Start Up No.1505: the deepfake cheerleader mom, electric charging grows up, NFT auction mystery deepens, Adobe’s “Enhance” really does, and more


The beautiful, classic lines of the compact cassette were invented by the late Lou Ottens. CC-licensed photo by Scott Schiller on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Could Phil Dunphy help? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Woman created ‘deepfake’ videos to force rivals off daughter’s cheerleading squad: police • pennlive.com

Jana Benscoter:

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Police arrested a 50-year-old Bucks County woman March 10 for sending her teen daughter’s cheerleading coaches fake photos and videos depicting her rivals naked, drinking, or smoking, to try to get them kicked off the squad, according to media reports.

Raffaela Spone, of Chalfont, was charged with two misdemeanors, Hilltown Township Police officers said. Spone is facing three counts of cyber harassment of a child and three counts of harassment.

An investigation last year led officers to discover that Spone had sent harassing text messages directly to the teenagers as well, police said. As the investigation continued, more teenagers came forward, who were all part of a traveling cheerleading group — Victory Vipers — based in the Doylestown area.

“Spone last year created the doctored images of at least three members,” according to the affidavit. There were no indications that Spone’s daughter knew what her mother was doing.

The teenagers told officers Spone sent them “manipulated images,” and in an anonymous message, said that Spone “urged them to kill themselves,” Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Hilltown police were contacted by one of the teenager’s parents in July, and then two more families came forward with a similar account. They told officers they and their coaches received text messages that depicted them naked, drinking, and smoking a vape, according to the Philly Inquirer.

Some of the teenagers were “sent photos of themselves in bikinis, with accompanying text saying the subjects were “drinking at the shore,” court records show.

The videos were analyzed, and detectives were able to determine they were “deepfakes” — digitally altered but realistic-looking images — created by mapping the girls’ social media photos onto other images, the Philly Inquirer reported.

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Well, I guess it’s really out of the lab now. She doesn’t seem (based on a search) to be any great computer whiz.
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Great news for the UK’s electric-vehicle driving community (which will soon be all of us) • Status-Q

Quentin Stafford-Fraser (who has been driving an EV since 2015 – doughty soul):

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Ecotricity still maintained the monopoly on the motorway service stations, so the places where you needed the fastest and best chargers had the slowest and the worst.

Until now.

Yesterday, there was an announcement that this monopoly was going to end.

And today, joint announcements from Ecotricity and Gridserve say that they’re going to collaborate on renewing the Electric Highway. (Did Dale Vince jump, one can’t help wondering, or was he pushed?) Anyway, this is excellent news.

Gridserve, for those who don’t know, created the UK’s first fully-electric forecourt, which I visited soon after it opened. Like everybody else, I was suitably impressed, so it’s great to see them grow.

The Fully Charged Show has an interview with the CEOs of the two companies.

The key item to take away here is that most of the UK’s motorways will soon be well-equipped with 350kW chargers capable of adding vast amounts of range to the big batteries of today’s newer cars, in the time it takes to visit the loo and get a coffee.

The Gridserve forecourt was actually the last place I charged my old BMW before replacing it, so in a sense, this merger of its first and last charge-suppliers seems somehow appropriate, and my ownership of that car is a bit reminiscent of the early days of the web: it spanned the era from when EV-driving was new and exciting to when it started becoming mainstream, in a very small number of years.

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The cars are only half the story; the chargers are the rest, just as driving an internal combustion car is going to be a challenge without a network of fuel stations. We take them for granted, but they weren’t always there.
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Metakovan, the mystery Beeple art buyer, and his NFT/DeFi scheme • Amy Castor

Castor digs into the peculiar transaction last week where an artwork was “bought” for a ton of Monopoly money:

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MetaKovan [the buyer, who Castor believes is actually Vignesh Sundaresan] is also behind Singapore-based Metapurse, a crypto-based investment firm. Metapurse’s mission, according to its website, is to “democratize access and ownership to artwork.” The firm also purchased Beeple’s “Everdays: 20 Collection” artworks for $2.2m in December.

Metapurse has taken these Beeple artworks, or NFTs, along with a few virtual museums, and combined everything into a “massive bundle.” Would you like to invest in this wonderful package? You can—by buying B20 tokens.

This blog post on the Metapurse substack lays out the grand plan:

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“We believe we truly achieved this with B.20 – the name of a massive NFT bundle we are fractionalizing so that everyone can have ownership over the first large scale public art project within the metaverse. It is important to note that we’re fractionalizing ownership, not the assets themselves. These fractions will be available as 10 million B.20 tokens, and can be referred to as the “keys” to this digital vault.”

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At the end of the day, this is all about “number go up.” The B20 token is pumped up in value, so holders and Metapurse can benefit when they go to sell the token—get more ETH, buy more NFTs, rinse, repeat.

The distribution is something to pay attention to. Metakovan has 59% of all the B20 tokens. Why does he own the majority of tokens? As he explains it, that’s so that no one person can own 100% of all of the B20 tokens—and snatch up all this wonderful artwork for themselves. No, this is meant to be decentralized, if you can get your head past Metakovan controlling the token supply.

What’s interesting is that Beeple, the creator of the artwork, is actually a business partner of MetaKovan’s. He owns 2% of all the B20 tokens. I’m sure there is no conflict of interest here.

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But what, you might ask, about Christie’s? Surely the venerable auction house, which is being “paid” in Monopoly money (having waived the standard requirement that its cut of the payment should be in good old folding fiat money) will be annoyed at being used in this way?

Well.. maybe not. Auction houses have seen business fall off a cliff, as you’d expect for places reliant on groups of people sitting close together inside rooms. Being involved in this and getting constantly namechecked means it can be down wid da kidz; and if this sort of thing happens again they can demand payment in real money.
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Adobe Photoshop’s ‘Super Resolution’ made my jaw hit the floor • Petapixel

Michael Clark:

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I have seen a bit of reporting out there on this topic from the likes of PetaPixel and Fstoppers, but other than that the ramifications of this new feature in ACR have not been widely promoted from what I can see. The new Super Resolution feature in ACR essentially upsizes the image by a factor of four using machine learning, i.e. Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The PetaPixel article on this new feature quoted Eric Chan from Adobe:

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Super Resolution builds on a technology Adobe launched two years ago called Enhance Details, which uses machine learning to interpolate RAW files with a high degree of fidelity, which resulted in images with crisp details and fewer artifacts. The term ‘Super Resolution’ refers to the process of improving the quality of a photo by boosting its apparent resolution,” Chan explains. “Enlarging a photo often produces blurry details, but Super Resolution has an ace up its sleeve: an advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos. Backed by this vast training set, Super Resolution can intelligently enlarge photos while maintaining clean edges and preserving important details.

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What does this mean practically? Well, I immediately tested this out and was pretty shocked by the results. Though it might be hard to make out in the screenshot below, I took the surfing image shown below, which was captured a decade ago with a Nikon D700 — a 12MP camera — and ran the Super Resolution tool on it and the end result is a 48.2MP image that looks to be every bit as sharp (if not sharper) than the original image file. This means that I can now print that old 12MP image at significantly larger sizes than I ever could before.

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Wow, indeed. The article goes into detail about how it’s done. Essentially, AI is now going to fill in the micro-detail that wasn’t there.
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Elon Musk says Tesla revoked access for some drivers testing ‘full self-driving’ • Business Insider

Kevin Shalvey:

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday said the carmaker had expanded the public testing pool for its Full Self-Driving software to about 2,000 vehicle owners but also revoked access for drivers who didn’t pay close attention to the road.

Tesla “revoked beta where drivers did not pay sufficient attention to the road,” Musk said on Twitter late Friday. “No accidents to date.”

Musk didn’t offer further details about how many drivers have lost access, or how Tesla made decisions about pulling access. Insider has reached out to the company for comment.

Musk’s statement followed a Friday report saying the National Transportation Safety Board chairman called for increased scrutiny of self-driving software.

On Friday, CNBC reported that NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt had in February sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking for updated requirements for carmakers testing software like Tesla’s on public roads.

Sumwalt’s letter mentioned Tesla by name 16 times, as CNBC reported. He wrote that Tesla was testing its software on public roads “with limited oversight or reporting requirements.”

He added: “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-off approach to oversight of [automated vehicle] testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users.”

A week ago, Musk said Tesla would double the size of its public beta testing program for version 8.2 of its software. “Still be careful, but it’s getting mature,” he said.

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If you have to keep your attention on the road, it’s not really self-driving, is it? And it really never will be, as Tesla has admitted. Musk is successfully fooling about 2,000 people all of the time, but the rest – no.
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Apple discontinues original HomePod, will focus on mini • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

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The original HomePod was a feat of audio engineering that Apple spent over five years developing. In order to accomplish its development, the team at Apple built out a full development center near its headquarters in Cupertino, with a world-class development environment with a dozen anechoic chambers, including one of the bigger anechoic chambers outside of academic use in the US. I visited the center before its release, noting that Apple took it the extra mile to get the incredibly complex series of tweeters and woofer that built its soundspace…

…The major gripe for the speaker at the time was the $349 price, which was at the top end of the home speaker market, especially those with embedded home assistants. A price drop to $299 mitigated that somewhat, but still put it at the top of the pricing umbrella for the class. Apple’s HomePod mini, launched last year, has been well received. Our Brian Heater said that it had ‘remarkably big sound’ for the $99 price.

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So the discontinuation implies that Apple couldn’t find a price for the original HomePod where it would both make an adequate profit and people would buy it in sufficient numbers. Yet it can for the HomePod mini. Given the difference in sound quality, that’s a loss for everyone. (If you like them enough, they’re available “while stocks last”, just like the iMac Pro. Unless Apple is going to introduce a new cheaper better version of both of them later this month.)

Rene Ritchie suggests that Apple should offer something that does a bit more – allow Bluetooth, or line-in, or both. Or be a router-speaker. The lack of inputs on the HomePod (and mini) suggests it’s “Ived”: a victim of the ex-head of design’s desire to make devices that ignored the world outside Apple’s tiny one.
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The vaccine programme has one key thing Test and Trace doesn’t. And it’s not money • The Sunday Times

Robert Colvile:

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Something almost no one outside government appreciates is that the British state, like all its modern counterparts, is essentially a collection of databases. Throughout the pandemic, its policy successes have largely come where there are good databases, and its failures where there are not.

The furlough scheme worked because of PAYE. The expansion of universal credit relied on the existing benefits system. The “shielding list” of vulnerable patients was compiled by blending six data sets from NHS Digital.

Good data is also the secret sauce of the vaccination rollout. The jabbers could move seamlessly down the age and risk cohorts, because GPs had the appropriate patient lists. There have still been huge challenges in distributing the vaccines and tracking down the unregistered, but the data gave us an enormous head start.

The central problem with Test and Trace, by contrast, was that it didn’t have a database. When the pandemic hit, Apple and Google developed a joint framework for contact-tracing apps, which would ping you if someone you met later tested positive. But they wouldn’t let your phone share those details with the government — hence Matt Hancock’s abortive attempt to develop a homegrown alternative.

The trackers and tracers therefore had to map out the nation’s social network from a standing start, getting individual contact lists from every person who had tested positive to find out who else needed testing and quarantine. Public Health England even managed to lose 16,000 cases because it built its database with a stone-age version of Microsoft Excel and the file grew too large.

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As Colville points out, it was “have database/don’t have database” that made the difference, not private v public.
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Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94 • The Guardian

Daniel Boffey:

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Following the war, Ottens obtained an engineering degree, and he started work at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952. Eight years later he was promoted to head of the company’s newly established product development department, and within a year he unveiled the EL 3585, Philips’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units.

But it was two years later that Ottens made the biggest breakthrough of his life – born out of annoyance with the clumsy and large reel-to-reel tape systems of the time. “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” he would later say.

Ottens’s idea was that the cassette tape that should fit in the inside pocket of his jacket. In 1963 the first tape was presented to the world at an electronics fair in Berlin with the tagline “Smaller than a pack of cigarettes!”

Photographs of the invention made their way to Japan, where substandard copies started to emerge. Ottens made agreements with Sony for the patented Philips mechanism to be the standard.

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Really he should be buried next to Laszlo Biro.
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Facebook is studying vaccine hesitancy, new documents show • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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Facebook is conducting a vast behind-the-scenes study of doubts expressed by U.S. users about vaccines, a major project that attempts to probe and teach software to identify the medical attitudes of millions of Americans, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The research is a large-scale attempt to understand the spread of ideas that contribute to vaccine hesitancy, or the act of delaying or refusing a vaccination despite its availability, on social media — a primary source of health information for millions of people. It shows how the company is probing ever more nuanced realms of speech, and illustrates how weighing free speech vs. potential for harm is more tenuous than ever for technology companies during a public health crisis.

…The research explores how to address that tension by studying these types of comments, which are tagged “VH” by the company’s software algorithms, as well as the nature of the communities that spread them, according to the documents. Its early findings suggest that a large amount of content that does not break the rules may be causing harm in certain communities, where it has an echo chamber effect.

The company’s data scientists divided the company’s U.S. users, groups and pages into 638 population segments to explore which types of groups hold vaccine hesitant beliefs. The document did not identify how Facebook defined a segment or grouped communities, but noted that the segments could be at least 3 million people.

Some of the early findings are notable: Just 10 out of the 638 population segments contained 50% of all vaccine hesitancy content on the platform. And in the population segment with the most vaccine hesitancy, just 111 users contributed half of all vaccine hesitant content.

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Wouldn’t it be simplest to block those 111 users? A lot of the problem would be solved. On the 1-9-90 principle (1% of users generate 90% of content, broadly), it would make a huge difference.
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‘No 10 was a plague pit’: how Covid brought Westminster to its knees • The Guardian

Jessica Elgot:

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One of the few people still working in a high-profile job in Westminster who had experience of tackling a pandemic was the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

“I was actually in Downing Street for swine flu 10 years ago,” the Labour MP said. “I remember when I first heard of the virus in Wuhan I thought: I wonder if that’s going to be like swine flu. But I obviously didn’t appreciate at that point it would be off the scale.”

Ashworth asked for his first briefing with Whitty in January 2020. By February he was doing “nothing else” but studying the trajectory of the virus, he said. But it was when the health minister Nadine Dorries was confirmed to have Covid on 10 March that the magnitude of the crisis fully dawned on some of those in government.

“The moment we realised this is probably more widespread in the country than we thought is when Nadine Dorries tested positive,” one health official said.

At the time, people were only meant to get tested if they had been to one of the affected areas. “So the original assumption was, she hasn’t been to Italy or China so she hasn’t got Covid, even if she’s got some symptoms. And then she tested positive and I remember thinking: hang on, is this thing spreading much more widely than the people realise?”

On 11 March, the day after Dorries tested positive, Liverpool played Atlético Madrid in front of a crowd of tens of thousands at Anfield. It was also the day of Rishi Sunak’s first budget.

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The Sunak budget probably infected more people, proportionally. Dorries as the Typhoid Mary of the Tory party is fitting. Note how once Boris Johnson got infected and then seriously ill, those in charge lied relentlessly to the public – as they had done pretty much from the start.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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