Start Up No.1,143: Reddit draws its awful self, are iPads Surfaces now?, the no-deal Brexit paper, scientists cool on Franzen, and more

What’s the similarity between the Apollo moon landings and iPhone launches? CC-licensed photo by NASA%27s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. But share them nicely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Layer: Reddit’s new Adobe art project gets trolled by racist memes • Daily Dot

Ignacio Martinez:


Layer is a new art project between creative software developer Adobe and Reddit. On the Layer subreddit, users can post drawings within a large, shared canvas. As illustrated by a tutorial and welcome post on the subreddit, the drawings are uploaded directly via the subreddit so posting whatever image your heart desires is open to anyone with a Reddit account. 

Unfortunately, things are already starting to go awry.

Although the subreddit has only been around for a little over a day, individuals attempting to poison the well of this interactive experience are uploading concealed, offensive content. 

A quick perusal of the canvas’ recent layers will show you a whole host of subtle, coded dogwhistles.

Several “pool’s closed” messages have been uploaded to the canvas. “Pool’s closed” is a reference to an activity that malicious users of the children’s online game Habbo Hotel commit by standing in the formations of swastikas inside pools in the game’s world. Additionally, several actual swastikas have been added to the canvas. Users have been adding drawings of swastikas in an eye-catching colour.


Does everybody have to learn all the lessons of the internet right from scratch every time? Don’t make content creation open to everyone unless you want the worst people to zero in on it.
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California passes landmark bill requiring contract workers to be labeled as employees • WSJ

Alejandro Lazo:


Uber and Lyft have said the proposed law could upend their businesses and lobbied to change the bill. Gov. Newsom, in an interview Tuesday, said he remains personally involved in talks with Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy companies that have sought exemptions from the measure, known as Assembly Bill 5, as well as some of the unions supporting it.

“As it relates to Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, others, some of the gig platforms, these remain ongoing negotiations, and regardless of what happens with AB5, I am committed, at least, to continuing those negotiations,” Mr. Newsom said.

The governor said it was in the best interest of the state to “stay at the bargaining table, to continue to negotiate” and that talks will continue even though a deal wasn’t reached with the companies during this year’s legislative session.

“By no means this delay is a denial, and I’m fully committed—and expressed that to all sides—fully committed to continuing,” he said. “Not jump-starting, not-reconvening.”

In a statement following the vote in the state Senate, Lyft said it was ready to begin a ballot-measure fight next year to win provisions to exclude it from the law.


Uber similarly said that it would not call its drivers “employees” because their work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business.” That’s going to be a fun one for the lawyers. The gig economy sure is resistant to the idea that it might have to fit with the rest of the economy.
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Every iPad wants to be a Surface now • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Apple introduced a new 10.2in iPad on Tuesday, designed to be the cheapest (aka, default) iPad that consumers will purchase. At just $329, the new seventh-generation iPad is compatible with the full-sized Smart Keyboard and the first-generation Apple Pencil. These changes mean the iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad all support the Smart Keyboard for the first time. Apple first introduced its iPad keyboards with the iPad Pro back in 2015, and now they’ve made their way through the iPad lineup. The iPad Mini is the noticeable exception, but a Smart Keyboard at that size probably wouldn’t work all that well.

The change is significant in the way the iPad is positioned. You’ve had to opt for third-party keyboards on the base iPad for nearly 10 years, and now Apple wants every iPad to work with a keyboard out of the box. Microsoft clearly saw the keyboard opportunity for the iPad early, and the Surface was born out of the option to function as either a laptop or tablet.

While most Surface owners will purchase the optional keyboard because Windows is primarily an OS designed for traditional computing, it’s fair to say that most iPad owners probably don’t own a keyboard. Apple’s latest iPad might not be enough to change that overnight, but it certainly positions the tablet closer to Chromebooks and lower priced Windows laptops, even when you factor in the $160 price point for the Smart Keyboard that will bring the base iPad cost closer to $500.

Apple even briefly compared its new iPad to the top-selling Windows laptop on stage yesterday, clearly identifying the iPad’s target audience in the face of withering Android tablet competition. If you’re considering a laptop or a tablet, a $500 iPad (with keyboard) that tries to do both certainly puts the pressure on Microsoft’s Surface Go. Apple’s entire 10.2in iPad site is also dedicated to its benefits over a computer.


When he says “withering Android tablet competition”, he doesn’t mean it like “withering fire” but “withering plant”.
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The last Apple keynote (hopefully) • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:


As a luxury brand, Apple’s been accused of being out of touch in keynotes before. My former colleague Katie Notopoulos skewered the company in 2016 for appealing to the prototypical “40-something dad who just wants to FaceTime his adorable children while he’s on a business trip, and also find a local pourover coffee shop while he’s in town.” She dubbed this marketing amalgam, “Apple Man,” noting that the needs of this test audience often came at the expense of making the product more affordable or adding features aimed at the millions of loyal customers who don’t worship at the altar of inbox zero.

To its credit, Apple has taken steps to address a good deal of this criticism. Its keynotes now feature more women and people of color, and Apple has designed many more accessibility features (some life-changing) for users with different needs.

But even more inclusive products can’t fix the problem with recent Apple keynotes: The company’s flagship product — the iPhone — no longer feels like a piece of the future dropped from into the hands of mere mortals. It feels like, well, a phone, a commodity. And so the whole thing seems gratuitous, self-serving and, most importantly, quite removed from the very fraught relationship most of us have with our phones.


Warzel’s piece was probably written about the same time as mine, below. But I think he’s diagnosing the wrong problem. And Apple really isn’t going to stop doing iPhone keynotes.
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Apple’s iPhones [and other technologies] have hit an evolutionary stasis • OneZero

I wrote about the meta-view:


The reality is there’s little to say about new smartphones because there’s little for manufacturers to do with new smartphones, a fact that reviewers struggle with each time they’re called on to deploy their skills. The new screens are great, the benchmarks are better, the cameras are better in the dark, the battery life is a little better, urrr… is that 900 words yet? No surprise, therefore, that people in the United States now keep the same smartphone for an average of nearly three years.

It’s like the Apollo moon landing program, the 50th anniversary of which we were all called on to be so excited about back in the summer. We stepped on the moon! We flew people to the moon—and back! But after that, what? Subsequent Apollo missions included: “We’re going back to the moon, but this time with golf clubs.” Or: “We’re going back to the moon, but this time with a car.” Yes, but you’re still only going back to the moon.

The original iPhone in 2007 was the equivalent of Apollo 11: an accomplishment so audacious, so apparently impossible and yet so successful that it changed how we thought about phones forever. The capacitative touchscreen with its gestures was a revelation, though it took Steve Jobs to persuade people who had been used to mobile phones with a five-day battery life to accept one that lasted just a day. That’s the audacity you need to pull off a moon landing.


I think we’re in tech stasis: nothing truly new can happen until we have a breakthrough technology, rather as capacitative touchscreens were. Room-temperature superconductor? New battery tech? It must be out there. And it will change things again.
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Apple announces release dates for OS updates, new iPhones, and Apple Watch • MacStories

What I find so interesting here is how close the release of 13.0 and 13.1 are: just 11 days apart. Typically, it’s six weeks. Something has really changed about how Apple has handled this update regime.
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Amazon allows some toys to go on sale before asking for proof of safety compliance • CNBC

Eugene Kim:


Amazon reached out to a group of new toy sellers in recent weeks, asking them to submit the “required safety documentation” for toys that were already available for sale, according to an email seen by CNBC. Amazon said the submissions had to be made no later than September 9th, 2019 — roughly two weeks after these sellers started selling those products. The sellers who spoke to CNBC said they were not asked to submit the safety documents prior to listing on the site. Several sellers have previously mentioned receiving the same type of email in Amazon’s seller forum.

The email highlights a potential loophole in Amazon’s product safety practices, which have come under the spotlight following a recent report by the Wall Street Journal that found over 4,000 unsafe or federally banned products for sale on Amazon’s marketplace, including certain children’s toys with high lead levels. The gap between selling and checking for safety compliance could contribute to a proliferation of unsafe products on Amazon, experts say.


Oh piff-paff with these silly regulations. What’s the occasional dead or poisoned child, compared to Amazon shareholders getting a bit more, and some people in warehouses being employed?
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Fears of no-deal chaos as ministers forced to publish secret Brexit papers • The Guardian

Heather Stewart:


A no-deal Brexit could result in rising food and fuel prices, disruption to medicine supplies and public disorder on Britain’s streets, according to secret documents the government was forced by MPs to publish on Wednesday.

A five-page document spelling out the government’s “planning assumptions” under Operation Yellowhammer – the government’s no-deal plan – was disclosed in response to a “humble address” motion.

The content of the document was strikingly similar to the plan leaked to the Sunday Times in August, which the government dismissed at the time as out of date.

That document was described as a “base case”; but the new document claims to be a “worst-case scenario”…

…The document, which says it outlines “reasonable worst case planning assumptions” for no deal Brexit, highlights the risk of border delays, given an estimate that up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.

“The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40%-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” it warns.

This situation could last for up to three months, and disruption might last “significantly longer”, it adds, with lorries facing waits of between 1.5 days and 2.5 days to cross the border.


Three months would be well into January, having extended through Christmas. Note that the government purposely put this in non-machine-readable PDF, scanned at an angle to make OCR harder. Pure pettiness. There’s also a redacted part of the scenario – which journalist Rosamund Urwin got hold of weeks ago (the government then said it was “old”), and says relates to a forecast of thousands of job losses due to fuel refinery closures because the UK won’t be able to export fuel to the EU.
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Shut up, Franzen • Scientific American Blog Network

Kate Marvel is a climate scientist at Columbia University:


We are, I promise you, not doomed, no matter what Jonathan Franzen says. We could be, of course, if we decided we really wanted to. We have had the potential for total annihilation since 1945, and the capacity for localized mayhem for as long as societies have existed. Climate change offers the easy choice of a slow destruction through inaction like the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot. And there are times when the certainty of inevitability seems comforting. Fighting is exhausting; fighting when victory seems uncertain or unlikely even more so. It’s tempting to retreat to a special place—a cozy nook, a mountaintop, a summer garden—wait for the apocalypse to run its course, and hope it will be gentle…

…it is precisely the fact that we understand the potential driver of doom that changes it from a foregone conclusion to a choice, a terrible outcome in the universe of all possible futures. I run models through my brain; I check them with the calculations I do on a computer. This is not optimism, or even hope. Even in the best of all possible worlds, I cannot offer the certainty of safety. Doom is a possibility; it may that we have already awakened a sleeping monster that will in the end devour the world. It may be that the very fact of human nature, whatever that is, forecloses any possibility of concerted action.

But I am a scientist, which means I believe in miracles. I live on one. We are improbable life on a perfect planet. No other place in the Universe has nooks or perfect mountaintops or small and beautiful gardens. A flower in a garden is an exquisite thing, rooted in soil formed from old rocks broken by weather. It breathes in sunlight and carbon dioxide and conjures its food as if by magic. For the flower to exist, a confluence of extraordinary things must happen. It needs land and air and light and water, all in the right proportion, and all at the right time. Pick it, isolate it, and watch it wither. Flowers, like people, cannot grow alone.


Franzen’s piece (which is also worth reading) essentially says “We’re screwed, but we could make ourselves a bit less screwed, though screwed nonetheless”. It has annoyed a lot of climate scientists.
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You can bring online video to people, but you can’t bring people to online video • Ampere Analysis

Tony Maroulis:


Increased broadband penetration and improved connectivity does not translate to increased uptake of online video usage amongst Internet users. There is a negative correlation between broadband penetration and the proportion of Internet users who use any video on demand services on a monthly basis.

France, the leading European country in terms of fixed-line broadband penetration, features the largest proportion of Internet users indicating a lack of regular usage of any video-on-demand services (including YouTube). Roughly one in five Internet users said that they have not watched any online video in the last month when surveyed in early 2019. Similarly, in the Netherlands, roughly one in six of those surveyed do not use video-on-demand services regularly.

By contrast, this proportion is halved (at just 9%) in Italy, where two in three households have a fixed-line broadband connection. These consumers tend to be older (over the age of 45) and generally disengaged from all services and devices. Unsurprisingly, the largest differences are found with digital subscription-based services (such as SVoD and Music subscriptions), but also with premium channels, that require a basic pay TV service.


Quite the perverse outcome. Perhaps it depends on how fast the connection is, and some of the highest penetration is actually with longstanding, slow connections?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,143: Reddit draws its awful self, are iPads Surfaces now?, the no-deal Brexit paper, scientists cool on Franzen, and more

  1. The issue with Apple’s keynote is they’ve kept the “we’re innovating” motto when they’re mostly catching up. The one thing the new iPhones have a chance at being better at than the competition is shooting videos (mostly because Huawei is dropping the ball hard on that one).

    iPhones will still be a lot better at single-threaded stuff (is there any of that left ?) a bit better at multi-threaded stuff, slower at loading stuff, and slower at network stuff. Not sure performance matters anymore though, I haven’t had a complaint about that in years even while people are moving downmarket, and you can only Instagram so fast. Apple’s “performance” slide was very misleading too, obv. the benchs aren’t out yet, but Note10+ vs XS Max went like so in something approaching real-world use:

    Other than that, it’s catching up on the battery, catching up on night mode (maybe) and lens flexibility, still not catching up on storage and I/O. And a bit cheaper.

    Looking at iPhone users around me, Apple has to walk a schizophrenic line of selling advanced features to justify price to mostly low-end users who buy out of habit, lock-in, and cluelessness. They’re making it work mostly, but it’s always a bit worrying when there’s a disconnect between the PR and the real world.

    It’s very hard to recommend flagships in general, Apple’s in particular. Not only is smartphone tech stagnating, smartphone use cases are stagnating too. If your main use for a phone is Instagram-level, there’s no point in getting anything more expensive than $200 nowadays.

  2. What is striking about the AB5 discussion is no one brings up another group of drivers who have been forced to work as contractors: airline pilots. It’s a bigger problem in Europe, but I would be amazed if it wasn’t being done in California.

    On a different note I loved how it literally took 5 mins to discover what was blacked out of the YellowHammer memo, and what was changed from the cabinet draft. I honestly don’t understand how anyone could be in favor of crashing out after reading it.

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