Start Up: killer Pokemon Go, the anonymity of memes, Samsung’s ballsy battery, damn you CAPTCHA!, and more


Tumblr activity is declining. How long has it got? Photo by Scott Beale on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How a Radio Shack robbery could spur a new era in digital privacy • The New York Times

There’s a Supreme Court case with a decision expected in June which could have a huge effect on privacy law in the US:

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The case concerns Timothy Ivory Carpenter, who witnesses said had planned the robberies, supplied guns and served as lookout, typically waiting in a stolen car across the street. “At his signal, the robbers entered the store, brandished their guns, herded customers and employees to the back, and ordered the employees to fill the robbers’ bags with new smartphones,” a court decision said, summarizing the evidence against him.

In addition to presenting testimony, prosecutors relied on months of records obtained from cellphone companies to prove their case. The records showed that Mr. Carpenter’s phone had been nearby when several of the robberies happened. He was convicted and sentenced to 116 years in prison.

Mr. Carpenter’s lawyers said cellphone companies had turned over 127 days of records that placed his phone at 12,898 locations, based on information from cellphone towers. Prosecutors could tell whether he had slept at home on given nights and whether he attended his usual church on Sunday mornings.

“Never before in the history of policing has the government had the time machine it has here,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Mr. Carpenter. Mr. Wessler said prosecutors should be required to obtain a warrant when they seek more than 24 hours’ worth of location data.

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link to this extract


Death by Pokémon GO • SSRN

Mara Faccio and John McConnell, both of Purdue University:

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Based on detailed police accident reports for Tippecanoe County, Indiana, and using the introduction of the virtual reality game Pokémon GO as a natural experiment, we document a disproportionate increase in vehicular crashes and associated vehicular damage, personal injuries, and fatalities in the vicinity of locations, called PokéStops, where users can play the game while driving.

The results are robust to using points of play, called Gyms, that cannot be used to play the game while driving as a placebo.

We estimate the total incremental county-wide cost of users playing Pokémon GO while driving, including the value of the two incremental human lives lost, to be in the range of $5.2m to $25.5m over only the 148 days following the introduction of the game. Extrapolation of these estimates to nation-wide levels yields a total ranging from $2bn to $7.3bn for the same period.

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That’s quite a cost. And don’t forget there are confirmed reports of people dying in crashes while texting, tweeting, etc.
link to this extract


Samsung hails ‘graphene ball’ battery success • FT

Song Jung-a:

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Samsung said the graphene-based battery would take just 12 minutes to be fully charged; current lithium-ion batteries take about an hour. The new battery could also be used for electric vehicles, as it can maintain stability at up to 60 degrees Celsius. 

The company has stepped up its research into battery technology in the wake of last year’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone safety debacle. The recall and subsequent withdrawal of the fire-prone model cost the company more than $5bn, and some of the phones caught fire due to faulty lithium-ion batteries, according to Samsung.

SAIT has developed a way to use silica to synthesise graphene like three-dimensional popcorn, and use the graphene “balls” as material for advanced lithium-ion batteries, the company said. Samsung has applied for patents for the technology in South Korea and the US. 

According to experts, graphene is more energy efficient so it allows room for other cathode materials. As a result, smartphones with graphene-based batteries can be slimmer and lighter but with a greater capacity.

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link to this extract


A sense of units and scale for electrical energy production and consumption • Our World in Data

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser:

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To make our full data entry on Energy Production & Changing Energy Sources as useful and clear as possible, we have standardized all of our energy data into a single energy unit: the watt-hour (Wh). The only variation on the watt-hour which we have used is in scaling large numbers into kilowatt, megawatt or gigawatt-hours (which are one thousand, million, and billion watt-hours, respectively). The base unit of the watt-hour, however, remains consistent. This should help to reduce confusion for the first of the three reasons [described earlier in the blogpost].

To address the latter two challenges we have produced the chart shown below, which aims to provide a sense of scale for both electricity production and consumption [clicking on this chart offers a pop-out version, for which some finer aspects can be more easily read]. It is comprised of two scales: electricity production and electricity consumption. On the left-hand side we have a chart which extends from zero up to 100,000 MWh. The individual arrows represent the daily electrical outputs of different plant types; as we see, there is a large range of outputs depending on the size and conditions of the specific facility. The average daily output of specific power plants (some of which you may recognize) are shown and labelled as individual stars.

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This is useful.
link to this extract


A Thanksgiving carol: how those smart engineers at Twitter screwed me • Errata Security

Rob Graham, at his parents for Thanksgiving, is helping to stop his mum being bothered by Twitter email notifications:

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It’s now obvious my mom accidentally clicked on the [Confirm] button. I don’t have any proof she did, but it’s the only reasonable explanation. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gotten the “Moments” messages. My mom disputed this, emphatically insisting she never clicked on the emails.

It’s at this point that I made a great mistake, saying:

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Twitter has very smart engineers. What’s the chance they made the mistake here, or…”.

I recognized condescension of words as they came out of my mouth, but dug myself deeper with:

“…or that the user made the error?”

This was wrong to say even if I were right. I have no excuse. I mean, maybe I could argue that it’s really her fault, for not raising me right, but no, this is only on me.

Regardless of what caused the Twitter emails, the problem needs to be fixed. The solution is to take control of the Twitter account by using the password reset feature. I went to the Twitter login page, clicked on “Lost Password”, got the password reset message, and reset the password. I then reconfigured the account to never send anything to my mom again.

But when I logged in I got an error saying the account had not yet been confirmed. I paused. The family dog eyed me in wise silence. My mom hadn’t clicked on the [Confirm] button – the proof was right there.

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So how the hell is she getting the emails? All will be explained.
link to this extract


Hundreds of iPhone users complain about the word ‘It’ autocorrecting to ‘I.T’ on iOS 11 • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

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Many users claim the apparent autocorrect bug persists even after rebooting the device and performing other basic troubleshooting.

A temporary workaround is to tap Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement and enter “it” as both the phrase and shortcut, but some users insist this solution does not solve the problem.

A less ideal workaround is to toggle off auto-correction and/or predictive suggestions completely under Settings > General > Keyboard.

The issue is notable given Apple just recently addressed a similar bug that caused the letter “i” to autocorrect to “A[?]” on iOS 11 and later. The fix was included in iOS 11.1.1, publicly released in early November.

This similar “it” to “I.T” issue does not appear to be fixed in iOS 11.1.1 and later. It’s unclear if a future software update will be required to address the problem…

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Seems as though Apple is being too aggressive with the machine learning applied to typing.
link to this extract


Tumblr is tumbling • Medium

Álex Barredo:

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Less than a year after the deal was closed, Tumblr peaked in activity. By February of 2014, there were more than 106m new posts each day on the platform. Today that figure has been slashed by two thirds to around 35m.


Tumblr peak of activity was between Dec 2013 and February 2014 (Álex Barredo)

These figures are derived by tracking the incremental unique identification of every new post on Tumblr. By comparing it with the date of the posts themselves, we can know a very close to exact number of posts made a day. The figures are backed up by Tumblr’s public stats (which isn’t updated constantly, so it’s not easy to get exact data) as archived on the Internet Wayback Machine for different times in history.

The number of new blogs created every day has also decreased. Every day, more than 130,000 blogs are created, according to Tumblr public stats. That metric is half of what it was at its peak, also in early 2014, when more than 240,000 new blogs were opened on the platform every day, a 45% decrease.

With new blogs and new posts going down every month, it’s hard to see how many actual users are left on the platform. Tumblr has never publicly disclosed active accounts figures, a semi-standard way of measuring engagement in social platforms.

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There might be some sort of floor for use, but there’s no sign it has been hit yet. Separately, founder David Karp announced on Monday that he’s leaving. Funny thing: in August 2013 it was revealed that if he stayed for at least four years, he’d get a $110m earn-out from the $1bn purchase.
link to this extract


The many faces of “Distracted Boyfriend” • I/O – Medium

Leigh Alexander:

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We are reconsidering and rediscovering what “truth” means in a world where plentiful, malleable, manipulable digital society looms larger and larger. On one hand, the word “empathy” comes up frequently in tech industry conversation around how to help users feel a sense of human relationship toward others when they are not present or “real” in the familiar sense, or when some kind of interface is involved. On the other hand, many people say they struggle with overwhelm, suddenly hyperconnected to the real, daily stories of people suffering from natural disasters, state violence, racism, or abuse.

Under these circumstances, stock photos are the ideal medium for public cartooning. They are the only thing left on the internet that is “anonymous,” in a sense — the people in the photos are often white actors pretending to be people in generic or inane situations, and thus are some of the few uncomplicated targets left. They are pictures of what we used to believe the world looked like, before the internet made us real to each other, for better or worse.

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This is a wonderful essay. There are two others, previous to it. One about “the slimy Technicolor world of satisfying YouTube videos” takes you to quite a strange place.
link to this extract


Linux champion Munich will switch to Windows 10 in €50m rollout • ZDNet

Nick Heath:

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Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said the move to Windows 10 [on 29,000 PCs, beginning in 2020 for two years] is necessary to simplify the management of the city’s desktops. By switching the Windows 10, he says the council will no longer have to run two desktop operating systems side-by-side. Reiter was referring to a longstanding practice at Munich of running both LiMux and a minority of Windows machines, which are kept for applications not compatible with Linux and where virtualization is not an option.

“We always had mixed systems and what we have here is the possibility of going over to a single system. Having two operating systems is completely uneconomic,” he said, speaking at the full council meeting yesterday where the move to Windows was approved.

There is disagreement over what proportion of machines run Windows, with critics of the current setup saying it is as high as 40% PCs, while others argue it stands at about 20%. That said, the council has been running both systems side-by-side for more than 10 years, but has only recently highlighted managing twin systems as a problem.

Beyond simplifying the city’s desktop estate, Mayor Reiter said a return to Windows was needed to resolve unhappiness with the performance of Munich’s IT.

“I’ve never said I’m an expert in IT procurement. But I’m backed by 6,000 co-workers who also aren’t satisfied with the performance of the existing systems,” he said.

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Didn’t want to try Chromebooks?
link to this extract


Google’s CAPTCHAs don’t prove you’re human – they prove you’re American • Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden:

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A few days ago, I had to complete a CAPTCHA. One of those irritating little web tests which is supposed to prove that you are a human. Here’s what I got:

Guess what, Google? Taxis in my country are generally black. I’ve watched enough movies to know that all of the ones in America are yellow. But in every other country I’ve visited, taxis have been a mish-mash of different hues.

This annoys me. Will Google’s self driving cars simply not recognise London’s Black Cabs? Will any yellow car in the UK be classified as a taxi by the infallible algorithm? Will Google refuse to believe I’m human simply because I don’t know what a Twinkie is?

Before sticking a comment below, riddle me this – if something costs a half-a-crown, and you pay with a florin, how many tanners will you get in your change?

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Add this to the “British children saying ‘call 911′”.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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One thought on “Start Up: killer Pokemon Go, the anonymity of memes, Samsung’s ballsy battery, damn you CAPTCHA!, and more

  1. Errata: All of the taxis in America are NOT yellow. See http://time.com/4640097/yellow-taxi-cabs-history/ . There’s regulations about common New York City taxis and the color yellow. But that’s neither all taxis nor all America. That CAPTCHA is even more provincial. This looks to be an amusing example of a common media-representation taken as a universal aspect.

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