Start Up No.1309: Call of Duty kicks cheaters with 2FA, Netflix’s timesaver, Apple buys NextVR, comparing apocalypses, Huawei’s new old phones, and more

A DJI Mavic drone – but you won’t find them in its Hong Kong stores. Why aren’t they on show? CC-licensed photo by Aaron Yoo 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.

‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ cheaters are getting owned by 2FA • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Emanuel Maiberg:


If you’ve been getting owned in Call of Duty: Warzone a lot before you even hit the ground and thought it would be more fun to play if you could use cheats to see other players through walls, you’re not alone.

Last month, the developers of the hugely popular game banned more than 70,000 cheaters and promised to combat the game’s cheating problem.

“We are watching. We have zero tolerance for cheaters,” tweeted the official account of Infinity Ward, the game’s developer.

This week, Infinity Ward rolled out a new, basic security feature which appears to have had the added bonus of locking out many cheaters: two-factor authentication. Infinity Ward announced that new Warzone players on PC will have to use SMS to login to the free version of the game, “as another step to provide an additional layer of security for players.”

Infinity Ward and Activision did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but cheaters are currently complaining about the effect this simple move has had on them.

Two-factor authentication is a common and very effective security feature to stop hackers from taking over your email or Facebook accounts. Two-factor, also known as two-step, multi-factor, or 2FA, is a mechanism where a user has to provide another code or number (or even physical token) to login, after providing a password.

But, in this case, it also works as an anti-cheat feature, as it allows Infinity Ward to tie a cellphone number to known cheaters…

…In this case, two-factor authentication functions as just another method to identify a cheater. Since cheaters need to provide a phone number to play Warzone for free now, and since they can’t reuse the same phone number to create infinite accounts, many cheaters are locked out once their number is tied to a banned account.


Difficult and expensive to get another SIM right now, of course. Smart move.
unique link to this extract

Netflix saved its average user from 9.1 days of commercials in 2019 •

Rob Toledo:


Fast facts:

• The average Netflix subscriber spent over two hours a day streaming Netflix content in 2019.
• Network television averages 18 minutes of commercials per hour (and this number continues to increase)
• With no commercials, two hours of Netflix saves users from over 36 minutes of ads daily, or 219 hours of ads a year
• During COVID-19 quarantine, we estimate the average total daily usage of Netflix has gone up at least thirty minutes per user, meaning the service is saving people from an extra nine minutes of ads a day during the pandemic.


Related: people are cord-cutting in the US at a growing rate. Which is going to mean the advert load will go up, driving more people away to streaming services which don’t have adverts – if they can afford them, or get a fast enough connection. American TV networks have abused their viewers for decades by overloading programmes with annoying adverts. Now it’s payback time.
unique link to this extract

Inside Trump’s coronavirus meltdown • Financial Times

Edward Luce:


[On March 6] Trump proclaimed that America was leading the world. South Korea had its first infection on January 20, the same day as America’s first case, and was, he said, calling America for help. “They have a lot of people that are infected; we don’t.” “All I say is, ‘Be calm,’” said the president. “Everyone is relying on us. The world is relying on us.”

He could just as well have said baseball is popular or foreigners love New York. American leadership in any disaster, whether a tsunami or an Ebola outbreak, has been a truism for decades. The US is renowned for helping others in an emergency.

In hindsight, Trump’s claim to global leadership leaps out. History will mark Covid-19 as the first time that ceased to be true. US airlifts have been missing in action. America cannot even supply itself.

South Korea, which has a population density nearly 15 times greater and is next door to China, has lost a total of 259 lives to the disease. There have been days when America has lost 10 times that number. The US death toll is now approaching 90,000.

What has gone wrong? I interviewed dozens of people, including outsiders who Trump consults regularly, former senior advisers, World Health Organization officials, leading scientists and diplomats, and figures inside the White House. Some spoke off the record.

Again and again, the story that emerged is of a president who ignored increasingly urgent intelligence warnings from January, dismisses anyone who claims to know more than him and trusts no one outside a tiny coterie, led by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner – the property developer who Trump has empowered to sideline the best-funded disaster response bureaucracy in the world.

People often observed during Trump’s first three years that he had yet to be tested in a true crisis. Covid-19 is way bigger than that. “Trump’s handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First,” says William Burns, who was the most senior US diplomat, and is now head of the Carnegie Endowment.

“America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America’s influence and reputation will be very hard to undo.”


Thorough and damning.
unique link to this extract

Exclusive: NextVR acquired by Apple (Updated) • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:


It’s no secret that Apple has ambitious plans for augmented reality and a future AR-focused headset. Apple is practically building the platform for its future headset out in the open with ARKit. What’s new is that Apple is believed to be in the process of acquiring a California-based virtual reality company called NextVR, 9to5Mac has learned.

[Update 5/14/2020: now only displays this message: “NextVR is Heading in a New Direction. Thank you to our partners and fans around the world for the role you played in building this awesome platform for sports, music and entertainment experiences in Virtual Reality.”]

NextVR, which is located in Orange County, California, has a decade of experience marrying virtual reality with sports and entertainment. The company currently provides VR experiences for viewing live events with headsets from PlayStation, Oculus, HTC, Microsoft, Lenovo headsets.

The icing on the cake may not be expertise in virtual reality, however, as NextVR also has holds patented technology that upscales video streams. NextVR uses this technology to support high quality video streams of music and sporting events to VR headsets. NextVR holds over 40 technology patents in total.

The company failed to secure a Series C round of funding in early 2019, however, which resulted in a 40% staff reduction at the time. NextVR’s focus on virtual reality was seen as a risk with the rise of augmented reality technology.

NextVR has partnerships in place with the NBA, Fox Sports, Wimbledon, and other live music and sporting event partners.


I can’t figure out what Apple thinks is going to come of this. Is it just a nice-to-have just-in-case? VR just isn’t a market. (Come at me in a year or two if this proves wrong, but I nailed it with Magic Leap, so one out of one, baby.)
unique link to this extract

How apocalyptic is now? • UnHerd

John Gray is a political philosopher, who looks back in the rest of this essay at recent “apocalypses” (the Russian revolution, the Holocaust):


The relevant comparison here is not with previous pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, but instead the more recent impact of terrorism. The numbers killed in terrorist incidents may be small. But the threat is endemic, and the texture of everyday life has altered profoundly. Video cameras and security procedures in public places have become part of the way we live.

Covid-19 may not be an exceptionally lethal pathogen, but it is fearful enough. Soon temperature checks will be ubiquitous and surveillance via mobile phones omnipresent. Social distancing, in one form or another, will be entrenched everywhere beyond the home. The impact on the economy will be immeasurable. Enterprises that adapt quickly will thrive, but sectors that relied on pre-Covid lifestyles — pubs, restaurants, sporting events, discos and airline travel, for example — will shrink or disappear. The old life of carefree human intermingling will fast slip from memory.

Some occupations may gain in power and status. Health and care workers need more than applause for their efforts. Better pay and conditions will be demanded, and may well be achieved. Workers in other low-paid jobs and the gig economy are likely to fare more badly than before.

The impact on the “knowledge classes” will be far-reaching. Higher education operates on a model of student living that social distancing has rendered defunct. Museums, journalism, publishing and the arts all face similar shocks. Automation and artificial intelligence will wipe out swathes of middle class employment. Accelerating a trend that has been underway for decades, the remains of bourgeois life will be swept away.


I think what a lot of these analyses miss is the attitude of the people who’ve had it. Some parts of Spain already have an estimated 11-14% seropositives, compared to less than 2% in others. There will be an urban-rural divide (city dwellers will be more likely to have had it) and a positive-negative divide. And into all that, you have economic turmoil. Quite a time coming.

And everyone worried it was AI coming for their jobs.
unique link to this extract

Why have consumer drones vanished from DJI’s Hong Kong stores? • Abacus

Karen Chiu:


DJI never had a problem filling its Hong Kong stores before. At least, not until last year.

Hong Kong’s drone shortage has persisted since last fall, when the city was rocked by waves of anti-government protests that turned violent at times. Under Hong Kong law, any recreational user can fly a drone no heavier than 7kg (15.4 pounds) without applying for a permit. Yet fans noticed that the newly released Mavic Mini, weighing just half a pound, wasn’t available in the city.

As stocks of older models dwindled, some people reported that they also had trouble buying drone parts from shopping sites in mainland China. Shipping agents warned customers that drones were classified as “sensitive items” that shouldn’t be forwarded from the mainland to Hong Kong.

DJI didn’t respond to our question on whether last year’s protests affected shipping of its drones across the border. Back in November, the company told us the availability of the Mavic Mini would be announced at a later date. But six months later, there’s still no sign of the drone — or the newer Mavic Air 2.

The continuous absence disappoints some local drone enthusiasts.

“I do think it’s a shame that DJI hasn’t been selling new drones,” said Blair Sugarman, who runs the drone photography site Beyond Visuals along with a few enthusiasts. “Not that anyone’s travelling at the moment, but back when people were travelling and they wanted to take drones with them abroad, you couldn’t get hold of one. You’d either have to wait till you get abroad or order it from somewhere else.”


Very strange – surely related to the protests, but hard to figure out why.
unique link to this extract

How Civil didn’t save journalism • Study Hall at Patreon

Allegra Hobbs:


[In summer 2017] fruit juice and vape companies added “blockchain” to their names to capitalize on the trend’s cultural cachet. It was a different time. 

Civil was introduced in 2017 as an innovative force that would similarly use crypto to save journalism. The  company was founded by Matthew Iles, a former marketing executive at a start-up incubator, and funded by blockchain venture studio ConsenSys. Given the climate around crypto technology and the media industry at the time, it made sense. With its blockchain-enabled CMS and custom currency — the CVL token, built on the Ethereum blockchain — Civil promised to rescue the ailing industry from the clutches of Facebook and Google by facilitating crowd-supported newsrooms, placing power in the hands of actual journalists. “With open governance and crypto-economics, we can create a sustainable place for journalism  — even the kind of local, policy, and investigative journalism that has been most eroded,” reads a white paper document that Civil published in October of 2017. 

This was before the digital-subscription boom that has driven the New York Times and Washington Post to new heights, when confidence in digital media was at an ebb. The venture capital-backed models of Vice, BuzzFeed, and Vox Media looked shaky with their need to hit investors’ revenue targets. Meanwhile, publications like DNAinfo and Gawker were being destroyed by the whims of billionaires, their investigations and commentary erased. Maybe the strengths of cryptocurrency — digital permanence, trackability, and payments within closed systems — were exactly what the media industry needed. 


Maybe you can guess that they weren’t. It’s all a stupid intermediary: why not just admit that you’re crowdsourcing some money, and do that?
unique link to this extract

QAnon is more important than you think • The Atlantic

Adrienne LaFrance:


Conspiracy theories are a constant in American history, and it is tempting to dismiss them as inconsequential. But as the 21st century has progressed, such a dismissal has begun to require willful blindness. I was a city-hall reporter for a local investigative-news site called Honolulu Civil Beat in 2011 when Donald Trump was laying the groundwork for a presidential run by publicly questioning whether Barack Obama had been born in Hawaii, as all facts and documents showed. Trump maintained that Obama had really been born in Africa, and therefore wasn’t a natural-born American—making him ineligible for the highest office. I remember the debate in our Honolulu newsroom: Should we even cover this “birther” madness? As it turned out, the allegations, based entirely on lies, captivated enough people to give Trump a launching pad.

Nine years later, as reports of a fearsome new virus suddenly emerged, and with Trump now president, a series of ideas began burbling in the QAnon community: that the coronavirus might not be real; that if it was, it had been created by the “deep state,” the star chamber of government officials and other elite figures who secretly run the world; that the hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of a plot to hurt Trump’s reelection chances; and that media elites were cheering the death toll. Some of these ideas would make their way onto Fox News and into the president’s public utterances. As of late last year, according to The New York Times, Trump had retweeted accounts often focused on conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon, on at least 145 occasions.

…QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end.


Still, it would be worse if they had access to gu– oh.
unique link to this extract

Huawei denies involvement in buggy Linux kernel patch proposal • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


Huawei denied on Monday having any official involvement in an insecure patch submitted to the Linux kernel project over the weekend; patch that introduced a “trivially exploitable” vulnerability.

The buggy patch was submitted to the official Linux kernel project via its mailing list on Sunday. Named HKSP (Huawei Kernel Self Protection), the patch allegedly introduced a series of security-hardening options to the Linux kernel.

Big tech companies that heavily use Linux in their data centers and online services, often submit patches to the Linux kernel. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others have been known to have contributed code.

On Sunday, the HKSP submission sparked interest in the Linux community as could signal Huawei’s wish to possibly contribute to the official kernel. Due to this, the patch came under immediate scrutiny, including from the developers of Grsecurity, a project that provides its own set of security-hardening patches for the Linux kernel.

In a blog post published on the same day, the Grsecurity team said that it discovered that the HKSP patch was introducing a “trivially exploitable” vulnerability in the kernel code — if the patch was to be approved.

Rumors and conspiracy theories almost immediately started online, accusing Huawei of trying to sneakily introduce vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel.


So either Huawei has bad coders, or evil coders. I’ll go with bad coders, but that doesn’t inspire confident either, does it?
unique link to this extract

Huawei’s Google app loophole: just keep re-releasing old devices • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Huawei is doing its best to delay the effects of the export ban, though, and lately, it seems to have come up with a new loophole to keep shipping the Google apps: re-release old smartphones. The way the export ban has worked in practice is that Huawei devices that launched before the export ban (and some that launched even slightly after) can still be sold with Google apps. Devices that launched well after the ban, like the Mate 30 Pro, are stuck without the Google apps. So Huawei’s solution, and its interpretation of the law, is that re-releases of old devices can still ship with Google apps.

So meet the “New Editions” of old Huawei phones. This week, the company announced that the Huawei P30 Pro would be returning as the “Huawei P30 Pro New Edition,” and earlier this year it re-launched the P30 Lite as the “P30 Lite New Edition.” Both of these phones are from March 2019, so they’re well over a year old now, but they both have Google app licenses, so welcome back!

What’s new in a “new edition?” Well, first you get more RAM and storage. The P30 Pro New Edition has a new baseline of 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which is up from the 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on what I guess we’re now going to call the “Old Edition.” There’s also new software: Android 10 with Huawei’s EMUI skin (the old version launched with Android 9). And there’s a new color: silver. The Old Edition of the P30 Pro was a flagship smartphone with flagship smartphone pricing: €999 or $1,125. The New Edition is now a year-old smartphone, and the one confirmed price we have is for the UK, which is £699, or $852.


Makes perfect sense to me – the ones without Google’s suite aren’t selling (and this is the evidence). It can keep releasing old phones with updated internals, though I suspect the cameras won’t be, for quite a while, gently moving downmarket as the rest of the market also goes for economy.
unique link to this extract

Facebook and the folly of self-regulation • WIRED

Siva Vaidhyanathan is the author of Antisocial Media:


In an op-ed in The New York Times, the [Facebook review] board’s new leadership declared: “The oversight board will focus on the most challenging content issues for Facebook, including in areas such as hate speech, harassment, and protecting people’s safety and privacy. It will make final and binding decisions on whether specific content should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook owns).”

Only in the narrowest and most trivial of ways does this board have any such power. The new Facebook review board will have no influence over anything that really matters in the world.

It will hear only individual appeals about specific content that the company has removed from the service—and only a fraction of those appeals. The board can’t say anything about the toxic content that Facebook allows and promotes on the site. It will have no authority over advertising or the massive surveillance that makes Facebook ads so valuable. It won’t curb disinformation campaigns or dangerous conspiracies. It has no influence on the sorts of harassment that regularly occur on Facebook or (Facebook-owned) WhatsApp. It won’t dictate policy for Facebook Groups, where much of the most dangerous content thrives. And most importantly, the board will have no say over how the algorithms work and thus what gets amplified or muffled by the real power of Facebook…

…on Facebook, as in global and ethnic conflict, the environment is tumultuous and changing all the time. Calls for mass violence spring up, seemingly out of nowhere. They take new forms as cultures and conditions shift. Facebook moves fast and breaks things like democracy. This review board is designed to move slowly and preserve things like Facebook.

This review board will provide a creaking, idealistic, simplistic solution to a trivial problem. The stuff that Facebook deletes creates an inconvenience to some people. Facebook makes a lot of mistakes, and dealing with the Facebook bureaucracy is next to impossible. But Facebook is not the whole Internet, let alone the whole information ecosystem. And Facebook is not the only way people communicate and learn things (yet).


unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1308: Facebook’s AI beating hate speech, let’s make words!, Schmidt finally exits Google, media squeeze worsens, and more

Want one? Don’t trust the adverts on Facebook that shouldn’t be there anyway. CC-licensed photo by ~jar{} 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 banned mask ads, but it was still profiting from them • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


George Michailow was browsing Facebook on April 1 when he saw an ad for a forbidden product — a face mask.

Three weeks earlier, Facebook had banned ads for masks, over price gouging and first responder shortages. But when Michailow saw the video ad for the “MediCare Reusable Surgical Mask,” it seemed legit — and he was desperate.

“I’d been asked to get some masks for senior members of my church and I saw an opportunity to get them,” Michailow, the volunteer treasurer of his Virginia Beach church, told BuzzFeed News.

He bought 10 for $227.90.

An hour later, he was shown another Facebook video ad for masks. “They looked like better-quality masks,” he said, so Michailow bought three “AeroShield N95 Masks” for $118.95.

None of the masks, from either order, ever arrived. And contrary to what he thought, he didn’t buy from two separate US companies. Instead, PayPal receipts show the purchases came from the same entity: ZestAds, a company registered in Hong Kong with headquarters in Malaysia.

Founded in 2015, ZestAds sources cheap electronics, clothing, and household products from China to sell around the globe using slick and at times misleading Facebook ads. On its website, ZestAds claims to be one of the top e-commerce companies in Asia.

Since March, the company has made a mockery of Facebook’s ban by running ads that dangerously claimed its masks would “fully protect” from the virus, cited a fake expert, and falsely listed US companies as behind the ads.

Facebook’s inability to enforce its mask ad ban is a symptom of the company’s larger failure to police the scammers and shady e-commerce operators who use its powerful ad targeting tools to rip off people at scale.


unique link to this extract

Facebook’s AI for hate speech improves; how much is unclear • WIRED

Tom Simonite:


In a call with reporters, Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer touted advances in the company’s machine learning technology that parses language. “Our language models have gotten bigger and more accurate and nuanced,” he said. “They’re able to catch things that are less obvious.”

Schroepfer wouldn’t specify how accurate those systems now are, saying only that Facebook tests systems extensively before they are deployed, in part so that they do not incorrectly penalize innocent content.

He cited figures in the new report showing that although users had appealed decisions to take down content for hate speech more often in the most recent quarter—1.3 million times—fewer posts were subsequently restored. Facebook also said Tuesday it had altered its appeals process in late March, reducing the number of appeals logged, because Covid-19 restrictions shut some moderation offices.

Facebook’s figures do not indicate how much hate speech slips through its algorithmic net. The company’s quarterly reports estimate the incidence of some types of content banned under Facebook’s rules, but not hate speech. Tuesday’s release shows violent posts declining since last summer. The hate speech section says Facebook is “still developing a global metric.”

The missing numbers shroud the true size of the social networks’s hate speech problem. Caitlin Carlson, an associate professor at Seattle University, says the 9.6 million posts removed for hate speech look suspiciously small compared with Facebook’s huge network of users, and users’ observations of troubling content. “It’s not hard to find,” Carlson says.

Carlson published results in January from an experiment in which she and a colleague collected more than 300 Facebook posts that appeared to violate the platform’s hate speech rules and reported them via the service’s tools. Only about half of the posts were ultimately removed; the company’s moderators appeared more rigorous in enforcing cases of racial and ethnic slurs than misogyny.


Facebook’s numbers around hate speech (and fake users) are their equivalent of Jeff Bezos’s graphs – never including enough detail to give you a full picture, but always up and to the right.
unique link to this extract

This Word Does Not Exist

Thomas Dimson:


brunery, n.

1. (chiefly in reference to men) frequenting or taking part in large parties

“there can’t be any more brunery in the world”

2. a word that does not exist; it was invented, defined and used by a machine learning algorithm.


The work of Thomas Dimson: you can generate your own word. They’re impressive. I do wonder whether you could use them in a book as a mountweazel (that one’s real, but you’ll have to look it up if you don’t know it).
unique link to this extract

The Republic of Facebook • Just Security

David Kaye is the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, here considering the new Facebook oversight board:


What happens when a government complains about a decision of the board? Who wins that fight?

Further, difficult content problems often take place at local levels, in languages and code that may be impenetrable to those outside. Will the board ever have the bandwidth to address the massive impact Facebook will continue to have in communities worldwide? Will the board, in other words, be more like a Band-Aid on a massive wound than an appellate body to solve the crises of online speech?

And as laudable as Facebook’s effort is, it only solves Facebook’s problems of legitimacy. That is, it could help legitimize Facebook decisions but cannot legitimize content-moderation choices by all platforms. Neither can it legitimize practices that many find objectionable, such as the increased use of automation to make decisions about content. If the board’s decisions are rooted in the kinds of human rights standards that individuals around the world cherish, if they genuinely absorb the input of communities worldwide, Facebook’s legitimacy and influence may rise.

But that could come at an expense that other platforms, or platforms yet to be created, cannot afford. These other platforms, which also have massive impact on public speech, remain outside. Over time, an industry-wide process would build trust in content moderation and push them all toward transparency and respect for the public impact they have. It may even be that the Facebook Oversight Board could expand to take on that kind of industry-wide role. If it provides the possibility for small innovators to join at a lower cost, all the better. If it merely locks in the power of those companies that can afford it, it would be a net loss for innovation.

And even then, will the board – Facebook-only or beyond – be enough for governments and for the public worldwide?


He also has a longer discussion with Mathew Ingram at CJR.
unique link to this extract

Eric Schmidt, who led Google’s transformation into a tech giant, has left the company • CNET

Richard Nieva:


Schmidt’s exit [quietly, in February] marks another stage in Google’s evolution, and comes as Schmidt’s participation in government projects has raised questions about conflicts of interest. Late last year, Page and Brin, who started Google as Stanford University grad students in 1998, handed leadership of Alphabet and its sprawling operations to Sundar Pichai, who had been running the core search business since 2015. David Drummond, the company’s 14-year legal chief, retired in January after scrutiny over past relationships.

As the original management departs, employees and industry observers have questioned whether the world’s largest search engine, with more than 120,000 employees around the globe, can maintain its famously freewheeling culture. In the past three years, tensions between management and employees have mounted over the handling of sexual misconduct allegations directed at top executives, a censored search engine project in China and initiatives around artificial intelligence for the US Department of Defense. 

Schmidt’s role at Google had gradually diminished after he stepped down as CEO in 2011. Still, his ties to the company have spurred blowback as Schmidt increases his work on US military initiatives. He chairs the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory group aimed at bringing new technology to the Pentagon, including advancements in machine learning. He’s also chairman of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which advises Congress on AI for defense. Critics, though, worry Schmidt could unfairly push Google’s financial interests when it comes to his work with the military. 


In other Google news: Google and James Damore, who complained bitterly about its “ideological echo chamber”, have (also quietly) settled their legal fight which had rumbled on since summer 2017. Neither is speaking about it, but if I worked in real estate I’d be wondering if Mr Damore wanted to look around some desirable properties.
unique link to this extract

In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal in U.S. • The New York Times

Brad Plumer:


the coronavirus outbreak is pushing coal producers into their deepest crisis yet.

As factories, retailers, restaurants and office buildings have shut down nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for electricity has fallen sharply. And, because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.

“The outbreak has put all the pressures facing the coal industry on steroids,” said Jim Thompson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.

In just the first four and a half months of this year, America’s fleet of wind turbines, solar panels and hydroelectric dams have produced more electricity than coal on 90 separate days — shattering last year’s record of 38 days for the entire year. On May 1 in Texas, wind power alone supplied nearly three times as much electricity as coal did.

The latest report from the Energy Information Administration estimates that America’s total coal consumption will fall by nearly one-quarter this year, and coal plants are expected to provide just 19% of the nation’s electricity, dropping for the first time below both nuclear power and renewable power, a category that includes wind, solar, hydroelectric dams, geothermal and biomass.


The less of their capacity they use, the more likely they are to shut. And once you close a coal plant, it’s effectively shut forever.
unique link to this extract

Wall Street mines Apple and Google mobility data to spot revival • Bloomberg Quint

Ksenia Galouchko:


To navigate these unprecedented times, market participants are getting creative with how they monitor economic activity.

As some countries relax their lockdowns, investors and strategists are poring over mobility data from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to track the pace of economic recovery and estimate consumer spending across different regions. Such information can provide early clues on which countries will exit the worst recession in decades faster than others, and which will fall behind.

“Covid-19 is like no other shock and so most investors are discounting the traditional indicators,” John Roe, head of multi-asset funds at Legal & General Investment Management, said by email, referring to data such as unemployment and retail sales that are reported with a lengthy lag. “Instead it’s all about the shape of the recovery and so we’re tracking a number of innovative data sources that we believe will be more real time.”

LGIM’s asset allocation team takes Apple users’ requests for travel directions and adjusts them for weekly seasonality before projecting the data onto estimates for gross domestic product. So far, their analysis shows that the U.S. economy is holding up better than other regions and is gradually reopening, while there are signs of improvement in southern Europe as countries like Italy relax their movement restrictions.


But of course when Apple and Google published this data it was going to be used to try to make money. Of course. I almost kicked myself when I saw this story because, well, of course that’s what they’d do.
unique link to this extract

BuzzFeed pulls plug on UK and Australian news operations • The Guardian

Mark Sweney:


The company, which had been struggling before the coronavirus pandemic further hammered its lifeblood of advertising revenue, has furloughed its 10 UK news staff and four in Australia as part of the strategic cutback. BuzzFeed launched a local news operation in the UK just over six years ago.

According to sources, those furloughed are “highly unlikely” to return to BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed UK will keep staff covering news with a “global audience”, such as its investigations operation and celebrity news coverage, for now at least.

“For economic and strategic reasons, we are going to focus on news that hits big in the United States during this difficult period,” the company said.

“Therefore, we will notify staff in the UK and Australia that we are not planning to cover local news in those countries. We will be consulting with employees on our plans regarding furloughs and stand-downs in these regions.”

The company said that the cuts would also hit its flagship US operation as it looks to hit savings goals while continuing to produce “kinetic, powerful journalism”. “We [want to] reach the savings we need and produce the high-tempo, explosive journalism our readers rely on,” the company said.

BuzzFeed maintained that it was still “investing heavily” in its news operation, with a projection of investing $10m more this year than the division makes, and $6m in 2021.

Launched by Jonah Peretti in 2006, the outlet is among a generation of start-ups, also including Vice and Vox, that took the media world by storm only to run into financial difficulty as the advertising climate collapsed.


10 writers in the UK: hardly gigantically overstaffed. But with venture funding, how do you make the returns they demand?
unique link to this extract

Condé Nast to lay off 100 U.S. staffers • Axios

Sara Fischer:


Condé Nast, the media publisher known for its high-end magazine products like Wired, Vogue, The New Yorker, GQ, Glamour, Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair and more, said Wednesday that it plans to lay off 100 U.S. employees and furlough about 100 more.

It’s the latest media company forced to take drastic measures to survive the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Magazine publishers in particular have been hit hard, as their businesses were vulnerable to sweeping changes for years prior to the pandemic.

In a note to staff, CEO Roger Lynch, a former Pandora radio and and Sling TV executive, said, “These decisions are never easy, and not something I ever take lightly. I want to be transparent about the principles and approach we used.”

Lynch said the company tried to identify specific areas where it could “bring down our costs without limiting our growth priorities.”

He said the company is providing severance packages “to help provide a bridge to people’s next roles” as well as job placement resources. The company will cover the full cost of healthcare premiums for furloughed employees.

Lynch also noted that with the job cuts, there will also be a handful of people with reduced work schedules.


My Twitter feed has been filled with laid-off staffers from Wired and Buzzfeed. Magazines and internet companies: the coronavirus meteor doesn’t discriminate.
unique link to this extract

Podcaster Luminary seeks fresh cash to buoy struggling business • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw and Priya Anand:


Luminary, backed by investors such as Sinai Ventures, NEA and former HBO executive Richard Plepler, previously raised at least $130m to build what it said would be the Netflix of podcasts – a subscription service packed with top-notch, exclusive shows from journalists, TV hosts and celebrities. Its slate of original shows includes Guy Raz’s “Wisdom From the Top” and “The Trevor Noah Podcast.”

But the app has struggled to find an audience since its debut in April 2019. Only about 80,000 people who tried the app have remained paying subscribers, said the people.

Consumers have proven reluctant to pay for a service when so many of the top podcasts are available for free via Apple Inc. and Spotify Technology SA. What’s more, Spotify – the world’s top paid audio service – has bid aggressively for exclusive rights to shows, boosting the costs of many of the podcasts Luminary might have wanted.

Offering the most money in the market was a key part of Luminary’s initial sales pitch to podcast producers.

Luminary was burning through more than $4m a month before the coronavirus outbreak, while generating less than $500,000 in monthly revenue. To manage costs, the company has cut spending on marketing, new shows and staff.


Amazed there are 80,000 people who would pony up $30/£30 per year. That means it’s only getting $2.4m in annual revenue (minus freebies and trials). That’s barely going to pay for the coffees.

Monetising podcasts is the new Big Idea, though. Fascinating contrast with the experiment by Ben Thompson and John Gruber, who are trying a 15-minutes thrice-weekly one called Dithering, priced at $5/mo or $50/year. Pricier than Luminary and less choice, but their overheads are WAY lower: they’ll never have to go cap-in-hand to venture capitalists.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1307: Facebook paying PTSD moderators $52m, Twitter offers some permanent WFH, anatomy of a viral (video) outbreak, and more

Nope nope nope: crowded restaurants pose a huge potential risk for coronavirus spread CC-licensed photo by Kyle Mahan 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook will pay $52m in settlement with moderators who developed PTSD on the job • The Verge

Casey Newton:


In a landmark acknowledgment of the toll that content moderation takes on its workforce, Facebook has agreed to pay $52 million to current and former moderators to compensate them for mental health issues developed on the job. In a preliminary settlement filed on Friday in San Mateo Superior Court, the social network agreed to pay damages to American moderators and provide more counseling to them while they work.

Each moderator will receive a minimum of $1,000 and will be eligible for additional compensation if they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or related conditions. The settlement covers 11,250 moderators, and lawyers in the case believe that as many as half of them may be eligible for extra pay related to mental health issues associated with their time working for Facebook, including depression and addiction.

“We are so pleased that Facebook worked with us to create an unprecedented program to help people performing work that was unimaginable even a few years ago,” said Steve Williams, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in a statement. “The harm that can be suffered from this work is real and severe.”

In September 2018, former Facebook moderator Selena Scola sued Facebook, alleging that she developed PTSD after being placed in a role that required her to regularly view photos and images of rape, murder, and suicide.


Pocket change for Facebook, but it’s the principle again: it has had to acknowledge the nature of some of the content posted on its site.

And a triumph for journalism: Newton was the journalist who broke this story after finding moderators who would break NDAs to talk about their experiences.
unique link to this extract

Twitter will allow some employees to work at home forever • Buzzfeed News

Alex Kantrowitz:


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey emailed employees on Tuesday telling them that they’d be allowed to work from home permanently, even after the coronavirus pandemic lockdown passes. Some jobs that require physical presence, such as maintaining servers, will still require employees to come in.

“We’ve been very thoughtful in how we’ve approached this from the time we were one of the first companies to move to a work-from-home model,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “We’ll continue to be, and we’ll continue to put the safety of our people and communities first.”

Twitter encouraged its employees to start working from home in early March as the coronavirus began to spread across the US. Several other tech companies did the same, including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.

That month, Twitter human resources head Jennifer Christie told BuzzFeed News the company would “never probably be the same” in the structure of its work. “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way,” Christie said. “Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”

Dorsey had announced the company’s intent to work in a “distributed” way before the virus, but the pandemic forced the company to move the timeline up.


I don’t think this will hold; people like being with people. More likely is that the trend will be towards satellite offices, perhaps with managers making scheduled visits. Could bring office and house prices down near some cities, particularly San Francisco.
unique link to this extract

How the ‘Plandemic’ video hoax went viral • The Verge

Casey Newton:


The ground was seeded by a book that Mikovits, the star of “Plandemic,” published last month. Plague of Corruption “frames Dr. Mikovits as a truth-teller fighting deception in science,” Alba writes, and it won approving coverage from far-right outlets including the Epoch Times, Gateway Pundit, and Next News Network.

But it was the “Plandemic” clip that turned Mikovits into a star (she’s gained more than 130,000 Twitter followers in a month.) And the two have benefited each other: searches for Mikovits drove views of “Plandemic,” and viewings of “Plandemic” drove searches for Mikovits.

Erin Gallagher, a social media researcher who specializes in data visualizations, offers some clues. Gallagher used CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool for analyzing public posts, to investigate when “Plandemic” began to surge on the network. She found that posts referencing it appeared most often in Facebook groups devoted to QAnon, anti-vaccine misinformation, and conspiracy theories in general.

“The video spread from YouTube to Facebook thanks to highly active QAnon and conspiracy-related Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members which caused a massive cascade,” Gallagher writes. “Both platforms were instrumental in spreading viral medical misinformation.”

YouTube and Facebook both ultimately removed the video, but their responses differed in notable ways.


Facebook “demotes” content, but that doesn’t kill it, and determined posters will keep stuff going. Which means things like this ping-pong between them, gaining virality. The sort that makes people stupid.
unique link to this extract

Face masks against Covid-19: an evidence review[v1] • Preprints

A slew of people, including Zeynep Tufekci (who has advocated this for a long time):


A primary route of transmission of COVID-19 is likely via small respiratory droplets, and is known to be transmissible from presymptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. Reducing disease spread requires two things: first, limit contacts of infected individuals via physical distancing and contact tracing with appropriate quarantine, and second, reduce the transmission probability per contact by wearing masks in public, among other measures.

The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low.


Being a preprint, this has comments. And the first comment, oh my, says mask-wearing “impairs our quality of life. We like to feel fresh air on our faces.”

This is then taken apart by many other commenters who point out that you can’t feel the fresh air if you’re dead. The comments aren’t helpful. (Thanks Walt for the link.)
unique link to this extract

The coronavirus risks: know them, avoid them • Erin Bromage

Bromage teaches and researches infectious diseases at UMass Dartmouth:


When you think of outbreak clusters, what are the big ones that come to mind? Most people would say cruise ships. But you would be wrong. Ship outbreaks, while concerning, don’t land in the top 50 outbreaks to date.

Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such as meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.

Some of the biggest super-spreading events are:
• Meat packing: In meat processing plants, densely packed workers must communicate to one another amidst the deafening drum of industrial machinery and a cold-room virus-preserving environment. There are now outbreaks in 115 facilities across 23 states, 5000+ workers infected, with 20 dead.
• Weddings, funerals, birthdays: 10% of early spreading events
• Business networking: Face-to-face business networking like the Biogen Conference in Boston in March.

As we move back to work, or go to a restaurant, let’s look at what can happen in those environments.

Restaurants: Some really great shoe-leather epidemiology demonstrated clearly the effect of a single asymptomatic carrier in a restaurant environment (see below). The infected person (A1) sat at a table and had dinner with 9 friends. Dinner took about 1 to 1.5 hours. During this meal, the asymptomatic carrier released low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing. Airflow (from the restaurant’s various airflow vents) was from right to left. Approximately 50% of the people at the infected person’s table became sick over the next 7 days. 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected. And even 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow).


Oh well, that’s your evening out spoiled.
unique link to this extract

Former Apple engineer: here’s why I trust Apple’s Covid-19 notification proposal • TidBITS

David Shayer worked at Apple for 14 years, and experienced how insistent it was about not including identifying information in data sent back. The notification stuff, fine. But this caught my eye:


I also wrote iPhone apps for a mid-size technology company that shall remain nameless. You’ve likely heard of it, though, and it has several thousand employees and several billion dollars in revenue. Call it TechCo, in part because its approach to user privacy is unfortunately all too common in the industry. It cared much less about user privacy than Apple.

The app I worked on recorded every user interaction and reported that data back to a central server. Every time you performed some action, the app captured what screen you were on and what button you tapped. There was no attempt to minimize the data being captured, nor to anonymize it. Every record sent back included the user’s IP address, username, real name, language and region, timestamp, iPhone model, and lots more.

Keep in mind that this behavior was in no way malicious. The company’s goal wasn’t to surveil their users. Instead, the marketing department just wanted to know what features were most popular and how they were used. Most important, the marketers wanted to know where people fell out of the “funnel.”


And then pretty much anyone senior in the company could see everything that any user did, just by logging on. Marketing loved it. The engineers knew it was both a privacy and a security risk. Of course they were ignored.

Oh, the only company on Shayer’s LinkedIn profile that’s large and isn’t Apple is GoDaddy, where he worked from 2016 to 2019. You may think that that must be his mid-sized company. I couldn’t possibly comment.
unique link to this extract

The secrets behind the runaway success of Apple’s AirPods • WIRED UK

Jeremy White:


Compared with, say, the Apple Watch, which took years to gain momentum, AirPods are a much easier, and cheaper, product to market. “Everyone’s using a smartphone, and so therefore headphones,” says Neil Cybart, founder of Apple analyst firm Above Avalon, “whereas the younger demographic is moving away from wristwatches.”

According to [Apple vp of product marketing, Greg] Joswiak, Apple “had a vision for our wireless future for many years” before the first AirPods were unveiled. “We had this incredible wireless product, the iPhone,” he says. “And yet, what began to feel odd is when you saw somebody using wired headphones. Right then you thought, why would you attach the wire?”

One of the more interesting aspects of the AirPods’ development is one of the oldest. In 2009, Apple, eight years after subjecting consumers to its first (rightly maligned) earbuds, finally revealed a much-needed overhaul of its wired headphones, EarPods. Looking to combat the poor fit and sound bleed, the company worked with Stanford University in the US to capture data on ear dimensions. After the EarPods launch, Apple continued to map ears, building a larger data set to create a new, more accurate model that eventually led to the creation of the AirPod Pros, first in simulation then in physical prototype.

“We had done work with Stanford to 3D-scan hundreds of different ears and ear styles and shapes in order to make a design that would work as a one-size solution across a broad set of the population,” Joswiak says. “With AirPods Pro, we took that research further – studied more ears, more ear types. And that enabled us to develop a design that, along with the three different tip sizes, works across an overwhelming percentage of the worldwide population.”


OK, though I’m struggling to understand why they needed to do all that scanning when cheap headphones have offered different tip sizes for ages. As a reminder, if you were quick you might have got a pair of the original AirPods in December 2016; they were announced in September 2016.
unique link to this extract

LG is reportedly developing a dual-screen handset with a swivelling display • The Verge

Jon Porter:


LG has a new dual-screen phone on the way, with a main display that swivels sideways to reveal a secondary screen underneath, the Korean Herald reports. The phone, which ETNews reports is codenamed “Wing,” will reportedly have a main 6.8-inch display alongside a smaller 4-inch screen with a 1:1 aspect ratio. It’s expected to cost a bit more than the new Velvet phone when it arrives later this year.

This wouldn’t be the first swivel phone that LG has released. Over a decade ago it released several phones using this form-factor, including the LB1500 and LU1400. In addition to their rotating displays, the other major selling point of these “DMB phones” was that they had the hardware to receive digital TV broadcasts. Unsurprisingly the hardware was basic by modern standards. Their main, non-touchscreen displays were tiny, and when they swiveled they tended to reveal a T9 keypad rather than a second screen.


Seems that LG has decided that it’s not losing quite enough money, even though in the first quarter its revenues were down 34% to US$843m, on which it lost $201m (also worse than the year before). There’s no way this phone will make money: the engineering will be pricey, and the price will limit sales. LG’s phone division has been circling the drain for years now, not making a penny of profit. Wonder if Covid-19 will finally take it off life support.
unique link to this extract

Behind the wall • Rest of World

Mara Hvistendahl:


As the [Chinese] government introduced tighter censorship regulations, and the propaganda machine went into overdrive, that playfulness became a key form of subversion. This spring, some in the Chinese Communist Party attempted to redirect public anger by pushing the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 had been brought to China by the U.S. military. Authorities detained citizen journalists and activists, including three of the people who had been memorializing posts on GitHub.

But a group of activists doubled down on efforts to spread the truth, circulating articles about how the virus originated in Wuhan. To evade censorship this time, they wrote in Morse code and Braille, swapped out the simplified characters used in China with obscure classical script, and rendered text backwards, in an attempt to defeat censorship engines searching for specific character combinations.

One popular target was a deleted profile in the magazine Renwu of Ai Fen, the doctor in Wuhan who had inadvertently tipped off Li Wenliang about the SARS-like cases. “If I had known what was about to happen, I would not have cared about being reprimanded,” Ai had told her interviewer. “I would have fucking talked about it to whoever, wherever I could.” People circulated so many different iterations of the article that the journalist Isabelle Niu called its preservation a sort of “digital performance art project.” In the most imaginative version, someone told the story almost entirely using emojis. “SARS corona ☄️ illness ☠️,” read one sentence.


Rest Of World is a new publication which aims to look at technology use in the rest of the world. The first set of features are a bit portmanteau – trying to cover the most ground possible rather than a narrow focus. That makes sense in trying to build up a catalog onto which shorter, fresher stories can be layered.

Definitely worth keeping tabs on. And, journalists, they’re hiring (or at least commissioning).
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1306: web sites really are growing more alike, India’s dead smartphone market, Apple gets cloudier, Microsoft blocks reply-all, our confusing internet attitudes, and more

When the lockdowns end will the office turn out to be dead, or just in limbo? CC-licensed photo by Roberta 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. “Pressure’s building, overspill”. Name the song (without search, if you can.) I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Yes, websites really are starting to look more similar • The Conversation

Sam Goree is a PhD student at Indiana University:


We found that across all three metrics – color, layout and AI-generated attributes – the average differences between websites peaked between 2008 and 2010 and then decreased between 2010 and 2016. Layout differences decreased the most, declining over 30% in that time frame.

The graph shows website similarity of companies in the Russell 1000. Lower values mean that the sites studied were more similar, on average. Sam Goree, Author provided

These findings confirm the suspicions of web design bloggers that websites are becoming more similar. After showing this trend, we wanted to study our data to see what kinds of specific changes were causing it.

You might think that these sites are simply copying each other’s code, but code similarity has actually significantly decreased over time. However, the use of software libraries has increased a lot.

…What should be made of this creeping conformity?

On the one hand, adhering to trends is totally normal in other realms of design, like fashion or architecture. And if designs are becoming more similar because they’re using the same libraries, that means they’re likely becoming more accessible to the visually impaired, since popular libraries are generally better at conforming to accessibility standards than individual developers. They’re also more user-friendly, since new visitors won’t have to spend as much time learning how to navigate the site’s pages.

On the other hand, the internet is a shared cultural artifact, and its distributed, decentralized nature is what makes it unique. As home pages and fully customizable platforms like NeoPets and MySpace fade into memory, web design may lose much of its power as a form of creative expression. The Mozilla Foundation has argued that consolidation is bad for the “health” of the internet, and the aesthetics of the web could be seen as one element of its well-being.


Jakob Nielsen pointed out long ago that it made sense for smaller sites to copy the layout of the big ones, for example in the placement of a search icon, menu, and so on. It’s an accretive, gravitational pull.
unique link to this extract

The office is dead • Marker

Courtney Rubin:


It’s something no one could have foreseen three months ago. After a decade of economic expansion, commercial rents had risen to an average of nearly $30 per square foot, or 3.4% over last year, according to an April report from Newmark Knight Frank, a New York-based commercial real estate brokerage firm with offices in some 100 U.S. cities. Many companies had an aversion to remote work — IBM, for one, canceled working from home in 2017 — and few had the technology or infrastructure to make it work seamlessly. IBM was hardly alone: At the outset of the crisis, remote work evangelist and Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson Twitter-shamed dozens of companies — including Accenture, ATT, Cognizant, Epic Systems, Tesla, SpaceX, and Wells Fargo — for dragging their heels in allowing employees work from home.

Now, more than two months in, the mass work-from-home experiment has forced many businesses out of their comfort zone, pushing them to make the necessary small investments in virtual infrastructure. Even typically staid financial firms like Morgan Stanley and Barclays have adapted, finding solutions to security hurdles that previously prevented a distributed workforce. Many of these companies are realizing that it is not only less scary than they imagined, but their employees are actually more productive. One analysis of server activity found that workers are putting in longer workdays; imagine what that kind of productivity boost might look like when kids finally go back to school. Now, staring down the barrel of a recession, companies are shifting into cost-cutting survival mode — and the huge fixed cost of office space will, for many, be first on the chopping block.


I think to call the office dead is an overstatement. But the bargaining power is going to be with those seeking to rent, not those with the buildings. We’ve discovered that we can do OK without. Bad time to be in commercial real estate.
unique link to this extract

Apple quietly hiring some of the world’s best cloud talent • Protocol

Tom Krazit:


Over the past few months, Apple has gone on a cloud computing hiring spree, snapping up several well-known software engineers working across a range of modern technologies, especially containers and Kubernetes. The quantity and quality of the new hires has caused a stir in the tight-knit cloud community, and could indicate that Apple is finally getting serious about building tech infrastructure on par with companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

The new employees include:
• Michael Crosby, one of a handful of ex-Docker engineers to join Apple this year. “Michael is who we can thank for containers as they exist today. He was the powerhouse engineer behind all of it,” said a former colleague who asked to remain anonymous.
• Arun Gupta, who joined Apple in February from AWS and is now leading Apple’s open-source efforts.
• Maksym Pavlenko, another former AWS employee who worked on its managed container services such as AWS Fargate.
• Francesc Campoy, an ex-Googler who will be working on Kubernetes for Apple.

It’s not entirely clear what Apple has in mind, but numerous job postings indicate that the company is in the midst of building new tools for its internal software development teams. Apple declined to comment on its plans for the new hires.

Apple runs a massive web operation, including the iCloud file storage service, the App Store, Apple Music, Apple TV+ and its own ecommerce site. However, it has for years been considered a bit of a backwater in the tech infrastructure community, far behind companies like AWS, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Netflix.


Wouldn’t they want them for their web and cloud operations? Just a thought. Why wouldn’t you want the best people so they can choose from the best outside services, if that’s what they’re going to do, or build the best in-house ones?
unique link to this extract

Microsoft now blocks reply-all email storms to end our inbox nightmares • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Reply-all email storms are a problem that affect businesses large and small, and have been occurring for decades. Microsoft had its own infamous incident back in 1997, which employees fondly refer to as Bedlam DL3. Around 25,000 people were on a distribution list and kept replying to the thread, generating 15,000,000 email messages and 195 gigabytes of data. The incident overwhelmed Microsoft’s own Exchange mail servers, and the company rolled out a message recipient limit in Exchange to try and tackle future problems.

Microsoft still suffers from reply-all email storms, though. Last year a GitHub notification triggered an email storm for thousands of Microsoft employees. Back in March, thousands of Microsoft employees were also caught in a reply-all email thread that was quickly shut down within 30 minutes.

Microsoft’s new reply-all email block feature will stay in place for four hours after it’s automatically triggered, enough time to stop people from asking “why am I on this email thread?” hundreds of times. The new feature appears to be working for Microsoft’s own employees. “Humans still behave like humans no matter which company they work for,” says the Exchange team. “We’re already seeing the first version of the feature successfully reduce the impact of reply-all storms within Microsoft.”


It’s “initially being rolled out to detect 10 reply-all emails to over 5,000 recipients within 60 minutes.” That 5,000 figure is something of a high bar. Configurable would be better. Wonder how soon Google will do the same for G Suite?
unique link to this extract

People, Power and Technology: the 2020 Digital Attitudes Report • doteveryone

Catherine Miller:


This year’s research finds people continue to feel the internet is better for them as individuals than for society as a whole. 81% say the internet has made life a lot or a little better for ‘people like me’ while 58% say it has had a very positive or fairly positive impact on society overall.

In discussions held shortly after the start of the pandemic lockdown, people were particularly grateful for their ability to continue to work, maintain friendships and access information thanks to technology.  


There’s a personal thing where, on a day to day basis, these things are so useful – the speed at which we can order things, we can talk to people, we don’t have to leave the house. Brilliant! But I think there is a big picture in what is it doing to society and where is it going to take us? Because ultimately, if we have machines that do everything, we don’t even need to get out of bed in the morning, we don’t have a purpose anymore. –People, Power and Technology 2020 research participant


However, there’s been a significant drop in the strength of people’s enthusiasm over the past two years with 38% saying the internet has made life a lot better for people like them, compared to 50% in 2018.  

And it finds most people (58%) think the industry is under-regulated. They identify government (53%) and independent regulators (48%) as having most responsibility for directing the impacts of technology on people and society. 


The split between thinking it’s good for you as an individual, yet less good for society, is fascinating. A bit like cars being good for you individually – so convenient! – but bad for cities and, ultimately, the planet.
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus hit household spending much harder than BoE assumed • Financial Times

Chris Giles:


Household spending dropped more than 40% in April, according to real-time data from a large survey of bank accounts, suggesting the Bank of England was too optimistic in its assumptions when it forecast that the coronavirus crisis would lead to the worst recession in over 300 years.

In its bleak assessment last week, the central bank pointed to data showing a “reduction in the level of household consumption of around 30%”.

But the research by the London Business School published on Monday showed spending had fallen much further last month than estimated by the BoE, while incomes had come under greater strain, pushing some families deeper into debt and exacerbating inequality.

The 40% drop in household expenditure does not translate simply to gross domestic product, but suggests a deeper downturn than either the BoE or Office for Budget Responsibility have predicted.

The study used anonymised financial information for over 30,000 people from the Money Dashboard app, which links to all users’ bank accounts, debit and credit cards, enabling researchers to see exactly where spending was hit hardest.


Personally, based on my credit card spending, my discretionary spending (including food) was down over 60% in April compared to typical months; on fuel, by 80% (that’s rural living).
unique link to this extract

5G will not kill us all, but stupidity might • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


On Friday, The New Republic published an article by Christopher Ketcham, under the thoughtful and modest title, “Is 5G Going to Kill Us All?”

It’s astonishing to see an article like this run in a publication of The New Republic‘s history and caliber, particularly at a time when 5G conspiracy theorists are actively destroying cell phone towers and wrecking installations thanks to baseless conspiracy theories linking 5G to coronavirus. There have been 77 arson attacks since March 30, with staff reporting 180 incidents of abuse. Articles like Ketcham’s only fan the flames.

I can’t speak to any of Christopher Ketcham’s writing on any other topic, but when it comes to wireless technology, he’s been banging the same drum for a decade — and using exactly the same rhetorical techniques to do it.

In a story written in 2010, Ketcham begins by telling us the story of Allison Rall back in 1990, a young mom with three children whose cattle sicken and children fall ill after a cellular tower is installed nearby. He immediately ties her case to a statement by an EPA scientist named Carl Blackman, who tells us/her, “With my government cap on, I’m supposed to tell you you’re perfectly safe,” Blackman tells her. “With my civilian cap on, I have to tell you to consider leaving.”

In the most recent story, we are introduced to Debbie Persampire, a woman “who believes cell phones are poisoning her children.” Ketcham presents this statement uncritically, even as he describes how the woman covers the rooms of her house in an EMF-reducing paint that sells for ~$66 per liter. Her family, we are told, “trusts her.” Whether her doctor trusts her is not discussed.

From that point, Ketcham pivots. Now, we’re told that a 2018 study by the National Toxicology Program discovered evidence that exposing rats to cell phone radiation can cause various forms of cancer. Again, it’s the exact same story structure — a sympathetic emotional hook, a mother in desperate straits, and finally, a government figure or body with critical information showing a major problem that somehow, somehow, has been swept under the rug.

The only problem is, it’s claptrap from start to finish.

Let’s talk about why.


For ages, we’ve fallen behind in the manufacture of debunking. But now, our factories are getting back to speed.
unique link to this extract

I’m an investigative journalist. These are the questions to ask about the Plandemic video • ProPublica

Marshall Allen:


Sensational videos, memes, rants and more about COVID-19 are likely to keep coming. With society polarized and deep distrust of the media, the government and other institutions, such content is a way for bad actors to sow discord, mostly via social media. We saw it with Russia in the 2016 election and we should expect it to continue.

But what surprised me is how easily “Plandemic” sank its hooks into some of my friends. My brother also felt alarmed that his own church members and leaders in other churches might be tempted to buy into it.

The purpose of this column is not to skewer “Plandemic.” My goal is to offer some criteria for sifting through all the content we see every day, so we can tell the difference between fair reporting and something so biased it should not be taken seriously.

Here’s a checklist, some of which I shared with my friends on Facebook, to help interrogate any content — and that includes what we publish at ProPublica.


Useful list of questions to ask about any of these things (whether sensible or not) you come across. I particularly noted this:


Every time I write a story that accuses someone of wrongdoing I call them and urge them to explain the situation from their perspective. This is standard in mainstream journalism. Sometimes I’ve gone to extreme lengths to get comments from someone who will be portrayed unfavorably in my story — traveling to another state and showing up at their office and their home and leaving a note if they are not there to meet me.


If you want actual takedowns of the “Plandemic” thing (removed from every reliable platform), there’s Ars Technica and Science magazine. It’s nonsense, though on a level that’s probably resistant to actual facts.
unique link to this extract

How Trump and the CDC failed the COVID-19 test • Rolling Stone

Tim Dickinson:


The government leaders who failed to safeguard the nation are CDC Director Redfield; FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; and of course, President Trump. Together, these men had the power to change the direction of this pandemic, to lessen its impact on the economy, and constrain the death toll from COVID-19. Each failed, in a series of errors and mismanagement that grew into a singular catastrophe — or as Jared Kushner described it on Fox & Friends, “a great success story.”

Defeating an invisible enemy like the coronavirus requires working diagnostics. But when the CDC’s original test kit failed, there was no Plan B. The nation’s private-sector biomedical establishment is world-class, but the administration kept these resources cordoned behind red tape as the CDC foundered. Precious weeks slipped by — amid infighting, ass covering, and wasted effort — and the virus slipped through the nation’s crippled surveillance apparatus, taking root in hot spots across the country, and in particular, New York City.

The mismanagement cost lives. With adequate testing from the beginning, says Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor of public-health policy, “we would have been able to stop the spread of this virus in its tracks the way that many other nations have.” Instead, says Sen. Murray, the administration’s response was “wait until it’s too late, and then try and contain one of the most aggressive viruses that we’ve ever seen.”

Blind to the virus’s penetration and unable to target mitigation where it was needed, the administration and state governors had to resort to the blunt instrument of shuttering the economy, says Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. And the lack of testing kept us in limbo. “Our economy is shut down because we still do not have adequate testing,” Jha says. “We have been woefully behind from the beginning of this pandemic.”

If the president’s deputies made trillion-dollar mistakes, accountability for the pandemic response lies with Trump, who waived off months of harrowing intelligence briefings, choosing to treat the coronavirus as a crisis in public relations, rather than a public-health emergency. Having staked his re-election on a strong economy, Trump downplayed the virus.


Political, not capable appointees with political, not health aims. (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus impact: Indian smartphone market sees zero sales in April, no clear picture for May • Yahoo News


The extended lockdown in India has resulted in zero shipments for the smartphone players in India in the month of April as factories are shut and it will take two-four weeks time for the manufacturing units to resume normal operations once lockdown is relaxed. The month of March saw a steep annual decline in smartphone shipments, at -19%, due to COVID-19 nationwide lockdown that settled in from March 24.

Since then, factories are closed, retail shops are shut and online sellers are busy delivering groceries and other essential items. Result: April has seen almost zero sales.

“We see zero activity on smartphone shipments part in April and lockdown now entering May amid uncertainties, the Q2 2020 is going to be really challenging for the smartphone makers in the country,” Tarun Pathak, Associate Director, Counterpoint Research, told IANS.

“We have been hearing some absolute essential sales happened behind the scenes during the lockdown but yes, those will be in hundreds as against potential 11-12 million smartphone sales which happen in a normal month,” Pathak added.


Zero. Zero.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1305: reopen Jurassic Park!, VR’s coming winter, Twitter dumps on US State Dept bot claim, Facebook’s poisoned SDK, disaster unpreparedness, and more

Animal Crossing: a way to earn money if you can’t earn money. CC-licensed photo by HeyGabe WW on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. If it keeps on raining… I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Sure, the velociraptors are still on the loose, but that’s no reason not to reopen Jurassic Park • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Carlos Greaves with one of the very finest pieces of laser-accurate satire you’ll ever see:


Hello, Peter Ludlow here, CEO of InGen, the company behind the wildly successful dinosaur-themed amusement park, Jurassic Park. As you’re all aware, after an unprecedented storm hit the park, we lost power and the velociraptors escaped their enclosure and killed hundreds of park visitors, prompting a two-month shutdown of the park. Well, I’m pleased to announce that, even though the velociraptors are still on the loose, we will be opening Jurassic Park back up to the public!

Now, I understand why some people might be skeptical about reopening an amusement park when there are still blindingly fast, 180-pound predators roaming around. But the fact of the matter is, velociraptors are intelligent, shifty creatures that are not going to be contained any time soon, so we might as well just start getting used to them killing a few people every now and then. Some might argue that we should follow the example of other parks that have successfully dealt with velociraptor escapes. But here at Jurassic Park, we’ve never been ones to listen to the recommendations of scientists, or safety experts, or bioethicists, so why would we start now?


You owe it to yourself to read the whole thing, particularly the paragraph about how the paramedics will be rewarded. That one works for any country.
unique link to this extract

Twitter disputes State Department claims China coordinated coronavirus disinformation accounts • CNNPolitics

Jennifer Hansler, Donie O’Sullivan and Kylie Atwood:


Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) – which works to coordinate efforts to expose foreign disinformation and propaganda – said the US “has uncovered a new network of inauthentic Twitter accounts, which we assess were created with the intent to amplify Chinese propaganda and disinformation.”

However, an initial review from Twitter of more than 5,000 accounts turned over to them by the State Department cast doubt on the claims. According to Twitter, they have instead found that numerous accounts belong to government entities, nongovernmental organizations, and journalists. The review was ongoing, the company said, noting that it planned to follow up with the GEC on its findings.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN that “the GEC provided Twitter with a small sample of the overall dataset that included nearly 250,000 accounts,” adding that it was “was not surprising that there are authentic accounts in any sample.”


The point is, State Department, that you’re meant to provide a dataset that only includes the inauthentic ones. The US government’s slide into corruption means it should now be regarded as an untrustworthy source on pretty much anything, and especially about China.
unique link to this extract

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months • The Guardian

Rutger Bregman:


I first read Lord of the Flies as a teenager. I remember feeling disillusioned afterwards, but not for a second did I think to doubt Golding’s view of human nature. That didn’t happen until years later when I began delving into the author’s life. I learned what an unhappy individual he had been: an alcoholic, prone to depression; a man who beat his kids. “I have always understood the Nazis,” Golding confessed, “because I am of that sort by nature.” And it was “partly out of that sad self-knowledge” that he wrote Lord of the Flies.

I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. Readers responded sceptically. All my examples concerned kids at home, at school, or at summer camp. Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip … Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.”


This is a wonderful story which is being widely shared, with good reason. Bregman had to follow all sorts of twisty routes and clues to unearth a story that hasn’t received the publicity it deserves.
unique link to this extract

Here’s what public health experts think our pandemic summer will look like • Buzzfeed News

Dan Vergano:


In all of the scenarios, US deaths dip below the current rate of roughly 2,000 deaths a day for the next two weeks. Then they shoot upwards again in the familiar pandemic exponential curve for the loosened states. By June 1, the middle scenario resulted in more than 43,000 new cases and 1,800 deaths per day. An increasing loosening of restrictions every week would lead to median estimates of more than 63,000 new cases and 2,400 deaths per day.

By the middle of June, the projections would reach potentially devastating heights: 3,000 deaths per day in the onetime loosening scenario, and more than 6,000 a day if restrictions continue to loosen.

“The dip is very worrisome, people see lower cases and think there isn’t a problem, so they increase their contacts,” which leads to more deaths weeks later, Columbia’s Sen Pei, a coauthor on the analysis, told BuzzFeed News. “We expect people will change their behavior once they see deaths racing upward again,” he said.

Because of the two- to three-week lag between initial infection and death, combined with a long-running deficit in testing and a perilously slow mobilization of contact tracing to track exposures to new cases, governors are essentially steering by looking in the rearview mirror, driving straight into outbreaks they can’t see ahead. That means deaths and cases will continue to go up, even after the brakes are slammed on again.


The estimate I’ve heard from an informed reader is 4,500 dying per day in July, which is 50% higher than the White House estimate. Either number is very high, don’t forget.
unique link to this extract

Why we fail to prepare for disasters • Tim Harford


Part of the problem may simply be that we get our cues from others. In a famous experiment conducted in the late 1960s, the psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley pumped smoke into a room in which their subjects were filling in a questionnaire. When the subject was sitting alone, he or she tended to note the smoke and calmly leave to report it. When subjects were in a group of three, they were much less likely to react: each person remained passive, reassured by the passivity of the others.

As the new coronavirus spread, social cues influenced our behaviour in a similar way. Harrowing reports from China made little impact, even when it became clear that the virus had gone global. We could see the metaphorical smoke pouring out of the ventilation shaft, and yet we could also see our fellow citizens acting as though nothing was wrong: no stockpiling, no self-distancing, no Wuhan-shake greetings. Then, when the social cues finally came, we all changed our behaviour at once. At that moment, not a roll of toilet paper was to be found.

Normalcy bias and the herd instinct are not the only cognitive shortcuts that lead us astray. Another is optimism bias. Psychologists have known for half a century that people tend to be unreasonably optimistic about their chances of being the victim of a crime, a car accident or a disease, but, in 1980, the psychologist Neil Weinstein sharpened the question. Was it a case of optimism in general, a feeling that bad things rarely happened to anyone? Or perhaps it was a more egotistical optimism: a sense that while bad things happen, they don’t happen to me. Weinstein asked more than 250 students to compare themselves to other students. They were asked to ponder pleasant prospects such as a good job or a long life, and vivid risks such as an early heart attack or venereal disease. Overwhelmingly, the students felt that good things were likely to happen to them, while unpleasant fates awaited their peers.


Ask yourself: if you haven’t yet had Covid-19, do you expect that your encounter with it will be mild or serious? Why?
unique link to this extract

The big Facebook crash of 2020 and the problem of third-party SDK creep • Rambo Codes

Guilherme Rambo on the fallout from a flaw in Facebook’s SDK, used in loads of apps, which made them all fail last week when it moved fast and, well, broke things:


It’s quite possible that every single app you use on any particular day is running code from Facebook, Google and other data-gathering and data-mining companies. Because of the way this code is integrated — by linking to a dynamic library at build time — it means these companies can effectively control those apps, or worse, access all of the data those apps have access to.

We saw a demonstration of this power yesterday: it was as if Facebook had an “app kill switch” that they activated, and it brought down many of people’s favorite iOS apps — Apple’s appocalypse video never felt so real. Of course it was a bug and not something done intentionally, but it highlights the point that they do have control over apps that include their code.

Even if you don’t sign in with Facebook in a particular app, the app will run Facebook’s code in the background just for having the SDK included. You don’t need a Facebook account for it to track you either, they can track people very well without one.

There are some technical workarounds which could be applied to this problem. It’s clear that many people want to use Facebook as a login method, so “just remove it” is not as easy as it might seem. The same thing goes for “Just implement Sign in with Apple”. Whenever someone starts a phrase about programming with “just”, any senior developer’s eyebrows rise…

…Having analytics SDKs isolated from main app code would prevent those SDKs from slurping user data without the app explicitly sending it to the SDK, it could also be used to implement some form of permission dialog. Imagine launching an app and seeing a prompt that reads “This app would like to send your location to Facebook. Is that ok?”.


Now that would be proportional.
unique link to this extract

Jared Kushner always declares his failures are successes • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Speirs:


Kushner’s modus operandi [is] painfully familiar to me because he was my boss when I was the editor in chief of the New York Observer, which he had bought when he was 25. (I’ve written before about what he was like as a businessman.) One of the more memorable instances of this I witnessed was at a memorial service for a beloved longtime Observer staffer, Tyler Rush, who’d joined the paper well before Kushner bought it.

When it came time for Kushner to say a few words, he launched into a supercilious monologue crediting himself with finally getting the paper published on time after what he described as chaos when he arrived. He also told an anecdote about Rush approaching him when he bought the paper to note that his staff was underpaid, which was true at the time, and true when I took the editor job years later. Kushner congratulated himself during the memorial for giving Rush and his production team the only raise that year because “unlike everyone else,” Rush hadn’t been lying to Kushner.

This line didn’t land the way Kushner hoped, because no one had been lying. Everyone was underpaid. But he didn’t like what he heard from the other staffers, so he proceeded to make his own assessment about what their experience and expertise were worth. This was not based on market comparables or the technical intricacies of a job, apparently, but his personal valuation of what a writer or a production manager or salesperson was worth — which always, at least in my conversations with him, seemed to be rooted in an idea that people who choose occupations that are not explicitly and primarily designed to make money were dilettantes of a sort, and essentially unserious. Why would you choose to be a journalist when you could make so much more money as a commercial real estate developer?

The conclusion he drew was that people who chose less remunerative career paths had not figured out how the world worked. To use a phrase he routinely deployed, they “didn’t get it.” And as such, they were disposable workers whose knowledge base could probably be replaced by a rigorous Google search. If their expertise was actually valuable, if they were so smart, they’d be monetizing it better.


As she points out, anyone who had had such a string of failures in any organisation that actually cared about results would have fired him long ago.
unique link to this extract

How Animal Crossing’s fake industries let players afford real rent amid COVID-19 • Ars Technica

Alexis Ong:


Animal Crossing New Horizons is about as far as you can get from a communications super-app geared toward in-app sales or collaboration. In fact, as a franchise originally made for children, it barely has a proper chat function. But as we watch real-world society grind to a painful halt, many players are now also using this game as an unexpected economic and creative lifeline.

Here’s the story of how this Nintendo Switch game has become an experimental playground for real-world businesses and creative experiences, letting players find new ways to mirror conventional culture with in-game resources.


Bells and turnips: my teenagers (who play the game) told me a couple of weeks back that they knew of people who were charging quite good money for access to their islands depending on the price of turnips and bells. Bet Nintendo has been surprised, to say the least.
unique link to this extract

Global smartwatch shipments grow 20% to 14 million in Q1 2020 • Strategy Analytics


Steven Waltzer, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global smartwatch shipments grew 20% annually from 11.4 million units in Q1 2019 to 13.7 million in Q1 2020. Despite considerable headwinds from the Covid-19 scare, global demand for smartwatches continued to grow. Smartwatches are selling well through online retail channels, while many consumers have been using smartwatches to monitor their health and fitness during virus lockdown.”

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, added, “Apple Watch shipped 7.6 million units worldwide in Q1 2020, rising an above-average 23% from 6.2 million in Q1 2019. Apple’s global smartwatch marketshare has grown from 54% to 55 percent, its highest level for two years. Apple Watch continues to fend off strong competition from hungry rivals like Garmin and Samsung. Apple Watch owns half the worldwide smartwatch market and remains the clear industry leader.”

Steven Waltzer, Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics, added, “Samsung shipped 1.9 million smartwatches worldwide in Q1 2020, inching up slightly from 1.7 million a year ago. Samsung’s global smartwatch marketshare has dipped from 15% to 14% during the past year. Samsung remains the world’s number two smartwatch vendor, but its growth was slowed by the coronavirus lockdown at home in South Korea and renewed competition from hungry competitors like Garmin.”


So Apple sold four times as many as its nearest competitor. Like the tablet business, where Apple also dominates, all the profit and a significant chunk of the volume is at the top end. What other industries see that?
unique link to this extract

Google unifies all of its messaging and communication apps into a single team • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


Prior to joining Google, [VP and general manager of G Suite, Javier Soltero] had a long career that included creating the much-loved Acompli email app, which Microsoft acquired and essentially turned into the main Outlook app less than two months after signing the deal.

Soltero has also moved rapidly (at least by the standards of Google’s communication apps) to clean up the Hangouts branding mess, converting Hangouts Video to Google Meet and Hangouts Chat to Google Chat — at least on the enterprise side. Google Meet also became free for everybody far ahead of the original schedule because of the pandemic.

Cleaning up the consumer side of all that is more complicated, but Soltero says, “The plan continues to be to modernize [Hangouts] towards Google Meet and Google Chat.”

The way Soltero characterizes his job is to “drive more innovation and more clarity around how these products can fulfill their specific missions.” This suggests he doesn’t intend to integrate all of Google’s chat apps in the way that Facebook is planning to do with Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. In fact, he says that “these products are playing an important role in people’s lives” and “it would be irresponsible” to make too-rapid chances to these products as people depend on them.


Bizarre to say it, but the messaging problem shows that Google has a problem with institutional focus, which is a remarkable thing to say about a company that revolutionised search by focussing madly on its search index, and returning results really fast. (The latter is essential. You don’t notice it because it’s done so well)

Yet the messages mess echoes the Chromebook mess. A reader got in touch last week and pointed out that the reason Chromebooks haven’t taken over in places like call centres is that many businesses rely on custom-written Windows line-of-business apps. To displace them, you’d need to be able to write ChromeOS or Android apps for the Chromebooks. But Google hasn’t focussed on making that happen. So a huge opportunity is missed.
unique link to this extract

Why America can make semiconductors but not swabs • Bloomberg Opinion

Dan Wang:


in China, a vast pool of experienced engineers and a culture of nimble manufacturing have allowed companies to quickly shift production to critically needed goods during this crisis. Manufacturers such as BYD Co.(an automaker) and Foxconn (an electronics assembler) have helped to quadruple China’s mask production since the beginning of the pandemic. Taiwanese companies, which make machine tools and can draw on deep pools of manufacturing expertise, were reportedly able to increase mask production tenfold.

Learning to build again will take more than a resurgence of will, as Andreessen would have it. And the U.S. should think of bolder proposals than sensible but long-proposed tweaks to R&D policies, re-training programs and STEM education.

What the U.S. really needs to do is reconstitute its communities of engineering practice. That will require treating manufacturing work, even in low-margin goods, as fundamentally valuable. Technological sophisticates in Silicon Valley would be wise to drop their dismissive attitude towards manufacturing as a “commoditized” activity and treat it as being as valuable as R&D work. And corporate America should start viewing workers not purely as costs to be slashed, but as practitioners keeping alive knowledge essential to the production process.

The U.S. government has a crucial role to play. Bills winding through in Congress to re-shore some of the medical supply chain should be only the start. For too long, tax laws have encouraged offshoring; it’s time for political leaders to remove the excuse for manufacturers not to bring production back home.


Plenty of people pointing out that it’s not as simple as Andreessen’s “let’s just *want* to build”.
unique link to this extract

The VR winter • Benedict Evans


…if we can’t work out a form of content that isn’t also deep and narrow [as games console content is], I think we have to assume that VR will be a subset of the games console. That would be a decent business, but it’s not why Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus. It’s another branch off the side of tech, not the next platform after smartphones.

There’s a bunch of ideas that float around here. One is that you can’t really do apps and productivity yet because the screens aren’t high enough resolution to read text, so we can’t yet work in a 360 degree virtual sphere, and that will come. Another is that the headsets need to be even smaller and even lighter, and do pass-through so you can see the room around you. Yet another is that we just have to keep waiting, and in particular wait for a larger installed base (presumably driven by those deep-and-narrow games sales), and the innovation will somehow kick in.

There’s nothing fundamentally illogical about any of these ideas, but they do remind me a little of Karl Popper’s criticism of Marxists – that when asked why their supposedly scientific prediction hadn’t happened yet they would always say ‘ah, the historical circumstances aren’t right – you just have to wait a few more years’. There is also, of course, the tendency of Marxists to respond to being asked why communist states seem always to turn out badly by saying ‘ah, but that isn’t proper communism’. I seem to hear ‘ah, but that isn’t proper VR’ an awful lot these days.


He’s not quite prepared to say it, but I will: another VR winter is coming. See you all in 2040.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1304: Facebook names Oversight board, all the Covid symptoms in one place, Chromebook sales spike, Sidewalk exits Toronto, and more

Finding Zoom calls strangely exhausting? It’s not just you – video calls aren’t relaxing CC-licensed photo by Liz Henry 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. Another week survived! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Will Facebook’s new oversight board be a radical shift or a reputational shield? • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:


will Facebook’s oversight board live up to its lofty promises and reshape how Facebook shapes the world? Or will it just be a reputational shield for a company whose pathologies run deeper than the question of whether individual pieces of content should be allowed or taken down?

“We are all committed to freedom of expression within the framework of international norms of human rights,” the four co-chairs of the board – Catalina Botero-Marino, Jamal Greene, Michael W McConnell and Helle Thorning-Schmidt – wrote in a New York Times op-ed introducing themselves to the public Wednesday. “We will make decisions based on those principles and on the effects on Facebook users and society, without regard to the economic, political or reputational interests of the company.”

“I wish I could say that the Facebook review board was cosmetic, but I’m not even sure that it’s that deep,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of a book on Facebook. “If Facebook really wanted to take outside criticism seriously at any point in the past decade, it could have taken human rights activists seriously about problems in Myanmar; it could have taken journalists seriously about problems in the Philippines; it could have taken legal scholars seriously about the way it deals with harassment; and it could have taken social media scholars seriously about the ways that it undermines democracy in India and Brazil. But it didn’t. This is greenwashing.”


Seems like this is going to be complicated. Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, was also picked for the 20-strong board, and he says that he joined because


The global Covid-19 crisis we’re currently living through exemplifies the mortal dangers of a world of information chaos. Societies and communities can’t function unless there is some consensus around facts and truth. And the coronavirus is, in some ways, merely a dress rehearsal for the even greater challenges of climate change.

At the same time, there is a crisis of free expression — with oligarchs, populist leaders, and some corporations trying to delegitimize and repress the voices of those who would challenge them. Finally, there is a crisis of journalism: both the economic model which sustains it, and in the generally low levels of trust much of it enjoys.

Facebook sits at the heart of these interlocking crises — and it’s not hard to see why it’s tied itself in knots trying to solve even some of them.


I’d be wary of quite how overruled Zuckerberg can be. And how long he’ll tolerate it. What if the board says that any physical abuse video should be taken down? That factchecked-as-wrong content should be removed, not just downranked?
unique link to this extract

As shipment skyrockets in 2Q20, Chromebooks to set record by occupying 25% of notebook computer shipment for first time ever • TrendForce



TrendForce forecasts global Chromebook shipment in 2Q20 to reach up to 11.6 million units, a historical high in single-quarter shipment. Furthermore, 2Q20 marks the first time ever for Chromebooks to occupy 25% of total quarterly notebook shipment.

TrendForce considers the explosive growth of Chromebooks to be caused by the following factors: First, many countries have turned to distance learning at all levels of the education system due to the pandemic. As the education market has always been the primary market for Chromebooks, Chromebooks have now become the hardware purchase of choice for the student population in North America and Europe, since many families are taking extra care when budgeting during the pandemic. In sum, the transformation of the education system under the pandemic’s influence is the primary factor responsible for the surge of Chromebook shipment.

Secondly, in early 2020, most notebook brands did not view Chromebooks as an important product in their yearly strategy. But the subsequent onset of the pandemic introduced a breakage in the Chinese supply chain, while at the same time market demand for Chromebooks began rising. These events led to a large number of urgent Chromebook orders being placed in 2Q20; the traditional seasonal peak demand for Chromebooks due to the start of the school year in third quarters is thus emerging ahead of time this year in 2Q20 instead, in turn becoming another key factor facilitating the surge of Chromebook shipment. Also, the retail prices of Chromebooks are considerably more consumer-friendly relative to those of Windows notebooks. This has given Chromebooks an edge in securing public educational project bids. A notable example of this is the recent adoption of Chromebooks in the Japanese education market for the first time.


I’ve been expecting Chromebooks to take over in call centres and similar for absolutely years, and it hasn’t happened. Even so: the forecast here is to sell a grand total of 20 million over the year, for a share (of laptops) of 13%.
unique link to this extract

How Kushner’s volunteer force led a fumbling hunt for medical supplies • The New York Times

Nicholas Confessore, Andrew Jacobs, Jodi Kantor, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Luis Ferré-Sadurní:


Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks had longtime manufacturing contacts in China and a line on millions of masks from established suppliers. Instead of encountering seasoned FEMA procurement officials, his information was diverted to a team of roughly a dozen young volunteers, recruited by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and overseen by a former assistant to Mr. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump.

The volunteers, foot soldiers in the Trump administration’s new supply-chain task force, had little to no experience with government procurement procedures or medical equipment. But as part of Mr. Kushner’s governmentwide push to secure protective gear for the nation’s doctors and nurses, the volunteers were put in charge of sifting through more than a thousand incoming leads, and told to pass only the best ones on for further review by FEMA officials.

As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare and medical workers improvised their own safety gear, Dr. Hendricks found his offer stalled. Many of the volunteers were told to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of President Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The New York Times. Among them were leads from Republican members of Congress, the Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump.

Trump allies also pressed FEMA officials directly: a Pennsylvania dentist, once featured at a Trump rally, dropped the president’s name as he pushed the agency to procure test kits from his associates.
Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee.


I know – astonishing isn’t it that someone with no experience organising a life-or-death large-scale procurement could be sure they knew how to do it. Oh, but of course. Anyway, it’ll be great for Joe Biden to hire Hunter (or partner) to organise everything in the White House next year. The GOP will be totally fine with that and won’t hear a word against it.
unique link to this extract

Finding endless video calls exhausting? You’re not alone • The Conversation

Andre Spicer:


When we interact with another person through the screen, our brains have to work much harder. We miss many of the other cues we’d have during a real-life conversation like the smell of the room or some detail in our peripheral vision. This additional information helps our brains make sense of what is going on.

When that extra information is gone, our brains have to work harder to make sense of what is happening. This can sometimes put us at a disadvantage. For instance, a meta-analysis of job interviews found that people tended to fare worse when they were interviewed through video link than in person.

The greater effort it takes to make sense of what’s going on means we often take mental shortcuts. This can result in mistakes. One study found that medics who attended a seminar via video conferencing tended to focus on whether they liked the presenter, while those who attended in person focused on the quality of presenter’s arguments.

Another study found that when courts made decisions about a refugee’s appeal using a video call, they were less trusting and understanding. Applicants were more likely to lie and judges were less likely to spot falsehoods. A third study found that court sketch artists made less accurate drawings when gathering information via video call.

Our biases can get worse if the line is glitchy. Even a one second delay can make us think people on the other end of the line are less friendly. One experiment found that when the video quality was low, people were much more cautious in their communication.


Hmm, maybe these “office” things will prove resilient after all.
unique link to this extract

From blood clots to ‘Covid toe’: the medical mysteries of coronavirus • Financial Times

Clive Cookson:


less than five months after it was first identified, this new coronavirus is managing to throw up a series of medical mysteries — from blood clots and strokes to digestive problems — that are confounding the scientific community.

From head to foot, Covid-19 causes a fiendish variety of symptoms. Some are relatively mild, such as loss of smell and taste or chilblain-like sores on toes. But others may be fatal, such as when what doctors call an immune storm destroys vital organs. The more this virus is studied, the more complex it appears to be.

“Every day we’re learning of new tricks that the virus plays,” says Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London. “It is remarkable to see a disease unfolding in front of our eyes with so many twists and turns.”


(There’s no paywall on this article.) This is a veritable kitchen sink of an article – absolutely everything you could want, plus a big graphic.
unique link to this extract

Staying alive: background tracing and the NHS COVID-19 app • Reincubate

Aidan Fitzpatrick:


How then, can the British NHS COVID-19 effectively trace new devices whilst backgrounded, without “falling asleep” (technically, “being suspended”) and thus being rendered ineffective? From our testing with version 1.0.1b341 of “NHS COVID-19” app, we can see does indeed communicate effectively in the background. It appears that this is done through use of a series of clever workarounds using keepalives and notifications. Force quitting the app will stop background tracing, however, if instead the phone is powered off and back on, it will continue to communicate properly in the background. This workaround may or may not fall foul of Apple, but at this point it hasn’t been disclosed, and Apple have approved the builds of the app they’ve seen so far.

We’re continuing to look into this and will be publishing more detail as things develop.

Does the NHS COVID-19 app store sensitive data?

No. The app seems very well put together, using sensible security practises, and without storage of unnecessary data. It revolves around a linkingId that gets generated for each install of the app. This ID persists across install of the app, so uninstalling and reinstalling it won’t reset the identifier.

Looking at data from the app using iPhone Backup Extractor under the uk.nhs.nhsx.sonar path, we can see there are a series of files coupled to Google Firebase and a collection of small Plists (configuration files) for the rest of the app’s data.


Doesn’t ask for location. And can’t (yet) use the Apple-Google API (because it hasn’t been released, at least for iOS devices). Quite a dig into it.
unique link to this extract

Sidewalk Labs announces it will “no longer pursue” Quayside project • BetaKit

Isabelle Kirkwood:


Sidewalk Labs has announced it will no longer pursue its project at Quayside in Toronto. The company noted the decision was due to the current “unprecedented economic uncertainty.” Sidewalk Labs and Google will both remain in Toronto.

The company, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, has worked on its smart city proposal for the Quayside neighbourhood over the last two-and-a-half years, alongside Waterfront Toronto, the tri-government agency overseeing the development. In January, the deadline to decide whether to move ahead with Sidewalk Labs’ smart city development proposal was pushed from March 31 until May 20.

“In October 2017, Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto set out to plan a shared vision for Quayside, a fundamentally more sustainable and affordable community resulting from innovations in technology and urban design,” CEO Dan Doctoroff in a statement. “Since the project began, I’ve met thousands of Torontonians from all over the city, excited by the possibility of making urban life better for everyone.”

Doctoroff said the economic circumstances made it “too difficult” to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing “core parts” of its plan. Sidewalk Labs, which has a 30-person office on the waterfront, will continue to work on some of its proposed innovations, including mass timber construction, a digital master-planning tool, and its approach to all-electric neighbourhoods.


Doctoroff is surely talking bullshit about those excited Torontonians. I’d love to know what part of the economic circumstances has so abruptly shut this down. I think we’ll see play out many times in the future: sketchy projects that were on life support will be terminated. Sidewalk won’t be mourned.
unique link to this extract

Zoom acquires Keybase to get end-to-end encryption expertise • TechCrunch

Ron Miller:


Keybase, which has been building encryption products for several years including secure file sharing and collaboration tools, should give Zoom some security credibility as it goes through pandemic demand growing pains.

The company has faced a number of security issues in the last couple of months as demand as soared and exposed some security weaknesses in the platform. As the company has moved to address these issues, having a team of encryption experts on staff should help the company build a more secure product.

In a blog post announcing the deal, CEO Eric Yuan said they acquired Keybase to give customers a higher level of security, something that’s increasingly important to enterprise customers as more operations are relying on the platform, working from home during the pandemic.

“This acquisition marks a key step for Zoom as we attempt to accomplish the creation of a truly private video communications platform that can scale to hundreds of millions of participants, while also having the flexibility to support Zoom’s wide variety of uses,” Yuan wrote.


Keybase, though, doesn’t know quite why Zoom has bought it: according to Keybase’s announcement,


Initially, our single top priority is helping to make Zoom even more secure. There are no specific plans for the Keybase app yet. Ultimately Keybase’s future is in Zoom’s hands, and we’ll see where that takes us. Of course, if anything changes about Keybase’s availability, our users will get plenty of notice.


unique link to this extract

Cuomo faces backlash for enlisting billionaires Eric Schmidt and Bill Gates to ‘reimagine’ NY after reopening • Forbes

Rachel Sandler:


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has enlisted former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates this week to “reimagine” how the state’s approach to education and technology might change during and after the pandemic—but the move has drawn backlash from local officials and education advocates who say the state shouldn’t be depending on wealthy unelected officials.

Schmidt and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have both been tasked in separate efforts to help determine what the state may look like after the pandemic subsides and when schools reopen.

Some progressive local officials slammed Cuomo for leaning on billionaires for assistance, with Deputy State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris saying, “These are not people who should determine for us how best to provide services to everyday New Yorkers.”

Local education advocates in particular blasted the Gates Foundation, which has a fraught history among teachers and parent groups over its support for Common Core, a controversial standardized testing program implemented in New York and elsewhere.


There’s always this huge temptation to say “oooh, X made lots of money at a tech company, they must be really visionary and know how to shape society”. Bill Gates has, but through the medium of vaccination – a centuries-old technique – made cheaper. Schmidt, well, has he done anything beyond Google? And it’s hardly as though that was his idea. He drove the business thinking.

A few years ago Mark Zuckerberg had a big idea about remaking education. Went nowhere, as I recall.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1303: NHS considers pivot to Apple-Google API, Uber cuts 14% of staff, Magic Leap on the edge, the shape of business post-Covid, and more

This person hooked his smart doorlock up to a Wink Hub in 2014. Now the company wants $5 a month, or the hub dies. CC-licensed photo by Marcus Kwan 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.

NHS tracing app in question as experts assess Google-Apple model • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaw, Sarah Neville and Helen Warrell:


The UK’s decision to go it alone has been criticised by privacy campaigners and technologists, who say the app will be less effective than incorporating Apple and Google’s software, while also gathering too much personal information in a central database. It has also raised concerns about whether the UK app will be compatible with those under development by other countries which are using the Apple and Google model. If not, this could present barriers for Britons travelling abroad in the future.

Contract documents obtained by Tussell, a data provider on UK government contracts and expenditure, and shared with the Financial Times, show that the London office of Zuhlke Engineering, a Switzerland-based IT development firm, has been awarded a new multimillion pound contract by NHSX, the state-funded health service’s digital innovation arm. The six-month contract to develop and support the Covid-19 contact tracing app is worth £3.8m and was due to begin on Wednesday, the documents show. 

The contract includes a requirement to “investigate the complexity, performance and feasibility of implementing native Apple and Google contact tracing APIs [application programming interfaces] within the existing proximity mobile application and platform”. The work is described as a “two week timeboxed technical spike”, suggesting it is still at a preliminary phase, but with a deadline of mid-May. An application programming interface is the means by which software developers access certain functions of a device’s operating system.

…Downing Street has been tracking developments in Australia, which like the UK has developed its own contact-tracing app without Apple and Google software, but has now run into technical difficulties. One person close to the NHS development process said British officials had been concerned when Germany, which had also been developing its own app, suddenly reverted to the Apple and Google-assisted model last month, leaving Britain more of an outlier within Europe.


Germany hasn’t put a foot wrong through the whole crisis, so maybe Downing Street might want to catch a clue on this one, at least.

unique link to this extract

Introducing Wink Subscription • Wink Blog

Somebody Who Understandably Doesn’t Want To Put Their Name To This:


Wink has taken many steps in an effort to keep your Hub’s blue light on, however, long term costs and recent economic events have caused additional strain on our business. Unlike companies that sell user data to offset costs associated with offering free services, we do not. Data privacy is one of Wink’s core values, and we believe that user data should never be sold for marketing or any purpose.

We have a lot of great ideas on how to expand on Wink’s capabilities and satisfy the many requests from our user base. In order to provide for development and continued growth, we are transitioning to a $4.99 monthly subscription, starting on May 13, 2020. This fee is designed to be as modest as possible. Your support will enable us to continue providing you with the functionality that you’ve come to rely on, and focus on accelerating new integrations and app features.

Should you choose not to sign up for a subscription you will no longer be able to access your Wink devices from the app, with voice control or through the API, and your automations will be disabled on May 13. Your device connections, settings and automations can be reactivated if you decide to subscribe at a later date.


So basically they sold them at too low a price, and now they’re holding a gun to folks’ heads to pay up. (Also, what are “long term costs”?) An absolutely disastrous tactic. Five years old and linked to “more than 4 million connected devices”: that suggests, what, 1-2 million hubs? Given the short deadline, it looks more like an attempt to say “oh well we tried” when some miniscule number of people (10,000?) sign up, and it has to declare bankruptcy, as it did in 2015. Apparently it was bought from Flextronics in July 2017 by’s company.

I think though that two things will happen: lots of people will migrate away; and some hackers will try to create an open source version that can be installed instead. If Wink doesn’t reverse this decision, it’s dead. But possibly it’s dead if it does too.
unique link to this extract

Magic Leap in talks to raise money from ‘major health care company,’ CEO tells staff • The Information

Alex Heath:


The deal is in due diligence, the emails said, and could still fall apart. The potential health care investor would use the headsets in surgical procedures and training, [Magic Leap founder and CEO Rony] Abovitz said in a recent memo to employees seen by The Information. Abovitz’s previous company, which made technology for use in surgeries, sold for $1.65bn in 2013.

The funding talks, which Abovitz disclosed last week to employees, follow the company’s decision to lay off roughly 1,000 employees and abandon its plan to sell its headsets to consumers. Remaining Magic Leap employees have been told that if the company is “unable to obtain financing or realize an alternative corporate option” by June 21, they, too, would be let go. Abovitz also recently told employees that the company would postpone a plan to pay their 2019 bonuses over monthly installments.


So Magic Leap has six weeks, or it’s toast. (Noticing any trends lately?)

Though the potential for surgical training sound good, there would be a ton more investment needed to turn that into a real product: what are you trying to train people to do, how do you create the scenarios and objects, and so on. And it always runs up against the question: haven’t we been doing this more cheaply and just as effectively for ages?
unique link to this extract

Uber layoffs: 3,700 employees, or 14% of workforce due to coronavirus • CNBC

Lauren Feiner:


Uber said Wednesday it will lay off 3,700 employees and that CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will forgo his base salary for the rest of the year.

The layoffs to its customer support and recruiting teams represent about 14% of its 26,900 employees, based on Uber’s most recent headcount.

Khosrowshahi made $1m in base salary in 2019 but gained the vast majority of his compensation from bonuses and stock awards.

The moves were announced in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Uber’s stock was down more than 2% Wednesday.

Uber has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has crushed the travel industry because of lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus. Uber’s global gross bookings are down 80%, according to a report from The Information last month. Investors will get a greater sense of the impact on Thursday when Uber reports earnings.

Khosrowshahi hinted in a memo to employees Wednesday that more cost cuts are on the way.


AirBnB, now Uber. Who’s next? (Also, that’s quite a base salary, isn’t it?)
unique link to this extract

COVID and cascading collapses • Benedict Evans


We are having a similar kind of external shock to the one that reset the print ad market in 2008/9, and a lot of new services and infrastructure have built up penetration and capability that is not perhaps captured by gravity. And now we’re all forced to try to use all of them. A bunch of industries look like candidates to get a decade of inevitability in a week.

The really obvious one is retail. Everything that the internet did to print media is happening to retail – a lot of retailers, like newspapers or magazines, are fixed-cost bundles that are now being unbundled, and are defended by barriers to entry that are now meaningless. Hence we’ve been talking about the ‘retail apocalypse’ for a year or two now, as the internet reached a level of penetration that made those fixed costs unsustainable and consumer behaviour peeled off more and more of the bundle. This is a ‘boiling the frog’ chart – you can’t see the collapse yet, but…

We all know that this next chart will not look good this year (and it will show a lot of human suffering), but the real question is whether in 5 years it looks like the print advertising chart we began with – except that this will affect 10% of the work force. Is today’s step down followed by a step back up?


America, as he points out, is particularly overserved for retail space. Not a good time to own an American mall, or stocks in a company that owns an American mall.
unique link to this extract

Will we shrug off coronavirus deaths as we do gun violence? • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:


The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying.

I first saw it on Twitter. “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” a tweet from Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, read. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks because of just how plausible it seemed. The day I read Mr. Nelson’s tweet, 1,723 Americans were reported to have died from the virus. And yet their collective passing was hardly mourned. After all, how to distinguish those souls from the 2,097 who perished the day before or the 1,558 who died the day after?

Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale, we get used to it.

There’s also a national precedent for Mr. Nelson’s hypothetical: America’s response to gun violence and school shootings.


As he points out, Americans fail to impose the view of the majority on the minority in so many instances, especially around guns (you could ban AR-15s, you know) and public health. It’s a country in thrall to extremists.
unique link to this extract

Ousted vaccine director files whistleblower complaint alleging coronavirus warnings were ignored • CNN Politics

Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak:


Dr. Rick Bright, the ousted director of the office involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine, formally filed an extensive whistleblower complaint Tuesday alleging his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored and that his caution at a treatment favored by President Donald Trump led to his removal.

“I was pressured to let politics and cronyism drive decisions over the opinions of the best scientists we have in government,” Bright said on a call with reporters after filing his complaint.

Bright said in the complaint he raised urgent concerns about shortages of critical supplies, including masks, to his superiors in the Trump administration but was met with skepticism and surprise.

While Bright said some officials shared his concerns – including top White House trade adviser Peter Navarro – he describes an overall lack of action at the top of the administration even as the virus was spreading outside of China.

Bright had led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority since 2016 when he was reassigned last month to a narrower position at the National Institutes of Health.

An attorney for Bright told reporters on Tuesday he was scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill next week. Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, the chairwoman of the House’s Health Subcommittee, told CNN last month she planned to call in Bright to testify before her panel as she reviews the circumstances of his removal.
In his whistleblower complaint, Bright says he raised concerns about US preparedness for coronavirus starting in January but was met with “indifference which then developed into hostility” by leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services.


Should make for a fun hearing.
unique link to this extract

What is the value of exposure when exposure is all there is? • Music Industry Blog

Mark Mulligan:


Streaming has been the change agent that turned around 15 years of decline. But it also completely reframed artist income from recorded music. In the old sales model artists would get a large sum of money in a relatively short period of time. Streaming income is more like an annuity, a longer-term return where the music keeps paying long after release. In the old model artists had smaller but high-spending audiences. With streaming they have larger but lower-value audiences.

For example, a recouped independent artist might expect to earn $4,500 for selling 1,500 copies of an album. That is roughly how much an artist would get from 5,000 people streaming the album 20 times each. The average revenue per user (ARPU) has gone from $3.00 to $0.90 for streaming. The artist has traded ARPU for reach.

This model worked fine when live and merch were booming because more than three times as many monetised fans meant three times more opportunity for selling tickets and t-shirts. This of course is the ‘exposure’ argument streaming services are fond of, which works until it does not. Now that live and merch have collapsed, as the trope goes ‘exposure does not pay the rent’. The previously interconnected, interdependent model has become decoupled.

Put simply, artist streaming economics do not work without live.


The solution doesn’t lie in changing royalty structures (because that would wreck the streaming companies; they go bust or give up). See if you can figure out what the solution is.
unique link to this extract

SARS-CoV-2 has not mutated into different types, new research confirms • University of Glasgow


Recent research had suggested that more than one type of SARS-CoV-2 was now circulating in the pandemic, with one strain being more aggressive and causing more serious illness than the other. Now, using analysis of SARS-CoV-2 virus samples from the pandemic, scientists have been able to show that only one type of the virus is currently circulating. Their research is published in the journal Virus Evolution.

Viruses, including the one causing COVID-19, naturally accumulate mutations – or changes – in their genetic sequence as they spread through populations. However, most of these changes will have no effect on the virus biology or the aggressiveness of the disease they cause.

Earlier this year, it was reported that scientists had found two or three strains of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in the population, evidenced by certain mutations that had been detected. However, thanks to extensive analysis of the virus genomes annotated by the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research’s CoV-GLUE resource, scientists at the University of Glasgow have demonstrated that these detected mutations are unlikely to have any functional significance, and importantly, don’t represent different virus types.

CoV-GLUE tracks SARS-CoV-2’s amino acid replacements, insertions and deletions, which have been observed in samples from the pandemic. To date the database has catalogued 7,237 mutations in the pandemic. While this may sound like a lot of change, scientists confirm that it is a relatively low rate of evolution for an RNA virus, and they expect more mutations will continue to accumulate as the pandemic continues.


This is the thing that I didn’t write about yesterday, because there was doubt about its accuracy. Didn’t stop a ton of much bigger sites writing it with huge certainty that OMG VIRUS EVIL CALAMITY. In science like this, it does pay to hold off sometimes.
unique link to this extract

Michigan security guard killed in mask dispute; suspect said he ‘disrespected’ them • NBC News

Ben Kesslen and Corky Siemaszko:


Three people were charged Monday with killing a Michigan store security guard who they say “disrespected” a relative by insisting that she don a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Two of the suspects, Ramonyea Bishop, 23, and Larry Teague, 44, were still being sought, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.

The third suspect, Sharmel Teague, 45, has been arrested, Leyton said.

All are charged with first-degree murder in Friday’s shooting of Calvin Munerlyn, 43, a father of eight, at a Family Dollar store in the city of Flint.

“From all indications, Mr. Munerlyn was simply doing his job in upholding the governor’s executive order related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the safety of store employees and customers,” Leyton said in a press release.


Following up from Monday.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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. 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:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

Airbnb to lay off nearly 1,900 people, 25% of company • CNBC

Deirdre Bosa and Salvador Rodriguez:


“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.”


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.
unique link to this extract

The race for coronavirus vaccines: a graphical guide • Nature

Ewen Callaway:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

Reviving a 16-year old Mac App • Tumult Company Blog

Jonathan Deutsch:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

Accelerating innovation in Windows 10 to meet customers where they are • Windows Experience Blog

Panos Panay:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

Democrats are using AI to counter Trump’s coronavirus disinformation • The Next Web

Thomas Macaulay:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

Experts doubt the sun is actually burning coal • Scientific American

From 1863:


“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…”


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.
unique link to this extract

Indycar’s virtual race crashes sparked real-world controversy among drivers • VICE

Rob Zacny:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

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:


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.


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.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1301: lockdown poses problems for money launderers, Apple and Google block contact location tracking, bye bye butterfly (on laptops), and more

An Amazon vice-president has resigned in solidarity with workers concerned about the risks they faced from Covid-19. CC-licensed photo by Scottish Government on Flickr.

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

A selection of 8 links for you. Fewer, but chewier. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bye, Amazon • ongoing by Tim Bray

Tim Bray is pretty much a legend in the tech industry: used to work at Sun Microsystems, had a hand in XML, worked at Google on Android, and now worked – part tense – at Amazon:


May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.

What with big-tech salaries and share vestings, this will probably cost me over a million (pre-tax) dollars, not to mention the best job I’ve ever had, working with awfully good people. So I’m pretty blue…

…An announcement sent to internal mailing lists on Friday April 10th was apparently the flashpoint. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two visible AECJ leaders, were fired on the spot that day. The justifications were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing.

Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists.

Snap! · At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people. ¶

That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.


It’s an excoriating blogpost, and reminds you too how rare it is for someone to resign so publicly in the tech industry and to side with the low-paid people in the company. That’s what Bray did, and does. It’s easy to forget that your Amazon deliveries don’t arrive via magic drones; real humans are earning pittances doing it, while Jeff Bezos is so rich you can’t grasp it.
unique link to this extract

Apple, Google ban use of location tracking in contact tracing apps • Reuters

Stephen Nellis and Paresh Dave:


Both companies said privacy and preventing governments from using the system to compile data on citizens was a primary goal. The system uses bluetooth signals from phones to detect encounters and does not use or store GPS location data.

But the developers of official coronavirus-related apps in several U.S. states told Reuters last month it was vital that they be allowed to use GPS location data in conjunction with the new contact tracing system, to track how outbreaks move and identify hotspots.

Apple and Google said they will not allow use of GPS data along with the contact tracing systems. The decision will require public health authorities who want to use GPS location data to rely on unstable workarounds to detect encounters using Bluetooth sensors.

Privacy experts have warned that any cache of location data related to health issues could make businesses and individuals vulnerable to being ostracized if the data is exposed.

Authorities and their app developers could reject the Apple-Google restrictions and instead use a more basic Bluetooth-based system to log with whom users have crossed paths. But the system likely would miss some encounters because iPhones and Android devices turn off Bluetooth connections after some time for battery-saving and other reasons unless users remember to re-activate them.

Apple and Google also said Monday that they will allow only one app per country to use the new contact system, to avoid fragmentation and encourage wider adoption.


Apparently this could be a problem for countries such as Norway. The “one per country” idea is a good one, at least.
unique link to this extract

Exclusive: ‘wobbly’ NHS tracing app ‘failed’ clinical safety and cyber security tests • Health Service Journal

Jasmine Rapson:


The government’s coronavirus contact tracing app has so far failed the tests needed to be included in the NHS app library, HSJ understands.

The app is being trialled on the Isle of Wight this week, ahead of a national rollout later this month. Senior NHS sources told HSJ it had thus far failed all of the tests required for inclusion in the app library, including cyber security, performance and clinical safety.

There are also concerns at high levels about how users’ privacy will be protected once they log that they have coronavirus symptoms, and become “traceable”, and how this information will be used.

Senior figures told HSJ that it had been hard to assess the app because the government was “going about it in a kind of a hamfisted way. They haven’t got clear versions, so it’s been impossible to get fixed code base from them for NHS Digital to test. They keep changing it all over the place”. 

HSJ’s source described the app as “a bit wobbly”, but added that it was not a “big disaster” the app will not be included in the official NHS store at this stage, because it is at an early development stage. However, they also expressed concern about whether it will be able to pass in the near future…

…A senior NHS national source told HSJ: “The real problem is the government initially started saying it was a ‘privacy-preserving highly anonymous app’, but it quite clearly isn’t going to be… When you use the app and you’re not [covid-19] positive in the early stages, you’re just exchanging signals between two machines… But the second you say, ‘actually I’m positive’, that has to go back up to the government server, where it starts to track you versus other people.”

A DHSC spokesman stressed there was not a plan for the app to track people’s location, for example with GPS, but to monitor who they have been near to, with Bluetooth.


At a guess, the NHSX team started working on a contact tracing app a while back, but then had to tear a lot of that up when Apple and Google announced their joint API. It might be an unhappy hybrid of the former and the latter.
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus slows Los Angeles money laundering, bringing seizures • Los Angeles Times

Matthew Ormseth:


The shuttering of nonessential businesses has made a “tremendous impact” on a money laundering system dubbed the black market peso exchange, he said. In the fashion district in downtown Los Angeles — the exchange’s epicenter — drug trafficking groups from throughout the country use wholesalers to remit profits to Mexico, according to cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Steven Mygrant, a federal prosecutor in Oregon who charged six people with laundering heroin proceeds through Los Angeles businesses, said two primary factors drive the exchange: drug trafficking groups need to convert dollars to pesos, which is expensive to do legitimately, and they need to move money from the United States to Mexico, which is risky to transport in cash.

To accomplish this, Mygrant said, a broker pays pesos for the drug traffickers’ dollars. The traffickers deliver cash to an exporter in Los Angeles, who ships goods — commonly clothing, cosmetics, jewelry or sportswear — to a retailer in Mexico. The retailer sells the goods for pesos and pays the broker.

Developed by Colombian cocaine traffickers, Mexican cartels initially did not embrace the black market peso exchange, Bodner said, finding it easier to simply smuggle bulk cash across the border and launder it in Mexico. That changed about 10 years ago, he said, when the Mexican government tightened financial regulations and restricted the flow of dollars into its banks.

Recently, with storefronts closed and agents seizing millions in cash packaged for transport, it appears drug trafficking groups are resorting to older, riskier ways of repatriating profits, Bodner said.

The coronavirus has also cooled Chinese capital flight, he said, which before the pandemic was the primary driver of international money laundering.


As one person remarked on Twitter, the speed with which some shops in those areas reopen will tell you which are the ones being used for money laundering.
unique link to this extract

What the coronavirus crisis reveals about American medicine • The New Yorker

Siddhartha Mukherjee:


A putative advantage of digital hospital records is to enable on-the-fly searches—not the kind of data project that the N.I.H. [National Institutes of Health] might fund (its grants take weeks to process even on an accelerated schedule) but the kind that might be completed in an hour. Perhaps, I thought, we should be advising covid-19 patients to call us if they suspected clots—if their breathing rate and heart rate increased suddenly, for instance. Perhaps our hospital system’s emergency department should be alerted.

Because clotting is a frequent issue among patients with cancers, I called my colleague Azra Raza, the director of Columbia’s Myelodysplastic Syndrome Center, to ask if we could search through the database of her patients for any who had reported being infected, and, if so, had experienced blood clots. She sighed. “I can’t think of a simple way to do this,” she told me. “And in any case, because of all the concerns around privacy, if you wanted to report the findings you would have to file with the institutional review board.”

“But that would take a month, at least,” I protested. (In recent weeks, many hospitals have accelerated their review process to deal with the pace of the pandemic.)

“It’s the way the system is,” she said. “If you want to report the number of times a patient has cut her nails in the last week, you would need approval. And it’s not easy at all to search the E.M.R. [electronic medical records] for any of this information. You’d have to hire someone specifically to look through it.”

A cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, echoed this frustration on Twitter: “Why are nearly all notes in [the doctors’ notes filing system] Epic . . . basically *useless* to understand what’s happening to patient during hospital course?” Another doctor’s reply: “Because notes are used to bill, determine level of service, and document it rather than their intended purpose, which was to convey our observations, assessment, and plan. Our important work has been co-opted by billing.”


Very sobering reading.
unique link to this extract

Was the new coronavirus accidentally released from a Wuhan lab? It’s doubtful • The Washington Post

Meg Kelly and Sarah Cahlan:


In Wuhan, at least two labs study coronaviruses that originate in bats — the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention (WHCDC). Both are close to the seafood market. The WIV is about eight miles away. The WHCDC is right around the corner.

Despite the overlap in research, what the two labs actually do is quite different. The WIV is home to China’s first laboratory to receive the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). In addition, it houses lower-level (BSL-3 and BSL-2) labs. The WHCDC is home only to a BSL-2 lab.
“BSL-2 is what we normally think of when we think of a lab,” explained Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. It is a lab where “somebody is wearing a lab coat and gloves; they’re at a bench.” (BSL-4 is akin to what is seen in movies such as “Contagion.”)…

…So how did this virus end up 1,000 miles from the nearest known relative? There are any number of potential explanations. A wildlife trafficker might have brought an infected bat into the city. Another animal might have picked up the virus from bats years ago, allowing it to transform in just the right way to infect humans. There are thousands of bat viruses that scientists have not sampled and even more coronaviruses that circulate in other species, so there’s no guarantee it actually came from thousands of miles away.

But even if that virus from Shi’s lab is not the source for the virus, her lab is full of bat coronavirus variants. That left us wondering: could this virus have been the accidental product of an experiment gone awry? A 2015 paper cautioned against the “gain of function” experiments with which Shi’s team was involved. In this kind of experiment, the researchers mutate a virus strain to enhance a pathogen’s natural traits. Even though the most dangerous part of that experiment was not conducted at the WIV, the 2018 State Department cables referenced similar research by Shi and her team.

In 2017, Shi and her team published a study revealing that they had found a coronavirus from a bat that could be transmitted directly to humans. After reviewing the study, Rasmussen said via email that just because these viruses could attach to human cells, it “does not show that they are particularly effective at doing so.” Binding is only one part of the process. “It is not the sole determinant of viral fitness (the ability of the virus to replicate robustly in a given host) or pathogenicity (the ability of the virus to cause disease).” Moreover, genomic analysis reveals that none of the virus samples used to conduct these experiments were or could have been transformed to be the new coronavirus that causes covid-19.


Trump and those seeking to placate his raging narcissism have confused the WIV and the WHCDC (well, that Chinese writing, it’s hard to tell). “Lab escape” is completely the Trump admin’s version of WMD: a story they desperately want to be true, so they’ll make up any old crap about it. It’s more easily explained by simpler, natural methods; that’s what has happened hundreds or thousands of times before.

I also highly recommend this article from Scientific American, which talks to the woman in charge of the WIV. I have a strong feeling that a lot of the “intelligence dossiers” about the WIV being put together rely very heavily on the Scientific American article, but heftily distorted with a “OMG 94% SIMILAR RNA” slant, which fools people who know nothing about science.
unique link to this extract

Apple drops 13-inch MacBook Pro with monstrous 32GB of RAM, non-crap keyboard • Input Mag

Raymond Wong:


The new 13-inch MacBook Pros are notable for one major reason: after five years of ignoring the flaws of its ill-fated butterfly keyboards, all of Apple’s MacBooks now have good keyboards again. The kind that has enough key travel, won’t break if dust gets stuck underneath, and sport inverted-T arrow keys.

The other notable thing about the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is that it can be configured with up to 32GB of RAM of fast LPDDR4X RAM. Previously, Apple reserved 32GB for the 15- and 16-inch MacBook Pros. Not anymore!

Back in 2016, Apple senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller told one disgruntled customer who really wanted 32GB of RAM in a MacBook Pro this: “To put more than 16GB of fast RAM into a notebook design at this time would require a memory system that consumes much more power and wouldn’t be efficient enough for a notebook.” Looks like the time has finally come and it only took four years.


The first laptop to get the butterfly keyboard was the MacBook, in March 2015. The last laptop to get the butterfly keyboard was the MacBook Air, at the end of October 2018. The first laptop to get the Magic Keyboard was the 16in MacBook Pro, in November 2019. (The MacBook Air followed in
March 2020.)

On that basis it’s only been about a year that you were obliged to buy a butterfly model, but if you wanted something better than the MacBook Air’s grotty screen (getting Retina was the deal you made for the butterfly keys) then it’s been a long time.

I wonder too how long the iPad Smart Keyboard (not the new Magic Keyboard) will keep its butterfly keys, which are protected under a layer of fabric and I find perfect.
unique link to this extract

A security guard is shot and killed after telling customer to put on a face mask • CNN

Alec Snyder and Mirna Alsharif:


A security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan, was shot and killed after telling a customer to wear a state-mandated face mask, police said.

Calvin Munerlyn, 43, died at a local hospital after he was shot in the head Friday, said Michigan State Police Lt. David Kaiser.

The shooter and a second suspect remain at large, Kaiser told CNN on Monday.

Witnesses at the store told police that Munerlyn got into a verbal altercation with a woman because she was not wearing a mask, said Genesee County prosecutor David Leyton. Surveillance video confirms the incident, Leyton said. Under an executive order from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, all retail employees and customers have to wear a mask.

Footage also shows that immediately after the altercation, the woman left in an SUV. But about 20 minutes later, the SUV returned.

Two men entered the store and one of them yelled at Munerlyn about disrespecting his wife, Leyton said. The other man then shot the security guard.


unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1300: Zuckerberg tightens grip on Facebook (and Icke kicked off it), the dangers of Amazon’s dynamic pricing, Icann blocks .org sale, and more

This is the correct side to charge your MacBook Pro if you don’t want it to waste CPU cycles and get needlessly hot. CC-licensed photo by scottwearsglasses on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mark Zuckerberg asserts control of Facebook, pushing aside dissenters • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer:


In December, Facebook’s top brass gathered at Mark Zuckerberg’s more than 700-acre beachfront estate in Kauai, Hawaii, for an unusual board meeting to discuss how to redirect the company after years of turmoil.

Changes came, but they weren’t what everyone expected, according to people familiar with the gathering.

Within months, Facebook announced the departure of two directors, and added a longtime friend of Mr. Zuckerberg’s to the board. The moves were the culmination of the chief executive’s campaign over the past two years to consolidate decision-making at the company he co-founded 16 years ago. The 35-year-old tycoon also jumped into action steering Facebook into a high-profile campaign in the coronavirus response, while putting himself in the spotlight interviewing prominent health officials and politicians.

The result is a Facebook CEO and chairman more actively and visibly in charge than he has been in years.

It is far from certain that Mr. Zuckerberg’s repositioning of Facebook, and his role at the top, will lead to a lasting turnaround in its reputation following more than three years of controversy over the spread of misinformation, loose oversight of user data and the company’s competitive practices.

The departure of long-serving directors, along with those of several longtime lieutenants over the past two years, means he is navigating this moment without key advisers who might be able to help him spot potential pitfalls.


This story is long on detail, yet short on overview: nobody of the many who are interviewed seems to have a consistent story to tell about what’s going on, or what was wrong. Is Zuckerberg storing up trouble? He already has total control.
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus: David Icke kicked off Facebook • BBC News

Marianne Spring:


Facebook has taken down the official page of conspiracy theorist David Icke for publishing “health misinformation that could cause physical harm”.

Mr Icke has made several false claims about coronavirus, such as suggesting 5G mobile phone networks are linked to the spread of the virus. In one video, he suggested a Jewish group was behind the virus.

Following the ban, his Twitter account posted: “Fascist Facebook deletes David Icke – the elite are TERRIFIED.” Facebook said in a statement: “We have removed this Page for repeatedly violating our policies on harmful misinformation”.

On Friday, campaign group the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) published an open letter calling on tech companies to ban Mr Icke’s accounts. The letter said Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had amplified “Icke’s racism and misinformation about Covid-19 to millions of people”. It was co-signed by MP Damian Collins, as well as celebrity medics Dr Christian Jessen, Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Pixie McKenna.

The CCDH said videos of Mr Icke making “untrue and conspiracist claims about Covid-19” had been watched more than 30 million times online.


Well overdue. If you’re going to have rules about misinformation, just get on and apply them.
unique link to this extract

Why am I paying $60 for that bag of rice on • The Markup

Sara Harrison:


limited inventory is not the only reason that the price of pasta (or toilet paper, peanut butter, and rice) is shifting so drastically on Amazon. Experts say the fluctuations on Amazon are often a result of the algorithms sellers use to optimize their sales.

Dynamic pricing (or algorithmic pricing) relies on algorithms that can synthesize lots of information about the marketplace and then change the price of something based on what’s happening hour to hour or even minute to minute. Dynamic pricing is already common for items like plane tickets and hotel rooms. As the supply gets smaller or if there’s more demand—a big conference is going to be in town that weekend, for example—then prices go up. If demand goes down because, say, a pandemic has stopped people from traveling, then prices drop. 

But dynamic pricing isn’t quite that simple on Amazon because of its Buy Box. When shoppers click the “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” button, they are selecting a specific vendor. There’s usually an option to consider other vendors, but most users—by some estimates 80 percent—make their purchase through the Buy Box. To determine who “wins” the box, Amazon uses its own algorithm, which it does not reveal to the public but which observers say includes more than price. “The Buy Box depends on fulfillment speed, channel, your reviews and rating, availability within a certain period of time,” Victor Rosenman, CEO of Feedvisor, a company that creates algorithms for Amazon sellers, said in an interview.

…Consumers themselves can use browser extensions like Camelcamelcamel and Keepa to track prices on Amazon and set limits that will alert them when the price falls to an acceptable level. But just like couponing, Wilson says, price-tracking apps favor consumers who have the time and the wherewithal to comparison shop and wait for a good deal—a strategy that’s not very practical when you’re staring at an empty pantry or using up that last roll of toilet paper.


unique link to this extract

ICANN board withholds consent for a change of control of the Public Interest Registry (PIR) • ICANN


Today, the ICANN Board made the decision to reject the proposed change of control and entity conversion request that Public Interest Registry (PIR) submitted to ICANN.

After completing extensive due diligence, the ICANN Board finds that withholding consent of the transfer of PIR from the Internet Society (ISOC) to Ethos Capital is reasonable, and the right thing to do.

ICANN’s role is to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems. We are dedicated to making the right decision, knowing that whatever we decide will be well received by some, and not by others. It is our responsibility to weigh all factors from an ICANN Bylaws and policies perspective, including considering the global public interest. We have done this diligently, ensuring as much transparency as possible and welcoming input from stakeholders throughout.

…After completing its evaluation, the ICANN Board finds that the public interest is better served in withholding consent as a result of various factors that create unacceptable uncertainty over the future of the third largest gTLD registry.


The PIR is the .org domain. This is the proposed sale to private equity that had pretty much all of the internet up in arms. Thankfully now revoked. Among the factors were the key one that it was moving from a non-profit to a profit-at-all-costs.
unique link to this extract

Worldwide smartphone market suffers its largest year-over-year decline in Q1 2020 • IDC


Worldwide smartphone shipments decreased 11.7% year over year in the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20), according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. In total, companies shipped 275.8 million smartphones during 1Q20. Although the first quarter usually experiences a sequential (quarter over quarter) decline in shipments, with the average sequential decline over the last three years hovering between -15% to -20%, this is the largest annual (year over year) decline ever.

The drop comes as no surprise as 1Q20 marked the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the peak of the lockdowns in China, which extended to the rest of the world by the end of the quarter. The largest regional decline in 1Q20 was in China, which saw shipments drop 20.3% year over year. Since China constitutes almost a quarter of worldwide shipments, this had a huge impact on the overall market. The global dependency on China for its smartphone supply chain also caused major issues as the quarter progressed. Other regions that contributed to the drastic worldwide decline were the United States and Western Europe, which declined by 16.1% and 18.3% respectively.


Here comes the storm.
unique link to this extract

Worldwide tablet shipments continue to decline in Q1 2020 • IDC


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic furthered the decline of the worldwide tablet market as global shipments fell to 24.6m units, down 18.2% year over year during the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20), according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Detachables continued to grow and gain market share with year-over-year growth of 56.8%, mainly driven by iOS devices, while slate tablets saw shipments decline 36.4% compared to the first quarter of 2019.


As ever, the “other” category is shrinking faster than the rest of the market, indicating the squeeze on small players. Well, tiny players.
unique link to this extract

macos – How to find cause of high kernel_task cpu usage? • Ask Different


TLDR; If your MacBook Pro runs hot or shows a high % CPU for the kernel task, try charging on the right and not on the left.

High kernel_task CPU Usage is due to high chassis temperature caused by charging. In particular Left Thunderbolt port usage.

Solutions include:
• Move charging from the left to the right side. If you have a second charger then plug it in on the right side. Avoid plugging everything on the right side (see last paragraph below).
• Unplug something from the left side. Either power or another accessory until the battery is full.
• Force fans to max before plugging in. iStatMenus has an easy Sensors -> Fans menu item to do so. This only helps in marginal conditions.
• Move to a cooler room.


This is amazing, though absolutely undeniable. Just to repeat, if you’ve got a USB-C MacBook Pro and the fans are spinning like mad, make sure you’re not charging on the left. Plug the charger in to the right. (I guess you could unplug the charger?)

unique link to this extract

The inevitable coronavirus censorship crisis is here • Reporting by Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi:


H.L. Mencken once said that in America, “the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head.”

We have a lot of dumb people in this country. But the difference between the stupidities cherished by the Idiocracy set ingesting fish cleaner, and the ones pushed in places like the Atlantic [suggesting that America’s internet should have more censorship “like China], is that the jackasses among the “expert” class compound their wrongness by being so sure of themselves that they force others to go along. In other words, to combat “ignorance,” the scolders create a new and more virulent species of it: exclusive ignorance, forced ignorance, ignorance with staying power.

The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant. It’s astonishing that they don’t see this.

…There’s a reason why journalists should always keep their distance from priesthoods in any field. It’s particularly in the nature of insular communities of subject matter experts to coalesce around orthodoxies that blind the very people in the loop who should be the most knowledgeable.

“Experts” get things wrong for reasons that are innocent (they’ve all been taught the same incorrect thing in school) and less so (they have a financial or professional interest in denying the truth).


It’s worth reading this piece, if only to spot the joins where Taibbi conflates different things and claims they’re the same thing, or else fibs. Here’s a few so you’ll see them: journalists aren’t social media platforms; coronavirus isn’t Saddam’s WMD; pollsters didn’t say it was impossible that Trump could win in 2016. (Thanks Jim for the link.)
unique link to this extract

Coronavirus offers a clear view of what causes air pollution • WSJ

Jim Carlton:


One of the biggest airborne pollutants to fall off has been nitrogen dioxide, which is a byproduct of fossil-fuel emissions that most scientists believe is contributing to climate change. Satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show NO2 levels in the Northeastern U.S. dropped 30% during March from the previous four-year average for the month.

San Francisco-based Aclima has compiled data that shows the NO2 readings dropping in lockstep as the coronavirus swept first from China in January to Europe in February and the US in March. Scientists said it was the first time they could remember so many cities going clean all at once.

Aclima’s most comprehensive data is for its own backyard, the San Francisco Bay Area, home to about eight million people. The region recorded a 31% decline in NO2 during the 10 weekdays ended April 6 compared with the previous three-year average for the same time. In addition, Aclima found a 39% drop in particulate matter such as from smoke and a 41% plunge in soot created by diesel fumes and other human sources. The company’s scientists say they believe those are the lowest levels since the first half of the last century.


Terrible headline – we know what causes air pollution – and as the article notes, this is only short-term. Climate change is about cumulative addition of greenhouse gases; you need to take some out, not just stop adding them, to have beneficial effects.
unique link to this extract

Blackout risk as low demand for power brings plea to switch off wind farms • The Times

Emily Gosden:


Britain could be at risk of blackouts as extremely low energy demand threatens to leave the electricity grid overwhelmed by surplus power.

National Grid asked the regulator yesterday for emergency powers to switch off solar and wind farms to prevent the grid from being swamped on the May 8 bank holiday, when demand is expected to be especially low.

In its urgent request to Ofgem, it warned of “a significant risk of disruption to security of supply” if the “last resort” powers to order plant disconnections were not granted.

National Grid has to keep supply and demand balanced to ensure stable voltage and frequency on the network. When there is an imbalance the network can become unstable, leading to blackouts such as that on August 9 last year when a million homes were cut off.

The lockdown has led to a huge fall in demand for power as factories and businesses shut down. National Grid said in its request to Ofgem: “The societal changes required by the need to achieve social distancing have led to demand for electricity falling by up to 20% compared to predicted values.”


Emphasising the need for storage – but wow, that’s a dramatic fall in demand.
unique link to this extract

In conversation with the murder hornet • ¡Hola Papi!

John Paul Brammer:


Her apartment decor immediately dispels any notion that this will be the interview I was expecting. A porcelain mint green tea set sits on a shelf alongside a copy of Severance by Ling Ma and Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. For a moment, the Murder Hornet seems unaware I have joined the Zoom call. She fiddles with her antennae, a conceit to keeping up appearances, yet another surprise in an interview in which we’ve yet to exchange a word.

“Hello!” I greet her over the faulty internet connection. Her eyes, not too unlike Spiderman’s mask with their teardrop shape and inscrutable motives, meet mine. “Hi there!” she says cheerfully.

I haven’t prepared any questions. I suppose I expected the Murder Hornet to live up to her name and lead our conversation with some degree of homicidal bravado. What I have instead is just a bug, a pair of wings, an immigrant, an entity. Where to start?


For those who haven’t been keeping up, the US faces an invasion of murderous hornets (though the murder is apparently mostly focussed on bees, but anyway). And this is a wonderful parody of those bloody celebrity interviews.
unique link to this extract

Me on COVID-19 contact tracing apps • Schneier on Security

Bruce Schneier:


Assume you take the app out grocery shopping with you and it subsequently alerts you of a contact. What should you do? It’s not accurate enough for you to quarantine yourself for two weeks. And without ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing, you can’t confirm the app’s diagnosis. So the alert is useless.

Similarly, assume you take the app out grocery shopping and it doesn’t alert you of any contact. Are you in the clear? No, you’re not. You actually have no idea if you’ve been infected.

The end result is an app that doesn’t work. People will post their bad experiences on social media, and people will read those posts and realize that the app is not to be trusted. That loss of trust is even worse than having no app at all.

It has nothing to do with privacy concerns. The idea that contact tracing can be done with an app, and not human health professionals, is just plain dumb.


But, but, but. The idea is that you do get cheap and fast testing. OK, might not be accurate, might not be ubiquitous; but you can make up for the accuracy by testing twice. You can also read more than you perhaps ever wanted to know about the Apple-Google API at NSHipster.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified