Verge

Tom Warren:


The bug itself involves sending an Indian language (Telugu) character to devices, and Apple’s iOS Springboard will crash once the message has been received. Messages will no longer open as the app is trying and failing to load the character, and it appears that the only way to regain access to your iMessages is to have another friend send you a message and try to delete the thread that contained the bad character.

We’ve also tested the bug on third-party apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Gmail, and Outlook for iOS and found that these apps can become disabled once a message is received. It might be difficult to fix and delete the problem message for apps like WhatsApp, unless you have web access enabled. Telegram and Skype appear to be unaffected. The public beta version of iOS 11.3 is also unaffected. It appears Apple was made aware of the problem at least three days ago, and plans to address it in an iOS update soon.


Let’s hope soon is “very soon”. Though it’s clear that iMessage has real challenges when it come to rendering text – moreso, it seems, than any other app. Why?
link to this extract

Apple iPhone takes huge 515 share of global smartphone revenues in Q4 2017 • Strategy Analytics


According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone revenues hit an all-time high of US$120bn during the fourth quarter of 2017. Apple captured a record 51% global smartphone revenue share, accounting for more than the rest of the entire industry combined.

Linda Sui, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “We estimate total global smartphone wholesale revenues grew 8% annually to reach an all-time high of US$120bn during Q4 2017. The smartphone industry’s wholesale average selling price surged 18% annually from US$255 in Q4 2016 to US$300 in Q4 2017. The smartphone industry has managed to increase massively its pricing and revenues, despite a recent decrease in shipment volumes.”


What’s also notable is that revenues increased for Samsung, Apple and Huawei, but decreased for “others” – by $3bn. Smaller players are getting squeezed out or down in price.
link to this extract

Dyson bets on electric cars to shake up industry • FT

Peter Campbell and Michael Pooler:


Through interviews with more than 20 people, the FT has gleaned details about the project’s scope and current status, including learning that Dyson is considering excluding its world-leading “solid state” battery technology from its debut model.

Dyson declined to confirm many of the details in this report.

The company is initially planning a range of three vehicles, according to two people.

The first car will be used to establish a route to market, a supply chain and a potential customer base. Because of this, the vehicle will have a relatively low production run — in the single-digit thousands, three people said.

The second and third vehicles, released later, will aim to be substantially higher volume.

“Even with a low-volume vehicle, they can make a business case and they will learn a tremendous amount about how to build a vehicle,” says Philippe Houchois, an automotive analyst at Jefferies investment bank. 

Dyson has worked extensively on lightweight materials, leading several people to speculate the first vehicle may be substantially comprised of plastics rather than metals, something usually reserved for high-end supercars.


link to this extract

Nokia might give up on wearables (updated) • Engadget

Rachel England:


Less than two years after spending millions repositioning itself in the consumer health market, Nokia has announced a strategic review of its digital health business which comes after news that the company could shed up to 425 jobs in its home country of Finland. Nokia acquired French fitness tracker manufacturer Withings for $191m in 2016 as part of its new digital health strategy WellCare, which is not dissimilar to Apple’s HealthKit. The deal came amid a spate of acquisitions by Nokia, buoyed by investment from Microsoft following their Windows Phone agreement.

But despite the company’s confident move into the health market, it wrote down $175m of goodwill on the business in the third quarter of 2017, which essentially means Withings’ net assets weren’t as valuable as Nokia initially thought. Nokia has tried to replicate Withings’ previous accomplishments, but what works for a small French startup has clearly not worked for a conglomerate with expectations of huge success. And, there’s less demand for wearables now than when they first landed – by the time Nokia got involved, Apple already had a firm hold on the market.


Not necessarily withdrawal, but looks a lot like it.
link to this extract

Why Silicon Valley singles are giving up on the algorithms of love • Washington Post

Drew Harwell:


Melissa Hobley, an executive at the dating app OkCupid, hears the complaints about the apps [being unable to find good matches] regularly and thinks they get a bad rap. Silicon Valley workers “are in the business of scalable, quick solutions. And that’s not what love is,” Hobley said. “You can’t hurry love. It’s reciprocal. You’re not ordering an object. You’re not getting a delivery in less than seven minutes.”

Finding love, she added, takes commitment and energy — and, yes, time, no matter how inefficiently it’s spent.

“You have a whole city obsessed with algorithms and data, and they like to say dating apps aren’t solving the problem,” Hobley said. “But if a city is male-dominant, if a city is known for 16-hour work days, those are issues that dating apps can’t solve.”

One thing distinguishes the Silicon Valley dating pool: The men-to-women ratio for employed, young singles in the San Jose metro area is higher than in any other major area. There were about 150 men for every 100 women, compared with about 125 to 100 nationwide, of never-married young people between 25 and 34 in San Jose, U.S. Census Bureau data from 2016 shows.

That ratio permeates the economy here, all the way to the valley’s biggest employers, which have struggled for years to bring more women into their ranks. Men make up about 70% of the workforces of Apple, Facebook and Google parent Alphabet, company filings show. The firms are also so big that different departments, with differing gender balances, barely mix.


link to this extract

Guess what? Sonos One speakers also damage wood • Tom’s Guide

Mike Prospero:


When I learned yesterday that Apple’s HomePod speaker—which I had been testing—can damage oil-stained wood, I was more than a little concerned, as it had been sitting on my cabinet for quite some time.

When I got home, I saw a large white ring, a telltale indication that the HomePod’s silicone base had messed up the finish. But, as I was inspecting the damage, I noticed a series of smaller white marks near where the HomePod was sitting.

A closer inspection revealed that the Sonos One speaker, which also has small silicone feet, had made these marks on my cabinet. Looking around the top of the cabinet, I noticed a bunch of little white marks, all left from the Sonos Ones as I moved them around. So, they will damage your wood furniture, too. We’re awaiting comment from Sonos.


link to this extract

Coinhoarder: tracking a Ukrainian bitcoin phishing ring DNS-style • Talos Intelligence

Edmund Brumaghin:


On February 24, 2017, Cisco observed a massive phishing campaign hosted in Ukraine targeting the popular Bitcoin wallet site with a client request magnitude of over 200,000 client queries. This campaign was unique in that adversaries leveraged Google Adwords to poison user search results in order to steal users’ wallets. Since Cisco observed this technique, it has become increasingly common in the wild with attackers targeting many different crypto wallets and exchanges via malicious ads.

Cisco identified an attack pattern in which the threat actors behind the operation would establish a “gateway” phishing link that would appear in search results among Google Ads. When searching for crypto-related keywords such as “blockchain” or “bitcoin wallet,” the spoofed links would appear at the top of search results. When clicked, the link would redirect to a “lander” page and serve phishing content in the native language of the geographic region of the victim’s IP address.

The reach of these poisoned ads can be seen when analyzing DNS query data. In February 2017, Cisco observed spikes in DNS queries for the fake cryptocurrency websites where upwards of 200,000 queries per hour can be seen during the time window the ad was displayed…

…Based on our findings associated with this syndicate, we estimate the COINHOARDER group to have netted over $50m over the past three years. It is important to note that the price of Bitcoin has shot up drastically over 2017, starting around $1,000 in January and hitting a high point just under $20,000 in December. While criminals were able to profit from this, it also adds a new level of complexity for criminals to convert their cryptocurrency funds to a fiat currency like US dollars. The historic price of Bitcoin during the height of this campaign would have made it very difficult to move these ill-gotten finances easily.


“Google AdWords really paid off for our phishing business!”
link to this extract

Google’s nemesis: meet the British couple who took on a giant, won… And cost it £2.1bn • Wired

Rowland Manthorpe speaks to Adam and Shivaun Raff, who set up Foundem – a price comparison site – in 2007 and then saw Google demote it in favour of its own offerings:


Because Google is hosted across numerous data centres, Adam was able to watch, horrified, as the penalty swept across the search engine, downgrading Foundem for every search except its own name.

One second Foundem ranked first or third (a status it maintained on Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing). The next, it was down in the 70s and 80s. For huge swathes of online life, Google is the default entry point. In a single stroke, Foundem had effectively been disappeared from the internet.

The Raffs knew instantly this was an existential threat. “We didn’t kid ourselves for one second,” says Adam. “If Google didn’t lift this penalty, we’d be dead.” But when they tried to contact Google, it was like sending messages into the void. Through a contact, they reached the firm’s head of search quality. The response came back from a colleague, saying he had “no specific insights to offer”.

No matter what they tried – and over the next two years the Raffs pursued every conceivable avenue – there was no reasoning with Google. Their only option was to find alternative sources of revenue, by licensing Foundem’s software to publishers such as Bauer and IPC Media.

To the Raffs, this is Google’s real crime: its inaccessibility and unwillingness to respond, even to legitimate complaints. “We’ve never said that the fault was being penalised,” says Adam. “Collateral damage in complex algorithms is inevitable. The fault was not having a procedure by which we could appeal and get timely relief.”


The Raffs have done analysis after analysis of the ways that Google’s “solutions” to the antitrust complaint on search are self-serving. But it has taken years, and Google’s present “solution” is one which was rejected previously. Even though Vestager, the new EC antitrust commissioner, has found against Google, it’s too slow.

Justice delayed is justice denied, and this has been delayed at least seven years.
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Search tool accesses firms’ documents in the cloud • BBC


A website created by anonymous hackers has been launched that allows anyone to search for sensitive data stored in the cloud.
Buckhacker is a tool that trawls servers at Amazon Web Services (AWS), a popular cloud computing platform.

AWS provides data storage to private firms, governments and universities, among others.
Exposed data has been found on it before, but Buckhacker makes searching for it much easier.

The name comes from the fact that AWS Simple Storage Servers (S3) are known as “buckets” – this is the part of AWS that Buckhacker accesses.

The BBC alerted Amazon to Buckhacker shortly after it went live, but the firm has yet to issue a statement on the matter.

On Wednesday afternoon, Buckhacker went offline “for maintenance”, though it had previously been working allowing a number of cyber-security experts to explore it.

“We went online with the alpha version [too] early,” said a Twitter account associated with the Buckhacker site.

Security expert Kevin Beaumont told the BBC: “It’s a goldmine of stuff which shouldn’t be public.”


“Goldmine of stuff which shouldn’t be public” can describe much of the internet, but in this case it’s pretty accurate. Amazon has done well at security before, but now it has a serious problem.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Twitch v TV, Google Chrome v (some) ads, iPhone Xx3?, HomePod crop circles, and more

North Korea’s hacker army probably isn’t as easy to spot as this. But might be just as numerous. Photo by (stephan) on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 12 links for you. Not facilitated by lawyers. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitch just passed MSNBC and CNN for January viewers • Dotesports

Ana Valens:


It’s no secret that Twitch is one of the internet’s most popular streaming services. But now, its numbers are challenging traditional cable television. New statistics reveal that Twitch’s January viewership was higher than both CNN and MSNBC’s figures.

Last month, Twitch clocked in 962,000 average concurrent viewers throughout the month, which amounts to a 22% increase from January 2017 and a 26% increase since December, reports. The site also revealed that Twitch’s January viewership beat out both MSNBC and CNN, who reportedly featured 885,000 and 783,000 watchers for their total day viewership during Jan. 2018, respectively.

While Twitch performed well for January, it didn’t necessarily beat out the U.S.’s biggest cable networks. Fox News Channel and ESPN both reported 1.5 million viewers for total day viewership, beating out Twitch by over 500,000 viewers. But with Twitch close to reaching over 1 million viewers on average, its January 2018 figure isn’t something to scoff at by any means. Cable television has a hefty competitor.


Something is wayyyy off about those numbers for CNN and MSNBC – and Fox. Pretty sure they net loads more viewers than that. Is this just measuring concurrent viewers?
link to this extract

Google will block spammy ads (just not many of its own) • WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:


The Coalition [For Better Ads]worked with [coalition member] Google to improve the research, including deciding on a number of additional ad formats to test, said one person involved in the process. Google tested 55 desktop ad formats and 49 mobile formats and presented the findings to the group.

The coalition ultimately deemed 12 ad formats unacceptable.

Google’s leading role in the standard-setting process troubled some of the coalition’s members, who observed that the blacklisted ad formats generally don’t apply to Google’s own business, according to people who were part of the process. Google generates most of its revenue from text search ads and rectangular display ads, rather than the visually rich media ads that will be banned by the coalition.

“They are creating a standard that doesn’t apply to them,” said Ryan McConville, president of mobile-ad startup Kargo, one of 17 members on the coalition’s board.

Some of the members lobbied the coalition to make exceptions, including Facebook, which argued that the social network should be excluded from a rule banning videos that automatically play with sound. Bounce Exchange Inc., a pop-up ad maker, argued the pop-up ad rule should be changed to exclude ads that appear when a user is idle for more than 30 seconds. Both efforts were successful.

Google didn’t test one of its own most prominent ad formats, the ads that run on YouTube videos for several seconds before users can skip them.


Surprrriiiise! The blocking will begin today (Feb 15) on the updated version of Google Chrome, the world’s most widely-used browser on desktop and mobile.
link to this extract

Barclays says second-generation iPhone X could have smaller notch • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:


Apple will launch a trio of new iPhone models later this year with a second-generation TrueDepth camera system, which will potentially be reduced in size, according to a research note issued today by analysts Andrew Gardiner, Hiral Patel, Joseph Wolf, and Blayne Curtis at investment bank Barclays.

While the analysts believe the new TrueDepth system will only “evolve slightly,” they predict it could allow for a “smaller notch” on the 2018 range of iPhones with Face ID, which is rumored to include a second-generation iPhone X, a larger iPhone X Plus, and an all-new mid-range 6.1-inch LCD model.

MacRumors obtained a copy of the research note, which also corroborates rumors about Apple extending Face ID to the iPad Pro this year…


Second generation and smaller and faster makes sense – that was the path with TouchID after all.
link to this extract

Silicon Valley’s tax-avoiding, job-killing, soul-sucking machine • The Atlantic

Scott Galloway:


If you want to manufacture and sell a Popsicle to children, you must undergo numerous expensive FDA tests and provide thorough labeling that outlines the ingredients, calories, and sugar content of the treat. But what warning labels are included in Instagram’s user agreement? We’ve now seen abundant research indicating that social- media platforms are making teens more depressed. Ask yourself: If ice cream were making teens more prone to suicide, would we shrug and seat the CEO of Dreyer’s next to the president at dinners in Silicon Valley?

Anyone who doesn’t believe these products are the delivery systems for tobacco- like addiction has never separated a seven- year-old from an iPad in exchange for a look that communicates a plot to kill you. If you don’t believe in the addictive aspects of these platforms, ask yourself why American teenagers are spending an average of five hours a day glued to their Internet- connected screens. The variable rewards of social media keep us checking our notifications as though they were slot machines, and research has shown that children and teens are particularly sensitive to the dopamine cravings these platforms foster. It’s no accident that many tech companies’ execs are on the record saying they don’t give their kids access to these devices.

All of these are valid concerns. But none of them alone, or together, is enough to justify breaking up big tech. The following are reasons I believe the Four should be broken up.


It’s quite the wild ride – and was quoted on Wednesday on the US Senate.
link to this extract

Youtube CEO to Facebook: ‘get back to baby pictures’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


YouTube’s chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, joined a lineup of tech and media executives lambasting Facebook at a conference in California.

Wojcicki, whose own company is facing intense criticism over its handling of shock-jock vlogger Logan Paul, suggested Facebook should head further down the path it started on when it announced plans in January to de-prioritise news content.

“They should get back to baby pictures and sharing,” Wojcicki told Code Media in Los Angeles.

But the CEO said Facebook’s increasing attempts to establish itself as a video platform do not keep her awake at night: “[Y]ou always have to take your competitors seriously, but you don’t win by looking backwards and looking around.”

She wasn’t the only one using the stage to attack Facebook, which has become one of the industry’s favourite punching bags in recent months. BuzzFeed co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti joined in, arguing that Facebook should extend its revenue sharing practices to the news feed itself. “Most of Facebook’s revenue is in News Feed, and that’s where they’ve not shared revenue,” Peretti told the conference.

The social network does split advertising revenue from instant articles, or videos posted to the site, but Peretti argued that that isn’t enough. “These are places with a lot less distribution so there’s a lot less revenue.”


Not a great look for Wojicki, to be honest. YouTube’s problems look just as bad as Facebook’s, if not worse.
link to this extract

Black people in tech are still paid less than white people, according to Hired • Techcrunch

Megan Rose Dickey:


Pay discrimination and discrepancies based on gender and race are nothing new. Unfortunately, it seems that little has changed over the years.

In the tech industry, white people on average make $136,000 a year, which is about $6,000 more than black people with the same level of expertise. It also turns out white tech workers ask for more money, according to Hired’s data. Hired’s data is based on its marketplace of over 69,000 people and 10,000 companies.

“The racial gap may be partially a result of black and hispanic tech workers undervaluing their skills, which is symptom of being underpaid in previous roles,” Hired CEO Mehul Patel said in a blog post. “Black and hispanic candidates on the Hired platform set their preferred salaries lowest ($124K). Ultimately though, Hispanic candidates are offered $1K more than their black counterparts. For comparison, white tech workers ask for an average of $130K and Asian tech workers ask for an average of $127K.”

It also turns out people who identify as multiracial receive less than people who identify as one race.


link to this extract

Inside North Korea’s hacker army • Bloomberg

Sam Kim talks to three people who defected from North Korea’s program – which as they describe it seems to be about earning foreign currency by any means possible:


Lim Jong In, head of the department of cyberdefense at Korea University in Seoul and a former special adviser to South Korea’s president, says that North Korea’s hacking strategy has evolved since Jong defected. At the program’s height, he says, well over a hundred businesses believed to be fronts for North Korean hacking were working in the Chinese border cities of Shenyang and Dandong alone. China has since cracked down on these operations in an effort to comply with United Nations sanctions, but they’ve simply been moved elsewhere, to countries such as Russia and Malaysia. Their value to the regime—and to the hackers themselves—is simply too high to forgo. “North Korea kills two birds with one stone by hacking: It shores up its security posture and generates hard currency,” Lim says. “For hackers it offers a fast track to a better life at home.”

[Ex-North Korean state hacker] Jong is doing well for himself in Seoul. He blushes when congratulated for a promotion he recently received at a local software security company, saying he had to work especially hard for it. “I feel like my value as a programmer is discounted by half when I tell people I’m from North Korea,” he says. Others in the 30,000-odd defector community express similar frustrations about their outsider status; some display contempt for their adopted country’s concerns about appearances and money, and recall with pride their homeland’s penchant for bluntness.

Still, there’s no going back.


link to this extract

The hotlines between North and South Korea • Electrospaces

The unnamed author on the modern version of the formal communications link between north and south, which was first opened in 1971:


On the South Korean side, the hotline equipment is located in the communication office on the second floor of the Freedom House, which was built in 1998. On the North side, the line ends at a desk in the Panmungak building, which is less than 100 meters (328 feet) away.

The current equipment, which is seen in the most recent photos, was installed in 2009 and consists of a large, wood-panelled console on a desk. On top is a sign that says “South-North Direct Telephone”. The system features disk drives, USB ports and a computer screen, which shows the Windows XP user interface. It’s not clear what the function of the screen is, as there’s no keyboard visible.

Equipment of the Red Cross or border hotline on the South Korean side
(photo: YTN News)

The most important parts are however two telephone handsets, one red and one green. The red one is for incoming calls from North Korea, while the South uses the green handset to make outgoing calls to the North. However, both phone sets are capable of sending and receiving, but there have been installed two of them just in case one fails.

Since 2015, the console has two digital clocks on top, as in that year North Korea shifted to UTC 08:30 or Pyongyang Time (PYT), while South Korea stayed in the UTC 09:00 or Korea Standard Time (KST) zone. The green clock shows 3:34 for South Korea and the orange/red one 3:04 for North-Korea.

Next to the hotline console there’s a fax machine through which North Korea sometimes sends messages about topics that range from logistics to threats.


Ah yes, we used to have a fax machine like that connected to head office.
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The house that spied on me • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill and Surya Matta:


Matta: Yes, I am basically Kashmir’s sentient home. Kashmir wanted to know what it would be like to live in a smart home and I wanted to find out what the digital emissions from that home would reveal about her. Cybersecurity wasn’t my focus. (I wasn’t interested in hacking her sex toy or any of her other belongings.) Privacy was. What could I tell about the patterns of her and her family’s life by passively gathering the data trails from her belongings? How often were the devices talking? Could I tell what the people inside were doing on an hourly basis based on what I saw?

Using a Raspberry Pi computer, I built a router with a Wi-Fi network called “iotea” (I’m not very good at naming things) to which Kashmir connected all of her devices, so that I could capture the smart home’s network activity. In other words, I could see every time the devices were talking to servers outside the home.

I had the same view of Kashmir’s house that her Internet Service Provider (ISP) has. After Congress voted last year to allow ISPs to spy on and sell their customers’ internet usage data, we were all warned that the ISPs could now sell our browsing activity, or records of what we do on our computers and smartphones. But in fact, they have access to more than that. If you have any smart devices in your home—a TV that connects to the internet, an Echo, a Withings scale—your ISP can see and sell information about that activity too. With my “iotea” router I was seeing the information about Kashmir and her family that Comcast, her ISP, could monitor and sell.


All very scary, really. And inconvenient: she needed 14 different apps (and accounts) to control it all, and the lights wouldn’t listen to the Alexa, and “smart coffee was also a world of hell”. (The dream of making-coffee-at-a-distance just won’t go away.)
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Does Injong Rhee’s departure spell doom for Bixby? • Medium

Philip Berne:


The scale and effort to create Bixby cannot be undersold. It was a massive undertaking of talent and brute force that few companies could muster. According to the company’s own Newsroom, Samsung spent over $13.6bn (14.8trn KRW) on R&D in 2016. In the same year, Apple spent about $10.4bn. Samsung has the resources to tackle massive projects like Bixby, but does it have the will?

Injong [who is going to Google to work on its Internet of Things projects] provided the will. This was a point we hammered to media repeatedly, especially when Milk Music, or the TouchWiz interface, or any other Samsung software failures came up. What’s different here is Injong. Injong has a track record of success. He has proven that he would not quit until the project is successful.

Well, Injong just quit. Of course Samsung won’t be giving up on Bixby right away. In one of the most boneheaded design decisions ever, the company put a dedicated button on their flagship phones. In another boneheaded move, they KEPT putting the Bixby button on phones, and it seems the upcoming Galaxy S9 flagship will feature that button. Feature. Thankfully, they positioned the button opposite the power button, so users will be able to squeeze it accidentally and will get to experience Bixby for themselves.

I actually liked using Bixby, and I loved Bixby’s ambition. Like Samsung Pay’s magnetic stripe compatibility, Bixby was truly filling a gap in the smartphone market, helping users navigate archaic interface designs. Also like Samsung Pay, it was a gap that persisted from the past, and would likely be filled by future innovations…

The question is whether Samsung can hold onto this ambition, as the chief architect and cheerleader for not giving up has himself moved on to something better.


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Apple’s HomePod speakers leave white marks on wood • BBC


Apple’s new smart speakers can discolour wooden surfaces, leaving a white mark where they are placed, the firm has acknowledged.

The US company has suggested that owners may have to re-oil furniture if the HomePod is moved.

The device went on sale last week after having been delayed from its original 2017 release date.

Apple told Pocket-lint that it was “not unusual” for speakers with silicone bases to leave a “mild mark”.

But the gadget review site told the BBC it had never seen anything like this problem.

The website’s founder, Stuart Miles, told the BBC that a speaker left a mark on his kitchen worktop within 20 minutes.

“To clear it, I had to sand the wood down and then re-oil it,” Mr Miles said.

“It wasn’t the end of the world for us. But if you’ve bought an expensive Scandinavian sideboard or some beautiful piece of wooden furniture and then got a mark on it from the speaker, you can imagine the horror,” he added.


“Siri, show me something that should have been spotted during testing in Jony Ive’s lab with its big wooden tables.”
link to this extract

Audiophile HomePod reviewer turns out to not know much about measuring audio • Kirkville



The much touted review of the HomePod posted by an “audiophile” on Reddit last week – and gleefully tweeted by Apple’s Phil Schiller – turns out to be a long mess of uninformed and poorly made measurements.

This reply on Reddit highlights many of the problems, notably the fact that the HomePod wasn’t measure in an anechoic room, but mainly the fact that the “reviewer” fudged the display of his graphs, making them look better than they were.


Oh lordy, this process is never going to end, is it.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Skype’s unfixed bug, retesting HomePod, Android cryptomining, Nokia’s back!, and more

“Professional drone racer” is an actual job title now. Photo by Ars Electronica on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 12 links for you. It’s amazing what you can fit in. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Skype can’t fix a nasty security bug without a massive code rewrite • ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:


A security flaw in Skype’s updater process can allow an attacker to gain system-level privileges to a vulnerable computer.

The bug, if exploited, can escalate a local unprivileged user to the full “system” level rights — granting them access to every corner of the operating system.

But Microsoft, which owns the voice- and video-calling service, said it won’t immediately fix the flaw, because the bug would require too much work.

Security researcher Stefan Kanthak found that the Skype update installer could be exploited with a DLL hijacking technique, which allows an attacker to trick an application into drawing malicious code instead of the correct library. An attacker can download a malicious DLL into a user-accessible temporary folder and rename it to an existing DLL that can be modified by an unprivileged user, like UXTheme.dll. The bug works because the malicious DLL is found first when the app searches for the DLL it needs.


Not going to fix a deep bug in Skype for Windows?!
link to this extract

Head to head, does the Apple HomePod really sound the best? • Yahoo

David Pogue did an A/B/C/D test on the Sonos Play:1, HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Home Max. People didn’t pick the HomePod overall as the best sound:


I actually have no great explanation for this outcome. Most of the panelists had ranked the HomePod (“B”) as first on some of the songs — just not most of the songs.

Rob: “For me, A, the Sonos, consistently had the most robust sound of all of them.”
Tori:  “The Sonos won two of them for me. ‘B’ [HomePod] won the ‘Star Wars.’”
Dana: “’B’ [HomePod] won one of mine. I felt like ‘A’ [Sonos], a lot of times, sounded a lot more sharp.”
Julie: “I picked between B and D [HomePod and Google Home Max] as being the two best. B and D were pretty clear. And C [the Amazon Echo] came in consistently last for me.”
Darwin: “I actually found A [the Sonos] to be the one that I hated the most. B [HomePod] did win one for me. It won ‘Havana,’ because it had a better low end. But I generally picked D [Google Home Max], because it had a clearer, nicer range. As a classical person, I definitely would go with D. But if I were listening to more pop stuff, I could see where ‘A’ [Sonos] could win.”

So what are we to make of this? Why did none of my panelists rank HomePod a solid  No. 1, when most critics all do (and so do I)?

Was something wrong with my setup? Well, no, because the night before, using the same setup, [wife] Nicki and [former tour sound engineer] Mike both ranked the HomePod No. 1.


link to this extract

60 million Android users hit by cryptocurrency miner • Tom’s Guide

Marshall Honorof:


A new malvertising campaign is targeting Android users, forcing their phones to mine cryptocurrency, for as long as it can keep them captive on a shady website. The good news is that the scam is easy to avoid; the bad news is that if you fall victim, it could damage your phone permanently.

Malwarebytes Labs, a Santa Clara, California-based security firm, discovered the scheme, then wrote about it on the company blog. According to security researcher Jérôme Segura, the attack is an example of “drive-by mining,” in which a malefactor exploits a device to mine cryptocurrency (in this case, Monero, or XMR) for just a short period of time.

While Malwarebytes didn’t specify which sites might be carrying the dangerous ads in question, at least one of them must be pretty popular. Dr. Augustine Fou, working alongside Malwarebytes, discovered that more than 60 million visitors have visited the malicious domains, and spent an average of four minutes on the page. That’s probably equivalent to a few thousand dollars in Monero — and a lot of overtaxed Android CPUs…

…Here’s how the attack works: First, a user encounters a malicious ad on an otherwise-legitimate site. The ad determines what browser a user is running, and by extension, what OS. If the ad detects Android, it redirects the user to a malicious page, which claims that the phone is “showing suspicious surfing behavior.” Users have to input a captcha to “verify [themselves] as human.”

You’ve seen similarly shady pages if you’ve spent any time in an Android browser, but this one has a catch: It states that until users complete the captcha, it will “mine the Cryptocurrency (sic) Monero for us in order to recover server costs incurred by bot traffic.”


“You’ve seen similarly shady pages if you’ve spent any time in an Android browser”?
link to this extract

Nokia sells 4.4m smartphones in Q4 2017, surpassing OnePlus, Google and others • Tech Radar

Sudhanshu Singh:


The 4.4 million figure puts Nokia at the 11th position in the list of companies with highest market share. This also means that Nokia sold more phones in the last quarter than a lot of other popular brands. Some of the companies that sold lesser smartphones that Nokia are: Google, HTC, Sony, Alcatel, Lenovo, OnePlus, Gionee, Meizu, Coolpad and Asus.


Amazing. And it sold 20.7m featurephones (over 2017, one assumes.) In total sales – smartphone plus featurephone – it was in 6th spot, with 5% market share. The power of a brand.

IDC reckons the Google Pixel sold 3.9m, since you ask.
link to this extract

How Osso VR is revolutionizing the way surgeons train for operations • UploadVR

David Jagneaux:


Osso VR is a virtual reality technology company founded on the principle of training surgeons with real-world skills that can be directly applied when in the OR. It’s impressively designed and even the U.S. Department of Education agreed when they awarded the studio an EdSim prize.

Recently I had the chance to try out one of the training modules for myself to see what it was like. In the scenario I was installing a rod into someone’s shin after they had suffered a fracture. The virtual prompts walked me through each action, from drilling in screws to nailing in rods and everything else. It was a very kinetic training exercise and one that wouldn’t be feasible to try for the first time on a real patient without prior knowledge.

To prove the effectiveness of their training modules Osso VR conducted a study. They had one group of students study the procedure using text books and other traditional forms of education while the other group simply did the VR exercise and that’s it. When both groups tried to perform the procedure on a test body, the VR group dramatically out-performed the non-VR, as was determined by an impartial blind judge.


To be really useful, you’d want haptic feedback on this. Professional uses for VR really look promising. (Consumer uses I’m less sure about.)
link to this extract

Facebook is pushing its data-tracking Onavo VPN within its main mobile app • Techcrunch

Sarah Perez:


Onavo Protect, the VPN client from the data-security app maker acquired by Facebook back in 2013, has now popped up in the Facebook app itself, under the banner “Protect” in the navigation menu. Clicking through on “Protect” will redirect Facebook users to the “Onavo Protect – VPN Security” app’s listing on the App Store.

We’re currently seeing this option on iOS only, which may indicate it’s more of a test than a full rollout here in the U.S. It’s unclear what percentage of Facebook’s user base is seeing the option, or which markets may have had this listing before, as there’s been little reporting on the feature.

We do know this is not the first time Onavo’s Protect has shown up in Facebook’s app – it was spotted before in 2016 in the UK.

Marketing Onavo within Facebook itself could lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, which promises to warn users of malicious websites and keep information secure – like bank account and credit card numbers – as you browse. But Facebook didn’t buy Onavo for its security protections.

Instead, Onavo’s VPN allow Facebook to monitor user activity across apps, giving Facebook a big advantage in terms of spotting new trends across the larger mobile ecosystem. For example, Facebook gets an early heads up about apps that are becoming breakout hits; it can tell which are seeing slowing user growth; it sees which apps’ new features appear to be resonating with their users, and much more.


To be fair: Facebook is offering something which can protect you in many circumstances. And it does get a benefit from that. Which is no different from the way that any free VPN will seek to monetise you – quite possibly less beneficially for you.
link to this extract

Six top US intelligence chiefs caution against buying Huawei phones • CNBC

Sara Salinas:


Six top U.S. intelligence chiefs told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei.

The six — including the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence — first expressed their distrust of Apple-rival Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE in reference to public servants and state agencies.

When prompted during the hearing, all six indicated they would not recommend private citizens use products from the Chinese companies.

“We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” FBI Director Chris Wray testified.

“That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure,” Wray said. “It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”


Paranoia? Or justifiable caution? After all, nothing is proven here, and other western governments (including the UK) don’t have those concerns – though I don’t know if anyone at GCHQ would use a Huawei phone. Wonder what they do use?
link to this extract

The trippy, high-speed world of drone racing • New Yorker

Vinson Cunningham looks at the new world of professional drone racing:


Flying their drones every day constitutes the core of their schedule, so, after lunch at a sandwich shop in Fort Collins (wooden tables, deluxe combos, artisanal sodas), Jordan and Travis drove us in Jordan’s new Subaru WRX hatchback into the Roosevelt National Forest and up the Cache la Poudre Canyon. The river, known as the Pooder, is one of the better trout-fishing streams in the state, and it provides angling access along the road every quarter mile or so. They stopped at a narrow pullout against the canyon wall, took out their equipment, goggled up, and sent the drones skyward. The rock formations in the canyon resembled books slumped this way and that on a shelf, with an occasional pillar standing out like a book’s denuded spine. The drones glided along the vertical rocks almost caressingly and wound among the scrubby junipers growing just downslope, as the motors made a high-pitched, sewing-machine sound.

Extra goggles had been brought so that I could watch along with the pilot. I found it impossible to do that without sitting on the tailgate and holding tightly to the car. At each swoop and plunge, the F.P.V. [first person viewer] view causes the uninitiated brain to think it’s about to die. After a few minutes, I took the goggles off, with relief. Watching the drones again without them, I noticed the canyon rocks’ black, cubistic shadow patterns for the first time. While Jordan flew, Travis told me about the passing flock of geese he tried to join with his drone, and about seeing a bear suddenly pop up in his F.P.V. He brought the drone back for a second look; the bear did not seem bothered.

Jordan’s drone hit a juniper branch and crashed. Putting his goggles aside, he sprang up the steep slope and retrieved drone, battery, and GoPro camera. A crash that scatters parts is called a yard sale, a term that is also used to describe a gear-strewing fall in skiing. Jordan skis and used to do ski acrobatics, but gave that up in his late teens after an accident in which he smashed his knee into his head and had to recuperate in bed for a month. Like a number of other drone racers, he has replaced a high-adrenaline physical sport with one in which you crash only vicariously.


link to this extract

Why the Connected PC initiative misses the mark • Techpinions

Tim Bajarin:


While in theory, I like the idea of always being connected, anytime and anywhere, I knew from our research that connectivity via cellular was not a high priority when it comes to features wanted in a laptop. Indeed, we have had the availability of cellular modems as options for laptops for over ten years, and demand for this feature in laptops is very low.

Another good benchmark to measure demand for cellular connectivity beyond a smartphone is the cellular activation rates of iPads. It turns out that of all iPads sold, around 50% buy up to include a cellular modem. But our research shows that less than 20% of those iPads with a cellular modem in them activate them. [So only 10% of all iPads – CA.]

The key reason for lack of real demand for a cellular connection in a laptop or a tablet is the additional cellular costs this adds to a person’s cell phone bill. When I asked one major cellular carriers about how they would price the connection on a connected PC, they said it would be an additional $10 or 12 dollars a month fee, and data used on a laptop would count against the person’s monthly data allotment they pay for already.

I could imagine that a younger demographic user who watches a lot of Youtube videos and accesses a lot of content on their laptops now, could go through their allotted all-you-can-eat 22-25 gig personal data plan in one or two weeks and then their data speeds on both their smartphone and connected laptop go down to 128 kbps.

Our research about the demand for cellular in a laptop was done sometime back so early this year we updated this survey by asking people “what are the three most important features you want in the next notebook or laptop you will buy.” As you can see from this chart below, long battery life, more memory, and larger hard drive storage topped their list.


Personally I use a PAYG (pay-as-you-go, aka prepaid) sim card. And being connected really is useful – though weirdly, one doesn’t care on a laptop.
link to this extract

Could self-driving trucks be good for truckers? • The Atlantic

Alexis C. Madrigal:


Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing “dock to dock” runs for a very long time. They see a future in which self-driving trucks drive highway miles between what they call transfer hubs, where human drivers will take over for the last miles through complex urban and industrial terrain.

For that reason, Woodrow says that he saw their version of self-driving trucks as complementing humans, not replacing them. To make their case, Uber created a model of the industry’s labor market based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Then, they created scenarios that looked at a range of self-driving-truck adoption rates and how often those autonomous trucks would be on the road in comparison to human-driven vehicles.

Their numbers for autonomous-truck adoption are intentionally very aggressive, Woodrow says, corresponding to 25, 50, and 70% of today’s trucks being self-driven. These do not reflect an Uber prediction that between 500,000 and 1.5 million self-driving trucks will be on the road by 2028, but rather they allow the model to show the dynamics in the labor market that might result from widespread adoption. “Imagine that self-driving trucks are incredibly successful and impactful,” he says. “What would that mean?”

The other set of numbers in the model—the utilization rate of the self-driving trucks—is the component that leads Uber to a different analysis of the effect that these vehicles will have on truckers. Basically, if the self-driving trucks are used far more efficiently, it would drive down the cost of freight, which would stimulate demand, leading to more business. And, if more freight is out on the roads, and humans are required to run it around local areas, then there will be a greater, not lesser, need for truck drivers.


Also read the full Uber writeup. Note how the narrative is shifting around these things: let robots do the boring stuff, let humans do the trickier things.
link to this extract

Fiat Chrysler pushed a UConnect update that causes constant reboots with no announced fix (updated) • Jalopnik

Jason Torchinsky:


It appears that the over-the-air update to the UConnect system went out on Friday, and many, many owners have not had working center-stack systems since then. Many of these vehicles are nearly brand-new, which makes the issue even more maddening.

(I reached out to FCA to find out what was known about the issue, if it was affecting all versions of the system, when a fix was expected, and so on, but I was surprised to find that the representative I spoke with wasn’t aware of the problem until I described it. I reached out to FCA two more times, but the first time I was told they had no statement or information yet, and the most recent time I had to leave a message. We’ll update with FCA’s response when we get it.)

The failure of the UConnect system isn’t just limited to not having a radio; like almost all modern automotive infotainment systems, the center screen, controlled by UConnect, handles things like rear-view camera systems, navigation, cell phone connection systems like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, some climate control functions, many system and user settings, and more.

Losing access to the system on a new FCA vehicle is a major problem.


To say the least. Naturally, one’s imagination jumps forward to how it could be with self-driving cars.
link to this extract

Analyst predicts new Apple Pencil, ‘low-end’ $200 HomePod this fall/autumn • Apple Insider

Roger Fingas:


“Looking at the success of Amazon’s Echo products we believe demand could exceed 10 million units this calendar year,” wrote Rosenblatt Securities’ Jun Zhang. Apple is forecast to ship about 6 million units of the full-size [HomePod] product.

Zhang didn’t propose what features a second HomePod model might have, but much of Amazon’s success can be attributed to the Echo Dot, which sacrifices built-in sound quality in exchange for a $40-50 pricetag, about half the cost of a full-size Echo. The difference makes it practical to equip multiple rooms with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

A cheaper HomePod would offer a similar benefit for Siri, but Apple might not be willing to sacrifice sound. The company has touted the product as a speaker first and AI platform second, focusing its marketing on technologies like beamforming, room correction, and the use of seven tweeters plus a dedicated woofer.

Separately, Zhang supported the idea that Apple’s 2018 lineup will include things like a faster iPhone SE and an iPad Pro with a TrueDepth camera.


The idea of Apple rushing downmarket quite so quickly with the HomePod feels a bit weird, but then again it was announced last summer – so the expectation had been that it would go on sale for last Christmas. Could a cheaper version really juice sales? Would enough people care that the sound was slightly less good? Answer to those could well be “yes” – it worked like a charm for Sonos with its Play:1 a few years ago.

As a counterargument: the AirPods have been out for more than 12 months without an update.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the Sonos Play:5 does have a line-in connection; I incorrectly suggested yesterday that it doesn’t. I should have looked.

Start Up: hello robots, an audiophile on HomePod, the Big Switch decade, FBI v Cook, and more

The 2018 Winter Olympics were targeted by – surprise! – Russian hackers. Photo by M. Cheung on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 9 links for you. Or so you think. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Four examples from the automation frontier • Conversable Economics

Timothy Taylor:


Cotton pickers. Shelf-scanners at Walmart. Quality control at building sites. Radiologists. These are just four examples of jobs that are being transformed and even sometime eliminated by the newest wave of automated and programmable machinery. Here are four short stories from various sources, which of course represent a much broader transformation happening across the global economy.


They are short, but they don’t indicate anyone getting fired because of them.
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The mental tricks of athletic endurance • WSJ

Alex Hutchinson:


Starting in the late 1990s, the South African author and fitness researcher Tim Noakes advanced the view that our brains are wired for self-preservation. If you push hard enough to endanger your health—by overheating your core or compromising your brain’s oxygen supply, say—your brain will function as a protective “central governor,” automatically weakening the nerve signals driving your muscles. The feedback loop gives rise to the sensation of fatigue and signals you to slow down.

An alternate view proposed a decade later by Samuele Marcora, an exercise scientist at the University of Kent’s Endurance Research Group, posits that our limits are defined by the balance between motivation and perceived effort. We don’t stop because our fatigued muscles are incapable of continuing, in this view, but because the effort required to continue is greater than we’re willing to exert.

Whatever the mechanism, both camps agree that the subjective perception of effort is a sort of master controller—which means, in practical terms, that if you change your perception of a task’s difficulty, you can change your actual results.

There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon. In a 2014 experiment described in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers led by Dr. Marcora showed cyclists images of smiling faces on a screen in imperceptible 16-millisecond flashes. The exposure boosted cycling performance by 12% over the level recorded with frowning faces projected in the same way. The sight of a smile didn’t lower the subjects’ heart rates or lactate levels, according to Dr. Marcora. Instead, it subtly altered how their brains interpreted those signals, evoking feelings of ease that bled into their perception of how hard they were pedaling.


link to this extract

Apple HomePod – the audiophile perspective measurements! • Reddit

The writer is an audiophile, and says that the HomePod more than satisfies the requirements of an audiophile; almost flat frequency reproduction, but also that self-correcting system:


Speaking of inputs, you have one choice: AirPlay. which means, unless you’re steeped in the apple ecosystem, it’s really hard to recommend this thing. If you are, it’s a no brainer, whether you’re an audiophile or not. If you have an existing sound system that’s far beyond the capabilities of a HomePod (say, an Atmos setup) then grab a few for the other rooms around the house (Kitchen, bedroom, etc). It’s also a great replacement for a small 2-speaker bookshelf system that sits atop your desk in the study, for example. When this tiny unobtrusive speakers sound so good, and are so versatile, grabbing a few of these to scatter around the house so you can enjoy some great audio in other rooms isn’t a bad move — provided you’re already part of the Apple Ecosystem.

AirPlay is nice. It never dropped out during any of my testing, on either speaker, and provides 16bit 44.1Khz lossless. However, my biggest gripe is hard to get past: There are no ports on the back, no alternative inputs. You must use AirPlay with HomePod. Sure, it’s lossless, but if you’re an android or Windows user, theres no guarantee it’ll work reliably, even if you use something like AirParrot (which is a engineered AirPlay app). I understand that’s deeply frustrating for some users.

As a product, the HomePod is also held back by Siri. Almost every review has complained about this, and they’re all right to do so. I’m hoping we see massive improvements to Siri this year at WWDC 2018. There is some great hardware at play, too. What’s truly impressive is that Siri can hear you if you speak in a normal voice, even if the HomePod is playing at full volume. I couldn’t even hear myself say “Hey Siri” over the music, but those directional microphones are really good at picking it up.


Sonos’s Play:1 and Play:3 and Play:5 only have Ethernet inputs, besides wireless. Just sayin’.
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The Big Switch: ten years on • Rough Type

Nick Carr looks back on his book about the rise of cloud computing (which he likened to the arrival of the electricity grid) published in 2008:


The stories of the electric grid and the computing grid are both stories of technical ingenuity and fearlessness. The book’s second part, “Living in the Cloud,” is darker. In fact, it was during the course of writing it that my view of the future of computing changed. I began The Big Switch believing that the new computing grid would democratize the use of computing power even as it centralized the machinery of data processing. That is, after all, what the electric grid did. By industrializing the generation and distribution of electricity, it made power a cheap resource that everyone could use simply by sticking a plug into a wall socket.

But data is fundamentally different from electric current, I belatedly realized, and centralizing the provision of computing would also mean centralizing control over information. The owners of the server farms would not be faceless utilities; they would be our overseers.


link to this extract

‘Olympic Destroyer’ malware hit Pyeongchang ahead of opening ceremony • Wired

Andy Greenberg:


while neither Olympics organizers nor security firms are ready to point the finger at the Kremlin, the hackers seem to have at least left behind some calling cards that look rather Russian.

Over the weekend, the Pyeongchang Olympics organizers confirmed that they’re investigating a cyberattack that temporarily paralyzed IT systems ahead of Friday’s opening ceremonies, shutting down display monitors, killing Wi-Fi, and taking down the Olympics website so that visitors were unable to print tickets. (While Intel also scrubbed its planned live drone show during the opening ceremonies, the Pyeongchang organizing committee said in a statement that the cause was “too many spectators standing in the area where the live drone show was supposed to take place,” rather than malware.)


Russian (state) hackers don’t seem too concerned that people can figure out their motivation.
link to this extract

Texts show FBI agents thought Tim Cook was a ‘hypocrite’ in the San Bernardino iPhone encryption fight • Business Insider

Kif Leswing:


In February 2016, as Apple and the FBI were quietly sparring over how to unlock an iPhone owned by one of the perpetrators of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, two FBI officials unrelated to the case back in Washington DC were privately discussing their distaste for Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“And what makes me really angry about that Apple thing? The fact that Tim Cook plays such the privacy advocate,” Peter Strzok, an FBI counterintelligence agent, wrote on February 9, 2016. “Yeah, jerky, your entire OS is designed to track me without me even knowing it.”

“I know. Hypocrite,” Lisa Page, a lawyer for the bureau, replied minutes later. 

A week after that exchange, the strained relationship between Apple and the nation’s top law enforcement agency became international news when Cook wrote an open letter explaining why Apple would not create special software to unlock the shooter’s iPhone, defying a request to do so by the FBI.  The FBI eventually dropped the request because it found a third-party vendor who was able to extract data from the iPhone 5C without Apple’s help.

The exchange between FBI agents Strzok and Page is part of hundreds of pages of bureau text messages recently published by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as part of a Republican-driven investigation into how the the bureau handled the Hillary Clinton probe.


Guess Apple needed to work a bit harder on the privacy messaging (you confused iOS with Android, Mr Strzok). Though arguably that has happened since.
link to this extract

Economists say the rise of monopoly power explains five puzzling trends • Bloomberg

Peter Coy:


Economists have concocted a variety of explanations for five recent phenomena in the U.S. economy that don’t match the “facts” that economists supposedly agree on. Now a Brown University economist and two of his doctoral students claim to have killed all five birds with one stone—advancing a simple explanation that accounts for all the anomalies at once.

Two changes explain all the discrepancies, they say. First, there’s been an increase in monopoly power, likely caused by an increase of power in the hands of dominant companies. Second, productivity growth has slowed and the population has aged, driving down the natural rate of interest.

The economists’ “unified explanation” has policy implications, says Gauti Eggertsson, the Brown economist who shared the work with two students, Jacob Robbins and Ella Getz Wold. The growth in monopoly profits strengthens the case for raising taxes on capital such as dividends and capital gains, and also suggests that antitrust authorities “should do more to prevent monopolies and oligopolies from forming,” they write.

The paper was released on Feb. 12 by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, where Eggertsson is a grantee and Robbins is a junior fellow. Here is a layman’s summary by Robbins.

The researchers tackle five so-called stylized facts—economists’ lingo for observations about the real world that are so consistent over time that they come to be accepted as true.  For example, one stylized fact asserted by the Hungarian-British economist Nicholas Kaldor in 1957 was that the way the national income is split between workers and capitalists tends to be roughly constant over time. In fact, labor’s share of national income, in the form of wages and salaries, has been on a steady downhill.


A Grand Unified Theory of economics? Could be useful.
link to this extract

Essential sold fewer than 90,000 phones in its first six months • The Verge

Nick Statt:


industry research firm IDC is now reporting that Essential sold fewer than 90,000 units in its first six months on the market.

Francisco Jeronimo, IDC’s research director, tweeted out the stat this morning, writing that the device is “still a long way from becoming a successful venture.” No one reasonably expected Rubin’s new smartphone company to go head-to-head with Apple or Samsung anytime soon (or ever for that matter). But 88,000 units, which is the exact figure IDC reports for Essential Phone sales in 2017, is still quite low and illustrates the uphill battle Rubin is fighting by launching a new phone in a mature, high-end market dominated by some of the world’s largest and most well-equipped corporations.

Essential is effectively a startup, and although it has some of the best expertise in the business alongside Rubin’s reputation, the company may not be able to weather the storm as it slashes costs on the Essential Phone and gears up to inevitably try and launch a successor. The device itself is now $499 after some aggressive cost-cutting and a temporary $399 Cyber Monday deal, suggesting Essential’s margins may be razor-thin at this point as it tries to get more units out into the wild.


It’s a start. More important is whether it can scale up, and make a profit. I’m not optimistic: too many Chinese rivals.
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Google’s next Android overhaul will embrace iPhone’s ‘notch’ • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen:


Google is working on an overhaul of its Android mobile software for a new generation of smartphones mimicking Apple’s controversial new “notch” at the top of the iPhone X, according to people familiar with the situation.

The Android update, due later in the year, will also more tightly integrate Google’s digital assistant, improve battery life on phones and support new designs, like multiple screens and foldable displays, the people added.

A key goal of this year’s update to the Google mobile operating system is to persuade more iPhone users to switch to Android devices by improving the look of the software, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing the private plans. A Google spokesman declined to comment.

While Android dominates the middle and low-end of the global smartphone market, Apple controls much of the high-end with users who spend more on apps and other services. Embracing the notch may help change that. The design will mean more new Android phones with cutouts at the top of their screens to fit cameras and other sensors. That will likely support new features, helping Android device makers keep up with similar Apple technology.

What’s unlikely to change much is Android’s nagging problem: Most of the billion-plus Android devices globally run outdated versions of the operating system, exposing security holes and holding back Google’s newest mobile innovations.


It sounds as though smartphone OEMs – most likely Samsung – really are anxious about how the notch is such a visual effect that makes the iPhone X stand out if someone is gazing over your shoulder.

Can’t see how adding a notch is going to induce switching, though. Might make them feature-competitive, but do we still think OS switching is done by a significant proportion of the smartphone population?
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: cryptominer attack!, torturing paper, the iBoot leakers, what we say to machines, and more

Your musical taste seems to be set when you were 13. Radiohead fan? Does that fit? Photo by rula on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Protect your site from cryptojacking – with csp sri • Scott Helme

Helme noticed that thousands of sites, including government sites, were running a cryptominer via a hacked Javascript file. As he points out, to hack 2,000 sites you don’t hack 2,000, you hack one:


This is not a particularly new attack and we’ve known for a long time that CDNs [content delivery networks] or other hosted assets are a prime target to compromise a single target and then infect potentially many thousands of websites. The thing is though, there’s a pretty easy way to defend yourself against this attack. Let’s take the ICO as an example, they load the affected file like this:

[script src=”//” type=”text/javascript”][/script]

That’s a pretty standard way to load a JS file and the browser will go and fetch that file and include it in the page, along with the crypto miner… Want to know how you can easily stop this attack?

[script src=”//” integrity=”sha256-Abhisa/nS9WMne/YX dqiFINl JiE15MCWvASJvVtIk=” crossorigin=”anonymous”][/script]

That’s it. With that tiny change to how the script is loaded, this attack would have been completely neutralised. What I’ve done here is add the SRI Integrity Attribute and that allows the browser to determine if the file has been modified, which allows it to reject the file. You can easily generate the appropriate script tags using the SRI Hash Generator and rest assured the crypto miner could not have found its way into the page. To take this one step further and ensure absolute protection, you can use Content Security Policy and the require-sri-for directive to make sure that no script is allowed to load on the page without an SRI integrity attribute. In short, this could have been totally avoided by all of those involved even though the file was modified by hackers.


Sure, he’s selling a service. But it’s a useful service.
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How a low-level Apple employee leaked some of the iPhone’s most sensitive code • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


A user named “ZioShiba” posted the closed source code for iBoot—the part of iOS responsible for ensuring a trusted boot of the operating system—to GitHub, the internet’s largest repository of open source code.

Jonathan Levin, an iPhone researcher, called it the “biggest leak” in the history of the iPhone. The iBoot code is for iOS 9 and the code is two-years old. But even today, it could help iOS security researchers and the jailbreak community find new bugs and vulnerabilities in a key part of the iPhone’s locked-down ecosystem.

The leak of the iBoot source code is not a security risk for most—if any—users, as Apple said in a statement. But it’s an embarrassment for a company that prides itself in secrecy and aggressively goes after leaks and leakers.

How does something like this happen?

A low-level Apple employee with friends in the jailbreaking community took code from Apple while working at the company’s Cupertino headquarters in 2016, according to two people who originally received the code from the employee. Motherboard has corroborated these accounts with text messages and screenshots from the time of the original leak and has also spoken to a third source familiar with the story.

Motherboard has granted these sources anonymity given the likelihood of Apple going after them for obtaining and distributing proprietary, copyrighted software. The original Apple employee did not respond to our request for comment and said through his friend that he did not currently want to talk about it because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Apple.

According to these sources, the person who stole the code didn’t have an axe to grind with Apple. Instead, while working at Apple, friends of the employee encouraged the worker to leak internal Apple code. Those friends were in the jailbreaking community and wanted the source code for their security research.


Man, that guy was some idiot. Apple is sure to track these people down, and they’re going to get sued to oblivion.
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The songs that bind • NY Times

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz:


For this project, the music streaming service Spotify gave me data on how frequently every song is listened to by men and women of each particular age.

The patterns were clear. Even though there is a recognized canon of rock music, there are big differences by birth year in how popular a song is.

Consider, for example, the song “Creep,” by Radiohead. This is the 164th most popular song among men who are now 38 years old. But it is not in the top 300 for the cohort born 10 years earlier or 10 years later.

Note that the men who most like “Creep” now were roughly 14 when the song came out in 1993. In fact, this is a consistent pattern.

I did a similar analysis with every song that topped the Billboard charts from 1960 to 2000. In particular, I measured how old their biggest fans today were when these songs first came out.
It turns out that the “Creep” situation is pretty much universal. Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released. The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16.

What about women? On average, their favorite songs came out when they were 13. The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14.

Granted, some results of my research are not surprising. One of the facts I discovered is that Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is extremely unpopular among women in their 70s. Thank you, Big Data, for uncovering that nugget of wisdom!

But I did find it interesting how clear the patterns were and how much early adolescence matters. The key years, in fact, match closely with the end of puberty, which tends to happen to girls before boys.


This metric indicates that I am *looks at iTunes most-played* 31 years old.
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Homepod initial impressions • GR36

Greg Morris:


I was dead set on returning the HomePod after I had played around with it. My Sonos speakers have been one of the best devices I have spent money on, and I found it hard to believe they could be replaced.

However given a very small time with the HomePod both myself and the family have been converted. The device has already replaced two Sonos Play:1 speakers upstairs and I will more than likely buy another to replace a Play:3 downstairs in time. This is said with a little resistance, as the HomePod only exists to keep iOS users in the ecosystem and gain Apple Music subscribers. Yes, Spotify works, in a roundabout way, but the experience is much better with Apple Music.

Although the smart aspects of the HomePod leaves a lot to be desired, so does using Alexa with my Sonos speakers. There are a lot of features that I feel are missing from the device to make every user happy, however for me the device is more than capable of doing what I require. Apple really needs to pull out all the stops this WWDC and introduce many platform changes to Siri for risk of being even further behind.


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Why paper jams persist • New Yorker

Annie Proulx:


Bruce Thompson, the computer modeller who sat at the head of the table, had spent days creating a simulation of the jam. “We’re dealing with a highly nonlinear entity moving at a very high speed,” he said. On the screen, his wireframes showed a sheet of paper in mid-flight. He called up a shadowy slow-motion video made inside the press. “There’s a good inch before the vacuum takes effect,” he observed.
The team began to consider their options. The most obvious fix would have been to buffet the paper upward from below using a device called an air knife. This was off limits, however, because the bottom side was coated with loose toner. “An air knife will just blow the toner right off,” Ruiz said. Another possibility was to place “fingers”—small, projecting pieces of plastic—where they could support the corners as they began to droop. “That might create a higher jam rate on different paper shapes,” an engineer said—it could be a “stub point.” A mystified silence descended.
A mechanical engineer named Dave Breed pointed toward the upside-down conveyor belt. “The vacuum pump actually works by pulling air through holes in the belts,” he said. “So what is the pattern of those holes relative to the corners? Maybe there’s no suction there.”
On the whiteboard, Ruiz sketched a diagram of the conveyor belt—the V.P.T., or vacuum-paper transport—showing the holes through which the suction operated. “Optimize belt pattern,” he wrote.
“If my understanding of air systems is right,” Breed went on, “then the force that gets a sheet moving isn’t really pressure—it’s flow.”


You thought you didn’t care about printers, but this will make you care about printers, and realise that – as one person says – “a printer is a torture chamber for paper”. (So, is Annie Proulx between books?)
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What 3,000 voice search queries tell us about the ‘voice search revolution’ • Search Engine Land

Bryson Meunier:


My family of five in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, has been using Google Home for a little over a year. We use it daily and now have five Google Homes in the house since the kids got Google Home Minis for Christmas.

Google returns personalized data in MyActivity, which you can filter by voice search queries. It’s not easy to extract, but when I did it manually, I extracted a total of 3,188 queries that mostly occurred between October 8, 2017, and January 10, 2018. These were mostly queries using Google Home, but some of them were voice queries from smartphone, desktop and tablet.

I have three kids under 8 years old, so not every query was crystal clear. When I categorized the queries, “unknown” was my sixth-largest category, and it comprised queries like my six-year-old daughter asking Google Home, “Does Google Home belong to me or my little brother” and queries I didn’t know we were making, like “All right, Blake if you’re going to be good you can come down,” after I told my 3-year-old he could come down from his time out.

But the findings largely show what my family uses the Google Home for. I am sharing my findings in hopes it will help other marketers find actual ways to promote their businesses with these devices and will provide value to themselves and to searchers.

Keep in mind while most of these are Google Home voice queries, we also search by voice from our smartphones and tablets, and those voice-based queries are included here as well.

By far, the number one thing we asked of our Google Home was to stop, which usually meant to stop playing “Cherry Bomb,” “Ghostbusters,” “Jingle Bells” or some other song my 3-year old decided was worthy of playing 10 times a day.


This seems to indicate that there’s a pretty narrow range of transactions one wants to (or can) carry out with these devices. Limitation of the voice UI, or what it can do?
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About • Complexity Explorables

Dirk Brockmann:


This page is part of the Research on Complex Systems Group at the Institute for Theoretical Biology at Humboldt University of Berlin.

The site is designed for people interested in complex dynamical processes. The Explorables are carefully chosen in such a way that the key elements of their behavior can be explored and explained without too much math (There are a few exceptions) and with as few words as possible.

Almost all interactive visualizations are implemented in D3 (Data Driven Documents). All the Explorables should work on your laptop or desktop computer and on Chrome, Safari and Firefox. Not sure about IE. Some of the Explorables may not work on mobile devices but hopefully the majority does.

Complexity Explorables is also designed as an instructive element of a course in Complex Systems in Biology that I teach.


You could spent a lot of time playing around here. Double pendulums, plant growth, and all sorts of dynamic mathematical-biological processes are yours to play with.
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Quantifying the value of bitcoin • Medium

Noah Ruderman puts the bull case for bitcoin’s trading value:


Quantifying the value of Bitcoin
tldr; $184k, maybe.

The value of Bitcoin is not a complete mystery. The problems that Bitcoin addresses have existed since the dawn of trade. Bitcoin’s value largely comes from presenting a compelling alternative to existing solutions. The value of solving a problem can be quantified with heuristics that puts a number on the the cost the problem or the cost of implementing an existing solution. We can put a number on Bitcoin by summing these values and dividing by the total supply that will ever exist excluding lost coins. Like estimations in physics, the hope is that the final number will be accurate to an order of magnitude.

I start with a few assumptions:
• Bitcoin’s primary use case is as a censorship-resistant store of value
• Bitcoin will be the premier store of value among cryptocurrencies

Let’s get started.


This really is the optimist’s read on how it could be used (“censorship-resistant transactions for institutions and government”) which is worth reading so that at least you can have your counterarguments ready. (For a start, I think some of his use cases overlap, which means he’s double-counting his theoretical benefits.)

Unless you agree with him, in which case BUY AND HODL!
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Russian nuclear scientists arrested for ‘bitcoin mining plot’ • BBC


Russian security officers have arrested several scientists working at a top-secret Russian nuclear warhead facility for allegedly mining crypto-currencies.
The suspects had tried to use one of Russia’s most powerful supercomputers to mine Bitcoins, media reports say.

The Federal Nuclear Centre in Sarov, western Russia, is a restricted area.

The centre’s press service said: “There has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining.”

The supercomputer was not supposed to be connected to the internet – to prevent intrusion – and once the scientists attempted to do so, the nuclear centre’s security department was alerted. They were handed over to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian news service Mash says.

“As far as we are aware, a criminal case has been launched against them,” the press service told Interfax news agency.


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Has anyone seen the president? • Bloomberg View

Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and The Big Short, goes to Washington for the White House press room and lunch and some TV viewing with Steve Bannon:


“If you can get Trump elected president, you can get anyone elected president. And so I want you to tell me the steps I’d need to take to get elected. What do we need to do?”

He shakes his head quickly. The question doesn’t offend him. He just thinks I’m missing the point. “What was needed was a blunt force instrument, and Trump was a blunt force instrument,” he says. Trump may be a barbarian. He may be in many senses stupid. But in Bannon’s view, Trump has several truly peculiar strengths. The first is his stamina. “I give a talk to a room with 50 people and I’m drained afterward,” Bannon says. “This guy got up five and six times a day in front of 10,000 people, day in and day out. He’s 70! Hillary Clinton couldn’t do that. She could do one.” The public events were not trivial occasions, in Bannon’s view. They whipped up the emotion that got Trump elected: anger. “We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall,” he says. “This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.”

The ability to tap anger in others was another of Trump’s gifts, and made him, uniquely in the field of Republican candidates, suited to what Bannon saw as the task at hand: Trump was himself angry. The deepest parts of him are angry and dark, Bannon told Wolff. Exactly what Trump has to be angry about was unclear. He’s had all of life’s advantages. Yet he acts like a man who has been cheated once too often, and is justifiably outraged. What Bannon loved was the way Trump sounded when he was angry. He’d gone to the best schools, but he had somehow emerged from them with the grammar and diction of an uneducated person. “The vernacular,” Bannon called Trump’s odd way of putting things. Other angry people, some of whom actually had been cheated by life, thrilled to its sound.


If Lewis has written this, he’s almost certainly writing a book about it. That’s something to look forward to.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: deepfake cryptomining, jumping skyscrapers, India fines Google, and more

A hedge fund is shorting Kodak for all it’s worth, saying its cryptocoins won’t save it. Photo by Miwok on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 9 links for you. Kinda bitcoin-y. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A deepfakes spinoff website is quietly mining cryptocurrency under the guise of fake porn • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:


“Deepfakes” are videos created using a machine learning algorithm that swaps one person’s face onto another person’s body. Most frequently, this is used to put a celebrity’s face on a video of a porn performer.

Some deepfakes fans are attempting to avoid watchful admin eyes by setting up their own websites, independent of other platforms. But at least one of these websites, called, contains malware that hijacks visitors’ computing power to mine cryptocurrency without alerting the user. Deepfakes enthusiasts may make particularly good miners: The profitability of cryptocurrency mining depends on a computer’s power, and people running machine learning programs may have more powerful CPUs than the average consumer.

A member of the r/fakeapp subreddit (which was not banned because it does not allow porn) first pointed out the surreptitious mining on, in an attempt to alert other members of the issue. Motherboard ran the site through an online antivirus program; it showed that is running code from Coinhive’s in-browser miner.

This appears to be a Coinhive browser miner. Motherboard viewed the site’s source code and confirmed that mining is taking place…


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Kodak pt 4: Kerrisdale Capital’s blistering crypto pre-mortem for Kodak • David Gerard

David Gerard on hedge fund Kerrisdale Capital’s excoriating preview of Kodak’s cryptocoin effort; the hedge fund is shorting Kodak hard:


Like all good cryptocurrency entrepreneurs, the KodakCoin team turn out to have an extensive track record in scams and fraud — in this case, securities fraud. Cameron Chell, leader of the team, has been banned from a Canadian exchange for securities fraud, and has formed several businesses with people also convicted of securities fraud.

KashMiner is dismissed forthwith — one heading states straight-up that “Kodak KashMiner is a scam” and another that it’s a “racket.” The scam is detailed much as I set out previously — you are startlingly unlikely to come out ahead on this thing, and there’s no way they couldn’t have known this when they promoted it.

These deals are desperation on the part of Eastman Kodak — their financial position hasn’t improved any since their last bankruptcy, they’re middling at best in the few profitable businesses they’re still in, they have cash on the balance sheet but half of it is stuck outside the US, and they can’t possibly avoid tripping debt covenants before the middle of next year, if not sooner. The numbers are set out in detail.


How many times can Kodak die, exactly?
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People notice there’s something wrong with the rock’s new movie poster, and things escalate quickly • Bored Panda


People are calling Dwayne Johnson ‘The Rock-et’ after he shared a poster of his upcoming movie. The action thriller is set in the not-so-distant future, where his character, Will Ford, is called in to inspect the security at the tallest building in the world, called The Pearl. And yes, films like these don’t always rely on the laws of physics, but the internet believes this one is stretching it a wee bit too much.


This is simply wonderful.
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India’s antitrust watchdog fines Google for abusing dominant position • Reuters

Aditya Kalra and Aditi Shah:


The Competition Commission of India (CCI) said Google, the core unit of US firm Alphabet, was abusing its dominance in online web search and online search advertising markets.

“Google was found to be indulging in practices of search bias and by doing so, it causes harm to its competitors as well as to users,” the CCI said in a 190-page order.

“Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search, to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services,” the CCI said.

However, the CCI said it did not find any contravention in respect of Google’s specialized search design, AdWords and online distribution agreements.

A Google spokesman said the company was reviewing the “narrow concerns” identified by the Commission and will assess its next steps.


A fine of $21.7m. Google might be able to handle it. But is anyone keeping count of how many countries Google has been found guilty of antitrust in? Russia, Europe, South Korea, now India..
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Don’t get too excited about Twitter’s turnaround • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:


if Twitter’s audience doesn’t grow, that puts more pressure on Twitter’s advertising department to squeeze more revenue from existing users. That’s not an easy task for Twitter, which competes for some of the same business that’s going to Facebook, Google and Snapchat. Ideally, Twitter wants to increase the number of users, how much time they’re spending on Twitter and the ad sales per user. Admittedly, that’s a lot of balls in the air at once, and Twitter hasn’t been a skillful juggler. 

Investors’ feelings about Twitter have also turned from bitterness to overly optimistic. Shares have climbed 65% in the last six months, and the stock price hit a two-year high last week. Wall Street has been anticipating Twitter’s financial recovery, and a return of Twitter takeover rumors likely have lifted shares as well. Pre-market trading Thursday indicates shares may open 23% higher. 

The anticipation of a Twitter rebound means shares have become overheated. The company’s enterprise value now stands about nearly 7 times expected revenue in the next year, according to Bloomberg data. That’s the richest valuation for Twitter in at least two years.


Twitter says the flat user number was because it was getting rid of bots and other unwanted accounts. The feeling is that advertisers like that: it means they can trust who they’re dealing with. Simply measuring “active users” has been the wrong metric. Time spent could be better.
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Leaked AI-powered game revenue model paper foretells a dystopian nightmare • Tech Powerup



An artificial intelligence (AI) will deliberately tamper with your online gameplay as you scramble for more in-game items to win. The same AI will manipulate your state of mind at every step of your game to guide you towards more micro-transactions. Nothing in-game is truly fixed-rate. The game maps out your home, and cross-references it with your online footprint, to have a socio-economic picture of you, so the best possible revenue model, and anti buyer’s remorse strategy can be implemented on you. These, and more, are part of the dystopian nightmare that takes flight if a new AI-powered online game revenue model is implemented in MMO games of the near future.

The paper’s slide-deck and signed papers (with corrections) were leaked to the web by an unknown source, with bits of information (names, brands) redacted. It has too much information to be dismissed off hand for being a prank. It proposes leveraging AI to gather and build a socio-economic profile of a player to implement the best revenue-generation strategy. It also proposes using an AI to consistently “alter” the player’s gameplay, such that the player’s actions don’t have the desired result leading toward beating the game, but towards an “unfair” consequence that motivates more in-game spending. The presentation spans a little over 50 slides, and is rich in text that requires little further explanation.


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Samsung and Roku smart TVs vulnerable to hacking, consumer reports finds • Consumer Reports



The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV smart-TV platform, as well as streaming devices such as the Roku Ultra.

We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume, which might be deeply unsettling to someone who didn’t understand what was happening. This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles away. (These vulnerabilities would not allow a hacker to spy on the user or steal information.)

The findings were part of a broad privacy and security evaluation, led by Consumer Reports, of smart TVs from top brands that also included LG, Sony, and Vizio.

The testing also found that all these TVs raised privacy concerns by collecting very detailed information on their users. Consumers can limit the data collection. But they have to give up a lot of the TVs’ functionality—and know the right buttons to click and settings to look for.


Tested for the first time against the ”Digital Standard” (a new cybersecurity and privacy standard developed with third-party companies).

Just me, or does it feel like it would be easier to list the smart TVs which aren’t privacy-invading hacker-vulnerable nightmares?
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Transcript: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks with CNBC’s Josh Lipton and Jim Cramer • CNBC

Chloe Aiello had the slog of transcribing what is mostly a big nothing-burger, where Cook retreads the themes you’d have heard from the earnings call (for a moment at the start I thought it was the earnings call):


LIPTON: I want to stick with China for one moment, because it was interesting these Chinese smartphone manufacturers recently said they’re going to offer 5G, maybe as soon as 2019. And they are doing that by partnering with Qualcomm. If you didn’t have Qualcomm as a partner, Tim, would it be harder to compete in that market going forward?

COOK: Harder to compete in China?

LIPTON: Yeah, the fact that Chinese manufacturers are saying, “Listen, we are going to be able to offer this super fast 5G by 2019 by partnering with Qualcomm.”

COOK: Obviously 5G is something that is on everybody’s roadmap. I don’t want to talk about timing, obviously, it’s different in different countries. I believe China’s plan is a very limited offering in 2019. And I think it is a full, commercial offering in 2020. But regardless of what it is, we moved the iPhone from 2.5G to 3G, and from 3G to LTE, and it will eventually move to 5G, as well.


I get the feeling that means Apple is going to have 5G later than others. Hard to know at this point whether that’s really a competitive gap: 4G is plenty fast for so many things (better than Wi-Fi in many situations).
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Google and Facebook make up less than 5% of publishers’ digital revenue • Digiday

Lucia Moses:


In the first half of 2017, publishers took in $10m from third-party platforms, representing 16% of their total digital revenue. That’s nearly flat with the first half of 2016, when third-party revenue was 14%. That’s pocket change for Google and Facebook, which together took in more than $52bn in digital ad revenue just in the US in 2017.

“The biggest surprise is how little has changed,” DCN CEO Jason Kint said. “You’re still looking at a situation where the best in class in news and entertainment isn’t being supported in a way it should be.”

The report was based on numbers reported by 20 members of DCN, which represents 75 digital content publishers including The New York Times, ESPN and PBS. (About two-thirds of that 20 are the same as the comparative group of the earlier report, so the comparison isn’t perfect.)

The report also shows that video revenue continues to drive monetization for publishers. Video represented about 85% of all third-party revenue. That might seem like a vindication for publishers that have organized their businesses around video, but the reality is that most of the video dollars went to companies that were established video producers. TV/cable companies reaping a disproportionate share of third-party platform monetization and growth through OTT and syndication partners including YouTube.


Pivot to vide—oh.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.