Start Up No.1599: Intel warns chip shortage will go on, antivaxxers evade Facebook detection, tracking down bug study claims, and more


A single typo – a missing ampersand – meant that Chromebook users who updated recently were locked out of their machines. But don’t worry, a fix is rolling out. CC-licensed photo by Martin Bekkelund 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 11 links for you. The idea of letting things rip is ridiculous and we condemn anyone who suggested it. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Intel CEO says chip shortage could stretch into 2023 • WSJ

Asa Fitch:

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Intel Corp chief executive Pat Gelsinger sees the global semiconductor shortage potentially stretching into 2023, adding a leading industry voice to the growing view that the chip-supply disruptions hitting companies and consumers won’t wane soon.

The worldwide shortage has fueled rising prices for some consumer gadgets. Meanwhile, the auto industry has been particularly hard-hit as the lack of a key component causes production delays. German car maker Volkswagen AG this month warned the global shortage could worsen over the next six months. Others have said they were bracing for problems through next year.

It could take one or two years to get back to a reasonable supply-and-demand balance in the semiconductor industry, Mr. Gelsinger said in an interview after the company posted second-quarter earnings on Thursday. “We have a long way to go yet,” he said. “It just takes a long time to build [manufacturing] capacity.”

Supply shortages should start showing signs of easing later this year, Mr. Gelsinger said, echoing comments from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip maker. TSMC last week said the chip shortage that has hampered car makers could start to ease in the next few months after it ramped up its production of auto chips.

TSMC and Intel are adding new chip-production plants, though some of that capacity won’t be ready for about two more years.

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Anti-vaccine groups changing into ‘dance parties’ on Facebook to avoid detection • NBC News

Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny:

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Some anti-vaccination groups on Facebook are changing their names to euphemisms like “Dance Party” or “Dinner Party,” and using code words to fit those themes in order to skirt bans from Facebook, as the company attempts to crack down on misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines.

The groups, which are largely private and unsearchable but retain large user bases accrued during the years Facebook permitted anti-vaccination content, also swap out language to fit the new themes and provide code legends, according to screenshots provided to NBC News by multiple members of the groups.

One major “dance party” group has more than 40,000 followers and has stopped allowing new users amid public scrutiny. The backup group for “Dance Party,” known as “Dinner Party” and created by the same moderators, has more than 20,000 followers.

Other anti-vaccine influencers on Instagram use similar language swaps, such as referring to vaccinated people as “swimmers” and the act of vaccination as joining a “swim club.”

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment but pointed NBC News to the company’s efforts to drive users to authoritative sources on Covid-19 vaccines.

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Even more proof that Facebook doesn’t have any idea of the scale of misinformation on the platform. It could legitimately think these really were swimming and “dance” groups.
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Senators target Section 230 to fight COVID-19 vaccine misinformation • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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As coronavirus cases rise in unvaccinated populations, Democratic senators are introducing a new bill Thursday that would strip away Facebook and other social media platforms’ Section 230 liability shield if they amplify harmful public health misinformation.

The Health Misinformation Act, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) Thursday, would create a carveout in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act opening social media platforms like Facebook up to lawsuits for hosting some dangerous health misinformation. The bill directs the Health and Human Services secretary to issue guidelines on what should be classified as “health misinformation.”

The carveout would only apply in situations where online misinformation is related to an existing public health emergency like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as declared by the HHS secretary. It would only open a platform up to liability if the content is being algorithmically amplified, not through “a neutral mechanism, such as through the use of chronological functionality.”

“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans. These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation,” Klobuchar said in a statement Thursday. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how lethal misinformation can be and it is our responsibility to take action.”

It’s not clear that removing Section 230 protections would have the effect lawmakers intend. Section 230 protects platforms from liability for illegal content hosted on their platforms — but misinformation is not illegal in itself.

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The idea that S 230 shouldn’t apply to information that has been algorithmically amplified has been bouncing around for a while. But this is not a great idea – as Mike Masnick of Techdirt pointed out on Twitter, what happens when you get a Republican president who decides on a completely different definition of “health misinformation”? It’s not even as if Facebook can recognise it.
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Everyone cites that ‘bugs are 100x more expensive to fix in production’ research, but the study might not even exist • The Register

Tim Anderson:

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“Software research is a train wreck,” says Hillel Wayne, a Chicago-based software consultant who specialises in formal methods, instancing the received wisdom that bugs are way more expensive to fix once software is deployed.

Wayne did some research, noting that “if you Google ‘cost of a software bug’ you will get tons of articles that say ‘bugs found in requirements are 100x cheaper than bugs found in implementations.’ They all use this chart from the ‘IBM Systems Sciences Institute’… There’s one tiny problem with the IBM Systems Sciences Institute study: it doesn’t exist.”

Laurent Bossavit, an Agile methodology expert and technical advisor at software consultancy CodeWorks in Paris, has dedicated some time to this matter, and has a post on GitHub called “Degrees of intellectual dishonesty”. Bossavit referenced a successful 1987 book by Roger S Pressman called Software Engineering: a Practitioner’s Approach, which states: “To illustrate the cost impact of early error detection, we consider a series of relative costs that are based on actual cost data collected for large software projects [IBM81].”

The reference to [IBM81] notes that the information comes from “course notes” at the IBM Systems Sciences Institute. Bossavit discovered, though, that many other publications have referenced Pressman’s book as the authoritative source for this research, disguising its tentative nature.

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Terence Eden (occasionally linked here) had a similar problem with the phrase “Big Data is a dataset too big to fit in an Excel spreadsheet”.
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The truth behind the Amazon mystery seeds from China • The Atlantic

Chris Heath circles back (as we say) to that mystery of the packets of seeds from China that arrived unexpectedly last year:

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Culley ordered those seeds herself, Amazon told me. I took this with a grain of salt. Culley had mentioned that she had bought seeds much earlier in the year, and this matched a pattern I’d observed—that many people who received mystery seeds had previously made genuine seed orders. Maybe, I speculated, the brushers thought it made sense to send something that the recipients were used to receiving.

I assumed that Amazon was speciously linking these different events. I asked Culley to go into her order history and pull out her invoices, so we could show that the seeds she knew she had ordered had been delivered long before the mystery seeds arrived.

What she found was not what she—or I—expected.

On April 25, Culley had ordered three packets of seeds from three different sellers: 100 clematis-flower seeds from C-Pioneer for $1.99, 100 clematis-vine seeds from zhang-yubryy for $1.53, and 25 wisteria seeds from DIANHzu1 for $1.99. Unbeknownst to Culley, these sellers were all Chinese, based in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Changsha, respectively. Each seller had more negative reviews than positive ones, many complaining about seeds that were delayed, or hadn’t arrived, or had arrived identified as jewelry. And crucially, Culley’s three April orders, the records showed, had not been shipped until between June 15, 2020, and July 7, 2020.

Further corroboration came when I sent this new information to Terry Freeman, the manager of the seed lab at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. She had tentatively identified Culley’s seeds as amaranth and pongam tree. But now, knowing what Culley had ordered, she agreed that the larger seeds—the ones Culley had tried to germinate on her windowsill—were probably wisteria. At least one packet seemed to be exactly what Culley had paid for.

This sent me into something of a tailspin. Initially, I had dismissed Amazon’s explanation, and I had cherry-picked Culley’s experience to prove the company wrong. That had backfired. But surely what Amazon was saying couldn’t be generally true?

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(Thanks G for the link.)
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Clubhouse is the big stinker that nobody wants to talk about • Ed Zitron’s Where’s Your Ed At

Ed Zitron:

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Clubhouse is the elephant in the room in venture, and I believe there is a conscious attempt to not discuss it for fear that it proves that the entire conversation around it was hot air. When everyone desperately rushed to say that it was the next big thing, I asked repeatedly what exactly about it was going to be big, or change things. The answer mostly came down to the idea that we don’t know what the future looks like, and that people were on the waitlist – which is no longer an excuse.

Nick Bilton at Vanity Fair was a rare case of dissent, making a clear warning that this was very much a pandemic app and nothing more – but many people in venture and tech do not seem to want to discuss it as anything other than “a big social network.” The Information questioned whether Clubhouse was the next Foursquare – a promising company with tons of press that ultimately didn’t reach the giddy heights it was “meant to” – but for the most part, people have remained either indifferent or positive about it.

The fact this isn’t regularly discussed is both a bad sign for the app and also a sign, in my opinion, of an industry-wide embarrassment. So many people rushed to join Clubhouse, or discuss what’s big on Clubhouse, or how Clubhouse was the beginning of a “social audio revolution” because they were afraid they’d miss out on the next TikTok, and I’d argue that the press did a woeful job at actually questioning the format.

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The press – the tech press – tends to be staffed by enthusiasts, because you need to be enthusiastic to keep piling through the relentless onslaught of New Things That Are Soon Gone. Enthusiasts aren’t good at questioning stuff, but then again is that their job? The masses will work out if they can use the New Things. For Clubhouse, unless it gets a massive uplift in India, I think the answer’s no.
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Google pushed a one-character typo to production, bricking Chrome OS devices • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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Google says it has fixed a major Chrome OS bug that locked users out of their devices. Google’s bulletin says that Chrome OS version 91.0.4472.165, which was briefly available this week, renders users unable to log in to their devices, essentially bricking them.

Chrome OS automatically downloads updates and switches to the new version after a reboot, so users who reboot their devices are suddenly locked out them. The go-to advice while this broken update is out there is to not reboot.

The bulletin says that a new build, version 91.0.4472.167, is rolling out now to fix the issue, but it could take a “few days” to hit everyone. Users affected by the bad update can either wait for the device to update again or “powerwash” their device—meaning wipe all the local data—to get logged in. Chrome OS is primarily cloud-based, so if you’re not doing something advanced like running Linux apps, this solution presents less of an inconvenience than it would on other operating systems. Still, some users are complaining about lost data.

ChromeOS is open source, so we can get a bit more detail about the fix thanks to Android Police hunting down a Reddit comment from user elitist_ferret. The problem apparently boils down to a single-character typo. Google flubbed a conditional statement in Chrome OS’s Cryptohome VaultKeyset, the part of the OS that holds user encryption keys. The line should read “if (key_data_.has_value() && !key_data_->label().empty()) {” but instead of “&&”—the C++ version of the “AND” operator—the bad update used a single ampersand, breaking the second half of the conditional statement.

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So it’s not just Apple that can screw up on passwords through bad checking. Microsoft’s got some current problems, but nothing quite as egregious.
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Kaseya obtains universal decryptor for REvil ransomware victims • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:

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Kaseya received a universal decryptor that allows victims of the July 2nd REvil ransomware attack to recover their files for free.

On July 2nd, the REvil ransomware operation launched a massive attack by exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in the Kaseya VSA remote management application to encrypt approximately sixty managed service providers and an estimated 1,500 businesses.

After the attack, the threat actors demanded $70 million for a universal decryptor, $5 million for MSPs, and $40,000 for each extension encrypted on a victim’s network.

Soon after, the REvil ransomware gang mysteriously disappeared, and the threat actors shut down their payment sites and infrastructure.

While most victims were not paying, the gang’s disappearance prevented companies who may have needed to purchase a decryptor unable to do so.

Today, Kaseya has stated that they received a universal decryptor for the ransomware attack from a “trusted third party” and are now distributing it to affected customers.

“We can confirm we obtained a decryptor from a trusted third party but can’t share anymore about the source,” Kaseya’s SVP Corporate Marketing Dana Liedholm told BleepingComputer.

“We had the tool validated by an additional third party and have begun releasing it to our customers affected.”

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740 ransomware victims named on data leak sites in Q2 2021: report • ZDNet

Jonathan Greig:

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More than 700 organizations were attacked with ransomware and had their data posted to data leak sites in Q2 of 2021, according to a new research report from cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows

Out of the almost 2,600 victims listed on ransomware data leak sites, 740 of them were named in Q2 2021, representing a 47% increase compared to Q1. 

The report chronicles the quarter’s major events, which included the DarkSide attack on Colonial Pipeline, the attack on global meat processor JBS, and increased law enforcement action from US and European agencies. 

But Digital Shadows’ Photon Research Team found that under the surface, other ransomware trends were emerging. Since the Maze ransomware group helped popularize the data leak site concept, double extortion tactics have become en vogue among groups looking to inflict maximum damage after attacks. 

Digital Shadows tracks the information posted to 31 Dark Web leak sites, giving them access to just how many groups are now stealing data during ransomware attacks and posting it online. 

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Ransomware has zoomed up the charts, and is now the biggest and most expensive problem that most companies and organisations face. Even when decryption keys drop out of the sky (or off the back of a truck).
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Startup claims breakthrough in long-duration batteries • WSJ

Russell Gold:

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A four-year-old startup says it has built an inexpensive battery that can discharge power for days using one of the most common elements on Earth: iron.

Form Energy Inc.’s batteries are far too heavy for electric cars. But it says they will be capable of solving one of the most elusive problems facing renewable energy: cheaply storing large amounts of electricity to power grids when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing.

The work of the Somerville, Mass., company has long been shrouded in secrecy and nondisclosure agreements. It recently shared its progress with The Wall Street Journal, saying it wants to make regulators and utilities aware that if all continues to go according to plan, its iron-air batteries will be capable of affordable, long-duration power storage by 2025.

Its backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment fund whose investors include Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos. Form recently initiated a $200 million funding round, led by a strategic investment from steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal SA, MT 1.00% one of the world’s leading iron-ore producers.

Form is preparing to soon be in production of the “kind of battery you need to fully retire thermal assets like coal and natural gas” power plants, said the company’s chief executive, Mateo Jaramillo, who developed Tesla Inc.’s Powerwall battery and worked on some of its earliest automotive powertrains.

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The chemistry is made to sound simple, but surely won’t be. Fingers crossed this works: it’s very needed.
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How Dominic Cummings always makes things worse • New Statesman

David Gauke was the justice minister under Theresa May:

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Cummings clearly sees himself as a strategic thinker who has devoted his career to trying to shake up a political and administrative system he considers to be inadequate. He has had extraordinary tactical successes, but these successes have always been essentially destructive; he has never succeeded in replacing what he has destroyed with something better. 

His record is of creating problems faster than he has solved them. After all, what is the result of his supposed ceaseless quest to deliver a system of government that is competent and rigorous and serves the public? Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. 

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Gauke cuts right to the heart of it. The more Cummings tweets and writes in his post-Johnson existence, the clearer this giant character flaw becomes. Even on Brexit, his most singular achievement, he says nobody can tell yet whether it’s a success. (Many empty supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland suggest not.)
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• 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?

Order Social Warming, my new book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1598: Wikipedia gets enterprising for money, was Emirati princess kidnapped via NSO Pegasus?, Twitter tries dislikes, and more


if you’ve ever wondered why Elon Musk is so rich, it’s not because of Tesla’s profits – they’re almost nonexistent. CC-licensed photo by Maurizio Pesce 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 11 links for you. Fairly sure we never suggested people should “rip it up”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Wikipedia is finally asking big tech to pay up • WIRED

Noam Cohen:

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Wikipedia is seeking to rebalance its relationships with Google and other big tech firms like Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, whose platforms and virtual assistants lean on Wikipedia as a cost-free virtual crib sheet.

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikipedia project in more than 300 languages as well as other wiki-projects, is announcing the launch of a commercial product, Wikimedia Enterprise. The new service is designed for the sale and efficient delivery of Wikipedia’s content directly to these online behemoths (and eventually, to smaller companies too).

Conversations between the foundation’s newly created subsidiary, Wikimedia LLC, and Big Tech companies are already underway, point-people on the project said in an interview, but the next couple of months will be about seeking the reaction of Wikipedia’s thousands of volunteers. Agreements with the firms could be reached as soon as June.

“This is the first time the foundation has recognized that commercial users are users of our service,” says Lane Becker, a senior director at the foundation, who has been ramping up the Enterprise project with a small team. “We’ve known they are there, but we never really treated them as a user base.”

…Once you concede that big platforms will control the flow of commerce and information online, you can focus on how to get your cut. A proud Silicon Valley holdout, the Wikimedia Foundation is finally doing just that. But of course, for a project like Wikipedia and other industries whose products have been siphoned by the platforms, the flip side of Big Tech-funded stability is the threat of dependency. Wikipedia will now necessarily be orienting itself to the demands of the commercial internet, even if it comes in return for sizable payments to support a better, stronger, more diverse community.

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It’s not as radical as changing the licence to prevent unpaid commercial use, but it’s a sensible move to broaden the revenue base.
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Emirati princess phone number appeared on list that included targets of powerful spyware • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:

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The princess had been careful, so she left her phone in the cafe’s bathroom. She’d seen what her father could do to women who tried to escape.

She hid in the trunk of a black Audi Q7, then jumped into a Jeep Wrangler as her getaway crew raced that morning from the glittering skyscrapers of Dubai to the rough waves of the Arabian Sea. They launched a dinghy from a beach in neighboring Oman, then, 16 miles out, switched to water scooters. By sunset they’d reached their idling yacht, the Nostromo, and began sailing toward the Sri Lankan coast.

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the 32-year-old daughter of Dubai’s fearsome ruler, believed she was closer than ever to political asylum — and, for the first time, real freedom in the United States, members of her escape team said in interviews.

But there was one threat she hadn’t planned for: The spyware tool Pegasus, which her father’s government was known to have used to secretly hack and track people’s phones. Leaked data shows that by the time armed commandos stormed the yacht, eight days into her escape, operatives had entered the numbers of her closest friends and allies into a system that had also been used for selecting Pegasus surveillance targets.

“Shoot me here. Don’t take me back,” she’d screamed as soldiers dragged her off the boat, roughly 30 miles from the shore, according to a fact-finding judgment by the United Kingdom’s High Court of Justice. Then she disappeared.

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It’s like something out of a film, but not one with a good ending. Two odd things happened around the broader story of NSO/Pegasus on Wednesday: NSO said it wouldn’t answer any more media inquiries, while Amnesty International said that the list of numbers it had weren’t necessarily all of people who’d been hacked by Pegasus. Both rather odd moves.
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Investigation: how TikTok’s algorithm figures out your deepest desires • WSJ

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A Wall Street Journal investigation found that TikTok only needs one important piece of information to figure out what you want: the amount of time you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or rewatch, the app is tracking you.

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They set up a group of bots, each programmed to show interest in slightly different things, and set them loose on TikTok. The algorithm then did what algorithms do – watch what they showed interest in, tuned to the finest degree. And, as you can probably guess, the algorithm tended to lead them down rabbit holes of deeper and deeper obsession. Dogs? Sure. Depression? Sure. Suicidal ideation? Why not. Oh, no, that shouldn’t be there, the moderators say. Except it is.

There’s no accompanying story (yet?). One wonders how much ByteDance is cooperating, or not, with this.
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Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise? • The BMJ

Richard Smith was the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) until 2004:

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Ian Roberts, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, began to have doubts about the honest reporting of trials after a colleague asked if he knew that his systematic review showing the mannitol halved death from head injury was based on trials that had never happened. He didn’t, but he set about investigating the trials and confirmed that they hadn’t ever happened. They all had a lead author who purported to come from an institution that didn’t exist and who killed himself a few years later. The trials were all published in prestigious neurosurgery journals and had multiple co-authors. None of the co-authors had contributed patients to the trials, and some didn’t know that they were co-authors until after the trials were published. When Roberts contacted one of the journals the editor responded that “I wouldn’t trust the data.” Why, Roberts wondered, did he publish the trial? None of the trials have been retracted.

Later Roberts, who headed one of the Cochrane groups, did a systematic review of colloids versus crystalloids only to discover again that many of the trials that were included in the review could not be trusted. He is now sceptical about all systematic reviews, particularly those that are mostly reviews of multiple small trials. He compared the original idea of systematic reviews as searching for diamonds, knowledge that was available if brought together in systematic reviews; now he thinks of systematic reviewing as searching through rubbish. He proposed that small, single centre trials should be discarded, not combined in systematic reviews.

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The suggestion here is that on average about 20% of medical trials are fatally flawed or untrustworthy – more in some regions. Yet very few are ever retracted, and just float about in the literature.
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Ministers cut off funding to chip factory after sale to Chinese-owned firm • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:

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Ministers have cut off taxpayer-funded payments to Britain’s biggest microchip factory after its sale to a Chinese-owned technology company.

UK Research and Investment (UKRI) has suspended grants to Newport Wafer Fab under Government instructions after its sale to Nexperia, The Telegraph understands.

It comes after it emerged that the company had been involved in more than a dozen publicly-backed projects before its sale to Nexperia, including a £5.2m defence initiative.

Earlier this month, Netherlands-based Nexperia took control of Newport Wafer Fab, based in South Wales. 

The Dutch company is owned by Wingtech, a Chinese company partially owned by Beijing-backed investors.

Boris Johnson has ordered Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the National Security Advisor, to review the deal, with a decision expected within weeks.

Pressure on the Government to act rose yesterday after it emerged that Newport Wafer Fab is part of a scheme to use advanced semiconductor technology to support cutting edge radar and satellite systems, alongside defence companies Leonardo, MBDA and Arris.

In total, Newport Wafer Fab is involved in more than a dozen Government-funded programmes worth around £55m, according to one source close to the deal.

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The numbers involved seem small, but it’s still the largest (last?) wafer fab company in the UK.
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Twitter for iOS begins testing dislike button for some users • 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:

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Last year, Twitter’s chief product officer Kayvon Beykpour confirmed that the social network was “exploring” the idea of adding a dislike button to the app. Now, it appears that Twitter is in the early stages of testing a dislike/downvote button for some users on iOS.

Twitter confirmed this new test in a tweet posted to the Twitter Support account. The company says that some users on iOS will see new upvote and downvote options on tweets. Downvotes will not be shown publicly, while upvotes will be shown as likes, the company says, implying that the feature is only intended for internal metrics.

According to Twitter, the goal of this new test is to “understand the types of replies you find relevant” in a conversation. The prompt that appears to users in the Twitter for iOS app reads as follows:

Dislikes aren’t public or visible to the author, while Likes are. They both help us understand what people think is valuable to the conversation.

Twitter is testing multiple different designs for this new feature, including upvote and downvote buttons, likes and dislikes, and pairing the classic heart with a downvote…

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Immediately a lot of people are worried about “hate-bombing” of tweets (pick a divisive topic and those on either side are certain that their opponents will deploy this mercilessly). Presumably that will happen and the algorithm will learn to ignore it. But what is the purpose? To downgrade certain sorts of users? To build a bigger idea about what sort of tweets are regarded as good or bad? The latter is very grandiose.
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The pain of the never-ending work check-in • WSJ

Rachel Feintzeig:

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Caroline Kim Oh, a leadership coach based near New York City, says that in recent years, many of her clients have started feeling like meetings are just something that happens to them.

“You have no control over your workday,” she says. “They’re just popping up.”

Working from home and living through a crisis seems to have made it worse. In an April survey from meeting scheduling tool Doodle, 69% of 1,000 full-time remote workers said their meetings had increased since the pandemic started, with 56% reporting that their swamped calendars were hurting their job performance.

Constant check-ins have become some bosses’ version of micromanaging, a way to keep tabs on workers they don’t trust. Coordination that used to happen by swiveling your chair or walking across the hall now requires extra formality and time for everyone still spread out across home offices. Plus, there’s the sense that empathetic leaders should stay in touch during moments of transition, whether that’s as the world was shutting down last year or as we head back to headquarters now.

The message to managers is often, “Hey, check in with your employees. See if they’re OK. Care more,” says Ms. Kim Oh, the executive coach. Sometimes caring more means saving a worker from one more Zoom, she adds.

What happens next? If we all go back to work five days a week, we might return to those efficient, in-person check-ins, says Raffaella Sadun, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied meeting loads before and during the pandemic. But organizations testing a hybrid set-up should brace for a mess.

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Love the illustration.
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Biden official: ‘We don’t know exactly why’ ransomware gang vanished from the web • POLITICO

Nahal Toosi:

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The Biden administration does not know exactly why ransomware gang REvil, thought to be based in Russia, has vanished from the dark web, a senior official said Tuesday.

But the United States will continue to place pressure on criminal groups like REvil, as well as governments, such as Russia, that are responsible for the territory where these groups operate, the administration official added.

The Biden administration official’s comments, given in an interview with POLITICO, were the clearest yet to suggest that the United States did not play a direct role in taking down REvil’s websites and other online infrastructure in recent days.

REvil is suspected of targeting a meat supplier and a major information-technology vendor in recent months. The move hit businesses in the United States and beyond by locking them out of their systems while REvil demanded money to stop the attack.

When pressed on whether the administration has taken any action against such cyber criminals in Russia, the senior official would not say.

On REvil specifically, “We have certainly noticed that they’ve stood down their operations. We don’t know exactly why,” the official said. “But we’re still pressing on Russia to take action against the cyber criminals that are operating on its territory. We’re not declaring victory.”

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That adds to the mystery. Or perhaps REvil just thought that they’d collected enough money, and things were getting too tricky.
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The nightmare of our snooping phones • The New York Times

Shira Ovide:

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“Data privacy” is one of those terms that feels stripped of all emotion. It’s like a flat soda. At least until America’s failures to build even basic data privacy protections carry flesh-and-blood repercussions.

This week, a top official in the Roman Catholic Church’s American hierarchy resigned after a news site said that it had data from his cellphone that appeared to show the administrator using the L.G.B.T.Q. dating app Grindr and regularly going to gay bars. Journalists had access to data on the movements and digital trails of his mobile phone for parts of three years and were able to retrace where he went.

I know that people will have complex feelings about this matter. Some of you may believe that it’s acceptable to use any means necessary to determine when a public figure is breaking his promises, including when it’s a priest who may have broken his vow of celibacy.

To me, though, this isn’t about one man. This is about a structural failure that allows real-time data on Americans’ movements to exist in the first place and to be used without our knowledge or true consent. This case shows the tangible consequences of practices by America’s vast and largely unregulated data-harvesting industries.

…I am exasperated that there are still no federal laws restricting the collection or use of location data. If I made a tech to-do list for Congress, such restrictions would be at the top of my agenda.

…Losing control of our data was not inevitable. It was a choice — or rather a failure over years by individuals, governments and corporations to think through the consequences of the digital age. We can now choose a different path.

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You can, though the question is whether the sclerotic American legislative process will. (Thanks G for the pointer to the original story.)

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Why Elon Musk is so rich: two economies. Two sets of rules • O’Reilly

Tim O’Reilly:

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Elon Musk’s wealth doesn’t come from him hoarding Tesla’s extractive profits, like a robber baron of old. For most of its existence, Tesla had no profits at all. It became profitable only last year. But even in 2020, Tesla’s profits of $721 million on $31.5 billion in revenue were small—only slightly more than 2% of sales, a bit less than those of the average grocery chain, the least profitable major industry segment in America.

No, Musk won the lottery, or more precisely, the stock market beauty contest. In theory, the price of a stock reflects a company’s value as an ongoing source of profit and cash flow. In practice, it is subject to wild booms and busts that are unrelated to the underlying economics of the businesses that shares of stock are meant to represent.

Why is Musk so rich? The answer tells us something profound about our economy: he is wealthy because people are betting on him. But unlike a bet in a lottery or at a racetrack, in the vast betting economy of the stock market, people can cash out their winnings before the race has ended.

«

Musk’s riches, therefore, depend on his cashing out at the right time.
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Flexible computer processor is the most powerful plastic chip yet • New Scientist

Matthew Sparkes:

»

In recent decades, processors have reduced in size and price to the point that they are now commonly used in everything from televisions to washing machines and watches. But almost all chips manufactured today are rigid devices created on silicon wafers in highly specialised and costly factories where dozens of complex chemical and mechanical processes take up to eight weeks from start to finish. Now, Arm has developed a 32-bit processor called PlasticARM with circuits and components that are printed onto a plastic substrate, just as a printer deposits ink on paper.

James Myers at Arm says the processor can run a variety of programs, although it currently uses read-only memory so is only able to execute the code it was built with. Future versions will use fully programmable and flexible memory.

“It won’t be fast, it won’t be energy efficient, but if I’m going to put it on a lettuce to track shelf life, that’s the idea,” he says. “We’re still looking for the applications, just like the original processor guys in the 1970s. Is this about smart packaging? Is it going to be gas sensors that can tell you whether something is safe to eat or not? It could be wearable health patches, that’s a fun project we’re looking at.”

Flexible chips have been created before, but Arm’s device is the most powerful yet demonstrated. It has 56,340 components packed into less than 60 square millimetres. This gives it around 12 times more components to carry out calculations than the previous best flexible chip.

«

That 60 sq mm needs to come down by an order of magnitude to be commercially viable. Still, in 2015 they were 4900 sq mm. So, heading in the right direction.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

TikTok? You’ll understand how it works if you read Social Warming, my new book.


Start Up No.1597: Toronto airport tested facial recognition, climate disruption worsens, Facebook’s misinformation puzzle, and more


How quickly can you classify numbers into prime and non-prime? An online game will challenge you. CC-licensed photo by Eva the Weaver 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 11 links for you. A tad easier on the ripping, please. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Ottawa tested facial recognition on millions of travellers at Toronto’s Pearson airport in 2016 – The Globe and Mail

Tom Cardoso and Colin Freeze:

»

In an effort to identify potential deportees, the federal government quietly tested facial recognition technology on millions of unsuspecting travellers at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in 2016.

The six-month initiative, meant to pick out people the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) suspected might try to enter the country using fake identification, is detailed in a document obtained by The Globe and Mail through a freedom of information request. The project is the largest known government deployment of the technology in Canada to date.

As travellers walked through the international arrivals border control area at Pearson’s Terminal 3, 31 cameras captured images of their faces. Whenever the system returned a match against a 5,000-person list of previously deported people, a border officer would review the data and pass the traveller’s information along to an officer on the terminal floor, who would track the traveller down and pull them into a “secondary inspection.”

…Details about the project, dubbed “Faces on the Move,” are scarce. But presentation slides posted online by Face4 Systems Inc., an Ottawa-based contractor hired by the CBSA to provide the technology and run the pilot, say it resulted in 47 “real hits” – travellers whose faces were matched against the CBSA’s database.

It is unclear if any travellers were deported following facial recognition matches.

In a statement, the CBSA told The Globe and Mail that matches were “processed in accordance with [the agency’s] operating procedures,” and later followed up to say “no individual was removed” as a result of the pilot.

«

Claims an 89% detection rate, though it’s not clear quite what that actually means.
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UK weather: heatwave health alert for England extended to Friday • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

»

Experts said the heatwaves in the summer of 2020 caused more than 2,500 premature deaths and that the climate crisis is making heatwaves more intense and more frequent.

PHE’s level 3 heat-health alert requires social and healthcare services to take specific action to protect high-risk groups, such as older people, children and babies. The Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning for the UK on Monday.

“Everybody can be affected by high temperatures and most people are aware of good health advice for coping with hot weather,” said Dr Owen Landeg at PHE. “However, it’s important to keep checking on those who are most vulnerable such as older people and those with heart or lung conditions.”

«

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DuckDuckGo launches new Email Protection service to remove trackers • The Verge

Dave Gershgorn:

»

DuckDuckGo is launching a new email privacy service meant to stop ad companies from spying on your inbox.

The company’s new Email Protection feature gives users a free “@duck.com” email address, which will forward emails to your regular inbox after analyzing their contents for trackers and stripping any away. DuckDuckGo is also extending this feature with unique, disposable forwarding addresses, which can be generated easily in DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser or through desktop browser extensions.

The personal DuckDuckGo email is meant to be given out to friends and contacts you know, while the disposable addresses are better served when signing up for free trials, newsletters, or anywhere you suspect might sell your email address. If the email address is compromised, you can easily deactivate it.

These tools are similar to anti-tracking features implemented by Apple in iOS 14 and iOS 15, but DuckDuckGo’s approach integrates into iOS, Android, and all major web browsers. DuckDuckGo will also make it easier to spin up disposable email addresses on the fly, for newsletters or anywhere you might share your email.

Tackling email privacy has been a major goal for DuckDuckGo, as the company pushes for privacy-friendly methods for various online tasks. The company began with its eponymous DuckDuckGo search engine and has more recently introduced its own mobile browser and desktop browser extensions to remove trackers while surfing the web.

«

Coming just a few months ahead of Apple doing the same in its next release of iOS. Android (or Gmail) already does something of the kind. But it’s been a few years since we could all pile in to claim a new email address at a domain, hasn’t it?
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Bezos says space flight reinforced commitment to fighting climate change • Axios

»

Jeff Bezos said in an interview hours after flying to suborbital space on Tuesday that there are “no words” to adequately describe the experience, but that it reinforced his commitment to combatting climate change and keeping Earth “as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is.”

Bezos, the world’s richest man, said he plans to make Blue Origin and the Bezos Earth Fund — a $10bn effort to fight climate change — his life focus moving forward.

He called the flight a small step toward building a “road to space” and developing reusable rockets to cut down on waste.

“We have to build a road to space so our kids can build a future,” Bezos, who successfully traveled to space on a Blue Origin flight alongside his brother and two other passengers, told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle.

“We live on this beautiful planet. You can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space. We live in it, and it looks so big. It feels like this atmosphere is huge and we can disregard it and treat it poorly. When you get up there and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is,” he continued.

“We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space. And keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. That’s going to take decades to achieve, but you have to start. And big things start with small steps.”

«

I’m fairly sure Greta Thunberg hasn’t been into space (or even its edge), yet she seems quite firm on this “climate protection” thing. Reusable rockets, ok, are helpful for launching satellites – though that brings a separate question, about space junk, which is already a problem.
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Tokyo 2020 organizing committee chief won’t rule out last-minute cancellation of Olympics • ESPN

»

The chief of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee on Tuesday did not rule out a last-minute cancellation of the Olympics, as more athletes tested positive for COVID-19 and major sponsors ditched plans to attend Friday’s opening ceremony.

Asked at a news conference whether the global sporting showpiece might still be canceled, Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and liaise with other organizers if necessary.

“We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” Muto said.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

COVID-19 cases are rising in Tokyo, and the Games, postponed last year because of the pandemic, will be held without spectators. Japan this month decided that participants would compete in empty venues to minimize health risks.

There have been 67 cases of COVID-19 infections in Japan among those accredited for the Games since July 1, when many athletes and officials started arriving, organizers said Tuesday.

«

Keep tabs on it at this PDF (or follow the link on this page). Keep scrolling: the PDF added a whole new page on the 20th. Thousands of people crammed into a small space. It’s almost a test case for following Covid spread.
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White House dispute exposes Facebook blind spot on misinformation • The New York Times

Sheera Frankel:

»

At the start of the pandemic, a group of data scientists at Facebook held a meeting with executives to ask for resources to help measure the prevalence of misinformation about Covid-19 on the social network.

The data scientists said figuring out how many Facebook users saw false or misleading information would be complex, perhaps taking a year a more, according to two people who participated in the meeting. But they added that by putting some new hires on the project and reassigning some existing employees to it, the company could better understand how incorrect facts about the virus spread on the platform.

The executives never approved the resources, and the team was never told why, according to the people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Now, more than a year later, Facebook has been caught in a firestorm about the very type of information that the data scientists were hoping to track.

…“The suggestion we haven’t put resources toward combating Covid misinformation and supporting the vaccine rollout is just not supported by the facts,” said Dani Lever, a Facebook spokeswoman. “With no standard definition for vaccine misinformation, and with both false and even true content (often shared by mainstream media outlets) potentially discouraging vaccine acceptance, we focus on the outcomes — measuring whether people who use Facebook are accepting of Covid-19 vaccines.”

«

I think this points to a deeper problem at Facebook: it doesn’t know how to measure misinformation. How can your AI measure the misinformation content of a post that says “myocarditis is a complication of Covid vaccination in teenagers”? (It is, but very dependent on dose.) Much depends on context. I think that’s why Facebook’s narrative about this, and so much other misinformation rows, doesn’t talk about how much is there. It doesn’t know. Yet it has to hide that fact, because to admit it would be to open the floodgates for all sorts of unwelcome regulation.
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Chinese army warns dam battered by storms could collapse • The Straits Times

»

The PLA’s Central Theatre Command said it had sent soldiers to carry out an emergency response including blasting and flood diversion.

“On July 20, a 20m breach occurred at the Yihetan dam… the riverbank was severely damaged and the dam may collapse at any time,” it said in the statement.

Floods are common during China’s rainy season, which causes annual chaos and washes away roads, crops and houses.

But the threat has worsened over the decades, due in part to widespread construction of dams and levees that have cut connections between the river and adjacent lakes and disrupted floodplains that had helped absorb the summer surge.

In the nearby city of Zhengzhou, at least one person died and two more were missing since heavy rain began battering the city, according to the state-run People’s Daily, which reported that houses have collapsed.

…According to the weather authorities, the rainfall was the highest recorded since record keeping began sixty years ago as the city saw an average year’s worth of rainfall in just three days.

Authorities closed Zhengzhou’s flooded subway system and cancelled hundreds of flights.

Unverified videos on social media showed passengers in a flooded underground train carriage in Zhengzhou clinging to handles as the water inside surged to shoulder height, with some standing on seats.

«

The videos from inside the carriages are the stuff of nightmares.
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Let’s say we stop burning fossil fuels. What happens next? • Grist

Eve Andrews:

»

We talk so much about the supreme challenge of reducing emissions — something that already requires transitioning our entire economy away from the burning of fossil fuels, adapting to existing climate threats, and doing all that in a way that at the very least doesn’t add to the burdens of already marginalized communities. It’s hard to imagine that there’s more still to do. Can it really be that, on top of all those tasks, we have to pull carbon out of the atmosphere too?

Well, yes.

It’s not like we can just flip a switch in order to return to preindustrial CO2 levels. Zachary Byrum, a research analyst in carbon removal at the World Resources Institute, likes to compare our atmosphere to a rapidly filling bathtub. “Even if we turn the tap off, we still have a bathtub of CO2 that is full up to the top,” he said. “It might evaporate, but that would take a very long time. You have to make a drain so that the water, or CO2 in this metaphor, can go somewhere, and carbon removal is the means to do that.”

There are many types of carbon removal, but they all involve taking existing carbon out of atmospheric circulation, say, by planting new trees, improving soil quality, or using technology to suck it directly out of the air and inject it into the ground. “There is no world in which we don’t need carbon removal” to avert climate disaster, Byrum said.
That urgency is because our atmospheric bathtub is already really close to “overflowing.” According to the latest reading from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, our current level of atmospheric carbon is around 419 parts per million, or ppm, and continues to rise. Way back before the Industrial Revolution — when we figured out that we could haul fossil fuels out of the ground, burn them, and use the resulting energy to power machinery on a massive scale — that CO2 figure was more like 280 ppm.

«

Which is why I’m really not impressed by Bezos, Musk, Branson et al pouring money into rockets instead of useful technology. Bill Gates, by contrast, first poured money into childhood vaccination, and now is focusing on, guess what, stopping global heating.
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Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd paid for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ • Rolling Stone

Kory Grow:

»

Eric Idle has revealed how much money rock bands and record labels contributed to financing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which came out in 1975. According to a tweet, Led Zeppelin contributed £31,500, Pink Floyd Music ponied up £21,000, and Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson put in £6,300 of his own money. Adjusting for inflation, that means that Led Zeppelin’s 1974 investment was equal to almost £336,000 in today’s money, Pink Floyd’s was about £224,000, and Anderson’s was worth approximately £67,000.

Other financiers on the film include film producer Michael White (who gave £78,750), Island Records (£21,000), Charisma Records (£5,250), lyricist Tim Rice’s cricket team Heartaches (£5,250), and Chrysalis Records (£6,300). The total budget was £175,350.

In further tweets, Idle said that none of the financiers visited the set since they were shooting in Scotland and joked that even with that much money, “We couldn’t afford horses.”

«

Of course, the lack of horses wasn’t a problem because they could do the fabulous and iconic use of coconuts instead, which led to the running joke about African and European swallows. Everything’s connected.

Oh, and the film seems to have taken $175m in total sales over the years. Not a bad return.
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Is This Prime?

Christian Lawson-Perfect:

»

The Is this prime? game.

For each number you’re shown, click Yes if it’s a prime number, or No otherwise.

Try to correctly sort as many numbers as possible in a minute.

Extras:

If clicking on the buttons is too slow, you can press y or n on the keyboard instead.

If you’d rather let the computer decide what’s prime and what’s not, go to the main Is this prime? website.

«

But of course the person who coded a prime number game would have the surname of Perfect. (On Hacker News they suggest first memorising the prime numbers below 100 – there’s only 25 of them – and then winging it for the rest.)
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Australia’s giant carbon capture project fails to meet key targets • Sydney Morning Herald

Nick O’Malley:

»

The world’s largest carbon capture and storage project has failed to meet a crucial target of capturing and burying an average of 80% of the carbon dioxide produced from gas wells in Western Australia over five years.

The energy giant Chevron agreed to the target with the West Australian government when developing its A$54bn Gorgon project to extract and export gas from fields off the WA coast.

The five year milestone passed on Sunday. In a statement the energy giant Chevron announced that since operations began in August 2019 it had injected five million tonnes of greenhouse gases underground.

According to the independent analyst Peter Milne, that leaves a shortfall of around 4.6 million tonnes, which he estimates would cost about A$100m to offset via carbon credits.

The project has national and even international significance, with the oil and gas industry and the federal government declaring the success of carbon capture and storage to be crucial in tackling climate change while making use of fossil fuels.

…But critics have noted that even if the Gorgon project worked it would only capture 80% of greenhouse gases coming from reservoirs, rather than the gases burnt to create energy to liquefy the gas for export.

«

It’s often overlooked that to slow or, better, reverse global heating we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If we can’t even capture more than half of what’s produced in extracting more fossil fuels (which will then be burnt), then we’re wishing for miracles.
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• 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?

Order Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Andrew Brown got in touch about the elusive broadband minister: “Matt Warman did do one interview (about 5G) with a trade magazine before the pandemic. I know because I conducted it. It was a strangely disorienting experience to talk to a minister who actually knew their subject and was interested in it.”

Start Up No.1596: US says China harbours ransomware gangs, the Solarpunk manifesto, Amazon stops NSO on AWS, and more


Finally, Peppa Pig is teaching American children how to talk proper – using English words such as “biscuits”.CC-licensed photo by Eldriva 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. OK, don’t rip it quite so much. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Exclusive: Chinese hackers behind US ransomware attacks, say security firms • Reuters

Joseph Menn:

»

Hackers using tactics and tools previously associated with Chinese government-supported computer network intrusions have joined the booming cyber crime industry of ransomware, four security firms that investigated attacks on U.S. companies said.

Ransomware, which involves encrypting a target’s computer files and then demanding payment to unlock them, has generally been considered the domain of run-of-the-mill cyber criminals.

But executives of the security firms have seen a level of sophistication in at least a half dozen cases over the last three months akin to those used in state-sponsored attacks, including techniques to gain entry and move around the networks, as well as the software used to manage intrusions.

“It is obviously a group of skilled of operators that have some amount of experience conducting intrusions,” said Phil Burdette, who heads an incident response team at Dell SecureWorks.

Burdette said his team was called in on three cases in as many months where hackers spread ransomware after exploiting known vulnerabilities in application servers. From there, the hackers tricked more than 100 computers in each of the companies into installing the malicious programs.

The victims included a transportation company and a technology firm that had 30% of its machines captured.

Security firms Attack Research, InGuardians and G-C Partners, said they had separately investigated three other similar ransomware attacks since December.

Although they cannot be positive, the companies concluded that all were the work of a known advanced threat group from China, Attack Research Chief Executive Val Smith told Reuters.

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Wonder if the Russians will get upset about these people muscling in on their territory.
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Amazon shuts down NSO Group infrastructure • Vice

Joseph Cox:

»

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has shut down infrastructure and accounts linked to Israeli surveillance vendor NSO Group, Amazon said in a statement.

The move comes as a group of media outlets and activist organizations published new research into NSO’s malware and phone numbers potentially selected for targeting by NSO’s government clients.

“When we learned of this activity, we acted quickly to shut down the relevant infrastructure and accounts,” an AWS spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.

Amnesty International published a forensic investigation on Sunday that, among other things, determined that NSO customers have had access to zero-day attacks in Apple’s iMessage as recently as this year. As part of that research, Amnesty wrote that a phone infected with NSO’s Pegasus malware sent information “to a service fronted by Amazon CloudFront, suggesting NSO Group has switched to using AWS services in recent months.” The Amnesty report included part of the same statement from Amazon, showing Amnesty contacted the company before publication.

Citizen Lab, in a peer review of Amnesty’s findings, said in its own post that the group “independently observed NSO Group begin to make extensive use of Amazon services including CloudFront in 2021.”

CloudFront is a content delivery network (CDN) that allows customers, in this case NSO, to more quickly and reliably deliver content to users.

«

Retribution of a sort, quickly implemented. I’m going to guess that NSO doesn’t actually need something with the heft of AWS, and that it will (for a somewhat higher price) be able to find a CDN and other services from smaller companies not so worried about what NSO Group does.
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What it feels like to lose your favourite season • Culture Study

Anne Helen Petersen:

»

The preciousness of summer is one of many reasons that the wildfire smoke, which sinks into the Missoula Valley and struggles to leave, feels so threatening — and so deeply, deeply sad. As anyone from the West who understands forest fires knows, fire itself is not, per se, the problem; Indigenous people have long used fire to stave off more fire. The problem is unbridled fire, facilitated by extreme drought brought on by climate change, which transforms the season of summer into the season of smoke.

Here in the West, we knew it was coming. The drought forecasts were alarming and dismal. I bought a big air purifier that promises to blend in with the decor of your household, and the aesthetics of it all, the move to blend with our daily lives, is infuriating. I first tasted the smoke in the air last week. It lifted, briefly, but has now settled in for what the local smoke forecaster says will almost certainly last until the Fall rains arrive. It’s a month early, people say. But it’s here. Over the last decade, the West had slowly ceded August to smoke. But July, too?

Smoke is life-threatening to people with respiratory issues. For everyone else, it’s shitty in ways we don’t yet understanding. And then there are the secondary effects: it makes you cranky. It makes your hair greasy, your acne flare, and, by messing with your sinuses, it can make your teeth ache. It makes me feel alienated from my body. I’ve spent the last week bumping up against a general ennui and sadness, trying to name it, but its name is just fucking smoke. It’s devoured my summer and, in so doing, my sense of self. Who am I without the restoration of my favorite season? What is my axis, if not this time? How do I feel like myself when the windows are always closed, when the air inside feels tinny and canned, when all of this feels like our future?

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A Solarpunk Manifesto • ReDes – Regenerative Design

»

Solarpunk is a movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion, and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable civilization look like, and how can we get there?” 

The aesthetics of solarpunk merge the practical with the beautiful, the well-designed with the green and lush, the bright and colorful with the earthy and solid. 

Solarpunk can be utopian, just optimistic, or concerned with the struggles en route to a better world ,  but never dystopian. As our world roils with calamity, we need solutions, not only warnings.

Solutions to thrive without fossil fuels, to equitably manage real scarcity and share in abundance instead of supporting false scarcity and false abundance, to be kinder to each other and to the planet we share.

Solarpunk is at once a vision of the future, a thoughtful provocation, a way of living and a set of achievable proposals to get there.

• We are solarpunks because optimism has been taken away from us and we are trying to take it back.
• We are solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair.
• At its core, Solarpunk is a vision of a future that embodies the best of what humanity can achieve: a post-scarcity, post-hierarchy, post-capitalistic world where humanity sees itself as part of nature and clean energy replaces fossil fuels.
• The “punk” in Solarpunk is about rebellion, counterculture, post-capitalism, decolonialism and enthusiasm. It is about going in a different direction than the mainstream, which is increasingly going in a scary direction.
• Solarpunk is a movement as much as it is a genre: it is not just about the stories, it is also about how we can get there.

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It’s a 22-point manifesto, some with subheads. But interesting: this is the sort of manifesto that people can coalesce around.
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Peppa Pig, a pandemic favourite, has American children acting British • WSJ

Preetika Rana and Meghan Bobrowsky:

»

California kindergartner Dani stunned her parents in May when she addressed her mom, who said she was going to the eye doctor, in a polished British accent: “Mummy, are you going to the optician?”

“And we were like, ‘the what?’ ” says Dani’s father, Matias Cavallin. “That’s like a college-level word,” he says. “At least, I wasn’t using it.”

The culprit? A wildly popular English cartoon about a preschooler pig named Peppa.

Like 5-year-old Dani, children across the U.S. have binge-watched “Peppa Pig” over the past year. They are emerging from the pandemic with an unusual vocabulary and a British accent just like the show’s namesake character.

The Peppa Effect, as some parents call it, already had some children snorting like pigs and using cheeky Britishisms before the pandemic. Then lockdowns sent screen-time limits out the door, and children gorged on the cartoon in a silo away from their usual social interactions, amplifying the effect.

Mr. Cavallin, a public-relations manager in El Cerrito, Calif., stumbled upon the cartoon at the start of the pandemic. He concluded that it was a sweet family show that would keep Dani busy as his wife went to the office and he juggled working from home.

“It was almost like a happy accident at a time when I was trying to find a pseudo babysitter during Zoom meetings,” he says. “It was either Peppa Pig or no work.”

As a result, Mr. Cavallin says, he went from papa to “Daddy,” said in the British way. His daughter calls the gas station the “petrol station” and cookies “biscuits,” and when he’s holding a cup of coffee, Dani asks him, “Are you having tea now?” He says that Dani’s grandparents—immigrants from Argentina who mostly speak Spanish—quip, “We don’t understand her to begin with, and now she’s speaking British?”

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So all the years of Doctor Who had no effect? I guess they were too old by then.
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Robotaxis: have Google and Amazon backed the wrong technology? • Financial Times

Patrick McGee:

»

suppliers of advanced driver-assistance systems, or ADAS — a bottom-up approach to building autonomous technology — are making massive strides. They already have a great business case, generating profits as they sell their tech to carmakers, constantly upgrade their systems and save lives along the way.

Several experts say this is a better pathway to scaling driverless tech. If they are right, then the central risk for the robotaxi hopefuls is not whether full autonomy can succeed, but whether an entirely different approach to the problem will get there first.

“There’s no more dispute around whether robotaxis are real: they are real today,” says Karl Iagnemma, chief executive of Motional, the autonomous driving unit of Hyundai and Aptiv. “The question is whether the other guy can come along and do the same service, the same product, but at half the price. If you’ve got a competitor who’s in that position, you’re in big trouble.”

Driverless groups such as Waymo, Microsoft-backed Cruise, Amazon-owned Zoox and Aurora, which announced plans for a public listing last week, are betting on a “moonshot” solution with no plan B. They plan to offer full autonomy — albeit ringfenced to certain locations — or nothing at all. In regulatory jargon, this is called Level 4, in which a robot driver requires no input from passengers. Level 5, the highest step, would allow the vehicle to go anywhere.

This “go big or go home” approach stands in direct opposition to the step-by-step path of the ADAS players led by suppliers Mobileye, Aptiv, Magna and Bosch, which work with all the major carmakers. Their advances mean most new vehicles already have partial automation — Levels 1 and 2, including cruise control and automated braking. Tesla’s AutoPilot System is the best-known Level 2 system.

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One thinks of the tortoise and the hare. ADAS can get there from the bottom up.
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‘Anti-sex’ beds in the Olympic Village? A social media theory is soon debunked • The New York Times

Austin Ramzy:

»

The plan for the 18,000 beds and mattresses — 8,000 will also be used for the Paralympics starting next month — was announced before the pandemic started and social distancing restrictions were first put in place, and they’re sturdier than they look.

“Cardboard beds are actually stronger than the one made of wood or steel,” Airweave said in a statement on Monday.

The modular mattresses are customizable to suit athletes of all body types, and the beds can sustain up to 440 pounds, enough for even the most imposing Olympians.

But Olympic officials still prefer that athletes sleep alone while in Tokyo, and stay away from each other everywhere else as well. A playbook outlining safety measures advises Olympic participants to “avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes.”

To further discourage carousing, alcohol sales will be banned. Condoms, which have been distributed at the Olympics since the Seoul Games in 1988, will be provided to encourage safe sex, but only about one-third as many as the record 450,000 handed out at the Rio Games in 2016. And Olympic officials have made it clear that they are intended for athletes to use only once they’re back in their home countries.

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People are often surprised that Olympic athletes have SO much sex. It’s probably thanks to the condoms that there aren’t more superbabies whose athletic prowess would astonish us all.
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Digital identity and attributes consultation • GOV.UK

Matt Warman is the minister for digital infrastructure at DCMS:

»

We promised to follow up on other aspects of our Digital Identity Call for Evidence at pace, and this consultation does that now, seeking views on three key issues.

Firstly, to support the trust framework there will need to be a responsible and trusted governance system in place which can oversee digital identity and attribute use and make sure organisations comply with the rules contained within the trust framework. We are using this consultation to solicit views on the exact scope and remit of this governing body. As the consultation makes clear, it will be vital to ensure that this body works closely with other regulators that have oversight of digital services, and supports our wider goals of establishing a coherent regulatory landscape that unlocks innovation and growth.

Secondly, to unlock the benefits digital identities can bring, we need to make it possible to digitally check authoritative government-held data. We need the digital equivalent of checking data sources such as a passport. That’s why we are also consulting on how to allow trusted organisations to make these checks.

Finally, we want to firmly establish the legal validity of digital identities and attributes, to build confidence that they can be as good as the physical proofs of identity with which we are familiar.

«

The UK government wants robust ID without ID cards. Quite a circle to square. (Warman, by the way, used to be a technology journalist at the Daily Telegraph – a contemporary to me at the Guardian. So he at least slightly has the knowledge for this topic. He’s been quietly in charge of crucial stuff for a number of years – this, broadband rollout – and hasn’t done a single interview about them.)
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Google product, or not? • Comics at Google

»

Play with your friends and colleagues! Spot the official Google product logos while avoiding deprecated apps, non-official logos and other traps!

«

You have to go there to realise how many Google products there are, or are not. The page has 64 logos. I spotted the Android logo, and a Windows logo in the Google colours. (Then there are lots more panels. Thanks Paulie for the link.)
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Gurman: MacBook Pro with miniLED display coming between September-November • 9to5Mac

José Adorno:

»

In today’s Power On newsletter, Bloomberg Mark Gurman discusses the availability of the new MacBook Pro with miniLED display, expected to be announced from September to November. Head below for the full details.

Reiterating what reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said a couple of weeks ago, the new MacBook Pro is expected to go into production in the third quarter, which means an announcement is expected around September to November, according to Gurman as well.

In his newsletter, Mark Gurman says “these new MacBooks were supposed to launch earlier, but complications around the new miniLED display have held up production.”

The miniLED display, which Apple calls Liquid Retina XDR, is already available on the new 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro. This panel uses 10,000 mini-LEDs, which provide much greater control of localized backlighting, allowing higher brightness and deeper blacks. The combination boosts the contrast ratio, as well as using less power.

According to the company, the Liquid Retina XDR display delivers “true-to-life” detail with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also features 1000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1600 nits of peak brightness.

Although the new MacBook Pro is expected to feature the M1X chip and more slots, Gurman doesn’t talk about that in today’s newsletter. Instead, he gives a tip about choosing between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

MacBook Pro for those who necessitate more speed and RAM with app development, Photoshop, and heavy video editing, while the Air is ideal for web browsing, email, and light photo editing.

«

MacBook Pro also for those who like the space of a 15in screen, which they can’t get on any other Apple laptop. 13.3in MacBook Air screen area: 79.5 sq in (10:6 length/height ratio). 16in MacBook Pro screen area: 115 sq in (same ratio). DIfference: 44%.

But if it doesn’t go into production until September, it’s hard to imagine it’ll be ready then. October seems like the earliest.
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• 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?

Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1595: NSO Group blamed for hacking of activist phones, Facebook hits back over vaccination, climate change hits, and more


As USB-C cables come in eight different types, wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to know which one you’ve got?CC-licensed photo by Aaron Yoo 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 11 links for you. Let it rip! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Private spy software sold by NSO Group found on cellphones worldwide • Washington Post

Dana Priest, Craig Timberg and Souad Mekhennet:

»

Military-grade spyware licensed by an Israeli firm to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and 16 media partners.

The phones appeared on a list of more than 50,000 numbers that are concentrated in countries known to engage in surveillance of their citizens and also known to have been clients of the Israeli firm, NSO Group, a worldwide leader in the growing and largely unregulated private spyware industry, the investigation found.

The list does not identify who put the numbers on it, or why, and it is unknown how many of the phones were targeted or surveilled. But forensic analysis of the 37 smartphones shows that many display a tight correlation between time stamps associated with a number on the list and the initiation of surveillance, in some cases as brief as a few seconds.

Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based journalism nonprofit, and Amnesty International, a human rights group, had access to the list and shared it with the news organizations, which did further research and analysis. Amnesty’s Security Lab did the forensic analyses on the smartphones.

«

The Guardian also received the list, and found that the editor of the FT is on it.

Plus:

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NSO has long insisted that the governments to whom it licenses Pegasus are contractually bound to only use the powerful spying tool to fight “serious crime and terrorism”.

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Uh-huh, sure Jen. The question in the light of this is what action, if any, will be taken against NSO Group. Or, equally, what liability it might have. (Probably none.)
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Facebook to Biden: ‘we aren’t the reason vaccination goal was missed’ • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

»

Facebook and the Biden administration engaged in an increasingly rancorous back and forth over the weekend after the administration denounced the social media giant for spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines.

On Sunday, the surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, reiterated warnings that false stories about the vaccines had become a dangerous health hazard. “These platforms have to recognize they’ve played a major role in the increase in speed and scale with which misinformation is spreading,” Mr. Murthy said Sunday on CNN.

In a blog post on Saturday, Facebook called on the administration to stop “finger-pointing” and laid out what it had done to encourage users to get vaccinated. The social network also detailed how it had clamped down on lies about the vaccines, which officials have said led people to refuse to be vaccinated.

“The Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, said in the post. “The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the US has increased.”

Mr. Rosen added that the company’s data showed that 85% of its users in the United States had been or wanted to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. While President Biden had set a goal of getting 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4, which the White House fell short of, “Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed,” Mr. Rosen said.

Facebook’s response followed a forceful condemnation of the company by Mr. Biden. When asked on Friday about the role of social media in influencing vaccinations, Mr. Biden declared in unusually strong language that the platforms were “killing people.”

“Look,” he added, “the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that — and they’re killing people.”

«

The White House line that a dozen people are responsible for 65% of vaccine disinformation seems a stronger one. Facebook hasn’t responded at all on that one.
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If you’re not a climate reporter yet, you will be: Covid-19 coverage offers lessons for reporting on the climate crisis • Nieman Journalism Lab

Wolfgang Blau:

»

“The last 18 months have been a step change for our newsroom,” said Sven Stockrahm, science editor of German news organization Zeit Online. “Of course, our workload has been staggering, but we are delighted to see how normal it has become for all teams in our newsroom to first consult with the science desk before publishing a story that deals with aspects of Covid-19.” The degree of interdisciplinary collaboration with the science desk is new, and it could prove a model for how news organizations cover the climate crisis.

Today, news reports about the climate crisis primarily come from a newsroom’s science, politics or economics desk. A few news organizations already understand, though, that the climate crisis is more than a beat or a topic — it poses urgent questions that affect all sectors of society. Based on this understanding, journalistic coverage of climate change needs to involve all teams of a newsroom, including its culture, finance, real estate, lifestyle, fashion, health, and sports journalists.

When sports journalism mentions the financial aspects of a team, a transfer, or a tournament, nobody would be surprised to see “business journalism in the sports section.” Climate journalism needs to become just as integrated in every vertical.

«

This is underappreciated. But as we have more and more natural disasters to contend with, journalists are at the very least going to find themselves writing about the effects of climate.
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Coronavirus vaccine resisters: convincing the skeptics • National Review

Michael Brendan Dougherty:

»

Some subset of vaccine hesitancy is conspiratorial. Some of it is just an understandable anxiety in people who have had bad experiences with conventional medicine or have dealt with chronic and unexplained conditions. An even smaller amount is from people who, for instance, are trying to get pregnant and note that there’s been considerably less testing on pregnant women for well-established legal reasons. Some are hesitant to take it because they believe the natural immunity they acquired is sufficient.

But most vaccine skepticism, if by that we mean reluctance, is not based on conspiracy theorizing — it’s based on risk-benefit calculations. You may think it’s an innumerate calculation. But when you look at patterns of uptake in the United States, two factors stand out, factors that are larger in their effect than partisanship: age and density. The older you are and the denser your community, the more likely you are to be vaccinated. The younger you are, and the more rural your community, the less likely you are to have gotten it. This reflects the real facts about the risk of death from COVID. People may be wildly overestimating their risk from the vaccine and underestimating their risks from COVID — but they have the directional thinking correct. Those who are in less danger, act like it.

These risk-benefit calculations are not entirely defined by health outcomes either but involve psychology and politics. Some people, having read or seen that rates to achieve suitable herd immunity may be substantially lower than 80% or 90%, conclude that they don’t have to overcome their fears and can free-ride on the immunity achieved by others. The risk-benefit calculation is also complicated by other factors. People find acts of God easier to accept than mistakes of their own volition. So they may find it easier to accept the risks of facing COVID in nature, which they did not choose to get, than the unknown risks of a vaccine that they did consciously choose to take.

«

I found this a useful article, because it starts from the assumption that vaccine hesitants (and possibly even deniers) start from a rational state, even if they end up at an irrational one.
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Classified Challenger tank specs leaked online for videogame • UK Defence Journal

George Allison:

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A gamer identifying as Challenger 2 commander has posted a classified document online in order to improve the accuracy of the design of the tank in the game ‘War Thunder’.

War Thunder is a vehicular combat multiplayer video game developed and published by Gaijin Entertainment. Despite the fact that Gaijin Entertainment lists itself as a Cyprus-based studio, it was originally founded in Moscow, Russia, where it still has offices today.

It also has branches in Germany, Hungary, and Latvia.

A user identifying as a Challenger 2 commander posted specific excerpts from a Challenger 2 AESP (Army Equipment Support Publication, sort of like a user manual) to show game developers that they “didn’t model it correctly”.

The user identifies as a make in Tidworth with a history of “Tanks & AFV’s, CR2 Tank Commander, AFV Instr, D&M Instr, Gunnery Instr, Former ATDU”. It should be noted that Tidworth is home to the Royal Tank Regiment who operate Challenger 2 tanks.

It is understood that the excerpts from the document had their ‘UK RESTRICTED’ label crossed out and a stamp of ‘UNCLASSIFIED’ added, as well as having various parts fully blanked. One forum user remarked that “the cover for instance had basically everything except CHALLENGER 2 blacked out”.

«

I did not have “accidental espionage by video gamers” on the bingo card.
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Amazon asked Apple to remove an app that spots fake reviews, and Apple agreed • CNBC

Annie Palmer:

»

Apple has removed Fakespot, a well-known app for detecting fake product reviews, from its App Store after Amazon complained the app provided misleading information and potential security risks.

Fakespot’s app works by analyzing the credibility of an Amazon listing’s reviews and gives it a grade of A through F. It then provides shoppers with recommendations for products with high customer satisfaction.

Amazon said it reported Fakespot to Apple for investigation after it grew concerned that a redesigned version of the app confused consumers by displaying Amazon’s website in the app with Fakespot code and content overlaid on top of it. Amazon said it doesn’t allow applications to do this. An Amazon spokesperson claimed, “The app in question provides customers with misleading information about our sellers and their products, harms our sellers’ businesses, and creates potential security risks.”

By Friday afternoon, following a review from Apple, the app was no longer available on the App Store.

Misleading or fake user reviews have proven to be a major problem for online retailers, including Amazon. The company has recently ramped up its efforts to detect and cull fake reviews. Its third-party marketplace, made up of millions of sellers, has grown to account for more than half of the company’s overall sales, but it has become fertile ground for fake reviews, counterfeits and unsafe products.

…Apple said in a statement that Amazon on June 8 initiated a dispute with the Fakespot app over intellectual property rights.

«

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USB-C cable colour codes •

:

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USB-C was supposed to be the answer to the chaos that is charge and data cable compatibility. And to an extent it was. It unified ports and reduced the amount of cables and chargers I need to travel with. The cables themselves, however, turned out to be a mess. They come in many varieties with obtuse names, confusing markers, and unclear compatibility rules. Yet they all look exactly the same.

Here is a colour coding scheme for USB-C to USB-C cables to distinguish them by their use.

There are currently 8 types of USB-C cables defined. Benson Leung’s post lists them and explains how they relate to power and data transfer rates. Drawing from that we can observe that cables differ in two dimensions. The first is the kind of data signalling a cable supports, and the second is the amount of current it can carry. Based on this we can give data signalling colours.

  • #E69F00 “orange” for USB 2.0
  • #56B4E9 “sky blue” for USB 3.2 Gen 1
  • #009E73 “blueish green” for USB 3.2 Gen 2
  • #F0E442 “yellow” for Thunderbolt 3

And give current ratings numbers of stripes.

  • One black stripe for 3A
  • Two black stripes for 5A

Putting them together we get the full matrix of the 8 possible USB-C to USB-C cable types today.

USB 2.0 USB 3.2 Gen 1 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Thunderbolt 3
3A CC2-3 CC3G1-3 CC3G2-3 CC3G3-3
5A CC2-5 CC3G1-5 CC3G2-5 CC3G3-5

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The author used nail polish to colour the cables. Wouldn’t it be great if you could identify them more easily.
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Social Warming by Charles Arthur review: a coolly prosecutorial look at social media • The Guardian

Steven Poole reviewed my book, concluding:

»

I was left unsure by the titular phrase to describe the havoc that social media is wreaking upon our lives. Warmth, after all, has long been a social metaphor for something desirable: as when people speak warmly, or enjoy a warm friendship. (Indeed, according to some psychological research, loneliness makes you feel cold, and being cold makes you more lonely.) Perhaps, just as some now prefer to use “global heating” or “climate crisis” in the atmospheric context, we should think of social overheating or social boiling. In the mean time, feel free to share this article on Twitter.

«

Though calling it “Social Heating” might have made people think it was about getting together with your neighbours to keep the house warm. Balancing act.
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Miami condo collapse raises new fears about Florida’s insurance market • The New York Times

Christopher Flavelle, Patricia Mazzei and Giulia Heyward:

»

Days after the collapse, insurance companies sent letters threatening to cut off coverage to older buildings that did not pass mandatory safety inspections. In California, insurers have begun fleeing fire-prone areas; in other parts of the West, officials say they are seeing similar reports of insurers refusing to renew policies.

And it is not just private insurers: In April, the federal government outlined changes to the heavily indebted National Flood Insurance Program that will eventually cause some people’s premiums to rise fivefold or more.

“Coastal areas all across the Gulf and up along the East Coast could start to see very similar dynamics” to what is happening in Florida, said Carolyn Kousky, executive director of the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

It is too soon to say whether climate change contributed to the collapse of the building in Surfside. But the effects of global warming, which include extreme heat and more moisture in the air, cause structures to deteriorate more quickly, according to Jesse Keenan, a professor at Tulane University who specializes in the consequences of climate change for the built environment.

“Climate change is actually accelerating the degradation of buildings,” Dr. Keenan said.

«

Premiums could quintuple, or simply stop. It’s going to be brutal.
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Out of control: the moment Boris Johnson let Covid run rampant • The Sunday Times

Jeremy Farrar is director of the Wellcome Trust, and a member of Sage; he wrote his latest book with Anjana Ahuja:

»

While things were moving frantically on the international front in the summer of 2020, with hopes building for several successful vaccines, the situation in the UK was deteriorating swiftly. The autumn of last year was, without doubt, the lowest point for me during the pandemic. I seriously considered resigning from Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

The newly opened economy, buoyed by such schemes as Eat Out to Help Out, was slowly feeding the virus. Taxpayers effectively subsidised its spread.

From July last year onwards, the infection rates began creeping up week by week. During those holiday months of summer 2020 I felt very strongly that not enough had been done, particularly in terms of test, trace and isolate programmes (TTI), to prepare for the winter.

Then, on August 16, news leaked that Public Health England was going to be abolished. Even worse, Dido Harding, who had failed to establish the world-beating TTI system promised over the summer, was appointed interim executive chairwoman of PHE’s replacement, the National Institute for Health Protection. Public Health England was being thrown under the bus in the middle of a pandemic while the figurehead responsible for the TTI system was being promoted.

Weeks later the government announced it was considering “Operation Moonshot”, a plan for rapid mass testing nationwide to try to keep the economy open. It would reportedly cost about £100 billion. The British Medical Journal noted that the enormous sum was within touching distance of the entire annual budget for the NHS in England. Professors of public health, meanwhile, were telling the government that the tests under consideration were nowhere near foolproof, with substantial risks of both false negatives and false positives.

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He is very, very unimpressed with Boris Johnson. As it pretty much everyone these days.
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Europe floods: Rescuers race to find survivors as hundreds remain missing • BBC News

»

At least 143 people are now known to have died in the floods in Germany, including four firefighters.

Rescue teams were hampered by difficult conditions on Friday, leaving relatives of the missing waiting anxiously for news.

But by Saturday the authorities said numbers of people unaccounted for had been steadily decreasing.
The states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland have been the worst affected by the rainfall. Though the risk of further flooding is diminishing there is growing concern about the Steinbachtal dam in North Rhine-Westphalia, south-west of the city of Bonn.

Inspectors say large parts of the structure have come away leaving it extremely unstable, and more people may be asked to leave their homes. Meanwhile emergency workers have been searching abandoned cars on the still-flooded B265 road, but fire service spokesman Elmar Mettke said no bodies had yet been found.

“It seems like in the cars we have checked so far the occupants have all reached dry land unscathed. But we will continue to look and it will be a while until we are done here,” he told Reuters news agency.

A resident of Schuld in the Rhineland-Palatinate district of Ahrweiler told AFP news agency that cars had been washed away and houses knocked down in scenes he likened to a “war zone”.

In the nearby spa town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler residents were determined to begin the huge clean-up operation, scraping mud from the streets and clearing piles of debris.

But many businesses and livelihoods in the town have been swept away. Nearly 100 people in Ahrweiler are believed to have died.

«

Worth visiting the page for the shocking Before/After with slider of the post-flood sinkhole in Erftstadt-Blessem.
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You’ve read the review. Why not order Social Warming, my latest book?


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1594: MPs call for streaming ‘reset’, where’s the real climate change action?, tension inside the W3C, all about ∂, and more


Soon Facebook Messenger will let you hear what these sound like. Positive, right? CC-licensed photo by Chris Blakeley 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 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


MPs call for ‘complete reset’ of music streaming to protect artists • The Guardian

Lanre Bakare and Alex Hern:

»

Record labels and the streaming sites are criticised in the report, which says that although streaming undoubtedly helped save the music industry after two decades of digital piracy, the companies have “leveraged structural advantages to achieve seemingly unassailable positions” in their markets.

The report refers to estimates that streaming services take 30-34% of revenues from a stream, with the label recouping 55% and the rest shared out between the recording artist, publisher and songwriter.

The MPs say they have “deep concerns about the position of the major music companies” and call on the government to ask the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether competition in the recorded music market is being distorted. They say the major labels: Sony, Universal and Warner Music, benefit at the expense of independent labels and self-releasing artists when it comes to playlisting.

“The issues ostensibly created by streaming simply reflect more fundamental, structural problems within the recorded music industry,” the report says. “Streaming needs a complete reset.”

The committee recommends “a broad yet comprehensive range” of legislative reforms to protect the rights of musicians and songwriters, who it says are getting poor returns from streaming – an industry that generates £600m in revenues a year.

The 121-page report backs calls for artists to have equitable remuneration from streams, which would mean their work is classified as a “rental” when it is played on platforms such as Spotify, which has a 44% market share compared with 25% each for Amazon Music and Apple Music.

The measure would mean streams are treated in a similar way to radio plays, with a collecting society recouping royalties on an artist’s behalf.

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It seems odd that we would just let the world burn • The New York Times

Ezra Klein:

»

I spent the weekend reading a book I wasn’t entirely comfortable being seen with in public. Andreas Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is only slightly inaptly named. You won’t find, anywhere inside, instructions on sabotaging energy infrastructure. A truer title would be “Why to Blow Up a Pipeline.” On this, Malm’s case is straightforward: Because nothing else has worked.

Decades of climate activism have gotten millions of people into the streets but they haven’t turned the tide on emissions, or even investments. Citing a 2019 study in the journal Nature, Malm observes that, measuring by capacity, 49% of the fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure now in operation was installed after 2004. Add in the expected emissions from projects in some stage of the planning process and we are most of the way toward warming the world by 2º Celsius — a prospect scientists consider terrifying and most world governments have repeatedly pledged to avoid. Some hoped that the pandemic would alter the world’s course, but it hasn’t. Oil consumption is hurtling back to precrisis levels, and demand for coal, the dirtiest of the fuels, is rising.

“Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start,” Malm writes. “Announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed.”

«

That scenario reminds me strongly of the opening of John Brunner’s SF book The Sheep Look Up, where people are wrecking cars that run on petrol (or diesel). That doesn’t end well. But with the news recording “once in a generation” deadly floods in Germany, record temperatures in the US northwest, a drought in the western US.. what does it take exactly?
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A privacy war is raging inside the W3C • Protocol

Issie Lapowsky:

»

On the other side [from the browser companies such as Apple, Mozilla and Google] are companies that use cross-site tracking for things like website optimization and advertising, and are fighting for their industry’s very survival. That includes small firms like [James] Rosewell’s, but also giants of the industry, like Facebook.

Rosewell has become one of this side’s most committed foot soldiers since he joined the W3C last April. Where Facebook’s developers can only offer cautious edits to Apple and Google’s privacy proposals, knowing full well that every exchange within the W3C is part of the public record, Rosewell is decidedly less constrained. On any given day, you can find him in groups dedicated to privacy or web advertising, diving into conversations about new standards browsers are considering.

Rather than asking technical questions about how to make browsers’ privacy specifications work better, he often asks philosophical ones, like whether anyone really wants their browser making certain privacy decisions for them at all. He’s filled the W3C’s forums with concerns about its underlying procedures, sometimes a dozen at a time, and has called upon the W3C’s leadership to more clearly articulate the values for which the organization stands.

His exchanges with other members of the group tend to have the flavor of Hamilton and Burr’s last letters — overly polite, but pulsing with contempt. “I prioritize clarity over social harmony,” Rosewell said.

To Rosewell, these questions may be the only thing stopping the web from being fully designed and controlled by Apple, Google and Microsoft, three companies that he said already have enough power as it is. “I’m deeply concerned about the future in a world where these companies are just unrestrained,” Rosewell said. “If there isn’t someone presenting a counter argument, then you get group-think and bubble behavior.”

But the engineers and privacy advocates who have long held W3C territory aren’t convinced. They say the W3C is under siege by an insurgency that’s thwarting browsers from developing new and important privacy protections for all web users. “They use cynical terms like: ‘We’re here to protect user choice’ or ‘We’re here to protect the open web’ or, frankly, horseshit like this,” said Pete Snyder, director of privacy at Brave, which makes an anti-tracking browser. “They’re there to slow down privacy protections that the browsers are creating.”

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Facebook advertisers impacted by Apple privacy iOS 14 changes • Bloomberg

Kurt Wagner:

»

The new prompt from Apple Inc., which arrived in an iOS software update to iPhones in early June, explicitly asks users of each app whether they are willing to be tracked across their internet activity.  Most are saying no, according to Branch, which analyzes mobile app growth. People are giving apps permission to track their behavior just 25% of the time, Branch found, severing a data pipeline that has powered the targeted advertising industry for years.

“It’s been pretty devastating for I would say the majority of advertisers,” said Eric Seufert, a mobile analyst who writes the Mobile Dev Memo trade blog. “The big question is: Are we seeing just short-term volatility where we can expect a move back to the mean, or is this a new normal?”

Facebook advertisers, in particular, have noticed an impact in the last month. Media buyers who run Facebook ad campaigns on behalf of clients said Facebook is no longer able to reliably see how many sales its clients are making, so it’s harder to figure out which Facebook ads are working. Losing this data also impacts Facebook’s ability to show a business’s products to potential new customers. It also makes it more difficult to “re-target” people with ads that show users items they have looked at online, but may not have purchased.

A Facebook spokesman declined to share what percentage of its users have accepted the company’s tracking prompt, but roughly 75% of the world’s iPhone users have downloaded the newest operating system, according to Branch. Seufert estimated that in the first full quarter users see the prompt, the iOS changes could cut Facebook’s revenue by 7% if roughly 20% of users agree to be tracked. If just 10% of users grant Facebook tracking permission, revenue could be down as much as 13.6%, according to his models. The first full quarter with the prompt is the third quarter. Facebook reports second quarter earnings at the end of July.

«

Well, we know what to look for now, don’t we?
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Microsoft reveals $31 per user per month price tag of one of the coming Windows 365 SKUs • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

»

Windows 365 will be available in Business and Enterprise flavors, Microsoft officials said this week. Derek Gabriel (@dsghi on Twitter) shared a screen capture of one of the Windows 365 Business SKUs that showed it would cost $31 per user per month. This is for the 2vCPU, 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage version for customers with up to 300 users. This particular SKU supports the desktop versions of Office apps, Outlook and OneDrive; the desktop version of Microsoft Teams; Visual Studio, Power BI and Dynamics 365; and to access and manage Cloud PC virtually.

I asked Microsoft to confirm that this $31 per user per month Windows 365 SKU is in its line-up. No word back so far. 

Update: Yep, the pricing is correct. “This is pricing for just one SKU. We have many more options, both in terms of configurations and price points, to share when the product becomes generally available on August 2,” a company spokesperson confirmed.

Microsoft officials haven’t yet said how many Windows 365 SKUs they plan to offer. They did publish yesterday a chart showing how they plan to target the coming SKUs, which will range from 1vCPU/2GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage for users with simple needs like frontline workers, call center users, education/training and CRM access — to 8 vCPU, 32 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage for software developers, engineers, content creators and designers.

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So that’s not going to be cheap. Certainly fulfils Microsoft’s long-held dream of turning Windows into a subscription product, though.
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Emojis finally have a voice: introducing Soundmojis on Facebook Messenger • Messenger News

Loredana Crisan is VP of messaging products at FB Messenger (which Facebook just calls “Messenger”):

»

Every day, people send more than 2.4 billion messages with emojis on Messenger. Emojis add color and vibrancy to Messenger chats all over the world, and we rely on them to say what words can’t. Now imagine if your emojis could talk, what sound would they make? Introducing Messenger’s latest expression tool: Soundmojis. Your chats just got a whole lot louder, just in time for World Emoji Day on July 17!

So, what is a Soundmoji? It’s a next-level emoji that lets you send short sound clips in a Messenger chat, ranging from clapping , crickets ,drumroll , and evil laughter , to audio clips from your favorite artists like Rebecca Black and your favorite TV shows and movies like Universal Pictures’ F9, NBC and Universal Television’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Netflix and Shondaland’s Bridgerton. “Ah, the drama of it all.”

To check out Soundmojis, head to your Messenger app, start a chat, tap the smiley face to open the expressions menu and select the loudspeaker icon. From there, you can preview and send your favorite Soundmojis again and again. 

We’re launching an entire Soundmoji library for you to choose from, which we’ll update regularly with new sound effects and famous sound bites. Each sound is represented by an emoji, keeping the visual emojis we all love in play, while bringing sound into the mix. Best of both worlds! 

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OK, so you have to turn it on. It would have been awful if it were the default. But like this, it could be a useful assistive technology for those with visual problems.
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Delta variant: everything you need to know • Uncharted Territories

Tomas Pueyo:

»

The original Coronavirus variant has an R0 of ~2.71. Alpha—the “English variant” that caused a spike around the world around Christmas—is about 60% more infectious. Now it appears that Delta is about 60% more transmissible yet again. Depending on which figure you use, it would put Delta’s R0 between 4 and 9, which could make it more contagious than smallpox. Just to give you a sense of the dramatic consequence of such an increase in R, this is what two months of growth get you with the previous transmission rate of 2.7 vs. with an R of 6:

This is why so many graphs of cases look like rockets these days. Delta is very contagious.

Apparently, somebody in Australia was infected by the Delta variant just by walking past an infected person, in a 5- to 10- second encounter. Although this is probably an outlier, and we shouldn’t be scared of walking past other people as a rule of thumb, it illustrates how much more transmissible Delta is.

So that’s about transmission rates. What about fatality rates? It looks like the risk of death is 2x higher for Delta than for the original variant:

(Source)

To put this in context, catching the original COVID approximately doubled your likelihood of death at any age. That means catching Delta approximately triples it.

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Pueyo wrote the original viral (ha) article about how exponential growth meant that everyone in power was underestimating how quickly Covid was going to overwhelm nations. And he explains why the idea that more infectious would mean less deadly was misinformed.
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“Roadrunner” review: the haunting afterlife of Anthony Bourdain in a new documentary • The New Yorker

Helen Rosner:

»

There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.”

In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

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Don’t worry, Twitter started the ethics panel as soon as the piece came out. The general sentiment seems to be that they don’t like it, or at least the undeclared nature of it.
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Worldwide foldable phone forecast, 2021–2025 • IDC

»

The worldwide foldable phone market will reach a total of 4.0m foldable phones in 2021, up 106.6% from the 1.9m units shipped in 2020. Total foldable shipments worldwide will reach 13.9m units by 2025, resulting in a CAGR of 48.1% for 2020–2025.

“The overall adoption of foldable devices continues to slowly grow despite the initial setback we witnessed with the first batch of foldables unveiled back in 2019, said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

“Foldable models continue to improve in terms of design, durability, and functionality. Although high ASPs will be a deterrent in the near term, the gradual decline in prices as more models come to market will be a key driver of growth for the entire category. Moreover, if Apple does join the foldable game, which we have currently not included in our forecast, it will undoubtedly bring increased excitement and mass awareness to the category in a way that only Apple can.”

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Maybe it’s just me, but 4m in more than a billion feels like the tiniest drop in the biggest ocean.
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• 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?

Order Social Warming, my new book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the Philip K Dick short story that I forgot to mention yesterday is War Game.

Start Up No.1593: Facebook’s data mess, avoiding verification scams, Windows in the cloud, TikTok hits 3bn downloads, and more


Photos show that Apple’s AirTags are quite small – but you really shouldn’t swallow them, as one YouTuber did (on purpose). CC-licensed photo by John Biehler 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside Facebook’s data wars • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

»

The question of what to do about CrowdTangle has vexed some of Facebook’s top executives for months, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former Facebook employees, as well as internal emails and posts.

These people, most of whom would speak only anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss internal conversations, said Facebook’s executives were more worried about fixing the perception that Facebook was amplifying harmful content than figuring out whether it actually was amplifying harmful content. Transparency, they said, ultimately took a back seat to image management.

…With only about 25,000 users, CrowdTangle is one of Facebook’s smallest products, but it has become a valuable resource for power users including global health organizations, election officials and digital marketers, and it has made Facebook look transparent compared with rival platforms like YouTube and TikTok, which don’t release nearly as much data.

But the mood shifted last year when I started a Twitter account called @FacebooksTop10, on which I posted a daily leaderboard showing the sources of the most-engaged link posts by U.S. pages, based on CrowdTangle data.

Last fall, the leaderboard was full of posts by Mr. Trump and pro-Trump media personalities. Since Mr. Trump was barred from Facebook in January, it has been dominated by a handful of right-wing polemicists like Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Bongino and Sean Hannity, with the occasional mainstream news article, cute animal story or K-pop fan blog sprinkled in.

…several executives — including John Hegeman, the head of Facebook’s news feed — were dispatched to argue with me on Twitter. These executives argued that my Top 10 lists were misleading. They said CrowdTangle measured only “engagement,” while the true measure of Facebook popularity would be based on “reach,” or the number of people who actually see a given post. (With the exception of video views, reach data isn’t public, and only Facebook employees and page owners have access to it.)

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Classic Facebook: worried about the perception, not the problem; insisting that actually public analysis is wrong, but refusing to release the data that would let people check its claims. We’re always asked to take Facebook on trust. But that has long since worn down to a nub. Plus: fantastic journalism by Roose.
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‘Red flags going off’: beware verification scams on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter • CNET

Queenie Wong:

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Almost every major platform offers verification in some form. Originally intended to authenticate accounts deemed to be of public interest, the badges have morphed into status symbols that give social media users bragging rights. That’s provided ample opportunity for scammers, who manipulate the emotions of aspiring but unsuspecting users pursuing careers as influencers or creators. 

Directing social media users to fake verification forms, as [fake TikTok verifier] Ceylan appears to have tried, is a tactic used to dupe people out of personal information and take over their accounts. Scammers will also slide into direct messages on Instagram and entice users with promises of verification. Variations of this scam have existed for years, but cybersecurity experts say they expect this scam to grow as people spend more time building their brand on social media.

Likewise, people who are verified typically have a large following, which can make them prime targets for scammers or hackers trying to reach a lot of people. In 2020, hackers hijacked the accounts of high-profile Twitter users such as celebrity Kim Kardashian and Joe Biden, who was running for US president at the time, and tempted gullible users with a phony promise to double any bitcoin sent to a specific cryptocurrency wallet.

Announcing that you just got verified on social media can also make you a target if you’re looking to get the blue badge on other social networks or if a hacker is trying to find an account with a large following.

Jon Clay, vice president of threat intelligence at Trend Micro, said the IT security company has seen verification scams in roughly 70 countries. “It’s just a lure that gives the criminals an opportunity to target these victims,” Clay said. 

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There are plenty of scams going on. Verification; and, as I wrote for Which? magazine, people who claim they can get your hacked account back. A little questioning demonstrated they had no idea at all.
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A new tool shows how Google results vary around the world • WIRED

Tom Simonite:

»

Search Atlas makes it easy to see how Google offers different responses to the same query on versions of its search engine offered in different parts of the world. The research project reveals how Google’s service can reflect or amplify cultural differences or government preferences—such as whether Beijing’s Tiananmen Square should be seen first as a sunny tourist attraction or the site of a lethal military crackdown on protesters.

Divergent results like that show how the idea of search engines as neutral is a myth, says Rodrigo Ochigame, a PhD student in science, technology, and society at MIT and cocreator of Search Atlas. “Any attempt to quantify relevance necessarily encodes moral and political priorities,” Ochigame says.

Ochigame built Search Atlas with Katherine Ye, a computer science PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University and a research fellow at the nonprofit Center for Arts, Design, and Social Research.

Just like Google’s homepage, the main feature of Search Atlas is a blank box. But instead of returning a single column of results, the site displays three lists of links, from different geographic versions of Google Search selected from the more than 100 the company offers. Search Atlas automatically translates a query to the default languages of each localized edition using Google Translate.

Ochigame and Ye say the design reveals “information borders” created by the way Google’s search technology ranks web pages, presenting different slices of reality to people in different locations or using different languages.

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Google has been offering different results to individuals since at least 2011. But across whole countries? Fascinating.
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Microsoft is bringing Windows to a web browser, and it will work on iPad and the Mac • 9to5Mac

Parker Ortolani:

»

Today, Microsoft unveiled a new service called Windows 365, and it makes it possible for users to run a full version of Windows in a web browser on any device. The new service is only available for businesses at first, but given Microsoft’s emphasis on cloud platforms, it is highly likely that it will become available for consumers at some point in the future. Microsoft is offering Windows 365 for businesses of all sizes, whether you are a one-person show or a giant organization. The best part? You can run Windows 365 on an iPad in addition to a Mac.

Like how Microsoft’s streaming Xbox service creates a virtual Xbox in the cloud, Windows 365 creates a virtual cloud PC. The cloud PCs you set up with Windows 365 can be completely personalized, just like a physical PC. You get to choose how much RAM and storage go into a virtual PC, as well. According to Microsoft’s website, you can configure a cloud PC with as much as 512GB and 16GB of RAM.

Windows 365 can stream an “instant-on boot experience” with full Windows applications on any device.

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Here’s the official Microsoft release. But hey, does it have Minesweeper? You need Windows 3.1 for that.

But everything’s going virtual, isn’t it? Games in the cloud, PCs in the cloud. And licences to pay for, of course.
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Surely we can do better than Elon Musk • Current Affairs

Nathan Robinson has really had it with Musk:

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one of the biggest Musk Myths is that he is a self-made entrepreneur, whose work shows what “private enterprise” can accomplish. Despite Musk’s contempt for regulations, Niedermeyer shows that Tesla was unable to survive in the free market, and only exists today thanks to a $350m Department of Energy loan that came at a crucial time.

A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2015 revealed that Musk’s empire was built on $4.9bn in government support. People were able to buy expensive Teslas, for instance, partly because the government paid them to buy electric cars in the form of tax credits. Travis County, Texas, “has offered a $14.7m (at minimum) tax break for the building of a Tesla factory” and “[a] Nevada factory was built on the promise of up to $1.3bn in tax benefits over two decades.” Now, with Joe Biden’s giant infrastructure bill set to give out $174bn more in electric vehicle investments, Musk is sure to receive a new windfall.

It’s good that the government stepped in to make electric cars more attractive. Supporting innovations that the market doesn’t find profitable is part of what the state is for. But the fact that Musk takes public money while presenting himself as the heroic libertarian opponent of stodgy government bureaucracy is maddening. So, too, is the fact that he, rather than the public, is the one who ends up getting rich. (Ah, but he told Bernie Sanders he is only “accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars.”)

…It is natural to desire a “fantastic future.” Personally, I’m sad that we no longer have World’s Fairs showcasing what we think humankind might accomplish in the next decades. Musk fandom arises in part because he is offering something resembling a path to clean energy and space exploration, both of which are appealing and important. But it’s a mirage, and following it will take us further in the direction of dystopia.

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Note that going over Musk’s faults does require a lot of words. (Via Benedict Evans)
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Twitter is shutting down Fleets, its expiring tweets feature • The Verge

Alex Heath:

»

Say goodbye to Fleets, the row of fullscreen tweets at the top of the Twitter timeline that expire after 24 hours. The ephemeral tweet format is shutting down due to low usage after launching widely just eight months ago.

Starting on August 3rd, users will instead just see active Spaces — Twitter’s live audio chat rooms — at the top of their timelines. And the composer for traditional tweets will be updated with more camera editing features from Fleets, like text-formatting and GIF stickers over photos.

Twitter’s decision to axe Fleets is not just an admission that the feature didn’t work but that the company still hasn’t figured out how to get people tweeting more. For years, Twitter has struggled to get new users to post regularly and not just consume other people’s tweets. Fleets was its shot at using Stories, the popular social media format invented by Snapchat and further popularized by Instagram, to lower the pressure around tweeting.

“We hoped Fleets would help more people feel comfortable joining the conversation on Twitter,” Ilya Brown, Twitter’s vice president of product, said in a statement. “But, in the time since we introduced Fleets to everyone, we haven’t seen an increase in the number of new people joining the conversation with Fleets like we hoped.”

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On the plus side, at least they have the awareness, and internal measurement and targets, to kill something that isn’t working. On the negative side, how did they ever think Snapchat-as-Twitter would work?
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Why TV is so bad at covering climate change • Gizmodo

Molly Halt used to work as a PR trying to get scientists booked on US cable news to talk about climate change:

»

Media Matters, which tracks how often TV networks cover climate change, reported earlier this year that nightly news and Sunday morning shows on ABC, CNN, NBC, and Fox covered climate change-related topics for just 112 total minutes in 2020. A lot of the absolutely shameful lack of coverage can, of course, be attributed to the intensity of last year, where we faced a global pandemic and a national reckoning over racial justice, not to mention the whole election and Republican attempt to undermine it thing. But even before 2020, TV networks weren’t doing so hot on climate: Media Matters reported that 2019 was one of the biggest years of coverage, when evening and Sunday morning shows covered climate 68% more than they had the year before, increasing their coverage to… a whopping 238 minutes for the entire year.

I wanted to better understand both my own experience and how the sausage is made when it comes to climate segments on big cable shows. I reached out to a producer at a big cable TV show for some insights. (They asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely with us.)

The producer explained that daily segments on their show are usually pitched at the beginning of the workday or the night before by producers; the executive producers will usually sign off on a topic and ask the booking producers to reach out to possible guests. But, they explained, there’s always room for “breaking news” to take precedent over a carefully planned climate segment.

“When breaking news happens, that often leads to at least one originally-planned segment getting killed — which can happen a lot to climate segments that aren’t the most pressing topic of the day,” the producer told me over text message.

The producer said that TV journalists, in their estimation, “are far more concerned with climate change today than they were a few years ago,” but there’s still a limit to how much that interest manifests on air.

“I’d say way more stories are pitched than make it on the air,” they wrote. “That applies to every topic, since there’s only so much that can go in a show. But I do think there are far more climate stories that are pitched and then never make air, compared to something more pressing like gun violence or police reform — which are just as important to cover — or the latest outrage segment over something happening in the White House or Congress.”

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More pressing than the continuing existence of the species. Has evolution just given up on us?
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TikTok becomes the first non-Facebook mobile app to reach 3 billion downloads globally • Sensor Tower

Stephanie Chan:

»

In Q2 2021, TikTok saw its greatest quarter-over-quarter growth in consumer spending since Q2 2020, climbing 39% to $534.6m from $384.7m in the previous quarter. TikTok’s adoption has also accelerated in 2021, as first-time downloads climbed 2% Q/Q to 177.5 million in Q1 2021, and surged 16% Q/Q to 205.4 million Q2 2021, the most growth the app has seen since its record-breaking Q1 2020 when it accumulated more than 315 million installs, the most any app has seen in a single quarter.

With the 3 billion install milestone, TikTok is the fifth non-game app to join a tier that’s historically been the exclusive domain of Facebook. The four other apps that have accrued more than 3 billion installs since January 2014 include WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram.

Consumer spending in TikTok has now surpassed $2.5bn globally. Only 16 non-game apps have seen more than $1bn in gross revenue since January 2014—five of which, now including TikTok, have reached more than $2.5bn. The other apps that have generated more than $2.5bn in consumer spending include Tinder, Netflix, YouTube, and Tencent Video.

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Impressive. And don’t forget it’s a Chinese-owned app with an algorithm that we don’t understand. (Not unlike Facebook and YouTube, but I’m always mindful of the Philip K Dick short story.) Anyway, I’m sure Clubhouse is going to take over the 3bn mantle very soon.
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Idiot YouTuber swallows AirTag wrapped in condom • Macworld

Simon Lohmann:

»

Just like toxic detergent capsules, swallowing an AirTag brings not only a risk of suffocation, because the quite large piece of plastic can clog the trachea, but is dangerous due to the button battery. Battery acid in the stomach is unpleasant, which is why Apple has subsequently attached corresponding warnings to the AirTag packaging after complaints from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that AirTags should be kept out of the reach of children.

Despite this a group of German YouTubers, who at the time of writing had just 127 subscribers, decided to film one of their number – a young man – swallowing an AirTag. This is described by them as “high-quality” entertainment, provided you like to watch someone swallow a condom soaked in an olive oil and containing an AirTag. But hey, at least in 4K resolution, the quality standard has been met.

As far as entertainment claim is concerned, the first six minutes before swallowing are more entertaining than the AirTag swallow challenge itself. One of the YOuTubers describes how durable the condom is, claiming that he: “Recently saw a video on Instagram where they cut a cucumber inside a condom, and the condom remained intact”. Anyone who has watched the Netflix series “Narcos” knows: If even Pablo Escobar could smuggle a little cocaine to Miami with the same method, then an AirTag will probably not do much damage.

The individual who swallowed the AirTag do so without suffocating, and was congratulated by his colleagues.

So what happens when you swallow an AirTag? Does it still work? Unless the video is a fake, the AirTag does not seem to work inside a person, a signal could not be located after swallowing. This suggests that water can interfere with WLAN and Bluetooth signals.

When our colleagues on Macwelt wrote this story the video had 252 views.

Because we don’t want anyone to imitate this video we aren’t posting it here.

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Sensible. I guess it’s better to test it on humans than animals.
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On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’ • Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings, writing in January 2017 to explain why Vote Leave won the Brexit referendum:

»

Most of the MPs we dealt with were not highly motivated to win and lacked extreme focus, even those who had been boring everybody about this for decades. They sort of wanted to win but they had other priorities. They were very happy having dinner parties and gossiping. They were very happy coming to meetings with people they thought were important. This wasted enormous amounts of time as we had to create a string of Potemkin committees for people to attend while the core team actually did the campaign, then reinvent them as people became convinced that there were other secret meetings that they were being excluded from. They were very happy to be on the Today Programme. But they didn’t want to win that much. Not enough to work weekends. Not enough to stop having all their usual skiing holidays and winter beach holidays. Not enough to get out on the streets day after day.  Not enough to miss a great shooting weekend. Not enough, most of them, to risk annoying a Prime Minister who they thought would still control their next job after 23 June.

This lack of motivation is connected to another important psychology – the willingness to fail conventionally. Most people in politics are, whether they know it or not, much more comfortable with failing conventionally than risking the social stigma of behaving unconventionally. They did not mind losing so much as being embarrassed, as standing out from the crowd. (The same phenomenon explains why the vast majority of active fund management destroys wealth and nobody learns from this fact repeated every year.)

…Pundits who wrongly hailed Cameron as a genius after the 2015 election now wrongly describe him as a bumbling oaf. He was neither – he was the best of a bad bunch picked pseudo-randomly in a broken system and out of his depth. 600,000 votes either way does not make one set of people geniuses and another set of people morons. Geniuses in politics are rarer than in maths and physics and nobody involved in the referendum on either side is remotely close to one. Some of those who worked on the IN side were much more able than many on the winning side. It does not make sense to label people on the IN side idiots because of errors made by Cameron, Osborne, Llewellyn, and Oliver.

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This is novella-length, but fascinating (as much for the many, many personal scores settled). His argument about tiny changes making big differences is worth considering in depth.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified


At a loose end? You could buy Social Warming, my latest book, about why social networks are driving us all a little mad.


Start Up No.1592: the trouble with hygiene theatre, tracking ransomware demands, how gas generators gouged Texas, and more


The film of Starship Troopers typified the modern celebration of honed bodies – with absolutely zero sex. What happened to the lust of previous years? CC-licensed photo by Chris 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 11 links for you. Sorry, we can’t get OS/2 to run on your iPad. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Still advertising
Social Warming, my latest book. Outrage, amplification and indifference: the dangerous loop of social warming on social media.


Hygiene theatre: how excessive cleaning gives us a false sense of Covid security • The Guardian

Sirin Kale:

»

Even at the government press conference announcing the relaxation of restrictions on 5 July, the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, talked about handwashing, but not ventilation. “One of the problems we had from the beginning, that was critical at the time and actually still is critical, is senior people did not understand well enough the problem of … it being airborne,” said the former government aide Dominic Cummings in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it excerpt from his marathon select committee appearance in May.

How to explain this continued misapprehension? “Shakespeare puts it well,” says Dr Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers. “What is done cannot be undone. There was a great preoccupation with fomite [surface] transmission at the beginning of the pandemic. And that stuck.” Goldman was a leading voice challenging hygiene theatre throughout the pandemic. In July 2020, he wrote a sharp commentary for the Lancet Infectious Diseases, calling into question the then-received wisdom that Covid-19 could be transmitted by infected surfaces. “When the pandemic started,” he says, “my mother-in-law, who lives with us, was saying that we needed to wash the groceries and disinfect the mail. As a scientist, it seemed extreme, so I decided to look at the literature. And when I did, I was horrified to see that the basis for those interventions was very weak.”

Since then, Goldman has campaigned for an end to hygiene theatre, publishing in medical journals and reviewing the academic literature on fomite transmission. “The battle continues,” he says, telling me that the WHO continues to overemphasise the risk of Covid-19 transmission from contaminated surfaces. In the UK, a similar role has been played by the “fresh air” campaign, run by a group of frontline NHS workers arguing for greater recognition of the dangers of airborne Covid transmission in hospital settings, and better masks for NHS staff.

Many would argue that hygiene theatre is benign. Public toilets are cleaner than they have ever been. “One legacy of the pandemic is that general hygiene levels will increase,” says Dr Eilir Hughes of the NHS fresh air campaign. “I don’t like security theatre when it’s expensive,” says Schneier, “and the government is making the taxpayer pay for it. But if it’s someone wiping down their groceries because it makes them feel better, go to town.”

«

Trouble is, as Kale makes clear, everyone obsesses over “clean” and doesn’t thing about “aired”.
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Gas sellers reaped $11bn windfall during Texas freeze • Bloomberg

Kevin Crowley, Naureen S Malik, and Mark Chediak:

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The US has the most interconnected gas network in the world. Interstate pipelines are federally regulated, have transparent pricing and customers can view physical flows at multiple points. By contrast, intrastate pipelines have long been a black box to customers in Texas. They have no public price disclosures, and are only lightly regulated by Craddick’s Railroad Commission.

Usually, given how cheap gas is, this isn’t a problem. But during the Texas freeze, the market went haywire. One power executive described finding gas at a major hub trading at about $50 per million British thermal units. But once marketers charged delivery costs through the intrastate pipeline, the total price ended up six times higher. Another executive described how gas put into storage at $2 to $3 per million British thermal units was being offered for sale in the $200 to $300 range.

Furthermore, intrastate pipeline operators are not required to publish physical flows, putting customers at a massive disadvantage when it came to setting prices.

“If you’re producing half as much gas as normal but selling at 70 to 100 times the price, then that math is working for you,” said one executive who declined to be named. “You just had the greatest week in the history of the gas market.”

CPS Energy, the biggest utility in San Antonio, was blunt in its assessment.

“Egregious natural price gouging,” CEO Paula Gold-Williams said of Energy Transfer, the biggest winner to date. CPS claims the pipeline operator generated two years’ worth of profits in the first quarter of 2021 and is suing to reclaim some of the $1bn it lost during the storm.

«

They pulled the gas supplies offline ahead of the storm – then began making them available at hugely inflated prices, reaping $11bn. Yet the Texas governor Greg Abbott still thinks the people who need incentives are the gas generators (and nuclear generators – at least there’s some sense). We’re now at the stage where the US’s rickety structures are starting to create havoc again and again.
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Digital Inception: here’s how to run Android, Chrome OS, and Windows on your Mac • 9to5Mac

Parker Ortolani:

»

Lots of folks like to think of the Mac as just another product in Apple’s precious walled garden, but many don’t know that you can actually run virtually any operating system on a Mac with a little bit of work. It’s fairly easy to get the three biggest platforms that aren’t made by Apple up and running on a Mac, even at the same time. Here’s how to do it.

«

Provided as a followup for all those who have put Windows 3.1 on their iPads. (And, if you’re stymied doing that by lack of floppy disks, David Gerard points out that you can get the files from the Internet Archive. Of course!)
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Ransomwhere

Jack Cable:

»

Why track ransomware payments?
Transparency is crucially needed in assessing the spread of ransomware and the efficacy of mitigations. Fortunately, due to the transparent nature of Bitcoin, it’s easy to track payments with knowledge of receipt addresses. By crowdsourcing ransomware payment addresses, we hope to provide an open resource for the security community and the public.

How complete is the data?
As Ransomwhere is new, we are still working on building out our dataset. Reports have placed total ransomware revenue in 2020 at up to $350 million.

Can’t someone fake a report?
While it’s impossible to verify with complete certainty that a report is accurate, we aim to utilize the wisdom of the crowds to prevent abuse. All reports are required to include a screenshot of the ransomware payment demand, and will be reviewed before being displayed. Addresses with more than one report from different sources will be given priority, and all elements of all reports will be publicly available. We will remove reports if we believe they are untruthful.

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The data feels like it’s probably not comprehensive; for the past week, the amount demanded is miniscule. The idea of at least gathering the addresses of the bitcoin wallets in one place is a good one, though.
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Everyone is beautiful and no one is horny • Blood Knife

Raquel Benedict:

»

When Paul Verhoeven adapted Starship Troopers in the late 1990s, did he know he was predicting the future? The endless desert war, the ubiquity of military propaganda, a cheerful face shouting victory as more and more bodies pile up?

But the scene that left perhaps the greatest impact on the minds of Nineties kids—and the scene that anticipated our current cinematic age the best—does not feature bugs or guns. It is, of course, the shower scene, in which our heroic servicemen and -women enjoy a communal grooming ritual.

On the surface, it is idyllic: racial harmony, gender equality, unity behind a common goal—and firm, perky asses and tits.

And then the characters speak. The topic of conversation? Military service, of course. One joined for the sake of her political career. Another joined in the hopes of receiving her breeding license. Another talks about how badly he wants to kill the enemy. No one looks at each other. No one flirts.

A room full of beautiful, bare bodies, and everyone is only horny for war.

«

This is an amazing essay. Nothing to do with technology at all. Unless we include the steroids that actors bulking up for, um, superhero films use.
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What to know about the drought in California and the western half of US • The New York Times

Henry Fountain:

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How bad is the current drought in the West?

It’s very bad, both in terms of the size of the affected area and the severity. The latest map from the drought monitor shows that 90% of what it considers the West — California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana — is in drought. Conditions are “severe” or “exceptional” in about half of the region. Colorado, Wyoming, Southwestern Texas and North and South Dakota are also affected.

But maps tell only part of the story. The drought is having enormous effects throughout the West, where the demand for water has increased greatly over decades as the population has grown.

In New Mexico, farmers along the Rio Grande were urged not to plant this year. Crop failures have been reported in Colorado and other farming areas. The level of Lake Mead, the huge reservoir on the Colorado River, is so low that Arizona, Nevada and other states will likely face cutbacks in supplies. In North Dakota, ranchers are trucking water and supplemental feed for their livestock because the rangelands are so dry and the vegetation is stunted.

Conditions are especially dire in California. Reservoirs in the state hold about half as much water as usual for this time of year. The federal government has cut water allocations from its huge Central Valley Project to California cities and farmers by 75%. And on the Oregon border, there is not enough water for both endangered fish and farmers.

Wildfires of a size normally seen in summers have already occurred in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Experts are concerned that this summer’s wildfires will be severe and widespread.

«

Yes, the writer on this topic of drastic drought really is called Henry Fountain. He’s a specialist in climate change and its impacts.
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A single sign-on and digital identity solution for government • Government Digital Service

Martyn Taylor is director of digital identity at the UK Government Digital Service:

»

There is now a clear consensus – with strong Ministerial support across government – that it’s time services are offered a better solution, and people enjoy an easier, more joined-up experience. In March, Minister Lopez set out a vision for “one login for government” and a key action from the recent ‘Declaration on Government Reform’ policy paper was to “launch a single sign-on for online government services”. Meanwhile, the GDS strategy sets out our intention to “create a single sign-on” and “a simple digital identity solution that works for everyone”.

We’re now working with colleagues across government to develop one simple, secure way for people to sign in and prove who they are. We are focused on reusing the deep expertise we have in government today, not on re-inventing the wheel. We’re also working with colleagues across government on a roadmap for migrating existing systems to the new solutions.

Building a solution flexible enough to meet the needs of different services and their users requires a cross-government effort. So, we have adopted a collaborative approach and are already working with and learning from experts from more than 30 service teams within central departments – but we’d like to work with more.

«

The GDS did try a single sign-on (SSO) back in 2014, with its Verify project, so this really is reinventing the wheel. Or perhaps giving it a better axle, or spokes, or whatever. Verify was very clunky, requiring credit reference agency support, and didn’t feel like it would scale. Better luck this time, perhaps.
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PC market growth slows amid global chip shortages • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

The PC market is showing early signs of its growth slowing down, after an impressive run of shipments throughout 2020. Both IDC and Gartner conclude that growth in the second quarter of PC shipments has slowed this year. Demand for new PCs is still above what we saw before the pandemic hit, but a mixture of softer demand and the effects of the global chip shortage mean it’s not growing as quickly.

“The market faces mixed signals as far as demand is concerned,” says Neha Mahajan, a senior research analyst at IDC. “With businesses opening back up, demand potential in the commercial segment appears promising. However, there are also early indicators of consumer demand slowing down as people shift spending priorities after nearly a year of aggressive PC buying.”

IDC says more than 83 million PCs were shipped in the second quarter of 2021, while Gartner’s own figure is more than 71 million. Gartner does not include Chromebook shipments in its results, but the research firm says “Chromebook shipments were once again strong in the second quarter of 2021.” Either way, both firms agree that year-over-year growth in this latest quarter wasn’t as strong as 2020’s sudden growth.

That doesn’t mean PC sales are about to suddenly plummet, but the first big growth we saw in a decade could be starting to wane.

«

Then again, Windows 11 is on the way later this year, and tons of machines can’t run it. (They can still run Windows 10, of course, so you might wonder about the necessity of upgrading.)
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Humanoid robot keeps getting fired from his jobs • WSJ

Miho Inada:

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Having a robot read scripture to mourners seemed like a cost-effective idea to the people at Nissei Eco Co., a plastics manufacturer with a sideline in the funeral business.

The company hired child-sized robot Pepper, clothed it in the vestments of Buddhist clergy and programmed it to chant several sutras, or Buddhist scriptures, depending on the sect of the deceased.

Alas, the robot, made by SoftBank Group Corp., kept breaking down during practice runs. “What if it refused to operate in the middle of a ceremony?” said funeral-business manager Osamu Funaki. “It would be such a disaster.”

Pepper was fired. The company ended its lease of the robot and sent it back to the manufacturer. After a rash of similar mishaps across Japan, in which Pepper botched its job at a nursing home and gave baseball fans a creepy feeling, some people are saying the humanoid itself will need a funeral soon.

“Because it has the shape of a person, people expect the intelligence of a human,” said Takayuki Furuta, head of the Future Robotics Technology Center at Chiba Institute of Technology, which wasn’t involved in Pepper’s development. “The level of the technology completely falls short of that. It’s like the difference between a toy car and an actual car.”

…In 2016, a Tokyo-area nursing-home operator called Ittokai introduced three units of Pepper, each at a cost of around $900 a month, to lead singing and exercises for elderly people at the home.

“Users got excited to have it early on because of its novelty,” said Masataka Iida, an executive at the company. “But they lost interest sooner than expected.” Mr. Iida said Pepper’s repertoire of exercise moves was limited and, owing to mechanical errors, it sometimes took unplanned breaks in the middle of its shift. After three years, the company pulled the plug.

«

Some vague hope for humans, then?
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Social media restricted in Cuba amid widening anti-government protests • NetBlocks

»

Network data from NetBlocks confirm partial disruption to social media and messaging platforms in Cuba from 12 July 2021. The targeted restrictions are likely to limit the flow of information from Cuba following widespread protests on Sunday as thousands rallied against the socialist government and rising protests. The restrictions are ongoing as of Tuesday the 13th midmorning local time.

NetBlocks metrics show that communications platforms WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and as well as some Telegram servers are disrupted on government-owned ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. / AS27725) including Cubacel, the cellular network operated by Cuba’s sole telecommunications company. Findings corroborate user reports of disruptions to the services.

NetBlocks internet performance metrics from 50 observation points from 12 July 2021 confirm that the listed online platform backend and frontend servers have become partially or fully unavailable on fixed and cellular lines in Cuba, corroborating widespread user reports.

VPN services, which can work around internet censorship, remain effective for many users at the time of writing.

Work is ongoing to to review the nature of legal frameworks relating to the targeted restriction of service during the time in question. NetBlocks identified a similar pattern of social media restrictions during the San Isidro protests for artistic freedom in Havana in November 2020.

«

We saw this before in the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, and that didn’t end well for those in charge. But Cuba may be different.
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Apple’s digital car key feature will soon work with your iPhone in your pocket • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

The Car Connectivity Consortium today announced that its Digital Key 3.0 specification with support for Ultra Wideband and Bluetooth LE connectivity is finalized and now available to members, including Apple.

In 2020, Apple introduced a digital car key feature that allows users to unlock and start a compatible vehicle by holding an iPhone or Apple Watch near the driver-side door. The feature is powered by the NFC-based Digital Key 2.0 specification, and once Apple moves to Digital Key 3.0, users will be able to unlock and start a compatible vehicle without needing to take their iPhone out of their pocket or bag.

The improved Ultra Wideband version of Apple’s car key feature would require devices with the U1 chip like iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 models.

Digital Key 3.0 also improves security, as Ultra Wideband’s precise location awareness is said to prevent relay attacks, where the radio signal between the iPhone and vehicle is jammed or intercepted by another party. NFC support is maintained to ensure backward compatibility and, in Apple’s case, the ability to use the car key feature to unlock a vehicle for up to five hours after an iPhone has run out of battery power.

Similar to credit cards and boarding passes, digital car keys are stored in the Wallet app on an iPhone or Apple Watch running iOS 13.6 or watchOS 6.2.8 or newer. So far, the feature is only compatible with select BMW models manufactured since July 2020, but a Korean report claimed that Hyundai plans to start offering the feature later this year.

«

I did see a criticism of this which said: “Now all you need to do is mug someone for their iPhone and you can steal their car!” But of course if you mug them and steal their car keys, same difference.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: if you don’t have access to Windows 3.1 disks, see the item above about installing Android on your Mac.

Start Up No.1591: social media abusers miss penalty, Google’s Pichai interviewed, Binance under scrutiny, Intel’s lost plan, and more


You can get Windows 3.1 running on an iPad if you can get your hands on the floppies… or the files they contained. CC-licensed photo by Per-Olof Forsberg 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. OK, contains some football. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


All that football abuse? You’d understand why it happens when you read Social Warming, my latest book.
(If you’ve already read it, please leave a review at that link!)


England players suffer racist abuse and threats on neo-Nazi Telegram channels • Vice

David Gilbert:

»

Three England soccer players have been targeted with racist abuse after missing penalties in Sunday night’s Euro 2020 final, including direct threats to their safety, in far-right and neo-Nazi channels.

Racist abuse flooded mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram within seconds of the game ending on Sunday night, but more serious threats against Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were made on alternative platforms like Telegram, in channels populated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

The abuse has been coming from channels based in the U.S. as well as those in the U.K., and groups typically focused on QAnon and COVID conspiracies have also been sharing memes and racist slurs.

Telegram’s hands-off approach to moderation has allowed these racist slurs and threats to spread unchecked, Ciarán O’Connor, an analyst who tracks extremists at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told VICE News.

“The three players have been singled out and subjected to explicit racial abuse—potentially more extremist in tone than other platforms given Telegram’s negligent hands-off approach to content moderation that gives extremist and racist channels a safe space to promote this hate,” O’Connor said. “These same channels have also used the result as a means to criticise diversity and blame it for England’s loss.”

One of the most widespread racist narratives being shared in these channels is that Sunday night’s game is supposed proof that diversity is a failed exercise—and a mocking of the notion that while the English team is viewed by many as a model for diversity and unity, that’s what let them down in the end.

“They are celebrating the victory of ‘white’ Italy against diverse England,” O’Connor said.  “One channel has repeatedly posted ‘racial purity wins’ over and over, and others have shared these sentiments.”

«

Ryan Mac, who is about to join the NY Times from Buzzfeed, had a thread about the anger inside Facebook. There was clearly no thought of what might happen. But of course it’s a perfect example of social warming: the amplification through social networks of underlying behaviours, and indifference to moderation.
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Google boss Sundar Pichai warns of threats to internet freedom • BBC News

Amol Rajan did a big interview with Sundar Pichai, and pulls out some of the stronger points. This is what those who watch Google told him:

»

The tech evangelists are united on a few points.

First, Google is now a more cautious company than it has ever been (Google would of course dispute this, and others would say it would be a good thing if true).

Second, Google has a bunch of “Me-Too” products rather than original ideas; in the sense that it sees other people make great inventions, and then it unleashes its engineers to improve them.

Third, a lot of Pichai’s big bets have failed: Google Glass, Google Plus, Google Wave, Project Loon. Google could reasonably retort that there is value in experimentation and failure. And that this rather conflicts with the first point above.

Fourth, that Google’s ambition to solve humanity’s biggest problems is waning. With the biggest concentration of computer science PhDs in the world in one tiny strip of land south of San Francisco, goes this argument, shouldn’t Google be reversing climate change, or solving cancer? I find this criticism hard to reconcile with Pichai’s record, but it is common.

Finally, that he deserves tremendous sympathy, because managing a staff as big, recalcitrant, demanding and idealistic as Google’s in an era of culture wars is essentially impossible. These days Google is quite frequently in the news because of staff walkouts over diversity or pay; or because key people have left over controversial issues around identity.

With more than 100,000 staff, many of them hugely opinionated on internal message boards, and activist in nature, this is just impossible to control. There is a tension between Google genuinely embracing cognitive diversity by having people of all persuasions among its global staff, and at the same time really standing up for particular issues as a company.

«

The audio of the interview is frustrating, as of course you’d expect, because Pichai glides past so much. What of the complaints that it uses its monopoly? “We design our products to be pro-competitive.” There’s no followup. But that needs to be followed up, in detail. You need some sort of proper inquisition.
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Tesla’s $16,000 quote for a $700 fix is why right to repair matters • The Drive

Rob Stumpf:

»

One Tesla Model 3 leasee discovered this first-hand after hitting road debris and damaging his battery pack. After taking his vehicle to a Tesla service center, he was handed an estimate for more than $16,000 to replace said pack. After seeking an alternative solution online, the owner reached out to Rich Benoit and the team at Electrified Garage who got him on the road again for just $700.

The problem started after the rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3 struck some road debris which damaged the electric vehicle’s cooling system. Underneath the car, a coolant line runs sideways along the tunnel where the front drive unit would normally sit and attaches to a nipple located on the battery pack. The debris struck the part and cracked the flange, resulting in coolant leaking from the battery pack.

After the vehicle was towed to a Tesla service center and inspected, the driver was told that he would need a completely new pack since the cracked part was molded into the existing one’s outer shell. And because a Model 3’s pack isn’t serviceable at a standard Tesla service center, it can only be swapped out for another unit rather than be repaired.

To make matters worse, the owner’s insurance policy didn’t cover comprehensive claims from road debris, meaning he would be on his own to foot the five-figure repair bill.

«

The fix is amazingly straightforward (once diagnosed), and makes me think there will still be work for auto mechanics even once EVs are everywhere. Also lol at the story’s comment: “Normally, this is where we would ask Tesla about this, but since it dissolved its public relations department, there’s nobody to officially comment.”
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How to install Windows 3.1 on an iPad • How To Geek

Benj Edwards:

»

To run Windows 3.1 on your iPad, you’ll need to buy an app called iDOS 2 that’s available in the App Store. Currently, it costs $4.99, which seems like a bargain considering what it can do.

iDOS has a spotty history on the App Store. Way back in 2010, Apple pulled an earlier version of the app because it allowed people to run unapproved code loaded through iTunes. Last year, its author updated the app to pull DOS files from iCloud or the Files app, and Apple approved it. So far, it’s still listed, so let’s hope that it sticks.

After purchasing and installing iDOS 2 on your iPad, run it once to make sure that it creates whatever folders it needs to work in your Files app. It will create an “iDOS” folder in your “On My iPad” area in Files. That’s important.

Before diving into the Windows setup process below, you might want to familiarize yourself with how iDOS works. In a vertical orientation, you’ll see a window near the top of the screen that includes the video output of the emulated MS-DOS machine. Below that, you’ll see a toolbar that lets you load disk images (if you tap the floppy drive), check the DOSBox emulation speed (a black box with green numbers), and take a screenshot or change Settings (by tapping the power button).

At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find an onscreen keyboard that lets you type whatever you want into the MS-DOS machine. If you flip your iPad horizontally, the MS-DOS display area will take over the screen, and you can pull up a toolbar that lets you access the keyboard, mouse, and gamepad options at any time by tapping the top center of the screen.

«

This is so utterly mad. Getting Windows 3.1 on it requires having copies of the original disks (or maybe “finding” a copy of the install disks online) and getting them onto the iPad. It’s barmy. Though Steve Sinofsky, ex-Microsoft, has managed to get a version of Office to run.

I wonder how quickly it runs compared to the PCs of the time, though. Also – hey! – it’s Windows running on ARM.
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Pixelhunter — 🧠 AI-powered image resizer for social media

»

Cropping each and every image by hand can be tiresome. Pixelhunter utilizes amazing Uploadcare Intelligence API to recognize objects and crop pictures automatically, in a smarter way.

Just upload your image of any size and it will be automatically resized to each and every of 102 sizes we support. AI is there to ensure that your image is resized in the best way that a robot can do.

Other than that, Pixelhunter features real pro-tips that are there to actually help you and not just to fill up the space.

«

Useful, I guess, though don’t they mostly do the cropping for you? But this has Upload Intelligence API. How can you turn that down?
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Binance froze when Bitcoin crashed. Now users want their money back • WSJ

Patricia Kowsmann and Caitlin Ostroff:

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Anand Singhal built up $50,000 in savings from the time he was 13 doing freelance coding from his bedroom in New Delhi. It was meant to pay for a dream—a master’s degree in computer science in the US. The money disappeared in seven minutes on May 19.

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, froze for over an hour just as the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies plunged. Mr. Singhal and others, who had made leveraged bets on their rise, were locked out.

As losses steepened, the exchange seized their margin collateral and liquidated their holdings. Mr. Singhal said he lost his $50,000 plus $24,000 he had made in previous trades.

Binance traders around the world have been trying to get their money back. But unlike a more traditional investment platform, Binance is largely unregulated and has no headquarters, making it difficult, the traders say, to figure out whom to petition.

Mr. Singhal has joined a group of about 700 traders who are working with a lawyer in France to recoup their losses. In Italy, another group is petitioning Binance over the same issue. Lawyers representing the Italy group sent a letter to 11 Binance addresses they could find in Europe, and an email to the help desk.

A Binance spokesman said extreme market volatility, like on May 19, can create technical bottlenecks for it and other exchanges.

«

Binance is going to continue to be in the news. Not in a good way.
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Crypto scams, rug pulls, bitcoin hacks: billions lost when shitcoins go to zero • Bloomberg

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Charlie Wells:

»

Listen to The Money Chant of the Wolves of Crypto.

You remember The Money Chant: Matthew McConaughey thumping his chest, talking fools and money before — sniff! — a little lunchtime “tootski.”

Titan Maxamus has been there. Well, not there, in a “Wolf of Wall Street”-style boiler room. There on the other side — as the mark. Titan Maxamus knows the game. All the brazenly cynical players do. In Scorsese’s cinematic bender of sex, drugs and stocks, it’s called the pump and dump. In today’s cryptocurrencies, it’s known as the rug pull.

Maxamus thinks he got rug-pulled the other month in some sketchy digital token called — wait for it — Safe Heaven. Like countless dreamers in today’s memeified markets, he’s been gambling $50 here, $100 there on what are known as shitcoins, obscure digital something-or-others being minted by the thousands. This stuff makes Bitcoin look good as gold.

One moment, Safe Heaven was flying. The next, it was crashing. Maxamus (that’s his online persona. His real name is Glenn Titus), can’t prove anything. But he suspects what, in retrospect, seems forehead-slappingly obvious: some small-time hustler created Safe Heaven with a few deft keystrokes, hyped the hell out of it — and promptly cashed out. Telegram, a popular instant messaging app that’s become a major crypto boiler room, immediately fell silent. The Safe Heaven Telegram group, once thronging with rocket emojis and Elon Musk GIFs, was deleted. The Safe Heaven Twitter account hasn’t been updated since May 28.

“Everybody I know has gotten rug-pulled,” says Titus, a 38-year-old butcher in Salem, Oregon. “You know, you win some, you lose some. Hopefully, win more than lose.”

It might sound like a joke, given the crypto meltdowns of late, but serious money is at stake here. Billions — real billions — are getting pilfered annually through a variety of cryptocurrency scams. The way things are going, this will only get worse.

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The attraction of cryptoassets to that generation is they’re much easier to get into than property – and offer the possibility of making enough profit to get their hands on something real (such as property). On that basis, you’d tolerate a lot.
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How Intel financialized and lost leadership in semiconductor fabrication • Institute for New Economic Thinking

William Lazonick and Matt Hopkins:

»

Why has Intel fallen behind TSMC and SEC in semiconductor fabrication, and why is it unlikely to catch up? The problem is that Intel is engaged in two types of competition, one with companies like TSMC and SEC in cutting-edge fabrication technology and the other within Intel itself between innovation and financialization. The Asian companies have governance structures that vaccinate them from an economic virus known as “maximizing shareholder value” (MSV).[16] Intel caught the virus over two decades ago. As we shall see, with the sudden appointment of Gelsinger as CEO this past winter, Intel sent out a weak signal that it recognizes that it has the disease.

In the years 2011-2015, Intel was in the running, along with TSMC and SEC, to be the fabricator of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod chips that Apple designed. While Intel spent $50bn on P&E [plant and equipment] and $53bn on R&D over those five years, it also lavished shareholders with $36bn in stock buybacks and $22bn in cash dividends, which together absorbed 102% of Intel’s net income. From 2016 through 2020, Intel spent $67bn on P&E and $66bn on R&D, but also distributed almost $27bn as dividends and another $45bn as buybacks. Intel’s ample dividends have provided an income yield to shareholders for, as the name says, holding Intel shares. In contrast, the funds spent on buybacks have rewarded sharesellers, including senior Intel executives with their stock-based pay, for executing well-timed sales of their Intel shares to realize gains from buyback-manipulated stock prices.

…Our policy recommendation for the Biden administration is simple: As a condition for giving the US semiconductor industry $50bn in infrastructure assistance, put a ban on SIA [Semiconductor Industry Association] members doing stock buybacks as open-market repurchases.

«

They really hate stock buybacks, don’t they. And I agree. It feels like the least valuable thing that a company could buy. Even paperclips have an eventual use. But buying a stock to retire it? It’s money put to no productive use.
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Using AI to find bias in AI • The New York Times

Cade Metz:

»

In 2018, Liz O’Sullivan and her colleagues at a prominent artificial intelligence startup began work on a system that could automatically remove nudity and other explicit images from the internet.

They sent millions of online photos to workers in India, who spent weeks adding tags to explicit material. The data paired with the photos would be used to teach A.I. software how to recognize indecent images. But once the photos were tagged, Ms. O’Sullivan and her team noticed a problem: The Indian workers had classified all images of same-sex couples as indecent.

For Ms. O’Sullivan, the moment showed how easily — and often — bias could creep into artificial intelligence. It was a “cruel game of Whac-a-Mole,” she said.

This month, Ms. O’Sullivan, a 36-year-old New Yorker, was named chief executive of a new company, Parity. The start-up is one of many organizations, including more than a dozen start-ups and some of the biggest names in tech, offering tools and services designed to identify and remove bias from A.I. systems.

…It is also still difficult to know just how serious the problem is. “We have very little data needed to model the broader societal safety issues with these systems, including bias,” said Jack Clark, one of the authors of the A.I. Index, an effort to track A.I. technology and policy across the globe. “Many of the things that the average person cares about — such as fairness — are not yet being measured in a disciplined or a large-scale way.”

«

Which has the potential to turn into one of those situations where the systems are so embedded by the time it becomes clear that it’s a problem that it can’t be reversed.

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Engineers: you can disrupt climate change • IEEE Spectrum

David Fork and Ross Koningstein are two Google engineers (writing in a personal capacity) who tried, unsuccessfully, to push the price of renewables below that of coal – the “RE<C” project, which Google gave up on. Now they’re looking at the bigger challenge, seven years on, with a big piece which looks at all sorts of areas, including this:

»

We need to sequester CO2, in part, to compensate for activities that can’t be decarbonized. Cement, for example, has the largest carbon footprint of any man-made material, creating about 8% of global emissions. Cement is manufactured by heating limestone (mostly calcite, or CaCO3), to produce lime (CaO). Making 1 tonne of cement lime releases about 1 tonne of CO2. If all the CO2 emissions from cement manufacturing were captured and pumped underground at a cost of $80 per tonne, we estimate that a 50-pound bag (about 23kg) of concrete mix, one component of which is cement, will cost about 42 cents more. Such a price change would not stop people from using concrete nor significantly add to building costs. What’s more, the gas coming out of smokestacks at cement plants is rich in CO2 compared with the diluted amount in the atmosphere, which means it’s easier to capture and store.

Capturing cement’s emissions will be good practice as we get ready for the bigger lift of removing 2,000 Gt [gigatonnes] of CO2 directly from the atmosphere over the next 100 years. Therein lies one of the century’s biggest challenges for scientists and engineers. A recent Physics Today article estimated the costs of directly capturing atmospheric CO2 at between $100 and $600 per tonne. The process is expensive because it requires a lot of energy: Direct air capture involves forcing enormous volumes of air over sorbents, which are then heated to release concentrated CO2 for storage or use.

We need a price breakthrough in carbon capture and sequestration that rivals what we have seen in wind power, solar energy, and batteries. We estimate that at $100 per tonne, removing those 2,000 Gt of CO2 would account for roughly 2.8% of global GDP for 80 years. Compare that cost with the toll of hitting a climate tipping point, which no amount of spending could undo.

In principle, there are enough subterranean rock formations to store not just gigatonnes but teratonnes of CO2. But the scale of the sequestration required, and the urgency of the need for it, calls for outside-the-box thinking.

«

The whole article is a serious tour around the current engineering challenges for beating global warming.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: thanks to Paul C for pointing out that it’s either a zoonosis (a human disease that comes from an animal) or a zoonotic disease (ditto) but never a zoonosis disease.

Start Up No.1590: the world of hyperobjects, the joy of Twitter, the risky carbon capture hype, the coming card shortage, and more


A number of Chinese brands including Aukey have been banned from Amazon, apparently for soliciting good reviews. But do consumers then benefit? CC-licensed photo by Ilcatta86 dotcom 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. Contains no football. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Introducing the idea of ‘hyperobjects’ • High Country News

Timothy Morton:

»

I’m an environmental philosopher. In 2008, I invented a word to describe all kinds of things that you can study and think about and compute, but that are not so easy to see directly: hyperobjects. Things like: not just a Styrofoam cup or two, but all the Styrofoam on Earth, ever. All that Styrofoam is going to last an awfully long time: 500 years, maybe. It’s going to outlive me by a great extent. Will my family’s descendants even be related to me in any kind of meaningful way by 2514? There is so much more Styrofoam on Earth right now than there is Timothy Morton.

…Many people have told me, “Oh, now I have a term for this thing I’ve been trying to grasp!” We can see, for instance, that global warming has the properties of a hyperobject. It is “viscous” — whatever I do, wherever I am, it sort of “sticks” to me. It is “nonlocal” — its effects are globally distributed through a huge tract of time. It forces me to experience time in an unusual way. It is “phased” — I only experience pieces of it at any one time. And it is “inter-objective” — it consists of all kinds of other entities but it isn’t reducible to them.

If you can understand global warming, you have to do something about it. Forget about needing proof or needing to convince more people. Just stick to what’s really super obvious. Can you understand hyperobjects? Then you are obliged to care about them.

So hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space and we are obliged to care about them, even if we didn’t manufacture them. Take the biosphere. I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. But I know it exists, and I know I’m part of it. I should care about it.

Or global warming. I can’t see or touch it. What I can see and touch are these raindrops, this snow, that sunburn patch on the back of my neck. I can touch the weather. But I can’t touch climate. So someone can declare: “See! It snowed in Boise, Idaho, this week. That means there’s no global warming!” We can’t directly see global warming, because it’s not only really widespread and really really long-lasting (100,000 years); it’s also super high-dimensional. It’s not just 3-D. It’s an incredibly complex entity that you have to map in what they call a high-dimensional- phase space: a space that plots all the states of a system.

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This article was linked to by Charlie Warzel, which appeared in Friday’s edition, but this article (from 2015!) is worth considering in its own right. I hadn’t heard this concept, so maybe it needs a bit more publicity. Especially with all the hyperobjects we’re trying to deal with.
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Who wins when Amazon pulls brands from its store? • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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instead of examining why these companies [such as Choetech, Aukey, Mpow, RavPower, Vava and TaoTronics] are attempting to manipulate its system and making adjustments to its platform to discourage this activity, Amazon has taken a heavy-handed whack-a-mole approach to just banning those that get caught breaking its rules.

Amazon doesn’t seem to be interested in changing the incentives on its platform, preferring to just remove sellers it deems to be bad actors. In its June blog post, the company pointed blame at social media companies for not better policing groups that collaborate to game the Amazon reviews system, and boasted that it reported over 1,000 groups in just the first three months of 2021. The company’s position is that this is how it protects shoppers from getting scammed or having a bad experience.

But as long as sellers on Amazon are incentivized and rewarded for high star ratings and positive customer reviews on their products, there are going to be those that use tactics that Amazon doesn’t like, and come off as less than scrupulous to those buying the products. Those companies are more likely going to be smaller outfits that don’t have other retail channels or brand recognition to fall back on — even if their product is good enough to stand on its own. That is the reality of the system that Amazon has built.

An even more cynical take on this is that Amazon is just going to supplant these retailers’ products with more of its own AmazonBasics-branded gear. The company has been caught in the past using data from what’s popular on its store to inform its AmazonBasics product roadmap. Amazon could be in the process of rolling out lower-priced versions of what Anker and Belkin are selling with its name on it, taking the place of the RavPowers and Choetechs that used to be there. I’m not convinced that this is what’s happening here, but in the service of teasing out all possibilities, there it is.

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If it depends on reviews, and if actual buyers can be incentivised to subsequently give exaggerated reviews, then there’s no obvious way to prevent it. An internet hyperobject, perhaps.
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I’m a Twitter addict and I don’t care • Financial Times

Henry Mance:

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Nearly every journalist is on Twitter, and nearly every journalist feels bad about it. We scroll in meetings and at social gatherings. We read other people’s tweets even when we’re right in front of them. All future films about journalism will need a newsroom scene with the line: “Have you seen this video — oh wait, you posted it.”

…Occasionally there is a diatribe against Twitter, which resonates deep in the guilty hearts of addicts. This week it was an excellent article in The Atlantic magazine entitled: “You Really Need to Quit Twitter”. I knew it was excellent, because it was recommended by several people I follow. Lucky I was on Twitter or I might have missed it.

Even so I took the article to heart and gave up the social network for a day. I read a book without thinking which excerpt I would photograph and share later. For 24 hours, my purpose in life was not to entertain users named Owllookout and The Levitate Guy with my offhand opinions. 

But I also missed Twitter because a lot of the stuff on there is . . . quite good. A lot of the people I have met there are now . . . my friends. Of all the delusions of Twitter addiction, the biggest one is that we would be better off without it.

Was life really better when you heard dire football commentary on TV and couldn’t laugh about it in unison? When you couldn’t ask for film recommendations and DIY tips and receive good ones almost immediately?

Sometimes it’s claimed that classic literature would never have been created had Twitter existed. Well, I have waded through Moby Dick, and I’m OK with an alternate universe where Herman Melville is accustomed to a 280-character limit. Our culture would be fine with slightly less detail about whale blubber.

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Worth saying that Mance (@henrymance) is an excellent follow on Twitter.
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Do app store rules matter? • Benedict Evans

Evans reckons the EU, at a minimum, will force Apple to allow sideloading, but what about the 30% tax on digital goods?:

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games companies have been able to build a $50bn industry even while giving Apple 30%, though some of them would like the extra cash. Here the issue is not so much Apple’s commission as the business model rules – Stadia is not allowed on the app store at any price, though Roblox is, for reasons no-one understands. Again, this is why a narrow focus on the 30% or side-loading misses the point – regulators are looking at the whole system.

So, are there significant, valuable, mainstream consumer things that can’t happen because of Apple’s rules – not just on that 30%, but on the store and the sandbox? Are there lots of potential Stadias out there being blocked by Apple, or is this just a wealth transfer from Apple to Tencent? Is there an explosion of activity waiting to expand the model far beyond games once the rules are changed?

It’s hard to know in advance. One could argue that the reason all the money is in games is that Apple’s rules have effectively blocked anything other than games and a few other smaller industries (such as online dating) from building a big directly paid software or content model on iOS. For example, people making productivity apps have complained since the beginning about the lack of basic business tools like free trials or upgrade prices. On the other hand, there are very few mainstream consumer successes to point to where Android’s looser rules did enable something that doesn’t exist on iOS. And, of course, companies from Uber to Amazon to Snap or Instagram have built big businesses on the iPhone entirely outside Apple’s rules.

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The Android counterexample seems to suggest that there isn’t the same potential for solid digital goods businesses on mobile that there is on the desktop. (The Kindle is a special case, if it’s even profitable.)
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Carbon removal hype is becoming a dangerous distraction • MIT Technology Review

James Temple:

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Since carbon dioxide persists for hundreds to thousands of years in the atmosphere, there’s little scientific dispute that massive amounts of it will have to be removed to prevent really dangerous levels of warming—or to bring the planet back to a safer climate.

The question is how much. A variety of scientific models have put it at anywhere from 1.3 billion tons per year to 29 billion tons by midcentury to hold global warming at 1.5˚C. A 2017 UN report estimated that keeping the planet from heating past 2˚C will require removing 10 billion tons annually by 2050 and 20 billion by 2100.

(A paper published in Nature Climate Change in June further complicated the matter by noting that removing tons of carbon dioxide  from the atmosphere might not be as effective at easing warming as hoped, because the shifting atmospheric chemistry could, in turn, affect how readily land and oceans release their CO2.)

Ten billion tons is a giant number, nearly double the US’s current annual carbon emissions. And there are limited options for large-scale carbon removal. These include direct air capture, the use of various minerals that bind with CO2, reforestation efforts, and what’s known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (using crops as fuel but capturing any emissions released when they’re combusted).

None of these options can be easily scaled up. Direct air capture is still prohibitively expensive and energy intensive. Using crops for fuel means snatching land from other uses, such as growing food for a swelling population.

Yet suddenly, nations and corporations are increasingly relying, openly or implicitly, on large amounts of carbon removal in their net-zero plans, including those from oil and gas companies like Eni and Shell as well as businesses such as Amazon, Apple, Unilever, and United.

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Just planting loads of trees sounds great – but as scientists point out, “people live where those trees would go.”
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Great work, useful idiots of the media: most Americans buy the unsubstantiated “lab leak” theory • Salon.com

Amanda Marcotte:

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we now have a Politico-Harvard poll released Friday morning that shows Americans are “almost twice as likely to say the virus was the result of a lab leak in China than human contact with an infected animal.” And while the lab-leak theory has been hyped by Trump apologists looking to distract from the ex-president’s massive mishandling of the pandemic, the buy-in for this unlikely theory is not particularly partisan. Politico reports that “59% of Republicans and 52% of Democrats” believe the lab-leak narrative, while only 28% said the virus came “from an infected animal.” This is a dramatic change from March 2020, when only 29% of Americans — basically far-right authoritarians — endorsed the lab-leak theory. 

So what happened to change people’s minds? Well, it wasn’t persuasive evidence. On that front, nothing has changed. No one has produced any biological evidence to dispute last year’s findings from the Tulane University School of Medicine, which “determined that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes by comparing the genetic sequences and protein structures of other coronaviruses to those of new virus.” There have been no whistleblowers, unless you count the Australian scientist who worked until November 2019 at the virology lab in Wuhan, and who says “it was a regular lab that worked in the same way as any other high-containment lab,” which is to say she saw nothing sinister or careless. 

The scientific evidence points in the same direction that it did a year ago, as Lindsay Beyerstein argues in a science-heavy, deeply technical piece for the New Republic: “20 years of post-SARS research into the origins and spread of bat coronaviruses point to a natural origin for Covid-19,” and the supposed lab-leak evidence “is neither new nor compelling.”

It wasn’t evidence that changed people’s minds. It was irresponsible media hype of the “lab leak” theory, brought on by a major push from right-wing conspiracy theorists, and also some gullible pundits and journalists who let themselves be used by the right.

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It’s conveniently forgotten (or not known) by some of the “lab leak” proponents that pretty much every time a new zoonosis (animal-to-human) disease emerges, conspiracy theorists say it was made in a lab. But no novel zoonosis has ever emerged first from a lab. And we have a desire to have a simple story to explain new things. But rather as we struggle with exponentials in disease spread, we struggle with the idea of evolution hitting the jackpot.
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Films made for Netflix look more like TV shows. Here’s the technical reason why • The Conversation

Ari Mattes:

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An old black and white film, shot on celluloid, has a grainy texture that draws the eye into and around the image. This is partly the result of the degradation of the film print, which occurs over time, but primarily because of the physical processing of the film itself.

All celluloid film has a grainy look. This “grain” is an optical effect related to the small particles of metallic silver that emerge through the film’s chemical processing. This is not the case with digital cameras. Thus video images captured by high resolution sensors look different to those shot on celluloid. The images in [the Netflix production] Mank look flat, depthless, they are too clean and clear.

This is not as much of a problem on a big screen, when the images are huge, but the high resolution is really noticeable when the images are compressed on the kind of domestic TV or computer screens most people use to stream Netflix. The edges look too sharp, the shades too clearly delineated — compared to what we have been used to as cinemagoers.

The absurd thing is companies like CineGrain now sell digital overlays of film stock that can endow video with the grainy film look. (Their company motto is “make digital more cinematic using CineGrain.”) The natural result of the physical process has been superseded by video, but digital cinema makers reintroduce this as one component in achieving a “film look”.

Netflix does allow limited exceptions to its rule, with use of non-approved cameras requiring its explicit approval and a “more flexible” approach to non-fiction productions. According to Y.M. Cinema magazine, 30% of Netflix’s “best movies of 2020” were made on non-approved cameras.

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I’ll be honest: I don’t notice the difference. Maybe if we saw Netflix films in the cinema we would.
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Apple AirPod battery life problem shows need for right-to-repair laws • CNBC

Kif Leswing:

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Apple provides “battery service” for AirPods, at the cost of $49 per earbud. But functionally, Apple simply gives you a replacement pair, and the old earbuds are recycled. It’s not a repair, it’s a replacement. And it’s expensive. AirPods originally cost $159, so opting for battery service costs more than half of the price of a new pair.

Apple sold about 72.8 million AirPods units in 2020, according to a CounterPoint research estimate, so tens of millions of consumers will face the same lack of choice in the coming years.

PodSwap is a Miami company founded by Emma Stritzinger and Emily Alpert which aims to keep AirPods “out of the landfill.” They’re not associated with Apple.

They believe they’re the only company performing AirPod battery replacements, although other companies “refurbish” old AirPods, the founders told CNBC. The company was formed after the founders experienced dying AirPods themselves and thought that upgrading or replacing them would be wasteful and impractical.

I recently replaced a pair of AirPods that were only holding a charge for 45 minutes – too short to complete a phone call. I paid $59 on PodSwap’s Shopify site and a few days later received a replacement pair of AirPods with new batteries. They weren’t my old AirPods, they were another set that had their batteries replaced.

Along with those new pods, PodSwap includes a box and a return label. It wants your old AirPods back. It then cleans and sanitizes the old pair, puts in new batteries and sends them out to the next person who wants to change the battery in their old AirPods.

But PodSwap faces many challenges that show why repair advocates want new rules. Alpert said the design of the AirPod makes it challenging for repair shops or companies like theirs to do a lot of battery replacements. PodSwap’s process uses both robotics and manual labor, the founders said.

“The process was developed through trial and error and a large number of units were ‘sacrificed’ and ultimately recycled. One major challenge we faced was overcoming the uniqueness of this product. Each AirPod is assembled with slight differences, which creates complexity in the disassembly,” Alpert said.

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How effective are coronavirus vaccines against the Delta variant? • Financial Times

Donato Paolo Mancini and John Burn-Murdoch:

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So called “real-world” analysis of 14,019 cases of the Delta variant in the UK, released by Public Health England in June, found the BioNTech/Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines were, respectively, 96% and 92% effective against hospitalisation after two doses.

Late on Thursday, Pfizer reiterated it believed its shot worked against Delta, especially after a potential third booster dose. But it also added it planned to study a variant-targeted inoculation, with trials slated to start as early as next month.

The high efficacy of the shots in the UK, where the Delta variant is dominant and more than the half the population has been fully vaccinated, is reflected in the current mortality rate for Covid-19 patients, which at 0.085% is 20 times lower than at its peak, according to Meaghan Kall, an epidemiologist at PHE.

But the question of whether the vaccines remain as effective at preventing infection, and therefore transmission and spread, is more fraught.

Early figures from the real-world studies in the UK in May found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infection with the Delta variant. A month later, that number was revised down to 79% by Scottish researchers.

Canadian scientists on Saturday, using a combination of methods, estimated that the Pfizer jab was 87% effective at preventing infection with the Delta variant. That was “comparable”, the researchers said, to the 89% protection the shot provided against the Alpha variant, first identified in Britain.

A fourth study, compiled by Israel’s health ministry, details of which were reported this week, suggested the Pfizer vaccine was much less effective against symptomatic infection with Delta, providing only 64% protection. Pfizer and Israeli health officials, however, were quick to caution that the study was based on preliminary and highly localised infection numbers, and had other methodological weaknesses.

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Of course, it’s so hard to remember what the numbers mean. (Especially “20 times lower”, which one understands, but could also be said “5%” or “one-twentieth”.) It’s that if you previously would have had 100 people falling ill, then with 95% protection only 5 will, and the proportion of serious illness will be down too. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Card shortage coming, manufacturers warn • ThePaypers

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Card manufacturers have warned about millions of cards going missing as early as the second half of 2021 due to semiconductor supply difficulties, according to Le Figaro.
The Smart Payment Association (SPA), an organisation that represents large payment card manufacturers, such as Thales or Idemia declared that ‘without any improvement in the situation, millions of cards will be missing’. In a press release, the structure points to the urgency of taking action to protect these companies from the shortage of semiconductors, a supply problem that affects the whole world. The consequences of stopping the production of bank cards would be substantial as customers around world won’t be able to recover a card or to renew it.

For several months, semiconductor production plants, mainly located in Asia, have not been able to meet growing demand. As a result, several sectors have already found themselves in complicated situations, in particular the automotive industry. Smart cards use this technology to identify themselves and ensure network security. 

The problem is urgent. According to the SPA, the first problems could be felt as early as the second half of 2021, but they would become much more noticeable in 2022. In order to limit the breakage, the Smart Payment Association hopes that the sector will be considered a priority in the supply of chips.

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My first reaction to this (and probably yours too) was “haha, I’ll be fine thanks, I’ll keep paying on my watch/phone.” But cards are set to expire and new ones have to be sent out as a sort of verification. Maybe if this bites hard there will be some sort of move to send cards without chips but which update your on-device card identity?
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You mean you haven’t
ordered Social Warming, my latest book?


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified