Start up: Apple’s Irish tax deadline, Facebook trends away, how broadband divides us, and more

Could you pick out a face from this crowd, even slightly disguised? Some people could. Photo by -AX- on Flickr.

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

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

EU to rule against Ireland in Apple tax case • Irish Times

Cliff Taylor:


The EU Commission is preparing to issue a final ruling that Ireland’s tax deal with Apple represented illegal state aid.

However sources believe the amount of tax Ireland will be asked to collect from the US giant will be much less than the billions of euro which had been originally suggested by some analysts.

The Government and Apple will immediately signal that they will challenge the ruling in the European courts, a process that could take some years. Sources say that government and the US company remain in “lock step” on the issue…

…While the precise terms of the EU Commission decision – and whether it will mention an actual figure – remain unclear, sources believe that the sum involved is likely to be in the hundreds of millions rather than the billions. One suggestion is that Ireland could be pressed to recoup somewhere between €500m and €1bn from Apple. However the final terms of the commission decision are not yet fully clear.


By me and Samuel Gibbs in in September 2014: “Apple may have to repay millions from government tax deal“. The figure suggested then was between €100m and €850m.
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The detectives who never forget a face • The New Yorker

Patrick Radden Keefe:


Studying the map, Porritt plotted the various routes and developed a hunch that the man [the police wanted to question] lived in Camden. Porritt grew up there, and he decided to go and ask around. He invited Alison Young, an officer who had just joined the unit, to tag along. Young is twenty-nine, with long red hair and an ebullient sense of humor. She had worked as a community-support officer for several years, but one day she was summoned to an auditorium at Scotland Yard, where dozens of officers were instructed to take a facial-recognition exam. Using a laptop, Young found matches in a series of faces that were presented like masks—without hair or other context. When the test was done, she was startled to learn that she had received the second-highest score.

By some estimates, as many as a million CCTV cameras are installed in London, making it the most surveilled metropolis on the planet. Boris Johnson, who before becoming Britain’s Foreign Secretary served as the city’s mayor, once said, “When you walk down the streets of London, you are a movie star. You are being filmed by more cameras than you can possibly imagine.”

Porritt thought that the cameras outside the Camden Road railway station might have caught the groper walking by, so he and Young visited the CCTV office there. As Porritt examined the equipment, Young gazed out a window at scores of rush-hour commuters streaming in and out of the station. Then, suddenly, she shouted, “Oh, my God. That’s him!”

Young was staring at a man just inside the entrance: he had a mustache and wore glasses. She watched him pick up a Metro from a stack on the floor and walk out of the station.

“We ran like maniacs,” Young recalled. They caught him, and after he was in handcuffs he muttered to Porritt, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” A fifty-six-year-old clerical worker named Ilhan Karatepe, he subsequently pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault and received a suspended sentence. (He was also barred from riding public transportation by himself.)


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How China outgrew Xiaomi • Tech In Asia

Steven Millward with more on Xiaomi’s struggle in its home market:


To see how Xiaomi’s divergence from Chinese consumers played out, you only need to look at the average selling price of new smartphones in China.

As China hits peak smartphone, a significant number of people have been trading up, pushing up the average selling price of new mobiles in the country. It looks like this:

The average new smartphone in China in 2013 cost just US$207 as most people opted for cheap models. That suited Xiaomi with its best-selling Redmi phones ranging from US$105 to US$150. But then, by 2015, IDC figures show that shoppers typically splashed US$257 per new smartphone as more shifted to pricier devices, including some opting for the iPhone 6. At that price point, Xiaomi’s most important phones had been left behind by shoppers.

“While users are slowly moving upstream, there are still significant volumes seen in the low-end market,” observes [IDC senior analyst Tay] Xiaohan.

The new Huawei P9, which costs from US$640, is propelling the Chinese tech giant to the top of the country’s smartphone battle at a time when Chinese consumers are spending more than ever on their smartphones. Photo credit: Huawei.

Xiaomi does have pricier phones, such as the Mi5 from US$270, but there are fewer choices for consumers in its upper ranges. And at a time when Chinese phone owners are going upmarket, Xiaomi’s top-end model, the big-screened Mi Note, has had no refresh for 19 months, putting it at odds with the usual annual upgrade cycle that shoppers now expect of smartphones.


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Carson Block takes on St. Jude Medical claiming hack risk • Bloomberg

Michelle Cortez, Erik Schatzker and Jordan Robertson:


Many in the technology and medical communities say the risk of such hacks is remote at best. But Block, no stranger to drawn-out corporate feuds, says in a 33-page report that St. Jude’s deficiencies are so great – and stand in such sharp contrast to offerings from rivals including Medtronic Plc – that its [pacemaker and defibrillator] equipment should be recalled and sales of the devices that account for 45% of St. Jude’s revenue should be halted until the problem is fixed. That could take years.

“The nightmare scenario is somebody is able to launch a mass attack and cause these devices that are implanted to malfunction,” Block said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. St. Jude “should stop selling these devices until it has developed a new secure communication protocol.”

Muddy Waters became aware of the potential flaws after a startup cybersecurity company, Miami-based MedSec Holdings Inc., approached the short-selling firm three months ago. The hackers had been working for more than a year, ferreting out security flaws in medical devices made by four leading companies. One stood out from the rest: St. Jude’s products had an “astounding” level of problems, including lack of encryption and authentication between devices, which could allow hackers to tap into implanted devices, said MedSec Chief Executive Officer Justine Bone, herself an experienced hacker.


Interesting (novel?) monetisation method for zero-day hacks: approach short-sellers so you can make a killing as the stock falls.
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Facebook fired its Trending editors, apparently trying to get rid of bias by getting rid of humans • Quartz

Joon Ian Wong , Dave Gershgorn & Mike Murphy:


A new group of humans will still be involved with Trending, although they’ll be asked to focus on correcting the algorithm’s mistakes, like preventing mundane or repetitive stories from appearing as news, according to a Facebook blog post. The retooled Trending feature will now automatically pull excerpts from news articles, a feature that may force Facebook to compensate news publishers in the European Union in the future, under proposed new rules from the European commission.

According to sources, the Trending team’s editorial staff were alerted at 4pm that they were being fired—as the news of Facebook’s switch to algorithms first broke—and were asked to leave the building by 5pm. The contractors (all of whom were at the company less than 1.5 years) were given severance equal to pay through September 1, plus two weeks, sources say.
However, removing human writers from Trending doesn’t necessarily eliminate bias. Human bias can be embedded into algorithms, and extremely difficult to strip out.


Such delightful hiring practices! And now the engineers will have even more boring tasks than the writers did. I’d be prepping my CV if I were one of those assigned to that.
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The NSA is hoarding vulnerabilities • Schneier on Security

Bruce Schneier on the “Shadow Brokers” hack of NSA tools:


what I want to talk about is the data. The sophisticated cyberweapons in the data dump include vulnerabilities and “exploit code” that can be deployed against common Internet security systems. Products targeted include those made by Cisco, Fortinet, TOPSEC, Watchguard, and Juniper – systems that are used by both private and government organizations around the world. Some of these vulnerabilities have been independently discovered and fixed since 2013, and some had remained unknown until now.

All of them are examples of the NSA – despite what it and other representatives of the US government say – prioritizing its ability to conduct surveillance over our security. Here’s one example. Security researcher Mustafa al-Bassam found an attack tool codenamed BENIGHCERTAIN that tricks certain Cisco firewalls into exposing some of their memory, including their authentication passwords. Those passwords can then be used to decrypt virtual private network, or VPN, traffic, completely bypassing the firewalls’ security. Cisco hasn’t sold these firewalls since 2009, but they’re still in use today.

Vulnerabilities like that one could have, and should have, been fixed years ago. And they would have been, if the NSA had made good on its word to alert American companies and organizations when it had identified security holes.


Al-Bassam was formerly known as the hacker known as Tflow – a member, in turn, of the hacking group Lulzsec. Strange how things turn out.
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Did better broadband make Americans more partisan? • The Guardian

Nick Cohen:


In a research paper published in the American Journal of Political Science, Yphtach Lelkes, Gaurav Sood and Shanto Iyengar found depressing proof that the web is fuelling segregation. The rollout of broadband in the US allowed them to conduct a controlled experiment. Access to new broadband services varied wildly because each state had different “rights of way” laws governing the use of the conduits, trenches and towers broadband providers need. The researchers matched the attitudes of those who did and did not have broadband with data on partisan hostility from studies of voters beliefs in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.

Greater use of the web ensured that an admirer of Jon Stewart would think that conservatives were not just mistaken but stupid, or a viewer of Fox News would work on the assumption that liberals were wicked. Both sides could dismiss uncomfortable facts as lies. Both sides allowed their politics to become so bound up with their identity, opposing arguments felt almost as if they were physical assaults. As the authors put it in a separate paper: “Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race.”


This is an important topic – which may have growing importance pre- and post-election in the US. The paper is called “The Hostile Audience: the effect of access to broadband internet on partisan effect”.
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Government hackers caught using unprecedented iPhone spy tool • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


On the morning of August 10, Ahmed Mansoor, a 46-year-old human rights activist from the United Arab Emirates, received a strange text message from a number he did not recognize on his iPhone.

“New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons,” read the tantalizing message, which came accompanied by a link.

Mansoor, who had already been the victim of government hackers using commercial spyware products from FinFisher and Hacking Team, was suspicious and didn’t click on the link. Instead, he sent the message to Bill Marczak, a researcher at Citizen Lab, a digital rights watchdog at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

As it turned out, the message wasn’t what it purported to be. The link didn’t lead to any secrets, but to a sophisticated piece of malware that exploited three different unknown vulnerabilities in Apple’s iOS operating system that would have allowed the attackers to get full control of Mansoor’s iPhone, according to new joint reports released on Thursday by Citizen Lab and mobile security company Lookout.


How bad was it?


NSO’s malware, which the company codenamed Pegasus, is designed to quietly infect an iPhone and be able to steal and intercept all data inside of it, as well as any communication going through it.

“It basically steals all the information on your phone, it intercepts every call, it intercepts every text message, it steals all the emails, the contacts, the FaceTime calls. It also basically backdoors every communications mechanism you have on the phone,” [Lookout VP of research Mike] Murray explained. “It steals all the information in the Gmail app, all the Facebook messages, all the Facebook information, your Facebook contacts, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Telegram—you name it.”


A few thoughts on this.
• He received the message August 10; Apple’s update came out 15 days later – is this Apple’s fastest-ever security update?
• Mansoor has been repeatedly targeted, yet clearly he’s also able to shake off the UAE government repeatedly
• it’s a hell of a vindication for Apple’s stance on privacy. But the hackers have a huge monetary incentive to keep finding zero-day flaws.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: software to cut racism?, China’s CRISPR plan, inside Google Fiber, Excel’s biology flaw, and more

What if there isn’t life on alien planets? Would that be good or bad for our prospects? Picture by Ryan Somma on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. Then you’ll get it from next week! Or maybe even today if you sign within an hour of the post going live. (You’ll need to click a confirmation link. It ain’t spam.)

A selection of 10 links for you. Tax-exempt. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Can software make you less racist? • Coding Horror

Jef Atwood:


With Nextdoor, you’re more connected with your neighbors than ever before. But through that connection you may also find out some regressive things about your neighbors that you’d never have discovered in years of the traditional daily routine of polite waves, hellos from the driveway, and casual sidewalk conversations. [To wit: some are racist, whether through intent or accident.]

To their immense credit, rather than accepting this status quo, Nextdoor did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: they changed their software. Now, when you attempt to post about a crime or suspicious activity …

… you get smart, just in time nudges to think less about race, and more about behavior.

The results were striking:


Nextdoor claims this new multi-step system has, so far, reduced instances of racial profiling by 75%. It’s also decreased considerably the number of notes about crime and safety. During testing, the number of crime and safety issue reports abandoned before being published rose by 50%. “It’s a fairly significant dropoff,” said Tolia, “but we believe that, for Nextdoor, quality is more important than quantity.”


I’m a huge fan of designing software to help nudge people, at exactly the right time, to be their better selves. And this is a textbook example of doing it right.


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Global tablet shipments to up over 16% on quarter in 3Q16 • Digitimes Research

Jim Hsaio:


Global tablet shipments will bounce back 16.3% sequentially to reach nearly 47m units in the third quarter, but the volume will still be down over 10% compared to the same quarter a year ago, showing the market is still in no condition of recovering, according to Digitimes Research.

The sequential shipment growth is attributed to vendors’ inventory build-ups for the year-end holidays in Europe and North America and the fact that several emerging markets have seen improved economies, which has increased tablet demand, Digitimes Research said.

Despite the absence of new models for the second half of 2016, Apple will see its tablet shipment dip only slightly on year to 9.5 million units in the third quarter thanks to steady demand for 9.7iniPad Pro. However, shipments by white-box tablet makers are expected to increase significantly to 18.5m units in the third quarter on growing shipments to retail shops in the US and Europe and an easing in the supply of some key parts and components.


Apple plus the white-box (no-name Android) vendors will be over half of volume, which doesn’t leave much for the bigger players. Notable too: “Lenovo may temporarily outperform Amazon to take the third position in third-quarter rankings, but its tablet business unit has decided to shift its focus to Chromebooks and other Android devices.”

In other words: there’s no profit in branded Android tablets (unless you’re Samsung).
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Fourteen years after decriminalizing all drugs, here’s what Portugal looks like •

Zeeshan Aleem:


In 2001, the Portuguese government did something that the United States would find entirely alien. After many years of waging a fierce war on drugs, it decided to flip its strategy entirely: it decriminalized them all.

If someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty. A vast majority of the time, there is no penalty.

Fourteen years after decriminalization, Portugal has not been run into the ground by a nation of drug addicts. In fact, by many measures, it’s doing far better than it was before.


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Subscribe and Save on Amazon? Don’t count on it • The New York Times

Brian Chen:


What do subscriptions to a newspaper, magazine or Netflix account have in common? Once you sign up, you expect to pay the same rate every month.

Yet that’s not the case at Amazon when you subscribe to its Subscribe & Save program, which automatically refills orders for household staples like instant coffee, napkins or trash bags.

Amazon’s subscription program, which was introduced in 2007, lets consumers register to have their favorite consumables delivered regularly — monthly, for example — in exchange for a discount of at least 5% off each order. Buried in the e-commerce company’s terms and conditions is that the Subscribe & Save discount is applied to the price of the item at the time that the order is placed. And on Amazon, prices change frequently — including sometimes rising.

I learned this the hard way while reviewing an email summary of my Amazon subscriptions. A pack of lint rollers that I had subscribed to for more than two years recently jumped to $18.04 a pack, up from $12.44 since the last delivery a few months ago, or almost a 50% increase.

A quick web search revealed other consumers were also surprised by price jumps for Subscribe & Save items. One Amazon customer said he signed up for a $10 box of chewing gum and was charged $100 for the same product a month later. In Amazon’s online forums, dozens of people posted about prices of Subscribe & Save items fluctuating, with some calling the program a “bait and switch” subscription scheme.


Often suspected, now confirmed. What about for one-off items when you’re logged in, logged out, or accessing by Tor? That varies too.
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This 100-year-old to-do list hack still works like a charm • Fast Company

James Clear:


Ivy Ledbetter Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”

“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

“How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.

“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity:

• At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
• Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
• When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
• Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
• Repeat this process every working day.

The strategy sounded simple, but Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000 [worth about $400,000 in today’s money].


To which you sort of hope Lee would say “What sort of shortchanging bastard are you?” But it’s a good technique, reputedly.
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inside the battle over Google Fiber • The Information

Kevin McLaughlin, on the project which has been going since 2010 and wanted to have passed 40m homes and have 5m subscribers by 2015 – but has instead come to six cities and got about 200,000 broadband users and perhaps 53,000 TV subscribers:


Last month, Alphabet CEO Larry Page ordered Google Fiber’s chief, Craig Barratt, to halve the size of the Google Fiber team to 500 people, said the second person close to Alphabet. (The Google Fiber unit is now known as Access.)

Mr. Page has also told Mr. Barratt to reduce the current cost of bringing Google Fiber to customers’ homes to one-tenth the current level.

Keeping Google Fiber going using cheaper technology and with lower overhead reflects a tenuous compromise among a group of senior executives at Alphabet with mixed feelings about the project. On one side, Alphabet co-founders Mr. Page and Sergey Brin aren’t satisfied with the pace of Google Fiber’s rollout or the costs.

CFO Ruth Porat, though known as a cost-cutter, has played a mediator role. She has told Mr. Page that Google Fiber has a solid business model that can succeed, and needs to be given time to work, said the person close to Alphabet. “She is in the middle saying, ‘Hey, relax, this is a complicated business, let’s see what they can do with the budget they have,” the person said. Still, “the Fiber group is on a pretty tight leash and getting a lot of feedback that they should solve the problems with technology,” using wireless.


Demanding the cost is cut by 90% is a typical Page move – demand what seems impossible, see what happens.
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Microsoft Excel blamed for gene study errors • BBC News


The researchers claimed the problem is present in “approximately one-fifth of papers” that collated data in Excel documents.
The trio, writing for the Melbourne-based academic institute Baker IDI, scanned 3,597 published scientific papers to conduct their study.

They found 704 of those papers contained gene name errors created by Excel.

Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute, does not blame Excel and told the BBC: “What frustrates me is researchers are relying on Excel spreadsheets for clinical trials.”

The Excel gene renaming issue [where genes such as Septin 2, known as SEPT2, appear as the date September 2nd] has been known among the scientific community for more than a decade, Birney added.
He recommended that the program should only be considered for “lightweight scientific analysis”.


“Lightweight”. Ouch.
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Jig Saw : Daniel Eatock


This work was created for the Deptford Design Challenge, an annual project in which thirty artists/designers are invited to redesign discarded objects from the Deptford Thrift Market (London). Eatock selected a 2000-piece “JR” puzzle depicting a thatched English country cottage, photographed the loose puzzle pieces on a tabletop and used the resulting print as the image of a second puzzle. Gallery visitors are invited to assemble the loose pieces.


“What have you got me for Christmas?”

“It’s a 2000-piece puzzle..”
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Chinese scientists to pioneer first human CRISPR trial • Nature News & Comment

David Cyranoski:


Chinese scientists are on the verge of being first in the world to inject people with cells modified using the CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing technique.

A team led by Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University’s West China Hospital in Chengdu, plans to start testing such cells in people with lung cancer next month. The clinical trial received ethical approval from the hospital’s review board on 6 July.

“It’s an exciting step forward,” says Carl June, a clinical researcher in immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

There have been a number of human clinical trials using an alternative gene-editing technique, including one led by June, that have helped patients combat HIV. June is also a scientific adviser on a planned US trial that would also use CRISPR–Cas9-modified cells for the treatment of cancer.

Last month, an advisory panel of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved that project. But the trial also requires a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a university review board. The US researchers have said they could start their clinical trial by the end of this year.


Notable step. Could be huge; could be a flop; could be “great, but just for special cases” – which seems most likely.
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Why i hope the search for extraterrestrial life finds nothing • Nick Bostrom

From 2008, but still relevant after the latest discovery of an Earth-like planet near another sun:


From these two facts [no observed alien civilisations; space is REALLY big] it follows that there exists a “Great Filter”. 1 The Great Filter can be thought of as a probability barrier. It consists of exist one of more highly improbable evolutionary transitions or steps whose occurrence is required in order for an Earth‐like planet to produce an intelligent civilization of a type that would be visible to us with our current observation technology. You start with billions and billions of potential germination points for life, and you end up with a sum total of zero extraterrestrial civilizations that we can observe. The Great Filter must therefore be powerful enough— which is to say, the critical steps must be improbable enough—that even with many billions rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals, at least none that we can detect in our neck of the woods.

Now, an important question for us is, just where might this Great Filter be located? There are two basic possibilities: It might be behind us, somewhere in our distant past. Or it might be ahead of us, somewhere in the millennia or decades to come. Let us ponder these possibilities in turn.


See if you can work out which of those two possibilities is preferable. Bostrom’s essay is unhurried and thorough, yet economical.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: Amazon’s drone test site, AI at Apple, Spotify’s contract trouble, no Snowden 2.0, and more

Yes, Facebook really is testing autoplay video with sound! Photo by pasa47 on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We found Amazon’s secret drone testing site hidden in the English countryside • Business Insider

Sam Shead drove to Cambridge, and then its countryside, and seems to have found Amazon’s test site. A fun little narrative, well-told through simple photos. (Though could have done with better photos and Shead spending more time staking out the secret drone testing site, to be honest.)
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An exclusive look at how AI and machine learning work at Apple • Backchannel

Steven Levy usually gets insider interviews at Google; this time, it’s Apple, on its AI efforts:


The most recent purchase was Turi, a Seattle company that Apple snatched for a reported $200 million. It has built an ML toolkit that’s been compared to Google’s TensorFlow, and the purchase fueled speculation that Apple would use it for similar purposes both internally and for developers. Apple’s executives wouldn’t confirm or deny. “There are certain things they had that matched very well with Apple from a technology view, and from a people point of view,” says Cue. In a year or two, we may figure out what happened, as we did when Siri began showing some of the predictive powers of Cue (no relation to Eddy!), a small startup Apple snatched up in 2013.

No matter where the talent comes from, Apple’s AI infrastructure allows it to develop products and features that would not be possible by earlier means. It’s altering the company’s product road map. “Here at Apple there is no end to the list of really cool ideas,” says Schiller. “Machine learning is enabling us to say yes to some things that in past years we would have said no to. It’s becoming embedded in the process of deciding the products we’re going to do next.”

One example of this is the Apple Pencil that works with the iPad Pro. In order for Apple to include its version of a high-tech stylus, it had to deal with the fact that when people wrote on the device, the bottom of their hand would invariably brush the touch screen, causing all sorts of digital havoc. Using a machine learning model for “palm rejection” enabled the screen sensor to detect the difference between a swipe, a touch, and a pencil input with a very high degree of accuracy. “If this doesn’t work rock solid, this is not a good piece of paper for me to write on anymore — and Pencil is not a good product,” says Federighi. If you love your Pencil, thank machine learning.


Would not have guessed that. Though I will say that I predicted AI as the “next big thing” for your phone in the talk I gave at TedX Hilversum last year. Most noteworthy: how it reconciles privacy with machine learning. (By keeping it on the phone, in a 200MB store.)
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Spotify is out of contract with all three major labels – and wants to pay them less • Music Business Worldwide

Tim Ingham:


The Swedish streaming company has been out of a long-term deal with Universal Music Group for more than a year, say our sources.

Its contract with Warner Music Group expired in early 2016, while its licensing agreement with Sony Music Entertainment ran out of juice a few months ago.

In practical terms, this isn’t a huge problem.

Spotify continues to be licensed by all three majors on a rolling month-by-month basis, and the possibility of UMG, Sony or Warner catalogues being pulled is widely regarded as out of the question.

The majors, have, however, gnashed their teeth a little over Spotify’s recent promotional deals – not least its new family plan, which matches Apple Music’s equivalent by offering up to six people premium access for just $14.99 per month.

Some parties within Universal, Sony and Warner are believed to be uneasy about Spotify’s decision to announce such promotions without any long-term licensing agreements in place. (The situation was described by one senior major source to MBW today as a “very grey area”.)

Spotify’s investors, meanwhile, must be concerned about Daniel Ek’s chances of pulling off an IPO without long-term major label deals: the majors own around 75% of global recordings market share.


Spotify’s weakness is that it wants to cut the amount it pays – presently 55% of revenue (v 58% for Apple Music) – but is hardly in a strong place to bargain. And meanwhile, its debt-fuelled race for an IPO continues. It can’t service its debt without a big (IPO) cash infusion: it lost $200m on revenues of $2bn last year, and the debt adds an extra $55m to its costs in its first year.

If you were negotiating for a music label, how would you play this?
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Growing number of iPhone 6 and 6Plus devices affected by insidious ‘touch disease’ • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


As the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus approach their second birthday, a growing number of users are suffering from what appears to be a latent manufacturing issue that presents as a gray flickering bar at the top of the screen and a display that’s unresponsive or less responsive to touch.

In a new blog post and video, repair site iFixit says a number of third-party repair outlets have seen iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models affected by the bug, which appears to be very common. STS Telecom owner Jason Villmer says he sees faulty iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models multiple times a week, while another repair tech in Louisiana sees up to 100 iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices that don’t respond well to touch.

“This issue is widespread enough that I feel like almost every iPhone 6/6+ has a touch of it (no pun intended) and are like ticking bombs just waiting to act up,” says Jason Villmer, owner of STS Telecom–a board repair shop in Missouri.

iFixit is calling the problem “Touch Disease,” and says Apple appears to be aware of the issue based on dozens of complaints on Apple’s support forum, but isn’t “doing anything about it.” Multiple people who brought their iPhones to Apple Stores were told that Apple doesn’t recognize it as an issue and nothing could be done as their iPhones were out of warranty.


iFixit says that it’s because of an inherent flaw in the design that links the Touch IC chips to the logic board. But in that case, wouldn’t every single phone have the problem, and probably sooner?
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Completely Wrong • Medium

“The Grugq” takes apart James Bamford’s piece suggesting that “there is another Snowden inside the NSA leaking all those files being auctioned by a hacker group“. It’s lengthy, but even this slice will tell you the thoroughness of the takedown:


The Auction Fallacy

• This assumes that the auction is real. There is no reason to believe that. The preparation for the distribution of the files — packaging, account creation, uploading, and announcing — spans weeks. From the way it was done we can conclude that the perpetrators were: careful (everything has been scrubbed, they used encrypted anonymous webmail); cautious (multiple locations guaranteeing wide dispersal and difficult removal); skilled (good crypto practices), and persistent (i.e. driven by purpose.) This is a lot of work for what is bound to be very little money (just over USD$1000, at this time.)

• Anyone who is skilled enough to setup this operation should be knowledgeable enough to know that selling the tools to non-FVEY nation states would be more profitable. They could literally do the exact same thing (minus the public announcement) and contact individual embassies from Europe, Asia, Africa, etc. They would get more money and run less risk. Hell, even just giving the bugs to ZDI would generate a bigger payout!

• Bitcoin is a terrible protocol to use when running an auction against the NSA. Determining where BTC are cashed out is simply a little bit of graph analysis. Know what the NSA is excellent at? Graph analysis. A Bitcoin based auction is not the way to monetise an NSA ops toolkit (and remain free.)

• To quote daveaitel: No team of “hackers” would want to piss off Equation Group this much. That’s the kind of cojones that only come from having a nation state protecting you. — Source

• If the auction was legitimate, there is no reason that 60% of the auction data would be “free” as proof. The screen shots and one or two tools/exploits (e.g. ones for old bugs) would be sufficient to pique the interest of potential bidders. Instead the “proof” file is, essentially, the entire kit and caboodle (pun absolutely intended.)


Consider yourself informed.
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Grab your headphones: Facebook is testing video with autoplay sound • Mashable

Ariel Bogle:


From Tuesday local time, some Australians may notice autoplay on all types of video (including ads and Facebook Live) acting differently on their mobile app.

In one version of the test, sound plays immediately as the video begins, if you have sound enabled on your device. Another group is able to turn sound on during the test session using an icon that will sit to the bottom right of videos. 

Both groups see a pop-up message informing them about how to use the controls, and sound will only play if the smartphone’s volume is up. If you don’t want to annoy your workmates, sound can also be turned to “always off” in Facebook settings.

“We’re running a small test in News Feed where people can choose whether they want to watch videos with sound on from the start,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable Australia. “For people in this test who do not want sound to play, they can switch it off in Settings or directly on the video itself.

“This is one of several tests we’re running as we work to improve the video experience for people on Facebook.”


How is this “improving” the video experience for ordinary people on Facebook? This is nonsense. The “people on Facebook” for whom this is improving the experience are advertisers on Facebook. But as Mashable points out, Facebook’s own research shows that 80% of people don’t like ads that play with sound without warning.

And what is the story, which is otherwise insightful, missing? A comment from an independent expert.
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I was wrong about the iPad Pro • Technobuffalo

Todd Haselton:


The iPad Pro 9.7 has changed my work habits. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll take it from my nightstand and start the day sitting at my kitchen table, reading the news, drinking coffee, and cruising through Twitter. If there’s something big going on, I’ll write a story before I take my wife to the train. The rest of the day is spent on my Windows 10 PC in my office, for the most part, until the evening when I return to the iPad Pro. I’ll finish editing and scheduling posts for some of our west coast writers from the iPad Pro while doing the daily NYT Crossword, for example, an app that I found isn’t available on Android tablets.

I love the portability. If I decide to change my work habits, I’ll bring the iPad Pro with me in the car, ready to edit or write a story from a coffee shop or diner over lunch. It’s lighter than my other devices and offers exactly what I need. And while my Chromebook offered a similar experience in terms of productivity, the better display, comfortable keyboard (it’s really amazing) and larger selection of apps keep bringing me back to the iPad Pro.


Notice how he calls his “work habits” the things he does when he’s not at work. Though I agree – the 9.7 iPad Pro is great, especially with a keyboard.
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Breaking News 1: How monetizing became malvertising • Reynolds Journalism Institute

Barrett Golding:


Bromium Labs found more than half the ads with malware payloads were on either news or entertainment websites, with news at the top of the pack (32 percent). Like all marketers, malvertisers want premiere placement on well-respected sites. The ad-bidding process grants them their wish.

In March 2016 the websites of The New York Times, BBC, Weather Network, The Hill, Newsweek, AOL, MSN, and NFL all, as CNET reported, “inadvertently ran malicious ads that attempted to hijack the computers of visitors and demand a ransom.”

This even juicier website-breaking news is from Engadget: “Forbes asked readers to turn off ad blockers in order to view the article. After doing so, visitors were immediately served with pop-under malware, primed to infect their computers, and likely silently steal passwords, personal data and banking information.”

Malicious advertisements sources, Bromium Labs

The problem is not new. It’s been happening on news sites for years. These headlines are from 2013:

The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind: The World Wide rip-off” – Adweek.
The $7.5 Billion Ad Swindle” – The Ad Contrarian.
Google has run an anti-malvertising team since 2009. Here’s a recent report on their progress:


Google is enabling traffic laundering, where websites with pirated content redirect visitors to shell websites displaying AdSense ads. These ads finance piracy, and Google is taking a cut in the process. Google clients have no clue of the reputational risk they run by using AdSense.
—“A Real Life Example of Google’s Implication in Ad Fraud and Traffic Laundering,” Kalkis Research


CNBC and CNN commentator Shelly Palmer wrote, “Ad tech has evolved into a toxic ecosystem that is killing itself, and it is taking digital advertising with it.” His article, “What We’ll Do When Ad Tech Dies,” concludes, “Ad tech will be with us in its current form until someone goes to jail.”


Why is it that news sites are so particularly targeted? Because they take a ton more ad-tech ads? (Via Rob Leathern.)
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Opting out: the illusion • Medium

Rob Leathern:


I wanted to opt out of all behavioral ads, not just AdRoll, and so landed on this [Ghostery] “Global opt-out” page. It was easy to select all and choose “Opt out of selected companies”. I saw stuff happening in the browser indicating to me that this seems to work (hard to know though, seems difficult to test as a user). But then I noticed that for a lot of these companies it said “go to site” to opt-out. So let’s go through the numbers here:

a. There are 615 names on this list
Here’s the full list in a Google Doc broken down by ones that you have to visit the site versus not. Here’s a screenshot of the interface.

Source:, August 11, 2016

b. I was able to opt-out of 269 of them (44%)
c. 4 Didn’t respond in the browser
d. 342 Required me to visit the website (56%)

AdRoll was one of the 342 that required me to visit the website to opt-out. I’ve heard of them and they’re generally thought of as a good company, but there are hundreds of names on this list even people who’ve worked in this industry for years have never heard of (and affiliations with industry organizations usually require a membership fee only, not any degree of vetting).


The best part? Opting out of being targeted on your cookie data requires cookie data.
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Strong demand for Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 tests supply chain • Reuters

Se Young Lee:


While robust demand could help deliver another solid quarter of earnings, Samsung also risks missing out on potential sales if it cannot boost supply quickly. Rivals such as Apple are poised to launch new phones which could pull customers away from Samsung if a shortage persists.

“As pre-order results for the Galaxy Note 7 have far exceeded our estimates, its release date in some markets has been adjusted,” Samsung told Reuters in a statement without commenting on where launch delays could occur.

Production problems for the curved displays for the Galaxy S6 edge phone resulted in disappointing sales last year, and some investors fear a repeat if the world’s top smartphone maker does not move quickly to meet Note 7 demand…

…”The party got more visitors than Samsung expected, so they just need to put more food out,” said Nomura analyst C.W. Chung, who said the supply situation was not a major risk given that Samsung made key parts such as displays and chips in-house.


And how big is that demand?


Samsung could sell as many as 15m Galaxy Note 7 phones this year, Chung said, compared with an estimated 9m Galaxy Note 5 phones sold last year.


For comparison, the iPhone SE could hit about 9m sales this year – and that’s its low-end phone. The Note 7 is a hit, but this stuff is all relative.

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Android Nougat’s single most confounding feature • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:


here’s something I just don’t get: Nougat retains the pointless eyesore of a status bar at the top, which quickly fills up with tiny notification icons that remind me of Windows 98, including dupes such as the three Facebook icons you can see below:

Now, I’m sure there are folks who like this feature. Fine. I can’t imagine, though, that I’m the only one who wants to turn it off. Not only does the operating system have no way to do that, but the third-party apps I know of that offer the ability either mess up Android in other ways or require the phone to be rooted.

I switch back and forth between iOS and Android on a regular basis; both are so good these days that I can’t decide which one I prefer. But every time I come back to Android and see those notification icons pile up, I wonder how they’ve survived so long.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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

Start up: Europe’s detachable craze, GIANT blue screens, AI v cancer, Pinterest buys Instapaper, and more

Imagine not playing here – but getting paid handsomely for doing so. Photo by rodrigot on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Wash separately from other colours. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Soccer’s ultimate con man was a superstar who couldn’t play the game • Atlas Obscura

Tucker Leighty-Phillips:


Brazilian soccer star Carlos Kaiser had it all: exclusive contracts with popular teams, money, fame, and women. The professional soccer star was only missing one thing: the ability to play soccer. Arguably the greatest con artist in all of sports history, Kaiser (birth name Carlos Henrique Raposo) was able to maintain a career that spanned nearly two decades while playing in as few games as possible and never scoring a goal.

Admittedly, Kaiser was not completely devoid of soccer skill. He initially showed promise in youth leagues, signing a professional contract with popular club Puebla in 1979 after impressing scouts, but was quickly let go. However, Kaiser had devised a plan to keep his career going. By riding the coattails of more promising colleagues, faking injuries at pertinent times, and taking advantage of the lack of technology, Carlos Kaiser was able to maintain a professional athlete’s lifestyle without ever having to prove his athleticism.


OK, he could play the game (anyone can play soccer). But he didn’t spend any noticeable time actually playing. And “con man” – well, sort of.
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Consumer ultraslim and detachable uptake revitalizes PC and tablet market in western Europe • IDC


Chromebooks are gaining momentum and experiencing high growth, especially in the Nordics. As we are in the Nordics’ back-to-school season, many vendors pushed shipments in 2016Q2, in particular targeting the education sector in the region, where the adoption of this form factor is taking off. Volumes are still low, as Chromebook are in early adoption stage among schools, but the growth potential is promising, especially in Sweden (59.7% YoY increase in 2016Q2).

Similarly to ultraslims, detachables are experiencing interesting growth in Western Europe, as shipments rose from 0.5m in 2015Q2 to 1.6m units in 2016Q2, in contrast with the 6.0% decline of the tablet market. Detachables performed strongly across all Western Europe, posting triple-digit growth in all countries. Surface continued to be the most widely adopted detachable in the commercial segment, while iPad Pro reached first position in the consumer segment. Detachables posted strong growth in both consumer and commercial, showing that interest in this form factor continues to be on the rise in both segments. Despite the rapid growth in both segments, the drivers behind their performance differ between them.

“The interest in detachables in the commercial segment is generated by the number of premium devices available in the market and the increasing number of use cases in which detachables emerge as the optimal solution. While deployments are not massive, since detachables are mainly adopted either to address specific vertical needs or by top executive ranks, the number of companies adopting them is clearly picking up as some of the classic concerns such as device performance are being tackled by this wave of new releases” said Daniel Gonçalves, research analyst, IDC EMEA Personal Computing. “On the other hand the penetration of detachables in the consumer segment is driven by many local vendors and white brands moving away from the already saturated slate space dominated by Android. These players keep targeting market share in the entry-level space, and now they also supply 9- or 10-inch screen size, Windows-based devices with basic features and keyboard capabilities.”


IDC is taking the “PC plus tablet” market as the proxy for everything that’s going on – though at 17.2m (in western Europe) that still saw a 3.4% year-on-year fall, with tablets down by 6% while PCs fell by 1.6%.
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This must be the biggest Windows Blue Screen of Death ever seen •

Lee Mathews:


The Blue Screen of Death has been around for more than 20 years. You’ve probably seen one or two before, but you’ve never seen one quite this big.

That massive video wall (probably around 50 feet tall) you see below graces the entrance to CentralFestival, a shopping mall in Pattaya, Thailand. Blake Sibbit happened to be outside when the Windows-powered signage tripped over itself and captured this awesome image.


That is superb.
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Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets • Associated Press

Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael:


WikiLeaks’ global crusade to expose government secrets is causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, The Associated Press has found.

In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web. In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.

“They published everything: my phone, address, name, details,” said a Saudi man who told AP he was bewildered that WikiLeaks had revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. “If the family of my wife saw this … Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people.”


Wikileaks used to be careful about this sort of thing. No more.
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Why AI development is going to get even faster. (Yes, really!) • Mapping Babel

Jack Clark:


Robotics has just started to get into neural networks. This has already sped up development. This year, Google demonstrated a system that teaches robotic arms to learn how to pick up objects of any size and shape. That work was driven by research conducted last year at Pieter Abbeel’s lab in Berkeley, which saw scientists combine two neural network-based techniques (reinforcement learning and deep learning) with robotics to create machines that could learn faster. Robots are also getting better eyes, thanks to deep learning as well. “Armed with the latest deep learning packages, we can begin to recognize objects in previously impossible ways,” says Daniela Rus, a professor in CSAIL at MIT who works on self-driving cars.

More distant communities have already adapted the technology to their own needs. Brendan Frey runs a company called Deep Genomics, which uses machine learning to analyze the genome. Part of the motivation for that is that humans are “very bad” at interpreting the genome, he says. That’s because we spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving finely-tuned pattern detectors for things we saw and heard, like tigers. Because we never had to hunt the genome, or listen for its fearsome sounds, we didn’t develop very good inbuilt senses for analyzing it. Modern machine learning approaches give us a way to get computers to analyze this type of mind-bending data for us. “We must turn to truly superhuman artificial intelligence to overcome our limitations,” he says.


Subtle point: machine learning systems can discern patterns that we can’t because we look for patterns.
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People disregard security warnings on computers because they come at bad times • Brigham Young University


Software developers listen up: if you want people to pay attention to your security warnings on their computers or mobile devices, you need to make them pop up at better times.

A new study from BYU, in collaboration with Google Chrome engineers, finds the status quo of warning messages appearing haphazardly—while people are typing, watching a video, uploading files, etc.—results in up to 90% of users disregarding them.

Researchers found these times are less effective because of “dual task interference,” a neural limitation where even simple tasks can’t be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss. Or, in human terms, multitasking.

“We found that the brain can’t handle multitasking very well,” said study coauthor and BYU information systems professor Anthony Vance. “Software developers categorically present these messages without any regard to what the user is doing. They interrupt us constantly and our research shows there’s a high penalty that comes by presenting these messages at random times.”

An example of a security message, the Chrome Cleanup Tool.

For example, 74% of people in the study ignored security messages (example above) that popped up while they were on the way to close a web page window. Another 79% ignored the messages if they were watching a video. And a whopping 87% disregarded the messages while they were transferring information, in this case, a confirmation code.


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Pinterest acquires Instapaper, which will live on as a separate app • Techcrunch

Matthew Lynley:


Pinterest said today that it would be acquiring the team behind Instapaper, which will continue operating as a separate app. The Instapaper team will both work on the core Pinterest experience and updating Instapaper.

Pinterest’s logic here is that one of the company’s core tenets is bookmarking — much like Instapaper’s primary goal with its app. The company has been on an aggressive acquisition binge in the past few months. In July, Pinterest acquihired the team behind Highlight and Shorts. It would seem that much like other apps that remain very popular in certain niches, Pinterest is going to let this one continue running (at least, until it ends up running its course).

We haven’t heard much from the Instapaper team in a while. One of the last major updates happened in May last year, and while the app has been chugging along (and will continue to do so as the team continues to work at Pinterest), a lot of the same functionality that Instapaper pioneered has found its way into other core user experiences.


“Acquiring the team behind” sounds subtly different from “acquiring the company”. An acquihire which will let Instapaper rot? Has Instapaper just reached the end of its innovative life, and is now being put out to pasture? Feels that way. Not that Pinterest has set the innovative world alight for some years now.
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Helping users easily access content on mobile • Google Webmaster blog

Doantam Phan, product manager:


Although the majority of pages now have text and content on the page that is readable without zooming, we’ve recently seen many examples where these pages show intrusive interstitials to users. While the underlying content is present on the page and available to be indexed by Google, content may be visually obscured by an interstitial. This can frustrate users because they are unable to easily access the content that they were expecting when they tapped on the search result.

Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller. To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.


Laudable aim, though I suspect that what will actually happen is that Google’s crawler bot won’t get interstitials (tested via the user-agent), and normal people will.
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Google recruiting web stars, Hulu for virtual reality push • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw:


Google will help promote projects from Hulu LLC and fund the production of 360-degree videos with YouTube stars like the Dolan twins and Justine Ezarik, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deals. The division of Alphabet Inc. has also partnered with video-game producers and sports leagues to boost its biggest virtual-reality initiative.

“It’s apparent they’ve spent a lot of money internally,” said Finn Staber, co-founder of TheWaveVR, a virtual-reality startup developing a music app for Daydream.

The company is relying on apps, shorts and games to promote Daydream, a hybrid store and software service that Google hopes will be the dominant way people engage in virtual reality, much like Android is for smartphones. An update to Android software that will support Daydream began rolling out Monday. The idea is to encourage the growth of the technology and ensure Google maintains a central role in helping people find things to watch.

Google is entering what has quickly become a crowded marketplace, with products from Facebook Inc., Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp. Whereas Sony’s Morpheus headset is tethered to its PlayStation video-game console, Google is focused on mobile-based VR, whereby consumers snap their phones into a visor or headset. With the headset on, Daydream presents users with an array of apps, from YouTube to HBO Now.


Pushing hard on what is very early days – but it’s a few million; to Google, that’s just seed money.
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Oculus rift founder is a sham, according to a new claim from Zenimax • Alphr

Vaughn Highfield:


it’s all part of an ongoing court case from 2014 against Oculus, Facebook and the acquisition of its VR tech. “Instead of complying with his contract, during his last days at ZeniMax, [Carmack] copied thousands of documents from a computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device,” reads the amended charges.

“He never returned those files or all copies of them after his employment with ZeniMax was terminated. In addition, after Carmak’s employment with ZeniMax was terminated, he returned to ZeniMax’s pemises to take a customized tool for developing VR Technology belonging to ZeniMax that itself is part of ZeniMax’s VR technology.”

The amended claim goes into deeper territory by accusing Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe of deliberately fabricating Luckey’s origin story to the press.

According to ZeniMax, Iribe “disseminated to the press the false and fanciful story that Luckey was the brilliant inventor of VR technology who had developed that technology in his parents’ garage.”


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Computers trounce pathologists in predicting lung cancer type, severity • Stanford Medicine News Center


Computers can be trained to be more accurate than pathologists in assessing slides of lung cancer tissues, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The researchers found that a machine-learning approach to identifying critical disease-related features accurately differentiated between two types of lung cancers and predicted patient survival times better than the standard approach of pathologists classifying tumors by grade and stage.

“Pathology as it is practiced now is very subjective,” said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. “Two highly skilled pathologists assessing the same slide will agree only about 60% of the time. This approach replaces this subjectivity with sophisticated, quantitative measurements that we feel are likely to improve patient outcomes.”

The research was published Aug. 16 in Nature Communications.


And could probably be applied to other forms of cancer. “Probably”? Certainly. How long before cancer diagnosis is done automatically, remotely, routinely – so that early-stage cancers are detected from some trivial sample?
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Browsing your website does not mean I want your spam • Medium

Fred Benenson had been doing some web shopping, and later got an email from Sears – despite never having given his email to Sears:


I was extremely curious how Sears managed to sign me up without ever knowing my email in the first place.

On Criteo’s website, it says received they received my email from a “partner” database:

What partner? What database? There’s no explanation of who gave my email address to Criteo.
But after puzzling through their site, here is what I think happened:

• I am signed up to some platform which is a Criteo partner. It’s entirely unclear who this partner is. While Criteo boasts a “close partnership” with Facebook, Facebook claims that they do not share personally identifying information such as your email address with ad partners. Regardless, a platform with my email address gave it to Criteo.
• That platform dropped a Criteo cookie in my browser at some point in the past.
• That platform delivered my information (a way to identify me using a cookie and a hash of my email address) to Criteo.
• A couple weeks ago servers alerted Criteo that my Criteo ID was browsing They are able to do this because loads Criteo code and uses a cookie (screenshot here).
• Criteo queries its partner for my email address when Sears wants to send spam to users who browsed their website.
• Sears gets my email via Criteo and subscribes me to a newsletter and sends me the spam.

Criteo (and their partners, like have successfully performed an end-run around the traditional newsletter opt-in process.


Wonder if this would breach data protection laws in the UK and Europe. I think the penultimate step might do – can’t pass an email that wasn’t already held to a business user.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Hey, remember that story in Wired about the “survey” by Rantic? They’ve struck it out on the basis that the survey can’t be confirmed as actually existing. Win.

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Start up: Pokemon Gone?, the trouble with tech journalism, questions for the Note 7, Nougat’s here, and more

Pictures like this of ocean sands off the Bahamas are available via the Landsat app. Photo by NASA Goddard on Flickr.

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

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

How things work • Gawker

Nick Denton, two days from his 50th birthday, writes the last post on the site:


Peter Thiel has gotten away with what would otherwise be viewed as an act of petty revenge by reframing the debate on his terms. Having spent years on a secret scheme to punish Gawker’s parent company and writers for all manner of stories, Thiel has now cast himself as a billionaire privacy advocate, helping others whose intimate lives have been exposed by the press. It is canny positioning against a site that touted the salutary effects of gossip and an organization that practiced radical transparency.

As former Gawker developer Dustin Curtis says, “Though I find the result abhorrent, this is one of the most beautiful checkmates of all time by Peter Thiel.”

In cultural and business terms, this is an act of destruction, because was a popular and profitable digital media property—before the legal bills mounted. Gawker will be missed. But in dramatic terms, it is a fitting conclusion to this experiment in what happens when you let journalists say what they really think…

…Gawker’s remit was eventually so broad, news and gossip, that subject matter proved no barrier. And Gawker’s web-literate journalists picked up more story ideas from anonymous email tips, obscure web forums or hacker data dumps than they did from interviews or parties. They scorned access. To get an article massaged or fixed, there was nobody behind the scenes to call. Gawker was an island, one publicist said, uncompromised and uncompromising.


Best read it now: the site will be dead soon.
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Access, accountability reporting and Silicon Valley • Nieman Reports

Adrienne LaFrance:


It’s typical to see technology coverage that simply aggregates directly from a tech company’s blog—the modern-day equivalent of a press release—with little or no analysis or additional reporting. One damning example of this lack of skepticism is evident in the early, glowing coverage of Theranos, the health-technology company that said it had developed a cheap, needle-free way to draw and test blood. It wasn’t until last year that an investigative reporter from The Wall Street Journal, prompted by a sunny New Yorker profile of the Theranos founder, began to ask serious questions about whether the technology actually worked the way Theranos claimed it did. That reporting, from John Carreyrou, encouraged other reporters to be more skeptical, too, and ultimately led to a federal criminal investigation into whether the company misled investors and regulators about the state of its technology.

Investigations like Carreyrou’s—or getting inside the grueling corporate culture at Amazon, as The New York Times did last year; or detailing Google’s powerful but hidden lobbying efforts, as The Washington Post has; or contextualizing the cultural complexities of programs like Facebook’s Free Basics, as I’ve tried to do; or establishing a drumbeat of smart, in-depth coverage of the fight between Apple and the F.B.I.—is the only way to begin to understand the complex social and political impact of technology.

Technology companies “are all dedicated to revamping our daily existence,” says Streitfeld, who reported and wrote the Amazon piece for the Times with Jodi Kantor. “What happens when they succeed? Who loses? When they stumble, like Facebook in India, what does it mean? The rise of tech is, in my opinion, the great story of our time”…

…according to Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, “To actually cover technology properly,” Bell says, “it’s about society and culture and human rights. It’s about politics. This idea that you can have a Washington bureau where you don’t have somebody who really understands some of the issues in [computing] infrastructure or A.I., and how data is really political? They are new systems of power, and that’s one of the areas where I think news organizations have been slow.”


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ObservedEarth on the App Store


Want to explore our constantly changing Earth through high resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery? ObservedEarth simplifies the process of obtaining, processing, and visualising earth observation data.


Tons of Landsat imagery from a public repository. More details on the website:


A range of desktop, mobile, and web applications exist that provide access to satellite imagery. ObservedEarth differs in that it makes accessible a history of observations showing how the Earth has changed over time. Watch rivers change their path, bushfire destruction, forrest regrowth, expansion of urban developments, snowfalls. Earth observation data has wide ranging applications…

…ObservedEarth downloads unprocessed satellite data which is then processed locally on the iPhone/iPad, this enables much greater flexibility in the range of visualisations that can be offered. Raw data consumed by ObservedEarth is often available within hours of the satellite passing overhead.


iOS-only at present. Looks amazing. Here’s a video of what you can get:

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These charts show that Pokemon Go is already in decline • Bloomberg

Luke Kawa and Lily Katz:


Enthusiasm about the potential for Pokemon Go (and augmented reality gaming in general) to improve Nintendo Co Ltd.’s financial performance sent shares parabolic after the app launched in the U.S., and even spurred rallies in secondary plays linked to the success of the game.

Data from Sensor Tower, SurveyMonkey, and Apptopia, however, show that Pokemon Go’s daily active users, downloads, engagement, and time spent on the app per day are all well off their peaks and on a downward trend.

Source: Axiom Capital Management

Source: Axiom Capital Management

“The declining trends should assuage investor concerns about the impact of Pokémon Go on time spent on the above named companies,” writes Anthony.

If these declines prove enduring, this would cast aspersion not only on the viability and popularity of Pokemon Go, but augmented reality gaming at large, according to the analyst.

“The Google Trends data is already showing declining interest in augmented reality, whereas interest in virtual reality remains high,” he concludes.


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Pokemon Go technology is not just for fun and games, survey says • Fortune

Barb Darrow:


there are real business applications for similar augmented reality (AR) technology that have already proven themselves in the market. New research from consulting firm Deloitte bears this out.

Out of 500 mid-market companies surveyed, a whopping 89% said they already use augmented reality in their businesses. That may be surprising until you realize that companies like Hunter Douglas has offered an AR app for Apple devices for several years that lets you preview how a given window treatment will look in your own room before you buy it.

AR is different from virtual reality in that AR incorporates the real world into the view, while virtual reality, as enabled by products like Oculus Rift, builds an entirely new, all-immersive world.

Steve Keathley, deputy chief information officer for Deloitte said AR comes in handy for any application that requires a sneak preview of what a finished product will look like.


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Android 7.0 Nougat review — do more on your gigantic smartphone • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo with an incredibly thorough review of Nougat:


After a lengthy Developer Preview program starting in March, the final version of Android 7.0 (codenamed “Nougat”) is finally launching today. The OS update will slowly begin to rollout to devices over the next few weeks. This year, Google is adding even more form factors to the world’s most popular operating system. After tackling watches, phones, tablets, TVs, and cars, Nougat brings platform improvements aimed at virtual reality headsets and—with some help from Chrome OS—also targets laptops and desktops.

For Android’s primary platform (still phones and tablets), there’s a myriad of improvements. Nougat brings a new multitasking split screen mode, a redesigned notification panel, an adjustable UI scale, and fresh emoji. Nougat also sports numerous under-the-hood improvements, like changes to the Android Runtime, updates to the battery saving “Doze” mode, and developer goodies like Vulkan and Java 8 support.


You could skip to the final page – with the conclusions, and the observation that as nice as Nougat is for large-screened phones, most probably won’t see it. Marshmallow is a year old; about 15.2% of Android phones contacting Google Play have it. That inertia will probably get worse as the user base grows, and cheaper phones which don’t get updated are more prevalent.
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Apple acquires personal health data startup Gliimpse • Fast Company

Christina Farr and Mark Sullivan:


The acquisition will bolster Apple’s efforts in digital health. In recent years, Apple has delved into the sector with a range of services (HealthKit, CareKit, and ResearchKit) that allow patients, clinicians, and researchers to access important health and wellness data via a range of mobile devices. That’s in line with Gliimpse’s mission of uniting disparate streams of health information.

What stands out about the deal is that Gliimpse is intended for patients with diseases like cancer and diabetes. Apple recently hired a top pediatric endocrinologist who developed a HealthKit app for teens with Type 1 diabetes, signaling an increased interest in applications for chronically ill users.

It’s unlikely that this acquisition will bring Apple’s health technologies under the purview of federal regulators. CEO Tim Cook recently told Fast Company in an interview that he sees a major business opportunity for the company in the non-regulated side of health care: “So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”


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The Chinese (smartphones) are coming • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:


Just as television makers Zenith, Motorola and RCA were eventually replaced by Japanese names like Sony, Sharp and Panasonic, so too will Chinese brands overtake the US market.

The latest entrant looks set to be Xiaomi. The richly valued upstart appears ready to dip its toes in one of the world’s most important electronics markets. While China is larger by volume, the US is lucrative because average device prices are much higher.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday, Xiaomi’s vice president and international front man Hugo Barra said a US move is inevitable:


We will lead with social media, with the channels that allow us to get in touch with the young generation that are enthusiastic about new technology. We are definitely going there.


Xiaomi’s entry into the US has been in doubt on concern that the Chinese company, which has been widely criticized as a wholesale copycat of Apple and others, would immediately face intellectual property lawsuits.

However, Xiaomi’s purchase this summer of around 1,500 patents from Microsoft seems to have quelled those worries and given the Beijing startup the courage to move directly onto Apple’s home turf.


Good point about the TV sets. That is what smartphones are becoming – though more personal.
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The Note 7 still delivers embarrassing real-world performance • XDA Developers

Eric Hulse:


Every year we notice the same pattern: new Galaxy device comes out, it gets positive reviews (excluding, perhaps, the Galaxy S5), and among one of the positive points, you usually find performance… somehow.

This is something that, of course, varies from publication to publication. But in general, the story is the same year after year: we see the breakdowns from the more-mainstream publications speak positively about these devices’ performance, somehow suspending the otherwise year-long notion that Samsung’s software is in dire need of a serious rework. It’s not uncommon to see the same publications, or even the same reviewers, then admit that the devices had slowed down since their review was printed, often in such tremendous ways that make us forget that advancements like project TRIM ever happened. The Galaxy Note 7 has just come out, and with Grace UX – Samsung’s thorough redesign of TouchWiz – coupled with top-of-the-line components, we would hope this trend would be reversed on both fronts — coverage and reality.


Hulse points to problems with the performance of the Note 7 after a few days’ use: “The worst hiccups and stutters – or delays – happen only every now and then, but the phone itself is simply slower than its competitors at nearly every action.”

Odd how the reviews tend not to have used it for as long. Remarkable how XDA Developers should be the site to point to this. Keep that thought.
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Samsung reminds us — again! — that you can’t make people use an app they don’t want • Recode

Peter Kafka:


Samsung’s music service, which you didn’t know existed, stops existing next month.

As Variety reported earlier, Samsung will shutter Milk Music on Sept. 22. It joins Samsung’s Milk Video in the Graveyard For Samsung Media Services No One Wanted Except Samsung Executives.

It’s easy to pick on Samsung here, but they’re not the only company to overestimate the power of a distribution platform.

It’s true that you can’t get media/apps/services to customers without access to a platform. But control of the platform doesn’t mean customers are going to use your media/apps/services: They’ve got plenty of choice, and they’ll choose the ones they want.


Not forgetting Samsung’s ChatOn, closed in 1Q 2015.
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Should you charge your phone overnight? • The New York Times

Jonah Engel Bromwich:


in theory, any damage from charging your phone overnight with an official charger, or a trustworthy off-brand charger, should be negligible.

But the act of charging is itself bad for your phone’s battery.

Here’s why.

Most phones make use of a technology that allows their batteries to accept more current faster. Hatem Zeine, the founder, chief scientist and chief technical officer of the wireless charging company Ossia, says the technology enables phones to adjust to the amount of charge that a charger is capable of supplying.

The technology allows power to pulse into the battery in specific modulations, increasing the speed at which the lithium ions in the battery travel from one side to the other and causing the battery to charge more quickly.

But this process also leads lithium-ion (and lithium-polymer) batteries to corrode faster than they otherwise would.


Recommendation: use a lower-power charger which will charge it less quickly. It’ll charge slower, and last longer.
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VR Noir shows how virtual reality will transform television • VentureBeat

Joe Durbin:


VR Noir is a 360-degree film with interactive elements created by the Australian studio Start VR. The experience hits all the necessary beats of its namesake genre: the rumpled ex-cop P.I., the mysterious femme fatale and an even more mysterious murder to unravel. However, all of these familiar beats seem fresh and innovative in this immersive new medium.

Let’s be clear: if VR Noir was a standard television show it would not be considered that great. After watching it for myself, I’ve concluded that the performances are fine, but clearly amateur, the plot is on the flimsy side, and the twists feel lackluster. But the quality of the story and content isn’t what’s most important about this particular piece of filmmaking — it’s how it uses the technology.

As events unfold in VR Noir, you’re given agency within the narrative. You can choose to ask a client more questions, or simply take a case. You get to take control of a spy camera as you stake out a mark on a rooftop. And above all you get to experience a story as the main character, as opposed to simply watching from the sidelines. In this way, it carries forward the torch that Gone lit before it.

This nexus of interaction, immersion and narrative has the potential to become the de facto delivery system for entertainment in the future. VR Noir‘s producer, Nathan Anderson, laid out his commitment to this new style of production in an official statement accompanying the app’s release.


“We wanted to explore how film and gaming VR experiences they could live together,” Anderson said. “Can you have a cinematic experience that also allows you to have some agency in the outcome? My career quest is to find the convergence of storytelling, game design and interactivity.”



Very early days, and there must be limits to where/what you can view.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Inside the unprofitable world of (Lenovo’s) Android tablets

Lenovo’s Yoga Android tablet: likely not much profit here. Photo by pestoverde on Flickr.

Corporate reorganisations! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing – except in the rare cases when they force a company to restate its financial results using the new reporting lines. The fallout from this is that you can often figure out, at least for a few previous quarters, how previously hidden bits of the company were faring.

Which leads us to Lenovo, which in April reorganised itself from having a “PC” division which made PCs, and a “mobile” division which offered smartphones and tablets, to having a “PC and smart devices” group which offers PCs and tablets, and a “mobile” group which offers smartphones.

It restated its revenues and operating profits for those divisions for the previous four quarters. What happens when it does that is that you can see, by how the numbers shift, what sort of contribution tablets were making to the overall business.

Reshape, restate

The results for the April-June quarter (the calendar Q2, but Lenovo’s fiscal Q1) include this restatement:

Lenovo financial restatement

Of course the old numbers for the previous organisation are still there. So to find out how much business, and how much profit, we just go back and compare the old numbers with the new ones – that is, the PC-only figures for revenue and operating profit, and the PC-plus-tablet figures.

A quick bit of arithmetic then shows you the tablet revenues and operating profit.

(Note this is only the Android tablets – the Windows devices were already part of the PC division.)

Here’s what we get.

Lenovo Android tablet revenue
(“CQ” means “calendar quarter”, eg CQ1 is January-March.)

And as IDC records tablet shipment figures, we can also get the per-tablet average selling price (ASP) and per-tablet profit.

The raw figures for ASP, profitability and volume are these:
Lenovo tablet profitability

Which make this graph:

Lenovo tablet ASP and profitability
(figures in US$)

A bad business

What have we learnt? It’s long been fairly clear that Android tablets really aren’t a great business to be in. They’re low-volume, low-margin (if there’s any margin at all) and because it’s Android, people tend to have little brand loyalty – essentially, it’s a glorified screen.

I can’t see that any of the smaller competitors in Android tablets (Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Huawei, LG) are making an operating profit, or at least one worth considering. Sure, they will make gross profit – they get more money than the raw materials cost – but once you include other costs such as sales, marketing, administration and R&D, they’re sunk.

Samsung is the exception here: I’m confident its tablet business is profitable, because it has scale (it’s the largest Android tablet maker by some distance, with 6m shipped in the second quarter, making up about 25% of all Android tablet shipments) and also makes the components itself; that flywheel effect of creating your own scale with stuff you make yourself has a knock-on effect. But even Samsung has struggled with the idea of high-priced tablets; it has considered just giving them up and aiming for the low end. But it didn’t.

The lower you go

Looking at Lenovo’s ASPs, which wander around the $110 mark (I’ve previously guessed them at $100 and zero profit in my handset analysis; nice to have that confirmed), it’s easy to see why. There’s barely any money in Android tablets. Take a look at how small a part of Lenovo’s business they are:

Lenovo's PC, smartphone and tablet sectors

In his meta-analysis of the Android-iOS landscape, Benedict Evans estimated that there are 150m-200m Google Android tablets in use, and perhaps another 200m “naked Android” (no Google services) in China. For comparison, he reckons there are about 250m active iPads, of varying sizes.

The key difference is that Apple’s iPad sells for way more than Lenovo’s (or Samsung’s). The ASP for all iPads in the latest quarter was $490, and it has never fallen below $400. Sure, you can argue that the iPad is overpriced, but you can also expect that as long as it keeps selling, Apple will get the profit it needs to encourage it to keep going.

The other point: if you can can’t make a profit selling tablets, you won’t be able to improve them, or market them seriously.

Compare that with Apple’s efforts, where its True Tone screen (on the 9.7in iPad Pro) is likely – certain, really – to come to the new iPhones later this year. But in the tablets first. Lenovo can push – but only because it has the PC division. The tablets, have been dragging it down.

And finally..

There’s a nice coda. In its latest results, Lenovo says “Tablet: profitable with double-digit growth premium to the market”. Looking back, it has never before said that tablets were profitable; it’s done lots of talking about growth and position, but not profit. We can’t see how profitable, though, because we don’t have those comparative numbers as we did before.

The other coda: you can work out the tablet revenues and profits by using the pre- and post-split numbers from the smartphone division. But they come out different. Via the smartphone division, revenues come out as $1,231m v $1,150m via the PC division; operating profit comes out as -662m from the smartphone numbers, v -33m from the PC numbers. But I’ve gone with the PC figures, because there are all sorts of writeoffs – inventory, restructuring, redundancy, acquisition of Motorola – in the smartphone numbers which confuse things hugely. There are no such in the PC division numbers, so I’ve gone with them.

(Update: corrected typo of “if you can’t make a profit selling tablets..”)

Start up: Facebook’s 98 data points, smartphones v relationships, Apple’s supplier struggle, and more

Conspiracy theories! They’re so reassuring. Photo by Kenya Allmond on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. That’s decimal 10. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I went on a weeklong cruise for conspiracy theorists. It ended poorly • Popular Mechanics

Bronwen Dickey did so you don’t have to:

»Inside my orientation tote bag was a shiny blue bracelet I was supposed to wear at all times. “Makes it easier to find members of the group,” Adele said. But that wasn’t necessary. Most of the cruisers—the vacationers, not our group—were generally outfitted in bright colors and loud prints. As the days passed, a lot of them began wearing novelty captain’s hats from the gift shop. The conspiracy group, on the other hand, was mostly serious-looking senior citizens in “Infowars” T-shirts. Some of them wore casts, others walked with canes. Two relied on motorized scooters. None looked like he or she could afford to spend money frivolously. One eighty-year-old man’s toes poked through the tops of his worn leather loafers.

I headed to the windowless conference room that had been temporarily renamed the Liberty Lab.

“Welcome everyone,” said Dr. Susan Shumsky, the founder of Divine Travels and (claim to fame) one-time personal staff member of Beatles’ guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (Her doctorate in divinity is from the Teaching of Intuitional Metaphysics in San Diego.) “I’d like to begin with a prayer.” Nearly everything the woman wore was either bright pink or sparkled. “Breathe in divine light!” she said. We closed our eyes and inhaled. Across the hall, in Gatsby’s Casino, slot machines clanged to a piped-in soundtrack of Taylor Swift and Rihanna.

Then sixteen presenters introduced themselves and gave brief synopses of their seminars. Laura Eisenhower—great-granddaughter of Dwight!—said she had been invited in 2006 to join a secret American colony on Mars and that aliens, including some prominent U.S. politicians, are already living on earth in disguise.


At this point you’d be looking for the emergency exits. Then you realise – you’re on a ship. There’s no getting off. And indeed, it didn’t end well.
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98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you • The Washington Post

Caitlin Dewey:

»Targeting options for Facebook advertisers*
1. Location
2. Age
3. Generation
4. Gender
5. Language
6. Education level
7. Field of study
8. School
9. Ethnic affinity
10. Income and net worth
11. Home ownership and type
12. Home value
13. Property size
14. Square footage of home
15. Year home was built
16. Household composition«

And plenty more where that came from. (“Relationship status” is at 32. But they’re in no particular order.)
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The new menage a trois • Psychology Today

Hara Estroff Marano on how smartphones intrude into relationships:

»It’s not just that we have only so much time and attention. Smartphones actually transform interpersonal processes. In a much-discussed 2014 study, Virginia Tech psychologist Shalini Misra and her team monitored the conversations of 100 couples in a coffee shop and identified “the iPhone Effect”: The mere presence of a smartphone, even if not in use—just as an object in the background—degrades private conversations, making partners less willing to disclose deep feelings and less understanding of each other, she and her colleagues reported in Environment and Behavior.

With people’s consciousness divided between what’s in front of them and the immense possibility symbolized by smartphones, face-to-face interactions lose the power to fulfill. Mobile phones are “undermining the character and depth” of the intimate exchanges we cherish most, says Misra. Partners are unable to engage each other in a meaningful way.

On or off, smartphones are also a barrier to establishing new relationships, observe Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex in England. When they assigned pairs of strangers to discuss either casual or meaningful events, the presence of a smartphone, even outside the  visual field, derailed the formation of relationships—especially if the participants were asked to talk about something personally significant. Smartphones “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduced the extent to which individuals felt understanding and empathy from their partners,” the team reports in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Subversion of the conditions of intimacy, they believe, happens outside of conscious awareness.


That’s really quite disturbing, in a subtle way.
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Hackers trick facial-recognition logins with photos from Facebook (what else?) • WIRED

Lily Hay Newman:

»Earlier this month at the Usenix security conference, security and computer vision specialists from the University of North Carolina presented a system that uses digital 3-D facial models based on publicly available photos and displayed with mobile virtual reality technology to defeat facial recognition systems. A VR-style face, rendered in three dimensions, gives the motion and depth cues that a security system is generally checking for. The researchers used a VR system shown on a smartphone’s screen for its accessibility and portability.

Their attack, which successfully spoofed four of the five systems they tried, is a reminder of the downside to authenticating your identity with biometrics. By and large your bodily features remain constant, so if your biometric data is compromised or publicly available, it’s at risk of being recorded and exploited. Faces plastered across the web on social media are especially vulnerable—look no further than the wealth of facial biometric data literally called Facebook.


Very theoretical – but probably the sort of thing that could be automated.
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Linux flaw that allows anyone to hijack Internet traffic also affects 80% of Android devices • Lookout Blog

Andrew Blaich:

»Lookout recently discovered a serious exploit in TCP reported this week also impacts nearly 80% of Android, or around 1.4bn of 1.8bn devices, based on an install base reported by Statista. The vulnerability lets attackers obtain unencrypted traffic and degrade encrypted traffic to spy on victims.

The issue should be concerning to Android users as attackers are able to execute this spying without traditional “man-in-the-middle” attacks through which they must compromise the network in order to intercept the traffic.

Researchers from University of California, Riverside and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently revealed a vulnerability in TCP at the USENIX Security 2016 conference, specifically pertaining to Linux systems. The vulnerability allows an attacker to remotely spy on people who are using unencrypted traffic or degrade encrypted connections. While a man in the middle attack is not required here, the attacker still needs to know a source and destination IP address to successfully execute the attack.


One for the nation-state attackers. But still one. (Notable from that Statista chart: for 2015, presumably end 2015, it puts iOS’s installed base at 463m devices, Windows Phone at 45m, BlackBerry at 19, and “other” at 31m. The BlackBerry number sounds low, as does the Windows one.)
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From Chrome apps to the web • Chromium Blog

Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, VP product management:

»We have always believed in making the open, interoperable web as strong as possible. For a while there were certain experiences the web couldn’t provide, such as working offline, sending notifications, and connecting to hardware. We launched Chrome apps three years ago to bridge this gap.

Since then, we’ve worked with the web standards community to enable an increasing number of these use cases on the web. Developers can use powerful new APIs such as service worker and web push to build robust Progressive Web Apps that work across multiple browsers. More capabilities will continue to become available on the web.

As we continue our efforts to simplify Chrome, we believe it’s time to begin the evolution away from the Chrome apps platform. There are two types of Chrome apps: packaged apps and hosted apps. Today, approximately 1% of users on Windows, Mac and Linux actively use Chrome packaged apps, and most hosted apps are already implemented as regular web apps. We will be removing support for packaged and hosted apps from Chrome on Windows, Mac, and Linux over the next two years.


1% is still a big number. Wonder, though, how many will notice this.
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Samsung took 82% profit share of Android camp in Q2 2016 • Strategy Analytics

Linda Sui:

»According to the latest published report from our Wireless Smartphone Strategies (WSS) services: Value Share: Global Smartphone Revenue, ASP and Profit by OS by Price-Tier : Q2 2016, global smartphone industry revenues dipped -5% annually during Q2 2016. Android maintained top position as the largest OS by revenue, followed by iOS. Microsoft and Blackberry platforms made no profit at all. Tizen fell to the fifth position by volume.

Samsung led the pack among all Android OEMs by volume, value and profitability. The Korean vendor took 26% volume share, 38% value share and 82% of profit share within Android camp during Q2 2016. Huawei ranked the second spot by volume and value among all Android OEMs. Chinese OEM OPPO and vivo pushed into top 5 list thanks to surging volumes and improved ASP.


If Tizen is fifth by volume, then it shipped fewer than 0.5m handsets. That remaining 18% of profit share – shared among all the other vendors – is $820m. LG made a loss; Lenovo made a loss; Sony made a $4m profit. So that suggests Huawei, OPPO and vivo might have made some money. And Xiaomi too?
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Taiwan makers reluctant to yield to Apple requests to lower quotes • Digitimes

Cage Chao and Steve Shen:

»Apple has met resistance from makers in Taiwan’s supply chain to lower their quotes for parts and components for iPhone 7 devices, a move which aims to force Apple to discontinue its established policy of constantly squeezing profits from Taiwan suppliers.

Apple is said to have asked downstream part and component suppliers, excluding Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Largan Precision, to reduce their quotes for iPhone 7 devices by as much as 20% even though order volumes for new phones are reportedly 30% lower than those placed a year earlier.

Major downstream suppliers, notably Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) and associated companies under the Foxconn Group, have replied Apple that they could not be able to accept orders without reasonable profits at this time.

Apple is leveraging the rising handset supply chain in China to force Taiwan-based companies to reduce their quotes comparable to those offered by China-based suppliers. But it makes no sense for such a requirment since the quality of products rolled out by Taiwan- and China-based suppliers is standing at different levels.


When your orders are falling, you can’t squeeze like you did.
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New Nokia smartphones confirmed for Q4 2016 • AndroidAuthority

Rob Triggs:

»The company didn’t spill any details about the specifications of its upcoming smartphones and tablets, nor their targeted price points. However, a rumor that appeared earlier in the year suggests that Nokia is planning two premium phones, which will be powered by Android 7.0 Nougat. The Nokia smartphones are reported to feature 5.2 and 5.5-inch QHD OLED displays, a Snapdragon 820 processor, a 22.6MP camera, and a metal body with water and dust resistance.

Along with high-end smartphones, HMD is expected to unveil two new Nokia feature phones in the next six months. Nokia also completed a $191m acquisition of Withings in May, opening up an avenue into the connected halth market. Clearly Nokia is working to get itself back into the smartphone game, but are you excited to see what the company has to offer after all this time?


So this time Nokia *is* going to go Android. Let’s see how that goes.
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The meaning of trust in the age of AirBnB • Tim Harford

Tim Harford:

»Prosperity not only requires trust, it also encourages it. Why bother to steal when you are already comfortable? An example of poverty breeding mistrust comes from Colin Turnbull’s ethnographic study The Mountain People (US), about the Ik, a displaced tribe ravaged by Ugandan drought in the 1960s. If Turnbull’s account is itself trustworthy (it may not be), in the face of extreme hunger, the Ik had abandoned any pretence at ethical behaviour and would lie, cheat and steal whenever possible. Parents would abandon their own children, and children betray their own parents. Turnbull’s story had a horrific logic. The Ik had no hope of a future, so they saw no need to protect their reputation for fair dealing.

One of the underrated achievements of the modern world has been to develop ways to extend the circle of trust by depersonalising it. Trust used to be a very personal thing: you would trust your friends or friends of friends. But when I withdrew €400 from a cash machine, it was not because the bank trusted me but because it could verify that my bank would repay the money. This is a cold corporate miracle.

Over the past few years, people have been falling in love with a hybrid model that allows a personal reputation to work even between strangers. One example is Airbnb, which lets people stay in the homes of complete strangers, a considerable exercise of trust on both sides. We successfully used it on another stop in our Bavarian holiday. Airbnb makes personal connections but uses online reviews to keep people honest: after our stay, we reviewed our host and he reviewed us.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start up: counting Apple’s people, Uber gets trucky, fake Instagram billions, Xiaomi’s trouble, and more

Longer battery life is coming to smartphones – honestly. Photo by astio on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Refrigerate after opening. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Doubling battery power of consumer electronics • MIT News

»“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery. Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long,” says Hu, who co-invented the battery at MIT and is now CEO of [MIT spinout] SolidEnergy.

The battery essentially swaps out a common battery anode material, graphite, for very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which can hold more ions — and, therefore, provide more energy capacity. Chemical modifications to the electrolyte also make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable and safer to use. Moreover, the batteries are made using existing lithium ion manufacturing equipment, which makes them scalable.

In October 2015, SolidEnergy demonstrated the first-ever working prototype of a rechargeable lithium metal smartphone battery with double energy density, which earned them more than $12 million from investors. At half the size of the lithium ion battery used in an iPhone 6, it offers 2.0 amp hours, compared with the lithium ion battery’s 1.8 amp hours.

SolidEnergy plans to bring the batteries to smartphones and wearables in early 2017, and to electric cars in 2018. But the first application will be drones, coming this November.


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Apple hits roadblocks in cutting watch ties to iPhone • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman, Alex Webb and Scott Moritz:

»Ever since its inception, network carriers have been urging Apple to release a version of the watch that can connect to data networks independent of the iPhone, and the Cupertino, California-based company had been working to untether it from the handset, one of the people said. As it is now the watch must be synced with an iPhone to download most types of content and consistently track location.

Apple had been in talks this year with mobile phone carriers in the U.S. and Europe to add cellular connectivity to the watch, according to people familiar with the talks. A cellular chip would have theoretically allowed the product to download sports score alerts, e-mail and mapping information while out of an iPhone’s reach.

During the discussions, Apple executives expressed concern that the cellular models may not be ready for release this year and that the feature may be pushed back to a later generation, according to the people. Apple warned that, even on an aggressive schedule, the earliest possible shipment time-frame for cellular models would have been this December, one of the people said.

The source of the delay is that current cellular chips consume too much battery life, reducing the product’s effectiveness and limiting user appeal, according to three of the people. Apple has begun studying lower-power cellular data chips for future smartwatch generations.


I bet the carriers want Apple to have a phone-independent watch. Think of the data charges they could ring up. (Apple would use a software SIM, as in the iPad – no fiddling about putting them in.) Update: it’s been pointed out to me that the carriers would offer a special linked plan with your phone – as happens now with Android Wear 3G watches. Otherwise you get two different phone numbers for your watch and phone, which is sub-optimal.
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Counting Apple’s customers • Asymco

Horace Dediu:

»Even though it has not happened yet, the trend is pretty clear. Apple will at some point in time have a billion paying customers.

What is more significant that the specific count is that these customers mostly chose to be customers individually. Some may be have been given the products as gifts, but the vast majority bought the items for themselves. Apple benefitted from hundreds of million of individual purchase decisions.

Furthermore, having made the decision to purchase, chances are that they will do so again. Apple customers are a recurring revenue. In fact, it’s fairly easy to calculate that being an Apple customer is equivalent to spending about $1/day on its products and services, indefinitely.

Apple is not there yet, but a billion dollars a day from a billion customers is not inconceivable. That would be quite an achievement.


The graphs are worth casting a glance at.
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Our next chapter: Otto joins Uber • Official Otto Blog

»When we founded Otto, we committed to rethinking transportation. Today we are taking a leap forward by joining the Uber team to deliver on that promise.

Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are.

At Otto, we believe that drivers shouldn’t have to choose between safety and earnings. Our self-driving trucks will allow drivers to rest while their truck is moving, and our platform will ensure drivers can easily find loads and are paid fairly.

By combining these two technologies, we can create a freight network that is constantly learning and improving. Each truck that joins the network can provide valuable information that makes all other trucks safer and more efficient. In turn, drivers get paid more and shippers get a more reliable service. Self-driving trucks together with a marketplace create a virtuous cycle where everyone benefits.


Clearly, Uber’s aims go far beyond a simple taxi service now. Taken together with the news that it’s going to start testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh this month, we can begin to discern the shape of future commercial transport. There don’t seem to be a lot of human drivers in it.
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The Rich Kid of Instagram who isn’t quite what she seems • The Guardian

Marina Hyde:

»Lost in Showbiz is intrigued by the rise of a sublebrity by the name of Julia Stakhiva, who is featured in an absolute defeat of an E4 show called Rich Kids of Instagram. A hymn to the eye-watering conspicuous consumption of various young idiots, it has launched Julia on the scene as a “billionaire’s daughter”. She is given to dispensing unpleasant aphorisms for attention, such as “Anyone can be rich but not everyone can be beautiful”, and “I’m not suitable for an office job because of how well I dress and how educated I am”. Her most frequent refrain is a variation on the notion that she was born a billionaire’s daughter, and can only live a billionaire’s lifestyle.

If I have a cavil – and really, it’s such a tiny one – it is that until just a few weeks ago, Julia rented a room in my mother-in-law’s flat. And via that classic billionaire accommodation hook-up,

Indeed, it was interesting to discover that during a holiday absence by said owner, Julia had invited the cameras into the property, told some whoppers in order to sign the release forms, and used it to form the backdrop to her Rich Kids shenanigans. Various photoshoots also seem to have taken place. It is hard to pick a standout, but for me it’s probably edged by the snap of her reclining on my mother-in-law’s bed, stroking the latter’s cat in a casually proprietorial fashion. It’s like the bears in the old story ask: “Who’s been posing for the newspapers on MY BED?”


Ooooops. Rule 1: don’t pretend to be a billionaire’s daughter while using property owned by the relative of a newspaper reporter. Make sure to read it for the article’s killer final sentence.
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This is what’s missing from journalism right now • Mother Jones

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery:

»Shane Bauer’s prison project took more than 18 months. That included four months in the prison and more than a year of additional reporting, fact-checking, video production, and legal review, including work by more than a dozen other people on the MoJo staff. And that was the only way we could have gotten that story: By definition, incarceration is invisible to most people, and that’s doubly true for private prisons. Recordkeeping is spotty, public disclosure is limited, visits are difficult. The only people who can describe what really goes on inside are prisoners, guards, and officials, all of whom have a strong interest in spinning the story. To get at the truth, we had to take time, and go deep.

And we had to take considerable financial risk. Conservatively, counting just the biggest chunks of staff time that went into it, the prison story cost roughly $350,000. The banner ads that appeared on the article brought in $5,000, give or take. Had we been really in your face with ads, we could have doubled or tripled that figure—but it would have been a pain for you, and still only a drop in the bucket for us.

MoJo did have support from three foundations for our criminal justice reporting. That’s amazing—but foundation grants only go so far.


And what did they achieve? Nothing much, just changed US policy on the use of private prisons. Serious reporting has a problem. Talking of which…
link to this extract to end operations next week • Gawker

JK Trotter:

»After nearly fourteen years of operation, will be shutting down next week. The decision to close Gawker comes days after Univision successfully bid $135m for Gawker Media’s six other websites, and four months after the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel revealed his clandestine legal campaign against the company.

Nick Denton, the company’s outgoing CEO, informed current staffers of the site’s fate on Thursday afternoon, just hours before a bankruptcy court in Manhattan will decide whether to approve Univision’s bid for Gawker Media’s other assets. Staffers will soon be assigned to other editorial roles, either at one of the other six sites or elsewhere within Univision. Near-term plans for’s coverage, as well as the site’s archives, have not yet been finalized.


Pour one out; Gawker may have been infuriating at times, and completely missed the mark at others, but it did some really important balloon-bursting over the pomposity of people in tech that many of the mainstream sites just wouldn’t touch. However it never stood a chance against a billionaire determined to fund lawsuits to shut it down.
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What went wrong for Xiaomi • IBT

David Gilbert:

»Xiaomi’s meteoric rise was based on one simple fact: It was able to produce smartphones with premium hardware and features which cost a fraction of those on sale from Apple or Samsung. However that advantage rapidly vanished when multiple manufacturers followed suit and produced their own smartphones which offered premium specs at low prices.
However, unlike Xiaomi, its competitors were able to offer something new and something innovative. Vivo offered curved screens; Oppo and OnePlus dangled rapid charging; LeEco offered exclusive content; and Huawei threw in dual lens cameras and fingerprint sensors.

“I think Xiaomi’s current performance and growth in the smartphone space has stalled, as competitors with better R&D, vertical manufacturing expertise, and a wider distribution and geographic footprint has surpassed the brand,” Neil Shah, analyst with CounterPoint Research told IBTimes UK. “Xiaomi’s inability to innovate independently is one of the key reasons.”

Another issue for Xiaomi is its continued focus on the ultra-budget end of the market with products like its RedMi series, despite clear evidence that Chinese customers were willing to pay more for their smartphones…

…data from CounterPoint Research suggests that up to 85% of the company’s revenue comes from smartphones, while another major source of revenue comes from its software and services division.
This means that investments in the likes of Ninebot, the Chinese company that bought Segway, have yet to pay off — and it is unclear if they ever will.

As Steve Millward wrote on the Tech in Asia blog, “Xiaomi is in deep s**t”, and it is difficult to see a way back. “I don’t see much of a recovery coming for Xiaomi in the future,” Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research concludes.


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Verizon offered to install marketers’ apps on phones • AdAge

Garett Sloane:

»The wireless carrier has offered to install big brands’ apps on its subscribers’ home screens, potentially delivering millions of downloads, according to agency executives who have considered making such deals for their clients. But that reach would come at a cost: Verizon was seeking between $1 and $2 for each device affected, executives said.

Verizon started courting advertisers with app installations late last year, pitching retail and finance brands among others, agency executives said.

It has only offered the installations on Android phones, because Google’s software is open for carriers to customize. Apple controls its platform more tightly.

The proposed deals with brands ensure that their apps download to only new devices when consumers activate the phones and their software for the first time.

Verizon has 75 million smartphone post-paid subscribers and activates about 10 million new phones a quarter. Android phones command more than 50% of the U.S. market, according to ComScore.

It’s unclear whether Verizon sold any guaranteed app installations.


Cheaper, the article points out, than comparable pay-per-install campaigns on Facebook or Google, which can cost around $5. I’m not sure this is so terrible, as people can delete the app. But to judge from some of the coverage, it’s AWFUL.
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You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Issie Lapowsky of Wired is looking into the “Rantic survey” from the other day. I think there’s a deeper story. Stay tuned.

Start up: AI’s next wave, the Snapchat Olympics, USB-C v headphone jacks, Cyanogen’s odd numbers, and more

Another site is turning off comments. Photo by Rob Hurson on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. They’re slinky, they’re linky. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The next wave of AI is rooted in human culture and history • Engadget

Mona Lalwani spoke to the wonderful Genevieve Bell, who is an anthropologist at Intel (yes, really), and a careful student of human trends:

»As an anthropologist, I wanted to interrogate AI not just as a technical agenda but as a cultural category. I wanted to look at the intellectual history of it. I found myself reading [Alan] Turing and his incredibly provocative question: “Can a machine think?” And the whole notion of the Turing test — Is there a moment where we as humans can no longer distinguish ourselves from the machines? It’s a really interesting formulation both of a technical idea but also a cultural one. It’s also where you can see the cultural ambivalences and anxieties too.

In the conversations in the press and public culture, AI is often accompanied by everything from the language around the robot apocalypse, the singularity, to the idea that they’ll replace or kill us, all depending on the narrative. I was interested in why those two stories were so tightly coupled. Why have the conversations around AI always necessitated this other conversation? Unpicking that was also a very anthropological endeavor.


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Snapchat strikes Olympic gold •

Hannah Kuchler:

»Almost 50m people have watched the Olympic Games on Snapchat so far, as broadcasters including NBC and the BBC use the app to reach a millennial audience.

Nearly one in three daily Snapchat users has viewed the clips in Live Stories, showing that the app could challenge other social sites such as Facebook and Twitter for dominance in live events.

The LA-based start-up partnered with seven broadcasters showing in countries including the US, the UK and Brazil, to show stories that include footage from the games and from the crowds in the last 24 hours.

In the first seven days to last Thursday, 49m unique visitors viewed Olympics content on Snapchat, almost a third of the 150m daily active users of the app.


That’s Snapchat, which was just some prototype code in September 2011, and barely known during the last Olympic games. Technological change can be fast.
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Stealing bitcoins with badges: How Silk Road’s dirty cops got caught • Ars Technica

Cyrus Farivar and Joe Mullin:

»It was October 2013, and [DEA agent Carl] Force had spent the past couple of years working on a Baltimore-based task force investigating the darknet’s biggest drug site, Silk Road. During that time, he had also carefully cultivated several lucrative side projects all connected to Bitcoin, the digital currency Force was convinced would make him rich.

One of those schemes had been ripping off the man who ran Silk Road, “Dread Pirate Roberts.” That plan was now falling apart. As it turns out, the largest online drug market in history had been run by a 29-year-old named Ross Ulbricht, who wasn’t as safe behind his screen as he imagined he was. Ulbricht had been arrested earlier that month in the San Francisco Public Library by federal agents with their guns drawn.

Now government prosecutors were sifting through a mountain of evidence, and Force could only guess at how big it was. The FBI got around the encryption of Ulbricht’s Samsung Z700 laptop with a street-level tactic: two agents distracted him while a third grabbed the open laptop out of his hands as Ulbricht was working. The kingpin had been caught red-handed, tapping commands to his Silk Road subordinates up until the moment he was cuffed.

Force had been treating Ulbricht like his personal Bitcoin ATM for several months by this point, attempting to extort DPR one day and wrangling Bitcoin bribes for fake information the next. Now, Force didn’t want to be holding those bitcoins anymore. He opened an account with Bitstamp, a Slovenia-based Bitcoin exchange where he thought he could turn coins into cash quickly and quietly.

But when Force opened Bitstamp account #557042 on October 12, 2013, it sealed his fate.


Terrific storytelling.
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USB Type-C could kill your headphone jack. Here’s how • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»there are good arguments to be made for embracing USB audio, [Intel architect Brad] Saunders said, and the companies that make USB controller chips are very excited about the idea.

For one thing, the 3.5mm audio jack takes up precious volume inside phones, which we all want to be as slim as possible. For another, the analog circuitry of 3.5mm audio can cause interference that disrupts other electronics in a phone, Saunders said.

And digital audio opens up possibilities for lots of sound-processing options without requiring expensive headphones or earbuds. That includes audio effects to make music sound like it’s playing in a big concert hall, or signal processing to cancel noise like jet engines or rumbling trains. “All of those come into play if audio is in a digital domain,” Saunders said, which would let phone makers offer premium features without having to sign deals with premium audio companies like Dolby or Bose.

USB devices have controller chips that consume power. That’s no problem for PCs with big batteries, but it is for phones. That’s why the new USB audio standard requires power management abilities like turning off features that aren’t being used, Saunders said. As a result, with USB headphones, “the difference in battery life is negligible” compared with 3.5mm audio jacks.


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NPR website to get rid of comments • NPR Ombudsman

Elizabeth Jensen:

»I did find the numbers quite startling. In July, recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, [NPR social media exec Scott] Montgomery said. That’s 0.06% of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016.

When NPR analyzed the number of people who left at least one comment in both June and July, the numbers showed an even more interesting pattern: Just 4,300 users posted about 145 comments apiece, or 67% of all comments for the two months. More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users. The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.

It’s not possible to tell who those commenters are; some users comment anonymously. But there are some clues that indicate those who comment are not wholly representative of the overall NPR audience: They overwhelmingly comment via the desktop (younger users tend to find via mobile), and a Google estimate suggested that the commenters were 83% male, while overall users were just 52% male, Montgomery said.

When viewed purely from the perspective of whether the comments were fostering constructive conversations, the change should come as no surprise. The number of complaints to NPR about the current comment system has been growing—complaints that comments were censored by the outside moderators, and that commenters were behaving inappropriately and harassing other commenters.


There’s a similar writeup by Montgomery but it doesn’t have those deep-dive numbers that Jensen offers. “The market has spoken. [Twitter and Facebook] is where people want to engage with us,” Montgomery says earlier.

News site comment software is screwed. Personally I would short Disqus, which NPR (and many others) used.
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Bots are better without conversation — Medium

Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of messaging service Kik:

»At Kik, we remain bullish on bots, but we’ve noticed the same thing everyone else has: so far, there has been no killer bot. This is not yet the world that the early hype promised. But then again, we’re only four months into this. The bot ecosystem is at an earlier point now than the App Store was before Apple introduced in-app purchases. The game lasts longer than the first pitch.

Since we opened our bot platform for developers in April, more than 20,000 bots have been built for Kik. We’ve learned a lot. One of the things that has become increasingly clear is that the initial discussion about bots being powerful because of their conversational potential was somewhat misguided. It’s certainly possible to imagine a world in which we routinely carry out human-like conversations with robots to get things done or be entertained, but we don’t yet live in such a world. In fact, I believe we’ll look back on the early emphasis on “conversational commerce” as a mistake…

…It’s also important to note that we don’t think bots are going to replace apps any time soon. That’s not the point. The point is that people are increasingly spending their time in chat apps, so we’re building experiences inside chat that allow people to do more while they’re there. That’s why bots are so interesting.


Still a sceptic, personally. A visual interface does require you to launch an app, but RAM is cheap, switching apps is easy (people do it all the time) and a visual interface is quicker than a typed conversation. It’s GUI v CLI (command line interface). Unless you know the magic incantations, GUI wins every time.
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Will the P&G story bring down ad tech? Please? • The Ad Contrarian

Bob Hoffman:

»Online display advertising has been sold to us as superior to traditional advertising because it presumes that reaching the perfect individual is more economically advantageous than reaching a broad demographic type.

For the most part, offline advertising is sold on demographics while display advertising is sold on data-driven targeting.

While Proctor & Gamble’s experience should not be taken as conclusive proof of anything, it suggests that for big brands the demographics model is more economically efficient than the data-driven model.

Their experience with Fabreze air freshener was cited by The Wall Street Journal as an example of how highly targeted advertising failed.

For Fabreze, P&G targeted people with pets and people with large families. The presumption was that these people would have a significantly higher likelihood to purchase an air freshener than the public at large. Sales stagnated.

Then P&G targeted all adults over 18 — a very broad swath. And sales picked up.

Presumably P&G had the good sense to use the same creative so they knew what variable they were testing.

If P&G’s experience turns out to be projectible – and it has been reported that other marketers are having similar experiences – the whole model of online advertising, based on data-driven “precision targeting” and tracking – and enabled by ad tech – needs to go right down the toilet. It’s a sham.


P&G is rather large to be a canary in a coalmine, but this might be one of those moments – at least for larger advertisers.
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Confidential data question Cyanogen’s user figures • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»[Cyanogen co-founder and CTO Steve] Kondik said historically there have been challenges with tracking CyanogenMod users, given that its users were “privacy-focused.” (The earliest versions of the software, which started in 2009, restricted any kind of tracking.) In addition, he said, “there was a lot of uncertainty around” the user numbers at the company and, as a startup, “we don’t have the best dashboards and mechanisms” for counting them. He added that in recent weeks the company had discovered six to seven million users who had manually opted out of being tracked by the software. This group represented about two-thirds of the total user base, he said.

“We just figured this out,” he said.

Touting big numbers and growth is de rigeur for consumer tech startups, and it’s common for them to use creative definitions of a “user.”

The numbers quoted by Cyanogen executives after the company launched in 2013 made it seem like the operating system had broad consumer appeal — even bigger than Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, they liked to say. The company has raised more than $100m in funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Benchmark Capital.


So Cyanogen(Mod) had about 10m users? All of them, however, active in comment threads about how AMAZING Cyanogen(Mod) is/was. But it doesn’t look like the VC companies are going to see their money back.
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Bias lighting • Coding Horror

»Bias lighting is the happy intersection of indirect lighting and light compensation. It reduces eye strain and produces a better, more comfortable overall computing display experience.

The good news is that it’s trivially easy to set up a bias lighting configuration these days due to the proliferation of inexpensive and bright LEDs. You can build yourself a bias light with a clamp and a fluorescent bulb, or with some nifty IKEA LED strips and double-sided foam tape. It really is that simple: just strap some lights to the back of your monitors.

I’m partial to the IKEA Dioder and Ledberg technique myself; I currently have an array of Ledbergs behind my monitors. But if you don’t fancy any minor DIY work, there are a wide array of inexpensive self-adhesive LED strips out there – which also have the benefit of being completely USB powered, and thus can power up and down with your monitor or TV.



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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s post included a link from Wired about a survey of Facebook users and political views, allegedly carried out by a company called Rantic. However, Rantic is a “buy followers” social media marketing company (my opinion? A parasite on the business) and I don’t think the survey is robust. Without evidence to the contrary, I doubt it even exists. I’ve emailed the Wired writer suggesting the story be withdrawn or at the very least queried for the full survey data, but haven’t heard back so far. Fingers crossed. In the meantime I’ve removed the link from the site, and urge you to ignore any findings it might have appeared to pass on.

Start up: Note 7’s water test, Windows 10 goes holographic, the Roomba coprocopalypse, and more

When you’re their age, which apps and tech will you be using? Photo by Defence Images on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 12 links for you. Oh, they are. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ageing out of the 25-34 bracket, one app at a time •

Lisa Pollack:

»Hardware and software previously used with enthusiasm has become an annoyance. New apps are passing me by. And this isn’t only about not downloading Pokémon Go, thus missing out on the delights of walking into lampposts while trying to catch a Pikachu (which is, I hasten to add, the only character name I know).

Consequently I’m beginning to suspect that, like a child counting the years in notches marking their height, I will increasingly count mine by the number of social media networks that I don’t understand. Already a couple of years ago, a girl I was mentoring tried to tell me about the website “”. The explanation was as arduous for me as I suspect my tutoring on simultaneous equations was for her. I still don’t entirely get it. More recently, my clumsy attempts at understanding and using Snapchat ended in befuddlement. I couldn’t even figure out how to add my contacts and yet almost 50m people have watched the Olympics on it. (In the US, by the way, the app reaches 41% of that existential-crisis-inducing 18-34 age bracket.)

This newfound tech ineptitude is particularly disturbing for someone who is, by and large, an informal tech support colleague in the office. Have a problem with a spreadsheet? Need to connect your computer to a printer? Want to know the best way to get screenshots into presentations or how smartpens work? Then chances are, you’ve emailed me.

In the last four months though, that email will have gone to the solitary computer screen on my desk. Once upon a time, I thought that having six monitors, like a trader at a bank, was the coolest thing ever. Now a second screen stands unused to the side. I’ve even reverted to having a paper to-do list where once it was all online. “When I was your age, I used to use TweetDeck!” I want to shout to selfie-posing Snapchatterers. Because then they’d realise I was once like them. Right?


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Will iris scanner be killer app for Samsung jumbo phone? • Korea Times

Kim Tae-gyu:

»People will be able to send money on Samsung Electronics’ new cell phone by just looking at it.

Korea’s major lenders said Tuesday that they are working on biometrics-based authentication, which would be enabled by an iris-scanning option built into the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 that will be released later this week.

The iris scanning-powered Samsung Pass will let customers of Woori, Shinhan and KEB Hana banks carry out mobile-banking transactions with the new phone.

The mobile giant seems to be confident about the success of the new feature.

“Samsung Pass service will simplify the complicated process of authentication,” Samsung’s mobile chief Koh Dong-jin said last week during a media event. “It is the safest security technology at the current level.”


Iris scans look like a very promising technology – where’s the research on it, though? If Apple had done this we’d have had a million articles examining how robust or otherwise it is.
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Twitter and YouTube would not remove Anjem Choudary’s posts, court told • The Guardian

Press Association:

»Social media giants had the last word on Anjem Choudary’s online posts, even after he was arrested for inviting support for Islamic State.

British authorities made repeated efforts to get his Twitter posts and YouTube videos taken down after an oath of allegiance to the Caliphate surfaced online with the preacher’s name on it, jurors at the Old Bailey were told during his trial in July.

But they had no power to force corporations to remove material from the internet even if it was believed to have fallen foul of UK anti-terror laws.

The preacher was found guilty in July of supporting Islamic State but details of the trial, including the verdict, could not be reported until now.

An open-source researcher from the National Counter Terrorism Police Operations Centre (NCTPOC) told the trial of a series of failed attempts.

The officer, identified only by a number, said in a statement read to court that it was up to the companies whether or not to take down posts and videos as “the police do not have the capability to remove any material from any platform”.


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WikiLeaks released a cache of malware in its latest email dump • Engadget

Andrew Dalton:

»In its rush to let information be free, WikiLeaks has released over 80 different malware variants while publishing its latest collection of emails from Turkey’s ruling AKP political party. In a Github post, security expert Vesselin Bontchev has laid out many of the instances of malicious links, most of which came from “run-of-the-mill” spam and phishing emails found in the dump. While WikiLeaks has claimed the emails shed light on corruption within the Turkish government, New York Times reporter Zeynep Tufekci has pointed out that the materials have little to do with Turkish politics and mostly appear to be mailing lists and spam.


“In its rush to let information be free”, or perhaps “With disregard for innocent people who would be affected”.
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All Windows 10 PCs will get Windows Holographic access next year • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

»Windows 10 users will be able to dive into mixed reality starting next year, with an update planned that can let any “mainstream” Windows 10 PC run the Windows Holographic shell the company first revealed in January 2015.

The update will allow users to multi-task in mixed reality environments, which combine traditional 2D Windows 10 apps with immersive, 3D graphical environments. These will be enabled via a range of “6 degrees of freedom devices,” input devices that add positional tracking to other more traditional forms of input, like clicking and pointing.

The Windows team is trying to make this more broadly available, too, thanks to support for a range of Windows 10 PCs that don’t necessarily need the specs required to run full-scale VR today. As an example, Microsoft presented a video of Windows 10 Holographic running at 90 FPS on an Intel NUC, a tiny desktop PC that’s not super expensive and included integrated Intel graphics.


Useful? Useless? Probably the latter for a huge number of users. How many will ever use it?
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Roomba creator responds to reports of ‘poopocalypse’: ‘We see this a lot’ • The Guardian

Olivia Solon on people who come home to find their robot vacuum cleaner has been spreading poo around the house:

»Los Angeles marine biologist Jonathan Williams endured a similar trauma. It’s happened three times in the past few months, ever since his family moved to a house with their pug, Alice.

The first time it happened he came back from work to find “tread-marks of caked-in poop all over the house”.

The next two times were much worse. “It’s almost like [Alice the pug] deliberately left it right in front of its path at the start of the cycle.”

The last time it happened, Alice had been out in the morning and evacuated her bowels, lulling Williams and his wife into a false sense of security. “We thought it was safe and we could run it, but it seems like she was storing some up for us.”

“Quite honestly, we see this a lot,” said a spokesman from iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba.

“We generally tell people to try not to schedule your vacuum if you know you have dogs that may create such a mess. With animals anything can happen.”

Are there any plans to introduce any poop detection technology to the product? “Our engineers are always trying to figure out ways to help people with their problems, and we’ve known this is an issue people deal with.”


“We see this a lot”? How “a lot” is that?
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Ed Snowden explains why hackers published NSA’s hacking tools • Techdirt

Mike Masnick with the details around a hack of a server holding some NSA malware:

»What’s new? NSA malware staging servers getting hacked by a rival is not new. A rival publicly demonstrating they have done so is.

Why did they do it? No one knows, but I suspect this is more diplomacy than intelligence, related to the escalation around the DNC hack. Circumstantial evidence and conventional wisdom indicates Russian responsibility. Here’s why that is significant: This leak is likely a warning that someone can prove US responsibility for any attacks that originated from this malware server. That could have significant foreign policy consequences. Particularly if any of those operations targeted US allies. Particularly if any of those operations targeted elections. Accordingly, this may be an effort to influence the calculus of decision-makers wondering how sharply to respond to the DNC hacks.

TL;DR: This leak looks like a somebody sending a message that an escalation in the attribution game could get messy fast.


Subtle; and the timing of the revelation, done in a way to bring attention, is notable too.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 7 review: the best new Android phone • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»While touring an apartment that I’m considering, I chose to snap photos and video of the space with the Note 7 instead of my iPhone 6s. Like the S7 and S7 Edge, the low-light photos are sharper and clearer than Apple’s. Even shots taken outdoors or in well-lit environments are more exciting to review on the Note because of the crisper display. And there are no storage fears here. The Note 7 comes with 64GB of local storage—and has a MicroSD slot that will support cards up to 256GB.


Stern’s review is terrific – she wrote the whole thing with the S-Pen stylus, she took Samsung’s “it’s waterproof!” at its word and made videos underwater with it (it worked fine), she points to the odd problem of differentiating between the S7, S7 Edge and Note7 (basic, edge screen, stylus). And TouchWiz isn’t as awful as it used to be. It’s an excellent response to the otherwise tedious task of reviewing hardware.

Samsung owns the top end of Android. The iPhone 7 (or whatever it’s called) will need something special in the photo space.
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Final words – the Samsung Galaxy Note7 (S820) review • Anandtech

Joshua Ho wraps up his (long) review:

»With all of this said I think the Note7 is fairly checkered. I’m sure there are people that are foaming at the mouth to buy one because it’s the only phablet on the market that really does a stylus well and if you’re someone that wants the Note7 for the stylus then you should stop reading now and go buy one immediately because everything else on the market won’t meet your needs. If the stylus is just something that’s nice for you to have then the calculus gets much more difficult. The Galaxy S7 edge is currently about $750 and you can easily find people reselling new ones for any operator or international variants on Amazon for $600 or so. The Note7 does appreciably improve on the Galaxy S7 Edge, but it’s basically the S7 edge in a new package and with an S-Pen. You also get an extra 32 GB of storage which does justify the extra $100 that bumps the Note7 up to $850.

With all of that said, I get the distinct sense that it will be much harder to justify the price well before the end of this year. The camera quality is kind of a disappointment given all of the hype at the launch of the Galaxy S7 given the dual pixel sensor and larger 1.4 micron pixels when the camera quality itself is not really an improvement over the Galaxy Note5 and is beaten out by the HTC 10. The software experience still shows dropped frames. There are still software features that feel like obvious gimmicks. The design is still lacking ID [industrial design] detailing. I’m sure other people will praise this device anyways but when a phone is this expensive and with smartphones in general getting polished to a mirror sheen each scratch becomes more obvious no matter how minor.

A lot of things are going to seem like nitpicks but the whole point of paying 400 USD more is so that the ID and engineering in both hardware and software bridges the last mile. Again, this is still a good phone and it really is as good as it gets for now, but with so many fall launches coming up I find it very hard to whole-heartedly recommend this phone.


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The duo that dominates dressage • The New Yorker

Sam Knight:

»The piaffe is probably the most demanding and exquisite movement in the Olympic sport of dressage. A horse in piaffe defies what horses otherwise do. Instead of going anywhere, it jogs on the spot, three-quarters of a ton of moving muscle, feet rising and falling in the same four hoofprints like an animation in a flip book. Next week, in Rio de Janeiro, seven judges around an arena, known as a manège, will evaluate the piaffes of the four-day dressage competition. In addition to making sure that the horses don’t go forward or backward, or side to side, the judges will keep track of the number of steps (twelve to fifteen), their height (as high as the cannon bone on the foreleg; as high as the fetlock on the rear), and insure that they are not, in the somewhat baroque language of the sport, “unlevel.” Then they will score each piaffe out of ten.

No one knows what piaffing is for. The movements of dressage are said to have their origins in the training of horses for war, and one theory suggests that the piaffe might have been useful for trampling enemies.


This is deeply researched, beautifully written work which takes you through all the human emotion of the story (and there’s plenty) and informs you about it. You can see Charlotte Dujardin’s winning Olympic freestyle routine; the reaction of most people is “how does the horse know what to do? She’s just sitting there.” Which shows you how subtle sport can be.
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Chromebook Market Size, Share – Industry Report, 2023 • Global Market Insights

»Chromebook market size was estimated to witness 5.3m unit sales in 2014 and is anticipated to exceed 17m units by 2023. Education sector alone accumulated 72% of the overall industry share in 2014. Growing demand for these systems in education sector is likely to drive the industry growth over the forecast period.

As of 2014, North America accounted for 84% of the overall industry share which was numbered at 4.8m units. The US Chromebook market was the largest single shareholder, with over 60% demand from the education sector. Other business accounted for 1.1% share and consumers accounted for 38.6% Chromebook market share in the region…

…EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Africa] chromebook market share contributed only 11% of the overall revenue in 2014 that accounted for 620,000 units out of which 72.3% were accounted for by the education sector, 26.8 % by consumers and other business accounted for 0.9% of the overall EMEA industry. Asia Pacific region along with Japan accounted for 146,000 units in 2014.

Key industry participants chromebook industry include Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, HP and Samsung among others.


The clunky grammar (“estimated to witness”?) suggests this emanates from Asia, but the supply chain insights might be right for the present. That figure for 2023 seems low, though, if they achieve any significant inroads into the education market.
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Image completion with deep learning in Tensorflow • Github

Brandon Amos:

»Content-aware fill is a powerful tool designers and photographers use to fill in unwanted or missing parts of images. Image completion and inpainting are closely related technologies used to fill in missing or corrupted parts of images. There are many ways to do content-aware fill, image completion, and inpainting. In this blog post, I present Raymond Yeh and Chen Chen et al.’s paper “Semantic Image Inpainting with Perceptual and Contextual Losses,” which was just posted on arXiv on July 26, 2016. This paper shows how to use deep learning for image completion with a DCGAN. This blog post is meant for a general technical audience with some deeper portions for people with a machine learning background. I’ve added [ML-Heavy] tags to sections to indicate that the section can be skipped if you don’t want too many details. We will only look at the constrained case of completing missing pixels from images of faces. I have released all of the TensorFlow source code behind this post on GitHub at bamos/dcgan-completion.tensorflow.

We’ll approach image completion in three steps.

• We’ll first interpret images as being samples from a probability distribution.
• This interpretation lets us learn how to generate fake images.
• Then we’ll find the best fake image for completion.


This is a very technical paper – but you can just zoom through it and look at the pictures, which are amazing: we’re already getting machine leaning systems which are able to fake pictures. What happens as they get better, and come into the hands of people who are motivated to fake pictures?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified I did include a link from Wired quoting a company called Rantic. Turns out they’re infamous marketing hoaxers; I’ve come across a few companies like that. I’m contacting Wired to suggest it removes the story too.