Start up: LinkedIn’s extra bidders, LG’s mobile shakeup, Google Maps v Apple Maps, cracking Android, and more

Why is the world of these people so different from that of Star Wars? Photo by San Diego Shooter on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. American holiday? Read them slower. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google and Facebook also looked at buying LinkedIn • Recode

Kurt Wagner and Mark Bergen:

»Google and Facebook were among the suitors that looked at buying LinkedIn, which ultimately sold to Microsoft for $26bn last month.

A Securities and Exchange Commission document filed on Friday revealed that LinkedIn drew interest from as many as five possible buyers. We knew that Salesforce was one of them, as CEO Marc Benioff confirmed to Recode. But a source familiar with the deal says that both Google and Facebook held meetings with LinkedIn executives to discuss the idea of a possible acquisition.

The SEC filing does not list the other bidders, but instead refers to interested companies as Party A, Party B, Party C and Party D. We’re told that Party B is Google, and Party D is Facebook. Party A is Salesforce, and we were unable to identify Party C.


Record doesn’t link to the SEC document in this article, and only links to a version on Scribd in a linked article. Why not link to the real thing? There’s also the page with all the documents.

Worth reading for all the back and forth, and the way the share offer racks up. Also – seems unlikely that Apple would be a bidder.
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Why did the Stars Wars and Star Trek worlds turn out so differently? • Marginal Revolution

Tyler Cowen:

»That question came up briefly in my chat with Cass Sunstein, though we didn’t get much of a chance to address it.  In the Star Trek world there is virtual reality, personal replicators, powerful weapons, and, it seems, a very high standard of living for most of humanity.  The early portrayals of the planet Vulcan seem rather Spartan, but at least they might pass a basic needs test of sorts, plus there is always catch-up growth to hope for.  The bad conditions seem largely reserved for those enslaved by the bad guys, originally the Klingons and Romulans, with those stories growing more complicated as the series proceeds.

In Star Wars, the early episodes show some very prosperous societies.  Still, droids are abused, there is widespread slavery, lots of people seem to live at subsistence, and eventually much of the galaxy falls under the Jedi Reign of Terror.

Why the difference?  Should we consult Acemoglu and Robinson?  Or is it about economic geography?  I can find think of a few factors differentiating the world of Star Wars from that of Star Trek.


And they’re not as trivial as you might think this topic would mean.
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LG sacks executives amid mobile struggle • Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul and Lee Min-hyung:

»LG Electronics has announced a major shake-up of senior executives in its mobile business division, as it struggles to rebrand itself in the highly competitive smartphone market.

On Friday, LG Electronics said it has created a program management office (PMO) in its troubled handset business and replaced some executives.

“Friday’s announcement is because LG Electronics’ latest flagship G5 smartphone failed to generate sales,” LG said, adding it hopes the shake-up will give its ailing mobile business “new momentum.”


But in the analysis part of the story we learn:

»In March, the company unveiled what it called the “game-changing” modular smartphone, expressing confidence the G5 would drive up weak profitability in the mobiles unit.

The device looked like meeting expectations in the first few weeks following its launch, garnering huge media attention and recording a threefold sales increase on its predecessor ― the G4.

But the G5’s initial attention is withering, as shipments continue to drop more steeply than expected, analysts said.

“The estimated G5 shipment for the second quarter of this year will remain 2.2m, below a previous expectation of some 3m,” Mirae Asset Securities analyst Cho jin-ho said in a report. “This is because the G5’s market response is getting weaker and the company failed to compete with the aggressive promotion campaigns of its rivals.”


LG’s mobile division has lost money since Q2 2015, and there’s no sign of things improving. My thoughts in February were that “modularity in the handset kills premium pricing even faster than OS modularity.” Not looking wrong so far.
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Neural networks in iOS 10 and macOS • Big Nerd Ranch

Bolot Kerimbaev:

»Each [neural network] layer needs to be configured with appropriate parameters. For example, the convolution layer needs information about the input and output images (dimensions, number of channels, etc.), as well as convolution layer parameters (kernel size, matrix, etc.). The fully connected layer is defined by the input and output vectors, activation function, and weights.

To obtain these parameters, the neural network has to be trained. This is accomplished by passing the inputs through the neural network, determining the output, measuring the error (i.e., how far off the actual result was from the predicted result), and adjusting the weights via backpropagation. Training a neural network may require hundreds, thousands, or even millions of examples.

At the moment, Apple’s new machine learning APIs can be used for building neural networks that only do inference, but not training. Good thing that Big Nerd Ranch does.


Good, accessible introduction to neural networks overall.
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Why Google stores billions of lines of code in a single repository • Communications of the ACM

Rachel Potvin and Josh Levenberg:

»In October 2012, Google’s central repository added support for Windows and Mac users (until then it was Linux-only), and the existing Windows and Mac repository was merged with the main repository. Google’s tooling for repository merges attributes all historical changes being merged to their original authors, hence the corresponding bump in the graph in Figure 2. The effect of this merge is also apparent in Figure 1.

The commits-per-week graph shows the commit rate was dominated by human users until 2012, at which point Google switched to a custom-source-control implementation for hosting the central repository, as discussed later. Following this transition, automated commits to the repository began to increase. Growth in the commit rate continues primarily due to automation.

Managing this scale of repository and activity on it has been an ongoing challenge for Google. Despite several years of experimentation, Google was not able to find a commercially available or open source version-control system to support such scale in a single repository. The Google proprietary system that was built to store, version, and vend this codebase is code-named Piper.


As in.. Pied Piper? Wouldn’t put it past Google to have named it after the fictional company in the TV series “Silicon Valley”. But the whole thing is amazing. Plus humans getting pushed out of the commits.
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Cartography comparison: Google Maps and Apple Maps, part 1 • Justin O’Beirne

O’Beirne takes an enormously deep dive into what things Google and Apple choose to highlight on their maps (because you can’t highlight everything and finds some fascinating key differences:

»It’s interesting, isn’t it? Google is prioritizing roads, while Apple is prioritizing places. And that’s why were seeing such noticable differences in the counts.

But even when it comes to places, the maps are prioritizing different things:

Above, Google is again prioritizing transit places, while Apple is prioritizing landmark places. And Apple is also showing a couple of hospitals and a famous bakery.

What’s more important on a map like this? Transit? Or landmarks and hospitals?

Each map voted with its pixels, and it’s interesting to see.

(And here we’re also seeing the argument for map personalization: Not everyone uses transit, so there might be places—such as landmarks—that are more important to some people. And when it’s life-and-death, hospitals are the most important places in the world. But how often does the average person visit a hospital? Personalized maps are better at surfacing the most appropriate places for each person; but for the default map, something still has to be chosen… and that’s what we saw above.)


Google’s tendency to prioritise transit stations does feel like the right one, to be honest – at least to this frequent user of public transport. But O’Beirne points out that it isn’t even that simple: there are places where Google leaves out stations.

And there’s a part 2 forthcoming. Definitely worth the wait if you’re the least bit interested in how to visualise large amounts of information.
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How to crack android full disk encryption on Qualcomm devices • Hacker News

Mohit Kumar:

»Android’s full-disk encryption can be cracked much more easily than expected with brute force attack and some patience, affecting potentially hundreds of millions of mobile devices.

And the worst part: there may not be a full fix available for current Android handsets in the market.

Google started implementing Full Disk Encryption on Android by default with Android 5.0 Lollipop. Full disk encryption (FDE) can prevent both hackers and even powerful law enforcement agencies from gaining unauthorized access to device’s data.

Android’s disk encryption, in short, is the process of encoding all user’s data on an Android device before ever written to disk using user’s authentication code. Once encrypted, the data is decrypted only if the user enters his/her password.

However, after thoroughly analyzing Android’s full disk encryption implementation, a security researcher came to the conclusion that the feature is not as secure as the company claims it is, and he has a working code to prove it.


88 lines of Python; see more details. Not absolutely proven – you’d need someone to replicate it – but believable (it relies on a kernel exploit).
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Yahoo exclamation mark, R.I.P. • Pando

Kevin Kelleher watched Yahoo’s shareholder meeting:

»Enough of Yahoo!’s history. This is about Yahoo!’s bleak present and whatever future stands before it. The shareholder meeting Yahoo! held yesterday was hardly a confrontational affair. It was more of a ritual of supplication. Mayer addressed the crowd in what can only be described in a cowed fashion. Her rehearsed hand gestures signaling awkwardness and defeat. Her pitch about “Mavens” ringing more hollow than ever. Her only substantial news being on the theme of retrenchment: The sunsetting of 130 properties. The sale of prime real estate in Silicon Valley for $250 million The nearly $10 billion in stock buybacks.

It’s hard to watch this performance by Mayer. It’s not easy finding the words to describe it.

The next time you find yourself in a stifling fit of self pity, watch it. Or, the next time you find yourself so gloriously high on top of the world your better self asks for a reality check, watch it. Or, the next time you need a reason to have a tall glass of whiskey, or a steaming-hot cup of chicken broth, or a moment in a fetal position with the blankets tugged over your head – whatever the urge is, just watch it. In my years of shareholder meetings and analyst calls – most of which are, I admit, dull to the general population but bizarrely interesting to me – I have never seen anything like it.


From Yahoo! to Yahoo?
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The deciders: Zeynep Tufekci at TEDSummit • TED Blog

David Colman:

»The idea of a company or college using an advanced algorithm to sort through mountains of job or school applicants is exactly the kind of thing that worries the Turkish-born technosociologist. “Hiring in a gender- and race-blind way certainly sounds good to me,” she says. “But these computational systems can infer all sorts of things about you from your digital crumbs, even if you did not disclose these things.”

Among the inferences computers can make even without an explicit mention: sexual preference, political leaning, ethnic background, social class and more. “What safeguards do you have that your black box isn’t doing something shady? What if [your hiring algorithm] is weeding out women most likely to be pregnant in the next year? With machine learning, there is no variable labeled ‘higher risk of pregnancy.’ So not only do you not know what your system is selecting on, you don’t even know where to look to find out.”

Tufekci is not a Luddite, though — far from it. “Such a system may even be less biased than human managers,” she points out. “And it could well make good monetary sense as well.  But is this the kind of society we want to build without even knowing we’ve done it? Because we’ve turned decision making over to machines we don’t totally understand?”


Tufekci is – as I’m sure I’ve said before – a must-follow on Twitter.
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The music industry buried more than 150 startups—now they are left to dance with the giants • Medium

David Pakman, VC at Venrock:

»The bleak outlook for profitability among standalone digital music companies is a direct result of the high royalty rates incumbent upon startups who wish to license digital music for use in their apps. Whether you negotiate voluntary agreements or avail yourself of the existing compulsory licenses, you will not turn a profit. At least, no one ever has. The few that refused to pay these rates were often sued out of existence.

Given these facts, digital music startups are unlikely to survive and thus unlikely to attract meaningful investment. The failure rate in this market segment dramatically exceeds that of SaaS, eCommerce, and mobile, to name just a few. More importantly, the success rate of digital music companies (4%) is far less than these other segments (mobile at 26.5%, SaaS at 28% and eCommerce at 23%).

It is no surprise, then, that far fewer digital music companies get funded. Only about 175 have been venture funded since 1997 by my count, compared to 5,175 (mobile), 7,987 (SaaS) and 1,800 (eCommerce).

The end result of these perilous market conditions is that the only companies who can afford to be involved with digital music are the internet giants prepared to subsidize their digital music services with profits from their other businesses.


I’m having trouble believing that Spotify is suddenly, and uniquely, profitable. That means it’s burning through its $1bn of debt.

Also explains why Tidal might be willing to listen to Apple offering to buy it. What’s the alternative? Keep losing money until you go bust?
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Apple slams Spotify for asking for “preferential treatment” • BuzzFeed News

John Paczkowski on the Apple-Spotify row, now in round two:

»Apple strongly disagrees.

“Our guidelines apply equally to all app developers, whether they are game developers, e-book sellers, video-streaming services or digital music distributors; and regardless of whether or not they compete against Apple. We did not alter our behavior or our rules when we introduced our own music streaming service or when Spotify became a competitor,” Sewell explains. “Ironically, it is now Spotify that wants things to be different by asking for preferential treatment from Apple.”

And as for Spotify’s suggestion that Apple is treading on dangerous, anticompetitive ground, well, Sewell doesn’t seem too concerned.


The takeaway for me was that there have been more than 160m downloads of the Spotify app from the App Store. That reads to me like “less than 170m”, and I think it’s comparable on the Play Store. (Spotify passed 100m downloads on Google Play in July 2015.) That, in turn, suggests that – given there are 100m users per month (Spotify’s number) and 30m subscribers, that there’s roughly a 2-in-3 abandonment rate.

(Assuming that downloads are to unique users, and that the average user has one device.)
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Smart pirates are fooling YouTube’s copyright bots by hiding movies in 360-degree videos • Quartz

Mike Murphy:

»YouTube has gotten very good at figuring out when people upload copyrighted material to the video-streaming site, and taking things down. Its program, Content ID, matches videos from the site against a database of video uploaded by content owners. If there’s a match, YouTube will move to take that video down. But what if you upload a video in a video?

An ingenious pirate, going by the name Thuy Pham on YouTube, managed to embed the entirety of the 1995 classic Clueless inside a 360-degree video. At first, it seems like you’re just watching the Alicia Silverstone vehicle as you would any other video on YouTube—albeit slightly sped-up—but if you move the video around, you’ll see that it’s actually injected into what appears to be some sort of dance studio, replete with three women facing away from the movie.


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Government retreats from Land Registry sale • UK Authority

Mark Say:

»A Conservative revolt appears to have killed off controversial Government plans to privatise the Land Registry.

Ministers slammed on the brakes after facing fierce criticism from a succession of Tory backbenchers in a Commons debate held against the turmoil of the party leadership race.

It leaves a final decision in the hands of a different prime minister and chancellor, after the resignation of David Cameron and almost certain departure of George Osborne.

Labour MPs sponsored the debate, but Conservatives also demanded a rethink, warning the sell-off would undermine the registry’s impartiality, hike fees and fail to create competition.


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Dell stops selling Android devices to focus on Windows • PCWorld

Agam Shah:

»Dell has stopped selling Android devices as it steps away from slate-style tablets to focus on Windows 2-in-1 devices.

The company isn’t refreshing the Venue line of Android tablets, and will no longer offer the Android-based Wyse Cloud Connect, a thumb-size computer that can turn a display into a PC. Other Android devices were discontinued some time ago.

“The slate tablet market is over-saturated and is experiencing declining demand from consumers, so we’ve decided to discontinue the Android-based Venue tablet line,” a Dell spokesman said in an email.

Though Dell has killed its Android devices, it made interesting products with the OS. One was the Venue 8 7000 tablet, which had an OLED screen and a 3D RealSense camera. Meanwhile, 2-in-1s can serve as both tablets and laptops.

“We are seeing 2-in-1s rising in popularity since they provide a more optimal blend of PC capabilities with tablet mobility. This is especially true in the commercial space,” the Dell spokesman said.


Unsurprising. The Android tablet market is going to get squeezed really hard – there was already barely any profit there (Samsung was largest, and well behind Apple on volume), and that’s going to get worse.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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