Start up: Oculus delays, CGI plastic surgery, the drone tractor, Buzzfeed misses, PCs keep dropping, and more

Lots of people do it. But to what value? The Guardian tried analysing them. Photo by Pixel Fantasy on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Now count them. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Oculus’ botched launch harms the VR ecosystem » Forrester Blogs

JP Gownder:

»While my personal Rift delay [of around a month] is merely an annoyance, the botched launch has real repercussions for the VR ecosystem. Oculus’ delay:

• Hurts developers of games and apps. The diversity and depth of the VR developer ecosystem is impressive. While many developers focus on games – logically enough, since that’s a key early adopter demographic – others offer applications ranging from clinical treatments for PTSD to collaboration in virtual spaces. The common denominator? None of these developers are making money if there are no headsets available. And while many apps can be ported to other platforms, Oculus has been the centerpiece of many developers’ high-end VR efforts.

• Hurts media startups and innovations. Media, too, sees a potential loss. While some media companies go the route of the New York Times and focus on Google Cardboard phone-based VR, others are counting on developing truly immersive experiences that simulate presence. Studio Jaunt VR has an Oculus app that, again, won’t be addressable until customers receive their Rifts.

• Helps HTC Vive. On the flip side, Oculus’ main competitor in high-end VR, the HTC Vive, faced minor launch problems of its own. But these were based in payment processing, not hardware problems. Why? HTC is a well-established hardware vendor with many smartphone, wearable, camera, and tablet product releases under its belt. Though priced $200 higher than the Rift, both devices require a ~$1,000 PC…

In fact, the Rift launch fiasco should never have happened. The official statement cites an unspecified “component shortage,” but usually such contracts are locked down many months in advance. Oculus has had 2.5 years to plan for this launch, so there’s really no excuse.

«

Seems overdone to me. The idea that a potentially world-changing technology like VR will be derailed by a month’s delay doesn’t make sense.
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BuzzFeed missed 2015 revenue targets and slashes 2016 projections » FT.com

Matthew Garrahan and Henry Mance:

»BuzzFeed missed its revenue target for 2015 and has slashed its internal projections for 2016 by about half, raising questions about whether the online news and entertainment network can meet the sky-high valuations put on new media groups by investors.

The company, known for its lists, irreverent content and fast-growing editorial operation, had projected about $250m in revenues for 2015 but generated less than $170m, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The company has halved its internal revenue target for 2016 from $500m to $250m, the people said.

BuzzFeed disputed the figures but declined to give its own numbers. “We are very pleased with where BuzzFeed is today and where it will be tomorrow,” the company said. “We are very comfortable with where the digital content world is going and think we are well-positioned.”

«

Hmm. My spidey sense is tingling.
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Saving money by blocking ads » Optimal

»Do you have an iPhone and ever go over your carrier’s data plan allowance? (over 30% of us do!). Mostly unbeknownst to us, video and banner ads and hidden tracking URLs are using a lot of our mobile data plan and draining our battery. Use this calculator (defaults are typical for US users) to estimate how much you could save by installing an iOS 9 content blocker, and how many unnecessary URLs are loading on your phone.

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Only tricky thing is knowing how much browsing you do when not on Wi-Fi. I don’t think most people would have a clue.
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JBL headphones first to use USB Type-C with HTC 10 » Phonescoop

Eric Zeman:

»HTC and JBL today announced a pair of headphones optimized for the HTC 10 smartphone. What’s unique about these headphones is they are among the first to use the USB-C connector, rather than standard 3.5mm headphone jack, to connect with the HTC 10. Since they use USB-C, the JBL Reflect Aware C headphones are able to provide active noise cancellation without internal batteries; they draw power from the HTC 10 itself. Users can customize the level of background noise so they may remain aware of their environment. The headphones are sweat-proof and come with three sport ear tips and three regular ear tips.

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Neat idea.
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15: Please don’t enter the iCloud password » picomac

Ed Cormany:

»With TouchID, unlocking my phone is something I do dozens of times per day without thought. Even when I have to fall back to a passcode — it gets cold outside in places other than California! — it’s seamless. Most importantly, it’s predictable; I only have to authenticate in response to my own action of turning on the phone’s display.

I can’t say the same for iCloud authentication. In theory, I should only have to enter my iCloud credentials at device setup, or when performing specific actions like confirming a purchase. Yet most of the time I’m presented with an iCloud password dialog, it’s out of the blue, with no explanation: simply “Please enter the iCloud password for…” my Apple ID. It’s frustrating, sure, but more than that it’s troubling. Because I respond to that dialog differently than the vast majority of iCloud users.

I always click Cancel.

My iCloud credentials are the key to my digital life across several devices. I don’t give them away without an explanation, just as I wouldn’t give my Social Security number to someone who stopped me on the street randomly. But if the person behind the counter at the bank asked me for my SSN, even if I’d never seen them before in my life, I would give it over — it’s all about context.

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This tweet from Ben Thompson is relevant. Apple really is not implementing this well.
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Worldwide PC shipments declined 9.6% in 1Q 2016 » Gartner

»Worldwide PC shipments totaled 64.8m units in the first quarter of 2016, a 9.6% decline from the first quarter of 2015, according to preliminary results by Gartner, Inc. This was the sixth consecutive quarter of PC shipment declines, and the first time since 2007 that shipment volume fell below 65m units.

“The deterioration of local currencies against the U.S. dollar continued to play a major role in PC shipment declines. Our early results also show there was an inventory buildup from holiday sales in the fourth quarter of 2015,” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner.

“All major regions showed year-over-year shipment declines, with Latin America showing the steepest drop, where PC shipments declined 32.4%. The Latin American PC market was intensely impacted by Brazil, where the problematic economy and political instability adversely affected the market, Ms. Kitagawa said. “The ongoing decline in U.S. PC shipments showed that the installed base is still shrinking, a factor that played across developed economies. Low oil prices drove economic contraction in Latin America and Russia, changing them from drivers of growth to market laggards.”

PCs are not being adopted in new households as they were in the past, especially in emerging markets. In these markets, smartphones are the priority. In the business segment, Gartner analysts said the Windows 10 refresh is expected to start toward the end of 2016.

«

IDC puts the figure even lower, at 60.6m units. Basically, it’s the lowest figure since 2006. Never heard oil prices blamed for PC sales before.
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PC sales: the five stages of grief and the comeback that never comes » Forbes

Mark Rogowsky does a smart take on IDC’s repeated insistence that yeah, the PC business is just about to come back, real soon now:

»the PC has hit hard times in the era of both the iPad and the smartphone. While the former has itself seen sales falling, its impact on the PC is still real. Apple sold 48m last year and if you believe even 10-20% of them were purchased by someone who might have bought a PC instead, that’s potentially 3% of the decline in the PC market right there. (Chromebooks, based on Google’s ChromeOS, now account for nearly 3% of PCs as well, but IDC actually counts those as laptops so they are masking the decline in Windows.)

But a much more important factor has been the rise of smartphones, which are now used by more than 1 in 3 people on earth. While Americans who grew up on PCs have a tough time imagining computing as something other than a traditional laptop or (gasp!) desktop, many in emerging markets don’t know it as anything but what one does on the device they carry with them all the time. This will continue to confound the same kind of people who believe “real work” can’t be done on an iPad until the generation raised on tablets starts running the world without any real comprehension of what it means to use a PC.

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iPhone SE early statistics » Naofumi Kagami

Kagami looked at data from carriers, Amazon and big retailers in Japan:

»The interesting observation is that unlike the iPhone 6s where the 64GB model sells better than the 16GB model on all carriers, the reverse is true for the iPhone SE; on all carriers, the 16GB iPhone SE model sells better than the 64GB model. This suggests that iPhone SE users intend to use their phones more casually, and are more driven by price. Importantly, we have to understand that the data is only for the opening weekend which is typically skewed towards early adopters, who we would expect to prefer higher capacity models. It seems that the trend for iPhone SE users to be casual owners might be very strong.

Of course, we do not know the product mix of the items in stock, so this might simply be a result of inventory skew. However, assuming that this trend holds true, then we can make the following tentative conclusions;

• The iPhone SE appeals more to users who are more considerate of price, and who do not intend to use their smartphones very heavily.
• These users would typically only replace their current smartphones after they have completed their 2-year contract. A strong opening day turnout of this segment suggests that these users were holding onto old phones (either old iPhones or Androids).

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The dark side of Guardian comments » The Guardian

Becky Gardiner et al:

»New research into our own comment threads provides the first quantitative evidence for what female journalists have long suspected: that articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about.

Although the majority of our regular opinion writers are white men, we found that those who experienced the highest levels of abuse and dismissive trolling were not. The 10 regular writers who got the most abuse were eight women (four white and four non-white) and two black men. Two of the women and one of the men were gay. And of the eight women in the “top 10”, one was Muslim and one Jewish.

And the 10 regular writers who got the least abuse? All men.

How should digital news organisations respond to this? Some say it is simple – “Don’t read the comments” or, better still, switch them off altogether. And many have done just that, disabling their comment threads for good because they became too taxing to bother with.

But in so many cases journalism is enriched by responses from its readers. So why disable all comments when only a small minority is a problem?

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Analysis of 70m comments since 2006. Also (if you go through) has a “play being a moderator!” quiz with various comments.

And is it really only a small minority who are a “problem”? It’s more that only a vanishingly small minority improve on what you’ve read. That’s not a surprise, because generally the writers have been trained and paid to write. Not so commenters.
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Autonomous tractor brings in the harvest » Hackaday

Jenny List:

»Matt Reimer is a farmer in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It’s grain country, and at harvest time he has a problem. An essential task when harvesting is that of the grain cart driver, piloting a tractor and grain trailer that has to constantly do the round between unloading the combine harvester and depositing the grain in a truck. It’s a thankless, unrelenting, and repetitive task, and Matt’s problem is that labour is difficult to find when every other farmer in the region is also hiring.

His solution was to replace the driver with a set of Arduinos and a Pixhawk autopilot controlling the tractor’s cab actuators, and running ArduPilot, DroneKit, and his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Since a modern tractor is effectively a fly-by-wire device this is not as annoying a task as it would have been with a tractor from several decades ago, or with a car. The resulting autonomous tractor picks up the grain from his combine, but he reminds us that for now it still deposits the harvest in the truck under human control. It is still a work-in-progress with only one harvest behind it, so this project is definitely one to watch over the next few months.

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Trucks, tractors… this stuff all happens quietly around the edges, and then suddenly you notice that the edges are a lot closer than you used to think.
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LG’s G5 B&O Hi-Fi DAC: thoughts from an audiophile sceptic » Android Police

David Ruddock looks at the Bang & Olufsen certified digital-to-analogue converter that LG offers as an add-on for its G5 flagship smartphone:

»The Hi-FI DAC G5 was clearly and noticeably shaping and processing audio differently than any other device I tested. I’m not sure what effects are being applied, but I would guess it’s some sort of suite of adjustments B&O have made to deem the accessory acceptable to the B&O “signature sound.” The problem for me is that, as someone trying to just let the components be transparent and produce flat, unshaped sound, the Hi-Fi DAC is actually doing a worse job at being a piece of audiophile equipment than the G5’s standard headphone jack! Sure, you’ll hear a difference going from the G5’s headphone jack to the Hi-Fi’s DAC, but that’s literally because LG and / or B&O have gone out of their way to make certain you hear a difference, whether you like it or not. After all, if the average Joe bought a G5 and the Hi-Fi and used the bundled earbuds, do you think LG honestly wants to be in a situation where the customer says they can’t hear the difference? They have to be able to hear it, or LG would be openly mocked for selling an overpriced, ineffectual witchcraft box.

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How actors get plastic surgery with a click » Vulture

Logan Hill:

»Recently, after shooting three episodes of the WGN America drama Salem, an actor in a prominent role left the show for personal reasons. A few years ago, such a major switch would have been a costly debacle requiring expensive reshoots. But “we didn’t have to reshoot at all,” says veteran showrunner Brannon Braga. “We’re replacing his face with a new actor’s face.”

Today, digital face replacement is just one technique at Hollywood’s disposal. Braga regularly uses CG to retouch actors, “whether it’s a pimple, or an actress who has bags under her eyes on that particular day, or painting out a nipple in a sex scene.” When an actress got a nose ring without telling him, his postproduction team removed it at a cost of “tens of thousands of dollars.” Such work can get expensive, but it’s industry standard. “Look, we re-created the whole Library of Alexandria,” he says, referring to his work on the Neil deGrasse Tyson documentary series Cosmos. “Why wouldn’t we get rid of a cookie crumb on Neil’s mustache?”

But Braga is no trailblazer. “I do television,” he says, “not $300 million movies.” He’s just using digital techniques that have become ubiquitous over the last decade — even though they are largely invisible to most audiences, rarely discussed by creators, and usually hidden behind nondisclosure agreements.

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Plus a slideshow. Truly fascinating; and invisible.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

Start up: Xiaomi’s money trouble, instructing Alexa, the App Store problem, Uber’s sick loophole, and more

The final position of AlphaGo’s third win in a five-game match Lee Sedol, the top Go professional. But what does that mean for human competition? Screenshot by kenming_wang 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 15 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I stayed in a hotel with Android lightswitches and it was just as bad as you’d imagine » mjg59

The “switches” were Android tablets. He hooked up an Ethernet connection to see what was going on:

»wireshark revealed that [the data protocol] was Modbus over TCP. Modbus is a pretty trivial protocol, and notably has no authentication whatsoever. tcpdump showed that traffic was being sent to 172.16.207.14, and pymodbus let me start controlling my lights, turning the TV on and off and even making my curtains open and close. What fun!

And then I noticed something. My room number is 714. The IP address I was communicating with was 172.16.207.14. They wouldn’t, would they?

I mean yes obviously they would.

It’s basically as bad as it could be – once I’d figured out the gateway, I could access the control systems on every floor and query other rooms to figure out whether the lights were on or not, which strongly implies that I could control them as well. Jesus Molina talked about doing this kind of thing a couple of years ago, so it’s not some kind of one-off – instead, hotels are happily deploying systems with no meaningful security, and the outcome of sending a constant stream of “Set room lights to full” and “Open curtain” commands at 3AM seems fairly predictable.

We’re doomed.

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MIT unveils 3D solar arrays that produce up to 20 times more energy » 3tags

»Intensive research around the world has focused on improving the performance of solar photovoltaic cells and bringing down their cost. But very little attention has been paid to the best ways of arranging those cells, which are typically placed flat on a rooftop or other surface, or sometimes attached to motorized structures that keep the cells pointed toward the sun as it crosses the sky.

Now, a team of MIT researchers has come up with a very different approach: building cubes or towers that extend the solar cells upward in three-dimensional configurations. Amazingly, the results from the structures they’ve tested show power output ranging from double to more than 20 times that of fixed flat panels with the same base area.

«

They’re not pretty, but they are efficient.
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Fanfare for the Common Man – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Olympic Stadium Montreal) » YouTube

Bloody cold (snow all over the ground) and they must have been shooting the video for at least five hours, judging by the clocks you can see at various points. This is shorter than that. The first use of the polyphonic synthesiser (able to play more than one note at a time) in a rock song. Farewell, Keith Emerson.
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Listen up: your AI assistant goes crazy for NPR too » KWBU

Rachel Martin (in a transcript from her radio program on NPR:

»OK. Go ahead and turn up the volume because this update is for you, Alexa. Last week, we talked about Alexa, the voice-activated assistant that operates on a speaker sold by Amazon called the Echo. The technology is Amazon’s way of connecting to your home as part of a future where you walk into your house and you say – out loud – turn off the alarm. Dim the lights. Preheat the oven. Well, some of you out there already own an Amazon Echo, and our story activated your Alexas. I guess her ears were burning.

Listener Roy Hagar wrote in to say our story prompted his Alexa to reset his thermostat to 70 degrees. It was difficult for Jeff Finan to hear the story because his radio was right next to his Echo speaker, and when Alex heard her name, she started playing an NPR News summary. Marc-Paul Lee said his unit started going crazy too and wrote in to tell us this – let’s just say we both enjoyed the story. So Alexa, listen up – we want you to pledge to your local member station. You hear me? Lots and lots of money. Did you get that, Alexa?

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Xiaomi – hard life » Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor is a sceptic about the prospects of the venture capitalistis’ starry-eyed kid:

»Xiaomi owns 30% of Xunlei and has incorporated its acceleration technology into its ecosystem from MIUI6 (2014) going forward. As a result of this, the performance of Xunlei’s advertising revenues gives some indication of how usage is faring within Xiaomi’s ecosystem and the numbers are not encouraging.

Xunlei’s Q4 2015A revenues declined 1.1% to US$35m however within that online advertising revenues were $1.7m growing 24% YoY with mobile advertising making a contribution for the first time.

Xiaomi claims to have 170m MIUI users all of which have the Xunlei technology but if Xunlei can only generate $1.7m from those users, difficult questions have to be asked with regards to engagement. This makes me concerned that although Xiaomi devices register strong usage, much of that usage may be occurring within the services of its rivals rather than its own…

…if all Xiaomi is doing is providing nicely specified devices at rock bottom prices then it is in fact helping its competitors rather than itself. This is exactly the same problem that other Android handset makers have outside of China. These handset makers slash each other’s throats to put better and better devices in the hands of users but it is Google that reaps all of the benefit from the subsequent usage increases.

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Yahoo announces plans to kill off Games, Livetext, Boss, and more regional sites » VentureBeat

Eil Protalinski:

»Yahoo today announced its Q1 2016 progress report, highlighting the closure of several products and regional sites. As shared in its last earnings call, the company wants to focus on just seven core consumer products: Mail, Search, Tumblr, News, Sports, Finance, and Lifestyle.

First off, the company is shutting down its Yahoo Games site (first launched in 1998!) and publishing channel on May 13, 2016. This impacts all territories: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.

Starting March 14, 2016, users will no longer be able to make in-game purchases on the Yahoo Games site. Yahoo says it has reached out to game publishers and asked them to develop a transition plan for players who have made in-game purchases.

Next, Yahoo Livetext is being shut down at the end of March 2016. The company launched the silent video chat app in July 2015 — we weren’t crazy about the app when we tried it out. As you might expect, Yahoo says Livetext let the company “experiment with new user experiences and features,” which it will try to incorporate into its existing products. Specifically, the company said Yahoo Messenger will have the most to gain here.

«

It’s also closing Yahoo Astrology in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and India. I’m sure they saw it coming though. As for Yahoo, its fate seems to be to pare off more and more of its sites until there’s just a nameplate on an office somewhere in Delaware.
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A typo stopped hackers siphoning nearly $1bn out of Bangladesh » The Register

John Leyden:

»At least 30 transfer requests were made on 5 February using the Bangladesh Bank’s SWIFT code, out of which five resulted in successful transfers, AP reports, citing Bangladeshi newspaper reports.

If all the transfers were effected thieves would have made off with $950m. However, a spelling mistake in the name of one recipient led Deutsche Bank, which was involved in routing funds, to raise a query. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York flagged up the unusual transfer of funds to private accounts to the Bangladesh central bank at around the same time.

“Four requests to transfer a total of about $81m to the Philippines went through, but a fifth, for $20m, to a Sri Lankan non-profit organisation, was held up because the hackers misspelled the name of the NGO, Shalika Foundation,” Reuters reports.

The crooks misspelled “foundation” in the NGO’s name as “fandation”, prompting the query from Deutsche Bank.

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How would you fare at the global negotiating table? » World Economic Forum

Donald Armbrecht:

»You’re a great negotiator at home, but how would you fare on the world stage? Strong negotiating skills in one culture can actually be a disadvantage in another, according to Erin Meyer, author of Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai and Da.

Some cultures are emotionally expressive, even in the meeting room. Laughing, raising your voice or physical contact beyond a handshake can be considered normal in countries such as Italy and Spain. Whereas in the United States there’s a level of friendliness with limits. Meanwhile, business cultures in countries like Germany and Japan can find such behaviour inappropriate or unprofessional.

«

Also needs “what do phrases actually mean?” – given that when a Briton says “really?” they usually mean “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”.
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What no indie developer wants to hear about the App Store » iMore

Rene Ritchie:

»I hate hearing it as much as I hate writing it. It’s far easier to simply blame platform owners for failing to pull levers and influence economies; for treating Facebook or HBO better than they treat the 76th Notes app to launch this year.

If the absolutely capricious and often maddening [Apple App STore] review process and lack of attention really did chill innovation, though, it should be easy to point to Google Play and its over half-a-decade of relatively lax approval policies, and see year after year of ground-breaking, platform-making, device-selling apps that would never come to market on the App Store.

That would be the fastest way to get Apple to change review policies — force them to scramble into recovery mode, show the company rather than tell. But there’s nothing to show. Google Play isn’t full of universe-denting mobile software that iPhone and iPad owners simply can’t get. It has a few things like custom launchers, but those remain incredibly niche.

All the truly important apps of the last few years, from Instagram to Uber, all work just fine on the iPhone. In fact, they often work sooner and better.

If Apple did provide for trials and upgrade pricing and allowed more direct customer relationships, it’s uncertain how much that would really change things either. We live in an age of venture capital and mega corporations who can easily afford to release high-quality apps frequently and for free.

«

It is an unbeatable riposte to “trials would make all the difference” to say “well, it hasn’t for developers on Android”. Now read on..
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Life and death in the App Store » The Verge

Casey Newton:

»Last month, Apple announced it had paid $40 billion to developers since the App Store opened, saying the store was responsible for “creating and supporting” 1.9 million US jobs. More than half a million iOS developers have created apps; the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference is so popular that tickets have to be distributed via a lottery. “[Apple] made our company,” Sykora says. “If Apple didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have a company at all.” And the market for apps is growing: between iOS, Android, and smaller platforms, apps could generate $101 billion annually by 2020, according to market research firm App Annie.

But the App Store’s middle class is small and shrinking. And the easy money is gone.

For a time, Pixite was a shining example of the businesses made possible by the app economy. Like thousands of other developers, Pixite’s founders took what had been a side project and turned it into a full-fledged career. But the company’s recent financial problems illustrate a series of powerful shifts in the industry toward consolidation and corporatization.

«

The death of the middle class here reflects wider changes in the outside world – but with evolution speeded up thousands of times. In passing, this article by Newton, and the interview below by Sam Byford, are two excellent pieces of journalism: as long as they need to be, well-researched, intimate, illuminating.
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Artificial intelligence: Google’s AlphaGo beats Go master Lee Se-dol » BBC News

»A computer program has beaten a master Go player 3-0 in a best-of-five competition, in what is seen as a landmark moment for artificial intelligence.

Google’s AlphaGo program was playing against Lee Se-dol in Seoul, in South Korea.
Mr Lee had been confident he would win before the competition started.

The Chinese board game is considered to be a much more complex challenge for a computer than chess.

“AlphaGo played consistently from beginning to the end while Lee, as he is only human, showed some mental vulnerability,” one of Lee’s former coaches, Kwon Kap-Yong, told the AFP news agency.

«

This is what people overlooked in thinking that Se-dol would be able to pull things back even if he lost the first game. There’s no emotion in the machine; it just slogs on (and like chess, Go gets easier to compute towards the end). The human feels the pressure of being behind, and the pressure to win. The machine won’t blunder. The human can. I’m certain it will be a 5-0 result.
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DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future » The Verge

Sam Byford, in a terrific wide-ranging, intelligent interview:

»SB: So let’s move onto smartphone assistants. I saw you put up a slide from Her in your presentation on the opening day — is that really the endgame here?

DH: No, I mean Her is just an easy popular mainstream view of what that sort of thing is. I just think we would like these smartphone assistant things to actually be smart and contextual and have a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do. At the moment most of these systems are extremely brittle — once you go off the templates that have been pre-programmed then they’re pretty useless. So it’s about making that actually adaptable and flexible and more robust.

SB: What’s the breakthrough that’s needed to improve these? Why couldn’t we work on it tomorrow?

DH: Well, we can — I just think you need a different approach. Again, it’s this dichotomy between pre-programmed and learnt. At the moment pretty much all smartphone assistants are special-cased and pre-programmed and that means they’re brittle because they can only do the things they were pre-programmed for. And the real world’s very messy and complicated and users do all sorts of unpredictable things that you can’t know ahead of time. Our belief at DeepMind, certainly this was the founding principle, is that the only way to do intelligence is to do learning from the ground up and be general.

«

This is a must-read; Hassabis is thinking so far ahead, but also so clearly. (I’ve previously said that I think the AI capabilities of phones will feed into the next pervasive thing – a bit like the selfie.)
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What do games tell us about intelligence? » Medium

Johan Ugander is an assistant professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. The whole essay is terrific – he describes AlphaGo as “moving past the horizon of human Go ability” (chess programs have long since vanished over it) – but this part really makes you think:

»Imagine organizing a “Turing tournament” where all the subjects were human, but an interrogator was told that half of the subjects were machines. Tasked to determine which subjects were human and which were machine, the interrogator would be forced to choose which subject was “more human.” As a result, it is therefore possible to measure “how human” each human is. Or at least: how well each human performs human intelligence.

The next natural step is that there’s no reason to believe that computer programs can’t “out-human” us, achieving Elo ratings in the imitation game much higher than any human. This observation is particularly true if the interrogator in the game is human; the natural next step would be to put in place a machine interrogator, who would probably be able to discern the difference between subjects better than any human. As a first step in this direction, research on CAPTCHAs targets precisely this task of discriminating between machines and humans.

But beyond CAPTCHAs, at what point can a machine no longer tell the difference between a human and a machine?

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One of the greatest art heists of our time was actually a data hack » Ars Technica

You already knew that it wasn’t a guerrilla 3D scan with a Kinect, because you read it here last week. Annalee Newitz has a neat followup, though:

»the true story of how the artists got their scan might actually be more revealing than the Kinect hoax. [Cosmo] Wenman [who has used high-quality photos to create scans] points out that many museums have high-quality scans of their artwork that they refuse to release to the public. He writes:

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I know from first-hand experience that people want this data, and want to put it to use, and as I explained to LACMA in 2014, they will get it, one way or another. When museums refuse to provide it, the public is left in the dark and is open to having bogus or uncertain data foisted upon it.

Museums should not be repositories of secret knowledge, but unfortunately, as I’ve noted elsewhere, Neues is not alone in keeping their scan data to themselves. There are many influential museums, universities, and private collections that have extremely high quality 3D data of important works, but they are not sharing that data with the public.

«

He lists dozens of high-quality scans that are being hoarded by museums, from famous Rodin and Michelangelo sculptures, to Assyrian reliefs that are thousands of years old. If the artists behind The Other Nefertiti would come clean about where their scan came from, they might inspire other artists to force museums to open up their archives and allow many other artworks to return home— or come into our homes, making art part of our everyday lives.

«

There’s the scent of a novel in this. Which is real, the scan or the “original”?
link to this extract

 


Uber riders say they were charged massive cleaning fees for messes they never made » BuzzFeed News

Leticia Miranda:

»Uber customers are warning others to be wary of using the ride-hailing app after they say they were charged hundreds in vehicle cleaning fees for messes they claim they never made.

Jordan Hunter, a 22-year-old senior at University of Texas, says she and a group of friends were left stunned after a six-mile Uber ride in Austin left them with a triple-digit bill for what Uber said were cleaning purposes.

The group of six friends took an Uber home early on Saturday, Feb. 7, Hunter told BuzzFeed News. The friends were irritated by the surge pricing, but were willing to cough up the $68 it would cost to get home safely.

After arriving home, the friends were shocked to see they had been charged an additional $100 for a cleaning fee.

«

Sounds like drivers figuring out a way to make some extra cash on the side. If there’s a wrinkle, people will find it.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Asus’s router screwup, slower smartphones, Ek speaks, the FBI’s other iPhones, hi – it’s Sony, and more

What if you reduced novels to their punctuation? How would they look? Photo by Jilligan86 on Flickr.

You mean you signed up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email? Nice one.

A selection of 11 links for you. Calorie-free. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

ASUS settles FTC charges that insecure home routers and “cloud” services put consumers’ privacy at risk » Federal Trade Commission

»Taiwan-based computer hardware maker ASUSTeK Computer, Inc. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that critical security flaws in its routers put the home networks of hundreds of thousands of consumers at risk. The administrative complaint also charges that the routers’ insecure “cloud” services led to the compromise of thousands of consumers’ connected storage devices, exposing their sensitive personal information on the internet…

…ASUS marketed its routers as including numerous security features that the company claimed could “protect computers from any unauthorized access, hacking, and virus attacks” and “protect [the] local network against attacks from hackers.” Despite these claims, the FTC’s complaint alleges that ASUS didn’t take reasonable steps to secure the software on its routers.

For instance, according to the complaint, hackers could exploit pervasive security bugs in the router’s web-based control panel to change any of the router’s security settings without the consumer’s knowledge…

…In February 2014, hackers used readily available tools to locate vulnerable ASUS routers and exploited these security flaws to gain unauthorized access to over 12,900 consumers’ connected storage devices.

«

Swingeing fine? No – just “a comprehensive security program subject to independent audits for the next 20 years.” Pfft.
link to this extract

 


Session with Daniel Ek / Feb 16, 2016 » Quora

Lots of questions and answers from Spotify’s founder/chief. I found this one interesting:

»

Q: How will you compete as Amazon, Google (incl. YouTube), Apple, etc. strengthen and expand the scope of their respective lock-in?

A: I believe in focus. All of the companies you mention have music as a hobby, a very small part of their overall business. We do one thing and try to do it really well. This means we have a company 100% dedicated to finding the right content, personalizing it for you and serving it up with partners who are specialized in what they do. The big platform companies don’t generally like partnering. We do. This opens up lots of doors. To put it another way, we are really focused on delivering the best possible music experience you can find. I’m not saying we don’t think about the competition – of course we do, it would be crazy not to. But we think about them more in terms of how to make Spotfy so easy, so fun, and so relevant for our users that whether you wait on lines for every new Apple device, get your groceries from Amazon Prime, or use every Google mail and workplace app, you still want to listen to music on Spotify because it’s the best experience there is.

«

link to this extract

 


Pirated App Store client for iOS found on Apple’s App Store » HelpNet Security

Zeljka Zorz:

»The app hasn’t been flagged as potentially dangerous by Apple’s strict code reviewers, most likely because the app was made to look like a simple app for learning English if a reviewer (or user) accessed the app from anywhere outside China, and showed its true face only for those located in China.

Also, it’s coded in the Lua programming language, and this allows the developers to update the app remotely and repeatedly without triggering Apple’s app review process.

The app was available for download in the App Store for over three and a half months (since October 30, 2015 to the end of last week), but has now been removed.

The researchers haven’t discovered any actual malicious functionality in the app, but given its capabilities, it should definitely be considered risky to use. They dubbed it ZergHelper, and discovered over 50 enterprise-signed versions of the app being distributed in the wild through alternative channels.

«

Enterprise certificates are still the biggest weak point for getting apps onto iPhones. This one was clever too in using geolocation, and Lua.
link to this extract

 


Justice Department seeks to force Apple to extract data from about 12 other iPhones » WSJ

Devlin Barrett:

»The letter, written last week from an Apple lawyer to a federal judge, lists the locations of those phone cases: Four in Illinois, three in New York, two in California, two in Ohio, and one in Massachusetts.

The letter doesn’t describe the specific types of criminal investigations related to those phones, but people familiar with them said they don’t involve terrorism cases. The 12 cases remain in a kind of limbo amid the bigger, more confrontational legal duel between the government and the company over an iPhone seized in the terror case in California, these people said.

«

How surprising that the other cases where the Department wants to do exactly the same aren’t about a high-profile mass shooting that has been framed as “terrorism”.

On another note, this story has prompted some excellent reporting. Such as the next one…
link to this extract

 


Secret memo details US’s broader strategy to crack phones » Bloomberg Business

Terrific scoop by Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson:

»In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The approach was formalized in a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” tasking government agencies with developing encryption workarounds, estimating additional budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark” problem: investigators being unable to access the contents of encrypted data stored on mobile devices or traveling across the Internet. Details of the memo reveal that, in private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.

«

link to this extract

 


Bitcoin miners back proposed timeline for 2017 hard fork » CoinDesk

Stan Higgins:

»A group of bitcoin miners constituting close to 80% of the network hashrate, as well representatives from exchanges, service providers and contributors to the Bitcoin Core development project, have proposed a development timeline for scaling the bitcoin network.

The statement’s release comes after a more than 18 hour-long meeting in Hong Kong that drew participants from China’s bitcoin mining community and members of the Bitcoin Core team.

Some of the letter’s signatories were party to a previous statement that voiced opposition to any “contentious hard fork” to the bitcoin network.

According the proposed timeline, Bitcoin Core contributors Matt Corallo, Luke Dashjr, Cory Fields, Johnson Lau and Peter Todd will produce and recommend code for a hard fork to the bitcoin network that would feature a block size increase. The code for this proposal is expected to be made available by July.

«

The picture accompanying the article shows that the group comprises 21 people. So much for bitcoin being decentralised: this group decides which way everything moves.
link to this extract

 


Punctuation in novels » Medium

Adam Calhoun:

»When we think of novels, of newspapers and blogs, we think of words. We easily forget the little suggestions pushed in between: the punctuation. But how can we be so cruel to such a fundamental part of writing?

Inspired by a series of posters, I wondered what did my favorite books look like without words.

Here’s Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (left) and Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner.

«

A lovely idea. Hemingway turns out to be a radical.
link to this extract

 


Sony worms way into Ear with Xperia headset-cum-virtual assistant » Ars Technica UK

Mark Walton:

»As it dawns on smartphone makers that—after years of healthy upgrades—consumers are perfectly happy with their existing phone, they’ve started to pile on the features instead. LG has its wacky upgradable G5, Samsung has its Gear VR headset, and Sony… well, it’s got the Xperia Ear, a Bluetooth headset-cum-virtual assistant that it hopes will take away the need for everyone to keep pulling their smartphones out of their pockets.

You can take calls with Xperia Ear, send messages, get the latest traffic updates, and it’ll even send you directions using GPS (via the phone it’s paired with). None of that is particularly innovative as such, but the Ear’s USP is the way its packaged up into a neat, and arguably more reliable package that your traditional virtual assistant along the lines of Siri or Google Now. For instance, when a call comes in and you pick up the Ear, it has a proximity sensor that automatically answers the call and flings it to your earlobe.

If you’re stuck for the perfect cupcake recipe or want to know who invented the Burrito (sorry, I have the MWC hunger), the Ear can find that stuff out too via voice activated Internet searches. Again, this is functionality most people already have access to via their phone, but Sony hopes that by removing the need to pull out their phones altogether, and instead reach for the Ear, people will won’t be quite as shut out from the outside world.

OK, so the concept is clearly a strange one, and there’s evidence to suggest that such devices—like the similar Motorola hint—have struggled to find a market.

«

Can’t imagine why. You make it sound so… useful.
link to this extract

 


Google to shut down Google Compare products in US and UK on March 23 » Search Engine Land

Ginny Marvin:

»The company only recently began rebuilding the Compare product from the ashes of the Advisor program in the US. The single piece left standing from that initial effort was the credit card offering — savings accounts, CDs and mortgages had all discontinued. Compare for Auto Insurance launched just last March, starting in California. Then Google relaunched Compare for Mortgage quotes in November with Zillow and Lending Tree among the launch partners. Both of those relaunches had limited roll outs. In the UK, Google Compare has been running since 2012 for car insurance, mortgage rates, credit cards and travel insurance.

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land that while searches on these queries remained high, the product didn’t get the traction it hoped for and revenue was minimal. That’s in part due to the limited availability of the products in both the US and the UK.

«

Another one for the graveyard.
link to this extract

 


Double-digit smartphone market growth is over » Kantar Worldpanel

»Feature phone owners across markets are challenged in finding smartphones that offer what they consider a good value for money spent. They are unlikely to upgrade to a smartphone until they can no longer rely on their current device. While looking year over year might not be enough to see a clear trend, examining the past three years makes it clear that smartphone life cycles are getting longer.

In mature markets, the profitable high end of the market is saturated. In the US, the high-end segment, devices with an unsubsidized price of more than $500 represented 48% of sales in 2015, growing a mere 9% over 2014. In the EU5, where the high-end segment represented just 27% of sales, growth was commensurately lower than in the US, coming in at 6%.

What should the industry expect for 2016? According to Milanesi, 48% of smartphone owners in the EU5 are currently planning to upgrade their smartphone over the next 12 months. This number decreases to 46% in the US, and 28% in urban China. Consumer brand preference for their next device varies a little by region, but two brand names that remain prominent are Apple and Samsung.

«

link to this extract

 


Google + GSMA announcement on RCS is no gamechanger » Disruptive Wireless

Dean Bubley:

»From the announcement: “Operators have agreed to transition toward a common, universal profile based on the GSMA’s RCS specifications and an Android RCS client provided by Google.”

It’s belatedly throwing various independent RCS app providers under the bus, trying to make disparate RCS implementations actually work together. As with VoLTE, RCS has suffered a wide range of non-interoperable versions to date, which is rather embarrassing for an application that was mainly standardised for the purpose of interoperability, rather than user-utility.

That it’s failed to actually be interoperable, as well as failed to be useful & well-designed, is just another eaten brain in the 8-year zombie catastrophe of RCS.

What’s interesting is what’s not in the statement:

– No mention of messaging-as-a-platform, despite that being hinted at previously in RCS presentations I’ve seen. Given that WeChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and others are shifting to commerce/advertising “streams”, that’s a surprising omission.
– No current usage numbers for RCS. There’s vague pronouncements about “towards a billion users”, but no baseline of current DAUs/MAUs for “proper” RCS usage, not just SMS-replacement texting.
– It doesn’t mention the new RCS client being made mandatory in future Android builds. It just says it’s available. The PR is very operator-centric, which doesn’t seem to suggest that all OEMs will automatically implement it in new devices, especially where they’re sold through open-market channels.
– No reference to whether the client will be appearing on WiFi-only tablets, or other Android devices (cars, watches, Chromebooks etc)
– No mention of AT&T or Verizon in the press release, although there’s an AT&T speaker at MWC on stage with them apparently (link)
– No clear timelines or wholehearted commitment by Google “an important step forward in bringing a better messaging experience for Android users everywhere”
– No mention of Samsung, which also happened to have Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook keynoting its big press conference yesterday. Given Google is trying to wrest back control of Android from its OEMs’ influence, that’s not a good sign for Samsung+RCS
– No reference to the South Korean operators ditching Joyn recently.

It’s also still unclear exactly what the future RCS business/revenue model might look like. Although it references the Jibe platform for MNOs, it doesn’t rule out my previous hypothesis of “Android iMessage” either.

«

link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Google adds ads, HTC nears Vive, Watch wrinkles and worries, FBI v Apple redux, and more

It’s the Samsung Galaxy S7! Looks completely unlike previous ones, right? Photo by Janitors 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.

Four ads on top: the wait is over » Moz

Peter Meyers:

»For the past couple of months, Google has been testing SERPs with 4 ads at the top of the page (previously, the top ad block had 1-3 ads), leading to a ton of speculation in the PPC community. Across the MozCast data set, 4 ads accounted for only about 1% of SERPs with top ads (which matches testing protocol, historically). Then, as of yesterday, this happened:

Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve seen a gradual increase, but on the morning of February 18, the percentage of top ads blocks displaying 4 ads jumped to 18.9% (it’s 19.3% as of this morning). Of the 5,986 page-1 SERPs in our tracking data that displayed top ads this morning, here’s how the ad count currently breaks down:

As you can see, 4-ad blocks have overtaken 2-ad blocks and now account for almost one-fifth of all top ad blocks. Keep in mind that this situation is highly dynamic and will continue to change over time. At the 19% level, though, it’s unlikely that this is still in testing.

«

Google came up in a time when search engine results pages (SERPs) were stuffed with paid-for ads. Google’s clean results page was different. Now the other search engines have gone away. And SERPs are becoming stuffed with ads again.
link to this extract

 


Phone makers look to add-on gizmos to revitalize market » Reuters

Meanwhile, there’s that event called Mobile World Congress going on in Barcelona this week. Paul Sandle notes the pressures on “traditional” handset makers:

»while the competition [among handset makers] intensifies true innovation has not, with the Barcelona show expected to feature instead other products that connect to phones, like all-round cameras capable of producing immersive views, new wearable devices and electronic gadgets for the home or workplace that use smartphones as a processing hub.

As usual Apple will be absent, preferring to run its own events for new product launches.

“We will see a lot of stuff around 360-degree cameras and virtual reality headsets with a smartphone,” said Francisco Jeronimo, an analyst with research firm IDC. “Commodities rather than innovation”, said Forester analyst Thomas Huston.

“I don’t expect true innovation, it’s going to be more about the specifications, the better processing power, the battery life,” he said.

“What’s the benefit for consumers? I think it will be very limited.”

«

link to this extract

 


Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge: curvier, faster, micro SD expansion — available March 11 » Ars Technica UK

Mark Walton:

»In a surprise move, those that pre-order in the UK and US will receive a free Galaxy Gear VR headset to go along with their shiny new phone.

At first glance—besides their larger screen sizes—both phones look largely identical to their predecessors, the S7 sporting a flat glass front, and the S7 Edge sporting a curved display that gently folds in at the edges to the meet the aluminium body. Both phones will be available in Black Onyx and Gold Platinum, with the S7 Edge also available in Silver Titanium. Unfortunately for fans of 4K, both the S7 and S7 Edge are rocking 2560×1440 pixel displays. The most noticeable design change comes to the rear of the phone, where the dreaded camera bump has been removed to to make the camera module flush with the body. Surprisingly, this hasn’t affected the thickness of the phones, which remain fairly svelte at 7.9mm for the S7 and 7.7mm for the S7 Edge. The regular S7 also gains a curved back like the Galaxy Note 5.

Perhaps more exciting is that the S7 and S7 Edge both feature a microSD card slot, a much requested feature that was removed from the S6. Both phones will ship with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which allows users to merge the SD card with the internal flash memory to create one large seamless pool of storage, making the SD card slot a welcome addition. Also back is water and dust resistance, which was previously found in the Galaxy S5 but was skipped over for the S6. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are both rated IP68, which equates to “totally dust tight” and prolonged submersion in water (the S5 was IP67, which is only “temporary immersion”).

There’s nothing too surprising happening on the inside, aside from the bump up to 4GB of RAM.

«

Don’t think this will make the slightest difference to the general arc of smartphone sales. I doubt these will sell better than either the S5 or S6 or S6 Edge. Water/dust resistance didn’t help the S5; and the Edge feature didn’t change anything much in sales terms.
link to this extract

 


The consumer version of HTC’s Vive VR headset will arrive in April for $799 with two free games » Android Police

Michael Crider:

»The headset is nearing completion, and the company has announced that the final consumer model will ship in early April for the disappointing price of $799. For that price you get two motion-sensing controllers, two room scale sensors, and VR games Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives and Fantastic Contraption. Pre-orders begin next week on February 29th.

Unlike Google Cardboard, Samsung’s Gear VR, and other systems that rely on a smartphone as a slide-in display, the Vive is a fully contained unit with screens, optical lenses, sensors, a camera and microphone, and other electronics built into the device itself. Like the Oculus, it needs a standard PC (and a quite powerful one) to send video and process images for gaming and other applications. Early reports of the Vive have praised it as an impressive experience, particularly with games that have been developed specifically for the platform. However, the Vive will also be able to connect to at least some smartphones via Bluetooth for answering phone calls and viewing notifications, perhaps allowing HTC some synergy with its phone lines.

«

“The headset is nearing completion”? I’m hoping that’s just a loose version of “it’s nearly public”. If it isn’t complete yet, they’ve got some problems. (As for “synergy” – dream on.)
link to this extract

 


Watch apps worth making » David Smith

Smith has shipped 11 Watch apps over the past year:

»There seem to be only three kinds of apps that make sense given the current hardware and software on the Apple Watch.

1: Notifications — Not really an “app” in the traditional sense but getting real-time alerts of things that are important to me is great. Any iOS app that sends notifications should do the basic work to make sure they look and perform well on the Apple Watch.

2: Complications — Showing timely information at the raise of the wrist. These are probably the most practically useful apps on my watch. I typically have my watch show me the current temperature, my current step count, and battery percent. All of which present me with timely information that is useful to know now.

3: Sensors — The last kind of app that has actually stuck for me on the Apple Watch are apps that make use of the sensors on the watch. These apps are essentially impossible to re-create on an iPhone. The Apple Watch includes a heart rate monitor, accelerometer and microphone. I don’t think the range and variety of uses for these has been fully explored yet. Having these sensors persistently attached to your body is very different than any use you might come up with on an iPhone.

«

Completely agree. More sensors would be really useful (even sensors relaying stuff from the phone, as the weather is).

link to this extract

 


Exclusive: common mobile software could have opened San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone » Reuters

Jim Finkle:

»The legal showdown over U.S. demands that Apple Inc AAPL.O unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook might have been avoided if his employer, which owns the device, had equipped it with special mobile phone software it issues to many workers.

San Bernardino County, which employed Farook as an environmental health inspector, requires some, but not all, of its workers to install mobile-device management software made by Silicon Valley-based MobileIron Inc MOBL.O on government-issued phones, according to county spokesman David Wert.

That software is designed to secure corporate data. It also allows information technology departments to remotely unlock phones, even without assistance of the phone’s users or access to the password needed to open the phone and unscramble the data.

“If that particular iPhone was using MobileIron, the county’s IT department could unlock it,” MobileIron Vice President Ojas Rege told Reuters.

«

So there was huge confusion around this phone. Understandable: there’s a mass shooting, the fugitives escape surveillance, a phone is found. Perhaps it is bagged as evidence and its battery runs down, which means it can’t be forced to make an iCloud backup even on trusted Wi-Fi, and that you can’t ask Siri for details about phone calls. Then they reset the password (at the FBI’s request), which made things even worse.

A mess from start to finish – but given that Farook destroyed two other phones, how likely is it that this phone was used to communicate with anyone relevant? Answer: it’s extremely unlikely.
link to this extract

 


Reconciling perspectives: new report reframes encryption debate » Berkman Center

»The Berklett Cybersecurity Project of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is pleased to announce the publication of a new report entitled “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate.” The report examines the high-profile debate around government access to encryption, and offers a new perspective gleaned from the discussion, debate, and analyses of an exceptional and diverse group of security and policy experts from academia, civil society, and the U.S. intelligence community.

“Many conversations on sensitive subjects of technology and security are productive because they’re among people who already agree,” said Prof. Jonathan Zittrain, faculty chair of the Berkman Center. “The aim of this project is to bring together people who come from very different starting points and roles, and who very rarely have a chance to speak frankly with one another. We want to come away with some common insights that could help push the discussion into some new territory.”

The report takes issue with the usual framing of the encryption debate and offers context and insights that widen the scope of the conversation to more accurately reflect the surveillance landscape both now and in the future.

«

Thanks Seth Finkelstein for the link.
link to this extract

 


Apple is selling you a phone, not civil liberties » Lawfare

Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes:

»First, the Going Dark skeptics [who say that it’s OK for phones to be encrypted beyond the capability of companies or law enforcement to decrypt them] demand, show us the cases in which the absence of extraordinary law enforcement access to encrypted data is actually posing a problem. And this demand seemed quite reasonable, in our view. If the FBI wants to take the position that it has a problem, it has to do more than cry wolf. Show us the wolf.

And in the last couple of weeks, the bureau has shown some serious wolf. Consider this excerpt from Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress last week: “A woman was murdered in Louisiana last summer, eight months pregnant, killed, no clue as to who did it, except her phone is there when she’s found killed. They couldn’t open it, still can’t open it. So the case remains unsolved.” (The discussion is available here starting at 31:00.)

Then came the filing in the San Bernardino case this week. Note that this is a case that has a potentially serious ISIS link. The FBI has been sitting on one of the shooter’s phones for more than two months, unable to open it. It wants Apple’s help to determine “who [the shooters] may have communicated with to plan and carry out the IRC shootings, where Farook and Malik may have traveled to and from before and after the incident, and other pertinent information that would provide more information about their and others’ involvement in the deadline shooting.”

This is, in other words, a law enforcement and intelligence interest of the highest order…

«

That Comey testimony, in this extract, is pretty thin gruel; her phone contains the whole answer to the crime? No clues in any physical evidence at all? No clues from her telephone records (which are available from the mobile carrier)? Nothing in her personal computer, assuming she has one? Nothing on any social media profiles, perhaps linked to Tinder? That’s a pretty remarkable murder, and the implication that all the necessary clues are locked inside her phone feels even more remarkable.

But it’s important to read viewpoints like this to realise what the other side of the argument is, and how it carries the same steamroller-style momentum that you might think the privacy/security one does.
link to this extract

 


No, Apple has not unlocked 70 iPhones for law enforcement » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»I keep seeing reports that Apple has unlocked “70 iPhones” for the government. And those reports argue that Apple is now refusing to do for the FBI what it has done many times before. This meme is completely inaccurate at best, and dangerous at worst.

There are two cases involving data requests by the government which are happening at the moment. There is a case in New York — in which Apple is trying really hard not to hand over customer information even though it has the tools to do so — and there is the case in California, where it is fighting an order from the FBI to intentionally weaken the security of a device to allow its passcode to be cracked by brute force. These are separate cases with separate things at stake.

The New York case involves an iPhone running iOS 7. On devices running iOS 7 and previous, Apple actually has the capability to extract data, including (at various stages in its encryption march) contacts, photos, calls and iMessages without unlocking the phones. That last bit is key, because in the previous cases where Apple has complied with legitimate government requests for information, this is the method it has used.

It has not unlocked these iPhones — it has extracted data that was accessible while they were still locked. The process for doing this is laid out in its white paper for law enforcement…

It’s worth noting that the government has some tools to unlock phones without Apple’s help, but those are hit and miss, and have nothing to do with Apple. It’s worth noting that in its statements to the court in the New York case, the government never says Apple unlocks devices, but rather that it bypasses the lock to extract the information.

«

Just to clear that up.
link to this extract

 


The colour of surveillance » Slate

Alvaro Bedoya:

»The FBI has a lead. A prominent religious leader and community advocate is in contact with a suspected sleeper agent of foreign radicals. The attorney general is briefed and personally approves wiretaps of his home and offices. The man was born in the United States, the son of a popular cleric. Even though he’s an American citizen, he’s placed on a watchlist to be summarily detained in the event of a national emergency. Of all similar suspects, the head of FBI domestic intelligence thinks he’s “the most dangerous,” at least “from the standpoint of … national security.”

Is this a lone wolf in league with foreign sponsors of terrorism? No: This was the life of Martin Luther King Jr. That FBI assessment was dated Aug. 30, 1963—two days after King told our country that he had a dream…

…Across our history and to this day, people of color have been the disproportionate victims of unjust surveillance; Hoover was no aberration. And while racism has played its ugly part, the justification for this monitoring was the same we hear today: national security.

The FBI’s violations against King were undeniably tinged by what historian David Garrow has called “an organizational culture of like-minded white men.” But as Garrow and others have shown, the FBI’s initial wiretap requests—and then–Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of them—were driven by a suspected tie between King and the Communist Party. It wasn’t just King; Cesar Chavez, the labor and civil rights leader, was tracked for years as a result of vague, confidential tips about “a communist background,” as were many others.

«

link to this extract

 


October 2010: What’s really wrong with BlackBerry (and what to do about it) » Mobile Opportunity

Michael Mace, on an old post which happens to hold some useful insights that are worth remembering:

»When I worked at Apple, I spent a lot of time studying failed computer platforms. I thought that if we understood the failures, we might be able to prevent the same thing from happening to us.

I looked at everything from videogame companies to the early PC pioneers (companies like Commodore and Atari), and I found an interesting pattern in their financial results. The early symptoms of decline in a computing platform were very subtle, and easy for a business executive to rationalize away. By the time the symptoms became obvious, it was usually too late to do anything about them.

The symptoms to watch closely are small declines in two metrics: the rate of growth of sales, and gross profit per unit sold (gross margins). Here’s why:

Every computing platform has a natural pool of customers. Some people need or want the platform, and some people don’t. Your product spreads through its pool of customers via the traditional “diffusion” process — early enthusiasts first, late adopters at the end.

It’s relatively easy to get good revenue from the early adopters. They seek out innovations like yours, and are willing to pay top dollar for it. As the market for a computer system matures, the early adopters get used up, and the company starts selling to middle adopters who are more price-sensitive. In response to this, the company cuts prices, which results in a big jump in sales. Total revenue goes up, and usually overall profits as well. Everybody in the company feels good…

«

But trouble lies ahead.
link to this extract

 


Global smartwatch shipments overtake Swiss watch shipments in Q4 2015 » Strategy Analytics

»According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartwatch shipments reached 8.1m units in Q4 2015, compared with 7.9m Swiss Watch shipments. It is the first time ever that smartwatches have outshipped Swiss watches on a global basis.

Cliff Raskind, director at Strategy Analytics, said, “We estimate global smartwatch shipments reached 8.1m units in Q4 2015, rising a healthy 316% from 1.9m in Q4 2014. Smartwatches are growing rapidly in North America, Western Europe and Asia. Apple Watch captured an impressive 63% share of the global smartwatch market in Q4 2015, followed by Samsung with 16%. Apple and Samsung together account for a commanding 8 in 10 of all smartwatches shipped worldwide.”

Steven Waltzer, Analyst at Strategy Analytics, added, “We estimate global Swiss watch shipments reached 7.9m units in Q4 2015, falling 5% from 8.3m in Q4 2014. Global demand for Swiss watches is slowing down, and major players like Swatch are struggling to find growth.”

«

The lost 0.4m units doesn’t seem like a big problem at first. But then, nothing bad seems like a big problem at first – as above.
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Peeling paint, website bugs: Ringing Bell’s ₹251 phone in a storm of controversies day after launch » Huffington Post

Ivan Mehta:

»It started on an off note after Manohar Parrikar, India’s defence minister, did not show up at the event hosted to launch the phone. The details given out about the phone’s specs were nothing if not vague. A Hindustan Times report suggested that when asked the policy behind the pricing of the phone, Ashok Chadha, an official from the company, said the real cost of the device was ₹2500, which will be recovered through a raft of measures like economies of scale, innovative marketing, reduction in duties and creating an e-commerce marketplace.

Pranav Dixit, Tech editor for the Hindustan Times also said in a Reddit AMA that he has received a letter from the Indian Cellular Association (ICA), written to telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, that estimates that the phone should cost at least USD 60 (Approx. ₹4100).

The phones handed over to the press all have an Adcom logo hidden behind a coat of white paint that easily peeled off. A report from Gadgets 360 suggested that phones handed out as review units were not the final products which will be shipped. That raises the question that who is building the final product? The report also says that Ringing Bells has not been registered at BIS, making their devices unsafe to use.

«

Gets worse. So, $4? Probably more like $40 in reality.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: FBI v Apple redux, Google’s Cloud Vision, fixing #error53, Iraq’s lost iridium, and more

You can always sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Try it. Unless you’re reading the email.

A selection of 12 links for you. Remember, Friday is for life, not just for Christmas. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Statement on FBI-Apple court order » Congressman Ted Lieu

This might not be what you expect:

»Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) issued the following statement regarding the APPLE court order. Congressman Lieu is one of only four computer science majors in Congress.  Congressman Lieu is also the author of the ENCRYPT ACT of 2016.

“The terrorist attack in San Bernardino was horrific and the tragic loss of innocent lives demands a strong response.  I have several deep concerns, however, about the unprecedented court order that forces Apple to create software it does not have in order to provide a “back door” way to weaken its smartphone encryption system.

This FBI court order, by compelling a private sector company to write new software, is essentially making that company an arm of law-enforcement.   Private sector companies are not—and should not be—an arm of government or law enforcement.

This court order also begs the question: Where does this kind of coercion stop?  Can the government force Facebook to create software that provides analytic data on who is likely to be a criminal?  Can the government force Google to provide the names of all people who searched for the term ISIL?  Can the government force Amazon to write software that identifies who might be suspicious based on the books they ordered?”

«

link to this extract

 


A Linux-powered microwave oven [LWN.net]

Neil Brown:

»Adding a smartphone-like touchscreen and a network connection and encouraging a community to build innovative apps such as recipe sharing are fairly obvious ideas once you think to put “Linux” and “microwave oven” together, but Tulloh’s vision and prototype lead well beyond there. Two novel features that have been fitted are a thermal camera and a scale for measuring weight.

The thermal camera provides an eight-by-eight-pixel image of the contents of the oven with a precision of about two degrees. This is enough to detect if a glass of milk is about to boil over, or if the steak being thawed is in danger of getting cooked. In either case, the power can be reduced or removed. If appropriate, an alert can be sounded. This would not be the first microwave to be temperature sensitive — GE sold microwave ovens with temperature probes decades ago — but an always-present sensor is much more useful than a manually inserted probe, especially when there is an accessible API behind it.«

Just wait until you get onto the bit about making sure the door is shut (which is what stops you blasting the room with microwaves that would cook you).
link to this extract

 


Learning the Alphabet » The Verge

Ben Popper:

»For the most part, [Flint, Michigan schools technology director Dan] Davenport’s repository consisted of eight- to 10-year-old Dell desktops and laptops he had robbed of RAM and other components to help speed up or repair machines used by teachers. “We are left with these mismatched parts.” And yet, when he set the machines up to run Neverware’s Cloud Ready version of Chromium, they outperformed newer Windows machines the school was using. “If you are comparing what we used to run, Chrome and Neverware is a better experience for the end user.”

Davenport estimates that to get a new machine and the proper license, it would cost around $400 for each new Windows computer and $200 for each new Chromebook. “With Neverware it’s costing me 50 bucks.” The school is now adapting several computer labs to run Neverware chromebooks. “Hey, that’s an interesting model,” says Davenport with a chuckle. “Run on your oldest junk for next to no money.” The transformation at Ovid-Elsie is striking, but far from unique. It’s just one example of a much larger trend toward cloud computing, a paradigm shift that has radically reshaped the technological landscape at schools across the United States.

«

Popper says – in the first comment on the article – “I’ve been writing about Neverware since 2009. Pretty crazy how much things have changed since then.”

But the general point about Neverware, which tried to get Dell and HP interested but found none for lengthening PC life cycles, and cloud computing in schools, is well made. Certainly a threat to Microsoft in schools.
link to this extract

 


Google Cloud Vision API enters Beta, open to all to try! » Google Cloud Platform Blog

Ram Ramanathan, product manager:

»Today, we’re announcing the beta release of Google Cloud Vision API. Now anyone can submit their images to the Cloud Vision API to understand the contents of those images — from detecting everyday objects (for example, “sports car,” “sushi,” or “eagle”) to reading text within the image or identifying product logos.

With the beta release of Cloud Vision API, you can access the API with location of images stored in Google Cloud Storage, along with existing support of embedding an image as part of the API request. We’re also announcing pricing for Cloud Vision API and added additional capabilities to identify the dominant color of an image. For example, you can now apply Label Detection on an image for as little as $2 per 1,000 images or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for $0.60 for 1,000 images. Pricing will be effective, starting March 1st.

«

I feel like this is partly the work of Pete Warden – it looks so like his work at Jetpac.
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Apple fixes iPhones disabled by Error 53 caused by unofficial repairs » Techcrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»Today, Apple is issuing an updated version of iOS 9.2.1 for users that update their iPhones via iTunes only. This update will restore phones ‘bricked’ or disabled by Error 53 and will prevent future iPhones that have had their home button (or the cable) replaced by third-party repair centers from being disabled. Note that this is a patched version of iOS 9.2.1, previously issued, not a brand-new version of iOS.

A new support document on Apple’s site has been issued that details the causes and repair methods for Error 53.

The update is not for users who update their iPhones over the air (OTA) via iCloud. If you update your phone that way, you should never have encountered Error 53 in the first place. If, however, you update via iTunes or your phone is bricked, you should be able to plug it into iTunes to get the update today, restoring your phone’s functionality.

«

That was quick. And it disables TouchID, or leaves it disabled – which is the course of action you’d hope for. (Thanks Jonathan Davey for the link.)
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Data broker defendants settle FTC charges they sold sensitive personal information to scammers » Federal Trade Commission

»“LeapLab purchased sensitive information, including Social Security and bank account numbers, from pay-day-loan websites, and then sold that information to entities it knew had no legitimate need for it,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “That allowed scammers to steal millions of dollars from people’s accounts.”

In its complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants collected hundreds of thousands of loan applications submitted by financially strapped consumers to payday loan sites. Each application contained the consumer’s name, address, phone number, employer, Social Security number, and bank account number, including the bank routing number.

The defendants sold 95 percent of these sensitive applications for approximately $0.50 each to non-lenders that did not use the information to assist consumers in obtaining a payday loan or other extension of credit and had no legitimate need for this financial information. In fact, at least one of those marketers, Ideal Financial Solutions – a defendant in another FTC case  – used the information to withdraw millions of dollars from consumers’ accounts without their authorization.

«

Classy. It’s a $5.7m judgment, but suspended.
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The hidden homescreen » Medium

Matt Hartman:

»The move to chat-based interfaces is mainly developer driven: relative to a native iOS or Android app, development of a chat-based app is faster and marketing is less crowded (for now). It is also partly consumer driven in that it is a painful for consumers to have to switch in and out of different apps — or even to have to download an app at all. However the developer pain point is more significant at present.

For app developers, marketing is often hard. #Homescreen data shows that apps on users’ homescreens are pretty calcified. In January 2016 over 50,000 apps were submitted to the app store. However, most smartphone users download zero apps per month.

«

We’re probably going to see more chat interfaces, as Hartman points out (look at Quartz’s new news app), but as he also points out, lots of them will struggle to gather enough context to be useful compared to the interfaces we already have.
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Exclusive: Radioactive material stolen in Iraq raises security fears » Reuters

Ahmed Rasheed, Aref Mohammed and Stephen Kalin:

»Iraq is searching for “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document and seven security, environmental and provincial officials who fear it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

The material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, went missing in November from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford WFT.N, the document seen by Reuters showed and officials confirmed.

A spokesman for Iraq’s environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns…

…A U.S. official said separately that Iraq had reported a missing specialized camera containing highly radioactive Iridium-192 to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, in November.

“They’ve been looking for it ever since. Whether it was just misplaced, or actually stolen, isn’t clear,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The environment ministry document, dated Nov. 30 and addressed to the ministry’s Centre for Prevention of Radiation, describes “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity belonging to SGS from a depot belonging to Weatherford in the Rafidhia area of Basra province”.

«

More about Ir-192: “has accounted for the majority of cases tracked by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in which radioactive materials have gone missing in quantities large enough to make a dirty bomb.” More reading from 2007 from the New Yorker.
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The most important Apple executive you’ve never heard of » Bloomberg Businessweek

Brad Stone, Adam Satariano, and Gwen Ackerman:

»A little over a year ago, Apple had a problem: The iPad Pro was behind schedule. Elements of the hardware, software, and accompanying stylus weren’t going to be ready for a release in the spring. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and his top lieutenants had to delay the unveiling until the fall. That gave most of Apple’s engineers more time. It gave a little-known executive named Johny Srouji much less.

Srouji is the senior vice president for hardware technologies at Apple. He runs the division that makes processor chips, the silicon brains inside the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. The original plan was to introduce the iPad Pro with Apple’s tablet chip, the A8X, the same processor that powered the iPad Air 2, introduced in 2014. But delaying until fall meant that the Pro would make its debut alongside the iPhone 6s, which was going to use a newer, faster phone chip called the A9.

This is the stuff that keeps technology executives up at night. The iPad Pro was important: It was Apple’s attempt to sell tablets to business customers. And it would look feeble next to the iPhone 6s. So Srouji put his engineers on a crash program to move up the rollout of a new tablet processor, the A9X, by half a year. The engineers finished in time, and the Pro hit the market with the faster chip and a 12.9in display packed with 5.6 million pixels.

«

Useful profile (and a little scoop-ette in the intro), though of course Apple – and Srouji – won’t indicate what direction the chip design there is going. There’s also the question of quite what delta it gives it over those using chips from TSMC et al; aside from the reference to the 64-bit shift, that isn’t addressed clearly.
link to this extract

 


Apple, the FBI, and the San Bernadino iPhone

Dan Wallach:

»Q What’s so bad about Apple doing what the FBI wants?

A Apple’s concern is the precedent set by the FBI’s demand and the judge’s order. If the FBI can compel Apple to create a backdoor like this, then so can anybody else. You’ve now opened the floodgates to every small-town police chief, never mind discovery orders in civil lawsuits. How is Apple supposed to validate and prioritize these requests? What happens when they come from foreign governments? If China demands a custom software build to attack a U.S. resident, how is Apple supposed to judge whether that user and their phone happen to be under the jurisdiction of Chinese law? What if the U.S. then passes a law prohibiting Apple from honoring Chinese requests like this? That way lies madness, and that’s where we’re going.

Even if we could somehow make this work, purely as an engineering matter, it’s not feasible to imagine a backdoor mechanism that will support the full gamut of seemingly legal requests to exercise it.

«

link to this extract

 


If you want life insurance, think twice before getting a genetic test » Fast Company

Christina Farr:

»Jennifer Marie* should be an ideal candidate for life insurance: She’s 36, gainfully employed, and has no current medical issues.

But on September 15 last year, Jennifer Marie’s application for life insurance was denied.

“Unfortunately after carefully reviewing your application, we regret that we are unable to provide you with coverage because of your positive BRCA 1 gene,” the letter reads. In the U.S., about one in 400 women have a BRCA 1 or 2 gene, which is associated with increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Jennifer Marie provided a copy of the document to Fast Company on the condition that she and her insurance company remain anonymous, as she is still hoping to appeal the rejection.

«

You’re thinking “surely that’s illegal!” It would be for health insurance, under a 2008 law in the US – but that doesn’t apply to life insurance, long-term care or disability insurance.
link to this extract

 


Unlock your Windows 10 phone remotely » Windows Help

»Try unlocking your Windows 10 phone remotely if you get this message: “This device has been locked for security reasons. Connect your device to a power source for at least two hours and then try again.” The key is to reset your PIN through account.microsoft.com.

Go to account.microsoft.com/devices

Sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on the phone.

Click the Find my phone link.

Press Lock.

Enter a new PIN. Now you’ll be able to unlock your phone with your new PIN.

«

You can’t do this with an iPhone – you need to enter the existing PIN first. Clearly, the answer is for the FBI to issue would-be terrorists with Windows Phones running Windows Mobile 10 (it doesn’t work on 8) to simplify subsequent investigations. (Thanks Tero Alhonen for the link.)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted.

Start up: careful with that axe, Marissa!, PC consolidation, ultra-cheap Android, and more

Yes, we need to discuss this. Photo by Janitors 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.

Ringing Bells Freedom 251: cheapest Android smartphone for just Rs 251 ($3.65) » TechPP

Raju PP:

• 4-inch qHD screen with IPS
• 1.3 GHz quad-core processor
• 1GB RAM
• 8GB internal storage
• microSD slot for up to 32GB of external storage
• 3.2MP rear camera with auto focus
• 0.3MP (VGA) front camera
• 3G support
• 1450 mAh battery
• Android 5.1 Lollipop

The above hardware specifications look like an entry level smartphone from 2014 with no major compromises. Going by the published images, it doesn’t look bad either, at least not an eyesore that one would expect for a phone costing less than what you’d pay for a coffee at Starbucks.

Looks OK (they have actual photos). A bit like something from a cornflakes packet, but at that price it’s proof of how Android is revolutionising communication, and the world.

Only question now is whether the company can survive and make enough.
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Samsung fails to secure thousands of SmartThings homes from thieves » Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Critically, anyone relying on SmartThings devices for home security is vulnerable. In an environment where the SmartThings hub is connected to the firm’s own motion sensors, which act like traditional security alarms but provide alerts to people’s phones when activity is detected, they allow a hacker to enter a home undetected. Even worse, when connected to a connected smart lock, Cognosec researcher Tobias Zillner says a robber can get break into a home without using any brute force whatsoever.

“At the moment I am able to hack the system … and open the door lock as well as to jam the motion sensor without any trace left back in the system,” he told Forbes.

Come on, you knew the Internet of Things was going to lead to this.
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Priorities in a time of plenty » Asymco

Horace Dediu:

The mass phenomenon of measuring the wrong thing because it’s the easiest to measure is called “financialization”. Financialization is the process by which finance and finances (rather than creation) determine company, individual and society’s priorities. It comes about from an abundance of data that leads to fixation on what is observable to the detriment of awareness of hazards or obstacles or alternatives. This phenomenon is more likely when the speed of change increases and decision cycles shorten.

Financialization is creeping into all aspects of society and the extent to which it infects companies is the extent to which they suffer from early mortality.

So is Apple avoiding financialization? How can anyone avoid the tyranny of mis-optimization?

Dediu’s writing is lyrical, despite the topic; the way that he seems to grope towards the conclusion (but actually knows where he’s going) is great to watch.
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The ax falls at Yahoo » POLITICO

Peter Sterne:

“On our recent earnings call, Yahoo outlined out a plan to simplify our business and focus our effort on our four most successful content areas  – News, Sports, Finance and Lifestyle. To that end, today we will begin phasing out the following Digital Magazines:  Yahoo Food, Yahoo Health, Yahoo Parenting, Yahoo Makers, Yahoo Travel, Yahoo Autos and Yahoo Real Estate,” [Yahoo global editor in chief Martha] Nelson wrote in a Tumblr post.

In addition, a source familiar with the matter said that Yahoo was ending its tech vertical and moving some of its staff — including former New York Times columnist David Pogue — to Yahoo’s news vertical. Eater first reported that the food vertical was being shut down and Skift first reported that the travel vertical was being shut down.

As part of the changes, the editors of all of the eliminated verticals are being laid off. Dan Tynan, who joined Yahoo Tech as a columnist in December 2013 and became editor in chief of the vertical in July 2015, announced his departure in a farewell memo to staff.

“Well, that was not entirely unexpected. Eight Hundred and Four days after taking the purple, my career as a Yahoo is over,” he wrote.

Doubt the chopping is over yet. Tynan wrote in his memo that he worked with “the best (and smallest) staff of any tech publication on the internet”. You can argue about the quality, but smallest? Lots of news orgs would disagree.
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Vaio near deal with Toshiba, Fujitsu to form Japan PC giant » Bloomberg Business

Pavel Alpeyev and Takashi Amano:

Vaio Corp., the personal computer maker spun off from Sony Corp. in 2014, is closing in on a three-way merger with rivals to create a producer that can dominate Japan and weather a shrinking global PC market.

Vaio expects to strike an agreement to combine with Toshiba Corp.’s and Fujitsu Ltd.’s PC divisions by the end of March, said Hidemi Moue, chief executive officer of Japan Industrial Partners Inc., the buyout fund that now controls the former arm of Sony. Vaio expects to own the biggest stake in the merged company, which can help the trio save on research and development and scale production, he said…

…The tie-up “makes sense if you want to build a niche consumer base in Japan,” said Damian Thong, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd. in Tokyo. “This approach of merging three Japanese PC makers will probably have little chance of success outside of the country”…

…“In the PC business, all options are on the table for restructuring and partnerships, but nothing has been decided at this moment,” Toshiba’s spokesman Hirokazu Tsukimoto said. A spokeswoman at Fujitsu declined to comment.

In contrast to the gloom, Vaio is set to report its first monthly profit in March and Moue expects the company to be profitable in the year ending May 2017. Japan Industrial Partners has slashed the workforce to 240 from about 1,000, slimmed its product line-up and focused on premium business users, he said.

Consolidation was inevitable.
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In the matter of the search of an Apple iPhone seized during the execution of a search warrant » DocumentCloud

This is a scan of the order compelling Apple to help the FBI break into an iPhone 5C used by one of the San Bernadino killers (more details on this below, or in the docket). Note that it says that Apple must “[provide] the FBI with a signed iPhone software file, recovery bundle or other Software Image File that can be loaded onto the Subject Device… The SIF will be coded by Apple with a unique identifier of the phone so that the SIF would only load and execute on the Subject Device.”

Apple has five days to appeal. Below is its response.
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Customer Letter » Apple

Tim Cook (and perhaps a few others at Apple) on why they’re refusing to create a version of iOS to be installed on an iPhone 5C seized from one of the killers in the terrorist attack at San Bernadino that would let the US government brute-force its password/code:

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

Apple has framed this well: that it’s about security (not privacy). You’ll recall that last week the FBI’s director declared that investigators couldn’t unlock the phone.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation and WhatsApp have all backed Apple’s stance; the ACLU says “code is speech, and this would be forced speech, which is against the First Amendment, and perhaps the Fourth and Fifth too”.
link to this extract

 


Apple versus the FBI, understanding iPhone encryption, the risks for Apple and encryption » Stratechery

Ben Thompson dug into the detail of the encryption that the 5C held by the FBI does and doesn’t have; if it had been a 5S, he explains, things would have been different:

thanks the secure enclave an iPhone 5S or later, running iOS 8 or later, is basically impossible to break into, for Apple or anyone else. The only possible solution from the government’s perspective comes back to the more narrow definition of “backdoor” that I articulated above: a unique key baked into the disk encryption algorithm itself.

This solution is, frankly, unacceptable, and it’s not simply an issue of privacy: it’s one of security. A master key, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not guessable, but it can be stolen; worse, if it is stolen, no one would ever know. It would be a silent failure allowing whoever captured it to break into any device secured by the algorithm in question without those relying on it knowing anything was amiss. I can’t stress enough what a problem this is: World War II, especially in the Pacific, turned on this sort of silent cryptographic failure. And, given the sheer number of law enforcement officials that would want their hands on this key, it landing in the wrong hands would be a matter of when, not if.

This is why I’m just a tiny bit worried about Tim Cook drawing such a stark line in the sand with this case: the PR optics could not possibly be worse for Apple. It’s a case of domestic terrorism with a clear cut bad guy and a warrant that no one could object to, and Apple is capable of fulfilling the request. Would it perhaps be better to cooperate in this case secure in the knowledge that the loophole the FBI is exploiting (the software-based security measures) has already been closed, and then save the rhetorical gun powder for the inevitable request to insert the sort of narrow backdoor into the disk encryption itself I just described?

Then again, I can see the other side: a backdoor is a backdoor, and it is absolutely the case that the FBI is demanding Apple deliberately weaken security.

A couple of other points: the phone actually belongs to the California government; it was issued to a person who turned out to be a killer in the San Bernadino incident. That means it’s probably the government which implemented the Mobile Device Management (MDM) which wipes the phone after 10 failed passcode attempts. But they also can’t get into it. Also of note: the docket mentions that the killer destroyed two other phones ahead of the incident – they seem to have been “burner” phones, intended to destruction. So it’s likely that there’s nothing of interest at all on *this* phone.

The FBI has the iCloud backups up to October 19 (see p17 of the scan, above); the killings were on December 4.
link to this extract

 


Why the FBI’s request to Apple will affect civil rights for a generation » Macworld

Rich Mogull (a security expert):

Apple has a long history of complying with court orders and assisting law enforcement. Previous to iOS 8, they could extract data off devices. Even today, data in most of their online services (iCloud, excluding iMessage and FaceTime) can be provided upon legal request.

This case is different for multiple reasons:

• Apple is being asked to specifically create new software to circumvent their security controls. They aren’t being asked to use existing capabilities, since those no longer work. The FBI wants a new version of the operating system designed to allow the FBI to brute force attack the phone.

• The FBI is using a highly emotional, nationally infamous terrorism case as justification for the request.

• The request refers to the All Writs Act, which is itself under scrutiny in a case in New York involving Apple. Federal Magistrate Judge James Orenstein of the Eastern District of New York is currently evaluating if the Act applies in these cases.

That’s why this is about far more than a single phone. Apple does not have the existing capability to assist the FBI. The FBI engineered a case where the perpetrators are already dead, but emotions are charged. And the law cited is under active legal debate within the federal courts.

link to this extract

 


CRN Exclusive: Google terminating Play For Education in a small-scale retreat from Android’s educational market » CRN

Google is retreating from a small segment of its booming education business by ending the life of a product that was developed to encourage adoption of Android tablets in schools, Google partners told CRN on Friday.

Google Play for Education, an extension of the Play software distribution platform, was rolled out around two years ago with the intent of putting more tablets into the hands of students. The app store, curated in close collaboration with educators, enabled solution providers to manage both devices and their specialized content…

…One [reseller] executive who asked not to be named told CRN he learned of the product’s termination after attempting to procure tablets for a customer.

“We noticed something funny a couple weeks ago” when a client requested a quote for a number of Play for Work tablets, the Google partner told CRN. “Basically all manufacturers told us all those devices were end-of-lifed.”

Asus, then Samsung, said they didn’t have replacement devices that were Play-integrated, the reseller said. They told him to look at Chromebook laptops as an alternative.

Google later informed the partner that Play for Education was on its way out, and the company should focus on its Chromebooks practice for serving the educational market.

That partner exec said he believes some capability issues, like a limited number of student profiles that could be loaded onto a single device, coupled with competition from Apple’s iPads, kept the Android tablets from deeply penetrating the education market, and convinced Google to step back from the program.

Google made a big marketing push last year for the educational tablets, the partner exec said, but “I’m not sure it ever clicked.”

This makes it seem as though both Play For Education *and* Play For Work are dead, if those devices were EOL’d. Tablets and Android have never been a good fit.
link to this extract

 


News discovery » Sqoop

It’s a new Seattle-based startup, which mines US SEC documents and others for current information:

Sqoop saves you time and makes sure you don’t miss the story by giving you one place to search for company information, rather than spending hours each week conducting the same repetitive searches across a variety of public data sites. You can set alerts so that when new documents are filed, we’ll alert you how and when you want.

One to kick the tyres on. (I previously used SECAlerts.com but found it impossible to change settings.) Thanks to David Senior for the pointer.
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Twitter’s falling tweet count, Google forgets more, cops v iPhone, how gravity waved, and more

The new essential tool for Indian farmers. Photo by Desiree Catani on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Friday! I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitter API data show the number of tweets is in serious decline » Business Insider

Jim Edwards:

The number of tweets per day created by Twitter’s users has fallen by more than half since a peak in August 2014, according to a sampling of data from Twitter’s API. (An API — application programming interface — is the portal through which other apps access Twitter so their software can function together.) The data was given to Business Insider by an app developer who has tracked Twitter users since 2013.

Tweets per day reached a peak in August 2014 of 661m, our source says. That 30-day sampling period included the World Cup final. In January 2016, there were only 303m tweets per day, on average, during the 30-day period.

This story came out before Twitter’s results, which showed the number of users was flat at best. Twitter responded at the time that “This data is not correct”; but it begins to feel correct. My only suspicion though is that Twitter now doesn’t use sequential tweet IDs, so the sampling method might be sensitive to that. More detail on how the sampling is done would be useful.
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WhatsApp is changing the way people in India grow and buy food » TakePart

Sarah McColl:

Farmers Santhosh Kittur and Abhijit Kamath wanted to grow pesticide-free vegetables between the rows of banana plots each separately owned. Their shared interest in old-fashioned agricultural practices brought them together to grow bitter gourd, cucumbers, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, green chiles, red peppers, onions, and garlic—staples of the Indian customers and kitchens they planned to serve. But their modern approach to marketing has put them in direct contact with customers in a high-tech manner.

Across India, WhatsApp groups are not only connecting farmers to their customers in the virtual market—they’re creating a network of resources and support for the country’s farmers who need it most.

In Kittur and Kamath’s WhatsApp group, created last August, the two farmers post updates from their farms, including photographs, as well as what produce is available to the group’s 80 members. Vegetables are sold on Thursdays and Sundays. Members can place dibs on the quantity of specific vegetables they want and can pick up their order or have it delivered.

There’s a famous piece of research by Upsalla University from 2006 about how mobile phones benefited Tanzanian fishermen. It would be good to see a comparable piece of research around smartphone apps in emerging economies.

(And it’s always amusing to hear Americans’ amazement that people use Whatsapp. Like SMS in the early part of this century, it’s huge outside the US, small inside it.)
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Apple entrusts TSMC with all application processor orders for iPhone 7 » ETNews Korea

Han Juyeop:

Taiwan’s TSMC has won a battle against Samsung Electronics and is going to produce 10-nano application processors (AP) that will be installed in Apple’s upcoming iPhone7. Samsung Electronics has entered a state of emergency system to prevent declination of rate of operation of factories.

Samsung Electronics is aiming for an all-out-war in 14-nano foundry business by going after middle-rank chip businesses in China and Taiwan instead and it is also going to focus its capabilities on maintaining supplies of Qualcomm’s 10-nano. It is also important for Samsung Electronics to plan out high-intensity innovations so that it can take back Apple’s supplies in 7-nano.

According to semiconductor IP and EDA industries on the 10th, Apple has entrusted TSMC with all production of next 10-nano AP called ‘A10’. A10 is so called a brain of iPhone7, which is expected to be released in this fall. TSMC is planning to enter a state of mass-production system of 10-nano chips starting from June.

Recall that Apple dual-sourced from both TSMC and Samsung for the iPhone 6S/Plus, though the TSMC ones seemed to do slightly worse on battery than the Samsung ones.

If true, this is going to hurt Samsung: Apple is a big customer, and the semiconductor division is now the most profitable one, well ahead of smartphones.
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Gravitational waves exist: the inside story of how scientists finally found them » The New Yorker

Nicola Twilley:

It took years to make the most sensitive instrument in history insensitive to everything that is not a gravitational wave. Emptying the tubes of air demanded forty days of pumping. The result was one of the purest vacuums ever created on Earth, a trillionth as dense as the atmosphere at sea level. Still, the sources of interference were almost beyond reckoning—the motion of the wind in Hanford, or of the ocean in Livingston; imperfections in the laser light as a result of fluctuations in the power grid; the jittering of individual atoms within the mirrors; distant lightning storms. All can obscure or be mistaken for a gravitational wave, and each source had to be eliminated or controlled for. One of LIGO’s systems responds to minuscule seismic tremors by activating a damping system that pushes on the mirrors with exactly the right counterforce to keep them steady; another monitors for disruptive sounds from passing cars, airplanes, or wolves.

“There are ten thousand other tiny things, and I really mean ten thousand,” Weiss said. “And every single one needs to be working correctly so that nothing interferes with the signal.” When his colleagues make adjustments to the observatory’s interior components, they must set up a portable clean room, sterilize their tools, and don what they call bunny suits—full-body protective gear—lest a skin cell or a particle of dust accidentally settle on the sparkling optical hardware.

This is the one story to read today about this amazing finding. Detail and insight.
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Nextbit’s cloud-savvy Robin phone is set to fly. Good luck catching one – CNET

Roger Cheng:

Chief Design Officer Scott Croyle warns that the early supply will be limited.

“There will be maybe 3,000 to 6,000 phones available,” he said in an interview Wednesday. In comparison, Apple sold 13m iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Pluses in their first three days.

The launch of the online store and the Robin marks the culmination of an unorthodox journey for a phone maker. Rather than go through a carrier, which is how most people shop for handsets, or even set up an online store, Nextbit tested the waters by asking for commitments through Kickstarter and nearly tripled its goal of raising $500,000.

Nextbit isn’t the typical unknown startup. Co-founders Tom Moss and Mike Chan were part of Google’s original Android team. Croyle was behind the critically acclaimed HTC One phone.

But this is part of the future for smartphones – niche players offering a quirk (in this case, tons of cloud storage) which don’t need huge capitalisation because they sell online with low inventory.
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What Everyone’s Got Wrong About Twitter (Including Twitter) » Re/code

Ian Schafer is founder and chairman of Deep Focus:

Twitter is a platform unlike any other, in that it has enough real-time data and intelligence that can be mapped against over 300 million active users. These users are more likely to be more influential and use other media concurrently (especially TV).

Therefore, a compelling argument can be made that, if used properly, Twitter’s real-time user behavior and media-consumption data can be among the most valuable consumer data. In most cases, advertisers will be willing to pay a premium for that. But because so many scrutinize Twitter’s ad experience, doubts abound.

There’s a lot of talk from people who want Twitter to open up its APIs again. I think they’re half-right.

If Twitter wants to realize its full potential, it will make its data completely portable for advertisers, becoming the primary source for real-time business and consumer intelligence. It will use its (and its users’) media savviness to feed a global dataset that ad exchanges, app developers, advertisers and corporations will pay increasingly large amounts of money to access, making it a media-led data company. It has already displayed success in this area; the Twitter Audience Platform and MoPub have gained traction, and with Facebook’s Parse shutting down, Twitter’s Fabric toolkit should gain traction with third-party app developers, as well.

Can you guess that Deep Focus is an ad agency?
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Google to scrub web search results more widely to soothe EU objections » Reuters

Julia Fioretti:

The French data protection authority in September threatened to fine Google if it did not scrub search results globally across all versions of its website, such as Google.com.

But the company has stuck to its position that it should clean up search results only on European domains such as Google.fr or Google.de because to do otherwise would have a chilling effect on the free flow of information.

To address the concerns of European authorities, the Internet giant will soon start polishing search results across all its websites when someone conducts a search from the country where the removal request originated, a person close to the company said.

That means that if a German resident asks Google to de-list a link popping up under searches for his or her name, the link will not be visible on any version of Google’s website, including Google.com, when the search engine is accessed from Germany.

The company will filter search results according to a user’s IP address, meaning people accessing Google from outside Europe will not be affected, the person added.

Since the ruling in 2014, Google has received 386,038 requests for removal, according to its transparency website. It has accepted about 42% of them.

The lesson one tends to draw from this is “the threat of a fine makes Google act”.
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Police destroy evidence with 10 failed passcode attempts on iPhone » Naked Security

Lisa Vaas:

In January 2014, a Massachusetts cop was swearing into his mobile phone while working a traffic detail at a construction site.

The F bombs appeared to upset an elderly lady walking by, so a man on a nearby front porch asked the officer, Thomas Barboza, to stop swearing.

The cop’s response: “Shut the f–k up and mind your own business.”

George Thompson’s response: he started recording Barboza on his iPhone.

According to court documents, Barboza shoved 53-year-old Thompson to the ground, arrested him, handcuffed him, and put him in jail for a night.

Police in the city of Fall River also tried to get into Thompson’s iPhone, where the footage of Barboza was stored.

But all the police managed to do was to destroy the evidence, wiping the phone clean after entering the wrong password 10 times.

Really clear that the cops wanted to get into the phone to wipe the evidence. (They accused Thompson of wiping it remotely; a forensics report showed that was a lie.) Yet another instance where security of the phones is potentially a good thing for the citizenry.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: hedge funds like AI, Facebook’s close separation, what if Twitter died?, BlackBerry cuts, and more

A break like this, affecting the home button, is probably going to lead in time to an #error53 fault if you don’t get it repaired by Apple. But what causes it, exactly? Photo by wZa HK on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Will AI-powered hedge funds outsmart the market? » MIT Tech Review

Will Knight:

Anthony Ledford, chief scientist of MAN AHL, explains that the company is exploring whether techniques like deep learning might lend themselves to finance. “It’s at an early stage,” Ledford says. “We have set aside a pot of money for test trading. With deep learning, if all goes well, it will go into test trading, as other machine-learning approaches have.”

Trading might seem like an obvious place to apply deep learning, but actually it isn’t clear how comparable the challenge of finding subtle patterns in real-time trading data is to, say, spotting faces in digital photographs. “It’s a very different problem,” Ledford admits.

Academic experts also sound a note of caution. Stephen Roberts, a professor of machine learning at Oxford University, says deep learning could be good “for extracting hidden trends, information, and relationships,” but adds that it “is still too brittle with regard to handling of high uncertainty and noise, which are prevalent in finance.”

You just know that this isn’t really going to work, but also that it’s going to be used by a ton of funds to try to get ahead of the market – a market composed of other funds also trying to use the same processes.
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iOS security – iOS 9 or later » Apple

Let’s try to get on top of this #error53 stuff:

During an iOS upgrade, iTunes (or the device itself, in the case of OTA software updates) connects to the Apple installation authorization server and sends it a list of cryptographic measurements for each part of the installation bundle to be installed (for example, LLB, iBoot, the kernel, and OS image), a random anti-replay value (nonce), and the device’s unique ID (ECID).

The authorization server checks the presented list of measurements against versions for which installation is permitted and, if it finds a match, adds the ECID to the measurement and signs the result. The server passes a complete set of signed data to the device as part of the upgrade process. Adding the ECID “personalizes” the authorization for the requesting device. By authorizing and signing only for known measurements, the server ensures that the update takes place exactly as provided by Apple.

The boot-time chain-of-trust evaluation verifies that the signature comes from Apple and that the measurement of the item loaded from disk, combined with the device’s ECID, matches what was covered by the signature.

These steps ensure that the authorization is for a specific device and that an old iOS version from one device can’t be copied to another. The nonce prevents an attacker from saving the server’s response and using it to tamper with a device or otherwise alter the system software.

To recap, with #error53, people who have had third-party replacements of screens and/or home buttons on the iPhone 6/Plus and 6S/Plus (but not the 5S) find that it works fine – though they can’t use TouchID (it’s greyed out as an option). But when they do an OS update, the phone bricks: can’t get data, can’t restore.

So my understanding of this is: the reason why devices which have had third-party replacement parts only brick after an OS update, yet work fine before it, is this: on trying to install the update they connect to the auth server. The server decides that the cryptographic measurements no longer match what it has on record. So it decides the chain of trust is broken, and effectively shuts down the device.

But it’s poor decision-making by Apple, and equally poor communication. Why doesn’t it happen on the 5S? Update: because the 5S doesn’t have NFC for Apple Pay. (Thanks, Andy.) What’s the process that Apple uses when it does the repair to revalidate the TouchID system (which fails even with valid parts)? Why can’t the system tell that it’s just TouchID that’s affected? The safety process has overshot its requirements. Every part of what happens makes sense from a security perspective  – but not if considering that many people will get third-party repairs.
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Three and a half degrees of separation » Research at Facebook

How connected is the world? Playwrights, poets, and scientists have proposed that everyone on the planet is connected to everyone else by six other people. In honor of Friends Day, we’ve crunched the Facebook friend graph and determined that the number is 3.57. Each person in the world (at least among the 1.59 billion people active on Facebook) is connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people. The average distance we observe is 4.57, corresponding to 3.57 intermediaries or “degrees of separation.” Within the US, people are connected to each other by an average of 3.46 degrees.

Our collective “degrees of separation” have shrunk over the past five years. In 2011, researchers at Cornell, the Università degli Studi di Milano, and Facebook computed the average across the 721 million people using the site then, and found that it was 3.74 [4,5]. Now, with twice as many people using the site, we’ve grown more interconnected, thus shortening the distance between any two people in the world.

Apparently my average is 3.26 so ya boo. Zuckerberg is 3.17. Sheryl Sandberg is 2.92 – blimey.
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On your cute release notes » The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks:

We’ve all seen them. Notes about a fictional engineer who was hired and then fired. A cute story about something completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. Recipe for ‘squash bug soup’ or something along those lines.

With disturbingly increasing frequency, companies are deciding to let their marketing departments handle their release notes instead of the engineering team or product manager.

And we are all worse off for it.

As a user I mostly look at release notes to find out about one (or more) of three things:

• Have you added something new to the app which will make it better for me? That is: what are the new features, what do those features do, and perhaps how do I get to them.
• Have you fixed that bug which was making the app hard for me to use, perhaps even impossible for me to use? Aka: What bugs did you fix?
• How active is development on this app? Before I invest or move to most apps I look at recent release notes to get a sense of whether they are in maintenance mode (just major bug fixes), or under some kind of active development (minor bug fixes and feature releases, optimized for current version of iOS, etc).

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BlackBerry cuts 200 jobs in Ontario and Florida to trim costs » Reuters

Alastair Sharp:

The layoffs will affect 75 manufacturing jobs in Sunrise, Florida, a state government website showed.

The company also confirmed that Gary Klassen is one of the people who has departed in the latest round of cuts. Klassen was one of its longest-tenured employees and the inventor of its BBM messaging service.

One source familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said many of the Canadian cuts were people working on its BB10 handset software at its Waterloo, Ontario, headquarters.

A spokeswoman for BlackBerry declined to comment on which divisions will be affected by the cuts, but said the company stood by its commitment to release further updates on its BB10 software.

BB10 is so, so dead.
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“Dangerous ramifications” » Medium

Rohin Dharmakumar, with some examples of things that didn’t happen:

In January 2015, users of Microsoft’s Office in India were suddenly greeted with a pop-up asking them to “Support Microsoft Office”. The Indian government under PM Narendra Modi was said to be formulating an “Open Source Policy” under which all government offices were to either mandate or prefer open-source software for official work.

Clicking the “Support Office” button caused Microsoft to send the PMO and the Ministry of IT a letter from the user’s name with a pre-determined format. It said the user’s loved Microsoft’s products and wanted their government interactions to be based on the same. “I urge you not to ban Microsoft Office,” it ended.

The same message popped up on users of various Microsoft products in India – Windows, XBox, Windows Phone, Skype etc.

Within a few weeks, over 7 million emails had been sent in support to Microsoft.

“Support Monsanto”

In January 2014, farmers in the southern Indian state of Karnataka were surprised to see a notice attached to every bag of seed they bought from Mahyco, the market leader.

“Tell the Karnataka Govt. not to ban MMB”, said the notice. MMB was Monsanto-Mahyco Biotech, the joint-venture that licensed Monsanto’s crop technologies in India.

He has some more examples of things that didn’t happen – and then one which did.
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Why most A/B tests give you bullshit results » Mixpanel

We’ve all seen the articles. Company X increases conversions 38% with this simple trick. Hell, I’ve written some of them.

But those success stories have hidden the grey underbelly of testing and experimentation.

AppSumo revealed that only 1 out of 8 tests produce results. Kaiser Fung estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the A/B tests he’s run yield statistically insignificant results.

Yet many new testers walk into A/B testing thinking it’ll be quick and easy to get results. After running a handful of simple tests, they think they’ll find the right color for this button or the right tweak to that subject line, and conversions will, poof, increase by 38% like magic.

Then they start running tests on their apps or sites, and reality suddenly sets in. Tests are inconclusive. They yield “statistically insignificant” results and no valuable insights about the product or users. What’s happening? Where’s that 38% bump and subsequent pat on the back?

Don’t get frustrated. If you’re going to be running A/B tests, you’re going to have some tests that fail to produce meaningful results you can learn from. But if you run good tests, you’ll have fewer failures and more successes.

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Advice for companies with less than one year of runway » The Macro

Dalton Caldwell:

Let’s imagine that you are the founder of a company that has successfully raised an angel or institutional round and are currently in a situation where you have 12 months or less of runway.

The hardest part of dealing with a low runway situation is managing your own psychology. You have to simultaneously manage your own anxiety to not be overly negative about your prospects, but also not be irrationally positive. It’s a delicate balance.

Watch companies do the various things in this post over the next year or so.
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Technology: the rift with reality » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw:

With so many [virtual reality] headsets hitting the market this year, the challenge may be figuring out what people will do with them. Video games are seen as the first popular application, and some are experimenting with VR versions of films including The Martian. Futuresource Consulting believes the VR content market could be worth $8.3bn within four years.

Beyond entertainment, advocates say these headsets could transform education, travel, real estate and architecture, not to mention videoconferencing and social networking. Some inside Uber are worried that Oculus could one day prove disruptive to their business by removing the need for people to travel. Why hail a taxi when you can teleport?

“Whenever a market is this early, you have to have strong convictions loosely held,” says Nabeel Hyatt, a venture partner at Spark Capital, which also backed Oculus. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That uncertainty provides fertile ground for entrepreneurs. “There will be billion-dollar companies started by college students because someone gave them a Rift as a present and they solved a very specific problem,” says Anjney Midha, a partner at KPCB Edge.

However, as any sci-fi reader knows, new technologies have inherent risks, too. The futures depicted in Ready Player One and Snow Crash are dystopian and chaotic.

In December, academics led by Christian Sandor of the Nara Institute, Japan, wrote that “true augmented reality”, where the digital is indistinguishable from the physical, “will be the most powerful medium that humanity ever had at its disposal”.

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What if Twitter Died? » Tech.pinions

Bob O’Donnell:

this seems to be one of the fundamental problems of Twitter. It’s appealing to Hollywood, TV, music and sports celebrities as a means to interact more intimately with their fans and share the kinds of details they’d never provide to traditional celebrity media. It’s appealing to the tech industry as a mouthpiece for those who want to determine the course of what is or isn’t important. The digital taste-setters, so to speak.

But for mainstream business and consumer users? Not so much. Arguably, this is the biggest problem with Twitter—it can’t seem to stretch beyond its celebrity, celebrity follower, and tech roots. If you aren’t into celebrities or the tech industry, Twitter just isn’t that appealing, especially given all the other options for online social interactions.

Despite these points, I think the navel gazing value of Twitter to the tech industry is so high, I seriously doubt they’ll let Twitter actually die. Someone with enough money and enough self-interest will likely make sure that, no matter what, Twitter will continue in some shape or form. Eventually, it’s value may start to fade, as some have already started to argue, but at least the Twittersphere will have a few years to adapt and find new alternatives.

The fundamental challenge is a publishing service that’s essentially based on self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, and self-importance at some point is going to run into the wall of indifference. Not everyone cares to read about what the self-elected are all doing all the time.

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Yahoo loses mobile entrepreneur Arjun Sethi to venture firm » WSJ

Douglas MacMillan:

Mr. Sethi helped lead Yahoo’s effort to compete with Facebook Inc.FB -2.29% and Snapchat Inc. in the emerging area of mobile chat apps. Last July, his team released Livetext, a mobile app that lets users send live video and text without any sound.

Livetext failed to take off with users. In its first month, the program dropped out of the ranking of the 1,000 most popular apps in Apple Inc.’s app store and never returned, according to data from App Annie.

Yahoo’s struggles to produce a hit mobile app has hurt Ms. Mayer’s chances at turning around the 20-year-old Internet icon. This week, Yahoo said its board is weighing “strategic alternatives” to the turnaround which likely include a sale of its core Web business…

…Mr. Sethi is one of dozens of startup founders Ms. Mayer brought into Yahoo through a series of small acquisitions. In her three-and-a-half years as CEO, Yahoo has spent more than $2.3bn on at least 53 acquisitions, largely for small mobile-software developers whose apps were shuttered and whose founders were enticed to work on new projects at the company. At least 26, or over one-third, of the more than 70 startup founders and CEOs who joined Yahoo through an acquisition during Ms. Mayer’s tenure have left the company, according to their profiles on LinkedIn Corp.

As has also been pointed out, Yahoo last week wrote down the value of those acquisitions by $1.2bn. The idea of a video app without sound appears dumb, but then again lots are like that; but Instagram, Facebook and Vine were all there ages earlier. Yahoo’s problem is that it’s late and has no traction in mobile, not that the ideas are of themselves bad.
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Sacked in Dublin by a boss in… London » Private Eye

Private Eye is always anonymous:

Google’s claim that all its real business is handled through its European HQ in Dublin while its multiple UK offices exist merely to count the paperclips, organise staff leaving collections and do the morning coffee run is further undermined by evidence it gave to an employment appeals tribunal in the Irish capital in 2013.
Rachel Berthold had been sacked in May 2011 from a position as a “level six” manager, which the tribunal heard put her in the top 7% of employees in Google’s Dublin office.

Anne-Catrin Sallaba, her former boss as Google Europe’s Head of Publisher Services, gave evidence to the tribunal that Berthold had failed to meet performance targets – but Sallaba had to cross the Irish sea to do so, given that as Berthold’s line manager she was employed in, er, London.

Berthold was eventually awarded €100,000 for unfair dismissal. Sallaba has in the meantime been promoted twice, and now rejoices in the job title “Senior People Development Manager, Head of Global Onboarding” – still in London!

As it happens, Matt Brittin of Google UK will be testifying before the UK Parliament this week.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:

Start up: Apple’s conundrum, watch birds migrate!, the 5am startup, and more

A Go endgame: where would you play next? DeepMind’s systems would know. Photo by chadmiller on Flickr.

Only humans can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. They 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.

Apple wants to be a services company » Business Insider

Jay Yarow with a neat summary of Apple’s conundrum:

So, Apple is in this weird cycle: It wants to grow services revenue, but services revenue depends on iPhone sales. Currencies are falling because the global economy is weak relative to the US economy, which is leading Apple to raise prices on the iPhone, which is hurting iPhone sales, which will limit services revenues.

Apple could lower prices of the iPhone to sell more units and then grow services, but it doesn’t seem to want to do that.

Cook said Apple already had a variety of price points, from the low-tier iPhone 5s to the high-end iPhone 6s Plus.

“I don’t see us deviating from that approach,” Cook said.

This makes sense since Apple is a hardware company. If it were a services company, it would lower prices, go for smartphone unit volume, then get more money from that. But it is not a services company.

It is not principally a services company. The money it does make from services is actually pretty substantial, and threatens to overtake iPad revenue. Poor iPad.
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iPhone Headwinds » Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh:

Apple also increased iPhone channel inventory by 3.3m over the quarter compared to a decline of 0.2m in the same quarter last year. Keeping in mind that Apple reports sell-in (shipments), not sales to end users, this implies that iPhone sell-through actually declined by 4.3% YoY, from 74.7m to 71.5m units. This is the first such decline in the history of the product.

In addition to this sell-through decline, Apple’s revenue guidance for the next quarter implies a steeper YoY decline in unit sales. And finally, this was accompanied with a YoY increase in average selling price (ASP) which suggests that the iPhone mix is shifting towards higher end models…

…As Clay Christensen is fond of saying, “Disruption is a process, not an event”. The mechanics of low-end disruption have been working ever since the first Android smartphone was unveiled in 2008. The key test for the iPhone will be the iPhone 7 cycle, starting in fiscal Q1 [Oct-Dec] 2017. In a “redesign year”, it will be easier to gauge whether meaningful product improvements can continue to generate increased demand or if today’s smartphones have already reached “good enough” territory.

The sell-through point is valid (only BlackBerry also gives the same data). The odd thing is that rising ASP: it points to people having the disposable income to buy the pricier models, which argues against the “low-end disruption” thesis.

But the gap between the average selling price of an Android handset and the average selling price of an iPhone has never been larger. That must have knock-on effects. But what?
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Google AI algorithm masters ancient game of Go » Nature

Elizabeth Gibney:

DeepMind’s program AlphaGo beat Fan Hui, the European Go champion, five times out of five in tournament conditions, the firm reveals in research published in Nature on 27 January. It also defeated its silicon-based rivals, winning 99.8% of games against the current best programs. The program has yet to play the Go equivalent of a world champion, but a match against South Korean professional Lee Sedol, considered by many to be the world’s strongest player, is scheduled for March. “We’re pretty confident,” says DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis.

“This is a really big result, it’s huge,” says Rémi Coulom, a programmer in Lille, France, who designed a commercial Go program called Crazy Stone. He had thought computer mastery of the game was a decade away.

The IBM chess computer Deep Blue, which famously beat grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997, was explicitly programmed to win at the game. But AlphaGo was not preprogrammed to play Go: rather, it learned using a general-purpose algorithm that allowed it to interpret the game’s patterns, in a similar way to how a DeepMind program learned to play 49 different arcade games.

This means that similar techniques could be applied to other AI domains that require recognition of complex patterns, long-term planning and decision-making, says Hassabis. “A lot of the things we’re trying to do in the world come under that rubric.” Examples are using medical images to make diagnoses or treatment plans, and improving climate-change models.

This is a gigantic result; being good at Go requires a subtle intuition and feel for space. (At least, for a human.) It’s far, far more complex than chess. And that this was done by a non-specific program has colossal implications.

As Nature’s leader on the topic comments, as these systems spread into our lives, “The machine becomes an oracle; its pronouncements have to be believed… Intuitive machines will need more than trust: they will demand faith.”

As a side note, DeepMind looks like one of Google’s smartest purchases – perhaps after YouTube.
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Nest thermostat goes from ‘Internet Of Things’ darling to cautionary tale » Techdirt

Karl Bode:

[Tech writer Stacey Higginbotham’s] Nest device began trying to cook her family in the middle of the night, something Nest first tried to blame on her smart garage door opener, then tried to blame on her Jawbone fitness tracker (Nest never did seem to pinpoint the cause). Her report suggests that an overall culture of “arrogance” at Nest shockingly isn’t helping pinpoint and resolve bugs:

“One Nest partner, who declined to be named to preserve his business relationship with the company, said that Nest being quick with the blame didn’t surprise him, citing a culture of arrogance at the company. When something went wrong during integration testing between his device and Nest’s, problems were first blamed on his servers and team.”

And fast-forward to last week, when researchers putting various internet of thing devices through tests found that the Nest thermostat was one of many IOT devices happily leaking subscriber location data in cleartext (with Nest, it’s only the zip code, something the company quickly fixed in a patch). Granted Nest’s not alone in being an inadvertent advertisement for a product’s “dumb” alternatives. In 2016, smart tea kettles, refrigerators, televisions and automobiles are all busy leaking your private information and exposing you to malicious intrusion (or worse).

It’s a fascinating, in-progress lesson about how our lust for the sexy ideal of the connected home appears to be taking a brief pit stop in reality.

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Vigilant solutions and the spread of police surveillance » The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf:

Throughout the United States—outside private houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers, and businesses with large employee parking lots—a private corporation, Vigilant Solutions, is taking photos of cars and trucks with its vast network of unobtrusive cameras. It retains location data on each of those pictures, and sells it.

It’s happening right now in nearly every major American city.

The company has taken roughly 2.2bn license-plate photos to date. Each month, it captures and permanently stores about 80m additional geotagged images. They may well have photographed your license plate. As a result, your whereabouts at given moments in the past are permanently stored. Vigilant Solutions profits by selling access to this data (and tries to safeguard it against hackers). Your diminished privacy is their product. And the police are their customers.

Sounds a bit similar to the UK police’s Automatic Number Plate Reader network, which extends around the UK, except this is historic too. (Then again, the UK’s ANPR system probably is too.)
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How to wake up at 5am and build your startup » Medium

Patrick Park (once he’s got past the stuff about how to, you know, get up at 5am, and gets on to the stuff about building your startup):

It’s hard to admit, but no one really knows what they’re doing at first. Even the largest startup unicorns in the world, took a long time to find their footing. AirBnb survived by selling political themed cereal Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s. #Slack came out of a failed game “Glitch.” Even YouTube began as a video dating service “Tune in Hook Up.”

Micro-startups work well with the Lean Startup methodology. Not only are micro-startups easier to implement, but provide a shorter feedback loop that keeps you more in touch with your audience. With 75% of all startups failing, would you rather spend 100 days in a basement building a product your customers “might” like or connect with your audience everyday “while” you adapt your startup to address your customer’s pain-points? Don’t build another Blockbuster.

Start with the assumption that you’re wrong. Constantly validate your theories through micro-experiments. When I first started “Krown.io”. I explained the service as an “Annotation Blogging Platform.” That was, until I found out the majority of people have no idea what “Annotations” are. We tried a variation of “Smart Blogging,” “Highlight Blogging,” “Feedback Blogs,” and “Contextual Blogging Platform.” Which surprise, surprise. People still had no idea what we were talking about. So we added a bare-to-the-bones explanation, “Highlight a text and add comments directly on the highlighted text.” Validate your hypothesis.

The startup advice is fine. Waking up at 5am isn’t that hard, but he makes it sound like one of the 12 tasks of Hercules.
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Lenovo used 12345678 as hard-coded password in SHAREit for Windows » Graham Cluley

Cluley is amazed – as you will be:

The first vulnerability [of four, all of which could be exploited remotely] (CVE-2016-1491) is perhaps the most infuriating. CoreLabs discovered that whenever SHAREit for Windows is configured to receive files, this process creates a Wi-Fi hotspot that is ‘protected’ by the password “12345678”.

Not surprisingly, this password just recently earned a top spot on the latest list of worst passwords you could possibly choose.

What is surprising is the fact that Lenovo would incorporate such an insecure password into its application — and one that does not change, no less!

Then again, I suppose the issue could be worse. In the second vulnerability (CVE-2016-1492), which applied only to SHAREit for Android, there is no password set up to protect the Wi-Fi hotspot when the app is configured to receive files.

To be sure, it doesn’t say much when Lenovo could have mitigated two separate vulnerabilities by adhering to the most basic principles of password security.

But moving right along. The third vulnerability (CVE-2016-1490) discovered by CoreLabs builds upon the insecure Windows password issue discussed above

When elephants do software while dancing. Yes, it was Lenovo which preinstalled Superfish.
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Mesmerizing migration: watch 118 bird species migrate across a map of the western hemisphere » All About Birds

Pat Leonard:

For the first time, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have documented migratory movements of bird populations spanning the entire year for 118 species throughout the Western Hemisphere. The study finds broad similarity in the routes used by specific groups of species—vividly demonstrated by animated maps showing patterns of movement across the annual cycle.

There’s also a version showing which species is which.
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Apple India enterprise head Sharad Mehrotra quits, starts up with Hyve Mobility » timesofindia-economictimes

Muntazir Abbas:

Sharad Mehrotra, iPhone maker Apple’s enterprise mobility head in India, has quit and set up a handset company to compete in the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market. Mehrotra, who was with Apple India since October 2007, has cofounded Hyve Mobility , which will launch smartphones using Android, the operating system that rivals Apple’s iOS, by March.

“While consumers today have a lot of options to choose a smartphone, the element of customer delight is seriously missing,” he told ET, adding that it was high time to get into the smartphone market…

…”In the current Android scenario, no brand enjoys customer loyalty and we want to bring the change with our path-breaking products portfolio and service offerings,” said [Aditya] Agarwal, MD of Hyve Mobility.

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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: