Thursday, December 13, 2018

Microsoft adds Dark Mode support and more to Office 365 for Mac | Ars Technica

Except, of course, Mac OneNote, for which there is no dark mode ETA...
"Microsoft has released version 16.20.18120801 of Office 365 for the Mac platform, bringing support for a couple of key Mac features introduced in September's macOS 10.14 Mojave release, as well as a number of small features and user experience improvements not related to Mojave.

The headline feature is, of course, dark mode support, which requires Mojave to work. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook all support Mojave's dark theme. Also related to Mojave, you can now use Apple's Continuity Camera feature to insert a photo directly from your iPhone's photos to a slide in PowerPoint."
Microsoft adds Dark Mode support and more to Office 365 for Mac | Ars Technica

Congress May Have Fallen for Facebook’s Trap, but You Don’t Have To | NYT

A Facebook reality check from Michal Kosinski, who has a lot of relevant experience in the domain; e.g., see The Data That Turned the World Upside Down | Motherboard (a January 2017 overview of how Kasinki's research approach was leveraged by Cambridge Analytica)
"Facebook would even let advertisers target you based on facts that you may not be aware of, such as that you are a close friend of a soccer fan or of someone who got recently engaged. In a recent study we published, my colleagues and I discovered that advertisers can target users based on their intimate psychological traits, such as personality. If you can think of an important personal characteristic, there’s a good chance it’s targetable on Facebook. Through this ad-targeting system, Facebook discloses facts about you to advertisers, in exchange for money, every time you click on an ad. I’d call that “selling data,” and I bet that you would, too.

But Facebook is extremely clever at dodging this issue. When the company argues that it is not selling data, but rather selling targeted advertising, it’s luring you into a semantic trap, encouraging you to imagine that the only way of selling data is to send advertisers a file filled with user information. Congress may have fallen for this trap set up by Mr. Zuckerberg, but that doesn’t mean you have to. The fact that your data is not disclosed in an Excel spreadsheet but through a click on a targeted ad is irrelevant. Data still changes hands and goes to the advertiser."
Congress May Have Fallen for Facebook’s Trap, but You Don’t Have To | NYT

Apple to build $1B campus in Austin, increase employment nationwide | AppleInsider

No "HQ2" melodrama for Apple; in other expansion news, Amazon Hires Lobbyists for N.Y. Site and Tries to Fend Off Ocasio-Cortez’s Supporters | NYT
"Apple currently employs 90,000 people across all 50 states, including 6,000 who have been added this year. This year's new hires are part of a five-year plan to add 20,000 jobs in America and contribute $350 billion to the economy.

These figures are to do with direct spending by Apple but the company claims that its work is also enabling a much wider indirect impact on American employment. In all, Apple says it is responsible for the creation and support of two million jobs in the U.S. including employees at some 9,000 supply firms and 1.5 million jobs related to the App Store.
[...]
Apple also announced plans to invest $10 billion in data centers across the U.S. in a program due to take five years. Presently the existing data centers in North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada are being expanded while a new one is being planned for Waukee, Iowa."
Apple to build $1B campus in Austin, increase employment nationwide | AppleInsider

The Messy Political Story of Bitcoin | Bloomberg

Also see A Year After the Crypto Bubble Burst, Will Bitcoin Ever Recover? | Bloomberg
"Techno-utopia is also messy. Code is better at enforcing rules than setting them. An arcane feud over whether to expand the size of transaction blocks in 2017 created an entirely new version of Bitcoin, called Bitcoin Cash. That in turn went through a second nasty split earlier this year. None of that is encouraging for anyone who needs a currency to reliably pay for groceries and rent.

Talk of Bitcoin as a tool to liberate residents of countries with authoritarian leaders or unstable currencies ignores the obvious control these same leaders have over internet infrastructure. And the idea that crypto makes wealth open to all looks less tenable as the bubble bursts. Regulators are still uncovering frauds; 56 percent of crypto startups fail within four months of selling coins, says a Boston College study; and newcomers have lost money while some early insiders are estimated to be billionaires. Assault people’s pocketbooks at your peril."
The Messy Political Story of Bitcoin | Bloomberg

The Detention of Huawei’s CFO is Legally Justified. Why Doesn’t the U.S. Say So? | Lawfare

On a related note, see China Arrests a 2nd Canadian, Escalating Diplomatic Feud | NYT
"While it is tempting to ignore histrionic Chinese claims that Meng has been denied due process and basic legal rights, the complexity of the legal process surrounding Meng’s detention has allowed China’s government to sow doubts about the legal legitimacy of the arrest. Indeed, the complete silence by the U.S. Department of Justice on the matter has only made it more difficult for the U.S. government to push back against the Chinese government’s increasingly ridiculous statements and demands. Meanwhile, President Trump’s recent statement that he would consider intervening in the proceeding for trade or national security reasons has only further confused the already muddled U.S. government message about the Meng case.

This ambiguity undermines one of the important policy goals behind pursuing this prosecution in the first place: enforcing neutral legal standards to punish and deter both Chinese governmental and individual wrongdoing. This post will clarify the legal basis for Meng’s detention and eventual prosecution as well as rebut the often ridiculous (not to mention hypocritical) attacks by the Chinese government and media."
The Detention of Huawei’s CFO is Legally Justified. Why Doesn’t the U.S. Say So? | Lawfare

Dr. Elon & Mr. Musk: Life Inside Tesla's Production Hell | Wired

From an extensive (~9,500-word) Elon Musk profile
"Musk’s odd behavior isn’t unique or even extreme in the annals of inventors. Howard Hughes lived like a hermit in hotels, watching movies in the nude and refusing to cut his fingernails. Nikola Tesla, who pioneered alternating current electricity delivery—and who is honored in the name of Musk’s company—died destitute, convinced he had invented a motor that could run on “cosmic rays” and obsessed with caring for sick pigeons. (He is reputed to have said of one, “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.”)

There’s a sense of tragedy in such stories because these men seemed, at one point, to rise above the masses and suggest that genius is possible. Silicon Valley in particular reveres these kind of heroes—and the more willful and ornery they are, the better. Technologists are often called upon to do things that seem impossible, and so they celebrate when doubters are proven wrong—when dismissal of an idea becomes evidence of its visionary reach. The idea of the odd genius is afforded a special status within technology. People lionize inventors who listen to their intuition and ignore naysayers, who hold themselves and everyone else to a standard of perfection, regardless of what it costs those around them. Steve Jobs is gone; now we have Elon Musk."
Dr. Elon & Mr. Musk: Life Inside Tesla's Production Hell | Wired

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

There is a lot of needless investor panic about the Chinese iPhone 'ban' | AppleInsider

Pretty sure Apple is not selling any devices running iOS 11 these days...
"AppleInsider has confirmed with sources inside Apple not authorized to speak on behalf of the company that the legal department believes that iOS 12 is the solution to any conceivable patent violation, wasn't present at the ruling at all as it was performed ex parte, has requested the Fuzhou court to reconsider the decision, and has filed a formal appeal to clear the decks of the threat which will allow it to "wipe the precedent from the annals of history."

Qualcomm does not interpret it the same way that Apple does. But, the company complained about iOS 11 with the court, and not iOS 12 in much the same way that it complained about the iPhone 6S through iPhone X. So far, Qualcomm has not responded to AppleInsider's questions for clarifications on the matter.

Chinese courts will ultimately decide the true way. But, regardless of how Qualcomm wants to interpret the ban, the iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max aren't listed as banned products."
There is a lot of needless investor panic about the Chinese iPhone 'ban' | AppleInsider

Verizon Admits Defeat With $4.6 Billion AOL-Yahoo Writedown | Bloomberg

Probably not entirely based on The fallout from Tumblr’s porn ban | The Verge... Also see New Verizon execs say old Verizon execs made a $5 billion mistake betting on AOL and Yahoo | Recode
"The move will erase almost half the value of the division it had been calling Oath, which houses AOL, Yahoo and other businesses like the Huffington Post.

“The hype of Oath has been over for some time,” Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche said in a note Tuesday. She likened the writedown to “ripping off the Oath band-aid.”

The episode offered a silver lining for investors. Rather than attempt a megadeal like AT&T Inc.’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc., Verizon only spent about $9.5 billion in the past three years buying fading web giants. Though the bet hasn’t paid off, it at least stumbled on a smaller scale."
Verizon Admits Defeat With $4.6 Billion AOL-Yahoo Writedown | Bloomberg

Elon Musk Is Getting the Last Laugh on Wall Street After a Wild 2018 | Bloomberg

"Insane mode" is working well so far; in other stock market news, see U.S. stocks sought higher ground. Then Trump detoured ‘to crazy town.’ | Washington Post
"Tesla’s stock is, somewhat improbably, right back near the highs it reached on the day of that infamous “funding secured” tweet that caused a furious rally before landing Musk in trouble with the SEC. And so after a year of stomach-churning swings that saw the stock post half a dozen rallies or selloffs of 20 percent or more, it is up nearly 18 percent. Not bad at all when you consider that the S&P 500 is down 1.4 percent on the year.

All of this, of course, could easily shift again at almost any moment, given Musk’s penchant for impolitic remarks and the many operational challenges. But for now at least, Wall Street is bullish once again, expecting Tesla to be profitable and have positive free cash flow in the fourth quarter -- accomplishments that would show the company has finally figured out how to produce cars at a stable pace and make money while doing it."
Elon Musk Is Getting the Last Laugh on Wall Street After a Wild 2018 | Bloomberg

GAO axes IBM’s bid protest, teeing up a court battle over Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud effort | Washington Post

Losing AWS competitors are
"The Government Accountability Office has struck down a bid protest filed last month by the computing giant IBM, handing a victory to Defense Department officials who want to turn to a single provider for the Pentagon’s $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud computing network, known as JEDI.

The decision came just a few weeks after the GAO ruled against a similar challenge from Oracle, which subsequently took its case to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims earlier this week. In the decision on the IBM protest announced Tuesday, GAO said it would leave the issue to the courts, noting that there was little difference between the arguments made by the two companies."
GAO axes IBM’s bid protest, teeing up a court battle over Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud effort | Washington Post

Marriott Data Breach Is Traced to Chinese Hackers as U.S. Readies Crackdown on Beijing | NYT

Probably not planning to compete with Amazon, Facebook, and Google in profile-based digital advertising...
"The Marriott database contains not only credit card information but passport data. Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser under Mr. Obama, noted last week at a conference that passport information would be particularly valuable in tracking who is crossing borders and what they look like, among other key data.

But officials on Tuesday said it was only part of an aggressive operation whose centerpiece was the 2014 hacking into the Office of Personnel Management. At the time, the government bureau loosely guarded the detailed forms that Americans fill out to get security clearances — forms that contain financial data; information about spouses, children and past romantic relationships; and any meetings with foreigners.

Such information is exactly what the Chinese use to root out spies, recruit intelligence agents and build a rich repository of Americans’ personal data for future targeting. With those details and more that were stolen from insurers like Anthem, the Marriott data adds another critical element to the intelligence profile: travel habits."
Marriott Data Breach Is Traced to Chinese Hackers as U.S. Readies Crackdown on Beijing | NYT

Google CEO Sundar Pichai emerges ‘unscathed’ from the circus in Washington | Washington Post

Also see Of Course Monopoly Man and Alex Jones Showed Up to the Google CEO’s House Hearing | Slate
"His voice was so quiet at times he could barely be heard across the chambers of the House Judiciary Committee, and he faced a firing line of dour lawmakers, some of them intent on hammering the tech giant for alleged political bias.

But after nearly four hours of rambling questions and partisan bickering, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai emerged on Tuesday from his first-ever testimony to Congress almost entirely untouched.

“He didn’t make any enemies here today,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank that has received funding from Google. “The people who were here trying to rattle him weren’t able to do it. Google came out unscathed.”"
Google CEO Sundar Pichai emerges ‘unscathed’ from the circus in Washington | Washington Post

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Google shutting down Fusion Tables next year, teases new data visualizations tools | 9to5Google

Another one bites the dust... See this Google page for more details on the "changes." Now both Microsoft and Google have punted on productivity suite-integrated, modern, non-developer-centric database tools (yes, Access still exists, but it went stale more than a decade ago, and Access Services quietly faded away; no, I don't consider PowerApps a viable alternative), leaving the market wide open for Airtable.
"Launched in 2009 under Google Labs, Fusion Tables is a tool used by data scientists and other researches to visualize large datasets. Google today announced that its web-based visualization service is shutting down next December.

Starting as a research project, Google Fusion Tables later became an experimental product for data visualization on the web. Users could collate together large data sets with hundreds of thousands of rows and then chart them via a map, network graph, or other custom layout. Information could be combined from multiple sources, including public datasets.

Like other Google Drive applications, users could collaborate, with sharing options including embedding into a site. Meanwhile, a Fusion Tables API allowed more developer access to data."
Google shutting down Fusion Tables next year, teases new data visualizations tools | 9to5Google

When Elon Musk Switches on ‘Insane Mode’ | The Atlantic

Excerpt from an interview with the author of Insane Mode: How Elon Musk's Tesla Sparked an Electric Revolution to End the Age of Oil; tangentially, see Elon Musk: 'I do not respect the SEC' | CNN
"Koren: Where do you see Tesla in 10 years?

McKenzie: It’s either dead completely, or it’s an arm of Apple or Google or Amazon. But if it can continue to not die—which I think has been its number one quality in its life so far, despite all the things it has come up against—Tesla could be a giant energy company, with half its business in mass-manufacturing good electric cars that, by that point, are largely autonomous, and half of its revenue coming from mass-scale energy-storage systems that help make solar and wind power more reliable.

I don’t want to sound too boosterish, but as long as Tesla can be alive in 10 years and roughly heading toward these goals that Elon Musk has set for it, it could well be a trillion-dollar company. But that proviso of not dying is a pretty big one. There are so many challenges it has to overcome, and it needs a little bit more stability to be able to get to this point, where it can be reliably profitable and stable as a place to work."
When Elon Musk Switches on ‘Insane Mode’ | The Atlantic

Social media outpaces print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source | Pew Research Center

Later in the post: "The age divide is nearly as large for social media, but in the other direction [compared to TV news]: Those 18 to 29 are about four times as likely to often get news there as those 65 and older."
"Social media sites have surpassed print newspapers as a news source for Americans: One-in-five U.S. adults say they often get news via social media, slightly higher than the share who often do so from print newspapers (16%) for the first time since Pew Research Center began asking these questions. In 2017, the portion who got news via social media was about equal to the portion who got news from print newspapers.

Social media’s small edge over print emerged after years of steady declines in newspaper circulation and modest increases in the portion of Americans who use social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year."
Social media outpaces print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source | Pew Research Center

Expediting changes to Google+ | Google Keyword blog

For a less euphemistic headline, see Google will shut down Google+ four months early after second data leak | The Verge
"We’ve recently determined that some users were impacted by a software update introduced in November that contained a bug affecting a Google+ API. We discovered this bug as part of our standard and ongoing testing procedures and fixed it within a week of it being introduced. No third party compromised our systems, and we have no evidence that the app developers that inadvertently had this access for six days were aware of it or misused it in any way.
With the discovery of this new bug, we have decided to expedite the shut-down of all Google+ APIs; this will occur within the next 90 days. In addition, we have also decided to accelerate the sunsetting of consumer Google+ from August 2019 to April 2019. While we recognize there are implications for developers, we want to ensure the protection of our users."
Expediting changes to Google+ | Google Keyword blog

Amazon’s Homegrown Chips Threaten Silicon Valley Giant Intel | NYT

New realities for Intel
"“Each one of these companies is so large, they represent a market unto themselves,” Mr. Rau said.

In recent years, Google has designed specialized chips for artificial intelligence technology. Facebook and Microsoft, which like most internet companies are major buyers of chips from Intel, have indicated that they are working on similar A.I. chips.

Apple beat the other tech giants to this cost-saving trend four years ago when it unveiled its first custom-built chip for the iPhone. Google and Microsoft are also building the chips that go into devices like smartphones and virtual-reality headsets.

Amazon has upped the ante. In 2015, it spent a reported $350 million to acquire a chip maker, Annapurna Labs, which helped build the new central processing unit, or C.P.U."
Amazon’s Homegrown Chips Threaten Silicon Valley Giant Intel | NYT

Two years after #Pizzagate showed the dangers of hateful conspiracies, they’re still rampant on YouTube | Washington Post

In other headlines the Facebook PR team is probably relieved to see, check Jack Dorsey has no excuse | Washington Post
"A year after YouTube’s chief executive promised to curb “problematic” videos, it continues to harbor and even recommend hateful, conspiratorial videos, allowing racists, anti-Semites and proponents of other extremist views to use the platform as an online library for spreading their ideas.

YouTube is particularly valuable to users of Gab.ai and 4chan, social media sites that are popular among hate groups but have scant video capacity of their own. Users on these sites link to YouTube more than to any other website, thousands of times a day, according to the recent work of Data and Society and the Network Contagion Research Institute, both of which track the spread of hate speech."
Two years after #Pizzagate showed the dangers of hateful conspiracies, they’re still rampant on YouTube | Washington Post

Monday, December 10, 2018

Why Microsoft's market cap advantage over Apple doesn't matter | Axios

From a timely AAPL/MSFT reality check
"More importantly, companies are not stocks, and stocks are not companies. Compare the actual size of the two companies, and it's not even close. In the most recent fiscal year:
  • Microsoft had $110 billion in sales, while Apple had $266 billion.
  • Microsoft had $71 billion in gross income, while Apple had $102 billion.
  • Microsoft had $17 billion in net income, while Apple had $60 billion.
  • Both companies have roughly the same number of employees: 131,000 at Microsoft, 132,000 at Apple."
 Why Microsoft's market cap advantage over Apple doesn't matter | Axios

Facebook must decide: Is it for the mob or for democracy? | Monday Note

Post summary: "The crisis in France shows the urgent need for pedagogy. But attempts to explain or educate have no chance to be heard. Political leaders should rethink their approach and Facebook should help."
"Dear news media, consider yourself notified: your posts will have much less reach than they used to. The six largest media organizations in France had a cumulative daily reach of 12 million users, 41 percent of Facebook’s audience. The largest mainstream outlet in France is Le Figaro with 2.27 million unique daily visitors in October; Le Monde has 1.7 million daily uniques, not even 6 percent of Facebook’s audience. But even these figures are misleading: while users will spend more than 50 minutes per day on Facebook, they will allocate just a few minutes to news media. In reality, we are talking single-digit percentage reach for newsrooms that do their best to provide accurate and balanced views of events.
This imbalance of social vs. media also explains the inability to steer the debate toward reason."
Facebook must decide: Is it for the mob or for democracy? | Monday Note

50 Years Later, We Still Don't Grasp the Mother of All Demos | Wired

Also see How Doug Engelbart Pulled off the Mother of All Demos | Wired and 50 years ago, Douglas Engelbart's ‘Mother of All Demos’ changed personal technology forever | Mashable
"FIFTY YEARS AGO today, Doug Engelbart showed 2,000 people a preview of the future.

Engelbart gave a demonstration of the "oN-Line System" at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 1968. The oN-Line System was the first hypertext system, preceding the web by more than 20 years. But it was so much more than that. When Engelbart typed a word, it appeared simultaneously on his screen in San Francisco and on a terminal screen at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. When Engelbart moved his mouse, the cursor moved in both locations.

The demonstration was impressive not just because Engelbart showed off Google Docs-style collaboration decades before Google was founded. It was impressive because he and his team at SRI's Augmentation Research Center had to conceive of and create nearly every piece of technology they displayed, from the window-based graphical interface to the computer mouse."
50 Years Later, We Still Don't Grasp the Mother of All Demos | Wired

Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret | NYT

Also see A 'Trust Crisis:' IBM CEO Ginni Rometty Joins Apple's Tim Cook in Slamming Tech's Abuse of User Data | Fortune...
"At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information, The Times found. Several of those businesses claim to track up to 200 million mobile devices in the United States — about half those in use last year. The database reviewed by The Times — a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company — reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.
These companies sell, use or analyze the data to cater to advertisers, retail outlets and even hedge funds seeking insights into consumer behavior. It’s a hot market, with sales of location-targeted advertising reaching an estimated $21 billion this year. IBM has gotten into the industry, with its purchase of the Weather Channel’s apps. The social network Foursquare remade itself as a location marketing company. Prominent investors in location start-ups include Goldman Sachs and Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder."
Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret | NYT

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Can the U.S. Stop China From Controlling the Next Internet Age? | NYT

From another timely Kara Swisher reality check
"The government has a lot to be concerned about. As critical 5G — fifth generation — wireless networks roll out over the world, many are being deployed by Huawei. These are the networks that will usher in the next age of innovation, and the idea of China — which pretty much exemplifies the surveillance economy — dominating that age is troubling.

But I am perplexed about why the Trump administration has been such an embarrassment when it comes to the kind of actual leadership and vision needed to keep the United States at the forefront of the tech race.

Our government’s commitment to investment in what’s coming next is the best counterpart to vigilance against competitors like China. Instead, we are seeing a loud but decidedly empty effort to promote the idea that tech manufacturing should return to the United States (it won’t) and a very weak commitment to bringing qualified tech and science minds into the centers of power (a good pick for the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy has yet to be confirmed after being nominated this year)."
Can the U.S. Stop China From Controlling the Next Internet Age? | NYT