Start up: how to properly break the internet, the premium phone boomlet, emoji variation, and more

Crumbling bridge

Upkeep of infrastructure probably matters more than inventing new things once you reach a certain level of complexity. Photo by BluePrince Architecture on Flickr.

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

Internet mapping turned a remote farm into a digital hell » Fusion

Terrific work by Kashmir Hill:

»As any geography nerd knows, the precise center of the United States is in northern Kansas, near the Nebraska border. Technically, the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of the center spot are 39°50′N 98°35′W. In digital maps, that number is an ugly one: 39.8333333,-98.585522. So back in 2002, when [IP mapping company] MaxMind was first choosing the default point on its digital map for the center of the U.S., it decided to clean up the measurements and go with a simpler, nearby latitude and longitude: 38°N 97°W or 38.0000,-97.0000.

As a result, for the last 14 years, every time MaxMind’s database has been queried about the location of an IP address in the United States it can’t identify, it has spit out the default location of a spot two hours away from the geographic center of the country. This happens a lot: 5,000 companies rely on MaxMind’s IP mapping information, and in all, there are now over 600 million IP addresses associated with that default coordinate. If any of those IP addresses are used by a scammer, or a computer thief, or a suicidal person contacting a help line, MaxMind’s database places them at the same spot: 38.0000,-97.0000.

Which happens to be in the front yard of Joyce Taylor’s house.

“The first call I got was [in 2011] from Connecticut,” Taylor told me by phone this week. “It was a man who was furious because his business internet was overwhelmed with emails. His customers couldn’t use their email. He said it was the fault of the address at the farm. That’s when I became aware that something was going on.”

«

Something indeed was going on. MaxMind says it’s the fault of the users of its database.
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How one programmer broke the internet by deleting a tiny piece of code » Quartz

Keith Collins:

»A man in Oakland, California, disrupted web development around the world last week by deleting 11 lines of code.

The story of how 28-year-old Azer Koçulu briefly broke the internet shows how writing software for the web has become dependent on a patchwork of code that itself relies on the benevolence of fellow programmers. When that system breaks down, as it did last week, the consequences can be vast and unpredictable.

“I think I have the right of deleting all my stuff,” Koçulu wrote on March 20 in an email that was later made public.

And then he did it.

Koçulu had been publishing code he wrote to npm, a popular service that’s widely used to find and install open-source software written in JavaScript. It has become an essential tool in web development, invoked billions of times a month, thanks to npm’s ease of use and its enormous library of free code packages contributed by the open-source community.

«

Increasingly, very large structures are built on very small foundations whose solidity can’t be taken for granted. Talking of which…
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Innovation is overvalued. Maintenance often matters more » Aeon Essays

Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell, who are professors at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey:

»First, it is crucial to understand that technology is not innovation. Innovation is only a small piece of what happens with technology. This preoccupation with novelty is unfortunate because it fails to account for technologies in widespread use, and it obscures how many of the things around us are quite old. In his book, Shock of the Old (2007), the historian David Edgerton examines technology-in-use. He finds that common objects, like the electric fan and many parts of the automobile, have been virtually unchanged for a century or more. When we take this broader perspective, we can tell different stories with drastically different geographical, chronological, and sociological emphases. The stalest innovation stories focus on well-to-do white guys sitting in garages in a small region of California, but human beings in the Global South live with technologies too. Which ones? Where do they come from? How are they produced, used, repaired? Yes, novel objects preoccupy the privileged, and can generate huge profits. But the most remarkable tales of cunning, effort, and care that people direct toward technologies exist far beyond the same old anecdotes about invention and innovation.

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Terrific and thought-provoking essay: in the light of smart home systems being turned off within 18 months of being released, what price maintenance?
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Premium smartphones are booming » Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»Exhibit A in the case for the high end is Huawei. A strong push for models such as the P8 meant that the average price of the Chinese company’s phones climbed 17% last year, according to IDC. Unit shipments jumped 45%, with the premium segment accounting for a significantly larger proportion of the total.

Apple’s average selling price rose more than 7% in calendar 2015, according to IDC data, with its shipment volume increasing 20%. The other major player to see gains from selling more-expensive phones was ZTE, with a 5.8% markup in price and a 20% jump in volumes. According to Counterpoint Research, the highest tier widened its share of total volume. So too did the bottom end, while the center got squeezed.

Given the gain for the cheapest models, it would be wrong to write off price cuts as a marketing strategy. Still, the price-demand dynamics for smartphones suggest that higher volumes driven by discounts may not translate to increased revenue (and will certainly squeeze profit per device). Whether you’re a Beijing-based startup or a Cupertino-based behemoth, the end-goal ought to be boosting sales and not market share.

The experience last year of Apple, Huawei and ZTE suggests that smartphones may in fact be a Giffen good – a product for which demand increases as prices rise.

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Culpan also says that Samsung has seen a tripled demand for the S7 over the figures for the S6 last year, but I think that’s an error – Counterpoint says it’s up about 30%. What also isn’t revealed is what Huawei’s and ZTE’s ASPs were in 2014 or 2015. They might be up, but are they premium? Or is that effect principally from Apple’s bigger, pricier sales?

It’s certainly counterintuitive if premium really is booming. The graphic accompanying the article suggests it is, but it could just be Apple doing better while the rest sink.

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New and improved “block user” feature in your inbox. : announcements » Reddit

»Believe it or not, we’ve actually had a “block user” feature in a basic form for quite a while, though over time its utility focused to apply to only private messages. We’ve recently updated its behavior to apply more broadly: you can now block users that reply to you in comment replies as well. Simply click the “Block User” button while viewing the reply in your inbox. From that point on, the profile of the blocked user, along with all their comments, posts, and messages, will then be completely removed from your view. You will no longer be alerted if they message you further. As before, the block is completely silent to the blocked user. Blocks can be viewed or removed on your preferences page here.

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It’s a start (and also reinforces my hypothesis that all commenting systems evolve towards the functionality that Usenet already offered in 1996). But it doesn’t stop Reddit being something of a cesspit in other regards, as this New York Times article points out. (Though Usenet was like that too.)
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Investigating the potential for miscommunication using emoji | GroupLens

»To your smartphone, an emoji is just like any other character (e.g., lower-case ‘a’, upper-case ‘B’) and needs to be rendered with a font. Since each smartphone platform (e.g., Apple, Google) has its own emoji font, the same emoji character can look quite different on different smartphone platforms. This is why when a Google Nexus owner sends [smiley emoji]  to a friend with an iPhone, the iPhone owner will actually see [slightly different smiley emoji] . This problem isn’t just limited to iPhones and Nexuses; check out all the different renderings of the single emoji character we’ve been discussing:

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Read the full paper. May include emoji. (I always thought the Apple version of this one was a sort of “forced rictus grin of embarrassment”, so apologies to anyone who saw me use it and thought I was trying to transmit hilarity.)

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How can we trust Google when it lets ads call the shots? » The Guardian

Kenny Jacobs, who is chief marketing officer of Ryanair:

»A friend of mine recently went on a first date and wanted to make a good impression. Having heard about a very reliable French place in central London that might be a romantic venue, he Googled it. At the top of the results page he found the restaurant’s website, clicked through to see pictures of happy looking couples, browsed the sample menu and used a booking form to reserve a table for two.

Date night came and when the taxi arrived at the address, the cabbie asked him which restaurant he was looking for: the one that had been there for years, or the new place across the road? Being sure he’d booked the original, the pair went into the restaurant, only to be told they had no reservation, and that they should have booked by phone.

«

Jacobs (and Ryanair) still hate eDreams, which buys AdWords ads against Ryanair searches and then leads those who click through to a site that looks suspiciously like Ryanair’s – except that it charges extra.

Should Ryanair sue eDreams? It already is doing. The problem is that by putting AdWords ads above organic search results, rather than to the side, Google encourages users to click the adverts. That’s in its own interests, but not all users can perceive the difference, which is then to the users’ disadvantage. Shouldn’t the user advantage win in that case? Online ads aren’t necessarily so easy to spot as on TV (where they’re not necessarily easy to spot either).
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This dude’s fitness tracker may have just saved his life » Gizmodo

George Dvorsky:

»A 42-year-old man from New Jersey recently showed up in an emergency ward following a seizure. After looking at the data collected by his Fitbit Charge HR, the doctors decided to reset his heart rate with an electrical cardioversion. It’s the first time in history that a fitness tracker was used in this way.

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Won’t be the last, though. Full text in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
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RUN and RUN / lyrical school 【MV for Smartphone】 on Vimeo

RUN and RUN / lyrical school 【MV for Smartphone】 from RUNandRUN_lyrisch on Vimeo.

This music video has been going quietly viral in the west; it shows what an imaginative director can do by thinking about how a generation encounters music videos now – through the phone, not the TV. (You might want to watch it with the sound turned down low.)
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Birds measure magnetic fields using long-lived quantum coherence » physicsworld.com

Michael Allen:

»Long-lived spin coherence in proteins found in the eyes of migratory birds could explain how the creatures are able to navigate along the Earth’s magnetic field with extraordinary precision. This is the finding of researchers in the UK and Germany, who have created a new realistic model of cryptochrome proteins that is based on advanced simulations of nuclear and electron spins. The team also provides an explanation for how the avian magnetic compass has been optimized by evolution.

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“Spin coherence” is the tight quantum pairing of electron spins. That birds have evolved the ability to lengthen it, and then harness it to navigate makes evolution all the more amazing. If you read it in a science fiction plotline you’d think they were overreaching a bit.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none specified.

Start up: AI for your app, quantum computing works?, Yahoo’s future, Watch watch, and more


Firefox OS: heading rapidly for the exit. Photo by Wojciech Szczęsny on Flickr.

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

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

How predictive APIs simplify machine learning » ProgrammableWeb

Louis Dorard:

App developers are always looking for ways to make the lives of their users easier and for ways to introduce innovative features that help users save time. For this reason, Machine Learning (ML) has been increasingly popular in app development. Classical examples include spam filtering, priority filtering, smart tagging, and product recommendations. Some people estimate that Machine Learning is now being used in more than half of a typical smartphone’s apps. Because of the new functionality gained by these apps, we can talk of “predictive apps,” a term coined by Forrester Research which refers to “apps that provide the right functionality and content at the right time, for the right person, by continuously learning about them and predicting what they’ll need.” 

If you’re writing an app that would fit that description, this is a great primer.
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Mozilla will stop developing and selling Firefox OS smartphones » TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

Firefox OS was first unveiled in 2013, with the aim of targeting the developing world and late adopters with low-cost handsets.

To differentiate from Android and iOS, Mozilla and its carrier partners focused on a web-first platform, with no native and only web apps. Sales, however, were always poor and the devices themselves failed to ignite a lot of consumer interest, and a number of OEMs cornered the market with a flood of cheap handsets. In a business that depends on economies of scale, it was a failure.

Mozilla has been on a streamlining track lately. Last week it announced that it would be looking for alternative homes for its Thunderbird email and chat client. The aim is for the company to focus more on its strongest and core products and reputation.

Came really late to the game, and never made table stakes – an app ecosystem – because it didn’t think that that table was right. Apps trump the mobile web.
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Drones save over two hundred people in Chennai floods » DRONELIFE

A senior officer of the Chennai police said that the force has deployed drones in several of the most unreachable neighborhoods, and have been able to locate as many as 200 people, rescuing all of them.  The search and rescue operation sends drones up from a control vehicle.  The aerial images obtained are then sent to a control room, where staff reviews footage and pinpoints affected homes and people.  When a rescue site is identified, the control room communicates with teams of volunteers nearest to the location through wireless walkie-talkie, sending rescue workers to retrieve victims stranded in their homes.

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Controversial quantum machine bought by NASA and Google shows promise » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite:

Hartmut Neven, leader of Google’s Quantum AI Lab in Los Angeles, said today that his researchers have delivered some firm proof of that. They set up a series of races between the D-Wave computer installed at NASA against a conventional computer with a single processor. “For a specific, carefully crafted proof-of-concept problem we achieve a 100-million-fold speed-up,” said Neven.

Google posted a research paper describing its results online last night, but it has not been formally peer-reviewed. Neven said that journal publications would be forthcoming.

Google’s results are striking—but even if verified, they would only represent partial vindication for D-Wave. The computer that lost in the contest with the quantum machine was running code that had it solve the problem at hand using an algorithm similar to the one baked into the D-Wave chip. An alternative algorithm is known that could have let the conventional computer be more competitive, or even win, by exploiting what Neven called a “bug” in D-Wave’s design. Neven said the test his group staged is still important because that shortcut won’t be available to regular computers when they compete with future quantum annealers capable of working on larger amounts of data.

Been a long time coming, but this is just starting to look promising. Hell, even if it’s off by a few orders of magnitude, it’s amazing.
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What’s going on at Yahoo? Here are seven things worth knowing » BuzzFeed News

Mathew Zeitlin draws up the list, in which No.1 and No.5 are the important ones:

Here’s the deal. Yahoo’s current market value is about $32.9bn.

This is much less than the value of the things it owns. Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba is worth about $32.4bn, and its stake in Yahoo Japan is worth about $8.7bn. It also has $1.3bn in cash and about $5.5bn in other securities, and $1.2bn in debt. All that adds up to around $46bn.

So if the market values Yahoo at $33 billion, does that imply the actual Yahoo business — the websites, the apps, the digital advertising tech — is worth less than zero?

Not quite — and here is where those tax issues come into play. Yahoo’s investments in Japan and China have all gained value massively over the years, and all that is subject to taxes if it’s sold. Hedge fund Starboard Value estimates the tax bill on Alibaba shares put their true value to shareholders at around $19.6bn; the Yahoo Japan stake would be worth around $5.3bn.

Once you take those taxes into account, it looks more like Yahoo investors are valuing its actual business at a little over $2bn. That’s a figure that has been promoted by activist investor Starboard Value, as well as analysts at Nomura and Pivotal Research.

And now No.5:

There may be cooler kids on the block these days, but Yahoo still has a massive presence on the web.

According to ComScore, Yahoo has a global audience of 618 million — the fourth largest of any company, behind only Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. In the U.S., Yahoo’s 211 million desktop and mobile unique visitors make it the third biggest destination, behind Google and Facebook.

“Our overall network including Tumblr continued to serve a global user base of more than 1 billion monthly active users,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said in a recent earnings call. Facebook, in comparison, has over 1 billion daily active users. In terms of headcount the two are comparable: Yahoo has 10,700 full-time employees, while Facebook has about 12,000.

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Android returns to growth in Europe’s big five Markets » Kantar Worldpanel

Carolina Milanesi:

“As the holiday season approaches, it appears smartphone upgrades are on Santa’s list, with 14% of EU5 smartphone owners planning to replace their current device with a new one in the next three months,” Milanesi said. “Among those consumers, 25% said they prefer Apple, while 38% said they prefer Samsung. Among Apple owners in the EU5 planning to upgrade over the next three months, 79% said they prefer Apple, while 62% of Samsung owners planning to upgrade say they prefer Samsung.”

High retention rate for Apple; less so for Samsung. But Samsung has more users overall, because it sells more phones. (Leaky buckets.)

What’s not visible is the general trend; iPhone sales, on this data, are trending faintly upwards in the mature markets such as the EU5 and US and China.
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Time ticks on chances of the Apple Watch catching on » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

The pollsters quizzed 1,017 Britons over the age of 15. They found 66% were aware of smartwatches. Awareness was down to 60% among respondents aged 35 and older, and to 57% among the lowest three social and economic groups.

Only 2% said they owned a smartwatch, down to 1% among those over 35. The poll showed 43% believed people did not need a smartwatch; but that doesn’t mean 57% of people believe you do need one.

Similarly, 24% saw a smartwatch as a gimmick, but that’s not an indication that 76 per cent regard it as a life necessity.

Possibly the glummest news for enthusiasts was that only 6% of the smartwatch-aware were likely to buy one in the next year.

So, unless I’m reading the figures wrongly, enthusiasm for this kind of wearable technology is several degrees below lukewarm.

Wearable technology, in general, hasn’t proven its worth to the general population. Then again, smartphones didn’t prove their worth to the general population for quite some time either – about three years from the launch of the iPhone. I’d love to see a comparative study from that time. (Links welcome.)
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Apple’s secrets about the iPhone were revealed during Samsung lawsuit » BGR

Yoni Heisler looks back to what came out in the 2012 trial during the discovery phase, particularly in the documents revealed to either side. How about the kickstand idea for the original iPad?

Yeah, perhaps you can guess how long Steve Jobs would let that one live.
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June 2015: Which phone has the best battery life? 5 top smartphones tested and compared » Trusted Reviews

Andrew Williams, in June 2015:

For every phone we review, we perform battery tests. There are benchmarks, and just using the phone to see how long it really lasts in daily use. This combo gives you a good idea of how long any phone will stay awake between charges.

But it’s fallible.

All sorts of things can affect battery life, especially when you’re out and about using the thing. So we decided to get all the big phones of 2015 together and give them a thorough going-over with some real-life-related tests to see which phone really is the longest-lasting.

Which phones? We’ll be checking out the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S6, LG G4 and HTC One M9. After all, they’re the most desirable phones of the year.

Remarkable results (on video loops, web browsing, film over Wi-Fi, music in the background). Enjoyable comments too saying “but the battery is reporting it wrong!” Which might, actually, be correct. But probably isn’t. (Via Ian Betteridge.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: