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.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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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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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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

Start Up: fears of a smartphone nation, AI phooey, Tillerson on the edge, Puerto Rico redux, and more


“Alexa, why aren’t people watching our TV programmes?” Photo by duncan on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. (Tomorrow, another Blade Runner link, so consider yourself warned.). I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia • The Guardian

Paul Lewis went to the Habit Summit:

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[Nir Eyal] was defensive of the techniques he teaches, and dismissive of those who compare tech addiction to drugs. “We’re not freebasing Facebook and injecting Instagram here,” he said. He flashed up a slide of a shelf filled with sugary baked goods. “Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them,” he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”

Without irony, Eyal finished his talk with some personal tips for resisting the lure of technology. He told his audience he uses a Chrome extension, called DF YouTube, “which scrubs out a lot of those external triggers” he writes about in his book, and recommended an app called Pocket Points that “rewards you for staying off your phone when you need to focus”.

Finally, Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house an outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off access to the internet at a set time every day. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he said. “We are in control.”

But are we? If the people who built these technologies are taking such radical steps to wean themselves free, can the rest of us reasonably be expected to exercise our free will?

Not according to Tristan Harris, a 33-year-old former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech industry. “All of us are jacked into this system,” he says. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”

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It’s an amazing piece. You recall how people like Jobs wouldn’t let their kids use devices for more than a few hours. Here are people like Loren Brichter (who invented the “pull to refresh” UI) regretting that they’re created something like the one-armed bandit of the smartphone.
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The seven deadly sins of AI predictions • MIT Technology Review

Rodney Brooks is a former director of the Computer Science and AI lab at MIT:

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I recently saw a story in MarketWatch that said robots will take half of today’s jobs in 10 to 20 years. It even had a graphic to prove the numbers.

The claims are ludicrous. (I try to maintain professional language, but sometimes …) For instance, the story appears to say that we will go from one million grounds and maintenance workers in the U.S. to only 50,000 in 10 to 20 years, because robots will take over those jobs. How many robots are currently operational in those jobs? Zero. How many realistic demonstrations have there been of robots working in this arena? Zero. Similar stories apply to all the other categories where it is suggested that we will see the end of more than 90% of jobs that currently require physical presence at some particular site.

Mistaken predictions lead to fears of things that are not going to happen, whether it’s the wide-scale destruction of jobs, the Singularity, or the advent of AI that has values different from ours and might try to destroy us. We need to push back on these mistakes. But why are people making them? I see seven common reasons.

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The question is whether it’s a good idea to bet against this sort of change as he is doing, or whether betting on it is riskier.
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Rex Tillerson at the breaking point • The New Yorker

Fabulously detailed, and balanced, profile of the capabilities and challenges of the US’s replacement for John Kerry (and, before him, Hillary Clinton) by Dexter Filkins:

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Part of the problem is that Tillerson has not entirely given up the perspective of an imperial C.E.O. He rarely meets with legislators, and has sometimes been high-handed with fellow Cabinet members. “It is a fundamentally counterproductive form of hubris,” the official told me. “People who should be easy allies for him, he’s kneecapping them.”

His most crucial relationship, with the President, may be broken beyond repair. In recent weeks, the Washington chatter has intensified about how long Tillerson will remain in the job. Rumors have surfaced about possible replacements, including Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director. “Think about it,” one of the aides I spoke to told me. “Tillerson was contemplating his retirement from Exxon, after which he could do whatever he wanted—travel the world, sit on corporate boards. Now he’s got to feel like he’s covered in shit. I can’t imagine this is what he expected.” Another official told me that Tillerson’s sole reason for staying was loyalty to his country: “The only people left around the President are generals and Boy Scouts. They’re doing it out of a sense of duty.”

The essential task of diplomacy remains the same today as it was in Dean Acheson’s time: to make a world out of chaos. The difference, for Tillerson, is that the chaos comes not just from abroad but also from inside the White House. In the popular mythology, the generals and the Eagle Scouts—Tillerson, Mattis, Kelly, and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser—can protect the country from Trump’s most impulsive behaviors. But the opposite has proved true: Trump has forced them all to adopt positions that seem at odds with their principles and intentions.

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Tillerson – in case you’d forgotten – is the former CEO of Exxon, one of the world’s biggest companies; he recently called Trump a “fucking moron” in a Pentagon meeting. I found myself quite sympathetic to his challenges.
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I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise • The Washington Post

Leah Libresco:

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the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

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There’s such lack of nuance in the gun debate; insights like this show how complex it is.
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Google gets green light to provide cell service in Puerto Rico using balloons • TheHill

Julia Manchester:

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The parent company of Google received the green light on Friday to provide emergency cellular service to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico using balloons.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it had granted Alphabet Inc. permission to use solar power balloons to bring cellular service to the island, which has been left largely without power since Hurricane Maria hit last month.

“FCC issues experimental license to Google to provide emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico through Project Loon balloons,” Matthew Berry, chief of staff to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, wrote on Twitter. 

Pai said on Friday he was launching a Hurricane Recovery Task Force focused on providing aid to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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I’ve mostly been very sceptical about Google’s Loon project, but this seems like the perfect – and timely – application. A hell of a lot easier than a rapid rebuild of a shattered infrastructure; I wonder how long this service will remain in place. It might be needed for months or even years. Of course, smartphone service isn’t much use without electricity…
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Puerto Rico has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink how it gets electricity • Earther

Brian Kahn:

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Forty-seven% of Puerto Rico’s power needs were met by burning oil last year, a ridiculously high percentage for a very expensive method of electricity generation. For the U.S. as a whole, petroleum accounted for just 0.3% of all electricity generated in 2016. The majority of the rest of Puerto Rico’s energy came courtesy of coal and natural gas, with renewables accounting for just 2% of electricity generation.

Yet as recently as 2012, Puerto Rico’s use of oil accounted for 60% of all electricity generation. All the years of paying for expensive imported oil precipitated the shift to include other generating sources, but the switch came too late. Paying for oil drained [the island’s electrical utility] PREPA’s coffers [it filed for bankruptcy in July] and caused deferred maintenance for years.

“In that time of extreme petroleum prices, the utility was borrowing money and buying oil in order to keep those plants operating,” Luis Martinez, an attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council and former special aide to the president of Puerto Rico’s Environmental Quality Board, told Earther. “That precipitated the bankruptcy that followed. It was in pretty poor shape before the storm. Once the storm got there, it finished the job.”

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Where Amazon is failing to dominate: Hollywood • WSJ

Ben Fritz and Joe Flint:

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When it started producing original video in a bid to attract and retain subscribers for its Prime service four years ago, Amazon boasted it wouldn’t follow typical Hollywood practices such as relying on executives’ creative instincts and would base programming decisions on data. But staffers say it has largely abandoned that approach.

“We were supposed to bring the best practices of one of the most successful companies in America to Hollywood,” said an Amazon Studios executive. “Instead, we’re getting chewed up.”

Despite annual spending of about $4.5 billion to produce or acquire programming, Amazon Studios has had no hits on the scale of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” or Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” said people at the company.

Even its most acclaimed shows draw relatively small audiences. Fewer than one million people have watched recent seasons of “Transparent,” which won Emmys in 2015 and 2016, said an Amazon Studios employee.

Mr. Price recently admitted at a meeting with agents he had done too much “programming to Silver Lake,” a hipster neighborhood in Los Angeles, said a person present.

Producers who have made shows for Amazon describe a chaotic environment.

“I’m a huge fan of the company overall, but their entertainment division is a bit of a gong show,” said David E. Kelley, creator of “Goliath” and hit shows including “Big Little Lies,” “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal.” “They are in way over their heads.”

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Personally I watched one episode of The Man In The High Castle and gave up. I’d read the book just before but it didn’t work for me.
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Renewable energy comes at you fast • Bloomberg Gadfly

Liam Denning:

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Rising costs are an obvious impediment to any industrial project, while falling costs provide an obvious edge. But don’t overlook the importance of time.On Wednesday, the International Energy Agency released its latest outlook for renewable energy and made this observation:

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We see renewables growing by about 1,000 gigawatts by 2022, which equals about half of the current global capacity in coal power, which took 80 years to build.

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Let’s adjust those numbers for utilization and say, very roughly, that coal plants produce at just 60% of their capacity and renewable sources at just 30%. Even then, we are talking about renewable energy with the equivalent of a quarter of the effective capacity of the world’s coal power, which took eight decades to build, switching on within half a decade.

Regular readers (indulge me) will know that I tend to harp on about the importance of marginal change in energy trends. This time is no different.

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Apple and Qualcomm’s billion-dollar war over an $18 part • Bloomberg

Max Chafkin and Ian King:

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“Here it is,” Apple’s Sewell says, sliding a fingernail-size square covered with electrodes across a conference room table: a Qualcomm modem. “That thing sells for about $18.”

He means the chip itself, before any royalties. Qualcomm’s business model, which is either ingenious or diabolical depending on whom you talk to, is to allow any chip company to use its technology royalty-free. Phone manufacturers can choose to buy chips from Qualcomm or one of the other five companies that make modems using Qualcomm’s technology. Either way, they still have to pay Qualcomm its 5% [of the phone’s retail price].

Because Qualcomm spends more on R&D than any of its peers, its modems are the most advanced. For years, Apple considered Qualcomm’s to be the only modems good enough for the iPhone. That, Sewell says, is why Apple put up with Qualcomm’s licensing scheme for years. If Apple refused to pay the royalty, Qualcomm could cut off its modem supply, forcing Apple to rely on inferior chips. That calculation changed in 2015, when Apple began working with Intel Corp. to develop a modem that was used in some versions of the iPhone 7. “What prompted us to bring the case now as opposed to five years ago is simple,” Sewell says. “It’s the availability of a second source.”

Around the same time, Apple began demanding more drastic concessions from Qualcomm.

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The idea that what you pay for a patent – which is some fractional part of the phone’s function – depends on its final price seems bizarre. I thought Microsoft had won that case over Motorola years ago.

(Terrific “animoji” illustration at the top of the article.)
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Stephen Paddock and the world of video poker • The New Yorker

Charles Bethea on the swirling speculation that the Las Vegas killer had a gambling problem, given that he seems to have been an obsessive player of video poker (which pays out $99.17 for every $100 put in):

»

Dominic Biondi, a part-time English-department lecturer at U.N.L.V. who also makes a living as a professional poker player, has a different view of video poker and those who play it. “There are people who claim you can beat video poker,” Biondi told me today, “but I’m skeptical. It’s a slot-machine game with a set percentage of payback. If all this guy did was play video poker, he was not a ‘poker player.’ He’s just gambling.” He went on, “There’s a small chance that Paddock played the percentages very well and eked out a small edge, but it’s very doubtful. That takes a lot of skill and time, and only playing one particular kind of video-poker machine. To make money playing video poker, it takes a lot of luck.” He added, “The fact that this guy was a video-poker player just makes me shrug. He was not a real poker player.”

Curtis, meanwhile, is critical of what he calls “very square,” gambling-related conjecture from the media about Paddock’s motives for the mass shooting at the music festival. Many observers have floated the theory that he had incurred gambling debts that he couldn’t pay off. On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that “Paddock’s finances have become a significant focal point” in the authorities’ search for a motive. According to Yahoo, more than two hundred “casino or wire transactions by Paddock . . . were flagged for review by FinCEN, the U.S. government’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which collects data to identify potential money laundering or covert terrorism financing.” Casinos are required by the federal government to follow a variety of regulations intended to prevent money laundering.

«

I can believe that playing endless games of video poker would do something bad to your brain, though. Just imagine what it would be like to play for a day; then to come back; then to come back and back and back.
link to this extract


Is it true that iPhones get slower over time? • Futuremark Consulting

»

Last week, a story went viral that claimed Apple was intentionally slowing down older iPhones to push people to buy its latest models.

The claim was based on data which shows Google searches for “iPhone slow” spiking dramatically with the release of each new model.

And while plenty of reputable sites debunked the logic of that claim, no one looked at actual performance data to tell the true story.

Fortunately, we have plenty of real-world data we can use. Since 2016, we have collected more than a hundred thousand benchmark results for seven different iPhone models across three different versions of iOS.

These benchmark results provide a unique insight into the everyday performance of each iPhone model over time. And, as you’ll see, there are no signs of a conspiracy.

«

So, no. Though people have complained about battery life on iOS 11.0. I’d suggest restarting, and perhaps waiting to 11.1.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Continuum discontinued, Taboola abused, the fake Facebookers, and more


Zune v iPod: one survived, one failed. What’s the lesson to be drawn? Photo by Jim Thompson on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Where the streets have no name but have got a single letter and four-digit number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

HP Inc exec: Yes, we’ll put a bullet in the X3 device • The Register

Paul Kunert:

»

The three-in-one PC debuted in February 2016, built around Microsoft’s Continuum. El Reg’s lab vultures tested the kit and were impressed but found constraints caused by the Continuum operating system.

Despite an obvious mobile-shaped hole in a leaked Windows roadmap, HP Inc insisted in August that it was committed to Continuum and so was Microsoft. Until now, that is.

Nick Lazaridis, EMEA boss at HP Inc, told The Register at the Canalys Channels Forum in Venice that Microsoft had confirmed there will be no further development work on the mobile OS.

“Microsoft, as all companies do, decided on a change in strategy and so they are less focused on what they thought they would be focused on today,” he said.

“Given that, we also had decided that without Microsoft’s drive and support there it doesn’t make sense. If the software, if the operating system ecosystem isn’t there then we are not an operating system company.”

«

Of course, HP used to have so many operating systems it was hard to choose between them; webOS was only the most recent.
link to this extract


Orthogonal pivots • Asymco

Horace Dediu:

»

This [closure of Microsoft’s Groove music service by the end of the year] brings to an end a long story of Microsoft in the music distribution business. It started nearly 15 years ago with technologies in Windows that allowed for purchase and playback of various media formats. Microsoft sought to enable a large number of music retailers to market music through its formats and DRM and transaction clearing.

Services such as AOL MusicNow, Yahoo! Music Unlimited, Spiralfrog, MTV URGE, MSN Music, Musicmatch Jukebox, Wal-Mart Music Downloads, Ruckus, PassAlong, Rhapsody, iMesh and BearShare and dozens of hardware players licensed Windows formats. Almost all of these services have shut down and the devices disappeared.

The next stage was to offer an integrated experience through the Microsoft Zune player and Zune Marketplace music service. This too failed and was replaced by the Xbox Music brand in 2012. On July 6, 2015, Microsoft announced the re-branding of Xbox Music as Groove to tie in with the release of Windows 10.

There was a time when Microsoft was thought of as the certain winner in media distribution. Inserting media into the Windows hegemony was classic “control point” strategy: owning the access points was a sure way to collect a tax on what transacted through the network.

Instead we are facing a market where media is consumed through new access points: phones, tablets and TV boxes. Netflix, Spotify, Roku, Google, Amazon and Apple are all offering distribution and some are investing in original programming.

«

Why? Because – as I found when I wrote “Digital Wars” – the modular approach to music players (someone makes the music player, someone else makes the DRM-enforcing software, someone else again offers the DRM-encoded music) produces an awful customer experience. If a problem arises, you’re never quite sure whose fault it is, and nor are any of those in the chain; they all hand it off to someone else.

The iPod and the iTunes Music Store came straight through the middle of all that confusion:

»

the long arc of history shows how hard it is to succeed in vertical integration after you build on horizontal foundations. Generations of managers graduated from the modular school of thought, specializing rather than generalizing. Now they are facing an integrated experiential world where progress depends on wrapping the mind around very broad systems problems.

Entire industries are facing this orthogonal pivot: media, computing and transportation come to mind. Huge blind spots exist as we see only what we’ve been trained to see.

«

link to this extract


Tech support scammers abuse native ad and content provider Taboola to serve malvertising (updated) • Malwarebytes Labs

Jerome Segura:

»

A large number of publishers – big and small – are monetizing their sites by selling space for companies that provide so-called native advertising, cited as more effective and engaging than traditional banner ads.

Indeed, on a news or entertainment site, users are more inclined to click on links and articles thinking that they are one and the same, not realizing that those are actually ‘sponsored’ and tied to various third-party providers.

Rogue advertisers have realized this unique opportunity to redirect genuine traffic towards their own infrastructure where they can subject their audience to whatever content they wish.

Case in point, we caught this malvertising incident on MSN.com, the Microsoft web portal that attracts millions of unique visitors. While clicking on a story promoted by Taboola – a leading global discovery platform which Microsoft signed a deal within 2016 – we were redirected to a tech support scam page. The warning claims that our computer has crashed and that we must call a number for immediate assistance.

The fraudulent page cannot be closed normally because it uses code that repeats the warning indefinitely. Unfortunately, this is enough to scare many folks and trick them into calling what they think is Microsoft support. Instead, they will be dealing with fake technicians whose goal is to extort hundreds of dollars from them.

«

People think they’re clicking through to a story; instead they hit this crap.
link to this extract


The Pixel market share chart Google probably won’t be showing at its event today • Recode

Dan Frommer and Rani Molla:

»

Google insists it has ambitious plans to create “compelling hardware products” and recently announced it would be hiring about 2,000 engineers from Taiwanese phone maker HTC to help achieve them. You can imagine future Pixels and other projects as part of that partnership (today’s is reportedly a partnership with LG).

What’s less clear is whether Google has any significant changes in store to how the Pixel is marketed and sold. Because while its first version was critically acclaimed for both its hardware and software, it has not made much of a dent in the U.S. smartphone market after launching last October.

An average 0.7% of U.S. smartphone subscribers used the Pixel in the three month period ending in August, according to data from measurement company comScore. For context: Apple’s iPhone is used by 45.5% of subscribers, and Samsung phones — the dominant company using Google Android to power its devices — represents 29.5% of U.S. subscriber share. More broadly, 53% of U.S. smartphone subscribers use Android phones.

«

ComScore stopped giving out detailed data when the smartphone installed base seemed to have levelled off at about 200m total in use. So 0.7% would translate to 1.4m phones in use. (Versus about 91m iPhones and 59m Samsung phones.) There are twice as many Blackberry and Windows Phone devices combined in use than Pixel phones.

So it really is going to be quite the question on how big a commitment it has made to the manufacturing side. Great products are only the beginning of the road.

link to this extract


News Feed FYI: New Test to Provide Context About Articles • Facebook Newsroom

»

Today we are starting a new test to give people additional context on the articles they see in News Feed. This new feature is designed to provide people some of the tools they need to make an informed decision about which stories to read, share, and trust. It reflects feedback from our community, including many publishers who collaborated on its development as part of our work through the Facebook Journalism Project.

For links to articles shared in News Feed, we are testing a button that people can tap to easily access additional information without needing to go elsewhere. The additional contextual information is pulled from across Facebook and other sources, such as information from the publisher’s Wikipedia entry, a button to follow their Page, trending articles or related articles about the topic, and information about how the article is being shared by people on Facebook. In some cases, if that information is unavailable, we will let people know, which can also be helpful context.

«

Key phrase there: “without needing to go elsewhere.” Facebook never wants you to leave. It truly is Hotel California, and makes itself more like that every day.
link to this extract


Removed Facebook Pages: engagement metrics and posts – dataset by d1gi • data.world

Jonathan Albright:

»

The data presented here is a catalog of the non-promoted organic reach of the posts on each of the alleged foreign influence ops pages, showing the “total shared to” and sum of interactions (FB “reactions” + “likes” + shares, and comments) for each of the individual posts. Data was obtained directly from Crowdtangle, a Facebook-owned social analytics service.

Along with the complete text archive for each of posts, this data sheds light on the larger potential impact of the use of Facebook’s platform beyond of a single advertising buy. Specifically, the work presented here suggests that there was a much more subtle, if not outright subversive campaign on these five closed pages to:

a) Siphon Facebook users’ data related to their personal views and moral standings about sensitive topics by observing their responses to suggestive statements followed by discussion questions and conversation prompts;
b) Use faux-support, trust-building, and actor deception to test users’ attitudes, core values, religious beliefs, and push the boundaries of social norms (e.g., racism justification through immigration); and
c) Encourage users’ to be tracked through emotional sharing vectors – “likes,” “reactions,” and url shares – to monitor issue “wedges,” further segment audiences, and to identify “hot-button” issues and keywords around current events.

«

In one case, one of the pages went overnight from 0 followers to between 70,000 and 200,000 followers. Either purchased, or bots. That’s a determined campaign.

And notice this is non-promoted posts – so this isn’t to do with the $100,000 in ads which targeted marginal states. (Albright is research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.)
link to this extract


Russian hackers stole NSA data on US cyber defense • WSJ

Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris:

»

Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the US penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said.

The theft, which hasn’t been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the US.

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.

«

Aha. So this is why the US government has tacitly – well, perhaps not so tacitly – declared cyberwar on Kaspersky: they think it is feeding stuff back to the Kremlin. Kaspersky denies it.

And well done NSA on tightening up those safeguards against data exfiltration after Snowden in 2013 👌
link to this extract


Google admits citing 4chan to spread fake Vegas shooter news • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

»

Google News took the unusual step of confirming its use of the imageboard site 4chan as a news source on Monday. The admission followed Google News’ propagation of an incorrect name as a potential shooter in the tragic Las Vegas shooting on Sunday night.

A reporter from tech-news site The Outline posted the full text of an e-mail he received from an unnamed Google representative. Reporter William Turton said that he had not discussed any “attribution terms” before receiving Google’s e-mail, which confirmed that the Google News service was bombed into automatically reposting a false shooter’s name.

The incorrect shooter’s name, which Ars Technica will not repost to reduce any further robo-aggregated hits, began appearing on 4chan’s “pol” board, which is infamous for pushing intentionally inflammatory content. The name appeared on the board when its members began looking through people connected to names that had been mentioned by Las Vegas investigators. One of those people—a sibling of a person of interest who was later cleared by Vegas police of wrongdoing—had social-media attachments to left-leaning subjects such as MoveOn.org and MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show. Both 4chan and right-wing misinformation sites like Gateway Pundit began spreading the false name as a suspect while calling the person a “far-left loon.” (GP’s article has since been removed, but a Google Cache of it still exists.)

Google News’ statement claims that these false reports landed on the service’s “Top Stories” feed due to a burst of activity for a name that had never received many search attempts. “When the fresh 4chan story broke, it triggered Top Stories, which unfortunately led to this inaccurate result,” the statement reads.

«

Twitter, Facebook and Google sort of got on top (mostly) of standard spam. Now they need to consider how to get on top of information spam.
link to this extract


Wayback Machine Playback… now with timestamps! • Internet Archive Blogs

Mark Graham:

»

The Wayback Machine has an exciting new feature: it can list the dates and times, the Timestamps, of all page elements compared to the date and time of the base URL of a page.  This means that users can see, for instance, that an image displayed on a page was captured X days before the URL of the page or Y hours after it.  Timestamps are available via the “About this capture” link on the right side of the Wayback Toolbar.  Here is an example:

The Timestamps list includes the URLs and date and time difference compared to the current page for the following page elements: images, scripts, CSS and frames. Elements are presented in a descending order. If you put your cursor over a list element on the page, it will be highlighted and if you click on it you will be shown a playback of just that element.

«

It’s easy to underestimate how valuable the Internet Archive is. If you’re doing any sort of serious research about events from the recent past – say up to 10 years ago online – it’s essential. Linkrot is real, but the Archive is the perfect preserver.
link to this extract


If macOS High Sierra shows your password instead of the password hint for an encrypted APFS volume • Apple Support

»

Your password might be displayed instead of your password hint if you used the Add APFS Volume command in Disk Utility to create an encrypted APFS volume, and you supplied a password hint.
 
Changing the password on an affected volume clears the hint but doesn’t affect the underlying encryption keys that protect the data. 

Apple recommends that you take these steps to guard the security of your data. Encrypted APFS volumes that you created using any other method are not affected.

«

This is quite a bug to have slipped through the QA process.
link to this extract


Iraq claims victory in Hawija, ISIS’s last urban stronghold • The New York Times

David Zucchino and Rod Nordland:

»

Morale among militants in the Hawija area appears to be deteriorating rapidly. At least 600 men identified by Kurdish forces as Islamic State fighters have surrendered to the Kurds in Dibis, in Kirkuk Province. An additional 400 to 500 are being interrogated on suspicion of being militants. Together, they represent a substantial portion of the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Islamic State fighters who were in the Hawija area before Iraq began military operations there on Sept. 21.

As in other battles over the past three years, Iraqi forces have been supported in Hawija by American military advisers, forward air controllers, special operations troops, airstrikes and artillery.

Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the United States-led coalition in Baghdad, said Thursday that the United States had conducted 16 airstrikes in the past week in support of the Hawija operation. The speed of what seems to have been a two-week Iraqi military sweep through Hawija suggests that the militants are no longer able to sustain effective military operations for long periods.

The battle to drive them from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, lasted nine months before it was liberated in July. But the next city to fall from the Islamic State, Tal Afar in late August, took only 11 days. [Operations against Hawija began on September 21; that’s 14 days ago.]

«

A brief spasm – three years – approaches its end.
link to this extract


Bids in 300MW Saudi solar tender breach two cents • PV Tech

»

Saudi Arabia’s 300MW solar tender has seen opening bids go lower than two US cents [per kWh], setting the tone for a new global solar power tariff record if awarded.

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) bid for 300MW capacity at SAR0.0669736/kWh (US$1.786 cents).

During a webinar showing the bid opening ceremony, Saudi Arabia’s new Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO) revealed the eight companies that had made it through to this stage, having had 27 companies shortlisted originally in April.

REPDO then announced that these bids will be evaluated for compliance with the requirements of the RfP and a final shortlist of bidders will be announced on 28 November. The project will be awarded to the winning consortium on 27 January 2018, backed by a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). The financial closing date will be 28 February 2018 and the commissioning date is expected during 2019.

«

This is a very low LCOE [levelised cost of energy]. Solar already comes pretty low on this cost. It’s getting cheaper.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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”:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

AI at the centre of what Google does; trying to make it a differentiator.
link to this extract


Google unveils Pixel Buds earphones, aping Apple’s AirPods • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.’”

«

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:

»

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.

«

Facebook is in so much trouble.
link to this extract


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

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

link to this extract


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

»

“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…

«

Most installations are simple DIY things.
link to this extract


This future looks familiar: watching [the original] Blade Runner in 2017 • Tor.com

Sarah Gailey:

»

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.

«

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

»

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.)

«

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

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up: Google gets launching, Facebook’s miserly video, Trumps’ private email server, and more


Want that unsettling continually rising or falling sound from Dunkirk, the film? Coming to a computer near you in a moment. Photo by waldopepper on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Equifax can’t protect data, but it can keep a secret • Bloomberg Gadfly

Stephen Gandel:

»

Equifax, as everyone knows now, proved inept at securing the most sensitive personal and financial data of as many as 143 million Americans. But it turns out the company was exceptionally good at protecting news of the hack from getting out.

The credit-reporting bureau was, it seems, able to keep that news from top executives, the board and eventually the public for far longer than other corporate victims. LinkedIn confirmed a 2012 hack just three days after the social network found out about it.

Target confirmed its huge hack in 2014 seven days after it was discovered, and a day after rumors, spread by cybersecurity bloggers, had begun circulating that the retailer’s customers’ credit card information had been breached. At Equifax, however, the company was able to keep that information safe from the public for 39 days. And you say former CEO Richard Smith isn’t deserving of a $7.6m stock bonus?…

…[John] Kelley, the company’s top lawyer, and, once again, also the head of corporate security, signed off on the stock sales [by insiders] although he had been made aware of suspicious cyber activity on July 30. It wasn’t until two weeks later, in the afternoon, that Smith’s crack team of 225 cybersecurity experts were able to report back to the CEO that its consumer database had been hacked. That’s important, because just that morning, conveniently before his hack briefing, Smith gave a rosy speech about the company and how it understood the importance of cybersecurity.

«

This is just gobsmacking. Equifax isn’t out of the woods by a long way.
link to this extract


3 billion Yahoo users hit in 2013 data breach, the company now says • USA Today

Elizabeth Weise:

»

All 3 billion of Yahoo’s users as of 2013 were affected by a data theft the company originally said had only affected 1 billion users, Yahoo said Tuesday in a statement. That makes the Yahoo hack far and away the largest in history. 

The additional two billion data theft victims came to light as Yahoo was being integrated with Verizon, which bought the company in June for $4.5 billion. 

“During integration, the company recently obtained new intelligence and now believes, following an investigation with the assistance of outside forensic experts, that all Yahoo user accounts were affected by the August 2013 theft,” the company said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday. 

The revelation isn’t a huge security issue for the company or for users, though it is a black eye at a time when cybersecurity is in the limelight due the Equifax hack. 

The 2016 investigation found that the stolen user account information did not include passwords in clear text, payment card data, or bank account information. 

Yahoo said it would send email notifications to the additional affected user accounts.

«

Yahoo has 3bn users? Yeah right. 3bn accounts, maybe. I’d love to know how many of those email notifications never get read.
link to this extract


What to expect from the Google event this week • AndroidAuthority

Mitja Rutnik:

»

Google will be holding an event on October 4 in San Francisco, where the company is expected to announce a number of new devices. Rumor has it that we’ll see a Chromebook, an upgraded VR headset, a couple of smart speakers, and more revealed alongside the two new Pixel smartphones.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at all of the devices that might make their debut at the event, to give you a better idea of what to expect. Just keep in mind that most of what you’ll read down below should be considered as a rumor for now, as Google hasn’t shared any specific details regarding the products it will show off.

«

New Pixel phones, new big and little Google Homes, new Daydream View VR headset, new Google Pixelbook. There you go. Reaction to the new Pixels will be interesting; more interesting will be what sort of volume it can make them in. Given it’s LG making this line, it could be substantial – if Google has committed enough.
link to this extract


Pivot to pennies: Facebook’s key video ad program isn’t delivering much money to publishers • Digiday

Sahil Patel:

»

Six months in, Facebook’s test of mid-roll ad breaks within live and on-demand videos is driving scant revenue for publishers.

Five publishers participating in Facebook’s mid-roll ads test, which began in March, said the product isn’t generating much money. One publisher said its Facebook-monetized videos had an average CPM of 15 cents. A second publisher, which calculated ad rates based on video views that lasted long enough to reach the ad break, said the average CPM for its mid-rolls is 75 cents. (Facebook’s mid-roll ads don’t show up inside videos in the first 20 seconds, which means many three-second video views aren’t “monetized views.”)

A third publisher made roughly $500 from more than 20 million total video views on that page in September.* (This publisher had not calculated its CPM, as its total video view count includes videos that were not monetized by Facebook mid-rolls.)…

…“They are paying literal pennies in CPMs,” said the first publishing source. “They are only paying if a view gets to the 20-second mark and the user consumes the ad. But if Facebook is counting views at 3 seconds, the majority of the views are not going to quality. If you got a million views on a piece of content, maybe 100,000 of them would actually get to the mid-roll.”

«

$500 probably isn’t going to cover the cost of making the video. Sure, it’s going to be around forever, but its earning life is probably going to be mostly done already.
link to this extract


Binaural Shepard tone generator • myNoise.net

»

This brain-melting generator came from a user’s request for a Shepard Tone generator. The Shepard Tone is an auditory illusion, whose pitch sounds like it is ascending or descending, yet never seems to get any higher or lower. In this case, the odd numbered sliders produce the rising tones, and the even numbered sliders produce the falling tones. By mixing the two together you will produce truly mind-bending audio signals. As an added bonus, and to make this Shepard tone generator sound unique, each slider has been binaurally encoded, and throws the complete spectrum of brainwave frequencies into the mix!

«

The Shepard tone is a favourite of film director Christopher Nolan – it’s used extensively in Dunkirk (and a little in Interstellar). Note the warnings:

»

This sound can cause anxiety and panic attacks. If you suffer from either of these conditions, do not listen to this sound generator. Instead, try one of our more soothing ones, like Osmosis. Shepard Madness can be very unpleasant, or amusing, depending on the person who is listening. Make sure you can tolerate side effects including increased heart rate, headache, dizziness, and nausea. If you feel faint, just leave this page, and put your head between your knees to recover quickly.

«

Enjoy!
link to this extract


Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner have secret email account hosted by Trump Organization • Newsweek

Chris Riotta:

»

The married couple registered the domain ijkfamily.com on December 31, just 21 days prior to Trump’s inauguration, Politico reported Monday night. Internet sleuths including Arieh Kovler, a communications consultant, responded to the reporting by quickly uncovering a critical component of the story: A joint email account on ijkfamily.com, the Kushner family domain, that was used by two of the president’s closest advisers and monitored by their personal household staff was hosted on servers owned by the Trump family’s private organization.

The new finding is likely to raise a number of ethics and security concerns, including whether it’s appropriate or even legal for members of the White House administration to use email accounts hosted by the first family’s private business. There’s also the issue of who had access to the couple’s private email account during their time in the White House: Anyone from employees of the Trump Organization to the company it uses for IT purposes, BBH Solutions, as well as foreign adversaries and hackers, may have already gained access to the data—or could eventually retrieve the emails if they remain stored on Trump servers.

«

People are going to be so exhausted of email pretty soon.
link to this extract


Forget Russian trolls. Facebook’s own staff helped win the election • Buzzfeed

Daniel Kreiss and Shannon McGregor:

»

our research shows another, less discussed aspect of Facebook’s political influence was far more consequential in terms of the election outcome. The entirely routine use of Facebook by Trump’s campaign and others — a major part of the $1.1bn of paid digital advertising during the cycle — is likely to have had far greater reach than Russian bots and fake news sites. And beyond this reach, our research reveals that firms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter now play a much more active role in electoral politics than has been widely acknowledged.

Those companies had staff working hand in hand with Trump campaign digital staffers, according to Gary Coby, the director of advertising at the RNC [Republican National Congress] and director of digital advertising and fundraising for Trump’s general election campaign. “I required that if people wanted to work with us, they needed to send bodies to us in Texas and put people on the ground because Hillary had this giant machine, well-built out with digital operations, and we’re just a few guys and a big Twitter account,” he told us.

“Google, Twitter, and Facebook, we had people who were down there constantly and constantly working with us, helping us solve our problems in relation to how we’re using the platforms,” he said. “If we’re coming up with new ideas, bringing them into the fold to come up with ideas of how their platform could help us achieve our goals.”…

…Not all campaigns use Facebook, Twitter, and Google in the same way. Hillary Clinton built a large in-house staff to execute digital media on the campaign, but with a lean staff, the Trump team likely benefited more from the help provided by the tech companies. The expertise these firms provided to the campaign’s general-election San Antonio office was particularly important, and days after the election, Trump’s digital director said Facebook played a “critical role” in its success.

«

link to this extract


iPhone 8, Qi wireless charging, and the challenge of open • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin on the fact that it’s easy to misalign the iPhone 8/Plus on a wireless charging pad – in which case it doesn’t charge:

»

While many third parties disliked Apple’s MFI accessory program, the guidelines Apple had in place for third parties to create accessories for their products led to consistent experiences with third-party products and Apple products. At the moment, we don’t have the same situation with Qi Wireless charging. While Apple’s embracing of the Qi standard means they will certainly get involved and help drive the standard and the technology forward, for now, Apple runs the risk of having third-party solutions not meet their standards of an accessory that will work with iPhones.

Further observations on the challenge of open ecosystems lead us to both Microsoft and Google now going full steam ahead with their own hardware roadmap. I do find it interesting that both the largest open software platforms in history have led the companies who created them into the hardware market. Both Android and Windows have such diversity in offerings that you can have a quality experience with the platform and a sub-par one all with the same software platform. Both platforms have a great deal of inconsistency in their user experience. They do try to manage this by defining the hardware and software specs as much as possible but in open systems, you can only define your standard so far and still allow your partners to differentiate. It is a double-edged sword.

I view both Microsoft’s and Google’s efforts in hardware as strong evidence of the challenge open systems create and their attempts to address those challenges and provide a “best of” experience that they hope others aspire to duplicate.

«

OK, but in general, you do this wrong once and you don’t get it wrong again. But he is right: this isn’t an elegant solution at all, which is classic “open system” effects – cheaper wins.
link to this extract


Apple quietly acquired computer vision startup Regaind • TechCrunch

Romain Dillet:

»

Regaind has been working on a computer vision API to analyze the content of photos. Apple added intelligent search to the Photos app on your iPhone a couple of years ago. For instance, you can search for “sunset” or “dog” to get photos of sunsets and your dog.

In order to do this, Apple analyzes your photo library when you’re sleeping. When you plug your iPhone to a charger and you’re not using your iPhone, your device is doing some computing to figure out what’s inside your photos.

Regaind goes one step further and can tell you the technical and aesthetic values of your photos. For instance, if you shoot a bunch of photos in burst mode, Regaind could automatically find the best shot and use it as the main shot in your photo library. Regaind could also hide duplicates.

With this technology, Apple could improve the Memories tab in the Photos app. iOS automatically creates albums based on events, location and more. With Regaind, iOS could also look for photos that are visually similar, surface the best shot as a cover art and create a recap video with the best shots.

Interestingly, Regaind also analyzes your face to determine your gender, age and emotion. It’s unclear if Apple had enough time to leverage Regaind with iOS 11.

«

My guess: not. But this is likely to get incorporated laer.
link to this extract


Consumers want Apple’s iPhone X more than the iPhone 8, analyst says • TheStreet

Annie Palmer:

»

Apple’s iPhone X appears to be winning over more consumers than the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. 

That’s according to new data from RBC Capital Markets, which surveyed more than 4,000 people interested in buying an iPhone and found that 28% of respondents said they plan on purchasing the iPhone X. By comparison, about 17% said they want to buy an iPhone 8, while 20% intend on purchasing an iPhone 8 Plus. 

“Our survey helps confirm our thesis that the rich feature set and differentiated design of the iPhone X will enable a mix shift toward it despite its significant price premium,” RBC analyst Amit Daryanani wrote in a note to clients on Monday. “It is the most popular iPhone among our survey respondents with 28% planning to buy it.” 

Wall Street has been growing increasingly concerned that consumers aren’t buying the iPhone 8, in favor of waiting for the iPhone X. Reports suggested that there was substantially lower demand for the cheaper iPhone 8/8 Plus, due to only incremental changes to the phone’s form factor and features, compared to the iPhone X, which may represent the biggest overhaul in the iPhone’s design and functionality in several years.

«

The pent-up demand for the iPhone X is no surprise, though note that the demand for those three new models only adds up to 65%. So a third of would-be buyers are looking to older phones. What will be fun to watch is how supplies of the X are allocated between China, the US and Europe. I’d imagine its cachet will be enormous in China, and that to revive its sales there Apple will send a fair number of devices there rather than, say, Europe.
link to this extract


KGI: TrueDepth camera gives Apple 2.5 year lead over Android competitors • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

It will take Apple’s Android competitors up to two and a half years to replicate the functionality and user experience of the TrueDepth Camera in the iPhone X, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo told investors in a note shared this morning.

In a previous report, Kuo predicted it would take one to two years for competitors to catch up, but having watched Apple’s official technical demonstrations in detail, it’s now believed it will take longer to replicate the user experience.

The TrueDepth camera will give Apple a solid technological lead throughout 2018 and 2019, leading Kuo to say KGI has “full confidence” in the iPhone’s growth prospects in the high-end smartphone market over the next couple of years despite iPhone X constraints in 2017.

KGI Securities has revised its 2017 iPhone X shipping estimates from 40 million to 30-35 million units, but Kuo says the firm stands by its “positive outlook” on shipments of future iPhones equipped with the TrueDepth Camera.

Apple’s TrueDepth camera system enables its Face ID facial recognition system and other features like advanced face tracking and analysis for Animoji. Rumors suggest the difficulty of manufacturing the TrueDepth camera is what has led to significant iPhone X production issues, severely limiting initial available supply.

Apple’s competitors like Samsung and Google will also need to overcome these development and manufacturing hurdles to create a product that’s similar to the TrueDepth Camera. Samsung has already released a device with facial recognition capabilities, but it is inferior to Apple’s solution as it is limited to 2D tracking making it less secure and easy to fool.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google’s algorithm blame, Amber’s crpyto confusion, polarised politics, and more


TfL reckons that it can make some serious money from your mobile use. Photo by canonsnapper on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Like the internet version of petrichor. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tfl plans to make £322m by collecting data from passengers’ mobiles via Tube Wi-Fi • Sky

Tom Cheshire:

»

Transport for London (TfL) plans to make £322m by collecting Tube users’ location data and potentially selling it to third parties, Sky News can reveal. 

At the end of 2016, TfL ran a pilot which tracked the Wi-Fi signals from 5.6 million phones as people moved around the London Underground, even if they weren’t connected to a Wi-Fi network.

TfL publicly stated that the purpose of the scheme was to use the aggregated, anonymised data “to better understand how people navigate the London Underground network, allowing TfL to improve the experience for customers”.

It is now in consultation about tracking passengers on a permanent basis. The only way to opt out of the scheme would be to turn your Wi-Fi or phone off.

Wi-Fi tracking is used around the UK, especially on high streets and shopping centres, to track customers as they move around a store, for example.

However, documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show that they also anticipate there will be a significant financial benefit from the scheme, in contrast to TfL’s public messaging.

«

The FOI seems to suggest that it would realise the money by being able to say how many people had seen ads. This seems rather weak. It already knows how many people go up and down the escalators and on to the platforms.
link to this extract


Google’s top stories promoted misinformation about the Las Vegas shooting from 4Chan [updated] • Gizmodo 

»

One might assume that the carousel of stories at the top of your Google search would be the most relevant and credible links based on their query, but to make that very reasonable assumption would be a mistake. The criteria for what gets a spot in the highly-coveted space remains vague. The links certainly don’t have to be factually accurate, given that a climate change denial story has appeared in the module. And it’s also evident that the system can be gamed. In February, a LinkedIn blogger wrote over 150 articles about how to stream the Super Bowl consisting of nonsensical strings of keywords aimed at fooling Google’s search algorithm. It worked.

Today, Google helped further the agenda of the far-right by promoting their threads misidentifying the gunman. If the search giant comments at all, it will likely blame the mishap on an improperly audited algorithm. But as people turn to Google’s search bar for information on the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, the tech behemoth has a responsibility to ensure its users aren’t being led astray by a bunch of neo-Nazis.

Update 12:15pm: A Google spokesperson provided the following statement:

»

“Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”

«

«

What’s fabulous is that Gizmodo correctly predicted how Google would blame this on an algorithm. Well, yeah. What that slides past is how impossible it seems to be to test these for undesirable effects.
link to this extract


Amber Rudd says she doesn’t need to “understand how encryption works” to know it needs changing • Buzzfeed

Mark di Stefano:

»

Home secretary Amber Rudd has declared she doesn’t need to “understand how encryption works” to see how it’s helping criminals, as she continues to make the case for a crackdown on end-to-end encryption messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and iMessage.

Rudd made the comments during the Spectator magazine’s debate about internet freedom and encryption at the Conservative party’s annual conference in Manchester on Monday night.

Asked by a party member whether members of her government actually understood how encryption worked and the difficulties in forcing a change on global tech giants who owned the platforms like Facebook and Google, Rudd replied: “I don’t need to understand how encryption works to understand how it’s helping, end-to-end encryption, the criminals.”

She said it was easy to “patronise” her colleagues when it came to their understanding of end-to-end encryption: “We will do our best to understand it.”

She went on: “I do feel that there is a sea of criticism for any of us in politics who try to legislate in new areas… [we] will automatically be sneered at and laughed at for not getting it right.”

«

“We don’t need to understand how public funding works” “We don’t need to understand how the bond market works” “We don’t need to understand how railways work”. None of those would be defensible from a politician. Why is this?
link to this extract


First click free is dead, but is its replacement really any better for publishers? • Distilled

Will Critchlow on the likely effects of Google ending “first click free”. FCF was Google’s demand that publishers, even (especially) those with paywalls, should make it possible to surmount those paywalls by clicking through from Google, even though Google didn’t pay the publishers any money and told them that if they prevented people getting that “first click free” (actually three clicks, mandatory, per day) they would be downgraded in search rankings:

»

Publishers are calling this a win. My view is that the new Google scheme offers:

1) Something that looks very like what was in place before (“metering”)

2) Something that looks very like what pulling out of FCF looked like (“lead-in”)

And demands in return a huge amount of structured data which will cement Google’s position, allow them to maintain an excellent user experience without sending more traffic to publishers, and start them down a path to even more aggregation.

If paywalls are to be labelled in the search results [as Critchlow expects], publishers will definitely see a drop in traffic compared to what they received under FCF. The long-term possibility of a “Spotify for Publishers” bundle will likely be little solace in the interim.

«

Yet at the same time, Google admits that “while FCF is a reasonable sampling model, publishers are in a better position to determine what specific sampling strategy works best for them.” The FT’s chief commercial officer says that “it’s extremely clear that advertising alone can no longer pay for the production and distribution high-quality journalism”.

FCF has been in place since 2008. That’s nine years during which Google has essentially told publishers that if they don’t allow it, they’ll pretty much vanish from search. And now it says that maybe publishers know best?

(Ben Thompson’s subscription newsletter at Stratechery.com has some very incisive thoughts on this topic.)
link to this extract


Congress’ most liberal, conservative members have more Facebook followers • Pew Research Center

»

In both legislative chambers, members’ ideology is a strong predictor of the number of people who follow them on Facebook. The most liberal and most conservative House members had a median of 14,361 followers as of July 25, compared with 9,017 followers for those in the middle of the ideological spectrum. The median number of followers for the Senate’s most liberal and conservative lawmakers was 78,360, while moderates had 32,626. (These figures reflect each member’s total number of followers since the creation of their official Facebook page, not the number gained since the 115th Congress began.)

The Center’s analysis determines each lawmaker’s ideology based on a score calculated through their congressional roll call votes. This widely employed measure, created by two political scientists in the 1980s, assigns each member a score that falls between -1 (most liberal) and +1 (most conservative).

«

Consider what this means: on social media, the extreme voices on either side tend to be heard by more people. They’re also the ones who are least likely to compromise. What does this say for politics, notionally “the art of the possible”?

(As ever, I’d like to see a version of this for the UK.)
link to this extract


Tinkering with Twitter feeds the agnostic view of its offering • FT

Helen Lewis:

»

For anyone with thousands of followers, the big complaint is about feeling overwhelmed. There are too many notifications, too much abuse, too much damn noise.

But most Twitter users have the opposite problem. New joiners are encouraged to follow sports stars, actors and news brands, all of whom use the network for one-way broadcasting rather than engagement and replies.

It’s not like Facebook, where your existing relationships — friends, old classmates, colleagues — give you a ready-made audience. For too many users, it feels as though they are tweeting into the void.

Addictive as Twitter might be to its hardcore fans, it’s tough to get hooked. The latest figures showed that user growth has stalled at 328m active users a month (for comparison, Facebook claims 2bn).

Social media is very good at showing you a VIP party happening behind a velvet rope, and then making clear you’re outside it. Instagram is full of blue skies, sleek hotel rooms and aspirational smoothies; YouTubers such as Zoella seem to live in a perpetual shower of freebies, thanks to their “kind friends” at this or that brand. The buzzword for the feeling this creates is fomo — fear of missing out.

It’s a modern emotion created to serve capitalism, because the one thing that links all the big social media platforms is their reliance on advertising as a business model.

«

The point about the emptiness of the “onboarding” experience for new users is key: Twitter overlooked this for years, and in some ways that may have made it less resilient – because the network of real users wasn’t strong enough – when the bots and attackers came along. Doubling the length of tweets will make no difference at all to this, apart from making it harder to scan quickly.
link to this extract


Central banking and fintech – a brave new world? • IMF

Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, in a speech at the Bank of England recently:

»

For now, virtual currencies such as Bitcoin pose little or no challenge to the existing order of fiat currencies and central banks. Why? Because they are too volatile, too risky, too energy intensive, and because the underlying technologies are not yet scalable. Many are too opaque for regulators; and some have been hacked.

But many of these are technological challenges that could be addressed over time. Not so long ago, some experts argued that personal computers would never be adopted, and that tablets would only be used as expensive coffee trays. So I think it may not be wise to dismiss virtual currencies.

For instance, think of countries with weak institutions and unstable national currencies. Instead of adopting the currency of another country—such as the U.S. dollar—some of these economies might see a growing use of virtual currencies. Call it dollarization 2.0.

IMF experience shows that there is a tipping point beyond which coordination around a new currency is exponential. In the Seychelles, for example, dollarization jumped from 20% in 2006 to 60% in 2008.

And yet, why might citizens hold virtual currencies rather than physical dollars, euros, or sterling? Because it may one day be easier and safer than obtaining paper bills, especially in remote regions. And because virtual currencies could actually become more stable.

For instance, they could be issued one-for-one for dollars, or a stable basket of currencies. Issuance could be fully transparent, governed by a credible, pre-defined rule, an algorithm that can be monitored…or even a “smart rule” that might reflect changing macroeconomic circumstances.

So in many ways, virtual currencies might just give existing currencies and monetary policy a run for their money.

«

The key problem with virtual currencies has been stability of value, and the problems of exchanges, plus the limits on transaction volume (or speed). But if she thinks that citizens might “one day” hold virtual currencies, she’s dreaming. That’s already happening.
link to this extract


Europol warns ransomware has taken cybercrime ‘to another level’ • Tripwire

Graham Cluley:

»

Europol is right to highlight the significant impact that ransomware is having on business and home computers alike.

As we have previously discussed, multinationals like household goods manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser, and the Maersk shipping conglomerate have reported that the attacks have caused $100m and $300m in lost revenue respectively.

Meanwhile the impact felt by the WannaCry ransomware earlier in the year on the UK’s National Health Service and other large organisations is well-documented.

It’s no wonder that Europol is calling for more resources to be put in place around the world to target cybercrime gangs, and for greater co-ordination between law enforcement agencies.

«

There’s an 80-page Europol report – INTERNET ORGANISED CRIME THREAT ASSESSMENT (IOCTA) 2017 – if you have some time. It’s not all about ransomware. The overview it gives of online crime is quite a thing. And its note early on that the US’s slow rollout of PIN systems for cards makes it the prime location for cashing out stolen cards is an eye-opener too.
link to this extract


Commentary: Will micro LED feature on Apple devices? • Digitimes

Siu Han and Adam Hwang:

»

Apple has unveiled Apple Watch Series 3 characterized by a built-in eSIM (embedded SIM) chip which independently connects the device with LTE networks for voice communications and playing Apple Music without via iPhone. However, Apple Watch 3 still faces a challenge: high power consumption for screen display.

Micro LED panels have advantages of low power consumption, high resolution, quick response and high luminance. Micro LED panels consume 90% less powr than LCD and 50% less than OLED. Micro LED could be the best solution of power consumption problem for Apple Watch.

Through acquiring US-based LuxVue Technology, Apple has acquired patented micro LED technology, especially that for mass transfer. In February 2017, Apple acquired a patent of fingerprint recogniton on micro LED panels via LuxVue, signaling Apple’s continued R&D of micro LED technology. But some reports have claimed that Apple, after LuxVue encountered bottlenecks in mass transfer, has withdrawn some of its technological staff working at a micro LED lab in northern Taiwan.

While Taiwan-based PlayNitride plans to kick off trial production of micro LED panels in the fourth quarter of 2017, there are many problems to solve for making such production at low cost and high yield rates. But many industry experts believe Apple, thanks to its abundant resources, is way ahead of small startups in micro LED development.

«

Apparently microLED is good for standby and outdoor legibility; good for small panels, not so much for larger ones.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: only the Apple TV generation 4 and onwards can run independent apps and tvOS. So the Amazon Video Developer cited yesterday was correct, as were other readers.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up: Facebook’s fake defence, awaiting Amazon’s TV app, Google get Showy, and more


LG says it has a phone which can repel mosquitoes in India. You’re allowed to be sceptical. Photo by Wellcome Images on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Ain’t no lie. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook • The New York Times

Zeynp Tufekci:

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Are you bothered by fake news, systematic misinformation campaigns and Facebook “dark posts” — micro-targeted ads not visible to the public — aimed at African-Americans to discourage them from voting? You must be one of those people “upset about ideas” you disagree with.

Are you troubled when agents of a foreign power pose online as American Muslims and post incendiary content that right-wing commentators can cite as evidence that all American Muslims are sympathizers of terrorist groups like the Islamic State? Sounds like you can’t handle a healthy debate.

Does it bother you that Russian actors bought advertisements aimed at swing states to sow political discord during the 2016 presidential campaign, and that it took eight months after the election to uncover any of this? Well, the marketplace of ideas isn’t for everyone.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.

In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content. Sadly, this business model is also lucrative, especially during elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, called the 2016 election “a big deal in terms of ad spend” for the company, and it was. No wonder there has been increasing scrutiny of the platform.

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Tefekci has the rare ability to show how the behaviour and setups that so many companies believe are axiomatic are actually flawed. She’s like a human version of Gödel’s theorem.
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How Apple can push augmented reality and Siri together with iOS 12 • Medium

Albert Choi wants it to be next September already; he’s imagining a “Lens” app from Apple which would activate AR innately:

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Once you’re in the app, the camera will enable and a menu bar will appear. There will be three buttons: Explore, Siri, and Apps.

• Explore will show you top apps for Lens and also suggestion of preview apps. Download and quickly preview and demo an app.

• Siri works the same way as always. Use your voice to navigate and command through Lens.

•My Apps will show you all the apps that you’ve loaded onto Lens. If an app that you already have on your iPhone, it will migrate automatically to be compatible with Lens.

So when you activate Siri and ask it a question like “where is some places to eat?’’, in this case Lens will use Maps to help you look for a location. Using augmented reality, restaurant icons are shown at the location. If you prefer the Maps app, it can be accessed clicking the icon on the top right of your screen.

When clicking on any of the restaurant icons, you’ll see the information about the restaurant. With Lens, you’ll be able to receive AR based directions when driving (for passenger) or when walking. Maps will be able to provide you compatible indoor routes.

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The maps example isn’t a huge advance on what we already have, to be honest. We’re still waiting for the first proper wave of AR apps to hit. (Perhaps Apple should create a category in the app store?)
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Analysis of Twitter Accounts • Luca Hammer

Hammer has provided a tool for analysing Twitter accounts – how often and when they tweet, who they respond to, what they use, how they tweet (RT, QT, etc) and so on. One for the bookmarks for investigative journalists.
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Pindrop says its AI-based phone fraud detection service is now 20% more accurate • VentureBeat

Blair Hanley Frank:

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One of the key updates is a new voiceprinting capability that identifies who’s on the phone and checks the caller against a set of people Pindrop has identified as fraudsters. The company is also offering its customers a new Network capability that will provide real-time predictions about how likely a call is to be fraudulent, based in part on information gleaned from other Pindrop customers.

This feature is based on Pindrop’s Phoneprinting capabilities, which will be upgraded with this release. Phoneprinting works by analyzing call audio and using key factors to determine how likely the person on the other end of the line is to be a fraudster. The updated features should be up to 20% more accurate than their predecessors, according to Pindrop.

Phone-based fraud is a massive problem around the world since scammers can call from anywhere and try to get sensitive data, perform financial transactions, and pull off other nefarious deeds. It’s an attack that preys on the charitable instincts of the person on the other end of the call center phone — people who usually want to help. The company’s software is used to protect major enterprises, including banks like SunTrust.

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I’d be interested to see this tested on a double blind test (where neither the person receiving the call in the call centre nor the person monitoring it knows if it’s real or fake, but the test does). Systems like this generally don’t get sufficiently rigorous testing, because people love the idea of identifying fraudsters by a sort of magic.
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The truth about Amazon Prime Video on Apple TV : appletv • Reddit

An anonymous person describing themselves as “AmazonVideoEngineer”:

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Wanted to make this throwaway account after yesterday’s debacle. I saw many people get upset so I wanted to issue this warning: do not expect Amazon to launch [its app for Apple TV] before October 26th. The app is done, and has been done for months already. However there are a lot of politics going on beyond my pay grade that are pushing the launch back. And just to clarify, October 26 is the earliest I would expect it. Launch could be pushed well into November.

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Further says it will only work on the 4th-generation (released 2015) and the latest 4K model: “Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t support older models since Apple has control over the design of those apps.” (Not sure this is correct; if you can install tvOS 4, the latest one, it should work.)

Take this with a pinch of salt, but it all rings true. If Amazon wants more people to watch Amazon Video, Apple TV is the way to go.
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Envelope tracking ICs: increasing power efficiency and other benefits to the mobile ecosystem • IHS Technology

Brad Shaffer and Wayne Lam:

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The battery life of a smartphone is under attack. The Lithium polymer battery in a smartphone simply hasn’t been able to keep up with the growing requirements of demanding users. Increasing screen sizes and use cases such as video consumption, as well as camera and navigation based applications are putting increasing amounts of stress on the battery life of mobile devices. Battery capacity can be increased but the aforementioned changes in smartphone design and usage scenarios could more than offset increases in battery capacity alone. IHS Markit has seen the average battery capacity increase as the typical smartphone screen size has grown larger, in fact; battery capacity has increased at a rate twice as fast as screen size over the same period, highlighting the importance of achieving the longest possible battery life with each device design.

Battery capacity won’t continue to rise perpetually. The average screen size of a smartphone will reach a peak between 5.5 and 6 inches in the future; and as a smartphone’s screen size generally provides a footprint limitation for battery size, battery capacity will also begin to level off and OEM focus will shift to power efficiency.

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This is a quite detailed and technical post, but one can get value just from the points about battery capacity. Power efficiency is definitely going to be the thing now.
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What a nerdy debate about p-values shows about science — and how to fix it • Vox

Brian Resnick:

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Most casual readers of scientific research know that for results to be declared “statistically significant,” they need to pass a simple test. The answer to this test is called a p-value. And if your p-value is less than .05 — bingo, you got yourself a statistically significant result.

Now a group of 72 prominent statisticians, psychologists, economists, sociologists, political scientists, biomedical researchers, and others want to disrupt the status quo. A forthcoming paper in the journal Nature Human Behavior argues that results should only be deemed “statistically significant” if they pass a higher threshold.

“We propose a change to P < 0.005,” the authors write. “This simple step would immediately improve the reproducibility of scientific research in many fields.”

This may sound nerdy, but it’s important. If the change is accepted, the hope is that fewer false positives will corrupt the scientific literature. It’s become too easy — using shady techniques known as p-hacking and outcome switching — to find some publishable result that reaches the .05 significance level.

“There’s a major problem using p-values the way we have been using them,” says John Ioannidis, a Stanford professor of health research and one of the authors of the paper. “It’s causing a flood of misleading claims in the literature.”

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That sort of threshold would put a ton of social scientists out of work, or at least out of research. A colossal move if implemented.
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BHP, world’s largest miner, says 2017 is ‘tipping point’ for electric cars • Reuters

Clara Ferreira-Marques and Gavin Maguire:

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[Chief commercial officer at global miner BHP, Arnoud] Balhuizen said he expected the electric vehicle boom would be felt – for producers – first in copper, where supply will struggle to match increased demand. The world’s top mines are aging and there have been no major discoveries in two decades.

The market, he said, may have underestimated the impact on the red metal: fully electric vehicles require four times as much copper as cars that run on combustion engines.

BHP, Balhuizen said, is well-placed, with assets like Escondida and Spence in Chile, and Olympic Dam in Australia. BHP said last month it was spending $2.5bn to extend the life of the Spence mine in northern Chile by more than 50 years.

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How fortunate for copper miners that just as demand for the stuff goes away in phone lines – replaced by wireless and fibre – a new opportunity arises.
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LG is releasing a mosquito-repellent phone, but it probably won’t work • Ars Technica UK

Samuel Axon:

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LG has launched a new smartphone, the LG K7i, that the company says will repel mosquitoes using ultrasonic waves. The company claims the device addresses a real concern in the phone’s target market—India—but many scientists say the underlying tech does not, in fact, repel mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance in parts of India, and in some cases they carry diseases like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, which have become common in urban centers. Malaria is also a risk in India. LG is selling consumer electronics devices in India, and it has been marketing a technology called “Mosquito Away,” which claims to repel the mosquitos. The tech has previously appeared in air conditioners and other LG products, and now it’s a key part of the LG K7i’s marketing. LG says its tests of the LG K7i repelled “on average 72% of disease-spreading mosquitoes,” according to CNN.

However, the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) and other groups say it won’t work. Texas A&M University entomology professor Dr. Roger Gold spent years running studies that have debunked ultrasonic bug repellant as well. According to the AMCA: “At least 10 studies in the past 15 years have unanimously denounced ultrasonic devices as having no repellency value whatsoever.”

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So if someone uses this and develops a mosquito-borne disease LG will presumably say it was one of the 28%? More generally, this steers perilously close to conning people.
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Boy swallows squeaky toy • Boing Boing

Rob Beschizza:

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The video embed here depicts exactly what you already suspect it will: a somewhat frustrated young boy, having swallowed part of a squeaky toy, being made to squeak by a person presumably intending to remove it (but not yet).

https://streamable.com/t8sem/ufnhvf

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Best guess at how is that he was taking a really deep inhalation in order to blow out really hard through one of those party toys which makes this noise. And the squeaker got caught up in the intake.

It is like something out of Toy Story 2, though. I’m sure the medics among us will explain that it’s very dangerous, and we won’t be surprised.

But it is still amusing.
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An ex-Google Engineer is founding a religion to worship AI. He’s decades too late • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

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The headlines on this one could almost write themselves. Anthony Levandowski, the disgraced former Google engineer whose copying of trade secrets led Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) to file a lawsuit against Uber for $1.86 billion, founded an organization called “Way of the Future” back in 2015. Its purpose, according to state filings, was to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”

At first glance, the idea seems utterly preposterous. But I’d argue Levandowski’s mistake isn’t his dubious attempt to position a digital deity as a substitution for the decidedly more analog versions of conventional religions. It’s in failing to realize that he’s decades too late. People already do so.

Ever since the dawn of modern computing, computers have been viewed and portrayed as offering better-than human capabilities in many respects. The original meaning of the word “computer” dates to 1613 and meant “one who computes.” Human computers were used to create trigonometry and logarithms at the end of the 19th century, as well as to research fluid dynamics and meteorology. As digital computers became more powerful in the mid-20th century, the human definition was supplanted by the idea that a computer was a thing that computed rather than a person. As Betty Jennings, one of the women who worked on ENIAC in the early 1940s, observed, “ENIAC (considered one of the first, if not the first, electronic, general-purpose computers) calculated the trajectory faster than it took the bullet to travel.”

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When I saw the headline, I thought he meant that he was late to the game because L. Ron Hubbard cornered the market for made-up sci-fi religions decades ago. (Obviously, all religions are made up. Hubbard’s just happens to be the first post-Jetsons one.)

There’s also a tiny part of me thinking this would be a brilliant ploy to bring up in court as evidence if one were pleading a defence of mental incapability and/or insanity. Not of course that I’m suggesting anything of the sort about Mr Levandowski.
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Google is building a smart screen competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

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Multiple sources tell TechCrunch that Google is building a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will compete with Amazon’s Echo Show. The device could help Google keep up in the race for the smart home market after Amazon just revealed a slew of new Echos and as Facebook continues to work on its codename “Aloha” video calling screen.

Two sources confirm to TechCrunch that the Google device has been internally codenamed “Manhattan” and will have a similar screen size to the 7in Echo Show. One source received info directly from a Google employee. Both sources say the device will offer YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also act as a smart hub that can control Nest and other smart home devices.

Our sources say that Google previously was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions, but it’s now more focused on the Manhattan device. We’re told that the original target launch date was mid-2018. But due to the Echo Show there’s intense internal pressure to get this launched in 2017, though it may still end up released in 2018. That’s because there are a ton of moving parts to establishing the smart hub partnerships, plus it’s exploring the possibility of service partnerships with Best Buy Geek Squad and Enjoy for home installation.

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Seriously, what is the point of this? Just buy a cheap Android tablet, put it on a stand in the kitchen, you’re done. If Google is this worried by every turn Amazon makes, it needs to do some strategic thinking.

Also, “Google was working on products with larger screens that would compete with full-sized televisions”? Isn’t that Google TV, or Android TV, or whatever it’s called this week? This is nuts.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified