Start Up No.1266: TikTok shuns the ugly, Apple fined by French, bitcoin’s squeezed miners, penguins!, and lots more coronavirus news

Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t letting humans in, and this fella wants a videoconference. CC-licensed photo by Karen on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Coronavirus at the end. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TikTok told moderators: suppress posts by the “ugly” and poor • The Intercept

Sam Biddle, Paulo Victor Ribeiro and Tatiana Dias:


The makers of TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app with hundreds of millions of users around the world, instructed moderators to suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. These same documents show moderators were also told to censor political speech in TikTok livestreams, punishing those who harmed “national honor” or broadcast streams about “state organs such as police” with bans from the platform.

These previously unreported Chinese policy documents, along with conversations with multiple sources directly familiar with TikTok’s censorship activities, provide new details about the company’s efforts to enforce rigid constraints across its reported 800 million or so monthly users while it simultaneously attempts to bolster its image as a global paragon of self-expression and anything-goes creativity. They also show how TikTok controls content on its platform to achieve rapid growth in the mould of a Silicon Valley startup while simultaneously discouraging political dissent with the sort of heavy hand regularly seen in its home country of China.


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Live cams • Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium is closed to the public. Or the physical public – but the virtual public is more than welcome: they have penguins and all sorts:


Tune in to a web cam.

Be delighted by the antics of our sea otters or mellow out to the hypnotic drifting of our jellies. With ten live cams to choose from, you can experience the wonder of the ocean no matter where you are.


See? The animals and fish aren’t concerned.
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Apple fined record €1.1bn by French competition regulator • The Guardian

Angela Monaghan:


Apple has been fined a record €1.1bn (£990m) by antitrust regulators in France for engaging in anti-competitive agreements with two wholesalers. The penalty imposed on the US tech giant is the largest ever handed out to a company by the Autorité de la Concurrence.

Commenting on the move, Isabelle de Silva, head of the French competition watchdog, said: “Apple and its two wholesalers agreed to not compete against each other and prevent resellers from promoting competition between each other, thus sterilising the wholesale market for Apple products.”

The watchdog said Apple had conspired with the two wholesalers, Tech Data and Ingram Micro, and behaved in such a way that aligned prices and limited wholesale competition for Apple products such as Apple Mac computers and iPads, but not iPhones.

The other two French companies were also fined. Tech Data was handed a €76m penalty and Ingram Micro was ordered to pay €63m.


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Industry body warns most airlines could go broke by May • Financial Times

Jamie Smyth and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:


The airline industry is warning that it must shed jobs and obtain state support to survive the coronavirus crisis, as a respected aviation consultancy predicted that most of the world’s carriers could go broke by May. 

United Airlines in the US and Air New Zealand have told staff that they will begin redundancy processes, as travel restrictions force carriers to slash capacity and ground tens of thousands of aircraft. 

Air New Zealand said on Monday that it would slash international capacity by 85% and cut domestic capacity by almost a third in April and May. The carrier, which employs 8,000 people, said it would consult with trade unions about redundancies.

That followed news from United that it is planning to halve its capacity for April and May, and has warned its nearly 100,000 employees of “painful” cuts to its payroll.

The severe measures came as the Centre for Aviation, a consultancy, warned that by the end of May most airlines would be bankrupt due to the unprecedented travel restrictions that are being rolled out by governments around the world. 


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Bitcoin price crash forces miners off network • Decrypt

Robert Stevens:


“Most hash rate lost was from China, I know this based on our own customers, plus seeing a lot of the Chinese pools (with more older gen machines) lose hash rate,” Thomas Heller, global business director at F2Pool, told Decrypt. “The more prepared Chinese miners with [Antminer] S9’s have been selling large scale amounts of S9’s over the past few months, primarily to countries with even cheaper power, such as Russia/CIS region, Middle East, etc.”

“With the prices where they are now ($4,600), more hash rate will go offline in the coming days/weeks, if the price doesn’t turn around,” he added.

The main issue is that the drop in prices has made mining less profitable. Bitcoin mining profitability has fallen to $0.09 per TH [terahash], down 80% from a recent high of $0.44 in July 2019.

“It’s an extremely tough time for miners,” Heller said. And it doesn’t look like that will end any time soon.


That’s the problem for bitcoin miners: the investment is upfront, and begins depreciating as soon as it’s installed. As long as bitcoin rises in value, everything’s fine. But it’s not rising.
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Twitter takes down coronavirus tweets from John McAfee, David Clarke, and others • The Verge

Kim Lyons:


Twitter has removed several tweets by prominent accounts that made misleading claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic, as the company says it’s following a “zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation and any other attempts to abuse our service at this critical juncture.”

A Twitter spokesperson says the platform removed three posts by David Clarke, who tweets under the handle @SheriffClarke, because the tweets violated its policy against encouraging self-harm. All three of the tweets in question referred to the pandemic in some way, as noted by Jared Holt at watchdog site Right Wing Watch.

In one, Clarke linked to an article about bars and restaurants being ordered to close because of the novel coronavirus and added “Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.” In another, he encouraged people to “get back to reasonableness” and “stop buying toilet paper,” and a third removed tweet suggested people “take to the streets.”


Again, howcome it’s so feasible to do it now, but not at other times when there’s clear misinformation, for example around vaccines?
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Verily’s coronavirus screening site is basically unusable • Input Mag

Matthew Welle:


Project Baseline is not a public health site with the power to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Rather, it’s a pilot program with a very limited scope that isn’t actually useful for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. In fact, the screening program prompts users with symptoms to seek help elsewhere.

How exactly is this meant to fight the coronavirus again?

For starters, Project Baseline is only available to those living in either Santa Clara or San Mateo counties in California. The project has nothing at all to offer for those who reside outside of these areas.

Say you do live in one of these two counties. You’re coughing, have a fever, and are generally very scared that you’ve contracted COVID-19. You log onto Project Baseline seeking assistance in finding a testing facility nearby. The site prompts you with an opening question about your symptoms: “Are you currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms?”

You click yes. Project Baseline provides you with an answer: “We suggest that you seek medical attention.”


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Amazon is selling dozens of e-books with dubious coronavirus advice • VICE

Abigail Beall:


Since the start of the year, a handful of e-books have been published on Amazon claiming to offer expert advice on how to survive coronavirus. Now, a search for “coronavirus” on the Kindle store brings up 860 results. At best, these books are profiting from repurposing information already widely available, and at worst they are spreading conspiracy theories.

The people behind the books are using pseudonyms, fake reviews and buzzwords to make their way to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists. And they mostly seem to be getting away with it, too.

Some of the books are using names of official departments to appear legitimate. One entitled Coronavirus Disease: A Practical Guide for Preparation and Protection, which is available to buy on the Kindle store for £6.71, has listed one of its authors as ‘U.S. Dep. of Health & Human Services’. The real HHS confirmed to VICE this was not an official publication.

Others are using fake authors and fake reviews to sell copies.


Amazon has removed some, but by no means all, of the scam books.
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Coronavirus and 3D printing • 3D Printing Media Network

Davide Sher:


the hospital in Brescia (near one of the hardest-hit regions for coronavirus infections) urgently needed valves (in the photo) for an intensive care device and that the supplier could not provide them in a short time. Running out of the valves would have been dramatic and some people might have lost their lives. So [Nunzia Vallini] asked if it would be possible to 3D print them.

After several phone calls to fablabs and companies in Milan and Brescia and then, fortunately, a company in the area, Isinnova, responded to this call for help through its founder-CEO Cristian Fracassi, who brought a 3D printer directly to the hospital and, in just a few hours, redesigned and then produced the missing piece.

On the evening of Saturday 14th (the next day) Massimo [Temporelli, founder of the FabLab in Milan] reported that “the system works”. At the time of writing, 10 patients are accompanied in breathing by a machine that uses a 3D printed valve. As the virus inevitably continues to spread worldwide and breaks supply chains, 3D printers – through people’s ingenuity and design abilities – can definitely lend a helping hand. Or valve, or protective gear, or masks, or anything you will need and can’t get from your usual supplier.


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Microsoft Teams goes down just as Europe logs on to work remotely • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft’s chat and communications tool, Microsoft Teams, is down across Europe this morning. The outage started just as thousands of workers started to sign into the service and attempt to work remotely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Microsoft Teams users are currently experiencing issues signing into the service and sending messages. “We’re investigating messaging-related functionality problems within Microsoft Teams,” says a Microsoft support Twitter account.

The timing is less than ideal, just as many businesses are encouraging employees to work remotely and collaborate using services like Microsoft Teams. Even schools are also using tools like Microsoft Teams for remote education, with some schools in The Netherlands instructing students to log into the service today for digital questions.


A classic “you had one job” moment. But the strain of corporate VPNs and other remote-working systems is going to be immense this week. Slack is definitely going to find out whether it has earned its place in the world.
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To track coronavirus, Israel moves to tap secret trove of cellphone data • The New York Times

David Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Ronen Bergman:


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has authorized the country’s internal security agency to tap into a vast and previously undisclosed trove of cellphone data to retrace the movements of people who have contracted the coronavirus and identify others who should be quarantined because their paths crossed.

The unprecedented move to use data secretly gathered to combat terrorism for public health efforts was authorized on Sunday by Mr. Netanyahu’s holdover cabinet. It must still be approved by Parliament’s Secret Services Subcommittee.

The subcommittee met Monday afternoon but ended its discussions after 4 p.m. — when a new Parliament was to be sworn in — without holding a vote, essentially stopping the approval process.

The existence of the data trove and the legislative framework under which it is amassed and used have not previously been reported. The plan to apply it to fighting the virus, alluded to only vaguely by Mr. Netanyahu, has not yet been debated by lawmakers or revealed to the public.

The idea is to sift through geolocation data routinely collected from Israeli cellphone providers about millions of their customers in Israel and the West Bank, find people who came into close contact with known virus carriers, and send them text messages directing them to isolate themselves immediately.


And the difference between this and China is..?
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China’s first confirmed Covid-19 case traced back to November 17 • South China Morning Post

Josephine Ma:


The first case of someone in China suffering from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can be traced back to November 17, according to government data seen by the South China Morning Post.

Chinese authorities have so far identified at least 266 people who were infected last year, all of whom came under medical surveillance at some point.

Some of the cases were likely backdated after health authorities had tested specimens taken from suspected patients.

Interviews with whistle-blowers from the medical community suggest Chinese doctors only realised they were dealing with a new disease in late December.

Scientists have been trying to map the pattern of the early transmission of Covid-19 since an epidemic was reported in the central China city of Wuhan in January, two months before the outbreak became a global health crisis.

Understanding how the disease spread and determining how undetected and undocumented cases contributed to its transmission will greatly improve their understanding of the size of that threat.
According to the government data seen by the Post, a 55-year-old from Hubei province could have been the first person to have contracted Covid-19 on November 17.


Which is way earlier than was admitted.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1265: Twitter’s stalled cleanup, get bouncing!, the other benefits of trees to cities, and much more on coronavirus

We’ve got a lot more to tell you, unfortunately. CC-licensed photo by duncan c on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Try them at home. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A quick note: most of the links here (after the first few) are, you’ll find, about coronavirus. That’s because this is probably going to be an important week in the course of the infection: slowing it down now could save many lives in the longer term. Also, there’s not a lot of technology news going around.

Stay distant, stay well.

The history of the trampoline • Smithsonian Magazine

David Kindy:


When 16-year-old George Nissen of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attended the circus in 1930, an idea started to form within the young gymnast’s mind. He watched the aerialists drop from their perches up high in the big top and land with a soft bounce on the safety net below.

Could he create a contraption that would allow a person to keep on bouncing?

It would take a number of years and a few failed prototypes, but Nissen finally found success. His invention, which he labeled a “tumbling device,” was granted a patent 75 years ago on March 6, 1945. He later received a registered trademark for “Trampoline,” which came from el trampolín, the Spanish word for “diving board.”…

…World War II is when the trampoline’s potential began to bounce into view. The military latched on to it as a training device for pilots, to allow them to learn how to reorient themselves to their surroundings after difficult air maneuvers. The pilots practiced pirouetting in midair on the trampolines to simulate combat conditions.

That relationship with the military would later extend to the space program, thanks in part to a fortuitous meeting. Near the end of World War II, Nissen was introduced to a young pilot who had gone through the trampoline training. Both were in the Navy and so shared that fraternal bond. They hit it off and became friends for life.

The pilot was Scott Carpenter, who would later become one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. Together, they would help introduce the trampoline into space training at NASA and eventually create a game known as Spaceball. Two people would face off on a three-sided trampoline with a frame in the middle featuring a hole. While bouncing to and fro, one competitor would throw the ball through the hole and the other would have to stop it to save a point. (Watch it being played.)


Never saw that on Star Trek, did you.
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Jack Dorsey’s push to clean up Twitter stalls, researchers say • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:


Twitter said there have been delays in getting research projects off the ground, caused in part by employee turnover and shifting priorities within the company [eg fighting off activist investors looking to oust Jack Dorsey – CA], but added it would continue to build tools to minimize abuse.

“I think you can absolutely combine serving healthy conversation with growth,” Nick Pickles, Twitter’s global director of public-policy strategy, said.

Two academic teams who initially set out to work with Twitter have abandoned their plans, while another group is struggling to get some of the data initially promised. Members of Twitter’s advisory council of researchers, activists and other experts say they feel boxed out by the company.

Since his tweets on the issue, Mr. Dorsey has grown less involved with academics and activists who have volunteered to help Twitter, according to researchers and activists involved in those initiatives.

Twitter declined to make Mr. Dorsey available for comment.

“We had expectations that we’d be able to influence the world with our expertise,” said Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “It’s disappointing.”

Ms. Simon-Thomas is a member of Twitter’s more than 40-person Trust and Safety Council, set up in 2016 as a forum for experts to advise the company on how to prevent abuse on the platform.


As much as anything, seems to be caused by staff turnover at Twitter, and some indifference on Dorsey’s part – though he might reasonably think he can delegate it.
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How London’s trees help boost the local economy • CityLab

Feargus O’Sullivan:


London’s leafy streets and gardens have long been prized for their beauty — and more recently their ability to counteract carbon emissions and improve air quality. But the value of urban trees can also be measured with money. A new report from Britain’s Office of National Statistics estimates tree cover saved the capital more than £5bn ($6.56bn) from 2014 to 2018 through air cooling alone. Additionally, by keeping summer temperatures bearable for workers, trees prevented productivity losses of almost £11bn.

The estimates underline just how vital the role trees play is in making cities comfortable and functional in a warming world — particularly in London. An unusually long, hot summer in 2018 pushed cost savings estimates to their highest level to date.  

Part of the study’s purpose is to promote planting trees and maintaining green spaces, according to Hazel Trenbirth, a member of the ONS’ Natural Capital team, which looks at cost savings of greenery across the U.K.

“Britain’s trees have a value that goes far beyond what you can get from chopping them down,” she said.


Yay trees! They also remove pollutants and of course sequester a growing amount of carbon.
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Facebook is shutting down MSQRD, the AR selfie app it acquired in 2016 • The Verge

Taylor Lyles:


On April 13th, Facebook will remove the MSQRD app from both the Android and iOS app stores. Facebook purchased MSQRD in 2016, and the AR app played a key role in boosting Facebook’s internal portfolio of AR image and video tools. One of those tools, Spark AR, lets you create custom face filters for Facebook and Instagram.

As Business Insider pointed out, following the acquisition, Facebook promised that MSQRD would remain a standalone app and continue to provide updates, but the tech giant stopped supporting the app by the end of 2016.

Over the last several years, face filtering has become a popular feature on social media apps, with Instagram and Snapchat offering built-in face-swapping tools. Because of their popularity, an app like MSQRD may have seemed unnecessary for many.


The implication seems to be that AR is just becoming part of the software, rather than a necessarily separate thing.
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How to talk to your kids about coronavirus • PBS KIDS for Parents

Deborah Farmer Kris:


Earlier this week, I overheard my kids engaged in a round of “I heard” and “Did you know?” while they were getting ready for bed.

“I heard that Margaret’s dad has it,” said my six-year-old.

“Did you know that it’s the worst sickness ever?” added my eight-year-old.

Neither statement is accurate, but they were revealing: I had thought my initial conversations with my kids about COVID-19 had been good enough. But with adults, kids at school and the news all hyper-focused on this coronavirus outbreak, my reassuring voice needed to be a little louder.

A favorite Mister Rogers’ quote ran through my mind: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”

So before lights out, we talked. I asked what they had heard about the coronavirus. We got it all out — their questions, their “I heards” and their fears. The rest of the conversation had three themes.


Worth reading. Kids need to know that they’re safe – which, thankfully, seems to be true.
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The man who saw the pandemic coming • Nautilus

Kevin Berger interviews Dennis Carroll, an expert in zoonotic diseases who set up a USAID project in 2009 to forecast what might come from animals:


Have there been disturbances in their environments that have brought bats closer to us?

DC: The disturbances in their environments are us. We’ve penetrated deeper into ecozones we’ve not occupied before.

KB: What’s a telling example of our incursion?

DC: In Africa, we see a lot of incursion driven by oil or mineral extraction in areas that typically had few human populations. The problem is not only moving workers and establishing camps in these domains, but building roads that allow for even more movement of populations. Roads also allow for the movement of wildlife animals, which may be part of a food trade, to make their way into urban settlements. All these dramatic changes increase the potential spread of infection.

KB: Are spillover events more common now than 50 years ago?

DC: Yes. EcoHealth Alliance, an NGO, and others, looked at all reported outbreaks since 1940. They came to a fairly solid conclusion that we’re looking at an elevation of spillover events two to three times more than what we saw 40 years earlier. That continues to increase, driven by the huge increase in the human population and our expansion into wildlife areas. The single biggest predictor of spillover events is land-use change—more land going to agriculture and more specifically to livestock production.

I’m stunned by the absolute absence of global dialogue for what is a global event.

KB: Is there something specific about a virus that makes it zoonotic?

DC: You can argue viruses aren’t living organisms. They’re sheets of proteins encapsulating some DNA or RNA. Beyond that, they have no machinery to be able to live on their own. They’re looking for an ecosystem that has all of the other cellular machinery essential for replication. They can’t live outside another animal population. They need that animal to replicate. And we’re just one more animal. We think of ourselves as something special. But viruses are infecting us with exactly the same purpose they infect a bat or a civet cat.


Carroll’s funding at USAID wasn’t renewed in 2019. He’s now at the Global Virome Project, which “aims to find the majority of unknown viruses before they find us”.

Its February 2018 press release is headlined “Ambitious Global Virome Project could mark end of pandemic era”. Ah well.
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Coronavirus tracked: the latest figures as the pandemic spreads • Financial Times

Steve Bernard and Cale Tilford:


The virus’s proliferation has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, meaning it is spreading rapidly in different parts of the world. More than 140 countries have confirmed cases so far. 

The coronavirus has now taken hold in Europe, with the largest number of confirmed cases in Italy. In most western countries case numbers have been increasing by about 33% a day, a sign that other countries may soon be facing the same challenge as Italy.

The Asian city-state of Singapore and the territory of Hong Kong are on a different trajectory in terms of the growth in case numbers. The rate of increase has so far been relatively contained through rapid and strict measures.


At 33% per day (ie, 1.33^y), after seven days you have a sevenfold increase; after 14 days, a 54-fold increase. That’s cases, mind you, not necessarily infections, which could easily be higher.

And that’s a hell of a thing. 33% per day. As I said last week, we’re really bad at comprehending exponential increase because it’s so rare in nature. A doctor pointed out to me that the spread of infection like this follows a logistic sigmoid curve (the classic S-shape). But in the early stage, you can’t see the difference between “exponential” and “logistic”; that’s not evident until you’re at the 50% mark and growth becomes “just” linear.
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xkcd: 2010 and 2020

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Contrary to Trump’s claim, Google is not building a nationwide coronavirus screening website • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


Google is not working with the US government in building a nationwide website to help people determine whether and how to get a novel coronavirus test, despite what President Donald Trump said in the course of issuing an emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, a much smaller trial website made by another division of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is going up. It will only be able to direct people to testing facilities in the Bay Area.

More than an hour after Trump’s press conference, a Google communications Twitter account passed along the following statement from Verily, which is a different company inside the Alphabet corporate umbrella:


We are developing a tool to help triage individuals for Covid-19 testing. Verily is in the early stages of development, and planning to roll testing out in the Bay Area, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time. We appreciate the support of government officials and industry partners and thank the Google engineers who have volunteered to be part of this effort.


Carolyn Wang, communications lead for Verily, told The Verge that the “triage website” was initially only going to be made available to health care workers instead of the general public. Now that it has been announced the way it was, however, anybody will be able to visit it, she said. But the tool will only be able to direct people to “pilot sites” for testing in the Bay Area, though Wang says Verily hopes to expand it beyond California “over time.”


Trump also thought it would sound impressive to say that 1,700 people were working on the website. In fact, Sundar Pichai put out a call for people to help on the site earlier in the week and received 1,700 responses. Of course nobody in the White House puts any store on accuracy.

But to anyone with experience building websites, saying 1,700 people are working on a new one is a terrifying idea. It would take forever. If you had 17 people, you’d get it done 100 times faster.
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Apple’s WWDC 2020 kicks off in June with an all-new online format • Apple


Apple today announced it will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Now in its 31st year, WWDC 2020 will take on an entirely new online format packed with content for consumers, press and developers alike. The online event will be an opportunity for millions of creative and innovative developers to get early access to the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, and engage with Apple engineers as they work to build app experiences that enrich the lives of Apple customers around the globe.

“We are delivering WWDC 2020 this June in an innovative way to millions of developers around the world, bringing the entire developer community together with a new experience,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “The current health situation has required that we create a new WWDC 2020 format that delivers a full program with an online keynote and sessions, offering a great learning experience for our entire developer community, all around the world. We will be sharing all of the details in the weeks ahead.”


I will admit that I laughed aloud when I saw this. It’s such a wonderful “hey, the supermarket shelves are half-full, not half-empty!” response to the coronavirus epidemic, while not using the words “coronavirus” or “Covid-19”; it just refers, once, to “the current health situation”.

Apple is also giving $1m to “local San Jose organisations” to try to offset revenue loss. At the average of 6,000 attendees, and let’s say another 1,000 associated visitors, that’s $142 each for the whole week. I think most attendees spend at least $1,000 in the week. That $6m gap gives you some idea of the revenue hit that many businesses are taking.

And that’s before we get into hotels’ and airlines’ lost revenues.
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Coronavirus forecast • Spatial Ecology and Evolution Lab

Ben Phillips, head of the lab:


I’ve made a shiny app that gives a ten-day forecast, by country, on likely numbers of coronavirus cases.

The app is designed to give people a sense of how fast this epidemic is progressing, as well as one of the key uncertainties; the true number of cases.

At the time of writing (13 March 2020), it is very impressive to see how things are progressing in China, Korea, and Japan, and quite alarming to see how things are progressing elsewhere.

The top graph gives the raw number of cases each day, with a ten-day projection. The projection is based on the bottom graph, which are the same data plotted on a log scale: exponential growth presents as a straight line on the log scale. So I fit a straight line to the last ten days of data, extrapolate it by ten days, and project that up onto the original scale in the top graph.

The method assumes that deaths do not go unnoticed, that the case fatality rate is about 2.5% and it takes about 17 days for people that are going to die to die. Under these assumptions we look at the number of deaths in a five day period, and estimate the number of infections required to generate these deaths (expected = deaths/0.025), we compare that to the number of new cases detected in the five day period 17 days earlier (observed), and use observed/expected to estimate a detection probability. Please take this number with a big dose of salt, but it does give you some indication of how good/bad it might be in each country.


I really do recommend that you take a look at the forecast app. The short version: we’ve got some real trouble ahead. On the basis of 10% of cases requiring hospital attention, all sorts of other healthcare elements (cancer diagnosis and treatment, road accidents, chronic treatments) are going to have to be heavily triaged.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1264: CNN finds Russian troll farm in Africa, Magic Leap for sale, coronavirus splits the US, password rules to forget, and more

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip: an enforced brief encounter didn’t delight the NYT. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Remember what the Hitchhiker’s Guide says. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

CNN tracks US social media trolls to Ghana, then Russia before 2020 vote – CNN

Clarissa Ward, Katie Polglase, Sebastian Shukla, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Tim Lister:


In 2016, much of the trolling aimed at the US election operated from an office block in St. Petersburg, Russia. A months-long CNN investigation has discovered that, in this election cycle, at least part of the campaign has been outsourced – to trolls in the west African nations of Ghana and Nigeria.

They have focused almost exclusively on racial issues in the US, promoting black empowerment and often displaying anger towards white Americans. The goal, according to experts who follow Russian disinformation campaigns, is to inflame divisions among Americans and provoke social unrest. The language and images used in the posts – on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – are sometimes graphic.

…In a statement Thursday, Facebook said that its “subsequent assessment benefited from our collaboration with a team of journalists at CNN” and it had “removed 49 Facebook accounts, 69 Pages and 85 Instagram accounts for engaging in foreign interference.”

Facebook said: “This network was in early stages of audience building and was operated by local nationals – witting and unwitting – in Ghana and Nigeria on behalf of individuals in Russia. It targeted primarily the United States.”

Facebook says that about 13,200 Facebook accounts followed one or more of the Ghana accounts and around 263,200 people followed one or more of Instagram accounts, about 65% of whom were in the US. Twitter told CNN that it had removed 71 accounts that had 68,000 followers.


Facebook didn’t allow any political ads by them because they’re outside the US. But they didn’t need ads. They used Facebook.
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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Review: a folding phone that’s a dud • The New York Times

Brian X Chen:


Before I say how much I disliked this Samsung phone, let me let you in on a secret about tech product reviews: As gadgets have increased in speed, abilities and price over the last few years, tech companies have given product reviewers like me less time to test them.

When the companies provide us early access to their gadgets, they set a date and time for when reviewers can publish their verdicts before the products are released. More than a decade ago, we got two weeks, which felt like an ideal amount of time to properly explore a device’s pros and cons.

Today, we get about a week at most to try out and write about products like iPhones, Microsoft computers and Google Pixels. Samsung was even stingier: It allowed reviewers to test its new Galaxy Z Flip, a $1,380 smartphone with a foldable screen that debuted in mid-February, for only 24 hours.

This minimized review period screams “Buyer, beware” — especially since some Samsung products have had issues with durability and safety.


The durability and safety worked out OK in the limited time, but the usability didn’t.
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Many older Americans are playing down the coronavirus threat while others opt for safety • The Washington Post

Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis:


As the coronavirus continues its spread across the world and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that older Americans are among those who face the highest risk of hospitalization and death, retirees from Florida to Alaska are weighing whether to continue living their normal lives or do whatever it takes to preserve them.

The Villages is one of the largest retirement developments in the United States, with 125,000 residents living on more than 1,000 acres. When asked on the “Villages Friendly Folks” Facebook page how they were managing the coronavirus, a majority of people sided with Przybylowicz, saying the crisis is being overblown.

Against mounting advice from federal and private health experts, many expressed a determination to move forward with travel excursions, such as cruises. But that is getting harder to do.

In recent days, the industry bowed to a federal directive forcing passengers 70 and older to provide a doctor’s note proving their fitness to sail. Two cruise operators, Princess and Viking, suspended operations for 60 days because of the coronavirus.

On Wednesday night, as President Trump was announcing a travel ban from Europe to the United States, hundreds of residents at The Villages freely roamed the sprawling property. Partygoers danced to the live music presented nightly, ignoring the warnings of the CDC to practice social distancing — “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings” and maintaining a distance of about six feet to guard against infection.


Let us now observe natural selection in action.
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Coronavirus divides tech workers into the ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ sick • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:


why did it take a global pandemic for Amazon to consider that a policy that penalizes workers for taking unpaid time off when they are sick is fundamentally inhumane? Why is it still acceptable to put in place protective measures for some part of the workforce, but not for all? And when this outbreak – and the accompanying public pressure – subsides, will Amazon, Uber, Lyft and others go right back to the previous system of forcing the lowest-paid members of their workforces to either work while sick or go without pay?

The situation recalled to me the work of Jacob Remes, a history professor at New York University who studies disasters. Several years ago, when I interviewed Remes about homelessness, he told me: “What the category of disaster does is sort people into worthy poor and unworthy poor.” In America, if you are made homeless by a hurricane, you are considered “worthy” and are (usually) eligible for public relief or support. But if you are homeless due to job loss or eviction, you are generally viewed as unworthy – and scorned by politicians as a sponge on the system.

Coronavirus is now creating a new division – between the worthy sick and the unworthy sick.

“Because there is suddenly more generosity during a disaster, there’s also a lot more policing to make sure that the ‘bad poor’ don’t get any benefit,” Remes told me on Wednesday.


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AR headset pioneer Magic Leap considers sale • Financial Times

James Fontanella-Khan, Tim Bradshaw and Hannah Murphy:


Magic Leap, an early pioneer of augmented-reality headsets, is considering a sale after having held talks with several potential buyers, said people briefed about the matter. 

It was unclear whether the talks would lead to any transaction, said a person close to Magic Leap’s senior management, who added that the company was also considering raising a new round of funding. Magic Leap has been in talks with investors about raising up to $500m since late last year but the round has not yet closed. 

Despite several rounds of funding from global investors totalling more than $2bn, it is unclear how much Magic Leap would be worth. AT&T, the telecoms operator, acquired a small stake in the augmented-reality group in 2018 at a $6.3bn valuation. Bloomberg first reported news about a potential sale.

Magic Leap declined to comment.


I have linked to Magic Leap going back to 2015, but never believed that it was going to be a hit product. That’s $2bn those VCs are never going to see back. If it goes for $100m, it’ll be doing well – its patents are promised to JP Chase Morgan. It’s dead, Jim. (Reminds me of the joke from the days when Skoda was a terrible car brand: man goes to petrol station and asks “Can I get a petrol cap for my Skoda?” The mechanic thinks for a moment and replies “OK, it’s a fair exchange.”)
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Three old password rules that are dumb today • CNET

Laura Hautala:


Even though the tech industry is working on better alternatives to passwords, you’re going to be using them for an awfully long time. Some of the advice you’ve heard over the last couple of decades is outdated. Here’s a fresh look.

The core rules about password hygiene still stand. Use a different password for every account, and make your passwords hard to guess. But cybersecurity experts say you can toss out three old rules: Never write your passwords down, don’t tell anyone your passwords and change your passwords frequently.

That advice came from a different time, when the biggest threat was from a person with physical access to our computers. Now our lives are completely enmeshed with internet services and apps. Hackers can be anywhere in the world. As a result, we have to think differently about how to keep our accounts locked down.


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Analysis: facing virus outbreak, Trump’s tactics fall short • Associated Press

Jonathan Lemire:


“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump declared.

Addressing the economic costs, he added, “This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.”

But the virus has appeared impervious to the Republican president’s bluster.

The virus does not have a Twitter account and, unlike so many previous Trump foes, is resistant to political bullying or Republican Party solidarity. It has preyed on his lack of curiosity and fears of germs while exposing divides and inadequacies within senior levels of his administration. It has taken away Trump’s favorite political tool, his rallies, from which he draws energy and coveted voter information.

And eight months from Election Day, it has endangered his best reelection argument — a strong economy — just as Joe Biden, the candidate emerging from the Democratic field, seems poised to take advantage of a political landscape upended by the virus.

“Crises of varying degrees produce fascinating and often consequential elections: Think 1860, 1932, 1968, 2008. Such races turn on questions of chaos versus order and favor the candidate who seems to offer the best chance of bringing order to the country in times of uncertainty,” presidential historian Jon Meacham said. “What’s interesting about those examples is that incumbents, or candidates of the incumbent party, lost all of them.”


Recalls the Borowitz Report’s (satirical) headline: “Trump Plans to Destroy Coronavirus with an Incredibly Mean Tweet“.
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Coronavirus: why you must act now • Medium

Tomas Pueyo:


Here’s what I’m going to cover in this article, with lots of charts, data and models with plenty of sources:

• How many cases of coronavirus will there be in your area?
• What will happen when these cases materialize?
• What should you do?
• When?

When you’re done reading the article, this is what you’ll take away:

• The coronavirus is coming to you
• It’s coming at an exponential speed: gradually, and then suddenly
• It’s a matter of days. Maybe a week or two
• When it does, your healthcare system will be overwhelmed
• Your fellow citizens will be treated in the hallways
• Exhausted healthcare workers will break down. Some will die
• They will have to decide which patient gets the oxygen and which one dies
• The only way to prevent this is social distancing today. Not tomorrow. Today
• That means keeping as many people home as possible, starting now…

If you have deaths in your region, you can use that to guess the number of true current cases. We know approximately how long it takes for that person to go from catching the virus to dying on average (17.3 days). That means the person who died on 2/29 in Washington State probably got infected around 2/12.
Then, you know the mortality rate. For this scenario, I’m using 1% (we’ll discuss later the details). That means that, around 2/12, there were already around ~100 cases in the area (of which only one ended up in death 17.3 days later).

Now, use the average doubling time for the coronavirus (time it takes to double cases, on average). It’s 6.2. That means that, in the 17 days it took this person to die, the cases had to multiply by ~8 (=2^(17/6)). That means that, if you are not diagnosing all cases, one death today means 800 true cases today.
Washington state has today 22 deaths. With that quick calculation, you get ~16,000 true coronavirus cases today.


It’s really hard to grasp exponential growth, because normally we don’t come across it. (Yes, disease, but we’re not aware of the exponential multiplication inside our bodies.) Now, it’s here. (Thanks Walt F for the link.)
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Do us a favour • Science

H Holden Thorp is the editor-in-chief of the Science journals:


China has rightfully taken criticism for squelching attempts by scientists to report information during the outbreak. Now, the United States government is doing similar things. Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they must clear all public comments with Vice President Mike Pence is unacceptable. This is not a time for someone who denies evolution, climate change, and the dangers of smoking to shape the public message. Thank goodness Fauci, Francis Collins [director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)], and their colleagues across federal agencies are willing to soldier on and are gradually getting the message out.

While scientists are trying to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said—as it did last week—that virus spread in the United States is contained, when it is clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After 3 years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death.

And although the steps required to produce a vaccine could possibly be made more efficient, many of them depend on biological and chemical processes that are essential. So the president might just as well have said, “Do me a favor, hurry up that warp drive.”


The scientists are angry. (Thanks Nic for the link.)
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Bitcoin is also having a very, very bad day • TechCrunch

Romain Dillet on bitcoin’s plummet (presently down about $2,000 in a couple of days):


This isn’t just an accident. Bitcoin has been steadily going down for the past month. On February 19, you could still receive over $10,000 by selling 1 BTC.

Yesterday, the World Health Organization officially declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. The US has taken additional measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including travel restrictions from Europe to the US. Asian and European stock markets have had a rough trading day following the news.

Many believed that cryptocurrencies would be inversely correlated to stock markets. But economic confidence is also hurting cryptocurrencies. Uncertainty has led to today’s crypto asset selloff. You don’t want to keep trading positions in risky assets when it’s unclear whether the economy can recover from the coronavirus.

Other popular cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum, XRP and Bitcoin Cash are respectively down 28.3%, 23.2% and 31.1% over the past 24 hours. In other words, everything is red right now.


The idea that cryptocurrencies were in any way a secure asset was always a mirage. They’re speculative, rather than stable (in contrast to how gold is seen). Crypto will keep going down as long as people need actual cash, because it will get sold for something you can use to buy things.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1263: ‘surveillance creep’ at schools, why political writers can’t cover Covid-19, Sidewalk sidelined, work from home or not? and more

Whisper the app didn’t secure an online database. Not so magical, eh. CC-licensed photo by Aimee Ray on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. We told you, Dorries. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Secret-sharing app Whisper left users’ locations, fetishes exposed on the Web • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:


Whisper, the secret-sharing app that called itself the “safest place on the Internet,” left years of users’ most intimate confessions exposed on the Web tied to their age, location and other details, raising alarm among cybersecurity researchers that users could have been unmasked or blackmailed.

The data exposure, discovered by independent researchers and shown to The Washington Post, allowed anyone to access all of the location data and other information tied to anonymous “whispers” posted to the popular social app, which has claimed hundreds of millions of users.
The records were viewable on a non-password-protected database open to the public Web. A Post reporter was able to freely browse and search through the records, many of which involved children: A search of users who had listed their age as 15 returned 1.3 million results.

The cybersecurity consultants Matthew Porter and Dan Ehrlich, who lead the advisory group Twelve Security, said they were able to access nearly 900 million user records from the app’s release in 2012 to the present day…

…The exposed records did not include real names but did include a user’s stated age, ethnicity, gender, hometown, nickname and any membership in groups, many of which are devoted to sexual confessions and discussion of sexual orientation and desires.

The data also included the location coordinates of the users’ last submitted post, many of which pointed back to specific schools, workplaces and residential neighborhoods.


My best guess: an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data bucket. Data exposures like this are now almost always because someone forgetting to password-protect a bucket.

Also, whatever happened to Whisper? Is it dead? Or just in the Big App Sleep?
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‘Surveillance creep’ as cameras spread on campus • Financial Times

Carly Minsky:


[US tech firm] Gaggle claims to have prevented more than 700 suicides among the 5m students it monitors in the school year 2018-2019. Its rival Securly claims to have prevented more than 800 suicides across 15,000 schools, based on the screening of 5bn online activities.

But some experts are challenging this approach, which they warn is normalising intrusion into students’ lives and overriding concerns about privacy, freedom and the reliability of such technology.

Teachers, students and their parents are rarely kept informed about what data are collected and for what purposes, warns Emmeline Taylor, an academic at City University of London in the UK.

Cameras were initially introduced to safeguard against external intruders. Since then, they have been used to spot misbehaviour, and then on teachers to monitor their performance, she says. More recently, body-worn cameras on teachers have been trialled to document student behaviour in case of disciplinary disputes.

The repurposing of monitoring technology beyond its original use case is so common that there is a term for it: surveillance creep.

“The window of opportunity to define our cultural values about acceptable levels of scrutiny in schools is closing quite rapidly,” she says. “The next generation of students will already be normalised to surveillance.”


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Can political reporters handle the Covid-19 disinformation machine? • WIRED

Gilad Edelman:


A coronavirus pandemic would test the resilience of a number of institutions: hospitals, transit systems, global supply chains. We can add the mainstream media to that list. Objective news reporting is built on two bedrock principles: report the truth, and don’t pick sides. Trump’s unprecedented commitment to saying what is plainly untrue makes it hard to honor both principles at once. This puts news organizations into a terrible bind, especially when many conservatives—and the president himself—are ready to pounce at even the slightest whiff of liberal bias. That has always been true, but the stakes are suddenly higher. The coronavirus response is the first time Trump has been personally in charge of managing a crisis that is likely to cause a large number of American deaths. There’s no way around the fact that this is a political story as well as a public health one. If the mainstream press is ever going to figure out how to provide responsible reporting on Trump’s job performance, now’s the time.

The first pitfall to avoid is stenography: uncritically relaying what the president said without giving readers the relevant context. As the media blogger Dan Froomkin wrote over the weekend, an egregious example came after Trump blamed the shortage of tests on a rule adopted by the Obama administration that Trump has since overturned. You’ll be shocked to learn that there was no such rule. That didn’t stop headlines like “Criticized for Coronavirus Response, Trump Points to Obama Administration” (NYT) and “Trump Blames Obama Decision for Coronavirus Test Kit Shortage” (Bloomberg). Each story took several paragraphs to push back on Trump’s claim, and then only mildly. (“Experts on lab testing said they were unaware of any Obama-era rule that would have hindered the administration from authorizing lab-developed tests for the coronavirus in an emergency,” murmured the Bloomberg piece, nearly 500 words in.) Froomkin recommends pulling political reporters off the coronavirus story altogether, since they are the ones most trained to not pick sides.


Adam Rogers, also at Wired, did a masterfully restrained takedown of Trump’s nonsense at the CDC. It would be a cosmic irony if Trump, the germophobe, were to contract Covid-19 through his incompetence; a long-game payback of his administration’s pile of errors.
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Wash Your Lyrics



Wash Your Lyrics

Generate hand washing infographics based on your favourite song lyrics 🎶

All you need is the song title and artist. Type it in below and press Generate to instantly generate your poster.

Made by William (@neoncloth). This website wouldn’t be possible without
• Twinhelix for identifying bottlenecks and scaling the app (they’re awesome)
• Cloudflare for upgrading the site to a ‘Pro’ plan at no charge mid-virality
• Font Awesome for creating the glyphs used in the Wash Your Lyrics logo
• National Health Service (NHS) for the base poster that lyrics are written on
• Genius for providing a robust API for song information


Terrific fun. Bonus points for the most appropriate song. (I thought “Hand in Pocket” by Alanis Morrisette might work. “Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders is pretty good. And if you want to try “The Mincer” by King Crimson for a bleak effect, you’re welcome.)

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The conspiracies are coming from inside the house • The Atlantic

Renée DiResta notes how in 2016, it took Russian effort to push people into wild partisan allegations online:


In 2020, though, the vitriol, conspiracies, and incessant allegations of rigging aren’t coming from outsiders. They’re being driven by real influencers in the United States—by verified users, many from within the media, and by passionate hyper-partisan fan groups that band together to drive the public conversation.

The bungled vote count at the Iowa caucus last month revealed the blazing incompetence of that state’s Democratic Party and Shadow Inc., the contractor it hired to design a vote-counting app. But it also revealed something far more troubling: deep suspicion and pervasive anger. Almost immediately after the announcement that results would be delayed, unfounded allegations proliferated on Twitter. Even blue-check Twitter users—people with verified identities and, often, affiliations with credible media institutions—quickly resorted to conspiratorial speculation about nefarious plots. Several high-profile Sanders surrogates claimed that the party was stalling because it was unhappy that results showed Bernie Sanders winning; others went a step further, suggesting that local party apparatchiks were outright rigging results for Pete Buttigieg. Some of these insinuations were retweeted by high-profile social-media accounts, including that of a sitting member of Congress.

Iowa wasn’t a one-off: After Joe Biden’s surprisingly strong performance in Tuesday’s primary, the hashtags #RiggedPrimary and #RiggedElection began trending on Twitter.


As she also points out, in 2016 only about 10% of Russian trolls’ content was political about candidates; most of it was just about exacerbating tribalism.
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You can’t fight city hall. But maybe you can fight Google • The New York Times

Ian Austen:


High-rises made from engineered wood would replace weed lots and underused warehouses along streets. Bike paths would melt snow. Giant awnings would shelter pedestrians from rain or blazing summer sun. Sensors would track residents’ every movement to optimize everything from traffic signals to underground armies of robots delivering parcels and discarding trash.

And all of it would meet ambitious environmental standards.

Critics pounced. How would [Google-owned] Sidewalk use the data it gathered from the streets, washrooms and even the garbage bins, they asked. Who would own the data? How would it be stored?

Several people, including Mr. Balsillie, rejected Sidewalk’s fundamental premise that algorithms, rather than politics, are the best way to design and run a city. And some argued that the project appeared to be a means of promoting concepts such as self-driving cars and other interests of Google, which, like Sidewalk, is a subsidiary of Alphabet.

“This is about corporate capture of governance and privatizing governments,” said Bianca Wylie, who has long pushed for citizen access to data and who co-founded Block Sidewalk, the largest group opposing the plan.

Sidewalk, she said, has “wonderfully intelligent people working there, and they care about cities.”

But, Ms. Wylie added, “The problem is that nobody gets to buy democracy and governance.”


Sidewalk is essentially a busted flush now: InLink, the company that was doing it in the UK has gone bust, owing about £35m, with the IP sold to British Telecom.
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Coronavirus: sorry, but working from home is overrated • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:


Fans of remote work often cite studies showing that people who work from home are more productive, like a 2014 study led by the Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom. The study examined remote workers at a Chinese travel agency and found that they were 13% more efficient than their office-based peers.

But research also shows that what remote workers gain in productivity, they often miss in harder-to-measure benefits like creativity and innovative thinking. Studies have found that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators, and that team cohesion suffers in remote work arrangements.

Remote workers also tend to take shorter breaks and fewer sick days than office-based ones, and in studies, many report finding it hard to separate their work from their home lives. That’s a good thing if you’re a boss looking to squeeze extra efficiency out of your employees, but less ideal if you’re someone trying to achieve some work-life balance.

Working in isolation can be lonely, which explains the popularity of co-working spaces like WeWork and The Wing. Even in Silicon Valley, where the tools that allow for remote work are being built, many companies are strict about requiring their workers to come into the office.


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2018: The open-plan office is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea • Signal v. Noise

David Heinemeier Hansson:


Not because there aren’t people who actually enjoy working in an open office, there are. Quite a few, actually. But they’re in the distinct minority. The vast majority of people either dislike the open office or downright hate it. So how is that going to work, exactly?

By force, of course! Open offices are more appealing to people in management because they needn’t protect their own time and attention as much. Few managers have a schedule that allows, or even requires, long hours of uninterrupted time dedicated to a single creative pursuit.

And it’s these managers who are in charge of designing office layouts and signing leases. It’s also these managers who are responsible for booking photo shots of the FUN-FUN office, giving tours to investors, and fielding interviews with journalists. The open office is an excellent backdrop for all those activities.

What it isn’t, though, is conducive to better collaboration. A new study shows that the number one argument for the open office, increased collaboration, is bullshit. Converting traditional offices with walls and doors and separation into open-plan offices causes face-to-face interaction to plummet, not rise. People try to shield their attention (and sanity!) by retreating into headphone-clad cocoons, and instead rely on instant messaging or email to interact. D’oh!


I’d love to see a comparative study of how well open-plan offices work for different jobs. In journalism, it can be quite effective. But in coding, maybe not. Of course now we’ve found a very, very different solution.
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Apple sells fewer than 500,000 smartphones in China in February amid coronavirus • Reuters

Brenda Goh:


China placed curbs on travel and asked residents to avoid public places in late January, just ahead of the Lunar New Year festival, a major gift-giving holiday. Those restrictions stayed largely in place through most of February.

In total, mobile phone brands sold a total of 6.34 million devices in February in China, down 54.7% from 14 million in the same month last year, data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology showed (CAICT).

It was also the lowest level for February since at least 2012, when CAICT started publishing data.


So Apple was at the top of the story, right? Now let’s go a little further down:


Android brands, which include devices made by Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi, accounted for most of the drop, as they collectively saw shipments decline from 12.72m units in February 2019 to 5.85m, the data showed.

Shipments of Apple devices slumped to 494,000, from 1.27 million in February 2019. In January, its shipments had held steady at just over 2 million.


Proportionately, Apple had the bigger drop, but it’s the Android OEMs that will be feeling it. When China sneezes, they all catch cold, so to speak.
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iOS 14 reveals iPhone 9 and updated iPad Pro details, new Apple TV remote, AirTags, more • 9to5Mac



Leaked iOS 14 code obtained by 9to5Mac corroborates many details about what to expect from Apple’s upcoming hardware refreshes, including the new iPad Pro, iPhone 9, and AirTags. Apple is also developing a new Apple TV remote, the code indicates.

According to the iOS 14 code, the upcoming iPad Pro refresh will include a new triple-lens camera array like previous supply chain reporting has suggested. This camera setup will include a time-of-flight 3D sensor, a wide-angle lens, an ultra-wide lens, and a telephoto lens. This is a major update from the current iPad Pro.

The time-of-flight sensor will likely lend itself to new augmented reality features. 9to5Mac reported earlier today that Apple is developing a new augmented reality application for iOS 14. The app will allow users to get more information about world around them via AR.

iOS 14 code also includes details about the upcoming iPhone 9, again corroborating past supply chain reporting. The iPhone 9 will support Touch ID as well as Express Transit capabilities. Apple is hoping to push iPhone 6 users — which does not feature support for Express Transit — to upgrade to the iPhone 9.

The new iPhone 9 or iPhone SE 2 is expected to be released this spring, likely alongside the release of iOS 13.4 (barring any major delays due to coronavirus.) The device will, of course, be supported by iOS 14, hence why details about it are included in the operating system details.

The iOS 14 code seen by 9to5Mac also includes new details about changes to the Apple TV. Prior versions of tvOS 13 code have revealed that Apple is working on a new Apple TV box, but iOS 14 also includes the tidbit that there will also be a new Apple TV remote.


New Apple remote that is sympathetic to the human hand 🙏

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1262: when Google loses your house, dress to disappear completely, Ukraine’s coronavirus riots, how WeChat is losing attention, and more

A report says Apple has put off a spring launch of an iPhone. So what will it do instead? CC-licensed photo by Mark Mathosian on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Now wash someone else’s hands. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What happens when Google Maps gets it wrong • The Washington Post

Amanda Ripley:


Two and a half years ago, my dad and his wife took an Uber from the airport to my house in Washington, D.C., as they’ve done many times before. Only this time, it took them to the wrong place: an empty lot by a cemetery, two miles from my house. My dad told the Uber driver it was not my house, but the driver didn’t believe him. His app had led him here, so it must be right!

They all sat there for a few minutes, staring at the driver’s phone, paralyzed by the startling gap that had opened between the app and reality.

This is how we discovered that Google Maps had two locations listed for our home. One was right, one was wrong. This seemed like a pretty minor problem in the scheme of things, and it was. For a while, I even thought it was kind of wonderful. We could be anonymous! Even Google didn’t know where we lived!

But over time, as Google Maps got embedded in more and more apps, the problem worsened. Google Maps is used by Uber, Instacart, Lyft, Door Dash and even something called the Zombie Outbreak Simulator.

The second-most-popular maps app in the United States is Waze. Guess who owns Waze? Google Maps again! Soon Waze had our address wrong, too. Eventually, almost everyone who tried to find our house was directed to the wrong place.


I once dated a woman whose road was a mountweazel – it was intentionally not included in the index of the London A-Z (we used to use paper-bound maps, kids). Finding her house the first time sure was a challenge.
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Dressing for the surveillance age • The New Yorker

John Seabrook:


When I told my children, both “Harry Potter” fans, that I was going to check out an invisibility cloak, they were excited. I’d learned of Goldstein’s cloak in a scientific paper that he and his students produced about their work. But when I saw Goldstein in his sweatshirt, which featured a foreground of blurry organic shapes in orange, like a display of horribly irradiated vegetables, with dark, vaguely human shapes above, I couldn’t imagine Harry or Hermione wizarding with one. The only recognizable shape (to me) was what appeared to be a traffic light just below the neckline. Considered more generously, the pattern loosely evoked Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” as it might appear at the bottom of a swimming pool painted by David Hockney.

Then Goldstein stepped in front of the camera, and the yolo detector did a double take. It couldn’t see him at all. The computer saw the chair behind him (“Chair,” the bounding box was labelled) but not the six-foot-tall, thirty-six-year-old man standing right in front of it—Goldstein Unbound. I, in my supposedly anonymous city duds, was instantly detected and labelled. It was like a conceit from William Gibson’s 2010 science-fiction novel, “Zero History,” in which a character wears a T-shirt so ugly that CCTV cameras can’t see it.

The pattern on the sweatshirt was an “adversarial image”—a kind of deep-learning optical illusion that stopped the algorithm from seeing the person wearing it. Unlike poison attacks, which seek to subvert surveillance systems with bad data, adversarial attacks are images that have been engineered to take advantage of flaws in the way computers see. They are like hacks, but for artificial intelligence. The security vulnerabilities of operating systems and computer networks are widely known, but deep-learning A.I. systems are still new and so complex that scientists don’t yet fully understand the kinds of hacks they are vulnerable to.


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Fake news and social media rumors about coronavirus caused this town to riot • Buzzfeed News

Christopher Miller:


By nightfall, the Ukrainian town of Novi Sanzhary, population 8,300, would be turned upside down, thrust into a state of panic and chaos stemming from residents’ fears that the novel coronavirus was going to bring death to this previously unheralded backwater.

Violence would soon break out, leading to nine police officers being injured, 24 people being arrested for rioting, with five officially charged, and a statement from President Volodymyr Zelensky describing the melee as “medieval” behavior. The government response would include visits not only by ministers but also by a celebrity TV doctor who tried to calm the town’s frayed nerves.

What caused it all? A toxic mix of limited information released by Ukraine’s authorities, disinformation spread by the public on social media, and a targeted fake news campaign from yet-to-be-identified malign actors, according to more than a dozen government officials, medical experts, and local residents interviewed by BuzzFeed News.


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The infinite scroll • Columbia Journalism Review

David Roth:


It all happened in the way that decline generally happens in American culture, which is one anxious, hopeful, cynical capitulation at a time. We have compressed and corroded and finally collapsed what used to be the core of a publication—its relationship with its readers, and the basic notion that one should not make it hard for them to read.

It goes without saying that everyone involved is perpetually maxed-out and stressed and scrabbling for a dwindling and finite amount of money in an arbitrary and artificially constricted ad economy that runs on wobbly, untrustable, and easily manipulated data. (A friend who works in advertising operations described the work as “a game of catching falling knives.”)

In the last half-decade, ads have rapidly migrated from the sides and top of the page into the actual text. This is the result of pressures created by the transition from desktop computers to mobile devices. The ads need to get seen on a screen with no margins.

The ads that stalk you down the page reflect advertisers’ demands that their ads remain “in view.” And all the clammy unbidden video stuff is exactly as desperate as it looks. Not many people will watch video ads if given any choice in the matter. Taking choice out of the equation helps a lot.

Some sites have deliberately made the experience of reading them for free more assaultive, in order to bully readers into buying subscriptions. For the price of a small monthly indulgence on your end, it can all go back to normal and your laptop’s fan can finally turn off.

It’s a rolling, desperate, iterative exercise in seeing how bad things can become before readers finally stop coming at all. The pseudonymous author of the newsletter “Last Week In Ad Ops” describes it as “a decision that we know is bad, bad for our product, users, brand… but we do it anyway[,] often telling ourselves it’s ‘just for this quarter/client/order.’”


That point about how newspapers tried to make their content easier to read is completely forgotten. (Though I’d say The Guardian’s website does make that effort.)
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How WeChat is losing the war for users’ attention • WalktheChat

Thomas Graziani:


A couple of years ago, WeChat seemed like an unstoppable force. It was completely dominating the Chinese social media landscape, was beating Alibaba in payments and was making forays into e-commerce.

Fast-forward to 2020, and users are already spending more time on Douyin than they are on WeChat, swiping for hours between short videos. What went wrong?

It can seem easy to paint WeChat’s current demise by their inability to spot the short-video craze early.

I would, however, argue that WeChat started losing the battle earlier. WeChat neglected incremental changes that could have improved the platform.

Ten years ago, Facebook would frequently revamp its interface, each time creating an uproar among its users. Yet it kept going at it, constantly refining its user experience and design.

That’s something that WeChat didn’t do. The result: WeChat moments interface seems old fashioned compared to its Western competitors.

The App barely uses the phone screen, keeping pictures cluttered and forcing users to click in order to see them. Engagement buttons are also hidden in a sub-menu, making it harder for users to like photos or comments.

Facebook takes a very different approach, displaying engaging full-screen pictures and prominent actions calls to like and comment.

The truth is that WeChat has been innovating quite a bit: they launched payment, Mini-programs, and many other disruptive features that have changed the behavior of both users and businesses.

But WeChat has been looking down at small incremental changes. Tencent was apparently too afraid to make any modifications to its hit product which might anger or confuse users.


The inertia of success.
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Ring will require two-factor authentication starting today (Update: Blink verifying emails) • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:


Ring has dealt with its fair share of privacy snafus (and then some), but its latest move might allay some of your fears. The Amazon-owned smart home company has instituted a new login policy, effective immediately. Now, you’ll need to enter a two-factor authentication (2FA) code every time you log into your account.

Ring follows in the footsteps of Google’s Nest, which made a similar move earlier this month. When you enter your username and password in the Ring app, you’ll get a one-time code via either email or SMS (your choice). Ring doesn’t mention authenticator apps as an option, unfortunately.


Two steps forward, one step back.
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Apple’s iPhone 9 release next month has reportedly been canceled • BGR

Chris Smith:


Apple is widely expected to unveil a slew of new products this month, including the affordable iPhone 9 (or iPhone SE 2, as it’s sometimes called) device that kept popping up in all sorts of rumors in the past few weeks, as well as a new iPad Pro generation. However, the new novel coronavirus threat has prompted Apple to revise is plans, and a leaker now says that not only is the March press event canceled, but Apple is also considering postponing the iPhone 9 announcement and release date. That all has to do with the COVID-19 outbreak that’s currently sweeping the globe with no end or even slowdown in sight.

Santa Clara County has just banned mass gatherings of people due to the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the region, and the ban will lift in early April, according to authorities.

As a result, Apple has reportedly decided to cancel the March press conference, which should have taken place on March 31st. That’s what sources familiar with the matter told FrontPageTech’s Jon Prosser. Apple has reportedly considered holding the event elsewhere or announcing the new products via an online-only press event. It’s unclear what will happen, but Apple still plans to launch a few new products in the coming months.

Now, for the really bad news: five separate sources told Prosser that the iPhone 9 won’t be among the products that are launched. Apple will not announce the new iPhone via a streaming event or a press release right now, and it won’t start selling it in early April as it was previously rumored.


I’d imagine it’s difficult for Apple to sell products that it probably doesn’t have in-country. China will have stopped production in the past couple of months. It’ll want to know when the product is ready before it announces it.
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Google cleans coronavirus misinformation on search, YouTube • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen and Gerrit De Vynck:


On YouTube, Google’s video service, the company is trying to quickly remove videos claiming to prevent the virus in place of seeking medical treatment. And some apps related to the virus have been banned from the Google Play app store, prompting complaints from developers who say they just want to help. An Iranian government app built to keep track of infections was also removed from the Play Store, ZDNet reported.

The company is also giving up revenue. Pichai said in another recent memo that Google has blocked tens of thousands of ads “capitalizing” on the virus. It’s also pulled ads from YouTube videos that discuss Covid-19, while giving governments and NGOs free ad space on the video service.

“In a highly uncertain, fearful moment there will naturally be more disinformation,” said Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University. “Right now, Google should absolutely emphasize results from the government agencies that can be trusted here, from research-based, evidence-based data.”

Despite such hands-on responses to the virus outbreak, Google stressed that it wasn’t manually changing search results. “Our systems are designed to automatically detect searches that may be related to topics like health and apply the same treatment of elevating reliable and authoritative sources in the results,” a company spokeswoman said.

As one of the first stops for people seeking all kinds of medical information online, the Alphabet Inc. unit has earned the nickname Dr. Google. This has been an uncomfortable role for the company. Medical experts have for years cautioned against going to the search engine for answers. And Google ads have sometimes been abused by unscrupulous businesses looking to take advantage of vulnerable people seeking medical help online.


Isn’t feeding things to not be shown into the AI system that drives search essentially the same thing as manually changing the results? Also, it takes this sort of crisis to make search elevate reliable and authoritative sources?
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The US isn’t ready for what’s about to happen • The Atlantic

Juliette Kayyem is a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security:


the officials now urging citizens to keep calm understand far more acutely than the general public how much else can go wrong. A municipal police chief in the Boston area recently urged me to imagine that a school district closed for even three weeks. Take just one child, raised by a single parent who is a police officer. The child is home, so the parent must stay home. Other officers in the same patrol will be affected even if they don’t have kids in school. Shifts will change, nonessential functions will be put off, and the department will have less flexibility to respond to problems unrelated to the epidemic—even as, with more teens unsupervised, rates of car accidents and certain crimes could well increase.

Emergency-response officials are hesitant to play out these dangers in public. This police chief asked me not to identify him because, like so many others in positions of responsibility, he worries that misgivings like his will become self-fulfilling prophecies—that citizens will panic if their local authorities give voice to their own doubts.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his administration have vacillated between ignoring the threat and making wildly unrealistic promises about it. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence promised 1.5 million coronavirus tests, but The Atlantic reported Friday that, according to all available evidence, fewer than 2,000 had been conducted in the United States. Trump himself is simply lying about basic facts about the COVID-19 response; despite the testing kit shortfall, he has publicly stated that everyone who wants to get tested can get tested.


As another article at The Atlantic says, Trump’s incompetence usually protects the US from the worst outcomes of his actions. This time, it will cause it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1261: Sensor Tower’s VPN data grab, Apple Watch to aim at kids, Twitter averts Dorseypocalypse, Google finds fish faces, and more

Guess where the big growth is in the music instrument business. CC-licensed photo by steve_cx on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Now wash your hands, using your face. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Sensor Tower secretly owns ad blocker and VPN apps that collect user data • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


Sensor Tower, a popular analytics platform for tech developers and investors, has been secretly collecting data from millions of people who have installed popular VPN and ad-blocking apps for Android and iOS, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found. These apps, which don’t disclose their connection to the company or reveal that they feed user data to Sensor Tower’s products, have more than 35 million downloads.

Since 2015, Sensor Tower has owned at least 20 Android and iOS apps. Four of these — Free and Unlimited VPN, Luna VPN, Mobile Data, and Adblock Focus — were recently available in the Google Play store. Adblock Focus and Luna VPN were in Apple’s App Store. Apple removed Adblock Focus and Google removed Mobile Data after being contacted by BuzzFeed News. The companies said they continue to investigate.

Once installed, Sensor Tower’s apps prompt users to install a root certificate, a small file that lets its issuer access all traffic and data passing through a phone. The company told BuzzFeed News it only collects anonymized usage and analytics data, which is integrated into its products. Sensor Tower’s app intelligence platform is used by developers, venture capitalists, publishers, and others to track the popularity, usage trends, and revenue of apps.

Armando Orozco, an Android analyst for Malwarebytes, said giving root privileges to an app exposes a user to significant risk.

“Your typical user is going to go through this and think, Oh, I‘m blocking ads, and not really be aware of how invasive this could be,” he said.


The advertising around VPNs is so deceptive. For the vast majority of users, there’s no risk in using public Wi-Fi. This story demonstrates that using a VPN might be more risky.
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Apple Watch Series 6 and watchOS 7 to include ‘Infograph Pro’ with tachymeter, Schooltime and kids mode, sleep tracking, more • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:


9to5Mac exclusively reported over the weekend that Apple Watch will gain the ability to detect blood oxygen saturation, a critical vital for maintaining heart and brain health. The new health feature isn’t the only change coming to Apple Watch Series 6 and watchOS 7…

…Apple appears to be developing the ability to set up and manage Apple Watches for kids using a parent’s iPhone. A single iPhone can already activate and pair with multiple Apple Watches, but only one watch can be used at a time and each watch is tied to the same account as the iPhone.

Under the new model, a parent could activate and manage an Apple Watch for a child without requiring a second iPhone. This method will also offer parental controls including managing trust contacts and available music.

Apple Watch parental controls go even further in iOS 14 and watchOS 7. A new feature called Schooltime will allow parents to manage which apps and complications can be used during certain hours like class time.


Smart move to aim to get the kids connected. Of course they’ll have figured out that you don’t want to pass on the parent’s messages to the kids.
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Twitter reaches deal with activist fund that wanted Jack Dorsey out • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Michael de la Merced:


Twitter said on Monday that it had reached a deal with Elliott Management, the activist investor that called for ousting the social media company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey.

The agreement will keep Mr. Dorsey atop Twitter — at least for now — at a crucial time for the social network. It also avoids a potentially costly fight with Elliott, the $40bn hedge fund that has successfully shaken up many corporate boardrooms.

It also brings on board Silver Lake, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest investors in technology companies. Silver Lake agreed to invest $1bn in Twitter, money that would help finance the buyback of $2bn worth of stock.

As part of the agreement, both Egon Durban, Silver Lake’s co-chief executive, and Jesse Cohn, the Elliott executive who oversaw the Twitter campaign, will take seats on Twitter’s board. The board will search for a third independent director, with an emphasis on finding an expert in artificial intelligence and other technologies…

…But the settlement also lays the groundwork for eventually replacing Mr. Dorsey. Twitter agreed to create a new committee of five directors, including Mr. Durban and Mr. Cohn, that would study the company’s succession planning and leadership structure and recommend any changes by the end of the year.


Timed it perfectly for a buyback, then. Among the aims: grow “monetizable daily active users” by 20% or more. Gulp. But neither of the hedge funds may “comment on or influence, or attempt to influence, directly or indirectly, any Twitter policies or rules, or policy or rule enforcement decisions, related to the Twitter platform.”
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The music industry’s smash hit: heavy metal sounds from tiny metal boxes • WSJ

Ryan Dezember:


The pedals have earned the Akron, Ohio, company a passionate following among musicians, as well as applause from the federal government. Earthquaker Devices was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 exporter of the year.

Guitar pedals have been a bright spot in the music business. Gibson Brands and Guitar Center Holdings—a storied guitar maker and a ubiquitous retailer, respectively—have struggled with debt and weak sales. Sales of effects pedals were $125.5m in 2019, double what they were a decade earlier, according to Music Trades magazine.

Like craft-brewed beers, the pedals are produced by an eclectic mix of small and large makers. Buyers include pro musicians, weekend amateurs and stay-at-home guitar nerds. Like beer, one pedal usually leads to another.

“There are guys I know that have 60 overdrive pedals,” said Justin Norvell, executive vice president of products at Fender Instruments Corp., maker of the iconic Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars.

Some musicians string together a dozen or more effects pedals when they play. Mr. Stillman used 17 pedals, plus a tuner. The most popular pedals replicate the sustain and gritty texture of a vacuum-tube amp turned up to 10. Others make a guitar sound like an organ or replicate particular amps.

Avant-garde New York groups Uniform and Show Me the Body use so many pedals that they are arranged on tables and manipulated by hand as instruments. In many bands, including Mr. Stillman’s Relaxer, guitarists do a lot of toe-tapping and mid-song squatting to twist knobs for fine-tuning.

Fender CEO Andy Mooney was backstage at a U2 concert in 2017 and noticed the Irish rock group’s guitarist, The Edge, had 21 guitars, four amplifiers and too many effects pedals to count. Maybe 150 of them, he said.


If you want to see someone demonstrating what can be done with effects pedals, Steve Bullock will take you through it. (It does also call to mind Bill Bailey’s sketch about what U2’s music would sound like without effects pedals.)
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Pro-Trump climate denial group lays off staff amid financial woes, ex-employees say • HuffPost UK

Alexander Kaufman:


The Illinois-based Heartland Institute ― which captured headlines last month for promoting a German teenager with ties to neo-Nazis as the climate denier’s alternative to acclaimed youth activist Greta Thunberg ― pink-slipped at least 10 staffers Friday, shedding what one former employee described as “more than half” the organization’s staff.

“Heartland is broke,” Nikki Comerford, the nonprofit’s events coordinator on staff for nearly 21 years, told a former colleague in a text message, a screenshot of which HuffPost reviewed.

Comerford blamed Frank Lasée, the former Wisconsin Republican state lawmaker who took over as Heartland’s president last July, for squandering the organization’s budget during his nascent tenure and leaving the group in dire financial straits. Another former employee accused Lasée of mismanaging the budget, and private Facebook posts from other current staffers expressed dismay over the state of the organization, but HuffPost could not independently verify the state of Heartland’s finances because the nonprofit’s tax filings for 2019 are not yet due.

“Frank Lasee spent all of our money in six months including the savings,” she wrote in a text. “They had to lay off more than half the staff today and more coming. What an asshole.”


So treating an important but finite resource as though it’s infinite has bad effects in the medium-to-long term? I feel as though there might be an underlying lesson here for the staff and former staff at the Heartland Institute, if only they were able to tease it out.
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Even mask-wearers can be ID’d, China facial recognition firm says • Reuters

Martin Pollard:


Hanwang Technology Ltd, which also goes by the English name Hanvon, said it has come up technology that can successfully recognize people even when they are wearing masks.

“If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees,” Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters in an interview.

The Beijing-based firm said a team of 20 staff used core technology developed over the past 10 years, a sample database of about 6 million unmasked faces and a much smaller database of masked faces, to develop the technology,

The team began work on the system in January, as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace, and began rolling it out to the market after just a month.

It sells two main types of products that use the technology. One performs “single channel” recognition that is best used at, for example, entrances to office buildings.

The other, more powerful, product is a “multi-channel” recognition system that uses “multiple surveillance cameras”.

It can identify everyone in a crowd of up to 30 people “within a second”, Huang says.


Time between this getting tested, and it being used against Hong Kong protesters…
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Google parent Alphabet invents fish recognition system • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaw and Leslie Hook:


The three-year-old project, dubbed Tidal, is working with farms in Europe and Asia. It pairs underwater cameras with AI techniques such as computer vision to track species including salmon and yellowtail. 

The hope, according to Astro Teller, the director of X, is to reduce the world’s dependence on land-based proteins, such as beef, and to free the oceans from damaging fishing practices. 

“The oceans are falling apart thanks to us, thanks to humanity. So something has to change,” he said, discussing Tidal publicly for the first time. “No more [eating] fish isn’t really on the cards any time soon. What can we do to make it as good for the planet as possible?”

Grace Young, a research engineer on Tidal, added: “Developing technology for the underwater environment is really hard: it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s unforgiving, saltwater kills electronics, the pressure is crushing, the temperature can shift from above boiling to below freezing in a matter of metres.” 

The team of around a dozen X staff had to build a fresh data set of fish to train its algorithms, initially by filming in a paddling pool at its Silicon Valley headquarters. Its stereo camera rig, which is lowered into a farming enclosure, is able to track fish through their development, using their particular shapes and movements. 

“Some of these signals are happening in milliseconds,” said Neil Davé, who leads the Tidal project. “You’d be unable to see it with the human eye.”

Data and insights collected from Tidal’s system are sent to farmers to help them optimise feeding, reduce waste and maintain healthy fish, in the hopes of easing some environmentalists’ concerns about overuse of antibiotics. 


But of course you’d have Leslie Hook writing your story about fish recognition.
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This neural net knows what smells good • AI Weirdness

Janelle Shane:


Last week I trained a neural net on 1000 candles, and soon it was producing scents like Frozen Styrofoam, Volcanoes Comfort, Lemon Lime Decay, and Friendly Wetsuit. We have to just imagine what these would smell like (or in some cases, try not to imagine). But what if the neural net could describe them?

Amy Pollien offered to help out, developing a web scraping tool that could browse candle sites and collect the candle names and descriptions. After just 72 descriptions, though, she had to admit defeat. “The tool can’t tell the difference between the product description and hordes of enthused human users gushing about how “the scent of seagulls takes them back to fantasies of fresh wash hanging on the line” and I guess I’m OK with how I couldn’t anticipate that.”

I trained GPT-2 on this ridiculously tiny list of candle descriptions, but let it learn for only a few seconds before halting – if I let it go longer, it might memorize the examples. I didn’t expect much of a neural net trained under these circumstances, but when I asked it to generate text, I got things that – well, they WERE candle descriptions.


After seeing this, I don’t know why they still bother with human copywriters.
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Huawei projects big drop in smartphone sales amid US sanctions • The Information

Juro Osawa:


Huawei is projecting that its annual smartphone shipments will fall around 20% this year, in what would be its first year-on-year decline, as a result of US sanctions on its business. The rapidly spreading coronavirus, which has hurt manufacturing and retail sectors in China, could worsen that outlook.

Huawei shared its internal projection for 2020 in January among a limited number of managers in its consumer electronics division. The projection hasn’t previously been reported. The decline in Huawei’s shipments, after nearly a decade of rapid growth, stems from expected weak sales in Europe and other overseas markets. This decrease is a result of US sanctions that block the Chinese company from using Google’s mobile services, people familiar with the matter said. 

Last year, Huawei managed to grow its smartphone shipments to more than 240m units, despite the US sanctions put in place in May. As a result, it surpassed Apple, which shipped 198m phones, for the first time. That made Huawei the world’s second-largest smartphone maker after Samsung.

Huawei’s overseas smartphone sales didn’t collapse last year in part because the company could keep selling some of its old models that the Google ban didn’t affect. But this year, Huawei expects its shipments to fall to around 190m to 200m smartphones, according to these people. It’s hard to predict how many smartphones Apple will ship this year, as the virus has disrupted manufacturing of the iPhone, the company has said.


The ban on Google services really bit hard outside China at the end of last year, but it had China to keep it going. Now coronavirus has double-decimated sales there, and the rest of the world isn’t helping either.

My initial reaction was that Samsung will be the winner, but Covid-19 is hitting South Korea hard, so maybe not. Have to wonder how some of the smaller OEMs will fare in the cashflow squeeze they’re sure to feel: sales will be down, but when demand ramps up they might not have the product (or cash on hand) to meet it.
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Personal perspective on coronavirus: reflections from an angry Wuhan resident : goats and soda • NPR

Anonymous (you’ll understand why):


The younger generations, born after 1995 and in the 2000s, have good impressions about the Chinese system, putting the nation before all because they have been living in an era of prosperity and have yet to experience adversity.

The things that happened during this outbreak have greatly surprised those kids. For example, a young man scolded others on Weibo in the early days of the outbreak. He accused them of spreading rumors and argued that if we don’t trust the government, there is nothing we can trust. Later, he said, when a member of his family was infected with the coronavirus but was unable to get treatment in the overcrowded hospital, he cursed and called for help.

When Li Wenliang, one of the doctors who first reported a mysterious SARS-like illness, died of the disease himself, a student commented on the internet: “It was just the virus that killed him, so we should focus on the epidemics.” But then the student’s dormitory was appropriated for quarantine patients — and he was shocked and dismayed.

This is the lesson these young people are learning. When someone says we can accomplish something but we must pay a price, do not rush to applaud.

One day you may become the price that is paid.

There is a saying in Chinese that has taken on new meaning in this coronavirus era: “When the stick hits my own head, I finally understand the pain — and why some others once cried out of pain.”


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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):


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:


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.


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:


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?


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:


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.


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:


[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.”


“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:


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. 


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:


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%


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:


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.’


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:


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.


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 •

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


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.


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:


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.


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

Start Up No.1259: Clearview’s life as a secret toy, Folding@Home fights Covid-19, the brain’s sleep-rinse cycle, Apple out of SXSW, and more

Ten years after this, Facebook has removed misleading “census” ads by the Trump campaign – but only after external pressure CC-licensed photo by Chris on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Now wash your hands. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Before Clearview became a police tool, it was a secret plaything of the rich • The New York Times

Kashmir Hill:


One Tuesday night in October 2018, John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes grocery store chain, was having dinner at Cipriani, an upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, when his daughter, Andrea, walked in. She was on a date with a man Mr. Catsimatidis didn’t recognize. After the couple sat down at another table, Mr. Catsimatidis asked a waiter to go over and take a photo.

Mr. Catsimatidis then uploaded the picture to a facial recognition app, Clearview AI, on his phone. The start-up behind the app has a database of billions of photos, scraped from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Within seconds, Mr. Catsimatidis was viewing a collection of photos of the mystery man, along with the web addresses where they appeared: His daughter’s date was a venture capitalist from San Francisco.

“I wanted to make sure he wasn’t a charlatan,” said Mr. Catsimatidis, who then texted the man’s bio to his daughter.

Ms. Catsimatidis said she and her date had no idea how her father had identified him so quickly. “I expect my dad to be able to do crazy things. He’s very technologically savvy,” Ms. Catsimatidis said. “My date was very surprised.”

…for more than a year before the company became the subject of public scrutiny, the app had been freely used in the wild by the company’s investors, clients and friends.

Those with Clearview logins used facial recognition at parties, on dates and at business gatherings, giving demonstrations of its power for fun or using it to identify people whose names they didn’t know or couldn’t recall.


Once you hear about this, it totally makes sense: a secret toy for the rich. Hill has done amazing journalism on this.
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How to stop ‘god mode’ abuse • OneZero

Owen Williams:


because impersonation tools provide little value to users, they can be the last tools to be improved or restricted as a growing company scrambles to keep customers happy. Though many companies do appropriately lock down access to user accounts as they grow, it’s not uncommon for impersonation tools to be left in their uncontrolled or companywide default for years until a security incident like Uber’s causes the company to change the way it’s implemented.

While large companies like Facebook have said they now have “rigorous administrative, physical, and technical controls in place to restrict employee access,” it’s telling that as a user of the service, there’s no way to actually know when someone internally accesses your account. While abusing such tools is the “easiest way to get fired” from the company, according to VentureBeat, such processes are invisible, and we must trust that Facebook actually audits this.

There are easy ways to make impersonation tools safer for customers. Some services require the user to specifically invite administrators in before they can access an account. Others, including Uber after the God mode scandal, require employees to make a request for access to security staff, with detailed notes, which is manually granted and logged internally.

If development frameworks were to take a stance on this, it would change the way services are built from the very beginning.


One tends not to think about this, but it’s so important. Uber and Twitter (where there were Saudi Arabian infiltrators) are the classic examples.
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Folding@home takes up the fight against COVID-19 / 2019-nCoV • Folding@home

Greg Bowman:


We need your help! Folding@home is joining researchers around the world working to better understand the 2019 Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) to accelerate the open science effort to develop new life-saving therapies. By downloading Folding@Home, you can donate your unused computational resources to the Folding@home Consortium, where researchers working to advance our understanding of the structures of potential drug targets for 2019-nCoV that could aid in the design of new therapies. The data you help us generate will be quickly and openly disseminated as part of an open science collaboration of multiple laboratories around the world, giving researchers new tools that may unlock new opportunities for developing lifesaving drugs.


So now that SETI@Home is shuttered, here’s a new thing to do with those spare computing cycles.
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Facebook allows Trump campaign to run deceptive census ads [UPDATED] • Popular Information

Judd Legum:


As the real 2020 Census approaches, media coverage stresses the importance of participating in the 2020 Census. The Trump ad exploits this sense of civic duty to collect American’s personal information. 

After filling out the form, users are asked to make a donation to the Trump campaign.

This ad campaign appears to be a direct violation of Facebook’s stated policy. That policy bans “misleading information about when and how to participate in the census.” These ads deliberately mislead users into believing they can fill out the 2020 Census by clicking this Facebook ad. 

But a Facebook spokesperson told Popular Information that the Trump campaign Census ads do not violate its policy. Why? According to Facebook, it is clear the Trump campaign ads are not about the official Census because the ads also reference his campaign.

Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of 200 civil rights groups, helped Facebook create its Census policy. She strongly disagreed with Facebook’s decision.

Gupta told Popular Information that Trump campaign ads violate Facebook’s policy, and the company has an obligation to remove them.


And now read on… (or just read Legum’s whole, updated, post).
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Facebook removes Trump campaign ads, citing census interference policy • WSJ

Emily Glazer and Janet Adamy:


Facebook removed Trump campaign ads that referred to a census, saying they violated a company policy aimed at preventing disinformation and other interference with the nationwide 2020 census, which goes online next week.

The ads, which began running on the social network this week, asked people to take the “Official 2020 Congressional District Census” and then directed users to a website for fundraising to support Mr. Trump’s reelection. “The information we gather from this survey will help us craft our strategies for YOUR CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT,” the ads said.

Facebook said Thursday that it was the first time the company removed a Trump campaign ad for violating its census interference policy. “There are policies to prevent confusion around the U.S. Census, and this is an example of those being enforced,” a Facebook spokesman said.

The ads were paid for by Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee of Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and the Republican National Committee. Spokespeople for Mr. Trump’s reelection effort didn’t respond to requests for comment.


So there are limits to the lies you can tell in political ads on Facebook. It’s not a big step from here to getting ads pre-approved. After all, how many people have seen these? Since it doesn’t pre-approve ads, what would have happened if Legum hadn’t alerted them? What happens if Trump’s team try to do the same ads, tweaked? What wording is acceptable?

Facebook has been blithely playing with fire on political advertising for years. It’s had four years to think about what it got wrong, and yet Zuckerberg is carrying on as though everything’s fine. It really isn’t.
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Discovering the brain’s nightly “rinse cycle” • NIH Director’s Blog



Getting plenty of deep, restful sleep is essential for our physical and mental health. Now comes word of yet another way that sleep is good for us: it triggers rhythmic waves of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that appear to function much like a washing machine’s rinse cycle, which may help to clear the brain of toxic waste on a regular basis.

The video uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to take you inside a person’s brain to see this newly discovered rinse cycle in action. First, you see a wave of blood flow (red, yellow) that’s closely tied to an underlying slow-wave of electrical activity (not visible). As the blood recedes, CSF (blue) increases and then drops back again. Then, the cycle—lasting about 20 seconds—starts over again.

The findings, published recently in the journal Science, are the first to suggest that the brain’s well-known ebb and flow of blood and electrical activity during sleep may also trigger cleansing waves of blood and CSF. While the experiments were conducted in healthy adults, further study of this phenomenon may help explain why poor sleep or loss of sleep has previously been associated with the spread of toxic proteins and worsening memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

In the new study, Laura Lewis, Boston University, MA, and her colleagues at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. recorded the electrical activity and took fMRI images of the brains of 13 young, healthy adults as they slept. The NIH-funded team also built a computer model to learn more about the fluid dynamics of what goes on in the brain during sleep.


But how long do we need, and how much cleansing needs to go on? No info on that.
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Jack Dorsey is reconsidering Africa move amid coronavirus and activist investor threats • The Verge

Nick Statt:


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is reevaluating his plans to spend part of the year in Africa, telling a crowd at a Morgan Stanley conference on Thursday that he may no longer be traveling to the continent amid on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and what Dorsey worded as “everything else going on.”

That “everything else” is likely the open threat to his removal from activist investor Elliott Management Corporation, which last week purchased a 4% share in the company with the intention of nominating four members to its board and replacing Dorsey as CEO.

Dorsey now characterizes announcing the Africa decision without any proper context as a “mistake.” He went on to clarify that, as one of the most populated continents over the next few decades, Africa will be a “huge opportunity” for young people to join the platform and that Twitter will be exploring options in Africa in the future. But it sounds like the plan to move there for part of the year is far less likely now.


Better late to be sensible than never.
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Congress introduces EARN IT Act limiting websites’ Section 230 shield • The Verge

Ari Robertson:


Senators have proposed a law requiring websites to actively fight child exploitation or risk losing legal protections. The bill, Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (or EARN IT) Act, was introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today. It would establish a new government commission composed of administration officials and outside experts, who would set “best practices” for removing child sexual exploitation and abuse material online.

The principles are theoretically voluntary, but if companies don’t comply, they can be held legally responsible for that content — losing some protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They can maintain immunity if they establish that they have “other reasonable practices” in place.

A draft of the EARN IT Act circulated in late January, and it was met with alarm by privacy advocates and some tech companies. The draft bill gave the committee wide latitude to make rules governing online platforms, and it gave the Justice Department substantial influence over the committee. It was widely seen as an attack on encryption since the “best practices” could include a backdoor giving law enforcement access to users’ private conversations.


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Apple pulls out of SXSW 2020 over coronavirus concerns • Variety

Todd Spangler:


Apple is no longer participating in the SXSW 2020 festival, as concerns heighten over the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Variety has confirmed.

The tech giant had been set to premiere three new Apple TV Plus originals at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, including Spike Jonze’s documentary film “Beastie Boys Story,” and also was scheduled to host a discussion of Apple’s “Little America” with docuseries creators Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Those have now been cancelled.

Apple joins others that have backed out of attending this year’s SXSW, including Amazon Studios, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Mashable and Intel.

Organizers of SXSW continue to say the annual music, technology and entertainment festival in Austin, Texas, is still on for March 13-22. On Wednesday, officials for the city of Austin said the festival will still go forward. “Right now there’s no evidence that closing South by Southwest or other activities is going to make this community safer,” Mark Escott, the interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health said a press conference per CNN, adding, “We’re constantly monitoring that situation.”


It’s only a week away; the question is whether it will sneak under the wire, or whether it’ll somehow be a rolling disaster.
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Pesticides impair baby bee brain development •


Imperial College London researchers used micro-CT scanning technology to reveal how specific parts of bumblebee brains grew abnormally when exposed to pesticides during their larval phase.

Most previous studies have tested the effects of pesticide exposure on adult bees because these individuals directly collect pesticide-contaminated nectar and pollen. However, this study shows that baby bees can also feel the effects of the contaminated food brought back to the colony, making them poorer at performing tasks later in life.

Lead researcher Dr. Richard Gill, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “Bee colonies act as superorganisms, so when any toxins enter the colony, these have the potential to cause problems with the development of the baby bees within it.

“Worryingly in this case, when young bees are fed on pesticide-contaminated food, this caused parts of the brain to grow less, leading to older adult bees possessing smaller and functionally impaired brains; an effect that appeared to be permanent and irreversible.”


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is it canceled yet?


Want to know if that conference is cancelled? Just scroll down.


I like “TED conference” being “uh oh” (which turns out to be “delay or go digital”). But, at the same time, there’s a lot of money being lost here which won’t be seen by those organisers.
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2020.02.29 CAA Rechecking Bug • Let’s Encrypt Community Support

“Josh” is the ISRG executive director at Let’s Encrypt:


We announced the plan to revoke because even though the vast majority of the certificates in question do not pose a security risk, industry rules require that we revoke certificates not issued in full compliance with specific standards. These rules exist for good reasons. We work hard to comply with them and have an excellent track record for doing so.

Since that announcement we have worked with subscribers around the world to replace affected certificates as quickly as possible. More than 1.7 million affected certificates have been replaced in less than 48 hours. We’d like to thank everyone who helped with the effort. Our focus on automation has allowed us, and our subscribers, to make great progress in a short amount of time. We’ve also learned a lot about how we can do even better in the future.

Unfortunately, we believe it’s likely that more than 1 million certificates will not be replaced before the compliance deadline for revocation is upon us at 2020-03-05 03:00 UTC (9pm U.S. ET tonight). Rather than potentially break so many sites and cause concern for their visitors, we have determined that it is in the best interest of the health of the Internet for us to not revoke those certificates by the deadline.

Let’s Encrypt only offers certificates with 90 day lifetimes, so potentially affected certificates that we may not revoke will leave the ecosystem relatively quickly.


This feels a bit like the object lesson of “do not make idle threats”: if you threaten to revoke all the certificates but nobody takes any notice, suddenly it’s your reputation at stake, not theirs.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1258: Facebook’s fake news label trouble, India unbans cryptocurrency, how China censored coronavirus chat, and more

Dear aliens: your message is important to us, but SETI@Home is now closed. Please stay on the hydrogen line. CC-licensed photo by jtalle on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Consume feverishly. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook’s fake news labeling has a big catch • Fast Company

Mark Wilson:


In 2016, after coordinated propaganda on Facebook helped Trump win the election, the social media giant introduced a program for independent fact-checkers to flag fake news as “disputed.” In theory, this was a good thing. While Facebook still wasn’t running every story through a fact-check, deleting false information from its service, or banning unreliable blogs and media outlets from sharing stories on Facebook, it was using the flags to make people think twice before believing a headline or sharing false information. At least Facebook did something.

But according to new research out of MIT published in Management Science, that something was the wrong thing. When only some news is labeled as fact-checked and disputed, people believe stories that haven’t been marked as fact-checked more—even when they are completely false, the researchers found. They dubbed this consequence the “implied truth effect.” If a story is not overtly labeled as false when so many stories are labeled as false, well, then it must be true. “This is one of those things where once you point it out it looks obvious in retrospect,” says David Rand, associate professor of management science and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT Sloan, who led the study. “But in our understanding of years of research people had done on fact-checking, no one had pointed it out before.”


That’s probably because nobody had needed to employ labelling like that before they had a social network where (intentional) untruths could spread virally and be amplified by the system.
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Samsung to quadruple foldable display production by the year end • SamMobile



Samsung is reportedly planning to increase the production of foldable displays for smartphones. The company’s display manufacturing arm makes around 260,000 units per month, and it plans to increase it to about 600,000 units per month by the end of May 2020 and take the number even higher, up to a million units, by the end of the year.

Since the demand for phones with foldable screens is increasing, Samsung Display wants to supply foldable display panels not only to Samsung Electronics but also to other smartphone makers. The South Korean company is going to build additional facilities with its module plants in Vietnam. The company will continue to develop additional facilities to ramp up the production of foldable display panels.


A tiny question, but: is “units per month” a measure of QA’d units, or units that have yet to pass assurance tests? It seems like a lot for a product whose market remains niche, and to some extent unproven.
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Protein discovered inside a meteorite •

Bob Yirka:


A team of researchers from Plex Corporation, Bruker Scientific LLC and Harvard University has found evidence of a protein inside of a meteorite. They have written a paper describing their findings and have uploaded it to the arXiv preprint server.

In prior research, scientists have found organic materials, sugars and some other molecules considered to be precursors to amino acids in both meteorites and comets—and fully formed amino acids have been found in comets and meteorites, as well. But until now, no proteins had been found inside of an extraterrestrial object. In this new effort, the researchers have discovered a protein called hemolithin inside of a meteorite that was found in Algeria back in 1990.

The hemolithin protein found by the researchers was a small one, and was made up mostly of glycine, and amino acids. It also had oxygen, lithium and iron atoms at its ends—an arrangement never seen before. The team’s paper has not yet been peer reviewed, but once the findings are confirmed, their discovery will add another piece to the puzzle that surrounds the development of life on Earth. Proteins are considered to be essential building blocks for the development of living things, and finding one on a meteorite bolsters theories that suggest either life, or something very close to it, came to Earth from elsewhere in space.


If confirmed, quite a discovery. The reason they’ve found it is because spectrometers are improving by leaps and bounds.
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SETI@home search for alien life project shuts down after 21 years • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:


In an announcement posted yesterday, the project stated that they will no longer send data to SETI@home clients starting on March 31st, 2020 as they have reached a “point of diminishing returns” and have analyzed all the data that they need for now.

Instead, they want to focus on analyzing the back-end results in order to publish a scientific paper.

“It’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper,” their news announcement stated.

Users who wish to continue to run the SETI@home client may do so, but will not receive any new work until the project decides whether they wish to start sending work to clients again.

For those who wish to donate their CPU resources, SETI@home suggests users select another BOINC project that also supports distributed computing.


Used to love running the SETI client: it felt like I was actually getting something cosmically important done when I went for lunch.
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Aerogel from fruit biowaste produces ultracapacitors with high energy density and stability • ScienceDirect

A team at Sydney University, Australia:


the fibrous, fleshy portions of organic wastes with good mechanical stability were considered as candidate precursors compared to hard, dense ones. The waste fruit cores of durian (Durio zibethinus) and jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) were selected as candidates based on their structures and their prospect of intrinsic nitrogen doping.

Here, we present our synthesis approach followed by characterization and testing of aerogels derived from durian and jackfruit biomass scraps. The formation of carbon aerogels from these materials are yet to be reported in the literature. As hypothesized, the synthesized durian carbon aerogel (DCA) and jackfruit carbon aerogel (JCA) revealed high surface areas and specific capacitance and displayed excellent long-term cycling stability and rapid charge–discharge process in an EDLC setup.


Yes really: they’re making capacitors (for storing energy) out of fruit composts.
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India lifts ban on cryptocurrency trading – TechCrunch

Manish Singh:


The Reserve Bank of India had imposed a ban on cryptocurrency trading in April 2018 that barred banks and other financial institutions from facilitating “any service in relation to virtual currencies.”

At the time, RBI said the move was necessary to curb “ring-fencing” of the country’s financial system. It had also argued that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies cannot be treated as currencies as they are not made of metal or exist in physical form, nor were they stamped by the government.

The 2018 notice from the central bank sent a panic to several local startups and companies offering services to trade in cryptocurrency. Nearly all of them have since closed shop.

In the ruling today, the bench, headed by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, overruled central bank’s circular on the grounds of disproportionality…

…“Historic day for Crypto in India. We can now innovate. The entire country can participate in the Blockchain revolution,” said Nischal Shetty, founder and chief executive of Bitcoin exchange platform WazirX.


India tends to be quite quick to pick up on technological trends. Expect a bloom of crypto scams and pyramid schemes on the back of this. (Particularly pump-and-dump of bitcoin and other coins.) Still, there’ll be plenty of journalists who’ll warn people first… won’t there?
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Critical journalism in the crypto ice age • Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard:


there’s no money for journalism in crypto — particularly for anything that even admits the possibility of rocking the boat as a whole.

(There’s not much funnier than some bozo who’s been caught out perpetrating shonky nonsense, furiously demanding to know what you’re BUIDLing instead of being so negative. I’d say not perpetrating shonky nonsense counts as a net positive, actually. Crypto journalists looking for a story should do Twitter searches for “buidl”, then go up the thread to spot whatever scam is being called out.)

I’m hearing more reports of writers leaving their publications in disgust when they are, literally in some cases, told to stop criticising crypto — meaning, even on an obvious 2+2=4 factual level — and “be more positive” — i.e., run the press releases unedited, because the boss is chasing that dwindling pool of crypto shill bucks.

The only decently-funded sources of critical journalism about crypto are in the mainstream financial press — who do well from paywalls, because their customer base has money.

It’s the same across all of journalism. I suspect subscriptions directly from the readers themselves is the least-unviable model — the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times do well with a low and easily-hopped paywall, and the Guardian is doing well with no paywall at all.


After all the madness of “ICOs” in 2018, which essentially made the universe of possible coins infinite, and thus the value of any single coin zero, there’s been a growing feeling of desperation around the crypto world. The mainstream media had its fill, and more recently Facebook sucked all the attention away with Libra. Why would any ordinary person bother? Which leaves a small club who can’t make money opening doors for each other.
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Censored contagion: how information on the coronavirus is managed on Chinese social media • The Citizen Lab

Lotus Ruan, Jeffrey Knockel, and Masashi Crete-Nishihata:


During the last week of December, 2019, doctors in Wuhan (such as the late Dr. Li Wenliang), began to notice a troubling unknown pathogen burning through the wards of their hospitals. They took to social media to issue warnings of this new disease thought to be linked to the Wuhan Seafood Market.

As the doctors tried to raise the alarm about the rapid spread of the disease, information on the epidemic was being censored on Chinese social media. On December 31, 2019, when the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued its first public notice on the disease, we found that keywords like “武汉不明肺炎” (Unknown Wuhan Pneumonia) and “武汉海鲜市场” (Wuhan Seafood Market) began to be censored on YY, a Chinese live-streaming platform.

Between January and February 2020, as the outbreak spread, a wide breadth of content related to COVID-19 was censored on WeChat (China’s most popular chat app), including criticism of the Chinese government, speculative and factual information related to the epidemic, and neutral references to Chinese government efforts to handle the outbreak that had been reported on state media.

This report presents results from a series of censorship tests on YY and WeChat that show that Chinese social media began censoring content related to the disease in the early stages of the epidemic and blocked a broad scope of content.


They’re able to figure this out because the censorship on the apps happens on the client – ie the phone app. By reverse-engineering it and tracking the blacklist (as they have since February 2015) they can see what’s being blocked. Fabulously clever. (Citizenlab has previously discovered malware attacks against civil rights activists in the Middle East and Asia.)
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WhatsApp’s role in spreading coronavirus misinformation alarms officials in Nigeria, Brazil • The Washington Post

Tony Romm:


Hours after Nigeria confirmed its first case of coronavirus Friday, Olumide Makanjuola, who lives in the state of Lagos, opened WhatsApp and was bombarded with a “sense of panic.”

Users on the messaging service had copied, pasted and forwarded notes warning that local flights, hotels and schools might have been contaminated. None of the information had been verified, Makanjuola said, but multiple versions of it snaked their way through private WhatsApp groups, some with hundreds of participants.

“The virus is closer to us than we think,” two of the messages ominously concluded.

As government leaders and health professionals race to contain an outbreak on the verge of a pandemic, they are simultaneously battling another hard-to-defeat scourge: the explosion of half-truths and outright falsehoods online. Nowhere is the threat more dire than on WhatsApp, a service largely hidden from public scrutiny, vast in its global reach and often at the center of some of the world’s most panic-inducing conspiracy theories.

People in Nigeria, Singapore, Brazil, Pakistan, Ireland and other countries say they’ve seen a flood of misinformation on WhatsApp about the number of people affected by coronavirus, the way the illness is transmitted and the availability of treatments. The messages and voice memos have instilled fear, troubled businesses and created public health headaches for governments, including Botswana, which pleaded with people last month to be wary of what they’re reading and sharing on the service.


So it’s.. spreading virally? The problem with WhatsApp is that there’s really no way to report bad content. You could forward it – but how would you know who to send it to in order to report it? Group administrators can delete content, but that assumes people are in groups with administrators who want to do that.
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The growth of command line options, 1979-present • Dan Luu

Dan Luu:


The sleight of hand that’s happening when someone says that we can keep software simple and compatible by making everything handle text is the pretense that text data doesn’t have a structure that needs to be parsed4. In some cases, we can just think of everything as a single space separated line, or maybe a table with some row and column separators that we specify (with some behavior that isn’t consistent across tools, of course). That adds some hassle when it works, and then there are the cases where serializing data to a flat text format adds considerable complexity since the structure of data means that simple flattening requires significant parsing work to re-ingest the data in a meaningful way.

Another reason commands now have more options is that people have added convenience flags for functionality that could have been done by cobbling together a series of commands. These go all the way back to v7 unix, where ls has an option to reverse the sort order (which could have been done by passing the output to tac).

growth in options in command line functions 1979 to 2017

Over time, more convenience options have been added. For example, to pick a command that originally has zero options, mv can move and create a backup (three options; two are different ways to specify a backup, one of which takes an argument and the other of which takes zero explicit arguments and reads an implicit argument from the VERSION_CONTROL environment variable; one option allows overriding the default backup suffix). mv now also has options to never overwrite and to only overwrite if the file is newer.


Inevitably, there’s an XKCD cartoon about this. Simplicity doesn’t always win. This is confusing.
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We all wear tinfoil hats now • The New Atlantis

Geoff Shullenberger, reviewing Jeffrey Sconce’s book “The Technical Delusion”:


recent technological developments have made it hard to discern where the actual machinations of states and corporations trying to influence behavior end, and where conspiratorial claims with similar content begin. Well before Cambridge Analytica appeared on the scene, fears once relegated to paranoia were coming true.

Consider that believing that the ads on your TV or radio were directed specifically at you would have been an unequivocal symptom of a delusional state twenty years ago. Today, the same belief about the ads on your smartphone is a recognition of fact. Amidst the expansion of surveillance, advances in virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and the emergence of possibilities such as machine–brain interfaces, what might once have been hallucinatory fever dreams have become plausible funding pitches for startups. In such circumstances, how do we know when we’re paranoid and when we’re justifiably concerned?

The worries stirred up by the Cambridge Analytica story — whether they were an outburst of irrational panic or a recognition of new political realities — were just the latest in a long history of anxieties about technologically enabled mass deception and manipulation. The potential for such an enterprise entered the realm of the imagination well before anything like it was technically feasible. But the earliest people to imagine it were not technology critics or political reporters. They were paranoids in the original sense of the word: individuals regarded as insane…

…If psychotic individuals from the past seem from the present-day vantage point to have anticipated aspects of our evolving technological reality, that’s partly because the ordinary ways we represent that reality to ourselves owe something to once-outlandish visions like theirs. It is questionable that Cambridge Analytica’s algorithms constituted a mind control device, but it was natural for us to think about it in those terms, because our cultural archive abounds in representations of this sort of technological affordance.


It’s not a short article, but if those bits intrigue you, there’s plenty more.
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Can YouTube quiet its conspiracy theorists? • The New York Times

Jack Nicas:


Climate change is a hoax, the Bible predicted President Trump’s election and Elon Musk is a devil worshiper trying to take over the world.

All of these fictions have found life on YouTube, the world’s largest video site, in part because YouTube’s own recommendations steered people their way.

For years it has been a highly effective megaphone for conspiracy theorists, and YouTube, owned and run by Google, has admitted as much. In January 2019, YouTube said it would limit the spread of videos “that could misinform users in harmful ways.”

One year later, YouTube recommends conspiracy theories far less than before. But its progress has been uneven and it continues to advance certain types of fabrications, according to a new study from researchers at University of California, Berkeley.

YouTube’s efforts to curb conspiracy theories pose a major test of Silicon Valley’s ability to combat misinformation, particularly ahead of this year’s elections. The study, which examined eight million recommendations over 15 months, provides one of the clearest pictures yet of that fight, and the mixed findings show how challenging the issue remains for tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

The researchers found that YouTube has nearly eradicated some conspiracy theories from its recommendations, including claims that the earth is flat and that the U.S. government carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, two falsehoods the company identified as targets last year.


Getting there, two lies at a time. But the real problem is that it’s impossible to study personalised recommendations – this was done on logged-out ones – which means only YouTube really knows. And it isn’t saying.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Rebecca Paltrow of WeWork infamy (they’ve all got it infamy, etc) is the cousin, not the sister, of Gwyneth. This doesn’t disprove theories that it’s genetic.

Start Up No.1257: Facebook’s pharma madness, coronavirus hits conferences, Let’s Encrypt trips on certs, Amazon’s brand madness, and more

Facebook is scaling back its Libra program: it won’t be a global cryptocurrency. CC-licensed photo by Alpari Org on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 8 links for you. Part of a calorie-controlled diet. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why Facebook is filled with pharmaceutical ads • The Washington Post

Nitasha Tiku:


Jordan Lemasters keeps seeing ads in his Facebook app for an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug called Vyvanse. When the Chicago-based audio branding consultant recently clicked on the ad’s drop-down menu and selected “Why Am I Seeing This Ad,” a pop-up said it was because of his age range, because he lives in the United States and because he may have visited

But Lemasters felt spooked. The 29-year-old had used another ADHD drug, Adderall, but never publicized it. The ads “just felt invasive,” says Lemasters, who says he quit Adderall in 2017 because it made him feel like a zombie. “What bothers me is how powerful those drugs are and how it’s pushed, rather than a doctor actually assessing a patient and suggesting a proper solution.”

After years of avoiding social media, drug companies are growing bolder about advertising on Facebook and other social networks, according to interviews with advertising executives, marketers, health-care privacy researchers and patient advocates. That is exposing loopholes around the way data can be used to show consumers relevant ads about their personal health, even as both social networks and pharmaceutical manufacturers disavow targeting ads to people based on their medical conditions.

Ads promoting prescription drugs are popping up on Facebook for depression, HIV and cancer. Spending on Facebook mobile ads alone by pharmaceutical and health-care brands reached nearly a billion dollars in 2019, nearly tripling over two years, according to Pathmatics, an advertising analytics company. Facebook offers tools to help drug companies stay compliant with rules about disclosing safety information or reporting side effects.


A billion dollars. Tiku got interested after a source contacted her about getting female Viagra ads on an Instagram account which has no account photo or content. So how did it decide to target her?

And – a side note – it points to the huge vested interest the pharmaceutical industry has in not seeing the US healthcare system reformed at all.
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Facebook scales back Libra plans, bowing to regulators • The Information

Alex Heath:


Facebook is scaling back its ambitious plan to upend the global financial system with a new digital currency.

Succumbing to pressure from regulators, Facebook has decided not to make the proposed Libra currency available on its own services for the time being, and will instead offer its users digital versions of government-backed currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the euro, according to three people familiar with the matter. Facebook still plans to go ahead with the launch of a digital wallet that would allow users to make purchases and send and receive money, though it will delay the rollout by several months.

The external Libra Association, which is made up of companies Facebook courted to help govern the project, still intends to introduce a Libra token separately that will be backed by a mix of government-issued currencies, another person familiar with the plans said. The association will also support the individual government-backed currencies. But it isn’t clear when or how the original Libra token backed by a mix of currencies will be used. 

Facebook has pushed the planned release of its digital wallet, dubbed Calibra, to October of this year rather than June as previously planned, the three people said.


Wow. Well, this considerably reduces the threat to global financial stability that Libra, in its original conception, would have been – because it could have moved money around between countries effectively with no oversight.

Quite what a risk it will now be is less clear, but regulators will definitely be breathing a sigh of relief.
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Will crypto conferences survive coronavirus? What about crypto media? • Amy Castor

Amy Castor:


on Monday, Facebook and Twitter pulled out of SXSW Conference & Festivals, a sprawling 10-day event in Austin set to kick off on March 13. The event drew more than 400,000 attendees last year. SXSW says the event is still going as planned, even though an online petition is in the works to cancel it.  

Similarly, the crypto world is feeling the pain. Tron has postponed indefinitely its Nitron Summit due to coronavirus concerns. The event was scheduled to take place between Feb. 29 and March 1 in Seoul, South Korea.

Paris Blockchain Week, originally set to kick off on March 31, is postponed until December. Even that is risky, though. December is when the cold and flu season starts up again, and a coronavirus vaccine isn’t due out until sometime in 2021.  

If the trend continues — and likely it will — conference cancellations could hit some crypto media publications hard. I’m talking about Coindesk in particular. The company pulls in 85% of its revenue from conferences, according to a May 2019 report in The Information. Coindesk doesn’t feature ads on its site anymore, so events are its bread and butter…

…In 2018, just coming down from the peak of the crypto hype cycle, Consensus drew in more than 8,500 attendees, each paying about $2,000 per ticket. Coindesk’s total revenue for the year was $25m, so do the math — that’s $21m in events alone.

Consensus 2019 saw less than half that with only 4,000 attendees. But even at an estimated $10m in revenue, that’s still a decent amount of money. Despite the drop-off, Kevin Worth, Coindesk’s CEO, told The Information that Digital Currency Group, which owns 90% of Coindesk, still planned on growing its media business.

Indeed, Coindesk has been on a bit of a hiring spree. Almost anyone who has been writing about crypto has gotten pulled into working for the media outlet.


Butter’s in short supply. Bread also. December should be safe, but will the money last?
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Simple systems have less downtime • Greg Kogan


The Maersk Triple-E Class container ship is 1,300 feet long, carries over 18,000 containers across 11,000 miles between Europe and Asia, and… Its entire crew can fit inside a passenger van.

As a former naval architect and a current marketing consultant to startups, I found that the same principle that lets a 13-person crew navigate the world’s largest container ship to a port halfway around the world without breaking down also applies to startups working towards aggressive growth goals:

Simple systems have less downtime.

Ships contain simple systems that are easy to operate and easy to understand, which makes them easy to fix, which means they have less downtime. An important quality, considering that “downtime” for a ship could mean being stranded thousands of miles from help.


There’s a corollary (which I’ve lost) which is that systems which must keep running tend to be brought down by auxiliary systems added to keep them running.
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Revoking certain certificates on March 4 – Help • Let’s Encrypt Community Support



Due to the 2020.02.29 CAA Rechecking Bug 3.4k, we unfortunately need to revoke many Let’s Encrypt TLS/SSL certificates. We’re e-mailing affected subscribers for whom we have contact information.

This post and thread will collect answers to frequently asked questions about this revocation, and how to avoid problems by renewing affected certificates early. If you’re affected, please: thoroughly read this thread, and search the community forum, for an answer to your question. If you don’t find one, please make a new post to the “Help” category, filling in the questions in the template that appears as you compose your post.

Q: How many certificates are affected?
A: 2.6%. That is 3,048,289 currently-valid certificates are affected, out of ~116 million overall active Let’s Encrypt certificates. Of the affected certificates, about 1 million are duplicates of other affected certificates, in the sense of covering the same set of domain names.

Because of the way this bug operated, the most commonly affected certificates were those that are reissued very frequently, which is why so many affected certificates are duplicates.


LE has issued about a billion certificates because it’s convenient for smaller sites that want to implement HTTPS. They’re on very short expiry periods – 90 days – so you have to renew them, ideally automatically, ideally every 60 days. But this is still going to be a big problem.
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Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, 3 March 2020 • WHO

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:


The second major difference is that COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza.

While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.

Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.

Third, we have vaccines and therapeutics for seasonal flu, but at the moment there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, clinical trials of therapeutics are now being done, and more than 20 vaccines are in development.

And fourth, we don’t even talk about containment for seasonal flu – it’s just not possible. But it is possible for COVID-19. We don’t do contact tracing for seasonal flu – but countries should do it for COVID-19, because it will prevent infections and save lives. Containment is possible.

To summarize, COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained – which is why we must do everything we can to contain it.


That 3.4% figure is high. The earlier estimate was 2%, or lower. So this becomes a much more dangerous problem.
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All your favorite brands, from BSTOEM to ZGGCD • The New York Times

John Herrman:


Mostly, you’ll notice gloves from brands that, unless you’ve spent a lot of time searching for gloves on Amazon, you’ve never heard of. Brands that evoke nothing in particular, but which do so in capital letters. Brands that are neither translated nor Romanized nor transliterated from another language, and which may contain words, or names, that do not seem to refer to the products they sell. Brands like Pvendor, RIVMOUNT, FRETREE and MAJCF. Gloves emblazoned with names like Nertpow, SHSTFD, Joyoldelf, VBIGER and Bizzliz. Gloves with hundreds or even thousands of apparently positive reviews, available for very low prices, shipped quickly, for free, with Amazon Prime.

Gloves are just one example — there are at least hundreds of popular searches that will return similar results. White socks: JourNow, Formeu, COOVAN. iPhone cables: HOVAMP, Binecsies, BSTOEM. Sleep masks: MZOO, ZGGCD, PeNeede.

These “pseudo-brands,” as some Amazon sellers call them, represent a large and growing portion of the company’s business. These thousands of new product lines, launched onto Amazon by third party sellers with minimal conventional marketing, stocking the site with disparate categories of goods, many evaporating as quickly as they appeared, are challenging what it means to be a brand.

They’ve also helped overwhelm the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which, not unlike an Amazon shopper, has for years found itself mystified by pseudo-brands as it continues to approve them.


The advantage of a barely known brand is that it can vanish in moments.
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The man behind Trump’s Facebook juggernaut • The New Yorker

Andrew Marantz on Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s 2016 media and social media campaign, and is doing it again in 2020:


The instant a Presidential election is over, everyone who worked on the losing campaign is recast as a dunce, and everyone on the winning side is reborn as a genius. In 2016, three weeks after Election Day, Harvard’s Institute of Politics hosted a panel discussion featuring leaders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Trump’s campaign—the first public reunion of the now dunces and the now geniuses. It got heated.

“I would rather lose than win the way you guys did,” Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s director of communications, said.

“No, you wouldn’t, respectfully,” Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s campaign managers, said.

Later in the discussion, Mandy Grunwald, another Clinton adviser, rephrased Palmieri’s rebuke as a backhanded compliment. “I don’t think you guys give yourselves enough credit for the negative campaign you ran,” she said, alluding to “the fake Facebook stuff, or the great dark-arts stuff you were pumping out there.” Turning to Parscale, she went on, “I’m fascinated to hear all about that, because it’s so hard for us to track.”

“I’d agree,” he said. “That’s the beauty of Facebook.”

…[Parscale] did not agree to be interviewed for this article, but dozens of people did, including people who worked with him and against him in 2016. Predictably, Parscale’s name elicited praise from most pro-Trump Republicans and scorn from nearly everyone else. “I can tell you with high confidence that Brad Parscale is not a genius,” Tara McGowan, a left-leaning strategist, told me. Nevertheless, “he undoubtedly had a massive impact on the outcome of the 2016 election, and he undoubtedly will again in 2020.” For better or worse, she continued, “you don’t need to be a genius to have a massive impact. You don’t even need to break the rules. An average person, given enough time and money and support, can use Facebook to help a demagogue win a national election.”


The extent to which Parscale understood Facebook’s position in the world in 2016, and Clinton’s campaign didn’t, will make you curse the gods.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified