Start up: SoC wars, more Brexit PC price hikes, USB smuggling, Pixel reviewed, and more

Can we blame Facebook for this? Makes sense to some folk. Photo by outtacontext on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Trajectorified! I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How the SoC [system on a chip] is displacing the CPU • Medium

Pushkar Ranade:


The present decade represents a period of strategic inflection in the evolution of the semiconductor industry — the next five years are likely to see a confluence of several technology and market forces which will collectively have a profound impact on the course of the industry. These trajectories are discussed below.

…Trajectory #2: A Central Role for the GPU

Usage models of the tablet and the smartphone indicate that the GPU is the most heavily used block within SoCs like the Tegra, Snapdragon and the A8X. Since the GPU is the largest block and also consumes most of the power on the chip, it is instructive that the silicon transistor be designed to optimize the performance and power of the GPU. It is likely that design houses and foundries will make the GPU the centerpiece for transistor design and manufacturing — historically all the blocks including the GPU had to adapt a transistor that had primarily been designed for the CPU. The rapid evolution of the SoC and the increasing role of the GPU are evident in successive generations of Apple A*x family processors. The GPU on the A8X processor occupies almost a third of the die area.


The Intel-style CISC CPU has almost reached the end of its evolution.
link to this extract

Smuggling USB sticks • Terence Eden’s Blog


This is a microSD card. Currently on sale in the UK for under £14.
It can hold 32GB of information. That’s a little abstract, so let me break it down in to more understandable units.
32GB is, roughly, 30,000 minutes of music (that’s 21 days worth of listening. Or, if you prefer, 700 CDs.); 40 standard definition movies; 20 high definition movies; 35,000 novels (those books would take up over a kilometre of shelving).

What I’m trying to get at, is this. It’s quicker to send a 32GB card through the post than it is to download its entire contents. The cards are small enough to hide anywhere.

This is what happens is countries like Cuba:


Only about 2% of Cubans can get online, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t need the internet. The news may be a little stale by the time you read it, but it gets around. Whole stacks of HTML files from news websites are dumped onto USB drives.


I don’t know what will happen to the Internet. SOPA, DEA, and HADOPI all conspire to break the way we share knowledge – under the benign guise of copyright protection.

And yet all it takes is a dozen USB sticks, a few memory cards, and very little effort to break their embargo.


link to this extract

Brexflation: Lenovo, HPE and Walkers crisps all set for double-digit hike • The Register

Paul Kunert:


A second wave of double-digit price hikes are coming to a reseller or retailer near you from the start of next month, both Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo have confirmed.

Since the referendum, the UK’s currency has fallen from $1.49 per £1 to $1.21, a drop of 18.7% and many IT makers have reacted, from the cloud giants including AWS through to hardware players.

American titan HPE already raised its list price by between 6% to 10% on 1 August, and Lenovo pushed up its prices by 10% on the same date – both blamed depreciation of the pound.

Now all of Lenovo’s kit is going to jump by another 10% from 1 December for UK customers and HPE will raise its gear by 6% to 12%.

A Lenovo spokesman told The Register: “Like any global company we always take currency exchange rates into consideration in our pricing strategy.

“This is business as usual and part of the market conditions in which any international company operates. Any changes form part of our ongoing communication with our channel partners.”


It’s the second price rise. Wow. Apple seems to have done the same, but holding off for longer and then doing it in one single 20% hike.
link to this extract

We Predicted Trump would win – here’s how – Dataswarm

Alan Patrick:


So why had our system worked  when nearly all the other polls and pundits had called it wrong? Now we have had a day or so to look at the outcomes, we think there are four main reasons.

Firstly, Internet vs human polling. Our system is looking at verbatim Social Media data, from Twitter. We had come to the conclusion while monitoring previous UK general elections that people were more willing to share their true thoughts on social media than with pollsters, especially if their views were “non-PC” (in this case, pro-Trump). After the election we read that the LA Times poll, which had consistently been more pro Trump (and been roundly criticised by nearly every pundit), had been an internet poll, not using people to ask questions, and they believed (and were proved right) that people had been more honest on that. (And more recently, an article on TechCrunch showing other Social Media companies were seeing similar to us – though few put it out there ) In effect by monitoring social media, we were getting the same sort of uncensored opinions, and in that uncensored world Trump was doing a lot better than the standard polls were predicting. Also, we knew from UK elections about the “shy Tory” effect where people say one thing – typically to look good (virtue signalling as it is called) –  in public, and do another at the ballot box (To misquote Phil Ochs, Liberals are 10% left of centre in public, 10% right of centre at the ballot box).


I’m wary of social media analyses which claim this stuff, especially around Brexit and Trump, where the motivations would be less visible on social media (and yet stronger) because the people involved probably aren’t using it.
link to this extract

Fake news and rabbit holes: radicalization via the recommendation engine • Medium

Renee DiResta:


I know a handful people who have Facebook accounts that are used exclusively for research purposes. These accounts have no friends and never directly interact with other users. They have location data by default, based on the IP address that the user signed up with, and perhaps some minimal amount of A/S/L [age, sex, language] stuff required for sign-up, so Facebook has some idea of what they might want to see from the get-go. The accounts exist to observe what Facebook serves in terms of Pages, News, and Group recommendations when the individual’s direct social graph is kept to a minimum.

Groups appear to be incredibly important. If you join a Facebook Group for a particular topic, it will naturally serve you other Groups, Pages, and news content related to that topic. Join a couple more, and it’ll look at the people who are common to the groups, decide that you are probably something like them, and then suggest other Groups based on groups that they are in. So even if you’ve never directly interacted with them, what you see is influenced by what people who share this interest with you want to see. I’ve looked at this as it pertains to pseudoscience — join a “vaccine hesitant” group, and your suggestions will quickly begin to include chemtrails, anti-GMO, flat earth, anti-flouride and homeopathy groups. This isn’t unique to Facebook, it’s just affinity marketing. It’s how every site with something to sell you tries to guess at what you might like. But on Facebook, the data set is the best in the world, and the recommendations are likely to include something that you’d be curious enough to click on. It’s fair to argue that Facebook is simply giving people what they would find on their own…but, anecdotally, it actually appears to be shaping what they want as it helps them discover new things.


link to this extract

Facebook, in crosshairs after election, is said to question its influence • New York Times

Mike Isaac on the aftermath inside Facebook from the US election:


issues with fake news on the site have mushroomed. Multiple Facebook employees were particularly disturbed last week when a fake news site called The Denver Guardian spread across the social network with negative and false messages about Mrs. Clinton, including a claim that an F.B.I. agent connected to Mrs. Clinton’s email disclosures had murdered his wife and shot himself.

On Thursday, after a companywide meeting at Facebook, many employees said they were dissatisfied with an address from Mr. Zuckerberg, who offered comments to staff that were similar to what he has said publicly.

Even in private, Mr. Zuckerberg has continued to resist the notion that Facebook can unduly affect how people think and behave. In a Facebook post circulated on Wednesday to a small group of his friends, which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Zuckerberg challenged the idea that Facebook had a direct effect on the way people voted.

In the three-paragraph post, the chief executive cited several statistics about low voter turnout during the election.


Isaac’s piece is terrific journalism – he has a variety of inside sources – and as he points out, Facebook’s insistence that it didn’t influence thinking is at odds with what it tells advertisers.
link to this extract

Mark Zuckerberg – I want to share some thoughts on Facebook and the election • Facebook

El Zuck:


Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.

This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully though. Identifying the “truth” is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted. An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual. I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but I believe we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves.

As we continue our research, we are committed to always updating you on how News Feed evolves. We hope to have more to share soon, although this work often takes longer than we’d like in order to confirm changes we make won’t introduce unintended side effects or bias into the system.


You mean, unintended side effects like you already do through the fact that Facebook’s newsfeed is biased to attention, not accuracy, and always has been?
link to this extract

Facebook is telling everyone that they’re dead • The Verge

Casey Newton:


Facebook is capping one of the longest weeks in American history by telling everyone that they are dead. Log on to your profile and there’s a good chance it will have a memorial banner sitting on top of it, urging your friends and family members to remember you. “We hope people who love Casey will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life,” the banner reads, because I am dead.

Other people who are dead include everyone.

Our condolences to everyone who is dead, and to everyone who would have mourned them, if they were not dead. But dead they are. It has been an honor and a pleasure living on this planet with you all.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, likely because everyone there is dead.


Chapeau, Mr Newton.
link to this extract

IoT Security • DevicePilot


In this DevicePilot white paper we summarise the various aspects of security which need to be considered when designing connected products for the Internet of Things… Why exactly might you (or your users) care about security? What are you trying to prevent? What are the risks? What’s the worst that could happen? Let’s illustrate the risks with a few concrete examples:

• TriplePoint Inc. is launching a range of Smart Meters with remotely-operable power switches. If an attacker gained control over their network the risk is not just that they might shut-down the 1 million homes in which they are installed, but might also crash large part of the distribution grid by adding or removing massive loads synchronously, overwhelming the emergency services for weeks. This would result not just in huge economic damage, but in the deaths of large numbers of vulnerable people.

• Edison Motors has a range of connected automobiles which synchronise with home WiFi to get updates and allow the vehicle to be remote-managed by both the owner and the manufacturer. The risks include not “just” attack on the vehicle’s essential systems, compromising safety, but also the potential to use the cars as a “botnet” to attack other computer systems on the internet.

• Babbadoo Products have just launched their new remote baby monitoring system for at-risk neonatal infants, which includes a live video feed. Risks include––


link to this extract

Final words – the Google Pixel XL review: life after Nexus • Anandtech

Matt Humrick and Brandon Chester:


In the end, the Pixel XL is a decent enough phone, but it is not the ultimate Android phone that people were likely hoping for. It fails to stand out in a crowded market and cannot claim to be the best in any single category; at best it is a jack of all trades. This is a serious problem for a phone that is positioned as and priced like a flagship phone. It also does not help that it’s missing support for microSD cards and wireless charging (it does support the USB Power Delivery specification for 18W fast charging), features that are available on the Galaxy S7 edge. There’s also no environmental protection against water and dust, which both the S7 edge and iPhone 7 Plus include. Even its exclusive software feature, Google Assistant, should be available on future Android phones. In the end, the Pixel XL is a Nexus phone with another name. It still delivers a pure Android experience and timely software and security updates, but is that enough to justify its flagship price?


I think Google will be able to sell all it makes, through the strength of advertising and the absence of the Note 7, but next year Samsung is going to go after them with intent.
link to this extract

The problem with voice user interfaces like Amazon’s Alexa • Econsultancy

Ben Davis:


Imagine I own a Google Home speaker and all my family are asking it questions. At the moment, the device only supports a single Google account.

So, my family’s media choices and shopping habits will be logged as indicative of my behaviour, and will shape future recommendations (not to mention use my payment details, access my email account etc.).

There are implications for the accuracy of future recommendations and contextual understanding (e.g. of my whereabouts), as well as the potential for misuse (by a cheeky guest).

Essentially, the device should be personal but plainly isn’t.

Google is working on a solution to allow multiple accounts, but surely problems will still arise unless these devices learn to differentiate between voices (or users regularly deactivate or lock their devices). 

Though Alexa has plenty of great reviews, it’s clear that speech analysis is nowhere near robust enough to prevent annoying UX failures. Namely, asking five times before giving up and using a graphical user interface.

This is perhaps best demonstrated by Satya Nadella’s use of Cortana at 2015’s DreamForce event. As described by Yahoo! Tech, Nadella ‘began by asking Cortana, “Show me my most at-risk opportunities. Cortana hilariously interpreted it as, “Show me to buy milk at this opportunity.”’

On Nadella’s second attempt at the command, Cortana erroenously created a reminder of some sort.

Of course, the tech will continue to improve, and currently works best when limited to a number of common commands (music, shopping list etc.), but for someone with a terribly flat telephone voice like myself, misunderstanding is something I have to consider.


link to this extract

Russian hackers launch targeted cyberattacks hours after Trump’s win • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


Around 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday, the hackers sent a series of phishing emails trying to trick dozens of victims into opening booby-trapped attachments containing malware, and clicking on malicious links, according to security firm Volexity, which observed and reported the five attack waves. The targets work for organizations such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the Atlantic Council, the RAND Corporation, and the State Department, among others.

One of the phishing emails included a forwarded message appearing to be from the Clinton Foundation, apparently sent by a professor at Harvard. The email used the professor’s real address, and according to Volexity’s founder Steven Adair, it’s likely that the professor got hacked and the attackers then used his account to send out the phishing emails. (The professor did not respond to a request for comment.)


Wasn’t flagged by antivirus, but that’s because it was a link to a zip file with the malware. Can we say again that attachments are harmful?
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.