Start Up No.1298: poll finds Americans don’t trust tracking apps, Trump’s lost two months, Facebook hires its UK regulator, HTC’s 1,000-year phone, and more

There won’t be queues like this for the next iPhone, of course; and they’ll probably be a month later than usual CC-licensed photo by Ian Betteridge 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 that’s what I call lockdown. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Poll finds a problem for Apple-Google coronavirus app: mistrust of tech firms • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell and Alauna Safarpour:


Nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use the infection-alert system under development by Google and Apple, suggesting that it will be difficult to persuade enough people to use the app to make it effective against the coronavirus pandemic, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds.

The two tech giants are working with public health authorities and university researchers to produce a set of tools that apps could use to notify users who had come in close contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The initiative has been portrayed as a way to enhance traditional forms of contact tracing to find potential new infections and help make resumption of economic and social activities safer in the months ahead.

But the effort faces several major barriers, including that approximately 1 in 6 Americans do not have smartphones, which would be necessary for running any apps produced by the initiative. Rates of smartphone ownership are much lower among seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of Covid-19, with just over half of those aged 65 or older saying that they have a smartphone (53%). Rates are even lower for those 75 and older, according to the Post-U. Md. poll.


I think it’s going to dawn eventually on people that reopening locked-down countries will rely very heavily on having good contact tracing; which means smartphones; which means apps, and they’ll have to use the Apple-Google API, because not doing so will be the kiss of, well, death. (Perhaps, in time, it can record if you’ve already had it, or been vaccinated.)

Quite possibly the elderly will be told to get a cheap one and keep it powered simply for the tracing.
unique link to this extract

Inside Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s two months of magical thinking • Vanity Fair

Gabriel Sherman:


[Health and Human Services secretary Alex] Azar was briefed on a new and dangerous coronavirus sweeping the Chinese city of Wuhan by CDC director Robert Redfield on January 3—but he struggled to communicate this knowledge to the president. At the time of the outbreak, Trump had soured on Azar, whom he blamed for his weak health care polling numbers. “Trump thought Azar was a disaster. He is definitely on the gangplank,” a person close to Trump told me. Azar wasn’t able to speak to Trump about the virus for two weeks, even though Trump called him during this period to scream that the White House’s ban on e-cigarettes, a response to a health crisis that he believed could help him politically, had become a drag on his poll numbers. “I never should have done this fucking vaping thing!” Trump told Azar on January 17, a person familiar with the call told me.

When Azar finally told Trump about the outbreak on the phone at Mar-a-Lago, on the night of Saturday, January 18, Trump cut him off and launched into another e-cigarette rant. “Trump jumped his shit about vaping,” a person briefed on the phone call told me…

[Embodiment of Dunning-Kruger’s Law, Jared] Kushner blamed [Azar] for the criticism Trump received about the delays in testing, according to a person in frequent touch with the West Wing. “This was a total mess,” Kushner told people when he got involved. Kushner had no medical experience, but that didn’t seem to matter. “’To be honest, when I got involved, I was a little intimidated. But I know how to make this government run now’,” Kushner said, according to a source. “The arrogance was on full display.”

Kushner advocated for the iconoclastic public-private approach he had used for his Mideast peace plan. He reached out to business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, according to a source. With bravado only partly grounded in reality, he promised Trump that Google was rolling out a testing website. He also made a point of bypassing normal channels, phoning Wall Street executives and asking for advice on how to help New York, people briefed on the conversation said. A former West Wing official said Kushner’s involvement wrought chaos: business leaders wanting to contribute masks or ventilators didn’t know who in government to call. According to two sources, Kushner told Trump about experimental treatments he’d learned of from executives in Silicon Valley. “Jared is bringing conspiracy theories to Trump about potential treatments,” a Republican briefed on the conversations told me. (A person close to Kushner said he brought COVID testing ideas to Trump.)


It’s a terrifying piece: Kushner’s idiot-in-charge confidence combined with Trump’s idiot-in-charge stupidity and lack of focus. It’s also hilarious for the “sources close to” denials, obviously from Kushner himself.
unique link to this extract

Yes: the American people should see Trump’s coronavirus briefings in their entirety • NY Mag

Olivia Nuzzi:


to watch Trump speak, uninterrupted by TV hosts and pundits, is to understand that he does not have a message, that the stray sentences he formulates which do articulate a belief of some kind are anomalies, and he is likely to muddy their meaning in the next breath, or bury it with a series of half-formed thoughts and throwaway verbal crutches — many people are saying, some people would say, if you can believe it, and so on. And when we extract his words in clips or quotes in news articles, when we divorce them from their rambling context to place them in the context of the real world, and his real record, we are also helping him articulate a semi-coherent worldview and ideology when there usually isn’t one. We are aiding and abetting him in the creation of a message, and giving the voting public the option to abstain from sitting through his endless yapping to discern his meaning for themselves.

A viewer, hearing the president in full, would likely struggle to notice or take seriously that stray sentence which articulates a belief, sandwiched between a dozen other thoughts spewing from his mouth at rapid speed and inhuman cadence. Even when we place the belief in context, when we explain that he’s often expressed the opposite sentiment, or that his actions contradict his words, we’re not revealing Trump to those inclined to believe him over the fake news media.

For a Republican voter who has been able to stomach the Trump presidency because of tax reform, or the reconfiguration of the courts, but who ignores his tweets and opts out of attending his rallies, I imagine it’s much easier to tolerate the president’s words when they are distilled into proper sentences and coherent thoughts by the media. I imagine it would be less tolerable to have to hear it straight from the rambling horse’s mouth. When you listen to what he says, and how he says it, you are confronted by his insanity in a way that is more powerful, and harder to ignore, than hearing a cable-news analyst or reporter explain to you why you shouldn’t take him seriously, why it would be stupid to do so, when he’s lied or been wrong about X, Y, or Z so many times before.


unique link to this extract

Apple delays mass production of 2020 flagship iPhones • WSJ

Yoko Kubota:


Apple is forging ahead with plans to release four new iPhone models later this year, people familiar with its plans say. The phones, some with 5G connectivity, will vary in price and come in three sizes—5.4 inches, two measuring 6.1 inches, and one at 6.7 inches, all featuring organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, screens, the people said.

Apple’s annual product refresh fuels the majority of iPhone sales for an entire year, making new phones the linchpin of a business segment that accounts for more than half of the company’s total revenue.

Investor anticipation for this year’s 5G release helped send Apple shares to record highs before the pandemic hit, as analysts predicted the devices would lift a mature product line that last year failed to ship more than 200 million units for the first time since 2015.

Apple declined to comment.

Apple usually unveils new iPhone models in mid-September and begins selling them before the end of the month. To do so, it usually ramps up mass-production in the early summer, building up inventory around August.

This year, while Apple would still be building some of the new phones in the July-to-September period, the mass-production ramp-up will slide back by about a month, the people said.


The phones “will vary in price”. Quelle surprise. So essentially it’s pushing things back a month. As the story points out, the original iPhone X was delayed until November.
unique link to this extract

Apple making it easier to unlock Face ID iPhones if you have a mask on • CNBC

Todd Haselton:


Right now, if you’re wearing a mask, you need to lift your mask to unlock an iPhone with Face ID. Otherwise, there’s a small but annoying delay between when the phone realizes it can’t see your face and when it presents the screen to enter in a passcode. You can just turn off Face ID, but then you don’t get the convenience when you’re at home and not wearing a mask.

In the new iOS 13.5 beta 3 code, which was released to developers for testing on Wednesday, Apple simplifies the unlock process for folks wearing masks by bringing the passcode field to the main screen. All you need to do is swipe up if you’re wearing a mask, and you’ll skip the Face ID display and enter in a code instead.

That means you’ll be able to get to unlock your phone easier while doing things like mobile payments at a checkout counter instead of fumbling with your mask or waiting for a passcode screen to pop up. Since this is still a beta, it may be a few more weeks until a final version launches with the feature enabled.


Bet Apple will try to hurry it up. Face ID turns out to have been a great idea which was launched with unlucky timing. (Still, at least it wasn’t AirBnB.) How soon will we have iris recognition?
unique link to this extract

Facebook poaches social media regulator Tony Close from Ofcom • The Times

Matthew Moore:


A senior official at the watchdog preparing to regulate social media companies has been poached by Facebook to help it respond to the curbs.

Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards, has been heavily involved with drawing up rules to rein in the tech giants and protect the public.

Ministers said in February that they were minded to appoint Ofcom as the country’s first internet watchdog. It is already responsible for TV and radio.

The government is preparing to announce a timetable for legislation but Mr Close will not oversee the regime after accepting an offer to become Facebook’s director of content regulation.

He is expected to be responsible for ensuring the US company does not fall foul of the regulatory system, and for pushing back against any restrictions that it deems unworkable.

A former senior Ofcom official said that colleagues were shocked. “He was obviously privy to all their thinking about online harms,” the source said. “Facebook wants regulation that isn’t going to adversely affect their profits too much, so it’s in their interest to recruit people with inside knowledge.”

The Conservative MP Damian Collins, the former chairman of the culture select committee, said: “We don’t want to see a revolving door between regulators and companies they are seeking to regulate . . . parliament must insist on a proper regulator with teeth who can set standards for the platforms and hold them to account.”


Perhaps Parliament could pass a law about this sort of thing, Mr Collins. In fact, it has had years to pass such a law; the revolving door has been outraging people in different sectors for ages.
unique link to this extract

World’s largest solar energy project will also be its cheapest • Greentech Media

John Parnell:


Abu Dhabi has set a global record-low solar price as authorities confirmed the winning bid in a 2-gigawatt tender. Upon its expected completion in mid-2022, it is slated to be the largest single-site solar energy project in the world.

The Al Dhafra project had five bidders, with the lowest offer coming in at 1.35 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.

The state-run Abu Dhabi Power Corporation (ADPower) confirmed to Greentech Media that the leading consortium consists of French energy giant EDF and the projects division of Chinese solar manufacturer Jinko Solar.

ADPower will now negotiate a 30-year power-purchase agreement with EDF/Jinko. If an agreement cannot be reached, ADPower, part of the Emirates Water and Electricity Company, can negotiate with the second-best bidder.

…There are numerous factors behind the ever-lower prices for solar in the Middle East, including great solar resources, large and flat sites, cheap-to-zero land costs, massive scale, and the cheap finance that comes with a 30-year PPA [public-private agreement] with a petrostate as the offtaker.


unique link to this extract

Twitter launches a COVID-19 data set of tweets for approved developers and researchers • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:


Twitter is making it possible for developers and researchers to study the public conversation around COVID-19 in real time with an update to its API platform. The company is introducing a new COVID-19 stream endpoint to those participating in Twitter Developer Labs — a program that offers access to new API endpoints and other features ahead of their public release. The new COVID-19 endpoint will allow approved developers to access COVID-19 and coronavirus-related tweets across languages, resulting in a data set that will include tens of millions of tweets daily, Twitter says.

The data can be used to research a range of topics related to the coronavirus pandemic, including things like the spread of the disease, the spread of misinformation, crisis management within communities and more.


I like how there’s an implicit assumption that there will be misinformation and that it will spread; that Twitter is a nice little Petri dish for observing its foibles, and its users’ foibles.
unique link to this extract

The scale of the problem • Jayson Lusk

Lusk is quickly becoming our go-to on the question of American meat processing:


Keep in mind, there are 77.6 million pigs in this country. Iowa alone has 23.6 million pigs, or about 7.6 pigs for every man, woman, and child in that state.

Here is where the scale of the problem really kicks in. We have a national pork processing capacity of about 500,000 head per day. Latest data suggests that because of plant closures and slowdowns, we are processing about 40% fewer pigs, which means an extra 500,000*0.4 = 200,000 pigs that are left on the farm. Every. Single. Day. Do that for 5 days, and that’s 1 million “excess” pigs left on the farm.

Why not send the the hogs to smaller local packers? Well, assuming those packers even had room, how big are they? Some of the small-ish packers of any scale process 200 hogs a day. But, the largest plants now shut down can process 20,000 hogs a day. That means, 1 of those small plants would have to run 20,000/200 = 100 extra days to make up for just 1 day of lost production from the large plant. Or, stated differently, we’d need 100 brand new small packing plants to make up for the loss of one large plant.


And you can’t just tell the pigs not to exist, because they were effectively set in train 300 days ago. There’s a graph of how rapidly storage is filling up too from the US Dept of Agriculture. (Thanks Paul G for the pointer.)
unique link to this extract

Tax havens: there’s a chance now to apply conditions to bail outs • The Conversation

Atul K. Shah is a professor of accounting and finance at the City University of London:


the reality is that it has become normal for multinationals to even shift their profits from one EU country to other EU countries which have lower corporate tax rates. One study finds that France, for example, loses 22% of its corporate revenue to tax havens – 18% of this goes to other EU countries. In 2017 it lost US$13bn, of which more than US$11bn went mostly to Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Another recent study by the Tax Justice Network think tank found that Italy and Spain – both badly hit by coronavirus – lost significant tax revenues (US$1.5bn and US$1bn, respectively) to the Netherlands in 2017. Yet most of the recent announcements by countries to not give state aid to tax avoiders only use the EU’s official list.

A better solution to this problem would be to introduce country-by-country reporting. This would allow investors and government to accurately tell where a company trades, where it parks its profits, and where and what taxes it actually pays. Considering accounting has international standards and most big corporations are audited by one of the Big Four auditing firms, this should be relatively easy to implement…

…Now that we are in a profound economic crisis, with a number of multinationals reliant on state aid, we have a unique opportunity to change business as usual. Corporations are in trouble and seeking state aid so governments can now call the shots, and make sure that money is not given away without conditions. Such conditions can include not having a subsidiary in a tax haven, transparency about profits earned in each country, and greater openness and commitment to paying fair taxes in the countries where revenues are earned.


I think that given “These Difficult Times”, governments all over will decide that tax havens are a blight. Perhaps if they declared that companies are free to use them but will be taxed henceforth on revenues, rather than profits, there might be a shift.
unique link to this extract

HTC’s crypto mining phone takes 500 years to recoup cost of device • Decrypt

Andrew Hayward:


“Midas Labs empowers Exodus 1s users to mine at least $0.0038 of [the cryptocurrency] XMR per day on average, while the electricity cost is less than 50% of that,” [Midas Labs founder Jri] Lee told The Block. The company suggests that someone could mine about $0.06 of XMR per day on a laptop, but spend an average of $0.156 on energy to do so.

Running the DeMiner app, the HTC Exodus phones will automatically stop mining when in heavy use or unplugged from a charger, ensuring that the phone still remains a functional, reliable phone throughout the day.

Still, it’s peanuts. Even if you mined every single day, that $0.0038 estimate would only yield $1.39 of XMR in a full year

For context, the most recent edition of the Exodus 1—the Binance Edition (which has native support for Binance’s decentralized exchange, and is the only version in stock on HTC’s website)—costs around $700. Assuming the price of Monero remains constant, it would take half a millennium of mining to get your money back. And that doesn’t even factor in electricity costs.


I’m going to guess that half a millennium of mining might rack up some electricity costs. At this point I have no idea why HTC carries on. It’s a zombie.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1297: how and who at Apple and Google developed contact tracing, US meat prices to rise, Covid-19’s mechanism mystery, and more

This year’s CES in Las Vegas delivered on this promise: there was a chance to catch the disease millions of others would later get. CC-licensed photo by John Biehler 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. How’s the pulse oximeter doing? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple iPhone contact tracing: how it came together • CNBC

Christina Farr:


In mid-March, with Covid-19 spreading to almost every country in the world, a small team at Apple started brainstorming how they could help. They knew that smartphones would be key to the global coronavirus response, particularly as countries started relaxing their shelter-in-place orders. To prepare for that, governments and private companies were building so-called “contact tracing” apps to monitor citizens’ movements and determine whether they might have come into contact with someone infected with the virus.

Within a few weeks, the Apple project – code-named “Bubble” – had dozens of employees working on it with executive-level support from two sponsors: Craig Federighi, a senior vice president of software engineering, and Jeff Williams, the company’s chief operating officer and de-facto head of healthcare. By the end of the month, Google had officially come on board, and about a week later, the companies’ two CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai met virtually to give their final vote of approval to the project.

That speed of development was highly unusual for Apple, a company obsessed with making its products perfect before releasing them to the world. Project Bubble also required that Apple join forces with its historic rival, Google, to co-develop technology that could be used by health authorities in countries around the world.


The team that Apple had includes some incredible names, such as Bud Tribble, who was on the original Macintosh team in the 1980s, and also the co-inventor of the Signal messaging app. What I can’t understand is why any country thinks it’s going to devise a better app system than Apple coordinating with Google – which the UK’s NHS seems to think it will. The Open Rights Group pointed out that it probably won’t, but if it really believes that it should publish how its app will work.
unique link to this extract

A Covid-infected attendee emerges from CES, a massive tech conference in January • APM Reports

Angela Caputo, Sasha Aslanian, and Will Craft:


When a doctor phoned Michael Webber on Monday with the results of his antibody test for the coronavirus, her first word was filled with irony: “Congratulations.” He had tested positive, meaning that the 49-year-old who divides his time between Texas and France had been infected with the virus and recovered.

While millions of people worldwide will likely have antibody tests that return positive results, Webber’s outcome offers new insight into how the virus may have begun to spread. He was among more than 170,000 people who attended the Consumer Electronics Show between Jan. 7 and 10 in Las Vegas, a four-day event that attracted technology professionals from around the world.

Speculation has been whipping around social media for months that the virus might have incubated during CES and was sprayed worldwide when attendees traveled home. However, Webber’s disclosure of his test result to APM Reports is the first indication that the virus was likely circulating at the conference.

Webber’s revelation comes at the same time that public health officials in Northern California, including Silicon Valley, reported three newly confirmed coronavirus deaths. One of those deaths was in early February, which signals that the virus was probably spreading in the United States weeks earlier than previously thought…

…A little more than 100 people attended from Wuhan, home to the first recorded outbreak in late 2019, according to conference organizers.


The conference business is going to take a long, long time to recover. Probably as long as it takes to develop a vaccine. Which in turn means a lot of airline and hotel business won’t come back.

unique link to this extract

As Chinese propaganda on Covid-19 grows, US social media must act • The Washington Post

Vanessa Molter, Renee DiResta and Alex Stamos:


in the midst of the messaging war over the coronavirus, several Chinese state media launched a new Facebook ad offensive. Talking points include emphasizing the Chinese government’s alleged transparency in its pandemic response and promoting the idea that Beijing’s sharing of covid-19 information was helping the world battle the pandemic. Chinese state media have also covered coronavirus-related protests in the United States, while avoiding mention of police clashes in China on their English-language social media presence.

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google (which owns YouTube) already search for and disable networks of fake accounts run by foreign government-aligned organizations. While such efforts can deal a significant blow to the kinds of activity we saw from Russia in 2016, China’s behavior has demonstrated that the disinformation game is broader than fake social media accounts. US platforms should take steps to avoid being complicit in Beijing’s state-driven propaganda.

First, these platforms should not allow paid political advertisements from media outlets registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Twitter has banned all state media ads after Chinese state media ads against the Hong Kong protesters on Twitter caused a backlash. Facebook and YouTube still allow, and financially benefit from, Chinese state media ads on their platforms, even though these outlets are registered under FARA. This means the US government must continue to be aggressive about rooting out state media and mandating foreign agents register.

Second, platforms should disable the capability for official blue-checked diplomatic or state media accounts to block other accounts…

…Finally, tech platforms should consider banning state media and government-representative accounts run by countries that block their own citizens from accessing these platforms. Such a move could be costly in financial terms: While many U.S. tech platforms are blocked from being visible to Chinese citizens, Chinese companies can still buy advertisements for global consumers. Up to 10% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes from China.


Molter and DiResta work at the Stanford Internet Observatory; Stamos used to be Facebook’s chief security officer.
unique link to this extract

Sharp knives, high friction and tomatoes • Tribonet

Evan Zabawski:


The easiest and safest way to slice a tomato is to use a sharp knife. The counterintuitive reason a sharp knife slices more easily through a tomato is that it has higher friction, albeit only on the knife’s edge.

Slicing is actually stretching the tomato and, like most materials, a tomato is weaker when stretched than when compressed. Stretching the tomato skin creates a tearing force that opens a crack in the skin, thus beginning the slice.

A dull knife edge is relatively round and smooth, which glides smoothly across the skin as the knife is drawn across the tomato. Sometimes it can slide so smoothly near the edge of the previous slice that the knife slips off the tomato—hopefully away from the hand holding the tomato.

A sharp knife edge has a more jagged and peaked edge that generates much more friction as it is dragged across the tomato. A sharp edge is producing a shear force that reaches the same local critical stress using much less downward force, which enables greater control of the knife as it moves downward.

Once the crack has formed, the natural stress focused at the advancing crack is generally sufficient to propagate the cut at a much lower nominal stress, reducing the required force to slice the rest of the way through the tomato.

Other foods, like cheese, exhibit a nonlinear relationship between applied stress and the resulting deformation, meaning they can stiffen when deformed sufficiently. This nonlinear feedback leads to a frictionally locked situation when using a dull knife, where the knife progresses easily at first but then slows as both the cheese stiffens and the knife blade itself experiences the friction of the surrounding cheese.


So now you know the difference between tomatoes and cheese. I’d never thought that sharpened knife edges were rough or jagged; I thought they were supremely fine, down to atomic thickness.
unique link to this extract

More meat market madness • Jayson Lusk

Lusk is a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University:


Plant closures and slow-downs from COVID-19 have reached such levels that it will be impossible for consumers not to notice effects on meat prices or availability in the coming weeks. If the full page ad in the New York Times wasn’t enough to convince you, below is some updated data on animal processing numbers and wholesale beef and pork prices.

Estimated daily hog and cattle slaughter are both down almost 50% compared to this time last year

Less meat being produced means less meat available for grocery stores to buy. As a result grocery stores and consumers are bidding up the price of the available supplies. Wholesale beef prices have skyrocketed, and have reached a level (at least in nominal terms) we haven’t seen in at least a decade. Wholesale pork prices have also increased significantly from the dip a few weeks ago, but as of today, they remain below where they were in 2019.


Trump has said he’ll order the meat plants to remain open as “critical infrastructure”. But if the workers get ill, the plants can’t function – and anyway, there’s less meat for them to process. Prices are going to go up and/or there will be shortages.
unique link to this extract

Telecoms paranoia, 5G vs Covid-19 (and phones turning into human heads) • The Royal Factor

David Eckhoff recalls his time working in customer services in BT back in the 1980s:


Regulars included ‘dreamers’, who insisted their phones rang all through the night. With these we put a check on their lines to test for incoming calls and always found that their phones never rang at night. Most took this well and once their brains knew it was a dream they could sleep through. Some resented the ‘invasion of privacy’ but were unable to explain what privacy we had invaded.

It was at this time that telecoms paranoia was joined by accusations of health issues. Cordless phones had been launched and despite them being massive and ceasing to work ever again after thunderstorms they were very popular. But not so popular with some neighbours.

“My daughter’s had psoriasis ever since next door got a cordless phone,” I was told by one person. This was new territory then, and I wasn’t sure what to say other than that sounds ridiculous, which I wasn’t allowed to say. So I said I’d contact our laboratories and see what they had to say.

“That sounds ridiculous,” said the boffins.

In the meantime I got a call from the neighbour, who said her neighbour had told her I had ‘forbidden’ her to use her cordless phone. I assured her that I hadn’t and contacted the original caller to say that not only did she or I not have the right to tell anyone not to use a perfectly legal device, it was scientific opinion that a cordless phone was not the cause of her daughter’s psoriasis. I suggested she got some proper medical opinion from her GP and discussed with her what my friends with this condition did, and this did not include distancing themselves from cordless phones.

After some other roles I moved into PR, working with journalists. This went so well that I left my job and set up my own PR agency. Here I took on the PR for a business which had developed ‘mini-masts’, amongst other technology. These were devices that could be attached to lampposts and telegraph poles to boost the mobile signal in areas where this was a problem.


But now he had two problems, as he was to discover. And they were going to breed.
unique link to this extract

New device turns almost any screen into a touchless touchscreen • Android Authority

Dave LeClair:


A group of former Samsung engineers is putting their heads together to create a new device called Glamos. It uses LIDAR technology to turn just about any screen into a fully interactive touchscreen.

Well, it functions as a touchscreen of sorts, but you don’t actually have to touch anything to interact with it. Instead, Glamos detects motion and sends a signal to the device telling it what to do.

This creates a situation where a user can control a laptop, smart TV, smartphone, or tablet without actually needing to put their hands on anything but the air within a 180-degree area. For devices with a touchscreen already installed, this will let users interact with them from a distance, which could prove useful for situations where their hands are dirty or they’re doing a presentation from the other side of the room. An example cited by the creators is using a tablet to manage a recipe. Instead of washing their hands to change pages, the user can swipe the air, keeping their tablet clean.


Already well-funded – £100 for a single one. But apart from the recipe/tablet situation, when would it be any better than using a physical remote, especially since you could in theory activate it by mistake? Isn’t this just Samsung’s “Air Gesture” stuff, which always seemed more of a gimmick than a feature?
unique link to this extract

Why don’t some coronavirus patients sense their alarmingly low oxygen levels? • Science

Jennifer Couzin-Frankel:


In serious cases of COVID-19, patients struggle to breathe with damaged lungs, but early in the disease, low saturation isn’t always coupled with obvious respiratory difficulties. Carbon dioxide levels can be normal and breathing deeply is comfortable—“the lung is inflating so they feel OK,” says Elnara Marcia Negri, a pulmonologist at Hospital Sírio-Libanês in São Paulo. But oxygen saturation, measured by a device clipped to a finger and in many cases confirmed with blood tests, can be in the 70s, 60s, or 50s. Or even lower. Although mountain climbers can have similar readings, here the slide downward, some doctors believe, is potentially “ominous,” says Nicholas Caputo, an emergency physician at New York City Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.

Hypotheses about what causes it are emerging. Many doctors now recognize clotting as a major feature of severe COVID-19. Negri thinks subtle clotting might begin early in the lungs, perhaps thanks to an inflammatory reaction in their fine web of blood vessels, which could set off a cascade of proteins that prompts blood to clot and prevents it from getting properly oxygenated.

Negri developed this idea after treating a woman whose breathing troubles coincided with circulatory problems in her toes. Negri’s team gave the woman heparin, a common blood thinner, and not only her toes but her breathing recovered


Probably all going to pile into heparin now, aren’t we?
unique link to this extract

We still don’t know how the coronavirus is killing us • NY Mag

David Wallace-Wells:


strokes, several doctors who spoke to the Post theorized, could explain the high number of patients dying at home — four times the usual rate in New York, many or most of them, perhaps, dying quite suddenly. According to the Brigham and Women’s guidelines, only 53% of COVID-19 patients have died from respiratory failure alone.

It’s not unheard of, of course, for a disease to express itself in complicated or hard-to-parse ways, attacking or undermining the functioning of a variety of organs. And it’s common, as researchers and doctors scramble to map the shape of a new disease, for their understanding to evolve quite quickly. But the degree to which doctors and scientists are, still, feeling their way, as though blindfolded, toward a true picture of the disease cautions against any sense that things have stabilized, given that our knowledge of the disease hasn’t even stabilized.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is not just a public-health crisis but a scientific one as well. And that as deep as it may feel we are into the coronavirus, with tens of thousands dead and literally billions in precautionary lockdown, we are still in the very early stages, when each new finding seems as likely to cloud or complicate our understanding of the coronavirus as it is to clarify it. Instead, confidence gives way to uncertainty.

In the space of a few months, we’ve gone from thinking there was no “asymptomatic transmission” to believing it accounts for perhaps half or more of all cases, from thinking the young were invulnerable to thinking they were just somewhat less vulnerable, from believing masks were unnecessary to requiring their use at all times outside the house, from panicking about ventilator shortages to deploying pregnancy massage pillows instead. Six months since patient zero, we still have no drugs proven to even help treat the disease. Almost certainly, we are past the “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” stage of this pandemic. But how far past?


unique link to this extract

Trump’s daily intelligence briefing book repeatedly cited virus threat • The Washington Post

Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima:


US intelligence agencies issued warnings about the novel coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for President Trump in January and February, months during which he continued to play down the threat, according to current and former US officials.

The repeated warnings were conveyed in issues of the President’s Daily Brief, a sensitive report that is produced before dawn each day and designed to call the president’s attention to the most significant global developments and security threats.

For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.

But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience for even the oral summary he takes two or three times per week, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.

The advisories being relayed by US spy agencies were part of a broader collection of worrisome signals that came during a period now regarded by many public health officials and other experts as a squandered opportunity to contain the outbreak.

As of Monday, more than 55,000 people in the United States had died of covid-19.


As someone observed, if they really wanted Trump to pay attention, they should have bought an advert on Fox News’s morning show. (As the US Postal Service did this week.) Or guested on it.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1296: NHS rejects Apple-Google for contact app, the woman falsely accused of causing Covid-19, the trouble with e-sports, and more

Making it harder to forward messages on WhatsApp has cut viral content spread by 70%, the company says CC-licensed photo by Tuija Aalto 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

NHS rejects Apple-Google coronavirus app plan • BBC News

Leo Kelion:


The UK’s coronavirus contact-tracing app is set to use a different model to the one proposed by Apple and Google, despite concerns raised about privacy and performance.

The NHS says it has a way to make the software work “sufficiently well” on iPhones without users having to keep it active and on-screen. That limitation has posed problems for similar apps in other countries.

Experts from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre have aided the effort. NCSC indicated that its involvement has been limited to an advisory role.

“Engineers have met several core challenges for the app to meet public health needs and support detection of contact events sufficiently well, including when the app is in the background, without excessively affecting battery life,” said a spokeswoman for NHSX, the health service’s digital innovation unit…

…NHSX believes a centralised system will give it more insight into Covid-19’s spread, and therefore how to evolve the app accordingly.

“One of the advantages is that it’s easier to audit the system and adapt it more quickly as scientific evidence accumulates,” Prof Christophe Fraser, one of the epidemiologists advising NHSX, told the BBC. “The principal aim is to give notifications to people who are most at risk of having got infected, and not to people who are much lower risk. It’s probably easier to do that with a centralised system.”


Sure would like to know what this “sufficiently well” solution is. Always using Bluetooth and always using location? Might struggle on iOS.
unique link to this extract

The very real threat from Trump’s first deepfake • The Atlantic

David Frum:


at 8:25:50 pm ET, the president retweeted an account he had never retweeted before. The account had posted a video of former Vice President Joe Biden, crudely and obviously manipulated to show him twitching his eyebrows and lolling his tongue. The caption read: “Sloppy Joe is trending. I wonder if it’s because of this. You can tell it’s a deep fake because Jill Biden isn’t covering for him.”

Whatever the intentions of the original tweeter—it purports to be the account of a left-wing activist supportive of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders—the Trump retweet looks like an experimental test of the rules of social media. Since earlier this year, Twitter has banned images that have been “significantly and deceptively altered or fabricated,” especially if they are likely to cause serious harm in some way.

Because the account retweeted by Trump explicitly labels its video a “deep fake,” it arguably does not violate Twitter’s anti-deception policy. As of 8:30 this morning, the video remained live on Twitter and present on pro-Trump Facebook accounts.


Still live on Monday evening. Many people will ignore the words, because that’s how visual content works: it overwhelms any focus on words. The tweet has over 12,000 retweets and 33,000 Likes (don’t ask me why people like a tweet like that).

Twitter does need to reconsider. Faked videos like this are intended to deceive, and the dressing around them won’t stop them doing that.
unique link to this extract

Exclusive: she’s been falsely accused of starting the pandemic. Her life has been turned upside down • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan:


Perhaps the most prominent cheerleader of the idea that [American soldier Maatje] Benassi had a role in the imaginary plot to infect the world is George Webb, a prolific 59-year-old American misinformation peddler. Webb has for years regularly streamed hours of diatribe live on YouTube, where he has amassed more than 27 million views and almost 100,000 followers.

In 2017, CNN revealed how Webb was part of a trio of conspiracy theorists that pushed a false rumor about a cargo ship with a “dirty bomb” that was set to arrive at the Port of Charleston in South Carolina. The bomb never materialized, but the claims did lead to parts of the port – one of the biggest in America – being shut down for a time as a safety precaution.

Until recently, Webb said, his YouTube videos included advertisements – meaning the platform, which is owned by Google, was making money from Webb’s misinformation, as was Webb himself.
Webb even claimed that the Italian DJ Benny Benassi, whose 2002 song “Satisfaction” became a worldwide sensation, had the coronavirus and that he, along with Maatje and Matt Benassi, were part of a Benassi plot connected to the virus. (Benny told CNN Business he has never met Maatje and Matt, and they said that as far as they know, they are not related. Benny pointed out that Benassi is a very common last name in Italy.)

Benny Benassi told CNN Business he has not been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Like artists around the world, he cancelled his concerts because of social distancing and travel restrictions. (Webb previously claimed the DJ is Dutch. He is not.)

In a phone interview with CNN Business on Thursday, which he livestreamed to his followers on YouTube, Webb offered no substantive evidence to support his claims about the Benassis and said he considered himself an “investigative reporter,” not a conspiracy theorist.

He also said that YouTube recently stopped running ads on his videos after he began talking about the coronavirus.


China and Russia don’t really need to try when there are dolts like this to do the job for them.
unique link to this extract

WhatsApp’s new limit cuts virality of ‘highly forwarded’ messages by 70% • TechCrunch

Manish Singh:


The Facebook -owned service said on Monday that spread of “highly forwarded” messages sent on WhatsApp had dropped by 70% globally in weeks after introducing a new restriction earlier this month.

In one of the biggest changes to its core feature, WhatsApp said earlier this month that users on its platform can now send along frequently forwarded messages they receive to only one person or a group at a time, down from five. The restriction was rolled out globally to WhatsApp’s 2 billion users on April 7.

“We recently introduced a limit to sharing ‘highly forwarded messages’ to just one chat. Since putting into place this new limit, globally there has been a 70% reduction in the number of highly forwarded messages sent on WhatsApp,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement…

…The cut down on forwards should help WhatsApp assuage the scrutiny it is receiving in many countries, including India, its biggest market.

New Delhi asked WhatsApp and other messaging and social media firms last month to do more to control the viral hoaxes circulating on their platforms about coronavirus infection. This is the latest of several similar advisories India has sent to social media firms operating in the country.


That’s almost surely going to be a substantial reduction in misinformation, because that’s what tends to go viral, by a factor of about 2 to 1. (That’s a study of Twitter, but WhatsApp will be similar.)

unique link to this extract

What is the iPad to you? Let me count the ways in a Magic Keyboard review • Birchtree

Matt Birchler:


I can use the iPad as a drawing tablet, plop it into a keyboard case to make it more of a laptop, connect it to a monitor to use it like a desktop, and I can wirelessly connect a mouse and keyboard to make it work exactly like a desktop. When I’m tired of that, I can unplug it and start using it like a tablet again.

And not only does the hardware allow for me to change the physical context of the device, the software comes along for the ride as well. Apps work differently depending on if you have a keyboard attached, if you have a mouse/trackpad available, or if you’re using an Apple Pencil…

…Ok, now I’ve got myself a MacBook Pro and it’s plugged into an external monitor so I can work at my desk on a big screen and I can take it anywehere else because it’s portable. Better, for sure, but what if I want to read a book? What if I want to draw? What if I want to hold it in portrait orientation? What if I want to use it as a digital board game? The MacBook Pro can’t do any of that, while the iPad is never more than 2 seconds away from adapting to those use cases.

Now you think you have me cornered. “Get a Surface then,” you reply, thinking you’ve got me. And in fairness, this is a close as you’ve gotten so far, but this isn’t the product for me. It doesn’t run the apps I want, the apps it does run are old-school in comparison to iPadOS, and the touch experience is way, way worse than the iPad. But if you like Windows, then yeah, the Surface line is pretty comparable to this quick context switching, although I really feel that the touch stuff still feels hacked into Windows.


It’s actually not so much about the keyboard, because it’s really about how the iPad is mutable into different contexts. Though OK, he does mention the keyboard.

unique link to this extract

Esports and the dangers of serving at the pleasure of a king • Matthew Ball

Ball is a VC who focuses on interactive media:


even under the most globally controlled league models, the administrating body has far from total control over the sport. A spectator or fan can play soccer or golf without FIFA or the PGA, just as they can set up their own leagues and teams, or broadcast their private games and events.

Esports is different. While we see leagues across each of the aforementioned models, all competitive play is ultimately (and essentially end-to-end) dependent on the game’s publisher. Most simply, independent leagues, events and tournaments, whether for- or non-profit, do not have the right to operate (let alone broadcast to at-home audiences). They can only do so as allowed (explicitly or tacitly) by a publisher. All it takes is a publisher’s copyright claim, cease-and-desist order, or policy change to shut them down. This is true even if the games are played online via location connections, too. And certainly, in the case of remote, online play, all gameplay is ultimately administered (“refereed”, if you will) by the publisher’s online services. This means the publishers are effectively co-running the tournament or league – even if they don’t know it.

At a broader level, it’s also important to emphasize that matches can only be played with the rules, options, gameplay, physics, items, and characters that the publisher offers. If your favorite “hero” is removed, you can’t use them. If you loved a limited time event that’s no longer offered, too bad. If a rule, item, or map changed, you’ve no choice but to adapt…

…The video games upon which each league is based generate billions of dollars in value in the sale of content, digital items, and subscriptions. The customers here are everyday players and there are millions of them. This monetization model and customer group is every publisher’s core business. In comparison, esports drives tens of millions in low-margin revenue, based on a few dozen players and, at least today, tens of thousands of viewers (almost all of which are always players). The problem is teams depend almost exclusively on this latter and much smaller bucket of revenues and players.


It’s essentially the opposite structure from how professional sports work, where all the money is up at the top. Ball goes into the many ways that this distorts what’s possible: it’s a lot.
unique link to this extract

Chip design with deep reinforcement learning • Google AI Blog

Anna Goldie, senior software engineer, and Azalia Mirhoseini, senior research scientist, Google Research, Brain Team :


today’s chips take years to design, resulting in the need to speculate about how to optimize the next generation of chips for the machine learning (ML) models of 2-5 years from now. Dramatically shortening the chip design cycle would allow hardware to adapt to the rapidly advancing field of ML. What if ML itself could provide the means to shorten the chip design cycle, creating a more integrated relationship between hardware and ML, with each fueling advances in the other?

In “Chip Placement with Deep Reinforcement Learning”, we pose chip placement as a reinforcement learning (RL) problem, where we train an agent (i.e, an RL policy) to optimize the quality of chip placements. Unlike prior methods, our approach has the ability to learn from past experience and improve over time. In particular, as we train over a greater number of chip blocks, our method becomes better at rapidly generating optimized placements for previously unseen chip blocks. Whereas existing baselines require human experts in the loop and take several weeks to generate, our method can generate placements in under six hours that outperform or match their manually designed counterparts.


How soon before humans are out of the equation?
unique link to this extract

How long does a film take to recoup? • Stephen Follows

This time he’s asking about payback. Not the film, the process:


Each film will have a slightly different recoupment pattern.  For example

• Slow burns – An independent film can take time to get noticed and to gain worldwide income.  For example, The King’s Speech was unusual in that it took a couple of years to hit its peak as it was released internationally and eventually went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.
• Up-front deals – A distribution deal could include a Minimum Guarantee (MG) which is deducted from future income.  This can result in no income for a number of years while that MG is repaid.  Most films never repay their MG but those that do will see a small trickle of income after that period.  For example, 28 Days Later saw a large income in years 1 and 2, then nothing for a further five years, after which time money started coming in again.

Below are four examples from the BFI dataset.  In each case, we’re only seeing the BFI’s share of income so sadly we cannot use them to calculate the total income each film received.  That said, with the BFI earning over nine times its original investment on The King’s Speech, we’re able to conclude that the other investors must be pretty happy right now!


You’re probably wondering. 28 Days Later (made in 2002) had a budget of £5m. In the UK it took £6.1m at the box office, and in the US was a surprise hit: took $45m. But of course the shape of the payment doesn’t reflect that.

Yes, remember when going to watch a film involved travelling further than your front room?
unique link to this extract

Augmented reality hits economic reality in the case of Magic Leap • VentureBeat

Milan Račič of robotics and AI company Gideon Brothers:


Magic Leap just announced its intention to focus on the enterprise market, after years of branding itself as a consumer device company. The corporate press release blamed COVID-19 for the required pivot, and nearly 1,000 employee have been laid off; almost half its workforce.

However, this shift toward the enterprise market is not driven by the COVID-19 crisis. It is a case of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and remote reality (RR) hitting up against economic reality (ER).

Only a minority of (regular) people are willing to pay a lot of money for experiences that can’t populate their Instagram feed. Given a price tag of $2,300-$3,000 for its Magic Leap One goggles, market success would have required a whole lot of social cache to be viable long-term.

By the end of 2019, the company reportedly sold just 6,000 of a planned 100,000 units. Coolness does have a price, but when it comes to augmented reality goggles, the market is telling us that it is far lower than $2,000-$3,000.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Magic Leap and everything they accomplished. They managed to raise $2.6bn from market monster investors like Google and Alibaba. They succeeded in developing interesting technology with giant distribution partners, like AT&T. Yet, the reality is that only 6,000 units sold. Reality is what matters.


I predicted this move in August 2018, when I tweeted: “I forecast that in 18 months Magic Leap will pivot away from consumers (ie games) to target business and industrial use. Those prices [$2,295 for a headset] are crazy for individuals.” They lasted two months extra. As Račič points out, it’s nothing to do with coronavirus.

It wasn’t the hardest prediction to make. One slightly feels that Račič’s admiration for Magic Leap is about its ability to extract huge piles of cash from venture capitalists more than its success, such as it is, with technology.
unique link to this extract

A new doctor faces the coronavirus in Queens • The New Yorker

Rivka Galchen:


When [Dr Hashem] Zikry came on shift on the evening of March 21st, one of the covid patients signed out to his team seemed not as sick as some of the others he’d seen. “He walked by the desk during sign-out,” Zikry told me. “He walked by again fifteen minutes later. Asked us where the bathroom was. He was walking—that’s a great sign. Talking—that’s a great sign. These are very reassuring things to a physician. I wrote down, ‘Ambulatory, Conversant.’ ” A short time later, a hospital police officer approached Zikry to say that a man had collapsed in the bathroom. When Zikry reached him, the man had no pulse. He began chest compressions. “Nothing like this had ever happened to me,” Zikry said. “I had seen him walking minutes before.” The man was taken on a stretcher to the critical-care area, where resuscitation equipment was on hand. Despite the efforts of Zikry and others, the patient died about fifteen minutes later. Zikry recalled turning back toward the rest of the E.R. He said, “We look back on this sea of, like, three hundred people that expected us to treat them immediately, to figure out what was wrong with them.” This was around 3:15 a.m…

…“I’m truly exhausted,” Zikry told me that day, at the end of another overnight shift. “I’m starting to see patients I’ve already seen, now in worse condition. A patient who four days ago had an oxygen saturation of a hundred% and an O.K. chest X-ray, then two days later their saturation is low nineties and it’s not a great chest X-ray—well, they come in now with a saturation in the high eighties and with horrendous chest X-rays, and we need to admit them to the hospital.” Zikry knows that medical language can obscure as well as explain: “The term used for what you see on the X-rays is ‘ground-glass opacities.’ I have no idea what actual ground glass looks like. I can tell you that on the X-ray it looks like a snowed-out background, or like when I go out in the rain—I wear glasses—and I can’t really see, because of the water on my glasses. There are these patchy opacities. That’s what the chest X-rays look like.”


The way this disease progresses remains really peculiar.
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus means the era of big government is…back • WSJ

Gerald F. Seib and John McCormick:


Much of today’s new government activism will recede over time along with the virus. Yet conversations with a broad cross-section of political figures suggest there is little reason to expect a return to what had been the status quo on federal spending, or the prevailing attitude toward the proper role of government.

“The era of Ronald Reagan, that said basically the government is the enemy, is over,” said Rahm Emanuel, a moderate Democrat who served as mayor of Chicago, a member of Congress and President Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

An echo came from the other side of the political spectrum. “The era of Robert Taft, limited-government conservatism?” said Steve Bannon, President Trump’s onetime political guru, referring to the Ohio senator who fought the expansion of government programs and federal borrowing. “It’s not relevant. It’s just not relevant.”

…Today, both parties and a vast majority of voters have come together behind a broad and aggressive response at both the federal and state level, and have accepted a sea of new red ink at a time the federal budget deficit already was heading toward a trillion dollars annually…

…In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters of both political parties said by a 2-to-1 margin that they approved of the expansion of government’s role in the economy to meet the crisis.


That approval, which is equal for both Republicans and Democrats, contrasts strongly with 2009, when only 26% of Republicans approved the government’s TARP action, against 78% of Democrats.

It’s a new era.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1295: Germany goes with Apple/Google, Britons reject the old ‘normal’, America’s standards exclusion, the Difficult Times poem, and more

The story of the man who died after ingesting fish tank cleaner pills looks much darker after details emerged about his marriage. CC-licensed photo by Joegoauk Goa 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. It’s probably.. Monday? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Germany flips to Apple-Google approach on smartphone contact tracing • Reuters

Douglas Busvine and Andreas Rinke:


Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement that Berlin would adopt a “decentralised” approach to digital contact tracing, thus abandoning a home-grown alternative that would have given health authorities central control over tracing data.

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth “handshakes” between mobile devices as the best way of registering a potential contact, even though it does not provide location data.

But they have disagreed about whether to log such contacts on individual devices or on a central server – which would be more directly useful to existing contact tracing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those who may be at risk.

Under the decentralised approach, users could opt to share their phone number or details of their symptoms – making it easier for health authorities to get in touch and give advice on the best course of action in the event they are found to be at risk.

This consent would be given in the app, however, and not be part of the system’s central architecture.

Germany as recently as Friday backed a centralised standard called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), which would have needed Apple in particular to change the settings on its iPhones.

When Apple refused to budge there was no alternative but to change course, said a senior government source.

In their joint statement, Braun and Spahn said Germany would now adopt a “strongly decentralised” approach.


Contrast with, for example, Vietnam where the contact tracing app broadcasts a fixed ID per person and has lots of holes. Apple and Google are aiming to keep governments from building up monolithic databases, and it’s surprising that Germany, of all countries, wouldn’t see why that’s a good idea.
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus: only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ once lockdown is over • Sky News

Lucia Binding:


Only 9% of Britons want life to return to “normal” after the coronavirus outbreak is over, a survey suggests.

People have noticed significant changes during the lockdown, including cleaner air, more wildlife and stronger communities.

More than half (54%) of 4,343 people who took part in the YouGov poll hope they will make some changes in their own lives and for the country as a whole to learn from the crisis.

And 42% of participants said they value food and other essentials more since the pandemic, with 38% cooking from scratch more.

The survey found that 61% of people are spending less money and 51% noticed cleaner air outdoors, while 27% think there is more wildlife.

Two-fifths said there is a stronger sense of community in their area since the outbreak began and 39% say they are catching up with friends and family more.


“Stop the world, I want to get off” was a 1961 play, but became a phrase. Now the world has stopped for many people, and they’ve realised that they wanted it to turn slightly differently. The trouble is, when it restarts, you won’t get much choice about what part of “normal” does and doesn’t come back.
unique link to this extract

The fight with Huawei means America can’t shape tech rules • The Economist


…for the past year technology companies with operations in America have been frozen out of some standard-setting as an accidental consequence of the American government’s attack on the Chinese tech giant, Huawei.

This started with the addition of Huawei to the entity list in May 2019. That made it illegal for any company to export products to Huawei that had been made in America. Tech-company lawyers looked at the regulations and decided that the law prohibited interaction with Huawei during the course of standard-setting, too. They worried that, in the course of discussion, American-made technologies would in effect be transferred to Huawei, placing their employer in breach of the rules.

That legal decision created a problem. Huawei plays a big role in setting standards on artificial intelligence, 5g and other connectivity technologies, so avoiding interactions with the firm while simultaneously getting involved in the rigorous nerdery of standard-setting was impossible. As a result, some companies with American operations have removed themselves from the standard-setting processes in which they used to join. In areas where Huawei is active, this has left America voiceless in setting the tech rules of the future.

The effect has been particularly acute at standards bodies that convene outside America, where the organisers are less inclined to make arrangements to accommodate firms that are subject to export-control rules. At those meetings, in some instances, Huawei and other Chinese companies have had a voice where American companies have not.


Perverse, unintended consequences.
unique link to this extract

Who is the “we” in “We are causing climate change\u201d? • Slate

Genevieve Guenther, writing in 2018:


Instead of thinking of climate change as something we are doing, always remember that there are millions, possibly billions, of people on this planet who would rather preserve civilization than destroy it with climate change, who would rather have the fossil-fuel economy end than continue. Those people are not all mobilized, by any means, but they are there. Most people are good.

But remember, too, that there are others, some of them running the world, who seem to be willing to destroy civilization and let millions of people die in order that the fossil-fuel economy to continue now. We know who those people are. We are not those people.

Remember as well that there are degrees of complicity. Without structural changes paid for collectively, most of us have no alternative but to use fossil fuels to some degree. As individuals, we must do the very best we can. But constrained choices are not akin to the unthinking complicity of the 10% who produce 50% of global emissions every year by taking multiple long-haul flights for pleasure travel, heating their homes instead of putting on a sweater, and driving swollen SUVs that they replace every few years. Nor are constrained choices akin to the deep and shameful complicity of the many in the print and television news media who refuse to mention climate change even in the stories about climate change effects they’re already reporting.


unique link to this extract

A poem made up of the first lines of emails I’ve received while quarantining • The Washington Post

Jessica Salfia:


In these uncertain times
as we navigate the new normal,
are you willing to share your ideas and solutions?
As you know, many people are struggling.
I know you are up against it:
the digital landscape.
We share your concerns.
As you know, many people are struggling.


There’s more. It’s lovely. Also the first poem here since its inception.
unique link to this extract

Man who died ingesting fish tank cleaner remembered as intelligent, levelheaded engineer • Washington Free Beacon

Alana Goodman:


friends of 68-year-old Gary Lenius, the Arizona man who passed away last month from drinking a fish tank cleaner that contained an ingredient, chloroquine phosphate, that Trump had touted as a potential coronavirus cure, say they are still struggling to understand what drove an engineer with an extensive science background to do something so wildly out of character.

These people describe Lenius as intelligent and levelheaded, not prone to the sort of reckless and impulsive behavior he reportedly engaged in on the day he died. This account is based on interviews with three people who knew Lenius well and paints a picture of a troubled marriage characterized by Wanda Lenius’s explosive anger.

“What bothers me about this is that Gary was a very intelligent man, a retired [mechanical] engineer who designed systems for John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa, and I really can’t see the scenario where Gary would say, ‘Yes, please, I would love to drink some of that Koi fish tank cleaner,'” one of his close friends told the Washington Free Beacon. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Lenius passed away on March 22 after he and his wife, Wanda Lenius, drank sodas that she had mixed with a fish tank cleaner not intended for human consumption, Wanda Lenius told the Free Beacon…

…Those who knew the couple said they sensed tension in the marriage. “Wanda would constantly berate Gary in public,” said a source who asked that all identifying information be withheld. “Everyone was embarrassed for him, but he outwardly did not seem to care much.”

“In our opinion, their marriage was seen outwardly to be as one-sided as a marriage possibly could be: Gary worshiped Wanda,” this person said, adding that his wife “would routinely call him a ‘doofus'” and humiliate him in public.

Lenius’s friend recalled Wanda Lenius destroying her husband’s aircraft model collection after he returned home late for a meal. “These planes take many dozens and sometimes hundreds of hours to complete,” said the friend. “Gary did not get angry, he simply junked the planes that were not repairable and fixed the rest. That is the Gary I knew, he would never get upset, he just accepted what happened and carried on.”


The story clearly isn’t “dumb man thought this would make him safe”. I wonder if we’ll hear more on a true crime podcast in a year or so. (Thanks Jim for the link.)
unique link to this extract

Congress can’t rebuild US infrastructure until America rebuilds Congress • Vox

Ezra Klein, responding to Marc Andreessen’s “Time To Build” blogpost:


It’s become a running joke in Washington that every week is “infrastructure week.” But we’re not rebuilding American infrastructure.

The question, then, is why don’t we build? What’s stopping us?

Here’s my answer: the institutions through which Americans build have become biased against action rather than toward it. They’ve become, in political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s term, “vetocracies,” in which too many actors have veto rights over what gets built. That’s true in the federal government. It’s true in state and local governments. It’s even true in the private sector.

I’m not against soliciting more ideas of what to build. But what we need is sustained funding, focus, and organizing to make building in America possible again. And that requires patiently engaging with the kinds of institutions that frustrate builders.

That the US government has become a dysfunctional vetocracy is obvious. Hell, I wrote a whole book about it. But in short: America’s system of checks and balances requires unusual and even extraordinary levels of consensus to pass legislation. First, you need the agreement of the House, the Senate, the White House, and, increasingly, the Supreme Court.

More granularly, congressional power is diffused across committees. The Senate has built in a supermajority requirement, known as the filibuster, which effectively raises the threshold for passage from 51 votes to 60 votes.

This raises the question: If the problem is embedded in the structure of the US government, how did the US ever do anything big? The short answer is that for most of our political history, two unusual conditions held. First, the parties were ideologically mixed, which made compromise easier. Second, one party was usually electorally dominant, which gave the party in the minority a reason to compromise: If you can’t win, you may as well deal.

Both those conditions have dissolved.


America’s political system has become sclerotic, and unless something dramatic happens – a colossal Senate takeover by the Democratic Party in November? – it might never be able to fix itself.
unique link to this extract

Internet speech will never go back to normal • The Atlantic

Jack Goldsmith is a Harvard Law School professor and Andrew Keane Woods is professor of law at the University of Arizona College of Law:


the “extraordinary” measures we are seeing are not all that extraordinary. Powerful forces were pushing toward greater censorship and surveillance of digital networks long before the coronavirus jumped out of the wet markets in Wuhan, China, and they will continue to do so once the crisis passes. The practices that American tech platforms have undertaken during the pandemic represent not a break from prior developments, but an acceleration of them.

As surprising as it may sound, digital surveillance and speech control in the United States already show many similarities to what one finds in authoritarian states such as China. Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices, which further values and address threats different from those in China. But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.

In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong. Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values…

…America’s private surveillance system goes far beyond apps, cameras, and microphones. Behind the scenes, and unbeknownst to most Americans, data brokers have developed algorithmic scores for each one of us—scores that rate us on reliability, propensity to repay loans, and likelihood to commit a crime. Uber bans passengers with low ratings from drivers. Some bars and restaurants now run background checks on their patrons to see whether they’re likely to pay their tab or cause trouble. Facebook has patented a mechanism for determining a person’s creditworthiness by evaluating their social network.

These and similar developments are the private functional equivalent of China’s social-credit ratings, which critics in the West so fervently decry. The U.S. government, too, makes important decisions based on privately collected pools of data. The Department of Homeland Security now requires visa applicants to submit their social-media accounts for review. And courts regularly rely on algorithms to determine a defendant’s flight risk, recidivism risk, and more.


The comparison with China is unwise, though you can see why they do it. But “China was largely right and the US was largely wrong” is a big mistake. China prevented people talking about the novel coronavirus. People died as a result.
unique link to this extract

Switching from MacBook to Chromebook: is Chrome OS good enough? • Android Police

Manuel Vonau:


I could break down the verdict into this sentence: Chrome OS is a great browser, but it isn’t a great OS. My experience reminds me of the one I had on the iPad (pre-iOS 13, I should note). A lot of things are great for a specific set of purposes, but once I leave that comfort zone, I start running into issues that make me want to return to a proper desktop OS. On my Chromebook, the situation got better once I stopped trying to run Android and Linux apps and stuck with capable web apps as much as possible instead. However, I still miss my familiar, friction-free image editing software on the machine, and I’d love to see proper third-party cloud storage support.

I still think my Chromebook can have a valid spot in my workflow, just like my iPad used to be great for reading tons of texts during university. I must admit that it took long until the Chromebook grew on me, though — I can’t say that about the iPad, which has always been fun and enjoyable to interact with, despite its limitations. That’s my personal situation, though. I recognize that there are many people who need more than a browser or tablet to get their job done, and I know there’s a big fraction who would be perfectly fine with a Chromebook since they just need something to check mails, shop Amazon, and surf the news on a familiar laptop form factor.


unique link to this extract

‘Nobody told us about the coronavirus pandemic’ • BBC News

Jessica Sherwood:


In 2017, Elena Manighetti and Ryan Osborne decided to take the plunge many dream of – they quit their jobs, bought a boat and decided to travel around the world.

They asked their families to keep in touch, but with one rule: no bad news.

The couple, who lived in Manchester, were travelling across the Atlantic ocean from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean last month when, unbeknownst to them, a new and deadly coronavirus was spreading across the world.

After 25 days at sea, and with little communication with the outside world, the couple planned to dock on a small island in mid-March.

But upon getting phone signal while still off-shore, they discovered the island’s borders were closed and found out the world had been suffering from a global pandemic they’d heard nothing about.

“In February we’d heard there was a virus in China, but with the limited information we had we figured by the time we got to the Caribbean in 25 days it would all be over,” Elena says.

“When we arrived we realised it wasn’t over and the whole world had been infected,” adds Ryan.


I guess that’s one scenario that zombie apocalypse movies forgot about. I really didn’t think there would be anyone who hadn’t heard.
unique link to this extract

Dominic Cummings and SAGE: advisory group’s veil of secrecy has to be lifted • The Conversation

Chris Tyler, on The Guardian’s story that Dominic Cummings, the PM’s political adviser, sat in on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE):


Political decisions should be informed by the science; the science should not be informed by the politics. This scenario raises the central question of this story: the independence of SAGE. The Guardian called it a “supposedly independent body” and the government in its statement about Cummings described SAGE as providing “independent scientific advice to the government”.

Interestingly, the notion of SAGE being independent appears nowhere in its 64 pages of guidelines. Even though everyone “knows” that SAGE should be independent, the government’s official guidelines do not recognise this “fact”. As a first step, the 2012 SAGE guidelines should now be updated to outline the role of SAGE – which should include “independence” – and instructions as to when and if it is appropriate for political advisers to be present and, if so, what role they should play.

In order for us to ascertain the role played by Cummings or any other future political adviser, the minutes of SAGE meetings must be made public. The government clearly believes that the advice provided to it by SAGE should be private, but that runs counter to its own guidance on how science advisory committees should work, which calls for “openness and transparency”.

The problem with not being open and transparent is that it is impossible for parliament, the media and researchers to scrutinise what is going on. What is the advice the government is being given? Is government really following that advice? Who is giving it?


When Cummings was ill with Covid-19, for about two weeks, the government’s response to the media had a much calmer tone. Now he’s back it’s angrier, more Trump-ish in its out-of-hand dismissals of well-sourced stories when then turn out to be correct, and important.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1294: YouTube bans junk coronavirus content, ARM Macs on the way?, how Facebook advertisers target dolts, Zoom hits 300m, and more

Can you can breed these? You too could be in charge of Trump’s pandemic task force! Competence no object! CC-licensed photo by Michael Mandiberg 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Coronavirus: YouTube bans ‘medically unsubstantiated’ content • BBC News


YouTube has banned any coronavirus-related content that directly contradicts World Health Organization (WHO) advice.

The Google-owned service says it will remove anything it deems “medically unsubstantiated”.
Chief executive Susan Wojcicki said the media giant wanted to stamp out “misinformation on the platform”.

The move follows YouTube banning conspiracy theories falsely linking Covid-19 to 5G networks.

Mrs Wojcicki made the remarks on Wednesday during her first interview since the global coronavirus lockdown began.

“So people saying, ‘Take vitamin C, take turmeric, we’ll cure you,’ those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy,” she told CNN.

“Anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy.”

Mrs Wojcicki added YouTube had seen a 75% increase in demand for news from “authoritative” sources.


So is it also going to remove content that goes against WHO advice on vaccination? How does YouTube justify leaving some rubbish on, but taking other stuff out? Yes, coronavirus is a deadly infectious disease; but so is measles; will all the nonsense around that be removed too? I can’t understand how YouTube can defend doing the one but not the other. Dead is dead, whichever disease kills you.
unique link to this extract

Want to find a misinformed public? Facebook’s already done it • The Markup

Aaron Sankin:


Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post pledging to combat misinformation about COVID-19 circulating on Facebook.

“We’ve taken down hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation related to COVID-19, including theories like drinking bleach cures the virus or that physical distancing is ineffective at preventing the disease from spreading,” Zuckerberg wrote.

But at the very same time, The Markup found, Facebook was allowing advertisers to profit from ads targeting people that the company believes are interested in “pseudoscience.” According to Facebook’s ad portal, the pseudoscience interest category contained more than 78 million people.

This week, The Markup paid to advertise a post targeting people interested in pseudoscience, and the ad was approved by Facebook. 

Using the same tool, The Markup boosted a post targeting people interested in pseudoscience on Instagram, the Facebook-owned platform that is incredibly popular with Americans under 30. The ad was approved in minutes.

We reached out to Facebook asking about the targeting category on Monday morning. After asking for multiple extensions to formulate a response, company spokesperson Devon Kearns emailed The Markup on Wednesday evening to say that Facebook had eliminated the pseudoscience interest category. 

…we do have an idea what at least one ad targeting the group looks like, since an ad for a hat that would supposedly protect my head from cellphone radiation appeared on my Facebook feed on Thursday, April 16.


But the plot thickens: when he got in touch with the advertiser, he found that Facebook had expanded the ad into the pseudoscience group. As the story also points out, this is part of a longrunning series of examples where Facebook lets you target people on categories that are, to say the least, surprising.
unique link to this extract

Will American shale oil go bust? • The Conversation

Jorge Guira is an associate professor of law and finance at the University of Reading:


Oil companies are restructuring hastily – assessing the value of reserves, and asking creditors for debt waivers. The US government has helped by extending companies’ ability to offset losses against future tax liabilities, which can make them more attractive to buyers.

Nonetheless, some companies sitting on the priciest oil will get liquidated. In other cases, big creditor banks could take over businesses, or demand mergers and acquisitions, including consolidations.

The biggest uncertainty is how long until the oil price rebounds? With the economy only likely to reopen gradually, demand will stay low for some time while supply remains too high. The futures markets expect WTI to bounce back to the high US$20s by the end of the year, but don’t foresee a return to even US$40 oil until December 2024.

How much US shale oil is worth saving in these straitened circumstances is key. Some estimate as many as 70% of firms will go out of business overall, with some never coming back until oil stabilises above US$50. Others may be taken over by companies prepared to wait for higher prices. As oil historian Daniel Yergin says, “Rocks don’t go bankrupt”. US shale is in a sort of death pageant, and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future.


One thing that might save the shale oil companies – temporarily – is that the US Federal Reserve is diving in and buying all sorts of bonds, including the junk bonds that keep them staggering on. But it’s only delaying the inevitable.
unique link to this extract

Zoom grows to 300 million users despite security backlash • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Zoom has now revealed that it has surpassed 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants. That’s up 50% from the 200 million the company reported earlier this month, and a huge jump from the 10 million back in December.

Zoom does say the figures are daily meeting participants, which could mean if you have five Zoom meetings in a day then you’re counted five times. However, Zoom also states in the same blog post that it has “more than 300 million daily users” and that “more than 300 million people around the world are using Zoom during this challenging time.”

Either way, more people are using Zoom despite the security and privacy concerns that have been raised recently. Zoom has implemented a 90-day feature freeze, and the company is releasing Zoom 5.0 this week to address some of the concerns. Zoom 5.0 includes passwords by default, improved encryption, and a new security icon to control meetings.


Does anyone remember Skype?
unique link to this extract

This tool automatically transcribes your Zoom meetings as they happen • The Verge

Jon Porter:


Automated transcription service now integrates directly into Zoom calls to transcribe meetings on the fly. During a meeting, anyone on the call can click the “ Live Transcript” button within their Zoom window to open up the Live Video Meeting Notes on’s site, and participants can then annotate them on the fly. quietly announced the new feature in a blog post earlier this month. has had the ability to transcribe recordings of past Zoom meetings for a little while now. The live transcription feature should make the process quicker, and make highlighting and editing important sections easier while they’re still fresh in your mind.

In order to use the new feature you’ll need to be subscribed to Zoom’s Pro tier or higher, and you’ll also need an Otter for Teams subscription.’s Teams subscription normally costs $20 per use per month, but the service is currently offering two months for free if you use the code COVID19OTTER. You can find instructions on how to set the live transcription feature up on’s website.


That’s a smart bit of piggybacking.
unique link to this extract

Apple aims to sell Macs with its own ARM-based chips starting in 2021 • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


The first Mac processors will have eight high-performance cores, codenamed Firestorm, and at least four energy-efficient cores, known internally as Icestorm. Apple is exploring Mac processors with more than 12 cores for further in the future, the people said.

In some Macs, Apple’s designs will double or quadruple the number of cores that Intel provides. The current entry-level MacBook Air has two cores, for example.

Like Qualcomm Inc. and the rest of the mobile semiconductor industry, Apple designs its smartphone chips with technology from Arm Inc., owned by SoftBank Group Corp. These components often use less energy than Intel’s offerings. But it in recent years, Arm customers have tried to make processors that are also more powerful.

The transition to in-house Apple processor designs would likely begin with a new laptop because the company’s first custom Mac chips won’t be able to rival the performance Intel provides for high-end MacBook Pros, iMacs and the Mac Pro desktop computer.

The switch away from Intel is complex, requiring close collaboration between Apple’s software, hardware and component-sourcing teams. Given work-from-home orders and disruptions in the company’s Asia-based supply chain, the shift could be delayed, the people said.

Like with the iPhone, Apple’s Mac processors will include several components, including the main processor, known as a Central Processing Unit or CPU, and the GPU, the graphics chip. Apple’s lower-end computers currently use Intel for graphics, while it has partnered with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. for the graphics cards in its professional-focused offerings.

The Kalamata project has been going for several years. In 2018, Apple developed a Mac chip based on the iPad Pro’s A12X processor for internal testing. That gave the company’s engineers confidence they could begin replacing Intel in Macs as early as 2020, Bloomberg News reported.


Won’t be much of a hit to Intel – 5% of its CPU business? – though the prestige hit is substantial. Now all the questions begin about how Apple gets old Intel-based software to run. (Over to you, JLG..)
unique link to this extract

iPhone SE review: an iPhone for people who don’t like new iPhones • WSJ

Joanna Stern:


Unlike the starting-at-$699 iPhone 11 models, the SE is the only remaining iPhone with the once-beloved home button and a small (well, smaller) 4.7in screen. Yet it still has the performance and some of the camera tricks of those higher-end phones.

To test the SE over the past week, I went deep into my Museum of Ancient iPhones—and deep into my email inbox—to focus on the hundreds of questions that owners of older iPhones have written to me with since my iPhone 11 review last year.

No matter which phone you’re coming from, you’ll find the SE to be one of Apple’s best values in years, especially as we all try to tighten our belts in the coronavirus world. It’s even nice for talking to people, now that we’re doing that again. Just one problem: when we finally can stop sheltering in place, we’re going to want better battery life.


As Stern explained when she was on John Gruber’s podcast recently, her email inbox is stuffed with messages from people who don’t want to use Face ID on phones; they like Touch ID, they understand Touch ID, and they’re damn well sticking with it.

And as always, the video accompanying the article is fantastic. I can’t imagine how long it must take to dream up and execute. Stern’s videos are pretty much the only reason for smartphone reviews.
unique link to this extract

Making cryptocurrency part of the solution to human trafficking • Chainalysis blog


In 2019, we tracked just under $930,000 worth of Bitcoin and Ethereum payments to addresses associated with CSAM providers. That represents a 32% increase over 2018, which in turn saw a 212% increase over 2017. We attribute most of these yearly increases to rising adoption of cryptocurrency rather than increased demand for CSAM, and it’s important to keep in mind these transactions represent a miniscule fraction of all cryptocurrency activity. Even so, this should be a concerning trend for the cryptocurrency industry, from both a moral and reputational standpoint. 

Most individual cryptocurrency payments to CSAM providers fall between $10 and $50, though a significant percentage of these sites’ total revenue comes from much larger payments. We know from law enforcement that payments between $10 and $50 would likely indicate either a one-time purchase of CSAM or, if seen on a recurring basis, possibly a subscription to a consistent CSAM provider. 

For example, this Chainalysis Reactor screenshot shows some recent transactions to an address the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has identified as belonging to a CSAM provider. A clear pattern emerges: Nearly all transfers the service receives are for 0.0021 Bitcoin, worth roughly $15 as of April 2020.

We can discern more patterns by isolating cryptocurrency payments to CSAM sites made from exchanges serving users in a single region. Above, for instance, we see that most payments for CSAM users in South Korea occur during nighttime hours, when most individuals are at home.


Certainly the exchanges could do a lot more to look out for and alert authorities to transactions of suspicious sizes to particular sites. But of course they have a financial incentive not to.
unique link to this extract

‘Sadness’ and disbelief from a world missing American leadership • The New York Times

Katrinn Benhold:


The United States has an election in November. That, and the aftermath of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s, might also affect the course of history.

The Great Depression gave rise to America’s New Deal. Maybe the coronavirus will lead the United States to embrace a stronger public safety net and develop a national consensus for more accessible health care, [political scientist and senior adviser at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, Domique] Moïsi suggested.

“Europe’s social democratic systems are not only more human, they leave us better prepared and fit to deal with a crisis like this than the more brutal capitalistic system in the United States,” Mr. Moïsi said.
The current crisis, some fear, could act like an accelerator of history, speeding up a decline in influence of both the United States and Europe.

“Sometime in 2021 we come out of this crisis and we will be in 2030,” said Mr. Moïsi. “There will be more Asia in the world and less West.”

[Timothy] Garton Ash said that the United States should take an urgent warning from a long line of empires that rose and fell.

“To a historian it’s nothing new, that’s what happens,” said Mr. Garton Ash. “It’s a very familiar story in world history that after a certain amount of time a power declines.”

“You accumulate problems, and because you’re such a strong player, you can carry these dysfunctionalities for a long time,” he said. “Until something happens and you can’t anymore.”


unique link to this extract

Coronavirus vaccine doctor says he was fired over doubts on hydroxychloroquine • The New York Times

Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman:


Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and removed as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health.

In a scorching statement, Dr. Bright, who received a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis from Emory University, assailed the leadership at the health department, saying he was pressured to direct money toward hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” and repeatedly described by the president as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus.

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”

…While Dr. Bright followed careful procedures, [Trump admin officials] said, he was a polarizing figure within the Department of Health and Human Services, where concerns had circulated about a management style that was described as confrontational.

Those officials said that there had been discussions about removing Dr. Bright for many months, and that they came to a head after emails were leaked to Reuters last week detailing internal discussions about chloroquines.

A senior administration official said that Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the coronavirus task force members in their meeting on Wednesday about Dr. Bright’s departure from BARDA, describing it as a promotion to the vice president. Officials left the meeting and learned of Dr. Bright’s public statement.

…A person familiar with Dr. Bright’s account said that Dr. Bright was pressured to rush access to the drug after the president and Larry Ellison, the chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle, had a conversation about chloroquines. Dr. Bright was then directed to put in place a nationwide expanded access program to make the drugs available on a broad basis without specific controls in place, according to the person familiar with his account.


Today in hilarious quotes from Trump “officials”: someone’s management style being described as “confrontational”. And now we turn to Alex Azar (who describes someone being fired as “a promotion”).
unique link to this extract

Special report: former labradoodle breeder was tapped to lead US pandemic task force • Reuters

Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor:


On January 21, the day the first U.S. case of coronavirus was reported, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services appeared on Fox News to report the latest on the disease as it ravaged China. Alex Azar, a 52-year-old lawyer and former drug industry executive, assured Americans the U.S. government was prepared.

“We developed a diagnostic test at the CDC, so we can confirm if somebody has this,” Azar said. “We will be spreading that diagnostic around the country so that we are able to do rapid testing on site.”

While coronavirus in Wuhan, China, was “potentially serious,” Azar assured viewers in America, it “was one for which we have a playbook.”

Azar’s initial comments misfired on two fronts. Like many U.S. officials, from President Donald Trump on down, he underestimated the pandemic’s severity. He also overestimated his agency’s preparedness.

As is now widely known, two agencies Azar oversaw as HHS secretary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, wouldn’t come up with viable tests for five and half weeks, even as other countries and the World Health Organization had already prepared their own.

Shortly after his televised comments, Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19. The aide, Brian Harrison, had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years. Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him “the dog breeder.”

Azar’s optimistic public pronouncement and choice of an inexperienced manager are emblematic of his agency’s oft-troubled response to the crisis. His HHS is a behemoth department, overseeing almost every federal public health agency in the country, with a $1.3 trillion budget that exceeds the gross national product of most countries.


Incompetence, overconfidence and cronyism: the Trump administration in three words. Of course Azar is a Trump pick; of course his past in the pharmaceutical industry indicates that Trump was never truthful in saying, when trying to get elected, that he’d rein in the pharma sector. That hasn’t happened. Still, no labradoodles have died of Covid-19. (Current joke: “Trump wanted someone who was good with labs, and Azar delivered.”)
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1293: lockdown boosts voice search, how Jack Dorsey dodged the hedge fund, America’s sclerotic government, Texas gets solar, and more

A billboard: contributing, just a tiny bit, to making you less happy, new research says CC-licensed photo by Zara Gonzalez Hoang 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. Got your pulse oximeter yet? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

University of Warwick study: advertising makes us unhappy • Harvard Business Review


HBR: What prompted you to investigate this?

Professor Andrew Oswald: Colleagues and I have been studying human happiness for 30 years now, and recently my focus turned to national happiness. What are the characteristics of a happy country? What are the forces that mold one? What explains the ups and downs? I’d never looked at advertising before, but I met a researcher who was collecting data on it for a different reason, and it seemed to me that we should combine forces. Like a lot of people in Western society, I can’t help noticing the increasing amount of ads we’re bombarded with. For me, it was natural to wonder whether it might create dissatisfaction in our culture: How is your happiness and mine shaped by what we see, hear, and read? I think it’s rather intuitive that lots of ads would make us less happy. In a sense they’re trying to generate dissatisfaction—stirring up your desires so that you spend more on goods and services to ease that feeling. I appreciate, of course, that the world’s corporate advertisers and marketing firms won’t like hearing me say that.

Yeah, I don’t think they’d agree that that is the goal of advertising.

Their line is that advertising is trying to expose the public to new and exciting things to buy, and their task is to simply provide information, and in that way they raise human well-being. But the alternative argument, which goes back to Thorstein Veblen and others, is that exposing people to a lot of advertising raises their aspirations—and makes them feel that their own lives, achievements, belongings, and experiences are inadequate. This study supports the negative view, not the positive one…

…It’s worth wondering whether Western society has done the right thing by allowing large levels of advertising, almost unregulated, as though it were inevitable. Given these patterns, it seems like something we might want to think about. But we haven’t got any political punch line in this paper. We don’t recommend any policy.


And yes, they did check to make sure it wasn’t just an “ice cream causes murder” type of correlation.
unique link to this extract

Why are labels changing song titles after a release? TikTok • Rolling Stone

Elias Leight:


As the burgeoning world of voice-search starts to have more influence on listening habits, making sure songs fit search terms in this way will only become more important, says Hazel Savage, CEO and cofounder of AI-based start-up Musiio. “Especially what we see with younger generations is they’re more and more comfortable with voice search,” Savage notes. In that space, “it’s all about how much data can you attach to each song,” she continues. “The more you have, the more powerful your search terms are gonna be.”
Astralwerks’ Andrews says “we’ve seen a lot more people using Alexa and voice search since they’re stuck at home.” And when the label attached the “(i love you baby)” to “ily,” “voice search results for the song tripled overnight.” 

The “ily” title change is already impacting the way Astralwerks looks at its catalog. “There’s a song of ours called ‘Sex’ by Eden that has over one million creations on TikTok; it’s one of the top ten trending tracks globally right now,” Andrews explains. “But the phrase people are using on the platform is, ‘catching feelings,’ nothing to do with sex at all. So the title of that one is going to change to ‘Sex (Catching Feelings)’ to optimize how people are absorbing the song. It’s going to be interesting to see that affect more and more people now.” 


Really would like to know how much voice search on Alexa/Google Home/Siri has risen now that so many people are at home.
unique link to this extract

Upgrade our 8-track government • WSJ

Andy Kessler:


I’ll admit to using this line all the time: “The Howard Stern Show” asked Ringo Starr, “What did you do with the money?” “What money?” “The money your mother gave you for singing lessons.”

Earlier this month, Johns Hopkins surgeon Marty Makary told Tucker Carlson about a much-needed Covid-19 antibody test developed in January that was under review by the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Makary noted, “And we lost precious time when one of the original scientists submitted an application and was told that he had to submit it also by paper mail with a CD-ROM with the files burned on it.” CD-ROM? They might as well have asked for applications on a deck of IBM punch cards with audio on 8-track tapes. The FDA budget is around $5.8 billion. What did you do with the money?

Last week, New Jersey put out a call for Cobol programmers to update its unemployment-benefits software, which runs on mainframes installed 40 years ago. Cobol was invented in 1959. New Jersey has a $39 billion budget. What did you do with the money?

I grew up in New Jersey (Exit 14), but this ineptitude is everywhere. A 2018 study revealed that only 42% of all state and local government computer systems were implemented after Oct. 25, 2001. The rest are “old or broken,” including two-thirds of those used for child support and half of those used for unemployment or vehicle registration.


And there’s also this Bloomberg article by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, in synchrony:


Behind the ideological squabbling, the main problem with Western government is simple: It is out of date. If you want a symbol of this, look no further than U.S. school calendar, which was designed for an agrarian economy where children needed long summer holidays to bring in the harvest. Think of all the changes that America’s private sector has been through over the past century: vertical integration followed by contracting out; steep hierarchies followed by delayering; skyscraper headquarters followed by suburban campuses followed by a return to the city. Think of all the companies that have been created and destroyed in a never-ending whirlwind of creative destruction. Now think of Washington. The Department of Agriculture remains a giant despite the fact that agriculture accounts for only 2% of GDP.


The Silicon Valley view would be “government’s never faced disruption”.
unique link to this extract

Jeffrey Sachs on the catastrophic American response to the coronavirus • The New Yorker

Isaac Chotiner interviewed Sachs, but this extract is all Sachs, who is an economist who advised the Soviets on how to shift to a market economy, and the Bush administrations on the size of funding needed for wide-scale vaccination programs in developing countries:


Basically, American politics has become deeply corrupt over decades, and it became so corrupt that normal governance already collapsed many years ago. And people with resources and knowledge know it, but they haven’t cared, because things have more or less gone on O.K., and the stock market has been booming, and even though in almost any private conversation Trump is viewed as a complete dolt and a complete incompetent, that was more or less laughed off as manageable because he wasn’t doing too much damage, either.

That’s the real situation. Nobody here has viewed government as actually very functional for a long time, and not because it couldn’t be. It has been increasingly designed to fail. Specifically, it’s been designed to respond to powerful lobbies that want deregulation or tax cuts or some special privileges rather than to function in a normal way. And powerful people shrug their shoulders at that, because for the élites that’s been O.K., but it obviously hasn’t really been O.K. for a long time. We’ve had rising death rates. We’ve had the deaths of despair. We’ve had the failure to come to grips with climate change. We’ve had widening inequalities and massive suffering. But it hasn’t mattered in such a visible way…

…The rich countries got the wave of the epidemic first, mainly because of the high extent of travel between China and Europe, and between China and the United States, and Europe and the United States. And the epidemic went out of control in this country basically because Trump did nothing and called upon the federal system almost not at all between early January and mid-March. And epidemics grow at exponential rates. The poorer countries by and large did not receive the intense seeding of the epidemic as early, because they have fewer flights, they have fewer visitors and tourists. So in Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, the number of cases was lower. That’s why we’re seeing, at least for the moment, some greater measure of control.

These countries do not have test equipment. They do not have personal protective equipment. They do not have ventilators, and so on. And what I am recommending is that the International Monetary Fund provide emergency financing at essentially zero conditionality, other than that it be used responsibly. And that the World Health Organization work with governments that have the potential to supply additional equipment—that’s China, Korea, Japan, and a few others—and use the emergency financing and the availability of this urgently needed equipment to get it to these countries in need.

Where does the United States stand in this? Well, the United States has done the unimaginable, and that is to try to cut the functioning of the W.H.O. in the middle of the pandemic. So I’m not looking for American heroism. I’m looking for the United States not to be among the most destructive forces on the planet right now.


unique link to this extract

In the coronavirus era, the force is still with Jack Dorsey • Vanity Fair

Nick Bilton:


each day Dorsey wakes up in his multimillion-dollar glass mansion with postcard views of the Golden Gate Bridge, checks to see what the sleep-tracking ring on his finger says, then lowers himself into an ice bath before meditating in a warm tent sauna. This is followed by a seven-minute workout and then drinking his breakfast, which he calls “salt juice,” a concoction of water, salt, and lemon, which is the only thing he will “eat” until the evening, when he enjoys his single real meal of the day. His day wraps up in a slightly more extreme version of the way it began, with a ritual of 15 minutes in his barrel sauna, followed by three minutes in his ice bath, which he does back and forth three times for an hour. He then meditates again. People close to Dorsey caution, though, that his health routine “changes frequently, so what he’s doing now likely doesn’t align with what he talked about months ago.”

…While Dorsey managed to stave off a coup by [hedge fund] Elliott for now, Cohn is going to be sitting on the board of Twitter, leading an executive search that could recommend to replace Dorsey (though it will be left up to the board to decide if it wanted to follow through with those recommendations). And Dorsey is going to have to reach some pretty high metrics, including growing Twitter’s monetizable daily active users (people who use the platform daily and can be served ads) by 20% in order to remain CEO of both companies. As a result of the pandemic and the vertiginous fall in the stock markets, two weeks later, Silver Lake’s $1 billion investment had fallen by a third, as had Elliott’s. Which the bankers won’t be too happy about.

But, in an uncanny twist, given the virus now decimating the global economy, Dorsey might have just received a stay of execution. Any stock declines will be attributed to coronavirus eviscerating the markets as a whole. According to someone familiar with the company’s internal projections, the amount of time people spend on the site is expected to rise this quarter. While people around the globe are on lockdown in their homes, the one place millions are turning to for a constant flow of information is social media, especially Twitter.


unique link to this extract

Browser boss: we’re blocking ad trackers because governments didn’t deal with them • Forbes

Barry Collins:


The CEO of Vivaldi says his company’s new desktop and mobile browsers block ads for the first time because governments have failed to curb online advertising’s worst excesses.

Vivaldi 3 includes an integrated tracker blocker, powered by privacy-conscious search engine DuckDuckGo, as well as an adblocker. A built-in adblocker is also part of the first stable release of Vivaldi for Android devices.

Vivaldi CEO, Jon von Tetzchner, said the company had shied away from integrating adblockers in previous versions, but that the browser’s users had increasingly demanded greater protection that wasn’t being provided by lawmakers.

“The focus on Vivaldi 3 is privacy,” said von Tetzchner. “We’ve always been the browser that isn’t collecting data on you, but people have been asking: ‘what about tracker blocking?’”

Von Tetzchner said Vivaldi had hesitated to build such features into the browser previously, because it was concerned about “the internet being free and open”.

“I’ve been hoping for the governments to deal with that and stop the tracking, because I don’t think it’s really good for anyone.”

The issue came to a head with the release of the company’s mobile browser, where users found the browsing experience was being hampered by aggressive advertising. “Our thinking on the desktop side had been we’ll leave the adblocking to extensions,” von Tetzchner explained. “That was not an option on the mobile side. We saw the comments on the betas – this is what people wanted,” so the company decided to add the feature to both desktop and mobile.


Not mentioned: Vivaldi’s share on the desktop and mobile. It’s below 0.1%. Still, having an adblocker will definitely get everyone to downl.. ah, forget it.
unique link to this extract

Texas: how the home of US oil and gas fell in love with solar power • Financial Times

Gregory Meyer:


A solar farm the size of a small city will open in the Texas shale heartland this month, adding more competition to a US oil and gas industry that is already flat on its back. 

The blue rows of panels at the Oberon photovoltaic project will generate 150 megawatts of power when they plug into the grid south of Notrees, an appropriately named town in the Permian Basin. Oberon’s developers want to eventually expand the project to 1,380MW — enough to serve 230,000 homes. 

A boom in solar projects is under way across Texas, the US oil and gas capital. The state will build a quarter of the record new industrial-scale solar capacity being installed across the US this year, according to the Energy Information Administration, part of the department of energy. 

Much of that solar investment is taking place in the Permian Basin, the centre of a US shale oil industry that is now reeling from the impact of the coronavirus crisis and the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The solar projects are a threat to fossil fuels. Renewables have helped to force the closures of coal-fired power plants. They are now challenging the primacy of natural gas in the US electricity generation mix as the price of solar equipment keeps on falling. The Republican legislature has declined to rein in rapid increases in wind and solar despite its historic friendliness to the oil and gas industry. 


This was written back at the start of the month – before the price of Texas oil collapsed below “on its back”. There’s never a problem pumping solar.
unique link to this extract

Weekly pro esports schedule: Soccer, Nascar, NFL and more • Gearbrain

Alistair Charlton:


Watching competitive video games played online is nothing new. But with the coronavirus pandemic pressing the pause button on almost all global sport, the entire industry has stepped up a gear.

Thrust into an all-new spotlight, esports now features many real-world sporting professionals, is broadcast live on television to record audiences, and is called by pro commentators.

Sports including soccer, basketball, football and various forms of motorsport have all headed online to keep fans entertained during lockdown.

Updated weekly, this article will feature highlights of upcoming esports events for you to watch online and on television. While we can’t promise to include every single esports event — there are hundreds — we will try to highlight events where real-world professionals are taking part.


Neat idea. The professionals need something to keep them… sharp.
unique link to this extract

China bat expert says her Wuhan lab wasn’t source of new coronavirus • WSJ

James Areddy:


Dr. Shi Zhengli [the 55-year-old principal investigator at the Wuhan Institute of Virology] and the Chinese government say there is no evidence the virus came from laboratories in Wuhan. Scientists generally believe the pathogen crossed the species barrier into humans directly from bats or via another animal. Wild animals were sold in the Wuhan market.

As questions about the origin of the coronavirus grew, Dr. Shi pushed back aggressively. In a social-media post republished in Wuhan’s main Communist Party newspaper in February, she said she could “guarantee on my life” that the virus hadn’t originated in her labs. She went on to “advise those who believe and spread malicious media rumors to close their stinky mouths.”

Dr. Shi didn’t respond to questions from The Wall Street Journal. Her boss, Yuan Zhiming, a senior official at the Wuhan facility, told Chinese state television this month that while it is understandable that people might raise questions about the labs, “there’s no way this virus came from us.”

For Dr. Shi’s defenders, the pandemic is a tragic coincidence for a scientist who has devoted her life to tracking threats to human health. “All the elements of the conspiracy are there if you want to believe it,” said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based environmental health nonprofit, who has collaborated with Dr. Shi for several years. But, he said: “It’s not true.”

Jonna Mazet, a pandemic specialist at the University of California, Davis, who has worked with Dr. Shi for a decade, said the Chinese scientist is cataloging all the coronaviruses she has studied over the years, and told her that “she didn’t have this virus in the lab before people were sick with it.”

Added Dr. Mazet: “She’s been under incredible strain and stress over this whole thing.”


What proponents of the “escaped from the lab” hypothesis can’t answer is why so many of the early cases are linked to the market, which is quite some distance away.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1292: Covid-19’s subtle killing, HCL tests show no benefits, Huawei caught fibbing (again), China targets Uyghurs via iOS, and more

If America’s going to pull out of its economic dive, it needs to start building real infrastructure – but is the spirit there? CC-licensed photo by Alan Burnett 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. Pulse oximeters ahoy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

IT’S TIME TO BUILD • Andreessen Horowitz

Marc Andreessen:


Why aren’t we building Elon Musk’s “alien dreadnoughts” — giant, gleaming, state-of-the-art factories producing every conceivable kind of product, at the highest possible quality and lowest possible cost — all throughout our country?

You see it in transportation. Where are the supersonic aircraft? Where are the millions of delivery drones? Where are the high speed trains, the soaring monorails, the hyperloops, and yes, the flying cars?

Is the problem money? That seems hard to believe when we have the money to wage endless wars in the Middle East and repeatedly bail out incumbent banks, airlines, and carmakers. The federal government just passed a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package in two weeks! Is the problem capitalism? I’m with Nicholas Stern when he says that capitalism is how we take care of people we don’t know — all of these fields are highly lucrative already and should be prime stomping grounds for capitalist investment, good both for the investor and the customers who are served. Is the problem technical competence? Clearly not, or we wouldn’t have the homes and skyscrapers, schools and hospitals, cars and trains, computers and smartphones, that we already have.

The problem is desire. We need to *want* these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.

And we need to separate the imperative to build these things from ideology and politics. Both sides need to contribute to building.


This is a stirring post; it would sound terrific as a speech coming from a presidential candidate (though it would be a lot more convincing coming from some than others). It’s a rousing vision of a potential future. (So I left the capitals in the post title.)

There has been criticism of this post, though: Andreessen is the person who famously proclaimed that “software is eating the world”, because it could scale so quickly once it had mapped what it was replacing. But factories, vaccines, buildings, trains, aircraft aren’t software. They’re things. You can drop them on your foot, and that demands care (and regulations) so that you don’t screw everything up calamitously. Getting aircraft software wrong has bigger effects than getting AirBnB software wrong, as Boeing could tell you.
unique link to this extract

Dead and free: the new American Dream • Eudaimonia and Co

Umair Haque:


Trump doesn’t just revel in cruelty, domination, hostility, and aggression — he revels in such things because he has genuinely never experienced true care, warmth, empathy, grace, or love. All his relationships are obvious proof of that. Men like Trump are made from just such a lack of love in childhood — and they try to fill that void forever, knowing that if love is beyond them, then at least maybe they can command obedience with fear.

Now, all that strikes a chord in a certain kind of American. The American who’s been just as traumatized and wounded as Trump. Not by inadequate parenting, in their case — but by a broken society. There’s the abandoned formerly upwards middle class white, the declining working class one, and so forth. They have been left in a profoundly hostile and aggressive world, one which feels perpetually threatening, frightening, unsafe — the world of American capitalism, where the most predatory and ruthless win everything, and the weak perish.

What they’ve learned, though, is just the same perverse lesson the unloved child does. They’ve learned to be like their oppressors — to value being predatory, ruthless, hostile, selfish, greedy. They have learned to punch down, seeking Mexican babies to blame for all their problems — instead of a badly broken system of predatory capital, helmed by billionaires, whose fake “thinktanks” and the propaganda they churn out teaches the very victims of that system to be it’s greatest proponents.

How else do you explain the bizarre spectacle of that kind of American crying to be “liberated” from lockdown? They feel they need to “go back to work” — not that they need massively more support from the government, which so far has offered them the equivalent of one week, though it’s already been a month, and going to be more. They don’t see any fault in the system — they want to go back to being cogs in its machine. They are willing to sacrifice their own health and that of their loves ones to do so. They’re martyrs for capitalism.


This is the counterpoint to Andreessen’s post. Who’s going to build, and how? What will be their reward, in the short and the long term? Are those “builders” going to be rewarded in line with their importance to the economy?
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus class conflict is coming • The Atlantic

Olga Khazan:


To find out how these rifts might escalate, I spoke with 15 experts on the sociology and politics of class. When the dust settles, there’s of course a chance that low-income workers might end up just as powerless as they were before. But history offers a precedent for plagues being, perversely, good for workers. Collective anger at low wages and poor working protections can produce lasting social change, and people tend to be more supportive of government benefits during periods of high unemployment. One study that looked at 15 major pandemics found that they increased wages for three decades afterward. The Plague of Justinian, in 541, led to worker incomes doubling. After the Black Death demolished Europe in the 1300s, textile workers in northern France received three raises in a year. Old rules were upended: Workers started wearing red, a color previously associated with nobility.

The US has long been the sole holdout among rich nations when it comes to paid sick leave and other job protections. Now that some workers are getting these benefits for the coronavirus, they might be hard for businesses to claw back. If your boss let you stay home with pay when you had COVID-19, is he really going to make you come in when you have the flu?

“Is this going to be an inflection point where Americans begin to realize that we need government, we need each other, we need social solidarity, we are not all cowboys, who knew?” said Joan Williams, a law professor at UC Hastings and the author of White Working Class.

Many experts said one likely result of this outbreak will be an increase in populist sentiment. But it is not yet clear whether it will be leftist populism, in the style of Senator Bernie Sanders, or conservative populism, in the style of President Donald Trump. Leftist populism will likely emphasize the common struggle of the laid off, the low-paid, and the workers derided by their bosses as expendable.


unique link to this extract

The infection that’s silently killing coronavirus patients • The New York Times

Richard Levitan:


Even patients without respiratory complaints had Covid pneumonia. The patient stabbed in the shoulder, whom we X-rayed because we worried he had a collapsed lung, actually had Covid pneumonia. In patients on whom we did CT scans because they were injured in falls, we coincidentally found Covid pneumonia. Elderly patients who had passed out for unknown reasons and a number of diabetic patients were found to have it.

And here is what really surprised us: These patients did not report any sensation of breathing problems, even though their chest X-rays showed diffuse pneumonia and their oxygen was below normal. How could this be?

We are just beginning to recognize that Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call “silent hypoxia” — “silent” because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs in which the air sacs fill with fluid or pus. Normally, patients develop chest discomfort, pain with breathing and other breathing problems. But when Covid pneumonia first strikes, patients don’t feel short of breath, even as their oxygen levels fall. And by the time they do, they have alarmingly low oxygen levels and moderate-to-severe pneumonia (as seen on chest X-rays). Normal oxygen saturation for most persons at sea level is 94% to 100%; Covid pneumonia patients I saw had oxygen saturations as low as 50%.

To my amazement, most patients I saw said they had been sick for a week or so with fever, cough, upset stomach and fatigue, but they only became short of breath the day they came to the hospital. Their pneumonia had clearly been going on for days, but by the time they felt they had to go to the hospital, they were often already in critical condition.

In emergency departments we insert breathing tubes in critically ill patients for a variety of reasons. In my 30 years of practice, however, most patients requiring emergency intubation are in shock, have altered mental status or are grunting to breathe. Patients requiring intubation because of acute hypoxia are often unconscious or using every muscle they can to take a breath. They are in extreme duress. Covid pneumonia cases are very different.

A vast majority of Covid pneumonia patients I met had remarkably low oxygen saturations at triage — seemingly incompatible with life — but they were using their cellphones as we put them on monitors.


This disease has more and more strange, deadly quirks. The most notable is the death rate difference between sexes; now this. The good advice in the article: buy a pulse oximeter, which tells you how well your lungs are oxygenating your blood. (Thanks George, who advised I get one when I was ill.) It will tell you how you’re doing. Anything from £20 to £80, but what price not dying?
unique link to this extract

More deaths, no benefit from malaria drug in VA virus study • Associated Press

Marilynn Marchione:


A malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus showed no benefit in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.

The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment. But with 368 patients, it’s the largest look so far of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19, which has killed more than 171,000 people as of Tuesday.

The study was posted on an online site for researchers and has has not been reviewed by other scientists…

…About 28% who were given hydroxychloroquine plus usual care died, versus 11% of those getting routine care alone. About 22% of those getting the drug plus azithromycin died too, but the difference between that group and usual care was not considered large enough to rule out other factors that could have affected survival.

Hydroxychloroquine made no difference in the need for a breathing machine, either.


Would certainly like to know how it goes with preexisting conditions, but so far all that HCL has been shown to be good for is causing heart problems. How surprising that Trump and his performing monkey Rudy Guiliani should have backed a loser in an area neither understands.

unique link to this extract

Not like the flu, not like car crashes, not like • The New Atlantis

Ari Schulman, Brendan Foht and Samuel Matlack:


ow deadly is Covid-19 compared to seasonal flu, past pandemics, or car crashes?

To offer context, we have produced two charts showing coronavirus deaths along with deaths from other common causes in the past to which the disease has recently been compared. One chart shows deaths for the United States, the other for New York, the state hardest hit.

Note that the data sets begin at different points in the year (as marked on the left). Also note that the figures shown here are for new deaths each week, not for cumulative deaths.

The chart shows deaths per capita to allow for comparison of data from different years. Deaths are shown from:
• Covid-19, starting from February 17. (Covid Tracking Project)
• The 2017-18 flu season: This was the deadliest recent flu season. The chart shows one line for deaths attributed directly to flu, and another for deaths attributed to either flu or pneumonia. The smaller line is an undercount of flu-caused deaths, the larger is an overcount, with the real number lying somewhere in between. (More on this below.) The data begin on October 1, 2017, which the CDC considered the first week of that flu season. (CDC)
• Heart disease and cancer: The first and second leading causes of death in the United States. The chart shows total 2017 deaths averaged per week. (CDC)
• Car crashes: Weekly deaths beginning from January 1, 2018. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
• 1957-58 Asian flu pandemic: Weekly influenza and pneumonia deaths beginning from August 24, 1957. These data come from a contemporary CDC program that surveilled 108 American cities with a total population of about 50 million people. We have used that figure, rather than the total U.S. population at the time, to calculate deaths per million. (CDC)


unique link to this extract

Richard Branson’s bailout plea proves there’s no one more shameless • The Guardian

Marina Hyde, in typically astringent form:


Ultimately, it’s hard to see Branson as anything other than the classic “billionaire philanthropist” (is there any other kind of billionaire?) who declines to accept that public finances would be in rather better shape if people like them contributed their fair share. Philanthropy starts with paying tax. With the best will in the world, it isn’t enough to imply the only reason you operate out of a tax haven is because you like the weather.

Of course, Richard is very far from the only billionaire entity to act like this. Even the trillionaire firms, Amazon and Apple, do it too. Rather than contribute the full amount to various countries in the traditional way – like all the boring little nurses and teachers and ordinary people do – they get away with the absolute barest of minimums, then swoop in flashily with “aid” initiatives, with which they can be personally associated when something’s gone tits-up.

Take announcements from the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has made much of the fact that the company has donated millions of protective masks to US healthcare workers, but whose firm paid £3.8m in tax on £1.2bn UK sales not so long ago. (And this is before you even get to the Amnesty reports and lawsuits in which they are accused of aiding often lethal child labour in their cobalt supply chains in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can the kids get a mask, Tim? No? OK, final offer: a trowel instead of a stick?)

Instead of the coronavirus crisis bringing some kind of reckoning for tax-avoiding opt-outs, it is simply making the biggest culprits even more shameless.


unique link to this extract

New iOS exploit discovered being used to spy on China’s Uyghur minority • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


Security firm Volexity said today that it discovered a new iOS exploit that was being used to spy on China’s oppressed Uyghur minority.

The exploit, which Volexity named Insomnia, works against iOS versions 12.3, 12.3.1, and 12.3.2. Apple patched the iOS vulnerability behind this exploit in July 2019, with the release of iOS version 12.4.

Volexity said the Insomnia exploit was used in the wild between January and March 2020.

The exploit was loaded on the iOS devices of users visiting several Uyghur-themed websites. Once victims accessed the site, the Insomnia exploit was loaded on the device, granting the attacker root access.

Hackers used access to the device to steal plaintext messages from various instant messaging clients, emails, photos, contact lists, and GPS location data.

Volexity said the exploit was deployed by a threat actor the company is tracking under the name of Evil Eye.

The Evil Eye group is believed to be a state-sponsored hacking unit operating at Beijing’s behest, and spying on China’s Uyghur Muslim minority.

This is the same group that Google and Volexity discovered in August 2019 using 14 iOS exploits to target Uyghurs since at least September 2016.


China really is determined on this. While everything else is going on, the oppression of the Uyghurs continues. A fortunate distraction for China.
unique link to this extract

Google’s head of quantum computing hardware resigns • WIRED

Tom Simonite:


In late October 2019, Google CEO Sundar Pichai likened the latest result from the company’s quantum computing hardware lab in Santa Barbara, California, to the Wright brothers’ first flight.

One of the lab’s prototype processors had achieved quantum supremacy—evocative jargon for the moment a conventional computer does something seemingly impossible by harnessing quantum mechanics. In a blog post, Pichai said the milestone affirmed his belief that quantum computers might one day tackle problems like climate change, and the CEO also name-checked John Martinis, who had established Google’s quantum hardware group in 2014.

Here’s what Pichai didn’t mention: soon after the team had first got its quantum supremacy experiment working a few months earlier, Martinis says, he had been reassigned from a leadership position to an advisory one. Martinis tells WIRED that the change led to disagreements with Hartmut Neven, the longtime leader of Google’s quantum project.

Martinis resigned from Google early this month. “Since my professional goal is for someone to build a quantum computer, I think my resignation is the best course of action for everyone,” he adds.


This is either a trivial personality clash or something very deep. So it seems worth noting just in case it’s the latter.
unique link to this extract

Huawei caught using DSLR photos to promote its photography contest • Apple Insider

Amber Neely:


Huawei has issued an apology after a “Shot on iPhone” contest winner discovered that the company was using photos shot on a DSLR to promote its smartphone photography contest.

The photos in question were discovered by Huapeng Zhao, who had won second place in the 2018 iPhone Photography awards for a photograph he’d taken with an iPhone 6. He’d recognized the promotional photos from elsewhere, suspecting that the images weren’t shot with a smartphone.

As it turns out, he was correct. The photos were the work of Su Tie, and had been previously shared on 500px, an online photography sharing platform. The pictures in question had been taken with a Nikon D850 —a DSLR that costs upwards of $3,000.

Huawei has since issued an apology on Weibo. The company noted that the photographs were supposed to be featured on Huawei’s Next-Image community, an alternative to popular photo-sharing platforms like 500px and Flickr, according to Abacus. Huawei notes that users can upload images taken by any device, including cameras.

It’s not clear whether or not Huawei had permission from the original photographer to post the image on their website.


For those keeping count, this is the third time Huawei has been caught faking photo stuff in promotions by using DSLR photos in smartphone promotions.
unique link to this extract

The iPad Magic Keyboard • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:


Here’s why an iPad Magic Keyboard feels nothing like a MacBook: because it’s not actually magic. I mean that. It’s clever in several ways, but it cannot defy the laws of physics. An iPad Pro is so much heavier than a MacBook top case that of course the Magic Keyboard hinge system has to be not just a little stiffer than a MacBook hinge, but way stiffer. Your first impression, like mine, is likely to be off-base just because it’s so different. But once you start using it, just for a few minutes, you can feel why it has to be so different. It’s just an entirely different allocation of weight and center of gravity, by necessity.

You know how with a regular laptop, when you want to open it, you just set it down where you want it, closed, and you open the lid just by lifting it with one of your thumbs? Yeah, you cannot do that with this. Opening the iPad Magic Keyboard is a two-handed operation. Part of this is that the combination of the magnets and stiff primary hinge form a strong seal. But mainly it’s because the iPad with Magic Keyboard is so top-heavy.

ILLUSTRATIVE EXERCISE: Turn a MacBook Air upside down and try opening it one-handed. Even if you give yourself a little bit of an opening to break the initial magnetic seal, you can’t really open an upside down MacBook one-handed because as you try to raise the heavy part (which is now on top), the bottom part raises with it, because the hinge is stiffer than the bottom (the display half) is heavy. But that’s the weight distribution of the iPad with Magic Keyboard right-side up.


What I hadn’t appreciated from the videos (all of them) is that the main, hefty hinge only has two positions: folded flat, and open, which it does to a specific angle. But then you can move the other hinge around. More like a docking station, really.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1291: Australia to force Google to share ad revenue, Texas oil price goes negative, PC shipments slump, a new theory of everything?, and more

You might not be surprised to hear that Samsung’s Galaxy S20 isn’t selling as well as its predecessor. CC-licensed photo by K%u0101rlis Dambr%u0101ns 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook and Google to be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies • The Guardian

Josh Taylor:


Facebook and Google will be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies after the [federal] treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, instructed the competition watchdog to develop a mandatory code of conduct for the digital giants amid a steep decline in advertising brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

In its response to the landmark digital platforms inquiry in December, the federal government asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a code between media companies and digital platforms including Google and Facebook.

The code was to require the companies to negotiate in good faith on how to pay news media for use of their content, advise news media in advance of algorithm changes that would affect content rankings, favour original source news content in search page results, and share data with media companies.

The code was due to be finalised in November 2020, but after limited success in early negotiations between the platforms and the news industry – and in light of the sharp decline in ad revenue – the government has now asked the ACCC to write a mandatory code.

The mandatory code will have the same elements as the proposed voluntary code, but would also include penalties and binding dispute resolution mechanisms for negotiations between the digital platforms and news businesses. It will also define news content that would be covered by the code, and will encompass services beyond Google search and Facebook’s main platform, such as Instagram and Twitter.

…Frydenberg said it was only fair that media companies that created the content got paid for it. “This will help to create a level playing field,” he said.

The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the decision was about a strong and sustainable news media ecosystem. “Digital platforms have fundamentally changed the way that media content is produced, distributed and consumed,” he said.


Wow. Be right back, just going to put some popcorn on. Radical move. Expect the companies to fight this up and down the courts.
unique link to this extract

US oil price below zero for first time in history  | Financial Times



US oil prices crashed into negative territory for the first time in history as the evaporation of demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic has left the world awash with oil and not enough storage capacity — meaning producers are paying buyers to take it off their hands.

West Texas Intermediate, the US benchmark, lost more than 300% to trade as low as -$40.32 a barrel in a day of chaos in oil markets. The settlement price on Monday was -$37.63, compared to $18.27 on Friday.

Traders capitulated in the face of limited access to storage capacity across the US, including the country’s main delivery point of Cushing, Oklahoma.

The collapse will be a blow to US president Donald Trump, who has gone to great lengths to protect the oil sector, including backing moves by Opec and Russia to cut production and pledging support for the industry.

The shale sector has transformed the US into the world’s largest oil producer in the last decade, giving Mr Trump a foreign policy tool he has brandished as “US Energy Dominance”, but which now faces a rapid decline.

Negative prices are the latest indication of the depth of the crisis hitting the oil sector after lockdowns imposed in many of the world’s major economies have sent crude demand tumbling by as much as a third, leaving the industry facing what Jefferies analyst Jason Gammel called “the bleakest oil macro outlook” he had ever seen…

…Stephen Schork, editor of oil-market newsletter The Schork Report, said he expected access to storage capacity in the US to be exhausted within two weeks — and cautioned that the collapse of the country’s oil consumption was accelerating.

“It just gets uglier from here,” Mr Schork said, adding that sharply rising unemployment numbers meant fewer and fewer Americans would be driving, hurting petrol demand even during its peak summer months.

“This summer is dead on arrival. The biggest demand months are not going to happen,” he said. 


Second-order effects are beginning to roll in. Expect more. Also, for more background, there’s this (free to read!) FT Alphaville piece which suggests this might effectively lead to the permanent destruction of some production capacity.
unique link to this extract

Traditional PC shipments saw a sharp decline in Q1 2020 despite increased demand to meet remote work and school needs • IDC


The global traditional PC market, comprised of desktops, notebooks, and workstations, declined 9.8% year over year in the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20), reaching a total of 53.2 million shipments according to preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. The stark decline after a year of growth in 2019 was the result of reduced supply due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, the world’s largest supplier of PCs.

While production capacity in January was pretty much on par with past years, the extended closure of factories in February and the slow resumption of manufacturing along with difficulties in logistics and labor towards the end of the quarter led to a reduction of supply. Meanwhile, demand rose during the quarter as many employees needed to upgrade their PCs to work from home and consumers sought gaming PCs to keep themselves entertained.

“Though supply of new PCs was somewhat limited during the quarter, a few vendors and retailers were able to keep up with the additional demand as the threat of increased tariffs last year led to some inventory stockpiling at the end of 2019,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Device Trackers. “However, this bump in demand may be short lived as many fear the worst is yet to come and this could lead to both consumers and businesses tightening spending in the coming months.”


The squeeze on the smaller players, always a background hum, is going to get serious this year. Apple shipments crashed (on IDC’s measure) by 20%, but the new MacBook Air – the one that’s finally really worth buying – was only released near the end of March.
unique link to this extract

Samsung Galaxy S20 sales fall behind its predecessor amid pandemic • SamMobile

“Asif S”:


The Galaxy S20 series was unveiled in February and the devices went on sale in most of the markets by the end of March 2020. However, the latest flagship smartphone series from Samsung didn’t meet the company’s own sales expectations. Apparently, it couldn’t even reach the sales of its predecessor in the Korean firm’s home market.

According to a new report from Yonhap News, sales of the Galaxy S20 series are hovering below the sales of the Galaxy S10 series. The main reason behind disappointing sales is said to be a lower demand for consumer products amid the COVID-19 pandemic. South Korean mobile carriers claim that the cumulative sales of the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+, and the Galaxy S20 Ultra are just 60% of the sales of the Galaxy S10 series.

Samsung has not been reporting official sales numbers for the Galaxy S20 series, but it claimed that sales of its latest flagship smartphone series were around 80% of the Galaxy S10 sales.


Not surprising. Forecasts for the year for smartphone totals are down 30%; I suspect that will get revised further down.
unique link to this extract

Finally we may have a path to the fundamental theory of physics… and it’s beautiful • Stephen Wolfram Writings

Stephen Wolfram (he’s the big ideas brother):


I’m thrilled to say that I think we’ve found a path to the fundamental theory of physics. We’ve built a paradigm and a framework (and, yes, we’ve built lots of good, practical, computational tools too). But now we need to finish the job. We need to work through a lot of complicated computation, mathematics and physics. And see if we can finally deliver the answer to how our universe fundamentally works.

It’s an exciting moment, and I want to share it. I’m looking forward to being deeply involved. But this isn’t just a project for me or our small team. This is a project for the world. It’s going to be a great achievement when it’s done. And I’d like to see it shared as widely as possible. Yes, a lot of what has to be done requires top-of-the-line physics and math knowledge. But I want to expose everything as broadly as possible, so everyone can be involved in—and I hope inspired by—what I think is going to be a great and historic intellectual adventure.

Today we’re officially launching our Physics Project. From here on, we’ll be livestreaming what we’re doing—sharing whatever we discover in real time with the world. (We’ll also soon be releasing more than 400 hours of video that we’ve already accumulated.) I’m posting all my working materials going back to the 1990s, and we’re releasing all our software tools. We’ll be putting out bulletins about progress, and there’ll be educational programs around the project.

Oh, yes, and we’re putting up a Registry of Notable Universes. It’s already populated with nearly a thousand rules. I don’t think any of the ones in there yet are our own universe—though I’m not completely sure.


I can never decide if he sounds like the mad villain who presses the button that shrinks the Earth to the size of a golfball, or the brilliant scientist who saves the planet from the aliens/asteroid by figuring out the equation just in time. This sounds wild, bizarre, yet possible. But it needs to come up with some testable theories.
unique link to this extract

Another disaster is ready to catch the US unprepared: drought • Ars Technica

Cathleen O’Grady:


The [American] southwest has experienced an abnormally dry period that started back in 2000—an emerging “megadrought” that is due partly to natural climate cycles and partly to anthropogenic climate change. Higher temperatures “increase moisture demand from the land surface,” writes climate risk researcher Toby Ault in a second Science paper on drought this week, “for the same reason that a sauna will dry out a towel faster than a steam room.” Climate driven changes in the patterns of snow and rainfall can also contribute to drought.

As a result of lower levels in rivers and reservoirs, people have been tapping deeper and deeper wells to access steadily depleting groundwater resources, which are often poor quality—or even unusable—at greater depths.

On top of this, water infrastructure is frequently poor to begin with—and often deteriorating. Drought emergencies are declared regularly in the US, Mullin writes, with water systems sometimes running so dry that it’s “necessary to turn to tanker trucks or even fire hoses to bring water into the community for weeks or months.”

This means that drought is more than a natural disaster in the making: like the coronavirus outbreak raging through the US, it’s a disaster that’s natural in origin but magnified by poor infrastructure and societal fragmentation.


Isn’t going to get fixed just now, though, is it. Who’s going to give it the necessary urgency? What has to happen to give it the correct priority?
unique link to this extract

Zoom’s security woes were no secret to business partners like Dropbox • The New York Times

Natasha Singer and Nicole Perlroth:


Zoom’s defenders, including big-name Silicon Valley venture capitalists, say the onslaught of criticism is unfair. They argue that Zoom, originally designed for businesses, could not have anticipated a pandemic that would send legions of consumers flocking to its service in the span of a few weeks and using it for purposes — like elementary school classes and family celebrations — for which it was never intended.

“I don’t think a lot of these things were predictable,” said Alex Stamos, a former chief security officer at Facebook who recently signed on as a security adviser to Zoom. “It’s like everyone decided to drive their cars on water.”

The former Dropbox engineers, however, say Zoom’s current woes can be traced back two years or more, and they argue that the company’s failure to overhaul its security practices back then put its business clients at risk.

Dropbox grew so concerned that vulnerabilities in the videoconferencing system might compromise its own corporate security that the file-hosting giant took on the unusual step of policing Zoom’s security practices itself, according to the former engineers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss their work.

As part of a novel security assessment program for its vendors and partners, Dropbox in 2018 began privately offering rewards to top hackers to find holes in Zoom’s software code and that of a few other companies. The former Dropbox engineers said they were stunned by the volume and severity of the security flaws that hackers discovered in Zoom’s code — and troubled by Zoom’s slowness in fixing them.


Zoom went public in April 2019. This is a deep, cultural problem. (But it is wonderfully easy to use.)
unique link to this extract

We are probably only a tenth of the way through the pandemic • NY Mag

David Wallace-Wells:


Here are the timelines for each of the three. The most optimistic projection for vaccines is that they begin to be available this fall; other reputable estimates suggest between one and two years from now. A two-year development cycle would be unprecedented speed for any vaccine, and, while scientists are quite optimistic, no vaccine has ever been developed for a coronavirus before; onto each timeline you’d have to add some amount of time for rollout and administration.

The treatment picture is murkier, but the drugs being tested today are repurposed ones, not designed to combat COVID-19 but deployed on the chance they might help. One in particular, remdesivir, is showing some real promise, but in general it is hard to bet confidently on repurposed drugs to be miracle cures of the kind that dramatically change the clinical shape of the disease and its treatment. Serological treatments offer some promise, but testing is only in the earliest stages. And the drugs likely to really “cure” the disease are just notions in a lab, at this point.

That leaves herd immunity. Epidemiologists tell us it requires between 60% to 80% of the population to have antibodies. At the moment, though, lack of testing means we don’t have a clear picture of the spread of the disease; a generous rough estimate for how many Americans have been exposed is 5%.


Sorry about that. So we could be into 2022 before life returns to “normal”.
unique link to this extract

Republicans attack Facebook as network shuts down anti-lockdown protests • POLITICO

Steven Overly:


Facebook is blocking anti-quarantine protesters from using the site to organize in-person gatherings that violate states’ stay-at-home orders — a move that had brought an immediate backlash from conservatives including President Donald Trump’s eldest son.

The world’s largest social network has removed protest messages in California, New Jersey and Nebraska from its site, a company spokesperson said Monday, after days of rallies across state capitals where protesters — many carrying pro-Trump signs — called for an end to the health restrictions.

The spokesperson said Facebook had been instructed by those state governments that the events are prohibited under the lockdown and social distancing orders that authorities have issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We reached out to state officials to understand the scope of their orders, not about removing specific protests on Facebook,” a company spokesperson said. “We remove the posts when gatherings do not follow the health parameters established by the government and are therefore unlawful.”

The statement followed confusion over whether states had instructed Facebook to remove the protests from its platform. Earlier Monday, a spokesperson said that “events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook” and had been removed following guidance from individual states.


Lovely how the red meat dolts can’t figure out whether Facebook is their friend or not.
unique link to this extract

Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro review: the best way to turn an iPad into a laptop • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


Trackpad support on iPadOS is great, by the way. The cursor is a little dot most of the time, but it quickly changes to a traditional text cursor when appropriate. It also expands out to become the size of UI elements like buttons or icons, sort of snapping to them when you get close. That sounds annoying (and you can turn it off), but I quickly came to love it.

Beyond clicking, scrolling, and highlighting text, you can use the trackpad for navigating the system. You use three fingers to swipe up to home and multitasking — or left and right to switch between recent apps.

The only place where it feels a bit off is when you drag the cursor to the edge of the screen. You kind of drag “beyond” that edge to slide in various things like the dock, Notification Center, Control Center, or your Slide Over apps. You get used to it, but it’s the one time when the stuff on-screen moves in the opposite direction of your fingers.

Now, trackpad support on iPadOS and within Apple’s apps is great, but trackpad support on a bunch of third-party apps is absolutely not. Any app that doesn’t use Apple’s standard APIs for creating buttons or text views feels off-kilter with the trackpad. Stuff you can swipe with your finger can’t be swiped with the trackpad, text selection can be a fiasco, and the cursor doesn’t always do its neat shape-shifting tricks. Google’s apps are particularly guilty here, but they’re far from the only ones.


Google is never very interested in giving people a great experience on the iPad. Bohn’s review covers a lot of ground. Clearly this is a quite heavy thing (25% heavier than the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard, which I use all the time) but the “floating” screen is alluring. And being able to navigate more easily around spreadsheets and big chunks of text is attractive. You can watch his YouTube review – takes about eight minutes – or read the review: they’re the same content, in effect.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1290: how the UK missed on coronavirus, Raspberry Pi sales rocket, the coming fraud crisis, Icann delays .org sale again, and more

Apparently storytelling like this is the clue to YouTube success. Intrigued yet? CC-licensed photo by David Leo Veksler 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. Testing 1-2-3. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Coronavirus: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster • The Sunday Times

Jonathan Calvert, George Arbuthnott and Jonathan Leake:


[On January 25] there was now little doubt that the UK would be hit by the virus. A study by Southampton University has shown that 190,000 people flew into the UK from Wuhan and other high-risk Chinese cities between January and March. The researchers estimated that up to 1,900 of these passengers would have been infected with the coronavirus — almost guaranteeing the UK would become a centre of the subsequent pandemic.

Sure enough, five days later, on Wednesday January 29, the first coronavirus cases on British soil were found when two Chinese nationals from the same family fell ill at a hotel in York. The next day the government raised the threat level from low to moderate…

…Several emergency planners and scientists said that the plans to protect the UK in a pandemic had once been a priority and had been well funded for the decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But then austerity cuts struck. “We were the envy of the world,” the source said, “but pandemic planning became a casualty of the austerity years, when there were more pressing needs.”

The last rehearsal for a pandemic was a 2016 exercise codenamed Cygnus, which predicted the health service would collapse and highlighted a long list of shortcomings — including, presciently, a lack of PPE and intensive care ventilators…

…the government had much catching-up to do as it became clear that this “nightmare” was turning into a distinct possibility in February. But the source said there was still little urgency. “Almost every plan we had was not activated in February. Almost every government department has failed to properly implement their own pandemic plans,” the source said.

One deviation from the plan, for example, was a failure to give an early warning to firms that there might be a lockdown so they could start contingency planning. “There was a duty to get them to start thinking about their cashflow and their business continuity arrangements,” the source said.

A central part of any pandemic plan is to identify anyone who becomes ill, vigorously pursue all their recent contacts and put them into quarantine. That involves testing, and the UK seemed to be ahead of the game. In early February Hancock proudly told the Commons the UK was one of the first countries to develop a new test for the coronavirus. “Testing worldwide is being done on equipment designed in Oxford,” he said.


Hubris from start to finish.
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus broke the global food supply chain. It may never recover • WIRED UK

Chris Stokel-Walker:


At the minute, the [UK fruit-picking] industry has enough workers for the crops it’s harvesting. But industry estimates reckon another 15,000 will be needed in fields in May to harvest everything in time. Currently, Boparan thinks the industry will make it, but is clear: “The pressure is on for everybody in the sector.” Otherwise summer fruits and vegetables won’t get harvested, and won’t end up on our supermarket shelves.

Defra, the government’s environment department, was partly prepared for a shortage of workers from the European Union: they expected travel to be limited for casual workers, but not due to a pandemic. Instead, they had modelled the impact of Brexit. As a result, a small pilot scheme has allowed those in the industry to fly in labour from outside the EU, but it’s likely that will need to be augmented by homegrown workers – at least temporarily.

Other sectors are feeling the pinch acutely. McDonald’s, which closed all its 1,270 UK restaurants last month as the coronavirus hit hard, sources food from 23,000 farmers across the UK and Ireland, spending more than £600 million on meat and dairy products – as well as eggs and potatoes. The National Beef Association said that beef that would have made its way into burgers was being redirected to other points in the food chain, but that’s easier said than done, reckons Elliott.

“People will say if they’re producing the same amount of food they should switch to the retail sector,” he says. But it’s not that simple, because retailers have long standing contracts with suppliers that are difficult to attain, and packaging requirements – and even the kinds of cuts needed – are different between the restaurant and food sector and home cooking. “You might not have the right equipment to produce the right cuts, or the correct packaging equipment,” says Elliott.

Producers, processors and packers are stuck in an awkward catch-22: rip up the rules of how their businesses work to adapt to the new norm – with the knowledge that the total lockdown could change in a matter of weeks or months and leave them scrambling to readjust to their traditional supply chain – or simply wait it out.


unique link to this extract

Who is MrBeast? • Blake Robbins’ Newsletter

Blake Robbins:


There is no YouTube creator in the world is growing as fast as MrBeast. He is averaging 1.5M new subscribers every single month with over 250M views per month.

So how does he do it?

It is widely speculated that YouTube’s algorithm prioritizes and rewards videos based on total watch time. This means that videos that are watched all the way through will algorithmically be promoted to others via the “recommended” panel of YouTube.

MrBeast has mastered this. Almost all of his video concepts are centered around watching to the end of the video. One of my favorite YouTube channels, Colin and Samir, has coined this as “Jenga Storytelling.”

Jenga Storytelling is where you already know the end result, but the stakes of the video continue to increase as view duration increases. This format encourages viewers to watch the entire video, resulting in higher placement on “recommended.” Logan Paul has also referenced “Jenga Storytelling” before. On his podcast, Impaulsive, he said: “The person who can crack the code of the Jenga Format for YouTube will win. Hands down, they will take over.”

MrBeast has cracked this code. However, he continues to take it to another level by raising the stakes.

MrBeast actually gave us a glimpse into his creative process when he spoke to Casey Neistat last year: “If the average YouTuber spends 1-hour brainstorming video ideas and 5 hours filming, then I want to spend 10 hours brainstorming video ideas and days filming.”

At the end of 2019, MrBeast hosted his biggest challenge to date, where he gave away $1,000,000. He created five different “last to leave” challenges where the contestants were fans who had bought his merchandise and/or followed him on Instagram.


OK but.. you can just skip to the end, right? One of his videos is a variant of “grab the truck”, where the last of he and his friends to have their hand on a Lamborghini gets to keep it. If it lasts X minutes, why not just zzzzzzzip right to the, so to speak, money shot?
unique link to this extract

Raspberry Pi sales are rocketing in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak • TechRepublic

Owen Hughes:


Sales of Raspberry Pi’s single-board computers hit 640,000 in March, the second-biggest month for sales since they started selling, as consumers flocked to inexpensive ways to work and learn from home. 

While some sales can be attributed to tinkering Pi-hobbyists with a lot more time to fill all of sudden, Eben Upton, the Raspberry Pi’s co-creator, told TechRepublic demand is also coming from households that have found themselves in daily battles over use of the family computer.

“It used to be sustainable to have a shared family computer, but now every family member needs to have one to work or learn,” said Upton. “Now, everyone is at home competing for the use of one computer.”

While sales of Raspberry Pi picked up steadily over the course of March, the latter end of the month is where things really gathered steam, with Upton describing the increase in demand as “turning the dial up from three to 10”, with industrial sales staying very stable and Raspberry Pi 4 volumes ramping up very quickly.

“I think what this is telling us is that we’re seeing genuine consumer use of the product. It’s not like your desktop PC – you’re not going to be able play Crysis on it – but if you want a machine you can use to edit documents, use the web, use Gmail and Office 365 and all the baseline use cases of a general purpose computer, the Raspberry Pi 4 is a product we’ve made to get over that bar.”


Except… you’re going to have to run a Linux distro, and are there really many office workers who are going to feel comfortable running Office 365 on top of a Linux distro? Is Zoom available for Linux? I suspect this is parents buying a “computer” for their kids as they go into lockdown, to keep them amused, or at least distracted. Know what you can run pretty easily on a RasPi? Minecraft. (Though the story does also point out that there are uses relating to ventilators.)
unique link to this extract

How Covid-19 changed our world: futurist Gerd Leonhard looks back from late 2020 • Medium

Futurist Gerd Leonhard, looking back from some time a few months ahead:


In late 2020 it is clear that Covid-19 has caused a massive global reset, in every aspect i.e. economically, socially, politically, environmentally and scientifically. Indeed, the impact of this crisis can now be compared to that of the Great Depression, or even WorldWar II. A global recession is in full swing, and it looks it will cut even deeper in 2021.

Global GDP growth was unimaginably negative for 2020 (for a still optimistic March 2020 forecast go here). The US fared the worst, while China jockeyed to reposition itself for a new world order. BUT: 2020 was the first year in modern history where global CO2 emissions have declined.

Yet despite the economic woes there is also hope, now, fuelled by the sudden realisation that this crisis is likely to put an end to the industrial-era paradigm of ‘growth at all cost’ and the ill-fated doctrine of ‘making any single country great-again’. In late 2020, we were finally forced (liberated?) to rethink our traditional economic logic, and question our political assumptions. After Covid-19 (phase1), we entered a new ‘post-growth’ era, and now we are gearing up to rewrite the rules of capitalism.

What Al Gore called “sustainable capitalism” in 2012 is finally back on the agenda, and so is what I call the quadruple bottom-line: People Planet Purpose and Prosperity (some of my videos on that topic are here).

We are experiencing a global shift in consciousness as a result of this crisis.


And you must read what he thinks the US is going to go through.

unique link to this extract

Who’s lost their trunks? The economic crisis will expose a decade’s worth of corporate fraud • The Economist

The Economist, echoing Warren Buffett’s points that it’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who was swimming naked, says that now “the water has whooshed away at record speed”:


The average number of non-GAAP measures used in filings by companies in the S+P 500 index has increased from 2.5 to 7.5 in the past 20 years, according to PWC, a consultancy. In credit agreements analysed by Zion Research Group, the definition of EBIDTA ranges from 75 words to over 2,200. GAAP is far from perfect, but some of the divergence from it has clearly been designed to pull wool over investors’ eyes. One study found that non-GAAP profits were, on average, 15% higher than GAAP profits.

Playing around with earnings and revenue-recognition metrics is this generation’s equivalent of dotcoms using bots and other tricks to boost “eyeballs” 20 years ago, says Jules Kroll of K2 Intelligence, the doyen of corporate sleuths. “When an area is hot to the point of overheated, there is a growing temptation to juice the numbers.” In an ominous sign, SoftBank, a Japanese technology conglomerate which bet big on WeWork and dozens of other startups, said this week that it expects an operating loss of ¥1.4trn ($12.5bn) in its last fiscal year.

Besides exposing old schemes, the pandemic is likely to give rise to new ones. When economic survival is threatened, the line separating what is acceptable and unacceptable when booking revenues or making market disclosures can be blurred. Mr Kroll reckons that “amid such massive dislocation, some will inevitably cheat.”

Bruce Dorris, head of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the world’s largest anti-fraud outfit, says the effects of Covid-19 look like “a perfect storm for fraud”. It may engender everything from iffy accounting to stimulus-linked scams as thousands of firms—including bogus applicants—hustle for help. One fraud investigator points to private-equity-owned firms as potential targets. “There are lots of them, they are highly leveraged and they may not qualify for bail-outs because they have deep-pocketed sponsors,” he says. That increases the temptation to resort to unseemly practices.


GAAP (General Accepted Accounting Principles) makes the stock options that tech companies’ adore look expensive; they’re a huge drag on profits. The next nine months are going to expose a lot of bad, but also good, companies.
unique link to this extract

ICANN delays .org sale again after scathing letter from California AG • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


California’s attorney general pointed to several specific concerns about the transaction. One was the shadowy nature of the proposed buyer, Ethos Capital. “Little is known about Ethos Capital and its multiple proposed subsidiaries,” Becerra writes. Ethos Capital, he said, has “refused to produce responses to many critical questions posted by the public and Internet community.”

Ethos Capital’s plan is to buy the Public Interest Registry (PIR) from its current parent organization, the nonprofit Internet Society. To help finance the sale, Ethos will saddle PIR with $300m in debt—a common tactic in the world of leveraged buyouts. Becerra warns that this tactic could endanger the financial viability of the PIR—especially in light of the economic uncertainty created by the coronavirus.

“If the sale goes through and PIR’s business model fails to meet expectations, it may have to make significant cuts in operations,” Becerra warns. “Such cuts would undoubtedly affect the stability of the .org registry.”

Becerra also blasts the Internet Society for considering the sale in the first place. “ISOC purports to support the Internet, yet its actions, from the secretive nature of the transaction, to actively seeking to transfer the .org registry to an unknown entity, are contrary to its mission and potentially disruptive to the same system it claims to champion and support,” he writes.

Becerra ends his letter with a warning: “This office will continue to evaluate this matter, and will take whatever action necessary to protect Californians and the nonprofit community.”


It’s astonishing that after so many years of seeing private equity buy companies, saddle them with debt that drags them down into bankruptcy while extracting fees that increase the pain, that anyone ever contemplates such a sale. Greed is a remarkable driver.
unique link to this extract

Goldman predicts 36% drop in iPhone shipment, says time to sell Apple shares • Reuters

Munsuf Vengattil and Lewis Krauskopf:


Goldman Sachs said on Friday it expects iPhone shipment to drop 36% during the current quarter due to coronavirus-related lockdowns around the world and downgraded Apple Inc stock to “sell”.

Apple shares fell 1.6% to $282.13 on Friday morning, bucking a 1.5% rise for the benchmark S&P 500.

The Goldman analysts also lowered their price target for the stock by 7% to $233 in its report forecasting the drop in iPhone demand for the quarter ending in June, Apple’s fiscal third quarter.

The brokerage noted that average selling prices for consumer devices are likely to decline during a recession and remain weak well beyond the point when units recover.

“We do not assume that this downturn results in Apple losing users from its installed base. We simply assume that existing users will keep devices longer and choose less expensive Apple options when they do buy a new device,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note.

Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia, which holds Apple shares, said he expects a significant drop in iPhone sales, but 36% seemed “extreme.”

“I view some of that as deferred demand…I think some of that will come back in succeeding quarters,” Tuz said.

…Goldman said it does not expect the company to launch the upcoming iPhone models until early November, as limited global travel could impede Apple’s final engineering and production process.


Phones are becoming both more essential, and yet we’re going to have less cash available to buy them. There’s a squeeze coming on the premium market in particular, though Apple is probably safe with its (profitable) Services business. Could gut the premium Android market, though. (But of course that means Apple is doomed and you must sell its shares, only to buy them back later, for a fee. Got to keep those stockbrokers’ yachts clean!)
unique link to this extract

Clubhouse voice chat leads a wave of spontaneous social apps • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:


Forget the calendar invite. Just jump into a conversation. That’s the idea powering a fresh batch of social startups poised to take advantage of our cleared schedules amidst quarantine. But they could also change the way we work and socialize long after COVID-19 by bringing the free-flowing, ad-hoc communication of parties and open office plans online. While “Live” has become synonymous with performative streaming, these new apps instead spread the limelight across several users as well as the task, game, or discussion at hand.

The most buzzy of these startups is Clubhouse, an audio-based social network where people can spontaneously jump into voice chat rooms together. You see the unlabeled rooms of all the people you follow, and you can join to talk or just listen along, milling around to find what interests you. High-energy rooms attract crowds while slower ones see participants slip out to join other chat circles.

Clubhouse blew up this weekend on VC Twitter as people scrambled for exclusive invites, humblebragged about their membership, or made fun of everyone’s FOMO. For now, there’s no public app or access. The name Clubhouse perfectly captures how people long to be part of the in-crowd.


This app, Zoom, HouseParty – there are going to be fortunes made in this strange lacuna. Who can catch the mood best will triumph. Google did much the same in the dot-com bust: it was in the right place, doing just the right job.
unique link to this extract

Capitalists or cronyists? • No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway is, not to put too fine a point on it, very much in favour of not bailing out certain companies:


As long as they keep making old people, and younger people want to take their kids to Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge, there will be cruise lines and airlines. Since 2000, US airlines have declared bankruptcy 66 times. Despite the obvious vulnerability of the sector, boards/CEOs of the six largest airlines have spent 96% of their free cash flow on share buybacks, bolstering the share price and compensation of management … who now want a bailout. They should be allowed to fail. Bondholders will own the firms. Ships and planes will continue to float and fly, and there will still be a steel tube with recirculated air waiting for you post molestation by Roy from TSA.

Trump/CNBC have adopted a narrative that this is about protecting the most vulnerable. No, it’s about buttressing the most wealthy. Pandemics typically result in higher wages over the next several decades as we recognize that essential workers (the gal/guy delivering your Greek yogurt and placing your Indian food in the backseat of your car) should be paid more. A good thing.

Letting firms fail, and share prices fall to their market level, also provides younger generations with the same opportunities we, Gen X and boomers, were given: a chance to buy Amazon at 50x (vs. 100x) earnings and Brooklyn real estate at $300 (vs. $1,000) per sq. ft. Just as we pretend our service men and women are heroes, and then treat them like chumps, CNBC advertisers and Peter Navarro want to pretend they give a sh*t about younger generations so they can protect the wealth of old people and management/advertisers. Enough already.


Galloway isn’t some frustrated communist, either: he got rich (or near enough) with his own company which started back in the 1990s. It didn’t get bailed out in the dot-com crash or the Great Recession.
unique link to this extract

Carnival executives knew they had a virus problem, but kept the party going • Bloomberg

Austin Carr and Chris Palmeri:


Even after Carnival became aware of the potential coronavirus case, passengers say staff tried to keep the fun going. Guests continued eating and drinking at buffets and bars, hanging out in saunas, and attending shows, including an operatic performance called Bravo. Carnival distributed itineraries (known as “Princess Patter”) guiding guests to trivia contests and other group activities on Feb. 3. “They were encouraging us to mingle,” says Gay Courter, who, after getting her temperature taken by a Japanese official the next day, went for a walk on deck and saw tables of as many as 30 people playing mahjong. A Carnival spokesman says the staff discontinued “most” scheduled activities on Feb. 4, though Japanese officials didn’t institute a shipwide quarantine requiring passengers to stay in their cabins until Feb. 5.
The president of Carnival’s Princess Cruises division, Jan Swartz, says the company was deferring to Japanese health officials. She says the crew followed government guidelines, delivering the passengers food and prescription refills as the quarantine at Yokohama’s port wore on. Carnival CEO Donald says he was aware of the situation but didn’t personally take control of the response efforts until Feb. 5. “We have a nice chain of command,” he says. “As it became a bigger issue, I’m dialing into the situation updates.”
It was an increasingly chaotic period for Carnival. Shortly before the Diamond Princess problem, there had been a coronavirus scare aboard one of its ships near Italy, and a second in mid-February on another Carnival cruise in Asia. (Carnival says these were false alarms.) Countries around the world began refusing to allow the company’s boats to dock, fearing they’d spread the virus, creating novel challenges for Donald and his team. “It wasn’t like there were protocols, and that this was established. You’re at sea, you’re moving people around, and the rules are changing as you go,” he says. He adds that by early March, when the virus hit the Grand Princess, Carnival had systems in place to take better care of its guests. Some Grand Princess passengers had to fill out a questionnaire asking if they’d recently been to China, though there were no questions about whether they had symptoms consistent with Covid-19.


unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1289: Facebook scales down Libra, GoPro slashes workforce, China’s internet cafes stay shut, the coming crash for US state funding, and more

What’s the future for the WHO? Change its funding, or change its structure? CC-licensed photo by UN Geneva 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why the World Health Organization failed • The Atlantic

Zeynep Tufekci:


Trump’s ploy to defund the WHO is a transparent effort to distract from his administration’s failure to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be disastrous too. Many nations, especially poor ones, currently depend on the WHO for medical help and supplies. But it is also true that in the run-up to this pandemic, the WHO failed the world in many ways. However, President Trump’s move is precisely the kind of political bullying that contributed to the WHO’s missteps.

The WHO failed because it is not designed to be independent. Instead, it’s subject to the whims of the nations that fund it and choose its leader. In July 2017, China moved aggressively to elect its current leadership. Instead of fixing any of the problems with the way the WHO operates, Trump seems to merely want the United States to be the bigger bully.

Fixing the WHO is crucial, because we desperately need well-functioning global health institutions. But that requires a correct diagnosis of the problem. There is an alternate timeline in which the leadership of the WHO did its job fully and properly, warning the world in time so that effective policies could be deployed across the planet. Instead, the WHO decided to stick disturbingly close to China’s official positions, including its transparent cover-ups. In place of a pandemic that is bringing global destruction, just maybe we could have had a few tragic local outbreaks that were contained…

…Imagine the WHO took notice of the information it received from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Imagine the WHO also recognized that whistleblower doctors in Wuhan were being threatened with jail time. It would have realized that something important was happening, something worth investigating. It could have immediately, but politely, demanded access to the region around Wuhan and its hospitals.

This alternate timeline does not ignore realpolitik. China is not a nation known for cooperating with international agencies when it doesn’t want to. (This tendency is not specific to China. A U.S. law nicknamed the “Hague Invasion Act” threatens to invade the International Criminal Court in The Hague should any U.S. service member be indicted.) If China refused access, as it likely would have, the expectation isn’t that the WHO officials would just get up and yell “Freedom!” at China’s leadership. But there was a path that would recognize the constraints of international diplomacy, but still put the health of billions above all else.


unique link to this extract

Life hasn’t returned to normal for China’s internet cafes • Abacus

Karen Chiu:


While cybercafes are largely considered a primitive vestige of the early internet age, they have survived in parts of Asia as watering holes for avid gamers. For less than a dollar an hour, patrons can relax on plush chairs while waging battles on League of Legends and drifting race cars on QQ Speed.

With national numbers hovering between 130,000 and 150,000 in recent years, Chinese cybercafes aren’t exactly a booming industry. But they’ve continued to draw gamers looking for a cheap place to hang out and blow off steam. Many say they come for the atmosphere and camaraderie.

“How is playing by yourself at home as comfortable as playing in an internet cafe with friends?” a Zhihu user asked in response to a question about why people would still pay for a seat in front of a computer when most already have a PC at home.

“There’re a lot of people at my house, lots of noise and things going on… And my parents tend to complain a lot when they see me gaming all day long, so I might as well go out and play.”

At a time when social distancing is becoming the new norm, though, gathering places like internet cafes are of particular concern to authorities. In Hubei, whose capital city Wuhan was the center of the coronavirus outbreak, cybercafes are among nine types of indoor facilities that are specifically banned from reopening until the pandemic ends.

In Tianjin, a port city in northeast China, cybercafes are still closed, according to netizens.

“Today is the 84th day of cybercafe closure,” wrote a Weibo user on Wednesday.

“Can Tianjin’s cybercafes ever reopen?” asked another.


Nothing is able to get back to normal.
unique link to this extract

GoPro cuts more than 20% of workforce, changes sales strategy • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


GoPro Inc. said it will cut more than 200 jobs, shift the company’s sales operation to market its digital adventure cameras directly to consumers and withdraw its 2020 financial guidance in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The operational changes, staff reductions of more than 20% and cuts to office space will save $100m in 2020, and reduce expenses next year to $250m, the San Mateo, California-based company said Wednesday in a statement. GoPro said its shift to direct sales will mean a stronger focus on its website. The company said it still will use retail outlets for a small number of regions where such sales are preferred by consumers…

…While withdrawing its forecast, GoPro said its expects to report first-quarter revenue of $119 million and an adjusted loss in the mid-30c a share. The company sold 700,000 cameras in the period, and said the staff and operational changes won’t affect its 2020 product road map, which will include new devices and services.


GoPro was struggling a bit before this. Now it’s trying to market an adventure travel camera in a world where most people can’t travel or, to a large extent, leave their homes.
unique link to this extract

Facebook-backed Libra cryptocurrency project is scaled back • The New York Times

Nathaniel Popper and Mike Isaac:


on Thursday, Facebook and its partners rolled out a less ambitious design for Libra after the effort encountered numerous hurdles and heavy regulatory scrutiny.

No longer is the group focused on making Libra the basis of a new global financial system where Facebook could essentially play the roles of a central bank and Wall Street.

In a sign of the change, the Libra project will now focus on creating a more traditional payment network in which coins will be tied to a local currency, somewhat like the digital dollars in a PayPal account. While Libra will also have a coin backed by multiple national currencies, which was the focus of the initial design documents, that will be less prominent.

Members of the Libra Association, a Swiss-based group that Facebook created to oversee the project, said the shifts were a response to a global outpouring of opposition to the cryptocurrency…

…In a new Libra white paper, the association said it would create multiple coins, each backed by a different national currency, in order to make local commerce easier. A separate coin backed by multiple currencies would be useful for moving money between countries.

The association is also abandoning plans for Libra to take the distinctive open architecture of Bitcoin, one of the best-known cryptocurrencies, which has a so-called permissionless quality that allows anyone to build on it. Such a design had led to widespread concerns that terrorists and others could use Libra for underhanded reasons.

Libra will now be a closed system in which only partners with the approval of the association can build infrastructure, such as wallets, for the coins.


This basically isn’t Libra at all any more – which I’m fine with. In its original form, it could have destabilised the entire global financial system.
unique link to this extract

Facebook will start steering users who interact with coronavirus misinformation to WHO • NBC News

Brandy Zarodny and Ben Collins:


Facebook will begin to alert users after they’ve been exposed to misinformation about the coronavirus, the company announced Thursday, the latest in a series of actions meant to curtail the spread of wrong or misleading claims related to the pandemic.

Users who have liked, commented on or reacted to coronavirus misinformation that has been flagged as “harmful” by Facebook and removed will now be directed to a website debunking coronavirus myths from the World Health Organization.

The announcement came in a blog post written by Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity.

“We want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again off of Facebook,” Rosen wrote.

The new alert will not identify the specific post containing harmful misinformation, according to a Facebook spokesperson, who said the company was relying on research that shows repeated exposure — even in fact checks — can sometimes reinforce misinformed beliefs.


Not identifying the post is tricky, isn’t it. You don’t know what you’ve done wrong, only that it’s something.
unique link to this extract

FT Interview: Emmanuel Macron says it is time to think the unthinkable • Financial Times

Victor Mallet and Roula Khalaf:


There is a realisation, Mr Macron says, that if people could do the unthinkable to their economies to slow a pandemic, they could do the same to arrest catastrophic climate change. People have come to understand “that no one hesitates to make very profound, brutal choices when it’s a matter of saving lives. It’s the same for climate risk,” he says. “Great pandemics of respiratory distress syndromes like those we are living through now used to seem very far away, because they always stopped in Asia. Well, climate risk seems very far away because it affects Africa and the Pacific. But when it reaches you, it’s wake-up time.”

Mr Macron likened the fear of suffocating that comes with Covid-19 to the effects of air pollution. “When we get out of this crisis people will no longer accept breathing dirty air,” he says. “People will say . . . ‘I do not agree with the choices of societies where I’ll breathe such air, where my baby will have bronchitis because of it. And remember you stopped everything for this Covid thing but now you want to make me breathe bad air!’”


unique link to this extract

Why the Apple iPhone SE doesn’t matter • The New York Times

Shira Ovide:


New smartphones have been a tough sell for some time. People in the United States and many other countries are waiting longer to replace their phones — for Americans, it’s more than three years on average.

Pick your favorite explanation for this phenomenon. Many people don’t want to pay the going rate of $1,000 or more for phones with all the bells and whistles. To some people, even the features that are supposed to be exciting feel blah.

The best explanation for the smartphone sales malaise is a simple one: This is what happens when products go from new and novel to normal. Products get more reliable and resilient as they become mass market, and new models don’t feel so different from the old. Apart from the die-hards, most people lose interest in the latest and greatest. The hot new thing feels…fine.

In Brian [Chen’s] assessment of last fall’s iPhone models, he said there was no rush to buy a new phone if your current one is less than a few years old. (Yes, a professional tech reviewer suggested you might NOT need to buy something.)

The shift from wow to shrug happened with cars, personal computers and televisions. More than a decade after modern smartphones hit the market, we’ve lost our zing for those pocket computers, too. Until economic conditions stabilize, our zing will probably be even less zingy than normal.

A smartphone is now a refrigerator. We need it, but we don’t replace our current model when a new ice-making feature comes out. This is not great for companies with shiny new phones to sell. For the rest of us, it’s fine.


Smartphones have been an utter commodity for years. The problem is, there’s nothing to replace them as an object of fascination: AR glasses are years away (perhaps more now than before).
unique link to this extract

Apple is tweaking how MacBooks charge to extend battery lifespan • The Verge

Dieter Bohn and Jacob Kastrenakes:


Apple is introducing a new feature in most modern MacBooks called “Battery health management.” It’s going to be available today for developers and will roll into the future macOS Catalina 10.15.5 update.

On by default, the new feature is intended to extend the overall lifespan of your laptop battery by reducing the rate of chemical aging. It does so by not charging the battery all the way up to the maximum in certain cases. Fully charging a battery puts a strain on it that can more rapidly reduce its longevity over time. Some phones now avoid charging all the way to 100% until just before you wake up for this reason.

What that means for your laptop is that in certain cases, seeing 100% battery life in your menu bar may not necessarily mean it’s the maximum your battery could charge to. Instead of meaning that it’s charged to 100% of what the battery could take, it will now mean it’s charged to 100% of what the battery should take to maximize it’s lifespan.

Apple says that it will of course ensure that it doesn’t have a major impact on battery life, but would not say what percentage a charge may be reduced…

…The feature will apply to any MacBook that supports Thunderbolt 3. That includes any MacBook Pro since 2016 and MacBook Air models since 2018.


Look! Technology!
unique link to this extract

Thread by @ehundman: Recent attempts to blame China for SARS-CoV-2 have argued that it could have been released from a poorly regulated laboratory in Wuhan • Threadreader App

Eric Hundman is an assistant professor at the NY University in Shanghai:


The “in-lab evolution” argument is theoretically possible, as the Nature researchers note. But they also note that finding similar coronaviruses in pangolins with “near identical” structural features means SARS-CoV-2 almost certainly evolved in the wild.

They also note “a hypothetical generation of SARS-CoV-2 by cell culture…would have required prior isolation of a progenitor virus with very high genetic similarity, which has not been described.” In other words, some intermediate steps needed to get to cultures are missing.

In summary, the authors conclude that because we can see “all notable SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

There are urgent, legitimate questions about the COVID-19 pandemic’s emergence, including why Beijing withheld genetic data and downplayed the outbreak’s severity for weeks. But available evidence indicates it almost certainly did not emerge due to a laboratory accident.


The whole thread is worth reading (neatly rolled up at that page), but this is the meat. If you ever need a Twitter thread put into one place, by the way, reply to any tweet in the thread with “unroll”, and it will reply with a link to the whole thread in one place.
unique link to this extract

The record drop in retail sales will butcher state and local government budgets • Poynter

Al Tompkins:


The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that local governments throughout the entire region are “staring at sizeable budget deficits.” In California, Proposition 13, which passed in 1978, severely restricts how much local governments can take in from property taxes, so sales taxes became much more important. Mass transit systems in the area, for instance, depend on a half-cent sales tax.

Look at what is unfolding in Haywood County, North Carolina, which has far fewer options to pay for local government services. The county is trying to plan a 2020-2021 budget to begin July 1. Any drop in tourism means sales taxes dry up, too. Some of the communities in that county say they anticipate a tougher economy than they saw even in the 2008-2009 recession.

If there is a worse bet than placing your future on sales tax revenue, it is those states that counted on $50+ per barrel oil prices. The New York Times reported:


Some of the most drastic tax revenue losses have occurred in states like Texas, Oklahoma, Alaska and Louisiana, which rely heavily on taxing oil and gas. Oklahoma based its initial budget projections on $55-a-barrel oil; lately, the price has been less than half that. The Texas Taxpayers and Research Association estimates that for every dollar decline in the price of oil, the state loses $85 million in revenue.

“The things we thought would keep us from hitting the edge of the fiscal cliff — oil prices rebounding, production coming up dramatically — those prospects look awfully dim right now,” Pat Pitney, the Alaska Legislature’s chief budget analyst, who was budget director to former Gov. Bill Walker, recently told the Alaska Public Media news site. “None of us knows the future. But the signs are way less optimistic than they were just a few short months ago.”



Once again, the second-order effects – besides the “business is dead” – are going to echo for years.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified