Start Up: Russia’s twitter troll, harassment figured, lives in virtual reality, Logitech relents, and more


How to get rich: go bankrupt in bitcoin. Photo by Francis Storr on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. The week beckons. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news • Associated Press

Ryan Nakashima and Barbara Ortutay:

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Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.

Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.

An exclusive AP analysis found that disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s election while refocusing criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (Nov. 9)

The AP examined 36,210 tweets from Aug. 31, 2015, to Nov. 10, 2016, posted by 382 of the Russian accounts that Twitter shared with congressional investigators last week. Twitter deactivated the accounts, deleting the tweets and making them inaccessible on the internet. But a limited selection of the accounts’ Twitter activity was retrieved by matching account handles against an archive obtained by AP.

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This would be the election that Trump has been assured by Putin there was no meddling in?
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Six in ten women say they’ve been sexually harassed by a man • YouGov

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The latest outpouring of news stories about sexual harassment in the workplace reflects a common experience for many American women. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, 60% of women report having been sexually harassed by a man. A third of those women report the harassment occurred in the last five years. For most women, sexual harassment is serious and not unusual – and the problem isn’t getting better.

The recognition that harassment occurs is widespread. When women are asked what percentage of women they believe would say they have been harassed, the average response is 70%. Men are less likely to see the problem as that widespread: their average response is about 50%.

Still, most people, male and female, say sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem. But for women it is a greater concern: 78% of women say sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem today, and 33% of women say it is a very serious problem). 60% of men agree it is a serious issue, with 21% calling it very serious. 

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link to this extract


What reality TV teaches us about Russia’s influence campaign • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

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We may never know for certain if Russia’s campaign to influence American society through social networks changed the course of history in big ways — if it altered the election results, say. But it is already clear that Russia’s efforts did change the world in countless small ways. A few dozen real Americans did protest that Saturday in Houston [having been prompted by fake Facebook pages aiming to foment conflict]. Videos of the protest show real emotion — people on opposite sides of the street screaming, swearing and truly angry to have to share the country with the bozos on the other side.

As I watched these videos recently, I had an epiphany about the Russia influence campaign. The Houston protest videos depicted a bunch of Americans duped into fighting each other in public, all at the whim of an unseen force that, through expert and surreptitious cajoling, had gotten them to lose control of themselves on camera. I’d seen this show many times before, and you probably have, too. It’s called “The Bachelor.”

And not just the “The Bachelor,” but every show like it. The Russians are running a reality show through Facebook and Twitter, and their contestants are all of us.

Over the past few days, I reached out to several reality show producers, asking them to compare the Russian digital influence campaign and the world of unscripted TV. The more they told me about reality shows, the more the metaphor seemed to explain Russia’s trolling campaign — how it worked, what it aimed to do and why campaigns like it will be so difficult to fight…

…Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, a former producer on “The Bachelor” who later created “Unreal,” a scripted show about the reality industry, said the key to manipulating contestants into acting a certain way was to “tap into their fears, passions and ego.”

On reality TV, producers can do that because they keep detailed dossiers on everyone on set. But guess what? Russian trolls had detailed dossiers, too — and they could consult them at scale. Using Facebook’s exquisitely detailed ad-targeting and viral propagation systems, trolls could create content that perfectly matched your fears, passions and ego.

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(Thanks JC for the link.)

link to this extract


Third quarter sees closest ever gap between the top three smartphone brands in China • Counterpoint Research

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Chinese market shipments slowed in Q3 2017 compared to a strong quarter last year. Q3 2016 was marked by robust growth by a number of brands including OPPO and Vivo. This year shipment growth was strong in the second quarter, resulting in many brands ending Q2 2017 with high inventory levels and leading to softer shipments in the third quarter. However efforts to correct the excess inventory meant that sales to consumers were strong in Q3 2017, growing by almost 12% year/year.

These factors resulted in a close competitive dynamic between the top three brands. Commenting on the analysis, James Yan, Research Director at Counterpoint Research said, “Compared to last year, where OPPO and Vivo were the fastest growing brands in China with volumes up 109% YoY and 78% YoY respectively, growth for these two brands has slowed down this quarter. Nonetheless, the two brands are still growing at a healthy rate and have closed on the previous quarter’s leader, Huawei. OPPO’s R11 was the bestselling model overall, which helped OPPO edge just ahead of Huawei during the quarter.”

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Worth just noting what happens in the world’s single largest smartphone market. Oppo and vivo are owned by the same company; they took 37.5% of the market, and Huawei 18.6%. That’s over 56% going to two companies; Xiaomi and Apple accounted for 10.3% and 8.5% respectively. Everyone else – and that’s a lot of companies – were just over a quarter of the 100m market. One always expects the squeeze to come, but it always seems to be a few quarters away.
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Mark Karpeles will end up taking $859m from Mt. Gox bankruptcy • Cryptocoins News

Joseph Young:

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In 2014, Mt. Gox, once the largest bitcoin exchange in the world, filed for bankruptcy. At the time, Japanese creditors requested Mt. Gox to return the equivalent amount of their funds stored in bitcoin in Japanese yen. Since then, the price of bitcoin has risen 70-fold, and former Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles is expected to take the majority of the profit from the bankruptcy proceedings.

In July, Karpeles attended a court hearing and pleaded not guilty to charges on money laundering and embezzlement, for his involvement in the loss of approximately one million bitcoins, which were worth $400 million during the period wherein the Mt. Gox bankruptcy was filed.

Over the past three years, from 2014 to 2017, the price of bitcoin has increased exponentially, from around $400 to $7,000, by 17-fold. During the investigation into the Mt. Gox bankruptcy from 2014 to 2016, 200,000 bitcoins were recovered and with that, Karpeles was requested to proceed accrediting creditors of Mt. Gox with the recovered bitcoins.

However, after a strange turn of events, it turns out that creditors of Mt. Gox, or former bitcoin traders on the Mt. Gox exchange, are set to be credited with Japanese yen equivalent to the value of bitcoin in 2014. 

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This must be the strangest rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches stories ever.
link to this extract


All mixed up: I spent eight weird hours wearing Microsoft’s new headset • Tom’s Guide

Andrew Freedman did an unwise thing so you don’t have to:

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When you boot up a Windows 10 Mixed Reality headset, you land in the Cliff House, a serene ranch flanked by a lake on one side and a mountain on the other. Birds chirp. You could stay awhile.

I thought I could work in the Cliff House. But I was wrong: It was 8 hours in hell.
Before I go any further, I should tell you not to try this at your workplace. Keeping yourself in virtual reality for that long at a time, especially without frequent breaks, can be taxing on your eyes and possibly even your mental health.

I started my day with our usual editorial meeting and then plugged in an Acer Mixed Reality Headset to my office-issued Dell XPS 15. Setup was a breeze, but then I had a decision to make. I needed to keep my mouse and keyboard if I wanted to maintain my normal workflow. We had the motion controllers in the lab, but I might hit my colleagues next to me and behind me. Since I like my colleagues, I opted for an Xbox One controller to move around the Cliff House. After all, I had to stay at my desk, facing forward.

I picked a spot in the virtual house with two walls (one in front of me, one behind me) and a beautiful lake view with a tree and some floating islands. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to a corner office. On both walls,

I started to open a few windows, and there was my first hiccup: You can use only a few apps from the Microsoft Store. To get around not having HipChat, I logged in through the Edge browser. But my bookmarks and tools are in Chrome, so I had to open up a virtual version of my desktop and place it on a wall. I also use TweetDeck, Firefox, Sublime Text, Photoshop and a number of other apps that don’t work natively in Windows Mixed Reality. Since I use three monitors at once, I placed them on both walls and turned as necessary to see them.

If this sounds tiring, that’s because it is.

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It was terrible, overall.
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The Pixel 2 XL has another screen issue: unresponsive edges • Engadget

Mariella Moon:

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It looks like Google still isn’t done fielding complaints about the Pixel 2 XL’s display. While some users are experiencing premature screen burn-in and seeing a bluish tint, others are apparently having trouble with its responsiveness. Comments posted on the Pixel 2 community website have revealed that some units are having issues getting their phones to register touches near the edges of the screen. One poster even conducted a test and found that while the edges on his display can recognize swipes just fine, they can’t always recognize taps.

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This device has gone from hero to zero in the matter of a month or so. People just can’t stop finding problems with it.
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Second Life: the digital ruins of a forgotten future • The Atlantic

Leslie Jamison:

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Gidge Uriza lives in an elegant wooden house with large glass windows overlooking a glittering creek, fringed by weeping willows and meadows twinkling with fireflies. She keeps buying new swimming pools because she keeps falling in love with different ones. The current specimen is a teal lozenge with a waterfall cascading from its archway of stones. Gidge spends her days lounging in a swimsuit on her poolside patio, or else tucked under a lacy comforter, wearing nothing but a bra and bathrobe, with a chocolate-glazed donut perched on the pile of books beside her. “Good morning girls,” she writes on her blog one day. “I’m slow moving, trying to get out of bed this morning, but when I’m surrounded by my pretty pink bed it’s difficult to get out and away like I should.”

In another life, the one most people would call “real,” Gidge Uriza is Bridgette McNeal, an Atlanta mother who works eight-hour days at a call center and is raising a 14-year-old son, a 7-year-old daughter, and severely autistic twins, now 13. Her days are full of the selflessness and endless mundanity of raising children with special needs: giving her twins baths after they have soiled themselves (they still wear diapers, and most likely always will), baking applesauce bread with one to calm him down after a tantrum, asking the other to stop playing “the Barney theme song slowed down to sound like some demonic dirge.” One day, she takes all four kids to a nature center for an idyllic afternoon that gets interrupted by the reality of changing an adolescent’s diaper in a musty bathroom.

But each morning, before all that—before getting the kids ready for school and putting in eight hours at the call center, before getting dinner on the table or keeping peace during the meal, before giving baths and collapsing into bed—Bridgette spends an hour and a half on the online platform Second Life, where she lives in a sleek paradise of her own devising.

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Second Life still has 600,000 regular users.
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Update: we will replace your Logitech Harmony Links • Logitech blog

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We heard you and we want to make it right.

If you are a Harmony Link user, we will reach out to you between now and March 2018 to make arrangements to replace your Link with a free Harmony Hub, a product with similar app-based remote control features to Link, with the added benefit of controlling many popular connected home devices plus, it works with popular voice assistants. You can also contact us at https://support.myharmony.com/email to make arrangements for your replacement.

We understand that services are important to you. Because the certificate that’s expiring relates to security, we would be acting irresponsibly by continuing the service knowing its potential/future vulnerability.

Additionally, Harmony Link customers that have already redeemed their 35% discount on a Harmony Hub will also be refunded the full amount they paid for the replacement. Again, we will be in touch with you regarding these updates between now and March 2018, before your Harmony Link will no longer function.

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This is good. But as so often, one is left asking “how did you think it was going to be ok just to abandon people?” (The detective work on why the Link is going to die is that it has a soon-to-expire https certificate bought from Equifax which can’t be replaced on a like-for-like basis – that is, a software update wouldn’t continue its functionality. Teach them to buy certs from third parties.)
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It’s time to stop trusting Google search already • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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Even if [Google] search is overwhelmingly accurate, highlighting just a few bad results around topics like mass shootings is a major problem — especially if people are primed to believe that anything Google says is true. And for every advance Google makes to improve its results, there’s a host of people waiting to game the new system, forcing it to adapt again.

Simply shaming Google over bad search results might actually play into its mythos [of infallibility, which it plays to through voice assistants], even if the goal is to hold the company accountable. It reinforces a framing where Google search’s ideal final state is a godlike, omniscient benefactor, not just a well-designed product. Yes, Google search should get better at avoiding obvious fakery, or creating a faux-neutral system that presents conspiracy theories next to hard reporting. But we should be wary of overemphasizing its ability, or that of any other technological system, to act as an arbiter of what’s real.

Alongside pushing Google to stop “fake news,” we should be looking for ways to limit trust in, and reliance on, search algorithms themselves. That might mean seeking handpicked video playlists instead of searching YouTube Kids, which recently drew criticism for surfacing inappropriate videos. It could mean focusing on reestablishing trust in human-led news curation, which has produced its own share of dangerous misinformation. It could mean pushing Google to kill, not improve, features that fail in predictable and damaging ways. At the very least, I’ve proposed that Google rename or abolish the Top Stories carousel, which offers legitimacy to certain pages without vetting their accuracy. Reducing the prominence of “Popular on Twitter” might make sense, too, unless Google clearly commits to strong human-led quality control.

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Google’s basic model comes straight from scientific papers’ impact measurement: the more papers quote a previous one, the more “impact” the paper has, and so the more important it is in the canon of science.

This was fine while search largely consisted of trying to find the authoritative White House site. But search has shifted, and Robertson makes excellent points: when everyone’s essentially falsifying their papers, what does impact mean, and should you still use it?
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Let’s all take a breath: Trump is a joke, but Bush was worse • Vanity Fair

T.A.Frank (and the “Bush” is George W, not his father George HW):

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Trump has proved to be generally dreadful. He’s entirely unsuited to his post. Still, as people look back in grief, you would think that we’d seen the realization of Matthew Yglesias’s prediction that “angry mobs will beat and murder Jews and people of color with impunity.” At the very least, we might be farther along down the road mapped out in the New York Review of Books by author Masha Gessen, who warned that Trump might appoint a crony like Rudy Giuliani to the Supreme Court, that he might use the justice system to punish his political opponents, and that journalists would fall in line rather than forfeit access.

In real life, Trump nominated a respectable Supreme Court justice, the justice system is ensnaring Trump’s own people more than any of his political opponents, and journalists have practically incorporated “resist” into their job description. Gessen’s alarm over encroachments on constitutional norms seems especially surreal in light of who actually did take us down such a road. It was George W. Bush who appointed a crony to the Justice Department and tried to do the same for the Supreme Court. It was Bush who tried to bend the justice system to partisan goals. It was under Bush that many journalists fell in line in order to maintain access.

Similar thoughts came to mind when I read The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg calling the 2016 election an “apocalypse” and offering a long list of Trumpian misdeeds, most of which seem either exaggerated (Russia links, political prosecutions) or primarily indecent (nepotism, vulgarity). Meanwhile, by this time in the White House of George W. Bush, security failures had led to thousands of American deaths, armies were in Afghanistan, and we’d passed a piece of legislation authorizing roving wiretaps, sneak-and-peek warrants, and indefinite detention of non-citizens. “Enhanced interrogation,” Iraq, and the compensation of Wall Street’s worst actors for their losses was still to come. The nepotistic antics of King Donald and clown prince Jared seem minor by comparison.

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Reasonable.
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Teen girl posed for eight years as married man to write about baseball and harass women • Deadspin

Lindsey Adler:

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On Wednesday night, a woman named Erin tweeted a series of screenshots announcing that Schultz is not actually Ryan, a married father of two studying to become a pharmacist. Instead, Schultz is a 21-year-old college student in the Midwest, whose entire career as an aspiring baseball writer has been under a fraudulent byline.

Schultz began contributing to Baseball Prospectus’s local White Sox blog at the end of the 2016 season and wrote for BP South Side and BP Wrigleyville throughout the 2017 season. Additionally, Schultz wrote for the SB Nation sabermetrics site Beyond the Box Score throughout 2017.

People who knew Ryan Schultz online say that in retrospect, some of his behavior seemed odd, but no one expected that this moody White Sox fan from Missouri would actually be a teenage girl.

Schultz’s fraud was as true to the catfish genre as can be. She told the people who discovered she was not who she said she was that she assumed the identity because she felt as if she couldn’t write about baseball professionally as a woman, especially at the age of 13. As the deception went on, she couldn’t figure out how to get out of the middle of her web of lies.

Over time, Ryan formed serial relationships with women who use Twitter to talk about baseball and hockey. Some women told me that he would get drunk and berate them; others told me they felt emotionally abused and manipulated because he would imply that he’d hurt himself if they didn’t continue to talk to him. Ryan received nudes from at least two women I spoke with, one of whom said she did it because she was afraid he would hurt himself if she didn’t.

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I’m OK with the posing to write about baseball, but..
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Australia adds 107MW rooftop solar in October as 2017 heads for record year • RenewEconomy

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Australian homes and businesses continue to install solar at an impressive clip, adding more than 100MW of rooftop PV capacity for the month of October, up from 97MW in September, and almost guaranteeing a record 1GW-plus total for the year.

In its latest monthly update, solar industry analysts SunWiz have charted another another “massive” month of small-scale solar installs, pushing the nation’s total installed PV capacity to 6.7GW, 6GW of which is made up of systems sized at 100kW and below.

According to the report, registrations in October shot up to 107MW, making it the best ever October, the fourth-highest ever level of registrations in a month, and more than double the volume of 22 months ago.

And with volumes this high, SunWiz notes, “it looks like we’re headed for the best ever Q4 AND best ever year,” with total registrations at 852MW for 2017, making the market “almost certain to eclipse 1GW of rooftop solar this year.”

One of the stars of the month for the PV market was commercial solar, with installations in the 10kW-20kW range outdone, in volume, by installs in the 75kW-plus range, as you can see in the table below.

SunWiz notes that the growth in volume occurred in every category, but was especially pronounced in the 6.3-8kW range and in the 75-100kW range.

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Australia’s wholesale electricity consumption peaked at 210 terawatt-hours in 2007. For comparison, 100MW of solar will generate around 400GWh over the course of a year; an installed capacity of 6.7GW will generate about 29GWh.

Solar isn’t a baseline, but it can be a hell of an add-on.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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