Start up: Tor for iOS 9?, Google wins book appeal, HTC’s new (i)Phone, DNA suspects, and more


A crucial part of some fake Amazon reviews. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

New Tor apps for iOS 9 headed to iPhone, iPad » Daily Dot

Patrick Howell O’Neill:

The new iOS offering will come from a group led by Chris Ballinger, founder of ChatSecure and including Frederic Jacobs of Open Whisper Systems; Mike Tigas, who wrote Onion Browser; and Conrad Kramer, a former device jailbreaker. 

That group is working on iCepa, a system-wide iOS Tor client that can change the way every app on iOS connects to the Internet by routing traffic from each app through the Tor network.

Older versions of iOS lacked key capabilities that would allow for an effective Tor app, Freitas said. But certain changes implemented in iOS 9 — specifically the ability to incorporate Tor into multiple apps simultaneously — make the mobile operating system far more attractive for Tor developers.

“iOS has some new capabilities in it,” Freitas said. “You can create a device-wide [virtual private network], and it can be a Tor-based VPN. So we can create an Orbot-like service on iOS 9, which is exciting.”

Orbot empowers other Android apps to use Tor. It’s an anonymity amplifier that’s been impossible on iOS up until now because Tor could only run in a single app at a time.

link to this extract


Dear reader, we’re closing comments » IOL Beta

Adrian Ephraim, managing editor of the South Africa Independent:

Dear IOL reader, we need to talk …

I thought you should be the first to know that Independent Online (IOL) will be closing comments on its online articles with immediate effect.

It is a difficult but necessary decision to make and we arrived at it after careful consideration of all the factors at play.

The freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution was never meant to override the personal freedoms and human rights of our fellow citizens.

Let me be clear that commenting on an article is not a right, but a courtesy afforded to you by IOL as a reader.

If you are prone to being racist or sexist in your thinking, by all means express yourself on other platforms that may find such behaviour acceptable, but not on IOL.

We are of the view that instances of abuse in our comments section have become untenable.

..And another one. Just keeping tabs, really.
link to this extract


HTC One A9 photos leak: It’s an iPhone » BGR

Zach Epstein:

We’ve seen a number of leaked images of the upcoming HTC One A9 in the past, but the clearest pictures yet were just accidentally published by European wireless carrier Orange. HTC is already in deep trouble following its One M9 flop, but this phone may very well get the struggling smartphone maker sued into oblivion.

It really does look amazingly like an iPhone 6 (or 6S). Then again, so did the Galaxy S6. Hard to see it making any difference to HTC’s gradual demise.
link to this extract


Getting LEAN with Digital Ad UX » IAB

Scott Cunningham , svp of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Tech and Ad operations, begins this post “We messed up”. But the mea culpa also has a nostrum explicatum:

We engineered not just the technical, but also the social and economic foundation that users around the world came to lean on for access to real time information. And users came to expect this information whenever and wherever they needed it. And more often than not, for anybody with a connected device, it was free.

This was choice—powered by digital advertising—and premised on user experience.

But we messed up.

Through our pursuit of further automation and maximization of margins during the industrial age of media technology, we built advertising technology to optimize publishers’ yield of marketing budgets that had eroded after the last recession. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty.

Loose translation: “We did so much good that we made things worse.” Now the IAB is suggesting ads should be “light; encrypted; ad choice supported; non-invasive”. Nice idea. Not sure “encrypted” is necessary; is that to stop people like AdBlock Plus?
link to this extract


After undercover sting, Amazon files suit against 1,000 Fiverr users over fake product reviews » GeekWire

Jacob Demmitt:

Fiverr is an online marketplace that lets people sell simple services to strangers, like transcribing audio, converting photos or editing video. Amazon simply had to contact Fiverr users who advertised their review-writing services and set up the transaction.

The company said most people offered the undercover Amazon investigators 5-star reviews for $5 each.

One Fiverr.com user that went by bess98 offered to write the reviews from multiple computers, so as to deceive Amazon. Another user, Verifiedboss, unwittingly told the investigators, “You know the your [sic] product better than me. So please provide your product review, it will be better.”

As in the previous lawsuit, Amazon alleges that these reviewers often arranged to have empty boxes shipped to them in order to make it look like they had purchased the products.

Amazon is not suing Fiverr. The company noted in the court filing that these kinds of services are banned by Fiverr’s terms and conditions and Fiverr has tried to cut down on the practice.

Would love to know which products these people reviewed.
link to this extract


Appeals court gives Google a clear and total fair use win on book scanning » Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

The Authors Guild’s never-ending lawsuit against Google for its book scanning project has been hit with yet another blow. The 2nd Circuit appeals court has told the Authors Guild (once again) that Google’s book scanning is transformative fair use. This is not a surprise. Though this case has gone through many twists and turns, a few years ago it was also before the 2nd Circuit on a separate issue (over the appropriateness of it being a class action lawsuit) and the 2nd Circuit panel ignored that question, saying that it shouldn’t even matter because it seemed like this was fair use. Thus it was sent back to the district court, where Judge Danny Chin correctly said that the scanning was fair use. That ruling was appealed, and the AG trotted out some truly nutty legal theories (arguing that it wasn’t fair use because someone like Aaron Swartz might hack into Google’s computers and free the books).

These arguments did not work. The 2nd Circuit has affirmed the lower court ruling and given another nice appellate ruling establishing the importance of fair use — and a reminder that, yes, commercial uses can still be fair use:

Google’s making of a digital copy to provide a search function is a transformative use, which augments public knowledge by making available information about Plaintiffs’ books without providing the public with a substantial substitute for matter protected by the Plaintiffs’ copyright interests in the original works or derivatives of them.

Pretty convincing win for Google.
link to this extract


Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect » WIRED

Brendan Koerner:

In [Michael] Usry’s case the crime scene DNA [from an unsolved killing in 1969] bore numerous similarities to that of Usry’s father, who years earlier had donated a DNA sample to a genealogy project through his Mormon church in Mississippi. That project’s database was later purchased by Ancestry, which made it publicly searchable—a decision that didn’t take into account the possibility that cops might someday use it to hunt for genetic leads.

Usry, whose story was first reported in The New Orleans Advocate, was finally cleared after a nerve-racking 33-day wait—the DNA extracted from his cheek cells didn’t match that of Dodge’s killer, whom detectives still seek. But the fact that he fell under suspicion in the first place is the latest sign that it’s time to set ground rules for familial DNA searching, before misuse of the imperfect technology starts ruining lives.

Mitch Morrissey, Denver’s district attorney and one of the nation’s leading advocates for familial DNA searching, stresses that the technology is “an innovative approach to investigating challenging cases, particularly cold cases where the victims are women or children and traditional investigative tactics fail to yield a solid suspect.”

Not sure if UK police would be able to demand access in the same way. Previously they didn’t need to – there was a national DNA database which included completely innocent people.
link to this extract


Apple’s iPhone finds more fans on Samsung’s home turf » MarketWatch

Jennifer Booton notes that the iPhone has hit a 14% sales share in South Korea over the summer:

Samsung was able to recoup some of the losses incurred from Apple by going after the smaller manufacturers, such as LG Electronics and Pantech. LG’s share slid to 22% from 29%, while Pantech’s nose-dived from 4% to 1%, according to the Counterpoint research. Apple’s influence is having an effect, though.

“Samsung still has a loyal following in Korea,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager at industry tracker IDC. “But Apple is certainly making a run.”

Apple’s share in South Korea, where users have long been accustomed to the Samsung Galaxy Note phablets and other larger-screen Galaxy phones, has been gaining ever since the launch of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s first large-screen iPhone, Kang said. Its share gain was most prominent right after the iPhone 6 Plus launched, growing sevenfold in the fourth quarter of 2014.

While the growth rate has since slowed, Kang said he believes there’s still room for Apple to grow there as the “iPhone ecosystem effect” — the idea that Apple’s interconnected operating systems and devices keep users within the Apple brand — begins to take hold.

“Mature smartphone users (mostly Android) have started to upgrade to Apple iPhones,” he said.

link to this extract


Soul of a virtual machine » Medium

Jerry Chen:

In 2005, as the product manager for VMware’s enterprise desktop business, I made the pilgrimage down to Round Rock, Texas to meet the executives running Dell’s PC business. This was a year before I created VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and VMware was still the small but fast growing, and recently acquired division of EMC. For almost an hour I pitched Dell on the virtues of desktop virtualization. The Dell executives smiled, nodded politely, and at the end of the meeting they asked me, “You understand that we sell PCs here? Why would we ever want to commoditize our differentiation with virtualization?”

I collected my things and flew back to Palo Alto.

2015: Dell buys EMC, including VMWare, for $67bn, as its PC business keeps struggling. Now, VMWare didn’t kill off the PC business directly, but it certainly helped the move to the cloud that has forced Dell into this catchup acquisition.

Note how similar the Dell execs’ question is to Jerry Yang at Yahoo, who in 1997 told two guys with a new search algorithm “but we want people to click multiple search pages, because we can show them ads.” Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t come back. Yahoo isn’t dead, but it’s a zombie.
link to this extract


Start up: lightening YouTube, more Flash vulnerability, farewell to Apple’s store fan, NSA cracking, and more


“Yeah, pretty frazzled after a long day writing clickbait headlines. You?” Photo by peyri on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Hand-picked by fingers. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Page weight matters » Chris Zacharias

At YouTube, Zacharias was challenged to get the standard 1.2MB page down below 100KB:

Having just finished writing the HTML5 video player, I decided to plug it in instead of the far heavier Flash player. Bam! 98KB and only 14 requests. I threaded the code with some basic monitoring and launched an opt-in to a fraction of our traffic.

After a week of data collection, the numbers came back… and they were baffling. The average aggregate page latency under Feather had actually INCREASED. I had decreased the total page weight and number of requests to a tenth of what they were previously and somehow the numbers were showing that it was taking LONGER for videos to load on Feather. This could not be possible. Digging through the numbers more and after browser testing repeatedly, nothing made sense. I was just about to give up on the project, with my world view completely shattered, when my colleague discovered the answer: geography.

The explanation is rather smart.
link to this extract


Forbes: a quick adtech video » Medium

Rob Leathern wanted to read an article – you know, one of those text things – on Forbes:

In order for me to read that one article I had to receive 1,083 URL calls from 197 different domains adding up to 18.3 Megabytes of data, summarized here in an Excel spreadsheet. I closed any videos as soon as I could if they had the ability to do so.

Is it worth it? I like Alex Konrad and the article was probably a good one, but given I’m not sure where my data is going, or who some of these entities are (jwpltx.com? wishabi.com?) I just don’t know.

link to this extract


Auto-generating clickbait with recurrent neural networks » Lars Eidnes’ blog

To generate clickbait, we’ll train such an RNN [recurrent neural network] on ~2,000,000 headlines, scraped from Buzzfeed, Gawker, Jezebel, Huffington Post and Upworthy.

How realistic can we expect the output of this model to be? Even if it can learn to generate text with correct syntax and grammar, it surely can’t produce headlines that contain any new knowledge of the real world? It can’t do reporting? This may be true, but it’s not clear that clickbait needs to have any relation to the real world in order to be successful. When this work was begun, the top story on BuzzFeed was “50 Disney Channel Original Movies, Ranked By Feminism“. More recently they published “22 Faces Everyone Who Has Pooped Will Immediately Recognized“. It’s not clear that these headlines are much more than a semi-random concatenation of topics their userbase likes, and as seen in the latter case, 100% correct grammar is not a requirement.

The training converges after a few days of number crunching on a GTX980 GPU. Let’s take a look at the results.

The results are spooky – such as “Taylor Swift Becomes New Face Of Victim Of Peace Talks” and “This Guy Thinks His Cat Was Drunk For His Five Years, He Gets A Sex Assault At A Home”. Because, you know, if you looked out of the corner of your eye, isn’t that what was on some site somewhere? (They weren’t.)

One feels Eidnes’s work should have happened in a Transylvanian laboratory in a thunderstorm. Next you get a machine to write the story that fits the headline, and.. we can all knock off for the century.
link to this extract


Broadband in the UK ‘to stay top of the 5 major EU countries until 2020’ » ISPreview UK

Mark Jackson:

A new BT-commissioned report from telecoms analyst firm Analysys Mason has perhaps unsurprisingly found that the take-up and availability of superfast broadband (30Mbps+) connectivity in the United Kingdom is ahead of Spain, Germany, Italy and France, and will remain there until at least 2020.

The benchmarking report marks the United Kingdom as the “most competitive broadband market of all the countries it features“, although there are a few caveats to its findings. For example, the report overlooks most of Europe’s other states, including those with superior broadband infrastructure to ours, and seems to only focus on fixed line networks.

Furthermore it also makes an assumption that the current roll-out progress will hold to the Government’s promised targets, which may well be the case but we won’t know for certain until 2020. In addition, the study only appears to consider “superfast” services (defined as 30Mbps+ in the report), which overlooks the important area of “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) connectivity.

BT tweeted this headline and added “thanks to BT’s rollout of fibre”, and the culture/media/sport minister Ed Vaizey retweeted it without comment.

Is it really healthy that during an Ofcom examination of BT’s position a minister is doing that? Meanwhile Jackson’s longer analysis provides much-needed scepticism about the claims, and the lack of data in the report.
link to this extract


Adobe Flash Player security vulnerability: how to protect yourself » BGR

Zach Epstein:

The fun never ends with Adobe Flash.

Just one day after Adobe released its monthly security patches for various software including Flash Player, the company confirmed a major security vulnerability that affects all versions of Flash for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. You read that correctly… all versions. Adobe said it has been made aware that this vulnerability is being used by hackers to attack users, though it says the attacks are limited and targeted. Using the exploit, an attacker can crash a target PC or even take complete control of the computer.

And now for the fun part: The only way to effectively protect yourself against this serious security hole is to completely uninstall Flash Player from your machine.

Here’s the security note: “Adobe is aware of a report that an exploit for this vulnerability is being used in limited, targeted attacks. Adobe expects to make an update available during the week of October 19.” Spear phishing, no doubt; but Flash really is beginning to look like the worst thing you can have on your machine, especially if you’re in any sort of sensitive work.
link to this extract


Why Google is wrong to say advertisers should shift 24% of their TV budgets to YouTube » Business Insider

Lindsey Clay in chief executive of Thinkbox, which just happens to be a commercial TV marketing body, and doesn’t like Google’s suggestion:

why would an advertiser remove a quarter of the money they invest in the most effective part of their advertising and give it to something that hasn’t shown any proof of actually selling anything? 

However, it needs a response lest anyone believes Google on this. Here are some things to consider:

This is Google’s data. We’ve asked to see the data itself, but usually Google doesn’t share. If and when it does, we’ll comment on it but we obviously need to comment now. We understand the TV elements are based around a panel of Google users managed by Kantar that does not measure all TV and that the YouTube element is provided by Google themselves.

If that isn’t flaky and biased enough, it is also unaudited. They even called it the “Google Extra Reach Tool”; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And does it take account of the 50% of online ads that are not seen by humans? And how does it square with the report in the FT recently revealing that YouTube has been selling fraudulent ad views to advertisers?

Their recommendation also seriously challenges common sense when official industry sources including comScore show that YouTube accounts for 7.5% of 16 to 24-year-olds’ video time, with TV at 65%. The numbers for the whole population are 3.5% and 81%. Ad minutage on commercial TV is approximately 15% of that time, but is much lower on YouTube, and that is before you consider users’ impatient use of its ‘Skip ad’ button.

Clay is hardly impartial, but she raises worthwhile points.
link to this extract


Apple’s biggest fan has died » The Washington Post

Michael Rosenwald:

There are plenty of goofballs — like me — who stand outside Apple stores all night waiting for the company’s latest, thinnest, must-have offering.

There was nobody like Gary Allen, who died Sunday from brain cancer at 67.

Allen didn’t care so much about Apple’s new products (though he bought many of them.) He cared about the stores, the sleek and often innovative ways Apple presented itself to the world — the winding staircases, the floor-to-ceiling glass, the exposed brick.

Allen, a retired EMS dispatcher, traveled around the world — obsessively and expensively — to be among the first in line at the company’s new stores. He attended more than 140 openings, collecting all sorts of trivia. He could even tell you where Apple store tables are made (Utah; he stopped by the factory once to say thanks).

The headline is a trifle unfair; Allen was a fan of the stores, and their design. Rosenwald recounts a story of someone who just liked paying attention to detail; it’s a delightful mini-obituary.
link to this extract


How is NSA breaking so much crypto? » Freedom To Tinker

Alex Halderman and Nadia Heninger:

The Snowden documents also hint at some extraordinary capabilities: they show that NSA has built extensive infrastructure to intercept and decrypt VPN traffic and suggest that the agency can decrypt at least some HTTPS and SSH connections on demand.

However, the documents do not explain how these breakthroughs work, and speculation about possible backdoors or broken algorithms has been rampant in the technical community. Yesterday at ACM CCS, one of the leading security research venues, we and twelve coauthors presented a paper that we think solves this technical mystery.

The key is, somewhat ironically, Diffie-Hellman key exchange, an algorithm that we and many others have advocated as a defense against mass surveillance. Diffie-Hellman is a cornerstone of modern cryptography used for VPNs, HTTPS websites, email, and many other protocols. Our paper shows that, through a confluence of number theory and bad implementation choices, many real-world users of Diffie-Hellman are likely vulnerable to state-level attackers.

Estimated cost: $100m for a system that could break a single Diffie-Hellman key per year. But after two years, with the correctly chosen keys, you could passively eavesdrop on 20% of the top million HTTPS sites. Don’t underestimate the NSA. But of course, don’t underestimate the Chinese, Russians, and so on..
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.”

link to this extract


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.)
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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”.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.)
link to this extract


You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start up: inside a content factory, US reacts to Safe Harbour sinking, why Surface?, Android lemons and more


In China, such literalism might really happen. Photo by GotCredit on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Fee fi fo fum. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Chicago End-Times » The Awl

Sam Stecklow on the “content factory” at the Chicago Sun-Times, churning out meaningless content because ads:

Network staffers were concerned with the quality of work they were being asked to do, too. Marty Arneberg, a former intern, told me, “When I was applying to jobs, I would send very few Sun Times Network articles. I would mention in my résumé, forty hours a week I worked here, but I would not send them any examples. Because it was such a content factory, you just had to pump stuff out all the time. It was just like, get it out there, we need some pageviews now.” A former editor told me, “I wouldn’t read most of what I wrote if given the choice.” He added, “Spending more than thirty minutes on any article was generally frowned upon.” Arneberg told me that a “post got me the most pageviews of any post that I wrote and it was complete bullshit. It was a total hoax,” he said. “The weird thing is, when it came out that that was a hoax, nobody spoke to me. Nobody said anything, like, ‘Hey, you gotta watch out for that.’ It was just ignored.”

The question of whom, exactly, Sun Times Network is supposed to be for is one I asked everyone I interviewed for this story, and none of them could provide a good answer. I can’t either.

Stecklow’s descent into the toxic hellstew is well-described; it’s like a modern version of The Jungle. This is where content is heading. And not long after that, the stories will be “written” by computers, and you’ll wonder why we don’t just get computers to read them too, and go and do something more worthwhile, such as digging ditches. Oh, and reading The Awl.
link to this extract


The company behind Relish wireless broadband makes a big loss » Engadget

Nick Summers:

Relish’s dream to connect London homes with wireless broadband, rather than traditional landlines, could be in trouble. UK Broadband, the company behind the service, has reported losses of £37.5m for 2014 – almost four times what it was the year before. To make matters worse, turnover slipped from roughly £2m to £1.5m over the same period. Relish was launched in June 2014 as a simpler, but capable broadband alternative to the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin Media. Instead of copper and fibre cables, the company relies on 4G connections to deliver the internet to its customers. The advantages are plentiful — you don’t need to pay for a landline, and because Relish’s network is already up and running, you don’t need an engineer to install anything. Once you’ve signed up, a router is sent round within the next working day and you can instantly get online. The concept is similar to the mobile broadband packages offered by EE, Three and other UK carriers, although here there are no restrictive data allowances. So what’s gone wrong?

Nobody, it seems, knows.
link to this extract


China is building the mother of all reputation systems to monitor citizen behaviour » Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

“They’ve been working on the credit system for the financial industry for a while now,” says Rogier Creemers, a China expert at Oxford University. “But, in recent years, the idea started growing that if you’re going to assess people’s financial status, you should equally be able to do that with other modes of trustworthiness.”

The document talks about the “construction of credibility”—the ability to give and take away credits—across more than 30 areas of life, from energy saving to advertising. “It’s like Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder, plus finance, plus all of these other things,” says Creemers, who translated the plan.

The system, overseen by the State Council, is made possible by two factors. One, it’s now possible to gather information about behavior as never before. As we use the Internet and different devices, we’re leaving behind a huge footprint of data. Second, the Chinese government sees no reason to safeguard its citizens’ data rights if it thinks that data can benefit them, says Creemers.

“In Europe and the U.S., there’s a notion that the state should be constrained, that it’s not right to intervene in people’s lives, unless for justified reasons. In China, the state has no qualms about that. It says ‘data allows us to make society for better, so we’re going to use it,'” he says.

link to this extract


Behind the European privacy ruling that’s confounding Silicon Valley » NYTimes.com

Robert Levine:

American technology firms are especially worried because they routinely transfer so much information across the Atlantic. “International data transfers are the lifeblood of the digital economy,” said Townsend Feehan, chief executive of IAB Europe, which represents online advertising companies including Google as well as small start-ups. The ruling “brings with it significant uncertainty as to the future possibility for such transfers.”

As Mr. Schrems sees it, however, what is at stake is a deeper conflict between the European legal view of privacy as a right equivalent to free speech and that of the United States, where consumers are asked to read and agree to a company’s terms of service and decide what’s best for themselves. “We only do this in the privacy field — dump all the responsibility on the user,” Mr. Schrems said. He pointed out that consumers are not expected to make decisions about other complex issues, like food or building safety. “In a civilized society,” he said, “you expect that if you walk into a building it’s not going to collapse on your head.”

But if it collapses on your head and kills you, then you sue! No, hang on. (Bonus point to Levine for the handwringing quote from the advertising industry.)
link to this extract


Microsoft Surface: from cross-bearer to standard-bearer » Fast Company

Ross Rubin:

As the Surface Pro customer base has grown, it’s likely that Microsoft is just accommodating potential customers who prefer a more laptop-like device than the Surface Pro 4, which is still a tablet propped up with a kickstand.

While Microsoft is quick to compare its “ultimate laptop”—which starts at $1,500 and goes way, way up—to Apple’s portables, it will walk a far narrower tightrope in competing with its own hardware partners with the Surface Book. Not only does the first model stand to do battle with the best that HP, Dell, Acer, and Lenovo have to offer, but the company is poised to come downmarket with a lower-priced mainstream version, as it did with the $500 Surface 3.

The Surface experience story isn’t quite as good as it looks on paper. Even with the considerable reconciliation of Windows 10 and the arrival of a touch-optimized Office as well as other universal apps, Windows’ interface is still in transition. Many people with Surfaces spend much of their day working not so differently than they would with a no-touch Windows 7 laptop. Even on the marketing side, Microsoft needs to rethink the Surface Pro, which it’s been promoting as the tablet that can replace your laptop. Now that the company wants to sell you a laptop, where does that leave the Surface Pro?

This is slightly the problem: why Surface Pro, if there’s Surface Book? Rubin also thinks there’s a Surface iMac (for want of a better name) brewing in Redmond. This seems unlikely though – the sales figures would be so miniscule it would never make money for anyone. Speaking of which…
link to this extract


Why Apple is still sweating the details on iMac » Medium

Steven Levy was given access to Apple’s Ergonomic Design Lab to get the inside story of how the new iMacs and Magic Mouse and so on were built. But what are they for? Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of marketing, explains:

“The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that. The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?”

Good question. And the answer?

“Its job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because it’s capable,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.”

But – take note – no intention of introducing a touchscreen iMac. None at all, says Schiller: “The Mac OS has been designed from day one for an indirect pointing mechanism. These two worlds are different on purpose.”
link to this extract


​Android security a ‘market for lemons’ that leaves 87% vulnerable » ZDNet

Liam Tung:

“The difficulty is that the market for Android security today is like the market for lemons,” Cambridge researchers Daniel Thomas, Alastair Beresford, and Andrew Rice note in a new paper.

“There is information asymmetry between the manufacturer, who knows whether the device is currently secure and will receive security updates, and the customer, who does not.”

Their analysis of data collected from over 20,000 Android devices with the Device Analyzer app installed found that 87% of Android devices were vulnerable to at least one of 11 bugs in the public domain in the past five years, including the recently discovered TowelRoot issue, which Cyanogen fixed last year, and FakeID.

The researchers also found that Android devices on average receive 1.26 updates per year.

“The security community has been worried about the lack of security updates for Android devices for some time,” Rice said.

The “security community” hasn’t had much effect, then. The study was part-funded by Google.
link to this extract


US says Apple e-books antitrust monitor no longer needed » Reuters

Nate Raymond:

The US Justice Department has determined that Apple Inc has implemented significant improvements to its antitrust compliance program and that a court-appointed monitor’s term does not need extended, according to a court filing.

The Justice Department in a letter filed late Monday in Manhattan federal court said its recommendation was despite Apple’s “challenging relationship” with Michael Bromwich, who was named monitor after the iPad maker was found liable for conspiring to raise e-book prices.

The Justice Department said its decision to not recommend extending the monitorship beyond its two-year term was “not an easy one,” as Apple “never embraced a cooperative working relationship with the monitor.”

But the department said it was giving greater weight to Bromwich’s “assessment that Apple has put in place a meaningful antitrust compliance program than to the difficult path it took to achieve this result.”

Apple is still considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. The antitrust thing must feel like a stain.
link to this extract


No, wait! You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start up: Apple v chipmakers, the plot to sell Dell, is Android Auto safe?, casinos’ slotty problem, and more


Hey! Young man! You’ll never get anywhere sitting on desks throwing floppy disks around! Photo from Esparta on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. May contain nuts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The contortions of the consumer electronics market » DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Greenberg on Apple’s dual-sourcing of A9 chips:

I know whole villages in China that have been essentially de-populated overnight when the factory that anchors the town lost Apple business and had to shut down.

The rational side of me understands that this is just part of the reality of modern capitalism. What staggers me about last week’s news is that Apple is now putting semiconductor foundries in that position. It costs several billion dollars to build a fab. Imagine spending that kind of money to ensure having enough capacity for Apple, only to lose that business a year from now when the next version o the iPhone comes out.

I know that TSMC, in particular, has angered another very large customer because they devoted so much effort to winning the Apple business. They are going to be in a very tight spot when they go back to Apple to negotiate for A10 production. They have already lost a lot of business from that other customer, and at some point will have to negotiate with Apple for the next chip. If they lose Apple, they will have a an empty $5bn building. Apple knows that, and will use this fact when it comes time to talk about price.

I do not want to paint Apple as some ruthless group of cutthroats. This is just business. Apple may want to reconsider its approach to suppliers, as they may someday need to call in favors, but that day is not today.

This is just the reality of the market. Apple did not invent these practices. When Nokia had 50+% share of handsets, they operated in a similar fashion.

link to this extract


Best of luck Microsoft, but the Surface Book isn’t going to save the PC » Telegraph

James Titcomb:

In making the Surface Book, which by all accounts is the pinnacle of laptop engineering, Microsoft is screaming: “Hey, PCs are still exciting, look at this one!” It is also sending a message to other computer manufacturers that they need to up their game if they want to keep a slice of what is left of the market.

Can it save the PC? Probably not. Consumers are unlikely to give up using their ever-more capable smartphones just because a slightly-better PC comes along. One could argue that laptop and desktop computers will always have to exist to get “real work done”, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is not really the case.

Slack, an office collaboration tool that works just as well on mobile as on computers, is replacing email in many workplaces. Last month, Apple unveiled the iPad Pro, a high-powered tablet with a laptop-sized screen and keyboard that many will see as a realistic alternative to buying a new computer. Google has a similar proposition with its new Pixel C.

But history has few instances of a declining technology being saved by a spectacular version of it – Sony’s decision to develop higher-capacity MiniDiscs in response to the iPod never really paid off, to give one example.

Microsoft is doing everything it can to keep the industry that has defined it alive. But it’s probably too late.

There are huge numbers of grumpy old sysadmins in the comments, but Titcomb gets to the meat of the issue: selling a super-premium 2-in-1 isn’t going to help anyone but Microsoft.
link to this extract


Silver Lake explored sale of Dell’s PC business ahead of EMC deal » Re/code

Arik Hesseldahl:

Private equity firm Silver Lake, co-owners of Dell, last week approached Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Huawei to explore the possibility of selling off Dell’s personal computing business, sources familiar with the matter told Re/code.

But by Monday, Dell proposed to pay a combined $67 billion to acquire the data storage company EMC and its subsidiary VMware in what is the largest proposed technology M&A deal in history.

It was not immediately clear if Silver Lake acted alone or if Dell was consulted. It is also unclear if Silver Lake or Dell would continue to explore a sale at this point.

Lenovo didn’t think it would get regulatory approval; Huawei doesn’t want a PC anchor; HP has quite enough problems. Hesseldahl’s estimate is that Silver Lake might have sought $8bn – a third of revenue. Compare to the $25bn LBO in 2013: that’s some drop in value.
link to this extract


Biggest tech acquisitions of all time » Business Insider

Matt Rosoff:

Dell’s $67bn purchase of EMC is the biggest pure tech acquisition ever. (AOL’s $162bn buy of Time Warner in 2000 was larger, but Time Warner was a media company, not a tech company.) This chart from Statista shows some of the largest tech acquisitions of the past decade, measured in 2015 dollars. 

There are a lot of dogs on the list.

Remarkably, three of those dogs are by HP: with Compaq (under Carly Fiorina), with EDS (under Mark Hurd), and with Autonomy (under Meg Whitman). Google-Motorola ($13.2bn in 2015 dollars) also stands out as one which really didn’t make its price back.
link to this extract


Casinos bet on growth in table games, removing slot machines to make room » The Washington Post

Joe Heim notes that the number of slot machines in Nevada casinos has dropped precipitously since a high in 2001:

Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval (R) last week signed a bill that allows for the development of interactive slot machines. These are games that would presumably be more appealing to millennials who don’t seem interested in the passive — and mostly solitary — experience of playing traditional slot machines.

“This bill allows gaming manufacturers to use cutting-edge technology to meet the challenges prompted by a younger, more technologically engaged visitor demographic,” Sandoval told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Casinos and machine manufacturers are now free to pursue slot games that would mirror video games and introduce some level of skill rather than pure chance into the slot experience.

Five years ago, Eric Meyerhofer helped found Gamblit Gaming, a Glendale, Calif., company that develops video and mobile games for gambling.

“There was a recognition in the casino gaming industry that the traditional products are doing a great job attracting and entertaining people from their late 40s up into their 60s or 70s, but they have very little penetration into the 45-and-under group,” Meyerhofer said. “And that doesn’t bode well for a casino industry without coming up with ways to adapt.”

Gotta keep the millennials (and Gen Zs) happy.
link to this extract


Mobile is not a neutral platform » Benedict Evans

Evans points to the fact that Google and Apple get to decide how much control and visibility apps and their constituent functions work on their respective platfirms:

the deeper issue is that we haven’t just unbundled search from the web into apps – we’re now unbundling apps, search and discovery into the OS itself. Google of course has always put a web search box on the Android home screen (and indeed one could ask why there needs to be an actual browser icon as well) but this is much more fundamental.

That is, this isn’t really about what kinds of boxes slide onto your screen from where. it’s about how you talk to your friends, how you discover new services and how you decide to spend money. 

This, obviously, is why Facebook keeps trying to insert its own layers into the OS (and why Amazon made a phone). I sometimes feel that every spring Facebook holds F8 and says “this is what interaction on smartphones will look like”!”, and a few weeks later Apple and Google say “look, sorry kid, but…”. It’s not Facebook’s platform to change. But if Facebook is successful in using Messenger to close the loop between its online identity platform (which both Apple and Google lack) and notification and engagement on the phone, then it it’ll have managed to create its own layer at last. 

Really, what we see here is a search for another run-time. We had the web, and then we added apps, and now we look for another. Notifications? Siri/Now? Messaging (as forWeChat in China)? Something else?  But each of the previous run-times lacked search, discovery and acquisition as a fundamental part of the architecture – they had to be added later (and arguably that’s still not there with apps). On Facebook’s desktop platform, in contrast, both halves were there almost from the beginning. The next run-times on mobile might have both halves too. 

link to this extract


Android Auto isn’t slurping Porsche engine data, says Google – but questions remain » The Register

Iain Thomson follows up on the “Android Auto doesn’t want data” denial from Google, pointing out that the CAN bus which controls data flow in cars generally doesn’t have any security:

In the above case, from the OpenXC platform, the Android device can be firewalled off from the critical CAN bus by a suitable CAN-to-USB translator; the Android gadget can only request information, such as wheel speed or whether the parking brake is on.

That gateway could block requests for low-level statistics that manufacturers and drivers would rather keep private. But if that gateway honors any request for data, we’re relying on Google keeping to its word and programming Android Auto to only fetch limited types of information.

The second thing that springs to mind is: can the connected smartphone write to the CAN bus as well as read from it? If the device is completely compromised in some way – such as by malware exploiting Stagefright bugs – can it fire commands into the vehicle’s brain stem? Android Auto needs to be able to control the audio system to pump up the volume or turn it down, for example, and if that means it writes to the CAN bus to do so, then any mayhem can be caused by the phone.

Perhaps the cars compatible with Android Auto have compartmentalized CAN buses so the audio system is blocked by a gateway from the engine control hardware – although reprogramming controllers on the bus to bypass these defenses is possible.

Slightly concerning, actually.
link to this extract


Why the floppy disk is still used today » Digital Trends

Brad Jones:

Today, there’s a pleasing sense of nostalgia to the business model that mimics the product that [Tom Persky’s company Floppydisks.com] sells — while half of orders come via the web store, the other half are typically completed over the phone.

This allows Tom to build up a rapport with his customers, something that typically can’t be found at Staples or OfficeMax. Speaking to the men and women buying his wares also allows Tom to keep track of just how floppies are used circa 2015.

“There are people who love floppy disks,” he tells me, giving the example of a court reporter who uses the format for sheer convenience and force of habit. “There’s a large embroidery company that does 500 jobs a day,” he goes on. “They could do that on a hard drive — except their machinery doesn’t work with a hard drive.”

Therein lies the biggest reason that floppy disks are still in demand in some corners of industry. “In the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of industrial machines were built around floppy disks, which were high-tech of the time,” he tells me. “They were built to last fifty years.”

But floppy disks were not.

Replacing the machines would seem the logical option, but many of them are too valuable to scrap, or can’t be easily replaced by a modern equivilent. Tom lists the aforementioned embroidery machines, as well as ATMs, and some aviation tech as prime examples of devices that still have a need for data introduced through a floppy drive.

The reach of the floppy disk today goes further than you might expect. If the thought of vital flight equipment using a floppy for input seems far-fetched, then you may well be surprised to hear that the format is still in use by the United States Department of Defense.

End date uncertain; owning a million is too many, thinks Persky, but half a million is too few.
link to this extract


From pixels to pixies: the future of touch is sound » Reuters

Jeremy Wagstaff:

UK start-up Ultrahaptics, for example, is working with premium car maker Jaguar Land Rover to create invisible air-based controls that drivers can feel and tweak. Instead of fumbling for the dashboard radio volume or temperature slider, and taking your eyes off the road, ultrasound waves would form the controls around your hand.

“You don’t have to actually make it all the way to a surface, the controls find you in the middle of the air and let you operate them,” says Tom Carter, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ultrahaptics.

Such technologies, proponents argue, are an advance on devices we can control via gesture – like Nintendo’s Wii or Leap Motion’s sensor device that allows users to control computers with hand gestures. That’s because they mimic the tactile feel of real objects by firing pulses of inaudible sound to a spot in mid air.

They also move beyond the latest generation of tactile mobile interfaces, where companies such as Apple and Huawei are building more response into the cold glass of a mobile device screen.

Ultrasound promises to move interaction from the flat and physical to the three dimensional and air-bound. And that’s just for starters.

Not sure about the “invisible controls around your hand” idea. How do you decide if it’s meant to respond or not? 3D interaction is complex already; having invisible things to interact with, even harder. (Think of how confusing people find taps that operate depending on where and how you wave your hand near them. Now try to imagine controlling your radio that way.)
link to this extract


All done? You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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?

link to this extract


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.

link to this extract


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.

link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.

link to this extract


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..
link to this extract


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)
link to this extract


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.)
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


Start up: Facebook’s dwindling teens, Safe Harbour or balkanisation?, the privacy tsunami, and more


No, really, no difference. Move along there and find another story. Photo by Bob Jouy on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Soluble in alcohol. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook is big, but big networks can fall » Bloomberg View

Megan McArdle:

Looking at the most recent Pew study on Internet usage among young people,  I see that 71% of teens use Facebook, with the median user having slightly less than 150 friends; 41% of them report that they use Facebook most often. But when I look at a similar Pew study from 2013, it looks to me as if 76 percent of teens were using Facebook, with a median number of 300 friends, and 81% of social media users reported that they used Facebook most often. If I were Facebook, those numbers would keep me awake at night – not because Facebook can’t survive with only 70% of the market, but because a network that is getting smaller and less valuable to its users is a network that is very vulnerable to disruption.

What’s actually astonishing is just how evanescent such strategic advantages have proven. Fifteen years ago, people worried that Microsoft’s network-effect advantages made it unstoppable; now it’s an also-ran in everything new-market except gaming consoles. The rotting corpses of old social media sites litter the landscape. And of course, finding a place to send Aunt Maisie that birthday telegram is getting darned hard.

She also makes a point about network effects: the thing about “all your photos are in Facebook” isn’t a network effect, but a switching cost – a quite different thing.
link to this extract


Apple says battery performance of new iPhone’s A9 chips vary only 2-3% » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple said that its own testing and data gathered from its customers after a few weeks with the device show that the actual battery life of both devices varies just 2-3%. That’s far, far too low to be noticeable in real-world usage.

With the Apple-designed A9 chip in your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, you are getting the most advanced smartphone chip in the world. Every chip we ship meets Apple’s highest standards for providing incredible performance and deliver great battery life, regardless of iPhone 6s capacity, color, or model.

Certain manufactured lab tests which run the processors with a continuous heavy workload until the battery depletes are not representative of real-world usage, since they spend an unrealistic amount of time at the highest CPU performance state. It’s a misleading way to measure real-world battery life. Our testing and customer data show the actual battery life of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, even taking into account variable component differences, vary within just 2-3% of each other.

Though there have been a bunch of articles and videos about how much power one chip or the other uses, the tests have largely been what Apple calls ‘manufactured’. Basically, they are unrealistic machine-driven tests that do not and can not reflect real-world usage.

So this year’s iPhonegate lasted slightly less than 24 hours. Apple is even managing to balance supply and demand here too.
link to this extract


EU Safe Harbour ruling a ‘nightmare’: Wikipedia founder » CNBC

Arjun Kharpal:

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, said the regulatory issues that could come with this might be a problem for some businesses.

“You want your data to be secure, you don’t really care or you shouldn’t have to care where it sits,” Wales told CNBC in an interview at IP EXPO Europe in London.

“If I’m in Europe I hope they are near me on a server in Europe, but other than that I want them to provide the best technical experience for me. And if they suddenly have all those requirements and have to keep certain pictures in certain places, it just sounds like a nightmare, so I like the idea of uniformity in the law so that we can all not worry about it.”

Wales added in a separate session with reporters that the ECJ ruling could lead to a “balkanized era where data has to be secure very specifically across many many different jurisdictions”.

Great point. So does this mean he’ll be lobbying the US to implement strong data protection rules that match those of Europe? I do hope so. I mean, that’s the best way to protect everyone’s interests, isn’t it, Mr Wales?
link to this extract


Why is it so hard to convince people to care about privacy? » The Guardian

Cory Doctorow:

The only way to be sure you don’t leak data is to not collect or retain it, and Big Data’s hype and the cheapness of hard drives has turned every pipsqueak tech company into a Big Data packrat with a mountain of potentially toxic personal info on millions of people, all protected by a password that’s simple enough for a CEO to remember it.

Every week or two, from now on, will see new privacy disasters, each worse than the last. Every week or two, from now on, will see millions of people who suddenly wish there was more they could do to protect their privacy.

For privacy advocates in 2015, the job is clear: have a plan in your drawer. A plan: how to safeguard your privacy, how to understand your privacy, how to understand the breach. A plan that explains that your lack of security isn’t a fact of nature, it’s the result of conscious decisions made by people who were either hostile or indifferent to your wellbeing, who saved or made money through those decisions. A plan that shows you what you can do to keep you and yours safe – and whose head your should be demanding on a pike.

link to this extract


Get AMP’d: Here’s what publishers need to know about Google’s new plan to speed up your website » Nieman Lab

Joshua Benton:

What’s it all mean for publishers?

As I said, AMP [Accelerated Mobile Pages] is full of terrific ideas. It really does speed up load times.

But that success comes with tradeoffs. For most publishers, you’re being asked to set up two parallel versions of your stories. (Unless you really think you won’t need to ever do anything outside what AMP allows on any page, which is unrealistic for most.) That takes significant time and resources. You’re being asked to set aside most or all of the ad tech and analytics that you use. You’re trading in open web standards for something built by Google engineers who, despite what I don’t doubt are the best of intentions, have incentives that don’t line up perfectly with yours. And you’re becoming an disempowered actor in a larger Silicon Valley battle over ad tech. (Google advocating something that blocks enormous slices of contemporary ad tech can’t be viewed in isolation from the fact Google is the dominant force in online advertising, and as interested as any company is in extending its power.)

And it’s yet another case of a technology company coming along to promise a better experience for users that takes one more bit of power away from publishers.

The fact that publishers’ interests aren’t exactly aligned with Google’s shouldn’t be overlooked. And Google’s interests aren’t aligned with third-party ad networks at all, except that they all want to serve up ads. (Meanwhile, iOS 9 content blockers still block ads on the AMP demo.)
link to this extract


This is why Android Pay is asking you for a ‘Google Payments PIN’ when making purchases » Android Central

Andrew Martonik:

when you have a card from one of these supported banks (check the latest list from Google here) in Android Pay, it’s amazingly seamless to make payments. Just unlock your phone, tap the terminal and you just paid.

Confusingly, though, Android Pay actually lets you add unsupported cards to the app as well.

This is a hold over from the old days of Google Wallet, which had an entirely different system that worked without the cooperation of the banks. With Google Wallet, every time you made a transaction it actually made that purchase with a virtual prepaid debit card from “Bancorp Bank” and then that same amount was subsequently charged to your own bank. It was clunky, less secure and downright confusing to everyone involved — and the most annoying user-facing part of this system is the need for an extra PIN code to make a payment.

As Google Wallet hands the reigns over to Android Pay in this transition of mobile payments, this legacy system of using an unsupported card is actually still baked into Android Pay — though Google isn’t exactly promoting it as such. This is partially due to the fact that you can bring previously-used debit and credit cards from Google Wallet into Android Pay, and partially because Android Pay just doesn’t support that many banks yet — just 10 at the time of writing.

My first reaction was that this is a poor user experience; why make people who are new to Android Pay have to use a PIN? Then I realised that most Americans aren’t used to PINs for purchasing, and are just adjusting to chip-and-sign. So this might be faster. (The fact that you might have two cards, and one will require a PIN and one won’t, seems like bad design though.)
link to this extract


Former Reuters journalist Matthew Keys found guilty of three counts of hacking » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

In 2010, Keys posted login credentials to the [his then former employer] Tribune Company content management system (CMS) to a chatroom run by Anonymous, resulting in the defacement of an LA Times article online. The defacement was reversed in 40 minutes, but the government argued the attack caused nearly a million dollars in damage…

…”This is not the crime of the century,” Segal said, adding that nonetheless Keys should not get away with his acts. At minimum, he may receive probation. Sentencing is scheduled for January 20, 2016.

Keys said he was disappointed with the verdict, and worried about the sentence affecting his ability to work. However, he also expressed his intention to appeal the conviction, and was optimistic it would be overturned.

Keys added that a few months after his first story about Anonymous, he was approached by the FBI, but Keys refused to allow them to scan his computer. He was indicted a couple of years later.

In order to be convicted under the CFAA, the damage had to exceed $5,000. The government claimed that Keys caused $929,977.00 worth of damage. During the trial, the defense tried to cast doubt on the total damages, claiming that the expenditures in response to the hack were not reasonable, and Tribune employees had grossly inflated the hours spent on incident response.

Lesson 1: change passwords ex-employees had access to. Lesson 2: don’t post passwords of companies that you used to work for on Anonymous chatboards.
link to this extract


Will digital books ever replace print? » Aeon

Craig Mod used to read only ebooks (on Kindle) but now finds he has fallen out of love with it in favour of the physical form again:

Take for example the multistep process of opening a well-made physical edition. The Conference of the Birds (2009), designed by Farah Behbehani and published by Thames and Hudson, is a masterclass in welcoming the reader into the text.

The object – a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth – requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.

Contrast this with opening a Kindle book – there is no procession, and often no cover. You are sometimes thrown into the first chapter, sometimes into the middle of the front matter. Wherein every step of opening The Conference of the Birds fills one with delight – delight at what one is seeing and what one anticipates to come – opening a Kindle book frustrates. Often, you have to swipe or tap back a dozen pages to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Because the Kindle ecosystem makes buying books one-click effortless, it can be easy to forget about your purchases. Unfortunately, Kindle’s interface makes it difficult to keep tabs on those expanding digital libraries: at best, we can see a dozen titles at a time, all as inscrutably small book covers. Titles that fall off the first-page listing on a Kindle cease to exist. Compare that with standing in front of a physical bookshelf: the eye takes in hundreds of spines or covers at once, all equally at arm’s length. I’ve found that it’s much more effortless to dip back into my physical library – for inspiration or reference – than my digital library. The books are there. They’re obvious. They welcome me back.

The pile of unread books we have on our bedside tables is often referred to as a graveyard of good intentions. The list of unread books on our Kindles is more of a black hole of fleeting intentions.

The comparison of a bookshelf to the limited real estate on a screen is so important in many contexts: when we got into a supermarket or bookshop we can scan hundreds of items at once. How many on a screen when you don’t know what you’re searching for?
link to this extract


Sony buys Belgian image sensor technology firm » Reuters

Ritsuko Ando:

Japan’s Sony Corp said it bought Belgian image sensor technology company Softkinetic Systems for an undisclosed sum, stepping up investment in an area that has become one of its strongest amid weak sales of its TVs and smartphones.

Softkinetic specializes in a type of technology that helps measure “time of flight”, or the time it takes for light to reflect off an object and return to an image sensor, Sony said.

Put like that, it sounds like “you’re measuring light round trips? Those are nanoseconds, right?”. Judging from the site, though, it’s more about location in 3D and general position sensing and mapping in domestic environments. So does this mean we’ll go to 3D photos next?
link to this extract


You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start up: can Google accelerate publishers?, DuckDuckGo profitable, 3D Touch coming to Android?, and more


Antennagate, Bendgate, and now – Transistorgate? It’s the regular iPhone two-weeks-after-launch news cycle. Photo by khaiphotoart on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not legal in Delaware. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google speeds up news article downloads on mobile devices » BBC News

Leo Kelion:

Dozens of leading news organisations, including the BBC, are taking part in a scheme that will allow their web-based articles to load more quickly on smartphones and tablets.

Leaders of the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative promise that the stripped-back versions of the pages will be “lightning fast” to load.

The move has been led by Google, which is providing use of its servers.

Participants believe it may discourage the use of ad-blocking plug-ins.

AMP works by simplifying the technical underpinnings of the pages involved.

Much of the Javascript code used on normal webpages is absent, meaning articles should not only appear faster but use less battery power.

Publishers can continue to tap into the same ad networks as before, but they will not be able to display some types of adverts including pop-ups and “sticky” images that move as users scroll down a page.

Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and WordPress have said they also intend to make use of the technology.

Facebook is a notable exception. The social network recently launched an alternative programme called Instant Articles, which speeds up the delivery of third-party content by hosting it on its own platform.

Less Javascript, eh? Notable that “participants” (in the test) think it will discourage adblocking. I don’t see why they think that. It might forestall some people from using them. But people who visit pages that aren’t on AMP will get the same dire experience; they won’t know if they’re on AMP pages or not, will they? And then they search for “adblocker”…
link to this extract


Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages – a quick reaction (no js) » Kevin Marks

Marks has long open source experience. He’s not that impressed by Google’s new offering with publishers:

Specifically, they replace img, audio, video with their own versions implemented as custom elements and so requiring javascript to appear. They ban loaded style sheets, requiring inline styles, but oddly allow font-face, one of the slowest things on the mobile web. They also replace the Twitter embed fallback markup with a custom type made up by themselves, which combined with the iframe ban means that you need their blessing to extend the web.

This means that if javascript is not loaded, images will disappear.

They also require a lot of arbitrary weird markup (like emoji in the html element, which violates content encoding), a weird style incantation that makes the page opaque, and require the proprietary schema.org markup.

Now, my site is not very complex; indeed it loads very fast on mobile already, but it does use a few javascript enhancements: fragmention to let you link to a phrase; webmention injection for comments as seen below, and the twitter embed enhancement javascript. Without these, the page still renders and makes sense, and it is parseable as microformats. This is known as progressive enhancement; AMP looks more like graceless degradation.

Ow.
link to this extract


Does your iPhone have a good or bad A9 CPU? » Engadget

Abdul Dremali:

There’s a little drama brewing less than two weeks after Apple released it’s brand new line of iPhones. As reported by Anandtech, the A9 processor of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were dual sourced from Samsung and a company called TSMC. The differences between these chips was not evident for some time as fans assumed the smaller 96mm² by Samsung would be the superior chip. Users are conducting tests and reporting the results via forums on Reddit and Mac Rumors which have resulted in the conclusion that the TSMC A9 has approximately 2 hours better battery performance than the Samsung.

It recommends an app you can download to check which make you have. Can we call this Transistorgate? (It’s going to be quite a thing if there really is that big a difference. Though when Apple introduced the retina MacBook Pro, it sourced screens from Samsung and LG; the LG ones were worse. It’s a coin flip..)
link to this extract


Thank HN: for helping me get traction with DuckDuckGo and Traction book – AMA » Hacker News

Gabriel Weinberg, who set up the DuckDuckGo search engine, took the slightly unusual step of doing an AMA (ask me anything) on Hacker News, rather than Reddit, because he credits HN with getting it all off the ground. He also has a book about how his startup(s) got traction to sell. And this nugget:

DuckDuckGo is actually profitable! It is a myth you need to track people to make money in Web search. Most of the money is still made without tracking people by showing you ads based on your keyword, i.e. type in car and get a car ad. These ads are lucrative because people have buying intent. All that tracking is for the rest of the Internet without this search intent, and that’s why you’re tracked across the Internet with those same ads.

(Disclosure: I use DDG as my default. I like it. You can copy a link from the results without it being stuffed with Google obfuscation.)
link to this extract


I used an Android watch with my iPhone — and I hate it » Business Insider

Matt Weinberger:

Now, after more than a week wearing a Huawei Watch provided by Google,  I can say that I don’t care for it very much. It doesn’t actually fulfill the mission of helping me look at my phone less.

It’s not really Huawei’s fault. Not entirely. Apple is notoriously protective of the iPhone’s ecosystem, and it’s a minor miracle that an Android watch can sync with an iPhone at all.

But as it stands, the only real superpower that using an Android Wear watch has going for it is that it pushes your phone’s notifications straight to your wrist with a little buzz. If you actually want to do anything about those notifications, you have to take your phone out of your pocket anyway.

But it was good for telling the time. There was that. Looks like the expectation that Android Wear being able to link to iOS would bring a boom in competition (and sales) was overblown.
link to this extract


Sony may consider options for smartphone unit if no profit next year » Reuters

Reiji Murai:

Sony Corp’s chief executive flagged next year as a make-or-break year for its struggling smartphones, saying it could consider other options for the unit if it failed to turn profitable.

After years of losses, Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai has engineered a successful restructuring drive at Sony, with recent results showing improvement thanks to cost cuts, an exit from weak businesses such as PCs, as well as strong sales of image sensors and videogames. But its smartphone business has been slow to turn around.

“We will continue with the business as long as we are on track with the scenario of breaking even next year onwards,” Hirai told a group of reporters on Wednesday. “Otherwise, we haven’t eliminated the consideration of alternative options.”

Told you: trying to go upmarket in Android is not a smart move, but that’s the strategy Sony tied itself to without having any clear differentiation.
link to this extract


Press release: Synaptics announces ClearForce technology for smartphones » Synaptics

Synaptics, the leading developer of human interface solutions, today announced broad sampling of its ClearPad® ClearForce™ force-sensing solutions. ClearForce enables OEMs to differentiate smartphones by providing customers with new dimensions in user interfaces such as speed scrolling, zoom, gaming, and text or photo editing by applying variable force with a finger or stylus. Synaptics® has been working closely with leading global OEMs and LCMs to deliver this new dimension in touch with force-enabled smartphones expected to ship in early 2016.

With a rich history in force technology dating back to 1996, including over 60 granted and pending patents worldwide, Synaptics’ third-generation force-sensing solution, ClearForce, enables global OEMs and LCMs to differentiate smartphones — with tablet, wearables, and automotive manufacturers to follow. Variable force creates numerous opportunities to invent new user interface capabilities and increases productivity for touchscreen applications.

“ClearForce”. Unlike, say, Force Touch or 3D Touch. What’s the betting that Samsung’s Galaxy S7 includes this? Question is, will it only be for Samsung apps, or will other app developers (even Google?) take advantage of it?
link to this extract


Twitter’s Moment » Stratechery

Ben Thompson is excited about the fact and the potential of Twitter’s new Moments service:

When you first tap the Moments tab at the bottom of the Twitter app you’re dropped into the ‘Today’ view that lists a mishmash of stories that, well, happened today.

• Touch any of the stories to get a curated list of tweets that tell the story in question through videos, images, and sometimes just text. It’s a really great experience, and I found the sports stories with their combination of highlights and tweeted reactions particularly enjoyable

• For any Moment in progress, you can tap a button to add tweets about that Moment to your main timeline. Crucially, though, those tweets only persist for the duration of the event in question; the ‘Unfollow’, which is the most essential action when it comes to building a Twitter feed you actually read, is done for you

• Finally, in what was probably the biggest surprise in the product, there is a carousel at the top leading to more focused categories:

Each of these categories includes not only ‘News’ or ‘Entertainment’ Moments that just happened, but also more timeless content, particularly in ‘Fun.’ Look carefully at those category titles, though — they sure look familiar:

That’s right, Twitter just reinvented the newspaper. It’s not just any newspaper though — it has the potential to be the best newspaper in the world.

link to this extract


Japan’s Murata sees slowdown in global smartphone market growth » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Reiji Murai:

Global demand for smartphones is likely to slow in the next fiscal year due to weaker demand from the world’s biggest market China, the head of Japanese smartphone component maker Murata Manufacturing Co told Reuters on Wednesday.

Chief Executive Tsuneo Murata said growth for the fiscal year starting April 2016 would be in the high, single digits, below the 12 percent growth forecast by the company for fiscal 2015/16.

Murata, however, said this slowdown was unlikely to hurt the company’s business because demand for the high-end phones it provides parts for is expected to remain robust.

“Everyone seems to be worried about the future of the smartphone market, but there should be no change to growth in demand for high-speed and high-performance handsets,” said Murata, one of the sons of the Kyoto-based company’s founder.

“Such high-end handsets need to use more of our products.”

IDC is forecasting overall growth at about 10% for this year compared to 2014; Murata sees that slowing after January.
link to this extract


iOS hits twelve-month low in US ahead of iPhone launch » Kantar Worldpanel

“Across Europe’s ‘big five,’ Android continues to struggle, with only the heavily prepaid markets of Italy and Spain registering a year-over-year share growth,” said Dominic Sunnebo, business unit director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe. “In Great Britain, Samsung, the undisputed Android leader, dropped market share both period-over-period and year-over-year, while Sony and LG were the only two Android vendors able to grow share over the last year and over the three months ending in July 2015.”

Europe’s “big five” markets are Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

“In the US, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 grew its share of smartphone sales but did not threaten the iPhone 6 leadership position,” [research director Carolina] Milanesi added. “In April through August 2015 – the months following the launch of the new flagships – only 29% of the Samsung smartphone installed base were upgraded to new devices. Among those who upgraded, 23% changed to a Galaxy S5, 4% to a Galaxy S6, and 1% to a Galaxy S6 Edge.”

Android is hardly “struggling” in Europe; in some countries such as Spain it has nearly 90% sales share. On that last point – this means that of the total US Samsung smartphone installed base (52m according to separate data from ComScore), 29% (15.1m) upgraded; of those 23% (3.4m) got last year’s S5, 4% (0.6m) got an S6 and 1% (150,000) got an Edge. That’s a pretty dramatic preference for the S5; does price alone explain it?
link to this extract


Verizon’s zombie cookie gets new life » ProPublica

Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson:

Verizon is giving a new mission to its controversial hidden identifier that tracks users of mobile devices. Verizon said in a little-noticed announcement that it will soon begin sharing the profiles with AOL’s ad network, which in turn monitors users across a large swath of the internet.

That means AOL’s ad network will be able to match millions of internet users to their real-world details gathered by Verizon, including — “your gender, age range and interests.” AOL’s network is on 40% of websites, including on ProPublica.

AOL will also be able to use data from Verizon’s identifier to track the apps that mobile users open, what sites they visit, and for how long. Verizon purchased AOL earlier this year.

The decision came after a ProPublica article revealed that an online advertiser, Turn, was exploiting the Verizon identifier to respawn tracking cookies that users had deleted. Read the story.

Privacy advocates say that Verizon and AOL’s use of the identifier is problematic for two reasons: Not only is the invasive tracking enabled by default, but it also sends the information unencrypted, so that it can easily be intercepted.

Or you can opt out (and hope it sticks).
link to this extract


Finished here? You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam. (Unless you’re reading it on email, in which case well done. Saved yourself a click.)

Start up: boarding pass hacks, Microsoft Surfaces, the truth about Android Auto, ad fraud explained, and more


Kindle display at Waterstone’s: they were coming soon, now they’re gone. Photo by DG Jones on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Contains no additives. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What’s in a boarding pass barcode? A lot » Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs was contacted by a reader who had looked at a friend’s boarding pass:

“I found a website that could decode the data and instantly had lots of info about his trip,” Cory said, showing this author step-by-step exactly how he was able to find this information. ‘

“Besides his name, frequent flyer number and other [personally identifiable information], I was able to get his record locator (a.k.a. “record key” for the Lufthansa flight he was taking that day,” Cory said. “I then proceeded to Lufthansa’s website and using his last name (which was encoded in the barcode) and the record locator was able to get access to his entire account. Not only could I see this one flight, but I could see ANY future flights that were booked to his frequent flyer number from the Star Alliance.”

The access granted by Lufthansa’s site also included his friend’s phone number, and the name of the person who booked the flight. More worrisome, Cory now had the ability to view all future flights tied to that frequent flyer account, change seats for the ticketed passengers, and even cancel any future flights.

The information contained in the boarding pass could make it easier for an attacker to reset the PIN number used to secure his friend’s Star Alliance frequent flyer account. For example, that information gets you past the early process of resetting a Star Alliance account PIN at United Airline’s “forgot PIN” Web site.

Worrying. Keep it on your phone instead.
link to this extract


Every device is a compromise, part 2 » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson:

immediately after the SP4 was introduced, we were shown the Surface Book. Which is a laptop. And Panos Panay, the presenter, started out by talking about all the things a laptop does that the Surface Pro does poorly – a better typing experience, a bigger screen, and so on. This was one of the most bizarre juxtapositions I’ve ever seen at a tech event. After 30 minutes of talking about how the Surface Pro 4 could replace your laptop with no compromises, the very same presenter offered up a laptop which was clearly better, because it didn’t make certain of those compromises.

Taking a step back for a minute, both products look really promising. I’ll withhold final judgment until I get to use these devices (or at least until others I trust have done so and shared their opinions). But this “no compromise” nonsense continues to do a massive disservice to Microsoft and to its customers.

link to this extract


Microsoft has warmed my cold cynical heart with hot new hardware » The Verge

Vlad Savov:

The brand new Surface Book is, like the original Surface Pro, another effort at complete reinvention. The Surface Book deconstructs the laptop and reconstitutes it in the shape of a hybrid device of the sort we’ve never seen before. Microsoft didn’t just make a new tablet with a detachable keyboard, it designed a whole new hinge and attachment mechanism, and it intelligently split up the internal components to deliver both a light and sleek tablet and a powerful laptop. The discrete Nvidia graphics chip sits among a battery of batteries inside the keyboard dock, liberating the tablet of most of its heft when power is not a priority, but keeping it substantially PC-like when the whole thing is connected and operating as one.

I am hugely impressed by the clear-eyed purpose underpinning every one of the decisions that Microsoft has made with its two Surface devices introduced today. The boundlessly charismatic Panos Panay — now in charge of both the Lumia and Surface product lines at Microsoft — simply didn’t allow a moment’s questioning or dubiety. Every time he presented a new feature or change, he asked the rhetorical “why?” question himself, and he answered it convincingly. Here are a thousand levels of pressure sensitivity for the stylus, and here’s what you can do with that. Here’s a keyboard with 1.6mm of travel and here’s why you’d want to mash your fingers against it. Panay elicited something that every tech company strives for, but few achieve: desire.

Presentation is so important, as is explaining why something needs to exist; that’s something Steve Jobs really used to do well. Apple doesn’t have anyone who can enunciate the need for something to exist in the way he could, and technology really needs that skill.

That said, Microsoft hasn’t priced these (or its Surface Pro 4) cheaply. Which means the rest of the PC OEMs will be left scrapping for dollars while, if these sell at all, Microsoft reaps both the hardware and software profits.
link to this extract


Verizon scraps its exclusive Sony phone before it even launches » CNET

Roger Cheng:

Sony said both companies agreed on the cancellation. “The decision was made after we have taken into consideration such factors as the competitive landscape and launch timing,” said a company spokeswoman. A Verizon spokesman echoed those sentiments without offering additional specific details.

There have been hints of problems with the Xperia Z4v, which was a modified version of the Xperia Z4 that added a larger battery and wireless charging. After its initial unveiling in June, both companies grew silent about the product. A Sony event held in New York over the summer was dominated by games from PlayStation, its virtual reality system, and other products like cameras, with only a single small area dedicated to showing off the Xperia Z4v.

Then there is the Xperia Z5 family, which debuted at the IFA trade show in September. The announcement of the three new phones rendered the Xperia Z4v outdated before it even launched.

link to this extract


Fraud is a million $ business; Here’s how they’re doing it » LinkedIn

Mike Nolet digs into a “golf” site which had fencing content (huh) and an absurd number of video views per visitor (177 per week?) but whose referrers seemed to be porn sites, among others:

as I mentioned in my disclaimer there’s never a way to know for sure, but here’s what I suspect:

• Unsurprisingly, I think the site is fake. No real users that go there.
• Traffic is sourced from adware programs and porn sites and show the site in popups, most likely hidden from view.
• They used to do display fraud, but got busted, and so started putting fake display ads to make the site seem more legitimate. They still get away with Video.
• They run a series of checks to try to determine whether or not they are being watched, and if they are, the sites behave normally.
• When they’re not being watched that they spam as many videos into a popup as they can.
• Gross they are generating $1.5m/week in ad impressions on this one site which is clearly part of a network of sites.
• Now, this traffic was caught, but even if only 2% of their traffic gets past the filters, it’s still a million $ business.

Scary. And this is just one site in a huge network. Hurrah for online advertising!
link to this extract


13 cool facts about the 2017 Porsche 911 » Motor Trend

Jonny Lieberman:

There’s no technological reason the 991/2 doesn’t have Android Auto playing through its massively upgraded PCM system. But there is an ethical one. As part of the agreement an automaker would have to enter with Google, certain pieces of data must be collected and mailed back to Mountain View, California. Stuff like vehicle speed, throttle position, coolant and oil temp, engine revs—basically Google wants a complete OBD2 dump whenever someone activates Android Auto. Not kosher, says Porsche. Obviously, this is “off the record,” but Porsche feels info like that is the secret sauce that makes its cars special. Moreover, giving such data to a multi-billion dollar corporation that’s actively building a car, well, that ain’t good, either. Apple, by way of stark contrast, only wants to know if the car is moving while Apple Play is in use. Makes you wonder about all the other OEMs who have agreed to Google’s requests/demands, no?

That’s Acura, Chevrolet, Honda, Hyundai, and Volkswagen to start with. (Insert joke about the VW data being worthless.) None of the stories which used this snippet then bothered to ask Google if it’s true – apart from Android Police, which was told:

we take privacy very seriously and do not collect the data the Motor Trend article claims such as throttle position, oil temp and coolant temp. Users opt in to share information with Android Auto that improves their experience, so the system can be hands-free when in Drive, and provide more accurate navigation through the car’s GPS.

link to this extract


Apple acquires startup developing advanced AI for phones » Bloomberg Business

Jack Clark and Adam Satariano:

Apple [has] acquired Perceptio, a startup developing technology to let companies run advanced artificial intelligence systems on smartphones without needing to share as much user data.

The company’s leaders, Nicolas Pinto and Zak Stone, are both established AI researchers who specialize in developing image-recognition systems using deep learning. Deep learning is an approach to artificial intelligence that lets computers learn to identify and classify sensory input…

Perceptio’s goals were to develop techniques to run AI image-classification systems on smartphones, without having to draw from large external repositories of data. That fits Apple’s strategy of trying to minimize its usage of customer data and do as much processing as possible on the device.

Apple said last week that it had acquired a U.K.-based software startup that made AI technology to create Siri-like digital personal assistants capable of having longer conversations.

Apple really is going all-in on AI. Which of course it needs to.
link to this extract


Waterstones is removing Kindles from stores » The Bookseller

Lisa Campbell:

Waterstones is removing Amazon’s Kindle devices from many of it stores as sales “continue to be pitiful”.

The company’s managing director James Daunt said there had been no sign of a “bounce” in Kindle sales, so the company was “taking the display space back” to use for physical books instead. 

He told The Bookseller: “Sales of Kindles continue to be pitiful so we are taking the display space back in more and more shops. It feels very much like the life of one of those inexplicable bestsellers; one day piles and piles, selling like fury; the next you count your blessings with every sale because it brings you closer to getting it off your shelves forever to make way for something new. Sometimes, of course, they ‘bounce’ but no sign yet of this being the case with Kindles.”

David Prescott, chief executive of Blackwell’s, has also confirmed that fewer e-reading devices were being sold at his chain. “We’re not seeing a great deal of people who are buying an e-reader for the first time now,” he said. “People are buying e-reader replacements, but that’s it.”

Douglas McCabe, analyst for Enders, said it was “no surprise” Waterstones was removing Kindle device sales from its shops. “The e-reader may turn out to be one of the shortest-lived consumer technology categories,” he said.

I dunno, have to compete with the Kinect there.
link to this extract


Taking pictures with flying government lasers » Generalising

Andrew Gray:

A few weeks ago, the Environment Agency released the first tranche of their LIDAR survey data. This covers (most of) England, at varying resolution from 2m to 25cm, made via LIDAR airborne survey.

It’s great fun. After a bit of back-and-forth (and hastily figuring out how to use QGIS), here’s two rendered images I made of Durham, one with buildings and one without, now on Commons:


The first is shown with buildings, the second without. Both are at 1m resolution, the best currently available for the area. Note in particular the very striking embankment and cutting for the railway viaduct (top left). These look like they could be very useful things to produce for Commons, especially since it’s – effectively – very recent, openly licensed, aerial imagery…

You can play too – just download QGIS (open source, Windows/Mac/Linux) and find the place where you live. Oh, LIDAR? Laser Interferometry Detection And Ranging (though Wikipedia has it as “Laser Imaging”). You’re welcome. The whole Generalising blog is worth browsing if you like people noodling with data. They do it wonderfully.
link to this extract


Scrivener crashes after upgrading to El Capitan (OS X 10.11) » Literature & Latte Support

There is a bug in El Capitan that can cause crashes in 32-bit applications when they try to access font data. Because Scrivener is 32-bit, some of our users have reported frequent crashes when Scrivener is used after updating OS X to 10.11 El Capitan. These crashes often occur when Scrivener is launched, but sometimes they may occur while it is in use.

The fix involves a little twiddling in the Terminal. Included because if you’re doing writing of any sort, you should use Scrivener. Also available on Windows.
link to this extract


You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start up: Russia v Android, Citymapper and Crosslink, the Windows 10 problem, and more


Android Marshmallow is out. What’s inside? Photo by Waleed Alzuhair on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Hydrated for greater comfort. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russian antitrust officials give Google deadline on Android bundling » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Here’s the edict from the Russian antitrust agency (pulled from Google Translate, since it has yet to update its English site): “In order to restore competition in the market … Google [must] adjust the agreements with the manufacturers of mobile devices to exclude from the agreements anticompetitive requirements limiting the installation of applications and services to other developers.”

Google declined to comment. It could face a fine, according to the Russian agency, of up to 15% of the revenue from the preinstalled apps. Morgan Stanley has estimated that Russia accounts for about $560m of Google’s annual revenue, or roughly 1%.

Yandex, which brought the case, said in a statement it was “satisfied” with the decision. “Our goal is to return fair play to the market – when apps are preinstalled on mobile devices based on how good or how popular they are rather than due to restrictions imposed by the owner of the operating system,” the company added.

As I read it, that would only apply to devices sold inside Russia after the November 18 deadline. Wonder what it means for grey imports. Obviously it can’t be retrospective.
link to this extract


Learning more about Google’s self-driving cars made me terrified to ever drive again » Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

less than 24 hours after Google’s presentation… I had to drive to and from Los Altos, California. What would otherwise have seemed like a completely typical trip suddenly made me realize just how pathetic a driver I am compared to one of Google’s cars.

Although I didn’t commit the cardinal sin of texting while driving, I was for the first time hyper-conscious of how often I let me eyes drift from the road, whether to check Google Maps on my phone or change the radio station. At one point, I needed to slam the brakes: I had been watching traffic, but deep in thought, making my reaction time slower than it should have been.

Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get out of that car. The person driving next to me, yapping on her phone, immediately seemed like a threat. As did the fact that I was taking my eyes away from the road ahead to look at her. I have never loved driving, but recognizing all the normal minutiae as potentially dangerous distractions makes me hate it. 

I think there are going to be two reactions to SDCs: those like D’Onfro, and those who enjoy the chance to beat the slowpoke super-cautious SDCs by driving aggressively.
link to this extract


Building a city without open data » Medium

Citymapper explains how it began with open data for its travel planning service, but is now working on cities which don’t:

We’ve learned that the goal is not just to launch cities and win fancy prizes, although that’s fun. It’s about maintaining and improving data so that citizens and travellers can trust us to give them the best information when and where they need it.

And this is hard. The largest cities of our planet are complicated and evolve over time. They require dedicated focus. And we’ve found that open data is not enough to satisfy the information demands of the ever wanting smartphone user.

So we’ve been fixing data. And we’ve been improving data. And we’ve been adding data. And in the process of doing so we’ve developed a number of tools to help us scale and solve problems faster. And to empower our heroes to fix things and solve problems without the need for engineering.

We’ve done a lot with these tools. Well for one, we’ve used them to create some fake data…

They can show you what travel in London is going to be like with Crossrail. Terrific.
link to this extract


Android 6.0 Marshmallow, thoroughly reviewed » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

Google says that the new release has a “back to basics” motif with a focus on “polish and quality.” Marshmallow makes many long-requested features a reality with selectable app permissions, a data backup system that actually works, and the ability to format SD cards as Ext4, allowing the system to treat cards just like internal storage. Marshmallow is also prepared for the future with support for USB Type-C’s power delivery spec, a Fingerprint authentication API, and 4K display support. And, as with any Android release, there’s also lots of new Googley stuff—a slick new search interface and a contextual search mode called “Google Now on Tap,” for example.

While this is a review of the final build of “Android 6.0,” we’re going to cover many of Google’s apps along with some other bits that aren’t technically exclusive to Marshmallow. Indeed, big chunks of “Android” don’t actually live in the operating system anymore. Google offloads as much of Android as possible to Google Play Services and to the Play Store for easier updating and backporting to older versions, and this structure allows the company to retain control over its open source platform. As such, consider this a look at the shipping Google Android software package rather than just the base operating system. “Review: New Android stuff Google has released recently” would be a more accurate title, though not as catchy.

The 23rd version of Android, though I’m guessing that includes hundredth-decimal point updates. Amadeo’s predictions about how developers will abuse the battery-saving Doze mode are worth reading (as the whole thing is – allow plenty of time). Finally fixed permissions, eh? Only been waiting since 2012. And definitely read the last page if nothing else.
link to this extract


Carriers are making more from mobile ads than publishers are » Medium

Rob Leathern crunched the numbers, based on the NY Times article about sites’ ad heft:

For each site, take Mb/minute x Avg per/Mb mobile data cost, and weight the average by each site’s monthly unique mobile visitors (so heavier data-using sites get more weight in our calculation) and normalize to one minute of time on each site, for a value ranging from $0.01 to $0.24 per minute. Compare that figure to our average revenue of $0.15/hour = $0.0025/minute and weight the average to get the result:

16.6x more in data costs to the user than mobile ad revenue to these top 50 news sites on average

Even if it isn’t exactly accurate, it’s showing an order of magnitude difference. Publishers get an absolute pittance from ads. Then again, people spend very little time on them – Leathern’s data (from public sources) says it’s about 3.5 minutes per month.
link to this extract


We’re replacing comments with something better » Motherboard

Derek Mead, editor-in-chief of Motherboard:

Comment sections inspire quick, potent remarks, which too easily veer into being useless or worse. Sending an email knowing that a human will actually see it tends to foster thought, which is what we want. So in addition to encouraging that you reach out to our reporters via email or social media, you can now also share your thoughts with editors via letters@motherboard.tv. Once a week or thereabouts we’ll publish a digest of the most insightful letters we get.

The argument for comments has long been that a well-moderated section lowers the barrier to entry for readers to share their thoughts, positive or otherwise. In a vacuum, that sounds like a dream, but the key there is “well-moderated.” Good comment sections exist, and social media can be just as abrasive an alternative. But for a growing site like ours, I think that our readers are best served by dedicating our resources to doing more reporting than attempting to police a comments section in the hopes of marginally increasing the number of useful comments.

Ah, another one. Gresham’s Law continues to apply.
link to this extract


Microsoft lowers its expectations for phones » WSJ

Shira Ovide on the forthcoming launch of new (high end?) Lumia phones:

Microsoft is betting that shoppers and mobile-application developers will find it alluring to buy Windows smartphones, or write applications for them, in tandem with Windows PCs. To lure app makers who have treated Windows smartphones as an afterthought, Microsoft has made it easier to repurpose their iPhone or Android apps for Microsoft phones.

People close to Microsoft say success at proliferating Windows 10—the company aims to have it installed on 1 billion devices by mid-2018—would give a huge lift to Windows smartphones. That would likely invert the pattern set by Apple, which found that people who bought iPhones were more willing to buy a Mac computer.

“The best thing for Windows phone devices is Windows 10 use,” said a person familiar with Microsoft’s strategy.

Microsoft executives hoping for a smartphone turnaround can point to a precedent: the company’s Surface line of tablet-plus-PC devices, a once-struggling hardware business that found its groove even without blockbuster sales.

“Let’s write an Uber app for the desktop!”
link to this extract


I once was in Maps, but now I’m found » Unauthoritative Pronouncements

Joe Steel has some worthwhile objections to Apple Maps:

One of the things I’ve found puzzling about the design of the Apple Maps interface is that you can see traffic, and travel estimates supposedly influenced by traffic, in the route overview, but no traffic information is provided when turn-by-turn is on. All the roads are tranquil, neutral tones, and a serene blue path flows before you. It’s as if you’re in a kayak, on a river, being gently pulled along by the flow of water.

That’s not true, of course, because why would there be that much water in Los Angeles?

At heavy intersections, like Highland Ave. and Franklin Ave., you see no information about the flow of traffic in any direction. Instead of blue, you should see the streets run red with the blood of the Traffic God. Woe betide thee that commute on his most sacred of poorly designed intersections!

Tonight, Apple Maps routed me down Cahuenga to Highland. That sent me past the large, somewhat famous, amphitheater known as The Hollywood Bowl. Not a big deal, unless there’s an event at The Bowl. Guess what? There was an event! Van Halen! There were orange, safety cones and traffic cops directing at intersections. Apple Maps just herp-derped me through that. The only difference in the display was the estimated arrival time slowly ticking upward as I crawled.

On exactly one occasion I had Apple Maps present me with a yellow bar across the top, and Siri’s voice notified me that there was a delay due to an accident. (No alternate routing was provided on this occasion.) Waze has a leg up on Apple and Google when it comes to accident notifications. You even get notified about which lane the accident is in. Google sources some Waze data, but isn’t as specific. On the 101 N last night there was a very sudden slowdown, without warning, at a time of night when there shouldn’t be traffic at all. I waited patiently for Apple Maps to let me know what it was, and Apple Maps was oblivious to it. There was apparently a car accident that closed two lanes, and the car was being loaded on to a flatbed truck, so it wasn’t recent. Why Apple Maps kept silent about it, I don’t know.

The “not showing traffic when you’re en route” question puzzles me too. And TomTom, which is Apple’s data provider, does offer a (paid) service with alerts about traffic. I don’t think Apple’s privacy approach (it splits the route halfway and runs it under another random ID) is the cause, but it seems odd not to feed in traffic data in from other devices on the same route ahead of you.
link to this extract


The death of advertising and the future of advertising » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

our research indicates the extremely valuable 18-35 yr old demographic ranks highest in our surveys of those who use an ad blocker. In the US particularly, 4 in 10 millennials admit to blocking internet advertising. Anyone in marketing will tell you this age bracket is highly sought after by marketers. In follow-up interviews I’ve had with this demographic, one of the driving motivations for use of an ad blocker is so they can block ads on YouTube. Watching videos on YouTube is a hefty part of millennials’ weekly activity and many indicated to me their desire to skip ads and get right to the video was centered on their feeling ads were a waste of time. They were going to YouTube to see a short video and did not feel a 5 or 15-second ad before a video was an efficient use of their time. I also asked millennials how they found out they could block ads on the web and the most common answer was from a friend. It seems ad blockers are going viral with many US millennials and it is unlikely this trend loses steam any time soon.

Remember too that those young millennials are highly likely to be using an iPhone – where they can now get an adblocker too.
link to this extract


Reverse engineering proves journalist security app is anything but secure » Motherboard

JM Porup:

On Friday, Motherboard reported that the new Reporta app, billed as “the only comprehensive security app available worldwide created specifically for journalists,” may not be secure at all.

After we published our story, Frederic Jacobs, Open Whisper Systems’s lead developer for their secure messaging app, Signal, spent his Friday night at home reverse engineering the Reporta binary for iOS. He published the results here. His conclusion was, in a tweet, “Sloppy engineering. Reporta is forensics & analytics rich.”

“Every action is logged,” he wrote in his report. Google Analytics is built into the app, which stores the logs in a local cache before uploading them to Google’s servers. Reporta also uses Twitter’s Crashlytics crash-reporting framework, he explained.

“If you’re building an app for journalists in ‘potentially dangerous conditions,’” Jacobs wrote in a Twitter direct message, “you shouldn’t be tracking your users that much. And certainly not giving out that information to third parties without asking for consent of their users.”

Also has variable use of https and on-device encryption.
link to this extract


Windows 10 does not change the PC’s fate » Gartner

John Lovelock:


The market is still rebalancing. PC sales continue to decline, and tablets are the preferred consumption device. But new lightweight PCs have emerged that can compete with tablets as an all-day carry device. Made possible by Ivy Bridge architecture in 2013, which has improved steadily since, the new ultramobile premium devices, such as Microsoft’s Surface, now compete with tablets on four fronts; mobility, light weight, all-day batteries and lower price. Windows 10 is targeted at the last of the tablet’s differentiators – ease of use and empowering users.

The global installed base for desktops and laptops will decline for at least five more years, nothing changes that. However, the PC ecosystem now has a Windows 10 device that can re-engage users in the thin, light, all-day ultramobile devices that pack the power of a PC. Ultramobile premium devices halt the decline in PC shipments in 2017 and halt the decline of the PC installed base in 2019.

If you’re into webinars, Gartner is doing a free one at 11am EDT today (Tues October 6) on the PC market’s impact on overall IT spending. “Webinar”. Hmm.
link to this extract