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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
link to this extract


Fraudsters jailed for £37m copycat web scam • BBC News

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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.

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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?
link to this extract


Samsung’s Galaxy S9 pre-sales a dud, says Arthur Wood, look out below • Barron’s

Tiernan Ray:

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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.”

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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.
link to this extract


The sad story of Maplin Electronics • Coppola Comment

Frances Coppola digs into Maplin’s pretty complicated accounts:

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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…

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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:

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…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.

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TL;DR It’s much more complicated than “they lost out to Amazon”.
link to this extract


Every Oculus Rift BR headset bricked due to expired certificate [update] • Neowin

Steven Parker:

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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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link to this extract


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

Mike Wehner:

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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.

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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.
link to this extract


Broadcom’s deal for Qualcomm is in jeopardy, and it might have to abandon its bid and come back later • CNBC

Alex Sherman:

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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.

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Still can’t see any benefit to anyone broadly from Broadcom succeeding. A failure here would be just fine.
link to this extract


Nintendo expected to overtake Microsoft in 2018 • Gamesindustry.biz

James Batchelor:

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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

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Amazing. Nintendo is doing what Microsoft does in OSs: one hit, one miss, one hit…
link to this extract


Newsweek media group websites ran malicious code that experts say is used to commit ad fraud • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

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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 IBTimes.sg, IBTimes.co.in and IBTimes.co.uk.”

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.

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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.
link to this extract


For two months I got my news only from print • NY Times

Farhad Manjoo:

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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.

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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.
link to this extract


10 ways a website can betray your privacy • Tech Radar

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

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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.

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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.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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