Start Up: how Prime began, Lightning v lint, iPhone NFC expanding?, Peterson the ‘social order warrior’, and more


Unread notifications drive some peoples’ partners mad – but not the owner. Photo by Kodee Shane-Channon on Flickr.

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A selection of 16 links for you. To fill the remains of the day. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Invisible asymptotes • Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei joined Amazon in its early years, and was given the task of figuring out what might limit its growth – that is, what would determine its asymptotic point:

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Fortunately for Amazon, and perhaps critical to much of its growth over the years, perhaps the single most important asymptote was one we identified very early on. Where our growth would flatten if we did not change our path was, in large part, due to this single factor.

We had two ways we were able to flush out this enemy. For people who did shop with us, we had, for some time, a pop-up survey that would appear right after you’d placed your order, at the end of the shopping cart process. It was a single question, asking why you didn’t purchase more often from Amazon. For people who’d never shopped with Amazon, we had a third party firm conduct a market research survey where we’d ask those people why they did not shop from Amazon.

Both converged, without any ambiguity, on one factor. You don’t even need to rewind to that time to remember what that factor is because I suspect it’s the same asymptote governing e-commerce and many other related businesses today.

Shipping fees.

People hate paying for shipping. They despise it. It may sound banal, even self-evident, but understanding that was, I’m convinced, so critical to much of how we unlocked growth at Amazon over the years.

People don’t just hate paying for shipping, they hate it to literally an irrational degree. We know this because our first attempt to address this was to show, in the shopping cart and checkout process, that even after paying shipping, customers were saving money over driving to their local bookstore to buy a book because, at the time, most Amazon customers did not have to pay sales tax. That wasn’t even factoring in the cost of getting to the store, the depreciation costs on the car, and the value of their time.

People didn’t care about this rational math. People, in general, are terrible at valuing their time, perhaps because for most people monetary compensation for one’s time is so detached from the event of spending one’s time. Most time we spend isn’t like deliberate practice, with immediate feedback.

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You may be able to think how they did this. But consider what you’d do if you didn’t know how they solved it.
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Those red alert bubbles on your phone are driving your loved one crazy • WSJ

Katherine Bindley:

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In an era of nonstop notifications—reminders, app updates, endless text chains—electronic-alert management is starting to become a dividing line in American relationships. On one side are the compulsive clearers, who can’t abide the banners and bubbles designed to prod us into maximum smartphone hygiene. The clutter and the sense of tasks unfinished drives them to distraction.

On the other side are spouses and partners who are affected differently—which is to say not at all. Messages collect. Unread emails accumulate. Software upgrades are ignored. Apps requesting updates sit in a digital purgatory.

“I understand every couple of days you get some back up, no big deal,” says Mr. Ambrose of his wife’s phone. “This was four years’ worth of stuff.”

“I guarantee you it’s unimportant stuff,” Eve Ambrose, 35, says she told her husband at the time. She wasn’t bothered by the surreptitious phone-cleaning. She also points out that she never misses an email: “If it said 97 emails, I’m going to notice if it says 98.”

Mr. Ambrose now periodically goes into her phone to manage her notifications once she has nodded off.

Members of the laissez-faire contingent often point out that, however it looks, they have things under control.

“If it strikes my fancy, I’ll read it and if it doesn’t, I’ll swipe it off the screen,” says Graeme Farley, 35, of Cork, Ireland, who maintains an unread email count that his wife finds appalling. The couple got together about a decade ago before people were on their phones all the time.

“It wasn’t apparent when we first met each other that this would be a problem,” says Philipa Jane Farley, 36, a data-protection specialist. “I should have looked at the state of his car.”

Mrs. Farley says she lasted five minutes in her husband’s inbox while doing his taxes two years ago before she deleted 2,500 unread emails. Had there been anything important, it would be in the trash folder for 30 days before disappearing for good: “There was a safety net,” she says.

“I wasn’t fazed by it,” says Mr. Farley. Still, he says he’s planning to get better about keeping his inbox in better condition.

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What. I mean just What. The. Whatting. What. Do they tidy their partners’ cupboards too? Their clothes drawers? That’s quite strange behaviour. Though underneath all this is a broader cause: we get too many notifications, and most of them are crap.
link to this extract


Apple to expand secure wireless chip beyond payments • The Information

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Apple is making a significant change to a wireless chip in the iPhone that will allow users to more securely unlock doors enabled with the same technology, a person familiar with the matter said.

The change to the near-field communication, or NFC, chip, which is expected to be announced next month, could pave the way for people to use iPhones for other security-sensitive interactions, from paying transit fares and opening car doors to verifying their identity in other ways.

Already, employees at Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, Calif., are using their iPhones to gain access to buildings and offices, suggesting that the technology has been deployed there, people familiar with the matter said. The campus uses an access control system made by HID Global, a leader in the industry that is owned by Swedish lock giant Assa Abloy. Apple has been talking to HID about enabling such access control on the iPhone using NFC since at least 2014, as The Information previously reported.

HID and Apple declined to comment.

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It’s a software upgrade, so it would work back to the iPhone 6. That would be a lot of phones that would abruptly be capable of unlocking doors and so on.

Smart locks are an interesting space: the ones which work with a passcode mean that you don’t have to carry a phone with you. But if you can also connect to them online then you can do a lot – such as letting people in when you’re not. No more leaving your keys; no more locking yourself out. (Unless you’re forgetful, but that’s a problem with keys too.)
link to this extract


Apple’s $539m in damages is a ‘big win’ over Samsung • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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Apple sought about $1bn in a retrial of a case that originally produced a verdict of that amount in 2012, while Samsung argued it should pay only $28m this time.

Jurors in federal court in San Jose, California, decided only on damages Thursday. It was already established that the South Korean company infringed three of Apple’s design patents – covering the rounded corners of its phones, the rim that surrounds the front face, and the grid of icons that users view – and two utility patents, which protect the way something works and is used.

“Today’s decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages,” Samsung said in a statement after the verdict. “We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers.”

John Quinn, a lawyer for Samsung, told the judge the verdict isn’t “supported by the evidence,” and that the company would raise its objections in court filings.

Apple said in a statement that the case “has always been about more than money.”

“We believe deeply in the value of design, and our teams work tirelessly to create innovative products that delight our customers,” the company said.

The basic question for the jury was: should Samsung have to pay damages based on sales of its smartphones or just their components that infringed the iPhone maker’s patents?

A $1.05bn jury verdict in 2012 was whittled down by a previous retrial in 2013, along with appeals and adjustments. After Samsung agreed to pay some damages, the case went to the US Supreme Court in 2016 and was returned to US District Judge Lucy Koh with an order to revisit $399m of that award. Now Samsung has to pay an additional $140m.

The verdict is a “big win” for Apple, said Michael Risch, a law professor at Villanova University School of Law in Pennsylvania. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, “Apple’s upside should have been capped at what it won before,” he said. “Beating that number at trial is a huge victory given that the Supreme Court has theoretically ruled against it.”

That also makes it a “huge loss” for Samsung, “and shows the risk it took by continuing to fight,” he said. “Samsung’s luck with the jury ran out this time, and Apple received a bigger proportion of what it sought.”

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It feels like this case and its spinoffs have been going on forever. Samsung overplayed its hand, though. The benefit it got from its copying have been far bigger, though.
link to this extract


Apple rejects Valve’s Steam Link app due to ‘business conflicts’ • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

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In a statement, Valve said that Apple initially approved Steam Link for release on May 7, but ultimately decided to reject the app because of conflicts that had not been recognized by the original review team:

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On Monday, May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team.

Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release. The team here spent many hours on this project and the approval process, so we’re clearly disappointed. But we hope Apple will reconsider in the future.

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Valve’s appeals have not been successful at the current point in time, and the company is now hoping that media attention may spur Apple to change its mind.

The Steam Link app for iOS, which was announced on May 9, is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac.

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Michael Gartenberg points out that the likeliest explanation is that Apple’s coming up with something of its own that does the same which will be shown off at WWDC, and an internal screwup meant they only realised this would clash once Valve had made the announcement.

Sucks, though. Valve won’t be pleased, Valve users won’t be pleased, app developers will be wondering what the hell is going on, and if Apple really has something for WWDC it’s going to have to be amazing. And if it has nothing – what?
link to this extract


Lint • All this

Dr Drang:

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About a month ago, I started having trouble charging my iPhone 6S. I’m not talking about the need to charge my phone more often because the battery isn’t what it used to be, although that’s definitely happening and I need to cough up the $30 to get the battery replaced. No, I’m talking about the Lightning plug on the charger cable not seating well in the port on the bottom of the phone. The plug would wiggle and often lose contact, leaving me with a phone that was still draining when I thought it was charging.

My first thought was that lint had built up in the port and needed to be cleaned out. I was at home without good lighting or good magnification, but I got a toothpick and dug around in the port, figuring that if anything was in there, that would loosen it and pull it out. When nothing emerged, I started thinking there was a problem with either the port itself or with the third-party cables I was using.

Yesterday afternoon I learned the truth.

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It’s not quite in the league of “spiders crawled into my ear and laid eggs”, but it is pretty remarkable. And a little reminder of why wireless (inductive) charging isn’t such a bad idea.
link to this extract


Max Schrems files first cases under GDPR against Facebook and Google • Irish Times

Derek Scally:

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[Max] Schrems, head of a new privacy lobby group noyb (None of Your Business), accused Facebook of “blackmail” for giving users only two options: accept the new rules – and hand over more data than needed to operate the service – or deactivate their account. In addition, noyb claims Facebook used “tricks” to keep its customers using the service. It claims Facebook created fake red dots suggesting new messages, which the user could only see if they agreed to the new terms of service.

“This is nothing more than an aggressive and absurd attempt to deprive data subjects of their rights,” the complaint adds.

The noyb complaints will test its entitlement under GDPR to run test cases for users, as well as new co-operation rules between national data protection bodies around Europe.

The Facebook case was filed by noyb with the Austrian data protection body DSB, which will now liaise with Ireland’s data protection commissioner (DPC). The same applies for the Instagram complaint, filed via Belgium’s DPA and the WhatsApp case, filed by noyb with Hamburg’s data commissioner (HmbBfDI) Prof Johannes Caspar.

“Nowhere else in European law was there, until now, such a wide gap between theory and practice as in data protection,” said Prof Caspar. “We have to decide quickly how to work best with our Irish colleagues on this.”

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The “take it or leave it” approach is unlike that you find on so many other sites, where you can allow or disallow adtech ads. So Schrems, who demonstrated how flawed the “safe harbour” idea was, has a point: why can’t you use Facebook and Google with ads but without targeting?
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Tencent chairman pledges to advance China chip industry after ZTE ‘wake-up’ call: reports • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:

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Tencent is looking into ways it could help advance China’s domestic chip industry, which could include leveraging its huge data demand to urge domestic chip suppliers to come up with better solutions, or using its WeChat platform to support application developments based on Chinese chips, [Pony] Ma said.

“It would probably be better if we could get in to support semiconductor R&D, but that is perhaps admittedly not our strong suit and may need the help of others in the supply chain.”

China has been looking to accelerate plans to develop its semiconductor market to reduce its heavy reliance on imports and has invited overseas investors to invest in the country’s top state-backed chip fund.

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GDPR mayhem: Programmatic ad buying plummets in Europe • Digiday

Jessica Davies:

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“Revenues and [ad demand] volumes [are] expected to fall dramatically across the board,” said one publishing executive, under condition of anonymity.

The flow of inventory supply from publishers has also dropped in many exchanges, and several sources attributed that to the volume of US publishers that have pulled their programmatic ads in Europe. Titles like the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune have shut down their European sites; others like USA Today have kept their site accessible to European site visitors. USA Today has kept its site up in Europe but stripped them of ads. The New York Times’ pages do not appear to carry any programmatic ads in Europe; most are running house ads. One ad tech source said the Times is now not available on open ad exchanges. The Times has not yet responded for comment; we’ll update when it does.

The frustration for many has been directed at Google. The day before the deadline, buyers were warned also to not buy any inventory via Google on third-party exchanges, especially those using tracking and ad-verification pixels, as Google couldn’t verify whether those partners were compliant or not, according to sources. Some agency groups were alerted to this late on May 24, while others felt Google’s guidance had been nonexistent, according to agency sources.

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Wowow. That’s quite a thing. Programmatic ad exchanges are going to struggle.
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IBM’s Watson Health wing left looking poorly after ‘massive’ layoffs • The Register

Iain Thomson:

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IBM has laid off approximately 50 and 70% of staff this week in its Watson Health division, according to inside sources.

The axe, we’re told, is largely falling on IBMers within companies the IT goliath has taken over in the past few years to augment Watson’s credentials in the health industry. These include medical data biz Truven, which was acquired in 2016 for $2.6bn, medical imaging firm Merge, bought in 2015 for $1bn, and healthcare management business Phytel, also snapped up in 2015.

Yesterday and today, staff were let go at IBM’s offices in Dallas, Texas, as well as in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado, in the US, and elsewhere, it is claimed. A spokesperson for Big Blue was not available for comment.

“Wanted to share anonymously a massive layoff in Watson Health, potentially limited to provider acquisitions – Phytel, Explorys, Truven,” a source claimed in a message passed to The Register by Lee Conrad, a former employee and union coordinator who today runs the Watching IBM Facebook page.

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So this could be rationalisation after a ton of takeovers; that isn’t unusual. If Watson is really failing to get traction, though, that’s a different thing.
link to this extract


I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous • The Star

Bernard Schiff is emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and a longtime friend of Peterson:

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Jordan has a complex relationship to freedom of speech. He wants to effectively silence those left-wing professors by keeping students away from their courses because the students may one day become “anarchical social revolutionaries” who may bring upon us disruption and violence. At the same time he was advocating cutting funds to universities that did not protect free speech on their campuses. He defended the rights of “alt right” voices to speak at universities even though their presence has given rise to disruption and violence. For Jordan, it appears, not all speech is equal, and not all disruption and violence are equal, either.

If Jordan is not a true free speech warrior, then what is he? The email sent through his wife’s account described Bill 28, the parenting bill, as part of the “transgender agenda” and claimed it was “misleadingly” called “All Families are Equal.” Misleading? What same-sex families and transgender people have in common is their upset of the social order. In Maps of Meaning, Jordan’s first book, he is exercised by the breakdown of the social order and the chaos that he believes would result. Jordan is fighting to maintain the status quo to keep chaos at bay, or so he believes. He is not a free speech warrior. He is a social order warrior.

In the end, Jordan postponed his plan to blacklist courses after many of his colleagues signed a petition objecting to it. He said it was too polarizing. Curiously, that had never stopped him before. He appears to thrive on polarization. I have no idea why he did that.

I have been asked by some if I regret my role in bringing Jordan to the University of Toronto. I did not for many years, but I do now.

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This is, I think, the best piece I’ve read about Peterson, rather than the phenomenon around him: the phrase “social order warrior” captures it perfectly. It’s also instructive to listen to his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week from May 14, with three other guests and Tom Sutcliffe as the interlocutor.

At 12 minutes in, Sutcliffe suggests that 120 years ago, before women had the vote, the idea of women voting would have been radical and disruptive; isn’t his opposition to modern social movements just as reactionary, and in time might look just as wrong? The answer never comes because Peterson picks on a tiny other element and the discussion spreads out. But it’s a key question. If you want a way to think of Peterson in future, “[existing] social order warrior” seems the best way.
link to this extract


VPNFilter EXIF to C2 mechanism analysed • Securelist

“GReAT” on the Russian malware that had taken over thousands of routers, but whose command system the FBI grabbed last week:

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Some of the things which stand out about VPNFilter are:

• It has a redundant, multi-stage command and control mechanism which uses three different channels to receive information
• It has a multi-stage architecture, in which some of the more complex functionality runs only in the memory of the infected devices
• It contains a destructive payload which is capable of rendering the infected devices unbootable
• It uses a broken (or incorrect) RC4 implementation which has been observed before with the BlackEnergy malware
• Stage 2 command and control can be executed over TOR, meaning it will be hard to notice for someone checking the network traffic.

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It then headed off to Photobucket for instructions, taken from EXIF data – but the way that Photobucket has shut down many pages has made it impossible. So it would head to a hard-coded domain. That’s what the FBI took over.
link to this extract


Tablets and PCs set for modest 2.1% decline in 2018 as the industry finally starts to stabilize • Canalys

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“Consumer demand will remain weak overall,” said Dutt. “Components such as DRAM will remain constrained in the short-term, and vendors will pass most of the increased costs onto customers, driving up ASPs. But dedicated gaming PCs have emerged as a genuine hotspot in large markets, such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, where eSports has helped to generate an appetite among younger consumers with disposable incomes who are willing to spend top prices for high performance. The consumer market is also more likely to see new brands challenging the likes of HP, Lenovo and Dell. Despite the sector’s weak performance, there are lower barriers to entry from a channel perspective compared with the commercial sector. Huawei and Xiaomi are already attempting to disrupt selected markets, but nether yet has a range of products or channel partners to trouble the incumbents.”

Despite a recent rise in iPad shipments, the tablet category remains in decline as consumers show a preference for smartphones as their primary mobile devices and rely on traditional PCs for more compute-intensive tasks. The category is expected to contract by almost 3% per year on average from 2017 to 2022, down almost 150m units from the market peak in 2014.

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link to this extract


UK watchdog running dozens of probes into cryptocurrency firms • FT

Chloe Cornish and Hannah Murphy:

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The UK’s top financial watchdog is running enquiries into 24 businesses dealing with cryptocurrencies, and has opened seven whistleblower reports related to the nascent asset class this year alone.

The move comes as regulators close in on the free-wheeling cryptocurrency industry, which raised billions of dollars last year through a novel fundraising method called initial coin offerings — crowdfunding with little, if any, protection for investors. US regulators have brought fraud charges against a number of ICOs.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Financial Conduct Authority said it was making enquiries into the activities of 24 unauthorised firms involved in cryptocurrencies to determine whether they might “be carrying on regulated activities that require FCA authorisation”.

It added that said it had opened seven whistleblower reports involving cryptocurrencies in 2018. Moore Stephens, an accountancy and consulting firm, made the FOI request.

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A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand.
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US launches criminal probe into bitcoin price manipulation • Bloomberg

Matt Robinson and Tom Schoenberg:

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The illicit tactics that the Justice Department is looking into include spoofing and wash trading – forms of cheating that regulators have spent years trying to root out of futures and equities markets, the people said. In spoofing, a trader submits a spate of orders and then cancels them once prices move in a desired direction. Wash trades involve a cheater trading with herself to give a false impression of market demand that lures other to dive in too. Coins prosecutors are examining include Bitcoin and Ether, the people said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment and CFTC officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The investigation, which the people said is in its early stages, is the US’s latest effort to crack down on an industry that was initially embraced by those who were distrustful of banks and government control over monetary policy.

But Bitcoin’s meteoric rise – it surged to almost $20,000 in 2017 after starting the year below $1,000 – has been a lure for mom-and-pop investors. That’s prompted regulators to grow concerned that people are jumping into cryptocurrencies without knowing the risks. For instance, the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened dozens of investigations into initial coin offerings, in which companies sell digital tokens that can be redeemed for goods and services, due to suspicions that many are scams.

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link to this extract


Bitcoin backlash as ‘miners’ suck up electricity, stress power grids in Central Washington • The Seattle Times

Paul Roberts:

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Chelan County, for example, created a special rate for miners and other so-called “high density loads,” or HDLs, back in 2015, that was effectively twice the residential rate.

Douglas County, meanwhile, began requiring miners to pay up front for any new infrastructure. Grant County PUD is establishing special rates applied to companies “whose primary revenue stream is evolving and unproven” and whose product is “vulnerable to extreme value fluctuations.”

The utilities are attempting to strike a delicate balance. By creating policies that reflect the full costs and risks of cryptocurrency mining, the utilities believe they can protect regular ratepayers while weeding out prospective miners who are unable or unwilling to make a long-term commitment to the Basin — and whose power requests are swamping utilities’ normal operations.

As Wright put it, by the end of the moratorium, the utility expects to be able to tell miners exactly what it will cost to mine in Chelan County. If miners can accept those terms, Wright says, the PUD will move forward with investments needed to handle crypto-mining’s much larger next phase. But, says Wright, “if it’s not of interest, then we can stop and go back to doing our day jobs.”

How the three utilities decide to treat this new industry will have impacts that go well beyond the Mid-Columbia Basin. Prospective miners elsewhere will be tracking the decisions intently to see whether the Basin is still worth coming to, or whether they should go instead to other cheap-power places, such as Iceland or Quebec.

And, in all likelihood, utility officials in those cheap power regions will be paying attention, too.

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In essence, the followup to this article in Politico from March.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up: how Prime began, Lightning v lint, iPhone NFC expanding?, Peterson the ‘social order warrior’, and more

  1. I’ve been wondering if Apple has been failing to enable NFC on iPhones because it’s used by public transport everywhere and there’s no way they’re gonna get 30% of that.

    • Many people use iPhones (and a few use Watches) on all the NFC-enabled gates and buses across London’s transport network. It’s Apple Pay. I don’t think there’s any 30% problem. I guess there has been a security question around access to the NFC chip if that’s also the gateway for Apple Pay.

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