Start Up No.1207: those lyin’ political ads, Unicorn runs out of road (and cash), Mac Pro pricing, don’t touch that (car) screen, and more

Arctic warming is entering a dangerous feedback loop. And look, there’s one of the causes. CC-licensed photo by Paul Downey on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. It’s getting hot in herre. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Arctic may have crossed a key threshold to a long-dreaded climate feedback • The Washington Post

Andrew Freedman:


The Arctic is undergoing a profound, rapid and unmitigated shift into a new climate state, one that is greener, features far less ice, and emits greenhouse gas emissions from melting permafrost, according to a major new federal assessment of the region released Tuesday.

The consequences of these climate shifts will be felt far outside the Arctic in the form of altered weather patterns, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and rising sea levels from the melting Greenland ice sheet and mountain glaciers.

The findings are contained in the 2019 Arctic Report Card, a major federal assessment of climate change trends and impacts throughout the region. The study paints an ominous picture of a region lurching to an entirely new and unfamiliar environment.

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic may have already become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24% of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

There has been concern throughout the scientific community that the approximately 1,460-1,600 billion metric tons of organic carbon stored in frozen Arctic soils, almost twice as much greenhouse gases than what is contained in the atmosphere, could be released as the permafrost melts.

Warming temperatures allow microbes within the soil to convert permafrost carbon into the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released into the air and accelerate warming. Ted Schuur, a researcher at Northern Arizona University and author of the permafrost chapter, said the report “takes on a new stand on the issue” based on other published work, including a study in Nature Climate Change in November.


We’re completely screwed. Please bear this in mind as you go about your business.

Also: the web headline on this is “Arctic report card: Melting permafrost is transforming the region into a carbon source”. I despair of the sub-editors on American papers. The one at the top is a tweak of what appears on the page. It’s still too wordy.

Also on the same topic: The Guardian reports on how rapidly Greenland’s ice sheet is melting. Coastal communities are going to be inundated.
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General election 2019: Ads are ‘indecent, dishonest and untruthful’ • BBC News

Joe Tidy and Rachel Schraer:


A campaign group is calling for fact-checking of political advertising to be a legal requirement after what it describes as a “fake news and disinformation general election”.

The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising says at least 31 campaigns from across the party spectrum have been indecent, dishonest or untruthful.

The non-partisan body is made up of advertising professionals. It says the next government must create a new regulator to oversee the matter.

The organisation also suggests 87% of voters think there needs to be a law to compel political-ad creators to make only truthful claims. The figure is based on a survey of 1,691 adults conducted by YouGov on the Coalition’s behalf.

The Coalition says the largely unregulated world of election ads bears little resemblance to one of the founding principles of retail advertising, namely that ads should be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.


There’s also a report of work by First Draft News in the story: that says that 86% of ads from the Tories, “at least” 16.5% by the Lib Dems, but none from Labour. Plenty of people on Twitter got angry because they thought that the CRPA study said what the First Draft News piece said, and that that should have been the top of the story and the headline.

That’s the trouble with the combination of portmanteau stories and Twitter. No doubt it seemed like they’d fit well together to the news editors.
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General election: Fake Corbyn tweets on London Bridge attack tried to ‘sow doubt’ among voters • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe and Alexander J Martin:


Sky News and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) have uncovered that this [fake Corbyn] tweet [expressing sympathy for the terrorist; Corbyn did no such thing] along with other similar efforts were first posted to the internet on the imageboard 4chan before being spread to other social media platforms.

We have obtained a number of these fake images [containing the fake tweet] constructed with different grammatical constructions but similar spelling mistakes as they were being collectively workshopped by a decentralised disinformation effort.

“In the hours immediately following the attack we very quickly saw the community on 4chan come together and start sharing fake memes designed to disinform the public about the nature of the attack,” said Jacob Davey, senior research manager at ISD.

The material was mostly comprised of falsified social media posts from Mr Corbyn responding to the attack. In some instances the material was not designed to disinform, but more as an in-joke for the community – Mr Corbyn complaining about Arsenal football club using racist language. But other fakes were able to impact the public discussion.


Between 4chan and reddit’s /pol, the whole “decentralised disinformation” effort is succeeding pretty well. Howcome it’s only right-wing content, though?
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Oppo steps into augmented reality with HoloLens-like AR Glass headset • Digital Trends

Andy Boxall:


Smartphone maker Oppo has announced a pair of augmented reality glasses, and stated they will be released during the first three months of 2020. Oppo’s AR Glass headset is part of an effort to expand beyond only making smartphones, and was revealed alongside plans for a smartwatch and an Oppo-produced mobile processor.

Oppo’s AR Glass is similar in design to HoloLens. A visor stretches across the front of the headset, attached to a band which holds it on your head, plus there is a forehead rest to keep it in position. This is not something designed for everyday wear, but more for home and industrial use. At home, Oppo says the AR Glass will be used for augmented reality content and games, while in the workplace, and somewhat less specifically, Oppo sees it being used for augmented reality services. These could include 3D modeling, planning, and design.


Nobody’s seen them except in slides and onstage demos; nobody’s tried them on. And the market for AR glasses isn’t exactly huge. Question is, what price will they have to be to make it worth Oppo making them at all? (The price wasn’t disclosed.)
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Exclusive: a Facebook employee accepted bribes from a scammer to reactivate banned ad accounts • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


A Facebook employee was paid thousands of dollars in bribes by a shady affiliate marketer to reactivate ad accounts that had been banned due to policy violations, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found.

A company spokesperson confirmed that an unnamed employee was fired after inquiries from BuzzFeed News sparked an internal investigation. The employee in question was based in the company’s Austin office, according to information obtained by BuzzFeed News.

“This behavior is absolutely prohibited under our policies and the individual is no longer working with Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We’re continuing to investigate the allegations and will take any further necessary action.”

The employee was paid to reactivate ad accounts connected to Ads Inc., a San Diego–based marketing firm BuzzFeed News previously revealed was running a sophisticated Facebook scam that involved placing more than $50 million in ads that typically made false claims about celebrities. The ads were part of a scheme that tricked consumers into signing up for an expensive monthly subscription for a product that was initially marketed as a free trial. Ads Inc. announced it was shutting down in October as a result of the BuzzFeed News investigation.


Much the same as the scammers who got access to phone details through bribery. If substantial amounts of money are at stake, things.. happen.
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Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR first impressions, performance benchmarks, more [Videos] • 9to5Mac

Michael Potuck:


The Mac Pro can be configured with up to a 28-core Intel Xeon processor, 1.5TB of RAM, dual Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs (equals 4 graphics cards) and up to an 8TB SSD. It’s also easy to customize and expand the new Mac Pro right away or over time with 8 PCIe card slots. And there’s also the special Afterburner accelerator card to take professional workflows to the next level.

It’s exciting to see the Mac Pro’s power put to the test and we’ve got some early and really impressive benchmarks. MKBHD noted that the new Mac Pro put out the highest GeekBench scores he’s ever seen with almost 3GB/s read/write speeds for the internal SSD.

But he was most impressed by how fast the Mac Pro was able to render video. It was able to process a 5-minute 8K clip in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. That’s some massively fast performance to handle 8K video faster than real-time.

As for thermal performance, Jonathan Morrison highlights the Mac Pro “does not make a sound even with every core lit up at nearly 100% which is bananas.”

In Jonathan’s Cinebench test, the Mac Pro came out with a wild CPU score of 9,918.


Starts at $6,000, and you can spend up to $53,000 (I haven’t looked at the price in sterling – probably just a like-for-like replacement). As anchoring goes, it’s a terrific way of making the top-end laptops look cheap. (The question the Apple community is asking is how much John Siracusa is going to spend on his. He’s still using the original “cheesegrater” from 2006. Very likely all will be revealed, in depth, on the Accidental Tech Podcast this week, where he’s one of the participants.)
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Apple sues iPhone CPU design ace after he quits to run data-center chip upstart Nuvia • The Register

Shaun Nichols:


Apple is suing the former chief architect of its iPhone and iPad microprocessors, who in February quit to co-found a data-center chip design biz.

In a complaint filed in the Santa Clara Superior Court, in California, USA, and seen by The Register, the Cupertino goliath claimed Gerard Williams, CEO of semiconductor upstart Nuvia, broke his Apple employment agreement while setting up his new enterprise.

Williams – who oversaw the design of Apple’s custom high-performance mobile Arm-compatible processors for nearly a decade – quit the iGiant in February to head up the newly founded Nuvia. The startup officially came out of stealth mode at the end of November, boasting it had bagged $53m in funding. It appears to be trying to design silicon chips, quite possibly Arm-based ones, for data center systems; it is being coy right now with its plans and intentions.

…Apple’s lawsuit alleged Williams hid the fact he was preparing to leave Apple to start his own business while still working at Apple, and drew on his work in steering iPhone processor design to create his new company. Crucially, Tim Cook & Co’s lawyers claimed he tried to lure away staff from his former employer. All of this was, allegedly, in breach of his contract.

The iGiant also reckoned Williams had formed the startup in hope of being bought by Apple to produce future systems for its data centers.


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Unicorn, e-scooter startup from co-creator of Tile, shuts down with no money for refunds • The Verge

Andrew Hawkins:


Unicorn, the electric scooter startup from the co-creator of gadget tracker Tile, is shutting down operations after blowing all its cash on Facebook and Google ads but only receiving 350 orders for its glossy white e-scooters, it claims. In an email to customers, the company says it lacks the resources to deliver any of its $699 two-wheelers, and won’t be issuing refunds “as we are completely out of funding.”

In a remorseful email, Unicorn CEO Nick Evans said the company had “totally failed as a business” and has also “spread the cost of this failure to you, the early customers that believed in us.”

Unicorn emerged six months ago as part of a new crop of scooter startups hoping to capitalize on the popularity of dockless rental services like Bird and Lime, while also pitching itself as an affordable alternative to shared scooters. In addition to having a striking profile — the all-white look was really something — the scooter was loaded with a lot of high-tech bells and whistles, like GPS tracking and smartphone-enabled locking. Naturally it included integration with Tile, Evans’ other company, which uses Bluetooth to track lost items, like a wallet, keys, or phone.

But now Unicorn is no more. The company claims it sunk all its money into advertising and marketing, as well as loan repayments and other expenses, with little leftover for production and deliveries.


Isn’t this just the perfect, perfect story to round out this decade. Scooters; social media advertising; blowout.
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Swiss Fiber TV service ‘Salt’ launches alternative Apple TV 4K remote control for frustrated customers • MacRumors

Tim Hardwick:


Swiss telco Salt, which includes an Apple TV 4K in its domestic broadband TV bundle, has today launched an “alternative” bespoke Apple TV remote control for users of its 250+ channel television service.

Costing just under 20 Swiss francs, the optional remote was reportedly developed in close collaboration with Apple, after a sizable section of Salt TV’s customer base apparently complained about the poor usability of the Apple Remote that comes with every Apple TV 4K.

Thanks to Apple’s input, the alternative remote doesn’t require any pairing with Apple TV and works out of the box. It includes directional arrows in place of the Siri Remote’s glass Touch surface, a power button in addition to a Menu button, along with separate volume and channel rockers and traditional media playback buttons.

There’s no microphone button in evidence, presumably because Siri on Apple TV isn’t officially available in Switzerland, and there’s no numerical channel buttons because tvOS doesn’t support the function. Otherwise, it resembles a standard TV remote that should be more amenable to Salt TV’s users, who can also look forward to an updated Salt TV app interface on Apple TV .


Oh god please let this go on general sale. Or onto eBay. Or be sent to me under plain cover. Don’t mind which.
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Satisfaction with in-car touchscreens reaches new lows • Strategy Analytics


A new report from the In-Vehicle UX (IVX) group at Strategy Analytics has investigated car owners’ satisfaction with their on-board touchscreens. Long hamstrung by poor UX [user experience] and extended production cycles, in-car touchscreens are seen by car users and buyers as lagging behind the experience offered by touchscreens outside the car. As such, consumer satisfaction has continued to slide in China and Europe, while reaching historic lows in the US.

Surveying consumers in the US, Western Europe, and China via web survey, key report findings include:

• Difficult text entry and excessive fingerprint smudging are common complaints among all car owners
• Because touchscreens have reached market saturation in the US, satisfaction with in-car screens has tailed off significantly.
• However, touchscreens remain a relatively newer phenomenon in many car models in Western Europe (compared with the US) and thus their limitations are less prominent in the minds of car owners.
• Overall touchscreen satisfaction fell for the fifth straight year in China, indicating a growing impatience for in-car UX to match UX found elsewhere in the consumer electronics space.


If you look at it from a BOM (bill of materials) point of view, the touchscreen and associated software are miles down the list both of price and importance. Are they big-ticket or big-profit items? No. Do they risk the driver’s or passengers’ safety? No, most of the time. Are they essential to operating the vehicle? No. And yet for the driver and passenger, they’re a constant focus – both the screen itself and the software that powers it. A lesson in how the cheap items can have the most value.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.1207: those lyin’ political ads, Unicorn runs out of road (and cash), Mac Pro pricing, don’t touch that (car) screen, and more

  1. Re that apple TV remote, I (finally) got an apple tv last week since I can’t get the disney+ app on my tivo, and so I’m about to retire it.

    I already had a universal harmony remote set up, and it immediately works fine with apple tv once I told it I had one. So I’m using that. Probably overkill if you don’t want to set it up to handle power on and off for your TV/Receiver/Apple TV/Sonos/cable TV devices in a unified fashion. But if you do, it works great. Although learning curve to set it up is a little annoying.

    I’ve fiddled with the apple tv remote, but more as an exercise/tech trying out. Don’t use it.

  2. I’ve wanted to write a rant on the current Apple TV remote since the day I got it. I regard it as the most disappointing piece of still-shipping hardware in their inventory. Fall, slip or slide into the cushions? God knows what it will do while you fumble around searching for it, accidentally rubbing or pressing the touchpad, or its edge, against your fingers or the sofa fabric (stop your show, fast forward or reverse, back you out of the app you’re in, etc etc). Finally find it in the dark? Good luck figuring out which end you’ve got pointed at the box, since the touchpad end looks identical to the non-touchpad end. Sitting with it in your lap and shift your body, causing your sweater or blanket to touch it somewhere? Top menus slide down, obscuring the show, then when you reach for it to slide them back up, chances are 50-50 you’ll pick it up by the wrong end.

    Plus I’ve never really forgiven them for taking 3-speed slo-mo away. And 3-speed fast-fwd w/subtitles on, so you could fast-watch. If anyone knows how to do that with the current remote, would love to know how.

  3. I was once hoping Android’s .apk would be the .mp3 of apps. This didn’t quite pan out (.apk will only run on Android, Windows and ChromeOS, not iOS nor MacOS). Now Google is trying to go at it from the source, with Flutter supporting all that + Web.

    Not quite the same, but if they can make it work, in 20 yrs the end result could be similar. Also, hopefully Fuchsia will have dropped by then ?

  4. Apparently Apple has switched to a different picture format that most non-iOS apps don’t support yet and that most iOS users don’t know how or care to change by default or convert piecemeal. Group chats are being swamped by questions and recriminations.

    MIUI’s image viewer supports it, but save>go to Downloads > open > get back to chat is a lot more cumbersome than just seeing the pic in the chat app. Is it a case of Apple pulling a surprise stunt, or devs sleeping at the wheel ?

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