Start Up: the internet of whose things?, HomePod and iPad evaluated, Uber fires a score, and more

China installed lots of green energy sources – but didn’t fix its grid to deal with them. Photo by PaulDCocker on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Rise of the machines: who is the ‘internet of things’ good for? • The Guardian

Adam Greenfield:


In San Francisco, a young engineer hopes to “optimise” his life through sensors that track his heart rate, respiration and sleep cycle. In Copenhagen, a bus running two minutes behind schedule transmits its location and passenger count to the municipal traffic signal network, which extends the time of the green light at each of the next three intersections long enough for its driver to make up some time. In Davao City in the Philippines, an unsecured webcam overlooks the storeroom of a fast food stand, allowing anyone to peer in on all its comings and goings.

What links these wildly different circumstances is a vision of connected devices now being sold to us as the “internet of things”. The technologist Mike Kuniavsky, a pioneer of this idea, characterises it as a state of being in which “computation and data communication [are] embedded in, and distributed through, our entire environment”. I prefer to see it for what it is: the colonisation of everyday life by information processing.

Though it can often feel as if this colonisation proceeds of its own momentum, distinct ambitions are being served wherever and however the internet of things appears. The internet of things isn’t a single technology. About all that connects the various devices, services, vendors and efforts involved is the end goal they serve: capturing data that can then be used to measure and control the world around us.


Or just control us? A good (long) read.
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The iPad takes a big step toward being the computer for everyone • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


One of these new 10.5in iPad Pros, with its reduced bezels and still vanishingly thin profile, is much easier to tote around than any MacBook Pro. Reducing the footprint of a device is much more impactful nowadays than shaving a few extra millimeters off its thickness, and I can envision a daily carry scenario for myself where an iPad Pro shrinks the size of bag I need to use. There are some really lovely and small camera bags — like the Domke F-803, for instance — that work really well with just an iPad slotted in, but struggle to fit a proper laptop. Well, now maybe I no longer need a proper laptop if I have something that’s close enough.

Getting to grips with the iOS 11-powered iPad Pro at Apple’s event yesterday, my colleague Jake Kastrenakes noted that he never felt like he could move quickly and efficiently around iOS before, but the new version is the first one that feels like it could change that. I’m on exactly the same page: iOS has always felt like a more leisurely way to use a mobile device, not quite the lean and mean productivity workhouse that I could sculpt together in macOS. But with more robust split-screen multitasking and the ability to float additional apps and picture-in-picture video on the screen, I foresee finally being able to get Real Work done on an iPad.


I’m sad to see the demise of the 9.7in iPad Pro, because it was a great machine – though it seems the new 10.5in ones are essentially the same physical size. The battery life, lightness, screen size, and capability (if you can do a little programming – Workflow and/or Pythonista, plus all the normal office apps) made it ideal in my view.

Though when I suggested you could do “real work” on an iPad a couple of years ago, Guardian readers – well, commenters – were furious. But essentially nothing (apart from some app twiddles) has changed.
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Trump takes credit for Saudi move against Qatar, a US military partner • The New York Times

Mark Landler:


President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, claiming credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, which is a major American military partner.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Mr. Trump said in a morning tweet. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”

On Monday, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen broke diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, citing its support for terrorist groups. Mr. Trump, who made the cutting of terrorist funding a centerpiece of his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, said he was responsible.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” the president said on Twitter. “They said they would take a hard line on funding.”

Moments later, he added, “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Qatar has long been accused of funneling arms and money to radical groups in Syria, Libya and other Arab countries. But so has Saudi Arabia. And Mr. Trump’s tweets have huge potential strategic consequences in the Middle East, where Qatar is a crucial military outpost for the United States.


I don’t think anyone is going to be keen for Trump to make any more foreign visits after this. One excursion and he has dangerously destabilised the Middle East (Qatar’s economy is going to collapse in short order, or it will be forced to kowtow to Saudi Arabia, which it will detest) and dumped on a climate agreement. And that was the first time he had been let out of the US.
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Uber terminated about 20 people for misconduct • The Information

Amir Efrati:


Uber has fired around 20 people this year as a result of an internal investigation into workplace misconduct, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and physical safety, company executives revealed to employees this morning, according to two people who listened to a briefing on the findings.

In addition, after about 200 investigations into possible wrongdoing, Uber issued more than 30 “remediations,” or counseling and training, to individuals at the company. More than half a dozen people were given final warnings, one of these people said.

The results come from Perkins Coie, which is one of two law firms hired by Uber to probe its workplace issues. A lead investigator from the firm spoke to Uber employees at the meeting organized to discuss the results. The results of a separate report by Covington & Burling, and led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, are due next Tuesday, Uber human resources chief Liane Hornsey told employees. She will view those results later this week.


In possibly unrelated news, Bozoma St John – the amazing woman who showed off Apple Music at WWDC 2016 (she ran iTunes global and consumer marketing) – is heading to Uber.
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Apple’s HomePod could ignite huge Chinese market for smart connected devices • South China Morning Post

Bien Perez:


Sales of smart connected speakers on the mainland are estimated to exceed half a million units this year, according to Counterpoint Research.

“The entry of more players integrating AI and a range of smart solutions into speakers next year could drive [mainland] sales to a couple of million units from next year before recording sales of more than 10 million units per year by 2022,” said Neil Shah, a partner at Counterpoint.

“Out of close to half a billion households in China, at least 150 million households — based on affluence and high annual income — could potentially make up the total addressable market for smart speakers in the country.”

Chinese e-commerce giant JD. com was an early player in the domestic market for smart speakers with its LingLong DingDong, a device launched last year by its joint venture with local speech-recognition software specialist iFlytek.

“We estimate there is a brewing domestic ecosystem [for smart connected speakers] which could leverage AI developments at Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent,” Shah said.


I hadn’t thought about China when I blogged about where the HomePod stands relative to its competitors, but it makes sense that neither Amazon nor Google would be competitors there.
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Wasted green power tests China’s energy leadership • Associated Press

Matthew Brown:


Thousands of new wind turbines and solar panels were installed in China’s remote provinces over the past several years as the country’s leaders sought to alleviate choking urban smog without slowing economic expansion. China now has more renewable power capacity than any other nation.

Two nagging problems have dampened that success, however, according to industry representatives and outside observers: China’s sprawling power grid has been unable to handle the influx of new electricity from wind and solar, while some provincial officials have retained a preference for coal.

In western China’s Gansu province, 43% of energy from wind went unused in 2016, a phenomenon known in the energy industry as “curtailment.” In the neighboring Xinjiang region, the curtailment figure was 38% and in northeast China’s Jilin province it was 30%. The nationwide figure, 17%, was described by Qiao’s organization as “shockingly high” after increasing for several years in a row.

The problem has improved some this year, according to the China Electricity Council. Power demand in general increased in the first quarter, giving a boost to renewables after the economy regained momentum from 2016’s slowdown.


All about infrastructure.
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What will the UK election mean for online privacy? • The Conversation

Vladlena Benson read the manifestos so you don’t have to:


The recent cyber attack that crippled the NHS demonstrated why cyber-security is a vital issue and one that can affect an entire country. The recent terrorist attack in Manchester also reminded people what’s at stake when deciding what data gathering and surveillance powers the government should have.

So how are the main UK-wide political parties proposing to tackle online security and privacy after the 2017 general election?


The Tories (Conservatives) seem to be suggesting that there should be backdoors in end-to-end encrypted apps. That won’t happen, and they won’t be able to stop people from downloading apps from overseas. Labour, meanwhile, is just vague. The Lib Dems would roll back many of the Tories’ moves.
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How The Intercept outed Reality Winner • Errata Security

Rob Graham:


On Monday, The Intercept released documents on election tampering from an NSA leaker. Later, the arrest warrant request for an NSA contractor named “Reality Winner” was published, showing how they tracked her down because she had printed out the documents and sent them to The Intercept. The document posted by the Intercept isn’t the original PDF file, but a PDF containing the pictures of the printed version that was then later scanned in.

The problem is that most new printers print nearly invisibly yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.

In this post, I show how.


Microdots on the document – which The Intercept’s reporters shared with a government contact, because they wanted comment – identified it. The Intercept is being blamed up and down the internet. Yashar Ali has a thread on Twitter saying that really it’s Winner’s fault: don’t send actual content. Next time perhaps a photo, or something, would do. (But I expect cameraphones are banned.) Winner seems to have sent the document on the day of former FBI chief James Comey’s firing – probably as an angry reaction.
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The Harvard case shows a meme is never ‘just’ a meme • Motherboard

Whitney Phillips AND:


This week, Harvard decided to rescind ten admission offers after learning that the prospective students had been posting rape-apologist, pedophilic, and violently racist memes to an offshoot of the main Harvard Class of 2021 Facebook Memes group. Because it hinges on tensions between free expression and (what could be described as) “PC culture,” this case could be seen as a canary in the coal mine of 2017.

But it is much more than that. The case is a stand-in for the mine itself, along with the company, its miners, their tools, all of it. Culturally, this is where we are: an online environment in which sincere bigotry bleeds into satirical bigotry, irony is forwarded as both justification and argument, and accountability is so frequently sidestepped that just having to face consequences is news in itself.

Far more than being a story about a specific group of memes and a specific group of students, then, the Harvard dustup demonstrates how the fun and games of memes—along with the seeming separation between “the real world” and that somewhere-else place known as “the internet”—gives way to fully embodied, fully consequential ethics.

Some might be tempted to brush off these ethical consequences, arguing that the posting of even the most offensive content is no big deal. It’s just internet memes. It’s just incoming college kids trying to be as offensive as possible, for the lulz. It’s just—as the co-founder of a similar Facebook meme group at Yale suggested to Taylor Lorenz at Mic—another form of hazing.

…The problem is that the “just” framing (just joking, just a meme on the internet, just a new kind of hazing ritual) posits what we describe in our work as a fetishized gaze, one that obscures everything but the joke itself.


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Apple HomePod: a first listen • CNet

Scott Stein had a listen in a quiet environment in a face-off – ear-off? – against Apple’s main rivals, the Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:3:


HomePod came off as bolder and more vivid than Sonos Play:3 in the experience I tried, and a lot better than Amazon Echo. I’d also say the music sounded consistently vivid and crisp in a quiet space, more so than the Sonos and Amazon comparisons on-hand. But the one thing I didn’t get to experience was how HomePod can listen, talk and suggest things. I couldn’t request music, or ask for the weather, or try any smart controls.

It’s hard to tell what any of this means right now, and a full review of the final product is the only way to determine any real meaningful thoughts on HomePod-as-home-audio-device. But, right out of the gate, Apple is clearly going for music over smart assistance as HomePod’s major draw. But as the most expensive speaker of the three – it costs almost double the price of the Echo – its superior sound quality is to be expected. It needs to earn that bigger price tag.

And remember that Amazon has Echo speakers that retail for as little as $50, while an entry-level Sonos Play:1 will run you $300 (£185, AU$300).

Still, the HomePod is a big step up from Apple’s last speaker product (remember 2006’s Apple Hi-Fi?). We’ll see if its Siri-powered smarts will measure up to its audio quality when the HomePod is released this fall.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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