Start Up No.975: why YouTube can’t kill its video star, Apple tries to evade Qualcomm, Facebook’s French role, a better Bluetooth?, and more


Would you, could you, should you replace the spring in a pogo stick with repelling magnets? CC-licensed photo by mac morrison on Flickr.


It’s charity time: ahead of Christmas, I’m encouraging readers to make a donation to charity; a different one each day.
Today’s is
the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which aims to help the blind and partially sighted.
Readers in the US: this page shows similar charities in the US. Choose one. Please give as generously as you feel you can.


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. How’s the shopping going? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Can repelling magnets replace the spring in a pogo stick? • K+J Magnetics

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We receive quite a few questions about replacing compression springs with repelling magnets.  Is it possible?  Can it be done?  What magnets should be used to replace a given spring?

It’s possible, but tricky.  Magnets aren’t a one-to-one replacement – magnets behave differently than springs.

There are many of pros and cons using springy magnets in such situations.  Magnets are more expensive than coil springs, but you can have them act across an air gap.  We’re not going to focus on these comparisons here.  We wanted to explore the differences in the behavior of springs vs. magnets.

Let’s try it!

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There is a problem, though: mechanical springs’ force is linearly proportional to displacement, while magnets’ repulsive force is geometrically proportional to displacement. It would feel weird.


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A glimpse into Microsoft history which goes some way to explaining the decline of Windows • Tim Anderson’s IT Writing

Tim Anderson:

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Why is Windows in decline today? Short answer: because Microsoft lost out and/or gave up on Windows Phone / Mobile.

But how did it get to that point? A significant part of the story is the failure of Longhorn (when two to three years of Windows development was wasted in a big reset), and the failure of Windows 8.

In fact these two things are related. Here’s a post from Justin Chase; it is from back in May but only caught my attention when Jose Fajardo put it on Twitter. Chase was a software engineer at Microsoft between 2008 and 2014.

Chase notes that Internet Explorer (IE) stagnated because many of the developers working on it switched over to work on Windows Presentation Foundation, one of the “three pillars” of Longhorn. I can corroborate this to the extent that I recall a conversation with a senior Microsoft executive at Tech Ed Europe, in pre-Longhorn days, when I asked why not much was happening with IE. He said that the future lay in rich internet-connected applications rather than browser applications. Insightful perhaps, if you look at mobile apps today, but no doubt Microsoft also had in mind locking people into Windows.

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As the post shows, it’s odd how you only see how the dominoes are lined up in retrospect.
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Taxi app warned women to take ‘prudence’ and ‘share ride details with family’ • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe:

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Ola, an Indian taxi-hailing giant which staged a high-profile UK launch in August, included the warning to women in a set of terms and conditions on its UK website.

The same terms and conditions also advised women passengers “to share the ride details with family, friends, relatives”.

After being alerted to the presence of the clauses, Ola changed the text of its terms and conditions, blaming a “technical error”.

An Ola spokesperson told Sky News the text was accidentally copied and pasted from a separate set of terms and conditions, which applied “to a specific car-pool service that was previously offered only in India”.

The firm stressed that the warning to women had never been part of its official UK terms and conditions, and that they were “not in any of our current global T&Cs”.

However, their inclusion has raised questions about the licensing process for ride-hailing services, which vets apps such as Ola to ensure they are safe and suitable for use by the public…

…Two of the councils involved, Cardiff City Council and Bristol Council, told Sky News it did not check terms and conditions – which lay out the rules for what is permitted on apps – as part of its vetting process.

“Terms and conditions that are entered into as part of signing up for the app are not part of the application process,” said a spokesperson for Cardiff City Council, which granted Ola a five-year license on 22 May 2018.

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Might change their tune soon.
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Faraday Future CEO’s long trail of debt is finally catching up to him • The Verge

Sean O’Kane:

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Jia Yueting, the CEO and a co-founder of troubled EV startup Faraday Future, has a notorious history with money. While his rise to fame and fortune in China was built partly around his vision — he started a streaming company in 2004 called LeTV, well before Netflix shifted away from DVDs — it was also built on financial debt. For years, he followed a relatively simple formula. He found success with LeTV, borrowed against that success to try new things under the umbrella of “LeEco,” then borrowed against those ventures to do even more, stacking up debt along the way. With China’s economy booming at the time, and a large shadow banking system emerging that made borrowing easy, he was off to the races.

More than a decade later, Jia finds himself living in a mansion — one of a few that he owns, in fact — on the coastal cliffs of Rancho Palos Verdes, California. While that might sound like the dream life, Jia isn’t there out of choice. He’s been living there since last summer in self-exile, because that long trail of debt that he built up in China is finally catching up to him.

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When the tide goes out, you discover who’s been swimming naked.

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Huawei Watch GT review: When hardware and software don’t mesh • Ars Technica

Valentina Palladino:

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The Watch GT has numerous activity- and sleep-tracking sensors inside, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, optical heart-rate monitor, and built-in GPS.

What it doesn’t have are NFC technology for contactless payments or onboard storage for saving music. Both would have complemented the onboard GPS by allowing users to go for a run without their wallets or phones. The Watch GT also doesn’t support Wi-Fi on its own, meaning it won’t receive alerts when your smartphone is out of Bluetooth range. This is a feature we take for granted now on high-end smartwatches like Apple Watches and Wear OS devices, making it noticeably and confusingly absent on the Watch GT.

But Huawei equipped the Watch GT with a battery that’s designed to last a whopping two weeks on a single charge, with heart-rate monitoring turned on. With GPS turned on as well, you should get up to 22 hours of battery life. Huawei goes so far as to say that you could get 30 days of life when you turn heart-rate monitoring off.

I wouldn’t want to turn off heart-rate monitoring because that’s one of the main reasons I wear a smartwatch at all. If you wear a device like this to keep track of your health in general, I don’t recommend turning this feature off. I didn’t and my Watch GT was down to 50% after wearing it for six days and nights, recording one-hour long workouts on all but one of those days. That’s still a stellar battery life and one that puts those of other smartwatches to shame.

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The lack of Wi-Fi helps explain the long battery life – but also means you don’t get alerts when out of your phone’s Bluetooth range. But her key complaint is that you can’t get other exercise apps, such as RunKeeper and so on. That’s unlikely to change.
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What comes next in that contested election in North Carolina • FiveThirtyEight

Nathaniel Rakich on an election to the US House of Representatives, apparently won by 905 votes by the GOP candidate, which is now in doubt over postal ballots:

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As we highlighted two weeks ago, Bladen County and neighboring Robeson County had unusually high levels of absentee ballots requested or cast. Harris also received an incredibly high proportion of the mail-in absentee votes in Bladen considering how few registered Republicans voted by mail there. Only 19% of Bladen County’s accepted mail-in absentee ballots were cast by registered Republicans, yet mail-in absentee ballots leaned heavily Republican; in every other county in the 9th District, mail-in ballots favored the Democrat.

But new information digs down past the county level to find anomalies in certain types of neighborhoods. In an analysis of absentee-by-mail ballots in the 9th District, Kevin Morris and Myrna Pérez at the Brennan Center for Justice found that mail-in absentee ballots from low-income Census tracts were more likely to have been spoiled (that is, declared invalid) than those from high-income areas in the 9th and those from low-income areas outside the 9th. Low-income neighborhoods also had a higher rate of unreturned mail-in ballots. If someone was in fact running a large-scale election-tampering operation, the increase in unreturned ballots could mean that someone was discarding some legitimate ballots before they could be returned, or that voters themselves were discarding ballots fraudulently requested in their names by someone hoping to intercept them and fill them out. According to Morris and Pérez, this discrepancy in the returned ballot rate could be an indication that lower-income voters were specifically targeted for election fraud.

The Raleigh News & Observer calculated that in Robeson County, 69% of mail-in absentee ballots requested by Native American voters and 75% of those requested by African-American voters were not returned, well out of line with the rest of the district. The Brennan Center also found that nonwhite voters’ ballots were more likely to be spoiled.

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The key part of this story is that the apparent fraud was picked up by statistics: the numbers from different areas didn’t tally with those in Bladen, which was a wild outlier. Data exposes lies as well as truths.
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Why YouTube’s biggest star can’t be cancelled • NY Mag

Max Read:

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In general, PewDiePie’s frequent controversies seem to have no real effect on his popularity. In 2017, at a little over 50 million subscribers, he lost a lucrative partnership with Disney over a series of videos in which he paid Indian men on the gig website Fiverr — as a sort of black-humored social experiment — to record themselves holding signs saying things like “Death to All Jews”; later that year, he called an opponent a “fucking nigger” while livestreaming a video game. And yet, [Felix] Kjellberg [to give him his real name] remains YouTube’s biggest star, to the tune of 75 million subscribers, 19 billion views, tens of millions of dollars, and the adoration of millions of adolescents worldwide. If you come from outside YouTube, where letting a single N-bomb slip can be enough to end your career permanently, this sequence of events is baffling: How can someone flirt so frequently and so explicitly with racist slurs and anti-Semitic jokes and thrive?

One quick and easy answer is “because YouTube lets him.” There are reasons YouTube doesn’t want to get deeply involved, both cynical (he’s a huge, engagement-driving star) and earnest (YouTube feels uncomfortable wielding its absolute power over its own platform so nakedly) — but it’s important to keep in mind that the company has both the practical and the formal power to remove Kjellberg from its site, or find other ways to punish or limit him, the way a movie studio or television network might distance themselves from an anti-Semitic movie star…

…This dynamic is exacerbated by an evolving sense of persecution on the part of YouTubers and their audiences. As the researcher Crystal Abidin wrote in an excellent explainer of the reaction to Kjellberg’s anti-Semitic joke sign videos, many YouTubers interpreted Wall Street Journal articles about Kjellberg not as neutral reporting but as a tactic in a “a struggle between Influencers and legacy media more generally.” And why shouldn’t they? By the logic of platform rewards systems — which value high-engagement figures — it makes sense to imagine that, as Abidin puts it, “legacy media is capitalizing on the digitally-native popularity of PewDiePie to reel in clicks on their articles,”

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Apple says iOS update will avoid Qualcomm patents, China iPhone ban • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

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On Monday, Qualcomm announced that a Chinese court had banned the sale of most iPhone models. However, Apple’s newest models, the iPhone XS and XR, were not covered by the ban because they had not yet been introduced when Qualcomm filed its lawsuit late last year.
Qualcomm remedied that oversight this week, asking the same Chinese court to ban sales of the XS and XR.

But Apple isn’t ready to capitulate to Qualcomm’s demands. The company claims that the ruling is specific to an earlier version of iOS, iOS 11. Apple claims that the current version, iOS 12, doesn’t infringe Qualcomm’s patents—though Qualcomm denies this. The iPhone models mentioned in the ban continue to be available for purchase in China.

Apple has asked a Chinese court to reconsider the ban. And on Friday, Apple told Reuters it would push out a software update to work around Qualcomm’s patents, clearing the way for Apple to continue selling all iPhone models in China. Apple claims that Qualcomm’s patents cover “minor functionality” of the iPhone operating system.

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Probably won’t be that easy; Qualcomm likely feels it’s finally found some winning ground.
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Garmin sets eyes on medical wearables with its latest partnership • Wareable

Hugh Langley:

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“Combining the sensor data from Garmin wearables with the data capture and analytical expertise of the Actigraph platform creates a powerful solution for many different patient monitoring applications,” said Travis Johnson, global product lead at Garmin Health, in a nice summary statement.

As for how Actigraph benefits, it’s getting access to Garmin’s wearables, which means long battery life – which means better study results.

Back to Garmin: it needs to keep up with Apple and Fitbit, which are phasing into medical-grade offerings themselves. The Apple Watch just became an ECG monitor, while Fitbit promises its wearables will soon be offering similar features.

Garmin has both beat as far as its sports watches go, but it risks falling behind as these wearables transition from fitness trackers to essential medical tools.

The partnership with Actigraph isn’t its first foray into more serious health tracking though. Most recently it announced a partnership with health analytics company Fitabase to aid health research. It also teamed up with Cardiogram to leverage the company’s advanced heart rate technology.

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The “Yellow Vest” riots in France are what happens when Facebook gets involved with local news • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick and Jules Darmanin:

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what’s happening right now in France isn’t happening in a vacuum. The Yellow Vests movement — named for the protesters’ brightly colored safety vests — is a beast born almost entirely from Facebook. And it’s only getting more popular. Recent polls indicate the majority of France now supports the protesters. The Yellow Vests communicate almost entirely on small, decentralized Facebook pages. They coordinate via memes and viral videos. Whatever gets shared the most becomes part of their platform.

Due to the way algorithm changes made earlier this year interacted with the fierce devotion in France to local and regional identity, the country is now facing some of the worst riots in many years — and in Paris, the worst in half a century.

This isn’t the first time real-life violence has followed a viral Facebook storm and it certainly won’t be the last. Much has already been written about the anti-Muslim Facebook riots in Myanmar and Sri Lanka and the WhatsApp lynchings in Brazil and India. Well, the same process is happening in Europe now, on a massive scale. Here’s how Facebook tore France apart…

…These pages [fuelling the protests] weren’t exploding in popularity by coincidence. The same month that [a Portuguese bricklayer called Leandro Antonio] Nogueira set up his first [Facebook protest] group [in January], Mark Zuckerberg announced two algorithm changes to Facebook’s News Feed that would “prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local.” The updates were meant to combat sensationalism, misinformation, and political polarization by emphasizing local networks over publisher pages. One change upranks news from local publishers only. Another change made the same month prioritizes posts from friends and family, hoping to inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments of posts.

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Facebook is now so powerful that little tweaks to its Newsfeed can destabilise countries by conjoining all the most crazy conspiracy theorists. Happy holidays, everyone!
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New Bluetooth tech could make AirPod clones much better • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

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Apple’s AirPods use standard A2DP to connect to the phone, but that’s only good for one connection. Apple has its own Bluetooth stack and hardware that allows the second earbud to sniff the first connection and establish a link. Other companies use technologies like Near Field Magnetic Induction to bridge the two earbuds. This is expensive, and the results are often imperfect.

You might not be familiar with Tempow, but it’s been building to this announcement for years. Probably its most visible partnership was the Moto X4 last year. That phone included a feature called “Wireless Sound System.” Using Tempow’s custom Bluetooth stack, you could pair multiple Bluetooth devices to the phone to create a surround sound system. Now it’s offering to license the technology specifically for wireless earbuds, which it calls Tempow True Wireless. Unlike Apple’s AirPod approach, Tempow’s multi-point Bluetooth tech uses standard chipsets — it’s just the software that changes. According to the company, Tempow True Wireless saves bandwidth because you don’t need to re-transmit sound between the earbuds. That means high-fidelity codecs like LDAC are within reach. It also says battery life could improve by up to 50% for the same reason.

The primary drawback is that you’d need earbuds and a phone that understands the Tempow-hacked Bluetooth stack. So, the phone knows it can stream the left channel to one earbud and the right to the other. Meanwhile, the earbuds know how to broadcast their identities and operate as separate audio targets. They’d be like tiny individual Bluetooth speakers in your ears.

Tempow is just announcing the availability of Tempow True Wireless — it doesn’t have any partners yet.

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Expect it will be bidding hard at CES to find them, or announce them. It’s only a few weeks away.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

6 thoughts on “Start Up No.975: why YouTube can’t kill its video star, Apple tries to evade Qualcomm, Facebook’s French role, a better Bluetooth?, and more

  1. re Huawei’s watch: one’s missing features (NFC, wifi…) is someone else’s killer app (long battery). This one sounds closer to a fitness tracker; it’s not even running Android Wear.

    Then again, that watch is weird, certainly atypical and not representative (except of the general fumbling from clueless OEMs ^^). Apart from the non-Android thing, the top sellers are Xiaomi’s (mostly fitness trackers, not true smartwatches), and the critics’ favorites are Mobvoi’s Ticwatches. https://www.androidauthority.com/best-smartwatches-706178/

    Looking around me, there’s a glaring need for a “social” watch with no fitness stuff at all, but good looks, alerts, assistant, apps (ie Android Wear). Closest thing right now is a Ticwatch C2. https://www.techradar.com/reviews/ticwatch-c2-review/3

  2. re. Airpods. Fashion is weird. I went the opposite way, with a choker-type BT headset that has a large part with everything (battery, electronics) that rests on my collar, and 2 dumb buds dangling off wires.
    I’m delighted with it. Battery life is excellent (a week, typically), comfort is great (you can’t feel the collar part at all and the buds are very small and light), sound quality is nice, and there’s no chance the thing will get lost. Or struggle with pairing/sync.
    It’s weird enough I dare not gift it though.

    • I’ve tried those BT headsets which have a collar. They’re no good for walking, let alone running. The weight of the wire pulls them out of your ears unless you jam them in so tight it hurts. This is why AirPods are so surprising and delightful: the absence of a wire means there’s nothing pulling them out of your ears, so they stay in through all sorts of exercise.

      • Mine have never fallen out while walking, which is when I use them. The cable and buds weigh nothing. Maybe there are good and bad designs, mine are Ankers.
        And for running I still haven’t found anything satisfactory. I’ve got in-ears that are secured over the ear, but that’s uncomfortable, even painful at times. Again, maybe a specific model’s issue. But contrary to tablets and phones, I’m not motivated by the topic nor asked about them enough to buy 5-10 for evaluation.

  3. re Yellow Vests. I think there’s a quite a bit of blaming the messenger going on. France is no stranger to rather extreme social movements, and those pre-date FB. Anything could be used as a coordination platform (I don’t remember what was used for the Arab Spring, but it wasn’t FB), and misinformation about that topic on FB is marginal.

    More broadly, I’m puzzled by all the criticism of new media by old media. Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck… have been spewing falsehoods and hate on old media for decades. How is PewDiePie’s side business in meanness and idiocy more relevant or worse ? More worthy of condemnation and action ?

    • Facebook and Twitter were used as organising platforms in various countries during the Arab Spring (it was 2011; FB was 7 years old). Text messaging was a common organising platform too.
      PDP’s side business attracts attention because it’s a side business. It’s like a children’s entertainer breaking off to say “by the way kids, Adolf wasn’t so bad!” It’s all worthy of condemnation; it’s made worse because it’s insidious.

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