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

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

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

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

Jim Edwards:

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

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

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

Sarah McColl:

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

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

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

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

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

Han Juyeop:

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

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

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

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

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

Nicola Twilley:

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

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

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

Roger Cheng:

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Schafer is founder and chairman of Deep Focus:

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Fioretti:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Vaas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start up: TSMC/Samsung chip intrigue, emoticon overcharging, is that William Shatner?, going broke with encryption


Alternate Perspectives: photo by Randy Scott Slavin. Source: Dezeen

A selection of 10 links for you. Keep away from children. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alternate perspectives by Randy Scott Slavin » Dezeen

New York photographer Randy Scott Slavin has joined hundreds of photographs to create distorted views of American cities and landscapes (+ slideshow).

Named Alternate Perspectives, the images present a series of panoramic views that curve around to form impossible circles.

Places depicted include the Empire State Building and Battery Park in New York, as well the region of Big Sur and the Redwood National Park in California.

As I wrongly retweeted (since deleted) a claim that one of these photographs was “a panorama produced by rolling down a hill”, it seems worth linking to this amazing set. Fabulous imagination required just to create them. (An example at the top of this post.)


What my hearing aid taught me about the future of wearables » The Atlantic

Ryan Budish:

despite initial appearances, both medical and consumer wearables share a few important goals.

Broadly speaking, both types of wearables aim to fill gaps in human capacity. As Sara Hendren aptly put it, “all technology is assistive technology.” While medical devices fill gaps created by disability or illness, consumer wearables fill gaps created by being human. For example, evolution hasn’t given us brain wi-fi, yet.

Both kinds of wearables also need to justify being attached to our bodies. This seems pretty obvious for hearing aids, but it is just as true for consumer devices. A wearable that serves as only a slightly more convenient screen for your phone is hardly reason for the average person to spend hundreds of dollars. Instead, wearables need to offer a feature that works best when in close contact with your body, like measuring heart rate or offering haptic feedback.

Also, both types of wearables need to embed themselves seamlessly into our experiences. If a wearable obstructs your experience of the real world, or is a distraction, it’s likely to end up on a shelf instead of your wrist.

There are other lessons too.


Did chip espionage, IP theft give Samsung its 14nm manufacturing lead? » ExtremeTech

TSMC argues that a former employee, Liang Mong-song, gave Samsung critical information to help it leapfrog TSMC in making its 14/16 nanometre gate process, breaking a non-compete agreement. In 2011 Liang had already been found guilty of breaching that condition:

The judge in Liang’s case clearly felt that the engineer had engaged in a bad-faith breach of his non-compete agreement given that he was forbidden to work for Samsung for an additional period of months, but the punishment was a slap on the wrist compared to the potential damage to TSMC’s core business. According to Maybank’s Kim Eng:

When comparing to a full-node migration, ie 20nm to 14nm at Samsung and Intel, TSMC’s half-node approach 16nm underperformed in cost reduction (by as much as 25% if not higher), power consumption and performance. In a very rare case, intel infamously highlighted the potential risks of TSMC’s 16nm undertaking during its Nov-13 investors’ day. After the initial round of evaluation, many customers “strongly encouraged” TSMC to enhance its 16nm technology offering.

In other words, not only did Liang possibly tap his knowledge of TSMC’s cutting-edge implementations inappropriately, he may have done so at the worst possible time (from TSMC’s perspective). Samsung has come out of nowhere to lead in foundry manufacturing, at least in the short term. Maybank’s latest report on TSMC cut the company from “Hold” to “Sell” on the strength of Samsung’s 14nm ramp. According to Liang himself, he left TSMC after he was passed over for promotion and felt his work was under-appreciated by his former employer.


Emoticons in texts can rack up huge bills » BBC News

Jane Wakefield:

The issue revolves around how the handset interprets the icons, known as emoticons or emojis.

In some cases, especially on older handsets, the emoticons are converted into MMS (multi-media service) messages, which can cost up to 40p each depending on the network.

MoneySavingExpert also found that, in some cases, users creating their own icons from full-stops, commas and brackets found they were converted into emoticons, running up the same charges.

“We have seen many complaints from our users who have racked up huge bills for sending what they thought were text messages,” Guy Anker, managing editor, told the BBC.

Paula Cochrane told the Daily Record that she had no idea that the emoticons were being charged as picture messages.

She complained to her provider EE and also plans to take her case to the Scottish ombudsman, an independent organisation that settles consumer complaints.

Amazing. But it’s the way that the carriers continue to rake in money; people on my Twitter feed have suffered this quite recently.


William Shatner: my problem with Twitter’s verified accounts » Mashable

Fantastic reporting by Lance Ulanoff, who actually took the trouble to try to contact Shatner, who had been grumbling on Twitter after Engadget’s social media manager got verified:

By the time I spoke to Shatner late Monday, he was upset that media outlets were misrepresenting his words. I offered to interview him to set the record straight. He agreed to answer questions sent via a Google Doc. What follows is unexpurgated Shatner on the controversy, Twitter, verification, TVTag, and how he uses social media.

Mashable: You’re one of the more digitally savvy celebrities/actors of your generation. What draws you to a medium like Twitter?

WS: I’m from the old studio system where there were departments of people that spoke on your behalf, giving the studio’s version of what I liked, what I do, what I like to eat, etc. So Twitter and social media is liberating for someone like me. I can speak my mind, my thoughts, my ideas and usually they don’t get filtered.

That may be a good thing or a bad thing! 😉

Shatner emerges from this as someone who has really thought deeply about what “verification” can and should mean, understands what social media is about, and is a charming and, especially, smart person. Read it and reflect.


Samsung: watch what you say in front of our TVs, they’re sending your words to third parties » Boing Boing

Part of the Samsung Smart TV EULA: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

This is part of their speech-recognition tech, which uses third parties (whose privacy policies Samsung doesn’t make any representations about) to turn your words into text.

I dunno. It’s lovely for those who want to believe that we’re living in a world of telescreens (and indeed for the NSA, GCHQ etc this might fit) but it’s not really the “privacy” aspect that’s a concern. It’s the potential for hackers to turn on your microphone and/or camera and record it that I’d find concerning.


What you can learn from Oakland’s raw ALPR data » Electronic Frontier Foundation

The EFF got the data about where and when the Oakland police department collected licence plate data (in a sort of passive surveillance; police cars capture the data using their cameras and the time and location is fed back). So what’s done with it?

We also filed a California Public Records Act request to obtain the Oakland Police Department’s crime data for the same period. Each white dot here indicates a recorded crime. It’s not much of a shocker that ALPR use doesn’t correlate very well with crime. For example, OPD did not use ALPR surveillance in the southeast part of Oakland nearly as much as in the north, west, and central parts of Oakland, even though there seems to be just as much crime.

To see if perhaps OPD was just focusing its ALPR use in areas with high incidents of automobile-related crime, we decided to map only the auto-related crime:

The result is the same—ALPRs are clearly not being used to deter automobile-related crimes.

The conclusion? A great big shrug. It seems like data being collected in order to collect data.


Could the HoloLens be Microsoft’s iMoment? » Gigaom

Ross Rubin:

The HoloLens, unlike the iPod, is an independent device, albeit one that extends Microsoft’s Windows franchise.

So, perhaps the HoloLens is more akin to the iPhone, which shrunk down the capabilities of not the user interface of the PC. Indeed, Microsoft has positioned the HoloLens as “the next PC” although the smartphone has already claimed that mantle and Windows 8 showed that the company can get a little overzealous in labelling things “PCs.”

Nope.


My first and last time at the Crunchies » Medium

Katie Jacobs Stanton:

At the Crunchies, comedian T.J. Miller, a star of the show “Silicon Valley” (which I watch and love), threw out a bunch of playful zingers in his opening act. But then at one point, he engaged with a woman (Gabi Holzwarth) a few rows in front of me by calling her a “bitch”. She responded increduously, “Did you just call me a bitch?” He then said, “Bitch, Asians aren’t supposed to be this entitled in the U.S. … Is this bitch from Palo Alto?” The audience laughed nervously. I was so uncomfortable I wanted to leave, but of course I couldn’t given that our award was coming up.

What a mess. Plenty of women didn’t enjoy it. Then again, it’s an awards ceremony at which Uber – you know, with a billion dollars in VC backing – won the award for “best startup”. And best hardware startup award winner was… GoPro, founded in 2002, which went public earlier this year.

Sure, it’s a networking event for Silicon Valley. But couldn’t they make it less embarrassing somehow?


The world’s email encryption software relies on one guy, who is going broke » Huffington Post

Julia Angwin:

The man who built the free email encryption software used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as hundreds of thousands of journalists, dissidents and security-minded people around the world, is running out of money to keep his project alive.

Werner Koch wrote the software, known as Gnu Privacy Guard, in 1997, and since then has been almost single-handedly keeping it alive with patches and updates from his home in Erkrath, Germany. Now 53, he is running out of money and patience with being underfunded.

“I’m too idealistic,” he told me in an interview at a hacker convention in Germany in December. “In early 2013 I was really about to give it all up and take a straight job.” But then the Snowden news broke, and “I realized this was not the time to cancel.”

He’s earned about $25k per year since 2001. That’s not a lot.