Start up: our stupid management, Sierra’s ARM hints, Google aims at Home, Apple’s music problem, and more


Guess how many episodes it took to hook people. Logo copyright Netflix.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Come on, time to get back to work for the final three months of the year. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New Netflix data reveals when viewers commit to TV shows • WSJ

John Jurgensen:

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Netflix has a theory about why commitment tends to come quicker for certain kinds content.

“The more visceral a series is and viewers’ response to it, the more quickly they’re going to really get attached,” says Cindy Holland, Vice President of Original Content, referring to shows with immediate action, scares or other kinds of intensity. With shows that are more subdued and character driven, she adds, “it’s like the viewer befriending the character…you take time to choose your friends.”

In its methodology, Netflix says there is no correlation between how quickly viewers commit to a series and the total size of its audience. That’s one reason the new data won’t do much to satisfy people outside the company who want the equivalent of Nielsen ratings data for Netflix shows. To that Holland has a now-familiar response: “We aren’t particularly interested in sharing things that aren’t really relevant to us and our viewers.”

For 30 popular series on the service, Netflix identified the hooked episode for a given country, and then tallied the average across more than 35 of its territories, from Argentina to the United States. Viewing patterns were often similar from country to country, which Holland says debunks “conventional wisdom that in some countries a certain kind of storytelling doesn’t perform as well as in others.”

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link to this extract


You don’t have to be stupid to work here, but it helps • Aeon Essays

Andre Spicer on how new recruits to the workforce meet gigantic, dispiriting corporate inertia, and what that means for the future:

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Another significant source of stupidity in firms we came across was a deep faith in leadership. In most organisations today, senior executives are not content with just being managers. They want to be leaders. They see their role as not just running their business but also transforming their followers. They talk about ‘vision’, ‘belief’ and ‘authenticity’ with great verve. All this sounds like our office buildings are brimming with would-be Nelson Mandelas. However, when you take a closer look at what these self-declared leaders spend their days doing, the story is quite different.

No matter how hard you search there is little – if any – leadership to be found. What most executives actually spend their days doing is sitting in meetings, filling in forms and communicating information. In other words, they are bureaucrats. But being a bureaucrat is not particularly exciting. It also doesn’t look very good on your business card. To make their roles seem more important and exciting than they actually are, corporate executives become leadership addicts. They read leadership books. They give lengthy talks to yawning subordinates about leadership. But most importantly they attend many courses, seminars and meetings with ‘leadership’ somewhere in the title. The content of many of these leadership-development courses would not be out of place in a kindergarten or a New Age commune. There are leadership-development courses where participants are asked to lead a horse around a yard, use colouring-in books, or build Lego – all in the name of developing them as leaders.

At least $14bn gets spent every year on leadership development in the US alone yet, according to researchers such as Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford, it has virtually no impact on improving the quality of leaders. In our own research, we found that most employees in knowledge-intensive firms didn’t need much leadership. People working at the coalface were self-motivated and often knew their jobs much better than their bosses did.

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link to this extract


macOS Sierra code suggests Apple could replace Intel in Macs with custom ARM chips • iDownload

Christian Zibreg:

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Could Apple be working on next-generation Mac hardware that would be powered by an in-house designed processor based on CPU blueprints from British fabless semiconductor maker ARM Holdings plc? That’s exactly the conclusion one could reach by looking closely at code strings in the macOS Sierra kernel, discovered by Dutch outlet TechTastic.nl.

It’s very peculiar that Apple would add support for ARM technology to macOS Sierra.

As you know, all Macs manufactured since 2005 run Intel chips. The Apple appears to be implementing support for ARM chips in the Mac operating system could mean that first ARM-based Macs might appear this year.

As TechTastic.nl states, developers no longer submit fully compiled binaries.

Instead, intermediary bit code is submitted which Apple uses to compile the binary code for the specific CPU architecture. Should Apple release an ARM-based Mac, developers wouldn’t need to re-submit their existing code nor would they need to add any ARM-specific code in order for their apps to run natively on ARM-based hardware.

“It is probably also one of the reasons why legacy applications have recently been removed from the App Store,” speculates the publication.

The macOS Sierra kernel indicates support for the ARM Hurricane family.

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It all sounds like blather until that last line. Except ARM doesn’t have a Hurricane. So that must be an Apple codename.
link to this extract


Google Home strategy aims to use Chromecast to beat Amazon Echo • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

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Amazon struck a deal with Sonos to leverage the Echo for voice control for existing Sonos speaker systems in August, and followed up this week with a similar deal with DTS for Wi-Fi speakers powered by the company’s Play-Fi technology. And if that wasn’t enough, Amazon has also enabled a number of smaller manufacturers to add its Alexa smart assistant directly to their speaker systems.

Google’s own negotiations with consumer electronics manufacturers could be hampered by what multiple sources have described as overly aggressive muscle-flexing. At the meeting in June, Google is said to have told home audio vendors that they won’t be allowed to add any other digital assistants than Google’s own to their hardware if they want to continue to use Google Cast. Another source told Variety of similarly far-reaching demands made in negotiations with another big consumer electronics manufacturer — demands that ultimately led to talks breaking down.

(A Google spokesperson declined to comment on plans to add Google Assistant to third-party hardware, or on the meeting in question. She did however point out that some consumer electronics manufacturers have in the past used Google Cast in addition to competing technologies like AirPlay and Bluetooth.)

In the end, Google’s plan to beat Amazon’s Echo may still hinge on the performance of Google Home. Multiple leaks suggest that Google will sell the device for $130, which is $50 less than the price of an Amazon Echo. If anything, Google has shown with the success of its $35 Chromecast that these price differences can matter.

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Playing hardball is hardly exclusive to Google, and isn’t a bad idea.
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AI-First, the overhype and the last mile problem • Vik’s Blog

Vik Singh is chief executive of AI startup Infer:

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How do you get regular business users to depend on your predictions, even though they won’t understand all of the science that went into calculating them? You want them to trust the predictions, to understand how to best leverage them to drive value, and to change their workflows to depend on them.

This is the last mile problem. It is a very hard problem — and it’s a product problem, not a data scientist problem. Having an army of data scientists isn’t going to make this problem better. In fact, it may make it worse, as data scientists typically want to focus on modeling, which may lead to over-investing in that aspect versus thinking about the end-to-end user experience.

To solve last mile problems, vendors need to successfully tackle three critical components:

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Those are: getting “predictive everywhere” with integrations; building trust; and making predictive disappear with proven use cases. Might not sound comprehensible on its own, but it makes sense in context. Infer is an example of the sort of company that nobody will have heard of, but will over the next five years insinuate its work into all sorts of daily decisions. You’ll wake up one day and its algorithms will have affected you directly.
link to this extract


Samsung Display to decrease supply of notebook panels • Digitimes

Rebecca Kuo and Adam Hwang:

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Samsung Display, following the sale of a 5G TFT-LCD factory to China-based Truly Opto-Electronics in 2015, will shut down another 5G factory in 2017. 5G factories mainly produce notebook-use panels, meaning Samsung Display’s supply of notebook panels will continue to decrease.

According to IHS Markit, Samsung Display produced about 30 million notebook-use panels in 2015 and its output will slip to 12 million units in 2016 and further to four million units in 2017. In particular, Samsung Display’s notebook panel production shrank from 4.17 million units in the first quarter of 2016 to 2.8 million units in the second.

Among notebook vendors, HP saw the largest impact from Samsung Display’s reduced supply, with shipments to HP dropping from 1.1 million panels in the first quarter of 2016 to 350,000 units in the second. In response, HP has shifted orders to other makers

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link to this extract


Here’s my plan to save Twitter: let’s buy it • The Guardian

Nathan Schneider:

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When I mentioned a Twitter buyout to co-op and crowdfunding veteran Danny Spitzberg, he reminded me of the Green Bay Packers. Have you ever wondered why the small-ish city of Green Bay has held on to its really good football team? It’s because, rather than being traded around by billionaires, the team started selling shares to its fans, starting in 1923. That has resulted in sold-out games, affordable ticket prices, tasteful stadium advertising, and an all-around successful, sustainable business model for generations.

I’m sure many of us have ideas about how we could make Twitter meet our needs better. One suggestion that came my way: “actually moderating threats and hatespeech.” But what would it take to put Twitter in the hands of those who rely on it most?

Armin Steuernagel, founder and managing partner at the innovative new investment firm Purpose Fund, suggested to me that it could go down this way: assemble a company and invite investment for shares that grant dividend rights, but not voting; gather about 20% of the funds needed for the buyout, then borrow the rest, and buy. As for the voting rights, they’d be distributed according to a “ladder of engagement,” including investors and general users, but allocating more control to those who contribute the most value to the platform, such as employees and the most active users. Finally, there could be a few “golden shares” with veto rights, perhaps controlled by a foundation representing all users.

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It’s nice to have a dream. This one will never materialise.
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Apple’s relationship with pro music needs some mending • Create Digital Music

Peter Kim:

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Here’s how bad this is: you show up to a gig, and out of the blue, your machine starts popping or dropping buffers or creating random distortion. That’s clear-the-floor stuff, things that could make people never want to play again. And it’s not necessary. Computers are perfectly capable of acting reliably for days at a time.

This is being reported by NI, but the cause is Apple and can impact other systems – I’ve reproduced the issues they’re describing in Serato DJ and Ableton Live, for instance, with different pieces of hardware from different vendors. People who work in support paint an ugly picture, and then anecdotal evidence is useful, because it covers a range of different situations. And it’s getting been worse through El Capitan: “OS X 10.9 (rare occurrences), OS X 10.10 (occasional occurrences) and OS X 10.11 (most occurrences, compared to the aforementioned OS versions).”

Now, it’s not uncommon to wait a few weeks when an OS comes out to make sure your complex ecosystem of software hosts, plug-ins, and hardware is compatible. But note the OS numbers – that’s years without a fix, and instead worsened regressions. That’s simply unacceptable. OS X 10.9 Mavericks is about to turn three years old (older if you count pre-release builds).

This should never have shipped in a stable OS in the first place. I can’t think of an instance of this happening on any recent build of Windows, and Microsoft doesn’t control the hardware you run on. It certainly should not have dragged on for years on a platform who has defined itself as the choice of musicians and producers.

The good news is, macOS 10.12 Sierra seems potentially to fix the problem (with AppNap functionality turned off manually, which isn’t totally ideal). More testing is needed to be sure of this.

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It seems reasonable to expect new Apple Mac hardware this week, or by October 10 at the latest. But that’s not the whole of the problem, as Kim explains.
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A Yahoo insider says the hacked database could be much larger • Business Insider

Paul Szoldra:

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Yahoo has said that the breach affected at least 500 million users. But the former Yahoo exec estimated the number of accounts that could have potentially been stolen could be anywhere between 1 billion and 3 billion.

According to this executive, all of Yahoo’s products use one main user database, or UDB, to authenticate users. So people who log into products such as Yahoo Mail, Finance, or Sports all enter their usernames and passwords, which then goes to this one central place to ensure they are legitimate, allowing them access.

That database is huge, the executive said. At the time of the hack in 2014, inside were credentials for roughly 700 million to 1 billion active users accessing Yahoo products every month, along with many other inactive accounts that hadn’t been deleted.

In late 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said the company had 800 million monthly active users globally. It currently has more than 1 billion.

“That is what got compromised,” the executive said. “The core crown jewels of Yahoo customer credentials.”

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link to this extract


The over-medicated population • VolteFace

Abbie Llewelyn:

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let’s look at the issues that [interventional cardiologist Aseem] Malhotra brings up with what he calls “a collective system problem”. Firstly, there is bias in the funding of drugs research. A great deal of funding comes from pharmaceutical companies who stand to gain a profit from the industry. The way they make the most profit is to create drugs that can be used by the largest number of people for the longest amount of time, which clearly means that they aren’t necessarily funding research that is the most beneficial to patients.

It also means that most of the new drugs produced in the last 20-30 years have been near copies of existing drugs, with just tiny alterations, meaning that the clinical advantages of these drugs over what was already available is minimal. A Barral report on all internationally marketed drugs between 1974 and 1994 found that only 11% were truly innovative and multiple independent reviews since then have also concluded that around 85-90% of all new drugs provide few or no clinical advantages to patients. On top of this, many of these drugs also have serious side effects, which have a negative impact on people’s health.

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This is a gigantic topic, but it’s underreported outside the specialist space of medics.
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Google prepares to reject EU monopoly charges • Telegraph

James Titcomb:

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While a response is expected in mid-to-late October, it could be delayed further as Google puts the finishing touches to its answers. The company may still offer concessions in a last-ditch attempt to seek a deal with the Commission that would lead to a reduced fine, but after several failed attempts in the past, the prospect of a truce appears unlikely.

Both sides are now believed to be prepared for a long-running battle, and any EU fine may be appealed at the European Court of Justice, a process that could take years and extend beyond Ms Vestager’s 2019 term.

The Commission’s combative stance has irritated the US government, which cleared Google of any search bias after its own investigation in 2013. Barack Obama has accused the EU of attempting to protect its own companies by reining in Silicon Valley giants.

When it responds, Google is likely to argue that it needs to place restrictions on Android to ensure the consistency of the software and that many price comparison services have benefited, not suffered, from the search engine.

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Prepare for the PR war. There’s also (separately, for completeness) Ben Edelman has the English translation of the Russian antitrust finding against Google.
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Thoughts On Andromeda • Naofumi Kagami

The aforesaid Kagami:

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Unlike Microsoft which still commands the vast majority of the business personal computing market via PCs, Android tablets do not appeal to people who want to work on business documents. This is also true for the mass iPad market, and is the challenge for tablets as a whole.

It has also been often mentioned that there are very few Android apps that have been designed to take advantage of the tablet form factor. Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo examined 200 apps from Google Play’s “Top Apps” list and found the situation to be quite dire. (To be fair, the design of this analysis experiment is not very scientific. The choice of the “top free apps” list is arbitrary, and a control experiment with a similar list for iPad is necessary.)

Of the top 200 apps:

• 19 were not compatible with the Pixel C
• 69 did not support landscape at all
• 84 were stretched-out phone apps
• 28 were, by my judgment, actual “tablet” apps

From the above, I think that it is safe to say that the markets that Andromeda is targeting (the PC and tablet markets), are the markets where Google is weakest.

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Sounds promising.

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The above situation is similar to the predicament where Microsoft finds itself in with respect to entering the smartphone market.

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Sounds less promising.
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Google’s global ad warming pushes beachfront seo property into the ocean • SEOBook

Aaron Wall, from September 2015 (but still true): I

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t takes a lot of effort & most people are probably too lazy to do it, but if you look at the arc of Google’s patents related to search quality, many of the early ones revolved around links. Then many focused on engagement related signals. Chrome & Android changed the pool of signals Google had access to. Things like Project Fi, Gogle Fiber, Nest, and Google’s new OnHub router give them more of that juicy user data. Many of their recently approved patents revolve around expanding the knowledge graph so that they may outright displace the idea of having a neutral third party result set for an increasing share of the overall search pie.

Searchers can instead get bits of “knowledge” dressed in various flavors of ads.

This sort of displacement is having a significant impact on a variety of sites. But for most it is a slow bleed rather than an overnight sudden shift. In that sort of environment, even volunteer run sites will eventually atrophy. They will have fewer new users, and as some of the senior people leave, eventually fewer will rise through the ranks. Or perhaps a greater share of the overall ranks will be driven by money.

Jimmy Wales stated: “It is also false that ‘Wikipedia thrives on clicks,’ at least as compared to ad-revenue driven sites… The relationship between ‘clicks’ and the things we care about: community health and encyclopedia quality is not nothing, but it’s not as direct as some think.”

Most likely the relationship *is* quite direct, but there is a lagging impact. Today’s major editors didn’t join the site yesterday & take time to rise through the ranks.

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We’re at an inflection point: internet user growth has essentially stalled, as has the installed base for smartphone users; both are growing only slowly, and only in low-income countries. So Google’s revenue and profit growth has to come from showing more ads to people one way or another, as its Other Bets aren’t pulling their weight (comparatively).
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Those without substance suffer no wounds • Rough Type

Nicholas Carr:

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In the 1960s, television gave candidates their bodies back, at least in two dimensions. With its jumpy cuts and pitiless close-ups, TV placed a stress on sound bites, good teeth, and an easy manner. Image became everything, as the line between politician and celebrity blurred. John Kennedy was the first successful candidate of the TV era, but it was Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who perfected the form. Born actors, they managed to project a down-home demeanor while also seeming bigger than life. They were made for television.

Today, with the public looking to their smartphones for news and entertainment, we’re at the start of the third technological transformation of modern electioneering. The presidential campaign is becoming just another social-media stream, its swift and shallow current intertwining with all the other streams that flow through people’s devices. This shift is changing the way politicians communicate with voters, altering the tone and content of political speech. But it’s doing more than that. It’s changing what the country wants and expects from its would-be leaders. If radio and TV required candidates to be nouns — to present themselves as stable, coherent figures — social media pushes them to be verbs, engines of activity. Authority and esteem don’t accumulate on social media; they have to be earned anew at each moment.

What’s important now is not so much image as personality. But, as the Trump phenomenon suggests, it’s a particular kind of personality that works best — one that’s big enough to grab the attention of the perpetually distracted but small enough to fit neatly into a thousand tiny media containers. It might best be described as a Snapchat personality. It bursts into focus at regular intervals without ever demanding steady concentration.

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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