Start Up No.880: MacBook Pro keys redux, why Flint’s water’s bad, Instapaper goes indie, overheated dogs, and more


Romance on Kindle is a huge business – and pretty brutal. Photo by Classic Film on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Can colloids collude? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How a cabal of romance writers cashed in on Amazon Kindle Unlimited • The Verge

Sarah Jeong:

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The fight over #Cockygate, as it was branded online, emerged from the strange universe of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, where authors collaborate and compete to game Amazon’s algorithm. Trademark trolling is just the beginning: There are private chat groups, ebook exploits, conspiracies to seed hyperspecific trends like “Navy SEALs” and “mountain men,” and even a controversial sweepstakes in which a popular self-published author offered his readers a chance to win diamonds from Tiffany’s if they reviewed his new book.

Much of what’s alleged is perfectly legal, and even technically within Amazon’s terms of service. But for authors and fans, the genre is also a community, and the idea that unethical marketing and algorithmic tricks are running rampant has embroiled their world in controversy. Some authors even believe that the financial incentives set up by Kindle Unlimited are reshaping the romance genre — possibly even making it more misogynistic.

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment.

In other words, self-published romance is no joke.

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Jiminy. Great reporting.
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It takes just six minutes for a dog to die in a hot car • The Conversation

Jan Hoole and Daniel Allen:

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RSPCA Australia stresses it takes “Just six minutes” for a dog to die in a hot car.

Despite this, people continue to leave their dogs in cars. Between 2009 and 2018, the RSPCA had 64,443 reported incidents of animal and heat exposure in England and Wales. Around 90% of calls related to dogs in vehicles. This year the RSPCA emergency hotline received 1,123 reports of animals suffering heat exposure in just one week (June 25 to July 1 2018). That’s seven calls an hour.

Perhaps this happens because many owners don’t really understand what happens to a dog’s body in overheating and heatstroke. If a dog’s internal temperature goes above 41°C (105.8°F) it is at risk of heatstroke, which only 50% of dogs survive. Some breeds are more susceptible than others – large dogs, dogs with short faces such as bulldogs and boxers, and overweight or long-coated dogs are most at risk – but every dog has the potential to suffer from heatstroke. It doesn’t have to be boiling hot for this to happen either – when it’s 22°C, (71.6°F) outside, the inside of a car can easily reach 47°C within an hour(116.6°F).

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Either don’t take the dog in the car, or take it out with you.
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Airline pilot shortage: United States at a critical point • CNN Travel

Peter Gall:

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In the 1970s, when most of today’s airline pilots like myself were growing up, piloting for an airline was considered a prestigious career.

The job offered not only high salaries and nice schedules with many days off, but also a respected position in society. In the early 1990s, pilot salaries approached $300,000 in today’s dollars for some international pilots.

What’s more, during this time, the military had a steady and consistent demand for pilots. A young aspiring aviator could go into the military to receive all of his or her flight training. Once these pilots had fulfilled their military commitment, they were almost guaranteed a good job flying for a major airline.
Today, this is no longer the case. The career of the airline pilot has lost its luster.

This is due in part to deregulation. The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act kicked off the era of the low-cost carrier. As a result, airlines such as Pan-Am went out of business. Then, the 9/11 attacks left the airlines in poor financial condition.

Five of the six major legacy airlines in the United States declared bankruptcy: US Airways, Delta, Northwest, United and American Airlines. I clearly recall a day a couple weeks after 9/11, when one of my flights, from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida, boarded just one passenger.

From my own experience, I can attest to many pilots like myself who were forced to vacate their captain position and go back to first officer, resulting in their pay dropping from roughly $190,000 per year to $75,000 per year.

Meanwhile, the number of pilots supplied by the military has dwindled. Much of this is due to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. In the 1980s, roughly two thirds of airline pilots were ex-military. Recently, that percentage has dropped to less than one-third. The Navy predicts a 10% pilot shortage in 2020, while the Air Force predicts its own 1,000-pilot shortage by 2022.

This means many young aspiring aviators now have to pay for their own flight training.

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End of an era? Or start of a worrying trend? Won’t supply and demand sort this out, or is the inherent delay between the two so large it will undermine it?
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Instapaper is going independent • Instapaper

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Today, we’re announcing that Pinterest has entered into an agreement to transfer ownership of Instapaper to Instant Paper, Inc., a new company owned and operated by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper since it was sold to betaworks by Marco Arment in 2013. The ownership transfer will occur after a 21 day waiting period designed to give our users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.

We want to emphasize that not much is changing for the Instapaper product outside the new ownership. The product will continue to be built and maintained by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper for the past five years. We plan to continue offering a robust service that focuses on readers and the reading experience for the foreseeable future.

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I know the question you’ve got. No, it’s not yet available in Europe (GDPR). The comments on this post are stuffed with people demanding to know when it will be; Instapaper’s CEO doesn’t answer.
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This company outsources customer service back to the customer • Bloomberg

Olga Kharif:

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Two years ago, when news broke that a 2012 hack of LinkedIn had compromised 117 million users’ passwords, instead of the 6.5 million previously reported, the site got a few extra questions. Almost overnight, customer service cases rose 1,300 percent. It would have taken 15 weeks, LinkedIn Inc. says, for staffers to address them all. Instead, the company resolved the caseload in about one-third the time by using Directly, software that connects distressed customers with other, more knowledgeable customers.

Using these amateur experts, LinkedIn paid about $2 a pop for answers to easy customer questions about what had happened or protective measures to take, says Andy Yasutake, who oversees LinkedIn’s customer service IT and operations. “It was worth it,” he says. When internal staffers do the same thing, it typically costs $6 to $7. (The staffers, though, get higher ratings from customers.) LinkedIn has since made Directly Software Inc.’s system a permanent feature for many paying customers. “We saw this as an alternative to outsourcing,” Yasutake says.

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Neat idea.
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Scientists now know exactly how lead got into Flint’s water • Smithsonian Magazine

Ben Panko:

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Haizhou Liu, an environmental engineer at the University of California at Riverside who studies corrosion and water quality, praised the study’s “careful sampling,” and said it shows how crucial phosphates are to controlling corrosion in water systems. More importantly, he says, it portends the future America faces with outdated water systems in the 21st century. “In my opinion, the Flint story reveals the challenges to maintain our aging water infrastructure nationwide,” says Liu, who was not involved in this study.

While not a new revelation to experts, Edwards says this study exemplifies how lead from main service pipes can build up in the galvanized iron pipes used inside and outside of many American houses built before 1987, and leach from those pipes into the water even after the lead pipes are gone. Using samples taken by Walters in January 2015 and sections of the iron pipe that connected Walters’ house to the lead service pipe, Edwards was able to pinpoint the contamination patterns.

Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter with the Michigan branch of the ACLU who helped expose the lead crisis in Flint, profiled Walters in 2014 for a documentary on the city’s growing water problems. “There’s just a very severe lack of trust,” says Guyette about Flint residents’ current relationship with both their water supply and their government officials.

This suspicion isn’t limited to Flint. Guyette says that on his travels across the country, he’s encountered many Americans who now know and worry about lead in their own drinking water. “What this study does is only add to the evidence of how widespread the concern should be,” he says. Edwards is now working to study the efficacy of Flint’s citywide efforts to replace lead pipes, and says this study is just the first step in getting the full picture.

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The article is a little confusing – it talks about lead in the houses coming from the rust in the non-lead galvanised iron pipes; only later do you realise that the rust trapped lead leaching from the (lead) service pipes, but then the rust leached out (due to phosphates).

But also: the externalities of underinvestment in infrastructure (in favour of low taxes) eventually come back to bite you.
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An Apple accessories maker scrambles to keep up • The Information

Wayne Ma:

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When his first $59 [MacBook Pro] docking station went on sale in 2010, Mr. Vroom received more than 20,000 pre-orders, selling out of its initial run of 2,000 stations in about three days. The demand overloaded both his payment processor and the company website.

Initially, Mr. Vroom wanted to manufacture his products in the U.S. because it would reduce shipping times and allow him to monitor the production line to fix problems. But he eventually decided to make them in China, where he found electronic toy manufacturers and other factories far more eager than their U.S. counterparts to take a chance on a small business like his. He said he still can’t find U.S. factories that can offer the same level of manufacturing quality and coordination with suppliers as in China.

“For us, manufacturing in China is not about cost, it’s about capabilities and a willingness to work with smaller companies,” Mr. Voom said.

In China, Mr. Vroom ran into the intellectual property issues that have bedeviled so many Western companies that manufacture products there. One of his factories adapted a Henge design into a new, generic product of its own. When Mr. Vroom raised the issue, factory managers initially didn’t understand why he was upset, explaining that Henge’s product was a different shape. Mr. Vroom went as far as to offer them alternative industrial designs.

“It took some convincing, but we finally got a commitment from their management that they would stay away from our designs, and we would continue [the partnership],” he said.

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This is the point about China: it’s both the best and worst place to manufacture. Best for facilities and price; worst for IP theft.
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How to be a better beggar for your health care • Medium

Darryl Ohrt:

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this is exactly how plenty of cancer patients are funding their care.

It’s true. The health care situation in our country is so bad that people just like me have resorted to begging on the streets to fund their care. Only the streets are now on the internet.

A recent article in Cure, “A Virtual Safety Net” details how to craft a better crowdsourcing campaign to fund your cancer health care, making this all too obvious that our health care industry accepts this as the new norm.

Changing the word “beg” to “ask” and putting a pretty “donate” button on it shouldn’t make this an acceptable event in our society. And we can’t blame the patients. I’ve received care at cancer centers all over our country, and met people just like your uncle, your mom, and your brother who can no longer afford the care they need. They’ve exhausted their savings. Cashed out their retirement. Reverse mortgaged their home. All in an effort to stay alive. Put in this situation, who wouldn’t crowdsource for help?

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A popular joke on Twitter: “It’s 2060. The US has universal healthcare, called GoFundMe.”
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PlaneBae saga: woman breaks her silence, asks for anonymity • Business Insider

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“I did not ask for and do not seek attention,” the woman, dubbed #PrettyPlaneGirl by social media, said in a statement provided to Business Insider by her lawyer, Wesley Mullen of New York City-based law firm Mullen PC, on Thursday. “#PlaneBae is not a romance — it is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent.”

Business Insider has verified that she is the woman from the Twitter posts. We have not published her name out of respect for her desire for privacy. You can read her full statement at the end of this story.

In contrast, the woman’s #PlaneBae counterpart, a former pro soccer player named Euan Holden, embraced his newfound celebrity and even appeared on the “Today” show. After Blair’s Twitter posts went viral, the woman quickly went to ground, deleting her social-media accounts in an attempt to preserve her privacy.

Still, it didn’t stop some internet users from finding and circulating her personal information, she said.

“Strangers publicly discussed my private life based on patently false information,” she said. “I have been doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed. Voyeurs have come looking for me online and in the real world.” “Doxxing” is internet slang for when a person’s private information is publicly released against his or her will.

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I’m still amazed by the woman who tweeted the whole “saga” – more like a story in her mind. It’s like an episode from Dave Eggers’s The Circle.
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Apple says third-generation keyboards exclusive to 2018 MacBook Pro • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

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some customers have been hoping that Apple will start swapping out second-generation keyboards with third-generation keyboards, as part of its service program, but MacRumors has learned that isn’t the plan.

When asked if Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers will be permitted to replace second-generation keyboards on 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models with the new third-generation keyboards, if necessary, Apple said, no, the third-generation keyboards are exclusive to the 2018 MacBook Pro.

Hopefully, in that case, it means that Apple has quietly tweaked the second-generation keyboard to be more reliable. It wouldn’t really make sense for Apple to replace keyboards with ones that are just as prone to break again, especially if the third-generation keyboards offer a fix.

One possibility is that the third-generation keyboards aren’t backwards compatible with 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models to begin with. The keyboard is actually one part of a larger component called the “top case,” which has a glued-in battery, and this part may have changed slightly in 2018 models.

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I’d go for the “compatibility” explanation. And note how neatly this fits my explanation yesterday: when Apple said the quieter keyboards “aren’t a fix for that”, they literally meant not a fix for those machines which have the issue, rather than the broader “dust gets in my mechanism” problem.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.879: porn filters don’t work, America: failed state?, whoa there Mr Musk, why Surface Go?, and more


Apple’s new keyboard covers up its vulnerable mechanism. Photo by tua ulamac on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Like that! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Researchers find that filters don’t prevent porn • TechCrunch

John Biggs:

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In a paper entitled Internet Filtering and Adolescent Exposure to Online Sexual Material, Oxford Internet Institute researchers Victoria Nash and Andrew Przybylski found that Internet filters rarely work to keep adolescents away from online porn.

“It’s important to consider the efficacy of Internet filtering,” said Dr, Nash. “Internet filtering tools are expensive to develop and maintain, and can easily ‘underblock’ due to the constant development of new ways of sharing content. Additionally, there are concerns about human rights violations – filtering can lead to ‘overblocking’, where young people are not able to access legitimate health and relationship information.”

This research follows the controversial news that the UK government was exploring a country-wide porn filter, a product that will most likely fail. The UK would join countries around the world who filter the public Internet for religious or political reasons.

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In a response on Dave Farber’s Interesting-People list, L Jean Camp points out that

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Culturally we have problems distinguishing “Sexual” from “women’s bodies”, which is, of course, related to why I have to walk past screaming haters to get cancer screening at Planned Parenthood.

Please read the Comstock Laws in the US, or the Saudi constraints on information about women’s bodies.

Computers cannot define the difference between consensual activities, health information, and assault because culturally people cannot either. If porn consisted of healthy consensual activities no one would care.

A computer cannot implement inconsistent irrational arbitrary filters, surprise.

Imagine that, boys, going back to get your second cancer screening and passing spittle-flecked women howling about the inherent sexual and sacred nature of your colon. That would be insane, and it is reality for many women.

Our culture is crazy, deadly, hateful about women and sex. Computers cannot do that particular kind of crazy.

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Why didn’t America become part of the modern world? • Eudaimonia

Umair Haque argues that while Europe realised, after the Second World War, that poverty is a bad thing and so set about social equity schemes, the US didn’t – “America was building drinking fountains for ‘colored people'” – and insisted that poverty is a teacher:

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So what was the inevitable result of a nation which didn’t learn history’s greatest lesson, which thought poverty was good for people? Unsurprisingly, it was….poverty. The old kind: 40 million Americans live in poverty, while 50 million Mexicans do. Surprised. And a new kind, too. The middle class imploded, and Americans began living lives right perched right at the edge of destruction. Less then $500 in emergency savings, having to choose between healthcare and educating their kids, a without retirement, stability, security, or safety of any kind. America never joined the modern world in understanding that poverty leads societies to ruin — and so it quickly became the rich world’s first poor country.

What happened next? Well, exactly what history suggested would. That imploding middle class, living lives of immense precarity, sought safety in the arms of religion, superstition, and myths, at first. And then in the arms of extremism. And finally, in the arms of a demagogue, leading a nationalist, proto-fascist movement. It was exactly what happened in the 1930s — and it still is.
So. What has anyone learned? Funnily, sadly, as far as I can see, not much. America never joined the modern world — that is why its people live such uniquely wretched lives, paying thousands for ambulance rides, which even people in Lahore or Lagos don’t. But the consequences weren’t just poverty. They were what poverty produces — nationalism, authoritarianism, fascism, social collapse and implosion, as people, enraged, lost trust in society to be able to protect and shelter them. But no one has learned that lesson. Not America’s intellectuals, certainly. Not its politicians, leaders, thinkers. Not its people, either, unfortunately.

So here America is. Modernity’s first failed state. The rich nation which never cared to join the modern world, too busy believing that poverty would lead to virtue, not ruin. Now life is a perpetual, crushing, bruising battle, in which the stakes are life or death — and so people take out their bitter despair and rage by putting infants on trial.

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I used an Android Go phone for a month, and it was terrible • Android Police

Ryne Hager tried the low-end Android option, at $100:

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Who are these phones for?

This question consumed me in the lead-up to my time with the Alcatel 1X, and long before the review process started, I knew there wouldn’t be time to fully answer it. So, against my own better judgment and the repeated pleas of my coworkers here at Android Police, I decided before I started that I would exclusively use the Alcatel 1X as my only personal phone for an entire month. Of course, covering software updates and apps might require that I occasionally grab a work phone to pull screens or fact check, but when I was off duty, on vacation, or out on the town, it would be the Alcatel 1X in my pocket—with no backup.

Android Go and a mere 1 GB of RAM would be responsible for my entire mobile-centric life for a whole month. I expected the worst from the experience, and I wasn’t entirely disappointed.

I didn’t suffer any major catastrophes in the period I spent using it exclusively, but it was my only phone on two personal trips, and its shortcomings repeatedly drove me to apoplexy. It was explicitly incompatible with Android Auto, which meant more extensive planning and care had to go into my beer run to Burlington (a ~4-hour drive from Boston). The full version of Maps required for step-by-step directions eats quite a lot of the little free RAM left on a 1 GB device, and I was also concerned Spotify might be pushed out of memory mid-drive—as it once did while I had the app open on the subway. Thankfully, both were able to stay running the entire time.

It was a functional phone, but it wasn’t good, and in a lot of ways it felt like stepping back in time to 2008-2010: That era when smartphones were only just starting to proliferate.

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Spotify? The full version of Google Maps? Isn’t this expecting a lot? I’d expect if you go from a flagship (of any of the past two years) to a $100 phone you’d find it hard. That doesn’t make it worthless.
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Digital ads are starting to feel psychic • The Outline

Oscar Schwartz:

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Earlier this year, my friend Max gave me a knife from Japan as a gift. That evening, as I was lying in bed looking at Instagram, I scrolled passed an ad of what looked like exactly the same knife. I did a double take, got out of bed, retrieved the knife from the kitchen and compared it to the one my screen—it was a perfect match, a Masomoto KS. I hadn’t Googled the knife, taken a picture of it, or event sent a text about it. The only interaction I had about the knife was face to face with Max when he gave it to me. This felt like more than a coincidence — it felt like I was being listened to.

Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne, two Brooklyn-based artists whose work explores the intersections of technology and society, have been hearing a lot of stories like mine. In June, they launched a website called New Organs, which collects first-hand accounts of these seemingly paranoiac moments. The website is comprised of a submission form that asks you to choose from a selection of experiences, like “my phone is eavesdropping on me” to “I see ads for things I dream about.” You’re then invited to write a few sentences outlining your experience and why you think it happened to you.

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Spooky, but even (sceptical) I can offer an explanation. Max is a friend of Oscar. They almost surely are connected with other on Facebook, or Instagram, or both. Max found the knife by searching, and chose to buy it. Instagram’s system knows only that Max bought the knife, not that it was a gift. If Max likes the knife, perhaps Oscar likes the knife? Cue: advert. (Schwartz reaches this conclusion later on.)

Even though it’s explicable, though, it’s still creepy.
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73-year-old Frank Sinatra was originally offered the leading role in Die Hard • Today I Found Out

Emily Upton:

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how did Frank come to be considered for the role? It all started with an author named Roderick Thorp. You might not know it, but the Die Hard movie was based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever by Thorp, which was published in 1979. The LA Times reviewed the book, saying it was “A ferocious, bloody, raging book so single-mindedly brilliant in concept and execution that it should be read at a single sitting.” This book is really what made Thorp a big name, but he was on the publishing scene much earlier.

It turns out that Nothing Lasts Forever is actually a sequel to a book called The Detective, published in 1966 which was made into a movie of the same name in 1968. The movie starred—you guessed it—Frank Sinatra as the main character, Detective Joe Leland. The book was extremely popular, remaining on bestseller lists for a while and making a name for Thorp; the movie also did well in the box office. It was described as “gritty” for its time, dealing with issues like homosexuality, but it was decidedly less action-packed than the Die Hard movies we know today.

Die Hard itself wasn’t picked up by producers until 1988, nearly 10 years after the book it was based on was published. Because the movie was technically a sequel, they were contractually obligated to offer Frank Sinatra the leading role. He was 73 years old at the time and gracefully turned the offer down.

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PHEW. (Following on from last week. Thanks Richard Gaywood for the link. Bonus Die Hard fun: the video in this tweet.)
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What Elon Musk should learn from the Thailand cave rescue • The New York Times

Zeynep Tufekci:

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Mr. Musk’s desire to help was commendable. But when the head of the rescue operation, Narongsak Osottanakorn, declared that Mr. Musk’s contraption was impractical for the task at hand — a task that had been completed, at that point, by some of the world’s top cave divers — Mr. Musk responded with irritation. He insisted on Twitter that leaders of the operation had in fact welcomed his assistance and that Mr. Narongsak was not the “subject matter expert.” He also expressed frustration that he was being criticized while trying to help.

Instead of venting, Mr. Musk — indeed, Silicon Valley as a whole — can perhaps see the Thai operation as a lesson. This was a most improbable rescue against the longest odds. Safely navigating 12 kids and one adult, many of whom were not swimmers, through a dangerous cave relied on a model of innovation that Silicon Valley can and should learn from.

The Silicon Valley model for doing things is a mix of can-do optimism, a faith that expertise in one domain can be transferred seamlessly to another and a preference for rapid, flashy, high-profile action. But what got the kids and their coach out of the cave was a different model: a slower, more methodical, more narrowly specialized approach to problems, one that has turned many risky enterprises into safe endeavors — commercial airline travel, for example, or rock climbing, both of which have extensive protocols and safety procedures that have taken years to develop.

This “safety culture” model is neither stilted nor uncreative. On the contrary, deep expertise, lengthy training and the ability to learn from experience (and to incorporate the lessons of those experiences into future practices) is a valuable form of ingenuity.

This approach is what allowed the airline captain Chesley Sullenberger to safely land a commercial airplane on the Hudson River in 2009 after its engines were disabled. Captain Sullenberger’s skill and composure were, of course, a credit to him personally. But they also rested on decades of training and learning in an industry that had been government-regulated and self-regulated to such a degree that hurling through the atmosphere in giant metal cans at 35,000 feet is now one of the safest ways to travel.

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Musk has since vented even more. When I remarked on Twitter that Musk’s submarine seemed to me “the perfect Silicon Valley metaphor/example” (the wrong solution for the problem), I got lots of people insisting it was just right IF it had kept raining. Which was also wrong.
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Elon Musk pledges to fix Flint water in homes with contamination • ABC News

Roey Hadar:

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Musk previously offered to provide solar electricity options to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and volunteered to send his own equipment and staff to assist in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand.

But the efforts to persuade Musk to help Flint stem from a source that’s more directly connected to the Flint community.

Mari Copeny, a 10-year-old local activist known as “Little Miss Flint,” tweeted she has been working with Musk’s team for over a week on coming up with a solution for Flint that he could fund.

Musk worked with Copeny earlier this month, donating at least 500 bikes meant for children in the Flint area as a way of helping a community event she had organized.

Musk’s tweets come as Flint residents still grapple with the continued after-effects of the crisis. Local residents have sued local government authorities, contractors and companies tasked with maintaining the city’s water supply seeking damages. The residents’ class-action lawsuit had a hearing in federal court earlier this week.

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This is good – no two ways about it – but the key problem is with the infrastructure, with lead deposits from supply pipes embedded in rust in household pipes and then gradually deposited into peoples’ water (due to a change in the supply, and thus its chemistry). You’d need to replace all the pipes. Simply: you cannot avoid public spending forever.
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Surface Go is Microsoft’s big bet on a tiny-computer future • WIRED

Lauren Goode:

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A lot about the new Surface has been “tuned”—not just the guts of the Go, but its software, too. “We tuned Office, we then tuned the Intel part, we tuned Windows, we made sure that, in portrait, it came to life,” Panay says. “We brought the Cortana [team] in to better design the Cortana box—we went after the details on what we think our customers need at 10 inches.”

There’s usually a tradeoff when you’re buying a computer this small. You get portability at the expense of space for apps and browser windows. The Surface Go has a built-in scaler that optimizes apps for a 10-inch screen, and Microsoft says that it’s working with third-parties to make sure certain apps run great. There’s only so much control, though, you have over software that’s not your own. I was reminded of this when I had a few minutes to use the Surface Go, went to download the Amazon Kindle app in the Windows Store, and couldn’t find it there…

…So who is this tiny Surface Go actually made for? It depends on who you ask at Microsoft, but the short answer seems to be: anybody and everybody.

[Natalia] Urbanowicz, the product marketing manager, says Go is about “reaching more audiences, and embracing the word ‘and’: I can be a mother, and an entrepreneurial badass; I can be a student, and a social justice warrior.” Kyriacou, when describing the Go’s cameras, says to “think about the front line worker in the field—a construction worker, architect, they can capture what they need to or even scan a document.” You can also dock the Go, Kyriacou points out, using the Surface Connect port, which makes it ideal for business travelers. Groene talks about reading, about drawing, about running software applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Almost everyone talks about watching Hulu and Netflix on it.

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I don’t think they know who it’s for. Note too how Microsoft is struggling, like any OEM, to get third-party apps onto its store.
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Russia Indictment 2.0: what to make of Mueller’s hacking indictment • Lawfare

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The timing of the indictment given the upcoming Helsinki summit is a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement. Let’s presume that Mueller did not time this indictment to precede the summit by way of embarrassing Trump on the international stage. It is enough to note that he also did not hold off on the indictment for a few days by way of sparing Trump embarrassment—and that Rosenstein did not force him to. Indeed, Rosenstein said at his press conference that it is “important for the president to know what information was uncovered because he has to make very important decisions for the country” and therefore “he needs to know what evidence there is of foreign election interference.” But of course Rosenstein and Mueller did not just let Trump know. They also let the world know, which has the effect—intended or not—of boxing in the president as he meets with an adversary national leader.

Put less delicately: Rosenstein has informed the president, and the world, before Trump talks to Putin one-on-one that his own Justice Department is prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, in public, using admissible evidence, that the president of the Russian Federation has been lying to Trump about Russian non-involvement in the 2016 election hacking.

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The byline has eight names, which is nearly as many as were indicted – 12 GRU hackers who used the alias “Guccifer 2.0” to contact Trump-linked people such as Roger Stone. (Stone admits he is “probably” the person who responded to the hackers. Make that “definitely”.)
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Plastic straws aren’t the problem • Bloomberg

Adam Minter:

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The anti-straw movement took off in 2015, after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral. Campaigns soon followed, with activists often citing studies of the growing ocean plastics problem. Intense media interest in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating, France-sized gyre of oceanic plastic – only heightened the concern.

But this well-intentioned campaign assumes that single-use plastics, such as straws and coffee stirrers, have much to do with ocean pollution. And that assumption is based on some highly dubious data. Activists and news media often claim that Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day, for example, which sounds awful. But the source of this figure turns out to be a survey conducted by a nine-year-old. Similarly, two Australian scientists estimate that there are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws scattered on global coastlines. Yet even if all those straws were suddenly washed into the sea, they’d account for about .03% of the 8 million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.

In other words, skipping a plastic straw in your next Bahama Mama may feel conscientious, but it won’t make a dent in the garbage patch. So what will?

A recent survey by scientists affiliated with Ocean Cleanup, a group developing technologies to reduce ocean plastic, offers one answer. Using surface samples and aerial surveys, the group determined that at least 46% of the plastic in the garbage patch by weight comes from a single product: fishing nets. Other fishing gear makes up a good chunk of the rest.

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OK, but .03% of 8m is 2,400 tonnes, which is a lot of plastic. As the article also makes clear, there are market mechanisms to identify abandoned nets, but they’re poorly implemented. That can be fixed too. Everyone wins, including the sea creatures.
link to this extract


The great Apple keyboard cover-up • iFixit

Sam Lionheart:

»

Here’s an inflammatory take for you: Apple’s new quieter keyboard is actually a silent scheme to fix their keyboard reliability issues. We’re in the middle of tearing down the newest MacBook Pro, but we’re too excited to hold this particular bit of news back: Apple has cocooned their butterfly switches in a thin, silicone barrier.


The 2018 MacBook Pro features a thin rubberized layer under its keycaps, covering the second-generation butterfly mechanism.

This flexible enclosure is quite obviously an ingress-proofing measure to cover up the mechanism from the daily onslaught of microscopic dust. Not—to our eyes—a silencing measure. In fact, Apple has a patent for this exact tech designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

Here’s the really good part: I can tell you it’s there, but I can’t definitively prove it’s a reliability fix. After all, Apple told The Verge that “this new third-generation keyboard wasn’t designed to solve those [dust] issues.”

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Two points on this:
• if it fixes the dust problem AND makes the keyboard quieter, then it’s absolutely what everyone wants. I look forward to someone doing noise-level tests. (Honestly – that’s the only way to know on the noise. And I’m sure someone will.) The dust reliability, we’ll find out.
• “wasn’t designed to solve those dust issues” can be read as “wasn’t designed to solve THOSE” (points at older models already affected) “dust issues.” In other words, this new fix won’t fix the old already-broken ones. It’s a lawyer’s get-out, but might be the slippery way around having to do a recall on all the past, affected, models.

Only question now is whether the new keyboard can be retrofitted into old models. But a lot of people – myself included – will be looking on this as a very positive sign.
link to this extract


Worldwide PC shipments grew for first time in six years during 2Q 2018 • Gartner

»

“PC shipment growth in the second quarter of 2018 was driven by demand in the business market, which was offset by declining shipments in the consumer segment,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner. “In the consumer space, the fundamental market structure, due to changes on PC user behavior, still remains, and continues to impact market growth. Consumers are using their smartphones for even more daily tasks, such as checking social media, calendaring, banking and shopping, which is reducing the need for a consumer PC.

“In the business segment, PC momentum will weaken in two years when the replacement peak for Windows 10 passes. PC vendors should look for ways to maintain growth in the business market as the Windows 10 upgrade cycle tails off.”

With the completion of Lenovo’s joint venture with Fujitsu, three out of four PCs were shipped by the top five PC vendors in the second quarter of 2018. With the inclusion of Fujitsu’s PC shipments due to the joint venture (a formation of Joint Venture with Fujitsu), Lenovo was in a virtual tie with HP Inc. for the top spot in the second quarter of 2018 based on global PC shipments. All of the top five PC vendors experienced an increase in worldwide PC shipments in the quarter.

…In the US PC market, the industry returned to growth after six consecutive quarters of shipment declines. In the second quarter of 2018, US PC shipments totaled 14.5 million units, a 1.7% increase from the same period last year. HP Inc. continued to be the market leader in the US, but Dell closed the gap, as Dell’s US PC shipments increased 7.2%.

“In the US, business PC demand was particularly strong among the public sector as the second quarter is typically PC buying season among government and education buyers,” Ms. Kitagawa said. “Desk-based PC growth was attributed to continued high usage of desk-based PCs in the US public sectors. Mobile PCs grew in the US, but strong Chromebook demand in the education market adversely affected PC growth. Overall, Chromebooks grew 8% in the US, but Chromebooks are not included in the PC market statistics.”

«

OK, it’s time to ask: if Chromebook shipments can be high enough to “affect” PC growth, why the hell aren’t they included in the stats, and perhaps broken out?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.878: why WikiTribune?, Huawei and the Africa hack, our confused streets, Hollywood’s con queen, and more


It was 30 years ago today. OK, yesterday. Photo by John Koetsier on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. “These guys are mostly European judging by their clothing labels and…[long pause] cigarettes.” I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The African Union headquarters hack and Australia’s 5G network • The Strategist

Danielle Cave:

»

In January 2018, France’s Le Monde newspaper published an investigation, based on multiple sources, which found that from January 2012 to January 2017 servers based inside the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa were transferring data between 12 midnight and 2  am—every single night—to unknown servers more than 8,000 kilometres away hosted in Shanghai. Following the discovery of what media referred to as ‘data theft’, it was also reported that microphones hidden in desks and walls were detected and removed during a sweep for bugs.

The Chinese government refuted Le Monde’s reporting. Chinese state media outlet CGTN (formerly CCTV) reported that China’s foreign ministry spokesperson called the Le Monde investigation ‘utterly groundless and ridiculous’. China’s ambassador to the AU said it was ‘ridiculous and preposterous’. The BBC also quoted the ambassador as saying that the investigation ‘is not good for the image of the newspaper itself’.

Other media outlets, including the Financial Times, confirmed the data theft in reports published after the Le Monde investigation. It’s also been reported on by think tanks and private consultancies from around the world.

One AU official told the Financial Times that there were ‘many issues with the building that are still being resolved with the Chinese. It’s not just cybersecurity’.

The Le Monde report also said that since the discovery of the data theft, ‘the AU has acquired its own servers and declined China’s offer to configure them’. Other media reports confirmed that servers and equipment were replaced and that following the incident ‘other enhanced security features have also been installed’…

…What seems to have been entirely missed in the media coverage at the time was the name of the company that served as the key ICT provider inside the AU’s headquarters.

It was Huawei.

«

On Twitter, Cave says that Huawei “must answer some tough questions in relation to this incident… Huawei never discovered what appears to be one of the longest-running thefts of confidential government data that we know about.”
link to this extract


Lawmakers target Chinese security companies over spy fears • The Hill

Katie Bo Williams and Morgan Chalfant:

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Congress is weighing a ban on federal agencies using video surveillance equipment from two large Chinese companies, the latest sign of concerns about foreign espionage among lawmakers.

It’s part of a broader trend. Across the government, the U.S. is moving away from foreign state-owned tech companies to prevent cyber spying.

But one of the companies named in the proposed ban is pushing back. Hikvision argues that the legislation — written into the House version of the annual defense authorization bill — is a knee-jerk response to an anti-Chinese “Red Scare.”

“To my knowledge, and to my understanding, I’ve got a gut feeling that if we are not a Chinese company, this wouldn’t be an issue at all,” said Jeffrey He, president of Hikvision’s independent U.S. subsidiary, in an interview with The Hill.

“It’s very difficult to prove ourselves not guilty of providing back doors to Chinese government or any source.”

Indeed, unlike firms like ZTE or the Russian-owned Kaspersky, it’s a much more open question whether Hikvision products are pinging home to China.

«

Rob Graham of Errata Security had a thread on this, concluding with the tweet: “BTW, when masscanning the Internet, Hikvision cameras are one of the more popular devices I find exposed to the Internet – because of the difficulty of getting video streams through firewalls, they are left exposed by default.”
link to this extract


City street orientations around the world • Geoff Boeing

»

By popular request, this is a quick follow-up to this post comparing the orientation of streets in 25 US cities using Python and OSMnx. Here are 25 more cities around the world:

«

Compare them to the American cities, also shown in the post. “Regular” barely begins to describe it. OSMnx is an interesting package, building on OpenStreetMap.
link to this extract


Several people are typing: the good, the bad, and the mansplaining of WikiTribune • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

»

“I realized that I built Nupedia again — too top-down, too restrained, not trusting enough,” [Jimmy] Wales told me in a Slack DM last month. (Nupedia was the predecessor of Wikipedia, but it required a seven-step, editor-driven approval process for any updates to any of its content; in its three years of operations, only 25 fully approved articles were actually published.) “I should have known better, but hey, at least this time it only took me a year to realize it — last time it took two.”

“When community members read a complete story, signed by a journalist, they don’t feel comfortable to change or improve it,” Orit Kopel, cofounder of WikiTribune and CEO of the Jimmy Wales Foundation, told me in an email. “Unless they identified a typo or a meaningful error, they were pretty much deterred from touching it. With the new design, we wanted to deliberately project an incomplete work, raw material and initial stories which invite the readers to expand, improve, and lead them…We’re just in early days of the new design, but it seems to communicate our vision better and increase participation already.”

What does it look like when the community takes control? I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in WikiTribune’s article sidebars and its public Slack, trying to get a better sense of how it runs. Doing so, I’ve seen both the promise and the pitfalls of WikiTribune’s model. On the one hand, it’s admirably transparent: If you’ve always wanted to peek inside a news organization’s Slack channel (sorry to reach peak Nieman Lab niche), here’s a chance, sort of. On the other hand, it’s as annoying as any public Slack — dominated by the same men (its 150-ish users are about 90% male), rife with nitpicking, aggravatingly earnest discussion.

Here are a few things I noticed when I poked around.

«

The question I don’t quite understand is: why WikiTribune, when Wikipedia exists and can be updated just as quickly? Why not just start a Wikipedia article and focus on that? There are a zillion news sites out there, of varying quality; why add another, whose quality can’t be as good as the best?
link to this extract


Medical AI safety: we have a problem • Luke Oakden-Rayner

»

There are also systems where the line gets a bit blurry. An FDA approved system to detect atrial fibrillation in ECG halter monitors from Cardiologs highlights possible areas of concern to doctors, but the final judgement is on them. The concern here is that if this system is mostly accurate, are doctors really going to spend time painstakingly looking through hours of ECG traces? The experience from mammography is that computer advisers might even worsen patient outcomes, as unexpected as that may be. Here is a pertinent quote from Kohli and Jha, reflecting on decades of follow-up studies for systems that appeared to perform well in multi-reader testing:

»

Not only did CAD increase the recalls without improving cancer detection, but, in some cases, even decreased sensitivity by missing some cancers, particularly non-calcified lesions. CAD could lull the novice reader into a false sense of security. Thus, CAD had both lower sensitivity and lower specificity, a non-redeeming quality for an imaging test.

«

These sort of systems can clearly have unintended and unexpected consequences, but the differences in outcomes are often small enough that they take years to become apparent. This doesn’t mean we ignore these risks, just that the risk of disaster is fairly low.

Now we come to the tipping point.

A few months ago the FDA approved a new AI system by IDx, and it makes independent medical decisions. This system can operate in a family doctor’s office, analysing the photographs of patients’ retinas, and deciding whether that patient needs a referral to an ophthalmologist.

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This is where “move fast and break things” isn’t the right approach, he points out.
link to this extract


Refusal of new passports for children raises DNA testing fears • Financial Times

Robert Wright:

»

The Home Office has refused to renew the British passports of at least two children in recent weeks without proof of paternity that lawyers say can be provided only through a DNA test.

In both cases, the mothers of the children were not UK citizens, but their children had already been issued British passports on account of their British fathers.

The cases suggest the Home Office is taking a particularly hard line where the right to reside in the UK of a mother depends on the UK citizenship of their child.

The revelations came after the Home Office ordered an urgent review last week into why its immigration officers have been demanding DNA tests even though guidelines state they should not be compulsory.

Letters from HM Passport Office, a department of the Home Office, were sent to the two women on June 11 and July 2.

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Note that this is *renewal*, not instantiation, of the passport. Seems like the “hostile environment” towards immigrants hasn’t changed after all.
link to this extract


Die Hard at 30: how it remains the quintessential American action movie • The Guardian

Scott Tobias:

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There are dozens of other examples of small, deftly planted details that will pay off later on. The first terrorist McClane kills has feet “smaller than [his] sister’s”, so he can’t take his shoes; he also happens to be the brother of Karl (Alexander Godunov), the vicious right-hand to the mastermind, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), which raises the stakes for their inevitable mano a mano. And that famous shot of Hans falling to his death from an upper floor after McClane unclasps the watch from his wife’s wrist? That Rolex is accounted for, too, in the early going, when it’s revealed to have been a reward for Holly’s excellent performance for the company. The watch is a painful symbol of their separation, because she left New York to pursue her career ambition and he didn’t follow. Unclasping the watch means more than merely saving her from peril.

There’s not a wasted moment in Die Hard, not a moment when the audience feels confused about who’s who or what’s going on or where the characters are in relation to each other. It seems like simplest, most banal part of a making a movie, but it must be the hardest, because the vast majority of actioners, even good ones, don’t succeed in doing it. Stuart and De Souza’s script is a perfectly worked-out puzzle of a thousand tiny pieces: Die Hard has at least five major villains, unfolds over multiple planes of action, and fully works out Gruber’s elaborate scheme to steal $640m in negotiable bearer bonds (he’s no mere common thief, he’s an exceptional thief) and McClane’s improvised efforts to stop it. “I always enjoyed to make models when I was a boy,” says Gruber at one point, in the meticulously jumbled English of a native German. “The exactness, the attention to every conceivable detail.” This is the screenwriters showing a little swagger.

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Yippie-ki-yay, indeed. Yes, this Christmas-set film really was released on July 12 1988.
link to this extract


Hunting the con queen of Hollywood • Hollywood Reporter

Scott Johnson, with a fascinating piece about someone who impersonates high-level Hollywood studio execs over the phone and has fooled a stack of people in the business:

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The imposter works by using a combination of deceit, charm and intimidation to manipulate her marks. The victims travel to Indonesia on a promise of work and, once there, are asked to hand over relatively modest amounts of money at a time, up to $3,000 in some cases, to help cover expenses for things like car travel, translation, tour guides and fixers. A designated Indonesian “moneyman” arrives on a moped to collect the funds. Needless to say, the promised reimbursements never arrive. Over time, these small sums add up. All told, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been collectively stolen this way. “Even if they’re bringing in $300,000 a year, that’s a huge amount of money in Indonesia,” says Kotsianas, who believes the same group is behind all of the cases.

At the center of the organization is the impersonator — a woman whose sophisti cated research, skill with accents and deft psychological and emotional manipulation have earned her the begrudging respect of her victims and trackers. K2 investigators believe the woman is the “talent” of an operation that, while relatively small, may have legs on at least three continents, including the U.S., Asia and Europe. The victims come from all over — the U.K., Europe and the U.S. primarily — and represent a wide swath of creative industries: hairstylists, stuntmen, military advisers, photographers and cinematographers.

The Hollywood Reporter has obtained two separate audio recordings of the woman’s voice, which has never been publicly disclosed. Both of the tapes date from an earlier incarnation of the scam, when the imposter was targeting makeup artists in the U.K. at the end of 2015 and early 2016. In one, she speaks in a distinct American twang, a flat, almost nasal intonation, berating her interlocutor (in this case, a victim’s agent) about a missed flight. “To be very blunt with you, when I travel internationally, I use this number,” she says, exasperated. “This number can be reached, it was registered 10 years ago. OK?”

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There’s audio as well, if you want to hear how she sounds.
link to this extract


2017 emissions • International Energy Authority

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Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes, a resumption of growth after three years of global emissions remaining flat.

The increase in CO2 emissions, however, was not universal. While most major economies saw a rise, some others experienced declines, including the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan. The biggest decline came from the United States, mainly because of higher deployment of renewables.

Global energy-related CO2 rose by 1.4% in 2017, an increase of 460 million tonnes (Mt), and reached a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt). Last year’s growth came after three years of flat emissions and contrasts with the sharp reduction needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The increase in carbon emissions, equivalent to the emissions of 170 million additional cars, was the result of robust global economic growth of 3.7%, lower fossil-fuel prices and weaker energy efficiency efforts. These three factors contributed to pushing up global energy demand by 2.1% in 2017…

…The biggest decline came from the United States, where emissions dropped by 0.5%, or 25 Mt, to 4,810 Mt of CO2, marking the third consecutive year of decline. While coal-to-gas switching played a major role in reducing emissions in previous years, last year the drop was the result of higher renewables-based electricity generation and a decline in electricity demand. The share of renewables in electricity generation reached a record level of 17%, while the share of nuclear power held steady at 20%.

In the United Kingdom, emissions dropped by 3.8%, or 15 Mt, to 350 Mt of CO2, their lowest level on record back to 1960. A continued shift away from coal towards gas and renewables led to a 19% drop in coal demand. In Mexico, emissions dropped by 4%, driven by a decline in oil and coal use, efficiency gains in the power system, strong growth in renewables-based electricity generation and a slight increase in overall gas use. In Japan, emissions fell by 0.5% as increased electricity generation from renewables and nuclear generation displaced generation from fossil-fuels, especially oil.

Overall, Asian economies accounted for two-thirds of the global increase in carbon emissions. China’s economy grew nearly 7% last year but emissions increased by just 1.7% (or 150 Mt) thanks to continued renewables deployment and faster coal-to-gas switching. China’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 reached 9.1 Gt, almost 1% higher than their 2014 level. While China’s coal demand peaked in 2013, energy-related emissions have nonetheless increased because of rising oil and gas demand.

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Still going in the wrong direction – this is extra CO2 added to the atmosphere – but the slowdown is welcome. Would love to see renewables v output. (Thanks Pete Kleinschmidt for the link.)
link to this extract


BBC news: now on https • Medium

James Donohue on the surprisingly complex task of getting the BBC News site onto SSL/TLS:

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As a public service, we have to ensure that BBC News is available to the widest possible audience, regardless of device, browser or use of assistive technology. We champion the ideal of graceful degradation of service as far as possible. But in a climate of anxiety around fake news, it’s vital that users are able to determine that articles have not been tampered with and that their browsing history is private to them. HTTPS achieves both of these as it makes it far more difficult for ISPs to track which articles and videos you’re looking at or selectively suppress individual pieces of content. We’ve seen cases outside the UK with some of our World Service sites where foreign governments have tried to do this.

Our plan for migrating the News website was relatively straightforward, built on extensive groundwork already done to move World Service sites (such as BBC Hindi) to HTTPS. Until recently, anyone accessing BBC News over HTTPS was redirected (‘downgraded’) to HTTP. This changed in March when we enabled access via both protocols and began an iterative process of chasing down a multitude of bugs, while we worked on updating links, feeds and metadata to reflect the new address. Colleagues in BBC bureaux around the world helped us detect access issues in different geographical areas early (we discovered, for example, that in India a government-mandated network block initially made the site totally inaccessible).

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The fact of a government blocking https makes one suspicious that it’s monitoring what people read.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.877: the BBC v Facebook, the phone camera question, AirBnB’s mixed benefits, towards Zero Waste, and more


Why did Bozoma Saint John leave Uber? A recent departure may be a clue. Photo by Fortune Conferences on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. It lost its ticket at the bus station, and is now going to the Continent. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How fracking companies use Facebook surveillance to ban protest • Motherboard

Nafeez Ahmed:

»

Revelations about how Facebook data has been used to target individuals for political ends continue to emerge. But after the Cambridge Analytica scandal of earlier this year, the story has taken an unexpected twist: Facebook is being used by oil and gas companies to clamp-down on protest.

Three companies are currently seeking injunctions against protesters: British chemical giant INEOS, which has the largest number of shale gas drilling licenses in the UK; and small UK outfits UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), and Europa Oil and Gas.

Among the thousands of pages of documents submitted to British courts by these companies are hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from anti-fracking protesters and campaign groups, uncovered by Motherboard in partnership with investigative journalists at DeSmog UK. They show how fracking companies are using social media surveillance carried out by a private firm to strengthen their cases in court by discrediting activists using personal information to justify banning their protests.

The material was submitted to support the companies’ case that campaigners intended to illegally disrupt their activities or trespass on their land. The companies all stress they do not seek to restrict lawful forms of protest, but argue that activists should not be allowed to unduly disrupt their lawful business activity.

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link to this extract


Magic Leap is shipping its first headset this summer • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

Magic Leap’s first “spatial computing” mixed reality headset, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, is shipping this summer. The company announced the news in a live stream today, narrowing down a previous statement that it would ship this year. It’s following up on an announcement from this morning, when AT&T revealed that it would be the exclusive US carrier partner for Magic Leap. However, Magic Leap still hasn’t confirmed an exact date or a price, although the company has previously said it would cost at least as much as a high-end smartphone.

Magic Leap has been slowly pulling back the veil on its headset. On its stream today, it revealed a few specifications on the headset, like the fact that it will use an Nvidia Tegra X2 processor. The stream also showed an an actual experience: a tech demo known as Dodge, where users have to dodge or block shots from a rock-throwing golem.

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Ah, so not quite the world-changing experience that people have been building it up as. In other news, Magic Leap has had two billion dollars of venture capital.
link to this extract


Uber executive Hornsey resigns in email to staff following discrimination probe • Reuters

Salvador Rodriguez:

»

The allegations raise questions about chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi’s efforts to change the toxic culture of the firm after he took over in August last year from former CEO Travis Kalanick following a series of scandals.

Khosrowshahi praised [“chief people officer” Liane] Hornsey in an email to employees, which was seen by Reuters, as “incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working.” He gave no reason for her departure.

Hornsey acknowledged in a separate email to her team at Uber, also seen by Reuters, that her exit “comes a little out of the blue for some of you, but I have been thinking about this for a while.”

She also gave no reason for her resignation and has not responded to requests for comment about the investigation.

The allegations against her and Uber’s human resources department more broadly were made by an anonymous group that claims to be Uber employees of color, members of the group told Reuters.

They alleged Hornsey had used discriminatory language and made derogatory comments about Uber Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Bernard Coleman, and had denigrated and threatened former Uber executive Bozoma Saint John, who left the company in June.

“This person ultimately was the reason behind (Saint John’s) departure from Uber,” the anonymous employees said in an email, referring to Hornsey.

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I’d been thinking that St John’s departure seemed remarkably soon after she had joined; she’s a woman who seemed to be on an upward path.
link to this extract


Solar just hit a record low price in the US • Earther

Brian Kahn:

»

The project in question is the Eagle Shadow Mountain Solar Farm, which will begin operating in 2021. The farm will have a generating capacity of 300 megawatts, enough to power about 210,000 American homes. But it’s the price part that’s eye-popping. It will operate at a flat rate of $23.76 per megawatt-hour over the course of a 25-year power purchasing agreement (the term for a contract between an electricity generator and utility who buys it). On the surface, that price may not mean a lot to you if you’re not an energy nerd, but it’s a huge deal.

“On their face, they’re less than a third the price of building a new coal or natural gas power plant,” Ramez Naam, an energy expert and lecturer at Singularity University, told Earther in an email. “In fact, building these plants is cheaper than just operating an existing coal or natural gas plant.”

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Even without federal subsidies, it’s cheaper than coal or gas plants. Nowadays the only problem is energy storage.
link to this extract


Why is the BBC downplaying the Facebook Brexit scandal? • The Guardian

Jonathan Freedland:

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It’s now understood that Vote Leave may have broken electoral law, by violating campaign spending limits. It’s also known that Leave.EU misled MPs about its true connections with Russia: the group’s founder Arron Banks told a parliamentary inquiry he had had “two or three” meetings with the Russian ambassador to London – having long insisted his sole contact with the official was one “boozy lunch” – and on Sunday my Observer colleague, Carole Cadwalladr, revealed that Leave.EU in fact met Russian embassy officials as many as 11 times ahead of and just after the Brexit vote.

Now the BBC has not ignored any of this; indeed, it went first with a leak of the Electoral Commission’s draft findings about Vote Leave spending. But it has not given the story the kind of full-spectrum coverage that it does so well: leading every bulletin, dominating its discussion programmes and interviews, putting it top of the national agenda. It is careful to clock it, to ensure it’s covered, but it hasn’t given it the weight that only the BBC can generate.

This is not a rare occurrence. The phone hacking revelations of 2011 followed a similar pattern: the Guardian had plugged away for years, mainly ignored, until suddenly the story exploded. Windrush was similar: months of reports by the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman, until a critical mass was reached and the BBC became fully engaged.

Why has that moment not yet come for this affair? Some will say that the story is too arcane, full of obscure stuff about algorithms and data that news editors fear will leave the average viewer and listener cold. That belief may indeed play a part, along with the lazy assumption in some newsrooms that this is a story to be filed under “tech” rather than “politics”, a niche concern rather than one central to our democratic life.

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Here’s the Guardian’s story on the £0.5m fine for Facebook – the largest that the UK Information Commissioner’s Office could enforce on a pre-GDPR offence. Were it to happen now, it could levy a £1.2bn fine.
link to this extract


Does having the best camera phone matter? • The Wirecutter

Ben Keough:

»

Whenever flashy new smartphones debut, manufacturers inevitably claim they’ve produced the best camera phone ever. Sharper! Faster! More accurate colors! Smoother bokeh! Tech sites compare the cameras endlessly, and benchmarks like DxOMark’s mobile reviews attempt to rank them in a controlled lab setting. It’s enough to give any smartphone owner an inferiority complex, but all the experts we interviewed (including one who helped design DxOMark’s test) agree that stressing over which flagship phone has the most impressive camera is a waste of time, because they’re all impressive.

Unless your phone is several years old, we don’t recommend upgrading just to get a better camera. But if you need to upgrade anyway, we think you should go with what’s familiar—switching platforms for the promise of a slightly better camera is not worth the hassle. And unless you’re actually printing your photos, most of the differences between phone cameras get ironed out in the process of sharing photos through messages or social media, which shrink and compress images to save data.

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Perhaps that’s part of why the Galaxy S9 isn’t selling well: it’s essentially just a better camera, and Samsung isn’t selling a story for those whose phones are two or three years old.
link to this extract


Kuo lists expected Apple products for autumn • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:

»

Here’s a roundup of what Kuo predicts Apple will ship this fall:

• Per previous reports, three new iPhones includes an updated 5.8″ OLED model and a new 6.5″ OLED model, plus a new 6.1″ LCD model
• Updated iPad Pro models with Face ID and no Home button with an updated 12.9″ version and a seemingly new 11″ version
• Several Mac updates including chip upgrades for the MacBook, MacBook Pro, an iMac with “significant display-performance upgrades”, and finally the Mac mini
• A new low-price notebook that Kuo now believes may not be called MacBook Air
Apple Watch updates with larger displays as previously reported, Kuo now specifies 1.57″ and 1.78″ screens with enhanced heart rate detection
• Mass production for both AirPower and updated AirPods

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This is simply incredible. An updated Mac mini??
link to this extract


What does the continued exodus of Apple Watch apps mean for smartwatches? • 777 Labs

»

many folks want full phone capabilities in their smartwatch, much like folks wanted full desktop capabilities in smartphones, back in the day. The way we use smartphones today, dominated by snacking, ubiquitous info, and real-time connections to social networks took a long time to coalesce, and is quite different from how we use desktop computers (though tablets are starting to blur these distinctions and provide an interesting continuum of digital experiences).

We’re at an early stage with smartwatches and folks need to stop thinking of how they use smartphones and try to shove the smartphone experience into their watch. Designers need to take a fresh look at how a wrist-top haptic and interactive surface can provide value to users. You can get an idea by observing the phone-watch connection between Apple-branded apps on the iPhone and on the Apple Watch (though the flow can be a bit fragmented or sometimes stupidly asymmetrical). And I’ve mentioned the Nike experience, before.

While I don’t think all apps benefit from a Watch app, I do think that some brands that have left in the exodus could benefit. The challenge is to think differently, rather than just port the phone experience to the watch.

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link to this extract


Airbnb benefits local economies. But mainly in white neighborhoods, study finds • Washington Post

Tracy Jan:

»

Airbnb frequently touts its economic impact in “diverse” neighborhoods, saying guests spend money locally and boost businesses in areas where tourism is not already prevalent.

But a new Purdue University study found that white neighborhoods – not their black or Latino counterparts – are the ones most likely to benefit from an influx of Airbnb guests.

The study found that users of the home sharing platform generally eat in the neighborhood restaurants near where they are staying. However the spillover effect does not hold true when 50% or more of a neighborhood’s residents are black or Hispanic.

“Airbnb has made repeated claims that it helps the local economy in black neighborhoods, especially in New York City,” said Mohammad Rahman, a professor at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management who specializes in the digital economy and big data. “We do not find any evidence of that economic spillover effect in restaurant employment.”

Rahman and his team focused their initial research on the impact of Airbnb on restaurant employment growth in New York City, the most visited, and the most active Airbnb city, in the United States.

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link to this extract


Global warning: Nick Harkaway on Gnomon • Waterstones

Nick Harkaway’s novel Gnomon began in 2014 as a rumination on a surveillance society, but realityt is starting to outpace its author:

»

there’s an outer ring of surveillance which has also emerged over the last few years, and which can do similar tricks: the ring of data. We leave a trail through the world, of Internet history and store cards and credit cards and Oyster cards. Your supermarket knows you’re worried about staying healthy because you buy vitamins; they know you’re trying to get pregnant because you’ve changed your purchase; that you’ve succeeded; that it’s a boy; that it’s a girl; that it’s twins. Or they know to a reasonable percentage of certainty, and their model of you changes with those assumptions so that you get offered different things. So that they can persuade you to buy things. So that they can, to some degree, control your choices.

So that you can be “ground honest” [the purpose of the panopticon] – or in this case, ground into buying a more expensive brand of formula milk. Or trainers. Or birth control. Whatever it is that you want, they know you want it – sometimes before you do.

The inner and outer layers of surveillance – the brain and the cloud – give away intimate secrets. They allow the state and the commercial sector to know things which, if someone were simply watching you with a long lens, you would consider grossly inappropriate and probably criminal.

And these things are in their infancy. They have barely begun to take hold. A decade ago we swam in a sea of chaotic data and our minds were opaque. The day after tomorrow we’ll be, effectively, in a transparent glass tank, and our minds will legible. Employers – already keen to watch workers in the workplace both physically and digitally – will begin to ask you to sit for direct assessments. Are you loyal, enthused, considering a move? Are you thinking of joining a union? Starting one? Are you a troublemaker? Are your values in line with the company’s? 

Before you say “that will never happen,” stop and understand that to a great extent it already does in many industries, just without the new technology to make it more straightforward.

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link to this extract


She cut her weekly trash down so much it fits in an unbelievably small jar • Washington Post

Victoria Adams Fogg:

»

[Tippi] Thole and her son, Eames, are newly minted members of the Zero Waste movement, a worldwide group that aims to eliminate as much waste as possible. Zero Wasters avoid plastics and disposable products, bring their own containers when shopping, make things that most of us buy packaged and buy clothing and furniture only when necessary and only secondhand.

When Thole, a 41-year-old freelance graphic designer who lives near Montreal, examined her trash, she discovered that most of it was food packaging. Now she buys her edibles at farmers markets and bulk-food stores, and she belongs to a farm cooperative — all places that provide unpackaged food.

Cutting way back on trash doesn’t require time, she says, but you do have to be prepared. Thole has a shopping kit that includes cloth bags and glass jars to collect dried food, liquids, meats and cheeses. She uses a wine tote to keep the jars upright and prevent them from banging against each other. She keeps everything in a wicker basket, stored in the back of her car.

“By shopping for package-free food,” Thole says, “we’re able to eliminate this category of waste entirely. You can buy just about anything in bulk…

«

Jemima Kiss, with whom I used to work at The Guardian, is trying to live #Plasticfree (ie, don’t buy plastic-packaged goods), which I guess is a step towards Zero Waste. It looks difficult, but only because plastic wrapping has become pervasive – even when unnecessary.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.876: Apple’s Taiwanese bug, YouTube v fake news?, Surface… Go?, HPs eternal computer, and more


Take your seats: what happens when the semi-private becomes the very public? Photo by Matthew Hurst on Flickr.

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

Former Apple employee charged with theft of trade secrets related to autonomous car project • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

Xiaolang Zhang was hired at Apple in December of 2015 to work on Project Titan, developing software and hardware for use in autonomous vehicles. Zhang specifically worked on Apple’s Compute Team, designing and testing circuit boards to analyze sensor data.

He was provided with “broad access to secure and confidential internal databases” due to his position, which contained trade secrets and intellectual property for the autonomous driving project that he ultimately ended up stealing.

In April 2018, Zhang took family leave from Apple following the birth of his child, and during that time, he visited China. Shortly after, he told his supervisor at Apple he was leaving the company and moving to China to work for XMotors, a Chinese startup that also focuses on autonomous vehicle technology.

Zhang’s supervisor felt that he had “been evasive” during the meeting, which led Apple’s New Product Security Team to begin an investigation, looking into Zhang’s historical network activity and analyzing his Apple devices, which were seized when he resigned.

Apple found that just prior to Zhang’s departure, his network activity had “increased exponentially” compared to the prior two years he had worked at Apple. He accessed content that included prototypes and prototype requirements, which the court documents specify as power requirements, low voltage requirements, battery system, and drivetrain suspension mounts.

«

Arrested at the airport as he was about to leave for China. Neil Cybart has dug into the court filing, which shows there are 5,000 Apple employees who know about “Project Titan” (the self-driving vehicle project) and 2,700 who have access to the Project Titan database. Here’s the full court filing.

link to this extract


iPhone crashing bug likely caused by code added to appease Chinese gov’t • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

The iOS 11.4.1 update Apple released Monday was most notable for making it harder for law enforcement to access locked iPhones. On Tuesday, security researcher Patrick Wardle illuminated another fix. He said his fix addressed code Apple added likely to appease the Chinese government; this is the code that caused crashes on certain iDevices when users typed the word Taiwan or received messages containing a Taiwanese flag emoji.

“Though its impact was limited to a denial of service (NULL-pointer dereference), it made for an interesting case study of analyzing iOS code,” Wardle, a former hacker for the National Security Agency, wrote in a blog post. “And if Apple hadn’t tried to appease the Chinese government in the first place, there would be no bug!”

Wardle, who is now a macOS and iOS security expert at Digital Security, said he was perplexed when a friend first reported her fully patched, non-jailbroken device crashed every time she typed Taiwan or received a message with a Taiwanese flag. He had no trouble reproducing the remotely triggerable bug, which crashed any iOS application that processed remote messages, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Wardle did, however, find that only devices with certain region-specific configurations were affected.

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link to this extract


Exclusive: Apple to deploy 1Password to all 123,000 employees, acquisition talks underway • BGR

Jonathan Geller:

»

According to our source, after many months of planning, Apple plans to deploy 1Password internally to all 123,000 employees. This includes not just employees in Cupertino, but extends all the way to retail, too. Furthermore, the company is said to have carved out a deal that includes family plans, giving up to 5 family members of each employee a free license for 1Password. With more and more emphasis on security in general, and especially at Apple, there are a number of reasons this deal makes sense. We’re told that 100 Apple employees will start using 1Password through this initiative starting this week, with the full 123,000+ users expected to be activated within the next one to two months.

Apple had very specific requirements for this deal, code-named B2, all around, as you would expect. Some of these include a maximum 4-hour response time (SLA) through customer support for Apple employees, translations of all 1Password support pages into all major international languages, and plenty more. In fact, since AgileBits wasn’t even prepared for this kind of influx of users, the company turned to a third-party call management service that will help to provide phone support in order to fulfill the contractual requirements of the deal.

«

Quite a scoop for Geller (usual caveats apply). If Apple is buying Agilebits, it will mean a really strong password solution. Wonder what it will mean for Troy Hunt’s HaveIBeenPwned site, which has a partnership (API) connection with 1Password.
link to this extract


We are all public figures now • Ella Dawson

»

I don’t think there is any such thing as a “private person” anymore. The vast majority of us constantly groom our internet presence, choosing the right filter on Instagram for our brunch and taking polls of our friends about our next Facebook profile picture. We don’t think about this as a public act when we have only 400 connections on LinkedIn or 3,000 followers on Tumblr. No one imagines the Daily Mail write-up or the Jezebel headline. We actively create our public selves, every day, one social media post at a time. Little kids dream of becoming famous YouTubers the same way I wanted to be a published author when I was twelve.

But there are also those of us who don’t choose this. We keep our accounts locked, our Instagram profile set to “friends only.” Maybe we learned a lesson when a post took off and left the safe haven of our community, picked apart in a horrifying display of context collapse. Maybe we are hiding from something: a stalker, an abusive ex, our family members who don’t know our true queer identity. To some of us, privacy is as vital as oxygen. Without it we are exposed—butterflies with our wings pinned to the corkboard, our patterns scrutinized under a magnifying glass. For what? For entertainment? For someone else’s mid-workday escapism? For a starring role in someone else’s bastardized rom com?

A woman boarded a plane in New York and stepped off that plane in Dallas. She chatted with a stranger, showed him some family photos, brushed his elbow with her own. She wore a baseball cap over her face and followed him back on Instagram. At no point did she agree to participate in the story Rosey Blair was telling. After the fact, when the hunt began and the woman took no part in encouraging it the way Holden did, Blair tweeted a video in which she drawled, “We don’t have the gal’s permish yet, not yet y’all, but I’m sure you guys are sneaky, you guys might…”

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link to this extract


Stop live-tweeting strangers flirting • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:

»

Everyone loves a rom-com, though, especially one they can follow along live on Twitter. But real life isn’t like the movies, and while the public has an endless thirst for fairy-tale romances, the type of love-at-first-sight-sweep-you-off-your-feet romance perpetuated by most rom-coms is unrealistic, false, and destructive to forming healthy relationships. Real life romance and heartbreak can rarely be captured in 140 (or 280) characters.

The real-life people involved in these threads also never agreed to star in an epic love story. Projecting this myth onto unsuspecting couples, the way that Blair and Hardaway did, is cruel and unfair, especially because, even though they could overhear the conversation, as a third party they can’t fully understand what was actually occurring between Holden and Helen.

What sounds like romantic banter to an eavesdropper could be a nightmare for one or both of the people involved. Blair repeatedly implies in her thread that Helen is flirting with Holden, but was she? Who is to say this woman wasn’t simply politely entertaining the man next to her for fear of being rude? Or perhaps she has a partner at home. She should be allowed to casually flirt or make a new friend without people on the internet suggesting that she had sex with a stranger in a plane bathroom.

«

Put that way, it’s a horrendous invasion of privacy – or what should be a limited expectation of some privacy.
link to this extract


YouTube to crack down on fake news, backing ‘authoritative’ sources • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

YouTube is investing $25m (£18.8m) in journalism on its platform, focusing on helping news organisations produce online videos and changing its site to better support trusted news providers.

As well as the investment, which will be partly used to fund a working group to spearhead news product features, the company is changing how its site works to “make authoritative sources readily accessible”.

The service, owned by Google, will heavily promote videos from vetted news sources on the site’s Top News and Breaking News sections “to make it easier to find quality news”, and create new features – initially only in the US – to help distribute local news.

«

This isn’t going to make any difference as long as its recommendation algorithm is built around maximising the time people spend on the site: it will still send people to extreme junk.
link to this extract


Apple combines machine learning and Siri teams under Giannandrea • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»

Apple is creating a new AI/ML team that brings together its Core ML and Siri teams under one leader in John Giannandrea.

Apple confirmed this morning that the combined Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning team, which houses Siri, will be led by the recent hire, who came to Apple this year after an eight-year stint at Google, where he led the Machine Intelligence, Research and Search teams. Before that he founded Metaweb Technologies and Tellme.

The internal structures of the Siri and Core ML teams will remain the same, but they will now answer to Giannandrea. Apple’s internal structure means that the teams will likely remain integrated across the org as they’re wedded to various projects, including developer tools, mapping, Core OS and more. ML is everywhere, basically.

«

The real surprise is more that this wasn’t done sooner, but maybe they needed him to find his way around.
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Microsoft’s $399 Surface Go aims to stand out from iPads or Chromebooks • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft’s new Surface Go is finally official after months of rumors and leaks. It’s an inexpensive 10-inch tablet designed to be a smaller and less powerful version of the Surface Pro. While the exterior of the Surface Go makes it look like a baby Surface Pro, Microsoft has changed a lot inside. The base model is priced at $399, but it only ships with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of slower eMMC storage, and a less powerful Intel Pentium Gold processor. Prices quickly jump to over $600 after adding the all important Type Cover, more RAM, a faster SSD, and other Surface add-ons. With these specs and price points in mind, who exactly is the Surface Go for?

Microsoft isn’t targeting its Surface Go at any particular customer from what I can tell. It’s not an iPad killer, it’s not going directly after Chromebooks, and it’s not really challenging $400 Windows laptops…

…It’s natural to compare the Surface Go to Apple’s iPad, but the two are not like-for-like competitors. Apple’s base model iPad is priced at $329. If you only want a pure tablet, the Surface Go won’t offer the best experience as it doesn’t have the 1.3 million apps that are designed and optimized for the iPad. Let’s face it: if you’re going to buy just a tablet, the iPad is the only one worth buying right now.

«

OK, that’s one way of “standing out from” iPads and Chromebooks. It’s a good enough product for the price, but who, truly, is it for? Sadly, there’s no outside comment (from, say, analysts who watch the marketplace) so you’ll just have to guess.
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The unstoppable TI-84 Plus: how an outdated calculator still holds a monopoly on classrooms • The Washington Post

Matt McFarland:

»

In the ruthlessly competitive world of technology, where companies rush the latest gadget to market and slash prices to stay competitive, the TI-84 Plus is an anomaly.

Texas Instruments released the graphing calculator in 2004, and continues to sell it today. The base model still has 480 kilobytes of ROM and 24 kilobytes of RAM. Its black-and-white screen remains 96×64 pixels. For 10 years its MSRP has been $150, but depending on the retailer, today it generally sells for between $90 and $120. The only changes have come in software updates.

Amazon calls the TI-84 Plus a No. 1 best-seller. Texas Instruments says that this year the TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition has become its best-selling calculator, and that the TI-84 is its most popular family of calculators. The TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition is slightly more expensive than the base model, has a color screen, rechargeable battery and significantly more memory.

Even with a 320×240 pixel screen, 128 kilobytes RAM and 4 megabytes ROM, overall the TI-84 line of calculators appears unnecessarily expensive given the components. Apple — which is notorious for high margins on its products — sells an iPod touch for $199 that comes with 16 gigabytes of memory and a four-inch screen with a resolution of 1136-by-640 pixels. That’s a dramatically better piece of hardware with a less significant gap in price.

«

Wonderful. And yes, it’s still in use in English schools too.
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Facebook Dating will fail! • Medium

Amit Shafrir:

»

Facebook is a media company whose main business model is generating revenue via ads. The best way to monetize a successful dating service is via direct payment from users. Subscriptions, one-off payments, etc.

Monetization is simply not in Facebook’s DNA. It never has been, and they have no experience in it.
Successfully monetizing a dating service is mostly about understanding human psychology. Knowing WHAT to offer to WHOM and at WHAT time. There is an art and a science to successful monetization.

My sense is that Facebook is not treating this opportunity with the gravitas that its potential merits. It is limiting itself to a small subset of its vast userbase of over 2 billion, and to a subset of potential functionality.

It is not clear why Facebook is not seeing this for the opportunity it is. Here’s a small back of the envelope calculation: If Facebook gets just 10% of its user base, that is, 200 million users to use this service, and if it is able to extract an ARPU of $2/month (doable in my opinion) — that would generate $4.8bn of incremental revenues. Given that Facebook would not have to incur any costs of acquisition, it’s likely that a clear majority of this revenue would be translated into EBITDA-say 80%=$3.84bn. With a current multiple of 29, that adds $111bn to its market cap of $571bn, an increase of 20%!

Unless something radically changes, I predict that Facebook’s efforts on the dating front will fail, and that is saddening. Done right, FBDate could be the ultimate dating service out there.

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He’s right, it could be huge; but the disconnect between the business models is, as he says, big.
link to this extract


Digital Tulips? Returns to investors in ICOs • SSRN

Hugo Benedetti and Leonard Kostovetsky at Boston College’s School of Management:

»

We created a dataset on 4,003 executed and planned ICOs, which raised a total of $12bn in capital, nearly all since January 2017. We find evidence of significant ICO underpricing, with average returns of 179% from the ICO price to the first day’s opening market price, over a holding period that averages just 16 days. Even after imputing returns of -100% to ICOs that don’t list their tokens within 60 days and adjusting for the returns of the asset class, the representative ICO investor earns 82%. After trading begins, tokens continue to appreciate in price, generating average buy-and-hold abnormal returns of 48% in the first 30 trading days. We also study the determinants of ICO underpricing and relate cryptocurrency prices to Twitter followers and activity. While our results could be an indication of bubbles, they are also consistent with high compensation for risk for investing in unproven pre-revenue platforms through unregulated offerings.

«

It’s a short paper, and finds 56% of ICOs are dead as a doornail just 120 days after they start. So where has the $6bn that people put into those ones gone, exactly? Logically, it must be in the hands of those who saw the average 82% returns; and the zero (or -100%) returns must be in the hands of a much bigger group.

Even so, 82%? That’s crazy. There is a get-rich-quick element to cryptocurrencies, pretty much equally matched by a get-poor-quick one. (Read the full paper.)
link to this extract


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Start Up No.875: San Francisco’s caste system, another blabby fitness app, cropmarks ahoy!, Firefox v Google, and more


Insulating foam: if it’s in China, is it made with CFCs? Photo by Henryr10 on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Inside the tent. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

This fitness app lets anyone find names and addresses for thousands of soldiers and secret agents • De Correspondent and Bellingcat

Maurits Martijn, Dimitri Tokmetzis, Riffy Bol and Foeke Postma:

»

On Saturday, May 9, 2018, a man takes his regular morning run past the Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq. His pace is leisurely; he covers 2.9 miles in 29 minutes and 34 seconds.

On his wrist is a digital activity tracker, the Polar V800.
This is what the Polar V800 looks like. It records his speed, distance traveled, and calories burned over the course of his run.

The man – let’s call him Tom – is a Dutch soldier, part of the Netherlands’ Capacity Building Mission in Iraq. The CBM is encamped near the Erbil airport. Since 2015, this base has been one of the key locations from which the war against the terrorist group Islamic State is being waged.

We are absolutely not supposed to know who Tom is and where he’s stationed. And we most definitely shouldn’t know where Tom lives.

Yet the activity tracking map in Polar’s fitness app lets us see that many of Tom’s runs start and end near a cluster of homes in a small town in the northern Netherlands. A little Googling gives us his exact address. We also find the names of his wife and children, and photos.

Last Friday, Polar took its user activity map offline and published a short statement on its website. The company emphasizes that users have consciously chosen to share their activities on the map: the default setting is to keep all workouts private. We asked if this feature has always been opt-in rather than opt-out; the company hasn’t yet answered us. According to Polar, only 2% of its users share workouts on the activity map.

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Just like Strava, basically.
link to this extract


Cropmarks 2018 • Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

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The unprecedented spell of hot, dry weather across Wales has provided perfect conditions for archaeological aerial photography. As the drought has persisted across Wales, scores of long-buried archaeological sites have been revealed once again as ‘cropmarks’, or patterns of growth in ripening crops and parched grasslands.

The Royal Commission’s aerial investigator Dr Toby Driver has been busy in the skies across mid and south Wales over the last week documenting known sites in the dry conditions, but also discovering hitherto lost monuments. With the drought expected to last at least another two weeks Toby will be surveying right across north and south Wales in a light aircraft to permanently record these discoveries for the National Monuments Record of Wales, before thunderstorms and rain wash away the markings until the next dry summer.


The Iron Age hillfort of Gaer Fawr near Lledrod, Ceredigion, looking across the parched landscape of mid Wales.

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link to this extract


Firefox and the four-year battle to have Google to treat it as a first-class citizen • ZDNet

Chris Duckett:

»

Buried in Mozilla’s issue tracker is a bug that kicked off in February 2014, and is yet to be resolved: Have Google treat Firefox for Android as a first-class citizen and serve up comparable content to what the search giant hands Chrome and Safari.

After years of requests, meetings, and to and fro, it has hit a point where the developers of Firefox are experimenting by manipulating the user agent string in its nightly development builds to trick Google into thinking that Firefox Mobile is a Chrome browser.

Not only does Google’s search page degrade for Firefox on Android, but some new properties like Google Flights have occasionally taken to outright blocking of the browser. Over the past couple of months, I have been using Firefox Mobile as my primary mobile browser and happened upon Google Flights, and although I wasn’t blocked, it did fail in places — at the time of writing, though, it seems the site is fine.

As for Google’s flagship search page, Firefox users get an inferior version that does not even have the tools bar that allows users to narrow searches down by date. I find it hard to believe that in 2018, the world’s most visited web page cannot find the small amount of time and resources it would take to deliver a comparable page to non-WebKit browsers, even if they do make up a minuscule amount of its visitors.

«

Hmm, how would one pursue this as a monopoly issue?
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Will Samsung’s struggles enable Apple to deliver in the seasonally weak June quarter? • BTIG Research

Walter Piecyk:

»

Apple’s market share increased 350 basis points [ie 3.5 percentage points] sequentially to 58.0% in the month of June, its highest share since February 2017 according to the latest US based survey by Wave7 Research. Its gains principally came from Samsung as the Galaxy S9 launch provided less of lift in share this year and it cooled off faster when compared to prior Galaxy S models, based on the Wave7 data. Samsung pre-announced disappointing results overnight. As you can see in the table below, this resulted in only 20 basis points of share loss during the quarter compared to much larger impacts in prior years.

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The graph is here. Piecyk says that the April-June quarter is always slow (low upgrade rates, low churn), but it’s notable that Samsung really doesn’t seem to have made an impression this time round. There’s only so many people you can persuade to upgrade to an upgraded camera, it seems.
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Mysterious source of illegal ozone-killing emissions revealed, say investigators • The Guardian

Damian Carrington on the followup to the story which first surfaced in May:

»

The Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-governmental organisation, has now identified widespread use of CFC-11 factories in China that make insulating foams. The EIA’s investigators identified factories that sold the chemicals needed for foam-making, then contacted and visited them.

“We were dumbfounded when out of 21 companies, 18 of them across China confirmed use of CFC-11, while acknowledging the illegality and being very blase about its use,” said Avipsa Mahapatra at the EIA. Furthermore, the companies said the use of CFC-11 was rife in the sector. “It was very clear. These companies, again and again, told us everybody else does this,” she said.

China is a major producer of the rigid polyurethane foams involved and the EIA calculates that if the illegal use of CFC-11 is pervasive in the 3,500 small- and medium-sized companies that make up the sector, then this would explain the surge. Without action, the CFC-11 emissions would delay the recovery of the planet’s ozone hole by a decade, scientists estimate.

“We didn’t know what on Earth someone would be using CFC-11 for – well, here’s one answer and that’s a surprise,” said Steve Montzka at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado, whose team revealed the surge. “Despite efforts to get rid of this activity, it continues.”

«

This – too – is why regulation, and enforcement of regulation, matters. The report reveals that lots of the manufacturers find ways around customs and environmental checks.
link to this extract


FTC Democrat hires tech industry critic who’s taken aim at Amazon • POLITICO

Nancy Scola:

»

FTC Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra is hiring Lina Khan, one of the country’s foremost critics of the growing market power of U.S. tech companies and the author of a landmark paper making an antitrust case against Amazon.

Chopra’s move is a sign that the newly-minted commissioner is preparing to take a tough stand against Silicon Valley. He’s doing so as political figures on both the left and right, including President Donald Trump, call for greater checks on the tech industry.

A 2017 graduate of Yale Law School, Khan made her name with an academic paper called “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” that argues that the current U.S. approach to antitrust law hasn’t kept pace with technology and fails to accurately measure the anti-competitive threat posed by companies like Amazon.

She maintained that simply because companies offer Americans obvious benefits like lower prices — criteria under the so-called consumer welfare test — that doesn’t mean they should be exempt from antitrust scrutiny. In the paper, she floated the idea of either breaking up Amazon or regulating it like a public utility.

Khan has more recently served as the director of legal policy at the Open Markets Institute, an advocacy group that has become perhaps Washington’s highest-profile champion for the idea that the U.S. approach to antitrust has failed to counter the negative effects of technology behemoths like Amazon, Google and Facebook.

«

That’s an interesting hire. The FTC decided against taking antitrust action against Google in 2012, based on that “consumer welfare” test. Will things change?
link to this extract


Timehop’s database breached compromising data of 21 million users • The Next Web

Vishwam Sankaran:

»

The stolen data comprised mostly of user names and email addresses. Of the 21 million compromised users’ data, the phone numbers linked to 4.7 million accounts were also stolen.

“Tokens” provided by social media profiles to Timehop for gaining access to posts and images were also taken.

With the “access tokens,” hackers could view some of the users’ social media posts without their permission. However, Timehop claims that the tokens were deauthorized and made invalid within a “short time window” and cannot be used to gain access to users’ social media profiles.

Timehop noted that the compromised cloud computing account did not have multi-step verification before the incident – a gross oversight on the company’s part, given that it’s now common practice among firms handling large volumes of user data. Timehop is in cooperation with local and federal law enforcement officials to investigate further on the breach, and to enhance its security upgrades. Following the breach Timehop also reset all its passwords and added a multi-factor authentication to all its accounts linked to cloud-based services.

As of now, Timehop claims that there is no evidence of the stolen data being used. With the new GDPR privacy law defining a breach as “likely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of the individuals”, Timehop claims to have notified all its European users of the breach…

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Amazing that in this day and age any commercial company would run something without multi-step authentication.
link to this extract


How Silicon Valley fuels an informal caste system • WIRED

Antonio Garcia Martinez:

»

San Francisco residents seem to be divided into four broad classes, or perhaps even castes:

• The Inner Party of venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who run the tech machine that is the engine of the city’s economy.
• The Outer Party of skilled technicians, operations people, and marketers that keep the trains belonging to the Inner Party running on time. They are paid well, but they’re still essentially living middle-class lives—or what lives the middle-class used to have.
• The Service Class in the “gig economy.” In the past, computers filled hard-for-humans gaps in a human value chain. Now humans fill hard-for-software gaps in a software value chain. These are the jobs that AI hasn’t managed to eliminate yet, where humans are expendable cogs in an automated machine: Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, TaskRabbit manual labor, etc.
• Lastly, there’s the Untouchable class of the homeless, drug addicted, and/or criminal. These people live at the ever-growing margins: the tent cities and areas of hopeless urban blight. The Inner Party doesn’t even see them, the Outer Party ignores them, and the Service Class eyes them warily; after all, they could end up there.

Mobility among the castes seems minimal. An Outer Party member could reach the Inner Party by chancing into an early job at a lottery-ticket company (such as a Facebook or Google) or by becoming a successful entrepreneur. But that’s rare; most of the Outer Party prefers working for the Inner Party, gradually accumulating equity through stock grants and appreciating real estate.

The Service Class will likely never be able to drive/shop/handyman enough to rise to the Outer Party, at least not without additional training or skills. They’re mostly avoiding the descent to Untouchable status, while dealing with precarious gigs that disappear semi-regularly. Uber, for example, has made no bones about its intent to replace its drivers with robots. Delivery bots have already been deployed on city streets, though they were later restricted.

There are of course people outside this taxonomy. There are longtime property owners (and renters) who view the tech boom warily, even if the former benefit from rising property prices.

«

His argument is that the rest of the US inevitably becomes like California, and Europe inevitably becomes like the US. I think this analysis is flawed on two counts: California isn’t just San Francisco, and Europe isn’t *that* enamoured of the US.
link to this extract


Sarah Katz: what it’s like to work as a Facebook moderator • Business Insider

Jake Kanter:

»

She worked in an open plan office in Menlo Park, where free snacks flowed and there was a reasonable camaraderie among her colleagues. They would set to work on their queue of posts for review, and when in full flow, Katz said she made decisions within seconds.

If ticket targets were not met, there would be consequences. Failing to hit a goal “once or twice” would result in a warning, Katz said. More than three times, “you would probably get let go.” Katz never witnessed this, but said it was informally known among members of staff.

“It’s kind of a monotonous job after a while. You definitely grow desensitized to some of the graphic material because you see so much of it. A lot of the content tends to recirculate,” she said.

Katz said there was a particularly sinister photo and video that popped up repeatedly in her queue.

It featured two children — aged between nine and 12 — standing facing each other, wearing nothing below the waist, and touching each other. It was clear, Katz said, that there was someone behind the camera telling them what to do.

“It would go away and come back, it would appear at multiple times of the day. Each time the user location would be different. One day shared from Pakistan, another day the US. It’s kinda hard to track down the initial source,” she continued.

At the time, Katz said she was not asked to report the accounts sharing the material — a fact that “disturbed” her. “If the user’s account was less than 30 days old we would deactivate the account as a fake account. If the account was older than 30 days we would simply remove the content and leave the account active,” she said.

Her experience raises questions about the effectiveness of Facebook’s efforts to tackle child exploitation.

«

Target: 8,000 posts per day. You’d get some sort of PTSD from that.
link to this extract


With stock IPO, Xiaomi is now worth three times as much as LG • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

Though a far cry from Apple, Google, or even Samsung in terms of overall market capitalization, Xiaomi is – on paper – now worth more than three times as much as the entirety of LG Electronics. Think about that for a second.

Of course, Xiaomi is overall a much smaller company than many of the brands it now finds itself compared to. Xiaomi’s revenue goals for fiscal 2017 were around $16.8bn, a goal it said it achieved by the end of October. While LG is valued at less than a third of Xiaomi, it generated over three times the sales in 2017 (over $55bn in revenue). Major questions remain about Xiaomi’s ability to profitably expand outside Southeast Asia, with competitors like Huawei and HMD Global (Nokia) – both of which are privately held companies – having already established foothelds in Western Europe and other key markets Xiaomi is likely looking to grow into.

With global smartphone growth slipping, I could see two major narratives unfold for Xiaomi – one good, one bad. The positive outlook holds that, in a market where consumers are holding onto phones longer and shopping around more, Xiaomi’s value-first approach will have real appeal. If a smartphone is merely a means to an end, why spend more money than strictly necessary on one?

The other bodes far more poorly: the smartphone market has become saturated, and consumers are inundated with ads and incentives from much larger brands with more value-adds to offer than Xiaomi, especially outside of China. Xiaomi could find it intensely difficult to break into markets where Samsung and Apple are heavily entrenched, even with its price-conscious approach.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.874: Twitter slaughters the fakes, how cybercrime feeds ad fraud, Sonos’s S-1 examined, and more


Best thing you could do to thwart thieves? Wrap it in aluminium foil. Photo by Yahya S. on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Contains no football. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why you should wrap your car fob in foil • Detroit Free Press

Phoebe Wall Howard:

»

Given that the best way to store your car keys at night is by putting them in a coffee can, what’s an ex-FBI agent’s advice to protect cars from theft during the day?

Wrap car fobs in aluminum foil.

“Although it’s not ideal, it is the most inexpensive way,” said Holly Hubert, a cybersecurity expert who retired in 2017 from the FBI in Buffalo, New York. “The cyber threat is so dynamic and ever changing, it’s hard for consumers to keep up.”

Now, as CEO of GlobalSecurityIQ, she suggests clients go online and spend a few dollars and buy what’s called a Faraday bag to shield the fob signal from potential theft. Imagine a traditional sandwich bag made of foil instead of plastic.

Thing is, the car is always waiting for the fob signal. Thieves can buy legitimate devices that amplify the fob signal sitting unprotected in a purse, a pocket, on a counter at home or even just copy the code to access the vehicle.

Copying code from key fobs isn’t difficult. And this is something the auto industry and insurance companies are monitoring closely.

The cheap (or homemade) metal protection covers, named for the scientist who figured out how to block an electromagnetic field, can prevent thieves from having access to vehicles with a wireless fob. Currently, thieves can capture fob signals from outside a home, office or hotel room.

«

This has been an undercurrent for quite a few years; it seems like it might be getting worse.
link to this extract


US opposition to breast-feeding resolution stuns world health officials • The New York Times

Andrew Jacobs:

»

A resolution to encourage breastfeeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the crosshairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced…

…In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

«

Very strange. Strong suspicion: lobbying by the US baby food industry.
link to this extract


Exclusive: Twitter is suspending millions of bots and fake accounts every day to fight disinformation • The Washington Post

»

The extent of account suspensions [70m across May and June], which has not previously been reported, is one of several recent moves by Twitter to limit the influence of people it says are abusing its platform. The changes, which were the subject of internal debate, reflect a philosophical shift for Twitter. Its executives long resisted policing misbehavior more aggressively, for a time even referring to themselves as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”

Twitter’s Vice President for Trust and Safety Del Harvey said in an interview this week the company is changing the calculus between promoting public discourse and preserving safety. She added that Twitter only recently was able to dedicate the resources and develop the technical capabilities to target malicious behavior in this way.

“One of the biggest shifts is in how we think about balancing free expression versus the potential for free expression to chill someone else’s speech,” Harvey said. “Free expression doesn’t really mean much if people don’t feel safe.”

But Twitter’s increased suspensions also throw into question its estimate that fewer than 5% of its active users are fake or involved in spam, and that fewer than 8.5% use automation tools that characterize the accounts as bots. (A fake account can also be one that engages in malicious behavior and is operated by a real person. Many legitimate accounts are bots, such as to report weather or seismic activity.)

«

Here’s an interesting point: Harvey recently returned from maternity leave. And: things are changing there. I’d say she’s making the change. (Recall that odd Vanity Fair piece from February which seemed to imply that Harvey was somehow at fault for the bot problems.)
link to this extract


The link between digital ad fraud and cybercrime • Marketing Science Consulting Group

Augustine Fou:

»

Most of the general public has heard of the numerous major data breaches over the years where millions of consumers’ personal details are stolen. Many have also experienced malware, pop-ups, malicious redirects, and ransomware on their computers or mobile devices. But few understand how hackers “cash out” of these criminal activities.

It is documented that lists of stolen identities, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. are sold on the dark web. But it is far more lucrative to combine the aforementioned criminal activities to steal dollars from massive digital advertising budgets – over $100 billion in the U.S. in 2018, $300 billion worldwide. This pool of dollars gets larger and is replenished year after year after year.

How do criminals do this? Though digital ad fraud.

They set up fake websites and fake mobile apps to generate trillions of digital ad impressions that marketers eagerly buy, attempting to reach more customers online — except, these are not humans seeing ads. These are fake ads shown to fake users – bots – designed to create ad impressions and avoid detection.

Bots can also mimic humans by browsing various sites and combining bits of data from stolen identities to create fake audiences and segments that marketers pay extra to target.

«

You can read the full report.
link to this extract


Intel says 5G plans for iPhone are unchanged • VentureBeat

Jeremy Horwitz:

»

Following yesterday’s report from Israeli publication CTech that Apple has decided not to use an Intel 5G modem called “Sunny Peak” in future iPhones, Intel has denied part of the report — and the publication has updated its story to remove its central claim.

“Intel’s 5G customer engagements and roadmap have not changed for 2018 through 2020,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We remain committed to our 5G plans and projects.” When asked whether this meant that Apple is a customer for an Intel 5G modem, the spokesperson said only that “the Intel 5G modem part of the story is inaccurate.”

«

So there’s an update on the CTech article itself, which now says:

»

Intel will not provide Wi-Fi and Bluetooth components for Apple’s 2020 mobile devices, according to internal company communications reviewed by Calcalist, and people familiar with the matter. Apple has notified Intel it would not use a mobile communication component developed by the chipmaker in its next-generation mobile device, Intel executives said. Further development of the component internally called “Sunny Peak” has been halted and the Intel team that’s working on the product will be redirected to other efforts, the executives said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Sunny Peak component also included 5G connectivity.

«

Note that this does not mean that Intel *will* provide a 5G modem. Only that the component it now isn’t providing doesn’t have 5G.
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Replacing Instapaper • DisruptiveProactivity.com

Sam Smith, annoyed at Instapaper’s decision to abandon European users over GDPR, switched away:

»

The major choices to replace it are pocket and Pinboard – pocket is an instapaper clone with the same business model.

I went with Pinboard. Pinboard is different. Very different.

How’d it go?

• The apps/bookmarklets work fine for adding, but it’s sometimes less slick than the instapaper iOS app
• There are various readers
• I’ll not switch back

There is the core service of pinboard – keeping a list of web addresses (bookmarks) with a ‘to read’ flag – and the apps that rely on pinboard as the backing store and add functionality. Pinboard is a one time fee of $11 to create an account, with some additional services costing per-year fees (archiving of content being one).

On iOS, Pinboard has a bookmarklet for adding links, plus options from a bunch of plugin apps which both read and write in various ways. ReadPaperback is also nice for reading. On the desktop the pinboard bookmarklet and readpaperback do the job more than adequately.

«

Instapaper’s complete indifference to its European users is an indicator of how freemium services don’t work when there are regional costs imposed.
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Sonos S-1 filing • Securities and Exchange Commission

Sonos has filed its S-1, essentially laying out how its business runs. This might be a thing we see in more S-1s:

»

If significant tariffs or other restrictions are placed on Chinese imports or any related counter-measures are taken by China, our revenue and results of operations may be materially harmed. The Trump Administration has signaled that it may alter trade agreements and terms between China and the United States, including limiting trade with China and/or imposing a tariff on imports from China. In March 2018, President Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports and announced additional tariffs on goods imported from China specifically, as well as certain other countries. The materials subject to these tariffs to date do not impact our raw material costs. However, if further tariffs are imposed on a broader range of imports, or if further retaliatory trade measures are taken by China or other countries in response to additional tariffs, we may be required to raise our prices, which may result in the loss of customers and harm our reputation and operating performance.

«

Turns out that Sonos is very much a “Christmas gift to oneself” company: it typically generates half of all its revenues (and half its product sales) in the October-December quarter, and 61% of the 6.9m households with a Sonos product have more than one.

Key markets: US, UK, Germany; the Americas are (only) half of its $1bn annual revenues, in which it is looking to sell about 5m devices, average price around $250.
link to this extract


How Likes went bad • Medium

Matt Locke:

»

Facebook’s growth over the past few years has been so fast, and so complex, that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Right now, although the problems caused by this rapid growth are plain to see, Facebook’s potential decline is equally hard to predict.
It’s easy to blame Mark Zuckerberg for having too simplistic a vision of his creation, but as we’ve seen through this series, methods of measuring attention are palimpsests, built not in one blindingly clear moment of intent, but changing and adapting over time. The global industries that are built around these metrics are not created by one person, but by the competing needs of content creators, advertisers, investors — and audiences.
If we want to point to where Facebook went wrong, the first accusation would be that it didn’t — and probably couldn’t — have predicted the consequences of adding something so seemingly simple as a like button to a platform that already combined two exponentially powerful ideas — the social graph and the news feed.

And having built this, Facebook assumed that algorithms alone would be good enough to manage and control a platform that would end up with billions of users. Unlike Rob Manuel [at b3ta in 2005], who wanted a Like button to make his job of curating content from his community a bit easier, Facebook has continued to insist that the company can exist only as an algorithmically curated technical platform without human curators…

…We could create new public institutions to responsibly manage personal data, and we could create limits on any single company’s control and monetization of our attention. Perhaps we could even insist that no single platform should be allowed to scale beyond the point where human curation is no longer economically or logistically possible.

But even then, we wouldn’t be able to spot the next idea — the next like button — that has the potential to create a future attention monopoly. The ideas that shape our world never start big, but are created by people, like Rob Manuel, with a smaller, specific, problem. Monopolies are created through the combination of these smaller ideas, and that’s a much harder process to predict, let alone regulate.

«

link to this extract


The dream of driverless cars is dying • The Spectator

Christian Wolmar went to a giant “Self-driving vehicle” exhibition in Germany, but found them in short supply:

»

Surprisingly, I met more doomsayers than purveyors of the autonomous driving dream. The starkest warning came from Tim Mackey, who styles himself ‘senior technical evangelist’ for Black Duck Software, a company that specialises in security issues around autonomous vehicles. He believes there will be a seminal event that will stop all the players in the industry in their tracks. ‘We have had it in other areas of computing, such as the big data hacks and security lapses,’ he said, ‘and it will happen in relation to autonomous cars. At the moment, none of the big players are thinking properly about security aspects and then they will be forced to.’ He pointed to a video showing on another stand in which a man was calling up a car from a garage using a phone app: ‘That sort of thing is just too easy to hack. There’s all sorts of software put into cars that is old and easy to access. We just have to hope that the wake-up call will be minor and not kill anyone.’ Indeed, in a test a few years ago, hackers were able to get hold of a car’s steering and braking systems and Mackey is convinced that criminals will one day use the same method.

More widely, there was a general expectation these suppliers were riding the crest of a wave that will hit the rocks soon. While there is no doubting the scale of this industry, with billions being invested every year, none of the OEMs has yet made a penny from selling a driverless car. This money, benefiting these exhibitors, is therefore a punt, a high-stakes bet there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. One, Johannes, told me: ‘I see a pattern like the dotcom boom. At some point, people are going to realise that the day when they start to get returns for their investment is far off, if ever. Then they will start pulling out and who knows how bad it will get. But the clever money will move somewhere else.’ The bad publicity caused by a couple of deaths in Tesla cars while its autopilot was engaged and by the Uber fatality may be seen as the start of public disenchantment with the concept.

«

The Spectator is a fairly right-wing magazine, so you might expect it to be down on new tech; but I worked with Wolmar at The Independent, and he’s fair but firm on topics like this.
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The rise of ‘pseudo-AI’: how tech firms quietly use humans to do bots’ work • The Guardian

Olivia Solon:

»

In 2016, Bloomberg highlighted the plight of the humans spending 12 hours a day pretending to be chatbots for calendar scheduling services such as X.ai and Clara. The job was so mind-numbing that human employees said they were looking forward to being replaced by bots.

In 2017, the business expense management app Expensify admitted that it had been using humans to transcribe at least some of the receipts it claimed to process using its “smartscan technology”. Scans of the receipts were being posted to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourced labour tool, where low-paid workers were reading and transcribing them.

“I wonder if Expensify SmartScan users know MTurk workers enter their receipts,” said Rochelle LaPlante, a “Turker” and advocate for gig economy workers on Twitter. “I’m looking at someone’s Uber receipt with their full name, pick-up and drop-off addresses.”

Even Facebook, which has invested heavily in AI, relied on humans for its virtual assistant for Messenger, M.

In some cases, humans are used to train the AI system and improve its accuracy. A company called Scale offers a bank of human workers to provide training data for self-driving cars and other AI-powered systems. “Scalers” will, for example, look at camera or sensor feeds and label cars, pedestrians and cyclists in the frame. With enough of this human calibration, the AI will learn to recognise these objects itself.

In other cases, companies fake it until they make it, telling investors and users they have developed a scalable AI technology while secretly relying on human intelligence.

«

link to this extract


Guild Wars studio fires two employees after clash with streamer • The Verge

Megan Farokhmanesh on the firing of Jessica Price, and a coworker who defended her:

»

Price’s suggestion that [YouTube game streamer] Deroir was mansplaining game development — an area where he does not have the same knowledge or experience — sparked anger among the ArenaNet community. She subsequently responded to those criticizing her on Twitter that “I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.” Price was fired shortly after.

Although many fans are comparing this to something like working in a restaurant — be polite to the customer, or get fired — Price says it’s impossible to talk about this incident without larger context about systematic online harassment, particularly the sometimes abusive relationship between fans and game developers and the failure of game companies to address it. “Game companies are generally unwilling to be honest with themselves about how they’re complicit in creating and sustaining that environment,” she tells The Verge.

Many companies expect developers to have frequent contact with players, and “since creatives are perceived as being responsible for the way the game is more than customer support, companies are basically tying up their employees and setting them on the railroad tracks for angry people to run over,” says Price. This toxic relationship is one of the biggest factors in burnout among developers — and particularly for female developers, who experience more abuse and are “expected to perform more of this emotional labor and to do it with a smile on our faces (the sort of stuff that, from a male dev, gets dismissed as him being a bit prickly, or even lauded as him not suffering fools gladly, is a mortal sin coming from a female dev).”

«

That point about being “tied to the railroad tracks” rings true about the experience many female writers have on news sites: they’re often instructed to go and “engage” in the comments. It’s not usually good. Price was outspoken, but it hardly looked like a firing matter.

Now, though, ArenaNet belongs to reddit and its mob. Good luck with that, as they say.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.873: Dotcom nears extradition, Twitter’s non-uprising, the smart TVs watching you, Pruitt gone, and more


Turns out this solves gerrymandering. Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Kim Dotcom, Megaupload founder, can face US extradition – NZ court • Reuters

Charlotte Greenfield:

»

Internet entrepreneur and Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom can be extradited to the United States to face racketeering and criminal copyright charges, New Zealand’s Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday.

It upheld a lower court ruling in 2017 that the extradition could take place, and set the stage for Dotcom’s final appeal to the Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body.

The six-year legal saga is widely seen as a test for how far the United States can reach globally to apply American firms’ intellectual property rights.

“My legal team are confident that the Supreme Court will hear the appeal given there are such significant legal issues at stake,” Dotcom said in a statement.

U.S. authorities say Dotcom and three co-accused Megaupload executives cost film studios and record companies more than $500m and generated more than $175m in revenue by encouraging paying users to store and share copyrighted material.

The Court of Appeal said the United States had disclosed “a clear prima facie case that the appellants conspired to, and did, breach copyright wilfully and on a large scale, for their commercial gain.”

«

Think that one might be quite easy to stand up in a court.
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Employee uprisings sweep many tech companies. Not Twitter • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

»

As BuzzFeed News declared last month, “Twitter is making an unexpected, somewhat miraculous comeback.”

Perhaps. But at what cost to the world?

“You have a platform that’s damaging people on a regular basis, and it’s being used to target groups of people on a regular basis,” said Leslie Miley, an engineer who left Twitter in 2015 after he said he became disillusioned with what he saw as the company’s weak efforts to hire a more diverse work force. “At some point you have to ask yourself if you’re doing more harm than good.”

Last week, I reached out to Twitter’s employees to ask just that. Insiders were reluctant to talk on the record, but a few said that even if there’s little public evidence of organized resistance, some employees are constantly debating the role the service plays in public discourse. Mr. Trump’s tweets, in particular, arouse internal conflict, they said. And Mr. Dorsey’s decision — earlier reported by The Washington Post — to meet with conservative pundits who have accused the platform of liberal bias did not sit well with many workers.

Twitter declined to make Mr. Dorsey available for an interview. The company did put me on the phone with Vijaya Gadde, its head of legal, policy, trust and safety, who echoed the idea that there is robust debate within Twitter about its impact on the world.

“A lot of our employees are here because they’re tied to the mission that we’re serving and to our purpose in the world,” Ms. Gadde said. She defined that mission as providing “a healthy public conversation,” but acknowledged the company has had trouble defining exactly what such a healthy conversation might look like.

«

link to this extract


“I-cut-you-choose” cake-cutting protocol inspires solution to gerrymandering • Carnegie Mellon University

Byron Spice:

»

Getting two political parties to equitably draw congressional district boundaries can seem hopeless, but Carnegie Mellon University researchers say the process can be improved by using an approach children use to share a piece of cake.

Just as having one child cut the cake and giving the second child first choice of the pieces avoids either feeling envious, having two political parties sequentially divide up a state in an “I-Cut-You-Freeze” protocol would minimize the practice of gerrymandering, where a dominant political party draws districts to maximize its electoral advantage.

The CMU protocol, developed by Ariel Procaccia, associate professor of computer science, and Wesley Pegden, associate professor of mathematical sciences, is the first to allow a fair division of a state into political districts without independent agents.

It calls for one political party to divide a map of a state into the allotted number of districts, each with equal numbers of voters. Then the second party would choose one district to “freeze,” so no further changes could be made to it, and re-map the remaining districts as it likes.

«

Obvious, and so effective when you think about it. This should be encoded into law.
link to this extract


How Smart TVs in millions of US homes track more than what’s on tonight • The New York Times

Sapna Maheshwari:

»

Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5m smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40m in venture funding from investors including Time Warner , the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban.

Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands — including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips — to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers “by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.” But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations.

Samba TV declined to provide recent statistics, but one of its executives said at the end of 2016 that more than 90% of people opted in.

Once enabled, Samba TV can track nearly everything that appears on the TV on a second-by-second basis, essentially reading pixels to identify network shows and ads, as well as programs on Netflix and HBO and even video games played on the TV. Samba TV has even offered advertisers the ability to base their targeting on whether people watch conservative or liberal media outlets and which party’s presidential debate they watched.

The big draw for advertisers — which have included Citi and JetBlue in the past, and now Expedia — is that Samba TV can also identify other devices in the home that share the TV’s internet connection.

Samba TV, which says it has adhered to privacy guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission, does not directly sell its data. Instead, advertisers can pay the company to direct ads to other gadgets in a home after their TV commercials play, or one from a rival airs. Advertisers can also add to their websites a tag from Samba TV that allows them to determine if people visit after watching one of their commercials.

«

“More than 90% of people opted in”. Yeah, sure. They clicked “I agree” to make it go away.
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Apple registers several new Mac and iPad models in Eurasia • Mac Rumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

Apple has registered new tablets and Macs with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) this week, indicating that refreshes could be on the horizon. The filings, uncovered by French website Consomac, are legally required for any devices with encryption sold in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.

The five Mac model numbers are A1931, A1932, A1988, A1989 and A1990, indicating two distinct ranges. The last three numbers may relate to expected refreshes for the 13in MacBook Pro (with and without Touch Bar) and the 15in MacBook Pro, while the first two could reference a refreshed 12in MacBook and a potential replacement for the aging MacBook Air, which Apple has been gradually phasing out.

Apple is rumored to be planning to introduce the new entry-level 13in MacBook in the second half of 2018, which would serve as a replacement for the MacBook Air. Details have been scant about the rumored machine, but it could turn out to belong to the 12in MacBook family, and the model numbers A1931 and A1932 potentially reflect this.

It’s not known what the rumored 13in MacBook would be priced at, but the MacBook Air sells for $999, a price point Apple has thus far been unable to match with the 12in MacBook and the MacBook Pro.

«

Expected before September, or at least before the Mojave release. The keyboard teardown on those new models will be something to see.

link to this extract


The US Air Force learned to code—and saved the Pentagon millions • Fast Company

Mark Wallace:

»

At the Air Operations Center (AOC) at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, [then chair of Google Eric] Schmidt saw up close the way that today’s US Air Force met its enormous challenges: with magnets and colored plastic cards. The Air Force was then engaged in an offensive against the so-called Islamic State forces in Mosul, Iraq. But when Schmidt asked an AOC commander what his biggest concern was, he got a surprising answer. As Schmidt told me, “He said, ‘Well, frankly, it’s something different: I don’t want them to erase my whiteboard.’”

The AOC at Al Udeid is where AFCENT, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, oversees air force operations for over 20 countries from Egypt to Kazakhstan. An enormous amount of data is pushed through the center every day, through a system of 43 software applications that help with everything from assessing targets to planning attacks, getting information to pilots, monitoring operations, analyzing damage done, and more.

Not all the functions of the AOC are carried out on a computer, however. The whiteboard, as Schmidt and other DIB members soon discovered, was where daily planning took place for AFCENT’s aerial refueling operations. “We got the missions for the day, figured out what targets needed to be hit, and how much fuel was needed, who needed the fuel, and when they needed it,” explains U.S. Colonel Mike Drowley, AFCENT chief of staff. “It was an eight- or nine-hour process [for three or more people] to try and figure all the ins and outs. It was like a Tetris game of blocks and pucks.”

«

Ineffectual non-work by an outside contractor was replaced by an in-house tiger team. That worked. Same story in the UK government between departments: a Cabinet Office tiger team dug Universal Credit out of a deep hole and got it working where its owner department, Work and Pensions, couldn’t.
link to this extract


Apple passes over Intel in search for 5G chips for the iPhone • CTech

Yoav Stoler:

»

Intel will not provide 5G modems for Apple’s 2020 mobile devices, according to internal company communications reviewed by Calcalist, and people familiar with the matter. Apple has notified Intel it would not use a mobile modem developed by the chipmaker in its next-generation mobile device, Intel executives said in the communications. Further development of the modem component internally called “Sunny Peak” has been halted and the Intel team that’s working on the product will be redirected to other efforts, the executives said.

«

Hard to know the track record for this publication, but this is a couple of years off. Of course Apple would be thinking about this; if Intel isn’t in 5G, it’s really a bit screwed in terms of growth.
link to this extract


Clash of the titans: Chinese and US tech giants go at it in emerging markets • The Economist

»

According to CBInsights – a data firm – Tencent, Alibaba and its Ant Financial affiliate have backed 43% of all Asian “unicorns”, meaning startups worth more than $1bn. Alibaba’s investment in Lazada, South-East Asia’s largest e-commerce platform, has soaked up $4bn. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and boss, has pledged $8bn to India alone.

Their different approaches reflect the way the Western and Chinese firms make money. Google and Facebook earn the bulk of their revenue from advertising against services their users flock to. This requires little localisation, bar a bit of website translation to attract native users.

Chinese firms’ competitive advantage, by contrast, has historically come from being able to process payments and organise distribution of goods in a country where doing such things had previously been tricky. A business based on solving such nuts-and-bolts problems is hard to export. “For that sort of thing, it is difficult to have a one-size-fits-all approach for different countries,” says Tan Yinglan of Insignia Ventures Partners, a tech-investment firm. Being a distribution expert in Singapore (whose former postal monopoly is now 14% owned by Alibaba) brings little insight into distributing packages throughout Indonesia’s 17,500 islands, say. Nor does the ability to process payments in Vietnam smooth transactions in Brazil or in Nigeria, with their vastly different banking and regulatory systems. Such intricacies, in other words, might be better delivered by local entrepreneurs who can be bought out once they have cracked them.

How are these differing strategies panning out on the ground? The most intense Sino-American rivalry thus far is focused on India and South-East Asia. The scale of investment reflects the stakes: Indian start-ups received $5.2bn in Chinese tech money last year, according to Tracxn, a data provider, up from $930m in 2016. Forrester, a market-research group, says that Chinese tech giants (including Didi and JD.com) spent $6bn on acquisitions in South-East Asia in 2017.

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Quite a clash where these two strategies come together.
link to this extract


Scott Pruitt out at EPA • NPR

Rebecca Hersher on the departure (fired or resigned?) of the ridiculously corrupt, absurdly ill-suited party dweeb:

»

While Pruitt’s environmental policies were controversial, it was his spending and attempts to use the position for personal gain that resulted in more than a dozen investigations.

Several patterns were quickly established, including unusually high spending on his office and travel and continually mixing his personal and professional lives.

The EPA spent about $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth for the administrator’s office, and The Washington Post reported that Pruitt spent thousands of dollars on first-class plane tickets. The New York Times reported Pruitt’s chief of security proposed that Pruitt spend $70,000 on two desks, one of them bulletproof. The desks were not purchased.

Pruitt cited security threats as one reason for the first-class travel, and he spent tens of thousands of dollars on a publicly-funded, 24-hour security detail, which his office said was necessary to protect him from threats. Pruitt’s security detail reportedly accompanied him on personal trips, including a family vacation to Disneyland. In August 2017, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General began investigating Pruitt’s travel and security expenses and has widened the investigation multiple times.

«

Whatever was coming out of the EPA OIG must have been colossal to make Pruitt resign. That is, assuming he wasn’t called in by John Kelly (WH chief of staff) and told to write his resignation letter. The OIG will still have to report. Does it get to censure and fine Pruitt?

And will his bad decisions at the EPA be reversed? Because that’s the big question.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.872: WhatsApp pressed by India, is your phone listening?, Samsung S9 sales slow, the bitcoin mining flood, and more


The US Declaration of Independence: banned by Facebook’s algorithm. Photo by Louisville Images on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. RTFM sounds great, until the manual isn’t comprehensible. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook algorithm flags, removes Declaration of Independence text as hate speech • Reason.com

»

Since June 24, the Liberty County Vindicator of Liberty County, Texas, has been sharing daily excerpts from the declaration in the run up to July Fourth. The idea was to encourage historical literacy among the Vindicator’s readers.

The first nine such posts of the project went up without incident.

“But part 10,” writes Vindicator managing editor Casey Stinnett, “did not appear. Instead, The Vindicator received a notice from Facebook saying that the post ‘goes against our standards on hate speech.'”

The post in question contained paragraphs 27 through 31 of the Declaration of Independence, the grievance section of the document wherein the put-upon colonists detail all the irreconcilable differences they have with King George III.

Stinnett says that he cannot be sure which exact grievance ran afoul of Facebook’s policy, but he assumes that it’s paragraph 31, which excoriates the King for inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”

The removal of the post was an automated action, and Stinnett sent a “feedback message” to Facebook with the hopes of reaching a human being who could then exempt the Declaration of Independence from its hate speech restrictions.

Fearful that sharing more of the text might trigger the deletion of its Facebook page, The Vindicator has suspended its serialization of the declaration.

«

Savage.
link to this extract


Who will steal Android from Google? • Medium

Steve Yegge on the challenge to Google’s Android frameworks from React Native, built by Facebook:

»

[Google is] doubling down on “native” (traditional) Android programming, with official support for the Kotlin language, which was a big step up for native Android programmers. I love Kotlin; it’s the future of Java. But let’s face it: It’s not where the mobile market is headed. People are writing cross-platform frameworks for two big reasons: First, because they want their company’s app to work on two platforms without doing 2x the work. And second, because Android native programming is still so painful, even with Kotlin, many companies feel (justifiably) that they should just throw it all out and start from scratch with something easier.

If you are an Android or iOS developer, and you take some time to try React Native (which Facebook created to help address these problems), you’ll realize within about 30 seconds that it’s WAY better, assuming you’re not writing a game, in which case you’d probably use Unity anyway. For business and productivity apps, React Native offers reasonable performance, cross-platform compatibility, incredible tools (the best being from Microsoft. Hello, relevance! Welcome back!), and vastly improved development speed. Remember I said it could take 20 minutes to see a 1-line code change in the regular Android stack? That can happen in the biggest apps like Nest or Facebook, but even for medium-size apps it can be 2 or 3 minutes. Whereas with React Native it’s instantaneous. You make a change, you see the change.

And that, folks, means you get to launch features 10x faster, which means faster time to market, which means first-mover advantage, which means you win win win.

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link to this extract


Horrified by terrible acts of violence, must work together: WhatsApp tells Modi government • The Wire

Anuj Srivas:

»

In the past few months, a string of mob lynching incidents, allegedly prompted by rumours sent over WhatsApp, has turned the Centre’s attention to the issue of fake news and misinformation on the digital platform…

…On the issue of educating Indians on how to stay safe online, WhatsApp has promised the IT ministry that it plans on running “long-term public safety ad campaigns in India” and “news literacy workshops”.

“Already in India, the fact checking organization Boom Live is available on WhatsApp and has published numerous important reports on the source of the rumors that have contributed to the recent violence,” the letter notes.

“This kind of work gives everyone a better understanding of the problematic fake news circulating on WhatsApp, and how it relates to misinformation being shared on other platforms. In addition, it’s a helpful resource right within WhatsApp where people can get answers about content they’ve been sent. It’s why we’re looking at how best to ramp up these efforts in India going forward,” it added.

The company also points out that its ability to intervene heavily is limited because of the nature of the service’s end-to-end encryption. Also, the company insists that while WhatsApp messages can be “highly viral”, most Indians don’t use it to forward messages.

“Many people (nearly 25% in India) are not in a group; the majority of groups continue to be small (less than ten people); and nine in ten messages are still sent from just one person to another,” the letter states.

«

link to this extract


Is your phone listening to your convos? Research says no, but that’s not all • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:

»

A new study conducted by academics at Northeastern University in Massachusetts attempted to answer one of the biggest conspiracy theory questions of our time: are our smartphones listening to our conversations?

The paper’s conclusion is a soft “No” for now, as it didn’t find any hard evidence to support that claim. However, its methodology could have been a lot better (more on that in a minute).

What the research team did find is actually a little more alarming, which is that Android apps can record screenshot photos and screencap videos of your display and then send that data to remote servers. According to the paper associated with the study, users don’t even have to give permission for apps to do this.

This practice creates some serious privacy concerns for smartphone users, as captured images of a device’s display could leak sensitive information including addresses, passwords, or even social security numbers.

«

link to this extract


Samsung’s second quarter profit may flag as smartphone innovation dries up • Reuters

»

Analysts expect Samsung’s smartphone sales to drop in the April-June quarter, following a more than 2% drop in the previous quarter as consumers flock to cheaper models from Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi Corp.

Samsung’s lead over Apple in the global smartphone market is under pressure after the US firm’s iPhone X exceeded market expectations while a lack of technological innovation dogs Samsung offerings.

“Functions (that) Samsung’s mobile phones have are not attractive enough for customers to spend more money on,” said Song Myung-sup, analyst at HI Investment & Securities.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S9 flagship phone, launched in mid-March, boasts lots of software but little in the way of technological wizardry. It is on track to sell less in its launch year than its predecessor Galaxy S8 series sold in 2017 after its debut, analysts said.

This is expected to drag on profit growth when the Korean conglomerate posts second-quarter earnings on Friday.

«

And the S8 sold less than the S7. Quietly, the premium users are getting entrenched and hanging on to their phones longer.
link to this extract


Ensuring your security and privacy within Gmail • Google Safety and Security

Suzanne Frey is director of security, trust and privacy at Google Cloud:

»

A vibrant ecosystem of non-Google apps gives you choice and helps you get the most out of your email. However, before a published, non-Google app can access your Gmail messages, it goes through a multi-step review process that includes automated and manual review of the developer, assessment of the app’s privacy policy and homepage to ensure it is a legitimate app, and in-app testing to ensure the app works as it says it does.

In order to pass our review process, non-Google apps must meet two key requirements:
• Accurately represent themselves: Apps should not misrepresent their identity and must be clear about how they are using your data. Apps cannot pose as one thing and do another, and must have clear and prominent privacy disclosures.

• Only request relevant data: Apps should ask only for the data they need for their specific function—nothing more—and be clear about how they are using it…

…We do not process email content to serve ads, and we are not compensated by developers for API access. Gmail’s primary business model is to sell our paid email service to organizations as a part of G Suite. We do show ads in consumer Gmail, but those ads are not based on the content of your emails. You can adjust your ads settings at any time.

«

This is in response to the WSJ story from the other day, but the response doesn’t deal with “what if the companies who look at this are letting humans look at it too?”
link to this extract


Download bomb trick returns in Chrome — also affects Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi and Brave • Bleeping Computer

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

The “download bomb” trick is a technique that involves initiating hundreds or thousands of downloads to freeze a browser on a specific page.

Across the years, there have been multiple variations of download bombs, and they have often been used by tech support scammers to trap users on shady sites that tried to lure victims into calling a tech support number to have their browser unlocked.

Over the winter, security researchers from Malwarebytes noticed a tech support scam campaign that employed a new “download bomb” technique to trap users on its shady sites. That technique used the JavaScript Blob method and the window.navigator.msSaveOrOpenBlob function to initiate thousands of downloads one after the other to freeze Chrome browsers on tech support sites.

Google devs were made aware of this campaign, and they fixed the issue starting in Chrome 65.0.3325.70. But according to a reply in the original bug report of this issue, the problem has returned in Google Chrome 67.0.3396.87, released on June 12.

“This is broken again in 67.0.3396.87,” said the user who spotted the problem. “[I] stumbled upon this issue by a malicious redirect to a scam site that froze my browser,” he added.

Other users confirmed his findings that the recent Chrome releases are now susceptible to download bombs again. But the issue is also more widespread than initially thought. Jérôme Segura, the Malwarebytes security expert who first analyzed this issue in February, points out that Firefox is also affected.

«

Amazing how long-lived this tech support scam is. I was writing about it in 2010, and it wasn’t new even then.
link to this extract


Rumors: flood in Sichuan, China destroyed bitcoin mining centers (but: didn’t?) • Yahoo Finance

»

Over the past 24 hours, the hashrate has rebounded to 40 million TH/s after its initial 30% drop, and analysts have attributed to the decline in the hashrate of the Bitcoin network to the Sichuan flood incident.

However, [bitcoin investor Eric] Meltzer, who discussed the Sichuan bitcoin mining facility case with local analysts, said that the theory China-based analysts have on the bitcoin hashrate drop is a combined effect of the flood in Sichuan and increasing heatwave in Eastern Europe causing mining centers with low profit margins to generate even less money.

The majority of bitcoin’s hashrate originates from mining pools like BTC.com, AntPool, and ViaBTC, which outsource computing power from ASIC miners globally. Hence, while a large mining center in Sichuan may have shut down due to poor weather conditions, it is not sufficient to have any real impact on the hashrate of bitcoin.

As of current, the rumors about the situation in Sichuan and the destruction of large-scale mining centers by strong floods and heavy rain are yet to be confirmed by local authorities. But, local analysts have emphasized that even if the flood wiped out a major mining facility in China, it should not be enough to trigger the hashrate of bitcoin to fall by 30% in a short period of time.

More to that, if the flood was the sole cause of the hashrate drop, it would signify that a significant chunk of the computing power that powers the Bitcoin network is based in a single region and a certain mining center. It is highly unlikely that the flooded mining centers in Sichuan caused the drop in the hashrate.

«

We already know that a lot of the compute power for bitcoin is in Sichuan (cheap electricity, cool climate); if a particular centre was hit, that could make sense. But the rapid recovery is odd.
link to this extract


How did Apple Music crush Spotify’s day-one streams of Drake’s new album? • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham, on how Apple claimed over 170m streams on day one of Drake’s new album Scorpion, against Spotify’s 132.4m:

»

within the 132.4m Spotify plays of Scorpion which MBW monitored on day one, some 60.8% (80.5m) took place in the US.

Clearly, the US is the prime battleground for Drake’s album – and that’s a fact which will have suited Apple. Multiple label sources tell MBW that Apple is expected to overtake Spotify’s subscriber base in the States later this month (although one source suggested that a recent Spotify promotional trial push may end up delaying this imminent milestone).

Either way, we’re told the two services – in terms of US-based paid users – are pretty neck-and-neck: Spotify has just over 20m paid US subs, while Apple has just over 19m.

Still, the global Drake numbers remain very surprising. For example, on Spotify today (July 2) Drake is officially the service’s biggest artist worldwide with 52.8m monthly listeners. That figure is bigger than Apple’s entire user base at last count (50m), as announced in May.

One other, crucial factor in Apple screeching ahead on Scorpion streams is more elementary, however.

Scorpion was due to land on both Spotify and Apple Music at midnight Eastern Time on Friday (June 29). Apple Music released it bang on time. Spotify, however, suffered some kind of malfunction – because Scorpion didn’t arrive on its service until over two hours later.

That certainly would have badly hurt Spotify’s like-for-like comparison with Apple on day one (particularly as the Spotify chart which that 132m number comes from measures midnight-to-midnight periods).

Some Spotify users even defected to Apple Music for a trial just to listen to Scorpion while waiting for the album to land on their favored platform.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.871: Berners-Lee steps up, how to launch badly, how to present well, the stork’s surprise and more


When Japan’s emperor steps down next year, it’s going to create a Y2K moment for Windows in Japan. Photo by sophietica on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Well it’s not a holiday here. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

“I was devastated”: Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the world wide web, has some regrets • Vanity Fair

Katrina Brooker:

»

From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign. This episode was the latest in an increasingly chilling narrative. In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users. Both Google and Amazon have filed patent applications for devices designed to listen for mood shifts and emotions in the human voice.

For the man who set all this in motion, the mushroom cloud was unfolding before his very eyes. “I was devastated,” Berners-Lee told me that morning in Washington, blocks from the White House. For a brief moment, as he recalled his reaction to the Web’s recent abuses, Berners-Lee quieted; he was virtually sorrowful. “Actually, physically—my mind and body were in a different state.” Then he went on to recount, at a staccato pace, and in elliptical passages, the pain in watching his creation so distorted.

This agony, however, has had a profound effect on Berners-Lee. He is now embarking on a third act—determined to fight back through both his celebrity status and, notably, his skill as a coder. In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. On this winter day, he had come to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the World Wide Web Foundation, which he started in 2009 to protect human rights across the digital landscape. For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future. Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world’s population—close to 4 billion people—will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever.

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link to this extract


The Japanese calendar’s Y2K moment • I’m Not A Klingon

Shawn Steele:

»

The Windows 10 Spring Release includes a placeholder for the era expected to begin on 1 May, 2019. That information is in a registry key that can be removed or edited in the event that a system’s software misbehaves with this additional information.

The Japanese Calendar has Japanese Era Names that coincide with the reign of the Emperor. For most of the modern age of computing that has been the Heisei era, however the Emperor is expected to step down on April 30, 2019. Which will bring about the beginning of a new era. Fortunately, this is a rare event; however it means that most software has not been tested to ensure that it will behave with an additional era.

The magnitude of this event on computing systems using the Japanese Calendar may be similar to the Y2K event with the Gregorian Calendar. For the Y2K event, there was worldwide recognition of the upcoming change, resulting in governments and software vendors beginning to work on solutions for that problem several years before 1 Jan 2000. Even with that preparation many organizations encountered problems due to the millennial transition.

After the era has changed it will be too late to test for compatibility problems. Therefore, the Windows 10 Spring Release includes a registry entry with placeholder information for the expected Era transition. This is intended to help users discover any software limitations around the expected change to the new era. Users are encouraged to ensure that their applications are well behaved before the actual era change.

«

Dramatic as hell, when you think about it. I wonder how Android and iOS are set up for this?
link to this extract


Digg’s v4 launch: an optimism born of necessity • Lethain.com

Will Larson was in charge of it. As with war, the carefully-laid plans did not survive first contact with the enemy:

»

Launching v4 was our chance to return to our rightful place among the giants of the internet, and the cavernous office, known by employees as “Murder Church”, had been lovingly rearranged for the day. In the middle of the room, an immense wooden table had been positioned to serve as the “war room.” It was framed by a ring of couches, where others would stand by to assist. Waiters in black tie attire walked the room with trays of sushi, exquisite small bites and chilled champagne. A bar had been erected, serving drinks of all shapes. Folks slipped upstairs to catch a few games of ping pong.

The problems started slowly.

At one point, an ebullient engineer had declared the entire rewrite could run on two servers and, our minimalist QA environment being much larger to the contrary, we got remarkably close to launching with two servers as our most accurate estimate. The week before launch, the capacity planning project was shifted to Rich and I. We put on a brave farce of installing JMeter and generated as much performance data as we could against the complex, dense and rapidly shifting sands that comprised the rewrite. It was not the least confident I’ve ever been in my work, I can remember writing a book report on the bus to school about a book I never read in fourth grade, but it is possible we were launching without much sense of whether this was going to work.

We had the suspicion it wouldn’t matter much anyway, because we weren’t going to be able to order and install new hardware in our datacenters before the launch. Capacity would suffice because it was all we had.

Around 10:00 AM, someone asked when we were going to start the switch, and Mike chimed in helpfully, “We’ve already started reprovisioning the v3 servers.”

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link to this extract


Hello. tbh, We’re Moving On • Facebook Newsroom

»

We wanted to let you know that we are shutting down three apps due to low usage: Moves, tbh and Hello.

• We launched Hello in 2015 for people using Android in Brazil, the US and Nigeria. It enables people to combine information from Facebook with contact information on their phone. We will be deprecating Hello in a few weeks.
• In 2014, we bought the fitness app Moves. It records your daily activity — including walking, cycling and running. We’re deprecating the Moves app and Moves API on July 31.
• Facebook acquired tbh in 2017. It’s an anonymous social media app for high school students in the US.
Facebook will delete the user data from all three of these apps within 90 days.

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Who wants an anonymous social media app? Oh yeah, those used to be a thing a few years ago. Then they weren’t. Now they just aren’t.
link to this extract


How to demo software for 11,000 people • Subtraction.com

Khoi Vinh (from November 2017) found himself practising his 10-minute demo obsessively for months:

»

Even though there was relatively little debate about the aspects of Adobe XD that I would be presenting onstage, the actual narrative of those features really had to be developed through iterative, organic evolution. The version of the demo that I first began rehearsing back in late August was very different from the version that ended up onstage in mid-October, and it changed countless times in between.

Each of those many run-throughs was more than just a matter of learning or memorizing the content. The real value in doing it over and over, a dozen or two times a day, is that it allows you to make an endless number of incremental tweaks along the way—adding or subtracting a word or phrase here or there, trying out different sequences and emphases, learning how to communicate the message a tiny bit more clearly or succinctly.

There’s also the added complexity of the assets, or the sample design file, that forms the heart of the demo. Having a great looking project with which to show off an app’s capabilities makes all the difference. For various reasons, the sample file we started with had to be discarded, and so I spent a lot of time with one of our designers creating something entirely new, from scratch. He’s based in Germany which is five hours ahead of New York and eight hours ahead of San Francisco, which of course exacerbated the interminable jet lag that I was aready experiencing from all my back-and-forth travel. It was a very strange period of my life.

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So now imagine how much work must go into the other presentations you see which involve screen demos.
link to this extract


US begins lifting ban on ZTE • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

The US Commerce Department has temporarily lifted a portion of the ban on ZTE that all-but shut down the company almost three months ago. After paying a $1bn fine, ZTE has been authorized by the United States to continue supporting much of its already deployed equipment and consumer devices. This largely seems designed to keep infrastructure up and running and allow ZTE to deliver security patches to its phones (and other products).

The eased restrictions are temporary, only lasting until August 1st. It’s not stated what will happen after that point, but Bloomberg reports that ZTE is expected to be in full compliance with the agreement it made with the US government by then, meaning the ban may be fully lifted. ZTE initially received the ban in April as repercussion for failing to follow through with penalties it received for violating US sanctions to Iran and North Korea.

ZTE has largely been dormant since being hit with a trade ban over two months ago, since it’s been unable to procure necessary parts and software needed to operate its business and sell products. The Commerce Department’s order should allow ZTE to at least partially resume operations, though it appears to be narrowly targeted to really only allow for maintenance and the benefit of customers, and not deployment of new products. By and large, the trade ban is still in place.

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With the quarter having just finished, will be interesting to see which company or companies picked up ZTE’s missed share of the smartphone market when IDC, Counterpoint and the rest report their numbers.
link to this extract


Innovation can’t fix urban transportation’s woes • Bloomberg

Leonid Bershidsky:

»

In June, the University of Toronto’s Jonathan Hall and his collaborators concluded that the net effect of increases in Uber penetration in the US results in a gain in public transportation ridership. The averages hid a lot of variation: “Uber has the biggest complementary effects on the public transit systems that had the lowest ridership before Uber’s entry,” the researchers wrote. “However, Uber seems to be decreasing ridership on larger systems, and the effect on these systems could counteract the increase on smaller systems.”

That makes sense: Uber has the ability to deliver more people to mass transit stations from suburbs and inconvenient locations, so less-developed mass transit systems get a boost. To more developed ones, Uber is a competitor.

Regardless of these differences, Hall and his collaborators found, Uber tends to increase traffic congestion. That could change if most people agreed to give up private cars and use ride-sharing options, but there’s no evidence of that happening in the US, where 76% of commuters drive to work alone, a level that hasn’t budged in the last decade. 

Self-driving cars could make congestion even worse. On June 27, the World Economic Forum published a report it produced with the Boston Consulting Group predicting that once these vehicles become widely available for shared rides, travel time in the Greater Boston area would improve by about 4%. But congestion in downtown Boston would worsen because the vehicles “will be chosen as substitutes for short public transportation trips,” increasing travel times in the area by 5.5%.

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That 76% figure is pretty dramatic.
link to this extract


Polish charity gets huge phone bill thanks to stork • BBC News

»

According to official broadcaster Radio Poland, the environmental EcoLogic Group placed a tracker on the back of a white stork last year to track the bird’s migratory habits.

It travelled some 3,700 miles (6,000kms), and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan before the charity lost contact.

EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan, removed the sim card and put it in their own phone, where they then racked up 20 hours’ worth of phone calls.
Radio Poland says that the organisation has received a phone bill of over 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700; £2,064), which it will have to pay.

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This is why you put a passcode on the SIM, Wilkins.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified