Start up: porn’s new business model, the real emissions scam, Jamaica’s 419 scammers, and more


What’s really using up the energy in your phone’s battery? Photo by Takashi(aes256) on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Emissionary Position: screwing the motorist the European way » The Register

John Wilkinson with a tour de force on the entire topic of emissions, testing, ECUs, specific heat capacity, diesel taxation, and whether you should buy a secondhand VW. It’s a long read, but will leave you feeling completely informed:

Emission cheating is not new. Caterpillar, Cummins and others were busted in 1998 for doing exactly what VW has now done – and there have been many more offenders before and since. Why has nothing learned from such instances? How is it the US emissions testing authorities appear to have done nothing for all this time to circumvent cheating?

VW is, of course German, whereas the regulations it has failed to meet are American. Years of cheap gasoline means America does not have a history of running small diesel passenger cars, and they do not form a high percentage of the fleet; nothing like the penetration in Europe.

American cars are historically less fuel efficient than European cars. So why are the American diesel emission regulations so much more stringent than the European equivalent? Could it be protectionism … or, perhaps, the European regulations are rubbish?

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Four more carmakers join diesel emissions row » The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

In more realistic on-road tests, some Honda models emitted six times the regulatory limit of NOx pollution while some unnamed 4×4 models had 20 times the NOx limit coming out of their exhaust pipes.

“The issue is a systemic one” across the industry, said Nick Molden, whose company Emissions Analytics tested the cars. The Guardian revealed last week that diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and Jeep all pumped out significantly more NOx in more realistic driving conditions. NOx pollution is at illegal levels in many parts of the UK and is believed to have caused many thousands of premature deaths and billions of pounds in health costs.

All the diesel cars passed the EU’s official lab-based regulatory test (called NEDC), but the test has failed to cut air pollution as governments intended because carmakers designed vehicles that perform better in the lab than on the road. There is no evidence of illegal activity, such as the “defeat devices” used by Volkswagen.

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Satya Nadella and Microsoft’s very good day » The New Yorker

Nicholas Thompson (who edits the New Yorker website):

Much of the energy in the hardware business has been directed toward phones in recent years. But Microsoft’s strategy is sort of the opposite. The company will never catch up to Apple or to Google’s Android, where phones are concerned, at least in the developed world. So now it’s trying to make all the other devices—namely tablets and laptops—exciting again. You probably won’t buy your next laptop from Microsoft, but the company hopes to have demonstrated to other laptop manufacturers, particularly ones that preload Windows, how to make their devices exciting again. “Here’s my main point that I filter by,” Nadella told me. “Does the world need something like it and does it need it from Microsoft?” With the new laptop, he said, Microsoft was willing to take the risk of spending wildly on R. & D. to show that laptops could be exciting again—perhaps as exciting as phones.

After the event, I wrote to [Mike] Gerbasio [a consultant to construction companies who had been invited to see the event by Microsoft] to ask him if he was, in fact, going to buy anything. He told me that he’d pre-ordered the Surface Pro 4, but was thinking of maybe switching to the laptop. Either way, he said, he was happy with Nadella and the new Microsoft. For the first time, he thinks, the company genuinely cares what he, a normal consumer, actually wants.

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Driven to death by phone scammers » CNN.com

Wayne Drash with an in-depth report (though mute the video) about what Britons would call the 419 or “forward fee” scam – where callers say you’ve won tons of money but have to send them money to get it released:

More than 200 Jamaicans a year are killed in connection with lottery scams — a fifth of the killings in the island nation, which has the dubious distinction of being among the most violent countries per capita in the world.

Scammers who sell names and numbers to callers expect a cut of their profits; if they find out they’re being cheated, they’ll hunt down and kill the caller or a member of his family. Other killings occur when rival gang members steal caller lists.

“It’s a cancer in the society,” says Luis Moreno, the U.S ambassador to Jamaica. “Gangs escalate armed competition with each other over who is going to control these lists and who is going to get the best scammers, the best phone numbers, the best phone guys. Even children as young as 10, 12 years old are tied in as couriers.”

In June, a 14-year-old was dragged out of his home and machine-gunned by gang members connected to the scams. The same fate befell a 62-year-old grandmother in July. Two American women were wounded in August at a nightclub when a gang member opened fire on a rival who owed him money. The rival was killed.

“These gangs are often indiscriminate,” says Bunting, the national security minister. “When they come looking for their target, if they don’t find him, they will shoot members of his family to essentially send a message.”

The average Jamaican makes about $300 a month. The top lottery scammers boast of bringing in $100,000 a week. They share videos of washing cars with champagne and show off by setting fire to thousands of dollars in cash…

Lottery scamming sprang up between 1998 and 1999 when legitimate American and Canadian call centers set up operations in Montego Bay. Young Jamaicans were trained on how to empathize with customers.

No one could have known how those skills would result in today’s flourishing scam business.

Unintended consequences, indeed. Just as Indian PC scam calls arose from British companies setting up call centres there.
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On Apple’s insurmountable platform advantage » steve cheney

Cheney says it’s all about the chips:

The truth is the best people in chip design no longer want to work at Intel or Qualcomm. They want to work at Apple. I have plenty of friends in the Valley who affirm this. Sure Apple products are cooler. But Apple has also surpassed Intel in performance. This is insane. A device company – which makes CPUs for internal use – surpassing Intel, the world’s largest chip maker which practically invented the CPU and has thousands of customers.

This pedigree that Apple developed now has a secondary powerful force: portable devices serve as the reference platform whereby all chip design starts. Components from the smartphone market now power almost all other markets, giving Apple’s in-house team a comparative advantage as they enter new product categories, like wearables and electric cars.

All of this supplier / buyer power that Apple has secured will be extended to cars. And because cars are lower volume by many orders of magnitude than phones, no other car maker will be able to enter the chip making game. Both the costs and the risks of designing chips are way too high. Tesla sells around 100K cars a year. Apple sold that many iPhones every 30 minutes on opening day weekend.

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How MindGeek transformed the economics of porn » Fusion

Felix Salmon:

Porn videos, today, have become free advertising for other business lines—whether that’s camming, or stripping, or outright prostitution. Even in the world of escorting, tube videos are increasingly replacing the photographs of old. As a result, it can make financial sense to appear in porn films even if you get paid very little for doing so, because developing an online following is a great way to build a fan base. And that is where today’s porn stars earn most of their money: fans will pay to see stars like Veronica Rodriguez in a strip club, or for one-on-one Skype sessions, or for IRL sex. It’s the “freemium” business model: most people will be perfectly happy with the free product, but a small minority will pay for more exclusive services.

Meanwhile, the cost of appearing in a porn film—both in terms of production costs and in terms of reputation—has never been lower. We live in a world where young adults are freer than ever to explore and express their sexuality, and where everybody has a high-def video camera in their pocket at all times. The shame factor of porn has been nearly eliminated in popular culture: just ask Kim Kardashian, whose sex tape essentially launched her career.

On the basis that the porn industry presages everything else that happens online..
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See the Milky Way anew » Chromoscope

The Milky Way, viewed at different light frequencies – from gamma ray to radio. It looks very different depending on how your eyes work, as you quickly realise. Fun (though possibly not so much on mobile)
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Smartphone energy consumption » Pete Warden’s blog

Pete Warden:

I found a lot of very useful estimates for components power usages scattered through the book. These are just rough guides, but they helped my mental modeling, so here are some I found notable:

An ARM A9 CPU can use between 500 and 2,000 mW.
• A display might use 400 mW.
• Active cell radio might use 800 mW.
• Bluetooth might use 100 mW.
• Accelerometer is 21 mW.
• Gyroscope is 130 mW.
• Microphone is 101 mW.
• GPS is 176 mW.
• Using the camera in ‘viewfinder’ mode, focusing and looking at a picture preview, might use 1,000 mW.
• Actually recording video might take another 200 to 1,000 mW on top of that.

A key problem for wireless network communication is the ‘tail energy’ used to keep the radio active after the last communication, even when nothing’s being sent. This is vital for responsiveness, but it can be ten seconds for LTE, so apparently short communications can use a lot more energy than you’d expect. Sending a single byte can use a massive amount of power if it keeps the radio active for ten seconds after!

A Microsoft paper showed that over 50% of the power on several popular games is consumed by the ads they show!

The whole blogpost is really great reading. (Warden used to work at Apple, and then was CTO at Jetpac and did some amazing work on neural network apps; so good that Google bought the company.)
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It’s Apple’s world, so why do other smartphone makers even bother? » Bloomberg Business

Ashlee Vance:

Some struggling phone makers likely believe they can profit by selling tons of cheap phones at low margins, says Endpoint’s Kay, while companies like Microsoft and Sony will stay in the business to spread their software as far as possible.

Even Apple may not be immune to these trends. About 2 billion people have smartphones today, and another 150 million to 200 million will buy their first in each of the next three years, estimates researcher EMarketer. Most first-time buyers will be looking for high-powered phones at the lowest possible prices, and every company will have to reckon with that race to the bottom, says McMaster. The companies likely to thrive will be local players that can build money-making services on top of their cheap phones. “We will see sub-$35 devices roll out in sub-Saharan Africa in the next two years,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The question of how Apple will keep its prices up as every other smartphone maker sees price deflation is a critical one.
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PC shipments remain depressed by volatile currencies, inventory, and OS transition in the third quarter, although 2016 should fare better » IDC

Worldwide PC shipments totaled nearly 71.0m units in the third quarter of 2015 (3Q15), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. This volume represented a year-on-year decline of -10.8% – slightly worse than projections for a decline of -9.2%.

The lackluster volume of PC shipments was consistent with expectations that the third quarter would face challenging financial conditions and be a transition period. Across many regions, the channel remained focused on clearing Windows 8 inventory before a more complete portfolio of models incorporating Windows 10 and Intel Skylake processors comes on the scene. Vendors and channels were also working to limit price swings in the face of changes in currency exchange rates. Though easing a bit, currency devaluation continued to inhibit PC shipments in the third quarter.

While Windows 10 has generally received favorable reviews and raised consumer interest in PCs, many users opted to upgrade existing PCs rather than purchase new hardware…

…the top four vendors performed much better than the rest of the market. Collectively, the top 4 vendors saw shipments fall by -4.5% from a year ago compared to a decline of almost -20% for the rest of the market.

2016 could hardly do worse. PC market now down 26% from the same period in 2011, when it peaked.
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One thought on “Start up: porn’s new business model, the real emissions scam, Jamaica’s 419 scammers, and more

  1. Ehh … it’s old news that there’s a few content areas which are profitable in various ways, notably on the themes of sex and money. That leaves unaddressed big issues such as what is workable for everyone else. I’m struck by how much that article is the bog-standard blather of “Market yourself and make money off personal appearances, the mammoth attention-attentionATTENTION aggregator is your friend (and the huge amount of money this corporation makes off advertising is really helping you-yes-you!, because look at the eye-popping income of the top performer at the summit of the “power-law” curve …). Stripped of the “porn” hook, that article could be about music or marketing or any anything else which can be plugged into the above formula.

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