Start Up No.1302: AirBnB cuts 1,900 jobs, reviving a Mac app, how long do people use Windows?, Love Bug creator speaks 20 years on, and more


In 1863 scientists seriously debated whether the Sun was fuelled by this stuff. (Because if not, then what?) CC-licensed photo by sarahluv on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Not included today: links to two preprints (ie not peer reviewed) about coronavirus mutations: one saying there’s a mutation making it more dangerous, another saying there’s a mutation making it less dangerous. Give it a few days, let’s see how it shakes out.

I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Love Bug virus creator comes clean • Medium

Geoff White:

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His face has filled over two decades, but some distinctive facial features convinced me it was him, even before he began describing the virus and his part in its creation and spread.

[Onel] De Guzman speaks in broken English, and claims his lawyer told him to pretend not to speak the language in the press conference in 2000. He claims the “Love Bug” was a revamped version of an earlier virus he had created in order to steal passwords. In the era of dial-up Internet, such passwords were needed to get online, and de Guzman says he could not afford access himself.

He claims he initially sent the virus only to Filipino victims with whom he communicated in chatrooms, because he only wanted to steal Internet access passwords that would work in his local area.

However, in spring of 2000 he tweaked the code. He added an auto-spreading feature that would send copies of the virus to victims’ Outlook contacts, using a flaw he says was present in Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system. He also created a title for the email attachment that would have global appeal, tempting people across the world to open it.

“I figured out that many people want a boyfriend, they want each other, they want love, so I called it that,” he said.

De Guzman claims he sent the virus initially to someone in Singapore, and then went out drinking with a friend. The first he knew of the global chaos he had unleashed was when his mother told him police were hunting a hacker in Manila.

His mother hid his computer equipment, but left the diskettes containing de Guzman’s classmates’ names, including Michael Buen. De Guzman insists Buen had nothing to do with the “Love Bug” and that he was its sole creator.

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Twenty years ago this week. The Independent, where I was, used Apple Macs in the newsroom, so the worm (strictly) had no effect. I got to read the code briefly before IT deleted it off the entire system because it had hosed the advertising department, which used Windows PCs.
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Airbnb to lay off nearly 1,900 people, 25% of company • CNBC

Deirdre Bosa and Salvador Rodriguez:

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“We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill,” Chesky told employees in a note. “Airbnb’s business has been hit hard, with revenue this year forecasted to be less than half of what we earned in 2019.”

Prior to the layoffs, Airbnb had 7,500 employees, Chesky said. Airbnb will halt projects related to hotels, a transportation division and luxury stays, Chesky said.

“Travel in this new world will look different, and we need to evolve Airbnb accordingly,” he said. 

US employees laid off will receive 14 weeks of base pay plus an additional week for every year they worked at Airbnb, Chesky said. Airbnb will also provide 12 months of healthcare for laid off US employees, Chesky said. May 11 will be the last work day for impacted Airbnb employees in the US and Canada, Chesky said. 

“I have a deep feeling of love for all of you,” Chesky said. “Our mission is not merely about travel. When we started Airbnb, our original tagline was, ‘Travel like a human.’ The human part was always more important than the travel part. What we are about is belonging, and at the center of belonging is love.”

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By American standards, that’s an incredibly generous severance package; kudos to Chesky, whose hand has of course been forced by events beyond his control, and beyond most peoples’ imagining a year ago.

Who knows when AirBnB will be able to restart. When would you trust a complete stranger to come into your house? How is a complete stranger going to trust the house that someone else was in? Anyone who hasn’t had Covid-19 probably won’t.
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The race for coronavirus vaccines: a graphical guide • Nature

Ewen Callaway:

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More than 90 vaccines are being developed against SARS-CoV-2 by research teams in companies and universities across the world. Researchers are trialling different technologies, some of which haven’t been used in a licensed vaccine before. At least six groups have already begun injecting formulations into volunteers in safety trials; others have started testing in animals. Nature’s graphical guide explains each vaccine design.

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Terrific graphic (also available as a PDF). Read it and you’ll be able to talk wisely about all the options at, um, those Zoom parties.
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Reviving a 16-year old Mac App • Tumult Company Blog

Jonathan Deutsch:

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Today we released Whisk 2.0: a lightweight web page editor with a live preview that updates as you type. The name may be new, but the Mac app’s origins are in shareware called HyperEdit that I started while in college over 16 years ago. It is hard to believe I’ve worked on an app old enough to get its driver’s license!

I can’t help but reminisce — touching such an old codebase transported me back in time. 2003 saw the release of Apple’ 3rd iPod, Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and the initial launch of Safari. The movies and music of that year were forgettable, and thankfully no Matrix sequels came out.

HyperEdit began its life as I sat in a session at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (aka WWDC) that year. Gramps unveiled the ability to embed Safari’s WebKit engine into any application. Apple’s marketing was in overdrive touting its rendering speed, a major competitive advantage over the incumbent Internet Explorer.

I decided to put their claims to the test by firing up the Xcode 1.0 beta on a commandeered white iBook. I placed a text view next to the Safari WebView to see if it could keep up with my typing. Sure enough, it could! My friends sitting next to me came up with all kinds of other stress tests like trying out JavaScript or embedding images and video files. Not only did it handle these performantly, it became immediately clear this form of editing with a live preview was an awesome way to write web pages…

…From a developer perspective, distributing software [now] is significantly harder. In 2003, you could switch the config to Release, hit build, zip the app, and then put on a web server. In 2020, distributing requires learning the intricacies of certificates, code signing, provisioning profiles, hardening, notarization, .dmg creation, gatekeeper, and paying a $99 per year fee. From a mac technology perspective, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say the amount required to learn to distribute software exceeds the amount I needed to know to write the first beta of HyperEdit! I wonder if it would have gotten off the ground if I started today.

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I played a small part in HyperEdit’s success, writing a piece (as Jonathan notes) in The Independent, where I then worked. It’s great to have Whisk, the revitalised HyperEdit, still going and now 64-bit, and hence compatible with the 10.15 version of what used to be called Mac OS X. But his point about the challenge of releasing software now is quite the reality check.
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Accelerating innovation in Windows 10 to meet customers where they are • Windows Experience Blog

Panos Panay:

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if one thing is clear it is that Windows plays a critical role in helping people navigate the times we are in. Customers are using Windows PCs to stay productive, connect and learn in this time. In fact, over 4 trillion minutes are being spent on Windows 10 a month, a 75% increase year on year.

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Panay also notes in the blogpost that the ” 1 billion Windows 10 monthly active devices” target was hit in March. As Benedict Evans points out in his newsletter, a quick calculation suggests people are spending an average of 4,000 minutes per month on each Windows 10 PC or tablet, or 2h15 per day. And that’s up 75%? That’s only 1h15 per day a year ago.

Assume that 500 million (half) of the users are using them 8hr per day 5 days a week, because they’re sitting in front of them at work: they account for 1.2trn minutes per month.

The remaining 2.8trn minutes is divided among the home users, plus the work users in their non-working hours: it’s about 0.8 hours, or a bit under 50 minutes per day.

All very rough, but it’s in a different league from smartphone use, which is measured in multiple hours per day, perhaps simultaneously with a PC.
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Democrats are using AI to counter Trump’s coronavirus disinformation • The Next Web

Thomas Macaulay:

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An anti-Trump political organization is using AI originally designed to tackle Islamic State propaganda to counter coronavirus disinformation spread by the president.

The system has been repurposed to spot comments from Trump that are about to go viral. It will then identify the most popular counter-narratives, and invite a network of more than 3.4 million influencers “to share these highly visual and emotional narratives from real people in unison and at scale.”

The initiative is being led by Defeat Disinfo, a political action committee (PAC) advised by retired general Stanley McChrystal, who commanded US and NATO forces during the Afghanistan war.

The PAC claims that it won’t use any bots, sock puppets, or false information. Instead, it “will rely on real stories from real people.” However, the group plans to pay influencers to amplify the message — a tactic recently used by Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign.

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Sounds like a fantastic recipe for properly destroying the signal-to-noise ratio on whatever social network you favour. Mute and block buttons to the fore.
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Experts doubt the sun is actually burning coal • Scientific American

From 1863:

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“If the sun were composed of coal, it would last at the present rate only 5,000 years. The sun, in all probability, is not a burning, but an incandescent, body. Its light is rather that of a glowing molten metal than that of a burning furnace. But it is impossible that the sun should constantly be giving out heat, without either losing heat or being supplied with new fuel…”

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Given that the atomic nucleus wasn’t discovered for another 50 years, and the idea of fusion wasn’t proposed until 10 years after that, the estimate that they came up with for the Sun’s lifetime – which is in the longer extract from the article – is impressively good.
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Indycar’s virtual race crashes sparked real-world controversy among drivers • VICE

Rob Zacny:

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Because sim racing does not have the same physical stakes, any driver may feel free to sabotage a sim event at any time. Which means the only way to have a sim series featuring pro drivers is going to be with rules enforcement that bears on drivers’ real-world careers. Otherwise, the future of competitive sim racing will be closer to that of any kind of celebrity competition or all-star event: something where the game fundamentally doesn’t matter to its participants, and which is only notable for the personalities on display.

But even if that’s all Indycar wanted or needed from their iRacing invitational series, the personalities displayed during the Indianapolis event put a terrible face on a racing series that has spent years clawing its way back out of NASCAR’s and F1’s shadows and regaining the elite status it had in the 1990s. The lasting impression of the Indycar iRacing event is one of resentful second-raters whose sense of fair play extends exactly as far as their chances to win. For those within Indycar, it’s raised uncomfortable questions about how well the drivers really know each other and how much they can be trusted. When they’re back at Indy in the real world, what will Pagenaud’s competitors think when they see him up ahead? What will they expect from Ferrucci when he appears in the rearview mirror? The iRacing event was just a game but sports are always just games. It’s the people who are real.

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Different for racing than other sports sims – not that there are many other sports sims that can be used. Chess is about the only sport that’s essentially undisturbed, though even that has continual concerns about contestants using computers.
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Billy Mitchell takes his Donkey Kong high-score cheating case to court • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland on the case that evolved out of events depicted in the fabulous film King Of Kong:

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During Twin Galaxies’ months-long public investigation, Mitchell “had the opportunity to submit evidence in support of his score performances and to engage in the lively public debate about the scores,” Twin Galaxies writes in its motion. “He chose not to do so. Instead of settling his grievance then, he waited until the adjudication process had come to end and brought suit in court to prove the veracity of his Donkey Kong score performances.”

But court proceedings are “not the forum for [Mitchell] to get revenge,” Twin Galaxies argues, claiming that its statements regarding Mitchell were “protected activity” under the First Amendment, and Mitchell’s suit “seeks to chill the expression of free speech.”

To entertain Mitchell’s argument would set a precedent that would let others challenge Twin Galaxies score decisions in court, the site writes. That would lead to an “unnecessary waste of the courts’ precious resources” and also “have the practical effect of discouraging Twin Galaxies and others from debating video game scores in a public forum,” the site argues.

Both sides will have the opportunity to debate these issues on July 6, when a judge is scheduled to hear arguments on Twin Galaxies’ anti-SLAPP motion. Whatever the decision, though, we don’t imagine this will be the last we’ll hear on this matter from Mitchell.

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If you haven’t seen King Of Kong, you should: it’s a brilliant portrait of video games obsession. If you have seen it, watch it again. Not a lot else going on.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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