Start Up: where the spammers have gone, awful volume!, 2FA at 50%, fight like a Canadian, and more


Google’s Shopping service (not this one) is in line for a big fine. Photo by g3rswin 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.

Google faces big fine in first EU case against search practices • FT

Rochelle Toplensky:

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Google is braced for a fine of potentially more than €1bn from Brussels for abusing its market dominance in search, a sanction that would have far-reaching implications for how the company operates online.

The EU move, expected in the coming weeks, will accuse the company of using its near-monopoly in online search to unfairly steer customers to its own Google Shopping service.

The bill could top the record abuse penalty of €1bn handed out to chipmaker Intel in 2009, according to two people familiar with the case. The European Commission and Google declined to comment.

The decision in the Google Shopping case would be just the first of three competition claims against the company being investigated by EU authorities.

It would mark the first sanction by a leading competition regulator on the way Google operates.

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The investigation was announced in November 2010; but the problem had been written about since at least August 2009, as Richard Wray explained:

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A British husband and wife team have been waging a three-year battle to get their price comparison website recognised by Google in a saga that sheds new light on the power of the world’s largest search engine

Foundem.co.uk directs shoppers to online deals for goods such as TVs or flights, but has struggled since one day it suddenly disappeared from Google search results for these categories.

There is no evidence that Google is in any way being dishonest or unfair in the way that it ranks such websites, but Foundem’s fight to discover what happened has highlighted the ever-growing influence of its mysterious search algorithms.

Many consumers believe Google’s search engine works on a formula that was created by founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and that was that: they set it running and the rest is history. In fact, as those in the internet industry know, Google carries out regular “tweaks” of its algorithm. About 450 a year in fact. When they are made, the sheer scale of Google – it has an estimated 90% market share in Britain – means these can have huge and often unintended consequences.

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Despite everything Google will say, it’s not as if the EC has hurried into this. Some of the fine ought to go to Foundem, really; it was the first complainant which triggered the whole investigation.
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The Nigerian spammers from the 90s have moved on to keyloggers and RATs • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:

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According to MalwareHunter, who spoke with Bleeping Computer in a Twitter conversation, most of these attacks are carried out by groups of hackers based in Nigeria. MalwareHunter puts the number at “about 65-70%” of all the campaigns they find.

Those that know how the cyber-security landscape has evolved in recent years will not be surprised. Nigerian cyber-crooks have evolved from the silly email scams they were pulling in the 90s and early 2000s to using more complex tools and tactics.

Nowadays, these groups of Nigerian hackers, called “yahoo boiz,” “waya waya” or “G-work” in their local communities, are using clever spear-phishing emails to trick victims into installing keyloggers and RATs.

This trend of evolution in the Nigerian cybercrime landscape was noticed by the SecureWorks team last August, and detailed in more depth in a report called “Wire Wire: A West African Cyber Threat“.

Similarly, this week, Kaspersky also discovered a group of Nigerian hackers targeting industrial companies from the metallurgy, electric power, construction, engineering and other sectors.

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link to this extract


Redditors design worst volume sliders possible • Designer News

Lots of wonderful(ly bad) ones, though I think this may be my favourite:


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Americans, password management and mobile security • Pew Research Center

This will mostly reinforce what you thought about how people use passwords:

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There are relatively few demographic differences when it comes to how internet users keep track of their passwords. Within every major demographic group, a majority says that memorization is the password management technique they rely on the most – and the differences that do exist on this subject tend to be relatively modest. For instance, those under the age of 50 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to primarily memorize their online passwords (72% vs. 55%), while older users are more likely to say they primarily write their passwords down on a piece of paper (27% vs. 13%). But otherwise, users of all ages manage their online passwords using largely similar approaches.

Those under the age of 50 are especially likely to indicate that their online passwords are very similar to one another: 45% of internet users ages 18 to 49 say this, compared with 32% of those ages 50 and older. And younger adults are especially likely to share their passwords with others: 56% of 18- to 29-year-old internet users have done so.

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But then there’s this:

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Many sites rely on individuals to choose strong passwords as the first line of defense for their online accounts, but there are other technologies that aim to improve – or in some cases replace –the password itself. The first of these techniques is known as “multifactor” or “two-factor” authentication. The “factors” are typically something the user knows (such as a password) plus something the user possesses (like a code sent to their smartphone). Nearly half of internet users (52%) say that they use this type of multifactor authentication on at least one of their online accounts.

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I’m amazed that half of users use 2FA at all. I’d have thought the figure would be far smaller.
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Prices for fake news campaigns revealed • BBC News

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In its report, Trend Micro looked at Russian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and English language sites offering all kinds of services based around manipulating social media, search engines and news organisations.

The services on offer included:
• Creating celebrities
• Sparking social unrest including demonstrations
• Discrediting journalists
• Putting sustained pressure on elections or political parties

Some of the services profiled gave very detailed breakdowns of what could be done to influence political debate or manipulate the media.

The $50,000 (£39,000) cost of discrediting a journalist involved fake news stories contradicting the target’s articles promoted via paid upvotes, likes, retweets and comments. It also involved tens of thousands of bots swamping a target’s Twitter feed with malicious comments or posting strongly critical comments on stories.

“It’s never been easier to manipulate social media and other online platforms to affect and amplify public opinion,” said Trend Micro spokesman Bharat Mistry.

Key to making the campaigns work, said the report, was creating stories, posts and discussions that “pander to its audience’s ideologies”.

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Cue jokes about “that much to discredit a journalist? I’ll do it myself” etc.
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Advanced CIA firmware has been infecting Wi-Fi routers for years • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

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Home routers from 10 manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices. That’s according to secret documents posted Thursday by WikiLeaks.

CherryBlossom, as the implant is code-named, can be especially effective against targets using some D-Link-made DIR-130 and Linksys-manufactured WRT300N models because they can be remotely infected even when they use a strong administrative password. An exploit code-named Tomato can extract their passwords as long as a default feature known as universal plug and play remains on. Routers that are protected by a default or easily-guessed administrative password are, of course, trivial to infect. In all, documents say CherryBlossom runs on 25 router models, although it’s likely modifications would allow the implant to run on at least 100 more.

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Not surprising in some ways: most routers run a stripped-down version of Linux and don’t get updated (especially against security hacks), so find a vulnerability and you’re pretty much guaranteed it will work for ages.
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Apple’s Tim Cook on Donald Trump, the HomePod, and the Legacy of Steve Jobs • Bloomberg

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Megan Murphy: You’ve talked a lot about augmented reality at the heart of the company’s future. How do you see AR moving forward?

Tim Cook: I think it is profound. I am so excited about it, I just want to yell out and scream. The first step in making it a mainstream kind of experience is to put it in the operating system. We’re building it into iOS 11, opening it to developers—and unleashing the creativity of millions of people. Even we can’t predict what’s going to come out.

There’s some things that you can already get a vision of. We’ve talked to IKEA, and they have 3D images of their furniture line. You’re talking about changing the whole experience of how you shop for, in this case, furniture and other objects that you can place around the home. You can take that idea and begin to think this is something that stretches from enterprise to consumer. There’s not a lot of things that do that.

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He doesn’t see eye-to-eye – at all – with Trump; clearly he’s just going to work around him.
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Global coal production sees biggest decline in history • TreeHugger

Sami Grover:

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Global coal production fell by 6.2% last year. That’s the largest annual decline on record. Consumption was down, too, for the second year in a row, falling 1.7%.

Those are two big takeaways from this year’s just-released BP Statistical Review of Energy—a report whose launch press release is appropriately titled “Energy markets in transition.”

In many ways, we shouldn’t be surprised. From the UK’s first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution to India halting coal plant production in the very near future, the bad news has been coming thick and fast for coal over the last few years. Indeed, the report shows that the shift away from coal is as decisive as it is widespread, with the UK consuming 52.5% less in 2016, the US dipping 8.8%, and China’s consumption dropping 1.6%, too.

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These are big changes, and they’re likely to accelerate. Five years ago, people were expecting a boom in coal use.
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Privacy watchdog launches investigation into data use during Brexit campaign • FT

Nicholas Megaw:

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The UK’s data protection watchdog is launching a formal investigation into the use of personal data for political purposes, amid growing concerns about big data’s impact on recent elections including last year’s Brexit vote.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said in a blog post published today that “it is important that there is greater and genuine transparency about the use of such techniques to ensure that people have control over their own data and the law is upheld”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office began “assessing” the risks data analytics pose under data protection laws in March, amid concerns including the reported role played by data analytics company Cambridge Analytica during the Brexit campaign.

The ICO has previously confirmed that it had “concerns” about the company’s reported use of personal data.

Cambridge Analytica, which counts Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon as a former boardmember, has denied any wrongdoing. In March it said it is “completely compliant with UK and EU data law”.

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Be interesting to see how long this takes, and how public its decision is.
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The art of Defendo, or how to fight like a Canadian: ‘Destroy them. Don’t feel sorry for them’ • National Post

Joe O’Connor with the story of Bill Underwood, who created two western martial arts: “Combato” and “Defendo”. A story worth your time:

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John Ferris was 15-years-old, athletic and apprehensive, upon meeting Bill Underwood for the first time, at the old man’s self-defence academy in Toronto’s east end. Underwood was in a white undershirt, dress pants and stocking feet. He wore owlish glasses with black frames and looked like an 84-year-old Grandpa, with a stick-out belly, long arms and a kindly way. When he spoke, his accent betrayed his British roots, while his preference for tea — two bags to a cup — did not hint at any internal menace or capacity to cause grave bodily harm. 

“Bill was a short old man,” Ferris recalls. “The first time I was introduced to him he came right over, and it was as if he wanted me to know that it didn’t matter that I was young — I still didn’t stand a chance against him. And then he put me down, hard and fast, and I remember saying, ‘Bill, that really hurts,” and Bill said to me: “Don’t worry. Nothing is going to break.”” 

So began Ferris’ stint as a human rag doll, with suitably flexible limbs and forgiving bones that an octogenarian, in glasses and an undershirt, would wrench and twist and throw about gymnasiums and church basements, demonstrating his craft.

“Bill was a showman,” Ferris says.

He was that, and more.

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Oxford’s self-driving cars, pause on iOS 11, Pac-Man madness, hacking Georgia’s voters, and more


Bali’s rice terraces are an example of fractal design which generates optimum harvests without central control. Photo by J.E.Skodak 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. It is, after all, Friday. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A fleet of self-driving cars will test-drive from Oxford to London • Inverse

Mike Brown:

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The United Kingdom is about to play host to one of the most ambitious autonomous car tests ever. Its goal? To find out what happens when you let a fleet of self-driving cars loose into the real world.

The DRIVEN consortium is a government-funded group of companies involved in several aspects of autonomous car development, starting a 30-month test project that will culminate in six to 12 self-driving cars driving between London and Oxford in the second half of 2019. The project aims to go beyond the question of whether we can make a car drive itself, exploring bigger issues like how a computer can judge risk and what happens when an autonomous car loses cellular service.

The open-road testing will put to use the technology developed by Oxford-based artificial intelligence firm Oxbotica. The cars will operate with SAE Level 4 autonomy.

“This is the first exercise where there’s a connected fleet talking to each other about risk and routes and all those sorts of things,” Dr. Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica, tells Inverse.

“Typically, vehicles today work as single vehicles, so this is the first trial where we’re looking at doing some joined-up thinking between the different vehicles.”

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link to this extract


Reasons not to install the iOS 11 beta just yet • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:

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You shouldn’t install the iOS 11 beta for many reasons, most notably the fact that tons of things are just plain broken. Here’s a selection of things that are broken or annoying in the current beta state…

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All Birchler’s points are fair. I’ve been trying iOS 11 out on an iPad Pro, and it’s good fun – the new Control Center (once you figure out how to get it, and highlight the relevant bits) is great. The new Dock and multitasking UI takes a little getting used to.

One thing I notice? The lock screen is really black. As if it were preparing for OLED blacks.
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Sorry to burst your bubble, but Microsoft’s ‘Ms Pac-Man beating AI’ is more Automatic Idiot • The Register

Katyanna Quach and Andrew Silver on something you might have heard of – AI that can beat Pac-Man!

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So what’s the problem?

It’s all a bit of clever trickery. It’s a bit of a hack. The crucial thing is that the reward weights are hardcoded into the software. Ghosts are set to -1,000. Pills and fruits are set a weight based on their in-game points. This is programmed in by the researchers. It means the AI hasn’t learned very much at all: it hasn’t learned that ghosts are bad and to be avoided because they cause Ms Pac-Man to lose her lives and ultimately the whole game, that pills need to be collected, that fruits are good and not stationary ghosts, and so on.

Other reinforcement learning systems found out through hours of trial and error that, for example in Space Invaders, they could press the fire button and sometimes earn points; that firing away made things disappear, also earning points; that moving and firing made more things disappear, earning more points; that moving to avoid being hit by enemy bullets let the player live longer, thus allowing it to gain more points; and so on. These systems learned from scratch the value of their decisions. Hit the ball, shoot the thing, get a reward, figure it out, get better.

Maluuba’s HRA is, in all honesty, a proof of concept. It didn’t have to learn the hard way. It was born knowing everything it ever needed to know. Until it can learn for itself from scratch, building up intelligence on its own from its environment, it’s a preprogrammed maze-searching algorithm. Romain Laroche, one of the paper’s coauthors, admitted the weights are defined “manually for the moment,” adding they’ll become dynamic at some point, hopefully. The fixed design is documented in the paper.

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link to this extract


Fractal planting patterns yield optimal harvests, without central control • Phys.org

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Bali’s famous rice terraces, when seen from above, look like colorful mosaics because some farmers plant synchronously, while others plant at different times. The resulting fractal patterns are rare for man-made systems and lead to optimal harvests without global planning.

To understand how Balinese rice farmers make their decisions for planting, a team of scientists led by Stephen Lansing (Nanyang Technological University) and Stefan Thurner (Medical University of Vienna, Complexity Science Hub Vienna, IIASA, SFI), both external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, modeled two variables: water availability and pest damage. Farmers that live upstream have the advantage of always having water; while those downstream have to adapt their planning on the schedules of the upstream farmers.

Here, pests enter the scene.

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yes, really: fractal planting, without central control, produce pretty much optimal outcomes.
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It’s no surprise that the Kansas tax cut experiment failed to create jobs • Equitable Growth

Greg Leiserson on Kansas’s decision to revoke a series of tax cuts from 2012 and 2013 amid budget crises and cutbacks:

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Proponents of the tax cuts argued that they would unleash economic growth and job creation. Yet as numerous subsequent analyses demonstrate, the promised economic growth did not materialize. Tax revenues fell sharply. Job growth and output growth disappointed. Population growth, whether as a cause or consequence of the economic growth, failed to materialize. Finally, last week, state legislators recognized the experiment’s failure and reversed course.

Understanding the reasons that the Kansas tax cut experiment failed to create jobs is particularly important given that the outline for tax reform rolled out by the Trump administration in April shares many features with the Kansas model. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the administration’s plan “is all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” much as Gov. Brownback did in Kansas five years ago. In fact, subsequent reporting suggests that the Trump administration’s tax plan was rolled out in an incomplete state because the president read an op-ed in The New York Times co-authored by some of the same advocates who provided advice to Brownback on his tax plan.

The failure of the Kansas tax cut experiment to create jobs has little to do with Kansas, however, and everything to do with the fact that the underlying economics of tax reform—as envisioned by Gov. Brownback and President Donald Trump—isn’t a good path to jobs. To understand this point, it’s worth considering in turn the two primary types of taxes that were cut under the Kansas plan and in the Trump administration’s outline: taxes on labor income and taxes on business profits.

Claims of supply-side growth from labor income tax cuts rely on the idea that people will be more willing to work when their after-tax wages are higher. This theory posits that labor income tax cuts result in growth because people who could increase their earnings choose not to because tax rates are too high, but it does not take much to see why cutting tax rates for middle- and higher-income families does not create jobs through this mechanism. Middle- and higher-income families already have jobs, even if they are not the jobs they necessarily want.

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If I’m reading this correctly, it suggests that the Laffer curve is nice in theory, bunk in practice. Otherwise revenues from the tax cuts would have spiked and things would have been great.

Or – alternative hypothesis – the tax ratio was already on the wrong side of the Laffer curve, and cutting just made it worse.
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Spotify has guaranteed to pay big music labels billions over the next two years • Recode

Peter Kafka:

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Spotify’s revenue grew more than 50% to $3.3bn last year. And in order to grow more, the music streaming company will pay music labels billions of dollars over the next two years.

In financial filings released this morning, Spotify says it has agreed to pay more than $2bn in minimum payments to record labels over the next two years.

Spotify doesn’t spell out who that money is going to. But people familiar with the company confirm it is talking about two deals it has recently signed with Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music label, which has about a third of the market, and Merlin, which represents a large group of independent labels.

That means Spotify will ultimately be on the hook for even more guaranteed payments once it re-signs Sony and Warner Music Group, the two other major music labels.

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Total users grew to 140m, but no word on how many are paying (the last figure was 50m in March.)
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What’s behind the recent media bloodbath? The dominance of Google and Facebook • Poynter

Daniel Funke:

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Today, a new analysis from the Pivotal Research Group showed that Google and Facebook accounted for approximately 71% of all digital advertising sales in the United States during the first quarter of 2017 and 82% of all growth in digital advertising. That’s a steady year-over-year increase from 2016 and 2015, when the two technology giants had a combined share of 69% and 64% of digital advertising, respectively, according to the analysis.

And as media analyst Ken Doctor notes, that growth isn’t exactly loose change.

“Even a 2% share movement, which may seem like a small number, it’s still a big number,” said Doctor, author of “Newsonomics.”

What’s left for media organizations? Not much, according to Alan Mutter, a newspaper industry analyst and professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The vast preponderance of digital advertising dollars go to Google and Facebook, and very little is left over for other people,” Mutter said. “There’s just more content running around in search of advertising than there is advertising dollars that can support that content.”

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And so hundreds of people go out of work.
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The global state of ad blocking – Digiday

Max Willens:

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• 615 million, or how many devices have ad-blocking software on them, worldwide. That’s up 30% year over year, according to PageFair.

• 90 percent: The overwhelming majority of the mobile devices equipped with an ad blocker – all 380 million of them – are located in Asia, where limited, expensive bandwidth plays just as big a role in the adblocking wars as user experience.

• 1%: For a time, publishers could take solace in the fact that very few any mobile devices in the U.S. had adblocking apps installed, according to eMarketer research. With Safari and Chrome both poised to begin blocking ads on mobile, this number is going to change a lot in the coming year.

• 17%, 22%, 27%: Adblocking might be surging in Asia, but in many advanced digital media markets, it’s either stabilized or declining. These three numbers represent the adblocking rates in Canada, the UK and Germany.

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With Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari about to add adblocking in the near future, things are hotting up on this front. Adtech companies may only have a limited time to get their act in order.
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What would “data literature” look like? • Jeni Tennison

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Children are already taught Data Language as part of the Maths curriculum. They are taught how to collect data, record it, create basic statistics, make charts and graphs from it, even in primary school. But what about Data Literature?

What if children were taught about Florence Nightingale’s use of data? They could unpick the method of collection, the birth of new forms of visualisation and the use of data for argument and persuasion and change. They could examine the context of Nightingale’s work at the time and the repercussions through to the present day. They could create new works from her data, put together new visualisations and invent modern-day newspaper stories.

They could examine the works of great modern day data visualisers and compare and contrast their works around particular key events, such as the Iraq war or the 2016 presidential election, or on thematic topics such as climate change. They could examine commonalities in form – citation of sources, provision of values – as well as differences in style and expression. They could produce their own visualisations in the style of one of the greats, or simply copy a work to see how it’s done.

They could look at the use of data in reports, from official statistical releases, through academic papers, to sports commentary. They could look at how these have evolved over time, and the varying ways in which numbers and statistics can be used to inform and substantiate a story that is being told. They could look at the choices made about what numbers get quoted in such stories, and have exercises where they select different numbers or use different rhetorical devices (eg “almost 20%” vs “less than 20%”) to reach a different conclusion…

…I am sure there must be people thinking of and doing this already. I know of the Calling Bullshit course, for example. What else is there? Does this idea have legs? How could we advance it? Let me know at jeni@theodi.org.

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Surface Pro review: Incremental improvement isn’t enough • Ars Technica

Peter Bright is particularly unhappy about the ports:

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The 2017 Pro retains the same selection of ports as the Pro 4. There’s a full-size USB 3.1 generation 1 (5Gbps) port, a mini DisplayPort, a headset jack, a microSDXC card reader, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect magnetic port (used for charging and the Surface Dock). That’s it.

The sheer number of ports has always felt a little stingy; the technology being used feels even worse. There’s no 10Gbps USB 3.1 generation 2 port; there’s no Thunderbolt 3; there’s no USB Type-C. The port selection is as backwards-looking as they come.

Microsoft has argued that this is because USB Type-C is in its infancy and remains complicated to deploy, given some marketplace confusion about which ports can be used for what (features such as charging, video output, and Thunderbolt all can use Type-C, but there’s no guarantee that a Type-C port offers any of those capabilities). In addition, many companies produce out-of-spec cables and chargers, adding further complexity. As such, it’s better to stick with what’s safe and well-known.

This is a disappointing attitude. If the goal of the Surface brand is, at least in part, to drive forward PC technology, what better place to do it than with this tricky piece of tech? After all, when the Surface line first came to market, one could easily argue that PC tablets and pen computers were complex, niche products that weren’t a good fit for most users. Microsoft didn’t give up on that idea, however; it refined it and has successfully demonstrated that, when done well, these machines can have wide appeal.

Type-C could surely have presented a similar opportunity to show the industry a best-in-class Type-C implementation. Give the machine, say, four ports and ensure that every port supports charging, supports displays, and supports Thunderbolt 3. Make sure external GPUs work reliably. Ensure that the system firmware is configured correctly to protect against malicious Thunderbolt 3 devices. Make Windows clearer about when an underpowered charger is being used.

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link to this extract


Researcher finds Georgia voter records exposed on internet • Associated Press

Frank Bajak:

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The true dimensions of the failure were first reported Wednesday by Politico Magazine. The affected Center for Election Systems referred all questions to its host, Kennesaw State University, which declined comment. In March, the university had mischaracterized the flaw’s discovery as a security breach.

Logan Lamb, a 29-year-old Atlanta-based private security researcher formerly with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, made the discovery last August. He told The Associated Press he decided to go public after the publication last week of a classified National Security Agency report describing a sophisticated scheme, allegedly by Russian military intelligence, to infiltrate local U.S. elections systems using phishing emails.

The NSA report offered the most detailed account yet of an attempt by foreign agents to probe the rickety and poorly funded U.S. elections system. The Department of Homeland Security had previously reported attempts last year to gain unauthorized access to voter registration databases in 20 states — one of which, in Illinois, succeeded, though the state says no harm resulted.

It also emboldened Lamb to come forward with his findings. Lamb discovered the security hole — a misconfigured server — one day as he did a search of the Kennesaw State election-systems website. There, he found a directory open to the internet that contained not just the state voter database, but PDF files with instructions and passwords used by poll workers to sign into a central server used on Election Day, said Lamb.

“It was an open invitation to anybody pretending to even know a little bit about computers to get into the system,” said Marilyn Marks, an election-transparency activist whose Colorado-based foundation participated in a failed lawsuit that sought to bar the use of paperless voting machines in next week’s election.

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Linked to this rather than Politico because of Lamb’s action: the NSA story that the Intercept ran (leaked, remember, by someone who heard an Intercept podcast wondering about extent of Russian hacking) prompted Lamb to come forward. Dominoes fall.

More to the point, the US’s election system is beginning to look unfit for purpose in the modern world. Sure, I take the point (American readers) that US elections can involve multiple topics on big ballot papers. That doesn’t mean the answer is insecure, unauditable systems for convenience, though.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Apple Watch gets smart, how Britain voted, 1m Pixels sold!, the next Einstein?, and more


Samsung’s emoji are… different. Photo by Thomas James Caldwell 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Samsung’s bizarre emojis • Hacker Noon

Jackson Roberts:

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I have no idea what the creative process at Samsung was like while they were designing emojis. Did the children of employees draw them? Had the designers never seen or used emojis on other platforms? Were they simply running low on time?

We may never know the answer to these questions. However, we can delve into some of the most bizarre of Samsung’s emoji library.

Case 1: 😬, the grimace emoji.
In every sane emoji library, the emotion portrayed by the grimace emoji is easily recognizable.

The interpretation of the grimace is relatively consistent across all platforms. It’s a face of discomfort, showing gritted teeth with emotionless eyes. It gets the point across. However, Samsung decided to buck the trend with their grimace emoji…

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This is hilarious, and frightening. But given Samsung’s gigantic power it also means that some huge proportion of the world’s mobile users have a completely different idea about what their emoji are saying than other device users.
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Layoffs are the media’s own ‘carnage’ as the industry struggles to deal with oversupply and evolving technology • Talking New Media

DB Hebbard on the hundreds of job cuts at Time, Vocativ, Yahoo and Huffington Post:

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So, why is this happening? Is it only about traditional media’s failure to adjust to digital?

It would be nice to come up with simple answers, but the picture is far more complex than that.

Everyone seems to have an idea about what is wrong — but, to be honest, I’m tired of hearing from those who have never had success in media themselves, much less ever been responsible for creating a budget or meeting P&L objectives. Sometimes we just have to admit that the bottom line is, well, the bottom line.

But as I told one executive at a major media company this morning, things like diversification remain important. Having the right strategy is great, but successfully implementing it is important, too.

We are currently in an era where most media managers believe that there is a simple strategy that can be employed, and they are hellbent on seeing that strategy through, even if it means laying off staff every once in a while.

But it also has been said that, thanks to the increase ease of digital publishing, combined with the growth of social media, there is now an oversupply of content.

Just as once the only way to acquire music was the local record store, now nearly all music is available through iTunes, Amazon or through streaming — so too is media in oversupply. One voice is as loud as another, even if one voice comes from that of a trained journalist, the other… from who knows where.

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As Clay Shirky put it – in 1995! – “Help, the price of information has fallen and it can’t get up“.
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Apple watchOS 4 brings Intelligence to the wrist • Tech.pinions

Carolina Milanesi on the changes coming with the update later this year:

»

With watchOS 4, Apple is making it simpler to get to the music you want for your workout thanks to a new multi-playlist support and automatic import.

Apple also introduced the new Siri face that makes Apple Watch much more context-aware by delivering information that is relevant to you at a specific moment in time. While Apple did not talk about it, one could see how that Siri Watch face could integrate very well with voice when you are wearing AirPods. Siri could, for instance, tell you that you need to leave for your meeting while showing you the calendar appointment on Apple Watch.

So, as Apple Watch becomes more like a coach, Siri becomes more a visible but discreet assistant that is being liberated from the iPhone. I think this is a very powerful paradigm and before nay-sayers jump to point out that Apple Watch penetration is limited, I underline that Apple Watch users are highly engaged in the Apple ecosystem and represent Siri’s best opportunity. Similar to CarPlay, Apple Watch also has a captivated audience not just for Siri’s brains but also for voice-first. With Apple Watch, voice interaction is the most natural form of interaction, especially when wearing AirPods. So much so that, with watchOS 4, SiriKit adds support for apps that are used to take notes, so that now you can use Siri on Apple Watch to make changes in any note-taking app.

Some Apple Watch critics have used the news that circulated last month that Google, Amazon, and eBay were killing support of their Apple Watch apps as evidence that Apple Watch failed. The reality is, however, as I explained numerous times, that Apple Watch cannot be seen as an iPhone on your wrist and therefore its success will not be driven nor defined by the same enablers.

«

The fitness focus for the Watch is really, really effective. Those who have been trying out the beta of WatchOS 4 suggest the Siri face is really good too. Question is how to break out from the fitness niche.
link to this extract


How Britain voted at the 2017 general election • YouGov

»

Since last week’s election result YouGov has interview over 50,000 British adults to gather more information on how Britain voted. This is part of one of the biggest surveys ever undertaken into British voting behaviour, and is the largest yet that asks people how they actually cast their ballots in the 2017 election.

The bigger sample size allows us to break the results down to a much more granular level and see how different groups and demographics voted on Thursday.

And this is telling too:

«

As they point out, the older people get, the more likely they are to vote Conservative. But: those with degrees (from any time) are more likely to vote Labour; those with GCSE or below (9th grade, in the US) vote Conservative 55-33 Labour.

Lots more to digest.
link to this extract


Uber faces a fresh probe from U.S. regulators over its privacy practices • Recode

Tony Romm:

»

One of the U.S. government’s most powerful consumer protection watchdogs appears to be quietly probing Uber and the company’s privacy practices.

The inquiry is under way at the Federal Trade Commission, according to four sources familiar with the matter, where the agency’s investigative staff appears to have focused its attention on some of the data-handling mishaps that have plagued the company in recent years — perhaps including employees’ misuse of “god view,” a tool that had previously allowed some at Uber to spy on the whereabouts of politicians, celebrities and others using the ride-hailing app.

The sources cautioned to Recode that FTC staff regularly question companies on consumer-protection matters, like privacy — and often, the agency chooses not to pursue any penalties while closing its investigations as quietly as it began them.

Still, the scrutiny could easily blossom into a full-fledged legal complaint against Uber — a reality the company knows well.

«

It’s getting hard to pick just one Uber story per day. But this is today’s pick.
link to this extract


Play Store downloads show Google Pixel sales limited to 1 million units • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Unlike just about every hardware manufacturer on Earth, Google doesn’t share official sales numbers for the Pixel phones, choosing to bundle the income under Alphabet’s “Other Revenues” during earnings reports. We do have one very solid signal for Pixel sales, though: the Play Store, which shows install numbers for apps. If there was an app that was exclusive and install-by-default on the Pixel phones, like say, the Pixel Launcher, the install number would basically be the number of sold activated phones.

This calculation is complicated by the fact that Google Play doesn’t show exact install numbers; it shows installs in “tiers” like “100,000-500,000.” So most of the time, we won’t have an exact Pixel sales number—except when the Pixel Launcher crosses from one download tier to another. So guess what just happened? The Pixel Launcher just crossed into the “1,000,000-5,000,000” install tier (you can see some third-party tracking sites, like AppBrain, still have it listed at 500,000). So for this one moment in history, eight months after launch, we can say Google finally sold a million Pixel phones.

«

Turns out there are more people who have sideloaded to other rooted devices (1.3m). Pixel is allegedly nice, but hardware is not for the timorous.
link to this extract


Harvard thinks it’s found the next Einstein — and she’s 23 • LinkedIn

Guy Delbaen:

»

Harvard University believes the world’s next Einstein is among us — and she’s a millennial.

At age 23, Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski is already one of the most well-known and accomplished physicists in the U.S.

The Cuban-American Chicago native graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in just three years with a 5.0-grade point average, the highest possible, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard with full academic freedom — meaning she can pursue her own study on her own terms without staff interference.

Pasterski first attracted the attention of the scientific and academic community after single-handedly building her own single-engine airplane in 2008, at age 14, and documenting the process on YouTube.

MIT professors Allen Haggerty and Earll Murman saw the video and were astonished. “Our mouths were hanging open after we looked at it,” Haggerty recalls. “Her potential is off the charts.”

«

Find some of her physics papers at http://physicsgirl.com/ – “Semiclassical Virasoro Symmetry of the Quantum Gravity S-Matrix,” “Gaussian Measures and the QM Oscillator,” and “Low’s Subleading Soft Theorem as a Symmetry of QED.” And others. (QED does not stand for “quod erat demonstrandum” in this case.)
link to this extract


London fire: Muslims beginning Ramadan fast may have saved lives in Grenfell Tower • HuffPost UK

Sarah Ann Harris, Lucy Sherriff, Becky Barnes and Paco Anselmi:

»

Muslims who were awake because they were beginning their Ramadan fast “saved people’s lives” when a deadly blaze broke out at a west London tower block, HuffPost UK has been told.

At least 50 people have been taken to five hospitals for treatment as hundreds of residents in the 27-storey, 120 flat, Grenfell Tower in north Kensington have been evacuated from their flats in the building that caught fire just after 1.15am.

A local woman told HuffPost UK: “Muslim boys saved people’s lives. They ran around knocking on people’s doors. Thank God for Ramadan”

Khalid Suleman Ahmed, 20, recently moved to Grenfell Tower with his auntie and lives on the eighth floor.

He said he would not normally have been up in the middle of the night but had stayed up during Ramadan for Suhur, the meal before Muslims begin fasting again during daylight hours.

«

link to this extract


Grenfell Tower • Harley Facades Limited

Harley Facades produced the cladding used on the Grenfell Tower – which calamitously caught fire on Wednesday morning. Oddly enough, the page with the case study sheet was removed from Harley Facades’s website.
link to this extract


Google YouTube crisis still has some brands sitting out, Thygesen says • CNBC

Ari Levy:

»

After YouTube’s advertising crisis in recent months that saw ads running alongside neo-Nazi and jihadist videos, Google has been able to lure most brands back to the site. But not all.

“We still have some high-profile advertisers that have not returned,” said Allan Thygesen, Google’s president of the Americas, at a conference on Tuesday hosted by investment bank Rutberg. “We will not rest until we get them all on.”

In early February, The Times of London reported that ads for brands like Mercedes-Benz were showing up in YouTube videos promoted by hate groups. Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan, AT&T and Verizon were among companies that subsequently suspended or pulled advertising with Google, following media buying agency Havas in the U.K.

Google’s parent, Alphabet, responded with a blog post in March, announcing that the company was more aggressively removing ads from hateful content, giving brands more control over where their ads are placed and providing more transparency to marketers so they can see where their ads are appearing.

«

Didn’t last long, did it? Wonder if it needs something more dramatic – or if this brief storm in a teacup was all there was.
link to this extract


Google for Jobs is secretly out to kill job sites • Inc.com

Jason Nazar is founder of Comparably, a job search site:

»

In order to fix the broken process of job searching and placement a couple things need to happen. First, there needs to be platform that has access to the widest set of candidates, both active and passive. Then it requires a product experience that regularly engages those candidates, and not just when they’re looking to switch jobs. For example, show people what different office cultures are like, how much they should get paid, and which companies are the best fit for them. And companies hiring need a better way to find and notify qualified prospective candidates. There are still way too many times great potential candidates never know about companies and jobs that would be an ideal fit. Employers are spending way too much money inefficiently to promote their jobs. They should have much better tools and access to find the candidates they need to hire. And here where is Google comes in.

Google is happy to have other companies like ZipRecruiter, Monster, and LinkedIn go to the trouble of getting job postings, and they’re also happy to send them traffic and revenue. Google knows that if they ultimately own the relationship with job candidates and seekers then they’re really the ones that own the market. They money they share with others in the process in inconsequential to them. Whoever owns the original job search owns the market, and Google for Jobs is a concerted effort to get consumers to spend more time directly with Google for all their job needs.

«

It wouldn’t be the first time that Google has been accused of being after a big sector, but it never hurts to be extra-paranoid about it either. This will probably put it into direct competition over time with Microsoft’s LinkedIn. The old rivals meet again.
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Don’t blame China for the fall of American steel • Bloomberg Gadfly

David Fickling:

»

With Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross set to announce possible anti-dumping measures to protect the U.S. industry as soon as this week, though, it’s worth asking whether that relationship is as straightforward as it seems. After all, about the closest thing the global steel industry has to a fundamental law of nature is the steel intensity curve.Poor countries use very little steel per unit of gross domestic product. As they industrialize, this steel intensity increases rapidly, to the point where the country starts to transition toward consumer-led growth. At that point, steel intensity starts to slip again, as spending shifts from industrial products like machinery and buildings, to less metal-intensive categories, such as yoga mats and degustation menus:


Steel intensity curves. Source: EY

Considered in the context of the evolution of steel intensity, it’s clear that U.S. metal output isn’t declining because of overseas competition, but because as America gets richer, it’s buying different stuff.

Employment is also suffering because the steel the U.S. does still produce is being made more efficiently: Labor productivity in the U.S. primary metal sector has risen from 54 in 1987 to 115 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You have to squint quite hard to even see Chinese steel imports to the U.S., when compared to the size of the domestic trade.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: hack that election!, Microsoft says patch, iPad Pro speed tested, Ivanka underfoot, and more


Charles Thacker, co-inventor of Ethernet, has died. Photo by Razor512 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 12 links for you. Still looking for the tapes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How to hack an election without really trying • Matt Blaze

Blaze (for those who don’t know) is an expert cryptographer who demonstrated in the 1990s that the Clinton administration’s plan for “key escrow” was fatally flawed. When it comes to hacking, he’s reliable. He wrote this – and then the addendum – on the NSA report into election hacking:

»

In the immediate term, we need to find out the extent to which county election systems have been compromised. Every voting machine as well as every computer on every county election office network in the US needs to be carefully forensically examined, and any evidence of compromise investigated. That might be an expensive and laborious process, but it is our only hope of unraveling the extent to which our elections were tampered with (if they were at all), to say nothing of cleaning up any malware left behind for the next election.

In the longer term, we need better, more secure, robust and auditable voting systems. Many states are still using insecure touch-screen “DRE” systems that have been shown to suffer from serious, exploitable vulnerabilities and that provide no ability for meaningful recounts. Our democracy deserves better than that, and we now have even more reason to demand it.

Update 13 June 2017: According to this Bloomberg News article, the attack (and the investigation) was indeed more widespread than this particular NSA document would suggest, and involved voter registration databases and possibly other election systems in at least 39 states. It remains unclear if the ultimate intended targets were the registration systems themselves (which would disrupt election operations) or other county backend voting infrastructure (including voting machines and tallying software) that might share the same networks (which could compromise the tally). The full extent is simply unknown at this point. This underscores the the need to throughly forensically examine every one of the thousands of state, local and county voting system and network in the US for evidence of malware and tampering. This would be a non-trivial undertaking, and does not appear to have been been done yet, at least at any scale. But until this occurs, there is simply no way to be sure of any damage, or if any systems might still be running left behind compromised software during the next election.

«

In the UK we counted more than 30 million paper votes in a single night. It only takes organisation, and it’s pretty resistant to hacking.
link to this extract


What we know about the leaked secret NSA report on Russia • ABC News

Karma Allen:

»

On March 22, The Intercept hosted a podcast online looking at, among other things, the public outcry over Russia’s alleged collusion with associates of President Donald Trump and the Kremlin’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

Host Jeremy Scahill said “there is a tremendous amount of hysterics” and “a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” but “there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up.”

Appearing as a guest on the podcast, Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald agreed, saying that while “it’s very possible” Russia was behind election-related hacks last year, “we still haven’t seen any evidence for it.”

Little more than a week later, Winner allegedly used a Gmail account to contact The Intercept, and she “appeared to request transcripts of a podcast,” court documents said.

More than a month later, the NSA secretly issued the classified document now at the center of the leak case. And within days, Winner allegedly found it, printed it out and mailed it to The Intercept.

«

So she was trying to provide The Intercept with evidence about the topic it doubted, The Intercept showed it to a government source for checking, and the government tracked Winner down. It’s like a Greek tragedy where the hero(ine) tries to get the chorus to do something.
link to this extract


Charles P. Thacker • Wikipedia

»

Charles P. (Chuck) Thacker (February 26, 1943 – June 12, 2017) was a American pioneer computer designer. He worked on the Xerox Alto, which is the first computer that used a mouse-driven Graphical User Interface.

«

Also co-inventor of Ethernet and worked on the laser printer.
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Microsoft warns of ‘destructive cyberattacks,’ issues new Windows XP patches • ZDNet

Ed Bott:

»

Citing an “elevated risk for destructive cyberattacks” by government organizations or copycats, Microsoft on Tuesday released an assortment of security updates designed to block attacks similar to those responsible for thedevastating WannaCry ransomware outbreak last month.

The alerts highlights the risk of “potential nation-state activity.” It does not name the nation-state it suspects of being on the verge of unleashing this attack.

Today’s critical security updates are in addition to the normal Patch Tuesday releases, Microsoft said. They’ll be delivered automatically through Windows Update to devices running supported versions, including Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and post-2008 Windows Server releases.

«

An update earlier in the year had the same intent (to defend against Wannacry/Eternal Blue) but perhaps pointing out now that it’s to defend against nation-state attacks will get people to actually implement it.
link to this extract


WWDC 2017 :  some thoughts • Learning By Shipping

Steve Sinofsky (yes, the guy who drove Windows and introduced the Surface as a skateboard):

»

I’ve been saying this for years — that ARM-based, mobile OS, with new apps geared to a new interaction model will become dominant. I didn’t expect that to be just a pocket-sized device, but based on hours of usage that is clearly the case (and at least partially responsible for iPad sales curves).

What I believe Apple has cleverly done is introduce features such as “windowing”, drag and drop, and app switching that will cause the industry to take note of the improved productivity potential while at the same time not forcing a “desktop” model on “everyone”. By and large these features are likely to fall to power users, but that is often how markets tilt. The new Files app (which is very early) will prove to be a game changer and so clearly ups the “power” of the device as many core productivity scenarios are about juggling multiple files in some workflow.

For the vast majority of people that define productivity as “Office” scenarios of notetaking, slides, lists, basic models, communicating (iOS was already the preferred mail platform by volume), and so on, the iPad with its security, reliability, robustness, performance, and also connection to phone (continuity, Messages, etc.) make for an extremely productive experience. Developers take note, as iPad-specific apps will become increasingly important in productivity categories.

«

link to this extract


Implicit Association Test • Harvard University

»

It is well known that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’. Understanding such divergences is important to scientific psychology.

This web site presents a method that demonstrates the conscious-unconscious divergences much more convincingly than has been possible with previous methods. This new method is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short.

In addition, this site contains various related information. The value of this information may be greatest if you try at least one test first…

«

However, there’s a lot of disagreement about the suggestion that these are any use.
link to this extract


Ericsson Mobility Report 1H 2017 • Ericsson

»

For the next six years, more than 1 million new mobile broadband subscribers will be added per day. This means there will be an additional 2.6 billion subscribers by the end of 2022.

The June 2017 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report continues to forecast the growth of mobile technology, including IoT connections and LTE. We also explore how the unconnected can be cost-effectively connected by leveraging existing mobile infrastructure, and how attributes of 5G will make public transport via autonomous vehicles safer.

«

Always worth a download and mull over; the numbers are getting mindblowing though.
link to this extract


Review: Microsoft’s Surface Laptop running Windows 10 S • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

»

In my 10 days of use of the Intel Core i5 model with 8 GB of RAM running Windows 10 S (Creators Update release, a k a 1703), I didn’t approach the 14-hour battery life figure Microsoft touted for Surface Laptop. The Microsoft figure is for the non-real-world continuous video playback scenarios. In my intermittent, regular but non-continuous use — browsing the web, monitoring Twitter, writing posts and emails, watching YouTube videos, and playing music on Groove — I’d guess I’ve been more in the seven-plus-hour range, not including time when the machine was unused and in standby. (This is a rough calculation, obviously; I’ll update in the next couple weeks as I use the device more.)

Happily, I have not once come back to my idle machine to find that most of the battery drained while I wasn’t using the device. The default settings for 10 S on the Laptop call for the device to sleep, not hibernate, when not in use, which seems to be part of what “Modern Standby” does to help save battery.

On to the software. I have said recently that I believe I could live with a Chromebook these days, as I almost never need any Win32-only apps. The Surface Laptop proved my hypothesis was right.

«

That last bit might be worrying for Microsoft. You’re wondering about her experience with the Alcantara keyboard fabric?

»

…definitely going to be a love-hate thing. It feels more like a pool-table cover than a shag carpet, for those wondering about the fuzziness factor.

Microsoft included the covering as a way of differentiating its laptop and giving it a more premium feel. I admit I found myself constantly worrying about staining the cover with food/drink, sweat and tears (not unicorn ones). Officials say the fuzzy keyboard can be wiped clean easily with a damp cloth. But to me, the minuses on this outweigh the potential benefits. During the last few very warm days we’ve had here in New York, I’ve found the covering a bit too warm for my liking.

«

Oh well.
link to this extract


iPad Pro 10.5-inch (2017) review: this is crazy fast •Laptop Mag

Mark Spoonauer:

»

The A10X Fusion chip inside the iPad could very well be the most powerful mobile processor ever. The six-core CPU and 12-core GPU combine to offer amazing power given the iPad Pro’s slim profile. Part of the reason why the iPad Pro is so swift is because of the way Apple architected the chip; the CPU and GPU share the same on-board 4GB of RAM, so there’s no waiting for the graphics to go out and grab separate memory.

The result is a tablet that beats most Windows laptops on the Geekbench 4 benchmark, which measures overall performance. The iPad Pro scored a crazy-high 9,233 on the multi-core portion of the test. That’s more than double the Galaxy Tab S3 tablet with a Snapdragon 820 chip. More impressive, the iPad Pro’s mark is whopping 42% faster than the Dell XPS 13 notebook with a 7th-generation Core i5 processor (6,498) and 17% faster than a Core i7-powered HP Spectre (7,888).

«

OK, so maybe this is enough iPad Pro reviews, but the point is this: Apple is now making tablets that are faster than fully-fledged laptops. That’s an amazing change from 2010. Spoonauer’s biggest complaint? Lack of a trackpad. Telling in itself.
link to this extract


Revealed: reality of life working in an Ivanka Trump clothing factory • The Guardian

Krithika Varagur, in Subang, West Java:

»

The reality of working in a factory making clothes for Ivanka Trump’s label has been laid bare, with employees speaking of being paid so little they cannot live with their children, anti-union intimidation and women being offered a bonus if they don’t take time off while menstruating.

The Guardian has spoken to more than a dozen workers at the fashion label’s factory in Subang, Indonesia, where employees describe being paid one of the lowest minimum wages in Asia and there are claims of impossibly high production targets and sporadically compensated overtime.

The workers’ complaints come only a week after labour activists investigating possible abuses at a Chinese factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes disappeared into police custody.

The activists’ group claimed they had uncovered a host of violations at the plant including salaries below China’s legal minimum wage, managers verbally abusing workers and “violations of women’s rights”.

In the Indonesian factory some of the complaints are similar, although the wages paid to employees in Subang are much lower.

Here we look at life inside the factory through interviews with workers, all who have asked for their details to be changed to avoid losing their jobs.

«

China says it won’t release the people who were investigating the other factories. Ivanka had best get used to very close attention being paid to her supply chain.
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Uber CEO to take leave of absence as Holder report is released • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»

Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick told employees that he will take a leave of absence as the company unveiled the findings of an investigation into the ride-hailing service’s troubled workplace culture.

In his absence, a “leadership team” of his direct reports would run the company, Mr. Kalanick told employees in an email. The Uber chief didn’t disclose when he would return from the leave, saying that “it may be shorter or longer than we expect.” Mr. Kalanick said that he needed time to grieve the loss of his mother, who was killed a few weeks ago in a boating accident that seriously injured his father. “Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes.”

«

It’s easy to be cynical about Kalanick doing this as the report into sexism and discrimination is released, but the effect of the sudden death of a parent is hard to estimate. (Huge long read about the Holder report at Bloomberg.)

Now Uber begins its second act.
link to this extract


Galaxy Note 8 to reportedly miss out on in-screen fingerprint reader as well • SamMobile

“Asif S”:

»

The Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+ are one of the best smartphones released this year. However, people who used one of these devices will quickly point out the awkward placement of the fingerprint reader. It was reported that Samsung poured a lot of money in developing an in-screen fingerprint reader for these devices, but failed to achieve favorable results in time for the mass production of the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

Consumers and experts were hoping that Samsung could introduce an in-screen fingerprint reader this year with the Galaxy Note 8, thereby bringing it closer to perfection. However, a new report from Naver leads us to believe that Samsung will miss out on integrating an in-screen fingerprint reader in its upcoming flagship phablet. The report states that even Apple had a lot of problems in using a similar technology for the iPhone 8, which is expected to go on sale later this year.

«

But the reports also suggest that Apple has managed to figure this out. Samsung won’t be happy if it misses out, though one expects that by spring of next year they’ll have got yields up and the “fingerprint reader on the back” will have been discarded to the dustbin of history.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Uber exec’s beliefs, iPad Pro reviewed, blocking the trackers, AI doctors, and more


A flaw in Chrome could let it record you without you knowing. Photo by MShades 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.

Uber’s Michael is said to blame board, not behavior, for ouster • Bloomberg

Eric Newcomer and Brad Stone:

»

Uber Technologies Inc.’s newly ousted senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, has been dogged by public scandals, ever since his off-the-cuff remarks at a dinner party in 2014 about investigating a critical journalist. He was at the center of two more controversies made public this year that were included in an investigation into Uber’s culture. The former girlfriend of his boss, Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, alleged that he tried to prevent her from speaking out about a work trip to a Korean escort-karaoke bar. He was also one of the executives recently alleged to hold conspiracy theories that the rape of an Uber passenger in India was linked to a local competitor.

At the same time, Michael, an Egyptian immigrant, helped Uber raise more than $10 billion, negotiate a truce with Uber’s Chinese rival and strike deals with top automakers like Daimler AG.

Michael believes that a weak board of directors, a lax internal legal team, coupled with his tight friendship with co-founder Kalanick, ultimately led to his downfall—not the scandals, two people close to Michael said.

«

Remember the Doobie Brothers song “What a Fool Believes”?
link to this extract


10.5-Inch iPad Pro review: a better window into the world of apps • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

»

What I’m trying to say is that the advent of the new iPad Pros isn’t like the introduction of the “new iPad” back in 2012, when the tablet gained a retina-resolution screen for the first time and the previous year’s iPad 2 suddenly looked like a jaggy antique. Instead, a device with a spectacular display has been supplanted by one that looks slightly more spectacular. (The contrast between the new iPad Pro and the original 12.9-inch model from 2015 is more significant than with the 9.7-incher.) Some of the things that are new about the new iPad Pro display will pay off once app makers have caught up: Its ability to display HDR video, for instance, will be a boon once companies such as Netflix and Amazon begin streaming HDR movies to iPads.

Already, among the beneficiaries of ProMotion’s 120Hz refresh rate is Apple’s Pencil stylus–which, it turns out, was being held back by previous iPad Pros. When I squiggled virtual ink onto the page in the Procreate app as fast as I could, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro kept up noticeably better than last year’s 9.7-inch model, creating a drawing experience that felt a little less digital and a little more real.

Like I said, Apple is obsessive about this stuff.

As for the new A10X processor–which Apple says is up to 30% faster and up to 40% faster for graphics–its promise is mostly about letting developers ratchet up the ambition of their creations.

«

link to this extract


The Book of Jeremy Corbyn • The New Yorker

Anthony Lane explains the general election for those who don’t live in the UK. And for those who do, actually:

»

And it came to pass, in the land of Britain, that the High Priestess went unto the people and said, Behold, I bring ye tidings of great joy. For on the eighth day of the sixth month there shall be a general election.

And the people said, Not another one.

And they waxed wroth against the High Priestess and said, Didst thou not sware, even unto seven times, that thou wouldst not call a snap election?

And the High Priestess said, I know, I know. But Brexit is come upon us, and I must go into battle against the tribes of France, Germany, and sundry other holiday destinations. And I must put on the armor of a strong majority in the people’s house. Therefore go ye out and vote.

«

Usually I find these cod-Biblical pieces excruciating, but Lane is a cut far above the fray. Enjoy particularly the bits about the 1970s and the IRA.
link to this extract


Techdirt’s Mike Masnick says lawsuit has already had a chilling effect on his site • TechCrunch

Anthony Ha:

»

This suit is focused on Techdirt articles about Ayyadurai’s controversial claim that he invented email. As Masnick put it, “I gave my opinion, backed up with lots of evidence, that this guy did not invent email, even if he owns the website inventorofemail.com.”

And leaving aside the invention question, Masnick said, “We believe everything we wrote, that I wrote in particular, was protected speech under the First Amendment, especially when talking about a public figure.” (Ayyadurai is running against Elizabeth Warren for one of Massachusetts’ seats in the U.S. Senate.)

Masnick argued that the real aim of the suit is to shut Techdirt down — that this is, in other words, a SLAPP intended to silence someone’s free speech. After all, Ayyadurai has tweeted that “#FakeNewsMedia like TechShit need to be shutdown for their FAKE NEWS.”

And since the suit was filed in January, Masnick said there have been “very real chilling effects” on his business. He estimated that the site has been publishing one-third fewer stories than it was before, and he said its Copia think tank has had to delay events and papers.

“Every time I publish a story, I have to think, ‘Will I get sued over this?’ ” Masnick said. In fact, he claimed that since Techdirt was sued by Ayyadurai, it has received three other lawsuit threats.

At the same time, Masnick said, “As we wait for this process to play out — hopefully soon, we will see — we’re trying as hard as possible to be inspired by being in a bad situation.”

«

Though there doesn’t seem to be anywhere you can donate directly, Techdirt does have a shop (for American readers) if you’d like to support them.
link to this extract


The AI doctor orders more tests • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:

»

Amazon Web Services, the dominant cloud provider, is processing and storing genomics data for biotech companies and clinical labs. No. 2 Microsoft’s cloud unit plans to store DNA records, and its Healthcare Next system provides automated data entry and certain cancer treatment recommendations to doctors based on visible symptoms. Google seems to be betting most heavily on health-care analysis as a way to differentiate its third-place cloud offerings. Gregory Moore, vice president for health care, says he’s readying Google Cloud for a world of “diagnostics as a service.” In this world, AI could always be on hand to give doctors better information—or replace them altogether.

The cloud division is refining its genomics data analysis and working to make Google Glass, the augmented-reality headgear that consumers didn’t want, a product more useful to doctors. German cancer specialist Alacris Theranostics GmbH leans on Google infrastructure to pair patients with drug therapies, something Google hopes more companies will do. “Health-care systems are ready,” says Moore, an engineer and former radiologist. “People are seeing the potential of being able to manage data at scale.”

In November, Google researchers showed off an AI system that scanned images of eyes to spot signs of diabetic retinopathy, which causes vision loss among people with high sugar levels. Another group of the company’s researchers in March said they had used similar software to scan lymph nodes. They said they’d identified breast cancer from a set of 400 images with 89 percent accuracy, a better record than most pathologists. Last year the University of Colorado at Denver moved its health research lab’s data to Google’s cloud to support studies on genetics, maternal health, and the effect of legalized marijuana on the number and severity of injuries to young men. Michael Ames, the university’s project director, says he expects eventually to halve the cost of processing some 6 million patient records.

But however impressive Google’s AI analysis gets, the health-care industry isn’t exactly a gaggle of early adopters, says James Wang, an analyst at ARK Investment Management LLC.

«

link to this extract


Car thieves everywhere rejoice as unsecured database exposes 10 million car VINs

Catalin Cimparu:

»

For 137 days now, a yet to be identified company has left a database containing over 10 million Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) exposed online with no authentication.

This means that anyone who knows what to look for can mass-scan the Internet and download loads of sensitive information without any restriction.

Discovered by researchers from the Kromtech Security Research Center, the company’s experts believe the database was compiled for marketing purposes.

Based on the data contained within the exposed database, researchers believe the DB belongs to one or more US-based dealerships.

The database’s content is organized into three main sections, each holding information on customers, cars, and sales details.

For example, the database tables pertaining to customer info holds details such as full name, address, mobile/home/work phones, email, date of birth, gender, and the number of children over 12 years old.

«

🙄 Just assume any organisation to which you provide data which isn’t one of the biggest tech companies is going to get hacked at some point. Plan how much detail you provide on that basis.
link to this extract


Apple’s kangaroo cookie robot • ZGP

Don Marti:

»

If you missed the email spam debate, don’t worry. [Spam king Sanford] Wallace’s talking points about spam filters [being bad] constantly get recycled by surveillance marketers talking about tracking protection. But now it’s not email spam that users supposedly crave. Today, the Interactive Advertising Bureau tells us that users want ads that “follow them around” from site to site…

…If you need [to know what Apple’s introducing in Safari in iOS 11 to prevent tracking] in bullet points, here it is.

• Nifty machine learning technology is coming in on the user’s side.

• “Legitimate” uses [of cookies and Javascript] do not include cross-site tracking.

• Safari’s protection is automatic and client-side, so no blocklist politics.

Surveillance marketers come up with all kinds of hypothetical reasons why users might prefer targeted ads. But in the real world, Apple invests time and effort to understand user experience. When Apple communicates about a feature, it’s because that feature is likely to keep a user satisfied enough to buy more Apple devices. We can’t read their confidential user research, but we can see what the company learned from it based on how they communicate about products.

(Imagine for a minute that Apple’s user research had found that real live users are more like the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s idea of a user. We might see announcements more like “Safari automatically shares your health and financial information with brands you love!” Anybody got one of those to share?)

«

Might have to wait a while for those. Has anyone ever said “please let more ads follow me around”? The links above are all worth following too. This is a big shift.
link to this extract


Apple’s multi-billion dollar ‘flops’ • Irish Independent

Adrian Weckler points out that the Watch and iPad are bigger respectively than Twitter and half of Facebook, and pretty surely profitable, and yet people discount them because they aren’t the iPhone:

»

it’s not really a surprise that we’re seeing tinges of Apple ennui creep into coverage of its newly-announced HomePod speaker.

In case you missed it last week, Apple unveiled a ‘smart’ music speaker that can be used to control lighting systems, security alarms and home appliances.

It can also be used to get information from the web using Apple’s Siri voice-control system – and it’s a decent speaker that can compete with Sonos and other established hi-fi units.
But already, people are grumbling about Apple being “too late” to the smart speaker market, or that Siri isn’t quite as good as the voice-recognition technology developed by Amazon (Alexa) or Google.

In other words, they’re saying that the HomePod may be a nice side business for Apple, but it won’t dominate its segment in the same way the iPhone dominates the phone business.

The reality is that 24 months from now, it’s a solid bet that the HomePod will race into being a €1bn business in its own right.

If nothing else, Apple has shown that it has a greater propensity to hit than to miss, even if it’s ‘merely’ a €1bn business instead of a €50bn one.

One last point: as Apple rolls out these products and services, other companies feel the pressure.

For instance, Apple’s new HomePod speaker outguns the Amazon Echo or the Google Home speakers in music quality, but also beats Sonos for smart, voice-controlled functionality. Because it’s designed to work with the phone or tablet system that almost one billion people already have, it’s a major threat to all of those companies’ established markets.

«

link to this extract


Chrome flaw allows sites to secretly record audio/video without indication • The Hacker News

Swati Khandelwal:

»

What if your laptop is listening to everything that is being said during your phone calls or other people near your laptop and even recording video of your surrounding without your knowledge?

Sounds really scary! Isn’t it? But this scenario is not only possible but is hell easy to accomplish.
A UX design flaw in the Google’s Chrome browser could allow malicious websites to record audio or video without alerting the user or giving any visual indication that the user is being spied on.

AOL developer Ran Bar-Zik reported the vulnerability to Google on April 10, 2017, but the tech giant declined to consider this vulnerability a valid security issue, which means that there is no official patch on the way…

…The researcher discovered that if any authorised website pop-ups a headless window using a JavaScript code, it can start recording audio and video secretly, without the red dot icon, giving no indications in the browser that the streaming is happening.

“Open a headless window and activate the MediaRecorder from that window. In Chrome there will be no visual record indication,” Bar-Zik said.

This happens because Chrome has not been designed to display a red-dot indication on headless windows, allowing site developers to “exploit small UX manipulation to activate the MediaRecorder API without alerting the users.”

«

In its response (on the Chromium list) a Google staffer says “this isn’t really a security vulnerability” – though other Google staffers then disagree.
link to this extract


iMac Pro cost blows away similar Lenovo workstation, DIY builders struggle to meet price with fewer features • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:

»

Little is still known about the “entry-level” iMac Pro, regarding technical specifications. For $4999, users get an undeclared 8-core Xeon processor, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB 3 ports, a single 10-Gig Ethernet port, 1TB of SSD storage, 32GB of 2666 MHz ECC RAM, and as-yet unreleased Vega graphics.

Imgur member “Squaruss” posted a comparison to a Lenovo workstation. The build included an 8-core E5-2620 v4 processor, a P910 motherboard with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, 32GB of 2400MHz ECC RAM, a Nvidia Quadro M5000 GPU, two 512GB M.2 PCI-E SSD in RAID configuration, a SD card reader, 802.11ac wi-fi, and a 1300W power supply listed as 92% efficient. No 10Gbps Ethernet option was available for the workstation, but the build includes a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The build price by the Imgur member was confirmed by AppleInsider and totaled $5394, after a $599 “instant savings” discount which appears to be a limited time promotion. Notably, a monitor was absent from the build.

A second “DIY” build was posted by PC Gamer. In the second build, the publication implements the same processor as in the Lenovo build, downgrades storage speed to a single 1TB 960 Samsung EVO SSD, cuts back the Thunderbolt 3 ports to one with a PCI-E card, uses the integrated Gigabit Ethernet board on the motherboard, downgrades the power supply to 1000W which might be too low for reliability, and downgrades the video to the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti.

AppleInsider confirmed the $4687 bill of materials on the PC Gamer build. However, it includes about $100 in rebates which are accounted for in the price, and also incorporates the LG Ultrafine 5K display for some reason. Given that it would not be accelerated by the GTX 1080 Ti and would only be in 4K resolution on Windows, its inclusion isn’t clear.

«

These sort of comparative builds used to be all the rage, especially after Apple moved to Intel chips. The only thing about the iMac Pro is that it’s not due for release until December, which leaves time for all sorts of things to happen.
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A pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, a false tweet and a runaway story • The New York Times

Jeremy Peters:

»

The architects of the effort to discredit Mr. Comey seem to be working from a playbook straight from a political campaign, said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a liberal group that is tracking Comey threads in the conservative media.

“This is why they are being effective,” he said. “They are really engaging in a pure persuasion effort. They are not playing by any established rules. And they are cashing in on the mistrust and uncertainty people feel about traditional news media.”

They are also taking advantage of the proliferation and polarization of avenues to spread their message.

“The ability to mitigate such disinformation campaigns was far easier in the 1990s,” said Chris Lehane, who worked as an aide in the Clinton White House. Back then, he added, “for the most part the existing distribution channels were not as segmented across ideological lines that, in effect, create parallel realities that run along ideological grounds.”

Mr. Posobiec, a 33-year-old Navy veteran, was until recently the bureau chief for a right-wing website based in Canada called The Rebel. Its founder, Ezra Levant, said Mr. Posobiec was no longer employed there.

“We wish him well,” Mr. Levant said, offering only that Mr. Posobiec’s promulgation of the Rich conspiracy had nothing to do with his departure.

«

Just a little more data on how polarised the US is becoming – at least, for those who want to be polarised. To evolve Upton Sinclair’s quote, it is difficult to get someone to understand something when their social media profile depends on their not understanding it.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the App Store scammers, the Facebook (non-Brexit) election, Kalanick to go?, Softbank robots, and more


Patience: with iOS 11, you’ll be able to decide what tapping each AirPod does. Photo by meline.ch 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How to make $80,000 per month on the Apple App Store • Medium

Johnny Lin noticed a top-grossing app which had decidedly dodgy behaviour:

»

Touch ID? Okay! Wait… let’s read the fine print:

“Full Virus, Malware scanner”: What? I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for any app to scan my iPhone for viruses or malware, since third party apps are sandboxed to their own data, but let’s keep reading…

“You will pay $99.99 for a 7-day subscription”

Uhh… come again?

Buried on the third line in a paragraph of text in small font, iOS casually tells me that laying my finger on the home button means I agree to start a $100 subscription. And not only that, but it’s $100 PER WEEK? I was one Touch ID away from a $400 A MONTH subscription to reroute all my internet traffic to a scammer?

I guess I was lucky I actually read the entire fine print. But what about other people?

Step 3: It’s All Starting to “Ad” Up… to Profit

It suddenly made a lot of sense how this app generates $80,000 a month. At $400/month per subscriber, it only needs to scam 200 people to make $80,000/month, or $960,000 a year. Of that amount, Apple takes 30%, or $288,000 — from just this one app.

At this point, you might still be in disbelief. Maybe you’re thinking: “Sure, just 200 people, but still, it seems highly unlikely that even one person would download this scammy looking app, much less pay for it.”

Maybe you wouldn’t download it. I certainly wouldn’t. But I’ve also never clicked on a Google Ad, yet Google somehow rode Adwords to $700bn today.

«

By the time you read this I expect this app will have been removed from the App Store, because this article was on Daring Fireball, and Apple people read that. But it should prompt a review of subscription apps – especially those racing up the App Store from unknown developers.
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People on Facebook didn’t think this was the “Brexit election” • Buzzfeed

Tom Phillips:

»

People on Facebook shared more stories about fox hunting than about Brexit over the course of the general election campaign, according to an analysis of the most shared issues since the vote was called.

Young voter registration, the NHS, and Jeremy Corbyn’s security record were topics all shared more than stories around Brexit, BuzzFeed News analysis reveals.

And several major political developments that featured prominently in the newspapers during the campaign, such as Labour’s nationalisation plans and the Conservative U-turn on social care, also failed to set social media alight, compared with other issues like the NHS or school meals.

The BuzzFeed News Social Barometer has tracked the 250 most shared links about the election on Facebook, and their sentiment, since Theresa May announced her intention to go to the polls on 18 April. It has previously shown that stories that are pro-Labour or anti-Tory have consistently been shared far more than their right-wing counterparts – and that even among right-wingers, none of the most shared stories were supportive of May.

«

There’s a huge long graphic, but I’ll spare you. Go there if you want.
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Everything u/Foxconninsider Reported Today : apple

An interesting list of things that it’s claimed Apple will/will not do and what its devices will/won’t have in the near future. Hard to tell whether they were correct ahead of WWDC due to editing, but as long as the TouchID sensor is under the front glass in the super-whizzy top end device, and not on the back, I think everyone’s going to be happy.

The “cancelled projects” allegedly includes a VR headset and a “smart ring”. If so, both sound decisions, I’d say. But this is all super-rumour.
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iOS 11 Tidbits: customizable Control Center, one-handed keyboard, type to Siri and more • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover with a long roundup of the little twiddles in iOS 11 that didn’t get a mention. I noticed this particularly:

»

– AirPods settings – AirPods can now be customized with separate double tap gestures for the left and right AirPod. One can be set to access Siri, for example, while another can be set to play the next track. In iOS 10, double tap settings are applied to both AirPods.

«

This is very useful – for all the people who wanted buttons on AirPods, this is basically that, but through gestures. A bit hidden, though; AirPods should have their own app. Putting this in Settings means most people won’t know they can do this.
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Apple introduces Core ML • Deep Dojo

“Otto” (who writes Apple software for a living; Deepdojo is “a blog about machine learning with a focus on Apple hardware”):

»

PDF is not about making a document. PDF is about being able to easily view a document.

With Core ML, Apple has managed to achieve an equivalent of PDF for machine learning. With their .mlmodel format, the company is not venturing into the business of training models (at least not yet). Instead, they have rolled out a meticulously crafted red carpet for models that are already trained. It’s a carpet that deploys across their entire lineup of hardware.

As a business strategy, it’s shrewd. As a technical achievement, it’s stunning. It moves complex machine learning technology within reach of the average developer.

To use a trained model in your project, you literally drag and drop the model file into Xcode.

«

This is going to make it easy to deploy trained models – though of course the trick is training your model. “First catch your rabbit”, as the recipe for rabbit stew goes.
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The great performance of our failing president • The New York Times

Geoffrey Kabaservice:

»

President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

But when he arrived in the White House, he merely added his own brand of insult to the usual Washington partisanship. He didn’t begin to do the work that would have been required to assemble a bipartisan coalition around a genuine populist agenda. Instead, he agreed to make Paul Ryan’s draconian repeal of Obamacare his top priority. That provoked Democrats in Congress to be just as obstructionist and hostile as Republicans were under President Obama.

Toxic polarization means that Congress is unlikely to pass any significant legislation on infrastructure and tax reform that once might have attracted cross-aisle support. Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them, and he doesn’t seem to understand that their skillful use of the reputable media was an integral part of their success.

Mr. Trump cast himself during the election as the sole candidate able to break through Washington gridlock and get things done. Will his failure as a problem solver cause his supporters to abandon him?

I doubt it. Scratch a Trump supporter, and you’re likely to find someone deeply pessimistic about America and its future. Few believe that he will be able to bring back the good times (however they define them) because they’re convinced that the system is rigged: The “deep state” is too entrenched, the demographic tide too advanced and the global elite too powerful to allow real change.

«

The pessimism is an important observation. It’s very hard to turn pessimists into optimists.
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Uber board to discuss CEO absence, policy changes: source • Reuters

Joseph Menn and Heather Somerville:

»

Uber Technologies Inc’s board will discuss Chief Executive Travis Kalanick temporarily stepping away from the embattled ride-hailing firm and consider sweeping changes to the company’s management practices at a meeting on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person briefed on the matter said the board will discuss Kalanick taking time off from the company. The discussion involved the possibility that Kalanick might return in a role with less authority, this person said, either in a position other than CEO or as CEO with narrower responsibilities and subject to stronger oversight.

The source said it is not clear that the board will make any decision to change Kalanick’s role. The board is expected to adopt a number of internal policy and management changes recommended by outside attorneys hired to investigate sexual harassment and the firm’s broader culture. The outside lawyers made no recommendation about Kalanick.

An Uber spokesman had no comment. Kalanick did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Saturday.

The meeting, which Uber has not publicized, could be a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company, which has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.

«

Will have been decided, and perhaps publicised, by the time you read this. Uber is becoming self-aware about its problems.
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We’ve been wrong about what makes for great VR • Betaworks

Peter Rojas argues that “time spent” is the wrong metric:

»

Playing in room-scale VR, where you’re physically moving around, brings an entirely new level of immersiveness to the experience and Against Gravity got a bunch of little details right about the collaborative game play. Both quests are challenging — you almost certainly need three other players along for the ride to finish it — but it’s not so hard that you can’t get through it with some persistence, and the first time I played The Quest for the Golden Trophy it took me and the crew of three other players I’d never met before about 45 minutes to get through it.

Forty-five minutes of gameplay would be short for a AAA title like GTA V or Skyrim (I’m spent about 75 hours with Skyrim and would play for hours at a stretch, if I could), but what struck me was how satisfying Rec Room’s quest felt after I was done. For those forty-five minutes I was entirely immersed in the experience, working hard not to let down the three strangers I’d been randomly paired up with, and absolutely ecstatic when after several tries we were able to complete it. But what I hadn’t expected was that at the end I was perfectly content to take my headset off and go back to the real world. I didn’t want to keep playing or to spend a couple more hours inside of my headset. Playing The Quest was like eating a satisfying meal, one where I didn’t leave feeling either hungry or overstuffed.

«

link to this extract


Alphabet agrees to sell Boston Dynamics to SoftBank • The Verge

Nick Statt:

»

Despite the steady march of Boston Dynamics’ robotics innovations, it appears Alphabet leadership didn’t quite know what it would ultimately do with the company. As part of an overall restructuring and cost-saving strategy set forth by Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat last year, the company has taken significant measures to slim down its experimental efforts and rein in its “moonshot” projects. Even prior to Porat’s hiring, it was clear Alphabet was at a bit of a loss with regard to its robotics ambitions. Astro Teller, the head of the company’s X lab, was the one who disbanded Replicant in 2014, before Google was restructured as Alphabet, according to Bloomberg.

As part of the SoftBank deal, Alphabet is also selling Schaft, a humanoid robotics company Google acquired as part of its Replicant buying spree back in 2013 and 2014. Schaft was spun out of the JSK Robotics Laboratory within the University of Tokyo, making it a sensible purchase for SoftBank. Despite its huge presence in the Japanese telecom market, thanks to its 2006 acquisition of Vodafone Japan, SoftBank is also a leader in robotics — the company makes the popular humanoid Pepper robot in partnership with Aldebaran Robotics.

«

Two things. SoftBank also now owns ARM; Alphabet is really pulling its horns in.
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In mobile internet speed, the US lags. It does not matter • Spectrum Matters

Gary Kim:

»

To my knowledge, the United States has never ranked at the top of any key measure of tele-density (voice adoption), mobile adoption, internet access speed or take rates.

In other words, U.S. consumers often (virtually always) have lagged behind consumers in other nations on measures of telecom service adoption, and U.S. providers often have lagged behind in terms of network performance.

And there are reasons for that situation, including large areas of very-low population density where any fixed network is unsustainable. The expense and time required to “wire” a continent-sized area also plays a role.

Also, although wide gaps historically have existed, those gaps always have closed fairly quickly. So the size of the gap, early on, is often quite large. There is no historical evidence that such gaps persist very long. The gap is going to close, and relatively quickly.

Beyond all those statistical measures, there is the matter of impact. Researchers have noted that for long periods of time, information technology investment has failed to produce measurable increases in productivity, for example.

So one way of looking at tele-density or IT intensity is to ascertain measurable impact. If high adoption does not appear to lead to commensurate economic advantage, one might question whether what we are measuring actually matters.

Few, if any observers would claim that “not at the top” U.S. adoption of any form of internet access prevents U.S. businesses and consumers from wringing benefit from the internet ecosystem. In other words, beyond a certain point, perhaps the state of infrastructure adoption is not key.

«

link to this extract


‘Coal is dead’ and oil faces ‘peak demand,’ says world’s largest investment group • Think Progress

Joe Romm:

»

The U.S. alone has shuttered 40 gigawatts of coal plants since 2000.

“These [coal plants] will not reopen whatever anything President Trump does,” as Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently explained, “nor do we see much appetite among investors for ploughing money into U.S. coal extraction — stranded asset risk will trump rhetoric.”
The economic reality is that cheap fracked gas and plummeting prices for clean energy has squeezed both coal production and coal consumption to levels not seen for decades.


U.S. coal production (blue) and consumption (green). CREDIT: EIA

While the coal industry had hoped exports would pick up the slack, that dream has been thwarted by China’s accelerated shift away from coal-driven economic growth to clean energy, coupled with India’s new push to follow suit.

Coal isn’t the only fossil fuel at risk. Because of the rapidly improving performance and cost of batteries, Barry is “bullish” on electric vehicles. And as a result, he is bearish on oil demand, noting that “there was always this historic view on oil about peak supply but it’s about peak demand being an equal dynamic.” BNEF and the credit rating agency Fitch have made similar warnings.

«

Peak oil was always going to be about supply; what a surprise that it’s looking like it will be demand instead.
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It’s been so windy in Europe that electricity prices have turned negative • Motherboard

Chris Baraniuk:

»

It was very windy across Europe last week. So much so, in fact, that the high wind load on onshore and offshore wind turbines across much of the continent has helped set new wind power records.

For starters, renewables generated more than half of Britain’s energy demand last Wednesday—for the first time ever.

In fact, with offshore wind supplying 10% of the total demand, energy prices were knocked into the negative for the longest period on record. The UK is home to the world’s biggest wind farm, and the largest wind turbines, so it’s no surprise that this was an important factor in the country’s energy mix.

“Negative prices aren’t frequently observed,” Joël Meggelaars, who works at renewable energy trade body WindEurope, told Motherboard over the phone. “It means a high supply and low demand.”

Indeed, there were a few periods in recent days during which Denmark’s supply of wind energy alone exceeded local demand—as much as 137% overnight when demand was lower.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: App Store coding?, Facebook’s ad watching, AI for novels, Britney’s Russian bots, and more


Want one? Tough luck – an altcoin mining surge has created a world shortage. Photo by k0a1a.net 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 13 links for you. I hope you can see your way to reading them. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cryptocurrency mining is fueling a GPU shortage • Motherboard

Daniel Oberhaus:

»

until the Ether price explosion last month, mining on the Ethereum network cost more in electricity than it generated in revenue. Following the meteoric rise of the world’s second favorite cryptocurrency, however, I decided it was finally time to become a miner. So I strapped on my hardhat and hit the internet in search of the graphics cards that are the workhorses in most Ethereum mining rigs.

Yet as I found on site after site, GPUs were SOLD OUT and wouldn’t be shipping for several weeks. As PC Gamer recently reported, it appears as though the altcoin mining boom had created a global GPU shortage. The question, however, is whether this drought has just begun, or if gamers and would-be miners will be out of luck for the foreseeable future.

As their name implies, GPUs are logic chips specifically designed for rending pictures and videos on a computer screen. They’re mostly used for gaming to render 3D graphics in realtime. Unlike a Central Processing Unit (CPU), which is responsible for coordinating and executing commands from a computer’s hardware and software, GPUs were designed so that they would be really efficient at repeatedly performing the same operation very quickly.

GPUs work well for rendering 3D games but they work great for mining Ethereum.

«

*Narrator’s voice* Now, in 2100, we can understand how the seeds of the Gamer-Miner Wars were sown.
link to this extract


Chinese Apple staff suspected of selling personal data • South China Morning Post

AP:

»

Chinese authorities say they have uncovered a massive underground operation run by Apple employees selling computer and phone users’ personal data.

Twenty-two people have been detained on suspicion of infringing individuals’ privacy and illegally obtaining their digital personal information, according to a statement on Wednesday from police in southern Zhejiang province.

Of the 22 suspects, 20 were Apple employees who allegedly used the company’s internal computer system to gather users’ names, phone numbers, Apple IDs, and other data, which they sold as part of a scam worth more than 50m yuan (US$7.36m).

The statement did not specify whether the data belonged to Chinese or foreign Apple customers.

«

link to this extract


Apple updates its App Store review guidelines, here’s all the changes • iClarified

»

CHANGED 2.5.2 in 2.5 Software Requirements
(Old) 2.5.2 Apps should be self-contained in their bundles, and may not read or write data outside the designated container area, nor may they download, install, or execute code, including other iOS, watchOS, macOS, or tvOS apps.

(New) 2.5.2 Apps should be self-contained in their bundles, and may not read or write data outside the designated container area, nor may they download, install, or execute code, including other apps. Apps designed to teach, develop, or test executable code may, in limited circumstances, download code provided that such code is not used for other purposes. Such apps must make the source code provided by the Application completely viewable and editable by the user.

«

This doesn’t look big on the surface, but it’s significant: being able to download code is important. It’s still a frustration for apps such as Pythonista that it can’t use iCloud to sync executable files. I really don’t know how Workflow managed it before.
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Android malware hid in Google Play apps to inject code into system runtime libraries • Graham Cluley

»

A type of Android malware known as Dvmap hid in apps available on the Google Play Store in order to inject malicious code into system runtime libraries.

So far, Kaspersky has detected at least 50,000 downloads of the malware, which hid in apps like the puzzle game “colourblock” on Google’s Play Store…

Upon initial installation, the malware attempts to gain root privileges and to install some modules, including a malicious app called com.qualcmm.timeservices. It then launches a start file to check the Android system version and determine which runtime system library to patch…

…The malicious ip file is capable of disabling “VerifyApps,” [Google’s app verification daemon] changing system settings to allow the installation of apps from third-party marketplaces, and grant com.qualcmm.timeservices Device Administrator rights. This app can then use those rights to download archives and connect to its C&C.

To protect themselves against Dvmap, users should install an anti-virus solution onto their devices. They should also be careful about what apps they install onto their phones. As Dvmap and other threats prove, malware can hide in apps available on Google’s Play Store.

«

Downloading modules seen as hazardous.
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Facebook knows what you’re doing during commercial breaks • Recode

Peter Kafka:

»

Facebook wants to spell it out for you: You ignore the commercials and you look at your phone.

Here’s the graphic version of this story: Facebook says it tracked the behavior of 537 people who told the company they watched “the season premiere of a popular TV show” last fall. This bar chart measures Facebook usage over time. See the spikes? Those are commercial breaks.

And just to beat it into the ground, Facebook tracked usage for people who didn’t watch the show. No spikes, just steady liking and sharing.

Yes, it’s a small survey, conducted by Facebook, about a single show last year.

On the other hand, since it’s only measuring Facebook usage, it probably understates the case. If you factor in Twitter, texting, Clash of Clans and everything else you can do with your phone when a commercial comes on, those spikes would likely be much sharper.

«

I make that 27 minutes of Facebook use – ads – in 60 minutes. No wonder Netflix is so popular.
link to this extract


Experts predict when artificial intelligence will exceed human performance • MIT Technology Review

»

When will a machine do your job better than you?

Today, we have an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Katja Grace at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and a few pals. To find out, these guys asked the experts. They surveyed the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence by asking them when they think intelligent machines will better humans in a wide range of tasks. And many of the answers are something of a surprise.

The experts that Grace and co coopted were academics and industry experts who gave papers at the International Conference on Machine Learning in July 2015 and the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in December 2015. These are two of the most important events for experts in artificial intelligence, so it’s a good bet that many of the world’s experts were on this list.

Grace and co asked them all—1,634 of them—to fill in a survey about when artificial intelligence would be better and cheaper than humans at a variety of tasks. Of these experts, 352 responded. Grave and co then calculated their median responses.

«

That “write New York Times bestseller” seems like one to watch for. More to the point, when will an AI be able to write a survey that more than 20% of respondents answer?
link to this extract


Russian malware communicates by leaving comments in Britney Spears’s Instagram account • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

»

A key weakness in malicious software is the “Command and Control” (C&C) system: a central server that the malware-infected systems contact to receive updates and instructions, and to send stolen data. Anti-malware researchers like to reverse engineer malicious code, discover the C&C server’s address, and then shut it down or blacklist it from corporate routers.

Turla is an “advanced persistent threat” hacking group based in Russia with a long history of attacking states in ways that advance Russian state interests — suggesting that they are either a part of the Russian espionage system, or contracting to it.

A new analysis by Eset shows that Turla is solving its C&C problems by using Britney Spears’ Instagram account as a cut-out for its C&C servers. Turla moves the C&C server around, then hides the current address of the server in encrypted comments left on Britney Spears’s image posts. The compromised systems check in with Spears’s Instagram whenever they need to know where the C&C server is currently residing.

«

This is like the subplot of Three Days of the Condor, but for the computer world.
link to this extract


YouView piloting Alexa support for TV boxes, change channels using voice-control • Pocket-lint

Rik Henderson:

»

YouView is planning Alexa support for viewers using any of the connected TV set-top-boxes available through TalkTalk, BT and other manufacturers.

It is piloting voice-controlled features that will enable viewers to interact with their boxes and YouView services through speech.

A viewer will require an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or other Alexa-enabled device, which will understand his or her commands, and a YouView Skill will give options to perform many of the current functions that usually require a remote control.

YouView is working with the Alexa Video Skill API – one of the first developers to do so. It should give viewers the ability to navigate around the user interface, play content and search for shows and movies.

Just barking “Alexa, change the channel to BT Sport 1” will find the station you want. Even commands as simple as “Alexa, play Eastenders” should work.

«

In 2011 I saw a ton of voice-activated TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, made by a Chinese manufacturer. They went nowhere. This would require plugging your Echo/Dot/other somehow into the YouView box, wouldn’t it? That seems to limit things for a device that’s usually in the kitchen. Unless it makes you buy another Echo/Dot/…
link to this extract


With new browser tech, Apple preserves privacy and Google preserves trackers • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Alan Toner:

»

While we welcome the willingness [in forthcoming versions of Google Chrome] to tackle annoying ads, the CBA’s [Coalition for Better Ads, of which Google and Facebook are now members] criteria do not address a key reason many of us install ad blockers: to protect ourselves against the non-consensual tracking and surveillance that permeates the advertising ecosystem operated by the members of the CBA.

Google’s approach contrasts starkly with Apple’s. Apple’s browser, Safari, will use a method called intelligent tracking prevention to prevent tracking by third parties—that is, sites that are rarely visited intentionally but are incorporated on many other sites for advertising purposes—that use cookies and other techniques to track us as we move through the web. Safari will use machine learning in the browser (which means the data never leaves your computer) to learn which cookies represent a tracking threat and disarm them. This approach is similar to that used in EFF’s Privacy Badger, and we are excited to see it in Safari.

In tandem with their Better Ads enforcement, Google will also launch a companion program, Funding Choices, that will enable CBA-compliant sites to ask Chrome users with content blockers to whitelist their site and unblock their ads. Should the user refuse, they can either pay for an “ad-free experience” or be locked out by a publisher’s adblock wall. Payment is to be made using a Google product called Contributor, first deployed in 2015. Contributor lets people pay sites to avoid being simply shown Google ads, but does not prevent Google, the site, or any other advertisers from continuing to track people who pay into the Contributor program.

«

link to this extract


Amazon ends its unlimited cloud storage plan • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»

Amazon has sunsetted its unlimited cloud storage plan for Amazon Drive — although members of its Prime subscription club will still get unlimited cloud storage for photos.

From today, people signing up for Amazon Drive will not be able to select an unlimited cloud storage option. Instead they can choose either 100 GB for $11.99 per year, or 1 TB for $59.99, with up to 30 TB available for an additional $59.99 per TB. (The prior pricing was $11.99pa for unlimited photos or unlimited everything for $59.99.)

All sign ups still get 5GB of storage gratis. Best to think of that as getting your first hit for free.

As for unlimited storage, Amazon only introduced the option in March 2015 — when it was couched as an aggressive play in an increasingly competitive consumer cloud storage market. And lo and behold, two months later Google announced its own free unlimited photo storage service.

Two years later Amazon is now tightening the screws on those who have locked their data inside its vaults — an all too familiar story in the cloud storage space.

«

For comparison, Apple offers 5GB for free, and then 50GB ($11.88pa), 200GB ($35.88pa) and 2TB ($119.88pa). Amazon’s is still cheaper, but it used to be $60pa to stuff everything in. Brian Barrett in Wired in March 2015 heralded it thus:

»

The steady march towards cheaper cloud storage has just turned into a sprint. Rather than being merely competitive with leaders like Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud, Amazon has decided to undercut their pricing by more than half. In some cases, much, much more… It’s hard to stress just how much these new offerings—particularly the Unlimited Everything plan—disrupt the current state of the cloud storage pricing structure… strictly in terms of price it’s an unarguably great deal. And even if you don’t bite, it should hopefully at least drive unlimited prices down across the entire industry.

«

Important to distinguish in this field between things that are short-term promotions, and long-term disruptions. Surprise! Amazon’s storage was the former.
link to this extract


UK police arrest man via automatic face recognition tech • Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»

Back in April, it emerged that South Wales Police planned to scan the faces “of people at strategic locations in and around the city centre” ahead of the UEFA Champions League final, which was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on June 3.

On May 31, though, a man was arrested via AFR. “It was a local man and unconnected to the Champions League,” a South Wales Police spokesperson told Ars. It’s not clear whether this was due to the technology being tested ahead of the match.

We’re told that there was a warrant for the man’s arrest, but the spokesperson declined to provide any further details about the suspect. We know from the request for tender published by the South Wales Police, however, that the man’s face was probably included in the force’s “Niche Record Management system,” which contains “500,000 custody images.”

South Wales Police are using hardware and software provided by NEC, which has been working on real-time facial recognition tech for a few years now and has been the technology partner for other UK police trials. It isn’t clear how the AFR tech is set up: whether all of the tech and the database of custody images are stored in the van, or if there’s a central server that multiple vans (and eventually police cars and police body-worn cameras?) can connect to.

South Wales Police have previously said that they are serious about deploying automatic facial recognition tech on a wide scale.

«

First such arrest in the UK; raises all sorts of questions, but also possibilities. For example, the database of people considered potentially dangerous by anti-terrorism teams is about 23,000; the core of “immediate risk” is about 3,000. What if they can be passively tracked by the pervasive CCTV in the UK’s cities? Is that lawful, and would it make any difference?
link to this extract


Fire Travis Kalanick • Financial Times

Kadim Shubber, in an op-ed:

»

Many of Uber’s actions have been excused as aggressive but ultimately acceptable corporate behaviour. Kalanick is a fighter, we’re told. Uber is up against opponents who play hardball, and so it’s had to be tough and rough. Any problems it might have with corporate culture are ultimately fixable. Yeah, it’s played a little fast and loose, but it can grow up. Kalanick can mature.

Those arguments might just have cut it in a universe where an Uber executive didn’t keep his job for three years after digging up a rape victim’s medical records. It might be possible to imagine Kalanick as chief executive of a publicly listed Uber in a universe where he had not shielded a person who had obtained highly private and intimate information on a customer who had already been violated. In a world where Uber had not so deeply plumbed the depths of decent behaviour, Kalanick’s reign might be tolerable.

It’s time to face facts. Uber does not have an image problem, it has a chief executive problem. And for as long as it has this problem, no person who cares in the slightest about right and wrong should keep Uber’s app on their phone, if indeed it’s still there anyway.

If the independent directors on the board are unable to push him out, given his control of the company, they should resign. Bill Gurley of Benchmark; David Bonderman of TPG Capital; Cheng Wei of Didi; Yasir Al Rumayyan of Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund; and Arianna Huffington — every second they remain enablers of an Uber run by Kalanick, they are showing they lack the spine to do what’s right when it’s staring them in the face.

«

Arianna Huffington looks more compromised by the minute.
link to this extract


Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo has a critical flaw • Business Insider

Ben Gilbert:

»

Amazon’s Echo is designed for flexibility. You’re a Pandora devotee? Great! Hook up your account to the Echo, then simply ask Alexa — Amazon’s equivalent of Siri — to play whatever you want. You could play out that same scenario for a wide variety of music services, including Spotify Amazon’s own music service. 

In the case of Apple’s HomePod, though, you’ll only have one choice: Apple Music. 

Want directions? They’re coming from Apple Maps. Want access to your calendar? Better hope you’re using Apple’s calendar application. That same situation will hold true for any number of things you might want the HomePod to do for you. It’s a device intended for people who live in Apple’s walled garden.

Technically speaking, you’ll be able to play any music you want on the HomePod. It’ll act as a wireless speaker, so you’ll be able to blast whatever music you want from your phone to HomePod using Apple’s AirPlay technology.

But that’s not what makes smart speakers like HomePod so compelling, is it? You’re supposed to be able to just speak to them and get instant results — no phone required.

And HomePod can do that — some of the time, and only with Apple services. That’s a big bummer!

Apple could eventually open the HomePod up to outside developers, much as it did the iPhone and, eventually, Apple TV. But it’s not clear if it will. For now there doesn’t appear to a toolkit that third-party programmers can use to create apps for the gadget or any way to distribute them to consumers, and Apple hasn’t said anything on the subject (we’ve asked).

«

This isn’t the same, though, as trying to launch a smartphone into an app gap, as Windows Phone or BB10 did. We already know that very few people use Alexa skills, and that it’s easy to forget how to invoke them. Apple has yet to put the HomePod on sale, though it might offer some sort of hookup to HomeKit.

But really: 1) who asks for directions from a home speaker 2) isn’t it highly likely that the first buyers of HomePods are going to be people who “live in Apple’s walled garden”?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Facebook’s election row, more Uber shocks, iOS 11: NFC+QR, the truth on terror, and more


Just another family day with the Sony VR headset. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik 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.

Facebook election turns into a protest • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

»

Among those who cast ballots in the company’s annual stockholder election last week, about 79% of shares not controlled by Mark Zuckerberg voted in favor of a proposal to wipe away a special class of stock that gives him majority control of Facebook. 

Zuckerberg’s right to vote 10 of his shares for every one held by ordinary stockholders is the reason he controls Facebook, even though he owns only 14% of the total. The CEO’s supervoting power was well understood when Facebook went public in 2012. People who bought Facebook shares then and since have essentially agreed to allow Zuckerberg to do whatever he wants even if all other shareholders disagree. Similar supersized stock structures exist to empower founders at Google’s parent company, Workday, Snapchat and other companies.

And yet eight in 10 votes from those other than Zuckerberg were cast in favor of a proposal to essentially undo the CEO’s special class of stock. The election result won’t change anything because Zuckerberg’s votes are the only ones that matter. Including his extra-powerful shares, about 20% of ballots were cast for the proposal, according to a tally Facebook disclosed late Tuesday.

Still, the rejection by shareholders outside the company is an embarrassing result for Facebook and its board of directors, which has already faced criticism and litigation for going along with Zuckerberg’s proposal last year to solidify his majority voting power in perpetuity. 

«

As someone said at the Power Switch conference in Cambridge in spring, what happens when Zuckerberg dies? Because he will. Who gets to own all those shares? How do we know they won’t be malicious? Why shouldn’t the control be widened now?
link to this extract


A top Uber executive, who obtained the medical records of a customer who was a rape victim, is fired • Recode

Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:

»

A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources.

He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them by this group.

Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber…

…Alexander had not been among those fired, Uber said yesterday when asked about his status. Now, after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he is no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further.

«

You might have thought that Uber couldn’t surprise anymore. Wrong!
link to this extract


August 2016: Whyd announces its voice-controlled connected speaker for $299 • TechCrunch

Romain Dillet, in August 2016:

»

So what makes this speaker different from the 458 other speakers out there? It starts with the design. The bold, pill-shaped design will stand out in your living room. I don’t think everyone will like it, but it’s definitely not a boring design. Whyd will sell five different pastel colors. The speaker doesn’t ship with a battery so you’ll have to plug it your wall at all times.

The Whyd speaker connects over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, works with AirPlay and Spotify Connect, and can stream music from many different music streaming services out of the box. Whyd is compatible with Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Tidal, Deezer and Google Play Music.

But the main differentiating factor is that Whyd has been working on natural language processing, integrating with Google Cloud Speech and optimizing for music playback. The company bundled multiple microphones and optimized them for long-range queries with noise cancelling technology. This way, you can launch a playlist, play a specific song or look up an artist with your voice. If you want to play an obscure remix on SoundCloud, you don’t have to dig around in the SoundCloud app, you can look it up with your voice. Think about it as a sort of Amazon Echo, but with a better sound and a focus on music.

«

The first batch sold out; now it plans to sell them for $499. Hope it has plenty in production before December…
link to this extract


iOS 11 could use the iPhone’s NFC chip for more than Apple Pay • Engadget

Andrew Dalton:

»

Although the feature didn’t get any airtime onstage Monday, iOS 11 Beta adds support for Core NFC to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. (And presumably future hardware as well.) In release docs, Core NFC is described as “a new framework for reading Near Field Communications (NFC) tags and data in NFC Data Exchange Format.” At the moment, the iPhone’s NFC chip is useless for anything other than Apple’s in-house payment system, but the new framework appears to let the chip in the latest iPhones read any tags — not just Apple Pay tags — and take action on them based on the phone’s location. NFC could open up more ways for iOS apps to communicate with connected devices and iPhones could also replace NFC-based keycards or transit passes like London’s Oyster card and the Bay Area’s Clipper card. In theory, Core NFC could also enable functions like tap-to-pair Bluetooth speakers — something Android users have been enjoying for awhile now — but it’s possible Apple could block such features to keep the “magic” pairing experience limited to AirPods and other devices with its proprietary W1 chip.

On the other hand, opening NFC could also invite potential privacy issues onto iOS. Like Bluetooth Beacons, NFC tags allow for seamless, location-based interactions for better or worse. While the ability to tap your phone to a movie poster and instantly bring up the trailer might seem magical, even anonymous data gathered from those sorts of interactions can paint a startling clear picture of a consumer.

«

Wonder if Apple will seek some way to anonymise those interactions. But it’s good to finally get these functions; as said, these have been around for years on other platforms.
link to this extract


How to scan QR Codes In iOS 11 camera app • Redmond Pie

Paul Morris:

»

Apple has offered developers access to a barcode scanning framework in the iOS SDK for quite some time now, but it seems that one new feature within iOS 11 is the ability to natively scan QR codes without needing any additional software. If you are opting to run an iOS 11 beta, and love the idea of welcoming in a QR code resurgence, then follow the simple steps below to see how to interact with QR codes in iOS 11.

Step 1: With iOS 11 installed, launch the stock Camera app on the device. There’s nothing third-party needed here and certainly no downloads from the App Store required.

Step 2: Next, you can’t scan a QR code without the presence of a QR code. Make sure you have some literature with a QR code printed on it or generate your own from the Internet with some arbitrary text in.

Step 3: Using the native Camera app, point it at the QR code, which will either be in print or on a display, and tap on the screen to focus if required.

Step 4: And that is literally all that you need to do. The QR code will be recognized. The information will be extracted. And you will be presented with whatever the payload of that QR code is without having to use any additional third-party apps or readers.

«

Aimed at the Chinese market where you can’t move without QR scanning, at a guess.
link to this extract


Fidget Spinner • Fidgetspin

Before you turn away, it’s not a real one – it’s an HTML5 one. Only seems to work on Google Chrome, and a bit tricky to figure out how to get it to spin at first. But probably cheaper in the long run than a physical one.
link to this extract


Many terrorists’ first victims are their wives – but we’re not allowed to talk about that • New Statesman

Helen Lewis:

»

Over the last few days, I have been left completely dejected by the debate which followed the London Bridge attacks. We’ve had a big public argument about greater police numbers, when the police response was exemplary. We’ve had Ukip calling for internment camps for some or all of the 3,000 people the security services believe might be actively contemplating an attack.

What we haven’t talked about, what it feels like we can never talk about, is male violence. And yet that threads through these stories in so many ways. Take our prisons, which the government worries are a source of radicalisation, even to the extent that Liz Truss has called for special units to isolate radical inmates. Prisons are primarily a problem of men: there are 81,000 of them in British jails, compared with just under 4,000 women. Prisons are overcrowded and underfunded, and they end up being the gutter into which men who have been failed by other services wash out. And then they are released, only to wash back in again. Prisons are both boring and frightening places to be: no wonder young inmates are at risk of radicalisation there, no wonder they seek out a sense of belonging. 

Then there are the red flags which are missed because we don’t take domestic violence seriously enough. The whole women’s sector is underfunded, and refuge provision is patchy. The budget cuts of the last few years have hit black and minority ethnic women’s services particularly hard – see the regular protests by Sisters Uncut. The first victim of a terrorist is often his wife. If she doesn’t have anywhere to turn, if she doesn’t have anyone to tell, then we are missing chances to stop these men in their tracks. If women’s services had better contact with minority groups, we could find out earlier which men had already turned to violence – in their own homes.

Despite this, talking about male violence in the context of terrorism is treated like derailing – like you’ve mounted your feminist hobby horse when the grown-ups were talking. The people who control the discussion of Islamist terrorism don’t want to talk about this stuff.

«

Tremendously important – multiple people who later went on to carry out terror attacks first began by attacking their wife or female partner. It’s a huge problem, though: 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, says Refuge.

link to this extract


Sony’s PlayStation VR headset sales top one million units • Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Yoshiyasu Shida:

»

Sony Corp has sold more than one million units of its virtual reality (VR) headset globally, the Asia chief of the Japanese firm’s gaming unit said on Wednesday, as a relatively low price helps push the product into an early lead.

Sales of the PlayStation VR headset, released in October, have “exceeded our expectations,” Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia, said in an interview.

“We are boosting production and a supply shortage should be solved accordingly,” Morita told Reuters.

The sales momentum supports analysts’ view that Sony is in a good position to build an early lead in the high-end VR headset race with its more modest price tag and by tapping the nearly 60 million users of its flagship PlayStation 4 console.

The headset, designed to work with the PlayStation 4 rather than requiring new equipment, retails at $399, cheaper than Facebook Inc’s $599 Oculus Rift and HTC Corp’s $799 Vive.

According to researcher IDC, about 2 million VR headsets were shipped worldwide in the first three months of 2017. Excluding cheaper smartphone-based headsets, Sony ranked top with 429,000 units.

«

Sony is clearly winning this phase of the battle. Question is how much bigger, if at all, it will get. I’d love to see usage stats on VR headsets too.
link to this extract


Fitbit and Intel circle for Moov buyout • Wareable

James Stables:

»

Our source revealed that Moov has been talking to Intel’s partnership team about a possible buyout, which would see Intel add Moov’s algorithm to its tech.

“They have had half a dozen calls and two meetings,” our source said. “Conversations have been around adding Moov to their Curie offering due to the algorithms that Intel simply cannot duplicate.”

Recounting a conversation with Intel’s partnerships exec, Intel has become interested in an acquisition after it “missed with their wearable devices in the past with companies such as Basis.” Our source said that Intel believes that buying Moov “allows them to offer more through their licensing arm of the company.”

Of course, Intel is only one half of the story. We’d be surprised if Fitbit wasn’t looking to buy Moov to add to its fitness proposition, yet our source had less detail on this particular aspect of the buyout. “With Fitbit, these rumours popped up in the past five weeks. All have been based around their wellness and initiative.”

The company has already been busy snapping up companies for the Fitbit smartwatch project, namely smartwatch starter Pebble and luxury-wannabe Vector. But would Moov be part of that too?

“That’s what the Moov guys initially thought,” said our source. “But the algorithm wouldn’t work in the watch. As you know one must wear Moov on their ankles sometimes.”

«

I get the feeling the writer is putting too much on the one source, who knows about Intel but not Fitbit, which is struggling to incorporate its recent acquisitions. Adding Moov too feels like an overreach which it isn’t even considering.
link to this extract


Kaspersky files antitrust complaints against Microsoft in Europe • The Seattle Times

Matt Day:

»

Eugene Kaspersky, co-founder of the Russian cybersecurity firm, said Tuesday that the company had recently filed antitrust complaints with the European Commission and Germany’s Federal Cartel Office. Kaspersky had raised the issue with Russia’s antitrust regulator in November.

“We see clearly – and are ready to prove – that Microsoft uses its dominant position in the computer operating system market to fiercely promote its own – inferior – security software,” Kaspersky said.

In many cases, Kaspersky says, customers who update their operating system to Windows 10 from older versions find that their Kaspersky antivirus tools have been deleted or disabled. The company also criticized Microsoft for making it impossible to remove Windows Defender, Microsoft’s own antivirus software, in some editions of Windows.

In a statement, Microsoft said its aim was to protect Windows users, and “we are confident that the security features of Windows 10 comply with competition laws.”

Microsoft said it had reached out to Kaspersky months ago to arrange a meeting between executives to address the concerns, but that gathering has not taken place.

Following Kaspersky’s complaint in Russia, regulators there held hearings on Microsoft’s antivirus policies in Windows 10. They haven’t reached a conclusion.

«

Conventional antitrust theory – does the customer lose out by the annexation of the AV (antivirus) market by Microsoft through its control of the OS? – would suggest there is, at least, a case to answer. The key difference from, say, the browser/OS example is that Microsoft isn’t threatening OEMs, since they don’t have an option about including Defender (and many do offer other AV software, which the AV vendors are charged for).

At the same time, the price of AV software to the consumer has already effectively fallen to zero. There’s no consumer surplus to go round; only consumer disbenefit.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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.

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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


Trump takes credit for Saudi move against Qatar, a US military partner • The New York Times

Mark Landler:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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

In search of the early adopter (HomePod edition)


An Apple HomePod. If your home is this nice, wouldn’t it already have a Sonos Play:1 or similar there? Photo by portalgda (via Apple) on Flickr.

Ahead of Apple’s WWDC, research companies were falling over themselves to offer their forecasts about how the “smart speaker” market would grow over time.

Here, for example, is what Strategy Analytics reckoned the world would look like – note that it’s using installed base, not sales – over time:

Smart speaker market - Strategy Analytics forecast to 2022

The way they see it, Amazon’s early lead with the Alexa is going to be eroded by Google, while Apple, “others” and Baidu (in China) will take the rest.

What I wonder about is: who’s left who wants to buy a HomePod? Who are the early adopters?

If you want a “smart speaker”, you’ve been served for quite some time in the US by Amazon’s Echo and Dot products, which are passably cheap. For Amazon, they’re the peace dividend of losing badly in the smartphone wars when the Fire Phone turned out to be a clunker.

More recently you’ve been able to buy Google Home – which managed to get a passing mention in a Modern Family episode in a recent series, so that is clearly reckoned to have reached far enough into the public consciousness not to merit special highlighting. (Sure, it could have been product placement, but there’s no point placing a product nobody’s heard of. Modern Family likes to play with modern tech obsessions: in 2010 one of the episodes was about Phil Dunphy’s mad desire to get an iPad on first-day release.)

And there’s even a (Microsoft) Cortana speaker from Harmon Kardon.

A recent survey of 1,000 people found that “smart speakers” are the most popular category of “smart home” device: about a quarter of US households have some smart home gizmo, and of those 56% reported that they “own and use” a smart speaker. And they really use it regularly. Half of respondents (we’re at about 12% of households) use it at least daily; another 39% use it several times per week.

Top five uses, in order: play music, ask for the weather, get news, get basic facts and trivia, get or set calendar and/or scheduling info.

Not mentioned in this, because it doesn’t do “smart” (so far, and probably not ever) is Sonos, which most people are probably familiar with: it provides single- or multi-room music and speech streaming for pretty much any service, with a range of high-quality audio speakers, as well as TV soundbars. It has been going since 2002, focussing just on multi-room music; I’ve liked the Sonos idea ever since I saw it in 2005, and I think that when it released the Play:1 speaker it found the sweet spot of price and audio quality. (I own a number of Sonos devices.)

Sonos, one should note, has hit some rough times, laying people off in March 2016. It isn’t clear how big its installed base is – it only talks about serving “millions of rooms” – but it’s very likely that it has users in multiple millions of homes. Update: this person says Sonos has annual sales of about $1bn, equating to 5m speakers per year. “Not mainstream,” they say. Though I’d say that 5m per year – more than a million a quarter – isn’t too bad.

And how does the install base look at present? According to CIRP, about 11m Amazon customers have an Echo, of which 52% (6.6m or so) have the cheap Dot. Amazon has about 70% of the market, says eMarketer – though others put the figure higher.

All this leaves one wondering: hasn’t the early adopter market, who might have been keen to buy a comparatively expensive smart speaker (and even slightly more expensive than Sonos) been tapped already? There are millions of those things out there already, playing music and telling people what they could figure out themselves by gazing out of the window.

After all, if you have a product which does something comparably new, then the general thesis is that you have to tap the innovator market (about 2.5% of the total who will buy it) and then the early adopter market (13.5%), and then spread the news to the “early majority” and “late majority” who each comprise 34%. Then finally you mop up the 16% of laggards. Note that even when your market is saturated, you don’t necessarily reach 100% of the population. Not everyone will want your gadget.

So at what stage are “smart speakers” – and multi-room speakers, since the HomePod does both?

We can probably be confident that multi-room speakers have breezed into their late majority by now. If Sonos is having trouble finding fresh buyers, that’s a sign of market resistance.

And if smart speakers are already in 12% of US households, then those are nudging well into the early adopter market.

This is different from the situation when Apple has launched previous products. The Macintosh, all those years ago, was entirely new in sporting a graphical user interface. The iPod came early in the MP3 player revolution – though many people had portable CD players, most people didn’t have an MP3 player, nor an MP3 library. The iPhone was out on its own in the smartphone category through its all-touch interface. The iPad defined an entire all-touch “slate” tablet market. (There had been tablets before, which had poor interfaces for touch.) Even the most recent new device, the Apple Watch, came when smartwatches had very small user penetration.

So in that sense the HomePod is coming at a very different time: three years (and some months) after the original Echo, and what’s more it’s coming in December, giving everyone else a chance to get their marketing in first.

How then is Apple intending to sell it? Apple is framing it as a really music speaker with a bit of intelligence thrown in. Here’s the quote:

“Apple reinvented portable music with iPod and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a beautiful speaker that is less than 7 inches tall, can rock most any room with distortion free music and be a helpful assistant around your home.”

This makes it sound like Sonos with benefits. It’s also saying: those things that Amazon and Google can do? We can do that, but sound better. It’s looking for the things that those can’t (yet?) do, and aiming for them. Early user tests (in very controlled environments) suggest that the HomePod sounds better than the Sonos Play:3 (which is comparably priced). Could be, though I’m not sure why a Sonos owner would give up the latter for the former. And we know from the triumph of MP3 over CD that in music, people prefer convenience over sound quality. Update: two points made to me after first publishing this post. First, Apple could find a market in China, where Amazon and Google are effectively excluded. Second, the privacy angle could be attractive; some people just don’t like the idea that Amazon and Google are going to try to sell them stuff. (Google Home has already started doing this, and will carry on; Amazon’s Echo/Dot/etc are intended to be mainlining for shopping lists.)

Overall, it feels as though Apple decided – as usual – that there was only one place it could thrive in this market: at the premium end. But again, if someone has the sort of money needed to buy a HomePod, why haven’t they already bought some Sonos kit? Or if they want a smart speaker, wouldn’t they just get an Echo/Dot/Home?

That’s what I’m puzzled by: how Apple is going to scoop up enough of the early majority market to make this work. Early majority buyers can be more price-sensitive than innovators and early adopters. Apple’s pitch seems to be for those who haven’t bought a Sonos, saying: look, you can control this with your voice. There’s surely a market there – Strategy Analytics thinks it’s tolerably big – but it’s noticeable that even there it’s a comparatively small slice of a sizeable market. Sometimes it’s good to let the early players sort the market out for you. But I think this might be one case where it isn’t.