Start up: Nest’s cuckoo, TayAI gets shut up, Pebble cuts staff, how mobile games rely on whales, and more

Cat

Cat parasites could make humans aggressive and clumsy. Honest. Photo by chaosphoenx on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside Tony Fadell’s struggle to build Nest » The Information

Reed Albergotti on the wrangling between Nest and Dropcam, which Google bought for $555m and then folded into Nest:

»In one meeting, [Dropcam co-founder Greg] Duffy witnessed [Nest founder Tony] Fadell berate a former Google engineer who was working on computer vision for the Nest Cam. The engineer began to explain the challenges in deciphering the different types of movement that might be captured by cameras.

In front of about 20 other people, Mr. Fadell blew up at the employee for getting off topic, Mr. Duffy recalled. Mr. Fadell told the employee to pull the algorithm from Photoshop, according to Mr. Duffy. He went on to question what the engineer had accomplished and to declare results had to be forthcoming or there would be trouble, Mr. Duffy recalled.

In Mr. Duffy’s view, Mr. Fadell’s Photoshop suggestion demonstrated that Mr. Fadell didn’t understand the technology he was trying to build and that the engineers working underneath Mr. Fadell didn’t feel empowered to forcefully push back when Mr. Fadell was wrong.

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Fadell said he told the engineer to look at Photoshop, which offered a tool similar to what Nest was trying to accomplish, in order to learn how to implement the technology.

More than half of the 100 Dropcam employees hired by Nest have now left. In an interview with The Information, Mr. Fadell blamed the Dropcam team for the problems with the acquisition. “A lot of the employees were not as good as we hoped,” he said. It was “a very small team and unfortunately it wasn’t a very experienced team.”

«

Dropcam has run into the sand inside Nest, essentially.
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France fines Google over ‘right to be forgotten’ » WSJ

Sam Schechner:

»France’s data-protection regulator has slapped a fine on Alphabet Inc.’s Google for not implementing Europe’s “right to be forgotten” globally, rejecting a compromise offered by the search firm and setting up a court battle over the scope of the divisive rule.

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes, or CNIL, said Thursday that the search engine had violated a formal order last year ordering it to apply the new right to be forgotten to “all domain names” of the search engine, including google.com, and fined the company €100,000 ($112,000).

As part of its decision, the regulator rejected a compromise offered by Google, in which it would apply the rule to all of its sites when they were accessed from an European Union country where a removal-request originated… For example, links about a French person that are removed under the right to be forgotten would also be removed from all Google sites when the searcher is in France—but not if the searcher is in Germany or outside the EU.

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Builder’s life saved by Apple Watch » The Sun

Daniel Jones:

»A builder who was suffering a heart attack had his life saved by his Apple Watch.

When Dennis Anselmo started to “feel terrible” he thought it was because he was coming down with a fever.

But when the 62-year-old glanced down at his Apple gadget he saw that his heart rate was more than 210 beats a minute.

Doctors who later cleared the blockage in his arteries told him if he had gone home and slept he would have likely had a second, fatal attack, in the middle of the night.

«

Happens that he was fascinated with checking his heart rate, but maybe it should flash a warning if your heart rate goes over something safe? Also of note: he owns 35 other watches. (He now doesn’t wear them.)

Pretty priceless advertising for Apple – this is the second case I’ve seen in the media where a heart problem has been highlighted by the Watch.
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Explosive road rage-like anger linked to parasite spread by cats » New Scientist

Brian Owens:

»Infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite carried by cats, has been linked to a human psychiatric condition called intermittent explosive disorder. People who have IED typically experience disproportionate outbursts of aggression, like road rage. T. gondii is already known to change the behaviour of the organisms it infects. By making rodents bolder and more adventurous, the parasite makes them more likely to be caught and eaten by a cat, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle.

It can also infect humans, through contact with cat faeces, poorly cooked meat or contaminated water, and as many as one-third of the world’s population may be infected. The protozoan doesn’t make us feel sick, but forms cysts in the brain where it can remain for the rest of a person’s life. Such infections have been linked to psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and suicidal behaviour. People infected with T. gondii also have slower reaction times and are more likely to be involved in car accidents.

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Smartwatch company Pebble is laying off 25% of its staff » Tech Insider

Steve Kovach:

»Pebble, the buzzy startup credited for being one of the first companies to launch a modern smartwatch, is laying off 40 employees this week, CEO Eric Migicovsky told Tech Insider in an interview. That’s about 25% of its total staff.

Migicovsky also said the company has raised $26m over the last eight months on top of its $20m Kickstarter campaign that started in February 2015. He wouldn’t disclose the investors, but did say Pebble has raised a mix of debt and venture capital from private investors.

Migicovsky blamed a chilly fundraising environment in Silicon Valley for the layoffs.

“We’ve definitely been careful this year as we plan our products,” Migicovsky said. “We got this money, but money [among VCs in Silicon Valley] is pretty tight these days.”

«

Note that: debt and VC. Debt is potentially toxic to a company struggling with cashflow because it can be called in, and it also usually imposes an ongoing cost. Pebble has problems, like a lot of wearables makers.
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Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot, gets a crash course in racism from Twitter » The Guardian

Elle Hunt:

»The bot uses a combination of AI and editorial written by a team of staff including improvisational comedians, says Microsoft in Tay’s privacy statement. Relevant, publicly available data that has been anonymised and filtered is its primary source.

Tay in most cases was only repeating other users’ inflammatory statements, but the nature of AI means that it learns from those interactions. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that Microsoft didn’t factor in the Twitter community’s fondness for hijacking brands’ well-meaning attempts at engagement when writing Tay. Microsoft has been contacted for comment.

Eventually though, even Tay seemed to start to tire of the high jinks.

»

— TayTweets (@TayandYou)
March 24, 2016
@brightonus33 If u want… you know I’m a lot more than just this.

«

Late on Wednesday, after 16 hours of vigorous conversation, Tay announced she was retiring for the night.

Her sudden retreat from Twitter fuelled speculation that she had been “silenced” by Microsoft, which, screenshots posted by SocialHax suggest, had been working to delete those tweets in which Tay used racist epithets.

«

Honestly – I noted its existence, went to sleep and woke up to find it had run amok. Neatly proving that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a parable for all the ages.
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Google and Obama administration connect over Cuba » WSJ

Brody Mullins and Carol Lee:

»When President Barack Obama was working secretly to restore diplomatic and business relations with Cuba two years ago, he got some help from an unlikely place.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and other company executives, with encouragement from the White House, traveled to Havana in June 2014 to talk with the Cuban government about the benefits of Internet access. When he returned, Mr. Schmidt called for an end to the trade embargo.

The White House didn’t tell Google, now a unit of Alphabet Inc., about the secret negotiations with Cuba. But by the time Mr. Obama announced that December the U.S. would restore diplomatic ties, Google had established a toehold in the island nation by rolling out versions of its popular search engine and other Internet offerings.

On Monday, during the first full day of Mr. Obama’s historic trip to Havana, the president announced that Google had reached a deal to open a temporary demonstration project in Havana to showcase some of its Internet products.

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The mobile games industry is kept afloat by less than 1% of users » The Next Web

Amanda Connolly:

»game creators often use a free-to-play model, allowing users to play a good chunk of the game before having to pay for access to additional levels or features. However, that’s risky business because there is no guarantee that the users will ever pay.

A new report is highlighting that risk, showing that almost half of all the revenue generated in mobile gaming comes from just 0.19% of users.

That means the other 99.81% of users aren’t worth anything money-wise to the creators. Of course, high user numbers are never bad and advertising also plays a key role in generating cash but it’s the people who play the games that dictate the success.

Of the 0.19% who are spending money, very few of these are doing it often; 64% are making just one paid in-game purchase per month, while it’s just 6.5% making five or more paid in-game purchases, with the average spend per player being $24.33.

Conducted by marketing firm Swrve, the report looked at over 40 free-to-play games through February 2016, analyzing the uses of more than 20 million players.

It makes for a stark look at how such a big industry, worth more than $10bn, is so reliant on a few hardcore users for revenue.

«

From 20 million players, 0.19% is 38,000 people; and 6.5% of them is 2,470. As the $24.33 figure relates to the 38,000, then the revenue from those 20 million players is $0.92m, across 40 F2P games in a month. Average per game: $23,110 in a month. But it will be skewed – one game probably gets 80% of the revenue. That means the remaining 39 would get an average of $4,741 in the month (while the big one gets $740,000).
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Samsung says S7 sales exceed forecast » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

»”Samsung is satisfied to see good sales of Galaxy S7,” Ko Dong-jin, head of the company’s mobile business division, told local reporters. “Yes, the initial shipment numbers are looking good.”

The remarks came on the sidelines of Ko’s participation in the weekly meeting with top executives of Samsung Group affiliates in Seocho Samsung Tower, southern Seoul.

The mobile boss, however, remained tightlipped about how many S7s have so far been sold since the devices became available for preorder on March 11.

Market analyst said that sales and preorders of the S7s have exceeded earlier forecasts in China, Europe and India. Specifically in Europe, it is said that the company saw a 250 percent increase in combined preorder sales.

«

Studiedly vague. It was only a couple of years ago that Samsung used to give precise numbers for preorders.
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Vice CEO Shane Smith on dealing with agencies: ‘We want to make great shit but it’s a war.’ » Digiday

Shareen Pathak reporting on the 4A Transformation conference on Tuesday:

»The issue of “not rocking the boat” is a consistent charge leveled at ad agencies. Last week, a top buyer at a media agency told Digiday that agencies are often afraid of starting from scratch to solve client problems because it’s too hard. And that kind of mindset has helped fuel to the rise of innovative branded content at publishers like Vice and the New York Times. [NYT chief executive Mark] Thompson said the [NY] Times’s brand content arm, T-Brand Studio, now has 70 employees and is doing $60m in revenue.

Of course, the pressure is also on publishers: Thompson said the talk of “disruption” happening at the agency-oriented conference this week is old news to publishers and journalism organizations, which have now realized that ads and subscription-based businesses are not going to cut it. “In the digital publishing and legacy publishing business, winter is coming,” he said. “A lot of people have bet their futures on very large, wide and thin digital audiences, monetized through commoditized display advertising. I think a lot of people are going to go out of business.”

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“Winter is coming”. Related: IBT Media, which publishes International Business Times and Newsweek, has laid off at least 15 people (perhaps more?) in New York and California.
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Why you should try that crazy virtual reality headset » WSJ

Joanna Stern provides a number of examples – with 360-degree video – to show how VR can have real-world applications:

»By visiting places in the real world that I’d already seen in VR, I came to realize that these silly headsets can be magical. They also have a dark side: It’s easy to end up nauseous, and—more frighteningly—virtual experiences can sometimes get too real. More often than I imagined, the line between the two realities starts to blur.

I’m walking into the master bath of a $7.3M penthouse that just hit the market. The blue tub that backs up to a stunning view of downtown San Francisco is perfect. While examining the square showerhead, I feel something I never have before, a newfangled sort of déjà vu. Though my physical body has never been here, I remember it. In my office just two days ago, I was staring at the same brass spigot, via a VR headset.

The first person you try VR with could be a realtor rather than a Best Buy employee. San Francisco realtor Roh Habibi now keeps a Samsung Gear VR headset in his car. “I’ve locked in showings just after having a client put on the headset,” he says. Sales gimmick or no, when I set foot in that house, I knew exactly how to get to that bathroom.

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(Though the examples are, when viewed just on a browser, pretty much a recap of Quicktime VR, which dates back to 1994.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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