Start Up No.1,021: Captain Marvel crushes the trolls, is social media radicalising MPs?, Samsung’s face woes, smart speakers are in!, and more

Among the stars Apple has invited for the launch of its video service… CC-licensed photo by InSapphoWeTrust 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.

Apple sends out media invites for an ‘It’s Show Time’ event on March 25 • MacRumors

Juli Clover:


The Apple News service will add paid subscription options to Apple News, allowing Apple customers unlimited access to magazines and paywalled content from sites like The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times for a $9.99 per month fee.

It’s not yet clear which news sites will be included, as Apple is said to be still negotiating financial terms with some news sites. Apple has asked for 50% of the revenue from the service. Magazines are on board with the fee, but news sites with independent revenue streams from their own subscribers are reluctant to jump on board.

As for the TV service, Apple is planning an announcement, but an actual launch is months off. Apple has more than two dozen original TV shows in the works, many of which have been cast, that will eventually debut through the streaming service.

Major stars that include Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, and Steve Carell, all of whom have roles in Apple shows, have been invited to attend the event.

There are multiple hardware products that are rumored for a spring launch, but so far, rumors have indicated that these devices will not be announced at the event. Instead, we could see these new products unveiled via press release right around the time of the event.

The iPad mini 5, seventh-generation iPad, AirPower, updated AirPods, and a seventh-generation iPod touch are all in the works and will be coming soon, but none of these updates are major enough to warrant time on stage so it makes some sense for them to debut more quietly.


Besides those shows, Apple’s video will need to have a big catalog – pulled from the iTunes Store, perhaps, on much the same terms that Netflix and Amazon have for streaming?
link to this extract

Google’s Page allegedly awarded $150m Rubin payout • Bloomberg

Joel Rosenblatt and Gerrit De Vynck:


Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Page didn’t get board approval when he awarded a $150m stock grant to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android mobile software, while the company helped to cover up his alleged misconduct, according to a lawsuit.

Page later got “rubber stamp” for the equity compensation package from a board leadership committee eight days after granting the payout to Rubin, who also got a $90m severance package, according to a revised investor complaint made public on Monday in California state court in San Jose. The suit was originally filed in January, but some claims were blocked from public view at the time.

The new allegations pull Page deeper into the controversy around how Google has handled sexual harassment complaints. The Alphabet co-founder has generally stayed behind the scenes, while Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been left to deal with criticism of the company’s culture.

Investors claim the board failed in its duties by allowing harassment to occur, approving big payouts and keeping the details private.


Not getting board approval is not a good look. As Shira Ovide commented on Twitter, the documents that will be revealed in the discovery phase of this suit are going to be dynamite.
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‘Captain Marvel’ shows how the culture war is making user reviews useless • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:


If I happened to check out the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes before deciding what movie I wanted to see at the theatre that night, I would have gotten the impression that Captain Marvel is a waste of time and money. If I spent a minute Googling it I would have discovered that these negative reviews were coming from people whose opinion on this subject could not matter less to me, but how would I know to do that?

The people who were leaving negative reviews were “review bombing,” a tactic that’s getting more and more common, and platforms still don’t know how to handle it. That’s a problem. User reviews are now just another battlefield in the greater culture war that is devouring the world. This makes them mostly useless when it comes to movies like Captain Marvel, or any product or service that gets caught up in the culture war.

In a statement published on its blog on February 25, Rotten Tomatoes said that it was making changes to its pre-release functionality, including no longer allowing users to comment or review movies prior to their release in theaters.

“However, we still invite users to vote if they ‘want to see’ a movie prior to its release, and that vote total is displayed on the site,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership.”


Oh, and also: Captain Marvel took $455m worldwide on its first weekend, the sixth-biggest opening weekend ever and the biggest ever for a female-led film.
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Social media polarises and radicalises – and MPs aren’t immune to its effects • The Guardian

I wrote about something that occurred to me:


If you look at the literature around radicalisation, and then at our politics, it’s hard not to think that social media – in particular WhatsApp, the messaging service that lets you communicate with one or many people in closed “groups” – is not helping. WhatsApp groups mark Westminster’s tribal lines; the Labour and Tory MPs who left to form the Independent Group were apparently thrown out of their respective party-oriented WhatsApp groups in a move as ceremonial as the breaking of a cashiered soldier’s sword.

“Every faction has a [WhatsApp] group,” one MP, who is concerned about the effects, told me. “The key point I think is it makes people immediately react, and also pick up on every slight [insult], combined with tweets.”

…[Professor Cass] Sunstein pointed to experiments where a group was required to give a unanimous answer to whether a person with a secure, lifetime job should take a new job at a new company with an uncertain future. (You may be able to think of a political equivalent.) Almost every time, the group’s final advice was riskier than the advice the individuals themselves believed was best before the session. Crucially, after the decision, some of those who had previously been cautious became “radicalised” – picking the less safe decision when given the choice privately as an individual. Sunstein noted that “if a group decision is required, the group will tend toward an extreme point, given the original distribution of individual views”.

Try to read his paper and not hear echoes everywhere of what now happens. Who would want to be the MP in the [Tory splinter] ERG WhatsApp group saying maybe they can live with the backstop? Instead, the ERG has splintered from most Tories – and grown more extreme.


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Fast-growth chickens produce new industry woe: ‘spaghetti meat’ • WSJ

Jacob Bunge:


Chicken companies spent decades breeding birds to grow rapidly and develop large breast muscles. Now the industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with the consequences ranging from squishy fillets known as “spaghetti meat,” because they pull apart easily, to leathery ones known as “woody breast.”

The abnormalities pose no food safety risk, researchers and industry officials say. They are suspected side effects of genetic selection that now allows meat companies to raise a 6.3-pound bird in 47 days, roughly twice as fast as 50 years ago, according to the National Chicken Council.

That efficiency drive has helped U.S. meat giants such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms produce a record 42 billion pounds of chicken nuggets, tenders and other products in 2018. Now, it’s adding an estimated $200m or more in annual industry expenses to identify and divert breast fillets that are too tough, too squishy or too striped with bands of white tissue to sell in restaurants or grocery stores, according to researchers at the University of Arkansas.


Eww. The US ambassador recently appeared on the UK’s premier morning radio programme – the one listened to by politicians and the chatterati – and insisted that not only was US food healthier (more people, proportionally, get food poisoning in the US than the UK) but also that EU farming practices made it a museum. People weren’t impressed.
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Android Q features: The top features we know so far • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


Many of us are still waiting for Android Pie to hit our phones, but Google doesn’t wait for anybody. The Mountain View company is already hard at work on Android Q, the next iteration of its mobile platform. But what will Google be bringing to the table in terms of new Android Q features?


TL;DR: dark mode, permissions granted only when the app is active, “desktop mode”, more lockability, some support for facial recognition, native screen recording, perhaps no Back button, and a couple more. Not thrilling, unless you’re going to go big on desktop mode. (And “permissions only when the app is active” has been on iOS since, what, 2014? 2015?)

Mobile OSs have essentially reached the point where there’s little useful left to improve.
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Samsung Galaxy S10 face unlock can be fooled by a photo, video, or even your sister • Android Police

Ryne Hager:


Both The Verge and Lewis Hilsenteger (Unbox Therapy) were able to trick the S10’s face recognition tech with a video played back on another phone. In the case of the latter, this is explicitly on a device smudged with fingerprints and dust, etc., only a couple of inches away. There should have been plenty of indirect cues there — focus distance, sufficient resolution to see pixel-level details, overlaid static features — to indicate that something might be off, but the S10 paid such details no mind.

Italian tech outlet SmartWorld was able to fool it with a static image, as well.

You may not even need a photo or video to trick the S10’s facial recognition tech. Jane Wong, of great social app teardown fame, was able to fool her brother’s recently purchased Galaxy S10 with her own face; a mere family resemblance was reportedly enough to confuse it.


Come on. That is shamefully bad. It would be better not to ship something so woeful. Touch ID is more than five years old, Face ID is more than a year old, and Samsung offers this bag of insecurity?
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A new method of DNA testing could solve more shootings • The Trace

Ann Givens:


Shawn Monpetit of the SDPD [San Diego Police Department] began researching the subject [of extracting DNA from bullet casings] and came across a 2011 study in which Dutch scientists recovered DNA from about a quarter of the casings tested using a new method. This new technique required scientists to soak the casings for about half an hour in tubes filled with a cocktail of chemicals that break open cells and release DNA so it can then be isolated and tested. “Think of it like soaking your dishes,” said Kristin Beyers, one of the lab’s supervising criminalists.

In a rare move, the SDPD agreed to fund its own study in 2014. Ten cops and lab workers were enlisted to use ammunition the way a criminal might: They carried some around in their pockets and took some straight out of a package before loading it into a gun and firing. When the scientists ultimately tested the roughly 800 casings they collected, swabbing half using the traditional method and soaking the other half, the lab got “interpretable” DNA samples off about 34% of the soaked samples. They published their study in a peer-reviewed academic journal, Forensic Science International, and the SDPD began using it in 2014 — around the same time they tested the evidence in the Gregory Benton murder case.  

The scientists soaked the 19 casings from the Benton case. They retrieved testable DNA from two different people, which they matched with samples in local and state DNA databases. Days later, they brought the two men in for questioning and put them together in a holding cell, where they were recorded.

“Hey homie …  my DNA just came back on two of those shell casings,” said one of the men, Emanual Peavy, according to a legal decision in the case. The other man, Lamont Holman, cursed, declaring that they had “no doubt” messed up, the decision said. The two men were later convicted of their roles in the killing.


(Via Nathan Taylor.) The Trace is a non-profit site about gun violence in the US.
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Brussels in bleak mood in ‘crunch’ Brexit week • BBC News

Katya Adler is the BBC’s Europe editor, and as such has been a regular fixture on British TV news screens for the past nine months, explaining what no progress looks like from every angle:


“We hear many in the UK saying ‘oh, the EU always backs down last minute, and if they don’t do it now it’s because they want to punish the UK’,” one well-placed EU source said to me recently.

“These people cite the Greek debt crisis. But remember: at the time of the Greek debt crisis, our choice was clear. We moved to keep Greece in our club. We sent a message of unity to the world and we saved the euro (currency) from breaking apart. We protected the single market. We ‘blinked’ in our own interest. And (Greek Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras made the decisions for the whole country.

“Who does Theresa May represent these days? And anyway the UK’s goal is to leave us. We don’t see dramatic changes in opinion polls.”

The sense in the EU is that division and indecision will continue in parliament this week and into next. It’s thought here that Theresa May (now known in Brussels for a habit of: “when faced with a wall, delay, delay, delay if you can”) will soon begin to point ahead to the EU leaders’ Brexit summit next week. The time for her next “Battle for Britain”, as all backs are firmly lined up against the wall of the 29 March deadline.

After all, the argument could go, only the leaders of the 27 EU countries ultimately have the legal ability to decisively change or alter the Withdrawal Agreement and therefore the backstop. That power does not lie with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker or EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Of course anything is possible. If the UK parliament does not approve an extension of the negotiations and hard Brexit looms the other side of 29 March, then some EU diplomats think it possible that EU leaders could, reluctantly, agree to an expiry date (or appearance of an expiry date) to the backstop – as long as that date is far enough into the future that, it’s presumed, a trade deal or some alternative could be in place by then.


Tuesday is meant to be the date for the “meaningful vote” – and May is widely expected to be defeated. There’s no support for anything she has to offer.
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Smart speakers and bakeware added to UK inflation basket • The Guardian

Richard Partington and Larry Elliott:


Alexa, what is the rate of UK inflation? Smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home have been added to the items used to calculate the cost of living, as envelopes and three-piece suites go out of fashion.

In the latest annual shakeup of the UK shopping basket used for measuring inflation, the Office for National Statistics said it had reflected shifting consumer habits across the country by including the home technology devices.

The ONS said the popularity of TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off had perhaps accounted for increased consumer spending on bakeware – another new addition to the 2019 basket of goods and services.


Dig into the details, and you also discover that hi-fi systems have been removed from the basket in favour of Bluetooth speakers. O tempora, o mores.
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Intel CPU shortages to worsen in 2Q19, says Digitimes Research • Digitimes

Jim Hsiao:


Shortages of Intel’s CPUs are expected to worsen in the second quarter compared to the first as demand for Chromebooks, which are mostly equipped with Intel’s entry-level processors, enters the high period, according to Digitimes Research.

Digitimes Research expects Intel CPUs’ supply gap to shrink to 2-3% in the first quarter with Core i3 taking over Core i5 as the series hit hardest by shortages.

The shortages started in August 2018 with major brands including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell and Lenovo all experiencing supply gaps of over 5% at their worst moment.

Although most market watchers originally believed that the shortages would gradually ease after vendors completed their inventory preparations for the year-end holidays, the supply gap in the fourth quarter of 2018 still stayed at the same level as that in the third as HP launched a second wave of CPU inventory buildup during the last quarter of the year, prompting other vendors to follow suit.

Taiwan-based vendors were underprepared and saw their supply gaps expand from a single digit percentage previously to over 10% in the fourth quarter.


A “supply gap” implies that the (PC) vendor can’t raise prices to reduce demand to match the supply. But if all the big names are suffering, why don’t they want to raise prices?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

8 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,021: Captain Marvel crushes the trolls, is social media radicalising MPs?, Samsung’s face woes, smart speakers are in!, and more

  1. I’m on the fence about how nice FaceIDs is. I’ve never felt the need to use it’s (faulty but still better than no password or a idiot password) implementation on Android because if I want to unlock my phone it means I want to use it it means my hands are on it and TouchID is fine. But then again it’s something like tap-to-wake, wireless charging, AMOLED, Widgets, USB file transfers, an SD card, FM radio, IR and an audio jack that you don’t miss until you’ve had them and lost them.

      • Wow. Reads a story about a serious security flaw then posts a reply about whether the feature is convenient. Talk about an Android Bubble!

      • Well, it’s a story about a feature that should be avoided, and my post is wondering whether that feature is useful to start with. My phones have had it for years, I don’t use it. And if I understood correctly, on iOS you need to touch your phone after face-unlocking it anyway.

        I think there’ value in stepping back and putting things in context ?

  2. Re. Android Q.
    – A system-wide black mode is a major thing. I’ve been hand-crafting mine app-by-app since it got lost sometimes around 3.0. It’s extremely pleasant to use, very legible in night and day, and can be fun – I once had a custom CSS on Opera that made all pages a very 80s green-on-black. Good for your AMOLED’s battery life and life expectancy too. It’s a pain to find and set up apps that support that though, and you always get the non-black app that suddenly burns your retinas.
    – A Desktop Mode is important not so much for docked phones, but for the possibility of Android desktops, and the expectations that Fuchsia will have that too. Plus a vanilla implementation makes it a viable platform for devs to target, as opposed to Samsung’s and Huawei’s proprietary extensions.
    – For some reason you didn’t mention RCS. I really hope that thing takes off because Texts are a bit limiting, and the proliferation of proprietary messaging platforms is a pain (I’ve got 5 on my phone ?? !!). Worst offender is of course Apple: iMessage while nice is nothing extraordinary and only a lock-in tool these days.

    I’m worried that someday on of those updates will break gReader Pro, an RSS reader that’s been obsoleted years ago but still doesn’t have a perfect replacement. 8.0 broke its widget but the main app still works fine, and manages to cache whole articles for offline reading.

  3. Interestting Stratechery on Sen. Warren’s GAFA plans:

    I’m not entirely on board with his critique though:
    – “Antitrust had nothing to do with MS letting Google thrive”. Wanna bet ? Apple is extracting billions from Google for access to iOS users, MS 0 for Windows users. MS woke up late to advertising
    – “There’s no point in several browser engines on a platform.” a) I get full addons on my phones and tablets thanks to Firefox and b) Safari is notably lagging in supporting new web techs and c) why has Chrome been so successful at displacing IE/Edge and Safari (70:10 and 60:40) when users have a choice if switching browsers is pointless ?
    – “Having 3rd-party browsers is dangerous.” How are browsers different from any other app ?

    I’m still digesting the rest of the article.

  4. If you’ve got only 15 minutes per quarter to spend on Android reviews, I strongly advise you spend them on this excellent review of what will be my default Android phone recommendation (well, almost, I’ll stick with its older 5 sibling as long as it’s available):

    That guy is admirably fair (so, of course, doesn’t get free OEM review units), excellent production values, and no-nonsense script.

    That phone is incredible value, and at $150 will be perfect for most users (except troglodyte photo/filmo-graphers)

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