Start Up: Rock on Siri, save Snopes!, drone registration, the fake ad crackdown, bendy tablets!, and more


A third of the milliondollarhomepage’s links are dead, after 12 years. How much longer for the rest? Photo by Fabs:) on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. That’s the way the cookie grumbles. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A million squandered: the “Million Dollar Homepage” as a decaying digital artifact • Library Innovation Lab

John Bowers:

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Internet links are not always permanent. As pages are deleted or renamed, backends are restructured, and domain namespaces change hands, previously reachable content and resources can be replaced by 404 pages. This “link rot” is the target of the Library Innovation Lab’s Perma.cc project, which allows individuals and institutions to create archived snapshots of webpages hosted at a trustable, static URLs.

Over the decade or so since the Million Dollar Homepage sold its last pixel, link rot has ravaged the site’s embedded links. Of the 2,816 links that embedded on the page (accounting for a total of 999,400 pixels), 547 are entirely unreachable at this time. A further 489 redirect to a different domain or to a domain resale portal, leaving 1,780 reachable links. Most of the domains to which these links correspond are for sale or devoid of content.

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Diamonds are forever. The rest can forget it. An interesting graph would be how rapidly those links have decayed over time: you could figure out a half-life for any link, and hence how long Alex Tew (who came up with the idea) is going to have to keep the page going.
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New Apple ad does some voice-first education with The Rock and Siri • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

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How do you teach people to use an interface that’s invisible? That’s been the marketing communications problem for Apple since the day Siri became the first big mass-market voice assistant.

They’ve taken stab after stab at it. The splash page that offers Siri suggestions if you activate it and don’t say anything. TV spots; tool tips; App Store promotions and interviews you may or may not have read about how much work they’re putting into Siri. They’re all an attempt to get you beyond the basic timer and weather queries.

And, more recently, they’re an effort to acclimate iPhone users to the idea that Siri represents all of the various applications of Apple’s AI and ML work — beyond the vocal personality most people have come to associate with Siri.

The penetration of Siri as “that thing you ask things on your phone” is incredibly broad but very shallow. And true, consistent, daily utility is how you get people hooked on a platform.

Put plainly: Apple needs to teach people how capable Siri is of helping them on a daily basis.

This time around, it has enlisted Dwayne Johnson, AKA The Rock, our current action movie king and future president.

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Ah, you laugh at that final phrase, but 20 years from now… anyway, here’s the ad.
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Fundraiser by David Mikkelson : Help save Snopes.com! • GoFundMe

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Snopes.com, which began as a small one-person effort in 1994 and has since become one of the Internet’s oldest and most popular fact-checking sites, is in danger of closing its doors. So, for the first time in our history, we are turning to you, our readership, for help.

Since our inception, we have always been a self-sustaining site that provides a free service to the online world: we’ve had no sponsors, no outside investors or funding, and no source of revenue other than that provided by online advertising. Unfortunately, we have been cut off from our historic source of advertising income.

We had previously contracted with an outside vendor to provide certain services for Snopes.com. That contractual relationship ended earlier this year, but the vendor will not acknowledge the change in contractual status and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage.

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Scary (and strange. Here’s what the dispute is about.). Make a donation. Not hard, and helps spread factual accuracy.
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Drones must be registered, and owners have to pass safety test • Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

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Drone owners must register their drones and take a safety test, under new rules announced by the UK government.

The mandatory registration and competency test applies to any drone larger than 250 grams, which includes all but the smallest of “toy” drones and super-light racing drones. For example, the DJI Spark that we recently reviewed weighs 300g.

As with most new government rules, there are very few details of how or when these rules will actually be implemented. Registration at least should be fairly easy: “Users may be able to register online or through apps, under plans being explored by the government.”

The government has outlined what it hopes to achieve with the competency testing—”to prove that [drone owners] understand UK safety, security and privacy regulations”—but no word of how the test will be distributed or invigilated. I can’t imagine it’ll involve a sit-down exam; it feels more like a multiple-choice test that could be done through a website or app.

The government also wants to expand the use of geofencing, where drones sold in the UK are pre-programmed with the GPS coordinates of sensitive locations: airports, prisons, football stadia, governmental buildings, etc. If a drone hits one of these areas, it simply refuses to go any further. If you’re already inside a geofenced area, the drone might refuse to take off in the first place.

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Not surprised by this: there will be wannabe terrorists who will have noted how Isis used drones in Iraq and Syria as flying, targeted bombs. And there are also idiots who just use them too close to places where they create danger.
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If you track it, the results will come • The Ascent on Medium

Adam Kruger:

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A few months ago, I realized that I wasn’t satisfied with where I was in life and wanted to do something about it. The only problem was that the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be seemed daunting. That’s why I decided to start taking small steps towards big change in my life*. On March 11, 2017, I began making at least one change in my life each day.

*Note: if you improve yourself by 1% every day for an entire year, you will grow by 38x (1.01³⁶⁵=37.8)

Here’s what the journey has looked like so far:
• 11-Mar-17: Starting taking cold showers (for the last 60 seconds)
• 12-Mar-17: Set goal of learning one new song per week on the guitar
• 13-Mar-17: Started listening to Audiobooks at 3–4x the speed
• 14-Mar-17: Started keeping my shoes organized
• 15-Mar-17: Decided to learn to juggle, practicing a few min daily
• 16-Mar-17: Began reading 3 book summaries (~10 min each) daily
• 17-Mar-17: Limit eating out to bare minimum, learn new recipe weekly
• 18-Mar-17: Limit alcohol to a bare minimum
• 19-Mar-17: No more snoozing alarm clocks, no more than 7 hrs sleep/night
• 20-Mar-17: Build tracker for bills as a reminder
• 21-Mar-17: Limit TV usage to 2 hours per day…

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And hilariously on it goes, with the 24 July entry reading “Start using a workout journal at the gym to better track/evaluate progress”. You weren’t doing that already? But I love the idea that someone thinks that having a cold shower (for 60 seconds a day) will end up making them 38 times “better”. Better than what?
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Google finding bogus ads on programmatic exchanges • Business Insider

Mike Shields:

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The digital-advertising industry is looking to stamp out bogus ad inventory, like websites that claim to be premium brands but are actually sites the average person hardly ever visits.

Google, with help from some media giants, is taking the lead. The company is pushing an industry initiative called ads.txt that’s aimed at wiping out fraud that’s dubbed ‘spoofing’ by the industry. Spoofing encompasses the variety of ways ad buyers can be tricked into paying for space they’re not getting. For example, spoofers can buy cheap ad space, from a low-quality site, on an exchange and then falsely list it as space on a premium site — like, say, CNN.com— at a higher price. The ad in question will never run on CNN.com, though.

It’s all enabled by the prevalence of programmatic ads, which are placed by algorithms and purchased on exchanges, rather than through direct negotiation with a publisher.

Yet spoofing is even starting to affect publishers that don’t even sell ads via programmatic channels. Several publishers say they’ve been hearing from ad buyers that their ads are for sale on various ad exchanges, even though these companies didn’t work with any ad exchanges to sell advertising.

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Much more detail in the piece. This might begin to root out the problem – which is widespread.
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Next leap for robots: picking out and boxing your online order • WSJ

Brian Baskin:

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Picking is the biggest labor cost in most e-commerce distribution centers, and among the least automated. Swapping in robots could cut the labor cost of fulfilling online orders by a fifth, said Marc Wulfraat, president of consulting firm MWPVL International Inc.

“When you’re talking about hundreds of millions of units, those numbers can be very significant,” he said. “It’s going to be a significant edge for whoever gets there first.”

Until recently, robots had to be trained to identify and grab each item, which is impractical in a distribution center that might stock an ever-changing array of millions of products.

Automation companies such as Kuka AG, Dematic Corp. and Honeywell International Inc. unit Intelligrated, as well as startups like RightHand Robotics Inc. and IAM Robotics LLC are working on automating picking.

In RightHand Robotics’ Somerville, Mass., test facility, mechanical arms hunt around the clock through bins containing packages of baby wipes, jars of peanut butter and other products. Each attempt—successful or not—feeds into a database. The bigger that data set, the faster and more reliably the machines can pick, said Yaro Tenzer, the startup’s co-founder.

Hudson’s Bay is testing RightHand’s robots in a distribution center in Scarborough, Ontario.

“This thing could run 24 hours a day,” said Erik Caldwell, the retailer’s senior vice president of supply chain and digital operations, at a conference in May. “They don’t get sick; they don’t smoke.”

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I’m puzzled. Don’t such objects have barcodes? Can’t robots read barcodes? Aren’t many objects packed inside boxes? (OK, not condiments, etc.) This is a problem which was being worked on back in the early days of machine vision, 50 years ago.
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Domestic brands captured 87% of the Chinese smartphone market in Q2 2017 • Counterpoint Research

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Research Director, Neil Shah noted, “We are nearing the time where the days of easy growth are over for Huawei, OPPO, vivo and Xiaomi in China. The competitive landscape is converging as all the top four Chinese brands have reached a steady and dominant position in a very slow growing market. The race for the top two spots is always up for grabs as one misstep can push a brand easily two spots behind.

“The comeback of Xiaomi from the declining spiral has made the market further competitive and almost a zero-sum game. The dip in performance by either of brand could affect their global performance. As a result, we believe heavily China-dependent brands such as OPPPO, vivo and Xiaomi will be aggressive in expanding their reach beyond China during the second half of this year. India, South Asia and Africa will be the key focus geographies to drive additional scale and market share to make up any dip in domestic market.”

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China is about 30% of the global smartphone market; GfK, another research company, reckons that 110m handsets were sold there in the second quarter.

Apple (8.2%) and Samsung (3%) are the only two non-Chinese brands with any substantial presence. Quite which non-Chinese brands get the other 1.8% of sales is left to the reader to puzzle over.

The convergence of growth rates though suggests that things could quickly consolidate around Huawei, Oppo and vivo. Xiaomi could go up or down.
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Hands-on video shows Lenovo Folio bendable tablet working fully • Pocket-lint

Rik Henderson:

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Chinese manufacturer Lenovo has been working on several tech concepts that will reimagine current gadgets. It recently revealed a bendable laptop during an event in New York that can be rolled to transport. And it has discussed bendy tablet formats in the past.

Now it has shown one of the latter and, instead of folding in on itself as you’d expect, the Lenovo Folio concept device folds over with the screen on the outside.

A video of the concept was posted online by Mobile China, on Chinese video site Youku. It shows someone going hands-on with the working prototype, which does indeed fold in the middle to give two separate screens – one either side of the bent device.

The prospective uses of such a device are yet to be fully explored, although we can see in the video that, as well as provide screens for user and separate viewer, it can also bend back into a larger tablet form and continue to be used in that more standard way.

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The initial temptation is to say “the uses are the same as a tablet”, but one can see the potential to have something phone-sized in your pocket which you can then open out and use as a full(er)-sized tablet. Could be big. Could vanish.
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I trained an A.I. to generate British placenames • Medium

Dan Hon:

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Method:

• Find a list of British placenames. Here’s one you can download as a CSV. You just need the names, so strip out all the other columns. To save some time, you can use the one I prepared earlier.
• Pick a multi-layer recurrent neural network to use. The first time I did this, Karpathy’s char-rnn was all the rage, this time I used jcjohnson’s torch-rnn.
• If you’re using a Mac, don’t bother trying to get OpenCL GPU support working. I wasted 3 hours. Just use crisbal’s CPU-based docker image. (If you know what you’re doing, then you’re already comfortable doing this all on AWS or you’ve got an nVidia GPU).
• Follow jcjohnson’s instructions in the readme (pre-process your data, etc.)
• Go and have a cup of tea while you train your model.
• “Mess around” with the temperature when you sample based on your model.
• Take a look at some of my favourite neural network generated British placenames (and if you’d like more, here’s 50,000 characters worth).

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Generates: Stoke Carrston, Elfordbion, Hevermilley, Ell, Elle’s Chorels, Eller’s Green, Heaton on Westom, Hadford Hill…

One feels this could be useful for authors or filmmakers.
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If GoDaddy can turn the corner on sexism, who can’t? • The New York Times

Charles Duhigg with a fascinating tale of how a company that used to run really sexist ads changed its culture:

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Some of the problems applicants and workers faced were subtle. For years, for instance, GoDaddy’s job descriptions were needlessly aggressive, saying the company was looking for “rock stars,” “code ninjas,” engineers who could “knock it out of the park” or “wrestle problems to the ground.”

Moreover, when GoDaddy’s human resource department began reviewing how the company analyzed leadership capacities, it found that women systematically scored lower because they were more likely to emphasize past team accomplishments and use sentences like “we exceeded our goals.” Men, in contrast, were more likely to use the word “I” and stress individual performance.

“There’s a lot of little things people don’t usually notice,” said Katee Van Horn, GoDaddy’s vice president for engagement and inclusion. “But they add up. They reinforce these biases you might not even realize you have.”

GoDaddy began focusing on countering these biases, assessing the company’s hiring, employee evaluations and promotions. In particular, executives scrutinized employee reviews, which evaluated workers using questions similar to those found at many companies: Does this person reply to emails promptly? Have they sought leadership roles? Have they shown initiative?

“We realized a lot of those are invitations for subjectivity,” said Ms. Van Horn.

GoDaddy’s data indicated that women tended to systematically be scored lower than men on communication, in part because they were more likely to be a family’s primary parent, and so were more likely to be off email in the early evening during homework and bedtime hours.

“And the more important question isn’t whether someone responds to email right away,” said Ms. Van Horn. “It’s what they say, whether their responses have impact. We shouldn’t be judging people based on how fast they communicate. We should be looking at whether they achieved the goals set for them.

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As much as anything, the ads turned off the people they needed to target – small business owners, who are often women.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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