Start Up No.880: MacBook Pro keys redux, why Flint’s water’s bad, Instapaper goes indie, overheated dogs, and more

Romance on Kindle is a huge business – and pretty brutal. Photo by Classic Film on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Can colloids collude? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How a cabal of romance writers cashed in on Amazon Kindle Unlimited • The Verge

Sarah Jeong:


The fight over #Cockygate, as it was branded online, emerged from the strange universe of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, where authors collaborate and compete to game Amazon’s algorithm. Trademark trolling is just the beginning: There are private chat groups, ebook exploits, conspiracies to seed hyperspecific trends like “Navy SEALs” and “mountain men,” and even a controversial sweepstakes in which a popular self-published author offered his readers a chance to win diamonds from Tiffany’s if they reviewed his new book.

Much of what’s alleged is perfectly legal, and even technically within Amazon’s terms of service. But for authors and fans, the genre is also a community, and the idea that unethical marketing and algorithmic tricks are running rampant has embroiled their world in controversy. Some authors even believe that the financial incentives set up by Kindle Unlimited are reshaping the romance genre — possibly even making it more misogynistic.

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment.

In other words, self-published romance is no joke.


Jiminy. Great reporting.
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It takes just six minutes for a dog to die in a hot car • The Conversation

Jan Hoole and Daniel Allen:


RSPCA Australia stresses it takes “Just six minutes” for a dog to die in a hot car.

Despite this, people continue to leave their dogs in cars. Between 2009 and 2018, the RSPCA had 64,443 reported incidents of animal and heat exposure in England and Wales. Around 90% of calls related to dogs in vehicles. This year the RSPCA emergency hotline received 1,123 reports of animals suffering heat exposure in just one week (June 25 to July 1 2018). That’s seven calls an hour.

Perhaps this happens because many owners don’t really understand what happens to a dog’s body in overheating and heatstroke. If a dog’s internal temperature goes above 41°C (105.8°F) it is at risk of heatstroke, which only 50% of dogs survive. Some breeds are more susceptible than others – large dogs, dogs with short faces such as bulldogs and boxers, and overweight or long-coated dogs are most at risk – but every dog has the potential to suffer from heatstroke. It doesn’t have to be boiling hot for this to happen either – when it’s 22°C, (71.6°F) outside, the inside of a car can easily reach 47°C within an hour(116.6°F).


Either don’t take the dog in the car, or take it out with you.
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Airline pilot shortage: United States at a critical point • CNN Travel

Peter Gall:


In the 1970s, when most of today’s airline pilots like myself were growing up, piloting for an airline was considered a prestigious career.

The job offered not only high salaries and nice schedules with many days off, but also a respected position in society. In the early 1990s, pilot salaries approached $300,000 in today’s dollars for some international pilots.

What’s more, during this time, the military had a steady and consistent demand for pilots. A young aspiring aviator could go into the military to receive all of his or her flight training. Once these pilots had fulfilled their military commitment, they were almost guaranteed a good job flying for a major airline.
Today, this is no longer the case. The career of the airline pilot has lost its luster.

This is due in part to deregulation. The 1978 Airline Deregulation Act kicked off the era of the low-cost carrier. As a result, airlines such as Pan-Am went out of business. Then, the 9/11 attacks left the airlines in poor financial condition.

Five of the six major legacy airlines in the United States declared bankruptcy: US Airways, Delta, Northwest, United and American Airlines. I clearly recall a day a couple weeks after 9/11, when one of my flights, from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida, boarded just one passenger.

From my own experience, I can attest to many pilots like myself who were forced to vacate their captain position and go back to first officer, resulting in their pay dropping from roughly $190,000 per year to $75,000 per year.

Meanwhile, the number of pilots supplied by the military has dwindled. Much of this is due to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. In the 1980s, roughly two thirds of airline pilots were ex-military. Recently, that percentage has dropped to less than one-third. The Navy predicts a 10% pilot shortage in 2020, while the Air Force predicts its own 1,000-pilot shortage by 2022.

This means many young aspiring aviators now have to pay for their own flight training.


End of an era? Or start of a worrying trend? Won’t supply and demand sort this out, or is the inherent delay between the two so large it will undermine it?
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Instapaper is going independent • Instapaper


Today, we’re announcing that Pinterest has entered into an agreement to transfer ownership of Instapaper to Instant Paper, Inc., a new company owned and operated by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper since it was sold to betaworks by Marco Arment in 2013. The ownership transfer will occur after a 21 day waiting period designed to give our users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.

We want to emphasize that not much is changing for the Instapaper product outside the new ownership. The product will continue to be built and maintained by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper for the past five years. We plan to continue offering a robust service that focuses on readers and the reading experience for the foreseeable future.


I know the question you’ve got. No, it’s not yet available in Europe (GDPR). The comments on this post are stuffed with people demanding to know when it will be; Instapaper’s CEO doesn’t answer.
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This company outsources customer service back to the customer • Bloomberg

Olga Kharif:


Two years ago, when news broke that a 2012 hack of LinkedIn had compromised 117 million users’ passwords, instead of the 6.5 million previously reported, the site got a few extra questions. Almost overnight, customer service cases rose 1,300 percent. It would have taken 15 weeks, LinkedIn Inc. says, for staffers to address them all. Instead, the company resolved the caseload in about one-third the time by using Directly, software that connects distressed customers with other, more knowledgeable customers.

Using these amateur experts, LinkedIn paid about $2 a pop for answers to easy customer questions about what had happened or protective measures to take, says Andy Yasutake, who oversees LinkedIn’s customer service IT and operations. “It was worth it,” he says. When internal staffers do the same thing, it typically costs $6 to $7. (The staffers, though, get higher ratings from customers.) LinkedIn has since made Directly Software Inc.’s system a permanent feature for many paying customers. “We saw this as an alternative to outsourcing,” Yasutake says.


Neat idea.
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Scientists now know exactly how lead got into Flint’s water • Smithsonian Magazine

Ben Panko:


Haizhou Liu, an environmental engineer at the University of California at Riverside who studies corrosion and water quality, praised the study’s “careful sampling,” and said it shows how crucial phosphates are to controlling corrosion in water systems. More importantly, he says, it portends the future America faces with outdated water systems in the 21st century. “In my opinion, the Flint story reveals the challenges to maintain our aging water infrastructure nationwide,” says Liu, who was not involved in this study.

While not a new revelation to experts, Edwards says this study exemplifies how lead from main service pipes can build up in the galvanized iron pipes used inside and outside of many American houses built before 1987, and leach from those pipes into the water even after the lead pipes are gone. Using samples taken by Walters in January 2015 and sections of the iron pipe that connected Walters’ house to the lead service pipe, Edwards was able to pinpoint the contamination patterns.

Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter with the Michigan branch of the ACLU who helped expose the lead crisis in Flint, profiled Walters in 2014 for a documentary on the city’s growing water problems. “There’s just a very severe lack of trust,” says Guyette about Flint residents’ current relationship with both their water supply and their government officials.

This suspicion isn’t limited to Flint. Guyette says that on his travels across the country, he’s encountered many Americans who now know and worry about lead in their own drinking water. “What this study does is only add to the evidence of how widespread the concern should be,” he says. Edwards is now working to study the efficacy of Flint’s citywide efforts to replace lead pipes, and says this study is just the first step in getting the full picture.


The article is a little confusing – it talks about lead in the houses coming from the rust in the non-lead galvanised iron pipes; only later do you realise that the rust trapped lead leaching from the (lead) service pipes, but then the rust leached out (due to phosphates).

But also: the externalities of underinvestment in infrastructure (in favour of low taxes) eventually come back to bite you.
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An Apple accessories maker scrambles to keep up • The Information

Wayne Ma:


When his first $59 [MacBook Pro] docking station went on sale in 2010, Mr. Vroom received more than 20,000 pre-orders, selling out of its initial run of 2,000 stations in about three days. The demand overloaded both his payment processor and the company website.

Initially, Mr. Vroom wanted to manufacture his products in the U.S. because it would reduce shipping times and allow him to monitor the production line to fix problems. But he eventually decided to make them in China, where he found electronic toy manufacturers and other factories far more eager than their U.S. counterparts to take a chance on a small business like his. He said he still can’t find U.S. factories that can offer the same level of manufacturing quality and coordination with suppliers as in China.

“For us, manufacturing in China is not about cost, it’s about capabilities and a willingness to work with smaller companies,” Mr. Voom said.

In China, Mr. Vroom ran into the intellectual property issues that have bedeviled so many Western companies that manufacture products there. One of his factories adapted a Henge design into a new, generic product of its own. When Mr. Vroom raised the issue, factory managers initially didn’t understand why he was upset, explaining that Henge’s product was a different shape. Mr. Vroom went as far as to offer them alternative industrial designs.

“It took some convincing, but we finally got a commitment from their management that they would stay away from our designs, and we would continue [the partnership],” he said.


This is the point about China: it’s both the best and worst place to manufacture. Best for facilities and price; worst for IP theft.
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How to be a better beggar for your health care • Medium

Darryl Ohrt:


this is exactly how plenty of cancer patients are funding their care.

It’s true. The health care situation in our country is so bad that people just like me have resorted to begging on the streets to fund their care. Only the streets are now on the internet.

A recent article in Cure, “A Virtual Safety Net” details how to craft a better crowdsourcing campaign to fund your cancer health care, making this all too obvious that our health care industry accepts this as the new norm.

Changing the word “beg” to “ask” and putting a pretty “donate” button on it shouldn’t make this an acceptable event in our society. And we can’t blame the patients. I’ve received care at cancer centers all over our country, and met people just like your uncle, your mom, and your brother who can no longer afford the care they need. They’ve exhausted their savings. Cashed out their retirement. Reverse mortgaged their home. All in an effort to stay alive. Put in this situation, who wouldn’t crowdsource for help?


A popular joke on Twitter: “It’s 2060. The US has universal healthcare, called GoFundMe.”
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PlaneBae saga: woman breaks her silence, asks for anonymity • Business Insider


“I did not ask for and do not seek attention,” the woman, dubbed #PrettyPlaneGirl by social media, said in a statement provided to Business Insider by her lawyer, Wesley Mullen of New York City-based law firm Mullen PC, on Thursday. “#PlaneBae is not a romance — it is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent.”

Business Insider has verified that she is the woman from the Twitter posts. We have not published her name out of respect for her desire for privacy. You can read her full statement at the end of this story.

In contrast, the woman’s #PlaneBae counterpart, a former pro soccer player named Euan Holden, embraced his newfound celebrity and even appeared on the “Today” show. After Blair’s Twitter posts went viral, the woman quickly went to ground, deleting her social-media accounts in an attempt to preserve her privacy.

Still, it didn’t stop some internet users from finding and circulating her personal information, she said.

“Strangers publicly discussed my private life based on patently false information,” she said. “I have been doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed. Voyeurs have come looking for me online and in the real world.” “Doxxing” is internet slang for when a person’s private information is publicly released against his or her will.


I’m still amazed by the woman who tweeted the whole “saga” – more like a story in her mind. It’s like an episode from Dave Eggers’s The Circle.
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Apple says third-generation keyboards exclusive to 2018 MacBook Pro • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:


some customers have been hoping that Apple will start swapping out second-generation keyboards with third-generation keyboards, as part of its service program, but MacRumors has learned that isn’t the plan.

When asked if Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers will be permitted to replace second-generation keyboards on 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models with the new third-generation keyboards, if necessary, Apple said, no, the third-generation keyboards are exclusive to the 2018 MacBook Pro.

Hopefully, in that case, it means that Apple has quietly tweaked the second-generation keyboard to be more reliable. It wouldn’t really make sense for Apple to replace keyboards with ones that are just as prone to break again, especially if the third-generation keyboards offer a fix.

One possibility is that the third-generation keyboards aren’t backwards compatible with 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models to begin with. The keyboard is actually one part of a larger component called the “top case,” which has a glued-in battery, and this part may have changed slightly in 2018 models.


I’d go for the “compatibility” explanation. And note how neatly this fits my explanation yesterday: when Apple said the quieter keyboards “aren’t a fix for that”, they literally meant not a fix for those machines which have the issue, rather than the broader “dust gets in my mechanism” problem.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.880: MacBook Pro keys redux, why Flint’s water’s bad, Instapaper goes indie, overheated dogs, and more

  1. RE: Airline pilots. Supply and demand is nearly entirely decoupled from the labor market. Just look at the number of under-employed people, the number of people forced to work multiple jobs, the insane levels of turnover in retail and service positions and the number of employers complaining that magically trained, competent and willing to supply their own tools employees aren’t lining up out the door for a job that hasn’t seen a pay rise in years if not decades. If the airlines really wanted to solve this shortage, why aren’t they offering to pay for the training? Instead there is nonsense like this offering $11,000 per year in tuition assistance for a program that regularly costs hundreds of thousands of dollars? Companies are interested in generating returns to investors. Anything that interferes with that, especially in the short term, will be rejected out of hand.

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