Start up: the iCloud celeb hack, a Chinese ransom?, the real terrorist phone, Trump as Berlusconi, and more

“Hey, Miss Lawrence! My name’s iCloud! What’s your password?” Photo by YourWay Magazine 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The disturbingly simple way dozens of celebrities had their nude photos stolen » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»According to court documents, Collins gained access to the intimate images of nude celebrities via a disturbingly simple technique: phishing.

Though many people assumed that the hacker took advantage of an iCloud vulnerability to brute-force his way into the celebrities’ accounts, the government makes no mention of that. Instead, it says that Collins hacked over 100 people by sending emails that looked like they came from Apple and Google, such as “e-mail.protection318@icloud.com,” “noreply_helpdesk0118@outlook.com,” and “secure.helpdesk0019@gmail.com.” According to the government, Collins asked for his victims’ iCloud or Gmail usernames and passwords and “because of the victims’ belief that the email had come from their [Internet Service Providers], numerous victims responded by giving [them].”

Celebrities really need better computer security advisers. If a dedicated enough attacker comes at you, it’s hard to avoid being compromised, but it helps immensely to turn on two-factor authentication for your online accounts. That way a person needs not just your password but a code sent to your phone to get into your account.

Once Collins had their credentials, says the government, he went through their email accounts looking for nude photos and videos. The government says that Collins got into approximately 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts this way, most of them belonging to celebrities. He “accessed full Apple iCloud backups belonging to numerous victims, including at least 18 celebrities” and “used a software program to download those full Apple iCloud backups.”

Ironically, that program was likely one that’s used by law enforcement to get evidence from phones.

«

The idea that someone had used a cutting-edge brute-force attack to break into the passwords always seemed like vapour trails to me. Social engineering is the Occam’s Razor explanation (and also the Hanlon’s Razor explanation) to stuff like this.
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Exclusive: Chinese hackers behind U.S. ransomware attacks – security firms » Reuters

Joseph Menn:

»executives of the security firms have seen a level of sophistication in at least a half dozen cases over the last three months akin to those used in state-sponsored attacks, including techniques to gain entry and move around the networks, as well as the software used to manage intrusions.

“It is obviously a group of skilled of operators that have some amount of experience conducting intrusions,” said Phil Burdette, who heads an incident response team at Dell SecureWorks.

Burdette said his team was called in on three cases in as many months where hackers spread ransomware after exploiting known vulnerabilities in application servers. From there, the hackers tricked more than 100 computers in each of the companies into installing the malicious programs.

The victims included a transportation company and a technology firm that had 30 percent of its machines captured.

Security firms Attack Research, InGuardians and G-C Partners, said they had separately investigated three other similar ransomware attacks since December.

Although they cannot be positive, the companies concluded that all were the work of a known advanced threat group from China, Attack Research Chief Executive Val Smith told Reuters.

«

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Reformed LulzSec hacktivist joins payments firm » The Register

John Leyden:

»A payments firm has hired reformed LulzSec hactivist Mustafa Al-Bassam (formerly known as tFlow) for a new blockchain research project.

London-based payments group Secure Trading has taken on Al-Bassam to help develop a platform that applies the verification benefits of blockchain technology in order to improve the visibility and security of online payments. Codenamed “Trustery”, the project aims to create a commercial platform.

Secure Trading approached Al-Bassam, who agreed to work for the firm part time while continuing his computer science degree at King’s College London.

«

Smart move: al-Bassam is a clever guy.
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Crypto-ransomware spreads via poisoned ads on major websites » Tripwire

Graham Cluley:

»Some of the world’s most popular news and entertainment websites have been spreading poisoned adverts to potentially hundreds of thousands of visitors, putting innocent readers at risk of having their computers hit by threats such as ransomware.

Famous sites which displayed the malicious ads and endangered visiting computers include MSN, bbc.com, the New York Times, AOL and Newsweek.

As a result, researchers at Malwarebytes say that they saw a “huge spike in malicious activity” over the weekend.

Security analysts at TrendLabs and Malwarebytes report that the attack is one of the largest ransomware campaigns seen in years, taking advantage of a recently-updated version of the notorious Angler Exploit Kit to spread malware.

Just last month the Angler Exploit Kit was found to be targeting PCs and Macs after it was updated to take advantage of a known vulnerability in Microsoft Silverlight…

…It seems glaringly apparent to me that there is so much malicious advertising on the internet that anytime you surf even legitimate sites without an ad blocker in place, you are putting your computer’s data at risk.

«

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Why is the Nokia 105 cellphone a favourite among ISIS fighters? » NBC News

Alexander Smith:

»The must-have cellphone for ISIS fighters in Iraq doesn’t have apps or a camera, and ships for less than $30.

The small and simple Nokia model is frequently used as a trigger device to set off ISIS’ improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, according to a Conflict Armament Research report released last month.

As part of a study looking at civilian components in ISIS bombs, CAR documented 10 of the phones captured from members of the terror group in Iraq in December 2014.

The research showed the terror group “consistently” used the Nokia 105 above all others “in the manufacture of a specific type of remote controlled IED.”

Two phones are used in the bomb-making process: one to call the other, which then sends a signal to a circuit board and sparks the explosion.

There are plenty of other cheap, durable phones with long battery life that ISIS fighters could use — and yet this particular model, also branded as the Microsoft Mobile 105 after the tech giant bought Nokia in 2014, shows up again and again.

«

I’m sure there’ll be widespread condemnation of Microsoft for aiding terrorists any moment now.
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Why Sony will win first in VR » Jon Peddie Research

The aforenamed Mr Peddie:

»Now that Oculus has revealed its consumer version of the Rift HMD, consumers can start planning how they might engage with VR, and they have a choice—a DIY rig with a PC and Rift, or a turn-key system with Sony.

Sony’s HMD will be about 30% less expensive than the Oculus HDM. And Sony buyers probably already have a PS4, and possibly PS4 accessory controllers. Most importantly, Sony also has content.

«

So, first couple of rounds to Sony.
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The best things in Android are free — with in-app purchases » Medium

The iA team:

»A year ago, iA Writer for Android entered the Play Store. So far, we have sold a little more than 6’000 apps. At a price of 1 to 5 Dollars, this doesn’t cover much more than one month of app development. So we decided to go free and add in app purchases later.

We are not sure why apps sell in the Apple universe but not in the Android world. It just seems to be a hard cold fact:


Worldwide App Downloads by Store vs Worldwide App Revenue by Store

Looking at the sales numbers of paid Android apps it becomes apparent that plain paid offerings just do not get traction on Android. Why? We are not sure. Here is what we have learned.

«

There’s a point in there about price elasticity which is remarkable. But also that stuff with an upfront price tag does not sell.
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Windows 10 Store will continue to support bitcoin » Softpedia

Bogdan Popa:

»while there was a lot of speculation online regarding the removal of Bitcoin support for new deposits in the Windows Store – some people said it’s because of the limited adoption of Bitcoin – it appears that the change made to the FAQ page was just “a mistake.”

In other words, Microsoft will continue to support Bitcoin in the Windows Store, so you can keep on using the digital currency for new deposits. A statement we received from a Microsoft spokesperson a few minutes ago provides us with some details on this:

“We continue to support Bitcoin for adding money to your Microsoft Account which can be used for purchasing content in the Windows and Xbox stores. We apologize for inaccurate information that was inadvertently posted to a Microsoft site, which is currently being corrected.”

«

Would love to know what volume of transactions they see.
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Top NFL official acknowledges link between football-related head trauma and CTE for first time » ESPN

Steve Fainaru:

»The NFL’s top health and safety officer acknowledged Monday there is a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the first time a senior league official has conceded football’s connection to the devastating brain disease.

The admission came during a roundtable discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, was asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., if the link between football and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE has been established.

“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Miller said.

«

A bit like boxing: does it mean people will be put off the potentially fabulous riches? But equally: will parents be less likely to put their children into it? The public admission is important.
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Teenager wins $250,000 in biggest drone race yet » The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»The sport has already attracted investment from the likes of NFL team owners, but it still has some way to go before it breaks into the mainstream. Particularly difficult is the question of how to actually observe the races. Drone pilots fly their racing craft in first-person, using special headsets to see as the drone sees, but for observers the footage can feel — and sound — like being strapped to the front of a particularly excitable wasp. A second camera following the action might help human brains contextualize the movements in space, but some of the nascent racing leagues set their courses inside buildings, making a chase camera’s operation difficult. Still, though, the speed of the craft and the deftness of his control make watching [15-year-old winner] Luke [Bannister]’s victory from Dubai an exhilarating — if slightly nauseating — experience.

«

Dubai, of course.
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Music streaming has a nearly undetectable fraud problem » Quartz

Amy X Wang:

»For an in-depth look into how click fraud works, there’s Sharky Laguana’s thorough explanation here. Laguana—a music industry veteran who now owns a rental company—tells Quartz it certainly wouldn’t be hard to run the “perfect” scheme to con Spotify. First, set up a couple hundred fake artists. Next, upload some auto-generated tunes—mediocre dance music is particularly easy to “produce” online—and just make sure your bots click on an array of songs both real and fake, so no one gets suspicious. (He uses Spotify as an example because of its size, but the scheme could theoretically work for any music subscription service.)

“If it’s done properly, it’s nearly impossible to detect,” says Laguana. “There’s no way to know why somebody chose to click on something.”

«

Should we just turn off the internet?
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Donald Trump, America’s own Silvio Berlusconi » The Intercept

Alexander Stille:

»Neither Trump nor Berlusconi has a real political program; what they are selling is themselves. Berlusconi used to say that what Italy needs is more Berlusconi. I recall a very telling moment in his first election campaign: During a TV debate, his opponent, the economist Luigi Spaventa, was pointing out the holes and inconsistencies in Berlusconi’s economic program, and Berlusconi stopped him mid-sentence and pointed to the victories of his soccer club, AC Milan: “Before trying to compete with me, try, at least, winning a couple of national championships!” The remark had the air of unassailable truth — however irrelevant it might be to Berlusconi’s fitness to govern. Similarly, when asked how he is going to get Mexico to pay for a giant wall between its country and ours, Trump simply responds, “Don’t worry, they’ll pay!”

Yet there is another element — a systemic one — that helps explain why Italy and the U.S. are the only major democracies in which a billionaire circus has raised its tent: the almost total deregulation of broadcast media.

«

The latter matters, as Stille explains. (Via @papanic.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: evaluating ebooks, EU’s tax quiz, no more Here on Windows, two cameras on iPhone 7?, and more

Hey, what if you put them in the back? Wouldn’t that get readership up? Photo by San Antonio Food Bank on Flickr.

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

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

Moneyball for book publishers, for a detailed look at how we read » The New York Times

Alexandra Alter and Karl Russell:

»Andrew Rhomberg wants to be the Billy Beane of the book world.

Mr. Beane used analytics to transform baseball, famously recounted in “Moneyball,” a book by Michael Lewis. Now Mr. Rhomberg wants to use data about people’s reading habits to radically reshape how publishers acquire, edit and market books.

“We still know almost nothing about readers, especially in trade publishing,” said Mr. Rhomberg, the founder of Jellybooks, a reader analytics company based in London.

While e-books retailers like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble can collect troves of data on their customers’ reading behavior, publishers and writers are still in the dark about what actually happens when readers pick up a book. Do most people devour it in a single sitting, or do half of readers give up after Chapter 2? Are women over 50 more likely to finish the book than young men? Which passages do they highlight, and which do they skip?

Mr. Rhomberg’s company is offering publishers the tantalizing prospect of peering over readers’ shoulders. Jellybooks tracks reading behavior the same way Netflix knows what shows you binge-watch and Spotify knows what songs you skip…

…On average, fewer than half of the books tested were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5% of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75% of readers. Sixty percent of books fell into a range where 25% to 50% of test readers finished them. Business books have surprisingly low completion rates.

«

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Amazon comments on “table of contents” crackdown, inadvertently confirms Kindle Unlimited page count scam » The Digital Reader

Nate Hoffelder:

»As David Gaughran explained, and as was laid out in detail over on KBoards, scammers were using tricks “such as adding unnecessary or confusing hyperlinks, misplacing the TOC, or adding distracting content” to artificially  inflate the number of pages read by Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

This statistic matters because in July of last year Amazon started paying authors and publishers with ebooks in Kindle Unlimited by the number of pages read, rather than the number of times an ebook is borrowed. This was generally viewed as a response to authors who were cheating the system by uploading really short works and getting paid each time one was borrowed, and it was supposed to level the playing field by making sure that longer works are valued the same as a short story.

That’s the way things were supposed to work, but alas, the scammers are smarter than that.

«

They always are.
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Apple, McDonald’s, Google and IKEA to face EU lawmakers over tax deals » Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

»Apple, Google, McDonald’s and IKEA will be asked about their European tax deals on Wednesday as EU lawmakers ratchet up the pressure on multinationals to pay more tax on their profits locally.

The hearing, organized by the European Parliament’s tax committee, follows a similar event in November last year when Anheuser-Busch InBev, HSBC, Google and eight other companies were quizzed on the same subject.

While the committee has no power to order changes, the hearing reflects the political concerns over multinationals avoiding local tax liabilities.

«

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Schell: Nintendo probably working on VR gaming device » GamesIndustry.biz

James Brightman:

»Here’s a quick overview of [Carnegie Mellon professor and game designer Jesse Schell’s] predictions:

1. This isn’t some fad, it’s going to stay. VR headsets in the market permanently starting this year.

2. By the end of 2017, 8m gamer headsets (meaning console/PC) will be sold. Schell adds it up as follows: 4m PlayStation VR headsets, 3m Oculus Rifts, and 1m Vives.

3. Schell said that “it’s like all of us have entered into a great conspiracy to bore gamers to death” and they are ready to buy new stuff. In general, there will be four mobile headsets for each gamer headset, he said.

4. Headset sales are going to double each year until saturation is reached, so by 2022 there will be 512m gamer headsets and 2bn mobile VR headsets.

«

Note that the HTC Vive won’t be setting the world on fire. And some people think that those are ambitious forecasts.
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Here Maps drops support for Windows Phone and Windows 10 » The Verge

Tom Warren:

»[Nokia-owned] Here is announcing today that it plans to pull its mapping apps for Windows 10 on March 29th, and “will limit the development of the apps for Windows Phone 8 to critical bug fixes.” If you own one of the latest Lumia 950 handsets then Here maps will stop working after June 30th. If you’re still on a Windows Phone 8.1 device then Here maps will keep working, unless you upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile once it’s available in the coming weeks.

“We made the Here apps compatible with Windows 10 by using a workaround that will no longer be effective after June 30, 2016,” explains Here spokesperson Pino Bonetti. “To continue offering the HERE apps for Windows 10 would require us to redevelop the apps from the ground up, a scenario that led to the business decision to remove our apps from the Windows 10 store.”

Here is the latest in a line of high-profile apps that have started disappearing from Microsoft’s Windows Phone store. American Airlines, Chase Bank, Bank of America, NBC, Pinterest, and Kabam have all discontinued their Windows Phone apps in the past year. These huge apps have simply disappeared or will no longer be updated.

«

I remember when people were telling me here that Windows 10’s compatibility mode would solve everything in mobile, especially the app gap.
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Explaining the struggles of Apple Pay and mobile payments » Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh:

»From the perspective of mainstream consumers, mobile payments are no more “mobile” than a credit card or cash. Security and privacy have never been a draw except for a vocal minority. The only benefit left is transaction processing time or “convenience”. Last year, most early adopters (and some analysts) argued that mobile payments were so much more convenient than existing payment solutions that it was only a matter of time until adoption exploded. Except, it hasn’t. And the longer you think about it, the more superficial this “convenience” argument seems.

If a “normal” iPhone user has to make a trip to the closest big box retailer, say Walmart, would Apple Pay improve his experience? Does saving ten seconds at the checkout counter matter when he has to wait ten minutes for his groceries to be scanned and bagged anyway? Even if the wait is a few minutes for other types of in-store purchases, the added convenience is minimal. At the very least, it isn’t enough of an experience boost to change the deeply-ingrained habit of pulling out a credit card. Now, if the credit card itself could save a few seconds, it would be actively utilized. And that’s a selling point for contactless payments, not for mobile payments.

«

True, but that’s only applicable in the US (where the survey comes from), where amazingly insecure but fast-to-use credit cards have been in use for decades; in Europe chip-and-PIN has been in use for much longer. Singh points out that in-app purchases are a better use, but I’d love to know how much Apple Pay is used for travel in London, where it’s accepted on the underground.
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Egypt’s dirty wheat problem » Reuters

Eric Knecht, with an excellent investigation:

»President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made ending corruption – including graft in the wheat industry – one of his government’s priorities. In 2014, his government rolled out a system of smart cards designed to stop unscrupulous bakeries selling government-subsidised flour on the black market.

Cairo says the system has been a big success, saving millions of dollars in bread subsidies, reducing imports, and ending shortages that once prompted long queues outside bakeries across the country. Supplies Minister Khaled Hanafi told Egyptian reporters in late 2014 that roughly 50 percent of the country’s flour supply was stolen. In December last year he told Reuters that the new system had saved more than 6 billion Egyptian pounds ($766 million) worth of flour.

But industry officials, traders and bakers say those reforms have failed – and even made abuse of the system worse.

Eight sources in the wheat industry said the smart card system could be hacked, allowing some bakers to falsify receipts and request far more subsidised flour than they officially sold. Instead of reducing the amount of flour the state paid for, the critics said, the smart card system actually increased it. That triggered a wave of fraud higher up the supply chain that the sources say cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars last year.

«

Bread (or the lack of it) was one of the principal causes of the Arab spring, in Egypt and elsewhere. So this matters.
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Google faces challenges in encrypting Android phones » WSJ

Jack Nicas:

»“There is a push and pull with what Google wants to mandate and what the [manufacturers] are going to do,” said Andrew Blaich, lead security analyst at Bluebox Security Inc., which helps secure mobile apps. In some ways, Google is “at the mercy of the larger (manufacturers) like Samsung and LG that are driving the ecosystem.”

When phones aren’t encrypted, law enforcement can more easily view their contents. Authorities use specialized software to crack passcodes on locked—but unencrypted—Android devices in about an hour, said an investigator for France’s Gendarmerie Nationale.

The Manhattan district attorney said in November that investigators can bypass passcodes on some older Android devices, while Google can remotely reset passcodes on others. His office said encryption “will make it impossible for Google to…assist with device data extraction.”

Google said it complied with 63% of 65,500 government requests for user data in the 12 months ending in June 2015.

«

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Apple iPhone 7 Plus dual camera module leak suggests advanced AR and 3D scanning capabilities » Pocket-lint

Luke Edwards:

»Sources of Pocket Now based in Taiwan have leaked the dual-lens camera module that they claim will appear in the iPhone 7 Plus. There is no word on it being in the standard iPhone 7 though. The source claims that the camera will be a first for the way it works.
The dual-camera will shoot one 12-megapixel standard focal length photo while the other lens will shoot a 12-megapixel shot in telephoto with up to three times zoom. That helps to explain the varying lens sizes shown in the module.

Apple recently bought Israeli start-up LinX which specialises in gathering camera depth information. This can allow for tricks like removing the subject from the background by gauging depth. It could conceivably also allow the phone the ability to scan real world objects into a virtual representation, or help to offer better depth for augmented reality applications.

«

Set a baseline, build on it. Suggests built-in VR/AR capabilities would be about three years out.
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Radio Times: 6,000 readers’ views on BBC ignored by government » The Guardian

John Plunkett:

»The government has rebuffed a request to reopen its consultation into the future of the BBC after the Radio Times claimed 6,000 of its readers’ responses had been ignored.

The magazine said the government had never asked for the password to open an encrypted memory stick on which the responses were sent.

The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, said earlier this month that “every response we received matters. Every response we received has been read”, but the Radio Times said it had “serious concerns” that the “important voice” of its readers on the future of the BBC had been ignored.

Radio Times editor Ben Preston, writing under the headline “A broken promise”, in the new issue of the Radio Times published on Tuesday, said: “Is this shameful mess the result of a conspiracy or a cock-up? Or both?”

«

A very neat way to expose lying by the government. But this sort of action by Whittingdale’s dogma-crazed team is exactly what leads to people first becoming indifferent to politicians (“it won’t make any difference”), and then angry when it’s about something that does affect them. And then you get Donald Trump. (Don’t think the anger exposed by Trump will go away if he doesn’t win. It will continue boiling underneath.)

That’s why Whittingdale should apologise, admit the error, and read the submissions. He should also have a TV tuned to any of the main American networks on in a corner of his office, so he discovers what life without the BBC, and with a million adverts per hour, is like.
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The snooper’s charter is flying through parliament. Don’t think it’s irrelevant to you » The Guardian

Scarlet Kim:

»Should the British bill pass in its current form, the UK government will have the power to force Apple and other technology companies to undermine the security of their products and services. The bill permits the agencies to hack – the government calls this “equipment interference” – to obtain “communications” or “any other information”, including through surveillance techniques, such as remotely “monitoring, observing or listening to a person’s communications or other activities”.

The bill authorises agencies to compel “telecommunications providers” to assist them in effecting a hacking warrant, unless “not reasonably practicable”. Apple has pointed out that the term “telecommunications provider” is so broadly defined as to expand the government’s “reach beyond UK borders to … any service provider with a connection to UK customers”. Apple and other technology companies have spoken against many provisions of the investigatory powers bill. In particular, they have noted that the bill “seems to threaten to extend responsibility for hacking from government to the private sector” and rejected “any proposals that would require companies to deliberately weaken the security of their products”.

«

And yet it is just barrelling through Parliament, without any reflection. The result is obvious – Apple will build a phone that even it cannot hack. (Software updates are something the user has to agree to.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Trump’s casino flop, Micromax hits a bump, Samsung’s warning, the prime conspiracy and more

Google’s Deepmind systems are used to recognise handwriting in images. Photo by invisible monsters on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Here’s how Donald Trump treats the little people » Mother Jones

Kevin Drum on the publicly listed Trump casino-controlling company in the 1990s:

»Trump’s fans were conned into buying up his debt-laden properties and turning them into a public company. Trump, who plainly had no interest in running a casino and had demonstrated no corporate management skills during the prior decade, paid himself millions of dollars from the company’s coffers for doing essentially nothing. He then unloaded his third casino onto the public company at an inflated price.

The public company didn’t show a profit during a single year of its existence. In 2004 the stock was delisted and the company forced into Chapter 11 reorganization. It was renamed Trump Entertainment Resorts, but with Trump still at the helm it continued to pile up losses and amassed debts of nearly $2bn. In 2008, after missing a $53m bond payment, it declared bankruptcy yet again and Trump resigned as the company’s chairman. Its investors lost all their money.

In case you’re curious, this is how Trump treats the little people.

«

Just so you can’t say you weren’t warned. Would a President Trump be as corrupt as Berlusconi? Odds seem strong.
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Google DeepMind: What is it, how it works and should you be scared? » Techworld

Sam Shead interview with Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of Deepmind, who explains where the systems are used inside Google:

»We use it to identify text on shopfronts and maybe alert people to a discount that’s available in a particular shop or what the menu says in a given restaurant. We do that with an extremely high level of accuracy today. It’s being used in Local Search and elsewhere across the company.

We also use the same core system across Google for speech recognition. It trains roughly in less than 5 days. In 2012 it delivered a 30 percent reduction in error rate against the existing old school system. This was the biggest single improvement in speech recognition in 20 years, again using the same very general deep learning system across all of these.

Across Google we use what we call Tool AI or Deep Learning Networks for fraud detection, spam detection, hand writing recognition, image search, speech recognition, Street View detection, translation.

Sixty handcrafted rule-based systems have now been replaced with deep learning based networks. This gives you a sense of the kind of generality, flexibility and adaptiveness of the kind of advances that have been made across the field and why Google was interested in DeepMind.

«

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Letter to shareholders » Samsung Investor Relations

Oh-Hyun Kwon, CEO of Samsung Electronics:

»In 2016, the overall global economy may slow down, and uncertainties such as financial risks in emerging markets are expected to increase. The IT industry will change in an unprecedented speed, and competitions will intensify further.

We expect core products of our company, such as smartphone, TV, and memory, will face oversupply issues and intensified price competition. Our competitors will follow close behind our leading position in the global IT industry with aggressive investments and innovations. Moreover, innovative business models such as O2O (Online to Offline) and sharing economy are undermining the importance of hardware, which is our strength, and shifting the core competitiveness to software platform.

To cope with these changes in the business environment, we will continue to implement groundbreaking changes and innovations, and strive to secure differentiated competitiveness.

«

“Oversupply issues” probably doesn’t apply to the smartphones, but the price competition will. And there’s no explanation of how it’s going to cope exactly with that shift to software-based competition.
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Privacy absolutism » AVC

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson:

»I do not think that because we now have the technology to lock things down (strong encryption) and because the industry that develops and maintains all of this technology has a strong libertarian bent that we should just abandon the framework that has worked in our society for hundreds of years. If society thinks someone is doing something wrong, and if law enforcement can get a warrant, there should be a mechanism to get access to our devices.

I would love to see the tech sector work to figure out a smart way to address this issue. My partner Albert has suggested an approach on his blog. There are some interesting approaches that are already being used in cold storage of bitcoin that could be applied to this situation.

But my meta point here is that I am saddened by the tech sector’s absolutist approach to this issue. The more interesting and fruitful approach would be to think about the most elegant solutions and build them.

«

The linked suggestion by his partner is this:

»I would posit that each device should ship with an *individual* key that is created by the manufacturer specifically for the purpose of unlocking the device. The key should then be stored in a way where it can be requested by law enforcement (either by the manufacturer or a third party that specializes in compliance for this). The process for such a request should run via the judiciary and mirror that for a warrant.

«

It’s also known as “key escrow” and was part of the “Clipper chip” idea which was proposed by the Clinton administration in the 1990s and comprehensively shown to be a bad idea by Matt Blaze (who is still around, on Twitter and elsewhere).

Wilson is the one who was previously stunned by Apple not making iMessage cross-platform, despite the fact that it is demonstrably valuable as an iOS exclusive. I’m approaching the point where I learn what Wilson’s view is on something, and then assume the opposite is what will happen.
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Microsoft stops taking Bitcoin for Microsoft Store payments » Digital Trends

Trevor Mogg:

»Much was made of Microsoft’s move two years ago to start accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment for purchasing content from its online store.

The situation has, however, quietly changed, as the computer giant has recently added a note to its website revealing it’s no longer accepting the cryptocurrency in the Microsoft Store on Windows 10 devices.

“You can no longer redeem Bitcoin into your Microsoft account,” the message says, though adds that existing balances in user accounts “will still be available for purchases from Microsoft Store, but can’t be refunded.” So to be clear, any funds in your account now are good to use, but forget trying to make any new deposits into your account using Bitcoin.

«

Microsoft accepted Bitcoin? For Windows apps? Doubt that troubled the blockchain very much.
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India’s Micromax, once a rising star, struggles » Reuters

Himank Sharma:

»A year ago, Micromax vaulted past Samsung Electronics Co Ltd to become India’s leading smartphone brand. Today, its market share has nearly halved, several top executives have resigned, and the company is looking for growth outside India.

In Micromax’s slide to second place is a tale of the promise and peril of India’s booming but hyper-competitive smartphone industry.

India is the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market. Shipments of smartphones jumped 29% to 103m units last year.

Rapid growth has helped nurture a crop of local brands, led by Micromax, that outsourced production to Chinese manufacturers. Now, as Samsung rolls out more affordable phones, the same Chinese factories are entering the Indian market with their own brands, depressing prices and forcing Indian mobile makers to rethink their strategies.

“What the Indian brands did to the global brands two years ago, Chinese phone makers are doing the same to Indian brands now, and over the next year we see tremendous competition for Micromax and other Indian smartphone makers,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research in New Delhi…

…Last May, Alibaba walked away from a mooted $1.2bn purchase of a 20% stake, citing a lack of clarity on growth plans, according to one executive involved in the discussion. Micromax co-founder Vikas Jain said in an interview with Reuters this week that the company and Alibaba disagreed on a future roadmap.

«

The smartphone business’s evolution has been like the PC business’s evolution speeded up; India’s is like the smartphone one, speeded up again.
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Here’s what a knockoff Apple Watch looks like » Daily Dot

Mike Wehner, way back in April 2015:

»The story of how I came to own this forgery isn’t particularly remarkable: In early March, just as the hype around Apple’s new wearable was reaching a fever pitch, I found a Taiwanese seller who claimed to be selling the Apple Watch for immediate shipment. There was no size option or “collection” to choose from, just four colors, so I selected one and placed an order. It cost me the equivalent of roughly $53, and while I knew the watch that eventually arrived wouldn’t be anything impressive, I was nonetheless curious about just how bad it would be. Now I know.

«

Pretty dire. Wonder if they’re any better now?
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Music piracy hasn’t gone, it has merely changed its spots » MIDiA Research

Mark Mulligan:

»P2P piracy was tailor made for the 2000’s when:

• Home internet connections were slow
• Most content consumption was desk top based
• People still liked owning music

Now in the streaming era all three of those market dynamics have lessened massively. So little wonder then that piracy technology has evolved to meet the needs of the streaming consumer.

With YouTube the number one digital music destination, and with a catalogue that no other music service will ever be able to match, it makes complete sense that YouTube rippers have emerged as one of the key strands of music piracy tech. Many of which transform YouTube into a fully offline, on demand, ad free, high quality music service.

«

And that’s why the music labels tend to hate YouTube.
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GMG’s David Pemsel: Membership will make up a third of the Guardian’s revenue within three years » The Media Briefing

Chris Sutcliffe:

»The Guardian has not been agile enough to respond to the challenges faced by the publishing industry over the past few years, according to Guardian Media Group CEO David Pemsel.

Speaking at Digital Media Strategies 2016, Pemsel said that an overly narrow focus on the “big number” of its global audience masked some of the strategic issues that the Guardian was facing:

»

“I think all those big numbers are a proof point about how fast and innovative we’ve been in getting to digital [but] monetising anonymous reach is essentially over.

“To be able to parade around and say ‘we’re big’ is not good enough. We want to convert our anonymous reach into a known audience.”

«

That conversion of its unknown audience to a known one is a “massive opportunity”, based around a refinement and reinvention of The Guardian’s membership scheme, which Pemsel believes could make up one third of the Guardian’s overall revenue within three years.

«

The point about “monetising anonymous reach is essentially over” is a key one. Pemsel is saying that online advertising in itself isn’t enough to fund the Guardian – which ought to worry everyone else.
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Mathematicians discover prime conspiracy » Quanta Magazine

Erica Klarreich:

»Two mathematicians have uncovered a simple, previously unnoticed property of prime numbers — those numbers that are divisible only by 1 and themselves. Prime numbers, it seems, have decided preferences about the final digits of the primes that immediately follow them.

Among the first billion prime numbers, for instance, a prime ending in 9 is almost 65 percent more likely to be followed by a prime ending in 1 than another prime ending in 9. In a paper posted online on Sunday, Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver of Stanford University present both numerical and theoretical evidence that prime numbers repel other would-be primes that end in the same digit, and have varied predilections for being followed by primes ending in the other possible final digits.

“We’ve been studying primes for a long time, and no one spotted this before,” said Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the University of Montreal and University College London. “It’s crazy.”

«

My first objection on reading those paragraphs was “they should do it in a different number base than decimal”. Then it turns out that they started in a different number base (3) and worked out from there. So yes, this is a spooky property.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Xiaomi’s money trouble, instructing Alexa, the App Store problem, Uber’s sick loophole, and more

The final position of AlphaGo’s third win in a five-game match Lee Sedol, the top Go professional. But what does that mean for human competition? Screenshot by kenming_wang 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 15 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I stayed in a hotel with Android lightswitches and it was just as bad as you’d imagine » mjg59

The “switches” were Android tablets. He hooked up an Ethernet connection to see what was going on:

»wireshark revealed that [the data protocol] was Modbus over TCP. Modbus is a pretty trivial protocol, and notably has no authentication whatsoever. tcpdump showed that traffic was being sent to 172.16.207.14, and pymodbus let me start controlling my lights, turning the TV on and off and even making my curtains open and close. What fun!

And then I noticed something. My room number is 714. The IP address I was communicating with was 172.16.207.14. They wouldn’t, would they?

I mean yes obviously they would.

It’s basically as bad as it could be – once I’d figured out the gateway, I could access the control systems on every floor and query other rooms to figure out whether the lights were on or not, which strongly implies that I could control them as well. Jesus Molina talked about doing this kind of thing a couple of years ago, so it’s not some kind of one-off – instead, hotels are happily deploying systems with no meaningful security, and the outcome of sending a constant stream of “Set room lights to full” and “Open curtain” commands at 3AM seems fairly predictable.

We’re doomed.

«

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MIT unveils 3D solar arrays that produce up to 20 times more energy » 3tags

»Intensive research around the world has focused on improving the performance of solar photovoltaic cells and bringing down their cost. But very little attention has been paid to the best ways of arranging those cells, which are typically placed flat on a rooftop or other surface, or sometimes attached to motorized structures that keep the cells pointed toward the sun as it crosses the sky.

Now, a team of MIT researchers has come up with a very different approach: building cubes or towers that extend the solar cells upward in three-dimensional configurations. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.

«

They’re not pretty, but they are efficient.
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Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Olympic Stadium Montreal) » YouTube

Bloody cold (snow all over the ground) and they must have been shooting the video for at least five hours, judging by the clocks you can see at various points. This is shorter than that. The first use of the polyphonic synthesiser (able to play more than one note at a time) in a rock song. Farewell, Keith Emerson.
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Listen up: your AI assistant goes crazy for NPR too » KWBU

Rachel Martin (in a transcript from her radio program on NPR:

»OK. Go ahead and turn up the volume because this update is for you, Alexa. Last week, we talked about Alexa, the voice-activated assistant that operates on a speaker sold by Amazon called the Echo. The technology is Amazon’s way of connecting to your home as part of a future where you walk into your house and you say – out loud – turn off the alarm. Dim the lights. Preheat the oven. Well, some of you out there already own an Amazon Echo, and our story activated your Alexas. I guess her ears were burning.

Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alex heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this – let’s just say we both enjoyed the story. So Alexa, listen up – we want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?

«

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Xiaomi – hard life » Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor is a sceptic about the prospects of the venture capitalistis’ starry-eyed kid:

»Xiaomi owns 30% of Xunlei and has incorporated its acceleration technology into its ecosystem from MIUI6 (2014) going forward. As a result of this, the performance of Xunlei’s advertising revenues gives some indication of how usage is faring within Xiaomi’s ecosystem and the numbers are not encouraging.

Xunlei’s Q4 2015A revenues declined 1.1% to US$35m however within that online advertising revenues were $1.7m growing 24% YoY with mobile advertising making a contribution for the first time.

Xiaomi claims to have 170m MIUI users all of which have the Xunlei technology but if Xunlei can only generate $1.7m from those users, difficult questions have to be asked with regards to engagement. This makes me concerned that although Xiaomi devices register strong usage, much of that usage may be occurring within the services of its rivals rather than its own…

…if all Xiaomi is doing is providing nicely specified devices at rock bottom prices then it is in fact helping its competitors rather than itself. This is exactly the same problem that other Android handset makers have outside of China. These handset makers slash each other’s throats to put better and better devices in the hands of users but it is Google that reaps all of the benefit from the subsequent usage increases.

«

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Yahoo announces plans to kill off Games, Livetext, Boss, and more regional sites » VentureBeat

Eil Protalinski:

»Yahoo today announced its Q1 2016 progress report, highlighting the closure of several products and regional sites. As shared in its last earnings call, the company wants to focus on just seven core consumer products: Mail, Search, Tumblr, News, Sports, Finance, and Lifestyle.

First off, the company is shutting down its Yahoo Games site (first launched in 1998!) and publishing channel on May 13, 2016. This impacts all territories: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.

Starting March 14, 2016, users will no longer be able to make in-game purchases on the Yahoo Games site. Yahoo says it has reached out to game publishers and asked them to develop a transition plan for players who have made in-game purchases.

Next, Yahoo Livetext is being shut down at the end of March 2016. The company launched the silent video chat app in July 2015 — we weren’t crazy about the app when we tried it out. As you might expect, Yahoo says Livetext let the company “experiment with new user experiences and features,” which it will try to incorporate into its existing products. Specifically, the company said Yahoo Messenger will have the most to gain here.

«

It’s also closing Yahoo Astrology in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and India. I’m sure they saw it coming though. As for Yahoo, its fate seems to be to pare off more and more of its sites until there’s just a nameplate on an office somewhere in Delaware.
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A typo stopped hackers siphoning nearly $1bn out of Bangladesh » The Register

John Leyden:

»At least 30 transfer requests were made on 5 February using the Bangladesh Bank’s SWIFT code, out of which five resulted in successful transfers, AP reports, citing Bangladeshi newspaper reports.

If all the transfers were effected thieves would have made off with $950m. However, a spelling mistake in the name of one recipient led Deutsche Bank, which was involved in routing funds, to raise a query. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York flagged up the unusual transfer of funds to private accounts to the Bangladesh central bank at around the same time.

“Four requests to transfer a total of about $81m to the Philippines went through, but a fifth, for $20m, to a Sri Lankan non-profit organisation, was held up because the hackers misspelled the name of the NGO, Shalika Foundation,” Reuters reports.

The crooks misspelled “foundation” in the NGO’s name as “fandation”, prompting the query from Deutsche Bank.

«

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How would you fare at the global negotiating table? » World Economic Forum

Donald Armbrecht:

»You’re a great negotiator at home, but how would you fare on the world stage? Strong negotiating skills in one culture can actually be a disadvantage in another, according to Erin Meyer, author of Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai and Da.

Some cultures are emotionally expressive, even in the meeting room. Laughing, raising your voice or physical contact beyond a handshake can be considered normal in countries such as Italy and Spain. Whereas in the United States there’s a level of friendliness with limits. Meanwhile, business cultures in countries like Germany and Japan can find such behaviour inappropriate or unprofessional.

«

Also needs “what do phrases actually mean?” – given that when a Briton says “really?” they usually mean “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”.
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What no indie developer wants to hear about the App Store » iMore

Rene Ritchie:

»I hate hearing it as much as I hate writing it. It’s far easier to simply blame platform owners for failing to pull levers and influence economies; for treating Facebook or HBO better than they treat the 76th Notes app to launch this year.

If the absolutely capricious and often maddening [Apple App STore] review process and lack of attention really did chill innovation, though, it should be easy to point to Google Play and its over half-a-decade of relatively lax approval policies, and see year after year of ground-breaking, platform-making, device-selling apps that would never come to market on the App Store.

That would be the fastest way to get Apple to change review policies — force them to scramble into recovery mode, show the company rather than tell. But there’s nothing to show. Google Play isn’t full of universe-denting mobile software that iPhone and iPad owners simply can’t get. It has a few things like custom launchers, but those remain incredibly niche.

All the truly important apps of the last few years, from Instagram to Uber, all work just fine on the iPhone. In fact, they often work sooner and better.

If Apple did provide for trials and upgrade pricing and allowed more direct customer relationships, it’s uncertain how much that would really change things either. We live in an age of venture capital and mega corporations who can easily afford to release high-quality apps frequently and for free.

«

It is an unbeatable riposte to “trials would make all the difference” to say “well, it hasn’t for developers on Android”. Now read on..
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Life and death in the App Store » The Verge

Casey Newton:

»Last month, Apple announced it had paid $40 billion to developers since the App Store opened, saying the store was responsible for “creating and supporting” 1.9 million US jobs. More than half a million iOS developers have created apps; the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference is so popular that tickets have to be distributed via a lottery. “[Apple] made our company,” Sykora says. “If Apple didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have a company at all.” And the market for apps is growing: between iOS, Android, and smaller platforms, apps could generate $101 billion annually by 2020, according to market research firm App Annie.

But the App Store’s middle class is small and shrinking. And the easy money is gone.

For a time, Pixite was a shining example of the businesses made possible by the app economy. Like thousands of other developers, Pixite’s founders took what had been a side project and turned it into a full-fledged career. But the company’s recent financial problems illustrate a series of powerful shifts in the industry toward consolidation and corporatization.

«

The death of the middle class here reflects wider changes in the outside world – but with evolution speeded up thousands of times. In passing, this article by Newton, and the interview below by Sam Byford, are two excellent pieces of journalism: as long as they need to be, well-researched, intimate, illuminating.
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Artificial intelligence: Google’s AlphaGo beats Go master Lee Se-dol » BBC News

»A computer program has beaten a master Go player 3-0 in a best-of-five competition, in what is seen as a landmark moment for artificial intelligence.

Google’s AlphaGo program was playing against Lee Se-dol in Seoul, in South Korea.
Mr Lee had been confident he would win before the competition started.

The Chinese board game is considered to be a much more complex challenge for a computer than chess.

“AlphaGo played consistently from beginning to the end while Lee, as he is only human, showed some mental vulnerability,” one of Lee’s former coaches, Kwon Kap-Yong, told the AFP news agency.

«

This is what people overlooked in thinking that Se-dol would be able to pull things back even if he lost the first game. There’s no emotion in the machine; it just slogs on (and like chess, Go gets easier to compute towards the end). The human feels the pressure of being behind, and the pressure to win. The machine won’t blunder. The human can. I’m certain it will be a 5-0 result.
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DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future » The Verge

Sam Byford, in a terrific wide-ranging, intelligent interview:

»SB: So let’s move onto smartphone assistants. I saw you put up a slide from Her in your presentation on the opening day — is that really the endgame here?

DH: No, I mean Her is just an easy popular mainstream view of what that sort of thing is. I just think we would like these smartphone assistant things to actually be smart and contextual and have a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do. At the moment most of these systems are extremely brittle — once you go off the templates that have been pre-programmed then they’re pretty useless. So it’s about making that actually adaptable and flexible and more robust.

SB: What’s the breakthrough that’s needed to improve these? Why couldn’t we work on it tomorrow?

DH: Well, we can — I just think you need a different approach. Again, it’s this dichotomy between pre-programmed and learnt. At the moment pretty much all smartphone assistants are special-cased and pre-programmed and that means they’re brittle because they can only do the things they were pre-programmed for. And the real world’s very messy and complicated and users do all sorts of unpredictable things that you can’t know ahead of time. Our belief at DeepMind, certainly this was the founding principle, is that the only way to do intelligence is to do learning from the ground up and be general.

«

This is a must-read; Hassabis is thinking so far ahead, but also so clearly. (I’ve previously said that I think the AI capabilities of phones will feed into the next pervasive thing – a bit like the selfie.)
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What do games tell us about intelligence? » Medium

Johan Ugander is an assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. The whole essay is terrific – he describes AlphaGo as “moving past the horizon of human Go ability” (chess programs have long since vanished over it) – but this part really makes you think:

»Imagine organizing a “Turing tournament” where all the subjects were human, but an interrogator was told that half of the subjects were machines. Tasked to determine which subjects were human and which were machine, the interrogator would be forced to choose which subject was “more human.” As a result, it is therefore possible to measure “how human” each human is. Or at least: how well each human performs human intelligence.

The next natural step is that there’s no reason to believe that computer programs can’t “out-human” us, achieving Elo ratings in the imitation game much higher than any human. This observation is particularly true if the interrogator in the game is human; the natural next step would be to put in place a machine interrogator, who would probably be able to discern the difference between subjects better than any human. As a first step in this direction, research on CAPTCHAs targets precisely this task of discriminating between machines and humans.

But beyond CAPTCHAs, at what point can a machine no longer tell the difference between a human and a machine?

«

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One of the greatest art heists of our time was actually a data hack » Ars Technica

You already knew that it wasn’t a guerrilla 3D scan with a Kinect, because you read it here last week. Annalee Newitz has a neat followup, though:

»the true story of how the artists got their scan might actually be more revealing than the Kinect hoax. [Cosmo] Wenman [who has used high-quality photos to create scans] points out that many museums have high-quality scans of their artwork that they refuse to release to the public. He writes:

»

I know from first-hand experience that people want this data, and want to put it to use, and as I explained to LACMA in 2014, they will get it, one way or another. When museums refuse to provide it, the public is left in the dark and is open to having bogus or uncertain data foisted upon it.

Museums should not be repositories of secret knowledge, but unfortunately, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Neues is not alone in keeping their scan data to themselves. There are many influential museums, universities, and private collections that have extremely high quality 3D data of important works, but they are not sharing that data with the public.

«

He lists dozens of high-quality scans that are being hoarded by museums, from famous Rodin and Michelangelo sculptures, to Assyrian reliefs that are thousands of years old. If the artists behind The Other Nefertiti would come clean about where their scan came from, they might inspire other artists to force museums to open up their archives and allow many other artworks to return home— or come into our homes, making art part of our everyday lives.

«

There’s the scent of a novel in this. Which is real, the scan or the “original”?
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Uber riders say they were charged massive cleaning fees for messes they never made » BuzzFeed News

Leticia Miranda:

»Uber customers are warning others to be wary of using the ride-hailing app after they say they were charged hundreds in vehicle cleaning fees for messes they claim they never made.

Jordan Hunter, a 22-year-old senior at University of Texas, says she and a group of friends were left stunned after a six-mile Uber ride in Austin left them with a triple-digit bill for what Uber said were cleaning purposes.

The group of six friends took an Uber home early on Saturday, Feb. 7, Hunter told BuzzFeed News. The friends were irritated by the surge pricing, but were willing to cough up the $68 it would cost to get home safely.

After arriving home, the friends were shocked to see they had been charged an additional $100 for a cleaning fee.

«

Sounds like drivers figuring out a way to make some extra cash on the side. If there’s a wrinkle, people will find it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Android antitrust?, Flickr flickers, Apple gets small, Opera adblocks, an iPhone killer dies, and more

Sonos is cutting jobs but says voice recognition and streaming will be bigger parts of its future. Photo by nan palmero on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. A computer counted them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What happens when video games can read your face » Fast Company

Elizabeth Segran:

»Game developers have always been interested in how players might react to the characters and plots they created—but what if they could tell exactly how the player was feeling and tailor the game to their mood?

“Back in the olden days we had to do a lot of guesswork as game designers,” says Erin Reynolds, the creative director of the gaming company Flying Mollusk. “Is the player enjoying this? Is the player bored? You had to create a game that was one size fits all.”

But all that is changing fast. Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off that creates technology that recognizes people’s emotions by analyzing subtle facial movements, has created a plugin that game developers can integrate into their games to make them more emotion-aware.

«

The warm bath of AI – it’s all around you.
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EU taking steps towards formal complaint against Google’s Android » Bloomberg Business

Aoife White:

»The European Union may be gearing up to send Google an antitrust complaint over its Android mobile phone operating system, adding to a growing list of regulatory woes for the company on the continent, according to three people familiar with the probe.

The Internet giant’s opponents have been asked to remove any business secrets from documents submitted to regulators to prepare non-confidential versions that could be shown to Google after a statement of objections, said the people who asked not to be named because the investigation is private.

«

That’s certainly a key step towards a Statement of Objections. But it’s been more than a year since Vestager raised the SOO to Google’s search, and nothing has happened. Why will this make any difference?
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Android N’s under-the-hood changes might point to a new future for OS updates » Android Central

Jerry Hildenbrand:

»Imagine a world where Samsung can have its vision of Android running just how it likes it, while deep system processes — like the infamous Stagefright library — are separate and untouched. That would mean that Samsung or Google could push out changes to their separate parts of the system far more easily (and much faster) than they can today without interfering with the other half of the system. (With APIs and libraries to bridge the gap.) The manpower alone that this situation frees up means more people are available to work on making the Samsung experience better without having to worry about the underlying Android code.

With Android N, Google has essentially started to divide Android into two sections: the core OS (the framework that makes everything work) and the interface (the apps, launcher, notifications, and everything else the user interacts with).

«

Sounds nice. Any reasonable estimate suggests that Android N will be on about a third of Android devices 18 months after it is announced; Lollipop (v 5.x) is now on 36.1% of devices, having been released in November 2014. So that suggests, if N goes live in November, that it’s going to be 2018 before any of this is really widespread.
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Apple invites media to March 21 product event » Mashable

Lance Ulanoff:

»No one expects cutting-edge technology from the new 4-inch phone. Most rumors have pegged it with the last-generation A8 chip and an 8-megapixel camera. It will also, at a rumored $450, cost a lot less than Apple’s flagships, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Most people also expect an iPad Air 3. Apple’s latest 9.7in tablet will not be a great leap forward, but it should include an A9 processor, support for the Apple Pencil and maybe even Smart Connectors for accessories like an iPad Air-size Smart Keyboard.

This event will also mark the one year anniversary (plus a few days) of the official introduction of Apple’s first wearable, the Apple Watch. No one is predicting new hardware; the Apple Watch design will probably be fixed for at least another six months. There are rumors, though, of even more watch band styles and, possibly, some new Apple Watch colors and materials.

This is also the time of year where Apple does a laptop refresh. A year ago it introduced the ultra-light, gold MacBook, which was notable for having just a single USB-C port. The device is an engineering wonder, but its processor, the Intel Core M, is over a year old. Expect an upgrade to Intel’s sixth-generation Core line (a.k.a. Skylake). Apple could also introduce upgrades for the MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro.

There’s always the possibility of a surprisem, like a brand new gadget or accessory. It’s certainly been ages since Apple upgraded the earbuds that ship with the iPhone. Maybe they’ll finally get a Beats upgrade.

«

They all sound like solid upgrades; watching the effect of a new 4in iPhone on sales will be telling.
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Navigating an industry in transition, investing in the future of music » Sonos

Sonos chief executive (and co-founder) John McFarlane on how future music streaming and voice control will be key to the company’s future:

»Now the path forward for the music industry is crystal clear, so too is our path at Sonos. We’re doubling down on our long-held conviction that streaming music is the dominant form of consumption now and in the future. We believe that listeners will grow increasingly dissatisfied with the solutions they’ve cobbled together for listening at home.

“Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company.”
Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company, and will be at the vanguard of what it means to listen to music at home. This is a significant long-term development effort against which we’re committing significant resources.

Voice: we’re fans of what Amazon has done with Alexa and the Echo product line. Voice recognition isn’t new; today it’s nearly ubiquitous with Siri, OK Google, and Cortana. But the Echo found a sweet spot in the home and will impact how we navigate music, weather, and many, many other things as developers bring new ideas and more content to the Alexa platform.

Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home. Its popularity with consumers will accelerate innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become standard tomorrow. Here again, Sonos is taking the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled music experiences into the home. Voice is a big change for us, so we’ll invest what’s required to bring it to market in a wonderful way.

«

Apparently the new Sonos Play:5 has a microphone built in, but not – it seems – enabled yet. McFarlane also says there are layoffs, though the number isn’t specified. The admiration for Amazon’s Echo is something to note, though.
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Flickr’s desktop auto-upload feature is no longer free » VentureBeat

Ken Yeung:

»Flickr has made a change to its $5.99 monthly Pro membership plan that will affect those using the photo-sharing social network for free. Starting today, its desktop Auto-Uploadr tool will be exclusive to paying customers. But all is not lost, as the company is offering a 30 percent discount to non-paying members to upgrade.

With the desktop Auto-Uploadr feature, users can automatically upload all of their photos from anywhere, while also making them accessible from any device. Introduced in May and available for Windows and Mac computers, it promised to take images from your hard drive, iPhoto, and any external hard drive and store it on Flickr’s servers. This was intended to tout the company’s increase in free storage capacity of up to 1000GB.

«

Feels like the first turn of the screw.
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The roots of Tim Cook’s activism lie in rural Alabama » The Washington Post

Todd Frankel got sent down to Alabama to see what the hell he could find in the town where Tim Cook grew up. Turned out, not much to find:

»Robertsdale today is a two water-tower town of about 5,200 residents. It’s doubled in size since Cook grew up here, with houses spreading across former farm fields. The town got its first Walmart Supercenter two years ago.

Back in 1977, the new store in town was a Piggly Wiggly. There was no movie theater. No bowling alley. The fall county fair was the big deal. Teens hung out on the town’s tennis courts or outside Hammond’s Supermarket, where they knew the owner. “There was nothing to do,” said Teresa Prochaska Huntsman, another Class of ’78 alum.

School was the center of their lives. And Cook excelled there. He was in the National Honor Society and racked up academic honors. So did Huntsman, who managed to edge out Cook for the title of class valedictorian…

…“He probably considered himself to be a bit nerdy, but he didn’t come off that way,” recalled Harold Richardson, another former classmate.

And the topic of whether Cook — or any other student — was gay wasn’t even on the radar. “In the ’70s, in high school, no one thought about that, especially in Alabama,” Richardson said. It was like it wasn’t even possible.

Growing up gay in small-town Alabama a generation ago meant knowing the value of privacy, recalled Paul Hard, 57, who was raised in tiny Demopolis, Ala. He doesn’t know Cook, but imagines what he went through, because he went through it himself. “You kept your cards close to your chest,” he said.

«

The photo of Cook in the high school yearbook is amazing, though. Took me quite a while to find it.
link to this extract

 


China’s best iPhone clone maker bites the dust » Tech In Asia

Charlie Custer:

»So what killed Dakele? Frankly, having a good-quality, low-cost smartphone simply isn’t enough to win you customers in the Chinese smartphone market these days. While it worked in the early days of Xiaomi, when real iPhones were a luxury item and smartphone penetration was low, these days everybody in major cities has a smartphone, and the middle class has grown enough that Apple’s uber-expensive iPhone is consistently among China’s top sellers.

In this climate, investors are not longer interested in backing phone brands that only offer value-for-money. With virtually all of China’s internet giants getting in on the smartphone game, there are too many other companies out there that can offer the same kind of value for money in addition to other things, like an established customer base or unique software integrations. Dakele ultimately folded, according to Ding, because its sources of capital were cut off as investors became more interested in rivals. (It also probably didn’t help that the company Dakele outsourced its manufacturing to shut down last year.)

The most important lesson of Dakele’s death may be that in big, fast-growing markets like China the bang-for-buck approach to selling smartphones isn’t sustainable in the long term. In the early years of China’s smartphone market, knockoff brands and clone-makers like Dakele were making a killing, but the demise of Dakele suggest that now those days are well and truly gone. If you want to sell smartphones in China, having good specs and an affordable price isn’t enough to attract customers or investors anymore.

«

Now the question becomes: what is enough? Custer also points to other markets where the same lesson is likely to be learnt the hard way.
link to this extract

 


Opera becomes first big browser maker with built-in ad-blocker » Reuters

Eric Auchard:

»Norwegian company Opera is introducing a new version of its desktop computer browser that promises to load web pages faster by incorporating ad-blocking, a move that makes reining in advertising a basic feature instead of an afterthought.

Faster loading, increased privacy and security and a desire for fewer distractions are behind the growing demand for ad-blockers.

However, their popularity is cutting into the growth of online marketing for site publishers and corporate brands, who rely on reaching web and mobile users to pay for their content rather than restricting access to paid subscribers.

Opera has a history of introducing innovations that later become common in major browsers such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking, which helped users control an earlier generation of in-your-face ads and malware disguised as advertising.

«

It’s that last paragraph that’s important: Opera introduced tabbed browsing in 2000, and by 2001 it was in Mozilla, then Safari in 2003, and IE in 2006. Adoption of new features could be even faster now.
link to this extract

 


The Economist explains: Why fashion week is passé » The Economist

»Fashion week used to serve a distinct purpose. Designers would prepare collections and present clothes to the press, to major retailers and to select other industry insiders. Fashion editors would then prepare sumptuous magazine spreads featuring the clothes they liked best. Retailers would order this or that dress. About four to six months later, those clothes would appear in shops.

Technology has upended all this. As soon as models sashay down the runway, photographs are posted online and shared endlessly through social media. Fast-fashion brands copy designers’ styles (though the industry prefers the euphemism “interpret”), often stocking look-alikes in their shops before designers’ own clothes make it to department stores. When designers’ clothes do arrive, they seem stale . It is no coincidence that the world’s top two retailers are TJX and Inditex. TJX buys brand-name clothes from stores that can’t sell them at full price, then offers them at a deep discount. Inditex owns Zara, the pioneer in fast fashion.

Few designers like the current system. Less obvious is what they should do next.

«

(Via Benedict Evans.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Samsung’s US chance, Google’s RTBF extension, hacking Isil, bionic feels!, and more

The world of professional bridge is struggling with accusations of cheating. But how do you prevent people communicating in code, if they can communicate? Photo by jaxx2kde 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. Effortless. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Sizing the US opportunity for Samsung Galaxy S7 & S7 edge » Kantar Worldpanel

Carolina Milanesi:

»By the end of January [2016], the Galaxy S6 represented only 9% of Samsung’s installed base in the US, and the Galaxy S6 edge a mere 2%. The Galaxy S5 remained the most popular device in the installed base, representing 21.5% followed by the Galaxy S4 – now a three-year-old phone – at 14.2%.

Between February 2015 and January 2016, only 26% of Samsung smartphones in use were upgraded. This creates a huge opportunity for Samsung to persuade consumers it is time to upgrade to the new devices.

Of the 26% of Samsung devices that were upgraded, the greatest percentage (27.5%) chose the Galaxy S5, 26.2% the Galaxy S6: 9.4% the Galaxy Note 4: 7.9% the Galaxy Note 5: and 5% the Galaxy S6 edge. The rest of the upgrades were divided among 33 different models, demonstrating how wide the Samsung offering remains in the US market, despite all the attention being given to its flagship products.

Only 3.6% of current Galaxy S6 owners said they are planning to upgrade their smartphone in the next 12 months. This should not worry Samsung, however, as we have shown that a significant opportunity remains among owners of older phones, making them a much easier target for the Korean brand.

«

Suggests that the S6 and S6 Edge really weren’t a big hit, as the S4 has a higher share than both together.
link to this extract

 


Dirty hands » The New Yorker

David Owen, with a fantastic piece about cheating in the world of professional bridge:

»When Brogeland made his first announcement, his evidence against Fisher and Schwartz consisted solely of what he believed to be a collection of suspicious hands; he still didn’t know how they might be exchanging information. A few days later, he created a new Web site, called Bridgecheaters.com, and posted three YouTube videos from the 2014 European Team Championships, which Fisher and Schwartz’s team had won. Each video had been shot from a camera mounted near the table. It showed all four players, as well as the table paraphernalia of modern tournament bridge: four bidding boxes (containing each player’s pre-printed bidding cards); a felt-covered bidding tray (on which the players place bidding cards before sliding it back under the screen); and a plastic duplicate board (a flat, rectangular box in which four pre-dealt hands have been delivered to the table). Brogeland asked for help from other players, and the search for evidence immediately became a collaborative international project.

«

As you read it, you realise that every human element in bridge – speaking, coughing, card movement, any physical movement – makes it feasible to create a code to cheat; the only way to prevent it would be to have people playing via screen, without words or gestures. Which would take away everything that might make it fun.
link to this extract

 


Google finally extends right-to-be-forgotten rules to all search sites, including dot-com » Ars Technica UK

Kelly Fiveash:

»Google has responded to European Union data watchdogs by expanding its right-to-be-forgotten rules to apply to its search websites across the globe.

In 2014, search engines were ordered by Europe’s top court to scrub certain listings on their indexes. Google—which commands roughly 90 percent of the search market in the EU—claimed at the time that such measures amounted to censorship of the Internet.

However, the landmark European Court of Justice ruling in fact stated that search engines were required to remove links that are old, out of date or irrelevant, and—most significantly of all—not found to be in the public interest.

Indeed, the right-to-be-forgotten may seem evocative to privacy campaigners, but as the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has previously stated, “there is no absolute right [under the ruling] to have information removed.”

«

Google’s blogpost on the topic says “We’re changing our approach as a result of specific discussions that we’ve had with EU data protection regulators in recent months”. No mention of the swingeing fines the regulators threatened.
link to this extract

 


Bionic fingertip gives sense of touch to amputee » Reuters

Matthew Stock:

»A bionic fingertip has given an amputee the sensation of rough or smooth textures via electrodes implanted into nerves in his upper arm.

Scientists from EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and SSSA (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy) successfully allowed amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen to receive this sophisticated tactile information in real-time.

The research, published in science journal eLife, says Sørensen is the first person in the world to recognize texture using a bionic fingertip connected to electrodes surgically implanted above his stump.

The nerves in Sørensen’s arm were wired to a machine with the fingertip attached to it. The machine then controlled the movement of the fingertip over pieces of plastic engraved with different textures, either rough or smooth. When the fingertip moved across the plastic, its sensors generated an electrical signal which was translated into a series of electrical spikes that mimic the language of the nervous system. This was then delivered to Sørensen’s nerves.

«

Odd – and a little sad – how little of the billions washing around Silicon Valley are being used to set up companies to do things like this.
link to this extract

 


AlphaGo defeats Lee Sedol in first game of historic man vs machine match » Go Game Guru

You probably heard the news that Google’s DeepMind system AlphaGo beat the best player in the world. Here are the reactions of the pros (“9p” means “9-dan professional”, ie the highest level):

»Lee Changho 9p said,  “I’m so shocked by AlphaGo’s play!”

Meanwhile Cho Hanseung 9p remarked, “AlphaGo is much stronger than before, when it played against Fan Hui 2p! When Google said the odds were fifty-fifty, it seems they weren’t joking. I still can’t believe its performance even though I just saw it with my own eyes.”

In a post-game interview, Lee Sedol was visibly startled by AlphaGo’s strength. “I was so surprised. Actually, I never imagined that I would lose. It’s so shocking. Regarding the game, I got off to a bad start and AlphaGo played well right until the end. Even when I was behind, I still didn’t imagine that I’d lose. I didn’t think that it would be able to play such an excellent game. I heard that the DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis said that he respects me as a Go player, but I have great respect for both of them [referring to Demis Hassabis and Eric Schmidt] for making this amazing program. I also respect all the programmers who helped to make AlphaGo.”

«

The second game should finish around 0800 GMT on Thursday.
link to this extract

 


Exclusive: 1736 documents reveal ISIS jihadists personal data » Zaman Al Wasl

»Zaman Al Wasl has exclusively obtained the personal data of 1736 ISIS fighters from over 40 countries, including their backgrounds, nationalities and hometown addresses.

The document that branded by ISIS as confidential is shedding the light on the inner circle of the de facto a state which has its own institutions and official documents as well data bank.

Two thirds of ISIS manpower are from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. 25% of ISIS fighters are Saudis, the data disclosed.

While Turkish fighters are taking the lead among ISIS foreign fighters, French fighters come next.

Syrians are just 1.7 % of the total number of fighters. The Iraqis make 1.2.

Expert told Zaman al-Wasl that Iraqis and Jordanians can make the backbone of ISIS but most of them are based in Mosul and ISIS-controlled areas in Ramadi.

The most notably that ISIS fighters do not know the real names of their fellow fighters since they used to have code names, or names de guerre, and for security issues they have been obliged to follow high ranks of secrecy.

The documents have been written and organized by the General Administration of Borders, and ISIS commission that tracks all Jihadists data.

The data document is including 23 fields, starting with the Jihadist’s first name, last name, code name, date of birth and nationality. The jihadist who cross the the Islamic State’s borders for the first time is ought to acknowledge the Borders Administration everything about himself, even what he wants to be in ISIS, a fighter or a suicide bomber.

«

Hacking is damned annoying thing.
link to this extract

 


Maybe we could tone down the JavaScript » fuzzy notepad

Alex Munroe is kinda annoyed about pages which insist on a ton of Javascript:

»These aren’t cutting-edge interactive applications; they’re pages with text on them. We used to print those on paper, but as soon as we made the leap to computers, it became impossible to put words on a screen without executing several megabytes of custom junk?

I can almost hear the Hacker News comments now, about what a luddite I am for not thinking five paragraphs of static text need to be infested with a thousand lines of script. Well, let me say proactively: fuck all y’all. I think the Web is great, I think interactive dynamic stuff is great, and I think the progress we’ve made in the last decade is great. I also think it’s great that the Web is and always has been inherently customizable by users, and that I can use an extension that lets me decide ahead of time what an arbitrary site can run on my computer.

What’s less great is a team of highly-paid and highly-skilled people all using Chrome on a recent Mac Pro, developing in an office half a mile from almost every server they hit, then turning around and scoffing at people who don’t have exactly the same setup. Consider that any of the following might cause your JavaScript to not work:

• Someone is on a slow computer.
• Someone is on a slow connection.
• Someone is on a phone, i.e. a slow computer with a slow connection.
• Someone is stuck with an old browser on a computer they don’t control — at work, at school, in a library, etc.
• Someone is trying to write a small program that interacts with your site, which doesn’t have an API.

«

And he’s only just getting started.
link to this extract

 


How the smartphone shapes millennials’ online activities » Global Web Index

Chase Buckle:

»From a marketing perspective, the term Millennial is increasingly becoming synonymous with mobile. And for good reason – almost 90% own a smartphone and these internet users clock up on average over 3 hours per day online via mobiles (rising to over 4 hours in Latin America and the Middle East). That means they’re spending up to 5x longer per day online on mobile than older age groups.

Understandably, this enthusiasm for smartphones is having a huge impact on their online activities. Our latest research shows that Millennials overwhelmingly cite smartphones as their most important device for getting online, and we’re seeing more-and-more staple internet activities take place on mobile.

«

What I notice about the above graphic is that in the past month, about 76% used a search engine on mobile – and (slightly) more used a social network. By contrast on desktop, it would probably be 100% and 100%. Plus these are the millennials; for those who are older, both uses will be less. That search engine use is Google’s problem on mobile: lots of people don’t do search on a daily basis on mobile.
link to this extract

 


We need to save online journalism from ad blocking – and here’s how » Alphr

James O’Malley:

»Historically, journalism has had two major sources of income: Advertisers and readers. But now publishing is being squeezed from both ends. Thanks to the internet, and the explosion in ‘content’ (that’s what we call it now), people are very reticent to pay to read news, like they would have done for a print newspaper. And now thanks to ad-blockers, fewer people are looking at the adverts.

So what to do? How can a business model be found that will make journalism pay? Is there anything that can save this noble trade?

Bizarrely, the solution to this problem has already been invented. Six years ago. By one of the last people you’d expect to have an interest in paying people for their work.

Flattr was co-founded in 2010 by Peter Sunde, who is better known as one of the co-founders and former spokesperson for The Pirate Bay. Given that his website is responsible for distributing huge swathes of pirated content, you can’t help but wonder if Flattr was his attempt at atonement.

Flattr is a “microdonation” platform. The idea is that you sign up and allocate a fixed amount of cash to pay in every month – say £10 for the sake of argument – and then if you’re reading an article online that you like, you can click the “Flattr” button nestled amongst the existing social media sharing links. At the end of the month, your £10 is then divided up between the publishers of the articles that you’ve chosen to flattr. So if you flattr two articles, they earn £5 each. If you flattr ten, then each gets a pound. And so on.

The genius is that it solves the biggest problem with any micropayment system: Friction.

«

Neat idea. The problem now is just adoption by publishers and readers (and getting users of adblockers to see it in the first place).
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: 3D TV is dead, Samsung’s S7 in brief, tablets to grow and shrink, the faked Nefertiti, and more


By the time you read this, the world’s best human Go player will have won – or lost – against the world’s best AI Go player. Photograph (of a standard corner formation) by Peter on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How AlphaGo illustrates the “warm bath and ice bucket” view of technology progress » Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis

This is by me; I’ve started writing at Techpinions.

»Remember the last time you took a bath or shower and it started lukewarm but you gradually warmed it by adding more hot water, until it reached a temperature so hot you could never have got into it at the start? Isn’t it strange how we can be immune to subtle, slow changes all around us?

Then there’s the other extreme – the ice bucket experience, where you’re abruptly plunged into something so dramatically different you can’t think of anything else.

The warm bath and the ice bucket: that’s how technology progresses, too.

«

By the time you read this, the first game of the five-match Go tournament pitting Google Deepmind AlphaGo program v Lee Sedol, the world’s best Go player, will have been played. The result will be at https://gogameguru.com/alphago-1/.

But which is AI, do you think: the warm bath or the ice bucket?
link to this extract

 


Detachable tablets set to grow from 8% of tablet market in 2015 to 30% in 2020 » IDC

»Worldwide tablet shipments will drop to 195m units in 2016, down -5.9% from 2015, according to a new International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker forecast. Looking beyond 2016, IDC expects the overall market to return to positive growth, albeit single digit, driven by growing demand for detachable devices. This somewhat hybrid category that brings together slate tablets and PCs is expected to grow from 16.6m shipments in 2015 to 63.8m in 2020.

“Beyond the growing demand for detachable devices, we’re also witnessing an increase in competition within this segment that will help drive design, innovation, and a decline in average prices,” said Jean Philippe Bouchard, Research Director, Tablets. “At the latest Mobile World Congress, we saw new entrants, like Alcatel and Huawei, coming from the mobile space and expanding their portfolio to address the demand for detachables. Everyone in the industry recognizes that traditional personal computers like desktops and notebooks will potentially be replaced by detachables in the coming years and this is why we will see a lot of new products being introduced this year.”

The change from slate form factor to detachables will bring along two other changes to the tablet industry. First, devices with larger screen sizes (9″ and above) will experience growth throughout the forecast while those under 9inches will decline. And second, Microsoft-based devices will begin taking share from the other platforms, most notably Android.

«

This “detachable” v “slate” v “you can get an extra keyboard as an add-on” is confusing as hell, and IDC isn’t making it any clearer. Nowhere in this release, or anywhere on IDC’s site that I’ve seen, is there a definition of what makes a “detachable”. Is the Surface Pro? The Surface Book? The iPad Pro? An iPad to which you add a Logitech keyboard?
link to this extract

 


Mossberg: Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 phones are beautiful » The Verge

Walt Mossberg:

»I had three hardware problems. First, the standard S7 ran hot, sometimes uncomfortably so. Second, the backs of both new Galaxies were slippery. I almost dropped each once.

My worst hardware problem — and it’s quite annoying — is that the fingerprint reader, built into the rectangular physical home button, failed on me. On both models, I kept getting a message to wipe off the home button and try again, even though the button and my thumb were each bone dry. If I left my thumb on the reader a bit longer, or pressed harder, it would work, but this was still a fail because it made unlocking the phone with my thumb a chore. Oddly, this didn’t happen with a second finger. Samsung had no explanation, but that same thumb has unlocked several other brands of handsets quickly and reliably…

…As has happened so often in the past, Samsung’s best efforts at hardware are let down by software. The company told me it had stopped trying half-baked software ideas, and reduced duplication of Samsung and Android apps by about 30%.

I agree that the S7’s have the cleanest software build of any Galaxy I’ve tested, and that Samsung’s TouchWiz interface has been toned down. But there’s still too much duplicate software for my taste. For instance, out of the box, there are still two email apps, two music services, two photo-viewing apps, two messaging apps, and, except on Verizon, two browsers and dueling wireless payment services. (Samsung says Verizon barred including Samsung’s browser and Samsung Pay out of the box.) And Verizon builds in a third messaging app…

…Worse, despite Samsung’s newfound software restraint, the company couldn’t stop itself from offering a complex new system of software shortcuts on the larger S7 Edge model. This is the new iteration of a useless feature from last year’s Edge model, and it is better. But it’s the kind of thing that just strikes me as a gimmick. You can swipe in from a small area of the right edge to see various different vertical rows of supposedly quick-action icons: frequent contacts, favorite apps,news, automated tasks and more. Some of these actually can be expanded to two vertical rows.

It sounds at first glance like a time-saving idea, but I found it to be a sort of competing user interface which I frequently forgot about.

«

So the hardware is beautiful.. and then the problems start? Terrible headline which doesn’t do the job a headline should. The phone running hot will be down to the Snapdragon 820 chip. And what does “reduced duplication by 30%” mean?
link to this extract

 


With a bullet to the head from Samsung, 3D TV is now deader than ever » CNET

Nice scoop by David Katzmaier, who got a Samsung source telling him its 2016 range won’t support 3D, going instead for smart functionality:

»LG, the No. 2 TV maker worldwide, is actually holding steady. Tim Alessi, director of new product development, told CNET that 3D “still remains a meaningful step-up feature for many” consumers. About a third of the 2016 series TVs it will sell in the US support the feature. On the other hand, all of them will be high-end 4K OLED and LED LCD models.

Case in point: LG’s main series of flat 4K OLED for 2016, the B6, won’t support 3D. That’s a shame for any remaining 3D fans because its 2015 predecessor, the EF9500 series, delivered the best 3D image quality we’ve ever tested.

Then there’s Vizio. A major brand in the US but not worldwide, Vizio hasn’t offered 3D on any of its TVs since 2013; even the exceedingly expensive Reference Series is 2D-only. And Sony’s rep told CNET that only two of its US series, the X930D and X940D, will support 3D in 2016. The cheapest costs $3,200.

3D movies continue to be released in theaters, and 3D Blu-ray discs will likely be sold for a few more years, so owners of current 3D TVs still have some use for those glasses. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Vudu still offer a few titles too, but they can be difficult to find, and the new 4K Blu-ray disc format contains no provisions for 3D support at all.

«

Yeah, 3D TV is dead; Philips is giving up on it too, and broadcasters have abandonedit. There was never a reason for it, too big an installed base to fight against, and the requirement for special glasses (what if you had friends round?) too taxing.

So let’s remind ourselves of the breathless reports from CES 2010 and CES 2011, when we were told 3D TV would be the next big thing.
link to this extract

 


There’s something fishy about the other Nefertiti » The Great Fredini’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Fred Kahjl on the claims by Nora Al-Badri and Jan Nikolai Nelles to have used a Kinect to make a high-quality 3D scan of the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum:

»One theory is that the scan is actually generated by Photogrammetry, a technique of capturing images of the sculpture from a variety of angles. The images are then fed into software such as Agisoft Photoscan that analyzes all the images for common points, and generates a 3D model of the subject. Paul Docherty is a researcher who has extensively used photogrammetry to reconstruct historic artifacts and sites, including a model of Nefertiti’s bust using available imagery he gathered online. He catalogued the process in his article 3D Modelling the Bust of Queen Nefertiti, and also spoke on the 3D in Review podcast about his efforts. Mr. Docherty has since gone on to question the Nefertiti Hack scan in his article Nefertiti Hack – Questions regarding the 3D scan of the bust of Nefertiti, in which he agrees that there is no way this scan was captured with a Kinect. So, its possible that the scan could have been made using a series of 45-120 high res images covertly gathered with a cellphone, but if that’s the way it was done, why show the Kinect in the video?

The last possibility and reigning theory is that Ms. Badri and Mr. Nelles’ elusive hacker partners are literally real hackers who stole a copy of the high resolution scan from the Museum’s servers. A high resolution scan must exist, as a high res 3D printed replica is already available for sale online. Museum officials have dismissed the Other Nefertiti model as “of minor quality”, but that’s not what we are seeing in this highly detailed scan. Perhaps the file was obtained from someone involved in printing the reproduction, or it was a scan made of the reproduction? Indeed, the common belief in online 3D Printing community chatter is that the Kinect “story” is a fabrication to hide the fact that the model was actually stolen data from a commercial high quality scan. If the artists were behind a server hack, the legal ramifications for them are much more serious than scanning the object, which has few, if any legal precedents.

«

More detail from Kahl points out that a Kinect could never have done this – it lacks the precision. So a server hack seems most likely.
link to this extract

 


SoC and NAND performance – the Samsung Galaxy S7 & S7 Edge review, part 1 » Anandtech

Joshua Ho:

»While we’re ready to move on to newer benchmarks for 2016, our system performance benchmarks from 2015 are still going to provide a pretty good idea for what to expect from the Galaxy S7 and Snapdragon 820 by extension. For those that are unfamiliar with what the Snapdragon 820 is, I’d reference our previous articles on the Snapdragon 820.

In essence, we’re looking at a 2×2 CPU configuration with 2.2 GHz Kryo cores for the performance cluster, and 1.6 GHz Kryo cores for the efficiency cluster. Binding the two clusters together are some power aware scheduling at the kernel level and a custom interconnect to handle coherency between the two clusters. Memory is also improved relative to the Snapdragon 810, with a bump to LPDDR4-1800 over the former’s LPDDR4-1600. Of course, there’s a lot more to talk about here, but for now we can simply look at how the Snapdragon 820 compares in our benchmarks.

«

Yes, have a look. What stands out is that in 11 comparative benchmark tests, the S7’s 820 processor beats the six-month-old IPhone 6S Plus in just three. I’m not much of a believer in the importance of benchmarks – they won’t tell you how smoothly a screen will scroll, no matter what the frame rate, because animation code is a different thing from simply refreshing the screen – but this seems remarkable. How soon before Apple’s lead isn’t just six months, but a year?

And then take a look at the battery life figures, where Ho comments:

»looking at the iPhone 6s Plus relative to the Galaxy S7 edge it’s pretty obvious that there is a power efficiency gap between the two in this test. Despite the enormous difference in battery size – the Galaxy S7 edge has a battery that is 33% larger than the iPhone 6s Plus – the difference in battery life between the iPhone and Galaxy in this test is small, on the order of half an hour or 5-6% [longer for the S7 Edge]. This is balanced against a higher resolution (but AMOLED) display, which means we’re looking at SoC efficiency compounded with a difference in display power.

«

But of course it’s the people who are upgrading from two-year-old phones who will see the dramatic difference in speed and, on this evidence, battery life. (Thanks @papanic for the link.)
link to this extract

 


Amid Andrews trial, female sports reporters open up about safety » SI.com

Richard Deitsch:

»Erin Andrews’s lawsuit and trial this month against the Nashville Marriott (Andrews is suing the hotel for allowing a stalker to book the room next to hers and surreptitiously film nude videos of her in 2008 while she worked for ESPN) has not gone unnoticed for front-facing women in the sports media who travel regularly for work. Last week I contacted seven women who appear on television regularly (ESPN’s Josina Anderson, SNY’s Kerith Burke, Fox Sports reporter Laura Okmin, SportsNetLA Dodgers host and reporter Alanna Rizzo, NBC Sunday Night Football reporter Michele Tafoya, YES Network’s Yankees reporter Meredith Marakovits and Kusnierek). With them, I discussed the topic of security while on the road. I was curious if what happened to Andrews changed their approach about where they stay, what they do at hotels, or produced any new travel precautions for them.

“I don’t have a lot of say in where I stay or what hotel chains my company uses,” said Burke. “I do remember feeling sad and scared after what happened to Erin. I travel with Band-Aids to put over the peepholes. I prefer to join a coworker at the hotel restaurant or bar so strangers don’t approach me as much. There’s a noticeable difference when I eat or drink alone. I don’t like hotel rooms on the first floor. I don’t like rooms by the elevators. Depending on the length of my stay, I don’t get maid service because I don’t want anyone in my room except me.”

“I am very cautious,” said Rizzo. “I never post on social media where the team is staying. I used to stay under my actual name at hotels but this year that will be changed. There have been several occurrences when savvy fans have located the team hotel and have called my room asking me for a date or for money for their fundraisers.”

«

Erin Andrews was awarded millions of dollars against the hotel chain which failed to prevent the stalker making reservations.

Most men don’t realise how for women staying alone in a hotel isn’t necessarily a fun-packed fest; it’s more like a test of nerve, where they take multiple precautions. (It’s not just female sports reporters.)
link to this extract

 


Tim Sweeney is missing the point; the PC platform needs fixing » Ars Technica

Peter Bright responds to a (slightly puzzling) piece by Tim Sweeney of Epic Games in The Guardian, and says that for a lot of people smartphones and tablets feel a lot more secure, by design:

»Beyond the API-level checking to get in the store, the sandboxing means that apps simply can’t access things they shouldn’t.

This combination of security, isolation, compatibility, reliability, and predictability has given consoles, smartphones, tablets, and even Chromebooks substantial appeal when compared to the PC. Smartphones, consoles, and Chromebooks are all growing, expanding markets. Windows PCs aren’t, and the perceived failings in these areas are among the reasons that many users say they prefer their iPhone or their iPad to their PC. Their iPads are safe and consistent, and users just know that they’ll work in the right way.

The traditional PC has none of that, which is why Microsoft is trying to build it. The Store is central to this. UWP provides big parts of the infrastructure, in particular, sandboxed security and clean installation and uninstallation. The Store provides other parts. It provides infrastructure such as app updating and in-app purchasing, and it also allows Microsoft to enforce various technical rules, such as prohibiting the use of some APIs, mandating adequate performance in certain scenarios, and informing developers if their apps are crashing too much. Microsoft needs both the Store and UWPs together to deliver the kind of platform that consumers have shown they want. Take away the Store, and the platform concept as a whole is compromised.

«

Strong arguments.
link to this extract

 


Verizon settles with FCC over hidden tracking » The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

»The Federal Communications Commission said Monday that it had reached a settlement with Verizon Wireless for its use of hidden tracking technology known as “supercookies,” which were used for targeted advertising without customers’ permission.

As part of the settlement, Verizon Wireless was fined $1.35m and is required to notify consumers of its data collection program, as well as get permission from users before sharing consumer data with third-party partners.

The penalty was small, but the enforcement action drew wide attention from the telecom industry as a glimpse of the F.C.C.’s expanding ambitions into privacy regulation. The agency is expected to soon consider first-time privacy rules for Internet service providers that could include mandates that wireless and fixed broadband providers get permission from users before tracking their behavior online.

«

Guess who now works at the FCC? Jonathan Mayer, who discovered Google’s hacking of Safari to plant Doubleclick cookies, and another company that was using Verizon supercookies to recreate its own. Expect more enforcement from the FCC.
link to this extract

 


How adblockers drive YouTubers to shill for mobile game makers » GamesBeat

Jeff Grubb:

»“I think what many people still don’t realize is that: YouTube Red exists largely as an effort to counter Adblock,” PewDiePie wrote on his blog. “Using Adblock doesn’t mean you’re clever and above the system. YouTube Red exists because using Adblock has actual consequences.”

The biggest of those consequences is a reduction in the CPMs (cost per 1,000 views) that marketers will pay to YouTube and the video creators. And that dropping value leads to the creation of services like YouTube Red and Roostr.tv.

“It’s not a secret to anyone that the CPMs people have been earning are dropping lately,” Roostr.tv content producer Elena Nizhnik told GamesBeat. “So a lot of gamers that are doing this full-time have been looking for additional ways to get supplemental income. If it’s not direct sponsorships for gear or something brick-and-mortar, many have been looking at doing deals with mobile publishers.”

An estimate from anti-adblock service Pagefair claims that 198 million people use software to black ads on the Web, and that number is growing rapidly. Nizhnik says she makes YouTube videos herself, and the dropping CPMs are affecting her.

“I’ve seen how my earnings have been dropping this year compared to last,” she said. “So many people are using Adblock. And you only monetize the views where Adblock isn’t on.”

«

The consequence is that they start to push “cost per install” deals from games companies. But do they really believe what they’re pushing?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: app retention rates, the real FBI-Apple court problem, Samsung closing Milk Music?, and more

Steve Jobs’s desire to push books on the iPad led to an antitrust finding against Apple. Screenshot by tuaulamac 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. Aren’t they? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple, FBI, and the burden of forensic methodology » Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski is a forensics expert who has testified in court cases and designed his own computer forensics tools. He says that even if Apple is forced to write the software to crack the iPhone PIN, it will need to be examinable in court:

»Full documentation must be written that explains the methods and techniques used to disable Apple’s own security features. The tool cannot simply be some throw-together to break a PIN; it must be designed in a manner in which its function can be explained, and its methodology could be reproduced by independent third parties. Since FBI is supposedly the ones to provide the PIN codes to try, Apple must also design and develop an interface / harness to communicate PINs into the tool, which means added engineering for input validation, protocol design, more logging, error handling, and so on. FBI has asked to do this wirelessly (possibly remotely), which also means transit encryption, validation, certificate revocation, and so on.

Once the tool itself is designed, it must be tested internally on a number of devices with exactly matching versions of hardware and operating system, and peer reviewed internally to establish a pool of peer-review experts that can vouch for the technology. In my case, it was a bunch of scientists from various government agencies doing the peer-review for me. The test devices will be imaged before and after, and their disk images compared to ensure that no bits were changed; changes that do occur from the operating system unlocking, logging, etc., will need to be documented so they can be explained to the courts. Bugs must be addressed. The user interface must be simplified and robust in its error handling so that it can be used by third parties.

«

Trivial, huh?
link to this extract

 


April 2015: Meerkat & Periscope: features, not products » Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh, writing almost a year ago when the two streaming apps were just taking off:

»Both Meerkat and Periscope leverage smartphone cameras to broadcast live video. However, the apps themselves don’t play a major role in the discovery of these broadcasts. This may be because they are too specialized to generate sustained engagement, at least enough to be a discovery platform (most app users are likely to be broadcasters). Also, it is relatively easy to replicate the feature set and user experience of a Meerkat or a Periscope, but it is very difficult to enable discovery. Therefore, these apps are not products in their own right, but just features built on top of broadcast-oriented social platforms, i.e. those that facilitate one-to-many communication (e.g. Twitter).

On a standalone basis, these apps have a limited shelf life — they could either be acquired by social platforms that fit the description above or be killed by them. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Meerkat found viral success by leveraging Twitter’s social graph. Any incumbent’s response in this situation would be to build or acquire a similar feature set. Twitter chose to acquire.

«

And this month: Meerkat announces that it’s going to pivot to being a “video social network” instead.

Not just a feature, but a very niche feature.
link to this extract

 


Driverless lorry convoys to be trialled in the UK » Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»Convoys of automated lorries will be trialled on UK motorways, chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce in his 2016 Budget speech later this month.

The Times reports that the trials will take place on a northerly stretch of the M6, which runs from Birmingham all the way up to the border of Scotland, near Carlisle. The Department for Transport confirms that planning for “HGV platoons” is under way, though it did not comment on whether the trials will receive funding in the Budget, nor give any kind of timeline for the fleet’s deployment.

A DfT spokesman said: “We are planning trials of HGV platoons—which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel—and will be in a position to say more in due course.” The Times reports that these platoons could consist of up to 10 driverless lorries, each just a few metres away from each other.

The DfT’s “less fuel” claim refers to “drafting,” where the first lorry in the platoon creates a slipstream, significantly reducing drag and fuel consumption for the other lorries behind it. In a semi-automated lorry demo a couple of years ago, the fuel economy for a platoon of lorries improved by about 15%. Expand that out to the thousands of trucks that are on UK roads at any one time and you’re looking at potentially huge cost reductions.

«

link to this extract

 


Supreme Court rejects Apple e-books price-fixing appeal » Reuters

Lawrence Hurley:

»The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Apple Inc’s challenge to an appellate court decision that it conspired with five publishers to increase e-book prices, meaning it will have to pay $450m as part of a settlement.

The court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place a June 2015 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that favored the U.S. Department of Justice and found Apple liable for engaging in a conspiracy that violated federal antitrust laws.

Apple, in its petition asking the high court to hear the case, said the June decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upholding a judge’s ruling that Apple had conspired with the publishers contradicted Supreme Court precedent and would “chill innovation and risk-taking.”

«

One of those instances where Steve Jobs (who created the antitrust situation while trying to kickstart iPad sales by getting iBooks competitive with Amazon, but without the pain of competing on price) really overreached. And the irony? It turns out retail e-books aren’t a particularly strong driver of iPad sales.
link to this extract

 


Facebook pulls plug on ad software » The Information

Cory Weiberg:

»Last year, Facebook tested software that would represent a bold expansion of its display ads business beyond its own inventory, a move potentially worth billions in revenue. Using a demand-side platform, or a DSP, marketers would be able to use Facebook users’ identity data to bid on ad slots across the mobile and desktop Internet in real time.

But Facebook recently yanked the bidding software from service because the tests showed that banner ads that were served attracted too many fraudulent impressions by bots trawling the Web, the company confirmed to The Information on Friday.

While Facebook’s current advertising business centers mostly on its own mobile inventory and apps plugged into its ad network, many in the industry have been awaiting its plunge into the mobile web’s programmatic ad marketplace. Its ad server, Atlas, which on Monday added capabilities to serve video ads and track offline purchases, can measure whether users saw ads across digital devices. But because of the pulled DSP tests, the ad server doesn’t yet have a bidding platform that would expand its pool of marketing clients wanting to tap this programmatic marketplace.

«

Google dominates the banner ad space via DoubleClick, but one has to wonder whether it sees the same level of bot trawling; if it does, how does it stop it better than Facebook? Is it just about having more experience?
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“Google Posts” embeds a one-way social network directly into search results » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»There’s a weird new feature popping up in Google search results called “Google Posts.” It seems to be a place for Google to directly host content in a post-Google+ world and to embed this content directly into search results. Imagine orphaned Google+ posts with the Google+ branding stripped out, and you’re most of the way there.

Over at Google.com/posts, Google has a landing page for this feature, calling it “an experimental new podium on Google” that allows you to “hear directly from the US presidential candidates in real time on Google.” It’s a believable explanation until you see this Google Posts profile from “Andrew Jewelers” in Buffalo, New York, (spotted by Mike Blumenthal), which is definitely not a presidential candidate.

The landing page says the “experimental” feature is “only available to the 2016 US presidential candidates” (Andrew Jewelers for president!), but those of us not running for office can join a waitlist as Google plans to “make it available to other prominent figures and organizations.”

It really seems like this is a Google+ reboot just for brands. The design definitely seems like Google+ with the Google+ branding stripped out, but this “social network” explicitly dodges being “social” AND any kind of “networking.”

«

Sort-of sponsored content in search results?
link to this extract

 


Expect lots more publishers to start asking people to turn off their ad blockers » Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»The US digital advertising trade body, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB,) has released advice to publishers on how they should deal with the growing number of ad blocker users visiting their sites.

The IAB wants publishers to “DEAL” with it, by taking these four steps:

• D: detect ad blocking, in order to initiate a conversation (The IAB also released an ad blocking detection script for its members to add to their websites on Monday.)

• E: explain the value exchange that advertising enables.

• A: ask for changed behavior in order to maintain an equitable exchange.

• L: lift restrictions or Limit access in response to consumer choice.

In other words, it looks like far more websites are going to start asking users to turn off their ad blocker or pay some sort of subscription or make a micropayment in order to access their content.

«

M-i-c k-e-y m-o-u-s-e acronyms are nice, but it’s a big risk to take that people actually do love your content so very much that they’ll take all those ads once more, having stopped. Or will publishers and advertisers just dial back on the ads only for adblocking users? Or for everyone? The inconsistencies multiply.
link to this extract

 


Milk Music may shut down as Samsung eyes Tidal [update: doesn’t eye Tidal] » Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»Samsung is likely going to shutter its Milk Music streaming service in the near future as part of a bigger revamp of its music strategy, Variety has learned from multiple sources. However, Samsung denied rumors that it was going to buy Jay Z’s Tidal service in a statement sent to Variety Friday hours after the original publication of this story.

The shut-down would come two years after Samsung unveiled Milk Music with big fanfare as a competitor to Pandora. The service, which offers consumers personalized radio stations, had initially been exclusive to owners of select mobile devices made by the company. Samsung later opened up Milk Music on the Web, and brought it to its smart TVs as well, but never released apps for phones from other manufacturers.

Milk Music was initially meant to be part of a bigger move toward a new generation of media services that would add value to Samsung devices while also adding incremental advertising and subscription revenue to Samsung’s bottom line. As part of that strategy, Samsung launched Milk Video as a platform for short-form video content in late 2014. There had been plans to branch out with the Milk brand into sports and other forms of entertainment as well.

But late last year, Samsung shuttered Milk Video after it failed to gain traction with consumers. Now, it looks like Milk Music may be heading for a similar shut-down.

«

Roettgers was first with the story about Milk Video shutting down. Samsung Milk Music has over 10m downloads on Google Play and a high rating (4.3).

But again, Samsung just can’t seem to make up its mind what it wants to do beyond hardware. Chat service? It closed Chaton. Video service? Closed Milk Video. Music service? … Oh well.
link to this extract

 


New data shows losing 80% of mobile users is normal, and why the best apps do better » andrewchen

Andrew Chen and Ankit Jain:

»The first graph shows a retention curve: The number of days that have passed since the initial install, and what % of those users are active on that particular day. As my readers know, this is often used in a sentence like “the D7 retention is 40%” meaning that seven days after the initial install, 40% of those users was active on that specific day.

The graph is pretty amazing to see:

Based on Quettra’s data, we can see that the average app loses 77% of its DAUs [daily active users] within the first 3 days after the install. Within 30 days, it’s lost 90% of DAUs. Within 90 days, it’s over 95%. Stunning. The other way to say this is that the average app mostly loses its entire userbase within a few months, which is why of the >1.5 million apps in the Google Play store, only a few thousand sustain meaningful traffic. (*Tabular data in the footnotes if you’re interested)

Ankit Jain, who collaborated with me on this essay, commented on this trend: “Users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to ‘stop using’ within the first 3-7 days. For ‘decent’ apps, the majority of users retained for 7 days stick around much longer. The key to success is to get the users hooked during that critical first 3-7 day period.”

«

The graph for top 10 apps, by contrast, shows them at over 50% retention even after 90 days. Data via 125m Android devices worldwide, and excluding Google’s own apps.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Mac ransomware, bitcoin’s crunch, global warming’s milestone, the price of your attention, and more

“I bought it so I wouldn’t forget my PIN.” Photo by mag3707 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

First Mac ransomware found in Transmission BitTorrent client » Mac Rumors

»This weekend, a notice appeared on Transmissionbt.com warning users that version 2.90 of the popular Mac BitTorrent client downloaded from their site may have been infected with malware. The warning reads:

»

Everyone running 2.90 on OS X should immediately upgrade to 2.91 or delete their copy of 2.90, as they may have downloaded a malware-infected file.

Using “Activity Monitor” preinstalled in OS X, check whether any process named “kernel_service” is running. If so, double check the process, choose the “Open Files and Ports” and check whether there is a file name like “/Users//Library/kernel_service”. If so, the process is KeRanger’s main process. We suggest terminating it with “Quit -> Force Quit”

«

Reuters reports that the infected download contained the first “Ransomware” found on the Mac platform. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s hard drive and demands payment in order to unencrypt it. This type of attack has been increasingly popular on the PC, but this is the first time it has been seen on the Mac.

According to Reuters, Apple is aware of the issue and has already revoked “a digital certificate from a legitimate Apple developer that enabled the rogue software to install on Macs.”

The malware in question is said to delay encrypting the user’s hard drive for 3 days, so we may see the first reports of those affected as early as Monday.

«

Transmission is open source; expect this problem to affect any open source project in future, especially if it isn’t very active.
link to this extract

 


Market views: hard drive shipments drop by nearly 17% in 2015 » Anandtech

Anton Shilov:

»While no one is writing off the PC market entirely, since it’s heyday nearly a decade ago the PC market has been in a slow decline for some time, and that decline has yet to bottom out. Sales of personal computers declined by roughly 25 – 30m units year-over-year, hitting an eight-year low in 2015 due to economic trends, weak international currencies, and competition from tablets and smartphones in some markets. Shipments of PC components naturally dropped alongside weak PC sales, but hard drive sales in particular have made for an interesitng observation: for 2015, declines of HDD sales greatly outpaced the regress of the PC market. Based on estimates from Western Digital and Seagate (see counting methodology below), the total available market of hard drives contracted by nearly 100 million units year-over-year in 2015.

The three major producers of hard drives shipped a total of 468.9m hard drives in 2015, according to estimates from both Seagate and Western Digital. This is down from 564.1m units in 2014, or by 17%. By comparison, back in 2010 at the peak of HDD sales, the industry sold 651m HDDs.

«

The implication – since more drives are shipped than PCs – is that add-on drive purchases are falling along with PC sales. That would make sense; if you don’t have a PC, you don’t need an add-on.

However average capacity per drive has gone from 578MB in Q1 2011 to 1.35TB in Q4 2015. Price per drive has been fairly static, at around $60.
link to this extract

 


Bitcoin’s capacity issues no ‘nightmare’, but higher fees may be new reality » CoinDesk

Stan Higgins:

»The bitcoin network has been on the receiving end of spam attacks during most of its history, including spam events last fall that were revealed to be the work of an entity called CoinWallet that claimed it was seeking to showcase capacity issues on the network.

Yet this week’s occurrence appears to be of a different sort, involving a string of transactions with relatively high fees – something that appears to be pricing out users who are using hard-coded fees that, as a result, leaving them at a disadvantage.

Certain industry representatives interviewed were also split on whether to call the new transactions ‘spam’ due to the fact that identifying the nature of the activity is difficult.

Justus Ranvier, a contributor to the Open Bitcoin Privacy Project, which aims to assess the privacy featured offered by bitcoin wallets, said the transactions could be coming from a badly designed exchange wallet or a malicious attack “designed to sway the block size debate”, but that there is no way to tell definitively.

Avalon’s Yifu Guo told CoinDesk that he believes the effort may be an attempt to tumble coins – or obscure the transaction history of funds by mixing them repeatedly.

A video posted to YouTube further illustrates the activity, further supporting the idea that some individual or group is pushing up overall network fees through a stream of transactions.

«

Feels like a turning point for bitcoin; and the uncertainty, and higher fees, means some organisations are abandoning it, says Higgins.
link to this extract

 


PIN number analysis » Data Genetics

Nick Berry:

»I was able to find almost 3.4 million four digit passwords. Every single one of the of the 10,000 combinations of digits from 0000 through to 9999 were represented in the dataset.

The most popular password is  1234  …

… it’s staggering how popular this password appears to be. Utterly staggering at the lack of imagination …

… nearly 11% of the 3.4 million passwords are  1234  !!!

The next most popular 4-digit PIN in use is  1111  with over 6% of passwords being this.

In third place is  0000  with almost 2%.

A table of the top 20 found passwords in shown at the right. A staggering 26.83% of all passwords could be guessed by attempting these 20 combinations!

«

Wonderful graphs and explanations. And those 20 PINs – oh, my.
link to this extract

 


Why Trump? » George Lakoff

Lakoff is a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley:

»I work in the cognitive and brain sciences. In the 1990’s, I undertook to answer a question in my field: How do the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together? Take conservatism: What does being against abortion have to do with being for owning guns? What does owning guns have to do with denying the reality of global warming? How does being anti-government fit with wanting a stronger military? How can you be pro-life and for the death penalty? Progressives have the opposite views. How do their views hang together?

The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative).

What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.

«

This is fascinating, especially because it can be applied more widely in other countries and parties and candidates.
link to this extract

 


Our hemisphere’s temperature just reached a terrifying milestone » Slate

Eric Holthaus:

»As of Thursday morning, it appears that average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have breached the 2 degrees Celsius above “normal” mark for the first time in recorded history, and likely the first time since human civilization began thousands of years ago.* That mark has long been held (somewhat arbitrarily) as the point above which climate change may begin to become “dangerous” to humanity. It’s now arrived—though very briefly—much more quickly than anticipated. This is a milestone moment for our species. Climate change deserves our greatest possible attention.


Global temperatures hit a new all-time record high in February, shattering the old record set just last month amid a record-strong El Niño. Pic: Ryan Maue/Weatherbell Analytics

Our planet’s preliminary February temperature data are in, and it’s now abundantly clear: Global warming is going into overdrive.

There are dozens of global temperature datasets, and usually I (and my climate journalist colleagues) wait until the official ones are released about the middle of the following month to announce a record-warm month at the global level. But this month’s data is so extraordinary that there’s no need to wait: February obliterated the all-time global temperature record set just last month.

«

link to this extract

 


Source: Microsoft mulled an $8bn bid for Slack, will focus on Skype instead » TechCrunch

Jon Russell and Ingrid Lunden:

»When Slack announced new voice and video services earlier this week, the enterprise messaging startup signalled a move into territory dominated by the likes of Microsoft’s Skype. But it looks like this is not the only moment when the two company’s paths have crossed in recent times.

Microsoft eyed Slack as a potential acquisition target for as much as $8 billion, TechCrunch has heard. But an internal campaign around making an offer failed to drum up support. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Satya Nadella were among those unconvinced by the idea, with Gates pushing instead to add more features into Skype to make it more competitive with Slack in the business market, our source says.

Slack’s momentum in picking up new users — it currently has 2.3m daily active users, 675,000 of them paying — makes it a competitive threat for others who are hoping to lead in enterprise collaboration services.

«

I get from this: there’s still a sort of acquisition lunacy inside Microsoft, which has bought Skype and Nokia’s mobile arm and scores of other companies without making them pay; Gates and Nadella are now going to pour cold water on them and say things like “We already spent BILLIONS a company that can do this, REMEMBER?”
link to this extract

 


Amazon to restore encryption to Fire tablets after complaints » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»Amazon said it plans to restore an encryption feature on its Fire tablets after customers and privacy advocates criticized the company for quietly removing the security option when it released its latest operating system.

“We will return the option for full-disk encryption with a Fire OS update coming this spring,” company spokeswoman Robin Handaly told Reuters via email on Saturday.

Amazon’s decision to drop encryption from the Fire operating system came to light late this week. The company said it had removed the feature in a version of its Fire OS that began shipping in the fall because few customers used it.

On-device encryption scrambles data so that the device can be accessed only if the user enters the correct password. Well-known cryptologist Bruce Schneier called Amazon’s removal of the feature “stupid” and was among many who publicly urged the company to restore it.

«

Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica actually took the trouble to ask Amazon (and get a response) about why it was removing the encryption, and got the “nobody’s using it” answer – one that will have been behind the curve in news terms.

But more generally, those devices are often used for children because they’re cheap. Amazon says the hardware is not up to encrypting/decrypting on the fly. Seems like a weak excuse for poor security.
link to this extract

 


Cambridge Computer Crime Database » Cambridge University Computer Laboratory

Alice Hutchings maintains it:

»The Cambridge Computer Crime Database (CCCD) is a database of computer crime events where the offender has been arrested, charged and/or prosecuted in the United Kingdom, dating from 1 January 2010. These are broadly classified as high tech offences, including those that fall under the Computer Misuse Act. The database also includes offences that involve the use of computers that fall under other legislation. This includes fraud, conspiracy, misconduct in public office, data protection, and money laundering offences where there is a link to high tech or computer crime.

«

Useful resource for journalists writing on the topic.
link to this extract

 


Can I annoy you for a penny a minute? » Medium

Rob Leathern:

»US TV advertising revenue is expected to reach $78.8 billion this year. The average person over 2 years of age in the United States still watches an amazing 29 hours and 47 minutes of TV per week. Which means, when you work it out, that’s just $0.18 in ad revenue per hour of TV watched.

TV Networks are even speeding up their programming in order to fit in more ads as prices fall and viewership dwindles. The average hour of cable television now has 15.8 minutes of ads compared with 14.5 minutes five years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported that “TBS used compression technology to speed up [movies and TV shows]”  —  this video on YouTube shows an example of this tactic with a Seinfeld rerun. For reruns and movies especially, cable networks have long rolled credits very quickly or cut TV opening sequences out entirely.

«

Whenever I visit the US, I’m astonished by the sheer volume of ads on TV; it seems to me to infect the entire culture; if you’ll tolerate this, you’ll tolerate anything. But people are beginning to break away by turning to Netflix, etc. (How have feature films survived as an art form in the US without ad breaks? Yes, I know, ticket prices, popcorn prices and paid placement.)

By thre way, when Leathern did the calculation for 2009, it was $0.24 per hour. If the ads look worse, they probably are, for that price.
link to this extract

 


On dormant cyber pathogens and unicorns » Zdziarski’s Blog of Things

Jonathan Zdziarski on the amicus claim by the San Bernadino district attorney Gary Fagan that the Farook 5C could “contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernadino County’s infrastructure”:

»I was fortunate to have read this brief before it was publicly released in the news. I quickly googled the term “cyber pathogen” to see if anyone had used it in computer science. The first result was a hit on what appears to be Harry Potter fiction. That’s right, a Demigod from Gryffindor is the closest thing Google could find about cyber pathogens. The next several results show that Google is equally confused about the term, throwing out random results about fungus, academic pathogen models, and cyber conflicts. There is absolutely nothing in the universe that knows what a cyber pathogen is, except for Fagan apparently.

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“Lying dormant cyber pathogen” sounds like something that would get tossed from a script on the first read through. Amazing that Fagan’s team left it in.
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Galaxy S7 system uses up 8GB out of the box, but you can move apps to SD » Droid Life

Kellen Barranger:

»Remember that big stink that was made about Samsung not allowing for Android 6.0 Marshmallow’s Adoptable Storage feature? Well, this is right here is why people threw a bit of a fit. Out of the box, the Samsung Galaxy S7 uses up 8GB of the phone’s 32GB for system apps and TouchWiz and whatever else Samsung has pre-loaded. That’s a quarter of all of your internal storage, to put it another way. That’s…not good.

As you can see from the image above, before I even completed setup on my Galaxy S7 (we unboxed it here!), I was down to around half of my 32GB storage available. In actuality, the image shows that I’ve used under 16GB total, but I’m still installing apps and have already jumped past the halfway mark and now have around 15GB left to use. If I were a typical smartphone owner who keeps a phone for two years, 15GB isn’t leaving me much space to install apps to.

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Of course, you can move it to the SD card. Is that why people would buy an S7 – so they feel obliged to get an SD card too?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Bitcoin’s nightmare, the cheating economy, how Snapchat took off, Oculus spurns Macs, and more

SIM swaps are leading to bank fraud. Photo by mroach on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Snapchat built a business by confusing olds » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Max Chafkin and Sarah Frier:

»Compared with Twitter or Facebook, Snapchat can seem almost aggressively user-unfriendly. If you’re new to the app and looking for posts by your kid, your boyfriend, or DJ Khaled, good luck. It’s hard to find somebody without knowing his or her screen name. This is by design. “We’ve made it very hard for parents to embarrass their children,” [Snapchat founder Evan] Spiegel said at a conference in January. “It’s much more for sharing personal moments than it is about this public display.”

Spiegel, who declined to be interviewed, has been cagey about Snapchat’s business prospects. Its annual revenue is small—perhaps $200m, according to several press reports—but it has already drawn many big-name advertisers. Earlier this year, PepsiCo, Amazon.com, Marriott International, and Budweiser paid more than $1m to have their ads appear within the company’s Super Bowl coverage, according to a person familiar with the deals. And because Snapchat has yet to really try to sell ads to the small and midsize businesses that make up most of Google’s and Facebook’s customer base, there’s a lot of potential.

As Facebook has transformed from a slightly wild place to a communications tool for parents, teachers, and heads of state, Snapchat’s more playful ethos, and the fact that anything posted on it disappears in 24 hours, has made it the looser, goofier social network. “You’re sending this ephemera back and forth to your friends,” says Charlie McKittrick, the head of strategy at Mother New York, an ad agency. “It’s the detritus of life. But it’s really funny.” Last September, while Mark Zuckerberg hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook’s campus, the big news at Snapchat’s offices in Venice was a feature called Lenses, which makes your selfies look like you’re vomiting a rainbow.

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We’re moving away from torrents, so whats next? » Strike

“Andrew”:

»As you can see if just a teeny bit taxing on my server, so as of today I wanted to officially annouce that Strike will no longer focus on torrents, in fact I’ve decided to phase Strike into creating open source utilities that help every day life. Our first project is already under development and called Ulterius, an open source C# based framework that allows you to remotely manage windows based systems, all from any HTML5 enabled browser…

…Q: Will you ever do torrent related things again?

A: Most likely not. It’s easier to create completely original content than to attempt to ride the tails of existing content. While I found P2P technology fun, and I’ll continue to follow it and maybe develop stuff around it. I don’t foresee myself ever hosting Anything as a service in the future.

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Combination of lawsuits against others, and the gigantic bandwidth demand on his site. Mostly the bandwidth, it seems.
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Will we compile? » ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»Getting machines to understand, and speak, the language used by people — natural language processing — has long been a central goal of artificial intelligence research. In a provocative new interview at Edge, Stephen Wolfram turns that goal on its head. The real challenge, he suggests, is getting people to understand, and speak, the language used by machines. In a future world in which we rely on computers to fulfill our desires, we’re going to need to be able to express those desires in a way that computers can understand…

…Computers can’t choose our goals for us, Wolfram correctly observes. “Goals are a human construct.” Determining our purposes will remain a human activity, beyond the reach of automation. But will it really matter? If we are required to formulate our goals in a language a machine can understand, is not the machine determining, or at least circumscribing, our purposes? Can you assume another’s language without also assuming its system of meaning and its system of being?

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Very deep questions underlying this. And speaking of controlling machines through spoken language..
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Amazon adds the $130 Amazon Tap and the $90 Echo Dot to the Echo family » Techcrunch

Sarah Buhr:

»The Echo has received more than 33,000 Amazon reviews at a nearly five-star rating since launching in late 2014 and was one of the best-selling items going for more than $100 over the holidays. Amazon has not released sales figures for Echo, but its rise in popularity and the ability to build upon and integrate with the companion Alexa API have moved the Echo front and center as a must-have device for the smart home.

Amazon is now introducing two new members to the Echo family with slightly different uses in hopes of achieving a similar reaction: Amazon Tap is a portable version of the original Echo, and Echo Dot is a tiny, hockey-puck-sized version that includes a built-in line-out connector to hook into your choice of speaker.

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Online break-in forces bank to tighten security » BBC News

Shari Vahl:

»Two major high street banks will change security procedures after journalists from BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme broke into an account online and removed money.
Recently bank customers accounts have been successfully attacked by criminals who divert mobile phone accounts.

Criminals persuade phone providers to divert mobile phone numbers in what is sometimes called “SIM swap fraud”.

Some banks text security details when customers forget their details.

The activation codes sent by text to mobile phones also allow payments to be made from an account.

The scam works by blocking the genuine phone. The owner is unaware of why the phone has been blocked and allows the criminal – who now has control of their phone – to syphon money from their bank account.

You and Yours has been contacted by dozens of people affected by the scam. All say they have never revealed their security details to anyone, and the that first they knew something was wrong was their mobile phone going dead.

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Wow.
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Chinese ISPs caught injecting ads and malware into web pages » The Hacker News

Rakesh Krishnan:

»Chinese Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been caught red-handed injecting advertisements as well as malware through their network traffic.

Three Israeli researchers uncovered that the major Chinese-based ISPs named China Telecom and China Unicom, two of Asia’s largest network operators, have been engaged in an illegal practice of content injection in network traffic.

Chinese ISPs had set up many proxy servers to pollute the client’s network traffic not only with insignificant advertisements but also malware links, in some cases, inside the websites they visit.
If an Internet user tries to access a domain that resides under these Chinese ISPs, the forged packet redirects the user’s browser to parse the rogue network routes. As a result, the client’s legitimate traffic will be redirected to malicious sites/ads, benefiting the ISPs.

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TensorFlow for Poets » Pete Warden’s blog

»I want to show how anyone with a Mac laptop and the ability to use the Terminal can create their own image classifier using TensorFlow, without having to do any coding.

I feel very lucky to be a part of building TensorFlow, because it’s a great opportunity to bring the power of deep learning to a mass audience. I look around and see so many applications that could benefit from the technology by understanding the images, speech, or text their users enter. The frustrating part is that deep learning is still seen as a very hard topic for product engineers to grasp. That’s true at the cutting edge of research, but otherwise it’s mostly a holdover from the early days. There’s already a lot of great documentation on the TensorFlow site, but to demonstrate how easy it can be for general software engineers to pick up I’m going to present a walk-through that takes you from a clean OS X laptop all the way to classifying your own categories of images. You’ll find written instructions in this post, along with a screencast showing exactly what I’m doing.

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Warden was at Jetpac, which was bought by Google because of its expertise at machine learning and image classification. This is the one to follow to dive into deep learning (aka machine learning, aka AI).
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Oculus’ Palmer Luckey will consider Mac support if Apple ‘ever releases a good computer’ » Shacknews

Daniel Perez:

»We spoke to Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey recently during an Xbox press event where we took the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding the future of his company, and his product, the Oculus Rift.

One question we were dying to ask is he sees a future for the Oculus Rift with Apple computers. When asked if there would ever be Mac support for the Rift, Palmer responds by saying “That is up to Apple. If they ever release a good computer, we will do it.”

Palmer continues to clarify what he meant by that blunt statement by saying “It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn’t match our recommended specs. So if they prioritize higher-end GPUs like they used to for a while back in the day, we’d love to support Mac. But right now, there’s just not a single machine out there that supports it.”

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There aren’t that many Windows PCs that support it, either. Wonder if this is a high priority for Apple just now.
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The cheating economy » Medium

Doug Bierend on Studypool, which lets students “hire” tutors for “help understanding their homework” – which the students of course translate into “doing their homework”, and give bad grades to those tutors who don’t comply:

»Rarely is the sharing model of enterprise, epitomized by the likes of Uber and Airbnb, sensitive to the costs incurred by its host system — those two companies are hardly compelled to preserve the integrity of the “legacy” cab companies and hoteliers they are undercutting. Likewise, success for this platform isn’t determined by whether it actually helps people learn. After all, optimizing and reducing the latency in busing information from one place to another makes sense — a lot of sense — for servers and data, but where brains and ideas are concerned, learning isn’t always efficient. And any approach that offers a backdoor — knowingly or not—where intellectual honesty is concerned is bound to reap the patronage of the many people willing to buy an answer or grade rather than earn it.

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A passing thought: Bierend is a professional journalist (it shines through in this piece – read it all), and this appeared in “Bright” – which is funded by the Gates Foundation, and subsumed into Medium. The brave new world where a non-profit created from the money out of a brief technology monopoly pays for journalism published on a site created from the money paid to the creator of free publishing platforms (Blogger and Twitter) that were funded by advertising. Who says there aren’t new business models for journalism?
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Bitcoin’s nightmare scenario has come to pass » The Verge

Ben Popper:

»Over the last year and a half a number of prominent voices in the Bitcoin community have been warning that the system needed to make fundamental changes to its core software code to avoid being overwhelmed by the continued growth of Bitcoin transactions. There was strong disagreement within the community, however, about how to solve this problem, or if the problem would ever materialize.

This week the dire predictions came to pass, as the network reached its capacity, causing transactions around the world to be massively delayed, and in some cases to fail completely. The average time to confirm a transaction has ballooned from 10 minutes to 43 minutes. Users are left confused and shops that once accepted Bitcoin are dropping out.

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Remember how Mike Hearn, who saw this problem coming and proposed an increase in block size which would have headed it off, was criticised to hell and back for being “misleading”? I bet he’s feeling vindicated now. Wonder how his then-critics feel. (Update: not great, apparently, since the Pond Politics page I referenced has been deleted in the meantime.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.