Start Up No.1,103: why San Francisco’s techies hate it, will Boeing need bailing out?, voice’s slow takeoff, iOS13 fixes your gaze, and more


The Met Police’s facial recognition system might struggle with this lineup – but it does with people too. CC-licensed photo by Jason Hickey on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Rings a bell. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘We all suffer’: why San Francisco techies hate the city they transformed • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:

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A frequent refrain among the more than a dozen tech workers who spoke to the Guardian for this article was that it is not so much the presence of have-nots that is ruining their experience of San Francisco, but an overabundance of haves.

“The housing crisis has a huge negative impact on quality of life because of who it excludes from living near you,” said Simon Willison, a software developer who moved to San Francisco from London five years ago. “When I visit other cities I’m always jealous of their income diversity: that people who have jobs that don’t provide a six-digit salary can afford to live and work and be happy.”

“Even though people think there is diversity in the city, there isn’t really,” said Adrianna Tan, a senior product manager at a tech startup who moved to San Francisco from Singapore. “Sure, you get people from all over the world, but the only ones who can move here now come from the same socio-economic class.”

“I feel like San Francisco is between Seattle and New York, but rather than the best of both, it’s the worst of both,” said Beth, a 24-year-old product manager who asked not to be identified by her real name. Beth moved to the city directly after graduating from Stanford to work at a major tech company, but recently transferred to Seattle. “Everyone I met was only interested in their jobs, and their jobs weren’t very interesting,” she said of her time in San Francisco. “I get it, you’re a developer for Uber, I’ve met a million of you.”

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Fantastic article. Read it all.
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81% of ‘suspects’ flagged by Met’s police facial recognition technology innocent, independent report says • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe and Alexander J Martin:

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Four out of five people identified by the Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition technology as possible suspects are innocent, according to an independent report.

Researchers found that the controversial system is 81% inaccurate – meaning that, in the vast majority of cases, it flagged up faces to police when they were not on a wanted list.

The force maintains its technology only makes a mistake in one in 1,000 cases – but it uses a different measurement to arrive at this conclusion.

The report, exclusively revealed by Sky News and The Guardian, raises “significant concerns” about Scotland Yard’s use of the technology, and calls for the facial recognition programme to be halted.

Citing a range of technical, operational and legal issues, the report concludes that it is “highly possible” the Met’s usage of the system would be found unlawful if challenged in court.

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If you feel like doing some reading, here’s the full report. From the descriptions in it, the police are clearly fudging their figures.
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The coming Boeing bailout? • Matt Stoller

Matt Stoller writes about monopolies and industrial concentration:

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Bad procurement is one reason (aside from military officials going into defense contracting work) why military products are often poor quality or deficient. For instance, the incredibly expensive joint strike fighter F-35 is a mess, and the Navy’s most expensive aircraft carrier, costing $13bn, was recently delivered without critical elevators to lift bombs into fighter jets. Much of this dynamic exists because of a lack of competition in contracting for major systems, a result of the consolidation [DoD official Bill] Perry pushed [on military contractors] in the early 1990s. Monopolies don’t have to produce good quality products, and often don’t.

At any rate, when McDonnell Douglas took over Boeing, the military procurement guys took over aerospace production and design. The company began a radical outsourcing campaign, done for political purposes. In defense production, plants went to influence Senators and Congressmen; in civilian production, Boeing started moving production to different countries in return for airline purchases from the national airlines.

Engineers immediately recognized this offshoring as a disaster in the making. In 2001, a Boeing employee named L. Hart Smith published a paper criticizing the business strategy behind offshoring production, noting that vital engineering tasks were being done in ways that seemed less costly but would end up destroying the company. He was quickly proved right.

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A good view on what’s been going on at Boeing to make the 737 Max calamity inevitable.
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Alexa, is voice still the next big thing after mobile? • The Information

Priya Anand:

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“I haven’t heard a mass market groundswell of consumers saying, ‘I will not buy Product X if it doesn’t have “Works with Google” or Alexa integration.’ It’s a feature and nice to have for a% of people,” said Niccolo de Masi, the chief innovation officer of Resideo, a maker of connected thermostats, security systems and other products. “It hasn’t tipped into being a mass market thing.”

Some companies have put Alexa, including the microphones and speakers necessary to communicate with the assistant, directly into their products. In January, Kohler, the manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom fixtures, unveiled an Alexa-enabled toilet that starts at $8,000—which will be available for purchase in 2020—with speakers and lights that can be controlled by voice commands. It also put Alexa into a $1,465 mirror, allowing people to “ask to adjust the lights to the ideal brightness for any grooming activity, play music, get the weather, tell a joke, and more,” as it says in an online brochure for the product.

A person familiar with Kohler’s sales figures said early demand for the mirror was below its expectations. That may partly be due to the fact that Amazon’s least expensive Alexa device, the Echo Dot, sells for a tiny fraction of the mirror. “They’re competing with a $30 device that’s being sold at cost and that’s really hard to do unless there’s some killer use case,” the person familiar with Kohler’s efforts said.

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As Benedict Evans said some while back, the problem with voice is that it’s like the terminal line: it doesn’t show you what the affordances of the interface are. What can you say? How do you have to say it? What feedback does it give you on errors? If you’ve never used a terminal line, you won’t know the stark horror of facing the implacable blinking cursor and trying to work out how to coax it into life. But just imagine trying to work out how to order something different by voice, and you can see it.
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Amazon confirms it keeps your Alexa recordings basically forever • Ars Technica

Kate Cox:

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Amazon has confirmed it hangs on to every conversation you’ve ever had with an Alexa-enabled device until or unless you specifically delete them.

That confirmation comes as a response to a list of questions Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in May expressing “concerns” about how Amazon uses and retains customers’ Alexa voice assistant data.

Amazon’s response to Coons, as first reported by CNET, confirms that the company keeps your data as long as it wants unless you deliberately specify otherwise.

“We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them,” Amazon said—but even then there are exceptions.

Amazon, as well as third parties that deploy “skills” on the Alexa platform, keep records of interactions customers have with Alexa, the company said. If, for example, you order a pizza, purchase digital content, summon a car from a ride-hailing service, or place an Amazon order, “Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction,” Amazon said, without clarifying the specific kind of data that’s in that record.

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Samsung Galaxy Fold: the foldable phone is about to launch • Bloomberg

Sam Kim and Sohee Kim:

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Samsung Electronics Co. has completed a two-month redesign of the Galaxy Fold to fix embarrassing screen failures that forced its delay, people familiar with the matter say, allowing the Korean giant to debut its marquee smartphone in time for the crucial holiday season.

The world’s largest smartphone maker is now in the final stages of producing a commercial version but can’t yet pin down a date to begin sales, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified describing an internal effort. Samsung pulled the device after several publications including Bloomberg News reported problems with test versions, such as screen malfunctions that emerged after a film on the display was peeled off.

Korea’s biggest company is trying to move past yet another product faux pas. It has now stretched the protective film to wrap around the entire screen and flow into the outer bezels so it would be impossible to peel off by hand, said the people, who have seen the latest versions. It re-engineered the hinge, pushing it slightly upward from the screen (it’s now flush with the display) to help stretch the film further when the phone opens.

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So the first Galaxy Fold that people buy will be the Galaxy Fold 2. All the people whothumped their money down for the first, unreleased, one should count themselves lucky. And still no date. I wonder if Huawei’s problems have eased the pressure on Samsung to get this out of the door.
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Apple’s iOS 13 update will make FaceTime eye contact way easier • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

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Apple has added a feature called “FaceTime Attention Correction” to the latest iOS 13 Developer beta, and it looks like it could make a big difference when it comes to actually making FaceTime calls feel even more like talking to someone in person. The feature, spotted in the third beta of the new software update that went out this week, apparently does a terrific job of making it look like you’re looking directly into the camera even when you’re looking at the screen during a FaceTime call.

That’s actually a huge improvement, because when people FaceTime, most of the time they’re looking at the screen rather than the camera, since the whole point is to see the person or people you’re talking to, rather than the small black lens at the top of your device.

The catch so far seems to be that this FaceTime feature is only available on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which could mean it only works with the latest camera tech available on Apple hardware.

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Well, when it’s introduced it will work with the latest *and* last year’s phones, but anyway. It’s optional (you choose whether your eyes are redirected) and works, it seems, by making an augmented reality depth map of your face and adjusting where it shows your eyes. Finally, a use for AR! Though I saw a discussion on Twitter of whether this would lead to strange effects because you’d seem to be gazing at the other person all the time, which we interpret differently depending on our gender.
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iOS 13 beta 3 suggests new wired method for transferring data between devices • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

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While looking into the code changes between iOS 13 beta 2 and iOS 13 beta 3, we noticed some new assets in the Setup app – which runs when you set up a new device for the first time or after a reset. These new assets could suggest that Apple is working on a new way to transfer data between devices.

Currently, when you set up a new iOS device, you can restore it from an iTunes backup or from an iCloud backup. The second option can be sped up by having another iOS device next to the new one, logged in to your Apple ID account. This allows your data to be transferred wirelessly.

New assets and strings found in iOS 13 beta 3 suggest Apple is working on a way to transfer data from another iOS device directly, using a cable. One of assets shows an image of two iPhones connected to each other using a cable. It’s unclear how this could be achieved exactly given that current iPhones feature a Lightning port and Apple does not offer a Lightning-to-Lightning cable.

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Surprised he didn’t say “but you could with a USB-C to USB-C…” Still hard to figure out whether Apple is ready to move to USB-C for its phones, though. The Lightning port has a gigantic installed base (nearly a billion devices?) which only grows with time; while USB-C remains a hot, if slowly improving, mess.
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House lawmakers officially ask Facebook to put Libra cryptocurrency project on hold • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, hinted at a move like this last month shortly after the project was announced. Waters’s letter today, sent to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and Calibra CEO David Marcus, formalizes that request from a few weeks ago. Aside from Waters, the letter is signed by House Finance’s subcommittee leaders.

“If products and services like these are left improperly regulated and without sufficient oversight, they could pose systemic risks that endanger U.S. and global financial stability,” Water writes. “These vulnerabilities could be exploited and obscured by bad actors, as other cryptocurrencies, exchanges, and wallets have been in the past.”

Skepticism of the project isn’t only couched in the Democrat-controlled House, either. Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) scheduled a hearing with Marcus for July 16th, citing concerns over the currency and the potential risks for data privacy it poses. The following day, Waters’s committee will also hold a hearing on the project.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers as this process moves forward, including answering their questions at the upcoming House Financial Services Committee hearing,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Verge Tuesday.

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Facebook won’t be able to answer their questions, because they have no idea of what systemic risks are really posed by having a billion people swapping in and out of local currencies via bigger ones; if it becomes big enough Libra could be a currency basket with heft enough to dampen other forex markets, and so big enough to determine market rates. But we don’t know. Facebook doesn’t know. Nobody knows.
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Demand grows for tiny phone chargers using ‘new silicon’ • Financial Times

Louise Lucas:

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A tiny phone, tablet and laptop charger, the first to use gallium nitride rather than silicon chips, has seen sales four times greater than predicted, prompting the Chinese company behind it to try to ramp up production.

Anker, a Shenzhen-based company that specialises in computer and mobile phone accessories, unveiled a line of chargers using gallium nitride (GaN), which conducts electrons 1,000 times faster than silicon, in January.

The use of GaN allowed Anker to virtually halve the size of its charger, while retaining full-speed charging. Another Chinese-owned company, RAVPower, has also started using GaN in its chargers…

Raytheon, the US defence group, said in 2017 that it had spent $300m researching GaN since 1999. Like some of its peers, it uses the material in its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, which are able to detect stealth fighters at long range.

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Shamefully, I hadn’t heard of gallium nitride; it seems like the coming thing for high-power applications. But then there’s this, further down the story:

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Bankers familiar with the deals have said these military applications were at least partly behind Washington’s move to block two bids by Chinese buyers to acquire companies with the technology, Philips’ lighting business and Aixtron, in 2016.

GaN also featured in an official inquiry into the death of 31-year-old engineer Shane Todd, who was found dead in his flat two days after leaving a job at the Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore, where he had been working on the development of GaN.

Several IME employees told the inquiry that the US engineer had been involved in a “potential project” between the IME and Huawei for the development of a GaN amplifier.

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Todd’s death was a huge topic in 2013; he died in June 2012. Huawei’s revenues really jumped in 2015, two years later.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,103: why San Francisco’s techies hate it, will Boeing need bailing out?, voice’s slow takeoff, iOS13 fixes your gaze, and more

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