Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for September 2017

A Swedish Task

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Swedish purveyor of home goods and furnishings, Ikea, has bought TaskRabbit, the contract labor marketplace, according to a report by Recode.

No price was revealed, but TaskRabbit is a major player in the “gig” economy that connects freelance workers with jobs (handymen, movers, etc.)

Recode reports TaskRabbit already had a partnership with Ikea for furniture assembly in the United Kingdom, and that Ikea’s purchase will get them “even more deeply into the tech space.”

Just this week, Ikea released its own augmented reality app for the iPhone called “Ikea Place.” The app allows shoppers to scan a room and place Ikea furniture virtually to see how it looks (no word yet on whether there’s a virtual Ikea assistant to tell you how much that sofa just doesn’t go with that carpet).

Back in Washington, D.C., Twitter appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss “a number of questions about how malicious bots and misinformation networks on Twitter may have been used in the context of the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections.”

Hey, no pressure or anything.

All this talk of Twitter and bots and Russian misinformation makes me pine for 2007, when all we technorati used Twitter for was to figure out where we were going for lunch during SXSW.

So what did Twitter’s self-inquiry find on the matter? According to their own statement, of the roughly 450 accounts that Facebook recently shared as a part of their review, Twitter concluded it had 22 corresponding accounts:

All of those identified accounts had already been or immediately were suspended from Twitter for breaking our rules, most for violating our prohibitions against spam. In addition, from those accounts we found an additional 179 related or linked accounts, and took action on the ones we found in violation of our rules. Neither the original accounts shared by Facebook, nor the additional related accounts we identified, were registered as advertisers on Twitter. However, we continue to investigate these issues, and will take action on anything that violates our Terms of Service.
– via blog.twitter.com

They go on to cite several Russia Today (RT) accounts that spent $274,000 in U.S. ads in 2016, and those three accounts promoted some 1,823 Tweets that “definitely or potentially targeted the U.S. markets.”

Interestingly, the Twitter blog post indicates those campaigns were “directed at followers of mainstream media and primarily promoted RT Tweets regarding news stories.”

So the endgame is that Russians were buying ads on Twitter to target other Twitter users who were members of the U.S. mainstream media.

I’m shocked, shocked, I say, that there was gambling going on in this here casino!

 

Written by turbotodd

September 29, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Tweet More, iPhone Less

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Having trouble writing everything you want to write on Twitter in 140 characters or less?

Well, Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen feels your pain and wrote that “We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).”

This feature will be available to only a small number of users for now (and it wasn’t clear at press time if President Donald J. Trump would be included in the pilot).

For my money, Twitter has always been about less being more. I have to “cram” all the time, and I avoid sending episodic Tweets at all cost. Call me old school.

In the meanwhile, over on the sidelines, Facebook has just inked a multiyear deal with NFL to distribute game highlights and other content, and in return, NFL Films will produce content packages for Facebook Watch.

It was unclear at press time whether Mark Zuckerberg would be standing or kneeling.

If you just feel like hitting the open road with not a care in the world, you might want to keep an eye on Ford and Lyft’s new partnership to develop and test autonomous vehicle designs and technology. The destination: To put Ford’s cars on Lyft’s networks. No comment yet from G.M., one of Lyft’s biggest investors and partners.

Could be very awkward out there on the autonomous Route 66!

And as if Apple needed any more production headaches after their recent and marvelous launch shindig? First there was a software issue with the Apple Watch Series 3 which caused the Watch to connect to unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks instead of handing off to LTE.

Then there was news that there have been production issues with the new Face ID componentry that has something to do with manufacturing yields for the “Romeo” modules (the “Juliet” modules are producing just fine, but hey, you can’t have a Juliet without a Romeo. That’s just bad Shakespeare…and juju!)

And now, the iPhone 8 has a “crackling” earpiece that’s disrupting the audio experience when people try to make phone calls.

To which I ask, who makes phone calls using an iPhone anymore??

 

Written by turbotodd

September 27, 2017 at 9:13 am

IBM Unveils New Analytics Systems for Fast Access to Data Science

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IBM today announced the Integrated Analytics System, a new unified data system designed to give users fast, easy access to advanced data science capabilities and the ability to work with their data across private, public or hybrid cloud environments.       

The system, which comes with a variety of data science tools built-in, allows data scientists to get up and running quickly to develop and deploy their advanced analytics models in-place, directly where the data resides for greater performance. 

And because it is based on the IBM common SQL engine, clients can use the system to easily move workloads to the public cloud to begin automating their businesses with machine learning.

In fact, because the popular database engine is used across both hosted and cloud-based databases, users can move and query data across multiple data stores, such as the Db2 Warehouse on Cloud, or Hortonworks Data Platform.

At the heart of the Integrated Analytics System are the IBM Data Science Experience, Apache Spark and the Db2 Warehouse, all of which have been optimized to work together with straight forward management. The Data Science Experience provides a set of critical data science tools and a collaborative work space through which data scientists can create new analytic models that developers can use to build intelligent applications quickly and easily.

The inclusion of Apache Spark, the popular open source framework, enables in-memory data processing, which speeds analytic applications by allowing analytics to be processed directly where the data resides.

New to this class of offering are the machine learning capabilities that come with both the Data Science Experience and Spark embedded on the system. Having machine learning processing embedded means that data does not need to be moved to the analytics processing, reducing the associated processes and wait times for analytics to run and respond.

This simplifies the process of training and evaluating predictive models, as well as the testing, deployment and training as it is all done in-place.

“The combination of high performance and advanced analytics – from the Data Science Experience to the open Spark platform – gives our business analysts the ability to conduct intense data investigations with ease and speed,” said Vitaly Tsivin, Executive Vice President, at AMC Networks, who has been testing the system for several months. “The Integrated Analytics System is positioned as an integral component of an enterprise data architecture solution, connecting IBM Netezza Data Warehouse and IBM PureData System for Analytics, cloud-based Db2 Warehouse on Cloud clusters, and other data sources.”

Seamless Expansion to the Cloud

The integrated architecture of the new system combines software enhancements such as asymmetric massively parallel processing (AMPP) with IBM Power technology and flash memory storage hardware and builds on the IBM PureData System for Analytics, and the previous IBM Netezza data warehouse offerings.

It also supports a wide range of data types and data services, including everything from the Watson Data Platform and IBM Db2 Warehouse On Cloud, to Hadoop and IBM BigSQL. Like these solutions, the Integrated Analytics System is built with the IBM common SQL engine, enabling users to seamlessly integrate the unit with cloud-based warehouse solutions.

In addition, industry standard tools and the common SQL engine provide users with an option to also move these workloads seamlessly to public or private cloud environments with Spark clusters, based on the user’s requirements.  

Like IBM’s existing data warehouse products, the Integrated Analytics System is designed to provide built-in data virtualization and compatibility with Netezza, Db2, and IBM PureData System for Analytics.

Among these capabilities, the new system also incorporates hybrid transactional analytical processing (HTAP). In contrast to typical business environments where transaction processing and analytics are run on distinct architectures, HTAP runs predictive analytics, transactional and historical data on the same database at accelerated response times.

Later this year, the company plans to add support for HTAP with IBM Db2 Analytics Accelerator for z/OS, which will enable the system to transparently integrate with IBM z Systems infrastructures.

For more about IBM Analytics visit www.ibm.com/analytics.

Written by turbotodd

September 26, 2017 at 8:42 am

The Knowledge

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Happy Friday. Or better put, TGIF.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week. Hurricane Maria had her way with Puerto Rico and parts beyond. The earthquake in Mexico City shook the metropolis to its core. The United Nations General Assembly was filled with bombast and bluster, and now “Rocket Man” is threatening to explode a hydrogen bomb somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

It may be time for a cocktail. Okay, not now, at 9:00-something in the morning, but very soon.

There could be plenty of time for cocktails soon for Uber drivers in London. Big news today on that front: Uber has lost its license to operate in London.

No, not because the drivers (or Uber’s AI) couldn’t pass “The Knowledge,” London’s infamous taxi driver test. No, it was said to be because of the firm’s approach to reporting serious driver offenses, its approach to driver medical and safety checks, and the users of its secret “Greyball” software to dodge transport officials.

The firm has 21 days to appeal the decision.

In the meantime, 40,000 Uber drivers and 3.5M Londoners using the app will need to make other arrangements. And you just thought the London Underground is crowded now!

Back across this side of the pond, some exciting news from Facebook that they needed like a hole in the head. They “announced” two weeks ago they had discovered more than 3,000 ads addressing “social and political issues that ran in the US between 2015 and 2017 and that appear to have come from accounts associated with a Russian entity know as the Internet Research Agency.”

Facebook will now “share these ads with congressional investigators,” according to a post by its general counsel, Colin Stretch. Here’s more of Stretch’s comment:

We believe it is vitally important that government authorities have the information they need to deliver to the public a full assessment of what happened in the 2016 election. That is an assessment that can be made only by investigators with access to classified intelligence and information from all relevant companies and industries — and we want to do our part. Congress is best placed to use the information we and others provide to inform the public comprehensively and completely.
– via newsroom.fb.com

My Take: The whole Russian Facebook advertising situation puts Zuckerberg and company between a rock and a hard place.

If they admit any culpability, then hey, Facebook Ads are AWESOME, they work really, really well, as they helped Russia elect an American president. Raise the CPM and let’s party like it’s 1999 on the Facebook Ad exchange!!

If they suggest, on the other hand, that they had no role whatsoever in helping Vlad and his cronies with their mission to bring the Trump Organization into the White House, then wait a minute, those ads are worthless, I want my rubles back!

Like a Facebook relationship status, “it’s complicated.”

Now where’s my Moscow Mule!

Written by turbotodd

September 22, 2017 at 9:38 am

Posted in 2017, facebook, russia, uber

China Construction Bank (Asia) and IBM Developing Bancassurance Powered by Blockchain

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China Construction Bank (Asia) Corporation Limited and IBM today announced the development of the first blockchain-enabled bancassurance project in Hong Kong. Built on the IBM Blockchain Platform, the solution is designed to streamline CCB (Asia)’s bancassurance process and greatly enhance customer experience and the quality of services delivered through faster transaction processing time and increased transparency.

Bancassurance is an arrangement whereby a bank and an insurance company form a distribution partnership in which the sales associates of the bank can sell the insurance company’s products to the bank’s client base and through the bank’s channels. The arrangement can be hindered by delays in data transmission or incomplete information.

By working with IBM, CCB (Asia) and all parties on the blockchain now have a shared view of required policy data in real-time, reducing the need for time-consuming status checks which can delay processing time.

This is accomplished through a shared, immutable ledger used for recording transactions. It helps establish accountability and transparency among network participants, enabling CCB (Asia) and its partner insurers to deliver the services more efficiently.

The solution is now under testing with insurance providers and their clients and is expected to be available in the third quarter of this year.

The IBM Blockchain Platform which underpins the project is the first enterprise-ready blockchain service based on the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric version 1.0. Hyperledger is an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies.

Written by turbotodd

September 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

Posted in 2017, banking, blockchain, china, ibm

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Supercharge Me

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Google and HTC have announced a $1.1 billion cooperation agreement, one under which HTC employees will join Google and HTC will continue to work with Google on smartphones, including its Pixel line of phones released last year.

As The New York Times reported, “Bringing on the team from HTC is a sign that Google is doubling down on plans to produce its own hardware.” But the two sides did not reveal how many engineers and other key employees would move over to Google.

HTC would still be free to continue making its own smartphones under the deal, but it seems evident that Google would take on the creme de la creme of HTC design and engineering staff, but not be required to take on its manufacturing facilities.

It would be easy to forget Google has traveled down this road before, having acquired Motorola Mobility in 2011 for $12.5 billion before selling the company to Lenova in 2014 for $2.9 billion.

This is from the press release back when the Google/Motorola deal was going down:

The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a dedicated Android partner, will enable Google to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing. Motorola Mobility will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. Google will run Motorola Mobility as a separate business.
– via TechCrunch

And this is from HTC’s press release overnight: 

For Google, this agreement further reinforces its commitment to smartphones and overall investment in its emerging hardware business. In addition to the talented and experienced team of professionals, Google will continue to have access to HTC’s IP to support the Pixel smartphone family. Additionally, this agreement also represents a significant investment by Google in Taiwan as a key innovation and technology hub.
– via HTC

So one would surmise from all this that what this is really all about is supercharging smartphone hardware…and Taiwan?

If I do the math, Google spent $12.2B on Motorola Mobility, sold it for $2.9B, which resulted in a loss of $9.6B. Now, they’ve bought part of HTC for $1.1B, which means they’ve invested $10.7B in smartphone hardware over the past six years.

That amounts to their spending about $148,611,111.11 per month on smartphones since August 2011.

I think I’ll stick with my iPhone plan on Verizon.

Written by turbotodd

September 21, 2017 at 8:49 am

Posted in 2017, android, google, htc, pixel

The New iOS 11 is Here!

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Well, the day has finally arrived. Apple is set to release iOS 11 later today.

I’m reminded of that scene with Steve Martin’s character Navin from that age-old classic film, “The Jerk.”

“The new phonebook’s here, the new phonebook’s here!!!!”

No, I’m not excited because my name’s going to be in the phone book. But I am glad to check out some of the new capabilities of iOS 11.

Like what?

Well, the new Dock for the iPad, for starters. The new Dock will be available from any screen with a quick swipe, and will allow myself, and Navin, to easily add more app shortcuts.

Next, the QuickType keyboard improvements for the iPad, which will allow you to see letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation all on the same keyboard! What a concept! With the current iteration, you have to switch back and forth between keyboards to use many of those characters.

Third, Drag and Drop for the iPad, which allows you to more easily move text, photos, and files between apps. From what I’ve gathered, generally speaking, if you can see it, you can move it.

Fourth, the new Control Center, which is now customizable and les you set up shortcuts for preferred settings and apps.

And…one more thing…the ability to mark up documents and th elike using Apple Pencil (that includes signing documents!). The Apple Pencil has been a great innovation but has had limited capabilities, in my opinion. Adding the ability to markup documents will greatly expand its utility beyond its existing artistic capabilties.

What I hope all of these features and more add up to is expanding the potential for the iPad to become a desktop and/or laptop replacement.

While that doesn’t mean I’ll stop using my MacBook Pro anytime soon, I do think it could expand the horizons of utility for the iPad, something that’s been now seven years in the making.

The new phone book’s here!

P.S. I just discovered this in-depth Ars Technica review of iOS 11, and the word on the new iPad capabilities seems bullish:

Today, the good news for the iPad continues with the public release of iOS 11. There’s a lot of stuff in this update, and a bunch of it benefits iPhone owners, too. But Apple has put a lot of work into the iPad-related parts of the operating system this year—the tablet still exists somewhere in between the iPhone and the Mac, but the changes to the UI and to the underpinnings of iOS 11 help iPads move further toward the Mac than they’ve ever been before. The upgrade is even more significant for tablets than iOS 9, both because the changes are bigger and because more iPads can actually take advantage of all these fancy productivity features now.
– via Ars Technica

Written by turbotodd

September 19, 2017 at 9:20 am

IBM Leads the Blockchain

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Happy Monday.

First things first. If you’re a University of Texas football fan, my condolences on Saturday night. That was an epic football game between the ‘Horns and USC, and the last minute comeback by Texas during regulation deserved its own Emmy award for high drama. Then, to go into Double OT…well, let’s hope it’s a harbinger of continued great play.

As for the Monday morning tech world news, there’s certainly plenty to go around.

CNBC reported earlier that, according to Juniper Research, IBM far outranks Microsoft as the blockchain industry leader. The report wrote that "More than 40 percent of tech executives and leaders in the blockchain sector ranked IBM as top, with only 20 percent saying the same of Microsoft."

You can go here to learn more about IBM’s blockchain initiatives.

If you’re keeping track of the tech VC race, Slack just got a huge infusion of $250 million (largely from Softbank’s Vision Fund), valuing the firm at $5.1B.

SiliconANGLE on the infusion: "…Slack said it will use the latest funding to improve its ‘operational flexibility,’ a statement that is vague at best. The company also said it still has much of the $591 million it previously raised in the bank, which should at least give it lots of room for maneuvering in the months and years to come."

SA goes on to explain Slack may need the wiggle room, considering Microsoft has entered into the messaging space with its new Teams application.

In China, autonomous driving startup JingChi has raised a $30M angel round and is raising a $100M Series A. The company’s founder is Wang Jing, former head of Baidu Inc’s Autonomous Driving Unit, and will be HQed in Silicon Valley.

According to China Money Network, it completed a test drive in California in June, and is the 34th company to obtain a license to test autonomous vehicles on public roads there.

So next time you’re driving down the 101 and you see one car after another with nobody driving, you’ll know why.

Written by turbotodd

September 18, 2017 at 11:08 am

Keep An Eye on Those Algos

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If you want to get a fresh look into our collective AI future, look no further than ProPublica’s recent report on how it was able to target pitches to the news feeds of “Jew haters” and similar anti-Semetic propensities.

In their test, ProPublica indicated they paid $30 to target such groups with three “promoted” posts, which then displayed a ProPublica article or post in those users’ feeds.

ProPublica indicates that Facebook approved all three ads within 15 minutes.

They report Facebook immediately removed the categories once contacted, but what was most interesting about the experiment was that they had originally been created by algorithms, not we mere mortals.

Facebook’s Rob Leathern indicated “We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”

Uh, yeah, little bit.

This is only one minor example of the role algorithms are going to play in the brave new world where fallible humans continue to shape policy and protocols for their algorithmic counterparts.

In December of last year, Harvard Business Review published a story entitled “Hiring Algorithms Are Not Neutral.” In that story, they wrote that “algorithms are, in part, our opinions embedded in code. They reflect human biases and prejudices that lead to machine learning mistakes and misinterpretations. This bias shows up in numerous aspects of our lives, including algorithms used for electronic discovery, teacher evaluations, car insurance, credit score rankings, and university admissions.”

Another example more specific to the HR focus of the piece:

At their core, algorithms mimic human decision making. They are typically trained to learn from past successes, which may embed existing bias. For example, in a famous experiment, recruiters reviewed identical resumes and selected more applicants with white-sounding names than with black-sounding ones. If the algorithm learns what a “good” hire looks like based on that kind of biased data, it will make biased hiring decisions. The result is that automatic resume screening software often evaluates job applicants based on subjective criteria, such as one’s name. By latching on to the wrong features, this approach discounts the candidate’s true potential.
– via Harvard Business Review

So how to avoid algorithmic bias as we start to allow the machines conduct more of the necessary, but often mundane, tasks we humans prefer to avoid?

In the case of HR, they suggest organizations stop making hard screening decisions based solely on an algorithm. Encourage human reviews that will ask experienced people who have through bias training to oversee selection and evaluation.

But doesn’t that divert unnecessary resources back to us humans when the machines are supposed to now do all the work?

Well, yes, but it’s kind of difficult to get hired if the perfect machine is using its algos to hire an imperfect human.

 

Written by turbotodd

September 15, 2017 at 9:18 am

Posted in 2017, AI, HR, machine learning

A Bit of a Bitcoin

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Happy Thursday.

CNBC is reporting that Bitcoin has gone back into freefall, down 7 percent after one of the biggest Bitcoin exchanges in China indicated it would be shutting down its operation.

BTC China said it will close by September 30th, as Chinese authorities crack down on cryptocurrencies.

Earlier this month, China regulators banned companies from raising money through initial coin offerings, or “ICOs,” and since that time, Bitcoin has fallen some 20 percent.

In other news concerning China, Bloomberg is reporting that President Donal Trump has blocked a Chinese-backed investor from buying Lattice Semiconductor Corp., only the fourth time in a quarter century that a U.S. president has ordered a foreign takeover of an American firm stopped on national security concerns.

Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin had this to say:

“Consistent with the administration’s commitment to take all actions necessary to ensure the protection of U.S. national security, the president issued an order prohibiting the acquisition.”
– via Bloomberg.com

Lattice shares were down as much as 1.7 percent on the blocked sale.

According to Bloomberg’s report, Lattice makes programmable logic chips which have a vaiety of uses, including in communications, computing and industrial and military applications.

Written by turbotodd

September 14, 2017 at 9:01 am

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