Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Game of Life: Visualizing China’s Social Credit System | Visual Capitalist

Final paragraphs:
"In 2018, people with a low score were prohibited from buying plane tickets almost 18 million times, while high-speed train ticket transactions were blocked 5.5 million times. A further 128 people were prohibited from leaving China, due to unpaid taxes.

The system could have major implications for foreign business practices—as preference could be given to companies already ranked in the system. Companies with higher scores will be rewarded with incentives which include lower tax rates and better credit conditions, with their behavior being judged in areas such as:
  • Paid taxes
  • Customs regulation
  • Environmental protection
Despite the complexities of gathering vast amounts of data, the system is certainly making an impact. While there are benefits to having a standardized scoring system, and encouraging positive behavior—will it be worth the social cost of gamifying human life?"
One of several visualizations in the post:
The Game of Life: Visualizing China’s Social Credit System | Visual Capitalist

Facebook unveils charter for its ‘Supreme Court,’ where users can go to contest the company’s decisions | Washington Post

On a related note, see Why Facebook’s 'Values' Update Matters | Lawfare
"Facebook on Tuesday unveiled its blueprint for an independent oversight board to review the company’s decisions about the posts, photos and videos it takes down or leaves online, responding to a wave of criticism that inconsistent policies have undermined the platform.
The roughly 40-person panel is supposed to function as the social media giant’s version of a “Supreme Court,” serving as the final word for Facebook users who want to appeal the company’s moderation decisions. It will also offer recommendations for how the tech giant should tackle problematic content in the future.
“We are responsible for enforcing our policies every day and we make millions of content decisions every week,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post. “But ultimately I don’t believe private companies like ours should be making so many important decisions about speech on our own.”"
Facebook unveils charter for its ‘Supreme Court,’ where users can go to contest the company’s decisions | Washington Post

Review: Edward Snowden and the Rise of Whistle-Blower Culture in “Permanent Record” | The New Yorker

From a review by Jill Lepore; on a related note, see United States Files Civil Lawsuit against Edward Snowden for Publishing a Book in Violation of CIA and NSA Non-Disclosure Agreements | U.S. Department of Justice
"The patriot-traitor divide should be less a matter of opinion than a matter of law, but the law here is murky. On the one hand, you might think, if Snowden is a patriot who did what he did for the good of the country, then he deserves not only the protection of First Amendment freedom of speech but also the legal shelter afforded whistle-blowers, under legislation that includes the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act—except that Snowden signed an oath not to disclose government secrets, and neither the Whistleblower Protection Act nor its many revisions and amendments extend its protections to people who disclose classified intelligence. On the other hand, you might think, if Snowden is a traitor whose actions put his country at risk, the Justice Department was right to charge him under the Espionage Act—except that it doesn’t sound as though he were a spy. (Unlike Julian Assange, Snowden has criticized Putin, and the F.B.I. believes that Snowden acted alone.) “Permanent Record” doesn’t settle any of these questions, or even evince much concern about them. Instead, Snowden appears to have other worries. “Forgive me if I come off like a dick,” he writes, knowingly."
Review: Edward Snowden and the Rise of Whistle-Blower Culture in “Permanent Record” | The New Yorker

Opinion: UC investments are going fossil free. But not exactly for the reasons you may think | LA Times

A timely and encouraging milestone from Jagdeep Singh Bachher (the University of California’s chief investment officer and treasurer) and Richard Sherman (chairman of the UC Board of Regents’ Investments Committee); on a related note, see Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns [Bill McKibben] | The New Yorker
"We are investors and fiduciaries for what is widely considered the best public research university in the world. That makes us fiscally conservative by nature and by policy — “Risk rules” is one of the 10 pillars of what we call the UC Investments Way. We want to ensure that the more than 320,000 people currently receiving a UC pension actually get paid, that we can continue to fund research and scholarships throughout the UC system, and that our campuses and medical centers earn the best possible return on their investments.

We believe hanging on to fossil fuel assets is a financial risk. That’s why we will have made our $13.4-billion endowment “fossil free” as of the end of this month, and why our $70-billion pension will soon be that way as well."
Opinion: UC investments are going fossil free. But not exactly for the reasons you may think | LA Times

Facebook working on smart glasses with Ray-Ban, code-named ‘Orion’ | CNBC

For a related perspective, see Why Apple Owns The AR Industry Even Without Owning AR Glasses (Comment Of The Week) | New World Notes
"Facebook has been working to develop augmented reality glasses out of its Facebook Reality Labs in Redmond, Washington, for the past couple of years, but struggles with the development of the project have led the company to seek help. Now, Facebook is hoping a partnership with Ray-Ban parent company Luxottica will get them completed and ready for consumers between 2023 and 2025, according to people familiar.

The glasses are internally codenamed Orion, and they are designed to replace smartphones, the people said. The glasses would allow users to take calls, show information to users in a small display and live-stream their vantage point to their social media friends and followers."
Facebook working on smart glasses with Ray-Ban, code-named ‘Orion’ | CNBC

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

IBM CEO Sees Amazon and Microsoft as Cloud Allies, Not Rivals | Bloomberg

IBM's cloud capitulation continues
"In IBM’s vision of cloud computing, Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. will be allies rather than rivals.

Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty is betting on the hybrid cloud, which lets IBM offer services on corporate customers’ cloud-based servers as well as on third-party clouds operated by the likes of Amazon and Microsoft. International Business Machines Corp. has traditionally viewed these cloud giants as direct competitors, but it now aims to partner with them by supporting clients as they shift sensitive databases on to the cloud, regardless of which provider they use."
IBM CEO Sees Amazon and Microsoft as Cloud Allies, Not Rivals | Bloomberg

WeWork Pushes Back I.P.O. After Chilly Reception From Investors | NYT

WeReWork
"The company had been expected to hold its initial public offering within weeks. But in a statement released late Monday night, WeWork’s parent, the We Company, said that it anticipated the offering would be completed by the end of the year.

The decision comes after many investors had questioned the valuation of the company. WeWork had been privately valued at $47 billion in January, when SoftBank of Japan made a large investment. But the prospect of going public has focused attention on a business that is deeply unprofitable and will most likely remain so for years.

The We Company has been trying to rescue its public offering in a number of ways. On Friday, the company said it would reduce the power of its co-founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann, amid criticism of the business’s corporate governance."
WeWork Pushes Back I.P.O. After Chilly Reception From Investors | NYT

Apple Arcade's best selling point: Games you'll actually want to play | Engadget

First and final paragraphs:
"Despite being just $5, Apple Arcade still seems like a tough sell for some gamers, who are already bombarded with other monthly services like Xbox Game Pass. And I'll admit, as someone who doesn't spend much time on mobile games these days, there wasn't much about the service that truly excited me when Apple announced it in March. Sure, a library of mobile games that you can easily play across iOS devices, Macs and the Apple TV sounds nice, but I've already got way too much to play on other platforms. After spending some time with a few of Apple Arcade titles last week, though, I'm convinced it'll delight diehard gamers and casual players alike. Yes, there's a lot more than Frogger to choose from.
[...]
These games alone make Apple Arcade seem like a no-brainer subscription for anyone with an Apple device. It's $5 for the entire family -- the price of many individual mobile games -- it already has a handful of strong titles, and you can easily play across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac. Apple needs to maintain the stream of quality of games, and could very well raise the price eventually, but for now, Apple Arcade seems like one of the best deals in gaming."
Apple Arcade's best selling point: Games you'll actually want to play | Engadget

Richard Stallman resigns from MIT over Epstein comments | The Verge

Also see Stallman's final interview as FSF president: Last week we quizzed him over Microsoft visit. Now he quits top roles amid Epstein email storm | The Register
"Famed computer scientist Richard Stallman has resigned from his position at MIT over recent comments he made concerning Jeffrey Epstein’s victims. He has also resigned as president of the Free Software Foundation, an organization Stallman founded in 1985, as well as from its board of directors. Stallman is perhaps best known for having initiated the development of the GNU operating system in 1983, as well as for his work campaigning for the use of free software.

Last week it emerged that Stallman had cast doubt upon the reports that AI pioneer Marvin Minsky had sexually assaulted one of Epstein’s victims. In an email chain sent to the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) mailing list that was published by Motherboard, Stallman said that “the most plausible scenario” was that Epstein’s victim “presented herself to [Marvin Minsky] as entirely willing.”"
Richard Stallman resigns from MIT over Epstein comments | The Verge

Monday, September 16, 2019

Apple built UWB into the iPhone 11. Here's what you need to know (FAQ) | CNET

Also see The Biggest iPhone News Is a Tiny New Chip Inside It | Wired
"You've heard of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 5G. Now it's time to learn another wireless communication term, because Apple has built it into its new iPhone 11 and 11 Pro smartphones. The technology, ultra wideband, or UWB, lets you pinpoint the exact location of phones, key fobs and tracking tags, helping you find lost dogs or automatically unlock your car.

UWB calculates precise locations by measuring how long it takes super-short radio pulses to travel between devices. It's well suited to Apple's rumored tracker tags. But UWB could also bring new smarts to your house, car and devices. Right now its use cases are limited, but UWB could lead to a world where just carrying your phone or wearing your watch helps log you in to everything around you and log you out when you leave." 
Apple built UWB into the iPhone 11. Here's what you need to know (FAQ) | CNET

Apple, services and moats | Benedict Evans

Final paragraph:
"It should be clear that I’m pretty skeptical of the TV Plus project, but that shouldn’t take away from the broader story - that Apple is, mostly, doing things that are entirely natural and correct for this stage of the smartphone S Curve. 4bn people now have a smartphone, 5bn have a mobile phone and there are only about 5.5bn people over 14 on earth - this is a maturing market, with a maturing product. Apple won the high-end, Google won the rest, and this is now the time to optimise, iterate and execute, while thinking about what might be next. Glasses? Cars? Remember, Apple was working on the iPhone for 5 years before it launched, and Apple’s R&D budget is now larger than its total revenue in 2005."
Apple, services and moats | Benedict Evans

Purdue Pharma, drugmaker accused of fueling the opioid epidemic, files for bankruptcy | Washington Post

Also see New York Uncovers $1 Billion in Sackler Family Wire Transfers | NYT
"Under the settlement announced last week, more than 2,000 small government plaintiffs and 24 states have agreed to the dissolution of the company and a contribution from the Sacklers, valued at $10 billion to $12 billion. But the settlement valuation is in dispute, and a number of states have balked at those terms.
The settlement, which does not include any admission of wrongdoing, would reorganize Purdue during the bankruptcy into a trust that would continue to produce OxyContin, as well as overdose “rescue’’ drugs that would be distributed at no cost to communities across the country."
Some related statistics from Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center:
  • "From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose.
  • Around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. 
  • In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999. 
  • On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose."
Purdue Pharma, drugmaker accused of fueling the opioid epidemic, files for bankruptcy | Washington Post

There Is No Tech Backlash | NYT

From a timely tech reality check
"But according to its most recent quarterly report, the number of Facebook accounts used daily (1.59 billion) and monthly (2.4 billion) each increased by 8 percent over the prior quarter. Despite all the anecdotes you’ve heard about people deleting their accounts, the company’s flagship app added about a million new daily users in the United States alone. Revenue was up 28 percent. Even factoring in the F.T.C. fine, Facebook recorded a profit of $2.6 billion.

Facebook is not the only demonized tech platform; social media companies in general are routinely criticized as toxic swamps full of trolls, liars and bots. But again, there’s no evidence of any exodus. In the same quarter, Twitter added five million new daily users, and Snap reported that the daily user base of its flagship Snapchat app grew 7 percent, its best-ever performance as a public company. According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans use some form of social media, a percentage that has risen steadily for years and shows no sign of flagging. (The people I know who quit Facebook all use Facebook-owned Instagram, WhatsApp, or both.)"
There Is No Tech Backlash | NYT

Friday, September 13, 2019

Does the new iPhone creep you out? Scientists grapple with why tiny holes scare some people | Boston Globe

Critique different
"The backlash comes from people who say they suffer from an obscure and perplexing condition called ‘‘trypophobia’’ - a fear of clusters of small holes like those found in shoe treads, honeycombs and lotus seed pods. Essex University Professor Geoff Cole, a self-diagnosed trypophobe and researcher in the United Kingdom who studies the condition calls it ‘‘the most common phobia you have never heard of.’’

The phobia isn’t recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnose patients. But self-described sufferers and some researchers claim the images can evoke a strong emotional response and induce itching, goose bumps, and even nausea and vomiting."
Does the new iPhone creep you out? Scientists grapple with why tiny holes scare some people | Boston Globe

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Every iPad wants to be a Surface now | The Verge

Final paragraphs from a curiously titled hybrid reality check:
"Coupled with some of the bigger changes in iPadOS coming later this month, it’s clear the iPad is increasingly moving towards more laptop-like tasks than ever before. There’s even mouse support for the iPad, although it’s limited at the moment. Now that every big iPad supports a keyboard we’re a step closer to seeing exactly where Apple will take this device in the future. The software that powers the iPad is steadily moving away from its smartphone roots, and now the hardware is offering iPad fans a way to transform the device into something beyond a tablet.

Microsoft and Apple are at the front of the race to offer tablets that combine laptop tasks. Apple is catching up on the laptop-like side, and Microsoft still has a long way to go to address the tablet experience. Apple’s strength is the touch-friendly apps and simplified OS that exists for the iPad, and Microsoft’s is the three decades of traditional computing experience that has gone into Windows.

The search for the perfect 2-in-1 device has been going on for nearly 10 years. Now it seems within reach. We’ll be watching closely to see how initiatives like iPadOS, Windows Lite, and maybe even Chrome OS bridge the gap between the tablet and PC. One of these, or a combination of approaches, will ultimately address the needs of the majority."
Every iPad wants to be a Surface now | The Verge

Offshore Wind-Power Prices Are Plunging | Bloomberg

New energy economics
"Iberdrola SA’s Scottish Power Renewables unit has submitted a bid for its 1.4-gigawatt East Anglia Three project, off England’s east coast. East Anglia One, which this week started to generate electricity from the first of its 102 turbines, won a similar auction in 2015, with a price of 119 pounds ($147) per megawatt-hour.

This latest round could see bids less than half of that, according to an executive at the company. The slide in prices highlights how rapidly offshore wind has transformed from a niche technology to a core part of the global push to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

“It’s going to be at a price that’s cheaper than anything we’ve seen before in the U.K. and probably at a price sitting below the government’s own projections,” said Jonathan Cole, managing director of Iberdrola’s offshore wind business."
Offshore Wind-Power Prices Are Plunging | Bloomberg

Oracle CEO Mark Hurd to take a leave of absence for health reasons | CNBC

Earlier in the article: "Larry Ellison, Oracle’s founder and chief technology officer, will handle Hurd’s responsibilities along with Safra Catz, the other CEO."
"In a separate statement, Oracle reported fiscal first quarter profit of 81 cents a share, excluding certain items, on $9.22 billion in revenue, which was roughly flat on an annualized basis. Earnings for the quarter, which ended on Aug. 31, met estimates, while sales came in just shy of the $9.29 expected by analysts polled by Refinitiv. Almost three-fourths of Oracle’s revenue now comes from cloud services and license support.

With respect to guidance, Catz said on the conference call that Oracle expects second quarter earnings per share of 87 cents to 89 cents. Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected earnings of 91 cents a share, excluding certain items.

Oracle shares fell about 5% after the close. The stock is up about 25% this year."
Oracle CEO Mark Hurd to take a leave of absence for health reasons | CNBC

In 2020 race, Facebook winning the money game — again | Boston Globe

In other Facebook + politics news, see The Myths of the “Genius” Behind Trump’s Reelection Campaign | ProPublica
"While all the major social media sites base ads on an individual’s online behavior, Facebook takes much of the guesswork out of it for advertisers. Millions already use it to talk about their fondness for one candidate, or dislike of another, so political ads can be aimed at exactly those voters most likely to respond. In effect, buying ads on Facebook should generate more bang for the buck.

If only. In fact, the cost of reaching an individual via Facebook is soaring, because so many candidates are vying for their support — as much as $100 in ad spending for every $1 in donations. And that means an even bigger payday for Facebook."
In 2020 race, Facebook winning the money game — again | Boston Globe