Start Up: spot that asteroid!, China’s foreign phone giant, earthquakes in 2018?, and more

The actor Paul Walker died in a car crash. He’s far from alone in the US, which is now an outlier in road deaths. Photo by dfirecop on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Try that for size. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

ESO observations show first interstellar asteroid is like nothing seen before • ESO


For the first time ever astronomers have studied an asteroid that has entered the Solar System from interstellar space. Observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that this unique object was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. It appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object. The new results appear in the journal Nature on 20 November 2017.

On 19 October 2017, the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i picked up a faint point of light moving across the sky. It initially looked like a typical fast-moving small asteroid, but additional observations over the next couple of days allowed its orbit to be computed fairly accurately. The orbit calculations revealed beyond any doubt that this body did not originate from inside the Solar System, like all other asteroids or comets ever observed, but instead had come from interstellar space. Although originally classified as a comet, observations from ESO and elsewhere revealed no signs of cometary activity after it passed closest to the Sun in September 2017. The object was reclassified as an interstellar asteroid and named 1I/2017 U1 (`Oumuamua) [1].

“We had to act quickly,” explains team member Olivier Hainaut from ESO in Garching, Germany. “`Oumuamua had already passed its closest point to the Sun and was heading back into interstellar space.”


Long, rocket-shaped, from outside the solar system, high metal content? Best left alone, I think.
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Surface Book 2 review: monster performance, but lightning hasn’t struck twice • Ars Technica UK

Peter Bright:


I’m no artist, and I’m not much of a tablet user. While I love the hybrid form factor, I love it for the same reason that I love the 360-degree hinge; I like to make the system an inverted V for watching movies and similar activities when flying, and I like to wrap the screen around all the way (to turn the thing into a chunky tablet) for watching movies in bed. As such, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about this 15-inch tablet. It’s an engineering marvel, without a doubt. But is it useful? For me, no. I would flip the screen around, but I can’t imagine ever using it detached from the base.

When introducing the Surface Book 2, Microsoft spoke extensively about the appeal the flexible machine had for creative, artistic users, and, in particular, users for whom the pen is not merely an optional extra but a core part of the value proposition. For them, the 15-inch tablet represents a member of a continuum; it’s one of a family of tablets: 12.3 inches in the Surface Pro, 13.5 and 15 inches in the Surface Book 2, and 28 inches for the Surface Studio. Those all support the same pens, and they all support Microsoft’s Surface Dial accessory. If you want that larger workspace that the 15-inch tablet offers, then the Surface Book 2 is likely to appeal.

Otherwise, the Surface Book 2 is really very similar to its predecessor. That’s good in lots of ways but disappointing in others.


He likes the build quality, lightness of its tablet, keyboard and touchpad. Doesn’t like: the connectivity – still doesn’t have Thunderbolt 3, whereas the MacBook Pro (which it’s priced against) does. That means it can’t drive dual 4K displays:


Microsoft has undoubtedly built a better Surface Book. What it hasn’t done, I think, is look at the rest of the market to ensure that it has built a better laptop.

I just can’t get over the lack of Thunderbolt 3. The 15-inch MacBook Pro has Thunderbolt 3. Dell’s XPS 15 has Thunderbolt 3. The 15-inch HP Spectre x360 has Thunderbolt 3. The Lenovo ThinkPad P51s has Thunderbolt 3. The (14-inch) Razer Blade has Thunderbolt 3. These are all systems operating in more or less the same space as the Surface Book 2…


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Samsung reportedly orders 3D components for Galaxy S9 facial recognition • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:


It has previously been reported that the Galaxy S9 facial recognition will be improved with a 3D sensor-equipped front camera. According to a new report, Samsung has already placed significant orders for 3D components that will power the improved facial recognition system. The new system is expected to be more accurate, fast and safer than the one on the Galaxy S8.

A report out of South Korea suggests that even though Samsung will opt for 3D hardware, it’s going to stick with 2D software for facial recognition. Perhaps Samsung wants to keep iris recognition onboard as it’s believed to be even safer.

The 3D sensor-equipped front camera might be useful for augmented and virtual reality experiences. It may also be used to power innovative new features like animated emojis.


So it wants to copy animoji, but not FaceID? That seems unambitious.
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How Vizag is putting land records on blockchain • Tech In Asia

Sumit Chakraberty:


Property fraud is rampant in India and takes many forms. It’s one of the biggest avenues for investing black money. One way is to hold property in other people’s names, and this practice is called benami, which means ‘false name.’

In this murky scene, the government does not only lose revenue, but buyers can also be duped when the same property is sold to multiple entities. What exacerbates it is rampant corruption. The Indian government introduced a new law and have seized benami properties worth US$282 million since November last year.

We have already given up a lot of our black boxes. We will lead this transformation.
Sprawled across 160,000 sq km on the east coast with a population of over 50 million, the state of Andhra Pradesh wants to use blockchain technology to tackle the problem. Blockchain’s immutability can make land records tamper-proof. Its visibility to multiple entities also makes the system transparent.

The state is running a pilot by Swedish startup ChromaWay to put land records on a blockchain in fintech hub Vizag.


Neat idea. Finally a real-world use for blockchain. Land registry is an important topic in developing countries.
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This dog sits on seven editorial boards • Atlas Obscura

Kelsey Kennedy:


An associate editor for the Global Journal of Addiction & Rehabilitation Medicine, Olivia Doll, lists some very unusual research interests, such as “avian propinquity to canines in metropolitan suburbs” and “the benefits of abdominal massage for medium-sized canines.” That’s probably because Olivia Doll is a Staffordshire terrier named Ollie who enjoys chasing birds and getting belly rubs. In all her spare time, Ollie also has sat on the editorial boards of not one, but seven, medical journals.

Ollie’s owner, Mike Daube, is a professor of health policy at Australia’s Curtin University. He initially signed his dog up for the positions as a joke, with credentials such as an affiliation at the Subiaco College of Veterinary Science. But soon, he told Perth Now in a video, he realized it was a chance to show just how predatory some journals can be.

“Every academic gets several of these emails a day, from sham journals,” he said. “They’re trying to take advantage of gullible younger academics, gullible researchers” who want more publications to add to their CVs. These journals may look prestigious, but they charge researchers to publish and don’t check credentials or peer review articles. And this is precisely how a dog could make it onto their editorial boards.”


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America is now an outlier on driving deaths • The New York Times

David Leonhardt:


This week, millions of Americans will climb into their cars to visit family. Unfortunately, they will have to travel on the most dangerous roads in the industrialized world.

It didn’t used to be this way. A generation ago, driving in the United States was relatively safe. Fatality rates here in 1990 were roughly 10% lower than in Canada and Australia, two other affluent nations with a lot of open road.

Over the last few decades, however, other countries have embarked on evidence-based campaigns to reduce vehicle crashes. The United States has not. The fatality rate has still fallen here, thanks partly to safer vehicles, but it’s fallen far less than anywhere else.

As a result, this country has turned into a disturbing outlier. Our vehicle fatality rate is about 40% higher than Canada’s or Australia’s. The comparison with Slovenia is embarrassing. In 1990, its death rate was more than five times as high as ours. Today, the Slovenians have safer roads.


The main cause? Excessive speed and failure to use seatbelts (one in seven Americans doesn’t).
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China’s Transsion dominates African mobile phone market • FT

Tom Hancock:


Globally, Transsion is number four in terms of units sold after Samsung, Apple and China’s Huawei, according to IDC, though low prices mean it is only the 13th largest phone manufacturer by sales value.

Since launching in 2016, Itel phones have also captured an 8% share of India’s handset market, making it the third largest brand, according to Counterpoint Research, a consultancy. This success has been thanks to cheap prices and good distribution, said Tarun Pathak, an analyst at Counterpoint Research.

Transsion took an unusual route of ignoring the Chinese market to build its sales in sub-Saharan Africa, adapting low-cost phones to local tastes. For instance, its handsets feature multiple sim-card slots, camera software adapted to better-capture darker skin tones, and speakers with enhanced bass. 

Sales in Africa could top 100m units this year, helping the company generate more than Rmb20bn ($3bn) in revenue, said founder and chief executive Zhu Zhaojiang. “I don’t target the highest-income consumers who would buy Apple or Samsung,” he added.

The company will export 120m handsets this year, according to Mr Zhu — making it China’s largest phone exporter by volume, though margins are lower than rivals due to the lower-cost of Transsion phones, which can sell for as little as $10.


Nokia gave up too soon.
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Greenify also among those accused of misusing accessibility services, weighs in on the matter • AndroidAuthority

Williams Pelegrin:


Greenify developer Oasis Feng… took to Google+ to share that he received a 30-day notice from Google about the potential “misuse” of accessibility services in Greenify. In the post, Feng acknowledged that there are negatives to the use of accessibility services, such as performance lag and becoming a target of malware.

On the flip side, Feng equates accessibility services to Android’s version of Pandora’s box, since they let you set up automation of certain tasks, trigger global actions, and overlay your screen. As we’ve seen with apps like LastPass, which has also been targeted by Google’s changes, accessibility services also allow for functions like autofill passwords, so Feng’s metaphor is not far from the truth.

With that being said, Feng’s biggest concern is concerned that Google will use its standing to “judge the ‘proper use’ of Android API,” even if that use is not for malware:


“I understand the complexity and historical reasons that lead [sic] to the current situation, but feel sorry and sad about how Google deals with this situation, by banishing popular tool apps.”



It seems a bit weird to tell Google what it can and can’t allow in the Play Store based on how something uses the Android API. That’s really Google’s choice. There are other app stores, and also sideloading. LastPass, meanwhile, seems to have received a golden ticket.
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Upsurge in big earthquakes predicted for 2018 as Earth rotation slows • The Guardian

Robin McKie:


Scientists have warned there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes around the world next year. They believe variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions.

Although such fluctuations in rotation are small – changing the length of the day by a millisecond – they could still be implicated in the release of vast amounts of underground energy, it is argued.

The link between Earth’s rotation and seismic activity was highlighted last month in a paper by Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in Boulder and Rebecca Bendick of the University of Montana in Missoula presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

“The correlation between Earth’s rotation and earthquake activity is strong and suggests there is going to be an increase in numbers of intense earthquakes next year,” Bilham told the Observer last week.

In their study, Bilham and Bendick looked at earthquakes of magnitude 7 and greater that had occurred since 1900. “Major earthquakes have been well recorded for more than a century and that gives us a good record to study,” said Bilham.


Well there’s something to look forward to. Anyone read The Age of Miracles? Splendid book in which the slowing of the Earth’s rotation is just the beginning.
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More China entry-level VR, smartphone vendors to exit markets • Digitimes

Max Wang and Willis Ke:


many China firms were rushing to join the retail market for simple VR headsets and boxes after Google Cardboard was launched in 2014. As of January 2016, there were as many as 350 China-based brand vendors engaged in retail sales of such products, particularly VR boxes.

Although China now still commands nearly 50% of the global market supply of VR boxes, the sources continued, the number of China’s brand vendors of budget-priced VR boxes and headsets has sharply shrunk to 190 now for failing to survive the changing market scenarios, in that all-in-one VR devices boast a growing variety of functions and ever-improving performance while the prices of high-end VR products have also been on the decline.

The withdrawal of those players without core competitiveness from the VR market will make the VR industry get on a healthy development track, as it will help to balance the market supply and demand to enhance market stability, industry insiders said, adding that the VR industry is marching toward a stable growth stage with continuous declines in VR headset prices, increasing VR experiences by consumers and the availability of more VR titles.

On another front, China’s brand vendors of lower-end smartphones are also plagued by the same woes facing those of budget-priced VR devices. As cost/performance ratio and brand image are key consumer concerns in buying smartphones, and first-tier vendors as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi Technology boast strong cost competitiveness for volume production, the market leeway left for vendors of entry-level models has suffered a drastic shrinkage. Statistics showed that the number of online smartphone brand vendors has decreased to around 120 for the moment from over 200 seen in September 2016, according to industry sources.


The exit of smaller players will inevitably lead to higher prices: although the bigger companies will get economies of scale, the chunk of the market that was essentially venture- or bank-funded (and hence happy to work at negative margin) will vanish.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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2 thoughts on “Start Up: spot that asteroid!, China’s foreign phone giant, earthquakes in 2018?, and more

  1. “So it wants to copy animoji, but not FaceID? That seems unambitious.”

    ??? Samsung and Android for have had Face Unlock since 2015. That’s a coarser method based on a 2D picture, but still… Samsung also added Iris scanning a while back.

    • Face Unlock isn’t an authentication system; more of a recognition system. Can’t be used for Android Pay or Samsung Pay as I recall. The iris recognition is slow, by reports I e seen, compared to FaceID. Apple wasn’t first with fingerprint recognition on a phone, but did it better. Seems much the same applying on face authentication.

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