Turbotodd

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

Archive for November 2018

Apple’s Golden Eggs

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Good morning and Happy Tuesday.

Here’s hoping you got everything you wished for on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

I bought some coffee, which isn’t very cyber, I know, but hey, a man’s gotta have his caffeine.

You know who else might need some caffeine soon?

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

Yesterday, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (hereafter referred to as “SCOTUS”) appeared open to letting a lawsuit proceed against Apple that accused it of breaking federal antitrust laws by monopolizing the market for iPhone software applications and causing consumers to overpay.

According to a report from Reuters:

The nine justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by the Cupertino, California-based technology company of a lower court’s decision to revive the proposed class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in California in 2011 by a group of iPhone users seeking monetary damages.

The lawsuit said Apple violated federal antitrust laws by requiring apps to be sold through the company’s App Store and then taking a 30 percent commission from the purchases.

Reuters points out that while developers set the prices of their apps, Apple collects the payments from iPhone users and keeps 30 percent commission on each purchase. Developers earned more than $26 billion from the store in 2017, a 30 percent increase from the year before.

Goose. 

Golden.

Eggs.

Don’t.

Kill.

Written by turbotodd

November 27, 2018 at 9:49 am

Posted in 2018, app store, apple, developers

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Happy Thanksgiving Black Friday

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Well, it’s that time of year here in the U.S.

Time for giving thanks…briefly…before the real fun begins, shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and all points in between.

I’m only partially joking. For many retailers, this several day period can also be a time for giving thanks and making up for other soft periods throughout the year.

The good news, consumer confidence is high, the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, and the Walmarts and Targets and Amazons and Apples and all the other retailers are ready to rock n roll for the full stop start of this year’s holiday shopping season.

My predictions for this year: I’ve learned not to get too far out over my skis on predictions, but I will say I believe mobile shopping (via tablets and smartphones) will continue to grow, more omnichannel opportunities will be taken advantage of so consumers don’t have to fight their way through crowded stores (i.e., buy online only to pick up at the store later), and based on my own personal experience these past few days, Roku and Amazon Fire streaming devices are in high demand.

As for my own shopping proclivities, I don’t have anything tech-related that’s trying to burn a hole in my pocket. I bought a used iPhone 7 Plus off Gazelle earlier this year, and a Google Pixelbook earlier in the year which I really, really like (yes, you can consider that an endorsement). And I’ve had my Air Pods for over a year now, and don’t know how I lived without them (another endorsement).

But if YOU are looking for some help with the holiday shopping onslaught, particularly as it relates to tech, I found the Wall Street Journal “Best Tech Gifts 2018” list helpful. I’ve also become a big fan of The New York Times Wirecutter reviews, and they, too, have a helpful shopping list for electronics and a whole host of other retail categories.

But for today, let us give thanks. For good friends, for family, for great food and abundance, and for each other. Sure, all this stuff can bring some joy to our lives, and I’m also thankful for the benefits technology provides.

Yet as we’ve surely witnessed over the past few years, any technology — including digital technology and social media — can be used for both good and ill.

On this day, the day of giving thanks, I’m going to choose to celebrate the good of those technologies and be thankful for how they keep me closer to my friends and family and enrich my life and theirs.

For despite all the negativity and division, we should step back and realize we live in amazing and wondrous times, with great possibilities and promise ahead, technologically and otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And try not to stampede your fellow shoppers at the Walmart this year!

 

Written by turbotodd

November 22, 2018 at 10:51 am

Common Sense AI

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Microsoft announced that it is acquiring conversational AI and bot development software vendor XOXCO, Inc., an Austin-based firm, for an undisclosed amount.

According to a report from ZDNet, XOXCO was founded in 2008, and has been working on conversational AI since 2013.

One of its products, Howdy.ai, has been described as one of the first commercially available bots for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

Though it may be great for scheduling meetings, a new article in WIRED suggests that artificial intelligence and deep learning could stand to gain some common sense:

Deep learning is the reigning monarch of AI. In the six years since it exploded into the mainstream, it has become the dominant way to help machines sense and perceive the world around them. It powers Alexa’s speech recognition, Waymo’s self-driving cars, and Google’s on-the-fly translations. Uber is in some respects a giant optimization problem, using machine learning to figure out where riders will need cars. Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, has more than 2,000 engineers cranking away on neural net AI. For years, it seemed as though deep learning would only keep getting better, leading inexorably to a machine with the fluid, supple intelligence of a person.

But some heretics argue that deep learning is hitting a wall. They say that, on its own, it’ll never produce generalized intelligence, because truly humanlike intelligence isn’t just pattern recognition. We need to start figuring out how to imbue AI with everyday common sense, the stuff of human smarts. If we don’t, they warn, we’ll keep bumping up against the limits of deep learning, like visual-recognition systems that can be easily fooled by changing a few inputs, making a deep-learning model think a turtle is a gun. But if we succeed, they say, we’ll witness an explosion of safer, more useful devices—health care robots that navigate a cluttered home, fraud detection systems that don’t trip on false positives, medical breakthroughs powered by machines that ponder cause and effect in disease.

I look forward to having an argument with a bot…someday.

Written by turbotodd

November 14, 2018 at 11:05 am

Posted in 2018, AI, microsoft, Uncategorized

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A Foldable Phone

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Happy Monday.

We have ourselves another weekend-announced tech deal, this time SAP announcing that it would purchase survey-software provider Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash.

Axios reports that "this would be the largest-ever purchase of a VC-backed enterprise software company" and "the third-largest sale of any SaaS company (behind Oracle buying NetSuite for $9.3B, and SAP buying Concur for $8.3B).

AP CEO Bill McDermott said in a conference call that the Qualtrics IPO was already over-subscribed, and that this deal will be as transformative for SAP as buying Instagram was for Facebook — with SAP being able to merge its massive trove of operational data with Qualtrics’ collection of user experience data.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been keeping an eye on that nifty-looking foldable Galaxy F smartphone, Yonhap News Agency is reporting that it will launch in March, "along with a fifth-generation (5G) network-powered Galaxy S10."

Yonhap reports that the eagerly anticipated foldable smartphone is expected to launch at the Mobile World Congress in February, but that it is not expected to support 5G. So all that folding will have to transpire on existing 4G networks.

Hey, a slower folding phone is better than no folding phone, right?

And if you’ve already started that Christmas shopping binge, looking for the latest and greatest gaming console, you might want to hit "pause" just long enough to read this effort from The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Needleman.

She writes that tech giants are "trying to bring videogames the same streaming capabilities that gave rise to Netflix and Spotify," which could potentially do an end around traditional gaming consoles.

I wouldn’t short the X-Box or Playstation just yet, but there is the possibility those consoles will have to reinvent themselves to stay up to speed with the Jones’s…errr, I meant to say, the Streamers.

Written by turbotodd

November 12, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Facebook’s Portal Doublethink

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CNET is reporting that Facebook’s new home smart video assistants, Portal and Portal Plus, are now available for sale on the Portal online store, Amazon and Best Buy.

Facebook Portal Plus is selling for $349, and has 1080p HD res and a 15.6-inch screen. The $199 Portal has a 720p, 10.1-inch screen. Both serve as Alexa speakers as well as offer Facebook’s “Hey, Portal” (so original!) voice service.

Yes, Facebook’s Portal product uses Alexa service because, well, why reinvent the home assistant and copying is the sincerest form of flattery.

As for a Facebook video product being unleashed into the privacy of your home??  Well, I would have used to say read Facebook’s privacy policy with care…

A post from Facebook on privacy and security for Portal alleges the following:

  • Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. This means nothing you say on a Portal video call is accessed by Facebook or used for advertising.
  • Portal video calls are encrypted, so your calls are secure.
  • Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t identify who you are.

And as to how they use information from Portal:

  • Portal is integrated with some of your Messenger and Facebook experiences. When you use Portal, we process the same kinds of information as when you use Facebook products on your other devices. Some of this information, including the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app, may be used to inform the ads you see across Facebook.
  • While we don’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, or use this information to target ads, we do process some device usage information to understand how Portal is being used and to improve the product.

Read the full post for more details here.

At least one technology journalist, The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern, isn’t having any of it. She wrote:

I just couldn’t bring myself to set up Facebook’s camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family’s home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?

The personal data of millions of users was accessed for political purposes without consent. Whoops. False news articles were deliberately spread across our feeds to hoax us. Whoops again. Hackers gained access to nearly 50 million accounts, the largest-ever security breach at the social network. Giant whoopsies.

However, she did go on to write that “The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had.”

Doublethink?

Written by turbotodd

November 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

Posted in 2018, privacy, video

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Midterm Election Cyber Shenanigans

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Happy Election Day for those of you here in the U.S.!

I hope you all got out to vote, either in advance in early voting or in what, I’m sure, are probably long lines today on actual election day.

I was waiting for any stories to break about any social media shenanigans going on today or leading up to election day.

I wasn’t disappointed (well, I was, but you know what I mean).

CNBC reports that Facebook felt compelled to block 115 accounts ahead of the midterms, with U.S. law enforcement having notified Facebook on Sunday of the accounts’ online activity, saying they believed the accounts “may be linked to foreign entities.”

From Facebook’s blog post:

Given that we are only one day away from important elections in the U.S., we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.

Our very early-stage investigation has so far identified around 30 Facebook accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior. We immediately blocked these accounts and are now investigating them in more detail. Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate.

Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.

Once we know more — including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities — we will update this post.

Facebook appears to have learned a lesson from 2016 — a strong offense can prevent later necessary defense. 

Meanwhile, a joint statement from DHS, the Justice Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the FBI said the following:

Foreign actors — and Russia in particular — continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord.

[These attacks can come in the form of] spreading false information about political processes and candidates, lying about their own interference activities, disseminating propaganda on social media and through other tactics [and that Americans should be aware of such efforts].

Uh, wasn’t that kind of a given?!

I guess everybody’s vote counts in the 2018 midterms — including Vlad’s!

Written by turbotodd

November 6, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Amazon Runoff

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Happy Monday.

If you’ve been wondering where Amazon HQ2 might land, The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the company is in late-stage talks with cities that included Crystal City, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; and New York City.

Apparently the talks with local officials in some of the other 20 cities on the shortlist, including Denver, Toronto, Atlanta, Nashville, and Raleigh “have cooled.”

You can just hear the mayors, chamber of commerce heads, and real estate developers screaming in the jaws of potential victory and the agony of possible Amazonian defeat (depending on their respective locales, of course).

The story also hints that an announcement could be made as soon as this month, and cites an interview Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos did recently with author Walter Isaacson about how the company was going about making its decision:

For a decision like that, as far as I know, the best way to make it is you collect as much data as you can, you immerse yourself in that data, but then make the decision with your heart.

LATE-BREAKING UPDATE! The Journal is now reporting that Amazon plans to split its second HQ evenly between two locations rather than picking one city for HQ2. 

The driving force behind the decision to build two equal offices in addition to the company’s headquarters in Seattle is recruiting enough tech talent, according to the person familiar with the company’s plans. The move will also ease potential issues with housing, transit and other areas where adding tens of thousands of workers could cause problems.

Under the new plan, Amazon would split the workforce with 25,000 employees in each city, the person said.

Written by turbotodd

November 5, 2018 at 9:41 am

Posted in 2018

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