Start Up No.1,101: Evernote’s long goodbye, climate change 30 years on, the racists in the CBP, Cue and Ive and Apple, and more


The current Mac Pro (the new one isn’t on sale yet): a Jony Ive design, or his team? CC-licensed photo by Steve Garfield on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. There you go. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A unicorn lost in the Valley, Evernote blows up the ‘fail fast’ gospel • The New York Times

Erin Griffith:

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In Silicon Valley, the idea that most start-ups won’t make it to a splashy public offering or acquisition is not just understood, but embraced. “Fail fast, fail often” is one of the region’s earliest and best-recognized catchphrases. The implication is that people and companies that don’t find success can transition, efficiently and without stigma, to more promising ventures. But Evernote’s struggles illustrate a harsher truth: For many start-ups of a certain size, failure rarely happens abruptly.

More often, after early momentum wanes, the missteps and bad press accumulate until a company enters a slow, difficult rehabilitation that stretches on for years. But in and around San Francisco, no one likes to talk about getting stuck in start-up purgatory. Once venture capital investors have sunk in considerable sums, they’re willing to let struggling companies flounder for years on the off chance they hit on something big. “They’re not in it for a break-even or a slight loss or a slight gain,” said Jeffrey Cohen, a bankruptcy lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler. “They’re willing to let it ride a little longer to see whether it explodes.”

It’s a common trap for the most recent generation of start-ups, which has been marked by the proliferation of “unicorns” worth $1bn or more. For fledgling companies, taking enough investor money to become one of these magical ungulates was supposed to show customers, employees and the world that they were sure bets — that they were too special and big and valuable to fail. But many companies that chased three-comma valuations are now stuck trying to live up to almost impossible expectations.

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Marvellous depiction of the slow slide into obscurity. Everything dies, even startups.
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Microsoft’s Ebook apocalypse shows the dark side of DRM • WIRED

Brian Barrett:

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Microsoft made the announcement in April that it would shutter the Microsoft Store’s books section for good. The company had made its foray into ebooks in 2017, as part of a Windows 10 Creators Update that sought to round out the software available to its Surface line. Relegated to Microsoft’s Edge browser, the digital bookstore never took off. As of April 2, it halted all ebook sales. And starting as soon as this week, it’s going to remove all purchased books from the libraries of those who bought them…

Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.

“On the one hand, at least people aren’t out the money that they paid for these books. But consumers exchange money for goods because they preferred the goods to the money. That’s what happens when you buy something,” says Aaron Perzanowski, professor at the Case Western University School of Law and coauthor of The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to cover the harm that’s been done to consumers.”

Presumably not many people purchased ebooks from Microsoft; that’s why it’s pulling the plug in the first place. But anyone who did now potentially has to go find those same books again on a new platform, buy them again, and maybe even find a new device to read them on. For certain types of readers, particularly lawyers and academics, markups and annotations can be worth far more than $25. And even if none of that were the case, the move rankles on principle alone.

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Electric cars grab almost half of sales in oil-producing Norway • Reuters

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Almost half of new cars sold in Norway in the first six months of 2019 were powered by fully electric engines, up from just over a quarter in the same period last year, ensuring the Nordic nation retains its top global ranking in electric vehicle sales.

Tesla’s Model 3 was Norway’s top-selling vehicle, the Norwegian Road Federation (NRF) said when announcing the latest sales data on Monday.

In total, 48.4% of all new cars sold from January to June were electric, surpassing the 31.2% seen for the full year 2018, and making oil-producing Norway the global leader in per-capita electric car sales by a wide margin.

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California was warned about climate change 30 years ago. Now it’s feeling the effects • Los Angeles Times

Julia Rosen:

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Back in 1989, Californians received a sobering warning: The accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere would likely bring more droughts, floods, fires, and heat waves to the state.

In the thirty years since, those projections of what would happen in a warming world have proven to be remarkably prescient.

“We’ve already observed some of the things we expected in 1989,” said Susan Fischer Wilhelm, a research manager at the California Energy Commission, the agency that compiled the report.

The assessment laid the groundwork for what has arguably become the country’s most ambitious effort to address global warming.

But to many who worked on the report, looking back on it now only underscores how long we’ve waited to act — and how much time has been wasted.

“I felt a sense of pride of being able to participate in something like this, but also a sense of regret for us as a society,” said Les Baxter, who worked on the report as a policy analyst at the CEC and is now vice president of program strategy for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“We’ve known what we need to do and we just keep refusing to do it.”

The report might have remained lost to history if Gary Estes hadn’t been going through boxes in his garage last year and stumbled upon a copy.

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Huawei reprieve: what happens next? • CNBC

Kate Fazzini:

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The White House and Commerce Department haven’t yet clarified whether the policy will affect Huawei’s use of Google’s Android operating system on many of its mobile devices, or Microsoft’s Windows operating system on its computers.

But a Microsoft spokesperson said the company made “an initial evaluation” of the Commerce Department decision on Huawei and will “to continue to offer Microsoft software updates to customers with Huawei devices.”

“We’re still providing Windows software updates to customers with Huawei laptops,” the spokesperson said.

Google did not immediately respond to comment, and a Huawei spokesperson said the company “had no further details at this time.”

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OK fine so you’re all as confused as the rest of us. Good to know.
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Inside the secret Border Patrol Facebook group where agents joke about migrant deaths and post sexist memes • ProPublica

A.C. Thompson:

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ProPublica received images of several recent discussions in the 10-15 Facebook group and was able to link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas. ProPublica has so far been unable to reach the group members who made the postings.

ProPublica contacted three spokespeople for CBP in regard to the Facebook group and provided the names of three agents who appear to have participated in the online chats. CBP hasn’t yet responded.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”

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In Trump’s administration, that sort of thing will make them more, not less, employable. A reminder: dehumanising fellow human beings is a key step towards fascism.
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Jony Ive is leaving Apple, but his departure started long ago • WSJ

Tripp Mickle says that this story follows conversations over “more than a year” with people who worked with Ive and “people close to” Apple’s leadership:

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Mr. Ive had been growing more distant from Apple’s leadership, say people close to the company. Mr. Jobs’s protégé—and Apple’s closest thing to a living embodiment of his spirit—grew frustrated inside a more operations-focused company led by Chief Executive Tim Cook.

Mr. Ive, 52, withdrew from routine management of Apple’s elite design team, leaving it rudderless, increasingly inefficient, and ultimately weakened by a string of departures, people close to the company say.

The internal drama explains a lot about Apple’s dilemma. Its one major new product of the post-Jobs era, the Apple Watch, made its debut five years ago. Its iPhone business is faltering, and more recent releases like its wireless AirPods haven’t been enough to shore up falling sales. It hasn’t had a megahit new product since the iPad that started selling in 2010…

…At a meeting with members of the watch team, [Ive] thanked them for their work, and said 2014 had been one of his most challenging years at Apple. The company sold about 10 million units in the first year, a quarter of what Apple forecast, a person familiar with the matter said. Thousands of the gold [Edition] version went unsold.

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There’s a terrific podcast hosted by John Gruber, guest Ben Thompson, which runs over Ive’s importance and the questions that arise over his leaving. Gruber has the contacts, Thompson has the insight. (Hardware matters less at the modern Apple than in the past, for example.) The feeling is that Ive, like Jobs, wants to leave a permanent mark on the world. Apple Park – his last design job at Apple – is definitely a start.

What’s odd is if Mickle had been talking to people for a year, why he didn’t write it a week ago, before the announcement? Though sometimes the story only emerges in retrospect. But such fascinating questions: did Ive drive the design of the “trashcan” Mac Pro? Of the AirPods? Of the new Mac Pro? (Probably not.) The butterfly keyboard? Where do we discern the end of his reign?
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Can Apple hack it in Hollywood? We talk to the man behind Apple TV+ • British GQ

Stuart McGurk:

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Cue himself is something of an Apple lifer, having joined the company in 1989. It was Steve Jobs who spotted his potential and over the years Cue has been responsible for everything from creating the App Store to the acquisition of Beats Audio.

What are his main memories of Jobs?

“Someone I loved dearly as a friend. So when you ask that question to me it’s a personal question. He was obviously an incredible boss. I had the greatest mentor in the world.”

Cue says he didn’t realise it at the time – “I was young” – but that one of the greatest things to happen to Apple was Jobs getting fired in 1985 by then-CEO John Sculley.

“Because when he came back, one of the things that he wanted to do is create a company that would outlast him and could live for hundreds of years.”

He was really thinking in terms of centuries?

“He absolutely was. And he put people in place and created a culture that he thought would do that. But obviously he was taken way too early. I figured I’d be walking out of Apple the same day he was walking out of Apple.”

He does not much rate the portraits of Jobs that have appeared since, not least the biography by Walter Isaacson and the film, Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin.

“No. Terrible. They’re not true. Most of the stories are just not accurate. They’re just not accurate. And I think they missed the boat on Steve. They don’t capture in my mind the real Steve. There’s a good book called Becoming Steve Jobs, which I think is the best book. It captures good, bad, fun, pain, emotions, all of it. That’s better than anything I’ve seen. So I’d encourage you to read that.”

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Lots of good stuff in this interview; Cue denies the story that Cook (or he) passed “notes” on the content of the proposed TV dramas. Doesn’t deny he might have fallen asleep in a meeting. And more.
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The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance—by their heartbeat • MIT Technology Review

David Hambling:

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A new device, developed for the Pentagon after US Special Forces requested it, can identify people without seeing their face: instead it detects their unique cardiac signature with an infrared laser. While it works at 200 meters (219 yards), longer distances could be possible with a better laser. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space,” says Steward Remaly, of the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, “but longer ranges should be possible.”

Contact infrared sensors are often used to automatically record a patient’s pulse. They work by detecting the changes in reflection of infrared light caused by blood flow. By contrast, the new device, called Jetson, uses a technique known as laser vibrometry to detect the surface movement caused by the heartbeat. This works though typical clothing like a shirt and a jacket (though not thicker clothing such as a winter coat)…

…Cardiac signatures are already used for security identification. The Canadian company Nymi has developed a wrist-worn pulse sensor as an alternative to fingerprint identification. The technology has been trialed by the Halifax building society in the UK.

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America’s teenagers skew a lot more conservative than most people realize, and they get most of their news from Instagram • Business Insider

Kate Taylor:

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It is tempting to see the teens and young 20-somethings of Generation Z as a united, progressive force, rising up to challenge a divided country. The reality is more complicated.

While Gen Z is united on some issues, including climate change and legalizing marijuana, political rifts remain.

Social media, including Instagram, one of the most popular places for Gen Z to get political news, is helping deepen and amplify these divisions, sparking concerns in some young Americans that the country is simply entering a new era of political strife.

One of the biggest differences about Gen Z, according to experts and members of the generation, is the role social media plays in shaping beliefs.

Social media is the top way Gen Z finds out about news, with 59% of respondents listing it as a top news source in Business Insider’s poll of more than 1,800 people between the ages of 13 and 21. The national poll was conducted with SurveyMonkey Audience partner Cint on behalf of Business Insider. It ran January 11-14.

More than half the people surveyed said they checked Snap, YouTube, or Instagram daily.

Parkland survivors, for example, organized and amplified their message on social media. Gonzales has more than 1.6 million followers on Twitter, while a Twitter campaign by Parkland survivor David Hogg helped persuade more than a dozen advertisers to slash ties with Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

But for most Gen Zers, Instagram, not Twitter, reigns supreme. About 65% of respondents said they checked it daily, with many Gen Zers citing it as a major source for political news specifically.

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Political news from Instagram? This is one of those moments when you suddenly think you’ve woken up in someone else’s novel. (“Gen Z” are those born in this century.)
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How Amazon and the cops set up an elaborate sting operation that accomplished nothing • VICE

Caroline Haskins:

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For Amazon, fear is good for business.

If customers fear their neighbors, and fear they might steal a package, customers are less likely to be mad at Amazon if they don’t get a package they ordered. They’re also more likely to buy an Amazon-owned Ring doorbell camera, which is marketed as way of surveilling your stoop for package deliveries and package thieves—especially on Neighbors, the Ring-owned “neighborhood watch” app.

New documents obtained by Motherboard using a Freedom of Information request show how Amazon, Ring, a GPS tracking company, and the US Postal Inspection Service collaborated on a package sting operation with the Aurora, Colorado Police Department in December. The operation involved equipping fake Amazon packages with GPS trackers, and surveilling doorsteps with Ring doorbell cameras in an effort to catch someone stealing a package on tape.

The documents show the design and implementation of a highly elaborate public relations stunt, which was designed both to endear Amazon and Ring with local law enforcement, and to make local residents fear the place they live. The parties were disappointed when the operation didn’t result in any arrests.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,101: Evernote’s long goodbye, climate change 30 years on, the racists in the CBP, Cue and Ive and Apple, and more

  1. re. Political news form Insta: but.. but… but… Haven’t we been told for the past few years that the issue was FB and Twitter and Youtube, not something more general relatively independent of medium ? Next we’ll be told that Fox is about as reprehensible as Youtube and we’ve been mistargeting the whole time !
    /s

  2. Interesting piece: https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/2/20679258/apple-future-services-iphone-experience-design-ceo-tim-cook

    I’d argue we already know the answer to that because:
    1- Even on the bare HW side, Apple has already, repeatedly, intensely compromised function, for form (though, depending on your viewpoint, form can be function: handbags !)
    2- On the SW side, Apple has already etc compromised function for lock-in and monetization: NFC is in there but not fully usable, ditto USB, iMessage is the only non-crossplatform messaging app, forcedlocked /iDefaults,…
    So the question of whether Apple will compromise UX to push its own services has already been answered. It’s already even doing ads-via-notifications, which it declared noxious. When others do it.

  3. Fuchsia is still a bit of a mystery: Google’s party line is that it’s an experimental testing ground, yet a whole lot of effort, talent, even recruitment seems to be going into it, especially to make it backards-compatible, which makes seems to imply it’s supposed to be actually used at some point, because backwards-compatibility doesn’t really mesh with pure experimentation, at least once you start to sweat the details instead of just proving the concept.
    Maybe there’s a bit of Osborne-effect fear.

    Anyhoooo, Fuchsia now has an official public dev site, and sample builds for… random devices.. https://www.xda-developers.com/google-opens-website-fuchsia-os-development/

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