Start Up: hacking self-driving cars, Trump hides visitor details, Shadowbrokers dissemble, and more


US retailers are going bust at a stunning rate – so where’s the help for those put out of a job? Photo by Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr.

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 12 links for you. None subject to referendum, since they always seem to give the wrong answer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Retailers are going bankrupt at a staggering rate • Business Insider

Hayley Peterson:

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It’s only April, and nine retailers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of the year — as many as all of last year.

“2017 will be the year of retail bankruptcies,” Corali Lopez-Castro, a bankruptcy lawyer, told Business Insider after she attended a recent distressed-investing conference in Palm Beach, Florida. “Retailers are running out of cash, and the dominoes are starting to fall.”

Payless ShoeSource, hhgregg, The Limited, RadioShack, BCBG, Wet Seal, Gormans, Eastern Outfitters, and Gander Mountain are among the retailers that have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, and most are closing hundreds of stores as a result. On top of those closures, retailers that are staying in business — at least for now — are shutting down a record number of stores. 

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close over the next several months.

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This is big for jobs:

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General merchandise stores shed 34,700 jobs in March, the government announced Friday, the single most disappointing figure in a generally disappointing jobs report.

After hitting a low point during the recession in December 2009, the retail sector has reliably been churning out more jobs. Though the Labor Department’s monthly employment summary provides only a snapshot of the labor market, this is the second month in a row that retail payrolls have registered substantial losses — a possible sign that larger structural changes are in the works.

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And also: the decline in jobs since 2001 (its peak) is more than 10 times the total number employed in coal mining in the US.

And finally: US official statistics show that coal mining is 95% a white occupation, while retail is predominantly women (47.8%), 12% black.

Yet which one gets the presidential gladhanding even at the cost of the environment and the reality of where the jobs are?
link to this extract


First resort • Remains Of The Day

Eugene Wei used to work at Amazon, where they obsessed about how to become the “site of first resort” for shopping:

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A few years back I was in a wedding party, and I had to purchase a specific shirt to match the other groomsmen. I could only find it at Barney’s, and the local outlet didn’t offer it in my size so I ordered it from their website. The package was stolen from our apartment lobby, so I wrote Barney’s customer service asking for a replacement shipment. They refused and asked me to take it up with UPS or FedEx, or whoever the shipper was. If it were Amazon, they’d have a replacement package out to me overnight on the spot, no questions asked. Needless to say, I’ll never order from Barneys again, but it’s amazing to think that Amazon’s customer service is superior to that of even luxury retailers.

In hindsight, thinking Google might surpass us in shopping seems farfetched, but there was a time eBay had surpassed Amazon in market cap and was growing their sales and inventory in a way that inspired envy in Seattle. It turns out there was more of a ceiling on the potential of auctions as a shopping format than fixed price shopping, but in the moment, it was hard to see that shoulder on the S-curve would be.

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His jumping-off point being the graph from a few days ago showing how peoples’ search for items to buy often starts now at Amazon, at least in the US.
link to this extract


Alphabet’s Verily shows off health-focused smartwatch • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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Alphabet’s Life Sciences division, called Verily, is giving the world a peek at its health-focused smartwatch. The Google sister company introduced the “Verily Study Watch” on its blog today, calling it an “investigational device” that aims to “passively capture health data” for medical studies.

Many wearables technically capture health data with simple heart-rate sensors, but Verily’s watch aims to be a real medical device. The blog post says the device can track “relevant signals for studies spanning cardiovascular, movement disorders, and other areas.” The Study Watch does this by using electrocardiography (ECG) and by measuring electrodermal activity and inertial movements.

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On Friday I observed that Verily was about due to do a PR push. And here it is, right on time. Not for sale, of course.
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Google will oppose a shareholder push to publish its gender pay data • Buzzfeed

Hamza Shaban:

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For the second year in a row, Google’s parent company Alphabet will oppose a shareholder plan that would commit the business to evaluate and disclose whether it has a pay gap between female and male employees.

Arjuna Capital, the investment firm advancing the proposal on behalf of stockholders, told BuzzFeed News that Alphabet sent them a statement of opposition ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting this summer. Google declined to comment on the plan.

Last week, as part of an ongoing investigation against Google, an official with the Department of Labor said the agency “found systemic compensation disparities pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, said there is a difference between paying lip service to gender pay equity and actually being transparent about it.

“They have been unwilling to do that,” Lamb said. “That’s unsettling given how proactive their tech peers have been, and also given what we just saw with the Department of Labor accusing them of extreme gender pay disparity. It makes one question what’s really going on here, when there isn’t full transparency and accountability.”

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The pressure is going to continue. How does Google get out of this?
link to this extract


1Q17 global smartphone production volume fell 23% from prior quarter due to seasonality • Trendforce

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Global smartphone production volume for the first quarter of 2017 totaled 307 million units, a drop of 23% from the previous quarter, according to market intelligence firm TrendForce. Smartphone brands, especially those based in China, lowered their production volume forecasts through the first quarter as demand slowed down significantly due to the conventional seasonal effect.

Major brands such as Samsung, LG and Huawei have begun to ship their flagship devices for the year, but the market demand going into the second quarter is expected to remain relatively weak as consumers are holding off their purchases in anticipation of the 10th anniversary iPhone devices that will arrive in the third quarter. Smartphone sales will be fairly lackluster until the second half of this year. TrendForce estimates that the global smartphone production volume for this second quarter will register a modest single-digit growth versus the preceding three-month period.

Strong sales of the Galaxy J series made Samsung the only brand posting production volume growth for the first quarter.

Samsung’s sales results for its high-end smartphones fell short of expectations in the first quarter as consumers’ confidence in the brand had yet to fully recover from the recall of Galaxy Note 7. Nevertheless, Samsung continued to do very well in the mid-range and low-end segments of the market.

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Xiaomi doing slightly better; Lenovo doing a lot worse (as in 20% down year-on-year). Amazing that the upcoming iPhone is affecting sales already.
link to this extract


Charlie Miller on why self-driving cars are so hard to secure from hackers • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

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Two years ago, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek pulled off a demonstration that shook the auto industry, remotely hacking a Jeep Cherokee via its internet connection to paralyze it on a highway. Since then, the two security researchers have been quietly working for Uber, helping the startup secure its experimental self-driving cars against exactly the sort of attack they proved was possible on a traditional one. Now, Miller has moved on, and he’s ready to broadcast a message to the automotive industry: Securing autonomous cars from hackers is a very difficult problem. It’s time to get serious about solving it.

Last month, Miller left Uber for a position at Chinese competitor Didi, a startup that’s just now beginning its own autonomous ridesharing project. In his first post-Uber interview, Miller talked to WIRED about what he learned in those 19 months at the company—namely that driverless taxis pose a security challenge that goes well beyond even those faced by the rest of the connected car industry.

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Consider how lousy the security on most IoT stuff is. Self-driving cars will be different, but you know they’ll have sockets for maintenance..
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Facebook faces increased publisher resistance to Instant Articles • Digiday

Lucia Moss:

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Facebook’s Instant Article push is in danger of fizzling.

Many publishers are deeply unhappy  with the monetization on these pages, with major partners like The New York Times throwing in the towel and many others cutting back the amount of content pushed to the IA platform. In response, Facebook is making concessions to publishers, including new subscription options, in a rare show of weakness for the platform juggernaut.

The Times is among an elite group of publishers that’s regularly tapped by Facebook to launch new products, and as such, it was one of the first batch of publishers to pilot Instant. But it stopped using Instant Articles after a test last fall that found that links back to the Times’ own site monetized better than Instant Articles, said Kinsey Wilson, evp of product and technology at the Times. People were also more likely to subscribe to the Times if they came directly to the site rather than through Facebook, he said. Thus, for the Times, IA simply isn’t worth it. Even a Facebook-dependent publisher like LittleThings, which depends on Facebook for 80% of its visitors, is only pushing 20% of its content to IA.

Enthusiasm has cooled elsewhere. It’s an about-face from two years ago, when publishers were champing at the bit to join the party. “It’s just a matter of time,” Hearst Digital president Troy Young said at the time.

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Poor monetisation. Facebook is not the publisher’s friend, and now they’re realising it we are going to shift into a new era in their relationship.
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LeEco kills EcoPass video streaming and services subscription plan • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

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Embattled Chinese consumer electronics upstart LeEco has killed its plans for EcoPass, an ambitious content and services subscription bundle aimed at U.S. consumers. News of the end of EcoPass comes just days after LeEco announced that it is pulling out of the planned $2bn acquisition of US TV manufacturer Vizio.

EcoPass combined premium video streaming content with extended warranties, cloud storage, priority customer service and more. LeEco was offering consumers who bought phones and TVs between 3 and 12 months of complementary EcoPass membership, and was supposed to officially introduce the plan and reveal monthly pricing this spring.

But on Friday, a LeEco spokesperson confirmed that EcoPass was officially dead, sending Variety the following statement:

“We have discontinued the EcoPass Beta program as of April 1. We will be replacing EcoPass with 3-months of DirecTV NOW with every purchase of a LeEco ecophone or ecotv. We believe this provides greater value to our customers since it has over 60 channels that include the latest movies and shows.”

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LeEco now looks in serious trouble. Withdrawal from the US looks a virtual certainty.
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A milestone moment for tidal energy • Innovators magazine

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The eyes of the renewable energy world are firmly fixed on Scotland this week after it was announced the most powerful tidal turbine on the planet hit peak power.

And it was all an inside job. Developed and manufactured by one of the country’s leading engineering companies, Scotrenewables, the SR2000 device demonstrated its capabilities at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

The 500 tonne floating tidal turbine exported its full 2MW of power into the local grid on 12 April. A milestone moment for tidal energy, it also further strengthens Scotland’s reputation as a global leader in renewable energy.

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link to this extract


White House visitor logs won’t be released • Time.com

Zeke Miller:

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The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday.

The decision, after nearly three months of speculation about the fate of the records, marks a dramatic shift from the Obama Administration’s voluntary disclosure of more than 6 million records during his presidency. The U.S. Secret Service maintains the logs, formally known as the Workers and Visitors Entry System, for the purpose of determining who can access to the 18-acre complex.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Three White House officials said they expect criticism of the new policy, but believe it is necessary to preserve the ability of the president to seek advice from whomever he wants, “with some discretion.” They requested anonymity to discuss the policy before a formal announcement.

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This is crap; it shows the Trump administration to be venal and hypocritical. All the attempts to justify this can’t hide the fact that this is an attempt to hide what is going on. “Drain the swamp” my arse.
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April 2016: How the maker of TurboTax fought free, simple tax filing • ProPublica

by Liz Day, in April 2016:

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In 2013, we detailed how Intuit has lobbied against allowing the government to estimate your taxes for you. So this week, we called Intuit and asked if they still oppose free, government-prepared returns. The answer: Yes. “Our legislative, our policy position on that hasn’t changed,” said spokeswoman Julie Miller. She called Intuit “a staunch opponent to government prepared tax returns.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill yesterday to allow free government-prepped returns. Her office also released a report on the tax industry’s opposition to simpler filing solutions. It cited the article below as well as another story we did on how a rabbi, civil rights activist, and others were misled into supporting Intuit’s campaign.

…Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit’s disclosures pointedly note that the company “opposes IRS government tax preparation.”

The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.

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This is quite a tale of lobbying power within the US government. Now do you see the value in being able to see who has lobbied politicians?
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Protecting customers and evaluating risk • Microsoft blog

:

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Most of the exploits that were disclosed [by ShadowBrokers] fall into vulnerabilities that are already patched in our supported products. Below is a list of exploits that are confirmed as already addressed by an update. We encourage customers to ensure their computers are up-to-date.

Code NameSolution
“EternalBlue”Addressed by MS17-010
“EmeraldThread”Addressed by MS10-061
“EternalChampion”Addressed by CVE-2017-0146 & CVE-2017-0147
“ErraticGopher”Addressed prior to the release of Windows Vista
“EsikmoRoll”Addressed by MS14-068
“EternalRomance”Addressed by MS17-010
“EducatedScholar”Addressed by MS09-050
“EternalSynergy”Addressed by MS17-010
“EclipsedWing”Addressed by MS08-067
 

Of the three remaining exploits, “EnglishmanDentist”, “EsteemAudit”, and “ExplodingCan”, none reproduces on supported platforms, which means that customers running Windows 7 and more recent versions of Windows or Exchange 2010 and newer versions of Exchange are not at risk. Customers still running prior versions of these products are encouraged to upgrade to a supported offering.

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There was a huge kerfuffle on Friday when these were leaked; but it turns out that Microsoft had already patched against these hacks. However, there’s no protection for Windows XP, and older versions of Windows Server might be vulnerable. For the most part: run Windows 10 and don’t worry.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: losing God and finding Trump, Apple’s sweet solution, the Hitler sitcom (honest), and more


Hodgkin lived in what is now the UK’s most expensive area, per square metre, outside London. Photo by addedentry on Flickr.

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 10 links for you. Enjoy Easter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

House prices by square metre in England & Wales • Anna Powell-Smith

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This map shows for the first time the average price per m2 of houses in each postcode district in England & Wales. It uses new government data on floor area from EPC certificates, matched with 6.2 million residential house sales since 2007.

Sale prices range from more than £20,000 per square metre in SW1X (Belgravia) and W1K (Mayfair) to under £1,000 in postcodes like DN31 (Grimsby) and CF43 (Rhondda). Click to see details for a postcode, or zoom to London, Birmingham, Manchester.

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Such wonderful work. As you’d expect, London has all of the most expensive space (for the top 100); you have to go to Richmond (still London really) and then Oxford to escape its gravitational pull.

Powell-Smith is amazing. Since you’re wondering:

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Methodology: Sale prices taken from Land Registry’s Price Paid dataset of residential property sales to individuals since August 2007. Floor area in m2 per property taken from Energy Performance Certificates. I join each property sale to the property’s most recent EPC, using normalised addresses: this finds a match 79% of the time, for around 6.2 million property sales. The aggregate price per m2 for each postcode district is then calculated as the total price of all sales, divided by the total floor area of all properties

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link to this extract


How the Bible Belt lost God and found Trump • FT

Gary Silverman:

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I took my place in the book-lined study of [emeritus professor and Baptist minister Wayne] Flynt’s redwood house in Auburn, Alabama, to hear his thoughts on the local economy, but the conversation turned to a central mystery of US politics. Trump would not be president without the strong support of the folks Flynt has chronicled — white residents of the Bible Belt, raised in the do-it-yourself religious traditions that distinguish the US from Europe. I wondered how a thrice-married former casino owner — who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — had won over the faithful.

Flynt’s answer is that his people are changing. The words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, are less central to their thinking and behaviour, he says. Church is less compelling. Marriage is less important. Reading from a severely abridged Bible, their political concerns have narrowed down to abortion and issues involving homosexuality. Their faith, he says, has been put in a president who embodies an unholy trinity of materialism, hedonism and narcissism. Trump’s victory, in this sense, is less an expression of the old-time religion than evidence of a move away from it.

“The 2016 election laid out graphically what is in essence the loss of Christian America,” Flynt says, delivering his verdict with a calm assurance that reminded me of Lee’s hero, Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film of her novel.

“Arguably, what has constituted white evangelical Christian morality for 200 years no longer matters, which is to say we’re now a lot like Germany, a lot like France, a lot like England, a lot like the Netherlands, and what we have is a sort of late-stage Christian afterglow.”

…Flynt says evangelical Christians are mainly mobilising against the sins they either do not want to commit (homosexual acts) or cannot commit (undergoing an abortion, in the case of men). They turn a blind eye toward temptations such as adultery and divorce that interest them.

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A fascinating analysis.
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Investigation finds inmates built computers and hid them in prison ceiling • WRGB

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Investigators say there was lax supervision at the prison, which gave inmates the ability to build computers from parts, get them through security checks, and hide them in the ceiling. The inmates were also able to run cabling, connecting the computers to the prison’s network.

“It surprised me that the inmates had the ability to not only connect these computers to the state’s network but had the ability to build these computers,” Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer said. “They were able to travel through the institution more than 1,100 feet without being checked by security through several check points, and not a single correction’s staff member stopped them from transporting these computers into the administrative portion of the building. It’s almost if it’s an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.”

The inmates were able to get the parts from a program where inmates break down computers in order to learn computer skills and recycle the parts.

The Ohio Inspector General says investigators found an inmate used the computers to steal the identity of another inmate, and then submit credit card applications, and commit tax fraud. They also found inmates used the computers to create security clearance passes that gave them access to restricted areas.

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They ought to be locked u– oh.
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Apple secretly working on glucose monitoring for diabetes • CNBC

Christina Farr:

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Apple has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, miles from corporate headquarters.

They are part of a super secret initiative, initially envisioned by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to develop sensors that can noninvasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels to better treat diabetes, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Such a breakthrough would be a “holy grail” for life sciences. Many life sciences companies have tried and failed, as it’s highly challenging to track glucose levels accurately without piercing the skin.

The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways, the people said.

The efforts have been going on for at least five years, the people said. Jobs envisioned wearable devices, like smartwatches, being used to monitor important vitals, such as oxygen levels, heart rate and blood glucose. In 2010, Apple quietly acquired a company called Cor, after then-CEO Bob Messerschmidt reportedly sent Jobs a cold email on the topic of sensor technologies for health and wellness. Messerschmidt later joined the Apple Watch team.

…One of the people said that Apple is developing optical sensors, which involves shining a light through the skin to measure indications of glucose.

Accurately detecting glucose levels has been such a challenge that one of the top experts in the space, John L. Smith, described it as “the most difficult technical challenge I have encountered in my career.”

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This would be a hell of a thing if – big if – Apple can get it to work: it would quickly become the single most popular wearable device for blood sugar monitoring. But the margin for error would be minimal.

I don’t think Google’s project to do it via contact lenses is going to bear fruit, even though it gets wheeled out every couple of years for journalists to swoon over. (It’s about due for another outing; the last version was a bandage, proudly announced in August 2015.)
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Security advisory: mobile phones • Kraken

This is not short, but if you really do get concerned about the security of your systems, this is the blogpost for you:

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Somehow, the masses have been led to believe that phone numbers are inextricably bound to identities and therefore make good authentication tools.  There’s a reason that Kraken has never supported SMS-based authentication:  The painful reality is that your telco operates at the security level of a third-rate coat check.  Here’s an example interaction:

Hacker:  Can I have my jacket?
Telco: Sure, can I have your ticket?
Hacker:  I lost it.
Telco:  Do you remember the number?
Hacker:  Nope, but it’s that one right there. 😉
Telco:  Ok cool.  Here ya go.  Please rate 10/10 on survey ^_^

So, we need to achieve three things:
1.  A shift in the way we think about phone numbers
2.  The securing of your phone number (to the extent possible)
3.  The separation of your phone number from any security functions

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link to this extract


The disruption of democracy • Medium

James Allworth with a subtle analysis of what has changed about our perception of “entrepreneurship” and its effects over the past century or so:

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There is an important, and somewhat counter-intutitive insight here: the best way to keep an economy healthy isn’t by prioritizing the economy.

It’s by prioritizing democracy.

This focus on democracy is what keeps destructive and unproductive entrepreneurship at bay. When wealthy special interests come knocking on governmental doors — and given the nature of entrepreneurs, those knocks will happen, accompanied by promises of campaign contributions in exchange for favorable policy— on what basis do policy makers make their decision of what to do? I genuinely believe that most actors on both sides of this equation — in business, and in government — are good people. They’re motivated to do good. But they have a set of forces working on them to behave in a certain way in such a situation.

The business leaders? That’s easy. They’re looking to profit. They’ll do so however they can, within the rules of the game. There are two levers implicit in that statement: play the game as it stands. Or change the rules.

And the policy-makers? Well, they’re looking to get re-elected. With that as the goal, their criteria for judging whether a policy is worth pursuing is two-fold. First, how are voters going to react? Because if they don’t like this, and they change their vote… well I’m out of office.

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link to this extract


Rise of subscriptions and the fall of advertising •The Graph

Bob Gilbreath:

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Advertising has always been a “tax” on our attention. Historically the interruptions were limited and we had little control over the handful of channels we read, watched and listened to. But the rise of digital media has put more control in people’s hands. When you give people freedom to get what they want, when they want it, they will seek to get it without paying that attention tax.

The “free media with advertising” grand bargain seems more like a bad deal as the value of our attention spans rise. We have more media choices and distractions than ever before in our lives. We are multi-tasking and keeping up with many things at once. Pausing to watch an advertisement is a speed bump in our busy lives. And once we cut some of these interruptions out with subscriptions, the remaining ads we do see feel even more painful — thus shifting the value equation toward skipping and subscribing.

The media channels haven’t been in love with the advertising-supported business model lately, either. Not only do they make a lot less money by trading in analog dollars for digital dimes, but they are under constant pressure to keep up with the rapid pace change. Big brands are forcing publishers to cover the cost of 3rd party verification thanks to a system that is being overwhelmed by fraud. There is a “stack” of ad-tech add-ons from venture-backed startups and sexier social networks that are taking a growing piece of every budget.

All that cost is on top of the investment in a highly-paid sales force that must continually wine and dine clients to stay in the preference set. And don’t get me started on the Taboola and Outbrain models that add click-bait to the bottom of every page in order to try and wring out just a little more revenue — at the cost of brand equity and journalistic integrity.

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I think *Americans* are discovering this. We’ve known it outside America, which is passionate about extracting the last bit of distraction from every moment – how long does a baseball game take? An American football game? Many of the delays in tennis matches now are driven by the need to insert adverts. Soccer frustrates US TV because it doesn’t pause at predictable times (except half-time) or for predictable lengths of time.
link to this extract


Heil Honey, I’m Home! (Series) • TV Tropes

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Heil Honey, I’m Home! is a comedy show about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun moving next door to a Jewish couple.

Yes, someone actually filmed and aired a sitcom with that premise. It’s real.

The show was written by British comedy writer Geoff Atkinson (one of the main writers of Spitting Image) in the 1990s, and is an almost perfect example of a Stealth Parody show. Possibly the most bizarre example of a “reimagining”, the series set out to depict Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living in suburban bliss, with their lives interrupted only by Hitler’s dislike for their next door neighbours, an incredibly stereotypical Jewish couple. It was presented to the viewer as a “long lost”, “recently rediscovered” 1950s sitcom, parodying and distorting beyond recognition the worst features of such programs (with unnecessary canned applause for every character entrance, hideously vacuous plots and dialogue, and a truly awful title sequence).

The show’s ultimate intent seemed to be to illustrate and parody the banal, cookie-cutter nature of most shows in this style. If one changed the names of the main characters, along with a couple of lines, the show would be indistinguishable from a genuine post-war sitcom, and the humour is largely derived from the jarring fact that the domestic fool main character just happens to be Hitler. That said, it’s hard to see how the premise, originally envisioned as a comedy sketch, would’ve been maintained over a series of shows.

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I guess it could have become darker and darker.. ending up with them moving into the basement. More recently Ricky Gervais’s Extras also sought to destroy through parody the awful sitcoms that plague evenings – but which we don’t watch any more because we have so much other choice. (No, don’t mention Mrs Brown’s Boys and its gigantic viewership.)
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Apple supplier Synaptics is at risk of insourcing: Credit Suisse • Business Insider

Rob Price:

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The Californian firm builds interface technologies, driver displays, and biometric tech, and is a partner of Apple.

But analysts at Credit Suisse took a look at Apple suppliers who could face being insourced in a research note sent to investors on Tuesday, and concluded Synaptics was deemed most likely.

It’s worth noting that Credit Suisse’s analysts don’t seem to have any hard evidence that Apple is going to ditch Synaptics (like a leaked contract, say). They’re just identifying the company as being, in their view, at particular risk, given certain public information.

Why? They identify a few reasons. It would let Apple “optimize power and performance with its internal graphics engine,” for one. And it would also “lessen [Apple’s] reliance on Samsung for OLED displays.” Apple and Samsung are long-time frenemies — the former relies on the latter for hardware components, even as they fight bitterly for dominance of the high-end smartphone market.

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Surely the point is about whether “insourcing” the product allows Apple to gallop ahead, or if it’s just part of the normal assembly stuff. Hard to know without deeper knowledge of how Synaptics stuff is used. (Thanks Sai Narayan.)
link to this extract


Android market share rises in urban China • Kantar Worldpanel

The monthly update:

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“Android has achieved continuous growth in China since last February, with its strongest year-on-year gains coming in the three months ending February 2017, when its share rose 9.3 percentage points,” said Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “As we’ve seen in the past, this was due to a strong sales period around Chinese New Year, which is always a busy promotional season, particularly for local brands. Huawei, Oppo, Meizu, Vivo, and 360 all posted year-on-year growth.”

“In the three-month period ending February 2017, iOS accounted for 13.2% of smartphone sales in urban China, a decline of 8.9 percentage points from 22.1% a year earlier. This marks iOS’ lowest share since the three-month period ending July 2014,” reported Tamsin Timpson, Strategic Insight Director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Asia. “That said, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus remained the top selling devices in the region, accounting for 8% of smartphone sales. By comparison, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus accounted for 14% of smartphone sales in the three months ending February 2016.”

“While Android continued to make gains in EU5, growth slowed to just 0.9 percentage points between February 2016 and February 2017, while iOS gained 2.7 percentage points to capture 21.8% of smartphone sales,” said Dominic Sunnebo, Business Unit Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe…

…Among US consumers intending to purchase over the next six months, 23% indicate that they will consider a Google Pixel. But since its release, Pixel has not been able to surpass 2% of smartphone sales, in part because supply constraints have limited its availability.

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The precipitous drop in apparent sales in China will probably be a concern to Apple, but what Kantar never does (because it relies on a panel who report what they’ve bought, so even very small numbers changing their behaviour can create apparently big change) is indicate how sales volumes are changing overall.

And meanwhile, yeah, the Pixel people need to get their act together.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Apple’s Mac strategy tax, use the computer Luke!, Bixby delayed, stopping trolls, and more


Google’s Book Search project started 13 years ago. How has that worked out? Photo by scottloradio on Flickr.

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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Mac is turning into Apple’s Achilles’ heel • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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Recent news of Apple developing its own GPU solution is the latest step in the company’s quest to ship a single system-on-the-chip (SOC) powering a range of mobile and wearable devices. This will give Apple a competitive advantage measured in decades. The company is also placing big bets on mobile services such as mapping and payments, items that will serve to create a competitive advantage in the changing tech landscape. 

In stark contrast, Apple’s Mac strategy looks like a slow-motion train wreck. While Apple has made some progress with bringing elements of mobile such as Touch ID, multi-touch displays, and ARM processors, to the Mac, years of sporadic updates have overshadowed the positives. Apple’s relationship with its pro Mac user community has deteriorated and can now be described as toxic. To make matters worse, there appears to be a growing rift among Apple executives concerning Mac strategy. 

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This is very contrapuntal to the takes that you’ll hear elsewhere about what’s going on with Apple and its Mac strategy; but Cybart argues his case acutely that the Mac, and especially its pro users, are in effect becoming a strategy tax on Apple.
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62% using music-streaming services, but just 13% paying • GlobalWebIndex Blog

Katie Young:

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In a deal with Universal Music, Spotify has announced that new albums from certain artists on the record label will only be available to paying Spotify members for the first two weeks of their release.

This change to its ad-supported tier will increase the gap between its free and paid-for services, with the hope of converting more users to the paid-for tier. At present, there’s a huge disparity here, with a substantial 50-point gap between those who say they use music-streaming services (62%) and the numbers paying for this access (13%).

Age-based differences are interesting here, though. 16-24s are the most likely to be using these services each month and are also the most likely to be paying – with figures then declining in line with age.

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Q&A with an iPhone factory worker at Pegatron ChangShuo in Shanghai • Business Insider

Kif LEswing:

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Imagine going to work at 7:30 every night and spending the next 12 hours, including meals and breaks, inside a factory where your only job is to insert a single screw into the back of a smartphone, repeating the task over and over and over again.

During the day, you sleep in a shared dorm room, and in the evening, you wake up and start all over again.

That’s the routine that Dejian Zeng experienced when he spent six weeks working at an iPhone factory near Shanghai, China, last summer. And it’s similar to what hundreds of thousands of workers in China and other emerging economies experience every day and night as they assemble the gadgets that power the digital economy.

Unlike many of those workers, Zeng did not need to do the job to earn a living. He’s a grad student at New York University, and he worked at the factory, owned by the contract manufacturing giant Pegatron, for his summer project.

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Terrific interview. The gruelling reality of the work in a three-shift factory is forgotten by many in the west; but Zeng makes the point that people don’t view it as a career. For some workers in the west in the 20th century, it used to be their life.
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Me and my troll • MIT Technology Review

Jason Pontin is the publisher and editor:

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We believed that good comments could adorn and improve our journalism. But we suffered no illusions that commenters were representative of our broader readership or that comments served any direct business purpose. Building on Disqus and the Ask function in the Coral Project, our new strategy borrows widely from the solutions described above, and it is still a work in progress.

We decided, in imitation of the New York Times, that readers would comment on only a few stories and then only for a while. Stories that might repay good commentary, such as our major features, essays, and reviews, would have comments, but those that might inflame partisan wrangling would not. We would choose to think of comments, whenever possible, as integral to the story: we wondered if we could construct whole stories around comments, or seed a conversation by inviting our smartest, most informed sources to comment. No one was doing this precisely, but some of the expert commentary at Ars Technica and The Information inspired us. We wanted readers to vote comments up and down, as readers once did in Gawker’s Kinja.

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It continues to amaze me that a system in place at Slashdot since 2000 or before – voting comments up and down – isn’t in place at more news organisations.
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Snowden documents reveal scope of secrets exposed to China in 2001 spy plane incident • The Intercept

Kim Zetter:

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On April 1 2001, [Chinese Air Force pilot] Wei was at it again. After his initial approach, he advanced on the EP-3E a second time, this time stopping just five feet short of the spy plane and mouthed something to the American crew before falling back again. Then he tried a third time. On this approach, however, he maneuvered too close to the plane and got sucked in by one of the EP-3E’s propellers. The collision sliced the F-8 in half.

Shrapnel from the F-8 flew through the spy plane’s fuselage and into the nose cone, shearing it off, and damaged the spy plane’s radome — a dome that protects radar equipment — two propellers, and an engine. The Chinese fighter jet plummeted into the sea, and the spy plane rolled upside down and immediately depressurized, creating chaos inside.

“I think they keep the cabin pressured at 7,000 feet, and you go from 7,000 to 30,000 instantaneously,” said the crew member, describing the shock.

The plane plunged 14,000 feet while shaking violently.

“We’re falling like a rock and … everyone thought we were going to die,” he recalled.

As Osborn, the pilot, tried to regain control of the aircraft, he ordered everyone to prepare to bail. With wind roaring inside the cabin, warning lights flashing, and the plane plummeting, crew members struggled to communicate over the noise while donning parachutes, survival vests, and helmets. They were lined up and ready to jump into the sea, the crew member said, when Osborn managed to stabilize the plane and ordered the crew to prepare to land in the water. But then Osborn changed his mind.

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Absorbing read. It’s a sort of short spy novel, or a precursor to a spy film.
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Why we’re dropping Google Ads • GroundUp

Nathan Geffen is editor of the South African news website:

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From today, we’re dropping Google adverts from GroundUp. The Google advertising model is broken: not for Google of course, which is massively profitable, but for us, the publishers who have to put up with poor quality, misleading adverts in exchange for small change.

Not too many years ago, newspapers could make real money from advertising. Then along came the Internet, followed by Gumtree, and Google Ads, which with a few minor competitors became the backbone of online advertising. As readers moved to freely available news on the web, so too did advertising revenue.

The Internet has made publications like GroundUp feasible. Because publishing and distribution costs are low for us, we can make our content available at no charge. GroundUp relies mainly on donations, but advertising, we thought, might help.

The problem is that nearly all the power in the online advertising relationship lies with Google. Not only do we compete for adverts with other media in the same market; we compete with all the shady advert-laden webpages in the world, irrespective of whether they contain fake news, porn, or other attention-grabbers. With AdSense or Ad Exchange, Google’s two mechanisms for delivering ads, we have very little say in what adverts appear, and we are paid very little.

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Includes an example of a photo that drew a warning from Google – can’t have its ads next to that.
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Why Luke Skywalker was wrong to use the Force • The Atlantic

James Somers:

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CTs [computerised tomography] and ultrasounds let us see organs, blood vessels, muscles, and other soft tissues in three dimensions, which caused a revolution in diagnostic medicine and made surgery radically more precise and safe.

CT was made possible by the computer, which stitches together a collection of X-rays into a reconstructed 3-D image. But this is still more or less a static enterprise: a CT study is more like a picture than a movie. What if you could do for medicine what we’ve already done for chess and basketball—what if you could somehow use the computer to see not just what’s there, but what could be?

In some specialties, this is already becoming possible. Radiation oncologists, for instance, use accelerated beams of radioactive particles to destroy cancers. It used to be that these beams were targeted somewhat crudely: You’d take a two-dimensional X-ray of your patient and outline the area you wanted to zap (the tumor) and the areas you wanted to avoid (healthy organs). Since X-rays couldn’t show you much in the way of soft tissue, you had to use nearby bones as landmarks.

Today, radiation treatments are planned using software. The doctor identifies tumorous and healthy tissues in slice after slice of a CT scan by drawing on the slices directly, on the computer, as though coloring in a figure in MS Paint. This creates three-dimensional contour maps of the tumor and nearby organs. The software then takes these contours and runs hundreds of thousands of simulated treatments against them, using a model of how radioactive particles will behave in different tissue types—how they’ll be absorbed, how they’re likely to ricochet, and so on—to determine the ideal angle and power settings of the real beam.

The computer, in other words, gives the doctor the ability to see the projected path of different treatments as if playing out possible lines from a chess position.

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Neat headline, though.
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Samsung to delay launch of English-language version of virtual assistant • WSJ

Timothy Martin:

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The Bixby delay [probably until May] threatens to damp some of the enthusiasm for the Galaxy S8, whose sleek design has garnered strong reviews. In the buildup to the April 21 sales-launch day, Samsung had heavily touted Bixby, whose functions include voice recognition. Bixby, for example, can complete multiple tasks with a single voice command, such as locating a nearby steakhouse and hailing a taxi.

Industry experts doubt that a postponed Bixby launch would hurt sales significantly, given that initial enthusiasm for the Galaxy S8 smartphone has focused more on its sleek aesthetics. Others said it was too early to make a prediction.

“Rushing with a half-baked solution to the market will actually discourage users to use Bixby,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, which tracks smartphone shipments.

Counterpoint Research estimates Samsung will sell more than 50 million Galaxy S8 handsets—more than the S7 model, which was a best seller for the company. “I don’t think Bixby is a Holy Grail feature which will hamper Galaxy S8 sales because eventually via software updates users will receive it,” Mr. Shah said.

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“I’m not going to buy the S8 until it has the fully working version of Bixby in the English language,” said nobody ever. This is irrelevant to buyers, and yet deeply relevant in what it says about Samsung’s ability to make big software projects happen. It bought Viv for $200m in October 2016, but that isn’t enough time to integrate it.

The real problem is that Google Assistant is tied to the home button, under the Google Mobile Services agreement that OEMs have to sign to get Google Play, which they must have to have to sell. (Rather like PC OEMs needing to have Windows 95 when Microsoft was cutting off Netscape’s air supply.) Bixby will never get the traction it needs – regardless of whether it deserves it.

Neat name, though. Reminiscent of Iron Man’s “Jarvis”.
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How Google Book Search got lost • Backchannel

Scott Rosenberg:

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Today, Google is known for its moonshot culture, its willingness to take on gigantic challenges at global scale. Books was, by general agreement of veteran Googlers, the company’s first lunar mission. Scan All The Books!

In its youth, Google Books inspired the world with a vision of a “library of utopia” that would extend online convenience to offline wisdom. At the time it seemed like a singularity for the written word: We’d upload all those pages into the ether, and they would somehow produce a phase-shift in human awareness. Instead, Google Books has settled into a quiet middle age of sourcing quotes and serving up snippets of text from the 25 million-plus tomes in its database.

Google employees maintain that’s all they ever intended to achieve. Maybe so. But they sure got everyone else’s hopes up.

Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google’s right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed — one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google’s book-related ambitions.

But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that’s not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition.

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Alex Macgillivray who worked at Google and Twitter as a legal counsel, disagrees: “the moonshot was thinking you could create full text search for tens of millions of hard copy books,” he tweeted. “Many thought it could not be done in any reasonable time or cost. Including engineers on the team. 13 years later, Google has tens of millions of books all full text searchable in a split second. That’s what a flag on the moon looks like.”
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Theft and loss recovery for iOS users • Fraser Speirs

Speirs’s wife had her iPhone nicked at the end of a family holiday. Things went OK. But now he’s wondering: what if all my oh-so-secure stuff got stolen? How do I take back control?

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So, assuming the worst happens and all your devices are gone forever – what now? Well, I need to get back into those accounts.

Let’s assume that somehow I can acquire a new device. As a side issue, ask yourself how you would even do that. If everything was gone – how would you call home? How would you get money? Do you even have those numbers written down anywhere that isn’t in your phone?

Also bear in mind that to activate an iPhone you might also need a working SIM card. I’m not sure if this is true everywhere on all networks, but I’ve certainly seen that requirement in the UK.

To sign into a new device, you need your iCloud password and a way to access your 2-factor information. With Apple’s current implementation of 2-factor authentication, you can use a number of methods to get that second factor.

First, you can get it from another trusted device. This is when that dialog pops up and tells you that someone is trying to log in from a specific location, you tap OK and then you see a 6-digit code that you can provide.

Except in this scenario, all your trusted devices are gone. So that’s out.

The next thing you can do is have a code sent to a trusted phone number. But your phone is gone and the SIM card is gone with it, so no calls or texts to that number.

Here, I discovered the second flaw in my setup. I only had my own devices set up as Trusted Devices and I only had one phone number set up as a Trusted Number – namely, my iPhone’s phone number.

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This is worth considering if you’re one of those people who does take security seriously: it’s possible to be too serious.
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Amazon continues to grow lead over Google as starting point for online shoppers • GeekWire

Taylor Soper:

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Where do you start when shopping for something online? For a majority of people, it’s Amazon — not Google.

That’s one finding from a recent research report from Raymond James that surveyed 587 people about their online habits.

The study found 52% of respondents who said they start their online purchasing process at Amazon, which is up from 47% last year, and 38% from the year prior.

That compares to 26% who say they start at a search engine. This graph shows the changing habits clearly:

The trend toward Amazon and away from Google is highlighted even more so with younger shoppers aged 18-to-29, with 62% of respondents from that age group starting on Amazon versus 21% at a search engine.

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This is the basis of Google’s argument in Europe for why it has no case to answer in the antitrust argument over suppression of comparison shopping sites in its (organic) search results. But that, of course, isn’t the point of the antitrust case. It’s not about “where does anyone ever search for shopping”; it’s “what do people find on Google search, which has 90% of the search market”.

But at the same time, this is clearly worrying for Google: if people aren’t starting to shop on its site, it’s left with lower-value search.
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Traditional PC market was up slightly, recording its first growth in five years as HP recovered the top position • IDC

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Worldwide shipments of traditional PCs (desktop, notebook, workstation) totaled 60.3 million units in the first quarter of 2017 (1Q17), posting year-over-year growth of 0.6%, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. The previous forecast had expected shipments to decline 1.8% in the quarter. And, while the 0.6% growth was arguably flat, the result nonetheless represented the first foray back into positive territory since Q1 2012, when many users still considered PCs their first computing device.

Like the second half of 2016, some of the same forces continue to shape the market. Tight supplies of key components such as NAND and DRAM are affecting inventory dynamics and led a number of vendors to boost shipments to lock in supply ahead of further cost increases. In addition, the market continued along a path of stabilization that began in the latter half of last year, especially as more commercial projects moved out of pilot mode and began shipments in earnest…

…”The traditional PC market has been through a tough phase, with competition from tablets and smartphones as well as lengthening lifecycles pushing PC shipments down roughly 30% from a peak in 2011,” said Jay Chou, research manager, IDC PCD Tracker. “Nevertheless, users have generally delayed PC replacements rather than giving up PCs for other devices. The commercial market is beginning a replacement cycle that should drive growth throughout the forecast. Consumer demand will remain under pressure, although growth in segments like PC Gaming as well as rising saturation of tablets and smartphones will move the consumer market toward stabilization as well.”

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Let’s be clear: it’s 0.6% growth officially, but it would have been down 1.1% using last year’s numbers – which IDC quietly revised down. (Neither IDC or Gartner ever reveals in these press releases when they tweak their year-ago numbers.) Arguably, that means this year’s 0.6% growth could be next year’s 1% fall.

Whatever; the PC market isn’t in freefall any more, though Gartner’s numbers suggest a 2.4% fall (it revised 1Q 16 down by 1m, so that fall is ever bigger than reported). It is however settling into one where the business market has taken over again.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Fitbit’s slow watch, the real airline scandal, Ikea goes IoT, killing Kelihos, and more


California generated more than half its energy from renewables during a day in March. Bad news for coal miners? Photo by mypubliclands on Flickr.

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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fitbit’s new smartwatch has been plagued by production mishaps • Yahoo News

JP Mangalindan:

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Fitbit’s first “proper” smartwatch and first-ever pair of bluetooth headphones are due out this fall after a series of production mishaps delayed the project, Yahoo Finance has learned.

The fitness tracker company’s smartwatch project has been a troubled one. Production problems have forced Fitbit to push an original spring launch to this fall, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

“In one of the more final prototypes, the GPS wasn’t working because the antennae wasn’t in the right place,” one of those sources told Yahoo Finance. “They had to go back to the drawing board to redesign the product so the GPS got a strong signal.”

Fitbit’s design team also ran into problems making its smartwatch fully waterproof, even though that’s a key design element for the Apple Watch Series 2. Indeed, it’s still unclear as of the publication of this article whether the device will launch with the waterproof feature. If it isn’t waterproof, critics may perceive it to be an inferior product to Apple’s — especially given that the device will launch roughly a year after the Apple Watch Series 2.

“Regardless of whether Fitbit manages to make it waterproof, I think they have to release the watch later this year,” one of our sources familiar with the matter told Yahoo Finance. “It’s literally sink or swim time for them.”

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This is Fitbit which, don’t forget, acquired successful smartwatch maker Pebble back in December for $23m.
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Autonomous trucking overlooks skilled labor need • Supply Chain 24/7

Joseph Kane and Adie Turner:

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Unsurprisingly, analysts expect automated trucks to proliferate in the next five to ten years, leading to significant job losses in the process.

The only problem? The numbers do not clearly back up the predictions.

In addition to the numerous regulatory and logistical hurdles that automated trucks still need to clear, generalizing the skilled work undertaken by millions of truck drivers and their peers overlooks how this industry functions.

In many ways, the current national conversation on the trucking industry tends to overemphasize the technology and oversimplify the complex set of labor concerns, where many jobs are not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Similar to most infrastructure jobs, truck drivers depend on a wide range of skills to carry out their jobs every day. Just as there are different types of doctors, there are different types of truck drivers – from heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers who focus on long-haul journeys to delivery truck drivers who carry lighter loads and navigate local streets.

Read APICS Blog: Truck Drivers (Still) Wanted

Not surprisingly, many of these drivers are not simply sitting behind the wheel all day on auto drive. They also inspect their freight loads, fix equipment, make deliveries, and perform other non-routinized tasks.

Standardized data verify this non-routinized conception of truck-driving. The Department of Labor’s O*NET database shows how truck drivers have a lower “degree of automation” compared to most occupations nationally.

On a scale of 0 (not at all automated) to 100 (completely automated), O*NET surveys workers across all types of occupations, where those with simpler, repeated tasks are often better suited for automated technologies, such as telephone operators and travel agents.

The average degree of automation, however, remains quite low (29.6) for all occupations, and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (22) and delivery drivers (24) rate even lower than that. Significantly, they also rate lower than some of the country’s other largest occupations, including office clerks (32), cashiers (37), and receptionists (47).

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Expect counternarratives like this to become increasingly common as we really begin to examine what machine learning systems can and can’t do. Rather like the last mile problem, it’s the small but essential things humans do that makes them indispensable.
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The real scandal of that brutal United video • The Atlantic

Derek Thompson:

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although this incident was unusual in many respects, it was also representative of an airline industry that has considerable power over consumers—even if the use of force is more subtle than a group of security professionals wrestling a passenger to the floor.

For example, many people have pointed out that United might have avoided the entire fiasco by simply offering the passengers more money to leave the plane. By law, compensation for passengers is capped at $1,350, which means that United technically could have raised its offer by more than 50% before removing people against their will. But it’s absurd that airlines’ capacity to compensate passengers is bounded by the law in the first place. Indeed, there’s a good case to remove the cap entirely. If airlines are legally permitted to overbook—that is, to sell consumers a service that they will not fulfill—they ought to pay market price to compensate people for the unfulfilled promise.

Domestic airlines are now enjoying record profits, having flown more passengers each year since 2010. This is in part because the airline industry is sheltered from both antitrust regulation and litigation. Four carriers—United, Delta, American, and Southwest—earn more than $20 billion in profits annually and own 80% of seats on domestic flights. Along with cable companies, airlines are the top-of-mind paragon for industries that seem to get worse for consumers as they become more heavily concentrated. Indeed, when fuel prices fell last year, as The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker (who edited this story and who has a relative who works at United) has written, airlines spent the savings on stock buybacks rather than pass them to consumers.

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The US is so proud of its capitalistic economy, yet can’t see how often it suffers either from regulatory capture or total lack of regulation – because its political class relies on donations to get elected. Who contributes? Companies. So whose interests do the political class serve? The people who got them elected – that is, the people in the companies.
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Apple may ditch Dialog, analyst says, hitting chipmaker’s shares • Reuters

Eric Auchard and Harro Ten Wolde:

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Dialog Semiconductor risks losing a crucial supply deal with Apple, according to a financial analyst who cut his rating on the stock on Tuesday, sending the Anglo-German chipmaker’s shares down by as much as one-third.

Bankhaus Lampe reduced its rating on Dialog to “sell” from “hold” as it argued that Apple was working on its own battery-saving chip for the iPhone that could replace Dialog’s power management integrated circuits (PMIC) as early as 2019.

Apple accounted for more than 70% of Dialog’s 2016 sales, analysts estimate. The German company says it is the world’s top maker of power management chips used in smartphones with roughly 20% of the market.

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After Imagination Technologies, everyone’s wondering who’s next.
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Solar breaks 50% of California electricity for first time – driving wholesale rates negative • Electrek

John Fitzgerald Weaver:

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Recently we saw California solar + wind hit a record high at 49.2%, with all renewable energy above 56%.

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In March, during the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., system average hourly prices were frequently at or below $0 per megawatthour (MWh). In contrast, average hourly prices in March 2013–15 during this time of day ranged from $14/MWh to $45/MWh.

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This type of event has happened in other places – Germany gets the headlines often. It is expected that there will be so much solar power this spring and summer (plus large amounts of hydroelectric power) that curtailment will need to occur on solar assets.

On March 11th, the California power grid broke 50% solar power for the first time – when considering ALL sources of solar power in the state:

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Additional generation from customer-sited solar generators installed in California (such as those on residential and commercial rooftops) further adds to the total solar share of mid-day electricity generation. As of December 2016, utilities in CAISO reported 5.4 gigawatts (GW) of net-metered distributed solar capacity. EIA estimates that this capacity would have generated approximately 4 million kilowatthours (kWh) during the peak solar hours on March 11. This level of electricity reduced the metered demand on the grid by about the same amount, suggesting that the total solar share of gross demand probably exceeded 50% during the mid-day hours.

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Per the EIA, there are multiple reasons why March is the season most probable for negative wholesale rates, including one unique to this year – heavy amounts of hydroelectric power due to flooding this winter. The other major reason is that spring and fall are low demand seasons due to the temperate climate not needing as much heating or cooling.

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Well this isn’t going to go down well with all the coal miners.
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A quick look at the Ikea Trådfri IoT lighting platform • mjg59

Matthew Garrett on Ikea’s smart lighting offer:

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When you start the app for the first time it prompts you to scan a QR code that’s just a machine-readable version of that key. The Android app has code for using the insecure COAP port rather than the encrypted one, but the device doesn’t respond to queries there so it’s presumably disabled in release builds. It’s also local only, with no cloud support. You can program timers, but they run on the device. The only other service it seems to run is an mdns responder, which responds to the _coap._udp.local query to allow for discovery.

From a security perspective, this is pretty close to ideal. Having no remote APIs means that security is limited to what’s exposed locally. The local traffic is all encrypted. You can only authenticate with the device if you have physical access to read the (decently long) key off the bottom. I haven’t checked whether the DTLS server is actually well-implemented, but it doesn’t seem to respond unless you authenticate first which probably covers off a lot of potential risks. The SoC has wireless support, but it seems to be disabled – there’s no antenna on board and no mechanism for configuring it.

However, there’s one minor issue. On boot the device grabs the current time from pool.ntp.org (fine) but also hits http://fw.ota.homesmart.ikea.net/feed/version_info.json . That file contains a bunch of links to firmware updates, all of which are also downloaded over http (and not https). The firmware images themselves appear to be signed, but downloading untrusted objects and then parsing them isn’t ideal. Realistically, this is only a problem if someone already has enough control over your network to mess with your DNS, and being wired-only makes this pretty unlikely.

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Ikea, the unlikely winner of the “not bad IoT” award.
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Official: Russia knew Syrian chemical attack was coming • Associated Press

Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor:

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The United States has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week, but has no proof of Moscow’s involvement, a senior U.S. official said Monday.

The official said that a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment. Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.

The U.S. official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.

The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity, didn’t give precise timing for when the drone was in the area, where more than 80 people were killed. The official also didn’t provide details for the military and intelligence information that form the basis of what the Pentagon now believes.

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Syrian jets followed by Russian jets feels like more than coincidence. One could spin up a story of explanation, but Russia looks more and more guilty. Journalists for western publications have been to the town and returned, which means that it can’t be under Isis control.
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LeEco is said to miss US sales forecasts, plan more job cuts • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:

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The company entered the North American market in October with a splashy event in San Francisco, where it showed off an array of products, including ultra high-definition televisions, phones, virtual reality goggles and electric bikes. Yet LeEco generated U.S. revenue of less than $15m last year after that October debut, compared with an original goal of $100m, according to the person.

The company so far is only selling TVs, smartphones and some accessories in the US. The US unit is also making plans to eliminate about 175 jobs, which would shrink its staff in the country to about 300 people, said the person, who asked not to be named because the financial details aren’t public.

LeEco declined to comment on the planned job cuts and revenue miss.

On Monday, the company said it was abandoning its plan to acquire U.S. TV maker Vizio Inc. for $2bn, citing regulatory hurdles. The collapse of the deal, which was meant to give LeEco a beachhead to build its brand with American customers, sets LeEco even further back in the US.

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Did anyone there really believe they could do $100m of business in three months? That’s crazy. Now though it’s clearly stick-a-fork-in-its-American-ambitions time.
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Our focus on pay equity • Google Official blog

Eileen Naughton is vice-president of “people operations”:

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each year, we suggest an amount for every employee’s new compensation (consisting of base salary, bonus and equity) based on role, job level, job location as well as current and recent performance ratings.  This suggested amount is “blind” to gender; the analysts who calculate the suggested amounts do not have access to employees’ gender data. An employee’s manager has limited discretion to adjust the suggested amount, providing they cite a legitimate adjustment rationale.

Our pay equity model then looks at employees in the same job categories, and analyzes their compensation to confirm that the adjusted amount shows no statistically significant differences between men’s and women’s compensation.

In late 2016, we performed our most recent analysis across 52 different, major job categories, and found no gender pay gap. Nevertheless, if individual employees are concerned, or think there are unique factors at play, or want a more individualized assessment, we dive deeper and make any appropriate corrections.

Our analysis gives us confidence that there is no gender pay gap at Google.  In fact, we recently expanded the analysis to cover race in the US.

«

That’s cute, but the US Department of Labor isn’t asking for your pay model, Eileen. It’s asking for your pay data.
link to this extract


DOJ moves to topple Kelihos, one of the world’s largest botnets

Patrick Howell O’Neill:

»

[Peter Yuryevich] Levashov was first indicted over a decade ago by U.S. authorities on charges of email and wire fraud for allegedly using spam to promote profitable pump-and-dump penny stock schemes.

He was charged again in 2009 for allegedly operating the Storm botnet, another spam behemoth and a predecessor to Kelihos.

This week’s arrest was made possible because the FBI learned just last month that Levashov was going to leave his home in Russia, a country without extradition to the United States, to spend several weeks in Spain. The details about how the FBI came into that information remain unknown.

Levashov was connected to Kelihos by the FBI by connecting IP addresses used to operate the botnet that was also used by email and other online accounts under the name of Pete Levashov, a web programmer in Russia.

Levashov regularly used the same addresses to commit crime. To connect the dots, the FBI obtained Levashov’s records from companies including Google, Apple, WebMonkey and Foursquare.

«

Opsec (operational security) is hard. But you’d think someone who had a decade of being on the wrong side of the law might have remembered that. He was arrested in Spain, where he was on holiday. There’s all the documentation you could ever want at the US Justice Department site.

link to this extract


Tilted device could pinpoint pin number for hackers, study claims • The Guardian

Alex Hern on a study from Newcastle University which used the gyro information to intuit your PIN:

»

Websites need to ask permission from users to access sensitive information, such as location data, or to access sensors such as the cameras or microphones on a device. But some information, such as the orientation of the device or the size of its screen, is considered non-sensitive and generally shared with any site that asks for it to enable interactivity and responsive webpages.

Thankfully, to train the system to enough precision to be able to guess even a simple four-digit pin (and most smartphones require a six-digit, or longer, password), the researchers required a lot of data from users: each had to type 50 known pin numbers in, five times over, before it learned enough about how they hold their phones to guess a hidden pin with 70% accuracy.

But with no uniform way of managing sensors across the industry, when research such as [Dr Maryam] Mehrnezhad’s shows flaws, it can be difficult for manufacturers to give a coordinated response.

“Despite the very real risks, when we asked people which sensors they were most concerned about we found a direct correlation between perceived risk and understanding,” she said. “So people were far more concerned about the camera and GPS than they were about the silent sensors.”

«

Filed under “probably not worth worrying about, but might keep relying on fingerprint unlock”.
link to this extract


Culprit broadcast signal that triggered Dallas’ emergency sirens Friday night • Dallas News

Robert SWilonsky:

»

City officials don’t know who triggered Dallas’ outdoor warning sirens late Friday, but they do know how it was done — by broadcasting a few tones, via either radio or telephone signal. In other words, there was no computer hack.

“It’s a radio system, not a computer issue,” Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said Monday morning.
The city’s outdoor warning sirens had to be manually shut down and turned back on late Sunday, with “immediate fixes” intended to prevent the type of incident that woke up — and shook up — much of the city Friday night, according to Broadnax.

“As we brought the system back up, some encryption was added as part of our process to prevent this type of error from occurring going forward,” he said.

City officials said late Monday that the system was purchased a decade ago and that encryption was not part of the original deal with the vendor for one simple reason: No one at City Hall knew something like this was possible.

«

OK, so it’s not a hack, it’s a phrack (phone hack) or even rack (radio hack, if that’s even a thing). Even so: now you realise you have a flaw, and only found out the hard way.
link to this extract


Stuck Pixel: how Google is dropping the ball with its “consumer” phone strategy (opinion) • Android Police

Trevor Newman:

»

At Apple, the customer – the revenue generator – is you and me, the consumer. Though many of their decisions may be viewed as anti-consumer (e.g. the #donglelife), much can be said about their comparatively strong customer service as well as the fact that a part of the “Apple Tax” for their products goes toward the maintenance of brick and mortar facilities to which you can bring a broken device and receive a repair or replacement on the spot.

On the other hand we have Google, and Google has customers, too. But those customers are neither you nor me. Google’s lifeblood is advertising, and the essential nutrient for ads is data – our data. We the consumers are not Google’s customers. Rather, we are batteries that power Google’s cash advertising engine. While this information is probably not new to most of you, nor is it to me, it helps to explain why Google can’t successfully sell a product to save its life (which, at the moment, it has no need to do).

Google’s inability to make a successful play in the consumer space is no more apparent than with the Pixel. Google’s first attempt at a “true” Google Phone (R.I.P Nexus) has been a success, but one with reservations. The Pixel is a solid phone. So is the OnePlus 3T. Sure the OP3T lacks the Pixel’s camera, but it is otherwise decent and happens to cost $400 less than a comparable Pixel XL – and is generally available for purchase, which the Pixel most certainly is not. Let’s also just pause for a minute to acknowledge the tone-deaf hubris of charging $30 for a poorly-made clear plastic case. Sure Apple charges Pixel prices, but if my iPhone is defective I can go to an Apple Store, get a replacement on the spot, and have some peace of mind that the extra expense went to maintaining this store and the general customer service model. With Google, the extra cost goes to the bottom line and maybe a month-long replacement process of ‘ship and pray’ with buggy refurbished replacements and full-price holds on my credit card.

«

I’m not sure that “Apple charges Pixel prices”. It’s vice-versa, and as Newman points out, you don’t get the same customer service. (Or, indeed, availability, so far.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: SeekingAlpha shamed, Mac Pro redux, the telltale iPad, Google’s $800m OLED Pixel, and more


The US border with Canada: would you hand over your passwords? Photo by Mike Cogh on Flickr.

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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Updated thoughts on the Apple Mac Pro situation • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

»

I don’t fault Apple for making a bet on massively parallel computing tasks. Many of us were sold on the whole GPGPU (general purpose GPU) computing vision Nvidia was selling at the time. It made a lot of sense for developers to offload huge workloads to the GPU, even if it took some rewriting of their programs. This simply didn’t take off and, even if it had, things like VR and machine learning/computer training via workstations would still have needed modern GPUs.

If anything has changed in the last six months, it is Apple’s realization the Mac may be a more important form factor overall than they expected. I think the iPad had a higher priority than Mac from a R&D and development standpoint and I’d be willing to bet those priorities are more balanced now.

I still believe in the Mac business thesis I wrote about last year. Apple can take significant share in the PC space if they were to get more aggressive with entry level Mac pricing. Specifically, if they were to take the MacBook Air to $799 or update it to Retina at $999.

I believe Apple is now seeing the data many of us are — the PC market is actually quite healthy and, from an ASP standpoint, laptop ASPs continue to rise while tablet ASPs continue to decline. From a business standpoint, I think its clear how to balance the priorities for now.

«

link to this extract


SEC targets Seeking Alpha, Benzinga in crackdown on “fake news” pump and dumps • Zero Hedge

“Tyler Durden”:

»

the SEC said that seventeen defendants including Galena Biopharma, ImmunoCellular Therapeutics and Lion Biotechnologies agreed to pay more than $4.8m, including fines and restitution, to settle, and to refrain from further wrongdoing. Not all defendants were required to make payments, and Galena, ImmunoCellular and Lion did not admit wrongdoing. None of the websites was charged.

The SEC filed lawsuits against the other 10 defendants in Manhattan federal court. These defendants include Lidingo Holdings LLC, run by Kamilla Bjorlin, 46, an actress from Encino, California who performs under the name Milla Bjorn, and CSIR Group LLC, a New York firm overseen by Christine Petraglia, 49.

Amusingly, the SEC also issued an alert warning investors that articles on investment research websites may not be objective and independent, and that they should never invest based solely on information published there.

And yet, the SEC seems to have no problem with sound “advice” from the big investment bank, such as Morgan Stanley telling its clients the coming rally in the S&P is one they can’t afford to miss, as we discussed earlier, citing a quote from the bank’s new head of equity research who said, “The end of the cycle is often the best. Think 1999 or 2006-07. In a low-return world, investors cannot afford to miss it.”

Morgan Stanley did not go into detail on what would happen if the investors got into the “1999” or “2006-2007” rally and found that the crashes of 2000 or 2008 followed…

As for the named websites, they all said that they use the appropriate disclaimers. Mike Taylor, a Seeking Alpha managing editor, said in an email that its policies “act as a strong deterrent against potential promotions,” including documenting “all authors’ claims to not having been compensated by third parties.”  Benzinga said in an email that it uses a disclaimer to identify articles from outside contributors, and that each “does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.”

«

Ah, such depths of deception. iBankcoin has hated Seeking Alpha for years. I sometimes read Seeking Alpha, but many of the “analysis” articles are so dim it’s amazing the comments are able to underbid them.
link to this extract


Five of the wildest details in report on Alabama guv’s efforts to hide affair • Talking Points Memo

Allegra Kirkland on the impeachment proceedings against the Republican governor, of which I liked this one:

»

Unbeknownst to the governor and Mason, the frequent romantic texts they exchanged were all visible to Dianne Bentley. The governor’s state-issued cell phone’s cloud was linked to his state-issued iPad, which he had gifted to his then-wife, allowing her to watch the rumored affair unfold in real time.

“I’m so in love with you,” Bentley wrote to Mason in one text, along with two heart-eye emojis. “We are pitiful.”

“Poor Robert. Poor Rebekah,” he added.

“Yes… Bless our hearts… And other parts,” Mason wrote back.

“Magnetic,” Bentley replied.

The device oversight was only one of Bentley’s errors.

In spring 2014, he mistakenly sent a text to his wife reading, “I love you Rebekah,” along with an emoji of a red rose.

«

Dinner in the dog on that one I think.
link to this extract


Mastodon is what disruption looks like right before it happens • Forbes

Paul Armstrong:

»

Twitter may have a new problem. Just six months old, Mastodon is an open-source version of Twitter that just might upset a few Twitter stakeholders. Name aside (seriously, an extinct animal?), the fledgeling service is getting a lot of tongues wagging for fixing more than just a couple of competitors (read: Twitter) bugbears – a core part of Clayton Christianson’s Disruptive Innovation theory (see table below). A larger amount of characters (500), fewer trolls, chronological timelines, public timelines, better block and mute tools, per-post privacy – what’s not to love?

«

Mastodon is also what disruption looks like right before it goes bust or just vanishes. I can’t figure out if I need to join an instance or what.
link to this extract


UK tourists to US may get asked to hand in passwords or be denied entry • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Tourists from the UK and other US allies including Germany and France, could be forced to reveal personal data, as well as disclose financial information and face detailed ideological questioning, according to Trump administration officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal. While US citizens have established rights against unlawful searches at the border, the extent to which foreign travellers can resist requests to hand over personal information is unclear.

The US customs and border patrol told the Guardian: “All international travellers arriving to the US are subject to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection. This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices.

“Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the US,” it added. The CBP said it strives to process arriving travellers as efficiently and securely as possible while ensuring compliance with laws and regulations governing the international arrival process. It did not answer specific questions about social media accounts and devices.

«

This isn’t proportionate. The assumption appears to be guilt. It’s going to be a big turnoff for would-be tourists (perhaps as much as the weakened pound).
link to this extract


Google offers at least $880 million to LG display for OLED investment: Electronic Times • Reuters

Se Young Lee:

»

Google Inc has offered to invest at least 1 trillion won ($880.29m) to help South Korea’s LG Display Co Ltd boost output of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens for smartphones, the Electronic Times reported on Monday citing unnamed sources.

The paper said Google offered the investment to secure a stable supply of flexible OLED screens for its next Pixel smartphones. Samsung Electronics flagship Galaxy smartphones use the bendable displays, while Apple is expected to start using them in at least some of its next iPhones.

«

I couldn’t find the ET report, hence this link. That’s a lot of money for Google to be putting into LG, given how few Pixels it got made.
link to this extract


Google Home app says multiple users are now supported • Android Police

Rita el Khoury:

»

We’ve known for a while that multiple user support would come to Google Home. It only makes sense that a device placed in the home can be used by several persons instead of being linked to just one user’s data and music and other accounts. But until now, we had only seen the signs of multi-user support in Cody’s teardown of the app.

Today though, users have started seeing a new card in the Discover tab of the Google Home app titled “Multiple users now supported.” The card says that you and others in your house can enjoy a “personalized experience” from Assistant on the Google Home, but so far the feature doesn’t appear to be live just yet.

«

Classic Android blog fare – “um, Google said something, so that’s great! Except it’s not there, so, um, anyway.”

The identification isn’t via voice recognition – you have to do it in the Google Home app, which takes a lot of the shine off this.

Also, if one person starts, say, music they’ve chosen, can another person turn it off? If not, why not? If so, why? The questions are a bit concerning once you start considering them. Multiple users sounds easy, but in a shared space with a single controller, isn’t.
link to this extract


Samsung Electronics decides not to sell its digital cameras anymore • Korean ET News

Jung Youngil:

»

“We are not going to produce and sell digital cameras anymore.” said Samsung Electronics on the 5th [April].

[The] ‘Digital camera’ item was also eliminated from Samsung Electronics’ business report on sales of IM (IT and Mobile) field. Although digital cameras were included as major sales of [the] IM [information machinery – includes mobile phones and computers] field along with HHP, network systems, and computers until third quarter of last year, they disappeared due to reduction of sales. Existence of Samsung Electronics’ digital cameras ended with mirrorless camera called ‘NX 500’ that was released in March of 2015.

“We are not going to produce and sell digital cameras anymore.” said a representative for Samsung Electronics. “However we are not completely putting aside camera business but we are making a new category of new products.”

«

Nobody else seems to have picked this up. But it’s like recording the death of species: you need to know when the conditions finally changed enough that they couldn’t survive.
link to this extract


Why I always tug on the ATM • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

Once you understand how easy and common it is for thieves to attach “skimming” devices to ATMs and other machines that accept debit and credit cards, it’s difficult not to closely inspect and even tug on the machines before using them. Several readers who are in the habit of doing just that recently shared images of skimmers they discovered after gently pulling on various parts of a cash machine they were about to use.

Viewed from less than two feet away, this ATM looks reasonably safe to use, right?

«

Wrong, of course, but it’s surprising how wrong. This ought to make you nervous about the next ATM you use – and every one after that too. Krebs has done many, many posts on this topic, because it’s important.
link to this extract


Hacking blamed for emergency sirens blaring across Dallas early Saturday • Dallas News

Claire Ballor, Robert Wilonsky and Tom Steele on the suspected hack that set off 156 sires around the city early on Saturday morning:

»

Council member Philip Kingston, a member of the Public Safety Committee, said Saturday morning that officials will move the compromised emergency system to the top of their agenda.

“And that’s sad, because the list is so long,” he said, referring to other problems, including the short-staffed 911 call center.

“If this is indeed hacking, it has just become top priority,” Kingston said. “And you can put me down as terrified.”

Jennifer Staubach Gates, who also serves on the Public Safety Committee and is chairwoman of the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee, said City Auditor Craig Kinton recently told her it was time for the city to review its security vulnerabilities.

“If it’s hacking, it’s extremely concerning,” she said. “If someone’s messing with our emergency system, we’ve got an issue. We need to get to the bottom of it — what kind of vulnerabilities do we have?”

«

The answer to that is probably “more than one”. Another day (or early morning), another IoT exploit.
link to this extract


DeepMind’s AlphaGo takes on world’s top Go player in China • Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»

Humanity has been granted one last attempt to beat its artificially intelligent overlords: Ke Jie, the world’s top-ranked Go player, will face down against DeepMind’s AlphaGo in China in a three-game match starting May 23.

The odds are not good for Ke Jie: back in January AlphaGo secretly played 51 online matches against some of the world’s best players, including Ke Jie, and didn’t lose a single one. Still, as Homo sapiens’ last redoubt against in silico domination, he has to try.

Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind, says the match is part of a larger “Future of Go Summit” in the town of Wuzhen, China—the country where Go was invented some 3,000 years ago. The summit will draw “leading AI experts” from Google and China, and in addition to the marquee event there’ll be some experimental matches.

In one slightly insulting variation, five human players will team up to try and beat a single AlphaGo AI.

«

I don’t see Ke Jie winning this. But as Hassabis says, what AlphaGo has done is show that humans can play better – because it can play better than humans so far.
link to this extract


State of online advertising and Google’s growth prospects • Naofumi Kagami

»

The graph below is from a Morgan Stanley report and provides a forecast of the internet advertising landscape.

We can see that the combined revenue of YouTube and Google Search is projected to decline from 42% market share to 41%. This is a bit more optimistic than my prediction that Google’s revenues will be squeezed, but nonetheless, it forecasts that Google will only be able to grow at the digital advertising average. (This year, this was mid double digits but according to eMarketer, this will drop to about 3% + total ad industry growth in 2020.)

«

Kagami’s argument (previously expressed) is that Google’s growth is naturally limited by the size of ad budgets; with Facebook rampant, that limit becomes more apparent and could emerge by 2020.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google accused on pay discrimination, Syria’s information wars, Samsung looks up, and more


This could be your next IoT device if it gets hit by some new malware. Photo by marc falardeau on Flickr.

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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Forget Mirai – Brickerbot malware will kill your crap IoT devices • The Register

Iain Thomson:

»

A new form of attack code has come to town and it uses techniques similar to Mirai to permanently scramble Internet of Things devices.

On March 20 researchers at security shop Radware spotted the malware, dubbed Brickerbot, cropping up in honeypots it sets up across the web to lure interesting samples. In the space of four days, one honeypot logged 1,895 infection attempts by Brickbot, with the majority of attacks coming from Argentina, and a second logged 333 attempts – untraceable as they came from a Tor node.

“The Bricker Bot attack used Telnet brute force – the same exploit vector used by Mirai – to breach a victim’s devices,” Radware’s advisory states.

“Bricker does not try to download a binary, so Radware does not have a complete list of credentials that were used for the brute force attempt, but were able to record that the first attempted username/password pair was consistently ‘root’/’vizxv.'”

«

There’s a suggestion that it’s trying to brick devices before they can become part of a botnet. Seems like burning the village to save it if so.
link to this extract


Federated Learning: Collaborative Machine Learning without Centralized Training Data • Google Research Blog

Brendan McMahan and Daniel Ramage are research scientists at Google:

»

Federated Learning enables mobile phones to collaboratively learn a shared prediction model while keeping all the training data on device, decoupling the ability to do machine learning from the need to store the data in the cloud. This goes beyond the use of local models that make predictions on mobile devices (like the Mobile Vision API and On-Device Smart Reply) by bringing model training to the device as well.

It works like this: your device downloads the current model, improves it by learning from data on your phone, and then summarizes the changes as a small focused update. Only this update to the model is sent to the cloud, using encrypted communication, where it is immediately averaged with other user updates to improve the shared model. All the training data remains on your device, and no individual updates are stored in the cloud.


Your phone personalizes the model locally, based on your usage (A). Many users’ updates are aggregated (B) to form a consensus change (C) to the shared model, after which the procedure is repeated.

Federated Learning allows for smarter models, lower latency, and less power consumption, all while ensuring privacy. And this approach has another immediate benefit: in addition to providing an update to the shared model, the improved model on your phone can also be used immediately, powering experiences personalized by the way you use your phone.

We’re currently testing Federated Learning in Gboard on Android, the Google Keyboard. When Gboard shows a suggested query, your phone locally stores information about the current context and whether you clicked the suggestion. Federated Learning processes that history on-device to suggest improvements to the next iteration of Gboard’s query suggestion model.

«

As much as anything, because smartphones are becoming so powerful they can do that sort of work in the background without too much effort.
link to this extract


Twitter case shows breadth of U.S. power to probe anti-Trump statements • Reuters

Alison Frankel and Dustin Volz:

»

An attempt by U.S. authorities to identify an anonymous critic of President Donald Trump on Twitter has set off alarm bells among Democratic and Republican lawmakers and civil liberties advocates fearful of a crackdown on dissent.

Twitter Inc on Friday succeeded in beating back a demand for records about a Twitter account called ALT Immigration (@ALT_uscis), which pokes fun at Trump’s immigration policies and appears to be run by one or more federal employees.

The U.S. government withdrew an administrative summons that customs agents had sent the company in March demanding the records.

But the government backed away only after Twitter filed a federal lawsuit accusing it of violating the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Customs agents could still continue the investigation using some other methods, civil liberties attorneys said.

Although authorities retreated, the case has laid bare the broad power of the U.S. government to demand information from technology companies, sometimes with no oversight from the courts and often with built-in secrecy provisions that prevent the public from knowing what the government is seeking.

«

link to this extract


Walt Mossberg is retiring in June • Recode

Mossberg himself:

»

I’ll be retiring this coming June, almost exactly 47 years later. I’ll be hanging it up shortly after the 2017 edition of the Code Conference, a wonderful event I co-founded in 2003 and which I could never have imagined back then in Detroit.

I didn’t make this decision lightly, or hastily, or under pressure. It emerged from months of thought and months of talks with my wise wife, my family and close friends. It wasn’t prompted by my employer, or by some dire health diagnosis. It just seems like the right time to step away. I’m ready for something new.

Over my career, I’ve reinvented myself numerous times. I covered the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA. I wrote about labor wars, trade wars and real wars. I chronicled a nuclear plant meltdown and the defeat of Communism. I co-founded a couple of media businesses.

And, in the best professional decision of my life, I converted myself into a tech columnist in 1991.

«

He will be 70, or on the verge of it. Wonder what would have happened if he had stuck with the spy stuff. His response to the Snowden revelations seemed, to me, strangely muted, given that he should have had some familiarity with it.
link to this extract


Google is now highlighting fact checks in search • Poynter

Alexios Mantzarlis:

»

If a search query returns a result that includes a fact check, it will be featured as a snippet on the result page (see right).

The snippet will always include who said the claim and its accuracy rating. If a publication fact-checked more than one claim on the same topic, each fact check will be featured in a carousel.

The decision builds on Google’s decision in October to add a “Fact Check” tag in news results in a selected number of countries.

The initiative has been a joint project between Google and Jigsaw, a technology incubator overseen by Google parent Alphabet. The source tags have, in general, “been a hit” with users, said Justin Kosslyn, a product manager at Jigsaw. This has been true of the “Fact Check” tag too, a spokeswoman for Google said.

The Fact Check tag is an idea with a long history at Google, Kosslyn said. In a previous position at Google News in 2011, he started working on it but found that the necessary “building blocks” to make it work were missing.

«

One does think: why not deprecate results with fact checks? But that’s all hugely complicated too. This isn’t going to go away.
link to this extract


How the alt-right brought #SyriaHoax to America • Medium

Digital Forensic Research Lab:

»

The DFRLab has traced the origins of the story, and found that the alt-right coverage was based on report in a propaganda outlet linked to the Assad regime.

The chemical attack came at dawn, local time, on April 4. It was widely reported and provoked outrage and condemnation, triggering immediate calls for an investigation. Photographs and videos from the scene showed hideous images of dead children and footage of rescuers, including the White Helmets group, washing down victims.

The same day, website Al-Masdar News, which supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, published an article claiming that the story was a “false flag” operation:

»

“Merely hours after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, supposedly by the Syrian government, holes are beginning to emerge from opposition sources, discrediting the Al-Qaeda affiliated White Helmets claims.”

«

The article argued that the attack could not have been carried out with sarin gas, as the emergency responders seen in some of the images (including the one in the tweet) were not wearing gloves to handle the victims.

It also quoted a post from an outlet called Orient TV, tweeted by Twitter account @WithinSyriaBlog, which spoke of covering chemical attacks in the area the day before the strike.

Finally, it highlighted, and underlined in uneven ink, a tweet from a doctor on the scene who was offering to give interviews.

«

A lot of echoing without checking by people here; the claims are big so you’d hope some would do. At least one reader of The Overspill is familiar with the difficulty of identifying chemical weapons use; but the claim that the responders weren’t using gloves doesn’t go with the pictures taken at the time showing them using water to rinse off victims.

But what do we think if pro-Trumpists find themselves backing pro-Assad propaganda?
link to this extract


Seven questions about Trump’s Syria strike • The Atlantic

David Frum:

»

Promises of no war in Syria were central to Donald Trump’s anti-Hillary Clinton messaging. Take, for example, to his interview with Reuters on October 26, 2016.

»

“What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” said Trump, as he dined on fried eggs and sausage at his Trump National Doral golf resort. “You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton. You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right?”

«

That message—a vote for Clinton is a vote for World War III beginning in Syria—was pounded home by surrogates and by Trump’s social-media troll army.

Not even 100 days into his presidency, Trump has done exactly what he attacked Hillary Clinton for contemplating.

Some have described this reverse as “hypocritical.” This description is not accurate. A hypocrite says one thing while inwardly believing another. The situation with Donald Trump is much more alarming. On October 26, 2016, he surely meant what he said. It’s just that what he meant and said that day was no guide to what he would mean or say on October 27, 2016—much less April 6, 2017.

Voters and citizens can expect literally zero advance warning of what Donald Trump will do or won’t do. Campaign promises, solemn pledges—none are even slightly binding. If he can reverse himself on Syria, he can reverse himself on anything. If you feel betrayed by any of these reversals, you have no right to complain.

«

Frum’s headings are more direct. Trump does not give reasons; does not care about legality; disregards government processes; has no allies [among countries]; has no end state in mind; is lucky in his opponents. That latter is what Napoleon wanted from his generals, of course.

In passing: fried eggs and sausage? Health concerns not highest on his agenda.
link to this extract


‘Horrible’ pictures of suffering moved Trump to action on Syria • The Washington Post

Ashley Parker, David Nakamura and Dan Lamothe:

»

When President Trump began receiving his intelligence briefings in January, his team made a request: The president, they said, was a visual and auditory learner. Would the briefers please cut down on the number of words in the daily briefing book and instead use more graphics and pictures?

Similarly, after Trump entered office, his staff took President Barack Obama’s Syria contingency plans and broke the intelligence down into more-digestible bites, complete with photos, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the request.

This week, it was the images — gruesome photos of a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians — that moved Trump, pushing the president, who ran on an “America first” platform of nonintervention, to authorize the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian targets Thursday night.

Senior administration officials and members of Congress who spoke with Trump said the president was especially struck by two images: young, listless children being splashed with water in a frantic attempt to cleanse them of the nerve agent; and an anguished father holding his twin babies, swathed in soft white fabric, poisoned to death.

«

That point about Trump’s visual/auditory learning is independently fascinating. He’s so clearly not a reader (watch his discomfort as he tries to stick to a teleprompter speech; one wonders if he might be dyslexic to some degree).

Pictures carry their own arguments; now one wonders if there is a struggle by those who prepare different parts of the briefing to come up with the most arresting pictures and graphics to sway him to act on their agenda rather than others’.
link to this extract


How Spotify grew up before going public • Bloomberg View

Leonid Bershidsky:

»

It’s unconscionable in 2017 that the only publicly traded music streaming company is still Pandora Media Inc., an Internet radio provider which went public in 2011 and is trading below its initial public offering price. Hopefully, Spotify Ltd. will rectify the situation this year, even if that means it has to use a back door to an exchange listing. It’s an interesting back door for others in the tech industry, too.

«

Now then: Bershidsky’s article is worth reading. But also, I messed up in my analysis of direct listing (what Spotify is doing). I thought it meant Spotify could sell shares. Not at all.

A reader who asked to remain unnamed explains:

»

On a direct listing, Spotify doesn’t sell any shares, either existing ones or new ones, (selling new shares is the only way to raise new equity for the company) so Spotify the company doesn’t get any cash from this.

Basically the company rocks up to the exchange, fills in some paperwork, promises to comply with the exchange rules, and then hey presto people can enter buy and sell order for Spotify stock. It is then up to the EXISTING holders of Spotify stock to decide if they feel like filling any of the buy enters being entered (presumably yes, at a certain price, or why bother). Money that changes hands on those sales goes to those existing holders though, not to Spotify bank accounts

So no new money from a fresh equity issue also means no new money to pay off the [$1bn] debt. Of course the debt is convertible, and if the share price looks good enough, presumably the debt will be converted to equity and Spotify gets out from “under” the debt that way. It does stop the interest rate from ratcheting up though – and there seems to be some interesting calculations around what the conversion price is into equity, potentially a badly worded conversion clause that didnt take into account the possibility of a direct listing. Fxxing over the debt holders like that is probably half the attraction [of direct listing].

Plus once listed, you’ve done the price discovery process, and a secondary capital raising could be done somehow.

«

Would very much like to know who came up with that smart idea of going for direct listing. Lawyer inside the company? Investment banker?
link to this extract


YouTube case study: what% of channels are smaller than yours? Larger than yours? : Reddit letsplay

“moorjax”

»

I used channelcrawler.com to get a sense of what% of channels are at what size, and I used socialblade’s top 5000 channels to verify the approximate real number of channels at those sizes (i.e. I used channelcrawler to work up from the bottom, and used socialblade to verify from the top). Numbers are not to be taken as absolutely accurate, but a good approximation. By my estimate, there are something like 12,000,000 YouYube channels (where a channel is considered a channel if SB is tracking them; edited to reflect people’s well-founded corrections). Please note that the results are not limited to gaming channels, but all genres (entertainment, beauty, etc) in order to bolster the data set.

The resulting graph gives the% of YouTubers above a certain size. If you prefer to view the data in tabular form, or if you want to do any manipulations of your own, here is the table of data I assembled.

To get the total lifetime views (on average), multiply the subscriber number by 12.5 (lower quartile multiply by 25.5, upper quartile multiply by 5). The data set for that can be found in my previous post with more data to complement that found here, in which I examined the specific /r/LetsPlay population with about 1950 entries.

Here’s some tidbits for those that don’t want to sift through too long:

• 90% of channels are larger than about 42 subscribers
• 40% of channels are smaller than about 285 subscribers
• 50% of channels are smaller than about 500 subscribers
• About 88% of channels are smaller than 10,000 subscribers
• 99% of channels are smaller than 333,000 subscribers
• 99.999%, or about one 100,000th of channels are smaller than about 15,000,000 subscribers.

«

This is from back in September or so, but probably hasn’t changed significantly. YouTube, you’ll recall, is denying ads for channels with fewer than 10,000 views – which is probably 10,000/25 = 400 subscribers. That suddenly looks like a lot of channels.
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Google accused of ‘extreme’ gender pay discrimination by US labor department • The Guardian

Sam Levin went along to this hearing:

»

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.

As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, testified in court in San Francisco on Friday.

Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

Herold added: “The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

«

Google strongly denies the accusations. Shouldn’t be hard to sort out by releasing pay data, right? The DoL filed suit in January asking Google to do so; the reason being that Google is a contractor for the government, and so has to abide by equal pay laws.

Google has refused to hand over the data. But surely open always wins?
link to this extract


End of road for trucking startup Palleter • Medium

Märt Kelder was chief executive of the aforementioned Palleter:

»

European trucking market is broken — fragmented and inefficient. There are 
2 000 000 trucks and 600 000 trucking companies in Europe. The average company size is three trucks while 80% of the companies have less than 10 trucks. All this fragmentation leads to huge inefficiencies — 25% of the trucks on the road are empty while the rest are loaded to only 59%.
We started Palleter in November 2015 believing the fragmented trucking market presents a huge opportunity and that with clever technology Palleter could increase the efficiency of trucking.

The above is a nice narrative. It’s a story investors buy easily. It’s a story we ourselves bought easily. In fact it was so good we managed to convince ourselves to work 1.5 years with no salary in order to make our dream — a truly efficient trucking marketplace — a reality. A platform where cargo is matched in real time with nearby trucks moving the same way as the freight.

Unfortunately, as you’ll soon see, the reality proved to be a little different than the narrative.

«

Reality: trucks have less available space; they’re not willing to pick up other loads. Wonder if there are lessons to be learnt for those proposing self-driving trucks. Sounds like it might be easier to disrupt humans with robots in this case. (Via Charles Knight via Chris Anderson.)
link to this extract


Samsung tips best quarterly profit in over three years as chips soar • Reuters

Se Young Lee on Samsung’s preliminary forecast of its first-quarter results:

»

The global memory chip leader said first-quarter operating profit was likely 9.9trn won ($8.8bn), compared with an average forecast of 9.4trn won from a Thomson Reuters survey of 18 analysts. Revenue rose 0.4% to 50trn won, just ahead of analysts’ forecasts.

“The semiconductor business was likely the main driver for earnings,” said Heungkuk Securities analyst Lee Min-hee, adding that sales of mid-to-low tier smartphones also helped the mobile business remain profitable.

Samsung shares touched a record high of 2.134m won in late March on expectations of record annual profit in 2017, as the South Korean tech giant bounced back from the embarrassing withdrawal of its Note 7 devices due to combustible batteries.

Investors and analysts expect Samsung to report its best-ever quarterly profit in April-June, with the Galaxy S8 smartphone hitting the market on April 21 in Samsung’s first premium device launch since the Note 7’s withdrawal in October.

Some researchers forecast the S8, which sports the largest screens for Samsung high-end smartphones to date, to set a new first-year sales record.

«

LG forecast good results too, but analysts expect its mobile phone side to have lost money for the eighth quarter in a row.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: see commentary on Spotify above.

Start Up: the fake iCloud threat, Spotify to IPO (sorta), YouTube cuts the 20%, Yoga Book dead?, and more


You know this dance. In comedy lingo, it’s a Gorilla. Let us explain why. Photo by cyclephotos on Flickr.

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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Here’s where the Apple accounts hackers are threatening to wipe came from • Troy Hunt

Hunt, who has the fabulously useful “Have I Been Pwned” database, analysed a “sample” from the self-styled Turkish Crime Family hackers, who were threatening* to wipe 300 million iCloud accounts. The sample was 69,355 email addresses, of which about 40,000 clearly came from a breach of the Evony game site – down to both the email and password:

»

I could load the MySpace breach and the LinkedIn breach and keep cracking hashes and filling in gaps, but the source of the data was now abundantly clear. Let’s apply Occams Razor to this and I’ll draw the most obvious conclusion possible from the whole thing:

The list of Apple accounts is not hundreds of millions, it is instead less than 53k and it’s compromised predominantly of accounts from the Evony data breach and a small handful of others.

Now, that’s not to say there’s no risk at hand here, but rather that the risk is no different to the one we’re faced after every data breach: a bunch of people have reused their passwords and they’re now going to have other accounts pwned as a result. But that’s a very different story to the headlines of “hundreds of millions of Apple accounts will be reset and iPhones wiped”. It’s nowhere near as bad 53k either because a significant chunk of those people won’t have reused their passwords. Of those that have, many my no longer even be valid for Apple services and indeed Zack found that when he reached out to people listed in the sample data. But here’s something even more significant – Apple has the sample set I’ve been analysing which puts them well and truly one step in front of TCF.

«

Kudos to Zack Whittaker, who was the journalist who got the “sample” and shared it with Hunt. (My comment two weeks ago: “It sounds like a bluff. They might have access to a few hundred thousand iCloud accounts…”) A person was arrested on March 29.
link to this extract


Transcript: Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi and John Ternus on the state of Apple’s pro Macs • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino and Romain Dillet have typed up the sorta presentation Apple did. I found this chunk telling:

»

Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch): You probably did market research, you mentioned you went out to pros and talked to them. What applications did you find were the most lacking? Obviously with a single heavy-load GPU, people were saying: ‘I wish I had a GPU with 16GB of RAM and a bunch of CPU cycles on it that I could just load up fully with this task.’ And you’re thinking: ‘This machine will never be suited to that, because of the thermal properties.’ Who were those people talking to you who told you ‘this is what we want?’

John Ternus: I think some of the science and technology of those types of applications certainly.

Craig Federighi: There’s certain scientific loads that are very GPU intensive and they want to throw the largest GPU at it that they can. There are heavy 3D graphics or graphics and compute that mix loads. Those can be in VR, those can be in certain kinds of high-end cinema production tasks where most of the software out there that’s been written to target those doesn’t know how to balance itself well across multiple GPUs but can scale across a single large GPU.

Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch): We had like 30 years of CPU-forward thinking and in the last few years, GPU computation has become much more central.

John Ternus: And it’s certainly growing at a faster rate than CPUs as well.

«

Those “scientific loads” would be AR, VR and particularly machine learning. Apple has lagged there because it made the wrong call in 2013 – well, a couple of years earlier, as it’s a process – with the Mac Pro design.

Plenty more to digest in the piece.
link to this extract


A conservative and two liberals swapped news feeds. It didn’t end well • Bridge Magazine

Ron French:

»

In Ann Arbor, Knuth and Leija stuck with the news swap for five days before giving in to temptation and checking the New York Times for updates on the Affordable Care Act repeal bill being debated in the House of Representatives.

Trying to keep up with the world by only reading the Drudge Report was “a nightmare,” Leija said. Drudge aggregates news stories from multiple sources on the Internet and places them in a list with the same, small headline size.

“I found it hard over the course of the week to know what the important stories were,” Leija said. “I felt under-informed because all that tiny text creates a sense of not being able to tell what is important. It was depressing in a strange way.”

“You have really important stories all mixed up with really unimportant stories on the same list,” Knuth added. “I just didn’t understand how that could ever be a helpful tool for understanding what’s happening in the world.”

Knuth listened to The Patriot hours each day. “I was shocked,” Knuth said. “I had never listened to a radio station like that before. I was shocked to see that it was actually just a series of programs of Rush Limbaugh-type guys. It was wall-to-wall programming of these cranky personalities, who were engaged mainly in complaining.”

«

The Trump supporter didn’t even manage to last that long. Michigan seems like an odd place.
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YouTube will no longer allow creators to make money until they reach 10,000 views • The Verge

Ben Popper:

»

Five years ago, YouTube opened their partner program to everyone. This was a really big deal: it meant anyone could sign up for the service, start uploading videos, and immediately begin making money. This model helped YouTube grow into the web’s biggest video platform, but it has also led to some problems. People were creating accounts that uploaded content owned by other people, sometimes big record labels or movie studios, sometimes other popular YouTube creators.

In an effort to combat these bad actors, YouTube has announced a change to its partner program today. From now on, creators won’t be able to turn on monetization until they hit 10,000 lifetime views on their channel. YouTube believes that this threshold will give them a chance to gather enough information on a channel to know if it’s legit. And it won’t be so high as to discourage new independent creators from signing up for the service.

«

As is standard for The Verge reporting, it doesn’t bother to ask anyone independent why Google might be doing this. A couple of thoughts: it’s trying to stop clever abuse by spammers creating lots of channels; it’s trying to fight off the row over brands appearing next to hate/racism/etc videos. You probably wouldn’t have to try hard to find an analyst who could give an opinion (open Twitter, for a start). The Verge never, ever, does. Maybe its ambition is no higher than to be a sort of Reuters newswire of technology. But Reuters seeks opinions too.

As a result, you have to rely on the comments to give you the best analysis.

Also: 10,000 seems a pretty small number (a determined spammer could probably hit it in a couple of days). What percentage of channels have more than 10,000 views? Google’s blogpost doesn’t say; The Verge doesn’t ask. Seems like an important statistic.

Fortunately, someone on the blogpost has had a stab at the maths: he reckons it’s the smallest 20%, and that 10,000 views would earn you about $10.40. (So Google gets about $4.20 on a 30-70 split.)

Unknown: how many views, and so how much money, the other 80% get. That link just above might be a pointer.
link to this extract


Samsung’s Android replacement is a hacker’s dream • Motherboard

Kim Zetter:

»

a researcher in Israel has uncovered 40 unknown vulnerabilities, or zero-days, that would allow someone to remotely hack millions of newer Samsung smart TVs, smart watches, and mobile phones already on the market, as well as ones slated for future release, without needing physical access to them. The security holes are in an open-source operating system called Tizen that Samsung has been rolling out in its devices over the last few years.

Samsung has long sought to reduce its reliance on Google and Android to run its Galaxy smartphones and tablets and other devices. It already has Tizen running on some 30m smart TVs, as well as Samsung Gear smartwatches and in some Samsung phones in a limited number of countries like Russia, India and Bangladesh—the company plans to have 10m Tizen phones in the market this year. Samsung also announced earlier this year that Tizen would be the operating system on its new line of smart washing machines and refrigerators too.

But the operating system is riddled with serious security vulnerabilities that make it easy for a hacker to take control of Tizen-powered devices, according to Israeli researcher Amihai Neiderman.

“It may be the worst code I’ve ever seen,” he told Motherboard in advance of a talk about his research that he is scheduled to deliver at Kaspersky Lab’s Security Analyst Summit on the island of St. Maarten on Monday. “Everything you can do wrong there, they do it. You can see that nobody with any understanding of security looked at this code or wrote it. It’s like taking an undergraduate and letting him program your software.”

«

Including high-level flaws on Samsung’s app store. It’s pretty awful. (Thanks Oliver Thomas for the link.)
link to this extract


Spotify finally readies an IPO…that’s not an IPO • WSJ

Maureen Farrell and Telis Demos:

»

Music-streaming service Spotify AB is readying an initial public offering that is expected by year-end. The rub is this: It may not really be an IPO.

Spotify is seriously considering a direct listing, in which the company would simply register its shares on a public exchange and let them trade freely, according to people familiar with the matter. The company wouldn’t raise any new money or use underwriters to place new blocks of stock.

That would mark a departure from the typical IPO, in which new investors buy shares from the company or its early investors, or both, the night before they start trading. The initial price is set by underwriters following extensive meetings with potential new investors.

In a direct listing, investors purchase shares in the open market after they are listed. The price is set organically based on supply and demand. Spotify, which has raised more than $1bn in equity, was last valued privately at $8.5bn in June 2015. The Swedish company is targeting a public valuation of more than $10bn, the people said. The 10-year-old company may list its shares on a U.S. exchange as early as September.

«

You’re wondering why. Here’s why:

»

the company could avoid the first-day trading pop that characterizes many IPOs shepherded by underwriters. They are good for some investors but also indicate a company left money on the table.

«

Spotify needs all the money it can get, rather than letting underwriters grab it; and all the babble in the article about “increased volatility” is utterly irrelevant, because once the share is sold by Spotify it has the money. What the share price does after that is someone else’s problem. (OK, partly Spotify’s when it wants to sell more shares in the future. But mostly the new share owner’s.)

Going public like this also gets it out from under the $1bn debt burden it took on last year.
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xg – eyes gaze warping 2

Very unsettling. Machine-generated eye movements as you move your cursor; click to change the character – including a $100 bill. Works on mobile. The eye gaze is generated by DeepWarp, which has all sorts of examples. You can imagine this being used very eagerly in films.
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How to talk comedy writer • misterandyriley.com

Andy Riley offers a tour of the phrases that comedy writers use about their work. This is a good way to spend your Friday (and will make watching even moderate comedy shows more entertaining: “oh, there’s the fish business”)”:

»

Fish Business – a quick set up, so the story hits the ground running. Invented by Laurel & Hardy. They begin Towed in the Hole, 1932, with the line ‘For the first time in our lives we’re a success – nice little fish business, and making money.’ Hollywood seized on this and throughout the 30’s and 40’s producers would throw first drafts across their desks at writers snarling ‘needs better fish business.’ [via Julian Dutton]

Eating The Sandwich – an expression used by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, inspired by a memorably bad scene they read in a script once: a character drugged a sandwich with some sleeping pills and while on the way to deliver it, forgot, took an absent-minded bite, and passed out. Any time a character seems to be directly causing their own problems in a rather contrived way, they’re ‘eating the sandwich.’ More external pressure is needed to make them do something funny.

Gorilla – a plot point or joke which the audience will remember after the show is finished. Any given show would benefit from one of these. Derived (it’s thought) from a theatre piece where a gorilla appeared at a very pleasing point, so everyone went home talking about the gorilla. For writers, it’s worth bearing in mind that some of the greatest gorillas in British sitcom – Brent’s dance, Fawlty thrashing the car, Del falling through the bar and Granddad dropping the wrong chandelier – are primarily visual experiences, not dialogue-based. [via the Dawson Bros, Gareth Edwards and Stephen McCrum]

«

And many, many more. (Thinks: you could do a show full of comedy writers shouting these things at one another.. 🤔)
link to this extract


Drop it like it’s bot: Brands have cooled on chatbots • Digiday

Shareen Pathak, after Facebook said that it had found only 30% of bot requests could be handled without human intervention, and so it would “refocus” its use of AI:

»

It’s not surprising that bots are experiencing a backlash. Like branded emoji keyboards before them, there was a gold rush toward the new tech. Taco Bell’s TacoBot let you order from your Slack messenger, Domino’s DOM helped users order from Facebook. At whole Foods, you could chat with the Messenger bot to get a recipe, while HP’s print bot printed things for you, via Facebook Messenger. Brands went to them because they were easy to build from a basic perspective. But while Facebook Messenger seems to be stalling, brands and agencies are starting to get cautious about bots and other doodads on other platforms too.

One sticking point is that bots are opt-in experiences. And for customers to opt into something that requires a new behavior plus a lot of information about them, they want the payoff to be pretty great. Users expect personalized, human-like assistance from bots — and that’s where they fail, at least for now. 

And for sensitive situations that need a human input, bots don’t work.

“I would call it overpromising,” said CP+B executive creative tech director Joe Corr. “Brands that created bots with a structured request or utility like Domino’s or in retail were easy. But bots that tried to break out of the utility and be chatbots became the problem.”

Back in August, VC attention to the space seemed to have exploded. According to data provided by CBInsights, just in July, seven bot-focused startups raised first funding rounds. And CBInsights also made a running list of — as far as they knew — 51 corporate chatbots in travel, retail and insurance. People built them because it sounded cool to add “bot” to everything, said Scheideler. “Made us feel futuristic.”

«

It made you feel futuristic? I felt the hype over bots was a classic herd mentality example: Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook fell over themselves trying to be the most bot-y without properly considering the use case. (There’s definitely a study to be done on herd mentality in big tech companies.)
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The untimely demise of the Chrome OS Lenovo Yoga Book: ‘Pbody’ is dead • Chrome Unboxed

Gabriel Brangers:

»

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to see any real reason from a development standpoint why ‘Pbody’ was abandoned. From a marketing position, however, the demise of the Chrome OS Yoga Book might be a little easier to understand. The Windows and Android versions of the Yoga Book were met with very critical reviews and as a result its popularity has waned in the wake of other devices offering a more practical computing experience.

Not to mention the Chrome OS version was to house a Skylake chip making it more high-end than its counterparts. Possibly, Lenovo decided the profitability just isn’t there, yet. I think Engadget hit the nail on the head here. [Its review said “Still, none of these writing features make up for the terrible typing experience. Although it scores points for novelty, the Yoga Book is too unreliable to be a true productivity machine.”]

The Yoga Book is a novelty and until the gimmick acquires the functionality it needs maybe we’re better off waiting for the Yoga Book Chromebook. Even I will admit, typing on a haptic feedback keyboard during my daily tasks sounds horrid. Still, I really want this device to become a reality.

«

Lenovo hasn’t announced this officially; it was deduced from comments in the Chromium Repository about “Pbody”, the company’s codename for the Yoga Book. It’s possible the Windows version will still go ahead – but I wouldn’t hold your breath. I didn’t find the Yoga Book convincing when I tried it last September.
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Google says its ultra-fast AI chips crush the competition • SiliconANGLE

Maria Deutscher:

»

Members of Google’s hardware team released a paper today that claims the system beats central processing units and graphics processing unit in its weight class on several key fronts. One of them is power consumption, which is a major economic factor for a company that operates as much hardware as the search giant does. Its engineers highlight that the Tensor Processing Unit, as the chip is called, can provide 30 to 80 times more horsepower per watt than a comparable Intel Corp. Haswell CPU or Nvidia Inc.’s Tesla K80 GPU.

Google’s TSU leads in overall speed as well. Internal tests have shown that the chip can consistently provide 15 to 30 times better performance than commercial alternatives when handling AI workloads. One of the models that Google used during the trials, which the paper refers to only as CNN1, ran 70 times faster.

The company’s engineers have managed to pack all this horsepower into a chip that is smaller than Nvidia’s K80. It’s housed on a board configured to fit into the hard drive slots on the likewise custom-made server racks that Google employs in its data centers. According to the search giant, more than 100 internal teams are using TSUs to power support Street View and the voice recognition features of other key services.

«

Perhaps one wouldn’t expect Google to release a paper saying its home-grown chip was an utter dog. When you read the actual paper, turns out the reason why this is so efficient is that it doesn’t have many of the optimisations for throughput; Google has optimised for response time. Think of a small high-pressure hose rather than a water main.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Ubuntu Unity dead, bots swamp Google Play reviews, LG’s G6 reviewed, Ms ‘Alexa Siri’, and more


Alton Towers: a place where regulations apply – with good reason. Photo by Myrialejean on Flickr.

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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ubuntu Unity is dead: Desktop will switch back to GNOME next year • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

Six years after making Unity the default user interface on Ubuntu desktops, Canonical is giving up on the project and will switch the default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME next year. Canonical is also ending development of Ubuntu software for phones and tablets, spelling doom for the goal of creating a converged experience with phones acting as desktops when docked with the right equipment.

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth explained the move in a blog post today. “I’m writing to let you know that we will end our investment in Unity8, the phone and convergence shell,” he wrote. “We will shift our default Ubuntu desktop back to GNOME for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS,” which will ship in April 2018.

This is a return to the early years of Ubuntu, when the desktop shipped with GNOME instead of a Canonical-developed user interface. Shuttleworth’s blog post didn’t specifically say that phone and tablet development is ending. But Canonical Community Manager Michael Hall confirmed to Ars that the Ubuntu phone and tablet project is over.

«

Ah yes, the Ubuntu Edge – the phone that would become a PC! The Kickstarter that fell shorter of a giant target than any other! I said at the time it was a quixotic idea:

»

Yes, you can put the notes into the cloud via Evernote or Dropbox – but in that case, why mess about with 128GB of storage? Why, in fact, not just sit down in front of a personal computer of whatever hue (Windows, Mac, Linux distro, Chromebook) and connect to your cloud services? What problem does having a dual-boot phone actually solve?

To my mind the category error that Shuttleworth and the Canonical team have fallen into here is to gaze upon the smartphone landscape, look upwards at the PC, and say “there’s a gap there”. There is. But it’s already filled.

«

Holds up OK; the case for the smartphone-PC still doesn’t work, despite Samsung’s latest efforts.
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Microsoft opens up more on data it’s collecting with Windows 10 • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

»

When choosing privacy settings for a device running Windows 10 Creators Update, existing Windows 10 users’ settings are going to be carried over as the default. Users will then have the option to turn on/off location data, speech data, advertising relevancy data, and more. For those setting up a new Windows 10 device for the first time or running a clean install of Windows 10, the data collection settings will all be set to off and diagnostics to the Basic level by default. Again, users can change this if they so desire.

Microsoft’s “recommended” settings, unsurprisingly, call for Windows 10 to collect location, speech, tips, and ad relevance to be turned on and diagnostics set to Full.

“We believe the recommended settings will provide you with the richest experience and enable important Windows 10 features to operate most effectively,” officials said again in today’s blog post.

«

I think people would be a lot less worked up about this if there weren’t adverts in Windows 10.

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Troubled Chinese giant LeEco said to delay paying US employees • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:

»

Chinese technology conglomerate LeEco Inc. delayed payroll for U.S. employees this month, people familiar with the matter said, another sign that billionaire Jia Yueting’s media and Internet empire is grappling with a cash squeeze.

LeEco’s U.S. employees are normally paid on the 15th and last day of every month, but the company has told employees that March 31 paychecks would be delayed until April 4, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing private matters. LeEco told employees in the U.S. the delay was due to issues with moving money from China, according to one of the people…

…A LeEco spokeswoman said payroll was met April 4.

«

The signs of stress are very clear.
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Google keeps radio silence as botnets flood Play Store with fake reviews • The Next Web

“Mix”:

»

As readers on Reddit previously speculated, the army of bots has most likely been tasked to rate well-established apps in an attempt to give more credibility to the ratings it leaves on apps from paying customers.

Google has traditionally managed to adequately moderate the Play Store for bogus ratings, which is why fake reviews tend to be rather expensive, selling for $1 a piece on average.

The Big G has so far refused to comment on the exact magnitude and cause of the sudden deluge of game-related spam reviews, but it seems the botnet has continued to gradually expand since our last report a week ago.

According to data sourced from intelligence firm AppAnnie, the inflow of suspicious positive reviews is increasing at a fast pace. More troubling, however, is that the botnet seems to be getting better at covering its tracks by diversifying the overwhelmingly positive reviews with slightly less positive ones.

«

Seems to be only on the Play Store, not the iOS App Store. Nor is it clear why they’re doing it, since there’s no obvious pattern in which apps it reviews.
link to this extract


12-letter domains. The ad fraud scheme • Sadbottrue

Reporting on something it has investigated: a giant ad click fraud scheme involving 12-letter-jumble domains which live for a few days, attract huge traffic, and then go dark:

»

Where and by whom was this traffic used?

This traffic was used not only by the owners of this botnet for their own digital assets but also put up for sale inside the closed digital community, as well as on open marketplace.

This is one of the largest suppliers of bot traffic, not only for other black webmasters but for large white publishers and agencies. The organizers of the botnet sold targeted referral traffic, which allows publishers to receive the most expensive advertising.

Which brands were affected?

If we are talking about hundreds of billions of advertising views, then the victims were exactly all those who spent more than $ 1000 on digital advertising in the last 8 months. We will analyze the individual cases in the following articles.

On the sites that received this traffic, all major advertising systems were installed, including Adsense/DoubleClick, its partners, all members of the open RTB ad exchange.

«

Very bold claims.
link to this extract


Freeing up the rich to exploit the poor – that’s what Trump and Brexit are about • The Guardian

George Monbiot:

»

If the government agrees to a “bonfire of red tape”, we would win bent bananas and newt-squashing prerogatives. On the other hand, we could lose our rights to fair employment, an enduring living world, clean air, clean water, public safety, consumer protection, functioning public services, and the other distinguishing features of civilisation. Tough choice, isn’t it?

As if to hammer the point home, the Sunday Telegraph interviewed Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, in an article claiming that the “red tape burden” was too heavy for listed companies. He described some of the public protections that companies have to observe as “bloody baggage”. The article failed to connect these remarks to his company’s own bloody baggage, caused by its unilateral decision to cut red tape. As a result of overriding the safety mechanism on one of its rides at Alton Towers – which was operating, against the guidelines, during high winds – 16 people were injured, including two young women who had their legs amputated. That’s why we need public protections of the kind the Telegraph wants to destroy.

«

Remember this when someone’s telling you that regulations are awful and must be wiped away. They aren’t created for no reason. There are reasons demanding their existence; sometimes peoples’ limbs, sometimes their limbs, sometimes just their health.
link to this extract


Driverless ed-tech: the history of the future of automation in education • Hack Education

Audrey Waters:

»

We can see the “driverless university” already under development perhaps at the Math Emporium at Virginia Tech, which The Washington Post once described as “the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning.”

Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000. Students walk to class through a shopping mall, past a health club and a tanning salon, as ambient Muzak plays.

The pass rates are up. That’s good traffic data, I suppose, if you’re obsessed with moving bodies more efficiently along the university’s pre-determined “map.” Get the students through pre-calc and other math requirements without having to pay for tenured faculty or, hell, even adjunct faculty. “In the Emporium, the computer is teacher,” The Washington Post tells us.
“Students click their way through courses that unfold in a series of modules.” Of course, students who “click their way through courses” seem unlikely to develop a love for math or a deep understanding of math. They’re unlikely to become math majors. They’re unlikely to become math graduate students. They’re unlikely to become math professors. (And perhaps you think this is a good thing if you believe there are too many mathematicians or if you believe that the study of mathematics has nothing to offer a society that seems increasingly obsessed with using statistics to solve every single problem that it faces or if you think mathematical reasoning is inconsequential to twenty-first century life.)

Students hate the Math Emporium, by the way.

«

The whole talk deals with the way that libertarianism is woven into so much of Silicon Valley’s thinking.
link to this extract


Never mind the Russians, meet the bot king who helps Trump win Twitter • Buzzfeed

Joseph Bernstein:

»

Unconvincing internet investigations have suggested that MicroChip [who has been banned multiple times from Twitter, and controls some huge number of bots] could be anyone from the prominent alt-righter Baked Alaska, to Justin McConney, the director of social media for the Trump Organization, to a shadowy Russian puppet master.

But in an interview with BuzzFeed News — his first with a media organization — MicroChip said the truth, both about his identity and the method he developed for spreading pro-Trump messages on Twitter, is far more prosaic. Though he would not divulge his real name or corroborate his claim, MicroChip said he is a freelance mobile software developer in his early thirties and lives in Utah. In a conversation over the gaming chat platform Discord, MicroChip, who speaks unaccented, idiomatic American English, said he guards his identity so closely for two reasons: first, because he fears losing contract work due to his beliefs, and second, because of what he calls an “uninformed” discourse in the media and Washington around Russian influence and botting.

“I feel like I’m a scientist showing electricity to natives that have been convinced electricity is created by Satan, so they murder the scientist,” he said.

Indeed, in a national atmosphere charged by unproven accusations about a massive network of Russian social media influence, the story of how MicroChip helped build the most notorious pro-Trump Twitter network seems almost mundane, less a technologically daunting intelligence operation than a clever patchworking of tools nearly any computer-literate person could manage. It also suggests that some of the current Russian Trumpbot hysteria may be, well, a hysteria.

“It’s all us, not Russians,” MicroChip said. “And we’re not going to stop.”

MicroChip claims he was a longtime “staunch liberal” who turned to Twitter in the aftermath of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and “found out that I didn’t like what was going on. So I redpilled myself.” Through Twitter, he found a network of other people who thought liberal politicians had blindly acceded to PC culture, and who had found a champion in Donald Trump. In his early days on the platform, MicroChip said, he started “testing,” dabbling in anti-PC tags like #Rapefugees and seeing what went viral. His experience as a mobile developer had exposed him to the Twitter API, and a conversation with a blogger who ran social media bots convinced him he could automate the Twitter trending process.

«

Basically, if the latter paragraph is true, he’s a credulous idiot who is good at gaming weakly protected social networks which have wide influence. Or it might be he’s just good at gaming weakly protected social networks, and that the “staunch liberal” stuff is hooey. Bernstein didn’t find any way to confirm anything about him.
link to this extract


LG G6 review: LG’s “personal best” still can’t compare to Samsung • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

The biggest problem with the LG G6 is the price. In the US, you’ll be paying anywhere from $650-$700 (depending on the carrier) for a 32GB phone with a Snapdragon 821. There are no higher storage tiers. Compare this to the OnePlus 3T, which for just $440 will give you 2 more GB of RAM (6GB total), 32GB more storage (64GB total), a bigger battery, a metal body, and better software. If you buy the LG G6, it’s because you’re in love with the design and the taller screen. But Samsung is offering what looks like a better version of the same thing with the Galaxy S8.

The Galaxy S8 and LG G6 both hit all the same pros and cons. They’re high-end phones in the $700 range with new, slim bezel designs and glass backs. They have old, skinned Android builds and will be poorly supported with slow updates. They’re both heavily sold through carriers and can be easily gotten on a payment plan. So if that’s what you’re looking for, why not just go with Samsung, which is offering a better version of the same phone? The Galaxy S8 has a faster, newer processor, a 64GB baseline of storage, the usual dump truck full of Samsung extras (free VR goggles! An iris scanner! A desktop dock!), and probably a better camera for just a bit more money ($720-$750).

I was hoping for some kind of discount, thanks to the older SoC and paltry 32GB of storage. But with the G6 still hovering around the price of the Galaxy S8, I just don’t see any room for it in the market.

«

32GB of storage, but you can add more with a microSD card. Worth reading for Amadeo’s fury at “LG Smart World”, LG’s app store which seems to be hosted on a Pentium PC in a basement in South Korea.

In brief: this isn’t going to save LG. Another year of losses beckon while Sony and Samsung eke and reap, respectively, the profits.
link to this extract


Woman who shares name with ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ says life is ‘waking nightmare’ • The Huffington Post

David Moye:

»

You think you’ve got it rough? Try having the same names as two most popular virtual assistants.

That’s the dilemma facing a 21-year-old college student in New Jersey, whose name is Alexa Seary. Alexa just happens to be the name of the human-like bot on the Amazon Echo device, while Siri is the one on Apple iPhones and computers.

Seary, who lives in Ventnor City, describes her life as a “waking nightmare” to South West News Service (SWNS).

“In the beginning when Siri came out, I got it all the time,” she said. “If I introduced myself with my last name people would always tie it to that.”

Seary says when Apple first introduced Siri in 2011, friends and colleagues at the restaurant she works part-time kept addressing her by her last name as if she were a machine.

It got worse in 2015 when Amazon released its Echo device which has a Siri-type helper named “Alexa.”

«

Amazingly, this is not an early or late April Fool’s. (Wouldn’t have linked to it if it were.) What’s even better is that Ms Seary looks like Hayley from Modern Family; the writers must be heartbroken to have missed a story thread that could have used this. Though who knows, perhaps they will.
link to this extract


It’s 30 years ago: IBM’s final battle with reality • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

»

If you’re not familiar with the significance of OS/2 and PS/2 and don’t want to read thousands of words, here’s a capsule summary. The setter of standards for the past three decades, IBM had responded to the microprocessor revolution by allowing its PC to be easily “cloneable” and run a toy third-party operating system. It didn’t matter too much to senior IBM management at first: PCs weren’t really computers, so few people would buy them. Business computing would be done on real multiuser systems. That was the norm at the time. But the runaway sales of the PC clones worried IBM and in 1984, just three years after the launch of the IBM PC, Big Blue plotted how to regain control. The result was a nostalgic backward-looking vision that under-estimated that computing standards would increasingly be set by the open market, not by IBM.

«

Some nice links to the problems with IBM culture.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google’s search problem (and ad solution), where pianists look, Mac Pro lives!, and more


Hashing! Or hashtags! It’s much the same, isn’t it? Picture by AJC1 on Flickr.

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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Phony VPN services are cashing in on America’s war on privacy • Motherboard

Nicholas Deleon:

»

Don’t look now, but online scammers are already hard at work taking advantage of newly signed legislation that allows Internet Service Providers to sell your online privacy, including your web browser history, to the highest bidder without your consent.

I received an email yesterday from a purported Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider called MySafeVPN claiming to be affiliated with Plex, the streaming media startup that I’ve written about many times in the past. The email led with ominous marketing speak alluding to “recent changes to US privacy bills, UK privacy laws, and more,” asserting that Plex users concerned about their ISP gaining access to their download history should, you know, sign up for their VPN service. How convenient.

«

It wasn’t affiliated with Plex. And so it goes on. Scammers pick up quick on this stuff.
link to this extract


Google to allow ‘brand safety’ monitoring by outside firms – WSJ

Jack Marshall and Jack Nicas:

»

Google on Monday unveiled measures meant to help marketers track where advertisements appear across YouTube, in the wake of controversy over the company’s placement of ads alongside videos with objectionable content.

The tech giant, a unit of Alphabet Inc., GOOGL -0.49% told marketers and advertisers that it plans to allow third-party measurement companies to monitor where ads appear on YouTube, and to report back to marketers on the “brand safety” of its videos.

Google already offers similar functionality allowing marketers to track whether their ads were “viewable” or not—meaning whether they actually appeared on users’ screens.

According to executives at ad agencies, Google also has promised to offer video-level reporting across YouTube by the third quarter of this year.

«

link to this extract


Acer suffers net loss per share of NT$1.62 in 4Q16 due to intangible asset impairment • Digitimes

»

Acer has released its financial report for the fourth quarter of 2016, posting net loss per share of NT$1.62 (US$0.051) for 2016 due to recognition of NT$6.36 billion (US$197 million) in impairment of intangible assets in the fourth quarter in accordance with IAS (International Accounting Standard) 36.

Of the intangible asset impairment, NT$6.21 billion was attributable to iGware, a cloud computing company acquired by Acer in 2012, and NT$150 million to brand value of Gateway’s and Packard Bell’s trademarks, Acer said. Following Acer’s in-house development of cloud computing products and services, iGware had been incapable of generating revenues and thus its intangible asset value had to be written off, Acer explained.

«

Clouds are hard. Also: Acer is on the skids. Its PC margins are tiny, the numbers sold have been falling, and so has their average price.
link to this extract


mastodon.social • Mastodon

»

Mastodon is a free, open-source social network. A decentralized alternative to commercial platforms, it avoids the risks of a single company monopolizing your communication. Pick a server that you trust — whichever you choose, you can interact with everyone else. Anyone can run their own Mastodon instance and participate in the social network seamlessly.

«

What do we think, three months for this latest “Twitter”? It’s already overwhelmed by demand.
link to this extract


Baselworld 2017: even Switzerland is obsessed with smartwatches now • WIRED

David Pierce:

»

The Swiss watch market exists within a blissful parallel universe. In this magical place, people celebrate the contemplative beauty of a perpetual calendar complication, and happily pay five or six figures for mechanical timepieces that don’t actually keep time accurately. This universe arose during the Renaissance, and changes slowly. The heritage, the history, the—ahem—timelessness of it all remains precisely the point.

That universe is unraveling. The watch industry is in a precipitous decline, one that started when people realized their smartphone does a pretty good job telling the time. Last year, Apple bragged about being the second-biggest watchmaker on the planet. Swiss watch exports, meanwhile, fell 16.1% in the first half of 2016, the fastest decline ever.  The industry faces intense competition from companies like Apple, Samsung, LG, and Huawei that don’t know much about complications but know everything about making the connected devices people love.

«

Though a lot of Switzerland’s problems are to do with crackdowns on sales to China.
link to this extract


iPhone App will not stay open – just flashes when trying to launch – Install / Device Setup • Garadget Community

Garadget is a Bluetooth-enabled garage door unlocker. And here’s a customer on the support forums with a complaint:

»

rdmart73d: Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iphone app, powered phone off/on – wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here…

garadget3d [the operator]:
Martin: The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. I’m happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I’m not going to tolerate any tantrums.

At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036… will be denied server connection.

«

Hey, now that’s what I call customer service.. of a sort. It made the front of YCombinator’s Hacker News. Though as Mr Garadget pointed out, Elon Musk once did the same. (Hint: don’t.)
link to this extract


Pianist eye tracking • FlowingData

»

What does a pianist look at while playing? Put a pair of eye tracking glasses on a professional while he plays. Then compare to a student.

«

The most interesting part is when they each have to sight-read a piece that they haven’t seen before.
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Spotify’s new deal with Universal Music Group means some albums will go behind a paywall • Recode

Peter Kafka:

»

Some of the most popular music in the world is going behind a paywall on the world’s most popular streaming service.

After months of negotiating, Spotify has signed a licensing deal with Universal Music Group. The big idea: Spotify has agreed to let Universal artists restrict new albums to Spotify’s 50 million paying subscribers for two weeks, while letting free users listen to singles.

In return, Spotify may get a break on the fees Universal charges for its music, depending on certain subscriber metrics. And that will give Spotify a big boost as it prepares to go public in 2018.

«

Lower fees for music is a huge win for Spotify – and if people are encouraged to sign up to get access, that helps it even more. Advertising users are a lossmaker on streaming music services.
link to this extract


The Mac Pro lives • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»

Let’s not beat around the bush. I have great news to share:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

I also have not-so-great news:

These next-gen Mac Pros and pro displays “will not ship this year”. (I hope that means “next year”, but all Apple said was “not this year”.) In the meantime, Apple is today releasing meager speed-bump updates to the existing Mac Pros. The $2999 model goes from 4 Xeon CPU cores to 6, and from dual AMD G300 GPUs to dual G500 GPUs. The $3999 model goes from 6 CPU cores to 8, and from dual D500 GPUs to dual D800 GPUs. Nothing else is changing, including the ports. No USB-C, no Thunderbolt 3 (and so no support for the LG UltraFine 5K display).

But more good news, too:

Apple has “great” new iMacs in the pipeline, slated for release “this year”, including configurations specifically targeted at large segments of the pro market.

«

The Mac Pro lives, in the sense that it isn’t dead. Ben Thompson’s theory about the lack of updates was correct: Apple designed itself, as Craig Federighi says in this interview, “into a thermal corner” – it couldn’t add the GPUs that were needed as demand got greater.

What’s not mentioned is that the previous “cheesegrater” Mac Pro design did the modularity job just fine; it was one of the most modular designs Apple ever made, which is also why pros are hanging on to it and squeezing every last drop out of its performance.

It’s naive to say that Apple should have just reverted to the cheesegrater design when it realised that the cylinder was snookered, but to take three years to even acknowledge the problem makes it look as though it prizes bad new decisions over good old ones, and appearance over functionality. And that’s bad design – because design, remember, is how it works.
link to this extract


Social Media: Counter-terrorism: necessary hashtags? • UK Parliament

Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, on the peculiar comment by Home Secretary Amber Rudd on censoring content that we need “people who know the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up” :

»

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to her public statement of 26 March 2017, what her Department’s definition of “necessary hashtags” is.

Answered by: Sarah Newton Answered on: 03 April 2017

The Home Secretary was referring to image hashing, the process of detecting the recurrence of an image or video online.

Hashing has proved effective in the removal of images of child sexual exploitation and has been used by a number of organisations including the Internet Watch Foundation and INTERPOL.
In December 2016 at the EU IT Forum, Facebook announced the development of a cross-industry shared hashing database to improve the detection and removal of terrorist content online. The implementation of this database will help to clear large caches of known terrorist content from a range of online platforms.

The Home Secretary is continuing to challenge Communications Service Providers to improve the automation of detection and subsequent removal of new terrorist content online with the formation of a new industry led forum which will, amongst other things, lead on technical innovations.

«

Ah, well. That’s actually closer to making sense. Remarkable how a little misquoted jargon can make one seem like an idiot rather than well-informed.
link to this extract


A deep look at Google’s biggest-ever search quality crisis • Search Engine Land

Danny Sullivan:

»

The problem of fake news or dubious content appearing in Google’s “Top Stories” section is largely down to Google itself. It deliberately chose to allow publications beyond vetted news sites into this area back in October 2014. That’s why those fake election results appeared there. Changing the name of the section to “Top Stories” last December didn’t change the underlying problem.

Shifting back to only allowing vetted sites won’t solve the issue of Breitbart content showing up. Breitbart is a vetted site that was admitted into Google News. The only way to keep that content out would be to ban the site from Google News entirely. Some might agree with that; others might find there’s a strong argument that a publication that’s one of the few to get a one-on-one interview with President Donald Trump deserves to be retained as a news source.

Search will never be perfect. In the end, it’s good that Google is going through this search quality crisis. This new pressure is forcing it to attend to issues that can no longer be allowed to fester.

It’s not clear, however, if Google will be able to solve its biggest issue overall: the drip-drip-drip of criticism for problems that no search engine can ever fully eliminate, given how broad search is.

Google handles 5.5 billion searches per day. Per day. Billions of searches, with around 15% being entirely new, never asked before. Google tries to answer these questions by producing results from billions of pages from across the web. It’s an impossible task to get perfectly right every time.

Pick any search, and you can come up with something that will return objectionable or questionable results. This isn’t a new issue, as some of Google’s past search quality crises demonstrate. But possibly it’s growing, either as more questionable content flows onto the web or as more people are hyperaware of checking to see if such content surfaces in search results.

«

The reason Google supplanted the first generation of web search engines is that it produced better results. The rivals were overwhelmed by spam and junk. If Google just gives us spam and junk and outright lies, then it’s no better than what we had before – except it’s dominant, where they weren’t.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Apple slices Imagination, marijuana cuts opioid use, Tesla’s convenient truth, and more


Thinking like a psychiatrist could help you win political arguments. Photo by Max Sparber on Flickr.

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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Guided by the beauty of our weapons • Slate Star Codex

Scott Alexander, who is a psychiatrist, talks about Tim Harford’s article from the other week about the difficulty of persuading people through facts:

»

as I’ve argued before, excessive focus on things like vaccine denialists teaches the wrong habits. It’s a desire to take a degenerate case, the rare situation where one side is obviously right and the other bizarrely wrong, and make it into the flagship example for modeling all human disagreement. Imagine a theory of jurisprudence designed only to smack down sovereign citizens, or a government pro-innovation policy based entirely on warning inventors against perpetual motion machines.

And in this wider context, part of me wonders if the focus on transmission is part of the problem. Everyone from statisticians to Brexiteers knows that they are right. The only remaining problem is how to convince others. Go on Facebook and you will find a million people with a million different opinions, each confident in her own judgment, each zealously devoted to informing everyone else.

Imagine a classroom where everyone believes they’re the teacher and everyone else is students. They all fight each other for space at the blackboard, give lectures that nobody listens to, assign homework that nobody does. When everyone gets abysmal test scores, one of the teachers has an idea: I need a more engaging curriculum. Sure. That’ll help.

«

This is a stunning essay; and it’s a great guide to how to really persuade people who hold very different views from you, politically. (Of course, as he says, this could work both ways.)
link to this extract


Apple To Develop Own GPU, Drop Imagination’s GPUs From SoCs

Ryan Smith:

»

Apple’s trajectory on the GPU side very closely follows their trajectory on the CPU side. In the case of Apple’s CPUs, they first used more-or-less stock ARM CPU cores, started tweaking the layout with the A-series SoCs, began developing their own CPU core with Swift (A6), and then dropped the hammer with Cyclone (A7). On the GPU side the path is much the same; after tweaking Imagination’s designs, Apple is now to the Swift portion of the program, developing their own GPU.

What this could amount to for Apple and their products could be immense, or it could be little more than a footnote in the history of Apple’s SoC designs. Will Apple develop a conventional GPU design? Will they try for something more radical? Will they build bigger discrete GPUs for their Mac products? On all of this, only time will tell.

However, and these are words I may end up eating in 2018/2019, I would be very surprised if an Apple-developed GPU has the same market-shattering impact that their Cyclone CPU did. In the GPU space some designs are stronger than others, but there is A) no “common” GPU design like there was with ARM Cortex CPUs, and B) there isn’t an immediate and obvious problem with current GPUs that needs to be solved. What spurred the development of Cyclone and other Apple high-performance CPUs was that no one was making what Apple really wanted: an Intel Core-like CPU design for SoCs. Apple needed something bigger and more powerful than anyone else could offer, and they wanted to go in a direction that ARM was not by pursuing deep out-of-order execution and a wide issue width.

On the GPU side, however, GPUs are far more scalable. If Apple needs a more powerful GPU, Imagination’s IP can scale from a single cluster up to 16, and the forthcoming Furian can go even higher. And to be clear, unlike CPUs, adding more cores/clusters does help across the board, which is why NVIDIA is able to put the Pascal architecture in everything from a 250-watt card to an SoC. So whatever is driving Apple’s decision, it’s not just about raw performance.

What is still left on the table is efficiency – both area and power – and cost. Apple may be going this route because they believe they can develop a more efficient GPU internally than they can following Imagination’s GPU architectures, which would be interesting to see as, to date, Imagination’s Rogue designs have done very well inside of Apple’s SoCs.

«

There isn’t an immediate and obvious problem with current GPUs? Except that they’re not powerful enough for the next set of problems such as augmented reality and virtual reality.
link to this extract


October 2016: Apple poaching GPU designer Imagination Technologies’ talent • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:

»

Among the departees now confirmed to be working at Apple from LinkedIn postings, notable high-level staff members are the ex-chief operating officer of Imagination Technologies John Metcalfe, Senior Design Manager Dave Roberts, Vice President of Hardware Engineering Johnathan Redshaw, and 17-year veteran of the company and Senior Software Engineering Manager Benjamin Bowman.

Metcalfe is now a senior director at Apple. Roberts is an engineering manager at Apple’s iOS GPU software group, and Bowman is a GPU architect for the company. Redshaw is listed as a director at Apple, with no specific branch of the company declared.

Imagination Technologies has licensed high-performance GPU designs, known as PowerVR graphics series, for use in Apple’s A-series system on a chip (SoC) dating back to the original iPhone in 2007. The hires may herald an internal project to develop an Apple-designed GPU for use in future iOS projects, rather than rely on third parties for the technology.

Apple issued a statement in March admitting it had “some discussions” with Imagination involving an Apple buyout, but that it did not “plan to make an offer for the company at this time.” Apple owns a 10% stake in the company.

«

Now you can see why Imagination might be a bit grumpy about the idea that Apple has developed this GPU tech without any reference to Imagination’s intellectual property.
link to this extract


Apple patent filing hints at the return of the MagSafe connector • Apple World Today

Dennis Sellers:

»

With the 2016 MacBook Pro line, Apple ditched the beloved MagSafe connector, which disengaged with the slightest amount of pressure. This saved many Mac laptops from a disastrous plummet when someone accidentally snagged the power cable. However, a recent patent filing (number 20170093104) for a “magnetic adapter” hints that it could return.

The patent is for adapters that may have a MagSafe connector receptacle and a Universal Serial Bus Type-C connector insert. This may allow MagSafe chargers to be used to charge devices having Universal Serial Bus Type-C connector receptacles. This also may provide the breakaway characteristic of a MagSafe connector system for a device that does not include a MagSafe connector receptacle. Other adapters may have other types of magnetic connector receptacles and connector inserts.

«

Makes sense, given how many Magsafe connectors there are out there.
link to this extract


Legalized marijuana could help curb the opioid epidemic, study finds • NBC News

»

In states that legalized medical marijuana, US hospitals failed to see a predicted influx of pot smokers, but in an unexpected twist, they treated far fewer opioid users, a new study shows.

Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23% in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13% on average.

At the same time, fears that legalization of medical marijuana would lead to an uptick in cannabis-related hospitalizations proved unfounded, according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Instead, medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers,” said study author Yuyan Shi, a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.

“This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary,” she said in an email…

…Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top cop, reiterated his concerns about marijuana and heroin, an illegal opioid.

“I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana,” he told law enforcement officers in Virginia, “so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another.”

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Jeff Sessions, showing what belief disconnected from the scientific method looks like.

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Can elections be… bot? • Medium

Jonathan Albright:

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This exploratory network analysis is meant to:
• Find the most active suspected automated and “semi-automated” accounts across “pro-Trump” political hashtags the last week of the election; and
• Get a sense of how these political “bot-like” accounts engage, as well as visualize how they might be connected to certain topics.

This data represents the bulk of tweets for the less active “Pro-Trump” hashtags such as #wakeupamerica and#projectveritas, and a fair amount of tweets for the more popular hashtags such as #Trump and #draintheswamp. Sample size was not a limiting factor here, because the worst offenders tweet so often that they are likely be found in almost any sample during the last week of the election. No account in this analysis had less than 192,000 tweets at the time of data collection (12 Dec 2016), and the highest volume account had close to 2.5 million tweets…

…The themes suggest that the accounts seem to be somewhat focused content-wise on attacking Hillary, promoting Trump, pushing for military involvement in Syria, and getting out the vote. Last but not least, here are the top co-occuring “secondary” hashtags found in the Group 1 and Group 2 data.

One downside to focusing on hashtags is that while these “pro-Trump” (and “anti-Hillary”) hashtags were part of the election-related conversation, Twitter is a small part of the overall news sphere. At the same time, these accounts are sustaining a level of activity and influence that is well beyond the capability of any single person.

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Fascinating though this is, it does feel a little like fighting the last war. The election isn’t going to be reversed.

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How Uber uses psychological tricks to push its drivers’ buttons • The New York Times

Noam Scheiber:

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As he tried to log off at 7:13 a.m. on New Year’s Day last year, Josh Streeter, then an Uber driver in the Tampa, Fla., area, received a message on the company’s driver app with the headline “Make it to $330.” The text then explained: “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?” Below were two prompts: “Go offline” and “Keep driving.” The latter was already highlighted.

“I’ve got screen shots with dozens of these messages,” said Mr. Streeter, who began driving full time for Lyft and then Uber in 2014 but quit last year to invest in real estate.

Mr. Streeter was not alone. For months, when drivers tried to log out, the app would frequently tell them they were only a certain amount away from making a seemingly arbitrary sum for the day, or from matching their earnings from that point one week earlier.

The messages were intended to exploit another relatively widespread behavioral tic — people’s preoccupation with goals — to nudge them into driving longer.

Over the past 20 years, behavioral economists have found evidence for a phenomenon known as income targeting, in which workers who can decide how long to work each day, like cabdrivers, do so with a goal in mind — say, $100 — much the way marathon runners try to get their time below four hours or three hours.

While there is debate among economists as to how widespread the practice is and how strictly cabdrivers follow such targets, top officials at Uber and Lyft have certainly concluded that many of their drivers set income goals. “Others are motivated by an income target for sure,” said Brian Hsu, the Lyft vice president in charge of supply. “You hear stories about people who want to buy that next thing.” He added, “We’ve started to allow drivers to set up those goals as well in the app.”

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Great investigation into the gamification of the gig economy. Don’t miss the interactive graphics either.
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Google says its YouTube ad problem is ‘very very very small’ but it’s getting better at fixing it anyway • Recode

Peter Kafka interviews Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, about the YouTube/etc “hate ads” problem:

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Q: But it’s enough of a problem that we’re talking about it now.

PS: It should always be smaller. It’s our responsibility to make it smaller. Let’s not take away from that. But remember, we’ve had that problem, at scale, for a long time. The whole industry [has], even traditional. The problem comes from the fact that somebody is aggressively putting it onto the front page.

Q: Do you think someone is actively campaigning against Google and YouTube?

PS: That’s not how I would say it. There’s a lot of spotlight on the problem at the moment. And advertisers just don’t like something like this to be dragged out into the public. And they’re unhappy with that, and I can fully understand that they’re unhappy with that.

They’re unhappy with two things. Let’s be honest:

Number one, that the mistake even happens. That’s what we have to get better at. Again, as before, we cannot promise a perfect system. [But] whenever it happens, it’s bad, and it shouldn’t happen. The second piece is, apart from the mistake happening, that there’s so much focus being put on it publicly. They obviously don’t appreciate that.

Q: What’s changed between now and a year ago? Is there more hate speech on YouTube, or are more people talking about it?

PS: The first thing that changed is that more public attention has been put on what is, percentage-wise, a pretty small problem. Again, not to minimize it. The second thing that has changed is that the problem has become a bit more multifaceted. It’s relatively easy to [block] clear “hate” — clear, specific words, that are very clearly triggering something. A lot of things historically have been very black or white. And things are becoming more gray-ish. A lot more shades of gray.

Take the N word. If you would just block [videos] when people refer to the black community with N word, you would take out a pretty significant percentage of all rap videos. You would probably take out a lot of pro-black activist groups. But obviously you want to take it out when somebody says “we hate all N words.”

The problem is now, the machines have to start understanding context in a much different way.

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“It’s difficult” isn’t quite enough when brands are seeing their reputations being hurt; and this is far from a novel problem.

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The customer is always wrong: Tesla lets out self-driving car data – when it suits • The Guardian

Sam Thielman:

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Tesla regularly communicates detailed information about crashes involving its cars with the media whenever a driver points a finger at its automation software following an accident.

“Autopilot has been shown to save lives and reduce accident rates, and we believe it is important that the public have a factual understanding of our technology,” said a company spokesperson in an email.

The Guardian could not find a single case in which Tesla had sought the permission of a customer who had been involved in an accident before sharing detailed information from the customer’s car with the press when its self-driving software was called into question. Tesla declined to provide any such examples and disputed the description of its automation software, called Autopilot, as “self-driving”.

Data that shows up in the press often comes from the onboard computers of the cars themselves and can tell the public – and law enforcement officials – whether a customer’s hands were on the wheel, when a door was opened, which of its self-driving processes were active at the moment and whether or not they had malfunctioned.

In only one case – the May death of Canton, Ohio, Tesla driver Joshua Brown – has the company publicly admitted that its software made a mistake. In that case, the Autopilot software did not “see” the white side of a tractor-trailer as it moved in front of the car against the white sky. The driver was reportedly watching one of the Harry Potter movies at that moment and did not see the vehicle, either.

Tesla takes issue with the characterization of Autopilot’s performance in the crash as a failure and told the Guardian that it only distributes detailed information from the site of auto accidents to the press when it believes someone quoted in the media is being unfair.

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..unfair to Tesla, that is. This is a terrifically clever piece of journalism: it’s not based on an event, or an announcement. It’s based on observation which reveals something deeper about how we’re being manipulated by these companies.
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July 2016: Vidal-Hall appeal withdrawn; Section 13(2) DPA still dead • Panopticon

Christopher Knight in July 2016:

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There have been rumours, but Panopticon can confirm that the appeal to the Supreme Court in Google v Vidal-Hall on the disapplication of section 13(2) of the Data Protection Act 1998 has been withdrawn following an agreement being reached between the parties. This is obviously a disappointment to those wanting to see what the Supremes would make of the Court of Appeal’s very important judgment permitting damages claims for distress without the need to show pecuniary loss (and indeed to those interested in the use of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to disapply primary legislation). What it does mean is that the Court of Appeal decision stands (as discussed here).

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So this needs unpacking, as they say. “Google v. Vidal-Hall” was a test case brought by an Apple user whose Safari browser cookies had been hacked by Google to track her for advertising. (Yes, it was back in 2010.) The High Court upheld it, and in effect introduced a new tort (legalese for “harm”) of invading one’s data privacy. The Appeal Court upheld it.

Now it seems Google gave up in its appeal to the Supreme Court, which means that this precedent stands. Did Google pay damages to the plaintiffs? If so, how much?

The other point made by Knight is that this should open companies up to lawsuits for torts around data privacy. Anyone in the UK who has ever been phoned by a company which got your details by shady means now has a precedent to lean on in the small claims court.
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Google has tweaked its auction to no longer favour its own bids over competition • The Drum

Sean Larkin:

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the online giant’s director of product management Jonathan Bellack confirmed the overhaul to the trade publication. “We are collecting the price each exchange would pay, including AdX, and then putting it in a unified auction where the highest price wins,” Bellack said.

Previously, the DoubleClick AdExchange would wait for other exchanges to submit their bids before making its own, a dynamic that left it always in a position to outbid its rivals. By having the “last look”, Google’s exchange could simply bid $5.01 when the highest bid for a particular user from another exchange was $5. However, under the new auction news it would not be able to use that advantage to secure the bid.

The move could be the start of a change in the way Google works with adtech partners. Exchanges and publishers have listed Google’s ‘last look’ as one of their chief concerns, with Trinity Mirror’s head of programmatic Amir Malik treating header bidding as a way for his business to resist Google dominating ad inventory.

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If you’re thinking “header bidding?” (I was) then this piece by Lara O’Reilly explains it. (O’Reilly has now left Business Insider; very interested to see where she next surfaces.)

Also, the idea that Google could put its thumb on the scales for this sort of bidding implies it has been driving out rivals for years. Why is it stopping now? Apparently because Facebook is offering header bidding, and exchanges like that, so fewer would bid for slots Google has to offer.

Seems like another sign that adtech is approaching some sort of minor implosion.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified