Friday, December 28, 2018

Has peak cryptocurrency already come and gone? | Boston Globe

Final paragraphs below; also see Remember Bitcoin? Some Investors Might Want to Forget | NYT
"For the moment, the real question is if and when global regulation will stamp out privately constructed systems that are expensive for governments to trace and monitor. Any single large advanced economy foolish enough to try to embrace cryptocurrencies, as Japan did last year, risks becoming a global destination for money-laundering. (Japan’s subsequent moves to distance itself from cryptocurrencies were perhaps one cause of this year’s gyrations.) In the end, advanced economies will surely coordinate on cryptocurrency regulation, as they have on other measures to prevent money laundering and tax evasion.

But that leaves out a lot of disgruntled players. After all, many today — including Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Russia — are laboring under United States financial sanctions. Their governments will not necessarily care about global externalities if they encourage cryptocurrencies that might have value as long as they are used somewhere.

So, while we shouldn’t be surprised by this year’s cryptocurrency price bust, the price of these coins is not necessarily zero. Like lottery tickets, there is a high probability that they are worthless. There is also an extremely small outside chance that they will be worth a great deal someday, for reasons that currently are difficult to anticipate."
Has peak cryptocurrency already come and gone? | Boston Globe

Friday, December 21, 2018

Does AI make strong tech companies stronger? | Benedict Evans

Final paragraphs from a timely ML reality check
"Hence, I said earlier that there are two questions for an ML startup: how do you get the data and how much do you need? But those are just the technical questions: you also ask how you go to market, what your addressable market is, how valuable the problem you’re solving is to your customers, and so on and so on. That is, pretty soon there won’t be any ‘AI’ startups - they will be industrial process analysis companies, or legal platform companies, or sales optimization companies. Indeed, the diffusion of machine learning means not so much that Google gets stronger, but that all sorts of startups can build things with this cutting edge science much quicker than before.

This takes me to a metaphor I’ve used elsewhere - we should compare machine learning to SQL. It’s an important building block that allowed new and important things, and will be part of everything. If you don’t use it and your competitors do, you will fall behind. Some people will create entirely new companies with this - part of Wal-Mart’s success came from using databases to manage inventory and logistics more efficiently. But today, if you started a retailer and said “…and we’re going to use databases”, that would not make you different or interesting - SQL became part of everything and then disappeared. The same will happen with machine learning."
Does AI make strong tech companies stronger? | Benedict Evans

Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics | NYT

Also see Doug Jones ‘Outraged’ by Russian-Style Tactics Used in His Senate Race | NYT; I'm guessing Brad Parscale is unimpressed...
"There is no evidence that Mr. Jones sanctioned or was even aware of the social media project. Joe Trippi, a seasoned Democratic operative who served as a top adviser to the Jones campaign, said he had noticed the Russian bot swarm suddenly following Mr. Moore on Twitter. But he said it was impossible that a $100,000 operation had an impact on the race.

Mr. Trippi said he was nonetheless disturbed by the stealth operation. “I think the big danger is somebody in this cycle uses the dark arts of bots and social networks and it works,” he said. “Then we’re in real trouble.”

Despite its small size, the Alabama project brought together some prominent names in the world of political technology. The funding came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who has sought to help Democrats catch up with Republicans in their use of online technology."
Secret Experiment in Alabama Senate Race Imitated Russian Tactics | NYT

Exclusive: China hacked HPE, IBM and then attacked clients - sources | Reuters

Not a good day for the Managed Service Provider (MSP) business; later in the article: "Cloudhopper attacks date back to at least 2014, according the indictment." Also see Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Announces Charges Against Chinese Hackers | U.S. Department of Justice
"Hackers working on behalf of China’s Ministry of State Security breached the networks of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co and IBM, then used the access to hack into their clients’ computers, according to five sources familiar with the attacks.

The attacks were part of a Chinese campaign known as Cloudhopper, which the United States and Britain on Thursday said infected technology service providers in order to steal secrets from their clients."
Exclusive: China hacked HPE, IBM and then attacked clients - sources | Reuters

Research calls company 'toxic' following Amnesty International report | CNBC

Later in the article: ""As an investor, if you dislike Facebook you must absolutely HATE Twitter," Citron wrote."
"Twitter plunged just over 11 percent Thursday after a report from an investor group that called the company "toxic" to advertisers and investors.

Citron Research, led by investor Andrew Left, wrote that Twitter is "uninvestible" and "advertisers will soon be forced to take a hard look at all sponsorships with Twitter." The report followed the publication of an Amnesty International investigation earlier this week, which found that women are sent abusive messages on the platform every 30 seconds."
Research calls company 'toxic' following Amnesty International report | CNBC

Alexa now knows how high swans fly thanks to Wolfram Alpha | The Verge

For a general Alexa update, see The Year Alexa Grew Up | Wired
"Alexa typically sources its knowledge from sites like Wikipedia, Yelp, Accuweather, and Stats.com, but before this latest integration, it didn’t really have an answer for tough geography, history, or engineering inquiries. Now with Wolfram Alpha’s help, Alexa can field questions like how high do swans fly, how many sheets of paper will fit in a binder, and how fast is the wind blowing right now. Wolfram Alpha is a resource that schools sometimes use as a trusted source of information.

It should be noted that Apple’s rival smart assistant Siri, for all its other shortcomings, has had a Wolfram Alpha integration since the iPhone 4S’s launch in 2011, while the Google Assistant still doesn’t offer Wolfram, preferring to rely on its own search engine. Google’s lack of Wolfram Alpha means that it loses out on some of the math problems and puzzles the service can solve. In the end, it seems, the more sources of information a smart assistant can pull from, the better."
Alexa now knows how high swans fly thanks to Wolfram Alpha | The Verge

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The 'Future Book' Is Here, but It's Not What We Expected | Wired

From a book market dynamics reality check
"Physical books today look like physical books of last century. And digital books of today look, feel, and function almost identically to digital books of 10 years ago, when the Kindle launched. The biggest change is that many of Amazon’s competitors have gone belly up or shrunken to irrelevancy. The digital reading and digital book startup ecosystem that briefly emerged in the early 2010s has shriveled to a nubbin.

Amazon won. Trounced, really. As of the end of 2017, about 45 percent (up from 37 percent in 2015) of all print sales and 83 percent of all ebook sales happen through Amazon channels. There are few alternatives with meaningful mind- or market share, especially among digital books."
The 'Future Book' Is Here, but It's Not What We Expected | Wired

Gates Among Billionaires Backing Alphabet Energy Spinoff | Bloomberg

For more details, see Introducing Malta | X blog and the Malta site
"Alphabet Inc.’s secretive X moonshot lab is spinning off an energy-storage project with backing from billionaires including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.

Malta Inc., the newly independent company, raised $26 million led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures LLC, a fund that counts Bezos, Masayoshi Son and Ray Dalio among its investors. Michael Bloomberg, majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, is also a Breakthrough investor and Gates is chairman.
[...]
The money will help Malta further develop a system that uses large vats of molten salt and cooler liquid to store electricity generated from variable sources such as solar and wind. The startup likely will need additional funds to build a full facility, according to Chief Executive Officer Ramya Swaminathan."
Gates Among Billionaires Backing Alphabet Energy Spinoff | Bloomberg

Williams-Sonoma sues Amazon over knockoffs and ‘strikingly similar’ products | Washington Post

Evidently not taken as the sincerest form of flattery... On a related note, see Prime and punishment. Dirty dealing in the $175 billion Amazon Marketplace. | The Verge
"For Christmas, Williams-Sonoma got Amazon the gift that truly keeps on giving: a federal lawsuit.

In a complaint filed Dec. 14, the home goods company accused Amazon.com of selling unauthorized Williams-Sonoma merchandise on its website. It also claimed the retail giant “unfairly and deceptively engaged in a widespread campaign of copying” designs of its West Elm furniture for its own furniture line, Rivet. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Sometimes the items are sold at a significant markup, the complaint states; other times, they’re sold at lower prices.

It’s widely known that third-party vendors sell counterfeit products on Amazon, but the company has sidestepped blame in the past by claiming it merely provides the platform and can’t control those vendors. This complaint is different. The knockoff Williams-Sonoma products are being sold and marketed by Amazon itself, putting Amazon in direct competition with Williams-Sonoma, according to the company’s lawyers."
Williams-Sonoma sues Amazon over knockoffs and ‘strikingly similar’ products | Washington Post

Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended | NiemanLab

See this page for more NiemanLab 2019 predictions for journalism; also see Facebook Is a Problem. The System It Feeds Is a Bigger One. | Medium, which notes "Facebook is a problem, but the online economy that trades on your data is a bigger one."
"I also expect more and more people to isolate (and approach with increasing anxiety) the root of the problem: the fact that the media landscape is overrun with toxic narratives and polluted information not because our systems are broken, but because our systems are working. Information and rumors and opinions spread like wildfire across social media platforms, just as they were meant to do — just as people were meant to use those platforms. Journalists cover the news most likely to generate the most engagement and clicks and cover the news that other journalists have already covered, just as the click-based web economy demands. Social platforms privilege and help spread the most popular content, because spreading popular content is how social media companies generate the most advertising revenue. Too much false and misleading information, too much harassment, too many memes, spreading too quickly with too little oversight or editorial restraint: This outcome isn’t incidental to how contemporary information systems function. It is a function of how these systems function."
Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended | NiemanLab

What’s Facebook worth to you? | Boston Globe

Clearly Russia needs to reevaluate its propaganda investment strategy...
"The Tufts experiment echoed a similar study published earlier this year by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. In this study, about 2,900 people were asked how much money they would accept in exchange for doing without Facebook for one month. The researchers found that the typical user would give up Facebook for about $50 a month, or about $600 per year.

MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson and his colleagues also sought to measure the value of other free online services — and several turned out to be much more valuable than Facebook. Google, for example: people asked more than $17,500 a year to give up its Internet search service; for e-mail, they wanted about $8,400; and $3,600 to get along without online maps.

Why do people value these services so much more highly than Facebook? Because much as they love Facebook, people can live without it. Not so for digital maps, e-mail, and online search."
What’s Facebook worth to you? | Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The 2018 iPad 32GB is now just $229 at Walmart | CNET

6th-generation iPad prices on Amazon as I type this: 32GB $229 (30% discount; $20 extra for gold), 128GB $349.99 (18% discount; $20 less for gold)
"Ever since Black Friday, the iPad 9.7 has been on sale at Target for $249. Today, Walmart beat that deal by $20.

For a limited time, and while supplies last, Walmart has the 2018 iPad 9.7 (32GB) for $229 shipped (plus tax). It's available in silver or space gray. That's $100 off the regular price.

I don't recall ever seeing that big a discount on a current-gen iPad, and it's certainly the lowest price to date on this particular model. Last week, Walmart offered another historic sale -- the 128GB iPad for $329 -- but that deal has expired."
The 2018 iPad 32GB is now just $229 at Walmart | CNET

Self-Driving's Outcast Returns With a Robotruck Scheme | Wired

Also see Self-driving car drove me from California to New York, claims ex-Uber engineer | Guardian
"ANTHONY LEVANDOWSKI, THE engineer whose alleged theft of trade secrets landed him in the middle of a blockbuster self-driving car legal fight, has stepped back into the spotlight with a new company. Pronto AI, he announced on Tuesday, is developing a $5,000 aftermarket driver assistance system for semitrucks, which will handle the steering, throttle, and brakes on the highway.

To prove it works, Levandowski used the software to send his Toyota Prius across the country. In October, Levandowski says, the car drove 3,099 miles from San Francisco to New York City. At no point did he take control away from the computer, except to handle the non-freeway bits, chiefly to refuel and rest up."
Self-Driving's Outcast Returns With a Robotruck Scheme | Wired

Indoor Cycling Platform Zwift Gets $120 Million for Esports Push | Bloomberg

Betting service expansion timing tbd...
"Zwift, a company that gives cyclists the opportunity to compete in virtual-reality races, has raised $120 million to help them set up an esports league and further their expansion into running and rowing."

Based in Long Beach, California, Zwift has built software that lets riders simulate outdoor training -- such as cycling up Mt. Ventoux -- from their living room. Customers can train or compete against one another, with the race projected on their mobile phone, tablet, laptop or mobile phone, along with data about their performance taken from their training device, such as a bike or treadmill."
Indoor Cycling Platform Zwift Gets $120 Million for Esports Push | Bloomberg

It’s Showtime for Elon Musk’s Boring Co., With a Long Way to Go | NYT

Tbd if/when/where mile 2 will be completed...
"On Tuesday, Mr. Musk unveiled the first mile-long stretch of his underground vision of a transit system in this suburb of 90,000 people about 15 miles southwest of Los Angeles. It is the home of both SpaceX and his tunneling enterprise, called the Boring Company.

But the promotional event, which attracted hundreds of people who lined up to see the tunnel, fell short of earlier promises of a system that could transport up to 16 people at a time in electric-powered pods. Mr. Musk said he had abandoned that concept in favor of a system using more conventional passenger vehicles."

It’s Showtime for Elon Musk’s Boring Co., With a Long Way to Go | NYT

As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants | NYT

Also see Let’s Clear Up a Few Things About Facebook’s Partners | Facebook Newsroom
"Facebook has been reeling from a series of privacy scandals, set off by revelations in March that a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly used Facebook data to build tools that aided President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Acknowledging that it had breached users’ trust, Facebook insisted that it had instituted stricter privacy protections long ago. Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, assured lawmakers in April that people “have complete control” over everything they share on Facebook.

But the documents, as well as interviews with about 50 former employees of Facebook and its corporate partners, reveal that Facebook allowed certain companies access to data despite those protections. They also raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission."
As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants | NYT

Used Wisely, the Internet Can Actually Help Public Discourse | Wired

Net positive; on a related note, see Kara Swisher's latest column, How You Can Help Fight the Information Wars | NYT
"This change from Postman’s age was made possible by our much-maligned internet: By disaggregating media and audiences into razor-thin slivers, scalably addressable thanks to reduced distribution and production costs, we freed the national conversation from a mushy median. Granted, that created the Alex Jones of our world. But it also spawned a rich variety of blogs, digital journalism, and that new Athenian agora, podcasts. Nowadays, anyone, not just intellectual elites in an Ivy League seminar room, can observe a sharp mind in the process of thinking, rather than merely performing for a jittery TV audience.

What lessons do we of the Smartphone Age take away from the TV musings of Boorstin and Postman? For starters, avoid the false media currency of pseudoevents and their exhausting commerce, and instead do as the ancient Romans did with coins—hoard the authentic articles that only grow rarer with time."
Used Wisely, the Internet Can Actually Help Public Discourse | Wired

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

AI Has Started Cleaning Up Facebook, but Can It Finish? | Wired

Tangentially, see Facebook still hasn’t launched a big privacy feature that Mark Zuckerberg promised more than seven months ago | Recode
"Counting on AI is a gamble. Algorithms have proved capable of helping to police Facebook, but they are far from a cure-all—and may never be. The company has had great success in detecting and blocking pornography and nudity. But training software to reliably decode text is much more difficult than categorizing images. To tamp down harassment, hate speech, and dangerous conspiracy theories across its vast platform, Facebook needs AI systems capable of understanding the shifting nuances of more than 100 different languages. Any shortfalls must be caught by Facebook’s roughly 15,000 human reviewers, but at the social network’s scale it’s unclear how manageable their workload will be. As events in Myanmar showed, gaps in the enforcement net that may look small from Menlo Park can feel dangerously large to people whose world is being shaped by Facebook."
AI Has Started Cleaning Up Facebook, but Can It Finish? | Wired

North Korea, Fearing K-Pop and Porn, Warns Against Smartphones’ Influence | NYT

Earlier in the article: "“This proves that mobile phones have become an avenue to instill students with unhealthy ideology”"
"Mobile phones have also become an important revenue source for Mr. Kim’s government. State-owned companies sell various rebranded Chinese cellphones, or devices assembled in the North using foreign components, for $100 to $300 apiece. Mr. Kim himself has been shown with a smartphone and inspecting a phone-assembly factory in state media, as he champions the development of science and technology as a means of reviving the North’s moribund economy.

But Mr. Kim’s government has also recently begun blocking North Korean smartphones’ Bluetooth capabilities to prevent file sharing. It is also installing software in smartphones that makes it difficult to open outside files and enables the authorities to track what users have been watching, according to defectors and South Korean officials."
North Korea, Fearing K-Pop and Porn, Warns Against Smartphones’ Influence | NYT

US ballistic missile systems have very poor cyber-security | ZDNet

What could possibly go wrong?...
"No data encryption, no antivirus programs, no multifactor authentication mechanisms, and 28-year-old unpatched vulnerabilities are just some of the cyber-security failings described in a security audit of the US' ballistic missile system released on Friday by the US Department of Defense Inspector General (DOD IG).

The report [PDF] was put together earlier this year, in April, after DOD IG officials inspected five random locations where the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had placed ballistic missiles part of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) --a DOD program developed to protect US territories by launching ballistic missiles to intercept enemy nuclear rockets."
US ballistic missile systems have very poor cyber-security | ZDNet

Monday, December 17, 2018

I Used Gmail Auto-Complete, and Now I Know I’m Worthless | The Atlantic

Final sentence: "Or maybe I’m just overthinking it. Thanks for t[aking a look!]"
"Smart Reply and Smart Compose are smart features that have the effect of highlighting just how unsmart we might be. In a recent interview with a source for another story, I brought up my issues with Gmail’s auto-complete function, and we ended up talking about that for several minutes. “It can be so stressful!” he said. “Sometimes I see Gmail suggest a sentence and then I feel like I have to come up with a better sentence than the machine, because I don’t want my response to feel robotic.” In these cases, Smart Compose doesn’t automate the email process or save time at all. Rather, it extends the work of replying to email by alerting writers to the banality of their prose and by establishing a kind of Mendoza line for non-robotic emailing that has to be surpassed before the author can hit send with his soul intact. As the source continued to talk about his email issues, I laughed the nervous laugh of somebody who felt not eerily predicted, but deeply understood."
I Used Gmail Auto-Complete, and Now I Know I’m Worthless | The Atlantic

The Yoda of Silicon Valley | NYT

Excerpt from an extensive Donald Knuth profile:
"Following Dr. Knuth’s doctrine helps to ward off moronry. He is known for introducing the notion of “literate programming,” emphasizing the importance of writing code that is readable by humans as well as computers — a notion that nowadays seems almost twee. Dr. Knuth has gone so far as to argue that some computer programs are, like Elizabeth Bishop’s poems and Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral,” works of literature worthy of a Pulitzer.

He is also a notorious perfectionist. Randall Munroe, the xkcd cartoonist and author of “Thing Explainer,” first learned about Dr. Knuth from computer-science people who mentioned the reward money Dr. Knuth pays to anyone who finds a mistake in any of his books. As Mr. Munroe recalled, “People talked about getting one of those checks as if it was computer science’s Nobel Prize.”

Dr. Knuth’s exacting standards, literary and otherwise, may explain why his life’s work is nowhere near done. He has a wager with Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google and a former student (to use the term loosely), over whether Mr. Brin will finish his Ph.D. before Dr. Knuth concludes his opus."
The Yoda of Silicon Valley | NYT

Juggling Act: Audiences Have More Media at Their Disposal and Are Using Them Simultaneously | Nielsen

Continuous partial attention, TV edition
"According to the most recent Nielsen Total Audience Report, adults in the U.S. spent almost 10 and a half hours a day with media in the second quarter of 2018, even as the effects of seasonality played their typical role. With the vast amount of time Americans spend using their devices throughout the day, it is inevitable that some of this usage is occurring simultaneously. So even though these audiences are dedicating hefty amounts of time to different platforms like live/time-shifted TV (nearly five hours per day), radio (nearly two hours per day), and digital devices (over three and a half hours per day), they’re combining consumption in a multitude of ways.

When looking at the relationship between TV and digital platforms, 45% of respondents watched TV while using digital devices “very often” or “always,” according to a custom survey of Nielsen’s Media Enthusiast Community. Nearly a third reported using both platforms “sometimes,” while only 12% never use both at the same time."
Juggling Act: Audiences Have More Media at Their Disposal and Are Using Them Simultaneously | Nielsen

New report on Russian disinformation, prepared for the Senate, shows the operation’s scale and sweep | Washington Post

Also see Russia is winning its war of disinformation | Axios; on a related note, see The Steele Dossier: A Retrospective | Lawfare
"The Russians aimed particular energy at activating conservatives on issues such as gun rights and immigration, while sapping the political clout of left-leaning African American voters by undermining their faith in elections and spreading misleading information about how to vote. Many other groups — Latinos, Muslims, Christians, gay men and women, liberals, Southerners, veterans — got at least some attention from Russians operating thousands of social media accounts.

The report also offered some of the first detailed analyses of the role played by YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, and Instagram, owned by Facebook, in the Russian campaign, as well as anecdotes about how Russians used other social media platforms — Google+, Tumblr and Pinterest — that have received relatively little scrutiny. The Russian effort also used email accounts from Yahoo, Microsoft’s Hotmail service and Google’s Gmail."
New report on Russian disinformation, prepared for the Senate, shows the operation’s scale and sweep | Washington Post

Friday, December 14, 2018

Amazon uses dummy parcels to catch thieves | BBC

The internet of stolen things
"Officers in New Jersey are planting dummy boxes fitted with GPS trackers, coupled with hidden doorbell cameras, at homes around the city of Jersey.
The homes selected for the experiment were chosen using the city's own crime statistics combined with mapping data of theft locations supplied by Amazon.
One box was stolen three minutes after it was "delivered"."
Amazon uses dummy parcels to catch thieves | BBC

What To Expect From the First 5G Phones | Tech.pinions

Final paragraphs from a 5G reality check
"5G smartphones will become more differentiated and compelling in the 2020-2021 time frame, as coverage becomes more broadly available and we see some of the capabilities of the ‘next wave’ of 5G, such as ultra-low latency, introduced. This is when we’ll see the development of apps and content that harness some of the true capabilities of 5G, such as in the AR/VR and gaming spaces. One can also expect AT&T to increasingly leverage its DTV and Warner Media assets as part of its 5G strategy, for example offering attractive video bundles, HD content, and more generous allowances for rich media that reflect the lower cost to deliver data in a 5G world.

The expected availability of a 5G from Apple in 2020 will also galvanize the developer community to create apps and content that will showcase 5G phones and help create the justification for what will likely be premium prices for those devices."
What To Expect From the First 5G Phones | Tech.pinions

Medium’s Ev Williams Discusses Buying New York Magazine | Bloomberg

In other non-clickbait news, see The Correspondent hits its crowdfunding goal of $2.5 million thanks to 42,780 members from more than 130 countries | The Correspondent
"Medium, which now has no advertising on the site, charges $5 a month or $50 a year for subscriptions. Williams said in April that -- after some struggles -- the number of subscribers has been accelerating.

The key to attracting subscribers, he said at the time, was offering lots of high-quality, non-newsy content and putting it behind a metered paywall. The site publishes large amounts of user-generated content from freelance contributors through its “partner program.”

At the same time, Medium has also been building up an in-house editorial team that commissions long-form, narrative-driven stories and essays from professional journalists on topics ranging from technology to culture to design. Among its job listings, the company is currently looking to hire additional full-time editors in politics and business."
Medium’s Ev Williams Discusses Buying New York Magazine | Bloomberg

IMAX is shutting down its virtual reality arcade business for good | The Verge

In AR news, Niantic, Maker of Hit ‘Pok√©mon Go’ App, Refuels With $3.9 Billion Valuation | WSJ
"Virtual reality arcades were supposed to be one of the first, most convenient ways that expensive VR headgear would reach the masses — but IMAX, the highest-profile provider of VR arcades, has decided to throw in the towel. The large-format cinema company has officially announced that it will be shutting down its last three locations in Los Angeles, Bangkok and Toronto early next year, and is writing off its VR business as well.

That’s according to Variety, which spotted the news in a SEC regulatory filing and got a more detailed statement from an IMAX spokeperson as well:

“With the launch of the IMAX VR centre pilot program our intention was to test a variety of different concepts and locations to determine which approaches work well. After a trial period with VR centres in multiplexes, we have decided to conclude the IMAX VR centre pilot program and close the remaining three locations in Q1 2019,” reads the company’s statement."
IMAX is shutting down its virtual reality arcade business for good | The Verge

Virgin Galactic test flight reaches space, taking a step closer to flying tourists there | Washington Post

Later in the article: "Virgin Galactic has nearly 700 people who have paid as much as $250,000 for its suborbital joyrides — more than the 560 or so people who have ever been to space. Eventually the company wants to fly six passengers at a time."
"Virgin Galactic launched a spacecraft more than 50 miles high Thursday, reaching the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of space and capturing a long-elusive goal for the company founded by Richard Branson that one day wants to fly tourists through the atmosphere.

Though it did not reach orbit, the flight was the first launch of a spacecraft from U.S. soil with humans on board to reach the edge of space since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. And it effectively opens a new era in human spaceflight, one where companies are working to end governments’ long held monopoly on space, aiming to push farther faster."
Virgin Galactic test flight reaches space, taking a step closer to flying tourists there | Washington Post

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

Friday, December 07, 2018

DARPA head on AI dangers: ‘It’s not one of those things that keeps me up at night’ | Washington Post

For a timely and multifaceted AI reality check, consider the book Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it (review in The Verge; author synopsis)
"During a Q&A with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius on Thursday, DARPA Director Steven H. Walker said AI is still “a very fragile capability,” one that has little capacity for acting independently.

“At least in the Defense Department today, we don’t see machines doing anything by themselves,” he said, noting that agency researchers are intensely focused on building “human-machine” partnerships. “I think we’re a long way off from a generalized AI, even in the third wave in what we’re pursuing.”

"It’s not one of those things that keeps me up at night,” he added, referring to dangers posed by AI."
DARPA head on AI dangers: ‘It’s not one of those things that keeps me up at night’ | Washington Post

HCL picks up Notes, spanks total of $1.8bn at Honest John's IBM software sale | The Register

I assume IBM will continue to sell Notes/Domino and Connections to enterprise customers, just as it does, e.g., Microsoft products... The official spin: HCL Technologies to Acquire Select IBM Software Products for $1.8B | IBM News Room; from IBM sells software portfolio including Notes and Domino to HCL for $1.8b | ZDNet: ""We believe the time is right to divest these select collaboration, marketing, and commerce software assets, which are increasingly delivered as stand-alone products," [IBM senior vice president of cognitive solution and research John] Kelly said."
"Indian software outfit HCL Technologies is snapping up $1.8bn worth of IBM's software in a deal expected to close by the middle of 2019.

The acquisition, worth just under 5 per cent of a RedHat in IBM parlance, will see the Uttar Pradesh-based company absorb secure app platform Appscan and device manager BigFix. On-premises marketing automation will come courtesy of Unica, eCommerce from Commerce and a Portal digital experience is also included. Connections (for workstream collaboration) is also being handed over.

It is quite a stuffed shopping basket, and is rounded out by everyone's favourite unexpected item in the bagging area, Notes and Domino."
HCL picks up Notes, spanks total of $1.8bn at Honest John's IBM software sale | The Register

DeepMind Achieves Holy Grail: An AI That Can Master Games Like Chess and Go Without Human Help | IEEE Spectrum

For details, see A general reinforcement learning algorithm that masters chess, shogi, and Go through self-play | Science
"DeepMind, the London-based subsidiary of Alphabet, has created a system that can quickly master any game in the class that includes chess, Go, and Shogi, and do so without human guidance.

The system, called AlphaZero, began its life last year by beating a DeepMind system that had been specialized just for Go. That earlier system had itself made history by beating one of the world’s best Go players, but it needed human help to get through a months-long course of improvement. AlphaZero trained itself—in just 3 days."
DeepMind Achieves Holy Grail: An AI That Can Master Games Like Chess and Go Without Human Help | IEEE Spectrum

Microsoft is rebuilding its Edge browser on Chrome and bringing it to the Mac | The Verge

For the PR spin take, see Microsoft Edge: Making the web better through more open source collaboration | Windows Blog; for the Mozilla take, see Goodbye, EdgeHTML | Mozilla blog (lead paragraph: "Microsoft is officially giving up on an independent shared platform for the internet. By adopting Chromium, Microsoft hands over control of even more of online life to Google.").
"Microsoft is announcing some significant changes to its Edge browser today. The software giant is beginning to rebuild Microsoft Edge to run on Chromium, the same open-source web rendering engine that powers Google’s Chrome browser. This means Edge will soon be powered by Blink and the V8 JavaScript engines. It’s a big move that means Microsoft is joining the open-source community in a much bigger way for the web.

“Ultimately, we want to make the web-experience better for many different audiences,” explains Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows. “People using Microsoft Edge (and potentially other browsers) will experience improved compatibility with all web sites, while getting the best-possible battery life and hardware integration on all kinds of Windows devices.”"
Microsoft is rebuilding its Edge browser on Chrome and bringing it to the Mac | The Verge

Crypto Market Crash Leaving Bankrupt Startups in its Wake | Bloomberg

Bitcoin is at ~$3,380 this morning, after hitting a new yearly low of $3,310; on a related note, see This Is What Happens When Bitcoin Miners Take Over Your Town | Politico Magazine
"The plunge in the cryptocurrency market is weighing on the software-development community that spawned over 1,000 digital coins amid dreams of independence from traditional financial systems and instant wealth.
[...]
Many of the companies are suffering because they kept a portion of their funds in digital assets, whether in tokens they sold through initial coin offerings or in Bitcoin and Ether, which served as the preferred means of exchange in the crypto world. As prices collapsed this year by more than 90 percent in some cases, and their so-called digital wallets thinned out, many developers found they couldn’t raise additional funding."
Crypto Market Crash Leaving Bankrupt Startups in its Wake | Bloomberg

Apple’s holiday deals: a sign of weakness, or a clever move to boost revenue? | Boston Globe

From a timely Apple reality check
"Like Microsoft, Apple is moving into the cloud. Apple’s online businesses, such as Apple Music, the Apple Pay payment system, iCloud data storage, and the App Store, are huge and booming. In fiscal 2018, they brought in $37 billion, up more than 54 percent from 2016. Anyone who owns an iPhone is a potential customer. You may not be able to afford an iPhone XS, but you can probably purchase an occasional game app or a subscription to Apple Music for your refurbished iPhone 7.

Apple’s trade-in program is intended to amp up sales, but not just iPhone sales. If it creates 5 or 10 million new iPhone users, it will pay off for years to come by creating new customers for the company’s cloud-based services. And once they’re plugged into Apple Music or iCloud, many will remain paying customers for life.

There’s no way Apple can sell iPhones as fast as it once did. But if it can follow Microsoft’s lead and grow its services business, it won’t matter."
Apple’s holiday deals: a sign of weakness, or a clever move to boost revenue? | Boston Globe

Thursday, December 06, 2018

SpaceX’s Failed Landing Still Ended With a Clean Plop | Wired

See the full article for videos of the descent and "water landing"
"SPACEX LAUNCHED ITS 20th rocket of the year just two days after lofting a record 64 satellites into orbit. On this flight, a brand-new Falcon 9 hoisted a Dragon spacecraft into orbit, bound for the International Space Station. But unlike Monday’s textbook touchdown, today’s landing didn’t quite go as planned.

The Falcon’s first stage, the largest and most expensive portion of the rocket, was expected to navigate itself back to land after launching the Dragon spacecraft. But instead of gently touching down in the middle of SpaceX’s designated landing pad, the booster made an unscheduled plop into the Atlantic Ocean, just off the Florida coast. Video footage shared shortly after the incident shows the booster spinning out of control as it headed towards land."
SpaceX’s Failed Landing Still Ended With a Clean Plop | Wired

FAIR turns five: What we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed | Facebook Code

Check the source for several FAIR project overviews; on a related note, see Facebook's top AI scientist says it's 'dust' without artificial intelligence | CNN
"Five years ago, we created the Facebook AI Research (FAIR) group to advance the state of the art of AI through open research for the benefit of all — it’s an effort to understand the nature of intelligence so that we might create intelligent machines. Since then, FAIR has learned a lot and grown into an international research organization with labs in Menlo Park, New York, Paris, Montreal, Tel Aviv, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and London. AI has become so central to Facebook that FAIR is now part of a larger Facebook AI organization that works on all aspects of AI R&D, from fundamental research to applied research and technology development.

FAIR has applied an open model to all aspects of our work, collaborating broadly with the community. Our teams publish cutting-edge research early and often, and open-source our research code, data sets, and tools like PyTorch, fastText, FAISS, and Detectron where possible. The approach has been successful for advancing the state of AI research. This year, FAIR’s researchers have won recognition, including Best Paper awards, at ACL, EMNLP, CVPR, and ECCV, and Test of Time awards at ECCV, ICML, and NeurIPS. We know working in the open allows everyone to make faster progress on AI.

Making machines truly intelligent is a scientific challenge as well as a technological and product engineering challenge. A significant part of FAIR’s research focuses on fundamental questions about the keys to reasoning, prediction, planning, and unsupervised learning. And in turn, these areas of investigation require better theoretical understanding in fields such as generative models, causality, high-dimensional stochastic optimization, and game theory. These long-term research explorations are required to unlock the full future potential of artificial intelligence. Of all the projects we’ve tackled over the past five years, we’ve picked a handful that show how FAIR has approached its mission, contributed to our field, and made an impact on the world."

Global Stocks Plunge, Suggesting a Grim Day on Wall Street | NYT

Also see Arrest Shakes Huawei as Global Skepticism of Its Business Grows | NYT
"Global stock markets fell sharply on Thursday and Wall Street was poised for another sell-off after cautious hopes for a lasting trade truce between the United States and China were jolted anew by the arrest of a prominent Chinese technology executive.

Investors’ anxiety over the fragile peace between the world’s two largest economies mounted after the chief financial officer of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada at the request of the United States.

Ms. Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Saturday, the same night that President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China dined together in Buenos Aires and agreed to a 90-day pause in their  countries’ trade war. The move was expected to renew tensions."
Global Stocks Plunge, Suggesting a Grim Day on Wall Street | NYT

Facebook Emails Show Its Real Mission: Making Money and Crushing Competition | NYT

Moved fast and broke things; also see Facebook’s Very Bad Month Just Got Worse | New Yorker and Response to Six4Three Documents | Facebook Newsroom
"It should not come as a surprise that Facebook — a giant, for-profit company whose early employees reportedly ended staff meetings by chanting “domination!” — would act in its own interests.

But the internal emails, a rare glimpse into Facebook’s inner workings, show that the image the company promoted for years — as an idealistic enterprise more dedicated to “bringing the world closer together” than increasing its own bottom line — was a carefully cultivated smoke screen.

These emails reveal that in the formative years of Facebook’s growth, the company’s executives were ruthless and unsparing in their ambition to collect more data from users, extract concessions from developers and stamp out possible competitors."
Facebook Emails Show Its Real Mission: Making Money and Crushing Competition | NYT

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Bose Actually Turned Its Funky Sunglasses Headphones Concept Into a Real Gadget | Gizmodo

See this Bose press release for details
"Now called Frames, Bose bills it sunglasses as a device with the convenience of built-in wireless headphones and support for what it claims is the world’s first audio augmented reality platform. The use of audio before AR is an important differentiation because unlike head-mounted devices like Google Glass or the Vuzix Blades, the Bose Frames don’t come with an embedded display or screen.

Instead, the Frames use sensors to know where you are and what direction you’re facing so it can add audios cues to draw attention to specific locations, provide bits a trivia, or add effects as part of a game. That said, the whole idea of a sound-based AR platform remains somewhat theoretical as Bose says its AR experiences are still in development and is waiting until SXSW in March 2019 to more about the platform."
Bose Actually Turned Its Funky Sunglasses Headphones Concept Into a Real Gadget | Gizmodo

Digital Divide Is Wider Than We Think, Study Says | NYT

Another Microsoft press release brought to you by the NYT...
"A new study by Microsoft researchers casts a light on the actual use of high-speed internet across the country, and the picture it presents is very different from the F.C.C. numbers. Their analysis, presented at a Microsoft event on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., suggests that the speedy access is much more limited than the F.C.C. data shows.

Over all, Microsoft concluded that 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, while the F.C.C. says broadband is not available to 24.7 million Americans. The discrepancy is particularly stark in rural areas. In Ferry County, for example, Microsoft estimates that only 2 percent of people use broadband service, versus the 100 percent the federal government says have access to the service.
[...]
Expanding broadband also benefits Microsoft and other tech companies because it enlarges the market for their products and services. And like others, Microsoft is promoting a potential solution."
Digital Divide Is Wider Than We Think, Study Says | NYT

Walmart’s latest hire: Robotic janitors that clean floors and collect data | Washington Post

Integration with Google indoor maps tbd...
"The floor scrubbers use sensors that can perceive the surrounding environment. Before the scrubbers can be set free, a Walmart employee is required for an initial “training ride” that creates a map of different routes the machine can follow inside the store, the company said. Once the robot is in use, the machine can scan its surroundings for people and obstacles, the company said, noting that the machines can operate in crowded environments.

The robots look fairly one-dimensional in nature, but their onboard sensors allow them to collect useful analytical data, the company said. The data may prove useful, providing the company with information about peak shopping hours or “which shelves are empty,” as a Walmart spokesman told NBC News."
Walmart’s latest hire: Robotic janitors that clean floors and collect data | Washington Post

Rudy Giuliani’s typo became an anti-Trump message. He blamed Twitter, but this Atlanta man pranked him. | Washington Post

Moral of the g-20.in story: be sure your tweeting lawyer is a good typist. In other Trump internet memes, see Trump called himself “Tariff Man.” The internet did the rest. | Vox
"While it appeared Giuliani was unaware for several days that one of his tweets was being used to insult the president, that changed Tuesday.

“Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message,” Giuliani tweeted, adding that the “same thing-period no space-occurred later and it didn’t happen.” (Giuliani was likely referencing part of the Nov. 30 tweet that read “Helsinki.Either,” which is not a valid domain.)

He continued: “Don’t tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers. . . . FAIRNESS PLEASE.”"
Rudy Giuliani’s typo became an anti-Trump message. He blamed Twitter, but this Atlanta man pranked him. | Washington Post

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

How Ring's Neighbors app is making home security a social thing | CNET

See this (Amazon) Ring page for more details
"There are videos of folks appearing to walk up to front doors and stealing packages. Another video shows an alleged vandalism of an outside light, and yet another is of an attempted car break-in. There's the lighter stuff, too, like kids stealing whole bowls of Halloween candy -- yes, including the bowl itself -- and a handful of fox sightings.

I'm getting this feed through Neighbors, an app launched by Ring, Amazon's smart-doorbell company. It's free to download and use, and lets people share, view and comment on crime and security information in their communities. Most of the posts are video clips shot by Ring video doorbells and security cameras.

Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff said in an interview last month that he sees Neighbors as a major part of his company's development, using the app to help more people work together to reduce crime in their communities. The app, which launched in the US in May, has over a million active users sharing information on alleged crimes and suspicious behavior, Siminoff said."
How Ring's Neighbors app is making home security a social thing | CNET

Microsoft is building its own Chrome browser to replace Edge | The Verge

Losing its Edge
"Microsoft is building its own Chromium browser to replace the default on Windows 10. The software giant first introduced its Edge browser three years ago, with a redesign to replace Internet Explorer and modernize the default browsing experience to compete with Chrome and others. While the modern look and feel has paid off for Edge, the underlying browser engine (EdgeHTML) has struggled to keep up with Chromium. Microsoft is finally giving up and moving its default Windows 10 browser to Chromium.

The Verge understands Microsoft will announce its plans for a Chromium browser as soon as this week, in an effort to improve web compatibility for Windows. Windows Central first reported on these plans, which are codenamed Anaheim internally. We understand there has been a growing frustration inside Microsoft at Edge’s web compatibility issues, and businesses and consumers have been pushing the company to improve things."
Microsoft is building its own Chrome browser to replace Edge | The Verge

Quora, the Q. and A. Site, Says Data Breach Affected 100 Million Users | NYT

Breach of the day (so far...)
"Users of Quora, the question-and-answer site, are asking today:

Did my personal data just get stolen?

The social platform said late Monday that the account information and private messages of around 100 million users may have been exposed when its computer systems were compromised by “a malicious third party.” Quora discovered the data breach on Friday, the company’s chief executive, Adam D’Angelo, wrote in a blog post, and it is still investigating how it happened."
Quora, the Q. and A. Site, Says Data Breach Affected 100 Million Users | NYT

Geoeconomics: the Chinese Strategy of Technological Advancement and Cybersecurity | Lawfare

Final paragraph below; on a related note, see The Race Is On to Protect Data From the Next Leap in Computers. And China Has the Lead. | NYT
"When it comes to artificial intelligence, public-private collaboration and coordination is reportedly pervasive, and China has recruited big Chinese tech firms as part of the “AI national team.” Western commentators often portray the success of Chinese technology firms as the result of unfair practices, like theft of intellectual property and the provision of state subsidies. But, as Kai-Fu Lee notes, this also stems from China’s ability to endorse particular objectives and set the tone for private capital choices, as it has done in seeking to foster the development of artificial intelligence. China likewise leads the way in providing infrastructure to support these technological developments, such as building cities and highways with built-in sensors designed to facilitate the use of driverless cars. The Chinese government views its state capitalist model as a national strength that does not contradict international trade rules, which that it needs to secure against U.S. attempts to halt or reverse China’s rise. A key question for the future of international economic law is whether these different economic models will be able to coexist under the same legal framework."
Geoeconomics: the Chinese Strategy of Technological Advancement and Cybersecurity | Lawfare

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Friendship That Made Google Huge | The New Yorker

From an extensive profile of Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat
"Today, Google’s engineers exist in a Great Chain of Being that begins at Level 1. At the bottom are the I.T. support staff. Level 2s are fresh out of college; Level 3s often have master’s degrees. Getting to Level 4 takes several years, or a Ph.D. Most progression stops at Level 5. Level 6 engineers—the top ten per cent—are so capable that they could be said to be the reason a project succeeds; Level 7s are Level 6s with a long track record. Principal Engineers, the Level 8s, are associated with a major product or piece of infrastructure. Distinguished Engineers, the Level 9s, are spoken of with reverence. To become a Google Fellow, a Level 10, is to win an honor that will follow you for life. Google Fellows are usually the world’s leading experts in their fields. Jeff and Sanjay are Google Senior Fellows—the company’s first and only Level 11s."
The Friendship That Made Google Huge | The New Yorker

Philippines journalist Maria Ressa vows to challenge tax fraud charges after arrest | Guardian

A case Trump will no doubt watch closely (assuming Fox News covers it...). For a recent Kara Swisher interview with Maria Ressa, see Memo from a ‘Facebook nation’ to Mark Zuckerberg: You moved fast and broke our country. | Recode
"The move to arrest Ressa is the latest in what many have seen as a direct attack by Duterte’s regime on news organisations that have been critical of his government, in particular his war on drugs which has taken an estimated tens of thousands of lives over the past two years.

Rappler was among the main news organisations challenging the extrajudicial killings by the police and subsequently has been the subject of seven government investigations, with their political reporter also banned from the presidential palace.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines issued a statement damning the warrant issued for Ressa’s arrest. They stated: “Arresting Maria will send a clear signal that the country’s democracy is fast receding under a feckless administration that cannot abide criticism and free expression and will go to ridiculous lengths to muzzle all those it does not agree with.”"
Philippines journalist Maria Ressa vows to challenge tax fraud charges after arrest | Guardian