Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Google Pixelbook leak reveals a high-end Chromebook with stylus support - The Verge

In other Google hardware news in advance of its October 4th event, see Google's miniature Home leaks ahead of Pixel event (The Verge)

"It looks like Google is bringing back the Chromebook Pixel — just under a slightly different name. Droid Life has uncovered photos and details of an upcoming Chromebook called the Google Pixelbook. It’ll be seriously high-end for a Chromebook, just like the original Pixel, but this time around, it’ll also support a stylus and flip around to function like a tablet.

The Pixelbook will reportedly come in only one color, silver, and have three different storage tiers: 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. Those will sell for $1,199, $1,399, and $1,749 — at which point you could have easily bought five cheaper Chromebooks instead. One particular oddity: despite the high price, the Pixelbook apparently won’t ship with its stylus, called the Pixelbook Pen, which is supposed to sell for an additional $99."
Google Pixelbook leak reveals a high-end Chromebook with stylus support - The Verge

ICOs: What is an Initial Coin Offering and how does it work? - Recode

Final paragraphs below; in other *coin news, Bitcoin Is Likely to Split Again in November, Say Major Players (Bloomberg)

"How governments choose to regulate this new type of transaction is one of the big outstanding questions in the field. The IRS has said that virtual currency, in general, is taxable — as long as the currency can be converted to a dollar amount.

Some expect the SEC to begin strictly clamping down on ICOs before the cash is raised. That’s already happened in other countries, most notably China — which this month banned the practice altogether. ICOs, while hosted in a certain country, are not confined to a certain jurisdiction and can be traded anywhere you can connect online.

“Ninety-nine percent of ICOs are a scam, so [China’s pause on ICOs] is needed to filter the crooks out,” tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted this month. “Next phase of ICOs will be real.”"
ICOs: What is an Initial Coin Offering and how does it work? - Recode

Apple Watch Series 3 Excels, Even if You Don’t Need Cellular - The New York Times

Final paragraphs below; also see Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE Review: Missed Connections (The Verge)
"Although I think most people can skip buying the cellular model, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the first smart watch I can confidently recommend that people buy. While I don’t personally find it attractive enough to replace my wristwatch, the new Apple Watch is a well-designed, durable and easy-to-use fitness tracker for people who want analytics on their workouts and general health (R.I.P., Fitbit).

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics."
Apple Watch Series 3 Excels, Even if You Don’t Need Cellular - The New York Times

Amazon reportedly working on Alexa-enabled 'smart glasses' (Engadget)

In the meantime, Amazon already offers a smart glasses category of (likely doomed) products...

"Amazon wants to make Alexa a more formidable competitor to Google Assistant and Siri by letting you put it on your face and take it anywhere, according to a Financial Times report (paywall). The company is said to be developing a pair of normal-looking eyeglasses that tether to your smartphone and allow you hear, and presumably speak to, Alexa via a bone-conduction audio system. There won't, however, be a screen or camera on the model as with Google Glass.

Though the lack of a screen and camera would seem to neuter the glasses, dropping them would dramatically improve its battery life. And in any case, the idea is not to have Google Glass-like vision, but to give users a direct line to Alexa on a smartphone without having to open an app, as is currently the case. That would make them much more useful in a vehicle or on the street, especially if they can be incorporated into comfortable, daily-worn eyeglasses."
Amazon reportedly working on Alexa-enabled 'smart glasses'

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Amazon updates the Fire HD 10 tablet with a 1080p display and a much lower price - The Verge

Also see Amazon's Newest Gadget Is a Tablet That's Also an Echo (Gizmodo); tangentially, see Amazon has 76% smart home speaker U.S. market share as Echo unit sales reach 15M, new study finds (GeekWire)

"Amazon’s flagship Fire tablet is getting the display fans have been calling for next month — and a much lower price. The company said today that its new Fire HD 10 tablet will come with a 10.1-inch, 1080p display, making it the first Amazon tablet to have a display of that caliber since the Fire HDX in 2013. Pricing for the tablet starts at $150, or $80 less than the previous entry-level price of $230. The new Fire HD 10 starts shipping the week of Oct. 11th.

The new Fire HD 10 has received improved components across the board. The tablet will run on a quad-core processor for the first time, improving the tablet’s speed by 30 percent, Amazon says. Average battery life has improved from eight hours to 10. Dual speakers have Dolby Atmos support. And it has 32GB of storage in the entry-level model, up from 16GB for the previous edition. (As before, a micro-SD card slot lets you expand storage by up to 256GB. A 64GB model is also available.)"
Amazon updates the Fire HD 10 tablet with a 1080p display and a much lower price - The Verge

Your local library's eBooks now appear in Google search (Android Police)

I'm guessing there's some schema.org somewhere in this picture

"Big readers on a small budget have always had a hard time. Library waiting lists can get pretty long, and sometimes titles aren't even available locally. But today Google added a new feature to its search that helps library patrons everywhere. Now the next time you search for a book title, you can see if the e-book is available to borrow from your library. 

This new feature works on both mobile and desktop and manifests simply. If you search for the title of a book, you'll see one of two things. On desktop search, there's an additional heading in the detailed results/information card on the right. But on mobile, it's buried in the Get Book tab, just under the Buy ebook card."
Your local library's eBooks now appear in Google search

Tech innovator Tim O’Reilly: Don’t fear technology, robots or the future | The Press Democrat -

From a wide-ranging interview

"Now O’Reilly, 63, is turning to a much broader general audience with his latest project, a book entitled: “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us.” In it, he takes what he has learned from some 40 years in the tech world and applies it to the challenges facing our economy and society, where artificial intelligence, robots and big data are changing our lives.

O’Reilly doesn’t fear the future. He writes: “Instead of using technology to replace people, we can use it to augment them so they can do things that were previously impossible.”

In an interview at his Oakland home, O’Reilly covered a wide range of topics: his business, weaning ourselves from Wall Street’s influence on our economy, sexism in the tech culture, and why he thinks ride-hailing business Uber has been over-hyped. The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity."
Tech innovator Tim O’Reilly: Don’t fear technology, robots or the future | The Press Democrat -

Facebook’s war on free will | Technology | The Guardian

From a long post "extracted from World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer;" but is it still a technocracy if deep learning systems are in charge?...

"Without knowing it, Zuckerberg is the heir to a long political tradition. Over the last 200 years, the west has been unable to shake an abiding fantasy, a dream sequence in which we throw out the bum politicians and replace them with engineers – rule by slide rule. The French were the first to entertain this notion in the bloody, world-churning aftermath of their revolution. A coterie of the country’s most influential philosophers (notably, Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte) were genuinely torn about the course of the country. They hated all the old ancient bastions of parasitic power – the feudal lords, the priests and the warriors – but they also feared the chaos of the mob. To split the difference, they proposed a form of technocracy – engineers and assorted technicians would rule with beneficent disinterestedness. Engineers would strip the old order of its power, while governing in the spirit of science. They would impose rationality and order.

This dream has captivated intellectuals ever since, especially Americans. The great sociologist Thorstein Veblen was obsessed with installing engineers in power and, in 1921, wrote a book making his case. His vision briefly became a reality. In the aftermath of the first world war, American elites were aghast at all the irrational impulses unleashed by that conflict – the xenophobia, the racism, the urge to lynch and riot. And when the realities of economic life had grown so complicated, how could politicians possibly manage them? Americans of all persuasions began yearning for the salvific ascendance of the most famous engineer of his time: Herbert Hoover. In 1920, Franklin D Roosevelt – who would, of course, go on to replace him in 1932 – organised a movement to draft Hoover for the presidency."
Facebook’s war on free will | Technology | The Guardian

Equifax Suffered a Hack Almost Five Months Earlier Than the Date It Disclosed - Bloomberg

Looking like a multifaceted IT worst-practices case study

"If the two hacks are unrelated it could be that different hacking teams had different goals. One clue has emerged that suggests one goal of the attackers was to use Equifax as a way into the computers of major banks, according to a fourth person familiar with the matter.

This person said a large Canadian bank has determined that hackers claiming to sell celebrity profiles from Equifax on the dark web -- information that appears to be fraudulent, or recycled from other breaches -- did in fact steal the username and password for an application programming interface, or API, linking the bank’s back-end servers to Equifax.

According to the person and a Sept. 14 internal memo reviewed by Bloomberg, the gateway linked a test and development site used by the bank’s wealth management division to Equifax, allowing the two entities to share information digitally."
Equifax Suffered a Hack Almost Five Months Earlier Than the Date It Disclosed - Bloomberg

Best Buy’s Secrets for Thriving in the Amazon Age - The New York Times

tl;dr: be the sole survivor in your brick-and-mortar retail category; on the other hand, Toys ‘R’ Us Files for Bankruptcy, Crippled by Competition and Debt

"Mr. Joly didn’t explicitly tell me this, but it is obvious: Best Buy has benefited from some serious good fortune.

It’s lucky that the products it specializes in selling, like big-screen TVs and high-end audio equipment, are big-ticket items that many customers still feel uncomfortable buying sight unseen from a website. It’s lucky that several large competitors have gone out of business, shrinking its list of rivals. And it’s lucky that the vendors who make the products it sells, like Apple and Samsung, have kept churning out expensive blockbuster gadgets.

“They’re at the mercy of the product cycles,” said Stephen Baker, a tech industry analyst at NPD Group. “If people stop buying PCs or they don’t care about big-screen TVs anymore, they have a challenge.”"
Best Buy’s Secrets for Thriving in the Amazon Age - The New York Times

Monday, September 18, 2017

Slack Gets Slice of SoftBank’s $100 Billion Tech Bounty - Bloomberg

Few financial constraints for Slack; see Okta's Most Popular Apps Collaboration + Messaging for a related market momentum snapshot

"Slack Technologies Inc. closed a $250 million funding round led by SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund, giving it more ammunition for expansion  in an increasingly competitive market for workplace messaging services.

The financing round values the startup at $5.1 billion, up from $3.8 billion the last time. The Vision Fund is joined by Accel and other investors, Slack said Sunday. Bloomberg reported on the latest funding in July.

San Francisco-based Slack said the money is for “operational flexibility,” not for a particular use, and added that it still has much of the $591 million it already raised. The company this month announced an expansion of its service to work in German, French, Spanish and Japanese as it competes with Microsoft Corp.’s Teams and Atlassian Corp.’s HipChat service for corporate customers."
Slack Gets Slice of SoftBank’s $100 Billion Tech Bounty - Bloomberg

What Jamie Dimon Is Missing About Bitcoin - The New York Times

Meanwhile, bitcoin's price is getting close to $4K again, up ~30% over the last few days...

"Mr. Dimon’s comments may have come as a surprise to the dozens of employees at his bank working on projects related to blockchain, the bookkeeping technology underpinning digital currencies. And the comments must have been especially jarring to those employees who were holding a forum for hedge funds interested in Bitcoin— whose market value stood at about $70 billion at that moment.

It’s no secret that Bitcoin and other digital currencies may dramatically fall in value at any time. How can an asset whose value jumps by 20 percent some days, and which no one can accurately value, plausibly not also suffer huge declines?

But that’s a long way from Bitcoin being a worthless fraud."
What Jamie Dimon Is Missing About Bitcoin - The New York Times

Facebook Navigates an Internet Fractured by Governmental Controls - The New York Times

"It's complicated..."

"As nations try to grab back power online, a clash is brewing between governments and companies. Some of the biggest companies in the world — Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba among them — are finding they need to play by an entirely new set of rules on the once-anarchic internet.

And it’s not just one new set of rules. According to a review by The New York Times, more than 50 countries have passed laws over the last five years to gain greater control over how their people use the web.

“Ultimately, it’s a grand power struggle,” said David Reed, an early pioneer of the internet and a former professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab. “Governments started waking up as soon as a significant part of their powers of communication of any sort started being invaded by companies.”"
Facebook Navigates an Internet Fractured by Governmental Controls - The New York Times

Friday, September 15, 2017

Oracle's Q1: Cloud, great. Hardware, meh. Mergers, unlikely • The Register

Also see Oracle's profit, cloud growth forecasts drag down shares (Reuters)

"Ellison also eschewed the notion of making a big acquisition to further Oracle's cloud business, saying "there is no one left to buy," and suggesting that Oracle would instead continue to rely on its in-house products.

When he wasn't talking up the cloud gains, Ellison used the earnings release to give a preview of at least one of the things Oracle will be showing off next month at its OpenWorld conference in San Francisco.

"In a couple of weeks, we will announce the world's first fully autonomous database cloud service," said Ellison. "Based on machine learning, the latest version of Oracle is a totally automated 'self-driving' system that does not require human beings to manage or tune the database.""
Oracle's Q1: Cloud, great. Hardware, meh. Mergers, unlikely • The Register

Facebook ‘Snooze’ button temporarily hides people in your feed | TechCrunch

Subtle social signals

"Pages and Groups may benefit from Snooze, as it could reduce the chances of someone unliking or leaving them. But it also should inspire them not to overshare or spam, otherwise they could be put in time-out.

Facebook already constantly modulates how much you see of someone based on implicit signals, like if you Like, click, comment on or share their posts. It will surely use Snoozing as a signal that it should show you less of someone when they’re allowed to reappear. But if we’re going to spend so much of our lives browsing the News Feed curated by Facebook’s faceless algorithm, it’s nice to see the company equip us humans with more than just binary controls."
Facebook ‘Snooze’ button temporarily hides people in your feed | TechCrunch

Gripping buttons on both sides of iPhone X disables Face ID, recognition works with most sunglasses (AppleInsider)

I'm guessing Apple's patent-pending portfolio in this context is extensive...

"Keith Krimbel emailed Federighi this week, and received a response which he share on Twitter. Krimbel asked what measures Apple was taking to ensure a thief cannot take a user's iPhone X, point it at their face and then run away with the device unlocked.

"There are two mitigations: if you don't stare at the phone, it won't unlock," Federighi said. "Also, if you grip the buttons on both sides of the phone when you hand it over, it will temporarily disable Face ID."

Krimbel also asked if Face ID will work with sunglasses, and Federighi explained that "most" but not all will not interfere with the biometric unlock mechanism.

"Most sunglasses let through enough IR light that Face ID can see your eyes even when the glasses appear to be opaque," he explained. "It's really amazing!""
Gripping buttons on both sides of iPhone X disables Face ID, recognition works with most sunglasses

The iPhone X’s processor is more powerful than the newest MacBook Pro – BGR

Still waiting for a post-Intel Mac...

"Geekbench 4 single-core tests average around 4169, while multi-core have a 9836 average. But they can go up to 4274 and 10438, as found by MacRumors. That’s much better than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (3887 and 9210 average scores), which isn’t surprising, considering that the 2017 iPads have A10X chips inside.

The highest-end dual-core 13-inch MacBook Pro scores 4592 and 9602 in Geekbench 4 tests. That means the iPhone X is slower in single-core tasks but speedier in multi-core tasks.

Sure, that doesn’t mean the A11 Bionic can do all the things a desktop CPU does. But, think about the numbers for a second. When has a mobile chip been able to match a desktop processor in raw benchmarks? What other smartphones can offer similar performance? Even with cheating enabled, no Android device can really touch these numbers, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Qualcomm’s next processor can get anywhere close to that.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are also powered by the same A11 Bionic chipset."
The iPhone X’s processor is more powerful than the newest MacBook Pro – BGR

This Silicon Valley start-up wants to replace lawyers with robots - The Washington Post

Accelerating the inevitable; also see Twitch co-founder Justin Kan unveils tech platform for law firms (TechCrunch)
"Silicon Valley’s next hot start-up isn’t likely to be a video chat app. Nor is it likely to be an on-demand service, like Instacart or Uber.

But maybe it could be — and this isn’t a joke — a law firm.

That is, at least, the ambition of Justin Kan, a serial entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about hot start-ups. The 34-year-old Kan built the video game streaming Twitch, which he sold to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in 2014. He then helped launch hundreds of companies as a partner at the prominent Silicon Valley start-up incubator, Y-Combinator.

Kan’s months-old legal technology start-up, Atrium, is actually incorporated as a law firm — and may be the only Silicon Valley start-up ever to have done so. It has raised $10.5 million so far, and it is even more unusual in a region where rule-breaking and rule-bending are celebrated, and lawyers are among a start-up founder’s last and most reluctant hires."
This Silicon Valley start-up wants to replace lawyers with robots - The Washington Post

Google Sets Limits on Addiction Treatment Ads, Citing Safety - The New York Times

In other better-late-than-never news, see Fearing Anti-Semitic Speech, Facebook Limits Audience Targeting (NYT); in another digital dilemma, also see Google and Facebook Fret Over Anti-Prostitution Bill’s Fallout (Bloomberg)
"This week, Google acknowledged the problem — and started restricting ads that come up when someone searches for addiction treatment on its site. “We found a number of misleading experiences among rehabilitation treatment centers that led to our decision,” Google spokeswoman Elisa Greene said in a statement on Thursday.

Google has taken similar steps to restrict advertisements only a few times before. Last year it limited ads for payday lenders, and in the past it created a verification system for locksmiths to prevent fraud.

In this case, the restrictions will limit a popular marketing tool in the $35 billion addiction treatment business, affecting thousands of small-time operators."
Google Sets Limits on Addiction Treatment Ads, Citing Safety - The New York Times

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Finally, Some Answers From Equifax to Your Data Breach Questions - The New York Times

Final paragraphs; check the full post for recent Equifax guidance
"Look, I get the deal here. We all get it now. These companies don’t think of us as customers. They think of us as products. They get lenders and others to send over our payment histories to them, aggregate it and resell the data elsewhere. And until recently, they answered to no one, more or less. 
Now, however, Equifax has to answer to all of us consumers and others, since they’re going to be sued and investigated to kingdom come. And Experian and TransUnion ought to be more forthcoming.

So to all of them, I say: Want fewer freezes? Less Twitter outrage? Answer our reasonable questions, so we can protect ourselves now that it is utterly clear that many of the supposed experts in this industry cannot do so."
Finally, Some Answers From Equifax to Your Data Breach Questions - The New York Times

Bitcoin exchange BTCChina says to stop trading, sparking further slide (Reuters)

Final sentence: "Bitcoin is on track for its worst month since January 2015." Also see Bitcoin drops below $3,000, Ethereum falls under $200 (Betanews)
"Chinese bitcoin exchange BTCChina said on Thursday that it would stop all trading from Sept. 30, setting off a further slide in the value of the cryptocurrency that left it over 30 percent away from the record highs it hit earlier in the month.

China has boomed as a cryptocurrency trading location in recent years, as investors and speculators flocked to domestic exchanges that formerly allowed users to conduct trades for free, boosting demand.

But that has prompted regulators in the country to crack down on the cryptocurrency sector, in a bid to stamp out potential financial risks as consumers pile into a highly risky and speculative market that has seen unprecedented growth this year."
Bitcoin exchange BTCChina says to stop trading, sparking further slide

Mueller Probe Has ‘Red-Hot’ Focus on Social Media, Officials Say - Bloomberg

Probably some difficult days ahead for the Facebook and Twitter PR departments

"Russia’s effort to influence U.S. voters through Facebook and other social media is a “red-hot” focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election and possible links to President Donald Trump’s associates, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Mueller’s team of prosecutors and FBI agents is zeroing in on how Russia spread fake and damaging information through social media and is seeking additional evidence from companies like Facebook and Twitter about what happened on their networks, said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the ongoing investigation.

The ability of foreign nations to use social media to manipulate and influence elections and policy is increasingly seen as the soft underbelly of international espionage, another official said, because it doesn’t involve the theft of state secrets and the U.S. doesn’t have a ready defense to prevent such attacks."
Mueller Probe Has ‘Red-Hot’ Focus on Social Media, Officials Say - Bloomberg

Kaspersky Lab Antivirus Software Is Ordered Off U.S. Government Computers - The New York Times

Also see Kaspersky: Russia responds to US ban on software (BBC)

"Kaspersky is considered one of the foremost cybersecurity research firms in the world, and has considerable expertise in designing antivirus software and tools to uncover spyware used by Western intelligence services. The company was founded by Eugene V. Kaspersky, who attended a high school that trained Russian spies, and later wrote software for the Soviet Army before going on to found Kaspersky Lab in 1997. He has insisted that neither he nor his company have active ties to the Russian military or intelligence services.

Yet despite its prominence in the cybersecurity world, its origins in Russia have for years fueled suspicions about its possible ties to Russia’s intelligence agencies. Federal officials have warned private companies to avoid Kaspersky software, and earlier this year the firm was removed from two lists of approved vendors used by government agencies to purchase technology."
Kaspersky Lab Antivirus Software Is Ordered Off U.S. Government Computers - The New York Times

Apple explains what exactly happened when Face ID ‘failed’ during iPhone X demo | 9to5Mac

tl;dr: they were holding it wrong

"Apple has officially clarified what happened on stage when the first demo of Face ID didn’t go as planned. While many were quick to call it a “fail,” that’s not what happened in the slightest. Apple confirmed the situation in a statement to Yahoo this evening… Apple explained that the demo iPhone X had been handled by several people before being setup at the demo table for Craig Federighi. Face ID had tried to authenticate the faces of everyone who handled the device, and after failing, the iPhone X moved to require a passcode. Thus, when Federighi went to demo Face ID, the iPhone X was already in passcode mode."
Apple explains what exactly happened when Face ID ‘failed’ during iPhone X demo | 9to5Mac

Twitter founder: Trump presidency is product of short attention spans | US news | The Guardian

A new Medium still evolving

"He also spoke of how he had become disillusioned about the ability of the internet to make people more intelligent. “One of my big learnings, over the last couple of decades, is that access to information alone doesn’t make us smarter. The fake news thing is one small part of it; another even bigger part of it is the quality and depth of the information. Is it actually building our understanding or deepening our understanding of the world or is it just noise?”

And Williams conceded that internet companies could do more to tackle online abuse. He said: “Providers of information systems and the platforms that our media get disseminated on have a big responsibility. It includes removing stuff.

“We are evolving our understanding of what abuse is and how protecting free speech is a lot more nuanced than it sounds. You can be an ardent believer in free speech and also realise that someone’s speech is limiting someone else’s willingness to speak. I’m optimistic that the systems are going to get much better [at tackling online abuse].”"
Twitter founder: Trump presidency is product of short attention spans | US news | The Guardian