Start Up: how IS beats YouTube, OnePlus’s benchmark fix, HomePod v world, the meat allergy tick, and more


Put it in the functional MRI, you might get a flicker. Photo by George Ornbo on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Happy solstice! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube regularly leaves Islamic State videos up for days or weeks • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

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Over a two week period, Motherboard monitored channels on Telegram—a social network and messaging app popular with Islamic State supporters—used to spread extremist propaganda. These included channels that shared material from Amaq; outlets such as Nashir, which republish Islamic State announcements; and a sea of other supportive accounts which regularly post similar extremist videos. The sample included clips of Islamic State fighters in street combat in the Philippines; members destroying Christian religious sites; and instructions on how to commit attacks with knives and vehicles. Several long, half hour propaganda videos with ideological speeches were also shared.

To be clear, YouTube did remove the vast majority of the analyzed videos. But many videos stayed accessible for hours, days, or longer. Out of the clips that YouTube did remove, the company deleted around 50% of them within 24 hours. The remaining half stayed online between two and 15 days.

In [terrorism analyst firm] SITE Intelligence Group’s own experience of tracking clips, “We did notice that official ISIS videos are often removed from YouTube faster—at times even instantly. Videos by ISIS’ Amaq News Agency, however, remain for much longer,” Katz said. “The same goes for pro-ISIS media groups.”

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No suggestion that YouTube is doing this intentionally; but it’s up against people whose entire aim in life is to evade its censors. Ironic given that YouTube got its big break evading attempts by big entertainment companies to control what was on it.
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A psychologist’s guide to reading a neuroimaging paper • Journal of European Psychology Students’ Bulletin

Niall Bourke:

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The pre-processing involved and statistical analysis of neuroimaging data can be complex. A lack of understanding of the image processing pipeline and the limitations of the statistical approach used is obviously dangerous. Pressing buttons on a computer isn’t sufficient; a conceptual knowledge of what is being done is really required. Here, a few of the common pitfalls to look out for while reading neuroimaging papers are presented.

Bennett, Baird, Miller, and George (2009) conducted an fMRI in which a post-mortem salmon was used to determine emotions from images. So what would be the expected result of this study—surely not activity in the brain cavity? You can see for yourself from the image below that indeed, even a dead salmon shows some activation.

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Please form an orderly queue with your Norwegian Blues.
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Do NOT Trust OnePlus 5 Benchmarks in Reviews • XDA Developers

Mario Tomas Serrafero found that the new OnePlus has hardcoded checks to see if a benchmarking app is running; if so, it whacks up the CPU frequency.

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We set up GeekBench 4 tests with a two second break in between the results screen and the initiation of another benchmark run; external device temperature (not battery temperature as reported by Android) was measured using a FLIR thermal camera after a second of calibration, averaging the three immediate measurements in the two-seconds between runs. I was rather surprised to see that, overall, these two devices heated up at around the same rate and neither of them saw a drop in score. All results in each data set are within the expected variance, suggesting there is no thermal throttling at play. Upon closer inspection, this really should not come as a surprise given sustained performance is one of the inherent strengths of the Cortex-A73 cores that the Snapdragon 835’s Kryo cores are based on. The affected cores are the power-efficient cores, and the fact that GeekBench 4 specifically comes with measures to prevent throttling that alters the scores of the sub-tests near the end of a run, is something we learned from our interview with John Poole.

Interestingly enough, not all popular benchmarks are targeted by OnePlus’ cheating mechanism. 3DMark, for example, did not actually see any of these problems when running tests or even opening the application. However, other benchmarks like GFXBench are targeted and we see the same CPU behavior when opening and running them. In fact, during a sustained performance run using GFXBench’s Manhattan Battery Test, the OnePlus 5 reached temperatures of over 50°C | 122°F (outer temperature), a very rare occurrence among devices I have tested in the past, all of which experience some degree of thermal throttling that prevents them from getting quite that hot.

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OnePlus, entertainingly, didn’t deny it, in a statement sent to XDA:

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People use benchmark apps in order to ascertain the performance of their device, and we want users to see the true performance of the OnePlus 5. Therefore, we have allowed benchmark apps to run in a state similar to daily usage, including the running of resource intensive apps and games. Additionally, when launching apps the OnePlus 5 runs at a similar state in order to increase the speed in which apps open. We are not overclocking the device, rather we are displaying the performance potential of the OnePlus 5.

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Except, as Serrafero points out, that isn’t how the device will actually run from day to day. Though you’d hope you’ll never be running an app that demands that much of your phone anyway. Another example of how benchmarks distract from the important stuff – what the phone is like to use.
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What Apple’s HomePod is up against • The Information

Eugene Kim and Mike Sullivan:

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The data make clear that purchases were skewed towards the cheaper Amazon devices. It averages all the transactions and estimates that consumers spent $79 on average to buy one of Amazon’s home speakers. In contrast, consumers spent an average of $118 on Google Home and $223 on Sonos products, according to Slice. 

Despite its premium price, Sonos has performed strongly. Its market share nearly doubled in the first five months of this year, even briefly surpassing the Echo’s share in April. Part of Sonos’ success might have to do with the fact that its users are able to pair it with the Echo Dot to get better sound quality. Google Home, meanwhile, continued its slide, dropping to just 3.2% in May from a peak of 17.5% when it first launched in October 2016.
Speaker US shares of sales

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As one commenter pointed out, plotting the revenue against share gives you a different picture – I’ve done it below. That shows that Sonos is close on Amazon for revenue, which suggests that Amazon is selling more units. Amazon has the benefit of a shopping service at the back; Google needs to offer more.

Wi-Fi speaker revenue shares

Equally, it’s clear that Apple is after Sonos’s segment. No shopping service and a voice assistant whose quality is a topic of argument means the “great sound” pitch is a necessity.
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The New York Times CEO on state of digital advertising: ‘Nightmarish joke’ – Digiday

Brian Morrissey:

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“The world of digital advertising is a nightmarish joke,” [Mark Thompson] said during a panel discussion at the Cannes Lions. “Mark Zuckerberg’s first post about fake news, Facebook managed to serve an ad for fake news next to it. It’s a joke. It’s out of control. There are all sorts of creepy, borderline fraudulent middlemen, this thicket of strange companies, tracking pixels on everything. You couldn’t think of a more dangerous environment for a brand.”

In case there was any mistaking his position, Thompson added a further assessment: “a complete mess.”

“In terms of brand safety, you couldn’t think of a more dangerous environment,” he added. “A monster has been created.”

I asked Thompson whether he blames ad tech for the current situation. He said the entire digital media world is too premised on audience buying.

“The ecosystem that’s grown up is a strangely shaped thing,” he said. “It’s based on the idea that content doesn’t matter.”

Thompson is somewhat free to rip into digital advertising because of the success the Times has had in pivoting to focus on subscriptions. Thompson said the Times now has 2 million digital subscribers and believes it can get to 10 million globally in not too long.

Both Thompson and Jesse Angelo, CEO and publisher of the New York Post, took the opportunity to beat up on Facebook. Angelo noted that Facebook was telling advertisers less than 1% of their ads are next to jihadi videos. “Less than 1 percent? How about, one is too many.”

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link to this extract


Spotify tests new sponsored songs ad unit to place songs in user playlists • Tech Narratives

Jan Dawson:

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the news that Spotify is testing a “Sponsored Song” ad unit in which songs are literally placed into users’ playlists should be concerning. Almost every ad-based business model eventually engages in such violations, either temporarily or permanently, because the drive is always to push the boundaries of ad load and the places where ads can show – the most valuable real estate is also often the most invasive, and each ad platform has to draw its own line between what is and isn’t acceptable in the pursuit of ad dollars.

Spotify’s recently leaked full results for 2016 show that its ad-based business is loss-making even on a gross margin basis, while its subscription business is profitable on that same basis, so there’s always going to be a push to squeeze more ad revenue out of each user. I’ve recently finished a piece for Variety which will publish in the next couple of weeks in which I argue that Spotify should in fact ditch its free tier and go subscription-only, because of all the tradeoffs the ad-based business forces, especially in its relationships with labels.

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If Spotify did kill its free tier, its growth would pretty much stop dead, so I don’t see it doing that until it has IPO’d (or listed) and unburdened itself of the $1bn debt which is bleeding its cash flow. Tech Narratives, by the way, is Dawson’s mostly-paid-for tech analysis site. He’s insightful.
link to this extract


The Lone Star tick that gives people meat allergies may be spreading • WIRED

Megan Molteni:

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In the last decade and a half, thousands of previously protein-loving Americans have developed a dangerous allergy to meat. And they all have one thing in common: the lone star tick.

Red meat, you might be surprised to know, isn’t totally sugar-free. It contains a few protein-linked saccharides, including one called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, or alpha-gal, for short. More and more people are learning this the hard way, when they suddenly develop a life-threatening allergy to that pesky sugar molecule after a tick bite.

Yep, one bite from the lone star tick—which gets its name from the Texas-shaped splash of white on its back—is enough to reprogram your immune system to forever reject even the smallest nibble of perfectly crisped bacon. For years, physicians and researchers only reported the allergy in places the lone star tick calls home, namely the southeastern United States. But recently it’s started to spread. The newest hot spots? Duluth, Minnesota, Hanover, New Hampshire, and the eastern tip of Long Island, where at least 100 cases have been reported in the last year. Scientists are racing to trace its spread, to understand if the lone star tick is expanding into new territories, or if other species of ticks are now causing the allergy.

The University of Virginia is deep in the heart of lone star tick country. It’s also home to a world-class allergy research division, headed up by immunologist Thomas Platts-Mills. He’d been hearing tales of the meat allergy since the ’90s—people waking up in the middle of the night after a big meal, sweating and breaking out in hives. But he didn’t give it much thought until 2004, when he heard about another group of patients all suffering from the same symptoms.

This time, it wasn’t a plate of pork chops they shared; it was a new cancer drug called cetuximab.

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This would make a great premise for a vegan bioplot.
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WWDC 2017 Wish List: tvOS • Joe Steel

A year ago before WWDC 2016 he had this wishlist for Apple TV. A year and a week later he still has this wishlist:

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I still would like to see Apple tackle:

• Picture in Picture – This is just a silly omission of a television technology when they have it for other platforms.
• Interactive Programming Guide – With an increasing emphasis on live TV provided by multiple sources there needs to be a mechanism to expose what’s available to the user from the disparate silos.
• A New Multitasking View – The rolodex card thing has got to go.
• Streamlined Apple ID and Apple ID Switching – A lot of people live with other people. Who knew?
• Backup and Restore – If there’s ever a 5th generation Apple TV, I would really like to not set it up from scratch.
• Siri – Google demonstrated Google Home and a Chromecast working together over a year ago now.

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Yes on all those. And, dear lord, a remote that you don’t have to look at.
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Facebook’s Oculus fights sales ban for VR Rift headset • Bloomberg

Tom Korosec:

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Facebook wants a federal judge to let it continue sales of its virtual-reality headsets even though a jury said the social-media giant’s Oculus unit stole another company’s computer code.

ZeniMax Media Inc.’s request for a court order blocking sales of unspecified models of the Oculus Rift, which is priced at $600 with controllers, follows a $500m verdict in February over claims that Oculus and some of its executives purloined proprietary information when they designed the headset prototype.

Facebook bought Oculus in 2014 for $2bn. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company’s bet on virtual reality as the next big computing platform will take years to pay off. Currently, the headsets are mostly popular among video game players — not the mainstream. But projections by Bloomberg Intelligence show the market for virtual and augmented-reality hardware may exceed $40bn in sales in 2020.

A sales ban would place an unfair hardship on Oculus and its business partners and customers, the company argued in a filing in Dallas federal court, where a hearing was held Tuesday on ZeniMax’s request for an injunction and Oculus’s bid to reduce the damages awarded at trial.

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Not that clear whether it would really be a huge disadvantage to suffer a sales ban while it waits for the retrial. How many of those things is it selling now?
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Varjo emerges from stealth with awesome new VR/AR display • ReadWrite

Ryan Matthew Pierson:

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Products such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are offering users a 1.2 megapixel (per eye) VR experience with an up to 110-degree field of view. For over a year, this has been the cutting edge of VR/AR headset displays. Even the PlayStation VR, a headset designed specifically for gaming, is limited to a 1080p resolution.

Meta II, a headset currently available for preorders at $949 USD, has an exceptional 2.5k resolution of 2550×1440.

In the augmented reality space, we have options like Microsoft’s Hololens, which has a significantly lower field of view (around 32 degrees). The effective resolution for the Hololens is around 1 megapixel.

“Varjo’s patented display innovation pushes VR technology 10 years ahead of the current state-of-the-art, where people can experience unprecedented resolution of VR and AR content limited only by the perception of the human eye itself,” said Urho Konttori, CEO and founder of Varjo Technologies. “This technology, along with Varjo VST, jump-starts the immersive computing age overnight – VR is no longer a curiosity, but now can be a professional tool for all industries.”

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Note the “industry” phrase there.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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