Start Up No.1,000: Insect armageddon, the Facebook factchecking fallacy, Apple bans the screen recorders, the (non-)War of the Worlds, and more

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Yes, we have done 999 previously. Thanks Euan Williamson for the GIF.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Survived my personal Millennium Bug, but will the bugs? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’ • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:


The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write.


Intensive agriculture and pesticides mainly blamed. But climate change too.

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Young people who play video games have higher moral reasoning skills •

Rhiannon Williams:


Researchers from Bournemouth University asked 166 adolescents aged between 11 and 18-years old about their video game habits and questions designed to measure their moral development – the thought process behind determining what is right or wrong.

The children and teenagers who said they played more video games from a wide variety of genres had increased moral reasoning scores, including titles containing violent content.

Violent games were found to have a positive relationship with moral reasoning while mature content was more likely to produce a negative one, the report published in published in journal Frontiers in Psychology found.

The Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty franchises were highlighted as examples of titles related to lower moral scores, alongside variables including the length of time spent playing games, how many years they’ve been playing games, the level of engagement and m0ral narrative within a game.

Male participants displayed significantly higher moral reasoning scores than their female counterparts, which contradicted previous findings, the researchers claimed. Girls also experienced higher levels of stress while playing…

…The study suggested several explanations for the higher moral scores, including that developed moral reasoning could be supported by higher proficiency at morally disengaging with the subject, e.g. the ability to view the game as ‘just a game’.


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Fact-checking Facebook was like playing a doomed game of whack-a-mole • Buzzfeed News

Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of the fact-checking site:


It was clear from the start that that this list was generated via algorithm. It contained headlines and URLs, and a graph showing their popularity and how much time they had been on the site. There were puzzling aspects to it, though. We would often get the same story over and over again from different sites, which is to be expected to a certain degree because many of the most lingering stories have been recycled again and again. This is what Facebook likes to call “engagement.”

But no matter how many times we marked them “false,” stories would keep resurfacing with nothing more than a word or two changed. This happened often enough to make it clear that our efforts weren’t really helping, and that we were being directed toward a certain type of story — and, we presumed, away from others.

What were the algorithmic criteria that generated the lists of articles for us to check? We never knew, and no one ever told us.

There was a pattern to these repeat stories though: they were almost all “junk” news, not the highly corrosive stuff that should have taken priority. We’d be asked to check if a story about a woman who was arrested for leaving her children in the car for hours while she ate at a buffet was true; meanwhile a flood of anti-semitic false George Soros stories never showed up on the list. I could never figure it out why, but perhaps it was a feature, not a bug.

And here we are today, with Snopes and the Associated Press pulling out of their partnerships within days of each other. It doesn’t surprise me to see this falling apart, because it was never a sufficient solution to a crisis that still poses a real threat to our world.


Not only that: Binkowski spotted the Myanmar disinformation scheme being spread on Facebook long before it hit the broader news, took it to Facebook… nothing. Perversely, she felt responsible for that failure. Now, if you’re wondering how people fall for conspiracy stuff…
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SOtM sNH-10G Network Switch Review – Reviews • Audiophile Style

“KenRW” is reviewing a network switch – an Ethernet switch – aimed at audiophiles, and has a Q+A with the manufacturer:


Q : When was the development started and completed?
A : It was started at the end of 2017 and completed around Sep of  2018.
Q : How was it invented? Even though there are many routers and switches already available?
A : Because we’ve experienced sound quality differences by the different network devices but there was nothing to fulfill the quality of sound, so we started development for audio equipment. 
Q : What is the benefit of using sNH-10G into the system?
A : As for the audio equipment, the most important factor is sound quality. Also it has the optical ports and LED on/off feature.
Q :What is the technical background of sNH-10G?
A : All SOtM products have their own unique technical points. The sNH-10G is for the network audio device, every LAN port has filtering technology, which improves sound quality dramatically and this filtering technology has also been applied to the iSO-CAT6. 


$800 for an 8-port switch. With a “specially designed Ethernet noise filter”. Oh lord. Google can filter out conspiracy videos, but this is a whole different genre altogether: the irredeemably gullible. (Via Adewale Adetugbo; see the thread by Wesley George.)
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Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds panic myth: the infamous radio broadcast did not cause nationwide hysteria • Slate

Jefferson Pooley and Michael Socolow:


How did the story of panicked listeners begin? Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.”

The contrast between how newspaper journalists experienced the supposed panic, and what they reported, could be stark. In 1954, Ben Gross, the New York Daily News’ radio editor, published a memoir in which he recalled the streets of Manhattan being deserted as his taxi sped to CBS headquarters just as War of the Worlds was ending. Yet that observation failed to stop the Daily News from splashing the panic story across a legendary cover a few hours later.

From these initial newspaper items on Oct. 31, 1938, the apocryphal apocalypse only grew in the retelling. A curious (but predictable) phenomenon occurred: As the show receded in time and became more infamous, more and more people claimed to have heard it. As weeks, months, and years passed, the audience’s size swelled to such an extent that you might actually believe most of America was tuned to CBS that night. But that was hardly the case.


See also: the number of people at the Sex Pistols’ first gig, and the number when Bob Dylan went electric and someone shouted “Judas!”
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I blocked Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill:


I am using a Linux laptop made by a company named Purism and a Nokia feature phone on which I am relearning the lost art of T9 texting…

…in preparation for the week, I export all my contacts from Google, which amounts to a shocking 8,000 people. I have also whittled down the over 1,500 contacts in my iPhone to 143 people for my Nokia, or the number of people I actually talk to on a regular basis, which is incredibly close to Dunbar’s number.

I wind up placing a lot of phone calls this week, because texting is so annoying on the Nokia’s numbers-based keyboard. I find people often pick up on the first ring out of concern; they’re not used to getting calls from me.

I don’t think I could have done this cold turkey.
On the first day of the block, I drive to work in silence because my rented Ford Fusion’s “SYNC” entertainment system is powered by Microsoft. Background noise in general disappears this week because YouTube, Apple Music, and our Echo are all banned—as are Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu, because they rely on AWS and the Google Cloud to get their content to users.

The silence causes my mind to wander more than usual. Sometimes this leads to ideas for my half-finished zombie novel or inspires a new question for investigation. But more often than not, I dwell on things I need to do.

Many of these things are a lot more challenging as a result of the experiment, such as when I record an interview with Alex Goldman of the podcast Reply All about Facebook and its privacy problems.

I live in California, and Alex is in New York; we would normally use Skype, but that’s owned by Microsoft, so instead we talk by phone and I record my end with a handheld Zoom recorder. That works fine, but when it comes time to send the 386 MB audio file to Alex, I realize I have no idea how to send a huge file over the internet.


So essentially like living in 1995. Take it from a survivor: we managed. (OK, there weren’t Linux laptops. But Windows and MacOS at the time were pretty much the same as Linux is now.)
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Let there be light switches • Reading Design

Dan Hill:


A light switch can stick around for decades, as with the doorhandle. When you touch the switch, you are subconsciously sensing the presence of others who have done so before you, and all those yet to do so. You are also directly touching infrastructure, the network of cables twisting out from our houses, from the writhing wires under our fingertips to the thicker fibres of cables, like limbs wrapped around each other, out into the countryside, into the National Grid.

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others.

In his book Being Ecological, it’s telling that Timothy Morton selects the light switch to explain Heidegger’s notions of vorhanden and zuhanden. He relates the condition of being jetlagged in a Norwegian hotel room, when “the light switch seems a little closer than normal, a little differently placed on the wall”…

The light switch when jetlagged is vorhanden — suddenly present-at-hand, “oppressively obvious” —where usually its everyday resilience means it is zuhanden, simply ready-at-hand, normalised, routine. When “stumbling around”, he notes that we don’t pay attention to the object itself — here, the irreducible thing that is the light switch —and so nor do we stand any chance of paying attention to the broader systems of living, of infrastructure, that it is connected to, and part of – and, for Morton, our understanding of mass extinction due to climate change.


Bet you didn’t expect to arrive there when you started that extract.
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Apple tells app developers to disclose or remove screen recording code • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


In an email, an Apple spokesperson said: “Protecting user privacy is paramount in the Apple ecosystem. Our App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity.”

“We have notified the developers that are in violation of these strict privacy terms and guidelines, and will take immediate action if necessary,” the spokesperson added.

It follows an investigation by TechCrunch that revealed major companies, like Expedia, Hollister and, were using a third-party analytics tool to record every tap and swipe inside the app. We found that none of the apps we tested asked the user for permission, and none of the companies said in their privacy policies that they were recording a user’s app activity.

Even though sensitive data is supposed to be masked, some data — like passport numbers and credit card numbers — was leaking.

Glassbox is a cross-platform analytics tool that specializes in session replay technology. It allows companies to integrate its screen recording technology into their apps to replay how a user interacts with the apps. Glassbox says it provides the technology, among many reasons, to help reduce app error rates. But the company “doesn’t enforce its customers” to mention that they use Glassbox’s screen recording tools in their privacy policies.


Whittaker has been on a tear with these stories.
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The exercise “recovery” industry is largely bogus • Vox

Julia Belluz:


When health journalist Christie Aschwanden was traveling the world as a competitive ski racer in the 1990s and 2000s, recovery between training sessions basically meant doing nothing — taking a day to sleep in or lie around with a good book.

About a decade ago, she noticed something had changed: recovery became a thing athletes actively performed — with foam rollers, cryotherapy, or cupping — as part of their training routines. These recovery tools were heavily marketed to athletes, including amateur ones, as a means to boost performance and bust muscle aches.

In a new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, Aschwanden walks through all the biggest recovery fads of the past decade — and exposes the shoddy science backing most of them.

It’s an intelligent and entertaining tour of fitness research for anyone who exercises, with clear advice on what actually works to aid recovery. I won’t give away all the juicy details in the book, but I did ask Aschwanden to walk me through three of the most dubious recovery methods she uncovered. Here’s what she told me.


Hydration overhyped, cold post-exercise bad, cupping nonsense. Relaxing baths good.
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Sprint sues AT&T over its fake 5G branding • Engadget

Richard Lawler:


In its claim, Sprint said it commissioned a survey that found 54% of consumers believed the “5GE” networks were the same as or better than 5G, and that 43% think if they buy an AT&T phone today it will be 5G capable, even though neither of those things are true. Sprint’s argument is that what AT&T is doing is damaging the reputation of 5G, while it works to build out what it calls a ” legitimate early entry into the 5G network space.”

Following the announcement of Sprint’s lawsuit, AT&T provided us with the following statement: “We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G…”


A number of Android phones, and Apple in its betas, are showing “5GE” in the menu bar for AT+T on this. I’ve seen suggestions on Twitter that Apple doesn’t have a choice in what it displays; that it comes in the form of an image file from the network. Good for Sprint suing, though – which was the obvious move: none of the handset manufacturers is going to. Totally not in their interest.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: a link to a story about VPNs ascribed to Tech In Asia actually came from Abacus News. You should read it. (It’s not about abacuses.)

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,000: Insect armageddon, the Facebook factchecking fallacy, Apple bans the screen recorders, the (non-)War of the Worlds, and more

  1. re. Audiophile switch: you need *something* to connect your $1,000 audiophile ethernet cables to ( , ). IIRC, those cable have a “to source; to dest” orientatiion too, you don’t want your acks to travel faster than your data !

    On the other hand, the $200 Apple Airport Extreme wasn’t much different from a $25 Mi Router ( ) and nobody ever got that bothered about the Airport’s price.

    Both are instances of throwing money at fake problems. You avoid lemons (there are plenty of bad cables and routers) and you get better defaults docs and support. But you’re buying a bit of a dream: both the airport and the cables weren’t that good and the alternative of replacing stuff that fails is still way cheaper. Or you can get Really Good Stuff without the brand/label for the same price (ie. a “gaming” router with top-end QoS) , but it requires a bit of work to set up correctly.

    Some stuff is just Veblen.

  2. re. Young people and morality. It”d be interesting if they did the same thing about empathy. I’m curious about the relationship between both, and societal impact. IIRC, there’s also a strong correlation between both legal and illegal psychoactive drugs and empathy, I’m curious if that could contribute to an explanation of voting in the US.

  3. Interesting:

    I’ve long argued that Google in particular can play the FOSS game because even if competitors piggyback on Google’s efforts (fork Android, fork Chrome, fork ChromeOS… ), they’ll never monetize half as well – make that 1/10th as well, so won’t be able to fund competitive proprietary add-ons/services (gDocs, Maps, …). And the situation is even worse for non-piggybacking competitors w/ higher costs (Firefox, HERE ! Maps…).

    I’m curious if the EU, which seems to lead in structural anti-monopoly efforts, will find a way to open up monetizing that doesn’t scupper innovation. I can’t think of one myself, because tracking and profiling are such a big part of monetization, and that’s ad platform-specific, and I’d rather it stayed that way.

  4. re the “doing w/o GAFA” series, it’s enlightening as a regular-Jane experience (conclusion: undoable), but probably too apocalyptic thanks to low expertise and zero compromise. An attempt designed by an expert to be rolled out by/to end users would be a lot easier, more functional, and more sane.

    On the Google side, a more realistic and practical approach would probably be to use LineageOS, download non-Google apps from apkmirror (especially Firefox with addons, HERE ! Maps and a mail client), use Framasoft’s office suite, and use a VPN.

    You’re still open to Google/Amazon/MS’s cloud infrastructure that powers most of the Web/Internet, but since they don’t get your IP, nor probably a unique ID from client apps, you’re probably untrackable per app, and certainly non-consolidateable across apps (I’d like an expert’s opinion on that though !)

    Fun tidbit: pretty much all Androids with an audio jack (wired headset needed as an antenna) have FM radio too, heh ? I use that quasi-daily.

  5. “Porn is not OK, but this is”.

    It’ll be interesting to see how Apple handles this (or at all, if the outcry doesn’t reach “must handle” proportions). For Google, the issue isn’t as sharp because sideloading. For Apple, an appstore ban means an utter ban, and presumably lost sales.

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