Start Up: what’s a TV antenna?, pop-up inventor apologises, China’s smartphone power, and more

CRISPR gene editing has been used to edit the germline of embryonic cells. The next question is: should it be licensed? Photo by ZEISS Microscopy on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

In breakthrough, scientists edit a dangerous mutation from genes in human embryos • The New York Times

Pam Belluck:


The study, published in the journal Nature, comes just months after a national scientific committee recommended new guidelines for modifying embryos, easing blanket proscriptions but urging the technique be used only for dire medical problems.

“We’ve always said in the past gene editing shouldn’t be done, mostly because it couldn’t be done safely,” said Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who co-led the committee. “That’s still true, but now it looks like it’s going to be done safely soon,” he said, adding that the research is “a big breakthrough.”

“What our report said was, once the technical hurdles are cleared, then there will be societal issues that have to be considered and discussions that are going to have to happen. Now’s the time.”

Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, reported that they repaired dozens of embryos, fixing a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life.

If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free but also would not transmit the disease to descendants.

The researchers averted two important safety problems: They produced embryos in which all cells — not just some — were mutation-free, and they avoided creating unwanted extra mutations.

“It feels a bit like a ‘one small step for (hu)mans, one giant leap for (hu)mankind’ moment,” Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist who helped discover the gene-editing method used, called CRISPR-Cas9, said in an email.


(The study isn’t paywalled.) CRISPR is coming, and perhaps a lot faster than many people have expected. The key question will be whether it will be done on the germline – the embryos that are then implanted, or egg or sperm cells that are then used to create embryos.
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On the death of Bassel Khartabil • MIT Media Lab

Joi Ito:


I was devastated to learn yesterday that my friend Bassel Khartabil Safadi, a mentor, former colleague, and open source developer, was executed by the Syrian government. All of us at the Media Lab send our heartfelt condolences to his family, and join the community mourning this great loss.

I first met Bassel in 2009 while working at Creative Commons, an organization dedicated to open access to content on the Internet. Bassel was our main technical contact in the Middle East and he played a vital role in the open access movement in Syria. On a road trip from Beirut to Damascus, he boasted about the beauty and history of his hometown and it did not disappoint. I remember meeting his many interesting and eclectic friends: artists, architects, engineers, and how Bassel set up websites dedicated to their work. I appreciated his values, his humor, and his devotion to his country. Bassel was, above all, someone who loved Syria and worked to bring one of the oldest cities in the world into the 21st Century.


Terribly sad; and only one tiny fragment of the awful waste of the Syrian civil war.
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Millennials unearth an amazing hack to get free TV: the antenna • WSJ

Ryan Knutson:


Dan Sisco has discovered a technology that allows him to access half a dozen major TV channels, completely free.

“I was just kind of surprised that this is technology that exists,” says Mr. Sisco, 28 years old. “It’s been awesome. It doesn’t log out and it doesn’t skip.”

Let’s hear a round of applause for TV antennas, often called “rabbit ears,” a technology invented roughly seven decades ago, long before there was even a cord to be cut, which had been consigned to the technology trash can along with cassette tapes and VCRs.

The antenna is mounting a quiet comeback, propelled by a generation that never knew life before cable television, and who primarily watch Netflix , Hulu and HBO via the internet. Antenna sales in the U.S. are projected to rise 7% in 2017 to nearly 8 million units, according to the Consumer Technology Association, a trade group.

Mr. Sisco, an M.B.A. student in Provo, Utah, made his discovery after inviting friends over to watch the Super Bowl in 2014. The online stream he found to watch the game didn’t have regular commercials—disappointing half of his guests who were only interested in the ads.

“An antenna was not even on my radar,” he says. He went online and discovered he could buy one for $20 and watch major networks like ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS free…

…Carlos Villalobos, 21, who was selling tube-shaped digital antennas at a swap meet in San Diego recently, says customers often ask if his $20 to $25 products are legal. “They don’t trust me when I say that these are actually free local channels,” he says.

Earlier this year, he got an earful from a woman who didn’t get it. “She was mad,” he recalls. “She says, ‘No, you can’t live in America for free, what are you talking about?’”


Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my.
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The man who invented pop-up ads says ‘I’m sorry’ • Forbes

Jay McGregor:


Ethan Zuckerman, the man who invented pop-up ads, has apologised to the world in a lengthy explanation of his original intentions.

Writing for The Atlantic, Zuckerman explains that he had unintentionally created one of the most hated forms of advertising on the web.

In the late 90s Zuckerman worked for, a website that marketed content and services to graduates. Tripod later changed business model after the initial concept failed to catch on, becoming a webpage-hosting provider and “proto-social network” instead.

Tripod tried a number of revenue streams to keep the business going including; selling merchandise, a subscription service and even a paid-for magazine. But what really worked was advertising, and this is where it all began.

As Zuckerman explains in his essay: “At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising. The model that got us acquired was analyzing users’ personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser’s toolkit: the pop-up ad.

“It was a way to associate an ad with a user’s page without putting it directly on the page, which advertisers worried would imply an association between their brand and the page’s content. Specifically, we came up with it when a major car company freaked out that they’d bought a banner ad on a page that celebrated anal sex. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I’m sorry. Our intentions were good.”


The Zuckerman article is great, and I highly recommend it. It just didn’t lend itself to a succinct extract. Also, you now have a pub quiz question: “the popup ad was invented because a car advertiser found itself associated with what?”
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Google and Facebook’s ad-supported internet isn’t sustainable in India, Africa and rest of the global south • Quartz


As billions more digital citizens connect this decade, a critical question arises: Does the internet’s current business model work in newly-connected regions?
Research shows the ad-supported internet of developed economies isn’t sustainable in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.
The answer is “no.” Increasingly, research and practice show the ad-supported internet of developed economies isn’t sustainable in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. And so billions of new users face an inflection point: miss out on the richness of the internet. Or, develop new business models to ensure the web remains open and accessible.

In the United States, the UK and other regions with lengthy access pedigrees, the success of an ad-supported internet maps to a handful of factors. Digital advertisers are operating in robust economies with ample consumer spending. Users are typically equipped with modern hardware and abundant data plans, allowing them to effortlessly stream video and navigate thickets of tabs and browser windows. This lets publishers track activity and show lots of targeted, high-value advertisements. As a result, Facebook earns a quarterly average revenue per user (ARPU) of $19.81 in the U.S. and Canada, compared to just $1.41 in Africa and Latin America. Indeed, almost half of Facebook’s revenue comes from just 12% of its users, many in North America.

In emerging markets, low disposable incomes make audiences much less valuable to advertisers. Audiences in Nigeria will pay 1/10 or less for an ad compared to one in the U.S. And many low-income users have feature phones or low-end smartphones that struggle to access modern websites and apps. These are further limited in their use by the high costs of data. The result is that for much of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, “going online” and engaging with digital content and services is a fundamentally different experience than it is in the West.


There’s an associated report: “Paying Attention to the Poor: Digital Advertising in Emerging Markets“.
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Q2 2017: Chinese brands now contributing to almost half of global smartphone shipments • Counterpoint Research


Commenting on the growth of Chinese brands, Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research said, “Chinese brands have been successful in not only cementing their positions in their home country, but also managing to expand beyond mainland China at the same time. Most of these players took offline as the primary channel strategy to enter new markets. In addition they have backed their channel strategies with aggressive marketing spend in both above-the-line and below-the-line campaigns. This has made them accessible to partners, including operators, in new territories. These brands will continue to expand 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. The geographic diversification will also help offset any turbulence in the domestic China market, which is increasingly saturated.”

Commenting on vendor performance during the quarter Research Analyst, Shobhit Srivastava, noted, “The competitive landscape is now changing drastically across many regions. In developed markets the top three brands are strengthening their hold. In emerging markets meanwhile, rankings continue to be volatile, with new players also entering the top ten rankings within a few quarters of launch. This has led to various strategies by OEMs during the quarter to counter competition. These includes ODM tie-ups, operator tie-ups in prepaid markets, cutting down excessive portfolios and even offering devices for free (Jiophone launch). We expect further innovation (and desperation) in go-to-market strategies by different OEMs struggle for traction in fast-moving market environments.”


Huawei is looking like it will overhaul Apple some time in the next year.

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Why Google stores billions of lines of code in a single repository • Communications of the ACM

Rachel Potvin and Josh Levenberg:


Google’s monolithic software repository, which is used by 95% of its software developers worldwide, meets the definition of an ultra-large-scale4 system, providing evidence the single-source repository model can be scaled successfully.

The Google codebase includes approximately one billion files and has a history of approximately 35 million commits spanning Google’s entire 18-year existence. The repository contains 86TB of data, including approximately two billion lines of code in nine million unique source files. The total number of files also includes source files copied into release branches, files that are deleted at the latest revision, configuration files, documentation, and supporting data files; see the table here for a summary of Google’s repository statistics from January 2015.

In 2014, approximately 15 million lines of code were changed in approximately 250,000 files in the Google repository on a weekly basis. The Linux kernel is a prominent example of a large open source software repository containing approximately 15 million lines of code in 40,000 files.14

Google’s codebase is shared by more than 25,000 Google software developers from dozens of offices in countries around the world. On a typical workday, they commit 16,000 changes to the codebase, and another 24,000 changes are committed by automated systems. Each day the repository serves billions of file read requests, with approximately 800,000 queries per second during peak traffic and an average of approximately 500,000 queries per second each workday. Most of this traffic originates from Google’s distributed build-and-test systems.


First the numbers are astonishing; then the processes by which colossal problems are avoided. The automated systems alone are worth considering.
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Struggling Americans once sought greener pastures—now they’re stuck • WSJ

Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg on how people aren’t moving for jobs any more in the US:


For many rural residents across the country with low incomes, government aid programs such as Medicaid, which has benefits that vary by state, can provide a disincentive to leave. One in 10 West Branch residents lives in low-income housing, which was virtually nonexistent a generation ago. Civic leaders here say extended networks of friends and family and a tradition of church groups that will cover heating bills, car repairs and septic services—often with no questions asked—also dissuade the jobless and underemployed from leaving.

Tom Quinn, president of the local Kirtland Community College, says the rationale boils down to: “I’ve got good social services. I’m stuck in one big rut. If you ask me to go to Indianapolis, I can’t—even if there’s a job there.”

“People can’t move,” says Mandi Chasey, county economic development director.

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

Janna E. Johnson and Morris M. Kleiner of the University of Minnesota found in a nationwide study that barbers and cosmetologists—occupations that tend to require people to obtain new state licenses when they relocate—are 22% less likely to move between states than workers whose blue-collar occupations don’t require them.


Remarkable: a combination of housing costs, healthcare costs, and weird licensing. Since when did a barber require a licence? Why?
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Theranos low on cash after settlement with Walgreens • WSJ

Christopher Weaver and Michael Siconolfi:


Theranos said Tuesday it settled a lawsuit by the Walgreen Co. unit of Walgreens Boots Alliance that claimed the blood-testing firm breached their contract and misled the drugstore chain about its capabilities.

Neither Theranos nor Walgreens would disclose terms of the settlement, though people familiar with the matter said the amount was more than $25 million. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that a tentative settlement had been reached, calling for Theranos to pay Walgreens less than $30m.

The embattled Silicon Valley firm told investors in June that it had about $54m left on hand. It was spending about $10m a month then, but anticipated further reducing its burn rate.

Theranos in June was seeking to raise about $50m from existing investors. The company declined to comment on whether it had succeeded in doing so, or on its current cash position. It isn’t clear when Theranos will make the payments to Walgreens.

Theranos also maintains insurance policies that could cover certain settlement and legal costs, according to court records.


Would investors really put another $50m into Theranos, knowing all that they do? Do they feel the sunk cost is so big already ($686m, according to Crunchbase) that another fifty million dollars won’t hurt much more?
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Botched release of beta HomePod OS reveals details of new 2017 iPhones and HomePod • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:


How in the world does something like this happen? My understanding is that Apple is (or at least was) on the cusp of a widespread deployment of prototype HomePods to employees. Someone prepared an over-the-air software update and because it was intended to be distributed only to Apple employees, the OS was compiled without all the usual flags set to omit code that pertains to unreleased hardware. (Kind of makes sense, insofar as HomePod itself is unreleased hardware.) Building the OS without those flags set may not have been a mistake. But distributing it via a world-readable server was.


I’ve heard rumours for some years that a select few Apple staff were testing some sort of smart speaker at home. This leaked deployment explanation would make sense. Apple does have an occasional talent for premature ejaculation of details like this.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up: what’s a TV antenna?, pop-up inventor apologises, China’s smartphone power, and more

  1. I’d say the association the car manufacturer objected to was prescient given what we were to discover the industry was doing to air quality via software that gave false emission test results.

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