Start up: sexism in funding, Powa struggles, China’s smartphone rat race, Apple software, and more

Good password on paper

A bit dated? Doesn’t matter, password crackers are after you. Photo by Simon Lieschke on Flickr.

It’s a secret, but you can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Tell no one.

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

VCs- don’t compare me to your wife, just don’t » Medium

Sarah Nadav:

Investors, you should know that the only thing that I have in common with your wife is a vagina. You need to know that because the women who are sitting in front of you to pitch are Entrepreneurs – and we are a totally different breed of human being than just about anyone else.

Your wife may or may not be an entrepreneur. But the extent to which she is founding a company is the extent to which I have something in common with her.

When you ask me about having it all, or how am I going to manage my kids, I seriously think that you are insane. Because in my head, I can’t imagine a scenario where you trust someone with millions of dollars to run a business but think that they don’t know how to deal with childcare.

Oh, but you have to read the message exchange with one venture capitalist about A Woman’s Place. According to him it definitely isn’t in the boardroom.
link to this extract

 


China smartphone market sees its highest shipment ever of 117.3m in 2015Q4 » IDC

Shipments grew 8% year-on-year in the quarter:

“Xiaomi, Huawei and Apple are the top smartphone players in 2015. This is a stark contrast to the top players in 2013, which was Samsung, Lenovo and Coolpad – with Samsung clearly dominating other players. With operators reducing smartphone subsidy and given the volatility of consumers’ brand preference in the market, the smartphone scene has changed significantly since then,” says Tay Xiaohan, Senior Market Analyst with IDC Asia/Pacific’s Client Devices team.

“Xiaomi entered the market at a time when the China smartphone market was still growing, and was able to capture a significant market share with its disruptive sales model. Huawei, with its investments in R&D, strong products, branding and channel connections, saw it having significant growth in 2015. Apple, on the other hand, continues to be a strong and desirable brand in the eyes of the Chinese consumers. With the Chinese market now slowing down, it is unlikely that we will see any new players making a big impact on the smartphone market compared to the way Xiaomi did in the previous years,” adds Ms. Tay.

So the door is shut to new entrants. Remember that scene in Skyfall where Javier Bardem is describing rat removal to James Bond? (Here’s the link if you’d forgotten.) The smartphone business in China now turns into that scenario.
link to this extract

 


The superhero of artificial intelligence: can this genius keep it in check? » The Guardian

Clemency Burton-Hill on DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis. The interview with him is OK – though mostly dead-bat responses from him – but I thought this was more indicative of the challenge, and potential for the company:

Upstairs, wrapping the original building, is a modern open-plan structure featuring a deck with undeniably magnificent views of London’s rooftops.

It’s up here, on Friday nights, that the DeepMinders gather for drinks. One employee describes the ritual to me enthusiastically as a way “to end the week on a high”. Socialising is an intrinsic way of life: I’m told of the DeepMind running club, football team, board games club. (“That one gets pretty competitive.”) A wall chart with moveable photographs indicates where everyone is hot-desking on any given day. It’s aggressively open-plan. The engineers – mostly male – that I pass in the corridors shatter the stereotype of people working in the nerdier corners of human endeavour: these guys look fit, happy, cool. A certain air of intellectual glamour, it has to be said, vibrates in the atmosphere. And no wonder. The smartest people on the planet are queuing up to work here, and the retention rate is, so far, a remarkable 100%, despite the accelerating focus on AI among many of Google’s biggest competitors, not to mention leading universities all over the globe.

“We’re really lucky,” says Hassabis, who compares his company to the Apollo programme and Manhattan Project for both the breathtaking scale of its ambition and the quality of the minds he is assembling at an ever increasing rate. “We are able to literally get the best scientists from each country each year. So we’ll have, say, the person that won the Physics Olympiad in Poland, the person who got the top maths PhD of the year in France. We’ve got more ideas than we’ve got researchers, but at the same time, there are more great people coming to our door than we can take on. So we’re in a very fortunate position. The only limitation is how many people we can absorb without damaging the culture.”

link to this extract

 


Powa Technologies missed staff and contractor payments » FT.com

Kadhim Shubber and Murad Ahmed:

Powa has raised about $175m, mainly from Boston-based investment fund Wellington Management, which the company says values it at $2.7bn.

Its headquarters are spread over two floors in what Mr Wagner called in one of the videos “the opulent surroundings” of Heron Tower, a skyscraper in the heart of City of London. A person with knowledge of the matter said that Powa could be paying as much as £2.5m a year.

When Powa was founded in 2007, it planned to develop a mobile payments system. More recently it has focused on its PowaTag product, a mobile platform that allows people to buy and order a product by photographing an image of it with their mobile phones.

Mr Wagner has predicted that the business will be bigger than Google or Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce group. “What we’re building here is the biggest tech company in living memory,” he told the Financial Times in April last year.

But in the video to staff, Mr Wagner said that the company was “basically pre-revenue”, a term that refers to a lack of sales. “As we go forward from here that revenue will start to flow in meaningful ways but right now it isn’t,” he said.

link to this extract

 


Dan Lyons’ HubSpot book ‘Disrupted’: a few predictions » BostInno

Kyle Alspach on the forthcoming book from “Fake Steve Jobs”, aka Lyons, who worked for a while at Hubspot:

• The book is going to accuse HubSpot’s management of being hypocritical—touting how the company is making a positive difference in the world when in reality, according to Lyons at least, they’re not much better than spammers. We already knew this from the shorter description that was posted previously, but the superlatives from other authors suggest just how central the theme will be to the book:

– “Dan Lyons goes deep inside a company that uses terms like ‘world class marketing thought leaders’ to show us how ridiculous, wasteful, and infantile tech start-ups like this can be.”―Nick Bilton (author of “Hatching Twitter”)

– Disrupted “just might tell us something important about the hypocrisy and cult-like fervor inside today’s technology giants.”―Brad Stone (author of “The Everything Store”)

– “Disrupted explores the ways in which many technology companies have come to fool the public and themselves.”—Ashlee Vance (author of “Elon Musk”)

• Some HubSpot executives will definitely be singled out. Such as: “Dan’s absentee boss sent cryptic emails about employees who had ‘graduated’ (read: been fired).”

Waiter! Popcorn!
link to this extract

 


Password cracking attacks on Bitcoin wallets net $103,000 » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

Hackers have siphoned about $103,000 out of Bitcoin accounts that were protected with an alternative security measure, according to research that tracked six years’ worth of transactions. Account-holders used easy-to-remember passwords to protect their accounts instead of the long cryptographic keys normally required.

The heists were carried out against almost 900 accounts where the owners used passwords to generate the private encryption keys required to withdraw funds. In many cases, the vulnerable accounts were drained within minutes or seconds of going live. The electronic wallets were popularly known as “brain wallets” because, the thinking went, Bitcoin funds were stored in users’ minds through memorization of a password rather than a 64-character private key that had to be written on paper or stored digitally. For years, brain wallets were promoted as a safer and more user-friendly way to secure Bitcoins and other digital currencies, although Gregory Maxwell, Gavin Andresen, and many other Bitcoin experts had long warned that they were a bad idea.

Here’s a paper about what happened; to crack the wallets, tables with as many as billions of potential passwords may have been deployed against them. Yes, billions.
link to this extract

 


New finding may explain heat loss in fusion reactors » MIT News

The expectation by physicists for more than a decade had been that turbulence associated with ions (atoms with an electric charge) was so much larger than turbulence caused by electrons — nearly two orders of magnitude smaller — that the latter would be completely smeared out by the much larger eddies. And even if the smaller eddies survived the larger-scale disruptions, the conventional thinking went, these electron-scale whirls would be so much smaller that their effects would be negligible.

The new findings show that this conventional wisdom was wrong on both counts. The two scales of turbulence do indeed coexist, the researchers found, and they interact with each other so strongly that it’s impossible to understand their effects without including both kinds in any simulations.

However, it requires prodigious amounts of computer time to run simulations that encompass such widely disparate scales, explains Howard, who is the lead author on the paper detailing these simulations.

Accomplishing each simulation required 15 million hours of computation, carried out by 17,000 processors over a period of 37 days at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center — making this team the biggest user of that facility for the year. Using an ordinary MacBook Pro to run the full set of six simulations that the team carried out, Howard estimates, would have taken 3,000 years.

link to this extract

 


Apple’s elephant in the room » Medium

Alexandra Mintsopoulos on the meme about Apple’s “declining” software quality:

If the biggest example that can be pointed to is iTunes or its back-end (which seem to generate the most criticism) then there isn’t any validity to the idea that Apple’s software quality is declining. iTunes has been the target of complaints for as long as anyone can remember and it seems clear that it will be reworked much like Photos, iWork, or Final Cut have been (and likely receive the same backlash for missing functionality). The reason it hasn’t been done sooner is obvious: it has hundreds of millions of users and transacts billions of dollars in sales, revamping it from the ground up is akin to fixing an airplane while it’s in flight and won’t be done lightly.

There is a massive disconnect between enthusiasts and Apple’s broader customer base on the perception of Apple’s software quality. That is a PR problem for Apple to solve, not a software one.

I thought it was pretty clear in Eddy Cue’s appearance on John Gruber’s podcast (linked here yesterday) that Cue said iTunes is being redesigned, but you don’t do that sort of thing in an afternoon. The vast majority of iTunes-on-desktop users are not using Apple Music. The problem that then needs to be solved is to what extent iTunes could, or should, be broken into multiple apps.
link to this extract

 


My Telltale heart: From Monkey Island to the Walking Dead – games matter » The Malcontent

Mic Wright, arguing (on yesterday’s point) that yes, video games are a cultural product:

Most of the brain trust from LucasArts ended up in a berth at TellTale games, where the rabbit and pooch P.I team of Sam & Max and Guybrush Threepwood, the protagonist of the Monkey Island games, also ended up.

Preempting a question I have just imagined Charles – who commissioned my first ever piece for The Guardian – asking, Telltale/LucasArts has also delivered more serious and dramatic gaming experiences. The Game of Thrones and Walking Dead games developed by the studio drop the player into storylines where moral and tactical decisions are at the heart of the gameplay.

In the branching narratives, you’re forced to decide which friends or allies to sacrifice among other pretty gut-wrenching choices. Both sets of titles fundamentally dive into the nature of what it is to be a human in society and, through your choices, end up making you think about your real life character and behaviour.

Of course lots of games are just games, but then what does the average Adam Sandler movie or Dan Brown novel tell us about the human experience?

Touché on that last one. I remain sceptical; I’m not saying that video games cannot be cultural, emotional experiences. However, I don’t think they’ve generally achieved that yet. The question is whether they will continue to remain at the Sandler/Brown end of the spectrum, where I think they are.

After all, very few “games” (chess, squash, football) achieve “cultural event” status. The only ones I can think off immediately are the 1972 Fischer-Spassky chess match (west v east, a cold war fought with chess pieces) and 1997’s chess match of Kasparov v Deep Blue (humans v machines – disappointing outcome). Wimbledon finals, World Cup finals, some Olympic events do manage a “where were you when..?” status, but that’s not quite the same as having cultural impact – i.e. showing us something about where we really are. Any other suggestions?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s