Start Up: wearables crunch, Internet Archive moves, Nokia’s phoenix, Reddit’s internal war, and more


Google Home: future of computing, presence of computing, or dead end? Photo by Stratageme.com

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I got a Google Home and finally understand the future of computing • Medium

Owen Williams:

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The beauty of the device is really in how it’s able to understand both context and the seemingly bizarre, however. If you say “OK Google, who’s that guy who plays God in lots of movies” it’ll say “Morgan Freeman.” From then, if you ask “what else is he known for” it’ll pick up that you’re still referring to Morgan Freeman, and tell you a bunch of stuff from his biography.

My favorite command is a simple one: “how’s my day looking?” Home spouts off the things in my calendar, the weather in Amsterdam, how long my cycle to the office will take and then jumps into a two-minute world news briefing. It’s simple, but actually really addictive.

Home really comes into its own if you buy a whole bunch of smart devices, too. I reluctantly picked up a set of Philips Hue smart light bulbs, and wired up my smart thermostat to the device with IFTTT. Now when it’s cold, I can just say “OK Google, turn up the heat” and it does adjusts up a few notches.

Even better, “OK Google, goodnight” turns off all the lights, stops the music, turns off the TV and lowers the heat automatically. If you have a few Chromecast devices it’s nifty too — then you can just say “Play Carly Rae Jepsen in the Living Room” and it works.

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Here’s what I wonder about. These things Williams describes – they aren’t the *future* of computing. They’re computing that’s here right now, but very few people are actually interested in it. Got a thermostat and a seven-day timer? That’s your heating sorted right there. Got light switches? There you go.

A smartphone that connects to your thermostat? That makes sense – then you don’t even need to be at home to control it, but you can still let the seven-day timer do the heavy lifting.

And also – if I want to know who the guy is who has played God so much, I might find a person to discuss it with. not a computer. (And look later at the articles on wearables and see if this hype is like it.)
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Help us keep the Internet Archive free, accessible, and reader private • Internet Archive Blogs

Brewser Kahle:

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this year, we have set a new goal: to create a copy of Internet Archive’s digital collections in another country. We are building the Internet Archive of Canada because, to quote our friends at LOCKSS, “lots of copies keep stuff safe.” This project will cost millions. So this is the one time of the year I will ask you: please make a tax-deductible donation to help make sure the Internet Archive lasts forever.

On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change.

For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions.

It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase.

Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy—where people have been rounded up simply for what they read. At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers’ privacy in the digital world.

We can do this because we are independent, thanks to broad support from many of you. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library built on trust. Our mission: to give everyone access to all knowledge, forever. For free. The Internet Archive has only 150 staff but runs one of the top-250 websites in the world. Reader privacy is very important to us, so we don’t accept ads that track your behavior. We don’t even collect your IP address. But we still need to pay for the increasing costs of servers, staff and rent.

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Also connected: Kahle has twice fended off National Security Letters, the secret orders from the FBI. I’ve donated. If you like The Overspill, I’d be delighted if you made a donation too.
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What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right’ • The Guardian

Matt Lees:

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The young men converted via 2014’s Gamergate, are being more widely courted now. By leveraging distrust and resentment towards women, minorities and progressives, many of Gamergate’s most prominent voices – characters like Mike Cernovich, Adam Baldwin, and Milo Yiannopoulos – drew power and influence from its chaos. These figures gave Gamergate a new sense of direction – generalising the rhetoric: this was now a wider war between “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) and everyday, normal, decent people. Games were simply the tip of the iceberg – progressive values, went the argument, were destroying everything. The same voices moved into other geek communities, especially comics, where Marvel and DC were criticised for progressive storylines and decisions. They moved into science fiction with the controversy over the Hugo awards. They moved into cinema with the revolting kickback against the all-female Ghostbusters reboot. Despite colonising the world with pointless tech and plastering modern film and TV with fan-pleasing adaptations of niche comic books, nerds still had a taste for revenge. They saw the culture they considered theirs being ripped away from them. In their zero sum mindset, they read growing artistic equality as a threat.

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This is a must-read article: Lees lived through it (as, to a far lesser extent, I did), and the points he makes are all valid. The wider concern is the one which keeps coming up: how do you get people to show more empathy? The suspicion – my suspicion – is that for some men, it simply isn’t possible. That’s concerning.
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Fitbit to buy Pebble • The Information

Reed Albergotti and Jessica Lessin:

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Fitbit, the leader in the fitness band market, is near a deal to acquire smartwatch maker Pebble, according to three people briefed on the deal.

The price couldn’t be learned but it is thought to be for a small amount. Pebble had been looking to sell, one of the people said. There have been signs over the past year or so that Pebble was facing financial challenges. Earlier this year it reportedly laid off about a quarter of its workforce.

The expected sale of Pebble to Fitbit signals a consolidation in the wearables market.

The Pebble brand will be phased out after the deal. What Fitbit will get is Pebble’s intellectual property, such as  its operating system, one of the people said.

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Related, by Dan Seifert at The Verge:

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Lenovo Moto is not releasing another smartwatch for Android 2.0 next year: the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time,” though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. “Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year” [head of global product development Shakil] Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto’s annual device roadmap.

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After GoPro laying off, it looks like the wearables market is consolidating fast. Android Wear is in trouble, I think.
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Nokia’s phone brand lives again • Counterpoint Technology

Neil Shah:

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featurephones will sell more than 350m units this year globally, and close to 300m units next year – close to US$6bn in revenue opportunity.

Currently, Nokia-branded featurephone business [being sold by Microsoft] has close to 11% share of this market, from a peak of 34% before Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s devices business.

To get back to 25% level would be the mid-term goal for HMD which is in turn around a billion dollar in revenues.

The featurephone business will bring in cash flow to launch an “Android” based smartphone portfolio in 2017.

Close partnership with the number one mobile phone manufacturer in the world, Foxconn (FIH), brings greater scale, manufacturing advantage from start and will be pivotal to smartphone portfolio resurrection.

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Just for context – more than a billion smartphones will be sold this year, at prices on average much higher than for featurephones ($20 average selling price). Would love to know the profit margin.
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Strange numbers found in particle collisions • Quanta Magazine

Kevin Hartnett:

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Over the last decade physicists and mathematicians have been exploring a surprising correspondence that has the potential to breathe new life into the venerable Feynman diagram and generate far-reaching insights in both fields. It has to do with the strange fact that the values calculated from Feynman diagrams seem to exactly match some of the most important numbers that crop up in a branch of mathematics known as algebraic geometry. These values are called “periods of motives,” and there’s no obvious reason why the same numbers should appear in both settings. Indeed, it’s as strange as it would be if every time you measured a cup of rice, you observed that the number of grains was prime.

“There is a connection from nature to algebraic geometry and periods, and with hindsight, it’s not a coincidence,” said Dirk Kreimer, a physicist at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Now mathematicians and physicists are working together to unravel the coincidence. For mathematicians, physics has called to their attention a special class of numbers that they’d like to understand: Is there a hidden structure to these periods that occur in physics? What special properties might this class of numbers have? For physicists, the reward of that kind of mathematical understanding would be a new degree of foresight when it comes to anticipating how events will play out in the messy quantum world.

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Long. You will be (a lot) wiser about Feynman diagrams and the rest by the end though.
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World chess has a big problem • Bloomberg

Carol Matlack:

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Modern chess has much going for it: millions of fans and players around the world, charismatic young stars, and a game uniquely suited for the internet age. It also has a substantial problem. The World Chess Federation, the game’s official governing body and awarder of “grandmaster” status, keeps doing business with some of the world’s worst regimes. Known by its French acronym FIDE (“fee-day”), the organization is in the firm grip of its eccentric president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a 54-year-old Russian businessman and ex-politician. He has flaunted his relationships with Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi, having played chess under a tent with the Libyan leader a few weeks before Qaddafi’s death. His ties to Vladimir Putin have raised suspicion that he secretly works for the Kremlin—an idea he dismisses as ludicrous. Ilyumzhinov also claims to have been abducted by aliens in 1997 and says extraterrestrials introduced chess to humans more than 2,000 years ago.

The United States sanctioned Ilyumzhinov a year ago for allegedly doing business deals to aid the Assad regime in Syria. Ilyumzhinov denies this, but sanctions mean he can’t visit the U.S. or do business with American citizens or corporations. In an attempt to limit the damage to chess, Deputy President Georgios Makropolous took over routine operations. Organization of the world championship was left to Agon.

It didn’t help. The New York tournament, which hoped to attract luxury retailers and financial firms as sponsors, wound up with an odd quartet: a Russian fertilizer company, a Moscow-based asset-management firm, a Norwegian bottled-water company that sponsors Carlsen, and S.T. Dupont, whose stylish pens are being used by the two players to make notes. “People are afraid,” Makropoulos said.

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Sort of related: the final deciding game in the World Chess Championship which ended this week, won by Magnus Carlsen with a queen sacrifice that could have come from the days of Petrosian. Here it is, as a GIF.

https://twitter.com/i/videos/tweet/804111974904774657?embed_source=clientlib&player_id=0&rpc_init=1
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Reddit is fighting the same kind of war that Twitter is • Fortune

Mathew Ingram:

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Twitter has fiddled with the mute function to make it easier for those who have been harassed to ignore their abusers, but many argue that this is too little and too late. Reddit has tried to empower moderators, but some say those moves are also insufficient to solve the problem.

The company said it is stepping up its efforts by taking action against some of its “most toxic users,” ranging from warnings and time-out periods to permanent bans. Huffman said the site will also continue to “take privileges from communities whose users continually cross the line.”

The challenges facing both Twitter and Reddit have become even more acute as both companies have come under increased financial pressure. Twitter is trying hard to justify its $13bn market value, while Reddit is trying to justify the $50m in funding it raised in 2014, which gave the company a theoretical value of about $500m…

…The risk for both companies — Reddit and Twitter — is that by cracking down on abuse, they also squeeze the life out of their services, and thus wind up with fewer users and less engagement, making it even more difficult to reach their financial goals. And yet, not taking action isn’t really an option either.

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The US government is using a no-fly zone to suppress journalism at Standing Rock • Motherboard

Jason Koebler:

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In recent weeks, videos shot by Native American drone pilots have shown percussion grenades launched from an armored vehicle deep into a crowd of people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. They have shown people being knocked backward with a constant barrage of water being shot from fire hoses. They’ve shown a line of body armor-clad cops aiming guns at unarmed water protectors holding their hands high above their heads. Another video, shot at night, shows that construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline continues under the cover of darkness.

In recent weeks, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters have been tear gassed, sprayed with water cannons in freezing temperatures, and shot with rubber bullets by a police force using military-style vehicles and violent riot suppression tactics. Every suppression apparatus the government has at its disposal has been used—even the National Guard has been called in.

These drone-shot videos have been invaluable in recording these abuses. And yet those, too, have been targeted by the government. The Federal Aviation Administration has set up a Temporary Flight Restriction over a four-mile radius surrounding the Standing Rock protests. The TFR applies only to civilians; law enforcement helicopters and aircraft buzz over protesters with impunity.

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Are drones for filming protected by the US’s First Amendment? Experts contacted by Motherboard thought so. Might come to a lawsuit.
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The farce of the deal, Carrier edition • Bloomberg Gadfly

Brooke Sutherland on the excitement over Trump (with the help of Mike Pence, and more particularly the state of Indiana and some juicy tax breaks) getting Carrier to retain 1,000 jobs in Indiana:

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what about the many other manufacturing companies that have moved or are planning to move jobs offshore? They don’t all share the same broad trigger points.

Consider Rexnord Corp., for example. The maker of industrial machinery parts and drainage equipment officially decided this month, after the election, to close an Indianapolis factory and move the work to Mexico, eliminating about 300 jobs. But Rexnord doesn’t have as significant of exposure to military contracts that Trump can exploit. It had about $175m of earnings stashed abroad as of March 31, roughly 36% of its total cash holdings at the time. That’s not insignificant, but perhaps not enough to persuade the company to give up on the initial $15.5m in savings it’s reportedly expected to reap.

United Technologies CEO Hayes wasn’t bluffing about the uphill battle industrial companies face on labor costs. After years of moves to cheaper places, manufacturers that decide against relocations and plant closings may find themselves at a disadvantage, tax breaks or not. Many shutdowns and job cuts also aren’t about greed and boosting the share price, but rather are in response to weak demand or the extra capacity created by mergers. That’s the free market at work, and those aren’t the kinds of trends you can stop with a few extra tax breaks.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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