Start up: why tech support annoys, Shazam for makeup, the iCloud hackers, Brexit v filter bubble, and more

HTC has sold an estimated 100,000 Vive VR headsets. Is that good news? Photo by pestoverde on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. You missed 14 yesterday, if you missed them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why tech support is (purposely) unbearable • The New York Times

Kate Murphy:


You can also find excellent tech support in competitive markets like domain name providers, where operators such as Hover and GoDaddy receive high marks. Also a good bet are hungry upstarts trying to break into markets traditionally dominated by large national companies. Take regional internet and phone service providers like Logix and WOW, which rank near the top in customer support surveys.

But tech support veterans and mental health experts said there were other ways to get better tech support or maybe just make it more bearable. First, do whatever it takes to control your temper. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Losing your stack at a consumer support agent is not going to get your problem resolved any faster. Probably just the opposite.

“I definitely remember seeing parts of myself I didn’t know were there as far as getting irritated with people and using passive-aggressive behaviors,” said John Valenti, a video producer in Rochester, who worked as a tech support agent at an internet phone company from 2007 to 2012 to put himself through graduate school. He made an absurdist film about it for his master’s thesis at the Rochester Institute of Technology.


Here’s the film – 21 minutes of your time, perhaps to be watched while you’re on hold about something:

TECH SERVICE: A Memoir by John Valenti from John Valenti on Vimeo.

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The fallacy of job insecurity • The New Yorker

Mark Gimein:


our collective nostalgia misrepresents historical job security so completely that it gets it close to backward. We imagine a past where everyone had thirty-year careers (or, less pretentiously, jobs), tapering off into a work twilight and then retirement. This memory is surprisingly at odds with the data: the typical worker now stays at a job six months longer than the average worker did a decade ago. Taking an even longer-term view, the typical worker has stayed at the same job for more than four and a half years, versus just three and a half years in 1983.

Whether that increase in stability is wholly positive is arguable. In roaring economies, workers switch jobs more often, looking for higher pay or better bosses. The length of time spent at one job goes up in times of economic stress (such as the mid-aughts), when workers hang on for dear life. But whatever the cause, it’s clear that younger workers switch jobs less often than in the past. For women, also, the length of time at the average job has gone up markedly. (It’s now almost the same as for men.) To the extent that there was security in the past, it didn’t apply to women.

One group, however, has suffered in terms of job stability. You can probably guess which one: men in the later stages of their careers. The share of men older than fifty-five who have been at their jobs for twenty years or more has plummeted.


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China restricts online news sites from sourcing stories on social media • Ars Technica

Glyn Moody:


China’s Internet censorship body has warned online media not to use stories found on social networks as the basis of news reports without first asking permission from the authorities. The Cyberspace Administration of China said: “It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts.”


Imagine if this applied to the Daily Mail. It would barely have anything to write about.
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Startup Timelines

This is fun: tracking (via the Wayback Machine?) how many, many, many startups’ web pages looked, going right back to the start. And yes, including TheFacebook from February 2004.
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HTC Vive headset nearing 100,000 sales • Road to VR

Ben Lang:


Steamspy aggregates data from millions of Steam users into useful statistics about games sold on the platform. And though SteamSpy doesn’t track the number of HTC Vive headsets running on Steam, it does track the three VR games that come bundled with each Vive purchase: Tilt Brush, Fantastic Contraption, and Job Simulator. Thus, we can see the total number of owners of these games, giving us what appears to be a fairly accurate indication of Vive sales.

According to SteamSpy, Tilt Brush is the most popular of the Vive’s bundled games, now sitting at 94,911 (± 8,213 margin of error). Assuming each owner of Tilt Brush is also a Vive owner, the margin of error brings the headset’s sales as high as 103,124 or as low as 86,698 three months since launch. While that’s still far from ‘mainstream’, the steep $799 price means that with only 100,000 sales HTC has already pulled in nearly $89m in revenue.


Which then puts Oculus Rift CV1 at 36,000 and Oculus Rift DK2 at 8,700 in use. Encouraging for HTC? Well..
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Can we stop pretending HTC has a future in VR? • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


HTC is struggling mightily in the smartphone market and is still good for a 40% year-over-year decline in revenue every month. The Vive—a “joint effort” between HTC and Valve—is a rare bright spot in the company’s lineup, but I think it’s a temporary reprieve. Evidence shows HTC had little to do with the technology behind the Vive. HTC is more like Valve’s tool, and while the company is in charge of manufacturing the Vive right now, HTC won’t be left with any IP or competitive advantages once Valve is done with it.

“HTC Vive” makes about as much sense as “Foxconn iPhone.” The name “Valve Vive” would probably be more appropriate. HTC seems more like the contract manufacturer for the device, building the Vive for Valve the same way Foxconn builds iPhones for Apple. The Vive is a product of Valve research using licensed Valve technology and Valve software in an effort to kickstart Valve’s VR ecosystem. The only oddity is that, through a weird quirk of branding, HTC’s name ended up on the side of the device.


Amadeo makes a convincing case that all HTC brought to this is the outward design of the headset, and the supply chain to build and distribute it. Panels from Samsung, head tracking from Valve, and so on.
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Rimmel London releases a Shazam for makeup • Glossy

Grace Caffyn:


Rimmel’s social content is increasingly influencer-heavy. There are Snapchat takeovers and shoppable Youtube videos, but also a growing focus on micro-influencers. A recent #LondonLook competition flew 18 fans to the capital to create their own content around the brand. It received over 12,000 entries.

Besides tapping into the pulling power of those being zapped, Rimmel also wants Get The Look to pull in its own community of microinfluencers. Users on the app can share their virtual makeovers with friends on social media. They can also submit their photos to Rimmel’s gallery.

Downloads are important, but the key metric for Rimmel will be engagement. “If it uplifts sales as a consequence, then great. But it’s more than a sales tool. It’s about enhancing the consumer experience,” [Rimmel VP of global marketing Montse] Passolas said. 


“Microinfluencers”. Mm.
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A second US man pleads guilty to hacking celebrity accounts • Computer Weekly

Warwick Ashford:


A second US man has pleaded guilty to gaining authorised access to celebrity iCloud and Gmail accounts and stealing nude images that were leaked online in 2014.

Edward Majerczyk (28) of Chicago, Ilinois used similar methods as Ryan Collins (36) of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but US authorities have not made any connections between the two men.

Although both used phishing emails to trick celebrities into divulging their passwords, neither have been linked to leaking stolen private images and videos online.

Police investigations into the online leaks that involved more than 100 celebrities, including Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence, led to the arrest of Majerczyk and Collins.

Collins targeted victims with emails that appeared to come from Apple and Google to get their log-in details, while Majerczyk’s sent messages that looked like security warnings from internet service providers that tricked victims into visiting malicious websites designed to steal log-in information…

…Majerczyk is believed to have stolen the log-in credentials more than 300 Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts between November 2013 and August 2014, including those of around 30 celebrities, according to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office.


Note the ages; these weren’t, as the banter would have it, teens in their basement pounding the iCloud servers to exploit a weakness in the Find My iPhone password system. Security breaches are usually about the path of least resistance, not most complication.
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Gut bacteria spotted eating brain chemicals for the first time • New Scientist

Andy Coghlan:


Bacteria have been discovered in our guts that depend on one of our brain chemicals for survival. These bacteria consume GABA, a molecule crucial for calming the brain, and the fact that they gobble it up could help explain why the gut microbiome seems to affect mood.

Philip Strandwitz and his colleagues at Northeastern University in Boston discovered that they could only grow a species of recently discovered gut bacteria, called KLE1738, if they provide it with GABA molecules. “Nothing made it grow, except GABA,” Strandwitz said while announcing his findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston last month.

GABA acts by inhibiting signals from nerve cells, calming down the activity of the brain, so it’s surprising to learn that a gut bacterium needs it to grow and reproduce. Having abnormally low levels of GABA is linked to depression and mood disorders, and this finding adds to growing evidence that our gut bacteria may affect our brains.


We’re just starting to get an inkling of how important our microbiome (the bacteria etc in the gut) is to how we behave. (Of course, the Ramones had a song about this – GABA GABA hey.)
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The truth about Brexit didn’t stand a chance in the online bubble • The Guardian

Emily Bell:


After an active campaign to persuade publishers to use their platform more, Facebook saw engagement numbers drop and became concerned that news was “flooding” its users’ timelines; and therefore it boosted the idea that “friends and family” links and recommendations would now be the central organising principle for the platform.

This seems nothing more than a mild prophylactic against the world joining [deputy Labour party leader] Tom Watson on Snapchat, but it raises the same kinds of questions raised by [Leave campaign donor Aaron] Banks’s chilling assertion that facts don’t matter in political campaigns.

We saw in [Michael Gove’s columnist wife] Sarah Vine’s email the astonishing degree to which media titans like Rupert Murdoch and [Daily Mail editor] Paul Dacre are perceived to hold influence, when in fact Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter et al are the de facto organisers of much of the information we receive and discuss. Tweaking an algorithm to favour “family and friends” is the engineering equivalent of “people have had enough of experts”, in that it acknowledges that how people feel is a better driver of activity than what people think. For Facebook, and other social platforms, it is also good business. Facebook does not see itself as responsible for the information diet of the world, even though this is exactly what it is becoming.


The filter bubble is becoming harder, not easier, to escape; this has serious implications for us all.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the name “Piper” for Google’s commit system predates the TV series “Silicon Valley” by a number of years.

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