Start Up: the Spotify playlist black market, how Siri soured, who’ll wear WearOS?, Toys’R’Us bust, and more

These guys will probably get their contract renewed. Photo by Elliott Brown on Flickr.

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

Exclusive: Amazon’s internal numbers on Prime Video, revealed • Reuters

Jeffrey Dastin:


a person familiar with its strategy said the company credits a specific show for luring someone to start or extend a Prime subscription if that program is the first one a customer streams after signing up. That metric, referenced throughout the documents, is known as a “first stream.”

The company then calculates how expensive the viewer was to acquire by dividing the show’s costs by the number of first streams it had. The lower that figure, the better.

The internal documents do not show how long subscribers stayed with Prime, nor do they indicate how much shopping they do on Amazon. The company reviews other metrics for its programs as well. Consequently, the documents do not provide enough information to determine the overall profitability of Amazon’s Hollywood endeavor.

Still, the numbers indicate that broad-interest shows can lure Prime members cheaply by Amazon’s calculations. One big winner was the motoring series “The Grand Tour,” which stars the former presenters of BBC’s “Top Gear.” The show had more than 1.5 million first streams from Prime members worldwide, at a cost of $49 per subscriber in its first season.

The documents seen by Reuters reflect Prime subscribers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and Japan, where Amazon’s programs were available before Prime Video rolled out globally in December 2016.

Analysts estimate that 75 million or more customers have Prime subscriptions worldwide, including about half of all households in the United States.

About 26 million US Prime members watched television and movies on Amazon as of early 2017. Reuters calculated this number from the documents, which showed how many viewers a TV series had as a percentage of total Prime Video customers.

Rival Netflix Inc had twice that many US subscribers in the first quarter of last year. It does not disclose how many were active viewers.


Those numbers for Grand Tour perhaps aren’t surprising, but they’ll be very reassuring for Clarkson et al.
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Graphics that look hand-drawn • Rough.js


Rough.js is a light weight (~8k), Canvas based library that lets you draw in a sketchy, hand-drawn-like, style. The library defines primitives to draw lines, curves, arcs, polygons, circles, and ellipses. It also supports drawing SVG paths.


So it produces effects like this:

or this

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Inside the black market for Spotify playlists • Daily Dot

Austin Powell:


Tommie King could be the next rapper to breakout from Atlanta. He’s well-connected, has obvious swagger, and he’s been quietly building a successful collection of singles on Spotify. His latest, “Eastside (feat. Cyhi the Prynce),” has already clocked more than 110,000 streams, driven largely by its placement on 14 independent playlists.

Gone are the days of hustling in parking lots, selling mixtapes out of the trunk of your car. In the modern music economy, in which streaming services account for nearly two-thirds of the total revenue generated by recorded music, emerging artists are increasingly being tracked via big data. Spotify streams, YouTube views, Twitter interactions, and even Wikipedia searches are all being used to discover the proverbial next big thing. That’s why King’s manager has worked to land his music on a staggering 594 Spotify playlists to date.

“Without Spotify playlists, to tell you the honest truth, I wouldn’t feel like we were accomplishing much,” King tells me when I reach him at the phone number he lists publicly on his Facebook page. “Streams are now the only way to really reach people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to connect with. It gives you the ability to be played worldwide, which we’re doing quite well with.

“That’s everything nowadays.”

There’s just one catch: King essentially paid to be added to those Spotify playlists… The black market for Spotify playlists is booming. It’s cheaper than you might expect to hack the system — and if it’s done right, it more than pays for itself.


Ironic: because they’re human-curated, the biggest playlists are targets for this. It’s the modern payola. (Millenial readers: like paid SEO for music on the radio.)
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‘Snitches get stitches’: how secure phones for criminals are sold on Instagram • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:


On Saturday, Motherboard reported that the FBI has arrested the CEO of Phantom Secure, a company allegedly providing security-focused phones to international organized crime groups including the Sinaloa drug cartel. A key issue is whether Phantom deliberately created its product to help facilitate crime, which the criminal complaint alleges.

As it turns out, a Phantom-linked Instagram account, used mostly for marketing the company’s products, isn’t subtle when it comes to the organization’s alleged connection to crime; a brazen trend seen across the wider secure phone industry, too.

“Snitches get stitches,” one image, uploaded to Phantom PGP’s Instagram account, an apparent reseller of Phantom’s phones, reads. It is unclear whether this particular reseller or those operating other accounts advertising Phantom phones are connected to the recent charges against the main Phantom company and its owner.

Phantom and a number of other companies in this space sell customized BlackBerry or Android devices, typically with the camera and microphone removed, as well as, in Phantom’s case, the GPS-tracking and ordinary internet browsing functionality. In place of texts or phone calls, Phantom’s phones route encrypted messages through the company’s own infrastructure.


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The seven-year itch: how Apple’s marriage to Siri turned sour • The Information

Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin:


The Topsy team [acquired by Apple in 2013] ultimately grew into a massive organization under Mr. Stasior that now nearly rivals the number of employees on the Siri team, said one former employee. Topsy CEO Vipul Ved Prakash continues to lead that search group and reports directly to Mr. Stasior.

Uniting the existing Siri team with the expanding search unit under Mr. Stasior proved troublesome. Members of the Topsy team expressed a reluctance to work with a Siri team they viewed as slow and bogged down by the initial infrastructure that had been patched up but never completely replaced since it launched.

“There was a feeling that, ‘Why don’t we just start over and build what we need to build, and then worry about reconciling those two later?’” said a former member of the search team. “They’re still reconciling it.”

Core Siri and Spotlight are powered by a combination of both Topsy’s technology and Siri Data Services, which is based on older search technology ported over from iTunes search but modified for Siri and launched in 2013, said the former employee. Siri Data Services deals with things like Wikipedia, stocks and movie showtimes, while Topsy sorts through Twitter, news and web results. The Siri Data Services team was eventually lumped into the Topsy team under Mr. Prakash with the plan to integrate all of the tech into a single stack. But they’re based on two different programming languages and are tricky to reconcile.

The difficulty integrating the search teams led to some embarrassing outcomes. Users could get completely different responses to the same question based on whether they were using Siri or Spotlight—which were powered by two different search technologies built by two different teams.


This verrry long piece indicates that there’s a hell of a lot of competing groups, and no overarching view of quite how to fix Siri – nor quite what it should be. We all know what we want Siri to do. But it seems like there are conflicting ideas on how to get there.
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‘Hey’ used to be for horses • 500ish Words

MG Siegler:


Save for the Echo, each of these assistants is invoked by speaking the words “hey _____.” “Hey Google.” “Hey Siri.” “Hey Cortana.” With Amazon’s device, it’s simply “Alexa.”

Again, this seems like a tiny thing. It’s one syllable. But I think it matters.

I live in a house with both the Echo and the Home. And I’m always testing out Siri to see what she can and cannot do in relation to the competition. It’s just so much nicer to invoke Alexa than the others. And I’m certain a part of it is not having to add that extra wake word.

It also happens to be an awful word. Hey. Every time I hear it, I think back to growing up when my parents would make the dreadful parenting joke — which was really more of a reprimand. “‘Hey’ is for horses.” These days, we’re not only letting our children say “hey”, we’re basically forcing them to.
So I welcome the news that Microsoft is apparently doing away with “hey” for Cortana. And I hope Apple and Google follow suit. Sure, it may lead to a few more cases of accidental invoking, but I think the upside will be worth it.

Eventually, I imagine all of these devices are going to let you choose your own wake word. Yes, you can already change it on the Echo, but I mean picking something totally random personalized to you or your family.


I thought it was “OK Google” rather than “hey, Google” but the general point holds. And being able to personalise the wake word seems like a completely obvious setting, especially for privacy-conscious Apple: why should absolutely anybody be able to invoke my personal assistant just because they’re in speaking range?
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Android Wear, it’s time for a new name • Google Blog

Dennis Troper was director of product management at Android Wear:


Android Wear was founded on the belief that wearable technology should be for everyone, no matter what style you wear on your wrist or what phone you have in your pocket. Since then, we’ve partnered with top watch and electronics brands to create more than 50 watches to help you manage your fitness, connect with the people who matter most, and show you the information you care about. The best part: We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with wearables and there’s even more exciting work ahead.

As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone. So as the watch industry gears up for another Baselworld next week, we’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all—the people who wear our watches. We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone.


And now Troper is director of product management at Wear OS. That one-in-three figure is quite a number, but I don’t think this is going to change the trajectory of Android W–er, Wear OS. Sales are tiny compared to Apple Watch, and there’s no reason to think this will suddenly juice them.
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The key to the iPhone X’s future lies in China • Forbes

Luke Kelly on prospects for the rumoured larger-screened iPhone X+1 later this year:


As per this report from IDC, China consumed 50% of the 437.4m so-called “phablets” shipped in 2016, and the country is expected to remain the largest market for large-screen smartphones.

“Chinese customers like bigger screens,” says Jia. “Close to 26% of smartphones shipped in Q4 2017 had 6in screens or larger, while this figure is just 10.7% in the U.S.” This phenomenon has led the larger “Plus” iPhone models to sell significantly better than their smaller siblings in China – the iPhone 7 Plus was the second best selling handset in China last year.

This is because many Chinese smartphone users own just one device, explains Zhang. “A smartphone is their only device to connect to the internet, so they want their smartphones to be as big as possible for playing games, multitasking and watching videos,” she explains.

Although this upcoming device could cost even more than the iPhone X, it seems clear that for China’s most affluent citizens, affordability is not an issue. Where American and European consumers have balked at the X’s $1,000 asking price, the Chinese market has no such qualms. With profit margins becoming ever-more crucial in a saturated smartphone market, it appears that China will be the key to the future of the iPhone X line.  


This is a really confused piece. He says sales of the iPhone X have “fallen well short of expectations”, except in China.. where people want bigger screens, which the X doesn’t have compared to the iPhone 8 Plus. Huh?

What seems clearer is that lots of people don’t have a handle on a) how many iPhone Xs Apple expected to sell in the last calendar quarter of 2017 b) how that would affect sales in C1Q 18 c) how many Xs Apple expected to sell across those two quarters, and hence how its demand profile might have shifted. (Sell more in 4Q17, sell fewer in 1Q18, but still hit overall target.)
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Toys’R’Us to close all 800 of its US stores • Washington Post

Abha Bhattarai:


A group of toymakers led by Isaac Larian, chief executive of MGA Entertainment, the giant behind brands such as L.O.L. Surprise!, Little Tikes and Bratz, on Wednesday submitted a bid to buy Toys R Us’s Canadian arm, which includes 82 stores, according to Larian. He added that he is also looking into buying as many as 400 US stores, which he would seek to operate under the Toys R Us name.

“There is no toy business without Toys R Us,” Larian said, noting that he sold his first product to the chain in 1979. “It’s a big deal and I’m going to try to salvage as much of it as possible.”

According to its September bankruptcy filing, Toys R Us owes MGA Entertainment $21.3m.

Despite turnaround efforts at Toys R Us, which included adding more hands-on “play labs,” retail experts say the 60-year-old company has been unable to get customers back into its stores. It doesn’t offer the low prices or convenience of some of its larger competitors, nor the fun-filled experience that many smaller outfits do, some analysts have said.

Toys R Us, based in Wayne, N.J., has been struggling for years to pay down billions of dollars in debt as competitors such as Amazon, Walmart and Target win over an increasingly larger piece of the toy market. Its bankruptcy filing last year cited $7.9bn in debt against $6.6bn in assets. The company said it has more than 100,000 creditors, the largest of which are Bank of New York (owed $208m), Mattel ($136 m) and Hasbro ($59m).


A leveraged buyout in 2005 overloaded it with debt (both financial and, arguably, strategic). Now all that has come home to roost. Wonder if a buyer will try to rebrand it.
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Power outage reportedly disrupts Samsung NAND flash production • Digitimes

Jessie Shen:


A brief power outage took place at Samsung Electronics’ NAND flash plant in Pyeongtaek on March 9. Wafers damaged in the incident are equivalent to 3.5% of the global supply in March, a report from Taiwan’s TechNews.

About 5,000-60,000 wafers were damaged during a half-hour power outage at the Samsung NAND flash fab, the report quoted market watchers as saying. The damaged wafers are equivalent to about 11% of Samsung’s overall NAND flash output in March.

Samsung’s sufficient inventory will be able to offset the wafer losses caused by the outage, which will have no major impact on Samsung’s NAND chip operations, the watchers were cited as saying in the report.


3.5% of global supply from one factory’s power outage. That’s some concentration of production.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: upload that brain!, Apple Watch adoption, YouTube’s weird fact-checking plan, Google to stop crypto ads, and more

Elizabeth Holmes has been given a 10-year ban from being an officer or director of a public company. (All the photos of her look like this.) Photo by Digital Spy on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. I can feel it going, Dave. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A startup is pitching a mind-uploading service that is “100% fatal” • MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:


The startup accelerator Y Combinator is known for supporting audacious companies in its popular three-month boot camp.

There’s never been anything quite like Nectome, though.

Next week, at YC’s “demo days,” Nectome’s cofounder, Robert McIntyre, is going to describe his technology for exquisitely preserving brains in microscopic detail using a high-tech embalming process. Then the MIT graduate will make his business pitch. As it says on his website: “What if we told you we could back up your mind?”

So yeah. Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere.

This story has a grisly twist, though. For Nectome’s procedure to work, it’s essential that the brain be fresh. The company says its plan is to connect people with terminal illnesses to a heart-lung machine in order to pump its mix of scientific embalming chemicals into the big carotid arteries in their necks while they are still alive (though under general anesthesia).


Money-back guarantee? And just when we’d got one sorted…
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SEC charges Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes with fraud • WSJ

John Carreyrou:


Theranos founder and chief executive Elizabeth Holmes surrendered voting control of her blood-testing company, paid a $500,000 penalty and agreed to a 10-year ban from being an officer or director in a public company in settling civil-fraud charges Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The settlement follows a more than two-year investigation by the SEC prompted by revelations in The Wall Street Journal. In October 2015, the Journal published an article revealing that Theranos used its proprietary blood-testing technology for only a fraction of the blood tests it offered in Walgreens stores. The article also reported that former employees were leery of the technology’s accuracy.

Theranos has since voided nearly one million test results, and Ms. Holmes agreed to a two-year federal ban from owning or operating laboratories. The company also has settled lawsuits from a hedge-fund investor and Walgreens, its former retail partner, alleging that it made misleading representations to them.

In addition to reaching a settlement with Ms. Holmes, the SEC is pursuing civil securities fraud charges in California against Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, Theranos’s former president and chief operating officer. Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani jointly ran the company for seven years before he retired in May 2016…

…“The Theranos story is an important lesson for Silicon Valley,” said Jina Choi, director of the SEC’s regional office in San Francisco, in a statement released Wednesday by the agency. “Innovators who seek to revolutionize and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today, not just what they hope it might do someday.”


Carreyrou wrote the original story in October 2015 casting gigantic doubt over Theranos. At the time, Theranos was said to be worth $9bn. A win for journalism.
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Apple Watch adoption • David Smith

Smith is an independent iOS deeloper


It seems like recently Apple has been more reticent to drop support for old hardware, but I hope that the pattern that we saw with the iPad might be repeated here. Where the first generation of the product was more quickly deprecated (2.5 years later in the case of the 1st Gen iPad). After that short lifespan for the first version, they then kept the second generation, iPad 2, supported for 5 years. The Series 1 & Series 2 watches would be a great baseline going forward. While not quite so fast as the Series 3, they are a mile ahead of the Series 0.

So far the data is looking promising that this dream of mine might actually be possible. The Series 3 is being adopted incredibly quickly and just last week became the most popular Apple Watch overall amongst my users with 33% of the overall user-base. The Series 0 is steadily falling, currently at around 24%.

I don’t know how low Apple would feel comfortable cutting off support for the Series 0, but it certainly seems like it is a possibility.

If I do some completely unscientific, wild, and almost certainly unreliable extrapolations of the current adoption trends (straight linear projection based on the trends since Christmas). It looks like by this fall, when presumably the next Apple Watch would be released and watchOS 5 will be generally available, the Series 0 may be as low as 15-20%.


I’d be amazed if the next version of WatchOS supports the Series 0. What that graph doesn’t depict is the expanding user base; the number of Series 0 users is probably pretty constant now, so the Series 3 users are really rocketing in numbers.
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Google bans bitcoin adverts in cryptocurrency crackdown • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:


Google will ban all adverts for cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and initial coin offerings (ICOs), as it seeks to “tackle emerging threats”.

The ad ban will come into force from June as part of a clampdown on unregulated financial products. Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, said in a blogpost: “We updated several policies to address ads in unregulated or speculative financial products like binary options, cryptocurrency, foreign exchange markets and contracts for difference (or CFDs).”

Google said its ban includes cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets. The company will also begin blocking some gambling ads, such as those for services using virtual items worth real-world money, known as skins betting, as it seeks to “combat new threats and improve the ads experience online”.

The move follows similar bans made by advertising rival Facebook, which banned all cryptocurrency and ICO adverts in January after finding that many were being used to scam potential investors.


What none of the stories about this explain is why they’re waiting until June to do it. It’s March now. That’s three months of jolly scamming for the jolly scammers, who will surely ramp up their efforts knowing there’s a deadline.
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Raspberry Pi 3 B+ has faster CPU, Wi-Fi, and easier compliance testing • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:


The Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced a new version of its modular compute platform: the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.

The B+ has the same form factor and dimensions as the Pi 2 B and Pi 3 B, making it a drop-in replacement but with a better processor and connectivity. Compared to the Pi 3 B, the B+ adds many hundreds of MHz—it runs its quad core 64-bit Cortex-A53 processor at 1.4GHz, up from 1.2GHz—along with dual band 2.4/5GHz 802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, up from 2.4GHz and Bluetooth 4.1.

The Ethernet port has been upgraded from 100Mb/s to what is technically gigabit; it syncs at gigabit speeds, but the actual Ethernet controller is only USB 2, so transfer rates are limited to about 300Mb/s.Other connections are unchanged, four USB 2 ports, a 40-pin GPIO connector, an HDMI video output, camera and touchscreen ports, stereo/composite video, and a microSD slot for its software and operating system. It uses the same 5V/2.5A power as before and will also support power-over-Ethernet with an accessory (coming soon) sold separately.

The faster processor and better networking don’t change the price: it’s still a $35 piece of hardware.


Still pretty amazing.
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Toys R Us to shut all UK stores, resulting in 3,000 job losses • The Guardian

Sarah Butler:


Toys R Us is to shut all 100 of its UK stores, with closures beginning on Thursday after administrators failed to find a buyer for the collapsed retailer, resulting in the loss of 3,000 jobs.

The chain’s administrators said the group would be extending a nationwide discounting programme and encouraged shoppers to “take advantage of special offers while stocks remain high”.

The toy chain appointed Moorfields Advisory to oversee an administration at the end of February after the firm failed to find a last-minute rescuer.

On Wednesday, staff were told that no buyer had been found for Toys R Us and that all stores would close, with 67 staff at the group’s head office in Maidenhead, Berkshire, made redundant.


This isn’t the US arm (that was yesterday). Potential investors were told in February they would need to put in at least £120m to prevent liquidation. But if you were going to try to sell toys now, would you open 100 big retail stores on high streets, malls and out-of-town centres? British retail is having a bad time.
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YouTube will link directly to Wikipedia to fight conspiracy theories • WIRED

Louise Matsakis:


On Tuesday, however, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki detailed a potential solution. YouTube will now begin displaying links to fact-based content alongside conspiracy theory videos.

Wojcicki announced the new feature, which she called “information cues,” during a talk with WIRED editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. Here’s how it will work: If you search and click on a conspiracy theory video about, say, chemtrails, YouTube will now link to a Wikipedia page that debunks the hoax alongside the video. A video calling into question whether humans have ever landed on the moon might be accompanied by the official Wikipedia page about the Apollo Moon landing in 1969. Wojcicki says the feature will only include conspiracy theories right now that have “significant debate” on the platform.

The decision to include links to other websites represents a dramatic shift for YouTube, which has historically existed as a mostly contained ecosystem. It’s also notable that YouTube chose to link out to text-based sites, rather than rearrange its own search algorithm to further favor content from truthful creators and video journalists. One reason for the decision might be that YouTube wants to avoid the perception that it’s rigging its platform to favor certain creators, a criticism it has faced in the past. It also prevents YouTube from having to censor content outright, serving as the ultimate arbiter of truth.


YouTube (and Google) keep dancing around this subject, but it’s going to bite them hard soon. People get information from YouTube. A lot of that information is just plain wrong. Adults who know better point out that that information is wrong, and they lower their trust, and the trust they offer, in it. Viewers lose trust, advertisers lose trust, it’s a downward spiral.

As a solution, this is also stupid, and – one hopes – short-term. As Mike Isaac pointed out, you don’t solve the problem of an infinitely gameable platform by fact-checking it from a service that literally anyone can edit. Is Wikipedia prepared for the edit wars that will naturally follow from this decision? It’s another example of Google offloading the work of checking content onto someone, anyone, else.

Maybe it’s time for the Encyclopaedia Britannica to make a comeback. Those would be the fact-checks to run alongside those videos. (Though it doesn’t have an entry for “chemtrails” – not surprising, since it’s a made-up word about a fantasy. It does have contrails, though.)
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Britain First has just been banned by Facebook for inciting hatred against minorities • Buzzfeed

Mark Di Stefano:


London mayor Sadiq Khan, a frequent target of Britain First, praised Facebook’s action.

“Britain First is a vile and hate-fuelled group whose sole purpose is to sow division,” Khan said in a statement. “Their sick intentions to incite hatred within our society via social media are reprehensible, and Facebook’s decision to remove their content is welcome.

“The global tech revolution has brought incredible benefits and social media is enjoyed by billions of people around the world. But big social media companies must wield the power they’ve amassed responsibly.

Matthew Collins, the head of research at social media advocacy group Hope Not Hate, also praised Facebook’s decision.

“Britain First used Facebook as a means to leverage its position and push out some of the most divisive and vile anti-Muslim hatred you could find online,” Collins said.

“Ironically, if you wanted to watch an ISIS beheading you didn’t need to go to an Islamic State page, instead Britain First would show it for you.”


Here’s the subtle thing. Jim Waterson points out on Twitter that


“large amounts of their enormous Facebook following was based on convincing people to share pictures of dogs, which they then pivoted into racism. They just knew how to game the system better than anyone else! Dogs and racism!”


Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for Trump’s apology for retweeting their stuff. (In his interview with Piers Moron he said “I would certainly apologise if you’d like me to do that.” Moron failed to follow up by asking him to do so.)
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Only Russia could be behind UK poison attack: toxin’s co-developer • Reuters

Joseph Ax:


A Russian chemist who helped develop the Soviet-era nerve agent used to poison a former Russian double agent in southern England said only the Russian government could have carried out the attack with such a deadly and advanced toxin.

Vil Mirzayanov, 83, said he had no doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible, given that Russia maintains tight control over its Novichok stockpile and that the agent is too complicated for a non-state actor to have weaponized.

“The Kremlin all the time, like all criminals, denying – it doesn’t mean anything,” Mirzayanov said in an interview in his home in Princeton, New Jersey, where he has lived in exile for more than 20 years.

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence agent who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence, and his daughter are fighting for their lives after they were found on March 4 collapsed on a bench, having been poisoned with Novichok, according to British authorities.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that it was “highly likely” that Putin was behind the attack, a charge Russia denies.


Russia’s use of products that simply aren’t available to any standard criminal – polonium and now a nerve agent – is an obvious way of telling any Russian considering working for another state that the consequences are going to be severe. The UK’s response looks milquetoast, but seems to be heading for a version of the Magnitsky Act, which Russia’s rulers really hate. (It’s what they were trying to get Trump’s team to revoke when they had the meeting in Trump tower in summer 2016, during the election campaign.)
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Former Equifax executive charged with insider trading • US Securities and Exchange Commission


The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday charged a former chief information officer of a U.S. business unit of Equifax with insider trading in advance of the company’s September 2017 announcement about a massive data breach that exposed the social security numbers and other personal information of about 148 million U.S. customers.   

According to the SEC’s complaint, Jun Ying, who was next in line to be the company’s global CIO, allegedly used confidential information entrusted to him by the company to conclude that Equifax had suffered a serious breach.  The SEC alleges that before Equifax’s public disclosure of the data breach, Ying exercised all of his vested Equifax stock options and then sold the shares, reaping proceeds of nearly $1 million.  According to the complaint, by selling before public disclosure of the data breach, Ying avoided more than $117,000 in losses.

“As alleged in our complaint, Ying used confidential information to conclude that his company had suffered a massive data breach, and he dumped his stock before the news went public,” said Richard R. Best, Director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office.  “Corporate insiders who learn inside information, including information about material cyber intrusions, cannot betray shareholders for their own financial benefit.”


Well now. This is going to be a good one to watch. If Ying really acted on this information (and the SEC cites some of his web searches which are verrry suspicious), he must have thought that the share price was going to absolutely crater – where in fact it seems more like a 10% fall.

If he’d had the opportunity to read my forthcoming book Cyber Wars, about high-profile hacking incidents, he’d know instead that companies’ share prices usually aren’t affected in the long term by hacks.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: when I said yesterday that the “Strava bike theft” was a story that went back some years, I’d forgotten that I linked to exactly such back in October 2015.

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.

Start Up: iPad FacePro at WWDC?, 3D printing Marines, Toys’R’Us in trouble, Fitbit tries again, and more

Maybe stop sharing your bike rides on Strava? Photo by RaINsday 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.

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cyclists warned to beware sharing data on ride-tracking apps • Sky News

Lorna Shaddick:


Police and cybersecurity firms are warning cyclists to be careful with the data they share on ride-tracking apps because they could be helping bike thieves.

Peter Murtagh, from Dublin, is a keen triathlete – but recently had his top of the range racing and road bikes stolen in a daring, daylight raid on his house.

“I came downstairs and noticed one of my bikes, it was gone. That was in the front of the house,” Mr Murtagh told Sky News.

“Little did I know, the thieves were still in the house, they’d got in with a crowbar, they broke three windows and they stole my second bike too.”

Mr Murtagh cannot prove it, but thinks he might know why the thieves knew exactly where to look.
He had been using an app that logs cycling data, called Strava, to track his cycling speeds and compete against other users – but her did not realise his settings were the default ones – which are “public”.

The setting meant that the start and end of his rides could easily be seen online. He had also recorded the make and model of his top of the range time-trial bikes.


This is a perennial: I found stories of exactly the same content – Strava, high-priced bikes, theft – dating back to 2014. You’ll recall the stories of Strava’s defaults locating secret military bases; now it says it’s going to remove some of that data. Doesn’t get the bikes back though, does it?
link to this extract

Marines’ love affair with 3D printing: small is cheap, and beautiful • Breaking Defense

Sydney Freedberg:


Why are the Marines in love with 3D printing? Like most romances, it starts with the small things, things too small for the conventional supply system to manage, like a two-cent plastic button that preempts a $11,000 repair. Big defense contractors, take notice.

“There’s an intercom in most helicopters,” said Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps. Ground-pounders like him tend to hit the buttons too hard and break them. But the Pentagon supply system doesn’t deal in replacing individual buttons. “You’ve got to buy the whole faceplate of the intercom,” Neller said. “It costs $11,000.”

The only hitch? The parts weren’t approved for installation on an aircraft. “I said, put the button on,” Neller told the National Defense Industrial Association last week. “Print a bag of them and hang them there.”

Neller’s No. 2, Gen. Glenn Walters, has his own longtime love affair with 3D printing. His favorite anecdote is a Marine Corps tank unit that had six 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks idled because of a broken impeller fan needed to clear the air filter. Ordering a single spare fan through the normal system would cost $1,400 and take 18 months. Instead, Walters said, a young female sergeant in the 1st Maintenance Battalion took the initiative to find a contractor “who could 3D print that thing for about $300 dollars and delivered all of them in seven days.”

“My eyes are watering with what our young people can do right now,” Walters told the McAleese/Credit Suisse conference last week. “I have an engineering background, but I’m telling you, some of these 21- and 22-year-olds are well ahead of me.”


As they should be. 3D printing finding its place: low-cost replacement.
link to this extract

Toys ‘R’ Us misses vendor payments • Bloomberg

Matthew Townsend:


Toys “R” Us Inc. has missed payments to some suppliers in recent days as its U.S. division heads toward a likely liquidation, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The payments stopped without explanation, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Some of the people said they can’t get anyone to respond to questions at the retailer, which filed for bankruptcy in September and faces a $5bn debt load. Toymakers Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc. touched their daily lows on the news.

Toys “R” Us also recently stopped negotiating settlements with vendors on money owned before it filed for bankruptcy, some of the people said. A representative for Wayne, New Jersey-based Toys “R” Us declined to comment.

The bleak situation lends evidence to the notion that Toys “R” Us is moving toward winding down its U.S. operations for good.


Over-leveraged retailers are in some deep brown stuff. If Toys’R’Us goes down, it’s going to be like a neutron bomb hitting toymakers.
link to this extract

iPad Pro with Face ID will ‘likely’ debut at WWDC 2018 in early June • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:


Apple’s rumored iPad Pro with Face ID will likely be released in the second quarter of 2018, according to Rosenblatt Securities analyst Jun Zhang.

iPad Pro with Face ID mockups via Ben Geskin and Carlos Guerra

If accurate, the timeframe suggests Apple will unveil the new iPad Pro models at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which will take place June 4-8 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California. Apple similarly unveiled its current iPad Pro lineup at WWDC last year.

Zhang expects the revamped iPad Pro to have slimmer bezels and no home button, in line with the iPhone X. The revamped design will likely be featured on both the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, although his research note didn’t specify.

Apple’s plans to release an iPad Pro with Face ID were first revealed by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who said the refresh would occur in 2018. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman was a bit more specific, noting the iPad Pro with Face ID would debut “a little more than a year” after the current models.

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro and second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro launched in June 2017, so it’s not entirely clear if “a little more than a year” meant WWDC 2018 or Apple’s annual September event where it introduces new iPhones.

The new iPad Pro models will likely retain LCDs instead of OLED displays due to supply, cost, and technological constraints. It’s unclear if the tablets will have a notch for the TrueDepth sensor housing, or if the device will have uniformly slim bezels on all four sides with enough room for the components.


Would FaceID on an iPad be more useful than TouchID? I rarely use an iPad in portrait orientation, and hardly ever pick it up that way. And given the number of times I unlock it while it’s in landscape (with the keyboard attached), this doesn’t look like a great idea.

But then people said that about FaceID..
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Fitbit’s Versa is the smartwatch the Ionic should have been • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:


The Versa looks exactly like the leaks predicted, with a smaller casing design that has more in common with Pebble’s design language (and, for that matter, the Apple Watch) than the fugly Ionic. It’s a “squircle,” and more to the point it’s thin and light, and will fit a lot more wrists than its last device. That will, hopefully, help broaden the product’s appeal for many among the female user base who may have been put off by the unwieldiness of the Ionic.

In fact, the company’s doubling down with its appeal for a female audience. Version 2.0 of the watch operating system brings targeted tracking for female users that incorporates menstrual cycle data into the overall health tracking picture. The company also, thankfully, began delivering on the promise of more apps a few months back, which means the product will have a stronger foundation than anemic selection Ionic offered over time. The new OS should bring improved, personalized reminders as well, though that’s “coming later in 2018,” according to the company.

The Versa’s screen measures 1.34 inches — which makes it smaller than Apple’s 38mm model. It’s certainly light though, as advertised, and the design language is a major upgrade over the Ionic. It’s actually got most of the Ionic’s features on-board, as well, including both fitness and sleep tracking, heart-rate monitoring and onscreen workouts. The company claims the battery should last around four days on a charge, with normal use — though we’ll be happy to put that claim to the test when we get a review unit.


Looks a zillion times better than the Ionic, and priced at $200 it might have a chance. And Fitbit needs it to be a hit – the fitness band business is dying on its feet.
link to this extract

How conservative activists catfished Twitter • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill on how Project Veritas – which tried to disprove the Roy Moore accusations (and ended up showing how well-reported they were) and has had to pay $100,000 to someone it recorded without consent – targeted people from Twitter:


While Project Veritas’s findings weren’t particularly shocking, how they were obtained was. Project Veritas didn’t just fake-recruit its targets, it fake-seduced them. Many of the male employees were secretly recorded while on dates at dimly-lit restaurants, sipping wine. Based on the number of times he appears in the videos in different locations and dress, one security engineer, Clay Haynes, appears to have been enamored enough with the operative pumping him for information to go out with her at least three times. All of the Veritas operatives’ faces are blurred, but you can see his date’s jangly bracelets and long blond hair. It’s unclear just how far the seduction of Haynes went, but they became serious enough to go on a double date to Morton’s Steakhouse with her friend, a disguised James O’Keefe.

“NO ONE should have to experience this,” said Haynes via Facebook message. Haynes, who is still employed by Twitter, ultimately opted not to talk to me at the company’s request.

Beyond the questionable journalistic ethics of exploiting people’s desires for work and love, Project Veritas’s tactics broke the law, says John Nockleby, a professor who specializes in privacy at Loyola Law School-Los Angeles. While consent laws for recording conversations vary from state to state, California is a two-party consent state, meaning you have to tell someone if you’re recording them, or face up to a year of jail time and a $2,500 fine. “You’re allowed to do video in a public place without getting consent, but not take audio, unless it’s someone like a politician giving a speech to a crowd,” Nockleby told me by phone. “In California, even in a public place, if you’re audio recording without consent, that’s not legal.”


link to this extract

YouTube doesn’t know why Alex Jones videos are appearing at the top of its search results • Vice

David Gilbert:


An InfoWars video claiming that Antifa members are the “prime suspects” in the mysterious package bombings in Austin, Texas appeared at the top of search results Monday on YouTube — and the company has no idea why.

The video appeared as the third result when VICE News searched for the term “Austin explosions” on Monday evening. Another Infowars video was listed fourth in the search results.

The videos were posted by Ron Gibson, who is part of Jones’ Free Speech Systems YouTube network. His channel alone has over 158,000 subscribers and the video which was appearing on YouTube’s search results has been viewed more than 9,000 times.

In the first video Jones asks: “Is Antifa behind the third bombing in Austin?” before answering his own question by calling them “prime suspects.” His evidence? “They are violent, they call for violence, they call for attacking gentrification, any old white people moving into East Austin.” He goes on to say that the accusation is “not a conspiracy theory” despite providing no supporting evidence

Jones also says Antifa is “listed as a terror group.”


(Narrator’s voice: “it’s not listed as a terror group.”)

YouTube really needs to start getting its crap together. The radicalisation problem looks exactly like this. Divisive, inflammatory, untrue content. But hey, it’s all stuff you can sell ads against, right?

Also: you really must click through to the story for its wonderful illustration around the headline.
link to this extract

Russian pleads guilty to aiding massive hacks in US • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:


Jurijs Martisevs, a 36-year-old Moscovite arrested on a trip to Latvia, helped run a service called Scan4you that filled a crucial niche in the underground economy. Before deploying a piece of malware, hackers need to know it won’t be immediately detected and quarantined by the dozens of consumer and commercial security products on the market. That’s where Scan4you comes in. For fifteen cents a pop, a hacker could upload their pre-launch code to Scan4you, which would then automatically check it against 30 different security scanners and report back the results.

Armed with that information, a hacker can make iterative changes to their code until the detection rate is sufficiently low, or even zero. Scan4you was the most successful of a slew of similar offerings advertised on underground forums, and operated from at least 2009 until the arrest of Martisevs and a co-defendant last year.

“Throughout its lifetime, the service has had thousands of users,” reads a statement of facts agreed to by Martisevs, “and has received and scanned millions of malicious files.”

According to Martisevs’ plea documents, Scan4you’s customers included some serious players, including the perpetrators of a national retail breach in November 2013. The retailer is unnamed, but the timing and description coincides with that month’s massive Target hack. The hackers submitted variations of their credit card stealing code to Scan4you four times over the course of two weeks before finally deploying the malware on Black Friday weekend. The Target breach ultimately netted thieves some 40 million credit and debit cards, and resulted in a $10 million consumer class action against Target.

Ruslans Bondars, Martisevs’ co-defendant, was allegedly the creator and technical brains behind Scan4you. Bondars is a Latvian national extradited along with Martisevs. He’s in custody pending a May trial date.


The Feds may have the full database of malware, and even customer details. That would be a hell of a thing.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Trump blocks Broadcom, how AirBnB hit New York, S9 sells.. the same?, rogue satellites!, and more

Remember Google’s Pixel C tablet? Android P doesn’t. Photo by Joe Wilcox 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.

A selection of 11 links for you. Where it’s at. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Trump blocks Broadcom’s $142bn Qualcomm takeover • FT

Eric Platt:


US president Donald Trump blocked Broadcom’s $142bn takeover bid for chipmaker Qualcomm on Monday, halting the Singapore-based group’s bitter four-month battle for its US rival.

In a statement from the White House on Monday evening, Mr Trump said the deal — the largest tech acquisition ever proposed — threatened to “impair the national security” of the US, following a recommendation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

“The proposed takeover of Qualcomm by the Purchaser is prohibited, and any substantially equivalent merger, acquisition, or takeover, whether effected directly or indirectly, is also prohibited,” Mr Trump wrote in an order.


The end of that, one hopes.
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Age checks for UK pr0n site visitors on ice as regulator cobbles together some guidance • The Register

Rebecca Hill:


The checks, which will require people to prove they are over 18 in order to view web-based filth, were meant to come into force in April but now may not be introduced until much later in 2018, possibly towards year-end.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the delay would allow the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) time to draw up and consult on guidance for porn-makers.

The BBFC was only approved as regulator at the start of February, and critics already voiced concern that the April timetable was too tight to allow pornographers to comply, especially when the regulator was yet to publish any guidance.

Government minister Lord Ashton was pressed on the time it had taken to appoint the regulator – let alone issue guidance – during a debate in Parliament last month, with peers saying that progress had not been “particularly satisfactory”.

The BBFC’s public consultation will begin later this month. It is hoped that the guidance will set out how the BBFC plans to police the space, detail what blocking those that don’t comply will entail, and what the appeals process will be.

Parliament will then have to clear the guidance, after which DCMS said there would be “up to three months” before the law comes into force.

“It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year,” DCMS said.


Have a look at the link where the DCMS notifies this, though. It’s a huge self-congratulatory thing about 5G, and then a few lines announcing the delay. This is how governments try to keep embarrassments quiet. Probably won’t save them from more embarrassment later in the year; the porn-age idea is near unenforceable.
link to this extract

What Airbnb did to New York City’s housing market • CityLab

Alastair Boone:


To map this process, Wachsmuth and his team used estimates of Airbnb activity from AirDNA, a California-based firm that scrapes and analyzes Airbnb data. They studied Airbnb activity from September 2014 to August 2017, including more than 80 million data points, for the whole 20 million population of the New York City metro region. They also used a number of new spatial big-data methodologies developed specifically to analyze short-term rentals.

Their conclusion: Most of those rumors are true. Wachsmuth found reason to believe that Airbnb has indeed raised rents, removed housing from the rental market, and fueled gentrification—at least in New York City. To figure out how, the researchers mapped out four key categories of Airbnb’s impact in New York: where Airbnb is concentrated and how that’s changing; which hosts make the most money; whether it’s driving gentrification in the city; and how much housing it has removed from the rental market.

The phrase “home sharing” evokes an image of an individual who opens their home and rents out their extra space to wanderlust-y strangers. This is, after all, how Airbnb got its start: Struggling to make rent in San Francisco, founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky started renting out floorspace in their living room and cooking breakfast for their guests in 2007. Today, it is worth some $30bn.

While many people still use the platform this way, Wachsmuth found that 12% of Airbnb hosts in New York City, or 6,200 of the city’s 50,500 total hosts, are commercial operators—that is, they have multiple entire-home listings, or control many private rooms. And these commercial operators earned 28% of New York’s Airbnb revenue (that’s $184m out of $657m).


link to this extract

The day I went viral • Jonathan Pinnock, writer of stuff

Pinnock tweeted this, which is the last two lines of David Gerard’s excellent “Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain”, and it went mad:


At the time of writing, it’s showing 2594 RTs and 7315 likes. By the time you read this, both numbers will probably be considerably higher.

Quite apart from the irony of my most popular ever tweet (by a country mile) being one promoting someone else’s book, it’s all a bit weird. All I intended to do was highlight something that amused me, and because I was tweeting from my phone, I didn’t even manage to get in a link to the book itself. And then Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, RT’d me (no idea how he saw it). Then either Charlie Stross or William Gibson RT’d me, followed by either William Gibson or Charlie Stross. Oh, and then Duncan Jones.

From then on, it acquired a wild and happy life of its own as more and more people spread it to the far corners of Twitter. I’d often wondered how I’d feel if my mentions ever started to heat up, and I finally got the chance to find out. Here are what it’s like:


No particular reason why this should go viral now; it’s as true as it has been for months. But the experience he relates is so true.
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Google gives up on tablets: Android P marks an end to its ambitious efforts to take on Apple’s iPad • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:


Google’s upcoming Android P release drops support for Pixel C, the company’s last effort at building an Android tablet. While it once appeared that Google wanted to ditch Android and move to its web browser based ChromeOS, the termination of its last Android tablet follows Google’s discontinuation last summer of Chromebook Pixel, the premium-priced laptop running ChromeOS.Google failed to make a dent in Apple’s iPad business despite trying longer and harder than Microsoft’s Zune attempt to rival iPods

Android P also drops support for all remaining Nexus branded devices. In fact, the next Android release only supports Google’s last two batches of Pixel phones – which themselves did not sell well – indicating a rather dramatic scaling back of what was once supposed to be a vast array of hardware expanding into new directions to tackle Apple at every turn.

While things like Chromebooks and Nexus Player TV boxes were launched as experiments, Google’s efforts to build a self-branded tablet (both to rival Apple’s iPad and to show its own Android licensees how to build a good tablet) was always presented as a serious, strategic effort to conquer Apple’s second largest iOS franchise.

Here’s a look at why Google failed to make a dent in Apple’s iPad business despite trying longer and harder than Microsoft’s Zune attempt to rival iPods.


Android tablets as a class have fared really poorly. Amazon is now the biggest-selling in that group, and it doesn’t even run Google Play. Chinese vendors are exiting the market. And the Pixel C.. who’s got one?
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Bitcoin is ridiculous. Blockchain is dangerous • Bloomberg

Paul Ford:


the blockchain can be a form of media. The writer Maria Bustillos is starting a magazine that will publish on the blockchain — which means it will be impossible to take down. (Disclosure: In theory, I’ll write for Maria, who’s a friend, and she’ll pay me in cryptocurrency, or what she calls “space jewels.”) One of her aims is to make it impossible for people—Peter Thiel, for example, who backed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker—to threaten publications they dislike.

You could even make a distributed magazine called Information of Vital Public Interest About Peter Thiel that would be awfully hard to sue into oblivion. It’s the marketplace of ideas. Literally. Try another thought experiment. Remember that anonymously created list of men who worked in media and who were alleged sexual harassers? You could, by whispering the allegations from one wallet to the next, put that information on a blockchain. You could make a web browser plug-in so that whenever someone visited a sexual harasser’s LinkedIn page, that page could glow bright red. You could have a distributed, immutable record of sexual harassment allegations on the internet. (Is there an economy around such allegations? Well, people do pay for gossip. GossipCoin?)

I’m not saying this would be a good idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’d be a bad one. Point is, this sort of thing used to be prohibitively difficult to pull off at any scale, because anonymity can be hard to protect, and platforms are hard to run and easy to attack. Now the frameworks are coming to build such tools and make them anonymous and decentralized, so that they might endure, and, as with all internet things, they’ll arrive well ahead of the ethics we need to make sense of them…

…People feel compelled to make predictions about blockchains. Here’s mine: The current wave of coins will eventually ebb, because it’s a big, inefficient, unholy mess. It’s more ideology than financial instrument, and ideology is rarely a sustainable store of value. Plus, transactions are slow (everyone says they’re fixing that), and you shouldn’t have to use an aluminum smelter’s worth of power to make new currency.

Most things that the blockchain promises to do can be done more easily with other technologies, including good ol’ fiat currency. But I know a mind virus when I see it.


link to this extract

Cryptocurrency scammers of Giza make off with $2 million after ICO • CNBC

Arjun Kharpal:


Investors who spoke to CNBC all described a common experience with the ICO in question: They thought the project was legitimate until warning signs began to appear, including a falling out with the company’s sole supplier, a lack of correspondence from its supposed founders, and failed attempts to recoup the lost funds.

The apparently well-orchestrated scam centers around a mysterious individual called Marco Fike, the COO of Giza. Among the eight investors, partners and former employees of Giza interviewed by CNBC, all claim they have never seen Marco Fike’s face.

The ICO was for a supposed start-up called Giza, which claimed to be developing a super-secure device that would allow people to store cryptocurrencies.

It carried out its ICO in January and drew investors for several weeks after. One person who put money into the project told CNBC that they invested ether that was equivalent to $10,000 at the time, and another said they had put in around $5,000 worth of ether.

At the beginning of February, Giza had raised and was holding more than 2,100 ethereum coins, which at the time were worth around $2.4 million. All but $16 worth of those ethereum coins are now missing.

But after putting in money throughout January and into February, many who had invested began to become suspicious of the project.

“Everything was fine, until that company that was meant to develop their device came out on the internet and said that Giza has cut ties, and it seems to be a scam and they might not be developing anything. Then things started looking fishy,” an investor named Chris, who wished to keep his surname anonymous, told CNBC by phone.


Fools and their money: new method found to induce parting.
link to this extract

Apple new entry-level MacBook to reach 4 million in unit shipments in 2018, says Digitimes Research

Joseph Tsai:


Apple is preparing to release a new entry-level MacBook at the end of the second quarter with a price tag expected to be about the same level as that of the existing MacBook Air or slightly higher, according to Digitimes Research.

Digitimes Research senior analyst Jim Hsiao expects shipments for the new MacBook to reach around four million units in 2018.

Hsiao pointed out that Apple originally looked to reduce cost by seeking panel supply for the new MacBook from a China-based maker, but the US-based vendor has decided to source the panels from Korea-based LG Display due to issues at the China supplier.

The 13.3-inch a-Si panels for the new notebook feature the same resolution as Apple’s 13.3-inch MacBook Pro at 2,560 by 1,600.

LG Display will begin supplying the panel in April with the new MacBook scheduled to enter mass production at the end of May or the beginning of June.


Note this isn’t saying that Apple’s going to discontinue the MacBook Air. There’s a lot of discussion on sites that have picked this up where they think it’s going to be a Retina MacBook Air. Still not seeing that.
link to this extract

Apple to acquire digital-magazine-subscription service Texture • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:


Apple said it will acquire Next Issue Media LLC and its digital-magazine-subscription service Texture, a product developed by top magazine companies that bundles together some 200 subscriptions into one monthly service.

The acquisition comes as Apple looks to beef up its services business, which includes music streaming and mobile payments.

Apple has set a goal of increasing total revenue from services to more than $40 billion by 2020. The company generated nearly $30 billion in services revenue in its fiscal year ended in September.

Apple typically takes a 15% cut of subscription services from publishers and content providers, including Netflix Inc. and HBO, if those subscriptions are purchased through the App Store.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Next Issue Media and Texture are owned by Condé Nast, Meredith Corp. , Hearst Corp., Rogers Communications Inc. and KKR & Co.

The magazine industry for years has sought ways to transition from print to online, but has faced profound challenges competing with tech giants for digital ad dollars, while print ad revenue continues to decline…

…“We are committed to quality journalism from trusted sources and allowing magazines to keep producing beautifully designed and engaging stories for users,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president who oversees the services business.


I guess that answers all the people asking “where’s the Spotify for news?”

Sort-of related (at least, revealed by Cue at the same SXSW event): Apple Music now has 38 million subscribers.
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FCC accuses stealthy startup of launching rogue satellites • IEEE Spectrum

Mark Harris:


On 12 January, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket blasted off from India’s eastern coast. While its primary cargo was a large Indian mapping satellite, dozens of secondary CubeSats from other countries travelled along with it. Seattle-based Planetary Resources supplied a spacecraft that will test prospecting tools for future asteroid miners, Canadian company Telesat launched a broadband communications satellite, and a British Earth-observation mission called Carbonite will capture high-definition video of the planet’s surface.

Also on board were four small satellites that probably should not have been there. SpaceBee-1, 2, 3, and 4 were briefly described by the Indian space agency ISRO as “two-way satellite communications and data relay” devices from the United States. No operator was specified, and only ISRO publicly noted that they successfully reached orbit the same day.

IEEE Spectrum can reveal that the SpaceBees are almost certainly the first spacecraft from a Silicon Valley startup called Swarm Technologies, currently still in stealth mode. Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network.


You may think: what has the FCC got to do with satellites launched in India? Turns out there’s an international treaty about what you can launch into space, and both the US and India are signatories. The suggestion from that Stack Exchange discussion is that India is responsible for any damage the satellites cause.

More to the point, do we need an IoT in space?
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Report: Samsung sets high Galaxy S9 sales goal, despite low pre-order figures • Android Authority

Duncan Elder:


Recent reports suggest that Samsung plans to ship 43 million units of its flagship Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus smartphones. This is around two million more than the 41 million S8 handsets it reportedly sold last year.

This report comes from Korean financial news website The Bell, which quotes parts industry shipment plans that suggest Samsung believes it can improve on last year’s sales.

The article’s sources say that Samsung has made quarterly plans for 12 million shipments in the first quarter, 13 million in the second, 10 million in the third, and eight million in the fourth. While not set in stone, these parts forecasts can be used to estimate how many finished products Samsung plans to ship.

Just two weeks ago, Gartner released a report that suggested there was a 5.6% drop in smartphone sales in Q4 2017, when compared to the previous year. However, despite this drop, Samsung was one of the few companies that actually managed to increase its year-on-year sales in that quarter. This kept Samsung as the phone maker with the largest overall share of the smartphone market.


The reporting on this is all over the place. A different data point: “Galaxy S9 first-day sales reportedly much lower than Galaxy S8, but overall goal still higher” which says that “Preorders haven’t been able to match the Galaxy S8’s performance, and first-day sales numbers were around 70% of the Galaxy S8, a new report says. That would be a significant drop, suggesting that Samsung’s plan to release an “S” update this year isn’t going over well with consumers.” (Those figures from Yonhap News.)
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: goodbye Moto?, YouTube’s radicalising problem, Twitter stops the thieves, here come the miners!, and more

Apple may have an option when it comes to fixing the problems some people have with its new key design. Photo by Maurizio Pesce 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.

A selection of 12 links for you. No, you pivot to video. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube, the Great Radicalizer • The New York Times

Zeynep Tufekci watched some Trump videos on YouTube in 2016, and found it recommended more and more right-wing content:


Since I was not in the habit of watching extreme right-wing fare on YouTube, I was curious whether this was an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. So I created another YouTube account and started watching videos of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, letting YouTube’s recommender algorithm take me wherever it would.

Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with.

Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons.

It seems as if you are never “hard core” enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google’s business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes.

What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general.


She compares it to how we feast on fatty foods – driven by our evolutionary instincts, which lead us astray when such foods aren’t rare but instead are plentiful.

The question now is, will YouTube accept this, and fix it?

link to this extract

Omega-3s aren’t so great for your heart after all • Lifehacker

Alice Callahan:


a closer look at the origin of the fish oil story shows that more skepticism was warranted from the very beginning. According to a 2014 paper published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, Bang and Dyerberg’s hypothesis was built on thin ice. For one thing, they never actually measured the incidence of heart disease in Greenland, instead relying on sketchy local estimates, which were unreliable since many people lived too far from medical facilities to have their diseases or causes of death accurately diagnosed. Subsequent studies found that rates of cardiovascular disease in Inuit populations are just as high, if not higher than in western populations, despite their high intake of omega-3 fatty acids.

Plus, the Greenlanders seem to have evolved genetic differences that allow them to process their unique diet. A 2015 paper published in the journal Science identified gene variants common in Inuits (and rare in Europeans) that help them metabolize their fatty diet and keep blood omega-3 levels in balance with other fats in the body. Without that genetic background, someone of European ancestry eating an Inuit diet might end up with much higher blood cholesterol and omega-3 levels.

Fish is still good for us, though. Observational studies, which estimate how much fish people eat and their incidence of heart disease, consistently find that eating fish at least once per week is associated with a lower risk of dying of coronary heart disease.


link to this extract

Source: Motorola is cancelling the Moto X5, moving away from niche Mods • Android Police

David Ruddock:


According to a source familiar with the company’s plans, as part of today’s downsizing of Motorola’s engineering team in Chicago, the Lenovo-owned smartphone maker has completely abandoned plans to launch the successor to last year’s Moto X4, the as-yet unannounced Moto X5. The X5 was leaked in significant detail in January.

Motorola continues to be a drag on Lenovo, which had initially promised to turn its ailing smartphone division profitable within two quarters of its acquisition. That never happened. Lenovo slashed and burned much of Motorola’s global workforce and presence, but the business hasn’t managed to make the turnaround it so clearly needs.

Our source states that Motorola will be narrowing its focus back to E, G, and Z phones for the time being. It’s possible the Moto X name could return at some point, but that’s looking unlikely in light of this news.

Additionally, Motorola will be largely discontinuing its efforts in the realm of more… eccentric Mods for its Z phones, and instead stick to products it believes can actually turn a profit.


So Motorola, like LG, has discovered that nobody (to a near approximation) buys Mods. That downsizing in Chicago is 190 people, or half its engineering staff there, according to the linked article. The curtain is coming down on Motorola, the mobile phone company that just couldn’t make a profit in the smartphone age, no matter who owned it.
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Twitter just suspended a ton of accounts known for stealing tweets • Buzzfeed

Julia Reinstein:


Many of these accounts were hugely popular, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers.

In addition to stealing people’s tweets without credit, some of these accounts are known as “tweetdeckers” due to their practice of teaming up in exclusive Tweetdeck groups and mass-retweeting one another’s — and paying customers’ — tweets into forced virality.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on individual accounts, but BuzzFeed News understands the accounts were suspended for violating Twitter’s spam policy.

Tweetdecking, as it’s called, is an explicit violation of Twitter’s spam policy, which does not allow users to “sell, purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions.”

Still, Twitter has previously struggled to crack down on these accounts.

After a BuzzFeed News story uncovered the practice of tweetdecking in January, Twitter announced new spam-fighting changes to Tweetdeck, including removing the ability to simultaneously retweet a tweet across multiple accounts.

“Tweetdecking is over. Our follower gains are gonna diminish,” Andrew Guerrero, a 23-year-old tweetdecker in New Mexico, told BuzzFeed News after Twitter announced the changes in February. (Guerrero asked that his account name not be disclosed since it could get him suspended.)


Interesting how Twitter is working inward, from the comparatively easy targets, implicitly towards the tougher ones.
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This is what happens when bitcoin miners take over your town • POLITICO Magazine

Paul Roberts:


The utilities’ larger challenge comes from the legitimate commercial operators, whose appetite for megawatts has upended a decades-old model of publicly owned power. The combined output of the basin’s five dams averages around 3,000 megawatts, or enough for the population of Los Angeles. Until fairly recently, perhaps 80% of this massive output was exported via contracts that were hugely advantageous for locals. Cryptocurrency mining has been changing all that, to a degree that is only now becoming clear. By the end of 2018, Carlson reckons the basin will have a total of 300 megawatts of mining capacity. But that is nothing compared to what some hope to see in the basin. Over the past 12 months or so, the three public utilities reportedly have received applications and inquiries for future power contracts that, were they all to be approved, could approach 2,000 megawatts—enough to consume two-thirds of the basin’s power output.

Just because miners want power doesn’t mean they get it. Some inquiries are withdrawn. And all three county public utilities have considerable discretion when it comes to granting power requests. But by law, they must consider any legitimate request for power, which has meant doing costly studies and holding hearings—sparking a prolonged, public debate over this new industry’s impact on the basin’s power economy. There are concerns about the huge costs of new substations, transmission wires and other infrastructure necessary to accommodate these massive loads. In Douglas County, where the bulk of the new mining projects are going in, a brand new 84-megawatt substation that should have been adequate for the next 30 to 50 years of normal population growth was fully subscribed in less than a year.

Many also fear that the new mines will suck up so much of the power surplus that is currently exported that local rates will have to rise. In fact, miners’ appetite for power is growing so rapidly that the three counties have instituted surcharges for extra infrastructure, and there is talk of moratoriums on new mines. There is also talk of something that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago: buying power from outside suppliers. That could mean the end of decades of ultracheap power—all for a new, highly volatile sector that some worry may not be around long anyway. Indeed, one big fear, says Dennis Bolz, a Chelan County Public Utility commissioner, is that a prolonged price collapse will cause miners to abandon the basin—and leave ratepayers with “an infrastructure that may or may not have a use.”


A great piece – though the insanity behind bitcoin is just depressing.
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Search engine for source code •


Source Code Search Engine
Find any alphanumeric snippet, signature or keyword in the web pages HTML, JS and CSS code.

Ultimate solution for digital marketing and affiliate marketing research, PublicWWW allow you to perform searches this way, something that is not possible with other regular search engines:

• Any HTML, JavaScript, CSS and plain text in web page source code
• References to StackOverflow questions in HTML, .CSS and .JS files
• Web designers and developers who hate IE
• Sites with the same analytics id: “UA-19778070-“
• Sites using the following version of nginx: “Server: nginx/1.4.7”
• Advertising networks users: “”…


And many more. Sure others will find uses for this, such as tracking down copies, and sites created by the same person/people (for scams?).
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Artificial intelligence could identify gang crimes—and ignite an ethical firestorm • Science

Matthew Hutson:


…the partially generative algorithm reduced errors by close to 30%, the team reported at the Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society (AIES) conference this month in New Orleans, Louisiana. The researchers have not yet tested their algorithm’s accuracy against trained officers.

It’s an “interesting paper,” says Pete Burnap, a computer scientist at Cardiff University who has studied crime data. But although the predictions could be useful, it’s possible they would be no better than officers’ intuitions, he says. Haubert agrees, but he says that having the assistance of data modeling could sometimes produce “better and faster results.” Such analytics, he says, “would be especially useful in large urban areas where a lot of data is available.”

But researchers attending the AIES talk raised concerns during the Q&A afterward. How could the team be sure the training data were not biased to begin with? What happens when someone is mislabeled as a gang member? Lemoine asked rhetorically whether the researchers were also developing algorithms that would help heavily patrolled communities predict police raids.

Hau Chan, a computer scientist now at Harvard University who was presenting the work, responded that he couldn’t be sure how the new tool would be used. “I’m just an engineer,” he said. Lemoine quoted a lyric from a song about the wartime rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, in a heavy German accent: “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?” Then he angrily walked out.

Approached later for comment, Lemoine said he had talked to Chan to smooth things over. “I don’t necessarily think that we shouldn’t build tools for the police, or that we should,” Lemoine said (commenting, he specified, as an individual, not as a Google representative). “I think that when you are building powerful things, you have some responsibility to at least consider how could this be used.”

Two of the paper’s senior authors spent nearly 20 minutes deflecting such questions during a later interview. “It’s kind of hard to say at the moment,” said Jeffrey Brantingham, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s basic research.” Milind Tambe, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, agreed. Might a tool designed to classify gang crime be used to, say, classify gang crime? They wouldn’t say.


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Bad traffic: Sandvine’s PacketLogic devices used to deploy government spyware in Turkey and redirect Egyptian users to affiliate ads? • Citizenlab

Bill Marczak, Jakub Dalek, Sarah McKune, Adam Senft, John Scott-Railton, and Ron Deibert


• Through Internet scanning, we found deep packet inspection (DPI) middleboxes on Türk Telekom’s network. The middleboxes were being used to redirect hundreds of users in Turkey and Syria to nation-state spyware when those users attempted to download certain legitimate Windows applications.

• We found similar middleboxes at a Telecom Egypt demarcation point. On a number of occasions, the middleboxes were apparently being used to hijack Egyptian Internet users’ unencrypted web connections en masse, and redirect the users to revenue-generating content such as affiliate ads and browser cryptocurrency mining scripts.

• After an extensive investigation, we matched characteristics of the network injection in Turkey and Egypt to Sandvine PacketLogic devices. We developed a fingerprint for the injection we found in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt and matched our fingerprint to a second-hand PacketLogic device that we procured and measured in a lab setting.

• The apparent use of Sandvine devices to surreptitiously inject malicious and dubious redirects for users in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt raises significant human rights concerns.


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Apple might be fixing the MacBook’s most annoying problem • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:


Apple’s patent suggests three primary ideas. One is to apply a membrane between the mechanism that moves the key (also known as a switch) and the keycap. That’s a funny one to attempt to patent as a number of keyboard makers already do something similar, including Apple. Topre and Razer both make “hybrid” switches that incorporate a membrane and a mechanical component, too. This latest Apple hybrid would simply add another membrane to specifically protect the mechanical elements.

These key switches would use air to clear debris. Image: Apple

The second idea Apple has is using a perforated membrane that would, it appears, emit gas or air with each keypress, effectively clearing the key of debris.

The third idea is to create, essentially, an awning around the keycap that funnels debris away from the key switch.

All three ideas, implemented in a wide variety of ways, can be found in the patent here.


This is well overdue; Apple has a big PR problem with its new keyboards’ penchant for sticking. Personally, I’m waiting until that’s solved before buying a new one. Though this one I’m using (from 2012) still runs fine – in the past six months it’s had a new battery and logic board. Nothing wrong with it.
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MacBook Air: Why won’t it die? • Macworld

Jason Snell:


While I love Retina displays, I know a lot of people who either don’t see a difference or don’t care about the difference. The processors might be a few years old, but for a lot of use cases, the MacBook Air [which lacks a Retina display] is fast enough. (I’ve edited dozens of complex Logic Pro X projects on an old 11-inch Air.)

USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports might be exciting and new and offer a lot of potential for improved throughput, but for most regular users they’re a liability, a confusing and incompatible port that requires an additional investment in adapters and dongles to further raise the price of moving to a new laptop. (The Air also has that old-style keyboard. A lot of people like the new keyboard on modern Mac laptops, but for others it does take some getting used to. The keyboard on the Air requires no adaptation.)

And can we deny that the MagSafe adapter on the MacBook Air is a better way to charge your laptop than using either half (in the case of the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar) or 100% (in the case of the MacBook) of your available USB-C ports?

Maybe this is what happens when Apple introduces innovative new features—and some portion of the buying public simply shrugs and fails to see the value in it, given the price. (This may also explain why several people I know have sold their modern 15-inch MacBook Pros with Touch Bar and gone back to the previous-generation model.)


I just don’t see the MacBook Air going away, nor getting a price cut, while it keeps selling. If you have a rock-solid winner which pulls in the profit quarter after quarter, and has done so for years – while your other models are having to work to justify their existence (*cough*keyboard*cough*USB-C*) then it’s utterly a no-brainer to keep churning it out.
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What Siri creator Norman Winarsky thinks of Apple’s Siri now • Quartz

Corinne Purtill:


This isn’t where Winarsky thought Siri would be at this point. In a recent interview with Quartz, Winarsky said that the AI’s current capabilities fell short of his earlier predictions for the assistant in several key ways.

Siri is great for setting reminders, checking the weather, sending texts for you and other relatively mundane tasks. But it has an imperfect grasp of users’ preferences and past history. Its predictive intelligence is limited—it’s not great at knowing what you want before you know you want it. And while vastly improved from its earliest days, Siri still isn’t a sparkling conversationalist. “Surprise and delight is kind of missing right now,” said Winarsky, now a consultant and venture capitalist.
Winarsky acknowledges that some of this disappointment stems from the sheer difficulty of predicting the pace of major technological advancement, which Bill Gates once summed up as the human tendency to “overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.”

But part of it is also likely because Apple chose to take Siri in a very different direction than the one its founders envisioned. Pre-Apple, Winarsky said, Siri was intended to launch specifically as a travel and entertainment concierge. Were you to arrive at an airport to discover a cancelled flight, for example, Siri would already be searching for an alternate route home by the time you pulled your phone from your pocket—and if none was available, would have a hotel room ready to book. It would have a smaller remit, but it would learn it flawlessly, and then gradually extend to related areas. Apple launched Siri as an assistant that can help you in all areas of your life, a bigger challenge that will inevitably take longer to perfect, Winarsky said. (It’s certainly not an impossible one—competitors like Google Assistant have already surpassed Siri’s ability to navigate travel and other logistics.)


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Kodak pt 5: KodakCoin ICO Light Paper finally released! • Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard:


The ICO [initial coin offering] template is:

• State a problem;
• assert that ERC-20 tokens on the ethereum blockchain will solve it;
• there aren’t any other steps.

This section of the paper outlines steps one and two — why photographers will want to sign up to sell their photos on KodakOne:

Money: KodakOne’s AI-powered Big Data infringement detection — an automated copyright trolling engine — will pay you instantly! In KodakCoin.
Trust: Every transaction and license agreement “immutably stored in our decentralized registry”!
Time: Distribution is work. Our decentralised platform will be your central one-stop shop!

Not answered: why a centralised registry benefits from decentralisation, how the magic AI pixie dust works, or — a question not answered at any point — why professional photographers would want to be paid in a minor crypto that can’t even be legally traded, rather than actual money.

They don’t even offer to redeem these untradeable objects for cash, though you’ll be able to buy things from WENN Digital with them in the future:


KODAKCoin tokenholders will have no right to return KODAKCoin to WENN Digital or to receive a refund or otherwise require WENN Digital to exchange any amount of KODAKCoin for fiat currency. However, holders of KODAKCoin will have the ability to use them to purchase goods and services on the KODAKOne Platform’s marketplace.


Photo licensing sites abound. Why should anyone use this one?


Another notable quote from this takedown: “They’ve licensed the name ‘Kodak’ from Eastman Kodak, the flayed and tattered hide of what was once a famous film company.”

link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: slow electric clocks solved!, will Apple buy Snap?, S9 reviewed, Trump v videogames, and more

What if you let an AI decide your knitting pattern? Nothing as orderly as this. Photo by susan402 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.

A selection of 9 links for you. Tariff-free except where imposed. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Will Apple buy Snap? • Vanity Fair

Nick Bilton:


The suggestion that the two companies should merge has been discussed for a long time, but I first heard this theory floated—and yes, it’s just a theory; as far as I’m aware, there have not been any formal talks between the companies—in a serious way a couple of weeks ago. And from the moment it was espoused, I could see why it was a fascinating Silicon Valley parlor game: from a business perspective, such a partnership would make sense for both companies, perhaps more than any speculative partnership that I’ve heard about in years. For Apple, Snap could offer value on multiple levels. Beyond iMessages, which some see as a sort-of inclusionary social network, Apple doesn’t have a foothold of any kind in the space. (And, as anyone who recalls Ping well knows, that’s not for lack of trying.) Like Snap, Apple covets teens. Apple and Snap also have a common competitor in Facebook, which Apple may begrudgingly need (it’s one of the reasons people are so addicted to its phones) and Snap straight up hates for consistently copying its product features. Apple, with its nearly $900 billion valuation, also has the money. The company currently has almost $300 billion—yes, billion—in cash on hand. Snap currently has a market cap of around $22 billion.

But perhaps most important, Snap appears key to Apple’s vision of itself and its future. Speaking on an earnings call last year, Tim Cook told investors that he sees the future of Apple as an augmented-reality company, and that A.R. will “change everything.” “Simply put, we believe augmented reality is going to change the way we use technology forever,” Cook said. “We’re already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect, and learn.”

Funny thing is, that is exactly the way Snap sees the world, too. “Snap’s focus on privacy and private communication is very much in sync with Apple’s ideas around privacy,” Om Malik, a partner at True Ventures and an early proponent of augmented reality, told me recently while explaining why an Apple acquisition of Snap is something he believes could absolutely happen. “In addition, Snap is the most advanced A.R. company in terms of understanding real-term data and correlating with information and intelligence that humans like to use.”


“Will *spins wheel* ..Google! buy.. *spins second wheel* ..Vero? OK, get writing.”

More seriously, although Apple is looking for services-style revenue generators as the phone business plateaus, I don’t think Snap will ever be the solution.
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Apple finds more serious supplier problems as its audits expand • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:


Apple said on Wednesday it had found a higher number of serious violations of its labor and environmental policies for suppliers, such as falsifying work hours data, as it expanded the scope of its annual audit of conditions of workers making its iPhones and other products.

But the overall trend among 756 suppliers in 30 countries was toward higher compliance with Apple’s code of conduct, according to a new report by the company, which has been carrying out the audits for 12 years. The latest annual supplier responsibility report includes 197 suppliers audited for the first time.

Apple runs one of the largest manufacturing chains in the world, mostly factories owned by contractors.


Samsung does a similar audit, but you’d struggle to find it on its website, and it doesn’t make any noise about its release. None of the other big OEMs does this to my knowledge.
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How a mysterious case of ‘missing energy’ caused Europe’s clocks to run 6 minutes slow • Fortune

David Meyer committed an act of journalism over yesterday’s story about clocks that depend on mains frequency for timekeeping running slow:


According to the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E), the tiny Balkan state [of Kosovo] was from mid-January to this week consuming more energy than it produced, to the cumulative tune of 113 gigawatt hours.

“The deviation has stopped two days ago. Kosovo has accepted to stop it—they are back on track,” an ENTSO-E spokeswoman said. However, she added, the grid was still “under-frequency” and would need a bit of time to recover.

“We are still not sure that this problem is sustainably solved because some of the political reasons have not been stopped,” the spokeswoman said.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and is still only partially recognized as an independent state. The north of the tiny country is still largely loyal to Serbia, and the people there do not pay the Kosovo government for the energy they consume, even though it is generated on Kosovo soil.

So Kosovo’s energy producers are underfunded, being effectively unable to bill for much of the energy they put out. Worse, they are producing that energy using creaky old coal plants that are, apart from generating a lot of pollution, sometimes unreliable. A new coal plant, funded by the World Bank, is only scheduled for completion in a few years’ time.

As reported by Associated Press, the Serbian grid company EMS blamed Kosovo for “uninterruptedly withdrawing, in an unauthorized manner, uncontracted electric energy from the Continental Europe synchronous area.”


So mystery solved: not bitcoin mining at all, but politics.
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Skyknit: how an AI took over an adult knitting community • The Atlantic

Alexis C. Madrigal on how Janelle Shane set machine learning to work on existing knitting patterns to create new ones:


here’s the first 4 rows from one set of instructions that the neural net generated and named “fishcock.”


row 1 (rs): *k3, k2tog, [yo] twice, ssk, repeat from * to last st, k1.
row 2: p1, *p2tog, yo, p2, repeat from * to last st, k1.
row 3: *[p1, k1] twice, repeat from * to last st, p1.
row 4: *p2, k1, p3, k1, repeat from * to last 2 sts, p2.

The network was able to deduce the concept of numbered rows, solely from the texts basically being composed of rows. The system was able to produce patterns that were just on the edge of knittability. But they required substantial “debugging,” as Shane put it.

One user, bevbh, described some of the errors as like “code that won’t compile.” For example, bevbh gave this scenario: “If you are knitting along and have 30 stitches in the row and the next row only gives you instructions for 25 stitches, you have to improvise what to do with your remaining five stitches.”

But many of the instructions that were generated were flawed in complicated ways. They required the test knitters to apply a lot of human skill and intelligence. For example, here is the user BellaG, narrating her interpretation of the fishcock instructions, which I would say is just on the edge of understandability, if you’re not a knitter:

“There’s not a number of stitches that will work for all rows, so I started with 15 (the repeat done twice, plus the end stitch). Rows two, four, five, and seven didn’t have enough stitches, so I just worked the pattern until I got to the end stitch and worked that as written,” she posted to the forum. “Double yarn-overs can’t be just knit or just purled on the recovery rows; you have to knit one and purl the other, so I did that when I got to the double yarn-overs on rows two and six.”

Fishcock: this is what it looks like. Don’t @ me.


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Samsung Galaxy S9 review: a fantastic phone for the masses, but not an exciting one • Android Central

Andrew Martonik finds that it’s basically the S8, again; and that means some things don’t change:


With years of iteration, Samsung’s software has made leaps and bounds in terms of design, overall fluidity and features — but its out-of-box experience is still burdensome and clunky if you’re used to any other company’s phones.

Samsung Experience 9.0, built with Android Oreo, still feels like it’s hanging on to vestiges of previous software versions in many places. Countless settings pages go several layers deep concealing features new and old, leaving search as the only realistic way of finding something quickly. Many design cues, like the notification shade design, are mismatched with new Oreo-targeted apps. Samsung’s launcher just now offers long-press actions that came to Android in Nougat, but they’re half-baked and aren’t useful like they are on other phones — at least the notification badges are now actually tied to the notification shade. Somehow, its keyboard is still not even in the same ballpark as Google’s Gboard with prediction and swipe input — and don’t even get me started on the poor voice dictation.

The preservation of legacy features and a design lineage that stretches back several years may be comforting to some longtime Samsung users, but for people who just want to get the basics done the Galaxy S9 has a mountain of cruft to contend with. I personally can deal with it all just fine through an afternoon of tweaking settings, but then again, should I have to?


In essence, he noticed no difference from the S8, or Note 8; though “anyone who’s spend time with a Pixel 2… will be able to sense moments of dropped frames or stutters on the S9”. Perfection delayed again.
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The five arguments you need to know about the gun control debate • Medium

StrategyCamp with five arguments on why the US needs gun control; this is part of No.4 (countering the “it’s just people with mental health problems who are to blame”):


the majority of mass-shootings involve a male with a history of domestic violence. And frequently, their female counterparts and family members are listed amongst the casualties. And legally, beating your wife is a crime, not a mental health issue.

Similarly, more Americans are killed every year in the United States by white male right-wing extremists than by any other type of organized terror group. Racism is also not considered a mental health issue — however, a strong argument can be made that participation in a white extremist group or organization should prevent an individual from possession of a firearm.

It seems only fair. The NRA and the GOP have been very comfortable restricting the Second Amendment rights of black people based on identity.

For example, both were very active in passing gun possession restriction in response to the Black Panthers asserting their Second Amendment right to self-defense. Conservatives denied Martlin Luther King, Jr. a firearm after he applied for one following the bombing of his home. They also have had no problem standing by silently as black and brown people are gunned down by police officers for nothing more than giving the impression that they are exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Rather than allowing the Gun Party to clear a pathway for white terrorist organizations and their affiliates to continue to committing mass murders while criminalizing people of color and scapegoating people with disabilities, we need to call bullshit on this Jim Crow song and dance.

The problem isn’t people with mental health issues. It’s guns. We need people to control guns. We don’t need to use guns as an excuse to control people.


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Trump to meet with video-game industry in wake of Florida shooting • Reuters

Roberta Rampton:


The White House said that Thursday’s meeting will be the first of several and will include an industry trade group, conservative activists and members of Congress, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Also attending will be executives from two video game-makers, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc, which owns Rockstar Games Inc, and ZeniMax Media Inc, which owns Bethesda Softworks.

The purpose of the meeting will be “to discuss violent video-game exposure and the correlation to aggression and desensitization in children,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Trump has made the issue personal by mentioning his concern for his 11-year-old son, Barron. “I look at some of the things he’s watching, and I say, how is that possible?” he said last week. 

The president also has spoken for the need for a new ratings system for games. Currently, the industry employs its own system, which rates games for violence and sexual content.

Dan Hewitt, a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association, whose CEO will attend the White House meeting, said studies have established no connection between video games and violent conduct.

“Like all Americans, we are deeply concerned about the level of gun violence in the United States,” Hewitt said. “Video games are plainly not the issue: entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the U.S. has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation.”


I like the image of Trump being amazed by the things he allows his son to do. (And Barron can read far worse about businessmen cavorting with porn stars.)

And I love the amazement. Could it be that all these gun deaths are due to, you know, having lots of guns? No, no, it must be the video games somehow. Good luck to Rockstar and Bethesda winning that argument though.
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What’s it like to ride in a self-driving car? • The Economist

Tom Standage:


The vehicle I climbed into was a modified Volvo XC90, with a bundle of extra sensors, including cameras and a spinning LIDAR unit, on its roof. Ryan, the vehicle’s safety driver, manually drove the vehicle out of the car park and onto the public roads, before pressing a button to engage the self-driving system. And then the car started driving itself.

At first, the experience is thrilling. It seems like magic when the steering wheel turns by itself, or the car gently slows to a halt at a traffic light. The autonomous Uber drove carefully but confidently in downtown traffic and light snow, slowing down when passing a school or approaching the brow of a hill, and putting its foot down (as it were) when faced with an open, straight road with no other traffic. The most noticeable difference from a human driver was that the vehicle made no attempt to avoid Pittsburgh’s notorious potholes, making the ride slightly bumpy at times. Sitting in the back seat, I could see a digital representation, displayed on an iPad mounted between the front seats, of how the car perceived the world, with other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists highlighted in clusters of blue dots. I felt as though I was living in the future. But then, after a minute or two, the novelty wore off. When technology works as expected, it’s boring.


The potholes thing would get a bit weary-making after a while, though. Also expensive getting your tyres and axles fixed.
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Crypto exchange Binance faced ‘large scale’ theft attempt • FT

Adam Samson:


The unnamed hackers launched a ‘phishing’ scheme in early January, in which they purchased domain names that closely resembled, according to the exchange’s investigation. “Many users fell for these traps and phishing attempts,” Binance said.

Once traders unknowingly gave up their login credentials, the hackers created so-called ‘trading API keys’. These keys are essentially passcodes that are meant to allow Binance traders to write computer programs that can directly interact with the trading venue (it would be useful, for instance, in systematic trading).

After the keys were created, the hackers went silent and waited “for the most opportune moment to act,” according to Binance.

That window opened just before 3pm GMT on Wednesday.

During a two-minute period, the hackers used the API keys to place a “large number” of buy orders for Viacoin, a lesser-known digital currency. The move contributed to a surge in the price of Via from $2.80 just before the attack began to $6.79 in less than 30 minutes — a 143% increase, according to data.

The hackers “selected Via, a coin with smaller liquidity, to maximise their own gains,” noted Binance.

As the price of Via spiked, the hackers sold Via in exchange for bitcoin, the world’s most valuable cryptocurrency, using 31 accounts they had preloaded, according to Binance. After the trades completed, withdrawal requests were “immediately” attempted.

Binance said that the unusual activity triggered its “automatic risk management system”, which halted withdrawals. It claimed that the system blocked the hackers from making withdrawals from the exchange.


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: every Oculus Rift bricked, the joy of (news)print news, the £37m Google ad fraudsters, why Maplin failed, and more

Clocks in Europe that set their time on the main frequency are running slow. Why? Photo by Arjan Richter 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.

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

Continuing frequency deviation in the Continental European Power System originating in Serbia/Kosovo: Political solution urgently needed in addition to technical.


The power deviations are originating from the control area called Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro (SMM block) and specifically Kosovo and Serbia. 

The power deviations have led to a slight decrease in the electric frequency average.

This average frequency deviation, that has never happened in any similar way in the CE Power system, must cease. The missing energy amounts currently to 113 GWh. The question of who will compensate for this loss has to be answered. [Emphasis added – CA]

The decrease in frequency average is affecting also those electric clocks that are steered by the frequency of the power system and not by a quartz crystal: they show currently a delay of close to six minutes.  

ENTSO-E, the association of the European TSOs, is exploring all technical options to address the deviation issue with the concerned TSOs.


Entsoe is the European Network of Transmission System Operators – 43 operators in 36 European countries. The variation in frequency is making clocks which depend for timekeeping on that frequency to run as much as five minutes slow.

Current suspicion is that the missing power is being stolen, or similar, by cryptominers.
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Fraudsters jailed for £37m copycat web scam • BBC News


A group of fraudsters who conned UK consumers out of £37m by selling passports and driving licences through copycat websites have been sentenced to more than 35 years in jail.

The six people, led by Peter Hall and including his wife Claire, operated websites that impersonated official government services. They then sold key documents to people for inflated prices.

The illegal profits were used to fund luxury holidays and cars.

Mike Andrews, lead co-ordinator of the eCrime team at National Trading Standards, which investigated the fraud, said: “This was a crime motivated by greed. This group defrauded people so they could enjoy a luxury lifestyle. They showed no regard for the unnecessary costs they imposed on their victims – I would say they treated them with contempt.”

National Trading Standards said that the defendants set up copycat websites between January 2011 and November 2014 that mimicked government services such as applying for or renewing passports, visas, birth or death certificates, driving licences and tests, car tax discs and the London Congestion Charge.

The group also set up sites that copied the American, Turkish, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan official visa sites where people could apply and pay for electronic visas to visit those countries.
National Trading Standards said that in all cases the sites offered little or no additional value to consumers using them, adding that it is believed Indian, Turkish and US citizens have also been defrauded.


OK, but doesn’t Google bear some responsibility here for having ads which it does not mark clearly as ads? And will it give back some of the money it received to victims, rather than profit from crime?
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Samsung’s Galaxy S9 pre-sales a dud, says Arthur Wood, look out below • Barron’s

Tiernan Ray:


today comes a note from Jeff Johnston of the boutique firm Arthur Wood Research, who declares that he’s hearing from “the channel” that Galaxy S9 orders “are down ~50% over GS8,” meaning the Galaxy S8, last year’s flagship phone, unveiled at the same time of year.

These pre-orders are “significantly underperforming pre-launch expectations of 10% to 15% growth,” he writes.

Johnston deems it a reflection of people “upgrading a much slower pace as features are falling on deaf ears.”

This is not great news for Samsung, but it’s worse for the industry, he writes, as it suggests “smartphone sales are starting to decline at an accelerating rate.”

“This trend is problematic for a whole host of companies – think Apple, and legacy suppliers such as; Broadcom, Qorvo, Qualcomm, Cirrus Logic and Skyworks Solutions.”

“We think AAPL supply chain investors are already on edge given what’s been reported thus far but we fear that smartphone demand over the next couple of quarters is poised to disappoint.”


I wouldn’t put much store on that S9 figure, but it’s definitely true that top-end phones are overserving – offering more than people want – for many.
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The sad story of Maplin Electronics • Coppola Comment

Frances Coppola digs into Maplin’s pretty complicated accounts:


The hard truth is that Maplin not only is insolvent now, but was when Rutland Partners bought it. In fact it has been insolvent for a very long time. It is a zombie company.

The story of how it became a zombie is interesting, and ultimately, very sad. It is a story of a family business that was too successful for its own good.

Maplin was originally created in 1972 by two geeks who were frustrated by the difficulty they had obtaining components for their home electronics. They started up a mail order business from their attic room, producing a catalogue of electronic components from which fellow geeks could order. The business quickly expanded beyond simple mail order, though: Companies House tells us that Maplin Electronics Ltd. was incorporated in 1976, when its owners opened their first retail electronics store. Originally, it was called Maplin Electronic Supplies Ltd, but in 1988, the name was changed to Maplin Electronics Ltd…


Montagu Capital bought it in 2001, and then sold it in 2004 to private equity company Graphite Capital, where Maplin director Keith Pacey was a director and shareholder:


…some of the bank loans were existing Maplin borrowings brought through to the new holding company on consolidation. But by far the largest proportion of this debt is new. It seems that Montagu Capital financed the acquisition with a mix of bank loans and unsecured debt. But there’s something distinctly odd about the Series A loan notes. The interest rate was significantly higher than it should have been for senior unsecured debt, even in 2004. It was higher than the interest rate charged by Rutland on its deeply subordinated shareholders’ loans. And not only was the interest rate high, some of the interest was capitalised, thus compounding the interest. That suggests it was mezzanine debt. So, were the Series A loan notes subordinated? If so, why? Maplin was a healthy, fast-growing company which had delivered a stellar rate of return to its previous owner. There was absolutely no need for such an expensive form of financing. I’d call that extortion, personally.

Not only were the Series A notes extortionate, Maplin was never able to refinance them as it had Graphite’s subordinated loan notes. The interest on all that debt, together with amortisation of the balancing goodwill asset, completely swamped Maplin. The January 2005 accounts show that an operating profit of £1.84m was wiped out by £11.74m of interest charges, resulting in a statutory loss of £9.6m. As the holding company didn’t have any equity to start with, that loss rendered it insolvent by the same amount.


TL;DR It’s much more complicated than “they lost out to Amazon”.
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Every Oculus Rift BR headset bricked due to expired certificate [update] • Neowin

Steven Parker:


Users of the Oculus Rift discovered today that their headsets have stopped working, and after a bit of digging, the issue appears to be caused by an expired certificate in the Oculus Runtime Service, which is being viewed as invalid. The file in question is called OculusAppFramework.dll and this will need updating in order for the software, and headset to work again.

The only workaround for now, appears to be setting your computer back a day or more, earlier than March 7, but that is hardly an ideal situation since it would bring more issues with other apps that rely on the correct date, such as the Windows Update service for example.


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Microsoft confirms it’s already cancelling its newest version of Windows • BGR

Mike Wehner:


it appears as though Windows 10 S hasn’t been received as well as Microsoft had hoped. Just 10 months after announcing the new operating system, Microsoft on Tuesday evening confirmed that it is being scrapped next year. In its place, Microsoft will build a new “S Mode” into Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Windows 10 Pro. Administrators in settings like schools will likely be able to lock devices in S Mode, though details are scarce for the time being.

“We use Win10S as an option for schools or businesses that want the ‘low-hassle’/ guaranteed performance version,” Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore wrote in a post on Twitter. “Next year 10S will be a ‘mode’ of existing versions, not a distinct version.” Belfiore’s tweet was posted in response to a user asking why Windows S 10 market share data wasn’t being separated from overall Windows 10 market share figures.


Very hard to downsell people – even schools. A locked-down Windows would have made sense 10 years ago, and might have headed off ChromeOS. But now? Way too late.
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Broadcom’s deal for Qualcomm is in jeopardy, and it might have to abandon its bid and come back later • CNBC

Alex Sherman:


Broadcom’s lawyers have also been looking into speeding up efforts to “redomicile,” or move its legal business location, to Delaware before the Qualcomm investor vote, said two of the people. That would make Broadcom a U.S. company before Qualcomm shareholders could vote on the deal.

CFIUS reviews don’t apply to domestic transactions — when one US-based company acquires another. Broadcom, currently based in Singapore, filed on Nov. 2 to redomicile.

But the CFIUS letter and interim order probably make Broadcom’s redomiciling efforts moot, said [Guillermo] Christensen [a partner at the law firm Brown Rudnick and a former CIA intelligence officer who specializes in CFIUS-related transactions]. The US Treasury’s reason for involving CFIUS prior to redomiciling is specifically to get ahead of it, he said. The government would have to approve Broadcom’s change of headquarters.

Instead, Broadcom may have to shelve this deal and become a US company. Then it would need to make a new offer to shareholders to potentially avoid CFIUS review, Christensen said.

“They could come in with a brand new offer, say ‘we’re not a foreign buyer,’ and go to war with CFIUS on it,” Christensen said.

There is a potential silver lining for Broadcom if it walks away from a deal. CFIUS’s pre-emptive move to rule on the deal would allow Broadcom to avoid paying an $8bn break fee it promised to Qualcomm as a sweetener in case regulators blocked an accepted deal.


Still can’t see any benefit to anyone broadly from Broadcom succeeding. A failure here would be just fine.
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Nintendo expected to overtake Microsoft in 2018 •

James Batchelor:


Nintendo is expected to have a larger share of the console market than Microsoft this year as the Switch continues to perform well.

Analysis from IHS Markit reveals that over $10bn was spent globally on Xbox hardware, software and services in 2017, while spending on Nintendo products was around $8bn. This is approximately double what the Japanese firm achieved in 2016, while Microsoft actually saw a slight year-on-year dip.

Nintendo’s growth was predominantly driven by the launch of Switch, but also the release of the SNES Classic and continued sales of the 3DS.

Looking ahead, IHS Markit predicts spending on Nintendo products and services to be over $11bn in 2018, while Microsoft is expected to dip to around $9bn.

In fact, growth for Nintendo is expected detract from spending on both Xbox and PlayStation, especially as those two consoles enter the later stage of their lifecycle. However, PlayStation will almost certainly hold its position as market leader.

Spending on PlayStation products and services rose to well over $20bn in 2017


Amazing. Nintendo is doing what Microsoft does in OSs: one hit, one miss, one hit…
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Newsweek media group websites ran malicious code that experts say is used to commit ad fraud • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:


The embattled publisher of Newsweek and the International Business Times on Tuesday admitted that three of its websites were running malicious code that experts say is used to commit ad fraud.

Newsweek Media Group issued a press release Tuesday afternoon that said the company “has been alerted to a piece of potential code that disrupted ad tracking and ad viewability. This piece of code affected, and”

NMG said it is conducting an internal investigation “to identify the individuals responsible and will take the necessary action.”

The admission comes after a BuzzFeed News report last month revealed that investigations by multiple ad technology firms found that several of the publisher’s sites were buying traffic and engaging in ad fraud. At the time the company denied any fraudulent activity.

A source told BuzzFeed News that the sudden admission by NMG may be connected to ongoing reporting by the Wall Street Journal. A recent Journal story revealed new details about an investigation into NMG by the Manhattan District Attorney, including that the DA is now looking into reports of ad fraud.


Hard to think the code got there by accident. This is a company in deep trouble: advertisers will run a mile if they think their money there is being wasted on fraud.
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For two months I got my news only from print • NY Times

Farhad Manjoo:


In January, after the breaking-newsiest year in recent memory, I decided to travel back in time. I turned off my digital news notifications, unplugged from Twitter and other social networks, and subscribed to home delivery of three print newspapers — The Times, The Wall Street Journal and my local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle — plus a weekly newsmagazine, The Economist.

I have spent most days since then getting the news mainly from print, though my self-imposed asceticism allowed for podcasts, email newsletters and long-form nonfiction (books and magazine articles). Basically, I was trying to slow-jam the news — I still wanted to be informed, but was looking to formats that prized depth and accuracy over speed.

It has been life changing. Turning off the buzzing breaking-news machine I carry in my pocket was like unshackling myself from a monster who had me on speed dial, always ready to break into my day with half-baked bulletins.

Now I am not just less anxious and less addicted to the news, I am more widely informed (though there are some blind spots). And I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have — in two months, I managed to read half a dozen books, took up pottery and (I think) became a more attentive husband and father.


This is, I feel, starting to become a trend. And he’s right: not using social media, and sticking with print – careful, considered print – is a good way both to broaden your intake and control it.
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10 ways a website can betray your privacy • Tech Radar

Gabe Carey has the full list, but this one caught my eye:


5. Selling your personal information

Whenever you purchase something at a store and are asked to provide your email and/or mailing address, you run the risk of that company selling off your personal information to advertisers – it’s why you sometimes get unsolicited emails in your inbox from senders you’ve never heard of, and don’t recall giving your details to. 

Larger, well-known companies don’t normally engage in this practice as they have reputations to protect. However, any company is vulnerable to data breaches, and should one occur there’s no telling how widely your private information could be disseminated.


Come on. Data breaches are not the source of all the crap of “you subscribed!” that plagues our inboxes. It’s companies taking your data and shamelessly selling it. The only way to track this is to add elements onto your email address (Gmail lets you add characters after a and it will reach you) to find and block the perpetrators. But that then makes it hard to remember your login details.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: malicious guided vehicles, hacker blocks stalkers, space station incoming!, BB sues FB, and more

Is this when it all started to go wrong for Twitter? Photo by Rob Lawton 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.

A selection of 10 links for you. Back to my Mac. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The case against retweets • The Atlantic

Alexis Madrigal:


The retweet began as a user convention. People would write “Retweet” (or “RT”) and paste in another person’s post. This was cumbersome, but it also meant those words would go out next to your name and photograph. People were selective about what they chose to retweet. When Twitter introduced a retweet button, in 2009, suddenly one click could send a post careening through the network. The automatic retweet took Twitter’s natural tendency for amplification and cranked it up.

Somewhere along the line, the whole system started to go haywire. Twitter began to feel frenetic, unhinged, and—all too often—angry. Some people quit. Others, like Schulz, cut way back. I felt the same urge, but I wanted to do something less extreme, something that would allow me to keep the baby, even as I drained the bathwater. So I began to take note each time I experienced a little hit of outrage or condescension or envy during a Twitter session. What I found was that nearly every time I felt one of these negative emotions, it was triggered by a retweet.

Twitter has a tool that lets you turn off retweets from one person at a time. But I follow thousands of people, so my office mate, who happens to be a skilled programmer, wrote a script for me that turned off retweets from everybody. Retweets make up more than a quarter of all tweets. When they disappeared, my feed had less punch-the-button outrage. Fewer mean screenshots of somebody saying precisely the wrong thing. Less repetition of big, big news. Fewer memes I’d already seen a hundred times. Less breathlessness. And more of what the people I follow were actually thinking about, reading, and doing. It’s still not perfect, but it’s much better…

…what if viral content isn’t the best content? Two Wharton professors have found that anger tops the list of shareable emotions in the social-media world, and a study of the Chinese internet service Weibo found that rage spreads faster than joy, sadness, and disgust. In general, emotional appeals work well, as everyone in media has come to discover. Fundamentally small stories that have no lasting import can dominate Twitter for days: a doctor being dragged off an airplane, the killing of Harambe the gorilla, something Lena Dunham said.

Twitter can destroy your perspective. “Every outrage was becoming the exact same size,” Mike Monteiro, a prominent web designer, wrote in a Medium post about quitting Twitter. “Whether it was a US president declaring war on a foreign nation, or an actor not wearing the proper shade of a designated color to an awards ceremony. On Twitter those problems become exactly the same size.”


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Panic Blog » The Mystery of the Slow Downloads

Cabel Sasser got reports from customers – and then discovered himself – that downloads from Panic were really slow. So they put out a script that would let people download a sample file, and recorded which ISP they were with, and at what time:


Nuts. The problem reports we’d been hearing were indeed a real thing.

Our downloads really were slow — but seemingly only to Comcast users, and only during peak internet usage times. Something was up.

At first we thought, maybe Comcast bandwidth is just naturally more congested in the evening as people come home from work and begin streaming Netflix, etc. But that didn’t explain why the connections to our Linode control server from Comcast, during the exact same time windows for each tester, were downloading with good speeds.

We wondered, is Comcast intentionally “throttling” Cogent customers? And if so, why?


This is a terrific story of internet plumbing.
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Business can learn innovation lessons from Pentagon’s secret lab • FT

Ken Gabriel:


No one lasts long at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the secretive US government branch that gave birth to the internet, drones and stealth technology. On the day technical personnel arrive at Darpa, they are told when their term will end. To ensure they don’t forget, the date of their final day is printed on their security badge.

This fixed deadline is not a quirk, it is an essential part of the recipe for consistently delivering breakthrough innovations. In 1961, then president John F Kennedy didn’t just commit the US to sending a man to the moon and back — he committed to doing it “before this decade is out”. The Manhattan Project, which produced the first nuclear weapons before that, and the Darpa breakthroughs since all came from a process driven by the same urgency.

In a world hungry for technological advances, too many companies do not know how to manage innovation and are not learning from the breakthrough projects of the past. Innovation efforts too often wind up being worth no more than spare change, when they could be world-changing.

At one extreme, company leadership tries to produce innovation as they would widgets, by micro-managing research with rigid gates and metrics that lead to incremental innovation at best. At the other extreme, leadership treats innovation as art. In the belief that no constraints and no direction lead to the most creative innovations, technologists are left without the expectation or structure needed to identify and develop breakthroughs.

The latter is what happened at Bell Labs, where I started my career. Without some connection to the broader business goals, many of the innovations — from transistors to micro-electromechanical systems — that came out of Bell Labs were instead commercialised by competitors. Whether incrementally useful or useful to competitors, companies eventually tire of paying and shut down their innovation organisations.


Neat idea to have a set lifespan, though I wonder if you’d get discouraged if there was a month remaining and you knew you needed two or three months to get your breakthrough.
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Tiangong-1 frequently asked questions • Rocket Science

There’s an 8.5-tonne Chinese space station that’s out of control and is going to crash to Earth in a few weeks:


Due to the orbital inclination of the Tiangong-1, approximately 42.8 degrees, and the likely uncontrolled nature of the reentry, the final impact point can be anywhere on Earth between 42.8 degrees North and 42.8 degrees South in latitude.

Map showing the area between 42.8 degrees North and 42.8 degrees South latitude (in green), over which Tiangong-1 could reenter. Graph at left shows population density. Credit: ESA CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

As you can see in the chart at right in the map above, the re-entry location itself is not uniformly distributed. Due to the geometry of the craft’s circular orbit, the probability of reentry happening at the maximum (42.8 degrees N) and minimum (42.8 degrees S) latitude are higher than at the equator.

Why is this?

Because of the low eccentricity and non-polar inclination of the orbit (in other words, because the orbit of the space station around the Earth is circular and at an angle with respect to the equator), the space station spends more time near the edges of the band then it spends crossing the equatorial region of Earth. This leads to a higher likelihood of reentry occurring near the edges of the latitude band, i.e., the top and bottom of the band in the map above.


More updates here. Have you booked that quick break holiday to northern Europe/Canada/Antarctica yet?

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Galaxy S9+ fingerprint sensor placement may be too low for some • SamMobile

“Landon A”:


Alongside the aggravation behind the Bixby button for most users, the placement of the fingerprint sensor was most definitely quite high on the list of complaints. With Samsung a company that keeps its ear to the streets and makes changes accordingly, we have a differently placed sensor on the new flagships. But, for those with larger hands, like myself, it is now a hassle as the sensor is a tad too low. This is especially an issue on the S9+. The dual rear camera means the fingerprint sensor is placed lower on the body on the S9+ compared to the S9. Yes, the Galaxy S9 is shorter and should technically have the same problem, but since the S9+ is heavier, one tends to grip it higher up, which compounds the issue.

I had no issues at all with the placement of the sensor on the 2017 flagships; my finger rested right on the scanner. Others got used to it after a while. The previous placement appeased larger-handed folks, though, whereas this year it is kind of a middle ground for everyone.


So Samsung fired all its large-handed testers? Also, this really does count as one of the cream of first-world problems: the fingerprint sensor on a not-yet-on-sale phone is in slightly the wrong place for you.
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Google is helping the Pentagon build AI for drones • Gizmodo

Kate Conger and Dell Cameron:


Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Google’s involvement.

Google’s pilot project with the Defense Department’s Project Maven, an effort to identify objects in drone footage, has not been previously reported, but it was discussed widely within the company last week when information about the project was shared on an internal mailing list, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the project.

Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.

Google’s Eric Schmidt summed up the tech industry’s concerns about collaborating with the Pentagon at a talk last fall. “There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly,” he said. While Google says its involvement in Project Maven is not related to combat uses, the issue has still sparked concern among employees, sources said…

…The project’s first assignment was to help the Pentagon efficiently process the deluge of video footage collected daily by its aerial drones—an amount of footage so vast that human analysts can’t keep up, according to Greg Allen, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security, who co-authored a lengthy July 2017 report on the military’s use of artificial intelligence. Although the Defense Department has poured resources into the development of advanced sensor technology to gather information during drone flights, it has lagged in creating analysis tools to comb through the data.


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Geek Squad’s relationship with FBI is cozier than we thought • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Aaron Mackey:


Another document records a $500 payment from the FBI to a confidential Geek Squad informant. This appears to be one of the same payments at issue in the prosecution of Mark Rettenmaier, the California doctor who was charged with possession of child pornography after Best Buy sent his computer to the Kentucky Geek Squad repair facility.

Other documents show that over the years of working with Geek Squad employees, FBI agents developed a process for investigating and prosecuting people who sent their devices to the Geek Squad for repairs. The documents detail a series of FBI investigations in which a Geek Squad employee would call the FBI’s Louisville field office after finding what they believed was child pornography.

The FBI agent would show up, review the images or video and determine whether they believe they are illegal content. After that, they would seize the hard drive or computer and send it to another FBI field office near where the owner of the device lived. Agents at that local FBI office would then investigate further, and in some cases try to obtain a warrant to search the device. 

Some of these reports indicate that the FBI treated Geek Squad employees as informants, identifying them as “CHS,” which is shorthand for confidential human sources. In other cases, the FBI identifies the initial calls as coming from Best Buy employees, raising questions as to whether certain employees had different relationships with the FBI.


Now, is this really, actually bad? I’d suggest that the Geek Squad staff are doing precisely what you’d want concerned citizens to do: alerting the authorities when they think they have evidence of malfeasance. Then the authorities check it. The accused person might never know they were accused; it could all blow over. The evidence still has to be heard in public.

Related: it was staff at a PC World (akin to Geek Squad) in the UK who found child abuse imagery on the computer of a British man. And so began the downfall of Paul Gadd – aka the multiply-chart-topping music star Gary Glitter.
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‘Stalkerware’ seller shuts down apps ‘indefinitely’ after getting hacked again • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


A company that sells spyware to regular consumers is “immediately and indefinitely halting” all of its services, just a couple of weeks after a new damaging hack.

Retina-X Studios, which sells several products marketed to parents and employers to keep tabs on their children and employees—but also used by jealous partners to spy on their significant others—announced that its shutting down all its spyware apps on Tuesday with a message at the top of its website.

“Regrettably Retina-X Studios, which offers cutting edge technology that helps parents and employers gather important information on devices they own, has been the victim of sophisticated and repeated illegal hackings,” read the message, which was titled “important note” in all caps.

The company sells subscriptions to apps that allow the operator to access practically anything on a target’s phone or computer, such as text messages, emails, photos , and location information. Retina-X is just one of a slew of companies that sell such services, marketing them to everyday users—as opposed to law enforcement or intelligence agencies. Some critics call these apps “Stalkerware.”


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BlackBerry sues Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram over patent infringement • Reuters

Ahmed Farhatha:


BlackBerry Ltd on Tuesday filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Facebook Inc and its WhatsApp and Instagram apps, arguing that they copied technology and features from BlackBerry Messenger.

Litigation over patent infringement is part of BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen’s strategy for making money for the company, which has lost market share in the smartphone market it once dominated.

“Defendants created mobile messaging applications that co-opt BlackBerry’s innovations, using a number of the innovative security, user interface, and functionality enhancing features,” Canada-based BlackBerry said in a filing with a Los Angeles federal court.

“Protecting shareholder assets and intellectual property is the job of every CEO,” BlackBerry spokeswoman Sarah McKinney said in an email. However, she noted that litigation was “not central to BlackBerry’s strategy.”

The lawsuit followed years of negotiation and BlackBerry has an obligation to shareholders to pursue appropriate legal remedies, she added.


Facebook isn’t impressed. But last year BlackBerry squeezed $940m out of Qualcomm in arbitration over royalties. Chen is nobody’s fool. This doesn’t have to make a lot to be almost pure profit.
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One single malicious vehicle can block “smart” street intersections in the US • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:


In the US, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has started implementing a V2I system called Intelligent Traffic Signal System (I-SIG), already found on the streets of New York, Tampa (Florida), Cheyenne (Wyoming), Temple (Arizona), and Palo Alto (California).

But the Michigan research team says the I-SIG system in its current default configuration is vulnerable to basic data spoofing attacks.

Researchers say this is “due to a vulnerability at the signal control algorithm level,” which they call “the last vehicle advantage.” This means that the latest arriving vehicle can determine the traffic system’s algorithm output.

The research team says I-SIG doesn’t come with protection from spoofing attacks, allowing one vehicle to send repeated messages to a traffic intersection, posing as the latest vehicle that arrived at the intersection.

Rresearchers say an attacker can use this bug and trick a traffic control system into believing cars keep arriving from all sides on the left lane. The system reacted by altering traffic lights and prolonging red light times to accommodate the non-existent vehicles, causing a delay in the entire intersection. (Here’s the simulation.)


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the in-app browser risk, gun culture and slippery slopes, bad notch!, a cheaper MacBook Air?, and more

This Twitter user – a Russian troll – was amplified millions of times by American Reddit users. Photo by Bit Burner on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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

Leaked: secret documents from Russia’s election trolls • Daily Beast

Ben Collins:


what The Daily Beast has seen provides a new level of texture and detail to the [Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency] US efforts, online and off. While the troll farm’s use of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook is now well-known, the leak shows that the Internet Research Agency also operated on Reddit and had a substantial footprint on Tumblr. They documented and tracked their personalized interactions with specific, unsuspecting Americans, some of whom are named in the leaks.

Those outreach efforts display conceptual sophistication. The leaks show that IRA imposter accounts targeted activists for specific causes the Russians wanted promoted. On the target list: the daughter of one of Martin Luther King’s lieutenants.

But the leaks also provide a glimpse into the troll farm’s weaknesses. Some of the Americans the group contacted described receiving impersonal entreaties from unfamiliar accounts, asking for trivial aid and then declining to follow up. The Internet Research Agency might have known how to leverage social media, but they knew far less about how users authentically interact with each other on it—which itself attracted suspicion amongst the very people the Russians were contacting.

“I couldn’t put my finger on it. I didn’t know who they were and why they were remaining anonymous, and I didn’t really see the need for it,” said Craig Carson, a Rochester, New York, attorney and civil rights activist who was contacted by the farm-created account Blacktivist.

Shanall LaRay Logan—who lives in Sacramento, California, and said she is active in Black Lives Matter campaigns —told The Daily Beast that these kind of trolling overtures are “actually just counterproductive to our movement.”

The leaks also reveal the IRA’s previously unreported connection to two additional 2016 rallies, one outside Atlanta and another in western New York, The Daily Beast can now confirm. One of them turned violent.


This came out last week. On Monday, Reddit admitted it was investigating and so far had found “a few hundred” accounts that were directly Russian-controlled – but also that (foolish American) people had amplified Russian propaganda. This is far from over.
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Why iOS in-app browsers that don’t use Safari’s WebKitView are dangerous • Krausefx

Felix Krause on the risks from custom in-app browsers:


This is basically the main reason why in-app browsers are still a thing: It allows the app maintainer to inject additional analytics code, without telling the user. This way, the app’s developer can track the following:

– How long does the user visit the linked website?
– How fast does the user scroll?
– Which links does the user open, and how long do they stay on each of them?

Combined with watch.user, the app can record you while you browse third party websites, or even use the iPhone X face sensor to parse your face. Every single tap, swipe or any other gesture; device movements, GPS location (if granted) and any other granted iOS sensor, while the app is still in the foreground.

Any app with an in-app browser can [also] easily steal the user’s email address, passwords and two-factor authentication codes. They can do that by injecting JavaScript code that bridges the data over to the app, or directly to a remote host. This is simple, it’s basically code like this:

email = document.getElementById(“email”).value
password = document.getElementById(“password”).value

That’s all that’s needed: just inject the code above to every website, run it on every user’s key stroke, and you’ll get a nice list of email addresses and passwords.


In short: open links in Safari if you don’t trust the app; or insist it opens a Safari webview.
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A HomePod intervention • 512 Pixels

Stephen Hackett:


Hardware wise, the HomePod may sound amazing but its physical controls aren’t as good as the Echo’s. Our first-gen Echo has a big ring that spins around to control the volume that works perfectly; the HomePod’s touch buttons can be finicky and slow to respond.

Even more annoying is the HomePod’s resumption of music playback if you touch the top of the unit. Our smart speakers have always been under a counter in the kitchen, and we brush the top of them a lot more than we realized after the HomePod would start blaring music after any accidental touch. Apple should have an option to disable it.

All in all, I thought the move to the HomePod was going well right until my family staged an intervention. Their annoyance with Siri misunderstanding or misinterpreting has grown over the last few weeks, and the clumsiness with which Siri handles — or doesn’t handle — some requests has become bothersome.

I’ve overheard several interactions with the HomePod that entail a family member asking for a song or album that ends in getting upset with the device when it starts playing something else. The Echo — coupled with Amazon Music — had a much higher hit rate when it came to accurately playing what was desired.

In short, the increase in sound quality doesn’t make up for the frustration of using Siri. The HomePod is going to live in my studio; the Echo is back in its rightful place in the kitchen.


Hackett makes a lot of good points. Even though the HomePod has been in development for years at Apple, its testers clearly didn’t put it through the right paces.
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What critics don’t understand about gun culture • The Atlantic

David French on how people go from non-gun owners to full-time gun carriers:


Next, you realize that you want that sense of safety to travel with you. So you sign up for a concealed-carry permit class. You gather one night with friends and neighbors and spend the next eight hours combining a self-defense class with a dash of world-view training. And when you carry your weapon, you don’t feel intimidated, you feel empowered. In a way that’s tough to explain, the fact that you’re so much less dependent on the state for your personal security and safety makes you feel more “free” than you’ve ever felt before.  

And as your worldview changes, you expand your knowledge. You learn that people defend themselves with guns all the time, usually without pulling the trigger. You share the stories and your own experience with your friends, and soon they walk into gun stores. They start their own journey into America’s “gun culture.”

At the end of this process, your life has changed for the better. Your community has expanded to include people you truly like, who’ve perhaps helped you through a tough time in your life, and you treasure these relationships. You feel a sense of burning conviction that you, your family, and your community are safer and freer because you own and carry a gun.

It’s a myth that gun owners despise regulation. Instead, they tend to believe that government regulation should have two purposes—deny guns to the dangerous while protecting rights of access for the law-abiding. The formula is simple: Criminals and the dangerously mentally ill make our nation more violent. Law-abiding gun owners save and protect lives.

Thus the overwhelming support for background checks, the insistence from gun-rights supporters that the government enforce existing laws and lock up violent offenders, and the openness to solutions—like so-called “gun violence restraining orders” that specifically target troubled individuals for intervention.


Stephen King (the writer) says, in one of his writing rules, that “nobody ever thinks of themselves as the bad guy”. Gun ownership, as described here, is one of those slippery slopes, where you’re always doing completely rational things. Just one more step. But seen from outside, it’s just a descent into madness, with each step slightly more crazy than the next.

You’re never the bad guy, though.
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Bad iPhone notches are happening to good Android phones • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


I’ve been coming to Mobile World Congress for close to a decade now, and I’ve never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as I witnessed during this year’s show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next.

No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple’s notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven’t even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display.

Ulefone T2 Pro Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Asus is one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world, and yet its copycat notch is probably the most galling of them all. The Zenfone 5 looks and feels like a promising phone, featuring loud speakers, the latest Sony imaging sensor with larger-than-average pixels, and a price somewhere south of $499. I should be celebrating it right now, but instead I’m turning away in disgust as Asus leans into its copying by calling Apple a “Fruit Company” repeatedly. If you’re going to copy the iPhone, at least have the decency to avoid trying to mock it.

It would be stating the obvious to say that this trend is not a good one. I’m absolutely of the belief that everyone, Apple included, copies or borrows ideas from everyone else in the mobile industry. This is a great way to see technical improvements disseminated across the market. But the problem with these notched screens on Android phones is that they’re purely cosmetic. Apple’s notch at the top of the iPhone X allows the company to have a nearly borderless screen everywhere else, plus it accommodates the earpiece and TrueDepth camera for Face ID. Asus et al have a sizeable “chin” at the bottom of their phones, so the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look — not function, look — like an iPhone X.


Sure, these are obvious copycats. It’s stretching it to call them “good” Android phones though. They’re run-of-the-mill, entirely fungible things.
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Mobiles to Americans? That’s not the only thing Xiaomi’s selling • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:


Xiaomi’s plan [to sell phones in the US] is as much about selling shares in its forthcoming IPO as it is about selling handsets to Americans.

Talk of a $100bn valuation for the Chinese startup would make it vastly overvalued. That doesn’t mean bankers won’t try to help it reach such lofty heights, or that Chinese investors won’t pay through the roof to bag some shares. However to get there, Xiaomi’s leadership, financial boffins and marketing teams all need to keep kicking the can down the road.

The story for 2017 was about the company’s turnaround, from a slump in 2015 to a rebound in 2016 and continued momentum last year. India was the main engine, and we can expect more of that noise over the coming 12 months. But Xiaomi needs another booster rocket if it’s to go to the moon like everybody hopes. Hence the talk of a U.S. entry, where growth in the most recent quarter was much faster than for Asia when measured in revenue terms.

And note the timing: end of this year or early next. That would be after Xiaomi’s IPO, providing a great talking point for bankers while not requiring them to demonstrate any actual success.


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KGI: Apple to release more affordable 13in MacBook Air in Q2, HomePod demand ‘mediocre’ so far • 9to5 Mac

Chance Miller:


[KGI Securities’ Ming-chi] Kuo says that he expects Apple to release a new MacBook Air “with a lower price tag” during the second quarter of 2018, meaning we should see it sooner rather than later. The analyst expects that the more affordable MacBook Air will help push MacBook shipments up by 10%-15% this year.

Details on the new MacBook Air are sparse, but this report from KGI corroborates a similarly vague report from Digitimes earlier this year. The MacBook Air line has been largely stagnant in recent years as Apple has shifted focus towards the 12in MacBook and MacBook Pro.

Currently, Apple sells the 13in MacBook Air starting at $999, and KGI seems to think it will get even cheaper this year. Despite its neglect by Apple, the MacBook Air remains a popular choice for college students.

The investor notes also offers some additional details on supply chain reactions to the upcoming iPhone refreshes, the growing success of AirPods and more. Kuo says that KGI is “positive” on shipments of AirPods and predicts the refreshed model will come in the second half of the year, driving strong year over year growth.


Neil Cybart disagrees with this forecast (partly on the basis that Kuo doesn’t have insight into Apple’s pricing), and I go along with him. Apple hasn’t dropped the price of the Air in absolutely years; it’s an ageing – in some ways obsolescent (no retina screen!) – product which simply holds the base price down. No reason to drop it; Apple’s focus is all on the MacBook, which is smaller and lighter than the MBAir.
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Brands beware – YouTube ads pulled from Infowars • BBC

Rory Cellan-Jones:


After CNN contacted the various brands, they mostly pronounced themselves surprised and opted to remove their adverts from the channel associated with Mr Jones and InfoWars.

One British company affected was Brighton-based financial services firm OneFamily. The business told me that its ads on YouTube – which is owned by Google – were targeted at groups including 18 to 34-year-old “business & economic news junkies”.

But it had not been aware that this would include InfoWars, which did not align with its values.

OneFamily explained that it had not specifically excluded the Alex Jones channel but had thought that its adverts would not appear alongside unsuitable content:
“Working with Google we exclude our advertising from any sites that fall within these categories: sensational and shocking, profanity & rough language, content not yet rated, sensitive social issues, tragedy & conflict, sexually suggestive content, adult content, and live streaming videos,” it said.

“As such, any site in these categories does not feature our advertising. We have asked Google to explain why InfoWars was not on its exclusion list.”

I asked Google for a response. The company said it could not comment on individual cases but stressed that it gave its advertising customers a range of options to filter out unsuitable videos for their messages and make sure they reached the right audience.


“Ah yeah, here’s your mistake, right here – you didn’t tick ‘don’t show my ads on nutjob conspiracy theory videos’. Oh wait, we don’t have that.”
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More Mailchimp malware: invoice 1717 from City Sign Graphics Ltd • My Online Security


Back today with even more Mailchimp abuse and attempted malware spreading. By the time I got round to investigating the email, the links in it were down. At first I got a “Hostgator account suspended: message but now get an “error 500 server misconfigured: message.  A twitter post gave me the file # of the downloaded malware that I assume is still the Gootkit banking Trojan.

We still have no idea how the victim companies’ details or login credentials to the Mailchimp network are being stolen or compromised.

This next email has the subject of Invoice 1717 from CITY SIGN AND GRAPHICS LTD coming from CITY SIGN AND GRAPHICS LTD ; on behalf of; CITY SIGN & GRAPHICS LTD

About one month ago we saw a malware campaign using Mailchimp to distribute the Gootkit banking trojan. Since then there have been a regular almost daily campaign. Today’s campaign has changed slightly and although the initial emails are coming via the Mailchimp system, the malware downloader and the payloads are coming from other sites which are probably/almost certainly compromised.

They use email addresses and subjects that will entice a user to read the email and open the attachment. A very high proportion are being targeted at small and medium size businesses, with the hope of getting a better response than they do from consumers.


Obvious enough how they get Mailchimp logins: people are lazy and reuse them, and they get phished elsewhere. (Or you send out a phishing campaign around Mailchimp.)

It’s long past time that username/password was enough to log you in to services that can reach so many people. And I say that as a user of Mailchimp.
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The blockchain pipe dream • Project Syndicate

Nouriel Roubini and Preston Byrne:


It turns out that many likely appropriate applications of blockchain in finance – such as in securitization or supply-chain monitoring – will require intermediaries after all, because there will inevitably be circumstances where unforeseen contingencies arise, demanding the exercise of discretion. The most important thing blockchain will do in such a situation is ensure that all parties to a transaction are in agreement with one another about its status and their obligations.

It is high time to end the hype. Bitcoin is a slow, energy-inefficient dinosaur that will never be able to process transactions as quickly or inexpensively as an Excel spreadsheet. Ethereum’s plans for an insecure proof-of-stake authentication system will render it vulnerable to manipulation by influential insiders. And Ripple’s technology for cross-border interbank financial transfers will soon be left in the dust by SWIFT, a non-blockchain consortium that all of the world’s major financial institutions already use. Similarly, centralized e-payment systems with almost no transaction costs – Faster Payments, AliPay, WeChat Pay, Venmo, Paypal, Square – are already being used by billions of people around the world.

Today’s “coin mania” is not unlike the railway mania at the dawn of the industrial revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. On its own, blockchain is hardly revolutionary. In conjunction with the secure, remote automation of financial and machine processes, however, it can have potentially far-reaching implications.
Ultimately, blockchain’s uses will be limited to specific, well-defined, and complex applications that require transparency and tamper-resistance more than they require speed – for example, communication with self-driving cars or drones. As for most of the coins, they are little different from railway stocks in the 1840s, which went bust when that bubble – like most bubbles – burst.


I think it’s the definition of a bubble that it bursts. The question still remains: what is blockchain better for than anything else? (I’m moderating a discussion on this at the E-crime and Cybersecurity congress on Wednesday in London. Do come and join in.)
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Coal industry mired in decline despite Trump pledges • The Hill

Reid Wilson:


Production declines are likely to hit two of America’s three main coal regions particularly hard. In central Appalachia, where hot-burning and relatively clean coal is some of the best in the world, production costs are rising as miners are forced to dig deeper. And in the Powder River Basin, a lack of access to western ports that could ship coal to Asia means higher transportation costs.

That threatens states like West Virginia and Wyoming, where for generations blue-collar workers used the coal industry to build a middle class life for themselves and their families. 

“We’re talking about jobs where we have people with only a high school diploma making $70,000 or $75,000 a year,” said John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics at West Virginia University. “A bounce back to what we considered normal a decade ago is very unlikely.”

In Wyoming, where about 20% of the state’s revenue comes from taxes associated with mining, the legislature now faces a budget deficit.

“We’ve been living high and heady for a long time, and with the decline of the industry in the last couple of years and the crash, it’s significant,” Deti said. “When that revenue declines, obviously the state is crunched.”


Reality bites. Hard.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: here come the neo-luddites, advertisers flee Infowars, who’s meeting Trump on games?, and more

You see sheep; an AI may well see flowers. Howcome? Photo by Tim Parkinson on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers. They turned a seven-day illness into one that lasted only one week. Well done everyone! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why I quit Google to work for myself • MTLynch

Michael Lynch became frustrated at trying to make an impact inside Google:


It was the third time in six months that my manager had reassigned me midway through a project. Each time, he assured me that it had nothing to do with the quality of my work, but rather some shift in upper management strategy or team headcount.

At this point, I took a step back to assess what was happening from a high level. Forget my manager, forget his managers, forget the promotion committee. What if I boiled it down to just me and just Google? What was happening in our “business relationship?”

Well, Google kept telling me that it couldn’t judge my work until it saw me complete a project. Meanwhile, I couldn’t complete any projects because Google kept interrupting them midway through and assigning me new ones.

The dynamic felt absurd.

My career was being dictated by a shifting, anonymous committee who thought about me for an hour of their lives. Management decisions that I had no input into were erasing months of my career progress.

Worst of all, I wasn’t proud of my work. Instead of asking myself, “How can I solve this challenging problem?” I was asking, “How can I make this problem look challenging for promotion?” I hated that.

Even if I got the promotion, what then? Popular wisdom said that each promotion was exponentially harder than the last. To continue advancing my career, I’d need projects that were even larger in scope and involved collaboration with more partner teams. But that just meant the project could fail due to even more factors outside my control, wasting months or years of my life.


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AI breakthrough: app can transcribe your meetings in real time, for free • ZDNet

Jason Hiner:


When we sat down to talk about it in a tiny meeting room in the back corner of Fira Barcelona’s Hall 2, Sam Liang placed his iPhone on the table and tapped the record button in the Otter app. As the CEO of AISense – the company behind – Liang started explaining how the 15-person startup from Los Altos, CA took a different approach to understand audio data than Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and the other companies working on speech recognition.

As Liang gave his pitch, Otter started spitting out text – with roughly a 2-3 second delay. And since Liang had set up our meeting in the app beforehand, the software automatically recognized when his teammate Seamus McAteer chimed in with his own comments or I interrupted with follow-up questions.

While Otter’s natural language processing wasn’t perfect by any means – punctuation is missing, words are misunderstood, speakers are sometimes misidentified – it’s remarkably close, especially considering its speed and the fact that the app is free.

“Our technology is quite different,” said Liang, in his interview with ZDNet. “We call it ‘Ambient Voice Intelligence’ and we use the word ambient to indicate that this is working in the background… Your brain can only remember 10-20% of the information [from a meeting]… So we thought we can help people capture that information and then search for it really fast.”

The search is the best feature. Once the recording is finished, the app’s machine learning automatically creates about 10 keywords so that you know what the meeting was about. And you can start searching the full text right away. Also useful is that once you hone in on a keyword, you can hit the play button to listen to the section of the audio where it occurred.

The next best feature of the app is that you can share recorded meetings. So, if you have a meeting and a colleague can’t attend, you can send them the transcript and audio afterward, so that they can find the stuff that’s relevant to them.


This is the holy grail for journalists who don’t want to do tedious, tedious transcription of important (and unimportant) interviews. Search in particular is really big. It’s on the App Store.
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Global wearables market grows 7.7% in 4Q17 and 10.3% in 2017 as Apple seizes the leader position • IDC


“The 10.3% year-over-year growth in 2017 is a marked decline from the 27.3% growth we saw in 2016,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research director for IDC’s Wearables team. “The slowdown is not due to a lack of interest – far from it. Instead, we saw numerous vendors, relying on older models, exit the market altogether. At the same time, the remaining vendors – including multiple startups – have not only replaced them, but with devices, features, and services that have helped make wearables more integral in people’s lives. Going forward, the next generation of wearables will make the ones we saw as recently as 2016 look quaint.”

Apple, meanwhile, suddenly finds itself atop the wearables market. “Interest in smartwatches continues to grow and Apple is well-positioned to capture demand,” added Llamas. “User tastes have become more sophisticated over the past several quarters and Apple pounced on the demand for cellular connectivity and streaming multimedia. What will bear close observation is how Apple will iterate upon these and how the competition chooses to keep pace.”


Fitbit is in real trouble; its sales are shrinking and it isn’t getting users to upgrade. Xiaomi, well, it has the whole of China to sell to. I bet a lot of those who left the market were in the Android Wear space. It’s Huawei and nobody else there just now.
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Eight years later, Google Fiber is a faint echo of the disruption we were promised • Motherboard

Karl Bode on how Google has moved on from wired to planning wireless broadband:


Google’s “pause” [on bringing Fiber to new cities] is driven largely by executive frustrations with fiber deployment costs and a fascination with the potential of next-generation wireless.

The company has been conducting trials in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz millimeter wave bands, and is also conducting a variety of different tests in the 3.5 GHz band, the 5.8 GHz band and the 24 GHz band. And while these technologies show promise, it’s going to take a while for Google to figure out the best combination of technologies to aid its deployment.

And while Google Fiber has focused on wireless as an alternative to deploying fiber, those efforts have faced stiff headwinds as well. In July of 2016 Google acquired Webpass, a wireless ISP focused largely on urban apartment building deployments. But there too Google Fiber’s ambitions appear to be shrinking with the recent news the service would be leaving Boston.

Since Google executives don’t appear to actually know what these evolved wireless efforts will look like yet, the company’s public relation apparatus has been left with little more than a rotating crop of non-answers, sowing further frustration among cities trying to get on the other side of the nation’s vast digital divide.

Users In the company’s initial launch market of Kansas City were frustrated to find their scheduled installations cancelled after years of waiting. Other cities, like Portland, state that they were strung along for more than a year only to be left standing at the altar. Some rumored target markets like San Francisco have decided to move forward on their own.


Better chance with wireless than wired. The latter is sunk costs, literally. However, you’re still challenging for something which is not a Google core competence (putting individual things in every home/business) against companies which got there years earlier. Why?
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Do neural nets dream of electric sheep? • AI Weirdness



Are neural networks just hyper-vigilant, finding sheep everywhere? No, as it turns out. They only see sheep where they expect to see them. They can find sheep easily in fields and mountainsides, but as soon as sheep start showing up in weird places, it becomes obvious how much the algorithms rely on guessing and probabilities.

Bring sheep indoors, and they’re labeled as cats. Pick up a sheep (or a goat) in your arms, and they’re labeled as dogs.

Paint them orange, and they become flowers.

Put the sheep on leashes, and they’re labeled as dogs. Put them in cars, and they’re dogs or cats. If they’re in the water, they could end up being labeled as birds or even polar bears.

And if goats climb trees, they become birds. Or possibly giraffes. (It turns out that Microsoft Azure is somewhat notorious for seeing giraffes everywhere due to a rumored overabundance of giraffes in the original dataset)


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Will 2018 be the year of the neo-luddite? • The Guardian

Jamie Bartlett:


the whole of society seems to have woken up to the fact there is a psychological cost to constant checking, swiping and staring. A growing number of my friends now have “no phone” times, don’t instantly sign into the cafe wifi, or have weekends away without their computers. This behaviour is no longer confined to intellectuals and academics, part of some clever critique of modernity. Every single parent I know frets about “screen time”, and most are engaged in a struggle with a toddler over how much iPad is allowed. The alternative is “slow living” or “slow tech”. “Want to become a slow-tech family?” writes Janell Burley Hoffmann, one of its proponents. “Wait! Just wait – in line, at the doctor’s, for the bus, at the school pickup – just sit and wait.” Turning what used to be ordinary behaviour into a “movement” is a very modern way to go about it. But it’s probably necessary.

I would add to this the ever-growing craze for yoga, meditation, reiki and all those other things that promise inner peace and meaning – except for the fact all the techies do it, too. Maybe that’s why they do it. Either way, there is a palpable demand for anything that involves less tech, a fetish for back-to-basics. Innocent Drinks have held two “Unplugged Festivals”, offering the chance of “switching off for the weekend … No wifi, no 3G, no traditional electricity”. Others take off-grid living much further. There has been an uptick in “back to the land” movements: communes and self-sustaining communities that prefer the low-tech life. According to the Intentional Community Directory, which measures the spread of alternative lifestyles, 300 eco-villages were founded in the first 10 months of 2016, the most since the 1970s. I spent some time in 2016 living in an off-grid community where no one seemed to suffer mobile phone separation anxiety. No one was frantically checking if their last tweet went viral and we all felt better for it.


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Why are there few women in tech? Watch a recruiting session • Wired

Jessi Hempel:


In 2012 and 2013, researchers attended 84 introductory sessions held by 66 companies at an elite West Coast university. (They never explicitly name Stanford, but…) Roughly a quarter of attendees at these one-hour sessions were women, on average. The researchers documented an unwelcoming environment for these women, including sexist jokes and imagery, geeky references, a competitive environment, and an absence of women engineers—all of which intimidated or alienated female recruits. “We hear from companies there’s a pipeline problem, that there just aren’t enough people applying for jobs. This is one area where they are able to influence that,” says Wynn. They just don’t.

The chilling effect, according to Wynn, starts with the people companies send to staff recruiting sessions. As students entered, women were often setting up refreshments or raffles and doling out the swag in the back; the presenters were often men, and they rarely introduced the recruiters. If the company sent a female engineer, according to the paper, she often had no speaking role; alternatively, her role was to speak about the company’s culture, while her male peer tackled the tech challenges. Of the sessions Wynn’s research team observed, only 22% featured female engineers talking about technical work. When those women did speak, according to the sessions observed, male presenters tended to interrupt them.

Similarly, the follow-up question-and-answer periods were often dominated by male students who commandeered the time, using it to show off their own deep technical know-how in a familiar one-upmanship. Rather than acting as a facilitator for these sessions, male presenters were often drawn into a competitive volley. Wynn and Correll describe one session in which men asked 19 questions and women asked none.


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Advertisers flee Infowars founder Alex Jones’ YouTube channel • CNN

Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore:


A Nike spokesperson said the company was “disturbed to learn that we appeared on [The Alex Jones Channel].” It has since asked YouTube to address why the channel wasn’t flagged by a filter it had enabled.

Nike, like some of the other brands, opted in to a “sensitive subject exclusion” filter to better control where its ads appear. The exclusion filters include, according to YouTube: “Tragedy and Conflict;” “Sensitive Social Issues;” “Sexually Suggestive Content;” “Sensational & Shocking;” and “Profanity & Rough Language.”

YouTube did not respond to questions from CNN about whether the channels should have been excluded by any of those filters.

“We have a filter and brand safety assurances from Google our content would never run around offensive content,” a Paramount Network spokesperson said, adding that the company is trying to find out what “went wrong.”

An Acer spokesperson confirmed the company also had reached out to its partners at YouTube, saying its “existing filters should have prevented this.” The spokesperson said the company has set up additional filters to further block its ads from appearing on “divisive channels in the future.”


What went wrong? YouTube never expected there would be unfactual content like this. Simply wasn’t built into it.
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A new, huge review of gun research has bad news for the NRA • Vox

German Lopez:


RAND’s report does not come out in favor of more or less gun control. Instead, the team compiled the best research that’s available so far into charts and in-depth evaluations — the result of a review of dozens of studies, focused on 13 policies and eight outcomes. Here are the overall findings, which only included studies that met RAND’s rigorous standards:

The RAND report emphasizes that much of the research on gun policy is still in its infancy. You can see that in the chart above in all the white and gray space — we still don’t have answers to a lot of important questions when it comes to gun policy, including the effects on defensive gun use, hunting and recreation, and police shootings.

But the answers we do have point in one direction. On the gun control front, there’s moderate evidence that background checks reduce suicide and violent crime, limited evidence that prohibitions associated with mental illness reduce suicide, moderate evidence that those prohibitions reduce violent crime, and supportive evidence that child-access prevention laws reduce suicides and unintentional injuries and deaths.


Data! What the argument is lacking so far. And here are the RAND conclusions, very briefly summarised, from its executive summary:
• Supportive evidence
-Child-access prevention laws may decrease suicide.
-Child-access prevention laws may decrease unintentional injuries and deaths.

• Moderate evidence
– Background checks may decrease suicide.
– Background checks may decrease violent crime.
– Prohibitions associated with mental illness may decrease violent crime.
– Stand-your-ground laws may increase violent crime.

• Limited evidence
– Bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines may increase the price of banned firearms.
– Concealed-carry laws may increase unintentional injuries and deaths.
– Concealed-carry laws may increase violent crime.
– Minimum age requirements may decrease suicide.
– Prohibitions associated with mental illness may decrease suicide.
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Entertainment Software Association: White House has not invited it or any member company to meet Trump • Venturebeat

Jeff Grubb:


If President Trump is going to meet with the gaming industry next week [ie this week, beginning 5 March], the gaming industry doesn’t know about it. The Entertainment Software Association, gaming’s biggest lobbying group, says that it had no knowledge of a meeting next week. During a question-and-answer session with the media, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that Trump is meeting with the gaming industry next week, but she did not say who would attend that event.

“The ESA and our member companies have not received an invitation to meet with President Trump,” ESA media relations boss Dan Hewitt told GamesBeat in an email.

ESA member companies include Capcom, Epic Game, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Nintendo, and Microsoft. The ESA is also the primary point of contact between corporate game makers and Washington D.C. If the White House has not invited any of the companies in that group, then who did it invite?

I’ve reached out to the White House for a comment.

I reached out to Hewitt and the ESA as well as several major publishers after Sanders revealed the alleged meeting earlier today. A couple of companies said they didn’t have a comment at the time, which is odd. This is typically the kind of thing that every company would have prepared statements for. I expected to get back something simple like, “Johnny’s Big Game Conglomerate is looking forward to speaking with the president about the dynamic and rich world of gaming at the White House next week.”


For the games industry, there’s no benefit in turning up – since Trump will just want to use it to blame them for school shootings.

Unless of course one of them is able to ask “we sell these exact same games in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. They don’t have school shootings. What’s your explanation for that?”
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