Start Up: dating Facebook, Apple’s X factor, UX mistakes, murderous malware, and more

An eggplant (aubergine to British readers). Is it a fruit? Does Alexa know? Photo by JiayiYoung on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Questions provided in advance. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook announces dating app focused on ‘meaningful relationships’ • The Guardian

Sam Levin:


Facebook is launching a new dating app on the social media platform, its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced at an annual developer conference on Tuesday, unveiling a feature designed to compete with popular services like Tinder.

Speaking in front of a packed crowd in San Jose, Zuckerberg described the new dating feature as a tool to build “real long-term relationships – not just hookups”.

“We want Facebook to be somewhere where you can start meaningful relationships,” he continued. “We’ve designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning.”

The announcement sparked gasps from the crowd and seemed to attract the most interest from the audience during Zuckerberg’s short speech, which focused on the company’s widening privacy scandal, new safeguards meant to protect users’ data and misinformation and fake news on the site.

Chris Cox, the chief product officer, said the dating feature would be “opt-in” and “safe” and that the company “took advantage of the unique properties of the platform”.

Soon after the announcement, Mandy Ginsberg, the CEO of Match Group, which owns Tinder, threw shade at Facebook, saying in a statement: “We’re surprised at the timing given the amount of personal and sensitive data that comes with this territory.”


Can’t see this going horribly wrong at all.
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Seven inexcusable yet common UX gaffes that make you look like a total amateur • Medium


Rather than focusing on the specific blunders of certain technology products, this week, I have come up with 7 more common design patterns that just plain suck. There is never any excuse for any of them.

The thing is, if someone’s design includes one or more of these patterns, they’re probably not cut out for UX anyway, and this article will probably not reach them, or if it does, it won’t sink in. But I might as well try, right?


These are great, and so common. Usernames, passwords – all these things.
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Apple reports second quarter results • Apple


The Company posted quarterly revenue of $61.1bn, an increase of 16% from the year-ago quarter, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $2.73, up 30%. International sales accounted for 65% of the quarter’s revenue.

“We’re thrilled to report our best March quarter ever, with strong revenue growth in iPhone, Services and Wearables,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Customers chose iPhone X more than any other iPhone each week in the March quarter, just as they did following its launch in the December quarter. We also grew revenue in all of our geographic segments, with over 20% growth in Greater China and Japan.”


Quick data: 52.2m iPhones (up 2.8%), iPads 9.1m (up 2.1%), Macs 4.08m (down 1%). Revenues for Services and Other Products (the latter including Beats, AirPods, Apple Watch and HomePod) grew enormously – 30% and 37.6% respectively.

The iPhone ASP fell a little, but the iPhone X staying the most in-demand phone is a poke in the eye for all the analysts who declared their supply chain sources said it was doing badly. That’s why I linked to Apple’s own release: all the stories on big publications were pre-writes which had sentences like “analysts/observers were disappointed with iPhone X sales…” Yeah, not so much.
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2016 MacBook Pro butterfly keyboards failing twice as frequently as older models • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:


Given that the keyboard mechanisms are the same in the 13- and 15-in MacBook Pro models, we’ve combined the two models in this look. However, given that the numbers break down to about 45% 15in MacBook Pro and 45% 13in MacBook Pro across the whole dataset and model years, there is no real need to break them our separately.

We’re also subtracting warranty-voiding accidents, like impacts, or water spills.

All data has been collected from assorted Apple Genius Bars in the U.S. that we have been working with for several years, as well as Apple-authorized third-party repair shops.

The 2014 MacBook Pro model year saw 2120 service events in the first year, with 118 related to keyboard issues necessitating an upper case replacement —5.6% of all MacBook Pros serviced in the first year. The 2015 has 1904 service tickets, with 114 relating to the keyboard, making 6.0%.

The two numbers are very similar, which is to be expected. The keyboards were essentially unchanged since the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, and should have failure rates similar to each other.

Apple released the new keyboard with the MacBook, and moved the design to the 2016 MacBook Pro. In the first year of the 2016 MacBook Pro, our data gathered 1402 warranty events, with 165 related to only the keyboard and not including the Touch Bar —11.8%.

We don’t have a full year of data for the 2017 MacBook Pro yet. But, since release in June 2017, our data set has 1161 captured service events with 94 related to keyboard issues also not including any Touch Bar issues —8.1%.


This is only for an unknown (but one presumes small – 10?) number of stores, so we don’t know how reliable it is. But one could assume it’s a sample of a random distribution, and so probably usable. That’s a striking difference. (And notice that the MacBook Air, which surely sells more, seems only to makes up 10% of all incidents, if I’m reading it correctly.)
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They’re on the lookout for malware that can kill • The Washington Post

Ellen Nakashima and Aaron Gregg:


Dragos built a software product to help industrial companies detect cyberthreats to their networks and respond to them. Its clients include energy, manufacturing and petrochemical factories in the United States, Europe and Middle East.

In October, Dragos discovered Trisis, a malware that targets a “safety instrumented system,” or a machine whose sole function is to prevent fatal accidents. In a petrochemical plant, for instance, there are machines that operate at very high pressures, and if a valve blows, the pressure or the leak of hazardous materials could kill a human being. But a safety instrumented machine is supposed to shut down the entire system to reduce the risk of a fatal accident.

There has been one known deployment of the Trisis malware — FireEye called it Triton — at a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia in August. But a coding error prevented the malware from working as intended, and a potential catastrophe was averted.

As of this week the culprits behind Trisis were still active in the Middle East, Lee said. “It’s reasonable to assume that [what happened last year] is not a one-time event.’’

Though Dragos had some indication of who was responsible, the firm refrained from drawing a conclusion. “It wasn’t cut and dried,” Lee said. Dragos shared the malware with the Department of Homeland Security, but Lee argued against the government seeking to assign blame.

“The best they could do is a well-reasoned guess,” he said. “There’s not the years’ worth of data on this event that would make attribution possible.”


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UK electricty generation sources – 2017 versus 2016 • MyGridGB

Andrew Crossland:


I have just released a new page on the MyGridGB website which tries to chart how electricity generation is changing year on year. It can be found here.

These charts tell some important stories about electricity in Britain and how fast it is changing. I now describe three biggest stories in the data and my predictions for 2017.

The decline of coal: The amount of coal used for electricity was 30% lower in Q1 2017 than it was in Q1 2016 despite there being very little difference in our demand for power. Coal power stations are rapidly being decommissioned and being replaced by renewables and gas.

My prediction: coal power stations will be switched off several times over the coming months (April onwards) when demand is low. The amount of times this happens will be affected by the global price of coal and gas which affects the choice of power stations to use.

The rise of intermittent generators: Wind and solar continue to grow and 2017 also saw an increased in metered generation from hydroelectric dams. Overall, low carbon renewable generation was 26% higher in Q1 2017 than it was in Q1 2016. The early signs from 2017 are that wind has overtaken coal to be the third biggest provider of electricity in Great Britain. In fact, wind turbines generated nearly 60% of what nuclear power stations provided.

My prediction: 2017 will see wind overtake coal as the third biggest provider of electricity in Great Britain.

Note that my values include an estimate for so called “embedded wind” turbines. Embedded wind refers to smaller turbines which are not included in the Elexon Portal data which I use for this website or gridwatch. At the time of writing, I estimated that around 30% of the installed wind capacity in Great Britain is embedded.


The “carbon intensity” (how much carbon is burnt per kWh) is falling fast too.
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The YouTube stars being paid to sell cheating • BBC News

Branwen Jeffreys and Edward Main:


YouTube stars are being paid to sell academic cheating, a BBC investigation has found.
More than 250 channels are promoting EduBirdie, based in Ukraine, which allows students to buy essays, rather than doing the work themselves.

YouTube said it would help creators understand they cannot promote dishonest behaviour.
Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister for England, says YouTube has a moral responsibility to act.
He said he was shocked by the nature and scale of the videos uncovered by the BBC: “It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale.”

The BBC Trending investigation uncovered more than 1,400 videos with a total of more than 700 million views containing EduBirdie adverts selling cheating to students and school pupils.

EduBirdie is based in Ukraine, but aims its services at pupils and students across the globe. Essay writing services are not illegal, but if students submit work they have paid for someone else to do the penalties can be severe…

…Universities minister Sam Gyimah said that EduBirdie’s marketing was shocking and pernicious as it presented cheating as “a lifestyle choice”.

He said the YouTubers involved should be “called out” for abusing their power as social influencers. “I think YouTube has a huge responsibility here,” he said.

“They do incredibly well from the advertising revenue that they get from the influencers and everyone else. But this is something that is corrosive to education and I think YouTube has got to step up to the plate and exercise some responsibility here.”

About 30 of the channels promoting EduBirdie are from Britain and Ireland. They include a student vlogger at a top UK university. Another is a popular 15-year-old YouTuber, whose mother was unaware he was promoting the company until she was approached by the BBC.


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Amazon’s Alexa doesn’t know much about eggplants • NY Mag

Renée Reizman:


Eggplants, though savory, have seeds, unequivocally categorizing them as fruits. Thanks to Alexa, however, I lost an argument I should have won. While at a friend’s home, I confidently baited Alexa by asking, “Are eggplants fruit?” She replied, “No, an eggplant is not a fruit.” If Alexa can’t outdo Wikipedia, then what’s the use in having one? My 1920s-era apartment is too small to really take advantage of many of the conveniences smart-home assistants can offer. Without an AC unit to preset while I’m at work, a garage to open while I round the block, or a yard to irrigate overnight, for me, Amazon’s Alexa functions primarily as a parlor trick. She’ll entertain guests with a few rounds of Jeopardy!, play Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, and should help me settle debates about fruits that masquerade as vegetables…

…If Alexa doesn’t have the capabilities to provide a skill or answer, it taps into Amazon’s partnership with Microsoft, which pulls from Cortana and Bing. A representative from Amazon said that Alexa also scrapes information from Amazon-trusted companies like, IMDb, AccuWeather, Yelp,, and Wikipedia.

But when I followed up with an Amazon representative about the eggplant discrepancy, realizing that I had unearthed a deeper issue with Alexa’s understanding of language of grammar, they cryptically responded, “Thanks for calling that one to our attention. That’s an error that has since been fixed.” Had I single-handedly inspired Amazon to overhaul Alexa’s understanding of indefinite articles? Apparently not. When I approached Alexa again, this time asking about “a tomato” and “tomatoes,” I realized that she still struggled with the distinction.

I didn’t run into this grammatical problem while experimenting with Google Assistant, Siri, or Cortana — the latter of which was particularly surprising because of Alexa’s aforementioned partnership with Microsoft. While I can’t pinpoint a clear answer without an Alexa programmer opening up about their top-secret code, one possible explanation lies within Evi, the knowledge base and semantic search-engine software that powers most of Alexa’s “Google-able” answers.


Smart assistants: how dumb are they.
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Thousands of women say LuLaRoe’s legging empire is a scam • Bloomberg

Claire Suddath:


The DSA [Direct Selling Association] estimates that the median income for someone participating in these kinds of [multi-level marketing] businesses is $2,500 a year. From the beginning, LuLaRoe pitched itself as the exception: “What does your dream home look like? What car do you dream of driving? What schools do you envision your children attending?” the Stidhams wrote in their From the Founders letter, printed in LuLaRoe’s welcome guide for new retailers. “Where else can you make $50,000 to $100,000 yearly working part time?” Mark, who’s CEO, said in a video talk with consultants last year.

“I didn’t care about the leggings, I just wanted to make money again,” says consultant Adrianne Merkling, a former analytical flavor chemist who had to give up her career when one of her three children was diagnosed with apraxia of speech and needed therapy four times a week. She started selling LuLaRoe clothing in 2016.

Now, she, along with Blevins, are two of thousands of women who claim they’ve been duped by LuLaRoe. In the past year the company has faced more than a dozen lawsuits. The largest, a proposed class action, calls LuLaRoe a pyramid scheme focused on recruiting consultants and persuading them to buy inventory rather than actually selling clothing. Since the lawsuits were filed, consultants have fled LuLaRoe by the thousands. Many say the company owes them millions of dollars in promised refunds. Women have garages, closets, guest rooms—and, in one case, a farm shed—filled with LuLaRoe clothes they say they can’t sell.


MLM goes in waves: when economic times are hard, they spring up as a way to make “easy money on the side”. But as things improve, people don’t need the cheap stuff they sell (has to be cheap; otherwise they can’t push it up the levels) and don’t have the incentive to sell it because they’re doing OK.

And then people are left with a load of merchandise. Crunch.
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On the naughty step – the questionable ethics of the Christian Legal Centre • Nearly Legal

Giles Peaker on the peculiar “legal” group (except it’s not legally allowed to practise law in the UK), the Christian Legal Centre, which inserted itself on the parents’ side in the sad Alfie Evans case:


Mr [Pavel] Stroilov’s involvement doesn’t end there. In the 24 April judgment of Hayden J, we find at 14:


A statement had been prepared bearing the now instantly recognisable hallmark of Mr. Pavel Stroilov, a law student and case worker for Christian Legal Centre (CLC), who yesterday encouraged F to seek to issue a Private Prosecution alleging murder against some of the doctors at Alder Hey. It was properly rejected by the District Judge. Today’s efforts by Mr. Stroilov were equally inconsistent with the real interests of the parents’ case. The Witness Statement, which Mr. Diamond tells me Mr. Stroilov prepared, is littered with vituperation and bile, critical of those who have done so much to help Alfie, attacking the system generally and the Court in particular.


It appears that Pavel Stroilov also advised Mr Evans to bring a private prosecution – an action that was doomed and wholly abusive. It also appears that he did so while a CLC caseworker.

CLC appear to be trying to row back from appearing to have anything to do with the private prosecution. Their press release says:


We also wish to make clear that we do not support the criminal prosecution of doctors involved in Alfie’s care.


That is rather hard to maintain when it was your self-described ‘lawyer’ who was still working on a witness statement for the hearing before Hayden J at the time who advised the parents to bring the prosecution.  CLC’s position is therefore effectively that they are utterly incompetent and can’t control their ‘lawyers’…

I gather there is talk of contempt of court applications against Mr Stroilov.

But a failure to supervise or control a caseworker, if that is what it was, is far from the only conduct issue involved.


I gather there’s a story on this in The Guardian for Wednesday. A lot more to come out on this, I think.
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Google vs. Google: how nonstop political arguments rule its workplace • WSJ

Kirsten Grind and Douglas MacMillan:


“Activists at Google” helped organize a rally critical of President Donald Trump’s policies. “Militia at Google” members discussed their desire to overturn a prohibition on guns in the office. “Conservatives at Google” allege discrimination against right-leaning job candidates. “Sex Positive at Google” group members are concerned that explicit content is being unfairly removed from Google Drive file-sharing software.

“Googlers For Animals” invited the PETA president, only to be undercut by members of the “Black Googler Network.”

Google’s broad corporate culture has long leaned Democratic, and that’s reflected in internal debates that often pit left-wing causes against each other. Donations by its employees to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign outnumbered contributions to President Trump’s campaign 62 to 1, and former Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt helped the Clinton campaign with data analysis. Less numerous, but increasingly voluble, are groups of conservative employees reacting against what they see as a Google’s political orthodoxy.

Beyond the internal debates are lawsuits, several since late last year, including legal actions from female employees alleging pay discrimination against women; from male ex-employees and potential new hires claiming bias against conservative white men; and from a transgender engineer who said he was fired for making derogatory statements about what he called white male privilege. All this comes on top of a very public controversy last August when Google fired a software engineer, James Damore, who wrote an internal memo saying gender differences might have something to do with women’s under-representation in the tech workforce.

Politicians, media and consumer groups are raising questions about how giant tech platforms such as Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. make difficult decisions on issues of free speech that potentially affect billions of users.


It starts to sound as though the echo-chamber-leading-to-extremism effect that one sees so often on YouTube has previously taken hold at its creator. Though one skews left and the other wayyyy right.
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The Wolf at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner • The Economist



Margaret Talev, the head of the White House Correspondents’ Association, tut-tutted that Ms Wolf’s monologue “was not in the spirit of [our] mission,” which was “to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honouring civility [and] great reporting…not to divide people.”

Among those who failed to receive that message, apparently, was Mr Trump, who in a nifty bit of counterprogramming held a rally in Washington, Michigan during the correspondents’ dinner. He skipped the event for the second straight year. Mr Trump accused the media—whom he has previously called “the enemy of the American people”—of making up sources and hating his supporters who attended the rally. One worked-up attendee at the rally screamed at reporters, whom he called “degenerate filth”, to leave the country.

After the speech, Mr Trump’s people pressed their advantage. Mrs Schlapp told a reporter that “journalists should not be the ones to say that the president or his spokesman is lying.”

This raises an obvious question—if not journalists, then whom?—with an equally obvious answer: nobody. Mr Trump’s communication staff would prefer it if nobody pointed out when he and his media team lie.

Ms Talev invited Mrs Sanders to sit at the head table because she “thought it sent an important decision about…government and the press being able to work together.” But of course, that is precisely what should never happen, particularly with an administration as ambivalent about the First Amendment—among other norms and laws—as this one. (The Justice Department recently removed a section entitled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial” from its internal manual for federal prosecutors.)


The kowtowing by the US press to the White House has looked awful for years, but has now reached an unbeatable nadir. Wolf’s full routine (which you should watch) spares nobody – which is as it should be. And now it’s time to declare the dinner dead.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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