Start up: Touchbar Macs reviewed, another Facebook news row, consumer software in the 1980s, and more

Shown larger than actual size. Photo by John Koetsier on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Snap Spectacles are a solid first camera effort for the Snapchat crowd • Techcrunch

Mathew Panzarino:


The glasses even pair in a logical way for a Snap product. You just flip them open and snap a picture of your Snap code on the screen of your phone. This is both easy and logically aligned with Snap’s ‘universe’.

To record, you tap once for 10 seconds and twice more to extend the recording up to 30 seconds. A rotating LED on the front very clearly indicates recording — which should help reduce the creep factor just as much as the highly recognizable yellow rings and manual gesture to start recording.

The experience isn’t without its glitches. The glasses did drop Bluetooth connection at very short ranges and the transfer of snaps is too slow. Even the WiFi mode, manually enabled, for transferring ‘HD’ snaps is not all that zippy. But overall, it works as advertised.

The image quality is snap quality.

More than anything else here, though, the circular video is a revelation. When shot with Spectacles and displayed in your camera roll, it’s a circular disc. When viewed in Snapchat, the video fills the screen and as you rotate your device you get a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal, allowing you to see more of the image than if you’d just done one or the other. I only tried this on iPhone though it is available on Android as well.


$149 (so if they ever reach the UK, that’s £149, perhaps plus VAT) and they look like Google Glass done right – low-end disruption of the phone camera.
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Powa Technologies payments investigated by administrators • Daily Telegraph

Ben Martin:


Administrators to Powa Technologies are examining payments the e-commerce firm made to offshore vehicles linked to the father and a friend of the founder of the company before it imploded.

It is understood that Deloitte has looked at transactions between Powa, which was set up and led by Dan Wagner, and DBLP Sea Cow, a vehicle linked to Mr Wagner’s father, John, between 2013 and 2015. 

The administrators also wrote to directors asking for information on payments made between 2014 and 2015 from Powa to Annenberg Investments Management, another offshore vehicle thought to be linked to Anthony Sharp, the former deputy chairman of the collapsed technology firm and a friend of Mr Wagner.


Hang on, just looking for the “one eyebrow raised, like Mr Spock” emoji.
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A British phone you’re not embarrassed to carry? You heard that right • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:


WileyFox continues to run Cyanogen OS, but has promised regular OTA upgrades – Cyanogen Inc switched away from providing platforms recently. There are two Swift 2 models, essentially identical visually, with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, and a Plus version with 32GB and 3GB of RAM, and a slightly beefier main shooter (16MP to 13MP). The Plus weighs in at £189 (€219).

The 720p looks crisp and the octacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 is no slouch. The camera boasts phase detection auto focus and large pixels – photos in the low light of the launch venue seem pretty reasonable. QuickCharge 3.0 and NFC are included. The phone can support two SIMs, or one SIM and a microSD.

CEO Michael Coombes told The Reg that the company is now up to around 140 staff. The phones go through rigorous operator tests that the Chinese grey channel Shenzhen generics can’t meet. Coombes also pointed out that only 5% of Shenzhen manufacturing lines can produce kit that meets Western European standards. WileyFox’s Swifts do.


Coombes told me that WileyFox has sold half a million phones, all in western Europe; the next growth area is likely to be wider in the EEA.

I let my 11-year-old try this phone. His comment: playing Roblox, you could see the screen stutter on redraw, which didn’t happen on his iPod Touch. His verdict: unimpressed. Testers, eh?
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Amazon’s next big move: take over the mall • MIT Technology Review

Nick Carr goes for a wander around Amazon’s first physical bookstore in Seattle:


the smartphone, with its apps, its messaging platforms, and its constant connectivity, gives retailers more ways to communicate with and influence customers, even when they’re shopping in stores. This is why the big trend in retailing today is toward “omnichannel” strategies, which blend physical stores, Web stores, and mobile apps in a way that makes the most of the convenience of smartphones and overcomes their limitations. Some omnichannel pioneers, like Sephora and Nordstrom, come from the brick-and-mortar world. But others, like Warby Parker and Bonobos, come from the Web world. Now, with its physical stores, Amazon is following in their tracks. “Pure-play Web retailing is not sustainable,” New York University marketing professor Scott Galloway told me. He points out that the deep discounting and high delivery costs that characterize Web sales have made it hard for Amazon to turn a profit. If Amazon were to remain an online-only merchant, he says, its future success would be in jeopardy. He believes the company will end up opening “hundreds and then thousands of stores.”


It might find cheap space where the old bookstores were.
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Facebook’s fight against fake news was undercut by fear of conservative backlash • Gizmodo

Michael Nunez:


Gizmodo has learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US. The debate includes questions over whether the social network has a duty to prevent misinformation from spreading to the 44% of Americans who get their news from the social network.

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.

“They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous citing fear of retribution from the company. The source added, “there was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics,” and that “a lot of product decisions got caught up in that.”


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Google showing inaccurate top news search result about popular vote • Business Insider

Sonam Sheth:


If you Googled “final election count” on Monday morning to find out which presidential candidate was ahead in the popular vote, you might have noticed something strange about the search results.

Namely, the top Google News result links to a WordPress blog called “70 News,” which claims that Donald Trump won the popular vote by a margin of almost 700,000 votes, and cites Twitter as its source…

…When reached for comment about the search discrepancy, a Google representative confirmed to Business Insider that they are looking into the matter.


No no no! This week’s villain for the two-minute hate is Facebook. Haven’t you been paying attention?

More likely the algorithms for search have started warring.
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Why journalists love Twitter • Current Affairs

Emily Robinson:


presenting tweets as evidence of some national or global trend (rather than as a trend on a social media platform) is several shades of problematic. Inevitably, if we take trending hashtags for actual trends, we will be dealing with a biased sample: we are looking at what is popular among people who spend time on Twitter rather than among people more broadly. Forgetting the Internet’s biases creates delusion. We may treat the artisanal cupcake blogs we follow on Tumblr as representative of every cupcake in the world, but frozen, flavor-free grocery-store cupcakes are destined to remain the norm in most of real life.

When it comes to political journalism, treating the Internet as representative of reality can heavily bias coverage. It’s because the press gets its worldview from Twitter that it was stunned by the persistence of support for Donald Trump. After all, subsequent to every new vulgar eruption from Trump’s mouth during the campaign, a torrent of outrage poured forth on Twitter, leading pundits to repeatedly declare that Trump’s campaign was finally dead (The Onion captured this kind of wishful insistence nicely with the headline: “‘This Will Be The End Of Trump’s Campaign,’ Says Increasingly Nervous Man For Seventh Time This Year”). Yet Trump maintained support from nearly half the electorate. It was almost as if the online world was a poor representation of the world at large.


The other day there was an article in The Independent (online only) about the US which drew its story from 10 tweets on a topic by completely random people. No further justification was given.
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MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review: a touch of the future • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:


it seems to me there are few instances when removing your fingers from the letter keys so that you can tap a word you’ve already half-typed would be much faster.

Those are the simpler issues. The Touch Bar gets worse when Apple tries to do too much with it. In Pages, for example, the Touch Bar displays at least five types of buttons: one that slides out with a keyboard, one that pops up new formatting options, two that drill down into scrollable menus, one that drills down into a static menu, and several more that are just toggles.

The difference between a menu opening left or right or up or down may seem slight, but the effect is very disorienting. There were times I felt lost in the Touch Bar, unable to return to the screen I wanted. These moments didn’t last long — but any length of time that I’m stuck in a menu on my keyboard is too long.

This is a recurring problem throughout Apple’s apps. The Touch Bar is often used like a menu, rather than a quick set of controls. Having those menu options exposed so clearly can be helpful at times — I’m bad at finding formulas in Keynote, for instance, and the Touch Bar makes them easy to access — but mostly it’s not. These apps don’t need more menus; they need better context for people just starting out in them, and a streamlined way for experienced users to get stuff done.

The good news is that the Touch Bar’s interface is all software. It can be updated and refined and improved. I suspect it’ll take a little while before Apple and third-party developers find the best use for each of their specific apps, but I hope they’ll learn quickly that there’s a fine line between presenting helpful options and overwhelming their users.


Possibly not everyone types as fast as a full-time text journalist – just a guess on my part – but some of Kastrenakes’s points sound as though things didn’t quite get standardised ahead of launch.
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Apple MacBook Pro review: same, better and worse • WSJ

Joanna Stern says that things are mostly the same, apart from:


Touch Bar. On the two higher-end MacBook Pro models, Apple replaced the traditional row of function keys with a new glowing touch strip. I find it most useful for inserting emojis, scrubbing through videos and music and changing font color.

Otherwise, I can accomplish many shortcuts faster with the keyboard or trackpad. (Example: Cmd-B bolds words quicker than I can lift a finger to hit the Touch Bar’s little “B.”) Plus, you always have to look up since the controls keep changing and your sense of touch doesn’t help at all.

Touch ID. The biggest hardware advancement isn’t the Touch Bar, it’s the fingerprint sensor. Tapping the shiny black square is much speedier than punching in passwords. Why this isn’t available on all of Apple’s MacBook laptops—especially the entry-level, 13-inch, no Touch Bar Pro—is baffling.


Also, lotta dongles to be bought. I suspect people will drift slowly to these new machines, and Touch ID will be introduced to the other laptops over time. (Not desktops, unless you have a touch sensor on the main body unit; I don’t see how the Secure Enclave can be in a separate keyboard and retain security.)

The life cycle for PCs is lengthening. That’s about all there is to it. Intel’s not helping either.
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NHS IT bod sends test email to 1.2 million users – and then responses are sent ‘reply all’ • The Register

Gareth Corfield:


A test email sent by accident to 1.2 million NHS workers has caused utter chaos after being sent from an apparently incorrectly configured* email distribution list.

The sender, who The Register will identify only as R, sent the blank message with a subject line that simply read “test” to a distribution list called CroydonPractices, according to irritated health service workers who contacted us.

The message somehow found its way to all email addresses – and was immediately magnified by thoughtless people hitting “reply all” to point out the error and demand they be removed.

Sources said actual work emails were delayed by at least three hours at the time of writing, thanks to the huge volumes of traffic snarling up servers. By 11.30am we were told that 70 or 80 people had reply-all’d to the message, inadvertently copying it to all 1.2 million NHS employees.


Email as DDOS.
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Federal agency doing business with Trump is trying to avoid a massive conflict of interest • BuzzFeed News

Aram Roston:


In 2012, the General Services Administration agreed to lease the Old Post Office Building — a landmark building just blocks from the White House — to Trump’s organization so that the mogul could turn it into a luxury hotel. In the complicated 109-page lease, Trump is required to pay the GSA $3m a year plus a portion of his revenue, and he has to abide by a complex set of restrictions regarding what he can do and how he can build.

But once Trump becomes president, he will have authority over the GSA and will be able to fire its administrator at will, raising profound issues of a conflict.

Questioned about that conflict, a GSA spokesperson sent a statement to BuzzFeed News: “Prior to Mr. Trump taking the oath of office, GSA plans to coordinate with the President-elect’s transition team to allow a plan to be put in place to identify and address any potential conflict of interest relating to the Old Post Office building.”

Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks did not respond to emailed questions about the matter.

It’s been extensively reported that Trump often does not pay his bills, and this has been a characteristic business practice for decades. If Trump’s company stops paying rent to the US government, shortchanges the taxpayer on revenue sharing, or harms the priceless landmark in any way, it is the GSA that would have to enforce the lease.


Does the GSA drain swamps, or if that someone else’s job?
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What writing – and selling – software was like in the 80’s • The Codist

Andrew Wulf:


We finally shipped [our software, Trapeze] at Macworld SF in January 1987.

Now what does that mean? Today shipping is nothing, push a few buttons and it’s uploaded somewhere. In those days shipping meant floppy disk duplicators, printers for manuals, boxes, and actual shipping. Who did you ship to? Distributors and mail order houses. You rarely sold to end users. Distributors took cases of boxes, putting a short description into a paper catalog they gave to retailers. If they sold any they sent you a check 90-180 days later. Anything they didn’t sell came back 6 months later. Mail order usually paid quicker. Distributors would pay you around 30% of the retail price; the mail order people were a little better. If you wanted a retailer to stock your app you were expected to advertise; no one did anything free for you other than put you in a catalog. This made making money a pain in the ass.

Of course potential customers had to figure out you existed, demand you from their retailer who hopefully ordered from the distributor. If they did buy a copy you only found out who they were if they filled out a registration card or called for support. When I think back at how crappy this all was I wonder why I ever got into it! Today it all sounds stupid.

We got a good review in Macworld, but the guy who wrote the MacUser review had a bad day and the review was horrible. Of course these were written in January and only came out three months later. The one bad review killed our sales.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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