Start Up No.1,017: Spotify’s Indian foothold, Twitter beats Facebook on news, battery prices fall, RAM prices slump, the Instagram clones, and more

“Tonight, symphony No.5 by Tensor GPU array 57.” Would we listen, though? CC-licensed photo by Grant Williamson on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Free at the point of demand. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spotify adds 1 million unique listeners in India in less than a week • Reuters

Akanksha Rana:


Spotify Technology SA, the world’s most popular paid music streaming service, said it racked up more than 1 million unique users in India across its free and premium tiers since launching less than a week ago.

Spotify launched in India on Tuesday, stepping into a price-sensitive market crowded by well-funded players such as Reliance Industries’ JioSaavn and Apple’s Apple Music.

The Swedish company is offering a free version that will run with ads, alongside a premium ad-free variant that will charge users 119 Indian rupees ($1.68) per month.

India, with a population of 1.3 billion and more than 400 million smartphone users, is a potentially huge market for the Swedish company.

According to media reports, Tencent-backed Gaana leads the Indian streaming market with over 80 million monthly users.


Uphill battle, but great for those user-count bragging rights. (Apple Music has been in India for a long time, I think.)
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A behind-the-scenes take on lithium-ion battery prices • Bloomberg NEF

Logan Goldie-Scot is “Head of Energy Storage, BloombergNEF”:


In December 2018, BloombergNEF published the results of its ninth Battery Price Survey, a series that begin in 2012 looking back at data from as early as 2010. The annual price survey has become an important benchmark in the industry and the fall in prices has been nothing short of remarkable: the volume weighted average battery pack fell 85% from 2010-18, reaching an average of $176/kWh.

The key determinant of our forecast is the relationship between price and volume. From the observed historical values, we calculate a learning rate of around 18%. This means that for every doubling of cumulative volume, we observe an 18% reduction in price. Based on this observation, and our battery demand forecast, we expect the price of an average battery pack to be around $94/kWh by 2024 and $62/kWh by 2030. It’s necessary here to highlight that this is the expected average price. Of course, some companies will undershoot and go to the market with lower prices, sooner. Others will be higher. Different cell and pack designs, a range of cathode chemistries on offer, economies of scale and regional differences will ensure there is a range in the market. A key downward driver of even lower average prices could be greater than forecast volumes.


So roughly halved in price by 2024. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get twice as much battery in your electric car; only that the price of the car can come down. Range still feels like the limitation on electric cars, even if it isn’t; fear of running out of energy is what worries people. That, and not being able to charge them.
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The mystery around QuadrigaCX continues as questions about its co-founder arise •

Trevor Smith:


Although proof of theft has yet to be uncovered, evidence has emerged suggesting that co-founder Michael Patryn is, in fact, convicted felon Omar Dhanani. In 2005 Dhanani and five others pleaded guilty in a US federal court to fraud charges involving the online trafficking of personal identities and credit card information.

Although circumstantial, the evidence that “Patryn” is an alias of Dhanani includes Canadian businesses registered in the names of Patryn and Dhanani’s sibling, Nazmin. Also, in 2008 a Canadian company named Midas Gold Exchange was created under the name Omar Patryn. This company claimed to be a processor of pre-blockchain digital currencies but quickly closed amid allegations of fraud.  

Curiously, speculation that Patryn and Dhanani are one and the same is not new. For example, early last year the suggestion was made in a Reddit cryptocurrency sub. Quadriga replied, calling it “hypothetical nonsense.” The Quadriga poster also claimed Patryn had left the company two years prior.


Dhanani was convicted through his association with Shadowcrew, a site in the early 2000s used for swapping credit card and ID data. Shadowcrew was taken over by the FBI when it arrested its operator, Albert Gonzalez, who led the crew that hacked TK Maxx’s Wi-Fi, which was only secured with WEP.

Gonzalez is still in prison. Dhanani.. isn’t. For now.
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Can machines create? • Prospect Magazine

Philip Ball:


[The mathematician Marcus] Du Sautoy recounts examples of critics instantly (and anxiously) devaluing their assessments once they learn that a “work of art” was created by an algorithm. It seems to be a fairly universal response, and can’t be dismissed as mere snobbery. Lennox Mackenzie, the LSO’s chairman when the orchestra performed the works of [computer-generated music “composer”] Iamus, confessed that “my normal inclination is to delve into music and find out what it’s all about. But here I don’t think I’d find anything.” We find it harder to take pleasure in a creation devoid of human context or intention—but that of course is contingent knowledge.

Our judgment of creativity depends on a perception of intent. If machines are able to learn to reproduce the surface textures of visual art, music, even poetry and literature, our minds are attuned enough to respond and perhaps to attribute meaning to such works. It is not mere anti-machine prejudice that we should feel our response shift when we discover that nothing more than automated pattern-recognition has created the composition. The common response to computer-generated music or literature—that it is convincing enough in small snatches but can offer no large-scale architecture, no original thesis or involving story—testifies to its lack of a shaping consciousness, and there is no sign yet that computers have anything to offer in its place.


So if we believe we’re listening to something created by a human, we try to infer its intent. What happens when it’s the other way – can we miscategorise something created by a human as done by a machine? (Could happen with some EDM?)
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Photographic proof that no idea is original and we’re all Instagram copycats • Pocket Lint

Adrian Willings:


Mark Twain once said: “There is no such thing as a new idea…We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations…”

Now a sobering Instagram account called @insta_repeat demonstrates just how right he was. In a modern world where we have unprecedented access to the world, not only via faster and better transport methods, but also by virtual ones, social media is full of photos from around the world.

This account shows that despite the sheer volume of these images, a staggering amount of them are eerily similar. Imitation may well be the greatest form of flattery, but sometimes we’re just reproducing exactly the same snap for the sake of likes. 


There’s nothing about it in the story, but I’d guess that there’s some sort of neural network behind this finding alike images. A company called Jetpac once did similar stuff with Instagram images to find people who were happy or hipster. Then Google bought it for its neural network chops. That was five years ago – so this ought to be simple enough.
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First quarter DRAM contract prices see a rare, large down-correction, resulting in the sharpest decline since 2011 • DRAMeXchange


The latest analysis of the PC DRAM market from DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, finds that most contracts are now monthly deals rather than quarterly deals, with February even seeing a most unusual, large down-correction in prices. The current quarterly decline dropped from the originally projected 25% to nearly 30%, resulting in the sharpest decline in a single season since 2011.

DRAMeXchange points out that, according to the most recent market observations, inventory levels have kept climbing ever since overall contract prices dropped in the fourth quarter of last year, and most DRAM suppliers are currently holding around a whopping six weeks’ worth of inventory (wafer banks included).

Meanwhile, Intel’s low-end CPU supply shortage is expected to last until the end of 3Q19, and PC-OEMs are unable to carry out the consumption of DRAM chips under demand suppression. The overall market has thus entered freefall, meaning that large reductions in prices aren’t going to be effective in driving sales. The excessively high inventory will continue to cause down-corrections in prices this year if demand doesn’t make a strong comeback.


PC market not growing, smartphone market not growing… looks like demand isn’t coming back.
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Social network sites and acquiring current affairs knowledge: the impact of Twitter and Facebook usage on learning about the news • Journal of Information Technology & Politics

Anselm Hager:


This study investigates how the use of Twitter and Facebook affects citizens’ knowledge acquisition, and whether this effect is conditional upon people’s political interest. Using a panel survey design with repeated measures of knowledge acquisition, this study is able to disentangle causality and to demonstrate that more frequent usage of Twitter positively affects the acquisition of current affairs knowledge.

The opposite is found for Facebook: More frequent Facebook usage causes a decline in knowledge acquisition. This negative effect of Facebook usage occurred particularly for citizens with less political interest, thereby, amplifying the existing knowledge gap between politically interested and uninterested citizens…

…journalistic outlets have four times more followers on Twitter than on Facebook, while the overall user-base on Facebook is much larger. News media, such as CNN, NY Times or NPR, as well as certain politicians are among the most followed accounts on Twitter. Whereas news outlets today are present on a wide array of social media to drive traffic to their websites, these news media have the most followers on Twitter compared to other platforms (including Facebook)


This was published in January (in volume 0, No.0 🤔) But the point that when it comes to news, most social networks are *downstream* of Twitter has always been slow to catch on simply because Facebook is bigger. That, however, isn’t always the most important criterion.
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Teen becomes first hacker to earn $1m through bug bounties • Digit

Dominique Adams:


Teen hacker Santiago Lopez from Argentina has become the world’s first white-hat hacker to earn a million dollars from bug bounties.

Lopez a.k.a @try_to_hack (his online moniker) started flagging up security weaknesses to companies via vulnerability coordination and bug bounty platform, HackerOne.

Since embarking on his legal hacking career in 2015, he has reported more than 1,600 security flaws to organisations, including social media platform Twitter and Verizon Media Company, as well as private corporate and government entities.

Inspired by the movie Hackers, Lopez taught himself how to hack watching free online tutorials and reading popular blogs.

At the age of 16 he earned his first bounty of $50 and was motivated to continued hacking after school. He now hacks full-time earning nearly 40 times the average software engineer salary in Buenos Aires…

…Numerous global companies including the US Department of Defense, General Motors, Google, Twitter, GitHub, Nintendo, Lufthansa, Panasonic Avionics, Qualcomm, Starbucks, Dropbox, and Intel have partnered with HackerOne to discover more than 100,000 vulnerabilities and award more than $45m (£34m) in bug bounties.

Luta Security CEO and cybersecurity expert, Katie Moussouris, said that bug bounties although useful weren’t a “silver bullet”. Moussouris, who created the bug bounty at Microsoft, warned that if badly implemented such programmes could see talent leaving organisations in favour of pursuing bug bounties, and thus damage the talent pipeline.


At a guess, the bounty will be distributed on the usual Pareto (power law) curve. Great for some, peanuts for many.
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Accepting bitcoin as a small business, four years in • Seymour Locksmiths

Jeff Seymour, founder of the locksmith chain which has seven outlets in the south-east of England:


As self-confessed Bitcoin enthusiasts here at Seymour Locksmiths we value the importance of decentralised ledger technologies. They have the power to change a lot of things, from financial transactions to unlocking your front door (yep, Bitcoin-powered smart locks are a thing).

In 2014 a large school of thought suggested that the main breakthrough use case for Bitcoin would be peer to peer transactions. That being customers and businesses paying for goods and services directly between one another without having to rely on payment networks such as Visa.

We decided to put this theory to the test. In September 2014 we officially started accepting Bitcoin for all of our locksmithing services, shortly afterwards we also starting accepting Dash. Since that day over four years ago and the time of writing, we have not had one customer ask to pay in Bitcoin, Dash or any other cryptocurrency.

Why does no one want to pay their local locksmith with Bitcoin?

I could list 50 different reasons why but for us it boils down to two main facts. A very small percentage of our customers posses Bitcoin in a hot wallet ready to transfer and secondly, Bitcoin can be slow and expensive for small payments.


Bitcoin-powered smart locks may be a thing, but not a thing that sees use. Rather like bitcoin for small real-world transactions, in fact.
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Amazon’s hard bargain extends far beyond New York • The New York Times

Karen Weise, Manny Fernandez and John Eligon:


When Texas officials pushed Amazon to pay nearly $270m in back sales taxes in 2010, Amazon responded by closing its only warehouse in the state and scrapping expansion plans there. Two years later, the officials agreed to waive the past taxes in exchange for Amazon opening new warehouses.

A similar scene played out in South Carolina, where officials decided in 2011 to deny Amazon a sales tax break. After threatening to stop hiring in the state, the company got the tax exemption by promising to hire more people.

And last year in Seattle, the company’s hometown, Amazon halted plans to build one tower and threatened to lease out one under construction when local officials pushed a tax on large employers. The City Council passed a smaller version of the tax, but the company helped finance a successful opposition to repeal it. Now, Amazon plans to lease out its space in the tower under construction anyway.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “shock to the system” when Amazon, facing criticism for the deal it reached to build a headquarters in the city, abruptly dropped the plans. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is still trying to woo them back. But the reversal mirrored the company’s interactions with officials in other states…

…“Amazon doesn’t like any friction,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who researches the history of tech companies. But the desire for more urban locations, she said, means “it can’t be my way or the highway.”


The struggle to shift taxation onto capital invested is going to be a pretty tough one.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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