On Shania Twain's 'Life's About to Get Good,' We Have No Choice But to Take Her Word for It

There’s something just so inherently delightful about the prospect of a brand-new Shania Twain single, from an upcoming brand-new Shania Twain album, in 2017. The last time Shania released an album, LeBron James had yet to even make his NBA debut, and after endless false-start rumors and reported delays, it was starting to look like she might not release another until well after he retired. It’s not an exaggeration to say there’s been no substitute for her barnstorming country-pop while she’s been gone, either: No star to appear in her wake has matched her effortless charm, her global ambition and her absolute sledgehammer hooks.

This is all to say that “Life’s About to Get Good,” released Thursday (June 15) as the first taste from Now, due in September, didn’t have to actually be all that good to still be a welcome presence in our lives, especially going into the warm-weather months. Luckily, it is anyway; a rollicking anthem of folk-pop perseverance with a gently throbbing pulse, a sing-along-by-song’s-end chorus and an inscrutable, almost quacking hook on the verses that sounds like it should be marking a Naked and Famous song. It’s marvelous, it’s irresistible — it’s Come on Over-worthy, which 20 years later is still pretty much the highest compliment you can give to a song of its ilk.

It is also — rather quietly — completely devastating. If you don’t know about the drama Twain has undergone in her personal life since she’s been gone, a quick summary: She separated from superproducer husband Robert “Mutt” Lange after nearly 15 years of marriage, with Lange alleged to have been having an affair with Twain’s best friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud. Shania bounced back quickly, however, and within two years she was remarried — to Frédéric Thiébaud, former husband of Marie-Anne. It’s the kind of stuff that would’ve been deemed over-the-top even in a classic country song, and it’s unignorable context when considering the alternately heartbreaking and heart-filling lyrics of of “Life’s About to Get Good.”

Despite the song’s sunny sonic demeanor and Twain’s unwavering delivery throughout, the verses are a pretty big downer from the opening lines: “I wasn’t just broken, I was shattered/ I trusted you so much, you were all that mattered.” The second verse gets even more brutal: “The longer my tears fell, the wider the river/ It killed me that you’d give your life to be with her.” And then the absolute killer at second verse’s end, as the singer resolves to move on despite her wallowing instincts, declaring “It was time to forget you… for-e-ver.” The pause before the final word and way she extends it to emphasize all three syllables sounds like she’s still considering pulling it back at any second, and it’s spine-tingling just to hear her reach the end of it.

Shania Twain performs on the Toyota Mane Stage during day 2 of 2017 Stagecoach California's Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 29, 2017 in Indio, Calif.

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But that’s where the chorus comes in, and thank heaven. The refrain is such an instantly familiar affirmation that it threatens to overwhelm the nuance of the preceding verses, as Twain rhapsodizes (with sturdy backing-vocal support), “Life’s about joy/ Life’s about pain/ It’s all about forgiving and the will to walk away.” She soldiers on with newfound determination: “I’m ready to be loved/ And love the way I should/ Life’s about, life’s about to get good.” It keeps the song from ever becoming a drag — Shania would never, not with a lead single — but has just enough lived-and-learned bruising to steer clear of being pat, either.

And when it comes to the chorus… she would know, wouldn’t she? It’s always dangerous to read too much real life directly into pop music, but with a story like Twain’s it’s pretty hard not to, and the music and delivery sells both the hurt and the healing with such crackling alacrity that it almost seems insulting not to assume she knows exactly from what she speaks. It’s exactly what fans would’ve asked for from a Shania comeback single, and it makes its title one of the year’s most gleeful self-fulfilling prophecies.

Agri-tech startups have a field day as farmers, investors sow seeds of growth

In Indian agriculture, the scope—and application—of technology has long been limited to genetically-modified crops, high-yield seeds and, of late, a handful of sophisticated tools like aerial images and GPS technology. Needless to say, a lot of challenges that farmers faced remained unresolved, partly because there were no problem-solvers around.

But that’s fast changing. Leveraging rising mobile and internet penetration, an army of agri-tech startups is offering farmers services such as on-demand delivery of farm inputs, online financial assistance, weather updates, drone-driven crop health identification, soil health assessment and equipment on rent, among others. Then, for purposes of edification and infotainment, there are startups offering both financial literacy videos and online games, such as Wonder village and Farmer Book!

The array of offerings clearly suggests these startups are finding takers in farmers.

Ayush Nigam, co-founder of Distinct Horizon, a fertiliser application startup, says the biggest change the industry is seeing is that farmers are now willing to adopt new practices that can improve yields or reduce cost. They are open to trying new technologies as long as they are sustainable and don’t require too much additional labour.

Distinct Horizon, which has developed an innovative machine for deep placement of urea fertiliser to increase crop productivity, counts Tata Chemicals and San Francisco-based IDEO.org as partners. Nigam, who feels the space has been underserved for decades, claims his deep placement technology not only doubles farmers’ profits but also helps maintain better soil health.

Then there are startups like Ravgo, a farm equipment rental marketplace that holds out hope for small farmers who cannot afford expensive machinery. Ravgo follows a commission-based model, wherein it charges a certain percentage from vendors for the business it generates for them. The fact that analysts peg India’s tractor-hiring market alone at Rs 15,000 crore per annum indicates the potential of the segment.

The supply-chain space, too, has seen several startups, with logistics between farmers and end-customers continuing to be a tricky area. Others have gotten into primary processing, packaging and selling of produce, spanning the entire chain.

Rising investor interest
Several of these ventures have been able to raise funds from prominent investors like Indian Angel Network, International Finance Corporation, US-based venture capital fund Unitus Impact, and even Denmark-based Bestseller Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation.

“The sector is evoking investor interest because of the enormous market size and the new-found thrust on the end-customer. If entrepreneurs can prove that their concept works and farmers are willing to pay for it, investors will grab the opportunity,” says Nigam. In case of Distinct Horizon, he claims, the precise fertiliser application technology helps the company recoup four times the investment in the first year itself.

Gajjender Yadav, founder at cow milk delivery startup 4SFoods, feels the rise of socially-responsible consumerism is giving the industry a fillip. Besides, the fact that these startup entrepreneurs are not just sitting in AC cabins, but are willing to get their hands dirty, is also driving the change.

Also, investors are placing their bets on startups like 4SFoods, and other farm-to-fork and organic food ventures given the rising propensity of the Indian consumer to loosen their purse strings for healthy, pesticide-free food.

“The disposable income with the middle class is growing, the first avenue they spend money is the better quality of food. Hence, there is an incentive for companies to invest time, energy and money into delivering better quality food to the consumer. As long as the consumer is willing to pay, there is value in investing in these companies. Look at the organic sector, for example, no one was talking about it 5-6 years ago, but now people are buying organic. In general, they are willing to pay 10%-20% extra for packaged, pesticide free food.”

Using Bangalore-based Farmily, farmers can set up micro-sites to display their produce and reach out to potential customers. Whenever a customer shows interest, the farmer receives an SMS with the customer’s details, which eliminates middlemen from the process.

Another app-based startup, Mandi Trades, also connects farmers and buyers.

“Farmers face significant challenges at every point from buying agri-inputs, to improving yields and finally getting a good price for their produce. We are working on solving some of these challenges through technology,” Shardul Sheth, founder and CEO of AgroStar, had told VCCircle earlier this year.

A direct-to-farmer m-commerce platform, AgroStar is operational in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan and claims to have over a million farmers on its platform.

Big Data isn’t behind either, with startups in the space winning insurance companies and banks as clients.

Mostly operating on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, these startups capture data on crop growth, likely yield, soil moisture, temperature and humidity, among other things, sell it to relevant stakeholders. Buyers include players selling agricultural inputs to farmers, apart from insurers and banks.

And the value-proposition is undeniable given data is the ultimate commodity.

“For most insurance companies, the challenge is to estimate the risk profile of the farmer and his farm. You have to have a lot of information, in terms of what crops are being grown, the track record, data on soil, nutrition, weather and pest attacks, the likely output, and the farmer’s income,” says Hemender Mathur, agribusiness investment lead and venture partner at Bharat Innovations Fund.

Not a cakewalk
Agrawal says the creation of a strong farmer network is tough but paramount. “Because many farmers have been cheated a lot of times by corporates and fly by night companies, they don’t trust you easily. They are generally sceptical and for companies to be able to service them and get the output from them is a challenge,” he observes.

He adds that if startups can figure out how to take “basic technology” to small farmers, productivity will rise.

On the tech side, the primary challenge is domain expertise.

For tech-driven startups, says Mathur, seamlessly integrating the technology platform with domain knowledge of agriculture is critical. “I think the challenge is to build multiple layers of analytics. How to analyse these data points in a form that it becomes more valuable and can be sold to multiple users. It needs a lot of domain expertise. People are not asking for data per se, they are asking for insights,” he adds.

Resilient food demand is, however, a good sign, and it will ensure there is always scope for innovation in all areas of agriculture.

“Challenges are on the supply side…there are so many intermediaries and inefficient handling. Aggregation is clearly the missing link. Primary processing, as simple as trading, sorting and packing, are also areas of big opportunity,” Mathur says.

As for the government’s role in the ecosystem, startups feel it needs to bump up the spend on farm inputs to unlock the sector’s long-term potential.

“The government spends almost 10 times of farm inputs on farm subsidies, but it needs to reverse the trend gradually. Farm subsidy makes a farmer dependent while inputs will make him much stronger and independent,” Yadav says.

Google Cloud Print is ready to spool in beta, if you have a Windows PC handy

Google blew the lid off of Chrome OS yesterday in a big way, and one of its key features is now ready to roll. Cloud Print was unveiled back in April, a method to enable Google mobile devices to print via nebulous networking, and it’s now here

 with some caveats. The biggest being that right now the only host for a non Cloud Print-compatible printer (basically all but this one) is a Windows PC running Chrome 9.0.597.1 or greater. Set up the service through there and the browser will host your good ‘ol printer to your Chrome OS device. Don’t have a Chrome OS device? You will. Eventually more printers will support this natively, eliminating the middleman, and we’re sure printing support will be coming to Androiddown the road too. When? In due time, fair reader. In due time.

Computer printers have been quietly embedding tracking codes in documents for decades

In 2004, when color printers were still somewhat novel, PCWorld magazine published an article headlined: “Government Uses Color Laser Printer Technology to Track Documents.”

It was one of the first news reports on a quiet practice that had been going on for 20 years. It revealed that color printers embed in printed documents coded patterns that contain the printer’s serial number, and the date and time the documents were printed. The patterns are made up of dots, less than a millimeter in diameter and a shade of yellow that, when placed on a white background, cannot be detected by the naked eye.

Printer_Steganography_Illustration
The dots are less than a millimeter in diameter and invisible to the naked eye (Wikimedia Commons)

 

In 2004, when color printers were still somewhat novel, PCWorld magazine published an article headlined: “Government Uses Color Laser Printer Technology to Track Documents.”

It was one of the first news reports on a quiet practice that had been going on for 20 years. It revealed that color printers embed in printed documents coded patterns that contain the printer’s serial number, and the date and time the documents were printed. The patterns are made up of dots, less than a millimeter in diameter and a shade of yellow that, when placed on a white background, cannot be detected by the naked eye.

The dots are less than a millimeter in diameter and invisible to the naked eye (Wikimedia Commons)The existence of the hidden dots gained renewed interest this week when they were found embedded in a top-secret report by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that was published by The Intercept on June 5. About an hour after the report was published, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had arrested a suspected leaker. The 25-year-old NSA contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, was charged “with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.”
In an affidavit released by the DOJ, an FBI agent described how Winner had been tracked down. The scanned copy of the document, which The Intercept had given to the government to confirm its authenticity, “appeared to be folded and/or creased,” the agent wrote, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”
When researchers later discovered the tracking dots embedded in the document, many quickly assumed that the NSA had used them to find Winner. However, according to the affidavit, an internal government audit found that only six people had printed out the classified documents. Winner was one of those six people, and the audit found that she had also sent an email to the news outlet from her work computer. An analysis of the dots was therefore probably not necessary to track down Winner, despite several misleading news reports that suggest otherwise. But their presence has nonetheless resurfaced long-standing privacy concerns.
By analyzing the dots in the top-secret document, researchers were able to conclude it came from a printer with a serial number of 29535218, model number 54, and that it was printed on May 9, 2017, at 6:20 a.m., at least according to the printer’s internal clock. In a case where a leaker had covered his or her tracks more carefully, or where the leaked documents had been printed by far more than six people, or perhaps printed on a non-government printer, the dots certainly could have come into play.
Looking into how the embedded codes came to be, we found a secret history that’s been little told. The technology meant to track our paper documents back to us has been hidden in plain sight for more than 30 years.

The 2004 article in PCWorld was based on information provided by Peter Crean, who was a senior research fellow at Xerox at the time. In his first public interview about the practice since talking to the magazine 13 years ago, Crean told Quartz that Xerox hadn’t done much to share information about the dots’ existence.

“We didn’t advertise it much to the people that had [the printers],” said Crean, now retired. “We didn’t not tell them if they asked. The salespeople were told, ‘Don’t lead with it in any sales, but if they ask you about it, you can tell them we have the security feature in there.’”

When color printers were first introduced, he said, governments were worried the devices would be used for all sorts of forgery, particularly counterfeiting money. An early solution came from Japan, where the yellow-dot technology, known as printer steganography, was originally developed as a security measure.

Fuji, which has been in a joint-venture partnership with Xerox since 1962, was the first to implement the codes in printers. Fuji-Xerox manufactures most of Xerox’s printing and copying devices, and has done so for several decades. Amid rampant counterfeiting issues in Japan in the mid-1980s, Crean said, the company began programming color printers to embed the dots.

“They put it on early and we went along with it,” Crean said, “because the machines came with it.”

There are no laws or regulations in the US that force printer manufacturers to include the tracking codes. It became standard practice primarily because some countries would have refused to import the products without some assurance that if the printers were used to counterfeit money, they’d be able to track the owners down. If Xerox hadn’t implemented steganography in its early color printers, the US may have tried to block their import from Japan, Crean said.

In addition to the yellow-dot technology, Xerox implemented another feature around the same time that forced color copiers to shut down if they detected steganography in documents indicating they were currency. In 1994, the US Central Intelligence Agency approached Xerox about using the same technology to stop the unauthorized copying of classified documents, and Crean provided some ideas in a brainstorming session with two agents that year, he said. He wasn’t aware of whether the agency used any of his ideas, but the functionality to detect currency, he said, “was in most of the machines at least through the mid-2000s.”

When Crean talked to PCWorld in 2004, Xerox had been pushing a PR campaign focused on the technology and science behind some of its innovations, including steganography. The company had asked Crean to highlight the tech as a neat security feature the company’s printers included, and to talk about the science behind it. Crean had talked publicly about the codes a few times before, and nothing much had come of it. The company likely assumed the techie readers of PCWorld would get a kick out of the obscure feature.

“Our PR people set it up for me,” said Crean. “When I gave the interview at my desk, our PR person was sitting right across the desk from me, nodding at everything I said.”

The article created an uproar among privacy advocates, who said the practice was a violation of Americans’ constitutional rights. Although the article quoted a Secret Service counterfeiting specialist, who said “the only time any information is gained from these documents is purely in [the case of] a criminal act,” privacy advocates pointed out there were no laws to hold the government to that.

“The possible misuses of this marking technology are frightening,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in a blog post responding to the article. “Individuals using printers to create political pamphlets, organize legal protest activities, or even discuss private medical conditions or sensitive personal topics can be identified by the government with no legal process, no judicial oversight, and no notice to the person spied upon.”

Salespeople at Xerox were told at this point to refer all questions about the dots to Xerox headquarters, Crean said.

A security researcher at the EFF, Seth Schoen, began looking into the dots shortly after the article was published, hoping to figure out how to read the encoded patterns. The organization asked the public to submit samples of their own printed documents, Schoen said, which helped them to compare differences between patterns on many printer models.

“We also went to a number of Kinko’s locations and printed our own samples, which is a great way to get DocuColor samples,” Schoen said, referring to Xerox model they were researching. “We looked at them with scanners and microscopes (and blue-light flashlights).”

How to decode the hidden dot patterns
How to decode the hidden dot patterns (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Eventually, a volunteer working with the EFF noticed that the dots represented a binary code, Schoen said. It allowed them to crack the logic behind them, and to read the information embedded in any document that used yellow-dot steganography. The organization published the results of its work, along with an interactive tool to decode the dots.

The researchers also published a list of all the models they found that embed the same pattern of dots, but Schoen pointed out in a phone interview that we should assume every color printer embeds tracking information in one way or another. He referred to information the EFF obtained in 2005 through a Freedom of Information Act request to the US government.

“Some of the documents that we previously received through FOIA suggested that all major manufacturers of color laser printers entered a secret agreement with governments to ensure that the output of those printers is forensically traceable,” the EFF said on its website.

Indeed, Crean said that after Fuji-Xerox began embedding tracking codes, the practice became ubiquitous.

“Other companies came up with other variants of that scheme that were more complicated, harder to decode. Canon kind of twist theirs around in a spiral,” Crean said, “but everybody was basically putting a small digital set of bits smack dab all over the print.”

Xerox, HP, Canon, and the NSA did not immediately respond to our requests for comment.

Although the code behind the yellow-dot patterns was cracked, there is likely other steganography still in use that has yet to be discovered. In addition to the various implementations Crean mentioned, Schoen said there is at least one newer version that is even more difficult to find in a document.

“What we’ve learned is that there is a second generation of the technology that some of the manufacturers have switched over to,” Schoen said. “We’ve never cracked that or even had a way to detect it.”

 

Tim Cook May Have Taken a Subtle Dig at Facebook in His MIT Commencement Speech

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tim Cook appeared to make a veiled swipe at Facebook in his MIT speech
  • “Sometimes the very technology that is meant to connect us divides us”
  • Cook seemed to imply that some technologies draw us in the wrong way

Apple chief executive Tim Cook appeared to make a veiled swipe at Facebook on Friday as he spoke to new graduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tim Cook May Have Taken a Subtle Dig at Facebook in His MIT Commencement Speech

Addressing the Class of 2017, Cook emphasised the importance of baking humanity into every decision and project, particularly when it came to technology. While tech has made the world better, he said, sometimes it has revealed new problems for societies to solve.

“The potential adverse consequences [of technology] are spreading faster and cutting deeper,” said Cook. “The threats to security, threats to privacy, fake news, and social media that becomes antisocial. Sometimes the very technology that is meant to connect us divides us.”

Of course, Facebook’s whole mission as a company is to connect people, according to its own chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg. And many Americans likely would never have heard about fake news had it not been for its prominence on Facebook during the 2016 election. Since then, Facebook has taken steps to minimise fake news’s impact by working with third-party fact-checkers and highlighting when a particular article may be disputed, among other things.

Cook blamed some of these societal issues on the way we think about technology. Urging Americans not to reduce the world to algorithms but to find the essence of humanity and inject it into our technology, Cook seemed to imply that some technologies draw us in the wrong direction.

“Measure your impact in humanity not in the likes, but the lives you touch,” he said. “Not in popularity, but in the people you serve.”

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Apple declined to comment.