Start Up No.1387: London’s falling bridges, the iPhone pause, Android 11?, thoughts before dying, Apple sues Epic, and more


The biker event at Sturgis, South Dakota, spread Covid-19 to multiple states and thousands of people. CC-licensed photo by Chris Heald on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Can I take it to the bridge? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

London’s bridges really are falling down • The New York Times

Mark Landler:

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Philip Englefield, a professional magician who lives in Barnes [on the river in south-west London], pointed out that when a suspension bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy, in 2018, killing 43 people, the Italians worked tirelessly, even as the country battled the coronavirus pandemic, to build a replacement. It was inaugurated last month.

“Why can’t we do that?” Mr. Englefield asked the crowd, as a gentle rain further dampened their spirits. “For goodness’ sake, this is England.”

It turns out that is precisely the problem: Hammersmith Bridge is an apt metaphor for all the ways the country has changed after a decade of economic austerity, years of political wars over Brexit, and months of lockdown to combat the pandemic, the last of which has decimated already-stressed public finances.
Like other London roads and bridges, Hammersmith Bridge had been neglected for decades. Fully repairing it would cost an estimated £141m ($187m) — funds that neither Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which owns the bridge, nor London’s transportation authority, which depends on it, currently have.

Transport for London, which runs the subway and bus system and some major roads, has already had to negotiate a nearly £2bn bailout from the government to make up for a shortfall in revenue after ridership plummeted during the lockdown. Except for rush hour, London’s subways are still largely ghost trains.

Hammersmith has appealed for help to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But he won election by promising to spend money on marquee projects like a $130bn-plus high-speed railway, not a cast-iron relic of Queen Victoria’s reign.

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Classic case of the ha’porth of tar. It probably will take the complete collapse of a bridge for anything to get done. Hammersmith is a beautiful bridge, but neglect is cheaper than care – for a while. And what a metaphor for the state the country finds itself in.
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iPhone 12 and AirTags appear to be on track for October launch • BGR

Jacob Siegal:

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Apple announced its first digital event since WWDC 2020 on Tuesday, but all signs point to the event focusing entirely on new Apple Watch and iPad models rather than the highly-anticipated iPhone 12. After Apple confirmed that its next iPhone would be delayed by “a few weeks,” rumors began to pop up claiming that Apple wouldn’t announce its latest iPhone until October. Since then, the evidence of an October launch has continued to pile up.

Nikkei Asian Review is the latest publication to add fuel to the fire, reporting that Apple has finally overcome all of the issues and disruptions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic and plans to begin production of the 5G iPhone 12 models in mid-September. This lines up with recent reports pointing to a mid-October launch.

Sources familiar with Apple’s plans tell Nikkei that the company is planning to start manufacturing iPhone 12 units on a limited scale in the coming days, while mass production will ramp up later in the month and in early October. Mass production of new iPhone models typically begins in August ahead of a late September launch, but this timetable is said to be a significant improvement over the delays that Apple was looking at just months ago.

«

Seems that next Tuesday’s virtual event is going to be for the Apple Watch, iPad and perhaps Apple TV. Other stuff will have to wait.
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Samsung reportedly cutting off chip sales to Huawei • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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Samsung and SK Hynix will reportedly stop selling components to Huawei as the Trump administration tightens sanctions on the Chinese phone maker. According to Chosun Ilbo and other Korean news outlets, the companies will suspend trade on September 15th, the day a new set of rules limits dealing with Huawei.

These sanctions were introduced in August, following a string of other restrictions implemented since last year. They ban non-American companies from selling components that were developed with US technology unless these companies obtain special approval. This poses a serious threat to Huawei, which has said it may no longer be able to make its Kirin chipsets. Conversely, Huawei’s business is valuable to many other companies, as it recently became the top-selling smartphone manufacturer. Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC reportedly suspended sales to Huawei this May after an earlier round of restrictions. Huawei called those rules “arbitrary and pernicious.”

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The plug comes out; the water starts draining away.
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Android 11 update: When will your phone get it? • Android Authority

Mitja Rutnik:

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The stable Android 11 update is finally here for select devices. Google officially released the OS today and is rolling it out to its Pixel phones. The search giant is joined by OnePlus, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Realme this year, all of which are releasing the update for a few of its phones on day one.

But what about other handsets from companies like Samsung, Sony, and LG? Which models will get the Android 11 update and when? While most manufacturers haven’t announced their release schedules yet, we can get a good idea of what to expect by looking at how fast they shipped out previous versions of Android.

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I notice the presence of the phrases “don’t hold your breath” and “you’re in for a wait”.
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How to infect your state in three easy steps • Dr Bob Morris

Bob:

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It takes a special kind of magic to make South Dakota the pandemic poster child. With only eleven people per square mile, the state has almost the lowest population density in the country (46th out of 50).  That translates to an average social distance of about 1,500 feet.  Sounds like an easy place to keep a pandemic in check.

Enter Governor Kristi Noem.

Not only was Noem one of the few governors to refuse to issue either stay-at-home or mandatory mask orders, she has actively encouraged unmasked public gatherings without social distancing.  Even an outbreak of 450 cases at a meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls wasn’t enough to sway her. Instead, she hosted the President at a Mt. Rushmore 4th of July event. No masks. No distance. No problem.

What was she thinking? As she put it in her recent speech to the Republican National Convention, no “elite class of so-called experts” was going to infringe on the “God given liberties and civil rights” of her constituents.  For a while, she seemed to be getting away with it. Then, two weeks after the Trump rally, the story began to change. Between July 18 and August 8, the average number of cases per day in South Dakota rose by 80%.

And then, there was Sturgis.

There is general consensus among epidemiologists that the following steps will control the spread of SARS-COV-2 and minimize its impact.

• Avoid large gatherings
• Minimize the time spent in close proximity to people outside your household
• Protect older adults
• Wear a mask when away from home
• Do not share food and drink with others
• If you may have been exposed to the virus, do not travel.

So maybe, just maybe, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people with an average age of 54 for a ten day booze-soaked party in a state where the Governor calls masks a waste of time, and then, when it’s all over, sending them to their homes in every state in the country, is a bad idea. Welcome to Sturgis. Violating all six rules for ten days struck most epidemiologists as a bad idea. Now, the data seem to confirm this concern.

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Truly astonishing that there are still, so many months in, people who think that the virus respects your beliefs. Again, the outcomes aren’t die/survive untouched; we’re still discovering the aftereffects of Covid. Sturgis caused 250,000 cases and an estimated $12.2bn in healthcare costs.
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Pasco’s sheriff created a futuristic program to stop crime before it happens. It monitors and harasses families • Tampa Bay Times

Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi:

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Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco took office in 2011 with a bold plan: to create a cutting-edge intelligence program that could stop crime before it happened.

What he actually built was a system to continuously monitor and harass Pasco County [in Florida] residents, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

First the Sheriff’s Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.

Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.

They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.

One former deputy described the directive like this: “Make their lives miserable until they move or sue.”

…Pasco’s drop in property crimes was similar to the decline in the seven-largest nearby police jurisdictions. Over the same time period, violent crime increased only in Pasco.

Criminal justice experts said they were stunned by the agency’s practices. They compared the tactics to child abuse, mafia harassment and surveillance that could be expected under an authoritarian regime.

«

“Or America”, thinks everyone outside America. What about the “move or sue”? The families or people would be too poor to sue. A terrible overreach, though there is a lawsuit against it in progress. (Via @benedictevans.)
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At 31, I have just weeks to live. Here’s what I want to pass on • The Guardian

Elliot Dallen:

»

At this point I should say a word to my friends. Being this ill complicates all relationships. The rut I found myself in a few weeks back hasn’t lifted. I’ve definitely been “feeling the victim” a lot more than usual. My acceptance that my time and energy is now limited comes with the knowledge that I won’t be able to catch you all properly to give our relationships the time and appreciation they deserve. I get so many messages from you all, which often exceed the energy I have to reply. Where I am able to see people, I’d just say keeping me company and being positive is helpful. I want fun, laughter, happiness, joy. I think it’s very possible to have this kind of death – there is likely to be a shadow of sadness hanging over proceedings, but for the most part I want everyone relaxed and to be able to feel the love.

Because I know that that moment isn’t too far away. I haven’t asked for a specific prognosis, as I don’t believe there’s much to gain from doing so, but I think it’s a matter of weeks. Medicine has luckily turned this into quite a gentle process. That really does take a lot of the fear away. And I’m hoping impending death now grants me the licence to sound prematurely wise and overly grandiose. Because I’ve had time to think about the things that are really important to me, and I want to share what I’ve discovered.

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The points he shares may seem obvious (depending on your age, I guess). No less worth noting.
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True kindness is locking a friend out of their social media accounts • Mel Magazine

Madeleine Holden:

»

knowing you should be spending less time online isn’t the same thing as actually doing it, and that’s where the friend lockout can be an ingenious tool. As Franklin suggests, there are plenty of apps and plug-ins available for people wanting to go on a social media detox, but they often prove minimally useful in comparison.

Demi says Screen Time is useless because it allows you the option of 15 more minutes, and Beth, a 30-year-old editor from New Zealand, had limited success with Focus. “I quickly worked out that it doesn’t work in incognito mode, and I just circumvent the plug-in whenever I want to waste lots of time online,” she says, adding that she sometimes deletes all the social media apps on her phone, only to find herself checking the same sites on her web browser. “The only thing that actually works is being locked out.”

The way a lockout works is simple: You entrust a loved one with the password to whichever social media platform is causing you the most angst; they log in and change your password, ideally without doing any DM snooping along the way; and then they log you out, rendering you unable to access your own account — until you come crawling back, that is.

Demi says that the indignity of having to plead to be logged back in is part of what makes this method work. “There’s an element of shame or like, abasing myself,” he says. “If I have to ask someone for the password, I immediately think, ‘I better have a good reason for it or else this will be stupid.’” 

«

Hate to disappoint Demi and the others, but all these apps offer a thing called “Forgot your password?” which sends a reset to your email. Then you can create a new password and log in.

Maybe they need to get their friend to do the second step: change the email on the account. (To their email, ideally?)
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Drug companies issue rare joint pledge on vaccine safety amid political fears • TheHill

Peter Sullivan:

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FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has also offered reassurances that his agency will base vaccine decisions only on science and not on politics. 

But the statement from the pharmaceutical companies is an illustration of how deep the fears are about politicization of the process and the need for companies to try make their own reassurance about science guiding the process. 

An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll last month found that a significant portion of the public, 35 percent, said they would not take a coronavirus vaccine. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla reiterated Tuesday on NBC that his company’s vaccine could have results from the phase 3 trial by the end of October, a faster timeline than other experts have predicted.

«

The Pfizer trial (which is a joint one with a German company and, don’t tell Trump, a Chinese company) moved to phase 3 at the end of July with 30,000 people in the US and other countries. The end of October would be pretty rapid for any sort of useful analysis, and anyway it couldn’t be made and distributed in time for the US elections. (Check on the vaccine tracker.)

Hahn, by the way, is the guy who stood beside Trump and completely misrepresented the data about “convalescent plasma” (which is not a miracle cure, and certainly not as efficacious as he made it out to be). So he can say that it will be science and not politics, but his track record indicates otherwise. Also, don’t count your chickens: the AstraZeneca/Oxford University phase 3 trial has been halted after an adverse reaction.
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Apple seeks damages from Epic Games for breach of App Store contract • The Verge

Russell Brandom:

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Apple will seek damages against Epic Games for allegedly breaching its contract with the iOS App Store, in a new escalation of the two companies’ ongoing legal fight. The move came in a filing entered on Tuesday, alongside counterclaims for unjust enrichment and tortious interference with Apple’s relationship with its customers.

“Epic’s flagrant disregard for its contractual commitments and other misconduct has caused significant harm to Apple,” the filing reads. “Left unchecked, Epic’s conduct threatens the very existence of the iOS ecosystem and its tremendous value to consumers.”

Epic Games sued Apple in August, after the company’s hit game Fortnite was removed from the iOS App Store over the implementation of an unauthorized payment system. The complaint, filed August 13th, alleges that Apple is violating antitrust law, using its total control over iOS to extract a commission for all software that passes through the App Store.

Apple’s filing comes in response to an exhaustive motion for a preliminary injunction, filed by Epic over the weekend. Tuesday’s filing lays out a range of defenses against that motion. Among other claims, Apple maintains there were legitimate business justifications for all of the actions it undertook, which would undercut a broader antitrust claim.

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Apple’s claim for harm is that Epic has “reaped millions of dollars in in-app purchases through its unauthorised external purchase mechanism” and also harmed the App Store’s reputation as a place where you can download apps you want. (Might have explained that in the intro, Vergefolk.) Epic can’t argue it was accidental. This could be expensive.
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SoftBank, Robinhood and a Margins singularity • Margins by Ranjan Roy and Can Duruk

Ranjan Roy, who used to work on a trading floor, explains what SoftBank was up to with its ginormous purchase of call options on tech stocks:

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Let’s say my co-host Can and me have taken Margins public (maybe via a reverse merger with the Mergence Corp to get the ticker $MRGN). $MRGN stock is now worth $10, because this free newsletter is such a great business.

Robin H. the investor thinks MRGN will go up a lot and very soon. But instead of buying the stock itself, she buys a call option – which is the right to buy the stock at a given price on a set date.

• Robin buys call with a strike price of 20 that expires on October 16th, 2020 for $1.
• If on October 16th MRGN is trading at $30, that contract/option is now worth $10 and happy days, Robin H. has made $9.

Where things get interesting is Robin had to buy that option from someone. Enter the market maker who we’ll call Ditacel.

• When the market-maker ‘writes’ the option and sells it to Robin they make $1 upfront. They now have the obligation to sell MRGN to Robin at 20 on Oct 16th.
• But if our MRGN stock goes up to $30 when that option expires, they have now effectively lost $9.
• If free newsletters get even hotter and MRGN is at $100, Ditacel after taking $1 upfront to sell that option to Robin, has lost $80.

Again, Robin has the right to buy at a certain price while Ditacel has the obligation to sell at that price.

The most important dynamic to understand is the people selling the call options have theoretically infinite losses.

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I’ve never understood how people keep their cool when they’re dealing with calls and puts. It’s what melted the market in 1929, after all. (The Margins, meanwhile, is consistently excellent.)
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The ‘brushing’ scam that’s behind mystery parcels • BBC News

Zoe Kleinman:

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If you’ve ever received a parcel from a shopping platform that you didn’t order, and nobody you know seems to have bought it for you, you might have been caught up in a “brushing” scam.

It has hit the headlines after thousands of Americans received unsolicited packets of seeds in the post, but it is not new.

It’s an illicit way for sellers to get reviews for their products. And it doesn’t mean your account has been hacked.

Here’s an example of how it works: let’s say I set myself up as a seller on Amazon, for my product, Kleinman Candles, which cost £2 each. I then set up a load of fake accounts, and I find random names and addresses either from publicly available information or from a leaked database that’s doing the rounds from a previous data breach.

I order Kleinman Candles from my fake accounts and have them delivered to the addresses I have found, with no information about where they have been sent from. I then leave positive reviews for Kleinman Candles from each fake account – which has genuinely made a purchase.

This way my candle shop page gets filled with glowing reviews (sorry), my sales figures give me an algorithmic popularity boost as a credible merchant – and nobody knows that the only person buying and reviewing my candles is myself.

It tends to happen with low-cost products, including cheap electronics. It’s more a case of fake marketing than cyber-crime, but “brushing” and fake reviews are against Amazon’s policies.

Campaign group Which? advises that you inform the platform if sent any unsolicited goods.

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So now you know. A couple of days ago I was going to include a link to a WSJ story about the seeds stuff, but this clears it up. More reading at Vice, which reckons “hundreds” of Americans planted the seeds. Oh no.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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