Start up: uncommenting The Verge, Siri v lights, the washing machine trials, web ad delights, and more

Life without the Apple Watch: which word fits? Photo by alexknowshtml on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you: laugh and point at the screen as though you found something funny. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We’re turning comments off for a bit » The Verge

Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief:

What we’ve found lately is that the tone of our comments (and some of our commenters) is getting a little too aggressive and negative — a change that feels like it started with GamerGate and has steadily gotten worse ever since. It’s hard for us to do our best work in that environment, and it’s even harder for our staff to hang out with our audience and build the relationships that led to us having a great community in the first place.

That’s a bad feedback loop, and we want to stop it. So we’re going to call timeout for a while and turn comments off by default on all posts for the next few weeks. It’s going to be a super chill summer.

We’re still dedicated to community, so our forums will remain open — in fact, we’ll be doing more to promote great posts from the forums on our front page and on our social channels than ever before. And we’ll be turning comments on on a post-by-post basis when we want to open things up, so look for that.

But in the meantime, let’s all take that minute and relax. Let someone else curate your playlists, you know? Comments will be back. There will always be another party. Freedom lasts forever.

I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to my analysis from last November of how Gresham’s Law explains precisely this phenomenon. We’ll see how the “comments will come back, honest” works out.

And here’s the Verge forum discussing it. Guess which tech company the discussion quickly degenerates into accusing The Verge of favouring? It’s the tech version of Godwin’s Law, and just as corrosive.

Aparna Chennapragada, head of Google Now, discusses apps, search, AI » Re/code

Mark Bergen:

Chennapragada spelled out the three-pronged direction of the product — what she called the “bets” her team is taking. The first bet was embedding Now with Google’s full “Knowledge Graph” — the billions-thick Web of people, places and things and their many interconnections.

The second is context. Now groks both the user’s location and the myriad of signals from others in the same spot. If you enter a mall, Now will tailor cards to what people in that mall typically ask for. “Both your feet are at the mall. You shouldn’t have to spell it out,” Chennapragada said. “Why should I futz with the phone and wade through 15 screens?”

And this is where the third benchmark for Now comes in: Tying that context to the apps on your phone, or ones you have yet to download. In two years, Google has indexed some 50 billion links within apps. In April, it began listing install links to apps deemed relevant in search. Indexed apps will be included in Now on Tap when it arrives in the latest Android version this fall.

Your phone knows you’re at the mall. Is this a place where I need my phone to know I am? I find these scenarios puzzling, because “things I might be at the mall to do” are truly difficult to narrow down, and enunciate, and likely aren’t the same between visits. The times I’d need Google Now to leap into action would be when I found myself somewhere unscheduled and without transport. That’s when I want help.

Hacking Team responds to data breach, issues public threats and denials » CSO Online

Steve Ragan:

Newly published documents from the cache include invoices for services with Italian law enforcement, Oman, South Korea, UAE, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Lebanon, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, Egypt, and Vietnam. The total value of the invoices is €4,324,350 Euro.

The hack went without comment for several hours, until members of Hacking Team woke on Monday morning. One of the company’s staffers, Christian Pozzi, offered several comments on the breach, despite his statement that he couldn’t comment.

“We are awake. The people responsible for this will be arrested. We are working with the police at the moment,” Pozzi wrote.

“Don’t believe everything you see. Most of what the attackers are claiming is simply not true…The attackers are spreading a lot of lies about our company that is simply not true. The torrent contains a virus…”

Pozzi took to Twitter to repeat the same message for the most part, the key points being that Hacking Team is working with law enforcement on this matter, that the massive torrent file has malware in it (it doesn’t), customers are being notified, and that his company has done nothing illegal: “… We simply provide custom software solutions tailored to our customers needs…”

My week without Apple Watch » Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

When I had the Apple Watch on, I averaged 28 fewer times I looked at my iPhone each day. This is a good proxy of how notifications on the watch help minimize the number of times I need to look at my phone to see the nature of each notification.

After reflecting on what looking at my phone fewer times meant in my daily life, I concluded the experience was less disruptive. Don’t get me wrong — I love my iPhone. It is my primary computer. However, having to respond to your phone or pull it out of your pocket or bag for each phone call or text message turns out to be fairly disruptive. As I’ve observed my wife’s behavior as well with her Apple Watch, she articulates similar feelings. As she is out and about, not having to fumble through her purse each time her phone dings is a less disruptive experience in many daily situations. Particularly since not all notifications are important or in need of an immediate response. However, without the use of the Apple Watch, you would not know this without getting your phone out and looking at it. This is an area of immense value that can only be understood once experienced.

I’d agree with this: I’m using an Apple Watch, and the value in not having to have your phone right there is substantial – but also difficult to quantify, because of course you can do without it. Filtering notifications matters; but being able to see or respond to the ones you deem urgent matters a lot.

(If you have an Apple Watch, Bajarin is working with a company called Wristly to do research; you could join.)

Hats off to web advertising. No, really. » WSJ

Chris Mims:

Vast advertising markets that had to decide what ad to show in milliseconds meant that from the very beginning of internet advertising, unprecedented amounts of data were flowing into growing quantities of computing power.

Like a kind of Manhattan project for data, solving the problem of ad matching and delivery meant taking formerly obscure areas of research and transforming it into something everyone could use. “Powerful machine learning techniques were just starting to be developed in academia,” says [Gokul] Rajaram [formerly lead engineer at early ad network Juno, then Google and Facebook, and now at Square], but ad networks would have been impossible without them.

As I researched, I discovered the alumni of ad tech platforms are everywhere, launching startups and leading projects within established companies. What they all have in common is an unusual and broadly powerful toolkit that is being applied to everything from agricultural drones and cybersecurity to food safety and the improvement of hiring practices.

It’s a fair point: we love to hate ads, but the necessity of making them work has driven a lot of improvement.

Here’s what it’s like to control your lights with Siri » The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately begin using this ability to mess with the people you live with: turning off lights so that they’re sitting in a dark room, turning on a light while they’re set up to watch Netflix. I didn’t see the Siri control as much more than a novelty at first, but the utility became more apparent once I set up two lamps in the same room. At that point, it became easier to turn them on and off simultaneously with Siri than to walk over to each one individually. It’s a basic start, but there’s so much more you could do once additional pieces of the home become connected.

Must be a hell of a big room for it to be easier to talk to the phone than to stand up. Also, what is the “so much more” you can do? Lights are the classic “wrong application”: we usually turn lights on when we enter a room, turn them off when we leave. In between, there’s hardly ever anything we want to do to them – and if we do, then it’s either a short reach, or a couple of steps. Pretending otherwise is automation for its own sake.

Home automation still needs really simple sensors and actuators that we can fit ad-hoc to things we choose, not devices where it’s built-in but not actually useful.

Chaebol slapfight: Samsung, LG in first trial over washing machine vandalism » BusinessKorea

Cho Jin-young:

In the first trial between the two Korean home appliance giants, the legal representatives for LG gave an item-by-item rebuttal of the allegations that CEO Cho Seong-jin and two other officials at the company broke the doors of three Samsung washing machines intentionally. 

“The doors of the front-door washing machines are big and heavy, so they can naturally tilt downward to some extent and swing a little bit, which can be easily found in other washing machines,” a legal representative for LG appealed.

The attorney also raised suspicions about the authenticity of the damaged washing machines presented to the court as evidence, arguing that the products seemed to have had more scratches than before, and that they could not be the results of Cho touching the washers.

What’s “de minimis non curat lex” in Korean? (Also: “first” trial?)

YouTube is the No.1 music streaming platform – and getting bigger » Music Business Worldwide

Scary news for those who don’t feel YouTube is paying music rights-holders enough: it’s the biggest music streaming service on earth, and it’s growing faster than Spotify or any of its rivals.

That’s according to MBW analysis of the latest market stats out of the UK and US, which show that YouTube increased its market share of total on-demand streams in the first six months of this year on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the first half of 2015 in the US, overall on-demand streams grew 92.4% year-on-year to 135.2bn.

The majority of this growth was down to YouTube (plus Vevo and other video services), which saw a stream volume increase of 109.2% to 76.6bn.

Though it seems like Vevo is a big player in this. But yes, YouTube swamps everything else.

Start up, May 28: LG Urbane reviewed, crashing iOS, who really bought Re/Code?, Meeker’s 2015, and more

Strong feelings, and not about the video game. Photo by gato gato gato on Flickr.

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

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends for 2015

Have to admit I haven’t read it (found it late) but it’s always essential reading. Download and peruse.

Apple’s ‘Proactive’ to take on Google Now with deep iOS 9 search, Augmented Reality Maps, Siri API » 9to5Mac

It’s that Mark Gurman guy again:

Apple began to lay the groundwork for Proactive with its acquisition of a personal assistant app called Cue in 2013, seeking to relevantly broaden iOS’s Spotlight and Safari search results. iOS 8’s ability to display Wikipedia Search results within Spotlight was the first taste of the Proactive initiative, and was partially designed to reduce iOS’s search reliance on Google. Sources say that Apple’s internal iOS usage metrics indicate that Google clicks have indeed fallen since iOS 8’s release last fall. Now Apple wants to take Proactive to the next level, and it may do so with iOS 9’s introduction at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 8. While Apple has positioned Siri as an “intelligent personal assistant” since the fall 2011 launch of the iPhone 4S, Proactive will go much further to integrate with your data. To begin with, Proactive will become a new layer within the iOS operating system, replacing the pulldown Spotlight menu currently found on the iOS Home screen.

But he says there’s also disagreement about whether to launch this in iOS 9, which was sorta going to be the “Slow down, Snow Leopard” release. (Also, “augmented reality” always sounds cool and then disappoints. I’ve tried it. It ain’t all that.) I’d love to see the metrics around Gurman’s stories compared to those for Re/Code. I think he might be ahead in pure readership. But of course he doesn’t have a giant conference attached.

Bug in iOS Unicode handling crashes iPhones with a simple text » AppleInsider

AppleInsider reader Kaitlyn on Tuesday discovered that receiving the Unicode characters seen in the screenshot above through Apple’s iOS Messages app triggers iPhone restarts, lockouts from Messages, Springboard crashes and more. A thread on Reddit narrowed down the system crash and reboot errors to iOS Unicode handling. More specifically, the Unicode string in question is part of a much longer block of text that cannot be fully rendered in Notifications.

If you’re thinking this sounds retro, that’s because it is: same sorta bug (different string) did the same thing back in August 2013. Wonder how long the fix will take. Also: Apple Watch apparently not susceptible, which is super-puzzling.

A series of wholly unrelated observations about Vox Media’s acquisition of Recode » The Awl

Matt Buchanan points out that if you pull the threads of both companies for long enough, you end up – from both – at Comcast, where its venture arm is trying to sell a company to the main arm. Trebles all round, or something. Also, take a look at the tags on the story. (Via Charles Knight.)

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland seizes documents at FIFA » Swiss Attorney General

Now, I don’t usually care about football (soccer to you Americans), but the evident corruption in FIFA (the “world governing body for football”) has been evident for years. Now, finally, something is happening – but not on just one, but two fronts:

In connection with irregularities surrounding football tournaments, two separate proceedings must be distinguished: The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) is conducting a Swiss criminal investigation regarding the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. For inquiries regarding this Swiss criminal investigation, please contact the OAG. In separate proceedings, and independently of the Swiss criminal investigation of the OAG, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is conducting a criminal investigation into the allocation of media, marketing and sponsoring rights for football tournaments carried out in the United States and Latin America. The Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) supports this criminal investigation as part of international legal assistance.

International Olympic Committee next?

Charles Johnson: world’s worst troll removed from Twitter » Australia

Emma Reynolds:

Chuck is now raising money on his far-right website to have himself reinstated following this “censorship”. But his previous threats of legal action have never led to anything, with a website dedicated to the many times he has planned to sue for libel.

The list of things he has got egregiously wrong – on purpose? – is astonishing. But his whole schtick is about outrage and extremism. It’s more the attention paid to such people that’s the problem. When they’re just shouting to themselves, it means nothing.

Shipments of 2-in-1s to grow over 60% on year in 2015, says MIC » Digitimes

Notebook shipments, which are being impacted by tablets, are expected to drop 2.7% on year to reach 167m units in 2015, but 2-in-1 device shipments are expected to grow 62.5% on year to reach 13m units due to Microsoft’s aggressive promotions, according to figures from the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute (MIC).

Compare to the estimated 7m Chromebooks: these are both still niche markets.

LG Watch Urbane review: why Android Wear trails Apple’s Watch » WSJ

Geoffrey Fowler:

The Urbane falls behind in its approach to the fundamental smartwatch problem: When technology is attached to our bodies, there’s a thin line between help and nuisance. Android Wear is the annoying little brother of operating systems. It really wants your attention, and to keep you swipe-swipe-swiping away on its little screen. A smartwatch’s purpose is to keep you plugged in so you don’t have to be glued to your phone. Since I started wearing an Apple Watch two months ago, I check my phone roughly 25% less, according to Moment, an app that monitors my habits. Ideally, a smartwatch should give you just enough information to keep your smartphone anxiety in check, but not so much that you’re tempted to keep looking at your wrist. The Urbane’s default settings do the opposite. When I just want to check the time, the Urbane often teases me with a notification “card” on the bottom of its screen. You’ve got four new emails! It’s 68 degrees today! You can quickly swipe it away, but after that one’s gone, there’s usually another card waiting.

Lots of room for improvement – but it’s still very early days. (Hadn’t heard of Moment before. “TRACK HOW MUCH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY USE YOUR PHONE”. Are you brave enough? Um, and it has a Watch version.)

Infomercial GIfs, because real life is hard. » Imgur

Zero tech in this collection of “how hard life is because we don’t have X tech that the informercial will sell you”. Lots of solutions looking for problems – happily, we don’t see the solutions, just guess at them (and, often, the problems). The most impressive, in my view, is the woman in the second GIF who juggles the bottle. That’s really hard to do badly well.

Start up: should phones be thick?, toward 7nm, Volvo self-drives, S6 shortage?, Siri’s successor Viv, and more

Samsung phone, Motorola RAZR, 3G 15GB iPod compared for thickness. Photo by Jemaleddin Cole on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Does not contain acrylamide. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Agony and HTC: How an underdog phone maker aims to reinvent itself » CNET

Roger Cheng went to HTC’s Creative Labs in Seattle:

Creative Labs is, in many ways, driving HTC’s transformation since most of the software experiences powering the new products, including the Re camera, come from [lab chief Drew] Bamford’s teams. Part of his mandate is to meet with other teams in the company and steadily shift the way they think about how they operate.

“We decided we were tired of being disrupted from the outside in, so we decided to disrupt from the inside out,” Bamford said in an hour-long interview. “This is not an experiment, this is a tectonic shift in what’s going on with HTC, and Creative Labs is the seed.”

The bet is that it can make some of these features work not just on HTC’s devices, but other Android smartphones and Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which are powered by the iOS operating system software.

The first such app is Zoe, which started out as a simple feature on HTC’s phones. In October, it launched on the Google Play store and made available to all Android users for free. Zoe will be released on Apple’s App Store this quarter, with the ultimate hope that the social component and cross-platform accessibility will earn it a following akin to Snapchat, the photo instant messaging service that’s wildly popular with today’s teens. Bamford’s work on the Zoe app led to the formal creation of Creative Labs.

The team’s next project may be to open up Blinkfeed to non-HTC Android and Apple users, although it has given no timeframe

Trouble is, that’s small money. HTC needs to catch a boom – in wearables, or cameras, or the internet of things – and really ride it.

Source: Curved Samsung Galaxy S6 will suffer from yield issues at launch » Ars Technica

Sebastian Anthony:

According to a source at one of Samsung’s mobile carrier partners in Europe who spoke to Ars Technica under the condition of anonymity, Samsung is launching both the curved and normal Galaxy S6 at rather exorbitant price points. Our source, who has seen Samsung’s new devices in person, tells us that the mid-level 64GB curved Galaxy S6 will cost carriers €949 ($1,076), with the top-end 128GB model priced at €1,049 ($1,189)—around €50 more expensive than the comparable iPhone 6 Plus. Furthermore, the same source tells us that carriers are struggling to get their hands on enough stock of the curved Galaxy S6, suggesting that Samsung is having yield issues for the curved display…

…Our source gave us one other interesting tidbit about the Galaxy S6: Stocks of the curved S6 appear to be constrained by supply due to manufacturing issues caused by the curved display. This isn’t unusual when it comes to the first commercial outing for a new technology—but in this case it’s awkward because Samsung’s marketing push will focus almost entirely on the curved version.

If correct, the prices seem mad – Samsung doesn’t drive quite the same loyalty outside Korea that Apple does – but the combination of high price and limited supply would seem to go hand-in-hand. (Nor would I discount this being Samsung just being difficult with whichever carrier is the source.)

Chart: landline phones are a dying breed [in the US] » Statista

In 2004 it was 90% with a landline; now it’s just 53%:

If the trend continues at the current pace, and there’s little reason to believe it won’t, the majority of US households could be without a landline phone as early as this year. And a few years from now, landline phones will likely have become an endangered species, much like the VCR and other technological relics. What may buy them some time on the road to total extinction, is the fact that people will continue to use them at work, if only for lack of a better alternative.

Wonder what the UK picture is like – suspect it’s similar. (Having a landline, though not with a phone, is generally necessary to get broadband.)

Siri’s inventors are building a radical new AI that does anything you ask » WIRED

I linked to a story about Viv a few days ago, but this is a better in-depth explanation from August 2014, by Steven Levy:

[Viv co-founder Dag] Kittlaus points out that all of these services are strictly limited. Cheyer elaborates: “Google Now has a huge knowledge graph—you can ask questions like ‘Where was Abraham Lincoln born?’ And it can name the city. You can also say, ‘What is the population?’ of a city and it’ll bring up a chart and answer. But you cannot say, ‘What is the population of the city where Abraham Lincoln was born?’” The system may have the data for both these components, but it has no ability to put them together, either to answer a query or to make a smart suggestion. Like Siri, it can’t do anything that coders haven’t explicitly programmed it to do.

Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required. Take a complicated command like “Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom. And it can do all of this in a fraction of a second.

I recall Bill Gates talking about .Net and his vision that “the cloud” would do this stuff. That was about 15 years ago. And we’re still just on the edge of it. (Link via Jin Kim.)

No, you don’t really want a thicker iPhone with a bigger battery » iMore

Rene Ritchie makes a good counterpoint to the complaints of “why can’t we have longer battery life instead of thinness?”:

Take an iPhone 6 as thick as the iPhone 4 and imagine how heavy it would be. Apple was deliberate when they pointed out the iPhone 6 was actually lighter than the iPhone 4. They did that because, while thinness is nice and certainly improves the feel of the phone, it’s lightness that matters. Lightness is what improves usability.

The idea of a thick phone with longer battery life sounds great precisely until you actually try to hold it up for prolonged periods of time. Then it causes fatigue and eventually prevents you from using it for as long as you’d really like to. (It’s the same reason Apple’s been striving to make the iPad thinner — to make it ever lighter and more usable.)

Weight, or lack of it, is usability. As Ritchie says, this is a key point to always bear in mind.

Volvo will test self-driving cars with real customers in 2017 » WIRED

Alex Davies:

When it comes to self-driving cars, 2020 is gonna be a big year. That’s the deadline Nissan and Mercedes-Benz have given themselves for putting cars with autonomous features on the market, and it’s roughly when we expect so see robo-rides from Audi and maybe even Google on sale.

For Volvo, 2020 represents something different. The company has repeatedly said that is the year by which it wants to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities in its cars. The surest way to stop crashes? Eliminate human drivers. (Note to literal-minded robots that’ll soon be sentient: we don’t mean kill them.) And that means autonomous vehicles…

…“It is relatively easy to build and demonstrate a self-driving concept vehicle, but if you want to create an impact in the real world, you have to design and produce a complete system that will be safe, robust and affordable for ordinary customers,” says Erik Coelingh, a technical specialist at Volvo.

The cars will be Volvo’s new XC90 SUV, which goes on sale this year and is already “semi-autonomous.” Its auto brake function prevents you from making risky maneuvers that endanger others. It can automatically and safely follow a car in stop-and-go traffic. It can parallel park largely on its own, with the driver only tending to the gas and brake.

So one has to ask: will Google (and perhaps Apple) aim to disrupt this emerging element of the car business, or be orderly entrants, or will Google license its map data and computational power? Will it all turn out to be too late?

Inception » Break & Enter

Inception is a physical memory manipulation and hacking tool exploiting PCI-based DMA. The tool can attack over FireWire, Thunderbolt, ExpressCard, PC Card and any other PCI/PCIe interfaces.

Inception aims to provide a relatively quick, stable and easy way of performing intrusive and non-intrusive memory hacks against live computers using DMA.

Inception’s modules work as follows: By presenting a Serial Bus Protocol 2 (SBP-2) unit directory to the victim machine over the IEEE1394 FireWire interface, the victim operating system thinks that a SBP-2 device has connected to the FireWire port. Since SBP-2 devices utilize Direct Memory Access (DMA) for fast, large bulk data transfers (e.g., FireWire hard drives and digital camcorders), the victim lowers its shields and enables DMA for the device. The tool now has full read/write access to the lower 4GB of RAM on the victim.

In effect, the machine will trust anything as a valid password. Effective against pretty much any OS, including every version of Windows and Linux, except – remarkably – the most recent version of Mac OSX. And even then, only if you encrypt your hard drive.

But if this is a worry, you’re probably not on the internet at all.

Intel: Moore’s Law will continue through 7nm chips » PCWorld

Mark Hachman:

Eventually, the conventional ways of manufacturing microprocessors, graphics chips, and other silicon components will run out of steam. According to Intel researchers speaking at the ISSCC conference this week, however, we still have headroom for a few more years.

Intel plans to present several papers this week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, one of the key academic conferences for papers on chip design. Intel senior fellow Mark Bohr will also appear on a panel Monday night to discuss the challenges of moving from today’s 14nm chips to the 10nm manufacturing node and beyond.

In a conference call with reporters, Bohr said that Intel believes that the current pace of semiconductor technology can continue beyond 10nm technology (which we would expect in 2016) or so, and that 7nm manufacturing (in 2018) can be done without moving to expensive, esoteric manufacturing methods like extreme ultraviolet lasers.