Week 5

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Pick of the Week – Apple pedal on

Apple’s Q4 2014 sales surpassed both analyst and Apple’s own expectations with figures of $74.6 billion in revenue and net profit of $18 billion.   The results were powered by huge iPhone 6 sales:

"Apple product sales (2010 to present)"

Some were suggesting that Apple may even have surged past Samsung to become number one smartphone vendor again:

https://twitter.com/BenBajarin/status/560653556542226434/

Apple is now a money-making mean machine worth twice as much as Microsoft.  It’s a position that was simply inconceivable just 16 years ago:

“When Microsoft stock was at a record high in 1999, and its market capitalization was nearly $620 billion, the notion that Apple Computer would ever be bigger — let alone twice as big — was laughable.”

They’ve blown away all opposition with their approach to the “bicycle of the mind”:

Devices and Manufacturers

  • Microsoft last week fought to remain relevant with their Windows 10 announcements.  Initial demos of the HoloLens accessory they unveiled wowed a lot of commentators.  BI are convinced personal computing is on the verge of a major change” with Augmented Reality the “the next big thing in technology“.  However it seems a bit of a stretch to go to suggest that Apple may be in danger of losing out by over-focussing on iPhone:

Microsoft HoloLens Skype RGB

  • SolidEnergy is a startup spun out of MIT that claims to have a lithium-ion battery technology that doubles current energy density.   Even if it proves to be revolutionary, wrapping the technology into a cost-effective scale manufacturing process will be a significant challenge:

“The company doesn’t exactly know what it’s going to be like manufacturing these kind of batteries at large scale”

  • Fascinating insight into how Israeli startup Consumer Physics who were highlighted last year were able to build their SCiO molecular scanner on the cheap using off the shelf sensors. The components they used have collapsed in price in the last few years due to their use within smartphone designs.  It’s an important reminder of the importance of manufacturing scale as an enabler for new technology applications.

Smart Cases

  • The Lenmar Maven is an iPhone6  case with an internal battery that has sufficient capacity to fully charge an iPhone 6 on the move.

IMG_0408

prynt phone case

Google and Android

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.01.18

“It is very important to us that an upgrade improves your experience. The soak test can reveal problems that need to be fixed, and based on the feedback we may decide to tweak or incorporate new changes to correct any issues. “

  • WSJ are reporting that Microsoft are looking at investing in non-Google Android ROM provider Cyanogen whose CEO claims that:

“more than 50 million people use a version of the Cyanogen Android operating system, most of whom have installed it in place of their phone’s initial operating system.”

Apps and Services

  • Dojo is a guide to cool London that has just raised £800k to scale up.  It has adopted an interesting blended approach to content curation:

“using a mixture of its own algorithms to surface events from blogs, other publications, Twitter and Facebook, coupled with an editorial team made up of “young Londoners” who handpick and curate each day’s finds.”

  • Concierge telemedicine offers the possibility of virtual house calls and seems to offer lots of potential for growth:

“Currently, telemedicine is being embraced by a number of concierge healthcare providers. Research with family offices and other cohorts of the wealthy, for example, find the ability to connect with their physicians anytime, anywhere to be an extremely or very important characteristic of their concierge medical provider.”

  • AirPnp is targetting a growing US urban issue.  It “helps New Yorkers access a toilet that would otherwise be inaccesible without the app“. 

Would you pay to use a stranger's bathroom?

Photography

  • Good TNW overview article explaining the close coupling between ISO (film sensitivity), shutter speed and aperture (depth of field) in digital photography:

“The reason we refer to ISO, shutter speed and aperture as the exposure triangle is that every time you change one setting, it affects the other two in a constant triangle.”

Asia

  • Caixin Online article on how Chinese OEMs overhauled Samsung in China by undercutting them in terms of price and aggressively iterating products using market feedback:

“Chinese smartphone makers … start out with low prices, and months later unveil upgraded versions of the phones for the same price, a strategy that seems to agree with Chinese consumers.”

  • WeChat now has a staggering 1.1 billion registered users with 440 MAU.  By way of comparison Twitter is something like 284 million MAU on maybe 900 million registered users.  Interestingly in terms of WeChat:

“About half of the users are aged 20 to 29. The 30-39 age group is the second largest.”

Backend Scalability

  • This insightful and entirely SFW Medium post explains how Paper magazine scaled their backend infrastructure to cope with a massive increase in demand for their infamous photos of Kim Kardashian’s backend.  The technology stack used is typical of a Internet scale web site with extensive leveraging of AWS utilities:
    • CloudFront CDN
    • AWS Load Balancer
    • Varnish front end cache
    • Custom Tornado web server instance
    • Movable Type CMS
    • AWS EBS autoscaling

Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Robots

“The difference between Antuit and other big data firms is that the company offers more than just access to complex systems and models. Instead, it operates on a more partner-like basis, working with clients to structure data and intelligence, analyze it, and then model it based on the immediate needs of the business.”

  • Interesting insight into the elements involved in building a universal real time language translator, an AI version of the famed Babel fish.  Recurrent neural networks (RNN), one per language, trained over a year and backed by statistical machine translation approaches appear to get close to the current state of the art:

Recurrent neural networks have been responsible for some of the significant improvements in language understanding, including the machine translation that powers Microsoft’s Skype Translate and Google’s word2vec libraries.”

  • We may be closer to the Babel fish being a reality than many realise.  It’s perhaps worth reflecting on the unfortunate fate of Douglas Adams’s fictional version:

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

  • GigaOM interviewed Google AI Research Scientist Greg Corrado who provided these four great insights on Deep Learning.  Key takeaways are that vast quantities of data are needed for Deep Learning models to work and that human brain analogies aren’t really that helpful despite the involvement of neural networks:

Source: Google

  • At Davos, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt rubbished the idea that “technology only benefits the rich and will leave everyone else rioting” and dismissed the idea that robots would “take over the world” choosing instead to focus on the positive economic impact of technology:

“He said that for every job created in the sector, there were seven more created in non-technology roles, and claimed that a digital single market in Europe would help to create 4m new jobs.”

  • Bill Gates however is much more concerned and again drew attention this week to two key concerns namely “AI replacing jobs that humans are adapted to — “the jobs that give you a sense of purpose and worth” — and stronger AI that could end up “conflicting with the goals of human systems.

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though, the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Robots will never take over the world, says Googles Eric Schmidt

Wearables and the Internet of Things

  • Nicholas Carr reviews “brilliant” new iPhone app pplkpr which he labels a “flux capacitor for the soul“:

“Connected to a sensor-equipped smart wristband, pplkpr takes biometric readings of how interactions with your Facebook friends, in person or screen-mediated, affect your physical and emotional state.”

pplkpr

  • Samuel Pepys didn’t like the wearable technology of his day:

Software Development

“At present, it’s extremely difficult to accurately measure how much time it will take to code a particular piece of software.  This problem is compounded by the fact that your estimations will be converted into a commitment which you should honor come what may.”

The Buffering…. of Estimations

  • VisionMobile site Developer Economics published a useful comparison of popular JavaScript Model View frameworks.  These can be used to create fully featured web apps.  Angular.js comes out on top:

“To conclude, Angular is our winner – so far. The approach of extending HTML with custom syntax, the easy-to-use data binding features combined with the power of mixins or extends and a clear routing mechanism makes Angular more than just a swiss JS-Knife. With its high abstraction level and a bunch of features it may be the choice for a full featured CRUD application – client sided.”

Work and Culture

“Resumes are a very poor information source. Work sample tests are actually the best predictor of performance, followed by tests of cognitive ability, which are best assessed using structured interviews. “

  • InfoQ interview with the Head of People Operations at Spotify who identifies the company as:

“an ad-hocracy, which is an organization that is intentionally designed for flexibility and adaptation, and is maybe less concerned about extracting every last dollar of every activity that you engage in, and what this means is that we have as I talked about, a relatively high tolerance for failure .. in the name of making sure that we are doing the right thing.”

“the most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness (within an hour or so of noon and 6pm). The least important tasks should be scheduled for times in which alertness is lower (very early in the morning, around 3pm, and late at night).”

...

Technology, Society and Conspiracy Theories

  • The tech industry is “still completely ridiculous” with the existence of successful propositions like Yo making it increasingly hard to distinguish between satire and reality.  The tech industry seems to be progressively influencing the way we behave and interact as well as our sense of normalcy.  This TechCrunch opinion piece suggests why that may not be a bad thing:

  • This NYT post takes the opposite view.  In it the author expresses deep discomfort with our collective obsession with screens, the omnipresent “black mirror” which was the subject of the eponymous Charlie Brooker series:

“What is it about our current reality that is so insufficient that we feel compelled to augment or improve it? I understand why people bury themselves in their phones on elevator rides, on subways and in the queue for coffee, but it has gotten to the point where even our distractions require distractions. No media viewing experience seems complete without a second screen, where we can yammer with our friends on social media or in instant messages about what we are watching.”

  • Adam Curtis 136 minute epic Bitter Lake was released by the BBC on iPlayer.  It’s a long-form documentary built around newsreel and film clips that range from never-before seen archive footage from Afghanistan, post-war Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union as well as clips from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic film Solaris.  The core subject of the film is Afghanistan, a country that has served as a convenient blank slate for a variety of post-war ideological experiments.  The film suggests a key event in the post-war chronology was a clandestine meeting in 1946 between Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia to ensure access to oil in exchange for tacit support of an extremist religious agenda. Reviewers were broadly appreciative of the spectacular audio-visuals but split on the accuracy of the analysis:

“It’s a story full of violence, bloodshed, and bitter ironies, mainly about how the west, through misunderstanding and oversimplification, repeatedly achieved pretty much the opposite of what it was trying to achieve.”

Meeting at Bitter Lake … President Franklin Roosevelt (right) meets King Abdulaziz. Photograph: Cour

  • Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed published a two part deep dive exposé here and here on how CIA largesse helped fuel Google’s rise and how Google in turn influenced NSA mass surveillance programs.  It makes for an absorbing if somewhat far-fetched read in which Ahmed draws together a rogue’s gallery of US foreign and domestic policy misadventures into an overarching conspiracy theory broadly aligned with Strategy of Tension theory.  Or as he puts it:

“the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. … The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.”