Start Up No.1,006: Apple preps odd-sized laptops and iPads, MPs slam Facebook, Amazon aims low on carbon, AI music!, LG holds its fold, and more

Your pushup capacity could predict your risk of heart disease. CC-licensed photo by Orin Zebest on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Popular Front of Judea? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New science shows the power of the pushup • Quartz

Chase Purdy:


What they hoped to figure out was whether there exists an easy, in-person way that doctors could assess heart disease risk in their patients. It turns out, it might be as simple as asking people to do push-ups, according to a new study published Feb. 15 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As part of their research, the scientists followed 1,104 firefighters from 10 Indiana-based fire departments for a decade. When the fire fighters would see the their local doctors for routine check-ups, they were also checked for the number of pushups they could complete.

A physician would pull out a metronome and set it at 80 beats per minute. Then the firefighters would be counted for the number of pushups they could complete until they reached 80, missed three or more beats, or stopped entirely because of exhaustion.

Over the 10 years, the researchers reported noticing significantly fewer signs of heart disease-related issues among the firefighters who could complete a greater number of pushups. Among the people who could complete more than 40, there was a 96% reduction in the cardiovascular disease incidents compared to those who could complete fewer than 10.

“The push-up examination requires no special equipment, is low cost or no cost, can easily be performed in almost any setting within two minutes, and provides an objective estimate of functional status,” the researchers wrote in the study. “It is a quantitative measurement that is easily understood by both the clinician and the patient.”


That seems quite strenuous. Mean age 39.6, mean BMI 28.7.
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Delivering Shipment Zero, a vision for net zero carbon shipments • Amazon corporate blog


Amazon has a long-term goal to power our global infrastructure using 100% renewable energy, and we are making solid progress. With improvements in electric vehicles, aviation bio fuels, reusable packaging, and renewable energy, for the first time we can now see a path to net zero carbon delivery of shipments to customers, and we are setting an ambitious goal for ourselves to reach 50% of all Amazon shipments with net zero carbon by 2030. We are calling this project “Shipment Zero” – it won’t be easy to achieve this goal, but it’s worth being focused and stubborn on this vision and we’re committed to seeing it through…

…To track our progress on this journey and as part of an overall commitment to sharing our sustainability goals, we plan to share Amazon’s company-wide carbon footprint, along with related goals and programs, later this year.


Actually? 50% isn’t ambitious enough. 100% would be ambitious. 50% isn’t one thing or the other.

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Facebook is out of control and politicians have no idea what to do • The Guardian

Simon Jenkins:


Some of the report’s accusations are astonishing. Facebook “purposefully obstructed” the committee. Its boss, Mark Zuckerberg, who “continues to choose profit over data security,” held parliament in contempt. His rambling empire is portrayed as lying, thieving “digital gangsterism”. Yet British electoral law is puny. It is “unfit for purpose,” leaving elections “vulnerable to foreign influence, disinformation and voter manipulation”. Not a week passes without evidence that cybersecurity is inadequate and public services have been left vulnerable to hacking.

So far, so familiar, as are the report’s proposals: the usual comfort blankets of a code of ethics, an independent regulator and “more transparency”. We have sought them for a decade and still not found them. The real question is, why not? What are the pressures, who are the lobbyists, why the inertia? As over Brexit, parliament is fine at demolition, hopeless at construction. The spirit fails at the door marked Something Must Be Done.

The Germans are so ahead of Britain that they have Facebook staff fact-checking frantically, taking down material. America is steeling itself for a monopoly-busting assault on Silicon Valley. The Russians are running wild round the regulators. The Chinese are pioneering web “repatriation”, in effect blocking anything they consider unsuitable. Much of this is not nice for purists, but it must be full of lessons. The running joke among social media pundits is that regulation is so far behind technology – and profit – as to be out of sight.

We still await a legal declaration that social media platforms are publishers not “conduits”. That has to be rubbish. Copyright on the internet is where it was for the printed word in the 19th century, which was nowhere until the law caught up. Attempts to tax and fine social media operators fall foul of the scandalous indulgence of tax shelters. Those who do not pay taxes where they live should not be allowed to live there, period.


Once he gets onto a topic, Jenkins goes through it at a gallop. You can read the full DCMS report on Facebook. The evidence includes a ton of hyperlinks – including a tranche of Six4Three emails, crucial to some of the adverse findings about Facebook.
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Music created by artificial intelligence is better than you think • Medium

Stuart Dredge:


Can an A.I. create original music? Absolutely. Can it create original music better than a human can? Well, it depends which human you’re comparing the A.I.’s music to, for a start.

Human-created music already spans everything from the sublime to the unlistenable. While an A.I. may not be able to out-Adele Adele (or Aretha Franklin, or Joni Mitchell) with a timeless song and performance, it can compose a compelling melody for a YouTube video, mobile game, or elevator journey faster, cheaper, and almost as well as a human equivalent. In these scenarios, it’s often the “faster” and “cheaper” parts that matter most to whoever’s paying.

The quality of A.I. music is improving in leaps and bounds as the technology becomes more sophisticated. In January 2017, Australian A.I.-music startup Popgun could listen to a human playing piano and respond with a melody that could come next; by July 2018, it could compose and play piano, bass, and drums together as a backing track for a human’s vocals.

Popgun is just one of a number of technology startups exploring the potential of A.I. and what it could mean for humans — both professional musicians and those of us who can barely bang a tambourine in time alike. Startups include Jukedeck, Amper Music, Aiva, WaveAI, Melodrive, Amadeus Code, Humtap, HumOn, AI Music, Mubert, Endel, and Boomy, while teams from Google, Sony, IBM, and Facebook are also looking at what A.I. music can do now and what it could do in the future.


As he points out, really quick way to get corporate music or YouTube vlog stuff. As much as anything you could get it to seed something which you improve.
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Apple expected to launch 16in MacBook Pro, 31in 6K display, iPhones with reverse wireless charging • News18

Kunal Khullar:


We could see a brand new MacBook this year as reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has yet again revealed announcements that Apple could make in 2019. Known for his precise predictions, Kuo has said in a research note, that Apple will release a new 16in MacBook Pro, a 31in 6K monitor, iPhones with bilateral charging, new iPads, and more.

While it sounds uncanny, the analyst says that new MacBook Pro having dimensions between 16in and 16.5in with an updated design is expected to launch this year. This would make it the biggest MacBook since the 17in MacBook which stopped selling in 2012. As an add-on, the 13in MacBook Pro might get the option of adding 32GB of RAM. Currently, the 13in variant only supports up to 16GB of RAM while the 15-inch variant supports 32GB.

We can also expect a new display from the company, a 31.6in 6K resolution monitor which is said to feature “mini-LED backlight” to render excellent picture quality. There is also the mention of a new Mac Pro with “easy to upgrade components”.


These are some seriously weird predictions. 16in? There’s also predictions of a 10.2in iPad Pro. It’s all strange sizes and stuff.
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China surveillance firm tracking millions in Xinjiang – researcher • Reuters

Cate Cadell and Philip Wen:


A Chinese surveillance firm is tracking the movements of more than 2.5 million people in the far-western Xinjiang region, according to a data leak flagged by a Dutch internet expert.

An online database containing names, ID card numbers, birth dates and location data was left unprotected for months by Shenzhen-based facial-recognition technology company SenseNets Technology Ltd, according to Victor Gevers, co-founder of non-profit organisation GDI.Foundation, who first noted the vulnerability in a series of social media posts last week.

Exposed data also showed about 6.7m location data points linked to the people which were gathered within 24 hours, tagged with descriptions such as “mosque”, “hotel,” “internet cafe” and other places where surveillance cameras were likely to be found.

“It was fully open and anyone without authentication had full administrative rights. You could go in the database and create, read, update and delete anything,” said Gevers.


When surveillance states get sloppy.
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China reveals plans for first solar power station in space • Sydney Morning Herald

Kirsty Needham:


A solar power station orbiting the earth at 36,000 kilometres could tap the energy of the sun’s rays without interference from the atmosphere, or seasonal and night-time loss of sunlight, Chinese media reported.

Construction of an early experimental space power plant has begun in the inland city of Chongqing, China’s Science and Technology Daily reported on its front page.

A researcher from the China Academy of Space Technology Corporation, Pang Zhihao, said a space solar power station held the promise of providing “an inexhaustible source of clean energy for humans”.
Electric cars could be charged at any time and any place.

It could reliably supply energy 99% of the time, at six times the intensity of solar farms on earth, he said.

Chinese scientists first plan to build and launch small- to medium-sized solar power stations to be launched into the stratosphere to generate electricity, between 2021 and 2025.

The next step will be a megawatt-level space solar power station, slated for construction in 2030.


This is slightly bonkers. That’s a geostationary orbit, but you’d only need a tiny amount of drift for that downward beam to start zapping substantial areas of land. Or of course zapping other satellites in orbit.
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Google may kill Android’s Back button for Android Q’s new gestures • XDA Developers

Mishaal Rahman:


Since Apple removed the iconic home button in favor of gesture navigation on the iPhone X, we’ve seen companies roll out their own implementations of gesture controls. Some gesture control systems like the one from OnePlus and Xiaomi are widely praised for their intuitiveness and eye-catching animations, while others like the one from Google in Android Pie have been met with mixed reviews. Just as Google accidentally leaked Android P’s gestures before Google I/O 2018, we have found evidence of a prototype revamp of navigation gestures from a leaked build of Android Q that we obtained last month.

In Android 9 Pie, the 3 button navigation system was replaced by a two-button system. Although the recent apps button was removed, the back button stayed. The home button, however, turned into a gesture pill.

Most of the complaints that people have towards Android Pie’s gestures focus on the presence of the dedicated back button and the difficulty of performing the long swipe up of the pill to open the app drawer. While I don’t know if the latter gesture will be changed in Android Q, there’s a really good chance that Google may kill the dedicated back button.


It’s had a good run.

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LG puts foldable phone on hold, focuses on “optional” dual displays • Android Authority

Scott Adam Gordon:


In an email today, an LG spokesperson said: “Since Mr. Hwang (former MC President) made that statement in October, management didn’t see the market as becoming very favourable for an expensive, first-gen foldable smartphone. So we’ve decided to focus our efforts in other areas, such as optional dual displays.”

Earlier in January, rumors emerged suggesting an LG device with an optional display was headed to MWC 2019. The extra screen is tipped to be part of an additional phone case.

LG isn’t the only manufacturer wary of the folding phone market. Last month, Honor President George Zhao said folding phones were “too thick and heavy,” and questioned if consumers really needed them.

With all of that in mind, Kwon said LG was “fully ready” to respond to folding smartphone demand if it’s there. It seems like LG has the technology, but whether it will pursue it may depend on what everybody thinks of the Galaxy F.


Probably wise, given that (1) LG’s mobile phone business fell even deeper into the red in Q4 (-18% operating margin) (2) its mobile phone business shrank by 42% in Q4, and by 29% for the year. LG is becoming an afterthought in the phone space. When was its heyday?
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Samsung gives up on Blu-Ray, will not release any new players in the US • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:


This is not entirely surprising. The 4K UHD Blu-ray market is growing fast, but disc sales in general fell by double digits (11.5% in Q3 2018, per Variety) and the growth of streaming may have left the format without much of a future. Last year, competitor Oppo also dropped out of the Blu-ray market. As Engadget noted, the Digital Entertainment Group said that 2.3m devices capable of playing 4K Blu-rays were purchased in the U.S. in the first nine months of 2018, “but those included game consoles that might never play a disc-based movie.”

Meanwhile, subscription video services reach many times that number of households (Netflix alone is in the 150m range). It seems like there is a significant number of consumers who don’t think they need an expensive Blu-ray player to enjoy movies (as Forbes noted, well over half of disc sales are still DVDs). Additionally, Samsung’s devices didn’t support Dolby Vision, just HDR10 and HDR10+, further limiting their appeal to a subset of the Blu-ray market.

In any case, Blu-rays are not quite going the way of the dinosaur yet—indeed, they remain the best way for home viewing as close to movie-theater quality as possible—but they are being undercut by the rise of streaming.


Not surprising when you consider this graphic (taken from The Verge, same story) and try to find Blu-ray viewing. It’s the light green bit.

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How Huawei targets Apple trade secrets • The Information

Wayne Ma:


To arrange the November meeting [with the maker of Apple’s heart sensor component for its Watch], the Huawei engineer first dangled a potential business deal with the supplier, according to messages reviewed by The Information.

“Our design is similar to Apple’s,” the engineer wrote in a text message to the executive with the supplier. “Let’s first talk generally about the cost of a prototype before we provide the schematic,” he wrote. “Sales of Huawei wearables this year are expected to hit 1 million units,” he added.

After the executive expressed reservations about making a component that was too similar to Apple’s, the Huawei engineer backpedaled. “The shape of the product won’t be the same,” the engineer said.

At one point, the Huawei engineer emailed the executive a photo of material it was considering for a heart rate sensor. “Feel free to suggest a design you already have experience with,” the engineer wrote.

The Huawei engineer attended the supplier meeting with four Huawei researchers in tow. The Huawei team spent the next hour and a half pressing the supplier for details about the Apple Watch, the executive said.

“They were trying their luck, but we wouldn’t tell them anything,” the executive said. After that, Huawei went silent.

In another incident, Huawei is suspected of copying a connector Apple developed in 2016 that made the MacBook Pro hinge thinner while still attaching the computer’s display to its logic board, according to a person familiar with the matter. A similar component, made of 13 similar parts assembled in the same manner, showed up last year in Huawei’s MateBook Pro, which was released as a competitor to Apple’s MacBooks, the person said. Apple submitted a patent for the component in 2016, and it remains pending.

Huawei approached multiple Apple suppliers with expertise making the component and provided them with the same schematic. Those suppliers recognized the component as Apple’s design and refused to make it for Huawei, the person said. But Huawei eventually found a willing manufacturer.

In response to questions from The Information, Huawei said it requires its suppliers to uphold a high standard of ethics and expects them to honor their confidentiality obligations to other customers when communicating with Huawei.


Huawei, the new Samsung, and then some. Odd that they can’t just disassemble things to figure this out.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

8 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,006: Apple preps odd-sized laptops and iPads, MPs slam Facebook, Amazon aims low on carbon, AI music!, LG holds its fold, and more

  1. re: back button. I really really hope it stays.

    I just spent some time on an old-style iPhone, and the silliness of the UI is flabbergasting:
    – there’s a huge bottom bezel of empty space that does nothing
    – the ‘back’ functionality, which is probably the most used UI feature of all, is an arrow at the top left of the screen that’s hard to reach
    – …and even to see/spot/find: it’s randomly skinned, and not even always at the top left
    Android’s hardware or at least fixed-place, easily-reached, OS-wide back button is a lot better.

    I personally like swipes and have switched my Xiaomi to swipes-only to gain screen space, but they’re a lot trickier than just pushing a button:
    – they conflict with some in-app swipes
    – my “fat lip on the screen side” case makes starting the swipe correctly a non-obvious thumb contortion
    – there’s some fuzziness between “swipe” (back) and “swipe and hold” (switch to previous app), hesitation is not allowed
    – on non-touchscreen devices, that’a lot of mouse miles (the Esc key or right click do Back, but it’s non-obvious and silly, respectively)
    I really hope they keep the back button, even if only as a semi-deprecated Accessibility option. My senior or just plain non-techie users probably prefer to keep it.

    • PS: Thankfully, if Google goes full fashion victim, OEMs will be able to fix that, same as they been fixing Google’s current inferior Swipes scheme.

    • Oh, and I think on iOS you can’t back-back-back out of an app back to the OS, you’ve got to Home back to the OS, then back-back to the app’s main screen when you switch back to it to do something else.
      No wonder iOS users have a thing against large screens, I’d probably have carpal tunnel at this point. Is iOS thumbow a thing ?

  2. re LG: their phones were an excellent deal from 6 to 3 years ago, when they were almost Samsung-good, especially with an excellent camera, but saw much quicker price drops. I’ve “sold” a few to budget-constrained, photo-oriented friends.
    Then they got irrelevance’d by Chinese midrangers and are now only desirable in niche cases: excellent quad-DAC for wired headsets, handy wide-angle lens on some models, rather good built-in loudspeaker. And a lot of utterly unjustifiable, overpriced midrangers that killed their image.
    They’ve just announced that Mobile plans in France are on hold. It’ll be sad to see them go, they did invent the modern multi-touch, quasi full-screen phone

  3. re pushups: that’s funnily stupid. You can’t extrapolate from a homogeneous, trained population to the general population, not even to different, differently-trained pops.
    Obviously if part of your job is to do pushups, and you’re bad at it, you’ve got a problem. Works for firefighters and good for them, but zero applicability elsewhere.

    Next: Sudoku can be used to detect Parkinson’s.

  4. to follow up on the HDD reliability survey I linked a while back. I got a Synology NAS a few years back, put 2x WD and 2x Seagate in it. Both WDs have now died (not at the same time, thankfully), the Seagates are still OK.

    Also, quick shout-out to Synology, I didn’t lose any data to either disk’s death. I remember so many horror stories from RAID array failures back when I was selling them… And I just found out that in SHR mode, not only can you grow the array by adding more disks after-the-fact, you can also grow it by replacing smaller disks with bigger ones. That’s good because the HDD sweet spot has gone from 4 to 6 to 8TB in the mean time.

    If only I had a better ‘net connection, I’d run my own cloud off of it.

    • “grow the array” by replacing disks *piecemeal* (not all of them), though the extra capacity only kicks in after the second disk.

      I’m not into proprietary stuff so I looked into doing that (RAID with support for adding disks later and no single-disk point of failure nor choke point) with straight Linux on standard x86, I couldn’t find it at the time, even basic RAID seemed delicate on consumer hardware. Not sure if this has changed with BTRFS or something.

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