Start Up: AlphaGo conquers chess, enter Amazon, Silicon Valley’s model problem, bitcoin’s future, and more


This will probably pay better than a Patreon account, data suggests. Photo by humbert15 on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Now with record approval ratings! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler (and no, the boss – Bezos didn’t force him to do it or be nice about it):

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The good news is nobody ran off with my boxes — or burgled my house.

The bad news is Amazon missed four of my in-home deliveries and charged me (on top of a Prime membership) for gear that occasionally jammed and makes it awkward to share my own door with people, apps, services — and, of course, retailers — other than Amazon.

“Amazon Key has had a positive reception from customers since its launch last month,” Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said. “There have been situations where we haven’t gotten it right with a delivery and we use these situations to continue making improvements to the service.”

Big tech companies love building walled gardens, in ham-handed attempts to keep customers loyal. But for an ask this big (total access to your home, after all), Amazon needs to make Key better…

…When you use Amazon Key, you get a phone alert with a window when a delivery might occur. If no one is home, the delivery person taps an app that grants one-time access to unlock your door, places the package inside, then relocks the door. (They don’t recommend Key if you have a pet, and won’t come in if they hear barking.) The moment the door unlocks, the Cloud Cam starts recording — and sends you a live stream of the whole thing. It’s a surreal 15 seconds.

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Not only but also: finicky setup, occasional bugs leading to fake warnings, and a door that ended up with Schrödinger’s Lock.
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From territorial to functional sovereignty: the case of Amazon • Law and Political Economy

Frank Pasquale:

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Economists tend to characterize the scope of regulation as a simple matter of expanding or contracting state power. But a political economy perspective emphasizes that social relations abhor a power vacuum. When state authority contracts, private parties fill the gap. That power can feel just as oppressive, and have effects just as pervasive, as garden variety administrative agency enforcement of civil law. As Robert Lee Hale stated, “There is government whenever one person or group can tell others what they must do and when those others have to obey or suffer a penalty.”

We are familiar with that power in employer-employee relationships, or when a massive firm extracts concessions from suppliers. But what about when a firm presumes to exercise juridical power, not as a party to a conflict, but the authority deciding it? I worry that such scenarios will become all the more common as massive digital platforms exercise more power over our commercial lives…

…For example: Who needs city housing regulators when AirBnB can use data-driven methods to effectively regulate room-letting, then house-letting, and eventually urban planning generally? Why not let Amazon have its own jurisdiction or charter city, or establish special judicial procedures for Foxconn? Some vanguardists of functional sovereignty believe online rating systems could replace state occupational licensure—so rather than having government boards credential workers, a platform like LinkedIn could collect star ratings on them.

In this and later posts, I want to explain how this shift from territorial to functional sovereignty is creating a new digital political economy. Amazon’s rise is instructive.

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I was lucky enough to spend some time with Frank at Cambridge University earlier this year when he was a visiting fellow. He’s very incisive. His talk is here (on YouTube), if you have 16 minutes to spare. You do, right?
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Three ways to remake the American economy for all • The Guardian

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a Democrat senator who might be a candidate for president in 2020. She gave a speech at the Open Markets Institute about dealing with monopoly power, especially in technology:

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Donald Trump used to talk about the danger of monopoly. But that talk has pretty much disappeared now that he is president. Once he took the oath, he began stacking his administration with a who’s who of former lobbyists, Wall Street insiders, and corporate executives committed to tilting the scales even further in favor of their powerful friends and against everybody else. And just days ago, the Republican Congress handed out a giant tax giveaway to Wall Street corporations and the super-rich, leaving working families and college students to pick up the tab.

To rebuild an economy that works for everyone, not just the big guys, it is critical to reduce concentrated power in our markets. The federal government has the tools to do it; Congress handed antitrust enforcers those tools over a century ago. But those tools have been sitting on the shelf for decades, gathering dust.

Antitrust enforcers placed those tools on the shelf when they adopted Chicago School principles that narrowed the scope of antitrust laws; they moved away from the goal of protecting competition. It’s time to demand that antitrust enforcers pick up those tools, dust them off, and start enforcing the law again…

…It’s time to hold those corporations accountable for these competition-killing practices. And let’s be clear: holding everyone accountable means everyone. The investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election has exposed how influential giant tech platforms can be. There is no exception in antitrust laws for big tech.

It’s time for antitrust enforcers to start looking critically at the ways in which massive amounts of data can be manipulated in ways that choke off competition.

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Google’s AlphaZero destroys Stockfish in 100-game match • Chess.com

Mike Klein:

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Chess changed forever today. And maybe the rest of the world did, too.

A little more than a year after AlphaGo sensationally won against the top Go player, the artificial-intelligence program AlphaZero has obliterated the highest-rated chess engine. 

Stockfish, which for most top players is their go-to preparation tool, and which won the 2016 TCEC Championship and the 2017 Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, didn’t stand a chance. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.

Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.

That’s right – the programmers of AlphaZero, housed within the DeepMind division of Google, had it use a type of “machine learning,” specifically reinforcement learning. Put more plainly, AlphaZero was not “taught” the game in the traditional sense. That means no opening book, no endgame tables, and apparently no complicated algorithms dissecting minute differences between center pawns and side pawns…

…GM Peter Heine Nielsen, the longtime second of World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, is now on board with the FIDE president in one way: aliens. As he told Chess.com, “After reading the paper but especially seeing the games I thought, well, I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know.”

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The article includes one of the games. It feels quite different from how a human plays. AlphaGo seems to play as though it has all the time in the world; that it’s not particularly worried by threats, but equally wants to make exchanges on its own terms. Stockfish never seems to force it. AlphaZero even shows which openings are best. Queen’s Gambit and English Opening, apparently. (I prefer Bird’s Opening. Get things started.)

As Eric David notes at Silicon Angle:

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What makes DeepMind’s latest accomplishment is noteworthy is the fact that it conquered three games with very different rule sets using a single AI. AlphaGo Zero, the latest version of AlphaGo, began “tabula rasa” without any prior knowledge or understanding of Go, shogi or chess, but the AI managed to achieve “superhuman performance” in all three games with stunning speed. IBM spent more than 10 years perfecting Deep Blue before it successfully mastered chess. AlphaGo Zero did it in just 24 hours.

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Critical security flaws remain in smartwatches for kids • Forbrukerrådet

Norway’s Consumer Council on Mnemonic’s smartwatches, the “Gator” model:

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Gator Norge gave the customers of the Gator2 watches a new Gator3 watch as compensation. The Gator3 watch turned out to have even more serious security flaws, storing parents and kids’ voice messages on an openly available webserver. The new watches also came with a significantly more expensive phone subscription.

In October, GPSforBarn launched the new app (GPSforalle) that works together with the watches. It contains similar security flaws as described with their previous app, the SeTracker. [in October 2017]

It is disconcerting that manufacturers, importers and retailers do not have better control over the products that they are selling. This is especially worrying when regarding safety-related products directed toward children, that could instead put the child in harm’s way, [Norway’s digital director of the Consumer Council] Finn Myrstad says.

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The previous complaints were that “strangers can easily take control of the watch and track, eavesdrop on and communicate with the child. They may be able to track the child as it moves or make it look like the child is somewhere it is not. Some of the data is transmitted and stored without encryption.”

And they managed to make it worse?
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After noon: digitalization wins the day – Nautilus Labs Logbook • Medium

Anthony DiMare on the strange way that ships report back to shore only at nautical noon:

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On one particular voyage, a shipping company using Nautilus Platform noticed that the data collected directly from the ship’s engine showed a surprising variance in speed: the vessel ran at a higher speed during the day and at a lower speed overnight, while the average of the two was reported at noon.

If the shoreside teams had relied only on these reports, they would have misunderstood the vessel’s true performance. Total consumption would have been compared against the averaged speed — even though a ship requires exponentially more fuel to raise speed linearly.
In this case, the shoreside operator called the crew and inquired why they were seeing this behavior in the auto logged data. The operator had a simple request: please travel at a lower, consistent average speed for the rest of the journey. The net result was thousands of dollars of fuel saved — in that one leg alone of that one journey.

For most shipping companies, the prospect of saving a few thousand dollars on bunkers in one voyage isn’t that interesting. But it’s important to understand the long-term implications of this improved insight, as it impacts every decision our client would have made about the vessel in question. Let’s consider what would have happened, if the operator in this case didn’t have real-time visibility into the vessel’s actual performance.

If the crew continued to repeat the behavior without the operator’s knowledge, that vessel would have over-consumed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fuel over the course of a year — and millions of dollars in its practical lifespan.

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So easy to forget how big savings can come from increased granularity in systems which have previously had the bare minimum.

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Making Money from Data • DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Goldberg:

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We recently spoke to the CTO of a large industrial company that manufactures big industrial systems. Like everyone else, they were trying to develop an IoT strategy. We sat with him while a software vendor was pitching their vision of the future, full of monetization possibilities. He was polite, at first, but after a while he broke in and said, “Before you go any further, you have to realize that almost all the data we capture is wort nothing.” That conversation only went down hill from there. However, he made a valid point. His company have been adding all kinds of sensors to their equipment for years.  They could capture petabytes a day, probably more. But 99.9% of that data essentially translated into “Status: Unchanged”.

We are not arguing that all data is worthless. However, we think it is clear that capturing value from data in the physical world is still a very poorly understood process. During the last Bubble in the 1990′,s we read a profile of a software company that had pitched its order system to a mid-sized produce distributor. After months of evaluation, the distributor determined that their existing fax-based system was still much more efficient than the fancy web-based system. It probably took another decade for software to bridge that gap. We think it may take that long for machine learning to make much difference to most companies.

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Another decade of all the hype?
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No one makes a living on Patreon • The Outline

Brent Knepper:

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despite the revolutionary rhetoric, the success stories, and the goodwill that Patreon has generated, the numbers tell a different story.

Patreon now has 79,420 creators, according to Tom Boruta, a developer who tracks Patreon statistics under the name Graphtreon. (He has his own Patreon — “Graphtreon is creating Patreon graphs, statistics, and history” — which earns more than $500 a month.) Patreon lets creators hide the amount of money they are actually making, although the number of patrons is still public. Boruta’s numbers are based on the roughly 80% of creators who publicly share what they earn. Of those creators, only 1,393 — 2% — make the equivalent of federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $1,160 a month, in October 2017. Worse, if we change it to $15 per hour, a minimum wage slowly being adopted by states, that’s only 0.8% of all creators. In this small network designed to save struggling creatives, the money has still concentrated at the top.

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This is the way of all networks, the way of the world: there are very few who are good at anything, and it’s always a pyramid. The only question is how wide the pyramid is; how sharp the slope from financial success to abject poverty.
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Silicon Valley is sneaking models into this year’s holiday parties • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:

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Local modeling agencies, which work with Facebook- and Google-size companies as well as much smaller businesses and the occasional wealthy individual, say a record number of tech companies are quietly paying $50 to $200 an hour for each model hired solely to chat up attendees. For a typical party, scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 8, Cre8 Agency LLC is sending 25 women and 5 men, all good-looking, to hang out with “pretty much all men” who work for a large gaming company in San Francisco, says Cre8 President Farnaz Kermaani. The company, which she wouldn’t name, has handpicked the models based on photos, made them sign nondisclosure agreements, and given them names of employees to pretend they’re friends with, in case anyone asks why he’s never seen them around the foosball table.

“The companies don’t want their staff to be talking to someone and think, Oh, this person was hired to socialize with me,” says Kermaani, who’s sending models to seven tech parties in the same weekend.

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Now they’re just going to suspect it of everyone, though.
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CBOE to begin bitcoin futures trading December 10 • CoinDesk

Omkar Godbole:

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The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) has announced that its planned bitcoin futures product will begin trading on Dec. 10.

In a statement published today, the firm said that trading would commence at 5 p.m. CT, with the first full day of trading starting that Monday. Trading on the CBOE Futures Exchange (CFE) under the “XBT” ticker, the company added in its release that trading of the futures product would be free through the end of December.

The announcement is a notable one given that a bitcoin future being launched by CME Group will go live the following week on Dec 18.

Ed Tilly, CBOE’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement: “Given the unprecedented interest in bitcoin, it’s vital we provide clients the trading tools to help them express their views and hedge their exposure. We are committed to encouraging fairness and liquidity in the bitcoin market. To promote this, we will initially offer XBT futures trading for free.”

The launch confirmation comes months after the Chicago-based exchange first detailed its plans to create a bitcoin futures product. At the time in August, the CBOE was working with New York-based bitcoin exchange Gemini, which is run by investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, ahead of the launch.

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Hmm. Can you have a working futures market in something that everyone – a phrase used loosely – seems to think will only increase in price? (Note I don’t say “value”.) Though it might create something of a brake if there’s enough money in the futures market betting on lower prices.
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Bitcoin marketplace NiceHash gets hit by hackers who make off with millions in bitcoins • Mashable

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NiceHash announced the thievery on their Facebook page, saying, “Clearly, this is a matter of deep concern and we are working hard to rectify the matter in the coming days.”

NiceHash’s head of marketing Andrej P. Škraba told the Wall Street Journal that an estimated 4,700 bitcoin were taken from the company’s bitcoin wallet.

One thing to note: as the value of a bitcoin continues to go up, so, too does the value of the heist. As of post time, the value of a single bitcoin has surpassed $15,000 (with prices on some local Korean exchanges already topping $19,000), meaning the value of the heist has, for the time being, surpassed $70m.

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A couple of years ago it would have been $70,000. Timing is everything.
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Don’t blame the US election on fake news. Blame it on the media • Columbia Journalism Review

Duncan Watts and David Rothschild:

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While it may have been the case that the 20 most-shared fake news stories narrowly outperformed the 20 most-shared “real news” stories, the overall volume of stories produced by major newsrooms vastly outnumbers fake news. According to the same report, “The Washington Post produced more than 50,000 stories over the 18-month period, while The New York Times, CNN, and Huffington Post each published more than 30,000 stories.” Presumably not all of these stories were about the election, but each such story was also likely reported by many news outlets simultaneously. A rough estimate of thousands of election-related stories published by the mainstream media is therefore not unreasonable.

What did all these stories talk about? The research team investigated this question, counting sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classifying each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues. In particular, they classified each sentence as describing either a scandal (e.g., Clinton’s emails, Trump’s taxes) or a policy issue (Clinton and jobs, Trump and immigration). They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal. Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings. Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.

To reiterate, these 65,000 sentences were written not by Russian hackers, but overwhelmingly by professional journalists employed at mainstream news organizations, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: limiting chatbots, online media meltdown, Steam dumps bitcoin, Oracle v Google, and more


How much energy is bitcoin mining using? Let’s have a geothermally heated debate! Photo by Nathan11466 on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Yes, it will get fixed soon. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Drawing invisible boundaries in conversational interfaces • Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei on how text chatbots keep disappointing us, where voice ones (usually) don’t:

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none of the voice assistants to date sounds close to replicating the natural way a human speaks. These voice assistants may have more human timbre, but the stiff elocution, the mispronunciations, the frequent mistakes in comprehension, all quickly inform the user that what they are dealing with is something of quite limited intelligence. The affordances draw palpable, if invisible, boundaries in the user’s mind, and they quickly realize the low ROI on trying anything other than what is likely to be in the hard-coded response tree. In fact, I’d argue that the small jokes that these UI’s insert, like answering random questions like “what is the meaning of life?” may actually set these assistants up to disappoint people even more by encouraging more such questions the assistant isn’t ready to answer (I found it amusing when Alexa answered my question, “Is Jon Snow dead?” two seasons ago, but then was disappointed when it still had the same abandoned answer a season later, after the question had already been answered by the program months ago).

The same invisible boundaries work immediately when speaking to one of those automated voice customer service menus. You immediately know to speak to these as if you’re addressing an idiot who is also hard of hearing, and the goal is to complete the interaction as quickly as possible, or to divert to a human customer service rep at the earliest possible moment.

[I read on Twitter that one shortcut to get to a human when speaking to an automated voice response system is to curse, that the use of profanity is often a built-in trigger to turn you over to an operator. This is both an amusing and clever design but also feels like some odd admission of guilt on the part of the system designer.]

It is not easy, given the simplicity of textual UIs, to lower the user’s expectations. However, given where the technology is for now, it may be necessary to erect such guardrails. Perhaps the font for the assistant should be some fixed-width typeface, to distinguish it from a human. Maybe some mechanical sound effects could convey the robotic nature of the machine writing the words, and perhaps the syntax should be less human in some ways, to lower expectations.

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Israeli device banishes finger-pricking for sugar levels in diabetes patients • The Times of Israel

Shoshana Solomon:

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Caesarea-based startup Cnoga Medical Ltd. says it has come up with a way to track blood glucose levels without pricking or pain. Its glucose meter, already approved for use in numerous countries worldwide, uses a camera to provide a diagnosis of blood glucose levels by observing the changing colors of the user’s finger.

During a short training period, the device learns to correlate the user’s skin tone with previous glucose level readings.

The technology got the green light on Monday from one of the world’s leading diabetes specialists, Prof. Andreas Pfützner, MD, PhD, who came to Israel to present the company with his findings after having tested the technology in two clinical studies in Germany.

“The results were surprising,” he told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.  Pfützner held two clinical trials at his institute to validate the performance of the technology, and in both studies he found that the medical device performed “with a surprising level of accuracy,” the same as that of needle sensors.

“Cnoga achieved the same level of monitoring as the invasive devices,” he said.

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It’s quite big – about the size of a 9V battery pack – but non-invasive is a big plus.
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Steam is no longer supporting Bitcoin • Group Announcements :: Steam Blog

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As of today [December 6], Steam will no longer support Bitcoin as a payment method on our platform due to high fees and volatility in the value of Bitcoin.

In the past few months we’ve seen an increase in the volatility in the value of Bitcoin and a significant increase in the fees to process transactions on the Bitcoin network. For example, transaction fees that are charged to the customer by the Bitcoin network have skyrocketed this year, topping out at close to $20 a transaction last week (compared to roughly $0.20 when we initially enabled Bitcoin). Unfortunately, Valve has no control over the amount of the fee. These fees result in unreasonably high costs for purchasing games when paying with Bitcoin. The high transaction fees cause even greater problems when the value of Bitcoin itself drops dramatically.

Historically, the value of Bitcoin has been volatile, but the degree of volatility has become extreme in the last few months, losing as much as 25% in value over a period of days. This creates a problem for customers trying to purchase games with Bitcoin.

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Store of value and/or medium of exchange or just speculative instrument?
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Serious faults in Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index • Zorinaq

Marc Bevand:

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The author of the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index makes fundamentally flawed assumptions, causing it to demonstrably overestimate the electricity consumption of Bitcoin miners by 1.5× to 3.6×, and likely by 2.0× to 2.5×.

His main error, amongst others, is making the wrong assumption that a fixed “60%” of mining revenues are spent on electricity. “60%” is pulled out of thin air and miscalculated due to a misunderstanding from the author. As of 22 November 2017 he still has not fixed this incorrect assumption.

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The BECI is the thing which makes one think that bitcoin mining is going to be a serious challenge for the electricity grid in a few years. Here, Becand takes it to task. In detail.

But, but, but! That’s not the end of the story. “Digiconomist” arrives in the comments to make defend his (I assume) case. Bevand fights back. Digiconomist responds.

This has been going since February 2017, and they keep updating it. (Latest update: 22 November.) It reminds me of this Star Trek episode.
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Native Mobile Apps Part 1 • David Bressler

Bressler has hit the age everyone eventually hits: he needs glasses for reading, but not for other stuff. But it’s hard to read text on his phone:

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I remem ber when Apple first had a sys tem font pref er ence that worked across apps. Before then, using a Black ber ry or Win dows Mobile, I remem ber hav ing to change the font set ting for each app indi vid u al ly (if the app sup port ed one). It was awk ward at best. Font sizes between apps were incon sis tent dri ving the OCD (fig u ra tive, not diag nos ti cal ly lit er al) part of me insane.

I remem ber the relief that I could go to one set ting on the iPhone and nev er have to think about it again.

Here’s the thing.

I now have the sys tem font set to the high est size. It works great, most ly. How ev er…

Respon sive apps either can’t, can’t eas i ly, or have devel op ers that don’t care to imple ment the sys tem font set ting in their apps. I could call out banks, hos pi tals, and even Coin Mar ket Cap (where I track my cryp to port fo lio dai ly) and Telegram (where I learn more about Cryp to) that don’t sup port the sys tem font.

It dri ves me insane when peo ple don’t accept that their crap py respon sive apps are crap py. I under stand why they have to be some times done (some apps just aren’t that impor tant)… but that’s not the case with the ones I’m most ly using.

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Inside Oracle’s cloak-and-dagger political war with Google • Recode

Tony Romm:

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Oracle’s aggressive legal maneuvering has evolved into a political campaign against Google, sources say.

Take the fight over online privacy, which consumed the U.S. Congress this spring. At the time, lawmakers had just rolled back rules that would have required companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon to obtain permission before selling their customers’ web-browsing histories to advertisers. Some Republicans said the rules targeting ISPs were heavy-handed and unfair because they didn’t apply to tech giants like Facebook and Google in equal measure. To that end, one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, introduced a bill that aimed to subject both industries to tougher privacy regulations.

Naturally, Google opposed that idea — and speaking through one of its trade associations, the search giant pledged to fight. Days after Blackburn introduced the bill, however, Oracle publicly praised the lawmaker for her work product. Many in tech saw it as an odd move for a company with no search or advertising business.

Then, Oracle purchased mobile billboards in Blackburn’s home state, Tennessee, in an apparent bid to rile locals about the power and reach of Silicon Valley, two sources told Recode. “Internet companies betrayed you,” the ad began. It didn’t mention Google by name, but it still charged that the industry had “sold your most sensitive and personal information for $125bn in advertising revenue last year.”

“Paid for by Oracle,” it read in fine print at the bottom.

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Mecklenburg computer servers held for ransom by hacker • Charlotte Observer

Steve Harrison:

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Mecklenburg County government has been paralyzed by an unknown computer hacker after a county employee unknowingly opened an email attachment Monday that unleashed spyware and a worm into the county’s computer system.

County manager Dena Diorio said Tuesday night that the hacker has essentially frozen the county’s electronic files. The hacker is seeking $23,000 for an encryption key that would release the files.

The hacker’s deadline: 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“The files on the servers are being held for ransom,” she said before a commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Diorio said the county is working with a third-party technology company to decide what to do. She said she is open to paying the ransom, which would be paid in bitcoin.

But Diorio said that paying the ransom would present a number of other potential problems, not including rewarding the hackers.

“If you pay the bitcoin, there is always a risk they won’t give you the encryption key,” she said. “And they could go back for more (money).”…

…Diorio said the hackers don’t have access to people’s health records, Social Security numbers or credit card information.

“Social Security numbers are protected and health information is protected,” she said.

She said an example of the problem is the county’s code enforcement office, where much of the work is done electronically. Employees no longer have access to their records. But she said they are switching to paper records for work on Wednesday.

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Well, you could always consider how much you spend on having airgapped backups. Also: “unknown hacker”? Is that different from “known hacker”? They probably just put the ransomware together like Lego. (Thanks JC for the link.)
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Analysis: Facebook performance declined for news published in 2017 • Medium

Matt McAlister:

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we may be witnessing a decline in Facebook’s influence on news. The new numbers are hiding it in plain sight.

The median average engagements number, the 50th percentile or half of all articles, has been declining most of the year. In Spring the median engagements figure was 36. And now in December that number is down to 23.

Total month-to-month engagements may look encouraging, but the highest performers are the only ones to benefit. The bottom 90% of articles are all in a steady decline.
While it may appear as if the company is obscuring an overall decline by introducing a topline increase, we don’t know what Facebook’s intentions are with this change. It’s conceivable this pattern started well before the change and that we are only now seeing truth with more accurate figures than what we had access to before.

Sampling would surely skew toward flatter growth in a viral system, and now that they report ‘real’ engagements, as they claim, we might be seeing patterns that have been there for years.

Regardless, the larger trend is not good news for news. If most of the news is getting shared less and less on Facebook then publishers will likely also see a reduction in an important source of customer visits, both new customers and loyal customers.

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That is absolutely tiny amounts of sharing, and implies huge numbers of articles are thrown into a void as deep as the Marianas Trench.
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Ziff-Davis has bought Mashable at a fire-sale price and plans to lay off 50 people • Recode

Peter Kafka on the sale, priced at about $50m (after a recent funding round valued it at $250m:

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Mashable’s new owners plan on keeping the site running but want to refocus the company on tech and tech-lifestyle content. That will mean laying off about 50 of the site’s employees and offering other Mashable employees jobs at other Ziff Davis publications, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans, who says founder Pete Cashmore will stay with the company.

Ziff Davis specializes in running low-cost publishers that generate a significant amount of their revenue from “affiliate commerce” — usually executed via in-text links which pay the publisher when a reader clicks on the link, or buys something after clicking on the link. Last year, the company made a bid for the Gawker Media sites when those properties were in a bankruptcy auction.

Mashable’s collapse comes amid increasing skepticism about online publishers that depend on digital advertising, as Google and Facebook eat up increasing amounts of that market. Last week, BuzzFeed said it was laying off about 100 people — around 6% of its workforce — as it looked for new revenue streams to augment its core “native” ads business.

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Mashable started in Cashmore’s bedroom, and at this rate it’s going to end up there too. Its recent “pivot to video”, when it laid off a ton of people who just wrote words, clearly didn’t do the trick.
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Pivot to subscriptions • Medium

Nick Hagar on TheStreet moving to a subscription model:

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Companies across digital media are reaching a moment of truth, one that’s been coming for the 10 years they’ve failed to turn a profit. But while other publications are now pivoting to video, TheStreet’s already been there, done that, and it didn’t work. According to Digiday, “while video views have grown substantially, according to former employees, boosted by the liberal use of autoplay, consumer advertising revenue grew just 2% during the most recent quarter, per the company filing.”
Instead, it’s banking on the value it provides to readers, focusing on events and subscriptions. I think this is a smart move for a niche publication with a dedicated audience, and it’s the approach places like Digiday and The Information rely on.

«

TheStreet (and sister publication The Deal) now have fewer than 40 editorial people, having cut about 10 recently. The noose tightens…
link to this extract


Zeta Global acquires commenting service Disqus • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

Marketing tech company Zeta Global is making good use of its recent $140m Series F funding round. After acquiring Boomtrain earlier this year, the company today announced it has acquired Disqus, a service you’re probably familiar with thanks to its ubiquitous online commenting service that powers the commenting sections of sites that range from TMZ to The Atlantic and Entertainment Weekly.

A source close to the two companies tells us that the acquisition price was close to $90m. This marks Zeta’s eleventh acquisition since it was founded in 2007.

Zeta Global’s acquisitions have typically focused on more fundamental technologies like AI and machine learning, customer lifecycle management and other adtech related services. At first glance, Disqus doesn’t quite seem to fit into this list, but Disqus sits on a huge data set that goes beyond your favorite troll’s political comments.

“Marketers typically have to make trade-offs between reaching engaged audiences on social platforms with massive reach and using tools that give them control and access to granular targeting capabilities,” said Zeta Global CEO, chairman and co-founder David A. Steinberg. “Disqus strengthens Zeta’s ability to offer the best of both worlds with the scale, visibility and performance marketers have been asking for.”

«

“Granular targeting capabilities”. In other words, ads (and other profiling, to be sold on to who knows which company and used for who knows what) based on what you comment on. The case for not commenting on anything – or trying to delete your Disqus profile – just grew sizably.
link to this extract


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Start Up: Russia’s fake Twitter news, Facebook for kids?, cracking iOS 11, Google v Amazon, and more


We don’t have a picture of data leaking from a database, so here’s the aquatic equivalent. Photo by THomas Good on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. No, target=_blank to open the links in new windows/tabs isn’t implemented yet. Give it a day or so. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How the Kremlin tried to pose as American news sites on Twitter • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:

»

The Kremlin-backed Russian Internet Research Agency operated dozens of Twitter accounts masquerading as local American news sources that collectively garnered more than half-a-million followers. More than 100 news outlets also published stories containing those handles in the run-up to the election, and some of them were even tweeted by a top presidential aide. These news imposter accounts, which are part of the 2,752 now-suspended accounts that Twitter Inc. has publicly disclosed to be tied to the IRA, show how the Russian group sought to build local communities of followers to disseminate messages.

Many of the news imposter accounts amassed their following by tweeting headlines from real news sites, while others sought to represent certain communities. They targeted a diverse set of regions across the political spectrum, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Several of the accounts were impersonating local news outlets in swing states, like @TodayPittsburgh, @TodayMiami and @TodayCincinnati.

«

How soon before the US rules that Twitter is an agent of a foreign power?
link to this extract


A popular virtual keyboard app leaks 31 million users’ personal data • ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:

»

Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app has leaked online, after the app’s developer failed to secure the database’s server.

The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customizable and personalizable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world.

But the server wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the company’s database of user records, totaling more than 577 gigabytes of sensitive data.

The database appears to only contain records on the app’s Android users.

The discovery was found by security researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, which posted details of the exposure alongside ZDNet…

…The company also promises to “never share your data or learn from password fields,” but we saw one table containing more than 8.6 million entries of text that had been entered using the keyboard, which included private and sensitive information, like phone numbers, web search terms, and in some cases concatenated email addresses and corresponding passwords.

…”It raises the question once again if it is really worth it for consumers to submit their data in exchange for free or discounted products or services that gain full access to their devices,” [Kromtech head of communications Bob Diachenko] added.

«

It’s like Dirty Harry. “This is a multi-gigabyte server which could blow your passwords and typing all over the net. In all this excitement, I can’t remember whether I set a password on the server or not. Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, DO YA?”
link to this extract


Facebook ‘Messenger Kids’ lets under-13s chat with whom parents approve • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

»

It’s important to understand that kids under 13 still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, parents download the Messenger Kids app to a child’s iPhone or iPad (Android coming soon). Once the parent has authenticated it with their own account, they set up a mini-profile with their kid’s name and photo. Then, using the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app, parents can approve anyone who is friends with them as a contact for their kid, like aunts and uncles or godparents. Messenger Kids is interoperable with the main Messenger app, so adults don’t actually have to download the Kids app.

Kids still can’t be found through Facebook search, which protects their privacy. So if a child wants to be able to chat with one of their classmates, their parent must first friend that kid’s parent, and then will see the option to approve that adult’s child as a contact for their own kid. This is by far the most clumsy part of Messenger Kids, and something Facebook might be able to improve with a way for Messenger Kids to let children perhaps photograph a QR code on their playmate’s app to request that their parents connect…

…One thing that might surprise some people is that there’s no way for parents to secretly spy on what their kids are saying in their chats. Instead, parents have to ask to look at their kids’ screen, which Chung says is a more common behavior pattern. The exception is that if kids report a piece of objectionable content, their parents will be notified but still not shown the content in their own app.

«

Facebook did a ton of research with parents (including those in the military) to find out the best approach here. It found that kids already had access to hardware: 93% of 6-12 years olds in the US had access to a tablet or smartphone, 66% had their own device, and 60% of parents surveyed said kids under 13 used messaging apps, social media or both.

But at its core, it’s about getting people – even those under age – to use Facebook more. In the end, that’s not working out well for adults already. Why should it be any better for children? If they want to call the grandparents, there’s Skype or Facetime.
link to this extract


iOS 11 leaves iOS devices more vulnerable to edge-case attacks, says phone-cracking company ElcomSoft • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

»

Anyone wanting to access private data from an iPhone used to face two challenges, says the company in a blog post (which was experiencing loading problems at the time of writing). First, they had to access the device itself, which usually requires knowing or cracking the passcode. Second, even with the passcode, you could not access all the data on the device unless you could also crack the password used for the encrypted backup of the device.

It is the encrypted backup that contains Keychain data, allowing you to easily access any account used by the phone’s owner, as well as application data and more. Indeed, in many cases, authorities and other attackers focus their efforts on cracking the backup rather than the device itself, as it provides easier access to more data.

Prior to iOS 11, if you made an encrypted backup to iTunes, the password protecting that backup was used every time in future, even if you switched Mac…

…Apple documents this process, so it’s clearly a deliberate decision rather than a bug.

It seems likely that Apple is balancing convenience against security here, taking the view that anyone who has the device passcode usually has legitimate access to the device. The new behavior would be helpful to anyone who forgot their encrypted backup password, as well as families of anyone who passed away but had shared their passcode with family members.

My personal view is that the change makes sense. The risk created by it is real edge-case stuff: someone has physical access to my device and knows my passcode. The benefit is that there’s an escape plan for the many people who forget rarely-used passwords – like, in this case, an encrypted backup password that is typically only needed when upgrading devices.

«

Elcomsoft has a point. Question is, how many people give up their passcode to those they shouldn’t?

link to this extract


Fun with Facebook ads? • ZGP

Don Marti:

»

Most of the ads that I was getting to start with were for free-to-play NSFW games, so I changed my profile to “female”. Jackpot! All of a sudden I started getting much more professional ads, including IT products and services for big companies, and training classes for online marketing skills (yes, including a Facebook ad for a class on how to advertise on Facebook). What I guess happened is that the more business-focused advertisers put in gender-neutral bids, and while I was “male” on the site, they got outbid by the game companies specifically targeting male users.

(Dudes, I highly recommend going “female” on Facebook if you haven’t already, especially if you might be embarrased about people seeing too much décolletage in the ads when they walk by. So there’s your personal infotainment tip for today.)

But what did I do? I had fixed a problem, so I broke it some more. I went ahead and stayed female, but increased my age to 88. Big mistake.

«

It’s quite remarkable what you then get.
link to this extract


Bitcoin could cost us our clean-energy future • Grist

Eric Holthaus:

»

As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called “mining”) get more and more difficult — a wrinkle designed to control the currency’s supply.

Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers combined.

The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge — an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.

That sort of electricity use is pulling energy from grids all over the world, where it could be charging electric vehicles and powering homes, to bitcoin-mining farms. In Venezuela, where rampant hyperinflation and subsidized electricity has led to a boom in bitcoin mining, rogue operations are now occasionally causing blackouts across the country. The world’s largest bitcoin mines are in China, where they siphon energy from huge hydroelectric dams, some of the cheapest sources of carbon-free energy in the world. One enterprising Tesla owner even attempted to rig up a mining operation in his car, to make use of free electricity at a public charging station.

In just a few months from now, at bitcoin’s current growth rate, the electricity demanded by the cryptocurrency network will start to outstrip what’s available, requiring new energy-generating plants.

«

Though I linked to the data about bitcoin mining using so much energy, the fact of its exponential increase in demand had passed me by. Only if fewer people mine will the difficulty come down, and then the demand. But that’s only going to happen if the price drops precipitously.
link to this extract


YouTube is gone from Amazon Fire TV and Echo Show again, as Google vs Amazon heats up • BGR

Yoni Heisler:

»

In a bold strike against Amazon, Google earlier today pulled support for its YouTube app from both the Amazon Echo Show and the Fire TV. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we previously went down a similar road this past September. Back then, Google explained that the Echo Show’s implementation of YouTube lacked integral features and created a broken experience for users. YouTube ultimately returned to the Echo Show in late November, though sources familiar with the matter tell TechCrunch that Amazon at the time implemented a workaround that wasn’t authorized by Google.

So now we’re back to square one, with Echo Show users left unable to access any YouTube content. Fire TV users, meanwhile, will lose access on January 1. In a statement on the matter, Google accused Amazon of refusing to sell certain Google branded products.

“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services,” Google said. “But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products. Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

«

It’s telling that Google’s (only available) reprisal for not having its hardware sold on a store is to make its services unavailable on that store’s hardware. Who do we think loses more here?
link to this extract


How brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company, and HuffPost stories • The Outline

Jon Christian:

»

Interviews with more than two dozen marketers, journalists, and others familiar with similar pay-for-play offers revealed a dubious corner of online publishing in which publicists, ranging from individuals like Satyam to medium-sized “digital marketing firms” that blur traditional lines between advertising and public relations, quietly pay off journalists to promote their clients in articles that make no mention of the financial arrangement.

People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands.

One of them, a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets who asked not to be identified by name, described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup that offers email marketing software into multiple online articles, in Fast Company and elsewhere, on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name. To make the references seem natural, he said, he often links to case studies and how-to guides published by the startup on its own site.

«

I’ve heard about variants of this for a while, specifically around the Forbes “contributors” (who aren’t staff; in effect they’re outside bloggers). After I’d left the Guardian, I saw claims that there were similar paid links at The Guardian. I investigated them via those who claimed to have paid for links: they didn’t check out. (I think the middlemen selling links claimed it so they could charge more for the places where they could sell links.)

It’s an unsurprising wrinkle. Good journalism by Christian to pin it down.
link to this extract


Apple’s HomePod isn’t about Siri, but rather the future of home audio • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

Apple’s intent for HomePod isn’t just being a copy of Echo. Despite a dubious “tell-all” report for Bloomberg by Mark Gurman (the same person who likes to announce on camera how far ahead Amazon is over Apple in its Alexa voice app partnerships) that portrayed Apple’s HomePod as a disjointed, incompetently run skunkworks project, the reality is that HomePod is doing something very different than Amazon.

It does not appear that anyone at Bloomberg understands anything about Apple’s strategy, but rather only views the company through a distorted lens of other companies’ marketing nonsense. That explains why Gurman earlier insisted in 2015 that his sources had confirmed that the second generation of Apple Watch would get a low-quality camera just like Samsung’s failed Gear smartwatch. This made no sense at all for many reasons but was received and propagated by other outlets as reliable news, before being forgotten. Years later, there’s no camera on Apple Watch.

Like the original Mac, NeXT, iPhone and iPad, HomePod isn’t an attempt to merely clone the status quo, but rather an effort to take very expensive new technology and make it affordable to the mass market. HomePod is the pinnacle of Apple’s resurgent efforts to push advanced audio technology since its acquisition of Beats. It’s not just a wireless speaker with Siri.

«

HomePod is miles from “mass market”. Echo, Dot, Google Home: those are priced for the mass market. Trying to drive mass market purchasing of high-quality audio because it’s high-quality audio is doomed to failure. (CDs offered higher-quality audio, but it was their convenience that made them sell.)

There’s a legitimate question about how big and how useful the “smart speaker” market can be, but Apple’s definitely playing in it. Coming so late to the game, it doesn’t have the luxury of redefining the market.
link to this extract


HP, Asus announce first Windows 10 ARM PCs: 20 hour battery life, gigabit LTE • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»

Just shy of a year after announcing that Windows was once again going to be available on ARM systems, the first two systems were announced today: the Asus NovaGo 2-in-1 laptop, and the HP Envy x2 tablet.

Branded as Always Connected PCs, the new Windows on ARM systems are positioned as bringing together the best of PCs and smartphones. They have PC form factors, with the productivity enabled by a real keyboard, touchpad, and general purpose operating system capable of running regular Windows software, but they bring with them the seamless switching between LTE and Wi-Fi, instant on, multiple working day battery life, and slimline, lightweight packaging that we’re accustomed to on our phones.

The Asus laptop boasts 22 hours of battery life or 30 days of standby, along with LTE that can run at gigabit speeds. HP’s tablet offers a 12.3 inch, 1920×1280 screen, 20 hours battery life or 29 days of standby, and a removable keyboard-cover and stylus. Both systems use the Snapdragon 835 processor and X16 LTE modem, with HP offering up to 8GB RAM and 256GB storage to go with it…

…The emulator runs in a just-in-time basis, converting blocks of x86 code to equivalent blocks of ARM code. This conversion is cached both in memory (so each given part of a program only has to be translated once per run) and on disk (so subsequent uses of the program should be faster, as they can skip the translation). Moreover, system libraries—the various DLLs that applications load to make use of operating system features—are all native ARM code, including the libraries loaded by x86 programs. Calling them “Compiled Hybrid Portable Executables” (or “chippie” for short), these libraries are ARM native code, compiled in such a way as to let them respond to x86 function calls.

While processor-intensive applications are liable to suffer a significant performance hit from this emulation—Photoshop will work in the emulator, but it won’t be very fast—applications that spend a substantial amount of time waiting around for the user—such as Word—should perform with adequate performance.

«

Seems like a better approach than the first time round with ARM. That’s quite some battery life, too.
link to this extract


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Start Up: social media explained, Oreo reviewed, cheaper iPads?, make your own Brexit!, and more


Is the BBC approaching the end of the line? Photo by l-b-p-2011 on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. None co-written by Paul Manafort. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A simple theory of Moore’s Law and social media • Marginal REVOLUTION

Tyler Cowen, here in part:

»

6. Consider a second distinction, namely between people who are too sensitive to social information, and people who are relatively insensitive to social information.  A quick test of this one is to ask how often a person’s tweets (and thoughts) refer to the motivations, intentions, or status hierarchies held by others.  Get the picture?  (Here is an A+ example.)

7. People who are overly sensitive to social information will be driven to distraction by Twitter.  They will find the world to be intolerably bad.  The status distinctions they value will be violated so, so many times, and in a manner which becomes common knowledge.  And they will perceive what are at times the questionable motives held by others.  Twitter is like negative catnip for them.  In fact, they will find it more and more necessary to focus on negative social information, thereby exacerbating their own tendencies toward oversensitivity.

8. People who are not so sensitive to social information will pursue social media with greater equanimity, and they may find those media productivity-enhancing.  Nevertheless they will become rather visibly introduced to a relatively new category of people for them — those who are overly sensitive to social information.  This group will become so transparent, so in their face, and also somewhat annoying.  Even those extremely insensitive to social information will not be able to help perceiving this alternate approach, and also the sometimes bad motivations that lie behind it.  The overly sensitive ones in turn will notice that another group is under-sensitive to the social considerations they value.  These two groups will think less and less of each other.  The insensitive will have been made sensitive.  It’s like playing “overrated vs. underrated” almost 24/7 on issues you really care about, and which affect your own personal status.

9. The philosophy of Stoicism will return to Silicon Valley.  It will gain adherents but fail, because the rest of the system is stacked against it.

10. The socially sensitive, very smart people will become the most despairing, the most manipulated, and the most angry.  The socially insensitive will either jump ship into the camp of the socially sensitive, or they will cultivate new methods of detachment, with or without Stoicism.  Straussianism will compete with Stoicism.

«

An excellent analysis. (There are 13 points in all.) Though I think it’s Metcalfe’s law, relating to networks, that’s more relevant than Moore’s.
link to this extract


Android Oreo review: an iOS user’s review (Introduction) • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:

»

I have been using the Google Pixel 2, which is the latest and greatest Android phone out there. I chose this phone for my experiment because I wanted to leave no room for my conclusions to be colored by a bad OEM skin on top of Android or by a lower quality phone as my comparisons to iOS should be as fair as possible. Since I wanted to review Oreo, a Pixel was my only option in October, and thankfully that Pixel has top of the like specs and the best Android camera out there. This is Android how Google intended it.

The very, very TLDR version of my review is as follows:

Android has grown up considerably over the last decade. It’s no longer a complete disaster of a user experience, and some elements have actually surpassed what Apple is doing with iOS. Notifications are much better than they are on iOS and Google Assistant is more accurate and more helpful than Siri. that said, there are a million little (and not so little) things that truly make Android a sub-par experience for me. Your milage may vary, but the abysmal third party software available for the platform, poor inter-app communication, and countless stability issues make Android a place I only want to visit for a month or two per year, not something I can see myself using full time.

«

Everyone praises Android’s handling of notifications. Birchler’s points about inter-app communication (in the second part of this series) may surprise those who think it’s an Android strength.
link to this extract


Brexit options: interactive diagram • Brexitoptions

»

Click on the buttons above to explore some Brexit scenarios — relevant sections will turn purple

«

This is a terrific illustration of where the UK would (will?) sit under various outcomes. Most of them look worrying to me. (Guess which one puts the UK on the same side of the fence as Turkey. Some irony there.)

Beautiful graphics, too.
link to this extract


TV channels have ‘up to 10 years’ to meet tech threat • FT

Matthew Garrahan:

»

concerns are growing across Europe that the central role of public service broadcasters, or PSBs, will diminish.

“The growth and dominance of these companies is a threat to our entire media ecosystem,” said Noel Curran, director-general of the European Broadcasting Union, which represents PSBs. “Everybody in European media needs to ask: where are we going to be in five to 10 years?”

In Britain, programming delivered via broadband and made available on-demand has shaken television’s hierarchy, under which PSBs were the first ports of call on a television’s remote control and were easily regulated.

“What we have taken for granted as critical to the health of UK television is coming under serious threat,” said Jonathan Thompson, chief executive of Digital UK, which is owned by the BBC, ITV and Arqiva, the company that owns and operates the national transmitter network.

Under UK broadcasting regulations, public service channels must be prominently displayed in the electronic programme guides of cable and satellite providers.

But no such regulations exist for programming viewed on-demand: global digital subscription services such as Netflix “with deep pockets and big ambitions . . . are quickly muscling their way into prime position,” Mr Thompson said.

«

link to this extract


F-35 stealth fighter caught spying on its owners • News Australia

Jamie Seidel:

»

While privacy is a concern when it comes to personal internet and smartphone use, it’s becomes a whole different matter when applied to the military.

“Due to national considerations, there is a need for a filter where the user nations can exclude sensitive data from the data stream that is shared by the system with the manufacturer Lockheed Martin,” Gjemble told ABC Nyheter.

An unidentified participant walks past a poster advertising US defence equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth multirole fighter at the 2017 Berlin Security Conference in Berlin.

At the heart of the problem is the F-35’s artificial intelligence dubbed ALIS: it is responsible for logging performance data, as well as monitoring and optimising the aircraft’s sophisticated equipment. To do so it ‘phones home’ to Texas.

Norway says it has become impatient with continued delays in the promised provision of a data “filter” by Lockheed Martin. So it’s started its own project to find ways to block its new F-35s from reporting back to their former US masters.

It’s also worried that it won’t be able to optimise — or protect — the extremely sensitive Mission Data Files. These data packs optimise aircraft performance under different conditions, as well as provide a database of regional challenges and conditions.

Again, Norway wants Lockheed Martin out of the loop.

«

link to this extract


Apple agrees to deal with Ireland over $15bn unpaid tax issue • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

Ireland will begin collecting €13 billion ($15.46 billion) in back taxes from Apple Inc. as soon as early next year after both sides agreed to the terms of an escrow fund for the money, Ireland’s finance chief said Monday.

The European Union in 2016 ordered Dublin to retrieve the billions of euros from Apple in uncollected taxes, which the EU said Apple avoided paying with the help of sweetheart tax deals from Ireland.

A year after that decision, however, Ireland still hadn’t recouped the money, leading the EU in October to refer Dublin to the bloc’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, for failing to implement the decision.

Ireland has said the money collection was held up by negotiations over the escrow account, which will hold the company’s dues while both Apple and Ireland appeal the EU’s 2016 decision in court.

Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe Monday said he expected the flow of money from Apple to begin in the first quarter of 2018 once they complete the tendering processes to determine who would operate the account and who would then manage the fund.

«

Apple’s still disputing it, but this gets the money a little closer to Ireland’s exchequer.
link to this extract


I tried emailing like a CEO and quite frankly, it made my life better • Buzzfeed

Katie Notopoulos:

»

On a Monday morning, I began my experiment. I opened my email, deleted a few purely mailing list items, and got to work. For all the PR pitches I wasn’t interested in, I fired off a quick, “Thanks, but this is a pass for me.” It felt empowering.

The week before the experiment, I sent 21 emails total.

The week I started the experiment, I sent 84. (To be fair, about 25 of those were replies to people who emailed me specifically after I tweeted out that I was doing this experiment. I got a bunch of jokey emails, which I dutifully replied to.)

The other key part of boss-style email is doing a lot of email on the phone. This meant goodbye to my old crutch of “I’ll reply when I get to a computer.” I would fire off emails from my phone on the subway, walking around at lunch, on the toilet at the office. For the first time, I actually started using the suggested Gmail replies, which are actually pretty useful in the sense of purely transmitting information.

That first Monday, as I fired off a bunch of not-super-important emails, something strange happened. I felt…extremely good. I was high on the fumes of efficiency. No longer did a little cloud hang over me, the nagging feeling you get when you know you’re supposed to do something and can’t remember what.

The high didn’t wear off after that first day. It lasted all week. I applied the method to my personal email as well, and although I don’t get as many personal emails, I found it worked even better there.

«

FINALLY.
link to this extract


No, I don’t want to configure your app! • Quils in Space

“Quil”:

»

There seems to be a very interesting trend re-emerging in software development lately, influenced by Node’s philosophy, perhaps, where to use anything at all you first need to install a dozen of “dependencies,” spend the next 10 hours configuring it, pray to whatever gods (or beings) you believe in—even if you don’t. And then, if you’re very lucky and the stars are properly aligned in the sky, you’ll be able to see “Hello, world” output on the screen.

Apparently, more configuration always means more good, as evidenced by new, popular tools such as WebPack and Babel.js’s 6th version. Perhaps this also explains why Java was such a popular platform back in the days.

HYPOTHESIS: The popularity of a tool is proportional to the amount of time it makes their users waste.

«

Though this post is from January 2016, it’s still true. I did try an app called Focos, which shows the output from the depth-mapping systems on the iPhone, and it has a different approach to making you configure the app: it doesn’t even begin explaining how to use it until you press some element. (Then it shows you in detail.) Much better than forcing you to sit through an intro.
link to this extract


Spam is back • The Outline

Jon Christian:

»

an individual who posted on a blackhat hacker forum that he could sell a database of tens of millions of US phone numbers, complete with associated email and postal addresses, told me that though he himself is annoyed by robocalls, he does what he needs to in order to earn a living. He obtains phone numbers from data sellers and lead generation sites that offer users free stuff in exchange for giving up their contact information, he said, and insisted that though he’s been slapped with fines in the past, he now complies with laws governing the sale of phone numbers.

“I mean I see it as a tool to help marketers find the right person,” said that man, who identified himself as Brian Masin during a Skype chat interview.

Masin, who said he’s based in the DC metro area and made as much as $160,000 per year in the internet marketing business, though not all from selling phone numbers, also mused that “if you buy homesec[u]rity online then you deserve” to get “duped.”

In addition to the FTC, a number of app developers and people like telecom consultant Roger Anderson, who created a posse of phone bots designed to waste robocallers’ time by pretending to be human, have all taken up the fight — but today, the calls still persist.

The second coming of spam isn’t just robocalls, of course. It’s rampant on Twitter, for example, where vast botnets boost follower counts for money and push political propaganda. It crops up on Tinder and OkCupid, where bots with voluptuous profile pictures stumble through flirty banter — “I am totally a sex addict” — and inevitably send links to websites that demand credit card numbers. Ashley Madison, a hookup site for extramarital affairs that gained notoriety when its user data was stolen in 2015, harbored millions of “sexbot” accounts intended to sucker users into paying for premium membership.

The volume of spam email has leveled off overall, and Google says it can detect 99.9% of spam and phishing attempts in Gmail. But what email spam is left has become more sophisticated and criminal.

«

Spam never went away, it just mutated. It’s like E.coli – its presence is an indicator of a sort of health.
link to this extract


Video: Seoul taps citizens for ambitious solar power goal • Tech in Asia

Here’s the transcript (via Steven Millward):

»

South Korea is building a “solar city.” In Seoul, mini solar panels are installed on apartment balconies. One can produce enough energy to run a fridge, which means lower electricity bills.

Goal: 1 million households with mini solar panels.

Target: Seoul’s citizens will produce 1 gigawatt of power by 2022. That’s about the same as one nuclear reactor

«

It doesn’t look particularly pretty, but you have to admire the determination.
link to this extract


Apple plans new inexpensive 9.7in iPad for 2018, says sources • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

»

Apple is considering a new inexpensive 9.7in iPad priced at around US$259 for 2018, according to sources from related upstream suppliers, which added that the device should be able to attract more demand from price-oriented consumers, allowing Apple to maintain its present 10 million-unit tablet shipments a quarter.

With the new device, the sources expect the tablet market to witness a new wave of price competition among first-tier players including Samsung Electronics, Amazon, Huawei and Lenovo.

With the tablet market already becoming mature, Apple has been seeing weakening sales for its iPad series, while Android-based tablet shipments have also been declining. Most second- and third-tier brand vendors had already stepped out of the market, while China-based white-box tablet players had also shifted their focuses to other product lines after Intel stopped providing subsidies for using its CPUs.

«

To be precise, the non-iPad market has shrunk for the past two quarters (per IDC) while iPad sales have grown for two quarters, but it’s too soon to call a trend – though total tablet sales, including Windows tablets (by IDC’s definition, ie “slates”) have been falling for 12 successive quarters. Given that, any sort of growth is good. If Apple is going after the cheaper players, that could drive some out. Lenovo has no business selling tablets: it’s too small and doesn’t make money on them.
link to this extract


Australia to probe Facebook, Google over media disruption • Reuters

Jonathan Barrett and Tom Westbrook:

»

Like their rivals globally, Australia’s traditional media companies have been squeezed by online rivals, as advertising dollars have followed eyeballs to digital distributors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix Inc.

The government ordered the probe as part of wider media reforms, amid growing concern for the future of journalism and the quality of news following years of declining profits and newsroom job cuts and the rise of fake news.

“We will examine whether platforms are exercising market power in commercial dealings to the detriment of consumers, media content creators and advertisers,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

The inquiry also would study how Facebook and Google operated to “fully understand their influence in Australia”, he added.

A Google spokesman said, “We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant.” Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The idea for an ACCC investigation was hatched during media reform negotiations in parliament earlier this year, which resulted in a relaxation of ownership laws to allow the country’s big players to boost their market share to better compete against online disruptors.

Independent media analyst Peter Cox told Reuters it was unclear what measures the competition regulator could recommend to the government even if it found the country’s media sector was increasingly anti-competitive.

“You could see this as a stepping stone towards another type of reform, such as tax,” said Cox.

«

So some means of getting them to pay taxes? Still not sure how that would work. And it’s completely obvious what they’ve been doing. (Thanks Oh Aye for the link.)
link to this extract


You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: apologies for the malformed page yesterday, caused by a long long long Reddit link.

Start Up: Facebook failing fake news crackdown, concerns on Face ID apps, Thiel’s legacy, Google’s romances, and more


What do MPs get up to when it comes to sharing passwords? Photo by Stuck In Customs on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


So! You didn’t receive your email last Friday, but instead it arrived Sunday? (Yes, it did. Go look.) That’s because you, personally,, tripped the volume of emails this account sends over into Mailchimp’s paid tier, but I didn’t notice until Saturday. Duh. Now it’s paid up, and the emails will continue.

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

‘Way too little, way too late’: Facebook’s factcheckers say effort is failing • The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»

“I don’t feel like it’s working at all. The fake information is still going viral and spreading rapidly,” said one journalist who does fact-checks for Facebook and, like others interviewed for this piece, was not authorized to speak publicly due to the continuing partnership with the company. “It’s really difficult to hold [Facebook] accountable. They think of us as doing their work for them. They have a big problem, and they are leaning on other organizations to clean up after them.”

Facebook announced to much hype last December [2016] that it was partnering with third-party factcheckers – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org – to publicly flag fake news so that a “disputed” tag would warn users about sharing debunked content. A Guardian review this year found that the fact-checks seemed to be mostly ineffective and that “disputed” tags weren’t working as intended.

Now, some of the factcheckers are raising concerns, saying the lack of internal statistics on their work has hindered the project and that it is unclear if the corporation is taking the spread of propaganda seriously.

Another fact-checking source said it was rare to see the fact-checks actually lead to a “disputed” tag on Facebook, raising questions about how the tool was functioning. Factcheckers said they had queries about how often the tags were placed on articles, what effect they had on the content and what sites were most often targeted – but said that Facebook had not provided information.

«

Related: NYMag’s take on this piece: Facebook’s fact-checking effort was always going to fail
link to this extract


Lenses are being reinvented, and cameras will never be the same • MIT Technology Review

These are UV-etched silicon with sub-light wavelength features on their surfaces:

»

Metalenses have a wide range of applications. The most obvious is imaging. Flat lenses will make imaging systems thinner and simpler. But crucially, since metalenses can be fabricated in the same process as the electronic components for sensing light, they will be cheaper.

So cameras for smartphones, laptops, and augmented-reality imaging systems will suddenly become smaller and less expensive to make. They could even be printed onto the end of optical fibers to acts as endoscopes.

Astronomers could have some fun too. These lenses are significantly lighter and thinner than the behemoths they have launched into orbit in observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope. A new generation of space-based astronomy and Earth observing beckons.

But it is within chips themselves that this technology could have the biggest impact. The technique makes it possible to build complex optical bench-type systems into chips for optical processing.

«

More detail at ArXiv. The article has much more explanation of what metalenses are.
link to this extract


Google reckoning with history of interoffice romance by top execs • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

»

The romantic relationships within the walls of Google made ideal fodder for gossip columns and magazine profiles.

Co-founder Larry Page dated Google lieutenant Marissa Mayer in the company’s early days, and co-founder Sergey Brin later drew attention for dating Amanda Rosenberg, a younger colleague. CEO Eric Schmidt dated publicist Marcy Simon when she did work for Google. The stories had sex, money and power against a backdrop of one of the world’s largest tech empires. It was like something out of a rebooted soap opera—Dynasty 2.0.

But an examination by The Information found that those interoffice relationships, and others featuring some of the company’s top leaders, have for years been a flashpoint of frustration and anger among Google’s employees. The relationships often violated at least the spirit of a company policy that prohibits superiors from secretly dating subordinates. But employees noted that there had been no apparent repercussions for the powerful, mostly male, leaders who had such relationships.

As a result, many Google employees expressed the opinion that the company’s culture appears to tolerate, or even endorse, such workplace relationships. In interviews with nearly 40 current and former Google employees, many said the issue had tainted the perception of women who earn promotions, created uncomfortable encounters at off-site events and had raised concerns over whether human resources would address inappropriate conduct. Some described their own experiences with sexual harassment at the company.

«

Wow. The story goes on to name a senior married (male) Google figure who it says had a relationship with a junior colleague – and a child by her. She left the company. Ooooof.
link to this extract


How Peter Thiel and the Stanford Review built a Silicon Valley Empire • Stanford Politics

Andrew Granato on Thiel, who founded the Stanford Review magazine when he was there in 1987:

»

Thiel was asked [in January 2017] how he knew that Trump was going to win. After all, wasn’t it extremely risky to go all-in for Trump when he was down in the polls and Silicon Valley strongly supported Clinton? Thiel replied that, two weeks before the election, some of his closest advisors and confidants wondered to him if they had backed the wrong horse and if it was too late to back off supporting Trump. Thiel, according to his own retelling, responded, “Are we allowed any knowledge other than social scientific knowledge?” And he argued that while the polls did seem to indicate that Trump would lose, he was more confident in his personal assessment of how the world works than the polls. Thiel’s confidence, of course, was vindicated when Trump won.

A former editor described Thiel’s response as “very much in character” for him: “On every major platform he’s built in his life, whether fighting a government authority or an upstart competitor, he tends to come up with ideas and dig in deep to them, and he doesn’t walk away.”

In Oct. 2016, shortly after Thiel donated $1.25 million to Trump, Thiel publicly apologized for passages in his 1995 book The Diversity Myth, such as claiming that some alleged date rapes were “seductions that are later regretted,” saying in a statement, “More than two decades ago, I co-wrote a book with several insensitive, crudely argued statements. As I’ve said before, I wish I’d never written those things. I’m sorry for it. Rape in all forms is a crime. I regret writing passages that have been taken to suggest otherwise.” But three months later, during the after party of the 30-year anniversary event at Thiel’s home, according to a former editor, Thiel stated that his apology was just for the media, and that “sometimes you have to tell them what they want to hear.”

«

Thiel isn’t immune from post-justification, then; Trump’s win was an accident of a tiny proportion of votes – less than 1% of those cast – in three states. An interesting article about a submarine in the seas of influence. (Thanks John N for the link.)

link to this extract


Apple is sharing your face with apps. That’s a new privacy worry • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

Apple’s face tech sets some good precedents—and some bad ones. It won praise for storing the face data it uses to unlock the iPhone X securely on the phone, instead of sending it to its servers over the Internet.

Less noticed was how the iPhone lets other apps now tap into two eerie views from the so-called TrueDepth camera. There’s a wireframe representation of your face and a live read-out of 52 unique micro-movements in your eyelids, mouth and other features. Apps can store that data on their own computers.

To see for yourself, use an iPhone X to download an app called MeasureKit. It exposes the face data Apple makes available. The app’s maker, Rinat Khanov, tells me he’s already planning to add a feature that lets you export a model of your face so you can 3D print a mini-me.

“Holy cow, why is this data available to any developer that just agrees to a bunch of contracts?” said Fatemeh Khatibloo, an analyst at Forrester Research…

…It’s not clear how Apple’s TrueDepth data might change the kinds of conclusions software can draw about people. But from years of covering tech, I’ve learned this much: Given the opportunity to be creepy, someone will take it.

Using artificial intelligence, face data “may tell an app developer an awful lot more than the human eye can see,” said Forrester’s Khatibloo. For example, she notes researchers recently used AI to more-accurately determine people’s sexuality just from regular photographs. That study had limitations, but still “the tech is going to leapfrog way faster than consumers and regulators are going to realize,” said Khatibloo.

«

Fowler’s point about the creep of creepiness is well made. (Though note it’s not detailed enough to hack your phone.)
link to this extract


Hacking the House: do MPs care about cyber-security? • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones on the row over Nadine Dorries MP sharing her login details with her staff:

»

does the House of Commons have a cyber-security policy? And if so, what does it say about logins? After all, this summer Parliament was hit by what was described as a “sustained and serious” cyber attack by hackers trying to access MPs’ email accounts.

It turns out there is a chapter in the House of Commons staff handbook which is very clear on this matter, and on the care needed to be taken with sensitive information stored on computers. Among a list of things it says “You MUST NOT” do is “share your password”.

Pretty clear then? Ah, but that applies to staff, not their bosses.

I consulted a couple of MPs – one Conservative, one Labour – about their attitudes to cyber-security. Both said that they would not dream of sharing their computer login – but admitted that most of their colleagues were far more lax. One told me that in general House of Commons cyber-security had been “really really bad”, although had improved since the July attack.

The MP went on: “Most MPs have that fatal combination of arrogance, entitlement and ignorance, which mean they don’t think codes of practice are for them.”

The other member – who had by the way come under attack from Russian hackers – said that it would be hard to enforce any code: “Ultimately this is a result of each MP and their office functioning as entirely independent small businesses. If one person wants to make daft decisions there is no way of forcing them not to.”

«

The importance of the Dorries tweet is that it could explain how pornography got onto Damian Green’s computer, and yet he didn’t view it. Someone else on his staff was using his login.
link to this extract


Computational Propaganda in Poland: false amplifiers and the digital public sphere • The Computational Propaganda Project

Robert Goraw at the Oxford Internet Institute:

»

This report provides the first overview of political bots, fake accounts, and other false amplifiers in Poland. Based on extensive interviews with political campaign managers, journalists, activists, employees of social media marketing firms, and civil society groups, the report outlines the emergence of Polish digital politics, covering the energetic and hyper-partisan “troll wars”, the interaction of hate speech with modern platform algorithms, and the recent effects of “fake news” and various sources of apparent Russian disinformation.

The report then explores the production and management of artificial identities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks— an industry confirmed to be active in Poland—and assesses how they can be deployed for both political and commercial purposes. The quantitative portion of the report features an analysis of Polish Twitter data, and demonstrates that a very small number of suspected bot accounts are responsible for a disproportionally large proportion of activity on the sampled political hashtags.

«

It’s getting slightly exhausting how full social networks are with lying crap.
link to this extract


#KateSteinle hashtag visualizations • Medium

Erin Gallagher:

»

Hashtags associated with the #KateSteinle verdict were megaphoned by at least 37 cyborgs that are tweeting between 47 to 739 tweets per day, including a brand new account that changed its “identity” mid-campaign. These supercharged accounts amplified hashtags that began as an angry public reaction to the Kate Steinle verdict but turned into a digital campaign of ethnic intimidation against immigrants.


#KateSteinle user-to-hashtag network 25,241 tweets November 30 — December 2

I started capturing tweets for hashtags associated with the #KateSteinle verdict on November 30 at 9:30pm est. From November 30 to December 2 at 11am est, I documented 37 accounts that are tweeting more than humanly possible and amplifying hashtags. There are more than 37 and they may not be intentionally coordinating together, however the effect of these cyborgs tweeting the same hashtags in the same time frame is like an engine running in the background, driving up the quantities of tweets and magnifying the reach of the trends.

The first account I looked at in this hashtag — Annon86368030 — was one of the top users for several hashtags and it appeared abnormal in gephi graphs. This is a brand new account that was created on November 30. Below you can see the account’s profile as it appeared when I found it on Friday morning December 1 and the after screenshot from December 2 when it changed to a plain black avatar and header image and changed its location from Kekistan to United States.

Despite being a brand new account, Annon86368030 managed to tweet 696 tweets in about one day.

«

(For non-Americans, the Steinle verdict came from a murder/manslaughter trial of a Mexican national, deported multiple times from the US, who shot dead a woman in San Francisco in 2015. He didn’t deny the shooting but claimed it was an accident. He faces a prison sentence for handgun possession, but was acquitted of murder and manslaughter. As you’d expect, his immigration record was not part of the trial evidence.)

What’s surprising about this analysis is that accounts created on a day can tweet so much. I thought they’d be rate-limited. (Thanks Jim C for the link.)
link to this extract


This robot aced an exam without understanding a thing • CNBC

Ruth Umoh:

»

The Todai Robot, for example, was able to write a 600-word essay on maritime trade in the 17th century better than most students. Noriko Arai, AI expert and member of the team that built the robot, explains in her TED Talk “Can a Robot Pass a University Entrance Exam?” that this wasn’t because it possesses intelligence, but rather because it can recognize key words.

“Our robot took the sentences from the textbooks and Wikipedia, combined them together, and optimized it to produce an essay without understanding a thing,” Arai says.

“We humans can understand the meaning,” she says. “That is something which is very, very lacking in AI.”
Over the last year, there has been increasing concern over how smart robots are becoming and the eventual eradication of certain industries. However, most of the focus has been on the loss of blue collar jobs. But according to David Lee, vice president of innovation at UPS, it’s not just jobs like factory worker and truck driver at risk.

In his TED Talk titled, “Why Jobs of the Future Won’t Feel Like Work,” Lee says that even the smartest, highest-paid people will be affected by the “tremendous gains in the quality of analysis and decision-making because of machine learning.”

«

Its essay was marked in the top 20% of students on an entrance exam to the University of Tokyo. I’m not sure this matters. Better questions are: can it act on what it reports? Can it decide whether the content is correct or not? Synthesizing human writing is, as this demonstrates, something lots of students learn to do. What’s more important is learning what to do next.
link to this extract


Google Home Mini crash/reboot if volume is too high • Google Product Forums

»

Not sure that this is the EXACT problem but it is the symptoms.

If I’m playing a song on Play music, then it will reboot after a few seconds.
After reboot, if I say “Set volume to 6” it will play the song ok.

Happens with multiple songs and extremely often.

«

Confirmed by multiple people. (And at Reddit.) Hardware, or possibly software, is hard.
link to this extract


If your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch unexpectedly restarts • Apple Support

»

If your device with iOS 11 unexpectedly restarts repeatedly on or after December 2, 2017, learn what to do. 

Try to update your device to iOS 11.2. After you tap Download and Install, the download will continue even if your device restarts. Wait for the update to complete.
If you can’t update, turn off notifications for all the apps on your device, then update your device to iOS 11.2:
• Tap Settings > Notifications.
• Tap an app, then turn off Allow Notifications. Repeat this step for each app.
• Update your device to iOS 11.2.

«

Software is hard.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google faces Safari suit, Proton’s search query, the guy who killed Trump’s tweets, and more


Best estimates suggest this is the best-selling “stationary smart speaker”. But how big is the upside? Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

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

UK class action accuses Google of unlawfully harvesting personal data • The Guardian

Graham Ruddick:

»

More than 5 million people in the UK could be entitled to compensation from Google if a class action against the internet giant for allegedly harvesting personal data is successful.

A group led by the former executive director of consumer body Which?, Richard Lloyd, and advised by City law firm Mischon de Reya claims Google unlawfully collected personal information by bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone between June 2011 and February 2012.

They have launched a legal action with the aim of securing compensation for those affected. The group, called Google You Owe Us, says that approximately 5.4 million people in Britain used the iPhone during this period and could be entitled to compensation.

Google is accused of breaching principles in the UK’s data protection laws in a “violation of trust” against iPhone users.

«

Odd. This case was litigated back in 2014, where it was established that there is a tort in law of misuse of private data. That case dribbled away before it could reach the Supreme Court – Google is believed to have settled out of court – but now it’s back again with a new cast. It’s like a musical that never closes. (The establishment of the tort as a precedent means this case is very likely to succeed.)
link to this extract


Why did ProtonMail vanish from Google search results for months? • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»

In 2015, ProtonMail had passed half a million users. Earlier this year it exited beta, and added iOS and Android apps. It now has around two million users, according to founder Andy Yen. Back in March he told TechCrunch that ProtonMail was approaching break even — through donations and paid accounts.

However, in a blog post published on 26 October titled “Search Risk”, the company claims Google nearly killed its product and seriously dented its profitability by disappearing “ProtonMail” from relevant search results.

In November 2015, Yen writes that the company noticed it was no longer appearing in Google search results for related search queries — despite roughly doubling its user base by that fall — whereas all other major search engines were still returning ProtonMail prominently in their results:

ProtonMail tracked this situation through Spring 2016, trying to get in touch with Google to query why it had vanished from search results — and initially having no luck getting a response. It only eventually got an acknowledgment of the complaint in August after it had tweeted at Google staff.

After that public exchange, ProtonMail was apparently informed within a few days that Google had “fixed something” — and after that it was able to see immediately positive results:

A quick test confirms that a search for “secure email” or “encrypted email” in Google now returns ProtonMail as the top or second result.

«

They say they haven’t heard of other cases like it. Haven’t they heard of Foundem, which was suppressed for ages by Google? They probably will soon – Yelp has asked them to join an antitrust coalition against Google.
link to this extract


A stationary smart speaker mirage • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart on the Amazon Echo/Dot/etc and Google Home and Sonos One:

»

The major takeaway from customer surveys regarding smart speakers usage is that there isn’t any clear trend. If anything, smart speakers are being used for rudimentary tasks that can just as easily be done with digital voice assistants found on smartwatches or smartphones. This environment paints a very different picture of the current health of the smart speaker market. The narrative in the press is simply too rosy and optimistic.

Ultimately, smart speakers end up competing with a seemingly unlikely product category: wearables. In fact, stationary smart speakers and wrist wearables share a surprising amount of similarities. Each is ultimately based on handling tasks formerly given to smartphones and tablets. Two examples are delivering both digital voice assistants and sound. If the goal is to rely on a digital voice assistant, an Apple Watch wearer has access to Siri at pretty much every waking  moment. When simply wearing an Apple Watch, Siri is instantly available everywhere in the home. The same kind of access to Alexa would require five, ten, or maybe even 15 Echo speakers spaced strategically throughout the home (another reason why Echo sales are becoming increasingly misleading – some consumers may be buying a handful of $20 speakers at one time). With a cellular Apple Watch, Siri is now available outside the home even when users are away from their iPhones. Meanwhile, Alexa is stuck within four walls – at least until Amazon unveils its Alexa smartwatch. 

Wearables contain a much more attractive long-term value proposition than stationary smart speakers that have to be connected to a wall outlet. In addition, the presence of a screen provides even more value as it has become very clear that voice-first or voice-only interfaces just aren’t that efficient.

The writing is on the wall. The stationary speaker market is a stopgap measure taking advantage of relatively low wearables adoption. My estimate is that Apple Watch adoption stands at 3% of the iPhone user base (10% to 15% of iPhone users in the U.S.). As that percentage increases, my suspicion is we will start to see the stationary smart speaker market begin to experience usage and retention troubles.

«

I think he’s right that most people buy the cheapest one – ie the Dot – so there’s a race to the bottom. But what if wearables don’t quite take off?
link to this extract


Arkansas prosecutors drop murder case that hinged on evidence from Amazon Echo • NPR

Colin Dwyer:

»

Arkansas prosecutors have dropped their case against James Bates, whom they had charged with first-degree murder partly with the help of evidence collected by an Amazon Echo smart speaker. On Wednesday, a circuit court judge granted their request to have the charges of murder and tampering with evidence dismissed.

The prosecutors declared nolle prosequi, stating that the evidence could support more than one reasonable explanation.

The move marks a curious end to a still more curious case, which had revolved around the role played by a personal assistant device that’s supposed to begin recording as soon as someone says its wake word — “Alexa,” in this case — in its presence.

«

I guess *drum roll* they couldn’t get Alexa to talk.

I’ll get me coat.

link to this extract


Apple Heart Study launches to identify irregular heart rhythms • Apple

»

Apple today launched the Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor’s unique optical design gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist, and when combined with powerful software algorithms, Apple Watch isolates heart rhythms from other noise. The Apple Heart Study app uses this technology to identify an irregular heart rhythm.

«

(You have to be over 17 to download the free app: “Infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco or drug use or references.” Huh?)

Or you can get a $199 Watch band and a $99 annual subscription to a new offering from KardiaBand, which acts as an EKG with a thumb pulse reader attached to the band.
link to this extract


Google’s new Android app stops other apps from wasting your data • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

there’s a big button at the top of the app that lets you stop all background data usage, so only the app that’s actively onscreen can use mobile data. A chat-head style bubble will also pop up to let you know how much data your currently running app is using up. And if you don’t want to block every single app from using background data, Datally will let you go in and control data usage on an app by app basis, too.

If you’re a longtime Android user, Datally might not sound all that exciting. Nearly all of the app’s functions are already built into Android directly. But those features are hidden inside the settings menu, and they aren’t spelled out quite as neatly as they appear to be inside Datally. As a standalone app, it’ll also be much easier for people to find and remember to use.

Datally is being released as part of Google’s Next Billion Users initiative, which is focused on making Google products more usable in countries that have limited mobile connections and where lower-end hardware remains widespread.

«

Um.. wouldn’t it be better just to improve the settings layout? Or make it a marquee feature when people are setting up or updating their phone?

“Background App Refresh” (which this sounds like) is part of, yes, Settings on iOS; so is whether apps can use mobile data. This seems like a strange landgrab.
link to this extract


Meet the man who deactivated Trump’s Twitter account • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

»

His last day at Twitter [working on customer service at the Trust and Safety team] was mostly uneventful, he says. There were many goodbyes, and he worked up until the last hour before his computer access was to be shut off. Near the end of his shift, the fateful alert came in.

This is where Trump’s behavior intersects with Duysak’s work life. Someone reported Trump’s account on Duysak’s last day; as a final, throwaway gesture, he put the wheels in motion to deactivate it. Then he closed his computer and left the building.

Several hours later, the panic began. Duysak tells us that it started when he was approached by a woman whom he didn’t know very well. According to Duysak, the woman said that she had been contacted by someone asking about Duysak in connection with Trump’s Twitter account. After a moment of disbelief, he said he then looked at the news and realized what had happened.

«

Bahtiyar Duysak. He’s never going to have to buy himself a drunk again in his life.
link to this extract


Goodbye, Twitter • Rambling Space

Can Duruk likes Twitter; it’s the only social network he’s on. And he’s giving up Twitter. Why?

»

Would [a Nazi who appeared in his mentions] try to gang up on me? I have been bullied on Twitter before, people have tried to steal my account many times. But here was a Nazi. And then it hit me. Why am I engaging with Nazis? Why is this on me? Because Twitter wants me to.

There’s a perverse belief in American society that corporations exist on a different plane of reality. It’s not just Main Street vs Wall Street. But that corporations do business, and there are people, and sometimes they interact via #brands or whatever, but largely they are separate. But that’s just dumb. Corporations exist in a society. They are made up of people, operate via people. They have people on their boards, their employees are people. Software might be eating the world, but it hasn’t yet.

Corporations have voices. Here in the western world, they largely operate in democratic societies with a strong rule of law. They trust some people cannot come and take their property away. And more importantly, these people that make up these companies trust that their lives won’t be in danger for just being themselves, for being who they are. Yet, here we have people who want to throw it all out, and the strongest reaction from most social networks is “meh”. The profits Twitter (tries to) make are predicated on a set of values that these want to overthrow. Twitter is fine with it.

«

Read too his thought experiment on what Trump would have to do to be kicked off the service. (Permanently, I mean.)
link to this extract


We’re all part of Trump’s show • The New York Times

Bret Stephens:

»

The Trump news is scarier, funnier, more salacious and more relevant than anything else on TV. It’s why the apolitical Jimmy Fallon has floundered in the age of Trump while the hyperpolitical Stephen Colbert has thrived. For a president who cares more about ratings than he does about polls, this is the ultimate vindication. He minds less if you hate him so long as he knows that you’re thinking about him.

The truth about Trump is not that he’s crazy. He’s a narcissist and a neurotic with a feral talent for attracting the attention he craves. In Russia, Putin can compel attention thanks to his complete control over most media and many other aspects of ordinary life. In the United States, citizens can deprive Trump of his political oxygen simply by turning off and tuning out.

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It would be terrific if politicians – and the media – would ignore the junk in the tweets and focus on the politics. Trump has actually accomplished very little. But the US TV networks are like cats and his tweets a laser pointer.
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$99/month is a steal for CloudApp for iMobile • bylr.net

Dan Byler was browsing for an iOS-native cloud service and came across a thing called “CloudApp”:

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The Setup Instructions info link goes to Apple’s own iCloud support site. And in case it’s hard to read, the app basically lists iCloud’s services as its list of features.1

But hey, it’s cheap! Only $99/month!

I nearly fell prey to the scam myself: while screenshotting the app, I accidentally subscribed (because of the way TouchID is integrated into the home button – and the home button is part of taking screenshots):

Fortunately, I know how to cancel iTunes subscriptions, but I’m sure a lot of the app’s users don’t.

I reported the app to Apple on November 26, but as of writing this (three days later) the app is still live in the App Store. Perhaps this helpful review of the App Store Review Guidelines will help inform whether this app is legitimate, according to the current rules:

1.1.6 False information and features, including inaccurate device data or trick/joke functionality, such as fake location trackers.

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Not available in the UK. Unclear whether it’s still available in the US.

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November 2016: American Airlines pilots upset with holiday bid schedule • Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Andrea Ahles, in November 2016:

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American Airlines pilots are upset about their December flight schedules, saying that the carrier’s computer software unfairly assigned high-seniority pilots to fly on Christmas.

In a hotline sent to 15,000 pilots on Thursday evening, the Allied Pilots Association said the problems occurred with the version of preferential bidding system software used to create the December schedules.

“It has been botched,” said Dan Carey, the union’s president, at a news briefing on Wednesday. “We have senior pilots who will be working over the holidays in December and junior pilots who will be off.”

According to the union, a newer version of the software that American received in November could have been used to avoid some of the seniority issues. However, American’s information technology team said the software had not been fully tested and senior management chose to use the older version.

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Something tells me that the problems that American announced this week weren’t down to a “computer glitch”. (Via Wendy Grossman.)
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