Start Up No.1,096: Raspberry Pi gets more vroom, Apple downplays Spotify numbers, the trouble with cement, how Wikipedia beats fake news, and more

Is the number of people who doubt this message growing – or perhaps actually shrinking? CC-licensed photo by Province of British Columbia on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Tuesday already? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Adblock-proof shameless promo: got half an hour? Try The Human and Machine podcast. It’s a co-presentation by Julia Hobsbawm (of Editorial Intelligence) and myself.

The latest episode is a discussion with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Rohan Candappa, plus an interview with Professor Charlton McIlwain, about race and the internet.

We’ve previously spoken about autopilots, the 737 Max and the implications for self-driving cars with Alex Hern of the Guardian and Dr Jack Stilgoe of University College London.

The next one (coming soon!) will talk to Professor Martyn Rees about humans on Mars, genetic modification, and much more. Find these episodes, and the whole series, by searching for “human and machine” on your podcast app. As long as that isn’t BBC Sounds, which arguably isn’t a podcast app anyway.

Anti-vaxxers aren’t the main driver of the measles epidemic; their numbers aren’t growing • Slate

Daniel Engber:


Here’s a simpler, more convincing explanation for the sudden surge of measles: Much bigger outbreaks overseas have been spilling over to our shores. More than 66,000 cases have been registered in Europe since the start of the year, and there have been alarming flare-ups in parts of Africa and Asia, too. These crises have in turn set off the ones we’re seeing here. In May, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the recent measles outbreaks affecting New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities and Russian speakers in Clark County, Washington, each started off with sickened travelers returning from Israel and Eastern Europe.

In other words, one doesn’t need to posit soaring rates of craziness within the US to explain the growing public health disaster. It’s certainly true that pockets of vaccine refusal persist in this country, as they have for many years. If those pockets are now experiencing greater numbers of measles cases, it may be on account of dire trends in far-off places.

This global explanation only kicks the can a little farther down the road, however. Measles cases are spreading here because they’re spreading overseas—OK, fine. But why is measles spreading overseas?


Think a little while before you answer; it’s not obvious.
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The new Raspberry Pi is basically a $35 desktop computer • Gizmodo

Andrew Liszewski:


At $35, the new Raspberry Pi 4 is the last thing you’ll want to rely on for tasks like Photoshop, video editing, or gaming. But it’s now packing a Broadcom 1.5 GHz ARM Cortex-A72 quad-core processor and the option to step up from 1GB of faster LPDDR4 RAM to 2GB for $45, or 4GB for $55, which should go a long way to making the Pi 4 more viable as a web browsing and email machine straight out of the box.

The Raspberry Pi 3’s standard sized HDMI port has been upgraded to a pair of micro HDMI ports on the Pi 4, allowing the tiny computer to power a pair of 4K displays at 30 frames per second, or a single 4K display at 60 frames per second—thanks to the board now adopting developer Eric Anholt’s Mesa V3D graphics driver. Onboard you’ll also find a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a pair of USB 3.0 ports, but microUSB is nowhere to be seen. It’s been replaced with a power-only USB-C port, adding an extra 500 mA of juice. On the wireless front, the Raspberry Pi 4’s Bluetooth has been upgraded to the 5.0 standard, and wifi now supports dual-band 802.11ac.

Originally designed as both a tool for tinkerers and those wanting to learn more about how computers work, the Raspberry Pi has become an essential tool for industrial applications, according to the company.


There’s a long discussion about what people use their Raspberry Pi to do over on Hacker News.
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Green cement struggles to expand market as pollution focus grows • Bloomberg

Vanessa Dezem:


Manufacturing the stone-like building material is responsible for 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions, more than what comes from all the trucks in the world. And with that in mind, it’s surprising that leading cement makers from LafargeHolcim Ltd. in Switzerland to Votorantim Cimentos SA in Brazil are finding customers slow to embrace a greener alternative.

Their story highlights the difficulties of taking greenhouse gases out of buildings, roads and bridges. After wresting deep cuts from the energy industry, policymakers looking to extend the fight against global warming are increasingly focusing on construction materials and practices as a place to make further reductions. The companies are working on solutions, but buyers are reluctant to pay more.

“There is so far too little demand for sustainable materials,” said Jens Diebold, head of sustainability at LafargeHolcim. “I would love to see more demand from customers for it. There is limited sensitivity for carbon emissions in the construction of a building.”


Fertilizer yesterday, cement today – it seems like everything is contributing to the problem. In a way, it is.
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An encyclopedia with breaking news • Wikipedia At 20

Brian Keegan on how Wikipedia has survived the “fake news” and clickbait incursion that has infected everywhere else:


Every user’s Facebook News Feed is personalized in response to their relationships, interests, and behavior. Content featuring novelty, humor, and outrage receives greater “engagement”, so publishers and advertisers are locked in an arms race to produce ever more attention-grabbing content and target it for users’ personalized feeds. Wikipedia has no newsfeed1, runs no advertising, and has a comparatively minuscule operating budget.

But an overlooked and critical difference between Wikipedia and other social platforms is the absence of personalization in the user experience. Every English Wikipedia user’s “Abraham Lincoln” article is the same regardless of their geography, gender, browsing history, or social graph. This common experience concentrates collective scrutiny and deliberative capacity rather than diffusing these accountability mechanisms across inscrutable and incommensurable personalized news feeds. Linus’s Law—”given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow” evidently holds for preserving the integrity of social information feeds.


That lack of personalisation turns out to be a boon. Not an easy one to predict. And yes, it is used as a source for breaking news by some senior people in Silicon Valley.
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US bans AMD’s Chinese joint venture from developing, selling hardware • Extreme Tech

Joel Hruska:


The United States added five Chinese companies to a blacklist on Friday, restricting their access to US technology. The so-called Entity List “identifies entities for which there is reasonable cause to believe, based on specific and articulable facts, have been involved, are involved, or pose a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The companies in question are: Sugon, Higon, Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit, Chengdu Haiguang Microelectronics Technology, and Wuxi Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology. One of these, Higon (also spelled Hygon) is a fabless semiconductor joint venture between AMD and THATIC, responsible for selling x86 CPUs for the Chinese server market. THATIC is itself composed of two separate joint ventures — Chengdu Haiguang Microelectronics Technology and Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit Design. If you look at the list above, both of these companies are on it.


Sugon makes supercomputers (“exascale machines”). Seems possible that Hikvision, which is behind lots of CCTV cameras, will also join them on the blacklist.
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Facebook adds new limits to address the spread of hate speech in Sri Lanka and Myanmar • TechCrunch

Manish Singh and Jon Russell:


As Facebook grapples with the spread of hate speech on its platform, it is introducing changes that limit the spread of messages in two countries where it has come under fire in recent years: Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

In a blog post on Thursday evening, Facebook said that it was “adding friction” to message forwarding for Messenger users in Sri Lanka so that people could only share a particular message a certain number of times. The limit is currently set to five people.

This is similar to a limit that Facebook introduced to WhatsApp last year. In India, a user can forward a message to only five other people on WhatsApp . In other markets, the limit kicks in at 20. Facebook said some users had also requested this feature because they are sick of receiving chain messages.

In early March, Sri Lanka grappled with mob violence directed at its Muslim minority. In the midst of it, hate speech and rumors started to spread like wildfire on social media services, including those operated by Facebook.


Missed this at the time, but it’s quite the thing to see how remarkably hard Facebook is rowing back on the whole “sharing stuff really easily is terrifically good for everyone” idea.
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Do the best academics fly more? • Impact of Social Sciences

Seth Wynes:


Flying comes at a huge environmental cost, and yet many researchers view it as crucial to their success. Using the University of British Columbia as a case study, we investigated whether the faculty at our institution who flew the most were also the most successful. We found that beyond a small threshold there was no relationship between scholarly output and how much an individual academic flies.

These results are not intuitive. Networking, attending conferences and delivering lectures should give your ideas an edge, help you to disseminate your research, and result in higher quality papers that get more citations. And the fastest way to do all of these things in person is to fly. But even when accounting for department, position and gender, we found no relationship between how much academics travel and their total citation count or their hIa (a version of h-index adjusted for academic age).


Thank you to the mischievous academic – you know who you are – who I think has a very low air mileage, and who sent this link.
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We tried to publish a replication of a Science paper in Science. The journal refused • Slate

Kevin Arceneaux, Bert N. Bakker, Claire Gothreau, Gijs Schumacher:


The researchers behind the Science article had shown a series of images to 46 participants in Nebraska and used equipment to record how much the participants’ palms sweated in response. The images included scary stuff, like a spider on a person’s face. We conducted two “conceptual” replications (one in the Netherlands and one in the U.S.) that used different images to get at the same idea of a “threat”—for example, a gun pointing at the screen. Our intention in these first studies was to try the same thing in order to calibrate our new equipment. But both teams independently failed to find that people’s physiological reactions to these images correlated with their political attitudes.

Our first thought was that we were doing something wrong. So, we asked the original researchers for their images, which they generously provided to us, and we added a few more. We took the step of “pre-registering” a more direct replication of the Science study, meaning that we detailed exactly what we were going to do before we did it and made that public. The direct replication took place in Philadelphia, where we recruited 202 participants (more than four times than the original sample size of 46 used in the Science study). Again, we found no correlation between physiological reactions to threatening images (the original ones or the ones we added) and political conservatism—no matter how we looked at the data.

By this point, we had become more skeptical of the rationale animating the original study.


As you’ve guessed, Science didn’t feel like publishing their non-replication. There have been proposals for a Journal of Non-Replication, but the problem is that you have to be sure that the replication attempt was good in every aspect, and that the failure isn’t due to some other reason. Not as easy as it sounds.
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Apple files response to Spotify complaint in Europe • 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:


In March, Spotify’s public PR campaign against Apple focused on the company of charging a 30% “tax” on all App Store transactions. In actuality, Apple now says that Spotify isn’t paying the 30% fee on any of its subscribers.

Essentially, Spotify only offered the ability to sign up for a subscription through its iOS app from 2014 until 2016. For subscriptions, Apple charges a 30% fee for the first year, then a 15% fee each year after that. All of the subscribers that Spotify acquired though its iOS app are long since out of that one-year window.

Apple also underscores in its response that Spotify only pays Apple a fee on just over 0.5% of its total subscribers. As noted by CNET, Spotify has around 100 million paying subscribers. Apple says that Spotify acquired 680,000 subscribers through its iOS app. That means that Spotify gives Apple a cut on only 0.68% of its total subscribers.

This response from Apple marks the first time Apple has formally responded to Spotify’s European Commission complaint. Immediately after Spotify’s initial PR campaign in March, Apple publicly responded to the accusations made by Spotify, but as of earlier this month, it had not yet filed a formal response to the commission.


Well that’s quite the response. Although, of course, the complaint is about a matter of law, not number.
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Apple was right again: here’s why a Galaxy Note 10 without a microSD slot isn’t a big deal • BGR

Chris Smith:


[XDA Developers organiser Max] Weinbach says the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Pro will have expandable storage, whereas the Note 10 will not. That would be a strange thing for Samsung to do, but the larger dimensions of the Note 10 would explain why Samsung might do it. Also, Samsung likes money too, so it would definitely welcome your extra cash for versions with more internal storage.

When Samsung did the same thing with the Note 5 a few years ago, the cheapest version of the phone shipped with 32GB of storage. But Samsung flagships now start at 128GB of memory, which is a significant upgrade — that goes for the Note 9 and the Galaxy S10. Add to that USB-C connectivity and speedy internet support (up to 5G), and you’d have more ways to move data at high speeds and free up your local storage than we had four years ago.

Yes, Samsung brought the microSD card back after backlash from consumers. But the absence of microSD storage shouldn’t be a deal-breaker in 2019. By the way, the Galaxy Fold that’s still delayed would have shipped without a microSD slot too, but the foldable phone packs speedier storage. And built-in flash memory is always faster than expandable storage.

Finally, by removing ports and buttons from its flagship phones, Samsung might be able to manufacture more durable handsets than before. Sooner or later, the microSD card is bound to disappear from more flagship devices, not just Samsung’s. The iPhone never supported microSD cards, and Google’s Pixel doesn’t do it either. OnePlus has been selling phones without microSD support for years, well before significantly bumping up onboard storage, and Android fans have been buying them like crazy.


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5 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,096: Raspberry Pi gets more vroom, Apple downplays Spotify numbers, the trouble with cement, how Wikipedia beats fake news, and more

  1. Re. Raspberry Pi: it’s good hardware, excellent software, and tremendous community, which in the Linux word isn’t that common, my tentative forays into Linux have been marred bad issues, bad documentation, and a shitty community (at least for noobs).

    The Pi 4 is really 3 orders of magnitude better than what came before, with netbook-class performance (Cortex A72), uncompromised I/O (ethernet and each USB port have regular back-haul bandwidth, no more contending for one measly USB2 line to the SoC), and comfy RAM (4GB).

    Pi has always been quite good for tinkering and embedded uses, now it also qualifies for server and desktop duty.

    It’s not exceedingly good value tough. Once you graduate to more RAM (base config is 1GB), add the required case, PSU, tax, shipping, cables (and dongles… micro-HDMI ??), and SD card, you’re at par ($100-ish) with similar (details vary, but A7x cores, about same RAM, about same I/O) commercial hardware, ie an Odroid N2 on the tinkerer/embedded side, and a Beelink GT-King on the desktop/HTPC side.

    I’m in the market for 2 such gizmos, one for messing around one as the basis for my Desktop for Noobs. I’m leaning towards a Pi because community for the tinkering, and the Beelink for desktops because Android: “my” users prefer to stay with something familiar, and the Android ecosystem is superior (MS Office, games…). the Pi has been curiously lacking a good Android ROM; maybe that’ll change now.

  2. re. “Apple was right”. Nope, they were wrong, and now history is being rewritten:
    – Apple cut the SD not when phones offered 128/256/512/1024 GB like today, but when they offered 4/8GB. 4/8GB phones were barely usable, esp when network coverage is patchy. Content size hasn’t changed much in the mean time, so this is relevant.
    – Apple was (still is ?) charging wildly over the odds for extra storage (IIRC, over 10x what an equivalent SD costs). I understand extortionate upsell on a locked platform is good for the supplier, it’s bad for the users though. Sensible brands such as Xiaomi charge a reasonable amount of money (+/- 2x SD) for internal Flash.
    – It was never about SD or no SD, but about plenty of storage vs not enough of storage. I’m quite happy with a no-SD phone as long as I can have 256GB on it w/o being taken to the cleaners.

    The 2 uses besides “moar storage” I have for SD (I only put content on them, not apps) is to have my new phones instantly get all my media, and for backups (both for security and to dumbly Restore All Apps to a new phone). I can work around no-SD by using USB instead, it’s a lot slower, but new phone only happens rarely.

  3. Also, I’m regularly puzzled by the “built-in flash memory is always faster than expandable storage.” line. Shows an astounding lack of understanding.
    1- Even back in 4/8GB days, putting apps on the SD was only a last resort. It’s better to have apps on a slow storage than not to have the app at all. Let he who has never deleted useful stuff from their phone because “it is full” throw the first stone. Duh.
    2- Above all, the SD has always almost exclusively been used for content, and for that, speed doesn’t matter: I don’t want to watch my movies as fast as the storage can feed them to the CPU, I want to watch them at their natural speed, which even the lowest-spec SD beats by far. Re-Duh.

    • PS I got one of my Mi Max-es (phone) w/128 GB internal flash instead of my usual 64 because why not, it’s Xiaomi-cheap and I’ll recycle one of my old 128GB SD instead of buying a new 256; but I regretted it: this forced me split my media between the internal Flash and the SD, which complicates things for no benefit. I ended up with ebooks, audiobooks podcasts and feature-length films on the internal Flash, and music and TV series and new films on the SD. Meh.

    • Maybe , after the pizza and car analogies, we need to inject a new angle into IT analogies. I found one that works extremely well for that extra, slow storage. Let’s introduce the underwear analogy:
      1- what matters above all is whether you have it or not
      2- what matters second is that it doesn’t utterly stink
      3- that’s it, really. We can get fancy and start caring about specs, durability, brand… But as long as you’ve got storage and it works, you’re basically set.

      I look forward to propagating this new outlook ;-p

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