Start Up: the ICO scam that wasn’t, millennial streamers, machine learning and chaos, Intel shutters smart glasses, and more

Mycelia: they could make an impressive leather replacement for vegans. Photo by Amadej Trnkoczy 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.

Millennial streamers and music on smart speakers • Global Web Index

Olivia Valentine:


Millennials are the most passionate generation when it comes to music streaming, with 68% engaging. But just as the music-streaming business is experiencing continued user growth, the interest in smart voice-controlled devices (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home) is trending quickly upwards, too, pointing at a potential to shake up the music streaming landscape. 

Two-thirds of Millennial Music Streamers say they currently use or are planning to purchase one of these smart devices, putting this group 9 percentage points ahead of the Millennial average for this figure across the globe.


So quite a lot of room for Apple to expand into, if it gets it right. This is in the early stages.

(The definition of “music streamer” is someone who says they stream music daily.)
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Palantir knows everything about you • Bloomberg Businessweek

Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson offer a huge rundown on Peter Thiel’s data-gathering company, which does work mostly for law enforcement and finance (it seems); this little example from Los Angeles where the LAPD is using its “Gotham” system points to the problems:


In 2016, [22-year-old Manuel] Rios was sitting in a parked car with an Eastside 18 [gang] friend when a police car pulled up. His buddy ran, pursued by the cops, but Rios stayed put. “Why should I run? I’m not a gang member,” he says over steak and eggs at the IHOP near his home. The police returned and handcuffed him. One of them took his picture with a cellphone. “Welcome to the gang database!” the officer said.

Since then he’s been stopped more than a dozen times, he says, and told that if he doesn’t like it he should move. He has nowhere to go. His girlfriend just had a baby girl, and he wants to be around for them. “They say you’re in the system, you can’t lie to us,” he says. “I tell them, ‘How can I be in the hood if I haven’t got jumped in? Can’t you guys tell people who bang and who don’t?’ They go by their facts, not the real facts.”

The police, on autopilot with Palantir, are driving Rios toward his gang friends, not away from them, worries Mariella Saba, a neighbor and community organizer who helped him get off meth. When whole communities like East L.A. are algorithmically scraped for pre-crime suspects, data is destiny, says Saba. “These are systemic processes. When people are constantly harassed in a gang context, it pushes them to join. They internalize being told they’re bad.”


You don’t finish this thinking that Palantir are on the up and up.
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Machine learning’s ‘amazing’ ability to predict chaos • Quanta Magazine

Natalie Wolchover:


Half a century ago, the pioneers of chaos theory discovered that the “butterfly effect” makes long-term prediction impossible. Even the smallest perturbation to a complex system (like the weather, the economy or just about anything else) can touch off a concatenation of events that leads to a dramatically divergent future. Unable to pin down the state of these systems precisely enough to predict how they’ll play out, we live under a veil of uncertainty.

But now the robots are here to help.

In a series of results reported in the journals Physical Review Letters and Chaos, scientists have used machine learning — the same computational technique behind recent successes in artificial intelligence — to predict the future evolution of chaotic systems out to stunningly distant horizons. The approach is being lauded by outside experts as groundbreaking and likely to find wide application.

“I find it really amazing how far into the future they predict” a system’s chaotic evolution, said Herbert Jaeger, a professor of computational science at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

The findings come from veteran chaos theorist Edward Ott and four collaborators at the University of Maryland. They employed a machine-learning algorithm called reservoir computing to “learn” the dynamics of an archetypal chaotic system called the Kuramoto-Sivashinsky equation. The evolving solution to this equation behaves like a flame front, flickering as it advances through a combustible medium.


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What’s the length of the shortest bit sequence that’s never been sent over the internet? • Sean Cassidy

Sean Cassidy:


A friend of mine posed this brain teaser to me recently: “What’s the length of shortest bit sequence that’s never been sent over the Internet?”

We can never know for sure because we don’t have a comprehensive list of all the data.

But what can we say probabilistically? Restating it like so: “At what value for X is there a 50% chance there’s a sequence of X-bits in length that hasn’t been transmitted yet?”

What does your intuition say? Obviously every 8-bit sequence has been sent, since there’s only 256 values. By downloading this HTML page over TLS you’ve probably used up every 8-bit value. Has every 100 byte message been sent?

This is how my intuition went: it’s probably less than 128 bits because UUIDs are 128 bits, and they’re universally unique. It’s probably greater than 48 bits because of how common collisions are at that end for hashes and CRCs, and the Internet has generated a lot of traffic.

How would we determine the right value?

I decided to model data as each bit sent is like flipping a coin. This isn’t strictly true, of course, but with encryption becoming more prevalent, it’s getting to be close.


If you’re at all into maths, it’s fun just to pause and try this before you go to his solution.
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The disgraceful dockless drama: what dockless bikes/scooters are exposing •

Have A Go, following cease-and-desist orders sent to three electric scooter companies in San Francisco:


Dockless bikes and scooters are not actually the problem.

For decades now, cars have gotten the royal treatment. Users were able to pick up their cars and drop them off anywhere in the city. Automobile parking is all around. From street parking, to business parking lots, to single family homes with driveways and garages, to large parking structures. Thus, the user experience for drivers is essentially go anywhere, park anywhere.

It was simply expected that anywhere one goes in a city, one could be guaranteed a free, giant space to park one’s private 4000-pound box, no questions asked.

Sure, in some dense areas, payment is now required. Yet private vehicle parking is essentially considered a right. We know this because when we can’t find parking for more than two minutes, we get upset. 5 minutes? We get very upset.

We also know this because it is quite literally law with parking minimums mandates for homes, businesses, and just about every building that is built or remodeled. We’ve mandated that the space that could otherwise be utilized for affordable housing, parks, cafes, or other human uses is legally required to serve as public storage for urban tanks and a free subsidy to oil and car companies.

If a city all of a sudden woke up to find the same amount of parking for cars as there is now for bikes/scooters, there wouldn’t be a few angry tweets (as there is now for new dockless bikes/scooters), but riots in the streets!


Fair point.
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Mylo, a material that looks like leather, made from plants • Bolt Threads


How do you make Mylo™?

We use corn stalks and supplemental nutrients to feed and grow our mycelium. We precisely control growth conditions like temperature and humidity to encourage the mycelium to grow upward and self-assemble into an organized mat of interconnected cells. Their connections give the material strength. We then use a natural tanning process and compress the mat to be as thin or thick as we’d like the final material to be. At this point the mycelium is no longer growing. The final step is to imprint any desired pattern, which gives us the final material.

Is this the same technology you use to make Microsilk™?

No, our Microsilk™ technology involves engineering yeast to produce protein materials. With Mylo™, we grow mycelium, which we process into the final Mylo™ material.

Our friends at Ecovative pioneered this mycelium fabrication technology, which literally grew out of the great work they’ve been doing in creating soft flexible foams. We were blown away, and thrilled when they agreed to allow us to help develop it into a commercially viable new material. We’ve established a long-term partnership with Ecovative to optimize this technology and put processes in place to produce commercial-ready Mylo™ material and bring products to market that consumers will love.

Are these mycelium genetically engineered?

No, instead we carefully control the wild spores’ growth conditions like temperature and humidity to engineer the final material’s properties.


Like to know the tensile strength compared to leather, and how it copes with rain and wear.
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Facebook moves 1.5bn users out of reach of new European privacy law • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


Facebook has moved more than 1.5 billion users out of reach of European privacy law, despite a promise from Mark Zuckerberg to apply the “spirit” of the legislation globally.

In a tweak to its terms and conditions, Facebook is shifting the responsibility for all users outside the US, Canada and the EU from its international HQ in Ireland to its main offices in California. It means that those users will now be on a site governed by US law rather than Irish law.

The move is due to come into effect shortly before General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in Europe on 25 May. Facebook is liable under GDPR for fines of up to 4% of its global turnover – around $1.6bn – if it breaks the new data protection rules.

The shift highlights the cautious phrasing Facebook has applied to its promises around GDPR. Earlier this month, when asked whether his company would promise GDPR protections to its users worldwide, Zuckerberg demurred. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” he said.

A week later, during his hearings in front of the US Congress, Zuckerberg was again asked if he would promise that GDPR’s protections would apply to all Facebook users. His answer was affirmative – but only referred to GDPR “controls”, rather than “protections”. Worldwide, Facebook has rolled out a suite of tools to let users exercise their rights under GDPR, such as downloading and deleting data, and the company’s new consent-gathering controls are similarly universal.

Facebook told Reuters “we apply the same privacy protections everywhere, regardless of whether your agreement is with Facebook Inc or Facebook Ireland”. It said the change was only carried out “because EU law requires specific language” in mandated privacy notices, which US law does not.


In other news, leopards’ spots remain unchanged.
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Intel plans to shut down smart glasses group • The Information

Aaron Tilley:


The division, formed in 2013, made fitness trackers and smart glasses. Despite an investment of several hundred million dollars by Intel, including through acquisitions of other companies, the group never made much of an impact in the wearables market.

The closure is likely to lead to some layoffs. The department reportedly had 200 people earlier this year, down from as many as 800 in 2016, although the current size isn’t known. Employees who can’t find a position in other divisions of Intel will be laid off, the people said.

In February, Bloomberg reported that Intel was looking for outside investment for the smart glasses project. Intel valued the smart glasses division at $350m with around 200 employees, according to Bloomberg. The closure suggests Intel wasn’t able to raise any fresh investment. That same month, The Verge reported on the smart glass project, known internally as Vaunt.

In a statement, Intel said it is “continuously working on new technologies and experiences. Not all of these develop into a product we choose to take to market.” It added that Intel will continue to take a “disciplined approach as we keep inventing and exploring new technologies, which will sometimes require tough choices when market dynamics don’t support further investment.”

The unit’s closure is the latest sign of how Intel has failed to diversify beyond its core chip business. Intel has tried various other steps, including buying security firm McAfee and internet of services business Wind River, without success. Last year it sold a majority stake in McAfee and recently sold Wind River.


Wearables are tricky – look at Nokia giving up on Withings – but it’s hard not to feel that Intel is getting out of this at the wrong time. Unless it has discovered things about AR and similar which tell it that this is an utter dead end.
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Amazon recruits Best Buy to sell Fire TV edition smart TVs • Engadget

Steve Dent:


Best Buy has partnered with Amazon to sell voice-controlled Fire TV Edition branded TVs in its stores and on its website, the companies announced. CEOs Jeff Bezos from Amazon and Best Buy’s Hubert Joly said the retailer will sell 11 Amazon-powered TVs, including 4K and HD models, starting this summer with Toshiba models. At the same time, Best Buy will become a merchant on Amazon’s website and get exclusive rights to sell Amazon Fire TVs.

“Amazon and Best Buy have a long history of working together,” said Bezos, referring to Best Buy sales of Kindle readers. “Today we take our partnership to a new level.”

Amazon unveiled its first Fire TV Edition sets last year with TV maker Element, starting at $449 for a 43-inch model. The TVs expand on what you can do with a Fire TV stick, letting you see live TV alongside streaming options, detect devices connected to your TV, and consult a channel guide, to name a few features.

At the same time, you can use Alexa to control not just your TV, but also Hue lights and other smart home devices. Unlike with an Echo device, you have to hit a button to reach Alexa, as it’s not listening for a wake word.


Two things: first, this is bad news for Roku, which Best Buy used to sell with TVs; second, it increases the pressure on Apple to integrate the Apple TV into a TV set and just sell the all-in-one. Well, it worked for the iMac, right?
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The marriage-saving robot that can assemble Ikea furniture… sort of • New Yorker

Ronan Farrow:


The researchers bought a basic chair from Ikea—the stefan model, made of lacquered pine—and, to simulate the human experience, took the pieces out of the box and put them “randomly within the environment.” First, the robot assessed where everything was; that took three seconds. Then it used an algorithm to plan out what to move where, and how; that took eleven minutes and twenty-one seconds. Actually building the chair took just under nine minutes. The sequence of steps was hard-coded in advance—the robot essentially followed the manual—but everything else was done on the fly. “The challenge is to quickly and consistently find fast, collision-free motions in a highly cluttered environment,” the researchers note, which pretty well describes every Ikea-furniture-building undertaking ever.

The Ikea bot’s arms move in extreme slow motion; it’s like watching two people try to put a chair together while stoned. (My point of reference here is Hikea Productions, a seemingly defunct YouTube channel featuring videos of humans assembling micke desks and nordli dressers while tripping on psychedelics.)


The robots though are kinda.. big? There’s a video. You wouldn’t want them in the living room. But I like the idea of Hikea productions. (Style note: the New Yorker calls it “ikea” but even the store calls itself Ikea, surely, so I’ve changed it. What I also don’t understand is the NYer’s spelling out of numbers like “twenty-one”, which are faster to read as “21”.)
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We tracked down the SaveDroid motherfscker and need your help • Crypto Briefing

Adam Selene on the followup to that “cryptocurrency exit scam” which featured yesterday:


Crypto Briefing tracked Yassin Hankir’s location to an Egyptian resort town.

UPDATE: By now, many of you will know that Savedroid perpetrated what they consider to be a giant prank designed to illustrate that exit scams are a part of the crypto market.

Here’s the deal.

When you take $50m in funds that are raised by investors who believe in your project, you don’t then pretend to disappear with that money.

What happens if you do? People start looking for you.

Yassin Hassir may consider himself a genius for drawing the eyes of millions to his stunt. But to his investors, he caused them anxiety, pain, and distress.


Hassir broke that rule. And while there are those who will criticize Crypto Briefing for trying to help those investors track down their money, and the man who claimed to have stolen it, we are proud of our response.

We took the trouble to search for hours online to match a photo to a location in Egypt. We called the police in Frankfurt. We did what we could to be part of the REAL community – the kind of people you’d want on your side if this had been the real thing.

As to the prank itself? Not so clever. Not so funny. And having dragged his company’s name through the mud, not so good for Hassir’s investors.

We will not be removing the original article, printed below, because we are – as we say – proud to be acting in the best interests of our community.


Hassir posted a photo of a beach and an Egyptian beer online; the community pored over photos of beaches in Egypt, and tracked him down to his hotel. He says it’s a PR stunt. The equivalent of running with scissors while lighting matches in a firework factory.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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