Start Up: rise of the mining ads, Google does hardware, Facebook’s new Russia trouble, and more


Compuserve: it did all the web things, but before many people had heard of the web. Photo by James Cridland on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. They’re really linky. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cloudflare bans sites for using cryptocurrency miners • TorrentFreak

“Andy”:

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It all began with The Pirate Bay, which quietly added a Javascript cryptocurrency miner to its main site, something that first manifested itself as a large spike in CPU utilization on the machines of visitors.

The stealth addition to the platform, which its operators later described as a test, was extremely controversial. While many thought of the miner as a cool and innovative way to generate revenue in a secure fashion, a vocal majority expressed a preference for permission being requested first, in case they didn’t want to participate in the program.

Over the past couple of weeks, several other sites have added similar miners, some which ask permission to run and others that do not. While the former probably aren’t considered problematic, the latter are now being viewed as a serious problem by an unexpected player in the ecosystem.

TorrentFreak has learned that popular CDN service Cloudflare, which is often criticized for not being harsh enough on ‘pirate’ sites, is actively suspending the accounts of sites that deploy cryptocurrency miners on their platforms.

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Good. That’s an amazing abuse. Ads are bad, but they tend to load and sit there. (OK, maybe not video.) Actively parasitising someone else’s CPU crosses a line.
link to this extract


Google’s new phones tap services, software to chase Apple • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen:

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Both phones have OLED screens, like last year, but the Pixel displays don’t cover the entire front of the devices, unlike Apple’s new iPhone X and Samsung’s S8 models. That may make Google’s new phones look dated in a 2017 smartphone industry that’s already embraced all-screen designs.

Both models continue to include fingerprint scanners on the back while competitors shift to either integrating biometrics into the screens or using facial recognition to authenticate users. The Pixel phones are priced in a similar range to their rivals, starting at $649 for the small model and $849 for the bigger one.

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Nice, but Google’s supply chain is going to be severely tested again. Availability only in six countries, only on Verizon in the US. Are the AI benefits going to be pushed down to Android OEMs as Google Assistant was?
link to this extract


Google’s new camera “Clips” uses AI to automatically get great shots • Buzzfeed

Mat Honan:

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Its entire purpose is to automatically take candid photos of hard-to-capture subjects like kids and pets.

It’s quite small, sort of cute, and is basically a cube with a big lens in the front. There is no display, or viewfinder, and it is meant to be used hands-free via an attached clip that doubles as a stand. It costs $249 and will work with iOS 10 and Android 7 or later. There’s no ship date yet.
Wait, but what do you mean it automatically takes candid photos?

Yeah, so, here’s where the camera gets weird.

The camera uses artificial intelligence to both evaluate picture quality and see if someone it “knows” is within view. If it decides that something is a good picture and it recognizes the subject (which could be a person or a pet), it takes a short clip — which can be saved as a video, a GIF, or as one of Google’s newly announced Motion Photos. You can also select still images if moving pictures are not really your thing.

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AI at the centre of what Google does; trying to make it a differentiator.
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Google unveils Pixel Buds earphones, aping Apple’s AirPods • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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Unlike Apple’s AirPods, the buds are connected by a wire that rests behind the neck. Similar to Apple’s popular earphones, the Pixel Buds cost $160, come with a carrying case that doubles as charger, and have five hours of battery. The case provides four charges over 24 hours before it has to be plugged in.

The Pixel Buds let users listen to music but also have Google’s digital voice assistant built-in. A user can tap the right headphone to invoke Google Assistant, control music playback with their voice, and get directions from the company’s Maps app. The headset’s most show-worthy feature is a live translate mode, which lets users hand their phone off to someone speaking another language and that speech will automatically convert to the wearer’s native tongue and be played back by the Pixel Buds.

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That’s very clever. (I’m going to question how useful it will be to Americans, who will be the principal buyers, but the long-term application is wonderful.
link to this extract


Now a shadow of its former self, CompuServe blazed trails online • Columbus Dispatch

Tim Feran:

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CompuServe innovations included large-scale credit-card authorizations, online research for Wall Street banks and online scheduling for airlines. In 1980 alone, CompuServe introduced real-time chat and the first online newspaper — The Columbus Dispatch — in which news flowed into home computers and users were billed in one-minute increments.

“All sorts of stuff that didn’t exist until, one day, we provided it,” Lambert said. “And then people would say, ‘How did we live without it.’ There was a lot of energy. It was the beginning of a new industry and almost everything we did was pioneering in some way. It was never boring. There was always something going on.”

In the fast-moving world of computers the competition was intense, not only to keep innovating but to get and keep talented employees. And that became the key to CompuServe’s eventual downfall.

“When CompuServe was sold to H&R Block in 1980, I felt it was a great partner to have in the information business,” Wilkins said. “But after about five years, I felt we were starting to fall behind because the stock options were with H&R Block and that wasn’t sexy enough for recruiting. So I suggested we spin off the company — and I was told, ‘In the future, but not now.’”

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link to this extract


Russians took a page from corporate America by using Facebook tool to ID and influence voters • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg and Adam Entous:

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Russian operatives set up an array of misleading Web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used a powerful Facebook tool to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior, say people familiar with the investigation into foreign meddling in the U.S. election.

The tactic resembles what American businesses and political campaigns have been doing in recent years to deliver messages to potentially interested people online. The Russians exploited this system by creating English-language sites and Facebook pages that closely mimicked those created by U.S. political activists.

The Web sites and Facebook pages displayed ads or other messages focused on such hot-button issues as illegal immigration, African American political activism and the rising prominence of Muslims in the United States. The Russian operatives then used a Facebook “retargeting” tool, called Custom Audiences, to send specific ads and messages to voters who had visited those sites, say people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details from an ongoing investigation.

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Facebook is in so much trouble.
link to this extract


After mocking Apple, Google is also ditching headphone jack • Cult of Mac

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Google mocked the iPhone 7’s missing headphone jack in its marketing material for the original Pixel smartphone — but it won’t be doing the same for the Pixel 2.

Just like Apple, the company has decided to remove the aging port from its latest handsets. A new leak reveals that the lineup will rely solely on USB-C for wired connectivity.
A number of manufacturers ridiculed Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from its iPhone lineup last fall. Despite it being decades old, it’s still an incredibly common port that most people use regularly. Apple had to banish it to make room for new technologies.

Most iPhone fans quickly adapted to life without wired headphones, and soon, rival smartphone manufacturers started following Apple’s lead. Now, it seems even those who mocked the decision are beginning to accept the headphone jack is dying.

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Well, not quite. The Pixel isn’t going to sell in anything like large enough volumes to have an effect on what people think of headphone jacks. Apple has started it, but it’s only going to be when Samsung drops the jack on its top-end line that you’ll know it’s on the way out. (There were rumours the S8 would drop it; it kept it.)
link to this extract


Sonos is adding AirPlay 2 support for Apple devices in 2018 • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

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Sonos just announced that it’ll be adding support for Apple’s new AirPlay 2 standard to its speakers next year. In addition to making it easier to play music from iOS devices, AirPlay 2 means that — much like the recently announced Alexa support — users will be able to use Siri on iOS devices and eventually Apple’s HomePod to control their Sonos systems.

AirPlay 2 also enables multi-room support for AirPlay speakers, meaning that you’ll be able to integrate Sonos devices with other AirPlay 2 speakers for a seamless experience across your home — including Apple’s HomePod, which was originally announced as a competitor to Sonos’ devices.

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It’s hard not to feel that Sonos is slightly desperately playing catch-up here. It’s very good at what it does (multi-room high-quality streaming speakers) but sound quality turns out to be something people don’t care about enough. Adding Alexa might be too late.
link to this extract


How to destroy our economy • Forbes

David Pridham on why there isn’t any wage growth even while GDP seems to boom:

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The sewing machine, electric power, automobiles, acrylics, the zipper, the aircraft industry, the jet engine, the radio industry, the television industry, power steering, the helicopter, rocketry, cellophane, neoprene, air conditioning, the electron microscope, instant cameras, magnetic recording, fluorescent lighting, radar, the safety razor, stainless steel, and the world’s first cyclotron — these are just a few of the breakthroughs that came from entrepreneurs and startups. And those were just the industries created up to the 1950s when Jewkes wrote his book.

To all the above, we must also add the trillion-dollar, world-changing industries of the last 60 years: the semiconductor, consumer electronics, personal computer, software, biotech, mobile telephony, and Internet e-commerce industries. Once again, all were created by small startups — and on the basis of a patented innovation, no less (more on that in a moment).

Startups don’t only create breakthrough innovations and new industries. They also create jobs. Not just many of them, or even most of them. I mean, all of them!

“Across the decades, young companies are really the heavy hitters of job creation,” Arnobio Morelix, an economist at the Kauffman Foundation, told The Times.

In fact, startups have been responsible for literally 100% of all net job growth in the United States over the last 40 years. If you took startups out of the picture and looked only at big businesses, job growth in the U.S. since 1977 would actually be negative.

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Smart home market worth $6bn by end of year and rising fast • Futuresource Consulting

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“Consumers carry their smartphones everywhere they go, even when moving from room to room around the home,” says [market analyst Filipe] Oliveira. “Smartphones currently have the edge on smart speakers, because these devices allow face recognition and gesture commands to play a role alongside voice commands. Voice may not be needed at all in many smart home situations; when the user is away from a microphone, when there is background noise or when multiple people are talking in the same room, for example.”

Watch this space for combined voice and sensor control embedded into your smart refrigerator, wall art, mirrors, set-top boxes and TVs, any of which could become the means by which users give commands to their smart home.

There are currently four main smart home categories, namely hubs and control devices, security and monitoring, climate control and lighting systems.

“Security and monitoring products are leading the smart home charge. With the highest penetration rates and the largest value and volume at retail, this category is one of the main drivers of growth,” says Oliveira…

…At present, North America represents over 60% of global smart home shipments and will continue to take the lion’s share out to 2021 and beyond. In Europe, the UK is playing a starring role in the smart home revolution. With a smaller population than both Germany and France, the UK outstrips them as the biggest market for smart home products in Western Europe. Looking to the Asia Pacific region, South Korea is leading the way and growing fast, due to a combination of home grown CE brands and an early adopter mindset. The Middle East and Africa are behind the smart home curve…

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Most installations are simple DIY things.
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This future looks familiar: watching [the original] Blade Runner in 2017 • Tor.com

Sarah Gailey:

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I told a lot of people that I was going to watch Blade Runner for the first time, because I know that people have opinions about Blade Runner. All of them gave me a few watery opinions to keep in mind going in—nothing that would spoil me, but things that would help me understand what they assured me would be a Very Strange Film.

None of them told me the right things, though. So, in case you are like me and have been living in a cave and have never seen Blade Runner before and are considering watching it, I will tell you a little about it.

There are cops, and there are little people.

There is a whole class of slaves. It is illegal for them to escape slavery. The cops are supposed to murder the slaves if they escape, because there is a risk that they will start to think they’re people. But the cops know that the slaves are not people, so it’s okay to murder them. The greatest danger, the thing the cops are supposed to prevent, is that the slaves will try to assimilate into the society that relies on their labor.

Assimilation is designed to be impossible. There are tests. Impossible tests with impossible questions and impossible answers. The tests measure empathy. It is not about having enough empathy, but about having empathy for the correct things. If you do not have enough empathy for the correct things, you will be murdered by a cop who does have empathy for the correct things.

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This is watching the Director’s [aka Final] Cut, which doesn’t have the voiceover that the studio insisted be added in to the start and after a key final scene, nor the ostensibly “happy” ending. She’s completely right, of course. (I watched the Final Cut with my son – who hadn’t seen it either – and was struck by how removing the stuff the execs put in improved it. Also at the duplication of plot exposition in an early segment, but that’s screenwriting.)
link to this extract


Graphmented • Product Hunt

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Graphmented transforms your whole desk into a spreadsheets workstation. Drop sheets and charts on your desk as if they are real objects and make use of your whole desk space
Plot 3D and 2D scattered and grouped bars Charts, Record stunning videos of 3D charts exploration, import CSV and Excel files from iCloud Drive and Dropbox, and Google Sheets.

(This is the video link if that doesn’t work.)

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The video does make it clear at the start that it isn’t OCR’ing stuff on your desktop (how awesome that would be). Certainly this gives a glimpse of how AR could be useful in a work setting: view this through glasses connected to the phone, and your workstyle changes. How though do you then show workmates what you’ve done, compared to swinging a monitor at them? AR raises lots of questions about collaboration.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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