Start Up: ageing Android, charging iOS, US guns by numbers, the nearest “Earth”, bitcoin bumps in Zimbabwe, and more

We can find out who owns this, but what do corporations own in England? Photo by Jonathan Rolande on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Unsupported by pastors. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How out of date are android devices? • Dan Luu

Luu is an ex-Googler:


People sometimes compare Android to Windows XP because there are a large number of both in the wild and in both cases, most devices will not get security updates. However, this is tremendously unfair to Windows XP, which was released on 10/2001 and got security updates until 4/2014, twelve and a half years later. Additionally, Microsoft has released at least one security update after the official support period (there was an update in 5/2017 in response to the WannaCry ransomware). It’s unfortunate that Microsoft decided to end support for XP while there are still so many XP boxes in the wild, but supporting an old OS for over twelve years and then issuing an emergency security patch after more fifteen years puts Microsoft into a completely different league than Google and Apple when it comes to device support.

Another difference between Android and Windows is that Android’s scale is unprecedented in the desktop world. The were roughly 200 million PCs sold in 2017. Samsung alone has been selling that many mobile devices per year since 2008. Of course, those weren’t Android devices in 2008, but Android’s dominance in the non-iOS mobile space means that, overall, those have mostly been Android devices. Today, we still see nearly 50 year old PDP-11 devices in use. There are few enough PDPs around that running into one is a cute, quaint, surprise (0.6 million PDP-11s were sold). Desktops boxes age out of service more quickly than PDPs and mobile devices age out of service even more quickly, but the sheer difference in number of devices caused by the ubiquity of modern computing devices means that we’re going to see many more XP-era PCs in use 50 years after the release of XP and it’s plausible we’ll see even more mobile devices around 50 years from now. Many of these ancient PDP, VAX, DOS, etc. boxes are basically safe because they’re run in non-networked configurations, but it looks like the same thing is not going to be true for many of these old XP and Android boxes that are going to stay in service for decades.

We’ve seen that Android devices appear to be getting more out of date over time. This makes it difficult for developers to target “new” Android API features, where new means anything introduced in the past few years. It also means that there are a lot of Android devices out there that are behind in terms of security. This is true both in absolute terms and also relative to iOS.


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Just how fast is “faster wireless charging” in iOS 11.2? • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:


iOS 11.2 is currently in beta, and will be released to all iPhone and iPad users in the coming weeks, and one of the key features for iPhone 8/8 Plus/X owners is accelerated wireless charging. Previously, all wireless charging was limited to 5W, but this update will raise that limit to 7.5W. That’s a 50% increase in power on paper, but I had to know what the real world difference was.

As you can see from the graph above, the difference between wireless charging on my “fast charge” Samsung charging pad was slight. There is definitely a difference here, and if you’re already using wireless charging (and your pad supports it), then this is an undeniable win. However, if you were hoping that this would make wireless charging catch up to wired then you’re going to be very disappointed…

…Wired charging remains the fastest way to charge the iPhone in 2017, and it’s not even close. It’s popular to hate on the charger in the box, butthe stock iPhone charger gets the iPhone 8 Plus to 79% in 2 hours (68% faster) and up to 21% at the 30 minute mark (91% faster). That’s a pretty striking difference, and if speed is of the essence, it’s a much better way to get topped up fast.


Wonder if Apple’s AirPower will do any better.
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The gun numbers: just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m firearms • The Guardian

Lois Beckett:


surveys show that gun ownership in America is actually highly concentrated. Only 22 to 31% of Americans adults say they personally own a gun.

Rates of personal and household gun ownership appear to have declined over the past decades – roughly two-thirds of Americans today say they live in a gun-free household. By contrast, in the late 1970s, the majority of Americans said they lived in a household with guns.

Most of America’s gun owners have relatively modest collections, with the majority of gun owners having an average of just three guns, and nearly half owning just one or two, according to a 2015 survey by Harvard and Northeastern researchers, which gave the most in-depth estimate of Americans’ current patterns of gun ownerships.

But America’s gun super-owners, have amassed huge collections. Just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m firearms – half of America’s total gun stock. These owners have collections that range from eight to 140 guns, the 2015 study found. Their average collection: 17 guns each.

After the Las Vegas shooting, officials said the killer had 23 guns in his hotel room, and another 19 at home. Some Americans asked, shocked, why one person purchasing so many guns had not set off any red flags.

Part of the answer is that owning more than 40 guns is actually fairly common in the United States: there are an estimated 7.7 million super-owners, which might make it difficult to flag a mass shooter building an arsenal from enthusiastic collectors and gun enthusiasts piling up different kinds of guns for hunting different kinds of game, a selection of handguns for self-defense, and various accessories for the popular, customisable military-style rifles that enthusiasts have compared to lethal Lego sets for grown men.


Easily overlooked that ownership isn’t evenly distributed.
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The companies and corporate bodies who own a third of England & Wales • Who owns England?

Anna Powell-Smith:


On 7 November 2017, the Land Registry for England & Wales for the first time released details of 3.5 million land titles owned by UK corporate bodies – councils, UK companies, housing associations and more. Going by separate Land Registry figures we’ve seen for the acreages these bodies own, we can safely say that companies and the public sector own around a third of England and Wales.

And now, for the first time, I’ve mapped them.

To be precise, I’ve mapped 1.8 million of the 3.5 million land titles released by the Land Registry – all the ones that include postcode locations. The remaining 1.7 million are rather trickier to map – their land titles are somewhat vaguer in their descriptions, like “Land north of Stansfield Road, Wigan”. But I’m having a crack at mapping approximate locations for these, using an OpenStreetMap-based geocoder (it takes time). Watch this space!

We’ll also be analysing the complete dataset in the weeks and months to come, so check back for more blogs assessing things like land owned by housing developers, councils and airports.


Powell-Smith does amazing things with data.
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The brutal fight to mine your data and sell it to your boss • Bloomberg

Drake Bennett on the legal fight between LinkedIn and HiQ, which used LinkedIn’s API to build its business:


The easier it gets to harvest and analyze information, the more actively that information has to be protected. That, Verrilli argues, is what LinkedIn is trying to do.

It’s LinkedIn, after all, not HiQ, that has the relationship with the members who have posted the information. “We’ve made promises in our privacy policy, and we have to work with regulators worldwide who hold us to our promises,” says Blake Lawit, LinkedIn’s vice president for legal. “We’re not under the radar, right? If we do something creepy with privacy, we’re going to hear about it from the FTC and the Irish Data Protection Commissioner and et cetera.” In other words, LinkedIn might be big and know lots about us, but with great power comes regulatory scrutiny, and with that comes a kind of responsibility.

If that argument is only somewhat reassuring, HiQ’s argument is effectively that we’re on our own, and that this is the price we pay for today’s internet. “There’s probably lots and lots of applications that might make someone feel a little queasy, right?” Gupta told Judge Chen. “But the thing is, we can’t sit here today and police every possible business model that some entrepreneur in Silicon Valley might come up with. It’s public information. It’s the marketplace of ideas. It’s the engine of our country’s growth.” The reason Google can put the entire internet at our fingertips is because, like HiQ, it scrapes public data. That includes LinkedIn pages, which is why they tend to be among the top results if you Google a noncelebrity (unlike HiQ, Google has LinkedIn’s explicit permission to collect data).


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Closest temperate world orbiting quiet star discovered • European Space Observatory


A temperate Earth-sized planet has been discovered only 11 light-years from the Solar System by a team using ESO’s unique planet-hunting HARPS instrument. The new world has the designation Ross 128 b and is now the second-closest temperate planet to be detected after Proxima b. It is also the closest planet to be discovered orbiting an inactive red dwarf star, which may increase the likelihood that this planet could potentially sustain life. Ross 128 b will be a prime target for ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope, which will be able to search for biomarkers in the planet’s atmosphere.

A team working with ESO’s High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile has found that the red dwarf star Ross 128 is orbited by a low-mass exoplanet every 9.9 days. This Earth-sized world is expected to be temperate, with a surface temperature that may also be close to that of the Earth. Ross 128 is the “quietest” nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet.

“This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques. Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations,” explains Nicola Astudillo-Defru (Geneva Observatory – University of Geneva, Switzerland), who co-authored the discovery paper.


Red dwarf stars are dead, surely? But this is close-ish, astronomically.
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Bitcoin surges in Zimbabwe after military seize power • South Africa Times

Robert Brand, Brian Latham and Godfrey Marawanyika:


Bitcoin climbed as much as 10% on Zimbabwe’s Golix exchange on Wednesday after the country’s armed forces seized power.

The price of the cryptocurrency in the Southern African nation jumped as high as $13,499, almost double the rate at which it trades in international markets, according to prices cited on Golix’s website.

Demand for Bitcoin in Zimbabwe has surged amid a shortage of hard currency. Golix processed more than $1m of transactions in the past 30 days, compared with turnover of $100,000 for the whole of 2016, according to data on the exchange’s website. Zimbabwe doesn’t have its own currency, with the government adopting the US dollar and South African rand, among others, as legal tender in 2009 after hyperinflation rendered the local dollar worthless.

Golix, an unregulated platform that also trades other cryptocurrencies, has been in operation since 2014. Prices for Bitcoin are set by supply and demand, according to Taurai Chinyamakobvu, co-owner of the exchange. Sellers are paid in US dollars deposited electronically, which can only be converted at a steep discount on the black market.


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We knew Julian Assange hated Clinton. We didn’t know he was secretly advising Trump • The Intercept

Robert Mackey:


[Barrett Brown, who went to prison for posting a link to a Wikileaks dump of Stratfor documents because those included credit card details] was particularly outraged by an Oct. 26, 2016 message, in which Assange had appealed to Trump Jr. to let WikiLeaks publish one or more of his father’s tax returns in order to make his group’s attacks on Hillary Clinton seem less biased. “If we publish them it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality,” the Assange-controlled @Wikileaks account suggested. “That means that the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing on Clinton will have much higher impact, because it won’t be perceived as coming from a ‘pro-Trump’ ‘pro-Russia’ source, which the Clinton campaign is constantly slandering us with.”

As Brown pointed out in another tweet, it was all-caps exasperating that Assange was in this case “complaining about ‘slander’ of being pro-Trump IN THE ACTUAL COURSE OF COLLABORATING WITH TRUMP.”

The journalist, an Intercept contributor, whose work had been championed by WikiLeaks, also shared a link to a Reddit AMA conducted two days after the election in which WikiLeaks staff, including Assange’s longtime collaborator Sarah Harrison, had denied point-blank that they had collaborated with the Trump campaign.

“The allegations that we have colluded with Trump, or any other candidate for that matter, or with Russia, are just groundless and false,” the staffers wrote then. “We were not publishing with a goal to get any specific candidate elected.”

It is not surprising that Brown felt personally betrayed by Assange, since, as he explained on Facebook Tuesday night, “I went to prison because of my support for WikiLeaks.” Specifically, Brown said, the charges against him were related to his role in “operations to identify and punish members of the government and members of private companies that had been exposed by Anonymous hackers of my acquaintance, via email hacks, as having conspired to go after Assange, to go after WikiLeaks.”

That sort of activism, dedicated to making public secret wrongdoing, Brown argued, is very different from “colluding with an authoritarian presidential campaign backed by actual Nazis while publicly denying it.”


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Russian Twitter accounts promoted Brexit ahead of EU referendum: Times newspaper • Reuters


The Times cited research from an upcoming paper by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley, which it said showed accounts based in Russia had tweeted about Brexit in the days leading up to the June 23 vote.

The Times said most of the tweets seen by the newspaper encouraged people to vote for Brexit, although a number advocated remaining in the EU. It quoted Tho Pham, one of the paper’s authors, as saying “the main conclusion is that bots were used on purpose and had influence”.

The research tracked 156,252 Russian accounts that mentioned #Brexit, including one, Svetal1972 which posted 92 tweets between June 20 and 24, including one calling for Britain to “make June the 23rd our Independence Day”.

It said many of the messages appear to have come from automated accounts known as bots or from cyborg accounts which are heavily automated but have some human involvement.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million votes, or 51.9% of votes cast, backed leaving the EU while 16.1 million votes, or 48.1% of votes cast, backed staying.


Did it make all the difference? Unlikely. Did it make no difference? Also unlikely. So how much difference did it make?
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The best laptop ever made •

Marco Arment:


Apple has made many great laptops, but the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro (2012–2015) is the epitome of usefulness, elegance, practicality, and power for an overall package that still hasn’t been (and may never be) surpassed.

Introduced in 2012, less than a year after Steve Jobs died, I see it as the peak of Jobs’ vision for the Mac.

It was the debut of high-DPI Macs, starting down the long road (which we still haven’t finished) to an all-Retina lineup. And with all-SSD storage, quad-core i7 processors, and a healthy amount of RAM all standard, every configuration was fast, capable, and pleasant to use…

…I recently returned to the 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro after a year away.

Apple still sells this model, brand new, just limited to the integrated-only GPU option (which I prefer as a non-gamer for its battery, heat, and longevity advantages), but I got mine lightly used for over $1000 less.

I thought it would feel like a downgrade, or like going back in time. I feared that it would feel thick, heavy, and cumbersome. I expected it to just look impossibly old. It didn’t.

It feels as delightful as when I first got one in 2012. It’s fast, capable, and reliable. It gracefully does what I need it to do. It’s barely heavier or thicker, and I got to remove so many accessories from my travel bag that I think I’m actually coming out ahead.

It feels like a professional tool, made by people who love and need computers, at the top of their game. It’s designed for us, rather than asking us to adapt ourselves to it. It helps us perform our work, rather than adding to our workload.

This is the peak. This is the best laptop that has ever existed.


I’m typing this on a 2012 model. Recently got the battery replaced; Apple cleaned the whole thing. Like having a brand new machine.
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‘Unsafe and just plain dirty’: women accuse Vice of ‘toxic’ sexual-harassment culture • Daily Beast

Brandy Zadrozny:


In the summer of 2015, Phoebe Barghouty was 23 years old and had a new master’s degree in journalism from Stanford—but little other experience—when she landed what most of her peers would consider a dream job: associate producer at Vice’s Los Angeles bureau.

Though her job hadn’t technically started yet, her boss, then-Editor in Chief Jason Mojica, invited her to join the team at the L.A. Press Club Awards. After accepting an award for public service in journalism, the team from Vice—including Mojica and Kaj Larsen, the bureau chief who had hired Barghouty—celebrated with drinks. By the end of the night, Barghouty says a very drunk Larsen had brought up sex (musing about his chances with a group of “black girls” at the bar), asked her for a ride home, then passed out in her car.

“I had not even started work and he was being so inappropriate,” she remembers.

Things just got weirder.

Barghouty says within her first few weeks on the job, Larsen was asking her to meet him at his home in Venice Beach. She thought it was strange, but he was her boss so she complied. As she waited outside his house, she texted a friend her location—“like how you tell a friend before a Tinder date in case you get murdered”—when a shirtless Larsen walked up and told her to come wait inside his bungalow while he took a shower.


Got weirder still. Or creepy. Also shows this stuff is not limited to particular industries.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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