Start up: scamming Trump, 23andme’s data trove, Facebook’s new fake problem, Apple’s image makers, and more


There’s an extraterrestrial signal – but is it a signal, or just noise? Photo by Paulgi on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Can cause drowsiness. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

SETI has observed a “strong” signal that may originate from a Sun-like star • Ars Technica

Eric Berger:

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It remains only the barest of probabilities that astronomers have just found evidence of extraterrestrial, intelligent life. Nevertheless, in the community of astronomers and other scientists who use radio telescopes to search the heavens for beacons of life there is considerable excitement about a new signal observed by a facility in Russia.

According to Paul Gilster, author of the Centauri Dreams website, the Italian astronomer Claudio Maccone and other astronomers affiliated with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence have detected “a strong signal in the direction of HD164595.” HD 164595 is a star of 0.99 solar masses about 95 light years from Earth, with an estimated age of 6.3 billion years. The system is known to have at least one planet, HD 164595 b, which is similar in size to Neptune and orbits its star in 40 days. Other planets may exist in the system as well.

The observation was made with the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, in southern Russia, Gilster reports. He cautioned that the evidence is very preliminary:

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No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization…

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Kardashev 1: basically, us. (Can store and use some of a star’s energy.) Kardashev II: can use *all* the power from a star. Don’t ask about Kardashev III. Too scary.
link to this extract


Meet the man siphoning money from Donald Trump • POLITICO

Shane Goldmacher:

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At a glance, the two websites look virtually indistinguishable. Both feature a photo of Donald Trump, in a suit and red tie, in front of a giant American flag. Both seemingly offer a chance for two to win dinner with Donald Trump.

One is at donaldjtrump.com; the other is at dinnerwithtrump.org.

The first belongs to Trump’s campaign. The second is a scheme run by Ian Hawes, a 25-year-old Maryland man who has no affiliation with Trump or his campaign and who has preyed on more than 20,000 unsuspecting donors, collecting more than $1 million in the process.

In just its first three weeks of operation, Hawes’ PAC spent more than $108,000 on Facebook ads, offering an opportunity to win “Dinner with Donald Trump” — and netted itself nearly $350,000 in donations, according to federal records.

The biggest chunk of the money raised — $133,000 — went to a company that Hawes founded and owns, CartSoft LLC. The purpose of the payments is described on federal records as “media” and “media purchasing,” though CartSoft’s website describes itself as an online payment-processing platform.

Since its launch, the PAC has collected more than $1 million, Hawes told POLITICO. It has reportedly spent $0 on behalf of Trump.

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link to this extract


23andMe’s consumer DNA data gold mine is starting to pay off • Fast Company

Christina Farr:

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After decades of inconclusive results, researchers backed by Pfizer and Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that they had identified several genetic markers associated with depression earlier this month. It was the largest study of its kind, using data from more than 120,000 people.

In February, a new paper explored the role that genetics plays on an individual being a morning person or a night owl, and in April another study looked at resilience to Mendelian childhood diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.

Each of these studies used insights gathered from customers of 23andMe, the Google-backed company that makes a direct-to-consumer genetic test kit. Perhaps best known for its battles with regulators over its consumer genetics test in 2013, 23andMe has quietly expanded its business to include brokered access to its database of more than 1 million people’s DNA.

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Tricky to know, though, whether the insights are real or just accident. Genetics is infuriatingly difficult like that.
link to this extract


Hyper – HyperCard for the modern age

Intriguing app (for Android, iOS, Mac.. Apple TV?!) From the introduction:

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Hyper lets you create very rich documents called Stacks, which are like your very own mini-apps for personal or work needs. No coding required.

With only a few taps, make a bespoke to-do list, a real-time collaborative shopping list for your next party, a travel guide for your summer trip, a poll or survey for work, a sleek web page listing your homemade crafts, a personalized expense tracker, your private Yelp clone or Instagram clone, a company face book, a photo blog, a lightweight ticket system for contractors… The possibilities are endless.

Hyper is made for multiple users, multiple devices and multiple screens

Hyper is designed for how people use software today: your stacks are always with you with native apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac, and even Apple TV. Use your phone to add a photo to a stack while on the go, and use your desktop back at home if you need to enter lots of text.

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Haven’t tried it, but the cross-platform element sounds good.
link to this extract


Report: Automated fact-checking is coming (and soon) • Poynter

Alexios Mantzarlis:

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[The fact-checking charity] Full Fact, like others before it, argues for combining several tools into a single automated fact-checking workflow.

The organization is at varying stages of designing or developing some of these tools. With “Hawk” and “Trends,” Full Fact tracks popular factual claims. “Stats,” the most intriguing of the lot, automatically checks claims against potentially relevant data it surfaces from the database of the British Office for National Statistics.

Ciampaglia notes that the report is “an ambitious plan” but that “there are indeed huge automation opportunities that can be reaped from just what is currently available off the shelf.”

Beyond providing details on the Full Fact’s own work, the report summarizes other initiatives while offering categorizations that can help clarify the scope of this field. By posing open questions to researchers and calling for a collaborative approach, it also aims to spark a wider conversation on automated fact-checking.

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Just imagining what the effect of automated fact-checking – working as fas as speech – would be on political debate. (This is Full Fact’s blog post on the topic.)
link to this extract


How Lending Club’s biggest fanboy uncovered shady loans • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin and Noah Buhayar:

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When Lending Club went public in late 2014, [Bryan] Sims scraped together about $1,000 to buy stock. “It sounds dumb now,” he said, “but it felt like a chance to participate in history.” He was so taken by Lending Club that he began listening to the company’s earnings calls. “Like a weirdo,” he said. It was on one of these calls, in 2015, that he heard Chief Executive Officer Renaud Laplanche say that 14% of Lending Club’s borrowers, or more than 100,000 people, “returned for a second loan.” That struck Sims as curious. He knew that for all the information the company made public about its borrowers—incomes, employment histories, their reasons for borrowing—one thing it didn’t list was repeat customers.

Sims decided to take a look at the hundreds of loans he’d invested in, arranging them in a spreadsheet that displayed their amounts, interest rates, and information about borrowers’ salaries, employers, locations, incomes, and credit ratings (FICO scores, specifically). Two loans caught his eye. Both had been issued to individuals with the same employer in the same small town. So far, so coincidental. But looking deeper, Sims found that the salaries were nearly identical. Both borrowers had opened their first line of credit in the same month.

This, Sims realized, is the same dude. It wasn’t a borrower who’d paid off one loan and happily returned for a second. It was one person with two active loans, and Lending Club was treating them as completely unrelated, charging wildly different interest rates. The borrower was paying about 15% interest on one loan of about $15,000; on the other, he was paying 9% on twice the principal. That meant the investors who held only the second loan were leaving money on the table. And Lending Club didn’t seem to be doing anything to help them.

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A terrific story of data revealing the story. (A bit like The Big Short, but with more limited impact.)
link to this extract


Why did Facebook promote a fake story about Megyn Kelly? • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer, on what happened after the company fired all those tedious “journalist” people who used to look at trending stories in favour of engineers, who would watch over the sacred algorithms:

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the company assured users that it would still remain discerning. “There are still people involved in this process to ensure that the topics that appear in Trending remain high-quality—for example, confirming that a topic is tied to a current news event in the real world,” said a release from the company on Friday.

If so, they’re not doing their jobs very well. From Sunday evening to early Monday morning, Facebook allowed the topic “Megyn Kelly” to trend. Driving the trend was an article claiming that Kelly had been fired by Fox News for supporting Hillary Clinton. The story, hosted by endingthefed.com, was completely inaccurate: Kelly has not endorsed Clinton, and she has not been fired by Fox. Yet with the assistance of Facebook’s algorithmic editors, it garnered 200,000 likes.

On Sunday night, I asked Facebook whether a human editor approved the topic before it trended, and how it plans to keep this from happening in the future; it had not responded by press time.

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So not only are the engineers bad at this, they’re bad at responding.
link to this extract


LinX Imaging Presentation • Scribd

Linx was acquired by Apple in April 2015. It produced array camera technology – and this is a presentation that it made in June 2014, saying “Array camera technology update – we are ready!” with details about its image quality capabilities, especially in low light, and its depth map capabilities, which can create 3D mapping “in milliseconds”. Useful for VR or AR, perhaps.
link to this extract


Big data, Google and the end of free will • FT.com

Yuval Noah Harari (in an extract from his new book Homo Deus):

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We are already becoming tiny chips inside a giant system that nobody really understands. Every day I absorb countless data bits through emails, phone calls and articles; process the data; and transmit back new bits through more emails, phone calls and articles. I don’t really know where I fit into the great scheme of things, and how my bits of data connect with the bits produced by billions of other humans and computers. I don’t have time to find out, because I am too busy answering emails. This relentless dataflow sparks new inventions and disruptions that nobody plans, controls or comprehends.

But no one needs to understand. All you need to do is answer your emails faster. Just as free-market capitalists believe in the invisible hand of the market, so Dataists believe in the invisible hand of the dataflow. As the global data-processing system becomes all-knowing and all-powerful, so connecting to the system becomes the source of all meaning. The new motto says: “If you experience something — record it. If you record something — upload it. If you upload something — share it.”

Dataists further believe that given enough biometric data and computing power, this all-encompassing system could understand humans much better than we understand ourselves. Once that happens, humans will lose their authority, and humanist practices such as democratic elections will become as obsolete as rain dances and flint knives.

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There’s a lot of discussion around this book.
link to this extract


Anker issues recall and replacements after researcher demonstrates unsafe USB-C cables • Android Police

Michael Crider:

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It turns out that a specific cable from budget accessory provider Anker might be dangerous, because it “remembers” the voltage for the USB-C power input on some newer laptops like the Chromebook Pixel, then provides that same voltage to phones if not unplugged from a more powerful charging base. USB-C laptops are designed to take 15V-20V power input, but some phones are only designed to take inputs at up to 5V. The differential could damage low-power electronics or, in extreme cases, cause battery explosions or fires.

Here’s Nathan’s video demonstrating the faulty cable that sends unsafe voltages to devices that aren’t designed to accept them. With cables (or at least the USB-C connections on them) now compatible with everything from a tiny wearable to a full-power laptop, it’s a serious problem for end users.

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Anker doing a recall (will everyone get the message? Will everyone swap them?). USB-C still feels like a poor bet: USB 1.0 never had this sort of problem, nor Firewire, nor Thunderbolt.
link to this extract


I got scammed by a Silicon Valley startup • Medium

Penny Kim:

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My first paycheck was late. Jessica, Tom (our new project manager who started in June), and I were the only ones that received cashier’s checks on July 20th. My sign on bonus was not included. I asked about it and was told it was coming in the next check. The other employees received nothing and I’m not sure why. I can’t recall a time in my life where I was paid my wages in a cashier’s check so I requested a pay stub. Charlie told me that they wouldn’t be able to help with payroll until we moved over to Gusto, a new accounting system. He and Michael would get back to me on this. I didn’t like this answer. Considering this was my first payroll experience, I abruptly halted my apartment search and paid for a temporary Airbnb covering the first half of August. The boxes of what was left of my life remained in the back seat of my car. Something was up and I started feeling uncomfortable.

Around this time, Bruce and I were sharing personal concerns and he confided in me that he had let Michael borrow $50,000 from his personal savings. Did you read that? A startup employee gave his life savings to our CEO. He wasn’t the only one. Another biz dev team bro who was crashing on the CEO’s couch, Bobby, apparently lent Michael five figures too. In disbelief, I asked why he needed money when he has $2M already committed in the company. Bruce said that Michael had his offshore money tied up with the IRS because of unpaid taxes and essentially his assets were frozen until he went to court. These people are not related by blood or lifelong ties so why would they trust Michael enough to do this after only knowing him a few months? Again, I chalked it up to bro culture and secretly hoped they would get their money back.

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As you can guess, this has a big helping of “nope” with a side order of “nope nope nope”. Lots of valuable lessons, and not only for tech startup employees.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start up: scamming Trump, 23andme’s data trove, Facebook’s new fake problem, Apple’s image makers, and more

  1. Bad Karma will rain down on the scummy kid with his start up-CartSoft LLC
    Who is scamming people out of their money with his TWO fake Super Pac websites. What a scammer and scumbag that guy is.

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