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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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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. 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.”

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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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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

Start Up No.1428: Google to start charging for 15GB+ Photos, Schmidt disses social, our splintering realities, frack the moon!, and more


Can’t get to a randomly chosen classical concert? Don’t worry, there’s a Chatroulette spinoff for that. CC-licensed photo by Krashna 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. Doubled up. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google Photos will end its free unlimited storage on June 1st, 2021 • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

After five years of offering unlimited free photo backups at “high quality,” Google Photos will start charging for storage once more than 15GB on the account have been used. The change will happen on June 1st, 2021, and it comes with other Google Drive policy changes like counting Google Workspace documents and spreadsheets against the same cap. Google is also introducing a new policy of deleting data from inactive accounts that haven’t been logged in to for at least two years.

All photos and documents uploaded before June 1st will not count against that 15GB cap, so you have plenty of time to decide whether to continue using Google Photos or switching to another cloud storage provider for your photos. Only photos uploaded after June 1st will begin counting against the cap.

Google already counts “original quality” photo uploads against a storage cap in Google Photos. However, taking away unlimited backup for “high quality” photos and video (which are automatically compressed for more efficient storage) also takes away one of the service’s biggest selling points. It was the photo service where you just didn’t have to worry about how much storage you had.

As a side note, Pixel owners will still be able to upload high-quality (not original) photos for free after June 1st without those images counting against their cap. It’s not as good as the Pixel’s original deal of getting unlimited original quality, but it’s a small bonus for the few people who buy Google’s devices.

Google points out that it offers more free storage than others — you get 15GB instead of the paltry 5GB that Apple’s iCloud gives you — and it also claims that 80% of Google Photos users won’t hit that 15GB cap for at least three years.

«

Of course if you rush to fill up that 15GB now, you’ll start having to pay (or see your photos not uploaded?) immediately. So what’s happening here? Storage must have become cheaper and cheaper – over five years, you’d expect the price per GB is perhaps one-quarter of what it was at the start. Which in turn implies that the number of photos being stored is exploding, and this is an attempt to cap the most egregious use. Typically, you’ll find about 1% of users are taking up 90% of the excess use.
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Facebook, QAnon and the world’s slackening grip on reality • The Guardian

Alex Hern, with a long read:

»

“Our busiest time of the year is New Year’s Eve,” says Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, over a Zoom call from her London home. “And we were seeing the equivalent of New Year’s Eve every single day.” It was, she says, the inevitable result of having “almost the entire planet at home at the same time”.

Rachel agrees. “I believe the lockdown played a huge part in altering people’s perception of reality,” she says. When Covid restrictions came in, the rules of social interaction were rewritten. We suddenly stopped meeting friends in pubs, at the coffee point or by the school gates, and our lives moved online. And for many of us, “online” meant “on Facebook”.

I first heard Rachel’s story from QAnonCasualties, a forum on the social news site Reddit where she, and thousands like her, have congregated to seek advice and support after their loved ones fell into the cult. Her first post, in July this year, was titled: “I’ve finally reached the end of my tether.” She described a marriage of 25 years, and a family with four grownup children, being shattered by a husband who had sunk “further and further into this [QAnon] conspiracy”.

“It’s got the stage where I no longer understand him or even recognise him,” she wrote. Others echoed her story. Posts with titles such as “Grieving my dad while he’s still alive” and “Today I filed for divorce from my QAnon-obsessed husband” rub shoulders with pleas for help from those who still hope they can win loved ones back.

Beyond the heartbreak and anguish on QAnonCasualties, there is a common thread: a feeling that their friends and relatives are inhabiting a different reality.

«

And who is enabling that split reality? You’re probably ahead of me there. There is a worrying tendency for people to head down rabbit holes once they get even a small part of an idée fixe – eg that coronavirus isn’t that dangerous – which gets amplified.
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Former Google CEO calls social networks ‘amplifiers for idiots’ • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Gerrit de Vynck:

»

Former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said the “excesses” of social media are likely to result in greater regulation of internet platforms in the coming years.

Schmidt, who left the board of Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. in 2019 but is still one of its largest shareholders, said the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. government filed against the company on Tuesday was misplaced, but that more regulation may be in order for social networks in general.

“The context of social networks serving as amplifiers for idiots and crazy people is not what we intended,” Schmidt said at a virtual conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Unless the industry gets its act together in a really clever way, there will be regulation.”

Google’s YouTube has tried to decrease the spread of misinformation and lies about Covid-19 and US politics over the last year, with mixed results. Facebook and Twitter have also been under fire in recent years for allowing racist and discriminatory messages to spread online.

«

Wouldn’t say that YouTube has been that successful if that’s really what it’s been doing. But it’s quite a departure for Schmidt, who used to be the ultimate Pollyanna about the benefits of people getting online, to be so directly critical of social networks. I can’t think of a previous occasion where he’s been so biting about them.
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Concert Roulette

»

Concert Roulette
Click to watch a random concert!

Or only show me:
• Renaissance
• Baroque
• Classical
• Romantic
• 20th Century
• Contemporary

«

Neat. I got Haydyn and then something modern involving an accordion and an audience that were possibly being held hostage, judging by the expressions on their faces. (This one.)

Also: classical orchestras are just tribute bands for old music. You know I’m right.
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UK firm to turn moon rock into oxygen and building materials • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

»

When astronauts return to the moon in the next decade, they will do more with the dust than leave footprints in it.

A British firm has won a European Space Agency contract to develop the technology to turn moon dust and rocks into oxygen, leaving behind aluminium, iron and other metal powders for lunar construction workers to build with.

If the process can be made to work well enough, it will pave the way for extraction facilities on the moon that make oxygen and valuable materials on the surface, rather than having to haul them into space at enormous cost.

“Anything you take from Earth to the moon is an added weight that you don’t want to carry, so if you can make these materials in situ it saves you a lot of time, effort and money,” said Ian Mellor, the managing director of Metalysis, which is based in Sheffield.

Analyses of rocks brought back from the moon reveal that oxygen makes up about 45% of the material by weight. The remainder is largely iron, aluminium and silicon. In work published this year, scientists at Metalysis and the University of Glasgow found they could extract 96% of the oxygen from simulated lunar soil, leaving useful metal alloy powders behind.

«

It is faintly thrilling to think of this happening. What would be better would be if they can set up facilities that run without direct supervision. The moon as a fuel store: like they promised in the stories.
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TikTok says it’s been waiting weeks for a Trump response on US ban • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

»

ByteDance on Tuesday appealed to a federal appellate court seeking to overturn a sweeping Trump administration order requiring the company to divest itself of its popular TikTok platform—at least in the United States. The order is scheduled to take effect tomorrow. But ByteDance says that it has been weeks since it has heard from the government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States about ByteDance’s plan to address the government’s concerns without shutting TikTok down.

ByteDance has proposed selling a share of TikTok to Oracle and giving the company’s US division more autonomy. These changes were designed to address the government concerns that American TikTok users could be subjected to Chinese government surveillance or other meddling.

“For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment,” TikTok said in a media statement. “In the nearly two months since the president gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement—but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework.”

The August 14 order establishing tomorrow’s November 12 deadline allowed ByteDance to seek a further 30-day extension. ByteDance says it requested an extension but hasn’t received an answer. So it’s now asking the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the issue.

«

The Trump admin has forgotten all about this, and hasn’t got the bandwidth to think about two things at once. Maybe if Trump could just concede, they could get on and do something else.
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The world could learn a lot from how Africa is handling Covid-19 • WIRED UK

Munyaradzi Makoni:

»

There is no single reason for Africa’s seemingly remarkable escape. For one, Africa isn’t a homogenous lump of land. Its 54 countries are ethnically and socially diverse. Yet, across the continent, there are some trends that hint at why deaths from Covid-19 remain so low. The median age in Africa, where more than 60% of people are under the age of 25, is about half of that in Europe. This has played a significant role, says Denis Chopera, a public healthcare expert at the Africa Research Institute in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He also points to Africa’s warm climate and the potential of pre-existing immunity in some communities. “Africa has a high burden of infectious diseases, including coronaviruses, and it is possible that there is some cross-immunity which protects Africans from severe Covid-19,” Chopera says. The WHO has made similar suggestions.

Across the continent, high rates of tuberculosis, HIV, polio and Ebola, have also ensured a wealth of well-trained medical professionals and, crucially, the infrastructure and expertise to handle a pandemic. “The experience has come in handy, especially in countries such as South Africa where contact tracing already existed for tuberculosis,” says Chopera. “These were repurposed to combat Covid-19.”

To date, the continent has recorded 1.7 million infections. The number, as is the case across the world, is likely much higher. One study conducted by researchers at the University of Cape Town collected 2,700 samples during the city’s pandemic peak in late July and early August. A startling 40% of the people tested had Covid-19 antibodies.

That picture varies across Africa. Between the end of April and mid-May, researchers tested the blood samples from more than 3,000 people in Kenya. They found that 5.6% had Covid-19 antibodies. In the popular tourist city of Mombasa nearly 10% of donors had antibodies. At the time, official figures in Kenya stood at 2,093 cases and 71 deaths.

«

The west ought to learn from Africa. Will it? Of course not. When has the west listened to lessons coming out of Africa over anything at all? I honestly can’t think of a single instance.
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Improperly installed Ring doorbells are catching on fire • Ars Technica

Jim Slater:

»

Approximately 350,000 Ring doorbells sold in the North American markets are subject to a safety recall issued yesterday. Specifically, improperly installed 2nd-generation Ring doorbells can catch fire, causing property damage and potential burn hazards. This is a fairly unusual recall, however—and one that doesn’t require consumers to return their devices.

As long as the Ring doorbells were installed using the screws provided with the devices themselves, they’re fine. The issue is that quite a few homeowners substituted their own screws for the ones included in the package—and longer screws may reach places inside the Ring device that they shouldn’t, causing a short-circuit that can lead to overheating or fire.

«

Quite amazing, really: the screws provided will do the job precisely, and they don’t secure the device to the wall – they’re to anchor it to the bracket which is secured to the wall. Some people are astonishingly bad at DIY and understanding systems, yet also confident that they’re good at both. The Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
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Theta is a record-setting entry in 2020’s wild hurricane season • The Verge

Justine Calma:

»

2020 shattered another record when subtropical storm Theta, the 29th named storm this season, developed overnight in the Northeast Atlantic. There has never been an Atlantic hurricane season on record with more storms strong enough to earn a name.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) burned through its regular list of storm names nearly two months ago and had to resort to using Greek letters to label storms this year for only the second time in its history. This is the first time Theta has ever been used as a storm name.

The last time the WMO resorted to Greek letters was in 2005, which held the previous record for the most named storms in a single season. That year will still be known for one of the most devastating storms in American memory, Hurricane Katrina. Katrina and four other names were retired that year, which happens when a storm is so deadly or costly that the WMO deems it inappropriate to reuse the moniker.

«

Time is so short to deal with this.
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US election results: why the polls got it wrong • Vox

Dylan Matthews talks to the experienced pollster David Shor, who puts it like this:

»

it turns out that people who answer surveys are really weird. They’re considerably more politically engaged than normal. I put in a five-factor test [a kind of personality survey] and they have much higher agreeableness [a measure of how cooperative and warm people are], which makes sense, if you think about literally what’s happening.

They also have higher levels of social trust. I use the General Social Survey’s question, which is, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” The way the GSS works is they hire tons of people to go get in-person responses. They get a 70% response rate. We can basically believe what they say.

It turns out, in the GSS, that 70% of people say that people can’t be trusted. And if you do phone surveys, and you weight, you will get that 50% of people say that people can be trusted. It’s a pretty massive gap. [Sociologist] Robert Putnam actually did some research on this, but people who don’t trust people and don’t trust institutions are way less likely to answer phone surveys. Unsurprising! This has always been true. It just used to not matter.

It used to be that once you control for age and race and gender and education, that people who trusted their neighbors basically voted the same as people who didn’t trust their neighbors. But then, starting in 2016, suddenly that shifted. If you look at white people without college education, high-trust non-college whites tended toward [Democrats], and low-trust non-college whites heavily turned against us. In 2016, we were polling this high-trust electorate, so we overestimated Clinton. These low-trust people still vote, even if they’re not answering these phone surveys.

«

Putnam was the one who wrote “Bowling Alone”, about how Americans were losing social cohesion. This looks like the continuation of that, but tilted around one party.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: many apologies for the lack of email on Wednesday. WordPress’s interface hasn’t been very helpful since it was updated and definitely won yesterday’s round.

Start Up No.1427: Apple Silicon’s CPU revelation, EU accuses Amazon of antitrust breach, the joy of Columbo, the company named to hack, and more


Some people really, really like airline peanuts. So they’ve bought 50 tons of them. CC-licensed photo by chi227 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. No user-serviceable parts inside. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

MacBook Air and MacBook Pro M1 chips have same 8-core CPUs, no upgrades available • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

»

The newly announced MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models that Apple announced today are equipped with the same 8-core M1 chip that also offers an integrated GPU, with Apple offering no CPU upgrades.

There is, however, a GPU upgrade available for the MacBook Air . By default, the MacBook Air ships with an M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, while the MacBook Pro has the same M1 chip with an 8-core GPU.

If you choose the $1,249 MacBook Air model with a 512GB SSD, it upgrades to an 8-core GPU instead of the default 7-core GPU, but there is no custom configuration option to choose the lower tier model with the upgraded 8-core GPU option.

«

The key difference is that the Air doesn’t have a fan, and the Pro does, so it can run at a higher level for longer. But the point about no CPU upgrades is really interesting, because on the Intel Macs there were typically two or three options (Good, Better, Best) which would guarantee confusion if you weren’t an expert in Intel SKUs.

There was a lot of speculation ahead of this about whether Apple would also offer CPU variants. Here’s the answer, then: no. (But wait for future models.) It indicates that Apple wants things simple. And, possibly, that all the variations in cores and turbo boosts that Intel offered were largely window dressing.

Of course, we’re going to hear plenty from people complaining that the Mac they want wasn’t on this list, and how long do they have to wait? (I’d give it four months before the next batch appears, ie February ; or wait for the benchmarks and reviews.)
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Nuts: people have bought 50 tons of airline nuts • One Mile at a Time

Ben Schlappig:

»

Several months back I wrote about the challenging situation that GNS Foods was in, which is the supplier of the mixed nuts offered in premium cabins onboard American Airlines, United Airlines, etc.

The airlines have both stopped serving mixed nuts due to the coronavirus pandemic, yet the company was left with an endless supply of nuts. This is because GNS Foods had signed a one year contract for raw ingredients, since the airline also didn’t want any price variability for nuts.

Well, in light of circumstances the company decided to get creative, and started selling mixed nuts directly to consumers. Yes, these are the same nuts you’ll find onboard planes, ranging from American Airlines’ aloha nut mix, to United Airlines’ elite status nut mix, as the company calls it.

So, how much interest has there been in airline mixed nuts? A lot. GNS Foods has noted that it has sold all 78,000 bags of airline nut mixes. These bags have sold in quantities of one to two pounds each, so I’d conservatively estimate that over 100,000 pounds of nuts have been sold… that’s over 50 tons!

Now, in fairness, keep in mind that none of this was particularly high margin. The company claims it was selling these mixes at close to cost, though it’s great the company has been able to liquidate its inventory while letting people enjoy one of their favorite airplane comfort snacks at home.

«

A simple way to live like you’re in Business or First Class. All you need is a couple of aircraft seats – and you’ll recall that you can buy those from surplus sites.
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EU accuses Amazon of breaching antitrust rules • Financial Times

Javier Espinoza:

»

The EU has hit Amazon with formal antitrust charges over its treatment of the 150,000 European merchants selling goods through its website.

Margrethe Vestager, who oversees the EU’s competition policy, outlined two sets of concerns against the world’s dominant online retailer.

After a year-long probe, the European Commission reached the preliminary view that Amazon breached EU competition rules by using non-public data it gathers on sales on its website to boost its own-label products and services.

The EU has separately opened a second formal antitrust investigation into whether Amazon gave preferential treatment on its site to its own products and for sellers who paid extra for Amazon’s logistics and delivery services.

“We must ensure that dual-role platforms with market power, such as Amazon, do not distort competition,” said Ms Vestager. “Data on the activity of third-party sellers should not be used to the benefit of Amazon when it acts as a competitor to these sellers.”

Ms Vestager held out the possibility that the EU would work to settle the complaints with Amazon. She has previously acknowledged that large fines have not helped to remedy the dominant positions of Big Tech companies.

«

Here’s the EC complaint. I honestly don’t see how this is any different from what supermarkets do: they can see what sells, they take money to give more favourable positioning, they can offer own-brand/white label products that compete with branded products on the shelves. Is the difference that there’s competition among supermarkets? Except the e-commerce space is huge; you can’t say Amazon has a dominant share of it across Europe.
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How to revert HP printers’ ban on 3rd-party ink cartridges • Kevin Deldycke

Kevin Deldycke:

»

Hewlett & Packard, the founders, had great lessons to teach us (managers in high-tech) about culture. I even quoted them in my awesome list on engineering team management . 👨‍💼

HP Inc., the company, sucks. At least their printer division’s business model. They recently pushed a firmware update to ban third-party compatible ink cartridges . 💔

The timeline is straightforward:

• 2020, March: general lockdown. 🦠 I need a home office. SO is a scientist and spend her time printing papers for review. Got her an HP Color LaserJet M254dw to keep her productive workflow ( publish or perish! ).

• 2020, October: HP release a new firmware (versioned 20201021 ).

• 2020, November: my printer auto-upgrade. I’m welcomed with this Supply Problem Screen of Death :

I can’t print anymore. 🤯

Eight months. My printer worked for only 8 months. 😤

OK . It’s my fault. I should have spent more money buying certified™ gear. 😑

«

The solution lies in downgrading the firmware (which in itself is quite a surprise). But it’s not a task for the faint of heart or uncertain of terminal.
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Amazon wants to win Sweden. The Swedes have other ideas • WIRED UK

Richard Orange:

»

With its vast scale and market share in its core countries, you might expect Amazon to lay waste to the retail landscape in a small country like Sweden, whose 10 million people represent a market roughly the size of Michigan. The company currently has about 44% of the e-commerce market in the US, and about 30% in the UK and Germany. If it could achieve the same levels in Sweden, local rivals like CDON risk being wiped off the map. Despite that the leaders of Swedish e-commerce companies are remarkably sanguine. “We’ve been waiting for this for years,” says Hermann Haraldsson, chief executive of online clothes marketplace Boozt.

The way he sees it, Amazon is not competitive in the mid- to premium-range clothing business space where Boozt operates. Many prominent international brands are refusing to sell through Amazon’s platform and every sign that leading Swedish clothing brands will do the same. And he believes Boozt can more than match Amazon on customer service.

“We have one warehouse located very centrally, so we can actually serve the majority of our customers the same day, and it’s free shipping and free returns,” he says. “So even if they were to introduce some kind of [Amazon] Prime free next-day delivery, it won’t be better than the offer our customers get today.” CDON’s chief executive Kristoffer Väliharju is certain that the arrival of Amazon will change the Swedish marketplace, but he doesn’t expect to be squeezed out. “Worrying about Amazon is like worrying about Covid-19.” he says. “It’s a market adaptation. You just need to relate to it.”

«

Dangerous to bet against Amazon, though. Like Japanese knotweed, it will just keep coming and coming and coming. Even so, Sweden has been expecting this onslaught for years.
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Rediscovering “Columbo” in 2020 • The New Yorker

Joe Dator with a graphic strip on why he loves the old TV series Columbo. I love it too, and I think my reasons match Dator’s. Especially the final frame.
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Company forced to change name that could be used to hack websites • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Companies House has forced a company to change its name after it belatedly realised it could pose a security risk.

The company now legally known as “THAT COMPANY WHOSE NAME USED TO CONTAIN HTML SCRIPT TAGS LTD” was set up by a British software engineer, who says he did it purely because he thought it would be “a fun playful name” for his consulting business.

He now says he didn’t realise that Companies House was actually vulnerable to the extremely simple technique he used, known as “cross-site scripting”, which allows an attacker to run code from one website on another.

The original name of the company was ““> LTD”. By beginning the name with a quotation mark and chevron, any site which failed to properly handle the HTML code would have mistakenly thought the company name was blank, and then loaded and executed a script from the site XSS Hunter, which helps developers find cross-site scripting errors.

That script would have simply put up a harmless alert – but it serves as proof that a malicious attacker could instead have used the same weakness as a gateway to more damaging ends.

Similar names have been registered in the past, such as “; DROP TABLE “COMPANIES”;– LTD”, a wry attempt to carry out an attack known as SQL injection, inspired by a famous XKCD webcomic, but this was the first such name to have prompted a response. Companies House has retroactively removed the original name from its data feeds, and all documentation referring to its original moniker now reads simply “Company name available on request”.

«

It’s like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, but for hackers, I guess.
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Zoom lied to users about end-to-end encryption for years, FTC says • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

“[S]ince at least 2016, Zoom misled users by touting that it offered ‘end-to-end, 256-bit encryption’ to secure users’ communications, when in fact it provided a lower level of security,” the FTC said today in the announcement of its complaint against Zoom and the tentative settlement. Despite promising end-to-end encryption, the FTC said that “Zoom maintained the cryptographic keys that could allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ meetings, and secured its Zoom Meetings, in part, with a lower level of encryption than promised.”

The FTC complaint says that Zoom claimed it offers end-to-end encryption in its June 2016 and July 2017 HIPAA compliance guides, which were intended for health-care industry users of the video conferencing service. Zoom also claimed it offered end-to-end encryption in a January 2019 white paper, in an April 2017 blog post, and in direct responses to inquiries from customers and potential customers, the complaint said.

“In fact, Zoom did not provide end-to-end encryption for any Zoom Meeting that was conducted outside of Zoom’s ‘Connecter’ product (which are hosted on a customer’s own servers), because Zoom’s servers—including some located in China—maintain the cryptographic keys that would allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ Zoom Meetings,” the FTC complaint said.

The FTC announcement said that Zoom also “misled some users who wanted to store recorded meetings on the company’s cloud storage by falsely claiming that those meetings were encrypted immediately after the meeting ended. Instead, some recordings allegedly were stored unencrypted for up to 60 days on Zoom’s servers before being transferred to its secure cloud storage.”

«

So very 2020; we’re going to remember Zoom as integral to all the lockdowns and shelters.
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Introducing Simple Search • The Markup

Maddy Varner and Sam Morris:

»

In July, The Markup’s Adrianne Jeffries and Leon Yin published an investigation showing Google products took up a huge amount of real estate on search results pages in our sample. They analyzed 15,000 popular search results and found that the search engine gave 41% of the first page and 63% of the first screen on mobile devices to Google properties and what the company calls “direct answers,” which are populated with information copied from other sources. In more than half of those searches, Google gave 75% of the search page to itself.

We built a browser extension, Simple Search, to show you just the “traditional” search results. The extension places them in a box above the plethora of search engine products. You can tab through pages of results, submit new queries, and go back to the full results page easily. It is available for Firefox and Chrome browsers and works for both Google and Bing search engines.

«

Make Google Agreeable Again? Make Ads Go Away? Can’t disagree that Google’s packing of its search results with ads is terribly intrusive.
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Exclusive: Huawei to sell smartphone unit for $15bn to Shenzhen government, Digital China, others – sources • Reuters

Julie Zhu:

»

Huawei plans to sell budget-brand smartphone unit Honor in a 100bn yuan ($15.2bn) deal to a consortium led by handset distributor Digital China and the government of its home town of Shenzhen, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The plan comes as US restrictions on supplying Huawei Technologies Co Ltd force the world’s second-biggest smartphone maker – after South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd – to focus on high-end handsets and corporate-oriented business, the people said.

It also indicates little expectation for any swift change in the US perception of Huawei as a security risk following a new US administration, one of the people said.

The all-cash sale will include almost all assets including brand, research & development capabilities and supply chain management, the people said. Huawei could announce it as early as Sunday, one of the people said.

Main Honor distributor Digital China Group Co Ltd will become a top-two shareholder of sold-off entity Honor Terminal Co Ltd with a near-15% stake, said two of the people. Honor Terminal was incorporated in April and is fully owned by Huawei, the corporate registry showed.

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The timing couldn’t really be worse for Huawei, which has run out of time (the smartphone business is a huge lossmaking drag on the rest of the business) – though would Biden reverse course quickly on the ban? I suspect that he finds the balance of power vis-a-vis China that he’s been left by Trump to be a useful bargaining position.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1426: coronavirus vaccine offers hope, fighting Facebook, iPhone 12 mini reviewed, HP’s newest ink tactic, and more


What aspect of the low-tax country of Cyprus can have attracted American billionaire Eric Schmidt to apply for citizenship? CC-licensed photo by Malcolm Murdoch 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 9 links for you. In the court of the ochre king. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is strongly effective, data show • Stat News

Matthew Herper:

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Pfizer and partner BioNTech said Monday that their vaccine against Covid-19 was strongly effective, exceeding expectations with results that are likely to be met with cautious excitement — and relief — in the face of the global pandemic.

The vaccine is the first to be tested in the United States to generate late-stage data. The companies said an early analysis of the results showed that individuals who received two injections of the vaccine three weeks apart experienced more than 90% fewer cases of symptomatic Covid-19 than those who received a placebo. For months, researchers have cautioned that a vaccine that might only be 60% or 70% effective. 

The Phase 3 study is ongoing and additional data could affect results.

In keeping with guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, the companies will not file for an emergency use authorization to distribute the vaccine until they reach another milestone: when half of the patients in their study have been observed for any safety issues for at least two months following their second dose. Pfizer expects to cross that threshold in the third week of November.

“I’ve been in vaccine development for 35 years,” William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, told STAT. “I’ve seen some really good things. This is extraordinary.” He later added: “This really bodes well for us being able to get a handle on the epidemic and get us out of this situation.”

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This is amazing news; the result of colossal effort. (Pfizer was at pains to point out that it wasn’t part of the Trump admin’s “Warp Speed” project, and took no money from the US government.) I’ve been saying for a while that by March or April 2021 we might be getting somewhere towards what used to be normality. This makes that feel a lot more within reach.

It’s all coming up roses, isn’t it? I guess that’s what happens when people have been shovelling crap on you for ages.
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The Journalist vs. Facebook • Rest of World

Peter Guest:

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Since 2016, [Rappler founder Maria] Ressa has become increasingly convinced that Facebook needs to profoundly change how it’s designed and governed. She believes the platform’s algorithms and content-moderation policies are inherently prejudiced against reasoned debate based on settled truths. “The platform itself is biased against facts. It’s really biased against journalism,” she says. “Social media platforms have atomized meaning to meaninglessness. They have completely deconstructed context.”

Her opinions are backed by a growing body of academic research, which shows that social media sites often reward emotional messages over rational analysis, funnel users toward content that reinforces their preexisting beliefs, and spread lies more rapidly and widely than they do the truth.

Ressa says one of Facebook’s most alarming shortcomings is its reluctance to moderate disinformation posted by governments and politicians. The company has justified its restraint by arguing that statements from public figures should remain online for public scrutiny. Although Facebook has removed state-backed propaganda in some instances, Ressa, along with other activists, say that these actions frequently amount to too little, too late. They say Facebook’s inaction has allowed propaganda and disinformation to spread unchecked, overwhelming and delegitimizing the news media.

“What we saw [in the Philippines] was that news organizations were being pushed to the periphery, and the center of the conversation was being taken over by the pro-government, state-sponsored disinformation,” Ressa says.

Without checks and balances on social media, Ressa says, authoritarian governments like Duterte’s can impose their own narratives — that drug addicts and communists run the country, and that journalists like Ressa are criminals and conspirators.

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The irony is that Rappler was founded essentially as a publication which got its distribution on Facebook. And to some extent still is. But the Philippines is where Facebook was first used in a big way for election disinformation.
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Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has applied to become a citizen of Cyprus • Vox

Theodore Schleifer:

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The former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, is finalizing a plan to become a citizen of the island of Cyprus, Recode has learned, becoming one of the highest-profile Americans to take advantage of one of the world’s most controversial “passport-for-sale” programs.

Schmidt, one of America’s wealthiest people, and his family have won approval to become citizens of the Mediterranean nation, according to a previously unreported notice in a Cypriot publication in October. While it is not clear why exactly Schmidt has pursued this foreign citizenship, the new passport gives him the ability to travel to the European Union, along with a potentially favorable personal tax regime.

The move is a window into how the world’s billionaires can maximize their freedoms and finances by relying on the permissive laws of countries where they do not live. Schmidt’s decision in some ways mirrors that of another famous tech billionaire, Peter Thiel, who in 2011 controversially managed to secure citizenship in New Zealand.

Interest from Americans in non-American citizenship has been spiking during the coronavirus pandemic, which has sharply limited Americans’ ability to travel overseas. Experts say some of that increase is also due to concerns about political instability in the United States.

But it is still uncommon to see Americans apply to the Cyprus program, according to published data and citizenship advisers who work with the country. The program is far more popular with oligarchs from the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, and it has become mired in so many scandals that the Cypriot government announced last month that it was to be shut down.

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I really don’t understand billionaires’ need to remain billionaire-y. How much money can you spend at any one time, in any one place? How many private jets are enough? How large a private yacht do you need, precisely?

Schmidt is also being spoken of as a potentially influential figure in the incoming Biden administration. I think that would be a mistake. Unless he renounces this Cyprus stuff. (Which might, let’s allow, have been a just-in-case hedge against a Trump win.)
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iPhone 12 mini review: fit to size • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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The phone is smaller than the traditional 4.7-inch-home-button iPhone design we saw from the iPhone 6 on through the 6S, 7, 8, and 2020 SE models, even though the screen itself is larger.

That’s because the 12 mini, just like the rest of the iPhone 12 line, has switched over to Apple’s more modern OLED screens and Face ID notch for unlocking. Those two features allow Apple to design the phone with minimal bezels and maximal screen.

Despite the smaller screen size, you don’t miss out on as much as you might expect. Compared to the regular iPhone 12 with a 6.1-inch screen, there are maybe one or two lines of text that are cut off. What you actually miss out on is that sense of immersion you can get from a bigger screen when you’re playing a game or watching a movie. Those were the only times this screen felt cramped.

If there is a knock on the screen, it’s that it doesn’t offer a high refresh rate like many Android phones — including the Pixel 5, which isn’t too far off from the iPhone 12 mini’s size. I’m more annoyed that the Pro iPhones don’t have it, though — here on the mini, I think battery life is more important.

To me, the iPhone 12 mini is most reminiscent of the iPhone 5. Yes, it is bigger and has a glass rear panel instead of aluminum, but it shares the squared-off aluminum sides and general feeling of being an object that was designed to be proportional to your hand. This is a phone that you can get a grip on, literally.

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Battery life is his principal complaint, though: smaller phone, smaller battery. (Though as ever, Apple could do thicker phone, thicker battery.)
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Ink-stained wretches: the battle for the soul of digital freedom taking place inside your printer • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Cory Doctorow isn’t best pleased with HP:

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HP’s latest gambit challenges the basis of private property itself: a bold scheme! With the HP Instant Ink program, printer owners no longer own their ink cartridges or the ink in them. Instead, HP’s customers have to pay a recurring monthly fee based on the number of pages they anticipate printing from month to month; HP mails subscribers cartridges with enough ink to cover their anticipated needs. If you exceed your estimated page-count, HP bills you for every page (if you choose not to pay, your printer refuses to print, even if there’s ink in the cartridges).

If you don’t print all your pages, you can “roll over” a few of those pages to the next month, but you can’t bank a year’s worth of pages to, say, print out your novel or tax paperwork. Once you hit your maximum number of “banked” pages, HP annihilates any other pages you’ve paid for (but continues to bill you every month).

Now, you may be thinking, “All right, but at least HP’s customers know what they’re getting into when they take out one of these subscriptions,” but you’ve underestimated HP’s ingenuity.

HP takes the position that its offers can be retracted at any time. For example, HP’s “Free Ink for Life” subscription plan offered printer owners 15 pages per month as a means of tempting users to try out its ink subscription plan and of picking up some extra revenue in those months when these customers exceeded their 15-page limit.

But Free Ink for Life customers got a nasty shock at the end of last month: HP had unilaterally canceled their “free ink for life” plan and replaced it with “a $0.99/month for all eternity or your printer stops working” plan.

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I’ve never been attracted by these “subscription” schemes, particularly for ink – one’s need for printing varies so much, and so suddenly – and everything I’ve observed about HP’s tactics makes me feel relieved.

Read the rest of the article, by the way, for the amazing (non-ink-related) hack that took over printers just by getting them to print something out.
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61% of Americans support abolishing Electoral College • Gallup

Megan Brennan:

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Heading into the 2020 presidential election, three in five Americans favor amending the US Constitution to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system, marking a six-percentage point uptick since April 2019. This preference for electing the president based on who receives the most votes nationwide is driven by 89% of Democrats and 68% of independents. Far fewer Republicans, 23%, share this view, as 77% of them support keeping the current system in which the candidate with the most votes in the Electoral College wins the election.

Gallup has periodically measured public attitudes about the process of electing the president using this question since shortly after the 2000 election when George W. Bush won the electoral vote, and Al Gore won the popular vote. The latest findings, from an Aug. 31- Sept. 13 Gallup poll, are similar to readings after the 2000 election and in 2004 and 2011.

Of the seven times this question was asked over the past two decades, support for amending the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College only fell below the majority level once – in November 2016 after Donald Trump won the electoral vote and Hillary Clinton the popular vote. At that point, 49% of Americans wanted the current system to be replaced, and 47% wanted it to remain in place. By 2019, support for using the national vote totals over the Electoral College had risen to 55%.

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They’ve legalised mushrooms and hard drugs (in some states). Might as well get on and do the sensible thing. The GOP, relying on rural areas with disproportionate influence, doesn’t like it. The EC looks more and more outdated. Without it, the US could have determined its election days earlier.

And these trends towards change tend to end up happening – see legalisation of same-sex marriage, for example, where strong backing eventually leads to change. The problem is how to mount a legal challenge to the EC system.
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Guess The Correlation

Omar Wagih:

»

I’m a PhD student studying bioinformatics at the University of Cambridge and the European Bioinformatics Institute. This game is a side project to feed one of my many day-to-day curiosities.

I’m always grateful for suggestions and happy to answer questions about the game or how the data will be used. So tweet me at @omarwagih or email me.

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Fun game where you’re shown some dots on a graph plot and asked to guess the correlation (it’s a value between 0 and 1). I felt enthused when I got the first answer correct to 1%. And it’s part of a project he’s doing about how we perceive correlations – do we overestimate, underestimate? Give it a go: it’s a nice distraction for a minute or two at least.
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Infamous ‘hoax’ artist behind Trumpworld’s new voter fraud claim • Daily Beast

Will Sommer:

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the mythical supercomputer claim has been embraced by prominent Trump backers, including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik, former Trump 2016 campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, right-wing pundit John Cardillo, and Newsmax White House correspondent Emerald Robinson.

The election fraud claims center on Dennis Montgomery, a former intelligence contractor and self-proclaimed whistleblower who claims to have created the “Hammer” supercomputer and the “Scorecard” software some Trump fans believe was used to change the votes.

“He’s a genius, and he loves America,” Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and one-time leader in the birther movement, said of Montgomery on Tuesday on Bannon’s podcast, as Bannon praised an article on Montgomery’s claims. “He’s the programmer that made all this happen, and he’s on our side.”

Montgomery’s lawyer, Larry Klayman—a favorite attorney for fringe right-wing figures—didn’t respond to a request for comment. Klayman himself was temporarily suspended from practicing law in June.

What Trump allies tend to leave out, however, is that Montgomery has a long history of making outlandish claims that fail to come true. As an intelligence contractor at the height of the War on Terror, Montgomery was behind what’s been called “one of the most elaborate and dangerous hoaxes in American history,” churning out allegedly fictitious data that once prompted the Bush administration to consider shooting down airplanes.

And now, Trump allies want voters to believe Montgomery’s claims about the election.

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The fabulous thing about the belief that the election was shot through, Emmental-style, with fraud is that you’d have to accept that it was done in multiple geographically large states (Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania) with few electoral votes, but not in one (Florida) with enough EVs to tip the thing early. And no sign of the giant fraud in Florida, or anywhere.

Still: SUPERCOMPUTER. Must be true.
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Apple must ask why good help is so hard to find • Bloomberg Opinion

Tim Culpan:

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The term “student worker program” should ring immediate alarm bells for anyone who cares about labour rights. Getting college or vocational students to work factory production lines is an accepted practice in China that foreign clients including Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. have signed onto for years. Apple at least asks its manufacturing partners to ensure that the work relates to their studies. Under the pressure to churn out product, though, such programs are vulnerable to abuse.

Pegatron [which Apple has suspended as a supplier – big move] said it fired the manager responsible, whom it said “went to extraordinary lengths to evade our oversight mechanisms.” Still, we need to question what conditions incentivized employees to work so hard to not only break Apple’s labor code, but also make such efforts to cover their tracks.

This isn’t the first time Pegatron has appeared in print alongside allegations of labor violations. As far back as 2014, China Labor Watch named the company, alongside Catcher Technology Co., Jabil Inc. and Foxconn Technology Group, for failing to undertake corrective action related to labor and safety standards. 

Apple attracts the most criticism in the technology industry over labor and environmental standards. This partly reflects ever stricter rules that the company has imposed on its supply-chain partners, the results of which Apple publicizes in its annual Supplier Responsibility Progress Report. 

Critics may argue that this is a marketing exercise designed to make consumers feel more comfortable about buying shiny gadgets produced by cheap labor — which helped to yield $57bn of profit for Apple last year. Yet incidents like this show that for all its talent and money, the US company doesn’t control its suppliers as much as it might wish.

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So suppliers are cutting corners, trying to get more of an edge? The fact that this is only found at Apple factories seems more likely to be an artefact of thorough inspection than something that only happens at Apple’s suppliers. The root problem is razor-margin capitalism. How do we fix that, exactly?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1425: digital nomads stymied by Covid, the virtual influencers taking advantage, Intel’s chip dilemma, AOC on digital, and more


This older Dutch gentleman survived his encounter with an e-bike, but others haven’t been so lucky. CC-licensed photo by Dean Groom 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 9 links for you. Re-counted. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The digital nomads did not prepare for this • The New York Times

Erin Griffith:

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David Malka, an entrepreneur in Los Angeles, had heard from friends who were living their best work-abroad lives. In June, he created a plan: he and his girlfriend would work from Amsterdam, with a quick stop at a discounted resort in Mexico along the way.

The first snag happened almost immediately. In Cabo San Lucas, Mr. Malka and his girlfriend realized that the European Union wasn’t about to reopen its borders to American travelers, as they had hoped. Returning to the United States wasn’t an option: Mr. Malka’s girlfriend was from the United Kingdom, and her visa wouldn’t allow it.

The two decided to stay in Mexico a bit longer. At first it was glamorous, Mr. Malka said. Working by laptop — he manages a portfolio of vacation rental properties — they had the resort to themselves. But by the second week, their situation began to feel like “Groundhog Day.” The city and the beach were closed, so the couple never left the resort. Meanwhile, the travel shutdown was hammering his business.

“All we could do is sit by the pool or go to the gym,” Mr. Malka said. The repetition, boredom and isolation all wore on them.

Eventually, the couple took a 28-hour, two-layover trip to Amsterdam, where Mr. Malka was indeed turned away at customs. They retreated to London, where they promptly broke up.
He has been there since. “Cold, raining, depressing,” he said. “Those are the first three adjectives that come to mind.”

Now Mr. Malka is trying to figure out how to get to Bali — it’s technically closed to visitors, but he heard about a special visa that can be rushed for $800 — or use his ancestry to obtain Portuguese citizenship. It’s a lot of logistics.

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That taste in my mouth – it’s delicious, yummy schadenfreude, I’m pretty sure.
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Lil Miquela, LoL’s Seraphine: virtual influencers make more real money than ever • Bloomberg

Thuy Ong:

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Virtual influencers were already gaining, well, influence long before Covid-19 struck.

Seraphine’s flowing pink hair and cat-themed Instagram posts had attracted thousands of fans when the news that she was created by Riot Games Inc. — the studio behind smash-hit esports game League of Legends — sent her account viral. Now her follower count is nearly 400,000 and she’s making appearances in Shanghai to promote her music, while most flesh-and-blood social-media stars are stuck at home. Despite not being real, she still sometimes wears a mask.

At a time when interacting safely with other humans can no longer be taken for granted, the appetite for digital spokespeople is accelerating. Brands are expected to spend as much as $15bn annually on influencer marketing by 2022, up from $8bn last year, according to Business Insider Intelligence. A growing slice of that money belongs to virtual influencers, and traditional marketing is experiencing serious disruption.

“Virtual influencers, while fake, have real business potential,” says Christopher Travers, the founder of virtualhumans.org, a website that documents the industry. “They are cheaper to work with than humans in the long term, are 100% controllable, can appear in many places at once, and, most importantly, they never age or die.”

Seraphine — who on Oct. 13 was also revealed to be a playable character on League of Legends, which draws as many as 8 million concurrent daily users — is one of about 125 active virtual influencers, according to Travers. More than 50 of those debuted on social media in the 18 months to June 2020. On YouTube, virtual influencers number more than 5,000.

Digital avatars developed by creative agencies, the biggest influencers can attract brand partnerships and other lucrative deals. With 2.8 million social-media followers and a fee of about $8,500 per sponsored post, Lil Miquela — a “model” who’s done promotions for Calvin Klein, Prada and other fashion brands — is the industry’s highest earner, according to OnBuy, a U.K.-based online marketplace. OnBuy estimates Lil Miquela will make about $11.7m for her creators this year.

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OK, I really don’t get this. When you look at their posts, they’re just froth. Frothy froth.
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Intel’s success came with making its own chips. Until now • WSJ

Asa Fitch:

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By 2019, Intel engineers and executives were debating how to manufacture future 10-nanometer CPU chips that had been held up because of earlier engineering delays. The debates were sometimes fierce, with some engineers urging management to consider letting someone else fabricate the chips if in-house facilities couldn’t, and some executives arguing that the factories could fix their problems.

Chief Engineer Venkata “Murthy” Renduchintala told analysts in May 2019 that Intel had learned lessons from earlier stumbles and that its 10-nanometer chips were on track. Intel’s next generation—7-nanometer CPUs—were on track to start production in 2021, he told them.

That didn’t happen. The manufacture of the next generation of CPUs is now a year behind initial plans, which will delay the arrival of products on the market by six months, Intel said. Intel shook up its technical team and announced Mr. Renduchintala’s departure. He declined to comment. Intel declined to comment on the departure, citing a statement at the time that he left amid a management shake-up aimed at improving the company’s chip-technology execution.

Mr. Swan in the July call told analysts: “We’re going to be pretty pragmatic about if and when we should be making stuff inside or making outside.”

The company’s new approach, Mr. Swan said, would be to make market-leading chips on schedule. Intel’s factories would be the preferred manufacturing option, but, if needed, production could be outsourced. Intel still plans to invest heavily in its own factories and future cutting-edge transistor technology, Mr. Swan has said.

As part of its move toward more outsourcing, Intel is adopting for some chips what it calls “disaggregation”—a process that lets it make a single chip using manufacturing processes in different places. Intel might start a chip in one in-house factory and then move it to another, or might start making a chip at an Intel plant and then ship it to an outside manufacturer to add elements Intel doesn’t produce as well. The company said it is beginning that type of mixed manufacturing, but on a limited basis with chips including a coming graphics-processing unit.

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If Intel outsources, who will it trust to make the chips? Those are incredibly valuable templates. And who will have the capacity? Would it trust TSMC? Plus, will some PC makers start to peel off towards ARM architectures when they see what Apple has managed tomorrow (Tuesday)?
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Dutch government pilots technology to cut e-bike road deaths • The Guardian

Daniel Boffey:

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Electric bike motors will be shut down when entering residential or built-up areas of Amsterdam, under a government-funded project to cut road deaths from the increasingly powerful vehicles.

The digital technology, which has been successfully trialled on a 4km stretch of bike lanes at Schiphol airport, was funded by the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and water management.

The not-for-profit Townmaking Institute behind the concept is working with e-bike manufacturers and government authorities with the expectation that the speed-cutting technology and new regulations could be rolled out by 2022.

Sixty-five people died last year while riding e-bikes, which have an integrated electric motor to propel the wheels, up from 57 in 2018. The vast majority were men over the age of 65. The standard e-bike reaches speeds of 12mph (20km/h), but faster models, such as speed pedelecs, can reach 28mph.

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I really would like to know more about these kamikaze Dutch pensioners. I guess the absence of a helmet would be a big part in the severity of their injuries.
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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Biden’s win, House losses, and what’s next for the Left • The New York Times

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Astead Herndon: So what are you saying: Investment in digital advertising and canvassing are a greater reason moderate Democrats lost than any progressive policy?

Ocasio-Cortez: These folks are pointing toward Republican messaging that they feel killed them, right? But why were you so vulnerable to that attack?

If you’re not door-knocking, if you’re not on the internet, if your main points of reliance are TV and mail, then you’re not running a campaign on all cylinders. I just don’t see how anyone could be making ideological claims when they didn’t run a full-fledged campaign.

Our party isn’t even online, not in a real way that exhibits competence. And so, yeah, they were vulnerable to these messages, because they weren’t even on the mediums where these messages were most potent. Sure, you can point to the message, but they were also sitting ducks. They were sitting ducks.

There’s a reason Barack Obama built an entire national campaign apparatus outside of the Democratic National Committee. And there’s a reason that when he didn’t activate or continue that, we lost House majorities. Because the party — in and of itself — does not have the core competencies, and no amount of money is going to fix that.

If I lost my election, and I went out and I said: “This is moderates’ fault. This is because you didn’t let us have a floor vote on Medicare for all.” And they opened the hood on my campaign, and they found that I only spent $5,000 on TV ads the week before the election? They would laugh. And that’s what they look like right now trying to blame the Movement for Black Lives for their loss.

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For AOC, understanding the importance and nuance of digital is like a fish understanding water; in the weeks before the election she was on Twitch (no? Ask yer kids) pulling in new voters. But a lot of Democrats, and observers, read this Q+A and saw it as an attack on their policies. As she says, why let the opposition determine how you’re viewed? Some people just can’t be helped.
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On Election Day, Facebook and Twitter did better by making their products worse • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

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it’s worth examining how Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are averting election-related trouble, because it sheds light on the very real problems they still face.

For months, nearly every step these companies have taken to safeguard the election has involved slowing down, shutting off or otherwise hampering core parts of their products — in effect, defending democracy by making their apps worse.

They added friction to processes, like political ad-buying, that had previously been smooth and seamless. They brought in human experts to root out extremist groups and manually intervened to slow the spread of sketchy stories. They overrode their own algorithms to insert information from trusted experts into users’ feeds. And as results came in, they relied on the calls made by news organizations like The Associated Press, rather than trusting that their systems would naturally bring the truth to the surface.

Nowhere was this shift more apparent than at Facebook, which for years envisioned itself as a kind of post-human communication platform. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, often spoke about his philosophy of “frictionless” design — making things as easy as possible for users. Other executives I talked to seemed to believe that ultimately, Facebook would become a kind of self-policing machine, with artificial intelligence doing most of the dirty work and humans intervening as little as possible.

But in the lead-up to the 2020 election, Facebook went in the opposite direction. It put in place a new, cumbersome approval process for political advertisers, and blocked new political ads in the period after Election Day. It throttled false claims, and put in place a “virality circuit-breaker” to give fact-checkers time to evaluate suspicious stories. And it temporarily shut off its recommendation algorithm for certain types of private groups, to lessen the possibility of violent unrest. (On Thursday, The New York Times reported that the company was taking other temporary measures to tamp down election-related misinformation, including adding more friction to the process of sharing posts.)

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It’s increasingly recognised that the way to make social media less harmful is to make it more difficult to share content easily. There’s still plenty of work to do, but last week’s experience might be seen inside Facebook and Twitter as validation of what they did.
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Inside the Trump campaign as it grapples with defeat while plowing forward with legal fight – ABC News

Will Steakin, Katherine Faulders, and John Santucci:

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Since Election Day, many Trump campaign staffers have been huddled on a noisy floor in the campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters fielding hundreds of calls a day on a hotline the campaign set up as they try to find instances of voter fraud, multiple sources told ABC News.

But the hotline has turned into a nightmare for some, as staffers, some of whom have contracts that expire in the coming days, have been bombarded with prank calls from people laughing or mocking them over Biden’s win before hanging up, sources tell ABC News. Prank calling the Trump campaign’s hotline has already become a trend on TikTok, the social media network that was used earlier in the year in an attempt to tank the president’s rally in Tulsa by mass-requesting tickets.

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TikTok’s revenge. Hasn’t been banned from US app stores (that was blocked by a federal judge in late September) but is still due to be forcibly sold to Oracle on 12 November, or else shut down. Quite the tightrope. Biden has no power to reverse this as president-elect, so we’re going to have to see whether ByteDance can pull a rabbit out of the hat here.
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Post Trump, conservative media faces a split • Buzzfeed News

Rosie Gray:

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The fragmentation of conservative media has empowered the loudest voices calling to “stop the steal” and weakened any possibility that reality will intrude on those who are consuming their news through the hodgepodge of fringe sources popular on the Trump right these days.

On the final weekend of the campaign, I asked voters at Trump rallies where they got their news. Some did mention Fox News, but I was surprised that nearly everyone I talked to emphasized other sources just as much or more. The Parrishes, a retired couple who went to Trump’s rally in Hickory, North Carolina, told me they didn’t like Fox News apart from Tucker Carlson, finding the hosts too “egotistical and arrogant,” said Mary Ellen Parrish, and that “there’s a lot of deception,” her husband Chuck said. The couple mostly get their information online: Mary Ellen from Twitter and Chuck from YouTube, where he has discovered the “flat Earth” conspiracy theory, to which he ascribes.

Jerry Senn, 82, at Trump’s rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, mentioned One America News Network and Newsmax as his favorites, though he likes Fox too. He goes online to read Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Prager’s websites. Jennifer Justice, 34, at the same rally, said, “I don’t watch mainstream news. I follow a lot of people on YouTube and on alternative media, but I don’t watch Fox. I don’t watch MSNBC. I don’t watch CNN.” Some of her favorites include Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, and Candace Owens. Multiple voters mentioned how much news they get from Facebook.

Already, Trump family members and some of the new wave of Trump-like politicians are using Trump’s popularity with the base to threaten any Republican who doesn’t publicly agree with the fraud allegations.

«

All worth reading; as is the quite separate Twitter thread (here on one easily read page) by Matthew Sheffield, a “former conservative activist and journalist”, on the bias inherent in conservative media.
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Trump will lose his Twitter ‘public interest’ protections in January • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

»

President Donald Trump will lose Twitter privileges he enjoys as a world leader when President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20th, 2021. Twitter confirmed that Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account will be subject to the same rules as any other user — including bans on inciting violence and posting false information about voting or the coronavirus pandemic.

Twitter applies special policies to world leaders and some other officials, leaving rule-breaking content online if there’s “a clear public interest value to keeping the tweet on the service.” The public interest policy was formalized in 2019, codifying a rule that had been informally enforced for some time.

“Twitter’s approach to world leaders, candidates, and public officials is based on the principle that people should be able to choose to see what their leaders are saying with clear context. This means that we may apply warnings and labels, and limit engagement to certain tweets. This policy framework applies to current world leaders and candidates for office, and not private citizens when they no longer hold these positions,” a Twitter spokesperson confirms to The Verge.

These changes will cover Trump’s personal account. Position-specific accounts like @WhiteHouse, @POTUS, and @FLOTUS are transferred to a new administration after an outgoing president steps down.

«

The fun part is going to be about how quickly Trump gets suspended for tweeting something offensive. (And unlike the White House, removing him from the @POTUS account will be pretty easy – though have you noticed how nobody ever took any notice of that account? That it was only about his personal account?)

At the same time, though, the fact that these exemptions exist is disturbing. How world-leadery do you have to be? How public an official?

In other news, the first bookmark I made about Trump was on 10 December 2015. Looking forward to doing the last of them around five years later.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1424: life inside a black hole, LG plans a ‘rollable’ phone, $1bn bitcoin move mystery solved, how Oz zapped Covid, and more


A benchmark for Apple’s upcoming ARM-based Macs seems to have leaked – and it’s impressive. CC-licensed photo by Oliver Hammond 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 9 links for you. Counting. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A14X Bionic allegedly benchmarked days before Apple Silicon Mac event • AppleInsider

Wesley Hilliard:

»

The chip expected to be at the core of the first Apple Silicon Mac — the “A14X” — may have been benchmarked just days before the next Apple event.

The alleged CPU benchmarks for the “A14X” show a 1.80GHz processor capable of turbo-boosting to 3.10GHz marking this the first custom Apple Silicon to ever clock above 3GHz. It is an 8-core processor with big-little arrangement. The GPU results show 8GB of RAM will be included with the processor.

The single-core benchmark for the “A14X” scored 1634 vs the A12Z at 1118. The A14 scored 1,583 points for single-core tests, which is expected as single-core results shouldn’t change much between the regular and “X” models.

The multi-core benchmark for the “A14X” scored 7220 vs the A12Z at 4657. The A14 scored 4198 for multi-core, which means the “A14X” delivers a marked increase in performance in the sorts of environments that the GeekBench test suite focuses on. The additional RAM and graphics capabilities boost this result much higher than the standard iPhone processor.

For comparison, a 16-inch MacBook Pro with the Intel Core-i9 processor scores 1096 for single and 6869 for multi-core tests. This means the alleged “A14X” outperforms the existing MacBook Pro lineup by a notable margin.

The benchmark testing was reportedly performed with Geekbench 5 on an unknown device.

«

Just to make it clear: compared to the 16in MacBook Pro, it’s 50% faster on single-core and 5% faster on multi-core. And that’s on the first iteration of Apple’s architecture.

This is likely to be real: Apple often lets a little Geekbench test slip out, or someone who is testing the machine outside it (because you know it has seeded some with people in relevant industries) does.
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What would we experience if Earth spontaneously turned into a black hole? • Medium

Ethan Siegel:

»

the first thing that would happen would be a transition from being at rest — where the force from the atoms on Earth’s surface pushed back on us with an equal and opposite force to gravitational acceleration — to being in free-fall: at 9.8 m/s² (32 feet/s²), towards the center of the Earth.

Unlike most free-fall scenarios we experience on Earth today, such as a skydiver experiences when jumping out of an airplane, you’d have an eerie, lasting experience.

• You wouldn’t feel the wind rushing past you, but rather the air would accelerate down towards the center of the Earth exactly at the same rate you did.
• There would be no drag forces on you, and you would never reach a maximum speed: a terminal velocity. You’d simply fall faster and faster as time progressed.
• That “rising stomach” sensation that you’d feel — like you get at the top of a drop on a roller coaster — would begin as soon as free-fall started, but would continue unabated.
• You’d experience total weightlessness, like an astronaut on the International Space Station, and would be unable to “feel” how fast you were falling.
• Which is a good thing, because not only would you fall faster and faster towards the Earth’s center as time went on, but your acceleration would actually increase as you got closer to that central singularity.

«

The rising stomach thing that continues unabated? Yeah, you can get that watching US election count coverage.
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LG rollable phone: Everything we know so far • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:

»

LG made a big splash last month when it officially unveiled the Wing smartphone. The phone looks like a normal device upfront, but slide the main screen to the side and you’ve got a smaller screen underneath.

The LG Wing design is clearly unique in the modern smartphone space, but the company confirmed that it’s only the first device in its new Explorer Project line of standout phones. Fortunately, between leaks and official teases, we’ve got a good idea of what to expect next.

All signs are pointing to an LG smartphone with a rollable display, and we’ve rounded up all the major leaks, info drops, and rumors below to get a better idea of what to expect. Be sure to bookmark this page, as we’ll be updating it regularly!

«

Apparently there’s a name filing for a product to go live in early 2021. The name: “Rollable”. It seems like the phone screen might slide out sidewise (a bit like an extendable dining table).

Grand plan by LG, given how much success foldables have had this year. Huh?
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US Feds seized nearly $1bn in bitcoin from wallet linked to Silk Road • Vice

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

»

On Tuesday, someone emptied out one of the most mysterious and most valuable Bitcoin wallets in existence, which contained almost $1bn dollars linked to the notorious Silk Road dark web market. 

We now know who did it: the US government. 

On Thursday, the Department of Justice announced that it had seized the wallet. 

“Silk Road was the most notorious online criminal marketplace of its day,” US Attorney David Anderson said in a press release. “The successful prosecution of Silk Road’s founder in 2015 left open a billion-dollar question. Where did the money go? Today’s forfeiture complaint answers this open question at least in part. $1bn of these criminal proceeds are now in the United States’ possession.”

«

But that’s not all! The plot thickens.

»

In the civil forfeiture complaint, Anderson explained that the government took control of the wallet on Monday, after an unnamed hacker agreed to forfeit the cryptocurrency. The hacker, who is only identified as “Individual X,” allegedly broke into Silk Road’s website and stole the bitcoin in 2012 or 2013. The hacker then transferred to the infamous wallet with the address “1HQ3Go3ggs8pFnXuHVHRytPCq5fGG8Hbhx,” according to the complaint.

It’s unclear who Individual X actually is, and the complaint does not explain how the feds found them.

«

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A massive “Stop the Count” Facebook Group has ties to Republican operatives • Mother Jones

Ali Breland:

»

A rapidly growing Facebook group falsely accusing Democrats of “scheming” to steal the election with a plot to “nullify Republican votes” appears to be part of a coordinated campaign by Republican operatives, and has ties to the Tea Party.  

The domain is registered to a firm that works on Republican projects.

The “Stop the Steal” group on Facebook, which was only created on Wednesday but already has almost 300,000 members (and is growing quickly), prompts new users to its page to navigate to a website off of Facebook to sign up for email updates “in the event that social media censors this group.”

The domain that the group pushes its members to, StolenElection.us, is registered to the Liberty Lab, a firm that offers digital services to various conservative clients, according to its website, and Scott Graves, who lists himself as the firm’s president on LinkedIn. 

It’s unclear if Graves and the Liberty Lab are running the site alone or were hired by a client. According to its website, the Liberty Lab has been employed by a range of organizations, with a notable track record of working on Republican projects, including Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign, a push to recall California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, and several pro-Trump projects.

The Facebook group and the website also appear to be linked to Women for America First, a group organized in 2019 to protest against Donald Trump’s impeachment. In StolenElection.us’s html code, “Women for America First” shows up repeatedly. Facebook displays a header on the “Stop the Steal” Facebook page showing that it was created by the “Women for America First” Facebook page. 

«

Facebook deleted the Group (when it was up to about 361,000 members), though perhaps not as quickly as it might have, on the basis that “The group was organized around the delegitimization of the election process, and we saw worrying calls for violence from some members of the group.” No problem – now they’re all corralled off somewhere else. Will probably need careful work to ensure that you don’t get people who want to stop the counting mixed up with those who want to continue the counting.

Everything’s a data grab nowadays: these people will also be targets for all sorts of get-out-the-vote efforts in future.
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Florida mosquitoes: 750 million genetically modified insects to be released • BBC News

»

In May, the US Environmental Agency granted permission to the British-based, US-operated company Oxitec to produce the genetically engineered, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are known as OX5034.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are known to spread deadly diseases to humans such dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.

Only female mosquitoes bite humans because they need blood to produce eggs. So the plan is to release the male, modified mosquitoes who will then hopefully breed with wild female mosquitoes.
However the males carry a protein that will kill off any female offspring before they reach mature biting age. Males, which only feed on nectar, will survive and pass on the genes.

Over time, the aim is to reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area and thereby reduce the spread of disease to humans.

On Tuesday, officials in the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) gave final approval to release 750 million of the modified mosquitoes over a two-year period.

The plan has many critics, including nearly 240,000 people who signed a petition on Change.org slamming Oxitec’s plan to use US states “as a testing ground for these mutant bugs”.

According to Oxitec’s website, the company has found positive results conducting field trials in Brazil. It also plans to deploy them in Texas beginning in 2021 and has gained federal approval, but not state or local approval, according to reports.

«

I was going to wonder which animals depend on Aedes aegypti, but then thought that other mosquito species will fill any ecological gap that’s left by them not reproducing.
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Australia almost eliminated the coronavirus by putting faith in science • The Washington Post

A. Odysseus Patrick:

»

As North America, Europe, India, Brazil and other regions and countries struggle to bring tens of thousands of daily infections under control, Australia provides a real-time road map for democracies to manage the pandemic. Its experience, along with New Zealand’s, also shows that success in containing the virus isn’t limited to East Asian states (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) or those with authoritarian leaders (China, Vietnam).

Several practical measures contributed to Australia’s success, experts say. The country chose to quickly and tightly seal its borders, a step some others, notably in Europe, did not take. Health officials rapidly built up the manpower to track down and isolate outbreaks. And unlike the U.S. approach, every one of Australia’s states either shut their domestic borders or severely limited movement for interstate, and in some cases intrastate, travelers.

Perhaps most importantly, though, leaders from across the ideological spectrum persuaded Australians to take the pandemic seriously early on and prepared them to give up civil liberties they had never lost before, even during two world wars.

“We told the public: ‘This is serious; we want your cooperation,’ ” said Marylouise McLaws, a Sydney-based epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales and a World Health Organization adviser.

A lack of partisan rancour increased the effectiveness of the message, McLaws said in an interview.

The conservative prime minister, Scott Morrison, formed a national cabinet with state leaders, known as premiers, from all parties to coordinate decisions. Political conflict was largely suspended, at least initially, and many Australians saw their politicians working together to avert a health crisis.

«

26 million people; no cases there on Thursday, only seven since Saturday, 18 people in hospital. Sydney Opera House open again, 40,000 people going to the rugby league grand final. It helps that they’re moving into summer, but they’ve just come through winter.
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The American system is broken • The Atlantic

David Frum:

»

[US presidential] elections now systematically disfavor voting majorities. From 1892 through 1996, the person who won the most votes became president, every time. In 2000, the U.S. got its first minority-rule president since the aftermath of the Civil War. That outcome was seen as a freak at the time. Four elections later, it happened again. Today, Trump is looking to the courts to overrule the voting majority for a third time.

It should not take the largest voter turnout in U.S. history to guarantee that a president rejected by the majority of the American people actually stops being president.

Even given that turnout, assuming Trump steps down, the electoral system will produce a gridlocked government—not because “the voters” or “the American people” wanted it that way, but because strategically positioned voters in small states did. The unrepresentativeness of state governments is even more extreme because of gerrymandering. And Republicans seem to have done well enough at the state level in 2020 to thwart any systemwide move to fairer representation in 2021.

These unrepresentative state and federal governments seem less and less capable of coping with the problems of the modern world. In the span of 12 years, the U.S. has had the two worst economic collapses since the Great Depression. It has started and lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It cannot collect taxes it is owed—including from the current president. It cannot balance its books even in prosperity; in fact, it long ago ceased even to write annual budgets. It cannot police its borders against unauthorized immigration. It cannot act against existential environmental threats. It cannot protect its people from a disease that can be controlled by wearing a $5 mask.

«

Frum, it should be remembered, is a former speechwriter for George W Bush (the 2000-2008 one) who inspired the phrase “axis of evil”. He’s hardly one of your wild leftwing socialists. In fact, his former employer got into office on that failure around voting majorities.

Everyone (outside the US, and perhaps increasingly inside it) can see this problem. The question is, who’s going to change it? Who’s going to bell the cat?
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Can we finally agree to ignore election forecasts? • The New York Times

The always excellent Zeynep Tufecki:

»

In 2020, it was even harder to rely on polls or previous elections: On top of all the existing problems with surveys in an age of cellphones, push polls and mistrust, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. What would the unprecedented early voting numbers mean when polls don’t necessarily stop polling those who already voted? How would the early forecasts that run for many months before the election, and so are even more uncertain, affect those who vote early? Would the elderly, at great risk from the pandemic, avoid voting? How would voter suppression play out? Would Republicans end up flocking to the polls on Election Day? These were big unknowns that added great uncertainty to models, especially given the winner-takes-all setup in the Electoral College, where winning a state by as little as one-fourth of 1% can deliver all its electoral votes.

There’s an even more fundamental point to consider about election forecasts and how they differ from weather forecasting. If I read that there is a 20% chance of rain and do not take an umbrella, the odds of rain coming down don’t change. Electoral modeling, by contrast, actively affects the way people behave.

In 2016, for example, a letter from the F.B.I. director James Comey telling Congress he had reopened an investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s emails shook up the dynamics of the race with just days left in the campaign. Mr. Comey later acknowledged that his assumption that Mrs. Clinton was going to win was a factor in his decision to send the letter.

«

Even more useful: can we finally persuade people who make election forecasts to stop doing it?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1423: eternal printer woes?, Californians go private, Kim Dotcom faces US extradition, Denmark culls Covid mink, and more


Remember when opinion polls were reliable? Me neither. But the implications of their failure go beyond elections. CC-licensed photo by Marie Kendall 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 9 links for you. Sober. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Rant: It’s 2020. Why do printers still suck? • WIRED

Simon Hill:

»

Three years and a couple of printers later, sick of being gouged for ink cartridges that always seem to run out at the worst moment, I optimistically signed up for a printing subscription plan. The idea is you are charged a flat fee based on how many pages you print each month, and the printer automatically orders ink refills when it’s running low. Reading this back, I can only cringe at my naivety.

Things were fine for the first few weeks. Then I made the mistake of turning the printer off. It doesn’t like to be turned off. It started emailing me, insisting that it needs to be turned on and connected to the internet so the subscription plan can work properly. Every time I turn it on, it prints an ink-heavy test page. It is incredibly good at printing test pages—it just won’t print the document you want.

Things got worse when I made the mistake of changing my internet service provider. I forgot about the printer for a while. Then I suddenly needed it (see step five). I didn’t have time to set up the Wi-Fi, so I plugged directly into the printer with a good old-fashioned cable. It refused to print. I refused to connect it to the internet, so it refused to print for me.

To get it working again I had to completely uninstall everything related to the printer, update my drivers, install three separate programs, carry it to another room to plug directly into my desktop, carry it back again, hold down the correct button sequence at the stroke of midnight, spin around three times, and recite the printer incantation into a mirror.

It’s finally connected and working … for now. But I know it’s only a matter of time before it betrays me again. One of these days, I will finally smash my nemesis to smithereens.

My printer shifts noisily in the background as I write this, mocking me, blissfully unaware of how close it teeters to oblivion.

«

My experience (with HP Officejet printers) has been pretty much entirely positive: remains connected to the internet, does print, doesn’t screw up the paper. I’d love it to know how many sheets of paper it has left, and not to continually tell me that its ink is low – it’s like a baby bird demanding to be fed – but otherwise? Printers are great. We just happen not to need them these days.
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The polling crisis is a catastrophe for American democracy • The Atlantic

David A. Graham:

»

Surveys badly missed the results, predicting an easy win for former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic pickup in the Senate, and gains for the party in the House. Instead, the presidential election is still too close to call, Republicans seem poised to hold the Senate, and the Democratic edge in the House is likely to shrink.

This is a disaster for the polling industry and for media outlets and analysts that package and interpret the polls for public consumption, such as FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times’ Upshot, and The Economist’s election unit. They now face serious existential questions. But the greatest problem posed by the polling crisis is not in the presidential election, where the snapshots provided by polling are ultimately measured against an actual tally of votes: As the political cliché goes, the only poll that matters is on Election Day. The real catastrophe is that the failure of the polls leaves Americans with no reliable way to understand what we as a people think outside of elections—which in turn threatens our ability to make choices, or to cohere as a nation.

…In every swing state but Arizona, Trump outperformed the FiveThirtyEight polling average. This is not to pick on FiveThirtyEight, which went to unusual lengths to ensure that its averages were accurate, but simply to indicate how far off the polls as a whole were.

…When an election can give a definitive answer to a question, by telling us which candidate or policy Americans prefer, the problems with polling matter less, though they make vote-counting more stressful. But anything that happens outside of the quadrennial and midterm elections is now murky. Earlier this summer, Trump took a hard line against protests for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd. As I noted at the time, there was a quick and significant drop in the president’s polling, especially among white voters. Trump never recovered that support in polls, but if the polls were off, who knows whether that drop was real, or whether white attitudes about racial justice have really changed?

«

This does matter, as he points out. There’s a lot of schadenfreude about pollsters (especially from Trump supporters), but if you don’t know the public mood, what the hell can you rely on for that metric?
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California’s Proposition 24 on consumer privacy passes • SFChronicle.com

Dustin Gardiner and Shwanika Narayan:

»

California’s Proposition 24, which would expand the state’s landmark consumer privacy law, was passed by voters Tuesday night.

The initiative prohibits legislators from weakening the California Consumer Privacy Act, creates a state agency to enforce privacy protections, and gives people more control over how tech companies use their personal information, such as race or health data.

Privacy advocates led by Alastair Mactaggart, a wealthy San Francisco developer, proposed the measure because they say the existing law is at risk of being watered down in response to pressure from technology companies and business groups.

But Prop. 24’s key source of opposition was not tech firms. The measure was opposed by some privacy advocates, who said it was poorly written and would make it harder for low-income people to exercise their privacy rights.

The Legislature passed the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018, though enforcement of the law didn’t start until July 2020. It allows consumers to tell businesses not to sell their data and to demand that they delete the information altogether.

Opponents of the law have pushed for numerous changes in the Legislature, without success. Mactaggart said he fears it could eventually be weakened.

“During these times of unprecedented uncertainty, we need to ensure that the laws keep pace with the ever-changing ways corporations and other entities are using our data,” Mactaggart said when the initiative qualified for the ballot.

Prop. 24 seeks to enshrine the state’s existing privacy law so legislators can make changes only to strengthen privacy.

«

Welcome to what Europe’s had for a few years, California. When is the rest of America joining?
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Kim Dotcom can be extradited to US but can also appeal • BBC News

»

A long-running effort to extradite file-sharing site mogul Kim Dotcom to the US has been left in limbo after a Supreme Court decision in New Zealand.

The court ruled that he can be returned to the US to face copyright charges – but has also overturned another lower court’s decision, effectively granting him the right to appeal.

Mr Dotcom himself described the ruling as a “mixed bag”. The legal wrangling is likely to continue.

The court ruled that Kim Dotcom and his three co-accused were liable for extradition on 12 of the 13 counts the FBI is seeking to charge them with.

But it also ruled that the Court of Appeal had erred in dismissing judicial review requests from Mr Dotcom, and granted him the right to continue with them.

The FBI alleges that Megaupload facilitated copyright infringement on a huge scale, but Mr Dotcom’s lawyers argue that the website was never meant to encourage copyright breaches.

If he is extradited, he faces a lengthy jail term.

«

Think he really should have worked on the pardon strategy rather than the not-getting-extradited strategy: the latter almost always fails, the former at least has some chance of paying off.
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Denmark to cull millions of minks over mutated coronavirus • The Local

Agence France-Presse:

»

Denmark, the world’s biggest producer of mink fur, said Wednesday it would cull all of the country’s minks after a mutated version of the new coronavirus was detected at its mink farms and had spread to people.

The mutation “could pose a risk that future (coronavirus) vaccines won’t work the way they should,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a press conference, adding: “It is necessary to cull all the minks.”

“The mutated virus could thereby have serious negative consequences for the whole world’s response to the ongoing pandemic,” she said.

Danish police estimated that between 15 and 17 million minks would need to be put down.

Twelve people are currently registered as infected with a mutated form of the coronavirus in Denmark, according to news wire Ritzau. The mutated virus is reported to respond weakly to antibodies.

Denmark’s mink industry is the largest of its kind in the world, normally producing 12-13 million skins annually.

Coronavirus has been detected at 207 Danish mink farms, Frederiksen said.

«

This feels like a weird and under-reported story. Coronavirus sequenced via minks doesn’t provoke a strong antibody response?
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All systems go for UK’s £55M fusion energy experiment • Culham Centre for Fusion Energy

»

One of the biggest challenges in fusion research has been to extract the amount of excess heat from the plasma. UKAEA’s scientists now plan to test a new exhaust system called the ‘Super-X divertor’ at MAST Upgrade.

This system is designed to channel plasma out of the machine at temperatures low enough for its materials to withstand – meaning that components can last much longer. The approximate tenfold reduction in heat arriving at the internal surfaces of the machine has the potential to be a game-changer for the long-term viability of future fusion power stations.

MAST Upgrade will be the forerunner of the UK’s prototype fusion power plant, Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (“STEP”), due for completion by 2040.

STEP – which UKAEA is designing in an initial £220m programme funded by the UK Government – will be based on MAST Upgrade’s ‘spherical tokamak’ fusion concept. The spherical tokamak could offer a route to a compact fusion power plant. The success of MAST Upgrade is another step along the way to designing future fusion power facilities, which could have an important role as part of a future portfolio of low-carbon energy.

«

We’re turning the corner on fusion power. Just like we’re turning the corner on coronavirus. There’s always the suspicion that we’re just going around in circles.
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Silk Road bitcoins worth $1bn change hands after seven years • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

A billion dollars worth of bitcoins linked to the shuttered darknet market Silk Road has changed hands for the first time in seven years, prompting renewed speculation about the fate of the illicit fortune.

Almost 70,000 bitcoins stored in the account which, like all bitcoin wallets, is visible to the public, had lain untouched since April 2013. The website was shut down by an FBI raid six months after they were deposited, and they have not moved since.

Late on Tuesday night, however, the full amount less a $12 (£9) transaction fee was transferred to a new bitcoin address, records show.

“Through blockchain analysis we can determine that these funds likely originated from the Silk Road,” said Tom Robinson, chief scientist at the cryptocurrency analysts Elliptic. “They left the Silk Road’s wallet back on 6 May 2012 when they were worth around $350,000 and then remained dormant for nearly a year, before being moved … in April 2013.”

From there, the funds have lain dormant. After the marketplace was shut down in late 2013, its founder and boss, 36-year-old San Franciscan Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to a double life sentence plus 40 years without possibility of parole. The FBI managed to seize 174,000 bitcoins, then worth about $100m, but an estimated 450,000 earned by the marketplace remain unaccounted for.

Robinson says it is unclear who moved the money. “The movement of these bitcoins today, now worth around $955m, may represent Ulbricht or a Silk Road vendor moving their funds,” he said. “However, it seems unlikely that Ulbricht would be able to conduct a bitcoin transaction from prison.”

One possibility is that an individual or group has managed to “crack” the wallet, effectively guessing its password and stealing the funds. A file that some claimed was an encrypted bitcoin wallet containing the keys to the funds has been circulated in cryptocurrency communities for the past year, and – if it is what it was claimed to be – then a combination of brute computing power and good luck could have successfully decrypted the wallet.

«

If you think about it, investing in a gigantic rig to try to crack the passphrase would make financial sense. You could benefit by a billion dollars. How much are you going to invest? Up to $999,999,999 (OK then $999,999,987). Your only problem is cashflow ahead of your success.
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Silicon Roundabout dream fades with COVID-19 and Brexit • Business Insider

Martin Coulter on the scheme that was boosted by the Cameron government in November 2010 (I was at the launch speech):

»

A change in Prime Minister in 2016 after the Brexit vote brought with it a rebranding: Tech City was redubbed “Tech Nation” in the months after Theresa May took power. But occupied by Brexit – which was supported by troublingly few in London’s elite business circles — May had to bat off accusations she “didn’t understand technology”.

The cluster around Silicon Roundabout has swollen, though perhaps not in the way originally intended. The area can boast homegrown fintech stars such as Monzo and Starling Bank, but that may really be down to the area’s proximity to London’s financial center, rather than its tech creds.

And while Google has established a startup hub in the area, the US giant’s main London campus is further north in Kings Cross. The only tech giant with a big presence in the area is Amazon.

It’s not clear what comes next for Silicon Roundabout

With the post-Brexit transition period looming and changes wrought by the coronavirus, Tech City may “never be the same again.”

Of the rumored tech IPOs set to come out of the UK in the next year – such as Darktrace, Deliveroo, and others – few are rooted near the Old Street roundabout.

One veteran CEO familiar with the area, who spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending colleagues, said they felt the initiative had been a “waste of time and money.”

«

I don’t think that’s quite fair. It has helped give birth to loads of companies and inspired a lot of entrepreneurs. Just because it hasn’t become self-sustaining doesn’t mean that enormous value, both financial and personal, hasn’t come through. People now know it as a reference point; it’s somewhere to be near, to have worked at. (And a side note: among the speakers at that David Cameron launch speech was Boris Johnson, who extemporised a load of nonsense. Cameron gave him side-eye the entire time.)
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The United States’ contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean • Science Advances

Kara Lavender Law and others from various oceanographic groups:

»

Plastic waste affects environmental quality and ecosystem health. In 2010, an estimated 5 to 13 million metric tons (Mt) of plastic waste entered the ocean from both developing countries with insufficient solid waste infrastructure and high-income countries with very high waste generation.

We demonstrate that, in 2016, the United States generated the largest amount of plastic waste of any country in the world (42.0 Mt). Between 0.14 and 0.41 Mt of this waste was illegally dumped in the United States, and 0.15 to 0.99 Mt was inadequately managed in countries that imported materials collected in the United States for recycling.

Accounting for these contributions, the amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States’ contribution among the highest in the world.

«

Well that’s another mess to clear up.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1422: Facebook internal morale droops, the US’s other tech antitrust problem, Bezos’s climate grant, Apple’s AR application, and more


In the late 1920s, shoe shops started offering foot X-rays. The radiation doses were immense. CC-licensed photo by Massie 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 8 links for you. Sure, like you’ll read them all today, of all days. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Inside Facebook 24 hours before the 2020 election • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman:

»

Roiled by months of internal scandals and high-profile failures, the social network giant heads into Election Day with employee morale cratering and internal political discussion muzzled on internal message boards.

While [former UK deputy prime minister, now chief Facebook flack Nick] Clegg took an optimistic tone in his post [thanking Facebook employees for their work leading up to Election day], Facebook released results of an internal survey on Monday that revealed a stark decline in employee confidence over the past six months. Its semi-annual “Pulse Survey,” taken by more than 49,000 employees over two weeks in October, showed workers felt strained by office shutdowns and were continuing to lose faith that the company was improving the world.

Only 51% of respondents said they believed that Facebook was having a positive impact on the world, down 23 percentage points from the company’s last survey in May and down 5.5 percentage points from the same period last year. In response to a question about the company’s leadership, only 56% of employees had a favorable response, compared to 76% in May and more than 60% last year. (A Facebook employee acknowledged in the announcement that the uptick in May’s Pulse results were “likely driven by our response to COVID-19,” which was widely praised.)

The external criticism leveled against Facebook for failing to completely stem hate and misleading information is weighing on employees.

«

That half of Facebook’s staff don’t think it’s having a positive impact on the world is pretty damning. As long as none of them include its top ranks, things won’t change, but if they ever do, it could all go south quite fast.
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The tech antitrust problem no one is talking about • WIRED

Tom Simonite:

»

The new fervor for tech antitrust has so far overlooked an equally obvious target: US broadband providers. “If you want to talk about a history of using gatekeeper power to harm competitors, there are few better examples,” says Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy.

Sohn and other critics of the four companies that dominate US broadband—Verizon, Comcast, Charter Communications, and AT&T—argue that antitrust intervention has been needed for years to lower prices and widen internet access. A Microsoft study estimated last year that as many as 162.8 million Americans lack meaningful broadband, and New America’s Open Technology Institute recently found that US consumers pay, on average, more than those in Europe, Asia, or elsewhere in North America.

The coronavirus pandemic has given America’s gaping digital divide more bite. Children without reliable internet have been forced to scavenge bandwidth outside libraries and Taco Bells to complete virtual school assignments. In April, a Pew Research Center survey found that one in five parents with children whose schools had been closed by coronavirus believed it likely they would not be able to complete schoolwork at home because of an inadequate internet connection.

Such problems are arguably more material than some of the antitrust issues that have recently won attention in Washington. The Department of Justice complaint against Google argues that the company’s payments to Apple to set its search engine as the default on the iPhone make it too onerous for consumers to choose a competing search provider. For tens of millions of Americans, changing broadband providers is even more difficult—it requires moving. The Institute for Local Self Reliance, which promotes community broadband projects, recently estimated from Federal Communications Commission data that some 80 million Americans can only get high-speed broadband service from one provider.

“That is quite intentional on the part of cable operators,” says Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School. “These companies are extracting rent from Americans based on their monopoly positions.”

«

Always astonishing how much Americans pay for their broadband and their mobile plans. The lack of competition is utterly amazing, and the indifference of politicians just as weird. But then there are many peculiar things in America. You may have noticed.
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How Jeff Bezos is spending his $10bn Earth Fund • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

Throughout the summer, Bezos—sometimes joined by his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, a television producer—met via phone with environmental nonprofits and other advisers in the field, according to two people who work in climate philanthropy and have knowledge of the situation. He is now ready to start giving.

But Bezos’s gifts indicate that he isn’t trying something new on climate so much as boosting an ancien régime. Bezos is prepared to give $100m each to four of the most established environmental groups in the country—the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund, according to my two sources, who were granted anonymity so that they could speak candidly about the small world of climate giving.

Bezos has also committed $100m to the World Resources Institute, a sustainability-research organization that operates globally, the two sources said.

And he has promised smaller amounts of $10m to $50m to four nonprofits that specialize in climate and energy research, the sources said. Those groups are the Energy Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the ClimateWorks Foundation, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

These are large gifts, and they are going to large organizations. Each of the five groups receiving $100m already has annual expenses in the nine figures. The largest of them, the Nature Conservancy, had a budget exceeding $930m in 2018. Each has significant assets, offices and operations around the world, and enough heft to send experts to United Nations conferences.

Yet these gifts, even if spread over five years, will constitute a major portion of the groups’ revenues. And they put into perspective the mammoth size of the Earth Fund: These nine grants represent, at most, $700m—that is, 7% of Bezos’s initial commitment.

«

I wonder if the recipients of the grants will feel empowered to criticise people who launch rockets into space for fun, such as *checks notes* Jeff Bezos.

And Meyer’s right, this is very unambitious: there are far better, moonshot (ahem) projects that Bezos could be putting his money into, particularly real carbon capture and so on.
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When X-rays were all the rage, a trip to the shoe store was dangerously illuminating • IEEE Spectrum

Allison Marsh:

»

The [“fluoroscope”] machines [which were X-ray machines, which went on sale in the late 1920s] were heralded as providing a more “scientific” method of fitting shoes. Duffin and Hayter argue, however, that shoe-fitting fluoroscopy was first and foremost an elaborate marketing scheme to sell shoes. If so, it definitely worked. My mother fondly remembers her childhood trips to Wenton’s on Bergen Avenue in Jersey City to buy saddle shoes. Not only did she get to view her feet with the fancy technology, but she was given a shoe horn, balloon, and lollipop. Retailers banked on children begging their parents for new shoes.

Although the fluoroscope appeared to bring scientific rigor to the shoe-fitting process, there was nothing medically necessary about it. My mother grudgingly acknowledges that the fluoroscope didn’t help her bunions in the least. Worse, the unregulated radiation exposure put countless customers and clerks at risk for ailments including dermatitis, cataracts, and, with prolonged exposure, cancer.

The amount of radiation exposure depended on several things, including the person’s proximity to the machine, the amount of protective shielding, and the exposure time. A typical fitting lasted 20 seconds, and of course some customers would have several fittings before settling on just the right pair. The first machines were unregulated. In fact, the roentgen (R) didn’t become the internationally accepted unit of radiation until 1928, and the first systematic survey of the machines wasn’t undertaken until 20 years later. That 1948 study of 43 machines in Detroit showed ranges from 16 to 75 roentgens per minute. In 1946, the American Standards Association had issued a safety code for industrial use of X-rays, limiting exposure to 0.1 R per day.

«

That’s pretty hefty. Reminiscent, in its ignorance of the risks posed by close exposure to radiation, of the women who painted radium marks on wristwatch faces with paintbrushes – and sould lick the paintbrush to keep its shape. Some of the cancers of the tongue and chin and throat were awful.
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Apple adds new AR-enhanced ‘people detection’ accessibility feature to iOS 14.2 developer beta • Forbes

Steven Aquino:

»

Apple has included a new accessibility feature in today’s release of the iOS 14.2 beta called People Detection. The software, which is actually a subset of the Magnifier app introduced with iOS 10, uses augmented reality and machine learning to detect where humans and objects are in space. The addition was first spotted in a late September report by Juli Clover of MacRumors.

The purpose of People Detection is to aid blind and low vision users in navigation; this type of application is particularly well-suited for the LiDAR sensor in iPhone 12 Pro. The goal is to help the visually impaired understand their surroundings—examples include knowing how many people there are in the checkout line at the grocery store, how close one is standing to the end of the platform at the subway station, and finding an empty seat at a table. Another use case is in this era of social distancing; the software can tell you if you’re within six feet of another person in order to maintain courtesy and safety.

«

Very smart (though it doesn’t work in the dark – damn). And as Aquino points out, you can see how desirable that sort of system would be in AR glasses. (Though I have to admit that when I first read the headline, I thought it was a system that would tell you who people are, which would be so useful, and perfect in AR glasses.)
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YouTube will end full-day ‘masthead’ reservations like Trump used • CNBC

Jennifer Elias and Megan Graham:

»

President Donald Trump may dominate YouTube’s home page on Election Day. But that slot won’t be available for advertisers to buy in the same way again, according to a recent policy update by YouTube.

The Google-owned company confirmed to CNBC Monday that it will be “retiring” reservations for full-day advertisements on its coveted home page ad spot known as its masthead beginning in 2021, a change it said it communicated to advertisers earlier this year. Instead, advertisers will only be able to buy that spot on a per-impression basis, making it harder for a single advertiser to dominate the page for a day at a time.

“For years, advertisers asked us for more flexible options for appearing in the YouTube masthead, which is why we introduced the cost-per-thousand (CPM) Masthead in 2019 and earlier this year told advertisers that it would be our primary masthead reservation option in 2021,” the company said in an emailed statement. “This change gives advertisers more budget flexibility and applies across all verticals — not just political advertisers.”

Google says the change affects all advertisers, and is not connected “in any way” to the election or political advertising broadly.

The masthead costs approximately $2m a day, according to the New York Times. It’s not clear how many people see view the masthead or see that ad spot, but overall YouTube claims to deliver more than one billion hours of video every single day.

The company has come under scrutiny in recent weeks as the U.S. presidential election drew nearer, with President Donald Trump purchasing the masthead slot in the two days preceding Election Day, along with Election Day itself.

«

Depending on the result (which I’m writing ahead of), that’s $6m of money well spent/wasted by Trump. Though you could argue that maybe almost all of it is wasted, no matter which outcome: you aren’t going to change most peoples’ minds – only 6% of voters were thought to be “undecided”, and they probably weren’t heading for YouTube, and would an ad change their minds? Then again, you could argue that about any political advertising spend (except of course for the Trump Facebook campaign of 2016, which has taken on a sort of mythic status in all sorts of fields).
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Doubts over a ‘possible sign of life’ on Venus show how science works • Science News

Lisa Grossman:

»

real data are never that easy to read. In real life, other sources — from Earth’s atmosphere to the inner workings of the telescope itself — introduce wiggles, or “noise,” into that nice straight line. The bigger the wiggles, the less scientists believe that the dips represent interesting molecules. Any particular dip might instead be just a random, extra-large wiggle.

That problem gets even worse when looking at a bright object such as Venus with a powerful telescope like ALMA, says Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Cordiner uses ALMA to observe other objects in the solar system, like Saturn’s moon Titan, but was not involved in the Venus work.

“The reason those bumps and wiggles are here at all is because of the intrinsic brightness of Venus, which makes it difficult to get a reliable measurement,” Cordiner says. “You could think of it as being dazzled by a bright light: If there’s a bright light in your vision, then your ability to pick out fainter details becomes diminished.”

So astronomers do a few different things to smooth out the data and let real signals shine through. One strategy is to write an equation that describes the wiggles caused by the noise. Scientists can then subtract that equation from the data to highlight the signal they’re interested in, like fuzzing out the background of a photo to let a portrait subject pop. That’s a standard practice, says Cordiner.

But it’s possible to write an equation that fits the noise too well. The simplest equation one could use is just a straight line, also known as a first-order polynomial, described by the equation y=mx+b. A second-order polynomial adds a term with x squared, third-order with x cubed, and so on.

Greaves and colleagues used a twelfth-order polynomial, or an equation with twelve terms (plus a constant, the +b in the equation), to describe the noise in their ALMA data.

“That was a red flag that this needed to be looked at in more detail, and that the results of that polynomial fitting could be untrustworthy,” says Cordiner. Going all the way out to the power of 12 could mean a researcher subtracts more noise than is truly random, allowing them to find things in the data that aren’t really there.

«

Twelfth-order? That begins to feel like working back from the answer you want. So there’s a lot more doubt about whether that “phosphine on Venue” story is true at all.
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Two charged in SIM swapping, vishing scams • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

Two young men from the eastern United States have been hit with identity theft and conspiracy charges for allegedly stealing bitcoin and social media accounts by tricking employees at wireless phone companies into giving away credentials needed to remotely access and modify customer account information.

Prosecutors say Jordan K. Milleson, 21 of Timonium, Md. and 19-year-old Kingston, Pa. resident Kyell A. Bryan hijacked social media and bitcoin accounts using a mix of voice phishing or “vishing” attacks and “SIM swapping,” a form of fraud that involves bribing or tricking employees at mobile phone companies.

Investigators allege the duo set up phishing websites that mimicked legitimate employee portals belonging to wireless providers, and then emailed and/or called employees at these providers in a bid to trick them into logging in at these fake portals.

According to the indictment (PDF), Milleson and Bryan used their phished access to wireless company employee tools to reassign the subscriber identity module (SIM) tied to a target’s mobile device.

«

Still a lot easier than robbing a bank. Or defrauding people of their money.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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. Uncounted. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

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

Nicholas Thompson:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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

James Clayton:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.”

«

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:

»

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.”

«

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

»

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.”

«

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:

»

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.

«

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

»

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.

«

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:

»

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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