Start Up No.1917: Tether comes under pressure, $250k bitcoin in six months?, Meta faces ad blocks in Europe, Lensa beauty, and more


A fault with some LEDs used in streetlights is turning cities purple. CC-licensed photo by KuraybaKurayba on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


On Friday, there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 9 links for you. Puple reign, indeed. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The miniaturization of force • Centre for European Policy Analysis

Mike Martin is a military analyst:

»

If the 20th century was the industrial century, the 21st is the computing century. Microchips are becoming much smaller, much faster, and much cheaper. Software is replacing hardware as the main focus of innovation. Real-life problems (like how to detect cancer, fold proteins, or regulate traffic in cities) are starting to be solved by algorithms (artificial intelligence.) And finally, all of these individual bits of technology are being networked so they can talk to each other.

This is having profound effects on military technology, how governments think about generating future capabilities, and who has access to them.

Firstly, the big 20th-century systems look very vulnerable to attacks from multiple, cheap, small unmanned systems. Imagine an aircraft carrier [typical cost $6bn] beset by a swarm of micro suicide drones, some in the air, some underwater, all networked together with distributed hive processing, so that the drone swarm itself reacts to the aircraft carrier’s countermeasures by reshaping as the engagement unfolds. All this at a cost of one hundredth or one-thousandth of the carrier’s cost.

Secondly, the entire defence industry is modeled to provide big, expensive systems to governments that take years or decades to procure, build, and commission. Now, however, a startup can code the software that creates an underwater drone swarm, buy the processors commercially, and get it to market in a couple of years. It’s not clear whether the defence industry — and the generals and admirals who grew up in an era of big systems — are responding to these changes fast enough. What’s more certain is a significant reordering of defence industries of the world over the next decade.

Lastly, the miniaturization of force leads to the democratization of force. Cheaper, smaller, commercially available technologies mean that fewer wealthy countries, as well as a plethora of non-state actors, can once again get into the big league. US forces in Syria, for instance, are regularly attacked with tiny suicide drones, and the Ukrainians are buying quadcopters from Amazon and modifying them to drop bombs on Russian forces.

This, more than anything else, will change how and who we fight in the coming wars.

«

Such as the three drone attacks by Ukraine on Russian airbases this week.
unique link to this extract


The world’s largest stablecoin looks shaky • Semafor

Liz Hoffman:

»

Since a Bloomberg report last year that it held risky investments like short-term loans to Chinese companies, Tether said it has shifted its money into safer things like government bonds. A September report, prepared by Tether’s auditor and meant to reassure customers, showed that more than 80% of its $68bn was in fairly safe, liquid stuff — $40bn in U.S. Treasurys, $7bn in money-market funds, and $6bn in cash. (That list of assets is smaller today after a wave of redemptions.)

The rest, though, is in investments that are harder to value and sell, and about which Tether shares very little. It owns some $6bn in loans secured by its own coins, a spokesman confirmed to WSJ last week. A loss of confidence in Tether, like the one that hit FTX’s token, would reduce that collateral to zero, taking 10% of Tether’s assets with it.

It also owns $2.6bn in “other investments,” according to the September report. It’s not totally clear what’s in them, but they are likely venture stakes in other crypto companies held by its owners and affiliates, according to a global investigations firm commissioned by a hedge fund betting against the price of Tether. Semafor reviewed the findings of its report that found Tether holds equity stakes in more than a dozen crypto startups.

Semafor was able to verify some but not others. We confirmed that the crypto exchange that owns Tether invested, either through itself or an affiliate, into: an online-betting site called Betfinex; Dazaar, a data-sharing service; Dusk Networks, whose software turns financial investments into tokens; a crypto trading platform called Rhino; Shape Shift, a crypto wallet; Blockstream, a blockchain infrastructure company; Netki, a digital-ID company; and Keet.io, a video-chat app.

Any honest assessment of that $2.6bn “other investments” portfolio would likely mean it is worth less today than it was in September.

And as token-holders ask for their money back, Tether has to sell the stuff it can — government bonds, corporate bonds, money-market positions. That means the stuff it can’t sell — namely, venture investments – will start to make up a larger portion of its assets. This is how runs on banks start.

«

Wouldn’t be too confident about any of those big numbers that the auditor provided. Tether hasn’t been properly audited, ever. Something feels like it’s about to shift.
unique link to this extract


Texas’s crypto mining boom is starting to look more like a bust • Bloomberg via Yahoo

David Pan and Naureen Malik:

»

soaring energy costs, a sharp decline in Bitcoin prices and more competition have compressed profit margins and made it difficult for miners to repay debt. Some are on the verge of bankruptcy.

“There are just tons of assets everywhere, it’s like a mess.” said Mason Jappa, chief executive at Austin, Texas-based crypto-mining service firm Blockware Solutions. “I got messages about transformers, switch gears, and mobile data centers and containers for mining, they are just sitting there.”

There are a lot of losers if the Bitcoin mining industry goes bust. For one, local authorities provided incentives such as tax abatements that reached into the tens of millions of dollars. The power generation planned that the region sorely needs to avoid another energy crisis may not materialize. Some developers made hefty investments to build out Bitcoin mining facilities. The average cost to have one-megawatt capacity of mining infrastructure is currently around $300,000 in the state, the high end of the range, according to Jappa.

…After China banned crypto miners last year, Texas sought to fill the gap as a way to add fuel to the state’s fast-growing economy. But because mining hinges on power consumption, the wave of new demand threatens to stress a grid still trying to recover from failures during an extreme winter storm in February 2021 that left millions in the dark for days and more than 200 people dead.

«

unique link to this extract


Tim Draper predicts bitcoin will reach $250,000 despite FTX collapse • CNBC

Ryan Browne:

»

Venture capitalist Tim Draper thinks bitcoin will hit $250,000 a coin by the middle of 2023, even after a bruising year for the cryptocurrency marked by industry failures and sinking prices.

Draper previously predicted that bitcoin would top $250,000 by the end of 2022, but in early November, at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, he said it would take until June 2023 for this to materialize.

He reaffirmed this position Saturday when asked how he felt about his price call following the collapse of FTX.

“I have extended my prediction by six months. $250k is still my number,” Draper told CNBC via email.

Bitcoin would need to rally nearly 140-fold from its current price of around $17,000 for Draper’s prediction to come true. The cryptocurrency has plunged over 60% since the start of the year.

…Draper’s rationale for bitcoin’s breakout next year is that there remains a massive untapped demographic for bitcoin: women. “My assumption is that, since women control 80% of retail spending and only 1 in 7 bitcoin wallets are currently held by women, the dam is about to break,” Draper said.

Crypto has long had a gender disparity problem. According to a survey conducted for CNBC and Acorns by Momentive, twice as many men as women invest in digital assets (16% of men vs. 7% of women).

«

Errrr. This feels a bit like the obverse of the confident prediction that “makeup sales are just about to boom, we just need to get the other 50% of the population to buy it!” that has been heard down the years. Crypto is recapitulating everything. Anyway, see you in June, Mr Draper. (Do read the story for some of the VC bets Draper has made, and make your decision about how good he is at reading women.)
unique link to this extract


Meta’s targeted ad model faces restrictions in Europe – WSJ

Sam Schechner:

»

European Union privacy regulators have ruled that Meta shouldn’t require users to agree to personalized ads based on their online activity, according to people familiar with the decision, a ruling that could limit the data that Meta can access to sell such ads.

A board representing all EU privacy regulators on Monday approved a series of decisions ruling that EU privacy law doesn’t allow Meta platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, to use their terms of service as a justification for allowing such advertising, the people said.

The new EU decisions can be appealed, which could lead to their being suspended pending potentially lengthy litigation. If upheld, though, they could make it harder for Meta and other platforms to show users ads based on what they tap and watch within those platforms’ own apps. Meta has for years allowed users to opt out of personalizing ads based on data from other websites and apps. But it hasn’t given any such option for ads based on data about user activity on its own platforms—such as which videos an Instagram user watches.

If any significant portion of its users opts out of such targeting, Facebook and Instagram would end up with less information with which to build audiences for the personalized ads that analysts and people close to the company say make up the bulk of its revenue.

«

Which is basically the power that Apple’s Ad Tracking Transparency (ATT) system offers, but without having to go through a zillion legal go-arounds.
unique link to this extract


Why faulty streetlights are turning cities purple — and why it’s worrisome • Business Insider

Adam Rogers:

»

The sky over the city of Vancouver was the color of a television tuned to a Prince concert.

OK, maybe not the whole sky. But enough of it that people noticed. A bunch of streetlights — a few hundred out of thousands — had suddenly changed. What had been moonshine white was now blue, or purple, or even violet. They weren’t any less bright, objectively speaking. But purple doesn’t exactly illuminate a sidewalk the way white does. The spectrum of Vancouver had taken a hard left turn. It didn’t look bad. It wasn’t unsafe, particularly. It was just weird.

So people placed worried calls to the city. And after all the hue and cry, Vancouver rolled out the utility trucks and set out to replace the chromatic aberrations — even though the lights were still pretty new. Like most other cities, Vancouver has spent the past few years switching from old sodium-vapor streetlights to LEDs. The new bulbs, basically arrays of computer chips that convert electricity to light, are cheaper, less power-hungry, and longer-lasting. LED streetlights are supposed to shine for the better part of a decade.

Unless they don’t. Because the Great Purpling didn’t start — or end — in Vancouver. Reports stretch back to 2020 and across the hemisphere — Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, California, even Ireland. “It’s something we began seeing about two years ago,” says Jeff Brooks, a representative for Duke Power, which is responsible for streetlights across the Carolinas and parts of Florida and the Midwest. “I’ve had people call and ask if this was because it’s Halloween, or because their football team in that area wears purple.”

«

It’s a bit overlong – it could have been a third of the length and done the job – but it’s entertaining enough. (Thanks wendyg for the link.)
unique link to this extract


China’s COVID wave is coming • The Atlantic

Katherine J. Wu:

»

Perhaps the worst can be averted if the government does more to vaccinate the vulnerable and prep hospitals for a protracted influx of COVID patients; and if the community at large reinvests in a subset of mitigation measures as cases rise. “There is still the possibility that they may muddle through it without a mass die-off,” says Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But even the most smooth and orderly transition,” he told me, “will not prevent a surge of cases.”

China represents, in many ways, SARS-CoV-2’s final frontier. With its under-vaccinated residents and sparse infection history, the nation harbors “a more susceptible population than really any other large population I can think of,” says Sarah Cobey, an computational epidemiologist at the University of Chicago. Soon, SARS-CoV-2 will infiltrate that group of hosts so thoroughly that it will be nearly impossible to purge again. “Eventually, just like everyone else on Earth, everyone in China should expect to be infected,” says Michael Worobey, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Arizona.

Whatever happens, though, China’s coming wave won’t recapitulate the one that swept most of the world in early 2020. Though it’s hard to say which versions of the virus are circulating in the country, a smattering of reports confirm the likeliest scenario: BF.7 and other Omicron subvariants predominate. Several of these versions of the virus seem to be a bit less likely than their predecessors to trigger severe disease. That, combined with the relatively high proportion of residents—roughly 95%—who have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, might keep many people from falling dangerously ill.

«

It could be a way to kill off a huge number of older citizens, many of whom have been very resistant to getting vaccinated. This is going to be brutal – and probably covered up, as India did. (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract


Exclusive: Musk’s Neuralink faces federal probe, employee backlash over animal tests • Reuters

Rachael Levy:

»

Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a medical device company, is under federal investigation for potential animal-welfare violations amid internal staff complaints that its animal testing is being rushed, causing needless suffering and deaths, according to documents reviewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and company operations.

Neuralink Corp is developing a brain implant it hopes will help paralyzed people walk again and cure other neurological ailments. The federal probe, which has not been previously reported, was opened in recent months by the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General at the request of a federal prosecutor, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation. The probe, one of the sources said, focuses on violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how researchers treat and test some animals.

The investigation has come at a time of growing employee dissent about Neuralink’s animal testing, including complaints that pressure from CEO Musk to accelerate development has resulted in botched experiments, according to a Reuters review of dozens of Neuralink documents and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees. Such failed tests have had to be repeated, increasing the number of animals being tested and killed, the employees say. The company documents include previously unreported messages, audio recordings, emails, presentations and reports.

…In all, the company has killed about 1,500 animals, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, following experiments since 2018, according to records reviewed by Reuters and sources with direct knowledge of the company’s animal-testing operations.

«

Animal experimentation is a regrettable fact of life for many developments – particularly drug testing – but putting an emphasis on speed over accuracy and empathy (which seems to be a Musk trope) is not desirable. An investigation will slow everything down. It’s hard to know if that’s good or bad news for the animals, to be honest.

unique link to this extract


I used Lensa to turn myself into AI digital art. Here’s how it works • Business Insider

Bethany Biron:

»

Upon downloading the app and opening the Magic Avatars feature, Lensa walks you through the process, explaining that the technology, which operates using the open source Stable Diffusion model, is not perfect and “may generate artifacts, inaccuracies, and defects in output images.”

Thankfully, I had already been warned by a friend who received a distorted image of himself with two heads, so I was primed for some odd results (which I did indeed receive, but more on that later).

The next step is to upload 10-20 photos. Lensa recommends close-up selfies with a variety of backgrounds, facial expressions, and angles to get the best results.

After submitting 10 photos, I was asked to indicate my gender as female, male, or other. I was then directed to a checkout page, where users are given the option to select from 50, 100, or 200 “unique avatars.” I opted for 50 for $3.99, which is half the regular cost as part of my free trial membership.

Once I made a payment, I was informed the process would take about 20 minutes, and I was given the option to receive a notification when the avatars were complete. I selected yes.

About 15 minutes later I received a push notification that my avatars were ready. My 50 avatars were delivered in 10 categories of 5 images including Iridescent, Light, Stylish, Anime, Cosmic, Fantasy, Kawaii, Pop, Focus, and Fairy Princess.

As expected, some of the results were very bizarre, while others made me feel quite beautiful. Many looked absolutely nothing like me, and in one I look vaguely like disgraced Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes, black turtleneck and all.

As my friend warned, I did receive a handful of distorted renderings with multiple limbs or heads, which was … the stuff of nightmares. But for a robot creating art in 15 minutes, it did a decent job. Ultimately, it was fun, though maybe not worth $3.99.

«

Amazing that all that computing resource to produce something you’d previously have had to hire a human Photoshop expert to perform, and which might have taken them a good few hours and probably cost you the thick end of a hundred pounds if they were doing it as a favour, is now dismissed as perhaps not worth the price of a cup of coffee. Moore’s Law is still around.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1916: EU to allow 5G on planes, world champion Excel!, suing Pegasus’s creators, Foxconn riots chop output, and more

A human whose stomach contains a computer punch tape that controls his reality
A Deepmind engineer discovered that you can get ChatGPT to create its own chatbot. But is it a real one or an imagined one?

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup. Catch up on the old ones!


A selection of 9 links for you. Not a chatbot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


No more airplane mode? EU to allow calls on flights • BBC News

»

Airline passengers in the European Union (EU) will soon be able to use their phones to full effect in the sky, after the European Commission ruled that airlines can provide 5G technology on board planes, alongside slower mobile data.

This could mean flyers will no longer be required to put their phone on airplane mode – though the specifics of how it will be implemented are unclear.

The deadline for member states to make the 5G frequency bands available for planes is 30 June 2023. This will mean people can use all their phone’s features mid-flight – enabling calls as well as data-heavy apps that stream music and video.

Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, said the plan would “enable innovative services for people” and help European companies grow. “The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” he said.

The EU Commission has reserved certain frequency bands for aircraft since 2008, allowing some services to offer mid-air internet access. But this service has been historically slow, as it relied on equipment to connect people via a satellite between the aeroplane and the ground.

The new system will be able to take advantage of the much faster download speeds provided by 5G, which according to mobile network EE can be over 100Mbps – enabling a film to be downloaded in just a few minutes.

Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the UK Flight Safety Committee, told the BBC that airplane mode was historically important due to a lack of knowledge about how mobile devices affect aircraft. “There was a concern they could interfere with automatic flight control systems,” he said. “What has been found with experience is the risk of interference is very small. The recommendation has always been that once you are in flight, devices should be in in airplane mode.”

There has been a concern in the US that 5G frequencies could interfere with flights, and even potentially lead to erroneous altitude measurements. But Mr Whittingham said this is not an issue in the UK and the EU. “There is much less prospect of interference,” he said, “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than those that have been allowed in the US.

«

The challenge for icon designers will be what to replace Airplane Mode with. Or maybe, like the floppy disk icon for “Save”, it will live on even after its time is done.
unique link to this extract


Andreessen Horowitz tech “news” site Future.com shuts down, staff leave • Business Insider

Rob Price and Melia Russell:

»

Launched in June of 2021, it was billed as a buzzy new tech publication from prestigious venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz — and a way to sidestep the legacy media entirely and take the message of technological progress directly to readers.

With minimalist indigo branding and a flashy website address — future.com — Future enlisted the Menlo Park-based investment firm’s portfolio company executives, outside experts, and a suite of high-profile editorial hires to pump out a stream of hopeful articles about technology and society.

“We’re going to be having an optimistic lens on technology and the future,” Margit Wennmachers, an operating partner at the firm, told an Insider reporter in an interview at the time.

The New Yorker wrote about the launch, calling it an “opportunity to introduce new terminology, new ideologies, new framing, and new ways for people in and around technology to conceptualize their work.” Independent journalist Eric Newcomer said its debut was part of a strategy with “dramatic implications for the future of media and the venture capital industry.” Tech news site Protocol, which shut down recently, asked whether it was “the future of media.”

But a year and a half later, the publication is dead in the water.

Future hasn’t published a new article in months, most of its editorial staffers have left, and its newsletter is defunct. A source familiar with Andreessen Horowitz’s content strategy confirmed to Insider that Future is shutting down.

«

a16z wanted its site to be the tame teller of all the good news about its investments. But for a lot of VC investments, the news isn’t good: like all startups, VC-funded or not, they run into trouble and things go wrong. There’s no money in good news sites, and no point funding them, as a16z has realised.
unique link to this extract


The Excel World Championship is the internet at its best • The Atlantic

Jacob Stern:

»

Competitive Excel clearly is not the NFL, but it does have the beginnings of a fan base. This was just the second year of the World Championship, but it’s already streaming on ESPN3. This year’s edition has 30,000 views on YouTube. Supporters of Michael Jarman, the No. 3 seed in this year’s competition, call themselves the “Jarmy Army.” A few months ago, an all-star game of sorts aired on ESPN2, and this month, ESPNU will televise the collegiate championship.

The tournament begins with a 128-player field and proceeds March Madness–style, in one-on-one, single-elimination contests. The format lends itself to frequent upsets: This year, the No. 2 seed was eliminated in the third round. In each match, players work as fast as possible—they’re generally given about 30 minutes—to answer a series of progressively more difficult questions testing both their puzzle-solving skills and their fluency with Excel. The questions all revolve around the same scenario. In the quarterfinal, for example, the questions all had to do with a fictional country transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. The first and easiest question asked players to calculate how many votes were cast for the purple party. The championship case, which was far more difficult, centered on a 100×100 chessboard. This year’s total prize money was $10,000.

Naturally, a large proportion of Excel competitors work in Excel-heavy jobs; the field included plenty of finance bros, data analysts, mathematicians, actuaries, and engineers. All but one of the eight finalists had over the course of their lives spent thousands of hours working in Excel (the other is a Google Sheets guy), and half of them had spent more than 10,000. The tournament is not particularly diverse. Of the eight finalists, Deaton was the only woman. In the field of 128, she told me, she counted no more than a dozen, which didn’t surprise her, given how heavily male the relevant occupations skew.

«

It’s a totally different world. Like any e-sport, really, but done with columns and rows rather than pixellated guns or armoured monsters.
unique link to this extract


Pegasus spyware was used to hack reporters’ phones. I’m suing its creators • The Guardian

Nelson Rauda Zablah is a Salvadoran journalist whose work has been featured in multiple international papers:

»

When news of the hacking broke, a few sources jokingly answered our calls by greeting the good people who might be listening. But many more picked up the phone only to say we should stop calling them, and most simply didn’t respond at all. In one instance, a source told me that he now understood why his wife had been fired from her government position. I felt horrible. Guilty. Powerless.

That’s how Pegasus makes you feel above all: powerless. We believe the infections in El Faro happened through a “zero-click exploit”, meaning we didn’t even click on a phony link to open a door for the spies. They just broke in. Change your number, get a new device – they’ll just break in there, too.

And yet we refused to be powerless. We told our story to news outlets all over the world. In El Salvador, we held press conferences, went on TV and filed a case before the attorney general’s office. None of this brought any kind of accountability for the illegal spying. So, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, 14 of my colleagues at El Faro and I have decided to sue NSO Group.

I can assure you we’re not in this for the money: if we wanted to be rich, we wouldn’t be independent journalists. We’re doing this as a progression of our everyday work in El Salvador to expose official wrongdoing. We’re doing this in the United States because we’ve exhausted all legal avenues in El Salvador’s co-opted institutions.

And we’re doing this not just for us. In April, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz assembled a list of more than 450 law-abiding men and women around the world whose devices had been hacked by NSO Group’s Pegasus. Many of them are not in countries or positions where they can sue.

But someone has to. NSO executives shouldn’t be able to wash their hands as their tools are used to persecute journalists. In a very real sense, NSO set the hounds on us. And now we’re fighting back.

«

I’m reviewing a forthcoming book by the journalists who exposed the enormous scale of Pegasus surveillance, and a common reaction of those who discovered they were targeted is guilt – that they might have inadvertently harmed sources because they didn’t know their phone was a traitor.
unique link to this extract


Covid chaos at Foxconn iPhone plant causes 29% revenue fall • Financial Times

Kathrin Hille:

»

Foxconn reported NT$551bn (US$18bn) in revenue last month, down 29% from October and an 11% from a year earlier. It is the first time in 12 years that the company has announced a month-on-month fall in November, a time of high production to meet Christmas sales.

The company did not mention the iPhone, but said the drop in smart consumer electronics products — which includes smartphones — was because of “a portion of shipments being impacted by the epidemic in Zhengzhou”, where a coronavirus outbreak in Foxconn’s largest plant has led to weeks of disruption and a revolt by workers.

“At present, the overall epidemic situation has been brought under control, with November being the most affected period,” Foxconn said. “In addition to reallocating production capacity of different factories, we have also started to recruit new employees, and are gradually moving towards the direction of restoring production capacity to normal.”

One person close to the company said Foxconn’s internal goal was to return to “completely normal operations” after the new year at the factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. It has been rocked by two waves of staff walkouts and violent unrest in recent weeks. Foxconn declined to comment on the target.

«

The expectation was that this would feed through to shortages of iPhones for this crucial quarter for Apple, yet delays on shipments have pulled back quite quickly. Sales in China have been dramatically affected, so maybe that’s yet to be felt in the US and other countries.

The ongoing problems from Covid, and the growing groundswell of civil unrest as GDP growth falls behind what’s needed to keep the middle classes happy, mean Apple’s search for more manufacturing outside China will become more urgent.
unique link to this extract


Temporary policy: ChatGPT is banned • Meta Stack Overflow

»

This is a temporary policy intended to slow down the influx of answers created with ChatGPT. What the final policy will be regarding the use of this and other similar tools is something that will need to be discussed with Stack Overflow staff and, quite likely, here on Meta Stack Overflow.

Overall, because the average rate of getting correct answers from ChatGPT is too low, the posting of answers created by ChatGPT is substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers.

The primary problem is that while the answers which ChatGPT produces have a high rate of being incorrect, they typically look like they might be good and the answers are very easy to produce. There are also many people trying out ChatGPT to create answers, without the expertise or willingness to verify that the answer is correct prior to posting. Because such answers are so easy to produce, a large number of people are posting a lot of answers. The volume of these answers (thousands) and the fact that the answers often require a detailed read by someone with at least some subject matter expertise in order to determine that the answer is actually bad has effectively swamped our volunteer-based quality curation infrastructure.

«

Wonder how they’re going to police this, though. There will be “sanctions” on users who are “believed” to have done this, but how do you spot it, and how do you demonstrate it? Relying on users’ good behaviour only works for so long.

Notice too how we’ve abruptly reached this tipping point. There was no concern with GPT-3 a few months ago.
unique link to this extract


Building a virtual machine inside ChatGPT • Engraved

Jonas Degrave is a research scientist at Google’s Deepmind, here recounting some messing around done by a colleague at Deepmind:

»

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of this new ChatGPT assistant made by OpenAI. You might be aware of its capabilities for solving IQ tests, tackling leetcode problems or to helping people write LateX. It is an amazing resource for people to retrieve all kinds of information and solve tedious tasks, like copy-writing!

Today, Frederic Besse told me that he managed to do something different. Did you know, that you can run a whole virtual machine inside of ChatGPT?

«

This goes from being clever to intriguing to extremely weird. Is ChatGPT talking to itself, or to a new instance of itself, or some alternative internet version of itself? The whole thing reminded me of the Philip K Dick short story The Electric Ant: how do we know what reality ChatGPT is serving up to us in its responses? What if the speedy responses it seems to be giving to Besse’s orders to list the directories in its virtual machine that he has “created” or “found” are just made up, rather than the result of actually querying a directory? Aargh. The implications of what Besse has done are far greater than they seem.
unique link to this extract


We’re in denial about the true cost of a Twitter implosion • WIRED

Eve Fairbanks:

»

I can’t imagine following the breaking-news events I’ve been able to witness virtually—the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the invasion of the US Capitol—on another platform. It’s in these real once-in-history moments that Twitter comes alive. It doesn’t silo people into friend circles like Facebook or promote groupthink quite like Reddit. The barrier to entry for people who want to add to the story is lower than on TikTok or Instagram. You don’t need to angle for a photo or a video; you can tweet while hiding under a desk, or even—as Alexei Navalny does, hand-writing tweets he delivers to his lawyer—from prison.

People giddy to see Musk fall on his face might not fully know what role Twitter plays day to day in many other countries. We’ve heard about Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring but less about how the political life of, for instance, Zimbabwe—run by a repressive government that cracks down ruthlessly on physical protests and political speech—now takes place on Twitter. Twitter has become “our political meeting point,” says Tinashe Mushakavanhu, a Zimbabwean journalist. The app’s anonymity has allowed “a discourse about the country that is very free, very critical.”

Midnight is the hour to reconnoiter on Zimbabwean Twitter, Mushakavanhu says. That’s when cell phone data becomes cheaper; it’s also why Twitter is irreplaceable. Loading image- or video-heavy apps just uses way too much data for most Zimbabweans to afford.

A famous Zimbabwean novelist recently allegorized the internet, and Twitter in particular, as a parallel country. “You have the safety of anonymity if you so choose,” she explained to an interviewer. “That’s where most of the organizing [in Zimbabwe] now happens. Activists have made [strides] there that otherwise would not have been possible.”

In Zimbabwe, politicians are forced to respond to Twitter uproars. Twitter is also the place where people who have been forced to flee the country can, in a sense, return home. Waiting for asylum abroad, many of Zimbabwe’s thousands of political refugees “can’t work” legally, Mushakavanhu said. “These are people who can’t go home to bury their own parents.” So they become “very prolific on Twitter. The only thing they have is Twitter. It’s a space for fantasy and for articulating despair. It’s a home.” Mushakavanhu himself has moved to the United Kingdom. He told me, “There are parts of me”—the truly Zimbabwean parts—that now “only exist on Twitter.”

«

The early part of this feature will strike most people as being too inside-journalism, bemoaning the possibility of losing the site. But as the rest of this (long!) piece points out, you do need one central place where the world’s discussions happen. It would just be nice if there were fewer bots and thirsty grievance farmers.
unique link to this extract


Trolling as a Service in 2022 • Tisane Labs

Vadim Berman is Tisane Labs’s CEO and co-founder:

»

Today’s “TrollOps” involve a wide range of services, natural language processing, distributed processing, hybrid operation, crowdsourcing in a Mechanical Turk-like fashion, social engineering, and stealth.

Low-tech solutions combined with social engineering usually prove the most effective, both from the engagement perspective and the perspective of hosting expenses. A post saying “Fake news” in the comment section of Flipboard is a standard opening move, the King’s Pawn Game of trolling. Someone from the opposite political camp will likely be provoked. Does the article merely cite another article? Maybe it discusses a court decision that can’t be fake news? So what, a stupid remark is even more likely to generate a negative response — and that’s all they want!

How do they know where to post it? One way is to detect a combo of negative sentiment + mention of a particular political figure. Or, with the current partisan political environment, it could be assumed that a particular publication will be negative towards that figure most of the time or all the time, and skip the sentiment analysis altogether.

Today, several off-the-shelf platforms (sold at least to law enforcement agencies) allow managing fake persona, choreographing hardware fingerprint (SIM cards + devices) and generating text content GPT-style based on predefined profiles (e.g. radicals of a certain type). I had a chat with one of the vendors at a law enforcement trade event. I was told, “it’s a headache to manage even two sock puppet accounts. With our platform, you can manage tens of them, and generate content effortlessly”. My impression is that the TrollOps vendors still do not have access to these platforms, but it’s just a matter of time until they gain these capabilities.

Even today, the pricing is dangerously affordable. A cyber-bullying campaign in Indonesia will set you back 20K IDR (~US$1.33) on Instagram, 15K IDR (US$1) on Ask.fm, or 10K IDR (US$0.67) on Twitter / Facebook.

«

Or, you know, reply negatively to an Elon Musk tweet. That’ll get you a cyber-bullying campaign for nothing.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1915: Apple mulls partial China exit, India gets smartwatches, volcano pauses CO2 data, ex-Instagram?, and more

A scene from Apple TV+'s adaptation of Mick Herron's Slow Horses series
The TV adaptation by Apple of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses book series follows a typical author’s struggle to be discovered. Now he’s famous. Photo copyright: Apple.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There was a new post on Friday at the Social Warming Substack. Did you miss it?


A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple makes plans to move production out of China • WSJ

Yang Jie and Aaron Tilley:

»

In recent weeks, Apple has accelerated plans to shift some of its production outside China, long the dominant country in the supply chain that built the world’s most valuable company, say people involved in the discussions. It is telling suppliers to plan more actively for assembling Apple products elsewhere in Asia, particularly India and Vietnam, they say, and looking to reduce dependence on Taiwanese assemblers led by Foxconn Technology Group.

Turmoil at a place called iPhone City helped propel Apple’s shift. At the giant city-within-a-city in Zhengzhou, China, as many as 300,000 workers work at a factory run by Foxconn to make iPhones and other Apple products. At one point, it alone made about 85% of the Pro lineup of iPhones, according to market-research firm Counterpoint Research. 

The Zhengzhou factory was convulsed in late November by violent protests. In videos posted online, workers upset about wages and Covid-19 restrictions could be seen throwing items and shouting “Stand up for your rights!” Riot police were present, the videos show. The location of one of the videos was verified by the news agency and video-verification service Storyful. The Wall Street Journal corroborated events shown in the videos with workers at the site.

Coming after a year of events that weakened China’s status as a stable manufacturing center, the upheaval means Apple no longer feels comfortable having so much of its business tied up in one place, according to analysts and people in the Apple supply chain.

«

Tim Cook’s view used to be that China offered the scale that Apple needs to manufacture the millions of iPhones it produces. The challenge to come, after finding places to make the devices, is coordinating output. And if you thought there was the occasional pre-release leak from Apple before, imagine what it’ll be like with multiple countries producing a new iPhone. (Though a fresh challenge for all the analysts who have built up sources in the Chinese supply chains.)
unique link to this extract


DeepMind AI topples experts at complex game Stratego • Nature

Anil Ananthaswamy:

»

Another game long considered extremely difficult for artificial intelligence (AI) to master has fallen to machines. An AI called DeepNash, made by London-based company DeepMind, has matched expert humans at Stratego, a board game that requires long-term strategic thinking in the face of imperfect information.

The achievement, described in Science on 1 December, comes hot on the heels of a study reporting an AI that can play Diplomacy, in which players must negotiate as they cooperate and compete.

“The rate at which qualitatively different game features have been conquered — or mastered to new levels — by AI in recent years is quite remarkable,” says Michael Wellman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a computer scientist who studies strategic reasoning and game theory. “Stratego and Diplomacy are quite different from each other, and also possess challenging features notably different from games for which analogous milestones have been reached.”

Stratego has characteristics that make it much more complicated than chess, Go or poker, all of which have been mastered by AIs (the latter two games in 20153 and 20194). In Stratego, two players place 40 pieces each on a board, but cannot see what their opponent’s pieces are. The goal is to take turns moving pieces to eliminate those of the opponent and capture a flag. Stratego’s game tree — the graph of all possible ways in which the game could go — has 10^535 states, compared with Go’s 10^360. In terms of imperfect information at the start of a game, Stratego has 10^66 possible private positions, which dwarfs the 10^6 such starting situations in two-player Texas hold’em poker.

“The sheer complexity of the number of possible outcomes in Stratego means algorithms that perform well on perfect-information games, and even those that work for poker, don’t work,” says Julien Perolat, a DeepMind researcher based in Paris.

…For two weeks in April, DeepNash competed with human Stratego players on online game platform Gravon. After 50 matches, DeepNash was ranked third among all Gravon Stratego players since 2002. “Our work shows that such a complex game as Stratego, involving imperfect information, does not require search techniques to solve it,” says team member Karl Tuyls, a DeepMind researcher based in Paris. “This is a really big step forward in AI.”

«

It’s really not fun playing against machines any more.
unique link to this extract


Mauna Loa eruption halts key atmospheric measurements, CO2 monitoring • The Washington Post

Brady Dennis:

»

The eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has interrupted a key site that monitors greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, officials said Tuesday.

“The carbon dioxide measurement equipment that maintains the famed Keeling Curve record lost power at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28 and is not currently recording data,” the University of California at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography said in a statement.

The site, selected by the late scientist Charles David Keeling as an ideal spot to measure CO2 due to its relative isolation and vegetation-free landscape, has been recording atmospheric concentrations of the planet-heating gas since the late 1950s.

The Keeling Curve — a chart that shows the steady rise of carbon in the atmosphere in recent decades, as measured at Mauna Loa — is considered a simple yet important piece of scientific evidence that human activities are transforming the Earth’s climate.

“It’s a big eruption, and it’s in a bad place,” Keeling’s son, Scripps geoscientist Ralph Keeling, said in a statement Tuesday about the lava flows at Mauna Loa, located at the heart of Hawaii’s Big Island. He described the outlook for future CO2 readings from the station as “very troubling.”

Earlier, Scripps tweeted that the ongoing eruption “is flowing close to the observatory” and that measurements probably would shut down.

…Atmospheric CO2 measurements are maintained at multiple spots around the globe, from the South Pole to Alaska, though the site at Mauna Loa has the best known and most continuous record in the world.

«

Ironically, the eruption will probably lead to some atmospheric cooling due to the sulphur aerosols that are thrown up.
unique link to this extract


India becomes biggest smartwatch market in Q3 2022 • Counterpoint Research

»

Despite inflation and geopolitical crises that have continued since the beginning of this year, global smartwatch market shipments increased 30% YoY in Q3 2022, according to Counterpoint Research’s latest Global Smartwatch Model Tracker. During the quarter, India’s market grew 171% YoY to become the biggest smartwatch market in the world. Other markets also grew YoY, except China and Europe.

Research analyst Woojin Son said, “Among the types of smartwatches*, the basic smartwatch, with relatively lighter versions of operating systems (OSs) and more affordable prices, has been the key driver in sharply boosting the global market recently. While HLOS [high level OS, eg WatchOS, WearOS] smartwatch shipments grew 23% YoY in Q3 2022, basic smartwatch shipments more than doubled YoY, accounting for 35% of the total market. This remarkable increase in basic smartwatch shipments shows us that the market base is rapidly expanding toward more accessible segments amid aggressive drives by the supply side. But still, in terms of revenue, the HLOS smartwatch overwhelmed the basic smartwatch with a market size of almost 10 times due to its high average selling price (ASP).”

Apple grew 48% YoY thanks to strong sales of its newly released Apple Watch 8 series. Released in early September, the new series accounted for about 56% of the overall shipments. Apple accounted for about half of the market among HLOS smartwatches in Q3 2022. However, this was a slight decrease from the 54% share in Q2 2022 due to the slump in North America and Europe, which are major markets.

Samsung increased its shipments by 62% QoQ with launching new Galaxy Watch 5 series, while its market share of the HLOS segment increased by 5% points QoQ. However, Samsung’s shipments only grew 6% YoY as it lost ground in India, falling below 3% share there. In the global market, Samsung was still in second place but with a decreased market share (down by 2.7% points YoY), narrowing the gap with the third-placed Noise.

«

Remarkable: India really is a country of gadget lovers. Did not expect that they’d go for smartwatches in such a big way though.
unique link to this extract


Howcome GPT can seem so brilliant one minute and so breathtakingly dumb the next? • The Road To AI We Can Trust

Gary Marcus:

»

The immense database of things that GPT draws on consists entirely of language uttered by humans, in the real world with utterances that (generally) grounded in the real world. That means, for examples, that the entities (churros, surgical tools) and properties (“allow[s] for greater precision and control during surgery, risking the risk of complications and improving the overall outcomes patients”) generally refer to real entities and properties in the world. GPT doesn’t talk randomly, because it’s pastiching things actual people said. (Or, more often, synonyms and paraphrases of those things.)

When GPT gets things right, it is often combining bits that don’t belong together, but not quite in random ways, but rather in ways where there is some overlap in some aspect or another.

Example: Churros are in a cluster of small things that the system (roughly speaking) groups together, presumably including eg baseballs, grasshoppers, forceps, and so forth. GPT doesn’t actually know which of the elements appropriately combine with which other properties. Some small things really do “allow[s] for greater precision and control during surgery, risking the risk of complications and improving the overall outcomes patients” But GPT idea has no idea which.

In some sense, GPT is like a glorified version of cut and paste, where everything that is cut goes through a paraphrasing/synonymy process before it is paste but together—and a lot of important stuff is sometimes lost along the way.

When GPT sounds plausible, it is because every paraphrased bit that it pastes together is grounded in something that actual humans said, and there is often some vague (but often irrelevant) relationship between..

«

Seeing GPT’s output as pastiche, as Marcus puts it, helps understand what’s going on much better. The pastiche, or mimicry, is improving, but still remains an act.
unique link to this extract


Instagram is over • The Atlantic

Kate Lindsay:

»

“Gen Z’s relationship with Instagram is much like millennials’ relationship with Facebook: Begrudgingly necessary,” Casey Lewis, a youth-culture consultant who writes the youth-culture newsletter After School, told me over email. “They don’t want to be on it, but they feel it’s weird if they’re not.” In fact, a recent Piper Sandler survey found that, of 14,500 teens surveyed across 47 states, only 20% named Instagram their favorite social-media platform (TikTok came first, followed by Snapchat).

Simply being on Instagram is a very different thing from actively engaging with it. Participating means throwing pictures into a void, which is why it’s become kind of cringe. To do so earnestly suggests a blithe unawareness of your surroundings, like shouting into the phone in public.

In other words, Instagram is giving us the ick: that feeling when a romantic partner or crush does something small but noticeable—like wearing a fedora—that immediately turns you off forever.

“People who aren’t influencers only use [Instagram] to watch other people make big announcements,” Lee Tilghman, a former full-time Instagram influencer, told me over the phone. “My close friends who aren’t influencers, they haven’t posted in, like, two years.”

As is always the case, the ick came about quite suddenly—things were going great for Instagram, until they just weren’t. In 2014, the app hit 300 million monthly active users, surpassing Twitter for the first time. The Instagram Stories feature, a direct rip-off of Snapchat, was introduced in August 2016 and outpaced the original just one year later. But although Instagram now has 2 billion monthly users, it faces an existential problem: What happens when the 18-to-29-year-olds who are most likely to use the app, at least in America, age out or go elsewhere?

«

The attempt to turn Instagram into TikTok by forcing Reels on everyone has been hugely unpopular. And once people start leaving, the network effect goes into reverse.
unique link to this extract


The trouble with the National Grid – thread by @EdConwaySky • Thread Reader App

Ed Conway is Sky News’s economics editor:

»

Arguably the most important & underdiscussed issue in the pursuit for net zero

The [national] grid is creaking.

It could trigger blackouts & even prevent net zero.

It’s a very big deal!

But let’s begin our story with something else. A bit of history. The first power station…

«

Not a short thread, but Conway goes into the detail that matters, and is overlooked, about the problems with underinvestment in the National Grid. (There doesn’t seem to be a story to go with it on the Sky news website.)
unique link to this extract


Why Sam Bankman-Fried hasn’t been arrested yet • NY Mag

Ankush Khardori:

»

According to the criminal complaint filed on the day of his arrest, [Bernie] Madoff told his sons [in December 2008] “that he was ‘finished,’ that he had ‘absolutely nothing,’ that ‘it’s all just one big lie,’ and that it was ‘basically a giant Ponzi scheme.’” His sons called the FBI, and two days later, two agents showed up at his home and asked whether “there’s an innocent explanation” for what Madoff had told his sons. Madoff literally replied, “There is no innocent explanation.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason Madoff was arrested so quickly is because he confessed to every element of criminal fraud — including both the underlying scheme and his criminal intent. This meant that the FBI had both that confession and highly potent, admissible evidence of guilt in the form of testimony from his adult children (who had no apparent axe to grind).

If that is all the government ever had, they would have been able to convict Madoff easily at trial. (He eventually pled guilty.) They also needed to make sure that Madoff did not have second thoughts — he told his sons that he planned to turn himself in to authorities in about a week — and that he would not attempt to flee the country instead.

We have not seen anything like a real admission of criminal conduct from SBF yet and, of course, he is not in the country at the moment, so there is no imperative (no ability, really) to keep him in the United States. As important, SBF has been rather talkative in interviews — including in an interview with New York’s Jen Wieczner that was published yesterday — but he has been careful as well. So far as I can tell, he has held firm on a central point for his defense — that the epic, still-unspooling fiasco at FTX was the result of sloppiness and inadvertent missteps by the company’s leadership rather than an intentional effort to mislead FTX customers or investors.

«

People really are infuriated by him not being cuffs, but the Bahamas isn’t the US. There is an extradition treaty between the two; someone, or some people in the US will be building a case right now.
unique link to this extract


Is Mick Herron the best spy novelist of his generation? • The New Yorker

Jill Lepore:

»

When Herron first drafted “Slow Horses,” he planned to blow up Slough House. (He kills off characters all the time: “It’s not a thriller if it’s not thrilling.”) But then he decided he might want to stay a little longer in that house and reimagined the ending. The book came out in 2010; a couple of years later, he finished a sequel, “Dead Lions.” This winter, it’s Season 2 of the Apple series. At the time, however, he couldn’t find a publisher in his own country.

He recalled, “One publisher asked, ‘What even is this? Is it a thriller or is it a comedy?’ Also, no one wanted to publish a sequel when they hadn’t published the first book.” Herron figured, OK, I guess I’ll never be a full-time writer. But then Juliet Grames, who runs the crime imprint at Soho, an independent American publisher, came along. “I read ‘Dead Lions’ and I said, ‘We have to publish this,’ ” Grames told me. Soho bought the rights to “Slow Horses,” too, but, she says, “we could not get people to listen to us about this guy.”

Then, in the UK, Mark Richards, an editor at the distinguished press John Murray, happened to pick up a copy of “Slow Horses” at the Liverpool Street railway station. Richards’s colleagues see him as the “furniture restorer,” because he can look at an unloved, threadbare sofa and spot its quality. He bought the rights to the first two Slough House books. Not long afterward, Britons voted for Brexit and Americans elected Trump. Suddenly, Peter Judd [a Boris Johnson-alike character] and the [murderous rightwing group] Sons of Albion didn’t seem so far-fetched. The Daily Telegraph dubbed “Slow Horses” one of the best spy novels ever written.

«

“The furniture restorer”. There are all sorts of beautiful touches like that scattered though this feature about Herron, whose books are being gradually brought to the screen through note-perfect adaptations on Apple TV+. The timing of Lepore’s visit is exquisite, just as Liz Truss resigns:

»

“Oi!” Jackson Lamb might have growled from his office on the top floor of Slough House, fishing a cigarette out of one pocket and a lighter out of another. “Tory Spice is on the telly!”

«

unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1914: how generative AI will change work, 52 things you (probably) didn’t know, Tether’s loan trouble, and more


The Maersk shipping company is giving up a blockchain project with IBM because it lacks commercial viability. Are there any out there left? CC-licensed photo by Mohammad Rizky on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 9 links for you. Not autocompleted. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Generative AI: autocomplete for everything • Noahpinion

Noah Smith and “roon”, who works at one of the generative AI companies:

»

as roon likes to say, every time you use any of the most advanced AI applications, you’re “lighting a pile of GPUs on fire”. Those resource constraints explain why humans who want jobs will find jobs: AI businesses will just keep expanding and gobbling up more physical resources until human workers themselves, and the work they do to complement AI, become the scarce resource.

The principle of comparative advantage says that whether the jobs of the future pay better or worse than the jobs of today depends to some degree on whether AI’s skill set is very similar to humans, or complementary and different. If AI simply does things differently than humans do, then the complementarity will make humans more valuable and will raise wages. 

And although we can’t speak to the AI of the future, we believe that the current wave of generative AI does things very differently from humans. AI art tends to differ from human-made art in subtle ways – its minor details are often off in a compounding uncanny valley fashion that the net result can end up looking horrifying. Anyone who’s ridden in a Tesla knows that an AI backs into a parallel parking space differently than a human would. And for all the hype regarding large language models passing various forms of the Turing Test, it’s clear that their skillset is not exactly the same as a human’s.

Because of these differences, we think that the work that generative AI does will basically be “autocomplete for everything”. 

…Industrial design will work in a similar way. Take a look at any mundane, boring object in the room around you – a lamp, or a TV stand, or a coffee maker. Some human being had to come up with the design for that. With generative AI, the designer won’t have to look through pages and pages of examples to riff off of. They’ll just deliver a prompt – “55-inch TV stand with two cabinets” – and see a menu of alternative designs. They’ll pick one of the designs, refine it, and add any other touches they want.

We can imagine a lot of jobs whose workflows will follow a similar pattern – architecture, graphic design, or interior design. Lawyers will probably write legal briefs this way, and administrative assistants will use this technique to draft memos and emails. Marketers will have an idea for a campaign, generate copy en masse and provide finishing touches. Consultants will generate whole powerpoint decks with coherent narratives based on a short vision and then provide the details. Financial analysts will ask for a type of financial model and have an Excel template with data sources autofilled.

What’s common to all of these visions is something we call the “sandwich” workflow. This is a three-step process. First, a human has a creative impulse, and gives the AI a prompt. The AI then generates a menu of options. The human then chooses an option, edits it, and adds any touches they like.

«

unique link to this extract


IBM and Maersk abandon ship on TradeLens logistics blockchain • Coindesk

Danny Nelson:

»

Maersk and IBM will wind down their shipping blockchain TradeLens by early 2023, ending the pair’s five-year project to improve global trade by connecting supply chains on a permissioned blockchain.

TradeLens emerged during the “enterprise blockchain” era of 2018 as a high-flying effort to make inter-corporate trade more efficient. Open to shipping and freight operators, its members could validate the transaction of goods as recorded on a transparent digital ledger.

The idea was to save its member-shipping companies money by connecting their world. But the network was only as strong as its participants; despite some early wins, TradeLens ultimately failed to catch on with a critical mass of its target industry.

“TradeLens has not reached the level of commercial viability necessary to continue work and meet the financial expectations as an independent business,” Maersk Head of Business Platforms Rotem Hershko said in a statement.

«

Have to wonder what level of commercial viability it did actually reach. Also, hope someone out there is keeping tabs on all the blockchain projects that were announced since, oh, 2015, and how they’re faring. I seem to recall IBM being enormously keen on it at one point. Going to guess meanwhile that Maersk manages to keep tabs just fine on what’s on its ships.
unique link to this extract


52 things I learned in 2022 • Magnetic Notes

Tom Whitwell:

»

1. A bolt of lightning contains about ¼ of a kilowatt-hour of power. Even with recent energy price rises, it’s only worth about 9 pence. [Sarah Jensen]

2. A ‘zhènlóuqì’ is an electrical floor shaker sold on Taobao, used to get revenge on noisy neighbours. [Wang Xinyi]

3. In the UK and Australia, people tend to turn left when entering a building. In the US, they turn right. It’s important to remember if you’re booking a trade show booth. [Marc Abrahams]

4. Using ellipsis in writing signifes the writer is Gen-X or Boomer and can read as confusing, passive-aggressive or even weirdly flirtatious to digital natives. [Kaye Whitehead, from Gretchen McCulloch]

5. CountThings is an very successful app that counts things. It costs $120/month. The templates page shows the things people pay to count. [CountThings]

6. Heavenbanning is a hypothetical way to moderate social networks. Instead of being thrown off the platform, bad actors have all their followers replaced with sycophantic AI models that constantly agree and praise them. Real humans never interact with them. [Asara Near]

«

Plenty more where those came from, all fascinating. I think No.7 might be one of the best. Though also No.11. Wait, No.13. Oh..
unique link to this extract


Elon Musk’s Twitter polls are bot-driven B.S., ex-employees say • Rolling Stone

Noah Shachtman and Adam Rawnsley:

»

“One of the first products I worked on was polls. And one of the big discussions was around the tradeoffs between integrity and privacy – keeping logs [or each user’s vote] or not. We landed on the side of privacy,” Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety who resigned this month, told Rolling Stone. 

“Polls are more prone to manipulation than almost anything else [on Twitter]. It’s interesting, given his [Elon’s] use of polls,” he added. Several other ex-Twitter employees gave similar assessments.

Twitter did not immediately respond to questions from Rolling Stone, likely because Musk fired the company’s communications team.  

The reliance on bot-heavy polls is doubly ironic, given that Musk once balked at buying the company over concerns that there were too many inauthentic accounts on the platform. Now he’s all-but-counting on them in order to justify big decisions about Twitter’s future. 

“A Twitter poll can be manipulated. There’s nothing scientific or rigorous in any way about what he’s doing,” Sarah T. Roberts, a former Twitter employee and current faculty director for UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, told the Washington Post.

…When Musk acted as a self-appointed envoy between Russia and Ukraine, the billionaire displayed at least a dim understanding that the polling feature could theoretically be gamed when users voted down his proposal for a peace deal. “The bot attack on this poll is strong!” he replied to one fan as Twitter users panned his idea.

«

unique link to this extract


Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

»

The explosion in text-to-image AI models like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2—programs trained to generate pictures of almost anything you ask for—has sent ripples through the creative industries, from fashion to filmmaking, by providing weird and wonderful images on demand.

The same technology behind these programs is also making a splash in biotech labs, which are increasingly using this type of generative AI, known as a diffusion model, to conjure up designs for new types of protein never seen in nature.

On Thursday, two labs separately announced programs that use diffusion models to generate designs for novel proteins with more precision than ever before. Generate Biomedicines, a Boston-based startup, revealed a program called Chroma, which the company describes as the “DALL-E 2 of biology.”

At the same time, a team at the University of Washington led by biologist David Baker has built a similar program called RoseTTAFold Diffusion. In a preprint paper posted online today, Baker and his colleagues show that their model can generate precise designs for novel proteins that can then be brought to life in the lab. “We’re generating proteins with really no similarity to existing ones,” says Brian Trippe, one of the co-developers of RoseTTAFold.

These protein generators can be directed to produce designs for proteins with specific properties, such as shape or size or function. In effect, this makes it possible to come up with new proteins to do particular jobs on demand. Researchers hope that this will eventually lead to the development of new and more effective drugs. “We can discover in minutes what took evolution millions of years,” says Gevorg Grigoryan, CEO of Generate Biomedicines.

…Generating strange designs on a computer is one thing. But the goal is to turn these designs into real proteins. To test whether Chroma produced designs that could be made, Generate Biomedicines took the sequences for some of its designs—the amino acid strings that make up the protein—and ran them through another AI program. They found that 55% of them would be predicted to fold into the structure generated by Chroma, which suggests that these are designs for viable proteins.

Baker’s team ran a similar test. But Baker and his colleagues have gone a lot further than Generate Biomedicines in evaluating their model. They have created some of RoseTTAFold Diffusion’s designs in their lab.

«

I think it’s pushing it to say the systems are “inspired by DALL-E”. As he writes, it’s the same technology – generative adversarial networks – but starting from very different points, with totally different training data. Sure, Chroma is trying to get attention by using that line, but don’t be fooled.

unique link to this extract


⚠️ Warning: do not use Hive Social 👉🐝👈 • zerforschung

»

Following the Twitter takeover, a number of services promising to be an alternative gained traction. One of those is “Hive Social”, which reached more than a million users in the last weeks.

Of course, we were interested and took a look at Hive from a security standpoint. We found a number of critical vulnerabilities, which we confidentially reported to the company. After multiple attempts to contact the company we finally reached them by phone and they acknowledged the report. After multiple days and multiple reminders by us, they claimed to fix them within the next two days. However after those two days, multiple vulnerabilities we reported were not fixed and still existed at the time of writing.

⚠️ We strongly advise against using Hive in any form in the current state.

The issues we reported allow any attacker to access all data, including private posts, private messages, shared media and even deleted direct messages. This also includes private email addresses and phone numbers entered during login.

«

Then there’s an update: “The vulnerabilities are currently no longer exploitable because Hive deactivated their servers.”

A bit unsurprising that an app which claims to have only two, possibly three, people writing it should turn out to have a huge security hole in it.
unique link to this extract


Mark Zuckerberg says Apple’s policies are not “sustainable” • Axios

Sara Fischer:

»

Zuckerberg has been one of the loudest critics of Apple in Silicon Valley for the past two years. In the wake of Elon Musk’s attacks on Apple this week, his concerns are being echoed more broadly by other industry leaders and Republican lawmakers.

“I think the problem is that you get into it with the platform control, is that Apple obviously has their own interests,” Zuckerberg said at The New York Times’ Dealbook conference.

“[T]he fact that companies have to deliver their apps exclusively through platforms that are controlled by competitors — there is a conflict of interest there,” he said. That conflict of interest makes Apple “not just a kind of governor that is looking out for the best of people’s interests.”

Zuckerberg also noted that Apple’s policies differ from other tech giants, including Microsoft and Google, which allow apps to be sideloaded onto devices if they’re inaccessible in app stores.

“I do think Apple has sort of singled themselves out as the only company that is trying to control, unilaterally, what apps get on the device and I don’t think that’s a sustainable or a good place to be.”

Changes to Apple’s app tracking policies last year are expected to cost Meta billions of dollars in lost ad revenue.

«

So if we really boil it down to what’s practicable, he’s saying Apple should allow sideloading. But that wouldn’t prevent Apple implementing Ad Tracing Transparency (ATT), which is his real bugbear. ATT works at the app level as well as on Safari.
unique link to this extract


Rising Tether loans add risk to stablecoin, crypto world • WSJ

Jonathan Weil:

»

The company behind the tether stablecoin has increasingly been lending its own coins to customers rather than selling them for hard currency upfront. The shift adds to risks that the company may not have enough liquid assets to pay redemptions in a crisis.

Tether Holdings Ltd. says it lends only to eligible customers and requires that borrowers post lots of “extremely liquid” collateral, which could be sold for dollars if borrowers default.

These loans have appeared for several quarters in the financial reports that Tether shows on its website. In the most recent report, they reached $6.1bn as of Sept. 30, or 9% of the company’s total assets. They were $4.1bn, or 5% of total assets, at the end of 2021. 

Tether calls them “secured loans” and discloses little about the borrowers or the collateral accepted. Alex Welch, a Tether spokeswoman, confirmed that all of the secured loans listed in the reports were issued and denominated in tether.

…The premise of tether—and other stablecoins—is that the issuer always will redeem one coin for $1. Issuers take pains to demonstrate they have ample funds available to do so.

The company’s reports show only US dollar amounts for the loans and don’t say the loans were made in tether tokens. The reports also say the loans were “fully collateralized by liquid assets.”

“I’ve been very skeptical and in disbelief that they can get away with the lack of disclosure and with the limited transparency,” said Peter Crane, president of Crane Data, which tracks money-market funds. “If you do have reserves, why wouldn’t you show them?” Both money-market funds and stablecoins like tether are supposed to maintain a value of $1.

The vast majority of the assets listed in Tether’s reports are in cash, Treasury bonds and other safe instruments easily converted to dollars. Loans are different. Tether can’t be certain the loans will be paid back, that it could sell the loans to a buyer for dollars in a pinch or that the collateral it holds will be adequate.

«

Tether’s PR person is extremely reassuring, but at this point I wouldn’t trust her to know what the truth is. For a long time in the crypto world Tether has been the dog that didn’t bark. Perhaps now, to mix a metaphor, it’s clearing its throat.
unique link to this extract


World of Moose ‘”2022 Advent Calendar” in a Robot Voice’ • worldofmoose

»

It’s a gift from Moose & Karen, it’s absolutely FREE of charge, all we ask is that you:

• have fun with it and do your very best colouring 

• share the link with your friends and get them to do it too 

• don’t sell it, alter it or use any of the images for anything else.

«

If you don’t follow @MooseAllain (that’s his name!) on Twitter, you really should. He’s very funny/punny (“love of an anagram is the one thing that unties us all”) and his cartoons are terrific too. At a time when advent calendars are either madly expensive or impossible to find, this one at least is satisfying for children and adults, and comparatively cheap.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1913: Coindesk for sale?, Bankman-Fried speaks up, Apple has still been advertising on Twitter, what if Gai?, and more


You think that ebooks last a long time? The physical version is more likely to be readable in 20 years’ time. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


On Friday there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.


A selection of 10 links for you. Very smoothly. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Online news site CoinDesk attracts suitors amid crypto crash • Semafor

Bradley Saacks and Liz Hoffman:

»

CoinDesk, the online news site whose story on cracks in Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire sparked an industry-wide meltdown, has attracted takeover interest as its owner tries to reassure investors, people familiar with the matter said.

One of the approaches suggested a $300m purchase price but it was considered too low, some of the people said. CoinDesk was making about $50m in annual revenue from a mix of traditional online advertising and its popular Consensus conference.

It is part of Barry Silbert’s privately held Digital Currency Group, a conglomerate that includes Grayscale Investments, which manages funds that own bitcoin, ether, and other coins, and Genesis, which lends against customers’ crypto holdings. That business is under pressure, as the collapse of Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange spreads chaos and contagion through cryptoland. Bankman-Fried is an investor in Semafor.

There’s no formal sales process for CoinDesk, but it has attracted interest from a broad set of potential buyers, including private equity firms, family offices, rival publications including Blockworks, and hedge funds that hunt for distressed assets, the people said.

«

I’d take that “$300m was offered but it was too low” bit with a pinch of salt. Very much “someone offered to buy my car for a huge price, you wouldn’t know them, they live in another town”. And the $50m from ads and a conference? Could be, given the madness around crypto. Though that isn’t profit, of course. Running a conference (especially amid Covid) wouldn’t have been the easiest thing.

But the irony of the news site that yanked apart the crypto mess being up for sale to make up for the crypto mess is too rich.
unique link to this extract


Live: Sam Bankman-Fried speaks at the DealBook Summit • The New York Times

Lauren Hirsch, Ryan Mac and others:

»

SBF’s overall defence, the narrative that he is trying to build, is that the losses were FTX’s customers’ accounts — money that those clients had lost on margin, and that FTX was required to cover. He’s not denying that he, or FTX, used clients’ deposits to cover FTX, and Alameda’s losses. In fact, he’s saying he was allowed to cover one client’s losses with the money from others. That’s a more sophisticated argument, but it still may not be legal.

«

There’s a ton of this stuff, including the fact that he’s talking against the advice of his lawyers. He strikes me as someone whose trading smarts (which he does have; it’s how he made his money originally) make him think he’s smarter than everyone all the time. He isn’t, and his business wasn’t, and the implosion is coming.
unique link to this extract


Crypto lenders’ woes worsen as bitcoin miners struggle to repay debt • Bloomberg via Yahoo

David Pan:

»

Beleaguered crypto lenders are being dealt another blow from Bitcoin miners as they weather the aftermath of the FTX collapse.

Miners, who raised as much as $4bn from mining-equipment financing when profit margins were as high as 90%, are defaulting on loans and sending hundreds of thousands of machines that served as collateral back to lenders. New York Digital Investment Group, Celsius Network, BlockFi, Galaxy Digital, and the Foundry unit of Digital Currency Group were among the biggest providers of funding to finance computer equipment and build data centers.

The liquidity crunch hitting digital-asset markets after FTX failed comes as low Bitcoin prices, soaring energy costs and more competition weigh on miners. Loans backed by the computer equipment, known as rigs, had become one of the industry’s most popular financing tools. Many lenders are now likely facing substantial losses since they can’t seize any other assets besides the machines, whose value has dropped by as much as 85% since last November.

“People were pouring dollars into the mining space,” said Ethan Vera, chief operations officer at crypto-mining services firm Luxor Technologies. “Miners ended up dictating a lot of the loan terms, so the financiers moved ahead with a lot of the deals where only the machines were collateral.”

«

Not going to see that money again. Lots of overheated mining rigs going cheap real soon now. (Bitcoin’s price, meanwhile, is gyrating around the $17,000 mark: money seems to be moving back into it, though these days, who knows.
unique link to this extract


Editor’s note: a review of criticisms of a ProPublica-Vanity Fair story on a COVID origins report • ProPublica

Stephen Engelberg:

»

On Oct. 28, ProPublica and Vanity Fair published a story about an interim report on the origins of COVID-19 released by the Republican oversight staff of a Senate committee. The interim report was the product of a far-reaching investigation into the question of how the pandemic began, and we wanted to give readers an inside view of the team’s work and share independent experts’ views of its findings.

The debate over COVID-19’s origins has been contentious from the start, and the report’s conclusion that the pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident” triggered criticism. Scientists, China observers and others questioned the Senate team’s findings and our reporting about them.

Over the past several weeks, reporters and editors at both publications have taken a hard look at those criticisms.

Our examination affirms that the story, and the totality of reporting it marshals, is sound.

«

They really weren’t going to walk it back, but even the “Chinese translation experts” they called in don’t really agree with them. This was a terrible story, with no sensitivity to bureaucratic Chinese phrasing, which started from a conclusion and tried to work back to find any details that might support it. James Palmer of Foreign Policy isn’t buying it.
unique link to this extract


Apple buying more Twitter ads despite Elon Musk claims: report • Gizmodo

Thomas Germain:

»

On Monday, Elon Musk picked a public fight with Apple, accusing the company of freezing its advertising on Twitter and wondering aloud if the alleged pause was because “they hate free speech in America.” In fact, Apple spent $84,615 on Twitter ads that very same day, according to data from Pathmatics, a digital ad analytics company. The day before that, Apple spent a full $104,867.

The data contradicts Musk’s claims that the iPhone maker “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.” Apple’s Twitter advertising purchases actually grew from October to November, Pathmatics’ research showed. Apple spent $1,005,784 on Twitter ads in the first 28 days of November, already more than that company’s October budget of $988,523, according to the analytics firm.

The data shows Apple’s Twitter ad spending hasn’t changed much from its typical buys. The figure has fallen from unusually high numbers over the summer—$2m in July and $3.3m in August, but, between January 2021 and September 2022, Apple spent an average of $1,473,390 a month on Twitter ads, according to Pathmatics’ report.

Apple was Twitter’s top advertiser in the first quarter of 2022, making up 4% of the entire company’s revenue during that period for a total of $48m, according to internal documents cited by the Washington Post. Though Apple’s recent Twitter spending decreased slightly, a million dollars in a single month is a far cry from “mostly stopped.”

«

This is why you should pay no attention to what gets tweeted. It’s unconnected to the truth.
unique link to this extract


The cult of Gai • Togelius

Julian Togelius:

»

Imagine a religion that believes that one day, soon, the deity “Gai” will appear. This deity (demon?) will destroy all humanity. They are then obsessed with how to stop this happening. Can Gai be controlled? Contained? Can we make it like us? Won’t work. Gai is just too smart.

Therefore, the religion devolves into a millenarian cult. Its charismatic leader says that humanity will cease to exist with >99% probability.

People outside this cult may wonder how they are so certain that Gai will appear, and what its attributes are. Followers of the religion point out that this is obvious from the way society is going, and in particular the technology that is invented.

The omens are everywhere. You can see the shape of Gai in this technology. This other technology bears the unmissable marks of Gai. It is unnatural, decadent, and we should stop developing the technology but we cannot because society is so sick. Maybe we deserve Gai’s wrath.

But what will Gai look like? What will it want, or like? We cannot imagine this because we are so limited. The only thing we know is that Gai is smarter than any of us could ever be, and will teach itself to be even smarter.

You can tell adherents of this cult that all the other millenarian cults have been wrong so far, and their deities have failed to show up. You can tell them that all their sophisticated arguments only made sense to people who already believed. But that won’t convince them.

«

In case you haven’t figured it out, Gai is “generalised artificial intelligence”. This feels like a reverse form of Pascal’s Wager: the consequences of being wrong are so bad you might as well not worry about it.
unique link to this extract


Parliament approves Government’s privacy penalty bill • Australian Government Attorney-General

»

Companies which fail to take adequate care of customer data will face much higher penalties following today’s passage of the Albanese Government’s legislation to significantly increase penalties for repeated or serious privacy breaches.

This is the first step in cleaning up the former government’s mess. The former government started a Privacy Act Review in 2020, and never finished it. It pledged to legislate tougher penalties, and never did it.
The Albanese Labor government has wasted no time in responding to recent major data breaches. We have announced, introduced and delivered legislation in just over a month. These new, larger penalties send a clear message to large companies that they must do better to protect the data they collect.

The Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enforcement and Other Measures) Bill 2022 increases the maximum penalties for serious or repeated privacy breaches from the current A$2.22m (US$1.39m) penalty to whichever is the greater of:
• A$50m;
• three times the value of any benefit obtained through the misuse of information; or
• 30% of a company’s adjusted turnover in the relevant period.

The Bill also provides the Australian Information Commissioner with greater powers to resolve privacy breaches and quickly share information about data breaches to help protect customers.

«

Pretty serious fines; everyone’s getting on board with this sort of law.
unique link to this extract


Getting banned from the App Store was the best thing that happened to us • TechCrunch

Marco Nardone:

»

It was October 2013, and I was on a plane from Hong Kong to London. It’s a 13-hour journey, so I had plenty of time to kill. But instead of tuning out to in-flight movies, I found myself oddly drawn to watching the plane’s flight path.

It was the same dull, slow-moving animation I’d seen countless times before, but this time was different. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about what the next big app in social messaging was going to be, and as I flipped through British Airway’s in-flight magazine that showed its hundreds of routes around the world, a vision started to crystallize.

“I need to make an emergency call,” I said.

There was apprehension, and possibly a faked medical emergency involved, but finally I managed to reach our COO.

“Emerson, I’ve got an idea, and it’s either gonna be worth zero or a billion.”

Despite the skepticism, I got to work anyway, pulling up Photoshop and completing Fling’s designs by the end of the flight.

The vision was clear: Fling was going to be a platform that allowed you to send any real-time message to 50 random strangers in the world. We built the app in a matter of weeks, and within a month we had nearly half a million downloads and incredibly active users. They were sharing snippets of their lives all over the globe, from America to Zambia.

Fling’s vision was coming to life without any of the roadblocks I’d expected. It seemed too good to be true…and it was.

«

Guess for yourself: you can anonymously send pictures, yes pictures, to 50 random people. You allow male users. You allow female users to receive messages sent by the random male users.

“The more flings that women sent on their first day, the more unlikely they were to come back.” App Store being the App Store, it got yanked. “Random messaging” was banned.
unique link to this extract


Epson quitting laser printers doesn’t address its bigger sustainability issue • Ars Technica

Scharon Harding:

»

Epson’s recent announcement touts a “commitment to sustainability,” as well as Epson’s planned 100 billion yen (about $722.2m) investment into “sustainable innovation”—while also plugging its latest printers, of course. But this company’s strategic shift doesn’t feel like as grand of a green step as Epson’s PR reps would like you to believe.

We don’t have to tell you about the inherent environmental concerns around home and business printing. An oft-cited 2012 study reported that 375 million ink and toner cartridges enter US landfills annually, which doesn’t even touch on the paper and energy consumption.

But people and businesses need to print things, and printer businesses and their employees have a need to keep those businesses alive. So we don’t blame Epson for seeking a way to make its printer business appear greener. But we do lament it continuing to ignore a large environmental concern with its business that it could easily address.

As we reported in August, Epson has bricked printers over purportedly oversaturated inkpads, even if the printer would physically work otherwise. Epson does this, it says, because ink could leak throughout the printer. But designing products to stop functioning, also known as planned obsolescence, is a big no-no for green tech. We shudder to think of the number of functioning Epson printers that were thrown in the garbage by less technically trained users who didn’t know the device was still usable.

This throwaway mindset is disturbingly commonplace in the printer industry. In 2020, for example, HP bricked ink cartridges outside of its Instant Ink subscription program and has also used DRM to block non-HP ink cartridges from working in HP printers.

…Lately, reviewers like Consumer Reports find that laser printers are faster and better at printing text than inkjet printers and have better reliability, though the latter seems debatable among experts. And as noted by reviewers like PCMag, cheap laser printers tend to print faster than cheap inkjet printers.

And while inkjet printers tend to be cheaper to buy than laser ones, their ink costs tend to be higher.

«

Epson using slightly spurious claims about sustainability to focus on something that makes it more money and is easier to control? Hard to imagine.
unique link to this extract


Digital books wear out faster than physical books • Internet Archive Blogs

Brewster Kahle is curator of the Internet Archive:

»

Ever try to read a physical book passed down in your family from 100 years ago? Probably worked well. Ever try reading an ebook you paid for 10 years ago? Probably a different experience. From the leasing business model of mega publishers to physical device evolution to format obsolescence, digital books are fragile and threatened.

For those of us tending libraries of digitized and born-digital books, we know that they need constant maintenance—reprocessing, reformatting, re-invigorating or they will not be readable or read. Fortunately this is what libraries do (if they are not sued to stop it). Publishers try to introduce new ideas into the public sphere. Libraries acquire these and keep them alive for generations to come.

And to serve users with print disabilities, we have to keep up with the ever-improving tools they use.

Mega-publishers are saying electronic books do not wear out, but this is not true at all. The Internet Archive processes and reprocesses the books it has digitized as new optical character recognition technologies come around, as new text understanding technologies open new analysis, as formats change from djvu to daisy to epub1 to epub2 to epub3 to pdf-a and on and on. This takes thousands of computer-months and programmer-years to do this work. This is what libraries have signed up for—our long-term custodial roles.

Also, the digital media they reside on changes, too—from Digital Linear Tape to PATA hard drives to SATA hard drives to SSDs. If we do not actively tend our digital books they become unreadable very quickly.

Then there is cataloging and metadata. If we do not keep up with the ever-changing expectations of digital learners, then our books will not be found. This is ongoing and expensive.

Our paper books have lasted hundreds of years on our shelves and are still readable. Without active maintenance, we will be lucky if our digital books last a decade.

«

unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1912: Apple’s unsociable China AirDrop, Twitter’s child safety problem, AWS v the blockchain, woke mind virus!, and more

A negative prompt
Including a “negative prompt” in your Stable Diffusion spell can make a huge difference to the outcome, users have found.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Apple turned off a private communication tool in China just before major protests broke out • Reclaim The Net

Will Henney:

»

Earlier this month, Apple restricted the use of AirDrop in China. The file-sharing tool for iOS was used by protesters to communicate freely without the risk of censorship, because the tool uses direct connections between devices, creating a local network that cannot be monitored by government internet regulators.

Initially, people could choose to receive AirDrops from everyone nearby. However, a recent iOS update has made that impossible. The update made a change to AirDrop’s usage that only applies in mainland China, while the rest of the world can still use it to communicate as before.

Users in China can only receive from everyone nearby for only ten minutes, putting restrictions on how it’s used.

AirDrop has been used by protesters in Hong Kong to communicate with other protesters and bystanders, as well as send messages to tourists from mainland China. On the mainland, protesters have used AirDrop to spread protest literature.

According to Bloomberg, Apple will roll out the “Everyone for 10 minutes” feature globally next year. But it is not clear why the feature was first suddenly rolled out in China, especially during a time of such upheaval and the biggest protests China has seen in over 30 years.

«

Hang on – it’s going to roll this out globally? That sounds like the system has been abused (which it has, to send unsolicited dick pics) and that it’s trying to save people from their mistakes. Certainly the rollout in China looks heavy-handed. But you aren’t prevented from connecting to everyone; just from doing it for extended periods. Ten minutes is plenty for an image to go around. I’d imagine (though there’s no detail) that if you turn AirDrop off and then on again, the “Everyone” choice is available again.
unique link to this extract


Musk faces fines if Twitter’s gutted child safety team becomes overwhelmed • Ars Technica

Ashley Belanger:

»

Three people familiar with Twitter’s current staffing told Bloomberg that when 2022 started, Twitter had 20 team members responsible for reviewing and escalating reports of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM). Today, after layoffs and resignations, there are fewer than 10 specialists forming what Bloomberg described as “an overwhelmed skeleton crew.” It seems that despite Musk continually tweeting that blocking CSAM is Twitter’s top priority and even going so far as inviting users to tweet CSAM directly at him, Musk may already be losing his battle to keep the material off Twitter.

“Musk didn’t create an environment where the team wanted to stay,” sources told Bloomberg.

The staff that Musk lost, according to Bloomberg, included child safety experts and former law enforcement officers in the US, Ireland, and Singapore. Sources said that this team was already working longer hours—before Musk asked employees to commit to more hours—just trying to keep up with the constant flow of user reports and legal requests.

These people removed the CSAM, assisted in law enforcement investigations, and—relying on human reasoning instead of artificial intelligence—identified accounts grooming minors or promoting attraction to minors as healthy.

Although Twitter recently removed some known hashtags used to spread CSAM, the move was not a complete or permanent solution because hashtags change, and so does the coded language that abusers use to skirt automated content removal. Because the removal of these hashtags happened after Musk’s takeover, it’s easy to credit him with the decision and see it as his commitment to blocking CSAM. However, sources told Bloomberg that the decision to remove the hashtags happened before Musk came on board.

According to Wired, there’s only one child safety team member left to handle all the reports coming from the Asia-Pacific region.

«

If the problem gets too big, Apple will also block updates and may even pull the app from the App Store. And that would be a legitimate reason to do so.
unique link to this extract


Stable Diffusion 2.0 and the importance of negative prompts for good results • Max Woolf’s Blog

Max Woolf:

»

Within 24 hours after release, users on Reddit and Twitter noted that the new model [Stable Diffusion 2.0] performed worse than Stability Diffusion 1.5 with the same exact input prompts and settings. Some users also noticed that putting in the names of real artists such as the infamous Greg Rutkowski had zero effect on the output.

Some point to the fact that the new model was trained on fewer NSFW images as the culprit for these changes, but in my opinion the culprit here is the switch to OpenCLIP. A new text encoder means some of the assumptions and prompt hacks for earlier versions of Stable Diffusion may no longer work. On the other hand, it may enable new prompt hacks. The CEO of StabilityAI Emad Mostaque mentioned that negative prompts should work better due to the way the model was trained. It’s still theory though; practice and experimentation is always better.

I hadn’t played with negative prompts in Stable Diffusion before, although it is rumored that it’s part of the secret sauce behind some of the more well known commercial Stable Diffusion services. But after lots of experimenting with negative prompts in SD 2.0, it’s clear that negative prompts are the key to getting good results from the model reliably, and most surprisingly, negative prompts can be far superior than traditional prompt additions.

«

Surprising, but you can’t argue with the outcomes. The techniques for casting spells are improving all the time.
unique link to this extract


My entire family caught that virus you heard about on Twitter • Jog Blog

Jason O. Gilbert:

»

Welp, it finally happened: My entire family caught the Woke Mind Virus — probably over Thanksgiving.

Family is doing fine but the toddler keeps referring to bedtime as “Colonialist.” We gave him 30 minutes of timeout during which we are making him read Ann Coulter’s memoir. Hate to see my little guy like this!

My wife is miserable. All she wants to do is watch the trailer for the new Little Mermaid.

She didn’t even have the energy to stay up for Tucker Carlson — and it was a really good one! He shouted about how immigrants are statistically uglier and his guest was a California dad who wasn’t allowed to bring a gun to his daughter’s Spelling Bee.

Anyway, don’t worry about me. I’m only a little Woke for now. I don’t think pronouns are a big deal, but I still have enough anger to attend school board meetings where I demand they fire teachers who mention the Civil Rights Act.

«

Man, that Woke Mind Virus is the worst.
unique link to this extract


I always knew guzzling two litres of water a day was over the top. Now science is on my side • The Guardian

Emma Beddington:

»

Finally – finally! – the scientific breakthrough I’ve been waiting for. Not the incredible recent progress on Alzheimer’s or the huge strides towards eliminating HIV, though, sure, that stuff is good, I suppose. It’s the paper suggesting public health guidelines to drink two litres of water a day are probably over the top. “The current recommendation is not supported scientifically at all,” according to my new hero, Yosuke Yamada of Japan’s National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, one of the study’s authors.

Having grown up before Big Hydration got its unpleasantly moist claws into the world, I don’t get on with water, never have. Days go by without me feeling compelled to drink any: I find my thirst is adequately quenched by imagining how unpleasant it would be to drink a cold, flavourless glass of nothing.

My optician told me I had the driest eyeballs she had ever seen. I imagine them like little bundles of tumbleweed
I can’t, in good conscience, claim it’s never done me any harm. A nutritionist recently told me that fatigue, brain fog and headaches – all regular events – are usually signs of dehydration; I always assumed they were just facets of my delightful personality. My optician told me I had the driest eyeballs she had ever seen, a fact I have been relating with misplaced pride ever since: I imagine them like little bundles of tumbleweed, rolling dustily around my sockets (no wonder they itch).

On some weird level, I like the thought that things could be better if I drank. Water is my “in case of emergency, break glass” last resort. Fully hydrated, I might spring into exuberant life like those desiccated desert frogs that survive years without moisture do when it rains. It’s nice to pretend that’s an option.

«

Totally with her on this. The sight of people who’ve done nothing much in the day lifting carafes to their mouths as though they’d just crossed the desert puzzles me. Also, Emma is a wonderful writer (and person).
unique link to this extract


Autonomous trucking software upstart Embark has quietly gone from $5B+ to basically worthless • Crunchbase

Joanna Glasner:

»

Out of all the beaten-down public companies in the autonomous driving space, Embark Technology stands out as a conspicuously terrible stock market performer.

The San Francisco-headquartered company, which develops autonomous driving technology for the trucking industry, has presided over a roughly 98% share price decline since going public a year ago. In the process, it’s wiped out close to $5 billion in market capitalization.

Today, Embark and a few others that carried out SPAC mergers are in that weird category of companies trading below the value of cash reserves. In Embark’s case, the company’s recent market capitalization of $110m is actually quite a bit lower than the $191m cash it had at the end of Q3. In other words, investors seem to think it’s worth less than nothing.

…Embark is one of a number of startups focused on trucking automation that have either hit major roadblocks or ceased operations entirely. We’ll explore these in more detail in a follow-up piece.

A short list of some of the names includes TuSimple (also trading below cash), Starsky Robotics (now defunct), and Peloton Technology (shuttered last year).

It’s a tough space, and, as we observed a few weeks ago, the whole autonomous driving technology arena overall has been taking a beating on public markets. A couple weeks later, Ford Motor-backed Argo AI disclosed it is shutting down as well.

As for Embark, not everyone has turned bearish on the company’s course. Misha Rindisbacher, Embark’s head of communications, attributed the company’s stock market declines to investor sentiment about the broader industry rather than company-specific performance issues.

“Our fundamentals are unchanged, and I would chalk it up to a larger sectorwide downturn,” he said, noting that the autonomous vehicle space and lidar space are both in the doldrums, and that investors are “probably less comfortable with the space and pre-revenue companies than they were a year ago.”

«

You could say that the brakes are on for the sector and that it’s definitely not on track. If it has to wait for another boom cycle to come good, that could take quite a while.
unique link to this extract


Amazon Web Services and blockchain • ongoing

Tim Bray:

»

This week saw the cancellation of the Australian Stock Exchange’s long-running effort to build a blockchain-based trading system. Which, oddly, has me thinking of 2016, when AWS decided not to make a strategic investment in blockchain, with my input a contributing factor. It felt like a good story while it was happening.

Since I left AWS in 2020, I’ve been super-careful not to share things from behind the scenes. I can’t actually remember the details of the nondisclosure agreement, but I have strong feelings about the ethics. This story, though, doesn’t reflect poorly on anyone and I’m pretty sure nothing in it is material to any business plans at AWS or elsewhere.

Andy meeting · At some point in mid-2016 I got hauled into a conversation with [then-AWS chief] Andy Jassy. I can’t remember if it was video or f2f, can’t remember how many of his staff were there. There were four of us present who were senior techs, not Jassy staff.

Andy is an outstanding communicator and was eloquent on this occasion. You have to understand that one of the most important parts of his job was listening to the CIOs and CTOs of huge enterprises explain their problems and concerns.

He said something like this: “All these leaders are asking me what our blockchain strategy is. They tell me that everyone’s saying it’s the future, the platform that’s going to obsolete everything else. I need to have a good answer for them. I’ll be honest, when they explain why it’s wonderful I just don’t get it. You guys got to go figure it out for us.”

Well, OK then. I can’t remember whether it was right there in the room or by email after a short caucus, we got back to Andy along the lines of “We mostly think it’s mostly bullshit and probably not strategic for AWS, but we’ll look harder.”

Before I move along, Dear Reader: There was a dead give-away in Andy’s presentation of the problem. I’ll get back to it later but do you see it?

«

Fun story. Recommended. (Bray later left AWS on ethical grounds.)
unique link to this extract


Wordle gets more intentional • Axios

Felix Salmon:

»

Wordle has an editor now — every day’s solution has been programmed by Tracy Bennett, who curates the word list. The result has not made everybody HAPPY (which was Sunday’s answer).

Bennett picked themed solutions for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Wednesday’s answer was DRIVE; Thursday’s was FEAST; and Sunday’s was HAPPY.

Before this month, Wordle solutions were randomly selected from a preset word list.

Occasionally, that would cause problems, as when FETUS showed up as a solution during a major national debate over abortion.

By programming the solutions, the NYT can avoid such controversy — and, at least in principle, can delight users by timing answers in a felicitous manner.

In the wake of Wednesday’s themed answer, many puzzlers — including Axios’ Kate Marino and Felix Salmon — got FEAST on their first guess.

“It felt cheap,” says Kate, who felt cheated by the lack of problem-solving.

…In an informal Twitter poll, about 85% of respondents said the themed answers were “too cute by half”.

«

Agree. Classic NYT to make such a bit of whimsy into something serious and considered.
unique link to this extract


How UK architecture has made homes vulnerable to extreme heat and cold • Washington Post

Philip Kennicott, Simon Ducroquet, Frank Hulley-Jones and Aaron Steckelberg:

»

The Liverpool home of Hazel Tilley, a retired hospital social worker, is a two-floor house on Cairns Street, built in the second half of the 19th century to serve the city’s working class. Homes like this one — two rooms downstairs, two (and sometimes three) bedrooms upstairs, with a side hall and a kitchen to the rear — are ubiquitous in the United Kingdom.

Built with solid walls, they lack the cavity space that makes it easier to insulate new construction. Their existing heating systems are often decades old, and inefficient. And adding new systems — wires, pipes, heating and cooling elements — can be complicated.

In the age of climate change, they also present a policy challenge: They will never be as efficient as a well-designed modern house but demolishing and replacing them would only pump more carbon into the atmosphere. The challenge is to learn how to operate them for maximum thermal efficiency.
Unlike some of her neighbors, who have removed walls and opened the living space, Tilley kept her house in its original configuration. “I like it,” she says. “It was easier to heat small rooms.”

In a typical terrace house, the hall may be chilly but the small parlors have coal fireplaces. When the doors to these small rooms are closed, they can be heated to a relative degree of comfort. With a few tweaks, Tilley’s house performed well during the heat wave, too, she says. “Closing curtains at the front, but not the back, and opening the back windows — it was fairly easy to keep cool,” she says.

Owners of these homes often don’t have the resources to improve them. And when they do, they may be more interested in adapting them to modern lifestyles. And thermal retrofits can have unforeseen consequences: tweaking a house toward greater warmth in the winter may make it more uncomfortable in the summer. And vice versa: More open plans can improve ventilation in the summer while making spaces harder to heat during colder months.

«

Wonderful graphics showing the interior design and heat efficiency of different sorts of houses. Britain does have a challenge: if the outside temperature can go from 40ºC to -10ºC, how do you make your home efficient? (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1911: Online Safety Bill resurfaces yet again, Epson ditches lasers for inkjets, Pegasus v disinformation, and more

Computerhash
What if… the hashing process in your computer produced a file that was illegal to own.. or destructive? (Picture of “a computer hash” by Diffusion Bee.)

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Programming note: Elon Musk tweets on their own will not under any circumstances be treated as newsworthy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Social media firms face big UK fines if they fail to stop sexist and racist content • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

»

Social media platforms that breach pledges to block sexist and racist content face the threat of substantial fines under government changes to the online safety bill announced on Monday.

Under the new approach, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter must also give users the option of avoiding content that is harmful but does not constitute a criminal offence. This could include racism, misogyny or the glorification of eating disorders.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, will have the power to fine companies up to 10% of global turnover for breaches of the act. Facebook’s parent, Meta, posted revenues of $118bn (£99bn) last year.

A harmful communications offence has, however, been dropped from the legislation after criticism from Conservative MPs that it was legislating for “hurt feelings”.

Ministers have scrapped the provision on regulating “legal but harmful” material – such as offensive content that does not constitute a criminal offence – and are instead requiring platforms to enforce their terms and conditions for users.

If those terms explicitly prohibit content that falls below the threshold of criminality – such as some forms of abuse – Ofcom will then have the power to ensure they police them adequately.

Under another adjustment to the bill, big tech companies must offer people a way of avoiding harmful content on their platform, even if it is legal, through methods that could include content moderation or warning screens. Examples of such material include those that are abusive, or incite hatred on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, gender reassignment or sexual orientation.

«

Hoo boy, that’s all going to be a doddle for the newly shrunk Twitter, I bet. By my count this is the third time the Online Safety/Harms Bill has come around, subtly different each time.
unique link to this extract


Epson ditches lasers and goes all in on inkjet • TechRadar

Will McCurdy:

»

Epson claims its own inkjet printers use less than 85% less energy than a comparable laser printer and 85% less carbon dioxide.

Inkjet printers use wet ink and nozzle assembly to print onto paper, whereas laser printers use a laser and dry ink (also called toner) to print

In general, inkjet printers tend to be somewhat smaller in size than their laser counterparts, but also have a slightly higher cost per page.

This news comes a year after Epson announced a ¥100bn ($700m) investment into sustainable innovation. But despite the latest public commitment to sustainability, Epson has attracted some intense criticism regarding its environmental practices in recent years.

Epson confirmed in July 2022 (opens in new tab) that some of its printers are designed to stop working after a certain period of time, forcing customers to either replace the hardware or pay for it to be survived by an authorized repair person.

The timecoded limit was reported to impact Epson’s L360 L130, L220, L310, and L365 model printers.

Commenting on the news to the Fight to Repair blog Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain said:

“A printer self-bricking after a while is a great example of ‘you think you bought a product, but you really rented a service.”

«

I have a suspicion that Epson has been getting kicked around in the laser business and has found a neat green exit.
unique link to this extract


Pegasus spyware inquiry targeted by disinformation campaign, say experts • The Guardian

Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Sam Jones:

»

Victims of spyware and a group of security experts have privately warned that a European parliament investigatory committee risks being thrown off course by an alleged “disinformation campaign”.

The warning, contained in a letter to MEPs signed by the victims, academics and some of the world’s most renowned surveillance experts, followed news last week that two individuals accused of trying to discredit widely accepted evidence in spyware cases in Spain had been invited to appear before the committee investigating abuse of hacking software.

“The invitation to these individuals would impede the committee’s goal of fact-finding and accountability and will discourage victims from testifying before the committee in the future,” the letter said.

It was signed by two people who have previously been targeted multiple times by governments using Pegasus: Carine Kanimba, the daughter of Paul Rusesabagina, who is in prison in Rwanda, and the Hungarian journalist Szabolcs Panyi. Other signatories included Access Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales, and the Human Rights Foundation.

One MEP said it appeared that Spain’s “national interest” was influencing the committee’s inquiry.

The invitation to one of the individuals – José Javier Olivas, a political scientist from Spain’s Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia – was rescinded but the other, to Gregorio Martín from the University of Valencia, was not and he is expected to appear before the parliamentary panel on Tuesday.

«

Pegasus, in case you forgot, is the spying software written by NSO which infects phones through zero-click exploits and can download anything from it. NSO has always insisted that it vets its clients carefully against misuse. The evidence shows that their clients hack journalists and human rights activists quite indiscriminately.
unique link to this extract


The exceptionally American problem of rising roadway deaths • The New York Times

Emily Badger and Alicia Parlapiano:

»

as cars grew safer for the people inside them, the US didn’t progress as other countries did to prioritizing the safety of people outside them.

“Other countries started to take seriously pedestrian and cyclist injuries in the 2000s — and started making that a priority in both vehicle design and street design — in a way that has never been committed to in the United States,” [researcher at the Urban Institute, Yonah] Freemark said.

Other developed countries lowered speed limits and built more protected bike lanes. They moved faster in making standard in-vehicle technology like automatic braking systems that detect pedestrians, and vehicle hoods that are less deadly to them. They designed roundabouts that reduce the danger at intersections, where fatalities disproportionately occur.

In the US in the past two decades, by contrast, vehicles have grown significantly bigger and thus deadlier to the people they hit. Many states curb the ability of local governments to set lower speed limits. The five-star federal safety rating that consumers can look for when buying a car today doesn’t take into consideration what that car might do to pedestrians.

These diverging histories mean that while the US and France had similar per capita fatality rates in the 1990s, Americans today are three times as likely to die in a traffic crash, according to Mr. Freemark’s research.

«

Road deaths are just ahead of gun deaths in the US. Though it’s a pretty close thing. Exceptionalism gone wrong.
unique link to this extract


Google partners with med tech company to develop AI breast cancer screening tools • The Verge

Justine Calma:

»

Google announced today that it has licensed its AI research model for breast cancer screening to medical technology company iCAD. This is the first time Google is licensing the technology, with the hopes that it will eventually lead to more accurate breast cancer detection and risk assessment.

The two companies aim to eventually deploy the technology in real-world clinical settings — targeting a “2024 release,” Google communications manager Nicole Linton told The Verge in an email. Commercial deployment, however, still depends on how successful continued research and testing are. “We will move deliberately and test things as we go,” Linton said in the email.

The partnership builds on Google’s prior work to improve breast cancer detection. Back in 2020, Google researchers published a paper in the journal Nature that found that its AI system outperformed several radiologists in identifying signs of breast cancer. The model reduced false negatives by up to 9.4% and reduced false positives by up to 5.7% among thousands of mammograms studied.

«

Quiet improvements: this is what we want from technology. (Not loudmouthed idiots. Please.)
unique link to this extract


Crypto lender BlockFi files for bankruptcy after FTX collapse • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

BlockFi, which operates in a similar fashion to a conventional bank, paying interest on savings and using customer deposits to fund lending, says it has $256.9m cash in hand. According to court documents, its creditors include FTX itself, to which it owes $275m, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to which it owes $30m.

In a statement announcing its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, BlockFi said: “This action follows the shocking events surrounding FTX and associated corporate entities and the difficult but necessary decision we made as a result to pause most activities on our platform.

“Since the pause, our team has explored every strategic option and alternative available to us, and has remained laser-focused on our primary objective of doing the best we can for our clients.

“These Chapter 11 cases will enable BlockFi to stabilise the business and provide BlockFi with the opportunity to consummate a reorganisation plan that maximises value for all stakeholders, including our valued clients.”

The SEC levied a $100m fine on the company in February for violating securities laws, arguing that the investment products the company offered qualified as unregistered securities. The outstanding $30m debt is apparently the unpaid portion of that fine.

BlockFi has already stumbled close to bankruptcy once already this year, in the wake of spring’s crypto crash.

After chief executive Zac Prince said the company needed an injection of capital to stave off a liquidity crisis, it signed a deal with none other than FTX, which gave the company access to $400m in loans. The price of the deal was an option from FTX to buy the lender for about $240m, a sharp decline from a peak valuation of $3bn.

«

More dominoes. Wonder if the SEC will push itself to the front of the queue of creditors.
unique link to this extract


Illegal hashes • Terence Eden’s Blog

The aforesaid Eden:

»

To understand this blog post, you need to know two things.

• There exists a class of numbers which are illegal in some jurisdictions. For example, a number may be copyrighted content, a decryption key, or other text considered illegal.
• There exists a class of algorithms which will take any arbitrary data and produce a fixed length text from it. This process is known as “hashing”. These algorithms are deterministic – that is, entering the same data will always produce the same hash.

Let’s take the MD5 hashing algorithm. Feed it any data and it will produce hash with a fixed length of 128 bits. Using an 8 bit alphabet, that’s 16 human-readable characters.

Suppose you live in a country with Lèse-majesté – laws which make it treasonous to insult or threaten the monarch.

There exists a seemingly innocent piece of data – an image, an MP3, a text file – which when fed to MD5 produces these 128 bits:

01001001 00100000 01101000 01100001
01110100 01100101 00100000 01110100
01101000 01100101 00100000 01110001
01110101 01100101 01100101 01101110

Decoded into ASCII, that spells “I hate the queen”. 128 bits is probably too short to be illegal in all but the most repressive of regimes. It would be hard, if not impossible, to squeeze terrorist plans into that little space. But it is just enough space to store an encryption key for copyrighted material.

Therefore, it is possible that there exists a file which – by pure coincidence – happens to have an MD5 hash which is illegal.

«

Take it even further: what if there was a string that could make a machine wreck itself (in the sense of a Turing machine instruction)? Then you’d have a destructive hash. Seems like there’s a fun SF story buried in this concept.
unique link to this extract


5.4 million Twitter users’ stolen data leaked online, more shared privately • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:

»

More than 5.4 million Twitter user records containing non-public information stolen using an API vulnerability fixed in January have been shared for free on a hacker forum.

Another massive, potentially more significant, data dump of millions of Twitter records has also been disclosed by a security researcher, demonstrating how widely abused this bug was by threat actors.

The data consists of scraped public information as well as private phone numbers and email addresses that are not meant to be public.

Last July, a threat actor began selling the private information of over 5.4 million Twitter users on a hacking forum for $30,000.

While most of the data consisted of public information, such as Twitter IDs, names, login names, locations, and verified status, it also included private information, such as phone numbers and email addresses.

This data was collected in December 2021 using a Twitter API vulnerability disclosed in the HackerOne bug bounty program that allowed people to submit phone numbers and email addresses into the API to retrieve the associated Twitter ID.

Using this ID, the threat actors could then scrape public information about the account to create a user record containing both private and public information,

«

The API flaw seems like a pretty bad (and obvious?) one: “The vulnerability allows any party without any authentication to obtain a twitter ID (which is almost equal to getting the username of an account) of any user by submitting a phone number/email even though the user has prohibitted this action in the privacy settings,” reads the vulnerability disclosure by security researcher ‘zhirinovskiy.” Clearly having lots of staff didn’t necessarily equate to having great checks on API security.
unique link to this extract


Twitter failed to detect upload of Christchurch mosque terror attack videos • The Guardian

Eva Corlett:

»

The video clips, filmed by the Australian white supremacist who murdered 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, were uploaded by some Twitter users on Saturday, according to the office of the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said Twitter’s automated reporting function didn’t pick up the content as harmful.

Other users reported the videos and the government separately raised it with Twitter, the office said. “Twitter advised us overnight that the clips have been taken down and said they would do a sweep for other instances.”

The mosque attack was livestreamed on multiple social media platforms and the terrorist’s manifesto published online.

Ardern launched the Christchurch Call after the attack, asking social media companies to counter online extremism and misinformation. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey had supported the initiative.

Speaking to media on Monday afternoon, Ardern said that while “time will tell” over Twitter’s commitment to removing harmful content, the company had advised the government it had not changed its view over its membership to the Christchurch Call community.

“We will continue to maintain our expectation that [Twitter does] everything they can on a day-to-day basis to remove that content but also to reduce terrorist content and violent extremist content online, as they’ve committed to,” Ardern said.

«

This seems to match level 9 (of 20 set out) in Mike Masnick’s Content Moderation Speed Run, as linked yesterday. Plenty of headroom yet.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1910: India’s gig workers beat the algorithm, Musk/Twitter (groan), the woman who fell from the sky, crypt0?, and more


Tidal power systems don’t show much above the water, but their generation costs are falling fast – and could undercut nuclear in a few years. CC-licensed photo by Scottish Government on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Continuing. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Gig workers in India are uniting to take back control from algorithms • Rest of World

Varsha Bansal:

»

On October 17, Santosh Kumar, an Uber driver in the south Indian city of Hyderabad was wrapping up an almost 12-hour shift and struggling to find a last ride in the direction of his home. The app showed him a message that destinations in that area weren’t available.

Frustrated, he turned to a Telegram group called CCDA, or Commercial Cab Driver’s Awareness, where he shared his woes with over 5,000 fellow drivers. Within minutes, his peers offered a jugaad — a cheap hack — to game the system: keep trying to book a ride in the direction of your home, and the algorithm will eventually oblige.

Two days later, in the same group, another distressed Uber driver posted screenshots of a “miscellaneous” fee of over 5,000 rupees ($61) that Uber had levied on him. The screenshot indicated that if he didn’t make the payment, he would lose access to his Uber account. He didn’t really understand how Uber calculated this amount and wondered how he would be able to afford the hefty payment.

CCDA members explained that this was a mandatory tax payment and offered a jugaad to offset the hefty one-time charge: keep accepting rides, and Uber will auto-deduct the amount from the daily earnings rather than paying the big amount upfront. “They explained to me that until this amount is cleared, I would only get rides with online payments and not cash rides,” the driver told Rest of World, requesting anonymity fearing retribution from Uber. He managed to clear more than 2,000 rupees of the tax liability in under a month.

Those are just two examples of how India’s gig workers — tired of the obscurity around black box algorithms and technologies that dictate their lives and work — are finding ways to game the platforms to their advantage. Drivers and delivery persons, who work for apps like Uber, Ola, Zomato and Swiggy, are trying to reverse engineer these apps, frequently sharing this information through groups like CCDA and in-person workshops.

«

Rage collectively against the machine. Neat.

unique link to this extract


How tide has turned on UK tidal stream energy as costs ebb and reliability flows • The Guardian

Tom Wall:

»

The cost of generating power from tidal streams has fallen by 40% since 2018 – and a report published last month by a government-backed research centre, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, forecasts prices could fall below nuclear energy in little over a decade, with one-megawatt hour of power due to cost as little as £78 by 2035 compared with £92.50 for the new Hinkley Point C power plant.

Simon Cheeseman from the research center argues tidal stream energy is at the “point of commercialisation” as companies are keen to scale up production and deployment. But he says the sector still needs careful nurturing to ensure it follows the successful trajectory of offshore wind, which in 11 years has gone from generating only enough energy for 4% of British homes to generating enough for 33% of British homes. “In the early days of offshore wind, you had strong government support. This is the perfect blueprint for tidal stream energy,” he says. “There is no reason tidal can’t follow that same route.”

Orbital Marine, which operates what it says are the world’s most powerful turbines below a plane-like floating platform near Orkney, has secured government funding to deploy three more floating turbines next year. Each platform can generate enough power for 2,000 homes and creates an estimated 100 jobs, according to the firm. “We want this to kickstart a real phase of change for us. We want to start manufacturing consistently and pull in more commercial investment,” says Andrew Scott, the company’s chief executive. “This is the first time in my 20 years in marine renewables that we’ve got a genuine chance of making tidal stream energy work commercially.”

«

Not quite clear whether tidal will provide a constant “base load” in the way that nuclear does. Though that cost estimate seems a long way off. Presently, the report says, the cost is £178/MWh.
unique link to this extract


Peloton Row review: the price isn’t right • The Verge

Victoria Song:

»

Any other year, the Peloton Row would’ve made a splash. The long-awaited rower was the “worst-kept secret” in connected fitness, and its launch heralds Peloton’s expansion into a whole new category. But this is a year where Peloton laid off thousands of employees, shuttered its domestic manufacturing, and watched its stock price spiral down the drain. Peloton would have you believe that the Row revolutionizes rowing. But while testing the Row, which costs $3,195, I couldn’t help but wonder how it fits into Peloton’s future.

«

How much?? The Row does have a useful feedback system which critiques your technique, and where you’re going wrong and right, but is that really worth $2,000? As Song points out, in this economy, you’re not going to get the marginal buyer; they’ll buy a Concept 2 rower and get an Apple Fitness+ subscription and still have $2,000 left over – plus the monthly Peloton sub they won’t be paying.

The Peloton diehards will surely go for it, but I think the place this will have in Peloton’s future isn’t big.
unique link to this extract


Hey Elon: let me help you speed run the content moderation learning curve • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

»

It’s kind of a rite of passage for any new social media network. They show up, insist that they’re the “platform for free speech” without quite understanding what that actually means, and then they quickly discover a whole bunch of fairly fundamental ideas, institute a bunch of rapid (often sloppy) changes… and in the end, they basically all end up in the same general vicinity, with just a few small differences on the margin. Look, I went through it myself. In the early days I insisted that sites shouldn’t do any moderation at all, including my own. But I learned. As did Parler, Gettr, Truth Social and lots of others.

Anyway, Elon’s in a bit of a different position, because rather than starting something new, he’s taken over a large platform. I recognize that he, his buddies, and a whole lot of other people think that Twitter is especially bad at this, and that he’s got some special ideas for “bringing free speech back,” but the reality is that Twitter was, by far, the most successful platform at taking a “we support free speech” stance for content, and learned over time the many nuances and tradeoffs involved.
And because I do hope that Musk succeeds and Twitter remains viable, I wanted to see if we might help him (and anyone else) speed run the basics of the content moderation learning curve that most newbies run into. The order of the levels and the seriousness of each can change over time, and how it all fits together may be somewhat different, but, in the end, basically every major social media platform ends up in this same place eventually (the place Twitter was already at when Musk insisted he needed to tear things down and start again).

Level One: “We’re the free speech platform! Anything goes!”

Cool. Cool. The bird is free! Everyone rejoice.

“Excuse me, boss, we’re getting reports that there are child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSAM) images and videos on the site.”

«

Masnick wrote this excellent piece a month ago, and we’re working our way through his 20 (count them) levels of difficulty. Presently we’re at about Level Six. Things get harder as you go, as you’ll have guessed.
unique link to this extract


Musk touts all-time high twitter signups and daily active users on as he promises new features • Forbes via MSN

Siladitya Ray:

»

In a tweet showing off slides from his company-wide presentation, Musk claimed Twitter averaged over 2 million new user sign ups per day in the past week, a record high for the platform.

Musk’s presentation also reiterated his earlier claims about user growth, noting that monetizable daily active users (mDAU) on the platform have crossed 250 million for the first time.

Musk’s slides also highlighted a drop in impersonator accounts on the platform which spiked after the launch of paid verification, however, it is unclear if this is a result of Twitter improving its ability to take down such accounts or its decision to halt the rollout of the service.

Amid concerns about Musk’s decision to restore banned controversial accounts, the Twitter CEO claimed hate speech impressions on the platform are lower than last year.

The rest of Musk’s presentation talks about his dream of turning Twitter into an “everything app” by touting expanded video-sharing capabilities, encrypted messaging, long-form tweets, and payments.

In a later tweet, Musk stated that he sees “a path to Twitter exceeding a billion monthly users in 12 to 18 months,” which would put it on par with TikTok but still significantly behind Facebook’s number of nearly 3 billion and Instagram’s 2 billion.

«

Of course you can’t trust any of these claims. Musk isn’t answerable legally if he lies here. Meanwhile, if we do take these as accurate, there’s plenty of wiggle room:
• the signups could well be bots (how many of the signups were then removed?)
• mDAU does include bots (as the previous Twitter admin acknowledged)
• the “impersonator” accounts was measuring *reported* impersonations
• there are fewer moderators to accurately record hate speech.

Trust nothing he says; analyse only what he does. The slideshow also mentioned encrypted DMs as forthcoming (can’t be end-to-end because otherwise you couldn’t read it them a web browser, I think) and “payments”, which remains completely unclear.
unique link to this extract


Crypto’s final price could be zero • WSJ

Andy Kessler:

»

A cottage industry of firms emerged to lever up crypto. This is when things turned toxic. The first task was to lure customers by paying interest on their crypto holdings. The Anchor Protocol behind the spectacularly imploded Terra-Luna algorithmic tokens was paying up to 20%.

Other platforms such as Binance and Crypto.com would pay 4%, 8% or more on crypto as well, suckering in the masses who could earn only 0.01% interest from, well, real banks. But how could anyone pay interest on crypto? By turning around and lending it out to hedge funds and others who also used leverage. Insanity.

Genesis Global Capital created a lending platform to facilitate borrowing crypto. Lending against what? Again, just air. Firms such as Gemini, set up by the Winklevoss twins, were paying 8% interest, so customers could harvest yields. Why was there any yield on crypto? Good question. It worked on the way up, not so much on the way down. Crypto was lent out like a hot potato until someone got stuck with the value down 90% and everyone else left with defaulted debt. This was probably the only way the delusion could have ended.

Most of these platforms are now frozen and might disappear as customers caught with a hot potato frantically demand withdrawals in the wake of the FTX collapse. Of course, all these crypto lenders had to do was ask: What’s the underlying collateral? Where are the assets? With no good answer, no sane lender would have lent against it. But no one asked.

…Technology, like Red Bull, is a supercharger until it wears off. Debt, like milk, can kill you when it spoils. They don’t mix.

«

People have been acting shocked at the headline, but it’s obvious in itself. To call crypto a speculative asset is to misuse the word “asset”.
unique link to this extract


Juliane Koepcke: how I survived a plane crash • BBC News

Koepcke was aged 17 when she got onto a plane that was to fly over the Peruvian rainforest:

»

It was Christmas Eve 1971 and everyone was eager to get home. We were angry because the plane was seven hours late.

Suddenly we entered into a very heavy, dark cloud. My mother was anxious but I was OK, I liked flying.
Ten minutes later it was obvious that something was very wrong. There was very heavy turbulence and the plane was jumping up and down, parcels and luggage were falling from the locker, there were gifts, flowers and Christmas cakes flying around the cabin.

When we saw lightning around the plane, I was scared. My mother and I held hands but we were unable to speak. Other passengers began to cry and weep and scream. After about 10 minutes, I saw a very bright light on the outer engine on the left. My mother said very calmly: “That is the end, it’s all over.” Those were the last words I ever heard from her.

The plane jumped down and went into a nose-dive. It was pitch black and people were screaming, then the deep roaring of the engines filled my head completely. Suddenly the noise stopped and I was outside the plane. I was in a freefall, strapped to my seat bench and hanging head-over-heels. The whispering of the wind was the only noise I could hear.

I felt completely alone.

I could see the canopy of the jungle spinning towards me. Then I lost consciousness and remember nothing of the impact. Later I learned that the plane had broken into pieces about two miles above the ground.

I woke the next day and looked up into the canopy. The first thought I had was: “I survived an air crash.”
I shouted out for my mother in but I only heard the sounds of the jungle. I was completely alone.

I had broken my collarbone and had some deep cuts on my legs but my injuries weren’t serious. I realised later that I had ruptured a ligament in my knee but I could walk.

«

Incredible story of survival; surviving the crash was only the beginning, because now she was lost in the rainforest. She probably wouldn’t have survived if her parents hadn’t been zoologists who had worked in it.
unique link to this extract


June 2016: The iPhone’s biggest threat isn’t Android—it’s Amazon’s Echo • WIRED

Davey Alba, wayyy back in 2016:

»

On slide 133 of her much-anticipated annual Internet Trends report, venture capitalist Mary Meeker made a curious comparison. She put a graph of iPhone sales side-by-side with a sales estimate for the Echo, the newish wireless speaker and voice-activated personal assistant from Amazon.

That juxtaposition might seem strange, but Meeker was making a point. Sales of the iPhone have been slowing, and according to Meeker’s projections, they’ll go into decline by the end of 2016. Right as this is happening, sales of the Amazon Echo are starting to take off.

It’s a sign that using voice as a way to command your tech is steadily gaining traction. By 2020, according to Andrew Ng—chief scientist at Chinese Internet company Baidu, who Meeker cites in her report—at least 50% of all searches will make use of images or speech.

…she said as of last month, 20% of searches on Android smartphones were voice-based.

Meeker seems to be suggesting, however, that the traditional smartphone won’t necessarily rule all when it comes to seeking digital assitance. As the Echo’s popularity shows, there’s a burgeoning opportunity to go not just hands-free but screen-free. Just yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said more than 1,000 people are working on the Echo and Alexa, the software that powers his company’s voice-activated assistant.

«

Ah, what might have been, but wasn’t. As we now know, Alexa has been a multi-billion pound bust. Meanwhile, the iPhone has done OK (in terms of revenue, for certain).
unique link to this extract


‘iSpoof’ service dismantled, main operator and 145 users arrested • Bleeping Computer

Bill Toulas:

»

The ‘iSpoof’ online spoofing service has been dismantled following an international law enforcement investigation that also led to the arrest of 146 people, including the suspected mastermind of the operation.

Over a hundred of these arrests, including that of the platform’s leader, were made by London’s Metropolitan Police.

iSpoof offered cybercriminals so-called “spoofing” servers which allowed them to mask their phone numbers with one belonging to a trusted organization, making it appear to the victims as if their bank called them.

This call number spoofing made it possible for the crooks to conduct social engineering, phishing, and carry out “bank helpdesk” scams, stealing money, banking account credentials, and one-time codes.

“The services of the website allowed those who sign up and pay for the service to anonymously make spoofed calls, send recorded messages, and intercept one-time passwords,” Europol said on Thursday.

“The users were able to impersonate an infinite number of entities (such as banks, retail companies, and government institutions) for financial gain and substantial losses to victims.”

According to the announcement of the Metropolitan Police, between June 2021 and July 2022, iSpoof was used to make 10 million fraudulent calls worldwide.

Europol reports that iSpoof caused approximately $120m in losses, with the service’s operators raking in estimated profits of $3.85m in the last 16 months.

«

It’s taken forever for the police to get around to this. These sorts of scams have been going on for what feels like a decade – certainly five years – and has been written about extensively in the papers. Police work might be slow sometimes, but it feels like this was left on a back burner.

The fix that’s still needed is to prevent such spoofing. Another iSpoof site was up within minutes.

unique link to this extract


Study: AirPods Pro are *this* close to being full-fledged hearing aids • Ars Technica

Kevin Purdy:

»

A study in the journal iScience suggests that, in some noise situations, AirPods, particularly the Pro model, can work just as well as far pricier prescription-only models.

AirPods are not sold or approved by the Food and Drug Administration as devices for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. But with cheaper, over-the-counter hearing aids now available at common retailers, there’s a renewed interest in non-medical companies moving into the space to help people who don’t need expert care—including from Apple itself.

Researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, Taiwan’s National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, and other entities conducted what they believe is the first comparison of smartphone-oriented earphones with medically prescribed hearing aids. The study had a very small sample size of 21 people between 26 and 60 years old and was conducted in a lab setting with a single source of sound. Still, the results are intriguing, especially considering how many people already have access to iPhones, AirPods, and their audio-enhancing features.

The researchers tested AirPods with their Live Listen feature activated against five standards for a personal sound amplification product (PSAP) under ANSI CTA 2051-2017:

• Frequency response smoothness
• Frequency response bandwidth (range)
• Maximum output sound pressure level (OSPL) at 90 decibels input
• Total harmonic distortion (THD)
• Equivalent input (or internal) noise level (EIN)

AirPods 2 only met two of the standards, bandwidth and THD, while AirPods Pro met all of them except EIN, registering 37 decibel sound pressure levels (dB SPL), when the standard calls for 32 or less.

«

Quite possible there are other TW (true wireless) noise-reducing headphones out there which can do the same or a better job. Apple’s brand still leads on this stuff, just as the iPod became the only music player, and the iPhone the only smartphone, and the iPad the only tablet – even though they weren’t, or aren’t.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1909: Twitter to reinstate banned accounts, Mr Beast’s big business, how Facebook cleaned up its news feed, and more

A brown bear in a space suitThanks to Meta’s latest science language model, we can learn about Russia’s success putting bears into space. Picture of this nonexistent event by Diffusion Bee.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


It’s Friday, so there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. Mentions Blade Runner. You’ve seen it, right?


A selection of 9 links for you. Unbanned. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Why Meta’s latest large language model only survived three days online • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

»

On November 15 Meta unveiled a new large language model called Galactica, designed to assist scientists. But instead of landing with the big bang Meta hoped for, Galactica has died with a whimper after three days of intense criticism as the company took down the public demo that it had encouraged everyone to try out.

Meta’s misstep—and its hubris—show once again that Big Tech has a blind spot about the severe limitations of large language models. There is a large body of research that highlights the flaws of this technology, including its tendencies to reproduce prejudice and assert falsehoods as facts.

However, Meta and other companies working on large language models, including Google, have failed to take it seriously.

Galactica is a large language model for science, trained on 48 million examples of scientific articles, websites, textbooks, lecture notes, and encyclopedias. Meta promoted its model as a shortcut for researchers and students. In the company’s words, Galactica “can summarize academic papers, solve math problems, generate Wiki articles, write scientific code, annotate molecules and proteins, and more.”

But the shiny veneer wore through fast. Like all language models, Galactica is a mindless bot that cannot tell fact from fiction. Within hours, scientists were sharing its biased and incorrect results on social media.

…A fundamental problem with Galactica is that it is not able to distinguish truth from falsehood, a basic requirement for a language model designed to generate scientific text. People found that it made up fake papers (sometimes attributing them to real authors), and generated wiki articles about the history of bears in space as readily as ones about protein complexes and the speed of light. It’s easy to spot fiction when it involves space bears, but harder with a subject users may not know much about.

Many scientists pushed back hard. Michael Black, director at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany, who works on deep learning, tweeted: “In all cases, it was wrong or biased but sounded right and authoritative. I think it’s dangerous.”

«

Yeah, but the bears in space stuff is awesome.
unique link to this extract


Musk will restore Twitter accounts banned for harassment, misinformation • The Washington Post

Taylor Lorenz:

»

Elon Musk plans to reinstate nearly all previously banned Twitter accounts — to the alarm of activists and online trust and safety experts.

After posting a Twitter poll asking, “Should Twitter offer a general amnesty to suspended accounts, provided that they have not broken the law or engaged in egregious spam?” in which 72.4% of the respondents voted yes, Musk declared, “Amnesty begins next week.”

The Twitter CEO did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from The Washington Post. The poll garnered more than 3 million votes.

The mass return of users who had been banned for such offenses as violent threats, harassment, abuse and misinformation would have a significant impact on the platform, experts said. And many questioned how such a resurrection would be handled, given that it’s unclear what Musk means by “egregious spam” and the difficulty of separating out users who have “broken the law,” which vary widely by jurisdiction and country.

“Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring booting Twitter off the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to state how dangerous this will be.”

«

Very much hoping this turns out to cost him a huge amount of money through advertisers abandoning the platform and people shifting their attention to more stable, or less insane, alternatives. (I’m a journalist/writer, so probably won’t, but lots of other people have far better choices.) I’m very, very bored of Musk’s time in charge of Twitter so far. Every week feels as long as a Covid year.
unique link to this extract


You’ve met MrBeast, the YouTuber. Now meet Jimmy Donaldson, the business mogul • Shopify Blog

Joy Blenman:

»

Jimmy’s creator journey started when he was a pre-teen. Growing up in Greenville, North Carolina, he was an avid video gamer, spending hours in front of the TV while battling players worldwide. One day, MrBeast found a hack for the battleship game Battle Pirates and uploaded a screen recording to YouTube to share with fellow gamers. The video quickly hit 20,000 views—an unusually large number for someone with only a handful of subscribers. MrBeast realized he could gain subscribers if he produced unique content, so he started experimenting with uploading videos.

While MrBeast’s first popular upload went viral by chance, his rise to the top happened because he wasn’t afraid to take risks, worked long days, and carefully studied his audience.

Like many creators just starting out, MrBeast started filming on his phone, with virtually no equipment. The first few videos on the channel MrBeast6000 were low-fi, and some of them tanked. Nevertheless, he persisted and eventually got monetized on YouTube. A true entrepreneur, as soon as MrBeast started making money, he reinvested every dollar into new equipment for his channel. This is a practice he continues today—sometimes investing upwards of $3m to create a single video.

Over the next four years, MrBeast leveled up his production values and tried new types of content to attract more engagement. Finally, he found a content idea that allowed his channel to take flight, a series of more than 70 videos called Worst Intros. In them, he reacted to what he considered terrible intros from other YouTube videos. By 2016, he had amassed 30,000 subscribers.

Being a creator is a grind that often involves taking risks and sacrificing sleep, but if you keep at it, you might eventually find success, one win at a time. In late 2016, MrBeast left East Carolina University after two weeks to pursue full-time content creation. Taking a chance paid off—a year later, one of his challenges went mega-viral after he posted a video of himself sitting in one place until he counted to 100,000—a feat that took him over 40 hours.

«

The things he does are mad, yet wildly imaginative too. That he can monetise them through YouTube, which gives him rapid feedback. Imagine in the old days of TV: he’d have to prepare a series of stunts, film them, have them sitting under wraps for months before they all went out serially. With this format, he can move singly, iterating each time.
unique link to this extract


Evernote’s next move: joining the Bending Spoons suite of apps • Evernote Blog

Anthony Bartlett:

»

Today we are pleased to announce that Evernote has agreed to join Bending Spoons, a leading developer of stand-out mobile apps.

In the deal signed between Bending Spoons and Evernote, Bending Spoons agrees to take ownership of Evernote in a transaction expected to complete early in 2023.

For Evernote, this decision is the next strategic step forward on our journey to be an extension of your brain. The path we’ve taken in recent years—rebuilding our apps in order to expand Evernote’s utility and deepen its appeal—has made possible new features, deep focus on our customers, and ultimately, an #everbetter productivity solution on the cusp of the next stage of innovation and growth. Teaming up with Bending Spoons will speed that journey, accelerating the delivery of improvements across our Teams, Professional, Personal, and Free offerings.

«

End of that era. Was anyone still using Evernote? This has all the signs of a distress sale. Another of those 2000s-era apps that began on the desktop and struggled to cope with the rise of mobile.
unique link to this extract


Facebook’s most popular posts were trash. Here is how it cleaned up • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz:

»

Earlier this year, Meta quietly convened a war room of staffers to address a critical problem: virtually all of Facebook’s top-ranked content was spammy, oversexualized or generally what the company classified as regrettable.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, had historically been reluctant to judge what goes viral on its platform, trusting its recommendation systems and users to surface the best content.

But the company’s executives and researchers were growing embarrassed that its widely viewed content report, a quarterly survey of the posts with the broadest reach, was consistently dominated by stolen memes, engagement bait and link spam for sketchy online shops, according to documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the issue.

…Over several months, members of Meta’s product, user-experience and integrity teams hammered out better definitions for low-quality content and agreed on ways the company could avoid amplifying it, according to the documents and people.

The work produced measurable results. Facebook’s third-quarter Widely Viewed Content Report, released on Tuesday, shows only one in the top 20 posts qualified as engagement bait, down from 100% a year earlier. For the first time since the report began being produced, none of the top 20 posts violated platform rules.

The content that did receive top billing on the platform was a mixture of celebrity news, meme pages and Reels videos. Selections include a video from Thailand of people giving CPR to an elephant, a page devoted to feel-good quotations about surviving domestic violence and a Reel in which a delivery man befriends a skittish dog. Among the most risqué offerings was a story that originated not on social media but in the New York Post, titled “Woman with world’s ‘most tattooed privates’ hits out at haters.”

«

Trust a Murdoch publication. But Meta/Facebook’s efforts have certainly made a difference.
unique link to this extract


Wind turbines aren’t the greatest threat to birds • Distilled

Michael Thomas:

»

Over the last month, I’ve spent time in 40 clean energy opposition Facebook groups. In this reporting, I’ve seen one argument over and over: Wind turbines kill birds. I’ve seen dozens of images of birds killed by wind turbines and links to studies on the topic.

As I’ve written, these images and posts can have real world impacts. They change voters’ minds. And they can turn clean energy supporters into passionate opponents.

But there’s a problem with the bird argument. It fails to put the number of birds killed by wind turbines in context. Given that wind energy is an alternative to fossil fuel energy, we have to ask: How many birds do fossil fuel power plants kill?

In 2012, researchers at Vermont Law School set out to answer this question. They found that wind turbines kill 0.27 birds per gigawatt-hour (GWh). Fossil fuel power plants by comparison kill a staggering 9.4 fatalities per GWh. In other words, fossil fuel power plants kill 35x more birds per unit of electricity than wind turbines.

So how do fossil fuel power plants kill birds?

«

Easy, as he explains: habitat loss, acid rain from burning fossil fuels, and of course climate change. All of which wind energy ameliorates. The mining and the acid rain? We don’t see things that have always been there.
unique link to this extract


Amazon’s already greenlit an FTX miniseries • The Verge

Charles Pulliam-Moore:

»

Though the real world impacts of FTX’s spectacular crash have yet to fully settle, Amazon’s reportedly moving forward with a miniseries about the bankrupt crypto exchange and its infamous former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried.

Anthony and Joe Russo’s AGBO production company is attached to produce the show, and the brothers are reportedly considering coming on to direct multiple episodes. Variety reports that Amazon has tapped Invasion co-creator Dave Weil to executive produce the currently unnamed eight episode miniseries that details how Bankman-Fried co-founded FTX, and went on to lead the company to a liquidity crisis that ultimately resulted in his being ousted. While no showrunners or casting announcements have been made yet, Amazon is said to be eyeing a number of actors the Russos worked with during their stint directing Marvel’s blockbusters such as Avengers: Infinity War.

«

Somehow I don’t think a series can do injustice to Bankman-Fried and his cohorts. It would really need to be a properly strychnine-laced satire. And as the bankruptcy crawls its way through the courts, they’ll be rewriting the scenes as they go.
unique link to this extract


Closure of Twitter Brussels office prompts online safety fears • Financial Times

Javier Espinoza, Ian Johnston and Cristina Criddle:

»

Twitter has disbanded its entire Brussels office, sparking concerns among EU officials about whether the social media platform will abide by the bloc’s stringent new rules on policing online content.

Julia Mozer and Dario La Nasa, who were in charge of Twitter’s digital policy in Europe, left the company last week, according to five people with knowledge of the departures.

The executives had led the company’s effort to comply with the EU’s disinformation code and the bloc’s landmark Digital Services Act, which came into force last week and sets new rules on how Big Tech should keep users safe online.

Other Twitter executives in the small but vital Brussels office, seen as a crucial conduit to European policymakers, had left at the start of the month during company-wide cuts that removed about half of its 7,500-strong workforce.

Mozer and La Nasa survived the initial cull, but no longer work there after the company’s new owner Elon Musk issued an ultimatum last week for staff to commit to a “hardcore working culture”. It is unclear whether the pair resigned or were made redundant.

Mozer and La Nasa declined to comment. Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

«

Interested by the five people who knew this. The three authors of the story, and the two people? Anyway, Twitter will find the EU less forgiving of bad meme tweet humour than Musk’s fans are.
unique link to this extract


Meta links US military to social media influence campaigns • The Register

Brandon Vigliarolo:

»

“Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military,” Meta said in the latest quarterly threat report.

The operators of the network apparently also posted “primarily during US business hours (EST) rather than during work hours in the countries they targeted.” Clearly they’ve never heard of scheduled posts.

In all, 39 Facebook accounts, 16 Pages, two Groups, and 26 Instagram accounts linked to the US military operation were terminated. The operation appeared to have limited reach.

Operators behind the campaign, which involved posing as locals in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, managed to attract around 22,000 followers on Facebook and 400 people across the two Groups.

“The majority of this operation’s posts had little to no engagement from authentic communities,” Meta said.

«

I think that makes it a CFWOT – complete waste of time. Add swearing as required.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1908: Facebook grabs accounting data, a new search?, teens on social media, FTX’s stuck NFTs, Zoom v doom, and more


The elaborate preparation of mummified bodies wasn’t in fact meant to preserve them, scientists now say. So what was it for, then? CC-licensed photo by Timothy Neesam on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.


There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.


A selection of 9 links for you. Low on Musk. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Tax filing websites have been sending users’ financial information to Facebook • The Markup

Simon Fondrie-Teitler, Angie Waller, and Colin Lecher:

»

Major tax filing services such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer have been quietly transmitting sensitive financial information to Facebook when Americans file their taxes online, The Markup has learned. 

The data, sent through widely used code called the Meta Pixel, includes not only information like names and email addresses but often even more detailed information, including data on users’ income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents’ college scholarship amounts. 

The information sent to Facebook can be used by the company to power its advertising algorithms and is gathered regardless of whether the person using the tax filing service has an account on Facebook or other platforms operated by its owner, Meta. 

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service processes about 150 million individual returns filed electronically, and some of the most widely used e-filing services employ the pixel, The Markup found. 

When users sign up to file their taxes with the popular service TaxAct, for example, they’re asked to provide personal information to calculate their returns, including how much money they make and their investments. A pixel on TaxAct’s website then sent some of that data to Facebook, including users’ filing status, their adjusted gross income, and the amount of their refund, according to a review by The Markup. Income was rounded to the nearest thousand and refund to the nearest hundred. The pixel also sent the names of dependents in an obfuscated, but generally reversible, format.

TaxAct, which says it has about three million “consumer and professional users,” also uses Google’s analytics tool on its website, and The Markup found similar financial data, but not names, being sent to Google through its tool.

«

Urggh. Surely it’s well past time for an American Privacy Act. This is just bleak.
unique link to this extract


Metaphor: a new kind of search engine

»

Web search hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re building a new search engine from scratch, using the same ideas behind DALL-E ad Stable Diffusion. It understands language — in the form of prompts — so you can say what you’re looking for in all the expressive and creative ways you can think of. And, if we’re lucky, it might make the internet feel a little less like a wall of ads.

Metaphor is a language model that’s trained to predict links instead of text. You feed the model a “prompt” (similar to a GPT-3 prompt), and it tries to predict what link is most likely to come after.

Log in with discord to get started. Or scroll to play with some templates.

«

The templates offer suggestions such as “a cool [blog post/research paper/old news article] about […]”. And it certainly gives some off-beam yet interesting – I feel lucky! – results. Worth a bookmark and some use when you’re seeking inspiration of some sort.
unique link to this extract


Teen life on social media in 2022: connection, creativity and drama • Pew Research Center

Sara Atske:

»

Society has long fretted about technology’s impact on youth. But unlike radio and television, the hyperconnected nature of social media has led to new anxieties, including worries that these platforms may be negatively impacting teenagers’ mental health. Just this year, the White House announced plans to combat potential harms teens may face when using social media.

Despite these concerns, teens themselves paint a more nuanced picture of adolescent life on social media. It is one in which majorities credit these platforms with deepening connections and providing a support network when they need it, while smaller – though notable – shares acknowledge the drama and pressures that can come along with using social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 conducted April 14 to May 4, 2022.

Eight-in-ten teens say that what they see on social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while 71% say it makes them feel like they have a place where they can show their creative side. And 67% say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who can support them through tough times. A smaller share – though still a majority – say the same for feeling more accepted. These positive sentiments are expressed by teens across demographic groups.

«

Oh well, seems like all those worries are overblown? Except of course this is about the majority. There is a minority – about 9% – that feels social media has a mostly negative effect on them.
unique link to this extract


Ancient Egyptian mummification was never intended to preserve bodies, new exhibit reveals • Live Science

Jennifer Nalewicki:

»

how exactly did this misconception flourish for so long? [Manchester Museum curator of Egypt and Sudan, Campbell] Price said the Western-led idea began with Victorian researchers who wrongly determined that ancient Egyptians were preserving their dead in a similar fashion as one would preserve fish. Their reasoning? Both processes contained a similar ingredient: salt.

“The idea was that you preserve fish to eat at some future time,” Price said. “So, they assumed that what was being done to the human body was the same as the treatment for fish.”

However, the salty substance used by ancient Egyptians differed from salt used to preserve the catch of the day. Known as natron (opens in new tab), this naturally occurring mineral (a blend of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfate) was abundant around lake beds near the Nile and served as a key ingredient in mummification.

“We also know that natron was used in temple rituals [and applied to] the statues of gods,” Price said. “It was used for cleansing.”

Price said that another material commonly associated with mummies is incense, which also served as a gift to the gods.

“Look at frankincense and myrrh — they’re in the Christian story of Jesus and were gifts from the three wise men,” Price said. “In ancient Egyptian history, we’ve found that they were also appropriate gifts for a god.”

He added, “Even the word for incense in ancient Egyptian was ‘senetjer (opens in new tab)’ and literally means ‘to make divine.’ When you’re burning incense in a temple, that’s appropriate because that’s the house of a god and makes the space divine. But then when you’re using incense resins on the body, you’re making the body divine and into a godly being. You’re not necessarily preserving it.”

«

Makes sense. All about the afterlife. A factoid for the pub quiz.
unique link to this extract


Waitrose puts heat pumps in stores as energy bills soar • Daily Telegraph

Hannah Boland:

»

Waitrose is putting heat pumps in all its supermarkets as it brings forward net-zero plans in an effort to tackle spiralling energy prices.

The company said it was replacing the gas boilers that have been heating its 332 stores with electric heat pumps. These require less electricity to run, and work by extracting heat from the air outside.

Waitrose said the pumps would replace gas heating in all the stores before 2035. It currently has five installed and is planning another 10 next year. 

The pumps are expected to provide consistent temperatures within its estate, although Waitrose said temperatures would vary depending on the layout of stores. Waitrose is also installing more “air curtains” in its stores. These use streams of air to create “air seals” that can stop hot air leaving stores and cold air getting in. 

Neil Coleman, from parent company the John Lewis Partnership, said: “No business is immune to rising energy costs.

“We’ve already set an ambitious plan to reduce our energy consumption and reach our goal of net zero emissions by 2035. With energy prices rising, we’re accelerating this.”

Waitrose fridges will also be upgraded to make them 40% more efficient, and lights will be switched to LEDs to cut electricity use by up to 10%. 

«

Amazing if the heat pumps use less electricity than the gas boilers. I suspect that’s not quite right. Perhaps they mean money. Or electricity (same thing) or power (same thing).
unique link to this extract


Coachella NFTs stuck in FTX exchange after bankruptcy • Billboard

Benjamin James:

»

The [Coachella] festival partnered with FTX.US to sell $1.5m worth of NFTs back in February, a couple of months before the Southern California event’s first staging since the pandemic. The collection included 10 NFT “Coachella Keys,” which granted lifetime access to the festival and VIP perks such as luxury experiences and exclusive merchandise. Many of those NFTs now appear to be stuck and inaccessible on the defunct exchange.

“Like many of you, we have been watching this news unfold online over the past few days and are shocked by the outcome,” said a Coachella staff member on the festival’s Discord server. “We do not currently have any lines of communication with the FTX team. We have assembled an internal team to come up with solutions based on the tools we have access to. Our priority is getting Coachella NFTs off of FTX, which appears to be disabled at the moment.”

“We’re actively working on solutions and are confident we’ll be able to protect the interests of Coachella’s NFT holders,” said Coachella innovation lead Sam Schoonover in a statement sent to Billboard.

Don’t blame me. I said that these things were worthless and stupid. Even more stupid to leave the tokens on an exchange, though that seems to be the done thing. Anyhooo, with luck this will be the last we hear of NFT’s in anything but games (where they can make sense).
unique link to this extract


Zoom shares down 90% from peak as pandemic boom fades • Reuters

Aditya Soni and Chavi Mehta:

»

Shares of Zoom Video Communications have tumbled about 90% from their pandemic peak in October 2020 as the former investor darling struggles to adjust to a post-COVID world.

The stock was down nearly 10% on Tuesday after the company cut its annual sales forecast and posted its slowest quarterly growth, prompting at least six brokerages to cut their price targets.

The company, which became a household name during lockdowns due to the popularity of its video-conferencing tools, is trying to reinvent itself by focusing on businesses, with products such as cloud-calling service Zoom Phone and conference-hosting offering Zoom Rooms.

Analysts, however, say any turnaround in the business is still a few quarters away as growth in its mainstay online unit slows and competition from Microsoft Corp’s Teams and Cisco’s Webex and Salesforce’s Slack gets intense.

“Zoom has a fundamental flaw – it has needed to spend heavily to keep hold of market share. Spending to cling onto, rather than grow, market share is never a good place to be and was a sign of trouble ahead,” Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst Sophie Lund-Yates said.

The company’s operating expenses surged 56% in the third quarter as it spent more on product development and marketing. Its adjusted operating margin shrank to 34.6% from 39.1% a year earlier.

«

Peloton and Zoom: left on the beach when the pandemic tide went out.
unique link to this extract


Investigation into cloud gaming and browsers to support UK tech and consumers • GOV.UK

»

The Competition and Markets Authority consulted on launching a market investigation alongside its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study report, which found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

Browsers are one of the most important and widely used apps on mobile devices. Most people use their browser at least daily to access online content such as information, news, videos and shopping. 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences.

Computer games are a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, played by millions of people. There are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.

Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.

«

This response, from a developer called Chris Jones, points out that if you oblige Apple to allow other rendering engines, Chrome will rule the world – and you’ll have even more of a monopoly.

Facebook/Meta, meanwhile, complains that the investigation should be widened to include Ad Tracking & Transparency (which is hurting it).
unique link to this extract


Twitter fails to delete 99% of racist tweets aimed at footballers in run-up to World Cup • The Guardian

Shanti Das:

»

Tweets hurling racist abuse at footballers, including the N-word, monkey emojis and calls for them to be deported, are not being removed by Twitter.

New research shows the platform failed to act on 99 out of 100 racist tweets reported to it in the week before the World Cup.

Only one was removed after being flagged on Wednesday, a tweet that repeated a racial slur 16 times. All the others remained live this weekend.

The abuse was aimed at 43 players including England stars Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka, who were among several players targeted after the Euro 2020 final.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and seen by the Observer, included 100 tweets reported to Twitter. Of those, 11 used the N-word to describe footballers, 25 used monkey or banana emojis directed at players, 13 called for players to be deported, and 25 attacked players by telling them to “go back to” other countries. Thirteen tweets targeted footballers over their English skills.

The findings come at a turbulent time for Twitter and will fuel concerns about players possibly being targeted during the World Cup.

«

But they have been concerned enough to suspend various American left-wing accounts in the past couple of days. If Musk’s “plan” is to turn it in to a version of Gab for some people, it won’t work to keep the libs on there.
unique link to this extract


• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified