Start up: LastPass’s warning, Google tracks down racists, HTC snubs Asus, valuing maps, and more


Health risk? An LED bulb sign board. Photo by Patrick Hoesly on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Competition and Partisanship » ignore the code

Lukas Mathis:

I wish we’d see even more competition! I wish Samsung would get serious with its own OS. I wish HP would revive Web OS. I wish Blackberry would stop making bad decisions, and start kicking ass again. I wish smaller companies like Jolla, Ubuntu, and the Firefox OS team would be better able to compete with the big guys. I wish Microsoft would get more credit for the progress it has made in UI design, instead of just getting crap for changing things from how they were in Windows 95. And I wish people would look outside of the confines of their chosen platform, and acknowledge the positive contributions that other companies are making. Get out of your bubbles! Other systems are great and interesting and useful, too!

The problem with this view, happy as it is, is that there’s a cognitive load associated with learning a new OS, and the cognitive load grows geometrically the more OSs you have to work on.


LastPass Security Notice » The LastPass Blog

Joe Siegrist:

We want to notify our community that on Friday, our team discovered and blocked suspicious activity on our network. In our investigation, we have found no evidence that encrypted user vault data was taken, nor that LastPass user accounts were accessed. The investigation has shown, however, that LastPass account email addresses, password reminders, server per user salts, and authentication hashes were compromised.

We are confident that our encryption measures are sufficient to protect the vast majority of users. LastPass strengthens the authentication hash with a random salt and 100,000 rounds of server-side PBKDF2-SHA256, in addition to the rounds performed client-side.

That’s grea– hang on, “vast majority” of users?


Do lightbulbs need a health warning label? » Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports’ medical experts say that studies have shown that exposure to light at night is clearly associated with an increased risk of sleep problems as well as mood disorders. Additional research has linked light at night with an increased risk of breast cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, however, much more research remains to be done to determine just how significant that risk may be.

So, why single out LEDs? LEDs do emit more blue light than CFLs, and incandescents emit very little. And while any light can suppress melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep, research has shown that human eyes are especially sensitive to blue (which is also emitted in higher levels by most of today’s indispensable electronic devices).

Fred Maxik, founder and chief technology officer of Lighting Science, says that in contrast to the older incandescent bulbs, LEDs and CFLs have significantly changed the impact light has on human health, affecting our circadian rhythms. He believes the effects can be beneficial, such as promoting alertness or enabling natural sleep hormones to be released. But “there’s a growing amount of evidence that light can also have negative biological effects,” he says. And that’s why the company created the label. Maxik is also encouraging other lighting manufacturers to make consumers aware of the effects of light on health.

Lighting Science has hired former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., as a consultant. “The fact is that the wrong kind of light can be disruptive on sleep patterns,” he says. “I think this label gives interesting information to the public so they can decide, particularly for people with sleep problems.”

Short answer: no, unless you’re an American.


Use Google searches to figure out how racist your neighbourhood is » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

What [data scientist Seth] Stephens-Davidowitz ultimately discovered was that racism “appears to have cost Obama roughly four percentage points of the national popular vote in both 2008 and 2012.” He determined this by showing that the higher the number of searches there were on “nigger” in a given area, the more likely it was that Obama lost votes there — even controlling for things like income, already-existing political affiliations, and more. In other words, even in an area where people typically voted for Democrats, you’d see a less-than-typical number of votes for Obama if the rate of Google searches on “nigger” was higher than average. As Stephens-Davidowitz put it, “An area’s racially charged search rate is a robust negative predictor of Obama’s vote share.”


Campbell’s law, Goodhart’s law, and the trouble with observation » mmitII

Matt Ballantine pointed me back to this observation of his from 2012, following the article I linked the other day about how most mobile benchmarks aren’t much use:

Charles Goodhart is an economist from the London School of Economics, and a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.

The law named after him was first noted in a paper he published in 1975, and states:

“that once a social or economic indicator or other surrogate measure is made a target for the purpose of conducting social or economic policy, then it will lose the information content that would qualify it to play that role.”

And if you use benchmarks to try to value a phone (or PC) they’ll be gamed and become worthless.


BlackBerry: an Android phone won’t move the needle » Seeking Alpha

Zenith Investments:

So what can BlackBerry bring to the table so that they can make a profit from an Android smartphone if it can’t bring security? The sources spilling the beans on BlackBerry’s potential Android phone also indicated that they plan to differentiate their phone with a physical keyboard. Again I see the argument – this should appeal to the hardcore BlackBerry fans who had to switch to Android because of the added apps. The problem is that this was tried before – with the Motorola Droid Pro. It was an Android phone that was equipped with a physical keyboard, but it suffered from very low sales. The problem seems to be that the people, who desperately want a physical keyboard, also want the BlackBerry operating system.

That’s pretty much it. Seeking Alpha is a site where you can find any opinion that suits you, but this one on the “Android BlackBerry” is at least realistic about why people buy the phones. I’m forecasting an operating loss of about $20m in the just-gone quarter.


To clarify the news on Asustek will not rule out the possibility of acquiring HTC Corp » HTC

HTC’s formal announcement to the Taiwanese stock exchange on Monday:

We didn’t contact Asusteck and will not consider the acquisition. As an international brand, HTC will continue to design world-class innovative smart devices through its pursuit of brilliance brand promise.

Let’s put a marker down on that one.


Where are Maps going? » Asymco

Horace Dediu, using Apple’s data points about map requests per week:

In December 2012 I posted an analysis on the the cost of maps. It showed that maintaining maps requires an investment of between $1 billion and $2 billion/yr. With the addition of new features such as 3-D mapping, transit maps and thousands of new cities, the cost is likely to have increased. $2 billion/yr is probably the norm today.

Apple then could be seen as spending about $6.5/user/yr on maps and Google could be spending about $2/user/yr. To be profitable Google would need to find ad revenues of $2/user/yr and Apple would need to find $6 of profit on each phone/yr. Clearly, each of these targets is achievable.

In contrast we can see why Nokia’s HERE Maps business is now worth a lot less than it was in 2007. The asset has been for sale for some time and the latest bid  has been for $3 billion, making the $5 billion lost in market value and $7 billion of investment since seem like a catastrophe. Without a business model the data is worthless – with only 30 million users the cost per user reaches $66/yr. A buyer needs to find an appropriate model for sustaining a $2 billion/yr burn rate.

So the question of where maps are going depends on the business model for maps.

The point about the loss in value of HERE is well made.


Apple Music vs. Spotify: don’t repeat Bob Lefsetz’s mistake » Medium

Lefsetz, you’ll recall, was hugely dismissive of Apple Music. Michael Vakulenko thinks it is a different play altogether – a platform play in a different world of music:

Apple Music is more than a differently-packaged version of Spotify. Google AdWords is more than a less-expensive advertising agency, iOS is more than a nicer-looking version of Symbian, Uber is more than a digital version of a Taxicab stand, AirBnB is more than renting mattresses to strangers and Munchery is more than a bigger restaurant kitchen. These are platforms having very different economics from traditional products. As Marshall Van Alstyne said: “Platforms beat products every time.”

Platforms disrupt industry after industry: telecom, computing, watches, automotive, consumer electronics, banking, education, food, transportation, hospitality, healthcare, and more. When you see a new idea in the market or a new competitor, ask yourself: “Is it a market-creating platform?” and “What will it mean for my business if the platform reaches critical mass?”


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