Start up: Kim’s crushed BlackBerry, Amazon’s Alexa game kit, the electric database error, and more

What is it like to perceive millions more colours than other people? Photo by RoRoPics on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. Great links, really terrific– they’re the best possible links. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Kim Kardashian has finally stopped using her Blackberry, but not by choice • Jezebel

Bobby Finger:

»Kim Kardashian, mother of North, Saint, and Selfies, is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, and it’s all because her phone broke. But not her Lumee®-wrapped iPhone, which is presumably fine and could easily be replaced by Apple. It’s her second phone—her Blackberry—that has suffered irreparable damage.

Kim, as many of you probably know, is a vocal Blackerry fan—an unsolicited and uncompensated spokesperson, if you will. She prefers their physical keyboards to touchscreen versions on most phones of today, and has spent the past several years stockpiling the now-discontinued BlackBerry Bolds (her favorite model) on eBay to have on hand when one ultimately breaks…


And it broke. And she can’t find any on eBay. Huh. I’d have kept one buy to sell to her at a gigantic price, myself.
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»the driving dataset

7 and a quarter hours of largely highway driving. Enough to train what we had in Bloomberg [a prototype self-driving car built in a garage].


We present two Machine Learning Experiments to show possible ways to use this dataset:

Training a steering angle predictor

Training a generative image model


45GB compressed, so you’ll need a fast link. More to the point, it’s out there for you to do something with – if you’re in machine learning.
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History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump • Medium

Tobias Stone, in an essay that will (once you read it) probably scare the living daylights out of you:

»Ignoring and mocking the experts , as people are doing around Brexit and Trump’s campaign, is no different to ignoring a doctor who tells you to stop smoking, and then finding later you’ve developed incurable cancer. A little thing leads to an unstoppable destruction that could have been prevented if you’d listened and thought a bit. But people smoke, and people die from it. That is the way of the human.

So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end — for the thousands of Turkish teachers who just got fired, for the Turkish journalists and lawyers in prison, for the Russian dissidents in gulags, for people lying wounded in French hospitals after terrorist attacks, for those yet to fall, this will be their Somme.


It’s a terrific essay which I’ve had sitting open in a tab for around a month, because I was scared to read it. Then I read it, and was even more scared (such as his “if Trump wins and Putin decides he wants to do something” scenario), but better educated. Notable above all is his suggestion of how the Brexit vote might trigger a global political tsunami.

Stone also responded to a number of (often incoherent) responses here.
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Scientists have found a woman whose eyes have a whole new type of colour receptor • ScienceAlert

Fiona Macdonald:

»After more than 25 years of searching, neuroscientists in the UK recently announced that they’ve discovered a woman who has an extra type of cone cell – the receptor cells that detect colour – in her eyes.

According to estimates, that means she can see an incredible 99 million more colours than the rest of us, and the scientists think she’s just one of a number of people with super-vision, which they call “tetrachromats”, living amongst us.

Most humans are trichromats, which means we have three types of cone cells in our eyes.

Each type of cone cell is thought to be able to distinguish around 100 shades, so when you factor in all the possible combinations of these three cone cells combined, it means we can distinguish around 1 million different colours…

…So how do you get a fourth type of cone cell?

The idea of “tetrachromats” was first suggested back in 1948 by Dutch scientist HL de Vries, who discovered something interesting about the eyes of colour blind people.

While colour blind men only possess two normal cone cells and one mutant cone that’s less sensitive to either green or red light, he showed that the mothers and daughters of colour blind men had one mutant cone and three normal cones.

That meant they had four types of cone cells, even though only three were working normally – something that was unheard of before then.

Despite the significance of the finding, no one paid much attention to tetrachromats until the late ’80s, when John Mollon from Cambridge University started searching for women who might have four functioning cone cells.


This. Is. Mindblowing. First that you can interpolate these peoples’ existence; then that you can find them.
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Welcome to AirSpace • The Verge

Kyle Chayka:

»It’s easy to see how social media shapes our interactions on the internet, through web browsers, feeds, and apps. Yet technology is also shaping the physical world, influencing the places we go and how we behave in areas of our lives that didn’t heretofore seem so digital. Think of the traffic app Waze rerouting cars in Los Angeles and disrupting otherwise quiet neighborhoods; Airbnb parachuting groups of international tourists into residential communities; Instagram spreading IRL lifestyle memes; or Foursquare sending traveling businessmen to the same cafe over and over again.

We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.

It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t. Well-off travelers like Kevin Lynch, an ad executive who lived in Hong Kong Airbnbs for three years, are abandoning permanent houses for digital nomadism. Itinerant entrepreneurs, floating on venture capital, might head to a Bali accelerator for six months as easily as going to the grocery store. AirSpace is their home.


Thoughtful piece.
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Theranos had a chance to clear its name. instead, it tried to pivot • WIRED

Nick Stockton:

»Many of the people gathered in that conference room at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry were probably expecting the company to address those allegations, with data. Instead, they got a box.

The box, called miniLab, is a tidy, humbled version of the mythos that made Theranos a $9bn unicorn. According to Holmes, it is a glimpse of Theranos’ next chapter, “an inflection point for our company.” Which may have baffled the number of people who thought they had bought tickets for a reckoning. But why not? Theranos’ old business model is dead, skewered by nine months of really bad press, and bled out by a recent federal ruling that bans Holmes from running a clinical testing lab for two years. So, if you take a big step back and look not at where Holmes was speaking — a medical conference — but where she was coming from — Silicon Valley — it’s clear what really happened on that stage in Philadelphia. She pivoted.

Holmes and Company once promoted an innovative, breakthrough technology that would run up to 70 different tests on a single drop of blood — obtained painlessly from a finger prick — while being cheaper and faster than anything else available. Then, Wall Street Journal investigative journalist John Carreyrou published articles alleging that the company’s technology was in fact, only capable of doing a few tests on a single drop of blood. Further, many of those blood drops collected from real customers had been diluted and analyzed using a competitor’s technology. The recent federal ban for Holmes has vindicated the Journal‘s claims.

The box Holmes presented today uses analytical methods developed years ago (by other people) to run an unspecified number of tests on a small (but larger than finger prick) volume of blood, obtained by poking a needle into a person’s arm.


“Behold my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
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Amazon releases tools to help devs build games for its Alexa voice tech • Gamasutra

Alex Wawro:

»Amazon seems eager to entice developers into making games for its Alexa voice service, as the company this week added a straightforward interactive adventure game design tool (replete with source code) to its dev-oriented Alexa Skills Kit.

Given that voice-controlled choose-your-own-adventure games are a relative rarity in the game industry, this effort on Amazon’s part potentially opens up some intriguing opportunities for game makers.

While most probably know Alexa best as the voice of Amazon’s Echo (pictured) wireless speaker, the Alexa tech actually extends beyond the Echo to provide interactive voice-enabled services on an assortment of devices from both Amazon and other companies.


Seems to me you’d have to be exceptionally lonely, or solipsistic, to want to play an adventure game in this way. Or maybe the idea is that you do it as a sort of collaborative party game?
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Keep calm and send Telegrams! • Telegram

»Some media reported on a “massive” hacker attack on Telegram in Iran.
Here’s what really happened:

Certain people checked whether some Iranian numbers were registered on Telegram and were able to confirm this for 15 million accounts. As a result, only publicly available data was collected and the accounts themselves were not accessed. Such mass checks are no longer possible since we introduced some limitations into our API this year.

However, since Telegram is based on phone contacts, any party can potentially check whether a phone number is registered in the system. This is also true for any other contact-based messaging app (WhatsApp, Messenger, etc.).

As for the reports that several accounts were accessed earlier this year by intercepting SMS-verification codes, this is hardly a new threat as we’ve been increasingly warning our users in certain countries about it. Last year we introduced 2-Step Verification specifically to defend users in such situations.


Hmm, but which “certain people” did the checking? Iranian security people? If they did it for 15 million accounts – let’s enumerate that again, 15 MILLION ACCOUNTS – it’s hardly trivial, and hardly likely to be someone doing it for lulz. This doesn’t seem good, despite the cheery tone of the blogpost.
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David Lammy: The latest Tory privatisation shows the triumph of right-wing ideology over economic sense • LabourList

»During a debate on the future of the Land Registry back in June it was clear that the Government will not have the votes it needs to push through their proposed privatisation, such was the strength of opposition from Tory backbenchers. It is time for the Government to confirm the U-turn that the then junior minister George Freeman hinted at from the front bench and announce that it will not be going ahead with this misguided and damaging privatisation.

British property worth at least £120bn is currently owned offshore, with many of these transactions involving criminals buying up properties in order to launder huge sums of money and hide the proceeds of their crime and corruption. Continuing with this misguided privatisation would merely prove beyond doubt that promises to tackle corruption and pervasive tax avoidance are nothing more than empty rhetoric.

In a twisted irony, the various private equity firms and pension funds lining up to bid for the Land Registry are all themselves linked to tax havens. Our system of land and property ownership is contingent on an independent, trusted and impartial adjudicator to grant titles and oversee transactions, but privatisation will create a blindingly obvious conflict of interest that scuppers this impartiality and dashes the prospect of increased transparency in future.

If the very people implicated in money laundering and tax evasion scandals are in charge of the information that could expose the practices of offshore companies, what hope do we have of ever actually tackling corruption?


Those seem like good questions.
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Companies House proposal to wipe data on dissolved firms sooner decried • The Guardian

Juliette Garside:

»Millions of public records used to track down white collar criminals and combat money laundering would be deleted under proposals being considered by the government’s company registration agency.

Companies House maintains a database on every firm incorporated in the UK, providing access to their accounts and listing all directors and shareholders. But the agency is facing mounting pressure from businesses – and reportedly from members of parliament – to take down valuable information.

Proposals are being considered to reduce the amount of time the records of dissolved companies are retained, from 20 years to six. If the rules are changed, more than 2.5m records could be lost. Campaigners are warning that such a move would be a major step back in the global fight against corruption.

Police investigators, the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office, lawyers, journalists and bank compliance teams all make extensive use of the data, with many searches involving dissolved companies and their directors…

…A Companies House spokesman said: “We are currently considering the correct period for which records of dissolved companies should be kept on the register. This issue is being considered following a number of complaints made by members of the public who believe that retaining, and making publicly available, information relating to long-dissolved companies is inconsistent with data protection law.”


However, there is no time limit for how long records should (or shouldn’t) be kept under data protection laws. I’d prefer transparency and retention: the data is relevant for a substantial period.

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Negative energy • 2040 information law blog

Tim Turner:

»The Competition and Markets Authority announced a proposal in March to deal with the problem of so-called ‘disengaged’ customers, those who defy the market by sticking with their energy company rather than hopping from one to another. The idea is to force the providers to identify those who don’t switch, and create a central database to which all will have access for marketing purposes. After a consultation exercise, the final shape of the proposal will be announced this month. When interviewed on the Today programme at the time, a CMA spokesman denied that those on the list would be bombarded with marketing, although he conceded that they would be bombarded with “information”.

The list will contain names and addresses (although that wasn’t the CMA’s original intention), and access to it will be supervised by [energy regulator] OFGEM…

…CMA wanted to include phone numbers and email addresses in the dataset, which would have exposed millions of people to a torrent of spam, tacitly approved by the state. It’s not hard to imagine some of the less ethical companies pretending they can ignore TPS [the Telephone Preference Service, the marketing companies’ voluntary list to block unsolicited calls] and previous expressions of customer wishes on the basis that the OFGEM list has state support (PREDICTION: some of them will use appending services to add phone numbers or emails to the OFGEM list, and do this anyway).


You and I can see straight away that this is a bad idea. Turner can too, and so he FOI’d both the CMA and the Information Commissioner’s Office, but what he found out is not encouraging.


I am one of the disengaged customers. I moved into my house in 2001 and I haven’t changed energy supplier since. Yes, this might cost me money, but it is a conscious choice. I do not want to engage with the market. I do not want to switch to an alternative provider whose prices are lower because their customer service is terrible. I do not want to give my data to price comparison websites who will then flog it to anyone who feels like buying it. The ICO themselves revealed the complex web of intermediaries that led PCW data ending up in the hands of the Better Together campaign. Of course, I only know about this because it was discussed at a Data Protection Officer conference with Data Controllers, not because the ICO did any publicity about the PCWs’ practices that might have reached data subjects.


The shocking thing is that the CMA is willing to give up peoples’ privacy and peace of mind in order to create an artificial “competition” in the market. Shouldn’t the market have been set up better, and shouldn’t OFGEM be making competition happen? That’s what gets people to switch.
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Bitcoin drops 20% after $70M worth of Bitcoin stolen from Bitfinex exchange • TechCrunch

Fitz Tepper:

»Bitfinex, one of the most popular cryptocurrency exchanges online, has suffered a major hack. The company has posted a note on their website detailing the security breach, and while it doesn’t mention a total amount, one of their employees confirmed on Reddit that the total amount stolen was 119,756 bitcoins.

That amount converts to about US$77m based on a price of $650 per bitcoin, which is about what Bitcoin traded at over the course of the last week.

After news of the hack spread the price of Bitcoin dropped almost 20%, settling in around the current price of $540 per bitcoin. It’s not exactly clear why the price dropped, but it’s likely Bitcoin investors got nervous about potential hacks on other exchanges and decided to sell off their Bitcoin holdings, which led to a rapid decrease in price.


Lots of finger-pointing about which part of the system is responsible, but no clear answers. Also note how the “value” of the hack actually falls because of the hack itself.


While it’s too early to speculate next steps, many are wondering what the fate of their coins will be. Because of the segregated BitGo wallets, only some customer’s wallets were compromised. This means that some user’s wallets may be totally intact. The question then becomes do you let those users withdraw their funds, or pool the funds and proportionally issue refunds so every user incurs the same loss, even if their own wallets weren’t directly compromised.


Capitalism or socialism? Who’d have thought bitcoin would lead people to those sorts of decisions?
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Samsung’s bleeding edge • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»For Samsung, though, a lot of this technology is more gimmick than gimme. Iris-scanning sounds cool, but hardware-access security is less of a risk than online hacking or device-installed malware, and one wonders how well it will work with contact lenses or glasses anyway.

Yet it does allow the company to stand out from a crowd where most smartphones look the same, and more importantly lets the company charge huge premiums over the dozens of devices that use the same lineup of chips, displays and software. It’s also an acknowledgement by Samsung that its chief competitor isn’t Apple but every Android maker on the planet.

That means the $13bn Samsung spends annually on R&D is a vehicle for its highly visible marketing program, a fact that’s highlighted by the Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy J2 and Galaxy S7 taking the top three spots in Strategy Analytics’ first-half global market-share survey.It also tells you that for Samsung, necessity is not the mother of invention; marketing is.


Good points. Hard to believe many people can distinguish the video quality (or screen quality).
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