Start Up: Snap filed for IPO, Windows 10’s woes, Mozilla cuts jobs, beating Kickstarter and more


Don’t set fires if you wear a pacemaker. We’ll explain why. Photo by elviskennedy on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. And…. Friday! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Snapchat parent Snap Inc. files for IPO • WSJ

Maureen Farrell, Austen Hufford and Jack Marshall:

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The parent of the popular Snapchat disappearing-message app, which had previously filed IPO papers confidentially with the Securities and Exchange Commission, made its so-called S-1 public Thursday, ahead of a share sale that could take place as early as the first week of March. It could be the biggest U.S. IPO in more than two years and help reignite a moribund new-issue market.

Among the revelations, the five-year-old company posted revenue last year of $404.5m, up nearly sevenfold from 2015, as advertisers flocked to its vast audience of 158 million daily users in the fourth quarter, which is concentrated in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic. The company’s net loss, meanwhile, expanded to $514.6m as it spent heavily on everything from data storage to marketing and research.

A successful IPO could bolster Snap’s position as a rival to established tech players including Facebook Inc. and cement Snap co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy’s status as paper billionaires. Each held stock worth about $3.7 billion based on the company’s estimate of its own value as of December—an amount that could rise if the company prices its shares higher in the IPO.

To maintain revenue growth and eventually become profitable, though, Snap made clear that it must keep existing users on the service often and add new ones. If it doesn’t, “our business would be seriously harmed,” the filing says.

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The revenue is impressive. The daily users, ditto. It might never be a direct threat to Twitter’s existing users, but likely prevents younger ones entering because they’re engrossed in Snapchat. And Snap has big ambitions beyond that.
link to this extract


The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease • LA Times

Melissa Healy:

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With environmental regulations expected to come under heavy fire from the Trump administration, new research offers powerful evidence of a link between air pollution and dementia risk.

For older women, breathing air that is heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulates nearly doubles the likelihood of developing dementia, finds a study published Tuesday. And the cognitive effects of air pollution are dramatically more pronounced in women who carry a genetic variant, known as APOE-e4, which puts them at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a nationwide study that tracked the cognitive health of women between the ages of 65 and 79 for 10 years, those who had the APOE-e4 variant were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia if they were exposed to high levels of air pollution than APOE-e4 carriers who were not.

Among carriers of that gene, older women exposed to heavy air pollution were close to four times likelier than those who breathed mostly clean air to develop “global cognitive decline” — a measurable loss of memory and reasoning skills short of dementia.

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Particulates such as PM25 (2.5 microns or so in size) have long been under suspicion in this, because they can – in theory – cross the blood-brain barrier.
link to this extract


The woes of Windows 10 • The Economist

The anonymous correspondent points out that 75% of existing PCs have not been updated to Windows 10, despite it having been free for a year (now over):

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There is no question that Windows 10 is an impressive piece of software, and quite the most secure operating system ever devised. But it is still very much a work in progress—even the program’s troubleshooter needs a troubleshooter. In its current form, Windows 10 demands serious expertise when it comes to knocking it into shape so ordinary users can work they way they prefer. It is also guilty of trampling far too much on people’s privacy, by keeping tabs of all their comings and goings. Given the tales of woe doing the rounds, a number of Windows 7 holdouts who have the choice could jump ship to the user-friendliness of a Macintosh or Chromebook—and no one would blame them for doing so.

For Microsoft, the obvious answer is to focus primarily on getting enterprises to upgrade. Rather than offer incentives, the company has resorted to spreading FUD (fear, uncertainly and doubt) among its corporate customers—as IBM did back in the 1970s whenever customers threatened to desert Big Blue for rival suppliers. Since the start of the year, Microsoft’s corporate users have been warned that, even with security updates, Windows 7 simply does not have the architecture to cope with today’s threats. The remedial work needed to recover from malware attacks can only drive up operating costs. The message to sceptical systems managers: postpone the inevitable upgrade at your peril.

The scaremongering does not stop there. Microsoft researchers cite two recent “zero-day” incidents (exploits that have never been seen before) by the Strontium hacker group—said to be affiliated with Russian intelligence—that broke into various American computer systems during the recent presidential campaign, including those of the Democratic National Committee, the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, and other political groups. Both exploits would have been stopped dead in their tracks by the heavy armour deployed by Windows 10 since its Anniversary Update (effectively Windows 10.1) last August, say the researchers.

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What might have been, eh?
link to this extract


Firefox fail: layoffs kill Mozilla’s push beyond the browser • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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So much for Mozilla’s quest to bring Firefox to new and different places.

The nonprofit organization told employees Thursday that it is eliminating the team tasked with bringing Firefox to connected devices, according to people familiar with the situation. The cuts affect about 50 people. Ari Jaaksi, the senior vice president in charge of the effort, is leaving, and last week, Bertrand Neveux, director of the group’s software, told coworkers he’s departing, too. Mozilla had about 1,000 employees at the end of 2016.

Mozilla confirmed the cuts to the gadget group Thursday.

“We have shifted our internal approach to the internet-of-things opportunity,” Mozilla said in a statement, “to step back from a focus on launching and scaling commercial products to one focused on research and advanced development, dissolving our connected devices initiative and incorporating our internet-of-things explorations into an increased focus on emerging technologies.”

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Inevitable after the failure of FFOS on mobile (which was always hugely hopeful). Will Yahoo renew its hugely expensive search contract for Firefox? If not, Mozilla will need some funding very quickly. (But it’s unclear how long the Yahoo contract is for, or when it ends.)
link to this extract


Uber CEO bows out of Trump advisory council after users boycott • The Guardian

Julie Carrie Wong:

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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is stepping down from Donald Trump’s economic advisory council following intense criticism and an online boycott of the company over its ties to the new administration, the company confirmed Thursday.

“Earlier today I spoke briefly with the president about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community,” Kalanick wrote in an email to Uber staff obtained by the Guardian. “I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”

The company faced a viral boycott campaign in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. Uber’s non-participation in a work stoppage called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, in addition to Kalanick’s position in the economic advisory group, led many users to pledge to #DeleteUber, a hashtag that trended on Twitter and Facebook over the weekend.

Uber has not revealed how many users deleted their accounts, but it was enough that the company implemented an automated process to handle the demand.

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These days, cooperating with Trump can be sufficient to torpedo your reputation. Initially Kalanick was indifferent – whatever was good for Uber was good enough. Now he’s been forced into a different position. Will it get those lost installs back, though? (Mike Isaac in the New York Times puts the number deleted at over 200,000.)
link to this extract


A 24-year-old made $345,000 by beating Kickstarters to market • CNBC

Zack Guzman:

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For Jack, this all started with an inflatable chair.

After graduating from college in Canada, Jack found himself bored of working on behalf of yet another social app hoping to one day garner a billion-dollar valuation.

“I started realizing I wanted to run a company that actually sold something,” he recalls.

Around the same time he noticed a start-up that appeared poised to do that faster than anyone. It was an Indiegogo campaign for KAISR, an inflatable lounge chair made of parachute material that had surpassed its goal by raising $18,500 in 12 hours last March (and eventually over $4 million).


Indiegogo screenshot | KAISR.
KAISR shut down its operations and refunded most of the $4 million it raised after settling a lawsuit with Lamzac’s parent company Fatboy.

As the Indiegogo gained in popularity, Jack’s research led him to realize that the idea was far from unique. In fact, the Lamzac inflatable lounge chair had already gone viral, five years after the idea was presented by its Dutch inventor on Holland’s TV show “Best Idea of Holland.”

The only thing that was new about this chair was the buzz from the crowdfunding campaign.

Jack wondered if he might be able to produce his own successful knockoff. A cursory search on Alibaba revealed manufacturers based in China that were offering product samples, and after minor sampling fees and a little back and forth with the winning factory, Jack had his product: The Cozy Bag.

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Some Kickstarters are astonishingly slow. When the idea’s simple, as in these examples, you get the feeling they’re losing in a Darwinian race with China’s factories and those on the outside.
link to this extract


Cops use pacemaker data to charge man with arson, insurance fraud • Network World


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There were additional “conflicting statements” given to the 911 operator; [houseowner Ross] Compton had said “everyone” was out of the house, yet the 911 operator also heard him tell someone to “get out of here now.” In the 911 call published by WLWT5, an out-of-breath Compton claimed he had “grabbed a bunch of stuff, threw it out the window.” He claimed to have packed his suitcases, broken the glass out of bedroom window with his walking stick, and tossed the suitcases outside.

Compton also told the dispatcher he had “an artificial heart.”

After this, things really get interesting because police investigators used data from Compton’s electronic heart device against him. Isn’t that self-incrimination? Can a person “plead the Fifth” when it comes to self-incriminating data collected from their medical device?

Police set out to disprove Compton’s story about the fire by obtaining a search warrant to collect data from Compton’s pacemaker. WLWT5 reported that the cops wanted to know “Compton’s heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.”

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This happened in the wonderfully named Middletown, Ohio. How soon before it’s your smartwatch or fitness band giving the lowdown on what you’ve been doing?
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All in a glance • mmitII

Matt Ballantine, writing as a cyclist, picks up the discussion about self-driving vehicles and the risks to cyclists:

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Taking a right turn North out of the top of [my] street at most times is a complex process, involving a number of tacit rules…

There are hundreds of ways in which that manoeuvre at that junction can pan out, and most of them don’t strictly follow to the letter of the Highway Code. If one were to wait for both lanes to be clear to be able to turn right, you could be there for hours.

In urban and suburban areas, there are thousands of spots that have similar tacit rules and constant negotiation between road users for them to work effectively…

…the amount of subtle interaction between people who make up the users of the road means that we are a very, very long way from the steering wheel-less motorcars of “the future”. Without being able to switch everyone over to driver-free cars at the same instant and removing all non-autonomous road users at the same time the extent to which road use is a constant form of human interaction is, it seems, lost on the robot car evangelists.

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link to this extract


MIT built a wearable app to detect emotion in conversation • The Verge

Natt Garun:

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How a person tells a story could be interpreted in a multitude of ways — telling your friend about your awesome new car can come across as excitement or a brag, depending on the listener. To help detect the sentiment behind speech, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology built a wearable app that can parse conversation to identify the emotion behind each part of the story.

The app, built into a fitness tracker for this research, collects physical and speech data to analyze the overall tone of the story in real time. Using artificial intelligence, the app can also figure out which part of the conversation was happy or sad, and tracks emotional changes in five-second intervals.

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One gets the feeling this is meant for officials who are interviewing people about things they shouldn’t have done. Such “emotion detection” systems have historically been absolutely rubbish:

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In the research, participants were asked to wear a Samsung Simband with the app installed and tell a story. The band also monitored the participants’ physical changes, such as increased skin temperature, heart rate, or movements such as waving their arms around or fidgeting. Overall, the neural networks were able to determine tone with 83% accuracy — though it is unclear whether the research has been peer-reviewed.

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I get the feeling this isn’t that different. Humans might still be the device of choice for doing this work.

link to this extract


Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft draft a joint letter opposing Trump’s travel ban • Recode

Kara Swisher:

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Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Uber and Stripe, along with a consumer packaged goods company and others, have been working together on a letter opposing U.S. President Trump’s travel ban, according to sources.

Tech companies are leading the effort, but are working to involve other industries, the sources say, such as media companies, manufacturing giants and consumer product outfits. The letter will be the first major push from big U.S. businesses to try to support immigration in the wake of a recent travel restriction order by Trump.

Here’s a draft of the letter…

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…which really is the most milquetoast thing, including the phrase “we stand ready to identify ways of helping to achieve your stated goal of bringing clarity to the future of the 750,000 Dreamers in this country under the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in a way “that will make people happy and proud.” (Dreamers are children of illegal immigrants born in the US.) I doubt anyone in the administration will take the least bit of notice of it. Letters written by committee are generally junk.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: Snap filed for IPO, Windows 10’s woes, Mozilla cuts jobs, beating Kickstarter and more

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