Start Up No.1429: the pointlessness of Parler, US pauses TikTok shutdown, Apple’s boom year, Google’s sound AI fixer, and more


No no no! Apple’s chiefs are insistent that Big Sur does not mean touchscreen Macs are on the way.CC-licensed photo by Sean O%27Sullivan on Flickr.

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

Here come the maid boys nyaaaa ლ(=ↀωↀ=)ლ • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick writes a newsletter of links, and he looked at why lots of crybaby American conservatives are heading to “alternative social network” Parler:

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I was curious what Parler considered “active,” so I clicked through to [Senator Ted] Cruz’s page. He’s posted once a day this week, most likely to capitalize on people leaving Facebook and Twitter, but before that, Cruz’s last post was October 20. His posts are all extremely boring.

In terms of design, Parler is a pretty standard Twitter clone. Instead of tweets, posts are called “parleys,” which, lol ok, sure. The site also has a “Suggested” hashtag widget. The top ones this morning were #Bitcoin, #Meme, #Videogames, and #Twexit lol. I was curious what kind of incredible discourse I’ve been missing out on. So I clicked on #Twexit.

And the top post was porn!

There’s something nice about how when a bunch of conservatives make a social network, it will, without fail, immediately fill up with porn bots.

The whole platform seems to be full of spam though. When I clicked on #Bitcoin, the top posts were all just QAnon slurry.

The idea that the American right wing will all migrate to Parler is, of course, a total farce. Thanks to the political influence of both Gamergate and Trump’s weaponization of Twitter, there actually isn’t a coherent way to express right-wing ideology anymore without online harassment and abuse at its center. Being a Republican without antagonizing liberals is like doing improv without an audience. It’s the reason subreddits and 4chan boards constantly go on raids, invading left-wing Twitter threads and attacking progressive Tumblr users. Without an Other to demonize, and then vanquish, the entire movement would feel completely hollow, pointless, and, most detrimentally for Trump and his allies, boring.

Social media is a video game and Parler is a map without enemies to defeat. So, no, Parler will not catch on. Just as Gab never caught on. But we can let these miserable con artists pretend for a while! See you guys when we all migrate to the next free speech platform.

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I love the phrase “QAnon slurry”, which captures it so neatly. But that need to have an opposition to push against – it’s the essence of politics. Improv without an audience indeed. (Via Alex Hern.)
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Commerce Department announces stay of TikTok shutdown order • WSJ

John McKinnon:

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The Commerce Department said Thursday that it won’t enforce its order that would have effectively forced the Chinese-owned TikTok video-sharing app to shut down, citing a federal court ruling in Philadelphia.

The department’s action delays implementation of a regulation, set to take effect Thursday, that would have barred US companies such as Apple Inc. from offering TikTok as a mobile app, and companies including Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc. from offering web-hosting service for TikTok—moves that would effectively make it inoperable.

In making its decision, the Commerce Department cited a preliminary injunction against the shutdown last month by US District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia in a suit brought by three TikTok stars: comedian Douglas Marland, fashion guru Cosette Rinab and musician Alex Chambers.

The Commerce Department statement said that the shutdown order won’t go into effect “pending further legal developments.”

In the Philadelphia case, Judge Beetlestone said the government action “presents a threat to the ‘robust exchange of informational materials’” and therefore likely exceeds the government’s authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the law the Trump administration has relied on to take action against TikTok.

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So predictable, really. We were told it was a national security matter. Now it doesn’t matter. The whims of a child who lost interest.
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Apple’s first in-house SoC for Macs projected to propel yearly MacBook shipment to 17.1m units in 2021 • TrendForce

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Owing to the rise of the stay-at-home economy brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, yearly Apple MacBook shipment for 2020 is expected to reach 15.5 million units, a 23.1% increase YoY, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations.

Thanks to the November 11 release of the new Mac models and the Apple Silicon M1 processor, MacBook shipments are expected to set a record high in 2021 by reaching 17.1m units and potentially growing by more than 10% YoY.

…TrendForce indicates that, based on the forecasted 1.9% YoY growth in global notebook computer shipment for 2021, Apple’s market performance is outstanding in comparison. Not only will the company benefit from its in-house processor and increase its MacBook shipment next year, but Apple is also projected to increase its share in the global notebook market from 8% in 2020 to 8.7% in 2021.

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That doesn’t seem like a big hike in share given the big rise in forecast sales, but all the other PC vendors have been having a good lockdown too. Even so, 2020 is going to be the biggest year for the Mac bar none. Until 2021, of course.
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How Apple made its new M1 chip, the latest MacBooks – and used its past to decide its future • The Independent

Andrew Griffin:

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it’s still the case that fans repeatedly speculated that Apple was going to do something more profound to the Mac: turn it into something like the iPad, for instance, or use the transition to radically alter how its laptops work. Apple has repeatedly insisted that it thinks the laptop form factor is valuable and distinct from touchscreens like the iPad, but people haven’t always believed them.

This has led to ideas including the theory that Apple had redesigned its new macOS to make way for touch screen Macs. The Big Sur aesthetic borrows from the iPhone and iPad – buttons are bigger, with more space, which numerous commentators pointed out would make them perfect for manipulating with your fingers – but not because of some secret plan to change the way the Mac works, [Apple software chief Craig] Federighi says.

“I gotta tell you when we released Big Sur, and these articles started coming out saying, ‘Oh my God, look, Apple is preparing for touch’. I was thinking like, ‘Whoa, why?’

“We had designed and evolved the look for macOS in a way that felt most comfortable and natural to us, not remotely considering something about touch.

“We’re living with iPads, we’re living with phones, our own sense of the aesthetic – the sort of openness and airiness of the interface – the fact that these devices have large retina displays now. All of these things led us to the design for the Mac, that felt to us most comfortable, actually in no way related to touch.

“I’ve never felt more comfortable moving across our family of devices as a user, which I do hundreds of times a day than I do now, moving between iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and macOS Big Sur. They all just feel of a family – there’s just less cognitive load to the switching process.

“It’s just they all feel like the natural instantiation of the experience for that device. And that’s what you’re seeing not some signaling of a future change in input methods.”

«

That seems pretty specific that Apple’s not going to make the Mac touchable. But what does that mean for iOS apps running on it? And you know too that when they decide that they are going to make it touch-based – well, the time was just right. A couple of years off at least though.
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Google’s SoundFilter AI separates any sound or voice from mixed-audio recordings • VentureBeat

Kyle Wiggers:

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Researchers at Google claim to have developed a machine learning model that can separate a sound source from noisy, single-channel audio based on only a short sample of the target source. In a paper, they say their SoundFilter system can be tuned to filter arbitrary sound sources, even those it hasn’t seen during training.

The researchers believe a noise-eliminating system like SoundFilter could be used to create a range of useful technologies. For instance, Google drew on audio from thousands of its own meetings and YouTube videos to train the noise-canceling algorithm in Google Meet. Meanwhile, a team of Carnegie Mellon researchers created a “sound-action-vision” corpus to anticipate where objects will move when subjected to physical force.

SoundFilter treats the task of sound separation as a one-shot learning problem. The model receives as input the audio mixture to be filtered and a single short example of the kind of sound to be filtered out. Once trained, SoundFilter is expected to extract this kind of sound from the mixture if present.

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There are some samples alongside the story. They’re sort of impressive.
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COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool

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This site provides interactive context to assess the risk that one or more individuals infected with COVID-19 are present in an event of various sizes. The model is simple, intentionally so, and provided some context for the rationale to halt large gatherings in early-mid March and newly relevant context for considering when and how to re-open. Precisely because of under-testing and the risk of exposure and infection, these risk calculations provide further support for the ongoing need for social distancing and protective measures. Such precautions are still needed even in small events, given the large number of circulating cases.

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Under very heavy load, and so giving lots of timeouts. But when it works, it gives you an idea of how much to be worried. Though I’d insist there’s a big difference between indoor and outdoor events.
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Donations under $8K to Trump ‘election defense’ instead go to president, RNC • Reuters

Jarrett Renshaw, Joseph Tanfani:

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As President Donald Trump seeks to discredit last week’s election with baseless claims of voter fraud, his team has bombarded his supporters with requests for money to help pay for legal challenges to the results: “The Left will try to STEAL this election!” reads one text.

But any small-dollar donations from Trump’s grassroots donors won’t be going to legal expenses at all, according to a Reuters review of the legal language in the solicitations.

A donor would have to give more than $8,000 before any money goes to the “recount account” established to finance election challenges, including recounts and lawsuits over alleged improprieties, the fundraising disclosures show.

The emailed solicitations send supporters to an “Official Election Defense Fund” website that asks them to sign up for recurring donations to “protect the results and keep fighting even after Election Day.”

The fine print makes clear most of the money will go to other priorities.

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Nothing, but nothing can be allowed to interfere with the grift. And if it goes to the legal challenges? That’s wasted too. They’re all going to fail. Even if all the claims magically held up, they would account for a few hundreds of votes. Biden leads by thousands in the key states. Every day the story is about how Trump has lost. And he won’t move on from it.
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Steve Bannon caught running Facebook misinformation network • Gizmodo

Whitney Kimball:

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Steve Bannon has been outed for his involvement in running a network of misinformation pages on Facebook. Who could have possibly seen this coming.

Facebook has talked a big game about monitoring election misinformation, and yet the independent activist network Avaaz said it had to alert the company to the pages before it removed them for coordinated inauthentic behavior. The group didn’t need an army of 35,000 moderators to figure this out, and yet Facebook consistently fails to spot the troublemakers that journalists and researchers with less funding and staff seem to keep spotting. As they say: makes you think.

Avaaz said that it alerted Facebook to the pages on Friday night. By that time, in aggregate, Avaaz says the top seven pages—Brian Kolfage, Conservative Values, The Undefeated, We Build the Wall Inc, Citizens of the American Republic, American Joe, and Trump at War—had collectively gained over 2.45 million followers. In some cases, Bannon and Brian Kolfage, co-conspirator in the “We Build the Wall, Inc.” fundraiser/alleged scam, were co-admins.

Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran told Gizmodo that its team identified the Bannon ring by running an “influencer analysis,” keeping tabs on frequent guests on Bannon’s podcasts and pages affiliated with Bannon’s former “We Build the Wall” grift. Avaaz, which is comprised of 40 investigators and data analysts, has kept tabs on habitual misinformers and their coordinated sharing through custom software.

They noticed that the Bannon-related pages tended to publish content at the same time and linked to the Populist Press, an even more right-wing Drudge Report copycat trafficking in disproven election fraud claims. The pages avoided warning labels by laundering links through the Populist Press domain rather post the original URLs for stories Facebook had already flagged as misinformation. Avaaz says they’d previously alerted Facebook to a network of 180 Bannon-connected pages and groups which have been sharing misinformation.

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As she says, who could have possibly seen this coming apart from absolutely everyone who has watched how Bannon has been flailing around over the past few months. It’s always astonishing how Facebook isn’t able to spot high-profile extreme right-wingers running misinformation/disinformation networks.
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Exclusive: senior US cybersecurity official tells associates he expects to be fired • Reuters

Reuters Staff:

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Separately, Bryan Ware, assistant director for cybersecurity at CISA, confirmed to Reuters that he had handed in his resignation on Thursday.

Krebs has drawn praise from both Democrats and Republicans for his handling of the US election, which generally ran smoothly despite persistent fears that foreign hackers might try to undermine the vote.

But he drew the ire of the Trump White House over a website run by CISA dubbed “Rumor Control” which debunks misinformation about the election, according to the three people familiar with the matter.

White House officials have asked for content to be edited or removed from the website, which has pushed back against numerous false claims about the election, including that Democrats are behind a mass election fraud scheme. In response, CISA officials have refused to delete accurate information.

In particular, one person said, the White House was angry about a CISA post rejecting a conspiracy theory that falsely claims an intelligence agency supercomputer and program, purportedly named Hammer and Scorecard, could have flipped votes nationally. No such system exists, according to Krebs, election security experts and former U.S. officials.

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You might remember that supercomputer from earlier in the week. The Trump administration: where people get fired for sticking to the verifiable truth. And there goes your assistant director for cybersecurity.
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Biden’s transition is stacked with tech players • Protocol

Emily Birnbaum and Anna Kramer:

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Joe Biden’s transition is absolutely stacked with tech industry players, according to a list of Biden agency review teams released Tuesday.

There’s no one on this new list from Facebook, Google or Apple (although there are people from those companies involved in the broader transition), but there’s definitive Silicon Valley representation and thought leaders on tech issues involved in shaping the future of the federal government. We went through the list so you don’t have to.

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Amazon, AirBnB, Lyft, LinkedIn, Sidewalk Labs (a Google spinoff), Uber, Stripe, Dropbox, Dell (Dell! Such old tech), Tableau, Figma, and also Nicole Wong who is former Google and Twitter and also formerly Obama’s deputy chief technology officer. I’m not even sure if the current White House has a chief technology officer.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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