Start up: blocking Trump,dissecting Pencil, evaluating Uber, and more


“Hey, I can’t find our product marketing guy in here either!” Photo of an HTC Vive wearer by pestoverde on Flickr.

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

Apple Pencil teardown » iFixit

We’ve caught sight of more chips at the other end, so we ditch the battery and move to the fun stuff—like the teeeny logic board!

This little board is folded in half to make the most of the minimal space. Clever!

What is this—a logic board for ants? Not quite, but weighing in at a whopping 1.0 gram it’s definitely the smallest we’ve ever seen.

Really, really tiny engineering.
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IBM Watson Trend pegs Apple Watch as hottest holiday gift » Apple Insider

Neil Hughes:

IBM on Wednesday launched a new app and service called Watson Trend, which forecasts what consumer products will be popular this holiday season based on online chatter. Currently dominating the list: the Apple Watch.

IBM Watson Trend is a free download from the iOS App Store, designed for both iPhone and iPad. It uses IBM’s supercomputer technology to read and interpret millions of reviews, expert blogs and social media conversations to determine what gifts people are talking about.

By far the most popular device on the list is the Apple Watch, which has maintained a “trend score” above 90 (out of 100) since mid-August. With a perfect score of 100 as of Wednesday, the Apple Watch has a score nearly double that of the next closest product: Samsung TVs.

Of course, the Watson algorithm simply says that users are talking about the Apple Watch, not necessarily buying it. Apple’s actual hottest selling product is the iPhone lineup, which observers expect to sell nearly 80m units in this quarter alone.

Isn’t in the UK app store >:-| but is on the web too. The only phone in the list on Thursday night was the iPhone 6S, at a trend score of “3” out of 100. Hm.
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Sky News broadcasts first 360-degree virtual reality news report on migrants crisis » UK Press Gazette

Dominic Ponsford:

Sky News has broadcast its first virtual reality news report: Migrants Crisis, The Whole Picture.

The report has been produced with technology from Jaunt Inc and uses a camera with multiple lenses to take a 360-degree moving image.

This can be then viewed with a smartphone placed inside a Google Cardboard VR viewer, which costs around £15.

It’s the future; mark it in your diary for future reference.
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Gawker’s Kinja retreat is more evidence publishers struggle as tech companies » Digiday

Ricardo Bilton:

Gawker the tech company is back to being just Gawker the media company.

Alongside the news that it’s shifting its coverage to focus on politics, Gawker said that it’s also abandoning its pipe dream of licensing its publishing and commenting platform Kinja to other media companies. The shift away from the licensing model made sense, “given the competition that exists from technology companies devoted entirely to that challenge,” wrote CEO Nick Denton. Gawker, will, however, continue to use the platform for its own sites.

Gawker called itself a tech company for the same reason that the likes of BuzzFeed and Vox Media do: Compared to the sky-high valuations and thick margins of tech companies, media companies make for bad investments. The “media-company-as-tech-company” narrative made for better PR story than an actual business model.

“The idea of selling tech to other publishers is probably foolhardy at best,” said Todd Sawicki, CEO of Zemanta, a firm that amplifies content ads. “It’s like fighting a land war in Asia. If your goal is to sell tech to other publishers, I would question that from the start.”

Harsh, but fair. I could never see how anyone would want to buy Kinja – the price of commenting and publishing platforms has long since fallen to zero, since (or possibly before) WordPress 1.0.
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VBB-Livekarte

Fascinating live map of public transport in Berlin. Notable too because the map is from OpenStreetMap, not Google. (Via Benedict Evans.)
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Magic Leap poaches HTC Vive’s executive director of global marketing ahead of launch [exclusive] » UploadVR

Will Mason:

In an exclusive interview with UploadVR, Gattis said that his decision came down to two things, the technology’s potential and how close that potential was to being realized.

“I think what struck me so much about Magic Leap was the quality of the technology and seeing how far along it was. I knew there was a great vision but I didn’t know how far along the technology was and how close it is to becoming real and commercial,” he says. “That was the biggest takeaway for me, how it advanced and how quickly it has gotten to the point it is at now.”

One of the things that makes Gattis’ hire as the Director of Product Marketing so interesting is it suggests that the company may be getting close to finally pulling back the veil on what they have been working on. Recently, Magic Leap began speaking a little bit more about its technology now that it has moved out of the R&D phase and into the “transitional stage for presenting a new product.”

“Do you want to work at our gigantically VC-funded company on the west coast, or for that dwindling company which is laying people off?” Tough recruiting pitch, eh.
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Boom: the Return » Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff:

the recently-released iPad Pro seems to have the much-awaited USB3 capability on its Lightning connector. It does ship with a Lightning-to-USB2 cable, though, and USB3 capability isn’t mentioned in the tech specs.

The main objection to this actually happening is that Lightning, with its 8 pins, doesn’t have enough pins to support the standard USB 3 specification. This is, again, the old assumption that Lightning cables are “just… wires leading from one end to the other”.

To restate what I posted previously, if you actually look at the USB3 pinout, there are the two differential pairs which Lightning already has, and one additional pair for USB2 compatibility. So a legacy wire-to-wire USB3 cable would need 9 pins — but, remember, Lightning connectors don’t work that way!

In other words, if you plug in an old Lightning-to-USB2 cable into an iOS device, the cable itself already has to convert the two differential pairs to USB2’s single pair. So, no need to have the extra legacy pair on the Lightning connector itself — a future Lightning-to-USB3 cable will generate that as well, and use the two high-speed pairs when plugged into a USB3 peripheral. The current pinout is, therefore, quite sufficient.

So.. USB3 for free? Seems good. What’s the delay, then?
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What is Sky Q, when is it coming and how can I get it? » Pocket-lint

Luke Edwards and Chris Hall:

The Sky Q Mini box is your gateway to viewing Sky content in other rooms. This connects to your main Sky Q box, either by Wi-Fi or via powerline networking, letting you use your electrical wiring to carry the information between boxes. Powerline networking is built-in across Sky Q devices, which works if you also subscribe to Sky broadband and have the Sky Q Hub installed.

The Sky Q Mini box also only supports up to full HD, but it can work as a Wi-Fi hotspot, expanding your Sky Broadband connection. Again, this is reliant on a Sky Q Hub. It is possible to use the Sky Q TV service and the Mini boxes using a separate internet service provider, but you cannot use them as Wi-Fi extenders or through powerline connectivity.

You’ll get full access to all the Sky Q features through the Mini box, be that live TV, watch recordings stored on the main Sky Q or Silver boxes, or view on demand content.

Sky Q touch remote: The new remote adds touch, so there will be less button pressing and more swiping to help you get around. It’s also a Bluetooth remote, so there’s no need for line-of-sight, perfect for those who want to hide the Sky Q box out of sight.

It also features a built-in microphone, and in the future it will be offering voice as a search option, helping you quickly find your content.

Sky, clearly, begs to differ with the notion that “the future of TV is apps”. It’s going pretty strongly for the integrated viewing approach. It’s also adept at staying just in line with peoples’ expectations for how they want to consume content.
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Quarter: Apple Pencil Dock and Protective Cap by Jason Lim » Kickstarter

Neat and cheap idea for how you keep the Apple Pencil from vanishing: plug it in to the device. Come on, Jony Ive, your team’s falling behind.
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Analyzing 1.1bn NYC taxi and Uber trips, with a vengeance » Todd W. Schneider

Schneider grapples with the amazingly detailed yellow taxi data – pickup and dropoff points (seriously – who cares about privacy, eh?) – and compared it with “green taxi” (non-Manhattan) and Uber trips:

Uber has grown dramatically in Manhattan as well, notching a 275% increase in pickups from June 2014 to June 2015, while taxi pickups declined by 9% over the same period. Uber made 1.4 million more Manhattan pickups in June 2015 than it did in June 2014, while taxis made 1.1 million fewer pickups. However, even though Uber picked up nearly 2 million Manhattan passengers in June 2015, Uber still accounts for less than 15% of total Manhattan pickups:

Queens still has more yellow taxi pickups than green taxi pickups, but that’s entirely because LaGuardia and JFK airports are both in Queens, and they are heavily served by yellow taxis. And although Uber has experienced nearly Brooklyn-like growth in Queens, it still lags behind yellow and green taxis, though again the yellow taxis are heavily influenced by airport pickups:

Uber is clearly expanding the market, which is not what the narrative might lead you to expect.
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Trump content blocker for iOS » Trump Trump

Trump-free browsing. Block links, images and websites related to the word Trump. Why would you want anything Trump on your iPhone? Banish Trump from the web. The easiest way to make Trump go away for good. No need to manually edit blacklists, rules, etc. Filter Trump out of your life.

I think everyone can agree that this is A Good Thing.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Swift v Apple, Beats gets heft, Aibos’ mortality, why Upworthy pivoted, and more


A number will get you into many peoples’ emails. Photo by Kohei314 on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. I mean, do you even? I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

To Apple, love Taylor » Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift (yup, her):

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.

This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt.

This looks like an obvious one, but it isn’t. Lots of streaming services (all of them?) offer a free month initially, and the evidence suggests they don’t pay artists for those streams. (I’ve yet to confirm that absolutely.) Apple’s three-month deal seems to have come at the cost of higher royalty rates for those who sign up.

So Taylor Swift may be completely right – but that new artist or band might just want the exposure. It would certainly be good if Apple did pay in those three months. But that might then fall foul of antitrust.

Update: oh, internet, you do move fast. At 4.29am Eddy Cue tweeted that Apple would after all pay. More detail by Peter Kafka.


How It’s Made series: Beats By Dre » Medium

Avery Louie:

One of the great things about the [Beats] solo headphones is how substantial they feel. A little bit of weight makes the product feel solid, durable, and valuable. One way to do this cheaply is to make some components out of metal in order to add weight. In these headphones, 30% of the weight comes from four tiny metal parts that are there for the sole purpose of adding weight.

The two larger parts are cast zinc. Cast parts are similar to injection molded parts in that there is a tooling cost and a per-part cost. Compared to injection molding, the tool is marginally more expensive, but the per-part costs are higher, and the tools do not last as long.

The brilliant thing here is that the two large metal parts are not mirror images of each other- they are actually the same part!

The parts give them heft. And do nothing else at all.


How to hack into an email account, with just your victim’s mobile number » Graham Cluley

A bad guy – let’s call him Malcolm – is keen to break into Alice’s account, but doesn’t know her password. However, he does know Alice’s email address and phone number.

So, he visits the Gmail login page and enters Alice’s email address. But Malcolm cannot correctly enter Alice’s password of course (because he doesn’t know it).

So instead he clicks on the “Need help?” link, normally used by legitimate users who have forgotten their passwords.

Rather than choosing one of the other options, Malcolm selects “Get a verification code on my phone: [mobile phone number]” to have an SMS message containing six digit security code sent to Alice’s mobile phone.

This where things get sneaky.

Because at this point, Malcolm sends Alice a text pretending to be Google.

This is very sneaky, and would probably work against lots of people. Beware.


A robotic dog’s mortality » The New York Times

Jonathan Soble on the death of the Aibo – which is running out of juice:

They didn’t shed, chew the sofa or bite the postman, but for thousands of people Sony’s Aibo robotic dog was the closest thing to a real canine companion. So when the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year, eight years after it ended production, owners faced a wrenching prospect: that their aging “pets” would break down for good.

Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, at a price of 250,000 yen (about $2,000 at current exchange rates). The beaglelike robots could move around, bark and perform simple tricks. Sony sold 150,000 units through 2006; the fifth and final generation was said to be able to express 60 emotional states.


Platform Patched – The Awl

John Herrman with a great analysis of why Upworthy has been forced to pivot: because Facebook turned its unique selling point into a feature of the platform:

Upworthy was succeeding according to metrics favored by Facebook, but not necessarily by doing the things Facebook believed those metrics would cultivate. A reader might spend five minutes watching a video on Upworthy and leave satisfied, but the site neither created the video nor hosts it—it would have been created by yet another party and hosted on YouTube, a site owned by Google. For Facebook, this is fine but not optimal: Why not just embed the YouTube video directly into News Feed with the same headline and description? Better yet, why not just host the video directly on Facebook?

Facebook-native video took off with the Ice Bucket Challenge, the success of which Facebook summarized in August and later used in explaining its vision for video. Seeing opportunity, publishers started publishing more videos, and more professional videos, as soon as they could.

And here’s The Awl’s graphic of Upworthy traffic:
Upworthy's falling traffic


1Password inter-process communication: a discussion » Agile blog

Jeff Goldberg, in a long blogpost about the “malicious OSX apps could grab inter-app comms by registering to receive them first” vulnerability:

Neither we nor Luyi Xing and his team have been able to figure out a completely reliable way to solve this problem. We thank them for their help and suggestions during these discussions. But, although there is no perfect solution, there are things that can be done to make such attacks more difficult.

The blogpost goes into a lot more detail; this is a really tricky problem. Though “keep process running all the time in the background” turns out to be a good solution.


Analyzing 10 yrs (and 5TB) of OpenStreetMap » Mapsense

Many fun insights to be found, but this one will ring true for any crowdsourced effort:

Insight #3- Very few people contribute the vast majority of features

We know the OSM community is growing, but we wanted to know what the impact of that growth is on the map that we all use.  

We segmented users into the top 5% of committers and the bottom 95%.  Here’s how their edits compare:

Open Street Map contributors

The number of commits in the bottom 95% is growing nicely over time, but even at its peak, their commits are orders of magnitude fewer than the commits of the top 5%. These power users are incredibly prolific, often importing large swathes of data such as building outlines or roads.

These users are making a huge impact on OSM- how can we encourage more of this to accelerate OSM’s quality?


Apple vs. Samsung: Samsung asks court to reconsider appeal » San Jose Mercury News

Howard Mintz:

Samsung urged the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case with its full 12-judge roster, arguing that a three-judge panel erred earlier this year when it left intact a jury’s verdict that the South Korean tech giant’s smartphones and tablets infringed on Apple’s design patents.

That part of the verdict – which has been pared from an original judgment of $1bn – accounts for about $400m of the $548m in damages Samsung still must pay Apple from their first trial.

Samsung’s continued interventions make this now officially the most boring court case in history. (Thanks John Molloy for the link.)


UK private copyright exception ‘unlawful’, rules High Court » Out-law

Prior to introducing the private copying exception, the UK government argued that it did not believe the private copying exception would result in lost sales for rights holders. However, the new regime was challenged by music industry bodies. The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), the Musicians’ Union (MU) and UK Music claimed that the government should have to compensate them and other rights holders for the harm caused to them by the new exception.

Mr Justice Green said that that the UK government was entitled to “implement a private usage exception” and to define the scope of that right. He said, though, that the government was obliged to introduce a “compensation mechanism” for rights holders if the harm caused to them by the introduction of the private copying exception was above a “de minimis level”.

Here’s the judgement. Not sure how this is going to be implemented – a surcharge on systems that can rip CDs? It’s the very definition of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, moved to another town, brought up foals, and died peacefully in its sleep.


Sizing up the suitors for Here, Nokia’s map business » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

One former longtime senior employee of Here estimates there are around 300 different location attributes, with corresponding historical databases, that can be tracked using Here’s technology. They include more obvious mapping and location-based applications such as driving directions and street maps, but also spatial data technology used in video and gaming applications.

“It’s incredibly difficult to get the type of mapping data that Here has. Base geometry and 20-40 road attributes are relatively easy to collect. However, to collect the 250+ attributes needed for the best navigation experience requires a combination of field teams and user-generated content,” notes entrepreneur Kurt Uhlir.

“Here has proprietary collection hardware and software that is unmatched, even by Google. Plus, they have the most extensive patent portfolio covering collecting and creating spatial content for current generation of maps and dynamic data. Here also has the foundational patents covering usage of spatial data for creating video games, movie content and the upcoming ADAS vehicle applications.”

Unmatched even by Google? Protected by patents? Such talk is heresy.