Start Up No.1,047: Facebook’s new news problem, the software fix for Apple’s keyboard, Sony’s next PlayStation detailed, and more


If they wanted to get there first over 26 miles, they’d do better to run. CC-licensed photo by Kaibab National Forest on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why nearly every sport except long-distance running is fundamentally absurd • Slate

David Stipp:

»

being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: we’re the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.

The Wales marathon has helped demonstrate that. Its originator was a Welsh pub owner named Gordon Green. One day in 1979 he got into an argument with an equestrian friend about the relative strengths of men and horses as distance runners. Green insisted a human could beat a horse in a long race, and to prove his point he helped instigate the marathon in 1980. For the next 24 years, he found himself losing the argument as riders on horseback left human runners behind. But then it finally happened—in 2004 a British man named Huw Lobb won. Three years later Germany’s Florian Holzinger outran the horses, as did one other human contestant. The media loved it—a predictable farce had become a man-bites-dog story. Bookies were less enthused; they had to pay out on bets made at 16-to-1 odds favoring the horses.

The oddsmakers would have known better if they’d been following the work of Harvard anthropologist Daniel Lieberman and University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble. They jointly proposed in a 2004 paper that we’re superlatively endowed by evolution to go long. Our long-striding legs are packed with springlike tendons, muscles, and ligaments that enable us to briefly store elastic energy as we come down on a foot and then recoil to help propel us forward. Tellingly, the most important of these springs, our big, strong Achilles tendons, aren’t found in early human precursors such as Australopithecus—it seems that the high-end tendons evolved along with other adaptations for distance running in the genus Homo when it appeared on the African savannah about two million years ago.

«

Fascinating (and still true; the article is from 2014). The reason seems to be our likely past as long-distance hunters and scavengers.
unique link to this extract


I wear fitness trackers all the time… And I still gained weight. Here’s why • CNet

Scott Stein:

»

I needed help when my weight went off track last year, and my watch wasn’t smart enough to notice, or care – even though it clearly had the data from my smart scale. That scale’s app would tell me my weight goals and ping me to keep on track, but when you’ve clearly fallen off the horse, it’s difficult to get back on. 

The fitness trackers and watches never suggested how to eat right, or pinged to try to make commitments to go to the gym. I have high blood pressure for which I take medication, but I never got pinged to take my measurements or my meds. 

Apps can do that, but there’s no easy on-boarding to help discover how the watches or trackers can keep tabs on that. The most personalized experience I had was with Omron’s blood pressure watch, which helped take measurements and provide a few insights, but it isn’t a full smartwatch or fitness tracker.

I use a CPAP at night when I sleep, but these trackers cannot show me the relationship between the hours I use it and how energetic I feel the next day. In short, I’m a mess, but the Apple Watch doesn’t see that. Neither do most watches…

…I reached out to Fitbit and Apple about this story. I haven’t heard back from Fitbit, but Apple recommended a number of fitness and coaching apps I could try. I’ve already dabbled in many of them, and it’s true, there’s stuff you could use to suit your needs.

«

Losing weight is hard; you have to exercise more and/or eat less, and it’s easy to fail. But a watch that bullied you about it would quickly get binned. This seems to be putting too much expectation on some machinery when the real motivation has to be in your head.
unique link to this extract


15 months of fresh hell inside Facebook • Wired

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein:

»

Far from Davos, meanwhile, Facebook’s product engineers got down to the precise, algorithmic business of implementing Zuckerberg’s vision. If you want to promote trustworthy news for billions of people, you first have to specify what is trustworthy and what is news. Facebook was having a hard time with both. To define trustworthiness, the company was testing how people responded to surveys about their impressions of different publishers. To define news, the engineers pulled a classification system left over from a previous project—one that pegged the category as stories involving “politics, crime, or tragedy.”

That particular choice, which meant the algorithm would be less kind to all kinds of other news—from health and science to technology and sports—wasn’t something Facebook execs discussed with media leaders in Davos. And though it went through reviews with senior managers, not everyone at the company knew about it either. When one Facebook executive learned about it recently in a briefing with a lower-­level engineer, they say they “nearly fell on the fucking floor.”

The confusing rollout of meaningful social interactions—marked by internal dissent, blistering external criticism, genuine efforts at reform, and foolish mistakes—set the stage for Facebook’s 2018. This is the story of that annus horribilis, based on interviews with 65 current and former employees. It’s ultimately a story about the biggest shifts ever to take place inside the world’s biggest social network. But it’s also about a company trapped by its own pathologies and, perversely, by the inexorable logic of its own recipe for success.

Facebook’s powerful network effects have kept advertisers from fleeing, and overall user numbers remain healthy if you include people on Insta­gram, which Facebook owns. But the company’s original culture and mission kept creating a set of brutal debts that came due with regularity over the past 16 months. The company floundered, dissembled, and apologized. Even when it told the truth, people didn’t believe it.

«

Terrific work, assembled by talking to 65 former and current staff. But what a way to define “news”.
unique link to this extract


Samsung fights back in EU as iPhone XR tops UK charts • Kantar Worldpanel

»

The latest smartphone OS data from Kantar, for the three months ending March 2019, shows Android accounted for 79.3% of all smartphone sales across the five major European markets.  Android’s strong performance was primarily thanks to Samsung holding share steady and solid gains from Huawei and Xiaomi.  iOS saw its share fall by two percentage points to 20.1% in Europe. However, the American market proved a brighter spot for Apple, as it boosted its US share in the quarter to 45.5%, an increase of 6.5 percentage points on the year.   

Dominic Sunnebo, Global Director for Kantar, comments, “Samsung’s share of the big five European markets held firm in the latest quarter, aided by something of a renaissance in Italy and Spain.  The launch of its flagship Galaxy S10 series also helped the manufacturer to consolidate its number one position in Europe, and it should expect sales to continue well into the next quarter. 

«

The XR as bestseller, and the increase in share, somewhat puts the line that Apple’s finished to light. But note that Kantar doesn’t indicate sales volume, only share.
unique link to this extract


PSA: Unshaky is a simple Mac utility that solves most MacBook keyboard problems • 9to5 Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

»

Unshaky is a simple Mac utility that monitors keyboard input, and then blocks anything it thinks is a double-press caused by a keyboard fault.

The app works by asking you to register it as an accessibility device. It then registers each keypress and blocks any repeated press within the next 40 milliseconds. The delay is user-configurable, with the developer recommending you stick with the default unless it doesn’t solve the problem, and then try first 60ms and then 80ms.

The app allows you to either set a universal timeout, or to configure them individually for each key.

You can see Unshaky at work. If you tap the menubar icon, it shows you how many keypresses have been dismissed – and you can also open a live debugging window.

Accessibility apps are potentially very dangerous, especially ones which control keyboard usage, as they could easily be used to install a keylogger. However, Unshaky is open-source with the code available for inspection on Github.

I’ve been using it for a week now, and it has almost completely solved my issues. I’m no longer seeing any doubt-activations. As both my spacebar and CMD keys were affected, I initially found that it was blocking Spotlight (CMD-Space), but there’s a checkbox for an experimental feature to cure that, and it works for me.

«

But doesn’t work to reveal keys that you pressed but which don’t register. Hard to know what proportion of problems that is. Also, would the number of Unshaky downloads be a pointer to incidence of this trouble?
unique link to this extract


Notre Dame: YouTube’s new fact check tool attached an article about 9/11 to videos of the fire • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick:

»

As the Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday, YouTube flagged livestreams of the incident as possible sources of misinformation and then started showing people articles about the 9/11 attacks.

…Several news outlets quickly started livestreaming the fire on YouTube. However, underneath several of them was a small gray panel titled “September 11 attacks,” which contained a snippet from an Encyclopedia Britannica article about 9/11.

The feature is part of a larger rollout of tools and disclaimers to prevent users from consuming misinformation on the platform.

If a user clicked the gray box, they would be taken to the full article about the US terror attack.

BuzzFeed News found at least three livestreams of the Notre Dame fire from major news outlets with the 9/11 disclaimer. The disclaimer was then removed, one by one, after several minutes. But by then, Twitter users had taken notice.

It’s unclear how the Notre Dame livestreams triggered the panel, but a spokesperson for YouTube said the “information panels” with links to third-party sources like Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia are activated by an algorithm.

«

An algorithm, you say? In the words of Janine Gibson, former Buzzfeed News editor, “oh ffs get some editors”. Human ones, that is.
unique link to this extract


3D mapping of Notre Dame will help restoration • GPS World

Tracy Cozzens:

»

Detailed 3D maps of the iconic and historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris hold out hope for accurate reconstruction after it was devastated by a massive fire April 15. Both the ceiling and the spire were destroyed, as well as internal woodwork.

But the information to restore the cathedral is abundant. Besides photos, art historian Andrew Tallon used laser scanners to create an immaculately accurate model of the cathedral, as reported in this National Geographic feature:

»

Laser scans, with their exquisite precision, don’t miss a thing. Mounted on a tripod, the laser beam sweeps around the choir of a cathedral, for example, and measures the distance between the scanner and every point it hits. Each measurement is represented by a colored dot, which cumulatively create a three-dimensional image of the cathedral. “If you’ve done your job properly,” says Tallon, the scan is “accurate to within five millimeters [.5 centimeter].”…

Tallon figured out how to knit the laser scans together to make them manageable and beautiful. Each time he makes a scan, he also takes a spherical panoramic photograph from the same spot that captures the same three-dimensional space. He maps that photograph onto the laser-generated dots of the scan; each dot becomes the color of the pixel in that location in the photograph.

As a result, the stunningly realistic panoramic photographs are amazingly accurate. At Notre Dame, he took scans from more than 50 locations in and around the cathedral—collecting more than one billion points of data.

«

Another source comes from a video game company. Immaculate models of the cathedral were collected for the creation of the best-selling “Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” where the hero/player is able to climb both the outside and inside of the massive edifice.

«

File this under “unexpected benefits of video games”.
unique link to this extract


Apple planning Luna display-like desktop extension feature for macOS 10.15, codenamed ‘Sidecar’ • 9to5 Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

According to people familiar with the development of macOS 10.15 – the next major version of Apple’s desktop OS – the new system will have a feature that allows users to send any window of any app to an external display. The external display can be an actual external display connected to the Mac or even an iPad.

The new feature – called “Sidecar” internally – can be accessed via a simple menu. This new menu will be opened by hovering over the green “maximize” button in a Mac app window for a split second. The menu will have options for making the window fullscreen, tiling and moving to external displays, including the user’s iPads and external displays connected to the Mac. Selecting one of the display options moves the current window to the selected external display or iPad, in fullscreen.

Users with an iPad that supports Apple Pencil will also be able to draw with the Pencil on iPad when it’s being used as an external display for the Mac, effectively turning the iPad into a Wacom-like tablet. Engineers are also working on options that will allow windows to be easily snapped to one side of the screen, similar to a feature that already exists on Windows.

«

This actually sounds pretty useful. But what does it say about Apple’s view of Mac users and iPads? Is the iPad a slave here, or what?
unique link to this extract


Exclusive: what to expect from Sony’s next-gen PlayStation • Wired

Peter Rubin:

»

The AMD chip also includes a custom unit for 3D audio that Cerny thinks will redefine what sound can do in a videogame. “As a gamer,” he says, “it’s been a little bit of a frustration that audio did not change too much between PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. With the next console the dream is to show how dramatically different the audio experience can be when we apply significant amounts of hardware horsepower to it.”

The result, Cerny says, will make you feel more immersed in the game as sounds come at you from above, from behind, and from the side. While the effect will require no external hardware—it will work through TV speakers and visual surround sound—he allows that the “gold standard” will be headphone audio.

One of the words Cerny uses to describe the audio may be a familiar to those who follow virtual reality: presence, that feeling of existing inside a simulated environment. When he mentions it, I ask him about PlayStation VR, the peripheral system that has sold more than 4 million units since its 2016 release. Specifically, I ask if there will be a next-gen PSVR to go alongside this next console. “I won’t go into the details of our VR strategy today,” he says, “beyond saying that VR is very important to us and that the current PSVR headset is compatible with the new console.”

So. New CPU, new GPU, the ability to deliver unprecedented visual and audio effects in a game (and maybe a PSVR sequel at some point). That’s all great, but there’s something else that excites Cerny even more. Something that he calls “a true game changer,” something that more than anything else is “the key to the next generation.” It’s a hard drive.

«

The hard drive is an SSD (long overdue); it will also do 8K, which should future-proof it, and help sell Sony TVs. The nothing-much about VR tells a story – the dog that isn’t barking.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.