Start Up: Yahoo hack charges, death on the reef, Office v Google Docs, 32-bit iOS apps face death, and more


Could Google’s DeepMind run the National Grid more efficiently? How would it get paid, if so? Photo by greensnapper2015 on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. None from 2005. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Two Russian spies charged in massive Yahoo hack • WSJ

Aruna Viswanatha and Robert Mcmillan:

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The men used unauthorized access to Yahoo’s systems to steal information from about at least 500 million Yahoo accounts, starting in January 2014, according to the indictment. They then used some of that stolen information to obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers, including accounts of Russian journalists, U.S. and Russian government officials and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies, the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday.

Other personal accounts belonged to employees of commercial entities, such as a Russian investment banking firm, a French transportation company, U.S. financial services and private equity firms, a Swiss bitcoin wallet and banking firm and a U.S. airline, the Justice Department said.

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State hacking. Figures: Yahoo accounts are essentially worthless in themselves, and so not really that attractive to commercial hackers, who would rather hit companies which hold useful credit card details.
link to this extract


The curious state of Apple product pricing • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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AirPods and Apple Watch pricing doesn’t reflect a new strategy designed to juice iPhone sales. Instead, Apple has actually been traveling down this pricing path for years. Apple’s decision to unveil the initial iPad at $499 in 2010, and then come out with a $329 iPad mini just two years later, marked a sea change in the way Apple approached product pricing. 

In the mid-1990s, Apple made a series of strategic mistakes related to the Mac. Instead of trying to grow market share, management chased profit. Apple introduced a variety of high-priced Macs targeting existing Mac users. Apple was having difficulty targeting new users in the face of the strengthening Windows empire. Apple was doubling down on niche instead of chasing mass market. 

Apple took a completely different strategy with iPad. With iPad, Apple cared much more about grabbing market share. This attitude was born from motivation to not repeat Apple’s dark days from the 1990s. Up until last year, there was thought to be one major caveat to Apple’s market share ambition. Apple was interested in initially grabbing share in the premium segment of the market and then gradually working its way down market. There is evidence to suggest this attitude is now changing a bit as Apple is selling wearables.

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link to this extract


Large sections of Australia’s great reef are now dead, scientists find • The New York Times

Damien Cave and Justin Gillis:

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Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a paper on the reef that is being published Thursday as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”

The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. In the paper, dozens of scientists described the recent disaster as the third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998, but by far the most widespread and damaging.

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link to this extract


Complexity and strategy • Hackernoon

Terry Crowley worked at Microsoft leading Office development for ten years:

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Anyone that follows the tales of disruption in the technology industry is well-attuned to the fact that asymmetric business model attacks enabled by new technology advances is one of the most effective strategies a competitor can take.

One thing that was clear to us was that the cloud/browser development strategy did not offer a breakthrough in the constraints of essential complexity like I am discussing here. In fact, the performance challenges with running large amounts of code or large data models in the browser and managing the high relative latency between the front and back end of your application generally make it harder to build complex applications in a web-based environment. Hyper-ventilation by journalists and analysts about the pace of Google App’s innovation generally ignored the fact that the applications remained relatively simple. Prior to joining Microsoft, I had built a highly functional multimedia document editor which included word-processing, spreadsheets, image, graphics, email and real-time conferencing with a couple other developers. I knew the pace of innovation that was possible when functionality was still relatively low (“highly functional” but still small N compared to the Office apps) and nothing I saw as Google Apps evolved challenged that.

In fact, several areas that demonstrate real cross-cutting complexity challenges is where Google’s slower pace is especially relevant. Google Apps have been announcing some variant of offline editing for almost 8 years now and it is still semi-functional. The other “real soon now” promise is “better compatibility with Office”. This has the flavor of the laundry detergent claims of “now with blue crystals”.

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link to this extract


Seven things you can do to overcome VR motion sickness • UploadVR

Spencer Fawcett:

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Motion sickness: it’s far from the flashiest aspect of VR, but it’s a real problem for some people when they put on a headset and enter a virtual world. VR motion sickness happens when your eyes tell your brain you’re moving around in a VR environment, but your body feels like it’s sitting in a chair or standing still. If you’re prone to the problem, these conflicting inputs cause you to feel miserable. Specifically, you might experience sensations like nausea, dizziness, headaches, sweating, excessive salivating, or all of the above. Even worse, these symptoms can continue for hours after you take off the headset and compound together.

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Ooh, you make it sound enthralling. Oddly, none of the seven is “don’t use VR”.
link to this extract


Parable of the Polygons – a playable post on the shape of society

Neat visualisation by Vi Hart and Nicky Case: a playable system which shows what happens to a society when people are only a tiny bit racist – sorry, shapist.
link to this extract


How Donald Trump’s enemies fell for a billion-dollar hoax • BuzzFeed News

Ken Bensinger, Jason Leopold and Craig Silverman:

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Since Trump’s election, a spate of people, often with financial motives, have been peddling dirt on the president. One anonymous tipster, for example, asked $15,000 for “credible” videos of women telling “erotic” tales of Trump at nightclubs in various countries. A high-profile private investigator in Los Angeles wanted $2m in “funding” for what he described as “game-changing information” about Trump and his wife, Melania. In both cases, BuzzFeed News rejected the offers. An Israeli startup, meanwhile, tried to convince reporters that portions of Trump’s inauguration speech had been plagiarized using its software, a claim that appears to be untrue.

Although Ariel acknowledges paying for the alleged Exxon documents, neither he nor others who helped circulate them asked for compensation from journalists; instead, they argued passionately that the documents appeared authentic and demanded attention for what they saw as the good of democracy. But however noble their intentions may have been, had they succeeded in persuading journalists of the documents’ authenticity, they could have further muddled the waters in an era increasingly defined by the spread of disinformation.

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The detail of how the document is fake are terrific.
link to this extract


Google Fiber was doomed from the start • Medium

Susan Crawford is a professor of law at Harvard Law School:

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We’re systematically leaving behind minorities, less-educated people, poorer people, people living in urban areas, and anyone who simply doesn’t want to pay the inexplicably high rates these unregulated giant companies command for what feels like a utility. The costs to our future are incalculable; we’re failing to provide opportunities to scrappy Americans.

But Google Fiber did several things that, in hindsight, were helpful:
• The initial 2010 competition awakened cities across the country, unleashing a demand for fiber—and for change and choice—that has only grown since then.
• The company discovered how important it is to be on the ground, working with cities to simplify and rationalize creaky permitting structures and obsolete, status quo-protecting rules about wonky things like poles and conduit. Google Fiber’s 2014 city-readiness checklist provides guidance that’s broadly applicable to any fiber installation.
• Where Google threatened to go, incumbent cable guys suddenly found it in their power to lower their prices. This showed that competition matters and the margins enjoyed by the existing monopolies are huge.
• The company inadvertently made plain the problem of treating internet access like any other demand-prompted product, when its Kansas City installations failed to cross into historically redlined parts of the city. A utility serving everyone fairly doesn’t ask for payment and interest up front.
• On the most basic level, lighting up Kansas City sparked imaginations around the country and made other mayors jealous.

The fundamental lesson of Google Fiber is that, in the end, its business model was just like that of another cable actor. It was playing within the existing sandbox, using the right technology but the wrong business model…

…Don’t be distracted by talk about wireless. Saying Americans can rely on wireless alone is like saying, “Who needs airports? We have airplanes!” All those wireless connections will require fiber deep into neighborhoods, homes, and businesses; only fiber will be capable of carrying the tsunami of data we’d like to be producing over our devices.

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Her point: fibre is infrastructure; infrastructure is a long-term investment policy. Companies aren’t good at 20-year investment policies. It needs to be done by local governments.
link to this extract


Nearly 200,000 current apps could be incompatible with iOS 11 • Sensor Tower

Oliver Yeh is a founder at the analytics company:

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Early last month, iOS developers working with the beta version of iOS 10.3 discovered a warning dialog stating that apps not written to take advantage of the 64-bit processors found in every new iPhone since the iPhone 5S “will not work with future versions of iOS”. This led developers to assume that Apple would be dropping support for 32-bit apps in iOS 11, expected this fall, and Sensor Tower to investigate just how many apps might be affected by this change if it comes to fruition.

Based on App Intelligence data, our analysis of currently active apps that have ranked in either the top free, paid, or grossing charts at some point since their release shows that this number stands at approximately 187,000 or about 8% of the roughly 2.4 million apps on the App Store worldwide.

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Games are the largest by number, though probably not proportion; productivity (5,122) will likely be hit hardest. However, in most cases they’re probably just abandonware.
link to this extract


DeepMind in talks with National Grid to reduce UK energy use by 10% • Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

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it is the National Grid’s job to balance supply and demand across the network, so that the AC frequency that arrives at your house is always within ±1% of 50Hz. Energy demands are usually quite predictable, in that they closely align with standard human behaviour (waking and sleeping hours) and the weather. Energy supply, however, is much less reliable, especially as the UK adds more wind and solar power to the mix.
While the UK has about 13 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity—the nation’s average power draw is only about 35 gigawatts, incidentally—a lack of wind can cause major issues. Back in November 2015, the last time we had a major power shortfall in the UK, all those wind turbines only produced about 400 megawatts. (You should read that story if you want more information about how the National Grid works, and how it uses short-term reserves to balance supply and demand.)

Ingesting data, predicting trends, and suggesting solutions is almost perfectly suited to DeepMind’s neural network expertise. While the National Grid is surely aware of some potential optimisations, a more rigorous investigation by a DeepMind AI may uncover solutions that the grid’s human operators have never considered. One thing’s for certain: a system as large as the UK grid has millions of inefficiencies. The biggest losses come from long-distance power transmission and voltage transformers, but it all adds up.

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DeepMind (and Google) claim happily that they reduced power usage in Google data centres by 40%. That’s a lot. The National Grid, though, is a much more complex beast, and the challenge is variability. Maybe a system that can incorporate localised weather forecasts (wind and sun), plus industrial production, plus what’s on TV.. maybe that will cope.

Also, how will Google be paid? Incentive? Percentage of energy saved (but how will that be determined)?
link to this extract


US$10bn-worth of smartwatches to ship in 2017 as traditional watchmakers feel the pressure • Canalys

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“Connected watches appeal to buyers who want a watch first and a basic band second. With fewer people wanting to buy traditional watches, connected watches with limited functionality risk ending up like basic bands: being taken over by smartwatches by 2018,” said Canalys Analyst Jason Low. “Watchmakers yet to take action need to switch their focus to smartwatches for long-term growth.”

Fossil Group, for example, has seen its traditional watch market shrink, and wearables quickly become the growth driver. “Basic bands have been eroding the low-end watch market and, despite being a nascent market, smartwatches have negatively affected the high-end mechanical watch segment,” said Jason Low. “Global watch conglomerates, such as Swatch Group and LVMH, echoed similar sentiments. But companies such as Swatch are still slow to react to the change, and have yet to take the next major step into smartwatch territory. Watchmakers’ survival will depend on creating competitive smartwatches.” This requires watchmakers’ full attention as the approach to making and selling a smartwatch is different from that for a traditional watch. It is a fight to change a business culture, but the watch industry must adapt to survive. “Forming partnerships with technology companies will be the first step. A well-formulated strategy to sell a watch will play a larger role as watchmakers have to appeal not only to watch fans, but consumers who are yet to buy a wearable,” said Jason Low.

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Forecasts 28.5m units will ship this year, 18% growth. If they bring in $10bn, the ASP is $350. Which is notably more than the full price of a new Apple Watch. Not sure about Canalys’s maths here – unless the implication is that Android Wear is going to continue to struggle.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

One thought on “Start Up: Yahoo hack charges, death on the reef, Office v Google Docs, 32-bit iOS apps face death, and more

  1. I think the main issue with Avalon’s take on iPrices is that he’s mostly looking at the competition’s pre-existing prices for niche/luxury products (BT headphones, smartwatches), not at Apple’s margins on what are now volume gizmos. Plus features might differ IIRC Samsung Gear S3 is a full-fledged independent phone too (that might not have value to most, but it certainly has a cost^^)
    Apple has always been about margins, not about competitive positioning. Sometimes it hurts (Macs are expensive compared to similarly-specced PCs), sometimes it helps (AirBuds and iWatch). I’m fairly sure the margins on the whole Apple product range are consistent.
    Underpricing is in the eye of the beholder ;-p

    Also, he’s looking at minimum prices, not at ASP. Since fashion is a parameter in iWatch purchases, I’d assume ASP to be significantly above last year’s model’s price, both because last year’s and because people who want to show off will not buy the cheapest version.

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