Start up: bitcoin’s price spiral, Siri gets smarter, Samsung + BlackBerry?, the truth about Google’s 20% time, and more


Is bitcoin’s price heading down this way? Photo by Christopher Chan on Flickr.

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

As bitcoin’s price slides, signs of a squeeze » NYTimes.com

Sydney Ember:

the [bitcoin mining] industry is starting to feel the effects of the sustained decline. Some mining companies that invested heavily in resources when the price of Bitcoin was rising are struggling to keep their operations open.

“It obviously makes the environment for Bitcoin businesses difficult,” said Jonathan Levin, a digital currency consultant.

Bitcoin miners are computers that run Bitcoin’s open-source program and perform complex algorithms. If they find the solution before other miners, they are rewarded with a block of 25 Bitcoins — essentially “unearthing” new Bitcoins from the digital currency’s decentralized network. Such mining operations, though potentially lucrative, are also expensive, requiring huge amounts of equipment and electricity.

Now, these miners, who had bet on a higher price of the virtual currency to pay for resources, are selling their Bitcoins to keep their electricity running and return money to their lenders.

“People have these very real fiat-based liabilities that they have to pony up for, and to do that, they’re going to have to sell Bitcoins,” Mr. Schvey of TradeBlock said. These sales could in turn be driving down the price further.

This seems to me the best explanation for why bitcoin’s price is falling (along with Russia cracking down on exchanges there, which would also force sales). That in turn suggests a lower long-term price – some miners will be driven out permanently. (You can see the real-time price at coindesk.com/price – $172 as I write, below any level since October 2013.)


Bitcoin ponzi CryptoDouble disappears with at least 2233 bitcoins » CryptoCoinsNews

Bitcoin scams are back. CryptoDouble, a website founded on the promise of doubling its users’ deposits within 100 hours, ceased all its operations. At least 2233 BTC (about $500,000) have been cashed out on BTC-E, leaving thousands of customers out of pocket.

The service gained a significant popularity on Bitcointalk, where customers first testified about the service and its supposed effectiveness.

Despite several warnings from advanced Bitcoin users and previous Bitcoin Ponzi scams, a significant number of users have been attracted by the website’s promises and its investment possibilities.

Stories like this continue to demonstrate that bitcoin users aren’t somehow smarter than the rest of us.


Apple, Ericsson clash on LTE patents » Light Reading

Apple, however, appears to have initiated legal proceedings, filing a lawsuit in a US court on January 12 to prove that it has not infringed a subset of Ericsson’s patents and should pay lower royalties than the networks giant has demanded.

The device maker believes royalties should be based on the cost of the chips used in its devices, according to Reuters, but says Ericsson has been calculating licensing fees as a percentage of the value of the whole device.

Ericsson defended its approach in an email sent to Light Reading.

“Our view is that royalties should be based on the value that the technology in the device brings to the end-user,” said an Ericsson spokesperson. “The price of the chip-set has nothing to do with the value the technology brings to the end-user.”

Ericsson has also called on US legal authorities to determine whether its licensing offer to Apple is fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Possibly the previous deal was set up when Ericsson still had a mobile phone unit (with Sony), which led to prices being bargained down via patent swaps. Now, Ericsson just makes network kit – so there’s nothing for Apple to bargain against.

Alternatively, Ericsson is demanding a ton of money.


This is what happens when you create an online community without any rules » The Washington Post

Caitlin Dewey:

8chan, the more-lawless, more-libertarian, more “free” follow-up to 4chan, disappeared from the internet under predictable circumstances Monday: Multiple people complained to 8chan’s registrar that the message board hosted child porn.

8chan has since resurfaced at a new URL, 8ch.net, and purportedly recovered its original domain. But that doesn’t erase the inevitable lesson of the matter: When you create an Internet community with virtually no rules, things are bound to go down the drain.

The response of the denizens of 8chan: dox Dewey.


Exclusive: Samsung approaches BlackBerry about buyout – source » Reuters

Jennifer Ablan and Liana Baker:

Samsung Electronics recently approached BlackBerry about buying the smartphone maker for as much as $7.5bn in a play for its patent portfolio, according to a person familiar with the matter and documents seen by Reuters.

South Korea’s Samsung proposed an initial price range of $13.35 to $15.49 per share, representing a premium of 38% to 60% over BlackBerry’s current trading price, the source said.

Executives from the two companies, which are working with advisers, met last week to discuss a potential transaction, the source said, asking not to be identified because the conversations are private.

It remains unclear whether Blackberry, which has regained some of its lost swagger under CEO John Chen over the past year or so, was open to the approach. Representatives for the company declined to comment.

BlackBerry’s patents have for some time seemed like the only thing with ongoing value that it has. Its corporate and government customers might be happy enough with Samsung buying it.

For my analysis of BlackBerry’s most recent results, read There must be a horse in there somewhere.


360 Security climbs Google Play chart to top Tools and Free App categories » 360Safe

An excited press release from the company:

It’s safe to say that the third version of 360 Security, which we’ve just announced, is off to an explosive start.

On Tuesday 360 Security climbed to the top of the Google Play charts, peaking at No. 1 among Android Tools in 20 countries and counting. 360 Security has also broken into the Top 3 among all free Android apps in the U.S.

We knew heading into the development of 360 Security that the awareness surrounding smartphone threats and performance were low. Topping the Google Play chart means that the general audience in not only the US but also around the world are increasingly attentive today of the vulnerabilities and performance problems that may lurk within their devices.

I find this depressing.


Mayer: Google’s ‘20% Time’ does not exist » Business Insider

Nicholas Carlson (who has written a well-received book about Yahoo, and Marissa Mayer’s tenure there so far:

I learned that in the spring of 2013, Mayer stood up on stage during an all-employee meeting at Yahoo and debunked the 20% time myth.

Mayer was announcing something called the CEO Challenge — an initiative where teams that came up with cool new product ideas would get spot bonuses of $250,000. Mayer warned Yahoo employees not to work on CEO Challenge products instead of doing their regular work.

“It’s funny,” she said. “People have been asking me since I got here, ‘When is Yahoo going to have 20% time?'”

“I’ve got to tell you the dirty little secret of Google’s 20% time. It’s really 120% time.”

As in, work them into the ground. Play on their insecurities about what they can get done compared to those around them. Lots of companies do it.


As Blinkbox sold, just 4% in UK use the service monthly » GlobalWebIndex

Blinkbox, bought by TalkTalk and soon to be shut down, was reported to be making Tesco a considerable loss – and it’s easy to see why. Only 4% of UK online adults used Blinkbox last month. Even when we extend this to those who have used the service ever, the figure rises to just 14%.

Like most VOD services, Blinkbox could claim peaks among younger consumers. But these numbers were still low – 7% of 16-34s in the UK used the service monthly.

Perhaps most significantly, almost a fifth of UK internet users say they have never even heard of Blinkbox. In an industry where Netflix is grabbing Emmy awards, brand recognition problems of this type are pretty telling.

In fact, Netflix can boast a 22% usage rate in the UK – with almost 4 in 10 UK internet users saying they have used Netflix at some point.

Tesco is big, but I’m not that surprised about Blinkbox. Launched in 2007, Tesco bought into it in 2011, but it was still a hard sell: Tesco might have pushed it, but it had other distractions at the time. (Even so, 14% is creditable.)


Samsung returns to roots in components as phones stall » Bloomberg

This is from 8 January, so a week old – but I find it interesting for the analyst estimates:

Operating profit from semiconductors was probably 2.7trn won in the fourth quarter on sales of 10.8trn won, according to the median estimate of six analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. That would be a 35% increase in earnings from a year earlier.

Samsung and Globalfoundries Inc. are teaming up in the made-to-order chip business, an alliance aimed at winning orders from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co In October, Samsung said it would spend 15.6trn won building a chip plant south of Seoul.

“Samsung’s main business is now shifting back to semiconductors,” Peter Lee, a Seoul-based analyst at NH Investment & Securities (016420), said in a Jan. 2 report. The annual operating profit from the chip business this year will outpace that of the mobile unit, he said.

Operating income at the phone division probably fell to 1.6trn won on sales of 27trn won, according to the analyst survey. That would be the unit’s smallest quarterly profit in almost four years as Samsung faces increasing competition in China and India, the world’s two biggest smartphone markets.

Fewer shipments and higher marketing spending for new models during the quarter curtailed profit growth and limited the benefits of the September release of the large-screen Note 4, said Lee Seung Woo, an analyst at IBK Securities Co. in Seoul…

…Samsung probably shipped 75 million smartphones worldwide in the last three months of 2014, after selling 78.7 million units in the third quarter, according to HMC’s Roh.


Doonesbury Collection: the Newton

From August 1993. I was on a tour of Silicon Valley not long after, and visited companies including General Magic – whose staff included Andy Rubin, who went on to Danger and of course to found Android, and you know the rest there. I can’t remember if I met him or not. But I do remember that these strips were stuck beside doors as an Awful Warning.

Contrast that to now…


Quick thoughts: on Apple’s subtle machine learning improvements » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson, following up on reports that Apple’s Siri has quietly got faster, notes that it has also got smarter about telling him how long it would take to get to his basketball game:

What Apple’s machine learning engine did here was (as far as I can guess 1):

• Note that I had an item called “Basketball” in my calendar for that morning
• Make a connection with past appointments on Saturday mornings also called “Basketball”
• Look up past location behavior in its location database to connect a particular location with past instances of “Basketball” in my calendar
• Look up this address and calculate driving time between my current location and this destination
• Present it to me at a relevant time in the Today screen.

Again, Apple has talked up some functionality around using calendar locations explicitly entered in your calendar to provide these sorts of alerts, but I’m not sure it’s ever talked about the deeper machine learning stuff in evidence here. I’ve never seen exactly this sort of extrapolation from past behavior again since this occasion, but I have received other notifications on this screen that it’s time to leave for appointments where I’ve explicitly entered a location in my calendar, based on heavy traffic (it happened to me this past week at CES, for example).

Siri got a stuttering start, rather like Maps. Both function sufficiently well now; it’s the under-the-hood things that Apple is working on, slowly but surely.


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