Start Up: Amazon’s smart camera, Apple fixes root bug, Buzzfeed cuts, PCs to fall further, and more


American Airlines has a ticklish problem with its pilots this Christmas. Photo by Nick Chill Photograph on Flickr.

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

AWS launches DeepLens artificial intelligence camera • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

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The high-definition DeepLens camera, which AWS is revealing Wednesday at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, ships with pretrained models that will make it easier for developers to start doing things like recognizing text characters that appear in a video stream. Alternatively, developers will be able to train their own image recognition models with the help of AWS’ new SageMaker AI service and then run those models on the camera.

DeepLens is coming out two months after Google — one of Amazon’s top cloud competitors — unveiled the Clips AI-powered camera, which captures photos and videos when interesting things happen in front of it.

But while Clips is intended for consumers and therefore could one day contribute meaningful revenue to Google parent company Alphabet, DeepLens is aimed at a more technical audience.

“It’s really designed to allow everyday developers to get experience doing machine learning and deep learning,” Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS, told CNBC’s Jon Fortt in an interview this week.

In that sense, DeepLens bears a resemblance to Dash Buttons that AWS has previously sold to developers. A Dash Button is a dead-simple gadget with a single large button. Using AWS services, developers could control what happened when people pushed the button.

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link to this extract


BuzzFeed is laying off 100 employees after missing its revenue goals • Recode

Peter Kafka:

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BuzzFeed is laying off about 100 employees — about 6% of its workforce — after it failed to hit its 2017 revenue targets.

And Greg Coleman, the longtime digital advertising executive who joined the company as its president in 2014, is moving out as well. BuzzFeed is looking for a chief operating officer to take on some of his duties.

The cuts come as digital publishers worry that most of the money online advertisers are spending is going to two companies: Google and Facebook.

In a memo to his staff, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti described 2017 as a “transformational year” and said the company “dramatically grew.” But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the company’s 2017 revenue fell short of its target by 15% to 20 percent, and investors and managers are worried about its spending.

Peretti says the cuts will affect the company’s business staff in the U.S. and both business and editorial staff in the U.K. He says the company will restructure its business team to help it diversify its revenue streams away from its dependence on “native” advertising.

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link to this extract


Despite pockets of growth the personal computing device market is expected to decline at a -2% CAGR through 2021 • IDC

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Traditional PC shipments are expected to drop from 260.2m units in 2016 to 248.1m in 2021 units, resulting in a five-year CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of -0.9%. However, when detachable tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro are added in, the five-year CAGR improves to +0.3%. Out of the five major product categories in the PCD market, desktops and slates will continue to decline over the duration of the forecast, while detachable tablets, workstations, and notebook PCs will show signs of volume improvement.

Although the 0.3% CAGR is positive news, examining the market along geographic lines shows the PCD market will continue to face challenges in growing both volume as well as margins. With over 69% of shipments in emerging markets going toward traditional notebooks and slate tablets in 2021, price points remain very sensitive in countries once pegged as ripe for growth. Conversely, while convertibles and ultraslim notebooks have found increased favor in developed markets, China will be the only developing market among the top 10 markets for these devices in 2021.

“Detachable tablets are expected to see double-digit growth from 2018 through 2021,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “Windows-based detachables already count for close to 50% of the volume in this category and this isn’t expected to change much over the duration of the forecast. Apple’s iPad Pro lineup will remain at 30-35% of the category with the remainder going to Google-based devices. It is clear this is a category that has the interest and now investments from both PC and smartphone OEMs, but when looking at the overall PCD market it accounts for just 5% of volume in 2017, growing to 9.4% in 2021.”

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link to this extract


Union says over 15,000 American Air flights in December have no pilots assigned • Reuters

Alana Wise:

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Thousands of December flights on American Airlines (AAL.O) do not yet have pilots scheduled to work because of a system scheduling error, the carrier’s pilots union said as it gears up for one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

A glitch in the system that bids for pilots’ time off based on seniority is behind the shortage, the Allied Pilots Association union said. The group estimated that more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 17-31 – a critical holiday travel period – were affected.

“Basically there’s a crisis at American for manning the cockpits,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

The system error was disclosed to pilots on Friday, the union said.

“We are working through this to make sure we take care of our pilots and get our customers where they need to go over the holiday,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said on Wednesday.

In an email sent to employees, American had offered pilots extra pay to work certain flights in the busy holiday period, but a grievance filed by the union against management said that the restrictions on overtime pay were a violation of the group’s contract.

As of early on Wednesday, the union said management had still not reached out to discuss how best to resolve the shortage.

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It’s not a “glitch in the system”. The computer worked fine. The programmers screwed up. Maybe they were at Ryanair before or something.
link to this extract


Apple releases macOS High Sierra security fix for critical root vulnerability • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:

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While the security vulnerability was a rather serious one, Apple has promptly responded with a fix less than 24 hours after it became public. The issue did not affect older versions of macOS, although there doesn’t appear to be a fix available for macOS 10.13.2 beta yet as the fix (downloadable here) only appears to apply to macOS 10.13.1 for now.

Apple issued this statement to 9to5Mac following the software fix:

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Security is a top priority for every Apple product, and regrettably we stumbled with this release of macOS.

When our security engineers became aware of the issue Tuesday afternoon, we immediately began working on an update that closes the security hole. This morning, as of 8 a.m., the update is available for download, and starting later today it will be automatically installed on all systems running the latest version (10.13.1) of macOS High Sierra.

We greatly regret this error and we apologize to all Mac users, both for releasing with this vulnerability and for the concern it has caused. Our customers deserve better. We are auditing our development processes to help prevent this from happening again.

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That’s about 24 hours (though it’s a huge blot on Apple’s copybook). Installation doesn’t require a restart. I didn’t get hacked. How about you?
link to this extract


Why [blank] gets you root • Objective See

Patrick Wardle:

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I was intrigued by this bug [which lets you log in remotely or via the Terminal as the superuser “root” even when that is disabled], so decided to track down its root cause! That is to say, what is underlying reason for the bug?

First, let’s look what’s happening at a high level. When a user (or attacker) attempts to log into an account that is not currently enabled (i.e. root), the system will create that account with whatever password the user specifies…even if that password is blank. This is why to perform this attack via the UI, you have to click on ‘Unlock’ twice…

…Apple has now patched the bug! Kudos to them for the quick turn around. They assigned it CVE-2017-13872, and state in the security release notes that the bug was “a logic error existed in the validation of credentials.” Their patch “improved credential validation.” Diffing the PlistFile binary, we can see they expanded error checking to detect invalid credentials (i.e. when an non-authenticated attacker tries to set the root password).

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Wardle goes into a lot of detail about what happened: it seems to be a non-zero output from a subroutine that ought to return a zero. It now checks for authentication. Would love to know the diff against the previous OS version, and why this arose. (I think Apple is drilling into this, possibly with real drills, right now.)
link to this extract


Paywall will be Wired’s ‘hedge against the future’ • WSJ

Benjamin Mullin:

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Wired has not yet set a price for its paywall, [editor-in-chief Nick] Thompson said, but he expects it will cost less than a Spotify Premium subscription, which runs $9.99 a month. The paywall will be metered, but the magazine, which is owned by Condé Nast, has not yet finalized how many articles visitors will be able to read for free each month.

“The simple reason that we’re going to a paywall model is that I think it’s going to make money, and I’d like us to make more money,” Mr. Thompson said. “The deeper reason we’re going to a paywall model is because you need to hedge against the future.”

Encouraging readers to pay for quality journalism is something of a passion project for Mr. Thompson, 42, who said his plan has been to install a paywall at Wired since he started as editor in January. When he was editor of NewYorker.com, the site—also owned by closely held parent company Condé Nast—launched a successful paywall in 2014.

Condé Nast executives say the online subscription models at the New Yorker and Wired may be followed by paywalls at its other properties as the magazine industry undergoes profound changes, with ongoing declines in print revenue and heightened competition for digital advertising. The upheaval has led other publishers to look for the exits this year, including Rolling Stone pursuing a sale, Time Inc. getting acquired by Meredith Corp., and Rodale Inc. selling to Hearst.

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Going to be chasing an ever-dwindling pool of people willing to pay yet another subscription, I think.
link to this extract


Zipline’s drones are delivering blood to hospitals in Rwanda • Time

Aryn Baker:

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by the time mother and child arrived at the district hospital in Kabgayi, Ghislane had stopped moving. “We arrived too late,” Hamwe says. “There was no sign of life. I thought she was dead.” The nurses offered a blood transfusion as a last resort. Hamwe, numb and distracted, agreed. She was already on her phone, messaging the bad news to family back in the village.

Meanwhile, a lab technician at the hospital laboratory was typing out his own message, a request for two units of pediatric red blood cells, O+. Normally he would have dispatched a car and driver to the central blood bank in the capital, Kigali, a 3-hour round trip. But this time he was trying something new. His phone flashed a confirmation message: the blood was on its way, with an estimated delivery time of just six minutes.

Before long the high-pitched whine of a drone could be heard circling the hospital grounds. As it passed over the lab’s parking lot, it released a red cardboard box, attached to a paper parachute. Inside were two packets of blood, wrapped in insulating paper and still cold from refrigeration. A nurse rushed the blood over to the emergency wing, and within minutes, it was pumping into Ghislane’s small, limp body through an IV. The child opened her large brown eyes. It was Dec. 21, 2016, and Ghislane had just become the first person in the world who owes her life to a drone delivery.

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The road network is often impassable; no such problem for a drone. Hospitals often don’t have the budget or electricity to refrigerate blood stocks. Range of 150km. (Do they recharge at the other end?)
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Earthworms can reproduce in Mars soil simulant • Phys.Org

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Two young worms are the first offspring in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research. Biologist Wieger Wamelink found them in a Mars soil simulant that he obtained from NASA. At the start he only added adult worms. The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can keep themselves alive at the red planet by growing their own crops on Mars soils.

To feed future humans on Mars a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem is a necessity. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they break down and recycle dead organic matter. The poop and pee of the (human) Martian will also have to be used to fertilise the soil, but for practical and safety reasons we are presently using pig slurry. We have since been observing the growth of rucola (rocket) in Mars soil simulant provided by NASA to which worms and slurry have been added. “Clearly, the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant,” said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

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Hope Matt Damon has his flight booked. Though I don’t recall worms being mentioned in the film (or book).
link to this extract


A fake Bruce Willis story is being monetized by Google AdSense and prominently featured on YouTube • Media Matters

Alex Kaplan:

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Google, through its advertising network Google AdSense, is monetizing multiple fake news websites spreading a bogus story that actor Bruce Willis wants critics of President Donald Trump to move out of the United States. Additionally, the made-up story is featured prominently on YouTube, which is owned by Google. This is just the latest example of Google floundering in its supposed efforts to fight fake news.

On November 27, Snopes.com flagged a “made-up news story” that circulated on fake news websites alleging that actor Bruce Willis said Trump was “doing great. In fact, he just might be the best US President ever.” The fake news articles additionally claimed that Willis said Trump’s critics should “go to Canada or something.” As Snopes noted, the fake story was based off of an October 2015 appearance by Willis on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he dressed up as Trump.

The fake story has gone viral, spreading to multiple fake news websites. Combined, the posts have received well over 100,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Several of the websites running the story are using Google AdSense – identifiable by the blue triangle in the top right corner – to make money off of the fake story. (A previous Media Matters report found that Google AdSense was one of the most widely used advertising networks by fake news websites.) At least one of these posts with AdSense advertisements is on a website registered in Denmark.

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Not surprising that AdSense is used; it’s gigantic and easy to get into. But how do you root out stuff like this? They can pretend that they’re “satire” sites.
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Android’s Andy Rubin left Google after inquiry found inappropriate relationship • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

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Andy Rubin, the creator of Android and a key executive at Google Inc. for nine years, left the company in 2014 shortly after an internal investigation determined that he had carried on an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, The Information has learned.

Google initiated its investigation after an employee complained to the company’s Human Resources division about her relationship with Mr. Rubin, according to three people familiar with the matter. The people declined to elaborate on the specific nature of the woman’s complaint against Mr. Rubin.

Like many companies, Google has a policy that prohibits supervisors from having a relationship with a subordinate. Any manager entering into such a relationship has to report it to the company, which will move one of the two to a different department. The woman who made the complaint worked in Google’s Android division while Mr. Rubin ran it, The Information has confirmed… Two people familiar with the investigation said the conclusions were also discussed with Mr. Rubin.

These people, who did not want to be named because the matter was confidential, said the internal investigation concluded that Mr. Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement.Two people familiar with the investigation said the conclusions were also discussed with Mr. Rubin.

These people, who did not want to be named because the matter was confidential, said the internal investigation concluded that Mr. Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement…

Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Mr. Rubin, denied that Mr. Rubin had done anything wrong or that his departure from Google was related to the complaint and investigation.

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Rubin is now taking a leave of absence from Essential “for personal reasons” after The Information contacted his spokesman. Unclear whether the two events are linked.
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