Start Up: smartphone profits, Google finds Russians!, polarise and conquer, and more


Yes, but why is the film called Blade Runner? Photo by kaytaria on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. Yes, includes that Blade Runner link. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google uncovers Russian-bought ads on YouTube, Gmail and other platforms • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Adam Entous and Craig Timberg:

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Google for the first time has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives exploited the company’s platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the company’s investigation.

The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that have not been made public. Google runs the world’s largest online advertising business, and YouTube is the world’s largest online video site.

The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook — a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.

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Still plenty more to come on this.

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Windows 10 Mobile gets its final death sentence • CNET

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Corporate vice president of Windows 10 and head of Microsoft’s “PC-Tablet-Phone” division, Joe Belfiore, said on Twitter Sunday that Microsoft will continue to support Windows 10 Mobile with bug fixes and security updates, but new features and hardware are no longer front and centre.

Microsoft is no upstart in the mobile space. It produced versions of its software for mobile devices for more than 20 years – starting with Windows CE for personal digital assistants in 1996, and later with Windows Mobile in 2000…

While Belfiore said Microsoft has tried “very hard” to provide incentives for app developers to get apps onto Windows Mobile, the “volume of users is too low for most companies to invest” in the ecosystem.

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Belfiore tweeted from an Android phone. That says it all: it’s dead. Seven years and a few billion dollars down the pan, and what is there to show from it? Nada. No solid assets you could point to at all.
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Apple still offers an iTunes version with App Store, ringtones and other features removed in ‘focused’ iTunes 12.7 • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

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For people mourning the loss of a desktop iTunes client to store their app library or check the best-selling app charts, there is some hope. It has been noticed on Reddit that Apple offers a special version of iTunes, iTunes 12.6.3, which retains the features that were abruptly removed in iTunes 12.7.

Apple positions this build as necessary for some businesses performing internal app deployments but it is available to download by anyone.

This version of iTunes is available for PC and Mac, and is specially configured by Apple to be installed even if you have already upgraded to iTunes 12.7 (despite the lower version number).

You may still have to rebuild your library manually but it offers a path for people who were disappointed to see features like Ringtones, and Apps removed from the desktop client.

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As Nati Shochat quipped, it’s for all the users who complain that iTunes is bloatware, and then wail when the feature they liked is gone.
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Polarize and conquer • The New York Times

Javier Corrales is a professor of political science at Amherst College, and has a view on why Trump continues to attack people on Twitter:

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The main objective of hating is to incense your critics so that they hate you back even more. Insults tend to provoke more extreme postures. A result is that Mr. Trump successfully transforms the targets of his hate, and those who come to their defense, into an even more extreme image of what the president’s base already despises.

The use of hatred as a provocation tactic may not be that common among American presidents, but it is common elsewhere. Marxist presidents are especially famous for it. When they embrace class warfare, Marxist presidents are in essence adopting a policy of hate toward one sector of society, the private sector. If the private sector responds by fighting back, Marxist presidents win politically because they can now offer proof of what they have been arguing all along, that capitalists are mean.

Populist presidents also frequently employ hate as a political tactic. For populists, the target is always an authority figure. It doesn’t need to be a capitalist. It can be any elite: senior politicians, respected journalists, renowned professors, members of the clergy, policy gurus, celebrities, professional athletes and — why not? — mayors from small islands.

Some of the world’s most famous populists in the last decade have been masters at this game of hate. Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela use or used hatred as a way to polarize and thus survive in office.

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link to this extract


80% of global handset profits comes from premium segment • Counterpoint Research

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• Apple dominated the global profit share, holding 65% of the pie with just 9% of the total handset shipments during Q2 2017.

• Samsung has regained profitability and reputation over the past few quarters, after the Note 7 debacle with the help of its new Galaxy S8 series flagship. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are gaining attention amongst users with their Infinity display, beautiful design and virtual assistant Bixby. However, the major shift in sales towards mid-tier models has caused Samsung’s profits to decline almost 30% YoY

• The profit of Huawei, OPPO & vivo combined crossed a billion-dollar mark growing a healthy 43% YoY during the quarter. The Chinese brands are growing fast when compared to industry leaders due to their high-quality offerings at competitive prices with attractive designs and innovative features. Aggressive marketing campaigns and strong promotions have helped them further.

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“Premium” is those with a wholesale price over US$400. Those numbers leave just 2.5% of profit for all the other gazillions of handset makers outside the top five. (And Oppo and vivo are owned by the same company.)
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Apple’s iPhone SE has the reached the same, exalted evolutionary pinnacle as the cockroach • Quartz

Michael Coren:

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My plan wasn’t to buy an SE. Apple was releasing the iPhone 7, its latest and greatest device. I entered Apple’s Union Square store willing to splash out on a $600 purchase. The store’s two-story glass and steel wall was open to a crisp San Francisco spring day. The sales person walked me through each new model. A pressure-sensitive screen instantly pulled up shortcut menus. A faster A10 chip cut out annoying time lags. The expansive size made watching videos comfortable.

As I put each device down, I realized none did their job better than the iPhone in my pocket. They did more, yes, but not necessarily better. I’m not sure it’s so different with the iPhone X. Its 5.8″ Super Retina HD display is already beyond the ability of the human eye to differentiate between my SE’s 4” retina screen. A bigger screen? I want to deter casual phone usage (“All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness,” reports The Atlantic). Doubling memory? I’ve got the cloud and WiFi. Wireless charging? Great, once chargers are ubiquitous. I may use face recognition one day, and Apple’s new water-resistant models are tempting, but I’m fine leaving my phone behind where it might get wet, or limiting the surveillance potential of my devices.

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It’s true: the SE is a sort of perfection. The iPhone 5 – which is its ultimate forebear – was a lovely piece of design; it sat in the hand like the hand was made for it.
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The research is clear: gun control saves lives • Vox

German Lopez disagrees – using facts! – with that article by Leah Libresco about how gun control isn’t the answer (linked yesterday):

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The original article at FiveThirtyEight, which Libresco again pointed me to in an email for her main source of data, cites a couple of real studies, but it only cherry-picked the more negative findings in the field. (Even then, one study cited found that Australia’s 1996 gun control law and buyback program was followed by a faster drop in gun deaths than would otherwise be expected; it’s just unclear whether the policy was the main cause.)

The rest of the article makes no attempt to raise any other actual empirical research, only citing a few statistics about the demographics of gun deaths.

That’s unfortunate, because there actually is a rich and growing body of evidence on guns. It’s not perfect by any means — this is a tough issue to study, for reasons I’ll get into below. But it’s fairly persuasive.

In fact, it’s so persuasive that it changed my mind. I was once skeptical of gun control; I doubted it would have any major impact on gun deaths (similar to the views I took on drugs). Then I looked at the actual empirical research and studies. My conclusion: Gun control likely saves lives, even if it won’t and can’t prevent all gun deaths.

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A confounding effect – which I think few of these studies grapple with, or slide past – is that gun ownership isn’t evenly spread. Some people own a lot (as in, scores) of guns; other people own one, or none. This skews the apparently ownership rate up.

One point that does emerge clearly: fewer guns, fewer gun suicides – and fewer suicides. Guns are like cigarettes, only much faster-acting. (Thanks @papanic for the link.)

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Study: seaweed in cow feed reduces methane emissions almost entirely • Food Tank

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A recent study by researchers at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, has found a certain type of Australian red algae can significantly inhibit methane emissions from cows. Led by Professor of Aquaculture Rocky De Nys, researchers found an addition of less than 2% dried seaweed to a cow’s diet can reduce methane emissions by 99%. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), an Australian federal research agency.

Methane is about 25-times more potent than carbon dioxide in a 100-year time span, and a single cow releases between 70 and 120 kilograms of methane per year. Burps from cows account for 26% of the United States’ total methane emissions, and the US is only the world’s fourth-largest producer of cattle, behind China, Brazil, and India. There are currently approximately 1.3 to 1.5 billion cows roaming the planet.

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Rediscovering something that the ancient Greeks knew; but this would be remarkable if correct and widely applied. Tackling greenhouse gases can be done in all sorts of ways. This is a neat one.
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Mattel thinks again about AI babysitter • BBC News

Dave Lee:

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At the CES technology show in January, Mattel billed its device – Aristotle – as a major leap in parenting technology.

“Aristotle is designed with a specific purpose and mission: to aid parents and use the most advanced AI-driven technology to make it easier for them to protect, develop, and nurture the most important asset in their home – their children,” the company said.

The device combined home assistant technology and a small camera that worked as a visual baby monitor. Among its features, Aristotle would automatically “reorder or look for deals and coupons on baby consumables, formula and other baby products when it detects you are likely running low on the specific item”.

In July, Mattel replaced its chief technology officer with Sven Gerjets, who is understood to have reviewed Aristotle and decided against releasing it. The company said it had decided not to sell Aristotle “as part of an ongoing effort to deliver the best possible connected product experience to the consumer”.

Mattel had been under pressure to pull the product. The US-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said: “Aristotle isn’t a nanny, it’s an intruder. Children’s bedrooms should be free of corporate snooping.”

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link to this extract


Why is ‘Blade Runner’ the title of ‘Blade Runner’? • Vulture

Abraham Riesman:

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Before he was even done with medical school, Alan Nourse [who was born in 1928] was publishing sci-fi on the side: first came short pieces in anthology magazines like Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction, then he started publishing novels with titles like Trouble on Titan (1954), Rocket to Limbo (1957), and Scavengers in Space (1959). In 1963, he retired from medicine to focus on his writing, but wrote about learning the healing arts in a 1965 nonfiction book called Intern, published under the intimidating pseudonym “Dr. X.” Sci-fi author-editor Robert Silverberg, who knew Nourse, tells me the latter book “brought him much repute and fortune,” but in general, he just “wrote a lot of very good science fiction that no one seemed to notice.”

That changed on October 28, 1974. Sort of. On that day, publishing house David McKay released a Nourse novel that combined the author’s two areas of expertise into a single magnum opus: The Bladerunner. It follows the adventures of a young man known as Billy Gimp and his partner in crime, Doc, as they navigate a health-care dystopia. It’s the near future, and eugenics has become a guiding American philosophy. Universal health care has been enacted, but in order to cull the herd of the weak, the “Health Control laws” — enforced by the office of a draconian “Secretary of Health Control” — dictate that anyone who wants medical care must undergo sterilization first. As a result, a system of black-market health care has emerged in which suppliers obtain medical equipment, doctors use it to illegally heal those who don’t want to be sterilized, and there are people who covertly transport the equipment to the doctors. Since that equipment often includes scalpels and other instruments of incision, the transporters are known as “bladerunners.” Et voilà, the origin of a term that went on to change sci-fi.

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That’s not the end of how it got to the film title, though. There’s a whole jawdropping middle to come. Sterling work by Riesman tracking this down.
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How smartphones hijack our minds • WSJ

Nick Carr:

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In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.

Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research. In a similar but smaller 2014 study (involving 47 subjects) in the journal Social Psychology, psychologists at the University of Southern Maine found that people who had their phones in view, albeit turned off, during two demanding tests of attention and cognition made significantly more errors than did a control group whose phones remained out of sight. (The two groups performed about the same on a set of easier tests.)

In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.

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Carr is author of The Shallows, a book investigating the way that reliance on autopilots and other systems can dull cognitive skills we’d otherwise keep sharp. This article seems pertinent after yesterday’s on the internet engineers who worry about smartphones’ effect on the world.
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How to organize iPhone apps in iOS11 • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

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You can do this by holding your finger on an application icon for just a few seconds. It’ll start jiggling and you’ll see an X pop up when it’s ready to be moved. Don’t let go, this is key. We’re going to group a bunch of apps together.

Now, while still holding one finger on that first app, tap all the other apps you want to group with it. They’ll all start to gather under the first app you selected. Note the small number that appears which shows how many apps you’ve selected.

Move them where you’d like to place them.

Move the apps anywhere you like, such as into a folder. This simple grouping of applications allows you to take all of your health apps, for example, and quickly toss them into a folder. Previously, you’d need to select each app one by one.

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This is useful. And hidden.
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How to use App Pairing on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 • AndroidAuthority

Edgar Cervantes:

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Split Screen View is one of the most helpful features found on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, but we are not here to talk about this specific function. At least not directly. Instead we will show you a good way to take advantage of Split Screen View.

Don’t want to fumble around apps every time you need to multi-task? It can be a hassle having to manually select which applications to use… every single time. You likely have favorite app combinations anyways, so Samsung has come up with App Pairing.

What is this App Pairing we speak of? The concept is simple, but once you get used to it you wonder why it wasn’t there all along. Simply put, App Pairing makes it easy to pre-select a couple apps to quickly launch in Split Screen View. A shortcut will be created, making it a breeze to access the app duo.

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Neat idea; one can see how you might have various apps that you always want to use together (Twitter and a browser? WhatsApp and, um, YouTube?).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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