Start up: searching Hillary, Microsoft buys LinkedIn, delete iOS defaults!, what to ask your parents, and more


Apple now offers a neural network API. Developers will have to show us if it’s any good. Photo by pennstatenews on Flickr.

There’s always the daily Start Up post, delivered by email. Why not?

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

There’s no evidence that Google is manipulating searches to help Hillary Clinton • Vox

Timothy Lee:

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The video points out that if you type the phrase “Donald Trump rac,” Google will suggest the word “racist” to complete the phrase. But if you type “Hillary Clinton cri,” Google will suggest words like “crime reform” and “crisis” but not “crimes.” This despite the fact that Google Trend results show that people search for “Hillary Clinton crimes” a lot more than “Hillary Clinton crime reform.”

So what’s going on here? The folks behind the video suggest that this reflects an unholy alliance between the Clinton campaign and Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and current chair of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. But there’s a simpler explanation.

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Because autosuggest never offers “crimes”. Oh, research, you are such a stranger.
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Apple now has a neural network API • Popular Science

Dave Gershgorn:

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Neural networks are all the rage recently—they’re a way to get software to make decisions based on an overwhelming amount of data and the fundamental component of deep learning, which allows computers to recognize photos, speech, and text with unparalleled accuracy.

Apple has traditionally kept its artificial intelligence research under wraps, but now is allowing developers to build neural networks by calling on the company’s simple API.

Those developing with Apple’s neural networks, called Basic Neural Network Subroutines, won’t be able to train on their own data. Instead Apple has pretrained them for certain tasks, and from the documentation the API seems very focused towards image recognition.

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Images are a lot of what people want to analyse, of course.
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LinkedIn is Microsoft’s sales software play • The Information

Steve Nellis:

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LinkedIn is a go-to tool for business-to-business salespeople doing research on how to penetrate an organization. For years, Silicon Valley has buzzed with chatter about its inevitable collision course with Salesforce and other purveyors of sales software. 

The Microsoft deal brings this tension into focus. Microsoft has been looking to make a big move into enterprise software and to land a major presence in Silicon Valley, where its reputation was essentially non-existent for many years in terms of recruiting top talent. The chatter about Microsoft’s intentions to make a big move only intensified when it left open the top spot at Dynamics, its sales and finance software unit, after its chief Bob Stutz left for Salesforce in November. Many thought Microsoft’s big move would be to purchase Salesforce. While the two companies may have talked, Salesforce’s high asking price reportedly stymied a deal

To be sure, LinkedIn in its current form is not a direct competitor to Salesforce. Its so-called “social selling” tools are mostly an adjunct to more traditional systems. However, Microsoft does have a direct Salesforce competitor called Dynamics. LinkedIn’s data—essentially, a social graph of most professionals—could augment Dynamics strongly.

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Microsoft has a terrible record with big-ticket purchases – aQuantive (written off), Nokia (written off), Skype (nobody knows if it got $8bn+ of value), so $26.2bn, which is a quarter of its cash, has to be more than a bet. It has to make a radical difference.
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Apple restricts iOS 10 to iPhone 5, iPad 2 or newer • Apple Insider

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As noted at the bottom of Apple’s iOS 10 preview website, the upcoming mobile operating system is compatible only with newer devices, leaving legacy models like the iPhone 4S and original iPad stuck with older iOS versions. Specifically, hardware powered by second-generation A5 chips, and the iPad 2’s A5X, is the new minimum requirement set by iOS 10.

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So it isn’t just 64-bit chips – it’s 32-bit too. Wonder how much of the AI capability will be on those lower-power devices. It’s amazing that the iPad 2, from early 2011, is *still* hanging in there, while the iPhone 4S, from October 2011, isn’t. The A5 seems to be the same between them.
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Apple File System: introduction • Apple developer documentation

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Apple File System is a new, modern file system for iOS, OS X, tvOS and watchOS. It is optimized for Flash/SSD storage and features strong encryption, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing, cloning for files and directories, snapshots, fast directory sizing, atomic safe-save primitives, and improved file system fundamentals.

Important: APFS is released as a Developer Preview in OS X 10.12, and is scheduled to ship in 2017.

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Lots of fascinating detail: nanosecond timestamps, instant snapshots, crash protection, and plenty more. Yet that “ship in 2017” is odd: if the updates to these platforms is coming around September, then what’s going to happen in the next few months? Are they not shifting to AFS because the backward compatibility would be horrendous? I’m sure John Siracusa will have plenty to say on the topic.
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Apple unbundles its native apps like Mail, Maps, Music and more, puts them in the App Store • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Apple today has made a big change to its suite of native applications for iOS devices, like Mail, Stocks, Compass, Calculator, Watch, Weather and others: it’s now making these available as standalone downloads in the iTunes App Store. What that means for end users of iOS devices is that these apps will be updated more often – just like third-party applications are today.

Before, Apple’s apps were only updated when the company issued an iOS update. That slowed Apple’s ability to add new features, fix bugs, address security issues, or make other changes. This has been a massive headache for Apple’s internal development teams.

However, not all of Apple’s apps have been subject to this limitation. The company already made many of its apps available as standalone downloads, including iTunes U, iMovie, the Apple Store app, and those in the iWork suite (Pages, Keynote, Numbers.)

Now it’s adding the following to that list with the following: Podcasts, Maps, Compass, Tips, Calculator, Watch, Voice Memos, Contacts, Stocks, Weather, iCloud Drive, Calendar, Mail, Music, Reminders, Videos, FaceTime, and Notes.

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Like Google does for its apps on Android. Long overdue. And you’ll be able to delete them, it seems.
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The Chinese hackers in the back office • The New York Times

Nicole Perlroth:

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Drive past the dairy farms, cornfields and horse pastures here and you will eventually arrive at Cate Machine & Welding, a small-town business run by Gene and Lori Cate and their sons. For 46 years, the Cates have welded many things — fertilizer tanks, jet-fighter parts, cheese molds, even a farmer’s broken glasses.

And like many small businesses, they have a dusty old computer humming away in the back office. On this one, however, an unusual spy-versus-spy battle is playing out: The machine has been taken over by Chinese hackers.

The hackers use it to plan and stage attacks. But unbeknown to them, a Silicon Valley start-up is tracking them here, in real time, watching their every move and, in some cases, blocking their efforts.

“When they first told us, we said, ‘No way,’” Mr. Cate said one afternoon recently over pizza and cheese curds, recalling when he first learned the computer server his family used to manage its welding business had been secretly repurposed. “We were totally freaked out,” Ms. Cate said. “We had no idea we could be used as an infiltration unit for Chinese attacks.”

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“..with our internet-connected computer reachable from anywhere in the world running old software.” Fascinating piece, though.
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New electronic ‘smart skin’ lets you control virtually every aspect of your life • Futurism

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A team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed “the world’s fastest stretchable, wearable integrated circuits.” This technology would allow hospitals to apply a temporary tattoo to each patient, making a wireless intensive care unit (ICU) possible.

But it could do a whole lot more than that.

This “smart skin” could monitor your vital signs, control your music, track your workout, and even let you control the temperature and lighting in your home—all wirelessly.

These wearable electronic patches are constructed using interlocking segments, like 3D puzzles, that support frequencies from .3 to 300 gigahertz. This falls within the 5G standard that would make it possible for patients wearing them to wirelessly transmit vitals to doctors.

Within the hospital, this could mean that ICUs and emergency rooms could finally be free from cables, clips and wires. Further down the line, this kind of technology could allow doctors to monitor patients from their homes.

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“Doctor, my living room lights have gone off – is it fatal?”
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Questions to ask your parents before they die • Medium

Rossalyn Warren offers a list of questions – from “how did you fall in love?” to “what do you think of the world we live in?” – to ask your parents, because, well..

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I can’t pick up the phone to talk to my mum, and I‘ll never be able to get to know my dad. All I can do is encourage others — my friends, family, you — to find out the answers to those questions you’ve never asked your parents before it’s too late.

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You could always write the answers down for the future. Or ask your parents, if that’s possible. Oral history has its own value.
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Is YouTube building a new music industry? • Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:

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Back in 2011 Google bought royalty reporting company RightsFlow to help it identify rights holders on YouTube. RightsFlow’s team and technology were widely recognized as best-in-class and Google paid handsomely, swiftly integrating the team into the YouTube organization. My theory is that this was one of the first steps in a much bigger journey. Since then, Google has invested in next gen publisher Kobalt and next gen label 300 Entertainment. It was even reported to have looked at buying the Jackson Estate’s 50% share of Sony/ATV. Most recently YouTube announced its implementation of the DDEX Digital Sales Report Flat File Standard (DSRF), an open source digital supply chain standard aimed at faster, more accurate royalty reporting and distribution. Each component in isolation paints one picture, but put them together and you have the makings of the foundations for a full service music company. What I think could happen is for YouTube to turn its platform into a self contained music business, taking care of everything from rights through creation to monetization.

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YouTube really is the dark matter of the digital music business: nobody’s entirely sure of its size, velocity or direction, but they know it’s damn big and makes a difference.
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Twitter wasn’t hacked, but you’re at risk unless you do this • Tom’s Guide

Paul Wagenseil:

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“In each of the recent password disclosures, we cross-checked the data with our records,” [Twitter security office Michael] Coates added. “As a result, a number of Twitter accounts were identified for extra protection. Accounts with direct password exposure were locked and require a password reset by the account owner.”

Coates also reaffirmed that Twitter stores user passwords hashed with the very strong Bcrypt algorithm, which, as of yet, no one has been able to reverse.]

The upshot is that you should never let your web browsers save login credentials for important accounts, such as social networking, bank or other online financial accounts, webmail or online retail accounts such as Amazon.

Chrome and Firefox store login credentials in plain text, making them ripe targets for hackers. Internet Explorer, to Microsoft’s credit, stores then in encrypted form in a separate application.

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Plain text? A Google browser which is widely used on Windows stores passwords as plaintext? Safari stores them in encrypted form and has done since at least Safari 5 (we’re now on Safari 9).

Browser hacking looks like the next big threat surface on home PCs.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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