Start Up: Facebook’s Russian pointers, bitcoin’s electric ranking, stop Excel!, a new iPhone SE?, and more

LED streetlights might not be reducing light output after all. Photo by meltedplastic on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Suntory time. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook to show users which Russian propaganda they followed • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:


Facebook Inc. will show people which Russian propaganda pages or accounts they’ve followed and liked on the social network, responding to a request from Congress to address manipulation and meddling during the 2016 presidential election.

The tool will appear by the end of the year in Facebook’s online support center, the company said in a blog post Wednesday. It will answer the user question, “How can I see if I’ve liked or followed a Facebook page or Instagram account created by the Internet Research Agency?” That’s the Russian firm that created thousands of incendiary posts from fake accounts posing as U.S. citizens. People will see a list of the accounts they followed, if any, from January 2015 through August 2017.

It’s Facebook’s most direct effort to explain to users how they may have been affected by the IRA’s postings, which reached an estimated 150 million people and stirred up controversy over gun rights, immigration, race relations and religion in the U.S., sometimes prompting real-world protests on both sides of a debate. 


I bet this won’t make the slightest bit of difference to those who’ve been persuaded by said propaganda.
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The switch to outdoor LED lighting has completely backfired • Gizmodo

George Dvorsky:


Using satellite-based sensors, an international team of scientists sought to understand if our planet’s surface is getting brighter or darker at night, and to determine if LEDs are saving energy at the global scale. With the introduction of solid-state lighting—such as LEDs, OLEDs, and PLEDs—it was thought (and hoped) that the transition to it from conventional lighting—like electrical filaments, gas, and plasma—would result in big energy savings. According to the latest research, however, the use of LEDs has resulted in a “rebound” effect whereby many jurisdictions have opted to use even more light owing to the associated energy savings.

Indeed, as the new results show, the amount of outdoor lighting around the world has increased during the past several years. “As a result, the world has experienced widespread ‘loss of the night,’ with half of Europe and a quarter of North America experiencing substantially modified light-dark cycles,” write the researchers in the new study, which was published today in Scientific Advances.


Well huh.
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Bitcoin mining now consuming more electricity than 159 countries including Ireland and most countries in Africa • Powercompare


Bitcoin’s ongoing meteoric price rise has received the bulk of recent press attention with a lot of discussion around whether or not it’s a bubble waiting to burst.

However, most the coverage has missed out one of the more interesting and unintended consequences of this price increase. That is the surge in global electricity consumption used to “mine” more Bitcoins.

According to Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, as of Monday November 20th, 2017 Bitcoin’s current estimated annual electricity consumption stands at 29.05TWh.

That’s the equivalent of 0.13% of total global electricity consumption. While that may not sound like a lot, it means Bitcoin mining is now using more electricity than 159 individual countries (as you can see from the map above). More than Ireland or Nigeria.


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Apple research paper details LiDAR-based 3D object recognition for autonomous vehicle navigation • Apple Insider

Mikey Campbell on the article published by Apple researchers on ArXiv:


LiDAR point clouds, generated by emitting laser pulses and logging the time it takes for the light to return after bouncing off a solid surface, are sparse and have highly variable point density, thus causing a host of problems.

Current state-of-the-art techniques designed to manage data interpretation involve manually creating feature representations for said point clouds. Some methods project point clouds into a bird’s eye perspective view, while others transform the data into 3D voxel grids and encode each voxel with certain features. Manually crafting feature representations introduce an “information bottleneck” that restricts such systems from efficiently leveraging 3D shape information, according to Apple.

Instead, Zhou and Tuzel propose the implementation of a trainable deep architecture for point cloud based 3D detection. The framework, called VoxelNet, uses voxel feature encoding (VFE) layers to learn complex features for characterizing 3D shapes. In particular, the technique breaks down the point cloud into 3D voxels, encodes the voxels via stacked VFE layers and renders a volumetric representation.

In tests, Apple’s methodology showed promise, outperforming current LiDAR based detection algorithms and image-based approaches “by a large margin.” This is according to evaluations run through the KITTI 3D object detection benchmark, which Apple used to assess its process. VoxelNet was trained to detect three basic objects — car, pedestrian and cyclist — in a variety of tests.


Publishing this seems more like a statement of intent than anything: pointing out that it could do this if it wanted.
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iPhone SE 2 again rumoured to launch in first half of 2018 • Mac Rumors


Joe Rossignol: The rumored release date window lines up with an earlier report from Focus Taiwan claiming a new iPhone SE will ship in the first quarter of 2018, which encompasses January through March of next year.

Apple introduced the current iPhone SE at a media event on March 21, 2016, and the device launched later that month. Given the rumored launch dates, the iPhone SE 2 could certainly be unveiled in March too.

Indian website Tekz24 previously reported that the next-generation iPhone SE will be powered by Apple’s A10 Fusion chip, with 2GB of RAM, 32GB and 128GB storage capacities, a 12-megapixel rear camera, a five-megapixel front camera, and a slightly larger 1,700 mAh battery.

Tekz24 isn’t a website we’re familiar with, and it doesn’t have an established track record of reporting on Apple rumors, so don’t place too much faith in those tech specs until if and when they are confirmed by other sources.


Makes sense. The SE has a solid demand, even if it isn’t large; nothing really needs to be done to update it except change the internals.
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Stop using Excel, finance chiefs tell staffs • WSJ

Tatyana Shumsky:


Finance chiefs say the ubiquitous spreadsheet software that revolutionized accounting in the 1980s hasn’t kept up with the demands of contemporary corporate finance units. Errors can bloom because data in Excel is separated from other systems and isn’t automatically updated.

Older versions of Excel don’t allow multiple users to work together in one document, hampering collaboration. There is also a limit to how much data can be pulled into a single document, which can slow down analysis.

“Excel just wasn’t designed to do some of the heavy lifting that companies need to do in finance,” said Paul Hammerman, a business applications analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Instead, companies are turning to new, cloud-based technologies from Anaplan Inc., Workiva Inc., Adaptive Insights and their competitors.

The newer software connects with existing accounting and enterprise resource management systems, including those made by Oracle Corp. or SAP SE . This lets accountants aggregate, analyze and report data on one unified platform, often without additional training.

Adobe switched to Anaplan early last year and many of the tasks previously performed in spreadsheets are now done in the system, maintaining “one source of truth,” Mr. Garrett said.

Reports, including about head count, are compiled faster, he said.


If this really happens at any scale, it will be a serious problem for Microsoft. Next, people might wonder whether they need all those formatting options in Word.
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HDR mindshare: As awareness grows, so does confusion • FierceCable

Kendra Chamberlain:


“This is really the first major year of promotional activities for HDR,” said David Mercer, VP and principal analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Mercer estimates HDR-capable sets are available in nearly 5% of North American homes this year. “It’s very early days, in terms of adoption of TVs that can actually show HDR,” Mercer said. “We’re still very much at the beginning of the adoption curve.”

And despite its industry support—which is markedly more widespread than 4K—there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome before we see ecosystem-wide support and deployments for HDR.

As consumer awareness of HDR grows, so too does the complexity of offerings. From marketing messaging around HDR used by TV makers, to the growing pool of proprietary end-to-end solutions offered by vendors, to the at times confusing certification taxonomy, consumer confusion abounds.

“There are more pieces to the value chain puzzle for consumers to have to figure out,” said Paul Gagnon, director of TV sets research at IHS Markit’s technology, media and telecom division. “If you have an HDR television, and HDR source device, like a Blu-ray player or the new Apple TV 4K, and you have HDR content from Netflix or Blu-ray—well that doesn’t necessarily mean that you still get HDR.”


I wonder if I can even see the difference.
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Twitter, it’s time to end your anything-goes paradise • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:


As I’ve argued before, Twitter has become the small bowel of the American news landscape — the place where the narratives you see on prime-time cable are first digested and readied for wider consumption. It’s no accident that it is President Trump’s social network of choice. And it’s also no accident that foreign powers are attracted to Twitter. According to its recent congressional testimony, Twitter was a primary target of Russian trolls who sought to influence last year’s presidential election; collectively, trolls created millions of election-related tweets, according to the company, some of which were widely cited across the media.

It is precisely because of Twitter’s wider social importance that even nonusers should demand fixes to how it works. Besides the propaganda problem, at the moment — as Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and chief executive, recently acknowledged — Twitter is a hostile place for women, minorities and many others, who are routinely barraged by threats and hate speech.

Twitter now concedes that its system for mitigating some of these problems, the verification badge, has been badly mismanaged. The blue check system started out as a simple way to verify a person’s identity — a kind of trademark for ensuring that a tweet from an account with the name Donald J. Trump had come from the real Donald J. Trump.

But Twitter’s system for giving out the checks was never very transparent or logical.


“The small bowel of the internet”. There’s a way to think of it.
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Apple acquired augmented reality headset startup Vrvana for $30M • TechCrunch

Lucas Matney:


As Apple reportedly ramps up work to ship an augmented reality headset in 2020, it has acquired a startup from Montreal, Canada that could help it get there. TechCrunch has learned that Apple has acquired Vrvana, maker of the Totem headset — which had rave reviews but never shipped. The deal was for around $30 million, two sources tell TechCrunch.

We contacted Apple, and the company declined to comment, but also did not deny the story. Vrvana did not reply to our request for comment. Sources close to the deal have confirmed the acquisition to us.

The deal is significant because while we have seen reports and rumors about Apple’s interest in AR hardware, the company has been very tight-lipped and generally is very secretive about completely new, future products. This acquisition is perhaps the clearest indicator yet of what the company is hoping to develop.

A number of the startup’s employees have joined Apple in California. The Vrvana site is currently still up, but it stopped updating social accounts and news in August of this year.

It’s not clear what of Vrvana’s existing products, product roadmap or current business — it worked with Valve, Tesla, Audi and others under NDA — will be making its way to Apple.


Give it a few years.
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Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot boxes investigated by Belgian Gaming Commission •

Vic Hood:


ORIGINAL STORY 3:00PM: The Belgian Gaming Commission is investigating whether loot box systems used in Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Overwatch qualify as gambling.

Originally reported by VTM (via Gamasutra), the general director of the the Belgian Gaming Commission, Peter Naessens, told the local news outlet the commission is investigating whether the loot box mechanisms used in Battlefront 2 and Overwatch should be branded as gambling.

The debate over loot boxes, and whether they should be considered gambling, feels like it has reached breaking point. Star Wars Battlefront 2 has been at the forefront of the controversial topic in recent weeks with EA receiving a huge amount of backlash over its use of loot crates in Battlefront 2.

UPDATE 4:15PM: According to Dutch news outlet, the Dutch Gambling Authority has now launched an investigation into whether games with loot boxes are games of chance.

In the Netherlands, games of chance are subject to licencing laws – however there is currently no licencing system for online games. The investigation is still in the research phase however could result in games containing gambling to be banned from sale until new laws are brought in.

UPDATE 4:45PM: In response to Eurogamer’s request for comment, EA has issued the following statement: “Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront 2 are not gambling. A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game.”


Seems simple enough to me: if you’re paying money for something where the reward is governed by chance, that’s gambling.

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Apple and Samsung dominate UK smartphone market in 3Q17 • Counterpoint Research


Research director Peter Richardson added, “The Apple iPhone 7 was the bestselling smartphone and contributed to 15% of the total smartphones sold in Q3 2017. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus were second and third. Samsung also has a strong range across all price bands and it, together with Huawei, provided a strong volume platform that was resilient to attack from most other brands.”

Speaking about UK distribution channels, Peter Richardson said, “The UK operators and retailers have developed one of the best multi-channel distribution systems worldwide; few other countries offer quite the same level of sophistication. However, the limited range of brands offered in volume by the main operators means that market share is concentrated among just a few players. We don’t see this changing any time soon as distribution power is, if anything, being increasingly focused among the main operators.”

UK Bestselling Smartphone Rankings – Q3 2017 UK Smartphone Sales Ranking and Market Share – Q3 2017

Market Summary
• UK handset market declined 8% YOY in Q3 2017.
• Smartphone penetration reached 93% of all the mobile phones sold in the quarter.
• Top 5 brands account for almost 90% of the smartphone sales in Q3 2017.
• Apple continues to be the bestselling brand followed by Samsung. Chinese vendors Huawei, Alcatel and Motorola capture the next position in the UK smartphone market.
• In the premium segment Apple led the smartphone market followed by Samsung.


That’s some concentration. Five brands doing 90% of business. Apple and Samsung capturing more than 80% of the value.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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One thought on “Start Up: Facebook’s Russian pointers, bitcoin’s electric ranking, stop Excel!, a new iPhone SE?, and more

  1. I must be missing something in that lighting paper. LED lighting is more than *5 times* as efficient as incandescent lighting (1600 lumens is about 100 watts from incandescent, and less than 20 watts from LED, down to maybe15 watts in better versions). You could simultaneously double the amount of light used, and end up with less than half the energy usage. Yet they say “Major (factor of 2 or more) reductions in the energy cost and environmental impact of lighting should be accompanied by large absolute decreases in light emissions observable from space.”. That seems just mathematically wrong to me, in not taking into account that LED lighting is so much more efficient.

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