Start Up No.1421: the dead hiker v the internet, Apple Silicon Macs incoming, whale saves train from doom, the coming media shift, and more


Guess which non-social site has had to think about how the US election might lead to mayhem? CC-licensed photo by Moheen Reeyad on Flickr.

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

A nameless hiker and the case the internet can’t crack • WIRED

Nicholas Thompson:

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It’s usually easy to put a name to a corpse. There’s an ID or a credit card. There’s been a missing persons report in the area. There’s a DNA match. But the investigators in Collier County couldn’t find a thing. Mostly Harmless’ fingerprints didn’t show up in any law enforcement database. He hadn’t served in the military, and his fingerprints didn’t match those of anyone else on file. His DNA didn’t match any in the Department of Justice’s missing person database or in CODIS, the national DNA database run by the FBI. A picture of his face didn’t turn up anything in a facial recognition database. The body had no distinguishing tattoos.

Nor could investigators understand how or why he died. There were no indications of foul play, and he had more than $3,500 cash in the tent. He had food nearby, but he was hollowed out, weighing just 83 pounds on a 5’8″ frame. Investigators put his age in the vague range between 35 and 50, and they couldn’t point to any abnormalities. The only substances he tested positive for were ibuprofen and an antihistamine. His cause of death, according to the autopsy report, was “undetermined.” He had, in some sense, just wasted away. But why hadn’t he tried to find help? Almost immediately, people compared Mostly Harmless to Chris McCandless, whose story was the subject of Into the Wild. McCandless, though, had been stranded in the Alaska bush, trapped by a raging river as he ran out of food. He died on a school bus, starving, desperate for help, 22 miles of wilderness separating him from a road. Mostly Harmless was just 5 miles from a major highway. He left no note, and there was no evidence that he had spent his last days calling out for help.

The investigators were stumped. To find out what had happened, they needed to learn who he was. So the Florida Department of Law Enforcement drew up an image of Mostly Harmless, and the Collier County investigators shared it with the public.

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Enter the internet. Which finds it’s not that good after all at this sort of thing.
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First Macs with Apple Silicon could be 13in MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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Apple’s 13in MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro could be some of the first Macs to get Apple Silicon chips with Apple perhaps announcing new versions of these machines at the Apple event set to take place in November.

Well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo back in July suggested that Apple would release new 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models with Apple Silicon chips before the end of the year, with those machines positioned to transition over to Apple Silicon first.

Today, shortly after Apple’s event announcements went out, leaker L0vetodream shared a tweet that says “13 inch x 2,” with no other contextual information, but it can be interpreted as meaning Apple plans to announce two 13-inch Apple Silicon Macs at the event. The tweet alone doesn’t mean much, but paired with the earlier and more extensive information from Kuo, it gives us a bit of insight into what we might expect to see announced next Tuesday.

Back in July, Kuo clarified that Apple is working on updated 14.1- and 16.1-inch MacBook Pro models that have a redesigned form factor and a mini-LED display, but he said that he does not expect these machines to launch until the second or third quarter of 2021.

There were some earlier rumors of a 24-inch iMac and speculation that it could launch before the end of the year, but L0vetodream’s tweet mentions no desktop model and rumors from the Chinese supply chain last week suggested that a new iMac won’t launch until the first half of 2021.

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What you can predict is that whatever Apple announces won’t be sufficient for everyone; there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth because [insert Mac model] hasn’t been made available. Yet all the forecasts are that these things are going to be damn fast. I’m really interested in how Apple’s going to handle the rollout. (Bloomberg – aka Mark Gurman – has a report that Apple’s working on an Apple Silicon version of its top-end Mac Pro. Quite how long that will take to appear – well, two years?)
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Whale sculpture stops train from plunge in the Netherlands • The New York Times

Isabella Kwai and Claire Moses:

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A train that went careening over the end of elevated tracks in the Netherlands on Monday was left teetering about 30 feet above the ground. But no one was injured or killed in the accident — thanks to a sculpture of a whale’s tail that stopped the train from plunging.

“It’s like the scene of a Hollywood movie,” said Ruud Natrop, a spokesman for safety in the Rotterdam-Rijnmond area, where the accident occurred. “Thank God the tail was there.”

The derailment, in the city of Spijkenisse, happened around 12:30 a.m. on Monday, according to local news outlets. The driver was the only person on the city train and was unharmed, Mr. Natrop said, and was taken to the hospital for an evaluation and then to the police station for questioning.

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Look, it’s 2020, OK?
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How social media is preparing for US election chaos • BBC News

James Clayton:

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There aren’t many in the US who are sure there’ll be an election result on the night.

Due to unprecedented numbers of postal votes, there could be days – possibly weeks – between the end of voting and the declared result.

And in that period of uncertainty there are fears of civil unrest.

Both sides could claim victory, and misinformation about the result could be rife.

The worry is that anger, fake news and hate speech on social media could inflame tensions.

So what is Big Tech planning to do about it?

The nuclear option would be to close down their apps for a period of time.

This is what we know social media companies intend to do to prevent that from happening.

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Twitter: “direct people to resources” (ie: nothing much). Facebook: “lower the bar for what they remove”. Hm. Reddit: why are we bothering with Reddit? Google and YouTube: remove false claims (on YouTube. Yeah, GLWT). Snapchat: you can’t go viral on Snapchat, so lolwut. TikTok: “working with independent fact-checkers”. Aren’t we all.
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Wikipedia is better prepared for Election Day than Facebook or Twitter • Vox

Sara Morrison:

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For the 2020 United States presidential election page, as well as the pages for presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, only editors whose accounts are at least 30 days old and who have made at least 500 edits can change the article. This is what Wikipedians, the editors who run the site, call “extended confirmed protection.”

The election page lock was put in place on October 21 by Molly White, who goes by the handle “GorillaWarfare” on the site. She’s been a Wikipedia editor for almost 15 years and also serves as an administrator. This gives her some additional abilities, like the power to lock pages. But White is not anticipating any major issues on Wikipedia with regard to the upcoming election.

“For the most part, things will be business as usual on Wikipedia,” White told Recode. “Wikipedia editors and administrators have plenty of tools at our disposal to ensure that our readers are only seeing accurate information, even as things are changing quickly behind the scenes.”

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Smart move by Wikipedia, which is seen as a reliable source by a lot of the internet. Also: shows how the internet is maturing that sites now see that they have to harden themselves against calendar events. And that they know what form that hardening should take.
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It’s the end of an era for the media, no matter who wins the election • The New York Times

Ben Smith:

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You aren’t the only one just barely hanging on until Election Day. Most of the top leaders of many name-brand American news institutions will probably be gone soon, too. The executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, Norm Pearlstine, is looking to recruit a successor by the end of the year, he told me. Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, just bought a house out of town and two Posties said they expected him to depart next year. He hasn’t given notice, The Post’s spokeswoman, Kristine Coratti Kelly, said. And the executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, is on track to retire by the time he turns 66 in 2022, two Times executives told me, dampening speculation that he might stay longer.

Over in big TV, Mr. Zucker, of CNN, has signaled that he’s frustrated with WarnerMedia, and broadcast television is overflowing with speculation about how long the network news chiefs will stay on, though no executives have suggested imminent departures. “Everyone is assuming there’s going to be turnover everywhere, and everyone is absolutely terrified about who is going to come in,” one television industry insider said.

This isn’t just the usual revolving door. Newsroom leaders face strong pulls in conflicting directions. Outlets all along the spectrum, from the staid BBC to the radical Intercept, have been moving to reassert final editorial control over their journalists. But newsroom employees — like a generation of workers across many industries — are arriving with heightened demands to be given more of a say in running their companies than in years past. New leaders may find opportunities to resolve some of the heated newsroom battles of the last year, or they may walk into firestorms.

Mr. Pearlstine, the only one talking openly of his departure, told me that the new “metrics for success might be different as well — issues such as inclusiveness, such as being anti-racist, such as really commanding some new platform, be it podcasts or video or newsletters, in addition to having journalistic credentials.”

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Smith is consistently the best media journalist out there: only writing one article a week, but what an article it always turns out to be.
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Mississippi program to use door cameras to fight crime • The Fresno Bee

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Mississippi’s capital city could begin using residents’ door security cameras in its effort to fight rising crime.

Recently, Jackson began a pilot program with two technology corporations to provide a platform for the police department to access private surveillance via Ring cameras.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said if home and business owners allow, they could give the city permission to access those cameras through the platform, and the city could use the data collected to track criminal activity, WLBT-TV reported.

Lumumba said the city would only be able to access the devices when crimes occur in those areas.

“Ultimately, what will happen is residents and businesses will be able to sign a waiver, if they want their camera to be accessed from the Real Time Crime Center,” he said. “It would save (us) from having to buy a camera for every place across the city.”

The city council signed off on entering the pilot program at its Tuesday meeting. The equipment needed to allow the center access to cameras is being provided by corporations PILEUM and Fusus.

PILEUM, an information and technology consulting company founded in 2002, is based in Jackson, according to its website. Fusus, a Georgia-based company, provides cloud services to allow real-time crime centers to extract video information, its website states.

“Fusus allows us to connect into cameras,” Lumumba said. “If someone says, ‘I want my Ring door camera to be used,’ we’ll be able to use it.”

Under the program, Lumumba said, once a crime is reported, crime center officials will be able to access cameras in the area to determine escape routes, look for getaway vehicles and the like.

“We’ll be able to get a location, draw a circle around it and pull up every camera within a certain radius to see if someone runs out of a building,” he said. “We can follow and trace them.”

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It’s very Minority Report, isn’t it? Your camera being used (somewhat with your consent, though what if the camera on someone else’s property has a view of what you do?) to sort-of fight crime. It’s always justified on the fighting crime thing, and the city council is always eager to approve it. Beyond that…?
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Raspberry Pi 400: the $70 desktop PC • Raspberry Pi

Eben Upton, founder of the Raspberry Pi project:

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here is Raspberry Pi 400: a complete personal computer, built into a compact keyboard.

Raspberry Pi 4, which we launched in June last year, is roughly forty times as powerful as the original Raspberry Pi, and offers an experience that is indistinguishable from a legacy PC for the majority of users. Particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the use of Raspberry Pi 4 for home working and studying.

But user friendliness is about more than performance: it can also be about form factor. In particular, having fewer objects on your desk makes for a simpler set-up experience. Classic home computers – BBC Micros, ZX Spectrums, Commodore Amigas, and the rest – integrated the motherboard directly into the keyboard. No separate system unit and case; no keyboard cable. Just a computer, a power supply, a monitor cable, and (sometimes) a mouse.

We’ve never been shy about borrowing a good idea. Which brings us to Raspberry Pi 400: it’s a faster, cooler 4GB Raspberry Pi 4, integrated into a compact keyboard. Priced at just $70 for the computer on its own, or $100 for a ready-to-go kit, if you’re looking for an affordable PC for day-to-day use this is the Raspberry Pi for you.

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The idea that you build the computer into the keyboard must have felt like one of those forehead-slapping moments: there’s all that wasted space inside there! Though I do wonder about quite what people will use it for. It runs Linux, which isn’t going to be everyone’s taste. The usefulness of the Pi Zero was that it was so tiny, you could program it, leave it running and forget it. This seems different.
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Covid Is Airborne petition • Covid Is Airborne

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We, citizens of the world, demand the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize the compelling scientific evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads by aerosol transmission (“airborne”) and urge the WHO to immediately develop and initiate clear recommendations to enable people to protect themselves.

In the early stages of the pandemic, WHO forcefully communicated that COVID-19 was not transmitted through the air, and called it “misinformation” (March 28, “FACT: COVID-19 is NOT airborne”). That message was heard loud and clear around the world and became entrenched in many people’s understandings of the virus’ transmission pathways. It still influences mitigation strategies, despite that WHO has since softened this position and now acknowledges that airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 may be possible, albeit not very important.

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Amazing that this needs a petition to get WHO to change its position. The people behind it are mainly European, though none from the UK.
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Facebook’s fact-checking favors conservatives in election lead-up • The Washington Post

Isaac Stanley-Becker and Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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In the final months of the presidential campaign, prominent associates of President Trump and conservative groups with vast online followings have flirted with, and frequently crossed, the boundaries set forth by Facebook about the repeated sharing of misinformation.

From a pro-Trump super PAC to the president’s eldest son, however, these users have received few penalties, according to an examination of several months of posts and ad spending, as well as internal company documents. In certain cases, their accounts have been protected against more severe enforcement because of concern about the perception of anti-conservative bias, said current and former Facebook employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

These people said the preferential treatment has undercut Facebook’s own efforts to curb misinformation, in particular the technologies put in place to downgrade problematic actors. Toward the end of last year, around the time Facebook-owned Instagram was rolling out labels obscuring fact-challenged posts and directing users to accurate information, the company removed a strike against Donald Trump Jr. for a fact-check on the photo-sharing service that would have made him a so-called repeat offender, fearing the backlash that would have ensued from the accompanying penalties, according to two former employees familiar with the matter.

These penalties can be severe, including reduced traffic and possible demotion in search. One former employee said it was among numerous strikes removed over the past year for the president’s family members.

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You have to feel there’s going to be a reckoning. But as we keep learning, the world is an unkind place, which treats us unfairly and doesn’t mete out justice as it should.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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