Start Up No.1439: MPs call for right to repair, the perfect way to smarten your home, Parallels plans for Windows on M1 Macs, and more


A crime writer would point out that this shows two potential murder weapons, not one. CC-licensed photo by Ted Kerwin 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 10 links for you. Black! Blaaaack! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon and Apple ‘not playing their part’ in tackling electronic waste • The Guardian

Sandra Laville:

»

Global giants such as Amazon and Apple should be made responsible for helping to collect, recycle and repair their products to cut the 155,000 tonnes of electronic waste being thrown away each year in the UK, MPs say.

An investigation by the environmental audit committee found the UK is lagging behind other countries and failing to create a circular economy in electronic waste. The UK creates the second highest levels of electronic waste in the world, after Norway. But MPs said the UK was not collecting and treating much of this waste properly.

“A lot of it goes to landfill, incineration or is dumped overseas. Under current laws producers and retailers of electronics are responsible for this waste, yet they are clearly not fulfilling that responsibility,” the MPs wrote.

About 40% of the UK’s e-waste is sent abroad, according to estimates – something the MPs point out is often done illegally.

The tsunami of electronic waste was throwing away valuable resources vital to a sustainable future, the report published on Thursday said.

Globally, thrown-away computers, smartphones, tablets and other electronic waste have a potential value of $62.5bn each year from the precious metals they contain, including gold, silver, copper, platinum and other critical raw materials such as tungsten and indium.

«

They say there should be a “right to repair” and lower VAT for repairs enshrined in law, plus producers obliged to collect and recycle used items. Makes sense, though some items are going to be much, much harder to repair by anyone than others.
unique link to this extract


Parallels Desktop for Mac with Apple M1 chip • Parallels Blog

Nick Dobrovolskiy is SVP of engineering:

»

When Apple Silicon Mac was first announced during the keynote at WWDC on June 22 of this year, Apple demoed a Parallels Desktop for Mac prototype running a Linux virtual machine flawlessly on Apple Silicon. Since WWDC, our new version of Parallels Desktop which runs on Mac with Apple M1 chip has made tremendous progress. We switched Parallels Desktop to universal binary and optimized its virtualization code; and the version that we are eager to try on these new MacBook Air, Mac mini and MacBook Pro 13″ looks very promising. Parallels is also amazed by the news from Microsoft about adding support of x64 applications in Windows on ARM.

«

Being “amazed” by Microsoft doesn’t sound like a good thing for a company that makes its money from being able to run Windows?
unique link to this extract


IoT Unravelled Part 4: making it all work for humans • Troy Hunt

Hunt is better known for his HaveIBeenPwned database, but he’s very into IoT too:

»

My parents aren’t as tech orientated as me and whilst the idea of a connected home appeals greatly to me personally, I doubt they share quite the same level of excitement. That’s fine, I’m not expecting them to geek out at my YAML or get giddy about my Zigbee, but I do want them to be able to use my house.

Light switches are a perfect example of where connected home UX can go down the toilet. My parents are great with light switches, in fact, they have a lot more experience with them than I do. They’re very familiar with the simple premise of flicking a switch to turn a light on and indeed, flicking it again to turn it off. Problem is though, connected lights can create a bit of a conundrum here.

Those lights [in an accompanying tweet] are Atom WiZ Connected RGB LEDs and they talk directly to the Wi-Fi network. They need power to do that and the point Adam is making is that if the light switch on the wall is turned off and the connected light no longer has power, how can you control it digitally? I mean what if you turn it off at the wall then try to ask Alexa to turn it back on? It won’t work as the light is now offline. The workarounds people create for this are, to my mind, sub-optimal.

[Picture of lights with transparent covers over them to stop people turning them off when they need to be “on” all the time to connect to the network.]

If I bring this back to the parents test, how do my mum and dad use these switches? Clearly, they can’t because that’s the whole purpose of the covers, so how do they turn the lights on? I’m not sure how Iain does it, maybe by voice, maybe by motion, maybe by something else altogether. All I know is that from a UX perspective, switch covers are unquestionably an anti-pattern.

«

His solution is a bit dramatic – Wi-Fi controlled relays! – but certainly avoids the anti-patterns that you inevitably run into with smart homes.
unique link to this extract


Daily COVID-19 data is about to get weird • The COVID Tracking Project

Erin Kissane:

»

Based on what we’ve seen over the last eight months of state-reported COVID-19 data, we think two big, potentially misleading things are about to happen to the testing, case, and death numbers that allow us to track the pandemic in the United States.

First, by Thanksgiving Day and perhaps as early as Wednesday, all three metrics will flatten out or drop, probably for several days. This decrease will make it look like things are getting better at the national level. Then, in the week following the holiday, our test, case, and death numbers will spike, which will look like a confirmation that Thanksgiving is causing outbreaks to worsen. But neither of these expected movements in the data will necessarily mean anything about the state of the pandemic itself. Holidays, like weekends, cause testing and reporting to go down and then, a few days later, to “catch up.” So the data we see early next week will reflect not only actual increases in cases, test, and deaths, but also the potentially very large backlog from the holiday.

«

So the fall will be misleading, and the rise will be misleading. But a couple of weeks from now will reveal the truth.
unique link to this extract


Your move, iPad • Becky Hansmeyer

»

It’s clear that Apple wants the iPad Pro to be a device that a wide variety of professionals can use to get work done. And since so many people use web apps for their work, the introduction of “desktop” Safari for iPad was an important step toward that goal. The Magic Keyboard and trackpad was another step.

Here are ten more steps I believe Apple could and should take to help nudge the iPad into this exciting next era of computing.

• Give the iPad Pro another port. Two USB 4.0 ports would be lovely.
• Adopt a landscape-first mindset. Rotate the Apple logo on the back and move the iPad’s front-facing camera on the side beneath the Apple Pencil charger to better reflect how most people actually use their iPad Pros.
• Introduce Gatekeeper and app notarization for iOS. The process of side-loading apps should not be as simple as downloading them from the App Store. Bury it in Settings, make it slightly convoluted, whatever: just have an officially-sanctioned way of doing it.
• Ruthlessly purge the App Store Guidelines of anything that prevents the iPad from serving as a development machine. Every kind of development from web to games should be possible on an iPad. And speaking of games—emulators should be allowed, too.
• Release a suite of professional first-party apps at premium prices. If someone can edit 4K videos in Final Cut on their M1 MacBook Air, they should be able to edit 4K videos in Final Cut on their iPad Pro. I refuse to believe that these pro apps can’t be re-imagined and optimized for a touch experience. If Apple leads the way in developing premium software for iPad, others will follow.
• Make it possible to write, release, and install plug-ins (if appropriate) for the aforementioned first party apps.
• Bring App Library to the iPad and allow widgets to be positioned anywhere on the Home Screen. This isn’t groundbreaking, it just annoys the heck out of me.
• Release a new keyboard + trackpad case accessory that allows the iPad to be used in tablet mode without removing it from the case.
• Introduce Time Machine backups for iPadOS.
• 5G, ofc.

In the end, fostering a vibrant community of iPad app developers can only stand to benefit the Mac (and vice-versa).

«

I’m not sure Apple would want to go this far. And I thought you could already edit 4K video on the iPad? Or at least, video. (Maybe it’s a storage thing?) Trouble is that touch is too inaccurate for such tasks; you need a mouse for the required precision. So much of what the iPad can’t do – or doesn’t do well – is about input precision, because that’s what high-end apps tend to be about.
unique link to this extract


The most unusual murder weapons in crime fiction • CrimeReads

Lynne Truss (of Eats Shoots & Leaves fame):

»

How literal-minded should we be about the word “weapon”? Can I include the bell-pull in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”? The bell-pull itself is harmless enough, but—as we all remember—down it travels the trained Indian swamp adder that makes the victim die of fright in a locked room. If we are counting animals as weapons, the murder at the heart of Doyle’s great racing-stables story “Silver Blaze” is also pretty perfect, when it is revealed that the eponymous horse was itself responsible for striking the fatal blow on a wicked man attempting to nobble him. And I am of course reminded of Florida writer Carl Hiaasen’s delicious habit of letting nature take its own special (and often horrifying) revenge on bad guys. Ravenous Floridian alligators seem always to be circling with their mouths open—but it’s not only local fauna that chomp up villains. Lions and rhinos sometimes get a turn as well.

Researching for this piece, I’ve come across mentions of outlandish fictional murders committed by exploding cow (yes!), poison-tipped corkscrews, trick golf clubs, bullets fashioned from ice, and so on. But somehow these weapons don’t speak to me. On the one hand, they seem a bit over-elaborate, and on the other I would feel awful about revealing them without the author’s permission. Somewhere I stumbled on a reference to The Blissfully Dead by Louise Voss and Mark A. Edwards (2015), which suggested that the weapon making the cuts on the victims’ bodies would come as an interesting surprise to the reader, so last week I read it all the way through, only to find I had misunderstood this helpful pointer.

«

Yes, of course she covers the “frozen leg of lamb” one, much earlier. And she ranks those she found by oddness.
unique link to this extract


The decarbonisation of the EU heating sector through electrification: a parametric analysis • ScienceDirect

A team from the European Commission Joint Research Centre:

»

we perform a complete description of the EU heating sector compliant with official statistics and decompose the EU power demand in different uses to define and assess different levels of heat electrification. We find that heat electrification is an effective decarbonisation option, which can reduce the total energy related emissions by up to 17%, if paired with simultaneous expansion of low-carbon energy.

Due to the relative sizes of heat and power demands, we find that most national power systems could cope with higher heat-electrification rates. Specifically, an additional heat pump capacity in the order of 1.1–1.6 TWth can be deployed based on the existing firm power capacity, which would correspond to a heat pump share of 29–45% in space heating. Based on their current power capacity, 12 Member States are prepared for even full electrification scenarios, whereas three Member States could get their power system stressed if 40–60% of all fossil-fuelled technologies are substituted.

«

In other words, gas and oil heating could be replaced with electric heating – though they’re careful to suggest it should be heat pumps (which are very efficient), rather than (if I’m reading it correctly) three-bar heaters.
unique link to this extract


Hancock’s former neighbour won Covid test kit work after WhatsApp message • The Guardian

Felicity Lawrence:

»

An acquaintance and former neighbour of Matt Hancock is supplying the government with tens of millions of vials for NHS Covid-19 tests despite having had no previous experience of producing medical supplies.

Alex Bourne, who used to run a pub close to Hancock’s former constituency home in Suffolk, said he initially offered his services to the UK health secretary several months ago by sending him a personal WhatsApp message.

Bourne’s company, Hinpack, was at that time producing plastic cups and takeaway boxes for the catering industry. It is now supplying about 2m medical grade vials a week to the government via a distributor contracted by the NHS.

Bourne categorically denies he profited from his personal contact with Hancock. However, the case raises questions for the health secretary and is likely to reignite the row over alleged government cronyism during the pandemic.

Contacted last week by the Guardian, Bourne’s lawyers flatly denied that their client had any discussions with Hancock in relation to Covid-19 supplies.

However, on Monday, after being confronted with further details about his interactions with the health secretary, Bourne backtracked. In a phone call with the Guardian, he conceded that he has in fact exchanged text and email messages with Hancock over several months.

«

I think the word is “lied”. With Trump on the way out, perhaps now more attention will be paid to the cronyism happening in the UK.
unique link to this extract


OpenStreetMap is having a moment: the billion dollar dataset next door • Medium

Joe Morrison on how Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are now among the biggest contributors to OSM, which started wayyy back in 2004:

»

I wrote earlier this year about the concept of “Commoditizing Your Complement,” in my explanation of why Facebook acquired Mapillary and then gave away all the data they had just purchased for free.

The concept is simple: undermine your competitors’ intellectual property advantage by collaborating with aligned entities to cheapen it with a free and openly licensed alternative.
I would wager that corporate participation in OSM is less about directly monetizing souped-up versions of OSM data provided as modern web services and more about desperately avoiding the existential conflict of having to pay Google for the privilege of accessing their proprietary map data.⁵

Whatever the motivations of these mega-corporations, they’ve succeeded in carving out a niche for themselves within the OSM community whether the hobbyists like it or not. I’d like to highlight a nuance often lost in this discussion — just exactly who are these companies hiring to add data to the map? They are often already-active, enthusiastic contributors to OSM. These are people living the open data fanatic’s dream: getting paid to do a job they find so fulfilling they would otherwise do it for free in their spare time.

… These firms have outgrown your office and your living room. They want to be with you literally every where you go, and constantly seduce you with entertaining and immersive experiences. The more of your attention they can monopolize, the more money they can make from selling chunks of it to advertisers and people developing software on their platforms.

Whether you like their motivations or not, the result is a desire to map the world in higher fidelity and at larger scale than even they can afford to accomplish independently. And that has, for better or worse, brought their interests into alignment with the grassroots OSM community.

«

Started off as a project which mapped London using GPS trackers on courier motorbikes. A Wikipedia for mapping.
unique link to this extract


What would happen if computers never got any faster? • Terence Eden’s Blog

The aforesaid Eden:

»

My first computer was a BBC Micro. It could do basic graphics at a resolution of 640×256 – with 8 different colours. Not a typo. Eight! The mono speaker produced bleeps and bloops. It was basic, in all senses of the word.

Eventually, talented hackers found a way for it to do simplistic 3D graphics and even speech synthesis.
Recently, people have worked out a way to perform ray-tracing on it!

The next computer our house got was the Sega Megadrive. The first game that console saw was, I think, Alex Kidd. A basic 2D platformer. Sure, it was streets ahead of the Beeb, but the graphics weren’t amazing.

But, over the years, they got better. By the time the MegaDrive stopped getting new games in 1997, the graphics and audio available were utterly transformed. In eight years, we’d gone from a limited pallet 2D screen to stunning music, and liquid smooth 2D graphics with parallax and complex transformations.

Some enterprising hackers managed to get Wolfenstein 3D running on hardware which was originally intended for cheap side-scrollers. And nothing about the console had changed. The tools used to create games had improved. The maths and algorithms had leapt ahead. And the ingenuity of the designers had increased. But the physical hardware was identical.

Once you understand a system – deeply understand – it can do things that its designers never thought possible. You can push hardware beyond its apparent limits.

We’re so spoiled today. Every week a newer, faster processor is released. Hardware gets cheaper and we can just throw more chips at the problem.

What would the world be like if that wasn’t the case? What if our progress in computer speed suddenly came to a stop? I think history shows us that we would be able to work around the restrictions to do things which seem impossible.

«

I would say that that’s pretty much been the case for some years now. There’s little real difference between the Intel processors of a few years ago and now, as this Anandtech graph shows: Intel performance has improved by less than 50% over six years. (Apple’s A series chips, on the other hand, have improved performance threefold in less than five years, and show no signs of stopping.)
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:

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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.