Start up: the truth behind Trump U, the fake news factory, algorithmic futures, the pro Mac, and more


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A selection of 12 links for you. To anyone else, eleven. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

June 2016: Trump University: it’s worse than you think • The New Yorker

John Cassidy, writing in June:

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If anyone still has any doubt about the troubling nature of Donald Trump’s record, he or she should be obliged to read the affidavit of Ronald Schnackenberg, a former salesman for Trump University. Schnackenberg’s testimony was one of the documents unsealed by a judge in the class-action suit, which was brought in California by some of Trump University’s disgruntled former attendees.

Schnackenberg, who worked in Trump’s office at 40 Wall Street, testified that “while Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could.” The affidavit concludes, “Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

In one sense, the latest revelations don’t break much new ground. Back in 2013, when the office of Eric Schneiderman, New York’s Attorney General, filed a civil lawsuit against Trump and some of his associates, the complaint, which is also worth reading in full, made perfectly clear what sort of organization it was targeting. Despite Trump University’s claim that it offered “graduate programs, post graduate programs, doctorate programs,” it wasn’t a university at all. It was a company that purported to be selling Trump’s secret insights into how to make money in real estate. From the time Trump University began operating, in 2005, the A.G.’s office repeatedly warned the company that it was breaking the law by calling itself a university. (In New York State, universities have to obtain a state charter.)…

…One thing is clear, though. If the revelations about Trump University don’t do any damage to Trump, it’s time to worry—or worry even more—about American democracy.

«

It’s faintly troubling that the NY attorney-general took so long to get to grips with Trump U. And all the people who are going “pfft” that their president-elect is a conman? What sort of behaviour do they expect from him in office?
link to this extract


Apple should go back to the future with the Mac Pro | The Robservatory

Rob Griffiths:

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Back in 2013, Apple introduced the new Mac Pro, an amazing wonder of design. But it was also a study in compromise for “Pro” users, requiring all peripherals to be externally attached, and not allowing for any after-purchase upgrades (video card, CPU, etc.). It was also shockingly expensive.

I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Apple to try to build a perfect Mac “Pro” desktop for everyone. As nicely designed as the new Mac Pro was, it missed the perfect mark for many Pro users by quite a bit.

So how does Apple try to design one Mac that can satisfy a diverse group that encompasses design professionals, gamers, scientific researchers, video creators, and who knows what else? Quite simply, they shouldn’t try, as such an exercise is destined to fail. (See “new Mac Pro,” above.)

Instead, Apple should design one Mac that can become anything and everything to each type of “Pro” user. While that may sound daungting, the good news is that Apple’s already done this in its recent past. And done it very well, I might add…

When has Apple done this in the past? As recently as 2012, the last year of production for the old Mac Pro. That’s right, the old Mac Pro:

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Griffiths is absolutely right: the old Mac Pro was the ideal machine for those who absolutely need to be able to change its internals. It’s almost as if it was designed by different people from the ones who put out the “ashtray” Mac Pro.
link to this extract


Want to understand AI? Try sketching a duck for a neural network • Technology Review

Will Knight:

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Google has released a handful of AI experiments that tap into advances in machine learning in creative ways.

They include Quick, Draw!, a game in which an algorithm tries to guess what you’re sketching, A.I. Duet, which lets you compose pieces of music with a creative computer, and ways to visualize how neural networks represent information and see the world.

The projects show off some new AI features Google has built into an overhauled cloud computing platform. But they also help make AI less mysterious, and hint at ways in which the technology may become more accessible to all of us.

Take Quick, Draw!, for example. You have 20 seconds to draw six simple objects, and a computer tries to guess what you’re working on in the allotted time. Under the hood, the game runs a learning system that Google uses for character recognition. The system analyzes not only the shape, but also the strokes you used to draw it. It’s a neat way to understand a machine-learning approach that’s used by millions on their smartphones. It’s also quite addictive, even if it always seems to mistake my ducks for potatoes.

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It’s a neat way to get lots of people to train a neural network, certainly.
link to this extract


World’s first malaria vaccine set for 2018 rollout in Africa • United Nations News Centre

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Having secured the funds for the initial phase of the deployment of the world’s first malaria vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today it will be rolled out in sub-Saharan Africa and immunization campaigns will begin in 2018.

“The pilot deployment of this first-generation vaccine marks a milestone in the fight against malaria,” stated Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, adding that these pilot projects will provide valuable evidence from real-life settings to make informed decisions on whether to deploy the vaccine on a wide scale.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, acts globally against the most deadly malaria parasite P. falciparum, very common in Africa. Based on the results from clinical trials, the new vaccine will provide partial protection against malaria in young children.

The vaccine was developed through a partnership between GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and from a network of African research centres.

«

This is relatively cheap – $15m for the pilot trials, $37m for the first four years. This is what progress looks like.
link to this extract


Venezuela’s nemesis is a hardware salesman at a Home Depot in Alabama • WSJ

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Public Enemy No. 1 of Venezuela’s revolutionary government is Gustavo Díaz, a Home Depot Inc. employee in central Alabama.

On his lunch breaks from the hardware section, Mr. Díaz, 60 years old, does more than anyone else to set the price of everything from rice to aspirin to cars in his native Venezuela, influencing the inflation rate and swaying millions of dollars of daily currency transactions.

How? He is president of one of Venezuela’s most popular and insurgent websites, DolarToday.com, which provides a benchmark exchange rate used by his compatriots to buy and sell black-market dollars. That allows them to bypass some of the world’s most rigid currency controls.

Socialist President Nicolás Maduro has accused DolarToday of leading an “economic war” against his embattled government and vowed to jail Mr. Díaz and his two partners, also Venezuelan expatriates in the U.S. The Venezuelan central bank unsuccessfully filed suit against the website twice in US courts. The government has also turned to hackers to launch constant attacks, Mr. Díaz said, forcing the site to use sophisticated defenses.

“DolarToday is the Empire’s strategy to push down the currency and overthrow Maduro,” Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz said earlier this year, asserting that the US—“The Empire” to the Venezuelan government—was orchestrating the site’s work. “DolarToday is the enemy of the people.” The US State Department declined to comment…

…Although about $15 million changes hands daily on the Venezuelan black market, Mr. Díaz said he makes little from the Delaware-registered website, which is free to access. The company’s three founding partners—Mr. Díaz, a real-estate agent in Miami and a supermarket technology technician in Seattle—recoup $4,500 a month from selling advertising and the browsing data of about 800,000 unique daily visitors to Google.

«

I like that last clause.
link to this extract


For the ‘new yellow journalists,’ opportunity comes in clicks and bucks • The Washington Post

Terrence McCoy:

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At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the divided America of 2016, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process. Six months ago, Wade and his business partner, Ben Goldman, were unemployed restaurant workers. Now they’re at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money that they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want people to start asking for loans.

Instead, Wade hums a hip-hop song and starts a new post as readers keep reading, sharing and sending in personal messages. One comes from a woman who frequently contacts his page. “YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE I TRUST TO REPORT THE TRUTH,” is one of the things she has written, and Wade doesn’t need to look at her Facebook profile to have a clear sense of who she is. White. Working class. Midwestern. “And the economy screwed her.”

He writes another headline, “THE TRUTH IS OUT! The Media Doesn’t Want You To See What Hillary Did After Losing… .”

“Nothing in this article is anti-media, but I’ve used this headline a thousand times,” he says. “Violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to.”

“Our audience does not trust the mainstream media,” Goldman, 26, says a little later as Wade keeps typing. “It’s definitely easier to hook them with that.”

“There’s not a ton of thought put into it,” Wade says. “Other than it frames the story so it gets a click.”

«

They should turn this into a series and call it Breaking Bad News.
link to this extract


Helping to fix the fake news problem with metadata • Medium

Brendan Quinn:

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One growing type of metadata is the schema.org project, sponsored by the major search engines (and using the World Wide Web Consortium’s communities platform to operate) but free for anyone to use. Sites use schema.org metadata to tag content as being restaurant reviews, recipes, events or news stories. Without changing how content looks to human readers, it can be made a whole lot more understandable to computers, which obviously helps with search results, bots answering questions about recipes. And maybe, I thought, it could help people make it clear when articles are intended to be satirical.

So I asked Dan Brickley, Semantic Web guru, Googler and maintainer of schema.org, if there were any plans to make a tag for satirical news part of the schema.org markup. It’s an ever-growing standard and tends to follow industry trends — a recent effort has focused on fact-checking articles which will hopefully provide the right tools to debunk false articles. I’m very happy to say that Dan replied that he had indeed looked into it a few years ago, and that as a result of me asking the question, he has revived his proposal for a SatiricalNewsArticle tag. And it looks like it might gain some traction.

Now you might say that there’s no point in creating a fake news tag because the article’s author must voluntarily state that they are writing satire. It’s true that the tag must be consciously added by the publisher of the article but convincing publishers to use it might not be as difficult as you think — according to the recent Washington Post article on a prominent fake news purveyor, he gives the impression that he wants people to realise, eventually, that they’re reading satire.

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Nah, I doubt that. He wants to make money.
link to this extract


Apple abandons development of wireless routers • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple has disbanded its division that develops wireless routers, another move to try to sharpen the company’s focus on consumer products that generate the bulk of its revenue, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apple began shutting down the wireless router team over the past year, dispersing engineers to other product development groups, including the one handling the Apple TV, said the people, who asked not to be named because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced.

Apple hasn’t refreshed its routers since 2013 following years of frequent updates to match new standards from the wireless industry. The decision to disband the team indicates the company isn’t currently pushing forward with new versions of its routers. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s plans…

…Apple’s AirPorts have historically lagged behind those of companies such as D-Link Corp., Netgear Inc. and Belkin International Inc., which have rushed to adopt new standards. Apple, which has charged more for its routers, has focused more on integrating control of its devices into its computer operating system and industrial design. The company’s decision to leave the business may be a boon for other wireless router makers.

«

I doubt it will be a “boon” – these are going to be far from big business – but as Gurman points out, if people then choose to go with other products to do this job, that could make Apple’s hardware offerings less attractive overall. And the Airport devices do the job. (Side note: Gurman is covering the Apple beat as effectively as ever.)
link to this extract


Intel is laying off a major portion of its wearables group • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:

»

In June, Intel recalled Basis Peak devices due to overheating concerns — affecting, according to the company, roughly 0.2% of users. Rather than replacing the units, the company simply stopped sales of the device altogether. Intel took it a step further and shut down the Peak’s software support (including cloud storage), effective by year’s end.

It was clear at the time that this would prove a big setback for Intel’s wearable dreams. After all, the Basis acquisition hadn’t produced much for the company beyond the release of the Titanium, a snazzed up version of the Peak that looked a bit better with a business suit.

Now, according to sources close to the company, Intel is planning to take a major step back from its investment in the space — or possibly even exit wearables altogether. The changes will include a large number of layoffs in NDG, along with the larger New Technologies Group into which it was folded back in April of last year — a move already viewed at the time by some as an early sign of Intel’s displeasure with its wearables division.

The company has already informed a number of employees about the changes, with many expected to lose their jobs before year’s end. Reports thus far have been varied, but all point to a large job loss for those in the NDG and the possible shut down of the group altogether.

«

In a statement, Intel denied the company is stepping back from wearables, though it didn’t directly comment on the layoff news. It has “several products in the works that we are very excited about”. Those might have been in the works and won’t be followed by any more, though? Intel’s problem is that it’s not good at low-power work – and that’s where the focus is.
link to this extract


The Dubai Overpayment scam • Event Photography London

Paul Clarke got an approach to do a week’s photography for a wonderful amount of money:

»

Some things made lots of sense – the language, though imperfect in its English, was like so many similar approaches. The venue was real enough, and one I’d worked in before, and I gleefully sent my new friend in Dubai a link to those photos, along with a quotation note for 5 days shooting.

You need something to really pin the mark down in a con – something to clinch things. I’ve seen enough Hustle to know this almost always involves an appeal to greed. But I couldn’t see it now. And there it was – they only wanted 5 hours a day of coverage – 10 to 3. A bit weird, that, but hey, I was quoting full day rates. Even given generous provision for set-up and pack-down time, this was going to be a relatively light workload for a tasty paycheck. I was IN!

“Just what we’re looking for” – came the swift reply – “can we book you? In fact, we’re so keen to get everything confirmed now we’ve found you, with your wonderful experience of that venue, that we’d like you to invoice us now, in full, for the work.”

This gets better, I thought. I tapped the name of the events company into Google, just out of interest to see where they were. Got a few links with very similar names (variations on “Emirates”, “Events”, and “Agency”; couldn’t be bothered to look into all of them, so left it). I’d asked for a phone number, and they’d sent one – with the right country code – I checked. But I didn’t ring it.

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You can be smart and be conned. It involves a big overpayment being made with a fake/stolen cheque; the excess payment is then reversed – by you! – and then the fake/stolen nature of the cheque comes to light (after you’ve paid out the money, because banks are sloooow at this stuff), and the bank reverses the stolen amount out of your account. Suddenly you’re a lot poorer. Beware.
link to this extract


Tales of the algorithm: the transparent man • Terence Eden’s Blog

Eden has been writing:

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Scene: An airport. A few years from now.

“I’m sorry sir, we can’t let you on the flight until you visit the rest-room.”

I’ll admit that it caught me off-guard. Surely the woman at the airline gate was joking?

“Sir, two of the plane’s toilets are out-of-order. At this time we’re requesting all passengers void themselves before entry.”

«

As he points out, all the technologies he mentions already exist and are being used. It’s just a question of bringing them together, Black Mirror-style.
link to this extract


Blackhat Facebook: using fake contests to generate engagement • Joe Youngblood

Joe Youngblood:

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I made a new friend recently who is addictively drawn to the high-life. Fancy dresses, parties on yachts, trendy restaurants, destination vacations – all things she posts on a regular basis to her Facebook. So I wasn’t too surprised when she shared a post about winning $30,000 in some rich guy’s Facebook contest to generate a following on his page. I wasn’t surprised that she might know a rich guy or follow one’s “public figure” page, but offering $30,000 to get likes seemed a bit off. I was curious about who would make such an extraordinary offer and like at least 100,000 other folks decided to look at his page, immediately it screamed fake. My first clue was the fact that the page never posted more than two photos of the man it claimed to represent, Aaron Simon – and one of those photos had his head cropped out at the chin.

There are 4 types of public figures IMO that make Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, etc..
1. The already famous looking to capitalize on or steadily maintain their fame
2. The not-so famous that wish to push their ideas / views on others
3. Independent contractors / business people wanting to sell something or offer services
4. Those who hope that their antics / views / lifestyle will make them famous

All of the above rely on personal recognition, so it was odd when I visited the photos tab of Aaron’s page and scrolled through a heap of memes to find just two photos of the man. The one with his face cropped out made it difficult to find anything, but the second photo was of a good looking man standing next to a Lamborghini. It took some digging but I was able to find the same photo with a time stamp of a year earlier by using a reverse Google image search.

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You’ll have guessed: it’s fake from top to bottom, aiming to pull people out towards sites that will capitalise on Google AdSense.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start up: the truth behind Trump U, the fake news factory, algorithmic futures, the pro Mac, and more

  1. Re: Trump U
    The problem with ‘fake news’ is not so simple as ‘the other guys’ making stuff up and planting it, and this is a perfect example of how it’s done.

    A guy swears an affidavit. There’s no burden of proof or evidence required to support it. I could go today to a notary public, solemnly swear I saw a pink elephant in the sky a week ago Thursday, and I’d have one. If a lawyer wanted to enter into evidence for or against damage claims for coal miners’ families in north Walls, s/he could and the justice system would weigh it’s merits.

    This is how the New Yorker, the NY Times, Fox News, the Guardian et al twist the news these days and why I don’t trust any of them anymore. Anyone can file an affidavit saying they have first hand knowledge to believe something is true, and any reporter can safely report that a legal affidavit has been filed that says this or that. In every National Enquirer headline was always enough of a kernel of truth and protection to hang a story on.

    The difference between the Times or AP and the Enquirer was never truth vs lies. It was about what you did with that kernel.

    • Key difference here v the pink elephant: the affidavit and the AG’s case led to a $25m settlement which the defendant tweeted could have been a lot more. You’re failing to distinguish between a wild story on a supermarket tabloid, and a class action suit allowed by a judge (so it has to clear two hurdles: find enough dissatisfied people, and satisfy a judge it has prima facie merit) which then led to a settlement. When Apple or Google or Amazon settles a class action suit, do you think it’s all made up by the plaintiffs? Civil cases matched by an attorney-general are unusual.

      “This is how the New Yorker, the NY Times, Fox News, the Guardian et al twist the news these days and why I don’t trust any of them anymore.”

      TBH I think this says more about your discomfort with media that isn’t precisely meeting your own bubble requirements. (I’m gratified you’ve come out of it to visit here, of course.) Those four outlets are quite strange bedfellows: the New Yorker is clearly partisan-Democrat (its struggles around some of Obama’s failure to act were quite something to watch); the NYT aims to cover everything, but often squashes the story flat; Fox News never saw a right-winger it didn’t like, nor a statistic it couldn’t bend to a right-wing cause (hough I do admire Megyn Kelly’s willingness to call out the misogyny of Donald Trump right from the start); the Guardian is left-of-centre, and proud of it. But the three papers are all determined to be ruled by objectively demonstrable facts, even while they differ in their news agendas.

      I don’t think you can reasonably argue that a president-elect who has to settle a huge lawsuit in his home town has had a good day. The simple way to test this: if it had been Hillary settling a similar case, would you have thought “ach, there was nothing to it”?

      As you say, it is what you do with the kernel of truth – but that’s also called context. The context, with Trump U, all runs disfavourably to Trump.

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