Start up: a new blue!, Anki’s new toy, a useful chatbot, Scrivener (nearly) on iOS, Brexit law, and more

Apple’s WatchOS 3 is good news for wheelchair users who want to track their exercise. Photo by mag3737 on Flickr.

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

Licensing agreement reached on brilliant new blue pigment discovered by happy accident • Oregon State University

»

A brilliant new blue pigment – discovered serendipitously by Oregon State University chemists in 2009 – is now reaching the marketplace, where it will be used in a wide range of coatings and plastics.

The commercial development has solved a quest that began thousands of years ago, and captured the imagination of ancient Egyptians, the Han dynasty in China, Mayan cultures and others – to develop a near-perfect blue pigment.

It happened accidently.

«

ACCIDENTLY. Someone at Oregon State University’s communications department let the word ACCIDENTLY go through into a document for publication.

Anyway:

»The new pigment is formed by a unique crystal structure that allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light, while only reflecting blue. The vibrant blue is so durable, and its compounds are so stable – even in oil and water – that the color does not fade.

«

Tories will be pleased. (In the UK the Conservative “Tory” party uses blue for its identifying colour.)
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Scrivener for iOS: It’s Time to Talk • The Cellar Door

»We have some fantastic things in store for our Mac and Windows users (which we’ll start talking about soon), but first up–at long last!–is our iOS version. Yes: it’s nearly here.

Next month, we will be submitting Scrivener for iOS to the App Store for release. In the run up, we’re going to post a series of short pieces on the blog telling you all about it, so that by the time it hits the store, you will be able to dive right in. In this first post in the series, before we go into more detail in later posts, I had intended to list some of the features you can expect. But then I thought: nah. Show, don’t tell. So here’s a video we made instead.

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Scrivener is a terrific tool if you’re doing any sort of long-form writing in which you need to consult multiple documents. I used it to write my book; many others have for their work. It also supports screenplays, radio plays, plays, and lots of other formats. As well as just letters. Watch for this one.
link to this extract

 


HP announces $189 Chromebook 11 G5 with ability to run Android apps, 12.5 hours of battery life, and optional touchscreen • Android Police

Jacob Long:

»Today HP announced its latest Chromebook model update, this time with a budget focus. The Chromebook 11 G5 will, most notably, run Android apps and will cost just $189. Another headlining feature of the new laptop is its claimed 12.5 hours of battery life, which is top shelf in general and quite good for a laptop that costs considerably less than most of the phones our readers have. An optional touchscreen, which will increase the price by an unspecified amount, will make Android apps even more usable at the cost of just one hour of battery life.

For those who are reluctant to make the jump to Chrome OS, both Google and HP hope that Android app compatibility will ease your fears. If you aren’t a huge fan of web apps or there just isn’t a Chrome or browser-based equivalent of the software you need, then the use of Android apps can be a huge value-added feature.

«

To say the least. Cheaper than most phones, and with a battery life to match. Weighs 1.1kg. Anyone who isn’t much invested in Windows could easily switch to this when it goes on sale in October.
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Anki’s Cozmo robot is the real-life WALL-E we’ve been waiting for • The Verge

Nick Statt on what Anki did next:

»”In the very beginning, when we started working on the first version of [Anki] Drive, we realized that characters and personalities are a big deal,” says Hanns Tappeiner, Anki’s co-founder and president. “The problem we had was that cars aren’t the best form factor to bring personalities out.” So Anki kept the idea under wraps and toiled in secret on using AI and robotics to “bring a character to life which you would normally only see in movies,” Tappeiner says.

Now, several years after the idea was first conceived, Cozmo is ready for the wider world. The robot is designed for ages eight and up and will sell for $180 in October, with pre-orders starting today. That’s expensive when you consider Anki’s Overdrive racing package is only $150. But the company says Cozmo’s advanced software and high-quality hardware make it worth the money. For comparison, Thinkway’s traditional remote-controlled R2-D2 costs $150, while Sphero’s app-controlled BB-8 replica runs $130.

Cozmo will come with a set of sensor-embedded blocks that are used both to play games with the robot and to help it understand its position in the environment. The robot uses facial recognition technology powered by a camera where its mouth would be to remember different people, and its software will learn and adapt to you over time the more you play with it. Much of Cozmo’s heavier processing tasks are handled by a smartphone that’s been paired over Wi-Fi with Anki’s new mobile app, which frees up the robot itself from having to house more complex computer parts.

«

Increasingly smart toys: it’s a thing. SDK in the works, which would expand its market hugely.
link to this extract

 


Chatbot lawyer overturns 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:

»An artificial-intelligence lawyer chatbot has successfully contested 160,000 parking tickets across London and New York for free, showing that chatbots can actually be useful.

Dubbed as “the world’s first robot lawyer” by its 19-year-old creator, London-born second-year Stanford University student Joshua Browder, DoNotPay helps users contest parking tickets in an easy to use chat-like interface.

The program first works out whether an appeal is possible through a series of simple questions, such as were there clearly visible parking signs, and then guides users through the appeals process.

The results speak for themselves. In the 21 months since the free service was launched in London and now New York, Browder says DoNotPay has taken on 250,000 cases and won 160,000, giving it a success rate of 64% appealing over $4m of parking tickets.

«

Finally a useful implementation. (It’s essentially an expert system, isn’t it?) Note too: London-born.
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How Apple made the Watch work for wheelchair users • Co.Design

John Brownlee:

»this algorithm [for estimating when someone wearing a device has taken a step] breaks down for wheelchair users. Most obviously, those who get around on wheels don’t strike their heels against the ground. Even the way wheelchair users move their arms when pushing themselves is different than the way people swing their arms when they walk. Walking is a regular motion; pushing, comparatively, is irregular. Wheelchair users need to start, stop, and adjust their pushes more than walkers do. To make the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking functionality useful to wheelchair users, then, Apple needed to totally reexamine its algorithms.

First, Apple’s software engineers examined the available scientific literature on how wheelchair users burn calories. But this literature was lacking. The existing studies tended to only involve a small number of subjects, and their methodology in translating pushes to calories wasn’t applicable to the real world. For example, the studies might prevent their subjects from using their own wheelchairs, or only track how many calories a wheelchair user was burning on a treadmill, not on their home turf.

None of this was useful data for a general-audience device meant to track wheelchair users outside of a lab setting. Apple found the existing studies so lacking that it ended up conducting the most comprehensive survey of wheelchair fitness to date. They teamed up with the Lakeshore Foundation and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, two organizations dedicated to promoting fitness among people with disabilities.

Each test subject was allowed to use their own wheelchair, which they fitted with special wheel sensors. In addition, many were outfitted with server-grade geographical information systems, which collected extremely precise data on their movements through the world. The number of calories burned, meanwhile, were determined by fitting test subjects with oxygen masks, and precisely measuring their caloric expenditure as they pushed.

In the end, Apple collected more than 3,500 hours of data from more than 700 wheelchair users across all walks of life, from regular athletes to the chronically sedentary, in their natural environments: whether track or trail, carpet or asphalt.

«

The US alone has more than 2.2 million wheelchair users. Accessibility isn’t just for the hearing- or sight-impaired. The beneficiaries will have to wait for WatchOS 3 in the (northern) autumn, though.
link to this extract

 


Apple Pay is finally offering something that both retailers and customers want • Quartz

Ian Kar:

»Earlier this month at WWDC 2016, Apple announced that Apple Pay would be coming to Safari—allowing you to pay in your mobile or desktop Safari browser by using Touch ID on your iPhone—in the fall. (For desktop Safari users, you simply Pay with Apple Pay and the information gets sent to your phone, where you then confirm your purchase by scanning your fingerprint.)

Apple Pay has already made good progress in attracting merchants on that front. According to an investor note from Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster on Monday (June 20), Apple has signed up 21 of the top 100 online retailers, with another 10 “coming soon.” Among those on board are Staples, Target, Kohl’s, Nike, and Under Armour. Munster also noted that, given how easy it is for online retailers to add Apple Pay, more will likely join soon.

None of this is good news for PayPal. Munster says the online payments company works with 54 of the 100 top online merchants, but there will be a 43% overlap with Apple Pay merchants. And since Apple Pay is more seamless and faster than using PayPal, Munster said in an earlier research note, Apple’s web payment feature could hurt PayPal’s main business.

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You’re asking “why not just let Safari fill in your credit card details?” Because Apple Pay generates a one-time payment code which can’t be reused, whereas your credit card details can.
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Brexit fallout: Hinkley Point C nuclear power station now “extremely unlikely” • Ars Technica UK

Tom Mendelsohn:

»The UK’s nuclear future could be the latest piece of national infrastructure left on the chopping block by the country’s shock referendum vote to quit the EU. According to one government energy adviser, the Hinkley Point C project—which is expected to cost upwards of £20 billion—in Somerset is now “extremely unlikely” to be completed.

Hinkley Point C, which would be the UK’s first new nuclear power generation facility since 1988, would consist of two third-generation European pressurised reactors (EPRs) that provide up to seven% of the country’s electricity.

Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at University College London’s Energy Institute and government adviser on nuclear issues, believes that its main backer EDF will now be forced to pull out by the new status quo. “My view is that it seems extremely unlikely now,” Dorfman told The Times. “It’s probably all over bar the shouting. How can EDF invest billions when there is so much uncertainty?”

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EDF says it will go ahead. Well, the pound has dropped in value, so its euros will go further. More uncertainty.
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Remarks at the SASE panel on the moral economy of tech • Idle Words

The majestic Maciej Ceglowski:

»treating the world as a software project gives us a rationale for being selfish. The old adage has it that if you are given ten minutes to cut down a tree, you should spend the first five sharpening your axe. We are used to the idea of bootstrapping ourselves into a position of maximum leverage before tackling a problem.

In the real world, this has led to a pathology where the tech sector maximizes its own comfort. You don’t have to go far to see this. Hop on BART after the conference and take a look at Oakland, or take a stroll through downtown San Francisco and try to persuade yourself you’re in the heart of a boom that has lasted for forty years. You’ll see a residential theme park for tech workers, surrounded by areas of poverty and misery that have seen no benefit and ample harm from our presence. We pretend that by maximizing our convenience and productivity, we’re hastening the day when we finally make life better for all those other people.

Third, treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don’t accept that this should make us accountable. We’re programmers—who else is going to write the software that runs the world? To put it plainly, we are surprised that people seem to get mad at us for trying to help.

Fortunately we are smart people and have found a way out of this predicament. Instead of relying on algorithms, which we can be accused of manipulating for our benefit, we have turned to machine learning, an ingenious way of disclaiming responsibility for anything. Machine learning is like money laundering for bias. It’s a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don’t lie.

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He then goes much deeper into the darker potential for “surveillance capitalism” – especially under Trump, or Clinton, or even the Polish government of his homeland.
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Law In Action: Brexit: the legal minefield • BBC Radio 4

»How will the UK achieve its new status? Will the referendum result lead to real legal independence? Joshua Rozenberg and a panel of guests discuss the legal journey Britain must now take. They examine practical questions like workers’ rights, the free movement of people and goods, as well as the constitution and human rights.

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It’s a 30-minute BBC radio programme, with three legal professors on EU and constitutional law. Does Parliament invoke Article 50? (No.) What is Article 50? (It’s an article of a treaty.) Does the European Court of Justice really make tons of laws? (The answer to this one is radio gold.) If you want to understand the precise legal issues of Brexit, this is the one to listen to. May also be available as a podcast, somewhere.
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Scientology seeks captive converts via Google Maps, drug rehab centres • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»Experts say fake online reviews are most prevalent in labour-intensive services that do not require the customer to come into the company’s offices but instead come to the consumer. These services include but are not limited to locksmiths, windshield replacement services, garage door repair and replacement technicians, carpet cleaning and other services that consumers very often call for immediate service.

As it happens, the problem is widespread in the drug rehabilitation industry as well. That became apparent after I spent just a few hours with Bryan Seely, the guy who literally wrote the definitive book on fake Internet reviews

…Seely has been tracking a network of hundreds of phony listings and reviews that lead inquiring customers to fewer than a half dozen drug rehab centers, including Narconon International — an organization that promotes the theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.

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The word “skeevy” seems appropriate for this practice.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: it was wrong to say that malware could grab the PIN from a chip/PIN transaction those are encoded into a one-time encrypted code which can’t be reused. Thanks to those who pointed this out.

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