Start Up No.1,026: Apple’s Pencil puzzle, your teeth v your jaw, US recycling sputters, HTC’s high VR hopes, and more

MySpace lost 12 years of music in a “server migration project”. CC-licensed photo by egg (Hong, Yun Seon) on Flickr

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A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple’s new iPads cling to old Apple Pencil • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


When a company, in this case, Apple, replaces one simply named product like the Apple Pencil with an identically titled successor, you’d usually be forgiven for assuming that the old product is about to be discontinued. Otherwise, advertising things like “Apple Pencil support” would become super confusing for people who are shopping for a new iPad. You’d think so, but Apple apparently has no such qualms. Today, it introduced an updated iPad mini and a new iPad Air. Both of them arrived six months after the launch of the second-generation Apple Pencil, and both offer compatibility only with the first-generation Apple Pencil.

The trouble with Apple’s Pencils is that they’re not cross-compatible. The first model works with one set of iPads, which has today been freshly expanded, while the second variant is only compatible with the latest iPad Pros. You can’t use the older stylus on the 2018 iPad Pros, and you can’t use the newer stylus on any other iPad. Let me say that again using Apple’s language: the iPads that launched today support Apple Pencil but not Apple Pencil.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but this strikes me as an example of product naming abridged beyond the point of usefulness.


What. What. What?!
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As costs skyrocket, more US cities stop recycling • NY Times

Michael Corkery:


Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions.

The turmoil in the global scrap markets began affecting American communities last year, and the problems have only deepened.


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New Zealand video: after shooting, YouTube struggled to shut down humans who outsmarted its systems • The Washington Post



When the original video was uploaded Thursday evening, [YouTube chief product officer Neal] Mohan said the company’s breaking news shelf kicked in, as did the developing news cards, which ran as banners for all YouTube users to see. Basic searches directed viewers to authoritative sources, and the autocomplete feature was not suggesting inappropriate words, as it had during other incidents.

Engineers also immediately “hashed” the video, meaning that artificial intelligence software would be able to recognize uploads of carbon copies, along with some permutations of it, and could delete them automatically. Hashing techniques are widely used to prevent abuses of movie copyrights and to stop the re-uploading of identical videos of child pornography or those featuring terrorist recruitment.

But in this case, the hashing system was no match for the tens of thousands of permutations of video being uploaded about the shooting in real time, Mohan said. While hashing technology can recognize simple variations — such as if a video is sliced in half — it cannot anticipate animations or two- to three-second snippets of content, particularly if the video is altered in some way.

“Like any piece of machine learning software, our matching technology continues to get better, but frankly, it’s a work in progress,” Mohan said.

Moreover, many news organizations chose not to use the name of the alleged shooter, so people who uploaded videos about the shooting used different keywords and captions to describe their posts, presenting a challenge to the company’s detection systems and its ability to surface safe and trustworthy content.


Terrific article which depicts the real problem that YouTube’s teams have. But: that’s what you chose, folks. Allow uploads in haste, repent repeatedly at leisure.
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Hated and hunted: the ransomware cracker • BBC News

Joe Tidy:


[Fabian Losar’s] unassuming terraced house on the outskirts of London has no decorative furnishings at all. No pictures or paintings adorn the walls. No lamps or plants. The shelves are empty except for a collection of Nintendo games and some computer coding manuals.

He owns one board-game called Hacker: The Cyber Security Logic Game, which he admits he’s very good at – although he’s only ever played it alone. In short, his home isn’t very homely but this cheery, energetic young German doesn’t seem to mind. He even admits to spending “98%” of his time at home as he works from his office upstairs.

“I’m one of those people who if I don’t really have a reason to go outside, I won’t,” he says.

“I don’t really like to leave the house unless I have to. I do nearly all my shopping online and get everything delivered. I don’t really like too many things around as I spend nearly all of my time working.”

Strangely, Fabian has chosen the smallest room in his house to set up his office. This is where, with the curtains closed, he toils away for most of his waking life gaining grateful fans and hateful, dangerous enemies around the world.

He works remotely for a cyber security company, often sitting for hours at a time working with colleagues in different countries.

When he’s “in the zone”, the outside world becomes even less important and his entire existence focuses on the code on his screen. He once woke up with keyboard imprints all over his face after falling asleep during a 35-hour session.

All of this to create anti-ransomware programs that he and his company usually give away free. Victims simply download the tools he makes for each virus, follow the instructions and get their files back. You can see how he has built up such a vengeful group of angry cyber criminals.


Losar has moved to an “unknown location” since he spoke here. You can imagine there are some people who really wish very bad things for him.
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It’s not that your teeth are too big: your jaw is too small • Aeon Ideas

Professor Peter Ungar is a dental anthropologist at the University of Arkansas:


[The jaw’s] size depends both on genetics and environment; and it grows longer with heavy use, particularly during childhood, because of the way bone responds to stress. The evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman at Harvard University conducted an elegant study in 2004 on hyraxes fed soft, cooked foods and tough, raw foods. Higher chewing strains resulted in more growth in the bone that anchors the teeth. He showed that the ultimate length of a jaw depends on the stress put on it during chewing.

Selection for jaw length is based on the growth expected, given a hard or tough diet. In this way, diet determines how well jaw length matches tooth size. It is a fine balancing act, and our species has had 200,000 years to get it right. The problem for us is that, for most of that time, our ancestors didn’t feed their children the kind of mush we feed ours today. Our teeth don’t fit because they evolved instead to match the longer jaw that would develop in a more challenging strain environment. Ours are too short because we don’t give them the workout nature expects us to.

There’s plenty of evidence for this. The dental anthropologist Robert Corruccini at Southern Illinois University has seen the effects by comparing urban dwellers and rural peoples in and around the city of Chandigarh in north India – soft breads and mashed lentils on the one hand, coarse millet and tough vegetables on the other. He has also seen it from one generation to the next in the Pima peoples of Arizona, following the opening of a commercial food-processing facility on the reservation. Diet makes a huge difference. I remember asking my wife not to cut our daughters’ meat into such small pieces when they were young. ‘Let them chew,’ I begged. She replied that she’d rather pay for braces than have them choke. I lost that argument.


Good to know that even professors can lose arguments at home even in their specialist subject.
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Apple Watch detects irregular heart beat in large US study • Reuters

Manas Mishra:


Results of the largest AF screening and detection study, involving over 400,000 Apple Watch users who were invited to participate, were presented on Saturday at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.

Of the 400,000 participants, 0.5%, or about 2,000 subjects, received notifications of an irregular pulse. Those people were sent an ECG (electrocardiography) patch to wear for subsequent detection of atrial fibrillation episodes.

A third of those whose watches detected an irregular pulse were confirmed to have atrial fibrillation using the ECG technology, researchers said.

Some 84% of the irregular pulse notifications were later confirmed to have been AF episodes, data showed.

“The physician can use the information from the study, combine it with their assessment … and then guide clinical decisions around what to do with an alert,” said Dr. Marco Perez, one of the study’s lead investigators from Stanford School of Medicine.


I don’t know enough to say whether that two-thirds false positive rate is bad, and of course we don’t know the false negative (people who weren’t alerted who did have a problem). But overall, it sounds like it’s useful.
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Myspace lost all the music its users uploaded between 2003 and 2015 • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:


It’s been a year since the music links on Myspace stopped working; at first the company insisted that they were working on it, but now they’ve admitted that all those files are lost: “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest that you retain your back up copies. If you would like more information, please contact our Data Protection Officer, Dr. Jana Jentzsch at”

Yeah, apparently they don’t have a backup.

Someday, this will happen to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Don’t trust the platforms to archive your data. The Internet Archive will host anything freely distributable, for free, forever, and they have mirrors of their servers in California, Egypt and Amsterdam.


If you want a vision of the future, Smith, imagine a systems engineer facepalming – forever.
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Having a bad day? You can pay people to shower you with praise on WeChat • Abacus

Xinmei Shen:


Chat groups where people shower you with over-the-top compliments and cheesy but positive messages (for a price, of course) are gaining popularity in China. Kuakuaqun, meaning praising groups, are on WeChat and QQ.

But these aren’t just generic compliments. These groups are full of people who find extremely creative ways to find a silver lining in any dark cloud.

Here’s one of the most popular praises circulating on social media. A person fishing for compliments said: “I can’t focus on reading.” The gold-star response? “This means your knowledge level is higher than the book.” 

Another popular one starts with: “My roommate is a girl.” How can you possibly turn a plain statement like that into praise? Watch the professionals in action: “You can tell that your roommate is a girl? You have eyes for discovering treasures.” And “You now have what I dream about having.”

I wanted to hear some creative ways to compliment people – no, seriously, I didn’t need a mid-work compliment, honest – so I searched for “praising group” on Taobao. There were at least a dozen vendors, so I picked the most popular one and bought myself a praising session for five minutes, costing 50 yuan (US$7.45). 


In case the world isn’t weird enough for you just now.
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Sony Mobile revises downward fiscal 2018 smartphone shipment target • Digitimes

Max Wang and Steve Shen:


Sony Mobile Communications has revised downward its shipment target for smartphones for fiscal 2018 (April 2019-March 2019) to 6.5m units from 7m projected previously.

The revised figures will represent a decline of 51.9% from the 13.5m units shipped a year earlier.

The company cited fierce competition from Apple in Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe, as well as increasing competition from China-based brands such as Huawei and Oppo in markets outside China.

Sony Mobile also expects its handset business to generate revenues of JPY490bn (US$4.393bn) with an operating loss of JPY95bn (US$857m) for the fiscal year.

The company expects the introduction of its high-end flagship, the Xperia 1, mid-tier Xperia 10 and the entry-level Xperia L3 will bring a turnaround of its handset business in new fiscal year.


Ah, Sony, always expecting a turnaround in its mobile phone business. Of that huge loss, $153m is a writedown on “long-lived assets” – which might be factories, though who knows. Most of the rest of the business is at least static and profitable. Its smartphone division, though, is burning money.
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Galaxy S10 owners report issues with Android Auto • SamMobile

“Josh L”:


A number of Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ owners have taken to Samsung’s US Community Forum to vent their frustration that their handset won’t work with their vehicle’s Android Auto in-car infotainment system, throwing all sorts of strange error messages before crashing in most instances.

The bug doesn’t seem to follow a specific pattern — some users explained how Android Auto won’t recognise their handset, falling at the first hurdle; while others said it starts to function like normal, detecting their device, only to crash a couple of minutes later or when a command is issued.

There doesn’t appear to be a workaround for the bug, either. Reinstalling Android Auto on the handset has next to no effect, nor does a factory reset, according to users on the US Community Forum, hinting that Android Auto isn’t compatible with some builds of the device’s firmware.


Seems like Samsung rushed a bit. I’d love to see some numbers on how many cars have a) Android Auto b) Apple CarPlay c) both and how much they’re used in them. Bluetooth does an adequate job for most, I think.
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HTC to offer unlimited access to VR content at flat rate • FOCUS TAIWAN

Jiang Ming-yan and Frances Huang:


Taiwan-based smartphone brand HTC Corp., which intensified its efforts to penetrate the global VR market by launching its first VR headset – the Vive – in 2015, will provide unlimited access to VR content starting from April in an attempt to boost its revenue in the VR business.

From April 2, consumers will be able to take advantage of the Viveport Infinity program to enjoy unlimited access to VR content subscription services. Under the program, subscribers will have to pay US$12.99 per month, or US$99 per year, to get unlimited access to Viveport services.

Viveport is a Vive app store that provides users with a wider range of content for the VR headset.

According to HTC, popular games, including Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, have timed their launch for subscription to coincide with their global release, which is expected to allow consumers choices and affordability when it comes to trialing new content in Viveport’s subscription service.


HTC really is circling the bowl, and I don’t see this helping, given that “VR content” that people will want to subscribe to is hard to come by. Having sold its smartphone team to Google for US$1bn last year, it reported a net profit of $388m – ie it burnt through more than half its windfall. I’m not sure there’s a second act in there.
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Britain’s porn watchers likely to be caught with their pants down by porn block • YouGov

Matthew Smith:


In April new government policy aimed at preventing children from accessing pornography will come into force and require adult websites to verify that visitors are at least 18 – and simply asking them won’t suffice.

Visitors will have to confirm their age using a driving licence, credit card, passport or mobile SMS. Britons will also be able to buy an age verification card in high street shops to do the same job. Only then will they be able to access the content within the website.

It’s a monumental change, and the first of its kind anywhere in the world. And despite being mere weeks from implementation, most Britons are unaware of it.

New YouGov research finds that three quarters of Britons (76%) don’t know that the so-called “porn block” is being introduced – only 24% said they knew it was on the way.

This unaware group includes half (53%) of Britain’s most frequent porn users – those who watch pornography online every day, or most days.

While Britons may have been unaware of the policy, there’s widespread backing for it once they know the details. Fully two thirds (67%) say they approve of the changes, although support declines with frequency of porn use.


“Frequency of porn use.” O tempora, o mores.
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Use and fair use: statement on shared images in facial recognition AI • Creative Commons

Ryan Merkley on questions about the legality of IBM’s use of a ton of Creative Commons-licensed photos to train facial recognition systems:


While we do not have all the facts regarding the IBM dataset, we are aware that fair use allows all types of content to be used freely, and that all types of content are collected and used every day to train and develop AI. CC licenses were designed to address a specific constraint, which they do very well: unlocking restrictive copyright. But copyright is not a good tool to protect individual privacy, to address research ethics in AI development, or to regulate the use of surveillance tools employed online. Those issues rightly belong in the public policy space, and good solutions will consider both the law and the community norms of CC licenses and content shared online in general.

I hope we will use this moment to build on the important principles and values of sharing, and engage in discussion with those using our content in objectionable ways, and to speak out on and help shape positive outcomes on the important issues of privacy, surveillance, and AI that impact the sharing of works on the web.


There’s also a new FAQ, which includes this: “If someone uses a CC-licensed work with any new or developing technology, and if copyright permission is required, then the CC license allows that use without the need to seek permission from the copyright owner so long as the license conditions are respected. This is one of the enduring qualities of our licenses — they have been carefully designed to work with all new technologies where copyright comes into play. No special or explicit permission regarding new technologies from a copyright perspective is required.”

In other words: you licensed it. You can’t unilaterally revoke the licence. (Perhaps there’ll be a new CC variant – “no AI”.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

9 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,026: Apple’s Pencil puzzle, your teeth v your jaw, US recycling sputters, HTC’s high VR hopes, and more

  1. Did WordPress just eat my comment, or did it go to moderation hell with no links and no bad words – and rather lame content ?

  2. re. Sony and HTC: That’s creative destruction at work. For every Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus…. you’ve got to have a few Nokias, RIM, HTC and Sony.

    Perspective also matters a lot: in the US, the new brands are absent, so the bad news about the old brands feels meaningful; in Asia and Europe, not so much.

    Wouldn’t buying one of those failing old brands be a way into the US for the newcomers ? Nobody seems traumatized about Thinkpad and Motorola being Chinese owned, which happened 10+ and 5+ years ago resp.

  3. re Apple Watch and heartbeats: can’t any heartbeat tracker do that by definition ? Those start at $30 apparently, so maybe $50 for something reliable.

    What is the news here: the feature, usefulness and result, or just that someone got the budget to make that study and PR about it ?

  4. re: Hiding bad videos. I’m wondering why we want to hide them. The act, and the vids, are abominations and represent everything a decent human being should hate. As such, they have educational value. I remember in junior high when I saw the pictures of Jews in Auschwitz… that informed my thinking and feelings to this day.

    I understand there’s an issue with other socio/psychopaths seeing this as excitement, validation, emulation. And there’s an issue with context, you want to frame the video so the educational value does show through the horror.

    Also, I wonder at times why we don’t go for thorough character assassination of the perpetrators. Half of the battle is PR, we’ve got to set the standard that anyone doing that will be the laughing stock for the rest of their lives. Even if it were the right move, blocking the bad vids isn’t pro-active. You’ve got to shame the fuckers on a very personal level.

  5. re-type of the lost post: Sony. They are a puzzle !
    1- They’ve got a strong brand for gaming, picture,s video, sound, yet their smartphones manage to capitalize on none of that. No gamer phone (they’ll be the only ones w/o one, soon), for a good loudspeaker you buy HTC, for a good audio jack you buy LG… No HW feature, no SW feature, no social feature to leverage those strengths and audiences.
    2- most egregiously, other OEMs *using Sony’s own sensors* have better cameras.
    3- Counter-intuitively, Sony has been rather friendly to hacker (light to no skin, unlocked bootloader, loaners to the Lineage team…=. But has kept quiet about it, and it doesn’t mesh with their customers.

    Around, Sony users are the risk-averse. That’s leg is wobbling, because it’s becoming common knowledge that much cheaper stuff is reliable (even delightful) too.

    PS my home network is acting up, I think the post got lost in a wifi micro-outage.

  6. The low-end is so much more fun than the high-end. The Redmi 7 is probably not crappy, even fine, at $100 for 2GB+16GB and very little more for the much more sensible 3+32. And that new $65 Redmi Go is probably OK if viewed as a featurephone that doesn’t lock you out of doing smartphone stuff in a pinch. .

    1GB/8GB is bound to be painful for those smart- moments though. Probably a sensible choice as backup phone too, the 2013 Huawei Ascend Mate I’m using for that (and it does see use several times a year) isn’t even 4G, and its 4.1 Android version is starting to be an issue w/ messaging apps (it can’t do much more).

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