About charlesarthur

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

Start Up: should Facebook forget, Google’s adblock plans, Trump’s 90-day mark, is Bose listening?, and more


Imagine a tumble dryer that dries with sound and doesn’t get hot. It exists. Photo by CarbonNYC 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. Don’t worry, there’s reading. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Build a better monster: morality, machine learning, and mass surveillance • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski, in a speech (and piece) from which this is only a smidgen of the many great ideas: that social networks and Google should dump the data about us more quickly:

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The online world forces individuals to make daily irrevocable decisions about their online footprint.

Consider the example of the Women’s March. The March was organized on Facebook, and 3-4 million people attended. The list of those who RSVP’d is now stored on Facebook servers and will be until the end of time, or until Facebook goes bankrupt, or gets hacked, or bought by a hedge fund, or some rogue sysadmin decides that list needs to be made public.

Any group that uses Facebook to organize comes up against this problem. But keeping this data around forever is not central to Facebook’s business model. The algorithms Facebook uses for targeting favor recency; and their output won’t drastically change if Facebook forgets what you were doing three months or three years ago.

We need the parts of these sites that are used heavily for organizing, like Google Groups or Facebook event pages, to become more ephemeral. There should be a user-configurable time horizon after which messages and membership lists in these places evaporate. These features are sometimes called ‘disappearing’, but there is nothing furtive about it. Rather, this is just getting our software to more faithfully reflect human life.

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This is all worth reading, especially for his description of how he thought Pacman should be played as a child.
link to this extract


Google plans adblocking feature in popular Chrome browser • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

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The ad-blocking feature, which could be switched on by default within Chrome, would filter out certain online ad types deemed to provide bad experiences for users as they move around the web.

Google could announce the feature within weeks, but it is still ironing out specific details and still could decide not to move ahead with the plan, the people said.

Unacceptable ad types would be those recently defined by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group that released a list of ad standards in March. According to those standards, ad formats such as pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and “prestitial” ads with countdown timers are deemed to be “beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability.”

In one possible application Google is considering, it may choose to block all advertising that appears on sites with offending ads, instead of the individual offending ads themselves. In other words, site owners may be required to ensure all of their ads meet the standards, or could see all advertising across their sites blocked in Chrome.

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This has been rumbling for some time. Here was Lara O’Reilly at Business Insider in May 2016:

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Google is exploring the creation of an “acceptable ads policy” that appears to suggest it wants to create an industry-standard for online ad formats.

Several executives with knowledge of these discussions confirmed to Business Insider that Google has been looking at spearheading such a policy. Google has been meeting with several companies and industry trade bodies to discuss how it might be implemented in practice. Whatever form it takes will likely lean heavily on new research Google is due to publish in the coming weeks about the types of ads consumers find unacceptable.

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The antitrust implications are huge. Chrome is the dominant browser, worldwide (outside China). Google can get outside organisations to decide “acceptable ads”, but if it’s choosing which organisation feeds its whitelist – and there will be a whitelist – then it has a clear conflict of interest. Any ad definition that would block a Google ad won’t be allowed. This will require transparency on a huge scale.

But this looks like Google getting out ahead of the curve. Adblocking is a problem; it’s the equivalent of pop-up windows back at the start of the century, which browser makers all moved to block pretty fast. (Remember the X10?)
link to this extract


Trump’s claim that ‘no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days’ • The Washington Post

Glenn Kessler:

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The first 100 days of a presidency mark a rather artificial milestone, but one by which all presidents have been measured since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s whirlwind of action when he took office in the midst of the Great Depression. President Trump appears especially conscious of this marker. During the presidential campaign, he even issued a list of 60 promises that he said he would fulfill in his first 100 days.

We’ve been tracking Trump’s promises, and so far he has not even taken action on 60 percent of the promises — and he’s broken five of them, such as his pledge to label China as a currency manipulator.

Yet here’s the president declaring that he has accomplished more in his first 90 days than any previous president. So how does he stack up?

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The “promise tracker” is pretty good.
link to this extract


The continuing fallout from Trump and Nunes’s fake scandal • The New Yorker

Ryan Lizza:

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As Bloomberg View reported, earlier this month, Susan Rice, Obama’s national-security adviser, had used a process that allowed her to request that the masked names be revealed to her. Rice had to log her unmasking requests on a White House computer, which is how Trump’s aides knew about them. Nunes and the White House presented this as a major scandal. “I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story,” Trump told the Times, adding, while offering no evidence, that Rice may have committed a crime.

It is now clear that the scandal was not Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coördinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”

I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.

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I’m sure this will all be explained fully and everyone will own up to their part in what went on.
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In the duopoly’s shadow, Apple News is finding favor with some publishers • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

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If publishers are down on Facebook Instant Articles, they’re increasingly effusive about Apple News as a platform partner.

Apple News, a pre-installed app on Apple phones and tablets, has long been the distant No. 3 in platform publishing initiatives. Introduced in 2015, Apple News didn’t elicit the kind of excitement Facebook got with IA and Google with its Accelerated Mobile Pages. But in recent months, Apple began sending more traffic publishers’ way and letting them sell subscriptions on the news aggregation app. Kunal Gupta, CEO of branded content platform Polar, which works with premium publishers, estimates that for those publishers that are benefiting big, Apple News is supplying 10-15% of their mobile traffic.

Platforms have been an uneven source of actual ad revenue to publishers, and Apple News has barely sent publishers any revenue at all. But for publishers that sell subscriptions, Apple News inspires hope because that business is becoming increasingly important as they face more competition for digital ad revenue.

“They’re getting frustrated with the lack of monetization options on [Facebook Instant Articles] and see Apple News as a direct opportunity to gain subscribers which has inherent value,” said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of digital audience analytics firm Parsely.

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But surely in June 2015 it was “Why publishers are worried about Apple News” (that’s the page headline, though not the article headline) and publishers were told Instant Articles was “built to meet their needs? It’s as if nobody writing about this stuff was able to discern motives beyond the public pronouncements of companies.
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Ultrasonic drying: seeking commercial partners • Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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UT-Battelle, LLC, acting under its Prime Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for the management and operation of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), is seeking commercialization partners for its Ultrasonic Drying technology. 

Researchers at ORNL have developed a new approach to the traditional process of thermal drying using an innovative ultrasonic drying technology. The technology uses low-energy piezoelectric transducers to produce high-frequency vibrations to mechanically remove water from a variety of materials quickly and three times more efficiently than thermal drying. In addition to lower energy costs, ultrasonic drying technology could potentially be applied to a wide range of processed materials that would benefit from the removal of a drying heat source.

The technology utilizes ultrasound transducers to create a high frequency mechanical oscillation on the surface of the material subjected to drying. This forms an extremely fine mist of droplets about one micron in diameter that are readily entrained into an air flow. Unlike the thermal drying that evaporates water molecules only, these water droplets will carry with them all impurities that are present in the water content of material (e.g., salt, minerals and detergents), which is very beneficial in some applications and might be detrimental in other applications.

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This is one of those projects that makes you say “wow”. It’s worth looking at the slide presentation for it too. Clothes dryers (tumble dryers in the UK) consume 1% of US energy; this uses from 20% to 33% of the standard amount, and doesn’t get hot.

General Electric is interested; one can also imagine that Shenzhen is going to be alive with companies making ultrasonic transducers. The expectation is that these are a couple of years from the market, but I’d be unsurprised if Chinese versions don’t appear sooner.

I wonder about two things: who first thought “hey, we could dry clothes this way!” (a quick literature review suggests that ultrasound’s ability to cause evaporation was discovered in 1927); and might some fabrics or parts (buttons?) be subtly damaged by ultrasound? Perhaps some helpful Chinese folk will discover this for us.
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I just love this Juicero story so much • Deadspin

Albert Burneko on Bloomberg’s report about the company which got over $100m from VCs to make a high-priced juicer which turned out to be, well, you read it:

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Here is another good-ass sentence from what, for my money, is the best story ever written about Silicon Valley. It pairs very nicely with the previous one:

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But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands.

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Oh no! This must have been a terrible shock to these venture capitalists. Sir, we’ve received some disturbing news. I don’t know how this happened, but apparently some of our customers are slightly less stupid than the absolute stupidest they possibly could be.

I like this one, too (emphasis mine):

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One of the investors said they were frustrated with how the company didn’t deliver on the original pitch and that their venture firm wouldn’t have met with Evans if he were hawking bags of juice that didn’t require high-priced hardware.

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When we signed up to pump money into this juice company, it was because we thought drinking the juice would be a lot harder and more expensive. That was the selling point, because Silicon Valley is a stupid libertarian dystopia where investor-class vampires are the consumers and a regular person’s money is what they go shopping for. Easily opened bags of juice do not give these awful nightmare trash parasites a good bargain on the disposable income of credulous wellness-fad suckers; therefore easily opened bags of juice are a worse investment than bags of juice that are harder to open.

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The last clause of that sentence is worth pondering for a bit, because it honestly is how many of these companies operate, and are funded to operate: make it more difficult to get at The Thing People Want.
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Bose headphones spy on listeners: lawsuit • Reuters

Jonathan Stempel:

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The complaint filed on Tuesday by Kyle Zak in federal court in Chicago seeks an injunction to stop Bose’s “wholesale disregard” for the privacy of customers who download its free Bose Connect app from Apple Inc or Google Play stores to their smartphones.

“People should be uncomfortable with it,” Christopher Dore, a lawyer representing Zak, said in an interview. “People put headphones on their head because they think it’s private, but they can be giving out information they don’t want to share.”

Bose did not respond on Wednesday to requests for comment on the proposed class action case. The Framingham, Massachusetts-based company has said annual sales top $3.5 billion.

Zak’s lawsuit was the latest to accuse companies of trying to boost profit by quietly amassing customer information, and then selling it or using it to solicit more business.

After paying $350 for his QuietComfort 35 headphones, Zak said he took Bose’s suggestion to “get the most out of your headphones” by downloading its app, and providing his name, email address and headphone serial number in the process.

But the Illinois resident said he was surprised to learn that Bose sent “all available media information” from his smartphone to third parties such as Segment.io, whose website promises to collect customer data and “send it anywhere.”

Audio choices offer “an incredible amount of insight” into customers’ personalities, behavior, politics and religious views, citing as an example that a person who listens to Muslim prayers might “very likely” be a Muslim, the complaint said.

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An app with such terrible privacy? The EULA doesn’t seem to include such a warning (by my reading). The complaint itself doesn’t provide evidence of it happening. Bose hadn’t commented in any story through the day. One images lots of “but DO we??” conversations at its offices.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Facebook’s monopoly tendency, Solv-ing healthcare, the mobile web’s drift, and more


But what if you saw the colours and wanted to figure out their match? Photo by Telstar Logistics 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook and the cost of monopoly • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:

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Facebook’s theft of not just Snapchat features but its entire vision bums me out, even if it makes good business sense. I do think leveraging the company’s network monopoly in this way hurts innovation, and the same monopoly graphs explain why. In a competitive market the return from innovation meets the demand for customers to determine how much innovation happens — and who reaps its benefits:

A monopoly, though, doesn’t need that drive to innovate — or, more accurately, doesn’t need to derive a profit from innovation, which leads to lazy spending and prioritizing tech demos over shipping products. After all, the monopoly can simply take others’ innovation and earn even more profit than they would otherwise:

This, ultimately, is why yesterday’s keynote was so disappointing. Last year, before Facebook realized it could just leverage its network to squash Snap, Mark Zuckerberg spent most of his presentation laying out a long-term vision for all the areas in which Facebook wanted to innovate. This year couldn’t have been more different: there was no vision, just the wholesale adoption of Snap’s, plus a whole bunch of tech demos that never bothered to tell a story of why they actually mattered for Facebook’s users.

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link to this extract


Zuck says copying Snapchat was just step 1 of Facebook’s AR platform • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

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when asked for a response to critics who say Facebook had stopped innovating, Zuckerberg brushed them off, insisting this was actually just Facebook preparing all its products for the new unified cross-app Camera Effects Platform. While Facebook Stories just launched this month, he says the strategy has been in the works for a while:

“We started it about a year ago. The point was that we kind of felt like we’re going to need cameras because video and photos are becoming more central but the unique thing that we’re going to do is we’re not just going to build basic cameras, we’re going to build the first mainstream augmented reality platform.

“​But the thing is, you try to chunk up your releases into specific things along the way. And even though we’re going to talk about it at F8, we’re not going to release it all at once even though this is kind of the next chapter. And the first chapter that made sense was to release products that people were familiar with and to kind of stabilize the product before you try to build a platform on top of that, right? It’s really tough to build the product and the platform at the same time.

“So I think internally, we just understood where we were going. We’ll roll out the different pieces at different times, but that was partially why we’re rolling all the stuff out quickly as we build a bunch of infrastructure to be able to do all that.”

Essentially, adding to Facebook’s various apps an in-app camera with basic augmented reality effects was just the start of a larger platform play.

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link to this extract


Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse • Medium

Kurt Gessler is deputy editor for digital news at the Chicago Tribune, and has spotted a worrying fall in the number of stories posted to Facebook which get any traction:

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What I inevitably come back to is that something changed on Facebook’s side of the equation.

The last algo update mentioned in Facebook’s newsroom blog was “New Signals to Show You More Authentic and Timely Stories” on Jan. 31. This is around a month we’ve after identified our shift, but still curiously close. Of course Facebook didn’t foresee any hiccups: “We anticipate that most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed.”

Given that I hope the Tribune passes muster for “authentic,” let’s focus on the second half. What exact signals are being used to determine what “timely” means? It purports to favor topics that are being discussed in real time:

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For example, if your favorite soccer team just won a game, we might show you posts about the game higher up in News Feed because people are talking about it more broadly on Facebook.

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So exactly how much reach lift is conferred by dovetailing with Facebook-defined trending topics? Conversely, does this punish topics not being discussed? Or did the Facebook real-time algorithm become more like Instagram’s, prioritizing content based on the volume of immediate comments, shares, likes and reactions—and squelching posts that are initially ignored? That could be “timely.”

Beyond that, the usual sites that track Facebook changes haven’t noted anything else that would account for our massive shifts in audience.

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He’s concerned, and doesn’t have any answers. There seems to be an implication in the Facebook post that you should be aiming to hit those trending topics – but that seems a risky game.
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Swatchmaker • Peter Chamberlin

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Swatchmaker uses K-means clustering to analyze an image and derive a representative palette of colours.

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This is wonderful. I’ve suggested to Chamberlin that he develop it as an app: there are tons of potential uses. Give it a try.
link to this extract


Introducing Solv: making it easy to get well soon • Medium

Heather Fernandez is CEO of the startup:

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We started Solv because we wanted to make it easy to see a doctor for everyday health issues — concerns like colds and sore throats, cuts and sprains, stomach aches, and rashes — the things that impact, well, pretty much everyone. We’re doing that by starting with two things that hundreds of millions of people are already using: a smartphone and urgent care.

Solv is a mobile-friendly service that lets you find and book a same day doctor’s appointment at an urgent care clinic near you and skip the wait. Our technology can also check to see if your insurance is accepted, or if you’re paying out-of-pocket, see cash prices and eliminate any surprises once you get there.

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Continually amazing how broken American healthcare is. Solv has big ambitions, but it’s up against very rich companies which have a big interest in the status quo. Wish them luck.
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Google’s health moonshot comes back to earth • Bloomberg

Caroline Chen and Mark Bergen:

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Verily wants to collect data from our bodies, using it to guide better health decisions.

While that sounds ambitious, it’s much more modest than the missions Verily promoted when it was officially part of Google. Years ago, the biotech division promised projects such as glucose-monitoring contact lenses and all-in-one medical scanners; those remain in the lab. Former employees say the internal code name for the life sciences division was Panacea—cure-all. That’s over.

“We grew up,” says Verily chief executive officer Andy Conrad. The middle-aged geneticist has adopted the Silicon Valley T-shirt-and-flip-flops wardrobe of eternal youth, but he’s given up on a lot of the jargon, including Google’s onetime favorite word. Like some other Alphabet holdings, Verily has stopped talking about everything in terms of industry-changing “moonshots.” What next-generation technology requires in practical terms is “setting the goal and then getting down to the day-to-day practical drudgery,” Conrad says. “If you examine the real moonshot closely, you’ll see a dude whose job is to rivet and a lady whose job is to do some wiring.”

…The tricorder, which Conrad called “a few years away” in 2014, is waiting on nanoparticles that can prove consistently effective outside a petri dish. The nanoparticles Verily’s researchers bought from third-party manufacturers aren’t reliable in live animals, so now they’re making their own.

“Mother Nature defeated us wildly,” Conrad says of the tricorder project, though he’s quick to add that the research continues. Alcon says it’s pleased with the progress on its contact lenses but declined to provide a timetable for clinical trials. In the meantime, Verily and Alcon are working together on lenses that automatically adjust focus depending on where a person is looking and what she’s looking at. (Again, no timetable.)

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Wonder if this will see people dialling back on the breathless takes on futuristic tech in future?
link to this extract


Losing my patience with Google+ • Gideon Rosenblatt

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Over the last six months or so I have watched as the quality of engagement here on Google+ has steadily declined. I have watched my follower count fluctuate and flatline. I have watched as people I used to engage with quite a bit here have left or dramatically scaled back their investments of time here. And yes, I have seen my own enthusiasm for investing time here wane significantly.

I ask myself why and the answers are never as simple as I would like. In the end though, I have come to the sad conclusion that the real thing that is killing Google+ is just plain bad management.

One gets the real sense that many of the people now charged with running Google+ don’t really understand what it was that once made this service so good in its early days. Indeed, one gets the sense that few of the people managing the service today even really use Google+. There are a few noteworthy exceptions like +Yonatan Zunger and +Leo Deegan, of course. I once made a circle with some 50+ Googlers who were once active here, and when I click on that stream, well, it feels a lot like a ghost town.

+Bradley Horowitz, the VP in charge of Streams, Photos and Sharing, (which is where Google+ sits within the Google org structure) hasn’t posted here on Google+ in half a year.

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There goes the attention economy. Google loses interest in stuff, and that’s it.
link to this extract


Alex Jones and the dark new media are on trial in Texas • Buzzfeed

Charlie Warzel:

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For the millions on either side who both adore and revile Jones, the case [in which he is seeking custody of his three children] offers the hope of answering a near-impossible question: Where does Alex Jones the character end and Alex Jones the person begin?

But the herculean task of untangling Jones from his political views has put the 43 year-old broadcaster at the center of something bigger than himself. Unexpectedly, Jones is now the star of a courtroom drama that feels less like a quotidian family law case and more like a referendum on politics, the internet, and the media in the post-Trump ecosystem.

And that’s because at present Jones and his Infowars media empire sit at the intersection of the thorniest issues across the media landscape. Jones, depending on who you ask, is either a participant in, defender of, or the driving force behind everything from fake news, online harassment, and conspiracy theories to the toxic, hyper-partisan politicization of seemingly innocuous events.

Which is what makes Jones’ trial — and his impending trip to the witness stand — so alluring. Perhaps less interesting than knowing exactly what Jones truly believes is the prospect of watching legal experts compel earnest testimony from one of the nation’s top exporters of loose facts, untruths, and partisanship.

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link to this extract


Time spent using apps is only going up, but mobile web usage has hit a wall • Business Of Apps

Andy Boxall:

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Time spent with apps on a smartphone has jumped by more than 10% in 2017, and will continue to rise between now and 2019; but time spent with the mobile internet remains steady this year, and is unlikely to rise significantly.

This is according to eMarketer data, which shows in 2017, mobile users will spend two hours 25 minutes each day using an app on their phone, while 26 minutes will be spent on the mobile web. App usage is up 10.3% over 2016, and now represents 19.9% of the average person’s daily media time.

In 2018, it’s estimated app usage time will rise to two hours and 35 minutes, and in 2019, reach two hours 43 minutes. Mobile web time is expected to stay at 26 minutes next year, before reaching 27 minutes in 2019.

The data covers U.S. app users, and eMarketer analyst Cathy Boyle had this to say:

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“American consumers spend the bulk of their app time conducting five activities: listening to digital audio, social networking, gaming, video viewing and messaging. Each of these are time-intensive activities that consumers conduct with a high level of frequency. An app provides a direct access point from the home screen of a mobile device, and a native app experience is typically slicker and faster than a comparable web experience.”

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One begins to wonder in an age of smartphones quite what “the web” means any more.
link to this extract


Fixing your oven can cook your computer • The Register

Simon Sharwood:

»If your Hotpoint cooker or washer’s on the blink, don’t arrange a repair by visiting the manufacturer’s website: the appliance vendor has been inadvertently foisting nastyware onto visitors.

As spotted by Netcraft, fake Java update dialogs started appearing on Hotpoint’s UK and Republic of Ireland sites this week. If you click “Install” you won’t be updating Java, you’ll be firing up obfuscated JavaScript that Hotpoint did not place on its site. That script tries to hide the fact it refers to a third-party site that can send a custom payload of malware your way.

That payload won’t do nice things to your endpoint and may expose you to attacks like drive-by malware or phishing.

Netcraft says the source of the problem is almost certainly Hotpoint’s WordPress installation, and notes that the content management system “is notorious for being compromised if both it and its plugins are not kept up to date.”«

Things you didn’t have to worry about ten years ago.
link to this extract


‘It’s all over now but the screaming’: inside the unraveling of LeEco in America • Gizmodo

Christina Warren:

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Former employees say that one of the central reasons for the immediate drain of top-tier talent from LeEco happened because the senior executives hired to run the North American business weren’t actually given the opportunity to run the company. Instead, the company was “shadow run” by Chinese executives who former employees say do not understand the US market or business strategies that work here.

For instance, the Chinese leadership was keen on selling smartphones and TVs online via “flash sales”—whereby products are sold at discounts for specific periods of time. Jan Dawson, the founder and chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, says that the problems with an online sales strategy were two-fold. First of all, no one had heard of LeEco and had no reason to be checking out the company’s website. But more importantly, “no one buys smartphones that way here in the US,” he said “so this seemed to be borrowing a strategy that’s worked well for smartphone vendors in China instead of doing something more suited to the US market.”

“The strategy seemed to be, if it worked in China, it will work here,” a former employee said. This sentiment was shared by multiple former employees, and is something many see as being partially responsible for LeEco’s current problems.

“It was ego,” a former employee said, that led the company to think it could accomplish so much in the US so quickly. “They wanted to say, ‘hey we’re not just a Chinese brand’ but didn’t realize it takes time to build a brand presence.”

Of the Chinese leadership imported to oversee LeEco’s entrance to the United States, one employee put it bluntly: “They were not the smartest people in the room.”

Ultimately, the company’s strategy failed and LeEco reportedly missed its 2016 sales projections by a huge margin. One former employee described the online sales for the first few months of availability as “dismal.”

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Watching this zoom and plummet (Warren’s piece has plenty more detail) has been a fascinating lesson in how different countries’ business cultures can’t necessarily be transplanted. The same has surely happened many times, but with the head office being in the US.
link to this extract


eSports to be a medal event at 2022 Asian Games | Sport | The Guardian

Bryan Armen Graham:

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eSports will be an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China, in the boldest step yet toward mainstream recognition of competitive gaming.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced a partnership on Monday with Alisports, the sports arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba, to introduce eSports as a demonstration sport at next year’s games in Indonesia, with full-fledged inclusion in the official sporting programme at the Hangzhou Games in 2022.

The OCA said the decision reflects “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation among the youth.”

“The OCA has always been committed to the inheritance, development, and improvement of Asian sports,” OCA president Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah said in a statement. “And we look forward to the forward-thinking concepts of sports by Alisports, who will be helping us with their strength and experience in eSports.”

The Asian Games, which are recognized by the IOC, are billed as the world’s second largest multi-sport event after the Olympics. Forty-five national delegations and about 10,000 athletes took part in the most recent Asiad three years ago in Incheon, South Korea.

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Associated story: “is it time for eSports gamers to be recognised as athletes?” Unfortunately, it doesn’t examine the question of what is required in any recreation to count as an “athlete”. Merriam-Webster says “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Where’s eSports in that?
link to this extract


Exclusive: Deezer is exploring user centric licensing • MIDiA Research

Mark Mulligan:

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Artists effectively get paid on a share of ‘airplay’ basis. This is service-centric licensing. It all sounds eminently logical, and indeed the logic has been sound enough to enable the streaming market to get to where it is today. But is far from flawless.

Imagine a metal fan who only streams metal bands. With the “airplay” model if Katy Perry accounted for 10% of all streams in a month, the 10% of that metal fan’s subscription fee effectively goes towards Katy Perry and her label and publisher. Other than aggrieved metal fans, this matters because those metal bands are effectively seeing a portion of their listening time contributing to a super star pop artist. To make it clearer still, what if that metal fan only listened to Metallica, yet still 10% of that subscriber’s revenue went to Katy Perry?

The alternative is user centric licensing, where royalties are paid out as a percentage of the subscription fee of the listener. So if a subscriber listens 100% to Metallica, Metallica gets 100% of the royalty revenue generated by that subscriber. It is an intrinsically fairer model that creates a more direct relationship between what a subscriber listens to and who gets paid.

This is the model that we can exclusively reveal that Deezer is now exploring with the record labels. It is a bold move from Deezer, which though still the 3rd ranking subscription service globally has seen Spotify and Apple get ever more of the limelight. While Deezer will undoubtedly be hoping to see the PR benefit of driving some thought leadership in the market, the fact that it must find new ways to challenge the top 2 means that it can start thinking with more freedom than the leading incumbents. And a good idea done for mixed reasons is still a good idea.

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This is indeed a good idea – and many people probably thought this was how it worked all along.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

The (fixable) problem with Steve Ballmer’s USAFacts site: its lack of transparency

Those of us who have been in or around the technology space since the 1990s when Microsoft used to bulldozer all in front of it (for those younger than that: like Google in the 00s, and Facebook now) are completely unused to Steve Ballmer doing things that we can uncomplicatedly see as good.

But his new site, USAFacts, is one of those things. Like Bill Gates pouring money into vaccinations for developing countries, it’s a good thing to have done.

USAFacts, in case you haven’t read the New York Times piece about it (where the site is described as a “fascinating data trove”), the precis is that Ballmer has spent $10m hiring economists and others to put all the spending and other data that the US government products – particularly its budget, where it spends $5.4 trillion and gets $5.2trn (it’s left as an exercise to the reader to figure out how one bridges that $0.2trn gap) – into a site which you can query, to find out just where your money goes, if you’re an American.

Neatly, it divides expenditure into the four “missions” of the US government, which apparently are “establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defence; promote the general welfare; secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”.

There may be trouble ahead

The problem starts once you begin wandering into it and wondering: ok, how does that number come together? Take the “Crime and police” tab under the first mission: click through and you get some data showing how arrests, violent crime, and “public safety officer” numbers are moving. The prisoner data actually has a link to a set of slides – 291 PDFs – drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and reproduced as PDFs by USAFacts, which sticks its own copyright onto them (down in the bottom right).

Screenshot 2017 04 19 17 54 04

(Come on. That’s crazy. Repurposing open-licensed data as PDFs and sticking your own copyright note on them? Is this the 1990s?) In general, you’re left having to trust the site to have got it right. Plus: in almost every situation, we don’t know where the data has actually come from. The prison data is an exception. There’s no transparency in a site which is trying to make government transparent.

Unless I’ve missed something staringly obvious, there are no places where you click on a link and it says “we got this from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this from the Treasury, and this from the Department of Defense”. The methodologies (here’s one – PDF) will give you a number of the methods and sources from which all the numbers are collated, but not how they’re balanced out against each other.

This is a huge omission. I can understand that $10m only goes so far, but if you compare it to a site like Our World In Data, which has been built on a budget probably comparable to one day of USAFacts’s, you see the contrast. Not only are the datasets open and downloadable, you get pointers back to the originals.

Coins: adding up to something

Nor is it as though trying to analyse government spending is a new thing. In the UK, HM Treasury made its COINS database into open data after pressure from newspapers – well, particularly the Guardian, where we championed free data.

From COINS you could generate visualisations like these:

And you could do all sorts of visualisations of what was going on.

This was back in 2010; it’s not as though this is some groundbreaking piece of work that has only just been released to the public and might not have crossed the radar of, say, a multibillionaire who has enlisted a lot of economists and statisticians and programmers to do some work analysing a country’s budget.

Action points

In conclusion: Steve Ballmer has made a start. It’s an adequate start, and given the size of what he’s trying to contend with, it’s laudable that he’s got this far. But there are many more things that remain to be done.

Just in case he’s vanity-searching, here is my list of suggestions for how to turn USAFacts into a truly useful site that will let people explore what the US government and its states are doing with their money:

• link back to the original data. People need to be able to trust it.
• offer inflation-adjusted views of the data. It’s not hard to find inflation figures for past years.
• add trade figures. Imports and exports are relevant data for understanding your country’s performance, and some part of government definitely collects them.
• add comparative figures with other countries. It means nothing to tell people how much they’re spending on health care if they don’t know how that compares to other countries.
• find ways to let people drill down to their state, country and district, and compare them with other states, counties and districts. It’s just data and databases, after all.
• let people see how employment and other elements have changed. Show them how racial factors have changed. Show them how things have changed with different politicians. Everyone wants to apply these prisms to these data, and while you might not want this data to become partisan, the reality is that these numbers will be used anyway by people of whatever tinge to prove whatever they want. You’re already in that battle, so give people more weapons to fight it.

It’s a good start, Steve. Please don’t make us wait for version 3 for it to become a must-use. (Yes, kids, that was a Microsoft joke. Ask your parents.)

Start Up: Ballmer’s data site, S8’s so-so hello, Twitter’s pause, iMacs in September?, and more


Infect a few million of these with Mirai and set them to mining bitcoin. What’s your daily take?

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. All on a bearing to North Korea. Wait, maybe not. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Ballmer serves up a fascinating data trove • The New York Times

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

»

As he looked for a new endeavor — before he decided to buy the Clippers — his wife, Connie, encouraged him to help with some of her philanthropic efforts, an idea he initially rejected.

“But come on, doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?” Mr. Ballmer recalled telling her. After all, he pointed out, he happily paid a lot of taxes, and he figured that all that tax money should create a sufficient social safety net.

Her answer: “A, it won’t, because there are things government doesn’t get to, and B, you’re missing it.”

Mr. Ballmer replied, “No, I’m not.”

That conversation led Mr. Ballmer to pursue what may be one of the most ambitious private projects undertaken to answer a question that has long vexed the public and politicians alike. He sought to “figure out what the government really does with the money,” Mr. Ballmer said. “What really happens?”

On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.

Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.

Mr. Ballmer calls it “the equivalent of a 10-K for government,” referring to the kind of annual filing that companies make.

«

The site is at USAFacts.org. My principal criticism: it isn’t open, linked data. You can’t see what its sources are, or check back against them. But it is a good start.
link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy S8 review: great phone, but that’s not all that matters • WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

In past Samsung designs, like the S7 Edge, the curved screen made the phone feel slippery, but the S8’s new symmetrical shape is easier to grip. Still, I wish the phone’s back weren’t made of glass.

There are new annoyances. It took me a while to get used to the pressure-sensitive home button in the screen, which remains lit up when the phone is locked, but isn’t carved into the glass like on an iPhone. And since the fingerprint reader is on the back next to the camera, I smudge the lens a lot. (This is a serious crime against photography, Samsung.) I would use the new iris reader or facial recognition capability to unlock, but they just aren’t fast enough on the fly.

Even with that extra screen real estate burning up battery, Samsung managed to improve battery life. In my S7 test last year, I got over seven hours. This year, using the same test and parameters on the S8, I got under 10 hours. That’s still short of the iPhone 7, however.

«

Lucky WSJ: the New York Times didn’t get a review unit.
link to this extract


Samsung has blocked remapping of the Galaxy S8’s Bixby button • Digital Trends

Adam Ismail:

»

A Reddit user discovered a way to remap the Bixby button on the Galaxy S8, but that method has now been blocked by Samsung.

Only a few days after users began remapping the Samsung Galaxy S8’s Bixby button, Samsung has taken steps toward blocking the action.

An app helping users remap the button was launched shortly after the device itself was released, and it wasn’t all that surprising to see — the button itself is pretty much a waste of space if you don’t use Bixby. In a new over-the-air update, however, Samsung is blocking the use of the button for anything other than the Bixby virtual assistant. The block was first discovered by XDA-Developers user Flar2.

«

Wonder if this will turn into a cat-and-mouse.
link to this extract


Mirai, Bitcoin, and numeracy • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

»

Newsweek (the magazine famous for outing the real Satoshi Nakamoto) has a story about how a variant of the Mirai botnet is mining bitcoin. They fail to run the numbers.

The story repeats a claim by Mcafee that 2.5 million devices were infected with Mirai at some point in 2016. If they were all mining bitcoin, how much money would the hackers be earning?

I bought security cameras and infected them with Mirai. A typical example of the CPU running on an IoT device is an ARM926EJ-S processor.

As this website reports, such a processor running at 1.2 GHz can mine at a rate of 0.187-megahashes/second. That’s a bit fast for an IoT device, most are slower, some are faster, we’ll just use this as the average.

According to this website, the current hash-rate of all minters is around 4-million terahashes/second.

Bitcoin blocks are mined every 10 minutes, with the current (April 2017) reward set at 12.5 bitcoins per block, giving roughly 1800 bitcoins/day in reward.

The current price of bitcoin is $1191.

«

Guess how much the daily earnings from the 2.5m IoT botnet is. Then click through.
link to this extract


Apple A10 iPhone 7 speeds past Samsung Galaxy S8, Google Pixel, LG G6 & BBK 3T • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

Apple has maintained a lead in both benchmarks and real world performance through a series of factors, including its more efficient iOS and its custom-optimized A-series chips.

In a video test (pictured above, published to YouTube by EverythingApple) that involved cold launching of a series of apps (“Round 1”) followed by switching back through each app (“Round 2”), iPhone 7 Plus opened the suite of games, productivity tools and other apps in just 2:44 minutes, roughly twice as fast as a series of leading Android flagships.

iOS was also able to switch back through all of those open apps in just 33 seconds. Each of the Android phones took either nearly twice as long (the BBK OnePlus 3T) or about 4 times as long (LG G6, Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8). The huge discrepancy between those two indicates that Android itself is not very good at managing apps in RAM. The fastest Android phone packs in a whopping 6GB, making it faster than the rest but still just half as quick at launching apps as an iPhone with half the RAM

While the latter three phones have 4GB of RAM (compared to 3GB in Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus), the fastest Android phone packs in a whopping 6GB, making it faster than the rest but still just half as quick at launching apps as an iPhone with half the RAM. In addition to launching apps faster, the iPhone also booted up quicker.

«

Think what it’s going to be like when Apple is designing its own mobile GPU.
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The pulse of the planet, flatlined: why Twitter’s is failing to grow • Exponents

Dan Kaplan:

»

More than any other single factor, Dick Costolo’s conclusion [in 2010] that Twitter was a media company in the advertising business is responsible for all of the struggles with revenue growth and profitability Twitter is experiencing today.

Because once you’re in the media and advertising business, your entire strategy–across product development, hiring, marketing, and sales–revolves around harvesting your users’ attention, maximizing their engagement, and selling pieces of that attention and engagement to advertisers.

Once harvesting attention, maximizing engagement, and selling both to advertisers become your objectives, you have tremendous incentives to consolidate your users on properties you control.

It was THESE incentives above all else that led Twitter to clamp down on third-party access to its APIs: when your main source of revenue comes from monetizing attention on your own properties, any successful third party client becomes an instant threat

But of course, while consolidating your users on your own website and apps is necessary for an ad business, it kinda defeats the point if they’re not coming back again and again. So you also must keep them engaged…very, very engaged.

«

link to this extract


The despair of learning that experience no longer matters • The New Yorker

Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

»

The return to experience is a way to describe what you get in return for aging. It describes the increase in wages that workers normally see throughout their careers. The return to experience tends to be higher for more skilled jobs: a doctor might expect the line between what she earns in her first year and what she earns in her fifties to rise in a satisfyingly steady upward trajectory; a coal miner might find it depressingly flat. But even workers with less education and skills grow more efficient the longer they hold a job, and so paying them more makes sense. Unions, in arguing for pay that rises with seniority, invoke a belief in the return to experience. It comes close to measuring what we might otherwise call wisdom.

“This decline in the return to experience closely matches the decline in attachment to the labor force,” Case and Deaton wrote. “Our data are consistent with a model in which the decline in real wages led to a reduction in labor force participation, with cascading effects on marriage, health, and mortality from deaths of despair.”

The return to experience is not the best-known economic concept, but it is alive in most of our contemporary economic spook stories, in which the callow private-equity analyst has the final power over an industry in which people have long labored, in which the mechanical robot replaces the assembly-line worker, in which the doctor finds his diagnosis corrected by artificial intelligence. It seemed to match at least one emotional vein that ran through the Trump phenomenon, and the more general alienation of the heartland: people are aging, and they are not getting what they think they have earned.

«

Not just Trumpland, I think.
link to this extract


Conservatives hated an uppity negro golfing President • NY Daily News

Shaun King:

»

No President in American history has ever golfed more per week than Donald Trump. In his first 12 weeks in office Trump took a staggering 18 golf course trips. That’s unheard of. In his first 12 weeks in office, President Obama didn’t visit a single golf course. By the end of this year, it’s likely that Trump will have golfed more than President Obama has in his entire presidency.

And that’s strange. It’s really strange. Because Donald Trump and other conservative pundits seemed to be deeply bothered by the times President Obama went out and golfed. It appeared to genuinely offend them. They obsessed over it.

Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently riffed on how much Obama golfed and pledged, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” The crowd ate it up.

Throughout the Obama administration, any time President Obama golfed, some famous conservative pundit chimed in. It was a reliable punchline that consistently got a rise out of their base.

«

America’s incipient rightwing racism really is something to behold.
link to this extract


How Google eats a business whole • The Outline

Adrianne Jeffries on how Brian Warner saw the content on his site Celebritynetworth (it figures out the net worth of celebrities) being grabbed for Google’s “quick answers” after a request from the company in 2014:

»

If [the request from Google to scrape Celebritynetworth.com’s data was] approved, this meant that any Google search for a celebrity’s net worth would return that pullout answer. The answer would include a link to Warner’s site, and Google promised him it would be good for his brand. But it would also drastically cut his traffic. Most people just want the number; they aren’t as interested in the breakdown of the math. So Warner said no.

“I didn’t understand the benefit to us,” he said. “It’s a big ask. Like, ‘hey, let us tap into the most valuable thing that you have, that has taken years to create and we’ve spent literally millions of dollars, and just give it to us for free so we can display it.’ At the end of it, we just said ‘look, we’re not comfortable with this.’”

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

In February 2016, Google started displaying a Featured Snippet for each of the 25,000 celebrities in the CelebrityNetWorth database, Warner said. He knew this because he added a few fake listings for friends who were not celebrities to see if they would pop up as featured answers, and they did.

“Our traffic immediately crumbled,” Warner said. “Comparing January 2016 (a full month where they had not yet scraped our content) to January 2017, our traffic is down 65%.” Warner said he had to lay off half his staff. (Google declined to answer specific questions for this story, including whether it was shooting itself in the foot by destroying its best sources of information.)

«

Google is strangling a company and destroying jobs. What are Warner’s options? Block the Googlebot? He says he’s “at peace” with the snippets, but as Jeffries points out, “Google seemed more interested in whether the data was machine-readable than whether it was accurate.”

This is what slippery slopes look like: bad effects on good businesses, and bad effects leading to bad results.
link to this extract


Some Google Wifis randomly stop working, turn solid blue • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

»

You probably know if you’ve been affected since, well, your Google Wifi won’t be working. Other means of detection and confirmation manifest themselves via a steady blue light on the primary hub, at which point the satellite hubs may start to flash orange signifying a disconnect of the primary hub. In the meantime it seems that restarting that primary hub fixes the issue, but only temporarily.

To be very clear, this is not a universal problem. It could be related to the latest build (9202.35.8). Even then, not all users are reporting this, and the precise nature of the cause has not been reported. But, a reasonably large number of individuals on Google’s forums have been experiencing this particular issue.

Google has responded on the forum with some information, reassurance, and instructions for those affected, saying, “Our team is still looking into this and working hard on getting a fix out– we aim to have it out as soon as possible.”

«

Some blame being put on Windows 10 devices and/or Xboxen. Related question: how will people be able to get the new firmware into their device, if the device has stopped working?
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Exaggerating ads: Samsung, LG run exaggerated ads about their TV-cum-PC monitors • BusinessKorea

Michael Herh:

»

The tested products were a Samsung monitor (LT24D590KD), an LG monitor (24MT48DF), a Yamakasi monitor (T320UF), a Xavvio monitor (X2700EWT), a Smartra monitor (SHE-320XQ), a Jooyon Tech monitor (D24HBFNA), a Zentview monitor (CN-F2410HL) and a Hook monitor (HT240LED).

First of all, in terms of the response speed, all the products were exaggerated. Their product information says that their response speeds are 5 to 12ms. But no products showed the speeds marked in their production information labels. The Jooyon Tech monitor measured 2.8ms.

Their contrast ratios were also different from those in the product information. The contrast ratio is a measure of how well bright and dark areas are distinguished on a screen. The higher a value is, the better a contrast is.

The LG product with a contrast ratio of 3,000 to 1 in the product information was found to be 5,866 to 1. Moreover, the Jooyon Tech and Hook monitors were also found to have contrast ratios higher than those in their product information. The products of Samsung, Yamakasi, Xavvio, Smatra, and Zentview had lower contrast ratios than those in their promotional material.

«

link to this extract


Apple prepares iMac upgrades for 2H17 and high-end iMac for end of 2017 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:

»

Apple is expected to begin production of two new iMac all-in-one (AIO) PCs in May 2017 for an official launch in the second half of the year, according to sources from Taiwan-based supply chain makers adding that Apple is also testing a new server-grade iMac for the high-end sector currently and the product’s major competitor is expected to be Microsoft’s recently released Surface Studio.

Microsoft released the Surface Studio AIO PC in the fourth quarter of 2016, which has prompted first-tier PC vendors including Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Asustek Computer to release similar products. Asustek’s high-end AIO PCs are expected to be announced around Computex 2017.

Digitimes Research’s figures showed that worldwide AIO PC shipments are about 12-13m units a year, a rather small segment of the PC market where shipments amount to about 250m units.

«

So desktops are about 5% of the world total. Are “pro towers” the same, or smaller? I wonder whether Apple didn’t realise that the Mac Pro had a problem (ie pro customers didn’t want it) was because the delta between “sales are fine” and “sales are lower than we’d expect” was so small it couldn’t be distinguished from random variation.
link to this extract


Uber loses another executive as self-driving program lead quits • The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»

As Uber continues to make the headlines for the wrong reasons, it also keeps on losing executives. The latest big name is to quit is Sherif Marakby — its vice president of global vehicle programs, and one of the orchestrators of its self-driving vehicle program.

Marakby was poached just last April from Ford, where he had spent the previous 25 years, rising to the rank of director of global electronics and engineering. In a statement issued at the time, Marakby said that he was focused on safety, explaining that auto accidents were the most common cause of death among young people.

He went on to oversee the creation and launch of Uber’s ongoing self-driving vehicle initiatives, but apparently decided to cut ties with the company before it reached the next phase of its plans. “Self-driving is one of the most interesting challenges I’ve worked on in my career, and I’m grateful to have contributed to what will soon be a safer future for everyone,” he said in a new statement that confirmed his departure, but didn’t offer a reasoning.

«

He didn’t like Uber. That is not the goodbye of someone who loved the place. Note how he doesn’t say he’s sorry to go. He joins recent departures from the head of AI labs, head of communications and VP of product and growth.

I remember when all the talk was about how Apple couldn’t hold on to staff any more.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: game theory in customer service, evaluate that tweet!, Google’s Russian deal, and more


Now you can see what sort of prescriptions your local GPs hands out – and how that fits into the national picture in the UK. Photo by gregwake 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. Pack up the golf clubs, back to work. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

United: broken culture • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée recalls his time running Apple France, and dealing with angry customers:

»

After a few combative customer service encounters, I experienced an epiphany: No matter how “wrong” they may be, we’re a prosperous business, we can afford to take care of these situations, but we can’t afford to let unhappy, affronted customers damage our reputation.

Whenever a call was escalated to my office, I would immediately offer to buy back the customer’s machine. The offer was always emphatically declined, so we moved on to arrangements for shipment or perhaps a personal appointment at our service shop. Our business concluded, I would ask if the happy caller had children: “Yes…but why?” “For the t-shirts, of course, a small thank-you for bringing your problem to our attention…what sizes would you like?”

A stray behaviorist in our ranks protested that I shouldn’t condition customers to complain, that it would result in more and more jeremiads. I disagreed, claiming that people don’t actually like to complain, and, indeed, we never had any scheming or deranged kvetchers.

Over time, a customer service theorem emerged. When a customer brings a complaint, there are two tokens on the table: It’s Nothing and It’s Awful. Both tokens are always played, so whoever chooses first forces the other to grab the token that’s left. For example: Customer claims something’s wrong. I try to play down the damage: It’s Probably Nothing…are you sure you know what you’re doing? Customer, enraged at my lack of judgment and empathy, ups the ante: How are you boors still in business??

«

“Both tokens are always played”. This is the essence of game theory in this situation. And it goes on to show why United Airlines got it so wrong – and why Amazon gets it right.
link to this extract


The new Mac Pro: the audacity to say “Yes” in a design culture of “No” • Marco.org

Marco Arment:

»

The requirements are all over the map, but most pro users seem to agree on the core principles of an ideal Mac Pro, none of which include size or minimalism:

• More internal capacity is better.
• Each component should have a reasonably priced base option, but offer the ability to configure up to the best technology on the market.
• It needs to accommodate a wide variety of needs, some of which Apple won’t offer, and some of which may require future upgrades.

Or, to distill the requirements down to a single word:

• Versatility.

«

As Arment explains, the requirements that the real pros have are all over the map. So designing yourself into an unexpandable corner – as (in my opinion) Apple has done twice now, first with the Cube in 2000 and then with the Mac Pro – leads to calamity.

Things are getting fixed, but one wonders a little about instutional memory.
link to this extract


How to know if you’ve sent a horrible tweet • Esquire

Luke O’Neil:

»

by and large, the way Twitter works is that to reply means to disagree. When a tweet is good, there are simple, elegant tools for expressing your appreciation via the like and retweet buttons. There are junkier workarounds like quote-tweeting and manual retweeting. A perfect tweet is a pure thing, and ideally, is shared off into the world without commentary, letting its engagement numbers bloom unmolested. In fact, there’s nothing worse than replying to an expertly executed tweet, particularly when it comes to trying to riff off of a joke, or even worse, improve on it. On the other hand, when a tweet has pissed someone off, the user is more inclined to let the author know directly how much they suck. “Delete your account” and “Retire bitch” being two of the better known refrains.

“I would say any time you have more replies than favs, you fucked up in some capacity,” says Twitter investigative reporter Ashley Feinberg of Gizmodo. “People on this site are extremely lazy and also idiots, like myself. If you’ve pissed off enough people that they’re a) too embarrassed to engage and b) feel compelled to actually write words, you did a bad tweet.”

This, from CNN’s Chris Cillizza, whose Twitter bio quotes the president as calling him “One of the dumber and least respected of the political pundits,” is a nice solid example of The Ratio at work, Feinberg says. Not astronomical numbers, but solidly in the sweet spot of just over 2:1.

“What impresses me most about it is how reliable it is,” says David Roth, of Vice Sports. Roth is also the author of one of the finest Trump-related Twitter gags ever. “For all the examples of how markets don’t work, and Twitter’s particularly ridiculous scrambling hustle for attention, it really does seem like a bad enough tweet by a high-profile enough person is going to wind up with that like 500-to-75 ratio that Matt Lewis had going. They get discovered.”

«

I look forward to a data scientist doing this analysis on Trump’s tweets.
link to this extract


Is American retail at a historic tipping point? • The New York Times

Michael Corkery:

»

Between 2010 and 2014, e-commerce grew by an average of $30 billion annually. Over the past three years, average annual growth has increased to $40 billion.

“That is the tipping point, right there,” said Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Reis, a real estate data and analytics firm. “It’s like the Doppler effect. The change is coming at you so fast, it feels like it is accelerating.”

This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses.

More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.

The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades. About one out of every 10 Americans works in retail.

“There is a sea change happening in the retail industry,” said Mark Cohen, a former executive at Sears, who now runs the retail studies program at Columbia Business School. “And that is bringing a sea change in employment.”…

…“This is creative destruction at its best,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We are downsizing a part of the economy that is uncompetitive. While painful for those in the middle of it, this is how we grow and wealth is created.”

But Mr. Cohen, of Columbia University, said the upending of an entire industry will not be so tidy. Warehouses like the one in Red Hook typically employ a few hundred people, according to Sitex Group, a private equity firm that is expected to close on the property in a few weeks.

While these distribution centers could replace some of the work lost in stores, they likely won’t make up the entire difference. That is because much of the operations are automated and require different skills and sensibilities than selling jeans.

«

A followup to the data from Monday. This is going to be the employment shift that faces the next sets of political candidates in 2018 and 2020.
link to this extract


Fairytale prisoner by choice: the photographic eye of Melania Trump • Medium

Kate Imbach:

»

Why won’t the first lady show up for her job? Why? I became obsessed with this question and eventually looked to Melania’s Twitter history for answers. I noticed that in the three-year period between June 3, 2012 and June 11, 2015 she tweeted 470 photos which she appeared to have taken herself. I examined these photographs as though they were a body of work.

Everyone has an eye, whether or not we see ourselves as photographers. What we choose to photograph and how we frame subjects always reveals a little about how we perceive the world. For someone like Melania, media-trained, controlled and cloistered, her collection of Twitter photography provides an otherwise unavailable view into the reality of her existence. Nowhere else — certainly not in interviews or public appearances — is her guard so far down.

What is that reality? She is Rapunzel with no prince and no hair, locked in a tower of her own volition, and delighted with the predictability and repetition of her own captivity.

«

This does feel a little cod-psychological when one considers it; what would someone glean about you from the personal pictures that *you* post to social media? And yet it does seem consistent with her actions. And her unwillingness to leave New York and set up in Washington. No views, you see.
link to this extract


Google to open up Android to rivals in out-of-court deal with Russia • Reuters

»

Alphabet Inc’s Google will open up its popular Android mobile operating system to rival search engines in Russia as part of a deal to settle a two-year dispute with Russian competition authorities.

The deal sets a new precedent for the tech giant, which faces multiple complaints worldwide that it is abusing its dominant position by imposing restrictions on manufacturers of Android-based devices in order to protect its share of the online search market.

Russia’s competition watchdog, FAS, ruled in 2015 that Google was breaking the law by requiring the pre-installation of applications, including its own search tool, on mobile devices using Android, following a complaint by Russia’s Yandex.

Google will no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android-based devices in Russia and will not restrict the pre-installation of rival search engines and other applications, as part of a deal with FAS, the regulator said on Monday.

It will also develop a tool allowing users to choose a default search engine on their Android devices.

«

Fines of $7.8m – not much for Google. Applies for the next six years. How’s the EC’s case against Google, filed in October 2010, coming along?
link to this extract


Lawyers, malware, and money: the antivirus market’s nasty fight over Cylance • Ars Technica

Sean Gallagher:

»

Last November, a systems engineer at a large company was evaluating security software products when he discovered something suspicious.

One of the vendors had provided a set of malware samples to test—48 files in an archive stored in the vendor’s Box cloud storage account. The vendor providing those samples was Cylance, the information security company behind Protect, a “next generation” endpoint protection system built on machine learning. In testing, Protect identified all 48 of the samples as malicious, while competing products flagged most but not all of them. Curious, the engineer took a closer look at the files in question—and found that seven weren’t malware at all.

That led the engineer to believe Cylance was using the test to close the sale by providing files that other products wouldn’t detect—that is, bogus malware only Protect would catch.

Protect has been highly ranked by a number of industry analysts for its innovative approach to “advanced endpoint security,” the broad term used to describe products designed to stop modern malware and other threats to personal computers. Protect bases its detection and blocking of malware on machine learning technology. Rather than use heuristics that look for behaviors matching specific rules, Protect has been “trained” using “the DNA markers of 1 billion known bad and 1 billion known good files,” said Cylance’s vice president of product testing and industry relations, Chad Skipper. The company’s idea has drawn investors; in fact, the stakes in Cylance taken by venture capital firms thus far value the company at $1 billion.

One reason Cylance and other new malware protection contenders have drawn so much investment—over $1.8bn in venture capital since 2014—is that the malware protection industry is ripe for disruption.

«

Ah, the D-word. Though they are a bit like airlines – you use them because you have to, not because you necessarily love them.
link to this extract


Analyse • OpenPrescribing

»

Search 700 million rows of prescribing data, and get prescribing information by CCG or practice. You can search for any numerator over any denominator. For example, prescriptions by CCG for branded Rosuvastatin as a proportion of all lipid-regulating drugs ; or for Rosuvastatin vs generic Atorvastatin ; or for Enalapril as a proportion of its drug class . Add the name of a CCG or practice to check how an organisation compares with its peers. Don’t forget to look at time trends, and maps!

«

This is work which Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame) has played a large part in. You should read the cautionary notes about interpreting the data. But it’s a wonderful example of what open data can produce.
link to this extract


With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and ‘no transparency’ • The New York Times

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew Lehren:

»

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government.

Another case involves Chad Wolf, who spent the past several years lobbying to secure funding for the Transportation Security Administration to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new carry-on luggage screening device. He is now chief of staff at that agency — at the same time as the device is being tested and evaluated for possible purchase by agency staff…

…Mr. Trump’s appointees are also far wealthier and have more complex financial holdings and private-sector ties than officials hired at the start of the Obama administration, according to an Office of Government Ethics analysis that the White House has made public. This creates a greater chance that they might have conflicts related to investments or former clients, which could force them to sell off assets, recuse themselves or seek a waiver.

A White House spokeswoman, Sarah H. Sanders, declined repeated requests by The Times to speak with Stefan C. Passantino, the White House lawyer in charge of the ethics policy. Instead, the White House provided a written statement that did not address any of the specific questions about potential violations The Times had identified.

«

Once again: this is a venal administration; if there isn’t corruption, it’s only by the most remarkable of chances, because the rich don’t tend to get rich by closely observing ethical rules. The US is turning into a banana republic.

link to this extract


Face it: smartwatches are totally doomed • Mashable

Karissa Bell:

»

I’ve never regularly worn a watch in my life. I’m not alone. Fewer and fewer people, especially young people, are wearing watches, according to analysts. In fact, chances are good that if you’re a millennial, your smartphone is your main timepiece — a trend that seems unlikely to reverse.

Now, I’m not saying that all watches are going to die any time soon. Watches will no doubt continue to be a mainstay in offices, courtrooms, schools, hospitals, and anywhere else smartphones aren’t readily accessible for the foreseeable future. (Or at least until we get the augmented reality contact lenses we keep being promised.) 

But even that doesn’t bode well for smartwatches. If you’d rather use your phone over a watch then what good is a smaller, buggier, version on your wrist? And if you’d rather have a real, old school retro analog watch, why would you ever choose a more expensive smartwatch that will become obsolete months after you buy it?

Face it: Huawei’s [CEO Eric Xu] Zhijun [who said he was confused what smartwatches are for when we have smartphones] was spot on. Smartwatches just don’t add up. 

«

I don’t agree: if you don’t have a smartwatch, you don’t know what you’re missing, which is the ability not to be tied to holding your phone. Also: these things go in cycles. Watches are cool, they’re not cool, they’re cool again.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: hacking self-driving cars, Trump hides visitor details, Shadowbrokers dissemble, and more


US retailers are going bust at a stunning rate – so where’s the help for those put out of a job? Photo by Nicholas Eckhart 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 12 links for you. None subject to referendum, since they always seem to give the wrong answer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Retailers are going bankrupt at a staggering rate • Business Insider

Hayley Peterson:

»

It’s only April, and nine retailers have already filed for bankruptcy since the start of the year — as many as all of last year.

“2017 will be the year of retail bankruptcies,” Corali Lopez-Castro, a bankruptcy lawyer, told Business Insider after she attended a recent distressed-investing conference in Palm Beach, Florida. “Retailers are running out of cash, and the dominoes are starting to fall.”

Payless ShoeSource, hhgregg, The Limited, RadioShack, BCBG, Wet Seal, Gormans, Eastern Outfitters, and Gander Mountain are among the retailers that have filed for bankruptcy so far this year, and most are closing hundreds of stores as a result. On top of those closures, retailers that are staying in business — at least for now — are shutting down a record number of stores. 

More than 3,500 stores are expected to close over the next several months.

«

This is big for jobs:

»

General merchandise stores shed 34,700 jobs in March, the government announced Friday, the single most disappointing figure in a generally disappointing jobs report.

After hitting a low point during the recession in December 2009, the retail sector has reliably been churning out more jobs. Though the Labor Department’s monthly employment summary provides only a snapshot of the labor market, this is the second month in a row that retail payrolls have registered substantial losses — a possible sign that larger structural changes are in the works.

«

And also: the decline in jobs since 2001 (its peak) is more than 10 times the total number employed in coal mining in the US.

And finally: US official statistics show that coal mining is 95% a white occupation, while retail is predominantly women (47.8%), 12% black.

Yet which one gets the presidential gladhanding even at the cost of the environment and the reality of where the jobs are?
link to this extract


First resort • Remains Of The Day

Eugene Wei used to work at Amazon, where they obsessed about how to become the “site of first resort” for shopping:

»

A few years back I was in a wedding party, and I had to purchase a specific shirt to match the other groomsmen. I could only find it at Barney’s, and the local outlet didn’t offer it in my size so I ordered it from their website. The package was stolen from our apartment lobby, so I wrote Barney’s customer service asking for a replacement shipment. They refused and asked me to take it up with UPS or FedEx, or whoever the shipper was. If it were Amazon, they’d have a replacement package out to me overnight on the spot, no questions asked. Needless to say, I’ll never order from Barneys again, but it’s amazing to think that Amazon’s customer service is superior to that of even luxury retailers.

In hindsight, thinking Google might surpass us in shopping seems farfetched, but there was a time eBay had surpassed Amazon in market cap and was growing their sales and inventory in a way that inspired envy in Seattle. It turns out there was more of a ceiling on the potential of auctions as a shopping format than fixed price shopping, but in the moment, it was hard to see that shoulder on the S-curve would be.

«

His jumping-off point being the graph from a few days ago showing how peoples’ search for items to buy often starts now at Amazon, at least in the US.
link to this extract


Alphabet’s Verily shows off health-focused smartwatch • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Alphabet’s Life Sciences division, called Verily, is giving the world a peek at its health-focused smartwatch. The Google sister company introduced the “Verily Study Watch” on its blog today, calling it an “investigational device” that aims to “passively capture health data” for medical studies.

Many wearables technically capture health data with simple heart-rate sensors, but Verily’s watch aims to be a real medical device. The blog post says the device can track “relevant signals for studies spanning cardiovascular, movement disorders, and other areas.” The Study Watch does this by using electrocardiography (ECG) and by measuring electrodermal activity and inertial movements.

«

On Friday I observed that Verily was about due to do a PR push. And here it is, right on time. Not for sale, of course.
link to this extract


Google will oppose a shareholder push to publish its gender pay data • Buzzfeed

Hamza Shaban:

»

For the second year in a row, Google’s parent company Alphabet will oppose a shareholder plan that would commit the business to evaluate and disclose whether it has a pay gap between female and male employees.

Arjuna Capital, the investment firm advancing the proposal on behalf of stockholders, told BuzzFeed News that Alphabet sent them a statement of opposition ahead of the company’s annual shareholders meeting this summer. Google declined to comment on the plan.

Last week, as part of an ongoing investigation against Google, an official with the Department of Labor said the agency “found systemic compensation disparities pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Natasha Lamb, Arjuna’s director of shareholder engagement, said there is a difference between paying lip service to gender pay equity and actually being transparent about it.

“They have been unwilling to do that,” Lamb said. “That’s unsettling given how proactive their tech peers have been, and also given what we just saw with the Department of Labor accusing them of extreme gender pay disparity. It makes one question what’s really going on here, when there isn’t full transparency and accountability.”

«

The pressure is going to continue. How does Google get out of this?
link to this extract


1Q17 global smartphone production volume fell 23% from prior quarter due to seasonality • Trendforce

»

Global smartphone production volume for the first quarter of 2017 totaled 307 million units, a drop of 23% from the previous quarter, according to market intelligence firm TrendForce. Smartphone brands, especially those based in China, lowered their production volume forecasts through the first quarter as demand slowed down significantly due to the conventional seasonal effect.

Major brands such as Samsung, LG and Huawei have begun to ship their flagship devices for the year, but the market demand going into the second quarter is expected to remain relatively weak as consumers are holding off their purchases in anticipation of the 10th anniversary iPhone devices that will arrive in the third quarter. Smartphone sales will be fairly lackluster until the second half of this year. TrendForce estimates that the global smartphone production volume for this second quarter will register a modest single-digit growth versus the preceding three-month period.

Strong sales of the Galaxy J series made Samsung the only brand posting production volume growth for the first quarter.

Samsung’s sales results for its high-end smartphones fell short of expectations in the first quarter as consumers’ confidence in the brand had yet to fully recover from the recall of Galaxy Note 7. Nevertheless, Samsung continued to do very well in the mid-range and low-end segments of the market.

«

Xiaomi doing slightly better; Lenovo doing a lot worse (as in 20% down year-on-year). Amazing that the upcoming iPhone is affecting sales already.
link to this extract


Charlie Miller on why self-driving cars are so hard to secure from hackers • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Two years ago, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek pulled off a demonstration that shook the auto industry, remotely hacking a Jeep Cherokee via its internet connection to paralyze it on a highway. Since then, the two security researchers have been quietly working for Uber, helping the startup secure its experimental self-driving cars against exactly the sort of attack they proved was possible on a traditional one. Now, Miller has moved on, and he’s ready to broadcast a message to the automotive industry: Securing autonomous cars from hackers is a very difficult problem. It’s time to get serious about solving it.

Last month, Miller left Uber for a position at Chinese competitor Didi, a startup that’s just now beginning its own autonomous ridesharing project. In his first post-Uber interview, Miller talked to WIRED about what he learned in those 19 months at the company—namely that driverless taxis pose a security challenge that goes well beyond even those faced by the rest of the connected car industry.

«

Consider how lousy the security on most IoT stuff is. Self-driving cars will be different, but you know they’ll have sockets for maintenance..
link to this extract


Facebook faces increased publisher resistance to Instant Articles • Digiday

Lucia Moss:

»

Facebook’s Instant Article push is in danger of fizzling.

Many publishers are deeply unhappy  with the monetization on these pages, with major partners like The New York Times throwing in the towel and many others cutting back the amount of content pushed to the IA platform. In response, Facebook is making concessions to publishers, including new subscription options, in a rare show of weakness for the platform juggernaut.

The Times is among an elite group of publishers that’s regularly tapped by Facebook to launch new products, and as such, it was one of the first batch of publishers to pilot Instant. But it stopped using Instant Articles after a test last fall that found that links back to the Times’ own site monetized better than Instant Articles, said Kinsey Wilson, evp of product and technology at the Times. People were also more likely to subscribe to the Times if they came directly to the site rather than through Facebook, he said. Thus, for the Times, IA simply isn’t worth it. Even a Facebook-dependent publisher like LittleThings, which depends on Facebook for 80% of its visitors, is only pushing 20% of its content to IA.

Enthusiasm has cooled elsewhere. It’s an about-face from two years ago, when publishers were champing at the bit to join the party. “It’s just a matter of time,” Hearst Digital president Troy Young said at the time.

«

Poor monetisation. Facebook is not the publisher’s friend, and now they’re realising it we are going to shift into a new era in their relationship.
link to this extract


LeEco kills EcoPass video streaming and services subscription plan • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»

Embattled Chinese consumer electronics upstart LeEco has killed its plans for EcoPass, an ambitious content and services subscription bundle aimed at U.S. consumers. News of the end of EcoPass comes just days after LeEco announced that it is pulling out of the planned $2bn acquisition of US TV manufacturer Vizio.

EcoPass combined premium video streaming content with extended warranties, cloud storage, priority customer service and more. LeEco was offering consumers who bought phones and TVs between 3 and 12 months of complementary EcoPass membership, and was supposed to officially introduce the plan and reveal monthly pricing this spring.

But on Friday, a LeEco spokesperson confirmed that EcoPass was officially dead, sending Variety the following statement:

“We have discontinued the EcoPass Beta program as of April 1. We will be replacing EcoPass with 3-months of DirecTV NOW with every purchase of a LeEco ecophone or ecotv. We believe this provides greater value to our customers since it has over 60 channels that include the latest movies and shows.”

«

LeEco now looks in serious trouble. Withdrawal from the US looks a virtual certainty.
link to this extract


A milestone moment for tidal energy • Innovators magazine

»

The eyes of the renewable energy world are firmly fixed on Scotland this week after it was announced the most powerful tidal turbine on the planet hit peak power.

And it was all an inside job. Developed and manufactured by one of the country’s leading engineering companies, Scotrenewables, the SR2000 device demonstrated its capabilities at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

The 500 tonne floating tidal turbine exported its full 2MW of power into the local grid on 12 April. A milestone moment for tidal energy, it also further strengthens Scotland’s reputation as a global leader in renewable energy.

«

link to this extract


White House visitor logs won’t be released • Time.com

Zeke Miller:

»

The Trump Administration will not disclose logs of those who visit the White House complex, breaking with his predecessor, the White House announced Friday.

The decision, after nearly three months of speculation about the fate of the records, marks a dramatic shift from the Obama Administration’s voluntary disclosure of more than 6 million records during his presidency. The U.S. Secret Service maintains the logs, formally known as the Workers and Visitors Entry System, for the purpose of determining who can access to the 18-acre complex.

White House communications director Michael Dubke said the decision to reverse the Obama-era policy was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Instead, the Trump Administration is relying on a federal court ruling that most of the logs are “presidential records” and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Three White House officials said they expect criticism of the new policy, but believe it is necessary to preserve the ability of the president to seek advice from whomever he wants, “with some discretion.” They requested anonymity to discuss the policy before a formal announcement.

«

This is crap; it shows the Trump administration to be venal and hypocritical. All the attempts to justify this can’t hide the fact that this is an attempt to hide what is going on. “Drain the swamp” my arse.
link to this extract


April 2016: How the maker of TurboTax fought free, simple tax filing • ProPublica

by Liz Day, in April 2016:

»

In 2013, we detailed how Intuit has lobbied against allowing the government to estimate your taxes for you. So this week, we called Intuit and asked if they still oppose free, government-prepared returns. The answer: Yes. “Our legislative, our policy position on that hasn’t changed,” said spokeswoman Julie Miller. She called Intuit “a staunch opponent to government prepared tax returns.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill yesterday to allow free government-prepped returns. Her office also released a report on the tax industry’s opposition to simpler filing solutions. It cited the article below as well as another story we did on how a rabbi, civil rights activist, and others were misled into supporting Intuit’s campaign.

…Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit’s disclosures pointedly note that the company “opposes IRS government tax preparation.”

The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.

«

This is quite a tale of lobbying power within the US government. Now do you see the value in being able to see who has lobbied politicians?
link to this extract


Protecting customers and evaluating risk • Microsoft blog

:

»

Most of the exploits that were disclosed [by ShadowBrokers] fall into vulnerabilities that are already patched in our supported products. Below is a list of exploits that are confirmed as already addressed by an update. We encourage customers to ensure their computers are up-to-date.

Code NameSolution
“EternalBlue”Addressed by MS17-010
“EmeraldThread”Addressed by MS10-061
“EternalChampion”Addressed by CVE-2017-0146 & CVE-2017-0147
“ErraticGopher”Addressed prior to the release of Windows Vista
“EsikmoRoll”Addressed by MS14-068
“EternalRomance”Addressed by MS17-010
“EducatedScholar”Addressed by MS09-050
“EternalSynergy”Addressed by MS17-010
“EclipsedWing”Addressed by MS08-067
 

Of the three remaining exploits, “EnglishmanDentist”, “EsteemAudit”, and “ExplodingCan”, none reproduces on supported platforms, which means that customers running Windows 7 and more recent versions of Windows or Exchange 2010 and newer versions of Exchange are not at risk. Customers still running prior versions of these products are encouraged to upgrade to a supported offering.

«

There was a huge kerfuffle on Friday when these were leaked; but it turns out that Microsoft had already patched against these hacks. However, there’s no protection for Windows XP, and older versions of Windows Server might be vulnerable. For the most part: run Windows 10 and don’t worry.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: losing God and finding Trump, Apple’s sweet solution, the Hitler sitcom (honest), and more


Hodgkin lived in what is now the UK’s most expensive area, per square metre, outside London. Photo by addedentry 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. Enjoy Easter. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

House prices by square metre in England & Wales • Anna Powell-Smith

»

This map shows for the first time the average price per m2 of houses in each postcode district in England & Wales. It uses new government data on floor area from EPC certificates, matched with 6.2 million residential house sales since 2007.

Sale prices range from more than £20,000 per square metre in SW1X (Belgravia) and W1K (Mayfair) to under £1,000 in postcodes like DN31 (Grimsby) and CF43 (Rhondda). Click to see details for a postcode, or zoom to London, Birmingham, Manchester.

«

Such wonderful work. As you’d expect, London has all of the most expensive space (for the top 100); you have to go to Richmond (still London really) and then Oxford to escape its gravitational pull.

Powell-Smith is amazing. Since you’re wondering:

»

Methodology: Sale prices taken from Land Registry’s Price Paid dataset of residential property sales to individuals since August 2007. Floor area in m2 per property taken from Energy Performance Certificates. I join each property sale to the property’s most recent EPC, using normalised addresses: this finds a match 79% of the time, for around 6.2 million property sales. The aggregate price per m2 for each postcode district is then calculated as the total price of all sales, divided by the total floor area of all properties

«

link to this extract


How the Bible Belt lost God and found Trump • FT

Gary Silverman:

»

I took my place in the book-lined study of [emeritus professor and Baptist minister Wayne] Flynt’s redwood house in Auburn, Alabama, to hear his thoughts on the local economy, but the conversation turned to a central mystery of US politics. Trump would not be president without the strong support of the folks Flynt has chronicled — white residents of the Bible Belt, raised in the do-it-yourself religious traditions that distinguish the US from Europe. I wondered how a thrice-married former casino owner — who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — had won over the faithful.

Flynt’s answer is that his people are changing. The words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, are less central to their thinking and behaviour, he says. Church is less compelling. Marriage is less important. Reading from a severely abridged Bible, their political concerns have narrowed down to abortion and issues involving homosexuality. Their faith, he says, has been put in a president who embodies an unholy trinity of materialism, hedonism and narcissism. Trump’s victory, in this sense, is less an expression of the old-time religion than evidence of a move away from it.

“The 2016 election laid out graphically what is in essence the loss of Christian America,” Flynt says, delivering his verdict with a calm assurance that reminded me of Lee’s hero, Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film of her novel.

“Arguably, what has constituted white evangelical Christian morality for 200 years no longer matters, which is to say we’re now a lot like Germany, a lot like France, a lot like England, a lot like the Netherlands, and what we have is a sort of late-stage Christian afterglow.”

…Flynt says evangelical Christians are mainly mobilising against the sins they either do not want to commit (homosexual acts) or cannot commit (undergoing an abortion, in the case of men). They turn a blind eye toward temptations such as adultery and divorce that interest them.

«

A fascinating analysis.
link to this extract


Investigation finds inmates built computers and hid them in prison ceiling • WRGB

»

Investigators say there was lax supervision at the prison, which gave inmates the ability to build computers from parts, get them through security checks, and hide them in the ceiling. The inmates were also able to run cabling, connecting the computers to the prison’s network.

“It surprised me that the inmates had the ability to not only connect these computers to the state’s network but had the ability to build these computers,” Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer said. “They were able to travel through the institution more than 1,100 feet without being checked by security through several check points, and not a single correction’s staff member stopped them from transporting these computers into the administrative portion of the building. It’s almost if it’s an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.”

The inmates were able to get the parts from a program where inmates break down computers in order to learn computer skills and recycle the parts.

The Ohio Inspector General says investigators found an inmate used the computers to steal the identity of another inmate, and then submit credit card applications, and commit tax fraud. They also found inmates used the computers to create security clearance passes that gave them access to restricted areas.

«

They ought to be locked u– oh.
link to this extract


Apple secretly working on glucose monitoring for diabetes • CNBC

Christina Farr:

»

Apple has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, California, miles from corporate headquarters.

They are part of a super secret initiative, initially envisioned by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to develop sensors that can noninvasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels to better treat diabetes, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Such a breakthrough would be a “holy grail” for life sciences. Many life sciences companies have tried and failed, as it’s highly challenging to track glucose levels accurately without piercing the skin.

The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways, the people said.

The efforts have been going on for at least five years, the people said. Jobs envisioned wearable devices, like smartwatches, being used to monitor important vitals, such as oxygen levels, heart rate and blood glucose. In 2010, Apple quietly acquired a company called Cor, after then-CEO Bob Messerschmidt reportedly sent Jobs a cold email on the topic of sensor technologies for health and wellness. Messerschmidt later joined the Apple Watch team.

…One of the people said that Apple is developing optical sensors, which involves shining a light through the skin to measure indications of glucose.

Accurately detecting glucose levels has been such a challenge that one of the top experts in the space, John L. Smith, described it as “the most difficult technical challenge I have encountered in my career.”

«

This would be a hell of a thing if – big if – Apple can get it to work: it would quickly become the single most popular wearable device for blood sugar monitoring. But the margin for error would be minimal.

I don’t think Google’s project to do it via contact lenses is going to bear fruit, even though it gets wheeled out every couple of years for journalists to swoon over. (It’s about due for another outing; the last version was a bandage, proudly announced in August 2015.)
link to this extract


Security advisory: mobile phones • Kraken

This is not short, but if you really do get concerned about the security of your systems, this is the blogpost for you:

»

Somehow, the masses have been led to believe that phone numbers are inextricably bound to identities and therefore make good authentication tools.  There’s a reason that Kraken has never supported SMS-based authentication:  The painful reality is that your telco operates at the security level of a third-rate coat check.  Here’s an example interaction:

Hacker:  Can I have my jacket?
Telco: Sure, can I have your ticket?
Hacker:  I lost it.
Telco:  Do you remember the number?
Hacker:  Nope, but it’s that one right there. 😉
Telco:  Ok cool.  Here ya go.  Please rate 10/10 on survey ^_^

So, we need to achieve three things:
1.  A shift in the way we think about phone numbers
2.  The securing of your phone number (to the extent possible)
3.  The separation of your phone number from any security functions

«

link to this extract


The disruption of democracy • Medium

James Allworth with a subtle analysis of what has changed about our perception of “entrepreneurship” and its effects over the past century or so:

»

There is an important, and somewhat counter-intutitive insight here: the best way to keep an economy healthy isn’t by prioritizing the economy.

It’s by prioritizing democracy.

This focus on democracy is what keeps destructive and unproductive entrepreneurship at bay. When wealthy special interests come knocking on governmental doors — and given the nature of entrepreneurs, those knocks will happen, accompanied by promises of campaign contributions in exchange for favorable policy— on what basis do policy makers make their decision of what to do? I genuinely believe that most actors on both sides of this equation — in business, and in government — are good people. They’re motivated to do good. But they have a set of forces working on them to behave in a certain way in such a situation.

The business leaders? That’s easy. They’re looking to profit. They’ll do so however they can, within the rules of the game. There are two levers implicit in that statement: play the game as it stands. Or change the rules.

And the policy-makers? Well, they’re looking to get re-elected. With that as the goal, their criteria for judging whether a policy is worth pursuing is two-fold. First, how are voters going to react? Because if they don’t like this, and they change their vote… well I’m out of office.

«

link to this extract


Rise of subscriptions and the fall of advertising •The Graph

Bob Gilbreath:

»

Advertising has always been a “tax” on our attention. Historically the interruptions were limited and we had little control over the handful of channels we read, watched and listened to. But the rise of digital media has put more control in people’s hands. When you give people freedom to get what they want, when they want it, they will seek to get it without paying that attention tax.

The “free media with advertising” grand bargain seems more like a bad deal as the value of our attention spans rise. We have more media choices and distractions than ever before in our lives. We are multi-tasking and keeping up with many things at once. Pausing to watch an advertisement is a speed bump in our busy lives. And once we cut some of these interruptions out with subscriptions, the remaining ads we do see feel even more painful — thus shifting the value equation toward skipping and subscribing.

The media channels haven’t been in love with the advertising-supported business model lately, either. Not only do they make a lot less money by trading in analog dollars for digital dimes, but they are under constant pressure to keep up with the rapid pace change. Big brands are forcing publishers to cover the cost of 3rd party verification thanks to a system that is being overwhelmed by fraud. There is a “stack” of ad-tech add-ons from venture-backed startups and sexier social networks that are taking a growing piece of every budget.

All that cost is on top of the investment in a highly-paid sales force that must continually wine and dine clients to stay in the preference set. And don’t get me started on the Taboola and Outbrain models that add click-bait to the bottom of every page in order to try and wring out just a little more revenue — at the cost of brand equity and journalistic integrity.

«

I think *Americans* are discovering this. We’ve known it outside America, which is passionate about extracting the last bit of distraction from every moment – how long does a baseball game take? An American football game? Many of the delays in tennis matches now are driven by the need to insert adverts. Soccer frustrates US TV because it doesn’t pause at predictable times (except half-time) or for predictable lengths of time.
link to this extract


Heil Honey, I’m Home! (Series) • TV Tropes

»

Heil Honey, I’m Home! is a comedy show about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun moving next door to a Jewish couple.

Yes, someone actually filmed and aired a sitcom with that premise. It’s real.

The show was written by British comedy writer Geoff Atkinson (one of the main writers of Spitting Image) in the 1990s, and is an almost perfect example of a Stealth Parody show. Possibly the most bizarre example of a “reimagining”, the series set out to depict Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living in suburban bliss, with their lives interrupted only by Hitler’s dislike for their next door neighbours, an incredibly stereotypical Jewish couple. It was presented to the viewer as a “long lost”, “recently rediscovered” 1950s sitcom, parodying and distorting beyond recognition the worst features of such programs (with unnecessary canned applause for every character entrance, hideously vacuous plots and dialogue, and a truly awful title sequence).

The show’s ultimate intent seemed to be to illustrate and parody the banal, cookie-cutter nature of most shows in this style. If one changed the names of the main characters, along with a couple of lines, the show would be indistinguishable from a genuine post-war sitcom, and the humour is largely derived from the jarring fact that the domestic fool main character just happens to be Hitler. That said, it’s hard to see how the premise, originally envisioned as a comedy sketch, would’ve been maintained over a series of shows.

«

I guess it could have become darker and darker.. ending up with them moving into the basement. More recently Ricky Gervais’s Extras also sought to destroy through parody the awful sitcoms that plague evenings – but which we don’t watch any more because we have so much other choice. (No, don’t mention Mrs Brown’s Boys and its gigantic viewership.)
link to this extract


Apple supplier Synaptics is at risk of insourcing: Credit Suisse • Business Insider

Rob Price:

»

The Californian firm builds interface technologies, driver displays, and biometric tech, and is a partner of Apple.

But analysts at Credit Suisse took a look at Apple suppliers who could face being insourced in a research note sent to investors on Tuesday, and concluded Synaptics was deemed most likely.

It’s worth noting that Credit Suisse’s analysts don’t seem to have any hard evidence that Apple is going to ditch Synaptics (like a leaked contract, say). They’re just identifying the company as being, in their view, at particular risk, given certain public information.

Why? They identify a few reasons. It would let Apple “optimize power and performance with its internal graphics engine,” for one. And it would also “lessen [Apple’s] reliance on Samsung for OLED displays.” Apple and Samsung are long-time frenemies — the former relies on the latter for hardware components, even as they fight bitterly for dominance of the high-end smartphone market.

«

Surely the point is about whether “insourcing” the product allows Apple to gallop ahead, or if it’s just part of the normal assembly stuff. Hard to know without deeper knowledge of how Synaptics stuff is used. (Thanks Sai Narayan.)
link to this extract


Android market share rises in urban China • Kantar Worldpanel

The monthly update:

»

“Android has achieved continuous growth in China since last February, with its strongest year-on-year gains coming in the three months ending February 2017, when its share rose 9.3 percentage points,” said Lauren Guenveur, Consumer Insight Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. “As we’ve seen in the past, this was due to a strong sales period around Chinese New Year, which is always a busy promotional season, particularly for local brands. Huawei, Oppo, Meizu, Vivo, and 360 all posted year-on-year growth.”

“In the three-month period ending February 2017, iOS accounted for 13.2% of smartphone sales in urban China, a decline of 8.9 percentage points from 22.1% a year earlier. This marks iOS’ lowest share since the three-month period ending July 2014,” reported Tamsin Timpson, Strategic Insight Director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Asia. “That said, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus remained the top selling devices in the region, accounting for 8% of smartphone sales. By comparison, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus accounted for 14% of smartphone sales in the three months ending February 2016.”

“While Android continued to make gains in EU5, growth slowed to just 0.9 percentage points between February 2016 and February 2017, while iOS gained 2.7 percentage points to capture 21.8% of smartphone sales,” said Dominic Sunnebo, Business Unit Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe…

…Among US consumers intending to purchase over the next six months, 23% indicate that they will consider a Google Pixel. But since its release, Pixel has not been able to surpass 2% of smartphone sales, in part because supply constraints have limited its availability.

«

The precipitous drop in apparent sales in China will probably be a concern to Apple, but what Kantar never does (because it relies on a panel who report what they’ve bought, so even very small numbers changing their behaviour can create apparently big change) is indicate how sales volumes are changing overall.

And meanwhile, yeah, the Pixel people need to get their act together.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Apple’s Mac strategy tax, use the computer Luke!, Bixby delayed, stopping trolls, and more


Google’s Book Search project started 13 years ago. How has that worked out? Photo by scottloradio 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Mac is turning into Apple’s Achilles’ heel • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»

Recent news of Apple developing its own GPU solution is the latest step in the company’s quest to ship a single system-on-the-chip (SOC) powering a range of mobile and wearable devices. This will give Apple a competitive advantage measured in decades. The company is also placing big bets on mobile services such as mapping and payments, items that will serve to create a competitive advantage in the changing tech landscape. 

In stark contrast, Apple’s Mac strategy looks like a slow-motion train wreck. While Apple has made some progress with bringing elements of mobile such as Touch ID, multi-touch displays, and ARM processors, to the Mac, years of sporadic updates have overshadowed the positives. Apple’s relationship with its pro Mac user community has deteriorated and can now be described as toxic. To make matters worse, there appears to be a growing rift among Apple executives concerning Mac strategy. 

«

This is very contrapuntal to the takes that you’ll hear elsewhere about what’s going on with Apple and its Mac strategy; but Cybart argues his case acutely that the Mac, and especially its pro users, are in effect becoming a strategy tax on Apple.
link to this extract


62% using music-streaming services, but just 13% paying • GlobalWebIndex Blog

Katie Young:

»

In a deal with Universal Music, Spotify has announced that new albums from certain artists on the record label will only be available to paying Spotify members for the first two weeks of their release.

This change to its ad-supported tier will increase the gap between its free and paid-for services, with the hope of converting more users to the paid-for tier. At present, there’s a huge disparity here, with a substantial 50-point gap between those who say they use music-streaming services (62%) and the numbers paying for this access (13%).

Age-based differences are interesting here, though. 16-24s are the most likely to be using these services each month and are also the most likely to be paying – with figures then declining in line with age.

«

link to this extract


Q&A with an iPhone factory worker at Pegatron ChangShuo in Shanghai • Business Insider

Kif LEswing:

»

Imagine going to work at 7:30 every night and spending the next 12 hours, including meals and breaks, inside a factory where your only job is to insert a single screw into the back of a smartphone, repeating the task over and over and over again.

During the day, you sleep in a shared dorm room, and in the evening, you wake up and start all over again.

That’s the routine that Dejian Zeng experienced when he spent six weeks working at an iPhone factory near Shanghai, China, last summer. And it’s similar to what hundreds of thousands of workers in China and other emerging economies experience every day and night as they assemble the gadgets that power the digital economy.

Unlike many of those workers, Zeng did not need to do the job to earn a living. He’s a grad student at New York University, and he worked at the factory, owned by the contract manufacturing giant Pegatron, for his summer project.

«

Terrific interview. The gruelling reality of the work in a three-shift factory is forgotten by many in the west; but Zeng makes the point that people don’t view it as a career. For some workers in the west in the 20th century, it used to be their life.
link to this extract


Me and my troll • MIT Technology Review

Jason Pontin is the publisher and editor:

»

We believed that good comments could adorn and improve our journalism. But we suffered no illusions that commenters were representative of our broader readership or that comments served any direct business purpose. Building on Disqus and the Ask function in the Coral Project, our new strategy borrows widely from the solutions described above, and it is still a work in progress.

We decided, in imitation of the New York Times, that readers would comment on only a few stories and then only for a while. Stories that might repay good commentary, such as our major features, essays, and reviews, would have comments, but those that might inflame partisan wrangling would not. We would choose to think of comments, whenever possible, as integral to the story: we wondered if we could construct whole stories around comments, or seed a conversation by inviting our smartest, most informed sources to comment. No one was doing this precisely, but some of the expert commentary at Ars Technica and The Information inspired us. We wanted readers to vote comments up and down, as readers once did in Gawker’s Kinja.

«

It continues to amaze me that a system in place at Slashdot since 2000 or before – voting comments up and down – isn’t in place at more news organisations.
link to this extract


Snowden documents reveal scope of secrets exposed to China in 2001 spy plane incident • The Intercept

Kim Zetter:

»

On April 1 2001, [Chinese Air Force pilot] Wei was at it again. After his initial approach, he advanced on the EP-3E a second time, this time stopping just five feet short of the spy plane and mouthed something to the American crew before falling back again. Then he tried a third time. On this approach, however, he maneuvered too close to the plane and got sucked in by one of the EP-3E’s propellers. The collision sliced the F-8 in half.

Shrapnel from the F-8 flew through the spy plane’s fuselage and into the nose cone, shearing it off, and damaged the spy plane’s radome — a dome that protects radar equipment — two propellers, and an engine. The Chinese fighter jet plummeted into the sea, and the spy plane rolled upside down and immediately depressurized, creating chaos inside.

“I think they keep the cabin pressured at 7,000 feet, and you go from 7,000 to 30,000 instantaneously,” said the crew member, describing the shock.

The plane plunged 14,000 feet while shaking violently.

“We’re falling like a rock and … everyone thought we were going to die,” he recalled.

As Osborn, the pilot, tried to regain control of the aircraft, he ordered everyone to prepare to bail. With wind roaring inside the cabin, warning lights flashing, and the plane plummeting, crew members struggled to communicate over the noise while donning parachutes, survival vests, and helmets. They were lined up and ready to jump into the sea, the crew member said, when Osborn managed to stabilize the plane and ordered the crew to prepare to land in the water. But then Osborn changed his mind.

«

Absorbing read. It’s a sort of short spy novel, or a precursor to a spy film.
link to this extract


Why we’re dropping Google Ads • GroundUp

Nathan Geffen is editor of the South African news website:

»

From today, we’re dropping Google adverts from GroundUp. The Google advertising model is broken: not for Google of course, which is massively profitable, but for us, the publishers who have to put up with poor quality, misleading adverts in exchange for small change.

Not too many years ago, newspapers could make real money from advertising. Then along came the Internet, followed by Gumtree, and Google Ads, which with a few minor competitors became the backbone of online advertising. As readers moved to freely available news on the web, so too did advertising revenue.

The Internet has made publications like GroundUp feasible. Because publishing and distribution costs are low for us, we can make our content available at no charge. GroundUp relies mainly on donations, but advertising, we thought, might help.

The problem is that nearly all the power in the online advertising relationship lies with Google. Not only do we compete for adverts with other media in the same market; we compete with all the shady advert-laden webpages in the world, irrespective of whether they contain fake news, porn, or other attention-grabbers. With AdSense or Ad Exchange, Google’s two mechanisms for delivering ads, we have very little say in what adverts appear, and we are paid very little.

«

Includes an example of a photo that drew a warning from Google – can’t have its ads next to that.
link to this extract


Why Luke Skywalker was wrong to use the Force • The Atlantic

James Somers:

»

CTs [computerised tomography] and ultrasounds let us see organs, blood vessels, muscles, and other soft tissues in three dimensions, which caused a revolution in diagnostic medicine and made surgery radically more precise and safe.

CT was made possible by the computer, which stitches together a collection of X-rays into a reconstructed 3-D image. But this is still more or less a static enterprise: a CT study is more like a picture than a movie. What if you could do for medicine what we’ve already done for chess and basketball—what if you could somehow use the computer to see not just what’s there, but what could be?

In some specialties, this is already becoming possible. Radiation oncologists, for instance, use accelerated beams of radioactive particles to destroy cancers. It used to be that these beams were targeted somewhat crudely: You’d take a two-dimensional X-ray of your patient and outline the area you wanted to zap (the tumor) and the areas you wanted to avoid (healthy organs). Since X-rays couldn’t show you much in the way of soft tissue, you had to use nearby bones as landmarks.

Today, radiation treatments are planned using software. The doctor identifies tumorous and healthy tissues in slice after slice of a CT scan by drawing on the slices directly, on the computer, as though coloring in a figure in MS Paint. This creates three-dimensional contour maps of the tumor and nearby organs. The software then takes these contours and runs hundreds of thousands of simulated treatments against them, using a model of how radioactive particles will behave in different tissue types—how they’ll be absorbed, how they’re likely to ricochet, and so on—to determine the ideal angle and power settings of the real beam.

The computer, in other words, gives the doctor the ability to see the projected path of different treatments as if playing out possible lines from a chess position.

«

Neat headline, though.
link to this extract


Samsung to delay launch of English-language version of virtual assistant • WSJ

Timothy Martin:

»

The Bixby delay [probably until May] threatens to damp some of the enthusiasm for the Galaxy S8, whose sleek design has garnered strong reviews. In the buildup to the April 21 sales-launch day, Samsung had heavily touted Bixby, whose functions include voice recognition. Bixby, for example, can complete multiple tasks with a single voice command, such as locating a nearby steakhouse and hailing a taxi.

Industry experts doubt that a postponed Bixby launch would hurt sales significantly, given that initial enthusiasm for the Galaxy S8 smartphone has focused more on its sleek aesthetics. Others said it was too early to make a prediction.

“Rushing with a half-baked solution to the market will actually discourage users to use Bixby,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, which tracks smartphone shipments.

Counterpoint Research estimates Samsung will sell more than 50 million Galaxy S8 handsets—more than the S7 model, which was a best seller for the company. “I don’t think Bixby is a Holy Grail feature which will hamper Galaxy S8 sales because eventually via software updates users will receive it,” Mr. Shah said.

«

“I’m not going to buy the S8 until it has the fully working version of Bixby in the English language,” said nobody ever. This is irrelevant to buyers, and yet deeply relevant in what it says about Samsung’s ability to make big software projects happen. It bought Viv for $200m in October 2016, but that isn’t enough time to integrate it.

The real problem is that Google Assistant is tied to the home button, under the Google Mobile Services agreement that OEMs have to sign to get Google Play, which they must have to have to sell. (Rather like PC OEMs needing to have Windows 95 when Microsoft was cutting off Netscape’s air supply.) Bixby will never get the traction it needs – regardless of whether it deserves it.

Neat name, though. Reminiscent of Iron Man’s “Jarvis”.
link to this extract


How Google Book Search got lost • Backchannel

Scott Rosenberg:

»

Today, Google is known for its moonshot culture, its willingness to take on gigantic challenges at global scale. Books was, by general agreement of veteran Googlers, the company’s first lunar mission. Scan All The Books!

In its youth, Google Books inspired the world with a vision of a “library of utopia” that would extend online convenience to offline wisdom. At the time it seemed like a singularity for the written word: We’d upload all those pages into the ether, and they would somehow produce a phase-shift in human awareness. Instead, Google Books has settled into a quiet middle age of sourcing quotes and serving up snippets of text from the 25 million-plus tomes in its database.

Google employees maintain that’s all they ever intended to achieve. Maybe so. But they sure got everyone else’s hopes up.

Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google’s right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed — one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google’s book-related ambitions.

But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that’s not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition.

«

Alex Macgillivray who worked at Google and Twitter as a legal counsel, disagrees: “the moonshot was thinking you could create full text search for tens of millions of hard copy books,” he tweeted. “Many thought it could not be done in any reasonable time or cost. Including engineers on the team. 13 years later, Google has tens of millions of books all full text searchable in a split second. That’s what a flag on the moon looks like.”
link to this extract


Theft and loss recovery for iOS users • Fraser Speirs

Speirs’s wife had her iPhone nicked at the end of a family holiday. Things went OK. But now he’s wondering: what if all my oh-so-secure stuff got stolen? How do I take back control?

»

So, assuming the worst happens and all your devices are gone forever – what now? Well, I need to get back into those accounts.

Let’s assume that somehow I can acquire a new device. As a side issue, ask yourself how you would even do that. If everything was gone – how would you call home? How would you get money? Do you even have those numbers written down anywhere that isn’t in your phone?

Also bear in mind that to activate an iPhone you might also need a working SIM card. I’m not sure if this is true everywhere on all networks, but I’ve certainly seen that requirement in the UK.

To sign into a new device, you need your iCloud password and a way to access your 2-factor information. With Apple’s current implementation of 2-factor authentication, you can use a number of methods to get that second factor.

First, you can get it from another trusted device. This is when that dialog pops up and tells you that someone is trying to log in from a specific location, you tap OK and then you see a 6-digit code that you can provide.

Except in this scenario, all your trusted devices are gone. So that’s out.

The next thing you can do is have a code sent to a trusted phone number. But your phone is gone and the SIM card is gone with it, so no calls or texts to that number.

Here, I discovered the second flaw in my setup. I only had my own devices set up as Trusted Devices and I only had one phone number set up as a Trusted Number – namely, my iPhone’s phone number.

«

This is worth considering if you’re one of those people who does take security seriously: it’s possible to be too serious.
link to this extract


Amazon continues to grow lead over Google as starting point for online shoppers • GeekWire

Taylor Soper:

»

Where do you start when shopping for something online? For a majority of people, it’s Amazon — not Google.

That’s one finding from a recent research report from Raymond James that surveyed 587 people about their online habits.

The study found 52% of respondents who said they start their online purchasing process at Amazon, which is up from 47% last year, and 38% from the year prior.

That compares to 26% who say they start at a search engine. This graph shows the changing habits clearly:

The trend toward Amazon and away from Google is highlighted even more so with younger shoppers aged 18-to-29, with 62% of respondents from that age group starting on Amazon versus 21% at a search engine.

«

This is the basis of Google’s argument in Europe for why it has no case to answer in the antitrust argument over suppression of comparison shopping sites in its (organic) search results. But that, of course, isn’t the point of the antitrust case. It’s not about “where does anyone ever search for shopping”; it’s “what do people find on Google search, which has 90% of the search market”.

But at the same time, this is clearly worrying for Google: if people aren’t starting to shop on its site, it’s left with lower-value search.
link to this extract


Traditional PC market was up slightly, recording its first growth in five years as HP recovered the top position • IDC

»

Worldwide shipments of traditional PCs (desktop, notebook, workstation) totaled 60.3 million units in the first quarter of 2017 (1Q17), posting year-over-year growth of 0.6%, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. The previous forecast had expected shipments to decline 1.8% in the quarter. And, while the 0.6% growth was arguably flat, the result nonetheless represented the first foray back into positive territory since Q1 2012, when many users still considered PCs their first computing device.

Like the second half of 2016, some of the same forces continue to shape the market. Tight supplies of key components such as NAND and DRAM are affecting inventory dynamics and led a number of vendors to boost shipments to lock in supply ahead of further cost increases. In addition, the market continued along a path of stabilization that began in the latter half of last year, especially as more commercial projects moved out of pilot mode and began shipments in earnest…

…”The traditional PC market has been through a tough phase, with competition from tablets and smartphones as well as lengthening lifecycles pushing PC shipments down roughly 30% from a peak in 2011,” said Jay Chou, research manager, IDC PCD Tracker. “Nevertheless, users have generally delayed PC replacements rather than giving up PCs for other devices. The commercial market is beginning a replacement cycle that should drive growth throughout the forecast. Consumer demand will remain under pressure, although growth in segments like PC Gaming as well as rising saturation of tablets and smartphones will move the consumer market toward stabilization as well.”

«

Let’s be clear: it’s 0.6% growth officially, but it would have been down 1.1% using last year’s numbers – which IDC quietly revised down. (Neither IDC or Gartner ever reveals in these press releases when they tweak their year-ago numbers.) Arguably, that means this year’s 0.6% growth could be next year’s 1% fall.

Whatever; the PC market isn’t in freefall any more, though Gartner’s numbers suggest a 2.4% fall (it revised 1Q 16 down by 1m, so that fall is ever bigger than reported). It is however settling into one where the business market has taken over again.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Fitbit’s slow watch, the real airline scandal, Ikea goes IoT, killing Kelihos, and more


California generated more than half its energy from renewables during a day in March. Bad news for coal miners? Photo by mypubliclands 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Fitbit’s new smartwatch has been plagued by production mishaps • Yahoo News

JP Mangalindan:

»

Fitbit’s first “proper” smartwatch and first-ever pair of bluetooth headphones are due out this fall after a series of production mishaps delayed the project, Yahoo Finance has learned.

The fitness tracker company’s smartwatch project has been a troubled one. Production problems have forced Fitbit to push an original spring launch to this fall, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

“In one of the more final prototypes, the GPS wasn’t working because the antennae wasn’t in the right place,” one of those sources told Yahoo Finance. “They had to go back to the drawing board to redesign the product so the GPS got a strong signal.”

Fitbit’s design team also ran into problems making its smartwatch fully waterproof, even though that’s a key design element for the Apple Watch Series 2. Indeed, it’s still unclear as of the publication of this article whether the device will launch with the waterproof feature. If it isn’t waterproof, critics may perceive it to be an inferior product to Apple’s — especially given that the device will launch roughly a year after the Apple Watch Series 2.

“Regardless of whether Fitbit manages to make it waterproof, I think they have to release the watch later this year,” one of our sources familiar with the matter told Yahoo Finance. “It’s literally sink or swim time for them.”

«

This is Fitbit which, don’t forget, acquired successful smartwatch maker Pebble back in December for $23m.
link to this extract


Autonomous trucking overlooks skilled labor need • Supply Chain 24/7

Joseph Kane and Adie Turner:

»

Unsurprisingly, analysts expect automated trucks to proliferate in the next five to ten years, leading to significant job losses in the process.

The only problem? The numbers do not clearly back up the predictions.

In addition to the numerous regulatory and logistical hurdles that automated trucks still need to clear, generalizing the skilled work undertaken by millions of truck drivers and their peers overlooks how this industry functions.

In many ways, the current national conversation on the trucking industry tends to overemphasize the technology and oversimplify the complex set of labor concerns, where many jobs are not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Similar to most infrastructure jobs, truck drivers depend on a wide range of skills to carry out their jobs every day. Just as there are different types of doctors, there are different types of truck drivers – from heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers who focus on long-haul journeys to delivery truck drivers who carry lighter loads and navigate local streets.

Read APICS Blog: Truck Drivers (Still) Wanted

Not surprisingly, many of these drivers are not simply sitting behind the wheel all day on auto drive. They also inspect their freight loads, fix equipment, make deliveries, and perform other non-routinized tasks.

Standardized data verify this non-routinized conception of truck-driving. The Department of Labor’s O*NET database shows how truck drivers have a lower “degree of automation” compared to most occupations nationally.

On a scale of 0 (not at all automated) to 100 (completely automated), O*NET surveys workers across all types of occupations, where those with simpler, repeated tasks are often better suited for automated technologies, such as telephone operators and travel agents.

The average degree of automation, however, remains quite low (29.6) for all occupations, and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (22) and delivery drivers (24) rate even lower than that. Significantly, they also rate lower than some of the country’s other largest occupations, including office clerks (32), cashiers (37), and receptionists (47).

«

Expect counternarratives like this to become increasingly common as we really begin to examine what machine learning systems can and can’t do. Rather like the last mile problem, it’s the small but essential things humans do that makes them indispensable.
link to this extract


The real scandal of that brutal United video • The Atlantic

Derek Thompson:

»

although this incident was unusual in many respects, it was also representative of an airline industry that has considerable power over consumers—even if the use of force is more subtle than a group of security professionals wrestling a passenger to the floor.

For example, many people have pointed out that United might have avoided the entire fiasco by simply offering the passengers more money to leave the plane. By law, compensation for passengers is capped at $1,350, which means that United technically could have raised its offer by more than 50% before removing people against their will. But it’s absurd that airlines’ capacity to compensate passengers is bounded by the law in the first place. Indeed, there’s a good case to remove the cap entirely. If airlines are legally permitted to overbook—that is, to sell consumers a service that they will not fulfill—they ought to pay market price to compensate people for the unfulfilled promise.

Domestic airlines are now enjoying record profits, having flown more passengers each year since 2010. This is in part because the airline industry is sheltered from both antitrust regulation and litigation. Four carriers—United, Delta, American, and Southwest—earn more than $20 billion in profits annually and own 80% of seats on domestic flights. Along with cable companies, airlines are the top-of-mind paragon for industries that seem to get worse for consumers as they become more heavily concentrated. Indeed, when fuel prices fell last year, as The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker (who edited this story and who has a relative who works at United) has written, airlines spent the savings on stock buybacks rather than pass them to consumers.

«

The US is so proud of its capitalistic economy, yet can’t see how often it suffers either from regulatory capture or total lack of regulation – because its political class relies on donations to get elected. Who contributes? Companies. So whose interests do the political class serve? The people who got them elected – that is, the people in the companies.
link to this extract


Apple may ditch Dialog, analyst says, hitting chipmaker’s shares • Reuters

Eric Auchard and Harro Ten Wolde:

»

Dialog Semiconductor risks losing a crucial supply deal with Apple, according to a financial analyst who cut his rating on the stock on Tuesday, sending the Anglo-German chipmaker’s shares down by as much as one-third.

Bankhaus Lampe reduced its rating on Dialog to “sell” from “hold” as it argued that Apple was working on its own battery-saving chip for the iPhone that could replace Dialog’s power management integrated circuits (PMIC) as early as 2019.

Apple accounted for more than 70% of Dialog’s 2016 sales, analysts estimate. The German company says it is the world’s top maker of power management chips used in smartphones with roughly 20% of the market.

«

After Imagination Technologies, everyone’s wondering who’s next.
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Solar breaks 50% of California electricity for first time – driving wholesale rates negative • Electrek

John Fitzgerald Weaver:

»

Recently we saw California solar + wind hit a record high at 49.2%, with all renewable energy above 56%.

»

In March, during the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., system average hourly prices were frequently at or below $0 per megawatthour (MWh). In contrast, average hourly prices in March 2013–15 during this time of day ranged from $14/MWh to $45/MWh.

«

This type of event has happened in other places – Germany gets the headlines often. It is expected that there will be so much solar power this spring and summer (plus large amounts of hydroelectric power) that curtailment will need to occur on solar assets.

On March 11th, the California power grid broke 50% solar power for the first time – when considering ALL sources of solar power in the state:

»

Additional generation from customer-sited solar generators installed in California (such as those on residential and commercial rooftops) further adds to the total solar share of mid-day electricity generation. As of December 2016, utilities in CAISO reported 5.4 gigawatts (GW) of net-metered distributed solar capacity. EIA estimates that this capacity would have generated approximately 4 million kilowatthours (kWh) during the peak solar hours on March 11. This level of electricity reduced the metered demand on the grid by about the same amount, suggesting that the total solar share of gross demand probably exceeded 50% during the mid-day hours.

«

Per the EIA, there are multiple reasons why March is the season most probable for negative wholesale rates, including one unique to this year – heavy amounts of hydroelectric power due to flooding this winter. The other major reason is that spring and fall are low demand seasons due to the temperate climate not needing as much heating or cooling.

«

Well this isn’t going to go down well with all the coal miners.
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A quick look at the Ikea Trådfri IoT lighting platform • mjg59

Matthew Garrett on Ikea’s smart lighting offer:

»

When you start the app for the first time it prompts you to scan a QR code that’s just a machine-readable version of that key. The Android app has code for using the insecure COAP port rather than the encrypted one, but the device doesn’t respond to queries there so it’s presumably disabled in release builds. It’s also local only, with no cloud support. You can program timers, but they run on the device. The only other service it seems to run is an mdns responder, which responds to the _coap._udp.local query to allow for discovery.

From a security perspective, this is pretty close to ideal. Having no remote APIs means that security is limited to what’s exposed locally. The local traffic is all encrypted. You can only authenticate with the device if you have physical access to read the (decently long) key off the bottom. I haven’t checked whether the DTLS server is actually well-implemented, but it doesn’t seem to respond unless you authenticate first which probably covers off a lot of potential risks. The SoC has wireless support, but it seems to be disabled – there’s no antenna on board and no mechanism for configuring it.

However, there’s one minor issue. On boot the device grabs the current time from pool.ntp.org (fine) but also hits http://fw.ota.homesmart.ikea.net/feed/version_info.json . That file contains a bunch of links to firmware updates, all of which are also downloaded over http (and not https). The firmware images themselves appear to be signed, but downloading untrusted objects and then parsing them isn’t ideal. Realistically, this is only a problem if someone already has enough control over your network to mess with your DNS, and being wired-only makes this pretty unlikely.

«

Ikea, the unlikely winner of the “not bad IoT” award.
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Official: Russia knew Syrian chemical attack was coming • Associated Press

Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor:

»

The United States has made a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week, but has no proof of Moscow’s involvement, a senior U.S. official said Monday.

The official said that a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment. Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.

The U.S. official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.

The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity, didn’t give precise timing for when the drone was in the area, where more than 80 people were killed. The official also didn’t provide details for the military and intelligence information that form the basis of what the Pentagon now believes.

«

Syrian jets followed by Russian jets feels like more than coincidence. One could spin up a story of explanation, but Russia looks more and more guilty. Journalists for western publications have been to the town and returned, which means that it can’t be under Isis control.
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LeEco is said to miss US sales forecasts, plan more job cuts • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:

»

The company entered the North American market in October with a splashy event in San Francisco, where it showed off an array of products, including ultra high-definition televisions, phones, virtual reality goggles and electric bikes. Yet LeEco generated U.S. revenue of less than $15m last year after that October debut, compared with an original goal of $100m, according to the person.

The company so far is only selling TVs, smartphones and some accessories in the US. The US unit is also making plans to eliminate about 175 jobs, which would shrink its staff in the country to about 300 people, said the person, who asked not to be named because the financial details aren’t public.

LeEco declined to comment on the planned job cuts and revenue miss.

On Monday, the company said it was abandoning its plan to acquire U.S. TV maker Vizio Inc. for $2bn, citing regulatory hurdles. The collapse of the deal, which was meant to give LeEco a beachhead to build its brand with American customers, sets LeEco even further back in the US.

«

Did anyone there really believe they could do $100m of business in three months? That’s crazy. Now though it’s clearly stick-a-fork-in-its-American-ambitions time.
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Our focus on pay equity • Google Official blog

Eileen Naughton is vice-president of “people operations”:

»

each year, we suggest an amount for every employee’s new compensation (consisting of base salary, bonus and equity) based on role, job level, job location as well as current and recent performance ratings.  This suggested amount is “blind” to gender; the analysts who calculate the suggested amounts do not have access to employees’ gender data. An employee’s manager has limited discretion to adjust the suggested amount, providing they cite a legitimate adjustment rationale.

Our pay equity model then looks at employees in the same job categories, and analyzes their compensation to confirm that the adjusted amount shows no statistically significant differences between men’s and women’s compensation.

In late 2016, we performed our most recent analysis across 52 different, major job categories, and found no gender pay gap. Nevertheless, if individual employees are concerned, or think there are unique factors at play, or want a more individualized assessment, we dive deeper and make any appropriate corrections.

Our analysis gives us confidence that there is no gender pay gap at Google.  In fact, we recently expanded the analysis to cover race in the US.

«

That’s cute, but the US Department of Labor isn’t asking for your pay model, Eileen. It’s asking for your pay data.
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DOJ moves to topple Kelihos, one of the world’s largest botnets

Patrick Howell O’Neill:

»

[Peter Yuryevich] Levashov was first indicted over a decade ago by U.S. authorities on charges of email and wire fraud for allegedly using spam to promote profitable pump-and-dump penny stock schemes.

He was charged again in 2009 for allegedly operating the Storm botnet, another spam behemoth and a predecessor to Kelihos.

This week’s arrest was made possible because the FBI learned just last month that Levashov was going to leave his home in Russia, a country without extradition to the United States, to spend several weeks in Spain. The details about how the FBI came into that information remain unknown.

Levashov was connected to Kelihos by the FBI by connecting IP addresses used to operate the botnet that was also used by email and other online accounts under the name of Pete Levashov, a web programmer in Russia.

Levashov regularly used the same addresses to commit crime. To connect the dots, the FBI obtained Levashov’s records from companies including Google, Apple, WebMonkey and Foursquare.

«

Opsec (operational security) is hard. But you’d think someone who had a decade of being on the wrong side of the law might have remembered that. He was arrested in Spain, where he was on holiday. There’s all the documentation you could ever want at the US Justice Department site.

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Tilted device could pinpoint pin number for hackers, study claims • The Guardian

Alex Hern on a study from Newcastle University which used the gyro information to intuit your PIN:

»

Websites need to ask permission from users to access sensitive information, such as location data, or to access sensors such as the cameras or microphones on a device. But some information, such as the orientation of the device or the size of its screen, is considered non-sensitive and generally shared with any site that asks for it to enable interactivity and responsive webpages.

Thankfully, to train the system to enough precision to be able to guess even a simple four-digit pin (and most smartphones require a six-digit, or longer, password), the researchers required a lot of data from users: each had to type 50 known pin numbers in, five times over, before it learned enough about how they hold their phones to guess a hidden pin with 70% accuracy.

But with no uniform way of managing sensors across the industry, when research such as [Dr Maryam] Mehrnezhad’s shows flaws, it can be difficult for manufacturers to give a coordinated response.

“Despite the very real risks, when we asked people which sensors they were most concerned about we found a direct correlation between perceived risk and understanding,” she said. “So people were far more concerned about the camera and GPS than they were about the silent sensors.”

«

Filed under “probably not worth worrying about, but might keep relying on fingerprint unlock”.
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Culprit broadcast signal that triggered Dallas’ emergency sirens Friday night • Dallas News

Robert SWilonsky:

»

City officials don’t know who triggered Dallas’ outdoor warning sirens late Friday, but they do know how it was done — by broadcasting a few tones, via either radio or telephone signal. In other words, there was no computer hack.

“It’s a radio system, not a computer issue,” Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said Monday morning.
The city’s outdoor warning sirens had to be manually shut down and turned back on late Sunday, with “immediate fixes” intended to prevent the type of incident that woke up — and shook up — much of the city Friday night, according to Broadnax.

“As we brought the system back up, some encryption was added as part of our process to prevent this type of error from occurring going forward,” he said.

City officials said late Monday that the system was purchased a decade ago and that encryption was not part of the original deal with the vendor for one simple reason: No one at City Hall knew something like this was possible.

«

OK, so it’s not a hack, it’s a phrack (phone hack) or even rack (radio hack, if that’s even a thing). Even so: now you realise you have a flaw, and only found out the hard way.
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Stuck Pixel: how Google is dropping the ball with its “consumer” phone strategy (opinion) • Android Police

Trevor Newman:

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At Apple, the customer – the revenue generator – is you and me, the consumer. Though many of their decisions may be viewed as anti-consumer (e.g. the #donglelife), much can be said about their comparatively strong customer service as well as the fact that a part of the “Apple Tax” for their products goes toward the maintenance of brick and mortar facilities to which you can bring a broken device and receive a repair or replacement on the spot.

On the other hand we have Google, and Google has customers, too. But those customers are neither you nor me. Google’s lifeblood is advertising, and the essential nutrient for ads is data – our data. We the consumers are not Google’s customers. Rather, we are batteries that power Google’s cash advertising engine. While this information is probably not new to most of you, nor is it to me, it helps to explain why Google can’t successfully sell a product to save its life (which, at the moment, it has no need to do).

Google’s inability to make a successful play in the consumer space is no more apparent than with the Pixel. Google’s first attempt at a “true” Google Phone (R.I.P Nexus) has been a success, but one with reservations. The Pixel is a solid phone. So is the OnePlus 3T. Sure the OP3T lacks the Pixel’s camera, but it is otherwise decent and happens to cost $400 less than a comparable Pixel XL – and is generally available for purchase, which the Pixel most certainly is not. Let’s also just pause for a minute to acknowledge the tone-deaf hubris of charging $30 for a poorly-made clear plastic case. Sure Apple charges Pixel prices, but if my iPhone is defective I can go to an Apple Store, get a replacement on the spot, and have some peace of mind that the extra expense went to maintaining this store and the general customer service model. With Google, the extra cost goes to the bottom line and maybe a month-long replacement process of ‘ship and pray’ with buggy refurbished replacements and full-price holds on my credit card.

«

I’m not sure that “Apple charges Pixel prices”. It’s vice-versa, and as Newman points out, you don’t get the same customer service. (Or, indeed, availability, so far.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: SeekingAlpha shamed, Mac Pro redux, the telltale iPad, Google’s $800m OLED Pixel, and more


The US border with Canada: would you hand over your passwords? Photo by Mike Cogh 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 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Updated thoughts on the Apple Mac Pro situation • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

»

I don’t fault Apple for making a bet on massively parallel computing tasks. Many of us were sold on the whole GPGPU (general purpose GPU) computing vision Nvidia was selling at the time. It made a lot of sense for developers to offload huge workloads to the GPU, even if it took some rewriting of their programs. This simply didn’t take off and, even if it had, things like VR and machine learning/computer training via workstations would still have needed modern GPUs.

If anything has changed in the last six months, it is Apple’s realization the Mac may be a more important form factor overall than they expected. I think the iPad had a higher priority than Mac from a R&D and development standpoint and I’d be willing to bet those priorities are more balanced now.

I still believe in the Mac business thesis I wrote about last year. Apple can take significant share in the PC space if they were to get more aggressive with entry level Mac pricing. Specifically, if they were to take the MacBook Air to $799 or update it to Retina at $999.

I believe Apple is now seeing the data many of us are — the PC market is actually quite healthy and, from an ASP standpoint, laptop ASPs continue to rise while tablet ASPs continue to decline. From a business standpoint, I think its clear how to balance the priorities for now.

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SEC targets Seeking Alpha, Benzinga in crackdown on “fake news” pump and dumps • Zero Hedge

“Tyler Durden”:

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the SEC said that seventeen defendants including Galena Biopharma, ImmunoCellular Therapeutics and Lion Biotechnologies agreed to pay more than $4.8m, including fines and restitution, to settle, and to refrain from further wrongdoing. Not all defendants were required to make payments, and Galena, ImmunoCellular and Lion did not admit wrongdoing. None of the websites was charged.

The SEC filed lawsuits against the other 10 defendants in Manhattan federal court. These defendants include Lidingo Holdings LLC, run by Kamilla Bjorlin, 46, an actress from Encino, California who performs under the name Milla Bjorn, and CSIR Group LLC, a New York firm overseen by Christine Petraglia, 49.

Amusingly, the SEC also issued an alert warning investors that articles on investment research websites may not be objective and independent, and that they should never invest based solely on information published there.

And yet, the SEC seems to have no problem with sound “advice” from the big investment bank, such as Morgan Stanley telling its clients the coming rally in the S&P is one they can’t afford to miss, as we discussed earlier, citing a quote from the bank’s new head of equity research who said, “The end of the cycle is often the best. Think 1999 or 2006-07. In a low-return world, investors cannot afford to miss it.”

Morgan Stanley did not go into detail on what would happen if the investors got into the “1999” or “2006-2007” rally and found that the crashes of 2000 or 2008 followed…

As for the named websites, they all said that they use the appropriate disclaimers. Mike Taylor, a Seeking Alpha managing editor, said in an email that its policies “act as a strong deterrent against potential promotions,” including documenting “all authors’ claims to not having been compensated by third parties.”  Benzinga said in an email that it uses a disclaimer to identify articles from outside contributors, and that each “does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.”

«

Ah, such depths of deception. iBankcoin has hated Seeking Alpha for years. I sometimes read Seeking Alpha, but many of the “analysis” articles are so dim it’s amazing the comments are able to underbid them.
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Five of the wildest details in report on Alabama guv’s efforts to hide affair • Talking Points Memo

Allegra Kirkland on the impeachment proceedings against the Republican governor, of which I liked this one:

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Unbeknownst to the governor and Mason, the frequent romantic texts they exchanged were all visible to Dianne Bentley. The governor’s state-issued cell phone’s cloud was linked to his state-issued iPad, which he had gifted to his then-wife, allowing her to watch the rumored affair unfold in real time.

“I’m so in love with you,” Bentley wrote to Mason in one text, along with two heart-eye emojis. “We are pitiful.”

“Poor Robert. Poor Rebekah,” he added.

“Yes… Bless our hearts… And other parts,” Mason wrote back.

“Magnetic,” Bentley replied.

The device oversight was only one of Bentley’s errors.

In spring 2014, he mistakenly sent a text to his wife reading, “I love you Rebekah,” along with an emoji of a red rose.

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Dinner in the dog on that one I think.
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Mastodon is what disruption looks like right before it happens • Forbes

Paul Armstrong:

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Twitter may have a new problem. Just six months old, Mastodon is an open-source version of Twitter that just might upset a few Twitter stakeholders. Name aside (seriously, an extinct animal?), the fledgeling service is getting a lot of tongues wagging for fixing more than just a couple of competitors (read: Twitter) bugbears – a core part of Clayton Christianson’s Disruptive Innovation theory (see table below). A larger amount of characters (500), fewer trolls, chronological timelines, public timelines, better block and mute tools, per-post privacy – what’s not to love?

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Mastodon is also what disruption looks like right before it goes bust or just vanishes. I can’t figure out if I need to join an instance or what.
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UK tourists to US may get asked to hand in passwords or be denied entry • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Tourists from the UK and other US allies including Germany and France, could be forced to reveal personal data, as well as disclose financial information and face detailed ideological questioning, according to Trump administration officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal. While US citizens have established rights against unlawful searches at the border, the extent to which foreign travellers can resist requests to hand over personal information is unclear.

The US customs and border patrol told the Guardian: “All international travellers arriving to the US are subject to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection. This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices.

“Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the US,” it added. The CBP said it strives to process arriving travellers as efficiently and securely as possible while ensuring compliance with laws and regulations governing the international arrival process. It did not answer specific questions about social media accounts and devices.

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This isn’t proportionate. The assumption appears to be guilt. It’s going to be a big turnoff for would-be tourists (perhaps as much as the weakened pound).
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Google offers at least $880 million to LG display for OLED investment: Electronic Times • Reuters

Se Young Lee:

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Google Inc has offered to invest at least 1 trillion won ($880.29m) to help South Korea’s LG Display Co Ltd boost output of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens for smartphones, the Electronic Times reported on Monday citing unnamed sources.

The paper said Google offered the investment to secure a stable supply of flexible OLED screens for its next Pixel smartphones. Samsung Electronics flagship Galaxy smartphones use the bendable displays, while Apple is expected to start using them in at least some of its next iPhones.

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I couldn’t find the ET report, hence this link. That’s a lot of money for Google to be putting into LG, given how few Pixels it got made.
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Google Home app says multiple users are now supported • Android Police

Rita el Khoury:

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We’ve known for a while that multiple user support would come to Google Home. It only makes sense that a device placed in the home can be used by several persons instead of being linked to just one user’s data and music and other accounts. But until now, we had only seen the signs of multi-user support in Cody’s teardown of the app.

Today though, users have started seeing a new card in the Discover tab of the Google Home app titled “Multiple users now supported.” The card says that you and others in your house can enjoy a “personalized experience” from Assistant on the Google Home, but so far the feature doesn’t appear to be live just yet.

«

Classic Android blog fare – “um, Google said something, so that’s great! Except it’s not there, so, um, anyway.”

The identification isn’t via voice recognition – you have to do it in the Google Home app, which takes a lot of the shine off this.

Also, if one person starts, say, music they’ve chosen, can another person turn it off? If not, why not? If so, why? The questions are a bit concerning once you start considering them. Multiple users sounds easy, but in a shared space with a single controller, isn’t.
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Samsung Electronics decides not to sell its digital cameras anymore • Korean ET News

Jung Youngil:

»

“We are not going to produce and sell digital cameras anymore.” said Samsung Electronics on the 5th [April].

[The] ‘Digital camera’ item was also eliminated from Samsung Electronics’ business report on sales of IM (IT and Mobile) field. Although digital cameras were included as major sales of [the] IM [information machinery – includes mobile phones and computers] field along with HHP, network systems, and computers until third quarter of last year, they disappeared due to reduction of sales. Existence of Samsung Electronics’ digital cameras ended with mirrorless camera called ‘NX 500’ that was released in March of 2015.

“We are not going to produce and sell digital cameras anymore.” said a representative for Samsung Electronics. “However we are not completely putting aside camera business but we are making a new category of new products.”

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Nobody else seems to have picked this up. But it’s like recording the death of species: you need to know when the conditions finally changed enough that they couldn’t survive.
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Why I always tug on the ATM • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

Once you understand how easy and common it is for thieves to attach “skimming” devices to ATMs and other machines that accept debit and credit cards, it’s difficult not to closely inspect and even tug on the machines before using them. Several readers who are in the habit of doing just that recently shared images of skimmers they discovered after gently pulling on various parts of a cash machine they were about to use.

Viewed from less than two feet away, this ATM looks reasonably safe to use, right?

«

Wrong, of course, but it’s surprising how wrong. This ought to make you nervous about the next ATM you use – and every one after that too. Krebs has done many, many posts on this topic, because it’s important.
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Hacking blamed for emergency sirens blaring across Dallas early Saturday • Dallas News

Claire Ballor, Robert Wilonsky and Tom Steele on the suspected hack that set off 156 sires around the city early on Saturday morning:

»

Council member Philip Kingston, a member of the Public Safety Committee, said Saturday morning that officials will move the compromised emergency system to the top of their agenda.

“And that’s sad, because the list is so long,” he said, referring to other problems, including the short-staffed 911 call center.

“If this is indeed hacking, it has just become top priority,” Kingston said. “And you can put me down as terrified.”

Jennifer Staubach Gates, who also serves on the Public Safety Committee and is chairwoman of the Budget, Finance and Audit Committee, said City Auditor Craig Kinton recently told her it was time for the city to review its security vulnerabilities.

“If it’s hacking, it’s extremely concerning,” she said. “If someone’s messing with our emergency system, we’ve got an issue. We need to get to the bottom of it — what kind of vulnerabilities do we have?”

«

The answer to that is probably “more than one”. Another day (or early morning), another IoT exploit.
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DeepMind’s AlphaGo takes on world’s top Go player in China • Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

»

Humanity has been granted one last attempt to beat its artificially intelligent overlords: Ke Jie, the world’s top-ranked Go player, will face down against DeepMind’s AlphaGo in China in a three-game match starting May 23.

The odds are not good for Ke Jie: back in January AlphaGo secretly played 51 online matches against some of the world’s best players, including Ke Jie, and didn’t lose a single one. Still, as Homo sapiens’ last redoubt against in silico domination, he has to try.

Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind, says the match is part of a larger “Future of Go Summit” in the town of Wuzhen, China—the country where Go was invented some 3,000 years ago. The summit will draw “leading AI experts” from Google and China, and in addition to the marquee event there’ll be some experimental matches.

In one slightly insulting variation, five human players will team up to try and beat a single AlphaGo AI.

«

I don’t see Ke Jie winning this. But as Hassabis says, what AlphaGo has done is show that humans can play better – because it can play better than humans so far.
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State of online advertising and Google’s growth prospects • Naofumi Kagami

»

The graph below is from a Morgan Stanley report and provides a forecast of the internet advertising landscape.

We can see that the combined revenue of YouTube and Google Search is projected to decline from 42% market share to 41%. This is a bit more optimistic than my prediction that Google’s revenues will be squeezed, but nonetheless, it forecasts that Google will only be able to grow at the digital advertising average. (This year, this was mid double digits but according to eMarketer, this will drop to about 3% + total ad industry growth in 2020.)

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Kagami’s argument (previously expressed) is that Google’s growth is naturally limited by the size of ad budgets; with Facebook rampant, that limit becomes more apparent and could emerge by 2020.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified