Start Up No.1430: Apple’s M1 benchmarked (fast!), whither Intel?, electric vans on the way, the cursed treasure, Parler’s data grab, and more


Life inside the British civil service under Dominic Cummings – now gone – was no cakewalk. CC-licensed photo by duncan c on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. That’s actually one million, according to Kayleigh McEnany. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Intel’s disruption is now complete • Medium

James Allworth:

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The causal mechanism behind disruption that Grove so quickly understood was that even if a disruptive innovation started off as inferior, by virtue of it dramatically expanding the market, it would improve at a far greater rate than the incumbent. It was what enabled Intel (and Microsoft) to win the computing market in the first place: even though personal computers were cheaper, selling something that sat in every home and on every desk ends up funding a lot more R&D spend than selling a few very expensive servers that only existed in server rooms.

Similarly, Apple’s initial foray into chips didn’t produce anything that special in terms of silicon. But it didn’t need to — people were happy to just have a computer that they could keep in their pocket. Apple has gone on to sell a lot of iPhones, and all those sales have funded a lot of R&D. The silicon inside them has kept improving, and improving, and improving. And their fab partner, TSMC, has gone along with them for the ride.

Finally, today marks the day where, for Intel, those two lines on the graph intersect. Unlike the last time the two lines intersected in the personal computer market, Intel is not the one doing the disrupting. And now, it’s just a matter of time before the performance of ARM-based chips continues its march upmarket into Intel’s last refuge: the server business.

Things are not going to go well for them from here on out.

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Apple Silicon M1 chip in MacBook Air outperforms high-end 16in MacBook Pro • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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Apple introduced the first MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini with M1 Apple Silicon chips last Monday, and the first benchmark of the new chip appears to be showing up on the Geekbench site.

The M1 chip, which belongs to a MacBook Air with 8GB RAM, features a single-core score of 1687 and a multi-core score of 7433. According to the benchmark, the M1 has a 3.2GHz base frequency.

When compared to existing devices, the M1 chip in the MacBook Air outperforms all iOS devices. For comparison’s sake, the iPhone 12 Pro earned a single-core score of 1584 and a multi-core score of 3898, while the highest ranked iOS device on Geekbench’s charts, the A14 iPad Air, earned a single-core score of 1585 and a multi-core score of 4647.

In comparison to Macs, the single-core performance is better than any other available Mac, and the multi-core performance beats out all of the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro models, including the 10th-generation high-end 2.4GHz Intel Core i9 model. That high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro earned a single-core score of 1096 and a multi-core score of 6870.

Though the M1 chip is outperforming the 16-inch MacBook Pro models when it comes to raw CPU benchmarks, the 16-inch MacBook Pro likely offers better performance in other areas such as the GPU as those models have high-power discrete GPUs.

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And that’s the model which doesn’t have thermal headroom, because it hasn’t got a fan. These machines are going to be insanely fast – though users will still be the same old plodders.
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The Ford E-Transit is, you guessed it, an all-electric Transit • Top Gear

Greg Potts:

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the maximum payloads that the different versions of E-Transit can take are also remarkably similar to those of its internal-combustion-engined siblings. The standard van form of the E can carry up to 1,616kg of tat, with stronger chassis cab models upping that to 1,967kg.

The largest enclosed van option also offers 15.1 cubic metres of cargo space, which is exactly the same as the equivalent diesel L4H3 Transit. That’s down to the battery being located underneath the body. 

Aha, the battery – that’s surely our cue to talk drivetrains. Said battery is a 67kWh job which provides a range of 217 miles on the combined WLTP cycle. As an aside, Ford says that’s roughly three times the distance that the average European fleet driver covers on a daily basis. Oh, and there’ll be an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty. 

The electric motor is a 265bhp, 317lb ft unit which powers the rear wheels, and there’s an Eco Mode that limits top speed and acceleration for an 8-10% improvement in efficiency. 

There’s also AC and DC-fast charging, with DC offering up to 115kW and the ability to top-up the battery from 15% to 80% in around 34 minutes. The onboard 2.3kW power source is a neat touch too – allowing users to charge tools or power equipment at jobsites. 

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When a workhorse van like this turns electric, things are changing. And like so many other vehicles, it’s making lots of short runs rather than long continuous motorway drives. (It will surely be a long while before we see articulated lorries with an electric drivetrain.)
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The reality of civil service life under Cain and Cummings • Daily Mail Online

Neil Tweedie:

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When the call from Downing Street came in, I was dozing. I’d fallen asleep the previous night with my black government-issued mobile on my chest, while trying to catch up on the endless emails that are the bane of a special adviser’s life.

A minute or so of pleasantries and then down to business. ‘These leaks about travel corridors, mate. If they carry on, we are going to have to start shooting people.’

I liked the official issuing this unsubtle threat — still do — but was irked by the implication that my department, Transport, was furtively generating unfavourable coverage of the Government’s quarantine strategy for people flying into the UK during the pandemic.

Whatever the objections to quarantine — and it was having a devastating impact on our airlines and airports — it was a settled policy, and we at the Department for Transport (DfT) were duty bound to make it work. So, no leaks, no negative briefing. We stuck to that.

Something else irritated me — the schoolboy Mafioso language meant to instil fear. Shooting people, for God’s sake. I mean, grow up.

But that exchange was par for the course in the new world I’d joined, a world where bullying and intimidation were the norm. A world utterly dominated by Dominic Cummings, chief policy adviser to the PM, and his ally Lee Cain, the Downing Street director of communications.

And that early-morning call would set in train the events leading to my sacking by Cain.

After 25 years in national newspapers, I’d taken the job of media special adviser — otherwise known as a spad — with some trepidation. Journalism is a tough world, but in most regards it is an uncomplicated one.

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Tweedie saw “the corrosive effect of a clique who revelled in strong-arm tactics and the use of secret media briefings to force through their agenda. A government cannot preach morality in public life when it tolerates abuse within its own ranks. The two cannot be separated. I witnessed this abuse of power first-hand, and it was not pretty.” In case you think he’s some shrinking violet, he used to work at the Daily Mail – recognised among journalists as the most brutal place to work in British (possibly world) journalism.

What he describes about how government works isn’t how it used to work at all.
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The curse of the buried treasure • The New Yorker

Rebecca Mead:

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On June 2, 2015, two metal-detector hobbyists aware of the area’s heritage, George Powell and Layton Davies, drove ninety minutes north of their homes, in South Wales, to the hamlet of Eye, about four miles outside Leominster. The farmland there is picturesque: narrow, hedgerow-lined lanes wend among pastures dotted with spreading trees and undulating crop fields. Anyone fascinated by the layered accretions of British history—or eager to learn what might be buried within those layers—would find it an attractive spot. English place-names, most of which date back to Anglo-Saxon times, are often repositories of meaning: the name Eye, for example, derives from Old English, and translates as “dry ground in a marsh.” Just outside the hamlet was a rise in the landscape, identified on maps by the tantalizing appellation of King’s Hall Hill.

Powell, a warehouse worker in his early thirties, and Davies, a school custodian a dozen years older, were experienced “detectorists.” There are approximately twenty thousand such enthusiasts in England and Wales, and usually they find only mundane detritus: a corroded button that popped off a jacket in the eighteen-hundreds, a bolt that fell off a tractor a dozen years ago. But some detectorists make discoveries that are immensely valuable, both to collectors of antiquities and to historians, for whom a single buried coin can help illuminate the past. Scanning the environs of King’s Hall Hill, the men suddenly picked up a signal on their devices. They dug into the red-brown soil, and three feet down they started to uncover a thrilling cache of objects: a gold arm bangle in the shape of a snake consuming its own tail; a pendant made from a crystal sphere banded by delicately wrought gold; a gold ring patterned with octagonal facets; a silver ingot measuring close to three inches in length; and, stuck together in a solid clod of earth, what appeared to be hundreds of fragile silver coins.

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This is a long, absorbing read which shows that sometimes the worst thing that can happen is that you achieve your dearest wish.
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Parler makes play for conservatives mad at Facebook, Twitter • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz and Keach Hagey:

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Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund investor Robert Mercer, is among the company’s financial backers, according to people familiar with the matter. The Mercers have previously financed a number of conservative causes.

…Ms. Mercer said in a separate post that she and [Parler CEO John] Matze “started Parler to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended.” She said the effort is an answer to what she called the “ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords.”

The company’s user base more than doubled to 10 million in under a week, making it difficult for its roughly 30-person staff to keep up with the flood of new sign-ups.

“You’d fix one thing, and another would blow out,” Mr. Matze said. “We’re now solid at this point.”

Other allies of President Trump have joined Ms. Mercer in framing Parler’s rapid growth as a rebuke to major tech platforms’ efforts to more aggressively label content or restrict the reach of posts that the platforms deemed misleading or dangerous. Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo announced she was quitting Twitter for Parler, where she has amassed more than 1 million followers. Conservative talk show host Dan Bongino—who is both one of Facebook’s most popular content creators and an investor in Parler—heralded its growth as “a collective middle finger to the tech tyrants.”

Both of them have continued to post on Facebook and Twitter, though, raising the question of whether Parler will eventually complement or replace larger platforms with much bigger audiences.

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Parler is a huge data grab: it’s intended to collect as much personal data as it can from the users, because they’re mostly die-hard Trump supporters and so can be useful to whatever political scheme the Mercers (or Trumps) want to aim them at. And as pointed out by Ryan Broderick last week, nobody actually quits Twitter or Facebook voluntarily if they have a following of any size.
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How a post-election crisis was manufactured in Pennsylvania • CNNPolitics

Marshall Cohen:

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All eyes fell on Pennsylvania, with millions of still-uncounted votes. The delay was largely caused by Republican state lawmakers who defied local officials and nonpartisan experts, and refused to let counties process mail ballots before Election Day, as is allowed in other states.

So the election went into overtime. As the days crept by, Trump’s massive election night lead of 700,000 votes slowly disappeared as Pennsylvania’s 67 counties churned through their mail-in ballots, revealing a narrow win for Biden. This predictable shift gave rise to a bevy of conspiracy theories, disinformation and baseless accusations of voter fraud, stoked chiefly by the President.

Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania has now eclipsed Trump’s winning margin from 2016. If mail ballots had been counted first – not last – the trajectory of the entire election would’ve looked different.
“If they would’ve just given us 48 hours to open envelopes and stack absentee ballots, we would’ve delivered a result on election night – easy,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, told CNN. “Why wouldn’t they agree to something so perfunctory and bureaucratic? Because every Republican in that food chain wanted chaos, and that’s exactly what they got.”

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Lots of finger-pointing in the rest of the analysis, but the weird reality that election counting could become a partisan issue shows how the US is slowly sliding towards complete dysfunction.
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New device puts music in your head — no headphones required • Associated Press

Louise Dixon:

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Imagine a world where you move around in your own personal sound bubble. You listen to your favorite tunes, play loud computer games, watch a movie or get navigation directions in your car — all without disturbing those around you.

That’s the possibility presented by “sound beaming,” a new futuristic audio technology from Noveto Systems, an Israeli company. On Friday it will debut a desktop device that beams sound directly to a listener without the need for headphones.

The company provided The Associated Press with an exclusive demo of the desktop prototype of its SoundBeamer 1.0 before its launch Friday.

The listening sensation is straight out of a sci-fi movie. The 3-D sound is so close it feels like it’s inside your ears while also in front, above and behind them.

Noveto expects the device will have plenty of practical uses, from allowing office workers to listen to music or conference calls without interrupting colleagues to letting someone play a game, movie or music without disturbing their significant others.

The lack of headphones means it’s possible to hear other sounds in the room clearly.

The technology uses a 3-D sensing module and locates and tracks the ear position sending audio via ultrasonic waves to create sound pockets by the user’s ears. Sound can be heard in stereo or a spatial 3-D mode that creates 360 degree sound around the listener, the company said.

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Ultrasound to beam sound specifically to one person or location has been around for quite a while; I get the impression it’s just always been expensive. And there’s no indication this won’t be expensive too. But in our lockdown world, maybe we’ll like sound that only one person can hear. (Via John Naughton.)
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Coronavirus emerged in Italy earlier than thought, Italian study shows • Reuters

Giselda Vagnoni:

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Italian researchers’ findings, published by the INT’s scientific magazine Tumori Journal, show that 11,6% of 959 healthy volunteers enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020, had developed coronavirus antibodies well before February.

A further specific SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test was carried out by the University of Siena for the same research titled “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy”.

It showed that four cases dated back to the first week of October were also positive for antibodies neutralizing the virus, meaning they had got infected in September, Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, told Reuters.

“This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests but had also antibodies able to kill the virus,” Apolone said.

“It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for long and with a low rate of lethality not because it is disappearing but only to surge again,” he added.

Italian researchers told Reuters in March that they reported a higher than usual number of cases of severe pneumonia and flu in Lombardy in the last quarter of 2019 in a sign that the new coronavirus might have circulated earlier than previously thought.

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Hmm. Two possibilities: it really was circulating in Italy as far back as September or October; or the antibodies that they’ve detected aren’t specific to SARS-Cov-2, but to coronavirus(es) generally. (And there does seem to be evidence that some people have an immune response despite never being exposed.) There should be clearer data from those pneumonia cases. There’s also the question of how it got there, if the first outbreak was in China, and why it didn’t have a bigger outbreak much sooner.
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Does Apple really log every app you run? A technical look • Jacopo Jannone

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Apple’s launch of macOS Big Sur was almost immediately followed by server issues which prevented users from running third-party apps on their computers. While a workaround was soon found by people on Twitter, others raised some privacy concerns related to that issue.

[Jeff Johnson tweeted: “Hey Apple users: If you’re now experiencing hangs launching apps on the Mac, I figured out the problem using Little Snitch.
It’s trustd connecting to http://ocsp.apple.com
Denying that connection fixes it, because OCSP is a soft failure.
(Disconnect internet also fixes.)”]

OCSP stands for Online Certificate Status Protocol1. As the name implies, it is used to verify the validity of a certificate without having to download and scan large certificate revocation lists. macOS uses OCSP to make sure that the developer certificate hasn’t been revoked before an app is launched.

As Jeff Johnson explains in his tweet above, if macOS cannot reach Apple’s OCSP responder it skips the check and launches the app anyway – it is basically a fail-open behaviour. The problem is that Apple’s responder didn’t go down; it was reachable but became extremely slow, and this prevented the soft failure from triggering and giving up the check.

It is clear that this mechanism requires macOS to contact Apple before an app is launched. The sudden public awareness of this fact, brought about by Apple’s issues, raised some privacy concerns and a post from security researcher Jeffrey Paul2 became very popular on Twitter.

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It turns out that it’s not a hash of the program, but relates to the developer certificate. Very watchful indeed. There’s still a use for Little Snitch, clearly. (I haven’t updated to Big Sur; let others find these pain points.)
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Google shutting down Expeditions, moving VR to A&C app • 9to5Google

Abner Li:

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Almost every tech company was invested in virtual reality five years ago and saw it as the future. One Google effort was to use VR as a means to let students go on virtual field trips. Expeditions is now being folded into the Google Arts & Culture app as the dedicated experience shuts down next year.

Google said: “With this product, educators took students on new adventures to experience far-away places, travel back in time or learn about cultures unlike their own. It has been truly magical to see how educators and students alike incorporated our VR tours into their imaginative curriculums.”

Google announced today it will “no longer support the Expeditions app.” Additionally, it will be removed from Google Play and the App Store after June 30, 2021.

The Expeditions Pioneer Program launched in 2015 as a limited access experience for educators. A year later Google made the app available for all on Android, but continued to sell dedicated Expedition kits that included a tablet, phones, virtual reality viewers, and router.

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Sure would like to know how much use it got. Can’t imagine that it’s been growing despite all this. Another one takes the trip up the mountain road to the farm where all the old animals go. When do we agree that VR just hasn’t cut through?
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Apple HomePod mini review: playing small ball • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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When the HomePod originally launched, it felt like Apple was operating in a completely different world from the rest of the smart speakers, one that didn’t make sense for a lot of people. The HomePod mini at least feels like it’s in the same ballpark as the rest.

At $100, compared to the original HomePod’s $350 launch price, the mini is priced low enough that you can envision buying more than one and spreading them throughout your home. It does most of the things you expect a smart speaker to do and sounds good when doing them. If you’re already fully bought into Apple’s ecosystem, including services, it’s hard to fault the HomePod mini’s price or capabilities. It also provides an escape from some of the privacy concerns and baggage that come with the Echo or Nest smart speakers, including the increasingly common ads that show up in Alexa’s responses.

But it feels like Apple is still two years or more behind Amazon and Google when it comes to smart speakers. And compared to the equally priced Echo and Nest Audio, the HomePod mini struggles to keep up in both sound quality and features.

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Remarkably, he says that Siri is faster than Alexa or Google to respond to a request or command, which must be a first in a review. Sound seems to be adequate. The voice detection ability of the HomePod is remarkable – you can have a lot of loud ambient noise and it will still pick up the “Hey Siri” bit.
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3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1430: Apple’s M1 benchmarked (fast!), whither Intel?, electric vans on the way, the cursed treasure, Parler’s data grab, and more

  1. Jacopo’s report regarding Apple’s OCSP checks is slightly disingenuous in its own right. He is quite right to point out that the original article confused notarisation checks with OCSP checks. The former do send a hash of the application being opened, but only on first launch and only over an encrypted link. OCSP checks happen more or less on every launch and send an unencrypted hash of the developer’s certificate. (Apple’s newly extended caching period will somewhat lower the frequency of these checks.)

    Jacopo uses this very real mistake on Jeffrey’s part to dismiss his report, but Jeffrey’s original conclusions hold roughly true. It does not take an evil genius to realise that the owner of a Mac that is checking the revocation status of the Tor Project’s certificate, for example, is running the Tor Browser. There is only one extra step involved in detecting what apps are being run, especially as counter-surveillance apps tend to be developed by small entities that are easily recognisable and unlikely to publish other apps under the same certificate.

    Jeffrey’s concerns about Apple spying on the NSA’s behalf are certainly a little overblown. However, he forgets that many users face very real threats closer to home, such as the filtering being performed by oppressive governments or abusive partners. While Apple may not care that I run the Tor Browser, my local ISP in China, Russia, or Iran would get to see the same data — and be very interested indeed.

    Hopefully the moved announced by Apple overnight will solve the most egregious privacy issues — but the fact remains that macOS 11.0 places some processes out of the reach of firewalls and filtering tools, resulting in numerous other leaks, as highlighted by Patrick Wardle. I wonder what exactly caused Apple to react so publicly — and at the weekend, too…

  2. While it’s true regarding high audience users not quitting Other People Hell, err, Twitter, voluntarily, remember our particular Advent now counting down until Jan 20, after which Twitter shall feel free to perform an exorcism of the Great Orange Satan. And given the well-known view of the Ancient Saviour concerning the failure of social media self-regulation, the “voluntary” casting out of many Archdevils and lesser fiends is likely to follow.

    I wouldn’t have predicted this beforehand, but Parler just might be in the right-place-right-time with a horde of high profile right-wingers newly exiled from established places, and who really do have a large audience which wants to hear them. In terms of realpolitik, running it as a loss leader for political grifting is in fact a reasonably workable business model.

    • Yes, I completely agree Seth – Parler (which asks people to upload proof of identity for some sort of element) is well-placed to become an alternative (reality) site, and if Twitter does bring down some sort of banhammer on Trump, very likely to benefit. More on what might happen to Trump v Twitter in tomorrow’s edition…

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