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


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

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

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

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

Josh Newlan:

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

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

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

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

«

Two thoughts. Probably shouldn’t have given his real name on this; anyone else itching to use this?
link to this extract


Surprise! It’s the older people who don’t pay for music • Business Insider

Nathan McAlone:

»

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

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

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

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

«

Though it doesn’t show how much they paid for music. On average, people who buy downloads or CDs get an album a month – about the same as a music service subscription.
link to this extract


F.B.I. director James Comey recommends no charges for Hillary Clinton on email • NYTimes.com

Mark Landler and Eric Lichtblau:

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

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

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

«

But:

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

«

Dear Hillary, please read on for useful advice.
link to this extract


Securing a travel iPhone • Filippo

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

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

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

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

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

«

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

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

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

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

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

«

As she says,

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

«

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

Bob Dormon:

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

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

«

Amazingly, the whole (quite long) feature goes all the way through without once mentioning that this was pretty much the basis of an episode of Black Mirror.
link to this extract


Amazon.com: Matthew Garrett’s review of AuYou Wi-Fi Switch, Timing Wireless Smart …

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

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

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

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

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

«

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

Kris Carlon:

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

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

«

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

Leo Kelion:

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

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

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

«

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

JC Torres:

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

hummingbad-2

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

hummingbad-3

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

«

Usually Android malware is restricted to China; this is unusual and worrying.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Brexit fuels uncertainty, Google faces new antitrust case, AI for the blind, and more


Expect to see lots more of these. Photo by stratageme.com on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. None invokes Article 50. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Brexit: Uncertainty around funding and skills likely to affect UK tech startups • Computer Weekly

Lis Evenstad:

»

The tech startup industry as a whole was backing the remain campaign. However, the industry is now faced with a different and uncertain future that is likely to affect investment, funding and skills.

One of the main challenges the industry now faces is access to funding. Gartner predicts that as a result of the UK leaving the EU, IT spend will drop significantly not just at home, but in the rest of Europe.

John-David Lovelock, research vice-president at Gartner, said the current forecast growth for UK IT spending is 1.7%.

“The Brexit will drop this figure between 2% and 5%. In other words, UK IT spending growth will certainly be negative in 2016,” he said.

Frost & Sullivan’s research director for digital transformation Adrian Drodz and practice director EIA Ajay Sule added that access to funding and credit will be affected by Brexit.

“Although the Bank of England has been quick to state it has plans in place to support the UK economy and the financial services sector, concerns will be raised with regards to the ability to obtain credit and funding – especially among startups,” they said.

«

link to this extract


Anarchy in the UK: Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel • The Economist

“Bagehot”:

»

IT WAS a troubling exchange. On live television Faisal Islam, the political editor of SkyNews, was recounting a conversation with a pro-Brexit Conservative MP. “I said to him: ‘Where’s the plan? Can we see the Brexit plan now?’ [The MP replied:] ‘There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan…Number 10 should have had a plan.’” The camera cut to Anna Botting, the anchor, horror chasing across her face. For a couple of seconds they were both silent, as the point sunk in. “Don’t know what to say to that, actually,” she replied, looking down at the desk. Then she cut to a commercial break.

Sixty hours have gone by since a puffy-eyed David Cameron appeared outside 10 Downing Street and announced his resignation. The pound has tumbled. Investment decisions have been suspended; already firms talk of moving operations overseas. Britain’s EU commissioner has resigned. Sensitive political acts—the Chilcot report’s publication, decisions on a new London airport runway and the renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent—are looming. European leaders are shuttling about the continent meeting and discussing what to do next. Those more sympathetic to Britain are looking for signs from London of how they can usefully influence discussions. At home mounting evidence suggests a spike in racist and xenophobic attacks on immigrants. Scotland is heading for another independence referendum. Northern Ireland’s peace settlement may hang by a thread.

But at the top of British politics, a vacuum yawns wide. The phones are ringing, but no one is picking up.

«

Still, mustn’t grumble, eh?
link to this extract


Rohan Silva has no idea what he’s talking about • FT Alphaville

Kadhim Shubber takes issue with former No. 10 tech policy adviser Silva, who suggests cutting corporation tax to 10% to (re?-) attract businesses:

»

He goes on to say that we should “transform the efficiency of our immigration system” by using “data analytics and machine learning”, which has become something of a verbal tic in the tech community.

This sort of thinking crops up whenever society faces complicated, difficult problems. If only taxes or regulation didn’t exist, neither would recessions or financial crises. It has the impression of being proactive — we don’t have time, just cut the red tape and save the economy already! — but is more likely to exacerbate the fractures in our society than heal them.

It will take months and years before we fully understand what happened in the UK last week, but it is highly plausible that this was the backlash of a class of people left behind by globalisation. They have much to be angry about: de-industrialisation; massive tax avoidance; the pain and misery caused by the financial crisis; the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small international elite. If we want to assuage this fury, we might start by better redistributing the fruits of globalisation.

In that context, turning the UK into a global tax haven would be akin to rubbing salt in the wound. Silva seems to imagine the economically disenfranchised people who just plunged the UK into crisis will be content to give him and other business owners more money. It’s not only a stupid idea, it’s a dangerous one that risks inflaming tensions.

«

link to this extract


Godless mobile malware can root 90% of Android devices

»

The mobile malware masquerades as harmless-looking mobile apps, including this Summer Flashlight app:

Several clean apps on Google Play also share the same developer certificate with malicious versions containing the Godless code. This means there is the potential for a user to be upgraded to a malicious version of an app without their knowledge.

If and when that infection occurs, Godless won’t lock their screen and demand hundreds of dollars in ransom. Neither will it place calls to mysterious Chinese phone numbers. Instead it will have the ability to download any app it chooses, including those that spam users with ads and/or install backdoors onto an infected device.

«

More details on the Trend Micro blog post. It starts installing when the screen switches off – sneaky.
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Artificial intelligence is helping the blind to recognize objects • Co.Exist

Ben Schiller:

»

To train the iPad app, you place things in front of the device’s camera at several angles, telling it about the items. Then you repeat the process, taking the objects away, so the app recognizes the difference. On subsequent occasions, it will be able to distinguish, say, your set of keys from another set of keys. “It’s like a new born baby—it’s learning all the time as you show it objects,” Marczak says. Probably the training would be done by a family member or friend.

The second app, called Aipoly, does something similar. It’s sophisticated enough to recognize clothing and colors, even in abstract works of art.

Marczak says ID Labs is working with visually impaired support groups to improve the EyeSense app, which is free to download (versions for Android and other phones are due soon). It also works offline if necessary.

«

link to this extract


Google Maps gets a new, 700-trillion-pixel cloudless satellite map • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

More than 1 billion people use Google Maps every month, making it possibly the most popular atlas ever created. On Monday, it gets a makeover, and its many users will see something different when they examine the planet’s forests, fields, seas, and cities.

Google has added 700 trillion pixels of new data to its service. The new map, which activates this week for all users of Google Maps and Google Earth, consists of orbital imagery that is newer, more detailed, and of higher contrast than the previous version.

Most importantly, this new map contains fewer clouds than before—only the second time Google has unveiled a “cloudless” map. Google had not updated its low- and medium-resolution satellite map in three years.

The improvements can be seen in the new map’s depiction of Christmas Island. Almost a thousand miles from Australia, the island was largely untouched by human settlement until the past two centuries. Its remoteness gives it a unique ecology, but—given its location in the middle of the tropical Indian Ocean—it is frequently obscured by clouds. The new map clears these away.

«

link to this extract


Xbox Fitness sunset announcement • Microsoft Studios

»

Since November 2013, Xbox Fitness has allowed you to experience the world’s best workouts with famous trainers, right in the comfort of your own home. As a service, Xbox Fitness has continually evolved since it launched on Xbox One, with new content and ongoing updates. Given the service relies on providing you with new and exciting content regularly, Microsoft has given much consideration to the reality updating the service regularly in order to sustain it. Therefore, the decision has been made to scale back our support for Xbox Fitness over the next year, and we want to provide our users with a timeline of the changes you will see.

«

What chances for the Microsoft Band’s future?
link to this extract


EU set to issue fresh formal antitrust charges against Google • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal shortly before the Android announcement, Ms. Vestager said the agency was “advancing” its investigations into whether Google is abusing its dominance with its advertising service, an area of concern first outlined under her predecessor, Joaquín Almunia.

The investigation in advertising hits at a lucrative area of business for Google, which accounted for 90% of the tech firm’s $75 billion in revenue last year.

At issue is whether the company prevents or obstructs website operators from placing ads on their websites that compete with Google’s advertising business.

The EU is also looking into whether Google restricts advertisers that use Google’s auction-based advertising service, where they bid for the placement of ads on search result pages, from moving to other search advertising platforms.

«

In Europe it doesn’t rain, but it pours for Google. The UK is still part of the EU, so any decision would still be implemented over the next two years at least.
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Google’s cars need a clear road map to revenue • The Information

Amir Efrati considers partnership (vehicle makers won’t do it), licensing (vehicle makers won’t do it), and suggests what’s left:

»

One natural path for Google is to reach consumers directly with an internet-based service. That’s its DNA. We know that Google’s car designers have thought long and hard about operating a “robo taxi” service to allow people to order cars on demand. It’s likely to go down that kind of path; its leaders have talked up the benefits of reducing car ownership so that one car could be used by many people throughout the day and night. Perhaps there will be subscription-type offerings that guarantee customers a pickup within a certain period of time, rather than the Uber-type system in which pickup times and prices can vary based on customer demand or driver availability.

By not needing to pay drivers, which represent the single biggest expense in ride-hailing, Google could price such a service below those run by Uber and other firms and build up its own customer base. But first, Google would need to produce these cars and get them deployed. Making thousands of new cars per year, particularly advanced models that have never been mass-produced before, would be a tough and expensive undertaking. Just ask Tesla how hard it is to make thousands of cutting-edge electric vehicles in a year.

«

“Go-to-market” is the big important step between “have a great idea” and “make pots of money from great idea”.
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Secretive Alphabet division aims to fix public transit in US by shifting control to Google • The Guardian

Mark Harris:

»

Sidewalk Labs, a secretive subsidiary of Alphabet, wants to radically overhaul public parking and transportation in American cities, emails and documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.

Its high-tech services, which it calls “new superpowers to extend access and mobility”, could make it easier to drive and park in cities and create hybrid public/private transit options that rely heavily on ride-share services such as Uber. But they might also gut traditional bus services and require cities to invest heavily in Google’s own technologies, experts fear.

Sidewalk is initially offering its cloud software, called Flow, to Columbus, Ohio, the winner of a recent $50m Smart City Challenge organized by the US Department of Transportation.

Using public records laws, the Guardian obtained dozens of emails and documents submitted to Challenge cities by Sidewalk Labs, detailing many technologies and proposals that have not previously been made public.

«

Harris is one of the best journalists out there; he keeps finding out stuff in these areas long before anyone else.
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We don’t know jack about the next iPhone • iMore

Michael Gartenberg:

»

Since I worked at Apple, I’m often asked what employees think behind closed doors when they see these rumors and read the debates. The answer is, not much. Maybe a smile, maybe a sigh if the conversations are particularly off base, or if they miss the point entirely about what might finally be announced.

I have no doubt there are all sorts of prototype iPhones floating around the labs, some with headphone jacks and some without. Some with LCD displays and some with AMOLED. Some with… well, I could go on and on.

And that’s the real point. We could go around and around on any rumor, but for now, all of them, and all the debate around them, are like that tale told by that idiot:

Full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

«

link to this extract


Microsoft still believes hand tracking is the future of PC input • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Microsoft wants to move beyond the keyboard and mouse to power the interfaces of the future. While the software maker has been investing in voice recognition and augmented reality scenarios, Microsoft’s research division has made some significant progress with hand tracking. Researchers are working on software that will allow virtual environments to track and recognize detailed hand motion. The breakthroughs could apply to virtual reality headsets, or just the ability to more accurately control virtual objects on a screen.

Microsoft is presenting some of it work at two academic research conferences this summer, offering a closer look at what might be our virtual future. Microsoft is focused on improving the accuracy of hand tracking, while reducing the amount of power required to process complex movements. “We’re getting to the point that the accuracy is such that the user can start to feel like the avatar hand is their real hand,” says Jamie Shotton, a principal researcher in computer vision at Microsoft’s UK research lab. “This has been a research topic for many, many years, but I think now is the time where we’re going to see real, usable, deployable solutions for this,” Shotton said.

«

Unconvinced. How does it determine the difference between an intentional gesture and an unintentional one?
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Amazon to add dozens of brands to Dash buttons, but do shoppers want them? • WSJ

Sharon Terlep and Greg Bensinger:

»

Several consumer-product executives said they have signed up for the gadget largely to ensure their brands maintain close ties to Amazon. The venture is more vital as a marketing tool than a product-delivery system, they said.

“It may not be the most intuitive feature,” said Ken McFarland, director of e-commerce for Seventh Generation Inc., which has Dash buttons for its cleaning products and diapers. “But Amazon is trying so many things and you don’t want to miss out on the ones that work. You want to be out there if it does happen to be a hit.”

Companies pay Amazon $15 for each button sold and 15% of each Dash product sale, atop the normal commission, which typically ranges from 8% to 15%, the people familiar with the matter said.

For their part, consumers pay $5 per button, though Amazon sweetens the deal by offering a $5 rebate for every button. The rebate is good toward the first purchase using that button. Only members of Amazon’s $99-per-year Prime membership are eligible to use the Dash buttons.

Helping expand Dash’s ranks: Amazon dropped a hefty buy-in fee of around $200,000 required of the first companies that signed up, according to people familiar with the terms.

«

This resembles supermarkets charging companies to get their goods visible on shelves shoppers frequent – except here, the shelves are inside the shopper’s home. “Fewer than half” who have one have used it, according to Slice Intelligence, at a rate of about once every two months. The other bugbear? You don’t know what the price of what you’re summoning with a push is.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the American iPhone?, China’s dying satellite, Snapchat’s filter fiddle, spammer jailed, and more

Sure, he’s good with a light sabre. But can Star Wars denizens read and write? Photo by Eva Rinaldi 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 all-American iPhone • MIT Tech Review

Konstantin Kakaes:

»imagine that Apple persuaded one of its Chinese manufacturers to open factories in the United States or did that itself. Could it work? Apple could profitably produce iPhones in America, as some high-end Mac computers are produced, without making them much more expensive. There’s a catch, though, that undermines Trump’s and Sanders’s arguments. This becomes clear if you carry our thought experiment to its most extreme conclusion.

«

It’s impossible because the US just doesn’t have the infrastructure or labour force to offer the factories and supply chain close enough to make this viable at the volumes in which Apple offers the iPhone. You can make some of them, but not all of them.
link to this extract

 


With watchOS 3, Apple Watch gets a do-over • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

»I wear an Apple Watch every day and I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of using watchOS 3. It’s truly Apple’s second take on how the Apple Watch should work, based on a year of real-world use by millions of people.

It’s tough to admit that you were wrong. With watchOS 3, that’s what Apple is doing on numerous fronts. I get why someone might have thought that using the watch’s side button as a gateway to a miniature contacts list was a good idea, but in practice it was readily apparent to be a misguided use of one of the device’s only physical controls. watchOS 3 admits the mistake and re-tasks that button for something far better: a dock of important apps, already loaded and ready to run.

Sometimes you’re wrong because you have an idea that you think will work, but it just doesn’t come together or mesh with the way people want to use your product. I think that’s what happened with the Friends button. Reality collided with that vision, and reality has won. (Full credit to Apple here: I thought it was distinctly possible that they’d double down and try to tweak the Friends view rather than kill it.)

«

Definitely; I can count the number of times I’ve used the “contacts” side button during the past year on the hands of two hands.
link to this extract

 


How Yahoo derailed Tumblr • Mashable

Seth Fiegerman:

»Top Yahoo executives clashed with Tumblr, or just flat out confused employees. On one occasion, an executive overseeing Karp and his division perplexed employees by saying he thought Tumblr had the potential to “create the next generation PDF,” according to multiple sources. At other times, a top Yahoo sales exec spoke down to Tumblr’s advertising team and pushed aside a beloved leader, according to multiple employees. Tumblr staffers fled by the dozens, cutting into the company’s momentum and morale.

Yahoo tried to make things right a year later by separating the ad teams again, but the damage was done.

Tumblr has fallen out of the top 100 list of free iOS apps in the U.S. as of the beginning of June, according to data from AppAnnie, an app analytics service. Research firm eMarketer projects that “the gap [in users] between Tumblr and its competitors will widen through 2020.”

In short, Tumblr is no longer the hot new thing for consumers – or marketers.

«

It’s a familiar story, well-told by Fiegerman. Not even Mayer has been able to stop Yahoo’s careening ad culture, which drives all before it into the sea.
link to this extract

 


Is Snapchat stealing for its filters? • The Ringer

Molly McHugh:

»Since discovering the Snapchat filter that resembled her work, Mykie has become an advocate for other artists in a similar position. But she’s still attempting to work with Snapchat. “Most recently their support team has not responded to my tweets [as well as tweets from others] wanting answers on this recurring issue,” she told me via email. “I also filed a report through the app with my particular case when the filter first appeared and their response was that they ‘Don’t believe that the filter infringes any copyright.’ That would ultimately be up to a judge to decide if the work had been altered enough to count as a new work.” As in Pinal’s case, the filter disappeared soon after Mykie posted evidence of the app’s copycat work to her Instagram feed.

Graphic artists have long seen their work lifted and reused in various ways — a Target T-shirt here, an Urban Outfitters print there. Artist Lois van Baarle says that Snapchat repurposed her work as a sticker, which she noticed “purely by coincidence” while installing the app for the first time.

«

Snapchat subsequently responded, basically fessing up. It’s the usual Silicon Valley saying – better to ask forgiveness than permission.
link to this extract

 


Chinese borrowers told to post nude photos as collateral • FT.com

Lucy Hornby:

»Chinese loan sharks are demanding nude photos as collateral from female borrowers which can be used for blackmail if they fall behind on their repayments.

The aggressive tactics are an example of the drastic debt recovery measures that are being employed in the slowing Chinese economy.

The democratisation of finance in China via peer-to-peer lenders and the vast shadow banking system, with interest rates sometimes topping 30%, have proved an inflammatory mix and fuelled a surge in souring loans.

Female college students in the southern province of Guangdong were told to hand over naked photos of themselves holding their ID cards, with lenders threatening to make them public if they failed to repay their microloans, according to the Nandu Daily, the local newspaper.

While these loans were brokered on Jiedaibao, the P2P online lending platform denied direct involvement as the two parties subsequently agreed terms over another channel. “This is an illegal offline trade between victims and lenders who did it by making use of the platform,” a representative said when contacted by the Financial Times.

«

link to this extract

 


Verizon Moto Z Moto Mods pricing details leak: definitely not cheap • Tech Times

Alexandra Burlacu:

»The leak surfaced on Reddit, purportedly showing the Moto Mods’ prices as listed on the My Verizon app. According to the screenshots posted on image-hosting website Imgur, the alleged Moto Mods prices are as follows:

The Insta-Share Projector will apparently require a hefty investment of $299, the TUMI Wireless Charging Power Pack will cost $99, the TUMI Power Pack will be $89, the JBL SoundBoost will cost $79.99, while the Kate Spade shell will retail at $79.

In other words, it seems like none of the Moto Mods will be cheaper than $79, which basically shuts down any expectations of affordable modules for the Moto Z.

LG already received criticism over its pricing scheme for the LG Friends modules for the G5 flagship, but Motorola fans hoped the Moto Mods would be more decently priced.

The Insta-Share projector, for instance, sounds like a decent gadget for a smartphone although it only has a 50-lumen projection output and a 1,100 mAh battery, but at $300 it seems awfully overpriced.

«

This stuff always looks expensive compared to the phone; that’s how integration works out. (That’s also why Project Ara hasn’t got a hope of being affordable.)
link to this extract

 


Guccifer 2.0 DNC’s servers hacked by a lone hacker • GUCCIFER 2.0

»Guccifer may have been the first one who penetrated Hillary Clinton’s and other Democrats’ mail servers. But he certainly wasn’t the last. No wonder any other hacker could easily get access to the DNC’s servers.

Shame on CrowdStrike: Do you think I’ve been in the DNC’s networks for almost a year and saved only 2 documents? Do you really believe it?

Here are just a few docs from many thousands I extracted when hacking into DNC’s network.

They mentioned a leaked database on Donald Trump. Did they mean this one?

«

One always wonders about people who refer to themselves in the third person. But these look pretty legit. (I’d be wary of downloading them even so unless you’re certain of your antivirus.)
link to this extract

 


“Spam King,” who defied nearly $1B in default judgments, sentenced to 2.5 years • Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar:

»A Las Vegas man known as the “Spam King” was sentenced Monday to 2.5 years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of fraud.

The federal judge in San Jose, California also ordered Sanford Wallace to pay over $310,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors wrote that by his own admission, Wallace executed “a scheme from approximately November 2008 through March 2009 to send spam messages to Facebook users that compromised approximately 500,000 legitimate Facebook accounts, and resulted in over 27 million spam messages being sent through Facebook’s servers.”

«

Wallace is spam-famous back to the 1990s; constantly annoying, not giving a damn about anyone. Even 36 months isn’t going to make much difference, I’d wager. There’s a book extract about him here.
link to this extract

 


Introducing the Internet Creators Guild • Medium

Hank Green, “internetainerpreneur”:

»I started paying my bills with YouTube money around the time I hit a million views a month. My content was admittedly low budget and “views” isn’t necessarily the best metric (what it means changes drastically based on platform), but I want you to take a guess at how many YouTube channels now get more than a million views a month? A couple hundred? A thousand?

How about 37,000.

For context, Facebook has 12,000 employees.

At 100,000 views a month, you’re still making a fairly significant bit of income from YouTube. If you can do it consistently, about $2,500 per year. How many people hit that barrier this month?
300,000.

Gone are the days when every successful creator got their own New York Times profile. Nowadays, professional internet creator is just another job…a job that thousands of new people have every month. If “internet creator” were a company, it would be hiring faster than any company in silicon valley…

…There is no system for protecting creators, many of whom have no experience in any industry, let alone the notoriously cut-throat entertainment industry. I’m ten years into this and I kinda can’t believe that there’s still no centralized organization representing creators.

«

link to this extract

 


Amazon’s high hopes for Echo sales • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»Amazon is hoping to sell as many as 10 million of its voice-activated Echo devices next year, which would make it a roughly $1 billion hardware business, according to a person with direct knowledge of the projections.

That would be an increase from the 3 million units Amazon hopes to sell this year—a number that was projected before the beginning of the year, said the person, who doesn’t have access to actual sales figures. That’s up from 1 million devices Amazon is thought to have sold in the latter half of 2015, after it became widely available in the US. Amazon hasn’t released sales figures for the device.

As a comparison, Apple’s video-streaming device Apple TV sold 25 million units between its 2007 launch and the end of 2014, Apple has said. Google’s cheaper video-streaming device, Chromecast, sold 10 million during its first year and a half on the market, starting in mid-2013.

The 10 million mark is one that Amazon believes will open the floodgates for the voice-controlled speaker category, this person said. That would help the broader “smart home” industry because such a speaker can act as a hub to control other web-connected devices in the home.

But Echo will soon face more competition.

«

To hit that 10m mark, Amazon would have to start selling outside the US, and until it starts working in languages other than English, that would mean its only real target market would be the UK. I’m not sure about the level of demand for this.
link to this extract

 


When will China’s ‘Heavenly Palace’ space lab fall back to earth? • Space.com

Leonard David:

»A Chinese space lab is bound to come back to Earth relatively soon, but when and where this happens is a matter of debate and speculation.

For example, some satellite trackers think China may have lost control of the uncrewed 8-ton (7.3 metric tons) vehicle, which is called Tiangong-1. That’s the view of Thomas Dorman, who has been documenting flyovers of the spacecraft using telescopes, binoculars, video and still cameras, a DVD recorder, a computer and other gear.

“If I am right, China will wait until the last minute to let the world know it has a problem with their space station,” Dorman told Space.com. [See photos of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab]

“It could be a real bad day if pieces of this came down in a populated area … but odds are, it will land in the ocean or in an unpopulated area,” added Dorman, an amateur satellite tracker who has been keeping tabs on Tiangong-1 from El Paso, Texas since the space lab’s September 2011 launch. “But remember — sometimes, the odds just do not work out, so this may bear watching.”

«

link to this extract

 


Most citizens of the Star Wars galaxy are probably totally illiterate • Tor.com

Ryan Britt:

»Attack of the Clones sees Obi-Wan Kenobi go to the Jedi Library, but again, this research facility seems less about books and more about pretty colors, interactive holographic maps, etc. The amount of actual reading even someone like Obi-Wan does is still limited. Now, I imagine Jedi can probably read and are taught to read, as are rich people like Princess Leia and Padme Amidala and Jimmy Smits. But everything in Star Wars is about video chat via holograms, or verbal communication through com-links. Nobody texts in Star Wars!

It seems like this society has slipped into a kind of highly functional illiteracy. Surely, for these cultures to progress and become spacefaring entities, they needed written language at some point. But now, the necessity to actually learn reading and writing is fading away. Those who know how to build and repair droids and computers probably have better jobs than those who can’t. This is why there seems to be so much poverty in Star Wars: widespread ignorance.

The idea of education becoming obsolete due to cultural changes isn’t without a science fiction precedent. In the Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” Vina speaks of a culture that “forgets how to repair the machines left behind by their ancestors.” I’m postulating that the same thing happened with literacy in the Star Wars galaxy. People stopped using the written word, because they didn’t need to, and it slipped away from being a commonly held skill.

«

If the Star Wars films were documentaries, this would make sense. But they’re films, and a scene showing someone texting is high up there with the most boring things to show. Film is all about “show, don’t tell”; reading is about tell.

It’s an interesting point though about what a functionally illiterate society *might* look like, though. (Via Charles Knight.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: hacking Dems, Theranos loses another, Apple’s non-chatbot chatbots, slimmer Xbox!, and more

Remember when Obama had a BlackBerry? He doesn’t any more – though he’s not saying what he does have. Photo by rowdyman on Flickr.

Don’t you dare sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. No, really.

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 14 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump • The Washington Post

»Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.

The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts.

The intrusion into the DNC was one of several targeting American political organizations. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some GOP political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available.

A Russian Embassy spokesman said he had no knowledge of such intrusions.

«

link to this extract

 


The evil that is VPAID ads • Google+

Artem Russakovskii:

»A few months ago, I complained about the insane state of today’s advertising and the evil that is VPAID ads.

These ads destroy performance, leech bandwidth by 10s of megabytes, and are served by major ad networks, including Google’s own AdX and AdSense.

Today, these VPAID ads are as popular as ever – and that is just disgusting. They’re the real cancer of the advertising industry.

To showcase just how evil they still are, I took a single AdX ad tag and put it on an otherwise empty page. A static image ad loads, but it’s secretly a VPAID one. It then randomly switches to a video, then back to a static image, then back again – it’s like a never-ending self-reloading cascade of garbage.

Right now after several minutes of just leaving this one single ad open, I’m at 53MB downloaded and 5559 requests. By the time I finished typing this, I was at 6140 requests. A single ad did this. Without reloading the page, just leaving it open.

«

link to this extract

 


Obama finally upgraded from his BlackBerry • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»President Obama has finally been allowed to replace his BlackBerry with something more modern — but he apparently isn’t thrilled with this new phone either.

“I get the thing, and they’re all like, ‘Well, Mr. President, for security reasons … it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work, … you can’t play your music on it,'” Obama said during an appearance on The Tonight Show this week. “Basically, it’s like, does your three year old have one of those play phones?”

Obama’s been joking about his awful phone situation for years now. While his BlackBerry was considered surprisingly high-tech when he came into office, the situation quickly changed. As far back as 2010, Obama called using his BlackBerry “no fun,” and then a few years ago he lamented that security concerns prevent him from using an iPhone. While discussing his BlackBerry on Jimmy Kimmel’s show last year, Obama started laughing after a single person applauded. “The one old guy there,” Obama said, “He’s my age. Somebody my generation.”

«

Obama came into office eight years ago, and so was campaigning as much as ten years ago, when his use of its seemed radical. Times change. The unanswered question: what is he using?
link to this extract

 


Walgreen terminates partnership with blood-testing firm Theranos • WSJ

Michael Siconolfi, Christopher Weaver and John Carreyrou:

»Drugstore operator Walgreen Co. formally ended a strained alliance with Theranos Inc. as regulators near a decision on whether to impose sanctions against the embattled Silicon Valley firm.

Some officials at the Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. unit had grown frustrated at not getting more details and documentation from Theranos after learning it had corrected tens of thousands of blood tests, including many performed on samples collected from patients at Walgreens pharmacies, according to people familiar with the partnership.

In a news release late Sunday, Walgreens said it had told Theranos it was terminating their nearly three-year-old partnership, effective immediately, and that it was shutting down Theranos lab-testing services in Walgreens locations…

…The move is a significant blow to Theranos. The 40 Theranos blood-draw sites inside Walgreens stores in Arizona, which the company calls “wellness centers,” have been the primary source of revenue for Theranos and its conduit to consumers, analysts say. The tie-up also has given the blood-testing firm a stamp of credibility since it was publicly announced in September 2013.

«

This feels like the third act of a Greek tragedy; Theranos certainly sounds like it should come from a Greek word, perhaps meaning “the aching desire to find a cheap way to test blood”, but I can’t find a meaningful translation anywhere. Presently being turned into a screenplay, with Jennifer Lawrence slated to play Elizabeth Holmes, so the big question is: will Bradley Cooper play John Carreyrou of the WSJ who exposed it all?

link to this extract

 


Apple’s response to the chatbot craze doesn’t involve any chatbots • VentureBeat

Jordan Novet:

»Microsoft has been letting developers build integrations into Skype, and Facebook has been doing the same with Messenger. Google has revealed related plans for its forthcoming Allo app. Kik, Line, and Telegram have begun accepting outside integrations, as well. Even in the parallel universe of enterprise software, this trend is playing out — Slack is the greatest example there.

But all of these companies have chosen a text-messaging interface through which people will talk to other services — namely chatbots. Apple, in its infinite Apple-ness, is circumventing the hype around bots and will be simply letting developers build app extensions that live inside of a new “app drawer,” which users will open in Messages on iOS 10 by tapping the little blue A button that historically stands for App Store.

Developers can build these iMessage Apps using the iOS software development kit (SDK), which became available today in the beta release of Xcode 8. It’s possible to fine-tune the look and functionality of these mini apps, so that they don’t just look like the rest of Messages. (Documentation is already available.)

Onstage today, Apple’s Craig Federighi talked about a Square Cash iMessage app. It’s a bright green widget that pops up in place of the keyboard. A user selected $200 as the amount on a scrollable dial and then hit the pay button to pay that amount to the message recipient. The result was a box right underneath an earlier text message with a big $200 bill and a link to “tap here to deposit this cash.”

Federighi also demonstrated a DoorDash iMessage App through which multiple people could collaborate on one food delivery order. In a message bubble, this iMessage App displayed a dish from San Francisco restaurant and food truck operator Curry Up Now, with a little red DoorDash logo in the top left. Underneath that, there was some text — “3 people,” “Brian Croll added 2 items,” and a grand total so far of $48.68. “So I could just tap in and see what’s going on,” Federighi said. After tapping on the widget he was confronted with a full screen showing more detail, courtesy of DoorDash — a menu, prices, estimated delivery time, and a “view group cart” button. From there, Federighi checked out the cart and then added to it. When he was done, the DoorDash widget that had originally appeared in his Messages group chat was updated to reflect the changes to the order.

«

In other words, you don’t need to talk to machines to get machines to do your bidding. I don’t get the chatbot thing; it seems like wasted effort.
link to this extract

 


iOS 10.0 • Apple Developer documentation

»In iOS 10, the NSUserActivity object includes the mapItem property, which lets you provide location information that can be used in other contexts. For example, if your app displays hotel reviews, you can use the mapItem property to hold the location of the hotel the user is viewing so that when the user switches to a travel planning app, that hotel’s location is automatically available. And if you support app search, you can use the new text-based address component properties in CSSearchableItemAttributeSet, such as thoroughfare and postalCode, to fully specify locations to which the user may want to go. Note that when you use the mapItem property, the system automatically populates the contentAttributeSet property, too.

To share a location with the system, be sure to specify latitude and longitude values, in addition to values for the address component properties in CSSearchableItemAttributeSet. It’s also recommended that you supply a value for the namedLocation property, so that users can view the name of the location, and the phoneNumbers property, so that users can use Siri to initiate a call to the location.

«

So you can switch apps and have Siri call the hotel you were just looking at. Quite neat. Also notable in the documentation: “True Tone”, the ambient display adjustment presently only on the 9.7in iPad Pro, becomes part of the OS. It’ll surely be on the forthcoming iPhones.

And why link to this but not the Android N documentation? Because this will be on about half of iOS 10-capable devices within a month of release. Android M, released last year, is on perhaps 100m devices after nine months.
link to this extract

 


Intel gets chip order from Apple, its first major mobile win • Bloomberg

Ian King and Scott Moritz:

»Apple’s next iPhone will use modems from Intel Corp., replacing Qualcomm chips in some versions of the new handset, a move by the world’s most-valuable public company to diversify its supplier base.

Apple has chosen Intel modem chips for the iPhone used on AT&T’s U.S. network and some other versions of the smartphone for overseas markets, said people familiar with the matter. IPhones on Verizon Communications’s network will stick with parts from Qualcomm, which is the only provider of the main communications component of current versions of Apple’s flagship product. Crucially for Qualcomm, iPhones sold in China will work on Qualcomm chips, said the people, who asked not to be identified because Apple hasn’t made its plans public.

«

So this seems like Qualcomm keeps the CDMA versions, but Intel gets the GSM market. China might be a toss-up.
link to this extract

 


Devices able to run iOS 10, biggest iOS release ever • Apple

»iOS 10 will be available this fall as a free software update for iPhone 5 and later, all iPad Air and iPad Pro models, iPad 4th generation, iPad mini 2 and later, and iPod touch 6th generation.

«

Ah, so that’s a lot clearer. There seemed to be suggestion on Monday that it would run on the iPad 2 and iPad 3; but they’re explicitly not in the list for the iPad. (Nor is the first iPad mini.)

The minimum iPad spec is the iPad 4, or iPad mini 2; for the phones, it’s the iPhone 5/C (which are the same thing).
link to this extract

 


Microsoft reveals the new, slimmer Xbox One S, coming this August • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:

»The system the company showed off today arrived in a bright white color (“robot white,” according to press materials), a lightening up of the previous console. The device will come with a vertical stand, so users can decide how they want to orient it on their shelf.

The Xbox One S is 40% slimmer than the last version. Inside you’ll find a hard drive sporting up to 2TB and an integrated power supply. The new console features a built-in IR blaster, front-facing USB port (there are still two on the rear) and does 4K video. The One S also features HDR video support, for a more vibrantly colored gaming experience and higher contrast between dark colors and light.

«

One area that smartphones and tablets haven’t quite swallowed up. Notable how much more storage they’re offering; even as games are increasingly downloaded from the cloud, gamers want more local storage to keep data.
link to this extract

 


This USB adapter is Microsoft’s final admission that Kinect failed • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»Hardware planning takes years, and it’s clear Microsoft quickly realized that bundling Kinect was a mistake. The new Xbox One S doesn’t even include a Kinect port, and Microsoft has created a USB adapter that you’ll need to use if you want Kinect support. It’s a free adapter if you already own an Xbox One and Kinect…

…Microsoft is now working to bring Cortana to the Xbox One in an update this summer. While it was originally supposed to debut last year, Microsoft announced Cortana would require Kinect at E3 last year, before mysteriously delaying the feature. It’s clear part of that delay was related to getting headsets working with Cortana, and you won’t need a Kinect to use the digital assistant this summer.

The removal of the Kinect port on the Xbox One S is the final admission that Microsoft’s accessory is dead. It’s hard to imagine that the Project Scorpio console will re-introduce a Kinect port next year, and the accessory wasn’t even mentioned during any of Microsoft’s demos on stage. Microsoft claimed at E3 last year that “there are games actually that are coming out for Kinect,” but at E3 this year the only mention is a USB adapter that admits Kinect failed.

«

Kinect is such an odd footnote in tech history: the fastest-selling piece of tech ever, considered a potentially useful tool for surgeons, and now an undesired add-on.
link to this extract

 


Follow the sun • The Economist

»Led by big projects in these two countries [China and India], global solar-energy capacity rose by 26% last year. More remarkable is the decline in its cost. Studies of the “levelised cost” of electricity, which estimate the net present value of the costs of a generating system divided by the expected output over its lifetime, show solar getting close to gas and coal as an attractively cheap source of power. Auctions of long-term contracts to purchase solar power in developing countries such as South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Peru and Mexico provide real-world evidence that such assumptions may even prove to be conservative (see chart).

In sunny places solar power is now “shoulder to shoulder” with gas, coal and wind, says Cédric Philibert of the International Energy Agency, a prominent forecaster. He notes that since November 2014, when Dubai awarded a project to build 200MW of solar power at less than $60 a megawatt hour (MWh), auctions have become increasingly competitive.

«

And that’s because the price of solar panels has fallen by 80% since 2010. Hell of a thing.
link to this extract

 


Yes, there have been aliens • The New York Times

Adam Frank, who co-wrote a scientific paper on this vexed question:

»Instead of asking how many civilizations currently exist, we asked what the probability is that ours is the only technological civilization that has ever appeared. By asking this question, we could bypass the factor about the average lifetime of a civilization. This left us with only three unknown factors, which we combined into one “biotechnical” probability: the likelihood of the creation of life, intelligent life and technological capacity.

You might assume this probability is low, and thus the chances remain small that another technological civilization arose. But what our calculation revealed is that even if this probability is assumed to be extremely low, the odds that we are not the first technological civilization are actually high. Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first.

To give some context for that figure: In previous discussions of the Drake equation, a probability for civilizations to form of one in 10 billion per planet was considered highly pessimistic. According to our finding, even if you grant that level of pessimism, a trillion civilizations still would have appeared over the course of cosmic history.

«

So howcome they haven’t got in touch asking to borrow money? (The paper is available in full for free.)
link to this extract

 


Motorola confirms Moto 360 Gen. 1 will not receive Android Wear 2.0 update • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»While you may have seen reports via Motorola’s Twitter account that the Moto 360 Gen. 1 would not be receiving Wear 2.0, we decided to follow up with Motorola’s official PR this morning on this news and received direct confirmation: the Moto 360 Gen. 1 won’t get Wear 2.0.

The Moto 360 was heavily hyped leading up to its launch nearly two years ago, and understandably so: a [semi-]circular display made it stand out from pretty much any smartwatch that had been released previously. While LG’s G Watch R was, in my opinion, a better take on the circular watch, the Moto 360 still stood out with its small bezels and minimalistic, lugless style. It really was, and is, a striking device.

Still, it seems more than a bit frustrating that Android Wear devices – which Google has time and again implied shouldn’t “age” like your smartphone does as new OS updates launch – are seemingly little-different in terms of support windows than smartphones. Watches, after all, are supposed to last for years, especially watches that cost upwards of $300.

«

Lenovo’s acquisition of Motorola completed in October 2014, having been announced in January 2014. The Moto 360v1 was launched in September 2014, and would have been in the works for at least a year before. Lenovo is now losing money on its smartphone business.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lenovo/Motorola quietly dropped out of the Android Wear business at least until that specific sector shows signs of life. Speaking of which…
link to this extract

 


How will the $34bn wearables market combat wearables fatigue? • Forbes

Paul Armstrong:

»Some sobering stats:

•50% of consumers lose interest in the product within a few months. [Endeavour Partners]
•More than half of US wearable owners who have owned a device no longer use it. [Pew Research, 2013]
The wearables market will be worth $34bn in 2020. [CCS Insight]


SOURCE: CCS Insight

It takes 66 days to make a new behaviour stick – that’s a long time in the fast-paced, notification saturated world we live in. Wearable devices can help but the person has to have a decent amount of willpower or the behaviour wanes. Successful apps usually demonstrate a good combination. For example; a fitness tracker and something like MyFitnessPal which monitors macronutrients food intake and can give you some great data points but it doesn’t give tailored advice. Based on the data above there may be trouble ahead if consumers don’t begin seeing value in wearable devices. The issues are clear – either the tech doesn’t work or it’s not of value.

«

Wearables’ biggest problem is battery life, no doubt. Means you have to take them off.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the USB-C screwup, faster pages with annoying ads!, celeb fattening, thermostat wars, and more

Flying Car
Come on, this stuff has been around for ages. Well, maybe not. Drawing by Josué Menjivar on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Public service announcement: USB-C on Apple’s new MacBook is a circus • 9to5Mac

Jordan Kahn:

»It would be fine if all of those USB-C accessories you purchased for your 2015 MacBook were firmware upgradeable and received updates like Apple’s own products, but many of them are not. So if you have accessories purchased for the 2015 MacBook, there is a good possibility they won’t work with your 2016 MacBook or any other new USB-C device. Accessory makers also tell me Apple changed power protocols in the 2016 MacBook meaning 5W-12W battery packs that could be used with the 2015 model over USB-C no longer work with the new 2016 model now requiring at least 18W. And if you grab a USB-C cable or other accessory, don’t expect it to just work with your Mac. Not such a great situation for a standard that’s supposed to, you know, standardize compatibility of products using the spec.

Want to run a 4K display over USB-C— a feature that is technically supported— on your MacBook? Good luck…

Even if everything wasn’t a complete mess with USB-C, there is the issue of 4K displays and the new MacBook. Apple doesn’t support 4K at 60 Hz refresh rate, although Jeff recently discovered a hack to get it working at your own risk. That’s if you can even find a monitor, like this one from LG, that will support your MacBook.

«

Jeez. Apple strongly hinted, with the 2016 MacBook, that its future models will use USB-C too: the MacBook is “our vision for the future of the notebook”, says the quote. Hmm.
link to this extract


Welcome to Larry Page’s secret flying car factories • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance and Brad Stone:

»Zee.Aero doesn’t belong to Google or its holding company, Alphabet. It belongs to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page has personally funded Zee.Aero since its launch in 2010 while demanding that his involvement stay hidden from the public, according to 10 people with intimate knowledge of the company. Zee.Aero, however, is just one part of Page’s plan to usher in an age of personalized air travel, free from gridlocked streets and the cramped indignities of modern flight. Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Page is using his personal fortune to build the future of his childhood dreams.

The Zee.Aero headquarters, located at 2700 Broderick Way, is a 30,000-square-foot, two-story white building with an ugly, blocky design and an industrial feel. Page initially restricted the Zee.Aero crew to the first floor, retaining the second floor for a man cave worthy of a multibillionaire: bedroom, bathroom, expensive paintings, a treadmill-like climbing wall, and one of SpaceX’s first rocket engines — a gift from his pal Musk. As part of the secrecy, Zee.Aero employees didn’t refer to Page by name; he was known as GUS, the guy upstairs. Soon enough, they needed the upstairs space, too, and engineers looked on in awe as GUS’s paintings, exercise gear, and rocket engine were hauled away.

«

Sure to be a success just like Verily. Um, like Nest?
link to this extract


Google is bringing new ad types to AMP, including those annoying flying carpet ads • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) ads are probably the closest to the platonic ideal of having ads on AMP pages because they are meant to load as fast as the AMP page itself. These ads are written in pure AMP HTML, which is the main component that makes AMP posts load as fast as they do.

Sticky ads, which will stay either at the top or bottom of the page as you scroll through an article are pretty standard outside of AMP pages and tend to be relatively unobtrusive.

It’s sad to see that the AMP project will soon allow for pages to feature one of the most annoying new ad types we’ve seen pop up recently: flying carpet ads. Those are the ads that hijack the page’s scrolling behavior so a large ad can scroll by instead.

Publishers will be able to use this ‘flying carpet’ effect for showing regular images or other content as well.

«

How quickly the “platonic ideal” erodes and turns instead to “meh, just do what the advertisers want.” Here’s how Google’s blogpost on this change starts:

»When the AMP team set out to help make mobile experiences great for everybody, the objective wasn’t just to improve a user’s engagement with content. We knew the experience people had with ads was equally important to help publishers fund the great content we all love to read.

«

Um.. it feels more like “we knew the experience people had with ads wouldn’t affect whether or not we served those sorts of ads.” Because those are annoying ads.
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What the iPhone SE taught me about the smartphone market • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin switched from an iPhone 6 Plus (5.5in screen( to an iPhone SE (4in) for a week, and found he didn’t want to change back:

»Bigger screen personal computers allow us to do more and be more productive. However, the tasks which require more screen real estate are generally not the most common tasks. What my time with the SE made me realize was, in general, the benefits I got from the larger screen, in terms of productivity, were things I did less frequently. Perhaps most surprisingly, this experiment caused me to reconsider the productivity and efficiency I lost in being able to operate my smartphone solely with one hand. This is the real stand out observation of my time with the SE.

My conviction that the larger the screen, the more productive I could be, was made without fully understanding the trade-offs of losing one-handed operation. The Plus sized iPhone requires two hands to do just about anything unless you have extremely large hands. Being able to reach every aspect of my screen while holding the phone one-handed might actually be the most productive and efficient scenario for a mobile device.

If I was weighing one-handed operation against the many other trade-offs I’ve come across using smartphones of all shapes and sizes, I think one-handed use is the one thing not worth compromising on if possible.

«

Which then has implications for the rest of the smartphone market. (Paywalled: you can buy a one-off login or subscribe.)
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The explainable • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»[Author of a book about the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Denis] Boyles points out that the Britannica’s eleventh edition underpins Wikipedia, and in Wikipedia we see, more clearly than ever, the elevation of and emphasis on measurement as the standard of knowledge and knowability. Wikipedia is pretty good, and ambitiously thorough, on technical and scientific topics, but it’s scattershot, and often just flat-out bad, in its coverage of topics in the humanities. Wikipedia’s editors, as Edward Mendelson has recently suggested, are comfortable in documenting consensus but completely uncomfortable in exercising taste. The kind of informed subjective judgment that is essential to any perceptive discussion of art, literature, or even history is explicitly outlawed at Wikipedia. And Wikipedia, like the eleventh edition of the Britannica, is a reflection of its time. The boundary we draw around “the explainable” is tighter than ever.

“Technical and scientific advances became confused with progress,” says Boyles, and so it is today, a century later.

«

link to this extract


Study reveals which celebrities are paid millions to endorse junk food and soda • ScienceAlert

Peter Dockrill:

»After going through Billboard’s ‘Hot 100′ song charts from 2013 and 2014 to make a list today’s successful acts, [the scientists at New York University] then catalogued 15 years’ worth of endorsements recorded between 2000 and 2014 by advertising database AdScope, which tracks ads on TV, radio, and print. The researchers also looked at YouTube and other online sources.

What they found was 65 pop stars who had made deals with 57 different food and beverage brands. Among these, some of the most famous and lucrative deals are Beyonce’s arrangement with Pepsi – estimated to be worth $50 million – and Justin Timberlake’s “I’m lovin’ it” contract promoting McDonalds, thought to be worth $6 million.

Timberlake was also among the pop celebrities with the most endorsements, which also included Baauer, will.i.am, Maroon 5, and Britney Spears, Pitbull, and Jessie J. But you can see more – including Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg, Shakira, Katy Perry, and more – along with the products they’re signed up with in the study published in Pediatrics.

«

There’s also an image embed from the study which shows all the endorsements. Scary list.
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[Update: June OTA does not contain fix] Some Pixel C owners are reporting random reboots after the May Over-The-Air update • Android Police

Michael Crider:

»Google’s commitment to Android in the form of monthly updates for its own branded hardware is pretty great… until it’s not. That’s the case with the May security and stability update for the top-of-the-line Pixel C tablet, which has created some serious headaches for owners. Some (but by no means all) owners of the Pixel C are reporting more or less random reboots of the tablet, usually occurring every five to thirty minutes when the Pixel C is off its charger.

«

As the headline says, the June update doesn’t fix it either. None of Apple, Microsoft or Google has sorted this “updates which work perfectly to update your own-brand devices” thing: there have been iPad Pros bricked by 9.3.2, Surfaces with graphics issues, and this for Google. Not sure there is a moral – except perhaps “don’t accept the update until you’ve seen what happens to everyone else”?
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Analysis of Twitter.com password leak • LeakedSource

»This data set contains 32,888,300 records. Each record may contain an email address, a username, sometimes a second email and a visible password. We have very strong evidence that Twitter was not hacked, rather the consumer was. These credentials however are real and valid. Out of 15 users we asked, all 15 verified their passwords.

The explanation for this is that tens of millions of people have become infected by malware, and the malware sent every saved username and password from browsers like Chrome and Firefox back to the hackers from all websites including Twitter.

The proof for this explanation is as follows:

• The join dates of some users with uncrackable (yet plaintext) passwords were recent. There is no way that Twitter stores passwords in plaintext in 2014 for example.
• There was a very significant amount of users with the password “” and “null”. Some browsers store passwords as “” if you don’t enter a password when you save your credentials.
•The top email domains don’t match up to a full database leak; more likely the malware was spread to Russians.

«

Websites including Twitter. That’s worrying. There’s also a list of the passwords used. Guess which six-character one comes top?
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App Store subscription uncertainty • Daring Fireball

John Gruber points out that Apple VP Phil Schiller saying “any app can be a subscription app” clashes with Apple’s own marketing material, which says subscription apps “must provide ongoing value”:

»I don’t think subscription pricing — even if Apple clarified that subscriptions are open to any app, period — is a panacea. There is no perfect way to sell software. The old way — pay up front, then pay for major upgrades in the future — has problems, too, just a different set of problems. If I had my druthers Apple would enable paid upgrades in the App Store(s), but I get the feeling that’s not in the cards. That leaves us with subscriptions.

DF reader Sean Harding framed the problems with subscription pricing well, in a short series of tweets:

»

I think the new stuff is good, but I don’t think it really solves the upgrade pricing problem from a customer standpoint. A sub forces me to effectively always buy the upgrade or stop using even the old version. I don’t dislike subscriptions because I don’t want to pay. I just want freedom to decide if the new features are worth paying for.

«

«

That “what if I don’t want the new features?” question – and the allied one, “what if the developer of a subscription app falls under a bus” – seems like a new set of teething problems. Alongside paid search, of course.
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Tesco Mobile lets customers reduce bills by viewing ads • Total Telecom

Nick Wood:

»Tesco Mobile announced on Thursday it is giving customers the option to lower their monthly bills in return for watching adverts.

The scheme is called Tesco Mobile Xtras, and has been brought about by a partnership between the U.K. MVNO and mobile advertising platform Unlockd.

Unlockd has created an Android app that serves targeted offers and content at various times when the end user unlocks their smartphone. By viewing the ads or marketing offers, customers can lower their monthly bill by up to £3 (€3.83)…

…Many others have attempted to woo customers with the promise of free or cut-price mobile service in return for consuming adverts, with limited success.

First came Blyk, which offered free service to 16-24 year-olds provided they clicked on ads. 200,000 signed up in the first year, but momentum stalled, and the MVNO shut down its mobile service in July 2009.

Samba Mobile, another ad-funded free MVNO, gave mobile data to customers who interacted with adverts. It closed down after it failed to negotiate a lower wholesale data price with its network provider.

«

And there are plenty of others. If your bill is really high, £3 isn’t going to make a difference. If it’s really low, will you view enough ads to make the differential worthwhile – and are you a worthwhile target of those “targeted” apps?
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Inside the bitter last days of Bernie’s revolution • POLITICO

Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel DeBenedetti with a (very) long insight into the Sanders campaign:

»Top Sanders aides admit that it’s been weeks, if not months, since they themselves realized he wasn’t going to win, and they’ve been operating with a Trump’s-got-no-real-shot safety net. They debate whether Sanders’ role in the fall should be a full vote-for-Clinton campaign, or whether he should just campaign hard against Trump without signing up to do much for her directly.

They haven’t been able to get Sanders focused on any of that, or on the real questions about what kind of long term organization to build out of his email list. They know they’ll have their own rally in Philadelphia – outside the the convention hall—but that’s about as far as they’ve gotten.

“He wants to be in the race until the end, until the roll call vote,” Weaver said.

Aides say they’re going to discourage people from booing Wasserman Schultz, who’s emerged as public enemy number one among Sanders supporters, when she takes the stage at the convention. But they think it’s going to happen anyway.

Meanwhile, they’re looking into trying to replace the Florida congresswoman as the convention chair with Gabbard, and force Wasserman Schultz to resign as DNC chair the day after the convention.

«

Viewed from afar, it seems like both political parties in the US are undergoing upheavals. Perhaps some good will come of it.
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Magic Leap denies patent drawings depict secret product • Mashable

Adario Strange:

»When I met with Magic Leap last year, I spent a great deal of time hammering away for a description of what the device looks like and how it works. And while I don’t have an image of the final Magic Leap product, which has been described as delivering interactive augmented reality, the device shown in the drawings looks nothing like what was described to me during that meeting.

To that end, I reached out to the company and got an answer regarding the new drawings. Magic Leap’s vice president of public relations, Andy Fouché, told me that the patent drawings were in fact “part of [Magic Leap’s] R+D and experience validation” and that “it’s not at all what our product will look like.”

link to this extract


Comfy raises $12m for app to end office thermostat wars • TechCrunch

Lora Kolodny:

»Building Robotics Inc., better known as Comfy, raised $12m in Series B funding for building automation software that helps companies save energy on office air conditioning while gathering employee-contributed data about the use and occupancy of a workspace.

Emergence Capital led the investment, joined by real estate services company CBRE and Microsoft Ventures.

According to company president Lindsay Baker, letting employees tweak the temperature around their cubicle can improve productivity and happiness. “It’s a very real thing that temperature and light can slow us down, distract us, make us hungry or impact our hormones,” she said.

Baker explained that Comfy is a simple-to-use app that employees put on their phones and use to request warm or cool air in a zone where they work. The app uses employee-contributed data, and combines it with usage data and patterns, to tune every zone in an office building based on the routine preferences of people who work in each zone there.

«

Except of course there won’t be any agreement between the people in adjoining cubicles about what temperature is the right temperature. This reminds me of the experiment where every bus passenger was given a steering wheel, the input from which was aggregated to steer the whole bus. Fairly sure the bus crashed.

(Spare a thought too for Kolodny, whom one can imagine writing this and risking narcolepsy.)
link to this extract


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Start up: more iPhone rumours, tablet use falls, six useful algorithms, and more


TV in the US is losing its audience, and especially its paying audience. Photo by quinn.anya on Flickr.

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

Introducing comment moderation for Periscope • Medium

»Dear Periscope Community,

We’ve seen incredible communities and real-life friendships form on Periscope because it’s live, unfiltered and open. We’ve also seen broadcasters get discovered and quickly grow a large, public following. But with this openness comes an increased risk for spam and abuse, and this is something that we take seriously.

Above all, we want our community to be safe on Periscope. Comments are a vital part of the experience and we’ve been working hard on a system that still feels true to the live and unfiltered nature of our platform. Specifically, we want to develop a system that is: transparent, community-led, and live.

«

It was inevitable. Let’s see how this goes.
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Apple moving to 3-year ‘major’ iPhone cycle, adding complex vibrations to 2017 model – report • Apple Insider

Roger Fingas:

»Apple will likely be waiting until next year to debut its next major iPhone refresh, treating this year’s “iPhone 7” as yet another interim upgrade, a Japanese report said on Tuesday.

The 2017 iPhone is expected to make the switch to OLED, among other important design changes, Nikkei said. While that would support recent rumors, the business publication also made an original claim that the device will have a new vibration motor, capable of producing more complex patterns than earlier iPhones.

That could indicate that Apple will use an evolved version of its “Taptic Engine,” found in devices like the Apple Watch and the iPhone 6s. The technology lets devices produce different, subtle responses to user actions and notifications.

The “iPhone 7” is likely to stay mostly the same, Nikkei said, the most noticeable difference being the removal of the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. Camera, water resistance, and battery technology should be improved, the paper continued, also mentioning that “a high-end version of the model will give users better-quality photo capabilities via correction functions.”

Rumors have suggested that the standard iPhone 7 might gain optical image stabilization, while a “7 Plus” will have a dual-lens camera.

«

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Tablet usage declines • Global Web Index

Katie Young:

»Certainly, tablets have enjoyed healthy growth in recent years; since 2011, the numbers getting online via these devices have more than trebled – jumping from just 10% at the start of the decade to more than 1 in 3 in 2016.

However, from market to market, region to region, a closer look at these figures reveals that the boom days for tablets appear to be over. The speed of the increases slowed dramatically during 2015 and, in the first quarters of 2016, tablets have now started to decline. What’s more, 16-24s now lag behind virtually all other age groups in terms of usage.

Clearly, these devices are struggling to convince many that they are must-have rather than just nice-to-have devices. So, unless tablets can provide a level of functionality sufficiently higher than mobiles to warrant the expense, we can expect this trend to continue.

«

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Nearly 1 in 4 people abandon mobile apps after only one use • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»Based on data from analytics firm Localytics, and its user base of 37,000 applications, user retention has seen a slight increase year-over-year from 34% in 2015 to 38% in 2016.

However, just because this figure has recovered a bit, that doesn’t mean the numbers are good. Instead, what this indicates is that 62 percent of users will use an app less than 11 times.

Says the report, “this is not a sustainable business model.”

These days, 23% launch an app only once – an improvement over last year, but only slightly. For comparison’s sake, only 20% of users were abandoning apps in 2014.

On iOS, user retention saw some slight improvements. The percentage of those only opening apps once fell to 24% from 26% last year, and those who return to apps 11 times or more grew to 36% from 32% in 2015.

«

That seems depressing. Then again, thinking of my own use, I tend to install apps, and not use them for ages; then I’ll suddenly discover a use, and go with it. It’s not quite “abandonment”. There aren’t that many apps that I have to use every day, or even every month. But there are lots that I might use once a year. (And there’s no particular distinction between mobile and desktop in that regard.)
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The TV industry will unravel faster than you think — Lightspeed Venture Partners • Medium

Alex Taussig says it’s all going to go bad for the big networks:

»The most obvious beneficiaries of the decline of old TV media will be the dominant social networks who nail video: Facebook, Snapchat,* and perhaps Twitter, if the whole Periscope thing works out. (A new social network built natively with video could also be a contender. Email me if that’s what you’re working on!) They each have their own power law dynamics and, by most measures, are significantly larger and more global than the TV networks. Their data allows them to target videos more precisely; so, despite larger quantities of social video in the world, the odds of a specific consumer engaging with a given video are (in theory) much higher. If properly executed, they could expand the $73bn TV advertising market today by transforming it from an audience-based to a performance-based medium.

The second group of beneficiaries will be the new stream aggregators: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Twitch, and the like. These streams will continue to aggregate and package long tail content and form direct relationships with consumers. Again, there will only be a few winners here.

«

Taussig points to two key bits of data: US pay TV penetration rates are falling

and only those aged over 65 now watch more TV than they did five years ago:

Hard to argue with his reasoning.
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Dell reveals industry’s first 17in 2-In-1 laptop • Twice

Joseph Palenchar:

»The PC industry’s first 17-inch two-in-one convertible Windows laptop is among six new Inspiron two-in-one laptops unveiled by Dell at Computex in Taiwan, Microsoft announced.

All six of the convertible two-in-ones come with touchscreen display and secure Windows Hello login via optional or standard built-in infrared cameras. A 360-degree hinge delivers four modes: laptop mode, tent mode for presentations, stand mode for playing movies, and tablet mode.

«

OK, that’s too big. Thanks, Dell, for showing us the limit, beyond which you’ve gone.
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Six algorithms that can improve your life • WNYC

Manoush Zomorodi:

»There’s been a lot of negative press lately about algorithms (Facebook, Snapchat, the prison system). But this week we’re exploring ways that mathematical and scientific algorithms can actually help improve how we live.

Brian Christian co-wrote the book “Algorithms to Live By” with his friend, Tom Griffiths, a psychology and cognitive science professor at UC Berkeley. Brian is all about the intersection of technology and humanity, and figuring out how to use data to help people optimize their lives.

In their book, Brian and Tom offer really practical applications for scientific principles, which we’ll get to in a minute. But first, here’s the catch: There’s no formula for perfection. Even if you apply these algorithms to your life, things will go wrong. But by trying out these algorithms, you can statistically give it your best shot.

«

Includes: how to find stuff on your desk, stop tagging/filing your emails, arrange appointments faster, and more. Also with audio.
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Economist editor: ‘We don’t want to be the grandpa at the disco’ • The Guardian

Mark Sweney interviews Zanny Milton Beddoes, editor of The Economist:

»Despite this success, as at other publishers print sales at the Economist have fallen across the globe, although the circulation still stands at 1.25m copies a week. Digital edition sales have broken through the 300,000 mark, up by 50% or more year-on-year in most markets, including the UK but not North and South America. Minton Beddoes says the print decline is in part to do with a “drive to quality” – getting rid of bulk copies and converting readers to paid subscribers.

“The overall circulation is slightly down but the profitability of our circulation is rising and print is still holding up remarkably well,” she says. “I’m completely agnostic [about whether] people read print or digital, I really want them to have a premium subscription giving them access to both.” The Economist is still willing to embrace the potential of print, as is shown by it launching 1843, a bi-monthly magazine (which replaced Intelligent Life) aimed at the “globally curious” which aims to speak to them “when they have their feet up, on a weekend break, on holiday”.

Minton Beddoes says the Economist is not feeling the same extreme pressure as advertising-reliant newspaper publishers. “I’m very simple about this. You make money out of things people pay for,” she says. “Subscriptions is the bulk of our business, ads are nice to have on top of that. We are in the midst of a massively changing disrupted industry and that is incredibly exciting but it is also challenging. There are going to be winners in that and losers. It is foolish for anyone to be complacent. I am confident and hopeful and paranoid at the same time.”

«

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Are Trump hotels taking a ‘yuge’ hit? • Tailwind by Hipmunk

Kelly Soderlund on data from hotel-booking system Hipmunk:

»The Trump brand is associated with a variety of hotels, apartments, and products. On one hand, a growing number of political supporters could boost sales of Trump products; on the other, a growing number political detractors could lead people to avoid his brand. So which of these two forces is stronger?

We set out to answer this question by comparing the number of bookings at Trump Hotels’ most-booked locations this year on Hipmunk to bookings in the same locations the year prior (before he attracted national political attention).

The results? The share of bookings at Trump Hotels on Hipmunk as a percent of total hotel bookings are down, decreasing 59% compared to the same period last year.

While overall Hipmunk hotel bookings have been on the rise year-over-year, that has not been the case with bookings of Trump Hotels.

«

You could think of all sorts of possible reasons, but just not wanting to put any money into Trump’s pockets, and instead favouring Any Other Hotel Chain, seems like the immediately most plausible.
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Forced Windows 10 upgrades push users to dangerously disable Windows Update • PC World

Brad Chacos:

»Ironically, improved security is one of Windows 10’s selling points. But by pushing it on users in such a heavy-handed way, Microsoft is encouraging users who have very valid reasons to stick with Windows 7/8 to perform actions that leave their machines open to attack. That’s bad. Very bad.

For the record: Don’t disable Windows Updates unless you’re an advanced user who wants to parse and manually install Windows patches. Instead, leave them active but also install GWX Control Panel or Never10, free tools that block the Get Windows 10 pop-ups and behavior. Microsoft’s been known to push out new patches that work around those tools in the past, however—again, violating Windows Update’s sanctity to push its new OS. Be sure to read the fine print if a GWX pop-up does appear in order to avoid being tricked into Windows 10.

«

Coming to something when people complain of feeling “tricked” into getting an operating system for free that they would have been queueing around the block to pay for a few years ago. Well, 20 years ago.
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How big an issue is the nausea problem for virtual reality products? • Quora

Steve Baker is ex-Rediffusion Simulation, Hughes Aircraft, L3 Simulation:

»I’ve been working with helmet mounted displays in military flight simulation for several decades – I am an expert in the field.

IMHO – these devices should be banned – but that may not be necessary because after the first wave of early adopters I think it’ll go the way of 3D televisions. But that’s just my opinion. Let me explain why.

Everyone thinks these things are new and revolutionary…but they really aren’t. All that’s happened is that they dropped in price from $80,000 to $500…and many corners have been cut along the way.

There are several claims that the nausea problem has either been fixed, or will soon be fixed, or that application design can be used to work-around the problem.

The claims that it’s been fixed are based on the theory that the nausea is caused by latency/lag in the system, or by low resolution displays or by inaccurate head motion tracking…all of which can (and are) being fixed by obvious improvements to the system. Sadly, the $80,000 googles we made for the US military had less latency, higher resolution displays, and more accurate head tracking than any of the current round of civilian VR goggles…and they definitely made people sick – so this seems unlikely.

«

He has plenty more to say too about focal lengths and depth perception, and aftereffects. Worth considering. Of course, you could always assume that your users are going to be confused to begin with…
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VR Party Game is a ridiculously confusing virtual reality experience for Cardboard • Android Police

Rita El Khoury:

»What if virtual reality was just reality, with a small asterisk? What if you could strap on your VR headset, regardless of the brand or technology behind them, and see the same thing that’s in front of you… but mirrored? Or upside down? Or delayed by 2 seconds? Ha, what a novel idea!

VR Party Game does just that. It’s a Cardboard app/game that transmits your smartphone’s rear camera view onto the screen, but applies one of three special effects to confuse you. It can delay the view by 2 seconds, mirror it, or flip it upside down. The idea is to use it as a party game with friends, asking each other to complete a few tasks while wearing the Cardboard headset…

…VR Party Game is just mindless fun and as such, you may find the price a little steep. The app costs $0.99 but that only gives you the delay and mirror modes. Upside down is another $0.99 IAP.

«

OH NO. A WHOLE $1.98??
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: SWIFT’s hacking problem, Apple swoons, the emoji war, the medical firm shut by filesharing, and more


The price tag isn’t necessarily about what it’s worth to the maker. It might be what it’s worth to you. Photo by DaMongMan on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. (Check against delivery. Might not be decimal-based.) I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: SWIFT warns customers of multiple cyber fraud cases » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»SWIFT, the global financial network that banks use to transfer billions of dollars every day, warned its customers on Monday that it was aware of “a number of recent cyber incidents” where attackers had sent fraudulent messages over its system.

The disclosure came as law enforcement authorities in Bangladesh and elsewhere investigated the February cyber theft of $81m from the Bangladesh central bank account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. SWIFT has acknowledged that the scheme involved altering SWIFT software on Bangladesh Bank’s computers to hide evidence of fraudulent transfers.

Monday’s statement from SWIFT marked the first acknowledgement that the Bangladesh Bank attack was not an isolated incident but one of several recent criminal schemes that aimed to take advantage of the global messaging platform used by some 11,000 financial institutions.

«

Let’s see – since the Bangladesh hack we’ve gone through “not affected” and “isolated incident” and now “multiple incidents”. I believe the next stage is “it emerged that hackers have known for years…”
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Apple ends 13 years of continuous quarterly growth » NBC News

Everett Rosenfeld:

»Shares in the company fell more than 6 percent in after-hours trading.

Speaking with CNBC, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is in “the early innings of the iPhone” and that they “feel good” about their business in China.

In fact, Apple beat Wall Street’s estimates on iPhone shipments, reporting 51.2m for the quarter. Analysts had expected 50.3m, according to StreetAccount.

Still, that iPhone unit count was a 16% decline from the 61.17m shipped during the same period last year.

Looking ahead to the fiscal third quarter, Apple said it expects revenue between $41bn and $43bn — Wall Street had expected $47.42bn on average, according to StreetAccount.

«

That’s a long way down. Notable that Google, Microsoft, Intel and others have also had poor earnings. So one asks…
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The End of Hardware? » LinkedIn

Bob O’Donnell:

»Whether it’s PCs, tablets, smart watches or now, even smartphones, the outlook for most major hardware device categories is not looking good, particularly here in the US.

The issue is that both consumers and businesses have already bought a lot of these devices. Plus, they’re hanging on to their purchases longer than they used to, and longer than many people originally thought they would.

Many companies, including both Intel and Qualcomm, have been forced to make some painful employee reductions as a result of these challenges, and there are likely more from other vendors still to come.

So, does this signal the end of hardware as we know it?

On one hand, yes, we are arguably at the peak of these key hardware categories, particularly when you add them all together. As a result, we are likely to see modest declines in unit shipments from this point forward. After a 30+-year run of growth, that’s tough news to take.

But there is hope in hardware-land. It just requires thinking about the market in a different way.

«

link to this extract


‘It sounded like my child’: the ‘virtual kidnappers’ scamming Americans » The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»Tracy Holczer was driving with a friend to their writers’ group in a suburb of Los Angeles when she got a terrifying call on her cellphone from a number she didn’t recognize. A hysterical girl was screaming on the other end of the line.

“Mommy, please help me! Someone grabbed me, and I’m in a van. I don’t know where I am!”

It was 4.45pm on 22 March, and it was immediately clear to Holczer that she was experiencing the most unimaginable horror any parent could comprehend: her 14-year-old daughter, Maddy, whom she had left at home 30 minutes earlier, had been kidnapped.

A man quickly got on the line and demanded that the mother withdraw money from her bank and transfer it to his account. He told her that if she or her friend contacted anyone, he would know, and if she refused to comply, he would kill Maddy – whom Holczer could periodically hear screaming in the background. “He said they are happy to send body parts,” the 48-year-old mother recalled.

«

Terrifies people enough that they don’t think to ask to speak to the child, or get an identifying detail, or anything else that would prove it’s anything but a scam. You can understand it, though. And how do you stop this scam?
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Inside “Emojigeddon”: the fight over the future of the Unicode consortium » BuzzFeed News

Charlie Warzel:

»There’s trouble afoot inside the Emoji Council of Elders, or, at the very least, signs of a low-simmering schism that’s being referred to by some of its participants — perhaps with less humor than one might expect — as “Emojigeddon.”

Emails seen by BuzzFeed News reveal an emerging tension at the Unicode Consortium — the 24-year-old organization that was established to develop standards for translating alphabets into code that can be read across all computers and operating systems.

The series of frustrated messages show a deepening rift between those who adhere to the organization’s original mission to code old and obscure and minority languages and those who are investing time and resources toward Unicode’s newer and most popular character sets: emojis, a quirky periodic table of ideograms and smiley faces that cover everything from bemused laughter to swirling, smiling piles of poop. The correspondence offers a peek behind the scenes of the peculiar and little-known organization that’s unexpectedly been tasked with building what some see as the first digital universal language.

«

🤔
link to this extract


The first rule of pricing is: you do not talk about pricing » Medium

Tom Whitwell, in a terrific essay that has been doing the rounds, but should be bookmarked by everyone who ever has to set a price:

»It’s tempting to talk to customers about price.

Your customers — real or potential — will certainly have views about prices that they are keen to share.
Ignore them.

“It is not your customer’s job to set pricing. An optimal price is one that is accepted but not without some initial resistance” as Ash Mauyra explains in this great piece.

It is almost impossible to predict how a customer will react to a particular price by asking them. That’s because they don’t know how they will react.

They have no idea.

“Are you in the market for tea lights on this trip to IKEA?” you might ask. “No” They might say. Or “Yes”. Neither is a useful signal, because they don’t have a clue.

There’s one easy way to find out what customers think about prices. By selling them things.

«

Whitwell was one of the teams at The Times digital edition, which raised its price in 2010 from zero to £2. Calamity didn’t follow. Why not?
link to this extract


A revolutionary new way to access all your files » Dropbox Business Blog

»With Project Infinite, we’re addressing a major issue our users have asked us to solve. The amount of information being created and shared has exploded, but most people still work on devices with limited storage capacity. While teams can store terabyte upon terabyte in the cloud, most individuals’ laptops can only store a small fraction of that. Getting secure access to all the team’s data usually means jumping over to a web browser, a clunky user experience at best.

Project Infinite will enable users to seamlessly and securely access all their Dropbox files from the desktop, regardless of how much space they have available on their hard drives. Everything in the company’s Dropbox that you’re given access to, whether it’s stored locally or in the cloud, will show up in Dropbox on your desktop. If it’s synced locally, you’ll see the familiar green checkmark, while everything else will have a new cloud icon.

«

I suspect this is going to be a business- (or paid-)-only thing. It’s a clever upsell. Here’s the user interface problem you have to figure out, though: if I download a file but now want to free up that space on the hard drive, when I hit “delete” should it be deleted from the cloud? I expect a three-option dialog (Cancel, only from hard drive, from cloud too). But it gets messy.
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The iPhone 6 Blip » Beyond Devices

Jan Dawson argues that iPhone sales growth was on a slowing long-term trend which was artificially interrupted by the larger-screened iPhone 6, for a year:

»The iPhone 6 blip is over, but if iPhone sales land roughly where the analysts expect them to, they’ll be right back on track with where they were headed before the iPhone 6 launched. That’s a big “if” – sales could come in above or below that number, which would suggest either that underlying growth had slowed more dramatically in the past, or that Apple has successfully pushed to a slightly higher long-term growth rate off the back of the iPhone 6 and 6S.

The other big question is what happens in the next few quarters, and whether Apple is able to stay on or above that long-term trend line. Remember that the trend line calls for a 1-1.5% reduction in year on year growth per quarter – on that basis, growth would slow to 6%, 5%, and 4% over the remaining quarters of 2016 with 1% shrinkage, or drop as low as a 1% decline by the end of the year. This is obviously far too precise for a real-world projection, but it gives you some sense of that trajectory if it does continue. It’ll be very interesting to see Apple’s guidance for the June quarter – on the basis of the trajectory, Apple would sell between 39 and 41 million iPhones next quarter. But of course, it’s just launched the iPhone SE, which could change things. Anything below 40m iPhones (or $40bn in revenue guidance) is a sign that Apple is dropping below its long-term trajectory, and would be bad news. Anything above that is cause for optimism, at least in the short term.

«

As noted above, Apple is guiding $41-43bn.
link to this extract


Your media business will not be saved » Medium

Joshua Topolsky (a key mover behind the original Engadget, and then The Verge, who then went to Bloomberg, where things didn’t go well; he’s currently freelance):

»The truth is that the best and most important things the media (let’s say specifically the news media) has ever made were not made to reach the most people — they were made to reach the right people. Because human beings exist, and we are not content consumption machines. What will save the media industry — or at least the part worth saving — is when we start making Real Things for people again, instead of programming for algorithms or New Things.

So what will matter in the next age of media?

Compelling voices and stories, real and raw talent, new ideas that actually serve or delight an audience, brands that have meaning and ballast; these are things that matter in the next age of media. Thinking of your platform as an actual platform, not a delivery method.

«

This sounds great; there’s also an excoriation earlier of the business model of most publishing sites, and an overdone – to my view – criticism of news organisations for not “getting” digital; the ones I’ve been at have got it all too well. But this sound like a recipe for targeting premium readers/viewers, which already happens (FT, WSJ, New York Times). And I don’t quite see what “thinking of your platform as an actual platform” means in terms of “compelling voices and stories”. Clearly Topolsky does, but he isn’t quite willing to share it yet.
link to this extract


A leak wounded this company. Fighting the Feds finished it off » Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Dune Lawrence:

»That Tuesday, LabMD’s general manager came in to tell Daugherty about a call he’d just fielded from a man named Robert Boback. Boback claimed to have gotten hold of a file full of LabMD patient information. This was scary for a medical business that had to comply with federal rules on privacy, enshrined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. I need proof, Daugherty told his deputy. Get it in writing.

Boback e-mailed the document. It was a LabMD billing report containing data, including Social Security numbers, on more than 9,000 patients. Boback quickly got to the sales pitch: His company, Tiversa, offered an investigative service that could identify the source and severity of the breach that had exposed this data and stop any further spread of sensitive information.

LabMD’s four-person IT team found the problem almost immediately: The manager of the billing department had been using LimeWire file-sharing software to download music. Without knowing it, she’d left her documents folder, which contained the insurance report now in Tiversa’s possession, open for sharing with other users of the peer-to-peer network.

«

You think (because of the headline and that last sentence) that you know where this story goes. You don’t. Read it; it’s shocking and disquieting.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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

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

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EU prepares for Android crackdown » FT.com

Christian Oliver and Murad Ahmed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

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

 


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

Chris Lake:

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

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

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

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

 


The humans hiding behind the chatbots » Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

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

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

«

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

 


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

Mark Savage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

Once again, Metallica is OK (as they were when they were suing Napster in 2000) but it’s the other, mid-tier bands that will be missing out. Streaming is a terrible business model, but YouTube makes it look like a goldrush.
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Sony says Kumamoto plant not main site for smartphone components » Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki:

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

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

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

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

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

«

link to this extract

 


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

Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein:

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

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

 


Hacking your phone » CBS News

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

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

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

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

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

Sharyn Alfonsi: Should be fired?

Rep. Ted Lieu: Absolutely.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Why?

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

«

link to this extract

 


Investigating the algorithms that govern our lives » Columbia Journalism Review

Chava Gourarie:

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

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

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

«

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

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: goodbye Phorm!, the empty iPhone 5C, why we aren’t sharing now, the trouble with specs, and more

Canada’s police – and the UK and US spy agencies? – have had BlackBerry’s global encryption key for some years. Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

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What children learned from the shared family phone » WSJ

Sue Shellenbarger:

»“My dad can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message?” It is an expression we hear less and less as the shared family phone disappears.

Nearly half of U.S. households no longer have landlines and instead rely on their cellphones, up from about 27% five years ago, the National Center for Health Statistics says. Among young adults ages 25 through 34, fewer than one-third have landlines. Even at homes with landlines, the phone rings mainly with telemarketers and poll-takers.

Few miss being tethered by a cord to a three-pound telephone. But family landlines had their pluses. Small children had an opportunity to learn telephone manners, siblings had to share, and parents had to set boundaries governing its use. Now, the shared hub of family communication has given way to solo pursuits on mobile devices.

«

Looked at from this distance, they aren’t such gigantic pluses, are they?

link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Canadian police obtained BlackBerry’s global decryption key » VICE News

Justin Ling and Jordan Pearson:

»A high-level surveillance probe of Montreal’s criminal underworld shows that Canada’s federal policing agency has had a global encryption key for BlackBerry devices since 2010.

The revelations are contained in a stack of court documents that were made public after members of a Montreal crime syndicate pleaded guilty to their role in a 2011 gangland murder. The documents shed light on the extent to which the smartphone manufacturer, as well as telecommunications giant Rogers, cooperated with investigators.

According to technical reports by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that were filed in court, law enforcement intercepted and decrypted roughly one million PIN-to-PIN BlackBerry messages in connection with the probe. The report doesn’t disclose exactly where the key — effectively a piece of code that could break the encryption on virtually any BlackBerry message sent from one device to another — came from. But, as one police officer put it, it was a key that could unlock millions of doors.

«

This would be akin to the backdoor to the iPhone 5C that Apple didn’t want to offer. The story of how the key’s ownership came to be known is pretty remarkable too – gangland killings and all. And what’s the betting that the key has been widely shared among the “Five Eyes” nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, US)?
link to this extract

 


Aim-listed online ads company Phorm goes bust leaving investors £200m out of pocket » Daily Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»Phorm, an Aim-listed online advertising technology specialist that once boasted deals with Britain’s biggest broadband providers before it was engulfed by a privacy scandal, is to cease trading with investors due to lose every penny of the £201m sunk into it.

The directors said they were pulling the plug “in light of the company’s uncertain financial position, lack of trading activities and absence of any suitable funding”.

Shareholders will get nothing from any administration or liquidation, they added. After by repeatedly tapping investors for cash while accumulating total losses of around £250m, Phorm was forced to turn to high interest loans to stay afloat. Those have also now been spent, leaving the company without a website because it is unable to pay the hosting bills.

«

Phorm was offering to do DPI (deep packet inspection) and target ads based on what you were browsing, replacing web banners on sites with its own. ISPs and publishers would reap the benefits. Also, Phorm.

People detested the idea of DPI and targeted ads. Phorm never recovered from a storm of bad PR in 2007-8.
link to this extract

 


Source: Nothing significant found on San Bernardino iPhone so far » CBS News

»A law enforcement source tells CBS News that so far nothing of real significance has been found on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, which was unlocked by the FBI last month without the help of Apple.

It was stressed that the FBI continues to analyze the information on the cellphone seized in the investigation, senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports.

«

No surprise there. This is the employer-supplied, mobile-device-managed phone that Farook left in his car, back at home with his mother who was looking after his child while he and his wife went and shot people. Two other phones were found destroyed in a dumpster.
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Context collapse and context restoration » ROUGH TYPE

The ever-readable Nick Carr on Facebook’s struggle with fewer people offering up their own life details for “sharing”:

»Before social media came along, your social life played out in different and largely separate spheres. You had your friends in one sphere, your family members in another sphere, your coworkers in still another sphere, and so on. The spheres overlapped, but they remained distinct. The self you presented to your family was not the same self you presented to your friends, and the self you presented to your friends was not the one you presented to the people you worked with or went to school with. With a social network like Facebook, all these spheres merge into a single sphere. Everybody sees what you’re doing. Context collapses.

When Mark Zuckerberg infamously said, “You have one identity; the days of you having a different image for your work friends or your co-workers and for the people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he was celebrating context collapse. Context collapse is a wonderful thing for a company like Facebook because a uniform self, a self without context, is easy to package as a commodity. The protean self is a fly in the Facebook ointment.

Facebook’s problem now is not context collapse but its opposite: context restoration. When people start backing away from broadcasting intimate details about themselves, it’s a sign that they’re looking to reestablish some boundaries in their social lives, to mend the walls that social media has broken. It’s an acknowledgment that the collapse of multiple social contexts into a single one-size-fits-all context circumscribes a person’s freedom.

«

link to this extract

 


Chinese phone companies are speaking my language » The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»I think we lose something (maybe not entirely tangible) when we adapt the presentation of technological products to the lowest-common-denominator audience. Apple obviously doesn’t agree, and it set the tone for simplifying technology and making it seem less daunting — but maybe we’ve overcorrected. At the same Mobile World Congress where Xiaomi made me grin with joy at its no-nonsense deep dives into things like Deep Trench Isolation, LG was conducting a slow-motion car crash of an event for its new G5 flagship. The Korean company had hired a distinctly unlikeable actor to demonstrate all the various features of its new phone in a series of video skits. I was left scratching my head as to whether it was a form of self-parody or truly unintentional comedy of awkwardness. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

I’m not intimately familiar with the priorities of Chinese consumers, but judging by the devices fashioned out by their local manufacturers, high specs remain highly desirable (along with the rising importance of distinctive and attractive design). Maybe it’s easier for Meizu and Xiaomi to market themselves with a straightforward message to their national audience because that audience isn’t yet jaded and cynical about technological advancements. But I still firmly believe that the message of real technological progress is a universally appealing one.

«

Usually I agree with Savov’s evaluations, but on this I don’t. Most people really don’t care about, and truly don’t understand, technological numbers or concepts. For example, Deep Trench Isolation (which I think did get a mention in Apple’s iPhone 6S launch) is so abstruse that barely anyone can properly understand it; the word for such not-understood-but-used-to-impress phrases is “jargon”.

What people do react to is outcomes – or solutions if you prefer. Does the phone take great pictures? Do things happen quickly? When you scroll, is the scrolling smooth? Those details aren’t determined by hardware numbers alone, which is why “feeds and speeds” don’t tell the story of a device. A deca-core smartphone won’t necessarily do more, or do it faster, than a dual-core one like the iPhone 6S, and understanding why that’s so is important for the journalist (and, arguably, the reader who might spend money).
link to this extract

 


The digital media bloodbath: hundreds of jobs lost » BuzzFeed News

Matthew Zeitlin:

»For media companies chasing the biggest possible audiences, it’s hard to resist the lure of a story blowing up on Facebook. When the social network’s algorithms smile upon a particularly shareable post, it can put it in front of millions of people — sometimes tens of millions. That has led many ambitious media companies to pursue Facebook traffic relentlessly — a pursuit some believe will be fatal to all but the biggest players.

“The cracks are beginning to show, the dependence on platforms has meant they are losing their core identity,” said Rafat Ali, the founder and editor-in-chief of Skift, a news site focused on the travel industry. “If you are just a brand in the feed, as opposed to a brand that users come to, that will catch up to you sometime.”

Mashable, for example, started out as a narrowly focused publication targeting the social media business and then, engorged with venture capital, chased scale. Ali pointed to sites like Mic and Refinery29 that started out small and are trying to ride viral success to become something larger. “The reality is that scale for scale’s sake will catch up with people.”

«

The biggest number of jobs lost is at Al-Jazeera US, where 700 have gone. The others are generally fewer than 100 (excepting the Guardian, which intends to lay off around 250). The feeling that it’s venture-funded sites that are struggling is tempting, but not quite proven: both AJA and The Guardian have entirely different funding models.
link to this extract

 


University of California at Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from internet » The Sacramento Bee

Sam Stanton and Diana Lambert:

»UC Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, newly released documents show.

The payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident.

Some payments were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009. Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93m in 2009 to $5.47m in 2015.

«

The “right to be forgotten for enough money”. (It’s done by stuffing the web with “favourable” content about the organisation, and/or seeking to get the other content removed.)
link to this extract

 


Google removes links on celebrity injunction couple » The Guardian

Jasper Jackson:

»Google has removed links to articles about the celebrity couple at the centre of a injunction in response to legal requests.

Searches for the names of either person return notices at the bottom of the page saying results have been removed.

Removed entries on both sets of searches are linked to the same legal requests. However, links to a database which records takedown notices go to pages without any information.

The Daily Mail reported that an online privacy firm claiming to be acting on behalf of the couple had complained about more than 150 links on the search engine.

The removal notices are more normally used for taking down links to copyrighted information. They are different to the messages Google posts when it removes links under EU “right to be forgotten” rules.

Google declined to comment.

«

Well, of course Google wouldn’t comment; how is it going to balance its visceral hate of the “right to be forgotten” with its insistence that it’s “organising the world’s information” while also freeing the oppressed from the yoke of censorship? There’s no way to square that circle. (Is Facebook doing the same?)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the iPhone crackers, tick-tock dies, the Instagram trojan returns, Microsoft’s AI bot, and more

Life was simpler in some ways when you could just feed these to get your parking time. Photo by PeterJBellis on Flickr.

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Israeli mobile forensics firm helping FBI unlock seized iPhone, report says » Ars Technica UK

David Kravets:

»On Sunday [as it also withdrew its court request against Apple], according to public records, the FBI committed to a $15,278 “action obligation” with Cellebrite. An “action obligation” is the lowest amount the government has agreed to pay. No other details of the contract were available, and the Justice Department declined comment. Cellebrite, however, has reportedly assisted US authorities in accessing an iPhone.

For now, US-based security experts believe that Cellebrite does have the wherewithal to perform the task.

“I’m really not at liberty to confirm the third party, but based on the techniques I’ve described in my blog on the subject, I think Cellebrite, as well as many large forensics firms like it, have the capability to perform such tasks,” forensic scientist Jonathan Zdziarski told Ars in an e-mail. “DriveSavers, for example, has released statements yesterday suggesting they’re almost there. I think the techniques are pretty straight forward for firms like these now that the tech community has had a chance to comment.”

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They made him a moron » The Baffler

Evgeny Morozov was invited to the State Department in October 2009 to meet Alec Ross, then innovation adviser to Hillary Clinton:

»Out of courtesy, I did share some thoughts with Ross, but it wasn’t long before our paths diverged.[*] I soon became a critic of the U.S. government’s “Internet freedom agenda,” while Ross and his colleague and friend Jared Cohen (then on the policy planning staff of the State Department and now the head of Google Ideas) embarked on adventures so reckless and ridiculous, so obsequious to the interests of Silicon Valley and offensive to anyone well-versed in the diplomatic trade, that some career staffers at the State Department began to ridicule, anonymously, of course, their cluelessness on social media.

Ross’s tenure at the State Department was, by and large, a failure. His efforts to promote “twenty-first-century statecraft”—Clinton’s lofty vision for American power that would put “Internet freedom” and digital technologies at its core—floundered after the State Department was confronted by Cablegate, the release of a massive library of leaked diplomatic cables that began in late 2010 and was coordinated by WikiLeaks. Ross, who claimed the twenty-first-century-statecraft concept as his own and hoped that it would become “a major part of [Clinton’s] legacy,” was suddenly forced into damage control. Few would find his pronouncements on “Internet freedom” credible after the State Department’s reaction to WikiLeaks.

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Morozov reviews Ross’s book “The Industries of the Future”: it’s like watching a master sushi chef at work. And the footnote attached to that [*] above is worth the clickthrough on its own.

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Notes on Apple’s refresh – cheaper iPhones and iPads for real work » Benedict Evans

His observation:

»what Apple has really done is moved from selling older models at discounts with the ‘proper’ iPhone starting at $600, to starting the iPhone range at $400 and scaling up on screen size and price.

There are a bunch of interesting second-order implications for this. By launching six months after the actual iPhone 6S Apple smooths out the supply chain and reduces cannibalization from people who really want the ‘newest one’, and probably gets better component prices. But it’s still selling premium components instead of 2-year-old components at $400 instead of $600, so I’d expect a long discussion of margin implications at the next quarterly call. And this also points to how misguided it is to poke around in earnings releases from Apple’s supply chain to work out iPhone sales. One can also wonder what happens in the next product cycle – presumably the iPhone 6 disappears, the 6S goes to $500 and the SE is refreshed, perhaps without a new name. Or does it go to $300? Certainly it’ll be on the second-hand market at $200.

But the key thing is that after 8 years, the iPhone range really now starts at $400, not $600 or more.

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​Cashless parking was meant to make life easier for drivers but our phones are awash with competing apps » The Independent

Rhodri Marsden:

»When I was prompted by a roadside sign to download yet another cashless parking app, my patience finally snapped. I now had four of them on my phone – PayByPhone, RingGo, Parkmobile and ParkRight, all of which required me to undergo a laborious sign-up procedure, keying credit-card details and registration numbers into my phone while I sat on the bonnet, accruing parking charges.

The competitive marketplace for cashless parking has resulted in a fragmented and rather irritating experience for motorists who don’t have a handy stash of pound coins; as well as the aforementioned apps, there are others such as Phoneandpay, MiPermit and Whoosh, all promising to liberate us from the tyranny of the parking meter but ignoring the fact that we don’t care who we pay: we just want to park.

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85% of cashless parking controlled by two apps, the other 15% by a sprawl of others. Really good research by Marsden, but there’s no solution in sight. One point he didn’t make, but which I notice: paying by app is often more expensive than paying for a physical ticket.
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Intel officially kills “tick-tock” » The Motley Fool

Ashraf Eassa:

»back in mid-2015, Intel admitted that its 10-nanometer technology was in rough shape and wouldn’t go into production at the end of the year as expected. In the company’s most recent form 10-K filing, it went ahead and officially declared “Tick-Tock” [by which it reduces the die size in one year, and in the next year improves the microarchitecture] dead.

Intel’s wording in the form 10-K filing is as following:

“We expect to lengthen the amount of time we will utilize out 14 [nanometer] and out next-generation 10 [nanometer] process technologies, further optimizing out products and process technologies while meeting the yearly market cadence for product introductions.”

The company even includes an interesting visual aid to contrast the differences between the previous methodology and the current one:

Intel says that its third 14-nanometer product, known as Kaby Lake, will have “key performance advancements as compared to [its] 6th generation Core processor family.” The extent of these enhancements is clear, but leaks to the Web suggest enhancements to graphics and media.

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Along with Moore’s Law fading, this is an epochal moment. And the other one is…
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Andy Grove and the iPhone SE » Stratechery

A terrific piece on Andy Grove, the legendary Intel chief executive, by Ben Thompson; rather than just a recap, he puts Grove’s contribution into useful perspective:

»Beyond Grove’s personal background, the importance of Intel to the technology industry — and, by extension, to the world — cannot be overstated. While Moore is immortalized for having created “Moore’s Law”, the truth is that the word “Law” is a misnomer: the fact that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years is the result of a choice made first and foremost by Intel to spend the amount of time and money necessary to make Moore’s Law a reality. This choice, by extension, made everything else in technology possible: the PC, the Internet, the mobile phone. And, the person most responsible for making this choice was Grove (and, I’d add, his presence in management was the biggest differentiator between Intel and its predecessors, both of which included Noyce and Moore).

That wasn’t Intel and Grove’s only contribution to Silicon Valley, either: Grove created a culture predicated on a lack of hierarchy, vigorous debate, and buy-in to the cause (compensated with stock). In other words, Intel not only made future tech companies possible, it also provided the template for how they should be run, and how knowledge workers broadly should be managed.

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Thompson’s daily Stratechery newsletter is well worth the (inexpensive) subscription. Talking of which..
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Blendle launches its ‘iTunes for News’ in the US » Fortune

Mathew Ingram interviewed Alexander Klopping of the “pay-for-articles-you-read” service:

»Q: Why would someone sign up for Blendle?

Klopping: Whenever you ask people “would you like to pay for journalism?” most people shrug. Why would they? But then most people responded the same way 10 years ago when asked about paying for music. I never thought I would pay $10 a month for Spotify, but I do. It’s not just about access to music, but also the app is really nice, my friends are on it, it helps me find music with Discover. When you think about journalism, having one account for everything, a service that helps you find and pay for the best stuff—that doesn’t exist. And it didn’t exist for music, but then it happened.

Fortune: So it’s not just about payment, but also curation?

Klopping: Yes. We hire editors, and those editors read everything on the platform, and they figure out staff picks. They choose the most interesting stories and they also choose stories that fit into categories or sections, and when a user shows interest in articles from a section we show them more. So there’s human curation plus a layer on top that is algorithmic. And on top of that there’s a social graph, so when your Twitter friends have shared an article that’s a good indication you might like it.

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The point about whether hard news monetises well (it doesn’t) is notable. My question is, does paying free you from seeing ads?
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Password-stealing Instagram app ‘InstaAgent’ reappears in App Store under new name » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»Last November, a malicious app called InstaAgent was caught storing the usernames and passwords of Instagram users, sending them to a suspicious remote server. After the app’s activities came to light, Apple removed it from the App Store, but it now appears Turker Bayram, the developer behind the app has managed to get two new apps approved by Apple, (and Google) both of which are stealing Instagram account info.

Peppersoft developer David L-R, who discovered the insidious password-sniffing feature in the first InstaAgent app, last week wrote a post outlining new password stealing apps created by Bayram. Called “Who Cares With Me – InstaDetector” and “InstaCare – Who Cares With Me,” the apps are available on Android and iOS devices.

The original InstaAgent app attracted Instagram users by promising to track the people who visited their Instagram account, and the two new apps make similar promises. Both apps say they display a list of users who interact most often with an Instagram account, asking users to log in with an Instagram username and password.

David L-R investigated Bayram’s new apps and discovered a suspicious HTTPS packet, leading him to uncover a complex encryption process used to covertly send usernames and passwords to a third-party server and hide the evidence.

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OK, this is bad; but as a user, why would you trust a third-party app from a no-name developer with your login details? Or is that too obvious a question?
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Meet Tay – Microsoft A.I. chatbot with zero chill » Microsoft

»Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.

Tay is targeted at 18 to 24 year old in the US.

Tay may use the data that you provide to search on your behalf. Tay may also use information you share with her to create a simple profile to personalize your experience. Data and conversations you provide to Tay are anonymized and may be retained for up to one year to help improve the service.

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The bath continues to warm.
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“Just have a look at this graph…” – BBC Newsnight » YouTube

How Newsnight bills it: “The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, on the Conservative welfare row after the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, resigns.”

What it really is: a Tory (right-wing) minister who was the only one willing to go on TV programmes to defend the government’s budget. She’s ambushed by a data visualisation showing the impact of the planned tax changes on the incomes of the different population deciles. (You can find the original graph on page 4 of this Institute of Fiscal Studies publication. The IFS is generally regarded as politically central/neutral.)

(Via Andy Cotgreave of dataviz company Tableau.)
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Google is making a keyboard for the iPhone » The Verge

A veritable scoop from Casey Newton:

»The Google keyboard incorporates a number of features meant to distinguish it from the stock iOS keyboard. Like its Android counterpart, the Google keyboard for iOS employs gesture-based typing, so you can slide your finger from one letter to the next and let Google guess your intended word. Tap the Google logo and you can access traditional web search. It also appears to have distinct buttons for pictures and GIF searches, both presumably powered by Google image search. The keyboard is visually distinct from the standard Android keyboard, which incorporates voice search but no text or image-based searching.

The keyboard, which has been in circulation among employees for months, is designed to boost the number of Google searches on iOS. While the company all but holds a monopoly on the global search market, there’s evidence that mobile search is proving much less lucrative for Google than the desktop. Using publicly available numbers, journalist Charles Arthur argued in October that half of smartphone users perform zero searches per day. (Using the same math, Arthur said desktop users perform an average of 1.23 searches per day.)… The problem for Google — and for Alphabet, its parent company — is that search is where Google shows users its most expensive ads. Any sign of decline in search would be an existential threat to the company.

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Logically, I’d expect that searches begun from this keyboard don’t count as part of the Google-Apple Safari search deal (reckoned to be very lucrative for Apple). Apple pares away at Google’s income in one place, Google drags it back in another. However, I’d expect this to be a comparatively small number, though. It’s not as if this is Maps, after all.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: