Start Up No.1484: Clubhouse’s uncancel culture, Steve Jobs’s keynote producer speaks, two masks better, why lockdown sceptics fail, and more

A cosmic ray helped a gamer produce an unrepeatably fast time on a speedrun – a one-in-a-trillion event CC-licensed photo by Lox & Cream Cheese on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. No, you’re on mute. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Who gets cancelled on Clubhouse? • UnHerd

Gavin Haynes:


In purely commercial terms, ugly, fractious environments are lousy for business. Everyone would like to create the next Instagram. Filtered pictures of clean-eating Zoomers in yoga pants equals a place to advertise $1,000 handbags. No one wants to create the next reddit. Incels looking to hive-mind some new social Darwinism equals a space to advertise brain pills and male sex toys.

Clubhouse, then, seeks to address the main issues of the last decade’s social technology. For starters, it responds to what Twitter does badly: allowing aggression, of the “you’d never actually say that to someone’s face” variety, and tames it, by forcing you to actually say that to someone’s… voice, at least. The rooms are moderated, and at this stage moderators hold the power of life and death: not only can they boot you out, they are entitled to delete your entire profile.

In the same way, the fear of the offence archivists is supposed to be mitigated by the sense that the “rooms” operate under informal Chatham House-like rules. No recording is permitted — that’s in the terms and conditions — and it’s physically impossible to record within the app. This is the same system that allowed Snapchat to grab a younger generation, who sought intimacy without permanency.

…Clubhouse, on the other hand, removes the poison hand of the algorithm from the system, by making rooms curated entities: a human creates one, and other humans join it. No upvotes involved.

But without a decent mechanism to pre-sift content, discovery is haphazard at best. Mostly, you’re left ambling the hallways, poking around groups called things like “Why do people fetishize wealth and the wealthy”, “We’re 35+ Why Aren’t We Allowed To Age Gracefully”, “Let Men Cheat I Don’t See The Problem”. It’s a bit like going behind the velvet rope at an exclusive VIP zone, only to find it peopled entirely by those with nothing to say.

Perhaps because of the strong network effects of an invite-only policy, the site’s early adopters seem to be the worst meeting of minds since Molotov shook hands with von Ribbentrop. They divide neatly into five categories: Bitcoin bros, Silicon Valley types, “digital nomads”. Online marketing ‘gurus’, wannabe influencers, failing musicians, pluggers. American women trading low-rent love advice (“What y’all getting ya men for V Day”). Empowerment ‘gurus’ (strong crossover with all three other groups), shilling bromides about believing in yourself (“Happiness Advice from HAPPY Millionaires”.) And Eric Weinstein.


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Black doctors work overtime to combat Clubhouse Covid myths • Bloomberg

William Turton:


Fagbuyi is just one of dozens of Black doctors and medical professionals who have taken it upon themselves to counter Covid-19 misinformation, which has proliferated on the app alongside the surge in new users. Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, where the companies have tried to impose rules on objectionable content, Clubhouse leaves the moderation to the app’s users, who control who gets to speak in certain rooms.

Medical professionals of many backgrounds are on Clubhouse too. Some of them, like Fagbuyi, are racing to dispel disinformation. But the effort has taken on added urgency among Black medical professionals, according to several of the participants and researchers. They said Clubhouse has become so popular and influential in the Black community that false claims about Covid-19 and its vaccines can’t be ignored.

“Black people are acting as first responders in the disinformation crisis,” said Erin Shields, a national field organizer at MediaJustice, a social justice non-profit. Some of the medical professionals said they have been bullied and harassed for their efforts.

Clubhouse declined to comment.

Fagbuyi, a former biodefense and public health expert at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said friends urged him to start using the app to counter the false claims. Clubhouse users were spreading conspiracy theories about 5G technology being linked to the virus and about the safety of the vaccine, they told him.

…Fagbuyi said some users have accused him of being secretly paid by the government to promote the vaccine. “There’s a learning curve to using the app,” he said. “Going in on a suicide mission is not necessary.”


Gosh, abuse and misinformation. But Tyler Cowen assured us yesterday – in an opinion piece for Bloomberg – that this wouldn’t happen. A day is a long time in social media. Plus it’s a privacy nightmare.
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The man who produced Steve Jobs’ keynotes for 20 years • Cake

“Chris” interviews Wayne Goodrich, who produced every Steve Jobs keynote for 20 years:


Chris: How much time went into preparing the iPhone demo?

Goodrich: Quite a lot! That’s the thing, no other CEO would have imagined spending the time Steve invested in his keynotes. For the most important ones, we started 3 or so months out. He would run the company until maybe 2:00 pm and then spend a few hours with me. Then he may start in again in the evening, me at my house and him at his, and we’d stay up until midnight. Sometimes we’d be at it again at 6 am. 

I saw part of my job—and Steve never knew this—as managing his emotional ramp to the event. I’ve even described my job much like being a product manager. There were all kinds of things that could mess that up: the product timing, or the photos that were taken weren’t good enough, or he had a bad day, or we didn’t have all the assets he needed… or at times too many! 

With movies, you never want anything to affect suspension of belief. You want your audience to stay in that magical moment and not think about how things are done.  With the iPhone, we wanted to show that if you rotate your phone to landscape mode, the photo would automatically rotate too. But we were not projecting a video of the actual iPhone that Steve was holding in his hand, only the video from the iPhone. That would have made it shaky on the big screen with distracting reflections.

So we showed a graphic of an iPhone, to look like the Keynote slides, and projected Steve’s demo iPhone screen into the exact right position in the graphic. The trick was that when Steve rotated the iPhone to landscape mode, the right thing to do to keep customers in the moment was to rotate the iPhone graphic with its inserted video feed rotating in sync as well. But how?

It took a month for one of the brilliant Apple engineers to work out how to do this. It looked natural to the audience and no one had to think about how it happened. 

When Steve saw this happen he first time, he knew it’d be magic and it had to be shown live. He rotated it back and forth several times in his demo and no one ever questioned what they were seeing because it looked exactly they way it should.  

If I remember, the internal estimate of the marketing power of the iPhone demo Steve did that day was in excess of $1 billion of PR spend from demo until we shipped.


Amazing. From 2018, but evergreen. Never knew that detail about the rotation; no doubt there are many more. (Another piece on Jobs’s keynote preparation: Behind the magic curtain, from January 2006.)
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Despite scanning millions with facial recognition, Feds caught zero imposters at airports last year • OneZero

Dave Gershgorn:


US Customs and Border Protection scanned more than 23 million people with facial recognition technology at airports, seaports, and pedestrian crossings in 2020, the agency recently revealed in its annual report on trade and travel.

The agency scanned four million more people than in 2019. The report indicates that the system caught no imposters traveling through airports last year and fewer than 100 new pedestrian imposters.

Since the agency started public tracking statistics in 2018, it has only caught seven imposters trying to enter the United States through airports, and 285 attempting to do so over land crossings. These facial recognition scans are the result of CBP partnerships with more than 30 points of entry to the US.


OK, but how many imposto/ers does the CBP thing normally try to come into the US? Surely that’s a pretty important number. The CBP annual report says that since 2018 it has caught seven at airports and 285 in the “land pedestrian environment” – which I suspect means the Mexico border, as with this case in El Paso, Texas. (There were a lot of people being caught with bad documents then.) I suspect airports don’t get many impostors because travellers have already gone through a passport check at the boarding side.
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How an ionizing particle from outer space helped a Mario speedrunner save time • The Gamer

Gavin Burtt:


Normally, a player must bump into a ceiling with the edge of their hitbox, while a grabbable ceiling is directly above them, higher up. The game will see that Mario is touching a ceiling and that there is a grabbable ceiling above him, so it will think Mario is grabbing that higher grabbable ceiling, warping him up to it. [The player] DOTA_Teabag was simply landing on a platform, not touching any ceilings, and got up-warped for seemingly no reason.

In the glitch hunt that would follow, numerous speedrunners [link added – CA] and glitch-hunters tried their hands at replicating this glitch. Hunters matched the inputs of DOTA_Teabag down to the frame in emulators in order to try and pull it off and claim the large prize, but to no avail. But why was nobody able to pull it off, even when replicating exactly the inputs that DOTA_Teabag had used? Simple: this glitch requires a phenomenon known as a single-event upset, which is very much out of any player’s control.

A single-event upset is a change of a binary state in a bit – either from a 0 to a 1, or vice versa – caused by an ionizing particle colliding with a sensitive microelectronic device. This occurs because of a discharge in the storage elements (the memory bits) after a free charge is created by ionization of the particle near the node. Cosmic particles that enter the Earth’s atmosphere will collide with atmospheric atoms, leading to a sort of rain of protons and neutrons which can affect electronic devices they contact. While most of the time, the effects are barely noticeable, as the bit affected may not be of huge importance, this case here was very noticeable.

During the race, an ionizing particle from outer space collided with DOTA_Teabag’s N64, flipping the eighth bit of Mario’s first height byte. Specifically, it flipped the byte from 11000101 to 11000100, from “C5” to “C4”. This resulted in a height change from C5837800 to C4837800, which by complete chance, happened to be the exact amount needed to warp Mario up to the higher floor at that exact moment. This was tested by pannenkoek12 – the same person who put up the bounty – using a script that manually flipped that particular bit at the right time, confirming the suspicion of a bit flip.


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The CDC says tight-fit masks or double masking increases protection • The New York Times

Roni Caryn Rabin and Sheryl Gay Stolberg:


Wearing a mask — any mask — reduces the risk of infection with the coronavirus, but wearing a more tightly fitted surgical mask, or layering a cloth mask atop a surgical mask, can vastly increase protections to the wearer and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.

New research by the agency shows that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5% if both an infected individual and an uninfected individual wear tightly fitted surgical masks or a cloth-and-surgical-mask combination.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the C.D.C., announced the findings during Wednesday’s White House coronavirus briefing, and coupled them with a plea for Americans to wear “a well-fitting mask” that has two or more layers.

…“Any mask is better than none,” said Dr. John Brooks, lead author of the new C.D.C. study. “There are substantial and compelling data that wearing a mask reduces spread, and in communities that adopt mask wearing, new infections go down.”

…One option for reducing transmission is to wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask, the agency said. The alternative is to fit the surgical mask more tightly on the face by “knotting and tucking” — that is, knotting the two strands of the ear loops together where they attach to the edge of the mask, then folding and flattening the extra fabric at the mask’s edge and tucking it in for a tighter seal.


(Thanks G for the link.)
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Apple partners with TSMC to develop ultra-advanced displays • Nikkei Asia

Lauly Li and Cheng Ting-Fang:


Apple has partnered with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) to develop ultra-advanced display technology at a secretive facility in Taiwan, Nikkei Asia learned.

The California tech giant plans to develop micro OLED displays — a radically different type of display built directly onto chip wafers — with the ultimate goal of using the new technology in its upcoming augmented reality devices, sources briefed on the matter said.

Apple is collaborating with its longtime chip supplier TSMC because micro OLED displays are not built on glass substrates like the conventional LCD screens in smartphones and TVs, or OLED displays used in high-end smartphones. Instead, these new displays are built directly onto wafers — the substrates that semiconductors are fabricated on — allowing for displays that are far thinner and smaller and use less power, making them more suitable for use in wearable AR devices, according to sources familiar with the projects.

The project represents a further deepening of Apple’s relationship with TSMC, the sole supplier of iPhone processors, even as the U.S. tech giant works to reduce its reliance on other major suppliers. The Taiwanese chipmaking giant is also helping Apple build its in-house designed central processors for Mac computers.

The micro OLED project is now at the trial production stage, sources said, and it will take several years to achieve mass production. The displays under development are less than 1 inch in size.

“Panel players are good at making screens bigger and bigger, but when it comes to thin and light devices like AR glasses, you need a very small screen,” said a source who has direct information on the micro OLED R&D project.


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Apple redirects Google Safe Browsing traffic through its own proxy servers to prevent disclosing users’ IP addresses to Google in iOS 14.5 • The 8 Bit

Taha Broach:


Google Safe Browsing is a security service created by Google that checks whether a website is malicious. When you access a website on the desktop version of Chrome on your Mac or PC, for instance, Google Safe Browsing checks if a website is safe to browse and displays a warning accordingly. The user ultimately has the choice, however.

As Reddit user u/jaydenkieran explains, Apple uses Google Safe Browsing when you enable “Fraudulent Website Warning” within the Safari settings in the Settings app on iPhone or iPad.

According to Google, its Safe Browsing system works by scanning sections of Google’s web index and “identifying potentially compromised websites.” Then, Google tests those websites by using a virtual machine to check if the website compromises the system. If it does, it’s added to Google’s online database. Google also identifies phishing websites by using statistical models.

According to Apple, before visiting a website, Safari may send hashed prefixes of the URL (Apple terms it “information calculated from the website address”) to Google Safe Browsing to check if there’s a match.

Since Apple uses a hashed prefix, Google cannot learn which website the user is trying to visit. Up until iOS 14.5, Google could also see the IP address of where that request is coming from. However, since Apple now proxies Google Safe Browsing traffic, it further safeguards users’ privacy while browsing using Safari.


I’m not entirely sure what the benefit to the user is here. So Google knows that you’re trying to reach a malicious site? Is that particularly bad? Apple is certainly covering all the crevices here. I guess Google has a record of trying to find ways around blocks that Apple puts in the way. (Via Counternotions.)
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Lockdown scepticism shows the limits of post-truth politics •

Ian Dunt:


There’s not much good to be said about lockdown scepticism. It is an ethical abyss, a testament to how certain commentators and politicians will allow their need for attention to overrule even the most rudimentary of moral standards. But it has at least achieved one useful thing: it demonstrates the limitations of post-truth politics.

This approach to politics has defined the last few years of British debate. It burst into the open during the Brexit referendum and dominated the way it played out afterwards. It didn’t matter how many experts pointed out that customs borders required checks on goods or how many studies were released demonstrating that friction in trade would reduce its flow. Hardline proponents of Brexit in parliament and the press simply dismissed it.

Lockdown scepticism functions in the same way. It has various levels of severity, from mild to outright lunacy…

…In the country at large, there is very little distinction on lockdown views on the basis of the Leave/Remain divide. A Kantar Public Voice survey found no difference in lockdown compliance according to people’s EU referendum vote. A recent YouGov poll found that Remainers were only slightly more supportive of tougher government action. But the most forceful anti-lockdown writers, broadcasters and politicians are all Brexiters and they have deployed the exact same form of argument used during the Brexit debate.

Except this time it isn’t getting the desired result. It’s like watching an old man use the same chat-up lines he deployed in his youth and finding out they don’t work anymore. The reasons for this are simple and they give a decent indication of the limits of a post-truth discourse. They’re about the speed and spread of refutation.

Brexit was a liar’s charter. You could say whatever you wanted, safe in the knowledge that it would only be disproved years from now. …Covid isn’t so easily smudged. It is a direct and immediate link of claim and empirical verification. Each day, we get new data on infections and deaths. We do not have to wait years to see the effect of policies. And they are not spread out – they are concentrated in a set of basic numbers.


It has been noticeable that the anti-lockdown stuff has been getting so little traction more widely. Aside from TalkRadio, which seems to be a hotbed of denial, and pockets of the Daily Telegraph (which turns out not to be that influential). People intuit that lockdowns work for an airborne infection.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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