Start up: Siri’s smart sibling, testing Magic Leap, more Superfish flaws, Cook the CEO, reviving Wallet, and more


The 2014-15 Louisville Leopard Percussionists rehearsing Kashmir, The Ocean, and Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin.
The Louisville Leopard Percussionists began in 1993. They are a performing ensemble of approximately 55 student musicians, ages 7-12, living in and around Louisville, Kentucky. (Or watch it on YouTube.)

A selection of 10 links for you. If you love them, set them free. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Viv, built by Siri’s creators, scores $12.5m for an AI technology that can teach itself » TechCrunch

Broadly, the same idea as what Google-purchased Deep Mind is working on – a system that can learn (Deep Mind’s learning applies to games). This was an interesting data point though:

Siri investor Gary Morgenthaler, a partner at Morgenthaler Ventures, who also invested personally in Viv Labs’ new round, agrees.

“Now 500 million people globally have access to Siri,” he says. “More than 200 million people use it monthly, and more than 100 million people use it every day. By my count, that’s the fastest uptake of any technology in history – faster than DVD, faster than smartphones – it’s just amazing,” Morgenthaler adds.

As for Viv, it

can parse natural language and complex queries, linking different third-party sources of information together in order to answer the query at hand. And it does so quickly, and in a way that will make it an ideal user interface for the coming Internet of Things — that is, the networked, everyday objects that we’ll interact with using voice commands.

Wonder if Apple will add this to its shopping list.


What it’s like to try Magic Leap’s take on virtual reality » MIT Technology Review

Rachel Metz certainly sounds impressed, and this is the first description of how this method works that I’ve seen:

while Oculus wants to transport you to a virtual world for fun and games, Magic Leap wants to bring the fun and games to the world you’re already in. And in order for its fantasy monsters to appear on your desk alongside real pencils, Magic Leap had to come up with an alternative to stereoscopic 3-D—something that doesn’t disrupt the way you normally see things. Essentially, it has developed an itty-bitty projector that shines light into your eyes—light that blends in extremely well with the light you’re receiving from the real world.

As I see crisply rendered images of monsters, robots, and cadaver heads in Magic Leap’s offices, I can envision someday having a video chat with faraway family members who look as if they’re actually sitting in my living room while, on their end, I appear to be sitting in theirs. Or walking around New York City with a virtual tour guide, the sides of buildings overlaid with images that reveal how the structures looked in the past. Or watching movies where the characters appear to be right in front of me, letting me follow them around as the plot unfolds. But no one really knows what Magic Leap might be best for. If the company can make its technology not only cool but comfortable and easy to use, people will surely dream up amazing applications.


Superfish vulnerability traced to other apps, too » PCWorld

Lucian Constantin:

it gets worse. It turns out Superfish relied on a third-party component for the HTTPS interception functionality: an SDK (software development kit) called the SSL Decoder/Digestor made by an Israeli company called Komodia.

Researchers have now found that the same SDK is integrated into other software programs, including parental control software from Komodia itself and other companies. And as expected, those programs intercept HTTPS traffic in the same way, using a root certificate whose private key can easily be extracted from their memory or code.

Some users have started compiling lists with the affected software programs, their certificates and their private keys. Those affected products include Keep My Family Secure, Qustodio and Kurupira WebFilter.

“I think that at this point it is safe to assume that any SSL interception product sold by Komodia or based on the Komodia SDK is going to be using the same method,” said Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at CloudFlare, in a post on his personal blog.

Rogers says:

this means that those dodgy certificates aren’t limited to Lenovo laptops sold over a specific date range. It means that anyone who has come into contact with a Komodia product, or who has had some sort of Parental Control software installed on their computer should probably check to see if they are affected.

This problem is MUCH bigger than we thought it was.


Tim Cook and contradicting the founder-CEO » The Information

Jessica Lessin:

Since Cook first took over in August 2011, I have been asking Apple employees about how he has been leading the company. I often expect anecdotes revealing a numbers-driven management style, reinforced in profile after profile discussing how he climbed Apple’s ranks by squeezing pennies from its suppliers.

But employees consistently paint a different picture. In meetings over topics like how to fix Apple Maps or which features to include in the first Apple Watch, he takes the approach of asking the bigger questions like “Is this the Apple Way? Is this how we do things? Is this a product we can be proud of?”

That sounds to me like someone who sees his role as trying to provide some spiritual leadership at the company.

(Subscription required. I do wish The Information wrote better headlines.)


Wikipedia and the oligarchy of ignorance » Uncomputing

Remember that guy who went through Wikipedia editing out any occurrence of “comprised of” on the grounds that it was ungrammatical? He was wrong. David Golumbia widens the search:

Henderson’s work connects to the well-known disdain of many core Wikipedia editors for actual experts on specific topics, and even more so for their stubborn resistance (speaking generally; of course there are exceptions) to the input of such experts, when one would expect exactly the opposite should be the case. (As a writer in Wired put it almost a decade ago, “The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: ‘Experts are scum.’”)

Can any connection be drawn between Wikipedia’s general approach and the hostility of Jimmy Wales (from whom a fair bit of Wikipedia culture derives) to the ECJ ruling on the right to be delisted?


Texas Hold’em odds visualization » Chris Beaumont

You can think of the full dataset of probabilities as a 4D hypercube (one dimension for each of the four cards dealt between two players). The panel above is a 2D slice through this 4D cube; it is a detailed view of the strength of one particular hand.

Amazing visualisation of the possibilities in the 1.3 trillion hands of heads-up Texas Hold’em.


App developers bailing on Fire Phone, in new challenge for Amazon » GeekWire

Tricia Duryee:

It’s no secret that Amazon’s first smartphone was a flop with consumers, but behind the scenes, the Fire Phone is also struggling with another key group: app developers.

Several developers who made apps for the first Fire Phone — investing significant time and money to support its unique features, without a major payoff in revenue or customer adoption — tell GeekWire that they aren’t planning to build apps for future versions of the device.

This creates an additional challenge for Amazon as the company tries to recover from the Fire Phone’s lackluster debut, because apps remain a key driver of consumer interest in smartphones.

It’s really, really, really dead, Jeff. (And yes, I was the first person to point out how poorly Fire Phones were selling, and put a number on it.)


To revive Wallet, Google tries to wrangle unruly partners » WSJ

Alisair Barr:

Persuading Android partners and financial-service companies to support its payment service requires Google to “herd the many cats involved,” wrote Tim Sloane, a payments analyst at Mercator Advisory Group, in a January research report. “It’s a mess,” he added in an interview.

Still, Google has to aim for success, because Apple Pay could become a draw for people to buy iPhones, instead of Android phones. Mr. Cook said last month that Apple Pay accounted for $2 of every $3 spent using contact-less payments on the largest payment networks.

Apple Pay “has changed the dynamics” of mobile payments, said Marc Freed-Finnegan, a former Google Wallet executive who is chief executive of retail-technology startup Index Inc. “If payments become a standard feature of phones, Google has to have a service on a par with Apple or better.”

Carriers in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) are more willing to listen to Google, because Apple doesn’t give them anything in Apple Pay, but any concessions Google makes to them means it gets even less than zero. And Samsung’s move acquiring Loop is a definite “no thanks” to Wallet.


The CD was dying, and Starbucks just killed it » Fusion

If you’re a person born after 1995 who’s gone to Starbucks lately, you may have seen some strange objects for sale near the cash register. Thin, rectangular, with pictures on the front and shiny circles inside. Believe it or not, these things weren’t decorative coasters for your flat white—they were some of the last surviving specimens of a music distribution technology known as the “compact disc,” or CD.

Now, you’ll no longer be confused by these odd items, because Starbucks is quitting the CD business. According to Billboard:

Starbucks, the coffee giant with over 21,000 retail stores throughout the world, will stop stocking and selling physical compact discs, Billboard has confirmed, with the CD clean-out due to start next month.

“We will stop selling physical CDs in our stores at the end of March,” a rep for the Seattle-based company tells Billboard, adding: “Starbucks continually seeks to redefine the experience in our retail stores to meet the evolving needs of our customers.”

CD sales are hitting an all-time low, and it’s hard to see them ever rising again. This is a tipping point, again.


Android malware hijacks power button, empties wallet while you sleep » The Register

Iain Thomson:

“After pressing the power button, you will see the real shutdown animation, and the phone appears off. Although the screen is black, it is still on,” said AVG’s mobile security team in an advisory.

“While the phone is in this state, the malware can make outgoing calls, take pictures and perform many other tasks without notifying the user.”

Once the malware is installed by the user – it’s typically bundled within an innocent-looking app, but AVG isn’t naming names – it asks for root-level permissions and injects code into the operating system’s system server. Specifically, it hijacks the mWindowManagerFuncs interface so it can display a fake shutdown dialog box when the power button is pressed – and display a fake shutdown animation too. It then blanks the screen and to make the mobe look like it’s switched off.

The malware is then free to send lots of premium-rate text messages and make calls to expensive overseas numbers. The code shown by AVG appears to contact Chinese services.

Another day, another system-level hijack; but as with the vast majority, this is limited to China so far.


One thought on “Start up: Siri’s smart sibling, testing Magic Leap, more Superfish flaws, Cook the CEO, reviving Wallet, and more

  1. While Wikipedia culture is sometimes projected onto Jimmy Wales, since he’s the
    site’s public face (often literally), I don’t think there’s actually much deep connection. I try to make people aware, Wales is a *businessman*, not an academic, activist, or anything like the dedicated Wikipedia editors. If one wants to be charitable, one could say the right to be delisted is opposed as a free-speech topic and government telling a business what to do (i.e. doubly bad). If one wants to be uncharitable, well, I probably shouldn’t put it in a public comment – Wales has gotten very upset at speculation that a businessman may have business motives behind public pronouncements.

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