Start up: Airpods delayed, battle of the bokehs, Microsoft’s tablet vroooom, AI judges, and more


Is your website bloated? Can you smell it? Photo by Xray Delta One on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Click early, click often. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple delays AirPod rollout, don’t expect them in October • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

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If you’ve been waiting for Apple’s AirPod wireless headphones to go on sale, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. Apple says that it is not ready and will need “a little more time.”

“The early response to AirPods has been incredible. We don’t believe in shipping a product before it’s ready, and we need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Apple did not say whether hardware or software updates are what is at the heart of the delay so I couldn’t conjecture which. My experiences with the AirPods have been very positive this far but the pre-production units that were given out to press are not without their foibles and bugs. Read about my time with them here.

I have seen a variety of small software/hardware interaction issues that have caused some frustration – but have taken them in stride because they are not final products.

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Pity: I have found myself looking forward to the release of these. Everything I’ve heard about these has been positive, including Siri responsiveness (and understanding) and battery life.
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Alphabet senior management page missing • Business Insider

Avery Hartmans:

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If you’re curious to know who’s running the show over at Google and the other Alphabet companies, good luck: Alphabet no longer lists it senior management team on its website.

The names of the company’s top executives, their headshots, their bios, or any other information that shows who’s who inside the various Alphabet subsidiary companies have vanished from the company’s website. And it looks like it’s been that way for a few months now.

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Being redesigned, apparently.
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iPhone 7 Plus vs Honor 8: battle of the (fake) bokeh! • iMore

Daniel Bader:

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a Portrait mode, as Apple calls it, is not uncommon. It’s been available in some Android phones for years. Specifically, the HTC One M8 added a second 2MP camera sensor for this very purpose, and while it was well-received, it never gained the adoption that HTC wanted to justify its addition to the phone’s sequel the following year.

Some phones don’t make a big deal over the second camera, utilizing it more for additional resolution than adding features. But there are a couple devices, such as the Honor 8, close cousin to the Huawei P9, that does both: like the iPhone 7 Plus, it uses a second 12MP sensor both to accrue additional data for regular wide-angle photos, and to aide with zoom — and it also uses the separation to measure depth, and apply artificial background blurring to photos.

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This is a useful comparison: I had seen the P9’s implementation, which lets you change the focus point and aperture after you’ve taken the shot, and liked it. But as this shows, the algorithm used for the blurring effect isn’t as clever as the iPhone’s.
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Microsoft goes back to the drawing board – literally, with 28″ tablet and hockey puck gizmo • The Register

Iain Thomson:

»

the Surface Book is getting an update and there’s a monster 28-inch new Surface aimed at designers.

The top-end Core i7-powered Surface Book is getting an upgrade, with a faster processor that required a new cooling system, double the graphics performance of last year’s model, and 30% more battery life to give 16 hours of operations.

The end result, promised head of the Surface line Panos Panay, is the fastest and best-specced laptop out there. It will be out in November for $2,399 and is available for preorder today.

Panay also unveiled the Surface Studio, a 28-inch screen that features the thinnest LCD touchscreen ever produced, just 12.5mm thick and powered by a base unit. The screen has 13.5 million pixels at 192PPI and a 3:2 aspect ratio – but the grunt is in the hardware.

“Windows has never been better on any single product, any,” Panay enthused.

The Surface Studio runs on an Intel quad-core Core i5 or i7, high-end Nvidia graphics and a 1TB or 2TB hard drive. The screen also has microphones arrayed around it for voice control and a “studio quality” camera for videoconferencing.

The screen can be folded back to around a 20-degree angle, like a drafting board. The Surface Pen works on it, but Microsoft has also built the Surface Dial for the platform.

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That’s definitely one way to win back revenue share in the tablet market.
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The Surface Dial is a crazy puck that controls Microsoft’s new PC • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

The Surface Dial is big puck that’s sort of like a modern twist on a paint palette. When the Dial is placed on the Studio’s screen, a radial menu pops up all around it. Different color or brush options might pop up, for example, when a painting app is on screen — presumably, other apps can create custom menus as well. It can also be used to navigate and pan around an image.

The dial is rotated to control what’s on screen, and it uses haptic feedback to register the click of different options along the way. The idea is to get artists and designers using both of their hands at once for a much more natural experience.

There’ll also be some simpler uses of the Surface Dial. Microsoft says that in Pandora or Spotify, the Dial can be used to adjust the computer’s volume. That’s not quite as exciting, but it illustrates how Microsoft is hoping other apps will take advantage of it in one way or another. The device doesn’t have to be placed on the computer’s screen for that kind of input — it can still function from off to the side.

«

It’s a pity Microsoft didn’t build a smartwatch with a rotating bezel so you could rotate that to control what’s on your screen. It would have been just as useful – ie not useful at all. And I detest Kasternakes’s use of “presumably”. Either find out, or don’t write it.

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Artifically intelligent ‘judge’ developed which can predict court verdicts with 79% accuracy • Daily Telegraph

Sarah Knapton:

»

A computer ‘judge’ has been developed which can correctly predict verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights with 79% accuracy.

Computer scientists at University College London and the University of Sheffield developed an algorithm which can not only weigh up legal evidence, but also moral considerations.

As early as the 1960s experts predicted that computers would one day be able to predict the outcomes of judicial decisions.

But the new method is the first to predict the outcomes of court cases by automatically analysing case text using a machine learning algorithm.

“We don’t see AI replacing judges or lawyers, but we think they’d find it useful for rapidly identifying patterns in cases that lead to certain outcomes,” said  Dr Nikolaos Aletras, who led the study at UCL Computer Science.

“It could also be a valuable tool for highlighting which cases are most likely to be violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

To develop the algorithm, the team allowed an artificially intelligent computer to scan the published judgements from 584 cases relating to torture and degrading treatment, fair trials and privacy.

«

1) 79% is actually not much use. That’s roughly two coin flips. “Double heads! It’s for the defence!”
2) Might have been useful if Knapton had found some experts in the field to triangulate on how useful this might be, rather than just quoting the co-authors.
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Brexit, open data and dangerous products • Memespring

Richard Pope:

»

There is going to be so much detail in the Great Repeal Bill – so many tiny decisions with potentially big impact – that it’s going to be hard to know what we are losing and what we are gaining. One thing we could lose is open data about dangerous products.

For reasons I’ve never fully understood, the body seemingly responsible for publishing recalls of dangerous products in the UK is a private organisation: the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

They publish UK product recalls on their website, the terms and conditions of which forbid the reuse of the data online:

»

“You are welcome to print off pages from this website, link to them, or reproduce them, other than on another website, as long as you do not do so for financial gain or distort the information they contain.”

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When I worked for Consumer Focus, we wanted to build a simple tool that sent email alerts about dangerous products. The long-term vision was to build a service that automatically issued recalls based on your purchase history (something I still hope a retailer like Amazon or John Lewis manages to get around to one day).

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute actively protect their copyright on the data (the Terms and Conditions forbid reuse of the data online), so we could not use that.

«

But EU law requires that such lists are published on the (open data) EU site RAPEX. Post-Brexit, though?

It’s unravelling oversights like this which will make Brexit such a headache. (Of course, it’s stupid in the first place that a private organisation owns the data about a matter of public interest.)
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Web bloat score calculator

Željko Švedić:

»

In order to fix something, we need to measure it first.

Web bloat is a hot topic now: see posts by Maciej, Ronan, and Tammy. However, most of us still use a subjective absolute measurement: if it loads fast on your computer, then it’s good. That “measure” is flawed: a web page with only two paragraphs that weighs 500 kB is going to load fast—but it’s still bloated!

So, how to measure web bloat?

HTML is a text-based protocol, designed to render a graphics document on the client. The idea was that text is smaller to transfer than the full resolution image of a document. If that weren’t so, Tim Berners-Lee would have designed a protocol to transfer images, not text and markup. That gives a convenient way to measure the bloat of any static web page—just compare it to a full-page screenshot of the same page:

WebBS = TotalPageSize / PageImageSize

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Be interested to see how various sites stack up against this seemingly innocuous test.
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Google Pixel XL vs. iPhone 7 Plus speed test • YouTube

The speed test thing (start multiple apps, get them to do something, move on to the next app) again; clearly the iPhone remains some distance ahead on this test.
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Comcast sues Nashville over Google Fiber-backed utility pole proposal • FierceTelecom

Sean Buckley:

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Comcast has filed a lawsuit against Nashville challenging the Google Fiber-led One Touch Make Ready ordinance, marking the latest in a series of challenges the upstart FTTH provider is facing in building out 1 Gbps services to customers.

The cable MSO’s legal challenge, while not surprising, comes after AT&T filed a similar suit against the city in September.

In February, AT&T also filed a suit against the city of Louisville, Kentucky, saying that the OTMR proposal violates a number of state and federal laws.

Similar to AT&T’s suit, Comcast argued that decisions about AT&T-owned poles are carried out by the FCC and not Nashville. Comcast said that Nashville lacks the authority to regulate the Nashville Electric Service utility poles.

It has asked the court for a permanent injunction.

Comcast maintained that its suit is not about trying to prevent Google Fiber from entering the market.

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Noo, of course not. Though it won’t have to worry too much about that in future…
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Alphabet cutting jobs in Google Fiber retrenchment • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:

»

Google parent Alphabet Inc. reset the project on a more humble footing on Tuesday. Craig Barratt, head of the Access unit that includes Google Fiber, is leaving, and about 9% of staff is being let go, according to a person familiar with the situation. The business has about 1,500 employees, meaning there will be more than 130 job losses.

Barratt wrote in a blog that the company is pulling back fiber-to-the-home service from eight different cities where it had announced plans. Those include major metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Moving into big cities was a contentious point inside Google Fiber, according to one former executive. Leaders like Barratt and Dennis Kish, who runs Google Fiber day-to-day, pushed for the big expansion. Others pushed back because of the prohibitive cost of digging up streets to lay fiber-optic cables across some of America’s busiest cities.

“I suspect the sheer economics of broad scale access deployments finally became too much for them,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research. “Ultimately, most of the reasons Google got into this in the first place have either been achieved or been demonstrated to be unrealistic.”

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The blogpost is rather like George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” celebration after the Iraq invasion: short-term target achieved, longer-term target in doubt. The reset involves looking at wireless deployment, but that doesn’t explain why Barratt is leaving. Ambitious idea which ran smack bang into reality at the point where Google couldn’t just spend money wildly.

Also: Ben Thompson at Stratechery thinks Alphabet will sell Google Fiber “sooner rather than later”. His analysis is, as always, smart.
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Are progressives being played by Wikileaks and Julian Assange? • The Establishment

Katherine Cross:

»

we live in an age where all the drawbacks of celebrity can be bestowed on anyone at a moment’s notice, with none of the benefits. Harassment on social media often works like this: A person is harassed for something they are believed to have said or done, then the harassment becomes “newsworthy” enough that the target is now “famous” and must forego a certain amount of privacy, providing a moral license for further abuse disguised as a quest for accountability.

The GamerGate harassment campaign employed this tortured logic when justifying its assault on progressive videogame journalists, including me. From the posting of our home addresses, to attempted and successful hacks, to mining everything we’ve ever said to anyone online for proof of “corrupt” relationships, it was all justified through recourse to our profession. Right now, there are websites that hyperlink certain Twitter exchanges I’ve had as prima facie proof that I had intimate relations with people I hardly know, and I still have to live with the consequences of that highlighting, two years on.

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You’re famous because you’re getting piled on, in other words. (The headline, by the way, is one of those rare occasions when Betteridge’s Law doesn’t apply.) Also: I wouldn’t now trust Ben Norton, Salon’s political reporter, to decode a bus ticket, based on his tweets around the Wikileaks stuff on the Democratic campaign.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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