Start up: Theranos’s last days?, Samsung’s water-unproof S7 Active, the Pokemon Go craze, and more


Planning a crewed lunar mission? There’s some code for you on Github! Photo from Nasa Goddard Space Research Centre on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Apply topically. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Theranos dealt sharp blow as Elizabeth Holmes is banned from operating labs • WSJ

John Carreyrou, Michael Siconolfi and Christopher Weaver:

»Silicon Valley startup Theranos Inc. is fighting for its life after regulators decided to revoke its license to operate a lab in California because of unsafe practices and to ban founder Elizabeth Holmes from the blood-testing business for at least two years.

The sanctions were laid out in a letter to Theranos released Friday by the agency that oversees US labs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Theranos said it is still seeking to resolve its issues with the regulator.

One sanction, a monetary fine of $10,000 a day until all deficiencies have been corrected, goes into effect July 12. The most serious sanctions, such as the ban of Ms. Holmes, won’t go into effect for 60 days.

If it fails to reach a settlement with the government, Theranos’s options are limited. Almost any course it takes will dramatically reshape the company that Ms. Holmes founded in 2003 as a Stanford University dropout and grew to a valuation of more than $9 billion in a 2014 fundraising round.

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The first version of this that I saw at 0643 BST (0143 EST) Friday had a single byline (Siconolfi’s) and began more tamely: “US federal health regulators dealt a major blow to Theranos by banning founder Elizabeth Holmes from operating a blood-testing laboratory for at least two years and pulling regulatory approval for the company’s California lab.”

Clearly, the addition of two reporters and 18 hours sharpened up the intro (“lede” in the US; first paragraph to everyone else) quite a bit. And gave them time to put a very spooky picture of Holmes at the top.

And Theranos indeed looks cooked.
link to this extract


DNA sequencing costs plotted over time • National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

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To illustrate the nature of the reductions in DNA sequencing costs, each graph also shows hypothetical data reflecting Moore’s Law, which describes a long-term trend in the computer hardware industry that involves the doubling of ‘compute power’ every two years (See: Moore’s Law [wikipedia.org]). Technology improvements that ‘keep up’ with Moore’s Law are widely regarded to be doing exceedingly well, making it useful for comparison.

In both graphs, note: (1) the use a logarithmic scale on the Y axis; and (2) the sudden and profound outpacing of Moore’s Law beginning in January 2008. The latter represents the time when the sequencing centers transitioned from Sanger-based (dideoxy chain termination sequencing) to ‘second generation’ (or ‘next-generation’) DNA sequencing technologies. Additional details about these graphs are provided below.

These data, however, do not capture all of the costs associated with the NHGRI Large-Scale Genome Sequencing Program. The sequencing centers perform a number of additional activities whose costs are not appropriate to include when calculating costs for production-oriented DNA sequencing. In other words, NHGRI makes a distinction between ‘production’ activities and ‘non-production’ activities. Production activities are essential to the routine generation of large amounts of quality DNA sequence data that are made available in public databases; the costs associated with production DNA sequencing are summarized here and depicted on the two graphs.

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We’re good at sequencing, but less good at understanding what genomes tell us. That hasn’t improved as quickly.
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Samsung Galaxy S7 Active fails Consumer Reports water-resistance test • Consumer Reports

Jerry Bellinson put not one but two successive Galaxy S7 Actives into the equivalent of five feet of water for 30 minutes. They didn’t make it:

»For a couple of days following the test, the screens of both phones would light up when the phones were plugged in, though the displays could not be read. The phones never returned to functionality.

Samsung says it has received “very few complaints” about this issue, and that in all cases, the phones were covered under warranty.

“The Samsung Galaxy S7 active device is one of the most rugged phones to date and is highly resistant to scratches and IP68 certified,” the company said in a written statement. “There may be an off-chance that a defective device is not as watertight as it should be.” The company says it is investigating the issue.

The Active is one of three versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7, and it was the only one to fail our water-immersion test.

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Could be two lemons, but that doesn’t speak well to the quality control. Waterproofing seems to be a popular feature with testers, at least, because you can.. test it.
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Teen playing new Pokémon game on phone discovers body in Wind River • County 10

»Shayla [Wiggins] tells County 10 that she woke up this morning and began playing a game on her cell phone called Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game that encourages the user to capture as many Pokémon as possible. “The Pokémon are all over Riverton,” she said. Shayla showed County 10 the game on her cellphone which displayed a map of Riverton where these Pokémon are located.

“I was trying to get a Pokémon from a natural water resource,” she explained. She said that she jumped over the fence to go towards the river in search of a Pokémon.

“I was walking towards the bridge along the shore when I saw something in the water,” Shayla said. “I had to take a second look and I realized it was a body.” She said the figure was floating about three feet from the shore and it looked like an average size male body. She reports that she thinks the man was native, but she can’t be certain. She saw a black shirt and black pants. All of the body was reportedly submerged except for part of his back and butt.

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This game is taking people into bizarre situations. There are even reports of people setting up armed robberies (unproven) and using it while on patrol against Isis with Kurdish militias (verified). I’m amazed; Pokemon seems to me so transparently stupid – a set of Top Trump cards – that I’m amazed anyone over the age of 12 indulges in it. And yet…
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A malicious ‘Pokémon Go’ app is installing backdoors on Android devices • Motherboard

Joshua Kopstein:

»wannabe Pokémon masters should take heed: amid high demand for the game as it slowly rolls out across the globe, security researchers have discovered a malicious version of the Pokémon GO app floating around that installs a backdoor on Android phones, allowing hackers to exploit Poké-hype to completely compromise a user’s device.

The security firm Proofpoint discovered the malicious application, or APK, which was infected with DroidJack, a remote access tool (RAT) that compromises Android devices by silently opening a backdoor for hackers. The malicious app was uploaded to an online malware detection repository on July 7, less than 72 hours after Nintendo released the game in Australia and New Zealand.

To install it, a user needs to “side-load” the malicious app by disabling an Android security setting that normally prevents the installation of unverified third-party apps from “unknown sources.”

This is potentially a huge deal, since the game’s slow roll-out to different regions has led some impatient players to download the app from third-party websites instead of waiting for the official release on Android’s Play store, which requires side-loading to install. Proofpoint notes that several major news outlets have even provided instructions on how to find and install the app from a third party.

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Original Apollo 11 Guidance Computer (AGC) source code • Github

Lots of people are cloning it and improving it – just in case they, you know, need to pilot a lunar lander mission.
link to this extract


We need to talk about AI and access to publicly funded data-sets • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas with a hugely important analysis:

»DeepMind says it will be publishing “results” of the Moorfields research [on eye disease] in academic literature. But it does not say it will be open sourcing any AI models it is able to train off of the publicly funded data.

Which means that data might well end up fueling the future profits of one of the world’s wealthiest technology companies. Instead of that value remaining in the hands of the public, whose data it is.

And not just that — early access to large amounts of valuable taxpayer-funded data could potentially lock in massive commercial advantage for Google in healthcare. Which is perhaps the single most important sector there is, given it affects everyone on the planet. If you don’t think Google has designed on becoming the world’s medic, why do you think it’s doing things like this?

Google will argue that the potential social benefits of algorithmically improved healthcare outcomes are worth this trade off of giving it advantageous access to the locked medicine cabinet where the really powerful data is kept.

But that detracts from the wider point: if valuable public data-sets can create really powerful benefits, shouldn’t that value remain in public hands?

«

Yes. Exactly. This is a key point which is being ignored: data is the necessity for Google and the British government is not seeking sufficiently clear repayment for it.
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AI, Apple and Google • Benedict Evans

Quite a long musing on where we are with AI – which typically never quite arrives, because every time it does something smart (understands speech, identifies faces) we say “oh, that’s just computing“:

»A common thread for both Apple and Google, and the apps on their platforms, is that eventually many ‘AI’ techniques will be APIs and development tools across everything, rather like, say, location. 15 years ago geolocating a mobile phone was witchcraft and mobile operators had revenue forecasts for ‘location-based services’. GPS and wifi-lookup made LBS just another API call: ‘where are you?’ became another question that a computer never has to ask you. But though location became just an API – just a database lookup – just another IF statement – the services created with it sit on a spectrum. At one end are things like Foursquare – products that are only possible with real-time location and use it to do magic. Slightly behind are Uber or Lyft – it’s useful for Lyft to know where you are when you call a car, but not essential (it is essential for the drivers’ app, or course). But then there’s something like Instagram, where location is a free nice-to-have – it’s useful to be able to geotag a photo automatically, but not essential and you might not want to anyway. (Conversely, image recognition is going to transform Instagram, though they’ll need a careful taxonomy of different types of coffee in the training data). And finally, there is, say, an airline app, that can ask you what city you’re in when you do a flight search, but really needn’t bother.

In the same way, there will be products that are only possible because of machine learning, whether applied to images or speech or something else entirely (no-one at all looked at location and thought ‘this could change taxis”). There will be services that are enriched by it but could do without, and there will be things where it may not be that relevant at all (that anyone has realised yet). So, Apple offers photo recognition, but also a smarter keyboard and venue suggestions in the calendar app – it’s sprinkled ‘AI’ all over the place, much like location. And, like any computer science tool, there will be techniques that are commodities and techniques that aren’t, yet.

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Exclusive: why Microsoft is betting its future on AI • The Verge

Casey Newton got to meet lots of people at Microsoft who are working on bots and AI:

»I meet with Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of marketing for Office. He shows me a range of ways where intelligence is making Office easier to use. In September 2014 Microsoft introduced Delve, a kind of Fitbit for productivity that is included with Office 365. The app analyzes how much time you spend in email and in meetings, and highlights times on your calendar where you have extended periods of time to do more complicated, meaningful work. It tells you what percentage of people you sent an email to actually read it, and how quickly. It will suggest reaching out to colleagues that you haven’t emailed in a while. It even shows you response times for your colleagues, and for yourself.

If your organization lives in Google Apps, as do many big Silicon Valley companies, browsing Delve felt like a revelation. You don’t have to be a numbers nerd to find this kind of information useful. If you’re a manager, Delve can tell you at a glance how much time you’ve spent with each of your employees over the past week. This kind of intelligence isn’t as sexy as a general AI that anticipates your every need — but it’s here today, it works, and it makes Google Apps look like a neglected backwater by comparison.

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1) Google Apps pretty much is a neglected backwater
2) would love to know if the statistics gathered by Delve actually have any meaning in the real world, or are just numbers collected because they can be.
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Security Flaw in OS X displays all keychain passwords in plain text • Medium

Brenton Henry:

»This afternoon, a friend learned the hard way that you don’t let an unofficial company take control of your computer to provide “support”. However, it was what I learned that shocked me the most.

There is a method in OS X that will allow any user to export your keychain, without sudo privileges or any system dialogs, to a text file, with the username and passwords displayed in plain text. As of this writing, this method works in at least 10.10 and 10.11.5, and presumably at the least all iterations in between.

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I tried his method; I had to click an “Allow” dialog for every single item in my keychain, which wasn’t a trivial number. So this exploit isn’t one to think deeply about. More to the point: what happened to his friend? Was it keychain-related?
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How the Feds use Photoshop to track down paedophiles • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»The most innocent clues can crack a case. In 2012, a holiday photo of a woman and child holding freshly caught fish ended up being a key lead in a child pornography investigation.

Found within a cache of illegal, explicit material, the photo would eventually point detectives to a outdoor camping site in Richville, Minnesota, and result in the victims’ rescue, and suspect’s conviction in December 2012.

But first, detectives had to determine where the photo was taken. To do that, they cropped out the fish, sanitized the image, and sent it to Cornell University for identification, Jim Cole, the National Program Manager for Victim Identification at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), recalled to Motherboard in a phone call.

The university determined the species of fish, which was found in a particular region. Investigators then edited the suspect and victim out of the photo, Cole said, and distributed it to advertisers for camping grounds in the area, one of which recognized the location.

When detectives arrived, the same photo was on the wall of the camping office, Cole added.

“It’s all about making the haystack smaller, so we can find the needle,” he said.

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A logo on a sweatshirt? A bottle of pills in the background? It can all contribute to cracking the case
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Exclusive: Google is building two Android Wear smartwatches with Google Assistant integration • Android Police

David Ruddock has a strong and detailed rumour:

»The inevitable question with these Google smartwatches is “why?” I’m afraid I don’t have a concrete answer for you. But I can speculate. As Android Wear has evolved, manufacturer interest in it has not skyrocketed as Google likely hoped it would. At best, it appears to be holding steady. Once considered Wear’s strongest partner, LG has announced no new mainstream Wear device since the old Urbane last spring (the LTE is unashamedly niche with limited availability, and was heavily delayed). The number of new Wear OEMs announced lately has been modest, aside from a few niche fashion products that are unlikely to have a major impact on Wear’s distribution.

By building its own smartwatches, Google can implement exactly the hardware and features it believes will best demonstrate Android Wear’s capabilities.

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Good luck with that. The OEMs aren’t doing it because they aren’t selling. (Unless they’re selling in China, in which case Google will have trouble too.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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