Start Up No.1,119: YouTube’s climate problem, monitors for all!, Tim Cook’s successor, the Airbus rollover problem, Brexit wargames, and more


The Joint European Torus fusion reactor: we need its successors to work if we’re going to beat climate change. CC-licensed photo by aglet on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Too hot to handle. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Most YouTube climate change videos ‘oppose the consensus view’ • The Guardian

Gregory Robinson:

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[Dr Joachim] Allgaier [of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany] noted, however, that although chemtrails videos received a lot of views, it does not mean the people watching them believed what they were told.

He said it was important to examine the algorithms that decide which videos to show people, but did not suggest YouTube should remove climate denial material.

“Effectively, this would be censorship, and YouTube says they are against censorship,” Allgaier said. “Perhaps they could change their algorithms to prioritise factual information, especially for health and medicine.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our community guidelines.

“Over the last year we’ve worked to better surface credible news sources across our site for people searching for news-related topics, begun reducing recommendations of borderline content and videos that could misinform users in harmful ways, and introduced information panels to help give users more sources where they can fact-check information for themselves.”

Allgaier suggested more scientists should start taking YouTube seriously as a platform for sharing information. “YouTube has an enormous reach as an information channel, and some of the popular science YouTubers are doing an excellent job at communicating complex subjects and reaching new audiences,” he said.

“Scientists could form alliances with science communicators, politicians and those in popular culture in order to reach out to the widest possible audience. They should speak out publicly about their research and be transparent in order to keep established trustful relationships with citizens and society.”

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YouTube could prioritise the truth. Haha, just joking.
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The only chart we should be looking at • Chartable

Gregor Aisch:

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it is important to mention a well-known flaw in this dataset: Rich countries have notoriously managed to “outsource” their emissions to China. A lot of the increase we see is being caused by goods like smartphones and cheap clothes, which are being manufactured in East Asia but are consumed in Western countries.

Finally, there is another important thing missing in the emission curve, and that’s where we need to be heading. The October 2018 special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that in order to limit global warming to below 1.5 degree Celsius we need to reach net-zero emissions between 2045 and 2055.

Global climate emissions target

Without showing this goal in the emission charts, even a slight reduction in emissions may look like a big achievement, while the truth is that it’s not. Or, as Greta has put it in her speech:

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“The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual.”

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That’s a truly scary graph. Unless we invent fusion reactors or give everyone a fission reactor and solar panels in the next decade, we’re cooked.

Maybe that’s the answer to the Fermi Paradox.
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Do you really need another computer monitor? • OneZero

Angela Lashbrook:

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Yes, [you] do. Multiple monitors actually make a positive difference when it comes to productivity.

I started to suspect this was true over the course of the past year, when I switched from working at various media companies and transitioned to freelance writing at home. It turns out there’s research to support my newfound discovery: For most office labor, employees benefit from multiple monitors, so if you — or even better, your employer — have a little extra cash and want to beef up productivity in a painless way, opening your wallet for an extra monitor or two is well worth it.

“If you have a lot of papers you’re working with on a project, would you rather work on a big conference table or an airline tray table?” says John Stasko, a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has researched the effects of using multiple monitors. “I don’t know many people who’d trade their multi-mon setup and go back to a single monitor.”

…These experiences are echoed in the scientific literature on the topic, which while scant, uniformly backs up the anecdotes presented here as far as I could find. A 2004 study looked at how performance compared when a worker used one monitor as opposed to two. It found that workers got started on work 6% more quickly, worked 16% faster, and had 33% fewer errors when using more than one screen.

Users also vastly preferred the use of multiple monitors — those with multiple monitors rated their experience 28% easier to focus and 24% more comfortable.

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Apple’s next CEO to replace Tim Cook: Jeff Williams • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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While Williams can be direct and demanding in meetings with other executives, current and former colleagues say he sometimes relies heavily on a circle of lieutenants to play bad cop in larger engineering-team meetings. With the designers, his sensibility doesn’t always translate. “He comes from the operations side, and the metrics being applied there often have very little meaning in design,” says a longtime member of the design team.

The Watch has been Williams’s biggest test. Months before the first model’s release in 2015, some employees testing the device began having allergic reactions to the type of nickel used in its casing, a not-uncommon issue with wristwear. Williams made the call to scrap thousands of Watches the company had already produced and ramp up a separate manufacturing line with a different kind of nickel. Employees also noticed that the “taptic engine,” a Williams priority that allows the Watch to vibrate more quietly than a typical phone part when it receives notifications, was prone to long-term failure from corrosion. Again, Williams decided not to send out a few thousand Watches that were affected. Employees got them instead.

These choices spared many early adopters from getting defective early models of the Apple Watch. They also helped make the watch tough to find in stores for months after its official release, and some online shipments were delayed, too. When customers could find some, they might be the Watch models shipped with 18-karat gold cases, which cost as much as $17,000—conceivable for wealthy Rolex fans, but a poor investment given that Apple’s model would be obsolete in a few years…

…One former senior Apple executive says he’s less worried about Williams’s ability to implement ideas from the design team than he is about the managers reporting to Williams. The new team leaders, longtime Apple hardware and software design managers Evans Hankey and Alan Dye, are a “step down” from Ive in terms of design prowess, the former senior executive says, but acknowledges that workflow may be simpler with Hankey and Dye running things. Before, “those people were pseudo in charge, but not really in charge, because Jony could overrule them.”

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Sounds like a pretty solid choice. Particularly his willingness to scrap things that don’t work.
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Airbus A350 software bug forces airlines to turn planes off and on every 149 hours • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

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Some models of Airbus A350 airliners still need to be hard rebooted after exactly 149 hours, despite warnings from the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) first issued two years ago.

In a mandatory airworthiness directive (AD) reissued earlier this week, EASA urged operators to turn their A350s off and on again to prevent “partial or total loss of some avionics systems or functions”.

The revised AD, effective from tomorrow (26 July), exempts only those new A350-941s which have had modified software pre-loaded on the production line. For all other A350-941s, operators need to completely power the airliner down before it reaches 149 hours of continuous power-on time.

Concerningly, the original 2017 AD was brought about by “in-service events where a loss of communication occurred between some avionics systems and avionics network” (sic). The impact of the failures ranged from “redundancy loss” to “complete loss on a specific function hosted on common remote data concentrator and core processing input/output modules”.

In layman’s English, this means that prior to 2017, at least some A350s flying passengers were suffering unexplained failures of potentially flight-critical digital systems.

Airbus’ rival Boeing very publicly suffered from a similar time-related problem with its 787 Dreamliner: back in 2015 a memory overflow bug was discovered that caused the 787’s generators to shut themselves down after 248 days of continual power-on operation. A software counter in the generators’ firmware, it was found, would overflow after that precise length of time. The Register is aware that this is not the only software-related problem to have plagued the 787 during its earlier years.

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149 hours is a strange number to cause a buffer overflow; it’s not a critical number in octal or hexadecimal.

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“We wargamed the last days of Brexit: here’s what we found out” • openDemocracy

Luke Cooper:

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As Brexit has radically disrupted the existing British party system, the factional roles assumed by players did not tend to align with a particular party leadership. Instead different Tory and Labour factions were represented within the game. Each player had a series of votes allocated in the British Parliament. Larger factions had two different vote allocations: ‘waverers’ and diehards. They could potentially cast these votes in different directions. Another element of the game design lay in a consciously British-centric approach. An assumption underpinning the game was that the EU side would act as, in gaming-terms, a ‘dummy-player’. This refers to when an actor is present within a scenario, who does not face choices that affect the overall arc of the decision pathway. With modifications to the Withdrawal Agreement persistently ruled out by the EU, had players assumed this vantage point they would not have faced any choices. As a dummy-player, the umpire thus articulated the position of the EU-27 states at key decision-making points across the game.

Following the playful spirit of Debord’s legacy, this really was a game. Players accumulated points in relation to different votes passing and goals being reached. Some had hidden objectives that were revealed at the end of the game, identifying a potential conflict between the public statements of factions and their underlying motivations. The ‘winner’ had the most points at the end of the game.

The outcome of the game eventually resolved itself in a new referendum. By this stage the game had moved into the near future of early autumn 2019. The cross-party negotiations had failed to reach a breakthrough acceptable to both leaderships. Softer members of the Tory Brexit Delivery Group then split away from the party leadership, crossing the floor to support a new referendum. Interestingly, this came as a surprise to the game designer, Barbrook, who had anticipated a stalemate and a further extension of Article 50 at the end of October 2019.

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This would be remarkable, to say the least, but the current Westminster situation is flattered by being called “febrile”.
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Apple to acquire majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business • Intel Newsroom

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Intel and Apple have signed an agreement for Apple to acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business. Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple, along with intellectual property, equipment and leases. The transaction, valued at $1bn, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions, including works council and other relevant consultations in certain jurisdictions.

Combining the acquired patents for current and future wireless technology with Apple’s existing portfolio, Apple will hold over 17,000 wireless technology patents, ranging from protocols for cellular standards to modem architecture and modem operation. Intel will retain the option to develop modems for non-smartphone applications, such as PCs, internet of things devices and autonomous vehicles.

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Been noises about this in the media for a week or so. Seemed worth just waiting for the official confirmation. The list of exceptions Intel gets is fun. But you can’t make half a modem. Apple will have to set this group to work to make 5G modems, probably for 2022.
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How to talk to boomers and other older people in your life about fake news • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

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Caulfield said it’s common for older people to unwittingly share things that have extremist messages or iconography. “It’s very hard to see people posting stuff that may come from a kind of a dark place that they don’t realize is dark,” Caulfield said. “What do you do when your parents go from posting Minions [memes] to posting hard-right memes about cement milkshakes?”

He says it’s important to intervene privately and help the person understand the larger — and more concerning — context.

“There’s a good chance your family member doesn’t understand that and might be horrified at what they’re sharing. And so there’s a point to intervene and let people know, ‘Hey, I know, this was probably not what you meant, but…’”

Experts agree that being non-confrontational is key. Daniel Kent founded Net Literacy, a nonprofit, in 2003 when he was in middle school in Indiana. One of its first programs was Senior Connects, which helps older people get online and gain basic internet skills.

“I think it’s fundamentally about treating [older people] with concern and respect. Recognizing that … perhaps they had the best of intentions, but the execution on their part perhaps wasn’t the most, the most thoughtful and mindful,” he said.

If you do want to say something, Kent and Caulfield suggest engaging in person — or by direct message or phone if that’s not possible. If you call someone out publicly on Facebook or elsewhere, they’re likely to feel attacked or shamed, and you won’t have a chance to hear why they wanted to share a particular piece of content. Understanding where someone is coming from and why they shared or posted what they did is essential, Kent and Caulfield say.

“With our volunteers [we] preach as much empathy as possible,” Kent said.

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OK, use this method on Trump then.
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Young people in UK abandon TV news ‘almost entirely’ • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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While the average person aged 65 and over watches 33 minutes of TV news a day, this falls to just two minutes among people aged 16-24, according the media regulator’s annual news consumption report.

The decline has been driven by audiences moving away from traditional live broadcast channels, where they might watch a popular drama and leave the channel on during the evening news bulletin, towards watching catchup content from streaming services.

The shift could have major implications for British politics, given services such as Netflix do not provide any news. Political parties have traditionally considered the BBC’s 10pm news bulletin to be their most important outlet for getting their message across to large swaths of the public, which in turn can shape policies being proposed and how they are presented.

TV news is still the main way that the British public learn about current affairs, however, in part because older viewers have remained loyal to traditional services.

Ofcom’s research also suggests that people are increasingly willing to wade into online arguments about news. “There is evidence that UK adults are consuming news more actively via social media. For example, those who access news shared by news organisations, trending news or news stories from friends and family or other people they follow via Facebook or Twitter are more likely to make comments on the new posts they see compared to the previous year.”

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Not seeing TV news is arguably a bonus in the US, but in the UK – where news channels are bound by impartiality regulation – it’s probably better than news outlets.
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What is Microsoft doing with Cortana? • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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After some big changes to Microsoft’s Windows division, former Windows chief Terry Myerson departed the company in the summer last year and Cortana boss Javier Soltero followed a few months later. Microsoft is now refocusing Cortana and stripping back its direct integration in Windows 10 and the Xbox One. Microsoft has a new vision for Cortana, involving conversational interactions for workers who are organizing their days.

Andrew Shuman, Microsoft’s new Cortana boss, outlined the new vision earlier this year in an interview with The Verge. “I think one of the challenges we’ve had over the last couple of years is finding those places where Microsoft can really add a lot of value,” explained Shuman. “I think that what we’ve been really working on over the last year is how we can better embed Cortana across Microsoft 365 experiences and really delight users, especially those users who really are on board, so we have to understand their calendar, their tasks, their work documents, their interfacing with their close collaborators.”

This means Cortana is going to be far more conversational when answering queries by voice or text. We’ve seen parts of this through Microsoft’s bot ambitions and Skype integration for Cortana. The company is now repositioning Cortana as a skill that can run anywhere. Microsoft has also moved the Cortana team out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team. This should hopefully mean we’ll start to see Cortana show up in products that make sense, like Microsoft’s Surface Headphones.

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I think Cortana is going to show up in the back of the car heading up to the mountains for a “long walk”. At least the voice-operated part. Something under the radar for organising calendars etc? Sure, but who cares about the name. It doesn’t even need an interface.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

7 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,119: YouTube’s climate problem, monitors for all!, Tim Cook’s successor, the Airbus rollover problem, Brexit wargames, and more

  1. Re 149: I doubt the timers’ resolution is in hours. In minutes, 149×60 is awful close to 2^13, but the actual unit that matters is probably fractions of seconds, at most seconds.
    Also, one of the examples they give of similar past issues is not a rollover issue but a memory leak.

  2. Re monitors. I switched from 1 large monitor to 3 regular ones, and like it much better.
    OSes handle full-screen apps much better than tiling, at least Windows and Linux do. I could never maintain a tidy desktop on my large screen, on the small ones there no maintenance to do at all.
    My brain works better with one task per device.
    It feels more comfy when my eyes cover the whole screen in one glance, instead of having to hunt for stuff acrosse a large expanse.
    Handier when you’ve got to grab one screen fornnaside project. That Pi won’t be headless right off the bat.
    The Android tablet next to my screens is very valuable too. Its full-widgets home screen lets me have news and messages on the Pull model I like, and stop Push notifications from distracting me while still getting real-time info at a glance, and dedicating my PC’s screens to Real Work. It’s even got its own mouse so I don’t have to move my arms.

    Also, idiot hack: move the dock & system menu to the side instead of top or bottom. Vertical space is scarce, horizontal space is plentiful. And it’ll bother others enough they won’t commandeer your PC ;-p

  3. I don’t think fusion is ever going to work for electricity generation. It’s too difficult to contain the reaction. For zero carbon, wind and solar can be brought on line much more quickly, and tidal has potential to produce enormous amounts of power.

    • You’re correct that the renewables can be brought online much more quickly, but I think that the levels of output are comparatively small against fission (and so, one would hope, fusion). And if we are going further and moving to all-electric vehicles – a colossal idea in itself – then we need much, much more electricity generation.

      • Taking Hinckley Point C as an example which is rated at 3.2 GW, you would need about a thousand 3 MW wind turbines to generate 3 GW at peak capacity. If you take the installation cost for wind as a million pounds per MW then then wind works out cheaper than nuclear. Putting up fifty, twenty turbine wind farms seems less hassle than building Hinckley point. There is much more energy in tidal currents than in wind and tides are more predictable than wind. I see nuclear as an old obsolete and expensive technology.

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