Start Up: Ballmer’s data site, S8’s so-so hello, Twitter’s pause, iMacs in September?, and more


Infect a few million of these with Mirai and set them to mining bitcoin. What’s your daily take?

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. All on a bearing to North Korea. Wait, maybe not. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Ballmer serves up a fascinating data trove • The New York Times

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

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As he looked for a new endeavor — before he decided to buy the Clippers — his wife, Connie, encouraged him to help with some of her philanthropic efforts, an idea he initially rejected.

“But come on, doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?” Mr. Ballmer recalled telling her. After all, he pointed out, he happily paid a lot of taxes, and he figured that all that tax money should create a sufficient social safety net.

Her answer: “A, it won’t, because there are things government doesn’t get to, and B, you’re missing it.”

Mr. Ballmer replied, “No, I’m not.”

That conversation led Mr. Ballmer to pursue what may be one of the most ambitious private projects undertaken to answer a question that has long vexed the public and politicians alike. He sought to “figure out what the government really does with the money,” Mr. Ballmer said. “What really happens?”

On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.

Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.

Mr. Ballmer calls it “the equivalent of a 10-K for government,” referring to the kind of annual filing that companies make.

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The site is at USAFacts.org. My principal criticism: it isn’t open, linked data. You can’t see what its sources are, or check back against them. But it is a good start.
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Samsung Galaxy S8 review: great phone, but that’s not all that matters • WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

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In past Samsung designs, like the S7 Edge, the curved screen made the phone feel slippery, but the S8’s new symmetrical shape is easier to grip. Still, I wish the phone’s back weren’t made of glass.

There are new annoyances. It took me a while to get used to the pressure-sensitive home button in the screen, which remains lit up when the phone is locked, but isn’t carved into the glass like on an iPhone. And since the fingerprint reader is on the back next to the camera, I smudge the lens a lot. (This is a serious crime against photography, Samsung.) I would use the new iris reader or facial recognition capability to unlock, but they just aren’t fast enough on the fly.

Even with that extra screen real estate burning up battery, Samsung managed to improve battery life. In my S7 test last year, I got over seven hours. This year, using the same test and parameters on the S8, I got under 10 hours. That’s still short of the iPhone 7, however.

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Lucky WSJ: the New York Times didn’t get a review unit.
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Samsung has blocked remapping of the Galaxy S8’s Bixby button • Digital Trends

Adam Ismail:

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A Reddit user discovered a way to remap the Bixby button on the Galaxy S8, but that method has now been blocked by Samsung.

Only a few days after users began remapping the Samsung Galaxy S8’s Bixby button, Samsung has taken steps toward blocking the action.

An app helping users remap the button was launched shortly after the device itself was released, and it wasn’t all that surprising to see — the button itself is pretty much a waste of space if you don’t use Bixby. In a new over-the-air update, however, Samsung is blocking the use of the button for anything other than the Bixby virtual assistant. The block was first discovered by XDA-Developers user Flar2.

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Wonder if this will turn into a cat-and-mouse.
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Mirai, Bitcoin, and numeracy • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

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Newsweek (the magazine famous for outing the real Satoshi Nakamoto) has a story about how a variant of the Mirai botnet is mining bitcoin. They fail to run the numbers.

The story repeats a claim by Mcafee that 2.5 million devices were infected with Mirai at some point in 2016. If they were all mining bitcoin, how much money would the hackers be earning?

I bought security cameras and infected them with Mirai. A typical example of the CPU running on an IoT device is an ARM926EJ-S processor.

As this website reports, such a processor running at 1.2 GHz can mine at a rate of 0.187-megahashes/second. That’s a bit fast for an IoT device, most are slower, some are faster, we’ll just use this as the average.

According to this website, the current hash-rate of all minters is around 4-million terahashes/second.

Bitcoin blocks are mined every 10 minutes, with the current (April 2017) reward set at 12.5 bitcoins per block, giving roughly 1800 bitcoins/day in reward.

The current price of bitcoin is $1191.

«

Guess how much the daily earnings from the 2.5m IoT botnet is. Then click through.
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Apple A10 iPhone 7 speeds past Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, LG G6 & BBK 3T • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

Apple has maintained a lead in both benchmarks and real world performance through a series of factors, including its more efficient iOS and its custom-optimized A-series chips.

In a video test (pictured above, published to YouTube by EverythingApple) that involved cold launching of a series of apps (“Round 1”) followed by switching back through each app (“Round 2”), iPhone 7 Plus opened the suite of games, productivity tools and other apps in just 2:44 minutes, roughly twice as fast as a series of leading Android flagships.

iOS was also able to switch back through all of those open apps in just 33 seconds. Each of the Android phones took either nearly twice as long (the BBK OnePlus 3T) or about 4 times as long (LG G6, Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8). The huge discrepancy between those two indicates that Android itself is not very good at managing apps in RAM. The fastest Android phone packs in a whopping 6GB, making it faster than the rest but still just half as quick at launching apps as an iPhone with half the RAM

While the latter three phones have 4GB of RAM (compared to 3GB in Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus), the fastest Android phone packs in a whopping 6GB, making it faster than the rest but still just half as quick at launching apps as an iPhone with half the RAM. In addition to launching apps faster, the iPhone also booted up quicker.

«

Think what it’s going to be like when Apple is designing its own mobile GPU.
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The pulse of the planet, flatlined: why Twitter’s is failing to grow • Exponents

Dan Kaplan:

»

More than any other single factor, Dick Costolo’s conclusion [in 2010] that Twitter was a media company in the advertising business is responsible for all of the struggles with revenue growth and profitability Twitter is experiencing today.

Because once you’re in the media and advertising business, your entire strategy–across product development, hiring, marketing, and sales–revolves around harvesting your users’ attention, maximizing their engagement, and selling pieces of that attention and engagement to advertisers.

Once harvesting attention, maximizing engagement, and selling both to advertisers become your objectives, you have tremendous incentives to consolidate your users on properties you control.

It was THESE incentives above all else that led Twitter to clamp down on third-party access to its APIs: when your main source of revenue comes from monetizing attention on your own properties, any successful third party client becomes an instant threat

But of course, while consolidating your users on your own website and apps is necessary for an ad business, it kinda defeats the point if they’re not coming back again and again. So you also must keep them engaged…very, very engaged.

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link to this extract


The despair of learning that experience no longer matters • The New Yorker

Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

»

The return to experience is a way to describe what you get in return for aging. It describes the increase in wages that workers normally see throughout their careers. The return to experience tends to be higher for more skilled jobs: a doctor might expect the line between what she earns in her first year and what she earns in her fifties to rise in a satisfyingly steady upward trajectory; a coal miner might find it depressingly flat. But even workers with less education and skills grow more efficient the longer they hold a job, and so paying them more makes sense. Unions, in arguing for pay that rises with seniority, invoke a belief in the return to experience. It comes close to measuring what we might otherwise call wisdom.

“This decline in the return to experience closely matches the decline in attachment to the labor force,” Case and Deaton wrote. “Our data are consistent with a model in which the decline in real wages led to a reduction in labor force participation, with cascading effects on marriage, health, and mortality from deaths of despair.”

The return to experience is not the best-known economic concept, but it is alive in most of our contemporary economic spook stories, in which the callow private-equity analyst has the final power over an industry in which people have long labored, in which the mechanical robot replaces the assembly-line worker, in which the doctor finds his diagnosis corrected by artificial intelligence. It seemed to match at least one emotional vein that ran through the Trump phenomenon, and the more general alienation of the heartland: people are aging, and they are not getting what they think they have earned.

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Not just Trumpland, I think.
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Conservatives hated an uppity negro golfing President • NY Daily News

Shaun King:

»

No President in American history has ever golfed more per week than Donald Trump. In his first 12 weeks in office Trump took a staggering 18 golf course trips. That’s unheard of. In his first 12 weeks in office, President Obama didn’t visit a single golf course. By the end of this year, it’s likely that Trump will have golfed more than President Obama has in his entire presidency.

And that’s strange. It’s really strange. Because Donald Trump and other conservative pundits seemed to be deeply bothered by the times President Obama went out and golfed. It appeared to genuinely offend them. They obsessed over it.

Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently riffed on how much Obama golfed and pledged, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” The crowd ate it up.

Throughout the Obama administration, any time President Obama golfed, some famous conservative pundit chimed in. It was a reliable punchline that consistently got a rise out of their base.

«

America’s incipient rightwing racism really is something to behold.
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How Google eats a business whole • The Outline

Adrianne Jeffries on how Brian Warner saw the content on his site Celebritynetworth (it figures out the net worth of celebrities) being grabbed for Google’s “quick answers” after a request from the company in 2014:

»

If [the request from Google to scrape Celebritynetworth.com’s data was] approved, this meant that any Google search for a celebrity’s net worth would return that pullout answer. The answer would include a link to Warner’s site, and Google promised him it would be good for his brand. But it would also drastically cut his traffic. Most people just want the number; they aren’t as interested in the breakdown of the math. So Warner said no.

“I didn’t understand the benefit to us,” he said. “It’s a big ask. Like, ‘hey, let us tap into the most valuable thing that you have, that has taken years to create and we’ve spent literally millions of dollars, and just give it to us for free so we can display it.’ At the end of it, we just said ‘look, we’re not comfortable with this.’”

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

In February 2016, Google started displaying a Featured Snippet for each of the 25,000 celebrities in the CelebrityNetWorth database, Warner said. He knew this because he added a few fake listings for friends who were not celebrities to see if they would pop up as featured answers, and they did.

“Our traffic immediately crumbled,” Warner said. “Comparing January 2016 (a full month where they had not yet scraped our content) to January 2017, our traffic is down 65%.” Warner said he had to lay off half his staff. (Google declined to answer specific questions for this story, including whether it was shooting itself in the foot by destroying its best sources of information.)

«

Google is strangling a company and destroying jobs. What are Warner’s options? Block the Googlebot? He says he’s “at peace” with the snippets, but as Jeffries points out, “Google seemed more interested in whether the data was machine-readable than whether it was accurate.”

This is what slippery slopes look like: bad effects on good businesses, and bad effects leading to bad results.
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Some Google Wifis randomly stop working, turn solid blue • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

»

You probably know if you’ve been affected since, well, your Google Wifi won’t be working. Other means of detection and confirmation manifest themselves via a steady blue light on the primary hub, at which point the satellite hubs may start to flash orange signifying a disconnect of the primary hub. In the meantime it seems that restarting that primary hub fixes the issue, but only temporarily.

To be very clear, this is not a universal problem. It could be related to the latest build (9202.35.8). Even then, not all users are reporting this, and the precise nature of the cause has not been reported. But, a reasonably large number of individuals on Google’s forums have been experiencing this particular issue.

Google has responded on the forum with some information, reassurance, and instructions for those affected, saying, “Our team is still looking into this and working hard on getting a fix out– we aim to have it out as soon as possible.”

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Some blame being put on Windows 10 devices and/or Xboxen. Related question: how will people be able to get the new firmware into their device, if the device has stopped working?
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Exaggerating ads: Samsung, LG run exaggerated ads about their TV-cum-PC monitors • BusinessKorea

Michael Herh:

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The tested products were a Samsung monitor (LT24D590KD), an LG monitor (24MT48DF), a Yamakasi monitor (T320UF), a Xavvio monitor (X2700EWT), a Smartra monitor (SHE-320XQ), a Jooyon Tech monitor (D24HBFNA), a Zentview monitor (CN-F2410HL) and a Hook monitor (HT240LED).

First of all, in terms of the response speed, all the products were exaggerated. Their product information says that their response speeds are 5 to 12ms. But no products showed the speeds marked in their production information labels. The Jooyon Tech monitor measured 2.8ms.

Their contrast ratios were also different from those in the product information. The contrast ratio is a measure of how well bright and dark areas are distinguished on a screen. The higher a value is, the better a contrast is.

The LG product with a contrast ratio of 3,000 to 1 in the product information was found to be 5,866 to 1. Moreover, the Jooyon Tech and Hook monitors were also found to have contrast ratios higher than those in their product information. The products of Samsung, Yamakasi, Xavvio, Smatra, and Zentview had lower contrast ratios than those in their promotional material.

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Apple prepares iMac upgrades for 2H17 and high-end iMac for end of 2017 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:

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Apple is expected to begin production of two new iMac all-in-one (AIO) PCs in May 2017 for an official launch in the second half of the year, according to sources from Taiwan-based supply chain makers adding that Apple is also testing a new server-grade iMac for the high-end sector currently and the product’s major competitor is expected to be Microsoft’s recently released Surface Studio.

Microsoft released the Surface Studio AIO PC in the fourth quarter of 2016, which has prompted first-tier PC vendors including Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Asustek Computer to release similar products. Asustek’s high-end AIO PCs are expected to be announced around Computex 2017.

Digitimes Research’s figures showed that worldwide AIO PC shipments are about 12-13m units a year, a rather small segment of the PC market where shipments amount to about 250m units.

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So desktops are about 5% of the world total. Are “pro towers” the same, or smaller? I wonder whether Apple didn’t realise that the Mac Pro had a problem (ie pro customers didn’t want it) was because the delta between “sales are fine” and “sales are lower than we’d expect” was so small it couldn’t be distinguished from random variation.
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Uber loses another executive as self-driving program lead quits • The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»

As Uber continues to make the headlines for the wrong reasons, it also keeps on losing executives. The latest big name is to quit is Sherif Marakby — its vice president of global vehicle programs, and one of the orchestrators of its self-driving vehicle program.

Marakby was poached just last April from Ford, where he had spent the previous 25 years, rising to the rank of director of global electronics and engineering. In a statement issued at the time, Marakby said that he was focused on safety, explaining that auto accidents were the most common cause of death among young people.

He went on to oversee the creation and launch of Uber’s ongoing self-driving vehicle initiatives, but apparently decided to cut ties with the company before it reached the next phase of its plans. “Self-driving is one of the most interesting challenges I’ve worked on in my career, and I’m grateful to have contributed to what will soon be a safer future for everyone,” he said in a new statement that confirmed his departure, but didn’t offer a reasoning.

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He didn’t like Uber. That is not the goodbye of someone who loved the place. Note how he doesn’t say he’s sorry to go. He joins recent departures from the head of AI labs, head of communications and VP of product and growth.

I remember when all the talk was about how Apple couldn’t hold on to staff any more.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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