Robot saves day in California gas station standoff 

The Sacramento Bee writes:

A suspect who tried to set a fire at an Ignacio gas station mini-mart was arrested Saturday afternoon after a six-hour standoff

How did this dramatic scene come to an end…?

The man eventually asked for a cigarette, but was denied because of the fire threat. Negotiators talked him into accepting a vapor pen if he would surrender. After the item was delivered by the robot, the man stepped out of the  vehicle and was arrested without further incident.

Technology saves the day, right? I thought so. But then I read why the suspect was angry in the first place…

The incident began about 7 a.m. when a man became upset over apparent confusion with the payment system while at the 76 gas station on Ignacio Drive, according to Novato Lt. Sasha D’Amico.

How Netflix works

This post on Medium didn’t so much blow my brain as shatter it into tiny pathetic pieces.

(I’m pausing here because, in the process of writing about this, I’ve now noticed this post was published in 2017. I’m carrying on. It’s good.)

Here’s the deepest of deep dives into how Netflix content gets to your eyeballs:

What isn’t as simple is what goes into running Netflix, a service that streams around 250 million hours of video per day to around 98 million paying subscribers in 190 countries. At this scale, providing quality entertainment in a matter of a few seconds to every user is no joke. And as much as it means building top-notch infrastructure at a scale no other Internet service has done before, it also means that a lot of participants in the experience have to be negotiated with and kept satiated — from production companies supplying the content, to internet providers dealing with the network traffic Netflix brings upon them.

I remember the days when a Netflix movie would arrive *in the mail*. A simpler time. But not a better one.

Scooter software glitch suddenly slams on the brakes

Scooter company Lime has admitted it is investigating a rather troubling issue in which riders are thrown off their scooters. While it looks into it, it has suspended its service in Switzerland.

According to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden (who I met finally this week, after more than a year chatting over the airwaves at various points), a software reboot is causing the scooter’s “theft prevention” measures to kick in. In other words: it slams on the brakes:

The cessation of service comes after reports over the past several months detailed how users have been injured after their Lime scooters stopped abruptly. In November, a doctor broke his elbow after the speedometer on his vehicle failed, the brakes kicked in, and he was thrown into the air. (Fortunately, this happened in front of the hospital, where he also worked.)

Another rider dislocated his shoulder after falling over his Lime scooter’s handle bars when travelling at about 25 km/h (about 15 mph). A third suffered cuts and bruises in a similar incident to the other two: abrupt braking while travelling.

The Social Network 2

Screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin thinks there could be a sequel to The Social Network, the film he made detailing the creation of Facebook. The Hollywood Reporter:

The prolific scribe revealed that he isn’t the only one who thinks so, either. Social Network producer Scott Rudin appears to be eager to get another Facebook movie off the ground. “I’ve gotten more than one email from him with an article attached saying, ‘Isn’t it time for a sequel?”’ said Sorkin, adding: “A lot of very interesting, dramatic stuff has happened since the movie ends with settling the lawsuit from the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin.”

You could probably get away with much of the same cast. But who would play Sheryl Sandberg, I wonder?

Apple buys 50 business class flights to Shanghai every day

United made a curious decision to create a display stand containing rather delicate information about its biggest (and presumably how unhappy) client, Apple.

It contains some eye-watering numbers. $150m spent on flights with United annually. Fifty business class seats to Shanghai every single day:

If you look closely, it says “This is confidential information, please do not share outside of United” at the bottom of each stand. Someone is getting in trouble.

Still, a fascinating glimpse at what it takes to keep the cogs turning when you’re making millions of phones some 7,000 miles away.

Who’s been watching Ring cameras?

The Intercept’s Sam Biddle on a troubling approach to privacy at Amazon-owned Ring, the “smart” home security firm:

Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world. This would amount to an enormous list of highly sensitive files that could be easily browsed and viewed. Downloading and sharing these customer video files would have required little more than a click.

Executives and engineers had access to this data, Biddle writes. And, well, humans gonna human:

Although the source said they never personally witnessed any egregious abuses, they told The Intercept “if [someone] knew a reporter or competitor’s email address, [they] could view all their cameras.” The source also recounted instances of Ring engineers “teasing each other about who they brought home” after romantic dates. Although the engineers in question were aware that they were being surveilled by their co-workers in real time, the source questioned whether their companions were similarly informed.

Now, what’s less clear is to what extent these practices are still going on. The article says Amazon wouldn’t be drawn on prior privacy policies, but the statement provided to the Intercept insisted the only videos analysed are those which have been shared in Ring’s companion app, Neighbor.

The statement in full:

We take the privacy and security of our customers’ personal information extremely seriously. In order to improve our service, we view and annotate certain Ring videos. These videos are sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes.

We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.

Researchers: Microsoft Bing not only shows child pornography, it suggests it

Josh Constine in TechCrunch on what appears to be a sickening, shameful failure on Microsoft’s part to police its Bing search engine:

When researchers searched for “Omegle Kids,” referring to a video chat app popular with teens, Bing’s auto-complete suggestions included “Omegle Kids Girls 13” that revealed extensive child pornography when searched. And if a user clicks on those images, Bing showed them more illegal child abuse imagery in its Similar Images feature. Another search for “Omegle for 12 years old” prompted Bing to suggest searching for “Kids On Omegle Showing,” which pulled in more criminal content.

We talk often about how stopping this kind of content is a cat-and-mouse game, with those determined to cover their tracks constantly coming up with new methods/coded phrases to avoid attention.

But if this report is accurate, Bing was serving up this material with obvious terms that Microsoft should be able to control.

A self-driving ride on the Vegas strip

It’s not news – they’ve been here since last May, apparently – but I was picked up by a self-driving car this evening while hopping from one CES event to another.

It came via Lyft, and while not exactly the most challenging journey, did impress with a solid two-laned left turn across traffic.

Anyway, here’s my Twitter thread:

iTunes coming to Samsung TVs

This is interesting and a strong indication of how Apple sees its future in television. By allowing iTunes directly on a Samsung TV, they essentially remove the last remaining big selling point of the Apple TV box (at least for anyone who has a Samsung telly). Feels clear to me that Apple has decided to be on as many platforms as possible, and let the content do the money-making, not the hardware. From The Verge:

Commenting on the announcement, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue said, “We look forward to bringing the iTunes and AirPlay 2 experience to even more customers around the world through Samsung Smart TVs, so iPhone, iPad and Mac users have yet another way to enjoy all their favorite content on the biggest screen in their home.”

It’s a much tougher game to play. The margins are smaller, and right now, Apple doesn’t have a whole lot of its own content.

We’ve hit peak hard drive. Now what?

A terrific, plain-English piece from Amy Nordrum, writing in IEEE Spectrum, about the conundrum facing the big players in the hard drive industry.

Simply, manufacturers have, for decades, been able to squeeze more data storage into same area at a rate of around 40% per year. No longer, Nordrum writes:

Everyone who works on magnetic storage is well aware of this problem, but only in the past year or so have executives from Seagate Technology and Western Digital, the leading manufacturers of hard drives, very publicly split on how to solve it.

There are now two trains of thought – and the big players, Western Digital and Seagate, are of an opposing view. A bet that is worth billions (24 of them, Nordrum writes).

Read the piece. It’s the most interesting thing you’ll ever read about hard drives, I promise.