Start Up No.1,016: Lenovo v Huawei, not so superstar economics, Facebook dinged on phone numbers, USB..4?, the strangest common password, and more


Hollywood studios are upset about the number of “notes” Apple is putting on drafts. Odd, since they’re very used to it. CC-licensed photo by Stephen Curry on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Is the female version of propaganda ‘propagoose’? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The “biggest puzzle in economics”: why the “superstar economy” lacks any actual superstars • Pro Market

Asher Schechter:

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We live in an age of superstar firms. While the United States and other Western economies become increasingly concentrated, an ever-decreasing number of large firms now accounts for a growing share of economic activity. This, in turn, translates into massive profits for the Googles, the Facebooks, and the Amazons of the world: A 2018 McKinsey report found that 65% of global corporate earnings now go to firms with annual revenues above $1bn and that among the world’s largest firms, 80% of profits go to the top 10%…

…[but] If the “superstar firms are simply better” narrative is true, if today’s superstar firms are indeed more productive, why is this not reflected in the data?

This question, says NYU professor Thomas Philippon, is “the biggest puzzle in economics today.” To solve it, Philippon and co-author German Gutierrez set out to trace the evolution of superstar firms in the US over the past 60 years. The US economy, Philippon tells ProMarket, has always had superstar firms. In the 1950s and 60s, it was companies like GM, GE, and IBM that dominated various aspects of economic activity. Nowadays, it’s companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Are the superstars of today actually better?

The short answer is “no.” In fact, according to Philippon’s and Gutierrez’s findings, contrary to the popular narrative, superstar firms have not become more efficient or more productive over the years. Perhaps most importantly, the superstars of today contribute less to productivity growth than their counterparts in previous decades: The contribution of superstar firms to US productivity growth has decreased by over 40% over the past 20 years.

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*raises hand* what if our productivity is leaching away into time spent staring at screens? There’s also a discussion of this at the European Centre for Economic Policy Research; registration seems to be free.
link to this extract


Thinking about working for a Chinese company? First, find out if it’s a ‘Lenovo’ or a ‘Huawei’ • SupChina

Elliott Zaagman:

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There has been much written highlighting the achievements of each company in building their respective corporate cultures, and rightfully so. 2014’s The Lenovo Way, by executives Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers, and 2016’s Huawei: Leadership, Culture, and Connectivity, by Tian Tao, David De Cremer, and Wu Chunbo, tell the stories of how each company achieved global success through developing strong cultures.

However, when engaging with the employees themselves, a more complex picture of these two cultures emerges. In preparation for this piece, I spoke with 27 current and former Huawei and Lenovo employees, four of whom had experience at both companies. The majority of my respondents only agreed to speak off the record or on a condition that their identities not be revealed. Additionally, information was taken from anonymous online employer review forums such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Quora. In an attempt to assure accuracy and reliability, such online forums were used to identify patterns or trends, rather than a few disgruntled individuals.

Employees of both firms seemed to describe Lenovo’s culture and general view of its people in a more trusting and optimistic way, while Huawei’s general perspective seemed to be one of mistrust of its people. “People learn not to trust each other at Huawei,” said a former Huawei and Lenovo employee. “At Lenovo, it’s quite the opposite, very trusting. It is a very comfortable place to work. At Lenovo, the assumption is that everyone is trustworthy until they prove otherwise, while at Huawei, everyone is assumed to be untrustworthy until they prove to be worthy, and even then, people will be skeptical of you.”

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A great read; of course Lenovo’s culture has been driven by its acquisitions, largely of American businesses. Huawei’s is all home-grown. Worth knowing in the current climate.
link to this extract


The new USB4 spec promises a lot: Thunderbolt 3 support, 40Gbps bandwidth, and less confusion • PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

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Meet USB4, which promises to simply the USB naming scheme and integrate the high-bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 specification. Just a week after the upcoming USB 3.2 specification’s branding scheme threatened to confuse PC buyers, the next USB spec is trying to resolve it all. 

Though we don’t know the answer to all of the questions yet, it’s not too early to start thinking about USB4 as a combination of USB, the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 specification, and the convenient USB-C connector.

If you have a cable connecting your PC to a peripheral, chances are that it’s USB. Over its 20-plus years of existence, the USB interface has continued to add new speed tiers, including USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB 3.1, while remaining backward-compatible with older versions. A USB-C port has also been created alongside the older USB-A port, in a bid to simplify the connector scheme. USB4 will use the USB-C port, and run at 40Gbps—about double the speed of the preceding USB 3.2 specification.

You probably won’t see USB4 hardware in the near future, however. The USB 3.2 specification was published in 2017 and is due to show up in products this year. USB4 is just a specification at the moment, and it hasn’t even been published. The publication date is scheduled for sometime in mid-2019, which means we won’t likely see USB4 hardware until 2020 or beyond.

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Do we think USB-C will have got its act together by next year? (Will people have stopped wanting USB-A ports in computers by next year?) I’ve gradually come to like the concept of USB-C, since you can add hubs with whatever ports you like. It’s just the practice (and the naming) that’s a mess.
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MWC 2019 – The State of 5G • DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Goldberg:

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The problem that everyone at MWC was solving for is “When will the carriers start deploying their 5G networks?” This is literally a $64 billion question. And at this point we start to encounter our first elements of cognitive dissonance.

If you read the public and press accounts of 5G, the operators are lock and loaded, ready to start deploying 5G right now. This was the clear marketing message at the show. The reality is much less confident.

In private conversations, it quickly becomes clear that the operators are very nervous about rolling out 5G. As should be clear from the above discussion, there is a lot of money at stake. We will walk through this economic analysis below. Our best guess is that the US carriers will start deploying this year as will the operators in China. Japan and South Korea will start a bit later this year, or maybe next. Everyone else is in a wait-and-see holding pattern. And there seem to be lots of caveats and hedging about how extensive the deployments in China and the US will actually be.

A closing note about China. This could be one of the bright sparks of 5G deployments. The government there has made 5G deployments something of a policy priority. True to historical pattern, this policy is not 100% clear. Most people agree that the Chinese operators will begin deploying “100’s of thousands” of 5G base stations this year. A big number but short of a nationwide network. And then there is the question of licensing. Typically, the operators do not get a license to turn on those networks for commercial purpose until they meet some (publicly) unspoken objective.

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If you read the full post, you’ll learn a lot more about how 5G works than you expected to know, or perhaps want to.
link to this extract


Apple’s Hollywood venture marred by ‘intrusive’ Tim Cook • NY Post

Alexandra Steigrad and Nicolas Vega:

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Shortly after Apple announced its Hollywood ambitions in 2017, Tinseltown’s wheeler-dealers were lining up to work with the iPhone maker. But as the company’s streaming project gets ready for launch, agents and producers can’t stop griping about how “difficult” Apple is to deal with — citing a “lack of transparency,” “lack of clarity” and “intrusive” executives, including CEO Cook.

One of the biggest complaints involves the many “notes” from Apple executives seeking family-friendly shows, sources said. “Tim Cook is giving notes and getting involved,” said a producer who has worked with Apple. One of the CEO’s most repeated notes is “don’t be so mean!,” the source said.

“He’s giving feedback,” an agent said of Cook, adding that the CEO has been seen on the Vancouver set for “See,” a futuristic drama about human kind without sight, and in LA for the production of a drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

Apple executives in general have been “very involved,” this person said, adding that writers and directors prefer to work without corporate intrusions.

Apple’s nitpicking over content and technology has led to delays, sources said. The streaming service is widely expected to be unveiled this month, but the final product won’t likely be available to consumers before the end of the year — and it will offer just a handful of the several dozen shows it has in the works, sources said…

…Another frustration is that Apple also keeps moving the target on what it wants, sources said.

“They are making big changes, firing and hiring new writers. There’s a lack of clarity on what they want,” the producer said. “A lot of the product is not as good as they hoped it to be,” he said.

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“Notes” are feedback on work in progress, and tend to come from anyone involved in any way in a project to show that they were involved. I doubt that having them from Tim Cook is actually making any difference to progress. Even if he said nothing, there would be endless looping around because that’s just how TV/film works. Getting it right – knowing who the audience is and what they’ll want – is, simply, really difficult.
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Nuclear goes retro — with a much greener outlook • Knowable Magazine

M Mitchell Waldrop:

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Every other reactor design in history had used fuel that’s solid, not liquid. This thing was basically a pot of hot nuclear soup. The recipe called for taking a mix of salts — compounds whose molecules are held together electrostatically, the way sodium and chloride ions are in table salt — and heating them up until they melted. This gave you a clear, hot liquid that was about the consistency of water. Then you stirred in a salt such as uranium tetrafluoride, which produced a lovely green tint, and let the uranium undergo nuclear fission right there in the melt — a reaction that would not only keep the salts nice and hot, but could power a city or two besides.

Weird or not, molten salt technology was viable; the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee had successfully operated a demonstration reactor back in the 1960s. And more to the point, the beer-and-nuclear group realized, the liquid nature of the fuel meant that they could potentially build molten salt reactors that were cheap enough for poor countries to buy; compact enough to deliver on a flatbed truck; green enough to burn our existing stockpiles of nuclear waste instead of generating more — and safe enough to put in cities and factories. That’s because Fukushima-style meltdowns would be physically impossible in a mix that’s molten already. Better still, these reactors would be proliferation resistant, because their hot, liquid contents would be very hard for rogue states or terrorists to hijack for making nuclear weapons.

Molten salt reactors might just turn nuclear power into the greenest energy source on the planet.

Crazy? “We had to try,” says Troels Schönfeldt. So in 2014 he and his colleagues launched Seaborg Technologies, a Copenhagen-based start-up named in honor of the late Glenn Seaborg, a Manhattan Project veteran who helped pioneer the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. With Schönfeldt as chief executive officer, they set about turning their vision into an ultracompact molten salt reactor that could serve the developed and developing world alike.

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link to this extract


Robert Ou @ BSidesSF on Twitter: “Fun thing I learned today…”

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Fun thing I learned today regarding secure passwords: the password “ji32k7au4a83” looks like it’d be decently secure, right? But if you check e.g. HIBP [Have I Been Pwned, which collects hashes of passwords], it’s been seen over a hundred times. Challenge: explain why and how this happened and how this password might be guessed

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I hardly ever link just to single tweets, but the answer to this one (it’s here; but it’s better to read the thread on Twitter) is just mindblowing – and, once you’ve seen it, so obvious.
link to this extract


Facebook won’t let you opt-out of its phone number ‘look up’ setting • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:

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Users are complaining that the phone number Facebook hassled them to use to secure their account with two-factor authentication has also been associated with their user profile — which anyone can use to “look up” their profile.

Worse, Facebook doesn’t give you an option to opt out.

Last year, Facebook was forced to admit that after months of pestering its users to switch on two-factor by signing up their phone number, it was also using those phone numbers to target users with ads. But some users are finding out just now that Facebook’s default setting allows everyone — with or without an account — to look up a user profile based off the same phone number previously added to their account.

The recent hubbub began today after a tweet by Jeremy Burge blew up, criticizing Facebook’s collection and use of phone numbers, which he likened to “a unique ID that is used to link your identity across every platform on the internet.”

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Facebook has handled this badly because it handles anything where it gets more data, especially data tying to you individually, badly – that is, as a thing which it wants above all other things, and will not relent in its use. Last year, the complaint was that if you use your phone number for 2FA, it pings you – even if you have all “notify me” settings turned off – to say that things are happening on your account.

You can however use a code generator program such as Authy or Google Authenticator for the 2FA part.
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Dutch bitcoin trader tortured with a ‘heavy drill’ in violent robbery • CCN

Melanie Kramer:

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Dutch publication De Telegraaf reporting indicates that three robbers, somewhat disguised as police, invaded the cryptocurrency trader’s home. The man was threatened with firearms and seriously injured with a ‘heavy drill’, according to the report.

After an hour-long ordeal for the man and his daughter, the suspects left and are now being hunted as part of a major investigation. A fifteen-strong team of Dutch police, usually in charge of murder investigations, are working on the case. The team’s allocation shows the seriousness of the incident and Dutch authorities focus on solving the crime. There is no information to suggest that his cryptocurrency holdings were stolen.

De Telegraaf’s research discovered the victim was a cryptocurrency trader, which local police sources confirmed. The man reportedly worked in Italy and Thailand. The house in Drenthe, the Netherlands, where the incident took place had apparently been purchased in cash by the owner.

De Telegraaf outlines another recent case in the Netherlands, where an Enschede man was jailed for laundering two million Euros worth of bitcoin.

Criminals not only target legitimate cryptocurrency owners but also those known for money laundering using bitcoin and other digital currencies.

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Worth recalling that those violent scenes you see in films or read in books are inspired by real events. Gruesome real events. I wouldn’t like to be trying to remember a long private key while someone held a drill bit near some part of my body with intent. And yet this story will give you an involuntary laugh if you visit the page and look at the stock photo chosen for the illustration.
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The making of the Fox News White House • The New Yorker

Jane Mayer:

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When [Bill] Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a FoxNews.com reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.

But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels—buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.

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Bill Shine is now in charge of communications at the White House. The subtitle of this article is “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?”
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: last week Ed Yong’s name was misspelt as Ed Yonh. But it was quickly fixed, so not for lonh.

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