Start Up: music’s “unacceptable behaviour”, Iran’s hackers are back, Skype’s update problem, and more


When you drown, it doesn’t look like what you probably think drowning looks like. Photo by Simon Huggins 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.

Apple Music and Pandora have pulled R. Kelly’s music from curated playlists • The Verge

Andrew Liptak:

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Pitchfork reported that Apple quietly began to pull R. Kelly from some of its curated playlists prior to Spotify’s announcement in light of renewed reports about his behavior from a number of women. However, other artists, like XXXTentacion, who was also pulled from Spotify’s playlists, remains on Apple’s promoted playlists.

Similarly, Pandora has reportedly been working for “months” to update its policies on artists who have exhibited questionable behavior, according to Blast. Like Spotify, it has removed Kelly from its playlists. The service told Blast that its “policy is to not actively promote artists with certain demonstrable behavioral, ethical or criminal issues. We approach each of these scenarios on a case–by–case basis to ensure we address components true to Pandora’s principles while not overreaching and avoiding censorship.”

Spotify told The Verge earlier this week that R. Kelly’s music remains on the various services: the service just won’t promote it to users through its playlists. The same appears to be true for Apple and Pandora: the companies aren’t pulling their music from their catalogs, and are simply exercising some editorial control over who goes on the curated lists.

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So this is tricky. None of these artists has actually been found guilty of anything. The services are free to do as they like with content, but if they are actually taking action over accusations of past behaviour (as is clearly the case) are they also going to pay the artist back all the money they took as their cut? After all, they clearly don’t want to benefit from “undesirable” behaviour. Doesn’t that apply to behaviour that occurred in the past too, then? (And the lack of proven built is quite apart from the question of how you’re going to set fences around “acceptable” and “questionable” behaviour in the music business.)
link to this extract


Drowning doesn’t look like drowning • Soundings Online

Mario Vittone wrote this article perhaps a decade ago; now he’s republishing it in the hope that ahead of summer, people learn its lessons. Please read the whole thing:

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The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim and headed straight for a couple who were swimming between their anchored sportfish and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other, and she had screamed, but now they were just standing neck-deep on a sandbar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard toward him. “Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not 10 feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears and screamed, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know — from 50 feet away — what the father couldn’t recognize from just 10? Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, learned what drowning looks like by watching television.

If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us), then you should make sure that you and your crew know what to look for when people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” the owner’s daughter hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for is rarely seen in real life…

…if a crewmember falls overboard and everything looks okay, don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look as if they’re drowning. They may just look as if they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all, they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents — children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find out why.

«

I was once walloped by three waves in the surf about 10 metres off Bondi Beach on a busy day. I couldn’t catch my breath before each one, and realised that if I didn’t get clear of the next wave, I would drown – even though there were people all around me. As he says, drowning doesn’t look like films/TV suggest. Less drama, more crisis.
link to this extract


Is ‘SimCity’ homelessness a bug or a feature? • Motherboard

Emanuel Maiberg:

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SimCity players have discussed a variety of creative strategies for their virtual homelessness problem. They’ve suggested waiting for natural disasters like tornadoes to blow the vagrants away, bulldozing parks where they congregate, or creating such a woefully insufficient city infrastructure that the homeless would leave on their own.

You can read all of these proposed final solutions in Matteo Bittanti’s How to Get Rid of Homelessness, “a 600-page epic split in two volumes documenting the so-called ‘homeless scandal’ that affected 2013’s SimCity.”

“I started to find the discussion about homeless in SimCity way more interesting than SimCity itself because people were talking about the issue in a very—how can I say, not racist, not classist, but definitely peculiar way,” said Bittanti, a visiting professor at IULM University in Milan who spent seven years teaching in the Bay Area.

Bittanti collected, selected, and transcribed thousands of these messages exchanged by players on publisher Electronic Arts’ official forums, Reddit, and the largest online SimCity community Simtropolis, who experienced and then tried to “eradicate” the phenomenon of homelessness that “plagued” SimCity.

SimCity’s homeless people are represented as yellow, two-dimensional, ungendered figures with bags in tow. Their presence makes SimCity residents unhappy, and reduces land value. Like many other players, Bittanti discovered the online discussions when he was searching for a way to deal with them.

«

A metaphor for San Francisco. Pay more in taxes, people. It’s the price of good weather. (There’s still plenty of discussion on this.)

By the way, this article is from January 2015.
link to this extract


Without nuclear deal, US expects resurgence in Iranian cyberattacks • The New York Times

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Within 24 hours of Mr. Trump announcing on Tuesday that the United States would leave the deal, researchers at CrowdStrike, the security firm, warned customers that they had seen a “notable” shift in Iranian cyberactivity. Iranian hackers were sending emails containing malware to diplomats who work in the foreign affairs offices of United States allies and employees at telecommunications companies, trying to infiltrate their computer systems.

And security researchers discovered that Iranian hackers, most likely in an intelligence-gathering effort, have been quietly examining internet addresses that belong to United States military installations in Europe over the last two months. Those researchers would not publicly discuss the activity because they were still in the process of warning the targets.

Iranian hackers have in recent years demonstrated that they have an increasingly sophisticated arsenal of digital weapons. But since the nuclear deal was signed three years ago, Iran’s Middle Eastern neighbors have usually been those hackers’ targets.

Now cybersecurity experts believe that list could quickly expand to include businesses and infrastructure in the United States. Those concerns grew more urgent on Thursday after Israeli fighter jets fired on Iranian military targets in Syria, in response to what Israel said was a rocket attack launched by Iranian forces.

“Until today, Iran was constrained,” said James A. Lewis, a former government official and cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “They weren’t going to do anything to justify breaking the deal. With the deal’s collapse, they will inevitably ask, ‘What do we have to lose?’”

Mr. Lewis’s warnings were echoed by nearly a dozen current and former American and Israeli intelligence officials and private security contractors contacted by The New York Times this week.

«

Iran is a “second-tier” hacking nation: not quite at the level of the US/UK/China/Russia, but adept. (As much as anything it’s about resources.) This development is predictable enough; they want to know what the discussion is around sanctions. It’s pure intelligence. The only surprise is if they haven’t had silent malware in there to monitor it for some time, given that Trump’s intent has been clear for months.
link to this extract


Don’t Skype me: how Microsoft turned users against its beloved video-chat program • LA Times

Dina Bass and Nate Lanxon:

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The company hasn’t updated the number of Skype users since 2016, when it put the total at 300 million. Some analysts suspect the numbers are flat at best, and two former employees describe a general sense of panic that they’re actually falling. The former Microsoft workers, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential statistics, say that as late as 2017 they never heard a figure higher than 300 million discussed internally.

Chief Executive Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants the company’s products to be widely used and loved. By turning Skype into a key part of its lucrative Office suite for corporate customers, though, Microsoft is threatening what made it appealing to regular folks in the first place. “It is like Tim Tebow trying to be a baseball player,” Malik said. “The product is so confusing, kludgey and unusable”…

…Skype has tried to be all things to all people, “and almost all those things are executed better elsewhere,” says Matthew Culnane, a user experience and content strategist at the U.K.’s Open University.

It doesn’t help that Microsoft keeps overhauling the app. A redesign last summer sent ratings plunging. In a scorching Twitter commentary, security journalist Brian Krebs said that finding basic buttons was a pain and that the recent update was “probably the worst so far.” The tweet — and retweets — got the attention of Skype’s social network team. “Brian, we’re sorry to hear this,” a representative replied. “Would love to hear more feedback and see if there’s anything we can help with.”

“There was a demographic that loved Skype for what it was; it was clean and simple,” says Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. “That’s no longer the case.” Milanesi once paid for a Skype subscription for her mother in Italy. Then her mother got an iPad, and now they talk on Apple Facetime. Millions do the same, despite the fact that Skype apps are a download away on iPhone and Android smartphones and tablets.

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The redesign is really appalling. Not broken? Don’t fix. The only thing that keeps people using Skype (for podcasts and so much else) is that you can record it relatively easily: the security of apps like Signal actually works against them for things like that.
link to this extract


Apple hit with class action suit over MacBook, MacBook Pro butterfly switch keyboard failures • Apple Insider

Mikey Campbell:

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Lodged in the Northern District Court of California, the complaint levels multiple claims targeting MacBook models manufactured from 2015 and MacBook Pro models produced from 2016. Both laptops feature the company’s butterfly keyboard mechanism, an ultra low-profile switch advertised as both more responsive and robust than traditional scissor-type components.

According to the filing, “thousands” of MacBook and MacBook Pro owners have experienced some type of failure with Apple’s butterfly keyboard, thus rendering the machine useless. Specifically, the suit claims the design is such that small amounts of dust or debris impede normal switch behavior, causing keystrokes to go unregistered.

In extreme cases, the key fails, forcing owners to take their laptop in for service at a Genius Bar or authorized Apple repair facility, a trip that could cost hundreds of dollars if the machine is out of warranty.

One named plaintiff, Zixuan Rao, purchased a new 15-inch MacBook Pro in January and began to experience problems with the laptop’s “B” key about a month later. After attempting to clean out the key on his own, Rao ultimately sought help from the Apple store in April. Representatives were unable to fix the issue and suggested repair under Apple’s gratis one-year warranty.

Not able to wait the one week it would take to fix the machine, and unconvinced that a repair would permanently solve the issue, Rao declined the offer and purchased an external keyboard.

«

As Nati Shochat said on Twitter, this was inevitable. The challenge will be to show that Apple has been negligent and to find enough people who agree, I think.
link to this extract


Cryptocurrency has been great for GPU makers—that might change soon • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

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Cryptocurrency values have been falling in recent months, and graphics cards have been following along with it. GPUs haven’t quite returned to “normal” values last seen a year ago, but they’re a lot cheaper than they were earlier this year.

On Thursday, Nvidia said it was projecting next quarter’s cryptocurrency-specific revenue to be a third what it was in the first quarter.

AMD didn’t provide a specific projection for blockchain-related revenues in the second quarter, but a company spokesman said last month that he expected blockchain revenue to be a “mid-to-high single-digit percentage” of revenue for all of 2018—again, suggesting that the rest of the year will be significantly below the first-quarter sales.

If cryptocurrency prices continue to fall, that could have dire consequences for GPU makers. If cryptocurrency prices fall low enough, we won’t just see miners stop buying new GPUs. We could start to see them selling the graphics cards they already have on the secondary market. The resulting graphics-card glut could push graphics-card values well below MSRP, which would be great news for gamers but bad news for companies trying to sell new GPUs.

But in last month’s earnings call, AMD president Lisa Su said she wasn’t worried about this scenario. “There are multiple currencies being used,” she said. “People who are mining do go from one currency to another depending on what’s happening.”

«

At the time of writing, bitcoin (and so naturally the other cryptocurrencies) are having a minor crash, lying below $8500. Everything about it is unsustainable, but as they say, the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. (If, that is, you put money into it. I haven’t.)
link to this extract


What data can be recovered from a MFP (multifunction printer) hard drive? • Spiceworks

Anon user, in 2013:

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My company has a Sharp 4101N MFP and it leases it and we do not plan to renew it. We were reminded by Sharp support to wipe any data from it before returning it. We do not have the “Data security kit” that Sharp offers to wipe the data. The frustrating thing is that they want to charge $500.00 for the Data Security Kit to be used or $500.00 to take the hard drive out and give it to us. I know that there are proven free utilities that can wipe a hard drive successfully such as Darik’s Boot and Nuke which is commonly used with Hiren’s disc.

Does anyone know if there is actually detailed data from scans, faxes, and print jobs that can be recovered or would it more or less just be basic print job files which I would not think would contain a whole lot?

«

SO ANYWAY. Last Friday’s link about MFPs (printer-copier-scanners) having hard drives which store everything turned out to be a CBS News story from 2010. My mistake for not noticing.

Except that nothing seems to have changed since then. If you want to wipe that drive, you’ll have to access the factory settings menu; you probably won’t have been warned about it. Or your company might, as above, be charged $500 for something you didn’t realise would be needed.

So, to sum up: this is still a problem, and might be an even bigger problem with GDPR.
link to this extract


Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore on the future of Windows and connecting phones to PCs • The Verge

Tom Warren interview Belfiore and Shilpa Ranganathan about Microsoft’s forthcoming “Your Phone” Windows 10 program:

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While Microsoft has used Cortana for linking SMS and notifications to PCs in the past, this new app will be the primary way phones connect to Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft has shown off messages, notifications, and photo sharing at the moment, but not all of these features will necessarily work on both iOS and Android.

“We will actually have photos on iOS and notifications as well,” explains Shilpa Ranganathan. “Apple does make it a tad harder for messages, but we’re very willing to work with Apple.” A number of third-party apps use workarounds to support messages, but Microsoft’s vision is essentially to bring iMessage to Windows inside its Your Phone app. “I want to do this in a supported way with a respect for the ecosystem we’re building on and at the same time make it a delightful experience,” says Ranganathan. “Messages is one where we’re not currently where we need to be compared to Android, but we need to work with Apple.”

That work with Apple has not started, and Microsoft has not yet approached the company to see if it’s willing to work with Microsoft. It seems very unlikely that it will be able to convince Apple to partner on such a project, so Your Phone will likely ship with better features on Android. Still, Microsoft is also looking at other features for the app. “I know people have asked for calling and dialing as well, that’s something that has been on our radar as well,” reveals Ranganathan. Microsoft is also investigating clever features like providing directions based on text message information, or surfacing relevant contact information through the app. It’s still early for Your Phone, but Microsoft is clearly committed to making this a powerful part of Windows 10.

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Apple’s not going to let Microsoft touch iMessage. Not while it can get platform leverage by making it available only on Macs. Of course there are more Android users on Windows than iOS users on Windows (because there are more Android users overall), so Microsoft might not lose out that heavily.
link to this extract


IBM employees banned from using all removable storage • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska says it’s an easy edict, but it’s not real-world viable:

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But — and boy is there a but, here — it’s also precisely the kind of decision that plays great in the C-suite and causes merry hell in the rank and file. There are going to be times and cases when servicing a machine or helping a customer with software deployment is going to require distributing patches via USB stick. Not every system or server is automatically configured for external internet support. Not every business makes their corporate Wi-Fi available for guests. IBM’s argument is that its employees can simply switch to using its Sync’n’Share service for such needs. To be fair to IBM, that’s probably true — to a point.

But if you’ve ever done any kind of IT work, you know that real life adores these kinds of rigid policies, precisely so it can fling you curveballs that suddenly become problems. I had to hang on to a 1.44-inch floppy drive long after they’d stopped shipping in new PCs, for example. First, Windows XP (the dominant OS of the time) didn’t support loading storage drivers off anything but a floppy, unless they were slipstreamed into the OS image on the CD. Second, BIOS updates of the day couldn’t be run off anything but floppy disks, either. This eventually improved, but it wasn’t unusual to have a BIOS flash utility that was only compatible with FAT16 or FAT32 devices, while you had an NTFS partition on the primary drive. How often did I use that floppy drive? Almost never. Most of the time, there were ways to get around driver issues. Most motherboards didn’t need a flash. But it’s the “almost” in “almost never” that made me keep the stupid thing around, long after it should’ve outlived its usefulness. Hell, I think I’ve still got one sitting in the garage.

Of course, it’s possible IBM has perfectly programmed its systems, built the perfect cloud sync system, conceived of every possible circumstance in which its employees might need to access said system, and taken every step to make certain nobody on a service call winds up not being able to access necessary files due to network permissions or firewalls.

But you know, I kind of doubt it.

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He’s right; word is that IBM is already offering that there can be extenuating circumstances when USB sticks could be allowed for software updates. Which is exactly the sort of problem you’re trying to prevent, of course: Stuxnet, the worm that delayed Iran’s nuclear ambitions, was spread via USB sticks.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: last Friday’s link about the hard drives on multi-function printers was from 2010. See above (if you’ve skipped) for a link about what still seems to be the case.

3 thoughts on “Start Up: music’s “unacceptable behaviour”, Iran’s hackers are back, Skype’s update problem, and more

  1. I’m really unsure about those corporate boycotts. Then again, I’m also unsure about most personal boycotts.
    Boycotting R. Kelly for most probably being a violent quasi-rapist. Fine.
    Now, my very own bank has been not only suspected, but condemned, for laundering drug money, currency manipulation, illegal tax avoidance… Has anyone boycotted them ?

    Is there something specific about personal as opposed to financial violence that is worse ? About artists vs banks ? and always that nagging doubt: about blacks ?

    So many complicated questions. I’ll escape them by watching House of Cards which iTunes just recommend to me.

  2. Hey Chas – often the non-IT pieces are the most interesting and I was fascinated by the piece on people drowning. As a capsizing dinghy sailor it’s something I have to be alert to and I never knew it was the quiet ones to look out for.

    A friend of mine used to be a lifeguard. I mentioned the piece to him and he instantly agreed. He’s pulled two drowning people (both children) out of the water and both were quiet. As he put it, they used all their breath to drown and had none left for shouting.)

    Keep up the good work. We need The Overspill. No GDPR emails required 🙂

    Steve

    • Parenting rule passed down by my childhood doctor: if a child is being really loud, s/he’s not *that* hurt/sick. You need to freak out and call me if s/he is unusually quiet. I guess it works for adults too ;-p

      My bropther’s self-avowed worst parenting moment: finding his 5yo daughter asleep at the foot of the toilet after she spent all night quietly being sick.

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