Start Up: Microsoft’s Laptop surfaces, Facebook’s ad power, un-appy Watch, and more

Rice modified by the CRISPR process. It’s going to change our lives. Photo by Penn State News 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.

Meet CRISPR: our genetic superweapon •

Daniel Starkey:


That’s where CRISPR comes in. My earlier analogy of a genetic scalpel isn’t too far off. This system (and it is sort of a system) works mind-bogglingly well. It is laser-precise and can be made self-correcting, so if it does tinker with DNA too much, it’ll go back and fix its mistakes. Together we’re talking about one of the most incredible tools in human history. And that’s no exaggeration. Many in the field have said we’ve left the Information Age for the Genetic Age, others have claimed that it could be the single most important discovery of the 21st century.

CRISPR can be modified to attack or protect or fix anything in the DNA. And yeah, I’m getting repetitive here, but it’s only because you really need to grasp how big this is. I’m betting you don’t CRISPR is our cure for cancer (as in scientists are literally doing that right now in China), it can wipe out the flu or AIDS or anything. We could engineer it to wipe out at all mosquitoes or create hyper-intelligent babies. We can even modify genetic code in living plants and animals. It is entirely possible (though by no means guaranteed) that we could fix our telomeres and make the human race practically immortal. We, as in you and I, could very well live forever. And again, if it sounds like I’m exaggerating… I’m really not.

These treatments will need a lot of testing to make sure they are safe, but the technology is here today. It’s all a matter of refinement from here. It’s like we’ve just discovered the concept of genetic surgery or metallurgy. Once the idea is there, your options are practically limitless.

For now, we’re still in the stages of playing with our new tool. We won’t be curing aging just yet, but the first few projects are, again, cancer cures and one that keeps mosquitos from transmitting malaria.


CRISPR (pron “crisp-er”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat. It is going to change what we think of disease and inheritance. Expect to hear stories – perhaps strange stories – coming out of China in the next couple of years,.
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I’m an ex-Facebook exec: don’t believe what they tell you about ads • The Guardian

Antonio Garcia-Martinez:


Facebook deploys a political advertising sales team, specialized by political party, and charged with convincing deep-pocketed politicians that they do have the kind of influence needed to alter the outcome of elections.

I was at Facebook in 2012, during the previous presidential race. The fact that Facebook could easily throw the election by selectively showing a Get Out the Vote reminder in certain counties of a swing state, for example, was a running joke.

Converting Facebook data into money is harder than it sounds, mostly because the vast bulk of your user data is worthless. Turns out your blotto-drunk party pics and flirty co-worker messages have no commercial value whatsoever.

But occasionally, if used very cleverly, with lots of machine-learning iteration and systematic trial-and-error, the canny marketer can find just the right admixture of age, geography, time of day, and music or film tastes that demarcate a demographic winner of an audience. The “clickthrough rate”, to use the advertiser’s parlance, doesn’t lie…

…The hard reality is that Facebook will never try to limit such use of their data unless the public uproar reaches such a crescendo as to be un-mutable. Which is what happened with Trump and the “fake news” accusation: even the implacable Zuck had to give in and introduce some anti-fake news technology. But they’ll slip that trap as soon as they can. And why shouldn’t they? At least in the case of ads, the data and the clickthrough rates are on their side.


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Major apps abandoning Apple Watch, including Google Maps, Amazon & eBay • Apple Insider

Neil Hughes:


In the last few weeks, the latest update for Google Maps on iOS ditched support for the Apple Watch. Its removal was not mentioned in the release notes, and Google has not indicated whether support for watchOS will be reinstated.

It’s the same story with Amazon and eBay, both of which previously included Apple Watch support in their iOS apps. Both were updated in late April, and as of Monday, neither includes an Apple Watch app.

While shopping on Amazon from your wrist may seem somewhat superfluous, the eBay app for Apple Watch did allow users to track bid statuses. And obviously the utility of glanceable directions from Google Maps —a service many believe is better than Apple Maps —on the watch is apparent.

There are other, scattered examples of Apple Watch apps being removed from iOS updates, including retailer Target (which does still offer watchOS integration with its Cartwheel app).

The fact that these high-profile removals have gone largely unnoticed could be a sign that the apps simply were not widely used. In contrast, removing iPad support from an iOS app, for example, would likely be noticed immediately and generate headlines.


Google later said it will restore support. But one can see that smartwatch “apps” generally don’t make sense if they aren’t about fitness, maps or messaging, and aren’t accessible via Siri.
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Leaked photos: Fitbit’s new headphones and troubled smartwatch • Yahoo Finance

JP Mangalindan:


Yahoo Finance has obtained photos of Fitbit’s (FIT) first “proper” smartwatch and first-ever pair of Bluetooth headphones due out this fall.

As Yahoo Finance previously reported in April, the San Francisco-based fitness tracker company is gearing up to release both devices later this year after a series of production snafus delayed the smartwatch project.

“It was originally planned for this spring to likely get ahead of whenever Apple plans their normal fall announcement,” a source familiar with the matter told Yahoo Finance. “Fitbit always likes to try and get in front of it.”

As you can see in the photo [in the article], the watch resembles a somewhat more evolved version of a product in the company’s current product line, the Blaze.

“It was very retro-looking with the lines and stuff — definitely not sexy,” another source previously told Yahoo Finance of the upcoming smartwatch. “Several employees who saw the design complained about it.”

The smartwatch, codenamed “Higgs” internally, will sport a color display with 1,000 nits of brightness similar to the Apple Watch Series 2, a built-in GPS chip, heart-rate monitoring, the ability to make touchless payments, the ability to store and play music from Pandora (P), and four days of battery life between charges, according to the two sources familiar with the matter.

All those features will come housed in an aluminum unibody design, which will let users swap watch bands when it eventually hits shelves this fall for around $300.


So it’s got a smartwatch that’s being described as “troubled” and some Bluetooth headphones. It doesn’t feel like this story is going well. Meanwhile, Fitbit announces its Q1 results later on Wednesday.
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Acer unveils new 2-in-1 devices • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:


Acer has announced two new 2-in-1 devices under its Switch series, the Switch 5 and 3, both using Windows 10. Both 2-in-1 devices feature Acer’s Active Pen, allowing users to input in a stylus method via the Windows Ink function.

Acer Switch 5 is equipped with Acer’s LiquidLoop fanless cooling system, supporting up to an Intel Core i7 processor. The device also features a 12-inch FHD+ IPS touch panel and supports up to a 2,160 by 1,440 resolution.

Acer’s Switch 3 is equipped with a 12.2-inch display, an Intel Pentium or Celeron processor and also a fanless cooling design. The Switch 3 is mainly targeting price-oriented customers such as students.

Both Acer Switch 5 and Switch 3 come with a detachable keyboard and dual-cameras. Enterprise users can also choose to upgrade their Switch 5 to feature USB Type-C interface.


They look OK. But – Pentium or Celeron processors? Isn’t that somewhat low-powered?
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Introducing Surface Laptop, powered by Windows 10 S • Microsoft Devices Blog

Panos Panay:


Surface Laptop is made for and powered by Windows 10 S. The hardware and software are blended so flawlessly you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. And for a limited time, Surface Laptop comes with an offer for one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal and 1TB of free storage on OneDrive****, giving you full access to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

All your documents will be protected, secure, and stable. You won’t have to worry about losing a paper again because everything will automatically save to the cloud, and Windows 10 S means your Surface is always up to date providing superior performance and streamlined security.

Every app in the Windows Store is verified for security by Microsoft so you get an experience you can trust. And we’re adding new apps every day. Spotify will come to the store early this summer with new experiences that will light up on Surface including using the Surface Dial***** to run your Spotify playlist.

If you need to use an app that isn’t in the Windows Store, in just a few clicks can go to the Windows Store and switch to Windows 10 Pro. But you shouldn’t. This device, this OS, they’re made for each other, and together they offer so much. It’s everything you love about Windows, Office, and Surface, made pure and elegant in an unbelievably thin and light package.

Availability: Surface Laptop starts at $999 USD and will be available beginning on June 15th.


Windows 10 S is an interesting idea: essentially, limited to what Microsoft allows in its app store. (So no Google Chrome.) I don’t think Apple would ever allow the phrase “But you shouldn’t” in any marketing or other literature.
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Apple can’t ignore Microsoft’s slick, new laptop • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Dina Bass:


Microsoft has already cracked the professional and creative markets with inventive tablets and a desktop that turns into a virtual drafting table. Now it’s chasing another category many believe is Apple’s to lose: the $1,000 laptop for everyone. 

Microsoft, a company once derided for buggy software, unstable hardware and indifferent design, debuted the Surface Laptop on Tuesday. The machine boots up in seconds, has a touch screen and gets a claimed 14 hours of battery life (two better than Apple’s MacBook Air). Weighing in at 2.76 pounds, about a quarter-pound less than the Air, the Surface Laptop boasts a 13.5in screen and is one of the thinnest and lightest products in its class.

Microsoft is targeting the education market—and even threw laptops inside backpacks stuffed with textbooks, notepads and keys to simulate college-kid wear-and-tear. Yet the Surface Laptop’s affordable price, portability and features could appeal to a far broader audience—including Mac loyalists.


Where is the evidence exactly that Microsoft has “cracked” the professional and creative markets? And what’s the basis for the assertion that the Surface Laptop could appeal to Mac loyalists? The story was written ahead of the launch (one or both writers got a tour for background colour, in the article) so there’s no way in the world they could know this.

The fact of the low sales in the just-gone quarter is skimmed over (perhaps 1m Surfaces sold). Meanwhile Apple sells millions of Macs and iPads, quarter after quarter.

The real focus should have been on education – where Microsoft is trying to hold off the advance of Chromebooks with Windows 10 S. An informative piece on that might have helped understand Microsoft’s broader strategy. Instead we get techno-porn about speakers in keyboards and anechoic chambers.
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Super Free Music Player in Google Play is malware: a technical analysis • Naked Security


SophosLabs has identified the following characteristics of Super Free Music Player:

• The dropper downloaded from Google Play is named com.superfreemusic.songapp. 
• The payload is decrypted and planted on Android devices by the dropper.

First, the dropper starts a service called com.hole.content.Erpbiobuft to decrypt and drop the payload. It will continues running this service every hour.

It decrypts and drops the payload. It then continues running this service every hour. The dropper then uses dynamic code and reflection to load the payload method (com.fb.content.core.enter).

To avoid detection from Google Play, the payload will verify if a device is an emulator by checking several properties such as the emulator phone number (15555215554, 15555215556…) and specific strings such as (/system/lib/, /sys/qemu_trace …). Moreover, it is able to check if a popular Android research sandbox, TaintDroid, is used. Also, another time bomb is used to avoid detection.


It’s that last point which is the eye-opener: if Google Play’s detection systems all work on emulation, then this is a problem.
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Sandy Hook father Lenny Pozner on death threats: ‘I never imagined I’d have to fight for my child’s legacy’ • The Guardian

Hadley Freeman:


[Noah] Pozner himself used to be into conspiracy theories. When he lived in Connecticut, he often had to commute to New York and would listen to rightwing radio hosts such as Alex Jones and Michael Savage on the long drives. “I’m self-employed, an entrepreneur. I was always looking for more information so I could get an edge on the next guy, to get a better idea of the geopolitical perspective,” Pozner says. Once he got used to Jones’s “raspy voice” he liked him especially: “Alex Jones appears to think out of the box. He’s entertaining.”

Arguably, more than anyone, Jones is responsible for spreading the theory that the Sandy Hook massacre was fake. His radio shows and website,, have an audience of more than eight million, and they specialise in the kind of conspiracies that had intrigued Pozner: was 9/11 an inside job? Was the US government involved in the Oklahoma City bombing?

On 27 January 2013, Jones told his audience: “In the last month and a half, I have not come out and said this was clearly a staged event. Unfortunately, evidence is beginning to come out that points more and more in that direction.”

“I wasn’t very verbal at that point, but I managed to send Alex Jones an email,” says Pozner. He wrote: “Haven’t we had our share of pain and suffering? I used to enjoy listening to your shows. Now I feel that your type of show created these hateful people and they need to be reeled in!”

He got a reply from Jones’s assistant, who said: “Alex has no doubt this was a real tragedy.” But Jones’ thinking seemed to change. In 2015, he told his audience: “Sandy Hook is synthetic, completely fake, with actors; in my view, manufactured. I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew they had actors there, clearly, but I thought they killed some real kids, and it just shows how bold they are, that they clearly used actors.”


Pozner’s child was the youngest killed at Sandy Hook. Donald Trump went on Jones’s show in 2015 and complimented him: “I just want to finish by saying your reputation’s amazing”.

(I did once guest on Jones’s show, via Skype, to talk about my book Digital Wars; I had no idea who he was, and it was set up by his assistants. I gradually realised the show was bonkers because of the adverts. Then I began enjoying winding him up by not playing along with – and trying to contradict – the conspiracy ideas he threw out.)
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The ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Netflix hack was a terrible idea • WIRED

Brian Barrett:


Consider that in 2011, BitTorrent accounted for 23% of daily internet traffic in North America, according to network-equipment company Sandvine. By last year, that number sat at under 5%. “There’s always going to be the floor of people that are always going to be torrenting,” says Sandvine spokesperson Dan Deeth. That group will surely enjoy whatever Piper’s up to in season five. But the idea that so small a cohort might prompt Netflix to negotiate with hackers seems absurd…

…Yes, Game of Thrones provides what seems like an obvious counterpoint; hundreds of thousands of people torrent it every year, suggesting a healthy appetite for the practice. But it proves less instructive on closer examination.

“Even though you can get HBO Now in the US, in Canada and most of the world you would still need a premium television subscription,” Deeth says. Game of Thrones‘ torrenting popularity stems in part from the fact torrenting is the only way to watch it in many parts of the world. Netflix, on the other hand, is available in 200 countries. That speaks to another reason why plopping Orange Is the New Black online early didn’t pay off: The joy of binge-worthy TV hinges on knowing that other people also binge. A water cooler that only the Pirate Bay gathers around defeats the purpose.

“It’s not an experience,” says Rayburn. “People want to watch it with friends.”


Confirming what I wrote yesterday. If the hacker was inside HBO’s system, that would be quite different. (And I bet HBO is on red klaxons checking that possibility right now.)

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Twitter announces more live video deals • WSJ

Jack Marshall:


The social network unveiled partnerships with companies such as BuzzFeed, Vox Media, MLB Advanced Media and Live Nation to produce or provide live-streaming content for the platform.

BuzzFeed will create a news and current events show to be broadcast live on Twitter each morning, for example, while Vox Media will create a weekly live show dedicated to gadgets called Circuit Breaker, Twitter executives said.

In the sports arena, WNBA will live-stream 20 regular-season games via the platform, and MLBAM will produce a new 3-hour weekly MLB program featuring game “look-ins” and highlights.

The announcements come as Twitter attempts to reposition itself as a venue for professionally-produced live video content and tap into advertising budgets typically reserved for TV.


I can’t put it better than Ben Thompson did in his daily Stratechery newsletter ($):


Twitter is (again, presumably) paying for content about business and financial markets even as the most valuable business and financial market information is being posted for free on Twitter. That the company cannot build a business on that fact is certainly a disappointment.


Sometimes Twitter reminds me of the Escher engraving of the twin sets of monks on the staircases. It keeps going around endlessly, but nothing really changes. (Side note: Escher only produced his picture in 1960. I had thought it was much, much older.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Facebook’s new problems, who works in the ‘gig economy’?, airport Wi-Fi passwords, and more

Pollution from ships in some gases hugely outnumbers that from cars. Photo by MBarendse 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Social media firms must face heavy fines over extremist content – MPs • The Guardian

Owen Bowcott:


The largest and richest technology firms are “shamefully far” from taking action to tackle illegal and dangerous content, according to a report by the Commons home affairs committee.

The inquiry, launched last year following the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right gunman, concludes that social media multinationals are more concerned with commercial risks than public protection. Swift action is taken to remove content found to infringe copyright rules, the MPs note, but a “laissez-faire” approach is adopted when it involves hateful or illegal content.

Referring to Google’s failure to prevent paid advertising from reputable companies appearing next to YouTube videos posted by extremists, the committee’s report said: “One of the world’s largest companies has profited from hatred and has allowed itself to be a platform from which extremists have generated revenue.”

In Germany, the report points out, the justice ministry has proposed imposing financial penalties of up to €50m on social media companies that are slow to remove illegal content.

“Social media companies currently face almost no penalties for failing to remove illegal content,” the MPs conclude. “We recommend that the government consult on a system of escalating sanctions, to include meaningful fines for social media companies which fail to remove illegal content within a strict timeframe.”


It’s quite possible that a British government of either colour will have the will to go after Google and Facebook over this after the election.
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Report: Facebook helped advertisers target teens who feel “worthless” [Updated] • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:


Facebook’s ability to predict and possibly exploit users’ personal data probably isn’t news to anybody who has followed the company over the past decade, but this leak may be the first tacit admission by any Facebook organization that younger users’ data is sorted and exploited in a unique way. This news follows stories about Facebook analyzing and even outright manipulating users’ emotional states, along with reports and complaints about the platform guessing users’ “ethnic affinity,” disclosing too much personal data, and possibly permitting illegal discrimination in housing and financial ads.

Update, 5/1 12:12 p.m.: Facebook has issued a statement disputing The Australian’s report. “The premise of the article is misleading,” the company wrote in its authorless statement. “Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state. The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated.”

Just like the company said in its original apology, it repeated this vague explanation: “Facebook has an established process to review the research we perform. This research did not follow that process, and we are reviewing the details to correct the oversight.” However, the statement didn’t acknowledge why Facebook did not make any distinction clear to The Australian. As of press time, The Australian has not updated its report, nor has it printed or disclosed full pages of the quoted to either confirm or dispute Facebook’s response.


Clearly need to hear a bit more for this to be clear.
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Technology-enabled gig workers and labor • Pew Research Center


Participation in technology-enabled gig work varies by a number of factors, with age being among the most prominent. Some 16% of 18- to 29-year-olds have earned money from online gig work platforms in the last year – roughly five times the share among those ages 50 and older (3%). The median age of U.S. adults who are gig platform earners is just 32 years old. When it comes to the specific types of work that they do, young adults are especially likely to gravitate towards online task work. Fully 12% of 18- to 29-year-olds have earned money doing online tasks, but that share falls to 4% for Americans ages 30 to 49 and just 1% among those 50 and older.

Along with these differences by age, platform work is also more prevalent among blacks and Latinos than among whites. Some 14% of blacks and 11% of Latinos have earned money in the last year from online gig work platforms, but just 5% of whites have done so.


Around 8% of American adults have done some sort of gig work. You can interpret the above paragraphs two ways: gig work is producing new opportunities for work; or it’s simply providing a new method to exploit people who didn’t have rights before and don’t get them now.
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Light at the end of the funnel: green finance for dirty ships • The Economist


Shipping may seem like a clean form of transport. Carrying more than 90% of the world’s trade, ocean-going vessels produce just 3% of its greenhouse-gas emissions. But the industry is dirtier than that makes it sound. By burning heavy fuel oil, just 15 of the biggest ships emit more of the noxious oxides of nitrogen and sulphur than all the world’s cars put together. So it is no surprise that shipowners are being forced to clean up their act. But in an industry awash in overcapacity and debt, few have access to the finance they need to improve their vessels…

…A new report from the Carbon War Room (CWR), an international NGO, and UMAS, a consultancy, highlights the threat that new environmental regulations pose to the industry. The International Maritime Organisation, the UN’s regulatory agency for shipping, has agreed to cap emissions of sulphur from 2020. Last month the European Parliament voted to include shipping in the EU’s emissions-trading scheme from 2021. Without any retrofitting of ships to meet the new rules, many firms may be forced out of business. That also imperils banks across the world, which have lent $400bn secured on smoke-spewing ships.

Tens of billions of dollars are needed to pay for upgrades to meet the new rules, according to James Mitchell at CWR. But the industry can hardly pay even its existing debts.


That statistic about the 15 dirtiest ships is stunning. But shouldn’t the argument about debt be answered with a simple “raise the price you charge customers”?
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A map of wireless passwords from airports and lounges around the world • foXnoMad

Anil Polat:


Finding an open wireless connection in many airports isn’t always easy, or possible, without a password (or local phone number which is stupid). The difficulty of getting online is why I asked you for and created an always-up-to-date list of airport wireless passwords around the world. You’ve been sending me your tips regularly and I post on the foXnoMad Facebook page when there’s a new password or airport added.

Recently, reader Zach made a great suggestion that will make it easier for you to search, add, and keep up with this airport wireless password list.

Below is a regularly updated map of all the airport wireless and lounge passwords you send and I come across on my travels. I’ll still be updating the original how to get wireless passwords from airports page with this information as well but now you can search around on the map directly.


Now also available as an app for iOS or Android.
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The death of the smartphone is further away than you think. And there is no ‘Next Big Thing’ • ZDNet

Jack Schofield:


Earlier this month, Ben Wilson, an analyst who covers emerging technologies for Pacific Crest, wrote a private research note called “There Is No ‘Next Smartphone'”. He described the smartphone revolution as “a singular event in compute platform history that is unlikely to repeat.” The huge shift that we have seen over the past decade simply isn’t going to happen again.

I asked Wilson about a potential shift to smartwatches or some other wearable. He replied: “It would certainly be folly to propose that compute interfaces won’t evolve, and wearables of various flavors seem almost certain to increase their share of future usage patterns. But I do think we’re unlikely to see another wholesale platform shift like that of PC-to-smartphone in any reasonable timeframe. What’s more likely is a move to several fragmented platforms that lever artificial intelligence to demand user attention only when necessary, letting us interact with compute in a more passive fashion.”


I agree: the smartphone is, as Schofield says, the endpoint of the computer revolution that began with personal logins to mainframes, then went through personal computers, and now reached our pockets.
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How Trump could get fired • The New Yorker

Evan Osnos:


Only one Administration is known to have considered using the Twenty-fifth Amendment to remove a President. In 1987, at the age of seventy-six, Ronald Reagan was showing the strain of the Iran-Contra scandal. Aides observed that he was increasingly inattentive and inept. Howard H. Baker, Jr., a former senator who became Reagan’s chief of staff in February, 1987, found the White House in disarray. “He seemed to be despondent but not depressed,” Baker said later, of the President.

Baker assigned an aide named Jim Cannon to interview White House officials about the Administration’s dysfunction, and Cannon learned that Reagan was not reading even short documents. “They said he wouldn’t come over to work—all he wanted to do was watch movies and television at the residence,” Cannon recalled, in “Landslide,” a 1988 account of Reagan’s second term, by Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus. One night, Baker summoned a small group of aides to his home. One of them, Thomas Griscom, told me recently that Cannon, who died in 2011, “floats this idea that maybe we’d invoke the Constitution.” Baker was skeptical, but, the next day, he proposed a diagnostic process of sorts: they would observe the President’s behavior at lunch.

In the event, Reagan was funny and alert, and Baker considered the debate closed. “We finish the lunch and Senator Baker says, ‘You know, boys, I think we’ve all seen this President is fully capable of doing the job,’ ” Griscom said. They never raised the issue again. In 1993, four years after leaving office, Reagan received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s…

…As an example of “pathological inattention,” [Harvard law professor Laurence] Tribe noted that, on April 11th, days after North Korea launched a missile, Trump described an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, as part of an “armada” advancing on North Korea, even though the ship was sailing away from North Korea at the time. Moreover, Tribe said, Trump’s language borders on incapacity. Asked recently why he reversed a pledge to brand China a currency manipulator, Trump said, of President Xi Jinping, “No. 1, he’s not, since my time. You know, very specific formula. You would think it’s like generalities, it’s not. They have—they’ve actually—their currency’s gone up. So it’s a very, very specific formula.”


One gets the impression – in the other elements Osnos brings to bear – that there is an undercurrent of concern among politicians and Trump staff about quite what they’re dealing with.
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Facebook and Google were victims of $100m payment scam •

Jeff John Roberts:


In 2013, a 40-something Lithuanian named Evaldas Rimasauskas allegedly hatched an elaborate scheme to defraud U.S. tech companies. According to the Justice Department, he forged email addresses, invoices, and corporate stamps in order to impersonate a large Asian-based manufacturer with whom the tech firms regularly did business. The point was to trick companies into paying for computer supplies.

The scheme worked. Over a two-year span, the corporate imposter convinced accounting departments at the two tech companies to make transfers worth tens of millions of dollars. By the time the firms figured out what was going on, Rimasauskas had coaxed out over $100 million in payments, which he promptly stashed in bank accounts across Eastern Europe.

These allegations first appeared in a sealed indictment filed by federal prosecutors in New York last December. In a press release announcing the arrest of Rimasauskas three months letter, the feds hailed cooperation among international law enforcement, and said they had recovered much of the money.

Rimasauskas, however, denies the allegations. Currently facing extradition proceedings in Lithuania, he and his lawyer denounced the charges and the U.S.-led investigation.


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Apple halts license payments to Qualcomm in ‘all-out war’ • Bloomberg

Ian King:


Apple Inc. cut off billions of dollars in payments to Qualcomm Inc., turning a contract dispute into what one analyst called an “all-out war” that forced the chip supplier to slash forecasts given only days ago.

The world’s largest publicly-traded technology company and one of the main suppliers of components to the iPhone, its most important product, have traded accusations of lying, making threats and trying to create an illegal monopoly. The fight involves billions of dollars of technology licensing revenue that, if permanently cut off or reduced, would damage Qualcomm’s main source of profit and help bolster Apple’s margins.

Apple told Qualcomm it will stop paying licensing revenue to contract manufacturers of the iPhone, the mechanism by which it’s paid the chipmaker since the best-selling smartphone debuted in 2007, the San Diego, California-based company said in a statement. Qualcomm removed any assumption it will get those fees from its forecast for the current period. Apple doesn’t have a direct license with Qualcomm, unlike other phone makers…

…Patents controlled by Qualcomm cover the basics of all high-speed data capable mobile phone systems. It charges a percentage of the total selling price of the phone regardless of whether the device uses a Qualcomm chip or not.


Qualcomm has cut its forecast for the next quarter by about $500m – just under 10% of the previous expected revenue.

The arrangement whereby the size of the patent payment depends on the end price of a device doesn’t make sense to me. Functionality is functionality. I can see that it’s an advantage to Qualcomm, but this also goes against the principle set out in the US Supreme Court verdict – where Apple lost against Samsung – that a patent’s value has to be determined separately of the price of the product.
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Hacker leaks stolen ‘Orange Is the New Black’ season 5 episodes to piracy network • Variety

Todd Spangler:


According to “thedarkoverlord,” the hacker or hackers also have obtained unreleased shows from ABC, Fox, National Geographic and IFC. The content appears to have been stolen in an attack on post-production studio Larson Studios in late 2016, according to piracy-news site TorrentFreak. “Thedarkoverlord” explained in an online post that they obtained only the first 10 of the 13 episodes of “OITNB” season 5 because the cyberattack was carried out before the final three installments were available.

In a statement Friday, Netflix said: “We are aware of the situation. A production vendor used by several major TV studios had its security compromised and the appropriate law enforcement authorities are involved.”

It’s not clear what impact the theft and piracy of one of Netflix’s top shows will have. The hacker (or hacker collective) behind the heist has claimed to have made an extortion demand to the company, asking for an unspecified sum of money. However, the motive for purloining and leaking “OITNB” could be more about bragging rights in the cybercrime underworld.

In a message posted early Saturday, “thedarkoverlord” was arrogant and even scolding.

“It didn’t have to be this way, Netflix. You’re going to lose a lot more money in all of this than what our modest offer was,” the hacker wrote. “We’re quite ashamed to breathe the same air as you. We figured a pragmatic business such as yourselves would see and understand the benefits of cooperating with a reasonable and merciful entity like ourselves.”


Maths: Netflix has more than 100m subscribers. There’s plenty of content for them all to watch. How many of them are eager to watch nothing other than OITNB on a pirate network (which will involve all sorts of unknowns) rather than on Netflix? Very few, I’d guess.

How many non-Netflix users will watch this and think “maybe it’s worth subscribing to Netflix”? If that number is more than zero, then Netflix hasn’t lost out overall.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Fyre Festival screwup foretold, Chromebook v iPad, how many Surfaces sold?, and more

Greenland’s ice cap is melting – and there could be a positive feedback loop driving it. Photo by Stig Nygaard 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The man behind Fyre Festival comes with a list of expensive, unfulfilled promises • Buzzfeed

Salvador Hernandez:


Billy McFarland’s company promised two luxurious weekends of music in the Bahamas, lush accommodations, and delectable food. What they got was the fiasco people now know as the Fyre Festival, where they were instead given disaster relief tents and lunches served in styrofoam boxes.

“It’s a very, very tough day for all of us,” McFarland told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview Friday.

McFarland described what he said was an ambitious project that quickly grew to be bigger than what the 300-person staff could handle on the island of Exumas.

But the college dropout from New Jersey has a knack for promising lavish and luxurious services aimed at rich and elite clientele, often falling short on what was pledged.

Three years before the disastrous Fyre Festival, McFarland launched a credit card company and private club dubbed Magnises, taking cues from the exclusive American Express black card. But with wealthy young socialites years away from the spending power of the black AmEx, the Magnises card was aimed at a younger audience.

The card, launched in 2014, promised tickets for hard-to-get-in-to shows, clubs, and events with the social elite for a $250 annual fee, but members told Business Insider the company often delivered tickets late, for the wrong date, or not at all.


If you didn’t drink deep on Friday or over the weekend, this is all the schadenfreude you’ll need for the week ahead. More reading at Vulture and NYMag (“I worked at Fyre Festival. It was always going to be a disaster”).
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Uh oh, Chromebook… meet the new iPad • Swift Teacher

Brian Foutty has a number of interesting takes on what iPads can do that Chromebooks can’t; this though is a new one on me:


Students who did want to be active in the class would use the iPad cover and stand up the iPad so as to create a wall between me and them. After repeatedly observing this behavior with one particular student I had, I implemented a “screen down” policy where the iPad had to be lying flat on the desk or at most could be at an incline using the iPad cover. This subtle change made a huge difference in my classes. I no longer felt as though my students could hide behind their iPads and mentally “check out” from the lesson. The feeling I had about the screens was confirmed for me when I attended the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston in fall 2013. Dr. Ruben Puendetura was the Keynote speaker and part of his presentation that day covered this topic. What his research had found[^3], which can be found on Dr. Puendetura’s blog, with mobile devices (to include any laptops, iPad devices, and Chromebooks) was that when there is a screen that folds up to a 90-degree angle to a keyboard, it creates a barrier between the student and teacher that negatively impacts learning.


He also tackles the “Chromebooks are cheaper” differential.
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Greenland is melting • The New Yorker

Elizabeth Kolbert:


The ice sheet [that covers Greenland] is a holdover from the last ice age, when mile-high glaciers extended not just across Greenland but over vast stretches of the Northern Hemisphere. In most places—Canada, New England, the upper Midwest, Scandinavia—the ice melted away about ten thousand years ago. In Greenland it has—so far, at least—persisted. At the top of the sheet there’s airy snow, known as firn, that fell last year and the year before and the year before that. Buried beneath is snow that fell when Washington crossed the Delaware and, beneath that, snow from when Hannibal crossed the Alps. The deepest layers, which were laid down long before recorded history, are under enormous pressure, and the firn is compressed into ice. At the very bottom there’s snow that fell before the beginning of the last ice age, a hundred and fifteen thousand years ago.

The ice sheet is so big—at its center, it’s two miles high—that it creates its own weather. Its mass is so great that it deforms the earth, pushing the bedrock several thousand feet into the mantle. Its gravitational tug affects the distribution of the oceans.

In recent years, as global temperatures have risen, the ice sheet has awoken from its postglacial slumber. Melt streams like the Rio Behar have always formed on the ice; they now appear at higher and higher elevations, earlier and earlier in the spring. This year’s melt season began so freakishly early, in April, that when the data started to come in, many scientists couldn’t believe it…

…An ice cube left on a picnic table will melt in an orderly, predictable fashion. With a glacier the size of Greenland’s, the process is a good deal more complicated. There are all sorts of feedback loops, and these loops may, in turn, spin off loops and sub-loops. For instance, when water accumulates on the surface of an ice sheet, the reflectivity changes. More sunlight gets absorbed, which results in more melt, which leads to still more absorption, in a cycle that builds on itself. Marco Tedesco, a research professor at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, calls this “melting cannibalism.” As moulins form at higher elevations, more water is carried from the surface of the ice to the bedrock beneath. This lubricates the base, which, in turn, speeds the movement of ice toward the ocean. At a certain point, these feedback loops become self-sustaining. It is possible that that point has already been reached.


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EPA website removes climate science site from public view after two decades • The Washington Post

Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin:


The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information.

One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions…

…“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land, and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” J.P. Freire, the agency’s associate administrator for public affairs, said in a statement. “We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”


I’m very hopeful that karma will be visited on those involved in a manner so befitting their actions that it sets a lesson to the world. This is censorship: action by a government to suppress information useful to its citizens.
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Russian-controlled telecom hijacks financial services’ Internet traffic • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


On Wednesday, large chunks of network traffic belonging to MasterCard, Visa, and more than two dozen other financial services companies were briefly routed through a Russian government-controlled telecom under unexplained circumstances that renew lingering questions about the trust and reliability of some of the most sensitive Internet communications.

Anomalies in the border gateway protocol—which routes large-scale amounts of traffic among Internet backbones, ISPs, and other large networks—are common and usually the result of human error. While it’s possible Wednesday’s five- to seven-minute hijack of 36 large network blocks may also have been inadvertent, the high concentration of technology and financial services companies affected made the incident “curious” to engineers at network monitoring service BGPmon. What’s more, the way some of the affected networks were redirected indicated their underlying prefixes had been manually inserted into BGP tables, most likely by someone at Rostelecom, the Russian government-controlled telecom that improperly announced ownership of the blocks.

“I would classify this as quite suspicious,” Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at network management firm Dyn, told Ars. “Typically accidental leaks appear more voluminous and indiscriminate. This would appear to be targeted to financial institutions. A typical cause of these errors [is] in some sort of internal traffic engineering, but it would seem strange that someone would limit their traffic engineering to mostly financial networks.”


Just making a note of that for future reference.
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How technology created a global village — and put us at each other’s throats • The Boston Globe

Nick Carr:


If our assumption that communication brings people together were true, we should today be seeing a planetary outbreak of peace, love, and understanding. Thanks to the Internet and cellular networks, humanity is more connected than ever. Of the world’s 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to a mobile phone — a billion and a half more, the United Nations reports, than have access to a working toilet. Nearly 2 billion are on Facebook, more than a billion upload and download YouTube videos, and billions more converse through messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat. With smartphone in hand, everyone becomes a media hub, transmitting and receiving ceaselessly.

Yet we live in a fractious time, defined not by concord but by conflict. Xenophobia is on the rise. Political and social fissures are widening. From the White House down, public discourse is characterized by vitriol and insult. We probably shouldn’t be surprised.

For years now, psychological and sociological studies have been casting doubt on the idea that communication dissolves differences. The research suggests that the opposite is true: free-flowing information makes personal and cultural differences more salient, turning people against one another instead of bringing them together. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is one of the gloomiest of proverbs. It is also, the evidence indicates, one of the truest.

In a series of experiments reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2007, Harvard psychologist Michael Norton and two colleagues found that, contrary to our instincts, the more we learn about someone else, the more we tend to dislike that person. “Although people believe that knowing leads to liking,” the researchers wrote, “knowing more means liking less.”


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The myth of a superhuman AI • Backchannel

Kevin Kelly:


buried in this scenario of a takeover of superhuman artificial intelligence are five assumptions which, when examined closely, are not based on any evidence. These claims might be true in the future, but there is no evidence to date to support them. The assumptions behind a superhuman intelligence arising soon are:

• Artificial intelligence is already getting smarter than us, at an exponential rate.
• We’ll make AIs into a general purpose intelligence, like our own.
• We can make human intelligence in silicon.
• Intelligence can be expanded without limit.
• Once we have exploding superintelligence it can solve most of our problems.

In contradistinction to this orthodoxy, I find the following five heresies to have more evidence to support them.

• Intelligence is not a single dimension, so “smarter than humans” is a meaningless concept.
• Humans do not have general purpose minds, and neither will AIs.
• Emulation of human thinking in other media will be constrained by cost.
• Dimensions of intelligence are not infinite.
• Intelligences are only one factor in progress.

If the expectation of a superhuman AI takeover is built on five key assumptions that have no basis in evidence, then this idea is more akin to a religious belief — a myth.


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How Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency changed games • Venturebeat

Dean Takahashi on Anita Sarkeesian’s decision to stop making her Feminist Frequency videos critiquing video games:


Sarkeesian was important because she forced us to take a look at battles that we thought had already been won. And she did it during Gamergate, one of the most vitriolic periods in game industry history as the power the Internet and hatred came together to silence critics.

One of the more interesting Feminist Frequency videos for me was about how men can end sexism. It listed five things men can do to help. First, it says listen to women. Educate yourself. Challenge other men. Don’t get defensive. And learn from mistakes. Those are simple suggestions for changing any behavior, but it took Sarkeesian to make us look harder at sexist behavior and think about it more.

I’m the father of three daughters. I’m not sure where they will wind up working. I hope they will choose whatever makes them happy, but I hope nobody else — or the greater forces of society — nudges them into traditional choices or actively pushes them away from roles in technology or games.

To do my part, I draw attention to the issue of sexism within games. I actively seek out women to write about, and I also seek out women to speak at our conferences. Some criticize me because we don’t have enough, and I agree with them. But awareness of the importance of finding more diverse people to speak is always on my mind.


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Microsoft: Surface revenues lower than expected in its latest quarter • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:


Microsoft’s third quarter fiscal 2017 Surface performance came in lower than company officials had been expecting.

Surface revenue decreased $285m or 26%, compared to the year-ago quarter, primarily due to a reduction in volumes sold, according to Microsoft’s 10-Q for the quarter. Surface revenues this quarter were $831m, down from $1.1bn in the same quarter a year ago.

That decline is not simply because Microsoft didn’t launch any new Surface tablets or laptops in that quarter (which ran from January 2017 to March 2017). Officials already were well aware that the successor to Surface Pro 4 wasn’t coming then, nor was the Surface Book 2.

Microsoft may launch an Intel Kaby Lake-based Surface Pro 5, a successor to its Surface Pro 4 tablet, some time relatively soon (though not on May 2), according to sources. There’s also been some speculation that Microsoft may introduce soon another new Surface device running its Windows 10 Cloud release – a possible successor to its now-discontinued Surface 3 tablet – aimed at the education market on May 2.

Microsoft did begin selling in earnest the Surface Studio, Microsoft’s first all-in-one PC launched in the Fall of 2016, and the updated Surface Book with Performance Base. But neither of those niche products was expected to be a huge seller.


If Surface revenues were $831m, you can estimate the number of sales by attaching an average selling price. If the ASP is $831, it sold a million.

Prices: on Microsoft’s site the gigantic Surface Studio is $3,000 (base config) to $4,100 (top-end), which compared to $831 is 3.6x-4.9x.
The Surface Book is $1,499-$3,199 (1.8x-3.8x).
The Surface Book with Performance Base is $2,399-$3,299 (2.9x-4x).
The Surface Pro 4 is $799 – $1,549 (1x-1.9x).

Given that data, it’s very hard to see Microsoft having sold more than 1m Surface devices in the quarter. (My best guess, with a spreadsheet, suggested about 0.6m.)

IIt depends too on what price you think it sold them at, rather than the “advertised” price: if you assume the “wholesale” price is 50% of the advertised price, you double the number sold. So let’s be generous: total Surface device sales could have hit a million in the quarter.
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A very false narrative: Microsoft Surface vs Apple iPad, Mac • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:


We definitely do know that those “missing” iPad buyers didn’t run out and get Surface Pro machines to run the Full Windows. Microsoft simply hasn’t sold enough of them. Across nearly five years, Microsoft has only sold about 14-17 million in total. Across 16 quarters, that’s only about a million per quarter.

At its peak, Apple was selling more than 14 million iPads every quarter, consistently for two years. Apple’s rapid sales of iPads created an installed base of about 300 million users. So while iPad is “down dramatically” and Surface is in certain quarters “up” compared to its previous performance, iPad is still leading global sales of tablets and servicing a large installed base, while Surface is barely moving units.

Microsoft’s Surface business isn’t really growing. Like Apple’s Mac and iPad sales, Microsoft’s Surface sales are more cyclical than typical commodity PC or phone sales, peaking in the holiday quarter. Unlike Apple’s sales, Microsoft Surface hardware revenues (blue) have only hovered around $1 billion quarterly since it launched, with its two best quarters hitting $1.3 billion.

Compared to Apple’s $5 to $7bn quarterly Mac revenues (gold), that’s not much. Alternatively, it’s not much compared to iPad sales, which have ranged between $4 and $9bn per quarter (green). However, Surface straddles the business of both, making the really fair comparison Apple’s total Mac and iPad businesses together.

Surface revenue not only pales in comparison to Apple’s hardware, but its best quarterly performance has still remained $1bn shy of the $2.3bn in quarterly revenues that Windows Phone hit back in 2015. Remember what a great business Windows Lumia phones were?


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: a number of peoeople have asked which UK carrier I’m with which offers unlimited data and free roaming in a number of countries (including the US). I’m with Three UK, which used to offer a £15 per month SIM-only unlimited data/texts contract. That is now £24 per month, but the plans are generous by UK terms – especially with the roaming.