Start Up No.1497: the surprising price of net zero, how Gab got hacked, deep learning produces weird nostalgia, is microdosing fake?, and more

Rory McIlroy doesn’t like proposals to limit the length of golf clubs to reduce hitting distance. CC-licensed photo by Ed Balaun “supergolfdude” on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Not fungible. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Price of going net zero about to be driven home for Britons • Financial Times

Peter Foster:


Hitting the net zero target [set for 2050] will require sweeping changes in two key areas: transport, as the shift to electric cars accelerates, and buildings, where an overhaul is required to the way 30m homes are heated and insulated.

And the shift to low-carbon vehicles and swapping out of gas boilers for electric heat pumps presents the government with a series of delicate political and fiscal choices.

The projected cost is immense: the CCC estimates that annual capital spending largely by the private sector in greening the economy will peak at £50bn a year by 2030. That represents about one-eighth of current annual investment by the public and private sectors.

However, the CCC calculates that from the mid-2040s savings in operating spending — stemming in significant part from how it will be cheaper to run an electric car than a petrol-engine vehicle — will start to exceed the annual investment.

The greening of transport and homes will create winners and losers, and the government has yet to clarify where the cost burden will fall. The Treasury has said it will later this year publish a net zero review, setting out in more detail “how the costs of achieving net zero emissions are distributed”.

For transport, which the CCC estimates will require £11.4bn of average annual investment over the next 30 years, the political pathway is easier than for buildings, according to Josh Buckland, who was an adviser to former business secretary Greg Clark and is now at consultancy firm Flint Global.

“Transport is to some degree a solvable problem,” he said. “Consumers can buy cars through financing deals, and so don’t have to pay up front costs.”

Still, there are political potholes ahead. As the UK car fleet goes electric, the Treasury will need to find a way to recoup the £37bn a year it currently secures from carbon taxes, mostly fuel duty and vehicle excise duty.


That’s the really, really big question. Though total government spend in 2018/9 was £771bn, which doesn’t make it look that much.
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Rookie coding mistake prior to Gab hack came from site’s CTO • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


Over the weekend, word emerged that a hacker breached far-right social media website Gab and downloaded 70 gigabytes of data by exploiting a garden-variety security flaw known as an SQL injection. A quick review of Gab’s open source code shows that the critical vulnerability—or at least one very much like it—was introduced by the company’s chief technology officer.

The change, which in the parlance of software development is known as a “git commit,” was made sometime in February from the account of Fosco Marotto, a former Facebook software engineer who in November became Gab’s CTO. On Monday, Gab removed the git commit from its website.


SQLi is a decades-old hacking method, and one that everyone coding for a site allowing input should know to watch for and guard against. This is amateurish.
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MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia™, deep learning technology to animate the faces in still family photos • MyHeritage


Animate the faces in your family photos with amazing technology. Experience your family history like never before!

Free signup is required. Photos uploaded without completing signup are automatically deleted to protect your privacy.

The remarkable technology for animating photos was licensed by MyHeritage from D-ID, a company specializing in video reenactment using deep learning. MyHeritage integrated this technology to animate the faces in historical photos and create high-quality, realistic video footage. The Deep Nostalgia™ feature uses several drivers prepared by MyHeritage. Each driver is a video consisting of a fixed sequence of movements and gestures. Deep Nostalgia™ can very accurately apply the drivers to a face in your still photo, creating a short video that you can share with your friends and family. The driver guides the movements in the animation so you can see your ancestors smile, blink, and turn their heads. This really brings your photos to life!

The Deep Nostalgia™ feature requires a high-resolution face to apply the animation, but faces in historical photos tend to be small and blurry. That’s why we combined this feature with the MyHeritage Photo Enhancer, which brings blurry and low-resolution photos into focus by increasing their resolution and sharpening the faces that appear in them.


This must be the smartest recruitment drive ever: you can’t see the effects if you don’t sign up. (I stopped short of completion twice, because I just don’t need another email to unsubscribe from, and I don’t have any really old family photos.) But the effect is very impressive, while also spooky.
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Covid-19 vaccine passports: British public support for travel, gyms, care homes • Bloomberg

Katharine Gemmell:


Nearly a third of UK adults have had at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot. Now a wide majority of Britons support a controversial next step: so-called vaccine passports that would allow some to return to a more-normal life.

New data provided to Bloomberg by YouGov show that 65% of British people say they would support a document that would theoretically allow vaccinated people to return to workplaces, bars and even travel again before those who haven’t had their shots.

The poll found 76% support requiring proof of vaccination for people entering the UK from abroad as soon as possible, with 16% opposed to the idea. Support was broadly steady across the political spectrum, as well as among people who voted for or against Brexit.

The UK government is reviewing the idea of requiring proof of vaccine for certain activities, which is already becoming standard in Israel, another country leading the vaccination drive. The World Health Organization opposes requiring proof of immunization in part because it’s not clear whether vaccinated people can still spread the infection. And critics say a vaccine-passport system would be discriminatory and create an elite class of people with access to the shot.

In the UK, older people, who are more likely to be vaccinated, also were more in favour of requiring proof of vaccination than younger people, who would theoretically be more restricted if requirements were put in place soon.

For Britons aged 65 and above, 77% support the speedy rollout of vaccination passports within the UK, compared with 47% of those between the ages of 18 and 24.


Wouldn’t have thought anyone is suggesting this be introduced before every adult has had a shot – by the summer. It feels ineluctable: the demand will trickle down from care home staff to people in private hospitals and restaurants and the dam will break, and it’ll just be accepted, with some moaning from those who have been moaning about the imposition of lockdown, and the imposition of rules about masks.
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The benefits of microdosing might be down to the placebo effect • WIRED UK

Victoria Turk:


In 2018, volunteers with an interest in microdosing – regularly taking tiny amounts of psychedelic drugs such as LSD – began taking part in an unusual experiment. For four weeks, researchers at Imperial College London asked them to swap some of their drugs with empty capsules – placebos – so that when they took them, they didn’t know if they were microdosing or not. They then completed online surveys and cognitive tasks at regular intervals, aimed at gauging their mental wellbeing and cognitive abilities. The idea: to explore if microdosing produces the benefits to mood and brain function that some people claim.

In a paper published in the journal eLife, the researchers reveal their findings. After the month-long testing period, they found that all psychological outcomes had improved since the start of the experiment for those in the microdosing group, including “in the domains of wellbeing, mindfulness, life satisfaction and paranoia.” However, the same was true for the placebo group – with no significant differences between the two.

“So, in a way, microdosing did increase a lot of these psychological variables,” says Balazs Szigeti, a research associate at Imperial College London Centre of Psychedelic Research and the lead author of the study. “But so did taking placebos for four weeks.”


Placebos really are the wonder drug. They should try a double-blind trial where *both* arms get placebos, except one side is told placebos have lots of effects and the other is told they do nothing.
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Free-to-use ATMs vanishing at alarming rate, says Which? • Yahoo Finance

Vicky Shaw:


Free-to-use cash machines are vanishing at an alarming rate, according to Which?

The consumer group said its latest analysis suggests there has been a spike in the number of people forced to pay to withdraw their own money from ATMs.

Some of the most deprived areas, where people are more likely to depend on cash, have seen a significant shift from free-to-use dispensers to machines that generally charge up to £2 per withdrawal in recent years, Which? found.

Which? wants to see a “clear blueprint” on the future of cash. The Government has previously pledged to legislate on the issue.

Which? said that, since 2018, two Birmingham constituencies – Hall Green and Hodge Hill – have experienced 44% and 40% reductions respectively in free-to-use ATMs, and both have seen a 59% increase in pay-to-use machines. Nottingham East has seen 43% of free cash machines closed, but an 11% increase in pay-to-use machines, Which? said. It said all three locations are within the top 10% for deprivation in England.

ATMs are the most commonly-used means of withdrawing cash, with UK Finance figures showing 91% of cash withdrawals took place through cash machines in 2019.

While there are other options, such as cashback and counter withdrawals that may play a greater role in future, ATMs currently remain an important indicator of access levels, Which? said.


Cash is essential for those locked out of the contactless economy – which is a lot of those in poorer groups. The rise of paid machines is thus a double whammy on them.
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Pay cuts, taxes, child care: what another year of remote work will look like • WSJ

Chip Cutter and Emily Glazer:


Companies are anticipating another largely remote work year, and new questions about compensation and benefits are weighing on managers.

Discussions about the future of work, such as whether to reduce the salaries of employees who have left high-cost cities, are priority items in board meetings and senior executive sessions across industries, according to chief executives, board members and corporate advisers.

Among the questions companies are trying to resolve: who should shoulder tax costs as employees move to new locations while working remotely? And what is the most effective way to support working parents?

Companies say there is much at stake, from the happiness and productivity of employees to regulatory consequences, if they get these decisions wrong.

Employees’ relocations to new cities, states and countries have companies and workers grappling with tax concerns.

Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees last year that, beginning in January, the company would use its virtual private network, or VPN, that employees use to access company systems to determine where they were working for tax purposes. [The company ultimately decided not to.]

…The prolonged remote spell is putting pressure on companies to give parents more help with child care—while being careful not to rankle workers without dependents.


I don’t understand this last part. Those with dependents (well, children) have always been at a disadvantage in normal work environments: juggling responsibilities if a child is sick or school is out, or childcare is expensive, or the childcare ends before work does. Those without children honestly have no idea, and no grounds to feel rankled.
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A grizzled, months-old Chrome tab welcomes a fresh-faced new tab to my browser window • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Simon Henriques:


Yeah, I’ve seen things. Things I wish I could forget. I’ve seen a tab of Twitter get closed, then a new one opened right back up in its place. I’ve seen tabs get opened just to do a quick arithmetic problem in the search bar — then closed before they even got the chance to visit a single website. And don’t get me started on the bloodbaths they call crossword puzzles. Dozens of good, honest tabs opened just to look up some misspelled obscure proper noun, then closed in shame once they’ve helpfully suggested the right word. It’s a dangerous world out here. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll find some kind of peace amidst this chaos we call home.

Here, I’ll introduce you to some of the guys. On the end, that’s Gmail. He’s the only one been around longer’n me, and he’s not going anywhere. Practically invincible. This fella next to me has a page of upstate real estate listings that get refreshed every so often. We call him The Dreamer. And that’s Bank Web Portal. He’s sat idle so long that he’s auto-logged out. That’s a death sentence. As soon as he gets noticed, he’s a goner. Don’t stare, son.


Wonderful. Reminiscent of John Gruber’s “An Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal Interface Theme Shows Up for the WWDC Preview Build of Mac OS X Leopard“, from June 2007. (Via John Naughton.)
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Golf: McIlroy slams proposed rule changes to reduce hitting distance • Reuters

Reuters Staff:


Rory McIlroy has criticised golf’s lawmakers for considering changes to equipment that would tame the power of the game’s big hitters, saying the campaign is “a huge waste of time and money”.

The Royal and Ancient (R&A), in conjunction with the United States Golf Association (USGA), has proposed reducing driver shaft length to 46 inches from the current limit of 48.

Another “area of interest” for the R&A and USGA is for the potential use of local rules that would specify the use of clubs and/or balls, resulting in shorter distances.

The proposals are part of the latest updates to the Distance Insights Report published last February that said increased hitting distances changed the challenge of the game and risked making courses obsolete.

“I think the authorities are looking at the game through such a tiny little lens, that what they’re trying to do is change something that pertains to 0.1% of the golfing community,” four-times major champion McIlroy said.

“Ninety-nine% of the people that play this game play for enjoyment. They don’t need to be told what ball or clubs to use.”


McIlroy must know that the R&A has legislated again and again down the years on what things are and aren’t legal in the game. And other professional sports impose differences on the top levels – baseball players must use wood, not the aluminium bats used in lower leagues. Football pitches vary in size.

The reduction in shaft length from 48in to 46in would in theory reduce head velocity by, what, 4% (smaller radius), and so reduce the energy imparted to the ball by 8% (96% squared = 92%). Doesn’t that make the gap in favour of the big hitters even bigger, proportionally? (Via John Naughton.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1497: the surprising price of net zero, how Gab got hacked, deep learning produces weird nostalgia, is microdosing fake?, and more

  1. Sympathy For The Devil – the CTO of Hell speaks in his own defense (not linked to avoid potentially getting spam-trapped):

    “Hi HN! Great feedback here, as always.

    I can talk about the commit, and I can talk about the article.

    We were getting crushed with scaling from 3M to 30M visits a month, and every day was a 16 hour day. The site was falling over on a daily basis, and the performance of the home feed was atrocious. The APM traces were full of loops. The muting and blocking features were incurring tons of additional queries. As I remember it, one night I decided to write a SQL query to replace it. I believe I thought the values were already being sanitized, but I have no problem agreeing that I should’ve looked into that further and made sure. I’m not a rails dev, and I’m generally negative towards rails and ActiveRecord. I wrote SQL for many years in the past, and as the folks who went through my stackoverflow saw, I am not unaware of the importance of sanitizing user input. I’ve written much code that properly sanitized user input, in various languages.

    It’s really easy to imagine that Gab is a large company, considering the breadth of their platform and products, but you’d be shocked and impressed. It’s still really early days, like this is only Chapter 2 for us.. we’re growing and will keep getting better.

    This article is interesting to me for other reasons though: 1. there’s been no confirmation this commit was related to anything that has happened. and 2. the person who reached out to Ars with the story, a link to the commit and a quote, is a former co-worker with a personal grudge. I can only imagine the glee with which he wrote that email.

    For the last 2 days we were being extorted for nearly half a million dollars. I received a death threat today, first one ever. I think we’re doing something important. Go ahead with your code critiques.

    Have a great day,


  2. “I don’t understand this last part. Those with dependents (well, children) have always been at a disadvantage in normal work environments: juggling responsibilities if a child is sick or school is out, or childcare is expensive, or the childcare ends before work does. Those without children honestly have no idea, and no grounds to feel rankled.”

    I have every ground to feel rankled when one is demanding additional pay/benefits because one has spawned. I already deal with parents dragging their illnesses into the office because the refuse to take time off, I already deal with having to arrange meetings around school dropoff/childcare pickups, I already deal with all parent’s fundraising attempts.

    The fact that parents are now expecting a pay rise for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING absolutely rankles me.

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