Start up: Google’s image search ads, Intel’s iPhone deal, Tabooillion!, Runkeeper confesses, and more

Is mommy blogging about to hit a speedbump? Montage by Mike Licht on Flickr.

Why didn’t you sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email?. Unless you’re reading this on email.

A selection of 12 links for you. Indefatigably. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google is including ads in image search results for first time • Digital Trends

Trevor Mogg:

»Perhaps the most surprising thing about the news that Google is now including ads in its Images search results is that it didn’t do it sooner.

It’s true – the company that makes all its cash from search ads has until now included not a single sponsored message among its image results. But that’s all changing.

The initiative is designed to tempt the shopper in you, so if, say, you do a Google image search on your smartphone for a coffee table, among those many pages of lovely photos of gorgeous tables you’ll also see ads for them. These will link directly to a merchant’s site, enabling you to part with your cash in just a couple of clicks. The merchant wins, you win … oh, and Google wins, too.

«

Every place Google can put an ad, it’s going to put an ad. Google News next?
link to this extract

 


Intel obtains up to 50% of modem chip orders for upcoming iPhone • Digitimes

Julian Ho and Jessie Chen:

»Intel will supply up to 50% of the modem chips for use in the new iPhones slated for launch in September 2016, according to industry sources.

Intel will itself package the modem chips for the upcoming new iPhones, but have contracted Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and tester King Yuan Electronics (KYEC) to manufacture the chips, the sources said.

«

link to this extract

 


The main reason why people are not already using ad blockers should worry publishers • Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:

»The principal reason why most people haven’t yet switched on an ad blocker is simply because they are not aware they could block ads — a stat that should worry businesses that rely on online advertising to make money.

Wells Fargo Securities and Optimal.com — a startup that offers an “ethical” ad blocker — surveyed 1,712 US smartphone users to ask about their attitudes to ad blocking.

Of the 1,320 respondents who don’t already block ads (either on desktop or mobile,) 45.6% said they were not aware they could do so.

«

(That survey number suggests 23% already blocking ads.) Notice also of those not yet blocking, there are 22% who either know of it but can’t figure out how, or else intend to when they “have the time”. Those who don’t mind ads, or don’t want to harm content creators: 18.1%, or less than one in five.

Rob Leathern of Optimal goes into more detail about what the figures mean.
link to this extract

 


Taboola crosses the one billion user mark, second only to Facebook as the world’s largest discovery platform • Globe Newswire

»Taboola has achieved a significant “network effect” within the discovery space, more than doubling its reach from 500 million unique users just one year ago. As more users around the world are exposed to Taboola’s personalized recommendations, more Fortune 500 advertisers are achieving scale across the platform. In the US, where the company first launched its discovery platform in 2010, every American Internet user sees Taboola at least 70 times a month, and the platform reaches 95.3% of the 15+ year old demographic, surpassing Google, Facebook, and Yahoo Sites (according to comScore’s monthly Demographic Report, March 2016).

“For the past eight years, our team has been committed to building the best predictive technology in the world, and it’s been incredible to see how that personalization-driven mission has resonated across new markets in just the past twelve months,” said Adam Singolda, founder and CEO at Taboola.

«

A billion?? Flipping heck.
link to this extract

 


MCX postpones rollout of Apple Pay rival CurrentC, lays off 30, will focus on bank deals • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

»As merchants like Walmart move ahead on their own mobile payment strategies, a consortium that once counted Walmart — along with a number of other big retailers and brands — behind it, has taken a step back. Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX) today announced it would postpone a nationwide rollout of CurrentC, a smartphone payment initiative originally conceived as a mobile wallet rival to smartphone-led services like Apple Pay and Android Pay. As a result, MCX said it would lay off 30 people as it shifted its focus to working with financial institutions.

«

Dead.
link to this extract

 


Indian smartphone shipments declined for the second consecutive quarter in Q1 2016 • IDC

»According to the International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, 23.5m units of smartphones were shipped in India in Q1 2016 registering 5.2% growth over the same period last year. However, smartphone shipments shrank by 8.2% over Q4 2015, dipping consecutively for two quarters.

According to Karthik J, Senior Market Analyst, Client Devices, “The first quarter of the year is usually expected to be slow after the festive season in the last quarter of the year. However, the contraction in Q1 2016 is mainly propelled by the decline in shipments from all the Top 5 smartphone vendors of previous quarter. Shipments of key Indian vendors Micromax, Intex and Lava put together dropped 20.4% sequentially as they struggled to push their inventories into the market.” On the other hand, new entrants like Reliance Jio grew sharply over previous quarter as they prepare before the official launch.

«

India and China have about the same population; the Indian smartphone market is about a quarter the size of China’s, which has already peaked.
link to this extract

 


China quietly targets US tech companies in security reviews • The New York Times

Paul Mozur and Jane Perlez:

»Chinese authorities are quietly scrutinizing technology products sold in China by Apple and other big foreign companies, focusing on whether they pose potential security threats to the country and its consumers and opening up a new front in an already tense relationship with Washington over digital security.

Apple and other companies in recent months have been subjected to reviews that target encryption and the data storage of tech products, said people briefed on the reviews who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In the reviews, Chinese officials require executives or employees of the foreign tech companies to answer questions about the products in person, according to these people.

The reviews are run by a committee associated with the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s Internet control bureau, they said. The bureau includes experts and engineers with ties to the country’s military and security agencies…

…Ultimately, the reviews could be used to block products without explanation or to extract trade secrets in exchange for market access. Those secrets could be leaked to Chinese competitors or expose vulnerabilities, which, in turn, Chinese hackers could exploit.

«

Would also explain Apple investing a billion dollars in Uber-rival Didi.
link to this extract

 


When the data bubble bursts, companies will have to actually sell things again • Co.Exist

Douglas Rushkoff:

»How can a company with no revenues still make money? It’s not a trick question. The answer is at the very foundation of the digital economy: advertising.

No matter how dire things get for musicians, writers, movies, websites, smart phone apps, video games, or whole social media platforms, no matter how hard it might be for companies to charge for content, services, or convenience, almost everything we are doing in the digital marketplace can serve as the advertisement for something else. The video game promotes a movie, the movie promotes an app, and the app promotes a video game. Heck, this article indirectly promotes a book.

The trouble is, if everyone is in it for the advertising dollar, who is left to advertise? At no point in history has advertising, marketing, and research ever accounted for as high a percentage of GDP, or total economic activity (and that’s being extremely generous). But right now, it’s pushing at the very top of that range. The reason it can’t go higher is that only so much economic activity can go to promoting the rest of our economic activity. The coming crash in the tech market—and quite possibly beyond—will be triggered by the growing realization that every company in the world can’t be a marketing company.

«

Rushkoff is usually ahead of the curve; I remember how in 1999 he said he was going to buy all his Christmas presents via Amazon.
link to this extract

 


Nate Silver unloads on The New York Times • Columbia Journalism Review

Bill Wyman:

»The catalyst for Silver’s unleashing was a column from [Jim] Rutenberg, who stepped into the vacant David Carr job at the beginning of the year. The piece ruminated on the myriad errors made by the media over the course of the utter mayhem that has been the 2016 presidential race. The column wasn’t entirely focused on Silver; it mentioned failures in Times prognostications as well. But Rutenberg did seem to go out of its way to bring up FiveThirtyEight, especially in noting a bad call for the Indiana Democrat primary, in which FiveThirtyEight had favored Hillary Clinton to win but Bernie Sanders ended up taking in a romp.

There was subtext there, too. Several times in the piece, Rutenberg advocated for “shoe-leather reporting”—talking to “actual humans,” as he put it—and concluded:

»

That’s all the more reason in the coming months to be as sharply focused on the data we don’t have as we are on the data we do have (and maybe watching out for making any big predictions about the fall based on the polling of today). But a good place to start would be to get a good night’s sleep, and then talk to some voters.

«

«

What Rutenberg overlooks is that Silver writes stories which are based on people talking to voters – for polls. Rutenberg (in his article) also doesn’t seem to understand Monte Carlo simulations: a 90% chance for Hillary in a state doesn’t mean she was going to win 90% of the votes. He describes Sanders winning by a “comfortable” 5%: that would be 52.5-47.5? Hardly comfortable either way.

I think Silver’s data journalism has a better chance of telling us the outcome ahead of time than “shoe leather”.
link to this extract

 


A message to our users • Beyond the Miles

Runkeeper CEO Jason Jacobs, following yesterday’s complaint about its app:

»Recently, the Norwegian Consumer Council filed a complaint regarding how Runkeeper handles user data. We immediately began investigating the issue and have found a bug in our Android app involving the app’s integration with a third-party advertising service. Like other Android apps, when the Runkeeper app is in the background, it can be awakened by the device when certain events occur (like when the device receives a Runkeeper push notification). When such events awakened the app, the bug inadvertently caused the app to send location data to the third-party service.

Today we are releasing a new version of our app that eliminates this bug and removes the third-party service involved. Although the bug affected only our Android app, we have decided to remove this service from our iOS product too out of an abundance of caution. The iOS release will be made available once approved by Apple.

«

Apologies and regrets. My thought: doesn’t this mean that its privacy policy was either meaningless, or ignored? Sure, it was a bug; but “we made a mistake” doesn’t wash for the people in accounts. Why for programs? And why did it take the Norwegian Consumer Council, rather than Runkeeper’s testing, to spot it? This opens up more questions than it answers.
link to this extract

 


The BBC are removing recipes from their website. This blog is free and always will be. • COOKING ON A BOOTSTRAP

Jack Monroe:

»In light of the BBC announcement that they are removing a lot of their recipes from their website, I will be publishing all of my recipes in full on http://www.cookingonabootstrap.com over the next few days. This includes 220 recipes from both of my books and around 100 more Guardian recipes. There are also recipes from Waitrose Kitchen and Sainsburys, the Daily Mirror, restaurants I have consulted for and others that will go on too.

It’s a big job but an essential one.

I learned to cook on the dole using free recipes online and for the BBC to reduce this vital service is an abomination. (Apologies to all of my friends who work there, but I just don’t understand this.) I hope I can go some way to filling the gap left for free, instructional, simple recipe resources and cookery guidance, which is vital for so many people.

«

The reaction to the BBC move – which still leaves a lot of recipes on its site, as well as a BBC food site – was fascinating: people who might never have looked up a recipe are outraged. What wasn’t explained is why these recipes had to be removed rather than just moved to the remaining BBC food site.

And lo and behold, by the end of the day that’s just what happened. The question of what cost saving there would have been remains as mysterious as before.

One non-BBC media source suggested to me that this was a perfectly executed PR stunt by the BBC: “they picked the puppy everybody loves”. The Tories want to shut down bits of the BBC; the BBC is showing them that people won’t stand for it.
link to this extract

 


Dear Mommy Blogger • Josi Denise

Denise goes on an absolutely epic must-not-miss rant about the whole “mommy blogging” scene:

»//NOBODY IS READING YOUR SHIT

I mean no one. Even the people you think are reading your shit? They aren’t really reading it. The other mommy bloggers sure as hell aren’t reading it. They are scanning it for keywords that they can use in the comments. “So cute! Yum! I have to try this!” They’ve been told, like you, that in order to grow your brand, you must read and comment on other similar-sized and similar-themed blogs. The people clicking on it from Pinterest aren’t reading it. They are looking for your recipe, or helpful tip promised in the clickbait, or before and after photo, then they might re-pin the image, then they are done. The people sharing it on Facebook? They aren’t reading it either. They just want to say whatever it is your headline says, but can’t find the words themselves. Your family? Nope. They are checking to make sure they don’t have double chins in the photos you post of them, and zoning in on paragraphs where their names are mentioned.

Why? Because your shit is boring. Nobody cares about your shampoo you bought at Walmart and how you’re so thankful the company decided to work with you. Nobody cares about anything you are saying because you aren’t telling an engaging story. You are not giving your readers anything they haven’t already heard. You are not being helpful, and you are not being interesting. If you are constantly writing about your pregnancy, your baby’s milestones, your religious devotion, your marriage bliss, or your love of wine and coffee…. are you saying anything new? Anything at all? Tell me something I haven’t heard before, that someone hasn’t said before. From a different perspective, or making a new point at the end at least if I have to suffer through a cliche story about your faceless, nameless kid.

«

By this point she’s only just getting started, and it gets better and better. I like to imagine her declaiming this from a podium at a mommy blogging conference.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the stuck smart home, McAfee’s hack trick, ICO probes Deepmind deal, Flash the zombie, and more


Yes, Runkeeper tracks your runs. But Norway’s consumer council thinks it tracks more than that. Photo by Gordon 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. Ain’t that something? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The smart home is stuck • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

»The challenge, then, is the addressable market for most smart home technology is pretty small, composed of innovators and early adopters in the classic technology diffusion curve. As a result, many products are attempting to squeeze every opportunity out of these small markets until they’re maxed out. Nest has been criticized for not innovating more around its original product but I suspect this is the result of a deliberate strategy to saturate many individual product markets rather than focus on ongoing significant improvements in a single market. This helps to explain Nest’s acquisition of Dropcam, its smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and the other products it’s been rumored to be working on. There’s more mileage in opening up new markets than there is in squeezing incremental value out of existing markets already nearing saturation.

I see some people referring to Amazon’s Alexa as a more mainstream smart home or home automation product, and I think that’s actually a red herring. Yes, it can be used to control smart home devices but I suspect (a) only a subset of Alexa devices are used for this purpose and (b) such a focus would limit its appeal to a niche within that smart home early adopter category. I think Alexa’s potential is much broader than that and it’s precisely because it isn’t just a smart home controller. Alexa isn’t extending the smart home market – it’s more mainstream precisely because it’s not limited to that small and limited opportunity.

«

link to this extract


Mobile traffic dominates among the web’s most popular sites • The Atlantic

Adriene Lafrance:

»More than half of Facebook’s roughly 1.7 billion monthly users visit the site exclusively from their smartphones—that’s 894 million mobile-only users each month, up from 581 million such users last year and 341 million mobile-only users in 2014, according to the company’s latest earnings report.

Google confirmed last year that more searches come from mobile devices than computers in 10 countries, including the United States. Over the holiday season, Amazon said more than 60% of shoppers used mobile. And Wikipedia, which recently revamped the way it tracks site traffic, says it’s getting more mobile than desktop visits to its English language site.

In April, Wikipedia had about 361 million unique visits from smartphones and tablets compared with some 229 million from desktops—meaning roughly 61% of traffic to the English-language version of Wikipedia came from mobile devices, according to data provided by a spokeswoman.

«

Didn’t know the Wikipedia stat, but that’s really persuasive.
link to this extract


John McAfee apparently tried to trick reporters into thinking he hacked WhatsApp • Gizmodo

William Turton:

»McAfee has a history of being shifty with the press about his alleged cybersecurity exploits. In March, for instance, during a media tour that included appearances on CNN and RT, McAfee claimed he would be able to hack into the phone of San Bernadino terrorist Syed Farook. McAfee never proved his claims, and later admitted that he was lying in order to garner a “shitload of public attention.” And earlier this year, McAfee hedged on his terrorism-prevention ideals for America during an interview with CNN about his Libertarian candidacy for president, saying that his strategy for preventing homegrown terrorism was “difficult to explain.”

Now, it seems McAfee has tried to trick reporters again, by sending them phones pre-cooked with malware containing a keylogger, and convincing them he somehow cracked the encryption on WhatsApp. According to cybersecurity expert Dan Guido, who was contacted by a reporter trying to verify McAfee’s claims, McAfee planned to send this reporter two Samsung phones in sealed boxes. Then, experts working for McAfee would take the phones out of the boxes in front of the reporters and McAfee would read the messages being sent on WhatsApp over a Skype call.

«

Pointless.
link to this extract


ICO probes Google DeepMind patient data-sharing deal with NHS Hospital Trust • Computer Weekly

Caroline Donnelly:

»The Information Commissioner’s Office, the data protection watchdog, confirmed an investigation into the arrangement is underway, on the back of at least one complaint from the general public.

The deal gives DeepMind access to the healthcare records of 1.6 million patients that pass through three hospitals in North London, which fall under the care of the Royal Free Hospital Trust.

The complaint, seen by Computer Weekly, questions whether DeepMind will be expected to encrypt the patient data it receives when at rest.

“Whilst the information-sharing agreement insists that personally identifiable information – such as name, address, post code, NHS number, date of birth, telephone number, and email addresses, etc – must be encrypted whilst in transit to Google, it does not explicitly prohibit that data being unencrypted at the non-NHS location,” the complaint read.

«

First there’s a deal; then it turns out it’s not directly approved. The complaint is essentially that individuals at Google/Deepmind might access personal data. This is the essential battleground of the coming years: how compatible is tight data regulation with data mining?
link to this extract


Let’s talk about Amazon reviews: how we spot the fakes • The Wirecutter

Lauren Dragan:

»Amazon has a history of trying hard to deal with offenders and shut them down. In fact, in April, Amazon sued another round of companies that are accused of selling fraudulent reviews. But by the time those companies are caught, their clients have already made a bunch of sales, and the fraudulent reviewers will likely pop up again under new names to repeat the process.

(Want to know more? Wirecutter headphones editor Lauren Dragan talks to Marketplace Tech about compensated Amazon reviews and how to tell real crowdsourced opinions from astroturfing.)

You have a few ways to suss out what may be a fake review. The easiest way is to use Fakespot. This site allows you to paste the link to any Amazon product and receive a score regarding the likelihood of fake reviews.

For example, we ran an analysis on some headphones we found during a recent research sweep for our guide about cheap in-ear headphones. You can see from the results below that the headphones’ reviews didn’t score so well.

«

Hadn’t come across Fakespot before; it seems pretty useful.

link to this extract


The real cost of big tech’s accounting games • FT.com

Jonathan Ford:

»How much did LinkedIn make over the past three years? Sounds a simple enough question doesn’t it? But it is also one that is capable of being answered in multiple and very diverse ways.

First, let’s look at the figure the US online networking site wants you to focus on. That’s a mouthful called adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda), and the total there between 2013 and 2015 came in at a positive $1.7bn.

Sounds pretty hunky dory? Well, now check out the operating profit line for the business — the one calculated according to the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) that companies must present but often don’t emphasise. Over the same period, LinkedIn racked up a $67m loss.

What explains the yawning $1.8bn difference between those two figures? It isn’t simply the depreciation and amortisation charges the company took against the value of its assets. Those, while pretty hefty, came to just $791m. No, the biggest single reason for the negative swing was the $1bn cost of the stock LinkedIn stuffed into its employees’ pay packets over those three years.

«

Why does it matter if the company gives stock to employees? As Ford explains, it’s because by doing that

»the firm denies itself the chance to sell those shares or options for value in the market. Failing to recognise that forgone cash effectively understates the cost the company has incurred in employing those individuals.

«

So stock grants are a cost. So they come off the bottom (operating) line. I’m constantly surprised by how many companies’ non-GAAP results are reported as if they were the ones to compare.
link to this extract


Google faces record-breaking fine for web search monopoly abuse • Sunday Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»Google faces a record-breaking fine for monopoly abuse within weeks, as officials in Brussels put the finishing touches to a seven-year investigation of company’s dominant search engine.

It is understood that the European Commission is aiming to hit Google with a fine in the region of €3bn, a figure that would easily surpass its toughest anti-trust punishment to date, a €1.1bn fine levied on the microchip giant Intel.

Sources close to the situation said officials aimed to make an announcement before the summer break and could make their move as early as next month, although cautioned that Google’s bill for crushing competition online had not been finalised.

The maximum possible is around €6.6bn, or a tenth of Google’s total annual sales.

It will mark a watershed moment in Silicon Valley’s competition battle with Brussels. Google has already been formally charged with unlawfully promoting its own price comparison service in general search results while simultaneously relegating those of smaller rivals, denying them traffic.

«

I’m hearing the same about the timing and intention from my sources; the fine, meanwhile, is indeterminate.
link to this extract


This fitness app tracks you too much, consumer advocates claim • Fortune

David Meyer:

»According to the Norwegian Consumer Council, which has lodged a complaint with the country’s data protection authority, Runkeeper transmits data about its users all the time, not just when the app is in use.

The Norwegian data protection commissioner, Bjørn Erik Thon, confirmed to Fortune that his office has received the complaint and will now look into it.

“Everyone understands that Runkeeper tracks users while they exercise, but to continue to do so after the training session has ended is not okay,” said Finn Myrstad, the consumer council’s technical director.

The data in question includes timestamped location information, as well as Google advertising IDs that can be used to identify the individual.

“Our users’ privacy is of the utmost importance to us, and we take our obligation to comply with data protection laws very seriously,” Runkeeper CEO Jason Jacobs told Fortune. “We are in the process of reviewing the issues raised in the complaint, and we will cooperate with the Norwegian [data protection authority] if it has any questions arising out of the complaint.”

According to the council, Runkeeper’s terms and conditions do not explain how regularly data is transmitted, and users do not give consent to being monitored in this way. The council claims this breaches Norwegian and EU data protection laws.

«

Here’s Runkeeper’s privacy policy. It’s astonishingly vague (though in that respect, probably not so different from other privacy policies). What intrigues me is why the Runkeeper CEO didn’t just say “nah, we don’t collect data after your run.”
link to this extract


Five things you can get in India with a missed call • WSJ

Shefali Anand:

»Want to transfer funds from your account? Give your bank a missed call. Want to hear Bollywood music? Dial a number and hang up.

Making a missed call by calling a number and letting it ring is a popular way of communicating in India because the caller doesn’t have to spend money. Marketing companies, politicians, banks and others now use this practice to reach millions who have cellphones but limited means.

«

Brilliant. Recalls how, in the days when long-distance calls were expensive, kids on their travels would call the operator and ask to set up a reverse-charge call to their parents. Parent’s phone rings: “Alley Okey is calling from Wichita, Kansas. Will you accept the charge?” Parent: “No.” Conversation ends, with parent knowing that the kid is OK and presently in Wichita.
link to this extract


Chinese smartphone market has slowed, but Huawei, Oppo & Vivo have not • Counterpoint Technology

»According to the latest research from Counterpoint’s Market Monitor service, the demand for smartphones in China softened during Q1 2016 (Jan-Mar) as the smartphone shipments were down 2% annually and 13% sequentially.

Commenting on the results, Research Director, Neil Shah, said: “In spite of the Chinese holiday season quarter, the Chinese smartphone market demand reached a standstill. This has led to intense competition between the players as they struggle to take share away from each other. In a market with hundred of brands, growth is now limited to a handful of players with the greatest marketing budgets and headturning designs, and available at competitive price points.

“Only five brands registered healthy growth during the quarter. Oppo, Huawei and Vivo drove the majority of the volume, capturing a combined 40% of the total Chinese smartphone market. Demand for rest of the brands declined, especially Apple after the strong demand for iPhone 6 & 6 Plus in the quarter a year ago, and lacklustre performance from Lenovo, ZTE and Coolpad.”

The Chinese smartphone market saw a lull in the first two months of 2016, however sales for smartphones started to pick up in March, with the largest sales contribution from Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, the new leaders in Chinese domestic market.

«

Other notable points: 98% of phones sold were smartphones (hence Microsoft’s 90% year-on-year drop); the “premium” segment of RMB3000+ ($450+) makes up a fifth of the market, with Apple, Samsung and Vivo dominating.
link to this extract


HTML5 by default: Google’s plan to make Chrome’s Flash click-to-play • Ars Technica UK

Peter Bright:

»In a plan outlined last week, Flash will be disabled by default [in Google Chrome] in the fourth quarter of this year. Embedded Flash content will not run, and JavaScript attempts to detect the plugin will not find it. Whenever Chrome detects that a site is trying to use the plugin, it will ask the user if they want to enable it or not. It will also trap attempts to redirect users to Adobe’s Flash download page and similarly offer to enable the plugin.

«

Great!

»

There will be a few exceptions to this policy, with Google planning to leave Flash enabled by default on the top 10 domains that depend on the plugin. This list includes YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and Amazon.

«

Crap.

»

Even this reprieve is temporary. The plan is to remove sites from the list whenever possible—Twitch, for example, is switching to HTML5 streaming, so should start to phase out its use of Flash—and after one year the whitelist will be removed entirely. This means that after the fourth quarter 2017, Flash will need to be explicitly enabled on every site that tries to use it.

«

“After the fourth quarter of 2017”, aka 2018. Flash, the desktop web’s malware zombie. (Notice that all those sites somehow muddle through on mobile, which is far bigger, without Flash.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: China’s coming smartphone crash, Boston Globe v readers, Google Glass is back!, and more

A bucket with ice water: much cheaper, though it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Photo by mediadeo 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. (If you signed up and didn’t receive, please let me know in the comments here.)

A selection of 9 links for you. They are what they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dark patterns by the Boston Globe » The Rationalist Conspiracy

Alyssa Vance:

»After years of falling revenue, some newspapers have resorted to deception to boost their subscription numbers. These dishonest tactics are sometimes called “dark patterns” – user interfaces designed to trick people.

For example, this is a Boston Globe story on Bernie Sanders:

Before you can read the article, there is a pop-up ad asking you to subscribe. By itself, this is annoying, but not deceptive. The real dark pattern is hidden at the top – the ‘Close’ button (circled in red) uses a very low contrast font, making it hard to see. It’s also in the left corner, not the standard right corner. This makes it likely that users won’t see it, causing them to subscribe when they didn’t have to.

One the ‘Close’ link is clicked, deception continues:

At the bottom, there’s a non-removable, high-contrast banner ad asking for a paid subscription. Again, this is annoying, but honest. However, the circled text “for only 99 cents per week” is not honest. It’s simply a lie, as later pages will show.

«

Turns out that 99c is actually $6.93 per week, and you can only unsubscribe by phone. So wicked.
link to this extract

 


The blockchain menu » net.wars

Wendy Grossman:

»The Internet of Things is such an established concept that I’m startled to note that week’s (Lego) prototype was my first. Three cars want to park…somewhere. Their owners have preset the maximum they will pay. The system locates the nearest parking space, and they bid. The winner is directed to the space, and the fee is automatically deducted from the car’s balance. A display showed the auction in real time. All very nice until I injected reality by grabbing a car and plunking it in the space before bidding ended.

“Usurped” the contested space was now tagged. “You’ll be fined,” Consult Hyperion’s demonstrator said. Who will that stop in Manhattan, where friends have missed two successive movie showings because no parking space? This may be an entertaining solution wishing for a problem.

In that, it was not alone at this week’s Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum, Dave Birch’s quirky annual event where ideas about the future of money are smashed together like particles to see what happens.

«

I love the idea of app developers thinking people would be well-behaved and wait for their app to tell them where to park, while Noo Yawkers just PARK THE DAMN CAR THERE IN THE STOOPID SPACE.

But the article is actually about blockchains, which in a similar way are mostly a solution in search of a problem.
link to this extract

 


China’s crowded smartphone market heads for an epic shakeout » Bloomberg

David Ramli:

»The startup Dakele looked pretty smart when it released a phone in China four years ago. The market was doubling annually, and the company put brand-name components inside a device that cost a fraction of the iPhone.

That $160 gadget went on sale just four months after Dakele opened its doors, and soon the company, which translates as “Big Cola,” made inroads against Huawei Technologies Co. and Xiaomi Corp. Buzz was building for the Dakele 3 model last year, with online reviews calling it the best Apple Inc. clone.

Then the sizzle started to fizzle. Huawei spent $300 million on marketing, Xiaomi cut prices and clones of the clone appeared. Troubles with a supplier and raising money prompted Dakele to shut down last month—and it likely won’t be alone. China’s herd of 300 phone makers may be halved in 12 months by competition, a sales plateau and economic growth that’s the slowest in a quarter-century, according to executives and analysts.

“The mobile-phone industry changed more quickly and brutally than expected,” Dakele Chief Executive Officer Ding Xiuhong said on his Weibo messaging account. “As a startup, we couldn’t find more strategies and methods to break through.”

«

I can’t decide whether the smartphone market is telescoping a decade of the PC market into two years, or just going through the same as happened in 1985-9 in about the same length of time.
link to this extract

 


Kickstarter’s biggest shitshow somehow got even messier » Motherboard

Jaason Koebler:

»A decidedly not chill development for 36,000 Kickstarter backers of the “Coolest Cooler”: Coolest is now considering asking people who haven’t yet received their coolers to pay an additional $97 for “expedited delivery” of the long-past-due all-in-one disaster, a prospect that has allegedly led some backers to threaten Coolest employees.

If you’re not familiar, at the time it launched, the Coolest Cooler was the most popular Kickstarter of all time, raising $13 million. The 55-quart cooler has a built-in blender, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, a USB charger, and a bottle opener. You can buy one on Amazon, right now, and have it by the weekend if you pay $399.99.

That $399.99 price point is important—when Coolest Cooler was launched on Kickstarter, it cost between $165 and $225, a price its creator Ryan Grepper said in an update to backers was far too low…

…Coolest Cooler doesn’t have money to produce the remaining coolers, which is why it’s selling existing stock on Amazon but not sending them to backers who haven’t yet received the product (the company has delivered about 20,000 coolers to backers, but 36,000 more people are waiting). Reviews of the cooler are mixed — most say that it is indeed cool, but that it is very heavy and isn’t worth $400.

«

I’m trying to imagine a cooler that would be worth $400, even with those add-ons. The article’s comparison with the Welsh drone screwup Zano isn’t right, though; Zano had absurdly inflated claims. This is just poor pricing.
link to this extract

 


CDC: two of every five U.S. households have only wireless phones » Pew Research Center

»More Americans than ever have cut the (telephone) cord, but the growth rate of wireless-only households slowed last year.

About two-in-five (41%) of U.S. households had only wireless phones in the second half of 2013, according to a report released today by the National Center for Health Statistics. The center, the statistical arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that 39.1% of adults and 47.1% of children lived in wireless-only households.

«

When I noted yesterday that “call mom” had overtaken “call home” as a Google search (hence almost certainly a voice activation), I thought it was because “mom” was likely to be at home. But as was pointed out, there might not be a “home” to call.

(Next up: can we calculate the divorce rate based on the rise of “call mom” v “call dad”?)
link to this extract

 


Google Glass startup Augmedix raises $17m from healthcare orgs » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

»The next time you spot a Google Glass in the wild, it might not be on the face of a fervid techie. It might be on your doctor.

Augmedix, one of several startups that formed around the computerized headgear — and kept spinning after the search giant ditched its first attempt — is raising a fresh round of capital to get Google Glass into more health care facilities. The four-year-old startup is part of a wave of Silicon Valley companies trying to tap the massive medical market. It primarily builds software for wearable devices that display electronic health records so that doctors can access them hands-free.

“They’re engaging with patients in front of them,” said CEO Ian Shakil. “In the background, we’re doing all the burdensome work.”

He’s not raising cash from Sand Hill Road. Instead, the $17m strategic investment comes from a quintet of medical institutions.

«

I always thought that Glass’s best use would be inside businesses, not among consumers.
link to this extract

 


Apple’s Watch outpaced the iPhone in first year » WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi:

»Apple doesn’t disclose sales, but analysts estimate about 12m Watches were sold in year one. At an estimated average price of $500, that is a $6bn business—three times the annual revenue of activity tracker Fitbit Inc.

By comparison, Apple sold roughly 6m iPhones in its first year. As a new entrant, the Watch accounted for about 61% of global smartwatch sales last year, according to researcher IDC.

And yet, there are detractors such as Fred Wilson, co-founder of venture-capital firm Union Square Ventures, in December declared the Watch a “flop.” Mr. Wilson, who owns shares of Fitbit through a fund, had earlier predicted the Watch wouldn’t be a “home run” like the iPad, iPhone and iPod, saying many people wouldn’t want to wear a computer on their wrist.

The Watch has shortcomings. It is slow, with an underpowered processor that is throttled at times to extend the device’s battery life. It lacks mobile and Global Positioning System connections, meaning it must be accompanied by an iPhone, limiting its usefulness as an independent device. The battery needs to be charged every day.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the Watch’s lack of a defining purpose. It does certain things well, such as activity tracking, mobile payments and notifications. But there is no task the Apple Watch handles that can’t be done by an iPhone or a less-expensive activity tracker.

«

The comparison with the first-year iPhone is meaningless – the Watch was released in more places, with more fanfare. Fred Wilson’s criticism, well, would the better metric be what proportion of devices are still in use? How would the Watch do against the Fitbit?

As to “defining purpose” – its purpose so far is to be an adjunct. It does that pretty well; satisfaction is high, according to survey firm Wristly.
link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Bangladesh Bank hackers compromised SWIFT software, warning to be issued » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»The attackers who stole $81m from the Bangladesh central bank probably hacked into software from the SWIFT financial platform that is at the heart of the global financial system, said security researchers at British defense contractor BAE Systems.

SWIFT, a cooperative owned by 3,000 financial institutions, confirmed to Reuters that it was aware of malware targeting its client software. Its spokeswoman Natasha Deteran said SWIFT would release on Monday a software update to thwart the malware, along with a special warning for financial institutions to scrutinize their security procedures.

The new developments now coming to light in the unprecedented cyber-heist suggest that an essential lynchpin of the global financial system could be more vulnerable than previously understood to hacking attacks, due to the vulnerabilities that enabled attackers to modify SWIFT’s client software.

«

Got in via a poorly secured $10 router, got away with $81m, hacked the software the world’s banks rely on. This could be worse, right?
link to this extract

 


The secret rules of the internet » The Verge

Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly, with a (quite astoundingly) long piece about the history of content moderation on social networks – if by “history” you mean “starting in 2004”:

»When Dave Willner arrived at Facebook in 2008, the team there was working on its own “one-pager” of cursory, gut-check guidelines. “Child abuse, animal abuse, Hitler,” Willner recalls. “We were told to take down anything that makes you feel bad, that makes you feel bad in your stomach.” Willner had just moved to Silicon Valley to join his girlfriend, then Charlotte Carnevale, now Charlotte Willner, who had become head of Facebook’s International Support Team. Over the next six years, as Facebook grew from less than 100 million users to well over a billion, the two worked side by side, developing and implementing the company’s first formal moderation guidelines.

“We were called The Ninjas,” he said, “mapping the rabbit hole.” Like Mora-Blanco, Willner described how he, Charlotte, and their colleagues sometimes laughed about their work, so that they wouldn’t cry. “To outsiders, that sounds demented,” he said.

Just like at YouTube, the subjectivity of Facebook’s moderation policy was glaring. “Yes, deleting Hitler feels awesome,” Willner recalls thinking. “But, why do we delete Hitler? If Facebook is here to make the world more open,” he asked himself, “why would you delete anything?” The job, he says, was “to figure out Facebook’s central why.”

For people like Dave and Charlotte Willner, the questions are as complex now as they were a decade ago. How do we understand the context of a picture? How do we assign language meaning? Breaking the code for context — nailing down the ineffable question of why one piece of content is acceptable but a slight variation breaks policy — remains the holy grail of moderation.

«

One could pick out any part of this piece. It’s interesting all through. The trouble is it’s so long (around 2,500 words) that you may struggle to find its thread, because there isn’t an actual, progressing, story.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the iCloud celeb hack, a Chinese ransom?, the real terrorist phone, Trump as Berlusconi, and more

“Hey, Miss Lawrence! My name’s iCloud! What’s your password?” Photo by YourWay Magazine on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The disturbingly simple way dozens of celebrities had their nude photos stolen » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»According to court documents, Collins gained access to the intimate images of nude celebrities via a disturbingly simple technique: phishing.

Though many people assumed that the hacker took advantage of an iCloud vulnerability to brute-force his way into the celebrities’ accounts, the government makes no mention of that. Instead, it says that Collins hacked over 100 people by sending emails that looked like they came from Apple and Google, such as “e-mail.protection318@icloud.com,” “noreply_helpdesk0118@outlook.com,” and “secure.helpdesk0019@gmail.com.” According to the government, Collins asked for his victims’ iCloud or Gmail usernames and passwords and “because of the victims’ belief that the email had come from their [Internet Service Providers], numerous victims responded by giving [them].”

Celebrities really need better computer security advisers. If a dedicated enough attacker comes at you, it’s hard to avoid being compromised, but it helps immensely to turn on two-factor authentication for your online accounts. That way a person needs not just your password but a code sent to your phone to get into your account.

Once Collins had their credentials, says the government, he went through their email accounts looking for nude photos and videos. The government says that Collins got into approximately 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts this way, most of them belonging to celebrities. He “accessed full Apple iCloud backups belonging to numerous victims, including at least 18 celebrities” and “used a software program to download those full Apple iCloud backups.”

Ironically, that program was likely one that’s used by law enforcement to get evidence from phones.

«

The idea that someone had used a cutting-edge brute-force attack to break into the passwords always seemed like vapour trails to me. Social engineering is the Occam’s Razor explanation (and also the Hanlon’s Razor explanation) to stuff like this.
link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Chinese hackers behind U.S. ransomware attacks – security firms » Reuters

Joseph Menn:

»executives of the security firms have seen a level of sophistication in at least a half dozen cases over the last three months akin to those used in state-sponsored attacks, including techniques to gain entry and move around the networks, as well as the software used to manage intrusions.

“It is obviously a group of skilled of operators that have some amount of experience conducting intrusions,” said Phil Burdette, who heads an incident response team at Dell SecureWorks.

Burdette said his team was called in on three cases in as many months where hackers spread ransomware after exploiting known vulnerabilities in application servers. From there, the hackers tricked more than 100 computers in each of the companies into installing the malicious programs.

The victims included a transportation company and a technology firm that had 30 percent of its machines captured.

Security firms Attack Research, InGuardians and G-C Partners, said they had separately investigated three other similar ransomware attacks since December.

Although they cannot be positive, the companies concluded that all were the work of a known advanced threat group from China, Attack Research Chief Executive Val Smith told Reuters.

«

link to this extract

 


Reformed LulzSec hacktivist joins payments firm » The Register

John Leyden:

»A payments firm has hired reformed LulzSec hactivist Mustafa Al-Bassam (formerly known as tFlow) for a new blockchain research project.

London-based payments group Secure Trading has taken on Al-Bassam to help develop a platform that applies the verification benefits of blockchain technology in order to improve the visibility and security of online payments. Codenamed “Trustery”, the project aims to create a commercial platform.

Secure Trading approached Al-Bassam, who agreed to work for the firm part time while continuing his computer science degree at King’s College London.

«

Smart move: al-Bassam is a clever guy.
link to this extract

 


Crypto-ransomware spreads via poisoned ads on major websites » Tripwire

Graham Cluley:

»Some of the world’s most popular news and entertainment websites have been spreading poisoned adverts to potentially hundreds of thousands of visitors, putting innocent readers at risk of having their computers hit by threats such as ransomware.

Famous sites which displayed the malicious ads and endangered visiting computers include MSN, bbc.com, the New York Times, AOL and Newsweek.

As a result, researchers at Malwarebytes say that they saw a “huge spike in malicious activity” over the weekend.

Security analysts at TrendLabs and Malwarebytes report that the attack is one of the largest ransomware campaigns seen in years, taking advantage of a recently-updated version of the notorious Angler Exploit Kit to spread malware.

Just last month the Angler Exploit Kit was found to be targeting PCs and Macs after it was updated to take advantage of a known vulnerability in Microsoft Silverlight…

…It seems glaringly apparent to me that there is so much malicious advertising on the internet that anytime you surf even legitimate sites without an ad blocker in place, you are putting your computer’s data at risk.

«

link to this extract

 


Why is the Nokia 105 cellphone a favourite among ISIS fighters? » NBC News

Alexander Smith:

»The must-have cellphone for ISIS fighters in Iraq doesn’t have apps or a camera, and ships for less than $30.

The small and simple Nokia model is frequently used as a trigger device to set off ISIS’ improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, according to a Conflict Armament Research report released last month.

As part of a study looking at civilian components in ISIS bombs, CAR documented 10 of the phones captured from members of the terror group in Iraq in December 2014.

The research showed the terror group “consistently” used the Nokia 105 above all others “in the manufacture of a specific type of remote controlled IED.”

Two phones are used in the bomb-making process: one to call the other, which then sends a signal to a circuit board and sparks the explosion.

There are plenty of other cheap, durable phones with long battery life that ISIS fighters could use — and yet this particular model, also branded as the Microsoft Mobile 105 after the tech giant bought Nokia in 2014, shows up again and again.

«

I’m sure there’ll be widespread condemnation of Microsoft for aiding terrorists any moment now.
link to this extract

 


Why Sony will win first in VR » Jon Peddie Research

The aforenamed Mr Peddie:

»Now that Oculus has revealed its consumer version of the Rift HMD, consumers can start planning how they might engage with VR, and they have a choice—a DIY rig with a PC and Rift, or a turn-key system with Sony.

Sony’s HMD will be about 30% less expensive than the Oculus HDM. And Sony buyers probably already have a PS4, and possibly PS4 accessory controllers. Most importantly, Sony also has content.

«

So, first couple of rounds to Sony.
link to this extract

 


The best things in Android are free — with in-app purchases » Medium

The iA team:

»A year ago, iA Writer for Android entered the Play Store. So far, we have sold a little more than 6’000 apps. At a price of 1 to 5 Dollars, this doesn’t cover much more than one month of app development. So we decided to go free and add in app purchases later.

We are not sure why apps sell in the Apple universe but not in the Android world. It just seems to be a hard cold fact:


Worldwide App Downloads by Store vs Worldwide App Revenue by Store

Looking at the sales numbers of paid Android apps it becomes apparent that plain paid offerings just do not get traction on Android. Why? We are not sure. Here is what we have learned.

«

There’s a point in there about price elasticity which is remarkable. But also that stuff with an upfront price tag does not sell.
link to this extract

 


Windows 10 Store will continue to support bitcoin » Softpedia

Bogdan Popa:

»while there was a lot of speculation online regarding the removal of Bitcoin support for new deposits in the Windows Store – some people said it’s because of the limited adoption of Bitcoin – it appears that the change made to the FAQ page was just “a mistake.”

In other words, Microsoft will continue to support Bitcoin in the Windows Store, so you can keep on using the digital currency for new deposits. A statement we received from a Microsoft spokesperson a few minutes ago provides us with some details on this:

“We continue to support Bitcoin for adding money to your Microsoft Account which can be used for purchasing content in the Windows and Xbox stores. We apologize for inaccurate information that was inadvertently posted to a Microsoft site, which is currently being corrected.”

«

Would love to know what volume of transactions they see.
link to this extract

 


Top NFL official acknowledges link between football-related head trauma and CTE for first time » ESPN

Steve Fainaru:

»The NFL’s top health and safety officer acknowledged Monday there is a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the first time a senior league official has conceded football’s connection to the devastating brain disease.

The admission came during a roundtable discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, was asked by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., if the link between football and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE has been established.

“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Miller said.

«

A bit like boxing: does it mean people will be put off the potentially fabulous riches? But equally: will parents be less likely to put their children into it? The public admission is important.
link to this extract

 


Teenager wins $250,000 in biggest drone race yet » The Verge

Rich McCormick:

»The sport has already attracted investment from the likes of NFL team owners, but it still has some way to go before it breaks into the mainstream. Particularly difficult is the question of how to actually observe the races. Drone pilots fly their racing craft in first-person, using special headsets to see as the drone sees, but for observers the footage can feel — and sound — like being strapped to the front of a particularly excitable wasp. A second camera following the action might help human brains contextualize the movements in space, but some of the nascent racing leagues set their courses inside buildings, making a chase camera’s operation difficult. Still, though, the speed of the craft and the deftness of his control make watching [15-year-old winner] Luke [Bannister]’s victory from Dubai an exhilarating — if slightly nauseating — experience.

«

Dubai, of course.
link to this extract

 


Music streaming has a nearly undetectable fraud problem » Quartz

Amy X Wang:

»For an in-depth look into how click fraud works, there’s Sharky Laguana’s thorough explanation here. Laguana—a music industry veteran who now owns a rental company—tells Quartz it certainly wouldn’t be hard to run the “perfect” scheme to con Spotify. First, set up a couple hundred fake artists. Next, upload some auto-generated tunes—mediocre dance music is particularly easy to “produce” online—and just make sure your bots click on an array of songs both real and fake, so no one gets suspicious. (He uses Spotify as an example because of its size, but the scheme could theoretically work for any music subscription service.)

“If it’s done properly, it’s nearly impossible to detect,” says Laguana. “There’s no way to know why somebody chose to click on something.”

«

Should we just turn off the internet?
link to this extract

 


Donald Trump, America’s own Silvio Berlusconi » The Intercept

Alexander Stille:

»Neither Trump nor Berlusconi has a real political program; what they are selling is themselves. Berlusconi used to say that what Italy needs is more Berlusconi. I recall a very telling moment in his first election campaign: During a TV debate, his opponent, the economist Luigi Spaventa, was pointing out the holes and inconsistencies in Berlusconi’s economic program, and Berlusconi stopped him mid-sentence and pointed to the victories of his soccer club, AC Milan: “Before trying to compete with me, try, at least, winning a couple of national championships!” The remark had the air of unassailable truth — however irrelevant it might be to Berlusconi’s fitness to govern. Similarly, when asked how he is going to get Mexico to pay for a giant wall between its country and ours, Trump simply responds, “Don’t worry, they’ll pay!”

Yet there is another element — a systemic one — that helps explain why Italy and the U.S. are the only major democracies in which a billionaire circus has raised its tent: the almost total deregulation of broadcast media.

«

The latter matters, as Stille explains. (Via @papanic.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Android antitrust?, Flickr flickers, Apple gets small, Opera adblocks, an iPhone killer dies, and more

Sonos is cutting jobs but says voice recognition and streaming will be bigger parts of its future. Photo by nan palmero 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. A computer counted them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What happens when video games can read your face » Fast Company

Elizabeth Segran:

»Game developers have always been interested in how players might react to the characters and plots they created—but what if they could tell exactly how the player was feeling and tailor the game to their mood?

“Back in the olden days we had to do a lot of guesswork as game designers,” says Erin Reynolds, the creative director of the gaming company Flying Mollusk. “Is the player enjoying this? Is the player bored? You had to create a game that was one size fits all.”

But all that is changing fast. Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off that creates technology that recognizes people’s emotions by analyzing subtle facial movements, has created a plugin that game developers can integrate into their games to make them more emotion-aware.

«

The warm bath of AI – it’s all around you.
link to this extract

 


EU taking steps towards formal complaint against Google’s Android » Bloomberg Business

Aoife White:

»The European Union may be gearing up to send Google an antitrust complaint over its Android mobile phone operating system, adding to a growing list of regulatory woes for the company on the continent, according to three people familiar with the probe.

The Internet giant’s opponents have been asked to remove any business secrets from documents submitted to regulators to prepare non-confidential versions that could be shown to Google after a statement of objections, said the people who asked not to be named because the investigation is private.

«

That’s certainly a key step towards a Statement of Objections. But it’s been more than a year since Vestager raised the SOO to Google’s search, and nothing has happened. Why will this make any difference?
link to this extract

 


Android N’s under-the-hood changes might point to a new future for OS updates » Android Central

Jerry Hildenbrand:

»Imagine a world where Samsung can have its vision of Android running just how it likes it, while deep system processes — like the infamous Stagefright library — are separate and untouched. That would mean that Samsung or Google could push out changes to their separate parts of the system far more easily (and much faster) than they can today without interfering with the other half of the system. (With APIs and libraries to bridge the gap.) The manpower alone that this situation frees up means more people are available to work on making the Samsung experience better without having to worry about the underlying Android code.

With Android N, Google has essentially started to divide Android into two sections: the core OS (the framework that makes everything work) and the interface (the apps, launcher, notifications, and everything else the user interacts with).

«

Sounds nice. Any reasonable estimate suggests that Android N will be on about a third of Android devices 18 months after it is announced; Lollipop (v 5.x) is now on 36.1% of devices, having been released in November 2014. So that suggests, if N goes live in November, that it’s going to be 2018 before any of this is really widespread.
link to this extract

 


Apple invites media to March 21 product event » Mashable

Lance Ulanoff:

»No one expects cutting-edge technology from the new 4-inch phone. Most rumors have pegged it with the last-generation A8 chip and an 8-megapixel camera. It will also, at a rumored $450, cost a lot less than Apple’s flagships, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Most people also expect an iPad Air 3. Apple’s latest 9.7in tablet will not be a great leap forward, but it should include an A9 processor, support for the Apple Pencil and maybe even Smart Connectors for accessories like an iPad Air-size Smart Keyboard.

This event will also mark the one year anniversary (plus a few days) of the official introduction of Apple’s first wearable, the Apple Watch. No one is predicting new hardware; the Apple Watch design will probably be fixed for at least another six months. There are rumors, though, of even more watch band styles and, possibly, some new Apple Watch colors and materials.

This is also the time of year where Apple does a laptop refresh. A year ago it introduced the ultra-light, gold MacBook, which was notable for having just a single USB-C port. The device is an engineering wonder, but its processor, the Intel Core M, is over a year old. Expect an upgrade to Intel’s sixth-generation Core line (a.k.a. Skylake). Apple could also introduce upgrades for the MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro.

There’s always the possibility of a surprisem, like a brand new gadget or accessory. It’s certainly been ages since Apple upgraded the earbuds that ship with the iPhone. Maybe they’ll finally get a Beats upgrade.

«

They all sound like solid upgrades; watching the effect of a new 4in iPhone on sales will be telling.
link to this extract

 


Navigating an industry in transition, investing in the future of music » Sonos

Sonos chief executive (and co-founder) John McFarlane on how future music streaming and voice control will be key to the company’s future:

»Now the path forward for the music industry is crystal clear, so too is our path at Sonos. We’re doubling down on our long-held conviction that streaming music is the dominant form of consumption now and in the future. We believe that listeners will grow increasingly dissatisfied with the solutions they’ve cobbled together for listening at home.

“Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company.”
Now that music fans can finally play anything anywhere, we’re going to focus on building incredibly rich experiences that were all but unimaginable when we started the company, and will be at the vanguard of what it means to listen to music at home. This is a significant long-term development effort against which we’re committing significant resources.

Voice: we’re fans of what Amazon has done with Alexa and the Echo product line. Voice recognition isn’t new; today it’s nearly ubiquitous with Siri, OK Google, and Cortana. But the Echo found a sweet spot in the home and will impact how we navigate music, weather, and many, many other things as developers bring new ideas and more content to the Alexa platform.

Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home. Its popularity with consumers will accelerate innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become standard tomorrow. Here again, Sonos is taking the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled music experiences into the home. Voice is a big change for us, so we’ll invest what’s required to bring it to market in a wonderful way.

«

Apparently the new Sonos Play:5 has a microphone built in, but not – it seems – enabled yet. McFarlane also says there are layoffs, though the number isn’t specified. The admiration for Amazon’s Echo is something to note, though.
link to this extract

 


Flickr’s desktop auto-upload feature is no longer free » VentureBeat

Ken Yeung:

»Flickr has made a change to its $5.99 monthly Pro membership plan that will affect those using the photo-sharing social network for free. Starting today, its desktop Auto-Uploadr tool will be exclusive to paying customers. But all is not lost, as the company is offering a 30 percent discount to non-paying members to upgrade.

With the desktop Auto-Uploadr feature, users can automatically upload all of their photos from anywhere, while also making them accessible from any device. Introduced in May and available for Windows and Mac computers, it promised to take images from your hard drive, iPhoto, and any external hard drive and store it on Flickr’s servers. This was intended to tout the company’s increase in free storage capacity of up to 1000GB.

«

Feels like the first turn of the screw.
link to this extract

 


The roots of Tim Cook’s activism lie in rural Alabama » The Washington Post

Todd Frankel got sent down to Alabama to see what the hell he could find in the town where Tim Cook grew up. Turned out, not much to find:

»Robertsdale today is a two water-tower town of about 5,200 residents. It’s doubled in size since Cook grew up here, with houses spreading across former farm fields. The town got its first Walmart Supercenter two years ago.

Back in 1977, the new store in town was a Piggly Wiggly. There was no movie theater. No bowling alley. The fall county fair was the big deal. Teens hung out on the town’s tennis courts or outside Hammond’s Supermarket, where they knew the owner. “There was nothing to do,” said Teresa Prochaska Huntsman, another Class of ’78 alum.

School was the center of their lives. And Cook excelled there. He was in the National Honor Society and racked up academic honors. So did Huntsman, who managed to edge out Cook for the title of class valedictorian…

…“He probably considered himself to be a bit nerdy, but he didn’t come off that way,” recalled Harold Richardson, another former classmate.

And the topic of whether Cook — or any other student — was gay wasn’t even on the radar. “In the ’70s, in high school, no one thought about that, especially in Alabama,” Richardson said. It was like it wasn’t even possible.

Growing up gay in small-town Alabama a generation ago meant knowing the value of privacy, recalled Paul Hard, 57, who was raised in tiny Demopolis, Ala. He doesn’t know Cook, but imagines what he went through, because he went through it himself. “You kept your cards close to your chest,” he said.

«

The photo of Cook in the high school yearbook is amazing, though. Took me quite a while to find it.
link to this extract

 


China’s best iPhone clone maker bites the dust » Tech In Asia

Charlie Custer:

»So what killed Dakele? Frankly, having a good-quality, low-cost smartphone simply isn’t enough to win you customers in the Chinese smartphone market these days. While it worked in the early days of Xiaomi, when real iPhones were a luxury item and smartphone penetration was low, these days everybody in major cities has a smartphone, and the middle class has grown enough that Apple’s uber-expensive iPhone is consistently among China’s top sellers.

In this climate, investors are not longer interested in backing phone brands that only offer value-for-money. With virtually all of China’s internet giants getting in on the smartphone game, there are too many other companies out there that can offer the same kind of value for money in addition to other things, like an established customer base or unique software integrations. Dakele ultimately folded, according to Ding, because its sources of capital were cut off as investors became more interested in rivals. (It also probably didn’t help that the company Dakele outsourced its manufacturing to shut down last year.)

The most important lesson of Dakele’s death may be that in big, fast-growing markets like China the bang-for-buck approach to selling smartphones isn’t sustainable in the long term. In the early years of China’s smartphone market, knockoff brands and clone-makers like Dakele were making a killing, but the demise of Dakele suggest that now those days are well and truly gone. If you want to sell smartphones in China, having good specs and an affordable price isn’t enough to attract customers or investors anymore.

«

Now the question becomes: what is enough? Custer also points to other markets where the same lesson is likely to be learnt the hard way.
link to this extract

 


Opera becomes first big browser maker with built-in ad-blocker » Reuters

Eric Auchard:

»Norwegian company Opera is introducing a new version of its desktop computer browser that promises to load web pages faster by incorporating ad-blocking, a move that makes reining in advertising a basic feature instead of an afterthought.

Faster loading, increased privacy and security and a desire for fewer distractions are behind the growing demand for ad-blockers.

However, their popularity is cutting into the growth of online marketing for site publishers and corporate brands, who rely on reaching web and mobile users to pay for their content rather than restricting access to paid subscribers.

Opera has a history of introducing innovations that later become common in major browsers such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking, which helped users control an earlier generation of in-your-face ads and malware disguised as advertising.

«

It’s that last paragraph that’s important: Opera introduced tabbed browsing in 2000, and by 2001 it was in Mozilla, then Safari in 2003, and IE in 2006. Adoption of new features could be even faster now.
link to this extract

 


The Economist explains: Why fashion week is passé » The Economist

»Fashion week used to serve a distinct purpose. Designers would prepare collections and present clothes to the press, to major retailers and to select other industry insiders. Fashion editors would then prepare sumptuous magazine spreads featuring the clothes they liked best. Retailers would order this or that dress. About four to six months later, those clothes would appear in shops.

Technology has upended all this. As soon as models sashay down the runway, photographs are posted online and shared endlessly through social media. Fast-fashion brands copy designers’ styles (though the industry prefers the euphemism “interpret”), often stocking look-alikes in their shops before designers’ own clothes make it to department stores. When designers’ clothes do arrive, they seem stale . It is no coincidence that the world’s top two retailers are TJX and Inditex. TJX buys brand-name clothes from stores that can’t sell them at full price, then offers them at a deep discount. Inditex owns Zara, the pioneer in fast fashion.

Few designers like the current system. Less obvious is what they should do next.

«

(Via Benedict Evans.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Bitcoin’s nightmare, the cheating economy, how Snapchat took off, Oculus spurns Macs, and more

SIM swaps are leading to bank fraud. Photo by mroach 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.

How Snapchat built a business by confusing olds » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Max Chafkin and Sarah Frier:

»Compared with Twitter or Facebook, Snapchat can seem almost aggressively user-unfriendly. If you’re new to the app and looking for posts by your kid, your boyfriend, or DJ Khaled, good luck. It’s hard to find somebody without knowing his or her screen name. This is by design. “We’ve made it very hard for parents to embarrass their children,” [Snapchat founder Evan] Spiegel said at a conference in January. “It’s much more for sharing personal moments than it is about this public display.”

Spiegel, who declined to be interviewed, has been cagey about Snapchat’s business prospects. Its annual revenue is small—perhaps $200m, according to several press reports—but it has already drawn many big-name advertisers. Earlier this year, PepsiCo, Amazon.com, Marriott International, and Budweiser paid more than $1m to have their ads appear within the company’s Super Bowl coverage, according to a person familiar with the deals. And because Snapchat has yet to really try to sell ads to the small and midsize businesses that make up most of Google’s and Facebook’s customer base, there’s a lot of potential.

As Facebook has transformed from a slightly wild place to a communications tool for parents, teachers, and heads of state, Snapchat’s more playful ethos, and the fact that anything posted on it disappears in 24 hours, has made it the looser, goofier social network. “You’re sending this ephemera back and forth to your friends,” says Charlie McKittrick, the head of strategy at Mother New York, an ad agency. “It’s the detritus of life. But it’s really funny.” Last September, while Mark Zuckerberg hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook’s campus, the big news at Snapchat’s offices in Venice was a feature called Lenses, which makes your selfies look like you’re vomiting a rainbow.

«

link to this extract

 


We’re moving away from torrents, so whats next? » Strike

“Andrew”:

»As you can see if just a teeny bit taxing on my server, so as of today I wanted to officially annouce that Strike will no longer focus on torrents, in fact I’ve decided to phase Strike into creating open source utilities that help every day life. Our first project is already under development and called Ulterius, an open source C# based framework that allows you to remotely manage windows based systems, all from any HTML5 enabled browser…

…Q: Will you ever do torrent related things again?

A: Most likely not. It’s easier to create completely original content than to attempt to ride the tails of existing content. While I found P2P technology fun, and I’ll continue to follow it and maybe develop stuff around it. I don’t foresee myself ever hosting Anything as a service in the future.

«

Combination of lawsuits against others, and the gigantic bandwidth demand on his site. Mostly the bandwidth, it seems.
link to this extract

 


Will we compile? » ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»Getting machines to understand, and speak, the language used by people — natural language processing — has long been a central goal of artificial intelligence research. In a provocative new interview at Edge, Stephen Wolfram turns that goal on its head. The real challenge, he suggests, is getting people to understand, and speak, the language used by machines. In a future world in which we rely on computers to fulfill our desires, we’re going to need to be able to express those desires in a way that computers can understand…

…Computers can’t choose our goals for us, Wolfram correctly observes. “Goals are a human construct.” Determining our purposes will remain a human activity, beyond the reach of automation. But will it really matter? If we are required to formulate our goals in a language a machine can understand, is not the machine determining, or at least circumscribing, our purposes? Can you assume another’s language without also assuming its system of meaning and its system of being?

«

Very deep questions underlying this. And speaking of controlling machines through spoken language..
link to this extract

 


Amazon adds the $130 Amazon Tap and the $90 Echo Dot to the Echo family » Techcrunch

Sarah Buhr:

»The Echo has received more than 33,000 Amazon reviews at a nearly five-star rating since launching in late 2014 and was one of the best-selling items going for more than $100 over the holidays. Amazon has not released sales figures for Echo, but its rise in popularity and the ability to build upon and integrate with the companion Alexa API have moved the Echo front and center as a must-have device for the smart home.

Amazon is now introducing two new members to the Echo family with slightly different uses in hopes of achieving a similar reaction: Amazon Tap is a portable version of the original Echo, and Echo Dot is a tiny, hockey-puck-sized version that includes a built-in line-out connector to hook into your choice of speaker.

«

link to this extract

 


Online break-in forces bank to tighten security » BBC News

Shari Vahl:

»Two major high street banks will change security procedures after journalists from BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme broke into an account online and removed money.
Recently bank customers accounts have been successfully attacked by criminals who divert mobile phone accounts.

Criminals persuade phone providers to divert mobile phone numbers in what is sometimes called “SIM swap fraud”.

Some banks text security details when customers forget their details.

The activation codes sent by text to mobile phones also allow payments to be made from an account.

The scam works by blocking the genuine phone. The owner is unaware of why the phone has been blocked and allows the criminal – who now has control of their phone – to syphon money from their bank account.

You and Yours has been contacted by dozens of people affected by the scam. All say they have never revealed their security details to anyone, and the that first they knew something was wrong was their mobile phone going dead.

«

Wow.
link to this extract

 


Chinese ISPs caught injecting ads and malware into web pages » The Hacker News

Rakesh Krishnan:

»Chinese Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been caught red-handed injecting advertisements as well as malware through their network traffic.

Three Israeli researchers uncovered that the major Chinese-based ISPs named China Telecom and China Unicom, two of Asia’s largest network operators, have been engaged in an illegal practice of content injection in network traffic.

Chinese ISPs had set up many proxy servers to pollute the client’s network traffic not only with insignificant advertisements but also malware links, in some cases, inside the websites they visit.
If an Internet user tries to access a domain that resides under these Chinese ISPs, the forged packet redirects the user’s browser to parse the rogue network routes. As a result, the client’s legitimate traffic will be redirected to malicious sites/ads, benefiting the ISPs.

«

link to this extract

 


TensorFlow for Poets » Pete Warden’s blog

»I want to show how anyone with a Mac laptop and the ability to use the Terminal can create their own image classifier using TensorFlow, without having to do any coding.

I feel very lucky to be a part of building TensorFlow, because it’s a great opportunity to bring the power of deep learning to a mass audience. I look around and see so many applications that could benefit from the technology by understanding the images, speech, or text their users enter. The frustrating part is that deep learning is still seen as a very hard topic for product engineers to grasp. That’s true at the cutting edge of research, but otherwise it’s mostly a holdover from the early days. There’s already a lot of great documentation on the TensorFlow site, but to demonstrate how easy it can be for general software engineers to pick up I’m going to present a walk-through that takes you from a clean OS X laptop all the way to classifying your own categories of images. You’ll find written instructions in this post, along with a screencast showing exactly what I’m doing.

«

Warden was at Jetpac, which was bought by Google because of its expertise at machine learning and image classification. This is the one to follow to dive into deep learning (aka machine learning, aka AI).
link to this extract

 


Oculus’ Palmer Luckey will consider Mac support if Apple ‘ever releases a good computer’ » Shacknews

Daniel Perez:

»We spoke to Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey recently during an Xbox press event where we took the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding the future of his company, and his product, the Oculus Rift.

One question we were dying to ask is he sees a future for the Oculus Rift with Apple computers. When asked if there would ever be Mac support for the Rift, Palmer responds by saying “That is up to Apple. If they ever release a good computer, we will do it.”

Palmer continues to clarify what he meant by that blunt statement by saying “It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn’t match our recommended specs. So if they prioritize higher-end GPUs like they used to for a while back in the day, we’d love to support Mac. But right now, there’s just not a single machine out there that supports it.”

«

There aren’t that many Windows PCs that support it, either. Wonder if this is a high priority for Apple just now.
link to this extract

 


The cheating economy » Medium

Doug Bierend on Studypool, which lets students “hire” tutors for “help understanding their homework” – which the students of course translate into “doing their homework”, and give bad grades to those tutors who don’t comply:

»Rarely is the sharing model of enterprise, epitomized by the likes of Uber and Airbnb, sensitive to the costs incurred by its host system — those two companies are hardly compelled to preserve the integrity of the “legacy” cab companies and hoteliers they are undercutting. Likewise, success for this platform isn’t determined by whether it actually helps people learn. After all, optimizing and reducing the latency in busing information from one place to another makes sense — a lot of sense — for servers and data, but where brains and ideas are concerned, learning isn’t always efficient. And any approach that offers a backdoor — knowingly or not—where intellectual honesty is concerned is bound to reap the patronage of the many people willing to buy an answer or grade rather than earn it.

«

A passing thought: Bierend is a professional journalist (it shines through in this piece – read it all), and this appeared in “Bright” – which is funded by the Gates Foundation, and subsumed into Medium. The brave new world where a non-profit created from the money out of a brief technology monopoly pays for journalism published on a site created from the money paid to the creator of free publishing platforms (Blogger and Twitter) that were funded by advertising. Who says there aren’t new business models for journalism?
link to this extract

 


Bitcoin’s nightmare scenario has come to pass » The Verge

Ben Popper:

»Over the last year and a half a number of prominent voices in the Bitcoin community have been warning that the system needed to make fundamental changes to its core software code to avoid being overwhelmed by the continued growth of Bitcoin transactions. There was strong disagreement within the community, however, about how to solve this problem, or if the problem would ever materialize.

This week the dire predictions came to pass, as the network reached its capacity, causing transactions around the world to be massively delayed, and in some cases to fail completely. The average time to confirm a transaction has ballooned from 10 minutes to 43 minutes. Users are left confused and shops that once accepted Bitcoin are dropping out.

«

Remember how Mike Hearn, who saw this problem coming and proposed an increase in block size which would have headed it off, was criticised to hell and back for being “misleading”? I bet he’s feeling vindicated now. Wonder how his then-critics feel. (Update: not great, apparently, since the Pond Politics page I referenced has been deleted in the meantime.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: sexism in funding, Powa struggles, China’s smartphone rat race, Apple software, and more

Good password on paper

A bit dated? Doesn’t matter, password crackers are after you. Photo by Simon Lieschke on Flickr.

It’s a secret, but you can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Tell no one.

A selection of 9 links for you. Plaited in plaid. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

VCs- don’t compare me to your wife, just don’t » Medium

Sarah Nadav:

Investors, you should know that the only thing that I have in common with your wife is a vagina. You need to know that because the women who are sitting in front of you to pitch are Entrepreneurs – and we are a totally different breed of human being than just about anyone else.

Your wife may or may not be an entrepreneur. But the extent to which she is founding a company is the extent to which I have something in common with her.

When you ask me about having it all, or how am I going to manage my kids, I seriously think that you are insane. Because in my head, I can’t imagine a scenario where you trust someone with millions of dollars to run a business but think that they don’t know how to deal with childcare.

Oh, but you have to read the message exchange with one venture capitalist about A Woman’s Place. According to him it definitely isn’t in the boardroom.
link to this extract

 


China smartphone market sees its highest shipment ever of 117.3m in 2015Q4 » IDC

Shipments grew 8% year-on-year in the quarter:

“Xiaomi, Huawei and Apple are the top smartphone players in 2015. This is a stark contrast to the top players in 2013, which was Samsung, Lenovo and Coolpad – with Samsung clearly dominating other players. With operators reducing smartphone subsidy and given the volatility of consumers’ brand preference in the market, the smartphone scene has changed significantly since then,” says Tay Xiaohan, Senior Market Analyst with IDC Asia/Pacific’s Client Devices team.

“Xiaomi entered the market at a time when the China smartphone market was still growing, and was able to capture a significant market share with its disruptive sales model. Huawei, with its investments in R&D, strong products, branding and channel connections, saw it having significant growth in 2015. Apple, on the other hand, continues to be a strong and desirable brand in the eyes of the Chinese consumers. With the Chinese market now slowing down, it is unlikely that we will see any new players making a big impact on the smartphone market compared to the way Xiaomi did in the previous years,” adds Ms. Tay.

So the door is shut to new entrants. Remember that scene in Skyfall where Javier Bardem is describing rat removal to James Bond? (Here’s the link if you’d forgotten.) The smartphone business in China now turns into that scenario.
link to this extract

 


The superhero of artificial intelligence: can this genius keep it in check? » The Guardian

Clemency Burton-Hill on DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis. The interview with him is OK – though mostly dead-bat responses from him – but I thought this was more indicative of the challenge, and potential for the company:

Upstairs, wrapping the original building, is a modern open-plan structure featuring a deck with undeniably magnificent views of London’s rooftops.

It’s up here, on Friday nights, that the DeepMinders gather for drinks. One employee describes the ritual to me enthusiastically as a way “to end the week on a high”. Socialising is an intrinsic way of life: I’m told of the DeepMind running club, football team, board games club. (“That one gets pretty competitive.”) A wall chart with moveable photographs indicates where everyone is hot-desking on any given day. It’s aggressively open-plan. The engineers – mostly male – that I pass in the corridors shatter the stereotype of people working in the nerdier corners of human endeavour: these guys look fit, happy, cool. A certain air of intellectual glamour, it has to be said, vibrates in the atmosphere. And no wonder. The smartest people on the planet are queuing up to work here, and the retention rate is, so far, a remarkable 100%, despite the accelerating focus on AI among many of Google’s biggest competitors, not to mention leading universities all over the globe.

“We’re really lucky,” says Hassabis, who compares his company to the Apollo programme and Manhattan Project for both the breathtaking scale of its ambition and the quality of the minds he is assembling at an ever increasing rate. “We are able to literally get the best scientists from each country each year. So we’ll have, say, the person that won the Physics Olympiad in Poland, the person who got the top maths PhD of the year in France. We’ve got more ideas than we’ve got researchers, but at the same time, there are more great people coming to our door than we can take on. So we’re in a very fortunate position. The only limitation is how many people we can absorb without damaging the culture.”

link to this extract

 


Powa Technologies missed staff and contractor payments » FT.com

Kadhim Shubber and Murad Ahmed:

Powa has raised about $175m, mainly from Boston-based investment fund Wellington Management, which the company says values it at $2.7bn.

Its headquarters are spread over two floors in what Mr Wagner called in one of the videos “the opulent surroundings” of Heron Tower, a skyscraper in the heart of City of London. A person with knowledge of the matter said that Powa could be paying as much as £2.5m a year.

When Powa was founded in 2007, it planned to develop a mobile payments system. More recently it has focused on its PowaTag product, a mobile platform that allows people to buy and order a product by photographing an image of it with their mobile phones.

Mr Wagner has predicted that the business will be bigger than Google or Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce group. “What we’re building here is the biggest tech company in living memory,” he told the Financial Times in April last year.

But in the video to staff, Mr Wagner said that the company was “basically pre-revenue”, a term that refers to a lack of sales. “As we go forward from here that revenue will start to flow in meaningful ways but right now it isn’t,” he said.

link to this extract

 


Dan Lyons’ HubSpot book ‘Disrupted’: a few predictions » BostInno

Kyle Alspach on the forthcoming book from “Fake Steve Jobs”, aka Lyons, who worked for a while at Hubspot:

• The book is going to accuse HubSpot’s management of being hypocritical—touting how the company is making a positive difference in the world when in reality, according to Lyons at least, they’re not much better than spammers. We already knew this from the shorter description that was posted previously, but the superlatives from other authors suggest just how central the theme will be to the book:

– “Dan Lyons goes deep inside a company that uses terms like ‘world class marketing thought leaders’ to show us how ridiculous, wasteful, and infantile tech start-ups like this can be.”―Nick Bilton (author of “Hatching Twitter”)

– Disrupted “just might tell us something important about the hypocrisy and cult-like fervor inside today’s technology giants.”―Brad Stone (author of “The Everything Store”)

– “Disrupted explores the ways in which many technology companies have come to fool the public and themselves.”—Ashlee Vance (author of “Elon Musk”)

• Some HubSpot executives will definitely be singled out. Such as: “Dan’s absentee boss sent cryptic emails about employees who had ‘graduated’ (read: been fired).”

Waiter! Popcorn!
link to this extract

 


Password cracking attacks on Bitcoin wallets net $103,000 » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

Hackers have siphoned about $103,000 out of Bitcoin accounts that were protected with an alternative security measure, according to research that tracked six years’ worth of transactions. Account-holders used easy-to-remember passwords to protect their accounts instead of the long cryptographic keys normally required.

The heists were carried out against almost 900 accounts where the owners used passwords to generate the private encryption keys required to withdraw funds. In many cases, the vulnerable accounts were drained within minutes or seconds of going live. The electronic wallets were popularly known as “brain wallets” because, the thinking went, Bitcoin funds were stored in users’ minds through memorization of a password rather than a 64-character private key that had to be written on paper or stored digitally. For years, brain wallets were promoted as a safer and more user-friendly way to secure Bitcoins and other digital currencies, although Gregory Maxwell, Gavin Andresen, and many other Bitcoin experts had long warned that they were a bad idea.

Here’s a paper about what happened; to crack the wallets, tables with as many as billions of potential passwords may have been deployed against them. Yes, billions.
link to this extract

 


New finding may explain heat loss in fusion reactors » MIT News

The expectation by physicists for more than a decade had been that turbulence associated with ions (atoms with an electric charge) was so much larger than turbulence caused by electrons — nearly two orders of magnitude smaller — that the latter would be completely smeared out by the much larger eddies. And even if the smaller eddies survived the larger-scale disruptions, the conventional thinking went, these electron-scale whirls would be so much smaller that their effects would be negligible.

The new findings show that this conventional wisdom was wrong on both counts. The two scales of turbulence do indeed coexist, the researchers found, and they interact with each other so strongly that it’s impossible to understand their effects without including both kinds in any simulations.

However, it requires prodigious amounts of computer time to run simulations that encompass such widely disparate scales, explains Howard, who is the lead author on the paper detailing these simulations.

Accomplishing each simulation required 15 million hours of computation, carried out by 17,000 processors over a period of 37 days at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center — making this team the biggest user of that facility for the year. Using an ordinary MacBook Pro to run the full set of six simulations that the team carried out, Howard estimates, would have taken 3,000 years.

link to this extract

 


Apple’s elephant in the room » Medium

Alexandra Mintsopoulos on the meme about Apple’s “declining” software quality:

If the biggest example that can be pointed to is iTunes or its back-end (which seem to generate the most criticism) then there isn’t any validity to the idea that Apple’s software quality is declining. iTunes has been the target of complaints for as long as anyone can remember and it seems clear that it will be reworked much like Photos, iWork, or Final Cut have been (and likely receive the same backlash for missing functionality). The reason it hasn’t been done sooner is obvious: it has hundreds of millions of users and transacts billions of dollars in sales, revamping it from the ground up is akin to fixing an airplane while it’s in flight and won’t be done lightly.

There is a massive disconnect between enthusiasts and Apple’s broader customer base on the perception of Apple’s software quality. That is a PR problem for Apple to solve, not a software one.

I thought it was pretty clear in Eddy Cue’s appearance on John Gruber’s podcast (linked here yesterday) that Cue said iTunes is being redesigned, but you don’t do that sort of thing in an afternoon. The vast majority of iTunes-on-desktop users are not using Apple Music. The problem that then needs to be solved is to what extent iTunes could, or should, be broken into multiple apps.
link to this extract

 


My Telltale heart: From Monkey Island to the Walking Dead – games matter » The Malcontent

Mic Wright, arguing (on yesterday’s point) that yes, video games are a cultural product:

Most of the brain trust from LucasArts ended up in a berth at TellTale games, where the rabbit and pooch P.I team of Sam & Max and Guybrush Threepwood, the protagonist of the Monkey Island games, also ended up.

Preempting a question I have just imagined Charles – who commissioned my first ever piece for The Guardian – asking, Telltale/LucasArts has also delivered more serious and dramatic gaming experiences. The Game of Thrones and Walking Dead games developed by the studio drop the player into storylines where moral and tactical decisions are at the heart of the gameplay.

In the branching narratives, you’re forced to decide which friends or allies to sacrifice among other pretty gut-wrenching choices. Both sets of titles fundamentally dive into the nature of what it is to be a human in society and, through your choices, end up making you think about your real life character and behaviour.

Of course lots of games are just games, but then what does the average Adam Sandler movie or Dan Brown novel tell us about the human experience?

Touché on that last one. I remain sceptical; I’m not saying that video games cannot be cultural, emotional experiences. However, I don’t think they’ve generally achieved that yet. The question is whether they will continue to remain at the Sandler/Brown end of the spectrum, where I think they are.

After all, very few “games” (chess, squash, football) achieve “cultural event” status. The only ones I can think off immediately are the 1972 Fischer-Spassky chess match (west v east, a cold war fought with chess pieces) and 1997’s chess match of Kasparov v Deep Blue (humans v machines – disappointing outcome). Wimbledon finals, World Cup finals, some Olympic events do manage a “where were you when..?” status, but that’s not quite the same as having cultural impact – i.e. showing us something about where we really are. Any other suggestions?
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: real China lessons, map the past, India’s phone problem, and more


A Surface Pro: wouldn’t these yank up falling PC figures? Don’t get your hopes up too high. Photo by 麻吉小兔 on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Beyond the copycats: 5 things I learned about the internet in China » Medium

Chenyu Zheng: In July 2014, my colleague and I moved to China to set up Whisper’s operations in Shenzhen. The subsequent 14 months were my first real experience working in China, on a startup. I was fully immersed in China’s booming tech scene. This humbling journey not only made me more grounded and connected to my roots, but also taught me life-long lessons.

She has five observations, of which this is the key one:

China is far beyond copying the West. Great innovation is happening everywhere in China.

Copying a popular app directly to China does not work — only when a validated need is combined with proper localization by the right team at the right timing. In Chinese, we say 天时地利人和。

(1) For example, Zhihu (30m registered users as of Aug 2015 and raised series C funding from Tencent in Nov 2015) is a leading Q&A platform with significant media distribution in China. At first glance, it could be China’s version of Quora, but it’s far beyond a copycat.

In my mind, it combines Pinterest-style lifestyle, fitness, inspiration photos with Quora’s Q&A and knowledge sharing. Their motto 与世界分享你的知识、经验和见解, which translates to “Share with the world your knowledge, experience and opinion.” Interestingly, the founders are journalists turned entrepreneurs and their stand-alone app Zhihu Daily is a leading media distribution platform in China. For tech worker or lifestyle blogger, having your article selected by Zhihu Daily is a great honor and adds credibility.

Most of my Western friends know about major SNS [social network services] such as Weibo, Wechat, QQ, but for any real China insider, Zhihu is a blossoming platform that people are rushing to build a presence on. It is similar to the trend I observe that Instagram influencers now direct their fans to follow them on Snapchat. The quality and $ value per Zhihu follower are way above Weibo.

(2) With 600m MAU [monthly average users] as of Aug 2015, WeChat is the Facebook of China. It is no exaggeration to regard it as a Swiss Army knife. When you make new acquaintance, the first thing to ask is not their phone number, but scan each other’s WeChat QR code.

On Wechat, I order my Didi taxi, pay for grocery at 711, AA with friends at a meal, top up my cellphone, pay for water & utility, order a ferry ticket to Macau, you name it. In addition, I can order fresh produce, snacks, fresh made yogurt from Wechat official accounts. Not to mention that most of my news and media consumption are from WeChat moment. Everything I need to make life convenient is all within Wechat.

When the smartphone isn’t the platform, but gets abstracted away. How soon will that happen in the west?
link to this extract


Maps from the past – programmatically »Thenmap

Use the Thenmap API to fetch historical geodata as GeoJSON or TopoJSON, or prerendered maps as SVG files.

Pass a year and preferred coordinate system or projection, and the API will give you all borders in return. Like the world in 1956, or Swedish municipalities from 1979.

The Thenmap API currently holds:

• World borders, from 1945
• Swedish municipalities, from 1974 (a few borders in southern Sweden still missing from 1973)
• Swedish counties, from 1968
• Finnish municipalities, from 2011
• US states, from 1865
• Municipalities of Greenland, from 1979

Learn more by reading the full documentation.

Neat. Built by Leo Wallentin of Journalism++Stockholm.
link to this extract


PC market finishes 2015 as expected, hopefully setting the stage for a more stable future » IDC

Gloom and doom – the figures for “traditional” PCs are back down to 2007 levels, with only Apple growing year-on-year, while the big players grab more of the market.

Note this though, because IDC doesn’t count these:

Detachable tablets, which are counted separately from PCs, are growing quickly but from a small base. Adding those units to PC shipments would boost growth by roughly 6 percentage points in the fourth quarter and 3 percentage points for all of 2015, bringing year-on-year growth for 4Q15 to a decline of about -5% and -7.5% for all of 2015. The impact for 2016 will be larger as detachable tablet volume grows, boosting earlier forecasts of PC growth in 2016 from -3.1% to growth of 1 to 2%.

That translates to about 4m “detachables” (ie they come with a keyboard, rather than offering the keyboard as an extra – so the iPad Pro is a tablet, not a detachable) shipped in Q4, and 8m in the whole year.

I think the Surface Pro also counts as a “tablet” under IDC’s definition. Nobody’s happy with this, of course.

So the numbers are pretty small, but they’re principally where the profit is – if you’re not Apple.
link to this extract


Digital publishers face a winter of discontent » Digiday

Ricardo Bilton:

The sunny days of hot growth for digital publishers are fading into a memory as many now face a long, dark winter.

Many venture-backed publishers are coming up to the limits of scale. Their models were based on eye-popping audience-growth figures and the presumption that business would follow. That’s not always the case. And traffic growth inevitably hits a ceiling.

At Business Insider, for example, traffic increased 10% to 40m monthly uniques over the past year, following an 80% increase the year prior. BuzzFeed’s growth was flat this year, at 75.3m uniques in November, after a year in which it grew 42%. (All figures are U.S. cross-platform figures, from comScore.) Mashable’s traffic, on the other hand, grew at a faster rate from November 2013 to November 2014 compared to a year later: 18% vs. 32%. Gawker Media, which spent most of last year in turmoil, has seen a 16% year-over-year decline in unique visitors.

“There’s that sense that not all of these digital news startups will see continuing hockey stick-like growth,” said Ken Doctor, principal analyst at Outsell. “Fall behind in growth, and the current value of these companies may plummet; it’s a momentum game, win or lose.”

A notable point in this: Buzzfeed pays millions of dollars annually for Facebook traffic. Mashable, of course, is reckoned to be shopping itself around.
link to this extract


A billion users may not be enough for India’s phone industry » Bloomberg Business

Bhuma Shrivastava :

India just signed up its billionth mobile-phone customer, joining China as the only countries to cross that milestone.

Yet that 10-digit base may not be enough to keep the industry from struggling. Asia’s third largest economy is crowded with a dozen wireless carriers – more than in any other country – spectrum is hard to come by and regulatory risks are high. Add it all up and it’s no wonder they deliver lower profitability than phone operators in other parts of Asia, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

“There are too many of them all fighting for limited spectrum,” said Chris Lane, a telecommunications analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. “In China by comparison, 1.3 billion subscribers are serviced by just three operators. The government in China allocates spectrum on the basis of need, and at no cost to the operators. As a result, the Chinese operators get scale benefits that Indian operators are unable to achieve.”

Raises the question of what the optimum number of mobile (or other) operators is for any country to create a competitive but also sustainable market. Four? Five?
link to this extract


Software turns smartphone into 3-D scanner » BetaBoston

Nidhi Subbaraman:

A team led by Brown professor Gabriel Taubin developed software that could sync up a basic light-pattern projector with a smartphone or camera that can work on “burst” mode.

The patterns illuminate an object in the right sequence as the camera takes photographs, creating a series of images that can then be stitched together to create a 3-D rendering, to use as a model on the computer or to run through a 3-D printer.

You could pick up any object — the curved receiver of a rotary phone, say — scan its surface, upload that scan to a computer program, and print out a replica.

“You need to capture an image at the proper time. You need the camera and the projector to be synchronized,” Taubin said.

The team presented its research at the Association of Computing Machinery’s SIGGRAPH Asia conference in November.

Disruption.
link to this extract


Why women aren’t buying smartwatches » Racked

Nicola Fumo:

Part of the advantage fitness trackers have over smartwatches with female consumers seems to be their simplicity. “The common knock against general-purpose smartwatches today is that they’re very overwhelming; they do too much,” Fitbit CEO James Park told The Verge. Kaspar Heinrici, who designs traditional watches as well as connected devices for Fossil as its associate creative director, told Racked that the most common pushback it gets from women on wearables is a similar lack of seeing the need. “The first reaction to technical products from women is ‘Oh, I don’t really need that functionality,’ or ‘That’s too much for me,'” he says. Fitness trackers are straightforward and, even more importantly, they offer the promise of a better self.

Aspiration is a strong tool in selling fashion. Think of the purchase motivations behind clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics. Largely, these aren’t replenishment buys like razor blades or socks, and they’re not thoughtful “big gadget” investments like televisions or washing machines. An internal tick is convinced life will be better with the confidence that comes with a dress that fits just so, a designer bag that communicates status, or the seamless disguising of under eye circles. Fitness trackers make an obvious path to an improved self; an increased awareness of behaviors that can be altered for results (more rest, fewer pounds, what have you). With all of their notifications and connected apps, smartwatches have yet to leverage the siren call of “me, but better.”

Though I’d say I know as many women who have Apple Watches as men. Android Wear, however – only men.
link to this extract


A top venture capitalist thinks startups are causing inequality. He’s wrong. » Vox

This critique is a week old, but Ezra Klein makes a number of good points (all of them worth reading) about this much-debated essay, including this:

An important point Graham makes is that while people are angry about income inequality, they usually prioritize fixing other problems. When it comes down to it, they really care about poverty, or social mobility, or median wages, or political power.

Consider two worlds. In one, the Gini coefficient — the standard measure of inequality — remains the same, but median wages are double their current level. In another, the Gini coefficient falls, but median wages are 10 percent lower and poverty is 3 percentage points higher.

Would anyone choose the second world? Bueller?

But having made that point, Graham spends much of his essay grappling with strawmen. Statements like “Ending economic inequality would mean ending startups” confuse the conversation. No one is talking about ending startups. No one is even talking about ending inequality. And you can certainly ameliorate inequality without destroying the ability to found new companies. Sweden, for instance, has a higher startup rate than America, and less income inequality — as do a number of other countries.

He also includes this useful graphic to show that, au contraire Mr Graham, the number of startups is actually falling as a percentage of all companies in the US:

It feels important to bear these things in mind: Silicon Valley suffers from an extreme myopia, which is fine if you’re trying to build a web service, less so if you’re doling out world advice.
link to this extract


Google picks former Obama adviser to lead global public policy » The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

Google, facing increased scrutiny from European regulators, has hired a former senior adviser to President Obama to lead its global public policy team.

Caroline Atkinson, who left her position as a White House deputy national security adviser last month, will join Google in March and be based in Washington.

Her most pressing task will be to temper concerns by antitrust enforcement officials in the European Union, which has accused the company of abusing its dominance in web search.

Ms. Atkinson, who joined the administration in 2011, is the latest in a string of Obama administration officials to join Silicon Valley companies. David Plouffe, also a former adviser, joined Uber in August 2014, and Jay Carney, a former press secretary, was hired by Amazon early last year.

Replaces Rachel Whetstone, who left for Uber in May.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple’s QA question, the ChromeOS Pixel C?, racism on eBay, Dell’s revenue drop, and more


Why can’t China make good versions of these? Photo by superfem on Flickr.

What? Sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email? It’s madness, I tell you, madness.

A selection of 9 links for you. Now free of polonium. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Steve Jobs and Apple’s iTunes gutted the music industry, Pandora CFO Mike Herring claims » Sydney Morning Herald

The chief financial officer of customising music streaming service Pandora, Mike Herring, has torn into iTunes, which had sold more than 35 billion songs as of last year.

No-one subscribes to Apple Music, Herring claimed in a conference call to investors about Pandora’s future, as reported by Billboard, even though the app exists permanently on hundreds of millions of phones.

“They spend a lot of their real estate on this phone trying to drive people to music,” Herring said. “You can’t even get it off – it’s like a permanent thing on there and still no-one subscribes.

“Well, I guess a few million people do but the reality is … to get people to choose to do that is a much bigger trick. You have to have a great product.”

Herring said Pandora was trying to bring back the music industry after a tough 15 years.

“I mean Steve Jobs eviscerated the music industry with the launch of iTunes and it’s been downhill ever since,” he said. “And the download was supposed to save it, that didn’t happen.”

“Now on-demand streaming is supposed to save it. We will see if that happens.”

Herring later apologised on Twitter for his comments and added “my own bone-headed comments don’t reflect Pandora’s perception of our partners at Apple”.

Pandora has 3.9m subscribers, and 79m users in total all in the US, according to Herring, speaking earlier in the conference call.
link to this extract


Apple opens secret laboratory in Taiwan to develop new screens » Bloomberg Business

Neat scoop by Tim Culpan:

The Apple building in Longtan has at least 50 engineers and other workers creating new screens for devices including iPhones and iPads, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public. Apple has recruited from local display maker AU Optronics Corp. and Qualcomm Inc., which used to own the building, the people said.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple in Cupertino, California, declined to comment.

Apple began operating the lab this year as it aims to make products thinner, lighter, brighter and more energy-efficient. Engineers are developing more-advanced versions of the liquid-crystal displays currently used in iPhones, iPads and Mac personal computers, the people said. Apple also is keen to move to organic light-emitting diodes, which are even thinner and don’t require a backlight, they said.

link to this extract


The Pixel C was probably never supposed to run Android » Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

In our view, the Pixel C’s irregularities all have a single explanation: the Pixel C was originally a Chrome OS device.

Back in July 2014, a new “Ryu” board (a “board” is just a reference to “motherboard” — a Chrome OS device under development) popped up in the Chrome OS open source repository. Further trips through the Chrome OS source code revealed that “Ryu” had a light bar, USB Type-C connectors, an Nvidia Tegra SoC, and wireless charging. That sounds an awful lot like the Pixel C (especially the wireless charging, which is used to charge the keyboard via the tablet’s battery when closed).

Open up the Pixel C’s software and take a look at Android’s build.prop file—which lists all sorts of base information about the device—and you’ll see “ro.product.name=ryu” listed in the properties. Based on this commit, it’s safe to say that at one point Google was definitely developing Chrome OS for its new Android tablet.

It appears that the Pixel C was planned as launch hardware for a new, all-touch version of Chrome OS which at some point got cancelled — necessitating a switch to Android. The story is a lot more complicated than that, though. What follows is the best timeline we could piece together showing the Pixel C’s troubled development history.

As Amadeo points out, Digitimes – the Taiwanese paper which people love to laugh at – actually got this exactly right during the development process back in February: “runs Android in the tablet form and Chrome when attached to a keyboard”. Then the Chrome bit went bye-bye.
link to this extract


Whites earn more than blacks — even on eBay » The Washington Post

Ana Swanson:

In a study published in October by the RAND Journal of Economics, Ian Ayres and Christine Jolls of Yale Law School and Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard looked at how the race of the seller affected 394 auctions of baseball cards on eBay.

Some of the postings were accompanied by a photo of the card held by a light-skinned hand, and some with the card held by a dark-skinned hand, as in the photos above. The study shows that the cards held by an African-American hand sold for around 20 percent less than the cards held by Caucasian sellers.

In addition, the cards that were held by the African-American hand actually ended up being worth more, suggesting they should have sold for more than the other batch. That is, when the researchers added up how much they had originally paid for all of the cards sold by the black hand versus the white hand, the first total was larger.

Clever experiment design. Depressing result. Clear lesson: hide your hand in eBay photos.
link to this extract


17: Worrying Apple trends with guest Russell Ivanovic » The Blerg podcast

Chris Lacy:

Guest Russell Ivanovic joins me to discuss a variety of Apple’s not-so-great recent trends. We dig into a great many of the warts increasingly appearing around Apple’s ecosystem, including the experience when first running a device, the less than universally acclaimed new Apple TV remote, the stagnant App Store and app review process, general product stability and more.

We also chat about Apple’s ever expanding and confusing product lines, Jony Ive’s accountability, as well as discussing Apple’s trend to make their cheapest product versions less appealing than was previously the case.

I’ve never linked to a podcast before, but this one, by Lacy and Ivanovic (who are both very experienced developers – Ivanovic on both iOS and Android), is really worth listening to. Many of their complaints hit home, because as Lacy says, it’s about the customer experience: if Apple neglects that, as in the experience of logging on to the new Apple TV, then what has it got? Should be required listening for Apple executives.

There’s also a followup episode, in which Rene Ritchie of iMore joins Lacy and refutes some of the points (ie, provides evidence that disproves them, not just saying “nah nah nah”) – though for others he simply says “yup” and explains why things (like the Apple TV logon) are a mess. A disclosure: I’ve previously appeared on The Blerg to talk about premium Android.
link to this extract


Dell’s finances show revenue decline, similar to rivals’ » WSJ

Robert McMillan:

Dell’s revenue declined by 6% year-over-year to $14bn in its quarter ended in July. However, unlike competitors such as IBM and the former Hewlett-Packard Co., which in November split into separate corporate-computing and PC-and-printer companies, Dell’s revenues were up in the company’s fiscal year ended January 2015, rising 5%.

“Dell has executed well. We’ve invested wisely to drive growth, and we’re pleased with our performance,” said David Frink, a company spokesman.

Dell has paid off $4.5bn in debt over the past two years, but those payments left the company with less cash than it had when it traded publicly, and the move to private management hasn’t boosted profit. During Dell’s fiscal 2015, the company’s operating profit totaled $3.2bn excluding charges. In 2013, that figure was $4bn.

“These numbers reinforce that it is going to be a highly leveraged transaction,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. He believes that Dell will assume a sizable debt of $51bn to conclude the deal.

“It is no surprise that they’re looking to try to sell some assets,” he said.

The purchase of EMC was always going to be a python swallowing a cow, but the python seems to be smaller and the cow a lot bigger than we thought. This could turn into a horrible mess.
link to this extract


Tormented Texas plumber sues dealership over ‘jihad’ truck » LA Times

Matt Pearce:

A year ago, Mark Oberholtzer was down in Corpus Christi, Texas, when his secretary called to tell him the news:

One of his old plumbing trucks had been hijacked by jihadists.

On social media, a Syrian rebel group had posted a photo showing a black 2005 Ford F-250 — except now the plumber’s truck was thousands of miles away, armed with a large antiaircraft gun.

In the photo, an enormous flame burst from the muzzle as a rebel fired the gun from the bed. The words MARK-1 PLUMBING, plus the Texas City business’ phone number, were still clearly visible on the side of the truck, looking as if Oberholtzer had placed a NASCAR-style endorsement on militants in Syria.

If it isn’t happening to you, it’s funny. For him, it’s a nightmare, including death threats. He’s seeking $1m in damages (of course) from the dealership he sold the truck to in October 2013.
link to this extract


Why can’t China make a good ballpoint pen? » Marketplace.org

Rob Schmitz:

After [Chinese premier Li Keqiang] grumbled about Chinese pens last June, state-run broadcaster CCTV devoted an hour-long program to the topic, a talk show where three CEOs of China’s most innovative and successful manufacturers sat onstage alongside a host. Sitting nervously at a table in front of the studio audience was Qiu Zhiming, president of one of China’s largest pen manufacturers. Qiu explained to the other CEOs that China supplies 80% of the global market for pens.

The core technology of each pen — the stainless steel ball and its casing — is imported from Japan, Germany, or Switzerland, said Qiu. Only Switzerland, he said, has a machine with the precision required to make the best ballpoint pen tips. China, Qiu said sadly, hasn’t developed a machine like this.

Dong Mingzhu, the CEO of Ge li (Gree), a Chinese air conditioner manufacturer, frowned at Qiu from her perch onstage.

“Think about it. How much money have the foreigners made from us because they have better technology?” asked Dong. “You don’t have this technology and they’re taking your profits! You know what I’m going to do? I’ll have my best people make you a machine like the Swiss have! I’ll make it in a year and sell it to you for half the price!”

I am honestly surprised that there aren’t machines in China capable of making the balls to the correct tolerances. Schmitz’s piece points to more widely felt unease among manufacturers in China: the home market isn’t sufficiently rewarding.
link to this extract


The $75,000 problem for self-driving cars is going away » The Washington Post

The problem being the initially expensive LIDAR (laser interferometry detection and ranging) systems that the SDCs use to figure out where they are, and what’s around them, as Matt McFarland explains:

Velodyne and other players in the self-driving space are delivering drastically cheaper LIDAR, suggesting the price of the sensors won’t hold back the rollout of autonomous driving.

“Our customers are telling us they want it to be below $100, that’s kind of the roadmap we’re working from in the back of our mind,” Eggert said.

Velodyne is developing a sub-$500 LIDAR sensor, the VLP-32, that it says will be powerful enough for high-level assisted driving, and autonomous driving. (It declined to reveal exact technical specifications.) Velodyne has development contracts with two manufacturers, one in North America and one in Japan, to deliver the sensor in the first four months of 2016.

And the new sensor isn’t going to be a hulking piece of equipment either. It’s small enough that some players have expressed interest in putting the sensor in vehicle side mirrors. Others may put it on the roof, the easiest way to get a 360-degree view.

Quanergy chief executive Louay Edlada believes LIDAR will cost below $100 in five years. It’s releasing a solid state LIDAR — meaning none of the parts move — next month for $250.

That’s $75,000 to $250 in about eight years – halving in price every year. (Is it a Moore’s Law system?)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Dropbox dumps Mailbox, what mobile adblocking?, life after viral fame, and more


Ridge Racer: maybe blame it for all that waiting around for games to load. Photo by Peter π on Flickr.

Mumble mumble receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Mutter mutter confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. They really are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Dropbox is shutting down its Mailbox and Carousel apps » The Verge

Chris Welch:

Dropbox is doing away with Mailbox, the email app it acquired in March 2013, and Carousel, the company’s attempt at a standalone photo management app. The company says that it’s making this decision now to focus more directly on the primary Dropbox app and the collaborative features it’s known for. “The Carousel and Mailbox teams have built products that are loved by many people and their work will continue to have an impact,” wrote Dropbox’s founder/CEO Drew Houston and CTO Arash Ferdowsi in a blog post. “We’ll be taking key features from Carousel back to the place where your photos live — in the Dropbox app. We’ll also be using what we’ve learned from Mailbox to build new ways to communicate and collaborate on Dropbox.”

The Verge’s usual incisive reporting which simply repeats available facts, and doesn’t try to widen the discussion, or bring in expert views, or put it into context. So I’ll try: Mailbox shutting suggests it’s either a bust (not enough users), or a money-loser – same thing, really, and Dropbox needs to focus on how it is going to stop just being a feature that any OS offers for free (Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud Drive) because if that’s the case, it hasn’t got a business in the long term.
link to this extract


The ‘Loading Screen Game Patent’ finally expires » Electronic Frontier Foundation

Elliot Harmon:

The first Sony PlayStation was introduced in 1994. Its graphical capabilities blew predecessors like the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo out of the water, but it had one big disadvantage. It replaced the game cartridges of the previous generation with CD-ROMs. When you booted up a PlayStation game, you had to wait for the console to load game data from the disc into its own memory. And that. Took. For. Ever. Watching a loading screen was boring, especially when you were used to the instant gratification of cartridge games.

Namco’s Ridge Racer addressed the problem by including a second game, the 80s classic Galaxian. It took no time at all for a PlayStation to load Galaxian. Suddenly, the player wasn’t thinking about how boring it was to wait for a game to load; she could have fun playing Galaxian while the console took its time loading Ridge Racer. If she beat Galaxian before Ridge Racer was done loading, she’d be rewarded in Ridge Racer with access to some in-game bonuses.

What’s the big deal? Namco thought of loading screen games first, so they earned the patent, right? Well, let’s look at how U.S. law defines a patentable invention.

According to the law, a person isn’t entitled to a patent if the claimed invention already existed when the application was filed or would have been obvious to someone skilled in the relevant technology area. The idea of playing a small game while the larger one loads has been around for a very long time. In 1987, many years before Namco filed its patent application, Richard Aplin created Invade-a-Load, a utility for developers who wrote games for the Commodore 64 computer.

link to this extract


X marks the spot that makes online ads so maddening » The New York Times

Sydney Ember:

Annoying ads have become problematic for Anthony Martin, a 32-year-old consultant for a project management firm who sat in Bryant Park on a recent Monday afternoon, iPhone 6 in hand. He had moved to New York not long ago, he said, and was using a smartphone app to determine the best subway routes. But as soon as the app loads, ads take over his screen — first a banner ad on the bottom, then a full-screen ad. No amount of desperate jabbing does the trick.

“Sometimes I miss a stop,” he said. “Especially with fat fingers.”

Industry executives say it is quite likely that publishers and mobile developers are deliberately building ads that are hard to escape or shut down.

“The ones that are incredibly invasive are designed to be that way,” said Brian Gleason, the global chief executive of Xaxis, a media and technology company owned by the advertising giant WPP.

link to this extract


The mobile adblocking apocalypse hasn’t arrived (at least not yet) » Nieman Journalism Lab

Madeline Welsh, Joseph Lichterman and Shan Wang:

Even sites with unusually high desktop blocking rates — think German sites, or technology sites — aren’t seeing huge numbers on mobile. About a quarter of all Internet users in Germany use an adblocker, but the percentage is even higher for some sites like Golem, a German-language tech site that’s seen an outright majority of its users blocking.

“As far as I can remember, it’s always been an issue for us,” said the site’s editor-in-chief, Benjamin Sterbenz. “As soon as adblock software was available, our readers installed the software and experimented with it. I’m sure that a lot of our readers also contributed to the development of adblocking software.”

But compared to adblocking on desktop, Golem readers using adblocking technology on mobile is in the single digits. Though it saw a little bump in September with the release of iOS 9, it’s otherwise remained constant, which Sterbenz said surprised him.

At Ars Technica, the Condè Nast-owned tech site, about 6% of mobile users block ads, “which is just a bit higher than what it was previously,” Ken Fisher, the site’s founder and editor-in-chief said in an email. On desktop, about 30% of users block ads, he said.

Odd, in light of the preceding.
link to this extract


Virtual reality studio Baobab raises 6 million to be Pixar of VR – Business Insider

Jillian D’Onfro:

After leaving Zynga, [CEO of startup Baobab, Maureen] Fan spent the next year using her free time to learn as much as possible about virtual reality. She finally left her job in March to cofound Baobab Studios with Eric Darnell, who directed DreamWorks movies “Antz” and the “Madagascar” franchise.  

With big ambitions, the duo started attracting top talent from the likes of Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Twitch. The team’s combo of hardcore technologists working with top-tier storytellers convinced investors to put $6 million behind the studio’s cause last week. The Series A round came in part from million from HTC and Samsung Ventures, both of which have their own virtual reality devices, the Vive and Gear VR. 

Fan tells Business Insider that the studio plans to release its first short films made specifically for virtual reality early next year.

“We’re inventing a new cinematic language,” she says. For example, she explains, in VR you can’t cut-away from the action — the whole story has to flow together without switching perspectives — and need to find ways to guide the viewer to look where you want them to, since it will be possible to look around at a whole virtual world. 

VR is going to get really interesting in the next couple of years, and the content producers v content platforms issue is going to be highlighted again.
link to this extract


Tencent blocks Uber on WeChat, so what ‘fair play’ can we expect in China? » South China Morning Post

George Chen:

Global car-hailing app Uber and its local rival in China, Didi Kuaidi, are de facto in a business war, after Tencent, a key investor of Didi, decided to remove Uber from one of the most powerful online marketing platforms in the world’s No 1 internet market.

What’s the key takeaway of the story here for other foreign businesses if they are considering doing or expanding business in China? It’s getting more difficult to make money in China, especially when you have to compete with local monopoly players.

The news that all Uber’s WeChat accounts had been removed by Tencent, the parent and owner of WeChat, China’s most popular real-time messaging app, where many businesses have set up accounts to promote products and services and engage with customers, shocked the technology world over the weekend. Tencent said it blocked Uber on WeChat, affecting Uber’s online services in at least 16 Chinese cities, because of “malicious marketing”, something Uber denied.

The power of the default messaging platform.
link to this extract


10 viral sensations on life after internet fame » NY Mag

Clint Rainey:

Internet fame comes on like an earthquake, with little warning. In a matter of hours, a video can go viral and be viewed 50 million times. Then it (usually) recedes into a very long, thin afterlife. Here, nine YouTube sensations whose lives were upended briefly in the past decade (plus one from the prehistoric web era, before YouTube made its debut in 2005) speak about this odd, relatively new kind of fame. Most embraced the experience, seeing where it would take them. Some ended up in dark places. A couple have made it their living and found themselves with new careers. Others stepped away, opting out of the flame wars. Pay attention: Someday, the accidental celebrity could be you.

Terrific idea, and choices; the child from “Charlie bit my finger” may be the most predictable yet peculiar of all.
link to this extract


Microsoft will not fix power management issues with new Surface devices until next year » Thurrott.com

Paul Thurrott is mad as hell and he’s.. well, he has to take it:

As I’ve said on the podcasts several times now, and wrote in the review excerpt below, Surface Book (and apparently Surface Pro 4) just don’t go to sleep properly.

Well, here’s the really bad news. Microsoft won’t fix this problem … until sometime next year.

“The ‘standby’ battery life is an issue we are working on and have been working on,” a Microsoft Surface Engineering Team program manager identified only as “Joe” explains in the company’s support forums. “We can put the processor into a deeper sleep state than it is currently set to. We couldn’t do it at RTM for a variety of reasons, power management is a very hard computer science problem to solve especially with new silicon. Currently it is not in the deepest ‘sleep’ that it can be so there are wake events that would not otherwise wake it. We will have an update for this issue sometime soon in the new year.”

I don’t mean to rip on an individual, as I usually save my ire for faceless corporations, but … “a very hard computer science problem to solve”? Seriously?

My advice to Microsoft is to not ship products for which you have not yet fixed “a very hard computer science problem.”

There is a workaround, though, involving making it always Hibernate rather than Sleep. Not ideal though. (Thanks @Avro105 for the link.)
link to this extract


New software watches for licence plates, turning you into Little Brother » Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar on open-source tech for automatic licence plate reading (ALPR) – known in the UK as ANPR (N for numberplate):

For the last six months, the two-man team behind OpenALPR has built this software and given it away for free, largely as a way to draw attention to their other paid services: a cloud-based $50 per camera per month solution that includes “high-speed processing” and “priority tech support.” The company also offers a $1,000 per camera per month “on-premises” version that integrates with an existing (usually government) network that has qualms about outsourcing data storage.

OpenALPR notes its software “will work with any camera that supports MJPEG streams. This includes visible-light and infrared cameras. The camera and optics should be configured such that the license plates are clearly legible in the video stream.”

Matt Hill, OpenALPR’s founder, told Ars that this is a good way to level the playing field and mitigate the need for long-term retention.

“I’m a big privacy advocate as well — now you’ve got LPR just in the hands of the government, which isn’t a good thing. This brings costs down,” he said.

On the government side, there have been incidents where police-owned LPR misread and led to dangerous confrontations. Some cities have mounted such cameras at their city borders, monitoring who comes in and out (case in point: the wealthy city of Piedmont, California, which is totally surrounded by Oakland). And again, the data associated with LPRs (plate, date, time, location) is often retained for months or years.

This feels a little like the total constant surveillance of Dave Eggers’s “The Circle”.
link to this extract


HP exits low-cost tablet market in product shakeup » PCWorld

Agam Shah:

If you’re looking for a low-priced tablet from HP, you soon will not be able to find one.

HP is exiting the low-end tablet market amid declining prices and slowing demand. Instead, the company will focus on detachables, hybrids and business tablets at the higher end of the market.

“We are going to focus where there is profitability and growth and will not chase the low-end tablet market. We are focusing on business mobility to deliver tablets built for field service, education, retail and healthcare,” said Ron Coughlin, president for personal systems at HP.

HP has already stopped listing many low-end Android tablets on its website. The remaining lower-end products — the US$99 HP 7 G2 tablet and $149 HP 8 G2 tablet — have been out of stock for months, and it’s likely they won’t be available again. They are however still available through some online retailers at cut-rate prices.

The least expensive tablet on HP’s site is now the $329.99 HP Envy 8 Note tablet with Windows 10. HP has Windows on most tablets now, with only a handful running Android.

Wonder if this will become a trend. Obviously it will for enterprise sales – but might it also be the way to lure back disaffected Windows PC customers?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: