Start Up No.869: California gets data bill, animated Excel!, the smartphone future, email ‘inventor’ resends, and more

Apple Maps’s introduction didn’t go well; now it’s going for a big reboot. Photo by Noel Hidalgo on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Yes, I did write a subroutine, and tested against a comma. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Science, engineering and games in Excel • Excel Unusual

George Lungu:


Welcome to Excel Unusual, the home of the most unique Microsoft Excel animated spreadsheets.

All the animated models in the thumbnails above are created using plain MS Excel.
All the Excel files and PDF tutorials can be downloaded from MODELS & TUTORIALS page.
All the downloads on this site are FREE and there are hundreds of them.


He’d like your donations, of all sorts. Come on, it’s Excel!
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Best Western® Hotels & Resorts and IBM Watson Advertising introduce AI-powered ad to help consumers • PR Newswire


Consumers can start a conversation with Best Western’s AI-powered ad by simply engaging the ad and providing information on their current or upcoming travel plans. Through a series of dialogue prompts, the consumer will be guided seamlessly through a conversation about their travel needs and the AI-powered ad will respond with tailored suggestions on how to make the most out of their vacation and how they can take advantage of Best Western’s locations across North America.


How great to come up with a product that literally nobody will want to use.
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Why are so many political parties blowing up? (Part 1) • The New York Times

Thomas Friedman:


We’re going through a change in the climate of globalization: We’re going from an interconnected world to an interdependent world. In an interdependent world your friends can kill you faster than your enemies. If banks in Greece or Italy — both NATO allies — go under tonight, your retirement fund will feel it. And in an interdependent world, your rivals falling becomes more dangerous than your rivals rising. If China takes six more islands in the South China Sea tonight, you won’t lose sleep; if China loses 6% growth tonight, you could lose your job.

Lastly, we’re going through a change in the climate of technology. Machines are acquiring most of the unique attributes of humans — particularly the ability to learn, analyze, reason, maneuver and drive on their own.

From 1960 to 2000, Quartz reported, U.S. manufacturing employment stayed roughly steady at around 17.5 million jobs. But between 2000 and 2010, thanks largely to digitization and automation, “manufacturing employment plummeted by more than a third,” which was “worse than any decade in U.S. manufacturing history.” And we’ve digitized only about 20% of the economy, meaning there’s tremendous technological climate change yet ahead.

These climate changes are reshaping the ecosystem of work — wiping out huge numbers of middle-skilled jobs — and this is reshaping the ecosystem of learning, making lifelong learning the new baseline for advancement.

These three climate changes are also reshaping geopolitics. They are like a hurricane that is blowing apart weak nations that were O.K. in the Cold War — when superpowers would shower them with foreign aid and arms, when China could not compete with them for low-skilled work and when climate change, deforestation and population explosions had not wiped out vast amounts of their small-scale agriculture.


This is very much what I’ve been thinking. Things are changing, and very rapidly.
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Future of smartphones: folding screens, many cameras, fingerprint readers and air charging • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:


Picture this: You pull your phone out of your pocket and unfold it like a napkin into a tablet. You press your finger on the screen, and it unlocks. You switch to the camera app, and a spider-like array of lenses shoot simultaneously to capture one giant photo.

These are all things I’ve seen phones do — some in prototype form, others in models you can get only in China. Analysts in Korea say we might see a folding “Galaxy X” phone from Samsung as soon as next year. When I look into my crystal ball, I’m convinced we’re on the cusp of the most significant changes to the design and functionality of smartphones since they first arrived.

The shake-up couldn’t come soon enough. You probably couldn’t live without your phone but feel as excited about it as you do running water. And the water company doesn’t hold an event every year to hype slimmer faucets. From the front, the iPhone 8 is pretty much indistinguishable from the iPhone 6 that came out nearly four years ago. Americans are holding onto old phones longer than ever — 25.8 months, according the most recent research from Kantar Worldpanel.

The tech industry has been doubling down on software and artificial intelligence capabilities, which still hold huge potential. But there’s a lot to be done on improving phone hardware, too, the number one reason most people upgrade.


Sounds fun. Though still essentially phones, right?
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Apple gets second supplier for OLED iPhone screens • Bloomberg

Min Jeong Lee and Sam Kim:


South Korea’s LG Display Co. will initially supply between 2 million and 4 million units, small relative to Apple’s sales, as it continues to work on ramping up capacity, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. That would however help Apple gain leverage in price negotiations with Samsung, the sole supplier of OLED displays for the iPhone X and Apple’s primary rival in smartphones. The expense of that component is a key reason iPhone X pricing starts at $1,000 and sales haven’t met initial expectations.

A successful supply deal would help both Apple and LG. The Cupertino, California-based company would be able to buy significant volumes from LG for next year’s iPhone model, as it tries fight off a slump in smartphone sales. LG needs a fresh source of revenue as it battles a slide in the price of liquid crystal displays.


That’s a really tiny number of screens compared to the number of OLED phones Apple will be looking to sell; remarkable if it has taken all this time – at least a year – to ramp up so little.
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Google weeps as its home state of California passes its own GDPR • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:


California has become the first state in the US to pass a data privacy law – with governor Jerry Brown signing the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 into law on Thursday.

The legislation will give new rights to the state’s 40 million inhabitants, including the ability to view the data that companies hold on them and, critically, request that it be deleted and not sold to third parties. It’s not too far off Europe’s GDPR.

Any company that holds data on more than 50,000 people is subject to the law, and each violation carries a hefty $7,500 fine. Needless to say, the corporations that make a big chunk of their profits from selling their users’ information are not overly excited about the new law.

“We think there’s a set of ramifications that’s really difficult to understand,” said a Google spokesperson, adding: “User privacy needs to be thoughtfully balanced against legitimate business needs.”

Likewise tech industry association the Internet Association complained that “policymakers work to correct the inevitable, negative policy and compliance ramifications this last-minute deal will create.”

So far no word from Facebook, which put 1.5 billion users on a boat to California back in April in order to avoid Europe’s similar data privacy regulations.


The result came too late for Friday’s edition (sorry) but it means that California avoids the ballot measure that would have been worse, had it passed (and it looked likely to pass).
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“Inventor of email” appeals ruling that tossed his libel suit against Techdirt • Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar:


The appeal to the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals comes more than a year after a federal judge dismissed the libel lawsuit brought by Shiva Ayyadurai, an entrepreneur who is now also running as a longshot candidate for the United States Senate.

In the lower court ruling, US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor found that because it is impossible to define precisely and specifically what email is, Ayyadurai’s “claim is incapable of being proved true or false.”

In Ayyadurai’s lawyers’ Thursday filing, they argued Techdirt previously published articles and comments that contained numerous antagonistic words used to describe Ayyadurai—a “fraud,” a “charlatan,” a “liar,” a “fake”—that a “reasonable reader” would find as asserting a factual statement rather than a protected opinion. Because of this, Ayyadurai’s team believes, Techdirt’s work can constitute defamation.

The appeal also argues that because Techdirt disregarded “extensive factual evidence,” the publication “consciously disregarded” the truth and knowingly acted with “actual malice.” Based on that, Ayyadurai and his attorneys claim, the case should be allowed to go forward.

However, numerous legends of Internet history—including Vint Cerf himself, a co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol—have publicly dismissed Ayyadurai’s claims regarding email.


Who you gonna believe, though, the internet legend or some guy with a vague grievance? Though I like the judge’s sidestep on this: can’t define exactly what email is, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . Add this to “lawsuits that have gone on too long and should never have started”.
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How North Korea could go from hermit kingdom to factory hub • Foreign Policy

Elias Groll:


The summit, and the prospect of an end to international economic sanctions, could lead to a flood of foreign capital that could transform North Korea from a hermit kingdom into an economic juggernaut, concludes the study by Samsung Securities.

“If South Korea combines its wealth and industrialization knowhow with North Korea’s human and natural resources, the economies of both nations could make a quantum leap over the long term,” the authors write.

The report offers a nearly 200-page blueprint detailing how foreign capital could revamp North Korea’s battered infrastructure, strengthen its mining sector, and turn a nearly autarkic economy into a manufacturing and logistics hub thanks to its privileged position between some of the world’s biggest economies. The report riffs on the US demand for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear program to argue instead for “complete, visible, irreversible prosperity.”

Granted, realizing the report’s vision will require overcoming a formidable list of obstacles, including a wide-ranging sanctions regime against Pyongyang, corporate reluctance to jump into an economy rife with illicit activity, and heavy-handed state control over nearly all aspects of the economy.

Iran’s disappointing bid to attract foreign investment after winning its own sanctions relief in 2016 as part of the nuclear deal is a case in point, said Jonathan Schanzer, a sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish Washington think tank.


North Korea has an advantage over Iran: it’s right next door to a gigantic manufacturing power. But does Kim Jong-un really want to give up his dictatorial grip? The benefits for everyone would be great. I’m hopeful, though not optimistic.
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Apple is rebuilding Maps from the ground up • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:


It’s doing this by using first-party data gathered by iPhones with a privacy-first methodology and its own fleet of cars packed with sensors and cameras. The new product will launch in San Francisco and the Bay Area with the next iOS 12 Beta and will cover Northern California by fall.

Every version of iOS will get the updated maps eventually and they will be more responsive to changes in roadways and construction, more visually rich depending on the specific context they’re viewed in and feature more detailed ground cover, foliage, public pools, pedestrian pathways and more.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been 4 years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning…

…[Eddy] Cue points to the proliferation of devices running iOS, now numbering in the hundreds of millions, as a deciding factor to shift its process.

“We felt like because the shift to devices had happened — building a map today in the way that we were traditionally doing it, the way that it was being done — we could improve things significantly, and improve them in different ways,” he says. “One is more accuracy. Two is being able to update the map faster based on the data and the things that we’re seeing, as opposed to driving again or getting the information where the customer’s proactively telling us. What if we could actually see it before all of those things?”


Going to be a long time before Apple can cast off third-party suppliers everywhere; though it might be able to wave goodbye to paid ones. (OpenStreetMap, for example, is free, though there might be a give-back licence on changes.) This is quite a move, though. OSM got its start by getting motorcyclists to map London with GPS trackers. Next step: the world. (Panzarino also has a post answering many questions arising. Such as: might do “street view”; will locate doors of buildings; will use AI to read business names.)
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Neural network trained on UKC logbooks: the results • UKClimbing

Natalie Berry:


We recently shared the work of Janelle Shane, who trained a neural network on a database of route names from Joshua Tree (5,633) and Boulder, Colorado (4,527). The results were both amusing and baffling. We wondered how the generated names might differ if we provided Janelle with our much larger database of 432,000 route names, which we split by country.

A reminder of what a neural network is, for those who are unsure:

‘A neural network is a type of computer program that learns by example, rather than being told exactly how to solve a problem. Based on thousands of examples of route names, it had to figure out the rules that let it generate more like them. At a low temperature* setting, it will generate names that it thinks are very quintessential – they’ll end up a bit repetitive, but it will mostly be correct. At a higher temperature setting, it will be more daring when it generates names, going with less common sounds and phrases.’

* Temperature is a hyperparameter of LSTMs (and neural networks generally) used to control the randomness of predictions by scaling the logits before applying softmax…apparently…


The names are wonderfully realistic: The Stuff, Rocket Sheep, Ramp of Lies, Strangershine, Candy Storm, The Dog Sand, Holy Mess, Left Hand Monster, The Scratching One, The Angel’s Crack, Suckstone Gully, The Folly Cloud, and many more. For those who don’t know: in rock climbing, if you are the first ever to climb a route, you get to name it. British route names tend to the sardonic. (There’s a [human-named] route called Strawberries; nearby, a subsequent one called Dream Topping. There’s Lord of the Flies; and Lord of the Mince Pies. Elsewhere there’s one called Comes The Dervish, whose derivation I’ve never understood.)

It’s lovely to see this work loop around to UKClimbing: in 1995, when I was trying to figure out this “world wide web” thing, I created a web page with a listing of indoor climbing walls in the UK. Soon after, some other climbers got in touch and said they were looking to create a website – climbing in the UK? UKClimbing? – and wanted to include the indoor walls listing. But the grand aim was to have a listing for every route in the UK, and perhaps abroad too. Turns out there are more than 150,000 routes in the UK, though we didn’t know that at the time – nobody did.

We crowdsourced a lot of it; and a lot of our experiences in trying to create lat/long pairings from postcodes (for the climbing walls, so you could figure which was the nearest to you) led to my advocacy for the Free Our Data project so that we could include maps, tide times (which matter, a lot, for sea cliff climbing) and location data without busting our tiny budget.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.869: California gets data bill, animated Excel!, the smartphone future, email ‘inventor’ resends, and more

  1. Get ready for the outcry from customers getting the inferior LG screens. Then Apple’s arrogant denial, maybe “you’re seeing it wrong'” ;-p Or maybe Apple will make everybody’s screens worse, like they did for LTE Modems.

    Isn’t North Korea a Chinese puppet (for border neutralization, misdirection, distraction), so thinking anything will happen is simply silly ?

    Political parties: I’m amazed at the ability of the left to lose the plot. Focusing on minorities is morally nice, but a convoluted way to get to a majority. What’s wrong with “an honest life from an honest job, for everyone” ? Or has the left signed up for ever-increasing income and wealth disparities, and ever-worsening public services ?

    Haven’t phones stopped being phones about 10 yrs ago ? The device in my pocket is a PoCoCo – pocket connected computer – and if it had to lose 1 functionality among phone (voice and texts), data (messaging and web), apps (incl. games; some use data), media (ie humongous storage and large screen), and camera… I’d choose phone (well camera maybe, but that’s me), I could always get a separate keyfob-size phone like the Nokia that used to pair up with my Palm Pilot. I’d probably even choose FM radio over phone functionality, I spend more time using FM than phone, though in less vital scenarios.

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