Start Up No.1,145: Vestager embeds, Apple’s neat UWB move, moving 3D from a flat image, your period is on Facebook, and more


Spoken language seems to have a maximum bitrate. Weird yet true. CC-licensed photo by Andy Field on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU’s new digital czar: ‘most powerful regulator of big tech on the planet’ • The New York Times

Matina Stevis-Gridneff:

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As the European Union’s competition commissioner, she and her army of lawyers became heroes to many critics of Big Tech, even as they were loathed in some corporate offices and in the White House.

“She hates the United States,” President Trump said, “perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Vestager assumed more power than ever, expanding her portfolio to become the equivalent of the European Union’s digital czar.

It’s a job that analysts say will give her unmatched regulatory reach at a time when public anger is rising over issues like privacy, disinformation, data management and the enormous reach of the largest technology companies — like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook — into the everyday lives of billions of people.

“Margrethe Vestager will be the most powerful regulator of Big Tech on the planet,” said Thomas Vinje, a veteran antitrust lawyer based in Brussels. “She will have more leverage than anyone else in the world.”

Ms. Vestager’s enhanced status reflects the European Union’s ambition to become the most activist tech regulator in the world, creating a far-reaching role for itself in the global economy. European officials see an opening to become the trusted global regulator, especially as their American counterparts have been criticized for doing too little.

As the digital giants branch out into new areas, including finance with Facebook’s proposed Libra cryptocurrency, regulators are finding it harder to keep up with the complex, highly sophisticated and opaque nature of the companies they’re meant to oversee, experts say.

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Vestager has tried very, very hard, and has been the only person to really try to regulate the big tech companies. But even her powers to fine aren’t big enough.
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It’s time to forcibly reform big tech • WIRED UK

Carl Miller, of the thinktank Demos:

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telling the tech giants to sort out the problems they’ve caused just makes them more powerful, with enormous latitude to both define the problem and work out solutions. We have asked them to become counter-radicalisation specialists. Social cohesion experts. Digital literacy trainers. Cybercrime police. Guardians of open journalism. In some cases, the arbiter of truth itself.

This simply isn’t what private companies are set up to do. They lack the accountability, democratic oversight, or public transparency to make morally hazardous distinctions like defining fake news. Especially when those distinctions can transform the global news diet.

We need to remind ourselves that technology companies are profit-maximising entities with fiduciary duties to their investors. They have earnings calls. They need to return dividends. They need to show capital appreciation. The solutions they propose are business decisions as much as moral ones. In a clash of incentives, they are always going to pick growth over safety, and engagement over decency. It’s not because they’re evil. They’re just not not evil. They’re companies like any other, trying to make money within the law – because that is actually what their legal responsibility is.

Reform through embarrassment is also incredibly iniquitous to the countries and communities that cannot embarrass the tech giants. Facebook has been active in fighting electoral interference in America, Germany, and the UK. But the story is very different if you’re in Georgia or Kosovo. Smaller markets, less widely spoken languages – or just people who aren’t journalists, politicians or celebrities – always lose out when the enforcement of basic standards and rules boils down to corporate reputation-management. The rich, visible and powerful tend to be protected in this arrangement while others lose out.

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3D Ken Burns effect from a single image • Simon Niklaus

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The Ken Burns effect allows animating still images with a virtual camera scan and zoom. Adding parallax, which results in the 3D Ken Burns effect, enables significantly more compelling results. Creating such effects manually is time-consuming and demands sophisticated editing skills. Existing automatic methods, however, require multiple input images from varying viewpoints.

In this paper, we introduce a framework that synthesizes the 3D Ken Burns effect from a single image, supporting both a fully automatic mode and an interactive mode with the user controlling the camera.

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The promo video is really impressive.
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Human speech may have a universal transmission rate: 39 bits per second • AAAS

Catherine Matacic:

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Italians are some of the fastest speakers on the planet, chattering at up to nine syllables per second. Many Germans, on the other hand, are slow enunciators, delivering five to six syllables in the same amount of time. Yet in any given minute, Italians and Germans convey roughly the same amount of information, according to a new study. Indeed, no matter how fast or slowly languages are spoken, they tend to transmit information at about the same rate: 39 bits per second, about twice the speed of Morse code.

“This is pretty solid stuff,” says Bart de Boer, an evolutionary linguist who studies speech production at the Free University of Brussels, but was not involved in the work. Language lovers have long suspected that information-heavy languages—those that pack more information about tense, gender, and speaker into smaller units, for example—move slowly to make up for their density of information, he says, whereas information-light languages such as Italian can gallop along at a much faster pace. But until now, no one had the data to prove it.

Scientists started with written texts from 17 languages, including English, Italian, Japanese, and Vietnamese. They calculated the information density of each language in bits—the same unit that describes how quickly your cellphone, laptop, or computer modem transmits information. They found that Japanese, which has only 643 syllables, had an information density of about 5 bits per syllable, whereas English, with its 6949 syllables, had a density of just over 7 bits per syllable. Vietnamese, with its complex system of six tones (each of which can further differentiate a syllable), topped the charts at 8 bits per syllable.

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Now I’m wondering about a world where there’s a language which transmits information more quickly. And also about how quickly reading transmits information. Plus: what about folk who listen to podcasts at 2x speed?
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Period tracker apps: Maya and MIA Fem are sharing deeply personal data with Facebook • Buzzfeed News

Megha Rajagopalan:

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UK-based advocacy group Privacy International, sharing its findings exclusively with BuzzFeed News, discovered period-tracking apps including MIA Fem and Maya sent women’s use of contraception, the timings of their monthly periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps, and more, directly to Facebook.

Women use such apps for a range of purposes, from tracking their period cycles to maximizing their chances of conceiving a child. On the Google Play store, Maya, owned by India-based Plackal Tech, has more than 5 million downloads. Period Tracker MIA Fem: Ovulation Calculator, owned by Cyprus-based Mobapp Development Limited, says it has more than 2 million users around the world. They are also available on the App Store.

The data sharing with Facebook happens via Facebook’s Software Development Kit (SDK), which helps app developers incorporate particular features and collect user data so Facebook can show them targeted ads, among other functions. When a user puts personal information into an app, that information may also be sent by the SDK to Facebook.

Asked about the report, Facebook told BuzzFeed News it had gotten in touch with the apps Privacy International identified to discuss possible violations of its terms of service, including sending prohibited types of sensitive information.

Maya informs Facebook whenever you open the app and starts sharing some data with Facebook even before the user agrees to the app’s privacy policy, Privacy International found.

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The U1 chip in the iPhone 11 is the beginning of an Ultra Wideband revolution • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

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Apple likes talking about the awesome chips it designs for its iPhones, but it hates even hinting at products it hasn’t yet announced. The new U1 chip—introduced with the iPhone 11 but never mentioned on stage at Tuesday’s iPhone event—strikes at the heart of this conflict. Embedded in the U1 is new technology that may dramatically change how our various intelligent devices interact with each other, but Apple is only using it to make a small addition to AirDrop.

Of course, the story is more complicated. If you believe the reports that Apple is working on a tracking accessory that will let you locate just about any object with extreme precision, then the lack of a keynote mention starts to make sense. Apple will probably be ready to talk up Ultra Wideband (UWB), the wireless standard that powers the U1, the very moment that product is released. Until then, we’re left with a paragraph on Apple’s website:

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The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices. It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.

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Amazing new capabilities, eh? The Apple marketing copy has it right—UWB’s technological trick is allowing devices to pinpoint one another’s locations in the real world with great precision. From raw data alone, UWB devices can detect locations within 10cm (4in), but depending on implementation that accuracy can be lowered to as much as 5mm, according to Mickael Viot, VP of marketing at UWB chipmaker Decawave.

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Terrific piece, and it really feels like Apple is going to announce something in October around this. UWB has been a technology waiting to happen for about a decade. Yet Apple is the first company to incorporate a UWB chip in a phone.

Also worth reading: a Quora answer about “what’s the U1 chip?” by Brian Roemelle, which quotes from Apple’s own page about the U1:

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The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 to precisely locate other U1‑equipped Apple devices. Think GPS at the scale of your living room. So if you want to share a file with someone using AirDrop, just point your iPhone at theirs and they’ll be first on the list.

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Yeah, but that’ll turn into “your lost keys are here” [activates AR mode on phone screen with arrows towards it, and see-through views of obstacles.
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Apple, services and moats • Benedict Evans

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[Besides the iPhone,] everything from the HomePod and Watch to Apple TV, the credit card or iMessage make it more likely that you’ll stay on iPhone, and this applies whether they’re hardware or software, whether they’re paid-for or free, and whether they’re high margin or low margin. This of course goes right back to the original iTunes Music Store, where it was very clear that Apple got far more financial value from all of the iPods bought to use the store than from its commission on sales on the store itself. This was why in 2007 Jeff Zucker (then CEO of NBC Universal) said that Apple should give TV companies a share of revenue from iPod Video sales. Today Apple makes a lot of money from some of these things (when you have a billion users, ancillary revenue adds up), but the defensive value is key. 

There’s the defensive value, and the money, but I think another interesting lens for all of these things is to ask how ‘Appley’ they are. How much do they bring some unique Apple sensibility or unique Apple technical capability, around, say, chip design or hardware/software integration?

First, at one end of the spectrum, the Watch or the AirPods involve industry-leading semiconductor work, hardware-software integration, power optimisation, efficient manufacturing at massive scale and a sense of user experience that are all very specific to Apple and very hard for other more modular companies to match. All of Apple’s various capabilities are brought together at a single point (which is why it’s a functional organisation rather than a product organisation). 

Second, there are things where there may not necessarily be any unique primary technology or especially difficult integration, but there is some unique Apple sensibility. Increasingly, I look at this as Apple extending from being a trusted party in your computing experience to being a trusted party in your online experience. The old Mac proposition was that you don’t have to worry if this hardware will work, or if you’re going to break your computer if you do something wrong. The Mac was friendly and safe, whereas the command line was a buzzsaw with no guards. Today the sphere for worry and danger has moved from hardware to news, or online privacy, or business models. That means we go from plug+play hardware or sandboxed apps to curated content…

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In that sense the “moat” of associated products makes it hard for rivals to get at Apple’s customers. Every Apple ID-dependent service or product builds into that. It’s a strategy more than a decade in the making, which helps explain why it’s so resilient.
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MIT scientists just created the blackest black ever • BGR

Mike Wehner:

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For years, scientists have been experimenting with tiny carbon structures that, when arranged in the right way, can absorb an incredible amount of light. Now, researchers from MIT have developed a new material that captures an incredible 99.995% of all incoming light, making it the blackest black on the planet.

In a new paper published in ACS-Applied Materials and Interfaces, the MIT research team explains that while they appear to have created the blackest material ever, they weren’t even really trying to do so.

The team’s work was focused on growing carbon nanotubes on aluminum, which can prove difficult due to the way aluminum reacts when exposed to air. By using salt to break down a pesky layer of oxidation on the aluminum’s surface, the team achieved their goal, and it was then that they noticed how black the aluminum became when it was covered in the tiny nanotubes.

“I remember noticing how black it was before growing carbon nanotubes on it, and then after growth, it looked even darker,” Kehang Cui, co-author of the work, said in a statement. “So I thought I should measure the optical reflectance of the sample.”

Upon measuring the material’s ability to reflect light they realized they had stumbled onto something extraordinary, and it surpasses all other super black materials created in recent years. Vantablack, a coating that also uses carbon nanotubes attached to thin layers of material like aluminum, absorbs around 99.96% of incoming light.

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Can we have it as a colour option for smartphones? That would be fun.
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Florida man missing since 1997 found at the bottom of a pond thanks to Google Maps • BGR

Mike Wehner:

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when a car was spotted in a residential pond using Google’s high-flying satellites in late August, it shed light on a mystery far more intense than finding the quickest route across town.

As the Sun Sentinel reports, a neighbor of a Florida resident named Barry Fay first alerted him to what appeared to be a vehicle sitting in a pond directly behind his home. When police investigated the sighting, they found the final resting place of a man who had been missing since 1997.

The unexpected discovery was made thanks to Google Maps, which still shows the 1994 Saturn SL sitting in a pond in an upscale community in Wellington, Florida.

When police dragged the car from below the surface they found the remains of 40-year-old William Earl Moldt who went missing one evening in 1997. It’s still unclear how Moldt’s vehicle ended up in the pond, but it’s worth noting that the area where it was found was still under development at the time he went missing, and it’s possible an off-road accident and drowning were to blame.

As the Sun Sentinel notes, finding vehicles in canals and other small bodies of water in Florida isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, and sometimes those vehicles have human remains still seated inside. Careening off the road and into a pond or canal can quickly turn deadly when the vehicle is swallowed up, but it’s unclear if that’s what happened in this particular case.

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I’d quote directly from the Sun Sentinel, but apparently it’s still working out how to make its website available in Europe under GDPR. Meanwhile: Google Maps exposes our weirdness.
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Climate change: Phoenix, Arizona’s worst-case heat wave could harm thousands • Vox

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Droughts, heat waves, and wildfires are growing more intense and dangerous from global warming and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, we’re not reckoning with scientists’ predictions that worst-case weather scenarios will be more likely — and common — if we don’t change course. Only 41% of the American public believes climate change will affect them personally, a 2018 survey by Yale and George Mason University found.

Phoenix, Arizona, is susceptible to a heat wave that could peak at a staggering 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Southern California could face a wildfire that burns 1.5 million acres of land. Tampa, Florida, could see 26 feet of storm surge flooding from a hurricane, just below the record-breaking 28-foot storm surge of Hurricane Katrina.

In every case, these “Big Ones” could be huge disasters not just because of geography and proximity to threats, but also because of decisions to build homes and offices in certain places, ignoring nature. Many other communities in the same regions have similar vulnerabilities.

For too long, we’ve been complacent about climate change and the really scary possibilities of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6ºF) or more of average warming. Two degrees is the amount of warming we are likely to experience by midcentury, and it’s double the warming we’ve experienced to date. As David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, put it in a Vox interview, “being scared about what is possible in the future can be motivating.”

Californians have long been taught to fear and prepare for the next big earthquake — and the state now has stronger infrastructure and wide engagement in earthquake readiness and planning. If more communities around the country feared climate “Big Ones,” they and their leaders would be more engaged in both stopping fossil fuel use and readying for disaster.

The scenarios in Phoenix, Southern California, and Tampa we describe in this three-part series are hypothetical. But they’re based on models scientists use to project what’s possible today, or tomorrow.

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Google just fixed one of Android’s biggest problems • BGR

Chris Smith:

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Backing up data on a smartphone shouldn’t be a chore, regardless of operating systems, and you should perform regular backups to protect yourself against accidents. Just because a phone is lost, stolen, or destroyed, doesn’t mean your data has to be. Also, regular backups will make it a lot easier to switch to a new device.

The easiest way to do this is by using a cloud service of your choosing. Apple has given iPhone and iPad users the ability to back up their files, contacts, messages, and photos with the help of a full device backup in iCloud. Google, meanwhile, took its time to come up with an iCloud-like solution. But, going forward, Android users will be able to perform full device backups with the help of Google’s One cloud storage.

Announced in a blog post, the new Google One phone backup comes with each Google One account, with memberships starting at $1.99 per month for 100GB of storage.

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Jeepers. Even Apple doesn’t charge for the first 5GB, and it introduced iCloud in 2011. Has Google honestly taken eight years to come up with something less good than Apple relating to cloud storage?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,144: electric scooters are coming!, France v Libra, could Apple kill WearOS?, Facebook and Google on news, and more


Is knowing how many Likes we have bad for us? CC-licensed photo by TonG FotoArt on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. For the weekend. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The rise of the electric scooter • Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood:

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There are some challenges with electric scooters, starting with the biggest one: your local government has no idea how to regulate the darn things.

Is this regulated like a bicycle? If not, why not?
Are they allowed on the sidewalk?
Do you have to ride them in the road, with cars … uh, depending on the speed limit?
Do you need a driver’s license?
Do you need a helmet?
Are you even allowed to legally ride them in public at all outside of private property?
The answers also vary wildly depending on where you live, and with no consistency or apparent logic. Here are the current electric scooter laws in California, for what it’s worth, which require the rider to have a valid driver’s license (unlike electric bicycles) and also disallow them from sidewalks, both of which I feel are onerous and unnecessary restrictions.

One aspect of those laws I definitely agree with, however, is the 15 mile per hour speed restriction. That’s a plenty brisk top speed for a standing adult with no special safety equipment. Anything faster starts to get decidedly … uncomfortable.

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France will block development of Facebook Libra cryptocurrency • Yahoo News

AFP:

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France warned Thursday it will block development of Facebook’s planned Libra cryptocurrency in Europe because it threatens the “monetary sovereignty” of governments.

“I want to be absolutely clear: in these conditions, we cannot authorise the development of Libra on European soil,” Bruno Le Maire said at the opening of an OECD conference on virtual, cryptocurrencies.

Facebook unveiled in June its plans for Libra in an announcement greeted with concern by governments and critics of the social network behemoth whose reputation has been tarnished by its role in spreading fake information and extremist videos.

Expected to launch in the first half of 2020, Libra is designed to be backed by a basket of currency assets to avoid the wild swings seen with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Another major difference is that control over it would not be decentralised but entrusted to a Swiss-based non-profit association.

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Had forgotten about Libra from day to day until this.
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Would the internet be healthier without ‘like’ counts? • WIRED

Paris Martineau:

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A YouTube video with 100,000 views seems more valuable than one with 10, even though views—like nearly every form of online engagement—can be easily bought. It’s a paradoxical love affair. And it’s far from an accident.

Increased engagement is good for business, and the impulse to check the score is an easy way to keep users coming back. As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey put it at last year’s WIRED25 conference: “Right now we have a big Like button with a heart on it and we’re incentivizing people to want it to go up,” and to get more followers.

But these tactics are attracting increased scrutiny, about their impact on the health of the internet and on society at large. Publicly measurable indicators—including views, retweets, or likes—are “one of the driving forces in radicalization,” says Whitney Phillips, a media manipulation researcher and associate professor at Syracuse University. It works both ways, she says. A user can be radicalized by consuming content and a creator can be radicalized by users’ reactions to their content, as they tailor their behavior around what garners the most interest from their audience.

The concerns are leading some companies to explore ways to promote “conversational health.” Over the past year, Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Twitter, and YouTube have moved to deemphasize or eliminate key metrics in the name of promoting healthy user engagement. The trend gave birth to a word you won’t find in dictionaries: demetrication.

Yet the changes have been decried by some of the very users they were meant to aid, who view the metrics as an essential part of their experience. That’s left platforms in the awkward position of detoxing users from an addiction they initially introduced to users.

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Comment: Apple could kill Wear OS with a pull of the Apple Watch lever • 9to5Google

Stephen Hall:

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It’s a sad reality, but if Apple made the Watch compatible with Android, it would be bar-none the best smartwatch for Android phones. It already is the fastest, most useful, and most technically impressive wearable you can buy. The problem for Android users is that — outside of hacky methods of using the LTE model — it’s only compatible with the iPhone.

As it is, Android users are limited to Samsung’s Tizen-running watches (arguably the best Apple Watch alternatives) and the countless Wear OS options from Fossil Group, Mobvoi, and others.

Of all these watches, the Apple Watch is already in a distant first place in market share as a recent report highlights. Apple Watch has a massive 47% of the market, Samsung is in second place with around 16%, Fitbit sits around 10%, and all others — every single smartwatch from every other maker, Wear OS or not — share the remaining 28%. Wear OS is only a slice of that slice.

Wear OS makers are not only struggling to grow, they’re dropping. Counterpoint says that Fossil’s 3.2% worldwide market share in 2018 dropped to a measly 2.5% in 2019. And, again, that’s for one of the biggest and best makers of Wear OS devices. Even they are in the low single-digits. Fossil makes the most Wear OS watches, and they also make the best. Fossil Sport is one of many examples.

All of this is happening while the Apple Watch continues to grow in dominance. Counterpoint earlier this year put Apple at more than 1 in 3 smartwatch purchases worldwide, while Strategy Analytics says that number is closer to being a full half. There’s no way around it: Apple Watch is killing the game.

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Maybe Android compatibility will be the next-year thing. Or, more possibly, Apple feels that it’s gaining enough distance through the integration of Watch and Airpods that it’s becoming a reason for some to switch. With the smartphone market essentially static, holding on to a reason to make people buy an iPhone rather than an Android phone has far greater value than just a single phone sale.
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Kickstarter fires two union organizers • Slate

April Glaser:

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On Thursday morning, Kickstarter fired Taylor Moore, an employee who was one of the organizers of a unionization effort within the company. This was the second firing of a union organizer since last week, when Clarissa Redwine was also fired. Moore had been at the company for six years and Redwine since 2016, and both worked on the outreach team. Both had been heavily involved in the union effort since it began earlier this year. Moore and Redwine, according to four sources who work at the company, were both fired for what management alleged were performance-related issues…

…Multiple current and former employees told Slate that since March the company has expressed to the staff that it does not believe a union is right for Kickstarter.

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Which is exactly why Kickstarter’s staff need a union. Only the sort of company that treats people unfairly and unevenly would think a union is wrong for it.

(Can’t wait for the first products on Kickstarter which offer “The Smartest Way To Organise Your Workplace” which are.. a union.)
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Good stuff first: Google moves to prioritize original reporting in search • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

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In an effort to put original reporting in front of users, Google’s VP of news Richard Gingras announced Thursday that the company has changed its global search algorithm to “highlight articles that we identify as significant original reporting,” and to keep such articles in top positions for longer.

The change is available in Google search now and will roll out to Google News and Google Discover shortly, Search Engine Land reported.

Google doesn’t venture to define exactly what original reporting is, saying vaguely, “There is no absolute definition of original reporting, nor is there an absolute standard for establishing how original a given article is. It can mean different things to different newsrooms and publishers at different times, so our efforts will constantly evolve as we work to understand the life cycle of a story.”

These “efforts” do include actual humans making judgments: The company noted that it has “more than 10,000 raters around the world” evaluating the Google algorithm.

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The fact that Google News (and then Google Search) tends to give priority to the most recent, rather than the original, version of a story has annoyed journalists pretty much since Google News’s inception. Google Search is as bad, but less obvious. The problem is, when someone adds extra to a story – more context? New facts? Turns it from anonymous, unconfirmed to named, confirmed – how do you treat that?
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Musicians demand Ticketmaster ban facial recognition at concerts • VICE

Janus Rose:

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Digital rights advocacy group Fight For the Future is spearheading the campaign, which calls out Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation. Last year, the company announced it will begin deploying facial recognition at its live events, having customers walk past face-scanning cameras instead of presenting a ticket.

Citing dangers to fans in the form of police harassment, misidentification, and discrimination at concerts, artists including Speedy Ortiz, The Glitch Mob, and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello have joined activists to call for a ban on face surveillance at live events.

“Facial recognition surveillance is uniquely dangerous. It doesn’t keep fans or artists safe, it just subjects them to invasive, racially biased monitoring that will inevitably lead to fans getting harassed, falsely arrested, deported, or worse,” said Evan Greer, Fight For the Future’s deputy director, in an emailed statement. “We’re calling on all artists to stick up for their fans’ basic rights and safety by speaking out against the use of Big Brother style biometric surveillance at live music events.”

Although the practice is not yet commonplace, facial recognition has already been used at high-profile music and sporting events around the world. Taylor Swift infamously deployed face-scanning tech at her 2018 Rose Bowl performance, in order to search the crowd for “known stalkers” of the pop star. A month earlier, Chinese police used facial recognition to arrest a man at a concert for the pop star Jackie Cheung, identifying him within a crowd of around 60,000 fans.

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Give those in favour (Taylor Swift) and those against (RATM etc), I don’t think the noes are going to win this.
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Internal Facebook memo reveals guidelines for showcasing news • The Information

Alex Heath and Jessica Toonkel on the upcoming guidelines for its forthcoming news tab:

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According to the memo, the other guidelines Facebook is giving to its editors include:

• Editors will wait for two whitelisted media outlets—publishers who have qualified to be listed as official news sources on Facebook—to confirm a breaking news story if the story is based on an “unsubstantiated report.” How a report would be defined as “unsubstantiated” couldn’t be learned.
• Editors won’t feature stories “constructed to provoke, divide, and polarize,” but Facebook notes that “fact-based stories that rely upon journalistic standards” will be promoted even if they are “divisive.”
• Headlines that include profanity or obscenities won’t be featured.
• Editors will “prioritize stories with on-the-record sources rather than anonymous sources.”
• Editors will seek to promote the media outlet that first reported a particular news story, and additionally prioritize stories broken by local news outlets. “If a local story then becomes the subject of national or international coverage, we will make subsequent, independent decisions about those developments,” the social network’s internal guidelines note.
• Facebook said that editors will “show a range of topics and publishers” with the goal of showing “a diversity of voices.”
• Facebook said it will also tell its editors that they shouldn’t censor bad news about the company itself. Editors will be instructed to “impartially share stories about Facebook, Facebook executives, and tech at large,” according to the internal memo.

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Sounds like your average boring US news outlet, too afraid to have anything interesting or present it in an interesting way.
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Los Angeles OKs a deal for record-cheap solar power and battery storage • Los Angeles Times

Sammy Roth:

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For a long time, there were two big knocks against solar power: It’s expensive, and it can’t keep the lights on after sundown.

A contract approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shows how much that reality has changed.

Under the 25-year deal with developer 8minute Solar Energy, the city would buy electricity from a sprawling complex of solar panels and lithium-ion batteries in the Mojave Desert of eastern Kern County, about two hours north of Los Angeles. The Eland project would meet 6% to 7% of L.A.’s annual electricity needs and would be capable of pumping clean energy into the grid for four hours each night.

The combined solar power and energy storage is priced at 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — a record low for this type of contract, city officials and independent experts say, and cheaper than electricity from natural gas.

The Eland deal’s approval was delayed last month after DWP staff said concerns had been raised by the union representing employees of the city-run utility.

It wasn’t clear whether the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 had specific objections to the Eland project. But the union has been on the attack against LA Mayor Eric Garcetti since his decision in February to shut down three natural-gas-fired power plants along the coast, which could force hundreds of union workers to transition to new jobs.

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Hadn’t considered that staff in gas plants might find solar power + batteries threatening; but, of course.
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Apple’s new iPhone finally sacrifices thinness for battery life • The Verge

I’m not going to specify the author, or extract from the story. Just this bit at the end:

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Correction: The iPhone 11 Pro is 0.02 inches thicker than the iPhone XS, not a quarter-inch as this post originally wrote.

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(Thanks Nic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,143: Reddit draws its awful self, are iPads Surfaces now?, the no-deal Brexit paper, scientists cool on Franzen, and more


What’s the similarity between the Apollo moon landings and iPhone launches? CC-licensed photo by NASA%27s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. But share them nicely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Layer: Reddit’s new Adobe art project gets trolled by racist memes • Daily Dot

Ignacio Martinez:

»

Layer is a new art project between creative software developer Adobe and Reddit. On the Layer subreddit, users can post drawings within a large, shared canvas. As illustrated by a tutorial and welcome post on the subreddit, the drawings are uploaded directly via the subreddit so posting whatever image your heart desires is open to anyone with a Reddit account. 

Unfortunately, things are already starting to go awry.

Although the subreddit has only been around for a little over a day, individuals attempting to poison the well of this interactive experience are uploading concealed, offensive content. 

A quick perusal of the canvas’ recent layers will show you a whole host of subtle, coded dogwhistles.

Several “pool’s closed” messages have been uploaded to the canvas. “Pool’s closed” is a reference to an activity that malicious users of the children’s online game Habbo Hotel commit by standing in the formations of swastikas inside pools in the game’s world. Additionally, several actual swastikas have been added to the canvas. Users have been adding drawings of swastikas in an eye-catching colour.

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Does everybody have to learn all the lessons of the internet right from scratch every time? Don’t make content creation open to everyone unless you want the worst people to zero in on it.
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California passes landmark bill requiring contract workers to be labeled as employees • WSJ

Alejandro Lazo:

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Uber and Lyft have said the proposed law could upend their businesses and lobbied to change the bill. Gov. Newsom, in an interview Tuesday, said he remains personally involved in talks with Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy companies that have sought exemptions from the measure, known as Assembly Bill 5, as well as some of the unions supporting it.

“As it relates to Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, others, some of the gig platforms, these remain ongoing negotiations, and regardless of what happens with AB5, I am committed, at least, to continuing those negotiations,” Mr. Newsom said.

The governor said it was in the best interest of the state to “stay at the bargaining table, to continue to negotiate” and that talks will continue even though a deal wasn’t reached with the companies during this year’s legislative session.

“By no means this delay is a denial, and I’m fully committed—and expressed that to all sides—fully committed to continuing,” he said. “Not jump-starting, not-reconvening.”

In a statement following the vote in the state Senate, Lyft said it was ready to begin a ballot-measure fight next year to win provisions to exclude it from the law.

«

Uber similarly said that it would not call its drivers “employees” because their work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business.” That’s going to be a fun one for the lawyers. The gig economy sure is resistant to the idea that it might have to fit with the rest of the economy.
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Every iPad wants to be a Surface now • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Apple introduced a new 10.2in iPad on Tuesday, designed to be the cheapest (aka, default) iPad that consumers will purchase. At just $329, the new seventh-generation iPad is compatible with the full-sized Smart Keyboard and the first-generation Apple Pencil. These changes mean the iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad all support the Smart Keyboard for the first time. Apple first introduced its iPad keyboards with the iPad Pro back in 2015, and now they’ve made their way through the iPad lineup. The iPad Mini is the noticeable exception, but a Smart Keyboard at that size probably wouldn’t work all that well.

The change is significant in the way the iPad is positioned. You’ve had to opt for third-party keyboards on the base iPad for nearly 10 years, and now Apple wants every iPad to work with a keyboard out of the box. Microsoft clearly saw the keyboard opportunity for the iPad early, and the Surface was born out of the option to function as either a laptop or tablet.

While most Surface owners will purchase the optional keyboard because Windows is primarily an OS designed for traditional computing, it’s fair to say that most iPad owners probably don’t own a keyboard. Apple’s latest iPad might not be enough to change that overnight, but it certainly positions the tablet closer to Chromebooks and lower priced Windows laptops, even when you factor in the $160 price point for the Smart Keyboard that will bring the base iPad cost closer to $500.

Apple even briefly compared its new iPad to the top-selling Windows laptop on stage yesterday, clearly identifying the iPad’s target audience in the face of withering Android tablet competition. If you’re considering a laptop or a tablet, a $500 iPad (with keyboard) that tries to do both certainly puts the pressure on Microsoft’s Surface Go. Apple’s entire 10.2in iPad site is also dedicated to its benefits over a computer.

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When he says “withering Android tablet competition”, he doesn’t mean it like “withering fire” but “withering plant”.
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The last Apple keynote (hopefully) • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:

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As a luxury brand, Apple’s been accused of being out of touch in keynotes before. My former colleague Katie Notopoulos skewered the company in 2016 for appealing to the prototypical “40-something dad who just wants to FaceTime his adorable children while he’s on a business trip, and also find a local pourover coffee shop while he’s in town.” She dubbed this marketing amalgam, “Apple Man,” noting that the needs of this test audience often came at the expense of making the product more affordable or adding features aimed at the millions of loyal customers who don’t worship at the altar of inbox zero.

To its credit, Apple has taken steps to address a good deal of this criticism. Its keynotes now feature more women and people of color, and Apple has designed many more accessibility features (some life-changing) for users with different needs.

But even more inclusive products can’t fix the problem with recent Apple keynotes: The company’s flagship product — the iPhone — no longer feels like a piece of the future dropped from into the hands of mere mortals. It feels like, well, a phone, a commodity. And so the whole thing seems gratuitous, self-serving and, most importantly, quite removed from the very fraught relationship most of us have with our phones.

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Warzel’s piece was probably written about the same time as mine, below. But I think he’s diagnosing the wrong problem. And Apple really isn’t going to stop doing iPhone keynotes.
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Apple’s iPhones [and other technologies] have hit an evolutionary stasis • OneZero

I wrote about the meta-view:

»

The reality is there’s little to say about new smartphones because there’s little for manufacturers to do with new smartphones, a fact that reviewers struggle with each time they’re called on to deploy their skills. The new screens are great, the benchmarks are better, the cameras are better in the dark, the battery life is a little better, urrr… is that 900 words yet? No surprise, therefore, that people in the United States now keep the same smartphone for an average of nearly three years.

It’s like the Apollo moon landing program, the 50th anniversary of which we were all called on to be so excited about back in the summer. We stepped on the moon! We flew people to the moon—and back! But after that, what? Subsequent Apollo missions included: “We’re going back to the moon, but this time with golf clubs.” Or: “We’re going back to the moon, but this time with a car.” Yes, but you’re still only going back to the moon.

The original iPhone in 2007 was the equivalent of Apollo 11: an accomplishment so audacious, so apparently impossible and yet so successful that it changed how we thought about phones forever. The capacitative touchscreen with its gestures was a revelation, though it took Steve Jobs to persuade people who had been used to mobile phones with a five-day battery life to accept one that lasted just a day. That’s the audacity you need to pull off a moon landing.

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I think we’re in tech stasis: nothing truly new can happen until we have a breakthrough technology, rather as capacitative touchscreens were. Room-temperature superconductor? New battery tech? It must be out there. And it will change things again.
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Apple announces release dates for OS updates, new iPhones, and Apple Watch • MacStories

What I find so interesting here is how close the release of 13.0 and 13.1 are: just 11 days apart. Typically, it’s six weeks. Something has really changed about how Apple has handled this update regime.
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Amazon allows some toys to go on sale before asking for proof of safety compliance • CNBC

Eugene Kim:

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Amazon reached out to a group of new toy sellers in recent weeks, asking them to submit the “required safety documentation” for toys that were already available for sale, according to an email seen by CNBC. Amazon said the submissions had to be made no later than September 9th, 2019 — roughly two weeks after these sellers started selling those products. The sellers who spoke to CNBC said they were not asked to submit the safety documents prior to listing on the site. Several sellers have previously mentioned receiving the same type of email in Amazon’s seller forum.

The email highlights a potential loophole in Amazon’s product safety practices, which have come under the spotlight following a recent report by the Wall Street Journal that found over 4,000 unsafe or federally banned products for sale on Amazon’s marketplace, including certain children’s toys with high lead levels. The gap between selling and checking for safety compliance could contribute to a proliferation of unsafe products on Amazon, experts say.

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Oh piff-paff with these silly regulations. What’s the occasional dead or poisoned child, compared to Amazon shareholders getting a bit more, and some people in warehouses being employed?
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Fears of no-deal chaos as ministers forced to publish secret Brexit papers • The Guardian

Heather Stewart:

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A no-deal Brexit could result in rising food and fuel prices, disruption to medicine supplies and public disorder on Britain’s streets, according to secret documents the government was forced by MPs to publish on Wednesday.

A five-page document spelling out the government’s “planning assumptions” under Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s no-deal plan – was disclosed in response to a “humble address” motion.

The content of the document was strikingly similar to the plan leaked to the Sunday Times in August, which the government dismissed at the time as out of date.

That document was described as a “base case”; but the new document claims to be a “worst-case scenario”…

…The document, which says it outlines “reasonable worst case planning assumptions” for no deal Brexit, highlights the risk of border delays, given an estimate that up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.

“The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40%-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” it warns.

This situation could last for up to three months, and disruption might last “significantly longer”, it adds, with lorries facing waits of between 1.5 days and 2.5 days to cross the border.

«

Three months would be well into January, having extended through Christmas. Note that the government purposely put this in non-machine-readable PDF, scanned at an angle to make OCR harder. Pure pettiness. There’s also a redacted part of the scenario – which journalist Rosamund Urwin got hold of weeks ago (the government then said it was “old”), and says relates to a forecast of thousands of job losses due to fuel refinery closures because the UK won’t be able to export fuel to the EU.
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Shut up, Franzen • Scientific American Blog Network

Kate Marvel is a climate scientist at Columbia University:

»

We are, I promise you, not doomed, no matter what Jonathan Franzen says. We could be, of course, if we decided we really wanted to. We have had the potential for total annihilation since 1945, and the capacity for localized mayhem for as long as societies have existed. Climate change offers the easy choice of a slow destruction through inaction like the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot. And there are times when the certainty of inevitability seems comforting. Fighting is exhausting; fighting when victory seems uncertain or unlikely even more so. It’s tempting to retreat to a special place—a cozy nook, a mountaintop, a summer garden—wait for the apocalypse to run its course, and hope it will be gentle…

…it is precisely the fact that we understand the potential driver of doom that changes it from a foregone conclusion to a choice, a terrible outcome in the universe of all possible futures. I run models through my brain; I check them with the calculations I do on a computer. This is not optimism, or even hope. Even in the best of all possible worlds, I cannot offer the certainty of safety. Doom is a possibility; it may that we have already awakened a sleeping monster that will in the end devour the world. It may be that the very fact of human nature, whatever that is, forecloses any possibility of concerted action.

But I am a scientist, which means I believe in miracles. I live on one. We are improbable life on a perfect planet. No other place in the Universe has nooks or perfect mountaintops or small and beautiful gardens. A flower in a garden is an exquisite thing, rooted in soil formed from old rocks broken by weather. It breathes in sunlight and carbon dioxide and conjures its food as if by magic. For the flower to exist, a confluence of extraordinary things must happen. It needs land and air and light and water, all in the right proportion, and all at the right time. Pick it, isolate it, and watch it wither. Flowers, like people, cannot grow alone.

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Franzen’s piece (which is also worth reading) essentially says “We’re screwed, but we could make ourselves a bit less screwed, though screwed nonetheless”. It has annoyed a lot of climate scientists.
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You can bring online video to people, but you can’t bring people to online video • Ampere Analysis

Tony Maroulis:

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Increased broadband penetration and improved connectivity does not translate to increased uptake of online video usage amongst Internet users. There is a negative correlation between broadband penetration and the proportion of Internet users who use any video on demand services on a monthly basis.

France, the leading European country in terms of fixed-line broadband penetration, features the largest proportion of Internet users indicating a lack of regular usage of any video-on-demand services (including YouTube). Roughly one in five Internet users said that they have not watched any online video in the last month when surveyed in early 2019. Similarly, in the Netherlands, roughly one in six of those surveyed do not use video-on-demand services regularly.

By contrast, this proportion is halved (at just 9%) in Italy, where two in three households have a fixed-line broadband connection. These consumers tend to be older (over the age of 45) and generally disengaged from all services and devices. Unsurprisingly, the largest differences are found with digital subscription-based services (such as SVoD and Music subscriptions), but also with premium channels, that require a basic pay TV service.

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Quite the perverse outcome. Perhaps it depends on how fast the connection is, and some of the highest penetration is actually with longstanding, slow connections?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,142: Apple event roundup, chameleon inks, the coming US college collapse, Uber cuts jobs, and more


A simple experiment reveals that we don’t have free will – or wait, does it? CC-licensed photo by Brian Auer on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Order! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Evolving “nofollow” – new ways to identify the nature of links • Official Google Webmaster Central Blog

Danny Sullivan and Gary Illyes:

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Nearly 15 years ago, the nofollow attribute was introduced as a means to help fight comment spam. It also quickly became one of Google’s recommended methods for flagging advertising-related or sponsored links. The web has evolved since nofollow was introduced in 2005 and it’s time for nofollow to evolve as well.

Today, we’re announcing two new link attributes that provide webmasters with additional ways to identify to Google Search the nature of particular links. These, along with nofollow, are summarized below:

rel=”sponsored”: Use the sponsored attribute to identify links on your site that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships or other compensation agreements.

rel=”ugc”: UGC stands for User Generated Content, and the ugc attribute value is recommended for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.

rel=”nofollow”: Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.

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Bet there are going to be lots of requests to sites which have sold links to spammers who’ll be requesting that their link now be marked “ugc” or “sponsored” as they figure out how that affects them in Google’s rankings.
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Apple iPhone event 2019: the biggest announcements • The Verge

Cameron Faulkner:

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Apple’s big hardware event for 2019 has wrapped, and, as expected, it brought a bounty of exciting announcements. Of course, the iPhone 11 happened — and, yes, a version is really called the iPhone 11 Pro Max — but there were a bunch of other good moments that are worth talking about.

If you weren’t able to follow along with this year’s Apple fall hardware event or if you just want to relive it again, you can read the live blog to see the moments unfold as they happened or check out this brief recap on the biggest announcements.

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Knock yourself out. The Watch with an always-on display is attractive.
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Objects can now change colors like a chameleon • Tech Xplore

Rachel Gordon:

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A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has brought us closer to this chameleon reality, by way of a new system that uses reprogrammable ink to let objects change colors when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light sources.

Dubbed “PhotoChromeleon,” the system uses a mix of photochromic dyes that can be sprayed or painted onto the surface of any object to change its color—a fully reversible process that can be repeated infinitely.

PhotoChromeleon can be used to customize anything from a phone case to a car, or shoes that need an update. The color remains, even when used in natural environments.

“This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste,” says CSAIL postdoc Yuhua Jin, the lead author on a new paper about the project. “Users could personalize their belongings and appearance on a daily basis, without the need to buy the same object multiple times in different colors and styles.”

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What sort of monster buys the same thing in different colours and styles?
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Apple TV+ finally gets its price: $4.99 per month • Yahoo Finance

Daniel Roberts:

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Since Apple (AAPL) first announced its big push into original programming at a star-studded event in March, questions have followed. Wells Fargo wrote in March that the event “leaves us/investors with more questions than answers.”

On Tuesday at its big event in Cupertino, Calif., Apple gave some answers. Apple TV+ will launch on Nov. 1 at a cost of $4.99 per month. “The price of a single movie rental,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said on stage. “This is crazy!”

The low price clearly aims to undercut Netflix and Disney’s forthcoming Disney+ service, and shares of Netflix and Disney both dropped on the news.

Prior to Tuesday’s event, Apple had released just three trailers for some of its biggest original shows: “The Morning Show” with Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell, “Dickinson” starring Hailee Steinfeld as the poet Emily Dickinson, and “For All Mankind,” an alternate history about the space race.

…[Tim] Cook also said Apple will begin offering a free one-year subscription to Apple TV+ with the purchase of any new iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

To be sure, even with a slew of expensive originals, analysts had doubts the service can be an instant hit. Nomura, in a note in March, correctly predicted that pricing would have to be low “given the small content library at launch,” and added, “If Apple is playing the long game here it could pressure financials for years.”

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It definitely is a low price, and looks like a come-on with the one-year free offering if you buy something. (What, not with a Watch? Or – huh – an Apple TV?)
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A famous argument against free will has been debunked • The Atlantic

Bahar Gholipour:

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The participants sat in a chair, tucked neatly in a metal tollbooth, with only one task: to flex a finger on their right hand at whatever irregular intervals pleased them, over and over, up to 500 times a visit.

The purpose of this experiment was to search for signals in the participants’ brains that preceded each finger tap. At the time, researchers knew how to measure brain activity that occurred in response to events out in the world—when a person hears a song, for instance, or looks at a photograph—but no one had figured out how to isolate the signs of someone’s brain actually initiating an action.

The experiment’s results came in squiggly, dotted lines, a representation of changing brain waves. In the milliseconds leading up to the finger taps, the lines showed an almost undetectably faint uptick: a wave that rose for about a second, like a drumroll of firing neurons, then ended in an abrupt crash. This flurry of neuronal activity, which the scientists called the Bereitschaftspotential, or readiness potential, was like a gift of infinitesimal time travel. For the first time, they could see the brain readying itself to create a voluntary movement.

This momentous discovery was the beginning of a lot of trouble in neuroscience. Twenty years later, the American physiologist Benjamin Libet used the Bereitschaftspotential to make the case not only that the brain shows signs of a decision before a person acts, but that, incredibly, the brain’s wheels start turning before the person even consciously intends to do something. Suddenly, people’s choices—even a basic finger tap—appeared to be determined by something outside of their own perceived volition.

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This is a fascinating correlation v causation tale – and a great example of how science works when it works best.
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Expert predicts 25% of colleges “will fail” in the next 20 years • CBS News

:

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For the first time in 185 years, there will be no fall semester at Green Mountain College in western Vermont. The college, which closed this year, isn’t alone: Southern Vermont College, the College of St. Joseph, and Atlantic Union College, among others, have shuttered their doors, too.

The schools fell victim to trends in higher education – trends that lead one expert to believe that more schools will soon follow.   

“I think 25% of schools will fail in the next two decades,” said Michael Horn, who studies education at Harvard University. “They’re going to close, they’re going to merge, some will declare some form of bankruptcy to reinvent themselves. It’s going to be brutal across American higher education.”

Part of the problem, Horn explained, is that families had fewer kids after the 2008 recession, meaning that there will be fewer high school graduates and fewer college students. “Fundamentally, these schools’ business models are just breaking at the seams,” he said.

That’s what happened to Green Mountain College. When Robert Allen became president of the school in 2016, he realized “very quickly” that the school had a problem. “I’m a mathematician by training, a financial person,” he said. “And I realized that we were going to come up short.”

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Hadn’t considered the effect of a population squeeze, but it makes sense. Wonder how the UK looks on that basis.
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Face recognition, bad people and bad data • Benedict Evans

Evans on fine form again:

»

what exactly is in the training data – in your examples of X and Not-X? Are you sure? What ELSE is in those example sets?

My favourite example of what can go wrong here comes from a project for recognising cancer in photos of skin. The obvious problem is that you might not have an appropriate distribution of samples of skin in different tones. But another problem that can arise is that dermatologists tend to put rulers in the photo of cancer, for scale – so if all the examples of ‘cancer’ have a ruler and all the examples of ‘not-cancer’ do not, that might be a lot more statistically prominent than those small blemishes. You inadvertently built a ruler-recogniser instead of a cancer-recogniser.

The structural thing to understand here is that the system has no understanding of what it’s looking at – it has no concept of skin or cancer or colour or gender or people or even images. It doesn’t know what these things are any more than a washing machine knows what clothes are. It’s just doing a statistical comparison of data sets. So, again – what is your data set? How is it selected? What might be in it that you don’t notice – even if you’re looking? How might different human groups be represented in misleading ways? And what might be in your data that has nothing to do with people and no predictive value, yet affects the result? Are all your ‘healthy’ photos taken under incandescent light and all your ‘unhealthy’ pictures taken under LED light? You might not be able to tell, but the computer will be using that as a signal.

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A very astringent look at a lot of the hoopla about machine learning.
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Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams • TechCrunch

Megan Rose Dickey:

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Uber has laid off 435 employees across its product and engineering teams, the company announced today. Combined, the layoffs represent about 8% of the organizations, with 170 people leaving the product team and 265 people leaving the engineering team.

The layoffs had no effect on Eats, which is one of Uber’s top-performing products, and Freight, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, the company is lifting the hiring freeze on the product and engineering teams that has been in effect since early August, according to the source…

…Of those laid off, more than 85% are based in the U.S., 10% in the Asia-Pacific and 5% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to the source.

The layoffs came after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asked every member of his executive leadership team if they were to start from scratch, would their respective organizations would look like the way they do today.

“After careful consideration, our Engineering and Product leaders concluded the answer to this question in many respects was no,” the spokesperson said.

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Uber’s PR instincts, putting this out when tech and to some extent stock markets would be stuffed with Apple stuff, is still good.
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Technostress: how social media keeps us coming back for more even when it makes us unhappy • The Conversation

Christian Maier:

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The constant stream of messages, updates and content that social media apps deliver right to our pockets can sometimes feel like a social overload, invading your personal space and obliging you to reply in order to maintain friendships.

You’d think an obvious response to this problem would be to stop using our devices or deleting the apps. But we have recently published research showing that, when faced with this pressure, many of us end up digging deeper and using our phones more frequently, often compulsively or even addictively.

Conventional wisdom implies that when people are faced with a stressful social situation, for example, an argument with someone – they cope with the stress by distancing themselves. They take a walk, go for a run, play with their kids. But when the stressful situations stem from the use of social media, we find people tend to adopt one of two very different coping strategies.

We surveyed 444 Facebook users from Germany three times over a year to find out how they responded to social media technostress. Sometimes, as we might have expected, they diverted or distracted themselves with unrelated activities such as hobbies. But counter-intuitively, we found it was more common for people to distract themselves by using social media even more.

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Why Teslas aren’t the future • The Week

Navneet Alang:

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technological change is a funny thing — unpredictable, non-linear, and often like a perpendicular slash against the present rather than a simple evolution. Far from being the thing that will save us, we would be better off if Teslas and electric cars in general weren’t the future of transportation. Instead, the only thing that will lead to better, greener, healthier cities is, quite simply, fewer cars.

That’s not to say that electric cars don’t have a place — or aren’t very cool. I’ve been learning a lot about the Model 3 in particular lately, and its minimalist interior, quiet ride, and ginger steps toward automated driving seem like they would be a significant upgrade for many drivers. For long distance trips, inclement weather, or for the elderly or disabled, of course cars will still play a role.

Yet, the idea that Teslas are the future is predicated on a more basic idea: that the role of the car in society shouldn’t change. Instead, the current car — noisy, polluting, backwards — gets replaced by a cleaner, more efficient one.

Technology, however, has a tendency to change in far less predictable ways. The most obvious example is, well, the car itself. The famous Henry Ford quote (which in truth was never said by Ford) is that if he had asked people in the early 20th century what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. True or not, it gets to the core of how tech changes.

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Trump dismisses John Bolton as National Security Adviser: ‘no longer needed’ • Daily Beast

Audrey McNamara, Betsy Woodruff and Asawin Suebsaeng:

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Bolton was scheduled to attend a press briefing at 1:30 p.m. with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin. And moments after Trump’s announcement, Bolton himself seemed to directly contradict the president’s account of the departure, writing: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”

In a text to The Daily Beast, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham disputed the now-former national security adviser’s description of how he left the administration. 

“Last night, Potus said he wanted Bolton’s resignation on his desk tomorrow AM. Bolton delivered it. Simply put, many of Bolton’s policy priorities did not align w POTUS,” Grisham said. 

Bolton responded in a text to The Daily Beast: “[White House] press secretary statement is flatly incorrect.”

Bolton had served as Trump’s third national-security adviser since April 9, 2018. Charlie Kupperman will serve as acting national security adviser.

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Hmm, who to believe between John Bolton and the White House Press Secretary. Bolton’s not known for dissembling. The WHPS, on the other hand…

Nice to know that Bolton didn’t get his wish to have war with Iran and North Korea.
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The race to create a perfect lie detector – and the dangers of succeeding • The Guardian

Amit Katwala:

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In the past couple of decades, the rise of cheap computing power, brain-scanning technologies and artificial intelligence has given birth to what many claim is a powerful new generation of lie-detection tools. Startups, racing to commercialise these developments, want us to believe that a virtually infallible lie detector is just around the corner.

Their inventions are being snapped up by police forces, state agencies and nations desperate to secure themselves against foreign threats. They are also being used by employers, insurance companies and welfare officers. “We’ve seen an increase in interest from both the private sector and within government,” said Todd Mickelsen, the CEO of Converus, which makes a lie detector based on eye movements and subtle changes in pupil size.

Converus’s technology, EyeDetect, has been used by FedEx in Panama and Uber in Mexico to screen out drivers with criminal histories, and by the credit ratings agency Experian, which tests its staff in Colombia to make sure they aren’t manipulating the company’s database to secure loans for family members. In the UK, Northumbria police are carrying out a pilot scheme that uses EyeDetect to measure the rehabilitation of sex offenders. Other EyeDetect customers include the government of Afghanistan, McDonald’s and dozens of local police departments in the US. Soon, large-scale lie-detection programmes could be coming to the borders of the US and the European Union, where they would flag potentially deceptive travellers for further questioning.

But as tools such as EyeDetect infiltrate more and more areas of public and private life, there are urgent questions to be answered about their scientific validity and ethical use.

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Oh my they do.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,141: Facebook’s scammy fact-checker, Apple’s App Store bias, 11 myths about USB-C, the NOAA debacle deepens, and more


Hi there! It looks like I might be coming to the Mac through the power of Github. CC-licensed photo by on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. If you need help… I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook giving massive distribution to dangerous misinformation about diabetes • Popular Info

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Facebook is giving a page featuring incendiary right-wing memes and dangerous misinformation about diabetes massive distribution — reach that exceeds some of the nation’s largest news outlets. 

The Rowdy Republican page, which has over 780,000 followers, is run by an affiliate marketer with a history of legal problems and deceptive practices. He is seeking to drive people to a site about “The Big Diabetes Lie,” which tries to convince people to purchase a $55 paperback book. According to the website, if you have diabetes and don’t purchase this book, you will soon die…

One of the leading medical experts in treating diabetes, Dr. David Goldstein, an endocrinologist affiliated with the University of Missouri, reviewed the website and told Popular Information that the information was “ridiculous” and contained “dangerous misinformation.” 

The Daily Caller, a member of Facebook’s official fact-checking program, reviewed a post by Rowdy Republican that included a link to “The Big Diabetes Lie” and rated it “true.”

The runaway success of the Rowdy Republican page is a sign that Facebook’s efforts to reduce the spread of misinformation is failing. As a result, its users are being put in danger. 

«

Yeah, having the Daily Caller – noted for its Pluto-like relationship with the truth – as a fact-checker is an evident error there.
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Conversations about mass shootings at an NRA expo in Texas • The New Yorker

Charles Bethea went to the NRA :

»

Around the corner, a former park ranger in her forties, who now works as an accountant in oil and gas, introduced herself as Corey. She’d just concluded a seminar called Methods of Concealed Carry for Women. Corey was game to talk at length about the problem of mass shootings in America.

“I’m a Christian, and I just think there are evil people in the world and it’s gonna happen,” she told me. “If they didn’t have guns, it would be something else.” She mentioned “people in cars mowing people down in the streets,” and the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995. “He didn’t use a gun,” she said, of Timothy McVeigh. “He used fertilizer.”

I mentioned that it’s generally harder to obtain a driver’s license than a gun. “I don’t think so,” she replied.

I noted that you don’t need a background check to buy a gun from a stranger. The man who carried out the mass shooting in West Texas, in August, used what’s been described as an “AR-type” gun. He purchased the murder weapon in a person-to-person sale that did not require a background check—which he would have failed, because he was federally barred from purchasing a firearm.

Corey said that she’d never bought a gun from a stranger. “There are loopholes for everything, right?” she went on. “Drugs are illegal, but you can still buy them.”

Why did she think there were so many mass shootings in this country, compared to other countries? Does it have to do with the fact that we have so many guns?

“No,” Corey said.

«

There’s such fun to be had in going around asking people to lay out their cognitive dissonances for you.
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Microsoft Clippy assistant comes to MacOS via GitHub • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

»

Clippy, Microsoft’s love-it-or-hate-it virtual assistant that debuted in the 1990s, has come back to life as a free application for Apple’s MacOS.

The resuscitation capitalizes on people’s memories of bygone software from Microsoft, which last year recaptured the title of world’s most valuable public company as it becomes more centered on subscriptions and cloud services.

Devran “Cosmo” Ünal, senior product engineer at optics company Zeiss Group, released the software on the Microsoft-owned GitHub code-storage website last week, and it has drawn attention quickly.

«

Hard pass.
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US charges Chinese professor in latest shot at Huawei • Reuters

Karen Freifeld:

»

Bo Mao was arrested in Texas on Aug. 14 and released six days later on $100,000 bond after he consented to proceed with the case in New York, according to court documents.

He pleaded not guilty in US district court in Brooklyn on Aug. 28 to a charge of conspiring to commit wire fraud.

According to the criminal complaint, Mao entered into an agreement with the unnamed California tech company to obtain its circuit board, claiming it was for academic research.

The complaint, however, accuses an unidentified Chinese telecommunications conglomerate, which sources say is Huawei, of trying to steal the technology, and alleges Mao played a role in its alleged scheme. A court document also indicates the case is related to Huawei.

Mao, an associate professor at Xiamen University in China, became a visiting professor at a Texas university last fall. He first gained attention as part of a Texas civil case between Huawei and Silicon Valley startup CNEX Labs Inc.

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Huawei really has been given the role of evil supervillain lately. It’s still accused of stealing robot tech from T-Mobile.
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11 myths about USB Type-C • Electronic Design

Julie Stultz is a technical marketing manager for On Semiconductor, and offers the full 11, but let’s pick these two out:

»

Myth 3. All Type-C ports have identical functionality.

Reality: Despite a common connector, the actual feature set of a USB-C port can vary significantly. Ports on travel adapters only charge devices. Ports on wearable devices typically only receive charge. Ports on dual-role devices such as laptops can still see variation in port features. Power levels for standard Type-C ports are limited to 15 W while ports that implement PD can negotiate power up to 100 W. In addition, some ports are capable of data communication up to USB SS Gen 2 speeds of 10 Gb/s. Other features may include DisplayPort or Thunderbolt support.

4. All Type-C cables are identical.

Reality: While all USB-C cables have identical paddles and can fit any USB-C port (Fig. 1), it doesn’t necessarily mean that their electrical characteristics and features are the same. Standard cables are rated for 3 A and length of ≤4 m. Cables that are ≤2 m or required to support between 3 to 5 A need an electrical marker IC known as an e-marker.

The USB-C form factor is much smaller than HDMI and USB 3. While the size is comparable to Lightning, USB-C will be universal, and it has the same connector on both ends.

Cables can also be “full featured” and, for example, support up to 4K high-definition video. As mentioned earlier, full-featured cables could actually have more wires to enable the additional bandwidth. The Type-C spec allows designers to utilize only what features they need on their ports, reducing complexity and cost. As the market has matured, more and more solutions have been optimized to meet demands.

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Commerce chief threatened firings at NOAA after Trump’s Dorian tweets, sources say • The New York Times

Christopher Flavelle, Lisa Friedman and Peter Baker:

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The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disavowing the office’s own position that Alabama was not at risk. The reversal caused widespread anger within the agency and drew criticism from the scientific community that NOAA, a division of the Commerce Department, had been bent to political purposes.

Officials at the White House and the Commerce Department declined to comment on administration involvement in the NOAA statement.

The actions by the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., are the latest developments in a political imbroglio that began more than a week ago, when Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas and Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.”

«

Trump was wrong, and has had a tantrum for a week that he was shown to be wrong. But Ross is meant to be an adult. This presidency is going to leave so, so many with their reputations shredded.

And also: the Washington Post says the director of the National Weather Service (part of the NOAA) is backing the Alabama forecasters. Who had “Trump’s presidency is upended by a weather forecast”?
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How Apple’s apps topped rivals in the App Store it controls • The New York Times

Jack Nicas and Keith Collins:

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Top spots in App Store search results are some of the most fought over real estate in the online economy. The store generated more than $50bn in sales last year, and the company said two-thirds of app downloads started with a search.

But as Apple has become one of the largest competitors on a platform that it controls, suspicions that the company has been tipping the scales in its own favor are at the heart of antitrust complaints in the United States, Europe and Russia.

Apple’s apps have ranked first recently for at least 700 search terms in the store, according to a New York Times analysis of six years of search results compiled by Sensor Tower, an app analytics firm. Some searches produced as many as 14 Apple apps before showing results from rivals, the analysis showed. (Though competitors could pay Apple to place ads above the Apple results.)

Presented with the results of the analysis, two senior Apple executives acknowledged in a recent interview that, for more than a year, the top results of many common searches in the iPhone App Store were packed with the company’s own apps. That was the case even when the Apple apps were less relevant and less popular than ones from its competitors. The executives said the company had since adjusted the algorithm so that fewer of its own apps appeared at the top of search results…

…Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president who oversees the App Store, and Eddy Cue, the senior vice president who oversees many of the Apple apps that benefited from the results, said there was nothing underhanded about the algorithm the company had built to display search results in the store.

The executives said the company did not manually alter search results to benefit itself. Instead, they said, Apple apps generally rank higher than competitors because of their popularity and because their generic names are often a close match to broad search terms.

«

The scrolling presentation at the top of this piece is terrific. And Google? Rand Fishkin, an SEO expert, says that “Apple ranked first for an estimated 1.2% of all App Store searches. I can virtually guarantee Google ranks Alphabet-owned properties No.1 for more than that (in a clickstream analysis I did w/ @jumpshotinc in June, they got ~6% of all search clicks).”
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Apple, Foxconn broke a Chinese labour law for IPhone production • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple Inc. and manufacturing partner Foxconn violated a Chinese labor rule by using too many temporary staff in the world’s largest iPhone factory, the companies confirmed following a report that also alleged harsh working conditions.

The claims came from China Labor Watch, which issued the report ahead of an Apple event on Tuesday to announce new iPhones. The non-profit advocacy group investigates conditions in Chinese factories, and says it has uncovered other alleged labor rights violations by Apple partners in the past.

For its latest report, CLW said undercover investigators worked in Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant in China, including one who was employed there for four years. One of the main findings: temporary staff, known as dispatch workers, made up about 50% the workforce in August. Chinese labor law stipulates a maximum of 10%, CLW noted.

Apple said that, after conducting an investigation, it found the “percentage of dispatch workers exceeded our standards” and that it is “working closely with Foxconn to resolve this issue.”

«

Ooh, now this is interesting. My hypothesis about Apple’s split beta is that it hurried to get as many iPhones built as it could, fearing that Trump would impose tariffs on Chinese-built electronics. Those tariffs were delayed, but Apple was committed to the hurried build.

And look, there’s Apple and Foxconn hurrying to get as many phones built as they could. Later today we’ll know which version of iOS 13 the new iPhones are running. My guess is it’s beta 8, near enough, of iOS 13.0.
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Billie Eilish In Oculus Venues was good social VR, but not a great event • UploadVR

Harry Baker:

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Upon viewing an Oculus Venues experience, you have two options: social or solo mode. Solo will put you in a seat by yourself, just watching alone, whereas social will place you in a virtual arena, laid out like stadium seating, where you can talk and interact with other Venues users around you.

I picked social from the get go, and felt no desire to go back and try solo mode. Sitting in the stadium-style seats, you’re presented with a 180-degree dome view in front of you showing the concert. While the seating arrangement makes it look like you’re up in the nosebleed section, the video feed in front of you doesn’t always display an image that matches that position. At times it did, with a view looking down on the stage and the mosh pit-goers in Madrid, but it would switch to a close-up feed of the stage frequently as well. Although this allowed you to see Billie up close, it also meant that the scale was completely off when up close. Instead of appearing human-sized, the gigantic screen meant that with certain close camera angles, Billie would appear literally larger than life.

The stream itself was of varying quality. The resolution was adequate, but not excellent, however it frustratingly featured heaps of mini stutters, pauses and moments where I could tell the feed was a few seconds out of sync from what everyone around me was watching. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t horrendous. There’s definitely work to be done from Oculus on the backend for a smoother experience, but it serves for now.

«

I was wondering how it would be for artists performing with more virtual viewers than are present, but of course that’s what happens with pretty much any event covered by TV. All that’s different here is you’re wearing a not-completely-functional goldfish bowl.
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Ring has given ‘active camera’ maps of its customers to police • VICE

Caroline Haskins:

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Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company, has consistently told Motherboard and other reporters that it does not share maps showing the exact locations of camera-owners with police.

However, a map published by The Guardian last week reveals that Ring gave Georgia’s Gwinnett County Police Department, located just northeast of Atlanta, an “active camera” map that shows hundreds of dots representing the locations of Ring owners in the region.

Now, emails and documents obtained from the police department by Motherboard provide additional context. The emails reveal that the image was one of two maps showing active Ring cameras in Gwinnett County. (One of the maps is slightly more zoomed-in than the other.)

The maps were provided several months before Ring donated 80 video doorbells to the county worth a total of $15,920, according to documents reviewed by Motherboard. The emails reviewed by Motherboard show the maps were shared with Gwinnett County in order to show that a Ring partnership would give them possible access to a large amount of data.

“Gwinnett County has an incredible amount of Ring devices and neighbors using the Ring app,” a Ring representative told Gwinnett County police. “At no cost, the portal can be an incredible asset to your agency Please let me know what you think.”

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I think it’s the consumer-surveillance complex.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,140: US states go after Google and Facebook, MIT Media Lab disgraced, Apple v Google on Uyghurs, Twitter’s algorithm boon, and more


Not broken or melted; it’s the Huawei Mate X, now getting some brief hands-on testing. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. We begin again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook, Google face off against a formidable new foe: state attorneys general • The Washington Post

Tony Romm:

»

The nation’s state attorneys general have tangled with mortgage lenders, tobacco giants and the makers of addictive drugs. Now, they’re setting their sights on another target: Big Tech.

Following years of federal inaction, the state watchdogs are initiating sweeping antitrust investigations against Silicon Valley’s largest companies, probing whether they undermine rivals and harm consumers. Their latest salvo arrives Monday, when more than 40 attorneys general are expected to announce their plan to investigate Google, delivering a rare rebuke of the search-and-advertising giant — and its efforts to maintain that dominance — from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The states seek to probe allegations that the tech industry stifles start-ups, delivers pricier or worse service for Web users and siphons too much personal information, enriching their record-breaking revenue at the cost of consumer privacy.

“The growth of these [tech] companies has outpaced our ability to regulate them in a way that enhances competition,” said Keith Ellison, a Democratic attorney general from Minnesota who is signing on to the effort to probe Google.

“They need to be regulated,” he continued, “and my view is, it’s the state AGs job to do it, particularly when the federal government is not necessarily a reliable partner in the area.”

«

Going to be fun seeing how they do it, though. How do you split up Google? Which bits do you break off, which do you allow to remain together? Easier to regular individual pieces (such as Google Shopping) than the whole, but even then you run into problems around what is corporate “speech” and thus, in effect, protected.
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The Epstein scandal at MIT shows the moral bankruptcy of techno-elites • The Guardian

Evgeny Morozov:

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There was no better original exponent of the “third culture” than Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab and a new kind of applied intellectual, full of big ideas on technical subjects. The lab was ahead of its time in understanding that the industry and the government alike needed cooler, more interactive technology that was not provided by the traditional cold war contractors.

Everything else followed suit. Thus, Negroponte became a speaker at the very first Technology, Entertainment, Design conference (the famous Ted Talks) in 1984, which, a few decades later, emerged as the pre-eminent promoter of the “third culture”: no politics, no conflict, no ideology – just science, technology, and pragmatic problem-solving. Ideas as a service, neatly packaged in 18-minute intellectual snacks.

“Third culture” was a perfect shield for pursuing entrepreneurial activities under the banner of intellectualism. Infinite networking with billionaires but also models and Hollywood stars; instant funding by philanthropists and venture capitalists moving in the same circles; bestselling books tied to soaring speaking fees used as promotional materials for the author’s more substantial commercial activities, often run out of academia.

That someone like Jeffrey Epstein would take advantage of these networks to whitewash his crimes was almost inevitable. In a world where books function as brand extensions and are never actually read, it’s quite easy for a rich and glamorous charlatan of Epstein’s stature to fit in.

One of Brockman’s persistent laments was that all the billionaire techies in his circle barely read any of the books published by his clients. Not surprisingly, his famed literary dinners – held during the Ted Conference, they allowed Epstein (who kept Brockman’s Edge Foundation on a retainer) to mingle with scientists and fellow billionaires – were mostly empty of serious content.

As Brockman himself put it after one such dinner in 2004, “last year we tried ‘The Science Dinner’. Everyone yawned. So this year, it’s back to the money-sex-power thing with ‘The Billionaires’ Dinner’.”

«

All is ruination. This isn’t quite a comeuppance for Negroponte, but it further devalues his legacy.
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Apple takes flak for disputing iOS security bombshell dropped by Google • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

Apple seems to be saying that evidence suggests that the sites that Google found indiscriminately exploiting the iOS vulnerabilities were operational for only two months. Additionally, as reported by ZDNet, a researcher from security firm RiskIQ claims to have uncovered evidence that the websites didn’t attack iOS users indiscriminately, but rather only visitors from certain countries and communities.

If either of those points are true then it’s worth taking note, since virtually all media reports (including the one from Ars) have said sites indiscriminately did so for at least two years. Apple had an opportunity to clarify this point and say precisely what it knows about active use of the five iPhone exploit chains Project Zero found. But Friday’s statement [from Apple about the hacks] said nothing about any of this, and Apple representatives didn’t respond to a request to comment for this post. A Google spokesman said he didn’t know precisely how long the small collection of websites identified in the report were operational. He said he’d try to find out, but didn’t respond further.

In a statement, Google officials wrote: “Project Zero posts technical research that is designed to advance the understanding of security vulnerabilities, which leads to better defensive strategies. We stand by our in-depth research which was written to focus on the technical aspects of these vulnerabilities. We will continue to work with Apple and other leading companies to help keep people safe online.”

Former NSA hacker and founder of the firm Rendition Infosec Jake Williams told Ars that ultimately, the time the exploit sites were active is immaterial. “I don’t know that these other 22 months matter,” he explained. “It feels like their statement is more of a straw man to deflect away from the human rights abuses.”

Also missing from Apple’s statement is any response to the blistering criticism the Project Zero report made of Apple’s development process, which the report alleges missed vulnerabilities that in many cases should have been easy to catch with standard quality-assurance processes.

«

Also worth reading: Volexity’s report on how Android devices were targeted, and OAuth for Google Applications and Gmail, along with “doppelganger domains” that look like Google, the Turkistan Times and the Uyghur Academy.
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How Twitter solved one of its oldest problems • OneZero

Will Oremus:

»

The average user with Twitter’s algorithmic timeline — now the default — follows 10% to 15% more people than those who have reverted to the old reverse-chronological timeline, the company told OneZero this week in response to an inquiry. In other words, not only are users following more people now than they used to, but it also seems clear that the algorithm is at least partly the cause.

To understand the significance of that data point requires a trip down social media memory lane, to an era when tweets were 140 characters [and peopel worried that following more people would overwhelm their timeline]…

…While it’s hard to pinpoint the effects of over-following on Twitter’s business, the era in which it was a major concern coincided with a low point in the company’s history. After going public in 2013 to expectations of fantastic growth, the platform instead began to stagnate. New users found it confusing, and old ones felt it growing stale, perhaps in part because they were hesitant to follow new people. In 2014, the Atlantic even published a eulogy for Twitter.

Then came the algorithmic timeline, which Twitter officially called “show me the best tweets first.” Contrary to the predictions of outraged users, who responded to the news with the hashtag #RIPTwitter, the shift didn’t immediately destroy the service. It changed it in ways that seemed relatively straightforward at first, though in retrospect, it’s hard to assess their full impact. Twitter has disclosed relatively little data on the algorithm’s effects, leaving users and critics to speculate on how it has altered dynamics such as virality, filter bubbles, dunking, and outrage cycles. One thing we know for sure is that the company has credited the algorithm with spurring user growth and engagement, and Twitter’s stock has nearly tripled from its mid-2016 nadir.

«

Turns out algorithms are good, until you get the unintended consequences of excess engagement.
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The vaping lung illness epidemic has now broken out in 33 states • Buzzfeed News

Dan Vergano:

»

A nationwide epidemic of severe lung injuries tied to vaping now encompasses 450 reported cases, and at least five deaths in 33 states, health officials reported Friday.

“While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarettes,” said CDC’s Dana Meaney-Delman during a briefing on the outbreak, in which agency officials discussed three deaths. A “chemical agent” in vaping liquids is seen as the most likely culprit in the cases, she suggested, responsible for causing the lung injuries.

State health agencies reported more deaths in the multi-state outbreak on Friday, bringing the total to five. Minnesota announced the death of a THC-vaping 65-year-old patient, a fourth case, soon after the CDC briefing, and Los Angeles County reported investigation of a fifth such death later on Friday afternoon.

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THC seems to be a key factor. In The Observer:

»

Martin Dockrell, head of Tobacco Control at Public Health England, drew a distinction between vaping in the US and the UK. He said reports suggested that most cases in the US had been linked to people using illicit vaping fluid, bought on the streets or homemade, some containing cannabis products, like THC, or synthetic cannabinoids, like spice.

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The real Donald Trump is a character on TV • The New York Times

James Poniewozik is the chief TV critic of the NYT, and this is the best take I’ve ever read on that guy:

»

if you actually want a glimpse into the mind of Donald J. Trump, don’t look for a White House tell-all or some secret childhood heartbreak. Go to the streaming service Tubi, where his 14 seasons of “The Apprentice” recently became accessible to the public.

You can fast-forward past the team challenges and the stagey visits to Trump-branded properties. They’re useful in their own way, as a picture of how Mr. Burnett buttressed the future president’s Potemkin-zillionaire image. But the unadulterated, 200-proof Donald Trump is found in the boardroom segments, at the end of each episode, in which he “fires” one contestant.

In theory, the boardroom is where the best performers in the week’s challenges are rewarded and the screw-ups punished. In reality, the boardroom is a new game, the real game, a free-for-all in which contestants compete to throw one another under the bus and beg Mr. Trump for mercy.

There is no morality in the boardroom. There is no fair and unfair in the boardroom. There is only the individual, trying to impress Mr. Trump, to flatter Mr. Trump, to commune with his mind and anticipate his whims and fits of pique. Candidates are fired for giving up advantages (stupid), for being too nice to their adversaries (weak), for giving credit to their teammates, for interrupting him. The host’s decisions were often so mercurial, producers have said, that they would have to go back and edit the episodes to impose some appearance of logic on them.

What saves you in the boardroom? Fighting. Boardroom Trump loves to see people fight each other. He perks up at it like a cat hearing a can opener. He loves to watch people scrap for his favor (as they eventually would in his White House). He loves asking contestants to rat out their teammates and watching them squirm with conflict. The unity of the team gives way to disunity, which in the Trumpian worldview is the most productive state of being.

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Just perfect; and explains why those hoping for him to “become presidential” are hoping in vain. He never will; he doesn’t understand the concept. (As if you’d still expect it now anyway.)
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Apple iPhone 11 event 2019: what to expect • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

»

It’s almost iPhone time (or, as other people call it, “the beginning of September”), and Apple is set to take the stage on September 10th to announce the new iPhone 11 lineup.

Of course, Apple doesn’t just make iPhones, so we also expect news on the Apple Watch, Apple TV, all the new software Apple announced earlier this year, and maybe even a MacBook Pro-shaped surprise or two.

The Verge will be live on the scene to bring you all of the latest news from Apple Park as soon as it happens. Until then, here’s what to expect…

«

You can probably guess all this. I think there will be a bigger emphasis on services; as Marco Arment said in the latest Accidental Tech Podcast, “services segments are going to be the new game demos in keynotes, the time when everyone takes a bathroom break”.

I’ll be writing something about it for OneZero on Medium.
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Huawei Mate X initial review: foldable champ • Pocket Lint

Cam Bunton:

»

Folded up, from the front the Mate X has the appearance of a large regular smartphone, and that’s arguably the Huawei method’s biggest advantage over the Galaxy Fold. It’s still very much usable as a smartphone even when it’s closed, that full screen on the front doesn’t pose the limitations that Samsung’s outer screen might. 

Of course, this poses an issue when it comes to durability. Since there’s no flexible glass on the market yet, current foldable smartphones rely on a transparent polymer covered by a protective film, similar to a screen protector. And that means that when it’s shut, there’s potential for that folded edge to be exposed to the elements, and that includes any rough impurities in your pocket, inevitably leading to scuffing; which is why Huawei is supplying the Mate X with a gorgeous leather case. 

In appearance, it doesn’t look too dissimilar to the type of soft leather case you might get for your sunglasses. In fact, it’s just about the right size for sunglasses too (we were curious, so we tried it). It’s soft, and slim, feels great in the hand and has a large magnetic portion inside the flap, to keep it securely fastened when shut, while also making it easy to open and get to your phone than if it had a clasp or fastener of some kind. 

What we liked about the Huawei Mate X is that with the phone unfolded and opened up in its larger form factor, using the full square screen, the hinge feels surprisingly sturdy and solid, like it locks into place and stays relatively rigid, and needs a little force to fold it back up again. That means you don’t have to worry about the phone wobbling or feeling fragile when you’re using it this way. 

The resistance offered by the hinge also means that it does need a little catch to hold it in place when folded, coupled with a release button which – when pressed – releases the display. Once released, the screen springs out part of the way, and then needs unfolding manually into its open, flat position. In use, it’s addictively clicky when pressed. So much so, we found ourselves repeatedly releasing, clicking the screen back in place and releasing it, over and over again (sorry Huawei). Let’s just hope it’s built to last. 

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Let’s just hope! Price of hope: €2,299. (About the same in £.) So it looks great but then you have to cover it with a case and then you have to take the case off because it’s in the way.
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Global headphone revenue growth exceeds 40% in Q2 2019 • Futuresource Consulting

:

»

Premium headphones continue to capture the imagination of consumers, with global revenues in Q2 2019 growing nearly four times faster than shipments, at 44% year-on-year. That’s according to the latest quarterly tracker report from Futuresource Consulting.

“True wireless now accounts for almost one in every five shipments and has established itself as the driving force behind the unshakeable growth in headphones,” says Adriana Blanco, Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “Apple remains ahead in true wireless, though its lead is being eroded by an ever-growing raft of rivals, all vying for market share. Xiaomi and Huawei are making a significant impact in China and beyond, while Samsung continues to put in a strong global performance.”

Beyond true wireless, all other form factors continue to experience a year-on-year slump in shipments. The in-ear, excluding true wireless, segment has taken the biggest hit, with most damage sustained in the mid-price bracket, though some geographies have been less badly affected. After five consecutive quarters of price growth, the over-ear segment returned a flat result in Q2. This was primarily due to special offers on some premium models, which may be nearing their next refresh cycle.

Conversely, the wireless headphones segment, which includes true wireless, grew 40% year-on-year, accounting for 60% of total shipments and 87% of total revenue.

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Wish I knew what non-true wireless is. Bluetooth headphones linked by a wire to each other?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,139: how bots can change votes, the drone bust, pricing the Galaxy Fold, Sonos gets mobile, and more


YouTube knew underage kids were watching videos on its site, and was fined; now content creators will pay the price. CC-licensed photo by Jon Pinder on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Friday already? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How social networks can be used to bias votes • Nature

Nature Editorial Board:

»

Politicians’ efforts to gerrymander — redraw electoral-constituency boundaries to favour one party — often hit the news. But, as a paper published in Nature this week shows, gerrymandering comes in other forms, too.

The work reveals how connections in a social network can also be gerrymandered — or manipulated — in such a way that a small number of strategically placed bots can influence a larger majority to change its mind, especially if the larger group is undecided about its voting intentions (A. J. Stewart et al. Nature 573, 117–118; 2019: “Information gerrymandering and undemocratic decisions”).

The researchers, led by mathematical biologist Alexander Stewart of the University of Houston, Texas, have joined those who are showing how it can be possible to give one party a disproportionate influence in a vote.

It is a finding that should concern us all.

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From the paper:

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Our mathematical analysis uncovers a phenomenon that we call information gerrymandering: the structure of the influence network can sway the vote outcome towards one party, even when both parties have equal sizes and each player has the same influence. A small number of zealots, when strategically placed on the influence network, can also induce information gerrymandering and thereby bias vote outcomes. We confirm the predicted effects of information gerrymandering in social network experiments with n = 2,520 human subjects.

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Lenovo Mirage AR headset with Marvel games goes on sale for $250 • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

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called the Lenovo Mirage AR headset, the device once again relies on a consumer’s phone, and an app that can be downloaded for free, to super-impose pictures over their view of the real world. “You are still grounded in your world,” said Lenovo senior product marketing manager Wahid Razali. “You are bringing the heroes into your space.”

And while the first iteration of the headset shipped with lightsaber controllers, this new version comes with a pair of more generic grip controllers that can be used to power a variety of games.

When Lenovo came out with the first iteration of the headset, the two companies tried a variety of games, including their own take on holochess. Turns out that players care a lot more about fighting Stormtroopers than playing chess in AR, which is why the two companies refocused on life-sized battles for their new collaboration.

In the case of “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges,” the game allows players to turn into Doctor Strange, Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Star-Lord, and face off against adversaries like Loki and the Winter Soldier. “You’ll be playing as iconic heroes fighting iconic villains,” said Razali.

In addition to a story mode that allows those one-on-one face-offs, the game also supports a survival mode that tasks players with fighting back waves of enemies, and a co-op mode that lets multiple players team up, and compete for the highest score. The latter naturally requires multiple headsets, which won’t come cheap: At launch, the new Lenovo Mirage AR headset retails for $249.99.

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Weird how so many companies think the first game people will want to play on a new medium is chess. Not only do computers thrash us at it, but fewer people can play it with any competence. Give us mindless sword games with unlimited lives any day.
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Creating a data set and a challenge for deepfakes • Facebook AI

Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer:

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“Deepfake” techniques, which present realistic AI-generated videos of real people doing and saying fictional things, have significant implications for determining the legitimacy of information presented online. Yet the industry doesn’t have a great data set or benchmark for detecting them. We want to catalyze more research and development in this area and ensure that there are better open source tools to detect deepfakes. That’s why Facebook, the Partnership on AI, Microsoft, and academics from Cornell Tech, MIT, University of Oxford, UC Berkeley, University of Maryland, College Park, and University at Albany-SUNY are coming together to build the Deepfake Detection Challenge (DFDC).

The goal of the challenge is to produce technology that everyone can use to better detect when AI has been used to alter a video in order to mislead the viewer. The Deepfake Detection Challenge will include a data set and leaderboard, as well as grants and awards, to spur the industry to create new ways of detecting and preventing media manipulated via AI from being used to mislead others. The governance of the challenge will be facilitated and overseen by the Partnership on AI’s new Steering Committee on AI and Media Integrity, which is made up of a broad cross-sector coalition of organizations including Facebook, WITNESS, Microsoft, and others in civil society and the technology, media, and academic communities.

It’s important to have data that is freely available for the community to use, with clearly consenting participants, and few restrictions on usage. That’s why Facebook is commissioning a realistic data set that will use paid actors, with the required consent obtained, to contribute to the challenge. No Facebook user data will be used in this data set. We are also funding research collaborations and prizes for the challenge to help encourage more participation. In total, we are dedicating more than $10m to fund this industry-wide effort.

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YouTubers say kids’ content changes could ruin careers • The Verge

Julia Alexander on the fallout from the FTC nailing YouTube for collecting data about children, and forcing it to stop:

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If [YouTube] channels can’t send notifications for certain videos, fewer people will watch those videos within the first crucial hours. This could lead to YouTube recommending fewer videos from that creator because people are less engaged. If videos aren’t recommended as much, it means fewer views, which means less money.

Wojcicki acknowledged that these changes won’t be easy for creators. These changes “will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators,” she said in the post, adding that “this won’t be easy for some creators and are committed to working with them through this transition.”

But creators are coming to terms with exactly how hard it could be. Forrest, a gaming YouTuber with more than 750,000 subscribers who goes by “KreekCraft,” told The Verge that the changes are scary for him. Reading Wojcicki’s blog post only made him feel worse as he tried to figure out, like other YouTube creators, whether his content would be affected by the new system. Would Let’s Play series, tutorials, or even gameplay compilations be considered targeted at children? What’s the difference between family-friendly content and those targeted at kids? No one in the community knows the answers, but everyone is expecting an uphill battle on YouTube under the new system. A YouTube spokesperson pointed The Verge to Wojcicki’s blog when asked for further comment.

“It’s kind of like they’re killing video game content,” Forrest told The Verge. “The top three games on YouTube right now are Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox, which are generally non-violent and child-centric games, especially Roblox. Now, we can’t make videos on more mature video games because they’ll get demonetized, but if we make videos on child-friendly games, they’re also now going to get demonetized. What do we do?”

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Their problem is that YouTube led them up this path, which turned out to be illegal and unsustainable. The failure is YouTube’s, but it won’t feel it.
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Graphene-based fabric protects against mosquitoes • Physics World

Sam Jarman:

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Graphene-based fabrics could provide an effective new way to protect against mosquitoes according to Robert Hurt and colleagues at Brown University. Using live mosquitoes, the team showed that films of reduced graphene oxide (rGO) are bite-resistant and can block the chemicals that mosquitoes use to detect the presence of skin – even when the material is wet. The group’s insights could provide a basis for new skin coverings that prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Every year hundreds of millions of people are infected with mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever – causing about one million deaths worldwide. Preventing mosquito bites therefore plays an important role in public health programmes in many countries.

In recent years, graphene-based materials have been proposed for a wide array of applications, including biomonitoring, sensors, and wearable electronics. Until now, however, protection from mosquito-borne diseases has remained almost entirely unexplored.

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Because… it’s really expensive?
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Beware the Apple iCloud phone phishing scam • Frequent Business Traveler

Anna Breuer:

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Scammers have a new and improved way to fool people. A new phone-based phishing scam spoofing Apple’s official support number is likely to take a lot of people by surprise and result in those being called providing the scammers with sensitive information.

The call mimics an official Apple support call, displaying Apple’s logo, Cupertino address, and real toll-free number (800 692-7753). This is the same number, displayed as 800 MY-APPLE, when Apple customers request a call from the company.

Several FBT staffers have reported getting such calls in recent weeks. The calls are not identified by T-Mobile (the mobile operator used by our parent company, Accura) as “Scam Likely” even though it is clear that Apple’s number is being spoofed.

The automated message states that the recipient’s iCloud account “has been compromised” and that he should “stop going online.” The automated message then prompts the caller to dial a toll-free number with an 866 prefix for Apple support.

Typically, Apple’s automated system would prompt the caller to press “1” to be connected to Apple support.

I tried calling the 866 number, which was answered by a main greeting that told me I had reached Apple support and provided an expected wait time. The call was answered by a man with a vague Indian accent who, after asking the reason for my call, disconnected it.

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So much excess capacity in Indian call centres; seems like they’ve found a new version of their virus scam.
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Sonos’ first portable speaker is the $399 Move • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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At almost 10 inches [25cm] tall and weighing over six and a half pounds [3kg], the Move is considerably larger than the Sonos One, making it a bit more to carry around than the typical UE Boom Bluetooth speaker. So Sonos designed a handle directly into the Move’s molded plastic shell to make it easy to pick up and move from room to room or take out of the house. The charging base, which has two pogo pins that line up with the contacts on the back of the Move, give the speaker a “home” when it’s not in use, ensuring it’s charged and ready to go when you need it. If you’re on the go and need to top up the battery, there’s also a USB-C port on the back.

The Move’s larger footprint provides it with more volume and power than the Sonos One. It’s equipped with two Class-D amplifiers, which push a single tweeter and a mid-woofer driver. Sonos says the Move is powerful enough to overcome the rapid falloff in volume that happens when you play music outdoors. The Move also has an IP56 water and dust resistance rating, and the company claims it’s strong enough to withstand accidental falls, rain and moisture, sand and dust, and other elements that might be encountered when a speaker is taken outside of the house.

The Move is also the first Sonos speaker with automatic TruePlay tuning, which lets the speaker adapt its sound for its environment. With earlier Sonos speakers, TruePlay tuning required walking around a room with an iPhone or iPad while a beeping tone played from the speaker to “map” the room. The Move can use its own microphones to adjust its sound within about 30 seconds of playback, which is much easier than the prior method and convenient for a speaker that will migrate from place to place on a regular basis.

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One beta tester told me “it weighs a ton!” That’ll be the battery. Life is quite a challenge for Sonos, which is facing disruption below from cheap Bluetooth speakers, and competition alongside from Amazon and Google, and kinda from above from Apple. Its best hope is being the cross-platform solution that plays nicely with all of them. But: not cheap. $399 in the US, £399 in the UK.
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Samsung and EE bring Galaxy Fold 5G to the UK • Samsung Newsroom U.K.

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Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. has today announced that the Galaxy Fold 5G will be available to buy from 18th September in the UK via an exclusive operator partnership with EE, as well as from Samsung Experience Stores. The device will also be displayed at Samsung KX, Harrods and Selfridges for customers to experience.
 
The Galaxy Fold 5G, which will be available in Cosmos Black and Space Silver, pushes the boundaries of innovation and introduces a whole new smartphone category. Armed with 5G network capabilities, the Galaxy Fold 5G is a device built for the future…

…The Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G will be available from Samsung at an RRP of £1,900 and all devices will come with wireless Galaxy Buds and a Galaxy Fold 5G Aramid case. EE price plans will be announced in due course.

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EE doesn’t offer any Sim-only 5G plans, so it’s impossible to say what extra you might be paying annually. EE offers seven 5G phones, with the cheapest being £44 per month for a refurbished Galaxy S10.

For comparison, the Galaxy Note10+ 5G costs £1,099 for the 256GB model (with no network connectivity). EE wants £84 per month for unlimited text, data and talktime at 5G – but it doesn’t say how long the contract lasts. 12, 18, 24 months? It’s never specified. Let me know if you find out. A 12-month contract would cost £1,008; an 18-month one, £1,512. A 24-month one (which I suspect it is) would be £2,016. Also, the price would rise by inflation (RPI) every March. As ever, it’s better to buy the phone and get a Sim.
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Why ‘SIM swapping’ is a growing security nightmare • The New York Times

Nathaniel Popper:

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“I’ve been looking at the criminal underground for a long time, and SIM swapping bothers me more than anything I’ve seen,” said Allison Nixon, the director of research at the security firm Flashpoint. “It requires no skill and there is literally nothing the average person can do to stop it.”

Criminals have learned how to convince mobile phone providers like T-Mobile and AT&T to switch a phone number to a new device that is under their control.

The number is switched from a tiny plastic SIM card, or subscriber identity module, in the target’s phone to a SIM card in another device.

Sometimes hackers get phone numbers by calling a customer help line for a phone carrier and pretending to be the intended victim. In other recent incidents, hacking crews have paid off phone company employees to do the switches for them, often for as little as $100 for each phone number.

Once the hackers have control of the phone number, they ask companies like Twitter and Google to send a temporary login code, via text message, to the victim’s phone. Most major online services are willing to send those messages to help users who have lost their passwords.

But the temporary code is sent to the hackers.

Phone companies have been aware of the problem for years, but the only routine solution they have come up with is offering pin codes that a phone owner must provide in order to switch devices. Even this measure has proved ineffective. Hackers can get the pin codes by bribing phone company employees.

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Personally, I don’t use two-factor systems that send phone codes, if at all possible. Even Twitter has finally – finally! – moved to a system where the 2FA can rely on a time-limited code generated by an app.
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Drone bubble bursts, wiping out startups and hammering VC firms • Bloomberg

Jack Pitcher:

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Once well-funded startups are struggling as hordes of self-employed pilots drive down prices, Chinese technology races ahead and non-drone companies across industry pull their unmanned aerial operations in-house. Federal regulation of the aircraft has been slow to catch up, and is holding back many businesses from expanding.

French manufacturer Parrot SA announced in July that it would halt production of most of its drone lines. Software startup Airware raised $118m from investors before shutting its doors and laying off 140 employees in late 2018. GoPro exited the drone business and laid off hundreds last year, citing an “extremely competitive” market.

But while some startups are testing investor patience, others are seeing an opportunity for growth. At least 67 drone startups have been sold since their inception, according to Crunchbase, which collects data on private companies. Buyers range from rival drone operators to companies in other industries, such as Verizon Communications…

…Venture capitalists poured $2.6bn into drones from the beginning of 2012 to June 2019, according to Teal Group, an industry researcher. The rapture began to evaporate last year as startups founded during ‘peak hype’ in the commercial drone industry ran out of money before they could generate profit and couldn’t secure additional funding, said Wackwitz.

At least 25 drone startups have shut their doors this decade, with the largest burning through a total of $183m in funding, according to Crunchbase’s online reports.

“The venture capitalists are less enthused now,” said Dan Burton, CEO of Dronebase, a drone pilot network that’s held on through the turmoil.

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Gee, ya think? But it does illustrate how what seems like an absolute slam-dunk of a market – hey, we can take pictures from way up high! – turns out to have a seriously limited addressable market. Films and TV use drones regularly, farmers do, planners might, but those billions invested were probably 10x the total market size.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,138: California’s nuclear option, how Hong Kong protesters organise, deal with Google Calendar spam, Android 10 reviewed, and more


YouTube’s in hot water again. It must be a day ending with a ‘y’.CC-licensed photo by Jorge Correa on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Try that for size. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube removes more videos, but still misses a lot of hate • WIRED

Paris Martineau:

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On Tuesday, YouTube said it removed more than 17,000 channels and over 100,000 videos between April and June for violating its hate speech rules. In a blog post, the company pointed to the figures—which are five times as high as the previous period’s total—as evidence of its commitment to policing hate speech and its improved ability to detect it. But experts warn that YouTube may be missing the forest for the trees.

“It’s giving us the numbers without focusing on the story behind those numbers,” says Rebecca Lewis, an online extremism researcher at Data + Society whose work primarily focuses on YouTube. “Hate speech has been growing on YouTube, but the announcement is devoid of context and is missing [data on] the moneymakers actually pushing hate speech.”

Lewis says that while YouTube reports removing more videos, the figures lack context needed to assess YouTube’s policing efforts. That’s particularly problematic, she says, because YouTube’s hate speech problem isn’t necessarily about quantity. Her research has found that users who encounter hate speech are most likely to see it on a prominent, high-profile channel, rather than from a random user with a small following.

A study of over 60 popular far-right YouTubers conducted by Lewis last fall found that the platform was “built to incentivize” polarizing political creators and shocking content. “YouTube monetizes influence for everyone, regardless of how harmful their belief systems are,” the report found. “The platform, and its parent company, have allowed racist, misogynist, and harassing content to remain online—and in many cases, to generate advertising revenue—as long as it does not explicitly include slurs.”

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YouTube fined $170m for violations of children’s privacy • Ars Technica

:

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YouTube does not require a user to register in order to view videos, the complaint (PDF) points out. As such, most videos are not age-gated. Anyone can view them, and millions of children under age 13 do. YouTube even boasted to toy companies Mattel and Hasbro that “YouTube was unanimously voted as the favorite website for kids 2-12” and “93% of tweens visit YouTube to watch videos,” the complaint says.

But while the company was boasting of its popularity with children in public, in private it promised that COPPA was not a concern, the FTC alleges. One Google employee wrote in an email obtained by the FTC that, “we don’t have users that are below 13 on YouTube and platform/site is general audience, so there is no channel/content that is child-directed and no COPPA compliance is needed.”

The company also does not treat channels or content explicitly aimed at children differently from other content for the purposes of advertising, the complaint says—that includes earning revenue from behavioral advertising, which relies on data collected from users.

“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”

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YouTube’s indifference to the age of its users has always bugged me; you’re either under 18 or over, which ignores the gigantic differences between a 13-year-old and a child the day before they turn 18.

And that’s not a big fine for studiously ignoring the law for years and years. In fact, it’s derisory towards those affected.
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Why California may go nuclear • Forbes

Michael Shellenberger:

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Last week, a California state legislator introduced an amendment to the state’s constitution that would classify nuclear energy as “renewable.” 

If the amendment passes, it would likely result in the continued operation of the state’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, well past 2025, its current closure date.

Diablo generates 9% of California’s electricity and 20% of its clean, carbon-free electricity. 

It is also the most spectacular nuclear plant in the world, made famous by an employee’s photo of a humpback whale breaching in front of the plant.

“I’m not going to argue it’s not a long shot,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham. “But we can’t make a serious dent in slowing the warming trend in the world without investment in nuclear power.”

If Governor Gavin Newsom decides to support the legislation it would likely become law and Diablo Canyon could continue operating to 2045 or even 2065. 

That’s because Newsom, who was elected last year with an astonishing 62% of the vote, exercises extraordinary power over the legislature, particularly on energy.

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California’s electricity utility, PG+E, effectively went bust earlier this year. They need nuclear.
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Google accused of secretly feeding personal data to advertisers • Financial Times

Madhumita Murgia:

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New evidence submitted to an investigation by the Irish data regulator, which oversees Google’s European business, accused the US tech company of “exploiting personal data without sufficient control or concern over data protection”.

The regulator is investigating whether Google uses sensitive data, such as the race, health and political leanings of its users, to target ads. In his evidence, Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer of the niche web browser Brave, said he had discovered the secret web pages as he tried to monitor how his data were being traded on Google’s advertising exchange, the business formerly known as DoubleClick.

The exchange, now called Authorized Buyers, is the world’s largest real-time advertising auction house, selling display space on websites across the internet.

Mr Ryan found that Google had labelled him with an identifying tracker that it fed to third-party companies that logged on to a hidden web page. The page showed no content but had a unique address that linked it to Mr Ryan’s browsing activity.

Using the tracker from Google, which is based on the user’s location and time of browsing, companies could match their profiles of Mr Ryan and his web-browsing behaviour with profiles from other companies, to target him with ads.

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Sneaky. And nobody in the US would know about it, of course.
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How Mexican app Bridgefy is connecting protesters in Hong Kong • LatAm List

Bridget Wood:

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Bridgefy is a Mexican startup based in San Francisco that makes apps send messages directly from one device to another, without using Internet or SMS. The app is currently being used by protestors in Hong Kong, sometimes gathered up to one million strong, when the cell network is unable to keep up with demand. Protests in Hong Kong have been going on for months as the territory argues overs sovereignty with China and have flared up again in the past month. 

LatAm List interviewed Bridgefy co-founder and CEO, Jorge Rios, to learn more about the story behind the software and how it is being used to connect protesters in Hong Kong. 

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The protesters also don’t want to use the mobile networks because they don’t want to be traced. Despite the government there rowing back on its extradition bill, the protests seem set to go on.
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Real-time maps warn Hong Kong protesters of police • Quartz

Mary Hui:

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One of the most widely used real-time maps of the protests is HKMap.live, a volunteer-run and crowdsourced effort that officially launched in early August. It’s a dynamic map of Hong Kong that users can zoom in and out of, much like Google Maps. But in addition to detailed street and building names, this one features various emoji to communicate information at a glance: a dog for police, a worker in a yellow hardhat for protesters, a dinosaur for the police’s black-clad special tactical squad, a white speech-bubble for tear gas, two exclamation marks for danger.


HKMap during a protest on August 31, 2019

Founded by a finance professional in his 20s and who only wished to be identified as Kuma, HKMap is an attempt to level the playing field between protesters and officers, he said in an interview over chat app Telegram. While earlier on in the protest movement people relied on text-based, on-the-ground  live updates through public Telegram channels, Kuma found these to be too scattered to be effective, and hard to visualize unless someone knew the particular neighborhood inside out.

“The huge asymmetric information between protesters and officers led to multiple occasions of surround and capture,” said Kuma. Passersby and non-frontline protesters could also make use of the map, he said, to avoid tense conflict zones. After some of his friends were arrested in late July, he decided to build HKMap.

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Spam in your Google Calendar? Here’s what to do • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

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all that a spammer needs to add an unwelcome appointment to your calendar is the email address tied to your calendar account. That’s because the calendar applications from Apple, Google and Microsoft are set by default to accept calendar invites from anyone.

Calendar invites from spammers run the gamut from ads for porn or pharmacy sites, to claims of an unexpected financial windfall or “free” items of value, to outright phishing attacks and malware lures. The important thing is that you don’t click on any links embedded in these appointments. And resist the temptation to respond to such invitations by selecting “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” as doing so may only serve to guarantee you more calendar spam.

Fortunately, the are a few simple steps you can take that should help minimize this nuisance. To stop events from being automatically added to your Google calendar:

• Open the Calendar application, and click the gear icon to get to the Calendar Settings page.
• Under “Event Settings,” change the default setting to “No, only show invitations to which I have responded.”

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Apple had a problem with this in 2016; now it’s Google’s turn to be targeted, which is happening (and Google says it’s working on a fix).
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Android 10 review • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:

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Writing this review made me realize that iOS and Android are more in lock step with each other than I think they ever have been before. Things like dark mode are getting added to iOS and Android literally like 2 weeks apart and each of their digital wellness features are growing up at about the same time and pace. Meanwhile, lots of the new and welcome updates to Android 10 had this iOS user going “finally!” more than a few times. Updates around security, privacy, and gestures all made this iOS fan like Android more, all the while feeling very familiar. This is neither good nor bad, but inevitable. These platforms are getting quite mature and there is only so much low hanging fruit to be had.

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It’s not the most in-depth review you’ll read, but I think it notes the things worth knowing. The differences between the two is becoming minimal. Android even gets apps to ask you if they can use your location! See what you’re going to have four years from now, Android folks.
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Trusted Face smart unlock method has been removed from Android devices • Android Police

Rita el Khoury:

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Face unlock is more widely available on smartphones nowadays, but many of us seem to forget that Android has always had a barebones — albeit easily fooled — equivalent of the feature for years. Android Smart Lock’s Trusted face was added in 2014 and has been accessible to users on all Android devices until recently. Now, it’s completely gone from stock and OEM devices, running Android 10 or below.

The feature was accessible under Settings -> Security -> Smart Lock -> Trusted face. It didn’t use any biometric data for security, instead just relying on your face to unlock your device. A photo could easily fool it. The writing was on the wall for its removal: It was broken on Android Q Beta 6 and we know Google has been working on a more secure face authentication method.

But it’s not only Android 10 that no longer has the Trusted face option. We’ve verified that the option is gone from the OnePlus 6T, Samsung Galaxy S9 and S10, Nokia 3.2, all of which are running Android Pie stable. That’s because Smart Lock was never really part of the firmware, but was always controlled by Google Play Services…

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And Google Play Services gets updated, and it goes away. Strange that after five years Google has only now decided that it’s not secure enough.
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USB-IF to continue confusing name scheme with USB4 Gen 3×2 • TechRepublic

James Sanders:

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USB4 will be formally published at the USB Developer Days Seattle on September 17, and the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) is expected to continue the widely maligned naming scheme for USB speeds introduced in February for USB 3.2, an engineer familiar with the USB-IF’s plans told TechRepublic.

As a quick recap, USB 3.1 Gen 2, increased the lane speed to 10 Gbps. A second 10 Gbps lane was added in the USB 3.2 standard, which the USB-IF calls “USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.” USB4 (which is not written as “USB 4.0”) will reach speeds of 40 Gbps, doubling the speeds again. USB4 was first previewed in March, when the USB Promoter Group announced that USB4 would be based on Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 specification, though specific details are expected later this month.

“Once the specifications are released, there will be a new round of confusion,” the source told TechRepublic. “It’s going to be USB4, but you have to qualify what USB4 means, because there are different grades. USB4, by definition, has to be [at least] Gen 2×2, so it will give you 10 Gbps by 2, that’s 20 Gbps. There’s going to be USB4 Gen 3×2, which is 20 Gbps per lane. 20 by 2 will give you 40 Gbps.”

The branding policy of the USB-IF is an apparent war against common sense, as new versions retroactively rename previously published standards, leading to widespread confusion among consumers.

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You’re going to need to pass an exam to know which of these means what. Plus any cable over 50cm will need active circuitry included. Can’t cables just be, well, cables?
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Samsung’s Galaxy Fold will go on sale on September 6 in South Korea: source • Reuters

Ju-min Park:

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Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s first foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, will go on sale on Friday in South Korea, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

The highly anticipated device from the world’s top smartphone maker was originally due to hit the US market in April but the launch was delayed by screen defects detected in samples.

The phone will cost about 2.4 million won ($1,980) for South Korean buyers, the source from one of the country’s major mobile carriers told Reuters, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The source did not provide further details.

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Not cheap. Not cheap at all. If it isn’t robust, Samsung’s reputation will take quite a hit.
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You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: it seems that what people want the Apple Tag thing to do is locate their keys, backpacks, bicycles and suitcases. Sounds like it might sell OK, then.

Start Up No.1,137: Huawei’s missed fish, the AI fraudsters, iPhone hacks get cheaper, Samsung plans another foldable, and more


The arrival of AM radio meant womens’ voices were cut off – on purpose. CC-licensed photo by alexkerhead on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. All-encompassing. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei was prepared for anything—except losing Google • The Information

Juro Osawa:

»

To reduce its reliance on American-made chips inside its phones, for example, Huawei switched to alternatives that it made in-house.

But when it came to one of its most critical American business partners—Google, the creator of the Android mobile operating system that powered all of Huawei’s smartphones—the Chinese company had trouble imagining a parting of ways. In 2016, a top Huawei executive passed on an opportunity to partner with the maker of an Android alternative called Sailfish, seeing little need for a Plan B, according to people familiar with the matter. To the contrary, Huawei explored ways to become more intertwined with Google: A few years ago, the two companies discussed whether Huawei could help the US company bring Google Photos to China, where most Google internet services are blocked by the country’s regime, a person with knowledge of the talks said.

Now its failure to anticipate life without Google has come to haunt Huawei [because it won’t be able to pre-install Google Play or Google apps on phones; that won’t be popular in Europe and other overseas markets where buyers expect those.]

…Huawei has said that it will hold an event in Munich on Sept. 19 to unveil its new flagship model, the Mate 30. But at the event, Huawei may not be able to say when it will actually start selling the Mate 30 in Europe and other overseas markets, employees familiar with the situation said. Huawei still is trying to figure out how to address the problem of missing Google services, the employees said.

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Fraudsters used AI to mimic CEO’s voice in unusual cybercrime case • WSJ

Catherine Stupp:

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Criminals used artificial intelligence-based software to impersonate a chief executive’s voice and demand a fraudulent transfer of €220,000 ($243,000) in March in what cybercrime experts described as an unusual case of artificial intelligence being used in hacking.

The CEO of a UK-based energy firm thought he was speaking on the phone with his boss, the chief executive of the firm’s German parent company, who asked him to send the funds to a Hungarian supplier. The caller said the request was urgent, directing the executive to pay within an hour, according to the company’s insurance firm, Euler Hermes Group SA.

Euler Hermes declined to name the victim companies.

Law enforcement authorities and AI experts have predicted that criminals would use AI to automate cyberattacks. Whoever was behind this incident appears to have used AI-based software to successfully mimic the German executive’s voice by phone. The UK CEO recognized his boss’ slight German accent and the melody of his voice on the phone, said Rüdiger Kirsch, a fraud expert at Euler Hermes, a subsidiary of Munich-based financial services company Allianz SE.

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New technology uses: first for porn, next for crime. It’s as predictable as sunrise.
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Exploit sellers say there are more iPhone hacks on the market than they’ve ever seen • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Joseph Cox:

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On Tuesday, vulnerability broker Zerodium announced new prices for Android zero-days, which are bugs and exploits that are unknown to the companies that make the software or hardware, and coveted by sophisticated attackers such as law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Zerodium will pay $2.5m to security researchers who provide exploits that allow for the complete takeover of Android phones without requiring the target to click on anything, while the same type of exploits for iOS are still worth $2m.

“The zero-day market is flooded by iOS exploits, mostly Safari and iMessage chains, mainly due [to] a lot of security researchers having turned their focus into full time iOS exploitation,” Chaouki Bekrar, the founder of Zerodium, said in an online chat. “They’ve absolutely destroyed iOS security and mitigations. There are so many iOS exploits that we’re starting to refuse some of them.”

Andrea Zapparoli Manzoni, director of Crowdfense, a company that buys zero-day exploits and sells them to governments, also said that there are more iOS exploit chains on the market, but with a caveat.

“There are more iOS chains on the market but not all of them are ‘intelligence-grade,'” he wrote in an email.

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Interesting article; worth also looking at this thread from “The Grugq”, a security researcher who sells secured Android smartphones, and says that “a secured Android phone is safer than an iOS device.” Note the use of “secured” as a qualifier there; the “average” Android device, he says, “can trivially be infested with malware”. Even so, this unwelcome (from Apple’s POV) attention is surely why Apple has started giving security researchers specially unlocked phones so they can find flaws. (Thanks #stormyparis for the link.)
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Study shows some political beliefs are just historical accidents • Ars Technica

Scott Johnson:

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A new study by a Cornell team led by Michael Macy approaches these questions with inspiration from an experiment involving, of all things, downloading indie music. That study set up separate “worlds” in which participants checked out new music with the aid of information about which songs other people in their experimental world were choosing. It showed that the songs that were “hits” weren’t always the same—there was a significant role for chance, as a song that got trending early in the experiment had a leg up.

To see if this sort of “accident of history” model could apply to political divisions, the researchers set up a similar experiment. A total of over 4,500 online participants were split into two experiments where each had an equal number of self-identified Democrats and Republicans. The researchers then created ten separate “worlds” in each experiment.

For the first experiment, all the participants were asked whether they agreed with 20 different statements that had been chosen to plausibly be politically controversial, but not actively subjects of argument today. Topics included things like cryptocurrency, a proposal to switch to licensed professional jurors, and gene-editing. In two of the ten experimental worlds, people simply saw these statements and were asked, “As a [Democrat/Republican], do you agree or disagree with this statement?”

The other eight worlds are where it got fun. After the first person had responded to these statements, every other participant would also see whether Republicans or Democrats were more likely to agree with the statement, with that statistic updated following each response.

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The results are quite weird.
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A tariff theory about Apple’s iOS 13 surprise • OneZero

I wrote about my suspicion on why Apple abruptly forked its betas a week ago:

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Imagine it’s midsummer 2019 and you’re in charge of planning at Apple. You’ve been watching Trump’s tweets threatening more tariffs on Chinese-made goods for months now. And on August 1, Trump tweets that he’s going to impose 10% tariffs on all of the $300bn of goods imported from China that don’t already have punitive tariffs on them. Smartphones would be among the products affected.

Neither China nor its exporters pay the tariffs. Trump says otherwise, but is either deluded or lying. They’re paid by Americans. It might be the importer, the distributor, the retail customer, or some combination of the three.

But you know Apple wouldn’t want to bear this cost. It protects its gross margins jealously, and the iPhone is its biggest single business. So, like many companies in the US, it would pass the tariffs on to its customers.

You might think Apple’s customers aren’t price-sensitive and that iPhone sales are price-inelastic, but in reality, at the margin, a number of would-be customers will look at an elevated price tag and say, “uh, maybe some other time.” If the iPhone price is pushed up by tariffs, there would be a ton of stories about that, and about Samsung not being affected by them because its phones are made in South Korea rather than China. Those are the sort of stories Apple doesn’t like around newly released phones.

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Includes ways to tell whether I’m right or wrong on this. (Yeah, Good Place watchers, I’m quite proud of “Holy forking tarballs“.)
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It’s official: USB4 incorporates Thunderbolt 3 • Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott:

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The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) today published the official USB4 specification, which is based on Thunderbolt 3.

“The USB4 specification is a major update to deliver the next-generation USB architecture that complements and builds upon the existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures,” the organization announced. “The USB4 architecture is based on the Thunderbolt protocol specification recently contributed by Intel Corporation to the USB Promoter Group. It doubles the maximum aggregate bandwidth of USB and enables multiple simultaneous data and display protocols.”

To be clear, this is a good thing: Thunderbolt 3 functionality has been available via USB-C for several years now, but adoption has been spotty, with some PC makers mixing and matching between traditional USB-C ports and more powerful USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports. (Only one PC maker, Microsoft, has completely ignored Thunderbolt 3 for some reason.)

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So…. is USB4 only available on USB-C connectors, which are effectively Thunderbolt 3 connectors? It’s confusing enough as it is. (Also, can we standardise between no space, hyphen, space?) (Thanks #stormyparis for the link.)
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A century of “shrill”: how bias in technology has hurt women’s voices • The New Yorker

Tara Tillon:

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The proliferation of AM (amplitude-modulated) radio stations in the early nineteen-twenties led to frequent signal interference, and by 1927 Congress decided to intervene by regulating the bandwidth allotted to each station. Both as a result of these limitations and advances in telephony research, most broadcasters and equipment manufacturers eventually limited their signals to a range between 300Hz and 3.4kHz—a range known as “voiceband”—which was viewed as the bare minimum amount of frequency information needed to adequately transmit speech. Unfortunately, the researchers and regulators who were deciding on this range primarily took lower voices into account when doing so…

…Experiments by the scientists Harvey Fletcher and Wilden Munson in 1933 showed that the human hearing apparatus is naturally more sensitive to frequencies between a 1kHz and 7kHz, and that sounds in those ranges will be perceived as louder when emitted at an equal volume as those below 1kHz. This sensitivity likely has roots in evolutionary biology; warning calls for many species also sit in this range, and failure to hear them could mean death. For modern listeners, this sensitivity aids in the perception of consonants, which result from short, high-frequency noise bursts that punctuate the more continuous, lower-frequency pitched components that we perceive as vowels. However, for female voices, these noise bursts generally occur between 5kHz and 7kHz, whereas, for men, they lie below 5kHz. Capping a signal at 3.4kHz didn’t significantly impact intelligibility for many men, but it certainly did so for most women, because it removed a significant portion of the sonic information critical for consonant identification.

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Not sure if Caroline Criado-Perez has heard about this, but she should. (On stories like this, the New Yorker’s insistence on spelling out numbers remains an annoyance, so I’ve put them back into numbers for comprehensibility.)
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Photovoltaic energy is cheaper than spot market electricity across Europe • pv magazine International

Emiliano Bellini:

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Solar power is already the cheapest source of electricity in several European markets. That headline finding has come out of the report: Impact of weighted average cost of capital, capital expenditure and other parameters on future utility scale PV levelized cost of electricity.

The research team behind the study includes Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology. The report claims the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for power generated by large scale PV projects – and including a 7% nominal weighted average cost of capital (WACC) – ranges from €24/MWh in Malaga, southern Spain, to around €42 in Helsinki, Finland. Those figures, the researchers state, are considerably lower than spot electricity prices in both markets: €47/MWh in Finland and €57 in Spain.

“This means that PV is already cheaper than average spot market electricity all over Europe,” the study’s authors wrote.

The researchers expect the LCOE of solar farm-generated power to drop further in Malaga, to €14/MWh in 2030 and €9 in 2050. In Helsinki they predict respective prices of €24 and €15.

The report noted feed-in tariffs are becoming scarce and utility scale PV is ready to compete in the free market through power purchase agreements or the direct sale of power to the spot market.

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Samsung plans 6.7in foldable phone that collapses into square • Bloomberg

Sohee Kim:

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The South Korean smartphone giant is working on a device with a 6.7in inner display that shrinks to a pocketable square when it’s folded inward like a clamshell, according to people familiar with the product’s development. Samsung is seeking to make its second bendable gadget more affordable and thinner than this year’s Galaxy Fold, they said. The launch of the successor device may, however, hinge on how well the Fold performs after its imminent launch, one of the people said…

…The new foldable phone will have a hole-punch selfie camera at the top of the inner display, just as on the recently released Samsung Galaxy Note 10, according to one person familiar with the device. On the outside, it will have two cameras that face the rear when the phone is open or the front when it’s flipped closed.

“I’m intrigued to see if a manufacturer can deliver a clamshell design that takes the current smartphone footprint and lets you fold in half like a wallet in a similar manner to mobile phones of yesterday such as the iconic Motorola Razr,” said Ben Wood, an analyst with CCS Insight. “That’s what the world is probably waiting for.”

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I don’t think clamshells were the dominant form factor when it was possible to have them. I never used one, personally. Foldables remain an unknown.
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Sony Mobile division in Sweden will close as part of corporate restructuring • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

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Earlier this year, Sony announced that all its consumer electronics divisions would be merged, following years of decline in the company’s mobile sector. Merges inevitably mean job losses, and in addition to cutting around 2,000 employees, Sony is also making plans to shut down the Sweden-based Sony Mobile Communications AB.

Sony’s mobile division currently has two main offices – Sony Mobile Communications Inc. in Japan, and Sony Mobile Communications AB in Sweden. According to local media, 60 more positions are expected to be cut in the Sweden office, on top of the 200 employees already let go. Some workers will be offered positions at Sony Nordic, the company’s general European branch.

Sony’s office in Lund, Sweden is a significant part of its legacy. The location was formerly the main headquarters for Ericsson Mobile Communications, which became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony in early 2012.

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I missed the news of the Sony restructuring, which seems to be a way to hide the mobile division’s losses. But the latter is just circling the drain now. It’s mobile phones as performance art, not a viable business with any future.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,136: deepfake app goes viral, listen to a rock arch, delete your account (easily), enter your phone number (hardly), and more


Here’s how the UK’s big electricity blackout in August began: with a lightning strike. CC-licensed photo by Katy on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Ah, you’re back. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Chinese deepfake app Zao sparks privacy row after going viral • The Guardian

AFP:

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A Chinese app that lets users convincingly swap their faces with film or TV characters has rapidly become one of the country’s most downloaded apps, triggering a privacy row.

Released on Friday, the Zao app went viral as Chinese users seized on the chance to see themselves act out scenes from well-known movies using deepfake technology, which has already prompted concerns elsewhere over potential misuse.

Users provide a series of selfies in which they blink, move their mouths and make facial expressions, which the app uses to realistically morph the person’s animated likeness on to movies, TV shows or other content.

The company was forced to issue a statement on Sunday pledging changes after critics attacked the app’s privacy policy, which it had “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable” rights to all user-generated content.

There has been growing concern over deepfakes, which use artificial intelligence to appear genuine. Critics say the technology can be used to create bogus videos to manipulate elections, defame someone, or potentially cause unrest by spreading misinformation on a massive scale.

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It’s remarkable stuff: this tweet has an example of a Chinese user’s face overlaid on Leonardo Di Caprio’s.

My first link to a “deep fake” was in December 2017, though it wasn’t called that; it involved the face of Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) being put onto someone else’s body for a porn video. 19 months later, it’s an app.
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This rock has a voice and you can listen to it • Outside Online

Samantha Yadron:

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like other large rock formations, Castleton Tower [near Moab, Utah] hums. It vibrates from energy produced by earthquakes, ocean waves, cities, trains, and road traffic, or even from wind or aviation noise in the air. 

And thanks to a group of geologists at the University of Utah—and a couple of ambitious rock climbers—now you can hear it. 

The researchers, led by geologist Jeffrey R. Moore, published a study on Tuesday in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America that shared a recording of the tower’s vibrations. To make the recording, Moore’s team used seismometers, devices that pick up slight movements in the earth in three dimensions. They then amplified and sped up the nearly three-hour recording to a frequency audible to humans. 

You can listen to the rock here:

“It has ebbs and flows to it, but it’s largely a sort of droning sound, emphasizing how the tower is always vibrating as energy comes up through the earth,” says Paul R. Geimer, PhD, an author on the study. 

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It’s pretty quiet. But it would make quiet a relaxing background if you put it onto a loop.
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What really happened in the UK blackouts? • Mitch O’Neill

Mitch O’Neill:

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I’ll be focusing on the 76 seconds between 4:52:33PM when the intial event occured, through to 4:53:49 PM when the load shedding occured.

4:52:33 PM

The grid begins in a stable operating state. These next four events all happen within 1 second:

1) Lightning hits the Eaton Socon – Wymondley transmission circuit. A normal and unremarkable occurrence. The circuit disconnects and opens after 70ms [milliseconds!] to clear the fault. This circuit will re-energise and come back online in 20 seconds. This is good and normal!

2) The lightning strike created a transient voltage disturbance which caused the loss of 500MW of small embedded distributed generation (solar, small gas and diesel) on the transmission circuit. This is good and normal and meant to happen when lightning strikes a line!

3) “Hornsea started deloading”. Not good! Hornsea, a large offshore wind farm changes output from 799MW to 62MW, a 737MW reduction in output.

4) “Little Barford Steam Turbine trips 244MW instantaneously”. Doubly not good!

What begins as a lightning strike cascades to a 1481MW loss in generation.

Frequency begins to fall.

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This is fascinating, based on the interim report from the UK National Grid. A glimpse of the incredible complexity that lies behind the socket on the wall.
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Tesla batteries are keeping Zimbabwe’s economy running • Bloomberg

Antony Sguazzin:

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Amid power outages of as long as 18 hours a day, Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile-phone operator, is turning to the Palo Alto, California-based automaker and storable-energy company for batteries that can keep its base stations running. The southern African country faces chronic shortages of physical cash, so almost all transactions are done digitally, and many via mobile phones.

“Telecommunications have become the lifeblood of the economy,” said Norman Moyo, the chief executive officer of Distributed Power Africa, which installs the batteries for Econet. “If the telecom network is down in Zimbabwe, you can’t do any transactions.”

The installation of 520 Powerwall batteries, with two going into each base station, is the largest telecommunications project in which Tesla has participated to date, Moyo said. With Econet having about 1,300 base stations in the country and two other mobile-phone companies operating there, Distributed Power intends to install more batteries and could eventually roll the project out to other power-starved countries in Africa, such as Zambia, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said.

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Solar panels power the base stations; excess energy charges the battery, which takes over when it’s dark or overcast. Diesel is too expensive (and runs out).
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Just Delete Me : A directory of direct links to delete your account from web services.

:

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Many companies use dark pattern techniques to make it difficult to find how to delete your account. JustDelete.me aims to be a directory of urls to enable you to easily delete your account from web services.

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A service, apparently, from Backgroundchecks.org. Turns out that Facebook is only “medium” difficult to delete yourself from; some services (lookin’ at you, Animal Crossing) are “impossible”.
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Programmers imagine the most ridiculous ways to enter a phone number into a form • Quartz

Keith Collins:

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What we have here is a dystopian vision of what the internet might look like if web developers suddenly stopped caring about user-friendliness. Usually, programmers write code to validate the information people enter into these forms. The validation code ensures that people have entered only letters for their names, and only numbers for their phone numbers. Because, believe it or not, sometimes people don’t.

Writing validation code can be a bit of a pain. So imagine a developer who’s new to making forms or otherwise very lazy, and decides to force users to enter letters and numbers in the right places. They might come up with something like the image above. It’d be difficult to enter the wrong kind of information into a dropdown list like that one, which contains all of the thousands of combinations of numbers between 0000 and 9999.

The image was originally posted last month to Reddit, and then to Twitter. We haven’t yet been able to verify whether it’s a joke or a screenshot of an actual website.

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Oh, but it gets better: the Quartz article shows the many, many examples that programmers thought of which would be worse for entering your phone number. And some are truly fiendish. (The mouse movement one might be my, um, favourite.)
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Pre-register for the Samsung Galaxy Fold (again) • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:

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If you had your sights set on buying the Samsung Galaxy Fold, you probably pre-registered to buy the device back in April when the company opened up that system. However, all pre-registrations — and eventual pre-orders — were canceled when things took a turn.

Now, Samsung is re-opening pre-registrations for the Galaxy Fold in the United States.

To be clear, pre-registration is not pre-ordering. With a pre-reg, all you’re doing is letting Samsung know that you are interested in buying the Fold at some point in the future. By pre-registering, you’ll be notified by email as soon as Samsung opens the new pre-order system.

However, it is possible that Samsung could skip pre-orders. The sign-up page doesn’t make any mention about pre-orders at all, so it’s possible Samsung could simply notify people once the device is available for sale.

Unfortunately, there is still no word on the actual re-launch date of the company’s first foldable smartphone. Although the re-emergence of this pre-registration page likely means we’re only a few weeks out, or possibly a month at most.

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Taking the temperature before shipping; makes sense. But registration isn’t ordering, as Brown points out; so will those who “pre-register” all go on to order? Or might some have second thoughts when they see the (still unknown) price?
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Revealed: how a secret Dutch mole aided the U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet cyberattack on Iran • Yahoo News

Kim Zetter and Huib Modderkolk:

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For years, an enduring mystery has surrounded the Stuxnet virus attack that targeted Iran’s nuclear program: How did the US and Israel get their malware onto computer systems at the highly secured uranium-enrichment plant?

The first-of-its-kind virus, designed to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, effectively launched the era of digital warfare and was unleashed some time in 2007, after Iran began installing its first batch of centrifuges at a controversial enrichment plant near the village of Natanz.

The courier behind that intrusion, whose existence and role has not been previously reported, was an inside mole recruited by Dutch intelligence agents at the behest of the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, according to sources who spoke with Yahoo News.

An Iranian engineer recruited by the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD provided critical data that helped the US developers target their code to the systems at Natanz, according to four intelligence sources. That mole then provided much-needed inside access when it came time to slip Stuxnet onto those systems using a USB flash drive.

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Why the Dutch, you ask? Because:

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the centrifuges at Natanz were based on designs stolen from a Dutch company in the 1970s by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan stole the designs to build Pakistan’s nuclear program, then proceeded to market them to other countries, including Iran and Libya.

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I wonder if the Stuxnet story has been optioned for a film. It really should have been.
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iOS 13 code suggests Apple testing AR headset with ‘Starboard’ mode, ‘garta’ codename, and more • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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documentation seen by MacRumors in an internal build of iOS 13 suggests development of a head-mounted augmented reality display has continued.

Namely, internal builds of iOS 13 include a “STARTester” app that can switch in and out of a head-mounted mode, presumably to replicate the functionality of an augmented reality headset on an iPhone for testing purposes. There are two head-mounted states for testing, including “worn” and “held.”

There is also an internal README file in iOS 13 that describes a “StarBoard” system shell for stereo AR-enabled apps, which implies a headset of some kind. The file also suggests Apple is developing an augmented reality device codenamed “Garta,” possibly as one of several prototypes under the “T288” umbrella.

Digging further into the internal iOS 13 code, we uncovered numerous strings related to a so-called “StarBoard mode” and various “views” and “scenes.” Many of the strings reference augmented reality, including “ARStarBoardViewController” and “ARStarBoardSceneManager.”

Multiple sources have claimed that Apple plans to release augmented reality glasses as early as 2020…

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Internal build, eh? That’s quite a leak, since internal builds would also have details of forthcoming devices such as phones.
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Ten years on, Foursquare is now checking in to you • NY Mag

James D. Walsh on the “I’m the mayor of…” company’s pivot to a business-to-business model, which it made in 2014:

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It projected iPhone sales in 2015 based on traffic to Apple stores and, in 2016, the huge drop in Chipotle’s sales figures (thanks to E. coli) two weeks before the burrito-maker announced its quarterly earnings. (It also used its data to show that foot traffic to Trump properties began declining after he announced his presidential campaign, and that traffic to Nike stores increased after the Colin Kaepernick ad.)

Co-founder and executive chairman Dennis Crowley says the human check-ins gave Foursquare engineers and data scientists the ability to verify and adjust location readings from other sources, like GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. As it turns out, the goofy badges for Uncle Tony that made Foursquare easy to dismiss as a late-2000s fad were an incredibly powerful tool. “Everyone was laughing at us, ‘Oh, what are you, just people checking in at coffee shops?’” Crowley says. “Yeah, and they checked in billions of times. So we had this corpus of data, an army of people, who every day were like, ‘I’m at Think Coffee.’ ‘I’m at Think Coffee.’ ‘I’m at Think Coffee.’” Because of the “corpus” of data generated by people like Uncle Tony, Foursquare knows when the dimensions of storefronts change and can tell the difference between an office on the eighth floor and one of the ninth floor.

In addition to all of those active check-ins, at some point Foursquare began collecting passive data using a “check-in button you never had to press.” It doesn’t track people 24/7 (in addition to creeping people out, doing so would burn through phones’ batteries), but instead, if users opt-in to allow the company to “always” track their locations, the app will register when someone stops and determine whether that person is at a red light or inside an Urban Outfitters. The Foursquare database now includes 105 million places and 14 billion check-ins. The result, experts say, is a map that is often more reliable and detailed than the ones generated by Google and Facebook.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified