Start Up No.1512: the personal photo curator, US begins Caller ID for mobiles, the mystery of the feet, can the common cold slow Covid? and more

You may not know the best orientation to transport a black rhino – but we do. CC-licensed photo by Des Wass on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. A year and counting. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How a personal-photo curator separates the is-this-a-rash selfies from the keepers • The New Yorker

Lauren Collins:


Elevator operator became a job sometime in the latter half of the eighteenth century, first appearing as its own category on the U.S. Census in 1910. It is the only job since 1950, according to a recent study, to have been fully eliminated by automation. Occupations come and go, their life spans following trend and technology. Town criers, soda jerks, lamplighters, clock winders, pinsetters, and ice cutters give way to air-traffic controllers, genetic counsellors, drone operators, influencers, and social-media managers. The other day, a journalist [Collins refusing to use the word “I” for some obscure American journalism reason – CA] was scrolling through Instagram and spotted an interesting-sounding gig in another user’s bio: personal-photo organizer.

A call to Fort Greene (no operator necessary) confirmed that personal-photo organizing is, indeed, an emerging profession, and that people who spend their days swiping and saving in the name of posterity are also known as family-photo curators. “Photo managers can help organize and curate collections, digitize prints, suggest backup systems, re-house in archival storage, and help you tell your story through photo book design, videos, websites, and countless other ways,” reads the web site of the Photo Managers (formerly the Association of Personal Photo Curators), est. 2009.


Nice work (well, maybe) if you can get it: $125/hr, and she picks about 40 clients per year. A family of four generates about 5,000 photos per year.
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Caller ID authentication may tame the scourge of spam calls • TidBITS

Glenn Fleishman:


This morning, my iPhone rang five times. Because I pay Hiya for reverse Caller ID lookups, each number lit up with a name I didn’t know, along with the originating city and state: three from Florida and two from Connecticut. I didn’t answer any of the calls because I didn’t recognize any of the names. When I checked later, I found they lacked a relatively new indicator that I watch out for: a tell-tale checkmark. While tiny, it’s a harbinger of better things to come, particularly with a looming deadline in June 2021 for major phone carriers and Internet telephony providers.

You may not even notice this checkmark—it’s truly very tiny—but it appears in the Recents list in the Phone app on an iPhone and in call details. On some Android phones, a verified indicator appears on the incoming call screen, and telephone carriers have asked Apple to add it there on iPhones, too. Only in the call detail do you get an explanation from Apple: “Calls with a checkmark have been verified by the carrier.”


The protocol is called “STIR/SHAKEN” (very James Bond). US carriers seem to be implementing it because spam calls are such a blight there. No indication that UK mobile networks are looking to implement it (yet?).
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How science solved the mystery of feet washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest • National Geographic

Erika Engelhaupt:


On August 20, 2007, a 12-year-old girl spotted a lone blue-and-white running shoe—a men’s size 12—on a beach of British Columbia’s Jedediah Island. She looked inside, and found a sock. She looked inside the sock, and found a foot.

Six days later on nearby Gabriola Island, a Vancouver couple enjoying a seaside hike came across a black-and-white Reebok. Inside it was another decomposing foot. It, too, was a men’s size 12. The two feet clearly didn’t belong to the same person; not only were the shoes themselves different, but they both contained right feet.

Police were stunned. “Two being found in such a short period of time is quite suspicious,” Garry Cox of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the Vancouver Sun. “Finding one foot is like a million to one odds, but to find two is crazy. I’ve heard of dancers with two left feet, but come on.”

The next year, five more feet appeared on nearby Canadian beaches. The discoveries ratcheted up the public’s fears, and media speculation soared. Was a serial killer on the loose? Did he have something against feet?


This is gruesome, and utterly fascinating. Blame Charlotte Jee – she pointed to it.
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Infection with common cold might provide some protection against COVID • University of Glasgow


The research – published today in Journal of Infectious Diseases and led by scientists at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) – found that human rhinovirus (the virus that causes the common cold) triggers an innate immune response that seems to block SARS-CoV-2 replication in cells of the respiratory tract.

In further studies, mathematical simulations by the research team showed that this virus-virus interaction might have a population-wide effect, and that an increasing prevalence of rhinovirus could reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases.

Human rhinoviruses cause the common cold and are the most widespread respiratory viruses found in people. Previous research has shown that interactions between rhinoviruses and other respiratory viruses can affect the type and severity of infections in individuals, and the way in which they infect and circulate around groups of people (patterns of infection).

…In the study, the researchers first infected human respiratory cells with SARS-CoV-2 in the lab, recreating the cellular environment in which infections normally occur. They then studied the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in these cells, both in the presence and absence of rhinovirus.

Professor Pablo Murcia, from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, explains: “Our research shows that human rhinovirus triggers an innate immune response in human respiratory epithelial cells which blocks the replication of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2. This means that the immune response caused by mild, common cold virus infections, could provide some level of transient protection against SARS-CoV-2, potentially blocking transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and reducing the severity of COVID-19.”


So if we’d only managed all to have colds we’d have been OK? Or, alternatively, we just need a common cold vaccine? (Thanks G for the link.)
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The Technology 202: where is YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki? • The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski and Aaron Schaffer:


YouTube videos are a critical source of online misinformation, yet they often get a pass in broader discussions about the dangers of social media. Even in Congress.  

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has never had to appear alongside other social media executives for a Capitol Hill grilling, and she will not be in attendance on Thursday when Congress questions top tech executives for the first time since the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks. 

Instead, lawmakers have invited Sundar Pichai, the CEO of YouTube’s parent companies Google and Alphabet, to testify alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. All are becoming familiar figures at the Capitol. The hearing will be Zuckerberg’s fourth appearance since July and Dorsey and Pichai’s third during the same time period. 

But YouTube critics say that by inviting Pichai, who has to answer for a broad range of different products and services at Alphabet, lawmakers are not paying enough specific attention to one of the most popular social networks in the world. 

“There have been hearings where you can’t count on one hand the number of questions about YouTube, which is ridiculous given the level of impact,” said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who researches online speech. 

YouTube has massive influence over Americans’ media consumption. YouTube has the highest reach of any platform among American adults, with 73% of Americans reporting they use the platform in a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. Facebook is the only social network that comes even close to YouTube’s reach, with 69% of Americans reporting they use it. Meanwhile, only 22% of US adults surveyed use Twitter. Additionally, 23% of Americans say they regularly use YouTube as a news source, which is eight percentage points more than Twitter. 


Possibly the argument is that Pichai has responsibility for YouTube, so Wojicki doesn’t need to show up. But she really should. Also, the idea of regularly using YouTube as a news source strikes me as weird.
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Digital government during the coronavirus crisis • Institute for Government

Gavin Freeguard, Marcus Shepeard and Oliver Davies:


Departments need interoperable technology to work well with each other. But at the start of the crisis there was a distinct lack of interoperability between systems used by different organisations across government. This made communicating, sharing and working with colleagues much more difficult than it needed to be. Departments were using a variety of platforms and tools which were blocked by other departments, making collaboration much more difficult. Civil servants have long complained about these problems, but they had been easy to overlook until the crisis forced so many officials to use these tools all at once.

[See the grid of inter-departmental interoperability and non-operability, drawn up by the UK government.]

This mix is a result of there being no mandated suite of tools that all civil servants should use. This is something the centre of government has deliberately avoided, since it would bring its own set of problems that the last decade of digital transformation in government has tried to solve – such as reliance on (and being tied into big contracts with) single, big suppliers. But devolving decisions to departments means little consideration has been given to how officials communicate and collaborate between departments.

During the pandemic, GDS established Project Unblock (of which there is only one mention on GOV.UK) to understand and unblock compatibility issues between departments, starting with video conferencing. Between May and July 2020 many departments ‘unblocked’ access to various video conferencing tools. By July, only a few major departments (including HMRC and the Ministry of Defence) were still blocking some software, and even these had made more tools accessible. Microsoft Teams has been unblocked across all major departments, while Google Meet has gone from being unavailable or restricted in 11 departments to four, and Skype from being blocked in five departments to two. Even where departments have mandated the use of a particular tool internally, they have also authorised the use of other platforms for teams to be able to talk to other departments.


And you thought you had problems picking a video tool. Imagine trying to run a government when you have two departments struggling to find one they can both use. (Via Benedict Evans’s newsletter.)
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Why airlifting rhinos upside down is critical to conservation • CNN

Rebecca Cairns:


Namibia is home to a nearly a third of Africa’s black rhinos — one of two rhino species found on the continent.

Starting in 2015, the Cornell team suspended 12 black rhinos – each weighing between 1,770 and 2,720 pounds – upside down from a crane, and placed them in a side-lying position for comparison.

The researchers measured biomarkers for respiration and ventilation, and found that the rhinos had higher blood oxygen levels when upside down.

[Robin] Radcliffe [a senior lecturer in wildlife and conservation medicine], says the upside-down position allows the spine to stretch which helps to open the airways. Additionally, the team found that when lying on their side, rhinos have a larger “dead space” — the amount of air in each breath that does not contribute oxygen to the body.

The difference between the two postures was small, but because the strong anaesthetic used on the rhino causes hypoxemia – low oxygen levels in the blood – even a minor improvement makes a difference to the rhino’s welfare.


Just in case you need to transport a rhino in the next week or two.
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Facebook guidelines allow users to call for death of public figures • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


Public figures are defined by Facebook to include people whose claim to fame may be simply a large social media following or infrequent coverage in local newspapers.

They are considered to be permissible targets for certain types of abuse “because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news”, Facebook explains to its moderators.

It comes as social networks face renewed criticism over abuse on their platforms, including of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and of professional footballers, in particular black stars such as Marcus Rashford.Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has changed its policies in response to the criticism, introducing new rules to cover abuse sent through direct messages and committing to cooperate with law enforcement over hate speech.

In the detailed guidelines seen by the Guardian, running to more than 300 pages and dating from December 2020, Facebook spells out how it differentiates between protections for private and public individuals.

“For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment. For private individuals, our protection goes further: we remove content that’s meant to degrade or shame, including, for example, claims about someone’s sexual activity,” it says.

Private individuals cannot be targeted with “calls for death” on Facebook but public figures simply cannot be “purposefully exposed” to such calls: it is legitimate, under Facebook’s harassment policies, to call for the death of a minor local celebrity so long as the user does not tag them in to the post, for example.


This must have made some sort of sense when an increasingly exhausted group of people sat around a table and drew it up. But what the hell is a “minor local celebrity”? How local? How minor? How celebrated?
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Bitcoin is a mouth hungry for fossil fuels • Ketan Joshi


The Venn circles of Silicon Valley tech folks, libertarians, finance bros and oil and gas bros all seem to meet centrally at whatever the hell Bitcoin is. In world where a lot of people give a shit about protecting our planet, there is a broader effort to plead, through a series of misunderstandings, broken arguments and empty promises, that the act will be cleaned up very soon.

This 2019 piece by Maximillian Fiege, who works for Signum Growth Capital, an advisor to ARK, details clearly (and with pretty good knowledge of the energy industry) why bitcoin miners are driven towards fossil fuel operations. Some bitcoin mining operations camp out where power is cheap, plentiful and far too over-supplied, such as China’s massive hydropower schemes, poorly connected to areas of high demand. Of course, they also camp out in coal-rich regions in China. If zero emissions power is used, it’s a side-effect, not an effort to engage in climate action.

Fiege doesn’t make a secret of the fact that this loophole is being erased, because in a climate constrained world, there is no room for wasted potential. The growth of transmission lines and interconnection between regions is accelerating. That means far less ‘surplus’ from renewables. If zero emissions power is “stranded”, it shouldn’t be, because there is still fossil power in the world, and in a climate emergency, it should be displacing fossil fuels, not just meeting new demand.

Despite the natural gravity of this industry leaning towards carbon intensive fuels, there is an instinct to half-heartedly greenwash the climate damage of Bitcoin. This manifests not just through promises to do better in the future, but some genuinely silly arguments that frame Bitcoin as a grid tool that helps wind and solar do their thing.


There’s a certain element of climate denialism inherent in bitcoin, once you realise how much power it’s consuming to (as Joshi puts it) spit out random numbers in the hope that one of them wins the lottery this cycle. The knots that people tie themselves in to justify it is very similar to those used by climate denialists.
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Pedestrian traffic fatalities by state: 2020 preliminary data • US GHSA


An analysis of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) projects that 2,957 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads in the first six months of 2020, closely mirroring the number from the year before despite a 16.5% decrease in VMT [vehicle miles travelled] during that time.

The report examines key trends affecting this rise in pedestrian deaths, including increased reckless driving behaviors, the need for safer road crossings and efforts to make pedestrians more visible through better lighting and other strategies, and the continued uptick in sales of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which cause more pedestrian impacts in the event of a collision.


Pandemic plus bigger cars plus reckless drivers means more deaths. In the US.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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