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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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:

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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

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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.

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Follows on from this in the Times of Israel:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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

  1. re iPhone perfs, I’m not sure we can gauge overheating after 2.5min of test. Nor performance with a single test. Nor that it matters at this point – Who needs a core i7 in their pocket ?

    The flurry of random posts about how good the iPhone is after each launch is weird. People seem to be seeking reassurance that they were justified ?

    What’s surprising to me from the outside is that Apple dropped the “our customers pay us lots of money to make the right choices for them'” angle. Around me, most iPhone users are rather less tech-literate and liked being mothered. Now they’ve got to choose between 6 sizes (not counting the SE), notch or no notch, LCD or AMOLED, 3D-touch or no 3D-touch, around 12 price points… You can no longer “just get an iPhone”. I think Apple is overestimating its userbase.

  2. Yep its amazing that Apple can get so much processing power from 1/10th the energy consumption of the Intel i7. It’s hard to imagine anyone could fail to be impressed by that 🤔

    Re the new iPad Pros; I agree with Nilay Patel that they continue to be somewhat crippled by the software. Yeah there are kludges and workarounds but nobody wants those when working to a deadline.

    I actually managed to get pictures from a job edited on iPad and over to a newspaper with IPTC captions and via FTP on the original iPad back in 2010 but it was a chore – each image had to have its filename appended at the point of sending and then once sent, there was no way of seeing the filename on that image again (iOS had it’s own hidden way of naming and ordering images)

    Transmit on iPad helped but the overall workflow was always a bit too convoluted and with no equivalent of PhotoMechanic for iPad, the MacBook Air was far more productive.

    I’m optimistic iOS will get there eventually but its disappointing it’s not there yet after the better part of a decade.

      • FTP was just one part of the problem.

        The FTP client was actually built into the photo editing app I used back in 2010 (either Photogene or Filterstorm) and it got the pictures over but one at a time.

        I even bought the Transmit app (from the same developers as Coda) for iPad as soon as it was released – but it was rarely used it as the image naming, captioning and batch processing issues on iOS were too time-consuming compared with using PhotoMechanic on the Mac.

      • That’s Apple game plan I think: hobble the iPad so iFans still have to get 2 devices. That’s very Apple-specific though. Most buyers side-step that.

        Coda: Android has been able to do that, and more, from day one. Strangely, that was never mentioned.

    • Just get an Android on the side, it’s got *everything*: filenames and a real filesystem, ftp, external storage support, mouse support, LAN support… w/ Photoshop Express and Mix, not the full one though. ;-p

      • This is actually the important point. Pretty much everyone who needs a computer (ie PC form factor) has one already. The iPad [Pro] isn’t competing to supplant that. It’s competing to be the next thing you buy *instead* of a new laptop. So the old PC [form factor] soldiers on for occasional specialist tasks; the iPad takes over the new tasks the PC couldn’t do, in the situations the other wouldn’t work for.

  3. That one is interesting: https://www.engadget.com/2018/11/06/waymo-self-driving-collision/

    You’ve got to trust Google’s report on it, but they say the human driver actually caused the accident by overriding the autopilot. Also, sorry for the motorcyclist, I hope you get well soon. But .. can you stop overtaking on the right please ? I get nightmares every time I have to drive, and then every time after driving. Distracted passer-bys and reckless two-wheelers mostly.

  4. Reading the MBA reviews, the same thing as with iPhones seems to be going on: confusion. Whether people should be getting an MBA, an MB, or an MBPro is difficult to determine. I used to be able to tell iFans what to get, no… I don’t know. I guess my main advice will be “go to the shop and try the new keyboard first, it’s weird” ?

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