Start Up No.952: jigsaw melding, Russia jamming GPS?, the faked heavy metal fans, YouTube v Article 13, and more


Editing: please can we not have it for tweets? Photo by Wesley Fryer on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Formatted correctly this time. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

This artist uses jigsaw puzzles, with the same die cut pattern, to make these terrific mashups • Boing Boing

Rusty Blazenhoff:

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Oh boy, I think I have a new hobby. I’ve just learned that you can combine puzzles, that have the same die cut, to make really awesome pieces of art. It had never occurred to me that manufacturers of mass-produced puzzles cut different puzzles of theirs in the same way, making the pieces interchangeable. It makes complete sense, of course, but my mind is still blown!

I learned about the art of “puzzle montage” from one of the readers of my inbox zine, Marcia Wiley (she’s the gal in Seattle who’s fixing up that cool old Checker Cab). She was visiting the Bay Area and we met up for the first time this past Friday. That’s when she told me about her friend Tim Klein, who makes incredible puzzle montages. I’m excited to share his work with you.

In an email exchange, Tim told me that he learned about puzzle montages from the man who first made them, art professor Mel Andringa of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, “As far as I know, he and I are the only artists ever to pursue it seriously. And I think he’s moved on to other things nowadays, so I may be the sole surviving practitioner.”

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They’re absolutely amazing. I think the below one is my favourite. More at Puzzle Montages.


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Dorsey says Twitter is thinking about an edit button to fix typos in tweets • The Next Web

Ivan Mehta:

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For the first time since the end of 2016, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey shed some light on the company’s thoughts about building an edit button for tweets. Speaking at an event in India’s capital of New Delhi, he said that the company has to carefully consider use cases for the edit button before making it a reality – and it could potentially be tooled to help fix typos.

“You have to pay attention to what are the use cases for the edit button. A lot of people want the edit button because they want to quickly fix a mistake they made. Like a misspelling or tweeting the wrong URL. That’s a lot more achievable than allowing people to edit any tweet all the way back in time,” Dorsey said.

He added that Twitter will ideally prevent unlimited editing, because then anyone could abuse the feature to alter their controversial or damning statements later on. Dorsey noted that the company wants to implement a solution that solves a problem and removes what “people see as friction in the service.”

“We have been considering this for a while and we have to do in the right way. We can’t just rush it out. We can’t make something which is distracting or takes anything away from the public record,” said the Twitter CEO.

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I wish Dorsey just had the courage to say that an edit button is a bad idea because it will be abused, and leave it at that. You know it will be: trolls will change tweets to alter their meaning, not for typos. Accept that we make mistakes and leave it at that and focus on making the network better – for example, by preventing verified accounts being taken over and used for bitcoin scams.
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Russia suspected of jamming GPS signal in Finland • BBC News

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“It is difficult to say what the reasons could be but there are reasons to believe it could be related to military exercise activities outside Norway’s borders,” Wenche Olsen, director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway, told the Barents Observer earlier this month.

Russia is also suspected of jamming the GPS signal in Norway’s border area last year when it held its own war games.

Relations between Nato and Russia have been strained since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The Finnish region of Lapland and northern parts of Norway close to the Russian border were affected, with the Norwegian regional airline Widerøe confirming its pilots had experienced GPS disruption, Germany’s DW news site reports.

However, the airline pointed out that pilots aboard civilian aircraft had other options when a GPS signal failed. “This is not a joke, it threatened the air security of ordinary people,” said Mr Sipila, who is himself an experienced pilot. “It is possible that Russia has been the disrupting party in this. Russia is known to possess such capabilities.”

GPS is a global navigation system originally devised by the US military which works by sending signals from satellites above the Earth back down to receivers. “Technology-wise, it’s relatively easy to disturb a radio signal, and it’s possible that Russia was behind it,” Mr Sipila was quoted as saying.

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At ground level, GPS signals are incredibly weak, essentially lost in background noise; it’s only by knowing how the signal varies that it can be picked out. In turn, that means you can jam them.
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LA band Threatin faked a fanbase to land a European tour no one attended • MetalSucks

Vince Neilstein:

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Talking up your own band a little bit to make it appear that you’re more popular than you are is a rite of passage for young acts. We’ve heard of plenty of bands that’ve exaggerated sales or live show numbers to land a gig or two, or talked themselves up to national media for some press attention. It comes with the territory, and it’s usually harmless.

But the Los Angeles band Threatin have taken that idea to a level previously thought unimaginable: the band was able to book an entire tour of Europe despite having no fanbase whatsoever, and it’s all in the process of crashing down around them.

¶ To do it, the band’s frontman and leader, Jered Threatin, posed as a nonexistent booking agent / promoter to land the gigs, used faked live footage of allegedly packed shows in L.A., bought Facebook likes, event RSVPs and YouTube views and lied about ticket sales numbers to swindle venue owners and talent buyers into taking on the shows.

Posts started making the rounds on social media when the tour kicked off on November 1st in London. A post by the venue The Underworld, which hosted the show, alleged that the band’s agent claimed the band had sold 291 tickets in advance but only three people turned up:

Things didn’t get any better from there. The Exchange in Bristol realized they’d had a similar hoax pulled on them a few days later, with the “promoter” saying 180 tickets had been sold in advance only to have no one show up but a few people from the opening band’s guest list.

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There’s cocky, and then there’s this. Seems they also created a fake record label, phony press outlet, nonexistent award “and more”. Seems there’s also live footage. Oo.
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The potential unintended consequences of Article 13 • YouTube Creator Blog

Susan Wojcicki is CEO of YouTube:

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We have worked hard to ensure creators and artists are fairly compensated for their work. In the last year, YouTube paid content owners across the EU €800m. We have also paid the global music industry more than €1.5bn from advert-generated revenue alone.

However, this creator economy is under threat from a section of the EU’s efforts to revise its copyright directive, known as article 13, which holds internet companies directly responsible for any copyright infringement in the content shared on their platform.

While we support the goals of article 13, the European Parliament’s current proposal will create unintended consequences that will have a profound impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.

The parliament’s approach is unrealistic in many cases because copyright owners often disagree over who owns what rights. If the owners cannot agree, it is impossible to expect the open platforms that host this content to make the correct rights decisions.

Take the global music hit “Despacito”. This video contains multiple copyrights, ranging from sound recording to publishing rights. Although YouTube has agreements with multiple entities to license and pay for the video, some of the rights holders remain unknown. That uncertainty means we might have to block videos like this to avoid liability under article 13.

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One suspects there’s a teensy bit of dissembling going on here. An FT article from September says

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One of the most contentious elements of the draft legislation, known as article 13, would require the use of “upload filters” to pre-scan user uploaded content to ensure it did not breach copyright rules. Critics say this would hamper internet freedom and kill off content such as social media memes.

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Come on, Google. Despacito is a piece of licensed music. Where rightsholders are unknown, money gets paid into account for when they turn up. The filter stuff is going to hurt YouTube.
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Facebook failed to police how its partners handled user data • The New York Times

Nicholas Confessore, Michael LaForgia and Gabriel J.X. Dance:

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When a team from PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted the initial F.T.C.-mandated assessment in 2013, it tested Facebook’s partnerships with Microsoft and Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry handset. In both cases, PricewaterhouseCoopers found only “limited evidence” that Facebook had monitored or checked its partners’ compliance with its data use policies. That finding was redacted from a public version of PricewaterhouseCoopers’s report released by the F.T.C. in June.

“Facebook claimed that its data-sharing partnerships with smartphone manufacturers were on the up and up,” [Oregon Democratic senator Ron] Wyden said. “But Facebook’s own, handpicked auditors said the company wasn’t monitoring what smartphone manufacturers did with Americans’ personal information, or making sure these manufacturers were following Facebook’s own policies.” He added, “It’s not good enough to just take the word of Facebook — or any major corporation — that they’re safeguarding our personal information.”

In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said, “We take the F.T.C. consent order incredibly seriously and have for years submitted to extensive assessments of our systems.” She added, “We remain strongly committed to the consent order and to protecting people’s information.”

Facebook, like other companies under F.T.C. consent decree, largely dictates the scope of each assessment. In two subsequent assessments, Facebook’s October letter suggests, the company was graded on a seemingly less stringent policy with data partners. On those two, Facebook had to show that its partners had agreed to its data use policies.

A Wyden aide who reviewed the unredacted assessments said they contained no evidence that Facebook had ever addressed the original problem. The Facebook spokeswoman did not directly address the 2013 test failure, or the company’s apparent decision to change the test in question.

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The FTC hit Facebook with a privacy consent decree in 2010. Except Facebook gets to decide the scope of the assessment? That’s ludicrous. And then PWC redacts important content?
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Amazon’s HQ2 spectacle isn’t just shameful—it should be illegal • The Atlantic

Derek Thompson:

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there are three major problems with America’s system of corporate giveaways.

First, they’re redundant. One recent study by Nathan Jensen, then an economist at George Washington University, found that these incentives “have no discernible impact on firm expansion, measured by job creation.” Companies often decide where they want to go and then find ways to get their dream city, or hometown, to pay them to do what they were going to do anyway. For example, Amazon is a multinational company with large media and advertising divisions. The drama of the past 13 months probably wasn’t crucial to its (probable) decision to expand to New York City, the unambiguous capital of media and advertising.

Second, companies don’t always hold up their end of the deal. Consider the saga of Wisconsin and the Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn. Several years ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker lured Foxconn with a subsidy plan totaling more than $3bn. (For the same amount, you could give every household in Wisconsin about $1,700.) Foxconn said it would build a large manufacturing plant that would create about 13,000 jobs near Racine. Now it seems the company is building a much smaller factory with just one quarter of its initial promised investment, and much of the assembly work may be done by robots. Meanwhile, the expected value of Wisconsin’s subsidy has grown to more than $4bn. Thus a state with declining wages for many public-school teachers could wind up paying more than $500,000 per net new Foxconn job—about 10 times the average salary of a Wisconsin teacher.

Third, even when the incentives aren’t redundant, and even when companies do hold up their end of the bargain, it’s still ludicrous for Americans to collectively pay tens of billions of dollars for huge corporations to relocate within the United States.

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His suggestion: federal legislation which claws back 100% of any state subsidy.
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Amazon selects New York City and northern Virginia for new headquarters • About Amazon official blog

Day One Staff:

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• As part of Amazon’s new headquarters, New York and Long Island City will benefit from more than 25,000 full-time high-paying jobs; approximately $2.5bn in Amazon investment; 4m square feet of energy-efficient office space with an opportunity to expand to 8m square feet; and an estimated incremental tax revenue of more than $10bn over the next 20 years as a result of Amazon’s investment and job creation.

• Amazon will receive performance-based direct incentives of $1.525bn based on the company creating 25,000 jobs in Long Island City. This includes a refundable tax credit through New York State’s Excelsior Program of up to $1.2bn calculated as a percentage of the salaries Amazon expects to pay employees over the next 10 years, which equates to $48,000 per job for 25,000 jobs with an average wage of over $150,000; and a cash grant from Empire State Development of $325m based on the square footage of buildings occupied in the next 10 years. Amazon will receive these incentives over the next decade based on the incremental jobs it creates each year and as it reaches building occupancy targets. The company will separately apply for as-of-right incentives including New York City’s Industrial & Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP) and New York City’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program (REAP).

• The community will benefit from New York City providing funding through a Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT) program based on Amazon’s property taxes on a portion of the development site to fund community infrastructure improvements developed through input from residents during the planning process. Amazon has agreed to donate space on its campus for a tech startup incubator and for use by artists and industrial businesses, and Amazon will donate a site for a new primary or intermediary public school. The company will also invest in infrastructure improvements and new green spaces.

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Struggling startup Amazon getting a billion-dollar helping hand there from NYC. So kind.

A reminder that the kickback to Foxconn helped get Scott Walker kicked out in Wisconsin. I wonder how it’s going to play for the politicians who were behind this? The ones who aren’t – notably new electee Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez – are making a lot of noise about it.
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This is all Donald Trump has left • Deadspin

David Roth:

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All Trump wants, all he has ever wanted, is to be able to keep doing and taking and saying whatever he wants whenever he wants. He ran for president for this reason and this reason only.

His politics, to the extent that they’ve ever been legible, have always been off-the-rack big city tabloid bullshit—crudely racist exterminate the brutes/back the blue authoritarianism in the background and ruthless petty rich person squabbling in the front. His actions since becoming president have been those of a dim, cruel child playacting at being a powerful—giving orders without quite knowing what they mean or how they might be carried out, taunting enemies, beating up the people he can afford to beat up without having to be called to account for it, lying as needed or just for yuks. He hasn’t changed a thing since graduating from punchline to president. It’s been clear for decades that Trump was both an asshole and a dummy; this is now a problem not just for the odd unlucky cocktail waitress and his staff of cheesy apparatchiks but literally every person on earth.

Presidents exert a kind of ambient influence on the culture, but as Trump is different than previous presidents his influence necessarily feels different. Barack Obama wanted to be a cosmopolitan leader who brought people together and into a deeper empathy through a mastery of reason and rules; the country he governed doesn’t work like that, though, and the tension between that cool vision and this seething reality grew and grew. By the end, his presidency had the feeling of a prestige television show in its fifth season—handsomely produced and reliably well-performed but ultimately not really as sure what it was about as it first appeared to be. Trump has no such pretense or noble aspiration, and has only made the country more like himself; living in his America feels like being trapped in a garish casino that is filling with seawater, because that is what it is.

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It’s a tour de force, and should be obligatory reading from the top. This is Trump’s obituary; nothing more true can be said about him.
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Amazon asked to share Echo data in US murder case • BBC News

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A judge in the US has asked Amazon to hand over audio recordings from an Amazon Echo which was in a house where two women died.
Their bodies were found under the porch of a home in New Hampshire with multiple stab wounds.

The man accused of their murder has pleaded not guilty and is due to stand trial next year.

Amazon said it would not hand over any data about the device without a legally-binding instruction.

The judge had also requested any additional data, such as which devices were paired with it at the time the women were attacked in January 2017.

Amazon told the Associated Press it would not hand over anything “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us”.

Last year the tech giant did agree to hand over data from an Echo that may have been operating at the time of a murder in Arkansas – but only after the defendant consented.

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This is going to become standard operating procedure for police forces very quickly. And that’s before you get to Nest devices, proximity sensors and so on.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the email for Start Up 951 had a formatting glitch – this happened because Flickr allows PNG format as well as JPG, and my composition script only expects JPG, so it pulled in a ton of extra stuff, and after the edit I overlooked a size setting on the main image, so the email tried to be super-wide like the image. But let’s talk about how HTML is too easy.

Start Up No.951: Xiaomi under fire, Apple shares drop, Wear OS’s missing link, the smart speaker revolution, and more


Guess what pursuit the music company BMG gave up as a waste of time and money? Photo by Ashley Richards on Flickr

A selection of 9 links for you. It’s what they’re meant to do. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Xiaomi criticised for UK smartphone £1 flash sale • BBC

Leo Kelion:

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Xiaomi’s business model is based on selling its hardware at low profit margins and it has regularly held flash sales in other markets as a relatively cheap way to attract attention and gauge demand.

It typically offers thousands of devices at a more realistic prices when doing so. But even when it held a similar €1 (88p) event in Spain last year, it provided 50 units.

By contrast, the first two UK flash sales involved only three phones apiece, while two follow-ups were limited to two units.

This fact was not mentioned on the main sales page. Instead, users had to click on a link to its terms and conditions, found at the foot of the site, and then scroll halfway through them.

Dozens of users complained on Xiaomi’s Facebook page after failing to obtain a phone.

“For a company worth around $50bn launching in a brand new country and making a big deal about it they could have done 50 easily. They didn’t. They’ll lose potential customers over this,” wrote Simon Hodge.

Another user, James Bowen, said: “What a joke, as soon as the timer hit zero, it was out of stock – just clickbait to get people to visit the website.”

One user subsequently analysed the webpage’s code and pointed out it had been set to say: “Sold out,” as soon as the sale had opened – without even checking to see if the allocated stock had indeed been purchased.

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A single phone? Hard to know if Xiaomi thought it wouldn’t get caught, or it wouldn’t matter, but this has left a bad taste with a number of people. And it will live forever in its history, meaning it’s starting below the bottom of the PR ladder.
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Apple shares drop after iPhone supplier Lumentum cuts forecast • Reuters

Vibhuti Sharma:

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Stoking fears among investors that demand for iPhones is waning, Lumentum said in its statement the customer was “one of our largest… for laser diodes for 3D sensing”, which analysts said could only be Apple.

Shares in the iPhone maker dropped 4%, wiping $40bn off its market value. Those in Lumentum, which gave its original forecast just two weeks ago, fell 27%, dragging down shares of other Apple suppliers.

That also followed a separate warning from another Apple supplier, screen maker Japan Display, on Monday.

“Many suppliers have lowered numbers because of their unnamed ‘largest customer,’ which is Apple. Apple got cautious in their guidance and it’s hitting their suppliers,” Elazar Capital analyst Chaim Siegel said.

JP Morgan analysts weighed in by cutting their price target for Apple by $4 to $270 pointing to poor orders for the new iPhone XR.

Lumentum now expects net revenue of $335m to $355m, compared with its prior range of $405m to $430m, and earnings per share of $1.15 to $1.34, down from $1.60 to $1.75 estimated previously.

Three analysts told Reuters that Lumentum’s forecast points to a reduction of 18m to 20m iPhones on earlier estimates, based on the average selling price of 3D sensing parts. Apple accounted for 30% of the company’s revenue as of June 30.

“Apple could have accumulated too much Lumentum inventory, and needs to work it off, in which case the unit shortfall is less, although it is still indicative of weak iPhone sales.” D.A. Davidson analyst Mark Kelleher said.

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Feels like we get this same story every single year. In the past, Apple’s sales have then shown that sales kept up. This time, we won’t know.
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Voice tech like Alexa and Siri hasn’t found its true calling yet: inside the voice assistant ‘revolution’ • Recode

Rani Molla:

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As the holiday shopping season approaches, voice-powered smart speakers are again expected to be big sellers, adding to the approximately one-quarter to one-third of the U.S. population that already owns a smart speaker and uses a voice assistant at least once a month.

Voice interfaces have been adopted faster than nearly any other technology in history. And with big sales has come big hype, thanks in part to breathless prognostications about our voice-driven future:

The global number of installed smart speakers is going to more than double to 225m units in two years, says Canalys.
• Voice shopping on Alexa alone could generate more than $5bn per year in revenue by 2020, according to RBC Capital Markets.
• Global ad spending on voice assistants — currently nonexistent — will reach $19bn by 2022, nearly the size of the current magazine ad business, per Juniper Research.

While some of this will likely come to pass, the hype might be disguising where we really are with voice technology: earlier than we think.

About a third of smart speaker owners end up using them less after the first month, according to an NPR and Edison Research report earlier this year. Just a little more than half said they wouldn’t want to go back to life without a smart speaker.

While people are certainly enthusiastic about the new technology, it’s not exactly life-changing yet.

Today, voice assistants and smart speakers have proven to be popular ways to turn on the radio or dim the lights or get weather information. But to be revolutionary, they will need to find a greater calling — a new, breakout application.

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Turns out that “radio” is a big new category here: podcasts or radio stations. And that’s where adverts come in: people don’t bother to ask their device to skip forward 30 seconds past an ad. Easier to let it play. “Smart speaker listeners are much more passive,” in the words of one analyst.

A good, thorough piece with lots of insights.
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Fixing Wear OS: how Google could fight back against the Apple Watch • Wareable

David Nield:

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Both our developers were adamant: Wear OS needs a flagship wearable to compete with the Apple Watch. “When people buy an Apple watch, they buy the Apple Watch,” says Jason. “When people buy an Wear OS device, they buy… what? The release of a Google Pixel Watch could change that as it would give users one device to focus on.”

“The platform really needs a flagship watch,” agrees Kris. “No Wear OS watch comes close to the Apple or even Samsung Galaxy watches. Google is clear it wants its partners to focus on the hardware while they focus on the software but neither is doing a good job. Maybe the problem is fashion companies aren’t good at building tech hardware.”

While we’d say there are in fact some very good Wear OS smartwatches on the market, we can see the point – while earlier models had their flaws, the Apple Watch Series 4 really brings hardware and software together impressively well. It’s particularly adept at health and fitness tracking, something Wear OS is still struggling to excel at.

The Wear OS users we spoke to had different ideas about how to push Wear OS forward. Aaron Gumbs wants to see more user customisation options and less of a reliance on Google’s apps and services, while Iwan van Ee would like tighter and more useful integrations with the apps already on his phone.

For Juhani Lehtimäki though, less is more. He points to the Google Chromecast and the Google Home smart speaker as devices that are brilliant in their simplicity.

“Google needs to bring Wear back to being extension of our phones,” says Juhani. “The amount of standalone apps available for a watch doesn’t matter… how well it extends my Google Fit, Android notification system and others is what matters. Take out the Play Store, take out the keyboard support, and focus on being helpful.”

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That “keyboard support” even exists tells you exactly who Wear OS’s audience tends to be: geeks who want to noodle. Nobody sensible tries to type anything harder than a passcode on a watch. (Wear OS is apparently 7% of smartwatch sales.) The point about too much choice is a good one too.
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Police: woman remotely wipes phone in evidence after shooting • Schenectady NY Daily Gazette

Steven Cook:

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A cellphone seized by police as part of an investigation into a drive-by shooting last month was remotely wiped by its owner, authorities said this week.

Police believe Juelle L. Grant, 24, of Willow Avenue, may have been the driver of a vehicle involved in an Oct. 23 drive-by shooting on Van Vranken Avenue, near Lang Street, so they obtained her phone, according to police allegations filed in court. No one was injured in the shooting.

After police took her iPhone X, telling her it was considered evidence, “she did remotely wipe” the device, according to police.

“The defendant was aware of the intentions of the police department at the conclusion of the interview with her,” according to court documents.

Police arrested Grant on Nov. 2 and charged her with three felonies – two counts of tampering with physical evidence and one count of hindering prosecution.

One of the tampering counts relates to the phone. The other, as well as the hindering count, relate to her alleged actions the day of the shooting.

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New ways to commit crime! In the only episode of Breaking Bad I’ve ever watched, they used a giant magnet. But that wouldn’t work against a phone. Hm.
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AI is not “magic dust” for your company, says Google’s cloud AI boss • Technology Review

Will Knight interviews Andrew Knight, ex-Carnegie-Mellon University:

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Q: Like you, lots of AI researchers are being sucked into big companies. Isn’t that bad for AI?

AK: It’s healthy for the world to have people who are thinking about 25 years into the future—and people who are saying “What can we do right now?”

There’s one project at Carnegie Mellon that involves a 70-foot-tall robot designed to pick up huge slabs of concrete and rapidly create levees against major flooding. It’s really important for the world that there are places that are doing that—but it’s kind of pointless if that’s all that’s going on in artificial intelligence.

While I’ve been at Carnegie Mellon, I’ve had hundreds of meetings with principals in large organizations and companies who are saying, “I am worried my business will be completely replaced by some Silicon Valley startup. How can I build something to counter that?”

I can’t think of anything more exciting than being at a place that is not just doing AI for its own sake anymore, but is determined to bring it out to all these other stakeholders who need it.

Q: How big of a technology shift is this for businesses?

AK: It’s like electrification. And it took about two or three decades for electrification to pretty much change the way the world was. Sometimes I meet very senior people with big responsibilities who have been led to believe that artificial intelligence is some kind of “magic dust” that you sprinkle on an organization and it just gets smarter. In fact, implementing artificial intelligence successfully is a slog.

When people come in and say “How do I actually implement this artificial-intelligence project?” we immediately start breaking the problems down in our brains into the traditional components of AI—perception, decision making, action (and this decision-making component is a critical part of it now; you can use machine learning to make decisions much more effectively)—and we map those onto different parts of the business. One of the things Google Cloud has in place is these building blocks that you can slot together.

Solving artificial-intelligence problems involves a lot of tough engineering and math and linear algebra and all that stuff. It very much isn’t the magic-dust type of solution.

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But tell me more about the 70-foot robot that moves paving slabs.
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Global tablet shipments to decline 4.3% in 2018; Huawei to become 3rd largest manufacturer, surpassing Amazon • TrendForce

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“With the launch of new devices in the coming era of 5G, the tablet category will still help the brands build a strategic future, retaining their customer bases and becoming more influential in the global IoT network,” says Kou-Han Tseng, TrendForce notebook analyst. Therefore, major brands will not give up their tablet product lines, even at the expense of downsizing their entry-level product ranges. Particularly, Google continues the ambitions about its tablet business and Huawei expands fast in this segment, whose growth momentum jointly remains key to the overall performance of the tablet market. For 2019, TrendForce forecasts the global tablet shipments at 139.6m units, a YoY decline of 4%.

Amid the overall decline of tablet sales worldwide, brands tend to offer lower prices to retain customers and invest less in new tablet development. In contrast, Huawei appears to be rather positive in developing new mobile devices, including both smartphones and tablets. Huawei’s shipments of tablets for 2018 are expected to rise by over 30% to more than 14m units, with a market share of 9.8%, 2.6 percentage points up from last year. The impressive shipments will also enable Huawei to become the 3rd largest tablet manufacturer this year, surpassing Amazon.

Amazon’s growth momentum for tablet grows conservative as the brand shifts some focus to its smart speaker business. The company expects a fall in its annual tablet shipments for 2018, although it has been adjusting its product portfolio faster and increasing the share of its 8in and larger products. After three years of strong growth, Amazon is expected to record a more conservative shipment of 13.4m units this year, a YoY decline of 1%.

The leading tablet maker Apple has revealed its new 11in and 12.9in iPad Pro models ahead of the coming holiday sales in Europe and the US. However, its launch not long after new iPhones and the premium price tags, 25% higher than its ancestors, may prevent the new iPad series from achieving mass market success. As the result, TrendForce expects the iPad shipment to fall by 2% YoY, recording 43m units for 2018.

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The Pro tablets aren’t intended to get “mass market success”; the clue is in the name. TrendForce excludes 2-in-1 PCs (such as the Surface genus?).
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Was this the biggest mistake in the history of the music business? • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

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Back in 1990, London-born Sam Houser, aged 19, landed a dream first job – working in the post-room at BMG’s UK HQ. Houser then supplemented his university studies by continuing to work at BMG for the next four years, focusing on pop music videos and VHS releases.

By 1994, he’d graduated, and took a full-time role within BMG’s new interactive entertainment division.

Houser, it turned out, had a natural talent for ‘A&R’ing’ video games – spotting titles that would sell big and signing them up as a label would an artist – and, by 1996, he was named Head of Development at BMG Interactive in the UK.

Got your palm located somewhere roughly near your forehead? Good. Prepare for the two to forcibly meet.

In late 1997, BMG Interactive released Grand Theft Auto, a 2D action-adventure game, which saw players fulfilling the objectives of criminal overlords across three cities.

The title was a commercial smash in the US and Europe – yet it emerged amid serious corporate turbulence.

In March 1998, convinced that its foray into video games had been a waste of time and money, BMG – under the instruction of owner Bertelsmann – agreed to sell off BMG Interactive.

According to Sam Houser, BMG let the company go, to New York-based Take Two Interactive, for a total consideration of $9m.

This deal included the BMG Interactive staff, plus all rights to the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

(For those who can see where this narrative is going: Red Dead Redemption 2 generated that $9m back within an hour of going on sale last month.)

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Yes, Houser is one of the team behind Red Dead Redemption (1 2), which smashed records the other week. It’s a fascinating tale of “bad fit”: the music business just couldn’t work in the way the video games business does. So it dumped it.
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This banking malware just added password and browser history stealing to its playbook • ZDNet

Danny Palmer:

»

The Trickbot banking malware has added yet another tool to its arsenal, allowing crooks to steal passwords as well as steal browser data including web history and usernames.

The malware first appeared in 2016, initially focused on stealing banking credentials – but Trickbot is highly customisable and has undergone a series of updates since then. The latest trick – picked up by researchers at both Trend Micro and Fortinet – is the addition of a new module designed to steal passwords.

This new Trickbot variant first emerged in October and is delivered to victims via a malicious Excel document.

Like many forms of malware, the malicious package is spread via macros: the user is told their document was created in an older version of Excel and that they must ‘enable content’ to view the file. This allows macros to run and executes malicious VBS code which kicks off the process of the malware download.

«

Social engineering is still one of the most reliable ways to hack people.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

Start Up No.950: Pakistan’s banks hacked?, smartphones in Africa v China, the human bot problem, unzip for iPhone!, and more


Americans are paying more for the components of self-build PCs. Yup, tariffs. Photo by GokuPhoto 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 14 links for you. OK, but some are short. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Data from ‘almost all’ Pakistani banks stolen, says FIA cyber-crime chief in Pakistan • Geo.tv

Azaz Syed:

»

The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) cyber-crime chief set off alarm bells on Tuesday when he revealed that customers’ data from “almost all major Pakistani banks” was stolen in a recent security breach.

“Almost all [Pakistani] banks’ data has been breached. According to the reports that we have, most of the banks have been affected,” Director of FIA Cyber-Crimes wing Captain (retd) Mohammad Shoaib told Geo News.

The FIA official’s comments follow a recent report from Group-IB, a global cyber security firm, that hackers had released a new dump of Pakistani credit and debit cards on dark web forums.

By the end of last week, at least six Pakistani banks had suspended usage of their debit cards outside the country and blocked all international transactions on their cards.

Concerns about a breach of credit and debit card data spread in the banking circles, after a cyber attack on Bank Islami last week that siphoned off at least Rs2.6 million from its accounts.

The cyber-crime chief did not reveal exactly when the security breach took place that had affected most Pakistani banks.

“More than 100 cases [of cyber-attack] have been registered with the FIA and are under investigation. We have made several arrests in the case, including that of an international gang [last month],” Capt (retd) Shoaib said.

«

link to this extract


Android security auditing (investigating unauthorized screenshots) • Michael Altfield’s Tech Blog

»

About six months ago, I discovered something on my smartphone that horrified me: I went to undelete a file in DiskDigger, and I stumbled upon a plethora of unexpected jpegs: screenshots of my activity. Screenshots that I didn’t take. Screenshots of my conversations within my encrypted-messaging-app-of-choice. Screenshots of my news feed. Screenshots showing my GPS position in my open source map app. And screnshots of my bitcoin wallet.

I was perplexed. I was astonished. And, to be honest, I was scared. How did this happen? Was it a vulnerability shipped with LineageOS? Could it be some malicious binary embedded into AOSP? Or is it some exploit in one of those damned closed-source apps that I was forced to install through social pressure (*cough* whatsapp).

This week I was honored to be accepted into a 1-week mini batch at the Recurse Center (formerly “Hacker School”) in Brooklyn, NY. And, finally, I decided to roll-up my sleeves and dig into Android Security Auditing with the ultimate goal of finding out what was responsible for creating (and then deleting) all these screenshots. Well, with no thanks to Google, I did find the source. And the codebase is integrated into AOSP. But (spoiler), it’s not something to sweat about. Though it is a fun journey.

«

The answer – as he says, nothing to sweat about – is surprising.
link to this extract


Africa’s biggest markets drive strong growth in continent’s smartphone shipments • IDC

»

A total of 22.4m smartphones were shipped in Africa during the second quarter of this year (Q2 2018), according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC). The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows that Africa’s smartphone shipments increased 9.8% quarter on quarter (QoQ) and 6.0% year on year (YoY) in Q2 2018.

The market’s buoyant performance was spurred by the growing popularity of low-end to mid-range devices. Transsion brands continued to lead the continent’s smartphone space in Q2 2018, accounting 35.4% of shipments. Samsung followed in second place with 23.2% share.

By contrast, the feature phone market was down 1.1% QoQ and 5.8% YoY in Q2 2018, but – with shipments totaling 31.4m units – these devices still constitute a 58.3% share of Africa’s overall mobile phone market as they cater to the needs of the continent’s huge low-income population (mainly in rural areas) by providing basic mobile communications that are priced very competitively.

«

That’s just to give you the contrast of the size of the market. Africa’s total population is about 1.3bn; China, with about 1bn population, the Q3 figure was 305m, or about 13x bigger.
link to this extract


Cesar Sayoc and others on Twitter are behaving like bots • Slate

Charles Seife:

»

If you plot the time of the account’s tweets on a 24-hour clock (midnight at top, noon at bottom), you see that it never seems to sleep, and its predilection for posting on the half-hour makes a sunburst pattern. I’m very comfortable saying this is a bot. (I tweeted to ask but have received no response, even as the account continued to post right-wing news.)

Compare that to a typical humanoid—such as me. Below, you can see a seven-to eight-hour period when I stop my online activity, and you can tell that my sleep pattern is pretty normal.

Sayoc’s sleep pattern was apparently not ordinary; the carve-out in his daily clock is quite short and in the wrong place. It looks like Sayoc wasn’t getting much sleep, and when he did, it was in the middle of the day.

And, on the other hand, a bot can pretend to sleep, and a lot of bots, in fact, have a diurnal pattern. In many cases, they seem more natural than Sayoc’s.

«

I like the polar plot – a clever way to visualise it. He also looks at “time between tweets” – another element you’d think would be a giveaway. Not so.
link to this extract


An unzipping shortcut • All this

Dr Drang (who works in engineering, usually calculating how to stop bridges falling down, etc) likes noodling with scripts; here he tackles a problem many people face: how do you handle ZIP files on iOS?

»

Apple provides the product images as zipped archives, so when I clicked on the link in the press release, I was confronted with this “what do I do?” screen in Safari.

The efficient thing would have been to walk ten feet over to my iMac and download the zip files there, where they can be expanded with almost no thought. But I took the procrastinator’s way out, deciding to solve the problem of dealing with zip files on iOS once and for all.

In the past, I’ve tried out a few zipping/unzipping apps, and they’ve all sucked, with user interfaces that are clumsy to navigate and look like something out of Windows 3.1. What I wanted was a clean, one-click solution similar to what we have on a Mac. A shortcut, if you will…

I went to the Shortcuts Gallery and searched on “zip,” “unzip,” and “archive.” There was a shortcut for zipping up a bunch of files and putting them into an email message, but nothing for unzipping and saving. I also couldn’t find anything by Googling. So I made my own.

«

It will take you 30 seconds to write this Shortcut, perhaps less to download it from him. Anyway, that’s another obstacle to “real work” solved.
link to this extract


The US is in a state of perpetual minority rule • The Washington Post

Daniel Markovits and Ian Ayres (who teach law, economics and politics at Yale Law School) on the inbuilt bias of the state-oriented, first-past-the-post system in the US:

»

The electoral college system extends these biases into presidential elections. Donald Trump himself also lost the popular vote — by 2 percentage points, or nearly 3 million votes — in 2016. This difference represents the greatest popular-vote loss suffered by any winning president in history.

President Trump and the Republican senators have used their offices to remake the judiciary in their own image. Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh entrench a reliable conservative majority at the Supreme Court, in spite of being nominated by a popular-vote-losing president and confirmed by senators who, our research shows, collectively won (in each case) about 24 million fewer votes than the senators who voted against the nominations.

All in all, then, a Democratic Party that has dominated the popular vote across all federal offices enjoys only a narrow elective majority in one half of one branch of the federal government. And Trump and Republican senators are using their control of the rest of the government to promote policies that will extend and entrench the Republican skew in elections. The Supreme Court will likely soon hear a series of cases in election law that review the very practices that underwrite Republican power.

Finally, these patterns follow a dark demographic logic. White men — roughly one-quarter of the total US population — constitute Trumpism’s core constituency. Exit polls showed they favoured Trump over Hillary Clinton by 62% to 31% and favoured Republicans over Democrats in this year’s midterms by 60% to 39%. No other major demographic group supports the Trump agenda with anything approaching this enthusiasm. We’ve estimated that if white men voted like the rest of America, Democrats would have won the 2016 presidential election by 19% and would, following the midterms, control a majority of the Senate with at least 20 more seats.

«

The urban-rural divide in the US is going to create increasing rifts unless the US revises its representation system. That Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000 inhabitants, sends as many senators as California, with 37m, is crazy. Reform might even allow a third party to emerge and influence change.
link to this extract


Getting the iPad to Pro • Craig Mod

»

Let’s assume — as all the marketing seems to imply — that Apple wants us to treat these machines as primary computers. And assume we’re professional computer folk, who do complicated computer things. [Footnote: I would not be surprised to see iPads run both iOS and macOS, and switch between OSes when plugged into external monitors, thus fixing the weird UX snafu of touchscreen on a screen without touch.]

Having used the heck out of iPads these past few years, I believe there are two big software flaws that both make iOS great, and keep it from succeeding as a “pro” device: [Footnote: Contrary to a lot of complaints I see about iPads, I don’t find the lack of a track pad / pointer to be an issue. Touch / Pencil and a Smart Keyboard have worked really well for me.]

1. iOS is primarily designed for — and overly dependent on — single-context computing
2. Access to a lower level (i.e., a file-like system) components is necessary for professional edge-tasks

And one big general flaw that keeps it from being superb:

1. Many software companies still don’t treat the iPad as a first class computing platform [Footnote: Including Apple! I asked for (the quite excellent) archive of all the data Apple has collected about me (fascinating, well-structured, illuminating, worth retrieving) and, when my archive was ready, upon visiting the archive download page on an iPad was told: This device is not supported.]

Let’s dig into real-world examples of where these issues present problems…

«

Excellent piece.

link to this extract


CNN headlines, according to a neural net • Letting neural networks be weird

The wonderful Janelle Shane:

»

After much more training (about 30 min total on a fast GPU), it grew confident enough to use actual words more often. It had learned something about business as well.

Why the Stock Market is Trying to Get a Lot of Money
The US China Trade War is so Middle Class
Bank of the Stock Market is Now Now the Biggest Ever
The Best Way to Avoid Your Money
How Much You Need to Know About the New York City
How to Make a New Tax Law for Your Boss
The Stock Market Market is the Most Powerful Money
Goldman Sachs is a New Super Bowl
Facebook is Buying a Big Big Deal
Why Apps in the Country
5 Ways to Trump on Chipotle Industry is the Random Wedding
Premarket Stocks Surge on Report of Philadelphia Starbucks Starbucks Starbucks

One curious pattern that emerged: companies behaving badly.

Walmart Grilled With a New Leader in Murder Tech
Coca-Cola is Scanning Your Messages for Big Chinese Tech
Amazon Wants to Make Money Broadcasting from Your Phone
Should I Pay My Workers
Amazon is Recalling 1 Trillion Jobs

My favorite headlines, though, were the most surreal.

Star Wars Episode IX Has New Lime Blazer
Mister Rogers in Washington
Black Panther Crushes the iPhone XS and XS Max Max
How to Build a Flying Car Car
You Make Doom Stocks
The Fly Species Came Back to Life
India Gets a Bad Mocktail Non Alcoholic Spirit
How to Buy a Nightmare

«

I think “Star Wars Episode IX Has New Lime Blazer” is my favourite because I feel pretty sure I’ve read it somewhere. Next train it on clickbait? Speaking of which…
link to this extract


Meeting Kosovo’s clickbait merchants • BBC News

Carl Miller spoke to Kosovan fake news generators a year ago; now he has gone back to see how the crackdown by Facebook et al is going:

»

although less profitable, the practice was still widespread. “Forty% of Kosovan youth are doing this,” one merchant told me. “Thousands upon thousands,” said another.

And it’s little wonder. 100 euros a day is still life-changing for someone, like him, who’d earned seven euros a day as a waiter before he started. The “why” was clear. In the face of Facebook’s reforms, the bigger surprise was “how”.

There is another side to this fake news and clickbait industry that isn’t visible to us. I learned that a network of closed groups exist, with memberships that can number from a few hundred to several thousand. To be part of such a closed group, you have to be invited.

But inside, it was clear that Facebook wasn’t just the place where they harvested audiences. It was also where the fake news merchants themselves traded with each other.

I saw Facebook pages with hundreds of thousands of likes traded for thousands of dollars. Others sold fake likes, or fake accounts, or offered advice on how to get around Facebook’s enforcement.

We even found a “fake news starter pack” for a beginner, complete with a collection of Facebook pages to gather an audience, along with websites to monetise your activity. This was a service sector economy for misinformation.

It wasn’t just Facebook that was innovating, the misinformation merchants were too. Some were specialised in growing pages and selling them on. Others would sell content, and more still concentrated on getting around Facebook’s enforcement.

Even within small groups, this was happening routinely and dozens of times a day. It was industrial-scale gaming of Facebook’s policies and systems.

Around the world, there are thousands of people like those I spoke to. Usually young, male and digitally savvy, they are willing to share any content for the clicks. And in the chase for clicks online, the horrifying, shocking, exaggerated, or divisive wins out again and again.

«

Huh.
link to this extract


Why PC builders should stock up on components now • PCMag UK

Michael Kan:

»

NZXT is a popular PC desktop case vendor, but the California-based company recently had to raise its prices.

The reason? The new US tariffs on Chinese imports includes PC cases. In September, the Trump administration imposed the 10% duty, which also cover motherboards, graphics cards, and CPU coolers from the country. As a result, NZXT had to introduce a 10% price increase on PC cases to deal with the added costs, VP Jim Carlton told PCMag in an interview.

And building a PC could get even more expensive in 2019; US tariffs on Chinese-made goods will rise from 10% to 25% in January.

“If I needed to build a system in the next six months, I’d definitely build it before the end of the year,” Carlton told us.

For PC builders, the tariffs risk adding a few hundred dollars to the total cost of components for a custom desktop. “If it’s a $2,000 purchase on 25% tariffs, it’s going to be a $2,500 purchase,” Carlton said. “So we are very concerned with the direction of where this is going.”

“I don’t have a 10% [profit] margin I can just throw away and absorb the tariffs,” he added. “And certainly no one has a margin for 25%.”

But retail consumers won’t be the only buyers affected by the tariffs. MBX Systems is another US provider of hardware systems, which focuses on enterprise customers. The Illinois-based company specializes in assembling servers, which are then resold by its clients, such as cybersecurity firms.

Last month, the company told its customers the bad news; more than 30 component suppliers—including Intel, Samsung, and Seagate—had been affected by the tariffs, forcing server component costs to go up.

“We’ve seen anywhere from reluctant acceptance by the customer—where they’re not going to increase the cost to the end user—to others that will push back heavily,” MBX Systems president Chris Tucker told PCMag.

«

Looking outside China doesn’t help: manufacturing prices are higher.. by at least the tariff amount. Trade wars: not so easy to win.
link to this extract


Researchers claim to have permanently neutralized ad-blocking’s most promising weapons • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

»

Last year, Princeton researchers revealed a powerful new ad-blocking technique: perceptual ad-blocking uses a machine-learning model trained on images of pages with the ads identified to make predictions about which page elements are ads to block and which parts are not.

However, a new paper from a group of Stanford and CISPA Helmholtz Center researchers reveals a powerful machine learning countermeasure that, they say, will permanently tilt the advantage toward advertisers and away from ad-blockers.

The team revealed a set of eight techniques to generate adversarial examples of slightly modified ads that completely flummoxed the perceptual ad-blocker’s model: from overlaying a transparent image to modifying a few pixels in the logo used to demarcate an ad.

What’s more, the team showed that they could cause the perceptual blocker’s model to erroneously identify a page’s actual content as an ad and block it, while leaving the ads unblocked.

The team says that these techniques will always outrace the ability of perceptual blocking models to detect them, suggesting that perceptual blocking may be a dead letter.

«

Dead letter? Dead end maybe. Please now view this advert for “arms race”.
link to this extract


Facebook Portal non-review: why I didn’t put Facebook’s camera in my home • WSJ

Joanna Stern refused to review the Portal in her house, citing privacy concerns, though she did use it in the office:

»

When I asked about the popular Facebook mic conspiracy, Mr. Bosworth assured me that “it is not true, it will continue to not be true.” On the Portals, specifically, he made a number of privacy and security assurances:

• You can disable the camera and microphone by pressing the button on top of the device. This physically disconnects them so even if the Portal were hacked, they wouldn’t be accessible.
• As an added measure, you can block the camera lens with an included plastic camera cover.
• All the smart-camera technology—the person detection, etc.—happens locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition to identify people on the call.
• Like all Messenger calls and messages, all communications are encrypted.
• Like Amazon Echo or Google Home, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log.

However, because this is using Facebook Messenger, the data that is typically collected from a call is still collected. That includes your call history, how long you spent talking to certain contacts, etc. Also, the sheer use of the device indicates to Facebook you’re interested in video calling, so you may be targeted for that. Speaking of ads, Facebook said there are no ads on the Portal’s screen, and the company doesn’t have plans to show ads there.

Facebook’s Promise: The Portal was designed so you’re always in control of your privacy and security.

My Assessment: It’s hard to believe we really have any control of our Facebook data and privacy given the last year.

«

Facebook execs are clearly sincere about their desire to make the Portal private. But it’s the scorpion riding on the frog’s back: it’ll sting you somehow eventually. That’s just its nature. At the same time, the technology is smart. But will the people who can afford it be the ones prepared to let go of their privacy?
link to this extract


Apple pumps up its Amazon listings with iPhones, iPads and more • CNET

Ben Fox Rubin:

»

Amazon has signed a deal to expand the selection of Apple products on its sites worldwide.

The world’s largest e-commerce company said Friday it’ll soon start selling more Apple products directly and have access to Apple’s latest devices, including the new iPad Pro, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Apple Watch Series 4, as well as Apple’s lineup of Beats headphones. The Amazon-Apple deal encompasses the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and India, with the new products hitting Amazon sites in the coming weeks.

Only Apple-authorized resellers will now be allowed to sell Apple and Beats products on Amazon’s marketplace.

Currently, many of these Apple products are either unavailable on Amazon or are on sale only through its third-party marketplace at varied prices and conditions. Amazon does already directly sell some Apple devices, such as MacBook laptops and Beats headphones.

«

Pull in those marginal sales at a time when things might be getting tough.
link to this extract


Creation and consumption • Benedict Evans

Benedict Evans:

»

It seems to me that when people talk about what you ‘can’t’ do on a device, there are actually two different meanings of ‘can’t’ in computing. There is ‘can’t’ as meaning the feature doesn’t exist, and there is ‘can’t’ as meaning you don’t know how to do it. If you don’t know how to do it, the feature might as well not be there. So, there is what an expert can’t do on a smartphone or tablet that they could do on a PC. But then there are all of the things that a normal person (the other 90% or 95%) can’t do on a PC but can do on a smartphone, because the step change in user interface abstraction and simplicity means that they know how to do it on a phone and didn’t know how to do it on a PC. That is, the step change in user interface models that comes with the shift from Windows and Mac to iOS and Android is really a shift in the accessibility of capability. A small proportion of people might temporarily go from can to can’t, but vastly more go from can’t to can. 

Meanwhile, while there are 1.5bn PCs, many of them shared, there are today around 3bn smartphones, and this will rise to 5bn or more in the next few years, out of 5.5bn people on Earth aged over 14… the price and distribution of smartphones means that billions more people will use smartphones for something than ever used a PC for anything at all. 

So, 100m or so people are doing things on PCs now that can’t be done on tablets or smartphones. Some portion of those tasks will change and become possible on mobile, and some portion of them will remain restricted to PCs for a long time. But there are another 3bn people who were using PCs (but mostly sharing them) but who weren’t doing any of those things with them, and are now doing on mobile almost all of the stuff that they actually did do on PCs, plus a lot more. And, there’s another 2bn or so people whose first computer of any kind is or will be a smartphone. ‘Creation on PC, consumption on mobile’ seems like a singularly bad way to describe this: vastly more is being created on mobile now by vastly more people than was ever created on PCs.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.949: AI finds missing voters, US cordcutters keep cutting, Creative Commons photos safe, White House goes deepfake, and more


YouTube’s algorithms can lead us down a rabbit hole – and they’re getting better at it. Photo by Kevin Dooley 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How YouTube’s recommendation algorithm really works • The Atlantic

Alexis Madrigal:

»

YouTube wants to recommend things people will like, and the clearest signal of that is whether other people liked them. Pew found that 64% of recommendations went to videos with more than a million views. The 50 videos that YouTube recommended most often had been viewed an average of 456 million times each. Popularity begets popularity, at least in the case of users (or bots, as here) that YouTube doesn’t know much about.

On the other hand, YouTube has said in previous work describing its algorithm that users like fresher content, all else being equal. But it takes time for a post to build huge numbers of views and signal to the algorithm that it’s worth promoting. So, the challenge becomes how to recommend “new videos that users want to watch” when those videos are new to the system and low in views. (Finding fresh, potentially hot videos is important, YouTube researchers have written, for “propagating viral content.”)

Pew’s research reflects this: About 5% of the recommendations went to videos with fewer than 50,000 views. The system learns from a video’s early performance, and if it does well, views can grow rapidly. In one case, a highly recommended kids’ video went from 34,000 views when Pew first encountered it in July to 30 million in August.

The behavior of the system was explicable in a few other ways, too, especially as it adapted to making more clicks inside YouTube’s system. First, as Pew’s software made choices, the system selected longer videos. It’s as if the software recognizes that the user is going to be around for a while, and starts to serve up longer fare. Second, it also began to recommend more popular videos regardless of how popular the starting video was.

These conditions were almost certainly not hard coded into the algorithmic decision making. Like most of the Google sister companies, YouTube uses deep-learning neural networks, a kind of software that retunes its outputs based on the data fed into it. It’s not that a YouTube engineer said, “Show people kids’ videos that are progressively longer and more popular,” but rather that the system statistically deduced that this would optimize along all the dimensions YouTube desires.

«

The idea that YouTube’s algorithm is now going beyond simple understanding – why this video and not that? – and entering the point where it’s just trying to suck people in is quite unsettling when you consider that similar algorithms can beat the world’s best Go players.

At some point does it find a video sequence that nobody will be able to tear themselves away from?
link to this extract


Pay TV just lost one million subscribers in biggest quarterly loss ever • Exstreamist

Rob Toledo:

»

An executive at a major cable company said a few years ago that cutting the cord was a fad, and would not impact business in the long term.

This conversation was over two years ago, and almost every quarter since then, we have written the same article: that a record number of people are cutting the cord, ditching their expensive cable packages for more more flexible streaming services.

BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield tweeted this week that cable and satellite companies lost over one million subscribers in the last quarter. This is the biggest loss of subscribers in one quarter seen by the pay TV industry ever.

Let that sink in. Over one million (now former) subscribers ditched their cable in a three month period.

This is not an anomaly, as each quarter for at least the past three years has seen quarterly falloff of cable and satellite customers.

In 2016, there were an estimated 99 million pay TV subscribers in the United States, with each year seeing a big decline, with estimates expecting this number to keep dropping.

While it used to be fairly simple in that a consumer several years ago would cancel their subscription and simply sign up for Netflix, the number of streaming services is on a rapid rise as well, which analysts believe has accelerated the cancellation of cable.

«

I wonder if Americans actively like the lack of adverts on services such as Netflix. This trend looks set to continue.
link to this extract


The Free Music Archive is closing this month • The Verge

Bijan Stephen:

»

The Free Music Archive was founded in 2009, the same year Barack Obama was inaugurated as this country’s first black president. As a project directed by the legendary Jersey City radio station WFMU, it was to be a “library of high-quality, legal audio downloads,” a place where artists could share their music and listeners could enjoy it for free. Now, following a funding shortage, the FMA plans to close sometime this month.

“The future is uncertain, has been my mantra lately,” says Cheyenne Hohman, who’s been the director of the Free Music Archive since 2014. The shutdown date was initially November 9th, but it has since been pushed back to November 16th because the FMA is in early talks with four different organizations that are interested in taking the project over. “The site may stay up a little bit longer to ensure, at the very least, that our collections are backed up on archive.org and the Wayback Machine.”

Even so, it’s not a perfect solution. “If it just goes into archive.org, it’s going to be there in perpetuity, but it’s not going to be changing at all,” Hohman says. “It’s not going to be the same thing, that sort of community and project that it was for … almost 10 years.”

«

link to this extract


Another use for AI: finding millions of unregistered voters • The New York Times

Steve Lohr:

»

For the last four years, Mr. Jonas has used his software for a multistate project known as Electronic Registration Information Center that identifies eligible voters and cleans up voter rolls. Since its founding in 2012, the nonprofit center has identified 26 million people who are eligible but unregistered to vote, as well as 10 million registered voters who have moved, appear on more than one list or have died.

“I have no doubt that more people are voting as a result of ERIC,” said John Lindback, a former senior election administrator in Oregon and Alaska who was the center’s first executive director.
Voter rolls, like nearly every aspect of elections, are a politically charged issue. ERIC, brought together by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is meant to play it down the middle. It was started largely with professional election administrators, from both red and blue states.

But the election officials recognized that their headaches often boiled down to a data-handling challenge. Then Mr. Jonas added his technology, which has been developed and refined for decades. It is artificial intelligence software fine-tuned for spotting and resolving identities, whether people or things.

“Every time you get two pieces of junk mail from the same place, that’s an entity resolution problem,” Mr. Jonas said. “They’re missed, but entity resolution problems are everywhere.”

Shortly after the election administrators tapped him, Mr. Jonas sketched out how his technology might be applied to their challenges. And they needed to take a very different path than another data-matching initiative, the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck System, which was already underway.

Crosscheck was begun in 2005, led by Ron Thornburgh, then the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, and later championed by Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state who is running for governor of Kansas.

«

I’m sure this will shock you, but Crosscheck produced lots of false positives which disenfranchised people wrongly, whereas ERIC is intended to both improve voter access and clean voter rolls so they’re more accurate.
link to this extract


2018 iPad Pro review: “What’s a computer?” • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

»

iOS is excellent software for phones, but it is not up to the task of driving creative professionals’ power user ambitions on a tablet—not even close. Copying, pasting, and editing text is an enormous hassle if you’re doing anything other than scribbling a couple of notes or shooting off an email. The multitasking features expanded upon in iOS 11 are still neat, and the iPhone X-like gesture for swiping quickly between apps like you’d swipe between Spaces on a Mac is powerful. But using this machine, you’ll be laboriously swiping between apps constantly to do the smallest things.

I already talked about the iPad Pro’s frustrating limitations of the USB-C connection and the lack of OS-wide support for external drives. This stuff is essential for power users, and iOS just doesn’t deliver. If you’ve ever used an iPad for productivity before, you know what I’m talking about. It’s infuriatingly close, and it gets marginally closer with each passing year, yet it never quite seems to arrive.

The problems here are surprising in part because they are very un-Apple. The company’s pitch to consumers and professionals alike has always been about the advantages of end-to-end integration, and that includes software and hardware built to work well together. But iOS feels like it is built for a completely different device, given that the new iPad Pro’s ambitions are much greater than those of prior iPads, or of the iPhone.

Then there’s app support. The OS’s limitations would be more tolerable if third-party (and first-party) apps picked up the slack, and the development tools are there to make it happen. Unfortunately, too many of the “pro” apps for the iPad Pro are deliberately stripped down for the tablet. And there are numerous tools that creatives and professionals would love to see on the iPad that just aren’t there.

«

I don’t agree. I’ve written and edited most of a book on an iPad Pro; I’ve produced and edited and given presentations from one. His criticism of the music element – that there’s no 3.5mm jack, and you need a wired connection for good audio editing – is strong on its face, but they you buy a $80 7-in-1 USB-C dongle from Hypershop which provides multiple USB-A, HDMI, SD, USB-C… and a 3.5mm jack.

Sure, dongles are an annoyance. But it’s there.
link to this extract


The Commons: the past is 100% part of our future • Flickr Blog

Don MacAskill is CEO of SmugMug (and now Flickr too):

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The Big Three at Yalta

Photos from NASA, The Smithsonian, The National Archives UK, and The British Library, for example, have been shared in The Flickr Commons. As part of The Flickr Commons, all these organizations already were Pro or have received a free Pro account from us, so they have unlimited storage.

The Creative Commons (CC) organization has developed a suite of licenses that give individual photographers or groups great tools for licensing their photography for others to freely use. The photographer keeps their copyright and gives the public an easy way to use their images as long as the license terms are followed.

The Flickr Commons and Creative Commons are different, thus our storage changes affect each differently (or not at all).

Are Commons Photos Being Deleted?

No. And once more for good measure: no, Commons photos are not being deleted.

The Flickr Commons photos (those uploaded by the archival, governmental, etc. institutions we are working with) are safe. We are extremely proud of these partnerships. These photos won’t be deleted as a result of any of our announced changes. The only reason they’d disappear is if the organization that uploaded them decided to delete them.

Photos that were Creative Commons licensed before our announcement are also safe. We won’t be deleting anything that was uploaded with a CC license before November 1, 2018. Even if you had more than 1,000 photos or videos with a CC license. However, if you do have more than 1,000 photos or videos uploaded, you’ll be unable to upload additional photos after January 8, 2019, unless you upgrade to a Pro account.

«

Phew. (All the photos used to illustrate The Overspil are CC-licensed.)
link to this extract


New auto safety technologies push repair bills up • IEEE Spectrum

Robert Charette:

»

There is little debate over whether advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) could reduce both the number and severity of vehicle crashes. A 2015 study [PDF] by the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and Boston Consulting Group says equipping new vehicles with technologies including blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, and collision-mitigation braking systems could eventually save 10,000 lives and eliminate or reduce the severity of millions of nonfatal injuries from motor vehicle accidents.

The additional cost of these advanced driver-assistance systems has slowed their adoption, however. A collision-mitigation system alone can increase the cost of a new vehicle by US $1,500 or more. Further, new research by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows a significant increase in the cost of repairing these systems after even a minor accident. This finding could put off auto buyers even more.

According to AAA research, vehicles equipped with advanced safety features “can cost twice as much to repair following a collision due to expensive sensors and their calibration requirements.” For instance, a windshield repair for vehicles equipped with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning systems could run as high as $1,650, the AAA found. This is in comparison to a typical windshield replacement cost which runs $210 to $230, although it is not uncommon to see it go as high as $500, according to Glass America.

«

Would it make you drive more carefully, perhaps?
link to this extract


White House shares doctored video to support punishment of journalist Jim Acosta • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:

»

Critics said that video — which sped up the movement of Acosta’s arms in a way that dramatically changed the journalist’s response — was deceptively edited to score political points. That edited video was first shared by Paul Joseph Watson, known for his conspiracy-theory videos on the far-right website Infowars.

Watson said he did not change the speed of the video and that claims he had altered it were a “brazen lie.” Watson, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, told BuzzFeed he created the video by downloading an animated image from conservative news site Daily Wire, zooming in and saving it as a video — a conversion he says could have made it “look a tiny bit different.”

Side-by-side comparisons support claims from fact-checkers and experts such as Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, who argued that crucial parts of the video appear to have been altered so as to distort the action.

A frame-by-frame breakdown by Storyful, a social-media intelligence firm that verifies media content, found that the edited video included repeated frames that did not appear in the original footage. The repeated frames were shown only at the moment of contact and made Acosta’s arm movement look more exaggerated, said Shane Raymond, a journalist at Storyful.

The video has quickly become a flashpoint in the battle over viral misinformation, turning a live interaction watched by thousands in real time into just another ideological tug-of-war. But it has also highlighted how video content — long seen as an unassailable verification tool for truth and confirmation — has become as vulnerable to political distortion as anything else.

«

First: how pathetic that the White House can’t use its own video. Second: utterly pathetic that it uses something from a conspiracy site; have they no pride? Third: didn’t expect that we’d be talking about doctored videos literally the day after I linked to a New Yorker article on it. Fourth: that the US can’t have any topic at all without it descending into partisan fury is a sad indictment of its political immaturity. It’s actually going backwards.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

How to find out if you’re paying an App Store subscription without realising it – and what Apple needs to do

There have been a number of articles recently with horror stories of unscrupulous developers who essentially con people into signing up for subscriptions to apps on the App Store; these can rake in huge amounts of money.

Of course you’re thinking: I don’t do that! I’d never fall for it. (Postscript: see my update at the end.)

But you can. As Sarah Perez writes,

They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

You think you won’t fall for it, but a lot of people do: the No.69 top grossing app gets $14.3m per year, and it’s a document scanner. Huh?

So because it’s important to know how to find out whether you’re on a subscription, here’s how to find it in iOS. (Here’s Apple’s page explaining how, but mine has nice pictures.)

First, go to Settings. There’s your account at the top: press on that. This takes you to the Apple ID area.

You want to press on the “iTunes and App Store” one:

This will take you through to a screen where the top link – though it doesn’t necessarily look like a link – is your Apple ID. (It’s in blue, so that tells you it is a link.) Press it.

OK, we’re nearly there! Now you want to choose “View Apple ID” from the menu below:

And now there’s yet another page: you want to go to the bottom of this, where it says “Subscriptions”. Press that.

/

Congratulations! You’ve beaten the boss level and your prize is to see what you’re subscribed to.

Hmm, looks like I don’t have any dodgy subscriptions that I ought to be worried about. But if there is something there you don’t like or don’t recognise, then press on that and it will take you to a page which will allow you to cancel the subscription immediately. It won’t tell you when you signed up, nor how much you’ve spent on it – both pieces of data that arguably would help in tracking back on scams – but at least you can stop it.

Now, this will probably strike you as pretty complex. Nobody’s going to come across that screen by accident; it’s quite possible that you wouldn’t come across it even if you were searching for “Subscriptions”, because a search in the Settings doesn’t show it up. Nor do my subscriptions to Apple Music and iTunes Match show up in the settings for Music. Your subscriptions are really hard to find.

This is bad in all sorts of ways, but it’s indicative of how subscriptions have sneaked up on Apple almost without it realising – even though adding subscriptions to apps was A Big Thing, back in 2011, and then again in 2016 when Apple revised the terms to make it easier to make money from them.

There are already good ideas about how this should be tackled. I liked this suggestion on Twitter from Trevor Phillippi (who is a product designer at Facebook):

His comment was “I’d love it if iOS did something like this. I just checked my subscriptions and wow, I’ve been passively wasting a bunch of money.”

He’s absolutely right: it wouldn’t be that hard to institute a monthly check of what you do and don’t use (that information is onboard the device) and what you’re signed up to (that info isn’t onboard; you can confirm this by putting your phone or iPad on Airplane mode and trying to access the “View Apple ID” info).

One obvious objection to this is that you might not be accessing the app you’re subscribed to on one device, but you are on another – a classic example would be Netflix: you don’t watch it on your phone but you do on your iPad. This is another reason why it’s Apple which has to institute this procedure, since (again) it will be able to see usage data. (We can get into the thickets of “you don’t use this app on your devices but someone else in your Family group does, so is that OK?” But first let’s fix this.)

There’s one small wrinkle, though truly for Apple it shouldn’t be. With hardware sales slowing, Apple has been pushing the narrative of its growing Services business with Wall St and hence investors. Subscription revenues, and Apple’s 30%-15% (in the second year and onwards) cut, feed into that Services chunk, which is now the second-largest source of revenue after iPhones. (It’s a long way behind, but growing quite fast.

Telling people that they’re not using subscriptions which they’ve signed up to would surely lead to more discontinuations, which means less money for developers and for Apple’s Services business. But where that churn is caused by fakes, this is a net positive for Apple. Users will feel reassured that Apple is looking after their interests, and discouraging scammy apps. Apple would also be able quite easily to spot apps which suddenly have above-average numbers of subscription discontinuations, and investigate them. Less money, but more trust; Apple isn’t going to miss $14.3m per year, but the people who didn’t realise they were signed up to a document scanning subscription service will be happy for it.

All that starts, though, with making it easier in the first place to find what the hell you’re subscribed to. Apple needs to create a “Subscriptions” tab in Settings that isn’t buried multiple layers down.

We’ve been here before: in-app purchases (IAPs) quickly gained a terrible reputation, and it took multiple pieces of bad publicity before Apple, and Google, and Amazon acted to make it harder for kids to run up four-figure charges on their parents’ credit cards. Subscriptions are just the new front in the forever war against bad actors on the app stores. But as with all the previous ones – non-functional apps at ridiculous prices, ripoff apps at ridiculous prices, spyware apps at rock-bottom prices, IAPs – it’s a battle that Apple needs to win in order to keep the confidence of its customers.

Postscript: after this was written and published, two people got in touch to point out that I don’t need both iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions: Apple Music will now do the things that iTunes Match used to. (It didn’t previously – I’ve had iTunes Match for years – but as this iMore article points out, since 2016 it does.) As pictured.

Apple Music/iTunes Match: now the same

Apple Music, iTunes Match: now basically the same thing.

So not only has this post (I hope) saved some people some money, it has saved me some money. I’d call that a success.

Start Up No.948: the deep fakes problem, Wisconsin dumps Foxconn fave, folding screens ahoy!, Bristol’s spying phoneboxes, and more


What if we said… it’s a spaceship? Artist’s impression via European Southern Observatory 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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

In the age of A.I., is seeing still believing? • The New Yorker

Joshua Rothman on the rise of “deep fakes”:

»

As alarming as synthetic media may be, it may be more alarming that we arrived at our current crises of misinformation—Russian election hacking; genocidal propaganda in Myanmar; instant-message-driven mob violence in India—without it. Social media was enough to do the job, by turning ordinary people into media manipulators who will say (or share) anything to win an argument. The main effect of synthetic media may be to close off an escape route from the social-media bubble. In 2014, video of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner helped start the Black Lives Matter movement; footage of the football player Ray Rice assaulting his fiancée catalyzed a reckoning with domestic violence in the National Football League. It seemed as though video evidence, by turning us all into eyewitnesses, might provide a path out of polarization and toward reality. With the advent of synthetic media, all that changes. Body cameras may still capture what really happened, but the aesthetic of the body camera—its claim to authenticity—is also a vector for misinformation. “Eyewitness video” becomes an oxymoron. The path toward reality begins to wash away.

In the early days of photography, its practitioners had to argue for its objectivity. In courtrooms, experts debated whether photos were reflections of reality or artistic products; legal scholars wondered whether photographs needed to be corroborated by witnesses. It took decades for a consensus to emerge about what made a photograph trustworthy. Some technologists wonder if that consensus could be reëstablished on different terms. Perhaps, using modern tools, photography might be rebooted…

…Citron and Chesney indulge in a bit of sci-fi speculation. They imagine the “worst-case scenario,” in which deepfakes prove ineradicable and are used for electioneering, blackmail, and other nefarious purposes. In such a world, we might record ourselves constantly, so as to debunk synthetic media when it emerges. “The vendor supplying such a service and maintaining the resulting data would be in an extraordinary position of power,” they write; its database would be a tempting resource for law-enforcement agencies. Still, if it’s a choice between surveillance and synthesis, many people may prefer to be surveilled. Truepic, McGregor told me, had already had discussions with a few political campaigns. “They say, ‘We would use this to just document everything for ourselves, as an insurance policy.’ ”

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link to this extract


Murphy’s law: 33 Wisconsin election winners and losers • Urban Milwaukee

Bruce Murphy has 33 lessons from Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin, which threw out Trump-backed Foxconn-backing incumbent governor Scott Walker:

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Loser: Foxconn. The company was all in for its generous benefactor Scott Walker, announcing three suspicious satellite innovation centers in Milwaukee, Eau Claire and Green Bay, in order to convince voters their massive $4.1 billion subsidy would benefit the whole state, but polls show it didn’t work. Now they will face a Democratically-appointed DNR secretary, who may have different ideas about how much air and water pollution — and how much withdrawal of Lake Michigan water — is allowed. 

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This is going to be one to keep an eye on. In other news, Wisconsin approved marijuana use, so that’s an alternative use for those fields, perhaps.
link to this extract


Google is adding native foldable device support to Android • Neowin

Rich Woods:

»

Google today announced that it will be adding native support for “foldables” into Android. These are devices with foldable displays, the first of which will come from companies like LG and Samsung.

The way it works is that when devices are folded, they look like regular smartphones, but when you open them up, there’s a larger screen. The idea is to seamlessly transfer the contents of the smaller screen onto the larger one.

The good news is that most Android apps are already optimized for different screen sizes, resolutions, and aspect ratios. After all, Android is a very diverse ecosystem that ranges from low-end phones with low screen resolutions to flagship phones that are QHD. There are aspect ratios from 4:3 to 19.5:9, and screen sizes that go from a few inches to the size of a desktop PC.

But native support is something that’s meant to prevent fragmentation. If this doesn’t happen, then OEMs will have to create their own implementations, which could result in different experiences across the board. We’ve seen this before, with fingerprint sensors and screen notches, both of which started appearing before there was native support in the OS.

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link to this extract


Pokemon Go earned $73m in October • GamesIndustry.biz

Rebekah Valentine:

»

Pokemon GO has once again seen a relatively successful month, though it’s coming down slightly after a summer surge. Niantic’s location-based AR adventure brought in $73m in revenue for October, a 67% year-over-year increase.

This is still a bit of a dip from the game’s summer high, but given the game is in many regards a seasonal one, the slight drop is unsurprising and in line with what Niantic has seen in past years as the weather grows colder.

What’s more interesting about the numbers from Sensor Tower is both that the game seems to be doing better this year than last, cold weather aside, and that it also narrowly edged out Fortnite (on mobile) for total revenue last month.

«

You’d forgotten all about Pokemon Go, hadn’t you.
link to this extract


Data from millions of smartphone journeys proves cyclists faster in cities than cars and motorbikes • Forbes

Carlton Reid:

»

That bicyclists are faster in cities will come as no surprise to bicycle advocates who have staged so-called “commuter races” for many years. However, these races – organized to highlight the swiftness of urban cycling – are usually staged in locations and at hours skewed towards bicycle riders. The Deliveroo stats are significant because they have been extracted from millions of actual journeys.

And it’s all thanks to Frank.

Frank is the name Deliveroo gives its routing algorithm (the name was chosen for the Danny DeVito character in the TV series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.)

Delivering millions of simultaneous orders from thousands of restaurants to hungry consumers within 30 minutes using roving self-employed couriers equipped with smartphones is a complex vehicle routing problem: consumers want piping hot food; restaurants want meals picked up when cooked; riders – paid per drop – want multiple deliveries per hour, and Deliveroo needs to make money.

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Good in-depth article about Deliveroo; and cyclists have repeatedly proven to be faster through cities than any other form of transport.
link to this extract


Oumuamua: cigar-shaped UFO might have been an alien probe • NY Mag

Eric Levitz:

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In October of last year, a mysterious, cigar-shaped interstellar object fell through our solar system at an extraordinary speed. When the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii first discovered “Oumuamua” — the object’s official nickname, meaning “a messenger who reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian — researchers assumed that it was an ordinary comet or asteroid. But the longer they observed Oumuamua, the more improbable that hypothesis appeared: After all, what kind of asteroid is ten times longer than it is wide, and suddenly accelerates in speed, for no discernible astrophysical reason?

A new paper from scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics offers an answer: the kind of asteroid that is actually a solar-powered component of an alien spacecraft that broke off its mothership while investigating Earth’s solar system.

Specifically, the paper postulates that Oumuamua is a “solar sail” — an object that propels itself through space by channeling solar energy, which is a technology that intelligent life-forms (such as they are) on Earth have already developed. This hypothesis would explain why Oumuamua suddenly accelerated while traveling through our solar system.

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You look at it and you think: actually, could be. Though plenty of scientists really don’t think so.
link to this extract


Opinion: Bristol’s new phoneboxes could end up spying on you • The Bristol Cable

Adrian Short on a plan to replace 25 BT phoneboxes with “BT InLinkUK” ones offering free calls and Wifi – with ads, and tracking:

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When Transport for London (TfL) trialled a similar system on the Tube in 2016, their promises of “de-personalised” data collection fell apart when someone made a Freedom of Information Act request for the data. TfL decided that releasing it would be likely to breach people’s privacy.

“No city should grant anyone blanket permission to run a surveillance system on their streets”
There are also concerns around advertising. AdBlock Bristol have objected to the plans to flood the city with more screens, saying: “People in Bristol are increasingly concerned about the ongoing commercialisation of our public spaces, particularly through digital advertising.

“The council should be listening to those concerns, not blindly allowing dozens more digital advertising screens into our city.”

Bristol needs to decide whether a proliferation of advertising screens and enabling companies like Google to track people and vehicles around the city is a price worth paying for free phone calls and wifi.

But Bristolians won’t get that chance because there is no high-level process for making that decision or blocking the system if residents don’t want it. The process we have is simply to decide 25 minor planning applications, something normally so low-level that it doesn’t even get referred to the city’s councillors.

I’ve been working with AdBlock and the design technologist Ross Atkin to persuade councillors to take responsibility for the InLink system by making these decisions themselves rather than delegating to planning officers.

Councillors should be looking at the overall effect of the network, not just the individual kiosks.

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link to this extract


Large hydropower dams ‘not sustainable’ in the developing world • BBC News

Matt McGrath:

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Hydropower is the source of 71% of renewable energy throughout the world and has played a major role in the development of many countries.

But researchers say the building of dams in Europe and the US reached a peak in the 1960s and has been in decline since then, with more now being dismantled than installed. Hydropower only supplies approximately 6% of US electricity.

Dams are now being removed at a rate of more than one a week on both sides of the Atlantic.
The problem, say the authors of this new paper, is that governments were blindsided by the prospect of cheap electricity without taking into account the full environmental and social costs of these installations.

More than 90% of dams built since the 1930s were more expensive than anticipated. They have damaged river ecology, displaced millions of people and have contributed to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases from the decomposition of flooded lands and forests.

“They make a rosy picture of the benefits, which are not fulfilled and the costs are ignored and passed on to society much later,” lead author Prof Emilio Moran, from Michigan State University, told BBC News.

His report cites the example of two dams on the Madeira river in Brazil, which were finished only five years ago, and are predicted to produce only a fraction of the power expected because of climate change.

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link to this extract


Apple walks Ars through the iPad Pro’s A12X system on a chip • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

»

Apple is pushing up against high-end laptop and even desktop performance here, depending on what you’re using for comparison. Granted, comparing architectures can be Apples (ahem) and oranges. Apple’s CPU efforts are industry-leading on the mobile side of things, but they’re not perfect. While Apple focuses on performance, Qualcomm, well, doesn’t—partly because it essentially has a monopoly in the Android world and may not feel it even needs to, but partly because it focuses on connectivity. (Qualcomm’s modems are industry-leading, even if its CPUs are not.)

There’s one intriguing bit of context for all of this that Apple won’t acknowledge in its discussions with Ars or anyone else: Macs are still on Intel chips. It’s obvious to those who follow the company closely why that status quo isn’t providing what Apple needs to move forward in its strategies. Further, a Bloomberg report citing sources close to the company claimed that Apple plans to launch a Mac with custom silicon—and we’re talking CPU here, not just the T2 chip—are in the works.

Apple has come to dominate in mobile SoCs. In a lot of ways, though, Qualcomm has been an easy dragon to slay. Should Apple choose to go custom silicon route on the Mac platform, Intel will not be quite as easy to beat. But the rapid iteration that has led to the iPad Pro’s A12X makes a compelling case that it’s possible.

Apple won’t talk about its future plans, of course. You could say that’s all in the future, but when you have a 7nm tablet chip that rivals the CPU and graphics performance of most laptops and beats two out of five of the modern gaming consoles on the market with no fan at barely over a pound and less than a quarter-inch thick… it feels a bit like at least some particular future is now.

Now, if only there were iOS versions of Final Cut, Xcode, and Logic.

«

Axon also brings up one other point: Apple has implemented machine learning chips in its phones and, now, tablets. When are they going to come to the Mac? What particular role would they play there? Do they need ARM Macs? You’d have to think that it would be a whole lot easier to implement on a desktop than a phone.
link to this extract


Ford buys electric scooter startup Spin • TechCrunch

Megan Rose Dickey:

»

Spin was one of the three companies that initially deployed its scooters in San Francisco back in March. Along with Bird and Lime, Spin was forced to remove its electric scooters from the city until the city determined a permitting process. Since failing to receive a permit to operate, Spin has been one of the more quiet scooter startups in the industry. Though, next week, Spin is meeting with the city of San Francisco to appeal the denial of its permit to operate electric scooters in the city.

As of June, Spin had a contract with electric scooter manufacturer Ninebot, owned by Segway, to purchase 30,000 scooters a month through the end of this year, according to a source. It’s not completely clear why Ford feels the need to acquire Spin — let alone any electric scooter company — instead of just forming partnerships with scooter manufacturers to launch its own service.

That same month, Spin was in the process of finalizing a $125m security token. The idea with Spin’s security token offering is to raise money from accredited investors, who will then be entitled to a portion of the revenue from Spin’s electric scooter operations, according to a source close to Spin. With STOs, investors can buy tokens that are linked to real-world financial instruments. In the case of Spin’s offering, the tokens are linked to its revenue. Spin had previously raised $8m in traditional venture funding.

«

The story was broken by Axios, but the context here is far more worthwhile. “A mercy killing”, according to one observer. Spin has been struggling for finance.

Interesting move by Ford, though.
link to this extract


Samsung Infinity Flex display: folding phone concept revealed • Gearbrain

Alistair Charlton:

»

After months of rumors, teasers and anticipation, Samsung has finally revealed its first folding smartphone — but there’s a catch.

Shown off by CEO and president DJ Koh during the opening keynote of the annual Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, the Infinity Flex Display is only a prototype for now, and won’t be ready to buy until 2019.

The concept comes just days after Royole announced the FlexPai, which the company claims is the world’s first smartphone to feature a folding display, and early adopters should receive in late-December.

Unlike the production-ready FlexPai, Samsung is not ready to reveal its finished product just yet. The device shown on stage was bulky — especially when viewed in the closed position — but Samsung reassured the audience that “there’s a device inside here and it is stunning.”

Regarding durability, Samsung says the display can be folded “hundreds of thousands of times” without being damaged. The company also said the display is the thinnest it has ever made. Mass production, Samsung says vaguely, will begin “in the coming months.”

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Vague. Very vague. Meanwhile…
link to this extract


Hands-on with the world’s first foldable smartphone – Android Authority

Bailey Stein:

»

In its extended position, the FlexPai is more similar to a tablet than a smartphone. It features a 7.8-inch 1440p AMOLED display. The display itself is bright and offers saturated colors; I didn’t notice any difference in quality compared to standard AMOLED panels in traditional smartphones on the market today.

As you may have noticed, the display is sized at a 4:3 aspect ratio, presumably so the device can better function like a traditional phone when folded.

The folding mechanism is supported by a hinge composed of over 100 unique components. The hinge seems very sturdy, but obviously the real technical achievement comes in the form of the flexible display. In addition to the underlying flexible display panel, Royole is using a type of flexible plastic material instead of the familiar cover glass.

While the plastic does not feel nearly as premium as glass, it’s probably the best material available for the task. As an added benefit, it effectively makes the FlexPai shatterproof.

Taking the Royole FlexPai from tablet to phone mode is pretty straightforward. It’s just a matter of taking both sides and folding it down the middle. The hinge supports pretty much every angle, so you can fold and use it in any position you wish. Royole claims the FlexPai can be folded at least 200,000 times, which should be enough for several years of normal use.

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Gimmick? Or wave of the future?
link to this extract


Police crack encrypted chat service IronChat and read 258,000 messages from suspected criminals • Hot For Security

Graham Cluley:

»

Police haven’t described how they made the breakthrough of managing to crack the IronChat system, and snoop upon encrypted messages, but the suspicion will be that the encrypted chat app had a weakness – such as its reliance on a central server.

In a statement, police in the Netherlands explained that as a result of their surveillance, law enforcement agencies have seized automatic weapons, large quantities of hard drugs (MDMA and cocaine), 90,000 Euros in cash, and dismantled a drugs lab.

In addition, a number of suspects are also said to have already been arrested, with multiple searches taking place in various locations around the country.

“This operation has given us a unique insight into the criminal world in which people communicated openly about crimes,” said Aart Garssen, Head of the Regional Crime investigation Unit in the east of the Netherlands.

Police only decided to shut down the service after they became aware that criminals were beginning to suspect each other of leaking information to the police, introducing a very real risk that there could be a threat to individuals’ safety. For this same reason, Dutch authorities decided to go public about their access to the chat system at a press conference.

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.947: InfoWars sneaks back onto Facebook, don’t blockchain the vote, the end of mobile apps?, why passwords survive, and more


Say hello to the fastest single-core Mac you can buy. Yup, the Mac mini. 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 10 links for you. Demand a recount if you want. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Blockchain-based elections would be a disaster for democracy • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

»

“Mobile voting is a horrific idea,” said election security expert Joe Hall when I asked him about a West Virginia experiment with blockchain-based mobile voting back in August.

But on Tuesday, The New York Times published an opinion piece claiming the opposite.

“Building a workable, scalable, and inclusive online voting system is now possible, thanks to blockchain technologies,” writes Alex Tapscott, whom the Times describes as co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute.

Tapscott is wrong—and dangerously so. Online voting would be a huge threat to the integrity of our elections—and to public faith in election outcomes.

Tapscott focuses on the idea that blockchain technology would allow people to vote anonymously while still being able to verify that their vote was included in the final total. Even assuming this is mathematically possible—and I think it probably is—this idea ignores the many, many ways that foreign governments could compromise an online vote without breaking the core cryptographic algorithms.

For example, foreign governments could hack into the computer systems that governments use to generate and distribute cryptographic credentials to voters. They could bribe election officials to supply them with copies of voters’ credentials. They could hack into the PCs or smartphones voters use to cast their votes. They could send voters phishing emails to trick them into revealing their voting credentials—or simply trick them into thinking they’ve cast a vote when they haven’t.

Tapscott says these concerns are no big deal because voters can always check later to see if their vote was recorded properly.

“Because of the clear chain of custody, citizens could prove that their voting tokens had been stolen,” he writes.

But let’s think about how this would play out in practice. Suppose it’s mid-November 2020 and Donald Trump has narrowly won reelection. A few thousand voters in key swing states come forward to say that they intended to vote for Trump’s opponent but their vote was recorded for Trump instead. Thousands of others say they tried to vote for Trump—or against him—but their votes weren’t counted.

Was that due to hackers meddling with the vote, technical snafus, or user error? Were some of them just misremembering how they had cast their ballots? There would be no way to know for sure.

«

Why replace something that everyone understands with something that doesn’t? Paper ballots are simple, really hard to forge, checkable.
link to this extract


Where trolls reigned free: a new history of reddit • The New York Times

David Streitfeld reviews a new book about reddit:

»

The title “We Are the Nerds” doesn’t really fit the tale. “We Are the Trolls” would have made much more sense. “I was always kind of an [expletive],” [co-founder Steve] Huffman explains early on. [The author, Christine] Lagorio-Chafkin bluntly calls him “a total troll.” He was also a genius programmer. The great achievement of the social internet was to unleash jerkdom for many while monetizing it for a few.

The Reddit tale is an indictment of Silicon Valley, something Lagorio-Chafkin seems to sense but never confronts head-on, perhaps because she is so grateful for access to Huffman and [co-founder Alexis] Ohanian. “Two nice guys who made it, by crafting something incredible and yet ridiculously unwieldy, with no lack of turbulence along the way,” Lagorio-Chafkin writes in an author’s note. A more accurate summation might be: “Two inexperienced young guys created something they didn’t understand and couldn’t control.”

It’s all here anyway: the lack of adult oversight; the suck-up press; the growth-at-any-cost mentality; the loyal employees, by turns abused and abusive (memo from management: “You do realize you were talking about penises for 90 minutes, right?”); the defense of horrendous behavior as “free speech”; the jettisoning of “free speech” when it served corporate purposes; the way no one seeks permission but all expect forgiveness…

…Reddit became so offensive it was difficult to work there. A community manager who had a brief tenure in 2015 told Lagorio-Chafkin some of the reasons: “Child molesters, child porn, vicious stalking, rape threats, serious harassment, people taking the harassment offline and people filing police reports on each other.” One chief executive, stressed beyond endurance, simply stopped showing up for work. His replacement, Ellen Pao, tried to impose order in the office and on the site. The backlash led to her abrupt departure. Huffman returned and purged most of the staff.

«

Right, because purging the staff would accomplish..? At least we’re getting a history of this period of the internet.
link to this extract


The end is near for mobile apps • Medium

Lance Ng:

»

When smartphones first appeared, major corporations rushed to make apps. Then they realized it was a real headache to maintain them. Every time you update information on your website or promote a product, you have to do the same on your app. And every time a handset manufacturer updates its operating system, you have to debug your app to make sure it keeps working — plus there are the pains of managing bugs on different brands, models, and screen sizes. If you’ve ever been involved in mobile app development, you know what I’m talking about.

The truth is, unless you are a major retailer or content publisher that needs to sell or deliver to customers frequently, all you really need is a mobile-friendly website. If information is all people want, they’re going to Google it in a browser.

Given the first two points, this third is a logical evolution and is already happening in some parts of the world. It’s what the industry calls “building an ecosystem.” The strategy involves binding users’ daily behaviors and spending into their mobile apps.

A good example is how restaurants and cafes are integrating into food delivery apps instead of maintaining their own online order and delivery systems. In turn, these food delivery apps are consolidating with mobile wallet or ride-share apps to provide synergy and convenience to users. Consider Go-Jek, the biggest motorcycle ride-share app in Indonesia. To many people, it’s an all-in-one mobile wallet, ride-hailing, food delivery, and lifestyle services app.

Go-Jek took its inspiration from China’s WeChat, the biggest instant messaging app in that country, which has integrated just about every lifestyle service you can think of into their mobile wallet section.

«

The “platform rolling up apps” might apply in China, and possibly some parts of Asia, but I don’t see it happening in Europe. And for mobile apps: you do the updates to the web page and the app simultaneously via an API.
link to this extract


Getafix: how Facebook tools learn to fix bugs automatically • Facebook Code

Johannes Bader, Satish Chandra, Eric Lippert and Andrew Scott:

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Modern production codebases are extremely complex and are updated constantly. To create a system that can automatically find fixes for bugs — without help from engineers — we built a tool that learns from engineers’ previous changes to the codebase. It finds hidden patterns and uses them to identify the most likely remediations for new bugs.

This tool, called Getafix, has been deployed to production at Facebook, where it now contributes to the stability of apps that billions of people use. Getafix works in conjunction with two other Facebook tools, though the technology can be used to address code issues from any source. It currently suggests fixes for bugs found by Infer, our static analysis tool that identifies issues such as null pointer exceptions in Android and Java code. It also suggests fixes — via SapFix — for bugs detected by Sapienz, our intelligent automated testing system for our apps. Having previously given an overview of SapFix and Sapienz, we are now offering a deep dive into how Getafix learns how to fix bugs (using the term broadly to refer to any code issues, not just those that will cause an app to crash).

The goal of Getafix is to let computers take care of the routine work, albeit under the watchful eye of a human, who must decide when a bug requires a complex, nonroutine remediation. The tool works by applying a new method of hierarchical clustering to many thousands of past code changes that human engineers made, looking at both the change itself and also the context around the code change. This method allows it to detect the underlying patterns in bugs and the corresponding fixes that previous auto-fix tools couldn’t.

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This is amazing.
link to this extract


Here’s why [insert thing here] is not a password killer • Troy Hunt

»

Despite their respective merits, every one of these [proposed] solutions [to “replace the password”] has a massive shortcoming that severely limits their viability and it’s something they simply can’t compete with:

Despite its many flaws, the one thing that the humble password has going for it over technically superior alternatives is that everyone understands how to use it. Everyone.

This is where we need to recognise that decisions around things like auth schemes go well beyond technology merits alone. Arguably, the same could be said about any security control and I’ve made the point many times before that these things need to be looked at from a very balanced viewpoint. There are merits and there are deficiencies and unless you can recognise both (regardless of how much you agree with them), it’s going to be hard to arrive at the best outcome…

…Almost a year ago, I travelled to Washington DC and sat in front of a room full of congressmen and congresswomen and explained why knowledge-based authentication (KBA) was such a problem in the age of the data breach. I was asked to testify because of my experience in dealing with data breaches, many of which exposed personal data attributes such as people’s date of birth. You know, the thing companies ask you for in order to verify that you are who you say you are! We all recognise the flaws in using static KBA (knowledge of something that can’t be changed), but just in case the penny hasn’t yet dropped, do a find for “dates of birth” on the list of pwned websites in Have I Been Pwned. So why do we still use such a clearly fallible means of identity verification? For precisely the same reason we still use the humble password and that’s simply because every single person knows how to use it.

This is why passwords aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future and why [insert thing here] isn’t going to kill them. No amount of focusing on how bad passwords are or how many accounts have been breached or what it costs when people can’t access their accounts is going to change that.

«

Essentially, we’re stuck with what we started with, because it’s so widely used. Though biometrics on phones do offer even less friction, and are increasingly hard to fool.
link to this extract


Foxconn considers bringing Chinese workers to Wisconsin as US labour market tightens • WSJ

Yang Jie, Shayndi Raice and Eric Morath:

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The company, the Taiwanese supplier to Apple, has been trying to tap Chinese engineers through internal transfers to supplement staffing for the Wisconsin plant, according to people familiar with the matter.

The state pledged $3 billion in tax and other “performance-based” incentives to help lure Foxconn, and local authorities added $764 million. Foxconn must meet hiring, wage and investment targets by various dates to receive most of those benefits.

The company promised the state it would invest $10bn and build a 22-million-square-foot liquid-crystal display panel plant, hiring 13,000 employees, primarily factory workers along with some engineers and business support positions.

Foxconn said its “Wisconsin first commitment remains unchanged,” in a written statement to The Wall Street Journal in response to questions about its hiring plans. In a separate statement it said it still plans to ultimately hire 13,000, and the majority “will work on high-value production and engineering assignments and in the research and development field.”

«

Foxconn says: nope nope nope. But Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is well below the national average.
link to this extract


The 2018 Facebook midterms, part 3: granular enforcement • Medium

Jonathan Albright has been investigating (right-wing) Facebook Pages which have absolutely colossal “engagement” – but is it real? There’s a lot of suspicious video views. But also something else:

»

Following the highly publicized “ban” in early August, Jones’ show and much of the removed InfoWars news content appears to have moved swiftly back onto the Facebook platform.

Here’s the deal: I was not tracking the InfoWars accounts that were inevitably going to reappear after the official accounts were banned on Facebook. In fact, when I encountered the Alex Jones’ livestream shown in the image below, I wasn’t looking for InfoWars. I was looking for Soros conspiracies.

And what did I get? The live high-definition stream of Jones’ show on Facebook — broadcast on one of the many InfoWars-branded Pages that is inconspicuously named “News Wars.”

Alex Jones’ program found me. To add more context, a couple weeks ago, I was looking for posts on Facebook related to the Soros-funded “caravan” rumor. For one of my searches, Jones’ live stream above, titled “A New Caravan of Invaders,” was one of the top twenty results returned on Facebook from the search.

What this unfortunate stoke of luck meant was that I found out Jones’ show has been broadcast nearly every day for the past three months on at least two Infowars-branded Facebook Pages. Nice ban.

News Wars, and a Page called “Infowars Stream” were being promoted by Facebook via its search and video recommendation algorithms for searches about conspiracies and politics — such as my query for “Soros caravan.”

Since the first day of August — the same week Jones’ and the largest of the InfoWars Pages were taken down — Jones’ InfoWars broadcasts — primarily the streams of Alex Jones’ daily “censored” talk show on InfoWars — have been viewed at least five million times. And over the same time period, these two Pages, with less than 30,000 followers combined, have reported almost 700,000 interactions.

«

Pages and Groups: real conduits for misinformation.

link to this extract


Security issues on ArtChain • Terence Eden’s blog

Eden found a trivial XSS hack which could be used on ArtChain, a site which “uses the blockchain to verify art” (or something):

»

It could be a lot worse. This simple demonstration is not malicious. An attacker could craft a script which phished for user credentials, tried to hijack the administrators’ cookies, or mined cryptocurrency. In short, a user or administrator could not trust the content on the page.
This was the site owner’s response to my investigation.

What Howard fails to realise is that it doesn’t matter that his platform is based on the BitCoin BlockChain. If an attacker can add malicious JavaScript to his site, then steal his credentials, it’s game over. The indelible nature of the BlockChain means that malicious or incorrect content stays there forever – losing control of your keys is a disaster.

There’s also the issue of trust in the website. If an attacker can rewrite the page – even temporarily – they could convince users to transfer money, ownership, or attention elsewhere.

When you view content on ArtChain, you have no way of knowing whether it is official or hacked. When the site displays a BitCoin address, it could be ArtChain’s – or it could be an attacker’s.

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Blockchain can’t save you from hubris, ArtChain.
link to this extract


The 2018 Mac Mini • Marco.org

Marco Arment uses a Mac mini at home as a home theatre mixer, Plex server, scanner server, photos backup and a host for his NAS (network attached storage); now he’s tested the new one, and really likes it:

»

It seemed for a while that Apple lacked any interest in making Macs anymore, especially desktops.

Last year, with the introduction of the absolutely stellar iMac Pro, Apple showed us a glimpse of a potential new direction. It was downright perfect — a love letter to the Mac and its pro desktop users, and a clear turnaround in the way the company views the Mac for the better.

We didn’t know until now whether the iMac Pro’s greatness was a fluke. But now we have another data point: the last two desktops out of Apple have been incredible. After this, I have faith that they’re going to do the new Mac Pro justice when it finally ships next year.

The new Mac Mini is a great update, out of nowhere, to a product we thought would never be updated again.

Of course, with Apple’s track record on the Mac Mini, it may never be updated after this. This is either the first in a series of regular updates with which Apple proves that they care about the Mac Mini again, or it’s the last Mac Mini that will ever exist and we’ll all be hoarding them in a few years. We can’t know yet.

«

The only negative is that it doesn’t have optical-out. But: four – count ’em – USB-C ports. It looks like a hell of a machine if you can find a static need for it.
link to this extract


New MacBook Air review: your next laptop has arrived (three years late) • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

This Thanksgiving let us all give thanks for the lack of a Touch Bar. The MacBook Pro’s touch-screen strip has proved to be nothing more than a novelty.

Absolutely not a novelty: Touch ID. The fingerprint sensor, embedded in the upper right corner of the new Air’s keyboard, beats typing in passwords. But why no Face ID, after two iPhone generations and a new iPad, not to mention Apple’s insistence that face recognition is more reliable and secure? Windows Hello, Microsoft ’s facial recognition for PCs, is quite good.

Performance should be the deciding factor between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. If your days are filled with some combination of web browser tabs, email, documents, presentations, spreadsheets and light video or photo work, you won’t feel a performance difference between the Air and the Pro. In my tests, applications performed as snappily. But I saw a difference in more processor-intensive tasks—exporting or rendering video files, opening large batches of files, etc. For instance, the 2017 MacBook Pro exported a 4K video 45% faster than the new Air.

If you’re considering the small MacBook instead of the Air… just don’t. It costs more, runs slower and has shorter battery life.

The old Air’s battery life was once industry-leading: Thirteen hours—two cross country-flights—without needing a charge. The new Air delivers just around the same, depending on your usage and screen brightness. I made it through a full workday of intermittent use, plus more work after dinner, without needing to charge.

However, my tests indicate that the old Air still lasts longer.

«

She points out that the HP Spectre lasts even longer (15hr) and comes with more storage as standard (256GB); the 128GB of the base model here is “a blatant upsell”. And she’s not delighted by the new keyboard.

Apple’s PC line definitely doesn’t make sense now – the MacBook price is crazy – and Stern hits it right on the head: this upgrade is at least three years overdue.

Her video review is done in a hot air balloon (air, geddit?) and as always, deserving of your time.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

The iPad Pro: when software delays meet ‘real work’ reviewers


Illustration drawn on iPad Pro 2 with Sketchbook by Susan Murtaugh on Flickr. CC-BY licensed.

How long do you think it takes to redesign an iPad? Specifically, how long do you think Apple’s designers were working on the redesign of the iPad Pro that was unveiled in October 2018, three years after the first generation of iPad Pros?

I’d go for about two years. Probably not more, but probably not much less. Back in late 2016, the team doing the initial design specs for the 2018 hardware would have had a few targets in mind – particularly, USB-C for its connector port, an interface introduced on the Mac line in 2015. They’d have known it was going to be on more and more Macs by the time this hardware came out. They’d know that the iPhone wasn’t intended to have USB-C, but that was OK: the iPad they were working on was for the Pro line, and something big was coming up for that. Faster GPUs! Faster CPUs! And – get this – up to a terabyte of storage. That’s desktop-class – except this is SSD storage, so dramatically faster than most 1TB desktops. This was going to be a lean, mean, professional machine with minimal bezels, and a new generation of Face ID. The hardware trajectory was mapped out. (There was already a parallel effort on the summer 2017 update to the Pro line, but that didn’t change much apart from shaving a little weight and improving the screen characteristics.)

The software roadmap said the iPad OS would get a big feature upgrade befitting the new “Pro” devices. So iOS 12 would be shown off in mid-2018, and then in the autumn (“fall” to you Americans, “spring” to you lovely antipodeans) the software itself would arrive, and soon afterwards the devices – which would really flex their Pro muscles, because the designers knew that the CPU and GPU performance was going to blow standard PCs away.

It would all be so easy.

But then something happened. While the designers were working through 2017, it transpired that iOS 11 wasn’t quite as solid as had been thought. (As evidence: even in July 2018, websites could still run “11 most common iOS 11 problems and how to fix them” and expect serious traffic.)

Apple’s software teams must have seen very early after iOS 11’s release (that’s late 2017) that there were serious problems which needed deep attention. And so in January 2018 software vice-president Craig Federighi held an internal meeting where he said that plans for the big updates that had been scheduled for iOS 12 were being put off for a year. Instead, iOS 12 would be a “solidify and speed up” release – as happened with MacOS X with the “Snow Leopard” update in 2009.

Ah. So now the new iPad Pro design is steaming down the tracks – everything long ago locked in, factories booked, release dates figured out – but, the iPad Pro team mouths in silent frustration, you’re going to hang us out to dry with just these little tweaks rather than the full-fat thing that we were promised? That’s not the ‘Pro’ iPad we wanted to release.

This, I think, is the scenario that played out inside Apple. Ina Fried (author of the Axios story about Federighi breaking the news to the team) and Mark Gurman have filled in some detail; Gurman in particular tweeted in May that iOS 13

“will have a big iPad-focused feature upgrade as well, including an updated Files app. some other things in the works are tabs in apps like in MacOS, same app side by side”

“An updated Files app”, huh? I wonder if that, hmmmmm, might have been able to show the files on, oh, let’s hazard a guess, USB-attached drives? And the “same app side by side” feature (ie, you want to look at two copies of the same document, or two documents at once, in an app such as Pages) is something whose absence a lot of people have commented on lately. It’s faintly possible that these leaks about features reached Gurman from people who were on or near the iPad Pro team, and who were trying to send a signal – however faint – to the future about what the iPad Pros that were also yet to come would be able to do.

Delays: part of life


The new iPad Pro: pros use it too. Photo by AdamChandler86 on Flickr. CC-BY licensed.

This sort of thing has happened before, most recently with the Apple TV release of 2015, when Tim Cook stood on a stage and declared “we believe the future of TV is apps”, and showed off a device that had been delayed so long that some of its team had left up the company to a year earlier. Everyone’s reaction was “huh? What apps? Why apps?” The reason for the delay was that Apple had spent ages – literal years – trying to get US TV content producers to agree to turn their offerings into apps, but the producers wouldn’t budge, and wouldn’t budge, and finally Apple just decided to see if it could make the market happen by putting the hardware out there. (It’s happening, perhaps, but incredibly slowly. Meanwhile Netflix and Amazon are gathering all the cord cutters who are watching TV… through apps.)

In other words, the reason why the new iPad Pros aren’t “replacing your laptop” just yet is that iOS 11 fell short of what was planned. Rather than ignore that, Apple chose to sacrifice some peoples’ short-term satisfaction with the iPad Pro release in favour of pleasing the much larger population that would be using iOS 12. So iOS 12 is faster on old hardware than iOS 11, and it’s more stable. Both are boons for all iOS 12 users.

But this lack of key improvements to iOS 12 in turn meant that the new iPad Pros – introduced in October as “an uncompromising vision of computing for the modern world” – received what we could call a crouching ovation from reviewers.

Nilay Patel, at The Verge, wrote a review which is not so much excoriating as exhausted, saying that no matter how fast the hardware is, “it’s still an iPad”.

This is true, but I think we now have a clearer idea why it’s “still an iPad”: because the software got delayed.

That’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re running a big corporation. You have a product roadmap, but then some part of it – hardware, software, chip design – gets waylaid and you have to change your plans. Apple is fortunate in having an established product so that it could pretend that the software miss didn’t happen and could Carry On Regardless. (Such delays used to have much bigger effects. When Apple misread the market in 2000, and offered Macs with DVD-ROM drives instead of CD-burning drives, at a time when everyone was much more interested in burning MP3s to CD than watching films on their PCs, it crashed to a quarterly loss. But it wasn’t all bad: it forced the acquisition of SoundJam, later iTunes, and the program to create the iPod. You know the rest.)

Probably there are some people down there in the iPad team dreaming about What Might Have Been. But Apple’s in this for the long term. A delay of nine or 12 months isn’t relevant here. What’s the concern? PCs will make a comeback? Windows detachables or ChromeOS detachables will take over the world? Nope.

Down to work

Even so, I think people are still too down on the iPad Pro as a device on which to do lots of work. The most common argument is “I can’t throw away my laptop and just use an iPad because I have to do [task X] on my laptop.”

I think this slightly misses the point. Apple isn’t saying “never use your laptop again”. It’s saying “your old laptop’s fine. But when it comes time to buy some new equipment, why not get an iPad Pro instead?” It supplants and extends, not replaces, but the distinction can be hard to perceive. Matt Gemmell, who has shifted entirely to using an iPad, apart from when he needs to see what his site looks like on a different browser, makes this point pretty well in a piece about his new big iPad:

Also, be extremely skeptical of anyone who makes a judgement about switching to an iPad when they haven’t actually done it themselves (this goes for most judgements about most things throughout life). This group includes the apparent majority of tech journalists, most of whom seem to have an annual ritual of spending one week with the newest iPad, and then saying it’s not a laptop replacement yet in some general sense. How would you even know? I certainly didn’t until six months or so in.

I agree with this; I didn’t adjust to using an iPad fully until I had to, but then found the switch pretty comfortable, to the extent that I now pick up the iPad in preference to my (much heavier) MacBook Pro when going out because I know I can do all the things I need to do with it: between Scrivener for writing, and Pythonista and Workflow/Shortcuts for knocking together ad-hoc scripts, I can get done what I need on the hoof. Update: if you’re looking for more ways to Get Things Done on an iPad, I recommend Federico Viticci’s archive of Shortcuts over at MacStories, which have downloadable ways to do all sorts of things – 89 at present – which includes zipping and unzipping files, scheduling, reminders, etc.

OK, but. There have been some reasonable criticisms of the hardware. Patel points to the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack – “a curious omission, since so many iPads are used essentially as televisions, and so many pro media workflows demand low-latency audio monitoring”. This is a good point, though I think the “used as a TV” one is slightly stronger than the latter.

Clearly, Apple is trying to drive people towards AirPods on the consumer side. For professionals, though, you can get a USB-C hub from places like Hypershop which will offer you a 7-port dongle for $80 which includes a 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-A and Thunderbolt. You’d hope that somewhere in there you’d be able to find a port you can hook into for professional production.

Patel also points out the files thing (you plug in a hard drive via USB, it doesn’t show up). Could it be this got pulled from iOS 12 in that January software reset? Does that mean the hard drive will show up in iOS 13? Well, never say “definitely”, but I’d think the chances were good.

So the reviews which are saying “well, it’s not there yet” have merit. It’s worth reading Craig Mod’s piece about feeling conflicted by his iPad Pro: he likes the fact that it’s lighter and more robust, but getting some things done feels like a struggle instead of a process. (John Gruber describes using the iPad to get stuff done as “like typing with mittens on – when I get to the Mac, it’s like taking them off.”)

The Work Thing


This isn’t my iPad. But look – emacs! Photo by Tatsuo Yamashita on Flickr. CC-BY licensed.

Except I have to say – I like working on the iPad Pro. I’ve been using it since the first generation. I tend to feel that these days if you have tasks which require putting physical plugs with hard drives into a computer, then they’re either quite antiquated tasks, or very specialised ones.

The hard drive non-appearance is clearly an obstacle to Getting Stuff Done. Although can I say.. I don’t miss external hard drives? There’s a gajillion places you can store stuff for free in the cloud (iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, I’ve barely begun) and you don’t have to wonder if today is the day the drive is going to die. From time to time I back up my Mac using SuperDuper!, and nowadays doing so feels like a strange chore transplanted from the past, like sweeping a chimney or shoeing a horse. My iPad’s files just back themselves up while I sleep.

So if you need a hard drive – really need it – then either your workflow hasn’t adapted to the fact that we’re in a multi-screen world, or you need the extra heft that desktop/laptop processors can offer. And that’s fine! Nobody is going to look down on you for having a job like that. Quite the opposite.

But equally, I’m going to discount the “use case” of watching a film or listening to music that’s stored on an external hard drive for pleasure (rather than work, ie video processing or other functions), because these days that’s a smaller and smaller use case, in the west at least. We have streaming video services and streaming audio services streaming out of our whatevers, and we can download those files to our devices when online to view while offline. Also, what sort of monster watches a film on their PC rather than on a TV?

As for plugging stuff in – printers? as Steve Sinofsky pointed out, “printers have been wireless for a decade”. It’s almost perverse to physically plug a computer in to a printer. I just don’t.

What Patel’s examples say to me is that the interface between the old world (PC form factor, saves to external hard drives) and the new world (phone and tablet form factor, saves to cloud) isn’t sorted out. It’s still too hard to get stuff from the old world to the new, like some interdimensional portal plot device in a sci-fi film.

Dog food afternoon

What’s needed to get the iPad taken seriously as a contender to replace the laptop? Sure, people need to adjust their workflows. But there are a couple of things Apple could do which would make it attractive to developers – because this thing is really fast. (How fast? I’m not exactly sure. But I timed the Python script which generates the 14 graphs in this post on my 2012 retina MacBook Pro, this 12.9in iPad, and the iPhone X. Results: MBP (core i7, Ivy Bridge): 23.6 seconds. iPad (A9X chip): 10.3 seconds. IPhone X (A11 chip): 3.3 seconds. If the new iPads have improved as one might expect, that’s going to take around 1.5 seconds, which is a huge improvement even over four years.)

So here’s what Apple could do to stop those “well, it’s an iPad, isn’t it?” reviews.

• First, the hard drive thing. But that might be coming anyway.
• Second, implement second screens – properly. At the moment, though you can plug in a second screen, it only mirrors the first rather than extending the desktop.
Update: of course as soon as I hit “publish” and walked away to do something more important, I realised what I’d overlooked: that second-screen support implies some way to control the cursor on the second screen, and that you can’t assume touch on that screen. So either you need some sort of trackpad, or you need a window on the iPad which acts as a cursor control for both screens. Not an insuperable problem, but a tricky one to do satisfactorily. However a second screen is an important part of the next, key step, which is…
• Xcode on iPad. If you want developers to adopt this thing wholesale, you need to enable them to write apps on and for it. The iPad Pro is definitely fast enough. I’d love to know what’s holding Apple back from doing this; rather as in the early 2000s it had MacOS X on PowerPC and also Intel, it’s sure to have versions of Xcode running on iOS and/or the ARM architecture. If there’s one thing developers keep asking for, it’s Xcode on iPad. But you need the other parts too: proper hard drive access, proper second screening.

The simple way to make this happen would be for Apple to dogfood it: force the iOS team to work on iPads. This however is a chicken-and-egg situation, with the added problem that you start with a chicken which can’t even lay an egg.

I think we have an inkling that Apple was going to have done this by now; except, for reasons we don’t know about, it didn’t. And though this is something we hear each year, perhaps Xcode is coming to the iPad – or the A-series chip – with the next release of iOS.

But even if it doesn’t, you know what? The iPad Pro is a pretty remarkable platform for a lot of work.

Start Up No.946: the iPad debate goes on, Iran say Israel cyberattack failed, Kenya v Big Tech, Foxconn v Wisconsin, and more


American doctors are really frustrated with their hospital software – because they didn’t get involved in its design. Photo by Matt Madd 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why doctors hate their computers • The New Yorker

Atul Gawande:

»

My hospital had, over the years, computerized many records and processes, but the new system would give us one platform for doing almost everything health professionals needed—recording and communicating our medical observations, sending prescriptions to a patient’s pharmacy, ordering tests and scans, viewing results, scheduling surgery, sending insurance bills. With Epic [the software used in about half of American hospitals], paper lab-order slips, vital-signs charts, and hospital-ward records would disappear. We’d be greener, faster, better.

But three years later I’ve come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work’s mastery over me. I’m not the only one. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. The University of Wisconsin found that the average workday for its family physicians had grown to eleven and a half hours. The result has been epidemic levels of burnout among clinicians. Forty% screen positive for depression, and seven% report suicidal thinking—almost double the rate of the general working population.

Something’s gone terribly wrong. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers.

«

Turns out it’s because staff, not doctors, made the calls on how Epic would work – but doctors are important users too.
link to this extract


SMT solving on an iPhone • James Bornholt

»

Cross-compiling Z3 [a theorem prover from Microsoft Research] turns out to be remarkably simple, with just a few lines of code changes necessary; I open sourced the code to run Z3 on your own iOS device. For benchmarks, I drew a few queries from my recent work on profiling symbolic evaluation, extracting the SMT generated by Rosette in each case.

As a first test, I compared my iPhone XS to one of my desktop machines, which uses an Intel Core i7-7700K—the best consumer desktop chip Intel was selling when we built the machine 18 months ago. I expected the Intel chip to win quite handily here, but that’s not how things turned out.

The iPhone XS was about 11% faster on this 23 second benchmark! This is the result I tweeted about, but Twitter doesn’t leave much room for nuance, so I’ll add some here.

• This benchmark is in the QF_BV fragment of SMT, so Z3 discharges it using bit-blasting and SAT solving.
• This result holds up pretty well even if the benchmark runs in a loop 10 times—the iPhone can sustain this performance and doesn’t seem thermally limited. That said, the benchmark is still pretty short.
• Several folks asked me if this is down to non-determinism—perhaps the solver takes different paths on the different platforms, due to use of random numbers or otherwise—but I checked fairly thoroughly using Z3’s verbose output and that doesn’t seem to be the case.
• Both systems ran Z3 4.8.1, compiled by me using Clang with the same optimization settings. I also tested on the i7-7700K using Z3’s prebuilt binaries (which use GCC), but those were actually slower.

«

OK, that’s quite a niche application. A classic LOB – line of business, ie application-specific – app. It’s what people used to love Windows for. The iPhone’s GPU makes it terrific for this particular LOB app over Intel.
link to this extract


Apple’s new anti-tracking feature in Safari takes toll • Ad Age

George Slefo:

»

Nearly half of the $88bn spent on digital advertising went toward search last year and the Safari update is already starting to disrupt digital giants like Google.

For instance, the new version makes it more difficult for advertisers to deploy a practice known as remarketing lists for search ads, commonly called RLSA, that allows brands to segment different Google search audiences using their own data. Brands use RLSA to target consumers who visit their website, or abandon items in their shopping cart, through Google search. But “ITP 2 essentially kills the ability to use RLSA in the Safari browser,” says Mark Ballard, VP of research at digital agency Merkle.

According to Merkle, the use of RLSA dropped soon after ITP2 came into effect, hitting a seven-month low for the month of September. “The trouble is there are still more questions than answers as to what ITP 2 is going to do,” Ballard says. “It may take some months to develop and we have to watch the data to see what comes of it.”

«

Safari has a 50% share on mobile in the US, apparently. That’s from about 40% of smartphones in the US.
link to this extract


Iran accuses Israel of failed cyber attack • Yahoo News

»

Iran’s telecommunications minister accused Israel on Monday of a new cyber attack on its telecommunications infrastructure, and vowed to respond with legal action.

This followed comments from another official last week that Iran had uncovered a new generation of Stuxnet, a virus which was used against the country’s nuclear program more than a decade ago.

“The Zionist regime (Israel), with its record of using cyber weapons such as Stuxnet computer virus, launched a cyber attack on Iran on Monday to harm Iran’s communication infrastructures,” Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said.

“Thanks to our vigilant technical teams, it failed,” he said on Twitter. Iran would take legal action against Israel at international bodies, he added, without giving details.

«

Follows on from this in the Times of Israel:

»

Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated,” and Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation, an Israeli TV report said Wednesday.

The report came hours after Israel said its Mossad intelligence agency had thwarted an Iranian murder plot in Denmark, and two days after Iran acknowledged that President Hassan Rouhani’s mobile phone had been bugged. It also follows a string of Israeli intelligence coups against Iran, including the extraction from Tehran in January by the Mossad of the contents of a vast archive documenting Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the detailing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN in September of other alleged Iranian nuclear and missile assets inside Iran, in Syria and in Lebanon.

«

Pretty difficult to figure out what’s going on. Probably more than Iran is admitting, less than Israel is claiming.
link to this extract


Why Big Tech pays poor Kenyans to teach self-driving cars • BBC News

Dave Lee went to the slum of Kibera, on the east side of Nairobi, Kenya:

»

Brenda does this work for Samasource, a San Francisco-based company that counts Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and Yahoo among its clients. Most of these firms don’t like to discuss the exact nature of their work with Samasource – as it is often for future projects – but it can be said that the information prepared here forms a crucial part of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest and most famous efforts in AI.

It’s the kind of technological progress that will likely never be felt in a place like Kibera. As Africa’s largest slum, it has more pressing problems to solve, such as a lack of reliable clean water, and a well-known sanitation crisis.

But that’s not to say artificial intelligence can’t have a positive impact here. We drove to one of Kibera’s few permanent buildings, found near a railway line that, on this rainy day, looked thoroughly decommissioned by mud, but has apparently been in regular use since its colonial inception.

Almost exactly a year ago, this building was the dividing line between stone-throwing rioters and the military. Today, it’s a thriving hub of activity: a media school and studio, something of a cafeteria, and on the first floor, a room full of PCs. Here, Gideon Ngeno teaches around 25 students the basics of using a personal computer.

What’s curious about this process is that digital literacy is high, even in Kibera, where smartphones are common and every other shop is selling chargers and accessories, which people buy using the mobile money system MPesa.

«

Terrific story, pointing out the contradictions – “magic” tech enabled by low-paid humans in distant countries who receive low pay because high pay would distort the market, but who are even so given the money and knowledge to break out of poverty. You could call it “good capitalism”.
link to this extract


Why WhatsApp became a hotbed for rumours and lies in Brazil • WIRED

Antonio García Martínez:

»

Facebook took an interesting step in Brazil to stem the deleterious effect of WhatsApp: It limited the message-forwarding feature to 20 people, down from the previous limit of 250. That brings the limit below what’s known as Dunbar’s number, which is the number of strong social relationships a person can maintain (somewhere around 150). With this change, users can’t broadcast salacious gossip or fake news or deceptive video to all their family and friends.

This hopefully slows or stops the flow of false information and disrupts the echo chamber of in-group rumor-mongering. Facebook apparently has no plans to lift the forwarding limit even now that the election is done. For the moment, the company judges that the power of unfettered and universal group chatting is incompatible with social harmony.

It’s still early days. There were 70 years between Gutenberg printing a book and Luther posting his theses. We haven’t even begun to see the real impact of our printing press—the socially mediated, globally connected smartphone––but we’d best get ready for a world in which it engulfs everything. Will the solution be to reinforce institutions that created the world we know, or will it evolve past those moribund institutions to some new way of mediating our communication? A recent Pew study showed that youngsters are better at distinguishing fact from opinion than the olds.

Perhaps the new generation, born into a world where global connectivity is a given—but the commanding position of Wired or The New York Times is not—will cobble together some way to maintain institutions like democracy while ones like newspaper editors expire.

«

Martinez is quite the optimist.

link to this extract


Apple iPad Pro review 2018: the fastest iPad is still an iPad • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

»

The one thing iOS can do with external storage devices is import photos: if you plug in a camera or a memory card from a camera, iOS 12 will automatically pop open the camera import screen and let you import photos into your camera roll.

That’s it. That is the sole way iOS 12 can address external storage. And to make matters worse, you are required to import to the system camera roll — you can’t import photos directly into an app like Lightroom CC. Apple has to be in the middle.

I use Lightroom CC all the time, and I would love to manage and edit all my photos on an iPad Pro, especially since editing with the Apple Pencil is so much fun on this display. But I have no desire to import hundreds of RAW files into my camera roll and iCloud photos account. When I brought this up, Apple very proudly pointed to a new Siri Shortcut from Adobe that imports photos from the camera roll into Lightroom and then automatically deletes them from the camera roll.

I couldn’t test that Lightroom Siri Shortcut, since it’s not yet available. But I can tell you that macro-based hacks around the limitations of an operating system are not usually included in bold visions of the future of computing, and that Siri Shortcut is a pure hack around the limitations Apple has imposed on the iPad Pro.

Oh, but it gets worse. I shoot photos in JPG+RAW, and the iOS PhotoKit API only allows apps to grab one or the other from the camera roll. So I could only import my RAW images into Lightroom, leaving the JPGs behind to clutter up my camera roll and iCloud storage. That’s untenable, so I just gave up and imported everything directly into Lightroom using my Mac, because my Mac doesn’t insist on abstracting the filesystem away into nonsense.

This little Lightroom vignette is basically the story of the iPad Pro: either you have to understand the limitations of iOS so well you can make use of these little hacks all over the place to get things done, or you just deal with it and accept that you have to go back to a real computer from time to time because it’s just easier. And in that case, you might as well just use a real computer.

«

Contrast with John Gruber’s review: he raves about the iPad’s benchmarks compared to far more expensive, er, Macs, and then says

»

Personally, I still prefer the smaller size. But I don’t use an iPad as my primary portable for work, and these new iPad Pros aren’t going to change that.

«

Patel’s critique has merit: if you aren’t good at digging into the software that’s available with the OS, then you will be frustrated at some point if you’re very particular about what you do. (And the lack of hard drive connectability is weird.) But most people just shoot pictures and edit them.
link to this extract


Tablet market falls 10% as a handful of vendors claim victory in Q3 2018 • Strategy Analytics

Just filling in the tablet detail (we had IDC’s yesterday, which put the “tablet market” at 36.4m for the same period; Strategy Analytics says 39.7m, which is a 10% difference). You already know Apple is the biggest single vendor. And:

»

• Android shipments fell to 24.3m units worldwide in Q3 2018, down 11% from 27.2m a year earlier and up 4% sequentially. Market share fell 1 percentage point year-on-year to 61% as many branded Android vendors find it very difficult to compete on price in the wake of Apple lowering its iPad prices. Amazon had lower year-on-year results for the second quarter in a row as last year’s Prime Day was much more tablet-heavy than this year. We expect branded vendors to find a comfortable position from which to compete in lower price tiers with high quality tablets but the larger question is how quickly Chrome will become an offsetting factor for Android as users seek more functionality.

• Windows shipments fell 12% year-on-year to 5.7m units in Q3 2018 from 6.5m in Q3 2017. Shipments increased 3% from the previous quarter as back-to-school and enterprise demand continued to help this segment.

«

The fact that Windows tablets aren’t making any headway indicates, to me, that people just don’t want to use Windows in a tablet. Simple as that. Be interesting to see whether Strategy Analytics breaks out ChromeOS tablets in the next quarter(s).
link to this extract


Did Scott Walker and Donald Trump deal away the Wisconsin governor’s race to Foxconn? • The New Yorker

Dan Kaufman:

»

For [Racine mayor Cory] Mason, Foxconn represents a rare opportunity to revitalize his struggling home town. “We’re seeing incumbent companies raise wages in anticipation of Foxconn potentially attracting their employees away,” Mason said. “And they’re talking about over eleven thousand construction jobs just to build the Foxconn facility. That’s before you talk about the hundreds if not thousands of jobs needed to expand the interstate, the jobs that will be needed to put in all the water-utility infrastructure.”

Mason reiterated Foxconn’s promise that it will eventually create thirteen thousand “permanent” jobs in Wisconsin. But the company recently changed the type of factory it plans to build, downsizing to a highly automated plant that will only require 3,000 employees, 90% of them “knowledge workers,” such as engineers, programmers, and designers. Almost all of the assembly work will be done by robots. Gou, Foxconn’s chairman, has said he plans to replace 80% of Foxconn’s global workforce with “Foxbots” in the next five to ten years. The company still says it will hire 13,000 employees in Wisconsin, but it has fallen short of similar promises in Brazil, India, and Pennsylvania, among other places. Foxconn has already replaced 60,000 workers who were earning roughly $2.50 an hour in China…

…In an editorial published on UrbanMilwaukee.com, William Holahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee business school, and Charles Kroncke, a former professor at the school of business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calculated that if Foxconn’s taxpayer subsidies were given to random entrepreneurs, the money would generate more than 90,000 jobs.

They note that Foxconn’s plant will be 20 miles from the Illinois border, so many employees will likely not be Wisconsin residents. And, they argue, it is impossible to consider the jobs created by Foxconn a net gain, because the company’s taxpayer subsidy is taking away billions of dollars from the public sector, where it might be used to repair Wisconsin’s deteriorating roads or hire teachers to fill out short-staffed rural schools. Already, $90m from the state transportation budget has been redirected from highway work in other parts of the state for Foxconn’s development.

«

If it all works out, the subsidies might break even by 2042. The majority of Wisconsin voters are against the plan. Urbanmilwaukee has argued hard against it. (The urbanmilwaukee site is worth a browse just to see how “other” news sites can look.)
link to this extract


China smartphone shipments to fall over 10% in 4Q18, says Digitimes Research • Digitimes

Luke Lin and Ashley Huang:

»

Smartphone shipments in the China market went down 6.9% on year in the third quarter of 2018 and are expected to continue to fall by over 10% as telecom operators have reduced subsidies for the purchase of 4G models and the device replacement cycle is lengthening, according to Digitimes Research.

On a quarter-by-quarter basis, Huawei managed to ramp up its smartphone shipments by 20% in the third quarter; Xiaomi and Oppo both saw their shipments expand by a single-digit rate; and Vivo recorded a single-digit decline in the quarter.

As compared to a year earlier, only Huawei and Xiaomi posted shipment gains in the third quarter; Oppo and Vivo both saw their shipments decline by double-digit rates during the period.

Buoyed by the Double 11 shopping festival, total smartphone shipments in China are likely to post a sequential gain in the fourth quarter, but the fourth-quarter figures are expected to drop over 10% as compared to a year earlier, Digitimes Research estimates.

«

China is the world’s biggest smartphone market; this is going to squeeze some of the small players, who will have already been going through a tough time. Likely to get worse before it gets better.
link to this extract


GDP: Trump tariff, trade war hit to economy • Business Insider

Bob Bryan:

»

There’s mounting anecdotal evidence that President Donald Trump’s trade war is causing trouble for the US economy and businesses. But Friday’s report on third-quarter gross domestic product may be the best hard evidence yet that the tariffs are causing major disruptions in the economy.

GDP rose at an annualized rate of 3.5% in the third quarter. But the contribution of net exports of goods and services — the measure of how much trade added or subtracted to GDP growth — was a dismal -1.78 percentage points.

It was the largest negative contribution to GDP growth for trade in 33 years; in the second quarter of 1985, trade subtracted 1.91 points.

In other words, if trade were a net neutral, neither adding to nor subtracting from GDP growth, third-quarter GDP growth would have been a dynamite 5.3%.

If trade had matched its average contribution since 2015, a 0.33-point drag, GDP growth would have come in at 5%.

«

It is counterintuitive that what looks like a really strong GDP figure is hiding problems, but inventory build by companies trying to get ahead of tariffs in the past quarter won’t be repeated. Which implies a big GDP slowdown in the next quarter.

Of course, if the Democrats get a solid (or even middling) win in the midterm elections, Trump and his media proxies will blame them. If the Republicans hang on, any slowdown will be someone else’s fault.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.945: how Google (accidentally) unravelled a CIA network, the impossible laptop, smartphones’ dwindling battery life, USB-C iPhones?, and more


“The AI says it’s time to pass.” Photo by thearcticblues 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 15 links for you. Literally. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The CIA’s communications suffered a catastrophic compromise • Yahoo News

Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin:

»

Though the Iranians didn’t say precisely how they infiltrated the network, two former U.S. intelligence officials said that the Iranians cultivated a double agent who led them to the secret CIA communications system. This online system allowed CIA officers and their sources to communicate remotely in difficult operational environments like China and Iran, where in-person meetings are often dangerous.

A lack of proper vetting of sources may have led to the CIA inadvertently running a double agent, said one former senior official — a consequence of the CIA’s pressing need at the time to develop highly placed agents inside the Islamic Republic. After this betrayal, Israeli intelligence tipped off the CIA that Iran had likely identified some of its assets, said the same former official.

The losses could have stopped there. But U.S. officials believe Iranian intelligence was then able to compromise the covert communications system. At the CIA, there was “shock and awe” about the simplicity of the technique the Iranians used to successfully compromise the system, said one former official.

In fact, the Iranians used Google to identify the website the CIA was using to communicate with agents. Because Google is continuously scraping the internet for information about all the world’s websites, it can function as a tremendous investigative tool — even for counter-espionage purposes. And Google’s search functions allow users to employ advanced operators — like “AND,” “OR,” and other, much more sophisticated ones — that weed out and isolate websites and online data with extreme specificity.

According to the former intelligence official, once the Iranian double agent showed Iranian intelligence the website used to communicate with his or her CIA handlers, they began to scour the internet for websites with similar digital signifiers or components — eventually hitting on the right string of advanced search terms to locate other secret CIA websites. From there, Iranian intelligence tracked who was visiting these sites, and from where, and began to unravel the wider CIA network.

«

Iran then cooperated with China to identify US agents there, and then more widely identified US agents worldwide. Stunning piece of reporting. A long read, but worth it. Because of this, a number of US agents in China were caught and executed – the latter fact was reported separately of this a while back.
link to this extract


Why limiting free users to 1,000 photos on Flickr is a smart move • Thomas Hawk Digital Connection

The pro photographer writes:

»

Oath is basically an advertising company and when you are advertising at people you need to be able to advertise to your most profitable customers to make the service work. When you give your most profitable customers (i.e. the ones with money) the option to pay to opt out of ads they do and will. What you are left with is a bunch of accounts by heavy users who are either poor Americans or more likely poor overseas accounts or very light users who can put up with ads but won’t see very many because they are only on your site 2 minutes a week. Whatever the case, you are basically providing a terabyte of enterprise storage, bandwidth, support, etc., to customers who cannot economically be supported by advertising.

In order for Flickr to survive it has to be a long-term profitable business. SmugMug knows a thing or two about how to do this as their primary model for over a decade has been entirely subscription based. As someone who wants to be able to host my photos on Flickr for the 50 remaining years I likely have left on this planet (and even after my death) in order to publish 1,000,000 photos, it’s important to me that Flickr has a long-term viable business model. This means that strongly encouraging free users (who are not currently paying their way) to migrate to paid Pro is important.

I do think it is important for Flickr to offer a free account in order to give people an opportunity to try out the service to see if it is for them. 1,000 photos gives you plenty of opportunity to do just that. It gives you hundreds, even thousands, of hours to explore and enjoy the service without paying — but if you are a heavy user of the site and are using over 1,000 photos of space, at some point you ought to pay.

«

There is a LOT of discussion about this, though I’m told it only affects 3% of users. (Then again, that’s a lot of people even so.) Don McAskill, the SmugMug (and now also Flickr) CEO points out that the pro offering is less than half the price of Apple, Google or Amazon. (Google charges only apply for photos over 16 megapixels though.)
link to this extract


Your smartphone’s location data is worth big money to Wall Street • WSJ

Ryan Dezember:

»

Thasos gets data from about 1,000 apps, many of which need to know a phone’s location to be effective, like those providing weather forecasts, driving directions or the whereabouts of the nearest ATM. Smartphone users, wittingly or not, share their location when they use such apps.

Before Thasos gets the data, suppliers scrub it of personally identifiable information, Mr. Skibiski said. It is just time-stamped strings of longitude and latitude. But with more than 100 million phones providing such coordinates, Thasos says it can paint detailed pictures of the ebb and flow of people, and thus their money.

Alex “Sandy” Pentland, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist who helped launch Thasos, likens it to a circulatory system: “You can look at this blood flow of people moving around.”

…Thasos won’t name its clients, but Mr. Skibiski says it sells data to dozens of hedge funds, some of which pay more than $1m a year. Thasos’s largest investor is Ken Nickerson, who helped build PDT Partners into a quantitative-investing mint inside Morgan Stanley .

This month, Thasos is set to start offering data through Bloomberg terminals. A measure of mall foot traffic will be widely available; detailed daily feeds about malls owned or operated by 30 large real-estate investments trusts cost extra.

«

link to this extract


The quest to build the impossible laptop • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

»

In a recent barrage of new products, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Lenovo, and HP have all shown off computers that are trying to tackle one of the industry’s most vexing problems: How do you make a keyboarded computer that’s also a great tablet? How do you attach a keyboard to a tablet without ruining the whole thing? Every manufacturer is trying to create a device that can do it all.

Over the last few months, we’ve talked to top computer designers to get to the bottom of just why it’s so hard to design the tablet-laptop hybrid device we’ve taken to calling “the impossible laptop.” In the video above, we explore the history of these 2-1 devices and take a close look at some of the new products we’re really excited about going into the future.

Creating the perfect “2-in-1″ device seems to defy engineering. The processor has to be fast enough to handle demanding multitasking while low-power enough to fit in a thin chassis. The device has to work perfectly both with your fingers on the display and your fingers on a touchpad and keyboard. And the hinge, the critical mechanism that allows the device to transition from laptop to tablet and back, needs to be just right.

«

I felt Cranz sets up the right questions but doesn’t quite get to the bottom of the problem. To me, it’s all about the hinge.
link to this extract


Study: false news spreads faster than the truth • MIT Sloan school of management

»

A new study published in Science finds that false news online travels “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth.” And the effect is more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.

Falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than the truth, researchers found. And false news reached 1,500 people about six times faster than the truth.

The study, by Soroush Vosoughi and associate professor Deb Roy, both of the MIT Media Lab, and MIT Sloan professor Sinan Aral, is the largest-ever longitudinal study of the spread of false news online. It uses the term “false news” instead of “fake news” because the former “has lost all connection to the actual veracity of the information presented, rendering it meaningless for use in academic classification,” the authors write.

To track the spread of news, the researchers investigated all the true and false news stories verified by six independent fact-checking organizations that were distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. They studied approximately 126,000 cascades — defined as “instances of a rumor spreading pattern that exhibits an unbroken retweet chain with a common, singular origin” — on Twitter about contested news stories tweeted by 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. Twitter provided access to data and provided funding for the study.

The researchers removed Twitter bots before running their analysis. They then included the bots and ran the analysis again and found “none of our main conclusions changed.”

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link to this extract


Those colorful Sonos One speakers go on sale November 5th • Engadget

»

Sonos is finally breaking away from the bland black and white color schemes that typically accompany speakers and is spicing things new with new, vibrant options. In collaboration with Danish design brand HAY, Sonos is releasing a run of the Sonos One speaker that will be available in yellow, green, red, pink and gray. Despite originally being slated for a September release, the limited edition speakers will be available starting on November 5th.

If you’d like to get your hands on one of the Sonos One speakers with a fresh coat of paint, you’ll have to pay extra for it. The limited run of color speakers will sell for $229 – a $30 premium on top of the $199 retail price for the Sonos One in black or white. The color-dipped speakers will only be available through Sonos.com, Hay.com, the Sonos store in Manhattan and the Museum of Modern Art design store. You won’t be able to grab the limited edition speaker through other electronics sellers like Amazon or Best Buy.

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In case you need a coloured something to match some indoor furnishings. Best sound for the price on the market, I’d say. But don’t seem to be available in the UK, sadly.
link to this extract


Smartphone battery life: iPhone XS battery isn’t as good as the X. Which phone outlasts them all? • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

CNET, which like me found conspicuous dips in battery life between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X (and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S9), tests screens at 50% brightness playing a looping video with Airplane Mode turned on.

What we both discovered: phones with fancy screens that are especially high-resolution or use tech such as OLED perform worse. (That tech can require more power to push out light.) So if you want your phone to last longer, turn down the screen’s brightness. Or stop looking at your phone so many times each day, if you can break our nationwide spell of phone addiction.

Tom’s Guide throws another factor into the mix: the cellular connection. It makes phones run through a series of websites streamed over LTE. Unlike me, it also saw a big battery life hit to the Pixel 3 XL versus the Pixel 2 XL.

Another lesson: If you want the battery to last longer, use WiFi when possible — or even Airplane Mode when you don’t need to be reachable. Both Apple and Android phones also offer low-power modes (not reflected in our testing) that reduce some draining data functions without taking you offline.

The counterexample is Consumer Reports, which found the new iPhone XS lasted 25% longer than last year’s iPhone X. Its test uses a finger robot — yes, you read that right — to make phones cycle through lots of different functions and apps, including pauses in use where the screen turns off.

Consumer Reports is likely better testing the phone’s processor, an area where a number of companies — but particularly Apple — have made efficiency gains.

So overall, are battery lives decreasing or increasing? “You can’t make a straight trend,” says Consumer Reports director of electronics testing Maria Rerecich.

I wish companies had more standardized ways to talk about battery life.

«

Struggling for a mobile connection will kill your battery. If you need Wi-Fi but not a mobile connection, switch to Airplane mode, and then turn the Wi-Fi back on. Boom! Longer battery life.
link to this extract


Samsung’s quarterly earnings show increased overall profit, but continued decline in mobile • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

»

Samsung published its third-quarter financials yesterday, and results are mixed. Although profits and revenue are up (both year over year and quarter over quarter), the mobile division continues the decline set last quarter. Interestingly, that’s not as a result of sales, but rather increased marketing costs and unfavorable currency developments. Nonetheless, it expects those mobile earnings to decrease further next quarter, even as smartphone shipments rise…

…Samsung’s third-quarter IT & Mobile Communications (read: phone) profits are always on the lower side in Q3, and at 2.22 trillion KRW (~$1.98bn) that’s a decline both quarter over quarter, year over year, and the lowest numbers Samsung has seen since Q1 2017. Interestingly, this isn’t a result of a decline in flagship sales, but rather mid and low-end devices.

The company expects phone sales to rise for Q4/the end of the year, but since those late-year sales require correspondingly higher marketing costs, profitability won’t be as high.

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Analysts reckon Samsung’s phone sales declined quite sharply in Q3 on a year-over-year basis. Things are getting compressed in the phone market.
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Guess who’s the leading headphone brand? • Music Industry Blog

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Smart speakers and interactive dashboards are both competing for consumer ear time, but will never claim back the same share of listening from headphones that speaker-based listening enjoyed in the 80s and 90s. We live much more itinerant and connected lives now, with the smartphone our eternal companion. Headphones represent a marketplace with an unprecedented scale and ubiquity.

MIDiA has just published a new report exploring this marketplace and one of the key findings may surprise you: Apple is the market leader in headphone ownership.

Just as Apple stole Sony’s leading position in portable audio players, it is now doing the same with headphones. When its three headphone brand categories are combined (EarPods, AirPods, Beats – an Apple company) Apple has the leading market share in headphone ownership with 24%. Sony is second with 22%, followed by fellow traditional CE stalwarts Panasonic and Bose. The top four corporate-level headphone brands represent 61% of the total, illustrating just how fragmented the rest of the market is, with countless brands competing for share. Interestingly, Apple is the only top 20 headphone brand whose owners are not majority male.

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Did not expect that. (MIDiA’s report looks at headphone people have specifically chosen to buy, I think, rather than those which come in a box, because otherwise you’d think it would be Samsung, right?)
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Chelsea is using our AI research for smarter football coaching • The Conversation

Varuna de Silva is a lecturer at the Institute for Digital Technologies at Loughborough University:

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The best footballers aren’t necessarily the ones with the best physical skills. The difference between success and failure in football often lies in the ability to make the right split-second decisions on the field about where to run and when to tackle, pass or shoot. So how can clubs help players train their brains as well as their bodies?

My colleagues and I are working with Chelsea FC academy to develop a system to measure these decision-making skills using artificial intelligence (AI) – a kind of robot coach or scout, if you will. We’re doing this by analysing several seasons of data that tracks players and the ball throughout each game, and developing a computer model of different playing positions. The computer model provides a benchmark to compare the performance of different players. This way we can measure the performance of individual players independent of the actions of other players.

We can then visualise what might have happened if the players had made a different decision in any case. TV commentators are always criticising player actions, saying they should have done something else without any real way of testing the theory. But our computer model can show just how realistic these suggestions might be.

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Tricky to do, because every situation is unique – and when something similar arises, how do you know if it’s sufficiently similar or different to do something else? Possibly pointing this out is something good managers have done instinctively for years. Now it’s the AIs’ turn.
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Gartner, IDC were both wildly wrong in guessing Apple’s Q4 Mac shipments • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

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The fact that Gartner and IDC were both so wrong about Apple’s Mac sales is particularly shocking because Apple reports its Mac shipments every quarter, making it easier to refine the model that analysts use to make their sales projections. No other PC maker issues verified sales data every quarter, meaning there’s no way for outside estimates to check their own math against reality.

If Gartner and IDC are that wrong about Mac shipments, their PC numbers are even more untrustworthy.

And of course, moving forward into fiscal 2019, Apple will no longer report its Mac and iPad unit sales each quarter. That means the final verifiable data we now have to challenge analyst estimates will be gone. The only way we will know that Apple isn’t doomed is if it is still in business.

The direction of the market on a quarterly basis (in terms of unit market share and growth) will also be a huge question mark. The only way we will know that Gartner and IDC have unreliable data is that they’ve had unreliable data and insight in the past. After all, IDC once predicted that both Windows Phone and Windows Tablets would be hits that crushed the growth Apple’s iPhone and iPad, without offering any actual facts supporting the idea either time.

It is pretty clear that the PC market has not been growing, even if the guesswork numbers from Gartner and IDC can’t really be relied upon to be factual. But we also know that Gartner and IDC have spent the last decade issuing gerrymandered data to make it look like tablets—specifically iPads sold by Apple—weren’t having any material, discernible effect on PC sales, undeniably to make Microsoft’s Windows business look better than it was.

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DED’s point (on the gerrymandering) is that the iPad did have an effect on general PC sales back in 2013, and arguably contributed to the fall in the consumer PC market that we’ve seen since 2011. It’s pretty hard to argue against that: for many home users, an iPad really can do everything their older PC could. (So can their smartphone.) But of course, those who frame the debate win the debate – and as he says in the “gerrymandering” article, linked, by framing the iPad as “not a PC” both Gartner and IDC could suggest the iPad wasn’t important.

Plus the fact that they always get Apple’s “PC” numbers wrong isn’t encouraging, given that Apple is going to stop releasing them.

Speaking of tablets…
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Tablet market sees modest decline of 8.6% as slate and detachable categories continue to struggle • IDC

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Slate tablets accounted for the majority of the market with 31.6m units, down 7.9% from the previous year. Detachable tablets also declined, down 13.1% from the previous year, to account for 4.8m unit shipments.

“The detachable market has failed to see growth in 2018, a worrying trend that has plagued the category off and on since the end of 2016,” said Lauren Guenveur, senior research analyst for IDC’s Tablet team. “In October we finally saw the highly anticipated refreshes of Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro, as well as new products by Samsung and Google, which lead us to believe that the last quarter of the year will turn the detachable category around, at least for the time being. Increasingly sparse are new products by the top-tier PC OEMs as they remain more focused on their convertible portfolio, a move that will ultimately affect the overall trajectory of the detachable market going forward.”

“The tablet market is more like the traditional PC market than ever before,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “Not only do these markets move in sync with each other, but the decreasing margins and overall decline, particularly in slate tablets, has led to the top 5 companies capturing a larger share as many small vendors have exited the space or simply treat the tablet market with a much lower priority. Even among the top 5, it is essentially Apple and to a lesser extent Samsung that continue to invest heavily in product innovation and marketing. This has helped the two companies to set themselves apart from the rest.”

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Have a look at the numbers: Apple has over 25% share, and “others” – one suspects mostly cheap Chinese media consumption tablets, or perhaps a few for commercial applications – nearly a third. There’s just no room for profit as the market contracts, squeezing harder even than the PC market.

Only Apple, Samsung and Amazon have a real reason to be there: Apple makes profit, Samsung sells its screens and reinforces its brand, and Amazon uses it as a trojan horse for its content offerings.
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Signing into Google now requires JavaScript • PCMag UK

Matthew Humphries:

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Attempting to sign in with JavaScript disabled in your browser will result in a “Couldn’t sign you in” message appearing, suggesting JavaScript either isn’t supported by your browser or turned off. The only solution is to turn it back on or use a more modern browser. The good news is, there’s plenty of choice with Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Vivaldi, and even Internet Explorer offering support and JavaScript turned on by default.

Google doesn’t see this demand for JavaScript as being a big problem because according to the search giant only 0.1% of Google Account users turn it off. The internet is becoming increasingly JavaScript-reliant anyway, so it’s unlikely that tiny percentage will grow in the future.

There’s no details on what Google’s risk assessment actually entails, and I don’t expect any to be forthcoming. Why would Google publicly share how it’s checking the security of a sign-in process? That would only make it a weaker process as the more information an attacker has about how it works, the better the chances of them finding a way to circumvent it.

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Not really. It’s pretty hard to run Javascript from a command line, which is how lots of faked or automated signins (especially using stolen credentials) would be done. This – plus, I suspect, unrevealed monitoring of keystroke patterns to figure out if there’s a human behind the login – would ensure you have to have a person behind the keyboard.

Flip it over. Why would Google enforce the use of something if it doesn’t improve security?
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Apple’s iPad Pro A12X nearly matches top-end x86 CPUs in GeekBench • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

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There are persistent rumors that Apple will start swapping Intel CPUs for its own silicon in 2020. From there, it’s easy to connect the dots and think that this is evidence of Intel’s own performance collapse, the end of x86, etc. Digging deeper into results often gives a more nuanced picture of what’s going on and where the limits and problems are. For example: One potential reason these results favor Apple is that Apple is still building its laptops with DDR3-2133, while its iPads use LPDDR4 at higher clocks. In theory, a laptop with DDR4-2400 instead of DDR3-2133 would perform a bit better in these tests.

If Apple wants to truly take the general-purpose CPU performance crown away from Intel by 2020 and replace x86 silicon with its own ARM chips, it’s going to have to either improve those areas of performance where it still lags far behind its competitor or say goodbye to the community of Mac users that rely on superior performance in those types of mathematical operations. That’s going to cost the company power and die area at some level. This is by no means an insurmountable problem — it’s more-or-less exactly what Intel did when it transformed its Pentium M Dothan core (2003) into Nehalem (2008). Dothan was a great CPU with some multimedia processing weak spots compared with its predecessors. Over time, Intel fixed those weaknesses and added new capabilities, setting the stage for a brand-new architecture to debut a decade ago.

The other major issue Apple will have to continue to work on is the suitability of iOS as a serious work platform. iPad Pro reviews have always praised the tablet for its build quality and performance. The question of whether you can use it as a replacement for a traditional laptop (including a Mac laptop) has always come down to software support and ease-of-use.

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The iPad Pro’s USB-C port is great. It should be on my iPhone, too • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

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You’re not as likely to connect cameras or thumb drives to your iPhone, but there are good reasons for USB-C there, too.

First, you’d be able to charge in more places, including from your MacBook or iPad Pro charger. That means less junk on your desk or in your suitcase and less of a problem if you forget something. Maybe it’ll even mean some price pressure on Apple’s expensive chargers, too. (We can dream, right?)

Second, USB-C is the best way out of the industry’s abandonment of 3.5mm audio jacks. Because face it, they’re not coming back. With USB-C iPhones, you’d be able to use one set of earbuds or headphones with your laptops, phones and whatever devices you buy in the future.

Third, Apple’s choices send an important message to any other tech company. A USB-C iPhone would help car manufacturers, speaker makers and others embrace USB-C and deliver on its all-purpose promise. That may never happen — Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment — but today’s iPad Pro already sends a message to electronics makers that Lightning’s future is uncertain and that Apple appreciates what USB-C has to offer.

The USB-C advantages may not be worth it for you today. Especially if you don’t have a newer Mac, don’t want to spend $9 for an Apple USB-C adapter for your favorite old headphones with a 3.5mm jack, or have accessories like speaker dock reliant on a Lightning port.

But it’s worth it to me, for charging and earbuds today and for digital photography on my next laptop-free vacation.

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I may have to do a matrix of the objects Apple has which use Lightning, and which use USB-C. (Former: iPad, iPad mini, 10.5in iPad Pro, iPhones, AirPods; latter: new iPad Pros, MacBook, MacBook Pro. Neither: old MacBook Air – still on sale – desktops and Mac mini.)

As for the iPhone: I’d expect USB-C there in 2020.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified