Start Up No.1,163: China v Hong Kong v the tech world, watch Tokyo’s trains, Apple delays iCloud file sharing, and more


We took the “save” icon and made a real thing out of them! 5.25in and 3.5in floppy disks. CC-licensed photo by Luc Betbeder on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Not valid in Delaware. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Melbourne cyber conference organisers pressured speaker to edit ‘biased’ talk • The Guardian

Josh Taylor:

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Organisers at the Australian Cyber Conference in Melbourne asked a speaker to edit his speech on Australia’s anti-encryption legislation, after they had dropped two other speakers, who were delivering talks related to whistleblowing, from the line-up at the last minute.

Guardian Australia has learned that Ted Ringrose, partner with legal advice firm Ringrose Siganto was told to edit his speech, and conference organisers had sent him an edited version of his slide pack on his talk stating that the original version was “biased”.

He said they took issue with a comparison between Australia’s encryption laws and China’s, despite the fact that his talk points out that while Australia’s look worse on the surface, in reality it is “just about as bad”.

Ringrose said he pushed back at the attempted censorship and the conference organisers agreed to let him present his talk as planned.

This is in contrast to the decisions made regarding speeches by US whistleblower Thomas Drake and University of Melbourne researcher Dr Suelette Dreyfus.

On Tuesday it was reported former national security agency executive turned whistleblower Drake, along with Dreyfus, were kicked off the conference agenda in what Drake described as an “Orwellian” move by the conference partner, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

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So strap in as we do another edition of “western countries/companies or China: which is behaving worse?”
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Social media use could change for Americans after China’s NBA shutdown • CNBC

David Reid:

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Beijing’s power over international companies was also highlighted back in August when Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg stepped down after one of the airline’s pilots was found to have taken part in the protests.

With this latest swipe back at corporate business, China has underlined how sensitive it is to criticism and reinforced the strict rules it wants to be followed by overseas firms wanting to earn money in the country.

Speaking to CNBC’S Street Signs Tuesday, James Pethokoukis, an economic policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said U.S. firms in China would face increasingly difficult choices.

“Perhaps in how employees use social media but more importantly about how to do business in China,” he said, before adding that a cultural boycott by overseas entertainment, similar to what was seen in South Africa in the 1980s, was also a possible outcome.

“I can easily see how there will be increasing pressure on the NBA or Hollywood to limit or change how it does business in China,” said Pethokoukis.

“Perhaps no more red carpet or premieres in Shanghai as long as there are crackdowns in Hong Kong and internment of Uighurs in western China,” he added.

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So who loses out, exactly? This is shaping up to be a defining cultural clash of the next decade. If China has the money to buy everything, and if it is the largest market for lots of western things, do companies which aren’t headquartered in China have to obey its rules? Why? Do you get a sort of cultural race to the bottom of obsequiousness (apologies for the image) because you can have more money?
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Thread by @Grummz: “This hurts. But until Blizzard reverses their decision on @blitzchungHS I am giving up playing Classic WoW…” • Twitter

Mark Kern is a “game designer, CEO, writer”:

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This hurts. But until Blizzard reverses their decision on @blitzchungHS I am giving up playing Classic WoW, which I helped make and helped convince Blizzard to relaunch. There will be no Mark of Kern guild after all.

Let me explain why I am #BoycottBlizzard. I am ethnically Chinese. I was born in Taiwan and I lived in Hong Kong for a time. I have done buisiness with China for many years, with serveral gaming companies there.

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As you’ll recall from yesterday, Blizzard banned a pro gamer for supporting the Hong Kong protesters. This is a link to his whole thread, which is detailed and powerful.
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‘Protecting rioters’: China warns Apple over app that tracks Hong Kong police • The Guardian

Verna Yu:

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The app HKmap.live, which crowdsources the location of police and anti-government protesters, was approved by Apple on 4 October and went on its App Store a day later, after the company reversed an earlier decision to reject the submission, according to an anonymous developer cited in the South China Morning Post. The app displays hotspots on a map of the city that is continuously updated as users report incidents, hence allowing protesters to avoid police.

The headline of the People’s Daily commentary carried by its official microblog on Wednesday said: “Protecting rioters – Has Apple thought clearly about this?”

It went on to say: “Allowing the ‘poisonous’ app to flourish is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings.”

The HKmap.live is reportedly the most downloaded app under the travel category in the iOS App Store for Hong Kong.

Without specifically naming the app, the People’s Daily commentary said it allowed “Hong Kong rioters to openly commit crime while openly escaping arrests”. It said Apple’s approval of the app made it an “accomplice” in the protests because it “blatantly protects and endorses the rioters”. It questioned what the company’s intentions were.

It also criticised Apple for allowing Glory to Hong Kong – an unofficial anthem frequently sung by protesters during the ongoing anti-government movement – to be available for download in the Apple music store.

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This is even trickier than the usual political rapids Apple has to negotiate over China. Hong Kong is part of China, but it is a separate part (something like, but not exactly like, Puerto Rico’s relationship to the US), and Apple has separate app stores for Hong Kong and for China. So should complaints about Hong Kong that come from China be ignored?
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The ‘radically different’ Essential Phone 2 is on its way, but why? • PCWorld

Michael Simon:

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In a thinly veiled tease of the next Essential Phone, Rubin tweeted out a series of pics of what he calls a “new UI for a radically different formfactor (sic).” A few hours later, his company confirmed the images as showing “a new device to reframe your perspective,” claiming that “it’s now in early testing with our team outside the lab.”

And radical it is. The phone looks to have a a glossy “Colorshift” back with a single bulbous camera, a hole-punch selfie cam, uniform bezels, and an extra-tall screen that puts the Note 10+‘s 19.5:9 aspect ratio to shame. In all honesty, it looks more like a new Apple TV remote than a phone, and it raises for more question than answers.

Let’s start with the most obvious one: what operating system is it running? Rubin touted the unique UI of the new device, but the two screenshots don’t look like any version of Android I’ve ever seen. So it’s safe to say that it’s a proprietary OS designed for the screen’s a ridiculous ratio. Rubin may have the Android pedigree to stand one, but the last thing we need is a new smartphone OS in 2019.

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If it really is a new smartphone OS, then this is the last we’ll see of Essential. Writing an OS and then updating it is a huge revenue suck which nobody thanks you for. Add to that the absurd aspect ratio of this phone, and you have 2019’s biggest non-seller. This is far, far worse than the Galaxy Fold.
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Shazam financials reveal it added 78m users in 2018 • Musically

Stuart Dredge:

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Shazam reached 478 million annual active users in 2018, which is 78 million more than in the previous year. The company’s revenues fell by 23% to £31.4m last year, but it swung from a loss of £17.7m in 2017 to a profit of just under £124m in 2018.  That’s the benefit of being bought by a global tech giant like Apple, which completed its acquisition of Shazam in November 2018…

…The financials don’t tell us much else useful about Shazam’s business in the year of its acquisition, although as in 2017, the company’s administrative expenses alone (£39.8m) outweighed its revenues. But balancing P&L is a thing of the past for Shazam now: the director’s note suggests “a reasonable expectation that the Company and the Group have adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future.” Well, quite.

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Report: Blockchain app transaction volume down nearly 40% • The Next Web

David Canellis:

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The total transactional volume of blockchain apps (dapps) across the six major dapp-centric networks hit just $2.03bn last quarter, down by nearly 40%.

More troubling, just 148 dapps launched in Q3 of this year. That’s less than the monthly average of the first half of 2019 (when 164 new ones were deployed every month).

Still, over half of those transactions were related to cryptocurrency gambling, reports dapp explorer Dapp.com with its latest quarterly analysis.

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“Cryptocurrency gambling” seems tautologous.
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Kuo: iPad Pro with rear 3D ToF camera and scissor mechanism MacBooks to launch in 1H 2020 • MacRumors

Tim Hardwick:

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Apple will launch a new iPad Pro with a rear-facing 3D Time of Flight camera in the first quarter of 2020, according to a new report out today from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and seen by MacRumors.

We’ve previously heard multiple rumors suggesting a time-of-flight camera system for Apple’s 2020 iPhones and iPad Pros, including info from Kuo himself, but this is the first time that he’s specified the 3D sensing camera system will be available in new iPad Pro models to be released early next year.

A time-of-flight camera system measures the time that it takes for a laser or LED to bounce off of objects in a room, providing an accurate 3D map of the surroundings. A rear time-of-flight camera would also bolster photo quality and offer new and improved AR applications.

Two of the iPhones set to be released in 2020 will also feature 3D sensing rear camera setups with time-of-flight (ToF) camera lenses, according to a previous note from Kuo in July.

The Apple analyst has also revealed his predicted schedule for Apple’s MacBook lineup refresh. We’ve already learned that Apple is planning to use a scissor mechanism rather than a butterfly mechanism for its upcoming 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is expected to be announced as soon as this month.

However, Kuo has said that after the 16-inch MacBook Pro launches, future Macs coming in 2020 will also swap over to a scissor mechanism rather than a butterfly mechanism, resulting in more durable keyboards that are not as prone to failure from heat, dust and other small particulates.

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ToF seems an odd thing to include if you don’t have a really clear application in mind. But scissors crossed for the new (old) keyboard design.
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A real-time 3D digital map of Tokyo’s public transport system • Github

Akihiko Kusanagi:

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The data for this visualization are sourced from Open Data Challenge for Public Transportation in Tokyo, which includes station information and train timetables as well as real-time data such as train location information and status information of multiple railway lines in the Greater Tokyo area.

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You’ll need a fast connection, but this is amazing: a 3D live map of Tokyo and its underground lines with live tracking of the trains. Oh, and incoming aircraft at Haneda Airport. I never tire of seeing these things.
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Floppy disk history: the evolution of personal computing • HPE

Steven Vaughan-Nichols:

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The floppy disk seems so simple now, but it changed everything. As IBM’s history of the floppy disk states, this was a big advance in user-friendliness. “But perhaps the greatest impact of the floppy wasn’t on individuals, but on the nature and structure of the IT industry. Up until the late 1970s, most software applications for tasks such as word processing and accounting were written by the personal computer owners themselves. But thanks to the floppy, companies could write programs, put them on the disks, and sell them through the mail or in stores. “It made it possible to have a software industry,” says Lee Felsenstein, a pioneer of the PC industry who designed the Osborne 1, the first mass-produced portable computer. Before networks became widely available for PCs, people used floppies to share programs and data with each other—calling it the ‘sneakernet.'”

In short, it was the floppy disk that turned microcomputers into personal computers.

The success of the Apple II made the 5.25in drive the industry standard. The vast majority of CP/M-80 PCs, from the late 70s to early 80s, used this size floppy drive. When the first IBM PC arrived in 1981, you had your choice of one or two 160 kilobyte (K—yes, just one K) floppy drives.

Throughout the early 80s, the floppy drive became the portable storage format. (Tape quickly was relegated to business backups.) At first, the floppy disk drives were built with only one read/write head, but another set of heads were quickly incorporated. This meant that when the IBM XT PC arrived in 1983, double-sided floppies could hold up to 360 K of data.

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I have a false memory of using 12in floppies on CP/M PCs in the 1980s; in fact, they were the 8in ones. They just seemed like they were the size of vinyl records compared to the sleeker 5.25in ones – which, in turn, came to seem monstrous (and also fragile) compared to the sturdier 3.5in ones.

And that’s before you get to the price-per-floppy. You know how a few years ago you’d hoard USB storage sticks? It was that way with floppies, except writers often had to send copy on floppy in the post. You only tried that with a 5.25in one once.
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Apple delays iCloud Drive file sharing until next spring • Cult of Mac

Killian Bell:

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Apple’s All Features webpage for macOS, which lists everything that’s new in Catalina, stated earlier this week that iCloud Drive file sharing would launch before the end of this year.

The page has been updated following the public rollout of macOS Catalina on Monday, however. File sharing will now be available in spring of next year.

Communication Limits for Screen Time, which fall under the same asterisk on that All Features page, also appear to have been delayed until early 2020.

File sharing, which allows users to collaborate on files through iCloud and see updates as they happen, is a key feature of competing cloud storage services like Dropbox.

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Well, yeah. iCloud offers various tiers at 5GB, 50GB, 200GB and 1TB; Dropbox offers 2GB for free, or 1TB at the same price as Apple ($9.99/month). The key thing Dropbox has is that sharing. Though of course you can just focus on putting stuff you want to share into Dropbox, and keep the stuff you want to share only with yourself in iCloud.
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An AI pioneer wants his algorithms to understand the ‘why’ • WIRED

Will Knight:

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In March, Yoshua Bengio received a share of the Turing Award, the highest accolade in computer science, for contributions to the development of deep learning—the technique that triggered a renaissance in artificial intelligence, leading to advances in self-driving cars, real-time speech translation, and facial recognition.

Now, Bengio says deep learning needs to be fixed. He believes it won’t realize its full potential, and won’t deliver a true AI revolution, until it can go beyond pattern recognition and learn more about cause and effect. In other words, he says, deep learning needs to start asking why things happen.

The 55-year-old professor at the University of Montreal, who sports bushy gray hair and eyebrows, says deep learning works well in idealized situations but won’t come close to replicating human intelligence without being able to reason about causal relationships. “It’s a big thing to integrate [causality] into AI,” Bengio says. “Current approaches to machine learning assume that the trained AI system will be applied on the same kind of data as the training data. In real life it is often not the case.”

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Certainly a desirable aim, though most humans would struggle with the “why” of many of their actions. Or, of course, we post-rationalise – we decide at a subconscious level, and then make up reasons why.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,163: China v Hong Kong v the tech world, watch Tokyo’s trains, Apple delays iCloud file sharing, and more

  1. re. Essential phone. I wouldn’t read too much into M. Rubin’s comms:
    1- It’s PR, you know that thing companies do when they want to get press, and which works best (at least for minor players) when provocative. He certainly got Essential’s name out with that one. PR has a loose relationship to reality.
    2- It could very well be true Android, or a Fire-like light fork. Android lets you do a lot of stuff to the UI in general and to the Launcher (home page) in particular. We’ve got Windows-like launchers too (I like them in theory, but in practice Live Tiles are inferior to widgets, and of course no apps supply Live Tiles on Android so you’re limited to a handful of built-in ones)
    3- This reminds me of the companion devices that flash-in-the-pan’d a few years ago, mini-phones paired to a regular or large-ish smartphone, back when 5.5″ was large.
    4- there is demand for small phones. I think it’s a manifestation of fear because the “I can’t handle it” is fairly transparent, and false in Android ‘s case (navbar at the bottom + screen scaling + compact keyboard + good assistant).
    5- Essential pioneered the notch, maybe the slimphone will be turn out to be a thing too, even though I dislike both ^^
    6- M. Rubin has been an exemplary Android OEM (good with updates, innovative, qualitatitve…). Him jumping ship is about as likely as Mobvoi’s ex-Googlers.

  2. re floppies: I remember as a Lab assistant back at Ohio State in the late 90s, someone had received a 5 1/4 floppy folded in an envelope. Surprisingly, extracting the magnetic disk from its paper sleeve and putting it into a pristine new sleeve was enough to make it readable again. I was so surprised it worked, I had my “It’s dead, John” speech ready.

  3. I’d avoid validating and linking to Grummz. He’s a gamergater and harrasser.

    e.g.

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