They’re useful – so why don’t horses have them? CC-licensed photo by Njambi Ndiba on Flickr.
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A selection of 11 links for you. Unfolding story. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.
Apple’s move to ARM-based Macs creates uncertainty • Axios
What we’re hearing: Although the company has yet to say so publicly, developers and Intel officials have privately told Axios they expect such a move as soon as next year.
• Bloomberg offered a bit more specificity on things in a report on Wednesday, saying that the first ARM-based Macs could come in 2020, with plans to offer developers a way to write a single app that can run across iPhones, iPads and Macs by 2021.
• The first hints of the effort came last year when Apple offered a sneak peek at its plan to make it easier for developers to bring iPad apps to the Mac.
Why it matters: The move could give developers a way to reach a bigger market with a single app, although the transition could be bumpy. For Intel, of course, it would mean the loss of a significant customer, albeit probably not a huge hit to its bottom line.
Our thought bubble:
• If anything, the Bloomberg timeline suggests that Intel might actually have more Mac business in 2020 than some had been expecting.
• The key question is not the timeline but just how smoothly Apple is able to make the shift. For developers, it will likely mean an awkward period of time supporting new and classic Macs as well as new and old-style Mac apps.
That sounds backward. You’d offer devs the way to have cross-platform apps first, so they can write for it. Then you introduce ARM Macs, on which the ARM-first code will run a lot faster. Unless the cross-compilation to Intel is too hard.. except we know it isn’t, because there are already four Marzipan apps.
So I’d expect the app framework this year, ARM Macs next year.
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Why do zebras have stripes? To confuse flies • The Atlantic
By comparing [captive zebras and horses], as well as horses that were comically cloaked in zebra-striped coats, the team found fresh evidence for what [University of California biologist Tim] Caro thinks is the only plausible explanation for the striking stripes: they evolved to deter bloodsucking flies.
Scientists have been puzzling over the role of zebra stripes for more than 150 years. But, one by one, the most commonly proposed explanations have all been refuted. Some researchers have suggested that the stripes act as camouflage—they break up zebras’ outlines or resemble fields of tree trunks. But that can’t be true: Amanda Melin of the University of Calgary recently showed that lions and hyenas can’t even make out the stripes unless they get very close. Another hypothesis says that the black stripes heat up faster than the white ones, setting up circulating air currents that cool the zebras. But a recent study showed that water drums cloaked in zebra pelts heat up just as much as those covered in normal horse skins.
That leaves the fly idea. When it comes to biting insects, zebras are doubly cursed. For one, they’re highly susceptible to a variety of fatal diseases, including trypanosomiasis, African horse sickness, and equine influenza, that are spread by horseflies and tsetse flies. They’re also very vulnerable to insect attacks: compared with other grazers such as antelopes, the hairs on their coat are unusually short, allowing flies to more easily find blood vessels with their piercing mouthparts.
You’re wondering: why don’t (normal) horses have the same pattern, since they get bitten by horseflies and so on? Zebras diverged from the main horse evolutionary line quite early on – about 5m years ago; equus, as a genus, became separate about 5.8m years ago.
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Facebook will shut down its spyware VPN app Onavo • TechCrunch
Facebook will end its unpaid market research programs and proactively take its Onavo VPN app off the Google Play store in the wake of backlash following TechCrunch’s investigation about Onavo code being used in a Facebook Research app the sucked up data about teens. The Onavo Protect app will eventually shut down, and will immediately cease pulling in data from users for market research, though it will continue operating as a Virtual Private Network in the short-term to allow users to find a replacement.
Facebook has also ceased to recruit new users for the Facebook Research app that still runs on Android but was forced off of iOS by Apple after we reported that it violated Apple’s Enterprise Certificate program for employee-only apps. Existing Facebook Research app studies will continue to run, though.
Still waiting to hear what Apple’s doing about all the Enterprise certificates being misused for porn and gambling apps.
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Mate X: what Huawei’s $2,600 foldable 5G phone with three screens feels like • CNET
Huawei’s vision for the Mate X is of a phone you mostly use in its “closed” position, but open up when you want to be entertained or more productive. There’s a screen on the back that could be useful for taking selfies: The phone’s four rear cameras have been codesigned with Leica.
The “main” screen configuration is a 6.6in display that Huawei thinks you’ll use most. Unfold it outward to get an 8in edge-to-edge OLED display with no notch (there is a camera, though). When it’s folded up, the back is a slightly smaller 6.4in screen and a sidebar with the rear camera array. In the open position, the sidebar becomes a grippable handle, which Huawei whimsically calls the “Falcon Wing” design because of its swooping shape. The idea is to hold the Mate X one-handed, and use your other hand to tap and swipe. Fold the phone closed again and one side aligns with the handle to give it all a flat look. And yes, there’s still a bendable hinge.
My colleague Roger Cheng had hands-on time with the phone, noting that even though the phone is large it feels light, but it will definitely be a two-handed experience. Here are his thoughts:
“The Mate X closes flush as promised, with little gap between the two sides of the phone. Folding the phone is a little scary, and the movement is a little stiff, but Huawei consumer CEO Richard Yu says it’s tested for 100,000 folds. When it’s closed, the phone knows which side of the device you’re facing. It’ll automatically flip sides when you face it.
“For such a large device, it feels pretty light. The spine housing the camera works as a pretty good ergonomic handle when unfolded. But good luck folding it with one hand – I almost dropped it. When folded, it did feel a little thick. There’s a bulkiness to it that’s unavoidable.”
6.6in which then becomes 8in? That doesn’t sound like a lot extra for $2,600.
Foldables are interesting. Let’s get into peoples’ hands and see what the real use cases are.
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The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashes • The Guardian
The average smartphone size is now 5.5 inches. While the average man can fairly comfortably use his device one-handed, the average woman’s hand is not much bigger than the handset itself. This is obviously annoying – and foolish for a company like Apple, given that research shows women are more likely to own an iPhone than men.
The tech journalist and author James Ball has a theory for why the big-screen fixation persists: because the received wisdom is that men drive high-end smartphone purchases. But if women aren’t driving high-end smartphone purchases – at least for non-Apple products – is it because women aren’t interested in smartphones? Or could it be because smartphones are designed without women in mind? On the bright side, Ball reassured me that screens probably wouldn’t be getting any bigger because “they’ve hit the limit of men’s hand size”.
Good news for men, then. But tough breaks for women like my friend Liz who owns a third-generation Motorola Moto G. In response to one of my regular rants about handset sizes she replied that she’d just been “complaining to a friend about how difficult it was to zoom on my phone camera. He said it was easy on his. Turns out we have the same phone. I wondered if it was a hand-size thing.”
When Zeynep Tufekci, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, was trying to document tear gas use in the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013, the size of her Google Nexus got in the way. It was the evening of 9 June. Gezi Park was crowded. Parents were there with their children. And then the canisters were fired. Because officials “often claimed that tear gas was used only on vandals and violent protesters”, Tufekci wanted to document what was happening. So she pulled out her phone. “And as my lungs, eyes and nose burned with the pain of the lachrymatory agent released from multiple capsules that had fallen around me, I started cursing.” Her phone was too big. She could not take a picture one-handed – “something I had seen countless men with larger hands do all the time”. All Tufekci’s photos from the event were unusable, she wrote, and “for one simple reason: good smartphones are designed for male hands”.
This is the topic of Criado-Perez’s new book; the whole article is a fascinating tour through biases you probably didn’t know exist (if you’re male). It’s certainly puzzling why Apple, and others, don’t persist with the SE-sized phone: women I know love them.
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You give apps sensitive personal information. Then they tell Facebook • WSJ
Sam Schechner and Mark Secada:
Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which operate the two dominant app stores, don’t require apps to disclose all the partners with whom data is shared. Users can decide not to grant permission for an app to access certain types of information, such as their contacts or locations. But these permissions generally don’t apply to the information users supply directly to apps, which is sometimes the most personal.
In the Journal’s testing, Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, the most popular heart-rate app on Apple’s iOS, made by California-based Azumio, sent a user’s heart rate to Facebook immediately after it was recorded.
Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which claims 25 million active users, told Facebook when a user was having her period or informed the app of an intention to get pregnant, the tests showed.
Real-estate app Realtor.com, owned by Move Inc., a subsidiary of Wall Street Journal parent News Corp , sent the social network the location and price of listings that a user viewed, noting which ones were marked as favorites, the tests showed.
None of those apps provided users any apparent way to stop that information from being sent to Facebook.
Facebook said some of the data sharing uncovered by the Journal’s testing appeared to violate its business terms, which instruct app developers not to send it “health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information.” Facebook said it is telling apps flagged by the Journal to stop sending information its users might regard as sensitive. The company said it may take additional action if the apps don’t comply…
Flo initially said in a written statement that it doesn’t send “critical user data” and that the data it does send Facebook is “depersonalized” to keep it private and secure.
The Journal’s testing, however, showed sensitive information was sent with a unique advertising identifier that can be matched to a device or profile. A Flo spokeswoman subsequently said the company will “substantially limit” its use of external analytics systems while it conducts a privacy audit.
Just astonishing. Facebook can’t help itself; the companies can’t help themselves. They’re all in thrall to the promise, whether real or not, that gathering more personal data will lead to riches through targeted ads. When in reality the ads just creep us out. And this may be illegal under the GDPR, in Europe at least.
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Life cycle: is it the end for Britain’s dockless bike schemes? • The Guardian
Niamh McIntyre and Julia Kollewe:
in January, ofo followed oBike and Urbo to become the third dockless operator to withdraw from Britain in just over a year.
New data gathered by Oliver O’Brien, an academic at UCL’s Consumer Data Research Centre, shows that the four major dockless operators covered an area of 617 sq km during the peak competition period in July 2018. Of those four, only Mobike remains, and its operating areas have shrunk, to a total of around 37sq km. Yobike operates a smaller dockless scheme in Bristol and Southampton which is not captured in the data.
The most dramatic boom and bust was oBike, which put 1,300 bikes in London in July 2017, and withdrew them four months later. Wandsworth council impounded hundreds, complaining the bikes had appeared “without any warning”. In the absence of regulation, operators don’t need to consult councils before launching.
It’s impossible to know the exact number of bikes on the streets. Operators are cagey because of high losses to vandalism and theft. In London, O’Brien’s latest count shows just over 2,100 bikes at the end of January, down from a peak of 5,800.
But Joe Seal-Driver, a Trustee of CoMo UK, a trade body which represents shared mobility firms, says dockless isn’t dead.
“The industry’s taken a breath, there’s been a pause in the expansion of bike services. But you’ve got new operators coming through. The fact that we’ve not seen a model with hundreds of thousands of bikes running for years in the UK yet doesn’t testify to [failure].”
A graphic with the article points out that “dockless operators” now cover just 136 sq km, down from an earlier peak of 617 sq km. London is still the best represented by far, but even there it has shrunk considerably. And that’s before you get on to other problems with “micromobility” products…
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Lime scooter software glitch causes random braking, dozens of rider injuries • Forbes
A software error sent Lime scooter riders flying after a glitch caused the scooters’ front wheels to lock up randomly mid-ride. The sudden braking caused at least 30 injuries in 155 known incidents, Lime told Auckland, New Zealand officials. Injuries ranged from bumps and scrapes to at least three more serious cases like a broken jaw or dislocated shoulder. On Friday, the city decided to suspend the San Francisco-based scooter company until it can prove its scooters are safe again.
“We recently became aware of a software issue that may cause the locking mechanism on the front wheel to engage while on a trip,” Lime said in a statement to Forbes. “Less than a fraction of a% of all Lime trips in New Zealand have been impacted by this issue, specifically 0.0086%. While a small fraction of the more than 1.8 millions scooter rides to date, even one incident reported is too many.”
It’s not the first time Lime has had to remove its scooters because of safety concerns around braking. In January, TechCrunch reported that Lime had removed its scooters from Switzerland after a similar string of random braking causing injuries to riders.
Lime soon put out a “Safety Update” on its blog saying that “in very rare cases — usually riding downhill at top speed while hitting a pothole or other obstacle — excessive brake force on the front wheel can occur, resulting in a scooter stopping unexpectedly.” Though it sounds like it happened more often than that. Teething problems?
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Grand Canyon museum: Experts dispute claim that uranium radiation was risk • AZ Central
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Arizona Bureau of Radiation Control are investigating the matter with the Park Service, and have declined comment on Stephenson’s assertion. Instead, they say readings at the building — taken after the contents of the buckets were dumped into a defunct uranium mine — show no danger.
As the controversy went viral this week, however, a number of experts declared that uranium is simply not a threat to humans, and questioned either the radiation readings taken by the Park Service or Stephenson’s interpretation of that data.
“It’s just a bucket of rocks,” declared Craig Little, a health physicist who worked 25 years at the Oakridge National Laboratory and now serves as a consultant at uranium producing facilities. “I wouldn’t line my baby’s crib with it, but …”
Little and Modi Wetzler, a chemistry professor at Clemson University who studies nuclear waste, said there are three types of radiation, and uranium ore emits almost exclusively the least-dangerous alpha particles.
Wetzler said alpha particles are hazardous if inhaled or swallowed, but not externally dangerous because they can be absorbed and rendered harmless by a sheet of paper, a few inches of air, or a person’s outer layer of dead skin.
“The safety manager doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Wetzler said. “Uranium ore would have a (radiation) value of zero. Either that, or it’s not ore and there’s some communication problem.”
This is indeed true: uranium decays through an alpha particle (helium nucleus) pathway. So – as I faintly suspected in the first place – this is a big fuss about nothing, as with so many stories about rAdIaTiOn. (Thanks Seth F for the followup link.)
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Intel’s neuro guru slams deep learning: ‘it’s not actually learning’ • ZDNet
Intel’s director of its neuromorphic computing initiative, Mike Davies, chided Facebook’s Yann LeCun at an industry conference for failing to appreciate the virtues of the Intel technology. He derided the deep learning approach of LeCun and others as failing to truly add up to “learning.”
“Backpropogation doesn’t correlate to the brain,” insists Mike Davies, head of Intel’s neuromorphic computing unit, dismissing one of the key tools of the species of A.I. In vogue today, deep learning. For that reason, “it’s really an optimizations procedure, it’s not actually learning.”
Davies made the comment during a talk on Thursday at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, a prestigious annual gathering of semiconductor designers.
Davies was returning fire after Facebook’s Yann LeCun, a leading apostle of deep learning, earlier in the week dismissed Davies’s own technology during LeCun’s opening keynote for the conference.
“The brain is the one example we have of truly intelligent computation,” observed Davies. In contrast, so-called back-prop, invented in the 1980s, is a mathematical technique used to optimize the response of artificial neurons in a deep learning computer program.
Although deep learning has proven “very effective,” Davies told a ballroom of attendees, “there is no natural example of back-prop,” he said, so it doesn’t correspond to what one would consider real learning.
Ah, “real learning”. Don’t look at the ends, look at the means.
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Tech industry worker survey reveals deep skepticism of media • Buzzfeed News
To gain a fuller understanding of how Silicon Valley understands its changing relationship with the press, BuzzFeed News conducted the first-ever survey of attitudes of tech workers toward the media. The survey, of 1,000 professionals across a broad range of companies ranging in size from 500 to more than 10,000 employees, reveals an industry with deep skepticism toward the media and significant concerns about the role identity politics plays in press coverage of technology.
Indeed, more than half (51%) of tech industry professionals “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement that “President Trump has a point when it comes to the media producing fake news.” A separate survey conducted by BuzzFeed News, of 1,000 Americans representing the national population, found that only 42% somewhat or strongly agree with that statement.*
This finding puts in new context Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s much-publicized desire to build a site for tracking journalists’ credibility — a campaign many dismissed as eccentric grandstanding but which appears to arise from a pervasive sentiment in the industry, one that appears to be stronger than in the country at large. Older employees (over 55), employees of larger tech companies, and employees of companies with over $1bn in revenue were more likely to have a negative opinion of the media than younger employees (18-49), employees of smaller companies, and employees of companies with less than $1bn in revenue. In addition, women in the tech industry are less likely to hold a positive opinion of the media than their male counterparts.
Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified
“6.6in which then becomes 8in? That doesn’t sound like a lot extra for $2,600.”
Take a wild guess: how much bigger is that 8″ compared to the folded 6.6″ ?
Answer: double, It’s not so much that 6.6″ becomes 8″, it’s that 20:9 becomes 1:1 (roughly). So on a strictly “per square inch of screen”, the price doesn’t seem completely crazy for a 5G flagship, you get twice the screen for twice the price.
I’m bothered so few people care about aspect ratio.
1- it has a HUGE impact on screen size at the same diagonal. 8 = 2 x 6.6 !
2- it has a huge impact on usefulness. I really have trouble doing Office stuff on anything more elongated than 16:10; on the other hand video on anything but 16:9 means black bars. Some of that 1:1 screen might not be worth quite as much as a 16:10 screen.
I think the early folding screen designs have things backwards – the real advantage of foldable screens will be when you can fold a decent sized screen to make a more pocketable device – not starting with a big device and folding out to an even bigger one.
It’s something that will come in time.
Well, phone size is a very personal taste, I like mine huge at all times, and would want them to unfold to 10″ or more. But it’s OK to prefer average or small, with luck we’ll eventually get all sizes… though OEMs seem to not want to serve everyone: now that at last I have a choice of good-sized phones (7″ Xiaomi Mi Max and 7.2″ Huawei Mate 20 X, 1st time ever there are 2 models !), there are no more small phones.
I tell people who want a size recommendation to go to a shop and try them out, same as for laptops a few years ago: there’s no way to decide for someone else. I tried a 6″ Redmi Note this summer, too small for me.
But again, the main issue is that unfolding a phone to 2x longer or 2x wider makes little sense. And putting the screen inside while safe feels wasteful and impractical, while putting the screen outside feels fragile.
It’s fun to try and anticipate how things will eventually turn turn though. I’m kind of proud I was an early AR/VR naysayer ;-p
Oh yeah I agree there are multiple ways this will play out. Just seems that folding stuff usually works best when it folds up small – not big. 😀