Start up: more Google tax, LinkedIn’s problem, Apple’s 1970s fix, and more

HTC’s Vive pricing is surprisingly low. Is that good? Photo by theAV club 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 11 links for you. Just like that. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

LinkedIn problems run deeper than valuation » TechCrunch

Daniel Kimmelman, noting how the site’s stock has plummeted, sees other problems:

»LinkedIn is not, in fact, a business network — individuals on LinkedIn represent themselves, not their businesses. And as LinkedIn’s content is mostly user-generated, the incentive is for the users to produce material that promotes themselves.

This creates a conflict. Most people aren’t looking to change jobs all the time. Instead, they want to communicate and build relationships. However, because LinkedIn’s revenue streams and design restrict typical business forms of communication and facilitate paid ones, most interactions on the platform are low-frequency and one-directional in nature, such as recruitment offers and sales pitches.

As a result, LinkedIn is now, at best, a business card holder. At worst, it’s a delivery service for spam.

«

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Google’s new SERP layout: the biggest winners and losers » Search Engine Land

Larry Kim on Google’s new layout, which puts four ads above the organic search results and gets rid of the ones on the side:

»As always, Google is a zero-sum game. For everyone who wins, someone must lose. In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of the four biggest winners and losers as a result of Google’s new desktop ad layout so far.

The proof is in the data. I looked at WordStream customer data (thousands of accounts across all industries) and determined that side and bottom ads account for just 14.6% of total clicks.

As Alistair Dent noted in his post analyzing iProspect UK clients, ads in the top positions get 14x higher click-through rate than the same ad on the same keyword on the right side.

It’s also important to remember that this change only impacts desktop, which now accounts for less than half of all searches. So, really, this will impact 7.3% of queries.

«

Those low numbers for side clicks suggests that people saw them as ads, whereas they don’t with the ads sitting on the top.
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Google unpaid taxes: France seeks €1.6bn from search giant » BBC News

»French authorities have demanded that Google pays €1.6bn ($1.8bn; £1.3bn) in unpaid taxes.
The figure is substantially more than the £130m the search engine agreed to pay in back taxes to UK authorities.

However, France’s AFP news agency reported that Google might be able to negotiate and may not pay the full sum.

The company’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, is visiting Paris and was due to meet the France’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday night. It is not clear if they will discuss the tax issue.

Earlier this month, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin ruled out striking a deal with the US company.

Google would not comment on reports of the tax demand and French officials said the matter was confidential.

«

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Who hit you, HP Inc? ‘Windows 10! It’s all Windows 10’s fault’ » The Register

Chris Williams:

»HP Ink – the PC and printers half of the Hewlett-Packard split – has blamed Windows 10 for a ho-hum quarter of declining sales.

“Windows 10 is a tremendous operating system platform,” HP Ink CEO Dion Weisler told analysts and investors on a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. “But we have not yet seen the anticipated Win10 stimulation of demand that we would hope for.”

Weisler was speaking about an hour after his company published the financial figures [PDF] for the first three months of its fiscal 2016 year. It’s HP Ink’s first quarter as a standalone company since the Great HP Split of 2015.

We were told Microsoft’s software hasn’t, so far, apparently, spurred enough people into buying HP-branded PCs. Well, that may explain the 13% fall in the company’s personal systems revenues. But how about its printers, though? People love printers, right? Always buying them. Always having fun on cold Sunday evenings reinstalling drivers. Unjamming the paper trays. Buying new cartridges. Revenues fell 17 per cent. Ah.

«

HP Inc (as it’s formally called, but HP Ink is much better) is a ship let loose and quietly coasting towards oblivion.
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How to disable ads on your Windows 10 lock screen » How-To Geek

Chris Stobling:

»If you’re like me, you might have opened up your Windows 10 laptop today only to see a giant ad for Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider plastered across your login screen. This is the work of the “Windows Spotlight” feature in your Personalization settings, and thankfully, you can turn it off for good.

«

Amazing.
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What does it take to be a “bestselling author” on Amazon? $3 and five minutes » Observer

Brent Underwood:

»I would like to tell you about the biggest lie in book publishing. It appears in the biographies and social media profiles of almost every working “author” today. It’s the word “best seller.”

This isn’t about how The New York Times list is biased (though it is). This isn’t about how authors buy their way onto various national best-seller lists by buying their own books in bulk (though they do). No, this is about the far more insidious title of “Amazon Bestseller”—and how it’s complete and utter nonsense.

Here’s what happened in the book industry over the last few years: As Amazon has become the big dog in the book world, the “Amazon Bestseller” status has come to be synonymous with being an actual bestseller. This is not true, and I can prove it.

«

I added the “on Amazon” part to the headline, because it’s not in the original, and that’s misleading – as misleading as Amazon’s “bestseller” lists. Amazon’s bestseller lists on pretty much every product are indicative of nothing more general than what is selling best on Amazon; it doesn’t tell you about national or other trends, for the most part.

But what Underwood describes is pretty dire. He also wonders why Nielsen Bookscan doesn’t include ebooks. As I understand it, that’s because Amazon won’t share the data. It’s all Bezos charts as far as the eye can see.
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HTC Vive pricing lower than expected » Digitimes

Max Wang and Steve Shen:

»HTC has set the price for the consumer edition of its first virtual reality (VR) headset, the HTC Vive, at US$799, which is much lower than market expectation of US$1,500.

HTC will take pre-sale orders globally on February 29 with full commercial availability starting early April, the company said.

The Vive, which is bundled with SteamVR, will be delivered as a complete kit allowing users to instantly jump into a fully immersive virtual environment using two wireless controllers, 360 degree tracking and room scale movement sensors, HTC added.

«

I don’t see this ending well for HTC. It needs revenue, and moreover it needs profitable revenue. Selling at a lower price might juice the market, but at present it can command a premium price simply because it’s new. Google Cardboard, Samsung VR? They’re cheap. Oculus Rift is a competitor, and its bundle costs $1,500.
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In 2016, 14% of users are blocking ads » Medium

Rob Leathern:

»Optimal.com is building an adblocking service to help consumers, and we also give major websites tools to measure the rate at which users are blocking ads on their pages.

Below is a summary of data we’ve collected anonymously from over 30 million users from 1/1/16 to 2/13/16. We plan to release more aggregate information in the near future, especially to understand the many differences between mobile and desktop ad blocking. On this latter point for now I will only say that desktop adblocking is approximately 10x more prevalent than mobile adblocking (for the time being).

«

11.7% in the US; 16% in the UK. Poland, Ukraine, Greece, Czech Republic are way above, in the 25-30% range.
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Apple files motion to dismiss the court order to force it to unlock iPhone » Techcrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»Apple’s reasoning in the brief rests on three pillars. First, that forcing Apple to write code that weakens its devices and the security of its customers constitutes a violation of free speech as protected by the Constitution.

Second, that the burden the FBI is putting on it by requesting that Apple write the software and assist in unlocking the device is too large. Apple argues that it would have to create the new version of iOS, called GovtOS, which requires coding, signing, verification and testing. It would then have to create an FBI forensics laboratory on site at its headquarters and staff it. The burden would then extend to what Apple views is the inevitable onslaught of additional devices that would follow after the precedent was set.

In addition to free speech, Apple argues that the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process clause prohibits the government from compelling Apple to create the new version of iOS. Apple argues that there is no court precedent for forcing a company to create something new, like GovtOS.

«

Covered the First Amendment element here previously.

Or read the whole filing.
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Latest iOS 9.3 beta unbricks iPhones affected by ‘January 1, 1970’ date bug » Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»The most recent beta of iOS 9.3, provided to developers and public beta testers earlier this week, fixes a bug that caused 64-bit iPhones and iPads to be disabled or “bricked” when the date was set to January 1, 1970.

Discovered in mid-February, the “1970” bug occurs whenever an iOS device’s date is manually set to 1970, resulting in a continuous reboot cycle. Speculation has suggested the reboot loop is the result of an integer underflow that causes the iPhone to reset the date to the maximum value, a huge number that iOS devices may be unable to process.

With iOS 9.3 beta 4, the date on the iPhone or iPad can’t be set beyond December 31, 2000 at 7:00 p.m. ET, which equates to 1/1/01 at 12:00 a.m. GMT. That effectively puts an end to the 1970 bug, which was used to trick some people into bricking their devices.

«

God Apple is being so BORING. First it fixes “error 53”, then it let people carry on using the Pencil to navigate on the iPad Pro, and now this.
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Health » Google DeepMind

»We have been collaborating with some of the UK’s leading kidney experts at the Royal Free Hospital London to co-design and pilot a mobile app, called Streams, which presents timely information that helps nurses and doctors detect cases of acute kidney injury. AKI is a contributing factor in up to 20% of emergency hospital admissions as well as 40,000 deaths in the UK every year. Yet NHS England estimate that around 25% of cases are preventable.

Consultant Nephrologist and Associate Medical Director for patient safety at the Royal Free Hospital London, Dr Chris Laing, who helped design the app and oversaw two initial pilots at the Royal Free, said:

“Using Streams meant I was able to review blood tests for patients at risk of AKI within seconds of them becoming available. I intervened earlier and was able to improve the care of over half the patients Streams identified in our pilot studies.”

«

Really interesting. AI is a sort of “rising tide” technology: you don’t notice it changing your world, until the world is utterly changed and you find yourself thinking “however did we cope before?”
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: not all Nissan LEAF cars have remote access for operating their air conditioning or checking their battery. (Thanks, Richard Burte.)

Start up: risky USB-C cables, Google’s travel funnel, Uber’s tax diversion, bye-bye 747, and more

This damn thing was silently eating huge chunks of iOS time – and battery – at least until last October. Photo by edowoo on Flickr.

Last chance this week to sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You won’t believe what happens next. (OK, you might.)

A selection of 8 links for you. Tested on humans for irritancy. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google engineer Benson Leung finds a USB Type C cable that isn’t just dangerous on paper — it allegedly fried his hardware » Android Police

Bertel King:

Not all USB Type C cables are created equal. Some charge better than others. A number ignore USB spec so much that they run the risk of actually damaging your hardware. This could happen gradually, or in the worst-case scenario, it could be instant.

Googler Benson Leung has taken on the task of going through Amazon and reviewing whichever USB Type C cables he can get his hands on. We’ve recommended a number of them in past deals, feeling confident that we’re steering readers in the direction of safe accessories. We don’t test these products ourselves, so we consider what he does a real service.

Unfortunately, Leung may be taking an extended break. After plugging Surjtech’s 3M USB A-to-C cable (the item shows up now as not available, but here’s the 1M option you’ll presumably also want to avoid) into his 2015 Chromebook Pixel and two USB-PD Sniffer devices, he says the latter failed immediately. Resetting the analyzer and reflashing the firmware did not bring the hardware back to life.

Shouldn’t there be a proper certification system for USB-C? Having to rely on one Google engineer seems barmy. Especially in light of this.
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Facebook’s iOS bug led ComScore to overestimate time spent » AdAge

Tim Peterson, on a rejigging after it was realised that Facebook’s app used all sorts of trickery on iOS to make itself appear to be active (silent audio, etc) to the OS:

When looking at Facebook’s iPhone app specifically, total time spent [after some of the bugs – but note, not all – were fixed] was 40% lower in November compared to September [before the fix], and the average amount of time spent per person was 41% lower. For Facebook’s iPad app, total time spent was 39% lower, as was the average amount of time spent per person.

For comparison, total time spent in Facebook’s Android app increased by 2% and average time spent per user was flat when comparing September and November; ComScore’s Android figures are considered more reliable than its iOS figures because the firm is only able to take into account activity when the app is running in the foreground.

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.

Amazing – Facebook’s iOS app really was the spawn of the devil in the way it abused battery life through to October 2015. (And it’s hardly innocent now.)

That up-to-October period includes a lot of testing of new iPhones “in real-life situations” by gadget reviewers, as it happens.
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Google revamps travel search queries, almost making web results irrelevant » Search Engine Land

Barry Schwartz:

Google has quietly revamped the mobile user interface for travel-related searches. The result of the change makes it really hard to get to the organic web results once you click on the “more destinations” button. Let me walk you through the experience.

This is called “thrusting the user head-first into the sales funnel”.
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Why the sun is setting on the Boeing 747 » The Conversation

Guy Gratton:

Today, the industry has moved towards twin-engine aeroplanes such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330, with three-engine aeroplanes being relatively unpopular because of the high labour costs of working on an engine bedded into the aeroplane fin. The four-engine 747 retained a clear place in the market because twin-engine planes must stay within a certain distance from an airport in case of engine failure. This allowed the 747 to achieve shorter journey times on the longest routes because it can use more direct flight paths.

However, improving engine reliability means authorities have slowly increased the distance a twin-engine airliner can fly from a runway, gradually reducing the advantage of having four engines. And of course, those newer, more reliable engines have also been bigger and more efficient.

Of course, the slowdown in 747 production doesn’t mean the original jumbo jet will disappear from our skies just yet. The latest models are much longer, bigger and operate with more modern engines and instruments than the earlier 747-100s (no longer do the crew have to take sextant readings through the cockpit roof), and the newer aircraft are likely to stay in service for at least another 20 years.

Then: “Where’s the sextant?”
Now: “Where’s the sextant app?”
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Uber’s Dutch businesses had zero employees in 2013 » Business Insider

Oscar Williams-Grut:

A European member of parliament has accused Uber’s European business of being “specifically designed, from the start, to reduce its tax liabilities.”

Labour’s Anneliese Dodds made the comment to Business Insider over email after we pointed out that two Dutch companies closely involved in running Uber’s UK business had no employees for up to a year after it launched here.

Uber employed eight people in its Amsterdam offices in 2013. But the corporate entity that immediately controlled the UK operation had none.

*grinds teeth* We’re now at the stage where if an American tech company pays more in tax than the average Briton we’re shocked.
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The end of Twitter » The New Yorker

Joshua Topolsky:

what should worry Twitter isn’t the value of its stock. (USA Today reported that, given its cash reserves, the service could run for another four hundred and twelve years with current losses.) What should worry Twitter is irrelevance, and there is growing data to suggest that that is where the company is headed. If Twitter’s real-time feed is its most powerful asset (and it is), it’s not difficult to see a future in which Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or even a newcomer like Peach (yes, I am citing Peach) focus enough on real-time news that they obviate the need for Twitter’s narrow, noisy, and oft-changing ideas about social interaction. Considering the fact that Kevin Weil, the head of product, left the company to join Instagram, it’s easy to imagine that service mutating or bifurcating into a speedier, more social platform for sharing links and having conversations. And, for many users—particularly young users, according to a recent survey—Snapchat is already their most important destination. We live in the Age of the Upgrade, and the generation raised on the Internet is the most fickle of brand champions: it loves something passionately, until it doesn’t. Then it moves on.

Ultimately, Twitter’s service is so confused and undifferentiated in the market that it’s increasingly difficult to make a clear case for its existence.

That’s not quite right; it’s more that lots of other services have come along and do similar things (text, pictures, links) but Twitter has always had the focus on The Moment – that it is the place where you see the world unfold, if the world cooperates. Nowhere else can do that.
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Why Alto’s Adventure will be free on Android » The Verge

Andrew Webster:

According to both [Ryan] Cash [of development company Snowman] and Noodlecake’s Ryan Holowaty, one of the main reasons they decided to make the game free on Android is piracy. “Piracy on Android is a much bigger issue on the platform especially in the case of premium iOS titles that charge more than $0.99,” Holowaty explains. When Noodlecake ported iOS game Wayward Souls to Android, for example, the studio found that only 11% of installed copies of the game were paid for. The studio even uploaded a special version of its game Shooting Stars on a number of torrent sites as an experiment, one that couldn’t be completed if you were playing a pirated copy.

There were also factors outside of piracy that contributed to the decision. “It made sense to us because of the state of mobile gaming and the reality that the vast majority of players do not pay for games,” says Holowaty. “In addition, Android has a much larger install base than iOS internationally, and games that release in countries like China and Japan are basically free-to-play only at this point. So to really capitalize on the market internationally, it made sense to have a free version.”

That’s Alto’s Adventure, which was released 12 months ago on iOS. Does anyone monitor how long it takes games and other non-platform apps to reach Android from iOS?
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Regulators are failing to block fraudulent adverts » FT.com

John Gapper:

Malware robots — “bots” in advertising jargon — are estimated to sit on 10 per cent of home computers in the US, browsing away in the background while the owners do other things, or sleep.

Second, the world of programmatic advert buying and selling is highly automated and bafflingly complex, filled with layers of intermediaries doing slightly different things for commissions. An advertiser places adverts through an online network contracted by its media buying agency. The network may find inventory on which to place them on an exchange such as Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange, into which thousands of publishers plug.

That is the simple version. There are more obscure ways to do it, enabled by automation and the internet. The result is that no one knows everyone with whom they trade, or can be sure where ads end up being shown. This makes it easy for fraudsters to infiltrate and infect the advertising supply chain.

Third, companies are desperate. The economics of digital publishing are under severe strain, with publishers being paid small amounts for millions of page views. They need traffic and some are tempted into buying it from brokers that can mysteriously rustle it up. Such publishers look the other way rather than delving too deeply into where the traffic comes from.

I’m currently reading The Big Short, Michael Lewis’s book about the people who realised – slowly but with growing horror and delight – that the bond market built around US subprime mortgage loans was unsustainable, and began to bet against it (“shorting” it). The film derived from the book is fabulous. Go and see it.

Reading the book, you try to think like those people: to look for opportunities in giant, unsustainable businesses whose precise workings aren’t really understood and whose collapse is inevitable, yet which the participants (with an interest in its continuation) insist is fine and dandy.

The online ad business begins to look like that to me.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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:

Start up: weather-forecasting phones, MPs v BT, Google’s UK tax row, Apple Street View?, and more


Smartphones are transforming life in Myanmar. Photo by Timothy Neesam on Flickr.

All the cool kids 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 10 links for you. Not sure if they’re viral or bacterial. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Facebook-loving farmers of Myanmar » The Atlantic

Craig Mod:

For six weeks last October and November, just before Myanmar [formerly Burma] held its landmark elections, I joined a team of design ethnographers in the countryside interviewing forty farmers about smartphones. A design ethnographer is someone who studies how culture and technology interact. A common mistake in building products is to base them on assumptions around how a technology might be adopted. The goal of in-field interviewing in design ethnography is to undermine these assumptions, to be able to design tools and products aligned with actual observed use cases and needs.

Myanmar is especially fertile ground for this kind of work. Until recently the military junta had imposed artificial caps on access to smartphones and SIM cards. Many of the farmers we spoke with had never owned a smartphone before. The villages were often without running water or electricity, but they buzzed with newly minted cell towers and strong 3G signals. For them, everything networked was new.

Fascinating points: brands, how the price of data has dived, apps, and how mobile shops have become pivotal.
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Clever app turns everyone into a roving weather reporter » WIRED

Tim Moynihan:

With a free app for iOS, Sunshine wants to be the gold standard for weather accuracy. It hopes to achieve this ambitious goal by using altogether different meteorological instruments: People, iPhones, algorithms, and the draw of community and gamification. The app needs your location to work correctly, but the tradeoff is receiving hyper-local weather reports—Sunshine calls them “Nowcasts”—and becoming part of the data-aggregation process.

Using crowdsourced reporting, readings from the barometric pressure sensor in the iPhone 6 and latest iDevices, and predictive algorithms that overlay all that information on a map to deliver 18-hour forecasts, Sunshine generates what Stroponiati calls “weather forecasting at the street level.”

“It’s a weighted scheme of a user’s experience, community appreciation [you can upvote other users], and how much activity,” Stroponiati says. “Users that update often but also get a lot of upvotes get more weight. There is a whole gaming scheme behind it with local leaderboards and titles … As you get more points, you change titles and climb higher on the leaderboards.”

Was liking it until the gamification stuff. (Perhaps that’s necessary?) When she was still at Google in July 2009 I interviewed Marissa Mayer, who put forward exactly this sort of idea as what smartphones would enable.
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Can DCMS safely ignore over 120 MPs protesting over constituency broadba[n]d » Computer Weekly

Philip Virgo:

The British Infrastructure Group report publicised in the Daily Telegraph today uses available data (assembled by the House of Commons Library) but puts on it a rather different interpretation to that recently used by BDUK to boast of its achievements to date and thsoe in the pipeline. The consequent call for action is backed by 120 MPs. Whether the break up of BT is the right action is another matter. If it were to be the right “answer” that raises the more interesting questions of whether “merely” separating out Openreach would achieve the objective of stimulating BT to invest in infrastructure (back haul as well as local loop) as opposed to content (alias subsidising premier league football) and whether that would be enough.

Can BT afford the scale and nature of investment necessary to build the communications infrastructure needed to underpin a “smart society”? A ‘smart society” is one in which everything is interconnected: from smart phones, TVs, toys and consumer goods, through smart meters, cars, buildings, telecare and telemedicine to smart grids and cities. It is also one in which those dependent on on-line medical devices (for example) may die when networks go down.

It is not just that BT has not maintained its previous rate of investment in recent years – it does not appear to have plans to increase it in the future and may find it hard to do so.

The BIG report, and others that have come out over the weekend, do make it seem like Openreach is very unloved, not just by customers but also by legislators.
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How to save Wikipedia: Start paying editors … or write for machines » The Register

Andrew Orlowski:

Imagine that one giant manufacturer dominated the car market. The cars it made weren’t very good, but they were much cheaper and easier to buy than cars from anyone else, so the car company had ended up dominating the market.

These cars would often break down, spew noxious gasses, and a lot of the time, didn’t go where you wanted them to go.

Car travel was unreliable and sometimes even dangerous. People kept using them hoping that the crashes would happen to somebody else, and the health consequences of the pollution wouldn’t hit them for years.

For us, it isn’t difficult to imagine a better world, a world of reliable and safe cars.

Wikipedia at 15 is the monopoly car company of digital knowledge.

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Apple Maps vehicles » Apple

Apple is driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps. Some of this data will be published in future Apple Maps updates.

We are committed to protecting your privacy while collecting this data. For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication.

As Benedict Evans points out, the blurring and publication mentions immediately point to a Street View competitor. (Microsoft also has a Street View product, as I recall, which even came before Google’s.)
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Keeping up with Tim Cook’s Apple » Delusions Of Grandeur

Rob Rhyne:

Apple is moving at a blistering pace. Everywhere you look, a bearded neck slams Apple’s software quality. I agree that Apple has shipped some terrible bugs the past few years, but what did you expect? Apple is shipping software at an absurd rate.

When you consider the amount of technology they’re putting out to support new hardware and the number of people who use their software, it’s a mathematical reality that bugs will get out. Some of them can be nasty.

Those assailing Apple’s software quality fail to recognize the particulars of what Apple has shipped and how they have to ship it. If you take time to understand the problems facing a platform vendor and consider Apple’s scale, you might wonder how more bugs haven’t slipped out.

What Apple has accomplished in the past few years is astonishing, but you need to understand the details of how software frameworks are developed and shipped before you can truly appreciate it.

What we need is a graphic of how the hardware and software frameworks have expanded over the past few years. There really isn’t a company that is doing this much on so many fronts at such scale.
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How Larry Page’s obsessions became Google’s business » NYTimes.com

Conor Dougherty:

Many former Google employees who have worked directly with Mr. Page said his managerial modus operandi was to take new technologies or product ideas and generalize them to as many areas as possible. Why can’t Google Now, Google’s predictive search tool, be used to predict everything about a person’s life? Why create a portal to shop for insurance when you can create a portal to shop for every product in the world?

But corporate success means corporate sprawl, and recently Google has seen a number of engineers and others leave for younger rivals like Facebook and start-ups like Uber. Mr. Page has made personal appeals to some of them, and, at least in a few recent cases, has said he is worried that the company has become a difficult place for entrepreneurs, according to people who have met with him.

Part of Mr. Page’s pitch included emphasizing how dedicated he was to “moonshots” like interplanetary travel, or offering employees time and money to pursue new projects of their own. By breaking Google into Alphabet, Mr. Page is hoping to make it a more welcoming home for employees to build new businesses, as well as for potential acquisition targets.

It will also rid his office of the kind of dull-but-necessary annoyances of running a major corporation. Several recently departed Google staff members said that as chief executive of Google, Mr. Page had found himself in the middle of various turf wars, like how to integrate Google Plus, the company’s struggling social media effort, with other products like YouTube, or where to put Google Now, which resided in the Android team but was moved to the search group.

Observation by Above Avalon’s Neil Cybart (former Wall Street analyst): “The continued lack of focus is noteworthy.”
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Yes, Google’s UK back-tax payment is derisory. Here are the numbers that show it. » The Overspill

I used the public data to do some calculations:

The UK is the only region besides the US for which Google breaks out revenue in its quarterly earnings, because – for whatever reason – the UK represents 10% or more of Google’s total revenue. (Public companies are generally obliged to cite countries or regions which generate more than 10% of revenue in their results.)

Google doesn’t, however, break out profits for any region; it just gives a single figure for operating and net profit.

But what if we were to try to estimate how much profit Google has made in the UK, and then compare that to the tax it has paid, and the tax that it recently paid in a settlement with the UK’s tax authorities, HM Revenue & Customs?

This article from The Register is good background too.

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Google’s 2.5% UK tax rate » ITV News

Robert Peston:

Google and HMRC would of course argue that for taxable purposes my calculation of its UK profits is wrong.

They would say that there is a global convention that the profits in the UK should be measured as a margin or increment on top of what it would cost Google to operate here if all its operations were subcontracted to a third party.

Those notional taxable profits would appear to be a bit more than a couple of hundred million quid for for the 18 months to the middle of last year.

And the British taxman would want credit for increasing that margin or increment in its latest negotiations with Google, to capture (in a way that I freely admit I don’t understand) a new assessment of the maturity of its UK business and the low risk of operating here.

They would argue that it would be wholly inappropriate to tax Google on profits measured as I suggested, because most of the costs and business risks of developing Google were taken in the US – and therefore it is only fair that the bulk of the taxable profit of this global giant should be attributable to the US.

In other words, the British taxman and Google would both insist that the Chancellor and the Exchequer are getting quite as much tax as they deserve – perhaps even more – given that multinationals conventionally pay most tax in their homeland (or America in this case).

Here is the punchline. George Osborne, who is struggling to reduce the government’s deficit and needs every penny of tax he can lay his hands on, would seem to concur that he is not being short-changed by mighty Google.

Peston’s calculations are the same as mine.
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Google paid Apple $1bn to keep search bar on iPhone » Bloomberg Business

Joel Rosenblatt:

The revenue-sharing agreement reveals the lengths Google must go to keep people using its search tool on mobile devices. It also shows how Apple benefits financially from Google’s advertising-based business model that Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has criticized as an intrusion of privacy.

Oracle has been fighting Google since 2010 over claims that the search engine company used its Java software without paying for it to develop Android. The showdown has returned to U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco after a pit stop at the U.S. Supreme Court, where Google lost a bid to derail the case. The damages Oracle now seeks may exceed $1 billion since it expanded its claims to cover newer Android versions.

Annette Hurst, the Oracle attorney who disclosed details of the Google-Apple agreement at last week’s court hearing, said a Google witness questioned during pretrial information said that “at one point in time the revenue share was 34 percent.” It wasn’t clear from the transcript whether that percentage is the amount of revenue kept by Google or paid to Apple.

It’s a good point: if Apple is so critical of Google’s business model, why is it happy to take money to let it run that business model on iOS? True, Safari blocks third-party cookies (including DoubleClick, the ad network Google owns) – until you sign in to Google. But still a point of contradiction, rather like iAds.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none noted (though tax manoeuvres are notoriously complicated, so I’m expecting feedback on that).

Yes, Google’s UK back-tax payment is derisory. Here are the numbers that show it.


Google UK: it’s either gigantically expensive to run, or there are tax shenanigans going on. Photo by osde8info on Flickr.

The UK is the only region besides the US for which Google breaks out revenue in its quarterly earnings, because – for whatever reason – the UK represents 10% or more of Google’s total revenue. (Public companies are generally obliged to cite countries or regions which generate more than 10% of revenue in their results.)

Google doesn’t, however, break out profits for any region; it just gives a single figure for operating and net profit.

Update: note that this post doesn’t take into account any of the amazing workarounds that companies use to shift “activity” from one place to another; for example, Google doesn’t even accept that it has a “place of activity” in the UK. For instance, look at Jolyon Maugham’s analysis, and especially the comments that follow it.

But what if we were to try to estimate (in a fag-packet way) how much profit Google has made in the UK, and then compare that to the tax it has paid, and the tax that it recently paid in a settlement with the UK’s tax authorities, HM Revenue & Customs?

Tax, of course, is payable on profit, not revenue. And it’s helpful too to compare Google with other UK media companies which sell advertising and have other activities.

So take a look at the tax paid by another UK-based media company of comparable size – ITV.

ITV’s interim results (for the six months to end June 2015) show six-month revenues of £1.53bn, with profit before tax of £391m, compared to profits for the same period in 2014 of £312m. And here’s the profit before tax figures (for six months).

Screenshot 2016-01-24 17.29.39On which it paid tax of £81m (first six months of 2015) and £64m (first six months of 2014) – an effective tax rate, as it points out, of 21%.

Screenshot 2016-01-24 17.29.27.png

Now let’s move on to Google. Its UK revenues are as follows – all given in US$:

Screenshot 2016-01-24 17.35.09

Note that these are a LOT more than ITV’s. But how do we get from this to its profits? The simple way is just to adopt the overall profitability of Google, the corporation. As a rough-and-ready way of approaching Google’s UK profits, it will have to suffice. The UK doesn’t have the expense of the “moonshot” operations such as self-driving cars; most of the activity is around advertising, though there is also an Android development team (whose work is allegedly actually “happening” in California for tax purposes) and various building works which will all affect immediate profitability because they’re expensive.

But let’s try anyway. Let’s use Google’s overall operating profit margin for each quarter, and use that to calculate the UK profits. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

I’ve done that in the table below, using the data from Google’s accounts, and its operating profit/revenue (hence operating profitability margin) to calculate a notional profit; then I’ve multiplied by the prevailing exchange rate (which has varied a lot over the years); and then I’ve multiplied the notional profit by 21% to get the “tax payable”.

Screenshot 2016-01-24 18.19.02

Screenshot 2016-01-24 18.31.14

The numbers are staggering. Google’s UK division has probably made profits of more than 7 billion pounds since the fourth quarter of 2005 (which I used simply because I couldn’t get exchange rates going further back) on revenues (stated) of $39bn – generating an assumed profit of $11.56bn, or £7.11bn.

And the tax payable on that amount? Assuming that same 21% rate as ITV, the total tax payable would be just short of £1.5bn.

And.. how much tax has Google paid in the UK?

The latest stories to emerge of the deal with HMRC suggest that Google is paying back tax to cover just that period to 2005.

“We have agreed with HMRC a new approach for our UK taxes and will pay £130m, covering taxes since 2005,” a Google spokesman said. “We will now pay tax based on revenue from UK-based advertisers, which reflects the size and scope of our UK business.”

How much tax has Google paid in the UK? A total of £200m if you include this latest £130m amount, apparently. Which works out to a tax payment rate of 2.8%. Sure, there may have been lots and lots of costs involved in setting up Google, which are offset against tax. But I doubt they’re bigger than ITV, for instance, has to pay.

Google’s deal with HMRC has been called “derisory”. The figures here suggest that that description is absolutely correct. If Google is generating this much revenue in the UK – a fact which it states in its earnings reports, for which its executives are legally liable – then it would be terrific if it could explain quite how it is so dramatically expensive to run such a business that it generates such pitiful profits. Update: the explanation given by tax experts is that the revenues are *generated* in the UK, but *booked* in Ireland, so that the “profit” arises in Ireland, which doesn’t tax it. This “generated in UK but booked in Ireland” point is the one which led to an almighty furore in 2013 when Matt Brittin of Google

stood by evidence he gave last year that all the company’s European sales were routed through its operation in Ireland and so were not liable to UK taxes.

To which the committee chairman, Margaret Hodge, responded:

“You are a company that says you do no evil and I think that you do do evil in that you use smoke and mirrors to avoid paying tax.”

Among the criticisms of the deal with HMRC are that it must have been done with some sort of principle in the minds of those who agreed the deal for HMRC – in which case it would be useful for other companies to know what principles exactly are in play. It’s time for transparency on this.

Start up: Ashley Madison’s vanishing women, PC and tablet gloom, taxing sugar, and more


Swiss watch exports – especially to China – fell in July. Why?

A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Almost none of the women in the Ashley Madison database ever used the site » Gizmodo

Annalee Newitz:

I downloaded the data and analyzed it to find out how many actual women were using Ashley Madison, and who they were.

What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.

Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile. Actually, scratch that. As I’ll explain below, there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison…

…About two-thirds of the men, or 20.2 million of them, had checked the messages in their accounts at least once. But only 1,492 women had ever checked their messages. It was a serious anomaly.

Top-class data journalism by Newitz. This is how you do it: get facts and hammer them into the ground. Ashley Madison increasingly looks like a game of three-card monte. CEO Noel Biderman previously trumpeted in the media that Ashley Madison had an overall 70/30 gender split — with a 1:1 male/female ratio among the under-30 set. Seems like he was flat-out lying. (Teddy Wayne, who wrote that linked GQ story, now works for the New Yorker; he clearly did well to get five women who apparently used AM to talk to him in 2013.)

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Swiss watch exports fall in July » Business Insider

Ben Moshinsky:

The Swiss-watch bubble may be about to unravel.

After years of stunning growth, in which exports more than doubled from 2000 to 2014, Swiss watchmakers had a terrible month.

China led the fall, according to export figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Overall exports were 9.3% lower than a year earlier, at 1.9 billion Swiss francs (£1.3 billion, $1.97 billion) with the Chinese market segment dropping by more than 39%. Sales to the United Arab Emirates also tanked 29.8%.

Biggest fall? Those costing between CHF200-500 and CHF500-€3,000. (1 CHF = US$1.05.) Anyone know any watch-like products released recently around that price not coming out of Switzerland?
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Google has a secret interview process… and it landed me a job » The Hustle

Max Rosett:

Three months ago, I thought I wasn’t ready to apply for a job at Google. Google disagreed.

I was in the midst of a career transition. I had spent three years working as a management consultant and then at a startup, but I wanted to become a computer engineer. I was earning a Master’s in computer science through Georgia Tech’s online program. I knew that I was slowly developing the skills that I would need in an engineering role, but I still lacked the confidence to apply for a full-time software role.

One morning, while working on a project, I Googled “python lambda function list comprehension.” The familiar blue links appeared, and I started to look for the most relevant one.

But then something unusual happened.

The search results split and folded back to reveal a box that said “You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?”

I would find that intensely scary. I’d worry I’d either been hacked or taken hallucinogenics.
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Worldwide tablet shipments expected to decline -8.0% in 2015 while 2-in-1 devices pick up momentum, growing 86.5% » IDC

According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, tablet shipments, inclusive of 2-in-1 devices, are expected to decline -8.0% in 2015, representing a notable slowdown from IDC’s previous forecast of -3.8%. Shipments are now expected to reach 212 million with the vast majority being pure slate tablets.

The overall trajectory of the tablet market has not changed significantly over the past year and a half, but the 2-in-1 segment, also referred to as detachables, is starting to gain traction. While the 2-in-1 form factor is not new, OEMs are getting more serious about this market and as a result IDC expects the 2-in-1 segment to grow 86.5% year over year in 2015 with 14.7 million units shipped. Although this volume is far below that of the more affordable slate tablet segment, IDC believes these devices appeal to an audience seeking an alternative to pure tablets with smaller screens.

Basically, Windows picks up from interest in 2-in-1 devices. But it remains niche. (Gartner rolls 2-in-1s into its PC category; IDC calls them “tablets”.) IDC expects an “iPad Pro” and that Apple will still be the largest vendor in 2019.
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PC shipments expected to shrink through 2016 as currency devaluations and inventory constraints worsens outlook » IDC

Worldwide PC shipments are expected to fall by -8.7% in 2015 and not stabilize until 2017, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. The latest forecast has growth declining through 2016 – which will make five years of declining shipments. Growth should resume in 2017, led by the commercial market, while consumer volume continues a small decline through the end of the forecast in 2019.

Although IDC had expected the second quarter of 2015 to be a transition period as vendors prepare for Windows 10 systems in the second half of the year, final results nonetheless shrank even more than expected due to a stubbornly large inventory of notebooks from prior quarters and severe constraints posed by the decline of major currencies relative to the US Dollar.

Hey ho. This is really going to put the squeeze on the smaller players.
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Taxing soda, saving lives » Al Jazeera America

Kate Kilpatrick:

Mexico consumes more soda per capita than any other country, and research links sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes, a leading cause of death in Mexico.

And blindness.

More than 14 million Mexicans have diabetic retinopathy, which impairs vision.

That could explain why Mexico became the first country to impose a national soda tax, which went into effect on the first day of 2014.

“It was a really big deal. A really, really big deal,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and the author of the forthcoming book “Soda Politics: Taking On Big Soda (and Winning).”

“Generally, the taxes are considered the most radical things you can do about obesity,” said obesity expert Kelly Brownell, the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

The tax is an excise tax (meaning it’s paid at the point of purchase) that tacks on a peso (about 6 cents) per liter to sales of sugar- or syrup-sweetened sodas, juices, energy drinks and bottled tea and coffee. It also applies to drink powders and concentrates but excludes flavored milks, diet sodas and bottled waters.

“Soda” is such an innocuous word for a useless drink whose health effects are entirely negative. Sugar taxes are long overdue. As Chris Mims says: “Soda companies are the new tobacco companies, full stop.” When will the UK and US follow suit?
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AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots: now with advertising injection » Web Policy

Jonathan Mayer found some unexpected – and unwanted – ads while at the airport:

Curious, and waiting on a delayed flight, I started poking through web source. It took little time to spot the culprit: AT&T’s wifi hotspot was tampering with HTTP traffic.

The ad injection platform appears to be a service from RaGaPa, a small startup. Their video pitch features “MONETIZE YOUR NETWORK” over cascading dollar signs. (Seriously.)

When an HTML page loads over HTTP, the hotspot makes three edits. (HTTPS traffic is immune, since it’s end-to-end secure.)

First, the hotspot adds an advertising stylesheet.

Next, it injects a backup advertisement, in case a browser doesn’t support JavaScript. It appears that the hotspot intercepts /ragapa URLs and resolves them to advertising images.

Finally, the hotspot adds a pair of scripts for controlling advertisement loading and display.

Those scripts, in turn, import advertising content from additional third-party providers.

Mayer is the person who spotted Google hacking Safari to add Doubleclick cookies back in 2012 (a case that led to a $22.5m FTC fine for Google, and ongoing court cases in the UK).

Strangely enough, when quizzed about this, AT&T said it was a test that it had just finished. What an amazing coincidence that (a) Mayer tried it, last week, just near the end of the trial (b) AT&T stopped it just after Mayer’s post was published. (Bonus: iOS 9 – coming next month – mandates HTTPS for pretty much all connections. So that’s a benefit.)
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Who are Twitter’s verified users? » Medium

Haje Jan Kamps:

The biggest proportion of Verified users are journalists and assorted media folks (news producers, anchors, TV meteorologists etc) representing almost a quarter of the verified accounts.

They’re followed by sports clubs and athletes with about 18% of the accounts, and actors & entertainers representing another 13%. Given how comprehensively musicians are represented in the top 10 lists, it was surprising to me that only about 12% of the verified accounts were musicians and music industry people.

Not that surprising, really. Also notable: verified journalists tend to have lower follower:following ratio (ie, they discuss, rather than broadcast). HMU!
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Start up: Argentina v bitcoin, Secret shuts, Cyanogen dumps OnePlus, Windows10 seeks devs, and more


It’s like this for Secret. Photo by alex mertzanis on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Like brandy butter for your brain. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Expect more Cyanogen phones from Chinese vendors » PCWorld

Michael Kan:

OnePlus’s flagship phone shipped close to 1 million phones at the end of last year.

“Without Cyanogen, OnePlus would have sold like one device in international markets,” [Cyanogen CEO Kirk] McMaster said in an interview. “Essentially they built their brand on the back of Cyanogen.”

The OnePlus success also showed other Chinese vendors that CyanogenMod could open doors to the global market. A number of these vendors are larger companies than OnePlus, but struggling in international markets to develop visible brands, and want help, he added.

It’s a good sign for Cyanogen, which also managed to bring on board Microsoft as a partner this month. But as for OnePlus, its ties with Cyanogen are probably ending.

Earlier this month OnePlus launched its own custom Android ROM, built with a simple interface that could replace the CyanogenMod. The change means that OnePlus can offer “faster, more meaningful updates”, according to the Chinese company. Cyanogen, however, will continue offering support to OnePlus phones still running its OS.

Cyanogen, plus Microsoft, is for me the most interesting thing happening in smartphones.


Can Bitcoin conquer Argentina? » NYTimes.com

Nathaniel Popper:

That afternoon, a plump 48-year-old musician was one of several customers to drop by the rented room. A German customer had paid the musician in Bitcoin for some freelance compositions, and the musician needed to turn them into dollars. Castiglione joked about the corruption of Argentine politics as he peeled off five $100 bills, which he was trading for a little more than 1.5 Bitcoins, and gave them to his client. The musician did not hand over anything in return; before showing up, he had transferred the Bitcoins — in essence, digital tokens that exist only as entries in a digital ledger — from his Bitcoin address to Castiglione’s. Had the German client instead sent euros to a bank in Argentina, the musician would have been required to fill out a form to receive payment and, as a result of the country’s currency controls, sacrificed roughly 30% of his earnings to change his euros into pesos. Bitcoin makes it easier to move money the other way too. The day before, the owner of a small manufacturing company bought $20,000 worth of Bitcoin from Castiglione in order to get his money to the United States, where he needed to pay a vendor, a transaction far easier and less expensive than moving funds through Argentine banks.

A new rule: any country under sustained currency pressure will see citizens increasingly turning to bitcoin to evade currency controls.


Sunset at the Secret den » Medium

David Byttow:

After a lot of thought and consultation with our board, I’ve decided to shut down Secret.

This has been the hardest decision of my life and one that saddens me deeply. Unfortunately, Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company, so I believe it’s the right decision for myself, our investors and our team.

I’m extremely proud of our team, which has built a product that was used by over 15 million people and pushed the boundaries of traditional social media. I believe in honest, open communication and creative expression, and anonymity is a great device to achieve it. But it’s also the ultimate double-edged sword, which must be wielded with great respect and care. I look forward to seeing what others in this space do over time.

The phrase “Secret does not represent the vision I had when starting the company” was highlighted by Ev Williams, Medium’s founder (and a Twitter co-founder). The final couple of sentences seem to be saying “Yeah, good luck with that, Whisper.”


Number of mobile-only internet users now exceeds desktop-only in the US » comScore, Inc

Mobile’s rise over the past few years has been well-documented as it continues to achieve major milestones illustrating its immense popularity, such as last year when app usage surpassed desktop usage and began accounting for half of all U.S. digital media consumption. But its latest milestone shows just how far this platform has come in overtaking desktop’s longstanding dominance as the primary gateway to the internet. For the first time in March, the number of mobile-only adult internet users exceeded the number of desktop-only internet users.

11.3% against 10.6% (the other 78.1% used both, of course). Tablets are counted as “mobile”; desktops still account for 87% of digital commerce. The latter number used to be 100%, of course.


Huge news: Windows 10 can run reworked Android and iOS apps » The Verge

Tom Warren:

After months of rumors, Microsoft is revealing its plans to get mobile apps on Windows 10 today. While the company has been investigating emulating Android apps, it has settled on a different solution, or set of solutions, that will allow developers to bring their existing code to Windows 10.

iOS and Android developers will be able to port their apps and games directly to Windows universal apps, and Microsoft is enabling this with two new software development kits. On the Android side, Microsoft is enabling developers to use Java and C++ code on Windows 10, and for iOS developers they’ll be able to take advantage of their existing Objective C code. “We want to enable developers to leverage their current code and current skills to start building those Windows applications in the Store, and to be able to extend those applications,” explained Microsoft’s Terry Myerson during an interview with The Verge this morning.

I have no idea why an iOS or Android developer would want to bother doing this. Putting an app onto a different platform involves immediate cost and future cost (in support). Can Windows 10 Phone (or whatever it is) really repay that?

Also, typical of The Verge’s approach, there’s no attempt to find any external comment on whether this is smart, stupid, or somewhere in between. Developers aren’t hard to find; nor are analysts. A comment from one or both groups would have informed readers. This falls short. (Contrast Mashable’s Christina Warren – no relation as far as I know – and Rene Ritchie of iMore. Sure, The Verge might have got the interview exclusively, but that’s still no reason not to make it even better by finding separate comment.)

For example, here’s a developer’s response to Ritchie:


The bot bubble: click farms have inflated social media currency » The New Republic

Doug Bock Clark:

Richard Braggs, Casipong’s boss, sits at a desk positioned behind his employees, occasionally glancing up from his double monitor to survey their screens. Even in the gloom, he wears Ray-Ban sunglasses to shield his eyes from the glare of his computer. (“Richard Braggs” is the alias he uses for business purposes; he uses a number of pseudonyms for various online activities.)

Casipong inserts earbuds, queues up dance music—Paramore and Avicii—and checks her client’s instructions. Their specifications are often quite pointed. A São Paulo gym might request 75 female Brazilian fitness fanatics, or a Castro-district bar might want 1,000 gay men living in San Francisco. Her current order is the most common: Facebook profiles of beautiful American women between the ages of 20 and 30. Once they’ve received the accounts, the client will probably use them to sell Facebook likes to customers looking for an illicit social media boost.

Most of the accounts Casipong creates are sold to these digital middlemen—“click farms” as they have come to be known.

It’s a full-time job. Where’s the government promise to create work like this in the UK, eh?


Apple warns of ‘material’ financial damage from Irish tax probe » FT.com

Tim Bradshaw and Christian Oliver:

Apple has warned investors that it could face “material” financial penalties from the European Commission’s investigation into its tax deals with Ireland — the first time it has disclosed the potential consequences of the probe.

Under US securities rules, a material event is usually defined as 5% of a company’s average pre-tax earnings for the past three years. For Apple, which reported the highest quarterly profit ever for a US company in January, that could exceed $2.5bn, according to FT calculations.

The warning came in Apple’s regular 10-Q filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, a day after it reported first-quarter revenues of $58bn and net income of $13.6bn.

Forgotten what it’s about? Here’s some background.


Apple Watch: faulty Taptic Engine slows roll out » WSJ

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Lorraine Luk:

A key component of the Apple Watch made by one of two suppliers was found to be defective, prompting Apple Inc. to limit the availability of the highly anticipated new product, according to people familiar with the matter.

The part involved is the so-called taptic engine, designed by Apple to produce the sensation of being tapped on the wrist. After mass production began in February, reliability testing revealed that some taptic engines supplied by AAC Technologies Holdings of Shenzhen, China, started to break down over time, the people familiar with the matter said. One of those people said Apple scrapped some completed watches as a result.

Makes sense; some reviewers have complained about not getting anything noticeable “taps” in Watches they tried. Apple has moved to a different supplier, it seems, but is supply-constrained.


Engage Android users around the world » Jana

Over half of the top Google Play countries are emerging markets.

By download, that is, not revenue.


What if we are the microbiome of the silicon AI? » Edge.org

Tim O’Reilly, on the “website for thinkers”:

While all pundits allow that an AI may not be like us, and speculate about the risks implicit in those differences, they make one enormous assumption: the assumption of an individual self. The AI as imagined, is an individual consciousness.

What if, instead, an AI were more like a multicellular organism, a eukaryote evolution beyond our prokaryote selves? What’s more, what if we were not even the cells of such an organism, but its microbiome? And what if the intelligence of that eukaryote today was like the intelligence of Grypania spiralis, not yet self-aware as a human is aware, but still irrevocably on the evolutionary path that led to today’s humans.

This notion is at best a metaphor, but I believe it is a useful one.

Perhaps humans are the microbiome living in the guts of an AI that is only now being born! It is now recognized that without our microbiome, we would cease to live. Perhaps the global AI has the same characteristics—not an independent entity, but a symbiosis with the human consciousnesses living within it.

Oo, interesting idea.