Start Up: averaging MPs’ faces, Apple’s big OLED plans, what hunter-gatherers had, and more


The iPhone X: still many questions, whose answers you’ll have to wait for. Photo by perzonseo on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. See? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The case against civilisation • The New Yorker

John Lanchester reviews “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States” by James Scott:

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So why did our ancestors switch from this complex web of food supplies [as hunter-gatherers] to the concentrated production of single crops? We don’t know, although Scott speculates that climatic stress may have been involved. Two things, however, are clear. The first is that, for thousands of years, the agricultural revolution was, for most of the people living through it, a disaster. The fossil record shows that life for agriculturalists was harder than it had been for hunter-gatherers. Their bones show evidence of dietary stress: they were shorter, they were sicker, their mortality rates were higher. Living in close proximity to domesticated animals led to diseases that crossed the species barrier, wreaking havoc in the densely settled communities. Scott calls them not towns but “late-Neolithic multispecies resettlement camps.” Who would choose to live in one of those? Jared Diamond called the Neolithic Revolution “the worst mistake in human history.” The startling thing about this claim is that, among historians of the era, it isn’t very controversial.

The other conclusion we can draw from the evidence, Scott says, is that there is a crucial, direct link between the cultivation of cereal crops and the birth of the first states. It’s not that cereal grains were humankind’s only staples; it’s just that they were the only ones that encouraged the formation of states. “History records no cassava states, no sago, yam, taro, plantain, breadfruit or sweet potato states,” he writes. What was so special about grains? The answer will make sense to anyone who has ever filled out a Form 1040: grain, unlike other crops, is easy to tax. Some crops (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava) are buried and so can be hidden from the tax collector, and, even if discovered, they must be dug up individually and laboriously. Other crops (notably, legumes) ripen at different intervals, or yield harvests throughout a growing season rather than along a fixed trajectory of unripe to ripe—in other words, the taxman can’t come once and get his proper due. Only grains are, in Scott’s words, “visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and ‘rationable.’ ” Other crops have some of these advantages, but only cereal grains have them all, and so grain became “the main food starch, the unit of taxation in kind, and the basis for a hegemonic agrarian calendar.” The taxman can come, assess the fields, set a level of tax, then come back and make sure he’s got his share of the harvest.

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Also in the piece: we don’t give our forebears enough credit for their innovations. Principally, the adoption and use of fire.
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Essential Phone review: Essentially okay • Android Police

David Ruddock:

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The biggest potential deal breaker is the camera, which is considerably below average. Shutter lag is huge, and focusing takes too long. Photos often have washed out colors, poorly managed exposure, and HDR mode makes almost no difference in image quality (but it does slow the camera down even more). There are phones with better cameras that cost much less (like the OnePlus 5). The Pixel or Galaxy S8 absolutely blow the Essential Phone out of the water when it comes to photo quality. Those phones only have one camera, too. The Essential Phone’s secondary monochrome sensor is supposed to sharpen photos, but I can’t say if it’s doing any good. What I can say is Essential needs to work on its image processing algorithms.

Essential is doing some fascinating stuff with the hardware, and I definitely want to see more from the company. However, I don’t think spending $700 on this device is a good idea.

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link to this extract


IPad Pro: Apple quietly hikes the price • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

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Apple quietly increased the price of the 256GB and 512GB versions of its 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets.

The price change was first spotted by the blog MacRumors.

Prior to Tuesday’s Apple rollout, consumers could purchase the 256GB and 512GB 10.9-inch iPad Pro for $749 and $949, respectively. Those models now cost $799 and $999, respectively. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro saw its 256GB and 512GB models increase by $50 to $949 and $1,149, respectively, with the latter nearing the price of a MacBook.

The price of the 64GB version of both iPads remains unchanged.

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It raised the prices on last year’s iPhones too. So this is surely about memory – prices have rocketed in the past year or so.
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The one wireless speaker you won’t ever want to hide from view • Bloomberg

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Master & Dynamic, the three-year-old New York startup, has quickly made an impression among aficionados for its headphones and earbuds. It also has a way with collaborations, including standouts with the Rolling Stones, Bamford Watch Department, and Leica Camera. Now, for its first venture into the world of speakers, Master & Dynamic has enlisted Sir David Adjaye, whose National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington last year. The architect upends the category with the MA770, a striking 35-pound, 16-by-20-inch countertop unit made of concrete composite.

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Look at the picture and you will agree with me that not only will you want to hide it from view, you will not want to spend money on it nor bring it home.
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Sony and Samsung pressure Huawei’s growth in Europe • Kantar Worldpanel

Dominic Sunnebo on the three months to the end of July 2017, according to Kantar’s longitudinal buyer panel (which looks at shifts in ownership, not pure sales numbers):

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The renewed focus by Sony and Samsung on their successful entry-level models put more pressure on Huawei in Europe, as its share fell in Spain and Great Britain. However, gains in Germany and Italy helped Huawei’s EU5 share grow to 14.6% in the three months ending July, up from 12.4% one year earlier.

In the USA, Samsung remained in the top spot during the three months ending in July with a 36.2% share, with Apple close behind at 34.1%. The growth rates of the two brands are almost exactly matched at 2.5% for Samsung and 2.6% for Apple. The iPhone 7 was the top-selling handset during the period at 12.6% of sales, while the newer Samsung Galaxy S8 stood at 8.8%.

“Apple’s US growth is very impressive, given that an all-new iPhone is expected to be announced on September 12, and should become available for purchase later in the month,” Sunnebo added.

Apple saw something of a rebound in Urban China in the July data period, with share +5.1%pts to 19.3%. The large screen iPhone 7 Plus was the top selling device in Urban China in the month of July, the first time the Plus version has outsold the smaller screen iPhone 7.

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South Korean companies start to make investments again for Apple’s OLED iPhones • ET News Korea

Yun Keonil:

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South Korean companies started making second investments in order to supply their products to Apple for its OLED iPhones.. Because Apple is planning to double the amount of models that will be equipped with OLED displays in 2018 after releasing its first OLED iPhones this year, many Smartphone part manufacturers started extending their production facilities. It is heard that Apple is planning to produce up to 170 million OLED iPhones in 2018 after producing about 70 million OLED iPhones this year. If current Smartphone part manufactures obtain entire orders of increased supply, Apple’s sales will jump by about 140%. It is predicted that its sales will jump up to 100% even if reduction in unit cost due to increase in supply is considered. Billions of dollars worth of trickle down effect is expected as Apple is set to release more OLED iPhones.

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70m iPhone Xs in 2017 is a lot of iPhone Xs.
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Apple’s iPhone X: wait for the reviews • The Verge

Vlad Savov raises (but sensibly doesn’t try to answer) many valid questions, such as “how good is the new swipe-based interface?” and “will the glass back hold up over the long run?”:

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Many of today’s questions about the iPhone X are inherent in Apple’s premise of this being the phone of the future. Of course the day-one iPhone X apps will be mere adaptations of iPhone apps that were built for different screens, devices, and interaction paradigms. You can’t expect those to be superior right away, but the idea is that the new UI and taller, bezel-starved screen will eventually pay off in a better overall user experience. The same goes for Face ID and the hardware tweaks designed to facilitate useful things like wireless charging.

If you ask Apple, the company will probably tell you that the iPhone X is its no-compromise vision for what a phone should be. I look at things a little differently. The sensor-laden notch at the top of the iPhone X’s screen is an apt metaphor for the compromises Apple had to make: it spoils the perfect all-screen front just a little bit, representing the eternal struggle to balance aesthetic and technical requirements in a thoughtful way. How well the iPhone X strikes that balance is an open question right now. And that’s what makes me wary to reach conclusions until at least the first reviews come in.

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This is absolutely the right approach. And even initial reviews won’t answer this, because they’ll be about having used the phone for a week or so. This is going to be a long haul. (Thanks RG for the link.)
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Smartphones are driving all growth in web traffic • Recode

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Smartphones are driving all growth in U.S. web traffic, while tablets and computer web access has declined, according to new data from Adobe Analytics.

Screenshot 2017 09 13 06 47 29

Since January 2015, there has been a 68% increase in smartphone web traffic in the U.S., while desktop and tablet both saw declines. Overall, web traffic has been pretty much flat, according to Adobe’s Media & Metrics report that was released Monday. Adobe tracked more than 150 billion visits to or launches of 400 large company sites and apps since January 2015, using anonymous and aggregated data from companies on Adobe Experience Cloud.

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This is change rather than total, but it’s still dramatic. -30% for desktops/laptops, -16% for tablets.
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I calculated the average face of a UK Member of Parliament and here’s what I found • Medium

Giuseppe Sollazzo:

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The UK Parliament Digital Service has recently released an archive of official portraits of MPs shot by photographer Chris McAndrew (under a CC BY licence! Open Data, yay!) As I’m playing with image manipulation and Machine Learning to train a cohort of medical researchers, I thought the portraits would make an excellent test of what’s possible in the wild.

Using Machine Learning on faces has recently been subject of controversy, when researchers at Stanford University developed an algorithm that detects whether the face in a photo belongs to a gay person. Steering away from controversy, I thought that it would be interesting to find out what the average MP looks like. There has been a good deal of research on this concept, some of which is rather catchy. In 2015 the Guardian reported that we tend to find average faces the most attractive. I’m not sure this applies to MPs (and let’s avoid all jokes about average, i.e. centrist, faces), but here we go.

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Here you go:

As he observes: quite like Cameron. But he then breaks it down into political parties, which gives some nuance.
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How my doppelgänger used the Internet to find and befriend me • Splnter News

Kashmir Hill:

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My first reaction was, “Whoa. This is creepy.” When I showed it to colleagues and friends, they had the same reaction. Not only did she look a lot like me, but she had obviously gone to some trouble to stage a photo in the same pose as my Google Plus profile photo.

She explained in the email that she and her two young sons had been eating at a “Smashburger” in her hometown of Phoenix when three “well-dressed gentlemen” approached her and one said, “I hope this doesn’t sound too weird but does your name happen to be Kashmir?” When she said no, he showed her a photo of me that he’d pulled up on his smartphone; she was shocked by the likeness. They told her I was a big name in what sounded like “bit con” to her. When she got home, she tried to find me by Googling variations of “Cashmere” and “bit con” with no success. Then she asked Facebook for help. A friend of hers who knew people interested in Bitcoin quickly figured out who I was and posted a photo of me that Leigh was convinced was her, until she realized she had never owned the shirt I was wearing. “Mind blown,” one of her Facebook friends commented. “It’s like the twins separated at birth from a soap opera,” said another.

After deciding that this person probably wasn’t planning to murder me and take over my life, I emailed back about the uncanny likeness, and asked if she wanted to meet or videochat to see if we looked as much alike when our faces were moving. So we arranged a FaceTime meeting to compare faces. We both felt like looking alike meant we had to meet for some reason.

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This is from 2015. Now, of course, we want Kashmir and her kinda-double to try out Apple’s iPhone X face recognition to see if it can tell the difference. (My guess: it will.)
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Google responds to Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention with AdWords tracking update • Search Engine Land

Ginny Marvin:

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In short, with ITP, third-party cookies that are determined to be able to track users across sites can only be used for 24 hours from the time a user visits a website via Safari. After 24 hours, the third-party cookies can only be used for log-in purposes. The cookies are purged entirely after 30 days.

This means that unless a user converts within 24 hours of last visiting an advertiser’s site after clicking an AdWords ad, for example, the conversion attribution will be lost. With Safari accounting for nearly 50% of mobile web traffic share in North America, ITP has the potential to wreak havoc on mobile ad conversion attribution.

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This sounds arcane (ok, it is quite arcane) but for Google, it has the ability to (as the article says) wreak havoc on the satisfaction of advertisers. (Not people on the web.) In essence, Google and Apple are still fighting a guerilla battle over pervasive tracking.
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