Start up: P&G’s disruptive nature, duck searching, Watch reviews, Google’s new ad chief, and more


Disrupt this before Proctor & Gamble does. Photo by Premshree Pillai on Flickr.

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

Why Procter & Gamble is more disruptive than you » Medium

Kavin Stewart:

So how does a company of this size [>$80bn in annual revenue] stay so disruptive? P&G is dealing with constantly changing consumer needs across many product lines (many of which are customized for local markets). Instead of relying on the personal experiences of their employees, P&G borrows a page from the playbook of anthropologists — they find relevant cultural groups to study and embed their employees where they live for a period of time, participating in their day to day lives to gather holistic data:

Soon after they’re hired, new employees of P&G undergo special cultural training. “They spend a week in a low-income neighbourhood, working in a bodega, a little shop,” [Jim] Stengel [global marketing officer of P&G] says. “He [the executive] puts an apron on. He works there. He talks to the shop owner. He talks to the people who come in. He becomes part of life.”

Product managers pay a lot of lip service to knowing the customer. But how many of them would spend a week living in Mexico and working at a bodega?

You can read a longer piece about Stengel at the FT. But the lesson that big companies can self-disrupt shouldn’t be ignored.


Apple sides with Microsoft in closely watched patent dispute with Google » GeekWire

Todd Bishop:

The case has already created some unusual alliances. Apple and T-Mobile are among the companies siding with Microsoft in the case, while Nokia and Qualcomm are seeking to overturn a lower court’s ruling that found in Microsoft’s favor.

After a 2013 trial in Seattle, Microsoft won a $14.5m jury verdict against Motorola based on a finding that Motorola breached its obligation to offer its standard-essential patents for video and wireless technologies on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, known in legal circles as “RAND” or “FRAND.”

The case is notable in part because U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle took the unusual step of setting a process for establishing royalties for standard essential patents.

Based on his process, Robart ruled in April 2013 that the Microsoft owed less than $1.8m a year for its use of Motorola’s patented video and wireless technologies in Windows, Xbox and other products. Motorola had originally sought a rate amounting to more than $4bn a year, plus $20bn in back payments.

Slightly more complex than it seems, because it could debase the idea of SEPs if they’re too low-priced. But Motorola was really trying too hard. (It tried the same against Apple and was rebuffed.)


Apple releases iOS 8.3 with emoji updates, wireless CarPlay, space bar UI fix » Mac Rumors

Ton of bugs squashed, apparently. Space bar very slightly elongated. Apple Watch icon/app can now be hidden/removed, apparently. And those all-important emoji fixes.


The ascension of Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy » The Information

Amir Efrati has a real in-depth piece about Ramaswamy (who doesn’t seem to have cooperated with it) pointing to tensions with Susan Wojicki, head of YouTube ads):

Mr. Ramaswamy viewed himself as a protector of the search-history data. In the past, he and Mr. Page and others had stated their fear that it might feel creepy if people saw banner ads on non-Google sites based on things they had searched for on Google.com. Ms. Wojcicki had long pushed Google to stay current with ad-tech industry trends, pushing the boundaries of what people like Mr. Ramaswamy were comfortable with.

In the 2013 meetings, Mr. Ramaswamy also expressed hesitation about Google search data being used to target ads to people visiting YouTube, where the DoubleClick cookie was used, because it might be visible or “leak” to advertisers that used the cookie, which might lower its value. And he feared that Ms. Wojcicki and her team would use the search data to try to improve the ad quality of non-Google sites that are part of the display-advertising “network,” which also includes YouTube.

“Tell me what you really want to do,” Mr. Ramaswamy asked Ms. Wojcicki at one meeting, looking visibly annoyed, according to one participant. “You want to use search data on the network,” including non-Google sites. “Just say it.”


Battery life: Apple’s solving for x » Six Colors

Jason Snell:

Over the years I’ve said numerous times that when it comes to battery life on iOS devices, Apple appears to have a target battery life in mind and builds its hardware—a balance of power-saving software, hardware efficiency, and battery capacity—to hit that number.

It’s an observation born out of reading spec sheet after spec sheet over the years while writing reviews of new iPhones and iPads. Every year, people who are frustrated with their iPhones running out of juice before the end of the day hold out hope that the next iPhone will ameliorate the issue. In general, those people have not been satisfied.

And here’s the graph that proves his point – though note the pop at the end:


Samsung execs briefed over user experience » Korea Times

Kim Yoo-chul:

Yonsei University Professor Cho Kwang-soo was the speaker for this week’s session. The professor said the mantra of “one person, one device” has passed.

“Today, ‘one person, multi device’ has become the main trend, meaning that one person is now being connected to multiple devices. Without understanding about human nature, you can’t develop products that can meet consumer expectations,” Cho was quoted as saying.

Samsung needs to invest more for the development of wireless charging and new mobile operating systems that allow multiple devices to activate, the professor said.

In a briefing to local reporters, chief Samsung communications officer Lee Joon said the Apple iPhone was presented as the right device that has shown remarkable advancements in user-experience design.

Not the S6?


Surface tablet shipments expected to exceed 4 million units in 2015 » Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai:

Microsoft is expected to have a chance to ship over four million Surface tablets in 2015, up from two million units in 2014, because of its new Surface 3 and Surface Pro series products, according to sources from the upstream supply chain.

Microsoft is reportedly planning to unveil its next-generation Surface Pro 4 tablet during the upcoming Build developer conference in April. The new Surface Pro tablet is estimated to enter mass production in June and will be released along with Windows 10 in the second half of 2015, the sources said.


Apple Watch reviews are in: an ‘elegant’, overpriced gadget ‘you don’t need’ » The Guardian

Sam Thielman:

The upshot seems to be that the battery life is good, unless you’re using it as a glorified FitBit (which it kind of is), that the application loading times are very long (which Apple has promised to fix in subsequent versions) and that it’s a lovely little device, unless of course you disagree, but it’s slow, not particularly intuitive and it’s probably worth waiting for the inevitable upgrade.

There’s also a fundamentalist split between the haute horologie posse and the tech world: in the former, consumers expect a flawless device for an unspeakable amount of money. In the latter, where inconveniences and flaws are ironed out by simply iterating the product again, a new chunk of tech is often praised for the novelty of what it aspires to do. “Unlike the Cartier I got for college graduation, the original Apple Watch’s beauty will soon fade,” [Joanna] Stern [at the WSJ] observes.


The ducks are always greener » Marco.org

Marco Arment:

My principles are only diverging further from Google’s over time, and I feel a bit defeated whenever I turn to them for anything anymore, so I attacked my primary dependence head-on: web search.

In my experience so far, DuckDuckGo’s search is good enough the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, its results are even better than Google’s, and they’re rarely much worse.

The number of people moving to DuckDuckGo is growing, very slowly; they’re finding that search is a commodity.


Start up: Steve Jobs v Neil Young, the robot nightmare, thoughts on watches, and more


They’ve come for your job. Picture via sweenpole2001 on Flickr.

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

In our horrifying future, very few people will have work or make money » Alternet

Robert Reich:

A friend, operating from his home in Tucson, recently invented a machine that can find particles of certain elements in the air.

He’s already sold hundreds of these machines over the Internet to customers all over the world. He’s manufacturing them in his garage with a 3D printer.

So far, his entire business depends on just one person — himself.

New technologies aren’t just labor-replacing. They’re also knowledge-replacing.

The combination of advanced sensors, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, big data, text-mining, and pattern-recognition algorithms, is generating smart robots capable of quickly learning human actions, and even learning from one another.

If you think being a “professional” makes your job safe, think again.

This is the Robert Reich who was Secretary of Labor for President Bill Clinton. You could argue that (1) he’s old and doesn’t know how this stuff is going to work out or (2) he’s seen these changes play out and is echoing what everyone else has, and that’s worrying.


Major labels begin to question Spotify ‘free music’ model » Rolling Stone

Steve Knopper:

In a speech last month, Lucian Grainge, Universal Music’s chairman, decried the ad-supported portions of on-demand streaming services as “not something that is particularly sustainable in the long-term”; Warner Music’s chief executive, Steve Cooper, has suggested the free and paid portions of streaming services should be “clearly differentiated.” Bolstering this point of view: Apple, according to major-label sources, is planning to relaunch Beats Music as early as this summer as a $10-per-month paid service to complement its free, ad-supported iTunes Radio.

At least one of the three major labels is in the process of renegotiating its contract with Spotify this year, sources say, and most are pushing for this sort of change to the free service. “It’s one of those rare things— artists and labels are unified about their skepticism of the model,” says a second major-label source. “You can’t have a service that’s unlimited, ad-supported, free. Every other service — Sirius XM, Netflix — doesn’t offer its product unlimited, for free, in any context.”

Spotify has an incredibly low conversion rate to paid subscribers, even with its Christmas giveaway (be interesting to see how long it takes to get those “new” subscribers who took up its free offer to stick). Problem is the music industry is setting too high a price per play. Something’s gotta give.


Chinese internet users: beware mobile payment frauds » TechNode

Emma Lee:

Nowadays, Chinese internet users tend to make payments and bank transfers on-the-go, via public WiFi networks because it is just there and free. However, this habit could make you easy prey for hackers who set up fraudulent WiFi in shopping malls or entertainment centers.

Once WiFi squatters connect their mobile device to this network, their personal information is in danger of being stolen. If they conduct any kind of purchase or transfer in the meantime, hackers can record their IP address and information at the back-end, and then steal their accounts and passwords.

Although QR codes never quite took off in the West, they have become immensely popular in China as customers scan codes to find friends, make payments, exchange information, redeem coupons, follow services on WeChat, and so on. Hackers can embed a virus to QR codes so that anyone scanning them will automatically download a virus to their smartphones. Personal information from phone numbers to bank details and passwords can be stolen in seconds.

In this case, hackers send out short messages in fraudulent bank service numbers to lure users to log in to a fake website. Once customers input bank accounts and passwords on the site, hackers will steal the information and be able to access the money in their bank accounts.

Huh.


Apple opens up iTunes Radio to automated buying through iAd » Advertising Age

Mark Bergen:

Rumors of iAd’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Starting on Thursday, Apple is extending its mobile advertising network to iTunes Radio, its web streaming service that competes with Pandora, through programmatic ad buying. Previously, advertisers had to buy through Apple’s lean iAd sales staff. The new feature also comes with updated targeting capabilities, using customer phone numbers and email addresses that can be cross-referenced anonymously against marketers’ data.

You’re (and I am) thinking: how does this match with Apple’s rhetoric about privacy?

As it pitches advertisers, Apple is stressing privacy controls as paramount. When a brand matches Apple’s customer data with its own, Apple insists neither it nor the client can see which customer is matched. In recent months, Apple CEO Tim Cook has hammered home Apple’s devotion to privacy, particularly as he positions it against rival Google…

Any iPhone, iPad or Mac user who opts out of ad-targeting on their device is exempt from the targeting feature, said the executives working with iAd. Apple does not disclose how many of its millions of customers opt out. It’s a very small number, said an executive familiar with Apple.

Hmm. Even so, this seems to have the potential to sour the “privacy” story. Is iAd that important? Not in revenue terms, but maybe in tying advertisers to the whole concept.


This is what happened when Neil Young tried to make peace with Steve Jobs » Fast Company

This is coming out in dribs and drabs. Latest, by Chris Gayomali:

In the book Becoming Steve Jobs by Fast Company executive Rick Tetzeli and longtime technology reporter Brent Schlender, it’s revealed that Young tried to quash the beef by offering him a set of remastered vinyl editions of every album in his catalog. It was an “[attempt] to smoke the peace pipe,” writes Schlender:

I knew that Steve enjoyed listening to records on vinyl from time to time, so I agreed to call him to see if he’d like to get the LPs. Steve answered the phone on the second ring, and I explained what I was calling about. We had talked about Neil’s criticisms a year or so before, and I thought this might soften his grudge.

Fat chance. “Fuck Neil Young,” he snapped, “and fuck his records. You keep them.” End of conversation.

Jobs had a way with words, didn’t he. Wonder what he would have made of the Pono Player.


All four major browsers take a stomping at Pwn2Own hacking competition » Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

The annual Pwn2Own hacking competition wrapped up its 2015 event in Vancouver with another banner year, paying $442,000 for 21 critical bugs in all four major browsers, as well as Windows, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader.

The crowning achievement came Thursday as contestant Jung Hoon Lee, aka lokihardt, demonstrated an exploit that felled both the stable and beta versions of Chrome, the Google-developed browser that’s famously hard to compromise. His hack started with a buffer overflow race condition in Chrome. To allow that attack to break past anti-exploit mechanisms such as the sandbox and address space layout randomization, it also targeted an information leak and a race condition in two Windows kernel drivers, an impressive feat that allowed the exploit to achieve full System access.


The future of the dumbwatch » Marco.org

Marco Arment:

The Apple Watch isn’t just a watch, interchangeable like any other. It’s an entire mobile computing and communication platform, and a significant enhancement to the smartphone, which is probably the most successful, ubiquitous, and disruptive electronic device in history.

Once you’re accustomed to wearing one, going out for a night without your Apple Watch is going to feel like going out without your phone.

I suspect smartwatches will be a one-way move for most of their owners, and most people won’t wear two watches at once. The iPod didn’t make people appreciate portable music enough to buy a Discman for the weekends, and the iPhone didn’t ignite interest in flip-phones or PDAs.

Some people will always want to own and wear traditional watches, but they’ll only become more of a niche, not a growing market

Yup.


HTC chairwoman Cher Wang takes over CEO role from Peter Chou » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan:

HTC Corp. Chairwoman Cher Wang replaced Peter Chou as chief executive officer after three years of declining sales at the Taiwanese smartphone maker.

“I know the company, I know the people, and I have the vision,” Wang, 56, told Bloomberg News in an interview. “I think I am the best candidate. I suggested it.”

Chou, 58, presided over HTC’s rise to the top of the U.S. smartphone rankings, the settling of a patent dispute with Apple Inc. and the purchase and sale of Beats Electronics. His reign also saw the stock drop and market share shrink as HTC suffered at the hands of cheaper models from Xiaomi Corp. and the broader lineup of Samsung Electronics Co.

“Peter had done poorly, but even with Cher’s return it will be difficult for HTC to turn things around,” said Jeff Pu, who rates the stock sell at Yuanta Financial Holding Co. “Her appointment may also imply that it’s difficult to find a fresh leader from outside.”

I love the bombast in Wang’s quote. But she was also the one who refused takeover approaches from Amazon a couple of years ago. She’s got her hands full now.


TAG Heuer and the future of the luxury watch… » Matt Richman

TAG Heuer’s smartwatch won’t sell. There’s no market for it.

Apple Watch requires pairing with an iPhone, and TAG’s smartwatch will need to pair with a smartphone to even have a chance of being as feature-rich as Apple Watch.

Apple isn’t going to re-engineer iOS for TAG’s benefit, so TAG’s smartwatch won’t pair with an iPhone the way Apple Watch does.

In order to have even a chance of being as feature-rich as Apple Watch, then, TAG’s smartwatch will have to pair with an Android phone. However, TAG wearers aren’t Android users. Rich people buy TAG watches, but rich people don’t buy Android phones.

This is TAG’s dilemma… Ultimately, this dynamic is representative of the entire luxury watch industry. Replace TAG with Rolex, Omega, Longines, or any other high-end watchmaker, and the problem is the exact same.

It’s not quite true that zero rich people buy Android, but the Venn diagram of overlap between “people who buy Android” and “people who buy TAG/Rolex/Omega” is very small. Add in the third circle of “people who want a smartwatch for that” and you’ve got a really tiny number – hundreds, perhaps?


Start up: making the Apple Watch, Tinder with an AI, web v apps again, what’s the real mobile search?, and more


Uvas reservoir, California, in February 2014. Photo by ian_photos on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Can be hung on string to deter tigers. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tinder users at SXSW are falling for this woman, but she’s not what she appears » Adweek

Tinder users at the SXSW festival on Saturday were encountering an attractive 25-year-old woman named Ava on the dating app. A friend of ours made a match with her, and soon they were have a conversation over text message.

But when he opened up Ava’s Instagram, it became clear something was amiss. There was one photo and one video, both promoting Ex Machina, a sci-fi film that just happened to be premiering Saturday night here in Austin. The link in her bio went to the film’s website. And it turns out the woman in the photos is Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who plays an artificial intelligence in the movie.

The conversation is rather clever, in the context of the film. I liked this as a promotional idea. (Other people didn’t. I’d say, abandon hope all ye who go on Tinder, and you won’t be disappointed.)


How Apple makes the Watch » Atomic Delights

This link has been shared all over the place, but you might have chosen to avoid it. That’s a mistake; you can discover so much just about manufacturing from reading it. Here’s just a tiny piece of Greg Koenig’s writeup, based solely on the Apple Watch manufacturing video:

Apple chooses to not show what is likely the most unique and important step in the production of the Watch; cold forging. In production forging, a blank of metal is placed between two extraordinarily hard steel dies that have the bottom and top halves formed into open faced molds. The hammer – a piece of capital equipment roughly the size of a house laid on it’s end – slams the dies closed with force measured in tens of thousands of tonnes. Under such pressure, the metal reaches a state called “plastic deformation” and literally bends, compresses and flows into the shaped cavities of the die. For complex, or high-precision forging, multiple dies with successively deeper cavities are used to gradually tease the material into the desired shape.

Forging produces what’s called a “net shape” part; the process is unable to create precision holes, pockets, threads and other features that will require a trip to the CNC mills. What forging does do is create parts of exceptional strength.

A hammer the size of a house. Consider that for a moment. Koenig merits your attention.


Can the mobile Web win back developers from iOS, Android? » CNET

Stephen Shankland speaks to Dominique Hazaël-Massieux of the W3C:

Web allies are working to make up for lost time. The Application Foundations effort, announced in October 2014, adds new heft to existing work to improve standards. It emphasizes a collection of priorities like video chat, cryptography, typography, responsiveness and streaming media.

“There are challenges around performance, around making apps work offline and outside the browser,” Hazaël-Massieux said. One big part of the fixes is a standard called Service Workers that dramatically remakes Web apps’ deeper workings. Service Workers are programs that run in the background, letting Web apps work even if there’s no network connection and enabling things like push notifications. With Service Workers, those notifications could come through even if a person is using another app.

“A component provided by the browser registers itself with the operating system. When the OS receives a notification, it knows it should wake up the browser, and the browser wakes up the Web application,” Hazaël-Massieux said. “Service Workers are about getting the Web to live also outside the browser. That opens up interesting opportunities.”

Another feature he’s excited about is payments provided with an interface that would take Apple and Google out of the loop, letting the programmer choose what payment mechanisms to offer.

In general, the answer has to be “no”, though. Simply because (as Matt Gemmell has pointed out) a web app is “an app running on an app running on the system”, where an app is “an app running on the system”. It’s a bit like interpreted v compiled code.


I’ve seen the new face of Search, and it ain’t Google » Alex Iskold

The “ten blue links” aren’t optimum on mobile (Google already knows this, of course);

imagine, that instead of Google text field or browser bar, you get a familiar Text Messaging interface and you can ask questions. Here is what happens next:

1. You will ask questions in the natural form, like you do in real life.

2. Your questions will be naturally compact, because you are used to compact form of text messaging, but they won’t be one word or one phrase like we type into Google. You still can have typos, and missing punctuation.

3. This format naturally lends itself onto the conversation. That is, you don’t expect 10 links, you expect a human response. And you expect to respond in response to this response, and so on – that is, you expect a conversation.

4. ‘The answer’ will be things / objects / places, and links will become secondary. The answer will be 1 or 2 or 3 things but not 10 things. The choice will be naturally added via a conversation and iteration, not by pushing 10 links on the user upfront.

5. You won’t be able to tell the difference between a person or machine replying to you. This is where all the amazing AI stuff (looking at you, Amy) is going to come handy and will really shine.

6. You won’t think of this as search anymore, but as your command and control for all things you need – tasks, purchases and of course good old search. It will be like Siri, except it will be based on text, and have a lot more capabilities. And it will actually work great. (No offense Siri, but you have ways to go).

Sounds a bit like the (failed) Jelly, but he suggests Magic, Sensay and Cloe as possible implementations. This feels like it’s heading in the right direction. Search shouldn’t really be might-be-right links on mobile.


California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now? » LA Times

Jay Famigliette:

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.

I wonder what this means for all the technology companies in that region.


Connected audio products to grow at a CAGR of 88% from 2010-2018, says IHS » Digitimes

Annual shipments of connected audio products, including wireless speakers, wireless soundbars, and connected AV receivers, are expected to grow at a CAGR of 88%, from 1.5m units in 2010 to nearly 66m units in 2018, according to IHS.

The popularity of mobile devices and changing consumer habits in media consumption are not only increasing demand for wirelessly connected audio devices, but also rapidly altering the home audio landscape.

Within this composite group of products, connected soundbars and wireless speakers are expected to provide noteworthy growth, not just within home audio, but also within the overall consumer electronics market. Combined shipments are forecast to grow at a CAGR of 94% over the same period.

That’s some pretty dramatic growth, driven by people listening to audio at home from their mobile.


Samsung seals big SSD chip deal with Apple » Korea Times

The latest agreement is calling for Samsung Electronics to sell its latest solid state drive (SSD) storage devices using its V-NAND technology to Apple’s new range of ultra-slim and high-end notebook models, two people directly involved with the deal told The Korea Times, Friday.

“Samsung Electronics recently agreed with Apple to provide SSDs using its latest three-dimensional (3D) V-NAND tech. The deal is estimated to be worth a “few billion dollars,” said one of the people.

Samsung’s chip factory in Xian, China, will handle the production.

Still best of frenemies.


What Is Android 5.1’s anti-theft “Device Protection” feature and how do I use it? » Android Police

David Ruddock wrestles with this feature, which is basically the same as Apple’s iCloud lock (introduced in 2013) and Samsung’s similar feature:

With Android 5.1, Google revealed that it was releasing a new feature for handsets called Device Protection. This anti-theft feature makes it basically impossible for a thief to use your phone in the event it is stolen and wiped. First things first, though: how do you get this feature?

Right now (as in, at the time of this article), there is a single device with the feature currently enabled: the Nexus 6. The Nexus 9 will get device protection as well, but its Android 5.1 update has not yet rolled out. Nexus 4, 5, 7 (2012 and 2013), and 10 will not receive the factory reset Device Protection feature. Allegedly, no phone or tablet that did not ship with Android 5.1 or higher out of the box will receive the factory reset protection feature (again, except Nexus 6 and Nexus 9), at least according to Google at this time.

However, Google’s support site says the info applies to devices that have 5.0 or higher preinstalled (as in shipped with), though, so it’s not clear if devices that shipped with 5.0 and then later upgrade to 5.1 (or higher) will then get it. Google didn’t provide a satisfactory response to this question, unfortunately.

I get the faint feeling with Lollipop that Google is struggling to keep everything from falling off the table. First the rollback on encryption, now this. (Some commenters claim to see it on their Nexus 5, but Ruddock says it’s “simply a leftover that Google forgot to remove from the ROMs of unsupported 5.1 devices.”)


MWC: not all 4G LTE modems are created equal according to tests with Qualcomm and Samsung » Moor Insights & Strategy

Even though many modems and networks may currently only be capable of Category 4 LTE speeds (150 Mbps downlink), there are still some differences in how much those modems perform given the exact same conditions. In some cases, our testing at 20 MHz band width showed that the performance differences between Qualcomm’s and Samsung’s modems can be as big as 20%, meaning that one user can get their files 20% faster than someone else with a competitor’s phone and they are also saving power by getting that file faster and shutting down the data connection quicker.

Also finds differences in power consumption – Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 is 5-10% better there too. But Samsung benefits by buying its own modems, of course.


Start up: Intel stutters, Google goes retail, why Apple Watch?, what people really want in news apps, and more


The view for too many small businesses, in Intel’s opinion. Photo by Ella’s Dad on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. To read. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why is Apple making a gold watch? » Benedict Evans

Apple stores are huge rich-media billboards on every major shopping street in the developed world: I can’t think of any other company that has shops as big as that in such premium locations in as many places. Apple retail is a self-funding marketing operation. So too, perhaps, is the gold watch. Apple might only sell a few tens of thousands, but what impression does it create around the $1,000 watch, or the $350 watch? After all, the luxury goods market is full of companies whose most visible products are extremely expensive, but whose revenue really comes from makeup, perfume and accessories. You sell the $50k (or more) couture dress (which may be worn once), but you also sell a lot of lipsticks with the brand halo (and if you think Apple’s margins are high, have a look at the gross margins on perfume). 

Meanwhile, though other companies are already making metal smart watches, I struggle to imagine Samsung making solid gold watches. Apple’s brand might or might not work there, but no other CE company’s does. That is, if this is marketing, and if it works, it’s marketing that no-one else can do. 

On another tack, perhaps the biggest message that this sends is that the Apple watch is not a technology product. It’s a post-‘feeds and speeds’ product. Today we have prices and release dates for the watch but no tech specs at all – because they’re irrelevant to the user experience.

Perfume margins are amazing. And yes, consider how sales of a Samsung gold smartwatch would go.


An incredibly shrinking Firefox faces endangered species status » Computerworld

Gregg Keizer:

Mozilla’s Firefox is in danger of making the endangered species list for browsers.

Just two weeks after Mozilla’s top Firefox executive said that rumors of its demise were “dead wrong,” the iconic browser dropped another three-tenths of a percentage point in analytics firm Net Applications’ tracking, ending February with 11.6%.

That was Firefox’s lowest share since July 2006, when the browser had been in the market for less than two years…

…In the last 12 months, Firefox’s user share – an estimate of the portion of all those who reach the Internet via a desktop browser – has plummeted by 34%. Since Firefox crested at 25.1% in April 2010, Firefox has lost 13.5 percentage points, or 54% of its peak share.

“Hello? It’s Marissa. Now, about that refund clause..”


Intel lowers first-quarter revenue outlook » Intel Newsroom

Intel Corporation today announced that first-quarter revenue is expected to be below the company’s previous outlook. The company now expects first-quarter revenue to be $12.8bn, plus or minus $300m, compared to the previous expectation of $13.7bn, plus or minus $500m.
 
The change in revenue outlook is a result of weaker than expected demand for business desktop PCs and lower than expected inventory levels across the PC supply chain. The company believes the changes to demand and inventory patterns are caused by lower than expected Windows XP refresh in small and medium business and increasingly challenging macroeconomic and currency conditions, particularly in Europe.

The XP refresh is/was still going on? Amazing. (During the same period last year, Intel’s revenue was $12.7bn. So it might be very close to zero growth.)


What do people want from a news experience? » Tales of a Developer Advocate

Paul Kinlan was building a news app:

I posited that users want (in order of priority):

• Notifications of important news as it happens
• An icon on the launcher so it can be loaded like an app
• News available to them offline (i.e, when they are in the tube)
• A fast site

My own intuition of an industry I am not too heavily involved in probably can’t be trusted as much as I think it can, so I sent out a terribly worded tweet.

What happened next will inform and entertain you. (No really, it will.) It did him.


Thousands have already signed up for Apple’s ResearchKit » Bloomberg Business

Michelle Fay Cortez and Caroline Chen:

Stanford University researchers were stunned when they awoke Tuesday to find that 11,000 people had signed up for a cardiovascular study using Apple Inc.’s ResearchKit, less than 24 hours after the iPhone tool was introduced.

“To get 10,000 people enrolled in a medical study normally, it would take a year and 50 medical centers around the country,” said Alan Yeung, medical director of Stanford Cardiovascular Health. “That’s the power of the phone.”

That’s people who would have had to download the update and opt in. Some fret about the quality of data (biased selection) but:

The data may not be perfect, but many concerns about ResearchKit – such as whether the patient sample is representative – are issues with traditional clinical trials as well, said Todd Sherer, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has collaborated with nonprofit group Sage Bionetworks on one of the apps.


Forking hell! Baidu gives up on its Android-based OS » Tech In Asia

Steven Millward:

No news means bad news when it comes to tech companies. If they’ve nothing to boast about, the ensuing silence looks suspicious. That’s been the case with Baidu’s version of Android (pictured above), which launched in late 2011.

Despite a high-profile and promising start as Dell made use of Baidu’s Android-based Yun OS for a new China-only phone, the Chinese search giant’s OS thereafter didn’t show any signs of finding favor with the nation’s smartphone shoppers. Yesterday, Baidu confirmed in its Yun OS forums that the Android skin will not get any more updates. The project is now suspended.

Had its own product suite, but missed the boat for this. However, has 500m monthly active users for its mobile search and 200m MAUs for its maps product. Might struggle by.


Google opens its first Google-branded store-in-a-store, in London » WSJ

Saabira Chaudhuri:

Google has opened in London its first Google-branded store-in-a-store selling space.

Housed within Dixons Carphone DC.LN -0.41%’s Currys PC World store on Tottenham Court Road, the Google Shop will give Google the opportunity to show off its range of Android phones and tablets, Chromebook laptops and Chromecasts.

“The pace of innovation of the devices we all use is incredible, yet the way we buy them has remained the same for years. With the Google Shop, we want to offer people a place where they can play, experiment and learn about all of what Google has to offer,” said James Elias, the U.K. marketing director for Google.

In some ways, the Google Shop is more of a branding exercise than an approximation of a standalone store. All sales from the store go to Dixons Carphone.

So it’s to sell.. Chromebooks? Chromecast? And – Google needs branding? Seriously?


Start up: SLR death throes, why fusion won’t change things, Apple’s waterproof phone?, Samsung’s big spend, and more


What are those funny phones they’re holding, dad? Photo by w|©kedf|lm on Flickr

A selection of 10 links for you. Slather over the body when nobody is looking. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Prediction: the age of the standalone still camera is coming to an end for all but pros » Vincent Laforet’s Blog

who wants to stick a CF/SD card in a computer, import, edit, tone, export, share / publish a website anymore – when you can do the same thing in 1-3 clicks of your thumb on a smartphone?

The battle is over… the smartphones and iOSs have won. The quality is good enough on a smartphone/iPhone today, that when combined with software the need for a dedicated still camera can appear to be a burden to the majority of people out there: unless they have a specific technical need that only a DSLR or speciality lenses can offer.

With platforms like Twitter, FB, Storehouse, Instagram, 500 pixels, Tumblr etc etc – it’s too late to go back to the clunky way of doing things unless you are TRULY a big time hobbyist who loves the process. And I do! But not that often… and truth is: we’re in the vast minority…

The technological trends and shift towards digital and now smartphones that are connected to the web are undeniably the most important factors at play here: we’re all gotten used to having a $300-$900 mini computer on us at ALL times, and you can’t compete with a tool that is glued to your end-user… no camera company can compete with that, and they simply haven’t even tried to put editing/social media software into their cameras, which is a potentially devastating oversight long term.

It’s not that dramatic a prediction, but it’s the relentlessness that’s so imposing.


If Lockheed’s recent announcement on nuclear fusion energy is true, how would it change the world? » Quora

Ryan Carlyle, who says he’s a BSChE (chemical engineer?) and subsea hydraulics engineer, is here to rain on the parade:

Real-world fusion reactors aren’t going to be like “Mr Fusion” style reactors from Back To The Future. I mean, seriously -it ran on garbage and powered a flying car. That almost makes the time travel plot seem realistic in comparison. But that’s what people seem to think when they hear “miniature fusion plant.”

Pro tip: the physics of fusion power do not support the concept of automobile-scale fusion. Seriously, this isn’t Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor; it’s just a thermoelectric power plant with a slightly smaller heat source. You need a giant steam turbine and ridiculously giant cooling system to generate serious electricity from a fusion reactor. Even if you miniaturize the reaction chamber, the support equipment required for electricity generation will still be extremely large.

Here’s a small nuclear power plant. I have helpfully indicated the size of the actual fission reactor inside the containment structure:

And here’s my detailed conceptual rendering of a “miniature” fusion reactor power plant with the same power output:

And that’s only the start of it.


Ghacks is dying and needs your help » gHacks Tech News

Martin Brinkmann, who started the site in 2005 and was able to make it his full-time job, now faces the chasm:

In addition to [Google downranking the site in 2011 with its Penguin search update], ad blockers and script blockers became increasingly popular. Since advertisement is what keeps this site alive, a yearly increase between 5 and 10% in ad-block usage is not something that you can endure for long especially if it goes hand in hand with a decline in traffic.

Currently, between 42% and 44% of all users use blockers when they visit the site and if the trend continues, more than 50% might before the end of the year.

If you take these two factors together, it is only a matter of time before ad revenue won’t be sufficient to pay for the site’s upkeep anymore.

Advertising is dying in its current form. While I could make a quick buck throwing popups, auto-playing videos or other nasty stuff at you, I’d never do that.

Heck, those are the things that make people use ad-blockers in the first place and as much as I like this site to survive, I like to protect the integrity of this site and you from these diabolical monetization methods even more.

Advertisements won’t be sufficient to keep this site up and there is not really much out there that I could implement or try instead to make sure this site is not taken off the Internet in the next year.

He’s going to try Patreon. Presently the pledges aren’t enough to cover the server costs – $280 per month?! I wish him luck, but I’m not optimistic. (I’ll return to see how things are in a few months.)

I think Brinkmann’s business problems are probably echoed all over the web by small sites which were once able to make money from ads, but are now finding them sucked up by Facebook, or Twitter, or the effect of Google invisibility.


US DOJ accuses three men in largest email breach ‘in the history of the Internet’ » GeekWire

Frank Catalano:

The indictments against two Vietnamese citizens and a Canadian citizen — operating from Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Canada — alleges the trio were involved in hacking at least eight U.S. email service providers, spamming tens of millions of email recipients, getting money from affiliate relationships for spammed products, and laundering the proceeds.

“The defendants allegedly made millions of dollars by stealing over a billion email addresses from email service providers,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Caldwell said in a statement. “This case again demonstrates the resolve of the Department of Justice to bring accused cyber hackers from overseas to face justice in the United States.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates the accused allegedly took in approximately $2 million through the affiliate marketing sales linked to spam. One of the three is said to have already pleaded guilty.

Brian Krebs suggests it was a breach of the email marketing company Epsilon in 2011 – whose servers were then hijacked to send the spam. A reminder that spam is still big, big business.


Why do we care about Xiaomi? » Benedict Evans

Evans (who works at VC company a16z) thinks we care (or should) because of what it implies for the “next stage” of Android:

Historically, Google’s lock on Android outside China has therefore been based on three things: 

• You can’t experiment outside very tight constraints: making even one forked device means Google won’t allow you to sell a single phone running Google services. And all the OEMs have too much to lose to risk experimenting
• There’s a widespread belief that an Android device without Google services (really, this means Maps and the app store) is unsaleable outside China (I’m not entirely sure about this, as I wrote here)
• No OEM managed to build a compelling set of services or tools of its own that might offer alternatives to Google, because, well, that was impossible (see above)

These new trends place all of those in question. The growth of smaller operators pursuing different models, with no existing base of sales and hence nothing to fear from  Google ban, may mean more experiments with forks. Xiaomi and its imitators point to a new potential model to differentiate (and note that Xiaomi is not a fork), and Cyanogen (an a16z portfolio company) offers the tools to do it. Smaller OEMs are less powerful than Samsung as a counterpart to Google, but also harder collectively to impose upon – Google can’t shout at them all.


Apple researching device waterproofing via vapor deposition, silicone seals » Apple Insider

Mikey Campbell:

As published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, Apple’s filing for “Methods for shielding electronic components from moisture” outlines a process for coating sensitive device components using advanced vapor deposition technology and protecting solder leads with silicone seals.

Instead of sealing off the entire device housing like a common wristwatch, Apple proposes coating integral components, like the printed circuit board (PCB), with a hydrophobic coating. Depositing the coating via plasma-assisted chemical vapor deposition (PACVD) would create an acceptable insulating layer to protect against short circuits that occur when high voltage parts are exposed to liquid.

I’ve thought for some time that Apple would add waterproofing (well, water resistance) to its phones in due course, but that it sees no rush while it’s not completely commonplace elsewhere. (Look at how Samsung has taken it out of the Galaxy S6.) This would also require factory equipment, so might be something for 2016’s range.


Technology helps visually impaired navigate the Tube » BBC News

Hugh Pym (the health editor):

Members of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) said they wanted to navigate the tube system independently.

Currently most have to rely on friends to help them get used to familiar routes or phone ahead to request assistance from London Underground staff. Many do not feel confident about using the whole network. They group teamed up with a digital products designer, ustwo, which then devised a system which was effective below ground.

The Bluetooth beacons transmit signals which can be picked up by smartphones and other mobile devices. Audible directions are provided to users via “bone conduction” earphones which allow them to hear sounds around them as well.

The directions warn users when they are approaching escalators and ticket barriers and which platforms they may be approaching. It’s the first such trial of a technology which can guide blind and partially sighted people underground or in areas with limited mobile phone reception.

Developers say it could be used in other subway networks like those in Newcastle and Glasgow or in other busy public transport hubs

That’s ustwo, as in Monument Valley. Many strings to their bow. Wonderfully clever application.


Samsung breaks records with £45m push behind Galaxy S6 » Daily Telegraph

Chris Williams:

Samsung is launching a record-breaking £45m marketing barrage to support its new Galaxy S6 smartphone and regain ground lost to Apple.

The figure, disclosed by industry sources, is the largest ever for a mobile phone launch and is believed to be the largest for any single product in the UK.

Samsung is spending heavily across all traditional and new media marketing channels, but is understood to be especially targeting the mass audiences provided by television and high-profile outdoor advertising sites.

The Galaxy S6 is already being heavily promoted on the digital billboards on the London Underground network, for instance.

Samsung also paid for a special advert based on the Galaxy S6 launch event last week in Barcelona. It aired three hours later in the UK on Sunday evening during ITV’s primetime drama Mr Selfridge.

Samsung has long been among the world’s biggest marketing spenders, devoting a larger proportion of its annual sales to promoting its products than any other top 20 global company.

Reading the comments under Apple articles always reveals two trains of thought, often following each other: (1) Apple is only popular because it spends so much on marketing (2) [when it’s pointed out that Samsung spends more] Apple is only popular because “the media” pushes it.

On the basis of (1), the S6 is going to be the most humungous hit, surely?


Popular Xiaomi phone could put data at risk » Bluebox Security

There’s a big asterisk on this one, but first read what Andrew Blaich found:

We ran several of the top malware and antivirus scanners on the Mi 4 to determine if any questionable apps came pre-loaded on the device. We used several scanners to compile a comprehensive list as some scanners returned nothing and others flagged different apps. Ultimately, we found six suspicious apps that can be considered malware, spyware or adware; a few were more notable than others.

One particularly nefarious app was Yt Service. Yt Service embeds an adware service called DarthPusher that delivers ads to the device among other things[2]. This was an interesting find because, though the app was named Yt Service, the developer package was named com.google.hfapservice (note this app is NOT from Google). Yt Service is highly suspicious because it disguised its package to look as if it came from Google; something an Android user would expect to find on their device. In other words, it tricks users into believing it’s a “safe” app vetted by Google.

Other risky apps of note included PhoneGuardService (com.egame.tonyCore.feicheng) classified as a Trojan, AppStats classified (org.zxl.appstats) as riskware and SMSreg classified as malware[3]

However, Xiaomi says that the device “appears to have been tampered [with] in the distribution/retail process by an unknown third party”. But as Blaich points out, if it’s that easy to mess with, that raises other questions too. Selling smartphones isn’t as simple as just choosing a spec list.


The Apple Watch is time, saved » TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino does that thing where, you know, you talk to sources to find stuff out, which he then collects in this fascinating article:

Here’s a tidbit you might not know — in order to receive notifications from apps, the Watch must be on your wrist and locked. The Watch requires contact with your skin to receive notifications. There will be no in-app dropdown notifications or constant pinging while it’s off your wrist. Push notifications also cease when the battery reaches 10%. Those decisions speak to the care with which Apple is handling notifications.

The notifications are also different at an elemental level than the ones on your phone — both on the developer and user side of things. These are seen right away rather than at some point. You act on them quickly and they don’t stack up like they do on the phone.

There is that added bit of context because you know exactly when they got it, which means that time-sensitive notifications like those that recommend a precise establishment or ping you during a live event become much more germane.

And this is a key point:

the only resource we all have exactly in common is time. Kings don’t have more of it than peasants. Not everyone will be able to afford an Apple Watch (or even an iPhone), but if they’re in an economic situation where that’s feasible then they’re also in the situation where they are probably willing to trade money for time.


Start up: another Lenovo preinstall, abandoning GPG, video game breasts (yup), the watch business, and more


Bank of England: visualise this. Photo by Michael Sissons on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Yes, you. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

August 2013: renegade Windows App Store Pokki lands Lenovo as its latest OEM partner, will preload on its PCs » TechCrunch

Alex Wilhelm, in August 2013:

After securing Acer as its first major OEM deal, Pokki, an alternative Windows application marketplace and Start Button replacement, today secured Lenovo as its newest partner. The deal will see Pokki’s game arcade and Start Menu shipped with Lenovo machines, greatly boosting its marketshare in the PC ecosystem.

I’ve asked Lenovo about this: it hasn’t so far been able to tell me how much Pokki paid to be installed. It seems to me a fair presumption that Pokki did pay to be included – it offers various shareware apps via its menu. (Pokki doesn’t interfere with network traffic.) Here’s Pokki’s blogpost on the “partnership”. (That’s an Internet Archive link because I can’t get the original to load.)

Superfish might be the most recent, but it wasn’t the first time Lenovo was trying to improve its margins with preloaded software.


Meet Ross, the IBM Watson-powered lawyer » PSFK

Adriana Krasniansky:

Lawyers using Ross ask a legal question, and the program sifts through thousands of legal documents, statutes, and cases to provide an answer. Ross’s responses include legal citations, suggest articles for further reading, and even calculate a confidence rating to help lawyers prepare for cases. Because Ross is a cognitive computing platform, it learns from past interactions, meaning that Ross’s responses will grow to be more accurate as lawyers continue to use its system.

Via Mark Gould, who says that this sort of thing could automate legal functions… so what happens to those white-collar jobs?


Windows was less vulnerable than OS X, Linux, and iOS in 2014: report » NDTV Gadgets

Robin Sinha, somewhat perfunctorily:

Apple’s OS X operating system was the most vulnerable in 2014, according to a new report by the US National Vulnerability Database (NVD).

As per the report, OS X leads the list followed by iOS, Linux, Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2012, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Vista, and Windows RT. It has been noted that 7,038 new vulnerabilities were added last year, which results in 19 new vulnerabilities per day.

The report adds that out of the 7,038 vulnerabilities, 80 percent were said to come via third-party applications, 13 percent from operating systems and 4 percent via hardware devices. It is worth mentioning that in 2013 the vulnerability number was low at 4,794. Also, out of the 7,038 vulnerabilities, 68 percent was said to fall under the ‘medium’ severity, 24 percent in ‘high’ and the remaining 8 percent in ‘low’.

OK, I get it had the most vulnerabilities. Was it the most exploited, though?


Data Visualisation Competition – Are you a Viz Whizz? » Bank of England

“Viz Whizz”. Cringe. But it’s real, and could be fun:

Three criteria will be used to judge the entries. Is the visualization:

• showing something novel or insightful that is relevant to the Bank?
• clear and easy to understand?
• aesthetically pleasing and original?

Prize
Those entries that make the finalist day on Thursday 4 June will receive a tour of the Bank of England and its archives in the morning, followed by lunch.
Judging will take place in the afternoon where finalists will present their entries to an expert panel.
The winning entry will then be announced and the winning team will receive the prize of £5000. Refreshments will then be served for the contestants who will have the chance to mingle with the judges and other Bank staff.
The prize will be for the entry (and not per person).


Wristwatch industry statistics » Statistic Brain

Fascinating data: 1.2bn watches sold annually, 29.2m Swiss watches, almost all the rest from China and Hong Kong. Average values hugely different. It’ll be fun to see how the annual revenues for Swatch/Omega and Rolex look in a year’s time. (Via Robin H.)


Experts dubious of Gemalto claim its SIM keys weren’t stolen by GCHQ » Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster on the pushback against SIM card maker Gemalto’s claim that no siree, the keys are all locked in this safe:

First, [Gemalto] has assumed that its “highly secure exchange processes” have not been compromised. Second, Gemalto’s report was put together in a week, which might not be enough time to uncover far more surreptitious activity across its network, especially given the technical ingenuity of the alleged adversary. “Do they know the truth? Do they seriously believe they can conduct an investigation uncovering the truth in less than a week? This is a rush job to placate shareholders. Hopefully, they will keep investigating,” said Dr Ralf-Philipp Weinmann, who runs Comsecuris, a security research and consulting company. “Attacking SIM card vendors is a very economic solution to breaking encryption of cellular telephony.”

Perhaps the most worrying of Gemalto’s assertions is that it’s not possible to break connections over 3G or 4G using the methods described in the report. As Gemalto must know, it’s possible to force phones to “fail over” to easily-crackable 2G by jamming 3G and 4G connections.

My money’s on GCHQ. Those people are smart.


GPG And Me » Moxie Marlinspike

“Marlinspike” is a pretty adept crypto developer:

When I receive a GPG encrypted email from a stranger, though, I immediately get the feeling that I don’t want to read it. Sometimes I actually contemplate creating a filter for them so that they bypass my inbox entirely, but for now I sigh, unlock my key, start reading, and – with a faint glimmer of hope – am typically disappointed.

I didn’t start out thinking this way. After all, my website even has my GPG key posted under my email address. It’s a feeling that has slowly crept up on me over the past decade, but I didn’t immediately understand where it came from. There’s no obvious unifying theme to the content of these emails, and they’re always written in earnest – not spam, or some form of harassment.

Eventually I realized that when I receive a GPG encrypted email, it simply means that the email was written by someone who would voluntarily use GPG…

… I think of GPG as a glorious experiment that has run its course. The journalists who depend on it struggle with it and often mess up (“I send you the private key to communicate privately, right?”), the activists who use it do so relatively sparingly (“wait, this thing wants my finger print?”), and no other sane person is willing to use it by default.

Been available 20 years, yet has only 50,000 “strong” keys and under 4m published in the keypool. I’ve had a lot of PGP keys and forgotten the passwords to them all.


How video game breasts are made (and why they can go wrong) » Kotaku UK

Patricia Hernandez did a lot of research:

One developer who I’ll call “Alex,” because they didn’t want to be identified by their own name, told me about a situation where breasts had gone wrong—and it wasn’t the result of tech limitations. Alex told me that their studio was very concerned with its depiction of breasts. Even so, there were stumbles along the way.

“The very first thing I noticed when [the studio was] animating breasts is, I would look at them, and they were just not moving in a way that was even remotely natural,” Alex said.

“I remember saying to the artist, ‘the breasts are moving wrong.’ And I remember directly asking him, ‘Have you watched breasts move? Have you actually watched breasts move?”

Game developers have all the interesting conversations. It’s a fascinating piece as much as anything for the explanation of how developers *do* cope with the problem. (As one commenter asks, should the uncanny valley of video game breasts be called the uncanny cleavage?) So much effort, and then the premise of the game is ridiculous…


On WordPress.com and Bitcoin » Matt Mullenweg

WordPress is ending the ability to pay for its services using bitcoin, principally because it’s working on a code rewrite of its payment system, and wants less complication in the number of currencies it has to support. So some questions were put to Mullenweg:

Q: You mention that bitcoin has low volume compared to other payment methods, has this always been the case? Has its volume share changed over time?

A: The volume has been dropping since launch, in 2014 it was only used about twice a week, which is vanishingly small compared to other methods of payment we offer. We supported Bitcoin for philosophical reasons, not commercial ones.

Something of a reality check there. Although Mullenweg also says:

I believe Bitcoin or some other blockchain-like system will be the basis of the majority of financial transactions in the future, from small remittances to multi-billion dollar corporate acquisitions. I think transaction costs should follow Moore’s law, and I don’t think we’re going to get there with the centralized gateways that currently account for the overwhelming majority of transactions. I also personally hold Bitcoin, I’m an advisor to Stellar.org, and my friends make fun of me for bringing up Bitcoin and the blockchain in unrelated conversations.

(Via Ben Thompson)


Start up: Lenovo, Superfish and its implications; identifying Jackson Pollocks, tech v fashion, and more


Currently unfashionable inside Lenovo “consumer laptops”. Photo by sinosplice on Flickr.

A selection of 8 links for you. Makes a lovely salad when added to salad. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Lenovo’s Superfish ‘malware’ works and what you can do to kill it » Forbes

Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Lenovo might have made one of the biggest mistakes in its history. By pre-installing software called ‘Superfish ’ to get ads on screens it’s peeved the entire privacy community, which has been aghast this morning on Twitter. There are serious security concerns about Lenovo’s move too as attackers could take Superfish and use it to ensnare some unwitting web users.

Here’s what you need to know about Superfish and what you can do to stop it chucking irksome ads on your browser and leaving you open to hackers.

This is probably the most comprehensive piece on the problems around this, though Lenovo suggests it has only installed it since September 2014. On Thursday night it issued instructions on how to remove it. And here’s a site you can use to check whether it’s affecting you. Read on for more of the implications.


AVAST 2015 Release Candidate 1 (10.0.2202) » Avast forums

Avast is a well-known antivirus program:

Features already introduced in previous AVAST 2015 betas:

• GrimeFighter Free
GrimeFighter will offer free cleaning of junk files and tuning of system settings. These tasks are performed by our Zilch and Torque minions. Other minion functions remain as paid-for features.

• HTTPS scanning
Now, we are able to detect and decrypt TLS/SSL protected traffic in our Web-content filtering component. We are using our own generated certificates that are added into the Root Certificate store in Windows and also into major browsers. This feature will protect you against viruses coming through HTTPs traffic as well as adding compatibility for SPDY+HTTPS/ HTTP 2.0 traffic. You can tune/disable this feature in the settings section.

That “https scanning” is exactly the thing that people are worried about with the Lenovo-installed Superfish. The reason why it’s used is because a lot of malware uses https: to connect to command-and-control servers. Superfish used it because connections to Google are https: and it wanted to insert its own adverts into the Google results stream.

Somehow, the Avast reason seems much preferable. (Link via Jon Honeyball.)


Extracting the SuperFish certificate » Errata Security

Robert Graham:

I extracted the certificate from the SuperFish adware and cracked the password (“komodia”) that encrypted it. I discuss how down below. The consequence is that I can intercept the encrypted communications of SuperFish’s victims (people with Lenovo laptops) while hanging out near them at a cafe wifi hotspot. Note: this is probably trafficking in illegal access devices under the proposed revisions to the CFAA, so get it now before they change the law.

I used simple reversing to find the certificate. As reported by others, program is packed and self-encrypted (like typical adware/malware). The proper way to reverse engineer this is to run the software in a debugger (or IDApro), setting break point right after it decrypts itself. The goal is to set the right break point before it actually infects your machine – reversers have been known to infect themselves this way.

This is one of the concerning things about Lenovo’s actions: vulnerabilities like this.


Lenovo CTO: we’re working to wipe Superfish app off PCs » WSJ Digits blog

Shira Ovide:

Lenovo is working quickly to wipe all traces of an app it had pre-installed on some consumer laptops, responding to security researchers’ warnings that the app could give attackers a way to steal people’s encrypted Web data or online passwords.

In an interview Thursday, Lenovo’s chief technology officer, Peter Hortensius, acknowledged that “we didn’t do enough” due diligence before installing Superfish, but that the company doesn’t believe laptop owners were harmed by the app. He said the company realized it needs to do more to respond to consumers’ concerns.

Lenovo, the world’s biggest seller of PCs, is working to write software that will delete any data from the Superfish software off laptops on which it had been installed. Hortensius also said the company should have done more due diligence on the security of the Superfish shopping-search app, which was installed from September to December on Lenovo consumer laptops.

Choice quote from Hortensius: “we agree that this was not something that we want to have on the system”. So how did it get there?


Report: 2014 was a bad year for lyrics sites in Google » Search Engine Land

Barry Schmwartz:

Only one lyrics site saw an increase in visibility from Google’s search results, that is azlyrics.com with a 24% lift.

We saw at the end of December 2013, Rap Genius was penalized for link schemes but then saw themselves back in the search results ten days later. Maybe that manual action had Google’s engineers take a deeper look at the lyrics niche.

One thing, you’d probably see a deeper impact on these lyrics sites in 2015. Google in late December 2014 began showing full lyrics in the search results, which can directly impact the traffic and visibility of these lyrics sites in the Google search results.


How Twitter CEO Dick Costolo keeps his focus » Inc.com

Jeff Bercovici:

A typical week for Costolo involves 12 to 15 standing meetings, so he has a few rules for efficiency’s sake. First, no cancelling. Freeing up that time may be tempting, but it’s how small problems become big ones. “I’m the connective tissue between all these groups,” he says. “It’s important for me to have context for the issues and challenges everyone’s dealing with.”

Second, no sidebars, ever. Nothing irks Costolo more than someone approaching him in private and saying, “I didn’t want to bring this up in front of everyone, but…” That rewards politics over process, he says: “Everyone on my team knows that that’s not a valid way to start a conversation with me.”

Finally, no PowerPoint. Meetings are for communicating, not wasting time on pretty slides. Instead, Costolo asks managers to type briefings. “If that sounds straight out of the Jeff Bezos playbook, it’s because it is,” he says. “I totally agree with that.”

These seem really good ideas. And there are more; the article isn’t so much about what happens, but how Costolo functions.


What the tech world doesn’t understand about fashion » Racked

Leslie Price:

at the biggest fashion houses in Europe, there is a general disdain for the connected future that the tech world fetishizes.

“We don’t like [e-commerce]. I don’t care,” Miuccia Prada said in 2013. “We think that, for luxury, it’s not right. Personally, I’m not interested.” As Bloomberg details, this is the case for many luxury brands. Some fashion OGs, like Valentino, don’t even use computers. Anna Wintour famously carries a flip phone. “The problem with technology is it’s a bit cold. It’s a bit sharp,” said Carine Roitfeld, CR Fashion Book EIC and former French Vogue chief.

This aversion actually makes perfect sense. Fashion is, by its very nature, exclusive. It’s about creating an identity, a brand, that is so cool that people will spend thousands and thousands of dollars to acquire a tiny piece of it. If you make that identity widely available, you risk diluting it. This delicate balance is something that the oldest fashion stalwarts have spent a hundred or more years perfecting.

Terrific piece which neatly illustrates (with examples) the gulf between tech and fashion: quite a lot of it is in the language that attaches to things.


A computer can tell real Jackson Pollocks from fakes » Smithsonian

Laura Clark:

according to many connoisseurs, critics and fakers don’t give the painter enough credit. There are indeed complexities to Pollock’s drip art that show it to be the genuine article. And now there’s a computer program helping to make a science out of the deciphering.

The software uses “computational methods to characterize the low-level numerical differences between original Pollock drip paintings and drip paintings done by others attempting to mimic this signature style,” says Inderscience Publishers. You give it a scan of the possible Pollock, and the program goes to work extracting 4024 numerical image descriptors that the human eye would have trouble deciphering as accurately.

I guess we have to add “art authenticator” to the list of white-collar jobs that computers will wipe out in time.