Start Up No.1388: China’s failed 7nm chip effort, ethics row deepens at Facebook, 5G iPhones await, cartels try drone killing, and more

Does this make you think of a Google Pixel photo? The man behind that liked Caravaggio’s style. CC-licensed photo by jean louis mazieres 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. Recordings, you say? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook engineer Ashok Chandwaney quits, slamming Zuckerberg’s stances on hateful and racist speech • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin:


Facebook software engineer Ashok Chandwaney has watched with growing unease as the platform has become a haven for hate. On Tuesday morning, it came time to take a stand.

“I’m quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organization that is profiting off hate in the US and globally,” Chandwaney wrote in a letter posted on Facebook’s internal employee network shortly after 8 a.m. Pacific time. The nearly 1,300-word document was detailed, bristling with links to bolster its claims and scathing in its conclusions.

“We don’t benefit from hate,” Facebook spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois said. “We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and are in deep partnership with outside experts to review and update our policies. This summer we launched an industry leading policy to go after QAnon, grew our fact-checking program, and removed millions of posts tied to hate organizations — over 96% of which we found before anyone reported them to us.”

Tuesday’s resignation made Chandwaney the latest Facebook employee to quit amid rising discontent within a company that, just a few years ago, was considered an ideal employer — exciting, deep-pocketed and, as chief executive Mark Zuckerberg frequently said, animated by the seemingly benevolent mission of connecting the world together. Worker frustration with Facebook’s policies on hate and racist speech has risen as protests against racial injustice have swept the country, with thousands of employees demanding that Zuckerberg, who controls a majority of Facebook’s voting shares, change his stances.


Guess I picked the wrong week to go for my “no Facebook links” attempt.
unique link to this extract

Apple to start producing first 5G iPhones in mid-September • Nikkei Asian Review

Lauly Li and Cheng Ting-Fang:


Apple has overcome travel curbs and other coronavirus disruptions to begin initial production of its 5G iPhones in mid-September, narrowing the production delay to just weeks instead of months, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned.

Manufacturing will begin on a limited scale, with mass production expected to begin gradually between the end of September and early October. This timetable is still behind Apple’s usual schedule over the past few years, when mass production began in August for lineups released in September, but it is a large improvement compared with the situation a few months ago, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Given the lost time, however, Apple may fall short of its production target for the year. The California tech giant ordered components for up to 80 million 5G iPhones, but sources say the actual number produced this year may end up being between 73 million and 74 million, with the rest deferred into early 2021, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. 

At the same time, Apple has also significantly boosted manufacturing orders for the upcoming iPads to meet demand for teleworking and remote learning, sources said…


So that’s mid-October for the phones confirmed. Who’s spending all the money on iPads for remote learning, though?
unique link to this extract

Marc Levoy on the balance of camera hardware, software, and artistic expression • The Verge

Nilay Patel talks to the man who led Google’s camera team for its Pixel phones:


Q: Marques Brownlee does these challenges every so often where he asks people to vote “blind Pepsi challenges” of smartphone photos. I think every time he’s done it, it doesn’t matter how good the photo is, the brightest photo always wins. That’s the easiest cheat that any camera maker has, is just to overexpose it a little bit and then you’ll win on Twitter. How do you solve for that in a moment like this?

That was a debate that at Google we had all the time. At Adobe, I’m hoping to put it more in the hands of the consumer or the creative professional. Let them decide what the look will be.

But of course, that was a constant debate because you’re right, brighter would often win in a one-to-one comparison. One factor that you haven’t mentioned that I should add in here is the tuning of the displays on these smartphones. Most smartphones are a little bit cranked relative to a calibrated so-called SRGB display. They’re more saturated. They’re more contrasty. You could argue that that’s probably the right thing to do on the small screen. It would be a terrible thing to do on a large screen. It would look very cartoony, but that kind of contributes to what people want to see and to taste, especially since most photographs are looked at only on the small screen.

Yeah, it’s a constant debate, a constant emerging trend.


He cites Caravaggio and Titian as influences. Not kidding.
unique link to this extract

AstraZeneca halting COVID-19 vaccine trial is “one of the safety valves,” Dr. Fauci says • CBS News

Nicole Brown:


The halting of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine trial is “not uncommon,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday. Being alert for potential adverse reactions is part of the process, he explained. 

“It’s really one of the safety valves that you have on clinical trials such as this,” he said on “CBS This Morning.” “So it’s unfortunate that it happened. Hopefully they’ll work it out and be able to proceed along with the remainder of the trial.”

AstraZeneca paused its Phase 3 trial on Tuesday after one participant became ill. It was not clear what symptoms the participant had. AstraZeneca is one of three companies currently in the final phase of vaccine trials. 

“This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials,” AstraZeneca said in a statement.

Fauci said “generally,” the adverse event is related to something else, not the vaccine, but those running the trial can’t presume that. 

“You always make the presumption that it’s due directly to the actual vaccine or therapeutic or whatever it is that’s in the clinical trial,” he said.


unique link to this extract

Bob Woodward book ‘Rage:’ Trump admits to concealing true threat of coronavirus • CNNPolitics

Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart:


In a series of interviews with Woodward, Trump revealed that he had a surprising level of detail about the threat of the virus earlier than previously known. “Pretty amazing,” Trump told Woodward, adding that the coronavirus was maybe five times “more deadly” than the flu.

Trump’s admissions are in stark contrast to his frequent public comments at the time insisting that the virus was “going to disappear” and “all work out fine.”

The book, using Trump’s own words, depicts a President who has betrayed the public trust and the most fundamental responsibilities of his office. In “Rage,” Trump says the job of a president is “to keep our country safe.” But in early February, Trump told Woodward he knew how deadly the virus was, and in March, admitted he kept that knowledge hidden from the public.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, even as he had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”


Predictable: people will rage at Woodward for not releasing this at the time. Also: they will roll their eyes because it’s so unsurprising that Trump would say this.

In any other election year this would be seen as an early “October surprise”. This year? It will be rolled over to something else in a day. Remember that time when everyone was scandalised by Trump’s indifference to the military dead? That was the weekend.
unique link to this extract

HSMC promised China’a first 7 nm chips. It didn’t go well • TechNode

Wei Sheng:


“The strange thing about HSMC is that it’s unclear where its money is from… It seems that the company didn’t actually receive as much money as it claimed to have,” Gu Wenjun, chief analyst at Shanghai-based semiconductor research company ICwise, told TechNode (our translation).

Chen Rang, a semiconductor investor cited by the National Business Daily, hinted that the Wuhan municipal government may have leveraged land resources to attract private capital to back the project. “But the semiconductor industry has a high standard on investment and it is far from enough to just utilize land resources [to raise money],” Chen said.

HSMC’s goal was to make China’s first 7-nanometer chips. All it has to show for it is a few uncompleted buildings. It did buy a high-end machine needed for bleeding-edge semiconductor production, but it was put up as collateral for a loan.

The semi-annual report by the Dongxihu District government also said that HSMC had bought “China’s only mask aligner that can produce 7-nm chips” from Dutch company ASML, referring to an instrument that enables photolithography in the fabrication process.

If true, it would be quite a coup—the US government has been campaigning since 2018 to prevent ASML from selling the most advanced machine required to make high-end chips to Chinese companies, according to Reuters.

Chinese media Caixin tried to find the unique 7-nm machine, and it does seem to exist. But they found that it was under mortgage; is good only for 14-nm chips, not 7-nm; and, citing an anonymous semiconductor industry insider, that SMIC has around 10 units of the same model.

Court files show that the machine had never been used when it was held as security for the RMB 582 million loan in January. “You will need at least two mask aligners and nearly 100 pieces of other machinery to make chips,” said Gu of ICwise. He added that no Chinese chipmaker has realized the mass production of 7 nm chips.


A strange story, but the key point is that China is – for now – behind Taiwan’s work in chipmaking.
unique link to this extract

Report: Now Samsung and LG are halting display supply to Huawei • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


Huawei has endured a torrid 18 months, as the US ban means it’s lost Google Mobile Services, chipset supplies from various third parties, and the services of chipmaker TSMC. If it looks like things couldn’t get any worse for the company, well, they can.

South Korean news outlet Chosun Biz reports that LG and Samsung have decided to suspend the supply of “premium” smartphone displays to Huawei. The suspension is said to go into effect from September 15.

Huawei has generally turned to LG and Samsung, along with China’s own BOE for its display needs. So removing LG and Samsung from the equation means that BOE will likely need to pick up the slack. However, Chosun Biz also adds that Huawei is testing displays from local companies like Visionox, Tianma, and CSOT.


At this point, there aren’t many outside suppliers left to cut off supply.
unique link to this extract

Jalisco cartel adopts new tactic: drones armed with C-4 explosive • Mexico News Daily


A citizens’ militia group in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, reports finding two drones inside an armored car that cartel hitmen had abandoned after an attempted raid on the city, which borders Jalisco, on July 25. 

The C4 was packed with ball bearings to serve as shrapnel in Tupperware-like containers that were equipped with a remote detonation system and duct-taped to the drones, militia members explained. The drones were found in a cardboard box that was soaked in blood, indicating to the militia members that whoever was intending to fly the drones was injured before they could be launched. 

The new tactic represents the cartel’s determination to wrest control of the western Michoacán municipality from the self-defense militia and an evolution of their air attack strategy. In April, the cartel used small planes to drop explosives on Tepalcatepec, but after authorities increased aerial surveillance in the region the CJNG opted for drones, which cannot be detected on radar. 

Militia members say that loud explosions have been heard across the municipality, but no one thus far has been injured in a drone attack. They believe the cartel has not yet learned how to fly and detonate them with precision.


They’re probably all stuck in trees and on roofs. More seriously, this seems like a version of the tactics that Isis tried in 2016 when it was being driven out of Syria and Iraq.
unique link to this extract

Inside the secret plan to reboot Isis from a huge digital backup • WIRED UK

Carl Miller:


It all began on October 27, 2019. Rumour was, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, was dead. Nothing was confirmed, but already the jihadist world online was thrumming with excitement and trepidation.

“I was walking through an airport,” Moustafa Ayad tells me. “Jet-lagged out of my mind.” A deputy director of the counter-extremism think tank Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), Ayad tries to stay on top of the constant struggles and skirmishes, retreats and resurgences between Isis and their many enemies online. That day, as he scrolled through his phone, a blitz of Isis propaganda stared back at him. The digital Jihad was raising a dirge to Baghdadi on Twitter.

Flitting from account to pro-Isis account, Ayad noticed something strange. Some accounts carried short, discreet links, not within their tweets, but nestled in their biographies. He clicked.

The link, he realised, was not quite like any other he’d ever followed before. On his phone, Ayad saw folder after folder of meticulously catalogued terrorist content. “I thought it was a joke,” Ayad says. “Some kind of scam.” In the echoing marbled expanse of Dubai International Airport, on public Wi-Fi, in a Starbucks queue, he had stumbled upon a gigantic, sprawling cache of Isis material.


Strange: an entire movement can now effectively bury everything it needs on the web, so that it can revive – cicada-like – when the situation is right. Or, more likely, the ideology becomes outdated and the tactics are taken up and evolved by another group. As above.
unique link to this extract

Highlights of the day: TSMC to start making Apple Silicon in 4Q20 • Digitimes

TSMC is expected to start making Apple Silicon in fourth-quarter 2020. Apple’s growing adopting of SiP [System-in-Package] technology is setting a trend that many in the semiconductor sector are keen to follow. And leading backend services providers expect sales from their SiP businesses to climb about 30% in 2020.

Apple will kick off its 5nm wafer starts at TSMC for its new Apple Silicon processors starting the fourth quarter of 2020, with monthly output estimated at 5,000-6,000 wafers, according to industry sources.


The rest of the Digitimes story is behind a paywall. SiP means you’ve got everything – CPU and GPU and other things – in a single chip. One wafer would contain hundreds of chips. For comparison: AMD has ordered 200,000 wafers from TSMC for 2021. At the rate cited above, Apple would have 60,000-72,000 wafers in a year.
unique link to this extract

Overcast’s latest beta update tells listeners which podcasts are tracking them • The Verge

Ashley Carman:


The latest update to Overcast, a popular iOS podcast app, is bringing new transparency to podcast ads. Listeners who are in the beta can now view the services their favorite podcasts use to serve ads and track listeners. This means listeners will be able to tell when a podcast is using dynamic advertising, which allows networks to swap and target ads based on the specific person listening. For most people, this likely won’t change the shows they enjoy, but for the audience that cares or wants more information about how a podcast serves them ads, it’s a notable transparency feature that isn’t yet available in any of the other major podcasting apps.

This distinguishes Overcast particularly from Spotify, which gathers more information than any other platform with little transparency. Because Spotify users listen to music and podcasts under the same account, the platform knows what content they consume outside of an individual show as well as where they’re based, how old they are, their billing info, and their actual name. The same could eventually go for Google when and if it builds out its Google Podcasts analytics dashboard or gets into serving podcast ads. Google already runs a vast ad-serving platform that pulls from a wide range of data, notably information from users’ Gmail accounts, search history, and browsing activity to target them with ads.


This is a little over a week old, but still notable. Making how you’re tracked a bit more explicit is a worthwhile endeavour. Though it then raises the question: what if you’d like to have podcasts recommended to you and adverts targeted to you? (Personally I subscribe to a number of paid-hence-ad-free podcasts. When I don’t, I skip ads: hurrah for the Apple Watch’s onscreen controls.)
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.