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.

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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:

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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.”

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“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.
link to this extract


Apple finds more serious supplier problems as its audits expand • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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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:

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

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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link to this extract


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:

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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?

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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”):

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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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link to this extract


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

Roberta Rampton:

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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:

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The unnamed hackers launched a ‘phishing’ scheme in early January, in which they purchased domain names that closely resembled binance.com, 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 coinmarketcap.com 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.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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