Start Up No.1260: development in a coronavirus recession, Sonos stops bricking gear, the incom-parable prodigal techbro, muzzled conservatives, and more


The US moved onto Daylight Saving Time at the weekend – and might make it permanent in future CC-licensed photo by DocChewbacca on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Now wash your face (but don’t use your hands). I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The coronavirus recession and what it means for developers • Swyz

“Swyx” (that’s the name he gives):

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Some states (Alaska, Oklahoma, etc) will be disproportionately affected by the oil slump – and others (Seattle, NYC, etc) by the travel slump – so even if you don’t directly have anything to do with the travel and energy industry, you may work for someone that does. If they lose business, so do you. These things ripple out.

Startup fundraising will evaporate. VC’s are already highly attuned to this and Sequoia has already put out its warning – reminiscent of 2008’s RIP Good Times memo. Every investment is being made (or revoked) with this lens – VC’s react MUCH faster than normal people do, that’s kind of their whole job. They are also inclined to recognize asymmetric payoffs and exponential moves.

If you are a freelancer or agency: Clients will take longer – their own projects become more uncertain, they’ll magically receive more competitive proposals, they will book shorter contracts, they will renegotiate more things and change the deal abruptly. This exact thing is happening to the entire travel industry right now and will happen to you.

If you are an employee: Hiring will take longer. Same deal but now companies have to weigh your healthcare and WFH benefits against their downward revised cashflow projections. Regrettable layoffs can and will happen – nothing at first (because employers will try to hold the line), then we’ll see a flood of them (because employers run out of options).

If you work at Airbnb: you’re not getting an IPO. Sorry. The window was last year.

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Sonos getting rid of Recycle Mode that needlessly bricked its older devices • The Verge

Chris Welch:

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Sonos is doing away with Recycle Mode, a controversial part of the company’s trade-up program that rendered old devices inoperable in exchange for a 30% discount on a newer Sonos product. The trade-up program still exists, and customers who own eligible legacy products can get the same discount, but they’re no longer required to permanently brick devices that might still work just fine.

With the change, Sonos is now giving customers full control over what happens with the older gadgets they’re “trading” up from. They can choose to keep it, give it to someone, recycle it at a local e-waste facility, or send it to Sonos and let the company handle the responsible recycling part. Sonos quietly removed Recycle Mode from its app last week and replaced it with language asking anyone seeking the discount to call customer service. Within the next few weeks, Sonos will update its website with a new flow for the trade-up program that no longer includes Recycle Mode, and you won’t have to call anybody.

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Finally, some good news.
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I went to CPAC to see how conservatives think big tech is censoring them • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

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Gizmodo went to the belly of the beast, Conservative Political Action Conference 2020 (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, to ask conservatives whether they think social media companies are biased against them and what, specifically, they think they can’t say online anymore. We received a range of answers, ranging from the anecdotal and apocryphal to complaints about poor user support and enforcement of policies against misgendering and hate speech. We also looked into some of their accounts to see if we could figure out what the hell is going on. (Some of the interviews have been condensed for brevity.)

So, CPAC attendees, what can’t you say online anymore?

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Sometimes great articles emerge from really simple premises.

Also: CPAC included folks who think that Covid-19 is a “deep state” hoax. A few days later it was confirmed that at least one attendee tested positive. Wonder if they’ve changed their mind.
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The prodigal techbro • The Conversationalist

Maria Farrell:

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The Prodigal Son is a New Testament parable about two sons. One stays home to work the farm. The other cashes in his inheritance and gambles it away. When the gambler comes home, his father slaughters the fattened calf to celebrate, leaving the virtuous, hard-working brother to complain that all these years he wasn’t even given a small goat to share with his friends. His father replies that the prodigal son ‘was dead, now he’s alive; lost, now he’s found’. Cue party streamers. It’s a touching story of redemption, with a massive payload of moral hazard. It’s about coming home, saying sorry, being joyfully forgiven and starting again. Most of us would love to star in it, but few of us will be given the chance.

The Prodigal Tech Bro is a similar story, about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.

I’m glad that Roger McNamee, the early Facebook investor, has testified to the U.S. Congress about Facebook’s wildly self-interested near-silence about its amplification of Russian disinformation during the 2016 presidential election. I’m thrilled that Google’s ex-‘design ethicist’, Tristan Harris, “the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,“(startlingly faint praise) now runs a Center for Humane Technology, exposing the mind-hacking tricks of his former employer. I even spoke —critically but, I hope, warmly—at the book launch of James Williams, another ex-Googler turned attention evangelist, who “co-founded the movement”of awareness of designed-in addiction. I wish all these guys well. I also wish that the many, exhausted activists who didn’t take money from Google or Facebook could have even a quarter of the attention, status and authority the Prodigal Techbro assumes is his birthright.

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Farrell’s work is uniformly terrific. And this is very terrific.
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Google tracked his bike ride past a burglarized home. That made him a suspect • NBC News

Jon Schuppe:

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[Zachary] McCoy [who had received an email from Google saying the local police had demanded information about his Google account] worried that going straight to police would lead to his arrest. So he went to his parents’ home in St. Augustine, where, over dinner, he told them what was happening. They agreed to dip into their savings to pay for a lawyer.

The lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, dug around and learned that the notice had been prompted by a “geofence warrant,” a police surveillance tool that casts a virtual dragnet over crime scenes, sweeping up Google location data — drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular connections — from everyone nearby.

The warrants, which have increased dramatically in the past two years, can help police find potential suspects when they have no leads. They also scoop up data from people who have nothing to do with the crime, often without their knowing ─ which Google itself has described as “a significant incursion on privacy.”

Still confused ─ and very worried ─ McCoy examined his phone. An avid biker, he used an exercise-tracking app, RunKeeper, to record his rides. The app relied on his phone’s location services, which fed his movements to Google. He looked up his route on the day of the March 29, 2019, burglary and saw that he had passed the victim’s house three times within an hour, part of his frequent loops through his neighborhood, he said.

“It was a nightmare scenario,” McCoy recalled. “I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime. And I was the lead suspect.”

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“Geofence warrants” sound like a useful way of collecting suspects, but have led to wrongful arrest and conviction.
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More states moving to keep Daylight Saving Time permanent • Old Farmer’s Almanac

Catherine Boeckmann:

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Some constituencies profit from changing our clocks. 

For example, today, we drive our cars everywhere. The lobbying groups for convenience stores know this—and pushed hard for daylight saving time to last as long as possible. Extra daylight means more people shop in retail environments. Outdoor businesses such as golf courses and gardening supply stores report more profit with more daylight hours.  

Does DST really conserve energy? According to Congress, this is the main reason for the switch. When the Energy Policy Act extended the hours in 2007, Congress retained the right to revert back should the change prove unpopular or if energy savings are not significant. 

A Department of Energy report from 2008 found that the extended DST put in place in 2005 saved about 0.5% in total electricity use per day. However, the closer you live to the equator, where the amount of daylight varies little, the amount of electricity actually increased after the clocks were switched.

In Indiana, where I live, the change to DST in 2006 actually cost us. Matthew Kotchen, a Yale economist, found a 1% increase in electricity use in Indiana. Due to higher electricity bills and more pollution, Indiana’s change ended up costing consumers $9m per year. Further studies in 2008 showed that Americans use more domestic electricity when they practice daylight saving.

Today, as modern society marches forward, the energy argument may become obsolete. In terms of work, we’re not really a 9 to 5 society any more. Factories have different shifts. Office workers use the internet. Farmers will use daylight hours, no matter what. At home, our electricity demand is no longer based on sunrises and sunsets. We drive instead of walking, which means daylight saving actually increases gasoline use.

It’s quite possible we are now wasting energy. 

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UK readers: our US brethren are an hour closer to us (because we haven’t changed yet, but they did on Sunday.) US senator for Florida Marco Rubio is pushing this; it was literally a subplot in the comedy series Veep. (And here’s more, on Buzzfeed from 2017.)
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A chronobiological evaluation of the acute effects of Daylight Saving Time on traffic accident risk • Current Biology

Josef Fritz, Trang VoPham, Kenneth Wright and Céline Vetter:

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There is evidence that the spring Daylight Saving Time (DST) transition acutely increases motor vehicle accident (MVA) risk (“DST effect”), which has been partly attributed to sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment. Because spring DST also shifts clock time 1 h later, mornings are darker and evenings brighter, changing illumination conditions for peak traffic density.

This daytime-dependent illumination change (“time of day effect”) is hypothesized to result in DST-associated afternoon and evening accident risk reductions. Furthermore, sunrise and local photoperiod timing depend on position in time zone. The sun rises at an earlier clock time in the eastern regions of a given time zone than in the western regions, which is thought to induce higher levels of circadian misalignment in the west than in the east (“time zone effect”).

This study evaluated the acute consequences of the DST transition on MVAs in a chronobiological context, quantifying DST, time of day, and time zone effects. We used large US registry data, including 732,835 fatal MVAs recorded across all states (1996–2017), and observed that spring DST significantly increased fatal MVA risk by 6%

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Abolishing it would prevent about 28 fatal accidents a year, they calculate. Doesn’t sound a lot, except to the people who are in them, and their families and friends, and..
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The word from Wuhan • London Review of Books 22 February 2020

Wang Xiuying, living in the Hot Zone:

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Chinese medicine has played a dubious role in all this. Many believe the virus originated in a wild animal market in Wuhan. Trading and eating wild animals isn’t uncommon in Asia, partly because traditional medicine holds that some animal parts have near-magical properties. Pangolin scales are supposed to help new mothers produce milk; manta ray gills clear the lungs and cure chickenpox; the penises of pandas, tigers and bears can do the same trick as Viagra; a bit of monkey brain can make you smarter. But the market in such delicacies has also been blamed for the transmission of viruses from animals to humans. Traditional Chinese medicine may have contributed to the outbreak of the epidemic but some cling to the hope that it may also come to the rescue. On 31 January the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica announced that a herbal mixture called shuanghuanglian might be effective against the coronavirus (the banlangen root was similarly said to treat SARS). Shuanghuanglian sold out even more quickly than face masks. People want to believe there’s a cure. It’s true that the concoction may soothe a sore throat – the only problem is that you might catch the virus while queuing to buy it.

Schools are suspended until further notice. With many workplaces also shut, notoriously absent Chinese fathers have been forced to stay home and entertain their children. Video clips of life under quarantine are trending on TikTok. Children were presumably glad to be off school – until, that is, an app called DingTalk was introduced. Students are meant to sign in and join their class for online lessons; teachers use the app to set homework. Somehow the little brats worked out that if enough users gave the app a one-star review it would get booted off the App Store. Tens of thousands of reviews flooded in, and DingTalk’s rating plummeted overnight from 4.9 to 1.4. The app has had to beg for mercy on social media: ‘I’m only five years old myself, please don’t kill me.’

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Also worth it for his description of how you get things done in China, metaphorically known as “throwing woks”.
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Who is Facebook’s mysterious “Lan Tim 2”? • Terence Eden’s Blog

Eden went investigating his “Off-Facebook Activity” from Facebook’s hilarious privacy doo-dah:

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Because I use the Firefox web browser, all my off-FB activity is kept private from Facebook. I don’t use FB to sign into things. I also run an ad-blocker. So I expected my “Off Facebook Activity” to be completely blank.
It wasn’t.

Who are Lan Tim 2? And what did I purchase from them? First up, let’s check that I’m as paranoid as I think I am…

Yup! I’ve connected nothing to my FB account.

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It turns out to be quite a mystery, with what sure looks like data misuse at the bottom of it.
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DuckDuckGo is good enough for regular use • www.bitlog.com

Jake Voytko decided to try DuckDuckGo for a month after Google’s desktop redesign which makes ads look like regular results:

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Let’s move away from Google’s competitive advantages. How does DuckDuckGo perform for most of my search traffic? DuckDuckGo does a good job. I haven’t found a reason to switch back to Google.

I combed through my browser’s history of DuckDuckGo searches. I compared it to my Google search history. When I fell back to Google, I often didn’t find what I wanted on Google either.

Most of my searches relate to my job, which means that most of my searches are technical queries. DuckDuckGo serves good results for my searches. I’ll admit that I’m a paranoid searcher: I reformat error strings, remove identifiers that are unique to my code, and remove quotes before searching. I’m not sure how well DuckDuckGo would handle copy/pasted error strings with lots of quotes and unique identifiers. This means that I don’t know if DuckDuckGo handles all technical searches well. But it does a good job for me.

There are many domains where Google outperforms DuckDuckGo. Product search and local search are some examples. I recently made a window plug. It was much easier to find which big-box hardware stores had the materials I need with Google. I also recently bought a pair of ANC headphones. I got much better comparison information starting at Google. Google also shines with sparse results like rare programming error messages. If you’re a programmer, you know what I’m talking about: imagine a Google search page with three results. One is a page in Chinese that has the English error string, one is a forum post that gives you the first hint that you need to solve the problem, and one is the error string in the original source code in Github. DuckDuckGo often returns nothing for these kinds of searches.

Even though Google is better for some specific domains, I am confident that DuckDuckGo can find what I need. When it doesn’t, Google often doesn’t help either.

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I’ve been using DDG literally for years – perhaps a decade. I like the fact that you can just copy the URL of a search result, and it’s the actual URL, not a Google-obfuscated mess.
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The man who refused to freeze to death • BBC Future

William Park:

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The survivors [of a fishing boat capsize] found themselves separated from shore by three miles (5km) of 5-6C (41-43F) sea. An average person will survive in water colder than 6C for about 75 minutes. Accounts of people surviving for longer are anecdotal and few. In laboratories, test subjects begin to suffer adverse effects within 20 or 30 minutes before they are pulled out. To swim three miles in these seas would take hours.

Seawater cannot get really, really cold like air. Seawater freezes at about -1.9C (28.6F), but around Iceland in March the sea is just above freezing. It is theoretically possible to get frostbite in cold water, then, but very unlikely.

On the keel of the upturbed boat, however, the sub-feezing air temperature was taking its toll. The fishermen’s wet shirts, sweaters and jeans were quickly exacerbating their coldness. Staying put was not an option.

“When you come out of the water you get evaporative cooling,” says [professor of physiology at the University of Portsmouth, Mike] Tipton . “This is a really potent way of losing heat from the body.” Ordinarily you would want to strip off and put dry clothing on, but in the absence of that, climbing into a large plastic bag will reduce evaporative cooling and convective cooling.

“If you get someone wet at 4C and they have got a litre of water in their clothing; if all of that water evaporates they are going to have a fall in body temperature of 10C,” says Tipton. “If you put them through the same scenario and then put them in a plastic bag they can use their body to heat up that water. It is contained in the bag so it cannot evaporate away. Those people lost half a degree, so they were 20 times better off.”

Tipton says one of the big successes his team at the University of Portsmouth have had was to encourage the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to ditch their expensive foil space blankets in favour of cheap, tough, plastic survival bags. Space blankets, the kind that are wrapped around marathon runners at the end of races, are good at protecting against radiative heat loss, but less good when it comes to evaporative heat loss, because they do not trap fluid. In a survival situation, a plastic bag would be far more useful.

Without a plastic survival bag, and now in the cold air with the seawater evaporating off him, Friðþórsson’s risk of freezing cold injuries was very high.

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Amazing stuff in this; not just about swimming, but also land.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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