Start Up: after Javascript, dying for YouTube, Benjamin Button’s Macbook, Google’s VR ads, and more


Tumblr might be virtually worthless to its new owner. Isn’t culture valuable? Photo by Scott Beale 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.

A day without Javascript • Sonniesedge

Charlotte Owen turned off Javascript to see how the web looked:

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So, for my dreary grey day experiment I restricted myself to just the things open in my browser tabs. For normal people this might be two or three sites.

Not for me. I have approximately 17 shitmillion tabs open, because I Have a Problem With Tabs.

No seriously. I can never just close a tab. I’ve tried things like One Tab but I just can’t get down to less than 30 in any one window (“I’ll just save that tab for later” I think, each and ever time). Let’s just agree that I need some kind of therapy, and we’ll all be able to move on.

Anyway, there’s nothing fancy to this experiment. It was a case of turning off javascript in the browser and reloading a site, nothing more. To quickly disable the browser’s JS with one click I used Chrome and the Toggle Javascript extension – available, ironically enough, via the javascript-only Chrome web store.

Oh, and for you, sweet reader, I opened these tabs in new windows, so you don’t have to see the pain of 50 tabs open at once.

So how was it? Well, with just a few minutes of sans-javascript life under my belt, my first impression was “Holy shit, things are fast without javascript”. There’s no ads. There’s no video loading at random times. There’s no sudden interrupts by “DO YOU WANT TO FUCKING SUBSCRIBE?” modals.

If this were the only manifestation of turning off javascript, I’d do this for the rest of time. However, a lot of things don’t work. Navigation is the most common failure mode. Hamburger menus fail to internally link to a nav section (come on, that’s an easy one kids). Forms die when javascript is taken away (point the form to an endpoint that accepts GET/POST queries ffs). Above the fold images fail to load (you do know they’re streaming by default, yes?).

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She then goes on and explains how many, many of those tabs looked. Mostly: news sites OK, many others not.
link to this extract


Falling out of love with Amazon’s Alexa • FT

Jonathan Margolis:

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My daughter puts it well: “When you look at an iPhone,” she says, “it still looks futuristic. Alexa is more like a prototype.”

My use at home and in the office is dwindling. Alexa is still a great kitchen timer, and for a quick calculation at my desk, Google Home is handy. But both gadgets — and I use the term pejoratively — go days without use.

Mostly, it is voice computing’s cock-ups that stick in the mind…

…Some Alexas get excited when Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez is named on football commentaries. Others react every time Channel 4 mentions its drama sponsor, the Lexus NX.

“I asked Alexa to turn on the living room lights,” reported one Reddit user. “She told me there was no pudding room. I was disappointed by the lack of a pudding room too.”

Echo’s shopping list feature is mentioned frequently. Another Reddit user added Doan’s (a back pain drug) to their list.

“She added ‘guns’. And thereby possibly added us to another different and more serious list,” the user wrote.

Alexa users have found “nipple syrup” on their shopping lists, along with “sled dogs” and “dildo toothpaste”. Before you ask, in the last two examples, there is no explanation of what was actually said to Alexa.

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link to this extract


Back to the future for Maersk in the wake of Petya attack • Splash 247

Sam Chambers:

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Arguably one of the most sophisticated, IT savvy shipping companies in the world has had to work as if it had gone back in time to the mid-1990s for the past 48 hours.

In the two days since the Maersk Group was hit by the Petya ransomware attack, operations at many of its sites across the globe have returned to manual.

The group’s most recent update, issued yesterday evening Copenhagen time, stated that Maersk Line was taking bookings via box platform INTTRA while sister firm APM Terminals said most of its terminals were back up operating, albeit not all of them at normal speeds.

Statistics provided by shipping software provider CargoSmart however show that many of APM Terminals’ 78 facilities across the world have not received a vessel call in the past 48 hours. APM Terminals has not responded to questions sent by Splash today.

Reports are emerging too of how operations at Maersk offices around the world have been pared right back in the wake of the crippling attack.

Maersk Australia and New Zealand managing director Gerard Morrison said today that his unit’s phone and email systems had been deliberately shut down by the company to stop the spreading of the malware virus.

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Quite weird.
link to this extract


The iPhone for the next ten years • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

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Given that this week marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone going on sale, there’s lots of navel-gazing about the impact the iPhone has had on the industry (including my own take on Monday for subscribers). However, what I want to do today is think about which products in the market today might have a comparable impact to the iPhone over the next ten years.

I put this question to my Twitter followers, and got a whole range of interesting results, including:

• Tesla (both cars and solar shingles)
• Oculus Rift
• Crispr [DNA editing]
• and the Nvidia DGX-1 for AI and machine learning!

Those are all fascinating answers, including a couple I never would have included in my own analysis here. But I have a different set of three possible products in mind, and I’ll talk about each of them below. As a reminder, what defined the impact of the iPhone was that it was a single product from a single company, and yet that product never achieved majority market share, but still managed to transform not just its own industry (smartphones) but both created and transformed others as well. So that’s the bar that any worthy successor has to clear.

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This is definitely a more interesting tack than looking back ten years. (In general, I hate anniversary journalism – “it’s X years since Y!” – because unless Y is quite something, we learn little. And if Y is quite something, there’ll be a plethora of those pieces.)

He picks the Amazon Echo, the Apple Watch and Airpods, and Microsoft Hololens. Where, you might be asking, is Google?
link to this extract


He thought a book would stop a bullet and make him a YouTube star. Now he’s dead. • The Washington Post

Katie Mettler:

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Before Monday, before the 911 call and police investigation, Pedro Ruiz III, an aspiring YouTube star in rural Minnesota, spent considerable time persuading his girlfriend to fire a gun at his chest.

There would be a thick encyclopedia between the muzzle and his body, authorities say he told 19-year-old Monalisa Perez. The pages, he reasoned, would stop the bullet.

He even had evidence that it had worked once before — a different book with an entrance hole but no exit.

So on Monday evening, the young couple positioned two cameras outside their home and prepared for their breakthrough stunt. They wanted fame, family said, and danger often brings it.

“Me and Pedro are probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever,” Perez teased in a tweet at 5 p.m. “HIS idea not MINE.”

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Secondary effects of the attention economy. She faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted of 2nd degree manslaughter; their three-year-old daughter grows up without her father.
link to this extract


Benjamin Button moves from an iPad Pro running iOS 11 to a 13″ MacBook Pro • Medium

I wrote about this whole iPad/laptop debate, framed from the point of view of the mythical Button (if the name rings no bells, look him up):

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I had some trouble at first when I kept pulling apps out of the Dock to make them multitask and they just vanished. Finally I realised that it’s like iOS 11 where you just press on the app to launch it.

Then the app does this weird thing where the Dock icon bounces and bounces and OH MY GOD JUST RUN ALREADY. Laptops are sloooow. And every so often the machine would just stop and the cursor would turn into a sort of whirling rainbow. Is it some sort of Apple deal with Gay Pride? I never got that on the iPad.

Once you do have your programs running, there’s no window organisation. Seriously, the screen is a mess. The windows all overlap. You drag them around with the pointer thing. All the nice organisation of iOS 11 — one, two or three apps on screen; clear demarcations — is gone. After an hour or two my screen looked like a teenager’s bedroom. (Oddly enough, my once-tidy bedroom seems to be going the same way.) There are keys which make all the windows run away like cockroaches from the light, but of course you can’t then pick the one you want out with your finger like you want to; you have to use the pointer thing. My arm got so tired from pressing the screen expecting stuff to happen.
Still, all the programs I’m used to are there (with a couple exceptions, which we’ll come to).

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link to this extract


Tumblr’s uncertain future shows that there’s no money in internet culture • NY Mag

Brian Feldman:

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Advertisers, ultimately, are part of the problem. The general thinking in the rise of social networks was that if you make stuff that gets a lot of attention (or, better yet, own the real estate on which others are making stuff for free), brands will put their ads next to it. But with a small handful of exceptions, the advertising riches never really materialized. There are many reasons for this — for one thing, it’s tough to sell a high-quality ad experience to executives at Coca-Cola when you first have to explain what a meme is and why it’s “viral.” On top of all that, there are reams of porn, hate speech, copyright infringement, and more porn floating around on these platforms, easily accidentally placed adjacent to a company’s studiously inoffensive ad.

Maybe more importantly, Tumblr and Vine and the like never had data-mining operations as sophisticated as, say, Facebook. That’s why most of the advertising money in the industry has drained toward Facebook, which has 2 billion users, mounds of data, and can better assure advertisers of content cleanliness. Facebook is instructive: It’s less a place for creation or debate than it is for hosting all of the nitty-gritty, more boring data about your life. For much of its life, Facebook aggressively trafficked not in collecting rage comics and funny video clips, but in collecting bland lists of favorite movies and where you went to college — personal information that it can use to target ads with alarming specificity.

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But in saying this about Tumblr as “internet culture”, isn’t that like complaining that the “wrong” people make money from art? That it’s not the artists (often) but the intermediaries – gallery owners, dealers, and so on.
link to this extract


Anita Sarkeesian’s astounding ‘garbage human’ moment • Polygon

Colin Campbell spent some time going around with Sarkeesian, and then talking to the group of men who trail her and video her and seek to ask questions doubting her legitimacy to do what she wants to do:

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[Dave Cullen] repeatedly claims the group is there to “engage” with Sarkeesian, but later, he says something very different.

“We had a blast with this. It was such an adrenaline high to be there in the situation, to shit-post, in this trolling kind of way.” He goes on to claim there was “no malice” in their actions and that it was “playful.”

Polygon sent his comment to Sarkeesian, asking for a response. She responded via email:

“Hearing the honesty in that comment is weirdly almost kind of validating, because of course we know it’s true, we’ve always known it’s true, that for them this is a kind of game, but they constantly deny it.

“They’re playing for fun. For them it’s a thrill to use the power they have under patriarchy to try to keep women in their place, to try to intimidate or silence women who dare to speak out and assert their humanity and their right to exist as full human beings in these spaces.

“They don’t give a damn about the actual impact they’re having on people’s lives. It’s a sport, an adrenaline rush. But for me and for other women who are targeted by cyber-mobs, who endure ongoing campaigns of harassment, it’s not fun. It’s scary. It’s traumatic.

“You have to be so far removed from the reality of what you’re doing to engage in this behavior and call it ‘playful trolling.’ This is harassment, pure and simple, with the goal of trying to scare and silence women who speak out against sexism in our culture.”

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Amazing that there are still people whose lives revolve around hassling Sarkeesian. Poverty of imagination barely begins to describe it.
link to this extract


The EU is wrong, but Google is still in trouble • Distilled

Will Critchlow with a thoughtful analysis of the first antitrust ruling:

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I hesitate to say that this would be my recommended course of action if I were advising Google, but a direction I would love to see them take is as follows:

• Leave PLAs [product listing adverts, which you see above other search results if you type a search term that could be purchasable] as they are – if comparison shopping is a separate market to “general search” in which Google has a monopoly, then PLAs definitely fall in the general search part rather than the comparison shopping part. They are integrated into the results a searcher receives when they perform a search that starts at the Google homepage, and there is no comparison functionality – it simply links to products

• Remove the shopping link in the top menu – this is the one area I can see that they have favoured their comparison shopping engine (Google Shopping) over others (e.g. ciao.co.uk – one of the complainants) who cannot get their homepage linked from the top menu

• Open up Google Shopping pages to their own search index – i.e. enable pages like the result you find when you search [Puma shoes] on the Google Shopping tab to be indexed and appear in the regular organic search results (to be clear, this does not happen at the moment – Google keeps these pages explicitly out of the main search index). Doing this will increase competition in the general search results for the complainants, but it clarifies that Google is treating their comparison shopping engine (Google Shopping) exactly on a level playing field with competitors such as ciao.co.uk and paves the way for them to treat (all) comparison shopping engines as harshly as they like in regular search.

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His view is that losing this case makes it worse for Google’s next two. I think he could be right.
link to this extract


Google unveils Advr, an experimental Area 120 project for advertising in VR • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Google today is more formally taking the wraps off its internal incubator, Area 120, with the launch of a dedicated website, alongside the launch of one of the program’s more interesting projects to date: a way to advertise within VR. The new experiment, which is simply called Advr, involves a cube-like ad format which allows video ads to run in a 3D/VR environment.

Area 120 was launched at Google in March, 2016, as a way to retain entrepreneurial-minded talent at the company, as well as give teams the ability to test new ideas that could eventually become Google products, or be integrated with existing products.

That hasn’t happened yet, as the R&D program is still fairly new…

…The new project is an experiment focused on figuring out if video ads could work in VR, and if so, how they would function.

The team has developed a plug-in for Unity that can show ads in VR environments. Explains the post, developers aren’t interested in disruptive or hard-to-implement ad experiences in VR, which is how the Advr team came up with the idea for a simple cube.

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Can we agree that ad concept looks horrible? Something more like ads in football games (real and virtual), on the pitch side, would be a lot more tolerable. Though even then, quite awful. One gets the feeling that advertising-based companies, of which Google is necessarily still one, won’t be content until they can monetise every instant of our existence, every gamut of our attention.
link to this extract


Smart device owners enjoy their benefits around the home • FutureSource Consulting

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Among the 4 countries [US, UK ,Germany, France] surveyed, the USA showed the highest smart home penetration, with 38% of respondents claiming to be living in a home with at least one smart home device installed. In Germany, respondents seem more resistant to the idea of adopting smart home devices, as only 1 in 5 have installed at least one smart home device in their home.

Filipe Oliveira, Analyst at Futuresource Consulting commented, “Smart lighting and smart thermostats are among the most popular smart home devices and are common first steps into the smart home. However, it is home security that more respondents report as the first smart home device that they have installed. Products that fall under climate control are growing but our survey revealed that this is a fragmented category with relatively low levels of brand recognition, a challenge to manufacturers in this field.”

According to this latest report for the entertainment driven consumers, audio and video content is often the first step into automation in the home. Two in three respondents considered music and other audio/video content to be important in the context of the smart home.

“The results provide evidence that the smart home can grow by stealth as users who installed one device are more likely to want to automate their homes further,” continued Oliveira. “Across all segments, 30% of consumers expect to control more of their homes wirelessly in the near future. However, the number is substantially higher among those who already own at least one smart home device, with 89% of advanced users expecting to control more of their homes wirelessly in the next 6-12 months, the report breaks this down for each segment.”

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Then again, given the huge indifference in that graphic, one could safely say there’s no great rush here. The smart home is not the next smartphone.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the character in Futurama is Amy Wong, not Wang. (Thanks, Sam Foster.) And phones you can unlock underwater? Useful when your fingers are wet, as often happens in the kitchen and around the home. (Thanks to multiple readers.)

One thought on “Start Up: after Javascript, dying for YouTube, Benjamin Button’s Macbook, Google’s VR ads, and more

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