Start up: climate change tipping point, modular mysteries, Huawei v Android Wear, Samsung’s hot wash, and more

Possibly not recommended if they came from a Chinese clinical trial. Photo by Toni Blay on Flickr.

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A selection of 15 links for you. Quite a lot, really. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How NPR factchecked the first presidential debate in realtime, on top of a live transcript • Nieman Journalism Lab

Shan Wang:


NPR used a transcription service that provides closed captioning via its API and fed the transcript into a single Google Doc where staffers cleaned up the transcription as it came in. Reporters, editors, the visuals team, copyeditors, researchers — ultimately more than 50 people had access to the Google Doc — scrambled to add their annotations, which were individually approved, edited, and then published. A researcher was also backreading the transcript and annotations as they were published to correct typos. 90 NPR member stations embedded’s live annotations on their own sites, according to a spokesperson.


Pretty soon we’ll have machines that can just do it for us.
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80% of Chinese clinical trials’ data fabricated • Pharmafile


The government review of clinical trial practise involved 1,622 programs of new pharmaceutical drugs waiting upon government approval to begin mass production. According to the report, the data gathered during the clinical trials failed to meet analysis requirements, were incomplete or were untraceable. 

The SFDA report concluded that some of the companies involved were thought to have hidden or deleted records of potential adverse effects and tampered with the data that did not meet projections. As a result, more than 80% of applications for mass productions of newly developed drugs have been cancelled.

Though the extent of the scandal may be surprising, there has long been an awareness of issues within China’s pharmaceutical practises. Third party agencies that are tasked with inspecting facilities, known as contract research organisation, are quoted by the report as being “accomplices in data fabrication due to cutthroat competition and economic motivation”.


But we were told that markets and competition were good things!
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China’s fast-growing LeEco just made a big hire as it continues its U.S. expansion • Recode

Ina Fried:


Chinese device maker LeEco, which has been on an acquisition and hiring spree in the U.S., said Wednesday it has hired former Qualcomm executive Rob Chandhok to lead its North American research and development efforts.

That follows the recent hiring of Huawei executive Richard Ren to run LeEco’s non-China device business and serve as acting president for North America. In April it hired two former executives from Samsung’s U.S. operations to serve as its revenue chief and chief administrative officer in the U.S.

The company, which makes everything from electric bicycles to smartphones, recently announced plans to spend $2bn to acquire TV and electronics maker Vizio.


Big money, big ambitions.
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Goodbye world: we’ve passed the carbon tipping point for good • Motherboard

Sarah Emerson:


It’s a banner week for the end of the world, because we’ve officially pushed atmospheric carbon levels past their dreaded 400 parts per million. Permanently.

According to a blog post last Friday from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, “it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year—or ever again for the indefinite future.” Their findings are based on weekly observations of carbon dioxide at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, where climate scientists have been measuring CO2 levels since 1958.

What’s so terrifying about this number? For several years now, scientists have been warning us that if atmospheric carbon were allowed to surpass 400 parts per million, it would mark a serious “tipping point” into some unstoppable climate ramifications. In 2012, the Arctic was the first region on Earth to cross this red line. Three years later, for the first time since scientists had begun to record them, carbon levels remained above 400 parts per million for an entire month.

Chart: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some description adapted from the Scripps CO2 Program website, “Keeling Curve Lessons.”

This time, experts believe we’re stuck here for good, due to the cyclical effects of Mauna Loa’s CO2 curve.


Sustainability matters.

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New Yorkers can now get unlimited Uber for $100 • Forbes

Brian Solomon:


Uber is rapidly moving into Amazon Prime-like subscription plans. After rolling out pricing options in six cities in September, the ride-sharing startup is adjusting and expanding its new “Uber Plus” program–including bringing it to New York City for the first time.

Starting this October, Uber users can pay up front for unlimited UberPool rides (taxi trips that you share with other passengers going in a similar direction) in Manhattan. The cost: $100 for unlimited rides in the first two weeks of October (1-14) and $200 for the full month. All rides must begin and end in Manhattan below 125th street.


A subscription! It’s a smart idea – create the expectation that Uber will be available on tap (but price it so most won’t be able to use all its value). Maybe the next step would be a dedicated Uber car. Parked outside your house. Which you can drive yourself. Hang on a minute..
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iMessage, metadata, and law enforcement: What you need to know • iMore

Rene Ritchie on The Intercept’s story that “Apple keeps records of who you contacted on iMessage for 30 days!”


Q Why is Apple keeping that log?

My understanding is that, at some point, Apple’s iMessage engineers decided they needed to keep a metadata log in order to detect and fix problems with iMessage dispatch.

Basically, when you type a contact into iMessage it figures out if that contact is also on an Apple device, and then sends an iMessage (blue bubble), or not on an Apple device, and then sends an SMS/MMS (green bubble).

Given that the messages themselves are end-to-end encrypted, that sorting has to be done up front, which generates metadata (data about data.)

Q: Does that really need troubleshooting?

Long time readers and iMessage users will remember that a few years ago, how iMessage handled dispatch was highly controversial. When switching between iPhone and iPad, or when switching to Android devices, people and media outlets were incensed that iMessage sometimes got it wrong.

Hell, people are still incensed when group messages spawn new threads because one of the participants switches devices mid-conversation.

So yes, it needs troubleshooting.


The Intercept felt like it was reaching a bit to find a controversy because, well, otherwise it wouldn’t be The Intercept.
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The demise of Google’s Project Ara and modularity in computing • Christensen Institute

Horace Dediu (who works and lectures at the Christensen Institute):


This idea of the modular phone was undoubtedly influenced by the history of the personal computer. The original IBM PC introduced modularity to personal computers by building them on a hardware “bus” where systems could be expanded via add-on cards that were user installable. In fact, the entire computer was easily put together from parts—the power supply, motherboard, case, display, video card, microprocessor, memory modules, etc. were all available for purchase separately. I put a few together myself during the 1990s and it was a hobby for many.

But the vast majority of people did not want to bother with building their own computers. The benefit of modularity was mainly for PC OEMs who took advantage of this modular architecture by sourcing parts and doing assembly on a just-in-time basis—as consumers placed their orders online. This “have-it-your-way” flexibility was what modularity enabled. It also meant that various sub-components like video cards and microprocessors could be improved at speeds different than those of hard drives or memories. Assemblers did not need to wait for any single improvement to continue offering a better product. The results were a tremendously rapid adoption of the product. Over a billion people became computer users in a matter of two decades.

When the smartphone emerged as a new computing form factor, it made sense that modularity should eventually take root. Recall that early computers, like early smartphones, where integrated products. The PC emerged after decades of mainframe and minicomputer evolution. The Project Ara visionaries saw this stage of modularity arriving and sought to enable it.

So why has Ara failed to even reach a market launch?

…This process of integration followed by modularization followed by re-integration and re-modularization is synchronized to a clock cycle in which performance is redefined. In other words, if the basis of competition changes, then the need for integration emerges. If and when the basis of competition stabilizes, the need for modularity returns.


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Google-funded loan startup to pay $6.3m for ‘deceptive’ practices • The Guardian

Sam Levin:


A Google-funded lending startup will have to pay $6.3m in fines and refunds for a number of “deceptive” practices, signaling the US government’s interest in regulating the growing industry of online alternatives to traditional payday loans.

LendUp – a San Francisco firm that claims to offer a “secure, convenient way to get the money you need, fast” – misled customers, hid its true credit costs, and reversed pricing without disclosing it to consumers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

“LendUp pitched itself as a consumer-friendly, tech-savvy alternative to traditional payday loans, but it did not pay enough attention to the consumer financial laws,” bureau director Richard Cordray said in a statement Tuesday, announcing the settlement.

The company, which has funding from high-profile Silicon Valley venture capital firms and GV, Google’s venture capital branch, began marketing its services in 2012.


Just as a reminder: in May, Google said it would ban ads from payday lenders as part of a policy to “keep bad ads out”. SEO expert Aaron Wall at once pointed out that LendUp seemed to be well-favoured by Google’s search algorithm despite using “doorway pages” and being, well, a payday lender.

Would love someone versed in SEO to examine where LendUp ranks now on Google search compared to its rivals.
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Huawei could ditch Android Wear for Samsung’s Tizen in its future smartwatches • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:


a report out of Korea has revealed that Huawei may be switching its wearable OS entirely, ditching Google’s Android Wear for Samsung’s Tizen.

Now this should all be taken with a huge grain of salt, but if this report is to be believed, Huawei wants to separate itself from Google’s Android Wear on its wearables. Why? The report states that “Huawei [is] looking for an OS other than Google’s as the US firm had not been very collaborative.” Samsung, on the other hand, apparently has agreed to be fully cooperative in tailoring Tizen for Huawei’s wearables.

So what does that mean? More or less, Huawei wasn’t happy with Google’s tight grip on the Android Wear ecosystem and wants to be able to further customize its devices, as we’ve seen with its software skin on smartphones. We even saw Huawei call on Google to allow more customization of the OS in early 2015.


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Google pushes Android Wear 2.0 back to 2017, issues third developer beta • Ars Technica UK

Andrew Cunningham:


Google announced Android Wear 2.0 alongside what later became Android Nougat at Google I/O a few months ago, but aside from a second Wear 2.0 developer preview build in July, we haven’t heard much since. There’s good and bad news on that front: the good news is that Google is releasing a third Wear 2.0 developer preview today with some new features and tweaks. The bad news is that the final release of the software is being delayed.

Wear 2.0’s release date has been pushed back from a vague “this fall” window to an equally vague “early 2017” window, presumably so Google can keep testing and tweaking. To that end, Google will release a fourth developer preview build, and the 2.0 update will begin trickling out to supported watches after that.

The biggest addition to the Android Wear Developer Preview 4 is a watch version of the Google Play store that can browse and download watch apps and watch faces without your phone—developers told Google that they wanted watch apps to be easier to find, and this is Google’s answer. 


Not sure how that delay will help OEMs who have barely seen Android Wear watches leave the shelves.
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Google, Andromeda, mythology and hubris • Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson on the widely expected launch of some sort of conjoined Chrome-Android OS from Google called “Andromeda”; Google VP Hiroshi Lockheimer said that “We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today. I have a feeling 8 years from now we’ll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.”

Dawson says:


My worry with Lockheimer’s remarks is that, in September 2008, Android wasn’t obviously going to be the hit it has since become. In hindsight, the launch of Android was enormously important, and helped create today’s smartphone market, but at the time the G1 launched it was a clunky and marginal bit of hardware. The concern is that whatever Google announces next week will be received — at least initially — in the same way. Perhaps some will see in it the promise of amazing things to come, but I suspect the initial impact will be marginal, and it will take years to see the true impact. And it’s entirely possible that the impact won’t be nearly as impressive as Google clearly thinks it will be. Although Lockheimer is saying that we’ll look back on October 4th as being a milestone event, he’s saying it ahead of time, and that’s where the hubris comes in.


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Yahoo data breach investigation • InfoArmor

The security group seems to – sort of – be suggesting that the Yahoo hack wasn’t a state-sponsored one:


Unfortunately, the security community and press haven’t verified the dump and appear to be focused only on the significant number of records having domain name. For any experienced threat intelligence analyst, the price of 3 BTC (~ 1806.42 USD) for 200,000,000 Yahoo user accounts is suspiciously strange and has no rational explanation.

Further, by evaluating a sample of records, more confusion is created because the decrypted passwords from some of them were legitimate for actual Yahoo users. However, the vast majority of the data is not legitimate, including invalid accounts, deleted accounts, and nonexistent accounts. After extensive analysis and cross reference against the data breach intelligence systems of InfoArmor, it was determined that the dump is based on multiple third party data leaks, which have no relation to Yahoo. Presumably, the threat actor specially misrepresented this data set in order to sensationalize and sell it for the purpose of monetizing his efforts following the negative impact of his relationship with tessa88…

…The actual Yahoo data dump is still not available on any underground forums or marketplaces, and has been distributed from so called Group “E” to one of their proxies for further monetization based on the sale of particular records from the dump, which can be delivered based on the specific criteria of the buyer (login, recovery e-mail, geography, etc.).

According to InfoArmor, the data theft of the Yahoo customer database may be the key in several targeted attacks against US Government personnel, which resulted after the disclosed contacts of the affected high-level officials of intelligence community happened in October 2015.


Wouldn’t that suggest that it was? This seems confused.
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Samsung washing machine fires sparks recall warning reminder •

Phillipa Yalden:


Two faulty washing machines have burst into flames in Waikato [New Zealand] in the last week – three years after they were recalled. 

Samsung issued a recall on four models of the top loader in 2013 due to the risk that moisture could penetrate the electrics and spark a fire. 

At the time, there were 34,000 affected machines in the marketplace, Fire Service National manager of fire investigations Peter Wilding said. 

About 88% of those had been recalled, leaving a further 4000 outstanding. 

READ MORE: * Thousands of burning washing machines still at large


I love that “still at large” as though they’re roaming the streets spitting at grannies. But it’s becoming a problem for Samsung: in the US, regulators says there are safety issues for top-loading models made between March 2011 and April 2016: a number have exploded.

White goods can be a problem. In the UK, Indesit has millions of tumble dryers which are liable to catch fire, for which it has only very gradually been rolling out a repair programme.
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Self-driving hype doesn’t reflect reality • WSJ

Christopher Mims digs into the details and asks the (peculiarly unasked) questions:


Ford, for example, has said it would release a self-driving car by 2021. Dig into the statements and press for details, and a Ford spokesman says that car will only be self-driving in the portion of major cities where the company can create and regularly update extremely detailed 3-D street maps. Ford declines to say how big those areas will be.

Lyft is collaborating with GM and says it will introduce fully self-driving cars by 2021. But co-founder John Zimmer says the vehicles will be limited to a specific geographic area and a top speed of 25 miles an hour.

Representatives of Volvo and Israel’s Mobileye NV, which makes self-driving technology and is collaborating with Intel and BMW, will impose similar limits on their coming self-driving vehicles. Volvo’s cars might refuse to go into self-driving mode on roads that are insufficiently mapped, says Erik Coelingh, the technical lead on Volvo’s self-driving car efforts. The cars will pull over to the side of the road, or come to a stop, if inclement weather impedes the vehicle’s perceptual abilities, Mr. Coelingh says.

That is a scary thought—and one reason why early “fully autonomous” cars will require monitoring by humans.


We were promised flying cars. Then we were promised fully autonomous cars…

This is though another example of the difference between good journalism and “oh look another corporate blogpost” writing. Mims simply kept asking for the detail, and the detail turns out to make the painting a lot less attractive than the broad brushstrokes given previously implied.
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Across the US, police officers abuse confidential databases • Associated Press

Sadie Gurman and Eric Tucker:


No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur.

But the AP, through records requests to state agencies and big-city police departments, found law enforcement officers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found.

Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances reviewed by AP. In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best, and many cases go unnoticed.

Among those punished: an Ohio officer who pleaded guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend and who looked up information on her; a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive; and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist after he aired unflattering stories about the department.

“It’s personal. It’s your address. It’s all your information, it’s your Social Security number, it’s everything about you,” said Alexis Dekany, the Ohio woman whose ex-boyfriend, a former Akron officer, pleaded guilty last year to stalking her. “And when they use it for ill purposes to commit crimes against you — to stalk you, to follow you, to harass you … it just becomes so dangerous.”


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: although there is presently no underground station close to Battersea Power Station in London, by the time Apple aims to move in (around 2020?), the Northern Line extension should be completed – and will start/end at, guess where, Battersea Power Station. So Apple’s London staff need not worry about long walks. They’ll just get told off by their Watches for not walking enough.

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