Start up: more Alphabet trouble, peak desktop?, hacking the Philippines, Japan quakes hit iPhones, and more

A URL shortener would be easier to write, but might it be hacked? Photo by MrZebra 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. Eerie, isn’t it? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

When a nation is hacked: Understanding the ginormous Philippines data breach » Troy Hunt

Hunt delves into the hacking of 55 million Filipino voters’ details on a government system. The government insisted that no sensitive data was disclosed. Hunt checked with people who were on the released data via his Have I Been Pwned service:

»Yesterday I emailed a number of HIBP [Have I Been Pwned] subscribers and got back some pretty quick responses with everyone willing to assist. I found them spread out across two tables in the data breach, the first being a table called “irdoctable2014” which has the following fields:

# FORM_ID, APP_TYPE, REGISTRATION, LASTNAME, FIRSTNAME, MATERNALNAME, SEX, CIVILSTATUS, SPOUSENAME, RESSTREET, RESPRECINCT, RESPRECINCTCODE, RESREGION, RESBARANGAY, RESCITY, RESPROVINCE, MAILSTREET, MAILEMBASSY, MAILCOUNTRY, REGCOUNTRY, REGEMBASSY, REPSTREET, REPBARANGAY, REPCITY, REPPROVINCE, EMAIL, ABROADSTATUS, ABROADSTATUSSPECIF, FLASTNAME, FFIRSTNAME, FMATERNALNAME, MLASTNAME, MFIRSTNAME, MMATERNALNAME, REPLASTNAME, REPFIRSTNAME, REPMATERNALNAME, DOBYEAR, DOBMONTH, DOBDAY, BIRTHCITY, BIRTHPROVINCE, CITIZENSHIP, NATURALIZATIONDATE, CERTIFICATENB, COUNTRYRES, CITYRESYEAR, CITYRESMONTH, PROFESSION, SECTOR, HEIGHT, WEIGHT, MARKS, DISABLED, ASSISTEDBY, TIN, PASSPORTLOST, PASSPORTNB, PASSPORTPLACE, PASSYEAR, PASSMONTH, PASSDAY, REGBARANGAY, REGREGION, REGCITY, REGPROVINCE, REG_DATE, STATIONID, LOCAL_ID, CREATE_TIME, UPDATE_TIME, IS_EXTRACTED, IS_EXPIRED, IS_CANCELLED, CONTACTNUMBER, EXPIRATION_DATE, APPOINTMENT_DATE, APPOINTMENT_TIME, SCHED_TIME, COUNTER_CHANGES, REFERENCENUMBER, ERBDATE, USER_ID, EMAIL_ID, EXTRACTED_DATETIME, IS_DELETE, UPDATED_DATETIME, IS_FRONTPAGE, IS_REPRINT, IS_OV, IS_COUNTED

This is a very large amount of data and reading through those column names, clearly many of them would be considered sensitive personally identifiable data. However, some of the data is encrypted, namely the person’s name and their data of birth. Part of the irony here though is that the email addresses appear in the clear and often contains both the first and last name anyway! Not all the fields are populated but plenty of them are and they contain very personal info.

«

That’s not the worst of it, though. In some cases fingerprint scans were also leaked. And as Hunt says, “you don’t get to reset that stuff once it’s been released into the wild”. Trend Micro has more analysis of the dataset.
link to this extract

 


What is the Apple Watch good for? » Martiancraft

Richard Turton evaluates what does work and what doesn’t:

»Third-party watch apps all suffer from slow loading and slow or unreliable communication with the phone. Many of these limitations are inherent in the current generation of hardware and software. But, rather than wave our hands and say that third-party apps might suck now, but it’s all Apple’s fault and it’ll be great on Watch 2, it’s worth taking a look at what our watch apps should be doing and what we, as app creators, should be thinking about.

The watch is not just a small-screened iPhone, in the same way that an iPhone is not just a small-screened Mac. The usage patterns, interactions and user intentions are completely different. No matter how great the watch hardware becomes, users are never going to want to interact with it for more than a few seconds.

«

Don’t forget that eight years ago people were struggling with the concept of how to pack desktop apps into 3.5in screens. (Some still are.) The difference is that the Watch screen won’t get bigger. But as Turton says, you have to embrace what it does well, and avoid what it doesn’t.
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Researchers crack Microsoft and Google’s Shortened URLs to spy on people » WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»For anyone with minimalist tastes or an inability to use copy-paste keyboard shortcuts, URL shorteners may seem like a perfectly helpful convenience. Unfortunately, the same tools that turn long web addresses into a few characters also offer the same conveniences to hackers—including any of them motivated enough to try millions of shortened URLs until they hit on the one you thought was private.

That’s the lesson for companies including Google, Microsoft, and Bit.ly in a paper published today by researchers at Cornell Tech. The researchers’ work demonstrates the unexpected privacy-invasive potential of “brute-forcing” shortened URLs: By guessing at shortened URLs until they found working ones, the researchers say that they could have pulled off tricks ranging from spreading malware on unwitting victims’ computers via Microsoft’s cloud storage service to finding out who requested Google Maps directions to abortion providers or drug addiction treatment facilities.

«

This always seemed a possibility if you slogged through enough shortened URLs; eventually you’ll hit on something interesting. (A few years ago I tried it in a limited way; all one tended to find were scam links set up by, well, scammers doing it on an industrial scale.) Stories like this, though, once you read further, always have a slight letdown: the risk was in the past, because responsible disclosure means they’ve told the companies, who (reluctantly in Microsoft’s case) have changed their practices.
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HubSpot is good people » Medium

Todd Garland was at Hubspot early on:

»As you’d expect, meetings were painfully long, and the tiny conference rooms built for eight started to get more crowded with every hire. There was a reason that happened. We were determined to treat our initial customers like family. Heck, a few may have even been family. We knew that if we could solve their pain points, there would eventually be hundreds, if not thousands, of companies lining up to work with us. We imagined it. How couldn’t we? It felt good. It felt like we were on the cusp of trapping lightning in a bottle.

HubSpot, since the very beginning, has been committed to helping small and medium sized businesses grow. It’s all that we cared about back then. I’ve tried to take that same customer commitment with me to BuySellAds. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t draw inspiration from both Brian and Dharmesh. Their passion for helping small and medium sized business was inspiring.

«

This little extract doesn’t quite capture the oleaginous, hagiographic quality of the whole piece, but then it’s the cumulative effect that leads one to the feeling summed up by Private Eye by the phrase “pass the sick bag, Alice.” Hubspot, of course, is the company so beautifully skewered by Dan Lyons in his latest book; this piece reads like something from a cult member, and makes me want to read Lyons’s book all the more.
link to this extract

 


How the desktop computer will rise again » CNN.com

Peter Shadbolt:

»Poor internet connectivity, uncertain power supply and a simple lack of money have meant that billions have been locked out of the knowledge economy.

Matt Dalio, CEO of Endless Computers, wants to change all of that with the first simplified, robust and affordable desktop aimed at emerging market consumers.

Dalio told CNN he got the idea to create a $169 computer while he was traveling and noticed that, while most homes did not have a desktop computer, they often had an HD screen.

“It was one of those micro-epiphanies,” he said. “I was in India and I looked over at a television and then I looked at my hand and there was a phone in it and I thought why not connect the two?”

«

Tell us how this computer fits in your pocket, Mr Dalio, and what it’s like with phone calls, WhatsApp.. oh, also, we have some news for you just coming up.
link to this extract

 


Has desktop internet use peaked? » WSJ

Jack Marshall:

»The amount of time people spend accessing the Internet from desktop devices is showing signs of decline, according to online measurement specialist comScore.

Data from the research company indicate overall time spent online in the U.S. from desktop devices—which include laptop computers—has fallen for the past four months, on a year-over-year basis. It dipped 9.3% in December 2015, 7.6% in January, 2% in February and 6% in March.

«

“Great story, Jack! What’s the data look like?”

“Um… here you go. I’ve done it as a graph.”

“Hmm – should we mention the four-month dip in 2014? No, probably better if we don’t. Just leave that out of the story.”

(I suspect desktop use is probably falling, but this isn’t quite proof yet.)
link to this extract

 


Japan quakes disrupt Sony production of image sensors used in Apple iPhones » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Shinichi Saoshiro:

»Electronics giant Sony Corp said a factory producing image sensors for smartphone makers will remain closed while it assesses the damage from two deadly earthquakes which hit southern Japan. One of its major customers is Apple, which uses the sensors in its iPhones.

Sony said it will extend the closure of its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which is in the southern island of Kyushu, after major tremblors on Thursday and Saturday rocked the key manufacturing region.

The PlayStation maker said operations at its image sensor plant in Nagasaki, also in Kyushu, will be partially suspended and it does not yet have a timeline for full resumption of operations.

Sony controls about 40 percent of the market for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, a type of integrated circuit that converts light into electrical signals. In smartphones they are used to convert images into digital data.

«

Not just iPhones; I think other smartphone companies use them too.
link to this extract

 


The future: a cat litter box and DRM » Medium

Jorge Lopez:

»I took the SmartCartridge and realized I could just open it up, and fill it myself. Great, I’ll order new ones and get it by Tuesday and I’ll just fill this one up with water for now. So I filled it up with water, and put it into the machine….

It didn’t stop beeping, it knew this wasn’t it’s SaniSolution. Somehow it knew. I wasn’t able to even force it to run without the solution. I did some Googling, and I found that the “Smart” in SmartCartridge is that it has an RFID chip inside of it to keep track of how much solution it has, and once it runs out, well, you can’t refill it. I honestly did not believe this and tore one of the cartridges apart, and there it was, looking back at me, a tiny chip holding up it’s little metal finger.

Seriously CatGenie, you added fairly sophisticated DRM to a litter box? I’m a tad hurt you spent my money on building in a restriction instead of figuring out how to avoid constantly cooking poop.

This made me realize that I don’t actually own a CatGenie, I’m renting it.

«

Could get rid of the cat?
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EA lets slip lifetime Xbox One and PS4 consoles sales » Ars Technica

Mark Walton:

»Lifetime Xbox One sales have reached 19m units—at least if EA’s CFO is to believed. During a financial call last night, Blake Jorgensen said the combined install base of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 had hit an estimated 55m units, a mere two years into the life of the current generation.

While Microsoft has long stopped reporting on the absolute number of Xboxes sold, Sony continues to push out its own figures. Most recently, Sony revealed it has sold an impressive 35.9m PS4s, which—when deducted from EA’s 55m figure — leaves around 19m units for the Xbox One.

“I think our business seems to be operating pretty consistent as it has been over the last couple of years,” said Jorgensen. “The console purchases are up through the end of calendar year ’15. Our estimate is 55 million units out there which has exceeded virtually everyone’s forecast for the year and now almost 50% higher than previous console cycle so, all of that is very, very positive.”

While Sony has a significant lead in terms of units sold, as Jorgensen pointed out, both consoles are doing better than their predecessors did at the same point in their lifecycle.

«

This is from January, but the figures won’t have shifted very much. So that’s two-thirds of the business gone to Sony. Note also that these aren’t big numbers in the context of sales of smartphones, or even PCs: both consoles have now been on sale for two and a half years, or 30 months. That’s an average of less than two million consoles sold per month.

Sony has shipped (and likely sold) more smartphones than PS4s in the same period. It’s made a big loss on the smartphones. Yet the consoles are also meant to be sold at a loss. The difference? The consoles create an ecosystem for Sony. The smartphones don’t. (Since you ask, Microsoft sold more smartphones than it did consoles, and at a loss too.)
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Google’s skunkworks loses its leader to Facebook — and has yet to produce any hits » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

»Facebook just made a high-profile hire from rival Google, luring away Regina Dugan, head of a research team tasked with inventing groundbreaking new hardware known as Advanced Technology and Projects, or ATAP. She will start a similar lab at Facebook. It’s unclear what will happen to the team she’s leaving behind, which has produced many striking demos but no hits.

Dugan previously led the Pentagon research agency DARPA and was hired to set up ATAP by Motorola in 2012, after the mobile phone company was acquired by Google for $12.5 billion. When Google sold off the company to Lenovo for almost $10 billion less in 2014, ATAP stayed behind. It was supposed to inhabit a middle ground between Google’s product development teams and the horizon-scanning “moon shot” laboratory, Google X.

Dugan established the group with a ground rule that projects should produce a marketable product within two years or be abandoned.

«

I guess she didn’t produce a marketable product within two years, so…? Two ways to look at this: ATAP is so young that it’s expecting a lot to think it would come out with a product in less than four years. Or: this looks like another example of an Alphabet division which simply isn’t making stuff happen. Contrast the breathless article in The Verge from May 2015:

»Dugan describes everything ATAP does as “badass and beautiful,” and after watching [360-degree live-action monster movie] Help!, I’m inclined to agree.

«

I’m inclined to think some people can’t tell the difference between a demo and a business. (ATAP is also behind the much-promised oft-delayed Project Ara modular smartphone idea.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: goodbye Phorm!, the empty iPhone 5C, why we aren’t sharing now, the trouble with specs, and more

Canada’s police – and the UK and US spy agencies? – have had BlackBerry’s global encryption key for some years. Photo by portalgda 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. Pre-packed for freshness. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What children learned from the shared family phone » WSJ

Sue Shellenbarger:

»“My dad can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message?” It is an expression we hear less and less as the shared family phone disappears.

Nearly half of U.S. households no longer have landlines and instead rely on their cellphones, up from about 27% five years ago, the National Center for Health Statistics says. Among young adults ages 25 through 34, fewer than one-third have landlines. Even at homes with landlines, the phone rings mainly with telemarketers and poll-takers.

Few miss being tethered by a cord to a three-pound telephone. But family landlines had their pluses. Small children had an opportunity to learn telephone manners, siblings had to share, and parents had to set boundaries governing its use. Now, the shared hub of family communication has given way to solo pursuits on mobile devices.

«

Looked at from this distance, they aren’t such gigantic pluses, are they?

link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Canadian police obtained BlackBerry’s global decryption key » VICE News

Justin Ling and Jordan Pearson:

»A high-level surveillance probe of Montreal’s criminal underworld shows that Canada’s federal policing agency has had a global encryption key for BlackBerry devices since 2010.

The revelations are contained in a stack of court documents that were made public after members of a Montreal crime syndicate pleaded guilty to their role in a 2011 gangland murder. The documents shed light on the extent to which the smartphone manufacturer, as well as telecommunications giant Rogers, cooperated with investigators.

According to technical reports by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that were filed in court, law enforcement intercepted and decrypted roughly one million PIN-to-PIN BlackBerry messages in connection with the probe. The report doesn’t disclose exactly where the key — effectively a piece of code that could break the encryption on virtually any BlackBerry message sent from one device to another — came from. But, as one police officer put it, it was a key that could unlock millions of doors.

«

This would be akin to the backdoor to the iPhone 5C that Apple didn’t want to offer. The story of how the key’s ownership came to be known is pretty remarkable too – gangland killings and all. And what’s the betting that the key has been widely shared among the “Five Eyes” nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, US)?
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Aim-listed online ads company Phorm goes bust leaving investors £200m out of pocket » Daily Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»Phorm, an Aim-listed online advertising technology specialist that once boasted deals with Britain’s biggest broadband providers before it was engulfed by a privacy scandal, is to cease trading with investors due to lose every penny of the £201m sunk into it.

The directors said they were pulling the plug “in light of the company’s uncertain financial position, lack of trading activities and absence of any suitable funding”.

Shareholders will get nothing from any administration or liquidation, they added. After by repeatedly tapping investors for cash while accumulating total losses of around £250m, Phorm was forced to turn to high interest loans to stay afloat. Those have also now been spent, leaving the company without a website because it is unable to pay the hosting bills.

«

Phorm was offering to do DPI (deep packet inspection) and target ads based on what you were browsing, replacing web banners on sites with its own. ISPs and publishers would reap the benefits. Also, Phorm.

People detested the idea of DPI and targeted ads. Phorm never recovered from a storm of bad PR in 2007-8.
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Source: Nothing significant found on San Bernardino iPhone so far » CBS News

»A law enforcement source tells CBS News that so far nothing of real significance has been found on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, which was unlocked by the FBI last month without the help of Apple.

It was stressed that the FBI continues to analyze the information on the cellphone seized in the investigation, senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports.

«

No surprise there. This is the employer-supplied, mobile-device-managed phone that Farook left in his car, back at home with his mother who was looking after his child while he and his wife went and shot people. Two other phones were found destroyed in a dumpster.
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Context collapse and context restoration » ROUGH TYPE

The ever-readable Nick Carr on Facebook’s struggle with fewer people offering up their own life details for “sharing”:

»Before social media came along, your social life played out in different and largely separate spheres. You had your friends in one sphere, your family members in another sphere, your coworkers in still another sphere, and so on. The spheres overlapped, but they remained distinct. The self you presented to your family was not the same self you presented to your friends, and the self you presented to your friends was not the one you presented to the people you worked with or went to school with. With a social network like Facebook, all these spheres merge into a single sphere. Everybody sees what you’re doing. Context collapses.

When Mark Zuckerberg infamously said, “You have one identity; the days of you having a different image for your work friends or your co-workers and for the people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he was celebrating context collapse. Context collapse is a wonderful thing for a company like Facebook because a uniform self, a self without context, is easy to package as a commodity. The protean self is a fly in the Facebook ointment.

Facebook’s problem now is not context collapse but its opposite: context restoration. When people start backing away from broadcasting intimate details about themselves, it’s a sign that they’re looking to reestablish some boundaries in their social lives, to mend the walls that social media has broken. It’s an acknowledgment that the collapse of multiple social contexts into a single one-size-fits-all context circumscribes a person’s freedom.

«

link to this extract

 


Chinese phone companies are speaking my language » The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»I think we lose something (maybe not entirely tangible) when we adapt the presentation of technological products to the lowest-common-denominator audience. Apple obviously doesn’t agree, and it set the tone for simplifying technology and making it seem less daunting — but maybe we’ve overcorrected. At the same Mobile World Congress where Xiaomi made me grin with joy at its no-nonsense deep dives into things like Deep Trench Isolation, LG was conducting a slow-motion car crash of an event for its new G5 flagship. The Korean company had hired a distinctly unlikeable actor to demonstrate all the various features of its new phone in a series of video skits. I was left scratching my head as to whether it was a form of self-parody or truly unintentional comedy of awkwardness. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

I’m not intimately familiar with the priorities of Chinese consumers, but judging by the devices fashioned out by their local manufacturers, high specs remain highly desirable (along with the rising importance of distinctive and attractive design). Maybe it’s easier for Meizu and Xiaomi to market themselves with a straightforward message to their national audience because that audience isn’t yet jaded and cynical about technological advancements. But I still firmly believe that the message of real technological progress is a universally appealing one.

«

Usually I agree with Savov’s evaluations, but on this I don’t. Most people really don’t care about, and truly don’t understand, technological numbers or concepts. For example, Deep Trench Isolation (which I think did get a mention in Apple’s iPhone 6S launch) is so abstruse that barely anyone can properly understand it; the word for such not-understood-but-used-to-impress phrases is “jargon”.

What people do react to is outcomes – or solutions if you prefer. Does the phone take great pictures? Do things happen quickly? When you scroll, is the scrolling smooth? Those details aren’t determined by hardware numbers alone, which is why “feeds and speeds” don’t tell the story of a device. A deca-core smartphone won’t necessarily do more, or do it faster, than a dual-core one like the iPhone 6S, and understanding why that’s so is important for the journalist (and, arguably, the reader who might spend money).
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The digital media bloodbath: hundreds of jobs lost » BuzzFeed News

Matthew Zeitlin:

»For media companies chasing the biggest possible audiences, it’s hard to resist the lure of a story blowing up on Facebook. When the social network’s algorithms smile upon a particularly shareable post, it can put it in front of millions of people — sometimes tens of millions. That has led many ambitious media companies to pursue Facebook traffic relentlessly — a pursuit some believe will be fatal to all but the biggest players.

“The cracks are beginning to show, the dependence on platforms has meant they are losing their core identity,” said Rafat Ali, the founder and editor-in-chief of Skift, a news site focused on the travel industry. “If you are just a brand in the feed, as opposed to a brand that users come to, that will catch up to you sometime.”

Mashable, for example, started out as a narrowly focused publication targeting the social media business and then, engorged with venture capital, chased scale. Ali pointed to sites like Mic and Refinery29 that started out small and are trying to ride viral success to become something larger. “The reality is that scale for scale’s sake will catch up with people.”

«

The biggest number of jobs lost is at Al-Jazeera US, where 700 have gone. The others are generally fewer than 100 (excepting the Guardian, which intends to lay off around 250). The feeling that it’s venture-funded sites that are struggling is tempting, but not quite proven: both AJA and The Guardian have entirely different funding models.
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University of California at Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from internet » The Sacramento Bee

Sam Stanton and Diana Lambert:

»UC Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, newly released documents show.

The payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident.

Some payments were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009. Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93m in 2009 to $5.47m in 2015.

«

The “right to be forgotten for enough money”. (It’s done by stuffing the web with “favourable” content about the organisation, and/or seeking to get the other content removed.)
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Google removes links on celebrity injunction couple » The Guardian

Jasper Jackson:

»Google has removed links to articles about the celebrity couple at the centre of a injunction in response to legal requests.

Searches for the names of either person return notices at the bottom of the page saying results have been removed.

Removed entries on both sets of searches are linked to the same legal requests. However, links to a database which records takedown notices go to pages without any information.

The Daily Mail reported that an online privacy firm claiming to be acting on behalf of the couple had complained about more than 150 links on the search engine.

The removal notices are more normally used for taking down links to copyrighted information. They are different to the messages Google posts when it removes links under EU “right to be forgotten” rules.

Google declined to comment.

«

Well, of course Google wouldn’t comment; how is it going to balance its visceral hate of the “right to be forgotten” with its insistence that it’s “organising the world’s information” while also freeing the oppressed from the yoke of censorship? There’s no way to square that circle. (Is Facebook doing the same?)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the sputtering sharing economy, new bots are old, how Facebook helps fake news sites, and more

Financial engineering turned Boots into a nightmare for some. Photo by Leo Reynolds 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 Boots went rogue » The Guardian

Aditya Chakrabortty:

»This is the tale of how one of Britain’s oldest and biggest businesses went rogue – to the point where its own pharmacists claim their working conditions threaten the safety of patients, and experts warn that the management’s pursuit of demanding financial targets poses a risk to public health. (Boots denies this, saying that “offering care for our colleagues, customers and the communities which we serve…is an integral part of our strategy.”)

At the heart of this story is one of the most urgent debates in post-crash Britain: what large companies owe the rest of us – in taxes, in wages, and in standards of behaviour.

«

This isn’t about technology, but it is about what financial instruments – aided by technology – can do. And it’s a terrific piece of journalism, talking to the people who are the cogs in the machine. Speaking of which…
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Why the gig economy is sputtering » Medium

Steven Hill, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is also author of “How the ‘Uber economy’ and runaway capitalism are screwing American workers”:

»A pattern has emerged about the “white dwarf” fate of many of these once-luminous sharing startups: after launching with much fanfare and tens of millions of VC capital behind them, vowing to enact a revolution in how people work and how society organizes peer-to-peer economic transactions, in the end many of these companies morphed into the equivalent of old-fashioned temp agencies (and others have simply imploded into black hole nothingness). Market forces have resulted in a convergence of companies on a few services which had been the most used on their platforms. In a real sense, even the startup king itself, Uber, is merely a temp agency, where workers do only one task: drive cars. Rebecca Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, compares the businesses of the gig economy to old-fashioned labor brokers. Companies like Instacart, Postmates and Uber, she says, talk as if they are different from old-style employers simply because they operate online. “But in fact,” she says, “they are operating just like farm labor contractors, garment jobbers and day labor centers of old.”

«

Hill’s piece is a must-read, as much as anything because it goes back and finds out what actually happened to all those Techcrunch Disrupt-style companies which attracted so much hoo-ha.
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January 2002: Radiohead “buddy” extends a hand » CNET

Stefanie Olsen, in January 2002:

»Capitol Records on Tuesday introduced a new instant chat “buddy” – the first of its kind – designed specifically to respond to questions on the popular rockers. Timed with the launch of the band’s new album, Amnesiac, the Radiohead buddy can chat about the band’s touring dates, up-to-date news, artist bios and album info.

The buddy, named GooglyMinotaur after a character on Amensiac’s artwork, is an exclusive on America Online’s instant messenger service for the next two weeks.

The launch marks one of the first commercial uses of instant messenger, a fast-growing means of communication for families, friends and co-workers. IM networks have long been looking for a way to profit from the millions of people chatting via IM.

«

Just in case you thought this “bot” stuff was new.
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In its fight against fake news, Facebook found a resilient foe » BuzzFeed News

Alex KAntrowitz:

»thanks to new tactics and a healthy interest in the typically sensational stories they publish, fake news sites still enjoy widespread reach on Facebook, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis of post engagement data across nine top fake news sites. In many ways, it is the golden age of fake news. Easy access to publishing tools makes it easier than ever to create news sources meant to mislead. And social distribution channels give the stories published by these outlets a clear path to the masses. Facebook does, however, claim to be making headway overall.
In many ways, it is the golden age of fake news.

“Overall since we rolled out updates to down-rank hoaxes on Facebook [last year], we have seen a decline in shares on most hoax sites and posts,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, describing the process by which it assigns items in its feed high or low rankings, which subsequently affects how often they appear.

To gauge Facebook’s progress in its fight, BuzzFeed News examined data across thousands of posts published to the fake news sites’ Facebook pages, and found decidedly mixed results. While average engagements (likes + shares + comments) per post fell from 972.7 in January 2015 to 434.78 in December 2015, they jumped to 827.8 in January 2016 and a whopping 1,304.7 in February.

«

The fake news sites make their money (in case you wondered) through the ads they show. Do advertisers care that they’re supporting fake news sites?
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BuzzFeed didn’t cut its 2016 forecast in half, says BuzzFeed chair Ken Lerer » Re/code

Peter Kafka:

»BuzzFeed’s doing fine. So is the digital media business. Everything’s going to be great, as long as you understand that everything is changing.

That’s the message from BuzzFeed chairman Ken Lerer, who disputes an industry-rattling report that the company has “slashed” its projections for 2016 after missing last year’s goals.

“Anyone who thinks that this isn’t a terrific time to be in digital content is dead wrong,” Lerer said. “It’s a fantastic time.”

While the Financial Times reported Tuesday that BuzzFeed had cut its 2016 revenue goals in half, from $500m to $250m, Lerer says the company’s board hasn’t changed its forecast for this year. He says the company met its projections for the first quarter of this year and is on pace to exceed its projections in Q2 and the rest of the year.

«

One gets the feeling Kafka doesn’t quite buy Lerer’s line.
link to this extract

 


The five most infamous software bugs in history » OpenMind

»When coding, a developer has to define variables the program will use and also the size those variables will take in the computer’s memory. The amount of memory required by the variable is expressed in bits.

A 16 bits variable can have a value of −32.768 to 32.767.

On the other hand, a 64 bits variable can have a value of −9.223.372.036.854.775.808 to 9.223.372.036.854.775.807 (that’s almost an infinity of options).

On June 4th, 1996 and only 30 seconds after the launch, the Ariane 5 rocket began to disintegrate slowly until its final explosion. Simulations with a similiar flight system and the same conditions revealed that in the rocket’s software (which came from Ariane 4), a 64-bit variable with decimals was transformed into a 16-bit variable without decimals.

These variables, taking different sizes in memory, triggered a series of bugs that affected all the on-board computers and hardware, paralyzing the entire ship and triggering its self-destruct sequence.

«

The other four are pretty good too.
link to this extract

 


A Neural Network Playground

»Tinker with a neural network in your browser. Don’t worry, you can’t break it. We promise.

«

Created by Daniel Smilkov and Shan Carter. Allow yourself a fair bit of time to understand what is going on here (that is, longer than I gave it).
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A farewell to comments » Above the Law

»This summer, Above the Law (“ATL”) will turn ten. The web has changed a great deal in the past decade, and ATL has evolved along with it.

One area where we’ve seen a lot of change: reader comments. In the early days of ATL, especially before the Great Recession, the comments were amazing. A single story could get hundreds of comments, most of them substantive, thoughtful, and related to the subject matter of the story. Yes, the comments could sometimes be edgy or offensive — which is why in January 2009 we tweaked our layout to hide them, requiring the reader to affirmatively click into them – but the value they brought to the table outweighed the offense.

Today the comments are not what they once were. Although occasionally insightful or funny, ATL comments nowadays are generally fewer in number, not very substantive (often just inside jokes among the commentariat), yet still often offensive. They also represent a very small percentage of our total traffic (as we can tell because of the click required to access them)…

…on the whole there is a higher level of seriousness to ATL in 2016 compared to 2006. We work hard to generate content that we’d like to be taken seriously – and we believe that redirecting discussion of our content away from anonymous comments and toward social media is an important step in this direction.

«

That last is relevant: ATL reckons it is more, not less, serious, but that comments haven’t kept pace – they haven’t even maintained their previous level.
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Panama papers: how much of an insider job? » Eerke Boiten’s blog

Boiten is a cybersecurity expert, and spoke to Wired, but here he riffs a bit more:

»Mossack Fonseca itself told customers that it was an attack on their email servers. This is what ended up reported in El Espanol and subsequently The Register, but neither have details (e.g. was it really an attack on the server, or a phishing attack on staff via email?). The best source I’ve found for what happened is an article in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SDZ). Particularly from the telling line “Mossack Fonseca created a folder for each shell firm” I would say an attack on any emails going in/out of MosFon is unlikely to have been the direct cause of the leak. Those MosFon created folders, nor any predictable or comprehensive amounts of info from them, wouldn’t naturally appear in emails. The SDZ article and other reports contain no indication that the journalists have had to deal with scatty information or incomplete files. So what SDZ got was likely complete folders. Otherwise, the report on processing the files would likely have included a huge sorting step at the start.

My overall line on the bad external security of MosFon would be a general judgement on their security measures, along the lines of “If they didn’t even X, then they certainly wouldn’t have Y” – with many basic security issues X described in the Wired article, and Y things like Data Loss Prevention and other methods of discovery of access anomalies. Or in a double-bluff scenario (and here comes the quoted bit), there might have been an insider who knew enough to stay under the radar of any DLP. I still don’t have a better explanation for the files coming out over a long period – files grabbed from emails would have been incomplete, but the total volume would have fitted a single cheap harddisc, so no reason to do it slowly especially when it was risky. A random hacker accidentally finding the security holes wouldn’t have taken the risks.

«

link to this extract

 


Google Calendar’s newest feature uses machine learning to help you actually accomplish your goals | TechCrunch

Catherine Shu:

»Google Calendar has launched a feature called Goals that uses machine learning to help you figure out when you have time to pencil in stuff like spending time with your family or exercise. The feature is now available for Calendar’s Android and iOS apps.

Goals are set up by clicking into a category (which currently include Exercise, “Build a Skill,” and “Me Time,” though they can also be customized) and selecting a specific activity. Then Calendar will automatically find open slots, fill them in with your goal, and send reminders.

If you schedule something else during those times, Google Calendar will find another window for your goal—but, in a tool that will surely be chronically abused by procrastinators, they can also be deferred. Goal’s machine intelligence, however, will attempt to keep up, finding better time slots for goals until you can no longer avoid it.

«

*turns to camera, begins walking along corridor speaking aloud* By the second decade of the 21st century, some Americans had persuaded themselves that they were working so hard that they had to get a machine to schedule in “family time” on their electronic calendars.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Oculus delays, CGI plastic surgery, the drone tractor, Buzzfeed misses, PCs keep dropping, and more

Lots of people do it. But to what value? The Guardian tried analysing them. Photo by Pixel Fantasy 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. Now count them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Oculus’ botched launch harms the VR ecosystem » Forrester Blogs

JP Gownder:

»While my personal Rift delay [of around a month] is merely an annoyance, the botched launch has real repercussions for the VR ecosystem. Oculus’ delay:

• Hurts developers of games and apps. The diversity and depth of the VR developer ecosystem is impressive. While many developers focus on games – logically enough, since that’s a key early adopter demographic – others offer applications ranging from clinical treatments for PTSD to collaboration in virtual spaces. The common denominator? None of these developers are making money if there are no headsets available. And while many apps can be ported to other platforms, Oculus has been the centerpiece of many developers’ high-end VR efforts.

• Hurts media startups and innovations. Media, too, sees a potential loss. While some media companies go the route of the New York Times and focus on Google Cardboard phone-based VR, others are counting on developing truly immersive experiences that simulate presence. Studio Jaunt VR has an Oculus app that, again, won’t be addressable until customers receive their Rifts.

• Helps HTC Vive. On the flip side, Oculus’ main competitor in high-end VR, the HTC Vive, faced minor launch problems of its own. But these were based in payment processing, not hardware problems. Why? HTC is a well-established hardware vendor with many smartphone, wearable, camera, and tablet product releases under its belt. Though priced $200 higher than the Rift, both devices require a ~$1,000 PC…

In fact, the Rift launch fiasco should never have happened. The official statement cites an unspecified “component shortage,” but usually such contracts are locked down many months in advance. Oculus has had 2.5 years to plan for this launch, so there’s really no excuse.

«

Seems overdone to me. The idea that a potentially world-changing technology like VR will be derailed by a month’s delay doesn’t make sense.
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BuzzFeed missed 2015 revenue targets and slashes 2016 projections » FT.com

Matthew Garrahan and Henry Mance:

»BuzzFeed missed its revenue target for 2015 and has slashed its internal projections for 2016 by about half, raising questions about whether the online news and entertainment network can meet the sky-high valuations put on new media groups by investors.

The company, known for its lists, irreverent content and fast-growing editorial operation, had projected about $250m in revenues for 2015 but generated less than $170m, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The company has halved its internal revenue target for 2016 from $500m to $250m, the people said.

BuzzFeed disputed the figures but declined to give its own numbers. “We are very pleased with where BuzzFeed is today and where it will be tomorrow,” the company said. “We are very comfortable with where the digital content world is going and think we are well-positioned.”

«

Hmm. My spidey sense is tingling.
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Saving money by blocking ads » Optimal

»Do you have an iPhone and ever go over your carrier’s data plan allowance? (over 30% of us do!). Mostly unbeknownst to us, video and banner ads and hidden tracking URLs are using a lot of our mobile data plan and draining our battery. Use this calculator (defaults are typical for US users) to estimate how much you could save by installing an iOS 9 content blocker, and how many unnecessary URLs are loading on your phone.

«

Only tricky thing is knowing how much browsing you do when not on Wi-Fi. I don’t think most people would have a clue.
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JBL headphones first to use USB Type-C with HTC 10 » Phonescoop

Eric Zeman:

»HTC and JBL today announced a pair of headphones optimized for the HTC 10 smartphone. What’s unique about these headphones is they are among the first to use the USB-C connector, rather than standard 3.5mm headphone jack, to connect with the HTC 10. Since they use USB-C, the JBL Reflect Aware C headphones are able to provide active noise cancellation without internal batteries; they draw power from the HTC 10 itself. Users can customize the level of background noise so they may remain aware of their environment. The headphones are sweat-proof and come with three sport ear tips and three regular ear tips.

«

Neat idea.
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15: Please don’t enter the iCloud password » picomac

Ed Cormany:

»With TouchID, unlocking my phone is something I do dozens of times per day without thought. Even when I have to fall back to a passcode — it gets cold outside in places other than California! — it’s seamless. Most importantly, it’s predictable; I only have to authenticate in response to my own action of turning on the phone’s display.

I can’t say the same for iCloud authentication. In theory, I should only have to enter my iCloud credentials at device setup, or when performing specific actions like confirming a purchase. Yet most of the time I’m presented with an iCloud password dialog, it’s out of the blue, with no explanation: simply “Please enter the iCloud password for…” my Apple ID. It’s frustrating, sure, but more than that it’s troubling. Because I respond to that dialog differently than the vast majority of iCloud users.

I always click Cancel.

My iCloud credentials are the key to my digital life across several devices. I don’t give them away without an explanation, just as I wouldn’t give my Social Security number to someone who stopped me on the street randomly. But if the person behind the counter at the bank asked me for my SSN, even if I’d never seen them before in my life, I would give it over — it’s all about context.

«

This tweet from Ben Thompson is relevant. Apple really is not implementing this well.
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Worldwide PC shipments declined 9.6% in 1Q 2016 » Gartner

»Worldwide PC shipments totaled 64.8m units in the first quarter of 2016, a 9.6% decline from the first quarter of 2015, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. This was the sixth consecutive quarter of PC shipment declines, and the first time since 2007 that shipment volume fell below 65m units.

“The deterioration of local currencies against the U.S. dollar continued to play a major role in PC shipment declines. Our early results also show there was an inventory buildup from holiday sales in the fourth quarter of 2015,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.

“All major regions showed year-over-year shipment declines, with Latin America showing the steepest drop, where PC shipments declined 32.4%. The Latin American PC market was intensely impacted by Brazil, where the problematic economy and political instability adversely affected the market, Ms. Kitagawa said. “The ongoing decline in U.S. PC shipments showed that the installed base is still shrinking, a factor that played across developed economies. Low oil prices drove economic contraction in Latin America and Russia, changing them from drivers of growth to market laggards.”

PCs are not being adopted in new households as they were in the past, especially in emerging markets. In these markets, smartphones are the priority. In the business segment, Gartner analysts said the Windows 10 refresh is expected to start toward the end of 2016.

«

IDC puts the figure even lower, at 60.6m units. Basically, it’s the lowest figure since 2006. Never heard oil prices blamed for PC sales before.
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PC sales: the five stages of grief and the comeback that never comes » Forbes

Mark Rogowsky does a smart take on IDC’s repeated insistence that yeah, the PC business is just about to come back, real soon now:

»the PC has hit hard times in the era of both the iPad and the smartphone. While the former has itself seen sales falling, its impact on the PC is still real. Apple sold 48m last year and if you believe even 10-20% of them were purchased by someone who might have bought a PC instead, that’s potentially 3% of the decline in the PC market right there. (Chromebooks, based on Google’s ChromeOS, now account for nearly 3% of PCs as well, but IDC actually counts those as laptops so they are masking the decline in Windows.)

But a much more important factor has been the rise of smartphones, which are now used by more than 1 in 3 people on earth. While Americans who grew up on PCs have a tough time imagining computing as something other than a traditional laptop or (gasp!) desktop, many in emerging markets don’t know it as anything but what one does on the device they carry with them all the time. This will continue to confound the same kind of people who believe “real work” can’t be done on an iPad until the generation raised on tablets starts running the world without any real comprehension of what it means to use a PC.

«

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iPhone SE early statistics » Naofumi Kagami

Kagami looked at data from carriers, Amazon and big retailers in Japan:

»The interesting observation is that unlike the iPhone 6s where the 64GB model sells better than the 16GB model on all carriers, the reverse is true for the iPhone SE; on all carriers, the 16GB iPhone SE model sells better than the 64GB model. This suggests that iPhone SE users intend to use their phones more casually, and are more driven by price. Importantly, we have to understand that the data is only for the opening weekend which is typically skewed towards early adopters, who we would expect to prefer higher capacity models. It seems that the trend for iPhone SE users to be casual owners might be very strong.

Of course, we do not know the product mix of the items in stock, so this might simply be a result of inventory skew. However, assuming that this trend holds true, then we can make the following tentative conclusions;

• The iPhone SE appeals more to users who are more considerate of price, and who do not intend to use their smartphones very heavily.
• These users would typically only replace their current smartphones after they have completed their 2-year contract. A strong opening day turnout of this segment suggests that these users were holding onto old phones (either old iPhones or Androids).

«

link to this extract

 


The dark side of Guardian comments » The Guardian

Becky Gardiner et al:

»New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And many have done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.

But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem?

«

Analysis of 70m comments since 2006. Also (if you go through) has a “play being a moderator!” quiz with various comments.

And is it really only a small minority who are a “problem”? It’s more that only a vanishingly small minority improve on what you’ve read. That’s not a surprise, because generally the writers have been trained and paid to write. Not so commenters.
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Autonomous tractor brings in the harvest » Hackaday

Jenny List:

»Matt Reimer is a farmer in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It’s grain country, and at harvest time he has a problem. An essential task when harvesting is that of the grain cart driver, piloting a tractor and grain trailer that has to constantly do the round between unloading the combine harvester and depositing the grain in a truck. It’s a thankless, unrelenting, and repetitive task, and Matt’s problem is that labour is difficult to find when every other farmer in the region is also hiring.

His solution was to replace the driver with a set of Arduinos and a Pixhawk autopilot controlling the tractor’s cab actuators, and running ArduPilot, DroneKit, and his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Since a modern tractor is effectively a fly-by-wire device this is not as annoying a task as it would have been with a tractor from several decades ago, or with a car. The resulting autonomous tractor picks up the grain from his combine, but he reminds us that for now it still deposits the harvest in the truck under human control. It is still a work-in-progress with only one harvest behind it, so this project is definitely one to watch over the next few months.

«

Trucks, tractors… this stuff all happens quietly around the edges, and then suddenly you notice that the edges are a lot closer than you used to think.
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LG’s G5 B&O Hi-Fi DAC: thoughts from an audiophile sceptic » Android Police

David Ruddock looks at the Bang & Olufsen certified digital-to-analogue converter that LG offers as an add-on for its G5 flagship smartphone:

»The Hi-FI DAC G5 was clearly and noticeably shaping and processing audio differently than any other device I tested. I’m not sure what effects are being applied, but I would guess it’s some sort of suite of adjustments B&O have made to deem the accessory acceptable to the B&O “signature sound.” The problem for me is that, as someone trying to just let the components be transparent and produce flat, unshaped sound, the Hi-Fi DAC is actually doing a worse job at being a piece of audiophile equipment than the G5’s standard headphone jack! Sure, you’ll hear a difference going from the G5’s headphone jack to the Hi-Fi’s DAC, but that’s literally because LG and / or B&O have gone out of their way to make certain you hear a difference, whether you like it or not. After all, if the average Joe bought a G5 and the Hi-Fi and used the bundled earbuds, do you think LG honestly wants to be in a situation where the customer says they can’t hear the difference? They have to be able to hear it, or LG would be openly mocked for selling an overpriced, ineffectual witchcraft box.

«

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How actors get plastic surgery with a click » Vulture

Logan Hill:

»Recently, after shooting three episodes of the WGN America drama Salem, an actor in a prominent role left the show for personal reasons. A few years ago, such a major switch would have been a costly debacle requiring expensive reshoots. But “we didn’t have to reshoot at all,” says veteran showrunner Brannon Braga. “We’re replacing his face with a new actor’s face.”

Today, digital face replacement is just one technique at Hollywood’s disposal. Braga regularly uses CG to retouch actors, “whether it’s a pimple, or an actress who has bags under her eyes on that particular day, or painting out a nipple in a sex scene.” When an actress got a nose ring without telling him, his postproduction team removed it at a cost of “tens of thousands of dollars.” Such work can get expensive, but it’s industry standard. “Look, we re-created the whole Library of Alexandria,” he says, referring to his work on the Neil deGrasse Tyson documentary series Cosmos. “Why wouldn’t we get rid of a cookie crumb on Neil’s mustache?”

But Braga is no trailblazer. “I do television,” he says, “not $300 million movies.” He’s just using digital techniques that have become ubiquitous over the last decade — even though they are largely invisible to most audiences, rarely discussed by creators, and usually hidden behind nondisclosure agreements.

«

Plus a slideshow. Truly fascinating; and invisible.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

Start up: self-driving trucks, Gen Z grapples with email, AI (lack of) manners, BB10 is a zombie, and more

dual smartphone cameras

Dual cameras (on the Huawei P9): perhaps only coming to the iPhone 7 Plus? Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

Tell your friends (and enemies) to sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. One has 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.

A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe » Quartz

Joon Ian Wong:

»About a dozen trucks from major manufacturers like Volvo and Daimler just completed a week of largely autonomous driving across Europe, the first such major exercise on the continent.

The trucks set off from their bases in three European countries and completed their journeys in Rotterdam in the Netherlands today (Apr. 6). One set of trucks, made by the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, traveled more than 2,000 km and crossed four borders to get there.

The trucks were taking part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, organized by the Dutch government as one of the big events for its 2016 presidency of the European Union. While self-driving cars from Google or Ford get most of the credit for capturing the public imagination, commercial uses for autonomous or nearly autonomous vehicles, like tractors from John Deere, have been quietly putting the concept to work in a business setting.

«

There’s a video too. Obvious that trucks are a bit easier to automate than cars. But the job implications are enormous, as this piece from last June pointed out. Not just truck drivers; think truck stops too.
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Amazon Echo is magical. It’s also turning my kid into an asshole » Hunter Walk

He likes the Amazon Echo. But:

»You see, the prompt command to activate the Echo is “Alexa…” not “Alexa, please.” And Alexa doesn’t require a ‘thank you’ before it’s ready to perform another task. Learning at a young age is often about repetitive norms and cause/effect. Cognitively I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around but not a person. At the very least, it creates patterns and reinforcement that so long as your diction is good, you can get what you want without niceties.

Our daughter’s fascination with the Echo isn’t an anomaly — I hear from lots of friends that their kids are the most enthusiastic users. Voice is a very natural interface for a child, especially pre-reading and writing. My friend Rebecca lovingly describes how the Echo has found a special place in their home.

So Amazon, you clearly have a hit on your hands. Can I request one thing? A kid-mode where the Echo only responds to “Alexa, please….” as opposed to just “Alexa.”

«

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How not to get your question answered » doombot

Dan Moren:

»Most of the time the people I deal with are polite and appreciative that someone has even responded to their emails. I don’t want to get into a position of saying “Hey, you should be glad you even got an email back,” but let’s face it: a lot of people whose positions are similar to mine don’t have the time or interest to respond to queries that will take hours away from their actual paying work. But the rule of thumb seems like it should be this: when you ask a favor from someone, you should be civil and gracious for any time they take to help you out. That goes for dealing with people in pretty much any walk of life, in my opinion.

My latest email help request started innocuously enough. It wasn’t sent to the catch-all for the iPhone blog, or through Macworld’s contact form, but directly to my work address.

«

But oh boy, was it a doozy. This is from 2007 (hence how outdated the tech will seem) but stuff like this happens all the time.
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Apple’s iPhone 7 to shift gear on dual rear cameras, hurting Sony » Barrons.com

Shuli Ren, quoting a Citi Research note which says:

»We expect Apple to release two 5.5″ iPhone 7 models but only include dual rear cameras in the high-end model. As a result, Apple could release four new iPhone products in 2016: the 7Plus premium, the 7Plus, the 7, and the SE.

In the last few years, Apple has added new features, including lightning connectors and haptic functionality, but the improvements in camera and display performance have been minor and there have been no dramatic changes. Overall, the adoption of customized components has declined. We believe this reflects a shift to a cost-focused strategy and that a stronger USD has been an important contributing factor. The number of iPhones that do not have a dual rear camera has increased and the number of haptic components has declined to one from two. Concerns about the iPhone losing its individuality may be valid.

We think this year’s iPhones, however, may scale back gains in performance and functionality to reduce costs. This cost conscious shift toward making lower-priced handsets targeting EMs resembles the shift undertaken by Nokia around 2005.

«

That hurts Sony because it sells the cameras to Apple. The segmentation sounds like a logical step.
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Alibaba’s AI predicts 100% of winners in Chinese singing contest » Tech In Asia

Erik Crouch:

»Friday night was a big moment for Alibaba, when the company’s artificial intelligence made its public debut. It wasn’t at a university or a tech conference – it was as the super-judge on the popular Chinese reality singing show I’m a Singer.

Based on analyses of social media chatter, song popularity, the singers’ abilities, and more, the AI – named Ai – was able to accurately predict all of the show’s finalists and the grand winner.

«

Clever. But is it repeatable in the west?
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BlackBerry switches focus back on mid-range smartphone market » The National

John Everington:

»“The fact that we came out with a high end phone [as our first Android device] was probably not as wise as it should have been,” Mr Chen said during a visit to Abu Dhabi.

“A lot of enterprise customers have said to us, ‘I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I’m more interested in a $400 device’.”

Mr Chen insisted that BlackBerry’s secure Android handset proposition was one that appealed particularly to enterprise consumers.

“We’re the only people who really secure Android, taking the security features of BlackBerry that everyone knows us for and make it more reachable for the market.”

But last week’s disappointing sales numbers have once again revived speculation that BlackBerry may finally decide to call time on its handset division and focus exclusively on its more profitable software services division, which it expects to grow by 30 per cent in the coming 12 months.

In a further blow to the company, Facebook and WhatsApp announced in March that they would drop support for their apps on BlackBerry’s BB10 operating system, which is on BlackBerry’s Passport, Classic and Leap devices.

Mr Chen said that while BlackBerry would continue to release updates for BB10, there were no plans to launch new devices running the operating system.

«

So it’s official: BB10 is dead. But did anyone ever really suggest to Chen that there was a high-end Android market that BlackBerry could break into?
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For Generation Z, email has become a rite of passage » WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»You might think a generation as tech-savvy as this one, which can hardly remember a time before smartphones, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, would have embraced email in its infancy.

But progress has inverted the order in which Generation Z encounters many technologies, relative to their older peers. Many used tablets before laptops, streaming before downloads and chat before email. For them, email is as about as much fun as applying to college or creating a résumé.

“The way I first perceived email was, it was something my parents did for work,” says Zach Kahn, a 21-year-old senior at George Washington University.

I heard variants of this sentiment from 15 young adults, ages 16 to 21: Email is for communicating with old people, the digital equivalent of putting on a shirt and tie.

“I would never even think of emailing my friends, they would just react super weird,” says Tanya E. Van Gastel, a 21-year-old senior at University of Antwerp, in Belgium. “They would be like ‘Why don’t you text me?’ ”

«

link to this extract

 


Asustek reduces demand for Intel-developed smartphone platforms » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

»Asustek Computer has added platforms developed by Qualcomm and Taiwan-based MediaTek for its ZenFone-series smartphones, reducing the proportion of platforms developed by Intel, its original supplier. Asustek’s Intel chip demand is estimated to decrease from about 6m units in 2015 to below 5m units in 2016 and may be down further by 50% in 2017, according to industry sources.

With major clients such as Asustek and Lenovo cutting orders, Intel is under strong pressure to stay competitive in the market.

Intel’s mobile communication business lost over US$10 billion in the past three years and despite a merger with its PC Client Group, adjustments in business structure and marketing subsidies, the business is still suffering from losses.

Although Intel has been cooperating with first-tier smartphone vendors to develop products using its platform, Asustek and Lenovo are the only two players with large orders and Asustek is the largest client of Intel.

«

Intel’s mobile chip division is already sub-scale, and now it’s going to get even smaller.
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Large malvertising campaign hits popular Dutch websites » Fox-IT International blog

»The malvertising is occurring through an advertisement platform which is actively used on the above mentioned websites. From the websites, external scripts are loaded which in turn redirect further towards the exploit kit. We’ve observed the Angler Exploit Kit being active on these redirects during this campaign. We have not seen any successful infections at our customer yet.

«

Fox-IT saw at least 288 large Dutch sites being hit on Sunday. The Angler Exploit Kit is a drive-by system which tries to find the best exploit depending on your browser, OS and any installed plugins.
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Malware is getting nastier, but that shouldn’t matter » Computerworld

Steven Vaughan-Nichols:

»Another thing to keep in mind is that there are overwhelming odds that you would have to be running Windows for the malware to pose any sort of threat to you. Sure, it’s possible to hack Linux and Mac OS X, but the vast majority of attacks are almost always on Windows PCs. That’s not because Windows users are dumber than Linux and Mac users (well, I’m not going to say that, anyway); it’s just that there are a whole lot more of them.

But let’s say that you are running Windows. That hardly means you’re doomed. For the malware to get a toehold, you need to open a Windows format file — from a stranger. And why would you do that? Opening a Windows format file sent by someone you don’t know has been a mug’s move since the late ’90s, when Word macro Trojans, such as Melissa, were the last word in malware attacks.

Let me remind you of some security commandments that many of you seem to have forgotten…

«

Vaughan-Nichols then launches into a four-point list of mansplaining, or maybe virusplaining or Trojansplaining. Whichever, he completely misses the point. Users aren’t “stupid” for doing things that they have been trained by software companies to do for years – such as clicking “update” or “open” and ignoring warnings, because the warnings are too frequent and the explanations of why doing them is bad are too obscure. Plus, as the above example shows, you can get hit by a drive-by download which might infect you completely without warning.

As for “the vast majority of attacks are almost always on Windows PCs” – this is hardly a surprise.
link to this extract

 


Google Fiber free internet is (mostly) ending in Kansas City » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

»When Google Fiber first arrived, it came with a compelling pitch: Pay a one-time construction fee, and you get Internet access for free after that.

Now Fiber is dropping that option for new subscribers in Kansas City, its first market. In its place are two new plans: A faster option, Fiber 100, that costs $50 per month with no construction fee or contract; and a broader implementation of its agenda to wire economically underserved neighborhoods for free.

It’s unclear what Fiber’s exact motivation is here. A rep confirmed the pricing changes, but declined to comment further.

So let’s speculate!

It could signal that Fiber — the most expensive unit for parent Alphabet, besides Google — is facing more pressure to turn into a viable, competitive broadband and cable business. That means reaping real margins. And the new pricing model — no more wiring up houses essentially for free — could help Fiber get to better margins.

«

Nest is a mess; Boston Dynamics is on the block to be sold; there’s disarray at the Alphabet-owned life sciences company Verily. So not surprising that Alphabet is bringing the hammer down on Google Fiber, which at least has a business model that has been proven by others.
link to this extract

 


Why Verizon wants to buy Yahoo » Vox

Timothy Lee:

»AOL has a lot in common with Yahoo. Both companies are well-known internet brands whose best days are a decade or more in the past. Like AOL, Yahoo makes a lot of its money by creating internet content and selling ads against it.

When Verizon purchased AOL, it emphasized the company’s portfolio of media brands, including TechCrunch and the Huffington Post. But as Matt Yglesias wrote for Vox last year, Verizon may have also been interested in AOL’s ad technology business — and in particular how Verizon could use data gathered from its vast broadband and mobile networks to help AOL content companies target ads more effectively.

Either way, if Verizon was happy with its AOL acquisition, buying Yahoo, a company with a similar portfolio of technology, media, and advertising products, seems like a logical next step.

In recent years, scale has become increasingly important in the online advertising business. Advertisers prefer to make a few big ad deals rather than many small ones, so larger media companies are often able to command premium prices. With Yahoo and AOL under one roof, Verizon would be able to integrate their ad sales teams and offer advertisers packages that include media brands from both companies.

«

Point of order: do we think AOL or Yahoo really “create” a lot of content relative to their size? Or is it their users, in Flickr etc?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: how to properly break the internet, the premium phone boomlet, emoji variation, and more

Crumbling bridge

Upkeep of infrastructure probably matters more than inventing new things once you reach a certain level of complexity. Photo by BluePrince Architecture 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.

Internet mapping turned a remote farm into a digital hell » Fusion

Terrific work by Kashmir Hill:

»As any geography nerd knows, the precise center of the United States is in northern Kansas, near the Nebraska border. Technically, the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of the center spot are 39°50′N 98°35′W. In digital maps, that number is an ugly one: 39.8333333,-98.585522. So back in 2002, when [IP mapping company] MaxMind was first choosing the default point on its digital map for the center of the U.S., it decided to clean up the measurements and go with a simpler, nearby latitude and longitude: 38°N 97°W or 38.0000,-97.0000.

As a result, for the last 14 years, every time MaxMind’s database has been queried about the location of an IP address in the United States it can’t identify, it has spit out the default location of a spot two hours away from the geographic center of the country. This happens a lot: 5,000 companies rely on MaxMind’s IP mapping information, and in all, there are now over 600 million IP addresses associated with that default coordinate. If any of those IP addresses are used by a scammer, or a computer thief, or a suicidal person contacting a help line, MaxMind’s database places them at the same spot: 38.0000,-97.0000.

Which happens to be in the front yard of Joyce Taylor’s house.

“The first call I got was [in 2011] from Connecticut,” Taylor told me by phone this week. “It was a man who was furious because his business internet was overwhelmed with emails. His customers couldn’t use their email. He said it was the fault of the address at the farm. That’s when I became aware that something was going on.”

«

Something indeed was going on. MaxMind says it’s the fault of the users of its database.
link to this extract

 


How one programmer broke the internet by deleting a tiny piece of code » Quartz

Keith Collins:

»A man in Oakland, California, disrupted web development around the world last week by deleting 11 lines of code.

The story of how 28-year-old Azer Koçulu briefly broke the internet shows how writing software for the web has become dependent on a patchwork of code that itself relies on the benevolence of fellow programmers. When that system breaks down, as it did last week, the consequences can be vast and unpredictable.

“I think I have the right of deleting all my stuff,” Koçulu wrote on March 20 in an email that was later made public.

And then he did it.

Koçulu had been publishing code he wrote to npm, a popular service that’s widely used to find and install open-source software written in JavaScript. It has become an essential tool in web development, invoked billions of times a month, thanks to npm’s ease of use and its enormous library of free code packages contributed by the open-source community.

«

Increasingly, very large structures are built on very small foundations whose solidity can’t be taken for granted. Talking of which…
link to this extract

 


Innovation is overvalued. Maintenance often matters more » Aeon Essays

Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell, who are professors at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey:

»First, it is crucial to understand that technology is not innovation. Innovation is only a small piece of what happens with technology. This preoccupation with novelty is unfortunate because it fails to account for technologies in widespread use, and it obscures how many of the things around us are quite old. In his book, Shock of the Old (2007), the historian David Edgerton examines technology-in-use. He finds that common objects, like the electric fan and many parts of the automobile, have been virtually unchanged for a century or more. When we take this broader perspective, we can tell different stories with drastically different geographical, chronological, and sociological emphases. The stalest innovation stories focus on well-to-do white guys sitting in garages in a small region of California, but human beings in the Global South live with technologies too. Which ones? Where do they come from? How are they produced, used, repaired? Yes, novel objects preoccupy the privileged, and can generate huge profits. But the most remarkable tales of cunning, effort, and care that people direct toward technologies exist far beyond the same old anecdotes about invention and innovation.

«

Terrific and thought-provoking essay: in the light of smart home systems being turned off within 18 months of being released, what price maintenance?
link to this extract

 


Premium smartphones are booming » Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»Exhibit A in the case for the high end is Huawei. A strong push for models such as the P8 meant that the average price of the Chinese company’s phones climbed 17% last year, according to IDC. Unit shipments jumped 45%, with the premium segment accounting for a significantly larger proportion of the total.

Apple’s average selling price rose more than 7% in calendar 2015, according to IDC data, with its shipment volume increasing 20%. The other major player to see gains from selling more-expensive phones was ZTE, with a 5.8% markup in price and a 20% jump in volumes. According to Counterpoint Research, the highest tier widened its share of total volume. So too did the bottom end, while the center got squeezed.

Given the gain for the cheapest models, it would be wrong to write off price cuts as a marketing strategy. Still, the price-demand dynamics for smartphones suggest that higher volumes driven by discounts may not translate to increased revenue (and will certainly squeeze profit per device). Whether you’re a Beijing-based startup or a Cupertino-based behemoth, the end-goal ought to be boosting sales and not market share.

The experience last year of Apple, Huawei and ZTE suggests that smartphones may in fact be a Giffen good – a product for which demand increases as prices rise.

«

Culpan also says that Samsung has seen a tripled demand for the S7 over the figures for the S6 last year, but I think that’s an error – Counterpoint says it’s up about 30%. What also isn’t revealed is what Huawei’s and ZTE’s ASPs were in 2014 or 2015. They might be up, but are they premium? Or is that effect principally from Apple’s bigger, pricier sales?

It’s certainly counterintuitive if premium really is booming. The graphic accompanying the article suggests it is, but it could just be Apple doing better while the rest sink.

link to this extract

 


New and improved “block user” feature in your inbox. : announcements » Reddit

»Believe it or not, we’ve actually had a “block user” feature in a basic form for quite a while, though over time its utility focused to apply to only private messages. We’ve recently updated its behavior to apply more broadly: you can now block users that reply to you in comment replies as well. Simply click the “Block User” button while viewing the reply in your inbox. From that point on, the profile of the blocked user, along with all their comments, posts, and messages, will then be completely removed from your view. You will no longer be alerted if they message you further. As before, the block is completely silent to the blocked user. Blocks can be viewed or removed on your preferences page here.

«

It’s a start (and also reinforces my hypothesis that all commenting systems evolve towards the functionality that Usenet already offered in 1996). But it doesn’t stop Reddit being something of a cesspit in other regards, as this New York Times article points out. (Though Usenet was like that too.)
link to this extract

 


Investigating the potential for miscommunication using emoji | GroupLens

»To your smartphone, an emoji is just like any other character (e.g., lower-case ‘a’, upper-case ‘B’) and needs to be rendered with a font. Since each smartphone platform (e.g., Apple, Google) has its own emoji font, the same emoji character can look quite different on different smartphone platforms. This is why when a Google Nexus owner sends [smiley emoji]  to a friend with an iPhone, the iPhone owner will actually see [slightly different smiley emoji] . This problem isn’t just limited to iPhones and Nexuses; check out all the different renderings of the single emoji character we’ve been discussing:

«

Read the full paper. May include emoji. (I always thought the Apple version of this one was a sort of “forced rictus grin of embarrassment”, so apologies to anyone who saw me use it and thought I was trying to transmit hilarity.)

link to this extract

 


How can we trust Google when it lets ads call the shots? » The Guardian

Kenny Jacobs, who is chief marketing officer of Ryanair:

»A friend of mine recently went on a first date and wanted to make a good impression. Having heard about a very reliable French place in central London that might be a romantic venue, he Googled it. At the top of the results page he found the restaurant’s website, clicked through to see pictures of happy looking couples, browsed the sample menu and used a booking form to reserve a table for two.

Date night came and when the taxi arrived at the address, the cabbie asked him which restaurant he was looking for: the one that had been there for years, or the new place across the road? Being sure he’d booked the original, the pair went into the restaurant, only to be told they had no reservation, and that they should have booked by phone.

«

Jacobs (and Ryanair) still hate eDreams, which buys AdWords ads against Ryanair searches and then leads those who click through to a site that looks suspiciously like Ryanair’s – except that it charges extra.

Should Ryanair sue eDreams? It already is doing. The problem is that by putting AdWords ads above organic search results, rather than to the side, Google encourages users to click the adverts. That’s in its own interests, but not all users can perceive the difference, which is then to the users’ disadvantage. Shouldn’t the user advantage win in that case? Online ads aren’t necessarily so easy to spot as on TV (where they’re not necessarily easy to spot either).
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This dude’s fitness tracker may have just saved his life » Gizmodo

George Dvorsky:

»A 42-year-old man from New Jersey recently showed up in an emergency ward following a seizure. After looking at the data collected by his Fitbit Charge HR, the doctors decided to reset his heart rate with an electrical cardioversion. It’s the first time in history that a fitness tracker was used in this way.

«

Won’t be the last, though. Full text in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
link to this extract

 


RUN and RUN / lyrical school 【MV for Smartphone】 on Vimeo

RUN and RUN / lyrical school 【MV for Smartphone】 from RUNandRUN_lyrisch on Vimeo.

This music video has been going quietly viral in the west; it shows what an imaginative director can do by thinking about how a generation encounters music videos now – through the phone, not the TV. (You might want to watch it with the sound turned down low.)
link to this extract

 


Birds measure magnetic fields using long-lived quantum coherence » physicsworld.com

Michael Allen:

»Long-lived spin coherence in proteins found in the eyes of migratory birds could explain how the creatures are able to navigate along the Earth’s magnetic field with extraordinary precision. This is the finding of researchers in the UK and Germany, who have created a new realistic model of cryptochrome proteins that is based on advanced simulations of nuclear and electron spins. The team also provides an explanation for how the avian magnetic compass has been optimized by evolution.

«

“Spin coherence” is the tight quantum pairing of electron spins. That birds have evolved the ability to lengthen it, and then harness it to navigate makes evolution all the more amazing. If you read it in a science fiction plotline you’d think they were overreaching a bit.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none specified.

Start up: deeper inside Nest, slower smartphone sales, smaller Yahoo, ransomware spreads further, and more

Fight!

Just another meeting between Nest and Dropcam. Creative Commons-licensed photo by Steve Liddle on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (though you won’t see any instalments for a week, because I’ll be away). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. There are no April Fools in this, thank God. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Please note: next week The Overspill will be on a spring break.

Service resumes on 11 April.


 

Nest revenue around $340m last year, but budget troubles ahead » Re/code

Mark Bergen with a remarkable scoop:

»Nest generated about $340m in sales last year, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. That’s an impressive figure for a company in the very nascent market of Internet-connected devices.

But it’s below the initial expectations Google had set for Nest when it bought the startup in 2014 for a whopping $3.2bn. The company’s sales performance may face even deeper scrutiny inside Google’s new parent company, Alphabet, where Nest now sits, as the hardware maker faces its most critical year ever.

Nest’s plight is a far cry from two years ago, when it was brought on as one of Google’s biggest acquisitions as a vehicle to compete with Apple in the growing smart-home market. Google also brought on CEO Tony Fadell, a former Apple exec, to inject Google with Apple’s hardware sensibility. But now its future is up in the air, as it’s clearly fallen short of those lofty expectations…

…To keep employees from leaving after the acquisition, Google created a vesting schedule that prevents Nest’s executives from cashing out their shares before a certain date — that date could come as soon as this year. In addition, according to sources, as part of the acquisition, Nest and Google agreed on a sales target for the company: $300m annually.

Two years later, Nest still could not hit that target alone — it did it only after adding sales from Dropcam, which Nest acquired for $555m six months after joining Google.

«

It’s pretty clear from the past week, starting with Reed Albergotti’s amazing piece for The Information, that there’s almost open warfare between Nest and Dropcam. The last detail, about Dropcam making up the sales number, could only have come from a senior Dropcam source who knows the revenues in some detail.

The question now is, what will Larry Page – chief executive of Alphabet, and so Nest – do?

link to this extract

 


Gartner says global smartphone sales to only grow 7 per cent in 2016

»Gartner, Inc. said global smartphone sales will for the first time exhibit single-digit growth in 2016. Global smartphone sales are estimated to reach 1.5bn units in 2016, a 7% growth from 2015. The total mobile phone market is forecast to reach 1.9bn units in 2016.

Worldwide combined shipments for devices (PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones) are expected to reach 2.4bn units in 2016, a 0.6% increase from 2015. End-user spending in constant US dollars is estimated to decline by 1.6% year on year…

…”The double-digit growth era for the global smartphone market has come to an end,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “Historically, worsening economic conditions had negligible impact on smartphone sales and spend, but this is no longer the case. China and North America smartphone sales are on pace to be flat in 2016, exhibiting a 0.7% and 0.4% growth respectively.”

While smartphone sales will continue to grow in emerging markets, the growth will slow down. Gartner predicts that, through 2019, 150 million users will delay upgrades to smartphones in emerging Asia/Pacific, until the functionality and price combination of a low-cost smartphone becomes more desirable.

“Prices did not decline enough to drive upgrades from low-end feature phones to low-end smartphones,” said Annette Zimmermann, research director at Gartner. “Vendors were not able to reduce the price of a ‘good enough to use’ smartphone lower than $50.”

«

So $50 seems to be the baseline price that smartphones can’t go below. Still, they’ll make up 79% of sales; that only leaves 400m featurephones to be sold.
link to this extract

 


3 in 10 would consider buying an iPhone » Global Web Index

Jason Mander:

»With many seeing Apple’s more affordable iPhone SE handset as an attempt to win new customers in fast-growth markets, today we look at where the iPhone name resonates the most strongly.

Globally, it’s almost 3 in 10 internet users who say they would consider purchasing an iPhone – putting Apple at the top of the table, just ahead of Samsung on 24%.

But split this by country and it’s clear that the iPhone has its biggest appeal in emerging markets. Although as many as 25% in places like the UK and USA as well as 20% in Japan would consider getting one, fast-growth markets occupy 14 of the top 15 slots (including China and India, which are particularly key given their booming numbers of internet users).

«

“Would consider” is a long way from “will buy” which is some distance from “bought”. But it shows Apple’s power as an aspirational brand that it’s emerging markets where people want it.
link to this extract

 


Security researchers warn of server-attacking ransomware » Computer Weekly

Warwick Ashford:

»As a growing number of US hospitals report ransomware attacks, researchers are warning of a new strain of ransomware targeting the healthcare sector that attacks servers in order to lock up entire networks.

Unlike most other malware that encrypts data and demands ransom for its release, the Samas strain of ransomware does not rely on user-focused attack vectors such as phishing emails.

Instead, Samas – also known as Samsam and MSIL.B/C – is distributed by compromising servers and using them to move laterally through networks to encrypt and hold multiple data sets to ransom.

«

Interesting evolution of this malware: clearly it has staying power.
link to this extract

 


Web scraping to create open data » The Scrapinghub Blog

Lluis Esquerda:

»When I started this project, I sought to make a difference in Barcelona. Now you can find tons of bike sharing apps that use our API on all major platforms. It doesn’t matter that these are not our own apps. They are solving the same problem we were trying to fix, so their success is our success.

Besides popular apps like Moovit or CityMapper, there are many neat projects out there, some of which are published under free software licenses. Ideally, a city council could create a customization of any of these apps for their own use.

Most official applications for bike sharing systems have terrible ratings. The core business of transportation companies is running a service, so they have no real motivation to create an engaging UI or innovate further. In some cases, the city council does not even own the rights to the data, being completely at the mercy of the company providing the transportation service.

When providing public services, city councils and companies often get lost in what they should offer as an aid to the service. They focus on a nice map or a flashy application, rather than providing the data behind these service aids. Maps, apps, and websites have a limited focus and usually serve a single purpose. On the other hand, data is malleable and the purest form of representation. While you can’t create something new from looking and playing with a static map (except, of course, if you scrape it), data can be used to create countless different iterations, help with research. It can even provide a bridge that will allow anyone to participate, improve and build on top of these aids to public services.

«

link to this extract

 


Report: Yahoo’s ad revenue to drop 14 percent this year » Digiday

Jordan Valinsky:

»Yahoo’s ad revenues are forecasted to drop 14% this year while its competitors, including Google and Facebook, are expected to grow.

According to a new eMarketer report on ad spending, Yahoo’s global ad revenues will dip to $2.8 billion this year, down from $3.3bn last year. Its overall share of the ad market will shrink from 2.1% to 1.5%.

That’s more bad news for the Marissa Mayer-led company. In an attempt to cut $400m, Yahoo announced last month that it’s in the process of shuttering offices, slashing 15% of its workforce and is backing away from its once-ambitious content efforts by closing down a number of its verticals, like Travel and Autos. All of this is happening while rumors swirl that Yahoo is considering selling itself.

«

Yahoo is the BlackBerry of the online ad business.
link to this extract

 


Why I got rid of Adblock Plus » David Hewson

Hewson is a novelist and journalist:

»Ad blockers take away important revenue streams from companies that need them. Only last week the Independent, where I worked during its launch thirty years ago, shut up shop as a print title. I don’t suggest for one moment it would have survived if ad blockers didn’t exist. But it might have done a little better. The Guardian now, like more and more titles, nags you to turn off its ad blocker these days. Given the phenomenal losses it’s incurring — £53m last year — who can blame it? If things don’t turn round it could be the next to go — and what a loss that would be.

So turning off the ad blocker pays a little towards the news I read for free and I’m happy to go along with that idea. But something else changed my mind too, and it was, oddly enough, a speech by the Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, in which he described ad-blocking as ‘a modern-day protection racket’. Nor is he the only one to think this.

«

Whittingdale’s ire was actually aimed at Eyeo (purveyor of Adblock Plus); there are however other adblocking solutions which don’t use Eyeo’s systems. The problems at The Guardian and The Independent aren’t caused by adblocking, though.
link to this extract

 


Where’s the lane? Self-driving cars confused by shabby U.S. roadways » Reuters

Alexandria Sage:

»Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

“It can’t find the lane markings!” Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. “You need to paint the bloody roads here!”

Shoddy infrastructure has become a roadblock to the development of self-driving cars, vexing engineers and adding time and cost. Poor markings and uneven signage on the 3 million miles of paved roads in the United States are forcing automakers to develop more sophisticated sensors and maps to compensate, industry executives say.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently called the mundane issue of faded lane markings “crazy,” complaining they confused his semi-autonomous cars.

An estimated 65% of U.S. roads are in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the transportation infrastructure system rated 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 global competitiveness report.

«

Make America Navigable By Autonomous Cars Agai.. um, For The First Time.
link to this extract

 


Citymapper launches seamless routing between cabs and public transit » TechCrunch

Mike Butcher:

»Citymapper is making a significant change to its routing app with the news that it has added what it is calling a “SuperRouter” capability. This effectively combines public transit with cabs to create completely new integrated routes. In simple terms, it means you could ask Citymapper’s app to come up with a route, and it would give you options both a cab service like Uber and a train or tram in a fully integrated route, with all the timetables. That could be transformational for people in cities, and something no other platform has tried to date, as far as we know. The change will apply to every city Citymapper is launched in right now, which includes New York, San Francisco, LA, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Tokyo and many other global cities.

In normal circumstances it’s basically impossible to plan a journey across public and private car transport. That leads to what you might call unfair discrimination between these transport modes. But in the 21st century, where private cars can be tracked on a map, there is simply no reason for this separation to exist.

«

None at all! Except that it’s difficult.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: