Start Up: a Siri speaker?, Windows goes ARM, Lexmark’s patent setback, America’s opioid central, and more

Twitter doesn’t have a business incentive to get rid of bots – and that’s a problem for the rest of us. Photo by Rog01 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.

Apple is manufacturing a Siri speaker to outdo Google and Amazon • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb:


Apple is already in your pocket, on your desk and underneath your television. Soon, a device embossed with “Designed by Apple in California” may be on your nightstand or kitchen counter as well.

The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said. 

The device will differ from’s Echo and Alphabet’s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren’t yet public.

Introducing a speaker would serve two main purposes: providing a hub to automate appliances and lights via Apple’s HomeKit system, and establishing a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into Apple’s network of services. That would help combat the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: the Home and Echo mostly don’t support services from Apple. Without compatible hardware, users may be more likely to opt for the Echo or Home, and therefore use streaming music offerings such as Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Google Play rather than Apple Music.


“Started manufacturing” would suggest an autumn release. Still waiting for the really persuasive reason to use these things. (Might be the sort of thing that would work for people who don’t have an Apple Watch, I guess.)
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Windows 10 on Snapdragon 835: a promising demo • Mobile Geeks

Myriam Joire:


Today at Computex 2017, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 835 Mobile PC Platform to help with Microsoft’s effort to bring Windows 10 to ARM-based devices. In addition, ASUS, HP, and Lenovo have committed to launching Snapdragon 835-based Windows 10 products in the next few months. These will be sleek, fanless, and always connected 2-in-1 mobile PCs with all day battery life aimed squarely at the productivity market.

In case you forgot, Microsoft recently announced that Windows 10 now features an emulation layer that lets users seamlessly run x86 apps on ARM devices. With the Snapdragon 835, Qualcomm already offers a powerful, efficient, tiny (10nm process), and always connected (Gigabit LTE) platform for standalone VR/MR headsets and flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Essential Phone, so it’s a no-brainer to extend support to mobile PCs running Windows 10.

In other words, Snapdragon 835 is eating the world.


Interesting little challenge for Apple here. Second time around for Microsoft, but seems to be getting the pieces right this time – and ARM, as an architecture, has come a long way.
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All thumbs: why reach navigation should replace the navbar in iOS design • Medium

Brad Ellis:


Oh my gosh, so many great reasons to use a navbar in your project. Except, damn! It’s hard to get your thumb up there now.

That being the case, let’s talk some Navbar cons:

• It’s harder to go back. You can swipe from the edge, as long as the view you’re on doesn’t have anything that scrolls horizontally, but if it does then you’re in stretch-town.
• Naming all the views is a pain. Not all screens need a persistent title, and some require labels too long to fit. Leaving a blank navigation area wastes screen space and looks barren.
• Navigating requires two hands. If you can hold a device in one hand, you should be able to operate the device with one hand. It feels better, and it’s more convenient in a world full of shopping carts to push, and babies to carry.
• Simple apps become more complex than necessary. Navbars tend to lead to information architecture that runs deep. It’s easy to develop for horizontal progressive disclosure, which means it can be a battle to expand inline or use a sheet.

All right. Now we know how navbars can be crap. So what are we doing?


Design is evolving quite rapidly, though it feels like this should have been obvious a couple of years ago.
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The autonomous vehicle ‘trolley problem’ will be solved by lawyers, not ethicists • WIRED

Aarian Marshall:


In a paper published in Northwestern University Law Review, Stanford University researcher Bryan Casey deems the trolley problem irrelevant. He argues that it’s already been solved—not by ethicists or engineers, but by the law. The companies building these cars will “less concerned with esoteric questions of right and wrong than with concrete questions of predictive legal liability,” he writes. Meaning, lawyers and lawmakers will sort things out.

“The trolley problem presents already solved issues—and we solve them democratically through a combination of legal liability and consumer psychology,” says Casey. “Profit maximizing firms look to those incentivizing mechanisms to choose the best behavior in all kinds of contexts.” In other words: Engineers will take their cues not from ethicists, but from the limits of the technology, tort law, and consumers’ tolerance for risk.

Casey cites Tesla as an example. Drivers of those Muskian brainchildren can switch on Autopilot and let the car drive itself down the highway. Tesla engineers could have programmed the cars to go slowly, upping safety. Or they could have programmed them to go fast, the better to get you where you need to be. Instead, they programmed the cars to follow the speed limit, minimizing Tesla’s risk of liability show something go awry.


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Twitter has a serious problem—and it’s actually a bigger deal than people realise • Mother Jones

AJ Vicens:


Bots make it easy to spread a given message, but that also creates a problem: Twitter followers often don’t know they’re retweeting or forwarding deliberately false information from unknown sources, which can then potentially further polarize the populace and overstate a message or a candidate’s actual support. In his opening statement to the committee, Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, explained the influence campaign was part of a yearslong Russian effort to undermine US institutions. “Tailored news feeds from social media platforms have created information bubbles where voters see only stories and opinions suiting their preferences and biases,” he said, “ripe conditions for Russian disinformation campaigns.”

Whatever the source of the bots, it seems unlikely that the state-sponsored disinformation variety will be stopped anytime soon. Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. But Nu Wexler, a former public policy spokesperson for Twitter, tells Mother Jones that as long as users aren’t violating Twitter’s content rules, they’re not going to be censored.

“Twitter’s agnostic when it comes to political content and nationality,” Wexler said. “Accounts in compliance with the Twitter Rules are allowed to stay up, whether they’re in France, Mexico, or Russia. Suspending pro-Trump bots and allowing anti-Trump bots would just invite charges of political bias.”


Perverse incentive in the business model: showing adverts to bots generates money just like showing them to humans. Therefore no business reason to remove bots.
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Lexmark patent racket busted by Supremes • The Register

Thomas Claburn:


Patent law grants patent holders a limited monopoly on their goods for the duration of the patent. But when the goods are sold, patent rights are said to be exhausted, which allows third parties to resell the items without obtaining a license from the patent holder.

Lexmark wanted to prevent competitors from buying used ink cartridges, refurbishing them, and selling them to its printer customers – presumably because it would make more money by controlling that market.

So the company imposed contractual terms to limit resale of ink cartridges obtained through its cartridge Return Program in the US. What’s more, it tried to prevent ink cartridges obtained abroad from being resold in the US through claimed patent rights.

In 2010, the printer maker began filing a series of lawsuits in Ohio to enforce its claims against ink cartridge recyclers who acquired cartridges outside the US. Most of the defendants in those cases chose to settle, agreeing not to obtain Lexmark cartridges abroad.

In 2013, Lexmark sued Impression Products, based in Charleston, West Virginia, for violating its patent rights by reselling contractually controlled Return Program cartridges and by reselling ink cartridges bought abroad.

In 2016, the Federal Circuit Court agreed with Lexmark’s position.

The Supreme Court, however, has overturned that decision. It ruled that while Lexmark may have an enforceable claim under contract law for Return Program ink cartridges acquired in the US and resold there, the company may not make a patent claim.


I thought that this might have some reading on Apple’s patent row with Qualcomm, but people on Twitter are telling me no. Even so, this is momentous.
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The addicts next door • The New Yorker

Margaret Talbot with a hugely detailed look at the place in the US with the highest ratio of opioid deaths:


Recently, Martinsburg has begun to treat the heroin crisis more openly as a public-health problem. The police chief, a Chicago transplant named Maurice Richards, had devised a progressive-sounding plan called the Martinsburg Initiative, which would direct support services toward children who appeared to be at risk for addiction, because their families were struggling socially or emotionally. In December, Tina Stride and several other local citizens stood up at a zoning meeting to proclaim the need for a detox center. They countered several residents who testified that such a center would bring more addicts, and more heroin, to their neighborhoods. “I’m here to say that’s already here,” a woman in favor of the proposal said. “It’s in your neighbor’s house, in the bathroom at Wendy’s, in our schools.” She added, “We’re talking about making America great again? Well, it starts here.”

That night, the Board of Zoning Appeals voted to allow a detox center, run by Peter Callahan, the psychotherapist, to occupy an unused commercial building in town. People in the hearing room cheered and cried and hugged one another. The facility will have only sixteen beds and won’t be ready for patients until December, but the Hope Dealer women were thrilled about it. Now they wouldn’t have to drive halfway across the state every time an addict called them up.

John Aldis, who was sitting next to me during the vote, breathed a sigh of relief. He said later, “It’s like that Winston Churchill quote: ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ ”


One notable quote is about making Narcan (which can bring people out of an opioid coma) free: there’s some opposition from people who blame addicts for their problems.
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Apple registers new Macs and iPads in Eurasia ahead of WWDC on June 5 • Macrumors

Tim Hardwick:


Just five days ahead of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, where it is widely expected to announce new Macs, French website Consomac has discovered a new Russian-language regulatory filing, in the Eurasian Economic Commission database, that points towards at least five new models running macOS Sierra launching soon.

The five new Macs, identified only with the model numbers A1289, A1347, A1418, A1419, and A1481, are likely to be new 13in and 15in MacBook Pros alongside a new 12in MacBook, with the outside chance of a new upgraded MacBook Air also in the frame. At the same time, it’s worth noting that these numbers differ from the AXX prefixes attributed to current MacBook models, so nothing is completely certain until Apple makes its announcements.

As well as spare parts for the Macs, the discovered numbers also include a possible new wireless keyboard (model A1843) and four numbers classified under iOS 10 (A1671, A1709, A1670, and A1701), pointing to the possible launch of a rumored new iPad Pro model.


All good to hear; wireless keyboard even more interesting. Would it have TouchID (as on the MacBook Pros) and how would that be implemented?
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Crispr causes many unwanted mutations, small study suggests • New Scientist



Most studies have found few if any unwanted mutations with [the amazing new gene editing technique] CRISPR. However, almost all of these studies looked for off-target changes by predicting what these were likely to be, and then seeing if they could find them.

Stephen Tsang of Columbia University Medical Center and his team have now used a more extensive method, sequencing the whole genomes of two CRISPR-edited mice, and comparing these with a non-edited control. In this way, they identified more than a thousand common mutations in the two edited mice that they think were caused by CRISPR.

This is a very small study, and we don’t know yet if other teams will get similar findings when they use the same technique.

Even if the results are replicated, the issue could turn out to be with the specific way that CRISPR was used in this instance. But if further experiments suggest there is a problem with CRISPR in general, this should still be solvable. Other teams have already modified the CRISPR/Cas9 system to reduce the risk of off-target changes, and there are many potential alternative proteins to try using with CRISPR which might turn out to have fewer unwanted effects.


But it’s not quite what we wanted to hear, even so.
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American retail’s fast, furious decline • National Review

Kevin D. Williamson:


The migration of retail out of shops and onto the Internet has been significant — last year saw online retail pass a symbolically important milestone, accounting for 51% of all purchases — but it wasn’t radical or unexpected. In fact, the retail building boom really kicked off at the same time as the rise of online commerce: in the middle to late 1990s. Which is to say, the retail-space bubble inflated in parallel with two other important bubbles: the dot-com bubble and the much more significant housing bubble.

When housing prices were skyrocketing around the turn of the century, Americans did not use all that new wealth to pay down household debt or start high-tech enterprises in their garages or anything like that: They monetized that equity and bought gigantic televisions. They bought new furniture and clothes and shoes, and the consumer-goods market began to look like another one of those can’t-miss propositions that come along and cause trouble every few years. Retailers and developers responded by building new shops and strip malls, taking advantage of millennial-era cheap money to leverage the hell out of themselves in the quest for growth and volume. They loaded themselves up with debt that is perfectly bearable when profit margins are 11% but deadly when they’re 7%.

In addition to cheap money, they also took advantage of a lot of free money: Note that even as it struggles with a zombie mall and high vacancy rates in nearby retail centers, Midwest City is using tax dollars to subsidize the development of yet more retail space on the other side of town, the world of Panera and Starbucks. More retail space means more sales-tax revenue, and if you take a short-term and relatively narrow view — the typical political view — then spending a few million dollars to make sure that whatever new conglomeration of Pei Wei, HomeGoods, and Lane Bryant is getting built gets built in your taxing jurisdiction rather than the one next door looks like a pretty good investment. Which it is.

Until it isn’t.


Again, the collapse of US retail is going to be one of the stories that will come upon people gradually, and then suddenly, and the economic effects have a wide blast radius. People lose jobs. Cities lose tax revenue from people and retailers. You don’t have to pull on that thread for long to see bad effects.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: a Siri speaker?, Windows goes ARM, Lexmark’s patent setback, America’s opioid central, and more

  1. It seems that every development near me has retail or food on the ground floor, and yet the slot is vacant or lasts 9 months before closing (when the discounted rent ends).

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