Start Up No.924: Google secures protesters, Microsoft ❤️ Android, Russia’s long troll game, Fitbit solves murder?, and more


“OK, get searching.” A Supermicro server, opened up. Photo by Patrick Finnegan on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Today’s forecast: cyber on a number of fronts. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The big hack: how China used a tiny chip to infiltrate US companies • Bloomberg

Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley:

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To help with due diligence, AWS, which was overseeing the prospective acquisition, hired a third-party company to scrutinize Elemental’s security, according to one person familiar with the process. The first pass uncovered troubling issues, prompting AWS to take a closer look at Elemental’s main product: the expensive servers that customers installed in their networks to handle the video compression. These servers were assembled for Elemental by Super Micro Computer Inc., a San Jose-based company (commonly known as Supermicro) that’s also one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards, the fiberglass-mounted clusters of chips and capacitors that act as the neurons of data centers large and small. In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to US authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community.

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(The chips, they say, were put there by agents of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army to spy on Amazon, Apple and others.)

This story has of course been cannoning around the internet, eliciting various gasps of amazement. Amazon and Apple have vehemently denied pretty much every element of the story, but the US government has been silent.

A few possibilities. 1) Apple and Amazon aren’t allowed to acknowledge it; it’s super-high security.
2) didn’t happen; it’s a ploy by US security to get manufacture brought back to the US because they’re worried about security of Chinese manufacture. (It’s not just a Trump-era ploy, because the reporters have been talking to their sources for years.)
3) everyone’s getting overheated – the chips weren’t what they’re being made out to be, which means it’s a version of No.2. Read the denials, though. Wow. Apple put out an even more aggressive denial, saying it’s not under any confidentiality demands.

One notable opinion is that this torpedoes China’s ambitions to supply chips: that nobody will trust them. I’d agree.
link to this extract


Google tested this security app with activists in Venezuela. Now you can use it too • CNET

Alfred Ng:

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When connections aren’t secure, attackers can intercept DNS traffic, directing people to pages infected with malware instead, or completely block out online resources. Venezuela’s government has been known block access to social media applications and news websites through DNS manipulation, according to a study from the Open Observatory of Network Interference.

The practice is widespread, as researchers have found governments in more than 60 countries, including Iran, China and Turkey, using DNS manipulation to censor parts of the internet.

Intra was released on the Play Store on Wednesday morning for free, and Jigsaw had been testing its security features among a small group of activists in Venezuela since the beginning of the summer, Henck said.

They wanted to keep its public beta limited, but the app spread through word of mouth in Venezuela, to the point where activists from around the world started using it.

“People found it useful as a tool they could use to get the access that they needed,” Henck said.

Intra automatically points your device to Google’s public DNS server, but you’re able to point it to change it to other servers like Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 through the settings. There’s not much you need to do with it for your encrypted connection — the app really has only one button that you tap to turn on.

This encrypted connection to DNS servers comes by default on the upcoming version of Android Pie, but Jigsaw’s developers realized that millions of people that don’t have the latest updates wouldn’t have that same protection. It’s important to consider when about 80% of Android’s users aren’t on the latest version of the mobile operating system.

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As long as you’re confident the Google Play link is safe.. But this is definitely a good thing.
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Microsoft is embracing Android as the mobile version of Windows • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Android app mirroring will be part of Microsoft’s new Your Phone app for Windows 10. This app debuts this week as part of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, but the app mirroring part won’t likely appear until next year. Microsoft briefly demonstrated how it will work, though; You’ll be able to simply mirror your phone screen straight onto Windows 10 through the Your Phone app, which will have a list of your Android apps. You can tap to access them and have them appear in the remote session of your phone.

We’ve seen a variety of ways of bringing Android apps to Windows in recent years, including Bluestacks and even Dell’s Mobile Connect software. This app mirroring is certainly easier to do with Android, as it’s less restricted than iOS. Still, Microsoft’s welcoming embrace of Android in Windows 10 with this app mirroring is just the latest in a number of steps the company has taken recently to really help align Android as the mobile equivalent of Windows.

Microsoft Launcher is designed to replace the default Google experience on Android phones, and bring Microsoft’s own services and Office connectivity to the home screen. It’s a popular launcher that Microsoft keeps updating, and it’s even getting support for the Windows 10 Timeline feature that lets you resume apps and sites across devices.

All of this just reminds me of Windows Phone.

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Yeah, Tom, let it go now. But Microsoft trying to ju-jitsu Android by getting Windows connectivity? Seems smart.
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Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi top customer satisfaction in India • Strategy Analytics

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Based on analysis of more than 20,000 consumer ratings and reviews of 11 high, mid and low-tier smartphones in the Indian market, Strategy Analytics’ new Consumer Ratings Index Report, India Smartphones: August 2018, has identified that Oppo’s Realme 1 led consumer satisfaction in India from June to August 2018.

• Based on consumer satisfaction, the top three smartphones in India from June to August 2018 were from Chinese brands: Oppo Realme 1, Vivo V9 and Xiaomi Redmi 5. Samsung’s Galaxy J8 was rated fourth.
• Consumer reviews in India mentioned the camera most. In fact, the Samsung Galaxy J8 and Vivo V9 were rated highest for camera satisfaction among those reviews analyzed.
• The Indian brand Karbonn was rated least favorably by Indian consumers, between June and August 2018.

Adam Thorwart, Lead Analyst and report author commented, “Despite Samsung not finishing atop the consumer sentiment chart, consumers of other brands are still mentioning it most. In fact, it nearly triples Oppo which is the second most mentioned brand. This indicates that Samsung is still very popular across India.”

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Chinese brands are six of the top 11 top-selling brands. It’s a conquest.
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Reckless campaign of cyber attacks by Russian military intelligence service exposed • UK National Cyber Security Centre

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Today, the UK and its allies can expose a campaign by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, of indiscriminate and reckless cyber attacks targeting political institutions, businesses, media and sport.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has identified that a number of cyber actors widely known to have been conducting cyber attacks around the world are, in fact, the GRU.  These attacks have been conducted in flagrant violation of international law, have affected citizens in a large number of countries, including Russia, and have cost national economies millions of pounds.

Cyber attacks orchestrated by the GRU have attempted to undermine international sporting institution WADA, disrupt transport systems in Ukraine, destabilise democracies and target businesses.

This campaign by the GRU shows that it is working in secret to undermine international law and international institutions.

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It then lists 10 attacks which it attributes to the GRU – “high confidence the GRU was almost certainly responsible”. Maybe just do a confidence score out of 10?
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Russian trolls tweeted disinformation long before US election • WSJ

Rob Barry:

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Alice Norton posted an emergency message on a cooking-website forum on Thanksgiving 2015: Her entire family had severe food poisoning after buying a turkey from Walmart.

“My son Robert got in the hospital and he’s still there,” wrote Ms. Norton, who had described herself as a 31-year-old New York City mother of two. “I don’t know what to do!”

Within hours, Twitter users repeated the claim thousands of times, and a news story was published saying 200 people were in critical condition after eating tainted turkey.

The catch? No outbreak of food poisoning matching this description occurred, according to New York City health officials. A Walmart Inc. spokesman said the company had spotted the posts but determined they were a hoax and didn’t investigate their origin further.

In fact, many of the claims came from accounts linked to a pro-Kremlin propaganda agency charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office last week for meddling in U.S. politics. Security experts now believe the early posts, and others like them, may have been practice for a bigger target: the 2016 U.S. election.

While it is impossible to be sure what was in the minds of Russians tweeting false stories in 2014 and 2015—which also included tales of contaminated water, terrorist attacks and a chemical-plant explosion—these experts say it is as if the Russians were testing to see how much they could get Americans to believe.

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Turns out that the latter is “really quite a lot”. America’s a big country, and a lot can happen. And a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, as people say.
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Smaller outlets reduce, scrap Facebook promotion over new ad rules • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:

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To promote political news stories, Facebook requires that publishers apply and be authorized as a political advertiser—presumably to prove that they aren’t a front for a Russian or Iranian troll factory. The process requires the uploading of official ID, such as a driver’s license, a passport, or the last four digits of a Social Security Number, along with receipt of a registered letter at an approved US address.

For larger media outlets, these requirements might be complicated and annoying. For smaller publishers, Facebook’s new rules can be so unwieldy and demanding—and the definition of what constitutes a “political news story” so capricious—that small newsrooms in four states told CJR they are either scaling back their Facebook usage or, in some cases, have given up on promoting their content there at all.

Nick Kratsas, the digital operations director for southwestern Pennsylvania’s Observer-Reporter, went through Facebook’s approval process in order to promote his site’s political stories; he says his company gets a significant amount of traffic and engagement from the social network. About 55% of its monthly visits are due to Facebook links. (Like many other publishers, the paper has seen a drop after the latest algorithm changes, a decline that Kratsas recently estimated at about 8 percent.)

Kratsas says the platform’s tendency to flag any news story that mentions a politician or political topic has become so irritating that he wonders whether it is really worth the time that his company spends on it. The rest of the Observer-Reporter team hasn’t gone through Facebook’s authorization process, says Kratsas, and they are still finding their stories denied for allegedly political topics.

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Unintended consequences: local news gets stuffed.
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Police use Fitbit data to charge 90-year-old man in stepdaughter’s killing • The New York Times

Christine Hauser:

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On Sept. 13, a co-worker of Ms. Navarra’s went to the house to check on her because she had not showed up for her job at a pharmacy, the report said. The front door was unlocked, and she discovered Ms. Navarra dead, slouched in a chair at her dining room table.

She had lacerations on her head and neck, and a large kitchen knife was in her right hand, the report said. Blood was spattered and uneaten pizza was strewn in the kitchen. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

Detectives then questioned Ms. Navarra’s only known next-of-kin, her 92-year-old mother, Adele Aiello, and [stepfather] Mr. Aiello. Mr. Aiello told the authorities he had dropped off the food for his stepdaughter and left her house within 15 minutes, but he said he saw Ms. Navarra drive by his home with a passenger in the car later that afternoon.

Investigators obtained a search warrant and retrieved the Fitbit data [from Ms Navarra’s AltaHR worn on her wrist, which measured her heartbeat] with the help of the company’s director of brand protection, Jeff Bonham, the police report said…

When Ms. Navarra’s Fitbit data was compared with video surveillance from her home, the police report said, the police discovered that the car Mr. Aiello had driven was still there when her heart rate stopped being recorded by her Fitbit.

Bloodstained clothes were later found in Mr. Aiello’s home, the document said. He was arrested on Sept. 25.

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When I was younger, some sci-fi stories had the idea of monitors which rich people wore to monitor their heartbeat, so that if they were killed, the killer wouldn’t get away. Turns out they’re available in your local store.
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Artificial sweeteners are toxic to digestive gut bacteria: study • CNBC

Alexa Lardieri:

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According to a study published in the journal Molecules, researchers found that six common artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration and 10 sport supplements that contained them were found to be toxic to the digestive gut microbes of mice.

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore tested the toxicity of aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. They observed that when exposed to only 1 milligram per milliliter of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic…

…According to the study, the gut microbial system “plays a key role in human metabolism,” and artificial sweeteners can “affect host health, such as inducing glucose intolerance.” Additionally, some of the effects of the new FDA-approved sweeteners, such as neotame, are still unknown.

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Glucose intolerance.. which could be a step towards diabetes.
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BlackBerry races ahead of security curve with quantum-resistant solution • TechCrunch

Ron Miller:

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Today, BlackBerry announced a new quantum-resistant code signing service to help battle that possibility.

The service is meant to anticipate a problem that doesn’t exist yet. Perhaps that’s why BlackBerry hedged its bets in the announcement saying, “The new solution will allow software to be digitally signed using a scheme that will be hard to break with a quantum computer.” Until we have fully functioning quantum computers capable of breaking current encryption, we probably won’t know for sure if this works.

But give BlackBerry credit for getting ahead of the curve and trying to solve a problem that has concerned technologists as quantum computers begin to evolve…

…”If your product, whether it’s a car or critical piece of infrastructure, needs to be functional 10-15 years from now, you need to be concerned about quantum computing attacks,” Charles Eagan, BlackBerry’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

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I would like to announce that I have got software which will be hard to break by nine-legged aliens intent on dominating our planet. I thought it was important to get ahead of the curve and try to solve a problem that has concerned me since, well, yesterday.
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The interesting ideas in Datasette • Simon Willison

The aforesaid Willison, who has built a database tool called Datasette which uses SQLite databases (caution: can only store up to 140TB – yes, terabytes). This will interest you if you’re into data tools; Willison built the tools that the Guardian used to analyse MPs’ expenses:

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Since the data in a Datasette instance never changes, why not cache calls to it forever?

Datasette sends a far future HTTP cache expiry header with every API response. This means that browsers will only ever fetch data the first time a specific URL is accessed, and if you host Datasette behind a CDN such as Fastly or Cloudflare each unique API call will hit Datasette just once and then be cached essentially forever by the CDN.

This means it’s safe to deploy a JavaScript app using an inexpensively hosted Datasette-backed API to the front page of even a high traffic site—the CDN will easily take the load.

Zeit added Cloudflare to every deployment (even their free tier) back in July, so if you are hosted there you get this CDN benefit for free.

What if you re-publish an updated copy of your data? Datasette has that covered too. You may have noticed that every Datasette database gets a hashed suffix automatically when it is deployed:

https://fivethirtyeight.datasettes.com/fivethirtyeight-c9e67c4

This suffix is based on the SHA256 hash of the entire database file contents—so any change to the data will result in new URLs. If you query a previous suffix Datasette will notice and redirect you to the new one.

If you know you’ll be changing your data, you can build your application against the non-suffixed URL. This will not be cached and will always 302 redirect to the correct version (and these redirects are extremely fast).

https://fivethirtyeight.datasettes.com/fivethirtyeight/alcohol-consumption%2Fdrinks.json

The redirect sends an HTTP/2 push header such that if you are running behind a CDN that understands push (such as Cloudflare) your browser won’t have to make two requests to follow the redirect.

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.923: the robot autonomous farm, Tim Cook on data, the information terrorists, XS camera in depth, and more


What if you could completely automate your job? Some people have. Photo by Brian J. Matis on Flickr.

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

How to program your job • The Atlantic

Brian Merchant:

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It can seem that some of the only workers who have realized any scrap of that rusty old promise of automation are the ones who’ve carved out the code to claim it for themselves.

Programmers, of course, have been writing code that automates their work for decades. Programming generally involves utilizing tools that add automation at different levels, from code formatting to merging to different codebases—most just don’t take it to the extreme of fully or nearly fully automating their job. I chatted, via direct message on Reddit and email, with around a dozen programmers who said they had. These self-automators had tackled inventory management, report writing, graphics rendering, database administration, and data entry of every kind. One automated his wife’s entire workload, too. Most asked to remain anonymous, to protect their jobs and reputations.

“When I started, my job literally took me eight hours a day,” an early self-automator, who I’ll call Gary, told me. He worked for a large corporate hotel chain that was beginning to computerize its workflow in the ‘90s. Gary quickly recognized that he was spending a lot of his time repeating the same tasks, so he started learning to code after-hours. “Over the course of about three months, I built a piece of code in Lotus [1-2-3, then a popular PC spreadsheet program] that not only automated individual repetitive tasks, it effectively automated the entire job.” He didn’t tell his bosses exactly what he had done, and the quality of his working life improved considerably.

“It felt weird to have free time during the day,” he told me. “I spent that time learning about the other systems in the hotel.” He then made himself useful, helping management with bottlenecks in those systems.

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What’s fascinating – even a little surprising – is how those who did this began to feel. They worried that they ought to be doing something, even though they were “doing” their job.
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New autonomous farm wants to produce food without human workers • MIT Technology Review

Erin Winick:

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As the firm’s cofounder Brandon Alexander puts it: “We are a farm and will always be a farm.”

But it’s no ordinary farm. For starters, the company’s 15 human employees share their work space with robots who quietly go about the business of tending rows and rows of leafy greens.

Today Iron Ox is opening its first production facility in San Carlos, near San Francisco. The 8,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic facility—which is attached to the startup’s offices—will be producing leafy greens at a rate of roughly 26,000 heads a year. That’s the production level of a typical outdoor farm that might be five times bigger. The opening is the next big step toward fulfilling the company’s grand vision: a fully autonomous farm where software and robotics fill the place of human agricultural workers, which are currently in short supply.

Iron Ox isn’t selling any of the food it produces just yet (it is still in talks with a number of local restaurants and grocers). So for now, those tens of thousands of heads of lettuce are going to a local food bank and to the company salad bar. Its employees had better love  eating lettuce.

The farm’s non-lettuce-consuming staff consists of a series of robotic arms and movers. The arms individually pluck the plants from their hydroponic trays and transfer them to new trays as they increase in size, maximizing their health and output—a luxury most outdoor farms don’t have. Big white mechanical movers carry the 800-pound water-filled trays around the facility.

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Food is where technology got its big start. Thigh bones of antelopes, axes, knives, ploughs…
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Apple CEO Tim Cook says giving up your data for better services is ‘a bunch of bunk’ • The Washington Post

Hamza Shaban:

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Apple chief executive Tim Cook urged consumers not to believe the dominant tech industry narrative that the data collected about them will lead to better services.

In an interview with “Vice News Tonight” that aired Tuesday, Cook highlighted his company’s commitment to user privacy, positioning Apple’s business as one that stands apart from tech giants that compile massive amounts of personal data and sell the ability to target users through advertising.

“The narrative that some companies will try to get you to believe is: I’ve got to take all of our data to make my service better,” he said. “Well, don’t believe them. Whoever’s telling you that, it’s a bunch of bunk.”

Cook’s remarks come at a pivotal time for Silicon Valley. In the past year, technology companies and their executives have come under unprecedented scrutiny from elected officials and regulators stemming from a variety of issues, including a barrage of data privacy scandals, accusations of toxic corporate culture, the negative impact of tech platforms on political debate, and concerns over tech overuse and addiction. In recent months, growing calls from Capitol Hill have boosted the prospects of new legislation aimed at big tech companies…

…Cook said in the interview that he is “exceedingly optimistic” that the topic of data privacy has reached an elevated level of public debate. “When the free market doesn’t produce a result that’s great for society you have to ask yourself what do we need to do. And I think some level of government regulation is important to come out on that.”

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Are smartphones the next generation consoles? • Strategy Analytics

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By streaming games over networks, and invalidating the need for expensive hardware, game streaming services could potentially eliminate the concept of gaming generations by making any portable device a viable gaming machine. A new report from the User Experience Strategies (UXS) group at Strategy Analytics, Game Streaming: The Last Console Generation?, has assessed existing game streaming and download services to study the user experience issues that can arise from them. Streaming games over the internet could affect gaming in the same way that Netflix has affected video; but there are unique challenges that must be addressed for it to reach mainstream appeal.

Key report findings:

• Though game streaming could invalidate the need for bulky home consoles, proprietary controllers are still required. Since cross-platform games all feature different control schemes, the need for a universal standard is clear.
• It is nearly impossible to guarantee an ideal game streaming service for everyone, which is problematic when the service comes with a monthly charge. Factors like bandwidth and latency are key issues, but other interruptions to a service can affect the overall user experience.
• Games processed in the cloud are free from the limitations of hardware and could allow game developers to create experiences that would be otherwise impossible to achieve on aging hardware.

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That need for proprietary controllers to get the best results is going to be a problem for their thesis.
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FireEye unmasks a new North Korean threat group • Cyberscoop

Sean Lyngaas:

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There is a distinct and aggressive group of hackers bent on financing the North Korean regime and responsible for millions of dollars in bank heists in recent years, according to research from cybersecurity company FireEye.

The group, dubbed APT38, is distinct from other Pyongyang-linked hackers because of its overriding financial motivation — as opposed to pure espionage — and persistent targeting of banks worldwide, FireEye researchers said.

“This is an active … threat against financial institutions all around the world,” Sandra Joyce, FireEye’s vice president of global intelligence, said at a press briefing.

The group was responsible for some of the more high-profile attacks on financial institutions in the last few years, the researchers said, including the $81m heist of the Bangladesh’s central bank in February 2016, and an attack on a Taiwanese bank in October 2017.

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The Bangladesh bank one was widely known, but not the Taiwanese one. North Korea’s GDP is so tiny, and its foreign exchange reserves so tiny that this was a smart move.
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Judge Kavanaugh and the information terrorists trying to reshape America • WIRED

Molly McKew:

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In 2014, Chuck Johnson explained in a Mother Jones interview how he offered “bounties” to independent online researchers to solve “puzzles” that he gave them. What he said is actually a good description of why QAnon works: “You get all these hobbyists and amateurs and people out there who have a lot of time on their hands, many of whom are retired or they’re a mother, their kids are sleeping while they’re researching, they’re stay-at-home moms, or they’re college students or they’re unemployed or this is their moonlighting thing. All those people are starting to find one another.” It’s that sense of being a part of a bigger mission…

…even before Q was visible at Trump rallies and the media was writing about it, there was a disturbance in the Q-force. In May 2018, Infowars and the others in the Stone cadre started urgently denouncing QAnon, saying it had been “hijacked” by a deep-state information campaign or maybe just by people out to make a buck. For most of the summer, Posobiec teased that he would explain the whole deal.

In September, his opus supposedly debunking QAnon debuted, outing MicroChip, the aforementioned bot-king, and someone named Dreamcatcher as the creators of QAnon. According to Micro (if any of this is to be believed), they basically just created a word salad out of the stuff Trump supporters believed—the sex trafficking mania, Clinton is about to be arrested, the Generals, Russia’s not a thing, Trump is the savior—and made a list of questions that would tantalize that audience and engage them online.

“It was meant to be funny, to get people’s imaginations going,” Micro said in his interview with Posobiec. “It’s not supposed to go this far.” He said they only wrote a few of the original posts, essentially to bring disparate factions of the Trump movement together, and then someone else took it over.

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Fascinating tour around the insane alt-right conspiracy theories. And their idiot helpers.
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iPhone XS: why it’s a whole new camera • Halide

Sebastiaan de With:

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After testing the iPhone XS side by side with the X, we found the XS prefers a faster shutter speed and higher ISO level. In other words, it takes photos a lot faster, but comes at the cost of noise.



iPhone X RAW on the left, iPhone XS RAW on the right. Note the increase in visible noise!

Two shots taken with the iPhone X (left) and iPhone XS (right). Taken in RAW so the extra noise can be seen—RAW on iPhone omits any noise-reduction steps. Why does the iPhone XS’ frame have to be noisier?

Remember that line-up of frames showing how the iPhone camera works?

Unless you have bionic arms, it’s impossible to hold your phone perfectly still for this long. To get a sharp, perfectly aligned burst of images, the iPhone needs to take photos really fast. That requires a shorter shutter speed — and that, in turn, means that there will be more noise in the image.
That noise has to be removed, somehow, and that comes at a cost: noise reduction removes a bit of detail and local contrast.


The iPhone XS RAW exposure on the left shows less ‘smoothed’ detail in the reflections, compared to its regular Smart HDR counterpart on the right.

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There’s tons more: as you’d expect from people who developed a camera app. (Thanks @stormyparis for the link.)
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Here come Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 in plan to simplify 802.11 networking names • CNet

Jessica Dolcourt:

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Quick quiz: which is better, 802.11n or 802.11ac?

The answer, if you’re familiar with Wi-Fi standards coming from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is 802.11ac – and by the way, the upcoming 802.11ax is better than both.

But in an effort to make the wireless networking terms more useful and less like alphanumeric gibberish, the Wi-Fi Alliance trade group has some new names it wants for those technologies: Wi-Fi 4, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6.

The idea is to be clearer about what’s better and what your phone or home router can handle without sounding as much like an electronic engineer. Not that there’s anything wrong with electronic engineers, but even techies can have a hard time remembering that IEEE 802.11 means wireless networks, IEEE 1394 governs FireWire data connections, and IEEE 802.3 is about Ethernet network connections.

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THANK. GOD. Also, will the numbers indicate maximum speeds somehow? Hmm, except Wi-Fi 1 (802.11b) would be Wi-Fi 11. Hmm.
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Why you shouldn’t use Facebook to log in to other sites • NY Times

Farhad Manjoo:

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neither Facebook nor third-party sites seem to know the precise extent of the damage. In a statement on Tuesday, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, said the company had “no evidence” that attackers breached other sites through the hack, but that the company was building more sophisticated ways for sites to do their own deeper investigation.

But the mere possibility is highly troubling — and if the hack allowed access to any other sites, Facebook should be disqualified from acting as your sign-on service.

This is a classic you-had-one-job situation. Like a trusty superintendent in a Brooklyn walk-up, Facebook offered to carry keys for every lock online. The arrangement was convenient — the super was always right there, at the push of a button. It was also more secure than creating and remembering dozens of passwords for different sites. Facebook had a financial and reputational incentive to hire the best security people to protect your keys; tons of small sites online don’t — and if they got hacked and if you reused your passwords elsewhere, you were hosed.
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But the extensive hack vaporizes those arguments. If the entity with which you trusted your keys loses your keys, you take your keys elsewhere. And there are many more-secure and just-as-convenient ways to sign on to things online.

The best way is to use a dedicated password manager — a service, like LastPass or 1Password, that creates and remembers strong passwords for different sites. Operating systems and browsers are also getting better at managing passwords; newer iPhones, for instance, let you unlock sites with facial recognition, which is just as convenient as pressing Facebook’s button.

If for some reason you don’t want to use a password manager, you can use another tech giant’s sign-on service. When presented with different ways to sign on to sites, you can choose Google or Microsoft instead of Facebook.

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Though what happens when those single sign-ons (SSOs) at Google or Microsoft get hacked? I did commission a piece at The Guardian back in 2010 or so from a US startup which found that teens didn’t like using Facebook to sign into a new app, because they didn’t feel it was anonymous – that Facebook would know what they were doing.
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More than nine million broken links on Wikipedia are now rescued • Internet Archive

Mark Graham:

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As part of the Internet Archive’s aim to build a better Web, we have been working to make the Web more reliable — and are pleased to announce that nine million formerly broken links on Wikipedia now work because they go to archived versions in the Wayback Machine.

For more than five years, the Internet Archive has been archiving nearly every URL referenced in close to 300 wikipedia sites as soon as those links are added or changed at the rate of about 20 million URLs/week.

And for the past three years, we have been running a software robot called IABot on 22 Wikipedia language editions looking for broken links (URLs that return a ‘404’, or ‘Page Not Found’). When broken links are discovered, IABot searches for archives in the Wayback Machine and other web archives to replace them with. Restoring links ensures Wikipedia remains accurate and verifiable and thus meets one of Wikipedia’s three core content policies: ‘Verifiability’.

To date we have successfully used IABot to edit and “fix” the URLs of nearly six million external references that would have otherwise returned a 404. In addition, members of the Wikipedia community have fixed more than six million links individually. Now more than nine million URLs, on 22 Wikipedia sites, point to archived resources from the Wayback Machine and other web archive providers.

«

This is impressive (and also means that at a stroke the Internet Archive has become the top destination for outgoing clicks from Wikipedia). Any time you want to give money for the IA’s work, feel free – don’t wait for my Christmas charity request.
link to this extract


Redesigning Siri and adding multitasking features to iOS • UX Design

Kévin Eugène:

»

I wanted to imagine an update that I would personally be excited about if it showed up at the WWDC, and this is what I came up with.

Let me introduce you to iOS Mogi.

This is Mogi, a beautiful fishing village near Nagasaki in Japan. I took this picture last year.

« Hey Siri, help me »
The first part of this concept is focused on Siri. The idea here is not to create new commands, rather to display existing vocal requests that work well (like « Find me a good restaurant nearby » or « Get me pictures of Japan I took last year ») in a different way so they could be more useful to the user.
In iOS Mogi, Siri has been designed around a concept I call parallel help. The idea is to have a vocal assistant that is non-intrusive (it won’t take the whole screen like it does today), context aware, and can do things in the background for the user while they are doing something else.
As images are more explicit than words, here’s a very simple example:

Using Siri in Messages.
When using apps, Siri takes the shape of a notification so as to be less intrusive as possible (if summoned from the lock screen or the home screen, it will still be fullscreen).

In the example above, I ask Siri to show me pictures of Japan as I want to send one to my friend Yannick. Once the request is fulfilled, the result is displayed in the Siri notification so I can continue to do what I was doing without being interrupted. I can swipe down the notification to reveal more and select the photos I want to send.

«

Like that? He’s only just getting started. The idea of Siri as a really helpful full-time assistant which you call on (rather than which prods you annoyingly, Clippy-style) is truly attractive.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: sorry about the spelling error yesterday.

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Start Up No.922: how Tesco Bank was hacked, Microsoft’s black Surface, Amazon’s rippling pay rise, Trump’s tax fiddles, and more


Surprise! Over half the online complaints about this film came from bots and trolls. Photo by Brian Crawford on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Tax that return. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 announced with a new matte black finish, quad-core processors • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft’s Surface chief, Panos Panay, says the company has overhauled the inside of the Surface Pro 6 so it has improved cooling. That means the Surface Pro 6 now supports quad-core processors, and Microsoft claims it will be 67% faster than the previous model.

This new internal design should also help improve battery life. Microsoft says the Surface Pro 6 will last for 13.5 hours on battery life. While there’s an internal redesign, the outside looks very familiar. It’s still 1.7 pounds, and it has the same 12.3-inch display and up to 16GB of RAM inside.

Unfortunately, the Surface Pro 6 will include the same connectivity and external design as the existing model, which means there are still no USB-C ports. It’s surprising Microsoft still isn’t adopting USB-C in its flagship Surface Pro, especially given the company has introduced this new connector on both the Surface Go and Surface Book 2.

«

“Matte black finish” is the key point for the headline? And still USB-C can’t get any love.
link to this extract


Amazon’s $15-per-hour minimum wage will change how Americans see work • Bloomberg

Conor Sen:

»

Amazon’s move may have ripple effects in a way that fast food companies and other retailers haven’t because of the influence of Amazon in the corporate world and in the minds of upper-middle-class Americans. Even as Walmart has arguably been a better corporate citizen in moving its company in more of a pro-worker direction than Amazon has in recent years, Amazon is seen as an innovative and sexy technology company in a way that Walmart isn’t. Amazon making a big public move to raise worker pay will get broader cohorts of companies to do the same. Look for this as companies start to report third-quarter earnings over the next few weeks.

If $15 an hour becomes the new standard for entry-level wages in corporate America, its impact may be felt most broadly among middle-class workers. Average hourly earnings for non-managerial workers in the U.S. were $22.73 an hour in August. The historically low level of jobless claims and unemployment, combined with $15 an hour becoming an anchor in people’s minds, could make someone people earning around that $22 mark feel more secure in their jobs. Instead of worrying about losing their job and being on the unemployment rolls for a while, or only being able to find last-ditch work that pays $9 or $10 an hour, the “floor” may be seen as a $15 an hour job.

That creates a whole new set of options for middle-class households. In 2017, the real median household income in the U.S. was $61,372, which is roughly what two earners with full-time jobs making $15 an hour would make. A $15-an-hour floor might embolden some workers to quit their jobs to move to another city even without a job offer there. It might let some workers switch to part-time to focus more time on education, gaining new skills or child care.

«

Of course in the US they’d also need some confidence about health care, which is never a given when you move in the US.
link to this extract


Eleven takeaways from the NYT’s investigation into Trump’s wealth • The New York Times

Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and David Barstow:

»

The Trumps created a company that siphoned cash from the empire.

The first major component was creating a company called All County Building Supply & Maintenance. On paper, All County was Fred Trump’s purchasing agent, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. But All County was, in fact, a company only on paper, records and interviews show — a vehicle to siphon cash from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions in markups, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin.

Lee-Ford Tritt, a leading expert in gift and estate tax law at the University in Florida, said the Trumps’ use of All County was “highly suspicious” and could constitute criminal tax fraud. “It certainly looks like a disguised gift,” he said.

All County also had an insidious downside for Fred Trump’s tenants. He used the padded invoices to justify higher rent increases in rent-regulated buildings, records show.

Mr. Harder, the president’s lawyer, disputed The Times’s reporting: “Should The Times state or imply that President Trump participated in fraud, tax evasion or any other crime, it will be exposing itself to substantial liability and damages for defamation.”

«

And there’s loads more. Trump didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Wonder what his up-to-date tax returns would show. Wonder if Robert Mueller is looking at those.
link to this extract


Vigilante engineer stops Waymo from patenting key lidar technology • Ars Technica

Mark Harris:

»

Following a surprise left-field complaint by Eric Swildens, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has rejected all but three of 56 claims in Waymo’s 936 patent, named for the last three digits of its serial number. The USPTO found that some claims replicated technology described in an earlier patent from lidar vendor Velodyne, while another claim was simply “impossible” and “magic.”

Swildens, who receives no money or personal advantage from the decision, told Ars that he was delighted at the news. “The patent shouldn’t have been filed in the first place,” he said. “It’s a very well written patent. However, my personal belief is that the thing that they say they invented, they didn’t invent.”

The 936 patent played a key role in last year’s epic intellectual property lawsuit with Uber. In December 2016, a Waymo engineer was inadvertently copied on an email from one of its suppliers to Uber, showing a lidar circuit design that looked almost identical to one shown in the 936 patent…

…Remarkably, Swildens does not work for Uber or for Velodyne, nor for any other self-driving developer—he works for a small cloud computing startup. Swildens became interested in the patent when it surfaced during the Uber case, and he saw how simple Waymo’s lidar circuit seemed to be. “I couldn’t imagine the circuit didn’t exist prior to this patent,” he told Wired last year.

Swildens’ research uncovered several patents and books that seemed to pre-date the Waymo patent. He then spent $6,000 of his own money to launch a formal challenge to 936. Waymo fought back, making dozens of filings, bringing expert witnesses to bear, and attempting to re-write several of the patent’s claims and diagrams to safeguard its survival.

The USPTO was not impressed. In March, an examiner noted that a re-drawn diagram of Waymo’s lidar firing circuit showed current passing along a wire between the circuit and the ground in two directions—something generally deemed impossible.

«

As everyone on Twitter has been saying, not all heroes wear capes.
link to this extract


Star Wars: The Last Jedi abuse blamed on Russian trolls and ‘political agendas’ • The Guardian

Andrew Pulver:

»

Morten Bay, a research fellow at the University of Southern California (USC), analysed Twitter activity about the film and concluded that more than 50% of posts are by “bots, trolls/sockpuppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme rightwing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality. A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls.”

The supposed fan hostility to The Last Jedi is a well-known phenomenon, with actors such as Kelly Marie Tran experiencing extreme levels of abuse, and campaigns cropping up to lower the film’s rating on critics’ aggregators and fund a remake. However, Bay’s research indicates that not only are negative comments on social media about the film in a minority, but the “anti-Jedi” campaign has been designed to serve a wider political purpose. “The study finds evidence of deliberate, organised political influence measures disguised as fan arguments,” Bay writes. The likely objective of these measures is increasing media coverage of the fandom conflict, thereby adding to and further propagating a narrative of widespread discord and dysfunction in American society.”

«

Related: Twitter has tweaked its rules on fake accounts and behaviour ahead of the US mid-term elections. Notable (to me at least) that Del Harvey, its veep of Trust & Safety, is a co-author: she has been very busy in the past few months, having been away (literally) for some time before. Now “challenging” 9.4m accounts per week.
link to this extract


The Big Disruption • Medium

»

Something is fishy at Anahata—and it’s not just the giant squid that serves as a mascot for the world’s largest tech company. A prince in exile is working as a product manager. The sales guys are battling with the engineers. The female employees are the unwitting subjects of a wild social experiment. The VPs are plotting against each other. And the yoga-loving, sex-obsessed CEO is rumored to be planning a moon colony, sending his investors into a tizzy. Is it all downhill from here? Or is this just the beginning of a bold new phase in Anahata’s quest for global domination?

«

Jessica Powell used to work at Google. I have to say that I think it would be hard for her satire (available in its entirety on Medium, for free) to do better than The Circle.
link to this extract


This is how cyber attackers stole £2.26m from Tesco Bank customers • ZDNet

Danny Palmer:

»

the FCA’s newly published report into the Tesco Bank attack details how hackers were able to make off with over £2m over the course of 48 hours in November 2016.

The attack started at 02:00 on Saturday, 5 November 2016; by 04:00, Tesco Bank’s fraud analysis and detection system started sending automatic text messages to the bank’s personal current account holders asking them to call about “suspicious activity” on their accounts, which is how the bank itself first became aware of the attack.

As the fraud attempts increased, the calls quickly overwhelmed Tesco Bank’s fraud prevention line. Although Tesco Bank’s controls stopped almost 80% of the unauthorised transactions, the attack affected 8,261 out of 131,000 Tesco Bank personal current accounts.

The attackers most likely used an algorithm which generated authentic Tesco Bank debit card numbers and, using those virtual cards, they attempted to make thousands of unauthorised debit card transactions.

The FCA said Tesco Bank’s failures include the way in which the bank distributed debit card numbers and mistakes made in the reaction to the attack which meant that no action was taken for almost a day after the incident was first uncovered.

A number of deficiencies in the way Tesco Bank handled security left customers vulnerable to cyber attackers in an incident that was “largely avoidable”, said the FCA analysis of the incident which Tesco Bank had to this point been tight-lipped about – to the frustration of other financial institutions.

«

And 21 hours (that’s to 11pm on the day of an attack that started 0200) for the Financial Crime Operations Team to contact the Fraud Strategy Team. “In the meantime, nothing had been done to stop the attack.” Attack (or at least fake transaction) source: Brazil.

But it gets worse. Oh, yes.
link to this extract


Why a new fake news law in Singapore could be a big test for Facebook, Google, and Twitter • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

»

In early September, Kirsten Han began seeing messages on Facebook and Twitter calling her a “treacherous sow” and saying she should be executed for treason.

“You bloody rotten stinking traitors trying to get foreigners to overthrow the Singapore government and trying to destroy people live [sic] here,” read one Facebook comment. “You batch of traitors deserve death and nothing else.”

Han is a Singaporean journalist and activist, and a frequent critic of the ruling party’s approach to press freedom and use of the death penalty. She’s used to online criticism, but this was more extreme in tone and content. It also struck her as a case study in how the government itself can be a source of false allegations.

It began with a Facebook post from Han’s business partner, Ping Tjin Thum. Thum is a Singaporean academic based at the University of Oxford who was admitted to Harvard at 16 and competed in the Olympics for Singapore. He and Han run a small, member-funded nonprofit media company called New Naratif that reports on Southeast Asia and advocates for democracy in the region.

At the end of August, Han, Thum, and other activists from Singapore traveled to Malaysia to meet the newly elected prime minister. After they returned, Thum wrote on Facebook that he’d encouraged the prime minister “to take leadership in Southeast Asia for the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of information.”

«

It’s going to be a law that only applies to people the government doesn’t like, one suspects.
link to this extract


Apple Watch apps instantly went 64-bit thanks to obscure Bitcode option • Venturebeat

Jeremy Horwitz:

»

An obscure feature in Apple’s Xcode development software enabled Apple Watch apps to make an instant transition from 32-bit to 64-bit last month, an unheralded win for Apple Watch developers inside and outside the company. The “Enable Bitcode” feature was introduced to developers three years ago, but the Accidental Tech Podcast suggests that it was quietly responsible for the smooth launch of software for the Apple Watch Series 4 last month.

Support for Bitcode was originally added to Xcode 7 in November 2015, subsequently becoming optional for iOS apps but mandatory for watchOS and tvOS apps. Bitcode is an “intermediate representation” halfway between human-written app code and machine code. Rather than the developer sending a completely compiled app to the App Store, enabling Bitcode provides Apple with a partially compiled app that it can then finish compiling for whatever processors it wants to support.

The feature was forward-thinking enough that reports of its existence in 2015 called its most obvious use, “recompil[ing] bitcode-encoded App Store apps without any work from developers … unlikely to happen.” But that’s exactly what did happen in September 2018 with the release of the Apple Watch Series 4, which transitioned from the 32-bit Apple S3 processor to the 64-bit Apple S4. There was no waiting period for new 64-bit apps after the release of the new Watch last month, and developers didn’t even have to recompile their 32-bit apps; the apps just worked, and noticeably faster than before, on the new devices.

«

The Series 4 has a dual-core 64-bit processor, which is why 64-bit apps run faster. (The introuction of the 64-bit 5S led to 32-bit apps crashing more often.)
link to this extract


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.921: commute with Google!, stream with Google!, the Instagram penthouse, AI imaginings, and more


Revolutionary in its day, is Gmail crimping people now? Photo by Peter Forret on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google hasn’t updated Gmail, Drive, Photos storage limit in 5 years. Now what? • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

»

2013 was the most recent time Google raised the [Gmail storage] limit — bringing it up 50% to 15GB.

But now it’s been five years since Google gave free users more room for stuff. (Google did introduce free and unlimited storage of images and videos through Google Photos in 2015, but if you want that free tier, you’ll need to be okay with content getting compressed or resized.)

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

My specific situation was helped along because a few years ago bought a Chromebook as a sort of backup computer. The purchase happened to come with a perk: 100GB of free storage.

But last month, Google emailed me and let me know that the extra storage would soon be going away. It turns out the promotion lasted two years.

As of today, I’m back to being just another Google account holder with 15GB of standard-issue free storage. But my data takes up more than 21GB. When I checked my Gmail inbox this morning, there was a pink banner on top instructing me to free up space or pay. In Google Drive, the icon on the left that shows how much space is left is now colored red. Conveniently there is a link below to “UPGRADE STORAGE.”

These days, through the Google One plan the company introduced this year, you can have 100GB for $19.99 per year. And $9.99 per month now gets you 2TB of storage, 100% more than before. Those prices aren’t crazy — and I understand Google’s desire to get customers paying for storage so it can grow and further diversify away from advertising — but it’s the principle of the thing.

I keep thinking back to Larry Page’s words “all the storage I need.” Did Page and others believe that would only be applicable for a few years? I hope not.

«

Gmail is the world’s biggest email service, so any increment must cost Google heftily. It’s either that, or the world’s running out of storage. (Wouldn’t that be a thing? No room left on the internet.)
link to this extract


Pushing the limits of streaming technology • Google blog

Catherine Hsiao:

»

Streaming media has transformed the way we consume music and video, making it easy to instantly access your favorite content. It’s a technically complex process that has come a long way in a few short years, but the next technical frontier for streaming will be much more demanding than video.

We’ve been working on Project Stream, a technical test to solve some of the biggest challenges of streaming. For this test, we’re going to push the limits with one of the most demanding applications for streaming—a blockbuster video game.

We’ve partnered with one of the most innovative and successful video game publishers, Ubisoft, to stream their soon-to-be released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey® to your Chrome browser on a laptop or desktop. Starting on October 5, a limited number of participants will get to play the latest in this best-selling franchise at no charge for the duration of the Project Stream test.

The idea of streaming such graphically-rich content that requires near-instant interaction between the game controller and the graphics on the screen poses a number of challenges.  When streaming TV or movies, consumers are comfortable with a few seconds of buffering at the start, but streaming high-quality games requires latency measured in milliseconds, with no graphic degradation.

«

So… it’s PC gaming except done by streaming? So you could have lower-spec PCs, and bin your console? Maybe a worry for Sony and Microsoft.
link to this extract


Microsoft Surface event 2018: 5 things to expect • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft is holding a media event on Tuesday in New York City. Described only as a “moment of your time,” the event is likely to focus on Surface hardware, Windows 10 features, and Microsoft’s new productivity push to win back consumers. Microsoft’s Surface chief, Panos Panay, will be attending the event and it will be the company’s first big Surface / Windows press event since former Windows chief Terry Myerson departed over the summer. It’s a chance for Microsoft to show where Windows is heading, unveil the latest Surface hardware, and perhaps surprise us with something new.

«

TL;DR: refreshes of the existing stuff, but without adding USB-C if it doesn’t already have it.
link to this extract


HP attempts to refresh the two-in-one with the leather-and-metal Spectre Folio • Ars Technica

Valentina Palladino:

»

The Spectre Folio may look like a convertible that’s covered in leather, but it’s not that simple. The leather is actually built into the PC—you can’t remove it, and HP doesn’t want you to. The leather soft chassis adheres to the magnesium and aluminum hard chassis in a construction that you won’t be able to see with your own eyes—it’s all under the surface.

While it’s classified as a convertible, it can flex into positions that were previously limited to tablets with keyboard covers. It can act as a laptop but instantly slide down into tablet mode as well. Instead of the traditional tent mode that other convertibles can achieve, the screen portion of the Spectre Folio can sit in a slot in front of the keyboard, turning it into a device ideal for photo and video viewing.

The Spectre Folio will have either an FHD or 4K touchscreen, both of which support inking, and the device will come with a stylus as well. It runs on 8th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 Y-series processors and can support up to 8GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. HP claims the device will last at least 18 hours on a single charge. While super thin, the Spectre Folio contains two Thunderbolt 3 ports and one USB Type-C port, all of which support charging.

«

A picture (below) from The Verge shows how the keyboard is covered by the screen when you want “tablet time”; the screen can then lay flat outward, or flat inward. At least they’re trying.

link to this extract


3rd-generation Chromecast leaks ahead of Google’s launch • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:

»

It’s been over three years since Google last refreshed its most popular product, the Chromecast. We’ve been hearing bits of information for the past few months about a possible refresh incoming, and now it seems someone has gotten their hands on the 3rd-generation Chromecast a bit early.

A Redditor posted this weekend an image of a new Chromecast he bought from a local Best Buy which was unboxed to find something that looks a bit different from a typical Chromecast. While none of the internal specifications have come out due to this leak, we can see how Google has altered the design of the beloved streaming dongle.

The comparison picture posted shows the 3rd-generation Chromecast right alongside a 2nd-generation model, and the differences are clear. Both do share the same basic design with a circular body housing the components and an HDMI cable attached to connect to the TV. According to the Redditor, this new hardware ditches the magnetic connector that allows easy management of that HDMI cable, though.

«

Over three years since the Chromecast was updated? Did they find the Platonic form, or did it hit market saturation early? (I suspect the latter.) The Chromecast has always struck me as an odd device in that it does so little for Google: it might reveal a bit of what people do at home, but it isn’t crucial to anything.
link to this extract


Take control of your commute with Google Maps • Google blog

Ramesh Nagarajan is group product manager for Google Maps:

»

Why are commutes so stressful? They’re unpredictable and long. Commute data in 25 North American cities tells us daily commute times during rush hour traffic can be up to 60% longer than what you expect when you start your drive—resulting in a lot of stress, missed meetings, and skipped breakfasts. According to historical Google Maps data, people in North America spend a full day per month commuting—which almost adds up to a two-week vacation each year.  Plus, a bad commute can negatively impact the rest of your day, long after the actual commute is over.

Today, we’re rolling out new features on Google Maps to help you take control of your daily commute— enabling you to plan ahead, prepare for the inevitable disruptions, and possibly avoid them altogether. Oh, and we’ll also help you have a bit of fun along the way…

…Sprinting to the subway station only to find that your train is delayed is our least favorite way to start the day. Now, transit riders in 80 regions worldwide will be able to see exactly where their bus or train is in real time on the map. This will help you plan your day more efficiently—you’ll know if you can spend an extra few minutes grabbing coffee, or if you really do need to make a run for it to catch your bus. And in Sydney, we’ve partnered with Transport New South Wales to show how full you next bus or train is – so you’ll know whether or not you’ll get a seat. This feature will be coming to more cities around the globe soon.

«

That’s quite a nifty feature. Open data, one assumes, so Apple could use it in time. Set a timer…
link to this extract


Fully driverless Waymo taxis are due out this year, alarming critics • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

»

Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project, is planning to launch a driverless taxi service in the Phoenix area in the next three months. It won’t be a pilot project or a publicity stunt, either. Waymo is planning to launch a public, commercial service—without anyone in the driver’s seat.

And to date, Waymo’s technology has gotten remarkably little oversight from government officials in either Phoenix or Washington, DC.

If a company wants to sell a new airplane or medical device, it must undergo an extensive process to prove to federal regulators that it’s safe. Currently, there’s no comparable requirement for self-driving cars. Federal and state laws allow Waymo to introduce fully self-driving cars onto public streets in Arizona without any formal approval process.

That’s not an oversight. It represents a bipartisan consensus in Washington that strict regulation of self-driving cars would do more harm than good.

“If you think about what would be required for some government body to examine the design of a self-driving vehicle and decide if it’s safe, that’s a very difficult task,” says Ed Felten, a Princeton computer scientist who advised the Obama White House on technology issues.

«

Pretty much impossible to prove “safe”. But how safe? Safer than a human? My suspicion is that they will be safer than humans in general, but do some strange things leading to accidents when humans wouldn’t have.
link to this extract


A penthouse made for Instagram • NY Times

Sapna Maheshwari:

»

This penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood is awash in natural light, with high ceilings, gleaming hardwood floors and a rooftop deck. The living room area includes a sofa in the rosy hue known as millennial pink, the kitchen comes equipped with a floor-to-ceiling wine fridge, and the library nook is filled with books chosen for their appearance, not their contents. The white walls are spotless, and there is never any clutter.

Nobody lives here.

The 2,400-square-foot space — which rents for $15,000 a month — was designed as a backdrop for Instagram stars, who have booked it through October.

It was opened in August by Village Marketing, an agency that connects advertisers like the eyewear company Warby Parker and the Equinox fitness company to the social media personalities known as influencers. The ones who work with Village Marketing — mostly stylish young women who are paid to promote products on Instagram — have amassed huge followings with images that capture an idealized version of daily life.

«

SHOCKING! Well no, not really. Spaces reserved for modelling have existed for decades – as long as portraiture. What has happened is that Instagram has created a new slice of people who do that too. It’s a democratisation, not a debasement.
link to this extract


A wise man leaves Facebook • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:

»

When tech executives don’t like a thing I have written, I typically get a call full of gnashing teeth and why-are-you-so-mean plaintiveness. But when I recently declared on Instagram that I was sick of Instagram and had major issues with the service, [Instagram co-founder Kevin] Systrom texted and asked me why. It was neither a suck-up nor did he try to debate me.

So, I told him: It’s performative; it makes people feel badly, even if it’s beautiful; it has turned into a brag book of strivers; it is a museum and not a place to connect; it has stolen too many of its ideas from Snapchat. That said, I saw the good side, too, and wanted him to make it easier to find the many delightful things, like photographers and funny people, that made the platform joyful.

Unlike other hot-house-flower zillionaires I cover, this criticism did not slay Mr. Systrom. Maybe I am setting a low bar, but I admire him for being someone who can always take it, and that quality will be sorely missed at Facebook.

Even more important, unlike Mr. Zuckerberg, who in a recent podcast with me was unable to articulate how he felt about the high price society had paid for his success, Mr. Systrom is reflective and self-critical about the challenges that social media faces and the damage that it has done.

That was the case at a recent talk I had with him at a hopelessly hip coffee place in San Francisco, where I was left with one thought: He should be the chief executive of Facebook.

One thing he said seemed particularly wise, so I asked him if I could put it on the record, and he agreed.

“Social media is in a pre-Newtonian moment, where we all understand that it works, but not how it works,” Mr. Systrom told me, comparing this moment in the tech world to the time before man could explain gravity. “There are certain rules that govern it and we have to make it our priority to understand the rules, or we cannot control it.”

«

link to this extract


Imaginary worlds dreamed by BigGAN • Letting neural networks be weird

Janelle Shane:

»

These are some of the most amazing generated images I’ve ever seen. Introducing BigGAN, a neural network that generates high-resolution, sometimes photorealistic, imitations of photos it’s seen. None of the images below are real – they’re all generated by BigGAN.

The BigGAN paper is still in review so we don’t know who the authors are, but as part of the review process a preprint and some data were posted online. It’s been causing a buzz in the machine learning community. For generated images, their 512×512 pixel resolution is high, and they scored impressively well on a standard benchmark known as Inception. They were able to scale up to huge processing power (512 TPUv3′s), and they’ve also introduced some strategies that help them achieve both photorealism and variety. (They also told us what *didn’t* work, which was nice of them.) Some of the images are so good that the researchers had to check the original ImageNet dataset to make sure it hadn’t simply copied one of its training images – it hadn’t.

Now, the images above were selected for the paper because they’re especially impressive. BigGAN does well on common objects like dogs and simple landscapes where the pose is pretty consistent, and less well on rarer, more-varied things like crowds. But the researchers also posted a huge set of example BigGAN images and some of the less photorealistic ones are the most interesting.

«

Keep reading, though, and you’ll encounter some truly weird images. The clocks are in some ways the oddest: familiar yet wrong. How long before entire films are being generated like this? It would be like a waking dream.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.920: Berners-Lee’s new web plan, how America failed women, Facebook’s breach, US hits tech stasis, Office un-touched, and more


Do these guys think they’re going to succeed with lighting like that? Photo by Arend Kuester on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Why not? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: Tim Berners-Lee tells us his radical new plan to upend the world wide web

Katrina Brooker:

»

Ever since revelations emerged that Facebook had allowed people’s data to be misused by political operatives, Berners-Lee has felt an imperative to get this digital idyll into the real world. In a post published this weekend, Berners-Lee explains that he is taking a sabbatical from MIT to work full time on Inrupt. The company will be the first major commercial venture built off of Solid, a decentralized web platform he and others at MIT have spent years building.

If all goes as planned, Inrupt will be to Solid what Netscape once was for many first-time users of the web: an easy way in. And like with Netscape, Berners-Lee hopes Inrupt will be just the first of many companies to emerge from Solid.

“I have been imagining this for a very long time,” says Berners-Lee. He opens up his laptop and starts tapping at his keyboard. Watching the inventor of the web work at his computer feels like what it might have been like to watch Beethoven compose a symphony: It’s riveting but hard to fully grasp. “We are in the Solid world now,” he says, his eyes lit up with excitement. He pushes the laptop toward me so I too can see.

On his screen, there is a simple-looking web page with tabs across the top: Tim’s to-do list, his calendar, chats, address book. He built this app–one of the first on Solid–for his personal use. It is simple, spare. In fact, it’s so plain that, at first glance, it’s hard to see its significance. But to Berners-Lee, this is where the revolution begins. The app, using Solid’s decentralized technology, allows Berners-Lee to access all of his data seamlessly–his calendar, his music library, videos, chat, research. It’s like a mashup of Google Drive, Microsoft Outlook, Slack, Spotify, and WhatsApp.

The difference here is that, on Solid, all the information is under his control. Every bit of data he creates or adds on Solid exists within a Solid pod–which is an acronym for personal online data store. These pods are what give Solid users control over their applications and information on the web. Anyone using the platform will get a Solid identity and Solid pod. This is how people, Berners-Lee says, will take back the power of the web from corporations.

«

Hmm. Big intentions. Lot of inertia.
link to this extract


Facebook logs 90 million people out of their accounts after security breach • The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

»

The hackers were able to gain access to profile information, such as users’ names, home towns and genders, Facebook said. They may have had access to more information, but Facebook said its investigation is in the early stages. No credit card information was exposed, Facebook executives said, and so far there is no evidence that the attackers sought to access private messages or post fraudulent messages from the accounts.

“This is a serious issue, and we’re committed to addressing it,” said Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. “This underscores that there are constant attacks from people who are trying to take over accounts or steal information from people in our community.”

Facebook said it discovered the breach Tuesday after noticing a spike in user activity on Sept. 16., which prompted engineers to investigate. They found three interlocking bugs on Facebook’s website that attackers had been using to gain access to accounts.

The attackers exploited Facebook’s systems through a flaw in the company’s “View As” feature, the company said, which allows a user to view his or her own profile as somebody else might see it.

Embedded in the “View As” feature was a video uploader that was incorrectly generating security tokens — pieces of code that, under normal circumstances, are designed to let a user remain logged in even after navigating away from Facebook’s website.

«

The uploader being designed to let people send Happy Birthday messages. And those tokens, stolen, could let the hackers log into any service that used Facebook logins. The dangers of monoculture.
link to this extract


Use of internet, social media, digital devices plateaus in US • Pew Research Center

»

The shares of US adults who say they use the internet, use social media, own a smartphone or own a tablet computer are all nearly identical to the shares who said so in 2016. The share who say they have broadband internet service at home currently stands at 65% – nearly identical to the 67% who said this in a survey conducted in summer 2015. And when it comes to desktop or laptop ownership, there has actually been a small dip in the overall numbers over the last two years – from 78% in 2016 to 73% today.

A contributing factor behind this slowing growth is that parts of the population have reached near-saturation levels of adoption of some technologies. Put simply, in some instances there just aren’t many non-users left. For example, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone. And a similar share of those in higher-income households have laptops or desktops.

«

Notice that dip in desktop/laptop use, while tablet use inched up. Although I suspect that tablets plus smartphones have consumed that gap in PC use.

If that’s continued in two years’ time, it’ll be a clear trend. Check back in 2020!
link to this extract


Elon Musk steps down as Tesla’s chairman in settlement with S.E.C. over go-private tweet • The New York Times

Matthew Goldstein:

»

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced the deal two days after it sued Mr. Musk in federal court for misleading investors over his post on Twitter last month that he had “funding secured” for a buyout of the electric-car company at $420 a share.

The deal with the SEC will allow him to remain as chief executive, something he could have jeopardized if he had gone to battle with the agency.

It is not clear why Mr. Musk changed his mind so quickly.

People familiar with the situation, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said lawyers for Mr. Musk and the company moved to reopen the talks with the SEC on Friday. During that time, one of Tesla’s lawyers became instrumental in securing a deal with the SEC, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The whipsaw events of the past few days followed a series of self-inflicted wounds by Mr. Musk.

«

Basically, someone managed to calm Musk down for long enough to tell him that he was going to lose everything if he couldn’t make a concession.

Wonder if they’ve managed to wrestle his Twitter account away from him.
link to this extract


Microsoft puts its touch-friendly Office apps for Windows 10 on hold • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft first started work on its touch-friendly Office apps for Windows 8.1 more than five years ago. Designed for tablets or laptops with touchscreens, the apps are lightweight and speedy versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Microsoft has updated them regularly for Windows 10, but now that the company has halted work on Windows 10 Mobile, it’s also halting work on these Office apps.

The apps aren’t fully dead yet, but Microsoft is no longer developing new features for them. “We are currently prioritizing development for the iOS and Android versions of our apps; and on Windows, we are prioritizing Win32 and web versions of our apps,” explains a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge.

The reprioritization isn’t all that surprising given the state of dedicated universal Windows apps on Windows 10 and the Microsoft Store. These touch-friendly versions of Office were once a great example of what developers could achieve if they made universal Windows apps, but Microsoft now lets developers simply package existing desktop apps and list them in the store.

«

Meanwhile, people are saying “Apple MUST release a touchscreen Mac or it is dead!” Nope. Wasn’t true then, still isn’t true. (Touch-free version of iOS apps, as in Marzipan ones, are a different matter.)
link to this extract


How America failed women • EAnd

Imair Haque:

»

American women are severely underrepresented in positions of power — so much that it’s almost comical. America’s one of the very, very few countries, by this point in history, which has never had a female head of state. Congress is 20% women, but society is 51% women. The Senate is also 20% women, but society is 51% women. Maybe you don’t see my point. Let me make it crystal clear. In Sweden, parliament is 45% women. In Denmark, 40%. In France, 39%. In Germany, 37%. Do you see how stunning this difference is? In the rest of the rich world, women have twice as much political representation — they are almost to the point of true representational parity. But in America, women are not even half people yet, in terms of representational parity.

In fact, even in much poorer countries, women hold far more political power than American women do. In Mozambique and South Africa, women are 40% of legislators. In Vietnam, Mauritania, Kazakhstan, and Laos, 20%-30%. Do you know which country has the same number of women in political office as America? Pakistan. That’s a grim place to be, my friends — let me make it sharper precisely why.

American patriarchy has been spectacularly, singularly successful in keeping power from women. In global terms, it is one of the most successful patriarchies of all — as successful, in the most crucial ways, as a place like Pakistan. Yes, really (no, Pakistani women don’t have to wear niqabs, that’s an American fairy tale.) That lack of rights has had very real consequences, the most significant of which is that American women simply don’t hold much — or nearly enough — power in society. That was the point of refusing to ratify international conventions or constitutional amendments — not to give women rights, and therefore, to keep them relatively socially powerless.

«

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the female Supreme Court Justice, was once asked how many women she thought should be on the court: “nine would be a good number,” she replied. (Nine is the full complement.) For how long? “Oh, only as long as men have had a majority.” (200-odd years.)
link to this extract


Hackers expose frailty of robots • Financial Times

Aliya Ram:

»

In 2017, Lucas Apa and Cesar Cerrudo, security researchers with the consultancy IOActive, showed that the version 2.5.5 of Pepper could be hacked through its software because of vulnerabilities that were discovered when it was connected to a network. They demonstrated that the robot could be controlled remotely, its limbs manipulated and its cameras used to spy on users.

Yet more than a year later, SoftBank has not patched the software, according to an analysis of its change logs by Mr Apa. He told the FT that the Japanese conglomerate had told him it could not fix the problem.

He says: “We were very disappointed by this answer, but we understand that with any new technology it is very hard for manufacturers to get the attention or investment [they need].”

SoftBank says that users were asked to maintain Wi-Fi network security and set robot passwords correctly. “We will continue to improve our security measures on Pepper, so we can counter any risks we may face,” the company says.

Pepper is just one of several robots that Mr Apa and Mr Cerrudo tested last year. They found that others, including those manufactured by UBTech Robotics, Robotis, Universal Robots, Rethink Robotics and Asratec Corp, could be hacked too.

The matter has also been raised by Bundesnetzagentur, the telecoms watchdog in Germany, which last year told parents to destroy talking dolls called Cayla because hackers could use an unsecured Bluetooth device to make the toy reveal personal data.

«

Isn’t this more like “hackers expose frailty of systems”? It’s not particularly the robots.
link to this extract


Apple looks down on ads but takes billions from Google • Bloomberg

Shira Ovide:

»

In new research, [Goldman Sachs] estimated that about $9bn of Apple’s expected 2018 services segment revenue — about one-quarter of the estimated total — has almost nothing to do with Apple itself.

Goldman estimated the $9bn is coming from Google, which pays Apple for the privilege of being the built-in search engine on Apple’s Safari web browsers, on Siri and some other spots on Apple devices. Google constantly talks about the pile of money it’s paying to Apple and others, 1 and Google investors track it fanatically. Apple, by contrast, never talks about its revenue stream from Google, and investors never seem to care about it. If Goldman’s figure is correct, however, it should dent investors’ beliefs about Apple’s business transformation, and it calls into question Apple’s moral proclamations about digital advertising.

Most estimates of Apple’s revenue from Google are more like $3bn to $4bn a year rather than double or triple that figure. But it is true that in its recent financial reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Apple has listed “licensing” as the first in a short list of contributors to sales growth in its services segment. “Licensing” includes the money that Apple is collecting from its search contract with Alphabet Inc.’s Google and other sources, including a legal settlement with Samsung…

…give Apple credit for not itself employing an aggressive system to harvest personal information for advertising purposes. What if instead Apple is generating one-quarter of its services revenue from enabling Google’s aggressive system of harvesting personal information for advertising purposes? Make no mistake — that is what Apple is doing by cashing those 10-figure checks from Google.

That feels worse, because Apple gets to collect a high-profit pile of money from the spoils of digital advertising without having to be accountable for the downsides of that digital advertising system. It’s perfect, and perfectly hypocritical.

«

Neil Cybart, a former Wall St analyst, poured cold water on the $9bn figure (he puts all of Licensing as less than $4bn for all of 2017). As to the “harvesting personal information” – Google doesn’t get location data from phones unless people directly consent. It can’t grab peoples’ information unless they consent. This contrasts starkly with Google tracking people on Android even when they ask it to stop.
link to this extract


What if everything we know about dark matter is totally wrong? • Wired

Katia Moskvitch:

»

Despite huge pots of money being poured since the 1970s into dark matter experiments on, under or above Earth, despite endless late nights spent doing calculations, and despite plenty of media coverage, researchers keep getting nowhere. Apart from SNOLAB, there is the LUX experiment in Lead, South Dakota, one mile underground in an abandoned gold mine. It has obtained zero results. In France, the EDELWEISS experiment in a lab under the French Alps, under 1.7 km of rock, has found nothing. The PandaX experiment in the Jin-Ping sub-terrain laboratory in China hasn’t spotted any particles either. In India, Jaduguda Underground Science Laboratory opened last year, 550 meters below the surface at an operating uranium mine. So far, they have found nothing (well, they’ve only been looking for a year). And on, and on, and on.

The leading theory is that dark matter is made out of particles that interact with normal, atomic, matter or light only through gravity – by exerting a gravitational pull. SuperCDMS will be looking for a very specific type of such exotic particles, so-called WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles. That’s the main (some say most obvious) dark matter candidate several detectors are searching for. Scientists are even trying to create these particles in the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva (which cost nearly $7bn to build). But all in vain.

So just how much longer can researchers justify that they are looking for something unknown and finding nothing, but still get away with asking for more money to look for nothing… just a little bit longer? Well, turns out that for the researchers who have devoted their whole life to dark matter, null results are ultra-important – nearly as important as finding something.

«

If we stopped looking for dark matter, what would happen to all the dark matter articles? I mean, we’d know that the desire to write them was out there, but how would we prove it existed?
link to this extract


Instagram is deciding the future of concerts, says LeRoy Bennett • Rolling Stone

Amy X Wang:

»

Artists these days have a new concern at the forefront of their minds when designing tours and concerts: how they look not just to live audiences — but also to millions, and potentially billions, of people at home. A chief driver of that worry is Instagram.

In the last year, the social media app has added 300 million monthly active users — doubling in size and bringing its total global user count to twice the size of the population of the United States. Of that immense user base, nearly half follow 10 or more verified musicians. And even more are making regularly posts and Instagram stories about music, with concerts a particularly popular photo and video subject. “A show no longer starts when the curtain rises,” entertainment architect Ray Winkler, who designed Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run II tour, told Rolling Stone earlier this summer. “The show starts the moment the first person takes a picture of it.

As Instagram continues on its explosive growth trajectory, artists are employing all sorts of tactics ranging from practical to outlandish to ramp up the visuals of their tours and the create the perfect “Instagram moment,” says longtime concert designer LeRoy Bennett, who’s produced iconic shows for Madonna, Prince, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and a litany of other household names. Rolling Stone caught up with Bennett on how the trend is changing the concert industry — and where it will go from here.

«

Telling quote:

»

It can be a pain in the ass when it comes to the lighting side of things, because artists will look at these Instagrams and they get upset thinking that’s how they looked during the show when someone just took a bad photograph.

«

link to this extract


Google’s new ‘Potential Trips’ will plan a vacation for you • Condé Nast Traveler

Meredith Carey:

»

For two years, Google has been trawling through your emails for hotel bookings, flight reservations, train tickets, and more, packaging them up with a nice pretty bow in its Trips app. Now, it’s taking that personal-assistant thing one step further: by helping you plan “potential trips” in the future, piecing together the on-and-off research you’ve been doing online, Richard Holden, Google’s VP of product management, said at the Skift Global Forum in New York City this morning.

Since there are few details—it will launch on mobile in the U.S. in the “next few weeks”—Holden’s own words can explain it best. “You may have done research on Google a trip to Milan, but you haven’t actually booked it. We have all the research you’ve done—you may have starred things in Maps that you want to visit—so when you go back to Google, you’ll see ‘Upcoming trips’ but you’ll also see ‘Potential trip to Milan,’ which will show all of that recent research you’ve done, so you can pick up where you left off,” he says…

…as Traveler’s Brad Rickman wrote last year when new Trips features rolled out, it was nice to have a travel agent and partner that “actually knows something about [you]—has been there with [you], not just strolling alongside but paying attention.”

«

That is what we want out of these assistants, isn’t it? That they’ll pay attention to what we do.
link to this extract


Forget viewability: your ads aren’t serving • Ad Exchanger

Daniel Rosenblatt is in charge of Uber’s “rider display marketing”:

»

In late Q4, we launched a series of small rich-media-based mobile brand campaigns to dip our toes in the water and establish performance benchmarks. We ran the tests for a few days then reviewed the data. This health check uncovered some odd trends.

First, our click-through rates were almost zero. For in-app static 300x250s with impression and click trackers, we could sometimes see as high as 2% click-through rates (CTRs). But exciting, motion-enabled, dynamic ads were generating sub-0.10% CTRs. It just didn’t make sense. On top of that, incrementality was completely flat across various short-term metrics.

Something was wrong. We were buying significant inventory across well-known, major exchanges, but it was as if our ads weren’t being served at all.

«

When he looked into it, it turned out that publishers were saying their pages could accept any ad, even if they couldn’t; and ad networks weren’t bothering to check.

Upshot: Uber pulled all its ads from the networks that didn’t bother to check. But clearly, there are tons of ads which aren’t being shown. That saying about “50% of my money spent on advertising is wasted”? Still true online, it seems.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.919: tech v democracy, Snapchat snapping?, solve your office Wi-Fi, iOS 12 + XS = fast ML, and more


Give your phone number to Facebook for two-factor authentication, and it will let advertisers target you through it. Photo by Angelos Konstantinidis on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Don’t judge me, I’ll get emotional. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The war between technology & democracy • Medium

Jamie Bartlett:

»

We rightly celebrate how the internet gives us a platform, allows new movements to form, and helps us access new information. These are good things, but don’t be blinded by to the other problems the same technology is creating. Our democracy relies on lots of boring stuff to make it actually work as a system of collective self-government that people believe in and support: a sovereign authority that functions effectively, a healthy political culture, a strong civil society, elections that people trust, active citizens who can make important moral judgements, a relatively strong middle class, and so on. We have built these institutions up over several decades — decades of analogue technology.

Now however we have a new set of technologies — digital technology — which is slowly eroding all of them. It’s not to blame one side or the other — simple to state there’s an incompatibility problem.

This structural problem is far more important than billionaires in Silicon Valley or troll farms in St Petersburg. And if we don’t find a new settlement between tech and democracy, more and more people will simply conclude that democracy no longer really works, and look for something else. This being a lecture series about dictatorship, you won’t be surprised to learn that some new form of dictatorship — a sort of gentle, benevolent data dictatorship — is the most likely candidate for replacing it. Something a little like my father’s efficient but depressing Schedule.

I’ll take three examples of how recently reported problems and explain how they are symptoms of this tech / democracy tension. Let’s start with Cambridge Analytica, one of the biggest stories of 2018, and also one of the most misunderstood.

«

Bartlett is always insightful.
link to this extract


At Snapchat, insiders question the leadership of Evan Spiegel • Wired

Katia Moskvitch:

»

Some insiders describe the atmosphere at Snap as toxic and cut-throat. It’s like “swimming in a shark tank”, says one person familiar with the company’s corporate culture. Overworked staff are being told to do jobs that they’re not skilled for, and then fired left, right and centre because they’re “incompetent”, even though in reality they lack training and are constantly stressed about whether this day could be their last.

For all its scale and notoriety, Snap is still a company that revolves around chief executive and co-founder, 28-year-old Stanford dropout Evan Spiegel, and his system of grace and favours. Are you one of the in-crowd who are invited to Spiegel’s parties? Insiders claim only a few will qualify. They say it’s an incredibly selective environment, which teaches staff to get close to their young boss and earn his appreciation. A spokesperson disputes this, saying that every employee is invited to all the major company parties.

Insiders talk of people who tried to caution Spiegel about the failed app redesign, warning it was unlikely to be popular with consumers. But still, it got rolled out. Of course, sometimes Spiegel’s intuition was right – like the idea for Snapchat’s famous vanishing messages. Lots of people cautioned him against it, but it worked. Maybe it’s this experience that has made Spiegel tend towards an instinctive mistrust of advice, whether good or bad.

The rot seems to go deep. Over the past few months, Snap has been plagued by a long list of executive defections. In January, vice president of product Tom Conrad cleaned up his desk. The company’s chief of engineering, Stuart Bowers, left in May to join Tesla. Chief financial officer Drew Vollero bolted the same month and was replaced by former Amazon executive Tim Stone. Chief strategy officer Imran Khan is the latest to go, announcing he will soon leave after three years at the company. Similar claims about Snap’s corporate culture have also been published by The Information and Bloomberg.

«

It’s even got a name: “founder’s syndrome”. A bit like music’s “Lead Singer’s Disease”. (Lead as in dogs, not the metal.)
link to this extract


Facebook is giving advertisers access to your shadow contact information • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill:

»

Last week, I ran an ad on Facebook that was targeted at a computer science professor named Alan Mislove. Mislove studies how privacy works on social networks and had a theory that Facebook is letting advertisers reach users with contact information collected in surprising ways. I was helping him test the theory by targeting him in a way Facebook had previously told me wouldn’t work. I directed the ad to display to a Facebook account connected to the landline number for Alan Mislove’s office, a number Mislove has never provided to Facebook. He saw the ad within hours.


What Facebook told Alan Mislove about the ad I targeted at his office landline number
Screenshot: Facebook (Alan Mislove)

One of the many ways that ads get in front of your eyeballs on Facebook and Instagram is that the social networking giant lets an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file; it will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information… Facebook calls this a “custom audience.”

…Giridhari Venkatadri, Piotr Sapiezynski, and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, along with Elena Lucherini of Princeton University, did a series of tests that involved handing contact information over to Facebook for a group of test accounts in different ways and then seeing whether that information could be used by an advertiser. They came up with a novel way to detect whether that information became available to advertisers by looking at the stats provided by Facebook about the size of an audience after contact information is uploaded. They go into this in greater length and technical detail in their paper.

They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user’s account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks.

«

That two-factor authentication detail is truly shocking.
link to this extract


Ex-Google employee urges lawmakers to take on company • The New York Times

Kate Conger:

»

In a harshly worded letter sent this week, the former employee, Jack Poulson, criticized Google’s handling of a project to build a version of its search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China. He said the project was a “catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process.”

He said lawmakers should increase transparency and oversight of the company and technology industry, saying that there is a “broad pattern of unaccountable decision making.”

Dr. Poulson left the company after news articles revealed the existence of the project last month. It was first reported on by the Intercept news site.
Google’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, testified on Wednesday before a congressional committee about the company’s approach to data protection. Executives from Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Twitter and Charter Communications also appeared at the hearing.

Dr. Poulson said the Chinese project, called Dragonfly, had several “disturbing components.” A prototype, he said, would allow a partner company in China to view a person’s search history based on his or her phone number. He said the project also censored an extensive list of subjects that included information about air quality and China’s president, Xi Jinping…

Google left China in 2010, denouncing government censorship. That year the company also said it had discovered that Chinese hackers had attacked the company’s corporate infrastructure.

“It should be pretty obvious that they should be asked what changed between 2010 and today,” said Cynthia Wong, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

«

That last one is a zinger, it must be said.
link to this extract


How Triplebyte solved its office Wi-Fi problems • Triplebyte Blog

Mike Robbins:

»

Our team just moved to a larger office in downtown San Francisco. On moving day, I was shocked to discover a bundle of rough-cut unterminated ethernet cables on one end, ripped-out punch-down jacks on the other, no uplink, and no Wi-Fi!

There’s no IT team at startups, and as software engineers, we might be called on to step up in a pinch. Here’s a smorgasbord of suggestions — some well-known and others obscure — that helped me get a reliable network running fast.

«

These are all fascinating discoveries – especially about how to get the same Wi-Fi network to appear to be all over the office.
link to this extract


Bizarre particles keep flying out of Antarctica’s ice, and they might shatter modern physics • Live Science

Rafi Letzer:

»

Physicists don’t know what it is exactly. But they do know it’s some sort of cosmic ray — a high-energy particle that’s blasted its way through space, into the Earth, and back out again. But the particles physicists know about — the collection of particles that make up what scientists call the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics — shouldn’t be able to do that. Sure, there are low-energy neutrinos that can pierce through miles upon miles of rock unaffected. But high-energy neutrinos, as well as other high-energy particles, have “large cross-sections.” That means that they’ll almost always crash into something soon after zipping into the Earth and never make it out the other side.

And yet, since March 2016, researchers have been puzzling over two events in Antarctica where cosmic rays did burst out from the Earth, and were detected by NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) — a balloon-borne antenna drifting over the southern continent.

ANITA is designed to hunt cosmic rays from outer space, so the high-energy neutrino community was buzzing with excitement when the instrument detected particles that seemed to be blasting up from Earth instead of zooming down from space. Because cosmic rays shouldn’t do that, scientists began to wonder whether these mysterious beams are made of particles never seen before.

«

As long as it’s only particles, I’m OK with it.
link to this extract


Crypto mining giant Bitmain reveals heady growth as it files for IPO • TechCrunch

Jon Russell:

»

After months of speculation, Bitmain — the world’s largest provider of crypto miners — has opened the inner details of its business after it submitted its IPO prospectus with the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. And some of the growth numbers are insane.

The document doesn’t specify how much five-year-old Bitmain is aiming to raise from its listing — that’ll come later — but it does lift the lid on the incredible business growth that the company saw as the crypto market grew massively in 2017. Although that also comes with a question: can that growth continue in this current bear market?

The company grossed more than $2.5bn in revenue last year, a near-10X leap on the $278m it claims for 2016. Already, it said revenue for the first six months of this year surpassed $2.8bn.

Bitmain is best known for its ‘Antminer’ devices — which allow the owner to mine for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — and that accounts for most of its revenue: 77% in 2016, 90% in 2017, and 94% in the first half of 2018.

«

Great that bitcoin has finally got rid of all that nasty centralisation.
link to this extract


iOS 12 Core ML benchmarks • Heartbeat

Jameson Toole:

»

At Fritz, we collect performance data every time a model is run on a user’s device to make sure that experiences are consistent. I went and looked at real world data from our open-source Heartbeat app to see how each Apple device stacked up.


Core ML performance by device. Higher is better. Note the y-axis is logarithmic. Data from Fritz.

This Core ML model runs over 10X faster on the A12 processor in the iPhone XS Max compared with the iPhone X. The model above performs object detection, and results vary from model to model. The smallest speed-up I saw was around 5x. I also found it interesting that the A10X Fusion processor in the 2018 iPad beat out the iPhone X. In other benchmarks, the processors appear fairly similar, but perhaps there are differences in memory.

«

That’s incredible: a 10-fold increase in a generation. From iOS 11 to iOS 12, there’s a 38% increase in speed for these models. Toole concludes:

»

We’re just at the beginning of an incredible wave of mobile experiences powered by on-device machine learning. Processors like the A12 are going to make it happen.

«

link to this extract


Lessons from losing a week of photos to memory card failure • QT Luong’s Blog

Mr Luong:

»

Landscape expeditions can be taxing in the long days of summer, even more so if you are also doing night photography. After flying to Seattle, I arrived at the coast of Olympic National Park around 11 PM – many view Treasured Lands as a culmination of my work in the national parks, but I am far from being done with them! Seeking stars, I woke up before 2 AM for the short window between moonset and astronomical twilight. However, the marine layer had rolled in while I was hiking to the beach, and I shivered until past sunrise time without even seeing a sliver of sky. The next day, since I had to drive from Heart of the Hills Campground and hike 45 minutes to Hurricane Hill, I rose before 1 AM.

[He captured a beautiful shot. Click through the headline to see it.]

On the last day, temperatures in the inland plains of Hanford Reach rose above 100F. When I came home from the week-long trip, I went straight to bed. The next morning, I reached for my cameras, took the memory card out, and inserted into the card reader. This resulted in the dreaded…

«

Uh-oh. Though his experience was very unusual.
link to this extract


Fancy Bear, the Russian election hackers, have a nasty new weapon • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:

»

The malware, uncovered by the European security company ESET, works by rewriting the code flashed into a computer’s UEFI chip, a small slab of silicon on the motherboard that controls the boot and reboot process. Its apparent purpose is to maintain access to a high-value target in the event the operating system gets reinstalled or the hard drive replaced—changes that would normally kick out an intruder.  

It’s proof that the hackers known as Fancy Bear “may be even more dangerous than previously thought,” company researchers wrote in a blog post. They’re set to present a paper on the malware at the Blue Hat security conference Thursday…

…The first public whiff of Russia’s new malware emerged last March, when Arbor Networks’ ASERT team reported finding malware designed to look like a component of the theft-recovery app Absolute LoJack.

Absolute LoJack works much like Apple’s Find My iPhone app, allowing laptop owners to attempt to geo-locate a computer after a theft, or to remotely wipe their sensitive files from the missing machine. The hackers copied one piece of the app, a background process that maintains contact with Absolute Software’s server, and changed it to report to Fancy Bear’s command-and-control servers instead.

ESET researchers call the malware LoJax. They suspected they were seeing just one piece of a larger puzzle, and started looking for additional LoJax components in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where LoJax was popping up on hacked machines alongside better-known Fancy Bear implants like Seduploader, X-Agent, and X-Tunnel.

They found a new component of LoJax designed to access technical details of a computer’s UEFI chip, and surmised that Fancy Bear was moving to the motherboard. Eventually they found the proof in another component called “ReWriter_binary” that actually rewrote vulnerable UEFI chips, replacing the vendor code with Fancy Bear’s code.

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link to this extract


Marzipan • Benjamin Mayo

The aforementioned Mayo on the layer that gets iOS apps to be rewritten for MacOS:

»

Marzipan apps are ugly ducklings. As soon as you use them, you can just know these are not at one with the system. You detect that there’s a translation layer of some kind at work here, just like when you use Slack on the Mac you instinctively feel that it’s a web app in a thin wrapper. The underlying implementation is exposed to the user with a bevy of performance sluggishness, UI quirks and non-standard behaviours. That’s bad.

I launch News. I see a window with a reasonable lineup of platform-standard toolbar controls, although I notice that the title of the window is ‘News’. This is a little odd as modern Mac design generally means that the application name is not repeated in the window itself. The title represents the active visible content inside the window, or they simply might not have a visible title at all. Not a universal rule, but certainly not the norm.

Then, only a few pixels down the screen, is the words Apple News repeated again, this time in all-caps. ‘News’ in the menubar, ‘News’ in the titlebar, ‘Apple News’ in the sidebar. Is the word News redundantly displayed in these three different places because that’s what makes sense for the Mac UI? I’d wager it is not a design choice. I think it’s pretty clear that Apple News is in the sidebar because the sidebar is a wholesale port of the iPad interface. iOS on the iPad doesn’t have a menubar or a titlebar, so it isn’t uncommon for apps to put their branding in the app itself. Why is News in the titlebar? In this case, I suspect the Marzipan system houses apps in a window with a titlebar, and it automatically populates the window with the display name of the bundle. Home is the only app of the new set that bucks this pattern, instead using a segmented control as the centred toolbar item.

This first point is arguably a nitpicky detail, but it’s emblematic of the problem I have with these apps.

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Being nitpicky is not just for mobile OS users. When something just looks wrong, it bugs people.
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Tariffs start to drag on US economy as trade deficit widens • Bloomberg

Sho Chandra:

»

Economists at Amherst Pierpont Securities and Capital Economics trimmed their estimates for gross domestic product growth this quarter. Before Thursday’s data, the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was for 3% expansion.

While analysts said the trade deficit partly reflected an expected drop in soybean exports following a second-quarter surge ahead of Chinese-imposed tariffs, and economic growth is projected to remain solid, the numbers illustrate how the trade war is spurring volatility in the data. In addition, the widening deficit runs contrary to Trump’s aim of a narrower gap and underscores the challenges of achieving that goal amid strong domestic demand — which tends to boost imports — and retaliatory tariffs from abroad.

“The data are grim,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd., said in a note, referring to the August goods trade gap. “The administration’s narrative, that the second-quarter drop in the deficit was a result of their trade policies, has now fallen apart, as it was always likely to do.”

…While economists say it may be too early to detect the exact impact from trade disputes, the data bear watching as the headwind and uncertainty look unlikely to dissipate. Thursday’s reports come after the US and China imposed tariffs on each other in late August, which followed others implemented in early July. The US added tariffs on another $200bn of Chinese imports this week – the largest escalation of the trade war so far.

«

This is only the effects of the very earliest tariffs, from July and a little from August. The bigger impact is yet to come. Though economists will be delighted to have a laboratory where they can demonstrate what tariffs do to an economy.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.918: WhatsApp co-founder vents, FB Messenger chief vents back, the good-bad Apple News news, is Shazam an AR trojan horse?, and more


This iconic potato peeler came from a radical realisation about users. Photo by Andy Melton on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. J’accuse! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple News is giving the media everything it wants—except money • Slate

Will Oremus:

»

Sources at several news outlets say they’ve seen their audience on Apple News multiply in 2018 alone. Some now say it has become one of their top traffic sources, alongside Facebook and Google. At Slate, which disclosed its data for this story, page views on Apple News have roughly tripled since September 2017, and the app recently surpassed Facebook as a driver of readership.

Conversations with social media consultants and people who work in audience development at major publications, along with recent reports by other outlets, suggest Slate is not an outlier—which is why many news organizations are now making Apple News an important part of their strategy to reach as large an audience as possible.

There is, of course, a catch. Whereas Facebook sent hordes of readers from its news feed to publishers’ websites, Apple tends to keep them inside its app. And so far, publishers have found that’s not a lucrative place to be. Although Apple allows publishers to sell ads within their stories—and partnered two years ago with NBCUniversal to sell “backfill” ads in slots that the publishers don’t fill themselves—several sources at media outlets told me that they’re seeing little to no revenue from Apple News.

The problem, publishers say, is that the NBCUniversal partnership isn’t yielding much money, and Apple doesn’t make it particularly easy for publishers to fill their own unsold inventory. Apple News doesn’t support some of the common ad systems that dominate ad sales on the web, and not all media companies find it worthwhile to develop and sell ads specifically for Apple News. (Those that do can keep all the revenue or they can let Apple sell them, in which case Apple takes a 30% cut.) As Matt Karolian, the Boston Globe’s director of new initiatives, told me, “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

«

Oremus calculates that “Slate makes more money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it does from the 6 million page views it receives on Apple News in an average month.”
link to this extract


Watch out, algorithms: Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson unveil The Markup, their plan for investigating tech’s societal impacts • Nieman Journalism Lab

Christine Schmidt interviewed Julia Angwin, who left ProPublica to set up the new site:

»

ANGWIN: …We have an idea about how journalism should be. It’s much more tech-focused than any newsroom, even though ProPublica is the most tech-infused newsroom out there. We want to take it to another level.

SCHMIDT: What is that next level? What are the nuts and bolts of how this organization will operate differently?

ANGWIN: We describe ourselves as doing journalism that is based on the scientific method. The idea is that objectivity has been a false god for journalism for a long time. It started out as a decent idea, but it’s led to a lot of what people call false equivalents. I think journalism needs a new guiding light, a new philosophical approach, and I think that approach should be the scientific method. What that really means is we develop a hypothesis. Maybe the hypothesis is: ‘Brett Kavanaugh. Did he actually harass a woman or not?’ Then you collect evidence — how much evidence is there for and against this. Then you describe the limitations of your evidence: ‘So far the evidence is only one/two people.’
It doesn’t have to be ‘he said, she said.’ It’s more about: this is the amount of evidence to support this hypothesis, and then here are the limitations of this. There are always limitations to our findings. Even though climate change is well accepted scientifically, there are limitations for those findings as well. That’s our goal, to try to frame our journalism around that.

What that means in practice is having people with technical and statistical skills involved in an investigation from the outset. So much of what happens in traditional newsrooms, in every newsroom I’ve ever worked in, is that there’s a data desk. A reporter goes over to the desk and basically orders data like it’s a hamburger. Usually by then, the reporter has already done the reporting and has a hypothesis based on the anecdotes. Then, if the data doesn’t support it, there’s a fight between them and the data desk. Or, more often, there’s not even data available.

«

This sounds fantastic. (Not for everyone, of course.) Data journalism – where the story comes from the data – is enormously satisfying when it comes right. Some of my best stories have come from interpreting public documents: the story’s in there, you just have to listen to what the numbers are saying.
link to this extract


A history of the OXO Good Grips peeler • Fast Company

Mark Wilson heard the story of how the thick-handled swivel peeler was designed, told by Davin Stowell, talking about the designer Sam Farber:

»

[Farber] and his wife Betsey spent a month cooking and enjoying the French countryside. One night I’m in my office, it’s 7:30 p.m., and I get a call from Sam. He’s in France, where its 1:30. in the morning, and he’s incredibly excited.

He was cooking with Betsey, she had arthritis, and she was complaining about the peeler, complaining that it was hurting her hands. As I remember, it was an apple tart, though Betsey claims it wasn’t an apple tart. But that’s what Sam claimed to me.

She was frustrated. The old-style metal peeler wasn’t good. Her background was in architecture and design. I think she initiated the idea of, “Sam, can you do something about this? Make a better handle.” She grabbed some clay and started on her own. She recognized: “This is something that could be made better, and my husband used to be a housewares executive, and he should do something about it.” She was very involved in looking at things, trying things, and giving her input along the way.

It instantly dawned on him, here’s an opportunity to make a product. Nothing had really been done in a serious way with kitchen gadgets. They were either cheap items that didn’t work very well, or if they were more expensive, they might be designed with a steel instead of plastic handle, but they didn’t actually work any better than the cheap stuff.

Here’s something he could do to help people, he thought. So he wanted me to get started on it immediately. He knew he had to do a full line of tools. It couldn’t be just a peeler, it had to be 15 to 20 different tools so it could occupy enough wall space at retail to get attention.

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Large-handled grips seems so obvious in retrospect, but you need designers who are working with people who have arthritis for it to be obvious when it’s not there.
link to this extract


Exclusive: WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton gives the inside story on #DeleteFacebook and why he left $850m behind • Forbes

Parmy Olson, with a hell of a scoop – and what timing:

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“At the end of the day, I sold my company,” Acton says. “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

Despite a transfer of several billion dollars, Acton says he never developed a rapport with Zuckerberg. “I couldn’t tell you much about the guy,” he says. In one of their dozen or so meetings, Zuck told Acton unromantically that WhatsApp, which had a stipulated degree of autonomy within the Facebook universe and continued to operate for a while out of its original offices, was “a product group to him, like Instagram.”

So Acton didn’t know what to expect when Zuck beckoned him to his office last September, around the time Acton told Facebook brass that he planned to leave. Acton and Koum had a clause in their contract that allowed them to get all their stock, which was being doled out over four years, if Facebook began “implementing monetization initiatives” without their consent.

To Acton, invoking this clause seemed simple. The Facebook-WhatsApp pairing had been a head-scratcher from the start. Facebook has one of the world’s biggest advertising networks; Koum and Acton hated ads. Facebook’s added value for advertisers is how much it knows about its users; WhatsApp’s founders were pro-privacy zealots who felt their vaunted encryption had been integral to their nearly unprecedented global growth.

This dissonance frustrated Zuckerberg. Facebook, Acton says, had decided to pursue two ways of making money from WhatsApp. First, by showing targeted ads in WhatsApp’s new Status feature, which Acton felt broke a social compact with its users. “Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy,” he says. His motto at WhatsApp had been “No ads, no games, no gimmicks”—a direct contrast with a parent company that derived 98% of its revenue from advertising. Another motto had been “Take the time to get it right,” a stark contrast to “Move fast and break things.”

«

The lawyer who was there with Zuck disagreed about the clause. So Acton left, with $850m of shares unvested. He had preferred a “metered” system for monetising WhatsApp – you’d pay per message past a certain number. Sheryl Sandberg said “it won’t scale”. (To be honest, I agree with her.)

There’s lots more fascinating detail in this piece. Very instructive about how Facebook has changed.
link to this extract


The other side of the [WhatsApp] story • David Marcus on Facebook

Marcus, former head of Facebook Messenger, introduced this Facebook posting with a tweet saying “I just couldn’t take it any more, so here’s the other side of the story Brian Acton has been telling”:

»

WhatsApp founders requested a completely different office layout when their team moved on campus. Much larger desks and personal space, a policy of not speaking out loud in the space, and conference rooms made unavailable to fellow Facebookers nearby. This irritated people at Facebook, but Mark personally supported and defended it.

Second — on encryption. The global roll-out of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark’s full support. Yes, Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned. I witnessed Mark defending it a number of internal meetings where there was pushback — never for advertising or data collection reasons but for concerns about safety — and even in Board Meetings. Mark’s view was that WhatsApp was a private messaging app, and encryption helped ensure that people’s messages were truly private.

Third — on the business model. I was present in a lot of these meetings. Again, Mark protected WhatsApp for a very long period of time. And you have to put this in the context of a large organization with businesses knocking on our door to have the ability to engage and communicate with their customers on WhatsApp the same way they were doing it on Messenger. During this time, it became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it. In my view, if you’re passionate about a certain path — in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it — and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it. And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view…

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He also calls Acton “low-class” for attacking Facebook, “the company and people that made you a billionaire”.

Also well worth reading: ex-purchased-by-Facebook-startup-person-who-exited Antonio Garcia Martinez weighs in with a Twitter thread about the differences between Acton and Marcus.
link to this extract


Facebook’s recent ‘bear hug’ of Instagram frustrated its independent founders • Recode

Kurt Wagner:

»

Over the past year, both Systrom and Krieger have grown increasingly frustrated and agitated with Zuckerberg and Facebook’s increased influence over the app, according to multiple sources. One characterized it as “bizarre meddling” that hurt morale within the unit.

Specifically, there were worries that Facebook’s moves were hurting the app’s growth — perhaps even intentionally — through some of the company’s product updates and marketing changes, these sources said.

That included a throttling back of Instagram’s promotion inside the Facebook app, apparently ordered by Zuckerberg, that dropped weekly referrals significantly by hundreds of thousands of users.

Systrom was also frustrated with a recent Facebook change to how posts are shared between the two apps. Previously, photos shared to Facebook via Instagram included a label identifying the photo as an Instagram photo, presumably to encourage people to visit or download Instagram. That label was recently removed, which made it appear as though people were posting those photos directly to Facebook and not to Facebook via Instagram.

It was a small tweak, but it was a big deal inside of Instagram, according to multiple sources. Systrom — who has historically been hands-on with all the aspects of the app — disagreed with the decision, and even posted as much on the internal company Facebook page. The feeling of some was that Facebook wasn’t promoting Instagram, and even taking credit for engagement that Instagram was driving.

«

This take makes a lot of sense. Systrom might have taken a lot, but feeling that his (joint) creation was being ignored, having done the hard work of seeing off Snapchat, must surely have rankled.

And he left just before the next big problem…
link to this extract


Instagram has a drug problem. Its algorithms make it worse • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

»

Recent searches on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, for hashtags of the names of drugs — such as #oxy, #percocet, #painkillers, #painpills, #oxycontin, #adderall and #painrelief — revealed thousands of posts by a mash-up of people grappling with addiction, those bragging about their party going lifestyle and enticements from drug dealers.

Following the dealer accounts, or even liking one of the dealer posts, prompted Instagram’s algorithms to work as designed — in this case, by filling up a person’s feed with posts for drugs, suggesting other sellers to follow and introducing new hashtags, such as #xansforsale. Ads from some of the country’s largest brands, including Target, Chase and Procter & Gamble, as well as Facebook’s own video streaming service, appeared next to posts illegally selling pills.

Even as top executives from Facebook and Twitter, which has also long struggled with posts offering drugs illegally, promised earlier this month in a congressional hearing that they were cracking down on sales of opioids and other drugs, their services appeared to be open marketplaces for advertising such content. Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said her company was “firmly against” such activity. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said he was “looking deeply” at how drug-selling spreads on the site.

But activists and other groups have warned tech companies about illegal drug sales on their platforms for years. In recent months, lawmakers, the Food and Drug Administration and some advertisers have stepped into the fray. In April, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb charged Internet companies with not “taking practical steps to find and remove opioid listings.” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) called social media companies “reckless,” saying, “It is past time they put human life above profit and finally institute measures that crack down on these harmful practices, preventing the sale of illegal narcotics on or through their platforms.”

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link to this extract


Why did Apple spend $400M to acquire Shazam? • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

in 2016, Shazam’s new foray into marketing was compelling enough to raise $30m in new funding from investors, giving the company a unicorn valuation of $1bn. The fact that Apple subsequently paid “only” $400m for it makes the deal sound like a bargain.

Last year, Shazam made an additional step, embracing Augmented Reality. Now, rather that just taking users to a standard website, it could use its Shazam Codes (or visual recognition of products or posters) to launch an engaging experience right in the camera, layering what the camera sees with “augmented” graphics synced to the movement of the user’s device.

Now users could identify a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and see it animate botanicals in front of them, while also suggesting cocktail recipes.

Another Shazam campaign in Australia, for Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” delivered a Spotify playlist “mixtape” along with presenting the movie trailer and an opportunity to buy tickets. A campaign in Spain let users animate Fanta billboards in AR using their phones. And a Hornitos tequila app used a mini-game, rendered in ARKit, to award discounts on purchases.

Given Apple’s interest in building traction for ARKit, which launched last fall as the world’s largest AR platform, it seems pretty clear that Apple bought Shazam, not really for any particular technology as Apple has already developed its own core visual recognition engine for iOS, but because Shazam has developed significant relationships with global brands to make use of AR as a way to engage with audiences.

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Hmm. The valuation for Shazam was always a bit dubious, though as he points out the $400m is (by Apple’s standards) a lot of money. If Apple really wants Shazam for its AR (and let’s face it, the purchase price wouldn’t make sense if it’s just on music recognition) then things got interesting.
link to this extract


Compal to begin production of Apple Watch Series 4 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Adam Hwang:

»

With Quanta Computer’s capacity for the Apple Watch Series 4 at its factory in Changshu, eastern China fully loaded, the wearable’s second supplier Compal Electronics reportedly will begin mass production of the smartwatch in November 2018, according to industry sources.

Quanta and Compal both declined to comment on its clients or orders.

Some market watchers noted that Apple sold around 4.2 million Apple Watches worldwide in the second quarter of 2018 and the device’s global shipments are estimated to arrive at 18.0-19.5m units in 2018. Currently, the Apple Watch has a share of 35% in worldwide smartwatch shipments.

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I’d ignore the numbers in there (the “share” depends on who you ask, as does the total) and focus on the fact: Apple’s got one factory now making Watches at its full capacity, and it’s getting a second online. That means it expects to sell a very great many more in the coming months – which, given the larger screen and faster processor and better waterproofing, wouldn’t be a surprise. Remember how you didn’t see anyone wearing AirPods, and now you do? Going to be the same with the Watch.
link to this extract


Google promises Chrome changes after privacy complaints • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»

“We’ve heard — and appreciate — your feedback from the last few days, and we’ll be making some product changes,” tweeted Parisa Tabriz, a security team leader at Google.

Google added in a blog post Tuesday evening that it will add new options and explanations for its interface and reverse one Chrome cookie-hoarding policy that undermined people’s attempts to clear those cookies.

The situation shows the difficulties Google faces offering both the most widely used browser and one of the most powerful online advertising empires. Chrome is a powerful tool that lets websites gather the kind of personal information that makes it possible for advertisers to target ads for a particular audience. But Google operates some of the biggest online sites out there, and Chrome itself, if unfettered, has a view into our most private online activity.

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It also – in the current version – doesn’t delete Google signin cookies even if you try to clear the cookies in Chrome. Which means Google can keep tracking you. (This was the subject of the Safari cookie lawsuit in the UK, and the US, where Google hacked Safari so that a Google signin would also be a DoubleClick advertising signin.)
link to this extract


Why were lettuce supply chains in the New York Times? • Bloomberg Gadfly

Matt Levine on that IBM-Walmart story from Tuesday:

»

the more complicated challenge is that Walmart wants to track lettuce not only when it is in Walmart’s hands but also at every step of the supply chain: “By this time next year, more than 100 farms that supply Walmart with leafy green vegetables will be required to input detailed information” into the database. This is not a big technological problem—it’s just some more inputs to the database—but it is a logistical and contractual problem. Walmart has to get its suppliers to agree (and to get their suppliers to agree, etc.) to make inputs into the database, and teach them how to use it, and give them passwords, and check that they are inputting information correctly. Database design is an element of the solution here—you want to make the database easy to use and hard to mess up, and you want to give the suppliers access rights only to input data about their lettuce, while only Walmart (and IBM) has the complete view of the whole supply chain—but it is not necessarily the hardest part; the hard part is the social and commercial work of getting the farmers to agree to do a new annoying thing. If you are Walmart, though, I guess that part’s not so hard either: The farmers really want to sell to you, so they’ll jump through some hoops.

Anyway it is all pretty interesting, as a case study in supply-chain management and database design, but I have to say that you don’t generally read a lot of stories about supply-chain management and database design in the New York Times. I can’t quite figure out why they were interested in this one. Can you?

«

That’s right, it’s because it used the chainblock. Have I got the jargon right?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.917: Google searches for the future, Walmart goes blockchain-y, teens on Kavanaugh, AirPower lives?, Instagram’s real CEO, and more


Wisconsin attempts to “get out the vote” worked in a way they might not have expected. Photo by AIGA Wisconsin on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Laugh all you like. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google search revamp: Expect to see ton of new features on your phone • ZDNet

Liam Tung:

»

Google has renamed its news feed on the mobile app ‘Discover’ and is bringing the feature to its homepage on all mobile browsers.

The revamped mobile experience is being rolled out as part of Google’s 20th anniversary, and builds on the feed introduced to its mobile app last year.

The feed contains a list of suggested news items beneath the search box in the app. But until now people who primarily use Google search through a browser didn’t see Google’s suggestions.

Bringing the Discover feed to all mobile browsers will mark a significant change in how iPhone and Android users engage with the site, which Google wants people to use not just for search but as a general discovery tool.

The new mobile site is rolling out in the next few weeks, according to Google.

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There’s a (typically?) slightly strange blogpost from Google about hitting 20 years, where the faintly worrying part is that it says it’s going to have a “fundamental” shift in search which have “the shift from answers to journeys”. (The entire focus is on mobile; the desktop is forgotten.) It’s written by the head of search, rather than Sundar Pichai or those McCavitys, Brin and Page.
link to this extract


How Russia helped swing the election for Trump • The New Yorker

Jane Mayer:

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Politicians may be too timid to explore the subject, but a new book from, of all places, Oxford University Press promises to be incendiary. “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know,” by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, dares to ask—and even attempts to answer—whether Russian meddling had a decisive impact in 2016. Jamieson offers a forensic analysis of the available evidence and concludes that Russia very likely delivered Trump’s victory.

The book, which is coming out less than two months before the midterm elections, at a moment when polls suggest that some sixty% of voters disapprove of Trump, may well reignite the question of Trump’s electoral legitimacy. The President’s supporters will likely characterize the study as an act of partisan warfare. But in person Jamieson, who wears her gray hair in a pixie cut and favors silk scarves and matronly tweeds, looks more likely to suspend a troublemaker than to be one. She is seventy-one, and has spent forty years studying political speeches, ads, and debates. Since 1993, she has directed the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at Penn, and in 2003 she co-founded FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan watchdog group. She is widely respected by political experts in both parties, though her predominantly male peers have occasionally mocked her scholarly intensity, calling her the Drill Sergeant. As Steven Livingston, a professor of political communication at George Washington University, puts it, “She is the epitome of a humorless, no-nonsense social scientist driven by the numbers. She doesn’t bullshit. She calls it straight.”

Indeed, when I met recently with Jamieson, in a book-lined conference room at the Annenberg Center, in Philadelphia, and asked her point-blank if she thought that Trump would be President without the aid of Russians, she didn’t equivocate. “No,” she said, her face unsmiling. Clearly cognizant of the gravity of her statement, she clarified, “If everything else is a constant? No, I do not.”

«

It is quite a claim, indeed. But so few votes – 80,000 in three states – made the difference in the 2016 election that the only question is how little effect Russia’s messing about would have needed to make the crucial difference.
link to this extract


Walmart is betting on the blockchain to improve food safety • TechCrunch

Ron Miller:

»

Most supply chains are bogged down in manual processes. This makes it difficult and time consuming to track down an issue should one like the E. coli romaine lettuce problem from last spring rear its head. By placing a supply chain on the blockchain, it makes the process more traceable, transparent and fully digital. Each node on the blockchain could represent an entity that has handled the food on the way to the store, making it much easier and faster to see if one of the affected farms sold infected supply to a particular location with much greater precision.

Walmart has been working with IBM for over a year on using the blockchain to digitize the food supply chain process. In fact, supply chain is one of the premiere business use cases for blockchain (beyond digital currency). Walmart is using the IBM Food Trust Solution, specifically developed for this use case…

…Before moving the process to the blockchain, it typically took approximately 7 days to trace the source of food. With the blockchain, it’s been reduced to 2.2 seconds. That substantially reduces the likelihood that infected food will reach the consumer…

…Suppliers don’t have to be blockchain experts by any means. They simply have to know how to upload data to the blockchain application.

“IBM will offer an onboarding system that orients users with the service easily. Think about when you get a new iPhone – the instructions are easy to understand and you’re quickly up and running. That’s the aim here. Essentially, suppliers will need a smart device and internet to participate,” [IBM’s sr VP for Global Industries, Platforms and Blockchain Bridget van Kralingen] said.

«

IBM’s involvement gets my spidey-sense tingling: it’s after anything that sounds big and futuristic. Even if this could be done with some RFID tags, a SIM card and a database. (A blockchain is just a database, in fact, but with a traceable update record.) Let’s check back in a year or so.
link to this extract


Creating new policies together • Twitter

Vijaya Gadde is Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead at Twitter, and Del Harvey is its VP of Trust & Safety:

»

In the past, we’ve created our rules with a rigorous policy development process; it involves in-depth research and partnership with the members of our Trust and Safety Council and other experts to ensure these policies best serve every person on the service. Now, we’re trying something new by asking everyone for feedback on a policy before it’s part of the Twitter Rules.

For the last three months, we have been developing a new policy to address dehumanizing language on Twitter. Language that makes someone less than human can have repercussions off the service, including normalizing serious violence.

«

There’s a very quick survey for you to take; open until October 9. Wonder if Trump calling people “dogs” applies, since it’s certainly dehumanising.
link to this extract


The Kavanaugh accusations: what teens think • The Atlantic

Joe Pinsker:

»

Stephen L. Miller, a writer for Fox News’s website, tweeted that the allegations didn’t amount to sexual assault, but rather “drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven.” The radio-show host and columnist Dennis Prager advised his readers not to be shocked if a future Republican nominee “is accused of sexual misconduct … from when he was in elementary school.” Going back to an even earlier developmental stage to make her point, the Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wondered, “What’s next, his potty training?” On Instagram, Donald Trump Jr. engaged in his own infantilizing of Ford’s accusations, likening the scene she described to the result of a schoolyard crush.

These statements were intended to diminish the seriousness of what Ford alleged happened, but, intentionally or not, they also diminish a whole category of humans: teenagers. And many teenagers, as they themselves are proud to report, have a sophisticated, nuanced understanding of sex and consent—one that invalidates the low expectations that so many adults appear to have of them.

As they’ve watched the week’s news unfold, some of them have gotten frustrated. “They just keep saying ‘He was in high school—boys will be boys,’” says Maurielle, a 17-year-old from Houston. “But I’m in high school—I don’t want that to happen to me.” She went on, “It feels alienating reading what’s happening, because they’re blaming so much on the fact that they were in high school and they were young.” Julianna, a 17-year-old from outside of Pittsburgh, said she also rejected what she called “the whole ‘But maybe they didn’t know better at that age’ argument.” (I am referring to Maurielle, Julianna, and the other teenagers interviewed for this article only by their first name, to protect their identities.)

«

What these teenagers think of Kavanaugh will colour what they think of the people who (one expects, with some confidence) will confirm him. If you ever wondered how politicians lose the trust of those they are meant to work for, it’s by actions like this.
link to this extract


Inside the private Justice Department meeting that could lead to new investigations of Facebook, Google and other tech giants • The Washington Post

Brian Fung and Tony Romm:

»

A meeting of the country’s top federal and state law enforcement officials on Tuesday could presage sweeping new investigations of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and their tech industry peers, stemming from lingering frustrations that these companies are too big, fail to safeguard users’ private data and don’t cooperate with legal demands.

The gathering at the Justice Department had been designed to focus on social media platforms and the ways in which they moderate content online, following complaints from President Trump and other top Republicans that Silicon Valley companies deliberately seek to silence conservative users and views online.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened the meeting by raising questions of possible ideological bias among the tech companies and sought to bring the conversation back to that topic at least twice more, according to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine.

But the discussion proved far more wide-ranging, as attorneys general from eight states and the District — and officials from five others — steered the conversation toward the privacy practices of Silicon Valley. Those in the meeting did not zero in on specific business tactics, but they did cover such issues as how companies collect user data and what they do with it once the information is in their hands.

“We were unanimous. Our focus is going to be on antitrust and privacy. That’s where our laws are,” Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general, said in an interview.

«

So basically they told Sessions to recall the US’s First Amendment, and moved on to topics not covered by that legal topic. I do like the idea of Sessions discovering his, er, session being hijacked and made to talk about serious issues.
link to this extract


AirPower referenced in iPhone XS packaging, iOS 12.1 code shows continuing development • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

Looking into iOS 12.1, we noticed that the component of iOS responsible for managing the charging interface that appears when using AirPower has been updated, which means that Apple is still actively working on the project.

Furthermore, a picture of the “getting started guide” that comes packaged with the iPhone XS clearly mentions AirPower. “Place iPhone with screen facing up on AirPower or a Qi-certified wireless charger,” it reads. The image was shared on Twitter by Gavin Stephens.

If Apple was planning on cancelling the project altogether, then it would definitely not be mentioning it in the packaging of the brand new devices.

«

I dunno, the lead time for printing the packaging for a few million phones is probably longer than a week or two. But the change in the 12.1 charging interface? That’s definitely a sign of life. I wonder if this has become a sort of death march for the team working on it now, where they are determined to make it work no matter what – a sort of Charge Over The River Kwai.
link to this extract


Instagram’s CEO • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:

»

Technically speaking, Instagram was a company. In practice, though, Instagram was a product, and its business model was venture capital funding. To be sure, this wouldn’t be the case forever, but on April 9, 2012, the road from popular product to viable company was a long and arduous one. Instagram would not only need to continue growing its user base, it would also have to scale its infrastructure, figure out a business model (ok fine, advertising), build up tools to support that business model (first a sales team, then a self-serve model, plus tracking and targeting capabilities), all while fighting off larger and more established companies — particularly Facebook — that were waking up to the threat Instagram posed to their hold on user attention.

Or Systrom and Instagram could offload all of those responsibilities to Facebook and continue being “extraordinary product leaders”, and pocket $1bn to boot (and, to be fair to Systrom and team, that understates their gains; that $1bn included $700m in Facebook stock, which today is worth nearly $4bn). It is a defensible choice (for Instagram anyways; not for the regulators that approved the deal), but the implication is that, title notwithstanding, Systrom was never the CEO of Instagram; to be a CEO is to have a company that can stand on its own.

«

I spoke on the BBC’s World At One news programme about this on Tuesday, and in researching ahead of time noticed that Systrom had been giving interviews in August and even in September (here’s one with the WSJ magazine) where he didn’t give any hint of wanting to leave. Such as this quote in the WSJ piece:

»

“…The whole idea of joining Facebook was that we could scale way more quickly than we would independently. So if that is your goal, I think we’ve fulfilled that, and then some. If your goal, on the other hand, is not to have a billion dollars but two, or three, or four or whatever, well, good luck spending it. That’s not what makes you happy in life…I think what I’ve learned over the years is to spend time valuing the things that you have. And it’s not the trappings that people typically associate with success. It’s the things around family, around time alone, around intellectual curiosity.”

«

I can also confirm: when you’re the journalist who did the last interview with X before they did Y, and you don’t find out Y, you feel really crap. Seth Stevenson, you have my sympathies.
link to this extract


Qualcomm accuses Apple of giving its intellectual property to Intel • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

»

Under terms of their previous partnership, Qualcomm said it agreed to provide Apple with techniques, methods and software to evaluate the performance of its modems in iPhones. Those agreements gave a limited number of Apple engineers access to sensitive information, and Qualcomm said it has evidence showing Apple provided some of that information to Intel around 2016—a time when it says the iPhone maker was seeking leverage in modem-chip negotiations.

“Apple has engaged in a yearslong campaign of false promises, stealth, and subterfuge designed to steal Qualcomm’s confidential information,” Qualcomm said in its filing.

The allegations are an amendment to a breach of contract suit Qualcomm filed last November. In it, Qualcomm accused Apple of violating an agreement that allows the chip supplier to audit the iPhone maker’s use of its software. Qualcomm also said Apple engineers had shared some information about its technology with other Apple engineers working on competitors’ chips.

In August, Apple challenged Qualcomm’s suit in a filing, saying that after nine months of discovery the chip maker had failed to disclose evidence supporting those allegations. It asked the court to compel Qualcomm to disclose evidence.

Qualcomm’s filing Tuesday expands on the chip supplier’s prior claims by directly accusing Apple of using Qualcomm software to improve Intel’s chip performance. It also says Intel engineers complained to Apple they weren’t able to open Qualcomm files provided by the iPhone maker.

«

This is going to be the new Apple-Samsung, isn’t it.
link to this extract


macOS 10.14 Mojave: The Ars Technica review • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham goes in depth – like, diving-equipment deep – into Apple’s new desktop OS, which now includes “hey iOS developers you will be able to easily port your app to the desktop!” aka Marzipan. Apple has written a few to show what they look like:

»

When you launch a Marzipan app, you’re actually launching a handful of processes. UIKitHostApp.xpc essentially serves as a launcher for the actual UIKit app and is responsible for actually displaying the app window—open the Activity Monitor and you’ll actually see two processes for every Marzipan app you launch, one for the app itself and one for the host app. The UIKitSystem.app links against both macOS and iOS frameworks to bridge the gap between the two (for a more thorough look at everything that’s going on, Peter Steinberger’s instructions for hacking together third-party Marzipan apps and Adam Demasi’s examination of the under-the-hood technologies are both good reads).

Even though they’re iOS apps at heart, Marzipan adds support for expected macOS elements like scroll bars, Full Screen support, the menu bar, the Touch Bar, and right-clicking. The iOS apps support copy and paste and drag-and-drop with native Mac apps, and they can generate notifications and layer their windows just like typical AppKit apps, helping them blend in a bit better with the “real” Mac apps.

The end result is apps that exist somewhere in between actual Mac apps and iOS apps running on an iPad in landscape mode; compare the Mac versions and iOS versions side by side and you’ll see that they’re all near-identical, right down to the first-run splash screens. You do get a handful of controls up in the title bar, some menu items up in the menu bar (and, sometimes, in a right-click context menu), and always-visible search bars with Mac-style focus rings.

«

Marzipan is necessary to stop MacOS dying on its feet through lack of developer interest, because all the action – and most of the money – is on mobile. Sure, you get people running Photoshop and GPU-intensive programs on desktops, and they can command high prices (though, ehh, about the same as a phone now). But this is Apple being pragmatic about keeping developers interested in a platform that only survived because of the web, but is now at risk of becoming sterile because of mobile.
link to this extract


Fog Creek is now Glitch! • Medium

Anil Dash is CEO of Fog Creek – that is, Glitch:

»

From inventing Trello to co-creating Stack Overflow to pioneering bug tracking with FogBugz and launching other successful and influential products like Manuscript and Kiln and Copilot and CityDesk and many other experiments. Fog Creek has been a bastion of innovation for nearly two decades.
And today, we’re turning the page on that chapter for something new.

When we started working on the project that would become Glitch, it was originally just part of our regular “Creek Week” process — the internal hackathons where members on our team come up with new ideas and try to inspire each other with cool projects. It became obvious pretty quickly that Glitch was something special.

Then earlier this year, when Glitch came out of beta, we saw an incredible groundswell. As a creative community, Glitch inspired people to create over a million apps in record time — including cutting-edge work in VR, machine learning, distributed apps, bots, and more. And Glitch has won the hearts of developers around the world who now feel that coding with other tools feels a lot more lonely and less productive. Just as importantly, Glitch has reminded an entire community that a healthy, independent, open web generates enormous value for everyone on the Internet, earning the attention and respect of many of the biggest players on the web.

One of the guiding principles for Glitch is that we should communicate with clarity, and that our purpose and goals should be self-evident in all we do. And that’s led us to recognize it’s time for us to become Glitch. It’s not just what we’re building, it’s who we are as a company. While the core values of Fog Creek still persist, we’ve also learned a lot and evolved a lot over the last two decades, and now our name and identity are evolving, too.

«

Dash took over a couple of years ago; it’s not coincidental that he’s the author of The Web We Lost, a 2012 lament for the way that big companies and monolithic software had taken over the web. Glitch has a feeling like something from that pre-2012 era; go there and look at the fabulous apps people have created for fun or work using it. (I rather like this space travel one that was playing when I visited. Put it on a really big screen!)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.916: Apple completes Shazam, Sirius buys Pandora, Chrome row rumbles on, YouTube channel maker arrested, and more


Being an Uber driver doesn’t pay as well as it used to. Photo by Melies The Bunny on Flickr.

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

A selection of 8 links for you. You’ve got that ring of confidence. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Uber drivers and other gig economy workers are earning half what they did five years ago • Recode

Rani Molla:

»

The gig isn’t as good as it used to be for people working through online transportation apps in the US.

On average, drivers who transport people (Uber or Lyft) or things (Uber Eats or Postmates) through an app made 53% less in 2017 than they did in 2013, according to a new study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute that looks at online gig economy payments into Chase checking accounts.

The average monthly payments to those who worked for a transportation app in a given month declined to $783 from $1,469. Meanwhile, people working for leasing apps — Airbnb, Turo, Parklee and other apps that let you rent assets like your home, car or parking space — saw their incomes from those platforms rise 69% to $1,736 on average.

Screenshot 2018 09 24 21 51 06

This is happening as online gig work has become more popular, thanks in large part to the growth in the number transportation jobs.

The share of the working population that has participated in the online gig economy at any point in a year rose from less than 2% in 2013 to nearly 5% in 2018. That’s about the same share of people employed in the public administration sector.

«

That seems like a lot of people. (In the UK, the proportion in the whole public sector, which includes local and central government, is a little under 20%. Not sure what the US definition of “public administration” includes or excludes.)
link to this extract


Sirius XM to acquire Pandora: what you need to know • Motley Fool

Daniel Sparks:

»

To own the remaining shares of Pandora, Sirius has agreed to offer a fixed exchange ratio of 1.44 newly issued Sirius shares for each outstanding Pandora share.

“Based on the 30-day volume-weighted average price of $7.04 per share of SiriusXM common stock, the implied price of Pandora common stock is $10.14 per share,” Sirius explained in a press release about the deal, “representing a premium of 13.8% over a 30-day volume-weighted average price.”

The transaction values Pandora at $3.5bn.

Importantly, the merger agreement gives Pandora a “go-shop” period in which the company can actively consider deals with other parties. This means that if other companies are interested in acquiring Pandora, they still have a chance to enter into negotiations and make a better offer.

The deal will create a number of synergies, Sirius and Pandora management believe.

First off, the combined company would create the world’s largest audio entertainment company. Sirius boasts over 36 million subscribers in North America and more than 23 million users on an annual trial. Meanwhile, Pandora has over 70 million monthly active users and about 6 million paid subscribers.

«

Pandora has lost money hand over fist for eight years, and wasn’t slowing down. Sirius is going to have to do some pretty amazing things with advertising and subscribers (the latter has, to be fair, been a space where Pandora has been growing – but the subscription business is a small one trying to escape a big, loss-making one). Since January 2016, Pandora’s operating loss is a billion dollars; in the first half of 2018, $200m.
link to this extract


Apple completes Shazam acquisition, removes ads from Shazam app • Macworld

Jason Cross:

»

It’s not yet clear what Apple plans to do with the Shazam app or its underlying technology. Apple has only said, “The app will soon offer its experience ad-free for all users so everyone can enjoy the best of Shazam without interruption.”

That’s good news for the short term. In the long term, it’s hard to know what this buyout means. Will the Shazam app go away? Will the Android version disappear? Will it going to continue to offer Spotify integration?

The best that Shazam app fans could hope for is for Apple to leave the app alone, with Android support and Spotify integration intact, while building its technology into Apple’s own products. One can easily imagine a “listen” icon in Apple Music to identify a song and take you directly to the Apple Music page for it.

Shazam is already integrated into Siri: try asking Siri to “name that tune” or “what song is currently playing” and it will listen and provide a Shazam-powered response with a link to Apple Music. Perhaps iOS 13 will feature an always-listening song ID feature like that on the Pixel 2. There’s probably more Apple could do with Shazam and HomePod, too. At the very least, we can hope that the Shazam app quickly gets an update to add support for Siri Shortcuts and the Siri watch face on watchOS 5.

«

This is a classic one for Stratechery’s Ben Thompson to go into (and I expect he will, while you’re reading this). Apple, a vertical (hardware) company buying Shazam, a horizontal (services) company. Shazam is best served by being on the most devices, in the hands of the most people. Can Apple, which usually want to benefit from exclusivity, really use that?

In the case of Shazam, I think so: Shazam (as a music-recognition app) has the pulse of what people are interested in hearing. That’s a huge bonus for a company with a paid music service which wants to know which artists to feature. So I think Shazam on Android will continue; removing the ads is neither here or there. It’s more valuable on multiple platforms.
link to this extract


Disable Google Chrome sign in and sync • No Absolute Truths @ IdeaSynthesis

Femi Omojola:

»

As you might have heard, Chrome 69 automatically logs you into the browser when you log into any Google property. As much as I might like Chrome (and Google), I was quite displeased by this particular change: I assume it was in the release notes (that probably a vanishingly small number of Chrome users read), but the rationale that’s been given for the change doesn’t really make sense, and in any case I really prefer not to have anything synced anywhere. It definitely (for me at least) violated the principle of least astonishment: I can’t speak for anyone else but I personally don’t expect a routine software upgrade to suddenly start uploading passwords somewhere, or copying my passwords onto any random computer I happen to log into.

As noted in the first article above, the Sync enabled/disabled UI was singularly confusing to me as to what the state of things are, and a careful search (well, about 1 minute) through the Chrome settings pages didn’t really shed much more light on exactly how I could guarantee no data gets inadvertently synced. I set out to figure out how I could keep using Chrome but still feel relatively comfortable that Chrome Sync wasn’t helpfully distributing my data. After a couple of hours running around I finally got it together thanks to https://www.chromium.org/administrators/policy-list-3.

«

It’s a couple of commands in the Terminal window, or two lines in Windows Registry.
link to this extract


The creator of one of YouTube’s top tween channels was arrested for molesting a minor. YouTube is keeping the channel up • Buzzfeed News

Charlie Warzel:

»

According to an arrest warrant obtained by BuzzFeed News, detectives were called to Rylett’s Orange County hotel room on the morning of Aug. 16, after Rylett allegedly verbally abused the girl, demanding she undress in front of him against her will and “practice wrapping her breasts down, to make them appear smaller for the video shoot.” According to the report, the girl, who is under 16, claims Rylett touched her breasts and fondled her while repeatedly making her undress, eventually attempting to forcefully remove her underwear. The arrest report also alleges that Rylett “threatened to use the contract to fine her if she did not comply with his demand.” Rylett pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment last month. He has surrendered his passport and will stand trial later this year. Rylett’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Rylett’s channel remains live on YouTube; the streaming video company learned of his arrest in mid-August.

Rylett, a 55-year-old who resides in the United Kingdom, is one of the founders of the SevenAwesomeKids brand. Established in 2008, the franchise boasts a collective 17 million subscribers over seven channels, including SevenPerfectAngels, SevenFabulousTeens, and SevenTwinklingTweens. The largest channel — SevenSuperGirls — currently has roughly 9 million subscribers and 5 billion views. Each features daily videos from a rotating stable of more than 20 young girls, ranging from 8 to 18 years old. Rylett pays them a monthly salary in exchange for filming videos he directs.

Rylett’s arrest is the latest in a series of unsettling revelations involving YouTube content aimed at teens and young children. In 2017, after public outcry, YouTube began cracking down on the child exploitation videos it was hosting, many depicting young kids in disturbing and abusive situations, all with millions of views…

…A number of young women who previously starred in Rylett’s videos told BuzzFeed News they were frustrated by the platform’s lack of oversight. “I was telling my mom two years ago that, if this was a real entertainment business — you know, with rules — I’d report him in an instant,” one said. “But I can’t because there’s nobody here to help me.”

«

link to this extract


Microsoft does away with more passwords • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

As the company today announced at its Ignite conference, it’ll now support password-less logins via its Microsoft Authenticator app for hundreds of thousands of Azure Active Directory-connected apps. “No company lets enterprises eliminate more passwords than Microsoft,” the company proudly writes in its announcement today.

The company has written about this in the past and with Windows Hello, it’s already offering a version of this for Windows 10 users. For Azure Active Directory, the Windows Authenticator app essentially replicates the functionality of Windows Hello and it lets users use their fingerprint, face or PIN to log in to their enterprise applications. The overall idea here is that you are still providing two factors of authentication: something you own (your phone) and something you have (your fingerprint or face).

Here is what that looks like for personal accounts. The process for enterprise accounts is quite similar.

«

“Fingerprint, face or PIN”. The latter doesn’t feel that far away from a password, to be honest, though I suppose if you’re having to put it through your pre-authorised Windows Authenticator app then it adds a faint sheen of extra security.
link to this extract


Tesla Solar Roof tiles: where are they? • CNBC

Kate Brigham and Lora Kolodny put a note in their diaries back in October 2016 – “check in two years” – and it’s come due:

»

As of May, only 12 Tesla tiled roofs were connected to the grid, all in Northern California, according to Reuters. Tesla declined to give an updated figure, but Musk later clarified that his “several hundred homes” comment refers to roofs that are scheduled for installation or are partially installed.

Tesla has been accepting $1,000 deposits for the roof tiles since May 2017. But at that point, the company wasn’t even close to mass producing them.

It established a factory in Buffalo, New York to make the tiles, but it’s not running at full capacity yet. At the company’s most recent annual shareholder meeting, Musk blamed ongoing delays on a need for more testing.

“There’s only so much accelerated life testing that you do on a roof. So before we can deploy it to a large number of houses we need to make sure that it’s that all elements of the roof are going to last for at least three decades,” Musk said at the shareholder meeting last June…

…One of the customers with the tiles already installed is San Jose resident and Tesla Model 3 owner Tri Huynh. He preordered them as soon as possible, and the roof was installed earlier this year.

“I was actually extremely surprised I got the call, just because you never know what this stuff, right. I thought there’d be extreme delays, I just didn’t know how long it was going to take,” said Huynh. While traditional solar panels can be installed in a day, it took a team of 10 to 15 workers two weeks to install this roof… Tesla’s customers are paying a premium for the tile’s sleek look. Huynh’s roof cost him about $100,000, though he did need to replace his roof anyway.

“I don’t think this will ever pay for itself honestly,” he said.

«

link to this extract


Facebook-made smart display will reportedly be announced this week • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

Facebook has been working on something akin to an Echo Show or smart display for a while now. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook decided to put the plans on hold. Now it appears the device could launch as soon as this coming week.

The device has a codename of ‘Portal,’ and reportedly will use facial recognition to detect who the user is. Video calling will be the primary feature, and leaks have shown it will be tightly integrated with Facebook Messenger. A new report from Cheddar claims there will be two screen sizes – one priced around $400, and the other $300.

After the company’s privacy scandals, Facebook reportedly made some last-minute changes to Portal, including adding a privacy shutter to the front camera. Cheddar also reports the device will have Alexa, and that Facebook has shown Portal to major retailers.

«

This only has to go wrong in some tiny way for Facebook to sustain another PR calamity. Equally, it might just not sell. I can’t see a huge upside – though maybe there’s a (mature) generation that’s eager to have a “Facebook videophone” in their kitchen. I don’t think it would be kids, though.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.915: Labour’s Twitter nexus, Amazon’s driver catch, goodbye Chrome!, bowdlerising Apple?, watchOS 5 reviewed, and more


Fibre installation: we could have had this in the 1980s but for Thatcher, an ex-BT exec says. Photo by BT’s BDUK partnerships fibre rollout photography on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Fight another day. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Meet the woman leading Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter army • Buzzfeed News

Mark di Stefano gets the scoop: the interview with the woman behind a ranty pro-Corbyn Twitter account:

»

All of @Rachael_Swindon’s tweets come from a small, white iPhone in a pink, plastic wallet case, which sits connected to a charger in the Cousins’ lounge.

At 6am each morning, Cousins wakes up, looks through the news (“The Independent is good, the Canary, Skwawkbox, those blogs, some Facebook pages”) and she’ll compose a series of tweets that she intends to send throughout the day. She’s currently posting about 40 a day — a grab bag of news, memes, and insults directed at Tories or Corbyn-sceptic Labour MPs that she will have saved to her drafts.

“I tweet about 7am, then I walk the dog,” she said. “I’ll have a coffee, look at Twitter again, tweet a bit more, do something else.

“I do go shopping. I take my children out. I do take Jon to doctor’s appointments.”

Cousins said her husband [Jon] is living with fibromyalgia, a painful long-term condition causing extreme pain and fatigue. She has osteoarthritis in her legs. Neither are working at the moment, and while they now live on unemployment benefits, documents back up their claim that they’re currently locked in a battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over his disability payments.

She said her personal life experience — being in and out of council housing, ongoing disputes with the DWP — is what drew her to tweeting angrily about the Tories.

“I thought, I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to shout about it,” she said.

Her political awakening coincided with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn: “He supports people like me, because I am just a pauper.”

It’s not entirely a pro-Corbyn household. Jon repeatedly wanted to explain why the Labour leader was “not my cup of tea”, calling himself at different times “more centre-right” than his wife, “a Blairite”, and “not crazy about all the nationalisations”.

«

Does knowing the precise identity of the person behind the tweets affect how you think of them? I think it does.
link to this extract


Amazon lays creative traps to catch drivers that steal packages • BGR

Andy Meek:

»

To clamp down on drivers running off with packages, the company will frequently insert dummy packages (which might be empty and which might also have a random object inside to provide some weight) into the slew of orders a driver needs to load up with. Since the packages are fake (because they’re a trap to deter stealing), the real-looking label on them will present an error message when it’s scanned.

“If you bring the package back, you are innocent. If you don’t, you’re a thug,” Sid Shah, a former manager for DeliverOL, a courier company that delivers packages for Amazon, told Business Insider.

Another source told BI that directives for this practice came straight from Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. “It’s meant to be a trap,” this unnamed person said, “to check the integrity of the driver.”

Per BI, here’s how the practice works, according to the sources:

“During deliveries, drivers scan the labels of every package they deliver. When they scan a fake label on a dummy package, an error message will pop up. When this happens, drivers might call their supervisors to address the problem, or keep the package in their truck and return it to an Amazon warehouse at the end of their shift.”

Since the package shows an error message when it’s scanned, the thinking is that a potential thief might decide to take it, because the error message means the package technically doesn’t exist in Amazon’s sprawling network.

«

Wonder if the Post Office does anything like this?
link to this extract


Why I’m done with Chrome • A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering

Matthew Green:

»

A few weeks ago Google shipped an update to Chrome that fundamentally changes the sign-in experience. From now on, every time you log into a Google property (for example, Gmail), Chrome will automatically sign the browser into your Google account for you. It’ll do this without asking, or even explicitly notifying you. (However, and this is important: Google developers claim this will not actually start synchronizing your data to Google — yet. See further below.)…

…The change hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed: it received some vigorous discussion on sites like Hacker News. But the mainstream tech press seems to have ignored it completely. This is unfortunate — and I hope it changes — because this update has huge implications for Google and the future of Chrome.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to talk about why this matters. From my perspective, this comes down to basically four points:

1. Nobody on the Chrome development team can provide a clear rationale for why this change was necessary, and the explanations they’ve given don’t make any sense.
2. This change has enormous implications for user privacy and trust, and Google seems unable to grapple with this.
3. The change makes a hash out of Google’s own privacy policies for Chrome.
4. Google needs to stop treating customer trust like it’s a renewable resource, because they’re screwing up badly.

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I don’t use Chrome because it’s a gigantic CPU suck, but whatever.
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Will phones soon finish off the camera market? • ExtremeTech

David Cardinal likes his Nikon DSLR. But…:

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Given the massive investment being poured into phones, it is only a matter of time before they replace every segment of the camera market of which they are physically capable. They’re not the right solution for drones, robots, or even cars, for example, and in many cases, action cameras don’t benefit from a display enough to justify a phone form factor. Of course, there will still be a need and a market for larger cameras, just like there is today for film, but increasingly it will only be out of preference and not necessity.

For several years, I’ve participated in a panel at the Electronic Imaging technical conference on what it will take for the phone to be the only camera needed. My presentation was simply a set of photos I couldn’t have taken without my standalone, high-end camera. Each year there are fewer slides in the talk.

In my case, I find the ergonomics of my Nikon DSLRs to make me much more productive than shooting with a phone. Even if my phone produced the same images, it’s more work to control for an extended shooting session. Given the form factor, there is only so much phone makers can do to address that issue. Of course, my phone is always in my pocket, so I’m finding myself using it more and more as it improves each year. And for people for whom the phone was their first camera, it will be more intuitive to use than learning the controls on a traditional camera.

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The latter is a good point – there’s a whole generation that has never thought that a camera is a separate object.
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watchOS 5: The BirchTree Review • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:

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The Apple Watch journey has been all about figuring out what people like to do on their smart watches and optimizing watchOS to match. Those categories seem to have settled on activity tracking, listening to audio, handling notifications, communicating with others, and getting general information quickly. watchOS 5 addresses all of those categories and almost all changes are for the better. The worst thing I can say is that a good number of these updates require third party app developers to update their apps to use them. Given how much better this makes the watch experience, I’d expect to see updates very soon that include these changes.

There are a lot of changes to activity tracking and workouts, including things that FitBit users used to be able to lord over the Apple Watch. Automatic workout detection is only the tip of the iceberg here, there’s much more. The Siri watch face, my favorite new feature from last year, got the best update it possibly could: third party app integrations. This means that all your favorite apps, not just Apple’s, will be shown on your watch face. Podcast and audiobook apps can now make honest-to-goodness amazing apps on the watch, and they can even download content and play in the background. And if you don’t want to use a third party app, Apple’s brand new Podcasts app for the Apple Watch is quite nice.

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He picks up on a lot of subtle little points; this captures them all neatly. The easier access to “Now Playing” (so you can change the volume or change the track with a tap from the home screen) is huge; so is being able to edit the Control Centre – which, as he says, you’ll do once and never again, but of course it’ll be perfect (for you) after that once.
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iPhone XS has an upgrade Apple didn’t mention • iFixit

Kay Kay Clapp:

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While the XS Max inherits the dual-cell battery design of the X, the XS has evolved a single-celled L-shaped battery. For a phone about the size of the X, you’d expect a gapless battery to pack more punch, not less, but the XS drops to 10.13 Wh from 10.35 Wh (the XS Max, meanwhile, packs 12.08 Wh in its two cells). We dug into it, and there’s an interesting story of innovation behind the capacity drop.

This isn’t Apple’s first foray into weirdly-shaped batteries. In 2015, they debuted a terraced battery design in the MacBook that utilizes every bit of space in the chassis. But that wouldn’t work for the iPhone form factor—Apple needed a more creative battery geometry.

The new design approach for non-rectangular batteries removes material from one or more of the layers before they can be stacked. Apple has been filing patents in this direction since 2011. The challenge with any lithium-polymer battery cell is that each corner needs to be sealed to prevent undue stress from thermal expansion—and since the battery of the XS has six sides vs. the traditional four, those extra corners can be tricky. To reduce the stress on the corners, Apple notched the internal corner of the battery (as described in this 2016 patent). This dramatic shift opens up a lot of design possibilities, but the large notch is responsible for the decrease in capacity relative to the X. Only time will tell how this new cell performs with age—both of these batteries are still limited to 500 charge cycles.

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I’d love to know the logic behind this strange shaping, rather than the Lego-block-style approach used on the iPhone X.
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Google is testing manual bokeh and Color Pop effects in Google Photos • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

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Some Photos users have gotten new editing tools—they appear in the Photos app when modifying a picture. We’ve seen this in teardowns, as well. There’s Color Pop (a filter), which keeps the focus of the photo in color and desaturates the rest of the shot. The manual bokeh (under edits) lets you do something similar, except the background is blurred instead of desaturated. You can tap to change the focus and adjust the strength of the blur effect.

Google is probably testing these features together because the underlying processing is similar; Photos needs to know the difference between the subject and background. Importantly, this works with regular photos, not those taken with depth effects enabled. However, from the screenshots we’ve seen, the feature still looks buggy. That Color Pop seems particularly rough. There may be a lot more work to do before these features roll out widely, but it’ll happen… one day.

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Software eats everything. So you can’t differentiate based only on software effects.
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No sex please, we’re Apple: iPhone giant seeks TV success on its own terms • WSJ

Tripp Mickle and Joe Flint:

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Apple’s entertainment team must walk a line few in Hollywood would consider. Since Mr. Cook spiked “Vital Signs,” [about Dr Dre’s early life] Apple has made clear, say producers and agents, that it wants high-quality shows with stars and broad appeal, but it doesn’t want gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.

The result is an approach out of step with the triumphs of the video-streaming era. Other platforms, such as HBO and Amazon.com Inc., have made their mark in original content with edgier programming that often wins critical acclaim. Netflix Inc., which helped birth the streaming revolution, built its original-content business on “House of Cards,” a drama about an ethically bankrupt politician, and “Orange Is the New Black,” a comedic drama about a women’s prison. Both feature rough language and plenty of sex.

As a consumer-product company, Apple is especially exposed if content strikes a sour note, said Preston Beckman, a former NBC and Fox programming executive. For Netflix, the only risk is that people don’t subscribe, he said. “With Apple, you can say, ‘I’m going to punish them by not buying their phone or computer.’ “

Apple has twice postponed the launch of its first slate of shows, moving it to March from late this year, agents and producers said. One leading producer with projects at Apple expects the date to be pushed back yet further…

…Entertainment is “irrational and unpredictable,” said Peter Sealey, a consultant who led marketing for Coke’s Hollywood business. Apple excels at devices and Coke at soft drinks, he said, but “movies and TV are none of that. They’re emotional.”

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On this basis, the distance between Silicon Valley and Hollywood isn’t just a plane flight; they’re on different planets. Hollywood knows that sex and violence sells, and other companies getting into this space recognise that: Amazon’s remake of Jack Ryan is brutal at times, but pretty gentle for the rest of it. Would Apple have made it? Apple’s TV schedule is going to be more saccharin than pre-Pixar Disney at this rate; and pre-Pixar Disney was coasting downhill on its past successes.
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PayPal bans Alex Jones, saying Infowars ‘promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance’ • The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

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PayPal is terminating its relationship with Alex Jones and his website, Infowars, the online payment service said Friday.

After an extensive review of Infowars and its related sites, PayPal said in a statement, the company “found instances that promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religions, which run counter to our core value of inclusion.”

PayPal notified Infowars of the decision Thursday, prompting the site to accuse PayPal in a blog post of a “political ploy designed to financially sabotage an influential media outlet.” Infowars said PayPal had given it 10 days to find a new payment platform, after which PayPal’s services would no longer function.

PayPal declined to cite specific examples of Infowars’s problematic behavior. But Infowars has gained increasing attention — and criticism — for its role in spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation online. PayPal’s decision Friday makes it the latest tech company to ban Jones and his content from its platform, following in the footsteps of Apple, Facebook and Google, among others.

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Well done, PayPal. Also: what took you so long?
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Eric Schmidt, ex-Google CEO, predicts internet bifurcation with China • CNBC

Lora Kolodny:

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At the [private Village Global VC] event, economist Tyler Cowen asked about the possibility of the internet fragmenting into different sub-internets with different regulations and limited access between them in coming years. “What’s the chance, say, 10 to 15 years, we have just three to four separate internets?”

Schmidt said:

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“I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.

If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal. Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the US, which is also a big number.

If you think of China as like ‘Oh yeah, they’re good with the Internet,’ you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.

Look at the way BRI works – their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries – it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.”

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Seems possible. It’s hard to say whether Schmidt tends towards Pollyanna-ish optimism (my first thoughts about his track record) or dystopic downside (my second thoughts, such as his “over the creepy line” and “get a new name at 18” comments). So while I find this scenario very possible, I don’t know if it’s plausible beyond Asian countries.
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How Thatcher killed the UK’s superfast broadband before it even existed • Tech Radar

Jay McGregor:

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Dr [Peter] Cochrane [BT’s chief technology officer] knew that Britain’s tired copper network was insufficient: “In 1974 it was patently obvious that copper wire was unsuitable for digital communication in any form, and it could not afford the capacity we needed for the future.”

He was asked to do a report on the UK’s future of digital communication and what was needed to move forward.

“In 1979 I presented my results,” he tells us, “and the conclusion was to forget about copper and get into fibre. So BT started a massive effort – that spanned six years – involving thousands of people to both digitise the network and to put fibre everywhere. The country had more fibre per capita than any other nation.

“In 1986, I managed to get fibre to the home cheaper than copper and we started a programme where we built factories for manufacturing the system. By 1990, we had two factories, one in Ipswich and one in Birmingham, where were manufacturing components for systems to roll out to the local loop”.

At that time, the UK, Japan and the United States were leading the way in fibre optic technology and roll-out. Indeed, the first wide area fibre optic network was set up in Hastings, UK. But, in 1990, then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided that BT’s rapid and extensive rollout of fibre optic broadband was anti-competitive and held a monopoly on a technology and service that no other telecom company could do.

“Unfortunately, the Thatcher government decided that it wanted the American cable companies providing the same service to increase competition. So the decision was made to close down the local loop roll out and in 1991 that roll out was stopped. The two factories that BT had built to build fibre related components were sold to Fujitsu and HP, the assets were stripped and the expertise was shipped out to South East Asia.

“Our colleagues in Korea and Japan, who were working with quite closely at the time, stood back and looked at what happened to us in amazement. What was pivotal was that they carried on with their respective fibre rollouts. And, well, the rest is history as they say.”

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The American cable companies all went bust because they were digging the roads up and each laying their own fibre. What Thatcher should have brought in was obligatory cable-sharing: make BT open up to rivals. (I don’t think Cochrane would have liked it, or BT’s management.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified