Start Up: OnePlus 6 reviewed, Google used on Safari (again), getting the internet inside, MoviePass’s fatal flaw, and more


An octopus: visitor from an alien race? Photo by damn_unique on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Should have been eight, right? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A controversial scientific study suggests octopuses came from outer space • Quartz

Ephrat Livni on a bizarre speculative paper published in “Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology”:

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The octopus, for example, is traditionally considered to come from the nautiloid, having evolved about 500 million years ago. But that relationship doesn’t explain how these odd cephalopods got all their awesome characteristics or why octopuses are so very different, genetically speaking, from their alleged nautiloid ancestors. The paper states:

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The genetic divergence of Octopus from its ancestral coleoid sub-class is very great … Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene.

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The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral nautilus to the common cuttlefish to squid to the common octopus can’t be found in any pre-existing life form, the authors say.

So far, so good. But then the paper gets highly speculative. The researchers continue, “It is plausible then to suggest they [octopuses] seem to be borrowed from a far distant ‘future’ in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large.”

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Nope. Nope nope nope. Though the signatories might be prestigious, this is not a “scientific study”; it’s a bit of handwaving. Just because you don’t know how the genes came to be present doesn’t mean that they’re alien, because they’re not. Or else everyone is alien, which gets us back to square one.
link to this extract


OnePlus 6 Review—A series of downgrades is saved by the low price • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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The OnePlus 6 is a worse phone than the OnePlus 5T. The new SoC is nice, but other than that we get downgrades in the form of a higher price, a switch from metal to glass, and a smaller, harder-to-use fingerprint reader. I guess it speaks to just how good of a phone the OnePlus 5T was, then, that OnePlus can throw a round of downgrades at the design and still end up with a phone that can stand up to the competition. I feel like the company could have done a much better job than this, but at the end of the day the phone is still $300 cheaper than the competition for similar specs.

OnePlus is hesitant to stand behind its products with a solid support policy, which makes me just as hesitant to recommend them. The company won’t commit to a support timeframe for major OS updates, and it doesn’t provide consistent, stable monthly security updates. This is something you’d get from almost any other flagship phone manufacturer and something Nokia/HMD provides even on lower-end phones. If you’re the type that doesn’t mind getting your hands dirty and flashing OS upgrades yourself from a third-party, then OnePlus’ shaky support isn’t as much of a concern.

If the 6 was $800, it would be a completely forgettable, generic device, like the LG G7. It’s not $800, though; it’s way cheaper than that.

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A weird idea: the new phone is a downgrade from the older, but cheaper. If OnePlus can make a profit this way, good luck to it.
link to this extract


Google sued for ‘clandestine tracking’ of 4.4m UK iPhone users’ browsing data • The Guardian

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Google is being sued in the high court for as much as £3.2bn for the alleged “clandestine tracking and collation” of personal information from 4.4 million iPhone users in the UK.

The collective action is being led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd over claims Google bypassed the privacy settings of Apple’s Safari browser on iPhones between August 2011 and February 2012 in order to divide people into categories for advertisers.

At the opening of an expected two-day hearing in London on Monday, lawyers for Lloyd’s campaign group Google You Owe Us told the court information collected by Google included race, physical and mental heath, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits and location data.

Hugh Tomlinson QC, representing Lloyd, said information was then “aggregated” and users were put into groups such as “football lovers” or “current affairs enthusiasts” for the targeting of advertising.

Tomlinson said the data was gathered through “clandestine tracking and collation” of browsing on the iPhone, known as the “Safari Workaround” – an activity he said was exposed by a PhD researcher in 2012.

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OK, this is quite weird. It’s exactly the same incident that I wrote about back in 2012/3 (here’s a Josh Halliday article on it). Yet no reference in this to that? Or by anyone? Whatever happened to institutional memory?
link to this extract


Free app brings iPhone X gesture navigation to Android phones without Android P • BGR

Zach Epstein:

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Google announced during its Google I/O 2018 keynote presentation that gesture controls will be coming to the Android platform later this year when Android P is released. There’s already a public beta of Android P available for people with certain smartphones, but everyone else will have to wait until sometime later this year or in 2019 when Android P updates finally start rolling out to phones. Some smartphone makers don’t want to wait for Android P, so they’re adding their own take on the iPhone X’s gesture navigation. OnePlus is a good example, though gesture navigation on the OnePlus 6 is kind of terrible.

There are already a few different apps out there that let you add gesture-based navigation to an Android phone. The problem with these apps is they require you to root your Android device. Not everyone wants to bother rooting their phones, and there are also security implications that many people aren’t comfortable with. Don’t worry though, because we have some good news: There’s a new free app that brings the iPhone X’s gestures to Android without the need for root access.

The app is called Navigation Gestures, and it was built by an admin from xda-developers. It’s currently available for free in the Play store. The app can be installed on any modern Android phone, and it doesn’t require users to first root their devices. There is one small caveat though. Navigation Gestures uses an API that is only accessible by granting a special permission, and you’ll need to connect your Android device to a Windows or Mac computer in order to grant that permission. It’s quite easy, and XDA provides a video that walks you through the process.

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Seems fairly clear that in four years or so, the majority of phones will be working on gestures and have no bezels.
link to this extract


Teen phone monitoring app leaked thousands of user passwords • ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:

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The mobile app, TeenSafe, bills itself as a “secure” monitoring app for iOS and Android, which lets parents view their child’s text messages and location, monitor who they’re calling and when, access their web browsing history, and find out which apps they have installed.

Although teen monitoring apps are controversial and privacy-invasive, the company says it doesn’t require parents to obtain the consent of their children.

But the Los Angeles, Calif.-based company left its servers, hosted on Amazon’s cloud, unprotected and accessible by anyone without a password.

Robert Wiggins, a UK-based security researcher who searches for public and exposed data, found two leaky servers.

Both of the servers was pulled offline after ZDNet alerted the company, including another that contains what appears to be only test data.

“We have taken action to close one of our servers to the public and begun alerting customers that could potentially be impacted,” said a TeenSafe spokesperson told ZDNet on Sunday.

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Yet there’s never any comeback on companies which behave in such an amazingly sloppy manner. No fines, and of course no way to retrieve the data.
link to this extract


How the internet gets inside us • The New Yorker

Terrific essay by Adam Gopnik:

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things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment—above all, our interactions with other people—are now easily internalized, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own. (I’ve felt this myself, writing anonymously on hockey forums: it is easy to say vile things about Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the N.H.L., with a feeling of glee rather than with a sober sense that what you’re saying should be tempered by a little truth and reflection.) Thus the limitless malice of Internet commenting: it’s not newly unleashed anger but what we all think in the first order, and have always in the past socially restrained if only thanks to the look on the listener’s face—the monstrous music that runs through our minds is now played out loud.

A social network is crucially different from a social circle, since the function of a social circle is to curb our appetites and of a network to extend them. Everything once inside is outside, a click away; much that used to be outside is inside, experienced in solitude. And so the peacefulness, the serenity that we feel away from the Internet, and which all the Better-Nevers [ie people who say things have never been better than now, with the internet] rightly testify to, has less to do with being no longer harried by others than with being less oppressed by the force of your own inner life. Shut off your computer, and your self stops raging quite as much or quite as loud.

It is the wraparound presence, not the specific evils, of the machine that oppresses us. Simply reducing the machine’s presence will go a long way toward alleviating the disorder. Which points, in turn, to a dog-not-barking-in-the-nighttime detail that may be significant. In the Better-Never books, television isn’t scanted or ignored; it’s celebrated. When William Powers, in “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” describes the deal his family makes to have an Unplugged Sunday, he tells us that the No Screens agreement doesn’t include television: “For us, television had always been a mostly communal experience, a way of coming together rather than pulling apart.” (“Can you please turn off your damn computer and come watch television with the rest of the family,” the dad now cries to the teen-ager.)

Yet everything that is said about the Internet’s destruction of “interiority” was said for decades about television, and just as loudly.

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This is from 2011, but could have been written yesterday. Absorb it at length. (Also worth reading for one paragraph’s punchline: “next thing you knew there wasn’t a hot bath or a good book for another thousand years.”)
link to this extract


Team Trump’s ‘deep state’ paranoia fans conspiracy theories • FT

Gideon Rachman:

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The US president rages about the “greatest witch-hunt in American history”. He has also frequently accused members of his own government of conspiring against him, tweeting darkly that this is “Big stuff. Deep State ”.

This accusation — that there is a “deep state” of government employees and agencies determined to destroy the Trump presidency — has become standard stuff among the president’s most ardent supporters. Two recent best-selling books have popularised the idea and the phrase: The Plot to Destroy Trump by Ted Malloch and Roger Stone; and Killing the Deep State by Jerome Corsi. The president’s closest supporters and relatives have also embraced this notion. His son, Donald Jr, tweeted: “The Deep State is real, illegal and endangers national security.”

The Trump world’s accusations about a “deep state” plot to destroy the president are now increasing in volume, with the revelation that the FBI used an informant to probe connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr Trump himself has greeted this news as further confirmation of an establishment plot to undermine him.

But the fact that a theory is popular does not make it true. There is no evidence that the FBI, nor the “deep state”, was intent on destroying the Trump campaign. On the contrary, the FBI director, James Comey, did Mr Trump a favour by publicly re-opening an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of official emails — while keeping quiet about FBI suspicions of links between the Russian state and the Trump campaign. The fact that an FBI informant was probing evidence of these links is not, as Mr Trump would have it, the “all time biggest political scandal”. It is exactly what an intelligence service should be doing.

The “deep state” controversy may be phoney. But it is still significant. For it reveals the extent to which paranoid fantasy has now entered the mainstream of American political discourse — fanned by the president himself.

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The Trump campaign was shot through with people who were working for outside states, or interested in doing so – Paul Manafort being only the most prominent. But all this gonzo noise will keep eroding Americans’ trust in their systems. This will take a lot of fixing, after Trump.
link to this extract


These 299 MacOS apps are so buggy, Apple had to fix them in AppKit • Worth Doing Badly

Zhuowei Zhang:

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Looking through the list of apps tells a lot about what apps Apple considers essential to the Mac platform: after all, they put special effort to make them work on newer system versions. So what apps do Apple consider important?

• Productivity apps from large companies:
most of the Adobe suite; the Microsoft Office suite; Autodesk’s AutoCAD and Maya; Matlab; Ableton Live; Intuit Quicken/QuickBooks; TurboCAD; VMWare Fusion

• Communication apps:
Google Chrome; Opera Browser; Twitter for Mac; Tencent QQ, WeChat; AOL Messenger; Citrix GoToMeeting; Cisco Spark; HipChat; Sketch; Spotify; Evernote; Dropbox

• A surprisingly high number of games. I suspect there are even more IDs in game-specific libraries such as OpenGL.

Blizzard’s games: installer, Diablo 3, Heroes of the Storm, Starcraft 2, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Battle.NET; Grid 2 Reloaded; Dragon Age 2 (of course)

• Open-source apps:
Firefox; VLC; Blender; Eclipse; AquaMacs (an Emacs port); OpenJDK; Textual IRC…

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It’s a remarkable list – in many cases, Apple puts in fixes so that the apps (older or newer versions) won’t crash immediately, or at some random point. (See? All those feedback notes you send when the apps crash do have some effect.)

Now try to guess how many of these patches there are for UIKit, Apple’s iOS foundation to which first- and third-party apps are written.
link to this extract


How two million people loved MoviePass nearly to death • Bloomberg

Kyle Stock:

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Since paying the $9.95 monthly fee for the movie-a-day service in January, Hannah Wolfe has seen Black Panther and most of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Best Picture nominees. Twelve films in total, at no additional cost to her. “It seemed a little too good to be true, especially in New York where movies cost like $16 each,” she says. “It feels like I haven’t paid for the ticket.”

In a way, she hasn’t. Wolfe has paid MoviePass about $50, and in turn the company would have likely shelled out almost $200 to theaters to cover the full ticket prices. To make matters worse, Wolfe has been recruiting everyone she knows—and some are getting even more out of the service. Her roommate rarely went to movies before and recently saw five in a week. Her father, a retired teacher, is on pace to see 40 films this year.

Eight months after slashing its price and expanding membership past two million users, MoviePass is now at risk of going bust. The parent company, Helios & Matheson Analytics Inc., which now owns 92% of MoviePass, said last week that it had just $15.5m in cash at the end of April and $27.9m on deposit with merchant processors. MoviePass has been burning through $21.7m per month. A US Securities and Exchange Commission filing last month revealed that the company’s auditor has “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay solvent. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., warns that MoviePass may not survive the summertime run of blockbusters.

On Tuesday, Helios reported the performance of MoviePass for the three months ending on March 31. The company lost $107m, earning just over $1m from marketing deals and $47m from subscriptions. Helios shares have fallen to decade lows of less than $1 after peaking at $32.90 in October, alongside the MoviePass hype.

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There’s disruption, and then there’s stupid. This is the latter one. The wonderful irony is that Helios is owned by Ted Farnsworth, former owner of a psychic hotline. Don’t need one to know how this story ends.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up: OnePlus 6 reviewed, Google used on Safari (again), getting the internet inside, MoviePass’s fatal flaw, and more

  1. ??? the new OnePlus 6 is more expensive than the previous 5T. Thus of more dubious value, especially compared to the competition
    – the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S has very similar specs, arguably advantages (no notch, wireless charging), at the same price
    – even a Samsung Galaxy S9, supposedly $200 extra, can probably be had for the same price by waiting for one of Smasung’s beloved sales. And this one adds: no notch, wireless charging, audio jack, SD card, probably better camera.

    The previous models had me wondering whether I should try OP’s quasi-flagship. This 6 has turned me off the idea: if I do it, I’ll look for a Samsung sale, and if I can’t find any I’ll probably keep in the midrange instead of accepting a notch, no jack or no SD.

  2. re: gestures This is far from new. Here’s a reddit post from 2016 detailing how users prefer their gestures: https://www.reddit.com/r/Android/comments/4ddrq3/what_are_your_favoritemost_useful_nova_launcher/

    Nova Launcher has been on of the top 3 Android Launchers for years, I could certainly have unearthed an earlier article. AFAIK, what it allows hasn’t been equaled yet by bare OSes (“Swipe up on Dialer = direct dials wife”)

    The ability of users in general and the press/the blogosphere in particular to only discover features when Apple launches them is disquieting. Bias or incompetence ?

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