Start up: SLR death throes, why fusion won’t change things, Apple’s waterproof phone?, Samsung’s big spend, and more


What are those funny phones they’re holding, dad? Photo by w|©kedf|lm on Flickr

A selection of 10 links for you. Slather over the body when nobody is looking. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Prediction: the age of the standalone still camera is coming to an end for all but pros » Vincent Laforet’s Blog

who wants to stick a CF/SD card in a computer, import, edit, tone, export, share / publish a website anymore – when you can do the same thing in 1-3 clicks of your thumb on a smartphone?

The battle is over… the smartphones and iOSs have won. The quality is good enough on a smartphone/iPhone today, that when combined with software the need for a dedicated still camera can appear to be a burden to the majority of people out there: unless they have a specific technical need that only a DSLR or speciality lenses can offer.

With platforms like Twitter, FB, Storehouse, Instagram, 500 pixels, Tumblr etc etc – it’s too late to go back to the clunky way of doing things unless you are TRULY a big time hobbyist who loves the process. And I do! But not that often… and truth is: we’re in the vast minority…

The technological trends and shift towards digital and now smartphones that are connected to the web are undeniably the most important factors at play here: we’re all gotten used to having a $300-$900 mini computer on us at ALL times, and you can’t compete with a tool that is glued to your end-user… no camera company can compete with that, and they simply haven’t even tried to put editing/social media software into their cameras, which is a potentially devastating oversight long term.

It’s not that dramatic a prediction, but it’s the relentlessness that’s so imposing.


If Lockheed’s recent announcement on nuclear fusion energy is true, how would it change the world? » Quora

Ryan Carlyle, who says he’s a BSChE (chemical engineer?) and subsea hydraulics engineer, is here to rain on the parade:

Real-world fusion reactors aren’t going to be like “Mr Fusion” style reactors from Back To The Future. I mean, seriously -it ran on garbage and powered a flying car. That almost makes the time travel plot seem realistic in comparison. But that’s what people seem to think when they hear “miniature fusion plant.”

Pro tip: the physics of fusion power do not support the concept of automobile-scale fusion. Seriously, this isn’t Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor; it’s just a thermoelectric power plant with a slightly smaller heat source. You need a giant steam turbine and ridiculously giant cooling system to generate serious electricity from a fusion reactor. Even if you miniaturize the reaction chamber, the support equipment required for electricity generation will still be extremely large.

Here’s a small nuclear power plant. I have helpfully indicated the size of the actual fission reactor inside the containment structure:

And here’s my detailed conceptual rendering of a “miniature” fusion reactor power plant with the same power output:

And that’s only the start of it.


Ghacks is dying and needs your help » gHacks Tech News

Martin Brinkmann, who started the site in 2005 and was able to make it his full-time job, now faces the chasm:

In addition to [Google downranking the site in 2011 with its Penguin search update], ad blockers and script blockers became increasingly popular. Since advertisement is what keeps this site alive, a yearly increase between 5 and 10% in ad-block usage is not something that you can endure for long especially if it goes hand in hand with a decline in traffic.

Currently, between 42% and 44% of all users use blockers when they visit the site and if the trend continues, more than 50% might before the end of the year.

If you take these two factors together, it is only a matter of time before ad revenue won’t be sufficient to pay for the site’s upkeep anymore.

Advertising is dying in its current form. While I could make a quick buck throwing popups, auto-playing videos or other nasty stuff at you, I’d never do that.

Heck, those are the things that make people use ad-blockers in the first place and as much as I like this site to survive, I like to protect the integrity of this site and you from these diabolical monetization methods even more.

Advertisements won’t be sufficient to keep this site up and there is not really much out there that I could implement or try instead to make sure this site is not taken off the Internet in the next year.

He’s going to try Patreon. Presently the pledges aren’t enough to cover the server costs – $280 per month?! I wish him luck, but I’m not optimistic. (I’ll return to see how things are in a few months.)

I think Brinkmann’s business problems are probably echoed all over the web by small sites which were once able to make money from ads, but are now finding them sucked up by Facebook, or Twitter, or the effect of Google invisibility.


US DOJ accuses three men in largest email breach ‘in the history of the Internet’ » GeekWire

Frank Catalano:

The indictments against two Vietnamese citizens and a Canadian citizen — operating from Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Canada — alleges the trio were involved in hacking at least eight U.S. email service providers, spamming tens of millions of email recipients, getting money from affiliate relationships for spammed products, and laundering the proceeds.

“The defendants allegedly made millions of dollars by stealing over a billion email addresses from email service providers,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Caldwell said in a statement. “This case again demonstrates the resolve of the Department of Justice to bring accused cyber hackers from overseas to face justice in the United States.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates the accused allegedly took in approximately $2 million through the affiliate marketing sales linked to spam. One of the three is said to have already pleaded guilty.

Brian Krebs suggests it was a breach of the email marketing company Epsilon in 2011 – whose servers were then hijacked to send the spam. A reminder that spam is still big, big business.


Why do we care about Xiaomi? » Benedict Evans

Evans (who works at VC company a16z) thinks we care (or should) because of what it implies for the “next stage” of Android:

Historically, Google’s lock on Android outside China has therefore been based on three things: 

• You can’t experiment outside very tight constraints: making even one forked device means Google won’t allow you to sell a single phone running Google services. And all the OEMs have too much to lose to risk experimenting
• There’s a widespread belief that an Android device without Google services (really, this means Maps and the app store) is unsaleable outside China (I’m not entirely sure about this, as I wrote here)
• No OEM managed to build a compelling set of services or tools of its own that might offer alternatives to Google, because, well, that was impossible (see above)

These new trends place all of those in question. The growth of smaller operators pursuing different models, with no existing base of sales and hence nothing to fear from  Google ban, may mean more experiments with forks. Xiaomi and its imitators point to a new potential model to differentiate (and note that Xiaomi is not a fork), and Cyanogen (an a16z portfolio company) offers the tools to do it. Smaller OEMs are less powerful than Samsung as a counterpart to Google, but also harder collectively to impose upon – Google can’t shout at them all.


Apple researching device waterproofing via vapor deposition, silicone seals » Apple Insider

Mikey Campbell:

As published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, Apple’s filing for “Methods for shielding electronic components from moisture” outlines a process for coating sensitive device components using advanced vapor deposition technology and protecting solder leads with silicone seals.

Instead of sealing off the entire device housing like a common wristwatch, Apple proposes coating integral components, like the printed circuit board (PCB), with a hydrophobic coating. Depositing the coating via plasma-assisted chemical vapor deposition (PACVD) would create an acceptable insulating layer to protect against short circuits that occur when high voltage parts are exposed to liquid.

I’ve thought for some time that Apple would add waterproofing (well, water resistance) to its phones in due course, but that it sees no rush while it’s not completely commonplace elsewhere. (Look at how Samsung has taken it out of the Galaxy S6.) This would also require factory equipment, so might be something for 2016’s range.


Technology helps visually impaired navigate the Tube » BBC News

Hugh Pym (the health editor):

Members of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) said they wanted to navigate the tube system independently.

Currently most have to rely on friends to help them get used to familiar routes or phone ahead to request assistance from London Underground staff. Many do not feel confident about using the whole network. They group teamed up with a digital products designer, ustwo, which then devised a system which was effective below ground.

The Bluetooth beacons transmit signals which can be picked up by smartphones and other mobile devices. Audible directions are provided to users via “bone conduction” earphones which allow them to hear sounds around them as well.

The directions warn users when they are approaching escalators and ticket barriers and which platforms they may be approaching. It’s the first such trial of a technology which can guide blind and partially sighted people underground or in areas with limited mobile phone reception.

Developers say it could be used in other subway networks like those in Newcastle and Glasgow or in other busy public transport hubs

That’s ustwo, as in Monument Valley. Many strings to their bow. Wonderfully clever application.


Samsung breaks records with £45m push behind Galaxy S6 » Daily Telegraph

Chris Williams:

Samsung is launching a record-breaking £45m marketing barrage to support its new Galaxy S6 smartphone and regain ground lost to Apple.

The figure, disclosed by industry sources, is the largest ever for a mobile phone launch and is believed to be the largest for any single product in the UK.

Samsung is spending heavily across all traditional and new media marketing channels, but is understood to be especially targeting the mass audiences provided by television and high-profile outdoor advertising sites.

The Galaxy S6 is already being heavily promoted on the digital billboards on the London Underground network, for instance.

Samsung also paid for a special advert based on the Galaxy S6 launch event last week in Barcelona. It aired three hours later in the UK on Sunday evening during ITV’s primetime drama Mr Selfridge.

Samsung has long been among the world’s biggest marketing spenders, devoting a larger proportion of its annual sales to promoting its products than any other top 20 global company.

Reading the comments under Apple articles always reveals two trains of thought, often following each other: (1) Apple is only popular because it spends so much on marketing (2) [when it’s pointed out that Samsung spends more] Apple is only popular because “the media” pushes it.

On the basis of (1), the S6 is going to be the most humungous hit, surely?


Popular Xiaomi phone could put data at risk » Bluebox Security

There’s a big asterisk on this one, but first read what Andrew Blaich found:

We ran several of the top malware and antivirus scanners on the Mi 4 to determine if any questionable apps came pre-loaded on the device. We used several scanners to compile a comprehensive list as some scanners returned nothing and others flagged different apps. Ultimately, we found six suspicious apps that can be considered malware, spyware or adware; a few were more notable than others.

One particularly nefarious app was Yt Service. Yt Service embeds an adware service called DarthPusher that delivers ads to the device among other things[2]. This was an interesting find because, though the app was named Yt Service, the developer package was named com.google.hfapservice (note this app is NOT from Google). Yt Service is highly suspicious because it disguised its package to look as if it came from Google; something an Android user would expect to find on their device. In other words, it tricks users into believing it’s a “safe” app vetted by Google.

Other risky apps of note included PhoneGuardService (com.egame.tonyCore.feicheng) classified as a Trojan, AppStats classified (org.zxl.appstats) as riskware and SMSreg classified as malware[3]

However, Xiaomi says that the device “appears to have been tampered [with] in the distribution/retail process by an unknown third party”. But as Blaich points out, if it’s that easy to mess with, that raises other questions too. Selling smartphones isn’t as simple as just choosing a spec list.


The Apple Watch is time, saved » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino does that thing where, you know, you talk to sources to find stuff out, which he then collects in this fascinating article:

Here’s a tidbit you might not know — in order to receive notifications from apps, the Watch must be on your wrist and locked. The Watch requires contact with your skin to receive notifications. There will be no in-app dropdown notifications or constant pinging while it’s off your wrist. Push notifications also cease when the battery reaches 10%. Those decisions speak to the care with which Apple is handling notifications.

The notifications are also different at an elemental level than the ones on your phone — both on the developer and user side of things. These are seen right away rather than at some point. You act on them quickly and they don’t stack up like they do on the phone.

There is that added bit of context because you know exactly when they got it, which means that time-sensitive notifications like those that recommend a precise establishment or ping you during a live event become much more germane.

And this is a key point:

the only resource we all have exactly in common is time. Kings don’t have more of it than peasants. Not everyone will be able to afford an Apple Watch (or even an iPhone), but if they’re in an economic situation where that’s feasible then they’re also in the situation where they are probably willing to trade money for time.


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