Start up: smart TV+dumb ads, dual camera phones, Apple registers .car, Fitbit spins, and more

“You’re classing this as not funny, right? RIGHT?” Photo by .robbie on Flickr.

We’re back! Don’t forget you can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Then again, who’ll keep the web alive if you’re just reading email?

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

How to ban the banner ads from Panasonic Smart TVs » CNET

David Katzmaier:

When I reviewed the Panasonic TC-PVT50 series, I was annoyed to see that the latest software update caused a banner ad to appear for a few seconds whenever I turned on the TV. It disappeared quickly and only popped up upon power-on, but it was still obnoxious. The first thing I wondered was whether I could turn it off.

Happily, Panasonic built in a way to disable the advertising. It’s a simple, albeit buried, menu command. Here it is in a nutshell.

Five steps. But as I learnt on Twitter, Panasonic is also doing this for changes in volume on its Viera sets. And apparently Samsung does a version of the same annoyance.

Incredible that any hardware vendor would think people would welcome ads in that form.
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AI algorithm identifies humorous pictures » MIT Technology Review

Arjun Chandrasekaran from Virginia Tech and pals say they’ve trained a machine-learning algorithm to recognize humorous scenes and even to create them. They say their machine can accurately predict when a scene is funny and when it is not, even though it knows nothing of the social context of what it is seeing.

Psychologists have a relatively poor understanding of the mechanisms behind humor. Most theories of humor suggest that its key components are qualities such as unexpectedness, incongruity, pain, and so on. When one or all of these elements are present in sentences, pictures, and videos, the chances of raising a smile are increased.

Chandrasekaran and co limit their study to pictures. And to keep things simple, they confine themselves to pictures created with a clip art program. This contains 20 “paper doll” human models of various ages, genders, and races with moveable arms and legs and eight different expressions. It also contains 31 animals in various poses and around 100 indoor and outdoor objects such as doors, windows, tables, sun, clouds, trees, and so on.

A key part of any machine-learning process is creating a database that contains good examples of the thing the algorithm has to learn. This is no easy task, particularly when it comes to something as subjective as humor.

The team tackles this by asking workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to create funny scenes using the clip art program, along with a short sentence describing why they think the scenes are funny. They also asked these people—turkers, as they are called—to create unfunny scenes.

You can read the paper on Arxiv. Do we trust Turkers to do humour?
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Kinect-like motion sensing comes to your phone » Tech in Asia

Michael Tegos:

According to [Extreme Reality], the Israeli startup, the software allows any kind of camera-enabled device to analyze a person’s body in 3D and perceive that person’s movements, enabling motion sensing and control for “any computing device or operating system.”

Extreme Reality highlights some diverse applications of its technology. Game developers X-Tech and Kokonut Studio have used it to enable motion control features in their mobile games, Snowball Effect and Sky Hero respectively. The player can simply place the phone or tablet on a table, step back, and control the games with their body.

It may not sound like the most attractive proposition – motion control games never did quite manage to bridge functionality and fun, and I haven’t tested this particular game to say for sure if it works or not. However, it’s impressive because just a few years ago, you had to buy an Xbox console with the Kinect accessory to do something like that.

The Technology Research Center at Finland’s Turku University has put the tech to use in research for exercise applications for the elderly. Titled Perceptions of the elderly users of motion tracking exergames, the research used Extreme Reality’s technology instead of spending money on expensive 3D cameras and sensors.

Other possible applications include education, marketing, and more, the startup says.

“Possible applications” always include marketing, because there’s always some idiot who thinks there’s a way to use a new idea to push ads or branding. But motion tracking just doesn’t have a clear use; the Kinect demonstrated that.
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Socionext shipping dual camera image processor » Image Sensors World

(Fujitsu + Panasonic Semi) introduces “M-12MO” (MBG967) Milbeaut Image Processor. The MBG967, which will be available in volume shipments starting in January, is mainly targeted at smartphones and other mobile applications. It supports dual camera, the latest trend in mobile applications, along with functionalities such as low light shot and depth map generation. The expansion of dual camera capabilities in the mobile camera market has been highly anticipated because dual cameras enable new functionalities previously considered difficult with mobile cameras. These include low light shot, which integrates images from color and monochrome sensors, and the generation of depth maps, which can create background blur comparable to that of SLR cameras.

Here’s what it looks like:

Coming soon to a smartphone near you, for sure.
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Apple registers ‘’ and other auto-related domains » Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

Apple has registered a trio of auto-related top-level domain names, including, and Whois records updated on January 8 show that Apple registered the domains through sponsoring registrar MarkMonitor Inc. in December 2015, although the addresses are not yet active.

Pretty convincing. Only a question of how long now.
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Kenya’s mobile penetration hits 88% » Kenya Communications Authority

According to the quarterly sector statistics report by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), at the end of the quarter, mobile penetration stood at 88.1% with 37.8million subscribers up from 36.1 million in the previous quarter.

The report shows that pre-paid subscriptions continue to dominate the mobile telephony sector, registering 36.8 million subscribers, accounting for 97.3% of the total subscriptions. Post-paid subscriptions saw a marginal increase to 989,889 up from 963,684 in the previous quarter.

Other considerable gains were recorded in the Internet/data market, which has registered 21.6 million subscriptions up from 19.9 million in the last quarter.

Almost all of the internet subscriptions – 21.5m – are mobile data, out of an estimated total 31m internet users in the country. Also note:

Mobile money transfer service subscriptions increased to 28.7 million up from 27.7 million the previous quarter, with the number of mobile money agents recorded at 135,724 up from 129,357 in the previous quarter.

You can see the full report.
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How to talk to your Mom about AI » LinkedIn

Dennis Mortensen, founder of (which does the fantastic “Amy” helper app):

I tend to classify services as either Vertical or Horizontal AI.

Companies like textio, Automated Insights, and ours, have taken on a single problem. These services are laser-focused on executing one job—whether that’s optimizing job listings, writing data-based stories, or scheduling meetings.

I consider these Vertical AI. These agents promise no more and no less than to perform one job for you and to do it so well, you might even mistake them for a human.

In contrast, M, Cortana, and Siri are extremely expansive generalists (which is not to say this is not fantastic technology, because it is!). There’s no single use case, no single “job-to-be-done.”

They function more as massive question and answer settings (“What is the time in Berlin?”) or request, immediate-action settings (“Set my alarm for tomorrow morning 08:00 AM!”).

I see these as Horizontal AI.

Useful distinction. Expect to hear a lot more about AI this year.
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CES 2016: the toaster-fridge awakens — in 4K HDR! » iMore

Michael Gartenberg, formerly of Gartner and latterly of Apple’s product marketing department:

If you were at CES, you could see water bottles with screens, alarm clocks with smell, robots with video projectors, underwear that’s smart, and a tablet/refrigerator. That would have been all on one day. Yesterday.

CES started as a trade show for retail. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was a venue for great technology intros such as the CD (1981), the DVD, (1986) and HDTV (1998). By 2000, CES was the place to launch major products such as Xbox (2001). When I look at this year’s show, I see a lot of things no one needs, and few people will want. It’s a Sharper Image catalog brought to life, the ultimate “Why? Because I can!” So why is it still an important event? It’s the place to try and spot the new, new thing that might get consumers to replace the old, old thing. So far, I don’t see it but here’s what I do see.

He puts it elegantly, and you don’t need to read anything else about CES once you’ve read his take.
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Piece of the puzzle : Chromebooks in the US and the rest of the world » Naofumi Kagami

if you look at the chart below, it clearly shows that Chromebook market share is much higher for developed countries than for emerging ones. Although one might presume that cheaper Chromebooks are more suited for low-income countries, the reality is that the inverse is true; low-income countries prefer Windows.

The reason is clearly stated in the article:

The main issue with these countries is that they do not have the required broadband infrastructure to support the cloud-based storage requirements of Chromebooks.

We often only look at the flashy devices that we use, made by the most powerful tech companies in the world; Google, Microsoft and Apple. We often forget that to make these devices work, we need a lot of infrastructure. We also forget that WiFi can be very, very expensive when you want to deploy a network capable of handling hundreds of simultaneous connections. We forget the infrastructure because unless you have to dealt with it directly, it is invisible.

This is something to keep in mind.

• Google exists only because broadband Internet access is cheap. Its business model and its data collection relies on the infrastructure of vast network of Internet equipment that most people in developed countries now take for granted.
• Amazon exists only because of a highly developed and inexpensive network of deliveries to your doorstep. This was not common 30 years ago in Japan, and I assume, most other countries.
• Microsoft and Apple built their businesses before this infrastructure. They have business models that work without it.

Thinking the rest of the world looks just like the view outside your window is such an elementary mistake, but pundits make it again and again.
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Fitbit either doesn’t understand Apple Watch or hopes you won’t; neither is good » Forbes

Mark Rogowsky:

In announcing its own smartwatch, Fitbit directly acknowledged that Apple is competition but it appears to have shown up to a Swiss Army knife fight with a spork . Fitbit CEO James Park seems to think his simpler device — which is limited to fitness tracking, heart-rate monitoring, and a few other functions — is just what the market ordered. Park told the Financial Times: “People have struggled with what the killer app is for smartwatches. For us it’s health and fitness. It’s really cumbersome on the Apple Watch sometimes to see what is my daily activity because they are trying to do so many things.”

In two sentences, Park makes three pretty fundamental errors about the state of wearables today and how they are likely to progress. Let’s break them down one at a time.

Rogowsky skewers Fitbit (or its PR spin) thoroughly here; the stock market seems to have seen through it too, driving down Fitbit’s shares by 20% on seeing its clunky product.

Meanwhile, my estimates for Android Wear activations (based on Google Play data) suggests they crept past 3m just before Christmas, and now stand at 3.1 million. There wasn’t a big bump in activations over the holidays; I calculate they’re rising steadily at about 47,000 per week, or 0.5m per quarter.

That, in turn, would suggest – unless something changes – that Android Wear won’t pass the 5m downloads point on Google Play before September this year.
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(Wondering where Apple Music hitting 10m, and Spotify saying “huh” is? I’ll post on that separately, as I’ve got some separate data not covered in those stories.)

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none so far for 2016!

Start up: USB-C in brief, understanding CES, jobs that vanished (in pictures), Apple Pay’s next step, and more

There was a time when these were new and “USB” was too. Photo by raneko on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Test on non-visible part of material. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Reversible USB Type-C finally on its way, alongside USB 3.1’s 10Gbit performance » ExtremeTech

The near-universal frustration over attempts to connect USB devices to computers has been a staple of nerd humor and lampooned in various ways until Intel finally found a way to take the joke quantum.

USB Type-C promises to solve this problem with a universal connector that’s also capableof twice the theoretical throughput of USB 3.0 and can provide far more power. Type-C connectors will not be the only type of connector that’s produced, but apparently hybrid cabling won’t be allowed. There will be USB 3.1 cables that are backwards compatible with existing USB 3.0 ports, but no Type-C adapters with conventional USB at one end and the new connector at the other.

Can carry 100W and can also act as a DisplayPort connector. But is it chainable, like FireWire? Still, lots of opportunities for the cable industry to sell us new USB cables.. in time.

Anonymous claims first victim in ‘Operation Charlie Hebdo’ » Mashable

The group claimed on Saturday to have hacked the website on Saturday afternoon. In 2013, French newspapers described it as a French jihadist website. was down for more than an hour after Anonymous’ announcement, but had returned online at the time of this writing.

It’s unclear how the hackers were able to take down the site, but Anonymous’ usual weapon of choice is a cyberattack known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which consists of flooding a website with traffic. This kind of attack is not particularly sophisticated, and there are even off-the-shelf tools that allow almost anyone to mount something similar, according to security experts.

Amorphous group attacks amorphous group. Bound to go well and produce a clear outcome.

CES: ingredients not just products » Learning by Shipping

Steve Sinofsky (you know, the used-to-be-at-Microsoft-running-Windows guy):

CES is best viewed not as a display of new products to run out and buy but as a display of ingredients for future products. It is great to go to CES and see the latest TVs, displays, or in-car systems. By and large there is little news in these in-market products and categories. It is also great to see the forward-looking vision presentations from the big companies. Similarly, these are good directionally but often don’t represent what you can act on reliably.

Taking an ingredients view, one (along with 140,000 others) can look across the over 2 million feet of 3,600 exhibitors for where things are heading (CES is one of the top trade shows globally, with CeBIT, Photokina, and Computex all vying for top ranking depending on how you count).

If you take a product view, CES can get repetitive or boring rather quickly. I probably saw a dozen selfie-sticks. After a while, every curved 4K TV looks the same. And certainly, there’s a limit to how many IP cameras the market can support. After a few decades you learn to quickly spot the me-too and not dwell on the repetition.

It is worth a brief description of why CES is filled with so many me-too (and often poorly executed) products…

…An astute observer can pick out the me-too products and get a sense for what ingredients will be available and where they are on the price / maturity curve. One can also gauge the suppliers who are doing the most innovative integrations and manufacturing.

Sometimes the whole industry gets it wrong. The most recent example of this would be 3D TV, which just doesn’t seem to be catching on.

Really fascinating post.

Jobs that no longer exist » Imgur

Bowling alley pinsetter, human alarm clock, ice cutter, aircraft listener, rat catcher, lamplighter, milkman, log driver, switchboard operator, factory reader… a great collection of old photos of lost jobs, driven out by automation.

Wait, rat catcher?

Thunderstrike 31c3 » Trammell Hudson’s Projects

Hudson outlined an attack – given physical access – whereby you could install a rootkit in a Mac through a weakness in its Thunderbolt connector that couldn’t be detected. All terrifying if you think the NSA (or similar) might be after you and your computer’s content; mostly unconcerning otherwise. But here are the amelioration measures:

Apple has a partial fix that they have started shipping in the new Mac Mini’s and iMac Retinas, and they plan to release it for older Macs soon as a firmware update. Their fix is to not load Option ROMs during firmware updates, which is effective against the current proof-of-concept.

However… it is not a complete fix. Option ROMs are still loaded on normal boots, allowing snare’s 2012 attack to continue working. Older Macs are subject to downgrade attacks by “updating” to a vulnerable firmware version.

And a Thunderstrike v2 could use the new “Dark Jedi Sleep” attack.

What is the Dark Jedi attack? I just learned about it last night at Rafal and Corey’s excellent talk here at CCC. Folllowing a S3 sleep, the system restarts with the FLOCKDN register that we discussed earlier and all the other BIOS protection registers unlocked. This means that the Option ROM can arrange for arbitrary code can be run in PEI before anything is locked, allowing trivial rewrites to the flash. Thunderbolt Option ROMs can do all this without having to mess around with SCAP files and signatures or anything.

If Apple revised their hardware to include Trusted Boot hardware again — they used to have TPM chips, but never used them and removed them in more recent models, they could at least detect this sort of error. It’s not perfect, as we can tell from all of the presentations into circumventing the various forms of secure boot, but it is a good first step.

Logitech looking to mobile peripherals for growth » WSJ

John Revill:

The company, whose PC mouse devices could be found on desks the world over in the first wave of the IT revolution, is now focusing on accessories for mobile devices and gaming in an effort to reignite double-digit growth, chief executive Bracken Darrell said.

Logitech will also soon release a low-cost video device for collaboration between individuals or small groups.

The company also has a string of research projects which are working on “logical but surprising” new areas of digital technology which tap into key trends including mobile, although Mr. Darrell declined to give further details.

Possibly the most engaging thing about this piece is how the WSJ struggles with the plural of mouse (as in, the computer accessory). A front-page headline called them “mouses”. In the story, it hands off to “mouse devices”. Can’t we just say “mice”?

Consumer Monitor Study » Iowa State University department of Kinesiology

It tested a number of fitness trackers to see how they fared in assessing peoples’ exercise after some sedentary time (rather like your average office person):

Four of the monitors produced error rates between 15 and 18% (BodyMedia Core, Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up24 and Nike Fuelband SE). The two most accurate monitors were the BodyMedia Core followed by the Fitbit Flex in second. This was the same pattern observed in the previously published paper. The overall error rates were lower in the original study (~12-16% for the top monitors) but the BodyMedia Core and the Fitbit Flex were similarly ranked as the two most accurate monitors.

ApplePay in browser by summer 2015 » Starpoint Blog

Tom Noyes:

Today ApplePay is limited to in-App purchase and at the POS (using NFC). Per my blog last week, mCommerce is one of the fastest growing trends in the industry right now. Apple will be extending the “touch ID” payment experience to all Safari browsers (with merchant support). Contrary to the poor POS/NFC uptake.. this will be a MASSIVE SUCCESS!!

Pre-requisite/Set Up

1) Merchant implements new ApplePay API that looks for supporting browser/device. Similar to what Google Checkout, Stripe, Braintree have done for accepting a token in lieu of card and cardholder data
2) There is likely some other device/browser information going to merchant (like ApplePay plug-in on browser)
3) Consumer has at least one touch ID compliant device (iphone 5s or 6)

User case 1 – ApplePay on MacBook – Easiest one to explain

1) Consumer Checks Out
2) Merchant checkout page finds supporting device/plug-in and displays “pay with Applepay”
3) Consumer selects pay with Apple Pay
4) Consumer’s iPhone 6 comes up with Touch ID prompt (Touch ID to complete purchase with Merchant X). Side note somehow Apple Keychain management is involved in exchange between devices
5) Merchant receives token(s) for user ID and for card. User ID token is resolved through Apple service, Token is routed as current token is today.

In case you’re wondering who Tom Noyes is, he’s the guy who in April 2014 was telling the world (which wasn’t listening) that Apple would introduce a contactless payment system in the iPhone 6. So worth listening to.

Samsung, LG, Panasonic bent on competing against Android TV » Digitimes Research

Tom Lo:

Observing major LCD TV brand vendors’ strategies for 2015, Google’s Android TV has become the official platform for Sony’s and Sharp’s smart TVs, but vendors such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and Panasonic are still resisting Android, and bent on using their in-house developed platforms to carve out their own territories in the market.

During their pre-show press conferences for CES 2015, Sony and Sharp have respectively noted that Android TV will be fully adopted into their mid-range and high-end product lines in 2015, a strong advance for Google as its previous-generation Google TV platform was only available in Sony and LG Electronics’ entry-level TVs.

Their move also indicates that the two Japan-based TV vendors, whose market shares have been declining in the past few years, have formed a strategic alliance over their smart TV platform’s development, which is expected to help strengthen the Android TV camp.

This is the point about Android TV. Its backers (so far) are struggling players: Sony’s TV division is spun off from the main company, and Sharp has been hurting for years and only recently returned to profit. Samsung and LG have about 40% share of smart TVs, and when you add in Panasonic, it’s up to 50% or so. Sony and Sharp aren’t the big players.