Start Up No.889: Dorsey on improving Twitter, Italy’s bridge problem, Penn Jilette on truth, 3D printing and gun laws, and more

Free Twitter’s API, more like: changes on Thursday will crimp third-party apps. Photo by Howard Lake on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Quite tweety. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says in an interview he’s rethinking the core of how Twitter works • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin:


Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said he is rethinking core parts of the social media platform so it doesn’t enable the spread of hate speech, harassment and false news, including conspiracy theories shared by prominent users like Alex Jones and Infowars.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Dorsey said he was experimenting with features that would promote alternative viewpoints in Twitter’s timeline to address misinformation and reduce “echo chambers.” He also expressed openness to labeling bots — automated accounts that sometimes pose as human users — and redesigning key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays users’ follower counts.

“The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey said. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”

Dorsey’s openness to broad changes shows how Silicon Valley leaders are increasingly reexamining the most fundamental aspects of the technologies that have made these companies so powerful and profitable…

…Twitter’s new policies are being tested at the highest level — including by President Trump, whose tweets are a direct challenge. On Tuesday, Trump called former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who recently published a tell-all about her time at the White House, a “dog.” He also attacked Harley-Davidson on Sunday for moving jobs overseas — a move that precipitated a 2% drop in the company’s stock price.

Dorsey stuck to his long-held view that an exception generally would be granted to Trump because his comments are newsworthy and give users crucial insights as to how “global leaders think and treat the people around them.”


The acid test would be if Trump’s tweets got some sort of downrating for being untrue, but that won’t happen. Again, Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that Twitter is “the clown car that drove into a gold mine” remains true.
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Tweetbot removes timeline streaming, activity and stats tab, and push notifications for some features ahead of Twitter changes • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


Ahead of upcoming Twitter changes set to be implemented tomorrow [Thursday], Tapbots has released an updated version of its Tweetbot app for iOS devices, removing several features that have been present in the app for years.

Timeline streaming over Wi-Fi has been disabled, which means Twitter timelines will refresh every one to two minutes instead of as new tweets come in. We’ve been using the Tweetbot for iOS app in a beta capacity with these changes implemented, and while it’s not a huge change, the delay is noticeable.

Push notifications for Mentions and Direct Messages are also delayed by a few minutes, and push notifications for likes, retweets, follows, and quotes have been disabled. Tapbots says it is, however, investigating re-adding some of these push notification options in the future.

The Activity and Stats tabs have been removed from the app, and because the Apple Watch app was heavily dependent on Activity data, it too has been eliminated.

Tapbots says that it is sorry that the changes had to be made, but Twitter has decided to eliminate certain features provided to third-party apps without offering alternatives.


This is utterly crap on Twitter’s part. The product grew because of third-party apps and now it’s killing them. Stupid, like so many of its decisions down the years.
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Twitter suspends Alex Jones and Infowars for seven days • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger:


Twitter on Tuesday suspended the account of the far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for a week after he tweeted a link to a video calling for supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready against media and others, in a violation of the company’s rules against inciting violence.

The social media company followed up on Wednesday by also suspending the account for Infowars, the media website founded by Mr. Jones, for posting the same video.

The twin actions effectively prevent Mr. Jones and Infowars from tweeting or retweeting from their Twitter accounts for seven days, though they will be able to browse the service.

The moves were Twitter’s harshest against Mr. Jones and Infowars after other tech companies took steps last week to ban them from their platforms. The removals began when Apple announced it would purge videos and other content by Mr. Jones and Infowars because of hate speech, followed by Facebook, YouTube and then Spotify. Twitter was the sole holdout among the major tech companies in not taking down content from Infowars and Mr. Jones, who has called the Sandy Hook shooting a hoax conducted by crisis actors.


Clever move by Twitter. In effect, it was waiting for Jones to make the slightest wrong move, and he fell straight into the trap. The week’s suspension isn’t quite congruent for the Jones account and the Infowars account (by a few hours, the latter is in jail longer). It’s going to be harder and harder for him not to all into Twitter jail repeatedly, and eventually get banned. And so Twitter wins, without having to go to war.
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Italy bridge was known to be in trouble long before collapse • The New York Times

Gaia Pianigiani, Elisabetta Povoledo and Richard Pérez-Peña:


As deaths from the bridge failure in Genoa rose on Wednesday to 39, it became clear that while the collapse was catastrophic, it was not exactly a surprise.

Years before part of the structure dissolved in a lethal cascade of concrete and steel, it required constant repair work, and experts in Parliament, industry and academia raised alarms that it was deteriorating and possibly dangerous.

Those warnings fueled an intense round of finger-pointing on Wednesday among political parties and the private company that operated the bridge, none offering an answer to a set of crucial questions that will not be answered quickly: Should everyone involved have anticipated a disaster of this scale? How were so many omens ignored? And how much of Italy’s aging, often neglected infrastructure is also at risk of failure?

“It was not destiny,” said Genoa’s chief prosecutor, Francesco Cozzi, who announced that he would conduct a criminal investigation into the failure of the Morandi Bridge.

When the bridge fell shortly before noon on Tuesday, Genoa lost a major artery that crosses the Polcevera River and connects the eastern and western parts of the city. The route is traveled by tens of thousands of commuters daily, and by many of the passengers and much of the freight passing through the city’s busy port, and its loss raises fears of economic damage that could take years to repair.

Italy has suffered a series of bridge collapses in recent years — though none nearly as serious as Genoa’s — and many other spans are showing serious wear.


And yet the doltish deputy PM blamed the European Union, complaining about money remitted to its funds. EU money probably helped fund some of the infrastructure that’s now being neglected. There’s a good companion piece about bridges at The Conversation.
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In conversation: Penn Jillette • Vulture

David Marchese with a fantastic interview with the conjuror/juggler/magician, who has a fascinating sweep of insights:


Q: You’ve talked in the past about how the antidote to bad ideas is more ideas. But doesn’t the way things are shaking out online suggest that actually what we need are better ideas and not just more of them?

PJ: I believe in the marketplace of ideas but you’re right, we now have algorithms that push people crazy. YouTube is set up to push you crazy. If I search for vegan recipes, I’ll end up with 9/11 truthers. But it’s like the first time people saw movies, and the train on the screen was coming toward themThe 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station is a 50-second silent film showing a train pulling into a Paris station, and is an early document of cinematic technique: forced perspective, long shots, close-ups. There’s a myth about the film that in its premiere, audiences were terrified by the train coming at them, and ran from their seats. …

Q: And everyone jumped out of the way.

PJ: That’s right. They were screaming and yelling, but then it only took a millisecond for people to realize what was going on from that point forward. So even with all this bad stuff happening, yes, I still think people are overwhelmingly good, ideas are overwhelmingly good, and if you have Nazis being able to reach 10 million people, those same 10 million people will also be reached by Martin Luther King.

Q: Why do you think that? Isn’t the marketplace of ideas as it now exists online intentionally designed to send people further down a given rabbit hole rather than towards contrary ideas?

PJ: Yes, algorithms are weighted in favor of that, but that’s not the problem. If you’re worried about craziness in the next ten years, I don’t have any hope for you. Fifty years? No problem. It’s like when we first saw advertisements: they worked entirely. But now I can show you a TV ad and you don’t even reach for the phone. The words didn’t change, but you learned to tell that it was bullshit. We’re going to see that happening with the internet. People will learn to separate the good from the bad. But that whole idea that everybody else is going crazy on the internet sickens me. I can tell when something is garbage. You can tell. Who are all these mysterious people that can’t?


Stay too for the bit where he discusses his experience on US Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump, and why he won’t talk about what he heard. (He does, in passing, dispel any doubts about whether a tape of Trump using the n-word exists.)
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How 3D printing exposes the fallacy of federal gun laws • Wired

Antonio Garcia Martinez knows more about guns than you (probably) do, and is looking at the implications of 3D printed guns – where the importance isn’t the 3D printed nature:


You may have seen the weapon in 2010’s Academy Award for Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, where it’s used by US soldiers to eliminate Iraqi snipers from an astonishing distance. It fires a projectile the size of your thumb, and can kill a man from over a mile away. In spirit, the weapon is illegal in California. In actual fact, it’s legal with the right modifications that only slightly impact functionality. Gun regulation fails.

Why does this odd status quo exist?

Our current gun laws are a necessary compromise among pro- and anti-gun extremes, plus a large middle that wants some gun control but not an outright ban. The NRA zealot is placated by Democratic rhetoric around banning only “weapons of war” paired with the technical knowledge that they can tolerably dodge most Blue State gun laws via the modular technology described above. The pro-gun-control Blue Staters are placated because politicians are “doing something,” and thanks mostly to ignorance about how modern guns work, think their gun laws are actually stopping the distribution of firearms when they increasingly resemble security theater.

Defense Distributed’s ultimate goal is to kick the final, weak leg out from under this tenuous political agreement, and force a reckoning with the state of firearms technology. When the last-mile problem of untraceable, unregistered guns has finally been “solved,” even politicians can’t maintain the charade of effective gun control.


Turns out that defining a “gun” isn’t a trivial task, and it’s now under pressure due to 3D printing fans Defense Distributed.
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Fortnite Android beta roundup: disappointing, frustrating, Samsung-only • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska has the roundup:


Samsung and Epic announced that the game would be distributed via an APK and would initially only be available on certain Samsung models. While this is only a beta launch, keeping the device profile restricted so narrowly should have made it simpler for Epic to deliver an early game version with robust performance and graphics. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened here.

According to Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech, limiting itself to just Samsung devices “hasn’t made the game run smoothly in the slightest.” Android Central declares “I’ve been playing it almost non-stop from the moment it was made available in the Samsung Galaxy App Store, and this is my early review of the game having played it on a Samsung Galaxy S8” before noting: “Fortnite is fun, but not on Android.” Android Police states that the game is currently limited to those owning a Galaxy S7, S8, S9, Note 8, Note 9, Tab S3, or Tab S4, and that despite this restriction, the game’s frame rate simply cannot hold a steady 30fps, even on a device as new as the Galaxy Note 8+.

Resolution isn’t native — it looks to be barely 480p — and texture quality isn’t great, either. The Android Police author claims his device is stuck on Epic, but I’m not sure that’s true. Rather, it’s true that his device claims to be stuck on “Epic” quality, but it’s not clear that level of image quality is actually being applied. According to Ars, low quality (which is what this looks like): “drops the resolution to somewhere around 480p, removes all traces of anti-aliasing, drops texture resolution, simplifies all in-game geometry, and removes all shadows.”

Meanwhile, certain decisions the game makes have drawn scorn from almost everyone. By default, the game has aim assist enabled and recommends using Auto Shoot, which means you’ll basically be letting Bixby play the game for you. That might be for the best, however, since the game apparently isn’t all that much fun in the first place, thanks to the constant performance drops.


Sounds like there’s a problem for Android, rather than Samsung. Also recommended, if you need to educate someone about Fortnight: this BBC Radio 4 programme about it, which aired on Wednesday.
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Ding, ding, seconds out: It’s Law v Math • Medium

Professor Bill Buchanan:


Within new laws, his government will thus force social media and cloud service providers to hand-over encrypted messages.

When asked how this could be achieved, he said: “Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

He then went on to say that cryptographers were the problem, and that we needed them to face up to their responsibilities, and that they just can’t wash their hands of it…

…Last year, as the UK Home Secretary outlined her plans around restrictions on end-to-end encryption, I was called by the BBC about back-doors in cryptography. As it is a subject I know well, and had even presented to a select committee in the House of Commons [here], I said I would be interested in debating the issue. They then they asked if I could put forward the concept of backdoors in encryption, and I said:
“I can’t do that!”

And they said, “Well, we are really struggling to get someone to put that point, couldn’t you just outline the advantages and how it would be possible?”, and I said, “Well, most people with any technical knowledge knows that it is a bad thing, and to provide an academic point-of-view I would have to be critical of it. In fact if I put forward the concept of backdoors in cryptography, I would have no credibility in my field”, and the conversation finished and they didn’t invite me on. Basically I was there to back up a politician who was on the show.


Another version of “we’ve had enough of experts”. Love the idea of the law of the country outranking the laws of maths.
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Google is making Wear OS app quality guidelines mandatory • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:


According to Google, it will begin enforcing the Wear OS app quality guidelines for new apps on October 1st of this year. Existing apps will have until March 4, 2019 to get things together. That means developers will need to take into account both functional and visual criteria. There are detailed guidelines on the Android Dev site, but the blog post notes which issues Google sees most often.

Apparently, Wear developers often don’t test their apps on different screen shapes, which causes interface issues. They also fail to provide Wear OS screenshots in app listings. If these issues aren’t fixed by the above dates, the offending apps won’t show up on the Wear OS Play Store. Importantly, this is separate from the main app review process. Google won’t completely block an app or update if it fails the Wear OS review.


Not sure that it’s going to change the trajectory for Wear OS – or Android smartwatches generally – but it’s nice to know that they’ve noticed that app quality matters too.
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The Moto P30 announced in China as just the latest in a long line of iPhone X clones

Ryan Whitwam:


Everyone wants to make an iPhone clone these days. Well, that’s not exactly new, but it’s harder to clone the iPhone X without screwing it up. That’s why you can’t turn around without seeing a poorly implemented screen notch. Motorola is the latest to take a swing at it with the P30. This phone leaked yesterday, and now it’s official in China.

The P30 is a mid-range all-glass phone with a Snapdragon 636, 6GB of RAM and 64-128GB of storage. The display is 6.2-inches with a 1080p resolution and 19:9 aspect ratio. Since this is a phone for the Chinese market, the phone won’t have Moto’s traditional clean build of Android. Instead, it’s Oreo with the Lenovo ZUI skin.

The display has a rather sizeable notch at the top—it actually seems larger than it needs to be in order to better match the iPhone’s proportions. Around back, there’s a vertical dual camera module off to one side. There’s also a fingerprint sensor in the Motorola logo on the back.


Cosmetically, everyone wants to look like the iPhone – apart, these days, from Samsung, which finally discovered its own path with the Edge series.
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Uber narrows loss but is a long way from finding profit • Reuters

Heather Somerville:


Uber’s net loss narrowed to $891m in its second quarter ending June 30 from $1.1bn a year earlier. Its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $614m, down from $773m a year earlier.

Net revenue rose more quickly than gross bookings in the second quarter from the prior period as the company dialed back on promotional subsidies of rides.

But its growth faces risks from decisions like that by New York City this month to cap licenses for ride-hailing services for one year. Uber has also had to grapple with corporate scandals and has lingering and costly legal battles, including over its classification of drivers as independent contractors, and federal probes to resolve.

“I remain unimpressed,” said Brent Goldfarb, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Improving losses by cutting “the lowest hanging fruit doesn’t mean the underlying model is profitable.”


With $12bn in quarterly gross bookings (inc rides and Uber Eats), up 40% yoy, 6% qoq. Net revenue of $2.8bn, up 60% yoy, 8% qoq.

With those metrics, it seems quite a long way from finding its breakeven.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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2 thoughts on “Start Up No.889: Dorsey on improving Twitter, Italy’s bridge problem, Penn Jilette on truth, 3D printing and gun laws, and more

  1. I think Fortnite is an Epic problem. The very similar PUBG runs fine on a very wide range of Android hardware (using the same graphic engine, from Epic no less). Fortnite won’t even install on my midrange (SD652 and SD 636) phones nor my high-mid range (MTK8176 =2xA72, 4xA52, PowerVR GX6250) tablets, on which PUBG runs at medium settings.
    The issues even on top-end hardware make it clear it’s a coding issue. I’m curious if things will get better on the Galaxies, and if Fortnite will move downmarket. The timing of the releases makes me think they used a lot of their iOS team for the Android release, which rarely works well. Hopefully Gamasutra will do a postmortem in a couple of years.

    • To expand on the “iOS dev != Android dev” line: iOS devices have few & high-speed cores, Androids have more & lower-speed cores. iOS has low RAM and fast storage, Androids have more RAM and slower storage. That impacts the code a lot (Android needs more threads, more preloading/caching…). Indeed, the flagships Fortnite currently claims to support do diverge less from iOS phones, with speedier cores and storage.
      Also it seems Fortnite on Android uses OpenGL not Vulkan, which is a very weird choice. If they knew they were going to be performance-constrained and run on few devices, why lower the OS requirement (from 7.0 for Vulkan to 5.0) ? All of the devices currently on Fortnite’s compatibility list do support Vulkan/Android 7.0+ so it makes little sense to use OpenGL and lower OS requirement to 5.0+ ? Unless they’re confident they can fix all their quality and performance issues and plan to run on 4 yo midrangers ? I don’t think so !

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