Start up: BB Priv sales figured, Google drives to Ford, Samsung’s culture shock, and goodbye 2015


“Shot and processed on iPhone 6Plus”. Photo by andrewXu on Flickr.

This is the last Start Up of 2015. Thanks all so much for reading, and for your feedback. It will return on Monday 11 January.

A selection of 9 links for you. Freely given. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

BlackBerry sold under 50,000 Priv units, Play Store data suggests » AndroidAuthority

Matthew Benson:

Because the Priv apps can only be installed on the Priv itself, this offers a very good indication of the kind of sales numbers BlackBerry has achieved. At worst, there are possibly 10,001 sold, and at most, there are possibly 50,000. For the sake of argument, there is the possibility that the statistics on the Play Store are not accurate. Even assuming that installs are double that which is reported, that would still give a range between 20,002 and 100,000 units.

It is difficult to make heads or tails of this presumed purchase point. Considering that BlackBerry sold approximately 700,000 total handsets in Q3, it would mean the Priv was not a major seller. Granted it was only available for 2 weeks before the end of Q3, but many devices typically see the highest sales in the initial release window.

Nah, it’s pretty easy really. People had already worked out that BlackBerry shipped (as in, “recognised revenue on”) about 125,000 Privs. (You can figure it from previous average selling prices, and the ASP in the past quarter.) These figures show how many have actually reached peoples’ hands; it wouldn’t be too hard to look at the trend in installs and figure it out pretty exactly.

The difference between the 125,000 and the 50,000 (max) is down to “sell-in” (what BlackBerry can persuade carriers and other vendors to take) and “sell-through” (what people have actually bought). Time will tell how quickly the two come into line. If they don’t, then BlackBerry’s handset business is surely, finally, come on now, done.
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Fossil Q Founder review: good watch, mediocre smart watch » Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

The screen looks nice, but there is that flat tire [cut-off strip at the bottom of the screen] to contend with. It’s lame that we’re still putting up with this design quirk, but on the upside you get an ambient light sensor. So, I guess it’s not all bad. You’re either willing to tolerate this or you despise it.

Fossil dropped the ball with the software. The few exclusive faces included with this watch are mostly boring with strange design decisions, and the companion app is almost useless. The watch itself also has some bugs that need to be worked out. I don’t expect a smart watch to necessarily be as stable as a mechanical one, but when I have to reboot because the time froze 30 minutes ago, that’s a problem. The reboots certainly don’t help the battery life, which is mediocre right now. If it gets any worse as the watch ages, then you’d probably have trouble making it through a full day away from the charger.

Have to say that since Apple’s Watch got Watch OS 2.1, the only time I’ve run down to 10% in a day from a 6.30 start has been when I did 3.5 hours of workout on the day. Otherwise, it has lots of charge left.

Android’s still looking for a winner in this category; the Huawei watch (compared in the piece) looks like the best so far.
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Google pairs with Ford to build self-driving cars » Yahoo

Justin Hyde and Sharon Carty:

Google and Ford will create a joint venture to build self-driving vehicles with Google’s technology, a huge step by both companies toward a new business of automated ride sharing, Yahoo Autos has learned.

According to three sources familiar with the plans, the partnership is set to be announced by Ford at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. By pairing with Google, Ford gets a massive boost in self-driving software development; while the automaker has been experimenting with its own systems for years, it only revealed plans this month to begin testing on public streets in California.

Effectively the Model T – or T-Mobile G1? – of this emerging class.
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Home broadband 2015 » Pew Research Center

Three notable changes relating to digital access and digital divides are occurring in the realm of personal connectivity, according to new findings from Pew Research Center surveys. First, home broadband adoption seems to have plateaued. It now stands at 67% of Americans, down slightly from 70% in 2013, a small but statistically significant difference which could represent a blip or might be a more prolonged reality. This change moves home broadband adoption to where it was in 2012.

Second, this downtick in home high-speed adoption has taken place at the same time there has been an increase in “smartphone-only” adults – those who own a smartphone that they can use to access the internet, but do not have traditional broadband service at home…

…many “smartphone-only” users say that the reason they do not have broadband at home is because their smartphone lets them do all they need to do online, underscoring the device’s utility for those without a home high-speed subscription.

The same pattern is happening in China: fixed broadband has stalled (or is just replacing dialup) while mobile broadband is exploding.
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Your smartphone camera should suck. Here’s why it doesn’t » WIRED

Tim Moynihan:

The sensor simply senses light and converts it into an electrical signal. To use an analogy, it buys the groceries. Someone else cooks dinner. So while a high-quality sensor helps, it’s hardly the most important component. The lens is important, of course, but the biggest difference between a great camera and a good camera is the image signal processor—the secret sauce to any smartphone camera’s features and performance.

Hung says that the image sensor isn’t the only thing feeding information into the ISPs. A modern smartphone has several sensors at its disposal. “The gyroscope has evolved in terms of image stabilization,” he says. “A lot of the ISPs now can take the input from the gyroscope (and) combine that input with the image sensor to provide image stabilization. It’s a new kind of digital stabilization system.”

Apple and Samsung use their own image signal processors for the iPhone and Galaxy phones, respectively. However, many high-end Android handsets use the integrated image signal processors in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon system-on-a-chip, which keeps camera features relatively consistent from phone to phone. As good as it is, the company says the next-gen processor arriving early in 2016 will improve noise reduction, artifact correction, autofocus, and color reproduction.

That last point explains a lot about so many Android phones. I wonder how many people Qualcomm has working on its ISP systems.
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Judge, siding with Google, refuses to shut down Waze in wake of alleged theft » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar:

Google, the owner of the traffic app Waze, has managed to beat back a copyright lawsuit filed by lesser-known rival PhantomAlert.

Back in September 2015 PhantomAlert sued Google over allegations of copyright infringement. Google purchased Waze in June 2013 for over $1bn. PhantomAlert alleged that, after a failed data-sharing deal between itself and Waze collapsed in 2010, Waze apparently stole PhantomAlert’s “points of interest” database.

In a judicial order filed earlier this month, the San Francisco-based federal judge found that PhantomAlert could not allege a copyright claim on simple facts of where different places actually are.

As Michael Love observed on Twitter, doesn’t this mean that Apple (or whoever) could simply steal Google’s, or Waze’s, POI database? The judge also dealt with the question of whether organising those facts meant they attracted copyright: he decided PhantomAlert hadn’t done enough to merit that.

PhantomAlert can file an amended complaint within two weeks, and says it will.
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Humans are slamming into driverless cars and exposing a key flaw » Bloomberg Business

Keith Naughton:

“It’s a constant debate inside our group,” said Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”

Last year, Rajkumar offered test drives to members of Congress in his lab’s self-driving Cadillac SRX sport utility vehicle. The Caddy performed perfectly, except when it had to merge onto I-395 South and swing across three lanes of traffic in 150 yards (137 meters) to head toward the Pentagon. The car’s cameras and laser sensors detected traffic in a 360-degree view but didn’t know how to trust that drivers would make room in the ceaseless flow, so the human minder had to take control to complete the manoeuvre.

“We end up being cautious,” Rajkumar said. “We don’t want to get into an accident because that would be front-page news. People expect more of autonomous cars.”

Turns out, though, their accident rates are twice as high as for regular cars, according to a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Driverless vehicles have never been at fault, the study found: They’re usually hit from behind in slow-speed crashes by inattentive or aggressive humans unaccustomed to machine motorists that always follow the rules and proceed with caution.

“It’s a dilemma that needs to be addressed,” Rajkumar said.

Well, strictly it’s the humans who are at fault. The “key flaw” is that lots of humans drive badly, but they also have expectations of how the car in front will behave – so it’s a “theory of mind” problem too.
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Culture shock: Samsung’s mobile woes rooted in hardware legacy » Reuters

Jeremy Wagstaff and Se Young Lee:

Interviews with former and serving employees paint a picture of confusion and overlap between competing divisions, where the short-term interests of promoting hardware trump long-term efforts to build platforms that would add value for customers and increase their loyalty to the brand.

One said he only learned from someone outside the company that the hands-free app his team was updating for the upcoming Galaxy S4 launch had competition — from inside Samsung. For the manager, who has since left the company but declined to be identified because his present employer does business with Samsung, it was one of many examples of the low priority the hardware-minded company placed on software, which was treated as little more than a marketing tool inside the firm.

“Samsung’s upper management just inherently doesn’t understand software,” the former employee said. “They get hardware – in fact, they get hardware better than anyone else. But software is a completely different ballgame.”

As a result, critics say, initiatives involving software or services languish and often fail.

Despite being pre-installed on Galaxy phones, Samsung’s ChatON messaging service gained few adherents and closed without fanfare in March, while the Milk Video app, a high profile project run by newly hired US executives, lasted a year, closing in November.

Knox (hardening security) has been a qualified success (though it’s unclear how many extra sales it has generated); jury still out on Samsung Pay.
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Trends 2016: adblocking is here to stay » Global Web Index

Jason Mander:

Adblocking has captured a lot of headlines in recent months, despite the fact it’s still just 28% of online adults who say they are deploying one of these tools.

The heaviest consumers of the internet, 16-24s, are at the very forefront of the trend, with over a third of them blocking ads. But that presents something of a paradox: older groups are the most concerned about their privacy and personalized recommendations/ads and yet are the least likely to be blocking ads.

That’s surely a symptom of awareness; currently, older groups are the least likely to know what ad-blockers are. As such tools become more mainstream, there can be little doubt that usage levels will creep upwards and show fewer variations by age. It’s certainly telling that 55-64s are already about as likely as 16-24s to be deleting cookies on a regular basis, an action which is rather more established and well-known among internet users.

In light of these trends, trying to resist the spread of ad-blocking feels rather futile.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: debunking 2015’s fake pics, wearables grow, Apple’s 800 camera people, and more


The Internet of Things might help warn about this. Photo by freefotouk on Flickr.

You’re not too late to sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Think of it as a Christmas present to yourself. Actually, it’ll stop for two weeks after Christmas, but anyway.

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

76 viral images from 2015 that were totally fake » Gizmodo

Matt Novak:

We debunked dozens of fake photos this year, covering everything from Charles Manson’s baby photos to John Lennon’s skateboarding skills, and everything in between. It was another busy year for anyone spreading fake images on the internet.

Below, we have 76 photos that you may have seen floating around the internet in 2015. Some are deliberate photoshops created by people who want to deceive. Others are just images that got mixed up in this big, weird game of Telephone we call the internet.

76! That’s more than one a week. Actually, there’s only one fake a week?
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US probes Theranos complaints » WSJ

John Carreyrou:

U.S. health regulators are investigating complaints about laboratory and research practices at Theranos Inc. by two former employees of the blood-testing startup company, according to people familiar with the inquiries.

A complaint filed in September by a former Theranos lab employee to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services alleged that management instructed lab employees to keep testing patients with the company’s blood-analysis devices despite indications of “major stability, precision and accuracy” problems with those devices.

The second complaint was sent to the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month by another ex-employee, who alleged that the study submitted by Theranos last year to win the agency’s approval for a herpes test was tainted by breaches in research protocol.

Really not going well for Theranos. All been going downhill since the WSJ article in October.


Worldwide shipments of wearables to surpass 200m in 2019, driven by strong smartwatch growth » IDC

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC ) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker , the worldwide wearable device market will reach a total of 111.1m units shipped in 2016, up a strong 44.4% from the 80m units expected to ship shipped in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 214.6m units, resulting in a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28%.

“The most common type of wearables today are fairly basic, like fitness trackers, but over the next few years we expect a proliferation of form factors and device types,” said Jitesh Ubrani , Senior Research Analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers. “Smarter clothing, eyewear, and even hearables (ear-worn devices) are all in their early stages of mass adoption. Though at present these may not be significantly smarter than their analog counterparts, the next generation of wearables are on track to offer vastly improved experiences and perhaps even augment human abilities.”

One of the most popular types of wearables will be smartwatches, reaching a total of 34.3m units shipped in 2016, up from the 21.3m units expected to ship in 2015. By 2019, the final year of the forecast, total shipments will reach 88.3m units, resulting in a five-year CAGR of 42.8%.

“In a short amount of time, smartwatches have evolved from being extensions of the smartphone to wearable computers capable of communications, notifications, applications, and numerous other functionalities,” noted Ramon Llamas , Research Manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “The smartwatch we have today will look nothing like the smartwatch we will see in the future. Cellular connectivity, health sensors, not to mention the explosive third-party application market all stand to change the game and will raise both the appeal and value of the market going forward.

Apple Watch forecast to continue dominating through to 2019, though Android Wear coming up strongly. Tizen not going anywhere.
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‘Internet of Things’ technology powers an interactive flood map and sensor network » Nominet

Nominet, in association with the Flood Network, is today launching an interactive, online map which visualises river and stream levels around Oxford. The map, showing how technology can be a part of flood defence systems anywhere, has been developed following a successful pilot project with the Oxford Flood Network. The project has been focused on exploring the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to create an extensive, localised, early-warning system for flood-prone areas for the first time in the UK.

The Flood Network is powered by two pieces of innovative technology developed by Nominet:

• A set of IoT tools to help innovators build and scale IoT applications in real environments. The tools utilise existing internet standards, such as DNS, to provide proven scalable solutions with an existing support eco-system.

•The use of TV white space to connect a number of hard-to-reach devices in the network. Nominet’s recently qualified TV white space (TVWS) database performs complex calculations that informs devices what frequencies they can use in which area, at what power and for how long.

The map, an application built on top of the tools, is being released as a beta version today to gather feedback from local residents and encourage further community engagement.

First use I’ve seen of TV white space (analogue frequencies left over by the switch to digital TV). And, finally, the Environment Agency providing data from its sensors at river locks – after years when the EA resolutely refused to release its data to public use.

Also: an IoT application that really makes sense.
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‘Unauthorized code’ that decrypts VPNs found in Juniper’s ScreenOS » The Register

Simon Sharwood:

Juniper Networks has admitted that “unauthorized code” has been found in ScreenOS, the operating system for its NetScreen firewalls.

The code “could allow a knowledgeable attacker to gain administrative access to NetScreen devices and to decrypt VPN connections.”

And on The Register’s reading of the situation, the unauthorised code may have been present since 2008, an assertion we make because Juniper’s notice about the problem says it impacts ScreenOS 6.2.0r15 through 6.2.0r18 and 6.3.0r12 through 6.3.0r20. ScreenOS 6.2 was released in 2008. Screen OS 6.3 came out in 2009.

We’ve asked Juniper if it has any theories about the origin of the code and have been told the company has nothing to say on the matter beyond the post we’ve linked to above and canned statements from its PR team.

Just what happened is therefore obscure for now, but the obvious scenarios aren’t good news for Juniper.

Or, indeed, its customers. Two views on this: (1) shows terrible effects of having backdoors because it means those “knowledgeable attackers” can read everything; (2) what effects has it had, exactly?
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The iPhone’s camera is so good because 800 people are working on it » The Verge

Chris Welch writes up the CBS 60 Minutes interview with Apple, which mostly revealed nothing the tech world hasn’t obsessed over for years, but for this:

the episode did reveal one semi-interesting new detail: Apple now says there are 800 people solely dedicated to working on the iPhone’s camera. That team of “engineers and other specialists” is led by Graham Townsend, who took Rose on a tour of the camera testing lab.

“There’s over 200 separate individual parts” in the iPhone’s camera module, Townsend said. Then he demonstrated how Apple simulates various conditions to test out the camera’s performance, from sunsets to lousy indoor lighting. “We can simulate all those here,” Townsend said. Apple’s competitors certainly conduct many of those same tests, but the sheer size of Apple’s camera team shows you how high up on the priority list it’s risen. Apple has built entire ad campaigns around the iPhone’s camera, and always makes it a point to highlight improvements with each new iPhone revision.

Generally, the interview lacked anything else noteworthy.

Love to know how that 800 breaks down between software and hardware. And beyond a certain minimum, is it just sheer numbers of people beavering away that makes good? How many do Samsung and LG have on this?
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Toshiba Revitalization Action Plan and FY2015 forecast (PDF) » Toshiba

Following its accounting scandal, the company is cutting thousands of jobs and selling off its TV business, and reorganising its PC business:

The Personal & Client Solutions Company will be split off from Toshiba Corporation and merged with a BtoB PC sales company in Japan.

• Headcount reduction of 1,300, about 30% of its global total, within FY2015.
• Close and sell Ome Complex, the Japanese development base of PC and visual products.
• A 60.0bn yen [US$490m] cost for structural reform is forecast for FY2015.
• Reduce total fixed costs by more than 30.0bn yen [US$245m] in FY2016 against FY2015.
• Downsize global sales scale to 3 million units a year, and make the business profitable.

The split will happen in January, and be effective from April. A separate PDF of the reorganisation for the PC business alone suggests that it had sales in the year to March 2015 of 97.3bn yen (US$800m) and operating profit of 209m yen (US$1.7m) – which, on 3m PCs sold, would be an average price per PC of $266 and operating profit of $0.56 each.

Toshiba was the first company to produce a mass-market laptop, in 1985. Lots can happen in 30 years.
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How the online hate mob set its sights on me » The Guardian

Jon Ronson:

A train crashed in Philadelphia [in May 2015]. Passenger cars were ripped apart. Eight people died and 200 more were hospitalised. A survivor emerged from the wreckage and tweeted: “Thanks a lot for derailing my train. Can I please get my violin back from the 2nd car of the train?”

In the early days, Twitter was a place of curiosity and empathy. Back then, people might have responded to this woman: “Are you OK?” or “What was it like?” But that’s not how Twitter and Facebook responded in 2015. Instead, it was: “Some spoiled asshole is whining about her violin being on that Amtrak that derailed. People died on that train” and |“I hope the violin is crushed” and “I hope someone picks it up and smacks it against the train” and…

And worse. Much worse. But as Ronson asks, why are hate mobs so much quicker to form? Why are people being unpaid shaming interns for Twitter and Google too?
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Ericsson and Apple sign patent deal, settle litigation | Reuters

Olof Swahnberg:

Ericsson did not specify how much it would earn from the deal but estimated overall revenue from intellectual property rights in 2015 would hit 13 to 14 billion crowns ($1.52-$1.64 billion), including positive effects from the settlement with Apple, up from 9.9 billion crowns in 2014.

Investment bank ABG Sundal Collier said in a note to clients it believed the deal meant Apple would be charged around 0.5 percent of its revenue on iPads and iPhones by Ericsson.

Ericsson Chief Intellectual Property Officer Kasim Alfalahi said the agreement was broad, covering the latest 4G-LTE generation of mobile technology, as well as the earlier 2G and 3G technologies.

Quick settlement for a patent row: case was filed in January 2015.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: in yesterday’s links it said that Linux was vulnerable to the 28-backspace hack for passwords. That should be GRUB.

Start up: talking to Barbie, BlackBerry’s criminal approach, mobile theses, tracing bitcoin, and more


I know – it’s backspace, 28 times. Photo by totumweb on Flickr.

Oh, you could get each day’s Start Up post by email. But it’s email, isn’t it? Email.

A selection of 9 links for you. Apply topically. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Talking toys are getting smarter: should we be worried? » WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

Maybe the best way to understand whether these toys hinder imagination is to look at their underlying technology. From an interactive standpoint, Hello Barbie is basically a voice-activated Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, in that she gives children a limited number of choices as they go down the conversational path and has a finite, albeit vast, number of dialogue lines (8,000 in total, recorded by an actress).

Once you start talking to Hello Barbie, what you soon realize is that, although she can remember details—a child’s favorite color or whether she has a sibling—the doll is not a very good listener. Many of her questions are just setups to tell a scripted story. “If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?” she asked [test child] Riley before describing her own recent vacation. Sure, every now and then she invites Riley to chime in. (“It’s a warm day and my friends invited me to go to the beach. I’m not really sure what to wear. Um, maybe some mittens and a scarf?”) But ultimately, whatever the child says, Hello Barbie sticks to her script.

Despite Hello Barbie’s inability to participate in a child’s flights of fancy, the doll is programmed to extol the virtues of imagination. “I think it’s great to exercise your imagination and creativity!” she said to Riley. Also: “We love using our imaginations. We are so avant-garde!”

So the answer to the question posed in the headline is “not yet”. But not “not ever”. It feels very much like a slice from a Philip K Dick novella.
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Detect and disconnect WiFi cameras in that AirBnB you’re staying in » Julian Oliver

There have been a few too many stories lately of AirBnB hosts caught spying on their guests with WiFi cameras, using DropCam cameras in particular. Here’s a quick script that will detect two popular brands of WiFi cameras during your stay and disconnect them in turn. It’s based on glasshole.sh. It should do away with the need to rummage around in other people’s stuff, racked with paranoia, looking for the things.

Thanks to Adam Harvey for giving me the push, not to mention for naming it.

May be illegal to use this script in the US (not that that will stop people). Note how the sharing, trusting economy has its limits.
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Bypass Linux passwords by pressing backspace 28 times » Apextribune

Daniel Austin:

if certain conditions are met (mostly the proper version of the OS), pressing the backspace key 28 time in a row will cause the computer to reboot, or it will put Grub in rescue mode, Linux’s version of Safe Mode.

This will provide the would-be hacker with unauthorized access to a shell, which he can then use to rewrite the code in the Grub2 in order to gain full unauthorized access to the machine.

From this point, anything is possible, since the hacker would be able to do anything he wanted to the computer.

Vulnerable versions: Linux GRUB 1.98 (from 2009) through to the current 2.02 version. (Not Linux as said in earlier version of this post.)
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Tracing the Bitcoinica theft of 40,000 btc in July 2012 » YouTube

So 10,000 bitcoins were stolen from MtGox in July 2012. You thought bitcoin were untraceable? Not at all. Watch and learn. Though this doesn’t mean the people named here are guilty of theft (he said, covering himself against any potential libel).


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Activation lock checker » Apple

Before transferring ownership of an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, make sure Activation Lock has been disabled and the device is ready for the next user.

The implication there is that it’s for you, the seller, to do the checking that you’ve turned it off – but the protection is really for buyers to make sure they don’t get a hot phone.
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Competition is shifting to the high end » Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

Sony has abandoned PCs and continues to struggle in smartphones, HTC increasingly looks like it’s on its last legs as an Android vendor, Toshiba is considering spinning off its PC business, and Samsung’s smartphone business – once the poster child for success making Android phones – continues to slip. It sometimes seems as if the only vendors making Android phones and Windows PCs who aren’t struggling in some way are the licensors of the operating systems. And though we don’t have detailed financials for either company’s hardware business, they’ve both done it by focusing on selling premium devices at premium prices, and by tightening the integration between hardware and software.
What’s interesting is we haven’t seen any of the OEMs pursue this strategy. That likely reflects, in equal parts, a lack of capability and a lack of will, as these OEMs have neither the experience nor the desire to pursue the high end of the market. And yet it’s been clear for years that, while scale may be in the mass market, the margins are in the high end.

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16 mobile theses » Benedict Evans

We’re now coming up to 9 years since the launch of the iPhone kicked off the smartphone revolution, and some of the first phases are over – Apple and Google both won the platform war, mostly, Facebook made the transition, mostly, and it’s now perfectly clear that mobile is the future of technology and of the internet. But within that, there’s a huge range of different themes and issues, many of which are still pretty unsettled.

In this post, I outline what I think are the 16 topics to think about within the current generation, and then link to the things I’ve written about them. In January, I’ll dig into some of the themes for the future – VR, AR, drones and AI, but this is where we are today.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the title is a subtle reference to Martin Luther (though he rambled on for 95 theses), but it’s impossible to argue against any of these; they simply state the ground where the world now stands. The point about mobile being 10x larger as an ecosystem now than the PC is an important one, though not the only important one.
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August 2010: RIM’s Deal: Saudi Arabia Can Access BlackBerry User Data » DailyFinance

From August 2010, by Douglas McIntyre:

Saudi Arabia’s government announced it reached a deal with Research In Motion (RIMM) that will allow the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones to continue operating its service there. Under the agreement, RIM will put a server in the nation that will allow the government to monitor messages to and from Blackberries. All of RIM’s servers have been in Canada until now so the company could guarantee confidentiality for its customers though the encryption process on those servers.

According to several news sources, similar deals will probably be sought by other countries that have voiced concerns about the Blackberry encryption procedures. First among these is the United Arab Emirates, which threatened to shut down RIM’s services there on Oct. 11. India and Indonesia have also said they’re concerned about the RIM confidentiality system and their inability to track information that they claim may not be in the best interests of their governments.

Everyone’s a criminal, after all – they just need to work out what they’re guilty of. Now read on.
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The encryption debate: a way forward » Inside BlackBerry

John Chen, who is chief executive of BlackBerry, in December 2015:

For years, government officials have pleaded to the technology industry for help yet have been met with disdain. In fact, one of the world’s most powerful tech companies recently refused a lawful access request in an investigation of a known drug dealer because doing so would “substantially tarnish the brand” of the company. We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good. At BlackBerry, we understand, arguably more than any other large tech company, the importance of our privacy commitment to product success and brand value: privacy and security form the crux of everything we do. However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals.

BlackBerry is in a unique position to help bring the two sides of this debate together, to find common ground and a way forward. BlackBerry’s customers include not only millions of privacy-conscious consumers but also the banks, law firms, hospitals, and – yes, governments (including 16 of the G20) – that use our products and services to protect their highest value resources every single day. We stand as an existence proof that a proper balance can be struck.

We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests.

The “powerful tech company” Chen is referring to there is Apple, which has refused to cooperate in unlocking an iOS 7-powered phone in a federal case (which remains under seal). There’s a search warrant for the phone, which is locked.

Chen’s stance though is really surprising. He seems to be saying “sure, we’ll cooperate with the government if it asks.” But what if it’s the Chinese government? Or the Syrian government? And what’s the mechanism that lets BlackBerry cooperate? From iOS 8 onwards, Apple simply can’t decrypt a phone, no matter what access it gets. Is BlackBerry ceding that ground?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: the smartphone slowdown, AirBnB ‘racism’, malware Bibles, Google lobbies and more


No longer big in Japan. Photo by Chris Blakeley on Flickr.

I know, you could sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. But we’ll all be dead in 200 years, so why bother?

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

Revealed: how Google enlisted members of US Congress it bankrolled to fight $6bn EU antitrust case » The Guardian

Simon Marks (Brussels correspondent) and Harry Davies (special investigations correspondent):

• Google’s co-founder and CEO Larry Page met the then European commission chief privately in California in spring 2014 and raised the antitrust case despite being warned by EU officials that it would be inappropriate to do so.

• Officials and lawmakers in Brussels say they have witnessed a significant expansion of Google lobbying efforts over the past 18 months as the company faces increased scrutiny of its business activities in Europe.

• Google has employed several former EU officials as in-house lobbyists, and has funded European thinktanks and university research favourable to its position as part of its broader campaign.

Capitol Hill’s aggressive intervention in Brussels came as the European parliament prepared to vote through a resolution in November 2014 that called on EU policymakers to consider breaking up Google’s online business into separate companies.

Republican and Democratic senators and congressmen, many of whom have received significant campaign donations from Google totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaned on parliament in a series of similar – and in some cases identical – letters sent to key MEPs.

Lobbying is entirely fair play; it’s only stupid not to do it. Microsoft is certainly behind lobbying efforts against Google in the US and Europe. It’s the extent, and the subtlety, that’s so striking here.
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Apple names Jeff Williams chief operating officer » Apple


Apple today announced that Jeff Williams has been named chief operating officer and Johny Srouji is joining Apple’s executive team as senior vice president for Hardware Technologies. Phil Schiller, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, will expand his role to include leadership of the revolutionary App Store across all Apple platforms. Apple also announced that Tor Myhren will join Apple in the first calendar quarter of 2016 as vice president of Marketing Communications, reporting to CEO Tim Cook.

Interesting on lots of levels:
– Jeff Williams has been COO-in-waiting for some time now; this simply cements it.
– Srouji has been on the chip side; elevating him like this shows the importance of chip design to Apple’s future
– putting Schiller in charge of the App Store looks like the end of a mini-power struggle inside Apple. As Rene Ritchie of iMore pointed out on the Blerg podcast (you listened, right?) responsibility for the App Store was effectively split among three people – Schiller, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi.

Ritchie has a writeup on this change – definitely worth reading.
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Cyber sacrilege at Christmas: Android malware hiding in Bible (and Quran) apps » Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Security company Proofpoint isn’t revealing which exact Android apps are doing bad deeds, as it is going through the process of disclosure with the affected developers and vendors. It is instead revealing data on the number of malware or aggressive adware targeting the Google operating system. Proofpoint analyzed over 5,600 unique Bible apps (4,154 for Android and 1,500 for Apple’s iOS), including 208 that contained known malicious code and 140 were classified as “high risk” based on their behavior, all for the Android platform. Apple is evidently doing a good job of keeping out dangerous Bibles.

Kevin Epstein, VP of threat operations at Proofpoint, said those apps with known malicious behavior let attackers steal information from mobile devices, exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, possibly jailbreak or “root” a device, pilfer login credentials and communicate with IP addresses previously linked with rogue activity.

How is it that Apple is keeping out the dangerous ones, though? You’d assume it would be targeted just the same.
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Discrimation against Airbnb guests » Ben Edelman


In an article posted today, Michael Luca, Dan Svirsky, and I present results of a field experiment on Airbnb. Using guest accounts that are identical save for names indicating varying races, we submitted requests to more than 6,000 hosts. Requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names. The difference persists whether the host is African American or White, male or female. The difference also persists whether the host shares the property with the guest or not, and whether the property is cheap or expensive.

Discrimination is costly for hosts who indulge in it. Hosts who reject African-American guests are able to find a replacement guest only 35% of the time.

On the whole, our analysis suggests a need for caution. While information can facilitate transactions, it also facilitates discrimination. Airbnb’s site carefully shrouds information Airbnb wants to conceal, such as hosts’ email addresses and phones numbers, so guests can’t contact hosts directly and circumvent Airbnb’s fees. But when it comes to information that facilitates discrimination, including name and photo, Airbnb offers no such precaution.

You can read the draft paper. I’ve seen no coverage of it at all. Update: I overlooked The Verge’s coverage of the paper. Apologies. (Recall the similar paper studying discrimination by buyers on eBay from the other day too.)
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A botnet has been stealing billions through digital ads aimed at fake audiences » Social Media Today

Aaron Miles:

According to a recent report from ad-fraud prevention firm Pixalate, a sophisticated botnet has been leeching money from digital advertisers by serving up real ads to faked, highly-prized audiences. The botnet, nicknamed Xindi after some Star Trek bad guys, has, by Pixalate’s calculations, rung up something like 78 billion ad impressions so far. According to George Slefo of Adweek, Xindi “could cost advertisers nearly $3 billion by the end of 2016.”

The ingenious thing about the Xindi botnet is who it targeted. The infection was aimed at Fortune 500 companies, university computer networks, and other groups whose users are usually very sought-after by advertisers. Because the advertisers thought that they were reaching such a valuable audience, they were willing to pay much more, $200 per thousand impressions for some, which compounded the cost of the fraud and made things much more lucrative for the fraudsters.

The botnet also uses some sophisticated techniques to trick the protocols that normally check for ad fraud (see image below) and cover its tracks.

Billions of dollars. The scale is astonishing; and so is the ingenuity in how it evaded detection.
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Emojis are no longer cool in Japan » Slate

Matt Alt:

The very first emojis appeared on a handset sold by the company J-Phone (now Softbank) in 1997, but high prices kept it out of the hands of average citizens. The direct ancestors of the emoji we know and use today debuted in Japan in 1999. And now? “The emoji boom is over here in Japan,” says Shigetaka Kurita, the man widely credited with creating the adorable little runes. “They’re still around, they’re still pervasive, but they aren’t a fad anymore,” he says in his Tokyo office. He ventures that when Obama mentioned emojis on the White House lawn, “I suspect most Japanese people’s response was, ‘wow, emoji are still popular over there!?’ ”

Extra irony: lack of emoji stalled interest in the iPhone in Japan too. Now it’s one of its best markets.
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Elon Musk’s billion-dollar AI plan is about far more than saving the world » WIRED

Cade Metz:

We can’t help but think that Google open sourced its AI engine, TensorFlow, because it knew OpenAI was on the way—and that Facebook shared its Big Sur server design as an answer to both Google and OpenAI. Facebook says this was not the case. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. And Altman declines to speculate. But he does say that Google knew OpenAI was coming. How could it not? The project nabbed Ilya Sutskever, one of its top AI researchers.

That doesn’t diminish the value of Google’s open source project. Whatever the company’s motives, the code is available to everyone to use as they see fit. But it’s worth remembering that, in today’s world, giving away tech is about more than magnanimity. The deep learning community is relatively small, and all of these companies are vying for the talent that can help them take advantage of this extremely powerful technology. They want to share, but they also want to win. They may release some of their secret sauce, but not all. Open source will accelerate the progress of AI, but as this happens, it’s important that no one company or technology becomes too powerful. That’s why OpenAI is such a meaningful idea.

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The smartphone lifetime challenge » Bob O’Donnell


In a recent survey of over 3,000 consumers across five countries (US, UK, Germany, Brazil and China) conducted by TECHnalysis Research, consumers said they expected to replace their smartphones every 1.8 years. Now, on the surface, that seems fine, and probably in line with what people have done in the past. The problem is, in response to the same question about notebook PCs, people said they expected to replace those devices every 2.5 years.

In reality, however, notebook PC replacements occur closer to 5 years. In other words, people clearly aren’t good at estimating how long they plan to keep a device. To be fair, I don’t think smartphone replacement times will be double the 1.8-year lifecycle that they responded with, but I am certain they will be longer. And that is the crux of the challenge for the smartphone market.

As we saw first with PCs and then with tablets, once a market reaches the saturation point, then future growth becomes nearly completely dependent on refresh rate and lifecycle—how quickly (or not) you choose to upgrade what you have.

Things are going to get tight in the next few years in mature markets.
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Xiaomi plays down sales target » OmniFeed

Gillian Wong ad Eva Duo:

“This target [of 80m shipped in 2015, given earlier this year is not the No. 1 priority for us,” Mr. Lei said on the sidelines of the World Internet Conference on Wednesday in the Chinese city of Wuzhen, when asked if Xiaomi could reach its smartphone sales target. “What we care about the most is the rate of customer satisfaction.”

Mr. Lei played down the sales target, saying he was “constantly pushed by everyone” to give the figure earlier this year.

He said in a statement in July that Xiaomi sold 34.7m smartphones in the first half of the year. Xiaomi sold 61.1m smartphones in 2014 and 18.7m in 2013.

The “80m” number is actually a reduction from the 100m or so that Xiaomi was hoping for back in March.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: adbock in India, no ISIS internet?, Galaxy S7 hints, what else Adele CD buyers buy, and more


“Yeah, let me tell you about my previous job.” Photo by steveleenow on Flickr.

You could always sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Confirmation = no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. No cadmium was harmed in the making of this post. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

iPhone users in India embrace ad blocking: survey » Livemint

Dhanya Ann Thoppil:

iPhone users in India are warming up to the US phone maker’s move to introduce ad blocking on its devices, as mobile banner blocking gains grounds in one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world.

A recent survey by market researcher GlobalWebIndex shows that 42% of India’s iPhone 6 users use the software to block ads on their devices compared with a global average of 31%…

…“There’s a sizable audience who are likely to adopt a similar approach on their smartphones and this is a behaviour which could spread quickly across devices, which could spell the end of the mobile ad banner,” the survey said…

…India ranked fourth among the 34 countries surveyed by the market researcher—after Russia, Poland and Indonesia—in terms of adoption of ad block.

To be sure, Apple accounts for only a tiny share of India’s smartphone market. According to Counterpoint Research, Apple has a 1.5% share of the 190m smartphones sold in India thus far. Android-based devices accounted for 93% of the market.

Interesting split. Bandwidth is really expensive in India. But so of course are iPhones.
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Google CEO Sundar Pichai outlines plan to capture Indian market with free Wi-Fi, recruitment and faster access – but not Android One » IB Times

David Gilbert:

In 2016, there will be more people using Android in India than there will be in the United States. Very few of those however will be using Android One, Google’s specially engineered version of its mobile software for emerging markets. On Wednesday Sundar Pichai, the new CEO of Google, addressed a large crowd in New Delhi where he avoided mention of the failed Android One effort and instead focused on Google’s new three-pronged approach to get people online and at the same time put Android and Google search right at the heart of India’s internet revolution.

The new approach will see Google aggressively increase its recruitment of developers in the region; getting people online with free Wi-Fi and an initiative to get women to use the internet; and by making the experience of using the internet much better — even for those with limited connectivity.

The Hindustan Times report is here but Gilbert’s has better background. Notable from the HT story: in India, mobile search passed desktop search in May 2013 – about two years before more developed countries.
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No, you can’t shut down parts of the Internet » Errata Security

Rob Graham:

ISIS doesn’t have any “ASN” [Autonomous System Number] of their own. (If you think otherwise, then simply tell us the ASN that ISIS uses). Instead, ISIS has to pay for telecommunications links to route traffic through other countries. This causes ISIS to share the IP address space of those countries. Since we are talking about client access to the Internet, these are probably going through NATs of some kind. Indeed, that’s how a lot of cellphone access works in third world countries — the IP address of your phone frequently does not match that of your country, but of the country of the company providing the cellphone service (which is often outsourced).

Any attempt to shut those down is going to have a huge collateral impact on other Internet users. You could take a scorched earth approach and disrupt everyone’s traffic, but that’s just going to increasingly isolate the United States while having little impact on ISIS. Satellite and other private radio links can be setup as fast as you bomb them.

In any event, a scorched earth approach to messing with IP routing is still harder than just cutting off their land-line links they already have. In other words, attacking ISIS at Layer 3 (routing) is foolish when attacking at Layer 1 (pysical links) is so much easier.

You could probably bomb fiber optic cables and satellite links as quickly as they got reestablished. But then, you could disable ISIS by doing the same thing with roads, bridges, oil wells, electrical power, and so on. Disabling critical infrastructure is considered a war crime, because it disproportionately affects the populace rather than the enemy. The same likely applies to Internet connections — you’d do little but annoy ISIS while harming the population.

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Samsung adding pressure-sensitive display, high-speed charging port to Galaxy S7 » WSJ

Jonathan Cheng:

Next year’s flagship will look largely similar to the Galaxy S6, and many of the new features take cues from other handsets already available on the market.

The pressure-sensitive display, for instance, will be similar to that offered by rival Apple Inc. on the iPhone 6s earlier this year. The responsive display allows the phone to interpret different taps and touches depending on how the user presses on the touch screen.

The Galaxy S7 will likely also feature a next-generation charging and connection port called a USB Type-C port, the people said, which will allow for a full day’s charge in under 30 minutes and in some cases significantly faster than that. The port has already appeared in smartphones manufactured by LG Electronics Co., Huawei Technologies Co. and others.

The noncurved version of the Galaxy S7 will likely also include an external memory card slot, one of these people said.

The retina scanner, which the company is considering for some versions of the phone, would come after handset makers, such as China’s ZTE Corp., have included the feature on some smartphones. 

So let’s see – stepping away from the S6’s wireless charging and lack of microSD; adding in pressure sensitivity (and USB-C, of course). Samsung can’t seem to make its mind up what features are important.
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Samsung restores its PC business by establishing independent business team » ETNews

Han Juyeop:

[The] New PC Business Team will hire additional employees by end of this year and will reorganize product lines with the aim of releasing products in the second half of 2016. It will also newly develop premium PCs that will become the sign of all products and will lay out its strategy for expanding shipment in thre years from now after organization product lines. However modification on whom will be in charge of tablet business is not decided yet. There is a high chance that PC Business Team will be in charge of products based on Windows OS.

Samsung Electronics’ PC business that was almost going to bankrupt rapidly grew between 2009 and 2012. After it went over a hump by shipping 10 million PCs for the first time in 2010, its brand was in the top 10 in industries for the first time. In 2011, it shipped out 14.3 million PCs. While traditionally strong PC businesses such as HP and Dell were growing at an one-digit rate or going through de-growth, Samsung Electronics along with Apple and Lenovo increased their shipments by 20 to 30% every year. Samsung Electronics once presented a blueprint that it would become a top 3 global PC business in 2015.

However its PC business went downhill after IT Solution Business Department disappeared and as PC business was absorbed and combined to Wireless Business Department within IM Sector due to reorganization of group at the end of 2012.

The estimate is its PC shipments for 2015 will total about 3.5m, almost halved from 6m in 2014, and down from a peak of 15m in 2012. Finding its way back will be challenging.
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The EU data law’s effect on online advertising industry – Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

The European branch of the Internet Advertising Bureau’s (IAB Europe) interpretation of what has been released of the new rules so far identifies two key concerns: that the idea of “personal data” has now been widened, and that internet companies worldwide will now need to gain consent from European users before they use their data to serve targeted advertising to them. Furthermore, the raising of the digital age of consent to 16 from 13 could be hugely disruptive to companies that have strong teen user bases.

Townsend Feehan, the CEO of IAB Europe, the trade body that represents the European internet advertising industry, told Business Insider: “It’s the amputation of a significant revenue stream just at the moment publishers are having such a challenge in switching to digital.”

One of IAB Europe’s key concerns is that “everything” will now be considered personal data, according to Feehan. She added that the new rules include language suggesting that “some identifiers that could not possibly be used to trace back to an individual person” will be included under the “personal data” bucket.

Expect more popups, and agreement possibly hidden as small X marks or similar. Wonder if the US will take up this idea?
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Why Facebook still worries about Android » The Information

Amir Efrati:

Google’s future app notification filtering might be akin to the way Google automatically categorizes some Gmail email as “promotional” — advertising — or as spam, in which case it doesn’t even deliver the email to the inbox.

Several years ago Google began charging browser-based website owners like Yelp for using Google Maps on their sites, such as when visitors to Yelp located a restaurant. The rate Google charged depended on how much the sites used Google Maps. That caused an uproar and some website developers began using alternative mapping services like OpenStreetMap.

There’s no indication that Google is planning to start charging big mobile-app developers for using Google Maps on mobile or for using Google Cloud Messaging for notifications, especially given that Apple doesn’t charge developers for such privileges, either. But at Facebook, there was a sense that Google, under pressure to make money from Android, was interested in wringing some compensation out of Facebook.

Facebook is unique in its reliance on Android. It has upwards of a billion Android users and owns the two most-used mobile apps in the world, Facebook and WhatsApp, with two of its other apps, Instagram and Messenger, not far behind. As such, its app activity dwarfs that of other developers. In terms of advertising revenue, it generates more ad revenue from Android than any company other than Google itself.

The headline isn’t quite right; it should be “Why Facebook still worries about Google”. Android itself isn’t the concern. It’s what Google chooses to do with it.

The data about advertising revenue is a useful one, though.
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Hello from the shopping aisle: what (else) are Adele fans buying? » Nielsen


According to the HomeScan panel, Adele’s CD purchasers were more likely to be employed full time in professional/managerial roles and, as such, have higher than average incomes. Over 56% of them have household incomes of $70,000 (compared with 38% of total U.S. households) and 38% have household incomes of over $100,000 (compared with 23% of total U.S. households). With their higher incomes, they spend 48% more at retail than the general population: a total of $5,505 each year, compared with the average $3,713 for total U.S. households.

So what else is in these shopping carts? Adele CD buyers over-index for nonessential comfort/mood-related items—not unlike an Adele album—such as magazines, women’s fragrances, men’s toiletries, candles and incense, seasonal merchandise, cordials and liqueurs, and liquor. They also over-index for healthier food items like fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. They spent more dollars on computers and electronic products, health and beauty aids and hair care compared to other buyers of those items, suggesting they might not just be buying more but also be buying higher-quality, more expensive items.

They really spend heavily on electronics – 2.49x more than the average person, making that the biggest divergence from the average. No word on gender split, though.
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Is Adele really ‘dumb and uneducated’ and mean to her fans for keeping her album off Spotify? » Auddly

Helienne Lindvall:

XL Recordings left it up to Adele and her management to decide for themselves if the album would go on streaming sites. Though many more artists and songwriters would like to follow her lead, most of them are, however, at the mercy of their publishers, labels and PROs – companies and collecting societies that can afford to take a gamble on streaming, led by decision makers on salaries, unlike artists and songwriters. Likewise, when Spotify doesn’t make a profit, its employees still get paid every month.

This is why the music creators’ wishes may not always tally with their labels, publishers or PROs, but still needs to be respected. Some streaming proponents argue that artists “only” need 100 streams to equal the revenue of a single download (there are differing calculations on this with some claiming it’s more like a couple of hundred). It may not sound like a lot, but taking a look at my iTunes library it’s clear that not even my favourite records have reached that many listens – and I’m an avid listener. And what about Spotify users that don’t pay?

The elephant in the room, though, is YouTube. You can find the entire album there multiple times for “free”, with the top one having nearly half a million plays already. There’s no way to keep it off, either; you’d just be playing whack-a-mole. So while Adele’s decision is perfectly valid, it’s actually not changing the power balance that existed before streaming.
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Orifice Space » thewalrus.ca

Natalie Zina Walschots:

“I have to relabel all these asses. It’s going to take a thousand years.”

With less than an hour left in the workday, my boss opened his office door and spewed stress all over everyone in the content-creation department, located on the main floor of a squat office building in downtown Toronto. Grey carpet and beige walls, banks of cubicles on the lower floors and big offices with big windows for the executives above: this could be any content farm in the city.

All that sets my office apart from any other is that, instead of an insurance company or consulting firm, it houses an Internet pornography curator. We dozen or so staff writers share a space with customer service. Tech-support calls come from frantic, semi-erect subscribers unable to access our latest video uploads. The keywords for the content we generate comprise sex acts, positions, and assorted vulgarities: Rimjob. Doggy style. MILF. I once watched a co-worker Photoshop a porn star’s armpit stubble out of every single frame of a video in which it appeared.

So anyway, you were telling us about your tedious job that you hate. (Though this is not quite as good as – and is a lot shorter than – one of the internet’s Great Lost Treasures, the wonderful Diaries of a Porn Video Store Clerk; we’d would probably require Indiana Jones to unearth those, however.)
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Vulnerable parking apps allow hackers to steal your login and credit card details » Graham Cluley


Conducted by information assurance firm NCC Group, the assessment analyzed six parking applications for the Android operating system. Some of the apps had been downloaded from Google Play between 5,000 and 10,000 times, whereas others boasted one million registered users.

The number of installs for each app ultimately did not matter, however, as all of the applications were affected by security vulnerabilities.

According to an NCC Group blog post the review determined that while all of the apps used encryption to protect their customers’ sensitive information – something from which four major airlines should learn a lesson or two – not one verified the certificate used by the server.

Attackers could subsequently exploit this oversight to conduct man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, especially if the application used Android WebView and contained a bridge that could enable JavaScript running from WebView to access native device functions.

NCC didn’t look at iOS, which seems strange. As I understand it iOS 9 forces use of HTTPS, unless an exception is given, and checks the certificate except in particular circumstances. So if I’m reading this correctly, iOS 9 apps wouldn’t be susceptible to this MITM attack. Park safely!
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Apple’s QA question, the ChromeOS Pixel C?, racism on eBay, Dell’s revenue drop, and more


Why can’t China make good versions of these? Photo by superfem on Flickr.

What? Sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email? It’s madness, I tell you, madness.

A selection of 9 links for you. Now free of polonium. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Jobs and Apple’s iTunes gutted the music industry, Pandora CFO Mike Herring claims » Sydney Morning Herald


The chief financial officer of customising music streaming service Pandora, Mike Herring, has torn into iTunes, which had sold more than 35 billion songs as of last year.

No-one subscribes to Apple Music, Herring claimed in a conference call to investors about Pandora’s future, as reported by Billboard, even though the app exists permanently on hundreds of millions of phones.

“They spend a lot of their real estate on this phone trying to drive people to music,” Herring said. “You can’t even get it off – it’s like a permanent thing on there and still no-one subscribes.

“Well, I guess a few million people do but the reality is … to get people to choose to do that is a much bigger trick. You have to have a great product.”

Herring said Pandora was trying to bring back the music industry after a tough 15 years.

“I mean Steve Jobs eviscerated the music industry with the launch of iTunes and it’s been downhill ever since,” he said. “And the download was supposed to save it, that didn’t happen.”

“Now on-demand streaming is supposed to save it. We will see if that happens.”

Herring later apologised on Twitter for his comments and added “my own bone-headed comments don’t reflect Pandora’s perception of our partners at Apple”.

Pandora has 3.9m subscribers, and 79m users in total all in the US, according to Herring, speaking earlier in the conference call.
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Apple opens secret laboratory in Taiwan to develop new screens » Bloomberg Business

Neat scoop by Tim Culpan:

The Apple building in Longtan has at least 50 engineers and other workers creating new screens for devices including iPhones and iPads, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Apple has recruited from local display maker AU Optronics Corp. and Qualcomm Inc., which used to own the building, the people said.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple in Cupertino, California, declined to comment.

Apple began operating the lab this year as it aims to make products thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy-efficient. Engineers are developing more-advanced versions of the liquid-crystal displays currently used in iPhones, iPads and Mac personal computers, the people said. Apple also is keen to move to organic light-emitting diodes, which are even thinner and don’t require a backlight, they said.

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The Pixel C was probably never supposed to run Android » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

In our view, the Pixel C’s irregularities all have a single explanation: the Pixel C was originally a Chrome OS device.

Back in July 2014, a new “Ryu” board (a “board” is just a reference to “motherboard” — a Chrome OS device under development) popped up in the Chrome OS open source repository. Further trips through the Chrome OS source code revealed that “Ryu” had a light bar, USB Type-C connectors, an Nvidia Tegra SoC, and wireless charging. That sounds an awful lot like the Pixel C (especially the wireless charging, which is used to charge the keyboard via the tablet’s battery when closed).

Open up the Pixel C’s software and take a look at Android’s build.prop file—which lists all sorts of base information about the device—and you’ll see “ro.product.name=ryu” listed in the properties. Based on this commit, it’s safe to say that at one point Google was definitely developing Chrome OS for its new Android tablet.

It appears that the Pixel C was planned as launch hardware for a new, all-touch version of Chrome OS which at some point got cancelled — necessitating a switch to Android. The story is a lot more complicated than that, though. What follows is the best timeline we could piece together showing the Pixel C’s troubled development history.

As Amadeo points out, Digitimes – the Taiwanese paper which people love to laugh at – actually got this exactly right during the development process back in February: “runs Android in the tablet form and Chrome when attached to a keyboard”. Then the Chrome bit went bye-bye.
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Whites earn more than blacks — even on eBay » The Washington Post

Ana Swanson:

In a study published in October by the RAND Journal of Economics, Ian Ayres and Christine Jolls of Yale Law School and Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard looked at how the race of the seller affected 394 auctions of baseball cards on eBay.

Some of the postings were accompanied by a photo of the card held by a light-skinned hand, and some with the card held by a dark-skinned hand, as in the photos above. The study shows that the cards held by an African-American hand sold for around 20 percent less than the cards held by Caucasian sellers.

In addition, the cards that were held by the African-American hand actually ended up being worth more, suggesting they should have sold for more than the other batch. That is, when the researchers added up how much they had originally paid for all of the cards sold by the black hand versus the white hand, the first total was larger.

Clever experiment design. Depressing result. Clear lesson: hide your hand in eBay photos.
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17: Worrying Apple trends with guest Russell Ivanovic » The Blerg podcast

Chris Lacy:

Guest Russell Ivanovic joins me to discuss a variety of Apple’s not-so-great recent trends. We dig into a great many of the warts increasingly appearing around Apple’s ecosystem, including the experience when first running a device, the less than universally acclaimed new Apple TV remote, the stagnant App Store and app review process, general product stability and more.

We also chat about Apple’s ever expanding and confusing product lines, Jony Ive’s accountability, as well as discussing Apple’s trend to make their cheapest product versions less appealing than was previously the case.

I’ve never linked to a podcast before, but this one, by Lacy and Ivanovic (who are both very experienced developers – Ivanovic on both iOS and Android), is really worth listening to. Many of their complaints hit home, because as Lacy says, it’s about the customer experience: if Apple neglects that, as in the experience of logging on to the new Apple TV, then what has it got? Should be required listening for Apple executives.

There’s also a followup episode, in which Rene Ritchie of iMore joins Lacy and refutes some of the points (ie, provides evidence that disproves them, not just saying “nah nah nah”) – though for others he simply says “yup” and explains why things (like the Apple TV logon) are a mess. A disclosure: I’ve previously appeared on The Blerg to talk about premium Android.
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Dell’s finances show revenue decline, similar to rivals’ » WSJ

Robert McMillan:

Dell’s revenue declined by 6% year-over-year to $14bn in its quarter ended in July. However, unlike competitors such as IBM and the former Hewlett-Packard Co., which in November split into separate corporate-computing and PC-and-printer companies, Dell’s revenues were up in the company’s fiscal year ended January 2015, rising 5%.

“Dell has executed well. We’ve invested wisely to drive growth, and we’re pleased with our performance,” said David Frink, a company spokesman.

Dell has paid off $4.5bn in debt over the past two years, but those payments left the company with less cash than it had when it traded publicly, and the move to private management hasn’t boosted profit. During Dell’s fiscal 2015, the company’s operating profit totaled $3.2bn excluding charges. In 2013, that figure was $4bn.

“These numbers reinforce that it is going to be a highly leveraged transaction,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. He believes that Dell will assume a sizable debt of $51bn to conclude the deal.

“It is no surprise that they’re looking to try to sell some assets,” he said.

The purchase of EMC was always going to be a python swallowing a cow, but the python seems to be smaller and the cow a lot bigger than we thought. This could turn into a horrible mess.
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Tormented Texas plumber sues dealership over ‘jihad’ truck » LA Times

Matt Pearce:

A year ago, Mark Oberholtzer was down in Corpus Christi, Texas, when his secretary called to tell him the news:

One of his old plumbing trucks had been hijacked by jihadists.

On social media, a Syrian rebel group had posted a photo showing a black 2005 Ford F-250 — except now the plumber’s truck was thousands of miles away, armed with a large antiaircraft gun.

In the photo, an enormous flame burst from the muzzle as a rebel fired the gun from the bed. The words MARK-1 PLUMBING, plus the Texas City business’ phone number, were still clearly visible on the side of the truck, looking as if Oberholtzer had placed a NASCAR-style endorsement on militants in Syria.

If it isn’t happening to you, it’s funny. For him, it’s a nightmare, including death threats. He’s seeking $1m in damages (of course) from the dealership he sold the truck to in October 2013.
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Why can’t China make a good ballpoint pen? » Marketplace.org

Rob Schmitz:

After [Chinese premier Li Keqiang] grumbled about Chinese pens last June, state-run broadcaster CCTV devoted an hour-long program to the topic, a talk show where three CEOs of China’s most innovative and successful manufacturers sat onstage alongside a host. Sitting nervously at a table in front of the studio audience was Qiu Zhiming, president of one of China’s largest pen manufacturers. Qiu explained to the other CEOs that China supplies 80% of the global market for pens.

The core technology of each pen — the stainless steel ball and its casing — is imported from Japan, Germany, or Switzerland, said Qiu. Only Switzerland, he said, has a machine with the precision required to make the best ballpoint pen tips. China, Qiu said sadly, hasn’t developed a machine like this.

Dong Mingzhu, the CEO of Ge li (Gree), a Chinese air conditioner manufacturer, frowned at Qiu from her perch onstage.

“Think about it. How much money have the foreigners made from us because they have better technology?” asked Dong. “You don’t have this technology and they’re taking your profits! You know what I’m going to do? I’ll have my best people make you a machine like the Swiss have! I’ll make it in a year and sell it to you for half the price!”

I am honestly surprised that there aren’t machines in China capable of making the balls to the correct tolerances. Schmitz’s piece points to more widely felt unease among manufacturers in China: the home market isn’t sufficiently rewarding.
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The $75,000 problem for self-driving cars is going away » The Washington Post

The problem being the initially expensive LIDAR (laser interferometry detection and ranging) systems that the SDCs use to figure out where they are, and what’s around them, as Matt McFarland explains:

Velodyne and other players in the self-driving space are delivering drastically cheaper LIDAR, suggesting the price of the sensors won’t hold back the rollout of autonomous driving.

“Our customers are telling us they want it to be below $100, that’s kind of the roadmap we’re working from in the back of our mind,” Eggert said.

Velodyne is developing a sub-$500 LIDAR sensor, the VLP-32, that it says will be powerful enough for high-level assisted driving, and autonomous driving. (It declined to reveal exact technical specifications.) Velodyne has development contracts with two manufacturers, one in North America and one in Japan, to deliver the sensor in the first four months of 2016.

And the new sensor isn’t going to be a hulking piece of equipment either. It’s small enough that some players have expressed interest in putting the sensor in vehicle side mirrors. Others may put it on the roof, the easiest way to get a 360-degree view.

Quanergy chief executive Louay Edlada believes LIDAR will cost below $100 in five years. It’s releasing a solid state LIDAR — meaning none of the parts move — next month for $250.

That’s $75,000 to $250 in about eight years – halving in price every year. (Is it a Moore’s Law system?)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple v Samsung redux, Twitter hacks, hating Trump, zombie phones?, and more


Wichita roads don’t necessarily go in straight lines endlessly. Photo by fables98 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.

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Samsung’s patent loss to Apple is appealed to Supreme Court » The New York Times

Steve Lohr:

On Monday, Samsung, the Korean electronics company, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that the legal framework for design patents — at the center of the suits between the companies — is outdated for the modern digital world. The issue at stake, Samsung says, extends well beyond the courtroom skirmishes of the two large corporations.

The case, if heard, could have far-reaching implications for design patents, which cover how a product looks, and the sort of financial penalties allowed under the law. Design patents are far less common than utility patents, which cover how a product functions.

The legal framework for design patents, according to Samsung, some other major technology companies and legal experts, is largely shaped by a 19th-century law intended to protect the designs of carpets, fireplace grates and ornamental spoons.

Back then, the design was the heart of such products, so seizing most or all of the gains of a copycat — known as the “total profit rule” — was justified. But today, a complex product like a modern smartphone is a dense bundle of intellectual property with more than 100,000 patents conceivably laying claim to some small aspect of the phone.

This strikes me as a nonsensical argument. Carpets, fireplace grates and spoons have technologies that you can’t see embedded in their design and production; cutlery, for instance, often consists of welded pieces, with plating. But it’s how it looks (and to a lesser extent feels) that affects purchasing decisions. If someone copies the wasp-waisted shape of a Coke bottle for their non-Coke product, buyers will grab it off the shelf without caring about the industrial processes by which the contents were made. But Coke’s design patent (should it have one) on the bottle shape is still infringed.

Samsung got dinged because it intentionally made its phones look like Apple’s. How the phones functioned is essentially invisible to users; it isn’t queried at the point of sale, and literally nobody has the expertise to query the differences between the functional differences of two similar-looking products from different companies. (If you have a persuasive counter-argument, please make it in the comments.)

It will be good to hear a Supreme Court decision, though. But it won’t even decide whether to hear the case before February 2016.
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Slow business: Samsung Electronics unlikely to recover in operating profits until Q1 next year » BusinessKorea

Jung Suk-yee:

Samsung Securities Co. said on Dec. 13 that it trimmed Samsung Electronics’ operating profit forecast for the fourth quarter by 300 trillion won (US$253.91m) to 6.8 trillion won (US$5.76bn) from the previous 7.1 trillion won (US$6.01bn) estimate due to sluggish sales in its component business. Hwang Min-sung, an analyst at Samsung Securities, said, “With a slump in the semiconductor and display businesses from falling demand for PCs, Samsung Electronics is likely to show sluggish growth in its component business. Its growth in profits, which remained low in the third quarter last year, will slightly decrease.”

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State Sponsored Attack: Twitter member list » Jens Kubieziel


StateSponsoredAttack2015: A public list by Jens Kubieziel. Several Twitter users got a warning from @twitter about a state sponsored attack in late 2015.

See if you can figure out any link between these people. I only know one of them, Runa Sandvik, directly. They were all warned that “state sponsored” hackers may have tried to break into their Twitter accounts.
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Asustek, Gigabyte motherboard shipments to drop 10% in 2015 » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

With demand for PC remaining weak, Asustek Computer and Gigabyte Technology are both expected to see their brand motherboard shipments drop 10% on year, each shipping around 17 million units in 2015, while other small players will see much worse declines in the year, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS), Micro-Star International (MSI) and Biostar are seeing losses from their motherboard businesses, while China-based Onda reportedly will gradually phase out from the industry in 2016. The sources believe the global motherboard shipments will drop another 10% on year in 2016, forcing more motherboard players to quit.

When you see stories about falls in PC shipments, you often get comments that “that’s because everyone’s building their own”. That requires motherboards. If motherboard shipments are falling, clearly that’s not what’s happening. Motherboard shipments seem, in total, to be equivalent to about 15% of PC shipments for the year, but that ratio has remained pretty much the same for years; and shipments are falling in line with those of PCs.

So colour me unconvinced that PC shipments are falling because “everyone” is building their own PC.
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The curious case of the curious case » Daring Fireball

John Gruber on Apple’s “pregnant” iPhone battery case:

Patents, by the way, are a non-issue regarding the Smart Battery Case’s design. A well-placed little birdie who is perched in a position to know told me that Nilay Patel’s speculation that the unusual design was the byproduct of Apple trying to steer clear of patents held by Mophie (or any other company for that matter) are “absolute nonsense”. This birdie was unequivocal on the matter. Whether you like it, hate it, or are ambivalent about it, this is the battery case Apple wanted to make.

Well, that’s that one shot down. Notice how a source at Apple would talk to Gruber, but not to Patel (who did ask Apple for comment; he got no response on or off the record). This either means better-cultivated sources or favouritism by Apple. Discerning the difference between the two is pretty much impossible from the outside, but if you were Patel, senior editor at The Verge – which takes itself seriously as a “technology news” website – you’d wonder why (and be frustrated that) your contacts weren’t better.
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iOS Shortcomings » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks has a few gripes with iOS, but this one, about Profile Pictures, seems like the one that would be the most useful:

You know how 90% of your contacts, probably more, don’t have a profile picture assigned to them? And you know how iOS thinks this is a pretty important part of life? We need to fix this, and that shouldn’t mean I have to go through my contacts and assign pictures, or snap pictures of people when I am out and about. I got away with that in 2007 when the iPhone was new, but now it is just creepy.

Sure I could sync with Twitter, or Facebook, but why should I have to give them control of my contact data just to do this? I would love for iOS to have a button inside my contact details to “request profile pic from contact” this would be a system level feature where once the other user approves it, the contact picture currently assigned to themselves is sent back and put in place. Boom, done. One tap from me, one tap from them, and we can move on with our lives.

It would also be neat if the first time you contacted this person, you sent an approval request then to get your profile picture and they approve right then. This would be less odd — “oh, Ben got a new iPhone I see, now he wants pictures from everyone…”

Profile pictures are surprisingly effective; we recognise faces almost at once when they’re familiar, which isn’t the case with text – and iOS abbreviates them to initials anyway which take a lot of decoding.
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Why rural roads sometimes have mysterious detours » Travel + Leisure

Geoff Manaugh:

When the Dutch photographer Gerco de Ruijter arrived earlier this year for an artist’s residency at Wichita’s Ulrich Museum of Art, he noticed something strange while driving to a friend’s house outside of town. At several points, the rural road he was on came to an abrupt halt at a T intersection in the middle of nowhere, requiring a quick zigzag to continue on the same road. The detour could be anywhere from a few dozen yards to nearly half a mile, but, in every case, there was no visible reason why the road should shift at all. This wasn’t the urban street grid of Wichita, throwing a few random twists and turns de Ruijter’s way. It was the large-scale grid of the country itself—those huge squares of agricultural land visible from airplanes—seemingly gone haywire.

De Ruijter soon learned that these kinks and deviations were more than local design quirks. They are grid corrections, as he refers to them in a new photographic project: places where North American roads deviate from their otherwise logical grid lines in order to account for the curvature of the Earth…

…“It did not take long for legislators to understand that a township could not be exactly six miles on each side if the north-south lines were to follow the lines of longitude, which converged, or narrowed, to the north,” explains landscape architect James Corner in Taking Measures Across the American Landscape. “The grid was, therefore, corrected every four townships to maintain equal allocations of land.” This added up to a detour every 24 miles, from sea to shining sea.

link to this extract


Attacks on Trump just make these voters like him more » The Washington Post

David Weigel:

Over three hours Wednesday in Alexandria, Luntz lobbed dozens of Trump-seeking missiles. All 29 in the group had voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. All either supported Trump or had supported him earlier in the year. To [Republican media consultant Frank] Luntz’s amazement, hearing negative information about the candidate made the voters, only a few of whom gave their full names to the press, hug the candidate tighter.

“Normally, if I did this for a campaign, I’d have destroyed the candidate by this point,” Luntz told a group of reporters when the session ended. “After three hours of showing that stuff?”

If Republican strategists struggle to understand the mechanics of this… it begins to look like a virus of the mind. But the point might have a more general relevance: what happens when you have people whose demonstrably wrong ideas (ie, that Trump’s claims have any basis in truth – which is easily verifiable) are fixed such that appeals to both reason and emotion fail to change them?
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Massive DDoS attack on core internet servers was ‘zombie army’ botnet from popular smartphone app » IB Times

Anthony Cutherbertson:

“There are smartphone apps with more than 100 million users that are known to be spying on us,” [John] McAfee [yes, THAT John McAfee] tells IBTimes UK. “It is trivial to build a free app which gets its ideas from a central source. As to who may have done this, I always look to those who have the most to gain or who have the largest axe to grind. The majority of the domain servers are controlled by U.S. interests – three are controlled by the US government. Who has the largest axe to grind? Isis. Who has the most to gain? Isis. Isis certainly has the technical capability to write a popular app. But I have no direct evidence.

“If there were 100 million users of an app, only 0.1% of the phones would have to be activated in order to achieve the effects that we saw. I have not yet identified the app, and it may be multiple apps. But this is as serious as it gets. We have absolutely no defenses in place to counter this threat. If the perpetrators had activated a mere order of magnitude more phones we would have lost the internet.”

I think it’s more likely that the DDOS (5m queries per second, 50bn queries in two days) was caused by poor configuration somewhere – whether of a hugely popular app, or a timeserver, or an app trying to ping a timeserver – than ISIS/IS/ISIL/Daesh trying to bring down the internet.
link to this extract


“By my ATM skimmers!” » YouTube

My Russian is nonexistent, but this is reckoned to be someone who builds ATM skimmers touting for work. See for yourself. Also, it’s scary how hard it is to spot.


link to this extract


In what conditions would you expect a power-law distribution curve to emerge? » Quora

Just following on from my 90:9:1 speculation, this is about what and how power laws distributions (and log-normal distributions, which are almost but not quite the same) emerge.

This by Justine Moore from Facebook seems pertinent:

When I think of the difference between power-law and log-normal (and take this with a grain of salt, I’m no expert), I think of log-normal as a bunch of independent simple factors combining to drive a final outcome, where in a power-law, the factors feed on themselves (a big city draws people in, making it bigger).

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

Start up: Radiohead v Prince, the ad crunch, Surface Pro review, and more


Yahoo took the net away from its programmers. Guess what happened. Photo by dotanuki on Flickr.

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

TouchArcade needs your help, please support our Patreon » TouchArcade

Eli Hodapp, editor-in-chief of the site (which set up in 2008 to report on iOS gaming:

The continued shift to user acquisition as the main method of promoting a title has had a dramatic impact on the iOS gaming ecosystem. Aside from mid-sized developers being squeezed out, with advertising revenues reaching non-existent levels, iOS enthusiast sites have been forced to make difficult decisions. Without financial support from developers buying advertising, some sites have closed. The few that remain have significantly downsized, drastically reduced their content output, shifted to writing about more general topics in hopes of attracting more search traffic, and/or changed focus to becoming an events companies. TouchArcade, being the largest site, is the farthest up the proverbial river, but the drought has reached us too and even our continued existence is in question.

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Why are we still putting up with scam ads and fake news stories? » Medium

Rob Leathern:

Today, on the front page of Yahoo, a fake news article ad ran using Robert Downey, Jr.’s likeness (red box below), and pointed to a fake version of the Discovery Channel website (“discoverymagltd.com”). The site then also included fake endorsements from Roger Federer, Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig.

Recently, I saw a fake news story “ad” on Facebook using the likeness of The Rock, and a fake version of the TMZ website, that I pointed out to him. He correctly pointed out:

@robleathern @facebook @TMZ Unreal how far people will go to scam others. We’re on it and thank you bud for bringing it to our attention

These scammers hide behind anonymous domains and half-witted affiliates, but honestly, any somewhat-skeptical ad operations person should be able to immediately see and shut down something like this very quickly before it ever sees millions of users. And yet it persists. Click rates for these fake stories are incredibly high.

The online ad industry’s incentives are totally screwed up, and it leads to the kinds of deceptive dreck that profilerates everywhere today.

Leathern is working on a solution, at least.
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90:9:1 – the odd ratio that technology keeps creating » The Guardian

I wrote about something I’ve observed:

What do operating systems, browsers and search engines all have in common? It seems to be a ratio of 90:9:1 between the key players. One player dominates; then others get a minimal share.

Take mobile OSs: This week the Mozilla Foundation pulled the plug on Firefox OS – the mobile OS which could have replaced native apps with HTML-based apps – a final death throe in the mobile OS wars. There are now three main platforms – Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone – for which worldwide shipments are currently running in a ratio of about 85:14:1 respectively.

Now look at desktop OS sales: the ratio stands in the most recent quarter at about 91:8:1 between Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s Mac OSX, and “self-build” machines which probably get Linux.

It’s oddly reminiscent of the “1% rule” – a rule of thumb observed as far back as 2006, which states that if you have a group of 100 people interacting online, then one will generate some content, nine will provide feedback, and 90 will simply consume it. (Studies have broadly confirmed that principle.)

I’m not saying this is a hard and fast rule – I cite two large-scale exceptions in the piece – but I feel there’s something behind it, perhaps based on network effects and power laws.
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Why the internet of things favours dominance » The Guardian

Julia Powles and Jat Singh, in July 2015:

For the moment, all these approaches tend towards centralisation – whether towards operators of closed systems, controllers of particular ecosystems, or systems integrators for “open” systems. Data flows too, tend to be centralised, even when they needn’t be. So it seems that concerns about dominance, power, and control in the internet of things are based on solid ground – the end-user’s controls are left to whoever controls the centralised environment.

So, is there a way out? Perhaps, given the internet of things is still evolving. But the path to countering the strong forces favouring dominance is far from easy.

I hadn’t thought of this piece when I wrote about 90:9:1, but it suggests that IoT will see a similar trend.
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Yahoo’s engineers move to coding without a net » IEEE Spectrum

Tekla Perry:

What happens when you take away the quality assurance team in a software development operation? Fewer, not more errors, along with a vastly quicker development cycle.

That, at least, has been the experience at Yahoo, according to Amotz Maimon, the company’s chief architect, and Jay Rossiter, senior vice president of science and technology. After some small changes in development processes in 2013, and a larger push from mid-2014 to the first quarter of 2015, software engineering at Yahoo underwent a sea change. The effort was part of a program Yahoo calls Warp Drive: a shift from batch releases of code to a system of continuous delivery. Software engineers at Yahoo are no longer permitted to hand off their completed code to another team for cross checking. Instead, the code goes live as-is; if it has problems, it will fail and shut down systems, directly affecting Yahoo’s customers.

“Doing that,” Rossiter told me, “caused a paradigm shift in how engineers thought about problems.”

It has also, he said, forced engineers to develop tools to automate the kinds of checks previously handled by teams of humans. An engineer might go through an arduous process of checking code once—but then would start building tools to automate that process.  

This is really counterintuitive; you’d expect it would cause all manner of problems. But of course it shifts responsibility down to the programmers. Yahoo has been running like this for a year (insert “who would notice?” joke) and the benefits seem clear.
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The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks tried out Microsoft’s offering to see if it would trump his iPad Pro. It didn’t:

It’s not that this device is bad — [though] the battery life and [third-party] apps are — but it’s that the device is disappointing. Using it, you can see how great it truly could be, but it doesn’t even come close to living up to that.

It’s not a tablet in any sense, which is fine, but it’s also not a great laptop either. I can’t see recommending the Surface Pro 4 to anyone. You are better off buying a full laptop, one which can hopefully handle simple Google Hangouts. You are better off with an iPad too. That will likely incite a great many fans of the device, but as it stands right now there is too much missing, which can be had for the same or less cost than you can get with the Surface Pro 4.

The iPad Pro will cost you the same, but you will get an App Store full of amazing software and a battery that can actually last through a full day of work.

He liked the hardware, a lot, but found the software sub-par and RAM-hungry.
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“Creep” – Prince at Coachella 2008 (Uploaded via Permission from Radiohead) » YouTube

Miles Hartl finally appealed to Radiohead (because it’s their song, so they own the copyright, including performance copyright) to get this song unblocked on YouTube. It got a million views in 48 hours:

Watching live footage of Prince is what let the joy of performing music into my life. Buying his albums can not and will not convey the contagious, jaw dropping, astonishing, spontaneous aura of awesome that oozes from every pour of this man’s being on stage. Some of you vehemently disagree, and that’s fine…free speech all the way. But for me, this was the fountainhead. Every time I watch Prince play guitar I get the urge to practice for hours. The 22-second sustained note on the Coachella performance of “Shhh” that you’ll never see…yeah, that changed the way I looked at my instrument and what is was capable of. The transcendent wonder that is the “Just My Imagination” solo from Small Club…that taught me the difference between playing and singing. The Digitech Whammy work on “3 Chains ‘O Gold”…eight years on and I still can’t make it sound like that. Every solo ever taken on “The Ride,” “Purple Rain,” “Redhead Stepchild,” “She’s Always in My Hair,” “Peach,” “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” “Joy in Repetition”…I can’t tell you the joy they’ve brought me, nor convey the lessons they’ve taught that I wouldn’t have found by looking in a different direction.

And if Prince had his way, I never would have been able to learn from any of it. Because it would either be posted and deleted within days (at best), streamed once at four a.m. and never seen or heard again, or would be locked in a dungeon at Paisley Park until the 22nd Century.

So here it is.


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Is Apple’s Smart Battery Case so goofy because it was designed around Mophie’s patents? | The Verge

Former patent lawyer Nilay Patel:

Mophie has tons of patents on the design and functionality of these things. Reading through a few, it’s hard not to see Apple’s case as being deliberately designed around Mophie’s patents — including that unsightly bulge.

Here, for example, is Mophie’s patent #9,172,070, which was just granted on October 15th. The first claim lays out, well, a Mophie battery case — and any other case that has all of these (paraphrased) elements would infringe on Mophie’s patent:

1. A lower case that contains a battery and sides that extend along a mobile device, with internal and external power connectors, and an on / off switch.

2. A removable upper case.

So really any case where a phone slides into the bottom case and there’s a cap on top infringes this one. You will note the Apple case is just a single piece, with a top portion that flops back instead of coming off. More elegant, in some ways, but perhaps more importantly, also outside the claims of this patent.

Patel’s is the most sensible analysis I’ve read around this entire topic. (Apple wouldn’t comment when he asked if this was why.)
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How fast is the iPad Pro? » DISPLAYBLOG

Jin Kim:

I recently started capturing videos of our church’s sermons. I’ve been using my iPhone 4s with an olloclip telephoto lens that gives me a 2x optical zoom. In 720p mode a 50-minute video takes up about 4-5 GBs. Capturing the video is no problem, even for an old iPhone 4s. (Capturing 50-minute long 720p videos on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 on the other hand is a pain — I couldn’t do it because of file size limitations. I’m sure there is a solution out there, but I think regular users who just want to record long videos will give up.) What takes a lot of computing time is adding title pages, transitions, and then exporting it.

On a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro (mid-2009) with 4GB RAM and a 5400RPM 1TB hard drive using the GeForce 9400M GPU the exporting part takes about 3 hours. This is using Final Cut Pro X…

…On a whim, I decided to try editing on iMovie on my iPhone 6s. I don’t require a lot of editing — just adding a couple of title pages, some transitions, and a bit of zooming in — and iMovie, after watching a few YouTube tutorials, was sufficient for my needs. What was surprising was how quickly iMovie exported. I’d say it took about 10 minutes.

Quite possibly anomalous, but makes you think: where devices are optimised for particular formats, you can see a big delta in time taken.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: damn internet fridges!, getting hacked, the coming phone shakeout, PGP doubts over “Satoshi”, and more


This was when the fridge calendar worked. Photo by Kaeru on Flickr.

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The joy of getting hacked » Waxy.org

Andy Baio:

A quick ‘top’ revealed that MySQL was pegging the CPU, so I logged into the MySQL console and saw that a dump of the database was being written out to a file. This was very unusual: I never schedule database backups in the middle of the day, and it was using a different MySQL user to make the dumps.

Then I noticed where the mysqldump was being written to: the directory for a theme from a WordPress installation I’d set up the previous month, an experiment to finally migrate this blog off of MovableType.

This set off all my alarms. I immediately shut down Apache and MySQL, cutting off the culprit before they could download the dumped data or do any serious damage.

I’d recently updated to the latest WordPress beta, and saw that the functions.php file in the twentysixteen theme directory was replaced with hastily-obfuscated PHP allowing arbitrary commands to be run on my server through the browser.

I’ve had this sort of experience in the past – also with WordPress. It’s a total pain.

Baio points out though that the real weakness was probably not WordPress, but PhPMyAdmin, which is even worse in terms of security vulnerabilities. If you’re running it, delete it.
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China’s hippest smartphone maker warns shakeout will get worse » Bloomberg Business

Shai Oster:

OnePlus, based in Shenzhen, is aiming for similar glory. After originally requiring customers to get an invitation before buying a phone, OnePlus is dropping that approach to broaden its appeal and raise its brand awareness in the U.S., Europe and India. The company says it earned $300m selling nearly 1m phones last year, but won’t reveal figures for this year.

Sales have increased to about 1.3m units worldwide in the first nine months of this year, with 57% sold in the Asia Pacific region, according to Jensen Ooi, an analyst at IDC Corp.

“2016 is the year that a lot of people will be exposed to OnePlus,” Pei said, adding that the company is spending money on promotions like a pop-up store in New York’s Times Square to advertise their brand.

The trouble is that almost no one is making money in smartphones these days except Apple. That company alone gobbles up some 90% of industry profits.

“No one is going to get rich off smartphones in the short term,” he said.

OnePlus is probably making more money than HTC.
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November 2014: Can’t sign in to Google calendar on my Samsung refrigerator » Google Product Forums

Kris Spencer (apparently):

I have a Samsung RF4289HARS refrigerator.  The Google calendar app on it has been working perfectly since I purchased the refrigerator August 2012.  However, with the latest changes in Google Calendar API, I can no longer sign in to my calendar.  I receive a message stating ” Please check your email in Google Calendar website”.  I can sign in fine on my home PC and have no problem seeing the calendar on my phone.  Perhaps this is a Samsung issue, but I thought I would try here first.  Has anyone else experienced this problem and what was the solution?

Yes, other people certainly had experienced this problem. The solution? Er.. well, here’s a post from 18 November 2015:

After 2 years, I still cannot access my Calendar on my Samsung HRS4289……It says cannot connect to the server. I just got done with Samsung and they say, if it needs a software update, it will ‘come’…..that’s a freaking joke. I have software 2.550 loaded……Is there something I need to do to reestablish my calendar??…..this is so ridiculous. I’m more of a yahoo person and not really too familiar with google calendar except I did have it up and running…Ii do have a google calendar account….and it should be talking. Please be specific if there’s something I need to do. I’d really appreciate it. Very frustrating.

Anyhow, do tell me more about your plans to build an internet fridge – the ultimate zombie product.
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Satoshi’s PGP keys are probably backdated and point to a hoax » Motherboard

Sarah Jeong:

there’s one really big problem with the case for Craig S. Wright as Satoshi: at least one of the key pieces of evidence appears to be fake. The “Satoshi” PGP keys associated with the Wired and Gizmodo stories were probably generated after 2009 and uploaded after 2011.

We say keys, because there are two entirely different keys implicated by Wired and by Gizmodo. And neither of them check out.

There is only one PGP key that is truly known to be associated with Satoshi Nakamoto. We’ll call this the Original Key.

Before we continue, we should note that the PGP keys are just one piece of the puzzle. When asked for comment, Gizmodo editor Katie Drummond said that the keys “are just one (relatively small) data point among many others, including in-person interviews and on-the-record corroboration.”

But the keys are important because they’re not just plain suspicious, there’s evidence of active, intentional deception with respect to the keys. (Wired’s Andy Greenberg pointed out that this was already in line with their article, which notes that Wright may have engaged in an elaborate, long-running deception).

Urgh. So much work, and a detail like this seems to sink it (although read on; key creation dates can be faked). The element that made me (as a journalist) wonder about the original story was that the details were leaked by someone who claimed to have “hacked Satoshi”. Really? And yet the characters in the story – far-flung, credible – equally point strongly to it being correct. That sort of detail doesn’t happen coincidentally.

Also, Leah Goodman – who wrote the original “not quite” Satoshi story – says the “hack” was being touted to journalists aggressively this autumn, apparently from a disgruntled employee of the latest “Satoshi”.
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The dangers of setting VR expectations and valuations too high » Forbes

Anshel Sag:

One report by Juniper Research forecasts 30m head-mounted display (HMD) shipments by 2020. That expectation includes a projection that 3m HMDs will ship by 2016 driven by video and gaming use cases. My biggest problem with this projection is that there is no one combination of players that can ship 3m units. Even taking Oculus, Sony, Samsung Electronics , and HTC Valve and all their HMDs [head-mounted displays] into account, the prices and volumes simply won’t be there for 3m units in 2016.

The reality will be much closer to 1 to 2 million units in 2016, and most of those will likely be Samsung Electronics’ Gear VR headsets, since the latest version will be shipping for $99 and be compatible with all of Samsung’s latest high-end phones. Oculus doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity or the price point (around $400-$500) to drive enough volume to help reach 3m units. The same goes for the Vive; they aren’t targeting to make it a high volume product. While we don’t know the price yet, we know it’s going to be more than the Oculus Rift and that will affect volume on its own, not to mention the fact that you need quite a bit of space to set it up. Sony and Samsung are the only two companies that really have the knowhow to potentially ship enough units to hit the million mark.

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The global village and its discomforts — Design Fictions » Medium

Fabien Girardin suggests that new technologies bring their own anxieties with them:

Social network platforms act as an extension of our social practices. Like with any technological extension we are right to be fascinated by its power and scale. However, we too frequently choose to ignore or minimize the ‘amputations’ and implications they produce.

Or as French cultural theorist Paul Virilio would argue: “The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”

For instance, our capacity to record every moment of our lives comes with the high vulnerability of digital data. In fact, no machine can today read a 15 years old hard drive. It is ironic that we have the technological means to record and share our social lives, yet we all might suffer one day from ‘digital amnesia’.

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Can Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes fend off her critics? » Bloomberg Business

Sheelah Kolhatkar and Caroline Chen:

Theranos isn’t the only diagnostic company to provide scant details on its technology. “The process has been suboptimal across the industry, but now I think we’re at the crossroads,” [John] Ioannidis [professor of medicine at Stanford, and author of a 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”] says. “Theranos caught my attention early on because they had such vibrant media stories. Other companies just don’t make such claims. Today it’s Theranos. Tomorrow it may be another company.” He adds: “If you get the wrong test result, you could go down a path that could really destroy your life.”

Holmes says the company’s era of secrecy is over, and it’s inviting outsiders, including reporters, to try the tests for themselves. (For the record, the finger prick feels like a finger prick.) In December, she says, a group of independent medical experts will spend two days in Theranos’s lab to examine the technology, the data, and the regulatory filings, and can then talk publicly about what they found.

Looking forward to that. It would be fantastic if Theranos actually does have a super-cheap blood test; it could make a vast difference to diagnosis. But are the odds in its favour?
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Focus by Firefox: content blocking for the open web » The Mozilla Blog

Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla’s chief legal and business officer:

We want to build an Internet that respects users, puts them in control, and creates and maintains trust. Too many users have lost trust and lack meaningful controls over their digital lives. This loss of trust has impacted the ecosystem – sometimes negatively. Content blockers offer a way to rebuild that trust by empowering users. At the same time, it is important that these tools are used to create a healthy, open ecosystem that supports commercial activity, instead of being used to lock down the Web or to discriminate against certain industries or content. That’s why we articulated our three content blocking principles

…we’ve based a portion of our product on a list provided by our partner Disconnect under the General Public License. We think Disconnect’s public list provides a good starting point that demonstrates the value of open data. It bases its list on a public definition of tracking and publicly identifies any changes it makes to that list, so users and content providers can see and understand the standards it is applying. The fact that those standards are public means that content providers – in this case those that are tracking users – have an opportunity to improve their practices. If they do so, Disconnect has a process in place for content providers to become unblocked, creating an important feedback loop between users and content providers.

Disconnect is the company whose product was banned from Google Play for “interfering with” other apps. Disconnect formally complained in the EU in June, but hasn’t apparently done so with the FTC in the US.
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EU explores whether Google, Yahoo should pay for showing online news snippets » Reuters

Julia Fioretti:

The European Union is looking into whether services such as Google News and Yahoo News should pay to display snippets of news articles, wading into a bitter debate between the online industry and publishers.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, said on Wednesday it will consider whether “any action specific to news aggregators is needed, including intervening on the definition of rights.”

The move came as Brussels unveiled plans to loosen copyright rules in the 28-member bloc in order to allow citizens to watch more content online.

Dubbed the “Google Tax”, making online services pay to display news snippets has sparked fierce opposition from both the tech industry and some publishers.

Can’t see it ending well for those who want payment. It’s like banning people from deep linking: sounds great to people who haven’t used the internet.
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Samsung, Micromax planning to discontinue 2G phones » Times of India

Writankar Mukherjee & Gulveen Aulakh:

Samsung and Micromax, the leading sellers of smartphones in India, are planning to discontinue so-called 2G phones and focus on devices that run on faster 3G and 4G networks as prices have dropped sharply for such handsets in the past year. Then there’s the Reliance Jio effect.

“The focus has shifted to 4G phones with telecom operators launching such services,” said Micromax Informatics chief executive officer Vineet Taneja. “4G models already account for 30% of our portfolio with 14 models and will increase to 20 by March.”

The imminent launch of 4G services by Reliance Jio Infocomm has prompted incumbents Bharti Airtel and Vodafone to launch their own high-speed networks in anticipation of competition. That coupled with falling prices has almost wiped out demand for handsets running on 2G.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: AI for your app, quantum computing works?, Yahoo’s future, Watch watch, and more


Firefox OS: heading rapidly for the exit. Photo by Wojciech Szczęsny 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.

How predictive APIs simplify machine learning » ProgrammableWeb

Louis Dorard:

App developers are always looking for ways to make the lives of their users easier and for ways to introduce innovative features that help users save time. For this reason, Machine Learning (ML) has been increasingly popular in app development. Classical examples include spam filtering, priority filtering, smart tagging, and product recommendations. Some people estimate that Machine Learning is now being used in more than half of a typical smartphone’s apps. Because of the new functionality gained by these apps, we can talk of “predictive apps,” a term coined by Forrester Research which refers to “apps that provide the right functionality and content at the right time, for the right person, by continuously learning about them and predicting what they’ll need.” 

If you’re writing an app that would fit that description, this is a great primer.
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Mozilla will stop developing and selling Firefox OS smartphones » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

Firefox OS was first unveiled in 2013, with the aim of targeting the developing world and late adopters with low-cost handsets.

To differentiate from Android and iOS, Mozilla and its carrier partners focused on a web-first platform, with no native and only web apps. Sales, however, were always poor and the devices themselves failed to ignite a lot of consumer interest, and a number of OEMs cornered the market with a flood of cheap handsets. In a business that depends on economies of scale, it was a failure.

Mozilla has been on a streamlining track lately. Last week it announced that it would be looking for alternative homes for its Thunderbird email and chat client. The aim is for the company to focus more on its strongest and core products and reputation.

Came really late to the game, and never made table stakes – an app ecosystem – because it didn’t think that that table was right. Apps trump the mobile web.
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Drones save over two hundred people in Chennai floods » DRONELIFE


A senior officer of the Chennai police said that the force has deployed drones in several of the most unreachable neighborhoods, and have been able to locate as many as 200 people, rescuing all of them.  The search and rescue operation sends drones up from a control vehicle.  The aerial images obtained are then sent to a control room, where staff reviews footage and pinpoints affected homes and people.  When a rescue site is identified, the control room communicates with teams of volunteers nearest to the location through wireless walkie-talkie, sending rescue workers to retrieve victims stranded in their homes.

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Controversial quantum machine bought by NASA and Google shows promise » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Hartmut Neven, leader of Google’s Quantum AI Lab in Los Angeles, said today that his researchers have delivered some firm proof of that. They set up a series of races between the D-Wave computer installed at NASA against a conventional computer with a single processor. “For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up,” said Neven.

Google posted a research paper describing its results online last night, but it has not been formally peer-reviewed. Neven said that journal publications would be forthcoming.

Google’s results are striking—but even if verified, they would only represent partial vindication for D-Wave. The computer that lost in the contest with the quantum machine was running code that had it solve the problem at hand using an algorithm similar to the one baked into the D-Wave chip. An alternative algorithm is known that could have let the conventional computer be more competitive, or even win, by exploiting what Neven called a “bug” in D-Wave’s design. Neven said the test his group staged is still important because that shortcut won’t be available to regular computers when they compete with future quantum annealers capable of working on larger amounts of data.

Been a long time coming, but this is just starting to look promising. Hell, even if it’s off by a few orders of magnitude, it’s amazing.
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What’s going on at Yahoo? Here are seven things worth knowing » BuzzFeed News

Mathew Zeitlin draws up the list, in which No.1 and No.5 are the important ones:

Here’s the deal. Yahoo’s current market value is about $32.9bn.

This is much less than the value of the things it owns. Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $32.4bn, and its stake in Yahoo Japan is worth about $8.7bn. It also has $1.3bn in cash and about $5.5bn in other securities, and $1.2bn in debt. All that adds up to around $46bn.

So if the market values Yahoo at $33 billion, does that imply the actual Yahoo business — the websites, the apps, the digital advertising tech — is worth less than zero?

Not quite — and here is where those tax issues come into play. Yahoo’s investments in Japan and China have all gained value massively over the years, and all that is subject to taxes if it’s sold. Hedge fund Starboard Value estimates the tax bill on Alibaba shares put their true value to shareholders at around $19.6bn; the Yahoo Japan stake would be worth around $5.3bn.

Once you take those taxes into account, it looks more like Yahoo investors are valuing its actual business at a little over $2bn. That’s a figure that has been promoted by activist investor Starboard Value, as well as analysts at Nomura and Pivotal Research.

And now No.5:

There may be cooler kids on the block these days, but Yahoo still has a massive presence on the web.

According to ComScore, Yahoo has a global audience of 618 million — the fourth largest of any company, behind only Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. In the U.S., Yahoo’s 211 million desktop and mobile unique visitors make it the third biggest destination, behind Google and Facebook.

“Our overall network including Tumblr continued to serve a global user base of more than 1 billion monthly active users,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a recent earnings call. Facebook, in comparison, has over 1 billion daily active users. In terms of headcount the two are comparable: Yahoo has 10,700 full-time employees, while Facebook has about 12,000.

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Android returns to growth in Europe’s big five Markets » Kantar Worldpanel

Carolina Milanesi:

“As the holiday season approaches, it appears smartphone upgrades are on Santa’s list, with 14% of EU5 smartphone owners planning to replace their current device with a new one in the next three months,” Milanesi said. “Among those consumers, 25% said they prefer Apple, while 38% said they prefer Samsung. Among Apple owners in the EU5 planning to upgrade over the next three months, 79% said they prefer Apple, while 62% of Samsung owners planning to upgrade say they prefer Samsung.”

High retention rate for Apple; less so for Samsung. But Samsung has more users overall, because it sells more phones. (Leaky buckets.)

What’s not visible is the general trend; iPhone sales, on this data, are trending faintly upwards in the mature markets such as the EU5 and US and China.
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Time ticks on chances of the Apple Watch catching on » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

The pollsters quizzed 1,017 Britons over the age of 15. They found 66% were aware of smartwatches. Awareness was down to 60% among respondents aged 35 and older, and to 57% among the lowest three social and economic groups.

Only 2% said they owned a smartwatch, down to 1% among those over 35. The poll showed 43% believed people did not need a smartwatch; but that doesn’t mean 57% of people believe you do need one.

Similarly, 24% saw a smartwatch as a gimmick, but that’s not an indication that 76 per cent regard it as a life necessity.

Possibly the glummest news for enthusiasts was that only 6% of the smartwatch-aware were likely to buy one in the next year.

So, unless I’m reading the figures wrongly, enthusiasm for this kind of wearable technology is several degrees below lukewarm.

Wearable technology, in general, hasn’t proven its worth to the general population. Then again, smartphones didn’t prove their worth to the general population for quite some time either – about three years from the launch of the iPhone. I’d love to see a comparative study from that time. (Links welcome.)
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Apple’s secrets about the iPhone were revealed during Samsung lawsuit » BGR

Yoni Heisler looks back to what came out in the 2012 trial during the discovery phase, particularly in the documents revealed to either side. How about the kickstand idea for the original iPad?

Yeah, perhaps you can guess how long Steve Jobs would let that one live.
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June 2015: Which phone has the best battery life? 5 top smartphones tested and compared » Trusted Reviews

Andrew Williams, in June 2015:

For every phone we review, we perform battery tests. There are benchmarks, and just using the phone to see how long it really lasts in daily use. This combo gives you a good idea of how long any phone will stay awake between charges.

But it’s fallible.

All sorts of things can affect battery life, especially when you’re out and about using the thing. So we decided to get all the big phones of 2015 together and give them a thorough going-over with some real-life-related tests to see which phone really is the longest-lasting.

Which phones? We’ll be checking out the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4 and HTC One M9. After all, they’re the most desirable phones of the year.

Remarkable results (on video loops, web browsing, film over Wi-Fi, music in the background). Enjoyable comments too saying “but the battery is reporting it wrong!” Which might, actually, be correct. But probably isn’t. (Via Ian Betteridge.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: