Start up: Twitter’s question, the iPhone future, Clinton’s email report, predicting bestsellers, and more

HTC’s Vive may impress, but sales – at least to Steam users – seem to have stalled. Photo by Red_Shuheart on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Washes whiter or your money back! I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

After a quiet summer, Twitter’s board will take a hard look at what comes next • Recode

Kurt Wagner:


The social communication company’s board of directors is set to meet this Thursday in San Francisco, and there are plenty of things to discuss. That includes, said sources, its fate as a standalone company.

That’s no surprise, since Twitter has been the subject of numerous takeover and acquisition rumors over the last few months, each one sending the stock up as investors hold out hope that Twitter will find a buyer.

There are the big corporate names that might take another close look at Twitter, such as Google (there’s an unusual scenario one source mentioned in which it becomes part of some Alphabet media spinoff), Apple and even media mogul Rupert Murdoch, either via 21st Century Fox or News Corp. Other possible bidders include private equity firms that may want to take the company private, where it can solve some of its issues out of the public eye.


Still struggling to imagine the universe in which Apple would want to buy Twitter.
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The impossible Bloomberg makeover • UX Magazine

Dominique Leca on how you’ll never persuade Bloomberg to do a redesign on its terminals’ user interface to make it easier to use:


The Bloomberg terminal is the perfect example of a lock-in effect reinforced by the powerful conservative tendencies of the financial ecosystem and its permanent need to fake complexity.

Simplifying the interface of the terminal would not be accepted by most users because, as ethnographic studies show, they take pride on manipulating Bloomberg’s current “complex” interface. The pain inflicted by blatant UI flaws such as black background color and yellow and orange text is strangely transformed into the rewarding experience of feeling and looking like a hard-core professional.

The more painful the UI is, the more satisfied these users are.

The Bloomberg Terminal interface looks terrible, but it allows traders and other users to pretend you need to be experienced and knowledgeable to use it. Having been a user of the Bloomberg Terminal for five months, it took me a week and a few painful hours to handle it, and I am no genius. The only real impediments were the unbearable UI, remembering which key to push to make the “magic” work, and having to go through the 86-page manual.


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14 excerpts from the FBI’s report on Hillary Clinton’s email • Mother Jones

Kevin Drum read the report so you don’t have to:


Oddly, the FBI never really addresses the issue of whether Hillary violated federal record retention rules. They obviously believe that she should have used a State email account for work-related business, but that’s about it. I suppose they decided it was a non-issue because Hillary did, in fact, retain all her emails and did, in fact, turn them over quickly when State requested them.

There’s also virtually no discussion of FOIA. What little there is suggests that Hillary’s only concern was that her personal emails not be subjected to FOIA simply because they were held on the same server as her work emails.

If you read the entire report, you’ll find bits and pieces that might show poor judgment on Hillary’s part. The initial decision to use one email device is the obvious one, something that Hillary has acknowledged repeatedly. Another—maybe—is her staff’s view of what was safe to send over unclassified email. But this is very fuzzy.


Perhaps the most amazing bit is the number of BlackBerries she got through. On average, each one lasted six months.
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Is it possible to predict a NYT bestseller? • Medium

Andrew Rhomberg kept being asked about the upcoming book “The Bestseller Code”, which looks at what makes a blockbuster:


there is statement in the book that is misunderstood by many of those who interviewed me about the book and that is “the algorithm can predict if a book will be a best seller with accuracy 80%”.

I had a sense when being interviewed that most journalists thought this meant something along the following lines of: “if there are something like 500 New York Times best sellers this year, then this algorithm can produce a list of 500 titles and 400 of those will indeed turn out to be bestsellers”. Well that’s not actually what 80% accuracy means. The misunderstanding is in the “will produce a list of 500”…

…Let’s construct a different scenario. Imagine a Barnes & Noble megastore in the Midwest with 200,000 nicely ordered titles on its shelves including 1,000 titles in a section called “Past and Present New York Times Bestsellers”.

Now a mob of Trump supporters enters the stores and throws all the books on the floor in protest at Trump’s “Art of the Deal” not being displayed in the bestseller section. They don’t actually take any of the books with them, because, well, they are not really interested in reading books, so there are now 200,000 books lying in a jumble on the floor.


Question: how many of the bestsellers will be put back in the correct place, and how many won’t?
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Not all networks are equal when wanting the best smartphone experience • CCS Insight

Ben Wood:


Different flavours of LTE are known by category — abbreviated to Cat x — which indicates the data throughput that the chip is capable of. Most of the phones listed above either use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 platform or Samsung’s home-grown Exynos chip. These chipsets support the variants of LTE up to Cat 12 (downlink). Of course most consumers will have absolutely no idea what this means — and it’s certainly nothing to do with fluffy kittens.

For many users in Europe, there’s one LTE variant, known as Cat 9, that’s available in a growing number of commercially available networks. More importantly, operators are increasingly supporting a technical advancement known as carrier aggregation. This is where multiple channels are combined within a network operator’s spectrum holding to deliver more capacity — think of it as more lanes on a motorway, which eases traffic. All of those lanes are then used simultaneously to maximise the raw data throughput that an operator can deliver to a single device.

The catch for users is that not all operators support this. In the UK, where I live for example, only EE currently can offer LTE Cat 9 and it supports three aggregated frequencies: two blocks of 2.6 GHz and one block of 1.8 GHz giving a maximum theoretical speed of 415 Mbps.


I’m with Three, and I’m just happy that with one dot (out of five) of 4G I get faster speeds than on my home broadband.
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iPhones and the crown • Counterpoint Technology Market Research


All eyes are on the upcoming iPhone 7, even if the upgrades won’t be revolutionary across the board but should be more than enough to interest the maturing smartphone users around the world which are still using two to three year old devices and looking to upgrade to the latest iPhone which would be more than 10x improvement in performance and features.

We will continue to see Apple iPhone 7 to continue to keep the crown of the best-selling smartphone in the world over the next twelve months though challenges in some key markets such as China, India, Latin America will remain from players such as Huawei, Oppo and Samsung bringing cutting edge tech such as dual camera, fast-charging, AMOLED curved displays and so forth faster to the market.


The Huawei 9 Plus (linked above) has a dual camera system which lets you take a picture and then afterwards determine where you want the focus point to be, and what depth of focus you want. It’s very smart. Fairly confident that’s what Apple will announce with at least one iPhone today. It’s a very cool, potentially very useful – imagine going back to a picture pair and extracting fresh information – feature.

You’ll remember too that Huawei was the first with a Force/3D Touch implementation a year ago. That went nowhere. Meanwhile, every phone Apple announces from here on will include it by default.
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VR adoption among Steam users has crashed to a halt • VentureBeat

Jeff Grubb:


The hot days of summer have not led to gamers looking for an escape in virtual reality.

The number of new HTC Vive owners on Steam grew only 0.3 percentage points in July and was flat in August, according to a survey (via Reddit) of customers that use Valve’s distribution network. The Oculus Rift headset from the Facebook subsidiary saw similar stagnation of 0.3% in July and 0.1% in August. At this point, only 0.18% of Steam users own the Vive and only 0.10% own the Rift. And with lethargic sales, both of these high-end head-mounted displays are going to need a lot of help to catch on with audiences.

July and August are important because they were the first months where both HTC and Oculus no longer had supply constraints. Through most of that two-month period, consumers could go online or even drive to a store to pick up one of these units instantly. The problem, however, is that no one is doing that.


Steam has more than 125m registered accounts, and typically more than 10m concurrent users. So 0.18% owning a Vive would be 225,000 in use (0.10% = 125,000), if the survey is representative of the entire user base. But it probably isn’t, and the number is likely a lot lower.
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The Google X moonshot factory is struggling to get products out the door • Recode

Mark Bergen (who has been a very reliable source on all things Google – not overhyped, and not rushing to publish):


In the past, Alphabet had budgeted more than $1bn a year for X, according to one high-level source*. Most funds went to its car project, now seven years old, and Google Glass, the much-hyped wearable that fizzled in its first incarnation and left X last year.

But hiring slowed to a crawl when the Alphabet reorganization arrived, sources said, part of a drive to evaluate spending on the company’s ambitious offshoots.

And people started leaving. The most high-profile exit was a cadre of self-driving car engineers who formed the startup Otto earlier this year, then sold it to Uber this month.

Multiple people who have left X told me that the inability to ship products was a leading reason for the departures.

Multiple people have also told me that Astro Teller, the longtime X chief, is increasingly frustrated. Sources describe most of X’s public projects — Project Loon, drones, robotics and wind energy kites — as rudderless.

X still employs many gifted roboticists, designers and engineers. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are both actively involved with the teams, sources said. They moved their Alphabet offices to the third floor of the X building, according to one source.

“It’s Sergey’s Batcave,” said one former employee.


Compare this piece, which has actual journalism, to the next one…
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The death of Project Ara shows Google is all grown up • WIRED

Davey Alba:


Look, some things are gonna die and some are gonna live. ATAP is building other stuff, and maybe that will fare better. But the reality is that when a company gets to be the size of the Google, the smaller stuff has a harder time surviving. Alphabet can help. As [Jackdaw Research’s Jan] Dawson says, with Alphabet, Google seems to be saying, people “can’t just keep tinkering in the corner, and hope that no one discovers what the true financial state of things is.” And that’s about right. But at the same time, you do need people tinkering in the corner.


Two things. First, “all grown up” is a horrible phrase that leering newspapers use about women who have just passed their 16th birthday and so hey, legal. Note to editors: don’t use.

Second, as @papanic points out, if this had been Apple then everyone would be saying “can’t innovate/doomed”. On the contrary: Apple doesn’t break its divisions out as Google does, and you don’t know what little projects it does and doesn’t have people tinkering away on in the corner – Force Touch, anyone? (Ditto Microsoft, Uber, Samsung, etc etc.)

Meanwhile, it might be insightful to look at projects that have been announced by Google and then run into the sand. Smart contact lenses, anyone?
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Cyber threat grows for bitcoin exchanges • Reuters

Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss:


When hackers penetrated a secure authentication system at a bitcoin exchange called Bitfinex earlier this month, they stole about $70 million worth of the virtual currency.

The cyber theft – the second largest by an exchange since hackers took roughly $350m in bitcoins at Tokyo’s MtGox exchange in early 2014 – is hardly a rare occurrence in the emerging world of crypto-currencies.

New data disclosed to Reuters shows a third of bitcoin trading platforms have been hacked, and nearly half have closed in the half dozen years since they burst on the scene.

This rising risk for bitcoin holders is compounded by the fact there is no depositor’s insurance to absorb the loss, even though many exchanges act like virtual banks.

Not only does that approach cast the cyber security risk in stark relief, but it also exposes the fact that bitcoin investors have little choice but to do business with under-capitalized exchanges that may not have the capital buffer to absorb these losses the way a traditional and regulated bank or exchange would.

“There is a general sense in the bitcoin community that any centralized repository is at risk,” said a U.S.-based professional trader who lost about $1,000 in bitcoins when Bitfinex was hacked. He declined to be named for this article.


Acceptable risk of new technology? Or inherent security problem with a system that seems irredeemably tied to the desktop? The article doesn’t come down on either side, but the statistics – and the experts’ views – seem to point to it being an inherent problem.
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Image super-resolution through deep learning • GitHub

David Garcia:


Image super-resolution through deep learning. This project uses deep learning to upscale 16×16 images by a 4x factor. The resulting 64×64 images display sharp features that are plausible based on the dataset that was used to train the neural net.

Here’s an random, non cherry-picked, example of what this network can do. From left to right, the first column is the 16×16 input image, the second one is what you would get from a standard bicubic interpolation, the third is the output generated by the neural net, and on the right is the ground truth.

As you can see, the network is able to produce a very plausible reconstruction of the original face. As the dataset is mainly composed of well-illuminated faces looking straight ahead, the reconstruction is poorer when the face is at an angle, poorly illuminated, or partially occluded by eyeglasses or hands.


Even so, bloody amazing. That’s three hours of training on a GTX 1080 GPU.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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