Start Up No.1405: the un-American internet, sayonara California?, Covid’s aerosol risk, virtually cycling seniors, the battery-free future, and more


An Australian internet pioneer would like to apologise for introducing it there. CC-licensed photo by James Cridland on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Leaving today? Nice idea. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The end of the American internet • Benedict Evans

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[TikTok] is the first time that Americans have really had to deal with their teenagers using a form of mass media that isn’t created in their country by people who mostly share their values. It’s from somewhere else. That’s compounded by the fact that the ‘somewhere else’ is China, with all of the political and geopolitical issues that come with that, but I’d suggest that the core, structural issue is that it’s foreign. This is, of course, a problem that the rest of the world has been wrestling with since 1994, but it comes as something of a shock in Washington DC. There’s an old joke that war is how God teaches Americans geography – now it’s regulation.

There are many questions that flow out of this. One, for example, is how far and how many Chinese consumer internet companies will spread globally as opposed to being constrained by their domestic environment (this would be the ‘Galapagos Effect’ often suggested of Japanese tech. Tiktok worked, but WeChat failed). Another is how many ‘unicorns’ come from Europe – how fast does its population, economic, scientific and educational base produce a proportionate number of big tech companies (or if not, why not?). Yet another is the ‘Is Silicon Valley Over?’ debate, which goes back decades – when my old colleague Marc Andreessen arrived there in the early 1990s, he thought the whole thing was over and he’d missed it.

You can argue about the details of these all day, but it does seem clear that we should just presume a global diffusion of software creation and internet company creation. It doesn’t really matter if Silicon Valley ends up as 25% or 75% of the next 100 important companies – America doesn’t have a monopoly on the agenda any more.

Hence, there are all sorts of issues with the ways that the US government has addressed Tiktok in 2020, but the most fundamental, I think, is that it has acted as though this is a one-off, rather than understanding that this is the new normal – there will be hundreds more of these.

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As he also says, Europe has had to deal with this for ages. It’s thus is well ahead in knowing how to deal with it: through regulation and sensible antitrust laws based around encouraging competition.
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The gold rush for the exits. It’s the end of California as we know it • 500ish

M.G. Siegler:

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We live in a state that offers fantastic career and life opportunities. But the pandemic has negated many of those opportunities. They will be back, but it has also highlighted that many of those same opportunities are available elsewhere or remotely. At the same time, when not avoiding a virus, we have to avoid poisonous smoke or deadly fire on an ever-increasing basis. So when the pandemic is over and we can go out and about as we once did — we still probably won’t be able to at all times. And yet we pay a premium in terms of rent and mortgages and taxes to live here. Taxes which have yet to solve some of the very real and very sad issues within our cities.

I mean, I won’t go so far as to say it’s becoming a no-brainer to leave San Francisco or the Bay Area or California in general. But I won’t not go there either given a long enough time horizon.

If I had to predict what will happen, it’s this: the pandemic will be under control at some point next year. Around the same time, there will be a full-on backlash against work from home, and people will be ready and willing to go back to the office. And it will seem like a bounce back — but it will be more of a dead cat kind.

Many who moved and/or were hired remotely will stay working in that regard. New companies will start this way. And a hybrid model will become the norm. This will slowly but surely ease the strain on Silicon Valley. It will still be the “tech capital” of the world, but it will stop growing at such a rapid clip. Other hubs will become far stronger as a result. This is a natural and good thing and was already happening, but all of the above will accelerate it.

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If Silicon Valley ceases to be the place where proto-companies spawn and die and regenerate, that will be a big, big change.
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FAQs on protecting yourself from aerosol transmission of Covid-19 (Google Doc)

A ten-strong team of scientists and doctors has written this guide trying to point out that the idea that droplets (big infected drops, ie from a cough or sneeze) or fomites (infected drops on a surface) are the principal modes of transmission of Covid-19 just doesn’t add up:

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Q 1.3. But if COVID-19 was transmitted through aerosols, wouldn’t it be highly transmissible like measles, and have a very high R0 and long range transmission?

In a word, no. This is a myth. Here some people are confusing an artifact of history with a law of nature (see also the next question which explains the history in more detail). There is no reason that nature can only produce highly transmissible aerosol-transmitted diseases. It was the entrenched resistance against aerosol transmission initiated in 1910 by Chapin’s book on The sources and modes of infection that led to only highly transmissible viral diseases being accepted as being transmitted through aerosols, because only for those the evidence was too obvious to be denied (plus tuberculosis, which is less transmissible, due to some amazing experiments). Other diseases such as the flu, SARS, or MERS also have an aerosol transmission component, but the lack of acceptance of that fact has deprived the medical community of accepted examples of less transmissible aerosol diseases.

Also note that Rt for SARS-CoV-2 is very high for superspreading events, which can only be explained by aerosols. This is easily explained by aerosol transmission, depending on whether infected people participate in situations conducive to superspreading, and with variable emission of viable viruses in time and among people. This leads to a very skewed distribution of R, with many low values, and some very high values.

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As they point out, most people don’t know how they got infected; yet you’d remember if someone ill-looking sneezed on you and landed a direct hit.

The FAQ isn’t short, but is a fascinating read which goes into the history of why medical authorities are so biased in favour of the droplet theory against the aerosol theory. The trouble with such implicit biases is that people die as a result. It’s bad science.
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Out of retirement: the care home seniors chasing global cycling glory • The Guardian

Amelia Hill:

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The Road Worlds for Seniors competition, now in its third year, aims to reduce immobility of older people in care home settings, especially among those with dementia.

Immobility is a serious issue among care home residents. In just one week, immobile older people can lose 10-12% of their muscle mass and reduce their circulatory volume – which can cause internal organs to stop working – by 25%.

Reversing the damage is not straightforward: for every 10 days of bed rest in hospital, the equivalent of 10 years of muscle ageing occurs in people over 80 years old. That muscle can only be rebuilt at a rate of 6% a week. If older people are immobile for just 3 to 5 weeks, they can lose the ability to stand. The best way to slow the loss of muscle mass and function is resistance training.

Which is where Motitech, a Norwegian startup launched in 2013 comes in. Founded by Jon Ingar Kjenes, it has developed specially-adapted exercise bikes that enable users to revisit familiar places from their childhoods and other important points in their lives, through a video projection that can play over 2,000 videos from 400 countries while they pedal.

Kjenes happily admits it’s a simple idea but homes report immediate and transformative benefits among residents: less anxiety, frustration and confusion. Better sleeping and eating patterns. Less need for painkillers and other medicines. And crucially, more activity.

Kjenes tells the tale of an elderly dementia sufferer with a double hip fracture. “When she came back from rehab, she was so aggressive and affected that doctors said she would never walk again,” he says. “But after six months of using these machines, she was able to walk unaided.”

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This is a really delightful story. Technology for good! For the elderly! The sort of thing that you so rarely (or comparatively rarely) hear about.
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Battery-free, energy-harvesting perpetual machines: the weird future of computing • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

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battery or no, a key concern is what happens to a sensor’s data when it runs out of power.

To address this problem, the Game Boy research team upended a fundamental rule of computers: If you turn it off, you lose unsaved work. Their system, by contrast, can lose power completely, even many times a second, and the instant it gets enough power again—say, from a player impatiently mashing buttons—it picks up right where it left off.

Known as “intermittent computing,” this system relies on a still-exotic kind of memory chip. Almost every computer in history has had two separate forms of memory: volatile RAM and more permanent, but harder to access nonvolatile storage, which includes anything from punch cards and magnetic tape to hard drives and flash memory. But these researchers are using a new type of RAM—ferroelectric RAM or F-RAM—that erases the distinction. It’s as quickly and easily accessible as typical RAM, but as persistent as any permanent storage medium. It also takes only a minuscule amount of electricity to make it work, and it doesn’t degrade over time, like flash memory does.

Jasper de Winkel, a Ph.D. candidate at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and the technical lead on the batteryless Game Boy project, married this power-sipping, nonvolatile memory to a power-sipping processor from Ambiq, a 10-year-old Austin-based company that specializes in processors for smartwatches, industrial sensors and other ultralow power devices.

The total package—including the memory, processor and display—draws on average 11.5 milliwatts of power. This makes it, according to the researcher’s calculations, about 20 times more power efficient than the original Game Boy from 1989. By comparison, a typical smartphone draws 1 to 3 watts of power from its battery when in use, or around a hundred times more power.

It’s this combination of traits—never needing to reboot, using very little power, and harvesting energy from the environment—that yields a system that could be a “perpetual” computer, says Dr. Hester.

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The idea that you don’t care whether the power’s on or off is a great way of completely reshaping your thinking about computing.
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Digital pioneer Geoff Huston apologises for bringing the internet to Australia • ZDNet

Stilgherrian :

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Geoff Huston is an Internet Hall of Fame global connector, an honour which acknowledges his “critical role” in bringing the internet to Australia in the 1990s.

“While the Internet was still in its infancy in the US, he was able to complete the construction of a new and rapidly growing network within a few months,” the organisation wrote.

On Thursday, Huston apologised for that. “The internet is now busted, and to be perfectly frank, it’s totally unclear how we can fix it. We can’t make it better,” said Huston, now chief scientist with the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry,” he said.

“I actually want to apologise for my small part in this mess we find ourselves in, because it all turned out so horrendously badly.”

Huston is well-known in Australian internet technical circles for his cheerfully pessimistic presentations.

…”None of us envisioned that perversion of our nobly motivated ambition into the sewage of Twitter, the deluge of waste products from the Facebook factory,” he said.

“We only choose to listen to what we agree with these days. The internet’s a gigantic vanity-reinforcing distorted TikTok selfie. And for my part in all this, I am sorry.”

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He’s certainly got a style about him.
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2008: predicting where Google will be 10 years from now • The Guardian

Back in September 2008, when Google was about to turn ten years old, I wrote a piece trying to forecast how things would look in a decade. Amazingly, not all of it is wrong:

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Larry Page and Sergey Brin have had their differences; I suspect that Battelle is right that one of them will leave within the next decade, and how Google reacts to that will be key to its future.

The other two things that will be a problem are that China will resist Google, because its authoritarian government cannot contemplate the openness of information the search engine represents. China, already the largest internet nation, will be stubbornly closed to Google’s best endeavours.

The other is that there is going to be one hell of an antitrust case coming. Google’s in so many places at so many times, and so dominant particularly in search, that it cannot avoid this: it’ll move into some new market, and someone will raise a huge stink about how it is using its power in search to take over a new market. (A reminder: having a monopoly isn’t illegal. Using that monopoly to force others out of other markets is.)

As Microsoft discovered, fighting an antitrust case takes the creative wind out of your sails; it becomes all you can do to row to shore. The Microsoft of 10 years ago was cocky, confident; today it’s vast, but uncertain, overwhelmed by its bureaucracy. That could be Google’s fate – even as in 10 years we use its tools all the time, and a significant number of people use phones and computers based around its products, it will be becoming sclerotic.

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Google subsequently went into China, and then rapidly exited. The antitrust cases, well, those are happening too – the US keeps saying it’s just about to. And then doesn’t. See also the prediction about Android: this article was published a month before the first such phone came out.
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White House spreads COVID-19 and lies about Trump’s health • NY Mag

Olivia Nuzzi and Ben Jacobs:

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[Alleged medic – or at least, person who plays one on TV – Sean] Conley attempted to clean up part of his mess. In a statement released through the White House press office, he insisted he misspoke when he said the president had been diagnosed “72 hours ago” and had actually meant to say “day three.” He also said he misspoke about when the experimental therapy was administered to the president: on “day two,” not “48 hours ago,” as Dr. Brian Garibaldi, a well-respected pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins hospital, had stated. Garibaldi and Johns Hopkins declined to comment.

But Panagis Galiastatos, a pulmonary and critical-care physician at Johns Hopkins, told Intelligencer that by taking remdesivir, Trump’s doctors had committed to the fact that the president is suffering from a “moderate” or “severe” case of COVID-19. Galiastatos defined moderate as requiring hospitalization and severe as close to being committed to an intensive-care unit.

Galiastatos, who said he cared for more than 100 COVID patients in the Johns Hopkins ICU, said that his suspicion was that Trump “probably had COVID-19 around Wednesday” and that when you develop symptoms, you are “probably contagious several days before.” If this is correct, it would mean Trump could have spread the virus during Tuesday’s presidential debate, when he stood 12 feet and eight inches from Joe Biden and shouted in his direction for 90 minutes. (The Biden campaign said on Friday that Biden tested negative.)

This is the type of information the public should be learning from the president’s medical team, but it’s becoming clear that those officials cannot be trusted to be any more truthful about Trump’s condition than this White House has been about anything else.

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I agree with Galiastatos – the superspreader event was the Rose Garden ceremony the Saturday before, when the GOP came to dance on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s grave and anoint a successor judge. At which point, the gods laughed.
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Facebook is still showing ads about election fraud to millions of users • Vice

David Gilbert:

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Facebook announced a new rule on Wednesday that banned any ads that sought to delegitimize the outcome of the presidential election.

But an investigation has found at least 80 ads that do just that, run almost exclusively by right-wing groups or individuals, were active on the site as of Thursday evening. The ads have already garnered more than 2 million impressions, with the potential to reach many more American voters.

The investigation was conducted by Media Matters for America, a nonprofit that tracks conservative media output. The ads were still live on Friday morning when VICE News checked Facebook’s ad library.

…The ads [which all come from rightwing individuals or groups] are a mix of fearmongering about widespread voter fraud — of which there is little evidence — and allegations that voting by mail is fraudulent — another claim with scant evidence.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this week, Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, announced that the company would no longer allow “ads with content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of an election.”

As examples of what types of ad the new rule would prohibit, Leathern said “calling a method of voting inherently fraudulent or corrupt, or using isolated incidents of voter fraud to delegitimize the result of an election.”

The ads currently live on Facebook’s site do both of these things. “This report underlines that we can’t trust Facebook on ads,” Damian Collins, a UK lawmaker who has held multiple hearings on disinformation, told VICE News.

“Even when they change their policy to make it more responsible, they are caught out failing to deliver on it. This is why Facebook needs an oversight board with the power to investigate and challenge the company when it fails to properly implement its own policies.”

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I’ll say it again: Facebook can’t control Facebook. Until people really internalise this, the problems are going to get worse and worse.
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Journalists, beware: This White House can’t be trusted to be truthful about Trump’s health • The Washington Post

Margaret Sullivan:

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In this latest crisis, the predictable cycle of dangerous obfuscation has already begun. It was only after Bloomberg News reported that Trump aide Hope Hicks had tested positive for coronavirus that the White House acknowledged it.

Would we even know about Trump’s diagnosis if it weren’t for that? Maybe not. What about those he has come in contact with in recent days? Would they know they were endangered? The indications aren’t good. Yamiche Alcindor, the PBS White House correspondent, reported Friday that there was “no contact from the Trump campaign or the White House to alert the Biden campaign of possible exposure.” The campaign learned of the situation from news reports.

And when it comes to Trump’s health, he and his minions have a history of dubious statements. His former personal physician, Harold Bornstein, confessed that Trump dictated the doctor’s glowing 2015 letter that “his physical strength and stamina are extraordinary,” and that, if elected, Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” More recently, his trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last November remains all too mysterious; reasonable questions were never satisfactorily answered.

…The stakes are higher than ever, and the demand for proof should be, too.

Otherwise, Americans will reasonably come to an unavoidable conclusion: If the statement is from the president’s tweet, or from the press secretary’s mouth, there’s no reason to think it’s true.

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It’s not as if the precedent from the UK or Brazil is a good one. Boris Johnson’s worsening condition was hidden even from his Cabinet colleagues, who assured people he was fine just as he was about to head into the intensive care unit. The blizzard of lies around Trump’s health is going to be epic – and on Friday, began with the question: precisely when did he test positive? He seemed to be showing symptoms a couple of days before.
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Pyto: Python 3 on the App Store

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Pyto is a Python 3.8 IDE for iPhone and iPad. Run code directly on your device and offline. You can run scripts from Shortcuts and code your own home screen widgets.

Features:

– Python 3.8 with all standard libraries
– Full Python REPL
– Code user interfaces
– Smart code completion
– Use pip to install pure Python modules from PyPI
– Access scripts from everywhere
– Preview images and plots on console
– Multiple windows for iPadOS 13+
– Run scripts and code from Siri Shortcuts
– Code your own home screen widgets
– Interact with other apps thanks to x-callback urls

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If you’re looking for Python on your iPad… (which can then make your iPhone do things..) Quite similar to Pythonista, but possibly with more Python libraries. Home screen widgets, eh? What a hit they’ve been.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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