Start Up: Fortnite takes control, solar shines in US, Antarctica melts, hacking smart locks, and more


Ben Nevis in 2.5D. Photo – Creative Commons licensed! – by Ordnance Survey on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Nothing to do with the price of fish. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fortnite live streams have taken over the market • Recode

Rani Molla:

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People aren’t just playing Fortnite in droves, they’re watching other people play it en masse as well.

Epic Games’ Fortnite accounted for more than a third of streaming video game views globally in May, up from just 2% in February, according to viewership on Mobcrush, a platform that lets gamers stream video across social media sites, including Twitch, YouTube and Facebook.

The free “battle royale” game, which became available on PC and gaming consoles last September, didn’t even launch on iOS — where it is more popular than on PCs or consoles, according to Mobcrush — till this March. Yet it took just one month on mobile to supplant Vainglory, which has been around since 2014, as the most popular video game to watch.

Fortnite isn’t even available on Android yet, so viewership will likely jump much higher when it is…

…The eSports market — which includes revenue from sponsorships, advertising and media rights — is currently worth around $900 million worldwide and is expected to reach $1.65 billion in three years, according to the report.

Fortnite generated $300m in revenue in April through nonessential in-app purchases like clothing, and currently has 125 million players. It’s the fourth-most-downloaded iOS app in the US and the No. 1 action game, according to App Annie. It’s bringing in more in-app revenue than Pokémon Go or HBO Now.

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Fortnite is an absolute phenomenon. The continual refinement of the gameplay – and the experimentation of how the rewards work within that – is heading towards some sort of perfection. I wonder if Epic Games will put machine learning systems onto it to try to evolve the game.

And Fortnite’s arrival on the Nintendo Switch was inevitable – but what’s interesting is that Nintendo allows voice chat within the app (for Squad mode), which it has never done on its own games.
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Solar has overtaken gas and wind as biggest source of new US power • Bloomberg

Chris Martin:

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Despite tariffs that President Trump imposed on imported panels, the US installed more solar energy than any other source of electricity in the first quarter.

Developers installed 2.5 gigawatts of solar in the first quarter, up 13% from a year earlier, according to a report Tuesday from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. That accounted for 55% of all new generation, with solar panels beating new wind and natural gas turbines for a second straight quarter.

The growth came even as tariffs on imported panels threatened to increase costs for developers. Giant fields of solar panels led the growth as community solar projects owned by homeowners and businesses took off. Total installations this year are expected to be 10.8 gigawatts, or about the same as last year, according to GTM. By 2023, annual installations should reach more than 14 gigawatts.

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Solar is unstoppable; the price of making panels keeps falling, and it’s additive – you don’t have to tear down old installations to put new ones in. And penetration of panels is at a tiny percentage of the potential.

Mining coal is a mug’s game: expensive, dangerous, polluting. Speaking of which…
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Antarctica is screwed and so are we • The Outline

Caroline Haskins:

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Antarctica has enough water stored in its ice to raise sea levels by 58 meters, or 216 feet, if it disappeared entirely. That would completely obliterate states like Florida and displace hundreds of millions of people in Brazil, Argentina, Guinea-Bissau, Denmark, China, Indonesia, and Australia.

Researchers from Northern Illinois University who studied Antarctica’s rebound 10,000 years ago found that, at its worst, Antarctica’s melted to a dangerous place where it was even smaller than it is today. However, they urged against undue optimism: what happened 10,000 years ago was natural. What’s happening today is human-caused, and it’s happening far more quickly.
“What happened roughly 10,000 years ago might not dictate where we’re going in our carbon dioxide-enhanced world, where the oceans are rapidly warming in the polar regions,” lead researcher Reed Scherer said in a press release. “If the ice sheet were to dramatically retreat now, triggered by anthropogenic warming, the uplift process won’t help regrow the ice sheet until long after coastal cities have felt the effects of the sea level rise.”

To be clear, no one is anticipating that Antarctica will disappear entirely by the end of the century. However, by 2070, University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMA) researchers found that unchecked emissions and pollution by humans could melt a humongous portion of the continent. We still don’t know how exactly how much will melt. But according to new research from the University of Leeds, Antarctica melting is already happening much more quickly than anticipated.

“The continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years,” lead researcher Andrew Shepherd said in a press release. “This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities.”

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Totally pwning the Tapplock smart lock • Pen Test Partners

Andrew Tierney:

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We move onto the Bluetooth Low Energy and this is where things get really, really bad.

Normally I love reading about IoT hacks that take time, effort and ingenuity, but I can’t do that here. In under 45 minutes, we had the ability to walk up to any Tapplock and unlock it.

First things first, the app communicates over HTTP. There is no transport encryption. This is unforgiveable in 2018.

I could see that a string of “random” looking data was sent to the lock over BLE each time I connected to it. Without this data, the lock would not respond to commands.

But it was also noted that this data did not change, no matter how many times I connected. A couple of lines of commands in gatttool and it was apparent that the lock was vulnerable to trivial replay attacks.

The app allows you to “share” the lock with someone else, revoking permissions at a later date. I shared the lock with another user, and sniffed the BLE data. It was identical to the normal unlocking data. Even if you revoke permissions, you have already given the other user all the information they need to authenticate with the lock, in perpetuity.

This issue is remarkably similar to the problem with the Ring Smart Doorbell – it was impossible to revoke another high privilege users permissions.

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I’m doing a webinar today (Thursday) titled “The Internet of Insufficiently Safe Things“. This is obviously going to be a late addition.
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Bitcoin’s price was artificially inflated last year, researchers say • The New York Times

Nathaniel Popper:

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A concentrated campaign of price manipulation may have accounted for at least half of the increase in the price of Bitcoin and other big cryptocurrencies last year, according to a paper released on Wednesday by an academic with a history of spotting fraud in financial markets.

The paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, and Amin Shams, a graduate student, is likely to stoke a debate about how much of Bitcoin’s skyrocketing gain last year was caused by the covert actions of a few big players, rather than real demand from investors.

Many industry players expressed concern at the time that the prices were being pushed up at least partly by activity at Bitfinex, one of the largest and least regulated exchanges in the industry. The exchange, which is registered in the Caribbean with offices in Asia, was subpoenaed by American regulators shortly after articles about the concerns appeared in The New York Times and other publications.

Mr. Griffin looked at the flow of digital tokens going in and out of Bitfinex and identified several distinct patterns that suggest that someone or some people at the exchange successfully worked to push up prices when they sagged at other exchanges.

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This implies that lots of people bought bitcoin on faked information; that $20,000 peak now looks dangerously like many people being the greater fools.
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Researchers studied 160 million memes and found most of them come from two websites • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:

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Researchers at University College London developed a new way to measure how memes are made and spread. What they found won’t surprise anyone who’s peered into the darker parts of the internet in the last few years: The most toxic, yet most effectively spread, memes are first shared on two places, the subreddit r/the_donald and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum, called /pol/.

The researchers said they studied multiplatform meme ecosystems, with a focus on “fringe and potentially dangerous communities.”

“Considering the increasing relevance of digital information on world events, our study provides a building block for future cultural anthropology work, as well as for building systems to protect against the dissemination of harmful ideologies,” they added.

They’re not the first to think deeply and academically about the meme ecosystem, but the patterns they found also bolster what we already knew about memes: that based on sheer size and spread of these communities, you’re probably sharing images that were made to be distributed in toxic communities…

…/pol/ had the highest volume of memes, while the_donald was the best at getting memes spread outside of its own community. Reddit and Twitter users shared more “fun” memes, they concluded, while /pol/ and Gab saw more racist or politically-motivated images.

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Has anyone tried comparing their spread to actual viral spread?
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Unlocking of government’s mapping and location data to boost economy by £130m a year • GOV.UK

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Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, said

“Opening up OS MasterMap underlines this Government’s commitment to ensuring the UK continues to lead the way in digital innovation. Releasing this valuable government data for free will help stimulate innovation in the economy, generate jobs and improve public services.

“Location-aware technologies – using geospatial data – are revolutionising our economy. From navigating public transport to tracking supply chains and planning efficient delivery routes, these digital services are built on location data that has become part of everyday life and business.

“The newly available data should be particularly useful to small firms and entrepreneurs to realise their ideas and compete with larger organisations, encouraging greater competition and innovation.

“OS MasterMap data already supports emerging technologies such as driverless vehicles, 5G and connected cities – important drivers of economic growth.

Today’s announcement follows the launch of the first GovTech challenge in May this year – a competition designed to incentivise Britain’s tech firms to come up with innovative solutions to improve public services. These competitions will be delivered using the £20m GovTech fund launched by the Prime Minister in November 2017.”

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Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap is the most detailed map that Ordnance Survey has: multiple layers at centimetre-precision mapping of the whole of the UK. From the “narrative“:

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The datasets that will be made available for free up to a threshold of transactions through the APIs are:
● OS MasterMap Topography Layer, including building heights and functional sites;
● OS MasterMap Greenspace Layer;
● OS MasterMap Highways Network;
● OS MasterMap Water Network Layer; and
● OS Detailed Path Network.

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When Michael Cross and I launched the Free Our Data campaign back in 2006 at The Guardian, many inside and outside OS refused to believe the idea that making map data available for free could generate revenue and wealth for the country. The counterpoint: GPS. Funded by the US government, creates huge value for all sorts of companies, saves huge amounts of time and money.

So: it’s taken some time, and a few governments, but open data wins.
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Scooter startup Bird is reportedly about to hit a $2bn valuation • TechCrunch

Matthew Lynley:

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More financing is coming in for Bird, this time potentially valuing the company at $2bn, according to a new report by Axios.

There’s not a ton to add here compared to the last round (which happened just weeks ago), as the same dynamics are probably in play here. While Uber was a bet on car rides and generally getting around, Bird is that but at a dramatically more granular level — thinking short hops of a few miles in congested areas. Startups that are exceedingly hot can sometimes pull off these rolling rounds where investors are coming in at various points, especially as the model further proves out over time.

If you live in a major metropolitan area, you’ve probably seen Bird (and Lime) scooters hanging out on the sidewalks — potentially knocked over in a spot where someone might trip over them while checking his or her phone. That’s been a point of tension in areas like San Francisco, where Bird has had to temporarily come off the sidewalks as a permit system rolls out. Bird isn’t the first mobility-focused service that has faced regulatory challenges before, but it is one that’s become very popular very quickly.

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Scooters (they’re literally just those stupid two-wheeled things that you see patient parents carrying for their exhausted children in the park, though in these cases with added electric motors) are poised to succeed where the Segway failed hard more than a decade ago.

“Micro-mobility” is a good description. Short range, but very competitive.
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Apple’s design language has killed fun in consumer electronics • Quartz

Mike Murphy:

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By refining its products to near-impenetrable pieces of glass and metal, and bringing the aesthetic of the entire consumer electronics market along with them, Apple has stamped out much of the fun within its own company, and the greater industry. There are no smartphones that take real design risks these days (barring, perhaps, the Motorola Moto Z3 Play, which holds out hope that we’ll want to modify our phones), because looking like an iPhone seems to work well enough. Even beyond phones, high-end laptops emulate the MacBook, tablets are samey, and everything else is still pretty much just a black box. (One outlier that still produces truly innovative and fun consumer tech is Nintendo.)

There are signs that fun is slowly creeping back into Apple. Its recent ad for the HomePod, directed by Oscar-winner Spike Jonze and starring artist FKA Twigs, was enjoyable and well-received, and the music videos Apple made using its Animoji are cute too.

It’s been a long time since Apple introduced a truly revolutionary product that has universally surprised and delighted audiences. Perhaps there will be something soon again—the company is hinting at something truly game-changing in augmented reality—but its aesthetic of refined elegance may never give way.

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Murphy’s complaint is that Apple used to make coloured things (iMacs, iPods) and now the things aren’t coloured. But the flaw in his argument is in the second clause of the first sentence quoted above. Nobody forced the “greater industry” or “the entire consumer electronics market” to mimic Apple; the industry’s designers and marketers chose to do that because people seemed to like it. The iMac led to an explosion of other devices and accessories also using translucent coloured plastic rather than opaque beige. The Titanium Powerbook led to lots of aluminium-sleek laptops. And the iPhone – well, you’ve seen.

Murphy’s failure here is that he doesn’t ask why these other companies have chosen to ape Apple. Five minutes on the phone with a few designers could have created an informative piece. Instead, we get something casting around for a thread. This is where people – well, writers – need editors to tell them that story ideas aren’t good enough, and to go back and try again.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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One thought on “Start Up: Fortnite takes control, solar shines in US, Antarctica melts, hacking smart locks, and more

  1. I believe real viral spread is more a small-to-small process. There can be connecting nodes of people who come in contact with dozens or hundreds of others. But there’s fairly low limit on how many individuals that a single person can interact enough to spread a physical germ, in practice (i.e. there might be a large population in a city, but the germs from a sneeze are going to die before inflecting more than a handful if that – they can’t reach more than few). With media, however, “viral” is basically “broadcast”, so you can have one or a few sites with *enormous* power. Those few sites reach tens? hundreds? of thousands, millions? or more.

    Quantifying broadcast is worthwhile, don’t get me wrong. But “site hugely popular with Xists and devoted to finding its audience popular items of Xism, popularizes many Xist images” is not exactly a shocking result.

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