Start up: AI’s next wave, the Snapchat Olympics, USB-C v headphone jacks, Cyanogen’s odd numbers, and more

Another site is turning off comments. Photo by Rob Hurson on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. They’re slinky, they’re linky. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The next wave of AI is rooted in human culture and history • Engadget

Mona Lalwani spoke to the wonderful Genevieve Bell, who is an anthropologist at Intel (yes, really), and a careful student of human trends:

»As an anthropologist, I wanted to interrogate AI not just as a technical agenda but as a cultural category. I wanted to look at the intellectual history of it. I found myself reading [Alan] Turing and his incredibly provocative question: “Can a machine think?” And the whole notion of the Turing test — Is there a moment where we as humans can no longer distinguish ourselves from the machines? It’s a really interesting formulation both of a technical idea but also a cultural one. It’s also where you can see the cultural ambivalences and anxieties too.

In the conversations in the press and public culture, AI is often accompanied by everything from the language around the robot apocalypse, the singularity, to the idea that they’ll replace or kill us, all depending on the narrative. I was interested in why those two stories were so tightly coupled. Why have the conversations around AI always necessitated this other conversation? Unpicking that was also a very anthropological endeavor.


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Snapchat strikes Olympic gold •

Hannah Kuchler:

»Almost 50m people have watched the Olympic Games on Snapchat so far, as broadcasters including NBC and the BBC use the app to reach a millennial audience.

Nearly one in three daily Snapchat users has viewed the clips in Live Stories, showing that the app could challenge other social sites such as Facebook and Twitter for dominance in live events.

The LA-based start-up partnered with seven broadcasters showing in countries including the US, the UK and Brazil, to show stories that include footage from the games and from the crowds in the last 24 hours.

In the first seven days to last Thursday, 49m unique visitors viewed Olympics content on Snapchat, almost a third of the 150m daily active users of the app.


That’s Snapchat, which was just some prototype code in September 2011, and barely known during the last Olympic games. Technological change can be fast.
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Stealing bitcoins with badges: How Silk Road’s dirty cops got caught • Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar and Joe Mullin:

»It was October 2013, and [DEA agent Carl] Force had spent the past couple of years working on a Baltimore-based task force investigating the darknet’s biggest drug site, Silk Road. During that time, he had also carefully cultivated several lucrative side projects all connected to Bitcoin, the digital currency Force was convinced would make him rich.

One of those schemes had been ripping off the man who ran Silk Road, “Dread Pirate Roberts.” That plan was now falling apart. As it turns out, the largest online drug market in history had been run by a 29-year-old named Ross Ulbricht, who wasn’t as safe behind his screen as he imagined he was. Ulbricht had been arrested earlier that month in the San Francisco Public Library by federal agents with their guns drawn.

Now government prosecutors were sifting through a mountain of evidence, and Force could only guess at how big it was. The FBI got around the encryption of Ulbricht’s Samsung Z700 laptop with a street-level tactic: two agents distracted him while a third grabbed the open laptop out of his hands as Ulbricht was working. The kingpin had been caught red-handed, tapping commands to his Silk Road subordinates up until the moment he was cuffed.

Force had been treating Ulbricht like his personal Bitcoin ATM for several months by this point, attempting to extort DPR one day and wrangling Bitcoin bribes for fake information the next. Now, Force didn’t want to be holding those bitcoins anymore. He opened an account with Bitstamp, a Slovenia-based Bitcoin exchange where he thought he could turn coins into cash quickly and quietly.

But when Force opened Bitstamp account #557042 on October 12, 2013, it sealed his fate.


Terrific storytelling.
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USB Type-C could kill your headphone jack. Here’s how • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»there are good arguments to be made for embracing USB audio, [Intel architect Brad] Saunders said, and the companies that make USB controller chips are very excited about the idea.

For one thing, the 3.5mm audio jack takes up precious volume inside phones, which we all want to be as slim as possible. For another, the analog circuitry of 3.5mm audio can cause interference that disrupts other electronics in a phone, Saunders said.

And digital audio opens up possibilities for lots of sound-processing options without requiring expensive headphones or earbuds. That includes audio effects to make music sound like it’s playing in a big concert hall, or signal processing to cancel noise like jet engines or rumbling trains. “All of those come into play if audio is in a digital domain,” Saunders said, which would let phone makers offer premium features without having to sign deals with premium audio companies like Dolby or Bose.

USB devices have controller chips that consume power. That’s no problem for PCs with big batteries, but it is for phones. That’s why the new USB audio standard requires power management abilities like turning off features that aren’t being used, Saunders said. As a result, with USB headphones, “the difference in battery life is negligible” compared with 3.5mm audio jacks.


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NPR website to get rid of comments • NPR Ombudsman

Elizabeth Jensen:

»I did find the numbers quite startling. In July, recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, [NPR social media exec Scott] Montgomery said. That’s 0.06% of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016.

When NPR analyzed the number of people who left at least one comment in both June and July, the numbers showed an even more interesting pattern: Just 4,300 users posted about 145 comments apiece, or 67% of all comments for the two months. More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users. The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.

It’s not possible to tell who those commenters are; some users comment anonymously. But there are some clues that indicate those who comment are not wholly representative of the overall NPR audience: They overwhelmingly comment via the desktop (younger users tend to find via mobile), and a Google estimate suggested that the commenters were 83% male, while overall users were just 52% male, Montgomery said.

When viewed purely from the perspective of whether the comments were fostering constructive conversations, the change should come as no surprise. The number of complaints to NPR about the current comment system has been growing—complaints that comments were censored by the outside moderators, and that commenters were behaving inappropriately and harassing other commenters.


There’s a similar writeup by Montgomery but it doesn’t have those deep-dive numbers that Jensen offers. “The market has spoken. [Twitter and Facebook] is where people want to engage with us,” Montgomery says earlier.

News site comment software is screwed. Personally I would short Disqus, which NPR (and many others) used.
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Bots are better without conversation — Medium

Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of messaging service Kik:

»At Kik, we remain bullish on bots, but we’ve noticed the same thing everyone else has: so far, there has been no killer bot. This is not yet the world that the early hype promised. But then again, we’re only four months into this. The bot ecosystem is at an earlier point now than the App Store was before Apple introduced in-app purchases. The game lasts longer than the first pitch.

Since we opened our bot platform for developers in April, more than 20,000 bots have been built for Kik. We’ve learned a lot. One of the things that has become increasingly clear is that the initial discussion about bots being powerful because of their conversational potential was somewhat misguided. It’s certainly possible to imagine a world in which we routinely carry out human-like conversations with robots to get things done or be entertained, but we don’t yet live in such a world. In fact, I believe we’ll look back on the early emphasis on “conversational commerce” as a mistake…

…It’s also important to note that we don’t think bots are going to replace apps any time soon. That’s not the point. The point is that people are increasingly spending their time in chat apps, so we’re building experiences inside chat that allow people to do more while they’re there. That’s why bots are so interesting.


Still a sceptic, personally. A visual interface does require you to launch an app, but RAM is cheap, switching apps is easy (people do it all the time) and a visual interface is quicker than a typed conversation. It’s GUI v CLI (command line interface). Unless you know the magic incantations, GUI wins every time.
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Will the P&G story bring down ad tech? Please? • The Ad Contrarian

Bob Hoffman:

»Online display advertising has been sold to us as superior to traditional advertising because it presumes that reaching the perfect individual is more economically advantageous than reaching a broad demographic type.

For the most part, offline advertising is sold on demographics while display advertising is sold on data-driven targeting.

While Proctor & Gamble’s experience should not be taken as conclusive proof of anything, it suggests that for big brands the demographics model is more economically efficient than the data-driven model.

Their experience with Fabreze air freshener was cited by The Wall Street Journal as an example of how highly targeted advertising failed.

For Fabreze, P&G targeted people with pets and people with large families. The presumption was that these people would have a significantly higher likelihood to purchase an air freshener than the public at large. Sales stagnated.

Then P&G targeted all adults over 18 — a very broad swath. And sales picked up.

Presumably P&G had the good sense to use the same creative so they knew what variable they were testing.

If P&G’s experience turns out to be projectible – and it has been reported that other marketers are having similar experiences – the whole model of online advertising, based on data-driven “precision targeting” and tracking – and enabled by ad tech – needs to go right down the toilet. It’s a sham.


P&G is rather large to be a canary in a coalmine, but this might be one of those moments – at least for larger advertisers.
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Confidential data question Cyanogen’s user figures • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»[Cyanogen co-founder and CTO Steve] Kondik said historically there have been challenges with tracking CyanogenMod users, given that its users were “privacy-focused.” (The earliest versions of the software, which started in 2009, restricted any kind of tracking.) In addition, he said, “there was a lot of uncertainty around” the user numbers at the company and, as a startup, “we don’t have the best dashboards and mechanisms” for counting them. He added that in recent weeks the company had discovered six to seven million users who had manually opted out of being tracked by the software. This group represented about two-thirds of the total user base, he said.

“We just figured this out,” he said.

Touting big numbers and growth is de rigeur for consumer tech startups, and it’s common for them to use creative definitions of a “user.”

The numbers quoted by Cyanogen executives after the company launched in 2013 made it seem like the operating system had broad consumer appeal — even bigger than Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, they liked to say. The company has raised more than $100m in funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Benchmark Capital.


So Cyanogen(Mod) had about 10m users? All of them, however, active in comment threads about how AMAZING Cyanogen(Mod) is/was. But it doesn’t look like the VC companies are going to see their money back.
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Bias lighting • Coding Horror

»Bias lighting is the happy intersection of indirect lighting and light compensation. It reduces eye strain and produces a better, more comfortable overall computing display experience.

The good news is that it’s trivially easy to set up a bias lighting configuration these days due to the proliferation of inexpensive and bright LEDs. You can build yourself a bias light with a clamp and a fluorescent bulb, or with some nifty IKEA LED strips and double-sided foam tape. It really is that simple: just strap some lights to the back of your monitors.

I’m partial to the IKEA Dioder and Ledberg technique myself; I currently have an array of Ledbergs behind my monitors. But if you don’t fancy any minor DIY work, there are a wide array of inexpensive self-adhesive LED strips out there – which also have the benefit of being completely USB powered, and thus can power up and down with your monitor or TV.



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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s post included a link from Wired about a survey of Facebook users and political views, allegedly carried out by a company called Rantic. However, Rantic is a “buy followers” social media marketing company (my opinion? A parasite on the business) and I don’t think the survey is robust. Without evidence to the contrary, I doubt it even exists. I’ve emailed the Wired writer suggesting the story be withdrawn or at the very least queried for the full survey data, but haven’t heard back so far. Fingers crossed. In the meantime I’ve removed the link from the site, and urge you to ignore any findings it might have appeared to pass on.

Start up: Note 7’s water test, Windows 10 goes holographic, the Roomba coprocopalypse, and more

When you’re their age, which apps and tech will you be using? Photo by Defence Images on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 12 links for you. Oh, they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ageing out of the 25-34 bracket, one app at a time •

Lisa Pollack:

»Hardware and software previously used with enthusiasm has become an annoyance. New apps are passing me by. And this isn’t only about not downloading Pokémon Go, thus missing out on the delights of walking into lampposts while trying to catch a Pikachu (which is, I hasten to add, the only character name I know).

Consequently I’m beginning to suspect that, like a child counting the years in notches marking their height, I will increasingly count mine by the number of social media networks that I don’t understand. Already a couple of years ago, a girl I was mentoring tried to tell me about the website “”. The explanation was as arduous for me as I suspect my tutoring on simultaneous equations was for her. I still don’t entirely get it. More recently, my clumsy attempts at understanding and using Snapchat ended in befuddlement. I couldn’t even figure out how to add my contacts and yet almost 50m people have watched the Olympics on it. (In the US, by the way, the app reaches 41% of that existential-crisis-inducing 18-34 age bracket.)

This newfound tech ineptitude is particularly disturbing for someone who is, by and large, an informal tech support colleague in the office. Have a problem with a spreadsheet? Need to connect your computer to a printer? Want to know the best way to get screenshots into presentations or how smartpens work? Then chances are, you’ve emailed me.

In the last four months though, that email will have gone to the solitary computer screen on my desk. Once upon a time, I thought that having six monitors, like a trader at a bank, was the coolest thing ever. Now a second screen stands unused to the side. I’ve even reverted to having a paper to-do list where once it was all online. “When I was your age, I used to use TweetDeck!” I want to shout to selfie-posing Snapchatterers. Because then they’d realise I was once like them. Right?


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Will iris scanner be killer app for Samsung jumbo phone? • Korea Times

Kim Tae-gyu:

»People will be able to send money on Samsung Electronics’ new cell phone by just looking at it.

Korea’s major lenders said Tuesday that they are working on biometrics-based authentication, which would be enabled by an iris-scanning option built into the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 that will be released later this week.

The iris scanning-powered Samsung Pass will let customers of Woori, Shinhan and KEB Hana banks carry out mobile-banking transactions with the new phone.

The mobile giant seems to be confident about the success of the new feature.

“Samsung Pass service will simplify the complicated process of authentication,” Samsung’s mobile chief Koh Dong-jin said last week during a media event. “It is the safest security technology at the current level.”


Iris scans look like a very promising technology – where’s the research on it, though? If Apple had done this we’d have had a million articles examining how robust or otherwise it is.
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Twitter and YouTube would not remove Anjem Choudary’s posts, court told • The Guardian

Press Association:

»Social media giants had the last word on Anjem Choudary’s online posts, even after he was arrested for inviting support for Islamic State.

British authorities made repeated efforts to get his Twitter posts and YouTube videos taken down after an oath of allegiance to the Caliphate surfaced online with the preacher’s name on it, jurors at the Old Bailey were told during his trial in July.

But they had no power to force corporations to remove material from the internet even if it was believed to have fallen foul of UK anti-terror laws.

The preacher was found guilty in July of supporting Islamic State but details of the trial, including the verdict, could not be reported until now.

An open-source researcher from the National Counter Terrorism Police Operations Centre (NCTPOC) told the trial of a series of failed attempts.

The officer, identified only by a number, said in a statement read to court that it was up to the companies whether or not to take down posts and videos as “the police do not have the capability to remove any material from any platform”.


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WikiLeaks released a cache of malware in its latest email dump • Engadget

Andrew Dalton:

»In its rush to let information be free, WikiLeaks has released over 80 different malware variants while publishing its latest collection of emails from Turkey’s ruling AKP political party. In a Github post, security expert Vesselin Bontchev has laid out many of the instances of malicious links, most of which came from “run-of-the-mill” spam and phishing emails found in the dump. While WikiLeaks has claimed the emails shed light on corruption within the Turkish government, New York Times reporter Zeynep Tufekci has pointed out that the materials have little to do with Turkish politics and mostly appear to be mailing lists and spam.


“In its rush to let information be free”, or perhaps “With disregard for innocent people who would be affected”.
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All Windows 10 PCs will get Windows Holographic access next year • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

»Windows 10 users will be able to dive into mixed reality starting next year, with an update planned that can let any “mainstream” Windows 10 PC run the Windows Holographic shell the company first revealed in January 2015.

The update will allow users to multi-task in mixed reality environments, which combine traditional 2D Windows 10 apps with immersive, 3D graphical environments. These will be enabled via a range of “6 degrees of freedom devices,” input devices that add positional tracking to other more traditional forms of input, like clicking and pointing.

The Windows team is trying to make this more broadly available, too, thanks to support for a range of Windows 10 PCs that don’t necessarily need the specs required to run full-scale VR today. As an example, Microsoft presented a video of Windows 10 Holographic running at 90 FPS on an Intel NUC, a tiny desktop PC that’s not super expensive and included integrated Intel graphics.


Useful? Useless? Probably the latter for a huge number of users. How many will ever use it?
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Roomba creator responds to reports of ‘poopocalypse’: ‘We see this a lot’ • The Guardian

Olivia Solon on people who come home to find their robot vacuum cleaner has been spreading poo around the house:

»Los Angeles marine biologist Jonathan Williams endured a similar trauma. It’s happened three times in the past few months, ever since his family moved to a house with their pug, Alice.

The first time it happened he came back from work to find “tread-marks of caked-in poop all over the house”.

The next two times were much worse. “It’s almost like [Alice the pug] deliberately left it right in front of its path at the start of the cycle.”

The last time it happened, Alice had been out in the morning and evacuated her bowels, lulling Williams and his wife into a false sense of security. “We thought it was safe and we could run it, but it seems like she was storing some up for us.”

“Quite honestly, we see this a lot,” said a spokesman from iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba.

“We generally tell people to try not to schedule your vacuum if you know you have dogs that may create such a mess. With animals anything can happen.”

Are there any plans to introduce any poop detection technology to the product? “Our engineers are always trying to figure out ways to help people with their problems, and we’ve known this is an issue people deal with.”


“We see this a lot”? How “a lot” is that?
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Ed Snowden explains why hackers published NSA’s hacking tools • Techdirt

Mike Masnick with the details around a hack of a server holding some NSA malware:

»What’s new? NSA malware staging servers getting hacked by a rival is not new. A rival publicly demonstrating they have done so is.

Why did they do it? No one knows, but I suspect this is more diplomacy than intelligence, related to the escalation around the DNC hack. Circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility. Here’s why that is significant: This leak is likely a warning that someone can prove US responsibility for any attacks that originated from this malware server. That could have significant foreign policy consequences. Particularly if any of those operations targeted US allies. Particularly if any of those operations targeted elections. Accordingly, this may be an effort to influence the calculus of decision-makers wondering how sharply to respond to the DNC hacks.

TL;DR: This leak looks like a somebody sending a message that an escalation in the attribution game could get messy fast.


Subtle; and the timing of the revelation, done in a way to bring attention, is notable too.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: the best new Android phone • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»While touring an apartment that I’m considering, I chose to snap photos and video of the space with the Note 7 instead of my iPhone 6s. Like the S7 and S7 Edge, the low-light photos are sharper and clearer than Apple’s. Even shots taken outdoors or in well-lit environments are more exciting to review on the Note because of the crisper display. And there are no storage fears here. The Note 7 comes with 64GB of local storage—and has a MicroSD slot that will support cards up to 256GB.


Stern’s review is terrific – she wrote the whole thing with the S-Pen stylus, she took Samsung’s “it’s waterproof!” at its word and made videos underwater with it (it worked fine), she points to the odd problem of differentiating between the S7, S7 Edge and Note7 (basic, edge screen, stylus). And TouchWiz isn’t as awful as it used to be. It’s an excellent response to the otherwise tedious task of reviewing hardware.

Samsung owns the top end of Android. The iPhone 7 (or whatever it’s called) will need something special in the photo space.
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Final words – the Samsung Galaxy Note7 (S820) review • Anandtech

Joshua Ho wraps up his (long) review:

»With all of this said I think the Note7 is fairly checkered. I’m sure there are people that are foaming at the mouth to buy one because it’s the only phablet on the market that really does a stylus well and if you’re someone that wants the Note7 for the stylus then you should stop reading now and go buy one immediately because everything else on the market won’t meet your needs. If the stylus is just something that’s nice for you to have then the calculus gets much more difficult. The Galaxy S7 edge is currently about $750 and you can easily find people reselling new ones for any operator or international variants on Amazon for $600 or so. The Note7 does appreciably improve on the Galaxy S7 Edge, but it’s basically the S7 edge in a new package and with an S-Pen. You also get an extra 32 GB of storage which does justify the extra $100 that bumps the Note7 up to $850.

With all of that said, I get the distinct sense that it will be much harder to justify the price well before the end of this year. The camera quality is kind of a disappointment given all of the hype at the launch of the Galaxy S7 given the dual pixel sensor and larger 1.4 micron pixels when the camera quality itself is not really an improvement over the Galaxy Note5 and is beaten out by the HTC 10. The software experience still shows dropped frames. There are still software features that feel like obvious gimmicks. The design is still lacking ID [industrial design] detailing. I’m sure other people will praise this device anyways but when a phone is this expensive and with smartphones in general getting polished to a mirror sheen each scratch becomes more obvious no matter how minor.

A lot of things are going to seem like nitpicks but the whole point of paying 400 USD more is so that the ID and engineering in both hardware and software bridges the last mile. Again, this is still a good phone and it really is as good as it gets for now, but with so many fall launches coming up I find it very hard to whole-heartedly recommend this phone.


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The duo that dominates dressage • The New Yorker

Sam Knight:

»The piaffe is probably the most demanding and exquisite movement in the Olympic sport of dressage. A horse in piaffe defies what horses otherwise do. Instead of going anywhere, it jogs on the spot, three-quarters of a ton of moving muscle, feet rising and falling in the same four hoofprints like an animation in a flip book. Next week, in Rio de Janeiro, seven judges around an arena, known as a manège, will evaluate the piaffes of the four-day dressage competition. In addition to making sure that the horses don’t go forward or backward, or side to side, the judges will keep track of the number of steps (twelve to fifteen), their height (as high as the cannon bone on the foreleg; as high as the fetlock on the rear), and insure that they are not, in the somewhat baroque language of the sport, “unlevel.” Then they will score each piaffe out of ten.

No one knows what piaffing is for. The movements of dressage are said to have their origins in the training of horses for war, and one theory suggests that the piaffe might have been useful for trampling enemies.


This is deeply researched, beautifully written work which takes you through all the human emotion of the story (and there’s plenty) and informs you about it. You can see Charlotte Dujardin’s winning Olympic freestyle routine; the reaction of most people is “how does the horse know what to do? She’s just sitting there.” Which shows you how subtle sport can be.
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Chromebook Market Size, Share – Industry Report, 2023 • Global Market Insights

»Chromebook market size was estimated to witness 5.3m unit sales in 2014 and is anticipated to exceed 17m units by 2023. Education sector alone accumulated 72% of the overall industry share in 2014. Growing demand for these systems in education sector is likely to drive the industry growth over the forecast period.

As of 2014, North America accounted for 84% of the overall industry share which was numbered at 4.8m units. The US Chromebook market was the largest single shareholder, with over 60% demand from the education sector. Other business accounted for 1.1% share and consumers accounted for 38.6% Chromebook market share in the region…

…EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Africa] chromebook market share contributed only 11% of the overall revenue in 2014 that accounted for 620,000 units out of which 72.3% were accounted for by the education sector, 26.8 % by consumers and other business accounted for 0.9% of the overall EMEA industry. Asia Pacific region along with Japan accounted for 146,000 units in 2014.

Key industry participants chromebook industry include Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, HP and Samsung among others.


The clunky grammar (“estimated to witness”?) suggests this emanates from Asia, but the supply chain insights might be right for the present. That figure for 2023 seems low, though, if they achieve any significant inroads into the education market.
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Image completion with deep learning in Tensorflow • Github

Brandon Amos:

»Content-aware fill is a powerful tool designers and photographers use to fill in unwanted or missing parts of images. Image completion and inpainting are closely related technologies used to fill in missing or corrupted parts of images. There are many ways to do content-aware fill, image completion, and inpainting. In this blog post, I present Raymond Yeh and Chen Chen et al.’s paper “Semantic Image Inpainting with Perceptual and Contextual Losses,” which was just posted on arXiv on July 26, 2016. This paper shows how to use deep learning for image completion with a DCGAN. This blog post is meant for a general technical audience with some deeper portions for people with a machine learning background. I’ve added [ML-Heavy] tags to sections to indicate that the section can be skipped if you don’t want too many details. We will only look at the constrained case of completing missing pixels from images of faces. I have released all of the TensorFlow source code behind this post on GitHub at bamos/dcgan-completion.tensorflow.

We’ll approach image completion in three steps.

• We’ll first interpret images as being samples from a probability distribution.
• This interpretation lets us learn how to generate fake images.
• Then we’ll find the best fake image for completion.


This is a very technical paper – but you can just zoom through it and look at the pictures, which are amazing: we’re already getting machine leaning systems which are able to fake pictures. What happens as they get better, and come into the hands of people who are motivated to fake pictures?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified I did include a link from Wired quoting a company called Rantic. Turns out they’re infamous marketing hoaxers; I’ve come across a few companies like that. I’m contacting Wired to suggest it removes the story too.

Start up: how not to fix online abuse, Google goes fuchsia, trouble with edu tech, Cook speaks, and more

Blurring your face in photos might be reversible. Bloody machines. Photo by ScottNorrisPhoto on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The immortal myths about online abuse • Medium

Anil Dash points out a number of (proven) falsehoods about how to fix abuse within networks, and concludes:

»The bottom line, as I wrote half a decade ago, is that if your website is full of assholes, it’s your fault. Same goes for your apps. We are accountable for the communities we create, and if we want to take credit for the magical moments that happen when people connect with each other online, then we have to take responsibility for the negative experiences that we enable.

Our communities are defined by the worst things that we permit to happen. What we allow tells the world who we are.


That “worst things that we permit to happen” is where Twitter is struggling to bring things back to where it wants to be.
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Google is working on a new operating system named Fuchsia • The Verge

James Vincent:

»Looking into Fuchsia’s code points gives us a few clues. For example, the OS is built on Magenta, a “medium-sized microkernel” that is itself based on a project called LittleKernel, which is designed to be used in embedded systems (computers that have a specialized function and often don’t need an actual operating system, like the software in a digital watch). Similarly, both of the developers listed on Fuchsia’s GitHub page — Christopher Anderson and Brian Swetland — are experts in embedded systems. Swetland is a senior software engineer at Google and Anderson has previously worked on the company’s Android TV and Nexus Q projects.

However, the Magenta kernel can do a lot more than just power a router. Google’s own documentation says the software “targets modern phones and modern personal computers” that use “fast processors” and “non-trivial amounts of RAM.” It notes that Magenta supports a number of advanced features, including user modes and a “capability-based security model.” Further evidence that Fuchsia is intended for more than just Wi-Fi-connected gadgets include the fact that Google already has its own IoT platform (the Android-based Brillo), and the fact that the new OS includes support for graphics rendering. Some users of Hacker News have even suggested that Fuchsia could be use for augmented reality interfaces.


This story neatly encapsulates a lot of modern (tech) journalism. What’s missing from it? First, it’s a rewrite of an Android Police story. But it adds nothing to it – no outside expert opinion, and particularly no comment from Google itself. Could nobody pick up a phone and just ask? Even to get “no comment”? (James Vincent tells me he did contact Google, which hasn’t so far responded. That’s not atypical for Google.)

The Verge often seems to preen about its web presence, but its editors seem content to have lots of warmed-over takes which add nothing to the original. That’s not sustainable for the writers or editors.
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Boffins’ blur-busting face recognition can ID you with one bad photo • The Register

Darren Pauli:

»Scientists have found a way to accurately identify completely obscured faces using recognition systems trained on only a handful of well-lit photos.

The work by Seong Joon Oh, Rodrigo Benenson, Mario Fritz, and Bernt Schiele of Max Planck Institute in Saarbrücken, Germany, finds faces can be recognised with up to 91.5% accuracy when the system is fed with just 10 clear images of a target’s face.

The Faceless Person Recogniser is up to 69.6% accurate when working from just one image.

Accuracy sharply falls when imperfect training images are used. The team introduced black colour into the images dropping performance to 14.7%, still better than random guessing which clocks in at 4.65%.

They warn such an accurate system would likely be already in use.

“It is very probable that undisclosed systems similar to the ones described here already operate online,” the team says.

“We believe it is the responsibility of the computer vision community to quantify, and disseminate the privacy implications of the images users share online.”

The paper Faceless Person Recognition; Privacy Implications in Social Media [PDF] finds that obfuscation methods including Gaussian blurring are not enough to prevent obscured photos from being used in facial recognition.


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Caution flags for tech in classrooms • NPR

Anya Kamenetz:

»A group of recent studies on technology in education, across a wide range of real-world settings, have come up far short of a ringing endorsement.

The studies include research on K-12 schools and higher ed, both blended learning and online, and show results ranging from mixed to negative. A deeper look into these reports gives a sense that, even as computers become ubiquitous in classrooms, there’s a lot we still don’t know — or at least that we’re not doing to make them effective tools for learning.

First, a quick overview of the studies and their results:

Last fall, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development published its first-ever, and one of the largest-ever, international analyses of student access to computers and how that relates to student learning. (The OECD administers the PISA test, the world-famous international academic ranking.)

For this report, the researchers asked millions of high school students in dozens of countries about their access to computers both in the classroom and at home, and compared their answers to scores on the 2012 PISA. Here’s the money quote:

“Students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after controlling for social background and student demographics.”


Are we going to have to rethink this whole thing? Though there is a lot of uncertainty around how computers are used in the different countries, and how those fit into the courses.
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How we killed the Tea Party • POLITICO Magazine

Paul Jossey:

»The Tea Party movement began building in the George W. Bush years. Profligate spending and foreign adventurism with no discernible results nurtured disgust with Washington’s habit of spending beyond its means and sending others to die in its wars. When President Obama made reorganizing the nation’s health care system his foremost priority—and repeatedly misrepresented its effects in the process—anger at Washington exploded.

Republicans inside the Beltway reacted to the burgeoning Tea Party with glee but uncertainty about how to channel the grass-roots energy usually reserved for the left. A small group of supposedly conservative lawyers and consultants saw something different: dollar signs. The PACs found anger at the Republican Party sells very well. The campaigns they ran would be headlined “Boot John Boehner,” or “Drop a Truth Bomb on Kevin McCarthy.” And after Boehner was in fact booted and McCarthy bombed in his bid to succeed him, it was naturally time to “Fire Paul Ryan.” The selling is always urgent: “Stop what you’re doing” “This can’t wait.”

One active solicitor is the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which received $6.7m from 2013 to mid-2015, overwhelmingly from small donors. A typical solicitation from the TPLF read: “Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness.” But, according to an investigation by POLITICO, 87% of that “investment” went to overhead; only $910,000 of the $6.7m raised was used to support political candidates. If the prospect signs a “petition,” typically a solicitation of his or her personal information is recorded and a new screen immediately appears asking for money. Vendors pass the information around in “list swaps” and “revenue shares” ad infinitum.


Sounds like the direct marketing/ad tech business, because essentially that’s what it is – just applied to politics. Trump is essentially the politician raking over the furious ashes of the Tea Party’s animus.
link to this extract brings musical AI to Rio Olympics’ training • ReadWrite

Cate Lawrence:

» is a freemium auditory program designed to help people either focus, relax or sleep using AI-generated music. It’s [sic – CA] users include students, insomniacs and athletes. Heavily steeped in scientific research, its creators have a history in making niche audio brainwave software for psychologists and researchers and their work includes patents on auditory brainwave stimulation and memory.


Stumbling over to, one notes that its readme says you shouldn’t use it if you’re epileptic, pregnant, or wearing a pacemaker: “those who fit into any of the above categories, whether knowingly or not, should not use this application.” How can you agree to something you might not know about? (Pacemaker excepted.)

You get a number of free sessions, and then you have to pay. Would like to know if this really has value; Lawrence’s byline photo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. You’ll see.
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Google’s high-speed web plans hit snags • WSJ

Jack Nicas:

»Google parent Alphabet Inc. is rethinking its high-speed internet business after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time consuming than anticipated, a stark contrast to the fanfare that greeted its launch six years ago.

Alphabet’s internet provider, Google Fiber, has spent hundreds of millions dollars digging up streets and laying fiber-optic cables in a handful of cities to offer web connections roughly 30 times faster than the U.S. average.

Now the company is hoping to use wireless technology to connect homes, rather than cables, in about a dozen new metro areas, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. As a result Alphabet has suspended projects in San Jose in California, and Portland in Oregon.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to cut costs and accelerate its expansion elsewhere by leasing existing fiber or asking cities or power companies to build the networks instead of building its own…

…Alphabet hopes the investment in Google Fiber will eventually pay off with subscriber fees and, indirectly, more clicks on its search ads. Fiber costs $70 a month for the fastest internet connection and an additional $60 a month for TV. Analysts estimate a one-time cost for Alphabet of more than $500 for each home the network reaches, not all of which subscribe.

Alphabet declined to disclose its number of subscribers. Based on numbers reported to the U.S. Copyright Office, research firm MoffettNathanson said in March the TV service had 53,000 subscribers total as of December.


Based on 53,000 subscribers, that’s revenue of between $11.1m and $20.7m per quarter. Digging up roads really is not such a great business. Setting up wireless internet will be a lot cheaper – but it’s tricky to keep working well: all you need is one big storm and all your carefully placed aerials are out of alignment.
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Top three China smartphone vendors had combined 47% market share in 2016 Q2 • IDC


With growth coming mainly from replacement users in PRC, vendors employed aggressive marketing in the past few months. OPPO hired a few brand ambassadors to launch its R9 series prompting other vendors to follow suit after seeing their strong success. vivo hired a famous Korean star who’s wildly popular in China as its brand ambassador while Xiaomi hired three different ambassadors for its Redmi line. Recently, Huawei also announced a brand ambassador for its Honor line in China – a departure from its previous marketing message focused on product features. Most of these ambassadors seem to target the younger crowd. While having brand ambassadors is not a new phenomenon in China, vendors seem to be more aggressive with their marketing strategies. This is seen to be a new tactic for vendors such as Xiaomi that never used to spend on advertising.

While the Chinese vendors all saw QoQ growth in the market, Apple continued to decline in its shipment volumes. The iPhone SE was not a hit in China, where consumers prefer larger screen-sized phones. In 2016Q2, close to 90% of phones shipped in China had screen sizes that were 5 inches and above. Apple fans are holding out for the new iPhones to be launched in 2016Q3, which could likely give Apple a boost in China.

“In the past, Xiaomi started the trend of selling its phones online and other vendors soon followed suit and created their own online brand. After vendors witnessed OPPO’s success with its R9, they also started riding on the trend of hiring celebrity endorsers to represent their brand and appeal more to the young crowd,” says Xiaohan Tay, senior market analyst IDC Asia/Pacific.

Despite the market being saturated and driven mainly by replacement users, vendors are still aggressive with their marketing tactics, experimenting with new ways to win over consumers.

“Hiring celebrity endorsers may help increase numbers in the short-term, but this alone may not be sufficient to drive numbers in the long run. As there is very little differentiation across products to warrant significant brand loyalty, vendors must constantly think out of the box to get people hyped up about their products,” ends Tay.


What’s noticeable in the graph (which requires Flash for you to copy the code with a click 😱)(and might be blocked by WordPress’s security 🙄) is how Xiaomi has tumbled in that year. Not clear how it can regain momentum – and if it doesn’t, what then?
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Tim Cook, the interview: Running Apple ‘is sort of a lonely job’ | The Washington Post

Jena McGregor with a long interview with Cook, which has lots of notable parts (which will have been filleted all over the web). Here’s the part I found telling:

»Q: Everyone’s always wanting to know what’s next. The car. The TV. You spoke about artificial intelligence and augmented reality. How do you make sure great ideas surface in such a big organization?

TC: Great people surface great ideas. We’re a believer in small teams versus monolithic huge teams. The product teams are horizontal, where people from hardware and software services can all work together.

We don’t have divisions. We’ve elected not to do what business school, and I think every other larger company, does: They break down their company into smaller divisions. They give each division a P&L, and each division does their own marketing and communications and operations.

We always re-challenge ourselves on this question. But we keep coming back to what the customer wants from us is a user experience that is seamless. They want to start working on whatever they’re working on from their iPhone. And then they want to go to the Mac, and they want it to be absolutely seamless. The only way to assure that is to do things once.

That means the top of the company must work together incredibly well. Think about if you were the CEO of a company with a lot of divisions — I’m going to exaggerate a little bit — it would almost be like you’re a holding company CEO. That is the model for most companies. But that’s not what customers want from us. You can’t have a weak link. You can’t have people who don’t get along. It has to be people who have great respect for one another and who work as a team.


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Native Skype for Windows Phone walked behind shed, shot heard • The Register

Richard Chirgwin:

»Microsoft’s killed off a native Skype client for Windows Phone.

WinPho users won’t be alone: Redmond will also discontinue Skype clients on Android 4.02 or lower and iOS 7.

Microsoft has already announced that OS X and Linux will lose native clients under its Skype-for-the-cloud strategy.

Rather than announcing the shift, Microsoft has updated its Skype product support page to say (for various operating systems):

»While support will no longer be available from October 2016, the Skype app on Windows Phone 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 will continue to work (possibly with some limitations) until early 2017, when we finish moving Skype calling to the cloud (see Skype blog).



So Microsoft is driving everyone back to browsers for Skype because apps are, what, too much trouble? I thought the hassle with different browsers was part of what drove apps in the first place. More likely that Skype will see less and less use in favour of native client apps.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Google v Korea, AI for faces, why swimmers tie, how secure is iMessage?, Wonder remembers, and more

Can you think of someone who you’d really like to get infected by the Locky ransomware? We can. Picture by Christolph Scholz on Flickr.

Hello! We’re back. Is this thing on?

A selection of 12 links for you. Enough is enough. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

South Korea confirms Google antitrust probe •

Song Jung-a:

»South Korea’s antitrust watchdog says it is looking at whether Google has violated the country’s anti-competition laws, officially confirming its scrutiny of the global internet search group for the first time.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission did not elaborate on the scope of the investigation.

Local media have reported that the regulator is probing the company’s advertising policy, after Korean advertising agents filed a complaint with the KFTC in 2014 that Google had not paid them commissions for online advertising since 2012.

Friday’s statement from the KFTC came on the same day the Seoul Economic Daily newspaper reported that the regulator was poised to clear Google of charges that it abused its dominant market position with its advertising policy.

Separate media reports have suggested Google is under scrutiny over alleged abuse of its Android smartphone operating system’s dominance.


This is quite strange when compared with the report from Business Korea, which says:

»The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) of South Korea came to a conclusion that Google Korea’s preloaded apps and subsidies for search ads do not constitute any abuse of market dominance. This is because Naver enjoyed a market share of more than 70%, Daum Kakao enjoyed a market share of 15% to 19% and that of Google was merely 2% to 8% during the period of 2008 to March this year, when Google was involved in preloading of apps in the South Korean market.


They’re slightly different, but Business Korea seems to be saying things are fine, where the FT is saying things aren’t.
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Machine learning is fun! Part 4: modern face recognition with deep learning • Medium

Adam Geitgey:

»Ok, so which measurements should we collect from each face to build our known face database? Ear size? Nose length? Eye color? Something else?

It turns out that the measurements that seem obvious to us humans (like eye color) don’t really make sense to a computer looking at individual pixels in an image. Researchers have discovered that the most accurate approach is to let the computer figure out the measurements to collect itself. Deep learning does a better job than humans at figuring out which parts of a face are important to measure.
The solution is to train a Deep Convolutional Neural Network (just like we did in Part 3). But instead of training the network to recognize pictures objects like we did last time, we are going to train it to generate 128 measurements for each face.


Geitgey’s writeup is lengthy but all fascinating. (And there are three previous parts.)
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Craig Federighi comes clean on how Night Shift avoids ghosting artifacts when scrolling • iDownload

Christian Zibreg:

»A customer from Germany emailed Craig Federighi, who is Apple’s Senior Vice President in charge of Software Engineering, to complain about Night Shift mode potentially emitting more blue light than F.l.ux, an iPhone app that serves the same purposes like Night Shift but was banned from the App Store following the release of iOS 9.3.

He received the following reply:


Given the display technology we push it as far as we can without introducing major red ghosting artifacts when scrolling / animating. (Unfortunately, the red phosphors in the LCD hold their color longer and when we shift the display too far into the red then scrolling results in irritating ghosting artifacts).



My expectation is that the next iPhones will have the Tru-Tone display which adjusts to the light around them. Which requires even better displays.
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What if intelligent machines could learn from each other? • The Conversation

Raja Jurdak:

»As an example, we have demonstrated how smartphones that are in proximity to each other can both run their own AI machines and share logic blocks from their programs to accelerate learning how to maintain battery life.

There are two reasons behind these benefits. First, each phone learns independently, developing its own genetic material of program logic – an evolution of sorts.

This is known as the “island model” in evolutionary computing. In the IoT, each device becomes its own “island”. Occasionally, the devices share what they’ve learned.

This adds to the diversity of their genetic pool, which can be beneficial in a system that learns or evolves. It also means that both devices know how to react better to new contexts that may have originally been observed by other collaborating devices.


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Russia tells Google to cough up some loose change in Android monopoly probe • The Register

Iain THomson:

»Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) has fined Google 468 million rubles ($6.8m) on charges that its Android operating system has been illegally disadvantaging other software vendors.

Last February, the FAS announced an investigation into Android after complaints from local search engine Yandex that Android phones came bundled with some Google apps. Yandex whined that this was anticompetitive and was sucking away its business customers.

In a statement, the FAS said it was imposing the fine (equal to around three hours’ worth of profit last quarter for the search giant) because Google was forcing Russian mobile phone companies to install its search app, its Maps, and its App store.

The FAS also objected to these services occupying prime real estate on the screens of Android phones, and to the Chocolate Factory banning some Russian apps from its storefront.


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How I got tech support scammers infected with Locky • Borderline

Ivan Kwiatkowski:

»I agree to purchase his package and find test credit card numbers as fast as I can. For obvious reasons, the payment processor rejects the transaction and we try again four or five times. In the end, I suggest using my second credit card and give him another random yet valid (as far as the Luhn algorithm is concerned) number. Dileep makes me repeat both payment details at least ten times and I play dumb. He calls his superior in the hopes of figuring out why the payment isn’t going through. In the meantime, I hear other operators in the background repeating credit card numbers and CVVs aloud. I’m assuming they’re not PCI-DSS compliant. That’s when I’m hit by a stroke of genius. I open my “junk” e-mail folder where I find many samples of the latest Locky campaign – those .zip files containing a JS script which downloads ransomware. I grab one at random, drag it into the VM. The remote-assistance client I installed has a feature allowing me to send files to the operator. I upload him the archive and say:

— I took a photo of my credit card, why don’t you input the numbers yourself? Maybe that’ll work.
At first, Dileep ignores me. He makes me type in my information a few more times (he’s persistent, I’ll give him that), until I put my foot down:

— Look, Dileep, I’m old and my sight is not so good. It’s starting to hurt, having to squint to read those tiny numbers. Also, we’ve established I’m no good with computers, how about you give me a hand here?

He says nothing for a short while, and then:
— I tried opening your photo, nothing happens.

(I do my best not to burst out laughing.)

— Are you sure? Sometimes my pictures have a problem opening on MacOS, are you on Windows?
— Yes, he replies. Your pictures are corrupted because your computer is infected. This is why we need to take care of this.

And while a background process quietly encrypts his files, we try paying a couple more times with those random CC numbers and he finally gives up, suggesting that I contact my bank and promising to call me back next Monday.

In conclusion, whenever one stumbles on an obvious scam, the civic thing to do is to act like you buy it. Rationale: scammers don’t have the time to separate legitimate mugus from the ones who just pretend.


That is so wonderfully wicked. I hope as many people as possible manage to do this.
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This is why there are so many ties in swimming • Deadspin

Timothy Burke:

»why doesn’t FINA, the world swimming governing body, increase its timing precision by adding thousandths-of-seconds?

As it turns out, FINA used to. In 1972, Sweden’s Gunnar Larsson beat American Tim McKee in the 400m individual medley by 0.002 seconds. That finish led the governing body to eliminate timing by a significant digit. But why?

In a 50 meter Olympic pool, at the current men’s world record 50m pace, a thousandth-of-a-second constitutes 2.39 millimeters of travel. FINA pool dimension regulations allow a tolerance of 3 centimeters in each lane, more than ten times that amount. Could you time swimmers to a thousandth-of-a-second? Sure, but you couldn’t guarantee the winning swimmer didn’t have a thousandth-of-a-second-shorter course to swim. (Attempting to construct a concrete pool to any tighter a tolerance is nearly impossible; the effective length of a pool can change depending on the ambient temperature, the water temperature, and even whether or not there are people in the pool itself.)


In Lane 1, competing for Germany, Werner Heisenberg.
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iMessage’s ‘end-to-end’ encryption hardly any better than TLS, say cryptography researchers • Tom’s Hardware

Lucian Armasu:

»Ever since Edward Snowden released the NSA documents, an encryption mechanism called “forward secrecy” has significantly increased in popularity with service providers. The mechanism essentially automatically rotates the encryption keys at regular intervals, and once it switches to a new key, past data can’t be decrypted anymore.

This has been a main feature of end-to-end encryption protocols such as Off-The-Record (OTR) and Signal, but Green said iMessage lacks it completely. The lack of forward secrecy means that if someone steals an iOS or macOS device and unlocks it, they can then decrypt past conversations from those devices.

The researchers also criticized Apple for using non-standard encryption that seems implemented in a rather ad hoc manner. Moreover, Apple doesn’t use a properly authenticated symmetric encryption algorithm and instead relies on a digital signature to prevent tampering. This is what makes the chosen ciphertext attacks that can recover full contents of some messages possible.

Green once again recommended that Apple entirely replace iMessage with a new messaging system that’s been properly designed and verified. However, he realizes that Apple has to maintain some sort of backwards compatibility for the hundreds of millions of users that would continue to use iMessage even if Apple did create a new messaging app.

Because of that, he and his team also proposed some “short-term patches” for iMessage that can make the older iMessage clients a little more secure, as well as some long-term ones that will break iMessage’s compatibility with the old clients…

…The researchers said that they have reported all of these vulnerabilities to Apple, and the company has already implemented most of the proposed short-term patches such as the duplicate RSA ciphertext detection and certificate pinning (only for iOS 9+ clients), and it removed gzip compression. However, Green and his team stressed that Apple should eventually do a major overhaul of the iMessage protocol while following their proposed long-term changes.


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Twitter now censors verified journalist accounts in Turkey’s post-coup purge • The Daily Dot

Efe Kerem Sozeri:

»Based on two recent court orders issued after the July 15 coup attempt, on July 23 and on July 25, Twitter withheld at least 12 journalists’ and three media outlets’ accounts; three of the censored accounts are verified. A quick tally of recently censored journalists lists as many as 26 accounts, half of which are verified.

The majority of the censored accounts are the former reporters and editors of the Zaman Amerika daily, an outlet close to Gülen movement, which Erdoğan blames for the coup attempt. However, the list also includes a Kurdish journalist, @AmedDicleeT, who has 186,000 followers, Kurdish daily @ozgurgundemweb1, and even the official account of the Kurdish news agency @DicleHaberAjans.

However, Twitter’s censorship criteria is still unclear, as these accounts do not complete the full list of journalist accounts that Turkey wants censored in these two court orders. Two other journalists who worked at Gülen-affiliated outlets, @tuncayopcin and @EmreUslu, are listed in the order but are not censored, nor is reporter @RifatDogann who works for the independent outlet @Dikencomtr.

Beyond the journalist accounts, Twitter seem to protect its international credibility by not censoring Amnesty’s Turkey researcher @andrewegardner, whose account was listed in the first court order.


Twitter Turkey supports (lots of) censorship, and is toying with reintroducing the death penalty – the latter of which would disqualify it from joining the European Union. It’s a mess.
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Wonder is a bot that will remember anything for you • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»Quick! What’s your gym locker combination? Your girlfriend’s favorite Starbucks order? The type of ink your printer uses? Can’t remember? Gotta look it up? There’s a lot of information that we can’t access via a Google search, but instead tend to make a mental note of in order to recall. Sometimes, we might jot these things down in Notepad, but often we forget to do that, too. A new bot called Wonder wants to help by remembering anything you want, then return the information you need via a text message.

It’s a pretty simple but clever idea. After you go to the Wonder website and provide your phone number, the bot sends you a text that explains how it works.

Basically, you just text Wonder the information you’ll need to recall at a later date, and it stores that for you in its system. When you’re trying to later remember something, you just text Wonder a question, like “Who’s our company’s dental insurance provider?,” “When’s the next company meeting?,” or whatever other information you’ve previously fed into it by way of text message. The bot will promptly respond with the answer.


OK, given stuff like that which you don’t want to commit to a note (even a passworded note?), can see the point.
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Why everything might not be ‘great’ at Google’s $2.4bn venture capital business • Business Insider

Sam Shead:

»Google Ventures is likely to say that there’s no overlap between itself and the other Alphabet investment divisions but it’s perfectly possible that they end up treading on one another’s toes from time to time.

One startup cofounder even went as far as to say: “GV had no role after the Alphabet split.”

Looking at the data
CB Insights looked at GV deal data over the last five years. The researchers found that GV made 46% less deals in 2015 — the year that Alphabet was formed — than it did in 2014.

The biggest drop-off in GV deal activity was at the seed stage, where GV went from a high of over 40 new deals in 2014 to 0 in the first half of 2016.

The CB Insights researchers wrote: “Growth investments done through Google Capital and direct minority investments by Google into the likes of SpaceX and Magic Leap have increased in the past two years.”

Although GV is yet to make any seed stage deals in 2016, it has made several larger deals. In the first half of the year, GV made 31% more investments than the same period in 2015, but 30% fewer than in H1 2014, according to CB Insights.

Ultimately, the success of a VC firm comes down to the number of big exits from startups in its portfolio. CB Insights notes that GV has had six exits over $1bn (£773m) since its inception, with the latest one coming after was acquired by Walmart for $3bn (£2.3bn).

A Google Ventures spokeswoman said: “Bill Maris has decided to step down to take a break with his family and tackle something new.”


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Checking the time, and other killer smartwatch uses • NPD Research Group

Eddie Hold:

»Smartwatch adoption skews younger and lower income in many cases and while the natural inclination is to simply label this group as “early tech adopters,” the reality is a little different.

It appears that a successful target sector for the watch is the service industry, ranging from valets to bar staff and waiters. These are users that cannot stay glued to their phones while they are working, but still want access to “glanceable” information such as messaging notifications, alarms and (of course) how long they have left on any given shift. The ability to remain in contact without reaching for the phone is still the killer app.

This all bodes well for the newer generation of smartwatches, which can connect via cellular rather than just Bluetooth. The freedom to completely un-tether from the smartphone could become the next logical “killer use” as it means you can go for a run without carrying that ever-larger smartphone with you, for example, or range further in the restaurant without worrying about Bluetooth.


Would not have guessed that for the adopter market, but it does make sense when you consider it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: it’s Turkey, not Twitter, that is considering the reintroduction of the death penalty.

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.

Start up: cyborg Olympics!, the lost iPhone conundrum, explaining iris scanning, Basis burns, and more

This might be too many for a listicle, but odd numbers intrigue more than even. Honest. Photo by Hecuba’s Story on Flickr.

Business note: The Overspill’s Start up will be taking a week’s break next week, returning – if we’re spared – on August 15. So don’t come crying to me on Monday when your inbox is empty.

A selection of 12 links for you. The wrong number, as you’ll see. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘Digital detox’ promotes offline focus on love and jobs •

Madhumita Murgia:

»One in three Britons is choosing to undergo a “digital detox”, unplugging themselves from the internet in an effort to focus on their work and relationships, according to an Ofcom survey.

More than a third of people surveyed by the telecoms regulator said they had deliberately taken a break from their connected devices at some point, with 5% doing so for as long as a month. One in ten said they had done so as recently as the previous week from when they were surveyed…

…The study — of 2,025 adults and 500 teenagers — found that many felt bound to their devices, often experiencing separation anxiety if parted from them. In fact, six in ten internet users described themselves as being “hooked”, spending the equivalent of a day a week online.

More than half said they slept with their phone within reaching distance, checking it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. A quarter of mobile users said the first thing they did if they woke up during the night was check their phone.

A majority said their digital obsession negatively affected their offline lives: nearly half said they had ignored household chores and put off sleep as a result of spending too much time online, while a third felt they had neglected family and friends for their devices.


The full Ofcom report is here (and press release here).
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Welcome to the Cyborg Olympics • Nature News & Comment

Sara Reardon:

»Around the world, nearly 80 research groups in 25 countries are honing their technologies for the €5m (US$5.5m) event. They range from small, ad hoc teams to the world’s largest manufacturers of advanced prostheses, and comprise about 300 scientists, engineers, support staff and competitors: disabled people who will each compete in one of six events that will challenge their ability to tackle the chores of daily life. A race for prosthetic-arm users will be won by the first cyborg to complete tasks including preparing a meal and hanging clothes on a line. A powered-wheelchair race will test how well participants can navigate everyday obstacles such as bumps and stairs.

The venue — Zurich’s 7,600-spectator ice-hockey stadium — should combine with the presence of television cameras and team jerseys to give the Cybathlon a sporting vibe similar to that of the Paralympics, in which disabled athletes compete using wheelchairs, running blades and other assistive technologies. The difference is that the Paralympics celebrates exclusively human performance: athletes must use commercially available devices that run on muscle power alone. But the Cybathlon honours technology and innovation. Its champions will use powered prostheses, often straight out of the lab, and are called pilots rather than athletes. The hope is that devices trialled in the games will accelerate technology development and eventually be used by people around the world.


Now this is an Olympics we can all support.
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This is what Apple should tell you when you lose your iPhone • Hacker Noon

Joonas Kiminki:

»We got the car window fixed in a matter of hours, I later bought a new phone etc etc, but then yesterday — eleven days after the phone was stolen — the most interesting thing happened: I got an SMS and an email notifying that the phone was found!

The email looks exactly like an Apple email should. The sender is “Apple”. Google Inbox, Apple Mail and the traditional Gmail all let the email pass as non-suspicious. All the links in the footer lead to the right places.

I of course rushed to the address on the link and then started typing my credentials, but then suddenly stopped. Something was just not right.

At this point it’s probably best to note that I’m sort of professional. I’m managing director in a company that builds and supports large scale websites. We deal with web stuff all day long. I’m pretty sure many people would have just punched in their apple id and password and only then wondered why the login doesn’t work.

It does look very convincing, doesn’t it? All the links work, there’s jQuery features in place for a smooth user experience etc.

Let me take you inside the mind of a person who’s lost their phone for a while. You’re of course bummed that it got stolen in the first place. Everybody blames themselves at least a bit. Then, you set all the notifications on for notifying if it ever finds its way back online. Finally, you sort of forget it — and when messages finally arrive that it’s found, you rush at full speed to learn about your dear phone’s adventure.

Looking at the page above, there were two things that alarmed me. First, the address seemed a little off. Not really something Apple would use, is it?…

… If you ever lose your iPhone, iPad or iPod, be extra alert for upcoming identity theft attempts. This is what and Apple should’ve told me 12 days ago when I searched for what to do. The scam was so professional with perfect English and mobile responsive web pages that I consider myself lucky not to have given away my password. And as said, I’m sort of a professional.


Kiminki makes a good point. Clearly, thieves have wised up to the fact they can’t unlock phones without the iCloud passwords, and are phishing to a remarkable degree to get around this.
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Oppo smartphone shipments marred by tight AMOLED supply • Digitimes

Sammi Huang and Steve Shen:

»Shipments of smartphones by China-based Oppo may fall short of its revised goal of shipping 90-100m units in 2016 due to insufficient supply of AMOLED panels from Samsung Display, according to industry sources.

Oppo shipped 50m smartphones 2015 and originally set a goal to ship 60m in 2016. However, the vendor raised its shipment goal for the year to 80m units in June and revise the goal again to 90-100m recently, the sources indicated.

Oppo has been increasing its orders for smartphone panels recently, looking to achieve its shipment goal. However, Samsung Display is having trouble supplying sufficient AMOLED panels to Oppo due to tight production capacity, said the sources.


Problem of relying on a competitor for your display panels. What happens once Apple starts wanting OLED too?
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Electric vehicle charge points to outnumber petrol stations by 2020, say Nissan • The Guardian

James Murray:

»Public electric vehicle (EV) charge points will outnumber petrol stations in the UK by the end of the decade, marking a potential tipping point in the adoption of zero emission vehicles.

That is the conclusion of a new analysis by auto giant and EV manufacturer Nissan, which argues that based on current trends EV charge points will overtake traditional petrol stations by August 2020.

The report found that there were 8,472 traditional fuel stations in the UK at the end of last year, representing a steady decline from the 37,539 recorded in 1970. Based on the rate of decline in recent decades the number of petrol stations is likely to fall to under 7,870 by summer 2020, Nissan said.

In contrast, the UK’s EV charging network is expanding fast and plans are underway to accelerate its growth further over the coming years. As such, Nissan predicts the number of public EV charging locations will reach 7,900 by August 2020, although it adds that “accelerating adoption of electric vehicles means this crossover could happen a lot sooner”.

The report notes that there are now 4,100 public EV charging locations in the UK, representing rapid expansion given there were only a few hundred as recently as 2011. In contrast, more than 75% of traditional petrol stations have closed in the last 40 years.


Hmm. Define “traditional” petrol station. Does that include supermarkets? They’re the ones which have been wiping out the other petrol stations, but it’s unlikely they in turn will close.
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Keeping an eye on security: the iris scanner of the Galaxy Note7 • Samsung Newsroom

»Each individual has a uniquely different and highly intricate iris pattern in each eye, which is completely developed at a very young age and remains unchanged throughout one’s lifetime. This, combined with the fact that iris patterns are almost impossible to replicate, makes iris scanning one of the most secure and reliable biometric techniques available.

As a result, it is widely being used for access control in pharmaceutical dispensing, border control and airport security…

…Samsung was able to apply two new components to enable iris recognition without sacrificing the design of the Galaxy Note7. To do so, the device was equipped with a dedicated iris camera, which utilizes a special image filter to receive and recognize the reflected images of the irises with a red IR LED light.

This red light allows for the best range for iris scanning. Furthermore, unlike traditional visible (or RGB) images, which can be affected by iris color or ambient light, infrared images display clear patterns and have low light reflection.

Samsung’s proprietary technology also makes use of the light emitted from the Galaxy Note7’s display so the scanner can receive data even in low light environments.

Together, these components ensure that iris readings are accurate and speedy. In fact, iris scanning requires fewer registration trials and results in fewer false acceptances than fingerprint scanning.


I would very much like to see some testing on the false accept/false reject rate for this, as well as the speed. High-end technology, but obviously going to move down to the other top-end models soon. Will others follow suit?
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Designers come out for Apple in patent fight with Samsung • Reuters

Andrew Chung:

»Apple Inc deserved the hundreds of millions of dollars in damages Samsung Electronics Co paid for infringing patented designs of the iPhone because the product’s distinctive look drives people to purchase it, a group of design industry professionals told the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.

Setting up a clash with a number of Silicon Valley companies that have come out on the side of Samsung, more than 100 designers and educators signed on to a new court brief supporting Apple.

They include famous fashion names Calvin Klein, Paul Smith and Alexander Wang, the industrial design director at Parsons School of Design, the design director for Bentley Motors, and Tony Chambers, the editor-in-chief of Wallpaper magazine.

Samsung has appealed to the Supreme Court part of the $548m it paid Apple last December related to a jury verdict from 2012. Samsung says the $399m of that amount that was awarded for copying the designs of the iPhone’s rounded-corner front face, bezel and grid of icons is excessive and contributed only marginally to a complex product…

…The designers on Thursday said that in the minds of consumers, the “look of the product comes to represent the underlying features, functions, and total user experience.”

Stealing a design can lead to a lost sale, and Apple deserves to be compensated for that with the infringer’s entire profits, they said.


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Why do odd numbers make people click on your story? • Medium

Andrew Watt:

»have you ever wondered why editorial teams are producing seemingly never ending listicles, especially those with an odd number?

Well, odd numbers are one of three elements which psychologists and web content studies have shown can entice a website visitor to click on a headline and visit an article.

One such study can be found in George Loewenstein’s The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation (1994), which concludes that humans are attracted to content which promises a short list of tips or insights on a subect the reader wishes to know more about or one which piques their interest.

Additionally, a meta-analysis of over 300 articles about online learning, conduced by instruction specialist Abreena Tompkins, concluded that grouping information in parcels of three or five enables readers to absorb information better.


I had thought listicles tended to range around the 10 mark, but will pay closer attention in future.
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The European making sure America’s tech giants play by the rules • Bloomberg

Adam Satariano and Aoife White interview Margrethe Vestager:

»What if the competitors’ products just aren’t as good? People don’t seem to have a problem with Google’s quality.

MV: That’s not the question. You don’t know if someone can come up with something better. Just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s the end of innovation. If it was, well then, we’d still be in horse carriages.

But isn’t there a choice? You’re investigating Google because people need to sign up for its services when they use Android. Can’t somebody download another search or e-mail app for their phone?

MV: If everything is presented to you, then your impetus to look for something new is so much smaller. Android is a very good operating system—open source. But how Android is used seems to place customers in a lot of instances on a one-way Google Street. That’s because you want an out-of-the-box experience, and even before you start thinking there is something else, you’re in a 100% Google experience.


She says as a result of her work investigating this, “I’ve become slightly more obsessed with data security and much more reluctant to give away my data.”
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The soap opera effect: when your TV tries to be smarter than you • CNET

Danny Sullivan, writing in April 2012:

»If you’re really interested in why the effect happens, it’s because soap operas (and some other television shows) are shot on video, which is cheaper than film. But shooting on video increases the number of frames displayed per second, giving them that particular look.

Many modern televisions seem to automatically create additional frames, even for filmed content. This “motion interpolation” is meant to smooth motion, which might be useful if you’re watching a fast-action sporting event. But it also effectively makes content that was shot on expensive film appear to have been recorded on cheap video. had a nice, recent article explaining this in more detail. This CNET article also explains it briefly, though it doesn’t name it as the Soap Opera Effect.

What I found remarkable is that people have been complaining about this for several years. Complaints are all over the Internet. How did I end up with a new set configured by default to show images in a way that you’d think manufacturers know plenty of people dislike. Why do I even need it at all?

My TV, I’d argue, is trying to be smarter than I am. It’s trying to smooth out “blur” and “judder” and remake the picture in a way it assumes will be better. But instead, it transforms the picture into something that feels unnatural.


I arrived at this via a Daring Fireball link, read it and worried my new TV was doing this. And then went and tried to configure it. And then, just like Sullivan goes on to explain, couldn’t find out what setting in the thicket of “picture” settings would actually be involved in this. Film? Sports mode? Who knows?
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Avoiding the census • #censusfail

»August 9 is Census night. All over Australia, families and households will huddle around laptops with poor quality internet connections to answer a series of questions that will provide a snapshot of who we are as a nation. The data collected by the census is invaluable. It provides important statistics about Australia which drive the development of evidence based government policy.

In previous years, although your name and address were collected, it was not stored. As of this year (2016) things are different — your name and address are now stored to enable future linking to other datasets. The Census has transitioned from anonymous statistics to an identifiable, personal record of every person in the country.

As per their privacy policy, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will store your name and address separate to the remainder of your Census responses, with names replaced by “anonymous linkage keys”. At this point in time, no information has been published on how these linkage keys are generated. A Freedom of Information request has been lodged to provide this information however may not be released prior to the Census taking place.


However, you can make foolish mistakes in your name spelling which will make it hard for you to be matched…
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Intel’s smartwatches are so hot right now – LITERALLY: Basis Peaks recalled for skin burns • The Register

Shaun Nichols:

»Intel has recall every single one of its Basis Peak smartwatches – and urged people to stop using them – because they can become dangerously hot.

Chipzilla has issued a notice to anyone who bought the Basis Peak, asking them to send back the watch along with any and all accessories for a full refund.

“We had hoped to update the software on your watch to address the problem. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we aren’t able to develop such a solution without completely compromising the user experience,” Intel said.

“As a result, we are asking that you return your Basis Peak watch and authorized accessories for a full refund at your earliest convenience.”

Not that anyone should have been actually using the Basis Peak, anyway. Intel issued an advisory on June 13 that customers stop wearing the watch, amidst multiple reports that it was prone to becoming so hot as to cause “burns and blisters” on the skin of those brave enough to wear it.


Brings to mind Fitbit’s recall of its Force wristband in late 2014 due to irritation and burns. Those things can get really hot.
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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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Start up: Samsung eyes Note 7, iOS 10 further limits ad tracking, the Olympics and doping, and more

How far would you go out of your way to avoid walking through a graveyard? It might give some indication about your political alignment. Photo by VirtKitty on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. They don’t write good. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

iOS 10 to feature stronger “Limit Ad Tracking” control • Future of Privacy Forum

Stacey Gray:

»Most ad networks treated this flag [Settings – Privacy – Advertising: Limit Ad Tracking] as a user request to opt-out of “behavioral advertising” or “interest based advertising.” Some ad networks continued to target ads based on location or continued to use the ad to help enable cross-device tracking. Other companies treated the flag as a broader opt-out of any targeting and tracking. Apple specifically permitted companies to continue to use the ID for certain limited other uses when Limit ad Tracking was enabled, including “frequency capping, attribution, conversion events, estimating the number of unique users, advertising fraud detection, and debugging.” (iOS Developer Library)

Beginning in iOS 10, when a user enables “Limit Ad Tracking,” the OS will send along the advertising identifier with a new value of “00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000.” This will more effectively ensure that users are no longer targeted or tracked by many ad networks across sites. or over time. But it will also prevent the previously permitted “frequency capping, attribution, conversion events, estimating the number of unique users, advertising fraud detection, and debugging” uses of this ID.

The number of users who enable “Limit Ad Tracking” is now at roughly 17% of iPhone users, down from earlier years. Some speculate this is due to users moving on to use adblocking.


Possibly people just didn’t know about it.
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The Internet of Things will turn large-scale hacks into real world disasters • Motherboard

Bruce Schneier:

»With the advent of the Internet of Things and cyber-physical systems in general, we’ve given the internet hands and feet: the ability to directly affect the physical world. What used to be attacks against data and information have become attacks against flesh, steel, and concrete.

Today’s threats include hackers crashing airplanes by hacking into computer networks, and remotely disabling cars, either when they’re turned off and parked or while they’re speeding down the highway. We’re worried about manipulated counts from electronic voting machines, frozen water pipes through hacked thermostats, and remote murder through hacked medical devices. The possibilities are pretty literally endless. The Internet of Things will allow for attacks we can’t even imagine.

The increased risks come from three things: software control of systems, interconnections between systems, and automatic or autonomous systems. Let’s look at them in turn…


…from between our fingers, behind the sofa.
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Doping and an Olympic crisis of idealism • The New Yorker

Louisa Thomas:

»Most of the major anti-doping success stories—the cases of Lance Armstrong; balco; and, now, the Russian Olympic team—relied on whistle-blowers and methods more commonly associated with criminal investigations. Doping is a problem in the N.F.L., N.B.A., M.L.B., N.C.A.A., in tennis, in horse racing, in Nascar—everywhere the rewards far exceed the punishment. But it is a particular challenge for the Olympics, because the Olympics are supposed to mean something more than an athletic competition.

The distance between the ideal and the reality has never seemed greater. The bribery scandal during the bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games exposed an organization rotted by corruption. The price of hosting an Olympics has become so astronomical that few cities, especially in democratic countries, are willing to do it. In the cities that do, the residents who are least prepared to bear the costs often end up bearing the most. The runaway spending during the 2004 Athens Games—much of which was public debt—became a symbol of what was wrong with Greece’s economy when it went bust a few years later. In Beijing, the magnificent “Bird’s Nest” stadium sits underused and rusting. The risk of terrorism has led to draconian surveillance and security measures. Right after the Sochi Olympics, the host nation forcefully annexed Crimea.

And now Rio seems to be a catastrophe even before it begins. The water is polluted, the country is in a deep recession, the government is in the midst of political scandal, and the city is facing rising crime rates. Then came the Russian doping scandal.


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Is your brain Republican or Democrat? • ChartsMe

»27 strange non-political scenarios will appear. Please respond honestly and alone and we’ll guess your brain’s political ideology.


Honestly, this is fun to try. Have a go.
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Gawker founder Nick Denton files for bankruptcy • POLITICO Media

Peter Sterne:

»On Monday afternoon, Denton sent the following memo, with the subject line “Before the dawn,” to Gawker employees:

“You may have seen the news that I have, as expected, had to join the company in bankruptcy. Peter Thiel’s legal campaign has targeted individual writers like Sam Biddle, editors such as John Cook, and me as publisher. It is a personal vendetta. And yes, it’s a disturbing to live in a world in which a billionaire can bully journalists because he didn’t like the coverage.

“Still, I’m in a positive frame of mind, because our influential brands will soon be free to thrive under new ownership, and our very existence as an independent entity has been a triumph. For once, the journalistic cliché is appropriate: We’ve spoken truth to power. Sometimes uncomfortable truths. Sometimes gossipy truths. But truths. There is a price to pay for that, and I am paying it now. But we never gave up our souls in the pursuit of an easy life.”


There’s more to the memo; Gawker traffic is up, ad revenue is up. The bankruptcy filing is to avoid Hulk Hogan moving to seize his assets.
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Samsung’s new jumbo phone unlocks with iris scanner • Associated Press

Anick Jesdanun:

»You’ll be able to unlock Samsung’s new phone by just looking at it.

The Galaxy Note 7 will come with an iris scanner, which matches patterns in your eyes with what was detected by your phone during setup. It offers an alternative to fingerprint ID, which doesn’t work well when fingers are wet. Of course, the four-digit passcode will still work.

“We challenged our engineers to design a security system that’s convenient and safe at the same time,” said Justin Denison, a senior vice president for product strategy at Samsung. “It took five years to perfect, but it only takes a glance to unlock your phone.”

Samsung isn’t first, though. Microsoft’s Lumia 950 phones had it.

Beyond that, the updates in the Note 7 are mostly enhancements, such as a stronger glass screen and more storage — 64 gigabytes, or double what Samsung usually offers, plus a slot to add more.

The Note 7 comes with a better camera — but it’s the same one that the smaller Galaxy S7 phones got in March, save for interface enhancements to access settings and switch between the front and rear cameras more easily.


Neat idea, the iris scanner. Look forward to hearing about the accuracy. Also: August is a strange time to release a phone, but Samsung is now pushing everything forward to get away from the iPhone and to beat its previous year figures.
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How Samsung plans its phones • The Verge

Sam Byford interviews Kim Gae-youn, who is in charge of smartphone planning at Samsung:

»Why was it not possible to include things like waterproofing and a microSD slot before [in the Galaxy S6] — what can you do this year that you couldn’t do last year?

Kim Gae-youn: It takes time, right? So we at Samsung scrutinize what’s the real need for the consumer, so we understand the market and the consumer needs. And we have an end goal, but it takes time. So the S6 was our first time to apply the glass and metal materials for a smartphone design, and we tried to incorporate all that the customer needs, but there was a time limit so we prioritized which features went to the S6 and then we adopted other customer needs for the S7. So it’s a matured product.

SB: How important do you think those features are, if you released the S6 without them?

KGY: So we prioritized, as I said. At the time there were technological and time limitations so we had to decide whether we were going to choose the better aesthetic design, or waterproofing and the SD card slot. We chose the better design at that time, but we understand the market needs for the higher memory size, right, so that’s why we expanded our memory SKUs to 32, 64, and 128. With the S7, now we have the SD card slot so we’re going to reduce the memory SKUs. 32GB and maybe 64GB in the future.


This is a fascinating interview, ranging over topics like removable batteries (better to have fast-charging non-removables), bloatware, pricing.. Samsung is a company which thinks clearly about these things. It is (as Benedict Evans has observed) much more like a smartphone version of the old featurephone king Nokia than it is like Apple.
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Murder victim’s phone unlocked with paper fingerprint after 3D printing fails • The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»Researchers who attempted to unlock a murder victim’s phone using a 3D printed replica of one of his fingers were forced to use an alternative method last week, after the models produced were found not to be accurate enough to gain access. The team from Michigan State University was asked by police to gain access to the phone, which was eventually unlocked with a 2D image of the dead man’s fingerprints, enhanced manually to fill in gaps in the original image, and rendered on conductive paper.

Both 2D and 3D versions of the dead man’s fingerprints were produced, but the poor quality of the original image kept in police files stymied the efforts of the team, led by professor Anil Jain. After a failed first attempt, the team used an image enhancement algorithm to fill in broken lines in the print, allowing them to successfully unlock the Samsung Galaxy S6 involved in the investigation. Fortunately for the team, the phone in question did not require a passcode after failed fingerprint attempts, allowing Jain and his colleagues to keep trying options indefinitely.


So the Galaxy S6 doesn’t require a passcode after a certain time, which the iPhone does? You can play this both ways: yay, murder victim’s phone unlocked with potentially useful clues! Or: oh noes, police/crooks can get into your Galaxy phone given enough time.
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The future is dark…data • ZL Tech

Mike Flores:

» defines dark data as “the information assets organizations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (for example, analytics, business relationships and direct monetizing)” and blah, blah, blah…it’s basically unused or unprocessed and usually unstructured data that sits in storage. And while that might sound not so bad, it actually gets a little nefarious when you really start looking into it.

The thing is an estimated 80% of stored data is dark data – shoutout to our good friend, Vilfredo Pareto [of Pareto’s power law, on how most attention goes to a few things] – and that starts getting really bad really fast when you consider how much new data is created each day and how many tera- or petabytes of data exist in, say, your average Fortune 500. Or just your average business, even.

And even if you aren’t the CEO of a startup or multi-billion dollar corporation and are more like a casual reader who stumbled across this article, this should still be bad news to you. Why? Well, because your personal information exists somewhere in this black sea of unused bits and bytes and if you’re going to become the victim of fraud or identity theft or some cybercrime in the future, there’s a good chance it’s going to be due to the misplacement of this so-called dark data.


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Exclusive: Hackers accessed Telegram messaging accounts in Iran – researchers • Reuters

Joseph Menn and Yeganeh Torbati:

»Telegram’s vulnerability, according to Anderson and Guarnieri, lies in its use of SMS text messages to activate new devices. When users want to log on to Telegram from a new phone, the company sends them authorization codes via SMS, which can be intercepted by the phone company and shared with the hackers, the researchers said.

Armed with the codes, the hackers can add new devices to a person’s Telegram account, enabling them to read chat histories as well as new messages.

“We have over a dozen cases in which Telegram accounts have been compromised, through ways that sound like basically coordination with the cellphone company,” Anderson said in an interview.


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Searching for what’s next • Techpinions

Ben Bajarin:

»There are still a few hardware innovations in smartphones to come, like dual lens cameras, which will continue to drive new software innovations. But largely, we are moving from a hardware cycle to a software cycle. This hardware cycle adds roughly another billion consumers to the computing landscape and, between PCs, smartphones, and tablets, we now have roughly two billion people with an internet-connected computing device. During the PC era, our software scale was measured in hundreds of millions but now, thanks to the smartphone, the software industry scale is two billion global consumers and growing.


Dual-lens cameras, allied to on-device or fast cloud connections, have huge potential – not for photographs, but for machine vision. The phone (app, service) won’t just know where it is but because the dual lens gives a 3D picture, it can work out what it is looking at, and all of the scene. That feels like a move with giant potential.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: why startups fail, Apple’s patent reverse, Yahoo’s troll-finder, Swiftkey’s leaky data, and more

Battery APIs can give away information about you – and your situation. Photo by jhons2012 on Flickr.

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.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Autopsy: lessons from failed startups

It is what it says – a giant list of what they did and, if possible, where they went wrong. Good for whiling away some time in a VC’s waiting room.
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Judge voids VirnetX’s $625.6 million Apple verdict; VirnetX plunges • Reuters

»A federal judge has thrown out a verdict requiring Apple Inc (AAPL.O) to pay VirnetX Holding Corp $625.6m for infringing four patents relating to Internet security technology, causing VirnetX’s share price to plunge.

VirnetX shares were down $1.93, or 44.6 percent, at $2.40 in Monday morning trading, after earlier falling to $2.14.

In a decision late Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder in Tyler, Texas said it was unfair to Apple that two VirnetX lawsuits had been combined into a single trial.

He said jurors may have been confused by more than 50 references to the earlier case, though it contained “incredibly similar” issues, and deferred improperly to the prior jury’s findings when it found Apple’s liable for willful infringement.


VirnetX claims patents which it says are used in FaceTime and iMessage. So you can see how the outcome might be important to both it and Apple.
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Battery Status readout as a privacy risk • Lukasz Olejnik

»Privacy risks and threats arise and surface even in seemingly innocuous mechanisms. We have seen it before, and we will see it again.

Recently, I participated in a study assessing the risk of W3C Battery Status API. The mechanism allows a web site to read the battery level of a device (smartphone, laptop, etc.). One of the positive use cases may be, for example, stopping the execution of intensive operations if the battery is running low.

Our privacy analysis of Battery Status API revealed interesting results.

Battery readouts provide the following information:

the current level of battery (format: 0.00-1.0, for empty and full, respectively)
time to a full discharge of battery (in seconds)
time to a full charge of battery, if connected to a charger (in seconds)
Those values are updated whenever a new value is supplied by the operating system

What might be the issues here?

Frequency of changes in the reported readouts from Battery Status API potentially allowed the monitoring of users’ computer use habits; for example, potentially enabled analyzing of how frequently the user’s device is under heavy use. This could lead to behavioral analysis.


And plenty more: if an app for a taxi-hailing service sees that you’re low on battery, you might be willing to accept a surge price. (It’s worth an A/B test at least.) That’s a situation where you don’t want such potential. More to the point: didn’t anyone at the W3C consider this when they created the API?
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Yahoo has a tool that can catch online abuse surprisingly well • MIT Technology Review

Will Knight:

»Researchers are, in fact, making some progress toward technology that can help stop the abuse. A team at Yahoo recently developed an algorithm capable of catching abusive messages better than any other automated system to date. The researchers created a data set of abuse by collecting messages on Yahoo articles that were flagged as offensive by the company’s own comment editors.

The Yahoo team used a number of conventional techniques, including looking for abusive keywords, punctuation that often seemed to accompany abusive messages, and syntactic clues as to the meaning of a sentence.

But the researchers also applied a more advanced approach to automated language understanding, using a way of representing the meaning of words as vectors with many dimensions. This approach, known as “word embedding,” allows semantics to be processed in a sophisticated way. For instance, even if a comment contains a string of words that have not been identified as abusive, the representations of that string in vector space may be enough to identify it as such.

When everything was combined, the team was able to identify abusive messages (from its own data set) with roughly 90% accuracy.

Catching the remaining 10% may prove tricky.


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‘We were wasting time churning out tweets’: The Economist guide to quality over quantity • Digiday

Lucinda Southern:

»On Twitter, the Economist has about a dozen accounts, split by region or topic — such as EconEurope, EconAsia, EconBizFin or EconSciTech — some with hardly any followers, whereas its main account has 15 million. “When we started doing social media a few years ago Twitter was very much a thing, so the number of accounts we started was very much supply driven,” Law told Digiday.

After an audit in March, the Economist found that more than 50% of their efforts was going into their secondary accounts, but was generating next to nothing in reach and traffic, she said. “We need to balance being lean, efficient and high quality, you can’t do that when you’re writing 15 tweets per article,” said Law, adding that more checks by staff are done on the copy now, and more checklists are in place.

Since then, that resource has been redirected to other, more relevant platforms. For instance, the EconAsia Twitter account has 33,000 followers and has been on Twitter since 2009 (this is substantially more than its EconChina account which has just 700 followers). After launching on messaging app Line the Economist has increased its follower count to more than 300,000 in less than six months, although more mainstream publishers like the BBC have grown following to nearly 1.5 million. Time spent writing for platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest, which weren’t getting much traction, has been redirected to Facebook, Twitter, Line, LinkedIn and YouTube.


Hadn’t heard of Line as a significant driver of social traffic before.
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Here’s what top trend spotter Faith Popcorn sees for 2016 • Fortune

Eileen Daspin with an interview with Popcorn (who I hadn’t heard of, but sounds interesting):

»You think Americans binge-consume media—games, programming—as an escape?

They are seeking safety. We want to plug into somebody else’s story. It is escape, escape, escape. Look at Minecraft. Look at what they are building. They are building towns that are safes that have bars and guards with their own water systems. They plug in and they don’t want to get out.

Your perspective is very Brave New World.

People always say that about us. But most people don’t want their symptoms dealt with, they want to be transported to a whole new place. It’s not about flipping a switch in your brain and forgetting about Paris and forgetting about ISIS, it’s looking for things to create memories of happiness and peace as if they didn’t happen. It is altering the whole view. Its really fantasy.

How can marketers use this knowledge to reach consumers?

More and more, we are looking at micro-clans, really small groups that are ever smaller and more specific. The Internet has allowed us to target more specifically. We huddle with people who are more like us—either by their world views or what they collect or how many kids they have. We are creating family out of friends and any kind of grouping that makes us feels safe.


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Joshua Topolsky, former Verge editor, raises funding for digital media venture • WSJ

Mike Shields:

»with The Outline, Mr. Topolsky said he is aiming to reach roughly 10 to 15 million users, most of whom come directly to his site. “This has to be a real brand,” he said. The site’s content will focus on three areas: power, as it relates to subjects like politics and business; culture; and the future. He said he’s aiming for a smart, influential readership.

The plan is to produce roughly 15 to 20 pieces of content a day, including text articles, more visual stories and video.

“I really want to move away from the impressions-based way of judging success,” he said. “We want to focus on the best way to tell a story. Digital media has millions of colors to paint with, and most of the time we only use like four.”

To help, he has hired 10 staffers, including journalists such as Aaron Edwards, formally of BuzzFeed News, and Adrianne Jeffries, who was most recently a managing editor at Vice. In addition, Mr. Topolsky has brought on Amanda Hale, formerly of the politics site Talking Points Memo, as head of revenue. The Outline staff may grow to 20 or 30 over the next few months, Mr. Topolsky added.


That’s a lot of staff to generate that comparatively small amount of content per day. The wish of attracting “smart, influential” readers is often made, and frequently abandoned in favour of just getting lots more readers to hit revenue targets.
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Another media-stealing app found on Google Play • Symantec

Shaun Amiato:

»Last time we blogged about malware on Google Play that stole photos from Viber. Since then we’ve discovered another app on Google Play that is moving personal media files (photos and videos) off victims’ mobile devices and onto a remote server.

All your videos are belong to us
In the course of enhancing our Mobile Insight cloud-based features to identify apps that leak personally identifiable information (PII), we came across an app on Google Play that was clearly malicious. This app, ‘HTML Source Code Viewer’ by Sunuba Gaming, poses as a development tool, but actually posts files stored on the device in “/DCIM/Camera” and “/DCIM/100LGDSC/” (standard photo and video storage locations) to a web server hosted on A look on this server revealed a wealth of personal media files dating as far back as March, 2015. This personal media could be used for blackmailing, ransomware attacks, identity theft, pornography, and other forms of victimization.

Whois data for this server indicates that it’s hosted in Azerbaijan. The app had 1,000-5,000 downloads from Google Play when we discovered it, targets all versions of Android after and including Gingerbread, and uses the following permissions:

• android.permission.INTERNET (allows app to open network connections)
• android.permission.ACCESS_NETWORK_STATE (allows the app to access information about networks)
• android.permission.READ_EXTERNAL_STORAGE (allows the app to read from external storage)
• android.permission.WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE (allows the app to write to external storage)

This is the second case of media-stealing malware we’ve profiled appearing on Google Play.


The problem remains Android’s outdated approach to permissions (can’t pick which you allow), which for the majority of Android users lags about four years behind Apple’s. If iOS had a longstanding flaw like this, you’d never hear the end of it.
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Swiftkey app leaked users’ email addresses and phone numbers to strangers • Daily Telegraph

Cara McGoogan:

»SwiftKey has a database of words and phrases commonly typed by each of its users, which it uses to make suggestions as they’re typing. The app, which can read personal text such as emails, social media interactions and text messages, has access to sensitive information including regularly typed phone numbers, addresses, names and phrases.

One SwiftKey user, who works in the legal profession and asked to remain anonymous, found out their details had been compromised when a stranger emailed them to say that a brand new phone had suggested their email address when logging into an account online.

“A few days ago, I received an email from a complete stranger asking if I had recently purchased and returned a particular model of mobile phone, adding that not one but two of my email addresses (one personal and one work address) were saved on the phone she had just bought as brand-new,” said the user.


Swiftkey (bought recently by Microsoft) has disabled this sync. But – ouch. This is a bad mistake. Legal users in particular won’t come back.
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Theresa May’s new government must renew the Government Digital Service’s political mandate • Huffington Post

Tom Watson:

»It is a classic Whitehall power grab carried out while the chaos caused by Brexit is still unfolding. While Cabinet members familiarise themselves with their new roles, the Government Digital Service (GDS) is under threat, with a Whitehall plan to undermine it already well advanced. Unless it’s stopped, a decade of digital progress in central government could be undone. The Home Office has already quietly removed its most senior digital leader and similar positions in the Cabinet Office, DWP and HMRC are reportedly under threat. The mandarin machine is taking advantage of the summer hiatus to launch a minor coup, with the Sir Humphreys of Whitehall effectively trying to repatriate powers to their respective departments. The new cabinet office minister, Ben Gummer, must not allow them to succeed.

The Government Digital Service was set up by the Coalition Government immediately after the 2010 general election with a simple but radical objective; to use the groundbreaking tools and techniques of the internet era to redesign public services around the citizens who use them. Until then, their interests had too often been subservient to government departments that habitually think and act in isolation. As a former Minister for Digital Engagement I’m glad it’s succeeded. According to the Treasury, it saved £4.1bn of public money in four years, and the digital approach it inspired helped transform Government services like the DVLA.


The GDS really took off after 2010 in the coalition under Francis Maude, an old-school Tory minister who knew how to get things done, and took no crap from civil servants. It would be a huge loss if his work, and Watson’s, were reversed: it would take us back to crappy big contracts which overspend and overrun.
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Secrets of the Apple Store • Thrillist

Joe McGauley spoke to some people who worked years at the Apple Store. Many of the usual war stories, though there’s always entertainment like these:

»Lucas: “It’s very obvious when somebody is lying. Genii know what they’re talking about. The customer generally does not. Don’t try to bullshit somebody that knows the product inside out. Sometimes I found myself seeing people waiting in line before I even spoke to them and I’d think in my head ‘This guy is a bullshitter.’”

Tony: “I had a guy try to convince me that the liquid damage was some kind of E.T. fluid from when he was abducted [by aliens]. It was hard to keep a straight face during that.”

David: “One time we had a guy bring in a completely destroyed iPhone in a plastic bag. I mean this thing was 100% unrecognizable. He told us it wasn’t working right, so he took it out behind his house and shot it with a rifle because he was so fed up with the thing. We did not replace it.”

Lucas: “The most full-of-shit customer I ever had was a guy that came in and put a mutated, deformed iPhone in front of me and said ‘My phone isn’t working.’ I politely asked what happened. He explained that he had been talking on it, when suddenly the phone got very hot and started to burn his hand, so he threw it on the counter and it erupted into flames. I took the phone into the Genius Room to open it up… it clearly had been subjected to some type of liquid, and I returned to the Genius Bar to tell him. He responds with ‘Well yeah, it caught on fire, so I threw it in the sink and ran water over it.’ Right… I am quite certain that he dropped his phone in water and thought that the best idea was to dry it in the microwave.”


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Corrected spelling of Lukasz Olejnik’s name.

Start up: Pokemon Go’s $3.6bn sum, iPad v Linux?, the rise of wanksomware, GCHQ’s link honeypot, and more

“Wow, I can see where the pound-dollar exchange rate used to be!” Photo by Janitors on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Pokémon GO: an opportunity, not a threat • App Annie

Sameer Singh:

»The Pokémon GO phenomenon is showing little sign of losing steam. The app continues to earn daily revenue of over $10m on iOS and Google Play combined, even though it has been over three weeks since its initial launch. Because of its unprecedented success, we have received numerous inquiries from our customers about its effect on revenue and user engagement of other leading apps and games.

Interestingly, it appears that Pokémon GO’s impact has been largely additive to the app economy. More importantly, it has given app developers a blueprint for increasing engagement with their users and opening up new revenue opportunities.

Pokémon GO’s impact on revenue of other Games on iOS and Google Play has been mostly muted in countries where it’s available. The United States did see a brief dip, but quickly regained prior levels.

According to data from App Annie Intelligence, Pokémon GO has not had a sustained and meaningful impact on the daily revenue of other games on iOS and Google Play.


On the face of it, this doesn’t make sense. This is an annualised revenue of $3.6bn which, if App Annie is correct, has simply appeared like a rare Pokemon out of nowhere. It has to be spending that otherwise would go on something else. The question is, what? Possibly it’s subtracted from other games that people launched at the same time, and never had the chance to earn any revenue – and so don’t show on App Annie’s chart. (And it does look like Germany has been affected.)
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iPad-only is the new desktop Linux — Medium

Watts Martin on the differences between using a desktop OS and a mobile OS, such as the iPad Pro:

»Downloading an image from a web site, resizing and editing it in an image editor, and uploading it to WordPress — these are things that people do all the time and require coordination between multiple apps, yet don’t demand specific apps.

If you’re going to tell me “normal people” don’t do those tasks, please don’t. Quilters run blogs. Salespeople create presentations. And non-techie writers send revisions to editors. It’s us nerds who insist that iOS solves the “problem” of normal people who don’t understand the file system putting all their files on the desktop. But the desktop acts as shared document storage, which is something it turns out normal people sometimes need, and iOS does not solve that problem. Lecture me about the virtues of containers all you want, but there is no world in which having to use Dropbox as a temporary storage medium is a step forward.

“But Workflow — ”


Conceptually, I like Workflow. You can do some fantastic stuff with it. It’s kind of like Keyboard Maestro on the Mac. But you can do so much with KM that you can’t with Workflow, and while I know some people think Workflow is much easier to understand than KM or Automator, I can barely make heads or tails of Workflow’s UI. Workflow has an added ball and chain: switching between apps under iOS is, compared to the Mac, positively glacial.

But Workflow is an essential tool for being an iOS Power User, for that thrill of figuring out how to get relatively complex tasks done, right? Realizing that led me to a comparison that’s going to raise hackles, but here it is:

Using iOS as your primary OS is like using desktop Linux.


It’s definitely true that without Workflow, you can’t get done a lot of tasks that require content editing and twiddling which usually straddle multiple apps done. It can take some time to figure out Workflow; you have to rethink what you consider “objects” in the normal scripting sense. (After some experimentation, I’ve figured out how to do my essential workflow for this post in Workflow.)
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Field in view: Vive is a victim of Brexit, but the UK price hike is not OK • UploadVR

Jamie Feltham:

»doing business with foreign companies is now more expensive than ever. Hence, HTC has decided to make up for its newfound losses by asking for more money in the first place. It’s easy to see how HTC reached this conclusion, and it’s far from the only company that’s considered this move and acted upon it. Inflation is an unfortunate reality as the UK strives to find its new place in the world.

But, to me, that doesn’t nearly justify punishing UK consumers by adding a significant amount of money onto the price of the Vive without offering any extra value. What’s most frustrating, though, is how the company has handled the situation thus far.

Let’s put this in a little context for our US readers. Without shipping the Vive’s UK price converts to a jaw-dropping $1003, roughly $200 more than the US price of the same unit. Currency conversions rarely work out in the UK’s favor when it comes to hardware, but this is certainly the largest gap I’ve seen between the two in some time, certainly within the VR industry. And we haven’t seen any other major gaming devices hike their price; the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One remain at their original tags.


I don’t think Feltham understands forex or VAT. Also, the lossmaking HTC is hardly in a position to eat a 10% differential in price.
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Reversing the wall • Medium

Martin Conte Mac Donell works at Lyft:

»Apple welcomed us [to its Worldwide Developers Conference] in an imaginative and playful way. A wall of sentences pared down to the essence of apps but without removing poetry.

The Hello wall at Apple’s WWDC 2016

“What if we could get the text of every sentence, in the right order and associated with the right colour?” I asked.

And I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t trying to make the ephemeral endure, I was just wondering if it could be done before the conference was over.

This post will go over the steps I took to get this done but the tl;dr; is: it’s possible; go here and check it out.


This is an amazing piece of “hacking”, in the old sense of making something clever and delightful happen.
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Heat wave sparks anthrax outbreak in Russia’s yamalo-nenets area • NBC News

Alexy Eremenko:

»Thirteen members of a nomadic Siberian community have been hospitalized after a heat wave thawed the carcass of an anthrax-infected reindeer and sparked an outbreak of the disease.

Around 1,500 of the animals have died from the highly infectious disease since Sunday, the government of Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district announced on its website Tuesday.

A state of emergency has been imposed throughout the region in western Siberia due to the incident — the first of its kind since 1941.

The carcass of a reindeer thought to have died from anthrax decades ago thawed and released the bacteria, sending the disease rippling through a population of animals already weakened by unusually high temperatures, according to local officials.


Suspicions high that global warming, causing melting of permafrost, is to blame.
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‘Webcam hackers caught me wanking, demanded $10k ransom’ • triple j

»One day in Melbourne, when the sun was out and the birds were singing, Matt opened an email and was greeted with a video of a man wanking.

The man was him.

“There I was in all my glory,” he told triple j’s Veronica & Lewis.

He had been hacked. A ‘ransomware’ program had infected his computer allowing the hackers to film him through the webcam. He had been filmed in a compromising situation.

Now they wanted money.

“There was an email saying they were going to release footage to all my Facebook friends and people I worked with if I don’t pay them money.”

“Initially I laughed.”


I do love how this Australian Broadcasting Commission site is so straightforward about the amount of wanking going on. And then mentions Mark Zuckerberg having covered over his webcam camera. Hmm…
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Cirrus earnings bullish for IPhone 7 • Seeking Alpha

Mark Hibben:

»During its conference call Cirrus management was careful to state that it couldn’t go into specifics about its number one customer, Apple. However, in the shareholder letter that accompanied the earnings release on Wednesday, Cirrus acknowledged in effect that Apple still accounts for 68% of its revenue, while Samsung accounts for 12%. Cirrus refers to “OEMs 3-10” for the rest of its customers that make up the remaining 20%.

Cirrus provides audio codec chips. What are those? Codec chips provide two crucial functions. They provide decoding of compressed audio typically used in MP3 players and smartphones. This is digital processing of the audio files, usually hard wired into the silicon for speed and low latency. The other crucial function they provide is conversion of the digital data to an analog signal that can actually be played back through headphones or speakers. Codec chips may also contain an audio amplifier that can directly drive a set of headphones.


Hibben is one of the more sane commentators on Seeking Alpha. (There are lots. They vary in quality.) This seems to have a pointer towards no headphone jack, given that Cirrus made the Logic MFi (Made For iPhone/iPod/iPad) Headset Development Kit for Lightning-based headsets.
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Apple could never recreate the success of the iPhone. But it doesn’t need to • The Guardian

I wrote about what the latest Apple results (where shares went up after revenues and iPhone shipments went down) presages for the future:

»Apple has underperformed the market, recording two successive quarters of falling iPhone sales amid fears that consumers will not flock to upgrade when Apple launches new models in the autumn. Asked about those concerns last week, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, said the non-hardware part of the business would take the strain. Cook said he expected the services unit to be a star performer, through iTunes, app and iCloud storage sales. “We think [revenue from] services will continue to grow very briskly,” he said.

Nonetheless, despite their positive response last week, investors are understandably keen for Apple to unearth another big seller, with the iPad and the Watch failing to match the iPhone’s success. Could “Project Titan” – the codename for Apple’s electric car project – be the new smash hit? Or might virtual reality headsets, or some augmented reality product akin to Pokémon Go, prompt a new reason for overnight queues outside Apple stores? Analysts are sceptical. With a billion iPhones sold since the handset’s 2007 release, it is the most successful consumer product ever, generating almost $625bn (£475bn) in revenues in just nine years. Apple will struggle to come up with a concept or a category that matches the iPhone – what other hi-tech product could you potentially sell to everyone in the world?


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Moon calendar •

»A 2016 moon calendar. Click to show today.

Uses the “Simple” moon plase calculation from Moon Phase Calculators. Built with Forked from curran’s block: Moon


Neat and diagrammatic (you’ll have to click through to see the rendering).
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Exclusive: Clinton campaign also hacked in attacks on Democrats – sources • Reuters

Mark Hosenball, Joseph Menn and John Walcott:

»The computer network used by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign was hacked as part of a broad cyber attack on Democratic political organizations, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The latest attack, which was disclosed to Reuters on Friday, follows reports of two other hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the party’s fundraising committee for candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. Department of Justice national security division is investigating whether cyber hacking attacks on Democratic political organizations threatened U.S. security, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The involvement of the Justice Department’s national security division is a sign that the Obama administration has concluded that the hacking was state sponsored, individuals with knowledge of the investigation said.


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British spies used a URL shortener to honeypot Arab Spring dissidents • Motherboard

Musafa Al-Bassam:

»A now-defunct free URL shortening service——was set up by GCHQ that enabled social media signals intelligence. was used on Twitter and other social media platforms for the dissemination of pro-revolution messages in the Middle East.

These messages were intended to attract people who were protesting against their government in order to manipulate them and collect intelligence that would help the agency further its aims around the world. The URL shortener made it easy to track them.

I was able to uncover it because I was myself targeted in the past.

The project is linked to the GCHQ unit called the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group or JTRIG, whose mission is to use “dirty tricks” to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, according to leaked documents.

The URL shortening service was codenamed DEADPOOL and was one of JTRIG’s “shaping and honeypots” tools, according to a GCHQ document leaked in 2014.


Al-Bassam went under the moniker of “Tflow” when he was part of LulzSec. You have to admit, it’s a great idea of GCHQ’s to set up a link shortener so that people will connect to it and you can see where they come from. How do you spy on the web? Become part of the web. (The Snowden documents contain other very clever things that GCHQ did.)

Also, “Deadpool”? Well before the film came out. Does this mean there will be a film called Luscious Giraffe, or whatever the weird GCHQ naming system generates?
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Making markets work for citizens • Huffington Post

Margrethe Vestager, who is the European Commission’s competition commissioner:

»Do you remember what it was like to search the Internet before Google invented their search machine? I myself have a vague memory of it being very difficult. Today it is easy. But these fabulous innovations don’t give the company the right to stop others from competing. Because consumers need competition and innovation, so they can choose the product that’s best for them. And the economy needs competition, to drive companies to invest.

That’s why we’re concerned that Google seems to have favoured its own comparison shopping service in its search results. It means consumers see the results that Google wants them to see, which might not be the most relevant ones. And if Google’s rivals believe that their services will never be as visible as Google’s, no matter how good they are, that could discourage them from investing and invent new services all together.

We want to ensure that consumers have a choice, and to make sure Internet businesses keep investing in better products. Markets need to stay competitive because in a competitive market companies will invest. And have a fair chance to make it in the market.


Wait – “seems to have favoured”? Surely the point of the EC’s complaint is that Google has favoured its own services. Vestager has had ages; what’s the holdup to taking action, exactly, if this risk to rivals exists?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified