Start up: hedge funds like AI, Facebook’s close separation, what if Twitter died?, BlackBerry cuts, and more

A break like this, affecting the home button, is probably going to lead in time to an #error53 fault if you don’t get it repaired by Apple. But what causes it, exactly? Photo by wZa HK on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Will AI-powered hedge funds outsmart the market? » MIT Tech Review

Will Knight:

Anthony Ledford, chief scientist of MAN AHL, explains that the company is exploring whether techniques like deep learning might lend themselves to finance. “It’s at an early stage,” Ledford says. “We have set aside a pot of money for test trading. With deep learning, if all goes well, it will go into test trading, as other machine-learning approaches have.”

Trading might seem like an obvious place to apply deep learning, but actually it isn’t clear how comparable the challenge of finding subtle patterns in real-time trading data is to, say, spotting faces in digital photographs. “It’s a very different problem,” Ledford admits.

Academic experts also sound a note of caution. Stephen Roberts, a professor of machine learning at Oxford University, says deep learning could be good “for extracting hidden trends, information, and relationships,” but adds that it “is still too brittle with regard to handling of high uncertainty and noise, which are prevalent in finance.”

You just know that this isn’t really going to work, but also that it’s going to be used by a ton of funds to try to get ahead of the market – a market composed of other funds also trying to use the same processes.
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iOS security – iOS 9 or later » Apple

Let’s try to get on top of this #error53 stuff:

During an iOS upgrade, iTunes (or the device itself, in the case of OTA software updates) connects to the Apple installation authorization server and sends it a list of cryptographic measurements for each part of the installation bundle to be installed (for example, LLB, iBoot, the kernel, and OS image), a random anti-replay value (nonce), and the device’s unique ID (ECID).

The authorization server checks the presented list of measurements against versions for which installation is permitted and, if it finds a match, adds the ECID to the measurement and signs the result. The server passes a complete set of signed data to the device as part of the upgrade process. Adding the ECID “personalizes” the authorization for the requesting device. By authorizing and signing only for known measurements, the server ensures that the update takes place exactly as provided by Apple.

The boot-time chain-of-trust evaluation verifies that the signature comes from Apple and that the measurement of the item loaded from disk, combined with the device’s ECID, matches what was covered by the signature.

These steps ensure that the authorization is for a specific device and that an old iOS version from one device can’t be copied to another. The nonce prevents an attacker from saving the server’s response and using it to tamper with a device or otherwise alter the system software.

To recap, with #error53, people who have had third-party replacements of screens and/or home buttons on the iPhone 6/Plus and 6S/Plus (but not the 5S) find that it works fine – though they can’t use TouchID (it’s greyed out as an option). But when they do an OS update, the phone bricks: can’t get data, can’t restore.

So my understanding of this is: the reason why devices which have had third-party replacement parts only brick after an OS update, yet work fine before it, is this: on trying to install the update they connect to the auth server. The server decides that the cryptographic measurements no longer match what it has on record. So it decides the chain of trust is broken, and effectively shuts down the device.

But it’s poor decision-making by Apple, and equally poor communication. Why doesn’t it happen on the 5S? Update: because the 5S doesn’t have NFC for Apple Pay. (Thanks, Andy.) What’s the process that Apple uses when it does the repair to revalidate the TouchID system (which fails even with valid parts)? Why can’t the system tell that it’s just TouchID that’s affected? The safety process has overshot its requirements. Every part of what happens makes sense from a security perspective  – but not if considering that many people will get third-party repairs.
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Three and a half degrees of separation » Research at Facebook

How connected is the world? Playwrights, poets, and scientists have proposed that everyone on the planet is connected to everyone else by six other people. In honor of Friends Day, we’ve crunched the Facebook friend graph and determined that the number is 3.57. Each person in the world (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook) is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people. The average distance we observe is 4.57, corresponding to 3.57 intermediaries or “degrees of separation.” Within the US, people are connected to each other by an average of 3.46 degrees.

Our collective “degrees of separation” have shrunk over the past five years. In 2011, researchers at Cornell, the Università degli Studi di Milano, and Facebook computed the average across the 721 million people using the site then, and found that it was 3.74 [4,5]. Now, with twice as many people using the site, we’ve grown more interconnected, thus shortening the distance between any two people in the world.

Apparently my average is 3.26 so ya boo. Zuckerberg is 3.17. Sheryl Sandberg is 2.92 – blimey.
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On your cute release notes » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks:

We’ve all seen them. Notes about a fictional engineer who was hired and then fired. A cute story about something completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. Recipe for ‘squash bug soup’ or something along those lines.

With disturbingly increasing frequency, companies are deciding to let their marketing departments handle their release notes instead of the engineering team or product manager.

And we are all worse off for it.

As a user I mostly look at release notes to find out about one (or more) of three things:

• Have you added something new to the app which will make it better for me? That is: what are the new features, what do those features do, and perhaps how do I get to them.
• Have you fixed that bug which was making the app hard for me to use, perhaps even impossible for me to use? Aka: What bugs did you fix?
• How active is development on this app? Before I invest or move to most apps I look at recent release notes to get a sense of whether they are in maintenance mode (just major bug fixes), or under some kind of active development (minor bug fixes and feature releases, optimized for current version of iOS, etc).

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BlackBerry cuts 200 jobs in Ontario and Florida to trim costs » Reuters

Alastair Sharp:

The layoffs will affect 75 manufacturing jobs in Sunrise, Florida, a state government website showed.

The company also confirmed that Gary Klassen is one of the people who has departed in the latest round of cuts. Klassen was one of its longest-tenured employees and the inventor of its BBM messaging service.

One source familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said many of the Canadian cuts were people working on its BB10 handset software at its Waterloo, Ontario, headquarters.

A spokeswoman for BlackBerry declined to comment on which divisions will be affected by the cuts, but said the company stood by its commitment to release further updates on its BB10 software.

BB10 is so, so dead.
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“Dangerous ramifications” » Medium

Rohin Dharmakumar, with some examples of things that didn’t happen:

In January 2015, users of Microsoft’s Office in India were suddenly greeted with a pop-up asking them to “Support Microsoft Office”. The Indian government under PM Narendra Modi was said to be formulating an “Open Source Policy” under which all government offices were to either mandate or prefer open-source software for official work.

Clicking the “Support Office” button caused Microsoft to send the PMO and the Ministry of IT a letter from the user’s name with a pre-determined format. It said the user’s loved Microsoft’s products and wanted their government interactions to be based on the same. “I urge you not to ban Microsoft Office,” it ended.

The same message popped up on users of various Microsoft products in India – Windows, XBox, Windows Phone, Skype etc.

Within a few weeks, over 7 million emails had been sent in support to Microsoft.

“Support Monsanto”

In January 2014, farmers in the southern Indian state of Karnataka were surprised to see a notice attached to every bag of seed they bought from Mahyco, the market leader.

“Tell the Karnataka Govt. not to ban MMB”, said the notice. MMB was Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech, the joint-venture that licensed Monsanto’s crop technologies in India.

He has some more examples of things that didn’t happen – and then one which did.
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Why most A/B tests give you bullshit results » Mixpanel

We’ve all seen the articles. Company X increases conversions 38% with this simple trick. Hell, I’ve written some of them.

But those success stories have hidden the grey underbelly of testing and experimentation.

AppSumo revealed that only 1 out of 8 tests produce results. Kaiser Fung estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the A/B tests he’s run yield statistically insignificant results.

Yet many new testers walk into A/B testing thinking it’ll be quick and easy to get results. After running a handful of simple tests, they think they’ll find the right color for this button or the right tweak to that subject line, and conversions will, poof, increase by 38% like magic.

Then they start running tests on their apps or sites, and reality suddenly sets in. Tests are inconclusive. They yield “statistically insignificant” results and no valuable insights about the product or users. What’s happening? Where’s that 38% bump and subsequent pat on the back?

Don’t get frustrated. If you’re going to be running A/B tests, you’re going to have some tests that fail to produce meaningful results you can learn from. But if you run good tests, you’ll have fewer failures and more successes.

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Advice for companies with less than one year of runway » The Macro

Dalton Caldwell:

Let’s imagine that you are the founder of a company that has successfully raised an angel or institutional round and are currently in a situation where you have 12 months or less of runway.

The hardest part of dealing with a low runway situation is managing your own psychology. You have to simultaneously manage your own anxiety to not be overly negative about your prospects, but also not be irrationally positive. It’s a delicate balance.

Watch companies do the various things in this post over the next year or so.
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Technology: the rift with reality » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

With so many [virtual reality] headsets hitting the market this year, the challenge may be figuring out what people will do with them. Video games are seen as the first popular application, and some are experimenting with VR versions of films including The Martian. Futuresource Consulting believes the VR content market could be worth $8.3bn within four years.

Beyond entertainment, advocates say these headsets could transform education, travel, real estate and architecture, not to mention videoconferencing and social networking. Some inside Uber are worried that Oculus could one day prove disruptive to their business by removing the need for people to travel. Why hail a taxi when you can teleport?

“Whenever a market is this early, you have to have strong convictions loosely held,” says Nabeel Hyatt, a venture partner at Spark Capital, which also backed Oculus. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That uncertainty provides fertile ground for entrepreneurs. “There will be billion-dollar companies started by college students because someone gave them a Rift as a present and they solved a very specific problem,” says Anjney Midha, a partner at KPCB Edge.

However, as any sci-fi reader knows, new technologies have inherent risks, too. The futures depicted in Ready Player One and Snow Crash are dystopian and chaotic.

In December, academics led by Christian Sandor of the Nara Institute, Japan, wrote that “true augmented reality”, where the digital is indistinguishable from the physical, “will be the most powerful medium that humanity ever had at its disposal”.

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What if Twitter Died? » Tech.pinions

Bob O’Donnell:

this seems to be one of the fundamental problems of Twitter. It’s appealing to Hollywood, TV, music and sports celebrities as a means to interact more intimately with their fans and share the kinds of details they’d never provide to traditional celebrity media. It’s appealing to the tech industry as a mouthpiece for those who want to determine the course of what is or isn’t important. The digital taste-setters, so to speak.

But for mainstream business and consumer users? Not so much. Arguably, this is the biggest problem with Twitter—it can’t seem to stretch beyond its celebrity, celebrity follower, and tech roots. If you aren’t into celebrities or the tech industry, Twitter just isn’t that appealing, especially given all the other options for online social interactions.

Despite these points, I think the navel gazing value of Twitter to the tech industry is so high, I seriously doubt they’ll let Twitter actually die. Someone with enough money and enough self-interest will likely make sure that, no matter what, Twitter will continue in some shape or form. Eventually, it’s value may start to fade, as some have already started to argue, but at least the Twittersphere will have a few years to adapt and find new alternatives.

The fundamental challenge is a publishing service that’s essentially based on self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and self-importance at some point is going to run into the wall of indifference. Not everyone cares to read about what the self-elected are all doing all the time.

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Yahoo loses mobile entrepreneur Arjun Sethi to venture firm » WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:

Mr. Sethi helped lead Yahoo’s effort to compete with Facebook Inc.FB -2.29% and Snapchat Inc. in the emerging area of mobile chat apps. Last July, his team released Livetext, a mobile app that lets users send live video and text without any sound.

Livetext failed to take off with users. In its first month, the program dropped out of the ranking of the 1,000 most popular apps in Apple Inc.’s app store and never returned, according to data from App Annie.

Yahoo’s struggles to produce a hit mobile app has hurt Ms. Mayer’s chances at turning around the 20-year-old Internet icon. This week, Yahoo said its board is weighing “strategic alternatives” to the turnaround which likely include a sale of its core Web business…

…Mr. Sethi is one of dozens of startup founders Ms. Mayer brought into Yahoo through a series of small acquisitions. In her three-and-a-half years as CEO, Yahoo has spent more than $2.3bn on at least 53 acquisitions, largely for small mobile-software developers whose apps were shuttered and whose founders were enticed to work on new projects at the company. At least 26, or over one-third, of the more than 70 startup founders and CEOs who joined Yahoo through an acquisition during Ms. Mayer’s tenure have left the company, according to their profiles on LinkedIn Corp.

As has also been pointed out, Yahoo last week wrote down the value of those acquisitions by $1.2bn. The idea of a video app without sound appears dumb, but then again lots are like that; but Instagram, Facebook and Vine were all there ages earlier. Yahoo’s problem is that it’s late and has no traction in mobile, not that the ideas are of themselves bad.
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Sacked in Dublin by a boss in… London » Private Eye

Private Eye is always anonymous:

Google’s claim that all its real business is handled through its European HQ in Dublin while its multiple UK offices exist merely to count the paperclips, organise staff leaving collections and do the morning coffee run is further undermined by evidence it gave to an employment appeals tribunal in the Irish capital in 2013.
Rachel Berthold had been sacked in May 2011 from a position as a “level six” manager, which the tribunal heard put her in the top 7% of employees in Google’s Dublin office.

Anne-Catrin Sallaba, her former boss as Google Europe’s Head of Publisher Services, gave evidence to the tribunal that Berthold had failed to meet performance targets – but Sallaba had to cross the Irish sea to do so, given that as Berthold’s line manager she was employed in, er, London.

Berthold was eventually awarded €100,000 for unfair dismissal. Sallaba has in the meantime been promoted twice, and now rejoices in the job title “Senior People Development Manager, Head of Global Onboarding” – still in London!

As it happens, Matt Brittin of Google UK will be testifying before the UK Parliament this week.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

3 thoughts on “Start up: hedge funds like AI, Facebook’s close separation, what if Twitter died?, BlackBerry cuts, and more

  1. Pingback: February Payments Newsletter | Drop Labs

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