Start up: revising China’s phones, oldies don’t buy music, a disabled view of Apple Watch, Brexit raises tech prices, and more


Conference calls: we all hate them, right? But what if you could tune out and let a computer do the work of listening? Photo by alexhung on Flickr.

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

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

Using speech-to-text to fully check out during conference calls • Github

Josh Newlan:

»This script listens to meetings I’m supposed to be paying attention to and pings me on hipchat when my name is mentioned.

It sends me a transcript of what was said in the minute before my name was mentioned and some time after.

It also plays an audio file out loud 15 seconds after my name was mentioned which is a recording of me saying, “Sorry, I didn’t realize my mic was on mute there.”

Uses IBM’s Speech to Text Watson API for the audio-to-text.

«

Two thoughts. Probably shouldn’t have given his real name on this; anyone else itching to use this?
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Surprise! It’s the older people who don’t pay for music • Business Insider

Nathan McAlone:

»

This makes intuitive sense given the nostalgia many have for the music of their youth, which makes new purchases less likely as time goes on. But it also brings up an important point about the future of music.

The music industry seems to be in the midst of an unstoppable move toward streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, and unlike digital downloads, this model is built on paying for access instead of ownership. You pay a monthly fee and get to listen to anything on Spotify.

This means that the age graph above could actually change over time. When the 46% of 18 to 24-year-olds who have paid for music in the last month push past 65, does that mean they will cancel their Spotify accounts? Likely not, as this would mean not only losing the ability to find new music, which they might cease to care about, but also being able to listen, on-demand, to those old songs that have been woven into their emotional memory.

This could boost the revenues of the music industry, which some analysts already think is headed for a big turnaround.

«

Though it doesn’t show how much they paid for music. On average, people who buy downloads or CDs get an album a month – about the same as a music service subscription.
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F.B.I. director James Comey recommends no charges for Hillary Clinton on email • NYTimes.com

Mark Landler and Eric Lichtblau:

»on a day of political high drama in Washington, Mr. Comey rebuked Mrs. Clinton as being “extremely careless” in using a private email address and server. He raised questions about her judgment, contradicted statements she has made about her email practices, said it was possible that hostile foreign governments had gained access to her account, and declared that a person still employed by the government — Mrs. Clinton left the State Department in 2013 — could have faced disciplinary action for doing what she did.

To warrant a criminal charge, Mr. Comey said, there had to be evidence that Mrs. Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully mishandled classified information. The F.B.I. found neither, and as a result, he said, “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

The Justice Department is highly likely to accept the F.B.I.’s guidance, which a law enforcement official said also cleared three top aides of Mrs. Clinton who were implicated in the case: Jake Sullivan, Huma Abedin and Cheryl D. Mills.

«

But:

»In saying that it was “possible” that hostile foreign governments had gained access to Mrs. Clinton’s personal account, Mr. Comey noted that she used her mobile device extensively while traveling outside the United States, including trips “in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.”

«

Dear Hillary, please read on for useful advice.
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Securing a travel iPhone • Filippo

Filippo Valsorda (who works at CloudFlare’s security team) has a number of recommendations, with the general ones being:

»Turn the phone off before entering any situation that might lead to you being coerced to use your fingerprint to unlock the phone. ProTip: if you reboot the phone and not unlock it, it will still let you listen to music if you use the EarBuds remote.

Upon entering hostile networks, start refusing iOS, app and carrier updates. Use Airplane mode extensively. Turn off WiFi when you don’t need it.

Avoid syncing or pairing the phone with a computer. To extract pictures, use Dropbox Camera Upload with a dedicated account and a shared folder going to your primary account. To save notes, message or email them to your main account. (Remember that email is unencrypted!)

Needless to say, keep the phone on your person at all times.

«

You’d have to be expecting pretty hostile security environments for this stuff, but some people do. Maybe Hillary Clinton’s next phone will be one of these?
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Centre Stage Applewatch • Molly Watt Trust

“Lady Usher” has Usher’s syndrome, which means that she is profoundly deaf and is losing her sight:

»I used to rely wholly on my cumbersome iPhone6+ to help me to navigate the maze of London’s streets with my guide dog. Most people don’t realise that you need both hands to work a guide dog, and I had to clumsily juggle the lead, harness and phone, while trying to orientate myself to where I was going. The sun’s glare often made it impossible for me to read the screen. I was stopped twice by police officers telling me to put my phone away, apparently, ‘a blind person carrying a phone is asking for trouble’.

My new AppleWatch has made things so much easier. I simply key in my route on my phone, pop it in my bag and the watch, hidden safely on my wrist, vibrates to tell me to go left and right using two different tactile pulses. Another signal lets me know when I have arrived at my destination. It is such a simple idea and so damn enabling.

Just three weeks after I got the watch, my guide dog and I entered a month-long team steps challenge at my work place. Together, we walked almost 200 miles through the busy streets of London, simply by following the vibrations of the AppleWatch and the simple on screen instructions. For the first time ever, it felt like we owned the streets. The whole of London has opened up to me for the first time since I lost my sight.

«

As she says,

»”If there was ever a good time to be losing your sight when you are already deaf, it is 2016. We are on the verge of great technology breakthroughs that will help to level the playing field even for those who are both deaf and blind. Driverless cars, haptic virtual reality, wearable technology – they will all soon be an everyday reality.”

«

Often we forget how transformative tech really can be.
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The AI that (almost) lets you speak to the dead • Ars Technica UK

Bob Dormon:

»The source of this existential conundrum is Luka, a company that focuses on what it calls “high-end conversational AI.” It has a free iOS app, also called Luka, which seems pretty benign, featuring a number of chatbots covering a range of tasks that rely on text input to respond and interact in a friendly way. That’s a lot more than just the Q&A you get with Siri. The company develops new chatbots for all sorts of different purposes all the time. For instance, three recent ones are based on the cast of the HBO series Silicon Valley. Fans can talk to these fictional characters and get responses in keeping with their on-screen persona.

Very recently however, Luka was adapted in a brand new way, to include a chatbot based on a real human being—one who just so happens to be dead. It’s this ghost-in-the-machine that has the audience spellbound, as Luka’s cofounder Eugenia Kuyda explains how text messages, social media conversations, and other sources of information on the deceased were grafted onto an existing AI platform. It started out as an experiment that, in a matter of months, enabled her and others to continue to interact with Roman Mazurenko, a fellow Russian who had died in a road traffic accident in November last year, the man she describes as her soul mate.

«

Amazingly, the whole (quite long) feature goes all the way through without once mentioning that this was pretty much the basis of an episode of Black Mirror.
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Amazon.com: Matthew Garrett’s review of AuYou Wi-Fi Switch, Timing Wireless Smart …

Garrett is a security researcher, and he got one of these free in return for writing an honest review. Hold tight:

»In practice the app is looking for a network called “SmartPlug” and this version of the hardware creates a network called “XW-G03”, so it never finds it. I ended up reverse engineering the app in order to find out the configuration packet format, sent it myself and finally had the socket on the network. This is, needless to say, not a reasonable thing to expect average users to do. The alternative is to find an older Android device or use an iPhone to do the setup.

Once it’s working, you can just hit a button on the app and your socket turns on or off. You can also program a timer. If your phone is connected to the same network as the socket then this is just done by sending a command directly, but if not you send a command via an intermediate server in China (the socket connects to the server when it joins the wireless and then waits for commands)…

…This is a huge problem. If anybody knows the MAC address of one of your sockets, they can control it from anywhere in the world. You can’t set a password to stop them, and a normal home router configuration won’t block this. You need to explicitly firewall off the server (it’s 115.28.45.50) in order to protect yourself. Again, this is completely unrealistic to expect for a home user, and if you do this then you’ll also entirely lose the ability to control the device from outside your home.

In summary: by default this is stupendously insecure, there’s no reasonable way to make it secure, and if you do make it secure then it’s much less useful than it’s supposed to be. Don’t buy it.

«

Apart from that, how’s it going with the Internet of Things? (AuYou has withdrawn the device from sale.)
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Asian market turmoil: HTC and Huawei down, Vivo, OPPO and Asus on the rise • AndroidAuthority

Kris Carlon:

»this year Huawei looks to be in a little trouble. While still maintaining the number one spot in terms of production volume estimates (a loose indicator of sales success), Huawei’s dominance looks to be on the decline. Market analysts TrendForce have just downgraded Huawei’s production estimates for the year. This potentially puts the number one spot up for grabs next year as other OEMs ascend rapidly.

Just as Huawei is starting to plateau, smaller companies like Vivo and OPPO are on the rise. While Huawei’s predicted growth has been lowered to 10.2% year-on-year, OPPO has been estimated to grow by 59.2% and Vivo by 40.4%. Xiaomi and Lenovo are expected to see negative growth in 2016, continuing their decline. Meanwhile, young upstart LeEco is enjoying massive growth of 300% year-on-year, even if its production volumes are still well below its more established competition.

«

OPPO and vivo are low-end devices; Huawei is pushing into the higher-end space. Xiaomi and Lenovo have problems though if that forecast holds.
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Tech companies blame price rises on Brexit vote • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

»US computer-maker Dell and the Chinese smartphone company OnePlus are both raising their prices in the UK and saying the move is the result of the nation’s vote to leave the EU.

Another company, used by several camera equipment-makers to bring their goods to the UK, has also revealed it will soon follow suit. Intro 2020 said it had been “punched in the stomach very hard” by sterling’s drop after the Brexit referendum. Experts predict further price rises.

The pound hit a fresh 31-year low against the dollar earlier on Wednesday – it has dropped more than 12% since the eve of the Brexit referendum result. Falls against some Asian currencies have been even larger.

«

Others will follow; it’s just going to be a matter of time. Only a lunatic would have hedged for that big a drop in sterling, which means dollar-denominated prices will rise in a month or two.
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HummingBad malware puts 10 million Android devices at risk • SlashGear

JC Torres:

»According to Check Point, as many as 10m devices around the globe have infected apps installed on their Android smartphone or tablet. Unsurprisingly, majority of those come from China, India, and the usual Asian countries, but the US isn’t clean of it either.

hummingbad-2

At the moment, however, HummingBad isn’t doing maximum damage. It does attempt to root devices in order to further spread its malware, install more infected apps, and whatnot. Failing to do that, it has fallback measures to gain access. All of these are being done in the name of generating ad revenue. However, considering it tries to gain root access, its actual potential is far more frightening. That said, based on Check Point’s own data, older Android devices are more prone to getting infected, with Android 5.0 Lollipop and Android 6.0 Marshmallow showing the smallest shares.

hummingbad-3

However, it is the narrative around HummingBad that is actually more worrying. Check Point traced the malware to a Chinese entity named YingMob, which turned out to be a mobile ad server company. In a nutshell, it is actually a legit company partnering with other legit companies to serve ads. Most malware groups turn to hide underground, but YingMob operates out in the open, though the group behind HummingBad is just one part of the company.

«

Usually Android malware is restricted to China; this is unusual and worrying.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: robocalling wars, form-filling frustration, Pakistan’s troll problem, Apple port death, and more


Something about this is going to change in September. But what? Photo by janitors on Flickr.

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

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

Disruptive robocalling • Global Guerrillas

»Three months ago, I wrote up a worst case scenario for how the US could end up in a civil war this fall.  Unfortunately, nothing has changed.  The conditions that make the scenario possible are still valid.

In fact, in one way it has gotten worse:  one of the theoretical methods of disruption that I featured in the scenario was recently used in the real world.  In my scenario, robocalling was used to shut down polling places to skew election results and plunge the US into chaos.

«

So, how’s your day going so far?
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Apple Watch is already a $10bn business • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

»Heading into this year’s WWDC, Apple Watch expectations were at a low. The most recent comments from Apple management about Watch sales being focused around the holidays implied Watch sales had slowed somewhat materially in recent months. Developer interest and buzz around watchOS was lackluster, and recent price drops introduced questions about customer demand.

Things changed following Apple’s WWDC keynote. It was clear Apple had no plans of slowing down with Apple Watch. More importantly, Apple was willing to make changes to Apple Watch software. As seen with the rethought user interface included in watchOS 3, Apple spent the past year studying how people were using Apple Watch. Friction points such as a clunky interface and little-used features, including Glances, were removed. Instead, Apple went back to the basics with a simpler interface and additional focus on Watch faces as the device’s most valued real estate. (Additional thoughts from WWDC concerning watchOS 3 are available here).

Some people interpreted the changes found in watchOS 3 as evidence that Apple admitted it was wrong with Apple Watch. I disagree. That type of interpretation not only ignores everything that Apple got right about Apple Watch, such as Watch bands, but also ignores reality. Apple Watch financials portray a different story. Apple Watch’s first year was not the disaster that many are now implying.

«

WatchOS 3 really is a lot quicker, and more useful, than the first versions. Cybart reckons more than 12m have been sold. By contrast, Android Wear downloads – which seem to be the correct proxy for Android Wear sales – are still below 5m.
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Input masks: violating user expectations • ignore the code

Lukas Mathis:

»When designing forms, there’s a pretty deep chasm between the needs of the developer, and the needs of the user. Developers want structured, normalized data. Users want to enter data in whatever format suits them best.

Forcing people to enter structured data causes usability problems.

What do you mean, it’s not a valid phone number? Looks valid to me – except that the backend wants just numbers, no special characters, and isn’t smart enough to strip out all of the characters that the user has entered.

Commonly, designers try to solve this by telling people what kind of format data needs to be in. This can be done using placeholders that show example data in the correct format.

The problem here is that the placeholder disappears as soon as people start typing, so exactly when they actually need this information, it’s no longer visible.

«

And with credit card numbers, things get really annoying, as Mathis points out.
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Pakistan’s troll problem • The New Yorker

Simon Parkin:

»Among many religiously conservative Pakistanis, [female lawyer Naghat] Dad said, there is a belief that women should not be using technology at all. “I could only use the Internet and my mobile phone while at work,” she told me. There are more than twenty-three million Facebook accounts registered in Pakistan, but in some cases, Dad said, “women who experience harassment on Facebook don’t want to make a formal complaint, as to do so is to admit to owning a profile.” As more women continue to join social-media platforms, the resistance to their presence has increased. Last August, a gang of men targeted a group of female doctors in Lahore, stealing photographs and private messages from their WhatsApp and Facebook accounts before demanding money. “The threat of disgrace made these professional women soft targets,” Shamsi said. “This on top of the battles they fight just for the right to work.” Dad’s organization has two staff members devoted to working on Facebook complaints, but she deals with the public herself, and she now receives more calls from women each day than she can handle.

In general, US-based social-media companies have been slow to address harassment on their platforms in different cultural contexts — and even, many would argue, in their own.

«

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“OK Google…” • OK Google

It’s a list of the voice commands you can ask after “OK Google..” on Google’s systems. Would love to see something comparable for Siri.
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The ultimate Apple I/O death chart • The Verge

Nilay Patel and Frank Bi:

»One of the most strongly-held arguments about Apple removing the headphone jack is that Apple has historically been first to drop a legacy technology, sometimes even before the rest of the industry is ready. Apple’s vertical integration, passionate userbase, and scale (both historically small and now immensely huge) allow it to push big changes in a way that few other companies can pull off. The floppy, SCSI, optical drives, VGA — all killed by Apple years before vanishing from the rest of the industry.

But how long does it really take Apple to kill legacy tech? We threw together a chart to map it out. (It would be fun to do this across the entire tech industry, but finding all that data seems virtually impossible. If you figure it out email me and we’ll run it!)

«

QWERTY still in use, though I guess that’s not a “port”. A neat corollary to this would be the adoption of wireless ports. Wi-Fi arrived in July 1999; Bluetooth, in 2003. Infrared came and went.

Also: how great to have a piece of simple, informative journalism that answers a question you didn’t realise you wanted answered until you saw it.
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Hillary Clinton’s initiative on technology and innovation • HillaryClinton.com

The would-be president who doesn’t say outrageous things (and thus gets no coverage outside the US) has a detailed set of tech proposals, which has lots of “would be nice” ideas but also this:

»Copyrights encourage creativity and incentivize innovators to invest knowledge, time, and money into the generation of myriad forms of content. However, the copyright system has languished for many decades, and is in need of administrative reform to maximize its benefits in the digital age. Hillary believes the federal government should modernize the copyright system by unlocking — and facilitating access to — orphan works that languished unutilized, benefiting neither their creators nor the public.

She will also promote open-licensing arrangements for copyrighted material and data supported by federal grant funding, including in education, science, and other fields. She will seek to develop technological infrastructure to support digitization, search, and repositories of such content, to facilitate its discoverability and use.

And she will encourage stakeholders to work together on creative solutions that remove barriers to the seamless and efficient licensing of content in the U.S. and abroad.

«

There’s also privacy, smart government, more broadband, and plenty more.
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Android fragmentation may not be as pronounced as Google’s distribution numbers would have you believe, says Apteligent • Android Police

Rita El Khoury:

»as Apteligent’s monthly data report points out, Google doesn’t take into consideration two important factors: devices that don’t have the Play Store installed (ie Chinese handsets mostly) and device usage. A phone may access the Play Store, but it may not be actively used. Once that’s taken into account, the image shifts greatly and you can see that there are far less devices in active use that are still running older versions of Android.

As the table and graph aboe show, Android usage distribution puts Lollipop at around half of the devices (vs. ~35% in Google’s June numbers) and Marshmallow at almost double what Google says (19.4% vs. 10.1%). Apteligent’s usage distribution drops KitKat from around 31% in Google’s stats to roughly 25%, Jelly Bean from ~19% to 6.8%, and shows that everything prior (ICS, Honeycomb, Gingerbread, and Froyo) is practically irrelevant.

Now sure, these are numbers taken from Apteligent’s report, which is based on devices that have apps with the Apteligent SDK installed, but they do show a new picture of Android’s version distributions.

«

Sure, they do; but still suggest that just under half of all devices with appreciable use are running a version of Android released between October 2013 and November 2014. Worth looking at the full PDF, which has lots more details of other devices and crashes too.
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iPhone 7 again rumoured to have flush, touch-sensitive home button • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»Apple may be planning to introduce a Force Touch home button on the iPhone 7, according to analysts at Cowen and Company (via Business Insider). Citing supply chain “field checks,” Cowen and Company predicts the iPhone 7 will do away with a physical home button, instead adopting a home button that sits flush with the phone.

Apple’s Force Touch technology will reportedly be built into the home button to provide haptic feedback when pressed, much like the Force Touch trackpad on Apple’s most recent MacBooks. With haptic feedback, iPhone users would still feel the sensation of pressing on the home button even without a button to actually depress.

Cowen and Company has a mixed track record, but it’s worth noting that we’ve heard two other rumors about a redesigned home button on the iPhone 7. In April, DigiTimes said Apple was testing a touch-sensitive home button that fits flush with the phone, and a highly sketchy image of what was said to be an iPhone 7 with a touch-sensitive home button surfaced in mid-June.

Given the unreliability of each of the home button rumors, the information should be viewed with some skepticism until confirmed by a more reliable source, but when viewed alongside rumors of improved waterproofing and the removal of the headphone jack, a flush home button is not a rumor that seems entirely out of the question.

«

In September 2015, I wrote that Force/3D Touch was clearly part of a path to replace the physical iPhone (and iPad) home button:

»I bet that mechanical failure of Home buttons is one thing that keeps showing up in Apple’s fault reports. Broken screens are easily replaced (and people can get by with broken screens for a looong time), but broken home buttons not so. Grit can get in. Water can get in. Constant movement isn’t ideal in electronics. You might say that it’s just tough if peoples’ Home buttons break, but compared to Android phones which don’t have them, it’s an obvious point of weakness – and customer dissatisfaction.

However, the Home button is needed as the place where your fingerprint is read. But that doesn’t need a moving home button; it just needs a circle of sapphire glass through which your print is read.

«

Feeling increasingly confident about that one.
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Does Brexit herald a new era for big data-driven forecasting? • Forbes

Kalev Leetaru:

»Discussion does not imply support. In the Iowa caucuses, Sanders led Clinton in Facebook mentions by 73% to 25%, while actual voting had them nearly tied, while in 2012 Twitter showed Obama dominating the Southern states ultimately won by Romney. Most recently, Facebook showed Sanders beating Clinton by a landslide in Facebook discussion, though it did also show Trump leading on the Republican side. Of course, social media data is also becoming increasingly difficult to access as a data source.

Web searches are increasingly being used as a metric to understand society. Google Trends published a map looking at searches across the UK in the first week of June, showing that Leave dominated searches across the entire country outside of a handful of pockets. Even Scotland was overwhelmingly searching about Leave. In reality, the final voting results looked quite different. As with social media conversation, heavy search interest simply implies that people are intensely interested in the topic, not that they support or condemn it.

Interestingly, the timeline of search intensity for the two terms within the UK offers a slightly different picture. UK searchers were searching for Remain and Leave nearly neck and neck up until the morning the polls opened, at which point Remain climbed to 8% more than Leave. Yet, around 4:30PM local time, Leave suddenly surged to 15% greater and by 8:30PM local time Leave was 59% ahead and by 10:30 it was 79% ahead, before beginning to head back down.

«

Basically: this stuff doesn’t tell us anything, but in the absence of anything else we like to pretend it does, and anyway there’s no other useful data. (Scotland voted comprehensively to Remain.)
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In a Google future, drivers may exchange their data for infotainment • Car and Driver Blog

Pete Bigelow:

»In exchange for vehicle content, Google might want details that include data about the vehicle itself—mileage, condition of certain components like tires, details on serial numbers of vehicle systems, and the like. It may also demand information on the occupants, including the types of content they’ve stored in vehicle systems, preferred genres of music, video content,  and more.

With a company like Google, which has interests in the automotive realm that run from autonomous cars to its Android Auto phone-projection system, the consolidation of control worries John Simpson, director of the Privacy Project for Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization that has tracked Google’s automotive efforts and frequently criticizes the company’s privacy practices.

“This is an egregious invasion of a motorist’s privacy, and I do fear that people who refuse to provide personal data will be unfairly locked out of infotainment systems,” he said. Going further down the line, Simpson said, “The privacy concerns are even greater with self-driving autonomous vehicles. Google could easily offer a self-driving car that would only operate if personal data were turned over to the company.”

«

Hmm. There are lots of insurance companies which already track your car (for younger drivers) to offer reductions in insurance costs. But seeking data about what you’re listening to? Perhaps it’s just covering all the bases.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: apologies for the late arrival of the blogpost and the email yesterday. The finger usually employed to press the “schedule” button has been reassigned to other duties.

Start up: mobile phones still safe, Clinton’s email screwup, Apple Store life, Facebook everywhere, and more


You can study first dates using economics. Ask about their STDs! Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. There you are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cellphone radiation is still safer than viral science stories • Mashable

Jason Abbruzzese:

»Here’s the study’s title: “Report of Partial findings from the National Toxicology Program Carcinogenesis Studies of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation in Hsd: Sprague Dawley® SD rats (Whole Body Exposure)

And here’s a summary from Mashable science editor Andrew Freedman: “The partial results show that exposing large doses of radiation over about two years to male rats can cause unusually high rates of two specific kinds of tumors. But the comparison to humans is a question mark and comparison even to the control group of rats is problematic because of abnormalities in that group. There are a lot of statistical oddities in the study.”

And now, a selection of headlines from various outlets that covered the study.

«

They’re all terrible misrepresentations. Survival in the control group of males was lower than in the exposed group of males. So.. mobile phones make you live longer?
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Why Google and Boston Dynamics are parting ways • Tech Insider

Danielle Muoio:

»In 2015, Google attempted to take control of the robotics groups to learn what they were working on and how it could be translated into a consumer product, the former employees said.

“That’s when we first started seeing Google…actually trying to have leadership structure over all those robotic groups,” one former employee said. “Where they’re saying, ‘Okay, what do you do? Are you mobility, are you vision?’ …. and grouping them and directing them toward a commercial product space.”

It’s still unclear what exactly Google wanted in terms of a consumer product. One former employee said Google wanted an easy-to-use robot that could help with basic tasks around the house. One idea pitched was that it would roam around on wheels, which could arguably be seen as more consumer friendly than a complex, legged robot.

Boston Dynamics, given that it was born out of the MIT Leg Lab, was rubbed that wrong way by that concept.

«

Word is that Boston Dynamics is being sold to Toyota.
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Clinton’s email shenanigans sure don’t look like an honest mistake • Bloomberg View

Megan McArdle:

»Today is the day that so many of us have been waiting for: The State Department’s Office of Inspector General has released its report about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. The report does not uncover any smoking guns – no records of Clinton saying “Heh, heh, heh, they’ll never FOIA my e-mails NOW!!!!” – what it does lay out is deeply troubling. Even though her supporters have already begun the proclamations of “nothing to see here, move along.”

It lays to rest the longtime Clinton defense that this use of a private server was somehow normal and allowed by government rules: It was not normal, and was not allowed by the government rules in place at the time “The Department’s current policy, implemented in 2005, is that normal day-to-day operations should be conducted on an authorized Automated Information System (AIS), which “has the proper level of security control to … ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”

It also shreds the defense that “Well, Colin Powell did it too” into very fine dust, and then neatly disposes of the dust…

… it isn’t minor. Setting up an e-mail server in a home several states away from the security and IT folks, in disregard of the rules designed to protect state secrets and ensure good government records, and then hiring your server administrator to a political slot while he keeps managing your system on government time … this is not acceptable behavior in a government official. If Clinton weren’t the nominee, or if she had an R after her name rather than a D, her defenders would have no difficulty recognizing just how troubling it is.

«

Clinton really, really screwed this up.
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Q&A with an Apple Store worker: ‘yes, it’s like a cult’ • Business Insider

Jim Edwards had a long chat with an ex-Apple Store employee, who has tons of fascinating detail, including this:

»BI: You were at Apple for four years. Why couldn’t you become a store manager?

A: It’s very difficult at Apple. We had between five and eight store managers during my time at the store, of varying kinds. Only one of them had started at Apple the rest had been recruited from elsewhere. From, say, Dixons or HMV.

BI: Why don’t they promote from within? Surely the regular sales staff are the most knowledgeable?

A: That was a hugely contentious issue. They did try to fix that with a “Lead and Learn” programme, where you train on the shop floor by acting as a manager without being a manager. We had some great people on the shop floor, people who had been there for five years, who were selling more than anyone else. But they were still just specialists or experts [two of the lowest ranked positions at Apple].

BI: So why is Apple not promoting these people?

A: I don’t know. It was controversial, hence the “Lead and Learn” programme. But as far as I’m aware — and I’m still in contact with these people — no-one on this programme has been promoted to manager. There are other jobs in-store that can earn you more money, but they’re technical jobs, like working at the Genius Bar, which a lot of people absolutely hated because you’re dealing with really angry customers.

«

Tons more in there. Worth the time.
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Facebook wants to help sell every ad on the web • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

»Facebook has set out to power all advertising across the Internet.

To that end, the social network and online advertising company said Thursday it will now help marketers show ads to all users who visit websites and applications in its Audience Network ad network. Previously Facebook only showed ads to members of its social network when they visited those third-party properties.

The change is a subtle one, but it could mean Facebook will soon help to sell and place a much larger portion of the video and display ads that appear across the Internet. The change will also intensify competition with Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Google, which dominates the global digital-advertising market, and a wide range of other online ad specialists.

“Publishers and app developers have some users who aren’t Facebook users. We think we can do a better job powering those ads,” said Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform.

«

1.6bn people on Facebook; 3.2bn people using the internet worldwide. Room to grow.
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How many stories do newspapers publish per day? • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»The [New York] Times says it publishes several hundred stories from the Associated Press or other wire services online every day, but almost all of them expire and go offline after a few weeks. The number of wire stories that make it to the print paper—about 13 per day—hasn’t changed significantly since 2010.

At The Wall Street Journal, the set-up is different. Because the Journal’s online content more closely mirrors what makes it into the paper, it publishes only about 240 stories per day. That’s both online and in print. About seven wire stories per day make it into the paper.

At the Journal, the number of stories per day has fallen more significantly than at other venues. Five years ago, the paper published about 325 stories per day. A spokeswoman told me that the recent drop in Wall Street Journal stories per day can be explained by the fact that the paper integrated its own newsroom with the Dow Jones wire service in 2013.

«

Wolfgang Blau, formerly at the Guardian and now at Conde Nast, has a comment on this, including this dangerous observation:

»journalism – just like search, social or e-commerce, but with a delay – is now globalizing and will be dominated by publishers whose home base is already large enough to make it there, i. e. the US or China. The British model of having to expand into the US just to finance their domestic operation (Daily Mail, Guardian) is doomed…

«

link to this extract


Does online media have a political agenda? • Parsely

Conrad Lee:

»A couple of months ago, Journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote a controversial op-ed column in The New York Times about how “The Media Helped Make Trump.” In the piece, he argued that the $1.9 billion in free publicity that the media has given Donald Trump so far during this election cycle has provided him with a platform from which to spew “outrageous statements that [draw] ever more cameras — without facing enough skeptical follow-up questions.” In the aftermath of Kristof’s piece, readers and journalists fervently debated the veracity of his claims.

Because we work with media sites around the world to help answer questions about how readers are responding to content, Parse.ly is in a unique position to provide insight into this particular debate. We analyzed more than one billion page views across more than 100,000 articles to figure out which of the last five remaining major U.S. Presidential candidates were getting the most attention both from reporters and readers.

PLAY WITH OUR DATA

The results surprised us, suggesting that while journalists seem to be preoccupied with covering Trump, the public is not especially interested in reading about him.

«

link to this extract


The celebrity privacy case that exposes hypocrisy of Silicon Valley power brokers • The Guardian

Evgeny Morozov:

»Silicon Valley’s elites hate such intrusion into their personal lives. Had they worked for any other industry, their concerns would be justified. But they work for an industry that tries to convince us that privacy does not matter and that transparency and deregulation are the way to go. Since they do not lead by example, why shouldn’t their hypocrisy be exposed?

If tech elites are so concerned about privacy, they can start backing initiatives such as the right to be forgotten. Why can’t Thiel – a backer of the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of the world’s dissidents where the Human Rights Foundation awards the Václav Havel international prize for creative dissent – help us to make sure that embarrassing content, taken out of context and now enjoying worldwide circulation thanks to social networks and search engines, is easier to manage?

This won’t happen, as the right to be forgotten undermines the very business model – grab whatever data is available – on which the untaxed riches of Silicon Valley are built. In Thiel’s ideal world, our data flows freely and the tech companies can hoover it up as they see fit. Should someone else pry into our lives, disclosing intimate details and making money out of it, then it suddenly becomes a crime against humanity.

A world where the tech elites have all the privacy that they want while the rest of us have to either accept living in public or invest in market solutions like online reputation systems is a world that rests on foundations that are so hypocritical and so ridiculous that they must be exposed.

«

link to this extract


Google steps up pressure on partners tardy in updating Android • Bloomberg

Jack Clark and Scott Moritz:

»Smaller Android phone makers didn’t even attempt the monthly goal [for security updates to Android]. HTC Corp. executive Jason Mackenzie called it “unrealistic” last year. Motorola previously tried to get handsets three years old or newer patched twice a year. It’s now aiming for quarterly updates, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Google is trying to persuade carriers to exclude its security patches from the full series of tests, which can cost several hundred thousand dollars for each model, according to an executive at a leading Android handset maker.

“Google has come a long way since Stagefright,” said Joshua Drake, a senior researcher at mobile security firm Zimperium. But it’s still a struggle because some carriers don’t treat security as a priority, while phone makers have other incentives, such as selling new devices, he added.

Google is using more forceful tactics. It has drawn up lists that rank top phone makers by how up-to-date their handsets are, based on security patches and operating system versions, according to people familiar with the matter. Google shared this list with Android partners earlier this year. It has discussed making it public to highlight proactive manufacturers and shame tardy vendors through omission from the list, two of the people said. The people didn’t want to be identified to maintain their relationships with Google.

“Google is putting pressure on,” said Sprint’s [vp of product development Ryan] Sullivan, who has seen data that Google uses to track who is falling behind. “Since we are the final approval, we are applying pressure because our customers are expecting it.”

«

link to this extract


On Peter Thiel and Gawker • Elizabeth Spiers

Spiers was the founding editor of Gawker (2002-3) which “was mostly interested in insider media stuff, and even then, it just wasn’t that scandalous”; now she’s a venture capitalist. She has never met Thiel, but thinks his acts in going after Gawker might worry future co-investors or entrepreneurs working with him:

»he would have been someone I’d have been curious to meet, in part because I am convinced that he’s smart, provocative, and thinks in a very long term way about big thorny problems.

But there’s interesting-fun-mercurial and there’s the kind of mercurial where you start to worry about being anywhere near the blast radius when the person blows up, for of being completely incinerated — maybe even unintentionally. And that’s where I wonder what he’s like as an investor in situations where he’s actively involved. If you have a disagreement with him, is the result a reasonable adjudication of the conflict, or is there always a possibility that even small things could result in total annihilation?

And because I know there’s someone somewhere reading this and thinking “well, what the fuck is wrong with total annihilation when someone screws you over?”, here’s what I’d say: there’s a reason why proportionality is an important concept in the ethics of warfare and I think there’s a parallel here. I don’t want to go into Just War Theory/jus en bello rules of engagement or whether it’s a morally correct military doctrine, but if we didn’t largely hew to it, we could easily end up in a “because we can” cycle of foreign policy that allows wealthy powerful nations to catastrophically and relentlessly attack weaker ones for minor offenses. Disproportionate response facilitates tyranny.

«

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When journalism gets confused with cyberbullying • Medium

Kristi Culpepper:

»What I do find interesting, however, is that so many journalists clamored to Gawker’s defense. Most non-journalists that I converse with were delighted to see Gawker taken down so spectacularly. Gawker is a morally repulsive publication — and not Larry Flynt repulsive, but let’s utterly destroy some random person’s life for giggles repulsive.

Gawker relishes abusive content and most of the time does not care if the claims they are making about people can be verified. We aren’t talking about a publication that stops at publishing celebrity nudes and sex tapes without permission, but that publishes videos of a woman being raped in a bathroom stall in a sports bar despite her begging them not to. Contrary to what several of the reporters in my Twitter feed have suggested, Gawker does not have a reputation for “punching up.” They just punch.

I think reporters’ displays of support for Gawker in this case raises a lot of questions about ethics in journalism and demonstrates an overarching decline in editorial standards as traditional media competes with online venues. The test of journalism should be whether reporting or writing serves a public purpose. It says a lot about the state of journalism that public interest is now confused with arbitrary victimization and cyberbullying. There are pre-teens on Facebook with more professional restraint.

«

Culpepper describes herself as a “bond market geek” (so hardly a hedge fund owner or billionaire), and points to the fact that it was Gawker which published the ironic tweet by a PR boarding a plane and turned it into a job- and career-destroying experience, besides plenty else.

That said, print publications have done plenty of mad damage to people too.
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The market failure of first dates • Priceonomics

Sarah Scharf:

»While not rocking the boat may seem like ideal strategy for getting a second date, [economist Dan] Ariely argues that sticking to neutral topics (haven’t we all been on a date where the weather was discussed ad nauseum?) creates a “bad equilibrium”—an outcome where both sides converge, but neither side is pleased with it.

In an experiment he ran with online daters, subjects were forced to eschew safe topics in their messages and only throw out probing, personally revealing questions like “How many lovers have you had?” or “Do you have any STDs?”

The result? Both sides were more satisfied with the outcome. So the next time you find yourself on a “boring” date, the solution may be to push the envelope—and converge upon a new equilibrium.

«

This economic look at why and how dates work is great. (Note: I haven’t been on a first date for more than 20 years but am guessing stuff hasn’t really changed.) the next article in the series is how Subaru targeted lesbians to get a foothold in the US market. I’m agog.
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Jawbone stops production of fitness trackers • Tech Insider

Steve Kovach:

»It’s been over a year since Jawbone has released a new flagship fitness tracker. Despite entering the wearables market almost five years ago, Jawbone has failed to gain any significant market share in the space. FitBit and Apple currently dominate.

Jawbone raised a new $165m round of funding in January. The company’s CEO Hosain Rahman told Tech Insider a few months ago that the company plans to use that money to develop clinical-grade fitness trackers.

«

Jawbone is also looking to sell its speaker business. It’s cashing in its chips in the consumer space and heading upmarket, having been driven out of business at the low end. Wearables is consolidating fast: there have been a number of purchases of smaller companies by larger ones in adjacent spaces.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Android on ChromeOS!, the PC squeeze, play like Steve Reich, Bluetooth tampons?, and more


Theranos’s next home might be in the parking lot. Photo by jurvetson on Flickr.

Some people already signed up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Yes they did.

A selection of 15 links for you. Started, couldn’t stop. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Android apps are just what Chromebooks needed • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»Google just announced that Chrome OS finally has what many people have been clamoring for almost since its introduction five years ago: true native apps. And it has a massive number of them, too. When support for them launches later this year, there will be more and better apps than you can find in the Windows Store. They just happen to all be Android apps.

The Google Play Store, that massive repository of Android apps, is coming to Chrome OS. It will be available to developers in early June, then a month or two later it’ll hit the more stable “beta” channel, and finally it will be ready for all users this fall.

Google waited until day two of its I/O developer conference to announce what might be its biggest and most impactful news. With the Play Store, Chrome OS is suddenly a lot more compelling to users who might have shied away from using a device that could only use the web and web apps. Sure, most of those new native apps were originally designed for phones, but they run quite well on the Chromebook Pixel 2 I saw them on.

Better than quite well, in fact. They were fast and felt fully integrated with the OS.

«

At a stroke this brings all the Microsoft suite to Chromebooks – turning them into potentially much cheaper PC replacements for businesses and schools. That might drive down the average price of computers. Speaking of which…
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Profit opportunities exist for PC vendors • Gartner

»Many vendors in the mid-tier of the PC ecosystem are struggling. “They are severely reducing their regional and country-level presence, or leaving the PC market altogether,” said Ms. Escherich. “Between them, Acer, Fujitsu, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba have lost 10.5% market share since 2011. In the first quarter of 2016, Dell, HP Inc. and Lenovo gained market share but recorded year-over-year declines.”

Regional markets are also changing. Low oil prices and political uncertainties are driving economic tightening in Brazil and Russia, changing these countries from drivers of growth to market laggards. In terms of volume, the US, China, Germany, the U.K. and Japan remain the top five, but consumers in these markets have also been cutting their number of PCs per household…

…Despite a declining PC market, the ultramobile premium segment is on pace to achieve revenue growth this year — the only segment set to do so. It is estimated to reach $34.6bn, an increase of 16% from 2015. In 2019, Gartner forecasts that the ultramobile premium segment will become the largest segment of the PC market in revenue terms, at $57.6bn.

“The ultramobile premium market is also more profitable in comparison with the low-end segment, where PCs priced at $500 or less have 5% gross margins,” said Ms. Tsai. “The gross margin can reach up to 25% for high-end ultramobile premium PCs priced at $1,000 or more.”

«

5% gross margin – $25 per machine? And that’s before operating costs.
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This $5bn software company has no sales staff • Bloomberg

Dina Bass:

»Brandon Cipes, vice president for information systems at OceanX, has spent enough time in senior IT positions to hate sales calls. “It’s like buying a car—a process that seemingly should be so simple, but every time I have to, it’s like a five- to six-hour ordeal,” he says. “Most of our effort is trying to get the salespeople to leave us alone.” Cipes didn’t always feel that way, though. Back in 2013, he was used to the routine. His conversion began when he e-mailed business-software maker Atlassian, asking the company to send him a sales rep, and it said no.

Atlassian, which makes popular project-management and chat apps such as Jira and HipChat, doesn’t run on sales quotas and end-of-quarter discounts. In fact, its sales team doesn’t pitch products to anyone, because Atlassian doesn’t have a sales team. Initially an anomaly in the world of business software, the Australian company has become a beacon for other businesses counting on word of mouth to build market share. “Customers don’t want to call a salesperson if they don’t have to,” says Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-chief executive officer. “They’d much rather be able to find the answers on the website.”

«

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Verification: I can’t even • honestlyreal

Paul Clarke:

»Yes folks, it’s back again! The Queen’s Speech today promises yet another Mumsnet/Mail pleasing crackdown on one-handed websurfing – age verification!

Ha, brilliant – so obvious – all we have to do to send the kids back to the era of damp grotmags in the bushes is do a bit of proving-who-you are when someone clicks their way to a nacky site. No proof, no nacky.

Couldn’t be easier!

So how are they going to make it work then?

Short answer: they can’t.

Longer answer: they’d have to solve the Big Problem, and also some Littler Problems.

The Big Problem is an ancient conundrum: how do you build a checking system that’s solid enough to be worth doing, but not so solid that it doesn’t immediately bugger up the life of someone who loses access to their digital self?

«

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Google’s Allo fails to use end-to-end encryption by default • Graham Cluley

»Google has announced that later this year it will be releasing a new messaging app called Allo.

You can think of it as a competitor to WhatsApp, iMessage or Signal.

Apart from there’s one big difference. Because, unlike those messaging apps which came before it, Allo doesn’t have end-to-end encryption enabled by default.

Instead, if users wish to feel confident that their private messages are properly protected from interception by unauthorised parties, they will have to change a setting in the app – enabling something called “Incognito” mode.

Seriously, it’s great that Google is going to have an end-to-end encryption option in Allo, and I’m reassured that they are partnering with Open Whisper Systems (developers of the Signal protocol) who are experts in secure messaging, but I want to know why it isn’t the default?

Because if there is one thing we have learnt over the years, it’s this. Few users ever change the default settings.

«

It really is strange. Why isn’t Google doing this? People say, reflexively, “data mining”. But isn’t the metadata – knowing who you spoke to and for how long – enough, if you already have them signed in? And one of the developers who consulted on security says he wants it on by default, because that would fit with what people want – disappearing messages.
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CEO Larry Page defends Google on the stand: “Declaring code is not code” • Ars Technica UK

Joe Mullin:

»Page’s testimony comes in the final hours of the Oracle v. Google trial. The lawsuit began when Oracle sued Google in 2010 over its use of 37 Java APIs, which Oracle acquired when it bought Sun Microsystems. In 2012, a judge ruled that APIs can’t be copyrighted at all, but an appeals court disagreed. Now, unless a jury finds that Google’s use of APIs was “fair use,” Oracle may seek up to $9bn in damages.

«

Page’s testimony is persuasive (though of course we only hear a little). This feels like it will go Google’s way.
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Why porting an iOS design to Android will not work • Martiancraft

Landon Robinson:

»It is very important for designers, developers, and product owners to consider that iOS and Android have different native standards when it comes to navigation patterns and screen transitions, and to be aware of the most current information available on these things. Google’s Material Design documentation does a fantastic job of detailing screen transition use, and applying proper navigation patterns to your app.

Android users are accustomed to certain navigation and UI patterns. Most apps adhere and keep the user’s experience consistent with Android’s UI patterns.

iOS navigation often uses the bottom tab bar for navigating throughout the app. For Android users this is inconsistent with the standard design language and may frustrate users at first glance. It is better not to utilize the bottom tab bar options and present the navigation options under the hamburger icon which is standard on Android. A great example is how Yelp did this for both to its mobile apps. (Starting in Android N, Google is introducing bottom navigation. However there is no release date on when it will be available to the public.)

«

Won’t need to worry about Android N for a couple of years though. The design differences between the two platforms are quite big – and increasingly static. The differences in animation are surprising – but also pretty static.
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The Kimpact: how celebrity apps are changing mobile gaming • Mixpanel

Christine Deakers:

»When “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” launched in the App Store in 2014, what seemed like a vanity app shocked the industry with recording-breaking numbers of downloads – and revenue. With more than 42 million downloads to date, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” shone a spotlight on a relatively quiet player, working behind the scenes. Glu Mobile, who produced the app, positioned itself as the strongest and most proven celebrity studio for mobile gaming.

As their largest title in Q4 2015, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” generated $13.6 million dollars in earnings, approximately 24% of Glu Mobile’s total revenue. As Christopher Locke, GM of Glu Canada revealed, the app’s core audiences are “fans of celebrity culture” and women ages 18 to 36.

In “product-talk”, a public Slack channel, I asked a number of product managers what they thought of “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.” Most of them believed it was a mere novelty and money-making scheme for the Kardashian empire. However, they didn’t seem to recognize the financial impact this and other celebrity apps are having on the greater industry, both for mobile advertising and what is now considered the table stakes for a successful mobile game.

«

Data point: women who game on mobile are 42% more likely to be retained than men.
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Play with Steve Reich’s techniques in a free iPhone app • createdigitalmusic

Peter Kirn:

»Steve Reich’s musical etudes are already a kind of self-contained lesson in rhythm. Inspired by drumming traditions, Reich distills in his music essential principles of rhythmic construction, introducing Western Classical musicians to cyclic forms. That makes them a natural for visual scoring – doubly so something interactive, which is what an iPhone can provide. And so one percussion ensemble has made an app that both reveals Reich’s techniques and opens up a toy you can use to make your own musical experiments. Plus – it’s free.

The app is called “Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich” – that’s a mouthful. And the app is packed with content.

«

It’s also great fun. Like this:

Play it and read on.
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Theranos voids two years of Edison blood-test results • WSJ

John Carreyrou:

»Theranos Inc. has told federal health regulators that the company voided two years of results from its Edison blood-testing devices, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Edison machines were touted as revolutionary and were the main basis for the $9 billion valuation attained by the Palo Alto, Calif., company in a funding round in 2014. But Theranos has now told regulators that it threw out all Edison test results from 2014 and 2015.

The company has told the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that it has issued tens of thousands of corrected blood-test reports to doctors and patients, voiding some results and revising others, according to the person familiar with the matter.

That means some patients received erroneous results that might have thrown off health decisions made with their doctors.

«

This means just short of 2m test results voided; Carreyrou has confirmed this by checking with doctors in Phoenix. “Unprecedented”, one medical expert called it. I don’t see how Theranos can continue in its present form. Meanwhile, the WSJ’s reporting on this has demonstrated how it justifies its paywall.

Unrelated: Theranos is looking for a writer. Apply today!
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Google Spaces’ fatal flaw: it requires too much mental energy • EWeek

Mike Elgan:

»One way to share with Google Spaces is to start with Spaces, using the mobile app to do the Google Search. When you find it, you press the big button, designate which Space it goes in (or create a new one). Then you share by tapping on a button to any site or via any medium, including email. The recipients click on the link, coming back to the Space you created. In this scenario, Spaces is really a feature of Google Search, with the Spaces app actually being an alternative Google Search app with social sharing as a feature.

Similarly, Google’s Spaces Chrome extension adds a social feature to your browser. You simply click on the Spaces button to share the current tab.

Spaces looks like a product, but it’s really a version of Google Search and Chrome with social added as a feature.
I expect Spaces to be integrated with all kinds of Google sites and apps to add social as a feature so people don’t have to use a social product like Facebook.

Spaces allows Google to escape the surly bonds of the network effect.

On social products, a company is expected to provide access to other users. The more users are on a network, the more new users want to be on that network. That’s the network effect.

Google tried to compete against Facebook by creating a superior social networking product: Google+, but Google was defeated by the network effect because it was late to the game.

With Spaces, there is no network effect, er, in effect. Google provides no users. Nobody is “on” Spaces. Nobody can call Spaces a “ghost town” because there’s no town. You don’t need a Google+ account to use Spaces. You don’t even need a Google password to read content on Spaces you’ve been invited to.

«

I don’t get it. As in, I can’t create a mental model of the situations where this would be useful. Elgan also points out that some of the content design (in the “Activity” stream), using truncated sentences, will make people recoil rather than lean in. I’d say the clock is already ticking for this one.
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This Bluetooth tampon is the smartest thing you can put in your vagina • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

»Every single person with a vagina has had that horrifying moment: you look down, and there’s blood everywhere. It’s always annoying, it’s usually embarrassing, and more than half the time it happens in front of the entire student body.

my.Flow, a new startup currently looking for additional funding, is hoping to save a slew of people from the mortification of period mishaps. It’s a tampon with Bluetooth connectivity—yes, you read that correctly—that that lets a user know when the tampon is completely saturated and needs to be changed.

The original concept included a Bluetooth module inside the tampon, but my.Flow found that many users were uncomfortable with having a wad of electronics shoved up their hoo hah. So the latest version, developed at an incubator in Beijing, is a tampon with an extra long string that connects to a Bluetooth module on your waist.

The new concept is not without some… drawbacks.

«

I think I can discern one. But Cranz says women agree that for a teenager, it could be really helpful. (And bonus marks for the headline.)
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Cars, trucks, iPads, and laptops • Macworld

Jason Snell:

»The assumption many of us have made, myself included, is that it will really take a new generation of computer users, those weaned on iPhones and iPads, before the iPad and other touchscreen devices take their place as the computing trucks of the future. It makes sense, right? Kids love iPhones and iPads. The touch interface is easily understandable, even by small children. The future is inevitable.

So here’s the problem with that way of thinking. My daughter, born in 2001 and raised in a world of iPods, iPhones, and iPads, has two devices she absolutely requires in order to live. (My understanding is that she would shrivel up into some sort of husk and die if either of them were to go away.) One of those devices is her iPhone, of course. She is endlessly iMessaging, Instagramming, Snapchatting, and FaceTiming with her friends.

The other device is a laptop. (A Chromebook Pixel, in this case, but it could just as easily have been a MacBook Air.) In fact, when I offered her the use of my iPad Air 2 instead of her laptop, she immediately dismissed it. A native of the 21st century–the century where the keyboard and mouse are left on the sidewalk with a cardboard FREE sign as we embrace our tablet futures–is flatly refusing to switch from a laptop to a tablet.

Of course, I asked my daughter why she prefers the laptop to an iPad.

«

The answer, as they say, will surprise you. Well, it might. The reasoning around which screen to watch TV on is an “oh, of course” moment.
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Technology betrays everyone • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

»My presentation in 2006 wasn’t about email passwords, but about all the other junk that leaks private information. Specifically, I discussed WiFi MAC addresses, and how they can be used to track mobile devices. Only in the last couple years have mobile phone vendors done something to change this. The latest version of iOS 9 will now randomize the MAC address, so that “they” can no longer easily track you by it.

The point of this post is this. If you are thinking “surely my tech won’t harm me in stupid ways”, you are wrong. It will. Even if it says on the box “100% secure”, it’s not secure. Indeed, those who promise the most often deliver the least. Those on the forefront of innovation (Apple, Google, and Facebook), but even they must be treated with a health dose of skepticism.

So what’s the answer? Paranoia and knowledge. First, never put too much faith in the tech. It’s not enough, for example, for encryption to be an option — you want encryption enforced so that unencrypted is not an option. Second, learn how things work. Learn why SSL works the way it does, why it’s POP3S and not POP3, and why “certificate warnings” are a thing. The more important security is to you, the more conservative your paranoia and the more extensive your knowledge should become.

«

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R.I.P., GOP: how Trump is killing the Republican party • Rolling Stone

Matt Taibbi with a tour de force:

»Of course, Trump is more likely than not to crash the car now that he has the wheel. News reports surfaced that Donald Trump, unhinged pig, was about to be replaced by Donald Trump, respectable presidential candidate. No more schoolyard insults!

Trump went along with this plan for a few days. But soon after Indiana, he started public fights with old pal Joe Scarborough and former opponents Graham and Bush, the latter for backtracking on a reported pledge to support the Republican nominee. “Bush signed a pledge… while signing it, he fell asleep,” Trump cracked.

Then he began his general-election pivot with about 10 million tweets directed at “crooked Hillary.” With all this, Trump emphasized that the GOP was now mainly defined by whatever was going through his head at any given moment. The “new GOP” seems doomed to swing back and forth between its nationalist message and its leader’s tubercular psyche. It isn’t a party, it’s a mood.

Democrats who might be tempted to gloat over all of this should check themselves. If the Hillary Clintons and Harry Reids and Gene Sperlings of the world don’t look at what just happened to the Republicans as a terrible object lesson in the perils of prioritizing billionaire funders over voters, then they too will soon enough be tossed in the trash like a tick.

«

This is a terrific, albeit long, read. A quick word of warning: there’s autoplay video on the page, and it’s got Trump in it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: trouble with bots, big data’s fable, Google and the White House, beware iCloud phishers, and more

Google search for various speech-related commands
“Call mom” has overtaken “call home” in Google search – probably voice commands. Dad still lingers a way behind.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Isn’t that something.

A selection of 11 links for you. Well, it is Monday. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How big data creates false confidence » Nautilus

Jesse Dunietz:

»If I claimed that Americans have gotten more self-centered lately, you might just chalk me up as a curmudgeon, prone to good-ol’-days whining. But what if I said I could back that claim up by analyzing 150 billion words of text? A few decades ago, evidence on such a scale was a pipe dream. Today, though, 150 billion data points is practically passé. A feverish push for “big data” analysis has swept through biology, linguistics, finance, and every field in between.

Although no one can quite agree how to define it, the general idea is to find datasets so enormous that they can reveal patterns invisible to conventional inquiry. The data are often generated by millions of real-world user actions, such as tweets or credit-card purchases, and they can take thousands of computers to collect, store, and analyze. To many companies and researchers, though, the investment is worth it because the patterns can unlock information about anything from genetic disorders to tomorrow’s stock prices.

But there’s a problem: It’s tempting to think that with such an incredible volume of data behind them, studies relying on big data couldn’t be wrong. But the bigness of the data can imbue the results with a false sense of certainty. Many of them are probably bogus — and the reasons why should give us pause about any research that blindly trusts big data.

«

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Google’s remarkably close relationship with the Obama White House, in two charts » The Intercept

David Dayen:

»[Mikey] Dickerson led the U.S. Digital Service, a new agency whose mission was to fix other technology problems in the federal government. Ex-Google staffers were prevalent there as well. Dickerson attended nine White House meetings with Google personnel while working for the government between 2013 and 2014.

Meetings between Google and the White House, viewed in this context, sometimes function like calls to the IT Help Desk. Only instead of working for the same company, the government is supposed to be regulating Google as a private business, not continually asking it for favors.

Much of this collaboration could be considered public-minded — it’s hard to argue with the idea that the government should seek outside technical help when it requires it. And there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo. But this arrangement doesn’t have to result in outright corruption to be troubling.

The obvious question that arises is: Can government do its job with respect to regulating Google in the public interest if it owes the company such a debt of gratitude?

Google doesn’t think its activities present an antitrust problem. It doesn’t feel constrained from holding incredible amounts of data. But should Google be in a position to make that determination itself? How much influence is too much influence?

«

It’s a very, very comprehensive look at how close Google is to the White House. Would it be any different under Clinton?
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SMS phishing attackers continue to pursue Apple users » WeLiveSecurity

Graham Cluley:

»A week ago I reported on my personal blog how criminals were spamming out SMS messages that claimed to come from Apple, but were actually designed to steal personal information for the purposes of identity theft.

The messages all used a cunning piece of social engineering – posing as a notice from Apple that their Apple ID was due to expire that very day – to get unsuspecting users to click on a link to a phishing website.

The SMS messages were even more convincing because they referred to recipients by name, most likely fooling some into believing that there was a genuine reason to act upon the alert and visit the site pointed to by the criminals.

Although the site the criminals were initially using – appleexpired.co.uk – was quickly blocked by the major web browsers and taken down, that didn’t take the wind out of the criminals’s sails.

In the days since it has become clear that the identity thieves have registered a series of other domains – all claiming to be related to Apple or Apple ID. Examples have included icloudauth.co.uk, mobileicloud.uk, and icloudmobile.co.uk.

«

There was a big run of these over the weekend; my wife received two, which used her name. They do come via SMS; it seems that once someone’s address book is hacked, messages are then sent out to people in the address book. Standard phishing attack, jumping from one victim to the potential next.

Apple needs to be proactive and set up a way for people to forward these to its security team. And make two-factor authentication easier to implement. (Too late for those who have been hit.)
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Microsoft Android patent-licensing revenue falling » Business Insider

Matt Rosoff:

»Microsoft missed earnings expectations by a couple of cents per share on Thursday afternoon because of an unexpected tax adjustment that skimmed $0.04 off its earnings per share.

In the release, Microsoft noted that its patent-licensing revenue was down 26% from a year ago. And it’s because of Android.

Android phones are still selling just fine, but the market is dominated by cheap handsets being sold in developing countries like China and India.

“The mix of devices in that market has shifted to the low end,” said Chris Suh, Microsoft’s head of investor relations.

Microsoft’s cut is also sinking. Suh also noted that not every Android manufacturer has a licensing deal with Microsoft. He didn’t name names, but Chinese phone makers typically take a very loose approach toward licensing American intellectual property, and as those inexpensive phones take over the world, Microsoft doesn’t benefit as much.

«

Well, OK, but there may be another part to the drop. Read on..
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April 2015: Microsoft reportedly cutting patent fees in exchange for pre-installed apps » AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs, in April 2015:

»Last month, Microsoft announced a global partnership with Samsung and other hardware manufacturers to bring its mobile productivity services, such as its Office suite, to consumers and business users. But there may be more to it than simply offering customers compelling services, DigiTimes Research suggests that Microsoft is tempting Android manufacturers to pre-install its software in exchange for discounts on its licensing fees.

Android hardware manufacturers have all signed a patent licensing agreement with Microsoft for various essential technologies developed by the company. However, according to findings from Taiwan’s and China’s smartphone/tablet upstream supply chain, Microsoft is offering discounts to those who pre-install Office programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, as well as OneDrive and Skype onto their Android devices. So far, 11 hardware partners are signed up to the deal.

«

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As search changes, Google changes » Search Engine Land

Adam Dorfman:

»Recently, a company known as MindMeld, which provides voice search technologies, surveyed US smartphone users and found that 60% had started using voice search within the past year. You can also see a rise in search queries that are clearly voice commands when you look at Google Trends for phrases such as “call mom,” which are highly unlikely to be typed into a search box.

Voice search is no longer coming. It’s here.

These changes do not bode well for Google’s traditional revenue model, which relies on serving up ads while you search on Google.com. The user interface of talking to your mobile phone or wearable device to order a pizza does not leave any room for a paid search ad. So it’s not surprising that display advertising spend is overtaking search ad spend, and the gap between the two will widen over the next few years.

«

But, as Dorfman points out, Google is adapting. That graph of “call mom” is definitely one which would merit playing around with using a few other search terms. Here’s “Call home” against “call Mom” against “call Dad” and “call John” and “call Mary” (also at top of page).
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Amazon unintentionally paying scammers to hand you 1000 pages of crap you don’t read » Consumerist

Kate Cox on a scam related to Kindle Unlimited:

»if you read 75 pages on your Kindle today, then turn the WiFi on and sync it, Amazon will mark you at page 75. If you never pick up the book again, that’s your furthest synced point. If it’s a 300 page book and you finish it, page 300 is your furthest synced point.

But e-books don’t have to be linear. You might, for example, open up a new Kindle book and find it has a link on the first page, to take you to a later chapter or a table of contents or another language. Tapping that link could put you hundreds of pages into the book — which means that the author of that file is now making money off you, even if you haven’t read a word… or even if there’s not a single real word there to be read.

And that is exactly what’s happening. Scammers are basically uploading “books” that are nothing but files full of nonsense with some link on page 1 that puts readers on page 300 or 3000 (the maximum page length for which Amazon will pay out) almost instantly. In between there’s nothing but nonsense, but the scammer can use click farms to drive up the ranking of their book and so people download it anyway.

The user hasn’t paid for this book directly, because they have an unlimited subscription, so they just close the file, forget about it, and move on to the next. But if dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of readers get tricked into the same maneuver, that “author” has just made a decent amount of money for something like 15 minutes’ worth of total work.

«

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Bangladesh Bank exposed to hackers by cheap switches, no firewall: police » Reuters

Serajul Quadir:

»Bangladesh’s central bank was vulnerable to hackers because it did not have a firewall and used second-hand, $10 switches to network computers connected to the SWIFT global payment network, an investigator into one of the world’s biggest cyber heists said.

The shortcomings made it easier for hackers to break into the Bangladesh Bank system earlier this year and attempt to siphon off nearly $1 billion using the bank’s SWIFT credentials, said Mohammad Shah Alam, head of the Forensic Training Institute of the Bangladesh police’s criminal investigation department.

“It could be difficult to hack if there was a firewall,” Alam said in an interview.

«

The Internet of Astonishingly Insecure Things.
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Bots won’t replace apps. Better apps will replace apps » Dan Grover

Grover points out the nonsense of people thinking AI-driven chatbots will take over from touch-and-choose visual interfaces:

»It shouldn’t require any detailed analysis, then, to point out the patent inanity of these other recent examples of bots and conversational UI proffered by companies on the vanguard of the trend:

This notion of a bot handling the above sorts of tasks is a curious kind of skeumorphism. In the same way that a contact book app (before the flat UI fashion began) may have presented contacts as little cards with drop shadows and ring holes to suggest a Rolodex, conversational UI, too, has applied an analog metaphor to a digital task and brought along details that, in this form, no longer serve any purpose. Things like the small pleasantries in the above exchange like “please” and “thank you”, to asking for various pizza-related choices sequentially and separately (rather than all at once). These vestiges of human conversation no longer provide utility (if anything, they impede the task). I am no more really holding a conversation than my contact book app really is a l’il Rolodex. At the end, a single call to some ordering interface will be made.

«

Earlier Grover points out that the “quick and easy way to order pizza with your chatbot” takes 73 precise clicks (of virtual keys), whereas doing it through the visual menu interface on the Pizza Hut app takes 16 fat-fingered ones.

Case closed.
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Four fresh presentations, four key charts » Creative Strategies, Inc

Ben Bajarin looks at why people who have a PC aren’t upgrading, what people like about wearables, who wants virtual reality, and also whether people in India are interested in PCs:

»My gut told me there was an interesting opportunity brewing in India. I decided to commission a study, in collaboration with local researchers, to see if India was ready to move beyond the smartphone. We focused on the regions in India where PCs, smartphones, and tablets have the highest penetration — Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai. We did a mix of online studies, focus groups, and 1:1 interviews of 525 Indian consumers in this market.

The theory was simple. As consumers in India mature and have owned more than a few smartphones, they will look to more traditional PC form factors to use for work, school, and more. But with Windows PC penetration in India at less than 10% of the total population and Windows largely being an enterprise/workplace requirement in India, our theory was Android would be more popular as an operating system. As it turns out, it was for the overwhelming majority of consumers looking to buy their first PC in India. Which is encouragingly high for a market that began their journey on the internet on a smartphone.

«

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Microsoft, Google end regulatory disputes » WSJ

Stephen Fidler and Sam Schechner:

»According to a person familiar with the matter, the two companies have agreed to talk to each other first in the future before taking any problems to regulators.

The change reflects the shift in approach that followed Microsoft’s 2014 appointment of Satya Nadella as its new chief executive. Mr. Nadella has taken a less combative stance than his predecessor Steve Ballmer, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“The relationship between the two companies has changed,” the person said, adding that “Nadella has made most of the difference.”

Microsoft’s business priorities also have changed, among other things, with the growth of cloud computing.

The relationship between the two companies began publicly to thaw last year as they worked together to settle their long-running patent war involving roughly 20 pending lawsuits, said a person close to Google.

Microsoft also resigned from FairSearch, a group of digital companies—including Nokia Corp. and Oracle Corp.—that are prominent Google complainants. In addition, the software maker has discouraged ICOMP, another lobby group of which it was a member, from pursuing Google.

«

Wow. Going to be interesting to see whether Icomp and Fairsearch can continue without funding from Microsoft.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: EC v Android in detail, how neural networks spot nudes, Xbox 360’s black ring of death, and more

But now you can get a smart one with a remote app which doesn’t work! Photo by 1950sUnlimited on Flickr

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Jumping beans for moving goalposts. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spring cleaning at CNET’s Smart Home starts with a new smart washer and dryer » CNET

Megan Wollerton:

»Here’s how it’s supposed to go:

Select “Add Appliance” in the app and follow the seemingly straightforward step-by-step tutorial. This includes selecting the type of appliance you want to connect – either a washer, dryer, refrigerator or dishwasher – then the app lists the compatible models. Next, you choose the model number that corresponds to your unit, enter the SAID pin (this number is listed in small font on a sticker when you open the washer and dryer’s lid), connect to Wi-Fi, enter your home address and finally, hit the “finish” button.

Unfortunately, I experienced a couple of hiccups during what should have been a 10-minute process. The first time I tried to add the washing machine, the app crashed and would not let me log in for another 2 hours, saying, “Problem Signing In: Please try again Later.”

Once I was able to log in again, I ran into another road block when I hit the “finish” button — the very last step before the machine is connected and you can start using the app. This time the app said, “Registration Error: We couldn’t register the appliance. Please try again later.”

«

Ooh, I love the future. Love it. (Guess they had to get a woman to review it because none of the male writers would know what a washing machine was.)
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Commission sends Statement of Objections to Google on Android » European Commission

Obkects over licensing of proprietary apps, “exclusivity” and “anti-fragmentation”, here:

»if a manufacturer wishes to pre-install Google proprietary apps, including Google Play Store and Google Search, on any of its devices, Google requires it to enter into an “Anti-Fragmentation Agreement” that commits it not to sell devices running on Android forks.

Google’s conduct has had a direct impact on consumers, as it has denied them access to innovative smart mobile devices based on alternative, potentially superior, versions of the Android operating system. For example, the Commission has found evidence that Google’s conduct prevented manufacturers from selling smart mobile devices based on a competing Android fork which had the potential of becoming a credible alternative to the Google Android operating system. In doing so, Google has also closed off an important way for its competitors to introduce apps and services, in particular general search services, which could be pre-installed on Android forks.

«

That “prevented from selling” is stated as fact; either it’s Amazon’s Fire Phone (Android OEMs couldn’t make the Fire Phone without breaking the Open Handset Alliance agreement) or something involving Cyanogen and a rival app store.
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Android’s model of open innovation » Google Europe Blog

Kent Walker, Google general counsel:

»Android has emerged as an engine for mobile software and hardware innovation.  It has empowered hundreds of manufacturers to build great phones, tablets, and other devices. And it has let developers of all sizes easily reach huge audiences.  The result?  Users enjoy extraordinary choices of apps and devices at ever-lower prices.

The European Commission has been investigating our approach, and today issued a Statement of Objections, raising questions about its impact on competition. We take these concerns seriously, but we also believe that our business model keeps manufacturers’ costs low and their flexibility high, while giving consumers unprecedented control of their mobile devices.

«

Sure, but that isn’t what the EC is worked up about.
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The EU’s Android mistake » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson:

»If the Commission’s main focus is on OEMs rather than consumers, it’s worth evaluating that a little. The reality is that OEMs clearly want to license the GMS [Google Mobile Services] version of Android, because that’s the version consumers want to buy. As Amazon has demonstrated, versions of Android without Google apps have some appeal, but far less than those versions that enable Google search, Gmail, Google Maps, and so on. Vestager’s statement alludes to a desire by at least some OEMs to use an alternative version of Android based on AOSP (presumably Cyanogen), but doesn’t go into specifics. Are there really many OEMs who would like to use both forms of Android in significant numbers, or is their complaining to the Commission just a way to push back on some of the other aspects of Android licensing they don’t like?

It’s certainly the case that OEMs and Android have a somewhat contentious relationship and Google has exerted more power in those relationships over the last recent years, but the main reason for the change in leverage is that Android OEMs have been so unsuccessful in differentiating their devices and hence making money from Android. Inviting the Commission to take action may be a roundabout way to change the balance of power in that relationship, but it’s not the solution to OEMs’ real problems.

«

These are all fair points. Though there’s a certain circularity to the argument of “GMS is what people want to buy, so that’s what is sold”. Dawson does note the above point about the “prevented” development. Was it Amazon? Cyanogen?
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September 2012: Why Google’s clash with Acer and Alibaba strains China’s Android market » The Guardian

By me, back in September 2012:

»The search giant lobbied Acer last week to halt its scheduled press showing of a new smartphone aimed at the Chinese market, pointing out that membership of the Open Handset Alliance – the group of companies forming the device, carrier, semiconductor, software and “commercialisation” sides of the Android ecosystem – forbids Acer from making devices that offer forked, or incompatible, versions of Android.

Acer cancelled the launch abruptly, leaving Alibaba fuming publicly at Google’s actions. John Spelich, Alibaba’s international spokesman, told CNet that “Aliyun is different” from Android – dismissing remarks aimed at him by Andy Rubin, head of Google’s mobile efforts including Android, saying to Spelich that “Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps).”

The upshot has been that Acer has withdrawn from the partnership with Alibaba, at least for now. But Digitimes, the Taiwan-based news site for the IT supply chain there and in China, says there is unease on the part of a number of ODMs (original device manufacturers) who would otherwise aim to benefit from making both Android-compatible and forked versions – the latter principally aimed at China.

«

This point is key. To break into or out of China, OEMs needed to be able to have different sets of services in different countries. And some OEMs wanted to be able to offer forks.
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What convolutional neural networks look at when they see nudity » Clarifai Blog

Ryan Compton:

»Automating the discovery of nude pictures has been a central problem in computer vision for over two decades now and, because of its rich history and straightforward goal, serves as a great example of how the field has evolved. In this blog post, I’ll use the problem of nudity detection to illustrate how training modern convolutional neural networks (convnets) differs from research done in the past.

*Warning: this blog post contains visualizations corresponding to very explicit nudity, proceed with caution!

«

When it’s *other peoples’* very explicit nudity then it’s worrying, of course, but not if it’s your own. NSFW, unless your work involves teaching neural networks to recognise naked people, I guess.
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The Democratic Party now belongs to Hillary Clinton » The American Conservative

Lloyd Green:

»Up until now, [Bernie] Sanders drew rock star crowds as he raged against the machine. Two days before the primary, 28,000 people showed up in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park to watch the candidate and to listen to Grizzly Bear. The Wednesday before, a crowd of 27,000 filled Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park for Sanders and Vampire Weekend. Who needed Coachella when you had Bernie, people asked.

But opening acts aren’t the same thing as organization, concerts aren’t elections, and grand gestures don’t necessarily make you a winner. As Clinton pointed out in her victory speech, “it’s not enough to diagnose problems. You have to explain how you actually solve the problems.” Left unsaid was Clinton’s hand in making the messes she was complaining about. But never mind, Clinton clearly conveyed the message that Sanders was not ready for prime time.

In hindsight, Sanders’ jetting to the Vatican just days before the primary looks like showboating, and his ill-prepared interview before the New York Daily News editorial board seems reminiscent of a stoner trying to ace a college biology exam. And Sanders paid for all of it.

«

Just keeping you up to date on the US elections. You know.
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Intel to cut 12,000 jobs, puts focus on cloud » WSJ

Don Clark and Tess Stynes:

»Makers of handsets overwhelmingly chose chips based on designs licensed from ARM Holdings PLC, which are available from a plethora of suppliers, and Google Inc.’s Android software, which is available free. No matter how good Intel or Microsoft products became, they could never counter those fundamental changes.

Sales of PCs, meanwhile, have been mainly declining since Apple’s iPad emerged in 2010. The market recently seemed to plateau, but sales again dropped in the first quarter, falling nearly 10%, Gartner Inc. estimated.

The continuing decline has forced Intel to focus on growth areas such as computers for data centers and noncomputer devices outfitted with data processing and communications capabilities, known as the Internet of Things.

“They’ve looked at the decline of the PC market and clearly decided that they are going to put most of their effort elsewhere,” said Rob Enderle, a market research who heads the Enderle Group.

«

Let it be recorded that Rob Enderle said something sensible.
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Antitrust: e-commerce sector inquiry finds geo-blocking is widespread throughout EU » European Commission

»Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy, said “The information gathered as part of our e-commerce sector inquiry confirms the indications that made us launch the inquiry: Not only does geo-blocking frequently prevent European consumers from buying goods and digital content online from another EU country, but some of that geo-blocking is the result of restrictions in agreements between suppliers and distributors. Where a non-dominant company decides unilaterally not to sell abroad, that is not an issue for competition law. But where geo-blocking occurs due to agreements, we need to take a close look whether there is anti-competitive behaviour, which can be addressed by EU competition tools.”

More and more goods and services are traded over the internet but cross-border online sales within the EU are only growing slowly. The Commission’s initial findings from the sector inquiry published today address a practice, so-called geo-blocking, whereby retailers and digital content providers prevent online shoppers from purchasing consumer goods or accessing digital content services because of the shopper’s location or country of residence. This is one factor affecting cross-border e-commerce.

«

Pretty much unnoticed among the hubbub about Android, but likely to have more real effect. More details (and pretty graphs!) in the accompanying factsheet.
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Huawei P9 Leica-branded dual-cam actually made by Sunny Optical » Digital Photography Review

Lars Rehm:

»When the Huawei P9 was launched recently, its unusual dual-camera grabbed headlines for a couple of reasons. On one hand, its innovative technological concept, with one 12MP sensor capturing RGB color information and a second 12MP chip exclusively recording monochrome image information, had not been seen in a smartphone before. On the other hand, a Leica badge next to the camera module had imaging enthusiasts speculating about just how much technology from the legendary German camera-maker had made it into the Chinese smartphone.

Huawei later provided additional information, saying the P9’s camera module had been certified by Leica but the German company had not been involved in development or production of the optics. Now it has been revealed that the camera module in question is actually made by the Chinese company Sunny Optical Technology of China, which, according to “insider sources”, is authorized to do so by Leica.

«

Reviewers praised the P9’s camera to the skies. Wonder if they’ll revisit what they wrote?
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Achievement unlocked: 10 years – thank you, Xbox 360 » Xbox Wire

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox:

»From the original Zero Hour launch event, to the incredible reaction received last year at E3 when we announced that you could play your Xbox 360 games on Xbox One, the soul of Xbox 360 was about putting gamers at the center of every decision we make – and we apply this principle across our business to this day.

Xbox 360 means a lot to everyone in Microsoft. And while we’ve had an amazing run, the realities of manufacturing a product over a decade old are starting to creep up on us. Which is why we have made the decision to stop manufacturing new Xbox 360 consoles. We will continue to sell existing inventory of Xbox 360 consoles, with availability varying by country.

We know that many of you became gamers on Xbox 360 and are still active, so it’s important to us that while the overall Xbox gaming experience will evolve and grow, we will continue to support the platform you love in multiple ways.

«

During which time it sold not quite 90m units, and was the cause of $1.15bn in writeoffs over the Red Ring of Death.
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Is Firefox search worth $375m/year to a Yahoo buyer? » Tech.pinions

I dug into Yahoo’s and Mozilla’s financials:

»Who stands to lose if Yahoo is sold — besides of course Marissa Mayer, who will probably lose her job along with a fair number of Yahoo staff? The surprising, and unobvious, answer is Mozilla and the Firefox browser.

That’s because Mozilla is highly dependent on a five-year contract with Yahoo, signed in December 2014, where it receives about $375m per year to make Yahoo the default search provider in the Firefox browser on the desktop. From 2004 to 2014, that contract was exclusively with Google; now it’s Yahoo in the US, Google in Europe, Yandex in Russia and Baidu in China.

How much is $375m per year compared to Mozilla’s spending? Most of it.

«

Is a Yahoo buyer really going to think that is a deal worth continuing with?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the comments pit, Magic Leap v Google Glass, South Korea’s shocking history, sue Kanye!, and more

Seems the EC is going to charge Google with antitrust violations over Android. Photo by Geoff Livingston on Flickr.

You can now receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Confirmation link first, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Just a little short of Avogadro’s number. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

They called it ‘the worst job in the world’ – my life as a Guardian moderator » The Guardian

Marc Burrows was head of the Guardian’s comment moderation team for five years:

»Ultimately, the biggest problems in comment threads come down to “agenda trolls”: the people so convinced they are right that they ride into a conversation not to join it, but to rip it apart.

They are easy to spot: they are the users who will scream “LIAR!” when they mean, “I think you’re wrong”, the ones whose arguments never quite seem to match the comment they are addressing, who resort to insults and TALK IN CAPITALS. You can’t win against those people, because they never truly believe they have lost.

They are comment-thread poison – men’s rights activists who act as if articles about women’s issues are their gender’s single biggest problem, climate change deniers who will drag any conversation about energy policy into murky pseudo-science, and borderline racists for whom there is no issue that cannot be pinned on immigration (UK) or black people (US). It is often known as “whataboutery” and is a tactic designed to throw a conversation off course.

«

Burrows was terrific at his job (which obviously includes leaving comments alone as well as deleting them). This long piece points to the benefits of comments, which absolutely do exist, as well as – like here – the disbenefits, and the problems of making them add value to the article above.

I think it’s that which nobody has quite solved: how to make comments below an article add what’s above. Not only do you need intelligent commenters who want to add value, you need a way for that value to be recognised. It’s notable that the number of articles on the Guardian open for comments had reduced drastically in the past 18 months.
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The Guardian eyes content blocking, while Eyeo pleads legitimacy with independent verification » The Drum

Ronan Shields:

»On the opening day of the week-long event, the IAB hosted a panel session entitled ‘Ad Blocking: A New Deal or a Modern Day Protection Racket?’ where representatives from the indsutry’s buy and sell-side, were joined by privacy and ad blocker advocates to debate the issue.

Tim Gentry, The Guardian’s global revenue director, told attendees the title had recently become “far more persistent” in its charge to counter the effect of ad blockers, and this strategy could eventually include blocking access to content if it detects a user has one installed on their browser.

“With a small section we’ve tried to be far more persistent, asking them to either whitelist us, pay to become a member, tell us you’re a subscriber, and with a small sub-sect of people we’ll start to block access to content,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is that up to two-thirds of ad blocker users are willing to whitelist us, because they want quality content,” added Gentry.

Guy Philipson, CEO, IAB, UK, also recounted how “six-or-seven” publishers were exploring the option of following a similar approach adopted by French and Swedish publishers to act in unison to request that users either whitelist them or switch off their ad blockers altogether, or else be refused access to content.

«

The incremental moves by the publishers here are like a chess game where they’re unsure of the strength of their opponent. Ask nicely? Block back? Offer alternatives? The problem is that no tactics works on more than a third, or fewer, of those who use adblockers. So who’s “winning”?
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Canada’s competition watchdog drops probe into Google » Reuters

Alastair Sharp:

»Canada’s Competition Bureau said on Tuesday that it was dropping an investigation into Google after saying in 2013 that it suspected the company was abusing its dominant position in online search.

The watchdog said it had found evidence to support one of the allegations against Google but that the company had already made changes to remedy those concerns and agreed not to reintroduce anticompetitive clauses in its contracts.

The Bureau said it did not find sufficient evidence of a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in the market to support its other allegations against Google, now a unit of holding company Alphabet Inc.

«

That’s the good news. Now for the bad news…
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Margrethe Vestager to charge Google Wednesday: sources » POLITICO

Nicholas Hirst and Chris Spillane:

»European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is expected to unveil formal antitrust charges Wednesday against Google’s Android mobile operating system, according to two people briefed on the timing.

Google expects the charges to drill down on its Android distribution agreements, according to one of the people, who requested anonymity because the company’s position isn’t yet public.

The Commission is concerned that some of Google’s terms and conditions unnecessarily restrict phonemakers, giving Google’s own apps — from search to Gmail to maps — an unfair advantage.

«

You could say “popcorn!” except that this will follow this pattern: (a) a charge sheet from the EC (b) a rebuttal blogpost from Google (c) complete silence for a year or more while nothing happens.
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South Korea covered up mass abuse, killings of ‘vagrants’ » Associated Press

Kim Tong-Hyung and Foster Klug:

»Choi [Seung-woo] was one of thousands — the homeless, the drunk, but mostly children and the disabled — rounded up off the streets ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which the ruling dictators saw as international validation of South Korea’s arrival as a modern country. An Associated Press investigation shows that the abuse of these so-called vagrants at Brothers, the largest of dozens of such facilities, was much more vicious and widespread than previously known, based on hundreds of exclusive documents and dozens of interviews with officials and former inmates.

Yet nobody has been held accountable to date for the rapes and killings at the Brothers compound because of a cover-up orchestrated at the highest levels of government, the AP found. Two early attempts to investigate were suppressed by senior officials who went on to thrive in high-profile jobs; one remains a senior adviser to the current ruling party. Products made using slave labor at Brothers were sent to Europe, Japan and possibly beyond, and the family that owned the institution continued to run welfare facilities and schools until just two years ago.

Even as South Korea prepares for its second Olympics, in 2018, thousands of traumatized former inmates have still received no compensation, let alone public recognition or an apology. The few who now speak out want a new investigation.

«

The government opposes it on the grounds that the evidence is “too old”; an official said “there have been so many incidents since the Korean War.” Astonishing investigation, aided by still-extant government documents and living people.
link to this extract

 


Magic Leap: a new morning » YouTube

»Welcome to a new way to start your day. Shot directly through Magic Leap technology on April 8, 2016 without use of special effects or compositing.

«

I watched this, and immediately I thought “yup, I’ve seen that thing where notifications you’d rather deal with on your phone are shown to you floating in mid-air. What was it? Oh, I know…”
link to this extract

 


Project Glass: One day… » YouTube

You might remember this, released in April 2012.

»This is an early concept video that was made when Project Glass was just getting started. While a lot has changed since then, our motivation to get technology out of the way remains the same.

«

Anyway, if you do want to read about Magic Leap…
link to this extract

 


Five burning questions about Magic Leap after Wired’s huge profile » The Verge

Nilay Patel:

»Wired ran an enormous profile on mysterious AR startup Magic Leap today, written by legendary tech journalist Kevin Kelly. It’s incredible, and you should read it, if only because Kelly’s obvious love and enthusiasm for virtual and augmented reality is infectious and energizing.

But the piece also raises many, many more questions about Magic Leap than it answers — and given the extreme opacity that’s surrounded Magic Leap, that’s pretty notable. (To catch you up: Magic Leap is a secretive company that’s raised over a billion in funding from Silicon Valley giants like Google and Andreesen Horowitz, but it’s never given a public demo — most of what we know comes from fantastical pitch decks buried inside patent applications.)

So here are five burning questions about Magic Leap.

«

Patel raises excellent questions (along the lines of “how the hell does this thing works, then?”). Kelly’s article is breathless as ever, almost to the extent of parody. Patel’s questions are worth asking. (One also thinks: perhaps he’ll get the journalists on The Verge to ask similar searching questions when they do breathless pieces too.)
link to this extract

 


Man sues Kanye West, Tidal, over new album » Bloomberg

Anthony McCartney:

»The proposed class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by Justin Baker-Rhett contends West fraudulently promised fans that his album, “The Life of Pablo,” would only be available on Tidal. The site charges users at least $9.99 a month, but West’s album has since been released for free on Apple Music and Spotify.

Millions of people flocked to Tidal in February because of West’s new album and the rapper’s promise of exclusivity, giving the struggling site a boost and also a trove of user information, the lawsuit states. Baker-Rhett is asking a judge to order Tidal to delete information collected on users who signed up for West’s album.

“Mr. West’s promise of exclusivity also had a grave impact on consumer privacy,” the lawsuit states, noting that users’ credit card information, music preferences and other personal information have been collected.

The lawsuit contends the value of new subscribers and their personal information could be as much as $84m for Tidal.

«

That claim by Kanye (who’s a shareholder in Tidal) that it would be Tidal-only was never credible. But of course everyone feigned belief.
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Ears on with the LG G5’s Bang and Olufsen DAC » AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs:

»For the listening test I donned my pair of AKG K550’s, a reasonably priced set of “reference” headphones with a 32 ohm input impedance and frequency range from 12Hz to 28KHz.

My impressions of both the regular LG G5’s audio output and the B&O DAC are very positive. The default G5 pumps out a mostly well balanced presentation with plenty of detail and clean sounding highs, although there’s not a huge amount of liveliness to them. The bass can be a little lacking in places, especially in punchier tracks, and, while certainly not narrow, the G5’s stereo output isn’t especially wide. We can attribute this to the handset’s mediocre crosstalk test result, which reveals some bleed between the left and right channels.

I struggled to make out any difference between my “Hi-Fi” files and their equivalent CD quality tracks, but those will a very keen ear will be able to pick up on some differences when listening to their compressed alternatives.

«

That middle paragraph could be about wine (“clean highs.. liveliness..”) or any other product where people pretend to themselves that they can distinguish indistinguishable things. 12Hz is far below hearing, while 28kHz is far above it.

The G5’s “Friends” idea might get some audiophiles to spring for it, but I don’t see it catching on.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: EC v Android?, the human chatbots, Metallica v YouTube, Wall Street’s new mortgage con, and more

Guess what the priciest search ad keywords in the UK are associated with. Photo by Javmorcas on Flickr.

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EU prepares for Android crackdown » FT.com

Christian Oliver and Murad Ahmed:

»The EU has given its strongest signal to date of its intent to crack down hard on Google’s mobile operating system, comparing an imminent antitrust case against Android to Brussels’ epic confrontation with Microsoft a decade ago.

People involved in the case said that EU regulators were very close to opening a long-expected new front in their showdown with Google, which has already been hit with charges that it abused its dominance of online searches.

A second charge sheet, in relation to Android, is almost finalised. Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner, would probably be ready to deliver it as early as this week, the people said, although the timing could not be confirmed.

Ms Vestager said on Monday that she was concerned that Google could be unfairly taking advantage of consumers’ desire to have pre-installed apps, ready for use as soon as “we take a new smartphone out of its box”. This could stifle innovation by keeping fledgling app makers and service providers out of the market.

“Our concern is that, by requiring phonemakers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers,” she said in a speech in the Netherlands.

Explaining her logic, she alluded to the European Commission’s landmark battle with Microsoft, which lasted years and culminated in 2007 with combined fines of more than €2bn.

«

Very like the search charges (which were filed a year ago, and absolutely nothing has happened). Except that 1) Google really did manipulate search results to keep out rivals 2) phonemakers have always been able to use AOSP and then fill it in with apps – as happened with the Nokia X. I don’t think the Android case is as strong as the search case.
link to this extract

 


The top 100 most expensive keywords in the UK: new research » Search Engine Watch

Chris Lake:

»Back in the day, around 2003, somebody asked me a question regarding paid search: “Do you know what the most expensive keyword is on Google Adwords, and how much it costs?”

I made a bunch of guesses, gradually increasing the amount I thought it might be acceptable to pay every time somebody clicks on an ad. £20? No? £30? Surely not!

The grand reveal was that I was horribly wrong, and that some advertisers were paying “about £70 a click” for the term ‘mesothelioma’, which is a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. It was immediately apparent that legal firms would spend that kind of money because they were hunting for big ticket compensation lawsuits.

Roll forward to the present day and I wondered how things had changed, as Google’s revenues have grown to more than $67bn globally and keyword inflation is a big deal in a lot of sectors.

The good folks at SEMrush provided me with a huge list of the most expensive keywords in five countries, and for my first piece of research I’ve focused on the UK.

I had 2,000 keywords to analyse (from its database of 12m in the UK) and here are the top results…

«

Now it’s gambling which leads the pack; gambling-related keywords make up 67 of the 100 most expensive key word searches.

In other words, if you’re using Google services for free in the UK (and who isn’t?), then gambling helps pay for it through the expensive keyword ads. The next ones? Financial spread betting and day trading; “big data” and cloud services; business-to-business (especially cheap electricity); and legal compensation. Gambling, finance (or gambling finance), tech, legal and B2B complete the 100.

Would love to know what percent of total AdWord revenues come from each category, and what percentage the top 100 represent.
link to this extract

 


The humans hiding behind the chatbots » Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

»[Willie] Calvin joined X.ai [which offers an email chatbot “Amy” which sets up appointments in response to emails] in December 2014 just a few months after graduating from the University of Chicago with a public policy degree. He was under the impression that his $45,000 annual salary job as an AI trainer would be half product development and half reviewing the algorithm’s accuracy. He said he was asked, as part of the job application, to write a one-page essay on why automation would be good for jobs and workers. X.ai declined to comment on specific hiring practices.

He was excited at the chance to do product development at a tech startup, but once he started work, he said he found that the product part of the job never materialized. Instead, Calvin said he sometimes sat in front of a computer for 12 hours a day, clicking and highlighting phrases. “It was either really boring or incredibly frustrating,” he said. “It was a weird combination of the exact same thing over and over again and really frustrating single cases of a person demanding something we couldn’t provide.” Kristal Bergfield, who oversees X.ai’s trainers, said that that the job has evolved over time and entails hard work. “We’re building something that’s entirely new,” she said. “It’s an incredibly ambitious thing, and so are the people who work here.”

«

Still, on the plus side, it means that robots aren’t going to take our jobs. Downside: our jobs will become subsidiary to those of robots.
link to this extract

 


Metallica manager: ‘YouTube is the devil’ » BBC News

Mark Savage:

»Peter Mensch, the manager of bands including Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Muse, says YouTube is killing the record industry.

“YouTube, they’re the devil,” he told a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the music business. “We don’t get paid at all.”

He said the site’s business model, in which artists make money by placing ads around their music, was unsustainable.

“If someone doesn’t do something about YouTube, we’re screwed,” he said. “It’s over. Someone turn off the lights.”

Mensch’s arguments echo concerns raised in the annual report of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which was released last week.

It said there was widening “value gap” between the volume of music consumed on free, “user-upload” services – including YouTube, Daily Motion and Soundcloud – and the amount of revenue they generate for the industry.

An estimated 900 million consumers on these sites resulted in revenue of $634m (£447m) in 2015. By contrast the world’s 68 million paying music subscribers generated about $2bn (£1.4bn).

«

Once again, Metallica is OK (as they were when they were suing Napster in 2000) but it’s the other, mid-tier bands that will be missing out. Streaming is a terrible business model, but YouTube makes it look like a goldrush.
link to this extract

 


Sony says Kumamoto plant not main site for smartphone components » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki:

»Sony Corp said on Monday that its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, which has been shut since earthquakes hit southern Japan last week, makes components mainly for digital cameras.

Sony’s plant in Nagasaki, which resumed full operations on Sunday, is the company’s major production facility for image sensors for smartphones, it said.

The company said it had yet to decide when to restart the Kumamoto plant.

There had been concerns that plant shut downs because of the earthquakes could affect production of Apple Inc’s iPhones, including the iPhone 7.

“The impact of the Kumamoto plant suspension on Apple is expected to be limited,” Hiroyuki Shimizu, principal research analyst at Gartner, said.

«

link to this extract

 


Wall Street veterans bet on low-income home buyers » NYTimes.com

Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein:

»As the head of Goldman Sachs’s mortgage department, Daniel Sparks helped make the bank more than a billion dollars betting against the market as housing prices began to crash in 2007.

Today, he is betting on home buyers who no longer qualify for mortgages in the fallout of that housing crisis.

Shelter Growth Capital Partners, an investment firm Mr. Sparks founded in 2014 with two other former Goldman Sachs executives, has been buying homes that were foreclosed on during the financial crisis and later resold to buyers under long-term installment contracts.

The firm has bought just over 200 homes from Harbour Portfolio Advisors, a Dallas investment firm that has specialized in selling homes to lower-income buyers through what is known as a contract for deed. In these deals, a seller provides the buyer with a long-term, high-interest loan, with the promise of actually owning the home at the end of it.

These contracts, a form of seller financing, have ballooned in recent years as low-income families unable to get traditional mortgages have turned to alternate ways to buy homes.

The homes are often sold “as is,” in need of costly repairs and renovations, and many of the transactions end in eviction when buyers fall behind on payments.

«

So poorer would-be buyers are screwed once again because although money is cheaper than it has ever been (and so the loans don’t have to be high-interest; the houses aren’t going to run away), they are – yet again – the marks in the new shell game being played by Wall Street.
link to this extract

 


Hacking your phone » CBS News

Sharyn Alfonsi spoke to a team of German hackers who have found a flaw in SS7, aka Signalling System 7, the phone protocol for voice calls and text – and had a demo of how they could hack into her call to a congressman Ted Lieu, who is knowledgeable about technology, by knowing the number for the iPhone that CBS had provided to Lieu :

»[Karsten] Nohl told us the SS7 flaw is a significant risk mostly to political leaders and business executives whose private communications could be of high value to hackers. The ability to intercept cellphone calls through the SS7 network is an open secret among the world’s intelligence agencies — -including ours — and they don’t necessarily want that hole plugged.

“We live in a world where we cannot trust the technology that we use.”

Sharyn Alfonsi: If you end up hearing from the intelligence agencies that this flaw is extremely valuable to them and to the information that they’re able to get from it, what would you say to that?

Rep. Ted Lieu: That the people who knew about this flaw and saying that should be fired.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Should be fired?

Rep. Ted Lieu: Absolutely.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Why?

Rep. Ted Lieu: You cannot have 300-some million Americans– and really, right, the global citizenry be at risk of having their phone conversations intercepted with a known flaw, simply because some intelligence agencies might get some data. That is not acceptable.

«

link to this extract

 


Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives » Columbia Journalism Review

Chava Gourarie:

»[Algorithms are] also anything but objective. “How can they be?” asks Mark Hansen, a statistician and the director of the Brown Institute at Columbia University. “They’re the products of human imagination.” (As an experiment, think about all of the ways you could answer the question: “How many Latinos live in New York?” That’ll give you an idea of how much human judgement goes into turning the real world into math.)

Algorithms are built to approximate the world in a way that accommodates the purposes of their architect, and “embed a series of assumptions about how the world works and how the world should work,” says Hansen.

It’s up to journalists to investigate those assumptions, and their consequences, especially where they intersect with policy. The first step is extending classic journalism skills into a nascent domain: questioning systems of power, and employing experts to unpack what we don’t know. But when it comes to algorithms that can compute what the human mind can’t, that won’t be enough. Journalists who want to report on algorithms must expand their literacy into the areas of computing and data, in order to be equipped to deal with the ever-more-complex algorithms governing our lives.

«

As Gourarie points out, there aren’t yet any journalists with the title of “Algorithm correspondent”, but maybe there should be; algorithms are (going to be? already?) as powerful as politicians, but less easy to interview. Though in the case of Google search and Facebook’s News feed, no single person, nor even group of people, quite knows for certain why they do what they do. What does that mean?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: the chat bots are here!, what Windows Phone?, Spotify’s IPO debt sprint, fixing iOS 9.3, and more

Compaq’s engineers (in Houston, Texas) discovered they needed a new strategy when low-cost rivals arrived in force. Photo by lungstruck on Flickr.

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Land Registry: sell it off or open it up? » Shared Assets

»At Shared Assets we believe that privatisation is the wrong approach and is inconsistent with the Government’s stated commitment to ‘open data’. The Land Registry is currently fit for purpose, generates a surplus, and is trusted to fulfil its role underpinning over £4tn worth of property ownership across England and Wales. The Government is selling off a critical, well functioning, national statutory service that we are all obliged to use, primarily to raise funds.

We believe the potential impacts of creating a private sector monopoly on transparency and access to this critical data set are unacceptable, and that a more imaginative, and beneficial, approach would be to open up public land registry data for the common good.

«

I wrote on this topic too.
link to this extract

 


Microsoft: Windows Phone isn’t our focus this year » The Verge

Tom Warren:

»A single demo of Skype running on a Windows Phone was the only time a phone running Windows 10 Mobile appeared for longer than a few seconds, and it felt like Microsoft was more focused on Windows 10 for Xbox and HoloLens. I got the chance to speak to Windows chief Terry Myerson briefly after today’s keynote, and it’s clear Microsoft focus isn’t on phones this year.

“We’re fully committed to that 4-inch screen, there will be a time for it to be our focus, but right now it’s part of the family but it’s not the core of where I hope to generate developer interest over the next year,” explains Myerson. “There’s no lack of recognition to realize how important that form factor is, but for Microsoft with Windows and for our platform it’s the wrong place for us to lead.”

«

link to this extract

 


The day everything changed at Compaq » LinkedIn

Sean Burke was there as a product manager in September 1991, and saw that Compaq – which was expecting hardware gross margins of 40% – was getting walloped by IBM at the high price end and by Dell and others at the low-cost end. So he told Ben Rosen, the chairman, of his plan for a low-cost PC:

»I told Ben that it was absolutely possible for Compaq to create products that were low cost.  I mentioned that I already started working on a next generation low cost product concept, but it was not yet approved – either as an actual project or as a project that I would be assigned to.  He was interested and asked me to confidentially work on it and update him on the status.  He also told me, surprisingly, not to tell anyone about the project, including my management, but to just report back to him.

Obviously, a Product Marketing person can’t develop a product alone so I did what came natural and got the best engineering manager I could trust and rely on technically.   I had been working for the last year and a half with Jon Thompson, the Engineering Program Manager for the DESKPRO/M, and in the process we became good friends.  We began to work on this new project after normal business hours and weekends by contacting suppliers and other technology companies.  We created a story to tell these suppliers that we were going to leave Compaq and start our own PC Company.  It was amazing how many suppliers approached us and offered help.  The extent of the ideas and the pricing they offered us was even more amazing.

«

The internal politics turns out to be even more amazing, and Burke the naif used as a pawn. Recommended.
link to this extract

 


Spotify raises $1bn in debt financing » WSJ

Scoop by Douglas Macmilland, Matt Jarzemsky and Maureen Farrell:

»By raising debt instead of equity, Spotify adds to its war chest without the possibility of setting a lower price for its stock, which can sap momentum and hamper recruiting.

In June 2015, Spotify was valued at $8.5bn.

In return for the financing, Spotify promised its new investors strict guarantees tied to an IPO. If Spotify holds a public offering in the next year, TPG and Dragoneer will be able to convert the debt into equity at a 20% discount to the share price of the public offering, according to two people briefed on the deal. After a year, that discount increases by 2.5 percentage points every six months, the people said.

Spotify also agreed to pay annual interest on the debt that starts at 5% and increases by 1 percentage point every six months until the company goes public, or until it hits 10%, the people said. This interest—also called a “coupon” and in this case paid in the form of additional debt, rather than cash—is commonly used in private-equity deals but rarely seen in venture funding.

In addition, TPG and Dragoneer are permitted to cash out their shares as soon as 90 days after an IPO, instead of the 180-day period “lockup” employees and other shareholders are forced to wait before selling shares, the people said.

«

Debt like this is dangerous. First, it can be recalled – which kills a company. Second, as here, it comes with many strings, principally financial. In the first year, Spotify will have to pay out $25m (first six months, 5% of $1bn) + $30m (6%) = $55m.

In the second year, $35m (7%) + $40m (8%) = $75m. In the third year, $95m, and after that, $100m per year. It had $600m cash before this debt, so that’s $1.6bn in cash reserves; it can pay out for a while, but the real damage is to its profitability. It isn’t making money now (as far as anyone knows) and this will put that further out of reach. I think it’s safe to say that with this debt deal, Spotify can never make an operating profit if the debt payment is included.

This therefore is a financing deal aimed at getting Spotify over the IPO finish line as soon as possible so it can get a giant cash injection. Then its future losses become the public shareholders’ problem, rather than those of the venture capitalists or music labels that have funded it so far.
link to this extract

 


Amazon, Alibaba and an Indian Illusion » Bloomberg Gadfly

Andy Mukherjee:

»How can opening the door mean the exact opposite? The devil is in details of the policy, which says e-commerce platforms will only provide a marketplace and not influence the sale price of merchandise. In other words, while foreigners can facilitate retail, they will not really be retailers, burning their deep-pocketed investors’ money to drive myriad mom-and-pop stores out of business.Goldman Sachs believes the rules “could spell an end” to discount-led competition among e-tailers. While that might be a welcome path to eventual profitability for an industry surviving on bragging rights about how much merchandise it handles, what’s good for the collective may be bad news for individual companies. Late last year, the lobby group of traditional Indian retailers kicked up a fuss when Amazon gave out measly 200 rupee ($3) gift cards to consumers, because this purportedly showed Amazon acting as a retailer when it was only allowed to be a technology platform.If the new rules do nothing but extend the “essential continuity” of the old rules, that might please Sir Humphrey — but Jeff Bezos is certainly going to mind.

«

Seems that the new regulations will bring online retailing to heel in India. Not good – but smartphones will probably provide a way around it.
link to this extract

 


Clippy’s back: the future of Microsoft is chatbots » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Dina Bass:

»Whether you think bots are exciting or alarming, a lot of people are already using them. Microsoft’s Chinese version of Tay, called Xiaoice, has been available for 18 months and has 40 million users. Conversations with Xiaoice (pronounced shao-ice) average about 23 exchanges per session. Few users chat that long with Siri. Facebook is working on an assistant named M and already has bots operating on its Messenger app that let users book a haircut or send flowers. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that Google is working on a bot-based app that will answer users’ questions. Amazon has its best-reviewed product in years in the Echo, a voice-controlled black cylinder that sits in customers’ kitchens and performs a fast-growing list of tasks—it can look up recipes, order groceries, turn on the news, play songs, and read e-books aloud. Slack, the corporate messaging service, has bots that can manage your expenses and order the office beer.

On March 30, at Microsoft’s annual Build conference for software developers in San Francisco, Nadella will try to undo the damage from Tay and unveil his vision, which he calls “conversation as a platform.” Microsoft will show off several different bots and programs that manage tasks via discussion. Some you’ll be able to text with, like Tay; others are just concepts cooked up for the show to spark developers’ imaginations.

«

The question is whether, as with Tay, the corpus (that it learns from) is already poisoned. Humans learn not to do certain things in social situations; Tay and its brethren are being thrown into situations where learning is almost impossible because the barriers between good and bad behaviour are surprisingly narrow. “Hitler could have done a better job” can be said ironically, or flatly; its meaning to the listener depends on a lot of pre-knowledge.
link to this extract

 


MOTOBOT ver.1|Tokyo Motor Show 2015 – Event YAMAHA MOTOR CO., LTD.

»What makes the MOTOBOT project unique is its approach to completely automated operation. Unlike the current methods used for automobile self-driving systems, which have progressed in recent years, the aim is for a humanoid robot to operate a vehicle unmodified for autonomous use. Based on data for vehicle speed, engine rpm, machine attitude, etc., MOTOBOT will control its six actuators* to autonomously operate the vehicle. Going forward, technology for machine position recognition (high-precision GPS, various sensors, etc.) and machine learning will be utilized to enable MOTOBOT to make its own decisions regarding the best lines to take around a racetrack and the limits of the motorcycle’s performance, so that it can improve its lap times with successive laps of the track.

«

First they came to conquer the chess players, but I didn’t play chess. Then they came to conquer the Go players, but I’d never heard of Go. Then they said they were going to beat the motorbike riders… by 2020.. which is only four years away.
link to this extract

 


Google also has been ordered to help unlock phones, records show » WSJ

Devlin Barrett:

»Google has been repeatedly ordered to help federal agents open cellphones, according to court records in seven states that show Apple Inc. isn’t the only company facing government demands at the center of a fierce debate over privacy and security.

The American Civil Liberties Union found 63 instances where the government sought a court order under a 1789 law called the All Writs Act to compel Apple and Google to help them access data on locked phones.

The outcome of those cases aren’t clear. However, federal prosecutors have said until late last year, when Apple began resisting such efforts, it was routine for judges to approve such requests from federal prosecutors. And those requests aren’t a new phenomenon—the cases stretch back to 2008.

A Google spokesman said: “…we’ve never received an All Writs Act order like the one Apple recently fought that demands we build new tools that actively compromise our products’ security…. We would strongly object to such an order.”

«

This isn’t surprising – neither Google’s cooperation (Apple cooperated too where it could) nor the fact that the AWA hasn’t been needed; the number of Android phones out there with full disk encryption enabled must be tiny compared to the number of iPhones.
link to this extract

 


How to fix iOS 9.3’s broken Safari, Mail and Messages links » Ben Collier

»If you’ve been hit by the iOS 9.3 broken links you can follow these steps to fix the issue whilst we wait for a full update from Apple. Unfortunately you’ll need to hook your iPhone or iPad up to your computer and sync with iTunes.

«

It’s a 13-step process, which is only one more than you need to make your way back from alcoholism. So far it’s only Booking.com, but I feel sure that malware will try to exploit this in future.
link to this extract

 


In snub to Google, AT&T looks to sell alternative Android phone » The Information

Amir Efrati on AT&T’s plan to sell a Cyanogen-based phone:

»Cyanogen wants to let any phone maker, wireless carrier or app developer integrate their services more deeply with its alternative form of Android, in ways that they can’t do with the official Google version. Microsoft, for instance, is integrating Skype, its Internet calling service, and Cortana, its virtual assistant, into Cyanogen. The end result is that people will be able access and interact with their Skype contacts directly from the phone’s built-in dialer app, and they will be able to summon apps like Spotify by speaking to Cortana. Such scenarios are not available on Google’s version of Android.

While Cyanogen can control many aspects of devices it powers, they all come preloaded with Google services like search, the Google Play app store and Google Maps (because Cyanogen knows that consumers need them). In exchange for having those Google services, the devices must comport with certain Google rules, such as displaying those apps prominently on the home screen. For its part, Cyanogen is able send messages to phone users to help them customize the devices so that integrations with non-Google apps will be more prominently displayed on, say, the home screen, instead of Google’s apps.

«

So, basically, it’s Just Another Skinned Google Android Phone. Ron Amadeo has a succinct two-paragraph rant on the oversell of Cyanogen.
link to this extract

 


Facebook’s Messenger lands first airline as chat app pushes into commerce » USA Today

Jessica Guynn:

» KLM Royal Dutch Airlines passengers will soon be able to check in, get flight updates, make travel changes and talk to customer service reps straight from Facebook’s Messenger chat app.

KLM is the first airline and the first major European partner for Messenger, which is used by 800 million people around the globe.

Facebook sees customer service as a natural extension of chat apps which were built for, well, chatting. The giant social network launched Messenger for Business one year ago to pursue “conversational commerce,” the notion that we will all soon be talking to — and eventually transacting with — businesses over messaging apps.

Since then, businesses in a growing number of industries have tried out the service to chat with customers, among them hotel chain Hyatt and retailers Walmart and Everlane. In a hint of the kind of commercial transactions to come, users of Uber and Lyft can hail a ride by tapping a new transportation option inside Messenger and share the details with friends.

«

The app becomes the platform..
link to this extract

 


With Galaxy S7, Samsung seen rediscovering its mobile mojo | Reuters

Se Yong Lee:

»several brokerages on Wednesday upgraded first-quarter forecasts for what is still the world’s top smartphone maker, citing a strong start for the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge premium phones that were launched earlier this month.

Samsung likely shipped 9.5m S7 phones in the first quarter, significantly more than the initial estimate for 7m, Jay Yoo, industry analyst at Korea Investment & Securities, wrote in a report.

“It looks like the sell-in numbers have been pretty good and analysts are raising their sales forecasts for the S7 this year,” noted HDC Asset Management fund manager Park Jung-hoon.

“The firm is pushing up volume in the mid-to-low tier to protect market share. Starting S7 sales about a month earlier than the S6 to take advantage of Apple not having new products out yet was also a good move.”

«

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Among iPhone launches, the SE is indeed Small Edition – but it’s bringing new consumers to iPhone » Slice Intelligence

»Early data from Slice Intelligence indicates that the SE may help Apple grow its maturing iPhone consumer base. Only 35% of iPhone SE buyers purchased an iPhone online in the past two years, and 16% of them were previously Android users. By comparison, 49% of iPhone 6S buyers upgraded from a previous iPhone, and 10% replaced an Android device they bought online within the past two years.

Buyers of the SE look much different than the Apple fanboy audience typically queuing up to buy the latest from Cupertino. They’re older, less educated, and surprisingly, more male. More than one fifth of SE buyers are in the 45-54 age demographic, versus 18% for all iPhone buyers; and 77% of SE buyers are men, versus 69%.

«

Conversation inside Apple HQ: Analyst 1: “Huh? Male, aged 45-54? Less educated?”

Analyst 2: “OH DEAR GOD. We’ve invented the TRUMP PHONE.”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Oracle’s $9.3bn Android, FOI v Land Registry, have a robot bin!, longer smartphone life, and more

Thrill to the arrival of Oculus Rift and the brave new possibilities it enables! Photo by Mike Cogh on Flickr.

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

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

Oracle v Google: Big Red wants $9.3bn in Java copyright damages » The Register

Chris Williams:

»Last year, Oracle successfully argued that it can copyright software interfaces – not just the software itself, the way it interfaces with other code, too. However, the trial jury deadlocked on whether or not Android’s infringement of Oracle’s copyright constituted “fair use.”

The case is heading back to trial in May to effectively work out how much money Google owes Oracle. In the meantime, the pair have been squaring up to each other in San Francisco’s federal court. In January, Oracle revealed that Google has made $31bn in sales and $22bn in profit from Android since it launched in 2008 – figures Google fought fiercely to keep secret.

Now one of Oracle’s expert witnesses, James Malackowski, has produced an analysis [PDF] that concludes that Big Red is owed $475m in damages and up to $8.89bn in recovered Android profits. Malackowski is chief exec of Ocean Tomo, which does intellectual property valuations among other things.

«

That’s a lot of money. (Surprise! Google says the analysis is wrong.)
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Unable to open links in Safari, Mail or Messages on IOS 9.3 » Ben Collier

Collier was using booking.com’s app, which turned out to have screwed up in a big way:

»A lot of users (including myself and a few friends) are experiencing links in Mail and Messages not working, and some links in Safari, like Google Search results, not opening. A long press on a broken link causes the app you’re in to crash, otherwise a standard tap highlights the link but nothing happens.. It looks like there’s a bug in iOS that completely breaks the Universal Links if it gets served an app association file that’s too large.

Benjamin Mayo of 9to5mac.com reported installing the Booking.com app consistently broke their test devices – which led Steve Troughton-Smith (who else…) to take a peep at their association file, and tweet:

“Wow http://booking.com literally put every URL they had into their site association file. 2.3MB download ”

It seems that the large size of their file, due to it having every URL from their website inside it breaks the iOS database on the device. Apple allows you to have pattern based matching, so instead of having to include every hotel’s URL in the association file, Booking.com could just put /hotel/* to match all the hotels on their site.

Whilst Booking.com aren’t following the recommended approach, it’s not their fault that a third-party can break a fundamental system feature like web browsing. Apple should be handling these edges graciously.

The worst part – deleting the app doesn’t clear the Universal Link association. Because the OS process that handles the Universal Links has crashed, it appears unable to remove the corrupt database.

«

You can just about fix it via lots of subtle rebooting and deleting. Quite a screwup.
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Oculus Rift review: a clunky portal to a promising virtual reality » The New York Times

Brian Chen:

»“People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post when he announced the Oculus acquisition. “But this is just the start. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.”

Over the past week, I tested the Rift and many pieces of content for the system to see how true Mr. Zuckerberg’s words might ring. I can report that while the Rift is a well-built hardware system brimming with potential, the first wave of apps and games available for it narrows the device’s likely users to hard-core gamers. It is also rougher to set up and get accustomed to than products like smartphones and tablets.

«

Long setup, big downloads which can’t be done simultaneously with device use, and games where the VR benefits are unclear. Early days yet.
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A quick look at the Private Eye FOI’d “Offshore Landowners” data from the Land Registry » OUseful.Info

Tony Hirst:

»A few days ago, Private Eye popped up a link to the (not open) data they’d FOId from the Land Registry around land registry applications made by offshore companies: Selling England (and Wales) by the pound.

I thought have have a quick look at the data to see what sorts of thing it contained. I’ve popped a quick introductory conversation with it here: Private Eye – UK Land Ownership By Offshore Companies.

One of the things I learned was that solar panel installation companies can often get a hold on you…

«

This is precisely the sort of analysis, driven partly through FOIA, that would become impossible if the Land Registry were to be privatised.
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What does your reaction to a robotic trash can say about you? » Atlas Obscura

Cara Giamo:

»Imagine you’re in a cafeteria, finishing up a bag of chips and chatting with some friends. You’re beginning to think about getting up to throw away your wrapper, when—suddenly—the nearest trash barrel approaches you instead. It rolls back and forth, and wiggles briefly. It is, it seems, at your service.

How do you respond?

«

Like this:

»

The trash barrel has delivered some particularly unique insights. First of all, Sirkin and Ju say, it highlights how good people are at subtly refusing to acknowledge interactions they don’t want or need—a behavior the team has dubbed “unteracting.” If the trash barrel approaches a table of people, and they have no trash to give it, they generally won’t shoo it off. They’ll just steadfastly ignore it until it rolls away again. “They’re using their gaze as a tool for deciding when they’re engaging or not,” says Ju. (You can see this about halfway through the video, when a man on a cell phone refuses to look at the barrel until it backs off.)

On the other hand, people who did make use of the barrel felt miffed when it didn’t respond more. “People kind of expected it to thank them,” says Sirkin. “They’ll say ‘I fed the robot, and it didn’t thank me, and that was insulting.’” Some would also whistle for it, or dangle trash in front of it enticingly.

«

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Alphabet: the thriving cult of greed and evaluation » Medium

Jake Hamby:

»In Google, employees are evaluated every year according to an opaque “perf” system that generates numeric scores that the employee is not allowed to see or to challenge. If an employee’s perf isn’t improving, they face “Performance Expectation Plans” and “Performance Improvement Plans” of increasing severity, which the employee is told are designed to bring them back into the fold, but which are actually designed to create a paper trail for HR in order to terminate the individual’s employment if management determines they are no longer worth the amount it costs the company to continue to employ them.

The problem with companies like Google is that they’re losing engineers at every level of the company because it’s simply no longer fun to work there, or at least that was my experience. I was punished by my manager for lower “perf” than he expected from me, due to my complete loss of interest in the real overarching goals of Android (to provide a minimal platform for Google’s closed-source, proprietary apps) as opposed to the goals presented to the public and Google’s partners (to provide an exceptional platform for Google’s partners to make great smartphones), and to my depression over the recent loss of my father after his multi-year battle with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

«

Hamby left Google in 2014.
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What you should (and shouldn’t) do to extend your phone’s battery life » The Wirecutter

Dan Frakes, Nick Guy and Kevin Purdy:

»One of the biggest complaints people have about their smartphone is that the battery doesn’t last long enough. For many people, just making it through the day can be a challenge, which is why you see so many “How to make your phone’s battery last longer!” articles in your friends’ Facebook feeds. But many of the claims in those articles are specious at best, and some of the tricks they suggest could actually shorten your battery life. So which ones should you try?

We partnered with The New York Times to find the answer by testing, on both Android and iPhone smartphones, a slew of procedures that people, publications, and — in some cases — smartphone manufacturers suggest for getting more use time out of your phone.

«

Some of these are really surprising – like not bothering to turn off Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to save battery.
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“Internet Connection Records”: answering the wrong question? » Paul Bernal’s Blog

On the topic of the UK government’s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, which wants to introduce an “internet connection record” that could be queried for any person:

»The real problem is a deep one – but it is mostly about asking the wrong question. Internet Connection Records seem to be an attempt to answer the question ‘how can we recreate that really useful thing, the itemised phone bill, for the internet age’? And, from most accounts, it seems clear that the real experts, the people who work in the internet industry, weren’t really consulted until very late in the day, and then were only asked that question. It’s the wrong question. If you ask the wrong question, even if the answer is ‘right’, it’s still wrong. That’s why we have the mess that is the Internet Connection Record system: an intrusive, expensive, technically difficult and likely to be supremely ineffective idea.

The question that should have been asked is really the one that the Minister asked right at the start: how can we find all these terrorists and paedophiles when they’re using all this high tech stuff? It’s a question that should have been asked of the industry, of computer scientists, of academics, of civil society, of hackers and more. It should have been asked openly, consulted upon widely, and given the time and energy that it deserved. It is a very difficult question – I certainly don’t have an answer – but rather than try to shoe-horn an old idea into a new situation, it needs to be asked.

«

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AI’s biggest mystery is the ethics board Google set up after buying DeepMind » Business Insider

Sam Shead:

»DeepMind CEO and cofounder Demis Hassabis has confirmed at a number of conferences that Google’s AI ethics board exists. But neither Hassabis nor Google have ever disclosed the individuals on the board or gone into any great detail on what the board does.

Azeem Azhar, a tech entrepreneur, startup advisor, and author of the Exponential View newsletter, told Business Insider: “It’s super important [to talk about ethics in AI]. ”

Media and academics have called on DeepMind and Google to reveal who sits on Google’s AI ethics board so the debate about where the technology they’re developing can be carried out in the open, but so far Google and DeepMind’s cofounders have refused.

It’s generally accepted that Google’s AI ethics board can only be a good thing but ethicists like Evan Selinger, a professor of philosophy at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, have questioned whether Google should be more transparent about who is on the board and what they’re doing.

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Ransomware’s aftermath can be more costly than ransom » TechNewsWorld

John Mello:

»Downtime caused by a ransomware attack can cost a company more than paying a ransom to recover data encrypted by the malware, according to a report released last week by Intermedia.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of companies infected with ransomware could not access their data for at least two days because of the incident, and 32% couldn’t access their data for five days or more, according to the report, which was based on a survey of some 300 IT consultants.

“If you’ve got a large number of users and downtime runs into multiple days, then the cost of that downtime adds up pretty quickly to the kind of ransom amounts that cybercriminals are demanding potentially,” said Richard Walters, senior vice president of security products at Intermedia.

Those losses occur even if a company has taken precautions to back up its data. “You have to contain the infected systems, then wipe them completely and then restore them,” he told TechNewsWorld. “That process in more than half these cases took longer than two days.”

Companies faced with the decision between paying a ransom or restoring their systems from backups could find that it would cost them less to pay the ransom.

«

You can see how a pricing mechanism would take hold if the ransom was too high or too low. In which case, there must be an optimum ransom at which income is maximised, even though it’s too high for some companies. A case study for an academic somewhere, surely.
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Certified Ethical Hacker website caught spreading crypto ransomware » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»EC-Council, the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based professional organization that administers the Certified Ethical Hacker program, started spreading the scourge on Monday. Shortly afterward, researchers from security firm Fox IT notified EC-Council officials that one of their subdomains—which just happens to provide online training for computer security students—had come under the spell of Angler, a toolkit sold online that provides powerful Web drive-by exploits. On Thursday, after receiving no reply and still detecting that the site was infected, Fox IT published this blog post, apparently under the reasonable belief that when attempts to privately inform the company fail, it’s reasonable to go public.

Like so many drive-by attack campaigns, the one hitting the EC-Council is designed to be vexingly hard for researchers to replicate. It targets only visitors using Internet Explorer and then only when they come to the site from Google, Bing, or another search engine. Even when these conditions are met, people from certain IP addresses—say those in certain geographic locales—are also spared. The EC-Council pages of those who aren’t spared then receive embedded code that redirects the browser to a chain of malicious domains that host the Angler exploits.

«

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: