Start Up: Russia’s Ukrainian cyberwar; YouTube’s 1.5bn, the art of sound, Trump’s lost jobs, and more

Will the iMac Pro contain TouchID? There might be clues. Picture by Prachatai on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. It’s a year since the Brexit vote. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russia’s cyberwar on Ukraine is a blueprint for what’s to come • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:


For the past 14 months, [Oleksii] Yasinsky had found himself at the center of an enveloping crisis. A growing roster of Ukrainian companies and government agencies had come to him to analyze a plague of cyberattacks that were hitting them in rapid, remorseless succession. A single group of hackers seemed to be behind all of it. Now he couldn’t suppress the sense that those same phantoms, whose fingerprints he had traced for more than a year, had reached back, out through the internet’s ether, into his home.

The Cyber-Cassandras said this would happen. For decades they warned that hackers would soon make the leap beyond purely digital mayhem and start to cause real, physical damage to the world. In 2009, when the NSA’s Stuxnet malware silently accelerated a few hundred Iranian nuclear centrifuges until they destroyed themselves, it seemed to offer a preview of this new era. “This has a whiff of August 1945,” Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, said in a speech. “Somebody just used a new weapon, and this weapon will not be put back in the box.”

Now, in Ukraine, the quintessential cyberwar scenario has come to life. Twice. On separate occasions, invisible saboteurs have turned off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. Each blackout lasted a matter of hours, only as long as it took for scrambling engineers to manually switch the power on again. But as proofs of concept, the attacks set a new precedent: In Russia’s shadow, the decades-old nightmare of hackers stopping the gears of modern society has become a reality.


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Amazon’s Echo Show gets more practical by adding support for smart home camera feeds • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:


Amazon today announced a notable new trick for its next-generation Echo device, the Echo Show (aka the one with the screen), which could make it a more compelling purchase: it will be able to display the live streams from a number of smart home cameras. Already, companies like Ring, Arlo, Nest, August, EZViz, Vivint, Amcrest, Logitech Circle 2, and IC Realtime have created Alexa Skills that will use the new functionality, Amazon says.

In addition, Amazon is introducing a Smart Home Skill API that will allow developers to integrate live video feeds from their smart home cameras with the device.

The Echo Show, announced in May, is due to begin shipping next week.

The $230 Wi-Fi enabled device offers the same features found in Amazon’s smart speaker Echo – like the ability to talk to Alexa, play music, listen to news and weather, and more. But because it also includes a seven-inch screen, it enables a number of new uses as well, like being able to make video calls, see the lyrics to your songs as they play, watch video flash briefings and YouTube, along with other things that leverage the device’s screen.

One of those promised use cases was the ability to watch your smart home’s cameras, Amazon had said.


Amazon is really hurrying to make the Echo useful in as many ways as it can. Though this really just replicates what you’d do with a tablet, which you’d probably have anyway. Or of course a phone, which you’ll probably be carrying.
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iMac Pro comes with Security Enclave processor • Pike’s Universum


I piled through the firmware/rubble from the new iMac Pro – to be released in December – and it appears to be coming with a Security Enclave Processor. You know. The one that was also added to the MacBook Pro’s with TouchID, but this time to (also) support a new feature called Apple SecureBoot and here are some of the properties that it uses:


If the iMac Pro will also support TouchID is still a mystery.


But it seems kinda likely. If it’s on an external keyboard, how does that work?
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Updates from VidCon: more users, more products, more shows and much more • Official YouTube blog

Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube:


A question I get all the time is “How many people actually watch YouTube?” Today, I’m pleased to announce that we crossed a big threshold: 1.5 billion logged in viewers visit YouTube every single month. That’s the equivalent of one in every five people around the world! And how much do those people watch? On average, our viewers spend over an hour a day watching YouTube on mobile devices alone.


These are big numbers. But spot the subtle elision: a monthly figure, 1.5bn logged-in visitors per month, and then a per-day measure. How many are using it per day? We don’t know. It could be 1.5bn; it could be as low as 50m. (The latter is very unlikely, but I just wanted to show how wide the potential gap is.)
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Rain is sizzling bacon, cars are lions roaring: the art of sound in movies • The Guardian

Jordan Kisner on the amazing work of creating sound for films:


[Skip] Lievsay pulled up a cue and played one three-second clip again and again. On screen, Cheadle lit a cigarette: the metal lighter zipped and rung; the skin of his fingers shifted on the cigarette; there was an intake of breath; paper and tobacco crackled as he inhaled, music played in the background. Lievsay rewound. Zip, ring, shift, breath, slightly more crackle, music. Lievsay rewound again. No one spoke. The real Cheadle had not yet arrived.

Sound mixes are notoriously stressful, in part because they come at the very end of a film’s production. “As a mixer you’re the midwife to the director who is at this moment giving final birth to the film,” says Walter Murch, the groundbreaking editor and sound designer, known for his work on Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, and The Godfather: Parts II & III. “[Mixing] is the last inch of the diving board. After this there’s little that’s done to the film. You have to feel where the director is sensitive and what are the unresolved questions and how can I help through sound to moderate it? There’s a great deal of psychoanalytics.”

Directors are not the only stressed-out people who may need attending to: mixing rooms also contain picture editors under pressure to put the finishing touches on their work, producers arguing over logistics such as credit reels, actors floating through for last-minute dubbing and assistants trying hard not to get fired.

In this environment, Skip’s laid-back demeanour, his nearly inaudible jokes, his uniform of T-shirts and jeans, his consummate just-a-nice-dudeness – the Coens joke that Lievsay was part of the inspiration for Lebowski’s The Dude – has a palliative effect. “To do this job,” Lievsay told me, leaning back in his swivel chair, “you need to be the kind of person that people aren’t going to mind being stuck in a room with for four to six weeks.”


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Trump’s Carrier jobs deal is not living up to the hype • CNBC

Scott Cohn:


More than 600 employees at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis are bracing for layoffs beginning next month, despite being told by President Trump that nearly all the jobs at the plant had been saved. The deal, announced with great fanfare before Trump took office, was billed not only as a heroic move to keep jobs from going to Mexico but also as a seismic shift in the economic development landscape.

Nearly seven months later the deal has not worked out quite as originally advertised, and the landscape has barely budged.

“The jobs are still leaving,” said Robert James, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999. “Nothing has stopped.”

In fact, after the layoffs are complete later this year, a few hundred union jobs will remain at the plant. But that is far different from what then-President-elect Trump said just three weeks after the election.

“They’re going to have a great Christmas,” Trump said to cheering steelworkers and local dignitaries on Dec. 1. The plan to close the plant and lay off 1,400 workers had become a frequent topic in the Trump campaign. He said 1,100 jobs would stay in Indianapolis, thanks to the deal.


Every single company or deal that Trump claims to have made a difference on is now a hostage to news coverage. And he has no control over what happens. First of many.
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Before you hit ‘Submit,’ this company has already logged your personal data • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu:


If you’re daydreaming about buying a home or need to lower the payment on the one you already have, you might pay a visit to the Quicken Loans mortgage calculator. You’ll be asked a quick succession of questions that reveal how much cash you have on hand or how much your home is worth and how close you are to paying it off. Then Quicken will tell you how much you’d owe per month if you got a loan from them and asks for your name, email address, and phone number.

You might fill in the contact form, but then have second thoughts. Do you really want to tell this company how much you’re worth or how in debt you are? You change your mind and close the page before clicking the Submit button and agreeing to Quicken’s privacy policy.

But it’s too late. Your email address and phone number have already been sent to a server at “,” which is owned by NaviStone, a company that advertises its ability to unmask anonymous website visitors and figure out their home addresses. NaviStone’s code on Quicken’s site invisibly grabbed each piece of your information as you filled it out, before you could hit the “Submit” button.


A standard HTML form doesn’t send the data until you’ve hit Submit; Javascript can grab it all, all the time. At least 100 sites are doing this, Hill (who has been doing some sterline work) says. Question: how does one spot sites doing this? How does one block this?
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Imagination Tech up for sale after bruising Apple fight • Reuters

Kate Holton:


Imagination Technologies, the British firm that lost 70% of its value after being ditched by its biggest customer Apple, put itself up for sale on Thursday in a disappointing end to a once-great European tech success story.

Founded in 1985 and listed in 1994, Imagination has been rocked by Apple’s announcement in April that it was developing its own graphics chips and would no longer use Imagination’s processing designs in 15 months to two years time.

Apple’s decision, which analysts said posed an existential threat to the company, sent Imagination’s shares plummeting 70% on April 3 and they have barely recovered since.

The stock jumped as much as 21% on Thursday, however, after the sale announcement to 149.5p, giving the company a market capitalization of £425m ($538m).


That’s pretty brutal. But suppliers of strategic core technology to Apple ought to wonder about their future all the time.
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How the cryptocurrency gold rush could backfire on NVIDIA and AMD • Tech.pinions

Ryan Shrout:


With all that is going right for AMD and NVIDIA because of this repurposed used of current graphics card products lines, there is a significant risk at play for all involved. Browse into any gaming forum or subreddit and you’ll find just as many people unhappy with the cryptocurrency craze as you will happy with its potential for profit. The PC gamers of the world that simply want to buy the most cost-effective product for their own machines are no longer able to do so, with inventory snapped up the instant it shows up. And when they can find a card for sale, they are significantly higher prices. A look at today for Radeon RX 580 cards show starting prices at the $499 mark but stretching to as high as $699. This product launched with an expected MSRP of just $199-$239, making the current prices a more than 2x increase.

As AMD was the first target of this most recent coin mining boon, the Radeon brand is seeing a migration of its gaming ecosystem to NVIDIA and the GeForce brand. A gamer that decides a $250 card is in their budget for a new PC would find that the Radeon RX 580 is no longer available to them. The GeForce GTX 1060, with similar performance levels and price points, is on the next (virtual) shelf over, so that becomes the defacto selection. This brings the consumer into NVIDIA’s entire ecosystem, using its software like GeForce Experience, looking at drivers, game optimizations, free game codes, inviting research into GeForce-specific technology like G-Sync. For Radeon, it has not lost a sale this generation (as the original graphics card that consumer would have bought has been purchased for mining) but it may have lost a long-term customer to its competitor.


Weird if cryptocurrencies squeeze PC gaming so much that it migrates elsewhere. And meanwhile, what is this rush to GPUs doing to big companies’ machine learning efforts?
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Artificial intelligence can predict which congressional bills will pass • Science

Matthew Hutson:


The health care bill winding its way through the U.S. Senate is just one of thousands of pieces of legislation Congress will consider this year, most doomed to failure. Indeed, only about 4% of these bills become law. So which ones are worth paying attention to? A new artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm could help. Using just the text of a bill plus about a dozen other variables, it can determine the chance that a bill will become law with great precision.

Other algorithms have predicted whether a bill will survive a congressional committee, or whether the Senate or House of Representatives will vote to approve it—all with varying degrees of success. But John Nay, a computer scientist and co-founder of Skopos Labs, a Nashville-based AI company focused on studying policymaking, wanted to take things one step further. He wanted to predict whether an introduced bill would make it all the way through both chambers—and precisely what its chances were…

…Because bills fail 96% of the time, a simple “always fail” strategy would almost always be right. But rather than simply predict whether each bill would or would not pass, Nay wanted to assign each a specific probability. If a bill is worth $100 billion—or could take months or years to pull together—you don’t want to ignore its possibility of enactment just because its odds are below 50%. So he scored his method according to the percentages it assigned rather than the number of bills it predicted would succeed. By that measure, his program scored about 65% better than simply guessing that a bill wouldn’t pass, Nay reported last month in PLOS ONE.

Nay also looked at which factors were most important in predicting a bill’s success. Sponsors in the majority and sponsors who served many terms were at an advantage (though each boosted the odds by 1% or less). In terms of language, words like “impact” and “effects” increased the chances for climate-related bills in the House, whereas “global” or “warming” spelled trouble. In bills related to health care, “Medicaid” and “reinsurance” reduced the likelihood of success in both chambers. In bills related to patents, “software” lowered the odds for bills introduced in the House, and “computation” had the same effect for Senate bills.


The latter parts are what you’d unfortunately expect.

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Apple treats the disease, Google treats the symptoms • The Ad Contrarian

Bob Hoffman:


The key difference in the way Apple and Google approach the problem [of online ads] can be found in the nature of the companies. Apple makes very little money from online advertising and has a self-interest in protecting their users’ experiences.

Google, on the other hand, makes virtually all of its money from advertising and has a self-interest in protecting tracking and surveillance marketing. The key thing to remember is that most of the major players in online advertising have a big stake in surveillance marketing. They will fight like hell to protect tracking.

Google have proven to be geniuses at subtle misdirection. Their whole search engine business is founded on the idea of misdirection — create a paid search result that seems to a consumer to be close enough to a natural search result to be believable. This is the essence of their business.

It is not surprising that Google’s “Better Ads” solution would look like it’s treating the disease while actually only treating symptoms.

Always keep in mind that Google, Facebook, the IAB, the ANA, and the 4A’s will always fight to retain tracking. Why? They are now in the surveillance business. Their business is collecting, selling, and exploiting the details of our personal lives and our personal behavior.


Well, sort of, though – as one commenter points out, what people hate with online ads is the intrusive nature of the ad itself, not the tracking, which is essentially invisible to most people.
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Verizon-owned Yahoo is killing off the best app it’s ever made • The Next Web

Abhimanyu Ghoshal:


Under former CEO Marissa Mayer, Yahoo failed to build anything truly exciting over the past five years – except for a single truly notable app, Yahoo News Digest. Now, under the reign of its new owner Verizon, the company is killing off one of the best mobile apps I’ve ever used.

It’s really as simple as an app can get: every day at 8am and 6pm, News Digest would prompt you to swipe through a handful of important stories from around the world, summarized for quick reading and accompanied by photos, fast facts and figures, and tweets to help you make sense of it all. It’s been my go-to app for following world news since 2014, and I’m sorry to see it go.

The app didn’t just do a good job of delivering news efficiently, it also offered the most enjoyable user experience I can recall in any recent mobile service.


Hey, you could be reading The Overspill. Oh right! But I do wonder what happened to Summly, for which Yahoo paid $300m back in March 2013. Nick D’Aloisio, who minted it, is just taking final-year exams at Oxford University, I think.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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