Start Up No.1468: QAnon baffled by Biden, AirPods Max one month in, Google and Apple zap Wimkin, FOAD Ajit Pai, and more


TV detector vans didn’t hide what they did; part of the idea was to scare you into paying. CC-licensed photo by kitmasterbloke on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Sometimes going forward requires reversing. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

QAnon believers struggle with Biden’s inauguration • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

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Followers of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, have spent weeks anticipating that Wednesday would be the “Great Awakening” — a day, long foretold in QAnon prophecy, when top Democrats would be arrested for running a global sex trafficking ring and President Trump would seize a second term in office.

But as President Biden took office and Mr. Trump landed in Florida, with no mass arrests in sight, some believers struggled to harmonize the falsehoods with the inauguration on their TVs.

Some QAnon believers tried to rejigger their theories to accommodate a transfer of power to Mr. Biden. Several large QAnon groups discussed on Wednesday the possibility that they had been wrong about Mr. Biden, and that the incoming president was actually part of Mr. Trump’s effort to take down the global cabal.

“The more I think about it, I do think it’s very possible that Biden will be the one who pulls the trigger,” one account wrote in a QAnon channel on the messaging app Telegram.
Others expressed anger with QAnon influencers who had told believers to expect a dramatic culmination on Inauguration Day.

“A lot of YouTube journalists have just lost one hell of a lot of credibility,” wrote a commenter in one QAnon chat room.

Still others attempted to shift the goal posts, and simply told their fellow “anons” to hang on and wait for future, unspecified developments.

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I’m utterly fascinated by how quickly and how widely this is going to unravel. As things keep on not happening, and Biden keeps on being president, it will be impossible for them to pretend that it’s Just About To Happen, because the not-having-happened gets larger all the time. Yet conspiracy theories built around End Dates have an amazing resilience. This will be the story Roose and others will track over the next year.
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AirPods Max one-month review: heavy, pricey and not worth it • WIRED UK

Jeremy White:

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AirPods Max pair effortlessly to an iPhone and are about as intuitive to control as headphones get. The sound is superb – more of that below – and that quality build leaves you in no doubt whatsoever that Apple wants you to feel like these are an expensive bit of kit. The colour choices of silver, space grey, sky blue, pink or green are all tasteful.

The 20 hours or so of listening time on a single charge with noise cancellation on is sufficient (this is about the same as the Sony XM4s) and five minutes of charge gets an extra 1.5 hours of listening time. But note there’s no wireless charging, and, as they are never off (the headphones go into standby when taken off and into an “ultra-low-power state” in the Smart Case), you will notice the battery levels dropping between uses.

Making and taking calls is also a joy thanks to three microphones. One mic in the left ear cup works with two of the noise cancellation mics to enhance your voice during calls. The H1 chip is brought into play to discern your voice versus background noise, while one of the mics also suppresses wind noise.

Park all the good listed above, there are a number of issues, too. The first being weight. Remember that headband open-knit mesh canopy to distribute weight? Well, it is designed to reduce the pressure on the top of your head. It is very clever, and initially works well. But the key point here is why should it be needed at all? It’s needed because AirPods Max are heavy. They feel heavy, and wear heavy. Apple headphones come in at 384.8g. By comparison, the Sony XM4s weigh just 254g.

The mesh fools you just long enough to initially think you don’t mind the considerable heft of the Maxes. But walk around with these on for 30 minutes and you start to know you’re wearing them. This should not happen. And you cannot get lost in music or a podcast if you are constantly being reminded of the tech on your head. Perhaps worse still, on occasion the Maxes even started to get uncomfortable during longer sessions well past the hour mark.

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So reduce the weight and they’re golden.
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Google Play suspends Wimkin, citing posts calling for violence • WSJ

David Uberti:

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Alphabet Inc.’s Google has removed the small social-media site Wimkin from its Google Play store, joining Apple Inc. in cutting the app’s reach amid a broader effort to rein in misleading or potentially harmful content.

Google suspended Wimkin from its app store Monday night, a company spokesman said, citing posts that called for violence against liberals. The posts violated rules barring apps from hosting what Google deems inappropriate content, the spokesman said.

“We don’t allow apps that depict or facilitate gratuitous violence or other dangerous activities,” the Google spokesman said.

The suspension is the latest move by tech companies since the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot to more aggressively moderate conspiracy theories on the presidential election or calls for violence.

Apple suspended the roughly 300,000-user Wimkin from its App Store last week over such posts, according to Wimkin Founder Jason Sheppard and records of his correspondence with Apple viewed by the Wall Street Journal. Apple’s correspondence cited posts urging users to start a civil war and arrest Vice President Mike Pence, which Wimkin’s content moderators removed.

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Notable how these small social networks are getting kicked right and left over moderation. But Twitter and Facebook? They’re too big to act against.
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Gigantic asshole Ajit Pai is officially gone. Good riddance (time of your life) • Vice

Matthew Gault:

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Ajit Pai, the man who killed net neutrality, enacted a series of industry-friendly deregulatory moves for big telecom, and drank from a gigantic mug, is no longer around to terrorize the internet. The FCC confirmed to Motherboard that Pai is officially gone:

“Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai today concluded his four years as Chairman, eight years as a Commissioner, and twelve years as an employee of the agency,” the agency said.

His official FCC Twitter account, where he antagonized people who criticized him, has been deleted. 

Pai stood out among the sea of Trump’s corrupt political employees because he was effective and he survived the entire administration. The former Verizon lawyer fought against net neutrality and won, then danced the Harlem Shake on its grave in one of the biggest cringe videos ever posted online.

“By the time I turn in my badge, I will have spent a total 4,557 days working here,” Pai said in a goodbye video posted to his personal Twitter account. That’s almost 4,500 days of a giant coffee cup, embarrassing posts, and bad policy.

…Here is a list of harmful nonsense Pai and his FCC did over the last four years:

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The list is way, way too long to include here, but it’s quite the list. Pai was, like so much of the Trump administration, the complete opposite of helpful and constructive for the consumer.
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TV detector vans once prowled the streets of England • Hackaday

Lewin Day:

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The vans were first deployed in 1952, with equipment designed to pick up the magnetic field from the horizontal deflection scanning of the picture tube, at 10.125 KHz. Loop antennas were used to detect the second harmonic of this signal at 20.25 KHz, which was mixed with a local beat frequency oscillator at 19.25 KHz to create a 1 KHz tone to indicate to the operator when a signal was picked up. Three antennas were used, one on the front of the van and two on the rear on the left and right sides. When the van was next to an operating television in a house, the signal between the front and side antenna would be roughly the same. Signal from the right and left antennas could then be compared to determine which side of the street the television was on.

Once ITV started broadcasting in 1963, this method of detection became impractical. The two television stations did not synchronise their line-scan signals, so neighbouring houses watching different channels would create confusing interference for the detector. To get around this, the vans switched to detecting the local oscillator of the TV set’s superheterodyne VHF receiver instead. With stations broadcasting on bands spanning 47 to 240 MHz, it was impractical at the time to build a tuner and antenna to cover this entire range. Instead, the equipment was designed to work from 110-250MHz tuning in the fundamental frequencies of the higher bands, or the harmonics of the lower frequency oscillators. A highly directional antenna was used to hone in on a set, and a periscope was installed to allow the operator to view the house the antenna was pointing at. If operating in the dark, the periscope could instead be used to shine a small dot of light in the direction of the antenna’s facing, to identify the relevant target. Results were cross-referenced with a list of houses with lapsed or absent licences to help hunt down evaders.

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But then, as he points out, we enter the modern era of flat-screen TVs without CRTs. So how do they “detect” you now? Day makes a good attempt to explain what might be inexplicable.
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Why the hell do they still make car alarms? • Popular Mechanics

Alexander George:

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I asked automakers how the alarms on their 2016 models work. Generally, the only way they trigger is if the car has been locked and the doors are opened from the inside—that is, if someone breaks the window and opens the door from the inside handle, then it’ll sound. That’s a big change from cars a few years back. Davis Adams, who works at Honda and drives an S2000, told me about a Lotus Elise he used to own that had a motion sensor. “If you locked the door, and moved your hand in the open air,” he said, “the alarm would go off. So if you left a dog in the car, or someone leaned in the open convertible to look, it’d trigger the alarm.”

If you’ve been hearing fewer errant car alarms lately, there’s a reason. Back in the early 2000s, advocacy groups took legal action to make alarms less sensitive and quieter. Manufacturers have since, it seems, taken heed. “My impression is that there are far fewer false alarms now, and that this started around that same time, when the [New York] City Council held some hearings on the issue,” says Professor Mateo Taussig-Rubbo of SUNY Buffalo Law School. He authored a 2003 paper called The Case for Banning Car Alarms in New York City. “I would speculate that the industry, especially the aftermarket sector, which may have had more problems, made the alarms less sensitive in order to get out ahead of any potential legislation,” he says. Mercifully, that seems to be correct, (though you can still find it in some cars like the 2015 Escalade).

No one steals radios anymore, and cars have gotten impossible to steal (except via sophisticated hacking), which brings us to a wonderfully evolved era where, it seems, we’ve stifled some noise pollution, and gotten rid of something that doesn’t work. Now, if only we can get ambulances and fire trucks to be less deafening.

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Very true. And welcome.
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LG considers exiting smartphones in 2021 • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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LG is considering exiting the smartphone market in 2021. After losing around $4.5bn over the past five years, LG’s smartphone business has been struggling to compete with rivals. Now LG CEO Kwon Bong-seok has notified employees that the company is considering making big changes to its smartphone business.

The Korea Herald reports that Kwon Bong-seok sent out an internal memo to staff on Wednesday, hinting at a change in direction for LG’s phone business. “Since the competition in the global market for mobile devices is getting fiercer, it is about time for LG to make a cold judgment and the best choice,” says an LG official in a statement to The Korea Herald. “The company is considering all possible measures, including sale, withdrawal and downsizing of the smartphone business.”

LG confirmed the internal memo was genuine in a statement to The Verge, noting that nothing has been decided yet. “LG Electronics management is committed to making whatever decision is necessary to resolve its mobile business challenges in 2021,” says an LG spokesperson. “As of today, nothing has been finalized.”

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I guess LG could just about suggest that because it makes display panels, the discipline of making phones helps (Sony has a similar idea about its camera sensors and its lossmaking smartphone division). In both cases they’re fooling themselves. This move by LG is years late. The question of why big companies are bad at making big decisions must be one for the management books.
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Have we already been visited by aliens? • The New Yorker

Elizabeth Kolbert on the controversy, ongoing, about ‘Oumuamua, the cigar-shaped object that whistled through the solar system in 2017, leading one scientist to insist it’s an alien artefact:

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was “Chariots of the Gods?,” by Erich von Däniken. The premise of the book, which was spun off into the TV documentary “In Search of Ancient Astronauts,” narrated by Rod Serling, was that Fermi’s question had long ago been answered. “They” had already been here. Von Däniken, a Swiss hotel manager turned author who for some reason in the documentary was described as a German professor, argued that aliens had landed on Earth sometime in the misty past. Traces of their visits were recorded in legends and also in artifacts like the Nazca Lines, in southern Peru. Why had people created these oversized images if not to signal to beings in the air?

I figured that von Däniken would be interested in the first official interstellar object, and so I got in touch with him. Now 85, he lives near Interlaken, not far from a theme park he designed, which was originally called Mystery Park and then later, after a series of financial mishaps, rebranded as Jungfrau Park. The park boasts seven pavilions, one shaped like a pyramid, another like an Aztec temple.

Von Däniken told me that he had, indeed, been following the controversy over ‘Oumuamua. He tended to side with Loeb, who, he thought, was very brave.

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The detail in this story that I found amazing: Von Däniken is still alive. And is only 85. Though if he’d called his book “Cigars Of The Gods” it might not have sold so well.
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Inexpensive battery charges rapidly for electric vehicles, reduces range anxiety • Penn State University

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Range anxiety, the fear of running out of power before being able to recharge an electric vehicle, may be a thing of the past, according to a team of Penn State engineers who are looking at lithium iron phosphate batteries that have a range of 250 miles with the ability to charge in 10 minutes.

“We developed a pretty clever battery for mass-market electric vehicles with cost parity with combustion engine vehicles,” said Chao-Yang Wang, William E. Diefenderfer Chair of mechanical engineering, professor of chemical engineering and professor of materials science and engineering, and director of the Electrochemical Engine Center at Penn State. “There is no more range anxiety and this battery is affordable.”

The researchers also say that the battery should be good for 2 million miles in its lifetime.

They report today (Jan. 18) in Nature Energy that the key to long-life and rapid recharging is the battery’s ability to quickly heat up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius), for charge and discharge, and then cool down when the battery is not working.

“The very fast charge allows us to downsize the battery without incurring range anxiety,” said Wang.

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Also doesn’t contain cobalt. No word on when it might reach the market, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1468: QAnon baffled by Biden, AirPods Max one month in, Google and Apple zap Wimkin, FOAD Ajit Pai, and more

  1. Based on other batteries, it will take about five years, assuming that they haven’t already done some test batches for mass production. If they have, then knock 2 years off the list. It’s the mass production part which always puts heed to these improvements.

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