Start Up: California considers data privacy, nuclear’s fading light, Fortnite’s heady boost, Apple v Valve, and more


How crowded is your favourite station compared to others at rush hour? Photo by Andreas Kollmorgen on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. So there. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Do not sell my personal information: California eyes data privacy measure • All Tech Considered (NPR)

Laura Sydell:

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If voters approve the measure, businesses will be required to have a “clear and conspicuous link” on their website’s homepage titled “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.” The link would take users to a page where they can opt out of having their data sold or shared.

[San Francisco real estate developer Alastair] Mactaggart says the proposed law would not prevent Facebook, Google or a local newspaper from collecting users’ data and using it to target ads to them. But users will have a right to stop companies from sharing or selling their data. And businesses would be required to disclose the categories of information they have on users — including home addresses, employment information and characteristics such as race and gender.

The measure has the backing of consumer advocacy groups, such as Consumers Union. Justin Brookman, Consumers Union’s director of privacy and technology policy, says Europe’s new law is stricter. “This ballot initiative is actually pretty modest,” he says. “In some ways, I wish it would go further.”

Still, if the California act passes, it will be one of the broadest privacy laws in the U.S. because it will affect anyone who goes on the Internet in California. And because California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, Brookman predicts many companies will implement the same standards nationally.

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Quite the pincer movement, between the West Coast and Europe. Given how clueless many American sites have been about GDPR – acting as though it appeared from nowhere last Friday – this might have a better chance of getting obeyed in a useful way.

Though of course the problem is always proving who sold your data.
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What is a 51% attack? • 51Crypto

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This website is intended to bring light to the risk of 51% attacks on smaller cryptocurrencies. It is not intended to encourage or help in completing an attack, but instead to get people talking about the problem and potential solutions.

In Proof of Work (PoW) cryptocurrencies, nodes typically are set up to recognize the blockchain with the most blocks (and therefore the most hashing power) as the correct version of history. Miners with > 50% of the network hashing power can take advantage of this by sending funds to one address on the main chain, while sending the same funds to another address on a forked copy of the blockchain that they are silently mining with more hashing power than the main chain.

Since other nodes only know about the main chain, they will see the first transaction as valid, and exchanges, etc will accept this transaction as valid. This malicious node can later release these silently mined blocks, and other nodes will accept this as the new ‘correct chain’ since it is longer. This will cause the original transaction to effectively dissappear, and nodes will recognize the funds as being sent to the address from the new chain instead. This is known as a ‘double spend’ attack.

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It’s pretty cheap, comparatively, to do this even against bitcoin (well, ok, it would cost half a million dollars, but you could do something big). It’s very cheap, if you can organise it, to do it against tons of smaller cryptocurrencies. And as recorded previously here, it has recently happened against some others.
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After 60 years of nuclear power, what about the cleanup? • The Atlantic

Fred Pearce:

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Hanford has not produced plutonium for three decades. Nobody is making new material for bombs anymore. President Trump’s plans for more weapons can be met by recycling existing plutonium stocks. And even the civil nuclear industry, which still generates a fifth of America’s electricity, is in what looks like terminal decline. With cheap natural gas and renewable solar and wind energy increasingly available, the numbers no longer add up. Nuclear power plants across the nation are being closed with years of licensed operation unused.

No new nuclear power stations have come on line in the past two decades. The only new build underway, two additional reactors at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, is five years behind schedule and has seen its costs double. Its planned completion in 2022 remains uncertain.

America’s 99 remaining operational nuclear power reactors, which still deliver power to the grid, are too important to be closed overnight. But nearly half are over 40 years old. The only question is how long the regulators and accountants will allow them to keep going.

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Nuclear power’s failure is essentially an economic one. It works OK, but the cleanup costs are so horrendous that they make it impossible. Renewable energy is filling in the gap.
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Why frames tilt forward • The 100 Billionth Person

Craig Collins observed that when you hang a picture from a single wire attached to the sides, the picture leans forward. How do you prevent that, or minimise it?

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So what have we learned and what do I recommend?  If you want to use hooks and wires and you want to hang pictures close to the wall without undue stress on the wire or frame, I suggest using two hooks and  45° wire angles, as illustrated in the diagram at right. This may look a little complicated but it is do-able.

In the original version of this post, I provided a formula to help you with the installation, but in practice, it didn’t go far enough.  So I programmed a two-hook frame hanging calculator and posted it in a companion article titled (what else) The “Hang It with Two Hooks” Calculator.  This online calculator suggests where to fasten the D-rings, how to install the wall hooks, and the length of wire to cut.  This makes the task much easier.

Yes, two hooks present the added challenge of ensuring they are level, but this post is all about reducing forward tilt without stressing the wire or frame.  If you are up to the task of carefully positioning two hooks, you might consider eliminating the wire altogether and hang the frame directly onto the D-rings.  One drawback to this method is the visibility of the hardware; the other is the extra precision that is needed in mounting the hardware.

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‘Fortnite,’ ‘PUBG’ led to rocketing headset sales • Variety

Brian Crecente:

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While battle royale games like “Fortnite” and “PUBG” continue to court their own successes, it appears the sheer magnitude of players they draw is having a halo effect on headphone sales. Or at least that’s what the head of Turtle Beach tells Variety.

“The business is doing really, really well and what’s driving that — beyond our strategy and being a good quality product — is the ‘Fortnite,’ ‘PUBG,’ and battle royale craze, which has introduced a bunch of new people into games,” said Turtle Beach CEO Juergen Stark.

Turtle Beach, which accounts for nearly 46% of the gaming headset market share, saw a 185% increase in net revenue over the same period last year, according to its first-quarter earnings report released this week. The company was selling so many headsets, Stark said, that it will be spending more than $4m this quarter on air-freighting new stock into the country.

“We have pulled out all of the stops to catch up our supply,” he said.

The spike in second-quarter sales led the company to increase its forecast for both the next quarter and the year significantly. The news also more than doubled the company’s stock on Wednesday.

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Biggest player seeing rocketing demand. No sign of Fortnite slowing down in popularity. Key quote:

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Stark’s theory is that the games’ ability to attract a broader, new audience, their reliance on audio, and the fact that they are free to play combine to create an increased desire to purchase headphones.

“Because ‘Fortnite’ is free, there’s this opportunity to buy peripherals,” he said. “Instead of spending $60 on a game, they can spend $60 on a headset.”

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Makes perfect sense.
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Apple’s Phil Schiller explains why Valve’s Steam Link app was rejected • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

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Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller explained the reason behind the rejection to a MacStories reader and other Apple customers on Reddit who emailed to ask Apple to reconsider. In the email, Schiller says the Valve app violates a number of guidelines and that Apple is working with the Valve team to rectify the issue.

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We care deeply about bringing great games to all of our users on the App Store. We would love for Valve’s games and services to be on iOS and AppleTV. Unfortunately, the review team found that Valve’s Steam iOS app, as currently submitted, violates a number of guidelines around user generated content, in-app purchases, content codes, etc.

We’ve discussed these issues with Valve and will continue to work with them to help bring the Steam experience to iOS and AppleTV in a way that complies with the store’s guidelines. We put great effort into creating an App Store that provides the very best experience for everyone.

We have clear guidelines that all developers must follow in order to ensure the App Store is a safe place for all users and a fair opportunity for all developers.

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The Steam Link app is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac. As our sister site TouchArcade said in a review of the app, it allows for “real” PC-like game experiences on Apple devices.

“I could see a very real situation where many people just straight up stop buying things from the App Store and exclusively purchase Steam games through Valve instead,” wrote TouchArcade editor-in-chief Eli Hodapp.

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That’s not an explanation. It’s a reiteration of what we knew must be the case – that it violated some guidelines. But which ones, how? Especially since Apple approved it on May 7 and then un-approved it on May 9. Big suspicion that it would allow an end-run around the purchase of Valve content via the App Store. But that already happens on MacOS.
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JioPhone takes the top spot in the global feature phone market in Q1 2018 • Counterpoint Research

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There are still around half a billion feature phones sold every year and these continue to serve the needs of the roughly two billion feature phones users globally. This is still a huge market catering to a diverse user base, many of whom still prefer feature phones over smartphones. The reasons for this loyalty to feature phones are as diverse as the user base, but include reasons like:

• Preference for simplicity
• Lighter, robust form-factors
• Longer battery life
• Lower cost

Some feature phone users also suffer from digital, economic or literacy divides and face barriers to adopt relatively expensive smartphones and data plans. In addition, this preference also stems from the fact that low-cost smartphones tend to offer poor performance and poor quality. Feature phone segment still has huge opportunity that remains to be exploited by the mobile industry.

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Coming next: 4G featurephones.
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London underground commuting patterns through the day • Tube Heartbeat

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People made 1.35 billion journeys on London’s iconic tube network last year.
Every weekday, London sees 2 million people commuting in on the tube… and 2 million commuting back.

This is London’s pulse.

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This is wonderful. (Bet you this will be in Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning newsletter on Sunday.) Watch the tube stations get busier and quieter, and which lines are the busiest. The Central Line looks really busy.

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The hidden power of Stack Overflow • NY Mag

Brian Feldman on how much developers – well, “developers” – rely on SO for code solutions:

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Critics of the site’s dominance are not too hard to find. In a 2015 blog post, Christian Heileman outlined the appeal of, and aimed a critical eye, at Stack Overflow’s forums. It’s a great tool for experts to discuss solutions with each other, but it’s not necessarily the right place to learn how to code. The joke you hear occasionally is that rather than being a full-stack developer, you become a full-stack-overflow developer.

Over the phone, he explained that the site is great for experts talking to each other, but its Reddit-like gamification has hazards. “When you try to learn something and these are the first results that you find,” he explained, “you get two impressions. First of all, that there’s one way of doing it. You don’t even need to think about it you just copy and paste the thing and put it live.” The second impression a user gets is simply one of unfriendliness. “‘If you do this you’re not a professional developer’ is a very common answer in that one. That can be very discouraging for someone who is just starting.”

But there are obvious downsides to relying on the internet to do your work for you, even if it offers up solutions voluntarily and with glee. Heileman — who has spent decades working at companies including Yahoo, Mozilla, and now Microsoft — believes that for novice developers, cutting corners hurts them in the long run. It’s important that they understand the code they write at a high level, rather than just relying on all-in-one solutions and packages to do the heavy lifting. This is an ongoing discussion within the developer community, most recently after an incident last year when a developer http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/03/how-11-lines-of-code-broke-tons-sites.html, breaking every other solution that relied on it [which amounted to

“I think it’s beautiful that we have those resources nowadays,” Heileman said, “but there is a danger of students just copying and pasting to get the homework out of the way rather than understanding it.”

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The link to the npm problem shows the incredible (worrying) interdependency of lots of code systems; they even needed a particular package version number. There’s reinventing the wheel, and then there’s reusing bald tyres. Stack Overflow seems to encourage something a bit too close to the latter at times. That’s not a criticism of the site; it’s a criticism of the users, rather as it’s not Wikipedia’s fault if people over-rely on it.
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How to see everything Amazon Echo has recorded on you • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

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If you’re curious what Amazon Echo smart devices have recorded while in your home — as I was — you can use the Alexa app to find out.

How to see what Alexa has recorded in your home:

• Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
• Tap the menu button on the top-left side of the screen.
• Scroll down and select ‘Settings.’
• Scroll down the page and tap ‘History.’

You’ll see something like this:


(Photo: Todd Haselton | CNBC)

You’ll be able to see all of the commands Alexa has heard. In my case, I saw all of the commands I’ve issued, including asking Alexa to turn off the living room lights, to play classical music and more. If you select a recording, you can choose the option to delete it.

I didn’t see any suspicious activity where Alexa recorded a conversation in the room without my permission. But, as my screenshot shows, it does seem to hear “Alexa” an awful lot — and that’s the word that it listens to in order to wake up and begin recording.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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