Start Up No.1350: Facebook mulls political ad ban, time to quit Chrome, is Big Sur fun?, Mueller on Stone, AI to make you polite, and more


An Apple ARM chip (in an iPod): what will chips like these do to Intel and OEMs once they’re in Macs? CC-licensed photo by htomari on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Rounded. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook mulls political-ad blackout ahead of US election • Bloomberg via Yahoo News

Kurt Wagner:

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Facebook is considering imposing a ban on political ads on its social network in the days leading up to the U.S. election in November, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking.

The potential ban is still only being discussed and hasn’t yet been finalized, said the people, who asked not to be named talking about internal policies. A halt on ads could defend against misleading election-related content spreading as people prepare to vote. Still, there are concerns that an ad blackout may hurt “get out the vote” campaigns, or limit a candidate’s ability to respond widely to breaking news or new information.

This would be a big change for Facebook, which has so far stuck to a policy of not fact-checking ads from politicians or their campaigns. That’s prompted criticism from lawmakers and advocates, who say the policy means ads on the platform can be used to spread lies and misinformation. Civil rights groups also argue the company doesn’t do enough to remove efforts to limit voter participation, and a recent audit found Facebook failed to enforce its own voter-suppression policies when it comes to posts from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Facebook shares briefly dipped after Bloomberg‘s report, before recovering to close Friday at a record $245.07. Hundreds of advertisers are currently boycotting Facebook’s marketing products as part of a protest against its policies.

Ad blackouts before elections are common in other parts of the world, including the U.K., where Facebook’s global head of policy, Nick Clegg, was once deputy prime minister. A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.

…Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former top security executive, said Friday that any political ad ban could benefit Trump. “Eliminating online political ads only benefits those with money, incumbency or the ability to get media coverage,” he tweeted. “Who does that sound like?”

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How long is Facebook going to mull this, exactly? Stamos is right that Trump would get coverage, but this time that might not be anything like 2016. And in 2016, social media was surely a factor for some people.
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Quit Chrome. Safari and Edge are just better browsers for you and your computer • WSJ

Joanna Stern tried out both Edge on Windows (and Mac) and Safari on the Mac, and found that both were as fast or faster than Chrome, and used significantly less battery, and of course also don’t spy on you:

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Maybe you’re stuck with Chrome, either because of your crucial work web apps, or because you like it and believe the browser (and Google) can improve.

“I view performance on Chrome as a journey not a destination,” said Max Christoff, director of Chrome browser engineering. “This is an ongoing investment in improvements to speed, performance and battery life.” When I shared my test results, he said three big improvements were due in the next few months.

Chrome will soon be updated to limit the power that resource-heavy ads can consume. A new optimization will allow the most performance-critical parts of the software to run even faster. And, perhaps most significant, Chrome will improve “tab throttling” by better prioritizing active tabs and limiting resource drain from tabs in the background. Mr. Christoff said this will have a “dramatic impact on battery and performance.” He says he’s specifically encouraged by early tests on Mac laptops.

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I suspect those tests are against the old version of Chrome, rather than the new version of Edge or Safari. The difference in her battery tests are more than an hour for both Edge and Safari over Chrome. Google used to have a great browser, but somewhere along the way they got lost. (Firefox, meanwhile, comes out worst of the four.)
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The comeback of fun in visual design • Applypixels

Michael Flarup:

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With the redesign of macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple has made many interface changes and updated the appearance of apps. Materials and dimensionality has made its way back into the interface —and every single app icon for every application and utility that Apple ships with macOS has been redesigned with depth, textures and lighting. This is a big deal. Probably bigger than most people realise.

As with all big shifts in design, you’re going to get a lot of noise. People will try to co-opt this new direction and attempt to label it as something it’s not (looking at you neomorphism). People will find fault with the execution. People will disagree that there’s even a change. There’ll be snark. There’ll be a period of adjustment. There’s a lot to talk about— but I think most of it misses the point.

This is a philosophical change in the role of visual design and one some of us have been working towards for a long time. It’s just the beginning, but I think we’re on the cusp of a new era.

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OK, though the new era seems to involve inconsistency (the chess piece and the hard drive and the loupe are on differently tilted planes) and the defiance of gravity (notice the liquid in the eyedropper on the bottom row).
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Apple ‘Arms’ Macs with Apple Silicon • Counterpoint Research

Brady Wang, at the analysts:

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Future Macs:

• PCB components will be more compact in future laptop Macs, including MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. This will allow the new Macs to use the up-to-date high-performance processors and other components in a smaller package, leaving more room for battery packs
• New Macs may adopt BGA-SSD or even raw NAND that will be managed directly by Apple Silicon. This can save some space and costs of controllers
• Since the ARM core will consume less power, it will not require a large fan as in Intel-based Macs. The saved space will be used for the battery as well
• The functions of Macbook Air and iPad Pro will become very close. The former is like a clamshell laptop and the latter is like a detachable laptop
• Future Macs are expected to integrate more sensors, such as 3D sensing and ultra-wideband (UWB). The SoC here will incorporate more powerful NPUs to process the image captured by iPhone 12 and iPad Pro
• Although the cost of Apple Silicon is lower than Intel’s CPU, the price of future Macs will not necessarily be cheaper than the current models. On the other hand, the price may increase because of the new design with additional sensors and chips.

«

Like Wang, I don’t expect the prices to come down. Apple’s pricing is part of its branding; it’s not exactly a Veblen good, but the intent is always to pick a price that sets it apart.

The latest episodes of the Accidental Tech Podcast and Upgrade have a lot of discussion about what the ARM Macs (as everyone is calling them, absent a better name for now) will look like: the slap-your-head obvious point is that they’ll have rounded screens (rather like an iPhone) because that’s how the Big Sur operating system looks.

I wonder about the expected emphasis on battery life. How long does one need, exactly? 15 hours? 24 hours?
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Apple Silicon: the passing of Wintel • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:

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what are Dell, HP, Asus, and others going to do if Apple offers materially better laptops and desktops and Microsoft continues to improve Windows on ARM Surface devices? In order to compete, PC manufacturers will have to follow suit, they’ll “go ARM” because, all defensive rhetoric aside, Apple and Microsoft will have made the x86 architecture feel like what it actually is: old.

This won’t happen overnight and there will be an interesting mess of x86 and ARM SoC machines fighting it out in the marketplace. Large organizations need continuity and would balk at the prospect of servicing two kinds of Windows machines and apps. As usual, they’ll downplay Apple’s advantage and curse Microsoft for causing trouble. But if the newer machines are actually better, rogue members within these organizations will sneak in new devices and software; they always do.

We now come to Intel’s reaction. Not what they’ll say when the trouble really starts, which could be soon.
Intel execs know they missed the Smartphone 2.0 revolution because of culture blindness. They couldn’t bear to part with the high margins generated by the x86 cash cow; they couldn’t see that lower margins could be supported by unimaginable volume. Now, Intel is facing a more serious problem: The x86 commands high margins not because of the chip, but because of the Intel/Windows duopoly, meaning that, all other thangs being equal, chips not running Windows get lower margins than an x86 CPU. Now that union, that advantage is about to disappear. Intel will face ARM-based SoCs running Windows on ARM with applications, in PC-like quantities, at lower prices.

This leaves Intel with one path: if you can’t beat them, join them.

«

I think it was Ben Thompson who said that Intel should have taken the opportunity to make ARM chips for Apple. Instead it will be forced to if Apple shows that ARM chips get better battery life or power in the same package. Which it pretty surely will.
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Why millennial Harry Potter fans reject J. K. Rowling • The Atlantic

Helen Lewis:

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The Millennial generation has grown up in a world shaped by the gains of the ’80s, when a rainbow coalition of queer activists, feminists, and left-wingers took on the establishment and religious right: AIDS denialists, golf-club sexists, segregation sympathizers, and televangelists ranting about Sodom. The lines are not so easily drawn now, and the modern left finds it hard to parse clashes between two oppressed groups, such as conservative Muslim parents and LGBTQ-friendly school curricula.

Much of the fan commentary following Rowling’s article has focused on what the Harry Potter series was “really about,” and whether its author has betrayed those principles. To outsiders, these discussions can seem bizarre—arguments about fascism and eugenics play out with references to goblins and Polyjuice Potions—but they are a reflection of how deeply some Millennials have been shaped by Rowling’s world.

This emotional synthesis of reader and writer happens only with books we love when we are young. (I am sad, but strangely relieved, that my own beloved Terry Pratchett is safely dead.) On The Leaky Cauldron, one commenter argued against presenting “sanitized news coverage in the way the ministry and news media do in light of Voldemort’s return.” Another replied that Voldemort demonized mudbloods and muggles for not inheriting wizarding ability: “Guess who else is demonising people for not having the correct blood to be who they say they are?” Rowling gave these fans the tools they use to think about the world. Now they are having to unstitch themselves from her universe, and discover where Harry Potter ends and they begin. It’s a wrench at least as big as leaving home.

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Lewis, as ever, sets out the landscape in a way that lets you feel you’re safely overhead in a helicopter.
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Robert Mueller: Roger Stone remains a convicted felon, and rightly so • The Washington Post

Mueller led the long long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election:

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Based on our work, eight individuals pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities, including senior Russian intelligence officers, were charged with federal crimes.

Congress also investigated and sought information from [Roger] Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.

Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.

We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.

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Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Stone, Michael Flynn – all guilty. What a bunch.
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AI wants to make your writing more polite • CNET

Leslie Katz:

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Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have devised a technique that’s designed to automatically make written communication more polite. Rather than merely scanning text for politeness, as past computational linguistics methods have, this one actually changes directives or requests that use either impolite or neutral language by restructuring them or adding words to make them more well-mannered. “Say that more politely,” for instance, might become “Could you please say that more politely?”
But it’s not just about using words or phrases such as “please” and “thank you,” said Shrimai Prabhumoye, a doctoral student at CMU’s Language Technologies Institute and one of the authors of a research paper on the method

Sometimes, it means making language a bit less direct, so that instead of saying “you should do X,” the sentence becomes something like “let us do X.”

…At the heart of their experiment is a dataset of 1.39 million sentences analyzed for politeness and labeled with a politeness score. The team then developed a “tag and generate” approach, which identifies sentences that are outright impolite, or could just use a manners boost, and tweaks them with words and phrases Emily Post would be more approving of.

“Yes, go ahead and remove it” becomes “Yes, we can go ahead and remove it.” Adding “we,” the researchers explain, creates the sense that the burden of the request is shared by speaker and addressee.

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But:

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The CMU team’s dataset comes from a surprising, though rather appropriate, source: emails exchanged by employees at Enron, the Texas-based energy company at the center of a high-profile accounting fraud scandal that brought into question the accounting practices of many corporations.

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Over time might it turn, say, “let’s book this” to “let’s put this into an offshore vehicle off the books”? (Here’s the actual paper.)
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Free math apps – used by over 100 million students and teachers worldwide • GeoGebra

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GeoGebra Math Apps:
Get our free online math tools for graphing, geometry, 3D, and more!

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I link to this simply because it looks like the sort of thing that could be useful for anyone who wants to create some resources. 3D Calculator, graphing calculator, and all sorts.
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Benedict’s Newsletter • Benedict Evans

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Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter about what’s happening in technology that actually matters, and what it means. I pick out the news and ideas that you don’t want to miss in all the noise, and give them context and analysis.

I’ve been writing it since 2013, and there are now 150,000 subscribers. It’s pretty good.

Starting from the summer of 2020, I’m adding a premium tier.

Every Sunday night, premium subscribers get an exclusive weekly column, in-depth analysis, and a chart, plus everything that mattered in tech. They also have access to the archive of all past issues. You can join for $10 a month or $100 a year, or you can buy a lifetime membership.

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Until the end of the month the free tier will include the paid-for content, as a taster. With 150,000 subscribers, that’s going to be costly just to send out. Paid-for email newsletters are the new websites.

In case you’re wondering – the lifetime membership is for 25 years. Discuss whether that’s Evans’s expected lifetime, his expected working lifetime, or yours.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: The suggestion that Parler (the sinkhole for right-wingers chucked off Twitter) might offer $20,000 to “left-wing influencers” turns out not to be quite accurate. Instead, one would have to join and then “The company will judge the best one, based on engagement with the
community, and pay that person the reward.” In other words, trade your good name by doing free labour for them, and wonder about the judging process. Sounds well worth missing. (Thanks Seth for the update.)

1 thought on “Start Up No.1350: Facebook mulls political ad ban, time to quit Chrome, is Big Sur fun?, Mueller on Stone, AI to make you polite, and more

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