Start Up No.1222: US considers anti-Huawei subsidies, will finance strangle coal?, sayonara Windows 7 – hello PC sales!, Norway sues apps, and more


Prices on old John Deere tractors are rocketing – because they’re comparatively easy to maintain. No software! CC-licensed photo by Ted Ladue on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Unsubsidised. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink: climate crisis will reshape finance • The New York Times

Andrew Sorkin:

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The firm, he wrote, would also introduce new funds that shun fossil fuel-oriented stocks, move more aggressively to vote against management teams that are not making progress on sustainability, and press companies to disclose plans “for operating under a scenario where the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees is fully realized.”

Mr. Fink has not always been the first to address social issues, but his annual letter — such as his dictum two years ago that companies needed to have a purpose beyond profits — has the influence to change the conversations inside boardrooms around the globe.

And now Mr. Fink is sounding an alarm on a crisis that he believes is the most profound in his 40 years in finance. “Even if only a fraction of the science is right today, this is a much more structural, long-term crisis,” he wrote.

A longtime Democrat, Mr. Fink insisted in an interview that the decision was strictly business. “We are fiduciaries,” he said. “Politics isn’t part of this.”

BlackRock itself has come under criticism from both industry and environmental groups for being behind on pushing these issues. Just last month, a British hedge fund manager, Christopher Hohn, said that it was “appalling” of BlackRock not to require companies to disclose their sustainability efforts, and that the firm’s previous efforts had been “full of greenwash.”…

…Had Mr. Fink moved a decade ago to pull BlackRock’s funds out of companies that contribute to climate change, his clients would have been well served. In the past 10 years, through Friday, companies in the S&P 500 energy sector had gained just 2% in total. In the same period, the broader S&P 500 nearly tripled.

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Once finance starts getting out of coal in favour of renewables, there will be a domino effect: the next most polluting product will get starved in turn. Finance can make this a “gradually, then suddenly” change.
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Senators propose over $1bn for 5G alternatives to China’s Huawei • CNBC

Lauren Feiner:

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A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Tuesday that would pump more than $1bn into developing Western 5G equipment alternatives to China’s Huawei.

Reasoning that Huawei has been “heavily subsidized by the Chinese government,” the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act would help Western firms compete and become a robust player in next generation communication technology, according to a press release sent by the office of Sen. Mark Warker, D-Va., a co-sponsor of the bill.

The U.S. has long held national security concerns and suspicions about Huawei’s ties to the country’s Communist Party leadership. Last year, it placed the company on a blacklist prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with the firm without a special license.

The bill proposes that the Federal Communications Commission direct at least $750m or up to 5% of annual auction proceeds from new auctioned spectrum licenses to create an open-architecture model (O-RAN) research and development fund.

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Makes sense: you need to have some sort of competition to Huawei. However it’s going to mean funding non-American companies – Nokia and Ericsson are the only notable players there.
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Microsoft bids farewell to Windows 7 and the millions of PCs that still run it • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Microsoft has been notifying Windows 7 users throughout 2019 about today’s end of support, so people still stuck on the OS can’t say they haven’t been warned. A full-screen notification will appear for Windows 7 users on Wednesday, warning that systems are now out of support. Microsoft is trying to convince existing users to upgrade to machines running Windows 10, a trend that caused the global PC market to have its first year of growth since 2011.

Despite the end of support, Windows 7 looks like it has some life left in it yet. It could take another year or two to get Windows 7 firmly below 10% market share, especially when Google is committing to support Chrome on Windows 7 until at least the middle of 2021. That presents Microsoft with some headaches for ongoing support. We’ve already seen the software giant break with tradition multiple times for Windows XP, issuing public patches for the operating system after its end of support date. Given the increases in ransomware attacks in recent years and their devastating effects, it’s likely we’ll see public Windows 7 security patches in the future.

The vast majority of these support headaches will come from businesses that don’t always upgrade to the very latest Windows releases. Windows Vista and Windows 8 weren’t exactly solid in-between releases to which you could reliably upgrade, and that left most businesses running Windows XP or Windows 7 to avoid software issues and incompatibilities. Windows 8 won’t have the same issues when its support ends in 2023, as it’s only running on less than 5% of all PCs.

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Still on 26% of PCs. That’s over 250 million of them.
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Traditional PC volumes close out an impressive 2019 with fourth quarter growth of 4.8% • IDC

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The worldwide market for traditional PCs, inclusive of desktops, notebooks, and workstations, finished an impressive 2019 with fourth quarter growth of 4.8% year over year, according to preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. Global shipments during the quarter beat forecast expectations at just under 71.8 million units, the highest single quarter shipment volume in four years (4Q15). Overall, global shipments grew 2.7% year over year in 2019, the first full year of PC growth since the market grew 1.7% in 2011.

“This past year was a wild one in the PC world, which resulted in impressive market growth that ultimately ended seven consecutive years of market contraction,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “The market will still have its challenges ahead, but this year was a clear sign that PC demand is still there despite the continued insurgence of emerging form factors and the demand for mobile computing.”

The holiday quarter capped an impressive run for PCs in 2019, where three out of four quarters delivered year-over-year growth.

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That’s because businesses were upgrading their old Windows 7 PCs to newer ones. As Reith admits, the next 12-18 months are going to be pretty thin.
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US government to restrict sale of AI for satellite image analysis • Defense One

Patrick Tucker:

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The federal rule change, published on Monday, affects software “‘specially designed’” to train deep learning neural networks “on the analysis of geospatial imagery.” The software would be classified as a dual-use technology under the Wassenaar Arrangement, subject to many of the same restrictions for exporting arms.

The rule affects software that would “provide a graphical user interface that enables the user to identify objects (e.g., vehicles, houses, etc.) from within geospatial imagery” and that “Trains a Deep Convolutional Neural Network to detect the object of interest from the positive and negative samples; and identifies objects in geospatial imagery using the trained Deep Convolutional Neural Network.” 

Applying machine learning to the identification of objects in satellite imagery is a big U.S. military concern. Military leaders frequently talk about the wide disconnect between the amount of video and satellite footage that the United States collects and scarcity of analysts to look through the footage and see what’s relevant to operations. They’ve invested heavily in software tools that can monitor or scan that footage, including satellite footage, and then tip a human analyst to pay attention to something of relevance. Perhaps the best example is Project Maven, a military AI project to identify objects of interest or detect changes in scenery to help analysts and operators cut through lots of imagery and footage very quickly. 

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New study: the advertising industry is systematically breaking the law • Forbrukerrådet

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The online advertising industry is behind comprehensive illegal collection and indiscriminate use of personal data, research from the Norwegian Consumer Council shows.
Based on the findings, more than 20 consumer and civil society organisations in Europe and from different parts of the world are urging their authorities to investigate the practices of the online advertising industry.

The report uncovers how every time we use apps, hundreds of shadowy entities are receiving personal data about our interests, habits, and behaviour. This information is used to profile consumers, which can be used for targeted advertising, but may also lead to discrimination, manipulation and exploitation.

These practices are out of control and in breach of European data protection legislation. The extent of tracking makes it impossible for us to make informed choices about how our personal data is collected, shared and used, says Finn Myrstad, director of digital policy in the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The Norwegian Consumer Council is now filing formal complaints against Grindr, a dating app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people and companies that were receiving personal data through the app;  Twitter`s MoPub, AT&T’s AppNexus, OpenX, AdColony and Smaato. The complaints are directed to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority for breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation.

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Could be some fun fines if the complaints are upheld.
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Seven reasons why video gaming will take over • Matthew Ball

(Ball is a venture capitalist):

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TV isn’t going away. But regardless of how effectively the major TV companies transition to digital, it’s hard to imagine it will maintain current levels (at least until autonomous vehicles free up another two hours per day). It’s not new that human attention is finite, but the “attention economy” is so talked about today because there’s finally competition for leisure time. That doesn’t mean video time will ever fall below three hours per day, but the historical 5+ level is likely inflated by the fact real substitutes didn’t exist. Now there’s TikTok, Snapchat and Fortnite. And they continue to take generational share away from the category with the most to give.

This is why I once tweeted that Fortnite was Netflix’s most threatening competitor (which CEO Reed Hastings said in his investor letter a month later). This is most plainly understood as the idea that everyone is competing for finite attention and there are more applications for this attention than ever before. But the real challenge for Hollywood is that for decades, whenever “leisure” won over “work”, TV was the primary beneficiary. In recent years, the leisure decision has changed or “moved up” a level. It used to be “what to watch” and now it’s “whether to watch” – and the answer is increasingly “no, I’m going to play a game”. Neither Netflix nor Hollywood has a good solution for this problem. And no one chooses not to game because there’s a branching narrative available instead.

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Yeeaah, but they may choose to go on social media rather than play a game. And the cultural flow is in general still from film (sometimes TV) to games: the Star Wars game, etc. Games that get made into films tend not to thrive.
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For tech-weary Midwest farmers, 40-year-old tractors now a hot commodity • StarTribune.com

Adam Belz:

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Kris Folland grows corn, wheat and soybeans and raises cattle on 2,000 acres near Halma in the northwest corner of Minnesota, so his operation is far from small. But when he last bought a new tractor, he opted for an old one — a 1979 John Deere 4440.

He retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor. And Folland doesn’t need a computer to repair it.

“This is still a really good tractor,” said Folland, who owns two other tractors built before 1982. “They cost a fraction of the price, and then the operating costs are much less because they’re so much easier to fix.”

Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days — and it’s not because they’re antiques. Cost-conscious farmers are looking for bargains, and tractors from that era are well-built and totally functional, and aren’t as complicated or expensive to repair as more recent models that run on sophisticated software.

“It’s a trend that’s been building. It’s been interesting in the last couple years, which have been difficult for ag, to see the trend accelerate,” said Greg Peterson, the founder of Machinery Pete, a farm equipment data company in Rochester with a website and TV show.

“There’s an affinity factor if you grew up around these tractors, but it goes way beyond that,” Peterson said. “These things, they’re basically bulletproof. You can put 15,000 hours on it and if something breaks you can just replace it.”

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If they’ve lasted 40 years, that says a lot about their durability and repairability in itself. Less fuel-efficient (biodiesel makes up for that), but the offset against the cost of a new one is substantial. Of course, all John Deere needs to do is wait. The old tractors will eventually die.
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Low Power Mode for Mac laptops: making the case again • Marco.org

Marco Arment:

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Modern hardware constantly pushes thermal and power limits, trying to strike a balance that minimizes noise and heat while maximizing performance and battery life.

Software also plays a role, trying to keep everything background-updated, content-indexed, and photo-analyzed so it’s ready for us when we want it, but not so aggressively that we notice any cost to performance or battery life.

Apple’s customers don’t usually have control over these balances, and they’re usually fixed at design time with little opportunity to adapt to changing circumstances or customer priorities.

The sole exception, Low Power Mode on iOS, seems to be a huge hit: by offering a single toggle that chooses a different balance, people are able to greatly extend their battery life when they know they’ll need it.

Mac laptops need Low Power Mode, too. I believe so strongly in its potential because I’ve been using it on my laptops (in a way) for years, and it’s fantastic.

I’ve been disabling Intel Turbo Boost on my laptops with Turbo Boost Switcher Pro most of the time since 2015.

In 2018, I first argued for Low Power Mode on macOS with a list of possible tweaks, concluding that disabling Turbo Boost was still the best bang-for-the-buck tweak to improve battery life without a noticeable performance cost in most tasks.

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Arment’s comments follow reports that Apple might offer a “Pro Mode” (basically, burn up your battery!) in an upcoming update to the present OS version, Catalina. As he points out, people seem to prefer longer battery life to faster processing, at least on phones; why should laptops generally be any different? My kids often spend the entire day with their phones on Low Power mode.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1222: US considers anti-Huawei subsidies, will finance strangle coal?, sayonara Windows 7 – hello PC sales!, Norway sues apps, and more

  1. “My kids often spend the entire day with their phones on Low Power mode.” That’s the thing people I switched to Redmi Notes like the most: 2-day battery, so enough even for the longest, most intense day. How one can call iPhones that don’t last a day “superior design” is beyond me, unless design is looks not function.

  2. Gaming and social: both often go hand-in-hand. I’m seeing increasingly more young-ish people (kids, teens, young adults) that not only socialize in-game (a lot spend more time chatting than playing), but also socialize out of game, and not just about the game. That’s what Discord is mostly about: it starts as a more convenient chat (doesn’t require to be in-game, supports folders/channels, supports rich contents even bots, supports vocal), and ends up being one of your tribes’ 24/7 chat. It’s a bit nerdy to admin and the UI is quirky, but allows discussion to happen while not playing.

    I’m not sure gaming and social are competing as much as complementary, maybe even reinforcing. I get drawn back into Clash of Clans since I set up a Discord for it, people keep chatting ^^

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