Start Up: iPhone X Plus sized up (via logs), Nasa rover finds Martian.. stuff, conference seating woes, and more

ZTE has been reprieved. What, if anything, did the US get in return? Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. For the weekend. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Nasa Mars rover finds organic matter in ancient lake bed • The Guardian

Ian Sample:


Nasa’s veteran Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago.

The discovery is the most compelling evidence yet that long before the planet became the parched world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it.

Researchers cannot tell how the organic material formed and so leave open the crucial question: are the compounds remnants of past organisms; the product of chemical reactions with rocks; or were they brought to Mars in comets or other falling debris that slammed into the surface? All look the same in the tests performed.

But whatever the ultimate source of the material, if microbial life did find a foothold on Mars, the presence of organics meant it would not have gone hungry. “We know that on Earth microorganisms eat all sorts of organics. It’s a valuable food source for them,” said Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

“While we don’t know the source of the material, the amazing consistency of the results makes me think we have a slam-dunk signal for organics on Mars,” Eigenbrode added. “It is not telling us that life was there, but it is saying that everything organisms really needed to live in that kind of environment, all of that was there.”


When I worked at The Independent in 1995, the then science editor Tom Wilkie declared that in news, the same stories come around again and again, and that by the third time you’re pretty sick of them. He was already bored with “life on Mars” stories, so I did the one about the meteorite with the odd shapes. And now here we go again.
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AI at Google: our principles • Google blog

Sundar Pichai:


We will assess AI applications in view of the following objectives. We believe that AI should:
– be socially beneficial
– avoid creating or reinforcing bias
– be built and tested for safety
– be accountable to people
– incorporate privacy design principles
– uphold high standards of scientific excellence
– be made available for uses that accord with these principles


There’s plenty more – each point is expanded, but those are the bullets. He also sets out the applications that Google won’t pursue.
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iOS 12 tells us exactly how big the iPhone X Plus will be • BGR

Chris Smith:


Apple started testing iOS 12 builds in the wild as recently as late February, when Google Analytics first picked up visits to BGR from devices running iOS 12. The number of visits increased as we approached June. It’s likely that Apple engineers tested early iOS 12 builds on various devices well ahead of the WWDC event. And while you can safely test iOS 12 out in the wild if you’re an Apple engineer since regular users will not immediately spot it, you can’t always fool analytics programs.

As such, between late February and late May, BGR received hundreds of visits from devices running iOS 12.

Even if some of those were fake iOS 12 devices, plenty of those visits still came from devices that you can quickly identify as iPhones and iPads checking in from Apple. Looking at screen resolution alone, one could easily identify visits from iPhone X, iPhone 8/7/6sPlus/6s/6Plus/6, iPhone 8Plus/7Plus, 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 10.5-inch iPad Pro, iPhone SE, and — finally — iPhone X Plus

Image Source: Chris Smith, BGR

How do we know an iPhone X Plus was used to read BGR posts? Well, this device that Google identifies as an Apple iPhone running iOS 12, had a screen resolution like no other iPhone or iPad: 496 x 896.

Don’t be fooled, that’s not the resolution in pixels, but in points.


Multiply by 2.608 or 3 – it’s not known yet – to get the pixels: 1242×2688, or 1080×2336. This means it’s going to be the same width as the present iPhone X, but 15% taller.
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Here’s the tiny drone the US Army just purchased for soldiers • CNET

Abrar Al-Heeti:


The US Army is getting tiny personal surveillance drones as part of a $2.6m contract with Flir, a thermal imaging and technology company. 

The Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System is the world’s smallest combat-proven nano-drone, according to the company. The US Army has ordered the next-generation Black Hornet 3, which weighs 32 grams and packs navigation capabilities for use in areas outside of GPS coverage. The drone, which has advanced image processing from earlier versions, and can fly a distance of two kilometers at more than 21 kilometers an hour and carries a thermal microcamera.    

The order marks the US Army’s first for the Soldier Borne Sensors program, which aims to provide military personnel with more awareness of their surroundings using drones. 


That’s a pretty cheap contract. The drones are about the size of three fingers, which would make them hard to shoot down. Good for reconaissance. Consumer electronics leading war electronics, which is the opposite of what usually happens.
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Dear conference organizers: you’re doing chairs wrong • Motherboard

Rose Eveleth:


Next time you’re at a conference, pay attention to the chairs and the folks in skirts and dresses trying to navigate them. If you do, a frustratingly common problem will become clear. Nearly every femme-identifying person I know has wrestled with tall bar stools, directors chairs, deep arm chairs, and more. Recently at a podcasting conference I watched as a woman perched herself awkwardly at the edge of an armchair that was elevated so her crotch was exactly at eye level for the audience. At another conference I saw two women convene before their panel purely to scope out the seating situation. One of them decided to change into pants.

“Once I wore a dress to a panel I was on that was quite appropriate in length but slightly above the knees and they had these super tall stools for speakers,” Megan Berry, VP of product at Octane AI, an automated messenger marketing platform, told me. “I had to be strategic about how to sit down with the whole audience there so I didn’t flash anyone and sat very carefully for the whole panel.”

Emily Finke has a similar story.

Finke, a science educator, once wore a knee-length pencil skirt to a panel where she and the other speakers sat on barstool-height chairs, not behind a table. “That skirt is fine for normal chair heights and for standing,” Finke said, “but I knew in the angle of the tall chairs that it would mean the skirt vent would have the audience looking directly up my skirt.” Rather than sitting in the chair, she spent the entire panel leaning awkwardly against it with her hand over the backrest, “in the worst Riker in Ten Forward pose ever.”


Ditto with clip-on mics, which don’t work well with dresses. (Every woman I’ve been on a panel with has complained about this, and Evereth brings it up too. Also: “femme-identifying” is a terrible phrase.) A magnetically clipped mic still has the wire, but not the assumption that there will be a lapel to attach it to.
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Home beats phone: smart home device sales to exceed smartphones by 2023 • Strategy Analytics


The increasing popularity of the smart home is confirmed today by new research from Strategy Analytics showing that global demand for smart home devices will exceed sales of smartphones by 2023. Consumers worldwide bought 663 million smart home devices in 2017, and this will increase to 1.94 billion in 2023, when sales of smartphones will be 1.86 billion. The research, “2018 Global Smart Home Device Forecast”, includes various categories of smart home device, including smart speakers, security cameras, smart light bulbs, smart door locks, digital thermostats, gateways and sensor devices. Demand is being driven by lower device prices, compelling user applications and services, improved user experience and rapid technology development.

The fastest growing category in 2018 will be smart speakers, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, with a growth rate of 109%. Other fast growing segments include smart light bulbs (such as the Philips Hue), connected smoke detectors, smart door locks (such as Amazon’s August Smart Lock), gateways and hubs and security cameras (such as Google’s Nest Cam).


Well, OK, if you’re just talking about number, rather than value. Cheap things tend to sell in greater numbers than expensive things. Unclear how big the penetration will be by that stage – though one could end up with many more than one IoT object per person, unlike the smartphone.
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NTSB: Autopilot steered Tesla car toward traffic barrier before deadly crash • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


The preliminary report confirms that Autopilot was engaged ahead of the crash, and it appears to confirm that a navigation mistake by Autopilot contributed to Huang’s death.

Huang’s Model X was driving south on US highway 101 just ahead of a point where a left-hand exit split off from the main road. Logs recovered by the NTSB show that eight seconds before the crash, the vehicle was following behind another car, traveling at 65mph.

Then, seven seconds before the crash, “the Tesla began a left steering movement while following a lead vehicle.” That “left steering movement” carried the vehicle into the “gore area”—a triangular area of paved road that separated the highway’s main travel lanes from the diverging exit lane.

At four seconds before the crash, the Tesla vehicle was no longer following the car ahead of it. The car’s cruise control was set to 75mph, so it began to accelerate, reaching a speed of 70.8mph just before the crash. There was “no precrash braking or evasive steering movement detected,” the NTSB says.

Huang’s hands were detected on the steering wheel for 34 seconds out of the final minute of his trip. His hands were not detected on the steering wheel for the final six seconds prior to the crash.


As had been suggested: it diverted into the white lines of the gore. Now the question is whether this was caused by a Tesla software update, since the car had been along the same stretch of road a number of times. I suspect Tesla won’t like the answer. Software updates that kill: now a feature in cars.
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Google will pause election ads in Washington state in unprecedented response to new law – GeekWire

Todd Bishop:


Google says it will stop running state and local election ads in Washington state, citing new rules that require what amounts to real-time disclosure of detailed information about election ads in response to public records requests.

The company has never before paused election ads in a U.S. state. Google says it wants to comply with the law, but its systems aren’t prepared for the rules as implemented. Starting Thursday, Google AdWords won’t accept ads for candidates or ballot measures in the state.

Google’s decision was announced Wednesday evening in an AdWords policy update. The new state rules go into effect Thursday, less than a month after they were approved by the state Public Disclosure Commission as part of implementing HB 2938. The law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, is meant to bring more speed and transparency to campaign ad disclosures.

“We take transparency and disclosure of political ads very seriously which is why we have decided to pause state and local election ads in Washington, starting June 7, while we assess the amended campaign disclosure law and ensure that our systems are built to comply with the new requirements,” said Alex Krasov, a Google spokesperson, in a statement to GeekWire.

The company did not provide a timeline for resuming political ads in the state.


Interesting: first Ireland (with the abortion referendum), now this. Politicians – and the companies themselves – are waking up to the problem they have with dark money here.
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VPNFilter malware may be even more dangerous than we thought • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:


Security researchers have traced VPNFilter back to Fancy Bear, a hacking team backed by Russian intelligence. Fancy Bear is most famous for carrying out the spear phishing attack on Clinton advisor John Podesta that yielded thousands of private emails. The team’s current operation is much less focused, though. We already knew VPNFilter affected routers from Cisco/Linksys, MikroTik, NETGEAR, and TP-Link. The new wrinkle is there are even more models and manufacturers vulnerable to VPNFilter.  

According to the latest report from Cisco Talos, additional models from Linksys, MicroTik, Netgear, and TP-Link are vulnerable to VPNFilter. Plus, devices from Asus, D-Link, Upvel, Huawei, and ZTE are on the list now. There are now dozens of models and as many as 500,000 individual routers infected with VPNFilter. You can restart them to clear the actively malicious packages, but they could just come back.

US law enforcement previously warned everyone to restart their routers to clear the malware, but that only cleared the second and third stages of VPNFilter. The first stage remained active, and that’s the piece that gives the hackers access to install the active second and third stages. Routers vulnerable to VPNFilter usually run older firmware with known security holes, and many of them don’t have updates available.

The only sure fix is a firmware update, and most routers don’t do that automatically even if patched firmware is available. You’ll definitely want to look into that, too. An active VPNFilter infection is even more dangerous than we thought. Researchers have discovered that VPNFilter can run a man-in-the-middle attack. That allows the hackers to intercept web traffic before it gets to you and change what you see or steal sensitive data like passwords.


The Talos blog has a list of affected routers; I was quite glad to find my home one not on it. But this does feel like a counsel of despair: your router’s screwed, so throw it away. And software was going to replace all that tedious hardware? Instead we get the opposite.
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Adobe patches zero-day Flash flaw • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


Adobe credits Chinese security firm Qihoo 360 with reporting the zero-day Flash flaw. Qihoo said in a blog post that the exploit was seen being used to target individuals and companies in Doha, Qatar, and is believed to be related to a nation-state backed cyber-espionage campaign that uses booby-trapped Office documents to deploy malware.

In February 2018, Adobe patched another zero-day Flash flaw that was tied to cyber espionage attacks launched by North Korean hackers.

Hopefully, most readers here have taken my longstanding advice to disable or at least hobble Flash, a buggy and insecure component that nonetheless ships by default with Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. More on that approach (as well as slightly less radical solutions) can be found in A Month Without Adobe Flash Player. The short version is that you can probably get by without Flash installed and not miss it at all.

For readers still unwilling to cut the Flash cord, there are half-measures that work almost as well. Fortunately, disabling Flash in Chrome is simple enough. Paste “chrome://settings/content” into a Chrome browser bar and then select “Flash” from the list of items. By default it should be set to “Ask first” before running Flash, although users also can disable Flash entirely here or whitelist/blacklist specific sites.


Any rational cost-benefit analysis of Flash would conclude that there’s no point having it: it requires too many updates to be safe, compared to the minimal benefit that it brings. Corporate systems which rely on it shouldn’t: they’re opening their systems up to hackers.

Uninstall Flash. Quite apart from anything, you’ll save yourself the annoyance of the (often more than) weekly updates.
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Dreamworld launches $399 augmented reality glasses that connect to your smartphone • Silicon Angle

Kyt Dotson:


With the DreamGlass, DreamWorld hopes to make AR more accessible to developers and consumers with a price tag of only $399. Although this list price is quite affordable, it is an early-bird discount and may go up in the future.

“There is so much potential in augmented reality,” said DreamWorld founder and Chief Executive Kevin Zhong, “but the hardware limitations and steep price points of headsets available today have not made it easy for developers to fully contribute to the ecosystem.”

Using AR, developers can augment what users see and hear by overlaying 3-D objects onto human vision. This is done with mobile devices that act as “windows” or “filters” by using their cameras or glasses such as the HoloLens from Microsoft Corp.

The DreamGlass supports a 90-degree FOV, which broadly covers most of what people can see directly in front of them – compared with 35-degrees currently available for a HoloLens, although Microsoft is working on a 70-degree version. The device is also capable of driving 2.5K high-definition graphics with a 60-hertz refresh rate to make certain overlaid graphics is as high fidelity as possible.

Key features of the DreamGlass include three-degree head tracking, hand gesture recognition and the ability to tether to a PC or mobile device via a Universal Serial Bus type-C connector. When tethered, the DreamGlass is able to be used as a secondary display for compatible smartphones, which will allow the use of a smartphone as a touchscreen for interface control.


The first of many, for sure; and it isn’t pretending to be “just normal glasses”. This really looks like a lightweight headset. Still unsure whether the big opportunity is in the consumer space or professional work like medicine and mechanical work.
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Chinese phone maker ZTE saved from brink after deal with US • Reuters

Karen Freifeld:


The agreement comes as US President Donald Trump seeks trade concessions from China and negotiations continue to avoid a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Shares of US companies that do business with ZTE rose on Thursday.

US lawmakers immediately attacked the agreement, citing intelligence warnings that ZTE poses a national security threat.

ZTE pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to evade US embargoes by selling US equipment to Iran. The ban on buying US parts was imposed in April after the company lied about disciplining some executives responsible for the violations. ZTE then ceased major operations.

Under the deal, ZTE will change its board and management within 30 days, pay a $1bn fine and put an additional $400m in escrow. The deal also includes a new 10-year ban that is suspended unless there are future violations.


So one has to think that the US trade delegation squeezed some substantial compromise from China to bring ZTE back from the dead like this. A billion dollars isn’t material in the broader scheme of things; the US Treasury can print that any time it likes.

All Trump’s tweets about ZTE and his apparent refusal to listen to Congress over this has been an act while the broader deal – of which ZTE is just an element – gets hammered out.
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Global solar forecasts lowered as China cuts support policies • Reuters

Nichola Groom:


China’s unexpected move to slash incentives for solar power has sent stocks into a free fall and prompted analysts to lower forecasts for global installations this year amid expectations that a glut of excess panels would send prices tumbling.

China announced on June 1 changes to the subsidies that has underpinned its rise to become the world’s largest solar market in recent years.

IHS Markit, a market research firm, was preparing to lower its global solar installation forecast for this year by between 5 and 10 gigawatts, or up to 9%, analyst Camron Barati said. The impact in China, which accounts for half the global market, could be up to 17 GW, the firm said.

Another market research firm, Wood Mackenzie, said on Wednesday that China’s capacity additions would likely be about 20 GW lower than it had expected.

An oversupply of cheap Chinese-made panels that had been destined for domestic projects will help boost demand for solar in other countries and sop up some of the demand lost in China, IHS said.


What’s bad for China’s domestic business turns out to be good for the rest of the world. That’s how important it has become geopolitically.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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