Start Up No.1,035: YouTube on radicalisation, is Trump a golf cheat?, AirPower crash-lands, Sandy Hook hoaxers, and more

Chimpanzees’ propensity for murderous violence is quite unlike humans’. CC-licensed photo by Aaron Logan on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. Contains no April Fool’s jokes, and by the end of today you’ll probably be glad of that. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

YouTube’s product chief on online radicalization and algorithmic rabbit holes • The New York Times

Kevin Roose talks to Neal Mohan:


KR: I hear a lot about the “rabbit hole” effect, where you start watching one video and you get nudged with recommendations toward a slightly more sort of extreme video, and so on, and all of a sudden you’re watching something really extreme. Is that a real phenomenon?

NM: Yeah, so I’ve heard this before, and I think that there are some myths that go into that description that I think it would be useful for me to debunk.

The first is this notion that it’s somehow in our interests for the recommendations to shift people in this direction because it boosts watch time or what have you. I can say categorically that’s not the way that our recommendation systems are designed. Watch time is one signal that they use, but they use a number of other engagement and satisfaction signals from the user. It is not the case that “extreme” content drives a higher version of engagement or watch time than content of other types.

I can also say that it’s not in our business interest to promote any of this sort of content. It’s not something that has a disproportionate effect in terms of watch time. Just as importantly, the watch time that it does generate doesn’t monetize, because advertisers many times don’t want to be associated with this sort of content.

And so the idea that it has anything to do with our business interests, I think it’s just purely a myth.

KR: So, why do people talk about this rabbit hole effect — you know, I went to watch one video about President Trump and now I’m just getting a stream of recommendations of increasingly more partisan content. Why do you think there’s this perception that this is what happens on YouTube?

This is one of the things that we looked at closely as we were developing the technology that went into that recommendation change that I described to you from a few weeks back.

We really looked at this to see what was happening on those “watch next” panels, in terms of the videos that were being recommended. And the first thing that I should say is that when we make recommendations after a video has been consumed, we don’t take into account any notion of whether that’s less or more extreme.


Well, duh. Mohan dances around this, unconvincingly. It’s clearly on his radar, but clearly also he doesn’t know how to solve it (yet?), and also doesn’t want to admit it.
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Trump is world’s worst cheater at golf: book • NY Post

Gavin Newsham:


“To say ‘Donald Trump cheats’ is like saying ‘Michael Phelps swims,’” writes Rick Reilly in the new book “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump” (Hachette Book Group), out Tuesday. “He cheats at the highest level. He cheats when people are watching and he cheats when they aren’t. He cheats whether you like it or not. He cheats because that’s how he plays golf … if you’re playing golf with him, he’s going to cheat.”

Reilly, a former Sports Illustrated columnist who has played with Trump in the past, spoke to dozens of players — both amateur and professional — to recount some of the president’s worst cons on the course, starting with his declared handicap of 2.8.

In layman’s terms, the lower the handicap, the better the player. Jack Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major golf titles and generally considered the greatest golfer in the history of the game, has a handicap of 3.4. Nicklaus’ handicap is listed on the same Golf Handicap and Information Network website used by Trump, where players post their scores.

“If Trump is a 2.8,” writes Reilly, “Queen Elizabeth is a pole vaulter.”

Shortly after he became president, Trump played with Tiger Woods, the current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the veteran PGA Tour pro Brad Faxon. Given the quality and profile of his companions, you might have thought Trump would have been on his best behavior. Not so.

On one hole, Trump dunked a shot into the lake, but as his opponents weren’t looking he simply dropped another ball — and then hit that into the water, too.

“So he drives up and drops where he should’ve dropped the first time and hits it on the green,” recalls Faxon.


I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, but I had honestly thought this was one area where he had ability, and would respect the rul… OK, I see the mistake. And do read the piece for its last line.
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Portable TV and music • AVC

Fred Wilson:


That is an AppleTV and a Sonos Connect in between my “shaving kit” and my sneakers.

I brought these two devices out west and connected the AppleTV to the one TV in the Airbnb and I connected the Sonos to the receiver that powered the in ceiling speakers in the main living space in the house.

Even if the Airbnb had come with an AppleTV and a Sonos device, I would have swapped out theirs for ours for the length of our stay because these two devices have all of our services pre-confgured on them and we are logged into all of the services.

That is where the big difference is for me and the reason it is worth schlepping these devices cross country and back. The devices aren’t crazy expensive. The AppleTV is around $150 and the Sonos Connect is around $300. But setting these devices up, connecting them to all of the various services we subscribe to, and logging into each and every one can be an hour or more of work each time you do it.

All I had to do was power them up, connect to Wi-Fi, and connect to the TV and/or the receiver, and we were good to go.


Hadn’t thought about the logging-in nature of this, but it’s completely true. If, that is, you spend any time travelling. Might pack a HomePod in there too, for the sound quality.
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‘Those who obeyed the rules were favoured by evolution’ • SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE, Hamburg, Germany:


DER SPIEGEL: If it wasn’t women, who tamed men?

Richard Wrangham [a British anthropologist who has worked with Jane Goodall]: Here we enter the terrain of speculation, because fossils don’t tell us exactly what happened. What we have to do instead is to see how today’s hunters and gatherers treat individuals that behave aggressively. There are, in fact, even in these generally peaceable peoples, some individuals who, like alpha chimpanzees, try to dominate the others by violence. How do the members of such a community react – without prisons, without military, without police? There is only one way for them to defend themselves against the determined perpetrator: He is executed. The killing is done by agreement among the other men in the society.

DER SPIEGEL: You argue that this is how aggressiveness was systematically eradicated from the gene pool of mankind?

Wrangham: Well yes, aggressiveness was reduced, even if it was not eradicated. Virtue seems to have evolved from something as violent as killing. But don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating executions in today’s world. Justice is fallible, so the death penalty inevitably leads to the killing of innocent people; furthermore, there is no evidence that it really effectively deters people from committing crimes.

DER SPIEGEL: It is quite a daring hypothesis to argue that the death penalty has made us what we are. How did you come up with it?

Wrangham: It was when I read a book by Christopher Boehm entitled “Hierarchy in the Forest”. In this book, he describes how aggression in communities of hunters and gatherers is controlled by executions. My goodness, I thought when I read this, maybe this mechanism has even shaped our evolution?


A really fascinating interview; you think humans are violent, but it turns out we really aren’t, compared to pretty much everything else. Or at least not actively so. Passively, we’re terrific at wiping out species.
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AirPower fail: The latest victim of Apple’s OCD • ZDNet

Jason Perlow:


Allegedly, based on conceptual patent filings, the AirPower was able to achieve this flexible orientation wireless charging by having many 3D coils in extremely close proximity to each other – which also required extremely complex power management in order to prevent the coils from generating excessive heat and to mitigate the generation of overlapping harmonic frequencies between the coils.

As it is, Apple’s own Qi implementation runs at a lower 7.5W rather than the maximum 10W and 15W of its Android competitors, reportedly because the newer generation iPhones with wireless charging capability got way too hot at those increased power levels.

Ultimately, I believe Apple did the right thing. Can you imagine the potential “PowerGate” of cooked iPhones, Watches and AirPods? It’s far less egg on Apple’s face to cancel the product outright than to release a dangerous dud.

Apple very rarely cancels products outright after announcing them. The last time it did this was in August of 1996, when it decided to cancel its Copland OS, which proved too difficult a project for the company. It eventually ended up migrating to Mac OS X, which is heavily based on NeXT’s (and Steve Jobs’) BSD UNIX OpenStep object-oriented graphical OS instead.

The public cancellation of AirPower is a huge embarrassment for Apple. But given the company’s obsession with bleeding edge engineering and its compulsion for thinner, lighter, faster, more densely packed and difficult-to-repair products, such an embarrassment was inevitable.


*mumbles something about cancelling butterfly keyboards before they get out of the gate*
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The death of Apple’s AirPower’ may be the best thing for you and your iPhone • CNet

Jessica Dolcourt:


we’d never seen AirPower in action beyond the video in Apple’s initial presentation. By postponing and then finally squashing it, Apple may have saved iPhone users – and its own reputation – from a poorly working product. Imagine your disappointment and anger if you bought AirPower and it never functioned smoothly.

AirPower could have also been costly. Apple never announced pricing, but an optional wireless charging case for the new generation of AirPods costs $80, and that’s to power up one device, not communicate with three. AirPower could have easily sold for $150. Meanwhile, plenty of other wireless charging pads sell for $30 or less.

Apple’s abdication of AirPower doesn’t mean it’s done with wireless charging. For all we know, it could have killed its darling to start work on a new wireless charging project for 2019 or 2020; maybe one – and this is pure speculation – that would also work with a foldable iPhone.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Samsung’s Galaxy S10 phones and Huawei’s P30 Pro have inspired Apple to give its next iPhone or MacBook Air the ability to wirelessly charge other devices.

AirPower may have withered on the vine, but I’m confident that Apple isn’t done with wireless charging yet. That’s clear by the tech giant’s continued investment in the feature for its iPhone and accessories. Consider this: we know that the first smartphone is slated to get over-the-air wireless charging in the near future. There’s no way Apple would miss out on a groundbreaking development like that.


Nothing to do with foldable phones; and wirelessly charging other devices is not a functionality that I feel any need to have, ever. AirPower was just too difficult an engineering challenge: the risk was the thing would overheat something or other, because the batteries (AirPods, Watch, iPhone) are so different in their demands.
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Why bother with What Three Words? • Terence Eden’s Blog

The aforesaid Eden has some problems with the system that’s meant to make your life easier:


W3W splits the world into a grid, and gives every square a unique three-word phrase. So the location 51.50799,-0.12803 becomes ///mile.crazy.shade

Brilliant, right?

No. Here’s all the problems I have with W3W.

1) It isn’t open
The algorithm used to generate the words is proprietary. You are not allowed to see it. You cannot find out your location without asking W3W for permission. If you want permission, you have to agree to some pretty long terms and conditions. And understand their privacy policy. Oh, and an API agreement. And then make sure you don’t infringe their patents. You cannot store locations. You have to let them analyse the locations you look up. Want to use more than 10,000 addresses? Contact them for prices! It is the antithesis of open.

2) Cost
W3W refuses to publish their prices. You have to contact their sales team if you want to know what it will cost your organisation. Open standards are free to use.

3) Earthquakes
When an earthquake struck Japan, street addresses didn’t change but that their physical location did.

That is, a street address is still 42 Acacia Avenue – but the Longitude and Latitude has changed.
Perhaps you think this is an edge case? It isn’t. Australia is drifting so fast that GPS can’t keep up.
How does W3W deal with this? Their grid is static, so any tectonic activity means your W3W changes.


There’s also a few others – the internationalisation one is pretty big. I still don’t see it getting traction; we just send each other location blobs these days, and Google Maps is pretty much universal.
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The Sandy Hook hoax, and the parent who believed in conspiracy theories – until his child died there • NY Mag

Reeves Wiedeman:


Lenny [Pozner] may have been the first Newtown parent to discover that conspiracy theorists didn’t believe his son had been killed, because he used to be a serious conspiracy theorist himself. “I probably listened to an Alex Jones podcast after I dropped the kids off at school that morning,” Pozner said, referencing the fearmongering proprietor of InfoWars. Pozner had entertained everything from specific cover-ups (the moon landing was faked) to geopolitical intrigue (the “real” reasons why the price of gold sometimes shifted so dramatically) and saw value in skepticism. But for him, the appeal of conspiracy theories was the same as watching a good science-fiction movie. “I have an imaginative mind,” he said.

When he first discovered the theories about Noah, Lenny, who grew up in Brooklyn, made only a halfhearted attempt to respond. “I feel that your type of show created these hateful people,” Pozner wrote in an email to Alex Jones, to which one of Jones’s employees replied that Jones would love to speak to him if “we confirm that you are the real Lenny Pozner.” Pozner declined, in part because he found himself unable to do much of anything.

While Noah’s death had given [his wife] Veronique a mission [advocating gun control], Lenny “was just numb,” he said. Lenny had worked for two decades as an IT consultant but now found the crisis management that the job required to be too overwhelming. In the year after Noah’s death, Lenny’s mother died following a battle with Alzheimer’s, and he and Veronique separated. “People tell me it’s supposed to get easier,” Lenny said at the shooting’s first anniversary. “We’re waiting for that to happen.”

But by the spring of 2014, as he watched the hoaxer movement bloom, Pozner decided to try fighting back. He released Noah’s death certificate, to convince those who believed he had not been killed, and his report card — “Noah is a bright, inquisitive boy” — for those who believed he had never lived at all. One Friday night, a year and a half after the shooting, he joined a Facebook group called Sandy Hook Hoax, one of the more prominent hoaxer meeting grounds. (Its logo features a ghostly child holding an index finger to her mouth.) Pozner told the group he was there to answer questions, and he expressed empathy for their mind-set. “I used to argue with people about 9/11 being an inside job,” he wrote.


Eye-opening piece.
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Mistakes, we’ve drawn a few • The Economist

Sarah Leo:


At The Economist, we take data visualisation seriously. Every week we publish around 40 charts across print, the website and our apps. With every single one, we try our best to visualise the numbers accurately and in a way that best supports the story. But sometimes we get it wrong. We can do better in future if we learn from our mistakes — and other people may be able to learn from them, too.

After a deep dive into our archive, I found several instructive examples. I grouped our crimes against data visualisation into three categories: charts that are (1) misleading, (2) confusing and (3) failing to make a point. For each, I suggest an improved version that requires a similar amount of space — an important consideration when drawing charts to be published in print.


This is good to see being done. I like this one best:

And its advice: “aim for leaving at least 33% of the plot area free under a line chart that doesn’t start at zero.”
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Jeff Bezos’ investigator Gavin de Becker finds the Saudis obtained the Amazon chief’s private data • Daily Beast

De Becker points out that the Daily Beast wanted him and Bezos to sign a document saying there hadn’t been any electronic surveillance – before they’d suggested there had:


As has been reported elsewhere, my results have been turned over to federal officials. Since it is now out of my hands, I intend today’s writing to be my last public statement on the matter. Further, to respect officials pursuing this case, I won’t disclose details from our investigation. I am, however, comfortable confirming one key fact:

Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information. As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.

We did not reach our conclusions lightly. The inquiry included a broad array of resources: investigative interviews with current and former AMI executives and sources, extensive discussions with top Middle East experts in the intelligence community, leading cyber security experts who have tracked Saudi spyware, discussions with current and former advisers to President Trump, Saudi whistleblowers, people who personally know the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (also known as MBS), people who work with his close associate Saud al-Qahtani, Saudi dissidents, and other targets of Saudi action, including writer/activist Iyad el-Baghdadi.

Experts with whom we consulted confirmed New York Times reports on the Saudi capability to “collect vast amounts of previously inaccessible data from smartphones in the air without leaving a trace—including phone calls, texts, emails”—and confirmed that hacking was a key part of the Saudi’s “extensive surveillance efforts that ultimately led to the killing of [Washington Post] journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”


He doesn’t provide any of that evidence, though. Little tricky to put all one’s faith in that.
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Government delays controversial internet porn ‘block’ law • Sky News

Lucy Cotter:


The government’s much heralded porn “block” has been delayed once again.

Under the controversial plans, people will have to verify their age to access UK commercial pornographic websites in a bid to stop children accessing the content.

The legislation, which was passed as part of the 2017 Digital Economy Act, was initially expected to be in place by April 2018. After being delayed last year, the minister for the department of digital, culture, media and sport, Margot James, told MPs: “We expect it to be in force by Easter of next year”.

However, the department said a date has not been set for the roll-out of the policy. “This work is a world-leading step forward to protect our children from adult content which is currently far too easy to access online,” it said. “We are taking the time to get the implementation of this policy right and to ensure it is effective, and we will announce a commencement date shortly”.

Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group says the delays are due to serious concerns about privacy and data collection.


Yeaahh they’ve delayed it because they’re not going to get it through Parliament before the general election that without a doubt is coming as soon either as May’s Withdrawal Agreement gets Parliamentary approval, or the WA is finally drowned in a sack. (The latter would be worse, since it implies a no-deal exit.) It will then take at least another year before a new government gets round to implementing it – if it wants to follow on.
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Sony to slash smartphone workforce 50% by 2020 • Nikkei Asian Review

Akihide Anzai and Wataru Suzuki:


The decision to scale back its smartphone workforce, which could see up to 2,000 of the total 4,000 jobs cut by March 2020, is part of a move to reduce fixed costs in the business, and also includes procurement reform.

Some of the Japanese employees affected by the decision will be transferred to other divisions, but the company will offer voluntary retirement in its Europe and China operations.

Sony will limit smartphone sales in Southeast Asia and other areas to focus on Europe and East Asia.

The company’s smartphone sales for fiscal 2018 are projected to come in at a dismal 6.5m units, half the previous year’s figure and just one-sixth that of five years ago.

In fiscal 2014, Sony pulled 1,000 employees from its smartphone operations, but sales have plunged faster than expected, necessitating a further round of cuts.

Sony’s smartphone business generates annual revenue of about 500bn yen, but is expected to post an operating loss for the third straight year through fiscal 2019. By halving operating expenses from fiscal 2017, the company hopes the business will turn a profit by fiscal 2020.


So when I wondered about the magical thinking protecting jobs, I guess I wasn’t accounting for the senior management who can spot it where they see it.

The mobile division is going to be on a one-way ride to the mountains pretty soon.
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Asus was warned of hacking risks months ago, thanks to leaky passwords • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


A security researcher warned Asus two months ago that employees were improperly publishing passwords in their GitHub repositories that could be used to access the company’s corporate network.

One password, found in an employee repo on the code sharing, allowed the researcher to access an email account used by internal developers and engineers to share nightly builds of apps, drivers and tools to computer owners. The repo in question was owned by an Asus engineer who left the email account’s passwords publicly exposed for at least a year. The repo has since been wiped clean, though the GitHub account still exists.

“It was a daily release mailbox where automated builds were sent,” said the researcher, who goes by the online handle SchizoDuckie, in a message to TechCrunch. Emails in the mailbox contained the exact internal network path where drivers and files were stored…

…The researcher’s findings would not have stopped the hackers who targeted Asus’ software update tool with a backdoor, revealed this week, but reveals a glaring security lapse that could have put the company at risk from similar or other attacks. Security firm Kaspersky warned Asus on January 31 — just a day before the researcher’s own disclosure on February 1 — that hackers had installed a backdoor in the company’s Asus Live Update app.


That’s two strikes against Asus; not looking good. Security is hard, especially when you do it badly.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

9 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,035: YouTube on radicalisation, is Trump a golf cheat?, AirPower crash-lands, Sandy Hook hoaxers, and more

  1. “Might pack a HomePod in there too, for the sound quality.”

    Hasn’t the “Homepod sound quality” canard been debunked by *all* the blind tests ? I seem to remember a first wave of “once you’ve heard it, you can’t forget it”, followed by “wait a minute… here a 3 similarly-priced loudspeakers… now close your eyes…well, seems you forgot, or never heard it in the first place”. So, any loudspeaker really. Beauty is in the eyes of the iBeholder. Even for sound.

    And for the record, from the audiophiles.

    • I’m not talking about “super ultra audiophile” sound quality. But everyone who listens to a HomePod compared to other ordinary speakers likes it a lot – strong bass, good treble. Better than the Sonos One (of which I have a couple). In stereo, very impressive.

  2. re Wireless charging. Have you ever had it ? I think it’s this kind of feature that you don’t think you need until you no longer have it. I had it a long time ago, and if there one feature I’d add to my Redmi, that’d be it. Ditto iBrother who graduated from iPhone to Galaxy S and now to Redmi, and who now misses iMessage because lock-in, and wireless charging because it changes topping-off your phone from a conscious action to an almost passive one.

    • I’ve used wireless charging on phones, yes. I find it fiddly: hard to hit the correct spot. Would have been nice to have a mat you could just plonk the phone down onto.

      As for wireless phone-to-other-phone/device charging, I just don’t think that’s going to be a thing. One’s phone battery is too precious to spaff away on charging other things. (You might think: but what about wireless charging of your phone by a portable charger? I’d say nope: see how many people walk around with a charging cord hanging from their phone to a pocket.)

  3. re. Bezos’ security. “He doesn’t provide any of that evidence, though. Little tricky to put all one’s faith in that.” What does he, or his boss, have to gain by making it up ?

    The piece is not advancing Bezos’ financial interests, is not really raising the guy’s profile, is not even advancing the political case against the Saudis.
    It’s just making the point that on top of killing foreign citizens on foreign soil and conducting espionage in foreign country, the Saudis are also conducting cyber-espionnage. Not earth-shattering, I take it as a useful reminder to other luminaries that might be individually targeted.

    • We know the Saudis conduct cyber-espionage (I’ve linked to that here a number of times). My question is where the evidence is that they did it against Bezos. I’m not persuaded by “trust me, it really happened” because it leaves so many open questions: what was the mode of attack, why this and not commercial interests (if they really hacked his phone, they got at a TON of commercially sensitive info). None of which this answers.

  4. I don’t think Apple will ever admit just how bad the new butterfly keyboards are as lawyers would be all over them (well, they are already all over them over this). I don’t think we’ll get a replacement this year unless the repair stats are terrible. What wouldn’t surprise me would be if we see the next generation replaced by something more similar to that on the iPad Pro smart keyboard. It seems to have good reliability and meets their thinness quota (but I think heat dissipation is why they haven’t done it yet).

    PS. When I bought a reconditioned 2017 to replace my 2013 MacBook Pro the biggest shock was just how noisy the keyboard was. Seemed like everyone was staring at me as I typed.

    • The irony is that the iPad Pro smart keyboard *is* the butterfly! And it’s reliable and quiet. But yes, surely heat dissipation is what prevents that solution.
      Plus, yes, they are noisy. That is one of the things my wife noticed about them, and really disliked, when I tested one.

      • Ah – maybe if heat dissipation is the preventing the solution it will, in the end, be the solution. An ultra-thin keyboard will be more reliable if covered in a membrane to stop stuff getting into key travel areas. Heat dissipation needs to be improved elsewhere in the design to allow for this. Apple make very power efficient ARM processors. Discuss…

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