Start up: the Watch drop, Tango slows, Samsung’s bug bonanza, kids and tablets, and more


Guess how much this ad cost. OK, if it were actually inside the TV. Photo by wonderferret on Flickr.

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

Popular Apple blogger stops wearing his Apple Watch every day » Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt quoting John Gruber, speaking to developer Guy English on his own Talk Show podcast:

“I’ve been intrigued. And I do wear mine, but I don’t wear it every day. I foresee a bright future for it. But I just don’t think I was ever squarely in the market for it. It’s just not the sort of thing that speaks to me.”

[Here Guy English jokes about Gruber’s lack of interest in fitness — fitness tracking being one of the device’s key selling points.]

“Yeah. Right. Once I stopped wearing it every day… there is this weird motivating thing where you want to keep filling these circles everyday. And you get this streak going and you keep going. And I’m sure people are more fit. But then once you stop wearing it every day you definitely by definition have days where you didn’t fill all the circles. [It] just ruins it. It means you don’t care anymore. I don’t know. It just doesn’t excite me that much.”

Personally, still wearing mine each day; does so many things I need (such as, on Thursday evening while driving, starting navigation home via Siri because my normal route was blocked. Would have been tough and distracting with the phone).
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Google is cutting the cost of its Project Tango depth-sensing tablets in half » VentureBeat

Harrison Weber:

The deal, effective “in the coming weeks,” Google said, follows the company’s $20,000 contest that tasked developers with creating “unique augmented reality (AR) experiences” for Tango devices. The winning submissions require a Project Tango device to work, but you can get a taste of the ideas here (and here).

Google told us it doesn’t have a set duration for the discount, but the company apparently has “a limited, but sizable number of promotional codes. We haven’t finalized the exact number yet,” a spokesperson told us…

…Project Tango’s future remains unclear: Google originally aimed to launch a “consumer-scale” Project Tango device with LG in 2015. Then in January, the company spun Tango out of its Advanced Technology and Projects group without sharing much information on the initiative’s next steps.

When asked if the discount was designed to get rid of developer units ahead of a new release, a spokesperson replied, “This is very much to get kits in the hands of developers and shore up the ecosystem. We still don’t have a timetable on consumer-ready units.”

Suggested headline tweak: “Google is halving the cost of…”
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Can I annoy you for a penny a minute? » Medium

Rob Leathern:

US TV advertising revenue is expected to reach $78.8bn this year. The average person over 2 years of age in the United States still watches an amazing 29 hours and 47 minutes of TV per week. Which means, when you work it out, that’s just $0.18 in ad revenue per hour of TV watched.

TV Networks are even speeding up their programming in order to fit in more ads as prices fall and viewership dwindles. The average hour of cable television now has 15.8 minutes of ads compared with 14.5 minutes five years ago. The Wall Street Journal reported that “TBS used compression technology to speed up [movies and TV shows]”  —  this video on YouTube shows an example of this tactic with a Seinfeld rerun. For reruns and movies especially, cable networks have long rolled credits very quickly or cut TV opening sequences out entirely.

I find Leathern a must-follow: he has so much inside knowledge of the online ad business, both good and bad. Meanwhile, I find TV in the US unwatchable because of the volume (in both senses) of ads.
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Open Data Institute summit 2015: Matt Hancock speech » GOV.UK

Hancock is an MP and the Paymaster General (a role within the Treasury):

One local authority is using this [LIDAR] data to make the case for new flood defences. Council staff 3D printed the local area and fashioned blocks to show where the flood defences might go. Then they poured water on the model, to show local residents exactly which areas would flood, depending on where they put the defences.

Nor is it just local engagement. Precision farming, archaeological digs, urban planning, even uploading England to the game Minecraft: these are just some of the applications we’ve heard about since the data was published.

Let’s take another example. Two years ago Land Registry released the Price Paid Dataset (PPD), tracking residential property sales in England and Wales. The PPD is used by sites like RightMove and Zoopla to bring up-to-date sales data to an audience of millions.

Now we’re enriching it. As of last week, this dataset will also include sales through repossession, those purchased by companies and by-to-lets. It will also allow users to see the sales of non-residential property for the first time.

The applications include developing valuation software, improving planning policy, building apps that analyse market trends, and for academic research.

And the point is this. No minister, even armed with the best policy advice, could possibly conceive of all the things that government data can do.

The only way to find out is to open it up.

Great to see a Treasury minister advocating free government data – which is exactly what the Free Our Data campaign was about, almost ten years ago. Less heartening to see Hancock not pushing for the same from the Freedom of Information Commission.
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Hack the Galaxy: hunting bugs in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge » Project Zero blog

Natalie Silvanovich, of Google’s Project Zero team, which tries to find bugs in all sorts of software, on a sustained effort to see what weaknesses Samsung’s TouchWiz and other customisations brought to Android:

A week of investigation showed that there are a number of weak points in the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. Over the course of a week, we found a total of 11 issues with a serious security impact. Several issues were found in device drivers and image processing, and there were also some logic issues in the device that were high impact and easy-to-exploit.

The majority of these issues were fixed on the device we tested via an OTA [over the air] update within 90 days, though three lower-severity issues remain unfixed. It is promising that the highest severity issues were fixed and updated on-device in a reasonable time frame.

So only a few hundred other devices to work through then. How different are the other Samsung devices? And then there’s the LG, Sony, and everyone else..
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Toddlers are already pros with tablets and smartphones, study finds » NBC News

Maggie Fox:

Toddlers and preschoolers are often left to their own mobile devices, with half enjoying their very own TV by the tender age of 4 and more than three-quarters regularly using their own mobile devices, researchers said Monday.

Most are starting before they are even a year old — and by age 3, they’re using the devices all by themselves, the team reports in the journal Pediatrics.

The survey was done in a single urban pediatric clinic in Philadelphia, and the researchers note that the findings do not necessarily extend to the whole country.

But they paint a troubling picture of populations of low-income and minority babies, and toddlers being kept quiet with televisions or tablet devices streaming cartoons.

I’m much more worried about the idea of sitting the children in front of US TV, which spews up to 20 minutes of ads per hour at them, than of them using tablets – where at least they might have some agency. (Could we wish for better software for kids though?)
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Apple and sapphire supplier reach new accord on $439m loan » WSJ

Peg Brickley:

GT Advanced Technologies Inc. has reached an accord with Apple that will get it out from under $439m in debt it picked up in a failed effort to qualify as a supplier of smartphone-screen material.

The settlement provides for an auction by Nov. 23 of equipment that GT provided in the effort, the proceeds of which will be divided, GT said in papers filed on Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Hampshire. While GT intends to hang on to some of the equipment—as many as 600 sapphire-making furnaces—it is prepared to auction what it can and abandon what it can’t cart off, court papers say.

Anything not sold will be handed over to Apple, which has agreed to scrap the equipment and extinguish the loan it made to transform GT from an equipment manufacturer into a supplier of smartphone-screen material.

End to a long saga. I wrote about it a year ago.
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The No.1 mistake people I interview [for jobs] are making these days » Business Insider

Jessica Liebman is managing editor of Business Insider:

Lately, the majority of people I interview have one thing in common.

They’re all messing up on something that I think is very important when trying to get a job: the Thank You Email.

Did not know this was A Thing.
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FBI official: It’s America’s choice whether we want to be spied on » Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

While technology companies have resisted government attempts to access customer data, [FBI general counsel James] Baker said [at the Advanced Cyber Security Center conference] law enforcement has more success with some companies than others.

In some cases, a company will tell law enforcement that it can only provide metadata or a “snapshot of the account once a day” instead of the real-time surveillance authorities want, he said.

The FBI has an easier time getting data from companies whose business models depend on viewing customer data, he said.

Some companies “want to monetize the analysis of communications of their customers, for example those companies that actually look at e-mail and analyze it and send you targeted ads,” Baker said.

Baker didn’t mention any specific companies, but this is a practice in place at Google.

“None of that is encrypted, so we can go there and get the order and have the order be effective, and that’s good,” Baker said.

Well, good-ish. (Thanks @papanic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: After yesterday’s item on GPS errors compared to a marathon: they measure marathons (PDF) using “a calibrated bicycle fitted with a Jones counter” which is “the only approved method of measuring road race courses” (which includes marathons).

Start up: Coolpad’s built-in malware backdoor, LG v Samsung, Rockstar’s patent fizzle, Google’s PR spin game, and more


A Coolpad smartphone. Back door not shown.

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This is the last collection of Overspill links until next week (at least). Have a great Christmas – and thanks to the hundreds of people who are coming to read every day. You’re always welcome.
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A selection of 11 links for you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

SuperBeam Pro: easy & fast WiFi direct file sharing >> iTunes App Store

Works by Wi-Fi Direct (aka p2p sharing). Seems to be superfast, but one also wonders if Apple is going to be entirely happy about this. (Found via Producthunt.)


Rockstar consortium to sell 4,000 patents to RPX Corp. for $900m >> WSJ

Starting late last year, Rockstar sued several companies for allegedly infringing their patents, including Google and Cisco. Last month, Rockstar settled its suits against Google and Cisco. Financial details weren’t disclosed, but Cisco told investors in early November that it had recorded a pretax charge of $188 million to settle the Rockstar litigation.

As part of the deal with RPX, Rockstar will drop the remainder of its suits, which include claims against Samsung Electronics, LG, HTC and Huawei.

The settlements follow others in the long-running smartphone patent wars.

For instance, in May, Apple and Google agreed to drop all lawsuits between the two companies, and in August, Apple and Samsung agreed to end all litigation between the two companies outside the U.S. Apple and Samsung are still battling in federal court in California, where Apple has won two jury verdicts finding that Samsung infringed its designs for the iPhone.

Whether the Rockstar companies recouped its $4.5bn investment is an open question. In the minds of some experts, the $4.5bn figure reflected the high point of a frothy market that developed for patents in the earlier days of the smartphone industry.

The Rockstar companies squeezed more than three years of use out of the 4,000 patents, and will keep licenses going forward. The 2,000 patents they held back from Rockstar—and aren’t part of the sale to RPX—were among some of the most valuable in the Nortel portfolio.

Turns out that smartphone patents were just a sideline which led both Google and its rivals to drop huge amounts. (Google rather more than the others, through Motorola’s continued losses until it could sell it off. But nobody won.)


CoolReaper revealed: a backdoor in Coolpad Android devices >> Palo Alto Networks Blog

Claud Xiao and Ryan Olson:

Coolpad is the sixth largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world, and the third largest in China. We recently discovered that the software installed on many of Coolpad’s high-end Android phones includes a backdoor which was installed and operated by Coolpad itself. Today we released a new report detailing the backdoor, which we’ve named “CoolReaper.”
After reviewing Coolpad complaints on message boards about suspicious activities on Coolpad devices, we downloaded multiple copies of the stock ROMs used by Coolpad phones sold in China. We found the majority of the ROMs contained the CoolReaper backdoor.

CoolReaper can perform the following tasks:
• Download, install, or activate any Android application without user consent or notification
• Clear user data, uninstall existing applications, or disable system applications
• Notify users of a fake over-the-air (OTA) update that doesn’t update the device, but installs unwanted applications
• Send or insert arbitrary SMS or MMS messages into the phone.
• Dial arbitrary phone numbers
• Upload information about device, its location, application usage, calling and SMS history to a Coolpad server.

Fabulous! All that extra software for no charge! (Coolpad is on sale in the west, by the way.)

They say it’s specifically tailored to hide what it does, and that Coolpad has ignored customer complaints about unwanted app installs. Their conclusion:

CoolReaper is the first malware we have seen that was built and operated by an Android manufacturer. The changes Coolpad made to the Android OS to hide the backdoor from users and antivirus programs are unique and should make people think twice about the integrity of their mobile devices.


Google adds song lyrics to search results but it feels like a cheap cash grab >> PCWorld

Ian Paul:

Google has figured out a way to deliver more instant answers in search results and boost music sales on Google Play simultaneously: song lyrics. Following Bing’s lead from October, Google is now surfacing lyrics for a limited number of songs when you search for “[song title] lyrics.”

Unlike Bing, however, you won’t see the full list of song lyrics in your search results. To see the complete lyrics you have to click a link to Google Play. There you’ll also have options to buy the track or subscribe to Google Play’s All Access subscription service.

If Bing’s song lyrics roll out convinced you to switch to Microsoft’s search engine, however, don’t bother switching back. Google’s song lyric catalog is extremely limited compared to its competitor. In fact, the new feature seems like more of a ploy to push people to Google Play than a truly helpful search function.

I hadn’t noted that Bing was already doing song lyrics. Google says it has licensed the lyrics it displays. But – as this article notes, and Techcrunch points out – it’s another annexation by Google of a content business.


LG boss may miss CES due to washing machine fiasco >> CNET

Cho Mu-Hyun:

South Korean prosecutors have imposed a travel ban on Jo Seong-jin, head of LG’s Home Appliance and Air Solution Company, who had been slated to represent LG at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show 2015 in Las Vegas.

Samsung earlier this year filed a lawsuit for property damages and defamation against Jo and four other LG Electronics executives after the IFA tradeshow in Berlin, Germany, claiming that the LG execs intentionally sabotaged the door hinges of one of its washing machines at an electronics store there. Samsung provided as evidence the damaged washing machine and CCTV footage allegedly showing Jo “willfully” damaging the appliance.

Who knew bathos could be so hilarious.


Xiaomi may adopt sapphire for covers of 5.7in smartphone >> Digitimes

China-based smartphone vendor Xiaomi Technology is likely to adopt sapphire for protective covers of Xiaomi 5, its 5.7-inch flagship model that will be showcased at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, Taiwan-based supply chain makers cited industry sources in China as indicating.

Japan-based Kyocera in early 2014 launched smartphones with protective covers made from internally-produced sapphire in the US market through cooperation with Verizon Wireless, while China-based Vivo and Huawei Device also launched smartphones with sapphire covers, the sources said.

If Xiaomi decides to adopt sapphire, existing sapphire production capacity is not sufficient to meet the demand, according to sources with Taiwan-based sapphire wafer makers.

Even with Xiaomi’s smartphone volumes, this probably isn’t possible. Maybe a high-end model?


Why Sony’s breach matters >> Learning by Shipping

Steve Sinofsky, who (of course) used to be at Microsoft:

in late 1996, seemingly all at once everyone started opening Word documents to a mysterious alert like the one below.

This annoying but benign development was actually a virus. The Word Concept virus (technically a worm, which at the time was a big debate) was spreading wildly. It attached itself to an incredibly useful feature of Word called the AutoOpen macro. Basically Word had a snazzy macro language that could do anything automatically that you could do in Word just sitting in front typing (more on this later). AutoOpen allowed these macros to run as soon as you opened a document. You’d receive a document with Concept code in AutoOpen and upon opening the document it would infect the default (and incredibly useful) template Normal.dot and then from then on every document you opened or created was subsequently infected. When you mailed a document or placed it on a file server, everyone opening that document would become infected the same way. This mechanism would become very useful for future viruses.

Looking at this on the team we were rather consternated. Here was a core business use case. For example, AutoOpen would trigger all sorts of business processes such as creating a standard document with the right formats and metadata or checking for certain conditions in a document management system. These capabilities were key to Word winning in the marketplace. Yet clearly something had to be done.

And that was just the start of a long run of malware. But he thinks we’re better off now.


Google just had to spin the Sony hack >> The Illusion of More

David Newhoff on Google’s PR spin around the “Goliath” emails uncovered by the Sony hack, which he calls a Pavlovian bell-ringing for its meme of “internet freedom”:

It’s no secret that motion picture producers and Google have an ongoing dispute with regard to piracy of filmed entertainment, and I think it’s a safe bet both parties regularly consult with counsel regarding their own interests. As such, I personally think one of the more serious results of this leak is the rather dramatic breach of attorney/client privilege. I don’t think we want a society in which hackers can arbitrarily violate this fundamental right in our legal system. Apparently, though, Google’s Sr VP and General Counsel, Kent Walker, was unfazed by this implication — perhaps Google is hacker proof — when he was quoted in Variety saying, “We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means.”  And as of this week, Google has launched a campaign it calls Zombie SOPA. Ding-a-ling!

Walker is not speaking as an attorney, but rather as a PR guy, when he plays the word secret like that in order to imply a conspiracy, knowing full well that communications between clients and attorneys are almost always secret. But near the end of the article, he is also quoted plaintively wondering why champions of the First Amendment like the MPAA would “want to censor the Internet.”  Hear them ring! Of course any discussion about legal remedies to mitigate piracy are tantamount to censorship, right?


Why Samsung is losing out to low cost rivals >> Jana Mobile

Samsung’s flagship Galaxy series is extremely popular among the emerging market smartphone users that make up mCent’s user base (eight of the top ten devices used to access the mCent app in November 2014 came from the Samsung Galaxy series). However, the Galaxy is likely to become less popular as lower-priced competitors enter the market. This is partly due to the total price of components and assembly for Galaxy devices, which have steadily risen in the face of prevailing market trends. If the current trend is sustained, manufacturing and component costs for a Samsung Galaxy [from 2010] will be higher than the global average selling price for a smartphone in 2015…

…In November 2014, Samsung accounted for 40% of sessions on the mCent app for Android. It has been the most popular smartphone brand among users in our markets since the launch of the mCent app in June 2014, yet its popularity has been waning. In the key markets of Brazil, Indonesia, and India, Motorola, Smartfren, and Micromax have become noticeably more popular. We expect this trend to continue into 2015.

With the caveat, however, that they’re talking about the flagship Galaxy phones, not the cheapo phones that it sells at rock-bottom prices.

Though this is becoming a story that everyone is telling: Samsung losing out to the low-cost rivals. Its earnings guidance for the fourth quarter will come out in early January.


Mathematicians have finally figured out how to tell correlation from causation >> Quartz

Zach Wener-Fligner:

determining causal relationships is really hard. But techniques outlined in a new paper promise to do just that. The basic intuition behind the method demonstrated by Prof. Joris Mooij of the University of Amsterdam and his co-authors is surprisingly simple: if one event influences another, then the random noise in the causing event will be reflected in the affected event.

For example, suppose we are trying to determine the relationship between the the amount of highway traffic, and the time it takes John to drive to work. Both John’s commute time and traffic on the highway will fluctuate somewhat randomly: sometimes John will hit the red light just around the corner, and lose five extra minutes; sometimes icy weather will slow down the roads.

But the key insight is that random fluctuation in traffic will affect John’s commute time, whereas random fluctuation in John’s commute time won’t affect the traffic.

Smart – watch for this to filter through into all sorts of everyday algorithms in the next few years.


Did North Korea really attack Sony? >> The Atlantic

Bruce Schneier:

Allan Friedman, a research scientist at George Washington University’s Cyber Security Policy Research Institute, told me that from a diplomatic perspective, it’s a smart strategy for the U.S. to be overconfident in assigning blame for the cyberattacks. Beyond the politics of this particular attack, the long-term U.S. interest is to discourage other nations from engaging in similar behavior. If the North Korean government continues denying its involvement no matter what the truth is, and the real attackers have gone underground, then the U.S. decision to claim omnipotent powers of attribution serves as a warning to others that they will get caught if they try something like this.

Sony also has a vested interest in the hack being the work of North Korea. The company is going to be on the receiving end of a dozen or more lawsuits—from employees, ex-employees, investors, partners, and so on. Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain opined that having this attack characterized as an act of terrorism or war, or the work of a foreign power, might earn the company some degree of immunity from these lawsuits.

I worry that this case echoes the “we have evidence — trust us” story that the Bush administration told in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

Schneier is very sceptical of the US explanation. It’s noticeable how few security experts are on board with the US’s claims over this.


Start up: Apple and Samsung split $300bn, Shazam v music biz, Lookout: Android malware!, sapphire tales and more


Defective sapphire boules from GTAT’s furnaces – from pictures sent by Apple to GTAT creditors. Source: Wall Street Journal.

A selection of 10 links for you. Dogs must be carried on escalator.

The $300bn smartphone industry >> Counterpoint Technology

Neil Shah:

Apple alone will contribute to roughly a third of the smartphone industry revenues in 2014, As Apple will cross the $100bn mark in iPhone hardware revenues this year – the first time in history for any mobile phone manufacturer.

To put into some more context the scale and value Apple or Samsung brings to the industry:
In Q3 2014, the Apple iPhone 5S alone generated more revenues than all the mobile phone hardware revenues generated by LG + Xiaomi + Sony + Huawei combined.

Launched in Sep 2014, within just two weeks, the iPhone 6 series (6 & 6 Plus) together generated more than three times the revenues generated by Xiaomi’s total smartphone revenues in Q3 2014. [Xiaomi was the third biggest smartphone company by shipments in Q3 2014.]

Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S5 alone generated more revenues than all the mobile phone hardware revenues generated by Nokia+Lenovo+Motorola+HTC combined.


The Shazam effect >> The Atlantic
Derek Thompson looks at whether the advent of products such as Shazam – which can map exactly where people are getting interested in a song, and how it spreads – are “bad for music”. (No.) But we, humans, are:

Now that the Billboard rankings are a more accurate reflection of what people buy and play, songs stay on the charts much longer. The 10 songs that have spent the most time on the Hot 100 were all released after 1991, when Billboard started using point-of-sale data—and seven were released after the Hot 100 began including digital sales, in 2005. “It turns out that we just want to listen to the same songs over and over again,” [Silvio] Pietroluongo [Billboard’s director of charts] told me.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1% of bands and solo artists now earn 77% of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82% more of the market than they did a decade ago. The advent of do-it-yourself artists in the digital age may have grown music’s long tail, but its fat head keeps getting fatter.


Samsung, white-box players looking to take over 10-15 million feature phone demand from Microsoft Mobile >> Digitimes Research

With Microsoft Mobile’s announcement in July 2014 it will terminate its feature phone business within a year and a half, Samsung Electronics and China’s white-box handset players have been aggressively competing for the market since the third quarter, and MediaTek and Spreadtrum are both expected to benefit from Microsoft’s decision.

Digitimes Research estimates that Microsoft Mobile’s monthly feature phone shipments in 2014 are around 10m-15m units.

Visiting China’s white-box handset players and related component makers, Digitimes Research discovered that the white-box industry is shipping 35m-40m feature phones each month in the second half of 2014, and with Microsoft gradually reducing its feature phone scale, they are eagerly trying to take over demand left by the software giant.

Feature phone market is shrinking fast, but there’s a little margin left at the bottom.


Google must be crazy? A web balloon crashes in south Africa >> Digits – WSJ

According to a report Thursday in the Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper, Urbanus Botha, who farms in the arid landscape of the Karoo south of Bloemfontein and Lesotho in the center of South Africa, came across the crashed balloon and initially thought it a weather balloon from the nearby weather station at De Aar. He called up the station’s office but nobody picked up, so he packed it into his pickup truck, thinking that its plastic could come in handy as he planned to repaint his shed.

“The huge piece of plastic filled my whole van,” Botha said.

Botha didn’t know what to make of the balloon, especially since it contained several electronic components. His 20-year-old daughter, Sarita, was just as intrigued, and took photos of the balloon on her smartphone, sending them to her brothers John, 30, and Benny, 27. The brothers identified the words “Made in the USA” and “Google X” on the pictures, and so Googled “Google X” and balloons…

…Project Loon should have a “semipermanent” ring of balloons floating across the Southern Hemisphere in the next year or so, Google says.

Similar to June 2014, when another Google Loon balloon crashed into the sea off New Zealand.


Breached webcam and baby monitor site flagged by watchdogs >> BBC News

The public is being warned about a website containing thousands of live feeds to baby monitors, stand-alone webcams and CCTV systems.

Data watchdogs across the world have drawn attention to the Russian-based site, which broadcasts footage from systems using either default passwords or no log-in codes at all.

The site lists streams from more than 250 countries and other territories.

It currently provides 500 feeds from the UK alone…

…China-based Foscam was the most commonly listed brand, followed by Linksys and then Panasonic.

This “warning” is shutting the stable door after the horse has moved to the next town, got married and brought up a family. The terrible security on the systems, though, is the makers’ fault.


Malicious software said to spread on Android phones >> NYTimes.com

For years security researchers have warned that it was only a matter of time before nasty digital scourges like malicious software and spam would hit smartphones.

Now they say it is has finally happened.

A particularly nasty mobile malware campaign targeting Android users has hit between 4m and 4.5m Americans since January of 2013, according to an estimate by Lookout, a San Francisco mobile security company that has been tracking the malware for about two years.

Lookout first encountered the mobile malware, called NotCompatible, two years ago and has since seen increasingly sophisticated versions. Lookout said it believes, based on attempted infections of its user base of 50m, that the total number of people who have encountered the malware in the United States exceeds 4m.

Yikes. Here’s Lookout’s blogpost, and fuller investigation, which notes that “The operators behind NotCompatible.C have built up their population of infected devices on the back of massive spam campaigns and a lack of mobile threat protection on device populations.” NotCompatible disguises itself as a system update, and uses very sophisticated detection prevention and C&C work. (Thanks @Steven Moore for the link.)


App Annie reports global app store growth and opens doors to the underdog >> Infinite Monkeys

The joint App Annie/MEF report portrays a global app economy dominated by two giants of the industry: Google Play had downloads this year that were 60% higher than the iOS App Store, but the App Store managed to maintain a similar 60% lead in overall revenue. With emerging markets looking to get a piece of both companies’ profits, the drive for market share has become an uphill battle.

As Google Android (as opposed to AOSP Android) goes into more emerging economies, this difference – more downloads, but less per-download revenue versus iOS – is likely to wider. Benedict Evans calculated in the summer that on average an iOS user generated 4x the revenue of an Android user; projects such as Android One will make that tend towards 5x and 6x, even as the Android user base expands.

That’s not a bad thing; it’s just an outcome of the numbers.


Machine learning showdown: Apache Mahout vs Weka >> Algorithmia Blog

We here at Algorithmia are firm believers that no one tool can do it all – that’s why we are working hard to put the world’s algorithmic knowledge within everyone’s reach. Needless to say, that’s a work that will be in progress for awhile, but we’re well on the way to getting many of the most popular algorithms out there. Machine learning is one of our highest priorities, so we recently made available two of the most popular machine learning packages: Weka and Mahout.

Test machine learning against hand-drawn numbers (your hand does the drawing). The results are quite variable.


Inside Apple’s broken sapphire factory >> WSJ
Great work by Daisuke Wakabayashi:

Manufacturing wasn’t the only problem. In August, one of the former workers said, GT discovered that 500 sapphire bricks were missing. A few hours later, workers learned that a manager had sent the bricks to recycling instead of shipping. Had they not been retrieved, the misfire would have cost GT hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By that point, it was apparent that sapphire wouldn’t be used for the screens on the new iPhones, which went on sale Sept. 19. Yet Apple still was eager to get as much sapphire as possible, the people familiar with its operations said. Apple’s letter said it only received 10% of the sapphire that GT originally promised.

Also notable:

Apple consumes one-fourth of the world’s supply of sapphire to cover the iPhone’s camera lens and fingerprint reader. Early last year, the company began looking for a much larger supply, to cover the iPhone’s screen.


Business lessons from Apple suppliers >> WSJ

“Apple always asks the suppliers to expand their manufacturing facility to meet the rush demand for its new product, but we have to make our own judgment as the big orders only last for a few months,” said a manager at an Apple supplier. “For example, Apple might want us to increase 100 production lines, but we would only add 50 to 60 gradually.”

Taiwanese touch screen maker Wintek is one example of a company that over-expanded on Apple hopes. Long a secondary touch screen supplier for Apple’s iPhones and iPads, the company expanded its facilities on the prospect of growth, but ended up losing new orders when Apple shifted to new technology to make screens thinner, people familiar with the matter said. The company has languished for the past few years in operating losses.

Some suppliers said they refused similar arrangements as the one GT took, as they did not want to give up their autonomy.

“I know some suppliers took Apple’s offer to reduce investment in machinery but the equipment can only be used to manufacture Apple’s product,” an executive at a different Apple supplier said. “This is a risky arrangement as it limits the supplier’s ability to adjust its manufacturing resources when Apple’s orders decrease.”

The Apple-GTAT episode should probably be taught in business schools.