Start Up No.1469: farewell frictionless president, what’s Apple’s AR plan?, Intel re-hires retired CPU architects, goodbye 16:9 laptops, and more


Facebook has asked its Oversight Board to decide whether Trump’s suspension from the site should continue. In golf terms? Driven it into the long grass. CC-licensed photo by Mark Morton on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Over the hump. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook sent its decision to ban Trump to its Oversight Board • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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Facebook said it would refer its decision to indefinitely suspend former president Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts to the oversight board, an independent Facebook-funded body composed of international experts that has the power to review — and potentially overturn — the company’s content decisions.

The referral would amount to the first major case for the board, which took the first spate of cases it would consider in December. It will also be a key test for a model of external governance for Silicon Valley’s decision-making, one that is being closely watched by experts and policymakers around the world.
The board, an idea first floated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018 and launched last year, is composed of 40 or so experts including a former prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and several law experts and rights advocates. About a quarter of the members are US-based. The board, which does not allow former Facebook employees to be members in what it says is an effort to preserve independence, has been criticized because it is still up to Facebook to approve its policy recommendations.

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This is the Oversight Board’s page to watch. They took on their first raft of cases at the beginning of December, and don’t seem to have adjudicated on any of them yet. I wouldn’t expect Mark Zuckerberg wants them to decide on Trump in any hurry either. Six months? A year? The longer the better for him, because he can truthfully say it’s out of his hands. In that respect, the “Oversight Board” is a stroke of genius. (It can’t, after all, overturn Facebook’s suspension of Trump in the two weeks before the inauguration. All it can do is suggest it reinstates him from “indefinite” suspension.)
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Farewell to the frictionless president • Margins

Adam Conner is theVP for Tech Policy at CAP Action and the Center for American Progress:

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We shouldn’t be surprised that Trump found himself addicted to Twitter. As Ben Smith wrote a few weeks ago in his New York Times column, “If you haven’t had the experience of posting something on social media that goes truly viral, you may not understand its profound emotional attraction. You’re suddenly the center of a digital universe, getting more attention from more people than you ever have. The rush of affirmation can be giddy, and addictive. And if you have little else to hold on to, you can lose yourself to it.” Trump was riding the ultimate frictionless optimized engagement Twitter experience: he rode it all the way to the presidency, and then he crashed the presidency into the ground.

Twitter almost certainly started to internalize the danger of this lack of friction in the last few years:not just from Trump but on the spread of mis- and disinformation generally. They took unprecedented and positive steps to literally limit their product functionality and introduce friction in an attempt to prevent the spread of disinformation and violence in the weeks before the election. 

Perhaps more than any other job in the world, you do not want the President of the United States to live in a frictionless state of posting. The Presidency is not meant to be a frictionless position, and the United States government is not a frictionless entity, much to the chagrin of many who have tried to change it. Prior to this administration, decisions were closely scrutinized for, at the very least, legality, along with the impact on diplomacy, general norms, and basic grammar. This kind of legal scrutiny and due diligence is also a kind of friction – one that we now see has a lot of benefits. 

…Twitter’s frictionless product experience is one that helped to foster the frictionless Presidency. Sure, Donald Trump was a unique user, and wielded the product in ways Twitter would have strongly preferred that he not. But did Trump use Twitter in any way other than the way it was designed? We’ll be living with the consequence of that product spec for a long, long time.

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Apple’s first headset to be niche precursor to eventual AR glasses • Bloomberg (via Hindustan Times)

Mark Gurman:

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The initial device has confronted several development hurdles and the company has conservative sales expectations, illustrating how challenging it will be to bring this nascent consumer technology to the masses. 

As a mostly virtual reality device, it will display an all-encompassing 3-D digital environment for gaming, watching video and communicating. AR functionality, the ability to overlay images and information over a view of the real world, will be more limited. Apple has planned to launch the product as soon as 2022, going up against Facebook’s Oculus, Sony’s PlayStation VR and headsets from HTC, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private plans. 

Apple’s typical playbook involves taking emerging consumer technology, such as music players, smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, and making it reliable and easy to use for everyone. This time, though, Apple isn’t looking to create an iPhone-like hit for its first headset. Instead, the company is building a high-end, niche product that will prepare outside developers and consumers for its eventual, more mainstream AR glasses. 

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I increasingly have the feeling that Gurman’s sources are all in the supply chain, and don’t really have any idea about what they’re talking about. They can figure out some of the purposes from what’s incorporated, but not really what the driving ideas are. The guesses about sales come from how big the factory bookings look like.

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New Intel CEO making waves: rehiring retired CPU architects • Anandtech

Dr. Ian Cutress:

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We’re following the state of play with Intel’s new CEO, Pat Gelsinger, very closely. Even as an Intel employee for 30 years, rising to the rank of CTO, then taking 12 years away from the company, his arrival has been met with praise across the spectrum given his background and previous successes. He isn’t even set to take his new role until February 15th, however his return is already causing a stir with Intel’s current R&D teams.

News in the last 24 hours, based on public statements, states that former Intel Senior Fellow Glenn Hinton, who lists being the lead architect of Intel’s Nehalem CPU core in his list of achievements, is coming out of retirement to re-join the company. (The other lead architect of Nehalem are Ronak Singhal and Per Hammerlund – Ronak is still at Intel, working on next-gen processors, while Per has been at Apple for five years.)

Hinton is an old Intel hand, with 35 years of experience, leading microarchitecture development of Pentium 4, one of three senior architects of Intel’s P6 processor design (which led to Pentium Pro, P2, P3), and ultimately one of the drivers to Intel’s Core architecture which is still at the forefront of Intel’s portfolio today. He also a lead microarchitect for Intel’s i960 CA, the world’s first super-scalar microprocessor. Hinton holds more than 90+ patents from 8 CPU designs from his endeavors. Hinton spent another 10+ years at Intel after Nehalem, but Nehalem is listed in many places as his primary public achievement at Intel.

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Is hiring old staff going to be the way to get Intel, which has clonked into the ditch, out of the ditch? Are they different people from the ones who got them into the ditch? I don’t have a good feeling about it.
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Why do we assume extraterrestrials might want to visit us? • Scientific American

Avi Loeb:

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It is presumptuous to assume that we are worthy of special attention from advanced species in the Milky Way. We may be a phenomenon as uninteresting to them as ants are to us; after all, when we’re walking down the sidewalk we rarely if ever examine every ant along our path.

Our sun formed at the tail end of the star formation history of the universe. Most stars are billions of years older than ours. So much older, in fact that many sunlike stars have already consumed their nuclear fuel and cooled off to a compact Earth-size remnant known as a white dwarf. We also learned recently that of order half of all sunlike stars host an Earth-size planet in their habitable zone, allowing for liquid water and for the chemistry of life.

Since the dice of life were rolled in billions of other locations within the Milky Way under similar conditions to those on Earth, life as we know it is likely common. If that is indeed the case, some intelligent species may well be billions of years ahead of us in their technological development. When weighing the risks involved in interactions with less-developed cultures such as ours, these advanced civilizations may choose to refrain from contact. The silence implied by Fermi’s paradox (“Where is everybody?”) may mean that we are not the most attention-worthy cookies in the jar.

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This seems to be a riposte to the New Yorker article from yesterday about extraterrestrials. It’s also pretty grouchy. Wouldn’t you want to take over a planet of ants?
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WhatsApp is at risk of losing its most loyal customers: Indian uncles and aunties • Rest Of World

Nilesh Christopher:

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For the last two years, Mala Jadwani, a 31-year-old teacher, has received daily messages from her 60-year-old chachi. On their family WhatsApp group, her aunt, who started using a smartphone a few years ago, posts classic older-relative content: garden-variety motivational quotes, prayer emojis, home remedies for body aches, and “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening” greetings accompanied by pictures of babies and roses. On days when her chachi’s messages were particularly prolific, Jadwani’s phone would freeze, forcing her to disable WhatsApp’s automatic photo download setting. 

But last week, her chachi’s WhatsApp messages suddenly stopped. 

Worried, Jadwani called her aunt. It turned out that she had read a chain of viral messages on WhatsApp, which falsely said the platform’s messaging system was no longer private. She was one of millions of users who received a push notification from WhatsApp earlier this month, explaining that the company was updating its privacy policy, mostly in superficial ways. After February 8, 2021, “you’ll need to accept these changes to continue using WhatsApp,” the update read. The thought of her WhatsApp messages being exposed frightened Jadwani’s aunt so much, she said, that she stopped sending messages on WhatsApp altogether. 

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What I find so fascinating about this story is the idea that the Indian uncles and aunties would be worried about Facebook spying on their messages – which are of course so anodyne. But here’s the fallout from the terrible messaging about the WhatsApp data sharing. And there’s no way WhatsApp gets them back.
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‘Gas is over’, EU bank chief says • EURACTIV.com

Kira Taylor:

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Europe needs to acknowledge that its future is no longer with fossil fuels, said the President of the European Investment Bank as he presented the bank’s 2020 results on Wednesday (20 January).

“To put it mildly, gas is over,” Dr Werner Hoyer said at a press conference on the EIB’s annual results.

“This is a serious departure from the past, but without the end to the use of unabated fossil fuels, we will not be able to reach the climate targets,” he added.

The EU aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and is expected to adopt a new carbon reduction target of -55% for 2030. However, gas has remained a grey area, with the  European Commission saying it will still be needed to help coal-reliant EU member states transition away from fossil fuels.

Under their climate bank roadmap published in 2020, the EIB plans to use 50% of its activity to support climate and environmental sustainability, unlocking €1 trillion for green funding by 2030. It will also ensure that all activity is aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Gas has limited support under the EIB’s climate roadmap. Only power plants emitting less than 250 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt-hour are currently eligible for support under the bank’s rules and the EIB intends to pursue its decarbonisation policy by phasing out all funding for fossil fuels before the end of the year.

Funding for large-scale heat production based on unabated oil, natural gas, coal or peat, upstream oil and gas production or traditional gas infrastructure will all be stopped by 1 January 2021, the EIB explained.

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Learning to love the spy in your living room • How To Measure Ghosts

Matt Locke:

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Like a lot of technology in the 50s and 60s, these [British TV detector] vans feel simultaneously futuristic, yet rooted in the everyday. The huge antennas and banks of TV screens speak of cutting edge technology networks, but the vans themselves are ordinary, usually seen doing more mundane tasks like taking school-kids to and from football matches. They are at once homely and strange – the very definition of uncanny. In his essay on the uncanny, Sigmund Freud uses the German word Unheimlich, which translates as ‘un-homely’. The TV Detector vans were definitely ‘un-homely’, creepy symbols of a paranoia that people had, and continue to have, about domestic technology – that we don’t just watch it, but it watches us back.

The story of how we’ve measured media audiences is, to a surprisingly large degree, a battle to find ways into our living rooms. Audiences became ghosts not because we disappeared, but because technology emerged that took media and culture into our private spaces.

Once we stopped going into a newsagent, bookstore, cinema or theatre to give someone money in return for culture, we became invisible. We stayed at home, and in order to continue making money, companies had to convince us to let them in (I’ll leave the obvious vampire reference to the reader).

The first device we let in our living rooms to measure us was the Audimeter, invented at MIT, but bought by Arthur C Nielsen to help grow his emerging radio measurement service. You’ll know if you’ve read my other newsletters that I’m fascinated by Nielsen, and think he’s the most influential, but overlooked, figure in the 20th Century.

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Matt has been investigating how TV audiences are measured, so yesterday’s piece about TV detector vans fitted right into his subject. Honestly, you’d almost think there was a sentient being behind the choice of links here.
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Goodbye and good riddance to the 16:9 aspect ratio • The Verge

Monica Chin:

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One of the biggest trends coming out of this year’s CES wasn’t something people will necessarily notice at first glance unless they look closely. After enduring years of cramped, “widescreen” laptop displays, it looks like we’re finally starting to say goodbye to the 16:9 aspect ratio.

An aspect ratio is the ratio of a display’s width to a display’s height (in that order). For example, a screen with a resolution of 500 x 500 would have an aspect ratio of 1:1. Think of it like simplifying a fraction: a 1080p screen has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, which divides down to 16:9.

The aspect ratios you’ll typically see on laptops are 16:9, 3:2, 16:10 (which, for whatever reason, is called 16:10 rather than 8:5), and (occasionally) 4:3. 16:9 is the most common option and also the one with the lowest amount of vertical space relative to its horizontal space.

If you have a modern Windows laptop, there’s a good chance your screen is 16:9. If you have a gaming laptop, its panel is almost certainly 16:9. (It’s unusual to find high refresh-rate panels with other proportions.) There are some notable exceptions: Microsoft’s Surface products have been 3:2 for quite some time, while Dell’s last few XPS 13 models and Apple’s MacBooks are already 16:10. But traditionally, Windows laptops like these have been few and far between.

16:9 screens are cramped — at least compared to other options. I usually can’t comfortably work in multiple windows side by side without zooming out or doing a ton of vertical scrolling, and when I’m multitasking in Chrome, the tabs get tiny very quickly. If you’re used to using a 16:9 screen and you try a 16:10 or 3:2 display of the same size, you probably won’t want to go back. You just have a lot more room, and it’s a much more efficient use of screen space.

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As the photos in the article show, the vertical difference is very noticeable. And most of us work in the vertical, not the horizontal.
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The conservative climate fear-mongering begins • HEATED

Emily Atkin:

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at Fox Business, columnist Phil Flynn asserted that 11,000 jobs had been lost because of Biden’s executive order [cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline permits]. “TC Energy [the company behind the pipeline, formerly known as TransCanada] said the Keystone XL was going to sustain more than 11,000 jobs in 2021 so we can start the Biden administration with a net negative 11,000 jobs job [sic] is lost,” he wrote. “Not bad for your first day.”

Fox Business followed up with a full news story, too, claiming Biden’s order “will kill thousands of American jobs.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board chimed in as well. Citing a vague “source,” it said TC Energy and unions “tried to persuade the Biden team by explaining Keystone’s benefits to progressives, including 10,000 American union construction jobs,” but were rebuffed. Thus, the WSJ said, “TC announced layoffs on Wednesday.”

“On day one Mr. Biden has already managed to kill high-paying, working-class jobs,” the WSJ editorial board wrote. It added that America should “expect many more losses” as Biden rebuilds the environmental regulatory regime Trump dismantled. It said cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline would not even “matter to the climate.” Then, it warned Biden’s “climate panic” would “trump nearly everything else in his Administration.”

It’s a revealing window into how Republicans and the fossil fuel industry plan to fight the new president’s climate efforts: By lying to the public about the enormous threat climate change poses to the economy and human life, while whipping them into a frenzy about the loss of temporary construction jobs that do not yet exist.

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The reality is that the pipeline, once built, would support about 35 jobs directly; the jobs cited would be temporary, and there’s nobody in them at present (because the pipeline isn’t built, and a number of states haven’t given their own form of permit).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1469: farewell frictionless president, what’s Apple’s AR plan?, Intel re-hires retired CPU architects, goodbye 16:9 laptops, and more

  1. The bizarre tradition of describing screen sizes by the diagonal measurement alone probably contributed to the preponderance of 16:9 screens as companies could market their devices as a certain size whilst offering the minimum usable screen space – thus saving on cost.

    3:2 seems the golden ration to me – it certainly worked for 35mm film.

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