Start up: Apple Macbook pics leak, Twitter to cut jobs, more SETI?, Amazon’s counterfeit trouble, and more

Do you find web pages harder to read than before? Blame design. Photo by doc(q)man on Flickr.

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A selection of 15 links for you. Save some for later. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitter planning hundreds more job cuts as soon as this week • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:


Twitter, having failed to sell itself, is planning to fire about 8% of its workforce as the struggling social-media company prepares to go it alone for the time being.

Twitter may eliminate about 300 people, the same percentage it did last year when co-founder Jack Dorsey took over as chief executive officer, according to people familiar with the matter. Planning for the cuts is still fluid and the number could change, they added. The people asked not to be identified talking about private company plans.

An announcement about the job reductions may come before Twitter releases third-quarter earnings on Thursday, one of the people said. A Twitter representative declined to comment.


This isn’t going to end happily, though it could end well.
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ARM: Hold my beer, we’ll install patches for your crappy IoT gear for you • The Register

Chris Williams:


Processor designer ARM will squirt security fixes directly into internet-connected gadgets to hopefully keep them defended from hackers.

Manufacturers of Internet-of-Things gizmos and other embedded products have complained that updating gear in the field is too much hard work. That means devices are rarely patched when security bugs are found, clearing the way for hackers to hijack vulnerable hardware to spy on people, flood websites offline, and cause other havoc.

So ARM has come up with mbed Cloud, a software-as-a-service platform that securely communicates with firmware in devices to install fixes and feature updates. Product makers pay to remotely manage all their sold kit. Crucially, they pay for what they use – whether it’s pushing updates, or connecting millions of units, and so on.

It’s similar to the cloud Next Thing Co has set up for its C.H.I.P. Pro: a web-based management interface for updating firmware over the internet, plus controls on the data leaving the devices.


Mmmmm don’t like this much either.
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Apple still isn’t seeing much growth • Recode

Ina Fried:


Unit shipments of the iPhone, Apple’s most important product, came in at 45.5 million, about what analysts expected. Apple said demand for the iPhone 7, especially the larger iPhone 7 Plus had been more than it had anticipated.

“We’re thrilled with the customer response to iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2, as well as the incredible momentum of our services business,” CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

Sales of other products were also roughly in line with what most were expecting, with Apple having sold 9.2 million iPads and 4.8 million Macs, both also down from year-ago levels.

One significant bright spot for Apple was its services business, fueled in part by the Pokémon Go craze, which generated $6.3 billion in revenue, up 24% from the prior year.

“We think we can continue to grow well,” CFO Luca Maestri said on a conference call with financial analysts.


Law of large numbers. And demand for the jet black versions, and the iPhone 7 Plus, still ahead of supply. (Perhaps due to the Note 7 vanishing.)
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Images of new MacBook Pro with magic toolbar leaked in macos Sierra 10.12.1 • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


As has been rumored, the touch panel, which may be called the “Magic Toolbar,” appears to be contextual, changing based on what’s on the screen. In the images, Apple Pay dialog is depicted, asking a customer to confirm a purchase with a finger on the panel. It appears Touch ID is built into a nearly-invisible power button located next to the display.

Aside from the OLED touch panel, the new MacBook Pro looks similar in design to the existing models. It looks like the 13-inch MacBook Pro is used in the images, suggesting the machine will gain speakers located at the side of the keyboard.


I love that the images for this story were discovered because they’re included in the Apple Pay dialog of the latest release of the OS. Keeping product launches secret is getting harder than ever. (Though these are being announced on Thursday. But even so.)
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Oppo & Vivo – the new smartphone leaders in China • Counterpoint Technology Market Research


Commenting on the findings, Research Director, James Yan, highlighted, “Over the last twenty four months, there has been a close race but tough fight for the top three spots in China smartphone market.

“This quarter for the first time ever, we have seen new market leaders for the top two spots. Oppo and Vivo became the number one and two smartphone brands in China capturing 17% and16% share respectively. The two brands sharing the same owners BBK group, now control almost one third of the China smartphone market. This is a tremendous performance from Oppo and Vivo.”

Mr. Yan further adds, “Shipments for Oppo’s smartphones grew +82% annually whereas Vivo recorded the highest growth in China during the quarter as the demand for its shipments rose 114% annually, more than doubling its volumes. Oppo’s performance was as a result of strong demand for its flagship Oppo R9 which became the top selling model in China for the entire quarter surpassing the popular iPhones which held the top spot for years. Oppo’s low-end A59 and A37 models are also driving strong sales in tier-3/4 cities adding to the overall uptick. Vivo also saw healthy demand for its flagship X7 series across offline retail helped by aggressive outdoor promotions, official sponsorships (e.g. NBA), celebrities (K-Pop stars) and effective social media marketing.

The focus on traditional offline retail and wider distribution network which still constitutes three-fourth of smartphone demand has been key to Oppo and Vivo success.”


Apple was always going to have a problem ahead of the iPhone 7 launch (and might have a problem even after that). But notice that Samsung doesn’t feature in that top five; China is effectively a lost market for it.
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IBM apologises for Australia census debacle • FT

Jamie Smyth:


IBM said the complete shutdown of the Australian government’s census website during a “malicious” cyber attack this year may have been prevented if it had simply switched a router off and on again.

The collapse of the website on census night embarrassed the Australian government, cost A$30m (US$23m) and provoked a public outcry in a country where people face fines for failing to complete the census.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, IBM, the lead contractor for the website contract, “unreservedly apologised” for the inconvenience caused by the shutdown over a 40-hour period in August. 

Michael Shallcross, IBM’s chief engineer, told the committee that the company had tested the impact of a router failure before the census taking place. But he signalled that the census website shutdown may have been avoided if the router had been switched on and off during the testing phase.


Yes. Really.
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Google buys Eyefluence eye-tracking startup • TechCrunch

Luca Matney:


As Google launches its Daydream virtual reality platform next month with its Daydream View headset, there is already attention being directed to its next-gen headset efforts.

Eye-tracking is a very important technology to future virtual reality headsets. Other companies in the space like SMI and Tobii have devoted efforts to using the eye as a method of signaling attention in interfaces but Eyefluence has devoted itself fully to using eye gesture cues for navigating menus and making selections.

Eyefluence enable users wearing head-mounted virtual reality or augmented glasses to use their eyes as a mouse and making selections only with their eye movements. Eye-tracking has other more technical use cases like foveated rendering which allows high-density displays to selectively choose areas of the screen to display images at lower-resolution based on where you’re focus actually is on the display.


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[1610.03031] Discovery of peculiar periodic spectral modulations in a small fraction of solar type stars • Arxiv

EF Borra and E Trottier:


A Fourier transform analysis of 2.5 million spectra in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey was carried out to detect periodic spectral modulations. Signals having the same period were found in only 234 stars overwhelmingly in the F2 to K1 spectral range. The signals cannot be caused by instrumental or data analysis effects because they are present in only a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range and because signal to noise ratio considerations predict that the signal should mostly be detected in the brightest objects, while this is not the case. We consider several possibilities, such as rotational transitions in molecules, rapid pulsations, Fourier transform of spectral lines and signals generated by Extraterrestrial Intelligence (ETI).


Ooooh. (Again.)
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How Amazon counterfeits put this man’s business on brink of collapse • CNBC

Ari Levy:


After viewing a commercial for the product, ABC’s Lara Spencer and Gio Benitez pulled the heavy-duty moving straps over their forearms and proceeded to lift up a washing machine and walk with it.

“I was pretty impressed,” Spencer said to the crowd.

You’d think such a shout-out from the hugely popular morning show would provide a huge boost for Lopreiato’s 18-year-old family business.

But this is’s world, and Forearm Forklift, like so many brands, is uncomfortably inhabiting it.

Once a thriving product for movers and contractors available at a dozen big-box retailers including Wal-Mart, Target and AutoZone, Forearm Forklift has been ravaged over the past half-decade by counterfeiters, mostly selling on Amazon. Scores of merchants have copied the patented product, using its name, images and labels and undercutting the real Forearm Forklift on price.

When “Good Morning America” viewers go online to buy a set, which retails between $20 and $25, odds are they’ll be purchasing someone else’s product.

“It just keeps funneling business to the knockoffs,” said Lopreiato, 48, whose wife Sophia also works at the company and traveled with him to New York. “It’s almost like winning the lottery if they choose our item.”

Forearm Forklift is hanging on by a thread. The company is down to 21 full-time employees from 52 at its peak and recorded less than $500 in profit last year. Annual revenue in 2008 topped $4 million and has since plunged 30 percent. Retailers stopped placing orders because they were finding what appeared to be the same thing online for much cheaper.


How do you solve a problem like this? How can a Customs officer decide on this sort of stuff?
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How the web became unreadable • Backchannel

Kevin Marks:


One of the reasons the web has become the default way that we access information is that it makes that information broadly available to everyone. “The power of the Web is in its universality,” wrote Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web consortium. “Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

But if the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails that open access by excluding large swaths of people, such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low-quality screens. And, as we rely on computers not only to retrieve information but also to access and build services that are crucial to our lives, making sure that everyone can see what’s happening becomes increasingly important.

We should be able to build a baseline structure of text in a way that works for most users, regardless of their eyesight. So, as a physicist by training, I started looking for something measurable.


And boy, did he find it. There’s a ton of hard-to-read stuff out there. (Hope this site is not one. Please let me know.)
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July 2015: Apple’s chip, firmware security demands behind HomeKit delays • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:


Wondering where all the Apple HomeKit products are? Well, here’s an explanation: Apple is forcing internet-of-things companies to fit Apple-certified chips and firmware in their gadgets if they are to work with the HomeKit platform.

That means, in a lot of cases, engineers must effectively redesign their products to incorporate the mandatory HomeKit chips and firmware, and pass Apple’s strict checklist of requirements, industry sources have told The Register. Such moves are expensive and time consuming, but ultimately benefit punters.

The Apple-approved coprocessors and firmware provide secure communications between apps running on iOS devices and the manufacturers’ smarthome gizmos. A device and its app talk to each other via the HomeKit Accessory Protocol, with the Apple-certified system-on-chip in the device acting as a middleman handling the security, encryption and wireless comms.


In case you were wondering where all the Apple HomeKit devices were when all the “DDOS from your DVR” fun was going on last week. Apple can come across at controlling, but when the alternative is devices which have default admin logins burnt into ROM, is that so bad?
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Xiaomi is selling the concept phone of your wildest dreams • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


Nothing says sci-fi like a bezel-less screen, and Xiaomi’s newly announced Mi Mix Android phablet is very sci-fi with its 91.3% screen-to-body ratio. This 6.4-inch device has just been announced as a concept phone by the Chinese company, but weirdly enough, it has a price, ¥3,499 ($516), and a release date of November 4th in its home country.

Think of every out-there spec you could cram into a phone and the Xiaomi Mi Mix probably has it. The rear of this handset and its side buttons are both made out of ceramic. The display is curved at the corners — just like that Sharp prototype we recently saw — and all the top-mounted sensors have been removed. The proximity sensor has been replaced by ultrasound, the earpiece has been replaced with a piezoelectric speaker that uses the metal frame to generate sound, and the front-facing camera is relocated to the bottom (though the phone can thankfully be rotated upside down for more flattering selfies).


Doubt there’s a profit on it, so fill your boots: profit yourself at their expense.
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At&T is spying on Americans for profit • Daily Beast

Kenneth Lipp:


Hemisphere is a secretive program run by AT&T that searches trillions of call records and analyzes cellular data to determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why.

“Merritt was in a position to access the cellular telephone tower northeast of the McStay family gravesite on February 6th, 2010, two days after the family disappeared,” an affidavit for his girlfriend’s call records reports Hemisphere finding (PDF). Merritt was arrested almost a year to the date after the McStay family’s remains were discovered, and is awaiting trial for the murders.

In 2013, Hemisphere was revealed by The New York Times and described only within a Powerpoint presentation made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Times described it as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government; the Justice Department said it was an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool.

However, AT&T’s own documentation — reported here by The Daily Beast for the first time — shows Hemisphere was used far beyond the war on drugs to include everything from investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud.

Hemisphere isn’t a “partnership” but rather a product AT&T developed, marketed, and sold at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers. No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public.


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Distrusting new Wosign and Startcom certificates • Mozilla Blog

K Wilson:


Mozilla has discovered that a Certificate Authority (CA) called WoSign has had a number of technical and management failures. Most seriously, we discovered they were backdating SSL certificates in order to get around the deadline that CAs stop issuing SHA-1 SSL certificates by January 1, 2016.

Additionally, Mozilla discovered that WoSign had acquired full ownership of another CA called StartCom and failed to disclose this, as required by Mozilla policy. The representatives of WoSign and StartCom denied and continued to deny both of these allegations until sufficient data was collected to demonstrate that both allegations were correct. The levels of deception demonstrated by representatives of the combined company have led to Mozilla’s decision to distrust future certificates chaining up to the currently-included WoSign and StartCom root certificates.


Great work by Mozilla, except for one thing: most people simply click past those certificate warnings. They’ll trust anything. It’s only when the certificate warning requires you to actively do more than click a box that it will really be effective.
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Was the Google Pixel built in a mere 9 months? It would explain a lot… • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Nine months is an incredibly short amount of time to bring a smartphone to market. Back when Google owned Motorola, the company frequently talked about having an “18-month pipeline” of products that it needed to work though. If Google really did have about half that amount of time to develop the Pixel, it’s hard to imagine that Google single-handedly designed its first-ever smartphone from scratch.

More than likely, the company heavily leaned on HTC in developing and designing the Pixel. We see tons of evidence that supports this theory. The first clue is something that anyone with eyes can see—it looks a lot like an HTC phone, specifically the newer devices like the HTC A9 and HTC Desire 10. iFixit recently cracked open the Pixel and showed the world what the insides look like, and there seems to be an HTC influence there, too. Above, we have the iFixit teardowns of a few phones compared to an HTC A9 teardown from How2Tech.

Over at XDA Developers, people are finding more and more evidence that HTC’s involvement went beyond being a Foxconn-style manufacturer. The Pixel and Pixel XL kernels contain over 350 commits from HTC engineers, and a mysterious “htc_cerberus” label was stripped out of the source code. Thanks to Android security research Jon “Justin Case” Sawyer, we also know HTC did work on the Pixel bootchain. Sawyer describes the Pixels as having “a standard HTC bootchain” that is “written and signed by HTC.”


You’ll recall that Huawei walked away from Google’s suggestion that it makes 2016’s Pixel. So this makes perfect sense.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start up: Apple Macbook pics leak, Twitter to cut jobs, more SETI?, Amazon’s counterfeit trouble, and more

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