Friday, November 14, 2014

Boot up: smart door lock, zero double Irish, Google+ falloff?

A burst of 9 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

An executive from bankrupt Apple supplier GT Advanced Technologies who oversaw its troubled sapphire production facility set up a plan to sell part of his shareholdings after the company failed to meet Apple's technical milestones on time.

Daniel Squiller, GT Advanced Technologies' chief operating officer and the point man at the Mesa, Ariz. sapphire plant it opened in partnership with Apple, sold $1.2m of stock in May and set up a plan under which he sold another $750,000 of shares over ensuing months before the company filed for bankruptcy on 6 October, according to filings.

Squiller's sales came after initial signs of trouble at GT's sapphire plant.

Precisely who at GTAT knew what, and when, is emerging piece by piece.

Walt Mossberg:

The August app also allows you to distribute digital "keys" to family members, house guests, cleaning services, contractors or others who require entry to the home, and to control those keys. For instance, you can limit when and for how long these digital keys are active. That means no more making copies of your physical keys, and risking them being copied or never retrieved. And no more leaving keys for others under the welcome mat or a flower pot.

It also has two cool, more advanced, optional features that I liked a lot in my tests. One, called Auto-Unlock, available for now only on the iPhone, detects your smartphone as you approach the door and unlocks it without requiring you to use your phone or your keys. That's great when your arms are full with, say, grocery bags.

The second, called EverLock, locks the door again after 30 seconds, so you'll never again forget to lock up.

Systems like this which used car remote-style controls for unlocking were around in the early 2000s - but they needed smartphones to make them properly useful. And to answer your question, the standard key system still works; this just adds a motor drive to the internal lock/unlock.

The arrangement, which has drawn the wrath of the US Senate as well as the Republic's EU partners, helped global corporations to move most of their taxable revenue from an operating firm in Ireland to an Irish registered firm in an offshore tax haven.

Bowing to pressure from international criticism, Irish finance minister Michael Noonan confirmed during his budget speech to the Dáil on Tuesday that the tax arrangement would be ended fully within four years.

The fallout from this on a number of companies' profits is going to be fun to watch.

Chuq von Rospach has run a bird photography group on Google+ for some years, but has seen a falloff in participation:

One thing I wanted to know was whether this stagnation I've seen was a problem in this group, or more widespread. So I've spent a couple of weeks of evenings digging into communities across G+ looking for ones I thought were interesting and doing more than "post pictures and plus them" type interactions.

Frankly, while those kind of groups exist, they're really rare, and the admins put a lot of work into building the interactions within the group because it's clear for them G+ doesn't make it easy for them, either. So it's not how we're running the group, it's how G+ is designed. Mostly, what I found was a lot of empty groups without anyone managing them, full of spam, wallpaper reshares and low value crap.

It's incredibly hard to find groups where there's real conversation and discussion. For the record, discovery on G+ is ludicrously bad. I can't even tell it I only want to see groups in English, so there are many nights the list of "Communities you might like" were in Russian, or Korean, or Japanese, or in random languages I couldn't identify. One night G+ insisted I really wanted to see middle-aged singles dating groups, another night it was race cars, and another night my recommendation list was full of groups of nothing but groups of animated gifs of cats and dogs and other cute stuff. Kawaii! Seriously, the crap I do in the name of research…

My takeaway from all of this; Google doesn't really give a damn about communities. They put them out here, and then basically ignored them. Discovery is terrible — I think those recommended lists are effectively random pulls from the database. it's amateur stuff.

He wonders if photographers, who were enthusiastic adopters of Google+, have begun to withdraw from it. But if so, where have they gone now?

Andrew Leonard:

Since 2009, the inclusion of a provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows employers to offer discounts of as much 30 percent of their premium costs to employees who participate in such programs has made them even more attractive. Some 50 million Americans are now "affected by workplace wellness programs."

The use of fitness trackers as part of these wellness programs has become increasingly common. But the interest of health insurance companies willing to draw a direct line connecting the data generated by trackers and cold hard cash is relatively new. Only in the last two years have some of the biggest insurers in the country started deploying programs that offer premium discounts to both companies and individuals who can prove that they are taking care of their health by quantifying their health data with an "activity device." It's still too early to know for sure how far this trend will continue, or how the dollars will add up in the end, but the potential ramifications?—?for our health, our health care costs, and our privacy?—?are enormous.

"Sammy Walrus IV", self-described "engineering and finance skeptic navigating Silicon Valley and Wall Street":

Apple now has a much harder sales pitch to make for iPad. Why buy an iPad when you could have an iPhone with a screen that doesn't seem that much smaller than an iPad mini? Why buy an iPad when you can have a more powerful and just as easily transportable Macbook Air? The space between a phone and PC is smaller now than in 2010 primarily as the phone has become more powerful and larger. Tablets are getting squeezed.

A main target of [Rurik] Bradbury's satire is the Orwellian lengths to which major tech players go to distort language. "Google has historically talked about openness and 'don't be evil,'" Bradbury said. "These kinds of mantras are very common in tech. But Google has warped over time. The inevitable pressures of commerce have crept in and chipped away at the edges. Google's search results have become more and more ad-centric and less end-user-centric. They've dramatically reduced the obviousness of what's an ad and what's not an ad."

Bradbury's semantic umbrage is not limited to big platforms like Facebook or Google. He also takes issue with "meme hustlers" who try to fill the Web with their deep thoughts so they can sell books and charge high consulting fees. He thinks the sharing economy espoused by Uber and Airbnb should actually be called "poor persons as a service."

Thinkfluencing at its finest.

The City Council has secured funding from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to deliver Wi-Fi on buses and free to enter buildings as part of the Super Connected Cities programme.
The city's two main bus operators, Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach, will have installed Wi-Fi on virtually all buses within the Oxford Smart Zone by the end of November.

In addition, Super Connected Oxford will also make available a Wireless concession in the streets of the city and Wi-Fi Hotspots in free to enter public buildings by April next year. Residents and visitors to the city can expect to enjoy free Wi-Fi in all City Council community centres, libraries and museums such as The Ashmolean and Museum of Natural History.

The scenario that led to an anomaly in the orbital injection of the satellites was precisely reconstructed, as follows:

The orbital error resulted from an error in the thrust orientation of the main engine on the Fregat stage during its second powered phase.
This orientation error was the result of the loss of inertial reference for the stage.
This loss occurred when the stage's inertial system operated outside its authorized operating envelope, an excursion that was caused by the failure of two of Fregat's attitude control thrusters during the preceeding ballistic phase.
This failure was due to a temporary interruption of the joint hydrazine propellant supply to these thrusters.
The interruption in the flow was caused by freezing of the hydrazine.
The freezing resulted from the proximity of hydrazine and cold helium feed lines, these lines being connected by the same support structure, which acted as a thermal bridge.
Ambiguities in the design documents allowed the installation of this type of thermal "bridge" between the two lines. In fact, such bridges have also been seen on other Fregat stages now under production at NPO Lavochkin.
The design ambiguity is the result of not taking into account the relevant thermal transfers during the thermal analyses of the stage system design.
The root cause of the anomaly on flight VS09 is therefore a shortcoming in the system thermal analysis performed during stage design, and not an operator error during stage assembly.

All this time, and there are still subtle design mistakes like this in mission-critical products. (Insert "it's not rocket science... yes it is" joke.)

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