Start Up No.972: a new superconductivity high?, Equifax lashed, SuperMicro says nope, what’s a headphone jack worth?, Dell’s return, and more


Yes, but why is this the emergency phone number in the UK? CC-licensed photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.


Charity time: ahead of Christmas, I’m encouraging readers to make a donation to charity; a different one each day.
Today’s is
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). (Neglect is the most common form of child abuse.)


A selection of 10 links for you. Not for sale in North Dakota. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The record for high-temperature superconductivity has been smashed again • MIT Technology Review

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The history of superconductivity is littered with dubious claims of high-temperature activity that later turn out to be impossible to reproduce. Indeed, physicists have a name for this: USOs, or unidentified superconducting objects.

So new claims of high-temperature superconductivity have to be treated with caution. Having said that, the news today that the record for high-temperature superconductivity has been smashed is worth looking at in more detail.

The work comes from the lab of Mikhail Eremets and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. Eremets and his colleagues say they have observed lanthanum hydride (LaH10) superconducting at the sweltering temperature of 250 K, or –23 °C. That’s warmer than the current temperature at the North Pole. “Our study makes a leap forward on the road to the room-temperature superconductivity,” say the team.

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Woo-hoo!

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(The caveat is that the sample has to be under huge pressure: 170 gigapascals, or about half the pressure at the center of the Earth.)

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Oh. But they do have two of three key pieces of evidence that they’ve really found superconductivity. It seems that the cosmic joke about room-temperature superconductivity will be that you have it, but only if you have centre-of-the-planet pressures.
link to this extract


Scathing House Oversight report: Equifax data breach was “entirely preventable” • Fast Company

Melissa Locker:

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after a 14-month investigation, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has issued a scathing 96-page report saying the consumer credit reporting agency aggressively collected consumer data without taking the necessary steps to protect the trove of information. “Equifax… failed to implement an adequate security program to protect this sensitive data. As a result, Equifax allowed one of the largest data breaches in US history. Such a breach was entirely preventable,” the report says.

The report blames the breach on a series of failures, including “a culture of cybersecurity complacency,” outdated technology systems, and Equifax’s failure to patch a “known critical vulnerability.” The committee also noted the company’s failure to take appropriate measures to inform consumers about the breach and their options for protecting their data. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tried to warn Equifax that this wouldn’t end well for them. The report comes as the company still faces a variety of class-action lawsuits over the breach and the FTC is still side-eyeing the company after publicly confirming it is investigating the data breach.

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Reached for a quote, Equifax said it wasn’t fair that it didn’t get time to review the report. But you know that this won’t make the tiniest difference. They’ll still keep grabbing more data.
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Why call 999 for an emergency? • BBC

Gary Holland:

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The General Post Office, which ran the telephone network, proposed a three digit number that could trigger a special signal and flashing light at the exchange. The operators could then divert their attention to these priority calls.

In order to find the new emergency number in the dark or thick smoke it was suggested an end number was used so it could be found easily by touch.

111 was rejected because it could be triggered by faulty equipment or lines rubbing together. 222 would have connected to the Abbey local telephone exchange as numbers in the early telephone network represented the first three letters (ABBey = 222, 1 was not used due to the accidental triggering). 000 could not be used as the first 0 would have dialled the operator.

999 was deemed the sensible choice.

The system came into place on 1 July 1937 covering a 12 mile radius from London’s Oxford Circus. Several people have claimed to have made the first 999 call on the 2nd or 3rd July.

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OK, this is from 2010, but it caught my eye. Looking forward to any American readers explaining why their emergency number is 911.
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GoPro to move US-bound camera production out of China • Reuters

Arjun Panchadar:

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GoPro on Monday took the first steps to move most of its US-bound camera production out of China by the summer of 2019 to counter the potential impact from any new tariffs.

The company had previously said it was being “very proactive” about the situation regarding tariffs as US and China ramped up its bitter trade war, in which both nations have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s imports.

GoPro said international-bound camera production will remain in China.

“It’s important to note that we own our own production equipment while our manufacturing partner provides the facilities, so we expect to make this move at a relatively low cost,” said chief financial officer Brian McGee.

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Costs imposed by tariffs. And then tariffs on the end product. Not really going to help GoPro, which is struggling to find profitability.
link to this extract


Opinion: Microsoft browser shift has major implications for software and devices • TechSpot

Bob O’Donnell:

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From traditional enterprise software vendors like SAP, Oracle, and IBM through modern cloud-based players like Salesforce, Slack, and Workday, the ability to focus more of their efforts on a single target platform should open up a wealth of innovation and reduce difficult cross-platform testing efforts.

But it’s not just the software world that’s going to be impacted by this decision. Semiconductors and the types of devices that we may start to use could be affected as well. For example, Microsoft is leveraging this shift to Chromium as part of an effort to bring broader software compatibility to Arm-based CPUs, particularly the Windows on Snapdragon offerings from Qualcomm, like the brand-new Snapdragon 8cx. By working on bringing the underlying compatibility of Chromium to Windows-focused Arm64 processors, Microsoft is going to make it significantly easier for software developers to create applications that run on these devices. This would remove the last significant hurdle that has kept these devices from reaching mainstream buyers in the consumer and enterprise world, and it could turn them into serious contenders versus traditional X86-based CPUs from Intel and AMD.

On the device side, this move also opens up the possibility for a wider variety of form factors and for more ambient computing types of services. By essentially enabling a single, consistent target platform that could leverage the essential input characteristics of desktop devices (mice and keyboards), mobile devices (touch), and voice-based interfaces, Microsoft is laying the groundwork for a potentially fascinating computing future. Imagine, for example, a foldable multi-screen device that offers something like a traditional Android front screen, then unfolds to a larger Windows (or Android)-based device that can leverage the exact same applications and data, but with subtle UI enhancements optimized for each environment.

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Well sure, but that’s been the promise of web apps for absolutely years, and they’re never as good as the native UI, because the native UI is tuned to the device and its OS. It’s not a single, consistent target platform. That’s always the hope, and that hope is always dashed.
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If you invented the headphone jack in 2019, you’d be a billionaire • NY Mag

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Rumors are now surfacing that the Samsung Galaxy S10 will be the last phone it puts out to have a 3.5-mm. headphone jack. It already pulled out the headphone jack on its Galaxy A8S. Samsung had been the lone holdout among major manufacturers when it comes to the 3.5-mm. headphone jack — when it debuted the Note 8 a year ago, the announcement that the device would retain a 3.5-mm. headphone jack got the most raucous applause out of any feature announced onstage. But it appears those days will soon draw to a close.

So here’s some free advice to any upstart smartphone manufacturer planning to roll out a phone in 2019: keep the headphone jack, and just pretend you invented it. Call it the something like the PureSound Port.

Have a video with a schlumpy dude in ill-fitting clothes trying to get his wireless headphones to pair, holding up traffic on the sidewalk. (Casting agents: I am available!). Pan slightly over to someone who looks like a Cooper Union grad clicking their artfully retro headphones intothe PureSound Port, and walking blissfully down the street, listening to their music. “No more charging, no more pairing, no lost signals. Just PureSound.”

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Looks like I’ll have to write a “Benjamin Button goes from” for “wireless headphones to a wired port”, doesn’t it. (It’s a genre.)
link to this extract


Dell to return to the stock market five years after buyout • Bloomberg

Nico Grant:

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Dell Technologies Inc. won a shareholder vote to return to public markets, putting founder Michael Dell on the winning side of a transformative transaction that polarized investors for the second time in five years.

The world’s largest private technology company on Tuesday secured more than 61% of tracking stock DVMT’s unaffiliated shareholders. Of those who cast a ballot, 89% voted in favor. DVMT acts as a proxy for Dell’s stake in software maker VMware Inc. Round Rock, Texas-based Dell will buy out DVMT in a cash and share-swap deal that values DVMT’s market capitalization at $23.9bn. The computer giant said it will list on the New York Stock Exchange as soon as Dec. 28 under the ticker DELL.

After going private in one of the biggest leveraged buyouts ever, Dell will relist as a financially stronger and more diverse leader in computer equipment and software, though more burdened by debt. The move will help simplify a tangled corporate structure that holds together a tech empire ranging from servers to security software and give the company greater flexibility to raise capital, boost its value and pursue stock-based acquisitions.

It will also allow key investor Silver Lake, which helped take Dell private in 2013 in a deal worth about $24bn, to make its stake more liquid.

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So public markets were bad five years ago but now they’re great? And just as with the buyout, there have had to be sweeteners to get it to happen.

Anyhow, on the plus side, we might get an indication of how the PC business is doing.
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Super Micro finds no malicious hardware in motherboards • WSJ

Allison Prang:

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Super Micro Computer told its customers in a letter Tuesday that a third-party firm didn’t find malicious hardware on its equipment, as the supplier of motherboards continued to dispute a report that its products had been sabotaged.

“After thorough examination and a range of functional tests, the investigations firm found absolutely no evidence of malicious hardware on our motherboards,” said a letter from Super Micro executives, including CEO Charles Liang. The letter was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Super Micro reiterated that neither its customers nor government agencies had ever told the company they had found malicious hardware on its products.

The company’s letter follows a report from Bloomberg News in October that said Super Micro’s motherboards contained a rogue chip not part of the original design. The article said a “supply chain attack” was carried out by Chinese spies.

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You’re wondering: where’s the Bloomberg report on this? Answer: here. They reported it.
link to this extract


Cryptocurrencies are like lottery tickets that might pay off in future • The Guardian

Kenneth Rogoff (a former chief economist at the IMF):

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For the moment, the real question is if and when global regulation will stamp out privately constructed systems that are expensive for governments to trace and monitor. Any single large advanced economy foolish enough to try to embrace cryptocurrencies, as Japan did last year, risks becoming a global destination for money-laundering. (Japan’s subsequent moves to distance itself from cryptocurrencies were perhaps one cause of this year’s gyrations.) In the end, advanced economies will surely coordinate on cryptocurrency regulation, as they have on other measures to prevent money laundering and tax evasion.

But that leaves out a lot of disgruntled players. After all, many today – including Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Russia – are labouring under US financial sanctions. Their governments will not necessarily care about global externalities if they encourage cryptocurrencies that might have value as long as they are used somewhere.

So, while we shouldn’t be surprised by this year’s cryptocurrency price bust, the price of these coins is not necessarily zero. Like lottery tickets, there is a high probability that they are worthless. There is also an extremely small outside chance that they will be worth a great deal someday, for reasons that currently are difficult to anticipate.

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link to this extract


Notice: Google Fusion Tables turndown • Google Support

Where by “turndown” what they mean is “death”:

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Google Fusion Tables and the Fusion Tables API will be turned down December 3, 2019. Embedded Fusion Tables visualizations — maps, charts, tables and cards — will also stop working that day. Maps using the Fusion Tables Layer in the Maps JavaScript API v3.37 will start to see errors in August 2019.

Fusion Tables was launched almost nine years ago as a research project in Google Labs, later evolving into an experimental product. For a long time, it was one of the few free tools for easily visualizing large datasets, especially on a map.

Since then, several Google alternatives have been developed, providing deeper experiences in more specialized domains.

Google BigQuery – Fast, highly scalable, cost-effective, and fully managed cloud data warehouse for analytics, with built-in machine learning…

Google Cloud SQL (…Fully-managed database service)

Google Sheets (…Fusion Tables can be imported into Google Sheets.)

Google Data Studio (…Data Studio is Google’s free-to-use business intelligence tool.)

Coming soon – Teams at Google have developed internal tools that can create powerful map visualizations. We are working to make some of these tools publicly available and will have more to share in the coming months—sign up to stay in touch.

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OK, so there are paths forward; but this will break a lot of embedded older content. There’s always a hidden price in “free”; the difficulty is always figuring out where it is before you commit yourself beyond the point where it costs more than paying.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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6 thoughts on “Start Up No.972: a new superconductivity high?, Equifax lashed, SuperMicro says nope, what’s a headphone jack worth?, Dell’s return, and more

  1. re Google thing:

    I think the main price is for using “Labs” stuff, which is by definition in technical and commercial beta if not alpha. Building stuff on top of experimental, unvalidated, unfunded infrastructure will always be a fragile proposition. There’s a huge difference between discontinuing official stuff, and discontinuing experimental stuff. And the 8-12 month fore-warning is nice, most services/apps are discontinued much more violently.

    Some people are happy Google shares stuff they’re not sure about, and winds it down nicely. Some people take the opportunity to bash them once more when it turns out Google was right not to be sure. Mostly exposes one’s bias I guess.

    • “In technical and commercial beta”… for nine years? That’s ridiculous. One or two years in beta? Fine. But at some point before people are completely reliant on it, there should be a decision to make it a mainstream product, or show how it will be closed and where people will move. After nine years, there’s an expectation that it will survive indefinitely. People have been saying that they figured it was going to die because support/updates stopped a while back. Google’s users are better at figuring this stuff out than Google.

      • An expectation that any app, let alone a cloud service will “survive indefinitely” is beyond naive. Especially one that is clearly branded as a research project, not a business. If it happened to WordStar, Lotus, Wordperfect, Mypage, AppleWorks, it can happen to anything. That, and rent extraction, and innovation, is why you don’t want to get locked in/out. I remember spending too many hours getting docs off my Amstrad’s 3.0″ Wordstar+CPM floppies when I was barely past my teens.

        It seems everyone is complaining about discontinuation while not having acknowledged use, existence nor leetness a single time over 9 years. I learned about that product because I got 20 items about it closing down, with optional “free is bad ergo Google is bad” subtext from the usual quarters. In the the last 10 years, I don’t remember seeing a single praising tidbit about it.

  2. We’ve been looking at these new superconducting temperature materials since March. It is not as clear cut as that story makes and it doesn’t meet any of the requirements for an ‘official’ achievement as the effect is too weak. Hence its one of those stories that you need to be tread carefully to get right. Plus it is a very competitive and cut throat field (and I thought high energy physics was bad!).

    My colleague Andrew Grant wrote about it back in August (this paper is a continuation of the research, which is actually based on another’s work).

    https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.1.20180823b/full/

  3. https://people.howstuffworks.com/question664.htm
    They wanted a number that was short and easy to remember. More importantly, they needed a unique number, and since 911 had never been designated for an office code, area code or service code, that was the number they chose.

    I suspect there was a similar problem with 111 in the US. Haven’t been able to find any concrete reason for not using 999 other than speculation that it was US belief that only the first 9, due to signal strength, needed to make it to the exchange and in the UK that all three needed to. There was also scuttlebutt about the 999 being easier to dial without misdialing on a rotary phone with the counter argument being that a 9 to get to the exchange followed by two ones was faster on a rotary phone.

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