Start up: the USB-C screwup, faster pages with annoying ads!, celeb fattening, thermostat wars, and more

Flying Car
Come on, this stuff has been around for ages. Well, maybe not. Drawing by Josué Menjivar on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Public service announcement: USB-C on Apple’s new MacBook is a circus • 9to5Mac

Jordan Kahn:

»It would be fine if all of those USB-C accessories you purchased for your 2015 MacBook were firmware upgradeable and received updates like Apple’s own products, but many of them are not. So if you have accessories purchased for the 2015 MacBook, there is a good possibility they won’t work with your 2016 MacBook or any other new USB-C device. Accessory makers also tell me Apple changed power protocols in the 2016 MacBook meaning 5W-12W battery packs that could be used with the 2015 model over USB-C no longer work with the new 2016 model now requiring at least 18W. And if you grab a USB-C cable or other accessory, don’t expect it to just work with your Mac. Not such a great situation for a standard that’s supposed to, you know, standardize compatibility of products using the spec.

Want to run a 4K display over USB-C— a feature that is technically supported— on your MacBook? Good luck…

Even if everything wasn’t a complete mess with USB-C, there is the issue of 4K displays and the new MacBook. Apple doesn’t support 4K at 60 Hz refresh rate, although Jeff recently discovered a hack to get it working at your own risk. That’s if you can even find a monitor, like this one from LG, that will support your MacBook.

«

Jeez. Apple strongly hinted, with the 2016 MacBook, that its future models will use USB-C too: the MacBook is “our vision for the future of the notebook”, says the quote. Hmm.
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Welcome to Larry Page’s secret flying car factories • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance and Brad Stone:

»Zee.Aero doesn’t belong to Google or its holding company, Alphabet. It belongs to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page has personally funded Zee.Aero since its launch in 2010 while demanding that his involvement stay hidden from the public, according to 10 people with intimate knowledge of the company. Zee.Aero, however, is just one part of Page’s plan to usher in an age of personalized air travel, free from gridlocked streets and the cramped indignities of modern flight. Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Page is using his personal fortune to build the future of his childhood dreams.

The Zee.Aero headquarters, located at 2700 Broderick Way, is a 30,000-square-foot, two-story white building with an ugly, blocky design and an industrial feel. Page initially restricted the Zee.Aero crew to the first floor, retaining the second floor for a man cave worthy of a multibillionaire: bedroom, bathroom, expensive paintings, a treadmill-like climbing wall, and one of SpaceX’s first rocket engines — a gift from his pal Musk. As part of the secrecy, Zee.Aero employees didn’t refer to Page by name; he was known as GUS, the guy upstairs. Soon enough, they needed the upstairs space, too, and engineers looked on in awe as GUS’s paintings, exercise gear, and rocket engine were hauled away.

«

Sure to be a success just like Verily. Um, like Nest?
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Google is bringing new ad types to AMP, including those annoying flying carpet ads • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) ads are probably the closest to the platonic ideal of having ads on AMP pages because they are meant to load as fast as the AMP page itself. These ads are written in pure AMP HTML, which is the main component that makes AMP posts load as fast as they do.

Sticky ads, which will stay either at the top or bottom of the page as you scroll through an article are pretty standard outside of AMP pages and tend to be relatively unobtrusive.

It’s sad to see that the AMP project will soon allow for pages to feature one of the most annoying new ad types we’ve seen pop up recently: flying carpet ads. Those are the ads that hijack the page’s scrolling behavior so a large ad can scroll by instead.

Publishers will be able to use this ‘flying carpet’ effect for showing regular images or other content as well.

«

How quickly the “platonic ideal” erodes and turns instead to “meh, just do what the advertisers want.” Here’s how Google’s blogpost on this change starts:

»When the AMP team set out to help make mobile experiences great for everybody, the objective wasn’t just to improve a user’s engagement with content. We knew the experience people had with ads was equally important to help publishers fund the great content we all love to read.

«

Um.. it feels more like “we knew the experience people had with ads wouldn’t affect whether or not we served those sorts of ads.” Because those are annoying ads.
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What the iPhone SE taught me about the smartphone market • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin switched from an iPhone 6 Plus (5.5in screen( to an iPhone SE (4in) for a week, and found he didn’t want to change back:

»Bigger screen personal computers allow us to do more and be more productive. However, the tasks which require more screen real estate are generally not the most common tasks. What my time with the SE made me realize was, in general, the benefits I got from the larger screen, in terms of productivity, were things I did less frequently. Perhaps most surprisingly, this experiment caused me to reconsider the productivity and efficiency I lost in being able to operate my smartphone solely with one hand. This is the real stand out observation of my time with the SE.

My conviction that the larger the screen, the more productive I could be, was made without fully understanding the trade-offs of losing one-handed operation. The Plus sized iPhone requires two hands to do just about anything unless you have extremely large hands. Being able to reach every aspect of my screen while holding the phone one-handed might actually be the most productive and efficient scenario for a mobile device.

If I was weighing one-handed operation against the many other trade-offs I’ve come across using smartphones of all shapes and sizes, I think one-handed use is the one thing not worth compromising on if possible.

«

Which then has implications for the rest of the smartphone market. (Paywalled: you can buy a one-off login or subscribe.)
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The explainable • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»[Author of a book about the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Denis] Boyles points out that the Britannica’s eleventh edition underpins Wikipedia, and in Wikipedia we see, more clearly than ever, the elevation of and emphasis on measurement as the standard of knowledge and knowability. Wikipedia is pretty good, and ambitiously thorough, on technical and scientific topics, but it’s scattershot, and often just flat-out bad, in its coverage of topics in the humanities. Wikipedia’s editors, as Edward Mendelson has recently suggested, are comfortable in documenting consensus but completely uncomfortable in exercising taste. The kind of informed subjective judgment that is essential to any perceptive discussion of art, literature, or even history is explicitly outlawed at Wikipedia. And Wikipedia, like the eleventh edition of the Britannica, is a reflection of its time. The boundary we draw around “the explainable” is tighter than ever.

“Technical and scientific advances became confused with progress,” says Boyles, and so it is today, a century later.

«

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Study reveals which celebrities are paid millions to endorse junk food and soda • ScienceAlert

Peter Dockrill:

»After going through Billboard’s ‘Hot 100′ song charts from 2013 and 2014 to make a list today’s successful acts, [the scientists at New York University] then catalogued 15 years’ worth of endorsements recorded between 2000 and 2014 by advertising database AdScope, which tracks ads on TV, radio, and print. The researchers also looked at YouTube and other online sources.

What they found was 65 pop stars who had made deals with 57 different food and beverage brands. Among these, some of the most famous and lucrative deals are Beyonce’s arrangement with Pepsi – estimated to be worth $50 million – and Justin Timberlake’s “I’m lovin’ it” contract promoting McDonalds, thought to be worth $6 million.

Timberlake was also among the pop celebrities with the most endorsements, which also included Baauer, will.i.am, Maroon 5, and Britney Spears, Pitbull, and Jessie J. But you can see more – including Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg, Shakira, Katy Perry, and more – along with the products they’re signed up with in the study published in Pediatrics.

«

There’s also an image embed from the study which shows all the endorsements. Scary list.
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[Update: June OTA does not contain fix] Some Pixel C owners are reporting random reboots after the May Over-The-Air update • Android Police

Michael Crider:

»Google’s commitment to Android in the form of monthly updates for its own branded hardware is pretty great… until it’s not. That’s the case with the May security and stability update for the top-of-the-line Pixel C tablet, which has created some serious headaches for owners. Some (but by no means all) owners of the Pixel C are reporting more or less random reboots of the tablet, usually occurring every five to thirty minutes when the Pixel C is off its charger.

«

As the headline says, the June update doesn’t fix it either. None of Apple, Microsoft or Google has sorted this “updates which work perfectly to update your own-brand devices” thing: there have been iPad Pros bricked by 9.3.2, Surfaces with graphics issues, and this for Google. Not sure there is a moral – except perhaps “don’t accept the update until you’ve seen what happens to everyone else”?
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Analysis of Twitter.com password leak • LeakedSource

»This data set contains 32,888,300 records. Each record may contain an email address, a username, sometimes a second email and a visible password. We have very strong evidence that Twitter was not hacked, rather the consumer was. These credentials however are real and valid. Out of 15 users we asked, all 15 verified their passwords.

The explanation for this is that tens of millions of people have become infected by malware, and the malware sent every saved username and password from browsers like Chrome and Firefox back to the hackers from all websites including Twitter.

The proof for this explanation is as follows:

• The join dates of some users with uncrackable (yet plaintext) passwords were recent. There is no way that Twitter stores passwords in plaintext in 2014 for example.
• There was a very significant amount of users with the password “” and “null”. Some browsers store passwords as “” if you don’t enter a password when you save your credentials.
•The top email domains don’t match up to a full database leak; more likely the malware was spread to Russians.

«

Websites including Twitter. That’s worrying. There’s also a list of the passwords used. Guess which six-character one comes top?
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App Store subscription uncertainty • Daring Fireball

John Gruber points out that Apple VP Phil Schiller saying “any app can be a subscription app” clashes with Apple’s own marketing material, which says subscription apps “must provide ongoing value”:

»I don’t think subscription pricing — even if Apple clarified that subscriptions are open to any app, period — is a panacea. There is no perfect way to sell software. The old way — pay up front, then pay for major upgrades in the future — has problems, too, just a different set of problems. If I had my druthers Apple would enable paid upgrades in the App Store(s), but I get the feeling that’s not in the cards. That leaves us with subscriptions.

DF reader Sean Harding framed the problems with subscription pricing well, in a short series of tweets:

»

I think the new stuff is good, but I don’t think it really solves the upgrade pricing problem from a customer standpoint. A sub forces me to effectively always buy the upgrade or stop using even the old version. I don’t dislike subscriptions because I don’t want to pay. I just want freedom to decide if the new features are worth paying for.

«

«

That “what if I don’t want the new features?” question – and the allied one, “what if the developer of a subscription app falls under a bus” – seems like a new set of teething problems. Alongside paid search, of course.
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Tesco Mobile lets customers reduce bills by viewing ads • Total Telecom

Nick Wood:

»Tesco Mobile announced on Thursday it is giving customers the option to lower their monthly bills in return for watching adverts.

The scheme is called Tesco Mobile Xtras, and has been brought about by a partnership between the U.K. MVNO and mobile advertising platform Unlockd.

Unlockd has created an Android app that serves targeted offers and content at various times when the end user unlocks their smartphone. By viewing the ads or marketing offers, customers can lower their monthly bill by up to £3 (€3.83)…

…Many others have attempted to woo customers with the promise of free or cut-price mobile service in return for consuming adverts, with limited success.

First came Blyk, which offered free service to 16-24 year-olds provided they clicked on ads. 200,000 signed up in the first year, but momentum stalled, and the MVNO shut down its mobile service in July 2009.

Samba Mobile, another ad-funded free MVNO, gave mobile data to customers who interacted with adverts. It closed down after it failed to negotiate a lower wholesale data price with its network provider.

«

And there are plenty of others. If your bill is really high, £3 isn’t going to make a difference. If it’s really low, will you view enough ads to make the differential worthwhile – and are you a worthwhile target of those “targeted” apps?
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Inside the bitter last days of Bernie’s revolution • POLITICO

Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel DeBenedetti with a (very) long insight into the Sanders campaign:

»Top Sanders aides admit that it’s been weeks, if not months, since they themselves realized he wasn’t going to win, and they’ve been operating with a Trump’s-got-no-real-shot safety net. They debate whether Sanders’ role in the fall should be a full vote-for-Clinton campaign, or whether he should just campaign hard against Trump without signing up to do much for her directly.

They haven’t been able to get Sanders focused on any of that, or on the real questions about what kind of long term organization to build out of his email list. They know they’ll have their own rally in Philadelphia – outside the the convention hall—but that’s about as far as they’ve gotten.

“He wants to be in the race until the end, until the roll call vote,” Weaver said.

Aides say they’re going to discourage people from booing Wasserman Schultz, who’s emerged as public enemy number one among Sanders supporters, when she takes the stage at the convention. But they think it’s going to happen anyway.

Meanwhile, they’re looking into trying to replace the Florida congresswoman as the convention chair with Gabbard, and force Wasserman Schultz to resign as DNC chair the day after the convention.

«

Viewed from afar, it seems like both political parties in the US are undergoing upheavals. Perhaps some good will come of it.
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Magic Leap denies patent drawings depict secret product • Mashable

Adario Strange:

»When I met with Magic Leap last year, I spent a great deal of time hammering away for a description of what the device looks like and how it works. And while I don’t have an image of the final Magic Leap product, which has been described as delivering interactive augmented reality, the device shown in the drawings looks nothing like what was described to me during that meeting.

To that end, I reached out to the company and got an answer regarding the new drawings. Magic Leap’s vice president of public relations, Andy Fouché, told me that the patent drawings were in fact “part of [Magic Leap’s] R+D and experience validation” and that “it’s not at all what our product will look like.”

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Comfy raises $12m for app to end office thermostat wars • TechCrunch

Lora Kolodny:

»Building Robotics Inc., better known as Comfy, raised $12m in Series B funding for building automation software that helps companies save energy on office air conditioning while gathering employee-contributed data about the use and occupancy of a workspace.

Emergence Capital led the investment, joined by real estate services company CBRE and Microsoft Ventures.

According to company president Lindsay Baker, letting employees tweak the temperature around their cubicle can improve productivity and happiness. “It’s a very real thing that temperature and light can slow us down, distract us, make us hungry or impact our hormones,” she said.

Baker explained that Comfy is a simple-to-use app that employees put on their phones and use to request warm or cool air in a zone where they work. The app uses employee-contributed data, and combines it with usage data and patterns, to tune every zone in an office building based on the routine preferences of people who work in each zone there.

«

Except of course there won’t be any agreement between the people in adjoining cubicles about what temperature is the right temperature. This reminds me of the experiment where every bus passenger was given a steering wheel, the input from which was aggregated to steer the whole bus. Fairly sure the bus crashed.

(Spare a thought too for Kolodny, whom one can imagine writing this and risking narcolepsy.)
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