Start Up: Theranos founder charged, USB-C headphones?, Instagrammers v hotels, Manafort’s terrorist technique, and more

The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine is having teething problems – as are other jet engines. That’s expensive. Photo by Joe A. Kunzler on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Very timely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Troublesome advanced engines for Boeing, Airbus jets have disrupted airlines and shaken travelers • The Seattle Times

Dominic Gates:


Rolls-Royce is returning the repaired engines to airlines with only a temporary fix. A permanent modification won’t be available until the end of the year at the earliest.

“Those engines will have to come back to us when the final fix is available,” said [Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 project director Gary] Moore.

Meanwhile, repeated technical problems with another engine — Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan (GTF), the innovative new design that will power close to half of the Airbus A320neo fleet — have caused Pratt to fall way behind in deliveries, leaving engineless planes to stack up on the ground at Airbus factories.

At a gathering of the world’s top airline executives in Sydney this month, Guillaume Faury, the new president of Airbus Commercial Aircraft, said that by the end of June the European jetmaker will have about 100 otherwise completed A320neos sitting grounded without engines outside its final-assembly plants in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany.

“We have an industrial crisis to manage,” Faury told trade publication Aviation Week…

…The more recent, and now more pressing, problem showed up when cracks were found in the roots of the blades of the Intermediate-Pressure Compressor (IPC), behind the fan at the front of the engine.

Moore pointed to a design flaw: The vibrating frequency of the compressor blades resonated with the frequency of the engine at high thrust, magnifying the vibration to a level that over time caused the cracks to develop.

The immediate need was to inspect the susceptible engines — initially the “Package C” version of the Trent 1000, a total of 383 engines — and remove any with cracks for repair.

The problem intensified when fractured blades and excessive vibration led to several inflight engine shutdowns and aborted takeoffs.


You’ve probably not heard much about this, but it’s evidently big news in the aircraft industry. 100 completed aircraft sitting without engines is a lot of money going nowhere. And over a resonance flaw? You’d think that would have been discovered early on.
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Why USB-C headphones aren’t, and likely never will be, mainstream • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


The most obvious factor working against USB-C headphones is that the two biggest smartphone makers don’t need them. Apple’s iPhones might lack a headphone jack but they also don’t have a USB-C port, while Samsung retains the 3.5mm port, so neither the iPhone X nor the latest Galaxy S9 family are in need of USB-C earphones. Things could change if Samsung were to drop the analog connection, too, but for now at least, the market for USB-C headphones is dramatically constrained by the absence of demand from the two most popular phone brands. In any case, for tech companies that want to produce headphones that work with both Apple and Samsung gear, the obvious universal standard today is to go wireless via Bluetooth.

Talking with Jabra at CES in January about the wireless Elite 65t that the company had just announced, I asked why the new buds charged via the old (and busted) Micro USB. The answer was cost. Jabra could have used a USB-C charger — and, in the process, streamlined life for people like me with a USB-C-charging laptop and phone, allowing us to carry only one charger and cable around with us — but that would have pushed the Elite 65t up into a higher price bracket. I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed over and over again, even from the typically less cost-conscious Bang & Olufsen, which defended its use of Micro USB charging for the Beoplay E8 wireless buds on the basis of cost.

During Computex earlier this month, Synaptics was showing off a PQI My Lockey USB-A dongle that provides ultra secure fingerprint authentication for Windows 10 machines, targeting business customers especially. When I asked why not a USB-C version as well, Synaptics VP Godfrey Cheng told me that a USB-C version could be as much as 25% more expensive, taking a $100 product up to $125. That might be a price worth paying if the entire world is using USB-C devices, but as of today, it’s a prohibitive additional cost.


Vlad hates micro-USB; likes USB-C. Reality seems to disagree, in multiple ways.
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Instagram influencers are driving luxury hotels crazy • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:


Kate Jones, marketing and communications manager at the Dusit Thani, a five-star resort in the Maldives, said that her hotel receives at least six requests from self-described influencers per day, typically through Instagram direct message.

“Everyone with a Facebook these days is an influencer,” she said. “People say, I want to come to the Maldives for 10 days and will do two posts on Instagram to like 2,000 followers. It’s people with 600 Facebook friends saying, ‘Hi, I’m an influencer, I want to stay in your hotel for 7 days,’” she said. Others send vague one-line emails, like “I want to collaborate with you,”with no further explanation. “These people are expecting five to seven nights on average, all inclusive. Maldives is not a cheap destination.” She said that only about 10% of the requests she receives are worth investigating.

Jack Bedwani, who runs The Projects, a brand consulting agency that works with several top hospitality brands, said that he’s close with the PR manager for a new hotel and day club in Bali. “They get five to 20 direct inquiries a day from self-titled influencers,” he said. “The net is so wide, and the term ‘influencer’ is so loose.”

“You can sort the amateurs from the pros very quickly,” Bedwani said.“The vast majority of cold-call approaches are really badly written. It sounds like when you’re texting a friend inviting yourself over for dinner—it’s that colloquial. They don’t give reasons why anyone should invest in having them as a guest.”

Some hotels report being so overwhelmed by influencer requests that they’ve simply opted out.


There’s a certain irony in content makers, who are so often asked to do stuff for free in return for “exposure”, turning the tables. But I’m amazed if any hotel takes these people seriously.
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Briefing: Theranos founder indicted on fraud charges • The Information

Nick Wingfield:


Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and the blood-testing firm’s former president, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, were indicted by federal grand jury alleging that the two engaged in schemes to defraud investors, doctors and patients. Ms. Holmes stepped down as Theranos’ CEO and was replaced by general counsel David Taylor, though she remains the chair of the company’s board.

With the company already facing a dire cash situation, the indictments add to the suffocating pressure on Theranos. The indictments come three months after Ms. Holmes settled SEC fraud charges.


InJohn Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood, about Theranos, Balwani comes across as an utter self-obsessed dolt.
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I worked at Theranos, and this is a glimpse of my story. : tech • Reddit

A person who says they were at Theranos in 2013 makes a number of points, but key among them was is this:


They treated the company like a software company. They launched way too early. Sept 2013 they launched their Edison device which was nowhere near ready. Why did they launch too early? In meetings #2 [on the hierarchy, ie Balwani] would create timelines and deadlines like they do in software development. He would ask for very hard and fixed deadlines for things in R&D. Anyone who has done science knows that timelines constantly change, are usually always extended due to the development process. #2 thought he could ignore the setbacks. He would openly tell engineers in meetings, “Engineers are the most valued in this company.” It showed because they spoiled the engineers by giving them a lot of perks other people did not observe. At the end of the day they never realized that the science was just as important as the engineering.


Again and again it’s clear that the company’s aims ran miles ahead of the science – but because Holmes didn’t really understand the science at a deep level, she couldn’t see this fundamental flaw.
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The lifespan of a lie • Medium

Ben Blum:


Whether you learned about Philip Zimbardo’s famous “Stanford Prison Experiment” in an introductory psych class or just absorbed it from the cultural ether, you’ve probably heard the basic story.

Zimbardo, a young Stanford psychology professor, built a mock jail in the basement of Jordan Hall and stocked it with nine “prisoners,” and nine “guards,” all male, college-age respondents to a newspaper ad who were assigned their roles at random and paid a generous daily wage to participate. The senior prison “staff” consisted of Zimbardo himself and a handful of his students.

The study was supposed to last for two weeks, but after Zimbardo’s girlfriend stopped by six days in and witnessed the conditions in the “Stanford County Jail,” she convinced him to shut it down. Since then, the tale of guards run amok and terrified prisoners breaking down one by one has become world-famous, a cultural touchstone that’s been the subject of books, documentaries, and feature films — even an episode of Veronica Mars.

The SPE is often used to teach the lesson that our behavior is profoundly affected by the social roles and situations in which we find ourselves. But its deeper, more disturbing implication is that we all have a wellspring of potential sadism lurking within us, waiting to be tapped by circumstance. It has been invoked to explain the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War, the Armenian genocide, and the horrors of the Holocaust. And the ultimate symbol of the agony that man helplessly inflicts on his brother is Korpi’s famous breakdown, set off after only 36 hours by the cruelty of his peers.

There’s just one problem: Korpi’s breakdown was a sham.

“Anybody who is a clinician would know that I was faking,” he told me last summer, in the first extensive interview he has granted in years. “If you listen to the tape, it’s not subtle. I’m not that good at acting. I mean, I think I do a fairly good job, but I’m more hysterical than psychotic.”

Now a forensic psychologist himself, Korpi told me his dramatic performance in the SPE was indeed inspired by fear, but not of abusive guards. Instead, he was worried about failing to get into grad school.


Failure to peer-review or duplicate is a big problem for sociology.
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Editorial board: break up Google • The Boston Globe


the problem at hand is not merely economic. “A handful of people working at a handful of tech companies steer the thoughts of billions of people every day,” notes former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris. A recent study of 10,000 people from 39 countries suggests Google “has likely been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25% of the national elections in the world for several years now, with increasing impact each year as Internet penetration has grown.”

Why is a breakup of Google so unthinkable? Google’s products are undeniably convenient. And, at least on the surface, they’re free; average users are paying not with money, but with their personal data. The company has a near-spotless public image. The famous maxim from the company’s early years — “don’t be evil” — helped cement Google’s public image as one of the good guys.

It is ironic that the company perhaps most responsible for unleashing a tidal wave of human creativity, learning, and, yes, competition is also stifling it. It is frustrating competition, discouraging innovation, punishing American business, and distorting the free marketplace of commerce and ideas. Europe has led the wider fight over the right to privacy and the regulation of data, but the time is right for the United States to lead on dismantling tech monopolies — starting with the most powerful player. So, how to start?


Its suggestion: break it into search, YouTube, Android, cloud services and “the rest”. This begins to feel like the noise around Microsoft before the DoJ case.
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Why we don’t read, revisited • The New Yorker

Caleb Crain:


It’s possible that a compositional effect explains the decline of reading in America. Maybe, for example, as more women have entered the workforce, their full-time employment has left them with less leisure to read. It’s easy to check such a hypothesis by parsing the data from the American Time Use Survey according to gender. Women read more than men, it turns out, but time spent reading has declined steadily for both genders. If you break down the data according to employment status, meanwhile, you see that the unemployed do read more, but they, part-timers, and full-timers all read steadily less as the decade went forward. The same applies when you break down the data by race and ethnicity or by age; you see differences in the amount of reading, but a decline is taking place in almost every subgroup.

A less explored cause might be the recession. America’s middle class is shrinking, and the proportion of Americans in the labor force is lower than it has been since the nineteen-seventies. Maybe people read less when they have less money? From a breakdown of reading by income quartile, it turns out that the rich read more—but they read less and less every year. Americans in the lowest income quartile did manage to read more in 2016 than they did in 2003—a rare trend—but that’s probably a dead-cat bounce; the 2003 number was so low that it was as likely to improve as not. All these factors are probably making some contribution to a compositional effect. But nothing, to my eye, looks substantial enough to explain away the over-all trend: Americans are reading less.


I wonder if the ONS or similar collects data as granular as the US does about reading time; it has to be done on an hour-by-hour basis to be even vaguely reliable.
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UK report warns DeepMind Health could gain ‘excessive monopoly power’ • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


The DeepMind Health Independent Reviewers’ 2018 report flags a series of risks and concerns, as they see it, including the potential for DeepMind Health to be able to “exert excessive monopoly power” as a result of the data access and streaming infrastructure that’s bundled with provision of the Streams app — and which, contractually, positions DeepMind as the access-controlling intermediary between the structured health data and any other third parties that might, in the future, want to offer their own digital assistance solutions to the Trust.

While the underlying FHIR (aka, fast healthcare interoperability resource) deployed by DeepMind for Streams uses an open API, the contract between the company and the Royal Free Trust funnels connections via DeepMind’s own servers, and prohibits connections to other FHIR servers. A commercial structure that seemingly works against the openness and interoperability DeepMind’s co-founder Mustafa Suleyman has claimed to support.

“There are many examples in the IT arena where companies lock their customers into systems that are difficult to change or replace. Such arrangements are not in the interests of the public. And we do not want to see DeepMind Health putting itself in a position where clients, such as hospitals, find themselves forced to stay with DeepMind Health even if it is no longer financially or clinically sensible to do so; we want DeepMind Health to compete on quality and price, not by entrenching legacy position,” the reviewers write.


Once you begin to rely on an AI black box, you’re at risk of being tied even more closely to a provider. It’s rather like the lock that IBM used to have in a long-gone past of mainframe computing.
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How Peppa Pig became a video nightmare for children • The Guardian

James Bridle returns to the scene of the crime – those weird algorithmically-generated YouTube videos, which he was the first to write about in utter puzzled concern last year:


In the months since first writing about YouTube’s weird video problem, I’ve met a few people from the company, as well as from other platforms that have been caught up in similar vortices.

While most are well-meaning, few seem to have much of a grasp of the wider structural issues in society which their systems both profit from and exacerbate. Like most people who work at big tech companies, they think that these problems can be solved by the application of more technology: by better algorithms, more moderation, heavier engineering.

Many outside the tech bubble – particularly in the west and in higher income brackets – are simply appalled that anyone would let their kids use YouTube in the first place. But we won’t fix these issues by blaming the companies, or urging them do better, just as we won’t solve the obesity crisis by demonising fast food but by lifting people out of poverty. If YouTube is bridging a gap in childcare, the answer is more funding for childcare and education in general, not fixing YouTube.

What’s happening to kids on YouTube, to defendants in algorithmically enhanced court trials, and to poor debtors in Australia, is coming for all of us. All of our jobs, life support systems, and social contracts are vulnerable to automation – which doesn’t have to mean actually being replaced by robots, but merely being at their mercy.

YouTube provides another salutary lesson here: only last week it was reported that YouTube’s most successful young stars – the “YouTubers” followed and admired by millions of their peers – are burning out and breaking down en masse.


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Mueller’s team accused Manafort of ‘foldering,’ a technique used by drug cartels and terrorist groups to secretly communicate • Business Insider

Pat Ralph:


A prosecutor on Mueller’s team brought up the allegation during Manafort’s hearing on Friday, according to Politico. The practice of foldering is when two or more people communicate through email drafts, using an email account that all participants have the password to, rather than corresponding through sending email messages.

The technique was originally used by the terrorist group Al Qaeda and was also by David Petraeus when he tried to hide his extramarital affair during his tenure as CIA director, as journalist Yashar Ali noted.

Foldering is a communication technique that has also been used by drug cartels, according to Renato Marrioti. Marrioti said Manafort knew he was doing something wrong and did not want to be caught exchanging messages with witnesses.

Manafort was sent to jail on Friday to await trial after a federal judge revoked his bail. Prosecutors accused him of attempting to tamper with witnesses in Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign’s possible role in it.


Sneaky. Doubt that Manafort will be able to do that now he’s in jail.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up: Theranos founder charged, USB-C headphones?, Instagrammers v hotels, Manafort’s terrorist technique, and more

  1. Re. USB-C the thing is indeed a mess: the connector has no meaning and offers no clue as to what you can connect to it.
    It all starts with OEM spin: USB 3.1 which was released at the same time as USB-C can be either 3.1 gen 1 which is 3.0 under a fancier name (Apple wanted that for the Macs they released concurrently), or 3.1 gen 2 which is “true” 3.1 at double the speed of 3.0.
    Then most of the fancy features of USB are optional: Power Delivery, HDMI/DP, SATA mode (I here there’s even a marginal SCSI mode), Analog audio (Digital audio is always there… if your OS+app support it), MHL (it’s ALIVE !),…
    And finally that USB-C port might be not a UB port but a Thunderbolt 3 port which has some compatibility with some USB modes/features. Or it might be a DisplayPort port. Or a USB 2.0 not 3.x port.
    And then, you need a “good” cable for some features to work.

    I agree USB-C is a mess, it’s not even color-coded like USB-A partially was (blue means 3.0, yellow means Power Delivery…), so you’ve got to RTFM to know what your port is capable of. That’s ridiculous. We need some kind of scheme.. initils above each port ?, P for power, H/D for HDMI or DP, A Audio, TB for TB, 2 for gen2… ? Apple’ll find that ugly though.

    I don’t buy the cost issue though. I think they mean R&D cost, because connector cost is normal. Or maybe they’re afraid of consumer confusion, and issue with cables if they don’t include one (and the right ones ARE pricier than Micro-USB cables). If you go for full-feature USB-C+3.1, you’ve got higher component costs too to support all the added features. Less than $10, for if you work with a multiple of x3-x5… Phone OEMs have been resisting the move too, maybe to avoid consumer confusion and disruption. I’ve seen some actually backtrack.

  2. Re: aero engines, they are incredible feats of engineering about which most of us don’t give a moment’s thought as we fly several miles up in the air. For example, ‘the [nickel alloy] blades operate in an environment several hundreds of degrees hotter than the melting point of the nickel alloy, but because of the cooling mechanisms, the metal is never above its melting point, even though the environment is.’ Like a frog surviving in a boiling saucepan.

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