Start up: hacking Dems, Theranos loses another, Apple’s non-chatbot chatbots, slimmer Xbox!, and more

Remember when Obama had a BlackBerry? He doesn’t any more – though he’s not saying what he does have. Photo by rowdyman on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump • The Washington Post

»Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.

The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts.

The intrusion into the DNC was one of several targeting American political organizations. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some GOP political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available.

A Russian Embassy spokesman said he had no knowledge of such intrusions.

«

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The evil that is VPAID ads • Google+

Artem Russakovskii:

»A few months ago, I complained about the insane state of today’s advertising and the evil that is VPAID ads.

These ads destroy performance, leech bandwidth by 10s of megabytes, and are served by major ad networks, including Google’s own AdX and AdSense.

Today, these VPAID ads are as popular as ever – and that is just disgusting. They’re the real cancer of the advertising industry.

To showcase just how evil they still are, I took a single AdX ad tag and put it on an otherwise empty page. A static image ad loads, but it’s secretly a VPAID one. It then randomly switches to a video, then back to a static image, then back again – it’s like a never-ending self-reloading cascade of garbage.

Right now after several minutes of just leaving this one single ad open, I’m at 53MB downloaded and 5559 requests. By the time I finished typing this, I was at 6140 requests. A single ad did this. Without reloading the page, just leaving it open.

«

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Obama finally upgraded from his BlackBerry • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»President Obama has finally been allowed to replace his BlackBerry with something more modern — but he apparently isn’t thrilled with this new phone either.

“I get the thing, and they’re all like, ‘Well, Mr. President, for security reasons … it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work, … you can’t play your music on it,'” Obama said during an appearance on The Tonight Show this week. “Basically, it’s like, does your three year old have one of those play phones?”

Obama’s been joking about his awful phone situation for years now. While his BlackBerry was considered surprisingly high-tech when he came into office, the situation quickly changed. As far back as 2010, Obama called using his BlackBerry “no fun,” and then a few years ago he lamented that security concerns prevent him from using an iPhone. While discussing his BlackBerry on Jimmy Kimmel’s show last year, Obama started laughing after a single person applauded. “The one old guy there,” Obama said, “He’s my age. Somebody my generation.”

«

Obama came into office eight years ago, and so was campaigning as much as ten years ago, when his use of its seemed radical. Times change. The unanswered question: what is he using?
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Walgreen terminates partnership with blood-testing firm Theranos • WSJ

Michael Siconolfi, Christopher Weaver and John Carreyrou:

»Drugstore operator Walgreen Co. formally ended a strained alliance with Theranos Inc. as regulators near a decision on whether to impose sanctions against the embattled Silicon Valley firm.

Some officials at the Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. unit had grown frustrated at not getting more details and documentation from Theranos after learning it had corrected tens of thousands of blood tests, including many performed on samples collected from patients at Walgreens pharmacies, according to people familiar with the partnership.

In a news release late Sunday, Walgreens said it had told Theranos it was terminating their nearly three-year-old partnership, effective immediately, and that it was shutting down Theranos lab-testing services in Walgreens locations…

…The move is a significant blow to Theranos. The 40 Theranos blood-draw sites inside Walgreens stores in Arizona, which the company calls “wellness centers,” have been the primary source of revenue for Theranos and its conduit to consumers, analysts say. The tie-up also has given the blood-testing firm a stamp of credibility since it was publicly announced in September 2013.

«

This feels like the third act of a Greek tragedy; Theranos certainly sounds like it should come from a Greek word, perhaps meaning “the aching desire to find a cheap way to test blood”, but I can’t find a meaningful translation anywhere. Presently being turned into a screenplay, with Jennifer Lawrence slated to play Elizabeth Holmes, so the big question is: will Bradley Cooper play John Carreyrou of the WSJ who exposed it all?

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Apple’s response to the chatbot craze doesn’t involve any chatbots • VentureBeat

Jordan Novet:

»Microsoft has been letting developers build integrations into Skype, and Facebook has been doing the same with Messenger. Google has revealed related plans for its forthcoming Allo app. Kik, Line, and Telegram have begun accepting outside integrations, as well. Even in the parallel universe of enterprise software, this trend is playing out — Slack is the greatest example there.

But all of these companies have chosen a text-messaging interface through which people will talk to other services — namely chatbots. Apple, in its infinite Apple-ness, is circumventing the hype around bots and will be simply letting developers build app extensions that live inside of a new “app drawer,” which users will open in Messages on iOS 10 by tapping the little blue A button that historically stands for App Store.

Developers can build these iMessage Apps using the iOS software development kit (SDK), which became available today in the beta release of Xcode 8. It’s possible to fine-tune the look and functionality of these mini apps, so that they don’t just look like the rest of Messages. (Documentation is already available.)

Onstage today, Apple’s Craig Federighi talked about a Square Cash iMessage app. It’s a bright green widget that pops up in place of the keyboard. A user selected $200 as the amount on a scrollable dial and then hit the pay button to pay that amount to the message recipient. The result was a box right underneath an earlier text message with a big $200 bill and a link to “tap here to deposit this cash.”

Federighi also demonstrated a DoorDash iMessage App through which multiple people could collaborate on one food delivery order. In a message bubble, this iMessage App displayed a dish from San Francisco restaurant and food truck operator Curry Up Now, with a little red DoorDash logo in the top left. Underneath that, there was some text — “3 people,” “Brian Croll added 2 items,” and a grand total so far of $48.68. “So I could just tap in and see what’s going on,” Federighi said. After tapping on the widget he was confronted with a full screen showing more detail, courtesy of DoorDash — a menu, prices, estimated delivery time, and a “view group cart” button. From there, Federighi checked out the cart and then added to it. When he was done, the DoorDash widget that had originally appeared in his Messages group chat was updated to reflect the changes to the order.

«

In other words, you don’t need to talk to machines to get machines to do your bidding. I don’t get the chatbot thing; it seems like wasted effort.
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iOS 10.0 • Apple Developer documentation

»In iOS 10, the NSUserActivity object includes the mapItem property, which lets you provide location information that can be used in other contexts. For example, if your app displays hotel reviews, you can use the mapItem property to hold the location of the hotel the user is viewing so that when the user switches to a travel planning app, that hotel’s location is automatically available. And if you support app search, you can use the new text-based address component properties in CSSearchableItemAttributeSet, such as thoroughfare and postalCode, to fully specify locations to which the user may want to go. Note that when you use the mapItem property, the system automatically populates the contentAttributeSet property, too.

To share a location with the system, be sure to specify latitude and longitude values, in addition to values for the address component properties in CSSearchableItemAttributeSet. It’s also recommended that you supply a value for the namedLocation property, so that users can view the name of the location, and the phoneNumbers property, so that users can use Siri to initiate a call to the location.

«

So you can switch apps and have Siri call the hotel you were just looking at. Quite neat. Also notable in the documentation: “True Tone”, the ambient display adjustment presently only on the 9.7in iPad Pro, becomes part of the OS. It’ll surely be on the forthcoming iPhones.

And why link to this but not the Android N documentation? Because this will be on about half of iOS 10-capable devices within a month of release. Android M, released last year, is on perhaps 100m devices after nine months.
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Intel gets chip order from Apple, its first major mobile win • Bloomberg

Ian King and Scott Moritz:

»Apple’s next iPhone will use modems from Intel Corp., replacing Qualcomm chips in some versions of the new handset, a move by the world’s most-valuable public company to diversify its supplier base.

Apple has chosen Intel modem chips for the iPhone used on AT&T’s U.S. network and some other versions of the smartphone for overseas markets, said people familiar with the matter. IPhones on Verizon Communications’s network will stick with parts from Qualcomm, which is the only provider of the main communications component of current versions of Apple’s flagship product. Crucially for Qualcomm, iPhones sold in China will work on Qualcomm chips, said the people, who asked not to be identified because Apple hasn’t made its plans public.

«

So this seems like Qualcomm keeps the CDMA versions, but Intel gets the GSM market. China might be a toss-up.
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Devices able to run iOS 10, biggest iOS release ever • Apple

»iOS 10 will be available this fall as a free software update for iPhone 5 and later, all iPad Air and iPad Pro models, iPad 4th generation, iPad mini 2 and later, and iPod touch 6th generation.

«

Ah, so that’s a lot clearer. There seemed to be suggestion on Monday that it would run on the iPad 2 and iPad 3; but they’re explicitly not in the list for the iPad. (Nor is the first iPad mini.)

The minimum iPad spec is the iPad 4, or iPad mini 2; for the phones, it’s the iPhone 5/C (which are the same thing).
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Microsoft reveals the new, slimmer Xbox One S, coming this August • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:

»The system the company showed off today arrived in a bright white color (“robot white,” according to press materials), a lightening up of the previous console. The device will come with a vertical stand, so users can decide how they want to orient it on their shelf.

The Xbox One S is 40% slimmer than the last version. Inside you’ll find a hard drive sporting up to 2TB and an integrated power supply. The new console features a built-in IR blaster, front-facing USB port (there are still two on the rear) and does 4K video. The One S also features HDR video support, for a more vibrantly colored gaming experience and higher contrast between dark colors and light.

«

One area that smartphones and tablets haven’t quite swallowed up. Notable how much more storage they’re offering; even as games are increasingly downloaded from the cloud, gamers want more local storage to keep data.
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This USB adapter is Microsoft’s final admission that Kinect failed • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»Hardware planning takes years, and it’s clear Microsoft quickly realized that bundling Kinect was a mistake. The new Xbox One S doesn’t even include a Kinect port, and Microsoft has created a USB adapter that you’ll need to use if you want Kinect support. It’s a free adapter if you already own an Xbox One and Kinect…

…Microsoft is now working to bring Cortana to the Xbox One in an update this summer. While it was originally supposed to debut last year, Microsoft announced Cortana would require Kinect at E3 last year, before mysteriously delaying the feature. It’s clear part of that delay was related to getting headsets working with Cortana, and you won’t need a Kinect to use the digital assistant this summer.

The removal of the Kinect port on the Xbox One S is the final admission that Microsoft’s accessory is dead. It’s hard to imagine that the Project Scorpio console will re-introduce a Kinect port next year, and the accessory wasn’t even mentioned during any of Microsoft’s demos on stage. Microsoft claimed at E3 last year that “there are games actually that are coming out for Kinect,” but at E3 this year the only mention is a USB adapter that admits Kinect failed.

«

Kinect is such an odd footnote in tech history: the fastest-selling piece of tech ever, considered a potentially useful tool for surgeons, and now an undesired add-on.
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Follow the sun • The Economist

»Led by big projects in these two countries [China and India], global solar-energy capacity rose by 26% last year. More remarkable is the decline in its cost. Studies of the “levelised cost” of electricity, which estimate the net present value of the costs of a generating system divided by the expected output over its lifetime, show solar getting close to gas and coal as an attractively cheap source of power. Auctions of long-term contracts to purchase solar power in developing countries such as South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Peru and Mexico provide real-world evidence that such assumptions may even prove to be conservative (see chart).

In sunny places solar power is now “shoulder to shoulder” with gas, coal and wind, says Cédric Philibert of the International Energy Agency, a prominent forecaster. He notes that since November 2014, when Dubai awarded a project to build 200MW of solar power at less than $60 a megawatt hour (MWh), auctions have become increasingly competitive.

«

And that’s because the price of solar panels has fallen by 80% since 2010. Hell of a thing.
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Yes, there have been aliens • The New York Times

Adam Frank, who co-wrote a scientific paper on this vexed question:

»Instead of asking how many civilizations currently exist, we asked what the probability is that ours is the only technological civilization that has ever appeared. By asking this question, we could bypass the factor about the average lifetime of a civilization. This left us with only three unknown factors, which we combined into one “biotechnical” probability: the likelihood of the creation of life, intelligent life and technological capacity.

You might assume this probability is low, and thus the chances remain small that another technological civilization arose. But what our calculation revealed is that even if this probability is assumed to be extremely low, the odds that we are not the first technological civilization are actually high. Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first.

To give some context for that figure: In previous discussions of the Drake equation, a probability for civilizations to form of one in 10 billion per planet was considered highly pessimistic. According to our finding, even if you grant that level of pessimism, a trillion civilizations still would have appeared over the course of cosmic history.

«

So howcome they haven’t got in touch asking to borrow money? (The paper is available in full for free.)
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Motorola confirms Moto 360 Gen. 1 will not receive Android Wear 2.0 update • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»While you may have seen reports via Motorola’s Twitter account that the Moto 360 Gen. 1 would not be receiving Wear 2.0, we decided to follow up with Motorola’s official PR this morning on this news and received direct confirmation: the Moto 360 Gen. 1 won’t get Wear 2.0.

The Moto 360 was heavily hyped leading up to its launch nearly two years ago, and understandably so: a [semi-]circular display made it stand out from pretty much any smartwatch that had been released previously. While LG’s G Watch R was, in my opinion, a better take on the circular watch, the Moto 360 still stood out with its small bezels and minimalistic, lugless style. It really was, and is, a striking device.

Still, it seems more than a bit frustrating that Android Wear devices – which Google has time and again implied shouldn’t “age” like your smartphone does as new OS updates launch – are seemingly little-different in terms of support windows than smartphones. Watches, after all, are supposed to last for years, especially watches that cost upwards of $300.

«

Lenovo’s acquisition of Motorola completed in October 2014, having been announced in January 2014. The Moto 360v1 was launched in September 2014, and would have been in the works for at least a year before. Lenovo is now losing money on its smartphone business.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lenovo/Motorola quietly dropped out of the Android Wear business at least until that specific sector shows signs of life. Speaking of which…
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How will the $34bn wearables market combat wearables fatigue? • Forbes

Paul Armstrong:

»Some sobering stats:

•50% of consumers lose interest in the product within a few months. [Endeavour Partners]
•More than half of US wearable owners who have owned a device no longer use it. [Pew Research, 2013]
The wearables market will be worth $34bn in 2020. [CCS Insight]


SOURCE: CCS Insight

It takes 66 days to make a new behaviour stick – that’s a long time in the fast-paced, notification saturated world we live in. Wearable devices can help but the person has to have a decent amount of willpower or the behaviour wanes. Successful apps usually demonstrate a good combination. For example; a fitness tracker and something like MyFitnessPal which monitors macronutrients food intake and can give you some great data points but it doesn’t give tailored advice. Based on the data above there may be trouble ahead if consumers don’t begin seeing value in wearable devices. The issues are clear – either the tech doesn’t work or it’s not of value.

«

Wearables’ biggest problem is battery life, no doubt. Means you have to take them off.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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