Start up: Europe’s detachable craze, GIANT blue screens, AI v cancer, Pinterest buys Instapaper, and more


Imagine not playing here – but getting paid handsomely for doing so. Photo by rodrigot on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Wash separately from other colours. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Soccer’s ultimate con man was a superstar who couldn’t play the game • Atlas Obscura

Tucker Leighty-Phillips:

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Brazilian soccer star Carlos Kaiser had it all: exclusive contracts with popular teams, money, fame, and women. The professional soccer star was only missing one thing: the ability to play soccer. Arguably the greatest con artist in all of sports history, Kaiser (birth name Carlos Henrique Raposo) was able to maintain a career that spanned nearly two decades while playing in as few games as possible and never scoring a goal.

Admittedly, Kaiser was not completely devoid of soccer skill. He initially showed promise in youth leagues, signing a professional contract with popular club Puebla in 1979 after impressing scouts, but was quickly let go. However, Kaiser had devised a plan to keep his career going. By riding the coattails of more promising colleagues, faking injuries at pertinent times, and taking advantage of the lack of technology, Carlos Kaiser was able to maintain a professional athlete’s lifestyle without ever having to prove his athleticism.

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OK, he could play the game (anyone can play soccer). But he didn’t spend any noticeable time actually playing. And “con man” – well, sort of.
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Consumer ultraslim and detachable uptake revitalizes PC and tablet market in western Europe • IDC

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Chromebooks are gaining momentum and experiencing high growth, especially in the Nordics. As we are in the Nordics’ back-to-school season, many vendors pushed shipments in 2016Q2, in particular targeting the education sector in the region, where the adoption of this form factor is taking off. Volumes are still low, as Chromebook are in early adoption stage among schools, but the growth potential is promising, especially in Sweden (59.7% YoY increase in 2016Q2).

Similarly to ultraslims, detachables are experiencing interesting growth in Western Europe, as shipments rose from 0.5m in 2015Q2 to 1.6m units in 2016Q2, in contrast with the 6.0% decline of the tablet market. Detachables performed strongly across all Western Europe, posting triple-digit growth in all countries. Surface continued to be the most widely adopted detachable in the commercial segment, while iPad Pro reached first position in the consumer segment. Detachables posted strong growth in both consumer and commercial, showing that interest in this form factor continues to be on the rise in both segments. Despite the rapid growth in both segments, the drivers behind their performance differ between them.

“The interest in detachables in the commercial segment is generated by the number of premium devices available in the market and the increasing number of use cases in which detachables emerge as the optimal solution. While deployments are not massive, since detachables are mainly adopted either to address specific vertical needs or by top executive ranks, the number of companies adopting them is clearly picking up as some of the classic concerns such as device performance are being tackled by this wave of new releases” said Daniel Gonçalves, research analyst, IDC EMEA Personal Computing. “On the other hand the penetration of detachables in the consumer segment is driven by many local vendors and white brands moving away from the already saturated slate space dominated by Android. These players keep targeting market share in the entry-level space, and now they also supply 9- or 10-inch screen size, Windows-based devices with basic features and keyboard capabilities.”

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IDC is taking the “PC plus tablet” market as the proxy for everything that’s going on – though at 17.2m (in western Europe) that still saw a 3.4% year-on-year fall, with tablets down by 6% while PCs fell by 1.6%.
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This must be the biggest Windows Blue Screen of Death ever seen • Geek.com

Lee Mathews:

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The Blue Screen of Death has been around for more than 20 years. You’ve probably seen one or two before, but you’ve never seen one quite this big.

That massive video wall (probably around 50 feet tall) you see below graces the entrance to CentralFestival, a shopping mall in Pattaya, Thailand. Blake Sibbit happened to be outside when the Windows-powered signage tripped over itself and captured this awesome image.

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That is superb.
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Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets • Associated Press

Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael:

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WikiLeaks’ global crusade to expose government secrets is causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, The Associated Press has found.

In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web. In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.

“They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” said a Saudi man who told AP he was bewildered that WikiLeaks had revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. “If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.”

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Wikileaks used to be careful about this sort of thing. No more.
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Why AI development is going to get even faster. (Yes, really!) • Mapping Babel

Jack Clark:

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Robotics has just started to get into neural networks. This has already sped up development. This year, Google demonstrated a system that teaches robotic arms to learn how to pick up objects of any size and shape. That work was driven by research conducted last year at Pieter Abbeel’s lab in Berkeley, which saw scientists combine two neural network-based techniques (reinforcement learning and deep learning) with robotics to create machines that could learn faster. Robots are also getting better eyes, thanks to deep learning as well. “Armed with the latest deep learning packages, we can begin to recognize objects in previously impossible ways,” says Daniela Rus, a professor in CSAIL at MIT who works on self-driving cars.

More distant communities have already adapted the technology to their own needs. Brendan Frey runs a company called Deep Genomics, which uses machine learning to analyze the genome. Part of the motivation for that is that humans are “very bad” at interpreting the genome, he says. That’s because we spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving finely-tuned pattern detectors for things we saw and heard, like tigers. Because we never had to hunt the genome, or listen for its fearsome sounds, we didn’t develop very good inbuilt senses for analyzing it. Modern machine learning approaches give us a way to get computers to analyze this type of mind-bending data for us. “We must turn to truly superhuman artificial intelligence to overcome our limitations,” he says.

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Subtle point: machine learning systems can discern patterns that we can’t because we look for patterns.
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People disregard security warnings on computers because they come at bad times • Brigham Young University

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Software developers listen up: if you want people to pay attention to your security warnings on their computers or mobile devices, you need to make them pop up at better times.

A new study from BYU, in collaboration with Google Chrome engineers, finds the status quo of warning messages appearing haphazardly—while people are typing, watching a video, uploading files, etc.—results in up to 90% of users disregarding them.

Researchers found these times are less effective because of “dual task interference,” a neural limitation where even simple tasks can’t be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss. Or, in human terms, multitasking.

“We found that the brain can’t handle multitasking very well,” said study coauthor and BYU information systems professor Anthony Vance. “Software developers categorically present these messages without any regard to what the user is doing. They interrupt us constantly and our research shows there’s a high penalty that comes by presenting these messages at random times.”


An example of a security message, the Chrome Cleanup Tool.

For example, 74% of people in the study ignored security messages (example above) that popped up while they were on the way to close a web page window. Another 79% ignored the messages if they were watching a video. And a whopping 87% disregarded the messages while they were transferring information, in this case, a confirmation code.

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Pinterest acquires Instapaper, which will live on as a separate app • Techcrunch

Matthew Lynley:

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Pinterest said today that it would be acquiring the team behind Instapaper, which will continue operating as a separate app. The Instapaper team will both work on the core Pinterest experience and updating Instapaper.

Pinterest’s logic here is that one of the company’s core tenets is bookmarking — much like Instapaper’s primary goal with its app. The company has been on an aggressive acquisition binge in the past few months. In July, Pinterest acquihired the team behind Highlight and Shorts. It would seem that much like other apps that remain very popular in certain niches, Pinterest is going to let this one continue running (at least, until it ends up running its course).

We haven’t heard much from the Instapaper team in a while. One of the last major updates happened in May last year, and while the app has been chugging along (and will continue to do so as the team continues to work at Pinterest), a lot of the same functionality that Instapaper pioneered has found its way into other core user experiences.

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“Acquiring the team behind” sounds subtly different from “acquiring the company”. An acquihire which will let Instapaper rot? Has Instapaper just reached the end of its innovative life, and is now being put out to pasture? Feels that way. Not that Pinterest has set the innovative world alight for some years now.
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Helping users easily access content on mobile • Google Webmaster blog

Doantam Phan, product manager:

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Although the majority of pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.

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Laudable aim, though I suspect that what will actually happen is that Google’s crawler bot won’t get interstitials (tested via the user-agent), and normal people will.
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Google recruiting web stars, Hulu for virtual reality push • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw:

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Google will help promote projects from Hulu LLC and fund the production of 360-degree videos with YouTube stars like the Dolan twins and Justine Ezarik, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deals. The division of Alphabet Inc. has also partnered with video-game producers and sports leagues to boost its biggest virtual-reality initiative.

“It’s apparent they’ve spent a lot of money internally,” said Finn Staber, co-founder of TheWaveVR, a virtual-reality startup developing a music app for Daydream.

The company is relying on apps, shorts and games to promote Daydream, a hybrid store and software service that Google hopes will be the dominant way people engage in virtual reality, much like Android is for smartphones. An update to Android software that will support Daydream began rolling out Monday. The idea is to encourage the growth of the technology and ensure Google maintains a central role in helping people find things to watch.

Google is entering what has quickly become a crowded marketplace, with products from Facebook Inc., Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp. Whereas Sony’s Morpheus headset is tethered to its PlayStation video-game console, Google is focused on mobile-based VR, whereby consumers snap their phones into a visor or headset. With the headset on, Daydream presents users with an array of apps, from YouTube to HBO Now.

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Pushing hard on what is very early days – but it’s a few million; to Google, that’s just seed money.
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Oculus rift founder is a sham, according to a new claim from Zenimax • Alphr

Vaughn Highfield:

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it’s all part of an ongoing court case from 2014 against Oculus, Facebook and the acquisition of its VR tech. “Instead of complying with his contract, during his last days at ZeniMax, [Carmack] copied thousands of documents from a computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device,” reads the amended charges.

“He never returned those files or all copies of them after his employment with ZeniMax was terminated. In addition, after Carmak’s employment with ZeniMax was terminated, he returned to ZeniMax’s pemises to take a customized tool for developing VR Technology belonging to ZeniMax that itself is part of ZeniMax’s VR technology.”

The amended claim goes into deeper territory by accusing Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe of deliberately fabricating Luckey’s origin story to the press.

According to ZeniMax, Iribe “disseminated to the press the false and fanciful story that Luckey was the brilliant inventor of VR technology who had developed that technology in his parents’ garage.”

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Computers trounce pathologists in predicting lung cancer type, severity • Stanford Medicine News Center

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Computers can be trained to be more accurate than pathologists in assessing slides of lung cancer tissues, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The researchers found that a machine-learning approach to identifying critical disease-related features accurately differentiated between two types of lung cancers and predicted patient survival times better than the standard approach of pathologists classifying tumors by grade and stage.

“Pathology as it is practiced now is very subjective,” said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. “Two highly skilled pathologists assessing the same slide will agree only about 60% of the time. This approach replaces this subjectivity with sophisticated, quantitative measurements that we feel are likely to improve patient outcomes.”

The research was published Aug. 16 in Nature Communications.

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And could probably be applied to other forms of cancer. “Probably”? Certainly. How long before cancer diagnosis is done automatically, remotely, routinely – so that early-stage cancers are detected from some trivial sample?
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Browsing your website does not mean I want your spam • Medium

Fred Benenson had been doing some web shopping, and later got an email from Sears – despite never having given his email to Sears:

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I was extremely curious how Sears managed to sign me up without ever knowing my email in the first place.

On Criteo’s website, it says received they received my email from a “partner” database:

What partner? What database? There’s no explanation of who gave my email address to Criteo.
But after puzzling through their site, here is what I think happened:

• I am signed up to some platform which is a Criteo partner. It’s entirely unclear who this partner is. While Criteo boasts a “close partnership” with Facebook, Facebook claims that they do not share personally identifying information such as your email address with ad partners. Regardless, a platform with my email address gave it to Criteo.
• That platform dropped a Criteo cookie in my browser at some point in the past.
• That platform delivered my information (a way to identify me using a cookie and a hash of my email address) to Criteo.
• A couple weeks ago servers alerted Criteo that my Criteo ID was browsing sears.com. They are able to do this because sears.com loads Criteo code and uses a criteo.com cookie (screenshot here).
• Criteo queries its partner for my email address when Sears wants to send spam to users who browsed their website.
• Sears gets my email via Criteo and subscribes me to a newsletter and sends me the spam.

Criteo (and their partners, like sears.com) have successfully performed an end-run around the traditional newsletter opt-in process.

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Wonder if this would breach data protection laws in the UK and Europe. I think the penultimate step might do – can’t pass an email that wasn’t already held to a business user.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Hey, remember that story in Wired about the “survey” by Rantic? They’ve struck it out on the basis that the survey can’t be confirmed as actually existing. Win.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

3 thoughts on “Start up: Europe’s detachable craze, GIANT blue screens, AI v cancer, Pinterest buys Instapaper, and more

  1. Re. Criteo story: data protection maybe, Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations more certainly. Where’s the consent to receive marketing?

  2. “…Google’s crawler bot won’t get interstitials (tested via the user-agent),…” I don’t agree. Google routinely sends out bots that do not self-identify as Googlebot, and has been doing so for years. Dedicated spammers get around this by cloaking content based on a list of known Google IP addresses, but the vast majority of websites will not go to that extreme in order to hide their interstitials.

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