Start up: Musically’s silent revolution, Nintendo Switch-es, Intel slows iPhones, grading Pixels, and more


Crazy untruthful partisan posts get shared more on Facebook. Photo by torbakhopper on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Flim-flam free. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Musical.ly’s teenage revolution: how the trend-setting lip-sync app is changing the music industry • Billboard

Chris Martins:

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Musical.ly is many things: a hit mobile app that topped the iOS App Store Free chart in July 2015 and hasn’t fallen from the top 40 since; a scorching-hot startup with a $500 million valuation (as estimated by TechCrunch in May) and more than 133 million “Musers” worldwide; and a promotional platform embraced by the music industry for its ability to translate song clips into streams and sales. And with half of all American teens (according to the company’s estimate) using the app, Musical.ly has become a bona fide cultural phenomenon, even inspiring pearl-clutching among “olds,” from parents fretting over sexualized youth and online predators to traditionalists questioning the artistic validity of lip-syncing. It may not be Elvis thrusting his hips or Public Enemy speaking truth to power — but then again, would anyone who’s not a teen admit it if Musical.ly did represent a new frontier in pop?

Like any youthquake, some savvy adults set off the first tremors. “It was organic growth — word-of-mouth,” is how Alex Hofmann, Musical.ly’s 35-year-old president of North America, explains the app’s leap from 10 million total users one year ago to now, when 13 million are added every month. “Teens on other platforms would see someone share a Musical.ly video, like it, download the app and then ask their friends to try it.”

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link to this extract


Security bug lifetime • codeblog

Kees Cook:

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In several of my recent presentations, I’ve discussed the lifetime of security flaws in the Linux kernel. Jon Corbet did an analysis in 2010, and found that security bugs appeared to have roughly a 5 year lifetime. As in, the flaw gets introduced in a Linux release, and then goes unnoticed by upstream developers until another release 5 years later, on average. I updated this research for 2011 through 2016, and used the Ubuntu Security Team’s CVE Tracker to assist in the process. The Ubuntu kernel team already does the hard work of trying to identify when flaws were introduced in the kernel, so I didn’t have to re-do this for the 557 kernel CVEs since 2011.

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Spoiler: it’s still five years. Many eyes don’t do much to bugs. Given how many IoT things rely on Linux, this is concerning.
link to this extract


Hyperpartisan Facebook pages are publishing false and misleading information at an alarming rate • BuzzFeed News

Craig Silverman:

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The rapid growth of these pages combines with BuzzFeed News’ findings to suggest a troubling conclusion: The best way to attract and grow an audience for political content on the world’s biggest social network is to eschew factual reporting and instead play to partisan biases using false or misleading information that simply tells people what they want to hear. This approach has precursors in partisan print and television media, but has gained a new scale of distribution on Facebook. And while it isn’t a solely American phenomenon — the British Labour party found powerful support from a similar voice — these pages are central to understanding a profoundly polarized moment in American life.

For example, in late September, Freedom Daily, a Facebook page with more than 1 million fans, scored a viral hit with a post that filled its audience with racial outrage.

The post linked to an article on the Freedom Daily website with the headline “Two White Men Doused With Gasoline, Set On FIRE By Blacks – Media CENSORED (VIDEO).” The text that accompanied the link on Facebook connected the attack to recent Black Lives Matter protests and urged people to share the post “if you’re angry as hell & aren’t going to take it anymore!”

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Social media abhors the vacuum of reasonableness.
link to this extract


Nintendo’s next console, Switch, is a console/tablet hybrid coming in March • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

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In a three-minute “Preview Trailer” released this morning (and teased last night), Nintendo gave the world the first glimpse of the mysterious “Project NX,” over 19 months after the company first mentioned the “dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept.” The system is called the Nintendo Switch.

As was widely rumored, that “new concept” involves a console/portable hybrid system with two detachable, one-handed controllers that sit alongside a tablet-style screen. Nintendo is referring to these publicly as “Joy-Con” controllers, which “can be employed by numerous people for a variety of gameplay options. They can easily click back into place or be slipped into a Joy-Con Grip accessory, mirroring a more traditional controller.” The system will also support a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller with a more traditional dual-analog stick form factor, and support local multiplayer gaming on multiple Switch tablets at once, according to a press release.

“In addition to providing single and multiplayer thrills at home, the Nintendo Switch system also enables gamers to play the same title wherever, whenever and with whomever they choose,” Nintendo said in a press release announcing the system. “The mobility of a handheld is now added to the power of a home gaming system to enable unprecedented new video game play styles.”

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I don’t understand why in October you would announce something that won’t be available until March. I believe that a very popular shopping season occurs in between those two dates.

(Also: looks bonkers.)
link to this extract


LeEco’s big vision for the US needs fleshing out • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson on the latest Chinese entrant hoping to make it big in the US:

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Aside from the unfinished content story, LeEco’s other big challenge will be branding and marketing. Today, the brand is entirely unfamiliar to US customers, although the company did acquire TV maker Vizio recently. Unless that changes, none of the ecosystem or other benefits the company talked up on Wednesday will make any difference, because no one will ever know about them. LeEco talked up the economic benefits of its direct sales model (its LeMall website is a sort of single-brand Amazon) in terms of cutting out middlemen and reducing marketing and branding spend but the big disadvantage of going online-only is customers won’t encounter the LeEco brand in familiar stores. Vizio TVs will presumably continue to be offered through third-party distribution but it’s less clear that LeEco-branded devices will be.

The other major Chinese consumer tech companies have used both wireless carrier relationships and sponsorships of sports teams and events to gradually familiarize US consumers with their brands but it’s unclear whether LeEco has any similar plans. Starting from the ground up without either third party distribution or a massive brand awareness campaign seems like a recipe for failure. It doesn’t help that, as executives joked on stage, the “Le-” prefix conjures up misleading French associations, as well as being plain awkward when it’s so widely and inconsistently used (some sub-brands use the Le prefix joined to a word, like LeEco, while others use it as a separate prefix, as in the Le Pro3 phone, while the Eco element is used separately in lower case names for product lines like “ecophones” and “ecotvs”).

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I definitely would have thought that LeEco was a French company if not told otherwise.
link to this extract


Agony, alarm and anger for people hurt by Theranos’s botched blood tests • WSJ

Christopher Weaver:

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The Journal interviewed more than a dozen patients who got improbable test results from the California lab or Theranos’s other lab in Arizona, including some relating to tests that haven’t been voided or revised. Patients are still grappling with unanswered questions about their results.

The Journal also reviewed undisclosed regulatory documents that quantify the severity of Theranos’s accuracy problems.

Notes from the CMS inspection show that 834 out of 2,890 quality-control checks run on the Edison in October 2014, or 29%, exceeded the company’s threshold of two standard deviations from its average result. Standard deviation is a statistical measurement of variation.

In addition, 80% of the 834 quality-control checks that raised a red flag under Theranos’s internal standards were more than three standard deviations from its average result, the inspection notes show. Theranos has told regulators it used the Edison from November 2013 to June 2015.

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Numbers on a page, but people on the receiving end: this is the sharp end of overconfident funding.
link to this extract


Zeynep’s Eclectics by zeynep tufekci

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An eclectic newsletter! My thoughts and notes that are too long for Twitter, not polished enough for my New York Times column, and not ready or a good fit for Facebook or elsewhere. Also notes and reactions about books I’m reading, the cutting room floor from my articles in the New York Times and elsewhere. I’ll include updates as well. None of this is secret, but I’m not archiving my newsletters publicly.

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Tufekci is so smart; if you’re not following her on Twitter, you should be. This is a must-subscribe. (No indication yet on how often it will come out.)
link to this extract


Hillary Clinton’s three debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins • Vox

Ezra Klein:

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Clinton was able to make Trump’s treatment of women the issue in part because she and her campaign had prepared to make Trump’s treatment of women the issue, and in part because she is a woman and her assault on Trump flummoxed his usual mode of defense, which is to dominate and insult the other men on the stage. By the end of the final debate, Trump was reduce to spitting that Clinton was “such a nasty woman,” a line that spoke to both his horror at being challenged by a woman and his complete inability to control what came out of his mouth after 80 minutes on a stage with Clinton.

Two things have been true throughout the debates. One is that Trump has been, at every turn, underprepared, undisciplined, and operating completely without a strategy. In one of the third debate’s most unintentionally revealing moments, Trump said, “I sat in my apartment today … watching ad after false ad, all paid for by your friends on Wall Street,” an inadvertent admission that he was inhaling cable news when he should have been prepping for the debate.

But the other reality is that Clinton has been, at every turn, prepared, disciplined, and coldly strategic. She triggered Trump’s epic meltdown purposely, and kept Trump off balance over multiple weeks that probably represented his last chance to turn the election around.

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As Klein also points out, her insistence on constantly addressing him as “Donald” seems to have peeved him. Why? Who knows – but that’s the sort of thing that good opposition research finds out. Trump’s team, by contrast, never seems to have found the secret to rattling her.
link to this extract


Debate over: IBM confirms that Macs are $535 less expensive than PCs • Jamf

Jni Asaba:

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In 2015, IBM let their employees decide – Windows or Mac. “The goal was to deliver a great employee choice program and strive to achieve the best Mac program,” Previn said. An emerging favorite meant the deployment of 30,000 Macs over the course of the year. But that number has grown. With more employees choosing Mac than ever before, the company now has 90,000 deployed (with only five admins supporting them), making it the largest Mac deployment on earth.

But isn’t it expensive, and doesn’t it overload IT? No. IBM found that not only do PCs drive twice the amount of support calls, they’re also three times more expensive. That’s right, depending on the model, IBM is saving anywhere from $273 – $543 per Mac compared to a PC, over a four-year lifespan. “And this reflects the best pricing we’ve ever gotten from Microsoft,” Previn said. Multiply that number by the 100,000+ Macs IBM expects to have deployed by the end of the year, and we’re talking some serious savings.

Needless to say, the employees at IBM got it right. And with 73% of them saying they want their next computer to be a Mac, the success will only increase with time.

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Geez, I thought this debate had been settled in the 1990s, but OK. Five admins is pretty impressive. (How many said “I want a Linux machine”?)
link to this extract


Pixel, iPhone 7, and grading on a curve • iMore

Rene Ritchie:

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They were segmented like iPhones, priced like iPhones, and they even looked like iPhones — roughly the same shape, with the same “ugly” antenna lines, and the same big-chin-and-forehead bezels. (Despite not having a Home button on the bottom front.)

Google made a point of how they controlled the hardware this time, from design to features. Google could have made the Pixel look like anything — like a Galaxy S7 Edge, like an LG G5, like a Moto X, or like something completely new and refreshing. Google carefully, deliberately, chose to make it look like an iPhone 6s, though. And that means they get to own that choice. As do we.

So, everyone who’d been criticizing Apple and iPhone design immediately called Google out for aping it?

Not so much.

Well, at least they called Google and Pixel out for the same things they called Apple and iPhone out for?

Again, not so much.

Surely they drew the line at Google’s 2016 flagship missing optical image stabilization — not just in the regular-size, but in the Plus XL model as well — stereo speakers, and water resistance — things that were pointed to last year as indicators Apple was falling behind?

Turns out, not deal-breakers either.

It’s almost like the Pixel is being graded on a curve. And that’s terrible for consumers. “You slagged iPhone for XYZ, but now that Google has XYZ, but is missing ABC, it’s the greatest thing ever? Um…. close browser, delete bookmark!”

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The tech press’s view of Google, and especially its (many) hardware efforts, bears examination. There’s a lot of contradiction in there.
link to this extract


Feds walk into a building, demand everyone’s fingerprints to open phones • Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

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In what’s believed to be an unprecedented attempt to bypass the security of Apple iPhones, or any smartphone that uses fingerprints to unlock, California’s top cops asked to enter a residence and force anyone inside to use their biometric information to open their mobile devices.

FORBES found a court filing, dated May 9 2016, in which the Department of Justice sought to search a Lancaster, California, property. But there was a more remarkable aspect of the search, as pointed out in the memorandum: “authorization to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES and falls within the scope of the warrant.” The warrant was not available to the public, nor were other documents related to the case.

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That’s not how warrants should work. But legal precedent suggests that taking fingerprints, even without permission, doesn’t break US law. Question: can you force someone to apply their fingerprint to something they own?
link to this extract


iPhone 7 Plus: a tale of two personalities • Cellular Insights

“Milan MP” put the Qualcomm LTE modem up against the Intel LTE modem in the two models of iPhone to the test. The Intel one performs poorly:

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To put this into perspective, we have compared the edge of cell performance of a few other flagship devices to see how these iPhones compare in less than favorable conditions:

In all tests, the iPhone 7 Plus with the Qualcomm modem had a significant performance edge over the iPhone 7 Plus with the Intel modem. We are not sure what was the main reason behind Apple’s decision to source two different modem suppliers for the newest iPhone. Considering that the iPhone with the Qualcomm modem is being sold in China, Japan and in the United States only, we can not imagine that modem performance was a deciding factor.

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When you have multiple suppliers, it’s almost certain you’ll get variation between them. In something like this, Intel is so far behind it’s not funny.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: for another view on Bill Belichick dumping the tablets, read Peter Bright at Ars Technica: Patriots’ Bill Belichick dumps Surface tablets in five minute rant. Still not sure it’s great for Microsoft’s reputation.

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