About charlesarthur

Freelance journalist - technology, science, and so on. Author of "Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet".

Start Up: the telltale tracker, Uber’s culture trouble, the Twitter resistance, wood trouble, and more


Could machine learning solve the troll problem? Google hopes so. Others are doubtful. Photo by tsparks on Flickr.

You can now 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. Not for sale in Boston. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Marathon runner’s tracked data exposes phony time, cover-up attempt • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

»

Hot tip: If you’re going to cheat while running a marathon, don’t wear a fitness tracking band.

A New York food writer found this out the hard way on Tuesday after she was busted for an elaborate run-faking scheme, in which she attempted to use doctored data to back up an illegitimate finish time. In an apologetic Instagram post that was eventually deleted, 24-year-old runner Jane Seo admitted to cutting the course at the Fort Lauderdale A1A Half Marathon.

An independent marathon-running investigator (yes, that’s a thing) named Derek Murphy posted his elaborate analysis of Seo’s scheme, and the findings revolved almost entirely around data derived from Seo’s Garmin 235 fitness tracker. Suspicions over her second-place finish in the half marathon began after very limited data about her podium-placing run was posted to the Strava fitness-tracking service. The data only listed a distance and completion time, as opposed to more granular statistics. (This followed the release of Seo’s official completion times, which showed her running remarkably faster in the half marathon’s later stages.)

Things got weirder when Seo eventually posted a “complete,” GPS-tracked run of the half-marathon course. Its time-stamp looked suspiciously off, Murphy noted in his own report, so he dug up older run-data posts from her same account and noticed starkly different heart rate and cadence stats in her newer report. “The cadence data [of the half marathon] is more consistent with what you would expect on a bike ride, not a run,” Murphy wrote.

«

There are people tracking what you do all. The. Time. How long before this sort of thing is mandatory?
link to this extract


The EU’s renewable energy policy is making global warming worse • New Scientist

Michael Le Page:

»

Countries in the EU, including the UK, are throwing away money by subsidising the burning of wood for energy, according to an independent report.

While burning some forms of wood waste can indeed reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in practice the growing use of wood energy in the EU is increasing rather than reducing emissions, the new report concludes.

Overall, burning wood for energy is much worse in climate terms than burning gas or even coal, but loopholes in the way emissions are counted are concealing the damage being done.

“It is not a great use of public money,” says Duncan Brack of the policy research institute Chatham House in London, who drew up the report. “It is providing unjustifiable incentives that have a negative impact on the climate.”

The money would be better spent on wind and solar power instead, he says.

It is widely assumed that burning wood does not cause global warming, that it is “carbon neutral”. But the report, which is freely available, details why this is not true.

«

From the report:

»

Although most renewable energy policy frameworks treat biomass as though it is carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, in reality this cannot be assumed, as biomass emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. Only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.

«

link to this extract


Reporters love chatrooms but worry security is slacking • Fast Company

Cale Guthrie Weissman:

»

Slack’s ease of use is great for a busy newsroom. Reporters and staff can post links they’ve found online, leads they’ve uncovered, public records they want to request, or edits, in real-time and in one place. (Most of Fast Company’s staff relies heavily on Slack.) New chatrooms or “channels”—either public or private ones—can be created on the fly. The app’s ease of use also means the virtual newsroom is a sort of digital watercooler, where reporters share the sort of gossip they would never want associated with their bylines. A release of this data—either by a court’s subpoena or a hacker’s intrusion—wouldn’t only require the public explanation of private jokes. It could risk compromising an already delicate trust between journalists and their audiences, and lead to the inadvertent disclosure of the identities of anonymous sources.

This last part is of the utmost importance to reporters. The relationship between a source and an investigative journalist hangs on trust: Sources provide sensitive information under the assumption that writers will protect their identities. Despite the best of intentions, reporters using Slack and other digital platforms may be inadvertently breaking this pact. Sources like John Kiriakou, the first CIA officer to speak openly on waterboarding—and whose disclosure of classified information to investigative journalists helped send him to prison—serve as an example of how high the stakes can be.

«

link to this extract


Inside Uber’s aggressive, unrestrained workplace culture • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:

»

Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers’ breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.

Until this week, this culture was only whispered about in Silicon Valley.

«

Great reporting as ever by Isaac.
link to this extract


An open letter to the Uber board and investors • Medium

Mitch and Freada Kapor:

»

As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture. When Uber has come under public criticism, we have been available to make suggestions, and have been publicly supportive, in the hope that the leadership would take the necessary steps to make the changes needed to bring about real change.

Freada gave a talk on hidden bias to the company in early 2015, and we have both been contacted by senior leaders at Uber (though notably not by Travis, the CEO) for advice on a variety of issues, mostly pertaining to diversity and inclusion, up to and including this past weekend.

We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside.

If we believed it was too late for Uber to change, we would not be writing this, but as investors, it is now up to us to call out the inherent conflicts of interest in their current path.

We are disappointed to see that Uber has selected a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change. To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct.

«

If you’re trying to put your finger on where you’ve heard the Kapor name before, Mitch was behind Lotus 1-2-3 – the most gigantic smash hit office software ever before Microsoft Office. It’s useful to read the Wikipedia entry: “Lotus was a company with few rules and fewer internal bureaucratic barriers”. (Quoting a book.)

Uber, meanwhile, is a company with big cultural problems. Changing its culture could kill the company. Not changing the culture could hurt its public face.
link to this extract


Echo Labs debuts a wearable medical lab on your wrist • ReadWrite

Amanda Razani:

»

Echo Labs provides health care organizations with analytics to allow for better care of their patients, decrease hospital admissions, and reduce spending. Its first generation wearable offers health information by creating continuous vital sign tracking.

The company is now working on its newest device. The company states that the new tracker will be able to determine what’s going on inside the bloodstream, which is a first for wrist-based wearables.  The tracker utilizes optical sensors and spectrometry to measure and analyze blood composition and flow. It also monitors heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and full blood gas panels.

The company explains that the band measures blood content with a light and a proprietary algorithm. Basically, it sends electromagnetic waves through human tissue, and then measures the reflection of varying light frequencies in order to find the concentration of molecules in the blood.

“The wearable and sensor are the gateway to understanding the state of the body at any point in time. We can identify deterioration 3 to 5 days before it happens,” the company states.

«

Might want to have a little scepticism around this (*cough*Theranos*cough*) but it does sound interesting.
link to this extract


Google’s Perspective API opens up its troll-fighting AI • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Last September, A Google offshoot called Jigsaw declared war on trolls, launching a project to defeat online harassment using machine learning. Now, the team is opening up that troll-fighting system to the world.

On Thursday, Jigsaw and its partners on Google’s Counter Abuse Technology Team released a new piece of code called Perspective, an API that gives any developer access to the anti-harassment tools that Jigsaw has worked on for over a year. Part of the team’s broader Conversation AI initiative, Perspective uses machine learning to automatically detect insults, harassment, and abusive speech online. Enter a sentence into its interface, and Jigsaw says its AI can immediately spit out an assessment of the phrase’s “toxicity” more accurately than any keyword blacklist, and faster than any human moderator.

The Perspective release brings Conversation AI a step closer to its goal of helping to foster troll-free discussion online, and filtering out the abusive comments that silence vulnerable voices—or, as the project’s critics have less generously put it, to sanitize public discussions based on algorithmic decisions.

«

And there’s a demonstration website. Maybe they should try Microsoft’s Tay (which was driven haywire within a few hours) on it? “Nasty woman” gets 92%, “Bad hombre” 78%. Wait, now I’m thinking it should be used on Trump’s tweets.

Testers including the NY Times, Guardian and Economist.
link to this extract


If only AI could save us from ourselves • MIT Technology Review

David Auerbach goes into more detail about Google’s Perspective project:

»

The linguistic problem in abuse detection is context. Conversation AI’s comment analysis doesn’t model the entire flow of a discussion; it matches individual comments against learned models of what constitute good or bad comments. For example, comments on the New York Times site might be deemed acceptable if they tend to include common words, phrases, and other features. But Greene says Google’s system frequently flagged comments on articles about Donald Trump as abusive because they quoted him using words that would get a comment rejected if they came from a reader. For these sorts of articles, the Times will simply turn off automatic moderation.

It’s impossible, then, to see Conversation AI faring well on a wide-open site like Twitter. How would it detect the Holocaust allusions in abusive tweets sent to the Jewish journalist Marc Daalder: “This is you if Trump wins,” with a picture of a lamp shade, and “You belong here,” with a picture of a toaster oven? Detecting the abusiveness relies on historical knowledge and cultural context that a machine-learning algorithm could detect only if it had been trained on very similar examples. Even then, how would it be able to differentiate between abuse and the same picture with “This is what I’m buying if Trump wins”? The level of semantic and practical knowledge required is beyond what machine learning currently even aims at.

«

link to this extract


How Twitter became an outlet of resistance, information for federal employees • FederalNewsRadio.com

David Thornton tried to verify whether the 80+ accounts claiming to be “Alt” federal accounts were really people working inside the US government:

»

Federal News Radio attempted to contact more than 50 of these accounts via Twitter, although the vast majority won’t accept direct messages from people they don’t follow. Those who do claim to be federal employees frequently point to their access to inside information to prove their case.

“It is actually quite fraught for federal employees [to use Twitter], as it is for private employees as well,” Brooke Van Dam, associate professor and faculty director of the Masters in Professional Studies in Journalism at Georgetown University, said in an email. “I can see why they would want to directly talk to the public but most institutions and organizations want to keep a single line or statement and having a multitude of actors sharing ‘what’s really going on’ or ‘the truth’ is problematic. In that, it gives an easy out for those higher up to fire or get rid of those that don’t toe the line as we just saw with Shermichael Singleton at HUD.”

Singleton was an aide to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Nominee Ben Carson, before he was fired after a background investigation turned up writings from the campaign season in which Singleton criticized then-Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.

«

link to this extract


Can I own my identity on the internet? • Terence Eden

The aforesaid Eden:

»

The ultra secure messaging app, Signal, requires a mobile phone number in order to sign up to it. This, as my friend Tom Morris, points out, is madness.

People don’t own mobile phone numbers. They are rented from mobile operators. Yes, you may be able to move “your” number between a limited set of providers – but it ultimately doesn’t belong to you. An operator can unilaterally take your number away from you.
If you move to a different country, you will almost certainly have to change your number – thus invalidating any account which relies on a mobile being your primary identifier.

That’s before we get on to how hideously insecure phone numbers are. Transmitting an SMS with a sensitive one-time code over a cleartext which can be easily intercepted is not a sensible approach to security. Modern phone networks are designed to accommodate Lawful Intercept – and suffer from a range of security weaknesses.

Fine. Whatever. Let’s use emails as our primary ID. Bzzzt! Wrong! Email addresses are just as ephemeral as mobile numbers.

«

Could we not all have an IPv6 address, though, assigned at birth or something?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the female bot question, Fitbit off pace, Bangalore’s techie times, the fact problem, and more


Wondering how long it will take to get to work? There’s an API for that. Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

You can now 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alexa, Siri, Cortana: the problem with all-female digital assistants • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

So if we can’t have genderless helpers, why did we end up with so many more gal bots than guy bots? The answer is pretty simple: Both women and men find the female voice more welcoming and warm.

In 2008, Karl MacDorman, a professor at Indiana University who specializes in human-computer interaction, set up an experiment with some fellow researchers. When they had men and women listen to male and female synthesized voices, both groups said the female voices were “warmer.” The most interesting part? In further tests of less voluntary responses, women showed a stronger implicit preference for the female voice. (Men showed no significant implicit preference for either gender.)

Amazon and Microsoft found the same preference for the female voice in their market research. “For our objectives—building a helpful, supportive, trustworthy assistant—a female voice was the stronger choice,” says a Microsoft spokeswoman. Amazon says it tested several voices with customers and internal groups and found that Alexa’s female voice was preferred.

Siri may default to a female voice in the U.S. but Apple provides both male and female voice options for iPhone and iPad users to choose from. In fact, on iPhones where the language is Arabic, French, Dutch or British English, Siri defaults to a male voice.

«

Odd how Americans prefer the female voice. Maybe this needs a wider study.
link to this extract


Fitbit attempts to reassure investors after holiday sales slump • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Fitbit attempted to reassure investors that a shortfall in holiday sales was just a temporary problem, after its unit sales fell by a fifth in the fourth quarter of last year.

The San Francisco-based company said it swung to a net loss of $146.3m in the three months ending in December, in full results published on Wednesday.

Despite concerns about the longer-term future for wearable devices, Fitbit said its problems in the second half of last year were due to saturation among “early adopters” and discounting by competitors, as consumers swapped basic fitness trackers for more feature-rich products such as smartwatches.

Sales of Fitbit’s wristbands grew just 3% last year to 22m units, while the number of people actively using its devices grew 37% year on year to 23.3m.

«

Its forecast for this current quarter is $270m-$290m – about 10% below analysts’ estimates. Cutting staff. Trying to move to smartwatches while cheaper competitors eat the bottom end. It’s going to have to do this well or it’s dead.
link to this extract


Maniac killers of the Bangalore IT department • Bloomberg

Ben Crair:

»

“TECHIE’S WIFE MURDERED” read the headlines in both the Hindu and the Bangalore Mirror. “TECHIE STABS FRIEND’S WIFE TO DEATH” ran in the Deccan Herald. To read the Indian newspapers regularly is to believe the software engineer is the country’s most cursed figure. Almost every edition carries a gruesome story involving a techie accused of homicide, rape, burglary, blackmail, assault, injury, suicide, or another crime. When techies are the victims, it’s just as newsworthy. The Times of India, the country’s largest English-language paper, has carried “TECHIE DIES IN FREAK ACCIDENT” and “MAN HELD FOR PUSHING TECHIE FROM TRAIN”; in the Hindu, readers found “TEACHER CHOPS OFF FINGERS OF TECHIE HUSBAND” and “TECHIE DIED AFTER BEING FORCE-FED CYANIDE.” A long-standing journalistic adage says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” In India, if it codes, it explodes.

The epicenter of techie tragedy is Bangalore, a city in the southern state of Karnataka that bills itself as India’s Silicon Valley. Bangalore has more startups than any other city in the country and is home to Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Oracle, in addition to big domestic information technology companies such as Infosys and Wipro. More than 10% of Bangalore’s 10.5 million residents work in tech, giving journalists plenty of unfortunate events to sensationalize: “ASSAULT OVER BANANA SPLIT: 3 TECHIES HELD”; “DEPRESSED BANGALORE TECHIE INJURES 24 IN SWORD ATTACK SPREE.”

«

Wonderful observational journalism; and the appearance of “techie” isn’t necessarily a compliment.
link to this extract


TravelTime Maps • TravelTime


»

What is this?

A search tool for anyone wanting to find locations by travel time, rather than distance. It can filter points of interest by travel time and show more than one travel shape at a time. It was originally made to showcase the TravelTime API, but the tool is free for anyone to use.

«

This is a product that’s really useful for people considering buying or renting property; the idea of “travel time” maps goes back some way, but one of the first implementations was by (I believe) Tom Steinberg’s MySociety. TravelTime has turned the concept into a business, and you can get an API key. It covers public transport, driving, walking and cycling. (Shouldn’t Apple be licensing this?)
link to this extract


Why facts don’t change our minds • The New Yorker

Elizabeth Kolbert:

»

an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

«

Which leads you on to political choices and the difficulty of changing peoples’ minds; but also to the objectively poor (in evolutionary terms) existence of confirmation bias.
link to this extract


Smartphones to become pocket doctors after scientists discover camera flash and microphone can be used to diagnose illness

Sarah Knapton:

»

Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington is currently devising an app which can detect red blood cell levels simply by placing a finger over the camera and flash, so that a bright beam of light shines through the skin. Such a blood screening tool could quickly spot anaemia. 

He also believes that in future users will be able to bang phones against their bones to check for osteoporosis and use the microphone to test lung function. 

Speaking at the AAAS annual meeting in Boston, Prof Patel said: “If you think about the capabilities on a mobile device, if you look at the camera, the flash, the microphone, those are all getting better and better. 

“Those sensors on the mobile phone can actually be repurposed in interesting new ways where you can use those for diagnosing certain kinds of diseases. 

“You can do pulmonary assessment using the microphone on a mobile device, for diagnosing asthma. If think about people having an asthma attack, if you could monitor their lung function at home you can actually get in front of that, before somebody has an asthma attack.”

«

link to this extract


Android Wear with an iPhone still can’t compete with the Apple Watch • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

After spending a week using an LG Watch Style (the little one, not the giant LG Watch Sport) with an iPhone, I came away from the experience unimpressed. Yes, there are a few things that are possible now that weren’t before. You can directly install third-party watchfaces now, a big benefit over the Apple Watch. You can install little weather widgets and fitness apps. And thankfully, you can do so by visiting the Google Play Store from your laptop’s web browser rather than trying to scroll the tiny little watch screen. There aren’t a ton of apps available yet, but that’s hopefully something that will improve over time. You can query the Google Assistant, which is often more accurate and helpful than Siri.

But for everything that works, there are several things that really don’t. Some of it is because of those Apple policies: there’s simply no conceivable world in which Apple is going to allow third-party smartwatches to access iMessages beyond seeing incoming notifications arrive, for example. You can reply to messages from some other apps — but only those that have reply options properly built into their notification on the phone. Even then, you won’t get the sort of rich message history you can get elsewhere.

I could be comfortable with those limitations — but there are dozens of others, most of them self-inflicted.

«

I’d love to know how many people are using Android Wear watches with iPhones.
link to this extract


Manifestos and Monopolies • Stratechery

Ben Thompson weighs in on Zuckerberg’s “manifesto”:

»

It all sounds so benign, and given Zuckerberg’s framing of the disintegration of institutions that held society together, helpful, even. And one can even argue that just as the industrial revolution shifted political power from localized fiefdoms and cities to centralized nation-states, the Internet revolution will, perhaps, require a shift in political power to global entities. That seems to be Zuckerberg’s position:

»

Our greatest opportunities are now global — like spreading prosperity and freedom, promoting peace and understanding, lifting people out of poverty, and accelerating science. Our greatest challenges also need global responses — like ending terrorism, fighting climate change, and preventing pandemics. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.

«

There’s just one problem: first, Zuckerberg may be wrong; it’s just as plausible to argue that the ultimate end-state of the Internet Revolution is a devolution of power to smaller more responsive self-selected entities. And, even if Zuckerberg is right, is there anyone who believes that a private company run by an unaccountable all-powerful person that tracks your every move for the purpose of selling advertising is the best possible form said global governance should take?

«

At this point, Thompson is only getting warmed up.
link to this extract


Portrait of a botnet • Medium

Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab:

»

On February 20, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died unexpectedly in New York.

One minute after the news broke on the website of Kremlin broadcaster RT, and a minute before RT managed to tweet the news, a slew of Twitter accounts posted the newsflash with an identical “breaking news” caption.

Most of the accounts had a number of features in common: they were all highly active. They were all vocal supporters of US President Donald Trump. They had avatar pictures of attractive women in revealing outfits.

And they were all fake, set up to steer Twitter users to a money-making ad site.

The network they represent is neither large nor politically influential. It is nonetheless worth analyzing as an example of how commercial concerns can use, and abuse, political groups to drive their traffic.

«

The level of detail here is remarkable; but one also wonders why, if these folks can spot it so easily, Twitter can’t too. For all his talk about machine learning on the last quarterly analyst call earlier this month, Jack Dorsey doesn’t seem to be applying it to the places where it could matter.

For example:

»

The accounts’ specific behavior confirms this. As of February 21, all their recent tweets were posts of news content from a range of sources including Breitbart, the BBC, RT, Reuters and (bizarrely) local newspaper the Coventry Telegraph in the UK. The great majority of them tweeted the same stories, from the same sources, in the same order…

…The common theme between these accounts is therefore not a political stance, but the desire to generate revenue by attracting clicks.

Confirming that these accounts are the work of a single individual, eleven of them posted, as their pinned tweet, an identical shortened Google URL (goo.gl/1s3Rmr).

«

Nobody could spot that? Come on. (The redirect is to a Facebook page, which Twitter would know because every link posted there goes via t.co.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Snapchat’s story trouble, Asus’s dwindling tablets, Apple without Netflix, and more


This looks the ideal place for our new server! Photo by happy via on Flickr.

You can now 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why I’m leaving Snapchat and so are all your friends • Medium

Owen Williams:

»

The addictiveness and popularity of Snapchat’s Stories feature continue to this day, but the company finds itself at something of a crossroads: Facebook’s cloned the entire thing, and it’s doing it better than Snapchat ever could, and innovating at a faster clip.

When Instagram Stories launched well over a year ago, I thought it was cute, but couldn’t understand why I’d ever jump from Snapchat. Simply put, like you, I was hooked on snapping everything as it was. I loved sharing photos into my story, and rarely send pictures directly to others, because it’s a fun way to passively share what I’ve been up to over the course of the day.

Throughout each day, friends browse my story and fire back a chat message if they like it, and I do the same. Before I switched, I was probably checking Snapchat once an hour to see if anything new had happened. Like you, I was addicted to the service — more than a disturbing amount.

But I’ve noticed over recent months a shift: less people are using Snapchat around me, and I’ve stopped entirely. Photos in my stories that regularly got over 5,000 views a day, now get less than half of that — and only a handful of the people I actively followed along with are even sharing anymore.

We’ve all moved to Instagram Stories.

«

Troubling ahead of the IPO.
link to this extract


Want an energy-efficient data center? Build it underwater • IEEE Spectrum

Ben Cutler, Spencer Fowers, Jeffrey Kramer and Eric Peterson:

»

When Sean James, who works on data-center technology for Microsoft, suggested that the company put server farms entirely underwater, his colleagues were a bit dubious. But for James, who had earlier served on board a submarine for the U.S. Navy, submerging whole data centers beneath the waves made perfect sense.

This tactic, he argued, would not only limit the cost of cooling the machines—an enormous expense for many data-center operators—but it could also reduce construction costs, make it easier to power these facilities with renewable energy, and even improve their performance.

Together with Todd Rawlings, another Microsoft engineer, James circulated an internal white paper promoting the concept. It explained how building data centers underwater could help Microsoft and other cloud providers manage today’s phenomenal growth in an environmentally sustainable way.

«

Utterly brilliant thinking. How do you change motherboards, you wonder? You don’t – you build self-contained pods and dump them when they die.
link to this extract


Asustek adjusting tablet operations • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Adam Hwang:

»

Asustek Computer is adjusting its tablet operations by decreasing the number of models developed, focusing shipments on fewer overseas markets, and transferring a portion of its about 1,000 employees specifically working on tablets to its VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), and smartphone business units, according to company CEO Jerry Shen.

Asustek began the adjustments in mid-2016 and expects to finish it in mid-2017, Shen said.

Asustek’s global tablet shipments fell from 12.1m units in 2013 to 9.4m units in 2014, 5.9m units in 2015 and 3.3m units in 2016.

«

“Adjusting” seems a roundabout way to say “abandoning”. Remember the Nexus 7 in 2012 and 2013? Those were Asus.

The reality: there’s no profit in Android tablets any more unless you’re Samsung, and even then it’s iffy.
link to this extract


Report: Apple might be revamping its iPad lineup in March • Engadget

Andrew Tarantola:

»

Japanese website Macotakara reports that Apple’s upcoming March event will see the release of a new line of iPad Pros as well as 128GB iPhone SE and a new bright red color choice for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The company is expected to unveil iPad Pros in 7.9in, 9.7in, 10.5in, and 12.9in models.

That could mean that Apple is replacing the iPad mini 4 with the 7.9in Pro, refreshing the 9.7in and 12.9in models. and introducing a whole new model, the 10.5. However there have been some conflicting reports as to whether Apple really will do that. Both Barclays and KGI Securities failed to mention the 7.9in model in their predictions so it could be that the 10.5in will actually replace the mini 4. As DigiTimes points out, the 10.5’s screen width would be the same as the iPad mini’s screen height and, with that rumored edge-to-edge display, would fit in the same overall footprint.

Still, Macotakara is saying that the 7.9in will use the Smart Connector, a 12MP iSight camera, True Tone flash and display, just like its larger counterparts. The 10.5 and 12.9in versions will reportedly run on A10X chips while the smaller models will use the A9X.

«

This is going to be quite a big parade of iPads. What I’m wondering is: whatever happened to the big enterprise boost to iPad sales that we were led to believe would follow from the Apple-IBM deal? Or just generally? It seems like enterprises are sitting on their hands when it comes to tablets.

link to this extract


Apple doesn’t need to buy Netflix • Above Avalon

Former Wall Street analyst Neil Cybart:

»

Upon closer examination, calls that Apple should buy Netflix are misplaced as they do not take into account how Apple actually views the world. Many of the arguments assume Apple’s current hardware-centric revenue model is in trouble. In addition, each of the three primary reasons cited for why Apple should buy Netflix contain significant gaps in logic and rationale. 

• Revenue. Apple doesn’t, and shouldn’t, use M&A to directly acquire revenue streams. Apple didn’t buy Beats for its revenue-generating headphone business. Instead, Apple bought Jimmy Iovine’s music vision. A headphones business just happened to be attached to that vision. If M&A is used as a tool to grow revenue, Apple’s effort to place the product above everything else is put into jeopardy. This logic explains why Apple doesn’t acquire the large companies often paraded in the press as possible acquisition targets.

• A different business model. Apple has already shown the willingness to embrace change when it comes to selling product. This is a company that pivoted from a very successful paid music download model for iTunes to paid subscriptions with Apple Music. With more than 20 million paying subscribers for Apple Music after only 17 months, the streaming service is already 20% the size of Netflix – and this is with little to no video content.

• Original content. There is no evidence to suggest Apple wants to own large portfolios of video content. Instead, the company is still focused on being a content distributor with its iOS platform. In addition, rather than buying legacy content portfolios (Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, etc.) or original content initiatives found at tech companies masquerading as media companies (Netflix, Amazon), Apple is more interested in buying great ideas. This was very much on display with Apple’s approach to music streaming. 

«

The idea of buying a huge company with a different culture for tons of money makes no sense to me either. It’s dilutive, in all sorts of ways.

link to this extract


Verizon will pay $350m less for Yahoo • The New York Times

Vindu Goel:

»

Faced with unknown costs related to two huge data breaches, Yahoo and Verizon Communications announced Tuesday that they had agreed to shave $350m from the price that Verizon would pay to buy Yahoo’s core internet businesses.

The two companies said they would also share liabilities related to the breaches, which occurred in 2013 and 2014 but were only disclosed last year after the deal was announced.

The revised agreement, now valued at $4.48bn, paves the way for the deal to proceed to a shareholder vote as early as April, although securities regulators are still assessing how Yahoo disclosed information about the breaches to investors. Yahoo, which is winding down its own investigation of the breaches, will share more details about the incidents and their impact in the next few weeks when it makes required regulatory filings.

«

Do you think it would have cost them $350m to prevent the hacks in the first place?
link to this extract


U.S. iPhone users spent an average of $40 on apps in 2016 • Sensor Tower


»

US iPhone users spent more on premium apps and in-app purchases (IAPs) per device last year than in 2015—an average of $40 per iPhone, versus $35 the year before—according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data. While mobile games still dominated consumer spending in 2016, big gains by other categories (such as Entertainment, which saw per-device spend double) helped grow overall revenue per iPhone considerably.

In this report, we’ll look at the leading categories by per-device spending for 2016, including their year-over-year growth, along with average app installs by category.

More than 80% of U.S. App Store revenue in 2016 was generated by games, which was reflected on the device level by the overwhelming portion of the $40 total they comprised. US iPhone owners spent an average of $27 per device on games last year, up from $25 in 2015.

While this is an impressive figure, and further proof that monetization of mobile games continues to improve, the real standout of our findings was the year-over-year growth of Entertainment category spending, which was up by 130 percent, from $1.00 in 2015 to $2.30 in 2016. This category includes some of the U.S. App Store’s historically highest grossing apps, such as HBO NOW, Hulu, and Netflix.

«

The average app installs data is quite eye-opening too.
link to this extract


How Fujifilm survived the digital age with an unexpected makeover – Channel NewsAsia

Desmond Ng:

»

The company thought it was ahead of the curve but the digital age hadn’t truly arrived yet. Incredibly, the photo film market continued to grow. By 2001, two-thirds of the company’s profits still came from photo film.

Fujifilm abandoned its new business ventures, despite having pioneered the digital camera a decade earlier. The company felt that the printed picture would survive and invested millions in the Instax Mini, an analogue camera that allowed one to take a picture and print it in seconds. It sold over a million units in 2002.

But then, the long-awaited digital age finally arrived in 2003 – and hit the company hard.

Sales of photo film plunged by a third in less than a year. In just six months, shops went from processing almost 5,000 rolls of film a day, to fewer than 1,000.

A market that had accounted for two-thirds of the company’s profits had disappeared in the blink of an eye.  Mr Komori said: “At first I thought that colour film wouldn’t disappear easily, but digital stole it all away in an instant.”

To add to the company’s woes, another disruptive technology emerged – the mobile phone. This revolutionised digital photography. Digital photographs were cheaper and speedier, and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter became the new pioneers of photography as smartphone sales skyrocketed.

Drastic changes were needed at Fujifilm.

«

An infrequently told business story of survival against the odds.
link to this extract


4chan: the skeleton key to the rise of Trump • Medium

Dale Beran, in a looong read:

»

Yiannopoulos’ rambling “arguments” against feminism, are not arguments at all, as much as pep talks, ways of making these dis-empowered men feel empowered by discarding the symbol of their failure — women. As an openly gay man, he argues that men no longer need be interested in women, that they can and should walk away from the female sex en masse. For example in a long incoherent set of bullet points on feminism he states:

»

The rise of feminism has fatally coincided with the rise of video games, internet porn, and, sometime in the near future, sex robots. With all these options available, and the growing perils of real-world relationships, men are simply walking away.

«

Here Yiannopoulos has inverted what has actually happened to make his audience feel good. Men who have retreated to video games and internet porn can now characterize their helpless flight as an empowered conscious choice to reject women for something else. In other words, it justifies a lifestyle which in their hearts they previously regarded helplessly as a mark of shame.

Gamergate at last (unlike Habbo Hotel, Scientology, Paypal, or Occupy Wall Street) was a “raid” that mattered, that wasn’t just a fun lark to pass the time or a winking joke. Here was another issue (besides “let me do what I want on the internet all the time”) that spoke to the bulk of 4chan users.
Anon was going to get “SJW”s (ie. empowered women) out of their safe spaces — video games — the place from which they retreated from women by indulging in fantasies in which they were in control (that is to say, ones which demeaned women).

However, their efforts failed, not so much for lack of trying (though there’s that, too) but because the campaign itself was a fantasy.

«

Loath though I am to include any link that mentions Yiannopoulos – attention is his oxygen – this is an excellent distillation, based on the author’s own experiences, of what went on. Gamergate has as many “causes” as members, perhaps, but some explanations work better than others.
link to this extract


‘So much of it is a con’: Confessions of a veteran ad tech developer • Digiday

Ross Benes spoke to an anonymous ad-tech person:

»

How do you feel about the state of advertising?
So much of it is a con. I have been in this forever, for almost 20 years, and I do know what is going on. And I know that no one calls bullshit on bullshit.

Are you implying that people don’t want to address major problems?
Yes. To give you an example, I was in a meeting and said, “Everything is cookie-based, what happens when you delete the cookies?” The reaction I got was worse than if someone had farted in an elevator.

Is there anything in particular that irritates you?
People buy traffic through ad networks and they run full-page prompts. On these full-page prompts, underneath the window you’re on, they pop another window and it may or may not be visible. That window has an autoplay video player in it with the sound turned off. And that is one of the simplest way to rack up traffic.

You sound skeptical of traffic statistics.
If you take the amount of traffic that is out there, and you look at the amount of traffic that is not parsed to Google, there is just not enough inventory in the world to back up all these impressions that publishers say they’re getting.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Wikipedia’s AI effort, Krebs wins again, Uber’s harassment problem, Hololens on hold?, and more


The trouble with IBM’s Watson is that it doesn’t, by a long stretch – and that has people asking questions about its value. Photo by stewf on Flickr.

You can now 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 8 links for you. Oh well. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside Wikipedia’s attempt to use artificial intelligence to combat harassment • Motherboard

Sarah Smellie:

»

A paper published last week on the arXiv preprint server by the Detox team offers the first look at how Wikimedia is using AI to study harassment on the platform. It suggests that abusive comments aren’t the domain of any specific group of trolls, and that diverse tactics are going to be needed to combat them on Wikipedia. 

“This is not ground-breaking machine learning research,” said Ellery Wulczyn, a Wikimedia data scientist and Detox researcher, in a telephone interview. “It’s about building something that’s fairly well known but allows us to generate this data scale to be able to better understand the issue.”

The goal at Jigsaw, an Alphabet tech incubator that began as Google Ideas, is nothing short of battling threats to human rights and global security. Their projects include a map that shows the sources and targets of global DDoS attacks in real time, and an anti-phishing extension for Chrome originally developed to protect Syrian activists from hackers.

To get their algorithm to recognize personal attacks, the Detox team needed to train them on a solid data set. They started with 100,000 comments from Wikipedia talk pages, where editors hash out their disagreements. Next, 4,000 crowdworkers evaluated the comments for personal attacks. Each comment was inspected by 10 different people.

«

Certainly a place to go for personal attacks. For another view, on getting humans to make Wikipedia better, there’s this: How Wikipedia is cultivating an army of fact checkers to battle fake news.
link to this extract


Men who sent swat Team, heroin to my home sentenced • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

It’s been a remarkable week for cyber justice. On Thursday, a Ukrainian man who hatched a plan in 2013 to send heroin to my home and then call the cops when the drugs arrived was sentenced to 41 months in prison for unrelated cybercrime charges. Separately, a 19-year-old American who admitted to being part of a hacker group that sent a heavily-armed police force to my home in 2013 was sentenced to three years probation.

«

Krebs, who does remarkable work, is proof that right can win over wrong if you just persist. (And that hackers are terribly susceptible to hubris.)
link to this extract


Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber • Susan J. Fowler

She went to work at Uber:

»

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on – unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn’t seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company’s best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again.

«

And guess what? She left the team, spoke to other women, and they had had the same kind of problem. In some cases, previously with the same man.

It also sounds like an absolute rats’ nest in there as well. And guess what? Once this had gone viral, Travis Kalanick ordered an immediate investigation.

Charitable explanation: Kalanick didn’t know how screwed up his company has become. However, changing the culture is going to be hard – if he really wants to.
link to this extract


Microsoft accelerates HoloLens V3 development, sidesteps V2 • Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott:

»

By skipping what was version two on their roadmap, the company can accelerate version three which will be closer to a generational leap and help keep Microsoft ahead of the competition. My sources are telling me that this version of Hololens will not arrive until 2019.

Yes, 2019 is a considerable amount of time away but for Microsoft, if they would have built what was known as version two, the company would not be able to get version three delivered by 2019. In short, the company is making a bet that the advancements they are investing in today for the v3 version of Hololens are significant enough and add enough value to the product that it will make sure they continue to lead the segment by getting that device to the market earlier.

Of course, it’s always possible the device arrives before then but do not expect a new device this year and likely nor will one arrive next year, based on what I have been told. I did reach out to Microsoft for comment and they provided the following statement but it’s generic and doesn’t add any new context to the information already provided:

“Mixed reality is the future of computing, and Microsoft HoloLens is the future and present of mixed reality. Our commitment requires no roadmap”.

«

So you’re accelerating to leave a two-year gap? 🤔 But on the other hand, I don’t think there will be huge demand for AR systems this year or next. If this is Microsoft’s timeline, it sounds sensible.
link to this extract


Apple acquires Israel firm RealFace, specializing in facial recognition • MacRumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

RealFace’s website is currently offline, but according to promotional material, the startup had developed a unique facial recognition technology that integrates artificial intelligence and “brings back human perception to digital processes”. RealFace’s software is said to use proprietary IP in the field of “frictionless face recognition” that allows for rapid learning from facial features.

The Israeli startup also developed a now-defunct app called Pickeez, which selected and collated a user’s best photos across various platforms using the RealFace recognition software.

According to iPhone 8 rumors, Apple may ditch Touch ID along with the physical home button, in favor of a facial recognition-capable front-facing 3D laser scanner, although with the RealFace acquisition coming at such a late time, it’s unlikely that the any of the startup’s technology will feature.

RealFace is the fourth Israel-based firm Apple is known to have acquired. In 2011 it bought flash memory maker Anobit for a reported $400m, then in November 2013 it acquired 3D sensor company PrimeSense for an estimated $345m. Most recently in 2015, Apple bought LinX for around $20m.

«

All the stuff about OMG LAZERS is rather overexcited, and I’m not sure “face unlock” meets the sort of security standards Apple has liked. I could see it being useful for analysing faces in photos, though.
link to this extract


15-year-old Amanda Todd’s alleged sextortionist on trial at last • Daily Beast

Nadette De Visser:

»

Despite the publicity that surrounded Amanda Todd’s suicide, it took two years before Coban was found and arrested, and the initial break in the case actually came before her death.

In 2012, at the same time Coban was allegedly targeting Amanda, he also was pursuing a Norwegian girl who decided to approach the police about it. They tracked his IP addresses to the Netherlands. The Norwegian police contacted the Dutch police and the predator’s IP address was then traced to the trailer park in Oisterwijk where Aydin Coban lived. But that did not lead to his arrest. It took Todd’s suicide and a report compiled by Facebook in its wake to jolt the Dutch police into further action. In Facebook’s own investigation a relationship was established between a phone number, an IP address and 86 accounts in which it appeared aliases were being used to target young girls. That information then led Dutch police to Coban’s home, where they installed spyware on both of his computers.

In all, Coban has been indicted for 72 alleged offenses related to sexual exploitation and extortion over the internet. At his place, police found a trove of more than 204,000 photos and videos on a partially encrypted hard drive, many of them involving child pornography. The Dutch police also found a drive with 5,800 bookmarked names that served as a database of potential victims and their social networks.
Much of the evidence presented in court has come from the spyware that allowed police to collect every keystroke and multiple screenshots from Coban’s computers.

«

Depressing. A notable point is how a single person like this can, through the network, cause misery – or worse – for hundreds. Before the internet, their reach would have been much smaller. With the good, the bad.
link to this extract


MD Anderson benches IBM Watson in setback for artificial intelligence in medicine • Forbes

Matthew Herper:

»

The partnership between IBM and one of the world’s top cancer research institutions is falling apart. The project is on hold, MD Anderson confirms, and has been since late last year. MD Anderson is actively requesting bids from other contractors who might replace IBM in future efforts. And a scathing report from auditors at the University of Texas says the project cost MD Anderson more than $62m and yet did not meet its goals.

“When it was appropriate to do so, the project was placed on hold,” an MD Anderson spokesperson says. “As a public institution, we decided to go out to the marketplace for competitive bids to see where the industry has progressed.”

The disclosure comes at an uncomfortable moment for IBM. Tomorrow, the company’s chief executive, Ginni Rometty, will make a presentation to a giant health information technology conference detailing the progress Watson has made in health care, and announcing the launch of new products for managing medical images and making sure hospitals deliver value for the money, as well as new partnerships with healthcare systems. The end of the MD Anderson collaboration looks bad.

But IBM defended the MD Anderson product, known as the Oncology Expert Advisor or OEA. It says the OEA’s recommendations were accurate, agreeing with experts 90% of the time.

«

Um. Agreeing with experts 90% of the time means it’s wrong 10% of the time (and no indication on whether that’s false positives, false negatives or both). That has the potential to be very harmful in oncology.

More broadly, I’m seeing a growing groundswell of opinion that IBM’s pushes in AI are all talk, little result. This, while the company’s revenues have been falling for years under Rometty. This story isn’t quite finished yet.
link to this extract


What do you think happened to flight MH370 passengers during its final hour? • Quora

Sy Gunson is a former pilot and worked in airline operations:

»

Two of [MH370 pilot] Zaharie’s sisters are friends of mine and during a face to face meeting with them in December 2016 they surprised me by revealing after listening to the ATC audio, they could identify the final three radio calls by MH370 were made by their brother and his voice was slurred. They volunteered this fact unprompted.

«

This is a comprehensive look at what could have happened; he also suggests that the plane broke up in the air due to G-forces as it went into a dive after running out of fuel. His answer is calm and has a lot of detail I hadn’t seen before – and I used to write articles on MH370.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: car app hacking, Zuckerberg examined, Samsung’s S8 Sony power, the trouble with HTTPS, and more


Curved TVs: looks like they’re going the way of 3D TVs. Photo by pestoverde on Flickr.

You can now 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 13 links for you. Unlucky for some. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Car apps are vulnerable to hacks that could unlock millions of vehicles • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

In the era of the connected car, automakers and third-party developers compete to turn smartphones into vehicular remote controls, allowing drivers to locate, lock, and unlock their rides with a screen tap. Some apps even summon cars and trucks in Knight Rider fashion. But phones can be hacked. And when they are, those car-connected features can fall into the hands of hackers, too.

That’s the troubling result of a test of nine different connected-car Android apps from seven companies. A pair of researchers from the Russian security firm Kaspersky found that most of the apps, several of which have been downloaded hundreds of thousands or over a million times, lacked even basic software defenses that drivers might expect to protect one of their most valuable possessions. By either rooting the target phone or tricking a user into installing malicious code, the researchers say, hackers could use any of the apps Kaspersky tested to locate a car, unlock it, and in some cases start its ignition.

«

Happy days.
link to this extract


Zuckerberg’s world • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

The problems with Zuckerberg’s self-serving fantasy about social relations become even more pronounced when we turn to “sub-communities” of creeps and miscreants who share poisonous beliefs — neo-Nazi groups, say, or racist groups or misogynistic groups or groups of murderous ideologues (or even groups of amoral entrepreneurs who seek to make a quick buck by spreading fake news stories through the web). Here, too, the beliefs of the individual members of the community form the values of the community — values that, thankfully, are anything but common standards. “The purpose of any community is to bring people together to do things we couldn’t do on our own,” Zuckerberg writes, without any recognition that those “things” could be bad things. Even though the actions of destructive groups, in particular their use of Facebook and other social networks not as a metaphorical infrastructure for global harmony but as a very real infrastructure for recruitment, propaganda, planning, and organization, would seem to be one of the spurs for Zuckerberg’s message, he is blind to the way they contradict that message. Nastiness, envy, chauvinism, mistrust, distrust, anger, vanity, greed, enmity, hatred: for Zuckerberg, these aren’t features of the human condition; they are bugs in the network.

«

There have been plenty of takedowns of Zuckerberg’s sorta-manifesto, but Carr offers the broadest take.
link to this extract


Samsung to use Sony batteries in Galaxy S8 phone • WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki:

»

Samsung Electronics Co. will add a third battery supplier for its next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, according to people familiar with the matter, as the world’s biggest phone maker seeks to avoid a repeat of last year’s disastrous recall.

The South Korean technology giant will use lithium-ion battery packs from a unit of Japan’s Sony Corp. for the Galaxy S8, these people said, in addition to its two longtime suppliers: a Samsung affiliate and Hong Kong-based Amperex Technology Ltd.

Samsung SDI Co. and Amperex, a unit of Japanese electronic parts maker TDK Corp., have been told by Samsung Electronics that there will be an additional battery supplier for the new smartphone, these people said. The orders from the Sony unit are relatively small in quantity, they said.

«

In the UK (perhaps elsewhere too?) Samsung is running a series of ads about how carefully it tests its phones – heat, cold, bending, dropping, water. No fire though. Not sure how reminding people about its quality control, or its failure, will go down.
link to this extract


Apple vowed to revolutionize television. An inside look at why it hasn’t • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

[Timothy] Twerdhal’s arrival [from Amazon] comes as the company tests a new, fifth-generation Apple TV that it may release as soon as this year. Internally codenamed “J105,” the new box will be capable of streaming ultra-high-definition 4K and more vivid colors, according to people familiar with the plans.

The features will probably boost Apple TV sales as consumers increasingly upgrade to 4K television sets, but those enhancements alone probably aren’t enough to turn the gadget into a groundbreaking, iPhone-caliber product. Time and again, the people say, Apple engineers have been forced to compromise on Apple’s vision of revolutionizing the living room.

Early on, the Apple TV was going to replace the clunky set-top boxes from the cable companies and stream live television. It never happened. The team debated bundling a gaming controller with the current model to better compete with Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation. That didn’t happen either. Originally, viewers were going to be able to shout commands from the couch to the Apple TV. Instead they must talk to the remote control.

Apple has essentially settled for turning the television set into a giant iPhone: a cluster of apps with a store. “That’s not what I signed up for,” says one of the people, who requested anonymity to talk freely about internal company matters. “I signed up for revolutionary. We got evolutionary.”

«

Nor, of course, has anyone else managed to do this. I wondered on Sunday morning what has happened to Android TV – relaunched for a third time in 2014. Nobody seems to know, except that it doesn’t work well for some. I’d love to see stats on intentional Android TV use.
link to this extract


How software is eating the banking industry • CNBC

Ari Levy:

»

Digit’s software plugs into a user’s checking account, analyzing expenses and income and determining how much money could be stashed away without the customer feeling it. Based on the personalized algorithm, Digit puts a few bucks or so a week into a savings account, notifying users with a simple text to help them pay off college or credit card debt or prepare for a wedding. It also serves up reminders to eliminate late fees and recently launched a notification bot on Facebook Messenger.

Digit says that it’s saved more than $350m for its customers.

That includes people like Jenn Chenn, a former community manager at a San Francisco software company who’s now in between jobs. Chenn has saved close to $16,000 over the past three years using Digit, money that would have otherwise remained in her checking account and more than likely have been spent.

“It started off small and as time went by, I started seeing different ways I could increase that amount and be OK,” she said.

The savings were of particular importance after a hit-and-run accident left her with a hefty out-of-pocket payment for hospital bills.

«

Ah, American healthcare. Nearly as broken as the American banking industry.
link to this extract


LG and Sony confirm no curved TVs for 2017 • What Hi-Fi?

Andy Madden:

»

It came as no real surprise when LG and Sony revealed they were both killing off 3D at CES 2017. The feature failed to take off for a number of reasons, not least cost and the competing passive/active technologies. Now, both LG and Sony have confirmed that there won’t be any curved TV options on the menu this year either.

Speaking at the company’s InnoFest event in Crete, LG cited a lack of consumer interest as the key reason, with its research showing consumers tend to choose flat over curved when given the choice of similarly-priced sets.

Sony had a similar event to outline its ranges for 2017 and curved sets were also absent – “there were no curved models in the line-up we showed at the trade show recently, but we are not commenting on our future plans,” said a Sony spokesperson.

«

Recall that the furious review of the Samsung TV included its curvedness.

Another innovation bites the dust.
link to this extract


The truth about the Trump data team that people are freaking out about • BuzzFeed News

Kendall Taggart:

»

interviews with 13 former employees, campaign staffers, and executives at other Republican consulting firms who have seen Cambridge Analytica’s work suggest that its psychological approach was not actually used by the Trump campaign and, furthermore, the company has never provided evidence that it even works. Rather than a sinister breakthrough in political technology, the Cambridge Analytica story appears to be part of the traditional contest among consultants on a winning political campaign to get their share of credit — and win future clients.

Every person who spoke to BuzzFeed News insisted on anonymity, with many citing a reluctance to cross the company’s powerful leaders, who insiders say include co-owner Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump’s major donors, and board member Steve Bannon, his chief strategist.

Yet when Nix claimed that on a single day during the campaign, the firm tested more than 175,000 different Facebook ad variations based on personality types, Gary Coby, who ran digital advertising for the Trump campaign, took to Twitter to call it a “100% Lie” and “total rubbish.” Gerrit Lansing, who worked with the campaign and is now the White House chief digital officer, also dismissed Nix’s claim as “a lie.” Both declined to comment further, as did Mercer and Bannon.

«

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between the amazing and the flop.
link to this extract


ZTE cancels Kickstarter campaign for Project CSX “Hawkeye” phone • AndroidAuthority

John Callaham:

»

ZTE started Project CSX as a way to get its fans to help them design a unique device. It held a contest in 2016 for people to submit concepts for new products, with the public voting for their favorite of the top five designs. The winning product idea was an Android smartphone that included eye-tracking technology and a self-adhesive case, so the phone could be used without actually touching the screen.

However, when the campaign actually began in early January, many people were not impressed by the hardware specs that were posted on the Kickstarter page. They included a 5.5-inch display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. Some fans felt the specs were too low for a phone that was scheduled for a launch in September 2017 for the price of $199.

In their update today announcing the Kickstarter campaign cancellation, ZTE said this was not going to be the end for Project CSX. It stated it is “reevaluating the device” and changes to the phone “will be implemented on based on your feedback.” That includes improving the hardware specs and also pushing back the date of its release, which the company said is “still being finalized”.

«

Raised 190 people donated $36,245 towards the $500,000 target. VR headsets for your cat do better.
link to this extract


Certified malice • text/plain

Eric Lawrence:

»

One unfortunate (albeit entirely predictable) consequence of making HTTPS certificates “fast, open, automated, and free” is that both good guys and bad guys alike will take advantage of the offer and obtain HTTPS certificates for their websites.

Today’s bad guys can easily turn a run-of-the-mill phishing spoof:

…into a somewhat more convincing version, by obtaining a free “domain validated” certificate and lighting up the green lock icon in the browser’s address bar:

The resulting phishing site looks almost identical to the real site…

By December 8, 2016, LetsEncrypt had issued 409 certificates containing “Paypal” in the hostname; that number is up to 709 as of this morning. Other targets include BankOfAmerica (14 certificates), Apple, Amazon, American Express, Chase Bank, Microsoft, Google, and many other major brands. LetsEncrypt validates only that (at one point in time) the certificate applicant can publish on the target domain. The CA also grudgingly checks with the SafeBrowsing service to see if the target domain has already been blocked as malicious, although they “disagree” that this should be their responsibility. LetsEncrypt’s short position paper is worth a read; many reasonable people agree with it.

«

It’s a real mess.
link to this extract


Trump can’t build a border wall without the real estate • WSJ

Evan Siegried:

»

This past weekend the president took to Twitter to lash out at reports that the true cost of the border wall would be well north of $10bn.

The critics are almost certainly correct. Mr. Trump fails to take into account the major hurdle the wall faces: eminent domain.

To build the wall, the U.S. would need to own all 1,954 miles of the border. Most of this land is now private property—especially in Texas, where the U.S. government owns only 100 miles of the 1,254-mile border. To acquire the rest of the land it would need, Washington would need to employ eminent domain, the authority under the Fifth Amendment to seize private property for public use upon payment of “just compensation.”

Recent history shows that’s easier said than done. In 2006 Congress passed the Secure Fence Act with strong bipartisan backing, including the support of New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, now Senate minority leader. The law authorized construction of a border fence along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, including 100 miles in Texas. Lawmakers expected swift completion of the project.

Instead, a decade later, there are unfenced gaps—because the fence had to have holes to accommodate local ranchers whose cattle graze on the southern side, but also due to property owners’ fighting land seizures in federal court.

«

Gosh, it’s almost as if he hadn’t actually done any research into the complexity of the preexisting problem before he spouted a convenient neologism for personal gain. Property bought in this way can cost 20 times what the government first offers. And there are thousands of landowners.
link to this extract


Why so many couples fight at Ikea • Science of Us

Carl Romm:

»

Here’s the cruelest of all the cruel jokes Ikea plays on its customers: If — if — you and your significant other still make it out of there with minimal strife and all the furniture you need, you still have to go home and assemble it. And that, for the uninitiated, is a whole other can of worms.

Ikea famously does not write out the instructions for assembling its pieces, but instead uses pictures of a cheerful, human-shaped blob, a strategy that unfortunately leaves plenty open to interpretation. Which means — you guessed it — more decisions. “You have a lot of steps to go through to get to that final product,” Peterson says, “and you’re compromising every single step of the way, because most of us don’t do things exactly the way our partners do them.”

Or at least, that’s the best possible outcome, even if it’s mentally exhausting. Another alternative: You don’t compromise, and instead butt heads every step of the way about what those confusing little arrows in the illustration are actually saying. “It’s a situation where there needs to be clear communication, but there’s stress on the system because the instructions are not clear,” Ayduk says. And that stress can lead to a lot of finger-pointing when things go awry: “It’s open to misunderstanding, errors, and then people get into blaming mode,” she adds. “And then it becomes more than just disagreeing over a bad interaction in the context of furniture assembly.” As with the chair that goes on too many camping trips, a spat over which peg goes where can quickly roll down the slippery slope into don’t you trust me and you never listen.

«

Pro tip: only one of you goes to Ikea. Then once home, the other one assembles, while the buyer provides refreshments.
link to this extract


Beepi winding down after burning through $150m • WSJ

Yuliya Chernova:

»

Beepi Inc. is inching toward winding down its business after blowing through $150m in venture capital, the latest casualty of investor caution after a frothy period.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, founded in 2013, was operating an online marketplace for used cars. Having run out of cash, the startup has begun the process to sell its assets to satisfy creditors through an alternative to bankruptcy.

Neither equity investors nor employees are likely to get any money back, said a person familiar with the matter.

«

Astonishing. If only John Updike were around to write “Rabbit is Venture-Funded”.
link to this extract


The problem with AMP • 80×24

Kyle Schreiber:

»

Make no mistake. AMP is about lock-in for Google. AMP is meant to keep publishers tied to Google. Clicking on an AMP link feels like you never even leave the search page, and links to AMP content are displayed prominently in Google’s news carousel. This is their response to similar formats from both Facebook and Apple, both of which are designed to keep users within their respective ecosystems. However, Google’s implementation of AMP is more broad and far reaching than the Apple and Facebook equivalents. Google’s implementation of AMP is on the open web and isn’t limited to just an app like Facebook or Apple.

If you want to avoid AMP, it is a lot easier to stop using the Facebook app or Apple News app than it is to avoid Google search. Google is the gateway to the web at large and is the doorway to information access in a way that Facebook will never be. Facebook might be the gatekeeper of social, but Google is the gatekeeper to a far larger and more meaningful set of information stored on the web – anything from cat pictures to scientific research. It’s disappointing to see Google promoting a closed standard under the guise of an open one.

Google insists that AMP is not a factor in a site’s search ranking. However, AMP compatibility does determine whether or not publishers are featured in the much coveted news carousel. This, in effect, forces publishers to start using AMP regardless of how fast their site loaded previously.

Google has the ability to further change the AMP HTML specification to keep publishers in their ecosystem. Google already makes deleting AMP pages difficult. Despite touting AMP HTML as an open standard, every one of the AMP Project’s core developers appears to be a Google employee.

«

There’s open, and there’s “open”. His point about external Javascript might also give some people pause. Question is: will AMP become embedded as the way publishers provide pages, or will the pendulum swing back? The “news carousel” factor is probably determinant there.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: WhatsApp’s Syrian tale, Maude on government, why US airports suck, iPhone 8 rumours, and more


Getting into some shops at night might involve a facial recognition test. Photo by Nick Kenrick on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam. Well, it might arrive Monday if you sign up now.

A selection of 11 links for you. Another beauty, it’s like the lovely uranium. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Syrian history is unfolding on Whatsapp • Backchannel

Lauren Bohn:

»

Ahmed stood next Rashed in the middle of the German woods that night in 2015, rubbing his hands together for warmth. He showed me a text from his daughter. His eyes were filled with tears. He put the phone in his pocket. He couldn’t even look at it.

👭👫 🚣 🚢 👭👫 🇩🇪 💋

When your four-year-old daughter, who doesn’t know how to write yet, wants to text you, she sends you a string of emojis with an urgent wish: to hop on a boat for Greece with her mother, brother, and sister, and travel to Germany, where one day you will all be together again. WhatsApp bridges the shortest distance back home to Syria.

In Istanbul, Ahmed’s 13-year-old son Ruby had become the family’s breadwinner, working 12-hour days at a shirt factory to help his parents with rent money. His schooling stalled in second grade when his home city of Aleppo devolved into a battlefield.

«

link to this extract


Facebook’s AI unlocks the ability to search photos by what’s in them • TechCrunch

John Mannes:

»

Initially used to improve the experience for visually impaired members of the Facebook community, the company’s Lumos computer vision platform is now powering image content search for all users. This means you can now search for images on Facebook with key words that describe the contents of a photo, rather than being limited by tags and captions.

To accomplish the task, Facebook trained an ever-fashionable deep neural network on tens of millions of photos. Facebook’s fortunate in this respect because its platform is already host to billions of captioned images. The model essentially matches search descriptors to features pulled from photos with some degree of probability.

«

Won’t be long – a couple of years? – before you’ll be able to do this on your phone with ease.
link to this extract


The West’s largest coal-fired power plant is closing. Not even Trump can save it • The Washington Post

Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson:

»

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to help revive the struggling coal industry.

It’s looking like a tough promise to keep.

In the past three weeks, owners of two of the nation’s biggest coal-fired power plants have announced plans to shut them down, potentially idling hundreds of workers. One plant in Arizona is the largest coal-fired facility in the western United States.

“[We’re] bringing back jobs, big league,” President Trump said Tuesday after signing legislation that would scrap requirements for natural resources companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. “We’re bringing them back at the plant level. We’re bringing them back at the mine level. The energy jobs are coming back.”

Yet even with his efforts to roll back Obama-era energy regulations, a lot of coal jobs won’t ever return, mainly because of harsh economic realities.

«

Again, the laws of economic gravity are inescapable. Wishing – and blustering – won’t change them.
link to this extract


Channel 4 News editor: Facebook is paying us a ‘minuscule’ amount for our 2 billion video views • The Drum

Ian Burrell:

»

At a recent panel event on fake news, hosted by Edinburgh International TV Festival, [Channel 4 News editor Ben] de Pear questioned Facebook on how much money it was making from the traffic generated by false stories. He has yet to receive an answer. “For every pound fake news has earned for the fake news publisher, Facebook has made at least the same amount of money,” he says now in an interview with The Drum in his newsroom office. “How much money have you (Facebook) made from fake news? What have you done with it? And how much are you spending on combating fake news? Facebook are doing a very good PR job at the moment of looking like they are doing the right thing [on fake news] but they have to accept that people have been able to exploit the freedom of their platform and that people have made lots of money from it and so have Facebook.”

The subject is, potentially, of existential importance to Channel 4 News because of the still unresolved government threat of privatising Channel 4, which provides the news outlet’s budget. Doubts have been raised as to whether a future buyer would be so generous. “Right now we don’t need to [make money from online video] but in the future if Channel 4 was to be privatised maybe we would,” says de Pear. “Facebook are very proud that we are there but they have yet to come up with a way to fund what we do. The stuff we do is unique and very professionally done. There’s no way that the money you get from Facebook could ever pay for a fraction of what it costs.”

«

Perverse incentives keep fake news going.
link to this extract


Lord Francis Maude: no longer so frank • Diginomica

Derek du Preez got a terrific interview with former Cabinet Office minister Francis (now Lord) Maude:

»

Part of the problem with departments building their own digital capability and working independently is, you’ve got to ask yourself, is that what we actually want government to look like? The other important question is: is it even possible to change the institutions we have, given the amount of legacy in place (technology, people, culture, legal and historical)?

When I put this to Lord Maude, he agreed, and said that Whitehall would absolutely not look how it does today if it could be designed again. He explained:

»

Within central government there’s absolutely no way you would create these huge, free standing departments with their own kind of life. If you were starting again with the technology that’s available now, you wouldn’t have separate departments.

You would have ministers with strong offices, able to draw on a common pool of advice, you’d have deep pools of expertise, but you would not want everything siloed in the way it is now. You’d have a single technology platform across government. You would have the single canonical data registries underpinning them, instead of every department having its own databases – often conflicting, overlapping and with very poor quality data. You would do everything differently.

«

And unsurprisingly, Maude pointed to the data silos (and the power that they are perceived to hold) as a key problem for unlocking transformation across Whitehall. The government’s data strategy has been lacking in recent months, and yet it underpins much of the transformation plans – in particular the Government-as-a-Platform agenda. Maude said:

»

Departments guard their databases incredibly carefully. The number of times we wanted to share data instantaneously, for things like pursuing fraud and error, and we were told it wasn’t legally permitted. The most commonly words heard in my office were ‘show me the chapter and verse’.

And someone would come back shuffling their feet a bit later saying that they thought they weren’t allowed, but actually they are. Getting the data out of the hands of departments, which guard it as the source of their power and influence, is an essential thing to do. But we are a million miles away from that.

«

«

I disagreed quite a lot with Maude’s politics, but have huge admiration for his ability to really get things done – in particular, getting bureaucracy out of the way of people who actually could get stuff done. The UK government is truly poorer for his absence. His ideas here ought to be absorbed by everyone in governments everywhere.
link to this extract


Why America’s airports suck • Institutional Investor

Leanna Orr:

»

America’s airports feel like bus stations because, broadly speaking, they are funded like bus stations. They don’t rely on taxpayer money, nor are they allowed to turn profits. Anything they earn must be reinvested into the facilities. The trouble for US airports is that what they earn – through pennies on pretzels, rent from airlines, and a $4.50-per-ticket charge – isn’t nearly enough to keep pre-9/11 facilities safe, functioning, and ready for the 21st century. Overseas and in Canada airports have solved this problem by bringing in private investors, selling off operator rights, and taking control of, and often raising, the user fee. Those tactics either aren’t allowed in the US or they haven’t been exercised. The result: places like LaGuardia. All day every day, thousands of people file onto airplanes headed to the US guaranteed of one thing: Wherever they’re leaving is better than what lies ahead. LaGuardia Airport is North America’s worst, the perverse jewel in New York City’s Triple Crown of terrible airports. LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International, and John F. Kennedy International often sweep the bottom of US rankings. LaGuardia, remarkably, has earned unanimous condemnation from airport nerds as the ‘worst in America,’ uniting Travel + Leisure editors with the Points Guy, JD Power and Associates, and Frommer’s. T+L, perhaps the most discerning of the publications, gave ‘dilapidated’ LaGuardia the ‘dubious honor of ranking the worst for the check-in and security process, the worst for baggage handling, the worst when it comes to providing wi-fi, the worst at staff communication, and the worst design and cleanliness.’ It’s also worst for on-time performance and cancellations, says the Points Guy, and has somehow declined in overall quality since 2014. Welcome to the greatest city in the world.

‘If I blindfolded someone and took them at two in the morning into the airport in Hong Kong and said, “Where do you think you are?’ they’d say, “This must be America; it’s a modern airport,” Joe Biden, then vice president, told a crowd in Philadelphia at a 2014 Amtrak engine unveiling. (With infrastructure photo ops, US politicians have to take what they can get.) ‘If I blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you would think, “I must be in some third-world country.” The audience broke out in laughter. Biden pressed the point. ‘I’m not joking.’

«

Oh man, remember Joe Biden? Anyhow, how weird that the US doesn’t run its airports for profit; that’s the exact reverse of the UK.
link to this extract


Latest report suggests iPhone 8 screen features higher 521 PPI density, 3x Retina scaling like Plus models • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

»

Last night, reliable Apple analyst KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo posted his latest assessment of the iPhone 8 detailing the addition of a virtual function area replacing the physical Home button. However, the report also included screen resolution specs which help draw some additional insight.

KGI’s numbers imply that the iPhone 8 will have a pixel density around 521 PPI, far higher than the existing iPhone lineup (iPhone 7 PPI is ~320). It also seems likely that Apple will use Retina assets at 3x scale, packing Plus features into a body the same size as the 4.7in phones …

The report says that the area of the screen dedicated to the app content and home screen has a resolution of 2436×1125. The current iPhone 7 has a screen resolution of 1334×750.

On a raw pixel count basis, this means the iPhone 8 main screen resolution is almost twice that of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone 7. Taking KGI’s metrics that this screen region will measure at 5.15in, this works out to a pixels-per-inch measurement of 512.

If the numbers turn out to be accurate, the iPhone 8 would tout a pixel density greater than both the 4.7in and 5.5in iPhones, which have 325 PPI and 401 PPI, respectively. This will be welcome news for Android users looking to switch to iPhone, who have complained at the 4.7-inch iPhone’s low-resolution display relative to other smartphones on the market.

«

Re this “virtual function area”, I’m unsure how well it would work if it’s like the TouchBar on the MacBook Pro. Do you want to have multiple distracting icons on the bottom of the phone where you could mistakenly press one?
link to this extract


Acquisitions in tech have a checkered history • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson, following up on the awful Bloomberg article from yesterday which suggested Apple should drop nine figures on, well, something:

»

Some companies seem to fare particularly poorly. Microsoft has three of the four big failures, with Alphabet having the other. But it’s also done well with some deals and all the big failures happened during the Steve Ballmer era rather than under new CEO Satya Nadella. Alphabet’s deals have mostly done well, Facebook’s are a mixed bag, and Samsung’s only big acquisition looks smart on paper but hasn’t even closed yet. Apple has only the one pretty successful acquisition on the list.

The reality is M&A is a risky business, with one of the biggest challenges being cultural fit. That’s particularly challenging at Apple because it sees its culture as both unique and uniquely important. That means smaller deals for technology and tight-knit teams of people are a better fit than massive established businesses with large workforces. For other companies with more generic engineering and software cultures, such acquisitions may be easier.

But it’s also fair to say the biggest failures include several attempts to use big acquisitions as levers for massive strategic shifts, while the most successful acquisitions have often been logical extensions of existing businesses. Skype, Nokia, and aQuantive at Microsoft all fell into the former category, for example, whereas Zappos at Amazon, YouTube and DoubleClick at Google, and Instagram at Facebook were all fairly adjacent businesses. Big strategic shifts have rarely been enabled by taking on entirely new and different businesses – those are often best established through organic change or technology acquisitions which enable broader changes.
To me, it looks like the smartest companies in this group understand this and are very discerning about the acquisitions they make.

«

link to this extract


Missouri store using facial recognition to keep doors locked to masked robbers • CW39 NewsFix

Mike Hubberd:

»

Overnight robberies can be terrifying, even deadly. But now some stores in Missouri are fighting back with a high tech crime fighter: facial recognition.

Facial recognition technology is being used to help keep late night store clerks and customers safe.

“It’s in addition to the cameras we already have,” store manager Chad Leemon said.

The way it works, is at night, clerks put up signs warning customers that facial recognition software is in use, and to please look at the above camera for entry. Only by showing your face will you get a green light to come inside.

“Don’t forget to look up!” Leemon said. “That’s the only way you’re going to be able to get in.”

If you cover your face with a mask or even a hand, the doors will not open!

The technology also allows stores to keep a profile of faces in their database, so ‘known’ shoplifters can be identified by face.

“They’re gonna leave. They’re not gonna steal. You’re not going to have the violent act behind it,” a retired police officer Joe Spiess said.

Spiess is a senior partner with the company “Blue Line Technology”  that created the new face-printing technique.

«

No word on quite how accurate this facial recognition technology actually is, though.
link to this extract


Make Trump Tweets Eight Again!! • The Daily Show

“We made a browser extension that converts Trump’s tweets back into their rightful state: a child’s scribble.”

Notable in passing: Chrome or Firefox. Microsoft’s Edge (and Apple’s Safari) not allowed to play, though they also do extensions.
link to this extract


How to turn Trump’s Twitter account against him in 10 seconds or less • Medium

Mike Elgan, back in December:

»

I follow the president-elect’s @RealDonaldTrump account on Twitter. I also use TweetBot on my desktop. So I see tweets instantly.
A few days ago, Trump tweeted this:

I responded by tweeting this as a reply:

I did it quickly, too. Within 10 seconds of his tweet.

That comment got more engagement than anything I’ve ever posted on Twitter. It got over 800,000 impressions and 24,000 engagements.

That means 800,000 people got my take on Trump’s tweet. Not bad!

Also, in the 24 hours after that comment, my Twitter following grew by more than 300 people. Of course, after such tweets I get flooded with thousands of replies, many of them nasty, illiterate and hateful.

The bottom line is that the 10 seconds following any Trump tweet represents a rare window of opportunity to reach the people who are paying attention to Trump.

Think about that.

«

Sure that this will turn into much more than a spectator sport over the next few months. We’re only going to have to bear it for a few months, right?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google unafraid of Stagefright, Whitehall’s identity problem, Amazon Prime in numbers, and more


Drink up, and then I’ve got a car for you to drive. Photo by SpacePirate82 on Flickr.

You can now 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. Do not leak to ambassadors. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The drunk utilitarian: Blood alcohol concentration predicts utilitarian responses in moral dilemmas • Science Direct

Aaron Duke and Laurent Bègue:

»

In two field studies with a combined sample of 103 men and women recruited at two bars in Grenoble, France, participants were presented with a moral dilemma assessing their willingness to sacrifice one life to save five others. Participants’ blood alcohol concentrations were found to positively correlate with utilitarian preferences (r = .31, p below .001) suggesting a stronger role for impaired social cognition than intact deliberative reasoning in predicting utilitarian responses in the trolley dilemma. Implications for Greene’s dual-process model of moral reasoning are discussed.

«

So we need self-driving cars to be drunk? (“Utilitarian response” is “kill one person to save five”.)
link to this extract


New Mac malware pinned on same Russian group blamed for election hacks • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

APT28, the Russian hacking group tied to last year’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, has long been known for its advanced arsenal of tools for penetrating Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. Now, researchers have uncovered an equally sophisticated malware package the group used to compromise Macs.

Like its counterparts for other platforms, the Mac version of Xagent is a modular backdoor that can be customized to meet the objectives of a given intrusion, researchers from antivirus provider Bitdefender reported in a blog post published Tuesday. Capabilities include logging passwords, snapping pictures of screen displays, and stealing iOS backups stored on the compromised Mac.

The discovery builds on the already considerable number of tools attributed to APT28, which other researchers call Sofacy, Sednit, Fancy Bear, and Pawn Storm. According to researchers at CrowdStrike and other security firms, APT28 has been operating since at least 2007 and is closely tied to the Russian government. An analysis Bitdefender published last year determined APT28 members spoke Russian, worked mostly during Russian business hours, and pursued targets located in Ukraine, Spain, Russia, Romania, the US, and Canada.

«

link to this extract


Google claims ‘massive’ Stagefright Android bug had ‘sod all effect’ • The Register

Iain Thomson:

»

Despite shrill wailings by computer security experts over vulnerabilities in Android, Google claims very, very few of people have ever suffered at the hands of its bugs.

Speaking at the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Adrian Ludwig, director of Android security, said the Stagefright hole – which prompted the Chocolate Factory to start emitting low-level security patches on a monthly basis – did put 95% of Android devices at risk of attack. However, there have been no “confirmed” cases of infections via the bug, Ludwig claimed.

It was a similar story for the MasterKey vulnerability that was spotted in 2013, he said. In that case, 99% of Android devices were vulnerable, but exploits abusing the security blunder peaked at less than eight infections per million users, it was claimed. And there were no exploits for the hole before details of the flaw were made public.

He also cited the 2014 FakeID flaw, disclosed at Black Hat that year. This affected 82% of Android users but exploits peaked at one infection per million users after the details were released, and none before that, we’re told.

Ludwig said he was sure of his figures, due to malware-detection routines, dubbed Verify Apps, in Google Play services, which is installed on more than 1.4 billion Android handhelds. Verify Apps reports back to Google when a software nasty is spotted on the device, allowing the web giant to tot up infection tallies.

«

Well, OK, but Stagefright could be exploited by picture message, and then hacked the OS. Verify Apps wouldn’t see it. And given the extraordinarily broad permissions that the average Android app demands, and is granted, why bother with malware?
link to this extract


Whitehall’s identity crisis: HMRC and Verify • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:

»

Verify is the flagship of the Government Digital Service (GDS). It’s an online identity system designed to let citizens securely access all sorts of public services with ease. But now it has competition from another branch of government, HMRC.

This week, HMRC revealed that it was working on its own “identity solution” for individuals and businesses, while mentioning in an offhand way that “other departments will use gov.uk Verify for all individual citizen services”.

But only last week, when the government’s digital masterplan was published, the cabinet office minister Ben Gummer announced that Verify was central to the transformation of public services. Its rollout was going to be accelerated, with a target of 25 million users by the end of 2020.
Now the GDS and HMRC are involved in a bitter turf war, and there is a danger that we will end up with public confusion over which identity service to use, and a much higher bill for the public purse than necessary.

So why is HMRC going its own way?

«

Turf wars, and weak leadership from the Cabinet Office minister, who ought to be the one banging heads together. (Or banging HMRC’s head against a wall.)
link to this extract


Putting some numbers around Amazon Prime • Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson digs into Amazon’s 10-Q, with its detailed numbers:

»

Let’s focus, though, on that retail subscriptions business, because that’s where Prime revenue sits. We need to make some assumptions about how much of that revenue is actually Prime to start. Morgan Stanley reckons it’s about 90%, and though I was originally tempted to say it was more than that, checking into the size of Audible made me think it’s probably about right. So I’m going to stick with that.

If we want to know subscriber numbers, though, we need to figure out what the average subscriber pays, and that’s a complex proposition because the price of Prime increased by $20 in 2014 in the US, and costs different amounts in each market. If we make reasonable assumptions about the mix of where those Prime subscribers are located (e.g. by using Amazon’s revenue split by country) and then apply the going rates at various times for a Prime subscription, we can arrive at a reasonable average. Mine starts at $76 in 2014 and rises to $81 in 2015 and $82 in 2016, whereas Morgan Stanley’s is at $88 for both 2015 and 2016.

On that basis, then, here’s a reasonable estimate for Prime’s subscriber numbers over the last four years, together with a sanity check in the form of the minimum possible number Amazon might have based on various public statements it’s made:

The numbers you end up with are just barely above those minimum numbers provided by Amazon. There’s no way to be 100% sure about my numbers, but they certainly imply that Amazon has been making the biggest possible deal out of its total number ever since that “tens of millions” comment at the end of 2013 (which referred to 21 million subscribers according to my estimate).

«

link to this extract


Brexit bumps up the UK price of Microsoft’s Surface Book • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»

Another Brexit bump: Microsoft has increased the cost of its Surface Book laptops for UK consumers.

The company had already made changes to certain of its enterprise products following the impact of the UK’s June referendum vote to leave the European Union on pound sterling. But the precipitous fall in the value of the UK’s currency has now moved Microsoft to rework some of its consumer price-tags too.

A tipster called Nic pointed us to the Surface Book price rises, noting the laptops have increased by £150 across the board — with the base model now costing £1449 vs the prior price-tag of £1,299. So a rise of 11.5%, in that instance.

A spokeswomen for Microsoft confirmed it has raised some consumer prices, telling TechCrunch: “In response to a recent review we are adjusting the British pound prices of some of our hardware and consumer software in order to align to market dynamics.”

She added that the price changes — which came into effect today — only affect products and services purchased by individuals, or organisations without volume licensing contracts.

«

Why can nobody see this is a fantastic opportunity for all the British PC makers to increase their exports to the rest of the world, such as New Zealand, freed of the shackles of EU regulation?
link to this extract


Linux’s Munich crisis: Crunch vote locks city on course for Windows return • ZDNet

David Meyer:

»

Munich’s city council has resolved to draw up a plan for abandoning LiMux, a Linux distribution created especially for its use, which the mayor wants ditched in favor of Microsoft’s Windows 10 by the end of 2020…

…At a Wednesday morning council meeting the coalition agreed to produce a draft plan for the migration, including cost estimates, before the council takes a final vote on the subject.

“The city council has not fully approved to change to Windows,” confirmed Petra Leimer Kastan, a spokeswoman for the office of mayor Dieter Reiter.

However, Matthias Kirschner, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe said: “They have now stepped back a little bit because so many people were watching, but on the other hand it’s very clear what they want.”

Little over a decade ago, Munich completed a migration from Windows to LiMux that involved some 15,000 computers, reportedly cost over €30m. Today, most of the local authority’s computers run LiMux, although some use Windows to run certain applications.

According to Munich’s current administration, council staff members dislike the software they have to use each day, and the city needs to stick to one operating system: Windows.

«

However it’s not clear whether they’re dissatisfied with LiMux, or the entire IT system they have to navigate. One suspects it’s the combination, but that they might be able to fumble their way through on Windows.
link to this extract


Apple struggles to make big deals, hampering strategy shifts • Bloomberg

Alex Webb and Alex Sherman:

»

“The first step in M&A is having some conviction about what it is you want to do,” said Eric Risley, managing partner at Architect Partners LLC who has negotiated deals with Apple. “Apple probably more than most feels that they’re very capable of building things” rather than buying them, he added. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple’s biggest deal in its 41-year history was the $3bn purchase Beats Electronics in 2014, followed by the $400m acquisition of NeXT Computer in 1996. In Facebook Inc.’s 13 years, it has made three acquisitions of at least $1bn, including its $22bn WhatsApp purchase. Google, founded in 1998, has done four such deals, while Microsoft has completed at least 10, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Instead of closing big deals, Cook has so far focused on growing Apple’s services businesses, including Apple Music, the App Store and iCloud. That’s beginning to work, with the company recently forecasting that annual revenue from those operations will top $50bn by 2021.

But even here, some analysts and investors argue for a big acquisition, especially in online video streaming. Apple has started distributing videos through the Music service, and pooling other providers’ video in its mobile TV app, but it has no service akin to Netflix or Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video.

On Friday, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said Apple needs at least one big acquisition in online video. To reach its $50bn target, the company must find an extra $13 billion in services revenue over the next four years – beyond what it can generate itself. Netflix Inc. ended 2016 with sales of less than $9bn, so even buying that business may not be enough, the analyst said.

«

This is frantic talk. Apple makes lots of small acquisitions, and in general it makes them work. Google’s multi-billion acquisitions – YouTube, DoubleClick, Motorola (later sold), Nest – have a 50-50 hit rate; it’s the smaller ones, including Android and DeepMind, which arguably add value. (Though YouTube has been as crucial as Android.) Facebook’s acquisitions – Oculus, WhatsApp, Instagram – are roughly 2-for-3 (we don’t know how well Instagram converts; WhatsApp was strategic to block Google dominating messaging). Apple is making Beats work, but the idea it should rush off into a huge acquisition which would dilute its carefully built culture is the sort of move that kills companies slowly, by a sort of poisoning of the well.
link to this extract


Worldwide sales of smartphones grew 7% in the fourth quarter of 2016 • Gartner


»

In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, Google’s Android extended its lead by capturing 82% of the total market in the fourth quarter of 2016 (see Table 3). In 2016 overall, Android also grew its market share by 3.2 percentage points to reach an 84.8% share, and was the only OS to grow market share year on year. “The entry of Google’s Pixel phone has made the premium Android smartphone offering more competitive, while the re-entry of HMD (Nokia) in the basic (midtier) smartphone category, is set to further increase the competition in emerging markets,” said Anshul Gupta, Gartner research director.

«

Notable: BlackBerry share went from 0.2% in 4Q 15 to 0.0% in 4Q 16 (or at least, less than 0.05%, ie less than 250,000 units). Windows Phone went from 1.1% to 0.3% (1.09m). How long has Windows Phone got left?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Facebook forces video sound, ransomware for power plants, VR slows, PewDiePie screws up, and more


Transport for London understands passenger movement inside stations better after tracking Wi-Fi use. Photo by tompagenet on Flickr.

You can now 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Internet Archive offers to host PACER data • Internet Archive Blogs

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive:

»

The Internet Archive has long supported the efforts of the Free Law Movement to make the laws and edicts of government of the United States more broadly available. With our colleague Aaron Swartz and the efforts of numerous groups across the country including the Free Law Foundation and Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, we host the RECAP repository of documents from the federal district courts.  Many of these public domain document were downloaded by users of the goverment’s PACER  system for $0.10 per page and uploaded to the Internet Archive. The RECAP repository is available for free, and in bulk, which is useful for researchers.

On Tuesday, February 14, the U.S. Congress will hold the first hearings in over a decade examining the operation of the PACER system. The hearing will be before the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives. The Internet Archive was pleased to accept the committee’s invitation to submit a statement for the record and we have submitted the following, which includes an offer to host the PACER data now and forever to make the works of our federal courts more readily available to inform the citizenry and to further the effective and fair administration of justice.

«

Have I mentioned that I love the Internet Archive? Hope you contributed at Christmas. Needed now more than ever. And it would be great to have UK decisions filed in the same way. (Yes, there is bailii.org, but one would like it all in the same place.)
link to this extract


Here’s what TfL learned from tracking your phone on the tube • Gizmodo UK

James O’Malley:

»

Perhaps the number one reason to do the trial was to better understand the journeys that people actually make on the Tube. At the moment, TfL [Trtansport for London, which operates the London Underground] can tell what station you started and ended your journey at based on your Oyster card – but it can’t tell how you got between two locations. It sometimes supplements this data with a Rolling Origins Destination Survey (RODS) to figure out specific routes, but this is done manually, which is expensive and time consuming.

So one immediately obvious benefit of the wifi data is being able to collect the same data much faster, on a larger scale, and for a fraction of the cost. If you look at the slide below, you can see how popular different routes between Liverpool Street and Victoria are.

So if you travel via Oxford Circus, you do the same as 44% of other people. If you lazily sit on the circle line you do the same as 26% of people making the same journey. And if you change twice – once at Holborn, then again at Green Park, then congratulations, you’re a psychopath.

According to one document, the inclusion of the Finchley Road to Wembley Park section of the Jubilee and Metropolitan lines (they run next to each other – the Jubilee just stops at more stations in between) was deliberately included in order to observe customer behaviour when there are two options where one is obviously faster than the other (It takes 5 minutes on the Met, 12 on the Jubilee).

TfL even checked if this data was accurate, by matching it up with actual train timetables, and was able to demonstrate how on one journey southbound down the Victoria Line they were able match the wifi data of one passenger and figure out which specific train they were travelling on.

«

And also useful for in-station monitoring – to identify crowd points.
link to this extract


Facebook’s autoplay videos will now play with the sound on • Recode

Kurt EWagner:

»

The videos you scroll past in your Facebook News Feed are about to include a new element: sound.

Facebook’s autoplay videos will soon play with the sound on, the company announced Tuesday, an expansion of a test the social network started last fall. As you scroll through News Feed on a mobile device, the sound will “fade in and out” as you come across videos, according to a company blogpost.

There are a few caveats. Sound will only play if you already have the sound turned on for your phone; if your phone is in silent mode, for example, the videos won’t play with sound. You can also opt out of this whole thing in settings if it bothers you.

It’s a small but notable change for the company as it pushes even further into video. As CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained on the company’s last earnings call, Facebook wants to be a video destination, not just a feed that also happens to have videos.

«

Is this being done because everyone wants the sound to play automatically when they scroll past a video? No. It’s user-hostile; it’s not about the best experience for the user, but to maximise revenue for the advertiser. The indifference of ad-funded tech companies to their users continues. Facebook, on its announcement page, insists that “After testing sound on in News Feed and hearing positive feedback, we’re slowly bringing it to more people.”

Notice that it doesn’t say who the “positive feedback” came from. Users? Or advertisers?
link to this extract


Proof-of-concept ransomware locks up the PLCs that control power plants • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

»

In Out of Control: Ransomware for Industrial Control Systems, three Georgia Tech computer scientists describe their work to develop LogicLocker, a piece of proof-of-concept ransomware that infects the programmable logic controllers that are used to control industrial systems like those in power plants.

The researchers attacked two common PLC models (they found over 1,500 of these models, unprotected and available for attack online), and showed that they could create a “cross-vendor worm” that hopped from one kind of PLC to another. PLCs are notoriously insecure (they are known to fail to “properly authenticate programming log-ins”), so they had good reason to think they could penetrate the devices.

They argue that ransomware perpetrators stand to earn big returns by targeting PLCs, and recommend some pretty basic security countermeasures: changing default passwords, using a firewall, and running an intrusion-detection system.

«

*whistles happy tune*
link to this extract


YouTube cancels PewDiePie show, pulls channel from ad program • Variety

Todd Spangler:

»

Google’s YouTube has canceled the second season of PewDiePie’s reality show and pulled his channel from its premium advertising program after the Swedish-born vlogger’s prank involving an anti-Semitic slogan gained widespread notice.

The announcement from YouTube came just hours after Disney’s Maker Studios said it was terminating its relationship with PewDiePie, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, over the same videos.

Last month PewDiePie, YouTube’s most-subscribed channel with more than 53 million followers, posted several videos detailing a stunt in which he paid two shirtless Indian men to make a video holding up a sign that said “Death to All Jews.”

PewDiePie, whose actual name is Felix Kjellberg, has insisted that his point was to critique of the absurdity of an internet service (in this case, he used Tel Aviv-based Fiverr) that enables someone to say or do something so outrageous for just $5. More than a month later, Maker and YouTube now have decided that he was out of bounds.

In a statement early Tuesday, a YouTube spokesperson said, “We’ve decided to cancel the release of ‘Scare PewDiePie’ season 2 and we’re removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred.” Google Preferred is the internet giant’s advertising program for selling popular “brand-safe content” on YouTube.

«

Kjellberg seems to have moved into the “say things to garner attention” space, so one wonders which way this move by the grownups will shift him. Note though that his channel remains untouched – this was just Google’s show, not the individual videos.
link to this extract


Pricey virtual reality headsets slow to catch on • WSJ

Sarah Needleman:

»

When RocketWerkz Ltd. released one of the first videogames for virtual reality last spring, developers at the New Zealand studio were hopeful it could break even—maybe even turn a profit.

Neither happened. Its $20 strategy game, “Out of Ammo,” has recouped only about 60% of the roughly $650,000 it cost to create, according to Dean Hall, the company’s chief executive. For now, RocketWerkz is going back to making traditional computer games.

Proponents have heralded virtual reality, or VR, as the next big step in computing. But while less costly VR goggles that rely on smartphones have sold well, sales of costlier headsets that tether to powerful computers or videogame machines haven’t lived up to the hype.

That has prompted some developers to reconsider VR.

“The future of virtual reality is very bright, but in the short term it’s not where we see ourselves,” Mr. Hall said. “The return on investment is not enough for us.”

Voyager Capital in 2015 invested $100,000 in Envelop VR, whose software let users in VR interact with traditional desktop apps. The startup closed its doors in January despite raising more than $5 million, according to Erik Benson, a partner at Voyager.

«

Calculations are that last year headset sales generated about $1.5bn on 2.2m units (leader being Sony with 0.75m), and this year $2.75bn. People aren’t thrilled about the idea of strapping something to their face. It’s Google Glass with a mask on.
link to this extract


Google Daydream hasn’t done anything to fix VR’s biggest problem – it’s just not very good (opinion) • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

Today, I uninstalled the Daydream app from my Pixel XL, because I hadn’t used it in nearly three months. When I reviewed the experience in November last year, I had the sneaking suspicion this is where I’d end up. Not because I felt Daydream was uniquely lacking in some way, or even that the sparse content ecosystem would quickly be depleted through my use. It’s because the exact same thing has happened with every Samsung Gear VR I’ve been sent to evaluate over the years. And Gear VR’s Oculus Store has tons of stuff – hundreds of experiences, games, 360-degree videos. But after a week or so, I never returned to my Gear VRs, and I never missed them. (And don’t let Gear VR’s amazing shipment numbers fool you – those were largely free headsets, and I will bet you dollars to dimes almost all of them just collect dust.)

Far more so even than smartwatches, I think, mobile virtual reality is a solution desperately in search of a problem. And it doesn’t help that the solution isn’t even very good. Low effective viewfinder size, massive power drain on the connected phone, relatively modest 3D rendering capabilities, and intense heat generation on the connected device are all, at the end of the day, practical problems with practical solutions. We can fix these things. What we cannot fix is something that eats at me every time I try one of these products: What, exactly, is it we’re supposed to gain from this experience?

«

For Ruddock to be even more down on VR than on smartwatches means he’s *really* down on it.
link to this extract


Login to Your Account • British Gas

This is not a story as such, but I think it is an example of a dark pattern (malevolent work by companies to make you do things you don’t want to online). If you’re a British Gas customer and want to submit a correct reading for a meter, rather than their inflated estimates, the paper bill with the estimate tells you to follow the link “britishgas.co.uk/submitmeterread“.

That brings you to this page – which asks you to “log into your account”, or if you don’t have one, to create it. But the condition of creating an account is that you consent to never receiving paper bills again.

Some people, however (I’m one) like receiving paper bills, because email is a flood, whereas a paper bill is hard to ignore or overlook, easy to examine, and simple to compare with its siblings. So what’s the answer? How do you submit a meter reading without giving up on paper?

The page doesn’t tell you. There’s no link on it to do so. Such a page does exist, but it’s buried away in “Help and Support” – and not the “Help and Support” page linked at the top of this one, but a different one.

This is absolutely classic: an example of a big company where the website grows out of control. But behind it all is the desire to capture peoples’ data and make them stop doing something they want, in favour of what the company wants.
link to this extract


This cunning, months-in-the-making phishing campaign targeted dozens of journalists, activists • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»

Safeena Malik is not a real person. Despite having a Twitter feed created in December 2014, a fully fleshed-out LinkedIn with over five hundred connections, and a Facebook account where she reposts innocent viral videos, this supposed UK university graduate is an elaborate ploy in a large scale hacking operation, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Throughout 2016, those behind the Malik identity have tried, and in some cases succeeded, to break into the Gmail accounts of journalists, labor rights activists and human rights defenders, particularly those with a focus on Qatar. But the attention to detail, the persistence, and the long-game approach of these hackers stands heads and shoulders above other phishing campaigns.

“In this case, the attackers have literally engaged with targets for months
and attempted multiple times with different tactics and baits,” Claudio Guarnieri, a technologist at Amnesty International, told Motherboard in an online chat.

“I am doing research about human trafficking. Can you help in this. I want to share my research with you. Can you guide me in this?” one of Malik’s emails, sent to a target on August 29, 2016, reads. The message doesn’t ask targets to download a file, but to take a look at a document stored on Google Drive. When clicked, the victim is directed to a login screen that looks identical to Gmail’s legitimate one, and which has even been pre-configured to display the specific target’s profile photo.

It is not clear who was behind these attacks, however. Because the hackers focused on activists working on issues in Qatar, Amnesty believes the campaign may have been carried out by a state-sponsored actor. The hackers logged into some of the stolen accounts from an IP address related to Ooredoo, an internet service provider with headquarters in Doha, Qatar, the report adds. The Qatari government denied any involvement in the phony Google pages, according to a statement given to Amnesty.

«

The point about the preconfigured display of the target’s photo suggests this is much more than the average script kiddie gang.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: tech’s fake markets, the App Store problem, a real overspill!, iPhone 8 wireless and OLED?, and more


They’re lying in wait. Damn hackers. Photo by robertodevido on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam. (Tell your friends too. Or, if you’re like that, your enemies.)

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

University attacked by its own vending machines, smart light bulbs & 5,000 IoT devices • Network World

“Ms Smith”:

»

Today’s cautionary tale comes from Verizon’s sneak peek (pdf) of the 2017 Data Breach Digest scenario. It involves an unnamed university, seafood searches, and an IoT botnet; hackers used the university’s own vending machines and other IoT devices to attack the university’s network.

Since the university’s help desk had previously blown off student complaints about slow or inaccessible network connectivity, it was a mess by the time a senior member of the IT security team was notified. The incident is given from that team member’s perspective; he or she suspected something fishy after detecting a sudden big interest in seafood-related domains.

The “incident commander” noticed “the name servers, responsible for Domain Name Service (DNS) lookups, were producing high-volume alerts and showed an abnormal number of sub-domains related to seafood. As the servers struggled to keep up, legitimate lookups were being dropped—preventing access to the majority of the internet.” That explained the “slow network” issues, but not much else.

The university then contacted the Verizon RISK (Research, Investigations, Solutions and Knowledge) Team and handed over DNS and firewall logs. The RISK team discovered the university’s hijacked vending machines and 5,000 other IoT devices were making seafood-related DNS requests every 15 minutes.

«

link to this extract


One reason staffers quit Google’s car project? The company paid them so much • Bloomberg

Alistair Barr and Mark Bergen:

»

The unorthodox system started in 2010, soon after Google unveiled its first self-driving vehicle. It was constructed to tie employees’ fortunes to the performance of the project, rather than Google’s advertising money machine. In addition to cash salaries, some staffers were given bonuses and equity in the business and these awards were set aside in a special entity. After several years, Google applied a multiplier to the value of the awards and paid some or all of it out. The multiplier was based on periodic valuations of the division, the people said. 

The precise metrics that the division was measured by – and caused the bonuses to balloon – are not known. But by 2015, the Google car project had come a long way: Google’s vehicles had logged more than one million autonomous miles; car companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and Tesla Inc. announced their own plans to develop autonomous systems; and analysts predicted the technology would transform the auto industry.

A large multiplier was applied to the compensation packages in late 2015, resulting in multi-million dollar payments in some cases, according to the people familiar with the situation. One member of the team had a multiplier of 16 applied to bonuses and equity amassed over four years, one of the people said. They asked not to be identified talking about private matters. 

Part of the problem was that payouts snowballed after key milestones were reached, even though the ultimate goal of the project – fully autonomous vehicles provided to the public through commercial services – remained years away. 

«

Tricky to find the right financial package when real payoff could be years away, but you want to prevent them heading off to a startup.
link to this extract


Tech and the Fake Market tactic • Medium

Anil Dash:

»

These new False Markets only resemble true markets just enough to pull the wool over the eyes of regulators and media, whose enthusiasm for high tech solutions is boundless, and whose understanding of markets on the Internet is still stuck in the early eBay era of 20 years ago.

Fake markets don’t just happen in traditional products and services — they’re coming to the world of content and publishing, too. Publishers are increasingly being incentivized to use platforms like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s AMP format. Like Uber’s temporarily-subsidized cheaper prices and broader access to ride hailing, these new publishing formats do offer some short-term consumer benefits, in the form of faster loading times and a cleaner reading experience.

But the technical mechanism by which Facebook and Google provide that faster reading experience happens to incidentally displace most of the third-party advertising platforms — the ones that aren’t provided by Facebook and Google themselves. Facebook publishers who use these new distribution channels are incentivized to use Facebook’s advertising platform, where payment rates and profit margins can be unilaterally changed at any time. Just as Uber subsidizes fares during the phase when they’re displacing regulated taxis, Facebook subsidizes publishers’ ad rates during the phase when they’re displacing third-party advertising networks.

«

link to this extract


Apple suspends sales of LG UltraFine 5K monitor • Business Insider

Steve Kovach:

»

We were able to confirm that Apple ordered the sales suspension by calling a representative at an Apple Store in New York. The representative also confirmed there’s a hardware issue with the new monitor.

Our source says Apple Store employees were instructed this weekend to continue to display the LG monitors on the show floor but not sell them if a customer wants one. Apple’s online store listed the monitor as shipping within five to six weeks as of Monday morning.

Apple helped LG develop the UltraFine monitor and launch it with the new MacBook Pro. But since the monitor’s launch, there have been reports of problems such as screen flickering, interference with nearby routers, and other issues. There’s an entire thread of the problems documented on this MacRumors forum.

«

What a mess this has been. Apple lets LG design the thing, and it’s a complete goatscrew.
link to this extract


Oroville dam spillway failure • Metabunk

Mick West:

»

Officials are warning those living downstream of Lake Oroville’s dam to evacuate because of a risk the dam’s emergency spillway could collapse.

“They have what they expect to be an imminent failure of the axillary spillway,” said Mike Smith, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “What they’re expecting is as much as 30 vertical feet of the top of the spillway could fail and could fail within one to two hours. We don’t know how much water that means, but we do know that’s potentially 30 feet of depth of Lake Oroville.”

The Department of Water Resources, which operates the dam, urged said at around 4:45 the emergency to fail within the next hour. Oroville residents evacuate northward.

«

It would be remiss for a site called The Overspill not to note this occasion. California has swung from drought to deluge; an effect of global warming, which puts more energy into the atmospheric system, which (rather like putting more energy into any system) makes it more unpredictable and energetic.

The comments on the post capture far more about what happened.
link to this extract


You should ignore the GSMA’s “Advanced Messaging”, RCS & “Universal Profile” • Disruptive Wireless

Dean Bubley:

»

Expect the MWC announcements to talk breathlessly about how this is going to enable “Messaging as a Platform” (MaaP), and there will likely be some dubious-seeming big numbers mentioned. Any claims of “XXXmillion active users” should be *very* carefully questioned and analysed – what actually counts as use? There will be a lot of spin, painting what is essentially legacy SMS usage with a new app, as RCS. Daily is much more relevant than monthly data here.

Most probably, you’ll hear lots of hype and PR noise about “mobile operators winning back against the OTTs”, or “people won’t need to download apps”, or “everyone is fed up of having 17 messaging apps”. You’ll hear that it can use network—based QoS, which is great for VoLTE primary-telephony calls, but irrelevant otherwise. Vendors will probably say “well you’ve got an IMS for VoLTE so you should sweat the assets and add extra applications”.

We might even get an announcement about “advanced calling”, which is a way to improve phone calls with pre/mid/post-call capabilities (not actually a bad idea if done well) but force-fitted to use RCS rather than a more pragmatic and flexible approach (which is a very bad idea, and likely executed very poorly).

So ignore it. There are no customers, no use-cases, and no revenues associated with “advanced messaging”. It’s the same pointless RCS zombie-tech I’ve been accurately predicting would fail for the last decade. It’s still dead, still shambling around and still trying to eat your brain. It’s managed to bite Google and Samsung, and they’ll probably try to infect you as well.

«

link to this extract


Jaguar Land Rover suspends all UK online advertising following terror accusations • Driving.co.uk

Will Dron:

»

Ads for the Jaguar F-Pace (pictured) and Mercedes-Benz E-class have both appeared on YouTube next to a pro-Isis video that had been viewed more than 115,000 times, but has since been removed by the video sharing website.

An ad for Honda has appeared on extremist videos posted by supporters of groups that include Combat 18, a violent pro-Nazi organisation, and an authorised Nissan dealer’s adverts appear on the official YouTube channels of far-right parties including the British National Party and the English Defence League.

Mercedes said it had asked its media agencies to “review and if necessary update” the blacklist of website terms it uses to prevent ads from appearing in inappropriate places. Honda also said it has a blacklist and that the adverts in question were not placed by Honda UK.

«

Well of course not, Honda, but that makes little difference.
link to this extract


Samsung reportedly signs deal with Apple to make 160 million OLED panels for iPhone 8 • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

»

Samsung has signed a deal with Apple to make 160 million OLED panels for the company’s next-generation iPhone, according to the Korea Herald. The iPhone 8 will likely debut in the fall with an OLED screen and Apple needs all the panels it can get for its new flagship phone.

The iPhone 8 is expected to distance itself from the iPhone 7 with a radical new all-glass design, an OLED screen between 5.2-5.8 inches, wireless charging. Rumors indicate the phone will have almost no bezels with the Touch ID home button somehow integrated into the screen.

In 2016, Apple and Samsung had already agreed a 100 million unit deal. According to this latest report, the company has extended its manufacturing agreement and now wants Samsung to provide 160 million panels. A timeframe for the delivery is not specified in the report, unfortunately.

«

And just to round out your iPhone 8 rumour points…
link to this extract


Apple joins Wireless Power Consortium/Qi, lending weight to rumor of wireless charging for iPhone 8 • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

»

Long-running rumors that Apple will add wireless charging to the iPhone 8 have been lent additional weight with the news that the company has joined an industry group devoted to wireless power.

Apple is now listed as one of the 213 members of the Wireless Power Consortium. It was not present in a cached version of the page from a week ago.

While early rumors suggested that Apple was holding out for long-range charging, without the need to place the iPhone on a charging pad, those hopes appear to have been dashed by more recent reports. These suggest that Apple will, like other manufacturers, use simple inductive charging.

One of those reports even indicated that Apple will not include a charger in the box with the iPhone, instead offering it as an optional accessory at extra cost.

While Apple may indeed have been aiming for long-range RF charging, IHS Technology analyst Vicky Yussuff says that the company couldn’t wait any longer.

The success of wireless charging adoption from Apple’s competitors is something that Apple can no longer ignore. IHS Technology consumer survey data shows over 90% of consumers want wireless charging on their next device.

«

The Apple Watch uses Qi charging, but tweaked. One assumes the iPhone 8 will follow suit. *Sherlock Holmes voice* So, Watson, what does this tell us about the future for the Lightning port?
link to this extract


Inside the meltdown of Evan Williams’ startup, Medium • Business Insider

Julie Bort:

»

All the people Business Insider spoke to agreed: They admire and like [former Blogger founder, Twitter co-founder and Medium founder Ev] Williams . He’s a hard worker — first one in the office, last one to leave.

Employees said they loved their jobs. It wasn’t just the perks like free lunch and on-site meditation sessions; their CEO also treated them as a doting parent would.

“He’s an amazing person to work with,” an employee said. “He challenged me in ways I didn’t think were possible.”

Williams listens carefully to ideas, then helps an employee look at a situation from a new perspective. He encourages experimentation and doesn’t penalize failure.

But Williams and his right-hand strategy man, Ed Lichty, were also both described as “nonconfrontational” to a fault. They didn’t have the “hard conversations” or do ongoing course corrections to build a sustainable business, multiple people said.

Their messages to the staff were so consistently upbeat — and the startup was so well funded — that employees felt complacent, people told us. (Lichty, who has been with Medium for four of its five years, is also leaving, multiple people said. Medium declined to comment.)

Yet this was the second time they changed business models. Medium had previously toyed with being a publication itself, hiring writers and editors. Then it shuttered that effort. Employees were asked to voluntarily resign or relocate to other jobs.

Even if Williams finally gets the business model right, at this point he would have to rebuild trust and credibility in the media world.

«

Might be able to imagine one happening, but not both. It’s a shiny car, but it hasn’t got an engine.
link to this extract


ComScore reports $109bn in Q4 2016 total digital US retail e-commerce spending • ComScore


»

comScore today reported Q4 2016 U.S. retail e-commerce spending from desktop computers and mobile devices. For Q4 2016, $109.3bn was spent online, marking an 18% increase versus the same quarter in 2015. The majority of online buying occurred on desktop computers, with $86.6bn spent, up 13% vs. year ago. Meanwhile, m-commerce spending on smartphones and tablets contributed $22.7bn, with a significantly higher year-over-year growth rate than desktop at 45%.

«

Let me save you the calculation: on that basis, mobile spending would overtake desktop in about six years. More likely though is that something brings growth to a stop for both.
link to this extract


Hugs and databases: in memory of Hans Rosling • World Bank Data Blog

Tariq Khokhar:

»

Rosling, trained as a statistician and physician in the late 1970s, spent two decades studying outbreaks of konzo in rural areas across Africa. It was only in the 2000s he turned his attention to another type of disease – one which prevents knowledge locked away in datasets from being put to work for the public good.

He called it “Database Hugging Disorder” or “DBHD.” And the World Bank, along with other development organizations, had a chronic case of it.

Hans’ relationship with the Bank was initially adversarial. At the time, the institution’s business model for data relied on selling subscriptions to databases to fund their production. While of great interest, access to most of the Bank’s data was limited to those who could afford to pay for it.

Rosling’s quest to set data free was always a family affair. His son Ola and Ola’s wife Anna once joined him on a trip to DC to meet Shaida Badiee – then head of the Bank’s Data Group. Anna tells me they’d gone to discuss ways of making more of the Bank’s data freely available, but that the conversation turned to better ways of presenting data.

Hans asked Anna to show off some new animated bubble charts she and Ola had been working on. “Her eyes went wide,” said Anna, “Shaida got up and just hugged me with joy.”  In all the time she’d worked with development data, Shaida tells me she’d never seen anything that helped bring it to life like that. She immediately offered to make the Banks’ data available to Hans’ team if the Bank could make use of the bubble charts on its own website. Hans’ response? No deal. The data should be freely available for everyone to use.

«

And now, it is.
link to this extract


Making More Outside The App Store • Rogue Amoeba

Paul Kafasis:

»

With the exception of our audio editor Fission, all of Rogue Amoeba’s apps are distributed and sold exclusively through our site. Popular tools like Audio Hijack and Airfoil provide concrete proof that products can thrive while never being sold through the Mac App Store. However, we have one application that followed a path similar to Dash’s. Our charmingly simple audio recording app Piezo was originally distributed in both the Mac App Store and via direct sales, but it has since left the App Store.

After seeing Kapeli’s chart, I was curious about the App Store’s impact on Piezo’s sales. The restrictions and limitations of the Mac App Store ultimately led us to remove Piezo on February 12th, 2016. We’ve now been selling it exclusively via our site for a year. This has provided about as perfect a real-world test case as one could hope for. Piezo’s removal came with minimal publicity, the price has remained constant at $19, and we’ve had no big updates or other major publicity for it in either 2015 or 2016.

So what do the numbers tell us? Here’s a chart showing unit sales for the last four quarters in which Piezo was sold through both the Mac App Store and directly via our website, as well as the subsequent four quarters when it was sold exclusively via direct sale.1

Piezo Units by Quarter

The Mac App Store previously made up about half of Piezo’s unit sales, so we might have expected to sell half as many copies after exiting the store. Instead, it seems that nearly all of those App Store sales shifted to direct sales.

«

There has long been a shareware economy; the attempts by Apple (and subsequently Microsoft) to impose a mobile-style app store system onto that economy, and extract a publisher’s 30% cut, has only served to highlight that (1) search in app stores is woefully broken (2) promotion in app stores isn’t as useful as word of mouth (3) 30% is a lot of money to give up in low-value transactions.

The Mac App Store might have been a nice idea if it had been there from day one – perhaps the problems with search might have been solved – but as a retrofit, it’s doomed.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the Chromebook conundrum, WSJ shuts loophole, VR’s China problem, and more


Geology might have something to say about extending the US-Mexico border into a wall all the way. Photo by Seabamirum on Flickr.

You can now 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.

Samsung Chromebook Plus review: future imperfect • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

The trouble starts with the tablet mode. Google either isn’t finished with it yet or just doesn’t know what people want to do with tablets yet (I suspect it’s both). When you flip the screen around, everything goes full screen, with no option to split windows into sidebars. Want to leave it in tablet mode and put it to sleep? Sorry, Charlie — hitting the power button simply takes you to the lock screen, where you’ll have to sit and watch it for 40 seconds before it finally powers down.

Given that Google is pushing out Chrome OS updates on a regular and reliable schedule, I expect those smaller issues will get fixed at some point. What I’m less sure about is the consistency and utility of Android apps on Chrome OS.

Take the stylus, which is a great idea, but badly implemented right now. Google does a smart thing by having it pop open a menu when you pull it out of its silo, but that’s where the current intelligence mostly ends. It’s useful for tapping tiny icons when in tablet mode, but there aren’t many web apps that work well with it. Instead, most of the apps that the stylus is meant to go with are the Android apps, like Google Keep. In the future, Google Keep will use fancy machine learning to reduce the lag. In the present, trying to take even a basic note is like writing with invisible ink: a letter sometimes doesn’t even appear until you’re onto the next one. And the root of the problem is that Android apps on Chrome OS are still in beta — a very much unfinished experience.

«

Eight-hour battery life (average for modern laptops), doesn’t run Windows or Mac apps, and Android’s tablet functionality isn’t anything to write home about. Cheap, but not particularly cheaper than Windows PCs. I’m starting to think Google doesn’t quite know how to push ChromeOS.
link to this extract


The Wall Street Journal to close Google loophole entirely • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

»

The Wall Street Journal continues to tighten up its paywall as it strives to hit 3 million subscribers to the Journal and other Dow Jones products.

Starting Monday, it’s turning off Google’s first-click free feature that let people skirt the Journal’s paywall by cutting and pasting the headline of a story into Google. The Journal tested turning off the feature with 40% of its audience last year. But the eye-popping moment was when the Journal turned it off four sections for two weeks, resulting in a dramatic 86% jump in subscriptions. The Journal said the full turnoff is a test, but didn’t say how long it would last.

“A consistent amount of people were avoiding the paywall,” said Suzi Watford, Dow Jones’ chief marketing officer.

«

In case you were thinking of trying this today.
link to this extract


Inside the Google News team • Business Insider

Nathan McAlone:

»

Former staffers said the Google News team did not have to deal with much “fake” or “hoax” news, which seems to have only emerged as a phenomenon during the recent US Presidential campaign.

“Spam” behaviors like scraping other people’s news sites for content, and then adding a bunch of scummy affiliate links, were much more common.

Still, there were cases where a publication “followed the criteria for news, but had a really clear and obvious bias,” one person recalled.

Multiple former staffers confirmed that one way to handle such cases was to let the publisher onto Google News, and then manually flag the page so that it ranked lower on Google News. One said that these methods were both clear to reviewers and in their control.

“You could get in and still not show up [prominently]” one person said, referring to publishers on Google News. There were some ways to “prevent users from seeing” a publication once accepted, said another.

Sites that were too biased or untrustworthy could degrade the quality of Google News or even cause embarrassment if they showed up prominently, but an outright rejection of a news site could cause unwanted blowback if a publisher decided to raise a fuss in public. 

So staffers would quietly push some sites to the bottom.

«

Here’s Google’s support article on what gets in. Note that since the people interviewed were working there, it has all been outsourced.
link to this extract


Until we have an Apple Watch of our own, no one is going to take Android Wear seriously • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

Google’s fear that it may alienate partners by building a first-party watch is a silly one. It never cared about alienating partners with its Nexus phones and tablets, and even as competition is increasingly stifled in the smartphone market, Google put out the Pixel. Where’s the “partner ecosystem” compassion there? And are a dozen or so Wear “partners,” many of whose products innovate in zero ways whatsoever and sell poorly, even something to care about losing? After all, some have already abandoned ship: Samsung made exactly one Wear device, Motorola has bowed out of smartwatches entirely, and I don’t think Sony’s itching for a second run at Wear, either.

We’ve given the platform and partners time to prove themselves, and they consistently haven’t. Half-measures like these LG watches, so openly riddled with compromises, are a case in point. Nearly every review I have read of them craves a device that sits somewhere between the two, because neither is actually very good on its own. Google is a company full of incredibly smart people – there’s no way the Wear team didn’t see that LG’s product strategy here has significant flaws. And yet, this partnership forged ahead anyway, and I think the Wear brand will only be hurt for it in the end.

If Google is serious about Android Wear, it should be serious about building Android Wear watches – full stop.

«

Ruddock is, as usual, eminently correct. Google is probably worried that if it were to make a smartwatch, sales wouldn’t go well (especially compared to the Apple Watch) and thus be another hardware drag on margins, if not overall profitability. Might as well let the OEMs suck up the losses until Android Wear breaks through, if that day ever comes. It didn’t in tablets, where it’s hard to see any OEMs besides Samsung making a profit on them.
link to this extract


Who is Oculus Rift for? The desperate problem with Facebook’s VR strategy • BBC

Dave Lee:

»

Unofficial data (which I’m using as the companies themselves haven’t shared sales figures with us) suggest that the [HTC] Vive, despite being more expensive, is trouncing Oculus. Games research firm SuperData estimated that 420,000 Vive headsets were sold in 2016, compared to 250,000 sales for the Oculus Rift.

The lower end of the market is far more positive for Facebook. The Samsung Gear VR runs the Oculus VR experience, and that is by far and away the most popular device for VR on the market today, according to SuperData. But the hardware is all Samsung’s and, for the most part, the headset itself (a simple plastic frame with lenses) has been given away with many smartphones.

The hope that the Gear VR might act as a kind of gateway drug into pricier VR experiences has yet to come to fruition.

Or maybe it has, just not for Oculus: the middle ground in VR is Sony’s PlayStation VR, $399 and works with the PlayStation 4. It’s more powerful than the Gear VR, but less powerful than the high-end headsets. But here’s where Facebook should be worried – it seems to be good enough for most gamers.

And it’s “good enough” that makes Facebook’s strategy all the more precarious. Who is the Oculus Rift for, exactly? Super serious gamers are gravitating to the HTC Vive. Moderately serious gamers are happy with PlayStation VR. And at the budget end, the Gear VR, while popular now, faces a clear and present threat from Daydream, Google’s new VR ecosystem which is far more open.

«

link to this extract


China’s VR ‘boom’ is a bust, say some experts • Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

»

While all the headlines say that virtual reality is the next big thing in China, an US$820m industry in 2016 growing to a projected US$8bn by 2020, a number of people are saying the very opposite – that the supposed boom is actually a big bust.

Of an estimated 35,000 VR arcades that last year popped up around China, only less than half or around 12,000 are still in operation, according to iHeima, a well-established Chinese business news site.

Only about 20% of those arcades are making any money.

Enterprising store owners leaping into VR are finding it impossible to charge fees comparable to cinemas or bowling alleys for a VR experience. One VR arcade owner told iHeima that he saw eager queues when charging US$1.50 for a 30-minute session, but everyone vanished when it rose to US$5. From that kind of revenue it’s impossible to pay the rent.

«

link to this extract


The future of advertising relies on the internet of things • Aldo Agostinelli

Aldo Agostinelli:

»

The survey [by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, IAB], rather bluntly titled “The Internet of Things”, showed that 62% of the interviewees owns at least one device connected to the IoT and 65% of those who don’t own any are going to buy one soon. Data on advertising is even more interesting: 55% of the interviewees are willing to be served ads in exchange for discounts or exclusive apps, and the percentage reaches 65% among those who already own IoT connected devices. Furthermore, 69% of those whose income is around 100 thousand dollars per year, and 68% of young people aged between 18 and 34, are happy to receive with pop up ads via the IoT.

The IoT has many benefits for advertising: not only can a message related to a product reach a specific and clearly identified target audience, but the message can be designed based on data which makes it more personal and, therefore, more efficient. Indeed, companies which can collect data from the Internet of Things will be able to use the data also to better understand who their customers are and how their products are used. They’ll be able to add new information to the CRM, notify customers about future product upgrades and develop advertising campaigns aimed at increasing customers loyalty. Which means other agents may intervene and develop ad hoc software and applications.

Absolut, for instance, in partnership with Evrythng, a company specializing in the IoT, is trying to design smart bottles which can connect to the net. With a total of over 100 million bottles delivered each year, this is a logical step aimed at keeping in touch with their customers even after purchases have been made.

«

What an appalling, dystopian world. Ads with everything.
link to this extract


What geology has to say about building a 1,000-mile border wall • Smithsonian Science

Maya Wei-Haas:

»

Dirt can also eat up the wall’s support system. Soils that are naturally acidic or have high chloride levels can rapidly degrade iron-rich metals, says McKinnon. These soils could “corrode any, say, nice big metal rebar that you’re putting in there to stabilize your foundation,” she says. Other soils have a high amount of sulfates, a compound found in the common mineral gypsum that breaks down both metals and concrete. Sulfate-rich soils are common in what’s known as the Trans-Pecos soils along the border in the southwestern arm of Texas.

Upkeep of such a lengthy structure is challenging. And even if such a wall can be erected, the size of budget necessary to keep it standing remains unclear. (Kevin Foy / Alamy Stock Photo)
“You’re going to encounter hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of soils along [such a lengthy] linear pathway,” says Clendenin. (In fact, there are over 1,300 kinds of soil in Texas alone.) And many of those soils aren’t going to be the right type to build on top of. At that point, would-be wall-builders have two options: Spend more time and money excavating the existing soils and replacing them with better dirt—or avoid the region altogether.

One thing they can’t always avoid, though, are regions at risk of earthquakes and floods. Rivers run along a sizeable portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, which can create a very real danger of flood. Building adjacent to rivers can also present unexpected legal issues: A 1970 treaty necessitates that the fence be set back from the Rio Grande river, which delineates the Texas-Mexico border. Because of this, the current fence crosscuts Texas landowner’s property and has gaps to allow landowners to pass.

Earthquakes are also relatively common in the western U.S. Depending on the build, some of these tremblors could cause cracks or breaks in the wall, says McKinnon. One example is the magnitude 7.2 quake that struck in 2010 near the California-Mexico Border, according to Austin Elliott, a postdoctoral student at the University of Oxford whose research is focused on the history of earthquakes. “If there had been a wall at El Centinela [a mountain in northern Mexico] it would have been offset,” Elliott writes on Twitter.

Even if all the proper surveys are completed and the boxes checked, success isn’t guaranteed. “There are just so many things that have to be done before you even shovel out the first scoop of dirt,” says Clendenin.

«

Trump wants all the surveying done by mid-year (he signed an executive order in January). Ain’t gonna happen. And then what?
link to this extract


By selling its in-house satellites, Google has remade the industry • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

From a business standpoint, here’s the news: Google sold its in-house satellite business, known as Terra Bella, to Planet, Inc. Planet is a startup based in San Francisco that already operates a fleet of 60 orbiting cameras the size of shoeboxes. With the acquisition, Planet is now the de facto leader in the small-satellite space, and it will add Terra Bella’s seven high-resolution satellites to its own constellation of medium-resolution craft.

As part of the deal, Planet will give Google access to its growing archive of imagery for at least the next few years.

But the more interesting development has less to do with acquisitions and more with technological capacity. Planet also announced that it will deploy 88 small satellites later this month, as part of a rocket launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India on February 14. Assuming that most of the spacecraft make it to orbit intact, these satellites should become fully operational by the summer.

When that happens, Planet will be the first to hit a long-discussed milestone in the industry: It will photograph every place on the entire planet every day. Every park, every rice paddy, every patch of pine and permafrost: all will be imaged anew, daily, at medium resolution.

«

I thought this was the game Google wanted to be in by buying Terra Bella. “For a few years” is nice, and presumably cheaper than owning the company.
link to this extract


Just launched: Near-real-time Rainfall API • Defra digital


»

To complement our (the Environment Agency’s) publication of open data on river levels, we have now made near real-time rainfall data available via an API.


The data comes from about 1000 automatic rain gauges across England.

This data is already used by the Environment Agency to assess water resources and provide local Flood Warning and Forecasting services. The data from some gauges is also used by the Met Office to calibrate rainfall radar data, which in return improves our Flood Forecast predictions.

We are publishing this data openly as it has the potential for a wide range of uses externally such as flood forecasting, farming, and recreation.

«

Yet another win for the Free Our Data campaign. Getting the Environment Agency to open up flood data was one of the toughest tasks; it took all the floods a couple of years ago to persuade it, but more importantly central government, that the data should be open.

The API itself is pretty straightforward – no API key required at present. There’s also historic data in CSV format.
link to this extract


Ministers accused of “out-trumping Trump” over use of health data to track alleged illegal immigrants • BuzzFeed News

James Ball:

»

The NHS is now required to hand the Home Office the addresses of people it suspects of being in the country illegally, BuzzFeed News can reveal, under a new policy that has led to the government being accused of “out-Trumping Donald Trump”.

The data sharing deal, which makes it much easier for the Home Office to use NHS information in tracking down people who have overstayed their visas or are accused of immigration offences, has been condemned by health charities as causing a major risk to public health, as well as to people who may be deterred from seeking treatment for serious illness.

BuzzFeed News has seen letters from the Home Office to GPs that have led in at least one case to people being wrongly refused basic healthcare to which they were entitled, as well as communications asking doctors to hand over the details of their patients so the Home Office could take action against them.

«

There’s lots more detail; it’s a clear datagrab by the Home Office, going after information that arguably it doesn’t have any right to. But this move is almost surely out of reach of the Information Commissioner, because it’s done by the government.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified