Start Up: Google’s growth struggle, ding dong Flash!, linkrot measured, FFVII unfinished, and more


Google is getting into nuclear fusion. Photo by carrierdetect on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Save some for lunch. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alphabet Q2 earnings: stock slides • Business Insider

Steve Kovach:

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Alphabet’s overall revenue topped expectations thanks in part to growth in the “other revenues,” the division of Google which includes segments like the hardware and cloud businesses.  Other revenues were $3.09bn in Q2, up from $2.17bn in the year-ago quarter.

Porat cited strength in Google’s cloud business, as well as sales of its new Home smart speaker and wifi products.

But revenue growth in Google’s core online search advertising business decelerated during the quarter, as the company pays larger amounts of money to partners that deliver traffic to Google’s search engine, including Apple’s iPhone. 

Net revenue for Google’s ad business, which excludes the fees paid to partners, was up 16% during the second quarter, a slowdown from the roughly 20% net revenue growth that Google logged in the year ago period. 

Macquarie analyst Schachter pointed to the Q2 net revenue as a “meaningful deceleration.” It’s not the end of the world, Schachter said, but it illustrates the changes to Google’s business model as more and more of its search traffic now comes from mobile devices like iPhones that require Google to share some of the revenue.

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“Traffic acquisition costs” are starting to rise, which isn’t good for profitability. YouTube seems like the saviour as the rest of the ad business peaks. Meanwhile, there’s still the worry about further fines from the EU.
link to this extract


Why Google Fiber failed to disrupt the ISPs • The Ringer

Victor Luckerson:

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On Tuesday, Greg McCray stepped down as CEO of the company’s ISP business (now formally housed under Access, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet). His departure comes just nine months after Craig Barratt left the same role. Meanwhile, the Access division has faced staffing cuts, and aggressive plans to expand to more cities are on hold indefinitely. Google Fiber began as an experiment, then briefly seemed poised to grow into a legitimate contender against the ISP incumbents. But today it serves as proof that providing high-speed wired internet is a losing proposition, even for one of the world’s wealthiest companies…

…Fiber always had a too-good-to-be-true allure that fascinated journalists, excited local communities, and annoyed competitors (“We’ll be watching your next move from our rear view mirror,” AT&T said in a surprisingly salty blog post last summer).

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I think it’s that “too good to be true” element which drew so much attention. But the business just didn’t make sense.
link to this extract


Google enters race for nuclear fusion technology • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

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Google and a leading nuclear fusion company have developed a new computer algorithm which has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas, the ultra-hot balls of gas at the heart of the energy technology.

Tri Alpha Energy, which is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has raised over $500m (£383m) in investment. It has worked with Google Research to create what they call the Optometrist algorithm. This enables high-powered computation to be combined with human judgement to find new and better solutions to complex problems.

Nuclear fusion, in which atoms are combined at extreme temperatures to release huge amounts of energy, is exceptionally complex. The physics of nuclear fusion involves non-linear phenomena, where small changes can produce large outcomes, making the engineering needed to suspend the plasma very challenging.

“The whole thing is beyond what we know how to do even with Google-scale computer resources,” said Ted Baltz, at the Google Accelerated Science Team. So the scientists combined computer learning approaches with human input by presenting researchers with choices. The researchers choose the option they instinctively feel is more promising, akin to choosing the clearer text during an eye test.

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Never going to be against investment in fusion. Bring it on.
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Adobe will kill Flash web browser technology in 2020 • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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The Flash Player has been there for you all along, inside your browser, making it possible for you to play online games, stream radio station music and watch YouTube videos. But after a two-decade run, Adobe is killing it off.

Countless nails have been hammered in Flash’s coffin in recent years, most notably by Apple’s Steve Jobs and also by Adobe itself. Now, though, there’s a date for the funeral: Dec. 31, 2020.

Flash has been a website workhorse — online gaming site Kongregate has more than 100,000 Flash games — but don’t fret over the demise of the pioneering software. It’s more appropriate to rejoice, since the software today is a security risk and major source of browser crashes.

“I am glad Adobe is ending Flash’s life. It has honestly made the web a worse place for more than a decade,” said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin.

Indeed, Adobe’s move is momentous enough that the biggest names in web tech – Apple, Google, Facebook, Mozilla and Microsoft – coordinated announcements to tell us what’s going on and to reassure us all that it’s going to be fine.

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Of the many Flash obituaries, Shankland’s is the most comprehensive both about future and history.
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Despite Charlie Gard’s tragic story, we must respect the process of our courts • The Guardian

Ian Kennedy:

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Around 20 years ago, I was just about to leave for the airport in Auckland when I got a call from some lawyers. It was 7am. Would I meet them urgently in half an hour to advise on a case? I said of course, provided I could catch my plane.

A boy had suffered a catastrophic injury while being operated on: his neck had been broken. Though alert and talkative, he was paralysed. His parents had told his doctors that they wanted care to be withdrawn (he was on a ventilator) so that he could die peacefully. He wasn’t terminally ill, but they thought it best given what the future would hold.

There was no precedent in New Zealand. My advice was that the parents’ views were not the last word; the lawyers should go to court, ensure that the child was separately represented by a lawyer, and that the only question for the court was what was in the child’s best interests. The advice was followed. The child was made a ward of court, was cared for and lived on.

I’m sure that those who have involved themselves in the case of Charlie Gard would applaud what happened in Auckland. But if they do, they would also have to acknowledge a number of things that have been part of our approach to the care of children since the 19th century.

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The Charlie Gard case has seen some of the worst reporting in ages, because it mixes three things: a complex disease that few understand; an infant unable to represent themselves in any way; a “miracle cure” being held out as a hope. (In reality, the “cure” hadn’t even been tested on mice, let alone humans, and the doctor involved made no effort to acquaint himself with the detail despite invitations from Gt Ormond St since January.)

This piece makes terrific points – the overarching one being that children are not property and parents do not have rights over them; they have duties towards them.
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Modelling information persistence on the web • ResearchGate

Daniel Gomes and Mario Silva, in 2006:

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Models of web data persistency are essential tools for the design of efficient information extraction systems that repeatedly collect and process the data. This study models the persistence of web data through the measurement of URL and content persistence across several snapshots of a national community web, collected for 3 years. We found that the lifetimes of URLs and contents are modelled by logarithmic functions.

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If like me you were interested by the piece about how milliondollarhomepage is seeing linkrot, you might find this old piece entertaining. Still needs a modern update.
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LG Display to take on Samsung as it lifts OLED investment • Reuters

Joyce Lee:

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LG Display Co Ltd outlined plans to invest $13.5bn to boost output of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens over the next three years, aiming to cement its lead in big panels for TVs and make inroads against rival Samsung in smartphone displays.

The investment plans, roughly 25% more than its usual capital spending on an annual basis, also signal that the South Korean firm is shifting its focus to OLED from liquid crystal displays (LCDs) as demand for thinner and more flexible panels surge, analysts said.

LG Display is the world’s No. 1 LCD maker for televisions and also manufactures nearly all large OLED screens for televisions globally. But it has barely a foothold in the market for OLED smartphone screens where rival Samsung Display, a unit of Samsung Electronics, has a more than 90 % share…

…Its planned 15 trillion won investment over three years implies an average of 5 trillion won in capital spending per year, above its usual 4 trillion won, but analysts said it will probably not be enough.

“For small and mid-sized OLED, it is expected to receive additional investment from somewhere else, perhaps Apple,” said Lee Min-hee, analyst at Heungkuk Securities.

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LG clearly wants that OLED money; and that’s clearly what our smartphones and TVs are going to use in the near future.
link to this extract


The truth about Trump and deregulation • Bloomberg

Cass Sunstein:

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whatever the White House says, there’s a big difference between eliminating potential ideas for the future and actually removing regulations from the books.

To appreciate the difference, consider another development last week that received hardly any attention. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency proposed to leave an important Obama administration air pollution regulation entirely untouched.

In 2010, the EPA finalized a rule designed to reduce health risks from nitrogen oxides. 1 Scientific evidence showed that people with asthma, children and older adults face significant risks from exposure to levels of nitrogen oxides that exceeded the 2010 standard. In view of that, and the legal issues that would be triggered by an effort to reverse the Obama-era rule, it was a lot easier for Trump’s EPA to stick with it than to try to loosen it.

There’s a broader lesson here. Whenever agencies want to cut regulations, they have to go through the same time-consuming processes that govern the issuance of regulations in the first place.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must begin with a formal proposal to eliminate the rule. The proposal has to offer a new analysis of the law and the evidence. That takes a while to produce — often two months and possibly much longer.

After the proposal comes out, the Administrative Procedure Act requires a period for public comment. Under existing executive orders, that period will usually last for at least two months. If the issues are complicated, the public is going to demand and probably get more time — potentially as much as six months.

After the comments come in, some of the hardest work begins.

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“Getting rid of regulations” is easy to say, much harder to justify and do.
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One man’s two-year quest not to finish Final Fantasy VII | The New Yorker

Simon Parkin:

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In 2012, David Curry, a thirty-four-year-old cashier from Southern California, came across a post on an online forum by someone who went by the handle Dick Tree. It contained a herculean proposal: Tree planned to play the 1997 video game Final Fantasy VII for as many hours as it took to raise the characters to their maximum potential, without ever leaving the opening scene, which unfolds in a nuclear reactor. Final Fantasy VII is a role-playing game, a form popularized in the nineteen-seventies by Dungeons & Dragons, in which players’ feats—beasts felled, maidens wooed—are quantified with “experience points.” Accrue enough of these points, and your character ascends a level, at which point it confronts stronger opponents worth more points. Curry estimated that, even playing for a few hours every day, Tree’s attempt to raise a character to Level 99 by fighting only the game’s weakest enemies would take more than a year to complete.

Nevertheless, Tree attracted a following of forum users, including Curry, who cheered the project on and watched it unfold in sporadic posts. Over time, Curry told me recently, Tree’s updates became more infrequent. After two years, Tree stopped altogether. “I got fed up with Dick Tree,” he said. “So I declared that I would do it myself.”

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Wonderful (long) piece.
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Only 26% of internet users in Morocco own a PC/laptop • Global Web Index

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Today we begin a short series of charts examining digital consumers within four countries that have been added to our Core research program – Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria. We begin by delving into one of the most striking differences in device usage between these markets and the global picture – the minor role played by PCs and laptops.

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You might say “not surprising”, but it’s useful to keep in mind – especially when you look at the smartphone penetration.
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The government should fight ‘corporate villainy’ in tech, Senator Cory Booker says • Recode

Eric Johnson:

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“We’ve got to start having a conversation in this country: How are we going to measure the success of the tech sector?” [Democratic senator] Booker asked. “Is it by its ability to create a small handful of billionaires, or the ability for us to create pro-democracy forces — empowering individuals, improving quality of life, improving financial security, expanding opportunity — the kind of things we want largely for democracy?”

Booker compared the size and power of Silicon Valley to Wall Street and indicated that he’d like to see America being more aggressive, like the E.U., which levied a $2.7 billion fine levied on Google last month.

“We have regulatory agencies that just aren’t doing their jobs,” Booker said. “You see this with big banks. The entire crisis we just came through, what’s amazing to me is we haven’t learned the lessons and we’re not protecting the consumer.”

“So should the U.S. government take a look at Google?” Romm asked.

“I think the U.S. government absolutely should take a look at Google,” Booker said.

“On grounds for an antitrust case?”

“I think the U.S. government should be far more active in antitrust actions because when they have taken actions, it’s often created collateral benefits to society.

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link to this extract


The actual truth behind the guy who got stuck in an ATM • Cracked

Robert Evans:

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This makes it sound as if a clumsy, oafish ATM repairman bumbled into a little room behind the ATM and closed the door behind himself without thinking, stammering, “Oh shit!” between ponderous mouthfuls of of hoagie.

The reality was less hilarious. James was working on an ATM at a bank that was still under construction. The door didn’t lock behind him; it got jammed up with debris. “It was actually stuck on some of the metal and some of the screws.”

The true story makes James sound less like Mr. Magoo and, well, substantially more hardcore. “I tried everything else. I tried setting off alarms and whatnot. At the end I was just thinking I had to get out of there soon. So I’m yelling at people, ‘Hey, I’m in there, can you get me out,’ and they all would leave. That happened four or five times.”

See, this was a drive-up ATM, and the sounds of people’s engines would drown out James’ frantic shouting. He’d left his phone charging in his car, so he couldn’t call for help. He quickly realized that his only method of communicating with the outside world was the ATM’s receipt slot.

“As they’re making transactions, I’m seeing the receipts come out. And I just felt to myself, I gotta find some paper, make a note. Normally I don’t have a pen on me. I did have my knife, I figured if I just cut myself, I could write like that.” But before he had to resort to writing in his own blood like Sideshow Bob, James found a dried-out sharpie on the ground. He sucked on the end to wet the ink and wrote out his now-infamous note:

The first people he slid a note to assumed this was a prank: “I guess they giggled and took off on me. I guess they thought it was a joke.”

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link to this extract


Windows 10 is making too many PCs obsolete • Computerworld

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols:

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Microsoft released its latest Windows 10 update earlier this year. The name, Creators Update, makes it sound bigger than it is; it’s really a minor step forward. But about 10 million Windows 10 customers have to face up to an unpleasant surprise: Their machines can’t update to Creators Update.

That’s how many poor sad sacks bought a Windows 8.x laptop in 2013 or 2014 with an Intel Clover Trail processor. Any of them who have tried to update their PC with the March 2017 Creators Update, version 1703, had no success and were presented with this message: “Windows 10 is no longer supported on this PC.” Boy, that must have been fun!

Not the end of the road for your three-year-old machine, though. I mean, you could always keep running the last version of Windows 10 on your PC. It wasn’t as if you went directly to a permanent blue screen of death. And anyway, Microsoft eventually backed off some, announcing that, while you can’t update those machines, you can still get security patches.

Now, that’s one giant corporation with a big heart.

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This is a weird story – on a par with “Apple’s new software will make your old phone obsolete”. Every update is going to leave some machines behind. If the security updates are there, what’s the worry?

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Roomba vacuum maker iRobot could sell spatial mapping data to smart home companies • VentureBeat | AI | by Reuters

Jan Wolfe:

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So-called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology right now enables Roomba, and other higher-end Robovacs made by Dyson and other rivals, to do things like stop vacuuming, head back to its dock to recharge and then return to the same spot to finish the job.

Guy Hoffman, a robotics professor at Cornell University, said detailed spatial mapping technology would be a “major breakthrough” for the smart home.

Right now, smart home devices operate “like a tourist in New York who never leaves the subway,” said Hoffman. “There is some information about the city, but the tourist is missing a lot of context for what’s happening outside of the stations.”

With regularly updated maps, Hoffman said, sound systems could match home acoustics, air conditioners could schedule airflow by room and smart lighting could adjust according to the position of windows and time of day.

Companies like Amazon, Google and Apple could also use the data to recommend home goods for customers to buy, said Hoffman.

One potential downside is that selling data about users’ homes raises clear privacy issues, said Ben Rose, an analyst who covers iRobot for Battle Road Research. Customers could find it “sort of a scary thing,” he said.

Angle said iRobot would not sell data without its customers’ permission, but he expressed confidence most would give their consent in order to access the smart home functions.

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The water in the pot of privacy gets just a notch warmer.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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