Start up: a cure for ageing?, smartphone slowdown, how many Surface Books?, Playboy’s China link, and more


Probably not the A7 CPU, but it’s the principle that counts. Photo by tsukacyi on Flickr.

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

Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva, claims to undergo anti-aging therapy » MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:

Elizabeth Parrish, the 44-year-old CEO of a biotechnology startup called BioViva, says she underwent a gene therapy at an undisclosed location overseas last month, a first step in what she says is a plan to develop treatments for ravages of old age like Alzheimer’s and muscle loss. “I am patient zero,” she declared during a Q&A on the website Reddit on Sunday. “I have aging as a disease.”

Since last week, MIT Technology Review has attempted to independently verify the accuracy of Parrish’s claims, particularly how she obtained the genetic therapy. While many key details could not be confirmed, people involved with her company said the medical procedure took place September 15 in Colombia.

The experiment seems likely to be remembered as either a new low in medical quackery or, perhaps, the unlikely start of an era in which people receive genetic modifications not just to treat disease, but to reverse aging. It also raises ethical questions about how quickly such treatments should be tested in people and whether they ought to be developed outside the scrutiny of regulators. The field of anti-aging research is known for attracting a mix of serious scientists, vitamin entrepreneurs, futurists, and cranks peddling various paths to immortality, including brain freezing.

When I covered science as well as technology at The Independent (daily national in the UK), I literally lost count of the number of people who sincerely told me that they had finally got gene therapy/cloning/stem cell therapy/Alzheimers licked this time. None of them ever actually did – and the most high-profile announcements always receded fastest once challenged.
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SanDisk in merger talks with rivals » FT.com

James Fontanella-Khan and Leslie Hook:

A wave of consolidation has swept across the chip industry since the beginning of the year, as once high-growth companies come to terms with a maturing industry and higher costs. Merger and acquisition activity in the tech sector has reached the highest level since the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, hitting about $370bn in value, according to Thomson Reuters.

This year Singapore’s Avago acquired US rival Broadcom for $37bn, the biggest acquisition in the semiconductor sector. In March, NXP Semiconductors, the Dutch chipmaker, took over Freescale in an $11.8bn deal, and in June Intel bought Altera, a maker of programmable processors, for $16.7bn.
Meanwhile, Unisplendour, a Chinese state-controlled technology group, acquired a 15 per cent stake in Western Digital for $3.8bn this month.

Global chipmakers are combining rapidly as hardware makers such as Apple and Samsung squeeze them, forcing component makers to reach for greater scale to survive.

Intel’s chief financial officer Stacy Smith told the Financial Times that consolidation among chipmakers could continue. “One factor is that the scale that you need to afford your own factories has got so large, that there are only a couple of companies that have the scale to build their own factory.”

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Seeing stars again: US Naval Academy reinstates celestial navigation » Capital Gazette

Tim Prudente:

“We went away from celestial navigation because computers are great,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Rogers, the deputy chairman of the academy’s Department of Seamanship and Navigation. “The problem is,” he added, “there’s no backup.”

Among the fleet, the Navy ended all training in celestial navigation in 2006, said Lt. Cmdr. Kate Meadows, a Navy spokeswoman. Then officers’ training returned in 2011 for ship navigators, she said. And officials are now rebuilding the program for enlisted ranks; it’s expected to begin next fall.

“There’s about 10 years when the Navy didn’t teach to celestial,” said Rogers, the Naval Academy instructor. “New lieutenants, they don’t have that instruction.”

As Prudente observes, “you can’t hack a sextant” – and if GPS shut down, how would you navigate? (How would tons of planes that would be in the air navigate? I’m reliably told they don’t rely only on GPS. Phew.)
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Third-quarter global smartphone shipments grew 9.1% to 332m; Huawei succeeds in its target of 10m shipped » Trendforce

Samsung retained its title as the top smartphone brand by contributing up to 25% of the global shipments in the third quarter, but the projected shipments of Galaxy S6 and S series devices for 2015 have been reduced to 40m units [from the 2Q estimate of 45m]. Also, approximately 10m units of the newly launched flagship device, Note 5, will be shipped by the end of this year. Samsung has lost much of its shares in the low-end to mid-range markets to Chinese competitors. TrendForce therefore anticipates that the vendor will see its first ever decline of annual smartphone shipments in 2015, with a 1% year-on-year drop and around 323.5m units shipped.

Apple iPhone 6s, which was released on schedule in September, has captivated consumers with its 3D Touch technology and rose gold exterior. Nonetheless, to surpass the incredible overall shipment result of iPhone 6 will be quite challenging for iPhone 6s as there is not much that sets apart the two devices appearance-wise. Wu noted that the main contributors to this year’s iPhone shipments are the large-size models that Apple introduced for the first time. Based on TrendForce’s analysis, iPhone’s annual shipment growth for this year will reach 16% with about 223.7m units shipped.

Trendforce’s total shipment figures tend to be about 10% lower than those from IDC and Gartner – in the second quarter it put them at 304m, against IDC’s 337m.

The Samsung prediction isn’t surprising; the company has already had four quarters of negative shipment growth, starting in 3Q 2014, and is being torn apart in China and India.
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Funding request for Our World In Data » Max Roser

Roser has run the site for a year, but funding will end in December unless someone steps in:

It is easy to be cynical about the world and to maintain that nothing is ever getting better. But fortunately the empirical evidence contradicts this view. I believe it is partly due to a lack of relevant and understandable information that a negative view on how the world is changing is so very common. It is not possible to understand how the world is changing by following the daily news – disasters are happening in an instant, but progress is a slow process that does not make the headlines.

I believe it is important to communicate to a large audience that technical, academic, entrepreneurial, political, and social efforts have in fact a very positive impact. OurWorldInData shows both: It highlights the challenges that lie ahead and it shows visually that we are successfully making the world a better place.

It would be wonderful if someone could fund this. If you know someone who could make that happen, please point them to Roser’s page; it’s a wonderful resource.
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China — not online porn — is why Playboy is dumping nude photographs » Quartz

Josh Horwitz:

Dumping the brand’s association with nudity, however mild compared to online porn standards, gives it a better image in countries where government policies towards pornographers can be highly critical—which just happen to be the two most populous countries in the world. Attempts to open Playboy-branded clubs in India were swatted by authorities twice. China, meanwhile, has repeatedly announced anti-porn campaigns in recent years.

Even with the government’s tough attitude to pornography, Playboy earns 40% of its revenues from China, according to the New York Times.

Across the country, it’s not uncommon to see men and women wearing t-shirts or carrying handbags donning the Playboy Bunny. Playboy-branded retailers take up space in high-end department stores and dingy street shops alike. Earlier this year the company made a further push in the Middle Kingdom, signing a 10-year licensing agreement with Handong United the oversee manufacturing and distribution of Playboy-branded items, and to increase its retail presence to 3,500 locations.

It’s remarkable how often the answer to “why is [X] doing this?” actually turns out to be “Because China.” So why didn’t Playboy say this was the reason? Perhaps because it doesn’t want its western audience to think it’s pandering to China’s morality.
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Apple found in infringement of University of Wisconsin CPU patent, faces $862M in damages » Apple Insider

Mikey Campbell:

The IP in question, U.S. Patent No. 5,781,752 for a “Table based data speculation circuit for parallel processing computer,” was granted to a University of Wisconsin team led by Dr. Gurindar Sohi in 1998. According to WARF and original patent claims, the ‘752 patent focuses on improving power efficiency and overall performance in modern computer processor designs by utilizing “data speculation” circuit, also known as a branch predictor.

It was argued that Apple willfully infringed on the ‘752 patent, as it cited the property in its own patent filings. Further, the lawsuit claims Apple refused WARF’s requests to license the IP.

The initial complaint named A7 and all the products it powered at the time, a list that included iPhone 5S, iPad Air, and iPad Mini with Retina display. Apple subsequently incorporated the chip into iPad mini 3 models. The A8 and A8X SoCs were later added to the suit and affect iPhone 6, 6 Plus and multiple iPad versions.

WARF leveraged the same patent against Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPU in 2008, a case settled out of court in 2009 for an undisclosed sum, according to a 2014 report from The Register.

Branch prediction is essential for multi-core processors – and WARF sued Intel over the Core2Duo (first dual-core Intel processor) and A7 (first multi-core Apple processor). Pretty egregious of Apple to think it could cite a patent and yet not license it. (It will have to license it for all forthcoming Ax chips too.) Raises the question of who else is licensing this patent, of course: Samsung and Qualcomm make multi-core ARM processors, so they must too. Wisconsin’s alumni research foundation must be coining it.
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Here’s how many Surface Books Microsoft could sell » Business Insider

Max Slater-Robins goes to the trouble of, shock, asking someone the question:

Microsoft’s latest product, the Surface Book, could see sales of between 50,000 and 100,000 units in the fourth quarter of 2015, research firm Gartner told Business Insider. 

The laptop, which was unveiled at an event on October 6, can be used with a keyboard dock or in a “clipboard” mode that is similar to a tablet computer. While the Surface Pro competes with the MacBook Air, the Book is designed to go head-to-head with the MacBook Pro. 

Annette Jump, a research director for Gartner, told Business Insider that Microsoft “probably won’t sell millions and millions of Surface Books but it could cause PC vendors to re-look at their current offerings and future offerings.” 

Gartner reckons Apple sold 5.4m MacBook Airs and 2m MacBook Pros in the first six months of the year, out of a total of 9.3m Macs total – so that’s less than 2m desktop machines (iMacs and Mac Pros) sold in the same period. That’s another reason why I don’t think Microsoft will do a “Surface iMac”.
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Guaranteeing the integrity of a register » Government Digital Service

Philip Potter:

There are a number of ways of achieving this but one we have been exploring is based around Google’s Certificate Transparency project. At its heart, Certificate Transparency depends on the creation of a digitally signed append-only log. The entries in the log are hashed together in a Merkle tree and the tree is signed. The registrar can append to the log by issuing a new signature. Consumers can request proof that a single entry appears in a particular log. Consumers can also request proof that the registrar has not rewritten history which the registrar can easily provide.

At this point knowledgeable readers will be saying “BLOCKCHAIN! IT’S A BLOCKCHAIN!” And indeed it is. The British government is looking at the feasibility of using blockchain technology for things like registries for everything from restaurant inspections upwards and outwards.
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By The Numbers » Daily Mail Online

This is real: it’s the Mail Online’s actual stats page, showing heatmap of where readership is, which commenters are most liked and most reviled, who’s busiest, and so on. A fascinating little insight into the busiest newspaper site in the world. And its readers. (Via Dan Catt.)
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