Start up: judging Assistant, Trump’s death march, Apple at MWC?, iPlayer fades on mobile, and more

See the guy in the middle not using a Microsoft Surface? That’s Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. Photo by FLC on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use as shampoo at own risk. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Scientists accidentally discover efficient process to turn CO2 into ethanol • Popular Mechanics

Avery Thompson:


Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol, potentially creating a new technology to help avert climate change. Their findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect.

The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. The reaction turns CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used to power generators and vehicles.

The tech involves a new combination of copper and carbon arranged into nanospikes on a silicon surface. The nanotechnology allows the reactions to be very precise, with very few contaminants.


I’ll drink to that.
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Good enough defeats great •

Chuq von Rospach:


Photography is more popular now than ever before with billions of new images being created each day. And that’s what’s really driving the changes in photography and the thing so many photographers have trouble understanding: the value in their images was in scarcity, not in their skill. And as imagery becomes increasingly available and the technology of cameras makes it easier and easier to take better images, which shrinks the part of photography where a professional photographer adds value.

Or more precisely, where a professional photographer adds value that a buyer cares about, because when something becomes “good enough” the buyer really doesn’t care how much better yours is. At that point, price and discoverability win.

“Good enough” wins, and it will kill great, because the number of people who care about great is too small to sustain a big industry.

It can sustain a small industry, and that’s what photography is turning into: effectively, if you shoot with a DLSR or a Mirrorless system you are now photography’s equivalent of an audiophile, arguing to someone with iTunes Music and a set of earbuds that they really ought to buy this $1200 pre-amp.

Not gonna happen. What they have is good enough.


So many people overlook this; the point about audiophiles is particularly apt.
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Google Assistant is only an incremental advance over current voice search • Search Engine Land

Greg Sterling:


You want it to do more. That was my feeling about the Google Assistant after using the new Pixel XL for several days.

The Pixel is a very nice phone with a great camera and a beautiful screen. It’s going to be a hit. But an iPhone killer it is not.

Google is promoting the Pixel as “The first phone with the Google Assistant built in.” The Google Assistant is useful and holds great promise, but in this “1.0” version, Google has oversold it. What you get is a user experience identical to what Google is delivering in Allo, but with voice playback. Allo’s version of the Assistant is mute.

Danny Sullivan discusses what he feels are shortcomings around Google Assistant usability on MarketingLand. He focuses on the fact that you can’t manually type a question into Google Assistant; it can only be initiated by voice. My frustrations were not focused on that issue so much as the fact that you can’t hold a true “conversation” with the Assistant.


I think this is far too short-term. This year’s Pixel is just the very beginning; Google has big plans for Assistant, and for Pixel, and they’re bound together. Judging Assistant on what it’s like today won’t compare with what it’s like in six months, which won’t compare with a year or four years.
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Donald Trump is on a presidential death march we’ve never seen before • The Ringer

Tim Miller has been there, done that:


On Jeb Bush’s campaign, we experienced one of the most painful and seemingly unending death marches imaginable. From the top of the polls in June to all but dead by October, with three long winter months to go before preliminary voting even began. There are days when you just dream of not getting out of bed and having to see or talk to anyone to just have a momentary respite from the constant reminder of your failure. Any good mood could be stripped away by one glance at your phone revealing a new poll showing the campaign losing ground. It is all-encompassing.

Yet every day you have to wake up with steely resolve and go out into the world and make the case for why you or your candidate are the best person to lead, even when it appears that you will not. Why people should ignore all the polls and the news and the criticism and put their faith in you, even when you’ve already lost faith that you can actually win.

It can be too much for staffers to bear. In 2007, on John McCain’s first death march  —  he resurrected only to march again in 2008  —  I was working for the campaign in Iowa when news came down that there were going to be layoffs. When I was brought into the campaign manager’s office to hear my fate, I am embarrassed to report that I was overcome with despair after I heard the news — I had been retained. My death march was going to continue.

As hard as it is on the staff, it is the candidate who faces the real test.


This is so insightful, and so easily forgotten: how do you keep psychologically up when you know you are going to be publicly kicked to hell?
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Apple listed as an exhibitor at MWC 2017 • FierceWireless

Colin Gibbs:


Apple appears to be scheduled to have an official presence at Mobile World Congress next year in Barcelona in a move that would mark a dramatic shift for the company.

The Mobile Network reported this morning that Apple is listed as an exhibitor on Mobile World Congress’s website, having booked three meeting rooms. The company is scheduled to be in Hall 8 at the App Planet Stand as well as two locations in the walkway stand above Hall 2.


This would be a hell of a change. Apple has never, ever exhibited at MWC.
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Apple, Samsung, and good design — inside and out • The New Yorker

Om Malik:


In 2012, a jury told Samsung to pay a billion dollars in damages to Apple. The award was reduced to five hundred and forty-eight million dollars last year, and Samsung is now challenging about four hundred million of that amount. The Supreme Court will weigh in on whether damages should be awarded based on the entire phone, or just on those parts that infringed Apple’s patents.

That Samsung is facing such steep costs suggests the appeal of the original Apple design. When I asked John Maeda, the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, why, then, people have turned on the design of the iPhone 7, he pointed out that perhaps these critics “seem to believe that there’s some as yet unimaginable transcendence that can happen in a small, palm-shaped, rectangular device.” Maeda said that he spent time with designers at Sony and felt their frustration designing a television set “because all you can really do is design the rectangle that the TV sits within. . . . Everything else around that screen really doesn’t matter.” The same problem holds for the iPhone. All that matters is the screen—its size, brightness, and resolution. “Now that we have all those dimensions sated, it’s basically the challenge of designing a TV set all over again,” he added.


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Gene therapy is curing haemophilia • MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:


Sure, gene therapy has been tried before. What’s different is that Spark’s therapy so far appears to work well every time it’s attempted—a consistency that’s eluded previous efforts. “Right now this looks very close to being as good as it gets,” says Edward Tuddenham, a hematologist at University College London, who led a competing study and consults with some of Spark’s rivals.

The results are satisfying news for people like Maurits, as well as for scientists who’ve struggled for three decades to get gene therapy right. Two gene therapies for ultra-rare inherited disease are approved in Europe, including one cleared last month to treat severe immune deficiency.

But hemophilia could be the big one. It affects about one in 5,000 men (women are rarely affected). And there’s already a lucrative $10-billion-a-year market in blood factor replacements. “Curing hemophilia would be a signal to the marketplace that gene therapy has hit prime time,” says Eric Faulkner, who studies disruptive medicines at Evidera, a consultancy.

Only a larger study will reveal for sure whether Spark’s treatment proves out. “This is four subjects. We are going to need more,” says Katherine High, the hematologist who is Spark’s president and founder. “If you saw that in 40 subjects, then maybe … well, it’s very exciting.”


Gene therapy has been a “next year, for sure!” technology for ages. Let’s wait for the bigger test. Wonder how this would go down with the factor IX makers: there’s a lot of money in that business.
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The iPlayer is fading away as internet video booms – what is the BBC’s next online trick? #iplayer • Talk About Local

William Perrin in May 2015:


In the wider internet beyond the BBC there has been a colossal growth in the use of video – the numbers for this Adobe report in the USA or this for the EU are staggering.  So by comparative standards the iPlayer is struggling.

There are many reasons this might be:

BBC strategy over recent years has been deeply conservative, regarding the internet largely as a form of playout for Radio and TV content, rather than a creative medium in its own right.

video and radio on the iPlayer is served up in huge lumps, whole shows at a time, just like on telly.  It is nearly impossible to share, particularly to someone’s mobile.  If for instance you are daring enough as a humble citizen to disagree with the great creative mind that created the 45 minute show and just want to share with your mates the brilliant bit at 37.45 where Anne gets her head chopped off you can’t link to it – you are forced to link to the whole damn thing – YouTube fixed this years ago.


Latest data shows iPlayer usage actually declining on mobile, though growing on TV; this inability to share snippets looks likely to be a cause. But iPlayer has, after its initial shocking success, been allowed to drift; it’s not adapting to the world of short sharing.
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Agent of Influence 2.0 • Medium

“The Grugq”, with a criticism of The Intercept’s coverage of the leaked DNC and Hillary Clinton emails, quoting Jeremy Rue of UC Berkeley’s graduate school of journalism:


[This post] speaks to a problem in journalism when entities try to use journalists as distributors for their message. Journalists like to claim simply publicizing information doesn’t mean advocating any one side (a form of RT != endorsement) but in a subtle way it always does. By disseminating information, journalists play a significant role in promoting it. Even in an age of social media, journalists still hold an influential role of validating a story. (Just as when people complain that mainstream media isn’t covering an issue, when social media has disseminated it to numbers far beyond what MSM reaches.)


The Intercept’s reporting on emails which show, surprise, that politicians try to influence journalists has seemed a little pearl-clutching.
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Bill Belichick conference call transcript 10/18 • New England Patriots

Belichick is head coach of the American football team; Microsoft pays the NFL bazillions to get touchline coaches to use Surface tablets. Now read on:


As you probably noticed, I’m done with the tablets. I’ve given them as much time as I can give them. They’re just too undependable for me. I’m going to stick with pictures as several of our other coaches do as well because there just isn’t enough consistency in the performance of the tablets, so I just can’t take it anymore. The other communication systems involve the press box to the coaches on the field, and then the coach on the field, the signal caller, or the coach-to-quarterback, coach-to-signal caller system. Those fail on a regular basis. There are very few games that we play, home or away, day, night, cold, hot, preseason, regular season, postseason, it doesn’t make any difference; there are very few games where there aren’t issues in some form or fashion with that equipment. And again, there’s a lot of equipment involved, too. There are headsets in the helmets, there’s the belt pack, that communication, there’s a hookup or connection to internet service or that process and so forth with the coaches and the press box. So, there are a number of pieces of equipment, there is a number of connections that are on different frequencies. Again, not that I know anything about this but as it has been explained to me there are a lot of things involved and inevitably something goes wrong somewhere at some point in time. I would say weekly we have to deal with something. Dan Famosi is our IT person and he does a great job of handling those things. This is all league equipment so we don’t have it. I mean we use it but it isn’t like we have the equipment during the week and we can work with it and ‘OK, this is a problem. Let’s fix this.’ That’s not how it works. We get the equipment the day of the game, or I’d say not the day of the game but a few hours before the game and we test it and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.


The branding is so good he doesn’t even know their name.
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Peak iPhone carrier expansion strategy • The Technalyzer

Eduardo Archanco:


The iPhone carrier expansion strategy had a clear goal for Apple: support the growth of its new business. The above graph shows us how little Apple earned with the iPhone in its early years. Not even $15 billion between 2007 and 2009.

But something happened in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, revenues doubled the amount generated in the three previous years (from $15 billion in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to $30 billion in 2010). In 2011, revenues doubled again, from $30 billion to $60 billion.

What was going on?


This is a great piece of research, which bears out a simple metric: the more phone carriers you’re on, the more phones you’ll tend to sell. But it’s the subtleties of regions that tells the important story.
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Twitter goes virtual reality: hires team, preps Periscope 360 video • Variety

Janko Roettgers:


Twitter has hired AngelHack founder Gregory Gopman to work on its nascent virtual reality (VR) initiative, Variety has learned. The company may add native 360-degree video integration as well as 360-degree video live streaming to its products in the coming months.


Very hard to know why anyone at Twitter thinks this is a good idea when it is bleeding red ink, hugely overstaffed and is not going to be bought by anyone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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