Start up: Apple v Trump, Ev Williams v text, Google’s learning bet, Snapchat’s magazine plan, and more


iOS 10’s notifications are different – but there are plenty of other changes forthcoming in September (or so). Photo by tualamac on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Save some for later – don’t bloat. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ev Williams is the Forrest Gump of the internet • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»“The worst world, the scary version, is if the tricks to get attention are a skill developed and owned primarily by profit-driven companies,” [Ev Williams] told me. “I’d go back to the food analogy. What are people going to be consuming most of the time? They’re optimizing for clicks and dollars. Can a person who has a unique perspective play that game? Are they just going to get trounced?”

This is Medium’s reason for existing: to protect individual writers in the fierce and nasty content jungles. Resistance to the centralization generally is futile, he believes, citing Wu. “That’s the way the Internet works, and that’s the way humans work,” he says. “Efficiency and ROI and economies of scale and user experience—they’re all going to drive more things to consolidate. I kind of look at that as a force of nature. But if things consolidate, does that mean that everything is shit?”

That is the Medium appeal, in a nutshell. Keeping everything from being shit. It wants to do so by adopting many of the tics and habits of the original blogosphere—the intertextuality, the back-and-forth, the sense of amateurism—without being the open web. It will use its own custom metrics, like time-spent-reading, to decide who sees what stories; and it will tend to show your friends something if you “recommend” it. Medium, yes, will just be another platform, but it will run the open web in an emulator.

«

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Google’s bold move to reinvent every device on the planet • Forbes

Miguel Helft:

»the techniques used to recognize images in Google Photos are able to power StreetView’s ability to “read” signs and Project Sunroof’s ability to identify rooftops that are suitable for solar panels based on aerial images. It’s also enabling a small experimental team at Google to effectively detect diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that can lead to blindness, by looking at iris scans. “It’s a pretty significant shift,” Dean says. “Word is spreading throughout the company that there is this new capability to solve problems in this way,” he says, in reference to the new AI techniques.

What started as a research project with a handful of people has grown to perhaps hundreds–Dean refuses to say how many–who have developed algorithms, computer systems and, more recently, Google’s own chips, all customized for these AI approaches. (Google Brain’s software tools are known as TensorFlow and the chips as Tensor Processing Units.) As a result there are now more than 2,000 projects inside the company applying Google Brain’s capabilities to scores of products. Dean’s group has held machine-learning office hours, and thousands of Google engineers have gone through internal courses that can last weeks. “It went from being a research project to a mainstream engineering activity,” says John Giannandrea, an AI expert appointed by Pichai to lead the company’s search efforts.

«

You have to wade through a certain amount if you’re familiar with Google, but there are useful insights here too.
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Facebook is wrong, text is deathless • Kottke

Tim Carmody on the suggestion from Facebook that “video is going to take over from text”:

»Maybe this is coming from deep within the literacy bubble, but:

Text is surprisingly resilient. It’s cheap, it’s flexible, it’s discreet. Human brains process it absurdly well considering there’s nothing really built-in for it. Plenty of people can deal with text better than they can spoken language, whether as a matter of preference or necessity. And it’s endlessly computable – you can search it, code it. You can use text to make it do other things.

In short, all of the same technological advances that enable more and more video, audio, and immersive VR entertainment also enable more and more text. We will see more of all of them as the technological bottlenecks open up.

And text itself will get weirder, its properties less distinct, as it reflects new assumptions and possibilities borrowed from other tech and media. It already has! Text can be real-time, text can be ephemeral – text has taken on almost all of the attributes we always used to distinguish speech, but it’s still remained text. It’s still visual characters registered by the eye standing in for (and shaping its own) language.

«

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And another thing about Theranos… • LinkedIn

Sten Westgard lists the ten stories about Theranos you may have missed last week, which range from negative to more negative to neutral:

»There’s so much that’s happened that it’s hard to know where to start. Indeed, most of the stories have been covered by other news outlets already, and by real journalists. About the only additional insight we can add here is a closer reading of the lightly redacted inspection report. Because buried in that are some performance details that no one else seems to have noticed.

Let’s start with the QC [quality control] failure rates. The inspection report details that there were significant out-of-control results for many tests, sometimes up to 87% of QC results were out more than 2 standard deviations!!

«

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No Signal (and other cellular drama) • YouTube

After last week’s wonderment about whether people in Star Wars are post- (or pre-) literate, here’s how screenplay writers deal with those damn mobile phones which could scupper plots in which people are meant to be out of contact and able to call help. Texas Chainsaw Massacre never had to deal with this (though probably would have in a scene like this).
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‘Could he actually win?’ Dave Eggers at a Donald Trump rally • The Guardian

Dave Eggers went to a Trump rally in Sacramento, California, incognito, and found it more mixed (racially, sexually) than you’d expect, and more relaxed, but found this:

»He has reversed himself on nearly every major issue, often in the same week, and has offered scant specifics on anything in particular – though in Sacramento, about infrastructure, he did say, “We’re gonna have new roads, bridges, all that stuff”.

His supporters do not care. Nothing in Trump’s platform matters. There is no policy that matters. There is no promise that matters. There is no villain, no scapegoat, that matters. If, tomorrow, he said that Canadians, not Mexicans, were rapists and drug dealers, and the wall should be built on that border, no one would blink. His poll numbers would not waver. Because there are no positions and no statements that matter to them. There is only the man, the name, the brand, the personality they have seen on television.

Believing that Trump’s supporters are all fascists or racists is a grave mistake. This day in Sacramento presented a different picture, of a thousand or so regular people who thought it was pretty cool how Trump showed up in a plane with his name on it. How naughty it was when he called the president “stupid”. How funny it was when he said the word “huge” the peculiar way he does, without the “h” (the audience yelled back “uuuuge!”, laughing half with him, half at him). In the same way we rooted for Clay a few years ago when he showed up as an actual actor in a Woody Allen movie, the audience at a Trump rally is thinking, How funny would it be if this guy were across the table from Angela Merkel? That would be classic.

«

It’s long, but eminently worth reading. My next question is: will Eggers go to a Hillary Clinton rally, and what would he think of what he found there? I’d like to know.
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Apple won’t aid GOP convention over Trump • POLITICO

Tony Romm:

»Apple has told Republican leaders it will not provide funding or other support for the party’s 2016 presidential convention, as it’s done in the past, citing Donald Trump’s controversial comments about women, immigrants and minorities.

Unlike Facebook, Google and Microsoft, which have all said they will provide some support to the GOP event in Cleveland next month, Apple decided against donating technology or cash to the effort, according to two sources familiar with the iPhone maker’s plans.

Apple’s political stand against Trump, communicated privately to Republicans, is a sign of the widening schism between Silicon Valley and the GOP’s bombastic presumptive nominee. Trump has trained his rhetorical fire on the entire tech industry, but he’s singled out Apple for particular criticism – calling for a boycott of the company’s products, and slamming CEO Tim Cook, over Apple’s stance on encryption.

«

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Understanding the DAO hack for journalists • Medium

David Siegel, with a long long long explanation of how someone hacked a cryptocurrency (another event that’s becoming everyday) and siphoned off a ton:

»I will call the attacker a lone male, even though I have no idea if he is one. What happened next was interesting. In an open letter to The DAO and Ethereum Community, the attacker supposedly claimed that his “reward” was legal and threatened to take legal action against anyone who tried to invalidate his work. Several people pointed out that the cryptographic signature in this message wasn’t valid — it could be fake. But it’s well written and, from a certain point of view, well reasoned: the premise of smart contracts is that they are their own arbiters and that nothing outside the code can “change the rules” of the transaction.

Later, through an intermediary, the attacker claimed that he would put a stop to the organized “theft” of his property by rewarding miners (nodes) who don’t go along with the proposed soft fork, saying:

»

[S]oon we will have a smart contract to reward miners who oppose the soft fork and mines the transaction. 1 million ether + 100 btc will be shared with miners.

«

This is clearly a complex dynamic system. These messages from “The Attacker” cannot be verified, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Next, I will try to categorize the responses from the community.

«

I’m really glad I’m not the person writing the story about this if this is the “understanding” bit. First explain to a newsdesk what DAO is; then what Ethereum is; then smart contracts; then…
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Ericsson Mobility Report Q1 2016 • Ericsson

Lots and lots of things in this, such as this:

»although teens reported the lowest cellular data consumption for video streaming apps among all age groups in both July 2014 and October 2015, the higher reliance on smartphones for video viewing at any time of the day means that teen video data consumption over cellular networks is growing rapidly.

Only 30–35 year olds have a higher growth rate than teens for cellular video streaming data usage. However, the overall mobile video data consumption (including both cellular and Wi-Fi) among this group is around 2.5 GB/month. That is only a fth of the teens’ data consumption and the potential for further growth is limited due to the fact that 30–35 year olds are still rooted in traditional TV viewing behavior.

Overall, teens are the heaviest users of data for smartphone video streaming apps and have the second highest rate of cellular video data consumption growth. Since we are witnessing a generational change, current teens are likely to increase their appetite for cellular data as they grow older – making them the most important group to watch for cellular operators.

«

But plenty more, such as the internet of things outnumbering smartphone subscriptions by 2018.
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Snapchat is starting Real Life, an online magazine about technology • VentureBeat

Jordan Novet:

»In a blog post today describing the new initiative, Snapchat employee and social media critic Nathan Jurgenson writes that “Snapchat is now funding Real Life.” In an email to VentureBeat, he declined to elaborate on the nature of the funding, but he did confirm that Real Life is “owned” by Snapchat.

“Real Life will publish essays, arguments, and narratives about living with technology,” Jurgenson writes. “It won’t be a news site with gadget reviews or industry gossip. It will be about how we live today and how our lives are mediated by devices.” (This sounds a little like the turf of New York Magazine‘s recently launched Select All.) The publication will cover beauty, power, privacy, and relationships, among other things, and “we aim to address the political uses of technology, including some of the worst practices both inside and outside the tech industry itself,” writes Jurgenson.

So now Snapchat will technically have web content that is visible on desktop computers. No longer will Snapchat be constrained to mobile devices. And, at least initially, the medium will be primarily text, unlike the video stories and snaps the Southern California company has become known for.

«

Unfathomable. How does this do anything for Snapchat?
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The Talk Show ✪: Live From WWDC 2016, With Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi • Daring Fireball

»Recorded in front of a live audience in San Francisco, John Gruber is joined by Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi to discuss the news from WWDC: WatchOS 3, MacOS 10.12 Sierra, iOS 10, and more.

«

There’s also a transcript. Last year it was just Schiller. (“Just” Schiller.) I guess they can pick from Schiller, Federighi and Eddy Cue for a few years before it has to aim for the top with Cook. After whom, what?
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All the hidden, awesome stuff in iOS 10 Apple didn’t announce • Lifehacker

Thorin Klosowski:

»iOS updates aren’t as exciting as they used to be, so the best stuff is often the little features that slip through the keynote cracks but make your iPhone or iPad work much better. Case in point, some of the hidden stuff in early iOS 10 betas is way more exciting than what Apple actually announced this week.

«

It isn’t all but it’s a few of the more fun things – alarm redesign, Maps remembering where you parked if you used it to navigate in a car, no more “slide to unlock”, a few more. I think the death of “slide to unlock” (and its companion, where Music controls in Control Centre are now to the right) is going to be the one that causes the most perplexity.
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The elements of stickers • Andreessen Horowitz

Connie Chan, a partner at venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz:

»What is surprising — especially when compared to the more mature messaging ecosystem in Asia — is that many people still tend to treat stickers (i.e., the ability to easily incorporate pre-set images into texts) as just-for-fun frivolity, when they’re an important visual digital language fully capable of communicating a nuanced range of thoughts. For example, a single sticker could convey very different messages: “I’m so hungry I could collapse” or “I miss you” or “I’m sound asleep snoring”. Complex feelings, actions, punch lines, and memes are all possible with stickers.

They are an acceptable response to “end” a real-time back and forth conversation (great for punchlines). They are a low-risk way of saying hi and initiating a chat with an acquaintance. And they reduce the social friction of saying something emotional in text form; this is especially helpful in a culture that is known to be less outwardly expressive even to one’s own family members and friends (where it is far less awkward to send a virtual-fistbump sticker than it is to tell someone directly that they’re a wonderful friend).

And sometimes stickers can convey what words cannot! This form of visual communication has become so popular in Asia — especially in China’s WeChat and Japan’s LINE — that it is not uncommon to see a deep thread of multiple messages without a single word. They’re not just for those crazy young kids. More notably, stickers are commonly used in professional, not just personal, chats as well. Not so frivolous after all. In fact, stickers are so core to the success of Line, that its CEO actually credited them as the “turning point” for that app. He shared that it took Line Messenger almost four months to find its first two million users … but after stickers were launched, it took only two days to find the next million. The company now makes over $270m a year just from selling stickers.

«

This is essential to understanding why Apple has gone so big on stickers for iOS 10’s iMessage. Chan is highly worth reading on all these topics.
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How hired hackers got “complete control” of Palantir • BuzzFeed News

William Alden on how Veris Systems was hired to hack into Palantir:

»Even Palantir’s defense efforts were visible to the red team. The intruders found an “InfoSec Onboarding” page on the wiki that detailed Palantir’s security infrastructure. They monitored security devices and “ensured that their actions were not being logged.”

This was when, according to the report, the red team intruders had “complete control” of the Palantir domain. Their final task was to break into the Mac laptops of information security employees — the fortress guards. This they did, using a system that typically sent out software updates, and soon were able to get passwords and screenshots, review saved files, and “observe all user activity,” the report says.

They were finally caught while attempting to upload a screenshot to one of their own servers, according to the report. A piece of security software called Little Snitch — which regulates data sent out from a computer to the internet — was installed on one of the information security employees’ laptops, and it flagged the suspicious upload attempt, the report says. Little Snitch, while popular in the cybersecurity world, was not standard software for these employees, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Soon, Palantir security employees identified the red team’s attack tools and set up firewalls to block communications to the red team servers. These defenders “successfully demonstrated the ability to trace malicious activity across the domain and take the appropriate steps to neutralize an insider threat,” the report says.

But the red team still had an edge.

«

Veris was let through the firewall on purpose, to see what would happen if someone was spearphished. Turns out: a lot.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notifed.

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.

You could always sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email.

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


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

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

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

Cellphone radiation is still safer than viral science stories • Mashable

Jason Abbruzzese:

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

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

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

«

They’re all terrible misrepresentations. Survival in the control group of males was lower than in the exposed group of males. So.. mobile phones make you live longer?
link to this extract


Why Google and Boston Dynamics are parting ways • Tech Insider

Danielle Muoio:

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

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

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

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

«

Word is that Boston Dynamics is being sold to Toyota.
link to this extract


Clinton’s email shenanigans sure don’t look like an honest mistake • Bloomberg View

Megan McArdle:

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

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

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

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

«

Clinton really, really screwed this up.
link to this extract


Q&A with an Apple Store worker: ‘yes, it’s like a cult’ • Business Insider

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

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

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

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

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

BI: So why is Apple not promoting these people?

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

«

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

Jack Marshall:

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

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

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

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

«

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

Robinson Meyer:

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

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

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

«

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

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

«

link to this extract


Does online media have a political agenda? • Parsely

Conrad Lee:

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

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

PLAY WITH OUR DATA

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

«

link to this extract


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

Evgeny Morozov:

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

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

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

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

«

link to this extract


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

Jack Clark and Scott Moritz:

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

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

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

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

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

«

link to this extract


On Peter Thiel and Gawker • Elizabeth Spiers

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

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

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

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

«

link to this extract


When journalism gets confused with cyberbullying • Medium

Kristi Culpepper:

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

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

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

«

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

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

Sarah Scharf:

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

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

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

«

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

Steve Kovach:

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

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

«

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

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


Yes, Runkeeper tracks your runs. But Norway’s consumer council thinks it tracks more than that. Photo by Gordon on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Ain’t that something? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The smart home is stuck • Tech.pinions

Jan Dawson:

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

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

«

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

Adriene Lafrance:

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

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

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

«

Didn’t know the Wikipedia stat, but that’s really persuasive.
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John McAfee apparently tried to trick reporters into thinking he hacked WhatsApp • Gizmodo

William Turton:

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

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

«

Pointless.
link to this extract


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

Caroline Donnelly:

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

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

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

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

«

First there’s a deal; then it turns out it’s not directly approved. The complaint is essentially that individuals at Google/Deepmind might access personal data. This is the essential battleground of the coming years: how compatible is tight data regulation with data mining?
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Let’s talk about Amazon reviews: how we spot the fakes • The Wirecutter

Lauren Dragan:

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

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

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

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

«

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

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

Jonathan Ford:

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

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

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

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

«

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

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

«

So stock grants are a cost. So they come off the bottom (operating) line. I’m constantly surprised by how many companies’ non-GAAP results are reported as if they were the ones to compare.
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Google faces record-breaking fine for web search monopoly abuse • Sunday Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

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

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

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

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

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

«

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


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

David Meyer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

«

Here’s Runkeeper’s privacy policy. It’s astonishingly vague (though in that respect, probably not so different from other privacy policies). What intrigues me is why the Runkeeper CEO didn’t just say “nah, we don’t collect data after your run.”
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Five things you can get in India with a missed call • WSJ

Shefali Anand:

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

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

«

Brilliant. Recalls how, in the days when long-distance calls were expensive, kids on their travels would call the operator and ask to set up a reverse-charge call to their parents. Parent’s phone rings: “Alley Okey is calling from Wichita, Kansas. Will you accept the charge?” Parent: “No.” Conversation ends, with parent knowing that the kid is OK and presently in Wichita.
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Chinese smartphone market has slowed, but Huawei, Oppo & Vivo have not • Counterpoint Technology

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

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

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

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

«

Other notable points: 98% of phones sold were smartphones (hence Microsoft’s 90% year-on-year drop); the “premium” segment of RMB3000+ ($450+) makes up a fifth of the market, with Apple, Samsung and Vivo dominating.
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HTML5 by default: Google’s plan to make Chrome’s Flash click-to-play • Ars Technica UK

Peter Bright:

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

«

Great!

»

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

«

Crap.

»

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

«

“After the fourth quarter of 2017”, aka 2018. Flash, the desktop web’s malware zombie. (Notice that all those sites somehow muddle through on mobile, which is far bigger, without Flash.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Google’s health data grab, Intel’s mobile halt, satire wars, iPad Pro beats Surface Pro, and more


The ex-chief of Microsoft Windows has bought one, and he reckons it’s important. And IDC reckoned it outsold the Surface in the 1Q. Photo by matsuyuki on Flickr.

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A selection of 14 links for you. Yeah, I know, but I couldn’t stop. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How AI can predict heart failure before it’s diagnosed » NVIDIA Blog

»The last place you want to learn you have heart failure is where it often winds up being diagnosed: in the emergency room.

Researchers analyzing electronic health records are using  artificial intelligence and GPUs to get ahead of this curve. They’ve shown they can predict heart failure as much as nine months before doctors can now deliver the diagnosis.

A research team from Sutter Health, a Northern California not-for-profit health system, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, believe their method has the potential to reduce heart failure rates and possibly save lives.

“The earlier we can detect the disease, the more likely we can change health outcomes for people and improve their quality of life,” said Andy Schuetz, a senior data scientist at Sutter Health and an author of a paper describing one aspect of the research. “That’s what’s exciting to me – the potential to change the future.”

«

Fascinating (though what do you do with the knowledge that you’re probably going to have heart failure in the next nine months? How specific is the diagnosis? The results haven’t yet been published).

Nvidia’s interest is because it builds the graphics processing units (GPUs) which turn out to be ideally suited for machine learning.
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Revealed: Google AI has access to huge haul of NHS patient data | New Scientist

Hal Hodson:

»It’s no secret that Google has broad ambitions in healthcare. But a document obtained by New Scientist reveals that the tech giant’s collaboration with the UK’s National Health Service goes far beyond what has been publicly announced.

The document – a data-sharing agreement between Google-owned artificial intelligence company DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust – gives the clearest picture yet of what the company is doing and what sensitive data it now has access to.

The agreement gives DeepMind access to a wide range of healthcare data on the 1.6 million patients who pass through three London hospitals run by the Royal Free NHS Trust – Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free – each year. This will include information about people who are HIV-positive, for instance, as well as details of drug overdoses and abortions. The agreement also includes access to patient data from the last five years…

…This is the first we’ve heard of DeepMind getting access to historical medical records, says Sam Smith, who runs health data privacy group MedConfidential. “This is not just about kidney function. They’re getting the full data.”

The agreement clearly states that Google cannot use the data in any other part of its business. The data itself will be stored in the UK by a third party contracted by Google, not in DeepMind’s offices. DeepMind is also obliged to delete its copy of the data when the agreement expires at the end of September 2017.

«

From the document: “Data to be processed other than for the direct care of the patient must be pseudonymised in line with the NHS Act 2006″. (Emphasis in original.)
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The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret » Internet of Shit

»As the market eventually saturates and sales of internet-widgets top off, you can bet that everyone from the smallest to largest vendor will look to what’s next: the treasure trove that is everything it knows about you.

Many of the newest IoT devices are the types of household appliances you won’t replace for a decade. We’re talking about a thermostat, fridge, washing machine, kettle, TV or light — long term, there’s just no other way to be sustainable for the creators of these devices.

There is an alternative path that some could take: maybe Nest needs to increase its revenue, so it decides to charge a monthly subscription model for its thermostat. Now you need to pay $5 per month or it’ll lock you out.

The question then, is if you’d pay for it? Will you pay for a subscription for everything in your home?

Maybe: if the device comes for free, with that subscription, and guarantees your data will be kept private… but I suspect that many people prefer to own outright and simply won’t care about the privacy compromise.

The future of your most intimate data being sold to the highest bidder isn’t dystopian. It’s happening now.

«

link to this extract


My tablet has stickers » Learning By Shipping on Medium

Steve Sinofsky (you know, the ex-Windows chief) has moved from a Surface Pro to an iPad Pro for his work:

»Every (single) time the discussion comes up about moving from a laptop/desktop (by this I mean an x86 Windows or Mac) to a tablet (by this I mean one running a mobile OS such as Android or iOS) there are at least several visceral reactions or assertions:

• Tablets are for media consumption and lightweight social.
• Efficiency requires keyboard, mouse, multiple monitors, and customizations and utilities that don’t exist on tablets.
• Work requires software tools that don’t/can’t exist on tablet.

Having debated this for 6+ years, now isn’t the time to win anyone over but allow me to share a perspective on each of these (some of which is also discussed in the podcast and detailed in the posts referenced above)…

…The fact that change takes time should not cause those of us that know the limitations of something new to dig our heels in. Importantly, if you are a maker then by definition you have to get ahead of the change or you will soon find yourself behind.

«

He asks developers, in particular, to butt out of the “but tablets can’t..” discussion.
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The death of Intel’s Atom casts a dark shadow over the rumored Surface Phone » PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

»Intel’s plans to discontinue its Atom chips for phones and some tablets may not have killed the dream of a Microsoft Surface phone—just the piece of it that made it so enticing.

In the wake of a restructuring that relegated the PC to just another connected device, Intel confirmed Friday that it has cancelled its upcoming SoFIA and Broxton chips. That leaves Intel with just one Atom chip, Apollo Lake, which it had slated for convertible tablets.

Microsoft has never formally commented on its future phone plans, save for a leaked email that suggests that Microsoft is committed to the Windows 10 Mobile platform and phones running ARM processors. But fans of the platform have long hoped for a phone that could run native Win32 legacy apps as well as the new UWP platform that Microsoft has made a central platform of Windows 10. The assumption was that this would require a phone running on an Intel Atom processor. Intel’s decision eliminates that option.

Unless Microsoft has some other trick up its sleeve, the most compelling justification for a Win32-based Surface phone appears to have died.«

Kinda big for Intel too; giving up on its mobile ambitions into which it has sunk billions. And for Acer and Lenovo, which has relied on Intel chips (and subsidies) for its mobile effort.
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What Happened to Google Maps? » Justin O’Beirne

Engrossing look at how Google Maps represents its content, and how it has changed:

»Let’s take a closer look at a couple of areas within the Bay Area.

First, the Pittsburg / Antioch area:

2010 – Cities, but No Roads. Pittsburg and Antioch are shown — but how to get there? No roads are shown that go to Pittsburg and Antioch.

2016 – Roads, but No Cities. Roads leading to Pittsburg and Antioch are shown — but Pittsburg and Antioch aren’t labeled. Why travel on those roads? Where do they go?

On the 2010 map, Pittsburg and Antioch are what cartographers call “Orphan Cities”. That is, they’re cities that lack connections to the rest of the road network.

A similar situation exists with Santa Cruz:

2010 – Santa Cruz, but No Roads. Santa Cruz is shown, but it’s orphaned (i.e., there are no roads going to it).

2016 – Roads, but No Santa Cruz. Four different roads leading into Santa Cruz are shown — but Santa Cruz isn’t.

On either map, it’s not immediately clear how to travel between San Francisco (or any other Bay Area city) and Santa Cruz.

See the problem?

Both maps, the one from 2010 and the one from 2016, have a similar issue: a lack of balance.

«

Would love to see a similar treatment for Apple Maps.
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Google faces first EU fine in 2016 with no deal on cards: sources » Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

»Google is likely to face its first European Union antitrust sanction this year, with little prospect of it settling a test case with the bloc’s regulator over its shopping service, people familiar with the matter said.

There are few incentives left for either party to reach a deal in a six-year dispute that could set a precedent for Google searches for hotels, flights and other services and tests regulators’ ability to ensure diversity on the Web.

Alphabet Inc’s Google, which was hit by a second EU antitrust charge this month for using its dominant Android mobile operating system to squeeze out rivals, shows little sign of backing down after years of wrangling with European authorities.

Several people familiar with the matter said they believe that after three failed compromise attempts since 2010, Google has no plan to try to settle allegations that its Web search results favor its own shopping service, unless the EU watchdog changes its stance.

«

The fines could be very big, up to 10% of global revenues – or just a slap on the wrist. How does Margrethe Vestager determine how big to make them?
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Journalism professor will go to war for free speech, as long as it doesn’t mock him » Gawker

JK Trotter:

»the ever-present possibility that certain people might mistake a satire for reality is the very thing that makes satire funny. As Ken White, [a] First Amendment lawyer, observed, “The joke is not only at the expense of Jeff Jarvis. The joke is, in part, at the expense of people who read carelessly.”

Esquire, of all magazines, should know this. It frequently traffics in satirical articles, and was even sued a few years ago over a piece mocking the notorious birther Joseph Farah. (The magazine fought the lawsuit, and won.) So it is particularly remarkable that the magazine’s executives, in complying with Jarvis’s demands, have effectively endorsed his misunderstanding of satire. It is far more hypocritical and troubling, however, that a person of Jarvis’s position and influence would ever demand the piece’s removal in the first place.

Jarvis is a public figure who has built his reputation in part on his aggressive advocacy for journalists’ First Amendment rights, as well as his strong belief that a culture of free speech is a necessary component of any functioning political system.

«

This is a terrific essay by Trotter, and it does point up the essential contradiction of someone who (among other things) insists that Google’s search results should be sacrosanct against “a European court’s insane and dangerous ruling [to] allow people to demand that links to content they don’t like about themselves be taken down” demanding that content they don’t like not about themselves be taken down.
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Apple beats Microsoft at their own game while Amazon primes the low end of the tablet market » IDC

»Slate tablets continued their decline while still accounting for 87.6% of all shipments. More importantly, the slate tablet segment has become synonymous with the low-end of the market. While this may bode well for vendors like Amazon that rely on hardware sales to increase their ecosystem size, it has not helped vendors who rely solely on greater margins for hardware sales. Meanwhile, detachables experienced triple-digit year-over-year growth on shipments of more than 4.9m units, an all-time high in the first quarter of a calendar year.

“Microsoft arguably created the market for detachable tablets with the launch of their Surface line of products,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables. Apple’s recent foray into this segment has garnered them an impressive lead in the short term, although continued long-term success may prove challenging as a higher entry price point staves off consumers and iOS has yet to prove its enterprise-readiness, leaving plenty of room for Microsoft and their hardware partners to reestablish themselves.”

«

The suggestion is that Apple sold more than 2m large iPad Pros (the 9.7in iPad Pro wasn’t released until the end of the quarter) and Microsoft fewer than 2m Surface Pros. And also that there’s no profit left in the low-end “slate” tablet market, if there was any before.
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The end of a mobile wave » Benedict Evans

Evans notes that we’ve hit the end of the “which ecosystem will win?” (answer: both) challenge, and now we have a free-for all among Android/AOSP offerings:

»coming from the other end of the spectrum, mobile operators are increasing buying in a selection of low-end smartphones than they sell (generally unsubsidised on prepay) under their own brand. Sometimes these have operator apps preloaded (if they’ve not given up on that yet), sometimes not. One could argue that the value being added here is really only distribution, and so one might see other companies with distribution getting into this, such as mass-market retailers. Some of these have already experimented with Android tablets, with mixed results (as of course they did with MVNOs).

This is all rather like the PC clone market of the 1980s – hundreds of undifferentiated companies fighting it out to sell commodity computers built with commodity components running a commodity operating system (though those companies mainly made the PCs themselves, where many phone brands do not). That world in due course led to companies like Dell – people who embraced the volume, low-margin commodity model and found an angle of their own. We’re starting to see equivalent model-creation now.

«

link to this extract


YouTube: ‘No other platform gives as much money back to creators’ » The Guardian

Christophe Müller of Youtube:

»Just this month, a funny video of a Ben Affleck interview helped propel Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence to the Top 10 Hot Rock Songs chart 50 years after it was released.

All of this is possible because our technology, Content ID, automates rights management. Only 0.5% of all music claims are issued manually; we handle the remaining 99.5% with 99.7% accuracy. And today, fan-uploaded content accounts for roughly 50% of the music industry’s revenue from YouTube.

The next claim we hear is that we underpay compared to subscription services such as Spotify. But that argument confuses two different services: music subscriptions that cost £10 a month versus ad-supported music videos. It’s like comparing what a black cab driver earns from fares to what they earn showing ads in their taxi.

So let’s try a fair comparison, one between YouTube and radio.

«

It’s all radio’s fault!
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How to use Workflow for iOS when you don’t know where to start » iMore

Federico Viticci:

»Workflow is the most powerful app on my iPhone and iPad. I wouldn’t be able to work without it, and, almost two years after its release, I’m still discovering its infinite potential.

Whether it’s sending a message to a group of people or organizing documents, you’ve likely come across a task on your iPhone or iPad that you’d like to speed up. Our iOS devices have evolved into powerful modern computers, but there are still some areas where we can be slowed down by app limitations, or, more simply, by the tedious process of performing the same task over and over.

Thankfully, we have a solution to this: automation. And when it comes to automating tasks on iOS, Workflow is the undisputed king. Learning to master Workflow is the first step to living an efficient, productive life on iOS, and it’s how I’ve been working on my iPad for years now.

«

Viticci isn’t just saying that; he runs macstories.net, and he really does use his iPad for absolutely everything except podcasting. I’ve had Workflow for ages, but struggled with its lack of declarative structure; Viticci’s explanation is great. (It would be great to be able to simulate Workflow tasks on OSX and then export them to iOS.)
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No time to panic as one quarter shows minor dip in smartphone sales » Communities Dominate Brands

Tomi Ahonen on why talk of “peak smartphone” after stalled growth in Q1 is wrong, wrong, wrong:

»it is a superficial view of the industry without understanding two aspects of it. The first was the pent-up demand of the 6 series of iPhone that created a one-off surge of phablet-screen-size iPhone sales – last year. Because iPhone owners had seen rival smartphones issue phablets for years, they waited and finally when Apple did the iPhone 6 and 6+ that created a one-time surge in iPhone sales pushing Apple in 2014 Q4 Christmas sales and 2015 Q1 January-March sales of the total smartphone market to an exceptionally high level. It was a surge, a peak in iPhone sales which is not normal (there is a normal level of iPhone jump in sales any other year at that time).

That means, that last year Q1, January-March 2015, was at an artificially high level – see how much higher Apple’s iPhone market share was Q1 of last year (was 16% in Q1 of 2014, surged to 18% in 2015 and returned to 15% now). That was not normal market wars where one brand gains and another loses. It was Apple loyalists buying the long-awaited phablet-screen size iPhone 6 and 6+ which created that surge. Because of Q1 of last year being so high, thus the normal [sequential from Q4] decline of Q1 meant, that it now produced that one-off dip in the Year-on-Year smartphone market size. Also note, that ‘loss’ of 2% now is exactly the rise of 2% that Apple gained for 2015 that same quarter, when their phablet surge happened.

«

Yup, that makes perfect sense. China stuttered, as did the US and Europe, but smartphones replacing featurephones is a train running down a hill. (Side note: I’ve replaced the words that Ahonen put IN CAPITALS with lowercase, as it makes no difference to the sense, and a lot to whether he’s YELLING in your EAR.)
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LG Electronics profit growth powered by TV business » WSJ

Min-Jeong Lee:

»LG executives are banking on a turnaround at the company’s mobile business after three straight quarters of operating losses, spurred by sales of its new G5 smartphone.

LG introduced the G5 phone, which comes with a modular body that allows users to easily swap in accessories, to a warm reception in February, fueling expectations the new smartphone will be a hit.

LG expects to ship three million units of the G5 in the second quarter. Executives say the phone is on track to outpace the G3 model, released two years ago, which has been one of the company’s best-sellers. LG has shipped 1.6 million units of the G5, compared with 900,000 units during the first month of the G3’s release.

But the new phone comes at one of the toughest times in the smartphone market, which is facing waning global demand. Total smartphone shipments fell 3% to 335 million units in the first quarter from a year ago, which was the first ever decline in shipments since the advent of smartphones, research firm Strategy Analytics said Thursday.

“There’s no promise the [strong] profits will stay where they are given the dent in overall demand and stiff competition,” Greg Roh, an analyst with HMC Investment Securities in Seoul, said in a recent note to clients.

«

LG executives have been banking on a turnaround at the company’s mobile business for ages. It keeps not happening. Shipments, of course, aren’t the same as sales. And LG’s mobile business has actually made a loss for four straight quarters, not three.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: the $200k iPhone hack, sleep robot axed, the criminal who wrote Truecrypt, If This Then No, and more

Dropcam’s founder gives you fresh insight into what happened at Nest. It’s not pretty. Photo by Ravi Shah 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Dropcam Team » Medium

Former Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy proves that revenge is a dish that you can savour at any temperature, as he hits back as Tony Fadell’s claims that the Dropcam team (acquired by Google, folded into Nest) “weren’t up to much”:

»I can’t publish Dropcam’s revenue, but if you knew what percentage of all of Alphabet’s “other bets” revenue was brought in by the relatively tiny 100-person Dropcam team that Fadell derides, Nest itself would not look good in comparison. So, if Fadell wants to stick by his statement, I challenge him to release full financials (easy prediction: he won’t).

The ~50 Dropcam employees who resigned did so because they felt their ability to build great products being totally crushed. All of us have worked at big companies before, where it is harder to move fast. But this is something different, as evidenced by the continued lack of output from the currently 1200-person team and its virtually unlimited budget. According to LinkedIn, total attrition to date at Nest amounts to nearly 500 people, which suggests that we were not alone in our frustrations.

«

On Medium, this is covered in highlights by people who went “ooh! This bit! Ooh! This bit too!” It’s an amazing takedown of Fadell.
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Google is completely redesigning AdWords: Offers first peek » Search Engine Land

Ginny Marvin:

»“The reason we’re rebuilding AdWords is because the world has changed so much in the past two years. AdWords is now over 15 years old and launched when Google was just figuring out what search advertising was. We rebuilt it several years ago for a desktop world — smartphones were only [a] year old. Now we are in probably the biggest shift since AdWords was introduced (and I’d argue perhaps ever) with mobile,” said [AdWords product management director Paul] Feng, “And there is now increased demand on marketers and on AdWords as a platform — advertisers are running ads in search, display, shopping, mobile, video. Ultimately, that’s why we’re re-imagining AdWords.”

Feng said the redesign has been informed largely by talking to advertisers across the spectrum. Three common themes emerged. First, advertisers said it felt like AdWords has been built around products and features, rather than marketers’ needs and objectives. “How the navigation is laid out can be un-intuitive and comes with a high learning curve,” said Feng.  Second, the platform has grown complex, with hundreds of features launching every year that stack up on each other. And third, the basic design looks and feels kind of dated. “The goal is to create a flexible platform for the future,” added Feng.

«

Amazing that it was last redesigned in 2008, which is basically pre-mobile. Quite a challenge to get that legacy code to look and work right.
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Top talent leaves Google startup Verily under divisive CEO » STAT

Charles Piller:

»Google’s brash attempt to revolutionize medicine as it did the Internet is facing turbulence, and many leaders who launched its life sciences startup have quit, STAT has found.

Former employees pointed to one overriding reason for the exodus from Verily Life Sciences: the challenge of working with CEO Andrew Conrad.

Verily, one of Google’s “moonshots,” pursues ambitious, even radical, ideas that could take years to pay off. The emerging Silicon Valley juggernaut has attracted elite scientists, engineers, and data crunchers, and inspired buzz about its futuristic projects — as well as envy among competitors nervously eyeing this upstart with a seemingly unlimited bankroll.

The three-year-old venture has operated largely out of public view and carefully manages its image; employees said talking to a reporter without permission is a firing offense.

But people who know Conrad or have worked with him said in interviews that Google has entrusted its life sciences initiative to a divisive and impulsive leader whose practices are driving off top talent and leaving openings for competitors. They said many employees in key jobs were dispirited, and described a lack of focus and clear priorities that is unusual even in the chaotic culture of startups.

«

Trying to sell Boston Dynamics, got a fire in Nest, and now this. Alphabet is finding that being the second GE requires a second Jack Welch. Great reporting by Piller.
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It’s game over for the robot intended to replace anesthesiologists » The Washington Post

Todd Frankel:

»the Sedasys machine was being used in just four hospitals, including the one we visited in Toledo. We watched as the Sedasys device provided basic anesthesiology services to a series of patients undergoing routine endoscopies and colonoscopies.

No longer did you need a trained anesthesiologist. And sedation with the Sedasys machine cost $150 to $200 for each procedure, compared to $2,000 for an anesthesiologist, one of healthcare’s best-paid specialties.  The machine was seen as the leading lip of an automation wave transforming hospitals.

But Johnson & Johnson recently announced it was pulling the plug on Sedasys because of poor sales.

«

Why? Humans campaigned against it.
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He always had a dark side » The Atavist

Evan Ratcliff:

»Before encryption was a mainstream idea, before Apple defied a U.S. government request to provide a method to unlock our phones, this Le Roux had written the underlying code of a program that, a decade and a half later, the National Security Agency still could not break.

The question was: Could the Le Roux who politely answered jargon-laden posts about encryption software be the same one who ordered the murder of a real estate agent over a bad deal on a beach house? At first I thought I would never know. The former Paul Le Roux seemed to have disappeared from the Internet in 2004. Encryption experts I contacted had no idea what had become of that Le Roux, and there was no evidence linking him to the man known for drugs and gun running.

One night in October, I had been at the computer for hours when I finally found the missing link. It was a website once registered to the encryption Le Roux, in the early 2000s, and later transferred to a Philippine company controlled by the crime-boss Le Roux. My immediate reaction upon discovering this connection was a sudden and irrational fear…

«

You can already see why. Le Roux seems to have written TrueCrypt, which has near-mythic status in encryption circles.
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Met police chief blaming the victims » Light Blue Touchpaper

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge, wrote a letter to The Times:

»[Met Police commissioner] Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe argues that banks should not refund online fraud victims as this would make people careless with their passwords and anti-virus software (p1, March 24, and letters Mar 25 & 26). This is called secondary victimisation. Thirty years ago, a chief constable might have said that rape victims had themselves to blame for wearing nice clothes; if he were to say that nowadays, he’d be sacked. Hogan-Howe’s view of bank fraud is just as uninformed, and just as offensive to victims.

About 5 percent of computers running Windows are infected with malware, and common bank fraud malware such as Zeus lets the fraudster redirect transactions. You think you’re paying £150 to your electricity bill, while the malware is actually sending £9000 to Russia. The average person is helpless against this; everything seems normal, and antivirus products usually only detect it afterwards.

Much of the blame lies with the banks, who let the users of potentially infected computers make large payments instantly, rather than after a day or two, as used to be the case. They take this risk because regulators let them dump much of the cost of the resulting fraud on customers.

«

Hogan-Howell really put his foot in it, but it’s the inertia that he represents – and the attempt to shift the blame – which is the most insidious.
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Who unlocked the San Bernardino iPhone? » Perizie Informatiche Forensi

Paolo Dal Checco:

»Yesterday, Monday, March 28th, FBI purchased from Cellebrite $218.000 of “INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SUPPLIES”  [WBM].

It might be a simple coincidence, but if we issue the query  «CONTRACTING_AGENCY_NAME:”FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION” VENDOR_FULL_NAME:”CELLEBRITE USA CORP“» on the FPDS search engine, in the EZ Search section, we can see and download the full history of purchase orders issued by “FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION” to “CELLEBRITE USA CORP”. We can observe that since September 2009 Cellebrite was given 187 purchase orders, but the purchase order issued yesterday, with ID “DJF161200G0004569”, is rather unique in that:

• it’s the only one with an action obligation of more than $ 200.000 issued with “CELLEBRITE USA CORP” (the average for purchase orders is about  $11.000);
•it’s the only one with the “INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SUPPLIES” description and PSC type “7045”;
• it was issued yesterday, when the US Government published a note informing that the San Bernardino iPhone was successfully unlocked and data was successfully accessed, presumably by an “outside party” as they said in the previous note.

In conclusion, we don’t know if Cellebrite was involved in San Bernardino iPhone PIN unlocking, we know that Cellebrite is able to unlock iPhons up to iOS 7 and iOS8 with 32bit processors and on iPhone 4s/5/5c, iPad 2/3/4, iPad Mini 1 and… the coincidence of yesterday’s purchase order is rather weird.

«

So that’s wrapped up: Cellebrite is licensing the unlock technique to the FBI. (Jonathan Zdziarski reckons the $200,000 price is too low to be a complete sale, but high enough to suggest it works against lots of models.)
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Apple acknowledges iOS 9 crashing bugs when tapping links, fix coming ‘soon’ with a software update » 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

»Since posting our original story, we have heard from a lot of readers that are affected by iOS 9 crashes or app hangs when tapping links, spanning multiple iOS versions (not just 9.3) and devices. In a statement, Apple has now confirmed that they are working on a fix for the problem, coming in a software update (presumably iOS 9.3.1).

»

“We are aware of this issue, and we will release a fix in a software update soon.”

«

A temporary workaround is still unknown, although community investigations have revealed why the bug has arisen. It is based on what apps the user has installed and how those apps handle universal links.

Previously, we pinpointed Bookings.com as a cause of the bug, although noting it affects other apps as well. On Twitter, it was found that their website association file, used by the system for the universal links feature introduced with iOS 9, was many megabytes, grossly oversized. This would essentially overload the daemon that had to parse these files, causing the crashing.

«

Linked yesterday. There is a workaround, involving toggling Airplane mode, deleting the offending app, restarting and so on. Not much fun.
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David Cameron drops bombshell privatisation announcement then catches a plane to Lanzarote » The Canary

Kerry-Anne Mendoza:

»The government is selling off the Land Registry to private, profit making interests.

The government has also ordered local authorities to transfer up to 90% of brown field sites (previously developed sites that have become vacant, contaminated but could be reused) into the hands of the Homes and Communities Agency (the latest quango) where Eric Pickles (and his successors) and just two inspectors will control the planning decisions.

The Infrastructure Bill contains a clause which will allow ALL public land to be privatised. There’s no need to reference the Forestry Act 1967, the Countryside Rights of Way Act or any other protective law, because Schedule 3 of the Bill states that “the property, rights and liabilities that may be transferred by a scheme include… property, rights and liabilities that would not otherwise be capable of being transferred or assigned.”

In plain English, this means all preceding regulations, legislation and other protections for this site are null and void – fill your boots.

«

First the Land Registry, now this. It would be great if there were an effective political opposition in the UK.
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Presentation: Mobile ate the world » Benedict Evans

»Updated for spring 2016, this is a snapshot of why mobile matters, where it is and where it’s going. I’ve written quite a lot of blog posts discussing these issues, which I collated in this [other] post.

«

76-slide presentation, with lots of subtle points in it to absorb; I think that AI will play a more important role than is immediately obvious, because it can be subsumed into the device. That, though, isn’t what the platform opportunity is about.
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My heroic and lazy stand against IFTTT » Pinboard Blog

Maciej Ceglowski:

»A service like IFTTT [If This Then That] writes “shim code” that makes it possible to connect online services together like Lego. Everything slots into everything else. This is thankless, detailed work (like developing TurboTax or Dropbox) that when done right, creates a lot of value.

IFTTT has already written all this shim code. They did it when they were small and had no money, so it’s difficult to believe they have to throw it away now that they have lots of staff and $30m.

Instead, sites that want to work with IFTTT will have to implement a private API that can change without warning.

This is a perfectly reasonable business decision. It is always smart to make other people do all the work.

However, cutting out sites that you have supported for years because they refuse to work for free is not very friendly to your oldest and most loyal users. And claiming that it’s the other party’s fault that you’re discontinuing service is a bit of a dick move.

I am all for glue services, big and small. But it’s better for the web that they connect to stable, documented, public APIs, rather than custom private ones.

And if you do want me to write a custom API for you, pay me lots of money.

«

Ceglowski’s laconic humour is also razor-sharp; his tweets (on @pinboard) are worth a read, such as one from August 2014 after IFTTT got some venture funding: “Right now the IFTTT business model is to charge one user $30M, rather than lots of users $2. The challenge will be with recurring payments.” Ceglowski yesterday quoted his own tweet, and added “That man was a prophet.” (I use Pinboard to generate Start Up.)
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The new iPhone may have a China problem » CNBC

Eunice Yoon:

»Apple’s new iPhone SE launches on Thursday and preliminary numbers at Chinese retailers suggest decent demand — but the black market tells a more mixed story.

The US tech giant started taking pre-orders for the smartphone on March 24 and has not released official figures. However, as of Monday in Beijing, total pre-orders on three retailing sites exceeded 3.4 million.

Despite the brisk pre-orders, though, Chinese vendors and scalpers are uncertain if the iPhone SE will be a sure bet like previous models.

“The new iPhone SE has no revolutionary update,” one distributor in Henan Province told CNBC. “I don’t think the demand will be as strong as the iPhone 6 and 6S.” He is offering the iPhone SE at a $20 discount to the official price in China.

In the past, scalpers have been able to charge a premium of roughly $300 over the official price for a newly released iPhone, but one Hong Kong smuggler who refused to be named said he expected to charge just $30 above the listed price for the iPhone SE.

«

First time I’ve heard 3.4m pre-orders described as a problem. (Any Android OEM’s CEO would gnaw off her/his arm to get that many pre-orders for a 4in phone.) And the black market angle has become less and less relevant in China over time, now that all the main networks and lots of retailers, sell iPhones.
link to this extract

 


The Next 40 » Asymco

Apple has hit 40 years old; Horace Dediu reflects on what successful (as in, long-lived) companies are, or do:

»we must search for other names to call a company that delivers an enabler that may lead to progress. Crude categorization like the reporting of finances leads to self-deception and a loss of opportunity to understand. Firms are often victims of this self-deception because they start believing that customers buy the things they sell. They start to believe that what is on their financial reports is a reflection of the value they create. It’s a simple mistake to make, but a mistake which leads to catastrophe. If its data is mis-categorized, by chasing numbers the company runs away from opportunity, leaving it to competitors otherwise unencumbered with knowledge of numbers.

Assuming Apple avoids mis-categorizing what it does, will it be a “solutions” or “services” or “brand” company? Is it, as I used to say, a “blockbuster manufacturing line”?

Yes, and still that’s not all it could be. Nor is it enough to understand what will come.

My simple proposal is to think of Apple (and actually any company) as a customer creator. It creates and maintains customers. The more it creates, the more it prospers. The more customers it preserves the more it’s likely to persevere. This measure of performance for a company is not easy to obtain. It’s not a line item in any financial report.

«

The point that companies believe customers buy the things they sell is a mistake you see again and again.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Nest’s cuckoo, TayAI gets shut up, Pebble cuts staff, how mobile games rely on whales, and more

Cat

Cat parasites could make humans aggressive and clumsy. Honest. Photo by chaosphoenx on Flickr.

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

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

Inside Tony Fadell’s struggle to build Nest » The Information

Reed Albergotti on the wrangling between Nest and Dropcam, which Google bought for $555m and then folded into Nest:

»In one meeting, [Dropcam co-founder Greg] Duffy witnessed [Nest founder Tony] Fadell berate a former Google engineer who was working on computer vision for the Nest Cam. The engineer began to explain the challenges in deciphering the different types of movement that might be captured by cameras.

In front of about 20 other people, Mr. Fadell blew up at the employee for getting off topic, Mr. Duffy recalled. Mr. Fadell told the employee to pull the algorithm from Photoshop, according to Mr. Duffy. He went on to question what the engineer had accomplished and to declare results had to be forthcoming or there would be trouble, Mr. Duffy recalled.

In Mr. Duffy’s view, Mr. Fadell’s Photoshop suggestion demonstrated that Mr. Fadell didn’t understand the technology he was trying to build and that the engineers working underneath Mr. Fadell didn’t feel empowered to forcefully push back when Mr. Fadell was wrong.

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Fadell said he told the engineer to look at Photoshop, which offered a tool similar to what Nest was trying to accomplish, in order to learn how to implement the technology.

More than half of the 100 Dropcam employees hired by Nest have now left. In an interview with The Information, Mr. Fadell blamed the Dropcam team for the problems with the acquisition. “A lot of the employees were not as good as we hoped,” he said. It was “a very small team and unfortunately it wasn’t a very experienced team.”

«

Dropcam has run into the sand inside Nest, essentially.
link to this extract

 


France fines Google over ‘right to be forgotten’ » WSJ

Sam Schechner:

»France’s data-protection regulator has slapped a fine on Alphabet Inc.’s Google for not implementing Europe’s “right to be forgotten” globally, rejecting a compromise offered by the search firm and setting up a court battle over the scope of the divisive rule.

France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes, or CNIL, said Thursday that the search engine had violated a formal order last year ordering it to apply the new right to be forgotten to “all domain names” of the search engine, including google.com, and fined the company €100,000 ($112,000).

As part of its decision, the regulator rejected a compromise offered by Google, in which it would apply the rule to all of its sites when they were accessed from an European Union country where a removal-request originated… For example, links about a French person that are removed under the right to be forgotten would also be removed from all Google sites when the searcher is in France—but not if the searcher is in Germany or outside the EU.

«

link to this extract

 


Builder’s life saved by Apple Watch » The Sun

Daniel Jones:

»A builder who was suffering a heart attack had his life saved by his Apple Watch.

When Dennis Anselmo started to “feel terrible” he thought it was because he was coming down with a fever.

But when the 62-year-old glanced down at his Apple gadget he saw that his heart rate was more than 210 beats a minute.

Doctors who later cleared the blockage in his arteries told him if he had gone home and slept he would have likely had a second, fatal attack, in the middle of the night.

«

Happens that he was fascinated with checking his heart rate, but maybe it should flash a warning if your heart rate goes over something safe? Also of note: he owns 35 other watches. (He now doesn’t wear them.)

Pretty priceless advertising for Apple – this is the second case I’ve seen in the media where a heart problem has been highlighted by the Watch.
link to this extract

 


Explosive road rage-like anger linked to parasite spread by cats » New Scientist

Brian Owens:

»Infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite carried by cats, has been linked to a human psychiatric condition called intermittent explosive disorder. People who have IED typically experience disproportionate outbursts of aggression, like road rage. T. gondii is already known to change the behaviour of the organisms it infects. By making rodents bolder and more adventurous, the parasite makes them more likely to be caught and eaten by a cat, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle.

It can also infect humans, through contact with cat faeces, poorly cooked meat or contaminated water, and as many as one-third of the world’s population may be infected. The protozoan doesn’t make us feel sick, but forms cysts in the brain where it can remain for the rest of a person’s life. Such infections have been linked to psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and suicidal behaviour. People infected with T. gondii also have slower reaction times and are more likely to be involved in car accidents.

«

link to this extract

 


Smartwatch company Pebble is laying off 25% of its staff » Tech Insider

Steve Kovach:

»Pebble, the buzzy startup credited for being one of the first companies to launch a modern smartwatch, is laying off 40 employees this week, CEO Eric Migicovsky told Tech Insider in an interview. That’s about 25% of its total staff.

Migicovsky also said the company has raised $26m over the last eight months on top of its $20m Kickstarter campaign that started in February 2015. He wouldn’t disclose the investors, but did say Pebble has raised a mix of debt and venture capital from private investors.

Migicovsky blamed a chilly fundraising environment in Silicon Valley for the layoffs.

“We’ve definitely been careful this year as we plan our products,” Migicovsky said. “We got this money, but money [among VCs in Silicon Valley] is pretty tight these days.”

«

Note that: debt and VC. Debt is potentially toxic to a company struggling with cashflow because it can be called in, and it also usually imposes an ongoing cost. Pebble has problems, like a lot of wearables makers.
link to this extract

 


Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot, gets a crash course in racism from Twitter » The Guardian

Elle Hunt:

»The bot uses a combination of AI and editorial written by a team of staff including improvisational comedians, says Microsoft in Tay’s privacy statement. Relevant, publicly available data that has been anonymised and filtered is its primary source.

Tay in most cases was only repeating other users’ inflammatory statements, but the nature of AI means that it learns from those interactions. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that Microsoft didn’t factor in the Twitter community’s fondness for hijacking brands’ well-meaning attempts at engagement when writing Tay. Microsoft has been contacted for comment.

Eventually though, even Tay seemed to start to tire of the high jinks.

»

— TayTweets (@TayandYou)
March 24, 2016
@brightonus33 If u want… you know I’m a lot more than just this.

«

Late on Wednesday, after 16 hours of vigorous conversation, Tay announced she was retiring for the night.

Her sudden retreat from Twitter fuelled speculation that she had been “silenced” by Microsoft, which, screenshots posted by SocialHax suggest, had been working to delete those tweets in which Tay used racist epithets.

«

Honestly – I noted its existence, went to sleep and woke up to find it had run amok. Neatly proving that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a parable for all the ages.
link to this extract

 


Google and Obama administration connect over Cuba » WSJ

Brody Mullins and Carol Lee:

»When President Barack Obama was working secretly to restore diplomatic and business relations with Cuba two years ago, he got some help from an unlikely place.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and other company executives, with encouragement from the White House, traveled to Havana in June 2014 to talk with the Cuban government about the benefits of Internet access. When he returned, Mr. Schmidt called for an end to the trade embargo.

The White House didn’t tell Google, now a unit of Alphabet Inc., about the secret negotiations with Cuba. But by the time Mr. Obama announced that December the U.S. would restore diplomatic ties, Google had established a toehold in the island nation by rolling out versions of its popular search engine and other Internet offerings.

On Monday, during the first full day of Mr. Obama’s historic trip to Havana, the president announced that Google had reached a deal to open a temporary demonstration project in Havana to showcase some of its Internet products.

«

link to this extract

 


The mobile games industry is kept afloat by less than 1% of users » The Next Web

Amanda Connolly:

»game creators often use a free-to-play model, allowing users to play a good chunk of the game before having to pay for access to additional levels or features. However, that’s risky business because there is no guarantee that the users will ever pay.

A new report is highlighting that risk, showing that almost half of all the revenue generated in mobile gaming comes from just 0.19% of users.

That means the other 99.81% of users aren’t worth anything money-wise to the creators. Of course, high user numbers are never bad and advertising also plays a key role in generating cash but it’s the people who play the games that dictate the success.

Of the 0.19% who are spending money, very few of these are doing it often; 64% are making just one paid in-game purchase per month, while it’s just 6.5% making five or more paid in-game purchases, with the average spend per player being $24.33.

Conducted by marketing firm Swrve, the report looked at over 40 free-to-play games through February 2016, analyzing the uses of more than 20 million players.

It makes for a stark look at how such a big industry, worth more than $10bn, is so reliant on a few hardcore users for revenue.

«

From 20 million players, 0.19% is 38,000 people; and 6.5% of them is 2,470. As the $24.33 figure relates to the 38,000, then the revenue from those 20 million players is $0.92m, across 40 F2P games in a month. Average per game: $23,110 in a month. But it will be skewed – one game probably gets 80% of the revenue. That means the remaining 39 would get an average of $4,741 in the month (while the big one gets $740,000).
link to this extract

 


Samsung says S7 sales exceed forecast » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

»”Samsung is satisfied to see good sales of Galaxy S7,” Ko Dong-jin, head of the company’s mobile business division, told local reporters. “Yes, the initial shipment numbers are looking good.”

The remarks came on the sidelines of Ko’s participation in the weekly meeting with top executives of Samsung Group affiliates in Seocho Samsung Tower, southern Seoul.

The mobile boss, however, remained tightlipped about how many S7s have so far been sold since the devices became available for preorder on March 11.

Market analyst said that sales and preorders of the S7s have exceeded earlier forecasts in China, Europe and India. Specifically in Europe, it is said that the company saw a 250 percent increase in combined preorder sales.

«

Studiedly vague. It was only a couple of years ago that Samsung used to give precise numbers for preorders.
link to this extract

 


Vice CEO Shane Smith on dealing with agencies: ‘We want to make great shit but it’s a war.’ » Digiday

Shareen Pathak reporting on the 4A Transformation conference on Tuesday:

»The issue of “not rocking the boat” is a consistent charge leveled at ad agencies. Last week, a top buyer at a media agency told Digiday that agencies are often afraid of starting from scratch to solve client problems because it’s too hard. And that kind of mindset has helped fuel to the rise of innovative branded content at publishers like Vice and the New York Times. [NYT chief executive Mark] Thompson said the [NY] Times’s brand content arm, T-Brand Studio, now has 70 employees and is doing $60m in revenue.

Of course, the pressure is also on publishers: Thompson said the talk of “disruption” happening at the agency-oriented conference this week is old news to publishers and journalism organizations, which have now realized that ads and subscription-based businesses are not going to cut it. “In the digital publishing and legacy publishing business, winter is coming,” he said. “A lot of people have bet their futures on very large, wide and thin digital audiences, monetized through commoditized display advertising. I think a lot of people are going to go out of business.”

«

“Winter is coming”. Related: IBT Media, which publishes International Business Times and Newsweek, has laid off at least 15 people (perhaps more?) in New York and California.
link to this extract

 


Why you should try that crazy virtual reality headset » WSJ

Joanna Stern provides a number of examples – with 360-degree video – to show how VR can have real-world applications:

»By visiting places in the real world that I’d already seen in VR, I came to realize that these silly headsets can be magical. They also have a dark side: It’s easy to end up nauseous, and—more frighteningly—virtual experiences can sometimes get too real. More often than I imagined, the line between the two realities starts to blur.

I’m walking into the master bath of a $7.3M penthouse that just hit the market. The blue tub that backs up to a stunning view of downtown San Francisco is perfect. While examining the square showerhead, I feel something I never have before, a newfangled sort of déjà vu. Though my physical body has never been here, I remember it. In my office just two days ago, I was staring at the same brass spigot, via a VR headset.

The first person you try VR with could be a realtor rather than a Best Buy employee. San Francisco realtor Roh Habibi now keeps a Samsung Gear VR headset in his car. “I’ve locked in showings just after having a client put on the headset,” he says. Sales gimmick or no, when I set foot in that house, I knew exactly how to get to that bathroom.

«

(Though the examples are, when viewed just on a browser, pretty much a recap of Quicktime VR, which dates back to 1994.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple on software, 1970 reporting, Microsoft leaves ICOMP?, cycling’s new doping scandal, and more

Voters at the Iowa caucus were profiled and tracked via their phones – perhaps without knowing. Photo by ellenmac11 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. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

(To help formatting on the email, I’ve added » and « on the blockquotes to make it clearer what is quoted, and what is my commentary.)

The Talk Show ✪: Ep. 146, with very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi » Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

»
Very special guests Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi join the show. Topics include: the new features in Apple’s upcoming OS releases (iOS 9.3 and tvOS 9.2); why Apple is expanding its public beta program for OS releases; iTunes’s monolithic design; how personally involved Eddy and Craig are in using, testing, and installing beta software; the sad decline of Duke’s men’s basketball team; and more.
«

This is, what, the second or third time I’ve recommended a podcast? This is an hour, and fascinating (with data points: iMessage peaked at 200,000 per second, there are 782m iCloud users – v 1bn devices in use, so do the maths – and 11m Apple Music subscribers, up from 10m in December).

Federighi’s point about how they tracked Bluetooth keyboard use for the Apple TV, and which calendar week it dwindled to zero, made me laugh aloud.

You can consider *why* Apple made Cue and Federighi available to Gruber, and it’s pretty obvious: they’re aiming to get their message out about Apple’s software and services quality, after all sorts of criticism lately. And that performance turns out to be pretty impressive – hundreds of millions of users who turn them on straight away that it goes live, such as iOS 9.0, iCloud Drive, and so on. Are they perfect? No. But they iterate to improvement pretty fast, given their scale.
link to this extract

 


Cycling’s mechanical-doping scandal » Business Insider

Daniel McMahon:

»
In the days that followed, the UCI said it had tested more than a hundred bikes at the world championships — and that it would be testing a lot more going forward:

»
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has taken the issue of technological fraud extremely seriously for many years. It has been clear for some time that the equipment exists to enable people determined to cheat to do so by installing devices hidden in bikes. That is why we’ve invested considerable time and financial resources in organising unannounced tests at races and have recently been trialing new methods of detection. We’ve also been using intelligence gathered from the industry and other information given to us. We tested over 100 bikes at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder and will continue to test large numbers of bikes at races throughout the season.
«

And sure enough, on Friday, February 12, the UCI announced it had tested another 90 bikes for motors, but this time at a road race in France.
«

This is weird. Motors in bicycles is A Thing. A Doping Thing.
link to this extract

 


64-bit iPhones and iPads get stuck in a loop when set to January 1, 1970 » Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»
Take a 64-bit iOS device—iPhone 5S or newer, iPad Air or newer, iPad Mini 2 or newer, sixth generation iPod touch or newer—laboriously set its date to January 1, 1970, and reboot. Congratulations: you now have a shiny piece of high-tech hardware that’s stuck at the boot screen, showing nothing more than the Apple logo… forever.
«

From the highest-rated comment on the comments below the story:

»
It appears to solve itself when the internal clock is allowed to advance normally to a point when «current time» minus time zone is greater than zero.

(This may be why people are seeing a battery drain fix it or see it fixed when inserting a SIM card that supports carrier time information)
«

Versions of Bright’s story, all written from the same YouTube video, are all over the web. More informed (and stupider) comments can be found beneath them (where they allow comments). The more informed ones point out the errors.

It’s quite the problem for journalists: news editors clamour for the story now, but it’s hard to check all the details, and especially the causes. This isn’t a “forever” bug. But you need to get the story written. That lack of time to research and check erodes trust in outlets which have been quick to follow a YouTube video. It’s not “permanent”, it’s not “bricked”, it’s not “forever”.

Though they then get a second bite of the cherry with “how to fix” articles. (Answer: let the battery run down.)
link to this extract

 


This company tracked Iowa caucusgoers through their phones » Fusion

Kashmir Hill:

»
What really happened is that Dstillery gets information from people’s phones via ad networks. When you open an app or look at a browser page, there’s a very fast auction that happens where different advertisers bid to get to show you an ad. Their bid is based on how valuable they think you are, and to decide that, your phone sends them information about you, including, in many cases, an identifying code (that they’ve built a profile around) and your location information, down to your latitude and longitude.

Yes, for the vast majority of people, ad networks are doing far more information collection about them than the NSA–but they don’t explicitly link it to their names.

So on the night of the Iowa caucus, Dstillery flagged all the auctions that took place on phones in latitudes and longitudes near caucus locations. It wound up spotting 16,000 devices on caucus night, as those people had granted location privileges to the apps or devices that served them ads. It captured those mobile ID’s and then looked up the characteristics associated with those IDs in order to make observations about the kind of people that went to Republican caucus locations (young parents) versus Democrat caucus locations. It drilled down farther (e.g., ‘people who like NASCAR voted for Trump and Clinton’) by looking at which candidate won at a particular caucus location.
«

Deeply disturbing. You can bet that tons of those people had no idea that they were being profiled, or that their data was even being shared in that way.
link to this extract

 


Douglas Rushkoff: ‘I’m thinking it may be good to be off social media altogether’ » The Guardian

»
Ian Tucker: What do you find most objectionable about the kind of economy that technology appears to create?

Douglas Rushkoff: What’s most pernicious about it is that we are developing companies that are designed to do little more than take money out of the system – they are all extractive. There’s this universal assumption that we have to turn working currency into share price.
«

link to this extract

 


Microsoft looks to be retreating from EU antitrust fight against Google » Ars Technica

Quite a scoop from Kelly Fiveash:

»
Ars has learned that members including UK-based price comparison site Foundem—the original complainant in the antitrust case against Google—resigned from ICOMP after Microsoft backed away from what had been a dogged campaign against its search rival in Europe. ICOMP was founded in 2008 to fight for an “online competitive marketplace.”

One source told us that Microsoft had agreed to prop up ICOMP’s food, travel, and accommodation expenses without having any active involvement in the group.

In a letter from Foundem to ICOMP—seen by Ars—the company said: “In our view, an ICOMP that is prohibited from commenting on Google’s immensely damaging business practices is an ICOMP working against, rather than for, the interests of a fair, competitive online marketplace.”

Foundem added in its December 2 missive: “As a leading complainant in the European Commission’s ongoing competition investigation into Google’s search manipulation practices, Foundem cannot be a member of an organisation that has turned its back on such an important issue.”

Ars asked Microsoft to comment on this issue to confirm claims that its fight against Google on search in the EU was effectively over. It did not respond directly to that question, however. Instead we were told that Microsoft’s complaint against Google in the European Commission had not been withdrawn.
«

Fiveash has been covering the Google/Microsoft proxy battle for years since she was at The Register. But it sounds as though Satya Nadella, having gotten rid of the vicious ex-political lobbyist Mark Penn, is dialing down the quiet lobbying.
link to this extract

 


How to gain unauthorized fingerprint access to an LG V10 » AndroidAuthority

John Dye:

»
If this person isn’t running Nova Launcher, the game’s up here. This vulnerability is only known to work on this particular launcher so far, so if your quarry is operating Google Now then they are safe from your malicious intent. However, if they are running Nova Launcher, you can tap the Home button while on the main home screen, then tap the Widgets option. Add a Nova Action widget to the home screen, and then choose the activity “com.lge.fingerprintsettings.”

Pause here for a second, because this is where the vulnerability exists. Through the normal Settings menu, it’s impossible to access this particular activity before going through a security checkpoint and confirming either a fingerprint or PIN. However, since Nova is able to ignore the normal menu flow that leads to this screen, it creates a situation where a user can add their own fingerprint to the list of allowed fingerprints without ever proving that they have authorized access to the device.

The widget on the homescreen will now lead directly to fingerprint settings, and you can add your own fingerprint before deleting the widget, leaving little trace of your actions.
«

Nova Launcher presently has more than 10m downloads, so it’s possible you’d find it on a high-end phone. Commenters suggest it can be done on a Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 too.

Sure that this will be all over news sites in a day or so of course with hundreds of comments. No?
link to this extract

 


Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge » ScienceAlert

»
A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles – almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published – freely available online. And she’s now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court – a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

“Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them,” Elbakyan told Torrent Freak last year. “Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal.”…

… She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. “All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold,” she said.
«

The journals’ argument is that they add value by getting papers peer-reviewed, and edited, and choosing the important ones to publish. The existence of free unpeered sites such as Arxiv hasn’t noticeably dented their business.

But it always feels wrong when publicly funded research in particular ends up behind giant paywalls. If the public pays for the research, the public should be able to see its fruits.
link to this extract

 


Evidence suggests the Sony hackers are alive and well and still hacking » WIRED

Kim Zetter:

»
According to new data released this week by Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, senior security researcher with Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team, and Jaime Blasco who heads the Lab Intelligence and Research team at AlienVault Labs, the hackers behind the Sony breach are alive and well…and still hacking. Or at least evidence uncovered from hacks of various entities after the Sony breach, including South Korea’s nuclear power plant operator, suggests this later activity has ties to the Sony case.

“[T]hey didn’t disappear…not at all,” Guerrero-Saade said during a presentation with Blasco this week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Spain.

If true, it would mean the hackers who demonstrated an “extremely high” level of sophistication in the Sony attack have been dropping digital breadcrumbs for at least the last year, crumbs that researchers can now use to map their activity and see where they’ve been. The clues include—to name a few—re-used code, passwords, and obfuscation methods, as well as a hardcoded user agent list that showed up repeatedly in attacks, always with Mozilla consistently misspelled as “Mozillar.”
«

link to this extract

 


So who’s going to buy Pandora? » Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:

»
the US public company has reportedly begun talking to Morgan Stanley about finding a potential buyer.

As we stand, Pandora, for all its historical global licensing issues and growing annual net losses, looks a little like a bargain.

The company has lost $7bn in market cap valuation over the past two years. It’s currently sitting at $1.9bn – less than a quarter of Spotify’s latest private valuation.

However, there are other reasons why possible acquirers may cool their jets on Pandora – not least the fact that its active listener base is dropping, down year-on-year in Q4 2015 to 81.1m.

In addition, the firm’s acquisition of Rdio’s assets means an entry into the hugely competitive space of interactive music streaming is an inevitability, while it paid a scary $450m to buy Ticketfly last year – a sister operation that contributed just $10m to the bottom line in Q4.

So who might cough up and buy Pandora if (and it’s a big if) its shareholders agree to push for a sale?
«

Suggestions: Google, Apple, IHeartMedia, Samsung. Can’t honestly see any of them wanting it, rather than just waiting for it to vanish.
link to this extract

 


Why mobile is different » The Economist

Anonymous, as ever with The Economist:

»
the combination of personalisation, location and a willingness to pay makes all kinds of new business models possible. Tomi Ahonen, head of 3G Business Consulting at Nokia, gives the example of someone waiting at a bus stop who pulls out his Internet-capable phone to find out when the next bus will arrive. The information sent to the phone can be personalised, reflecting the fact that the user’s location is known, and perhaps his home address too; so bus routes that run from one to the other can appear at the top of the list, saving the user from having to scroll and click through lots of pages and menus. A very similar service, which allows users to find out when the next bus is due by sending a text message from a bus stop, is already available in Italy.

Would-be providers of mobile Internet services cannot simply set up their servers and wait for the money to roll in, however, because the network operators—who know who and where the users are, and control the billing system—hold all the cards. This has changed the balance of power between users, network operators and content providers. On the fixed Internet, the network access provider acts as a “dumb pipe” between the user’s PC and, say, an online bookstore or travel agent. The access provider will not know how the connection has been used, and there is no question of claiming a commission. Mobile network operators, on the other hand, are in a far more powerful position. “Wireless is a smarter pipe,” says Chris Matthiasson of BT Cellnet. This means that operators are much less likely to be disintermediated.
«

The sharp-eyed will have started in the second sentence; others, in the second paragraph. That’s because this piece is from October 2001. It took a while, but the operators are pretty thoroughly disintermediated now.
link to this extract

 


TfL social media: adapting to Twitter’s changes » TfL Digital blog

Steven Gutierrez of Transport for London, which runs London’s buses and underground services:

»
in the last few years, Twitter has introduced various changes to the way it serves content to its users, and these have impacted upon our ability to reliably deliver these real-time status updates to our followers.

Now selected content on Twitter is shown out of sequence, we will reduce the amount of minor alerts and focus on providing up-to-the-minute alerts for major issues, as well as a renewed focus on customer service across our various accounts.

Our teams will continue to work day and night to support customers including First Contact who take care of the Tube line Twitter feeds as well as CentreComm and LSTCC who have access to everything from iBus (our system for tracking London Buses) to police helicopters monitoring London from above.
«

Wow: you think Twitter is a static thing, but these changes really do affect what happens. The point about image search shows it’s not trivial either.
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Artificial intelligence offers a better way to diagnose malaria » Technology Review

Anna Nowogrodzki:

»
For all our efforts to control malaria, diagnosing it in many parts of the world still requires counting malaria parasites under the microscope on a glass slide smeared with blood. Now an artificial intelligence program can do it more reliably than most humans.

That AI comes inside an automated microscope called the Autoscope, which is 90 percent accurate and specific at detecting malaria parasites. Charles Delahunt and colleagues at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory—the research arm of Nathan Myhrvold’s patent licensing company Intellectual Ventures in Seattle—built the system with support from Bill and Melinda Gates through the Global Good Fund. The Autoscope was tested in the field at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit on the Thailand-Myanmar border during malaria season in December 2014 and January 2015. The results were published in December.
«

If I’m reading the results correctly, it got about 95% accuracy. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

My own forecast is that “an [AI] algorithm for..” will be the “listen to this!” phrase of 2016, and utterly commonplace in 2017.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: None noted.

Start up: Apple’s phone expectations, Amazon’s giant backdoor, mobile adblocking grows, and more


Virtual reality attracts interest, but where’s the storytelling? Photo by Nick Habgood on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Not attributable to tributaries. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple 1Q16 Earnings Preview » Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

Investor anxiety heading into Apple’s upcoming earnings report is at a multi-year high. Fears surrounding slowing iPhone 6s and 6s Plus sales have morphed into broad questions about the iPhone’s long-term viability. While investors are looking for answers that won’t likely be provided this week, management has a very clear goal with its 1Q16 earnings report and conference call: set expectations for 2016.

Cybart reckons in the just-gone quarter to December (Apple’s first fiscal quarter of its financial year) Apple has sold around 77m iPhones, 18m iPads and 5.7m Macs. He also gives gauges for what is low and high. Apple announces its earnings on Tuesday evening (and LG will have published its own by the time you read this).
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IAB chief blasts Adblock Plus as an ‘immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes’ » Adweek

Christopher Heine:

When Adblock Plus said it had been “disinvited” from this week’s Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Leadership Summit, it raised virtual eyebrows across the Web. Wasting little time and mincing no words, the IAB’s leader kicked off the event by firing back.

“Now, you may be aware of a kerfuffle that began about ten days ago, when an unethical, immoral, mendacious coven of techie wannabes at a for-profit German company called AdBlock-Plus took to the digisphere to complain over and over that IAB had ‘disinvited’ them to this convention,” CEO Rothenberg told the audience in his opening keynote Monday. “That, of course, is as much a lie as the others they routinely try to tell the world…”

…Eyeo GmbH-owned Adblock Plus’ ticket was pulled, Rothenberg said, “for the simple reason that they are stealing from publishers, subverting freedom of the press, operating a business model predicated on censorship of content, and ultimately forcing consumers to pay more money for less — and less diverse — information. AdBlock Plus claims it wants to engage in dialogue. But its form of dialogue is an incessant monologue.”

Well, they had an invitation (which they had to pay for, like everyone else), and then it was withdrawn. Clearly, no Christmas cards between these two. (I’m going to go to Adblock Plus’s meeting in London in a week or so.)
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37% of mobile users are blocking ads » Global Web Index

Jason Mander:

According to GWI’s latest wave of research, it’s a significant 37% of mobile users who say they’ve blocked ads on their mobile within the last month. That’s a pretty sizable number if you consider that these tools have only relatively recently come to the attention of consumers. It also shows just how keen users are to improve their mobile experience and to prevent their data allowances and battery lives from being drained.

No less striking is that another 42% of users say they haven’t blocked ads so far but are interested in doing so in the future. That means almost 80% of the mobile audience could be engaging with blockers before too long – a stat which underlines why this is a trend which is unlikely to burn out any time soon.

Big numbers. People have responded by saying that they’re not seeing those figures, but equally adblockers often block Google Analytics too – so adblocking users are ghosts; you’d have to check against server logs to see what’s really happening. GWI has a large sample base, weighted towards the US and UK, though it doesn’t say how many were sampled for this particular survey.
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‘iPhone 5se’ likely to have faster A9/M9 chips & always-on Siri, come in 16/64GB capacities » 9to5Mac

Mark Gurman:

Last week we reported that Apple is preparing to announce a new 4-inch iPhone dubbed the “iPhone 5se” as soon as mid-March. Our report noted that the new iPhone is essentially an upgraded iPhone 5s with a faster processor, Apple Pay, new camera features, and curved glass edges instead of sharp chamfers. Now, we have a few additional details about this new iPhone model. First, we are told that there are different prototypes of the device floating around Apple’s campus: some with the A8 and M8 chips that we discussed in our previous report, and some with the iPhone 6s’s A9 and M9 processors. We’ve now learned that the iPhone 5se is more likely to include variants of the A9 and M9 chips instead of the A8 and M8 lines…

Because the iPhone 7 will include a faster chip potentially known as the A10 processor, Apple likely does not want its new 4-inch iPhone to fall two processor generations behind in just six months.

Gurman has an excellent track record on this stuff. So you can pretty much take this as being what’s on the shipping box. Next question: why has Apple decided to renew the 4-inch phone?
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Why VR “storytelling” does not currently work. And can it ever work? » Medium

Mike Cartel (who has experience in creating VR experiences):

Storytelling is a RETROSPECTIVE thing. It always has been. People didn’t sit around the campfire telling stories in the timeframes that they actually occurred. And i’m not aware of realtime books. Linear narrative mechanisms have evolved to break down the constraints of time and emotive viewpoint.
But herein lies the VR Storytelling anachronism.

The hardware has raced forward at an incredible speed. It’s barely three years between Oculus Rift DK1, and Oculus Rift CV1, but the change is extraordinary. But with this charge forward brings a storytelling problem. The new Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR headsets behave and look close to real life. Screen door and latency has been nearly obliterated. The hardware is challenging our brains to differentiate with real life.

Hardware mimics real life, and real life timing. Whilst current non-gaming VR content relies upon existing forms of linear narrative. These things do not co-exist. Yet. But will they ever? Can they ever?

Like him, I recall a time when we were assured that CD-ROMs would usher in an age of “choose your own storyline” storytelling. Instead, we got video games – while storytelling has remained much the same.
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The muscular dystrophy patient and the Olympic medallist with the same genetic disorder » ProPublica

David Epstein, who wrote a book about genes and sport, and was then contacted out of the blue:

It seemed absolutely crazy. The idea that an Iowa housewife, equipped with the cutting-edge medical tool known as Google Images, would make a medical discovery about a pro athlete who sees doctors and athletic trainers as part of her job?

I consulted Harvard geneticist Robert C. Green to get his thoughts, in part because he has done important work on how people react to receiving information about their genes. Green was open to discussing it, but he recalls a justifiable concern that had nothing to do with science: “Empowering a relationship between these two women could end badly,” he says. “People go off the deep end when they are relating to celebrities they think they have a connection to.” I was skeptical too. Maybe she was a nutjob.

I had no idea yet that Jill, just by investigating her own family, had learned more about the manifestations of her disease than nearly anyone in the world, and that she could see things that no one else could.

Open this in another tab, and make the time to read it today – you’ll need about 15 minutes. It’s stunning. And (for any criticism of Google’s tax affairs below) it’s also testament to the power of Google Images and search engines and the power of having the world’s scientific information available to everyone. Jill extended two peoples’ lives, including her father’s (and probably her own), because she could access information easily.
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Two Y-axes » Kieran Healy

Healy takes to task those who would plot using a single x-axis and two sets of data using two y-axes:

When you’re just looking at data, though, it’s enough to bear in mind that it’s already much too easy to present spurious—or at least overconfident—correlations. Scatterplots do the job just fine, as you can see. (Just don’t pay much attention to the sudden clumpy vertical bits in the plot.) Even here, we can make our associations look steeper or flatter by fiddling with the aspect ratio. Two y-axes give you an extra degree of freedom to mess about that, in almost all cases, you really shouldn’t take. Guidelines like this won’t stop people who want to fool you with charts from trying, of course. But they might help you not fool yourself.

Read and take to heart, graph-plotters. (Including Dr Drang.)
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Google obeys tax laws, and gives us awesome services for free. Why complain? » Spectator Blogs

Fraser Nelson:

If Google hoped for some good PR in offering £130 million to settle UK tax claims dating back to the Labour years, it was a miscalculation: Labour regards the offer as “derisory” and the BBC is leading its news bulletins the better to sock it to its rival. Why did Google bother? It has run up against the standard anti-business narrative: that the social worth of businesses can be measured only by how much cash they give to the government. In fact, Google provides its services to millions of Britons (worth at least £11bn, by some estimates) at no cost at all: this is its contribution to society. As for its contribution to the government’s coffers, Google has – from the offset – been following the rules. And for this, it has been lambasted.

I don’t quite buy Google as a “rival” to the BBC. The £11bn (one-off?) calculation comes from an analysis released by – surprise! – Google, compiled by Deloitte. But it’s reasonable – jobs created, work done, and so on.

But at the same time, that rests on the argument that Google’s services aren’t fungible; that if it didn’t exist, that there wouldn’t be other companies offering platforms for digital advertising (leading to the need for SEO), for creating content, for writing smartphone apps and so on. I suspect Yahoo, Microsoft and others wouldn’t necessarily agree.
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That Google tax deal » Waiting for Godot

Jolyon Maugham:

Well, here’s what Google UK Limited does.

Now, that doesn’t sound much like selling advertising. And it isn’t. Its business is selling services to other Google companies. And it will charge a modest uplift on its costs – and that modest uplift will comprise its profits.

A consequence of this is that Google UK Limited’s accounting profits will never bear any relationship to the profits Google Inc chooses to report to its shareholders as having been generated in the UK. Those profits generated in the UK will never show up in Google UK Limited’s accounts and be subject to UK tax. Google UK Limited is never going to be hugely profitable.

Indeed if Google Ireland Limited and Google Inc were to choose to buy those services from some other jurisdiction, Google wouldn’t generate any accounting profits here at all.

The accounting profits they generate here they generate because they choose to buy services from here. They choose to make profits here.

We’re all being inculcated into the winding roads of multinational tax planning.
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Asustek, Gigabyte to ship 4.2-4.5m own-brand motherboards each in 1Q16 » Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

With demand from the PC DIY market continuing to decline, global motherboard shipments dropped from 69m units in 2014 to 54m units in 2015, while shipments in China also slumped from 28m units to 26m.

As for second-tier players, excepting ASRock which was still profitable in 2015, Micro-Star International (MSI), Biostar, Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) and China-based Colorful all saw their profits from the motherboard business in 2015 drop sharply from 2014.

As for 2016, global motherboard shipments are expected to drop below 50m units, while Asustek and Gigabyte will both be able to maintain their shipments at around 17m units.

Note that point about the DIY market shrinking. (Will VR change that?) Remarkable that two companies have over 60% of the whole market.
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Amazon’s customer service backdoor » Medium

Eric Springer:

As a security conscious user who follows the best practices like: using unique passwords, 2FA, only using a secure computer and being able to spot phishing attacks from a mile away, I would have thought my accounts and details would be be pretty safe? Wrong.

Because when someone has gone after me, it all goes for nothing. That’s because most systems come with a backdoor, customer support. In this post I’m going to focus on the most grievous offender: Amazon.com

Amazon.com was one of the few companies I trusted with my personal information. After all, I shop there, I used to work as a Software Developer and I am a heavy AWS user (raking up well over $600/month)

Truly horrendous story. Moral: don’t use a publicly-visible email for your Amazon account. (Now go and change it.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

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


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

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

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

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

David Katzmaier:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Tegos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what it looks like:

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

Joe Rossignol:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see these as Horizontal AI.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reason is clearly stated in the article:

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

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

This is something to keep in mind.

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

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

Mark Rogowsky:

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

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

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

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

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

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