Start up: AI photo colouring, Chrome extension malware, the biodiesel fake, iPhone 7 ’Airpods’?, and more

Going, going, up? Photo by mangee on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Or someone else. But who? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New software instantly colourises old photos • Digital Trends


While Instagrammers have been able to age a new photo for a long time, new software could allow the opposite — Algorithmia is a new program that automatically colourises black-and-white photos.

Colourising old photos is a long process, but using a “convolutional neural network,” Richard Zhang, a UC Berkeley computer vision PhD student, has developed a program with a much higher success rate than earlier attempts.

Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are advanced image-recognition programs. They use multiple layers of overlapping input regions to create a better representation of the original than earlier technology allowed. Zhang took the idea of using CNNs a bit further and trained the artificial intelligence program by using over a million colour photos.


I’d have to say the effects are so-so, but a lot better than I’d do in the same time (it’s fast). And you could then improve it.
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FY16 Q4 – Press Releases – Investor Relations • Microsoft

Microsoft’s fourth-quarter (for April-June) results are out. Ignoring the cloud and services stuff:


More Personal Computing revenue decreased $346m or 4%, mainly due to lower revenue from Devices and Gaming, offset in part by higher revenue from search advertising and Windows. Revenue included an unfavorable foreign currency impact of approximately 2%.

• Devices revenue decreased $782m or 35%, mainly due to lower revenue from phones, driven by the change in strategy for the phone business, offset in part by higher Surface revenue. Phone revenue decreased $870m or 71%, driven by a reduction in volume of phones sold. Surface revenue increased $76m or 9%, primarily driven by the release of Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016, offset in part by a decline in revenue from Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3.

• Gaming revenue decreased $152m or 9%, primarily due to lower Xbox hardware revenue, offset in part by higher revenue from Xbox Live. Xbox hardware revenue decreased 33%, mainly due to a decline in consoles sold and lower prices of consoles sold. Xbox Live revenue increased 4%, driven by higher volume of transactions and revenue per transaction.

• Search advertising revenue increased $514 million or 54%. Search advertising revenue, excluding traffic acquisition costs, increased 16%, primarily driven by growth in Bing, due to higher revenue per search and higher search volume.

• Windows revenue increased slightly, mainly due to higher revenue from Windows OEM, offset in part by lower revenue from patent licensing.


That means phone revenue was down to $364m, which is more than halved from the previous quarter. A rough estimate suggests that’s about 1m Lumias sold. That’s nearly as bad as BlackBerry – which some once thought Microsoft would buy.

And the Xbox stuff – imagine how Nintendo’s report is going to sound soon.
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Malware in the browser: how you might get hacked by a Chrome extension • Kjaer

Maxime Kjaer:


On my Facebook news feed, I had noticed that one of my friends was regularly liking some weird, lewd, clickbaity links. Now clickbait content is far from uncommon on Facebook, but something was off in this case. I had noticed a pattern: it was always the same friend who would Like the same type of links. They would always have around 900 Likes and no comments, while the page behind them has about 30 Likes. Even weirder: every single post on that page is posted 25 times.

One of the posts that my friend had Liked. 940 Likes, no comments.

Now I know my friend; he’s a smart guy, so I don’t really see him liking tons of this (frankly) crap content. Intrigued, I decided to go down the rabbit hole and see what this was all about.

So I clicked on one of these links. Huge mistake.

I was instantly greeted with a message saying that I should verify my age before I could view the content. The semi-raunchy nature of the content made it seem sort of justified. What wasn’t justified, though, was the fact that this verification had to be done by installing a Chrome extension.


Of course your spidey sense is tingling. But as you read through you’ll be saying “Whaaaa..?” The suggested moral: Google ought to vet the makers of Chrome extensions or manually verify them.

Not sure that’s going to happen in a hurry. However it is a new avenue of infection: Kjaer found 130,000 PCs infected with this malware.
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Tor veteran Lucky Green exits, torpedos critical ‘Tonga’ node and relays • The Register

Richard Chirgwin:


Tor’s annus horribilis continues, with one of its earliest contributors, Lucky Green, quitting and closing down the node and bridge authority he operates.

Green’s announcement is here. He specifically declines to describe why it is “no longer appropriate” to take part in Tor, nor why he believes he has “no reasonable choice left within the bounds of ethics”.

It is therefore left to others to speculate about whether or not Green’s decision is the result of the turmoil in the project, which emerged when Jacob Applebaum exited amid accusations and recriminations, and continued with the project’s board replacing itself.

Practically, it’s a big deal. Bridge Authorities are part of the infrastructure that lets users get around some ISP-level blocks on the network (not, however, defeating deep packet inspection). They’re also incorporated in the Tor code, meaning that to remove a Bridge Authority is going to need an update.

The shutdown is to take place on August 31.


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The fake factory that pumped out real money • Bloomberg Businessweek

Mario Parker, Jennifer Dlouhy & Bryan Gruley:


The biodiesel factory, a three-story steel skeleton crammed with pipes and valves, squatted on a concrete slab between a railroad track and a field of storage tanks towering over the Houston Ship Channel. Jeffrey Kimes, an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency, arrived there at 9 a.m. on a muggy Wednesday in August 2011.

He’d come to visit Green Diesel, a company that appeared to be an important contributor to the EPA’s fledgling renewable fuels program, part of an effort to clean the air and lessen U.S. dependence on foreign fuel. In less than three years, Green Diesel had reported producing 50 million gallons of biodiesel. Yet Kimes didn’t know the company. He asked other producers, and they weren’t familiar with Green Diesel either. He thought he ought to see this business for himself.

Kimes, who works out of Denver, was greeted at the Green Diesel facility by a man who said he was the plant manager. He was the only employee there, which was odd. “For a big plant like that, you’re going to need a handful of people at least to run it, maintain it, and monitor the process,” says Kimes, a 21-year EPA veteran. The two toured the grounds, climbing metal stairways and examining the equipment. The place was weirdly still and quiet. Some pipes weren’t connected to anything. Two-story-high biodiesel mixing canisters sat rusting, the fittings on their tops covered in garbage bags secured with duct tape. Kimes started asking questions. “They showed me a log, and from that you could see they hadn’t been producing fuel for a long period of time,” he says.

An attorney for Green Diesel showed up. Kimes asked how he could reconcile the lack of production with what Green Diesel had been telling the EPA. The attorney said he didn’t know, he’d been hired only the day before. “It was obvious what was going on,” Kimes says.


A great (long) read.
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Acer, Asustek consider raising PC prices in the UK, says report • Digitimes

Joseph Tsai:


With Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HP) both having decided to raise their PC prices in the UK by 10% beginning August, Acer and Asustek Computer are also considering following suit and will make decisions within two weeks, according to a Chinese-language Apple Daily report.

With the pound depreciating nearly 15% in the past few weeks, PC vendors have started raising their prices to avoid losses. Lenovo reportedly is also evaluating whether to raise prices, the paper added.


Expect everyone to follow suit. None of the PC makers can afford to eat a 15% change in price.
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Self-driving Mercedes-Benz bus takes a milestone 12-mile trip • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:


CityPilot has taken a key early step towards fully autonomous public transportation: The Mercedes-Benz self-driving bus program saw one of its Future Bus vehicles drive 20 km (or around 12.4 miles) in the Netherlands, on a route that connected Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport with the nearby town of Haarlem. To make the trip, the bus had to stop at traffic lights, pass through tunnels, and navigate among pedestrians.

This is a big win for the program, which owes its origins to the transport truck-focused Highway Pilot program debuted by Mercedes two years ago. That autonomous vehicle program didn’t face the added challenges of navigating an urban environment, however, which makes the Future Bus successful test run a significant achievement.


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Trademark filings seem to confirm Apple’s work on upcoming ‘Airpods’ • MacRumors

Eric Slivka noted that a company called “Entertainment in Flight” had trademarked “Airpods” and then began digging:


Given that Jonathan Brown is a fairly common name, we dug a little further to try to determine whether the manager at Entertainment in Flight and the attorney at Apple and Rambus are indeed the same person, and we came across a court filing from a 2010 civil case involving Rambus that includes a pair of Brown’s signatures. While there is some variation among those two signatures and the one on the AirPods trademark document, they have enough in common that we believe these Jonathan Browns are the same person and thus Apple is behind the AirPods trademark application.


Now that is journalism.
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Army Special Operations Force to trade in its Androids for iPhones • DoD Buzz

Matthew Cox:


U.S. Army Special Operations Command is dumping its Android tactical smartphone for an iPhone model.

The iPhone 6S will become the end-user device for the iPhone Tactical Assault Kit – special-operations-forces version Army’s Nett Warrior battlefield situational awareness tool, according to an Army source, who is not authorized to speak to the media. The iTAC will replace the Android Tactical Assault Kit.

The iPhone is “faster; smoother. Android freezes up” and has to be restarted too often, the source said. The problem with the Android is particularly noticeable when viewing live feed from an unmanned aerial system such as Instant Eye, the source said.

When trying to run a split screen showing the route and UAS feed, the Android smart phone will freeze up and fail to refresh properly and often have to be restarted, a process that wastes valuable minutes, the source said.

“It’s seamless on the iPhone,” according to the source. “The graphics are clear, unbelievable.”

Nett Warrior as well as the ATAC and soon-to-be-fielded iTAC basically consist of a smartphone that’s connected to a networked radio. They allow small unit leaders to keep track of their location and the locations of their soldiers with icons on a digital map.


Pokemon Go, but for real, with bullets. They were using Samsung devices.
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Dell kills Android business to focus on Windows 2-in-1 devices • Forbes

Jean Baptiste Su:


In a serious blow to the future of Google’s Android for Work program and six months after HP decided to stop selling Android tablets, arch rival Dell confirmed in a recent blog post that it too is discontinuing its Android tablet line (Venue) to focus on Windows 2-in-1 laptops or detachable tablets.

Dell’s main take is that the tablet market is oversaturated, with Android devices at rock bottom prices from companies like Asus, HTC, Huawei, Lenovo or ZTE.

“Additionally, 2-in-1s with larger screens in the 10- to 13-inch range are offering a laptop-first experience with the convenience of a tablet when needed,” said Kirk Schell, Dell’s vice-president of commercial solutions.


I cannot see that anyone is making money – as in worthwhile profit – in Android tablets. They seem more like a way to soak up excess touchscreen production capacity. Only Samsung has any economy of scale (makes the chips and screens, second largest tablet vendor).
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BT must put house in order or face split • House of Commons Select Committee on Media

After hearing from BT and other ISPs:


The [House of Commons Media Select] Committee says BT has exploited its position to make strategic decisions that “favour the Group’s priorities and interests” – and is likely to have sacrificed shareholder value and customer benefit as a result. Capital investment in Openreach has been broadly flat since 2009 until this year, and quality of service remains poor.

The Committee is demanding that BT invest significantly more in Openreach, and allow Openreach much more autonomy over what it invests, when and where. It supports Ofcom’s plans for establishing greater separation between Openreach and BT Group, but makes clear that if BT fails to “offer the reforms and investment assurances necessary to satisfy our concerns”, Ofcom should move to enforce full separation of Openreach.

In the Committee’s judgement, Ofcom has not placed enough emphasis in the past on improving Openreach’s quality of service: it says the prospect of stiffer penalties should also encourage BT to voluntarily invest more in infrastructure.


Nice to have it spelt out.
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