Start Up: coding to kill, CES goes dark, Apple sells mesh Wi-Fi, Huawei chief’s rant, and more

The Great Barrier Reef is dying due to climate change. What now? Photo by FarbenfroheWunderwelt on Flickr.

A selection of 14 links for you. Buy high, sell low, unless you’re buying my cryptocoins, in which case just buy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

This Israeli presentation on how to make drone strikes more “efficient” disturbed its audience • The Intercept

Sam Biddle:


The doctoral student who presented the research demonstrated how pioneering data visualization techniques could show a drone operator, using lines and arrows of varying thickness, which direction fast-moving people and vehicles were most likely to travel, for example, at an intersection or while fleeing a building. The presentation clearly angered at least some of the crowd, including the moderator, prompting hostile questions.

“The guy’s talk (and its video documentation) revealed much of what’s very wrong about UAV warfare,” said Mushon Zer-Aviv, a web designer and activist and an organizer of the conference, the data visualization confab known as ISVIS.

The incident at ISVIS underscores the extent to which drone warfare’s deeply technological basis and inhumanity has become a major part of global public debate around its use. Once viewed (and still promoted) as an efficient, safer way to target terrorists, the growing ubiquity of lethal drone strikes in global hotspots is increasingly seen as helping to create wastelands and fomenting the sort of terroristic support it’s designed to eradicate.


I can’t do better than Maciej Cieglowski’s comment: “This is an extreme example of a dynamic we see across the tech world: abdicating moral agency to work on cool code.”
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Great Barrier Reef tourism operators beg for action on bleaching • Brisbane Times

Jorge Branco:


Dozens of Queensland small businesses, many which wouldn’t exist without the Great Barrier Reef, have issued a dire warning to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The open letter published on Saturday comes as new research predicts bleaching as severe bleaching could become the “new normal”, recurring biyearly by the mid-2030s.

In a move contrary to recent attempts from tourism bodies to downplay the extent of the bleaching, 175 tourism operators, dive professionals and tradies labelled the mass damage a “disaster needing urgent action”.

They called on the Turnbull government to rule out any financing, investment or help with associated infrastructure for the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion and Adani’s controversial Carmichael mine, the largest in Australia.

They pointed the finger at climate change, calling for investment in renewable energy projects, particularly in regional Queensland and a band on any new coal mines.

Eye to Eye Marine Encounters director John Rumney said some businesses had been afraid to speak out, worried it could mean bad publicity. “But the long-term viability of all our businesses relies entirely on Reef staying healthy and it is in danger,” he said, in a press release issued by the Climate Media Centre.


In our lifetimes, the Great Barrier Reef could be dead. This is a calamity.
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Apple now selling mesh Wi-Fi system as AirPort line remains unchanged • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:


Apple has started selling a mesh Wi-Fi system from Linksys both on its website and in stores. The move is notable as Apple hasn’t updated its own Wi-Fi base station hardware since 2013 and doesn’t currently offer its own mesh Wi-Fi system.

The future of Apple’s networking hardware has long been unclear for that reason.

Bloomberg reported over a year ago that Apple disbanded its AirPort team and planned no future hardware releases. Since then we’ve seen no update to the AirPort hardware. AirPort Wi-Fi base stations are still being sold today and haven’t changed in price…

…When asked about the move to sell a third-party mesh system and the future of the AirPort line, an Apple spokesperson shared this with 9to5Mac:

People love our AirPort products and we continue to sell them. Connectivity is important in the home and we are giving customers yet another option that is well suited for larger homes.

Apple’s choice for that option is the Linksys Velop Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System which comes in two flavors: $350 for a 2-pack system or $500 for a 3-pack solution. The Tri-Band Wi-Fi system is rated to provide coverage for 2,000 square feet with each Node which can be configured from the Linksys iPhone and iPad app.


Well that’s certainly interesting. It’s not as if it was going to sell Google’s offering, of course. I don’t think eero’s has been cleared for UK or European use. Mesh seems like the future if you need something that size.
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Major power outage hits CES, a consumer electronics show • The Verge

Dami Lee:


Power in the North and Central halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which hosts CES annually, was out for nearly two hours on Wednesday. First reports of the power outage began hitting Twitter from convention goers starting around 11:14AM PT, and was slowly restored shortly after 1:00PM PT. Security evacuated most visitors from the affected halls during that time.

The outage impacted hundreds of companies, including giants like LG, Samsung, and Sony, as well as many small startups that paid thousands of dollars to have a presence on the giant show floor. This year’s CES seems to be marked by more chaos than usual, including unprecedented rain that flooded streets and shut down Google’s giant funhouse booth for a day.


Maybe they could make this a regular thing there.
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Bitcoin can drop 50% and China miners will still make money • Bloomberg

Dan Murtaugh:


“Bitcoin mining under the current price is likely to be profitable under any electricity price regime in China,” Lu wrote.

Cryptocurrency power use is facing more scrutiny, particularly in China, which is concerned miners are taking advantage of low electricity prices. Digital currency transactions require energy-intensive computer networks, with the industry now using as much power as 3.4 million U.S. households, according to Digiconomist Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index. China is said to be planning to limit power use by miners, which are starting to look elsewhere.

Electricity demand for bitcoin mining rose to about 20.5 terawatt-hours a year by the end of 2017, according to BNEF. That equates to more than half the 38 terawatt-hours of electricity used annually by the world’s biggest traditional miner, BHP Billiton – or a tenth of the electricity needed to power South Africa.

In China, miners used 15.4 terawatt hours, which is just a blip in the country’s massive power industry. Even though it plays host to the world’s biggest community of bitcoin miners, they only used 0.2% of the country’s annual electricity production, according to the report.


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‘Sexy girl’ bots scam ¥1 billion from dating app users in China • That’s Beijing

Gary Bailer:


In possibly the oddest news story to have come out of China so far this year, police recently revealed that chat bots posing as bodacious babes have scammed dating app users out of a collective fortune.

The investigation began last August, when Guangdong police picked up on an app asking users to pay to view pornographic videos that, alas, did not exist.

From there, the investigation expanded to apps run in 13 provinces across China. As of January 8, over 600 individuals had been arrested and 21 companies shut down in cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Changsha and Wuhan.

On the dating apps they formerly operated, some of the so-called single women were in fact chat bots programmed to flirt with users, especially ones that were new to the platform.

In at least one case, Sixth Tone reports, app users could exchange a few messages with a ‘sexy’ bot before being asked to upgrade to VIP status for RMB200.


This is the oddest story out of China so far? Then again it’s only the 10th.

Basically, though, Ashley Madison but a bit more low-rent.
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Stellar iPhone X performance in GB, China & Japan • Kantar Worldpanel


In the USA, the iPhone X was outsold by the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus in the month of November but did round off the top three best-selling models for the month, easily beating the top Samsung model, the Galaxy S8, which is in sixth position.

The iPhone X was the top selling Smartphone in Japan in November, commanding an 18.2% share, closely followed by the iPhone 8 at 17.2% share. Meanwhile, in urban China, demand for the iPhone X has exceeded all expectations, as Dominic Sunnebo explains, “Apple was riding on the back of some momentum before the iPhone X release but demand for latest model in urban China has been staggering given its price point.

“Apple is now back on form – the iPhone X was the top selling model in urban China in November, with a market share of 6.0%. Unlike in Europe and the US, where the vast majority of new early iPhone X sales came from existing Apple smartphone owners, in urban China there are significant numbers of Huawei, Xiaomi and Samsung customers switching to the new iPhone models, which they deem a cut above the rest.”


Apple had a share of 49.4% in the UK in November. That’s astonishing.
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Maven buys HubPages: No future for mom-and-pop publishers • ZDNet

Tom Foremski:


[HubPages CEO Paul] Edmondson told me that it seemed as if improving the quality of the content resulted in triggering a volatile ranking by Google rather than a positive increase. Months of hard work were not paying off.

I found the reason it wasn’t working described in a Google patent.

Google is very suspicious of anything that increases a sites search rank. It suspects some possible spammy search engine optimization tricks might be at work so it will flag the web site and cause its search rank to fluctuate wildly so as to prevent testing the possible SEO actions. Then it will schedule a manual check of the web site to see if it is legit.

This means that if you rewrite your website to improve quality — and Google wants higher quality content — you are using optimizing your site deliberately to improve your ranking. Google will flag this as suspicious behavior and will vary your page ranking on a random basis that has nothing to do with the changes you made.

You cannot win. Your business success is in the hands of another entity.

Google and Facebook today have about 85% of all mobile ad traffic and they dominate desktop ad markets – small mom and pop publishers have to combine into large enough networks to attract the media buyers.

It’s a race to the bottom – Google revenues are 15% to 18% less per click per quarter – but Google can race to the bottom and still beat Wall Street estimates. That’s not the case for smaller media companies.

The disruption in the media industry will continue in 2018. There is no stable business model and there is none in sight.


On the plus side, a lot of the junk sites which fed off the 2016 US election should die, if this is correct.
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Sneaky crypto malware miners are targeting ad networks next • CoinDesk

Jonathan Keane:


Websites and publishers need to be prepared for cryptocurrency miners slipping into ads on their sites, according to Israeli adtech firm Spotad.

The company, which operates an AI-powered advertising platform for purchasing media space, recently discovered cryptocurrency mining activity on its network, a development the company claims is becoming part of wider trend.

Spotad’s AI system, named “Sarah,” recently identified anomalies in the code of seemingly legitimate ads for both desktop and mobile that turned out to be a miner for the cryptocurrency monero. The JavaScript-enabled ad was designed to dupe users into clicking on a pop-up that would initiate the mining process.

According to co-founder Yoav Oz, the agency responsible for the ad was unaware of the code that was embedded inside. The name of the agency or the subject of the ad has not been disclosed.


The irony would be if some of the fake sites that run ads were to be exploited in this way. Be really hard to know where one’s sympathies lay then.
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Essential Phone review, four months later: The sun is setting on this experiment • Android Central

Andrew Martonik:


Aside from the hardware, every other aspect of my Essential Phone experience has been about frustration. Mostly, it boils down to horrendous software stability and performance. Despite dozens of updates and the anecdotes you may have seen that indicate performance issues have been “fixed,” it most certainly hasn’t. The Essential Phone is handily outperformed by a Moto G5, and that’s just unacceptable — at $699, for sure, but at $499 as well.

Four or five years ago, Android phones were slow and unstable like this. But not today.
It all starts with just general app instability. Apps crash — a lot. More than I’ve experienced on any other phone. They freeze, stutter, lock up and force close. Sometimes you tap an app to open it, and nothing happens for multiple seconds.


The comments are the thing here – plenty of people with the same experience. Essential’s whopping valuation suddenly looks like smoke unless it can do something amazing in the smart home space.
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Huawei’s CEO going off-script to rage at US carriers was the best speech of CES • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


The Huawei boss did something unexpected at the end of his keynote, however. Framed by a simple slide reading “Something I Want to Share,” Yu proceeded to address the failure of Huawei’s carrier deal directly. Shedding the earlier hesitation in his speech, he made the point that American phone buyers can’t have the best and widest choice of device if Huawei products — those of the world’s third-biggest phone vendor — weren’t on offer. “Everybody knows that in the US market that over 90% of smartphones are sold by carrier channels,” he said. “It’s a big loss for us, and also for carriers, but the more big loss is for consumers, because consumers don’t have the best choice.”

Harkening back to the beginning of his Huawei career 25 years ago, Yu radiated a quiet anger at the mistrust his company is being subjected to. He said Huawei faced plenty of doubters in its native China too, being an almost total newcomer to consumer devices six years ago. “We win the trust of the Chinese carriers, we win the trust of the emerging markets… and also we win the trust of the global carriers, all the European and Japanese carriers,” he said. “We are serving over 70 million people worldwide. We’ve proven our quality, we’ve proven our privacy and security protection.”

I craned my neck to look at the teleprompters behind me and they were blank. Yu’s most inspired and most eloquent speech, it turned out, was being delivered without any external help.


Then again “best speech of CES” isn’t that high a bar.
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News UK finds high levels of domain spoofing to the tune of $1 million a month in lost revenue • Digiday

Jessica Davies:


To investigate the level of domain spoofing occurring against its news brands, News UK conducted a programmatic blackout test for two hours in December. The result: 2.9 million bids per hour were made on fake inventory purporting to be News UK’s The Sun and The Times of London newspaper brands.

From the results, the publisher estimates that marketers are wasting £700,000 ($950,000) on domain-spoofed inventory per month. A total of 650,000 ad requests were made each hour, according to the publisher.

The publisher conducted the test between 3a.m. and 5 a.m. on Dec. 4, deliberately choosing a time that would be less disruptive to site visitors and wouldn’t hamper revenues or ongoing campaigns. The publisher shut down all programmatic advertising on its sites, including all supply-side platforms, its header bidding wrapper and all networks. During this time, it was impossible to buy programmatic inventory on The Sun, the Times or News UK’s fantasy football brand Dream Team. That made it easy to isolate inventory that still appeared to be offered on its sites as fraudulent.


That’s a lot of money which is being sent to fake sites pretending to be News UK. You can bet it’s repeated far and wide through the ad business. Third-party digital ads must, surely, surely now be reaching some kind of point where it’s not worth advertisers using them, at which point the system collapses?
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Collision course: why this type of road junction will keep killing cyclists • Single Track World

“Bez” on a junction in the UK where the angle of road intersection is perfect to make a cyclist invisible behind the driver-side pillar as they approach it:


At the position shown, approximately 100m from the junction at Ipley Cross, the pillar obscures roughly 12m of Beaulieu road. That’s six bicycle lengths: enough to hide not just a cyclist but a small group of riders.

Of course, as the driver approaches that junction, that obscured section of road moves towards the junction with them. As does the cyclist.

Parekh’s car had a black box type device, which (contrary to his statements to police) recorded his approach to the junction at a steady speed of 37mph. At this speed it would have taken six seconds to cover the 100m to the collision, and the following image shows the approximate areas obscured by the Zafira’s pillar at six points in time representing each incremental second leading up to impact, with the red area showing the pillar shadow one second prior to impact.

Although the obscured section of road becomes smaller as the driver approaches, it remains large enough to completely obscure a bicycle until less than a second prior to impact: too late for either party to react.


There have been multiple accidents with cyclists – including deaths – at that junction. It would be good to have a way to figure out how to discover where such junctions exist.
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I tried the first phone with an in-display fingerprint sensor • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


The mechanics of setting up your fingerprint on the phone and then using it to unlock the device and do things like authenticate payments are the same as with a traditional fingerprint sensor. The only difference I experienced was that the Vivo handset was slower — both to learn the contours of my fingerprint and to unlock once I put my thumb on the on-screen fingerprint prompt — but not so much as to be problematic. Basically, every other fingerprint sensor these days is ridiculously fast and accurate, so with this being newer tech, its slight lag feels more palpable.

Vivo is using a newly announced Synaptics optical sensor, which has been in development for years. It works by peering through the gaps between the pixels in an OLED display (LCDs wouldn’t work because of their need for a backlight) and scanning your uniquely patterned epidermis. This is likely the tech that Synaptics and Samsung were collaborating on for the Galaxy S8 for last year, right up until it became apparent that it wouldn’t be ready in time for the phone’s release. Things are different now, as Vivo is close to announcing this as-yet-unnamed phone properly and Synaptics is already in mass production with the so-called Clear ID sensor.


Won’t replace or be added to FaceID; Samsung might get it into the Galaxy Note 9. It’s a nice idea, but there are questions about the accuracy – as it’s optical, how good will the error rate (positive or negative) be?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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