Start Up No.1517: home appliances hit by chip shortage, Spotify buys.. internet radio?, study shows vaccines stop Covid spread, and more

Sleep tracking is popular, but scientists aren’t so sure there’s any benefit CC-licensed photo by Nicolas Winspeare on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Wakey wakey! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google Nest Hub, Apple Watch and the pros and cons of sleep tracking • WSJ

Nicole Nguyen:


there is such a thing as sleep-data overload. The formal medical term is orthosomnia. “Basically, it’s insomnia from sleep-tracking devices,” said Dr. Prather.

Susheel Patil, a clinical doctor with the Johns Hopkins Pulmonary Sleep Medicine Program, had a patient with insomnia symptoms cure his sleeplessness by removing the Fitbit he was wearing every night. “It can be so much data, and we don’t know what to do with it. Unplugging can be more helpful,” Dr. Patil said.

Plus, seemingly “bad” results might not be meaningful. If your tracker says your sleep is fragmented, but you feel fine, it’s nothing to worry about, he added.

Another concern is the devices’ accuracy. “The gold standard is the polysomnogram with an EEG signature, and everything else is an estimate,” said Kelly Baron, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Utah. An electroencephalogram (aka EEG) test, typically conducted in a lab, looks at electrical activity in your brain using nodes attached to your scalp.

I wanted to see how my data might compare with a polysomnogram test, so I sent Dr. Baron one night’s worth of my data captured by different devices. Looking at the sleep-phase data from Whoop and Fitbit, she said, “The staging data doesn’t look much like the stages we would see in a sleep study.” (The Apple Watch and Google’s Nest Hub don’t attempt to discern the different phases, and I hadn’t yet begun testing the Withings Mat, which does display sleep-cycle duration.) Dr. Baron pointed to the app’s record of a long period of REM—aka rapid eye movement—toward the end of sleep, and the small amount of time in deep sleep as unusual, even for a particularly terrible night of sleep.

…The biggest benefit of these trackers generally is that I’m now prioritizing my sleep, instead of merely thinking of it as the bookend to my day. And honestly, you don’t need trackers to do the same, and follow the two key tenets of the sleep experts I talked to:

• Set consistent bed and wake times—even on the weekends
• Get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.


I remain to be persuaded that these sleep trackers have any value. They’re just easy to do and aren’t medical devices, so don’t need official clearance. There’s no low-hanging fruit left for wearables. Now we get into the tough part of the game.
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Fridges, microwaves fall prey to global chip shortage • Reuters

Josh Horwitz:


A global shortage of chips that has rattled production lines at car companies and squeezed stockpiles at gadget makers is now leaving home appliance makers unable to meet demand, according to the president of Whirlpool Corp in China.

The US-based company, one of the world’s largest white goods firm, saw chip deliveries fall short of its orders by about 10% in March, Jason Ai told Reuters in Shanghai.

“It’s a perfect storm,” he said on the sidelines of the Appliance and World Electronics Expo.

“On the one hand we have to satisfy domestic demand for appliances, on the other hand we’re facing an explosion of export orders. As far as chips go, for those of us in China, it was inevitable.”

The company has struggled to secure enough microcontrollers, simple processors that power over half of its products including microwaves, refrigerators, and washing machines.

While the chip shortage has affected a range of high-end suppliers like Qualcomm Inc, it originated and remains most severe for mature technologies, for example power-management chips used in cars.


(Thanks Lloyd Wood for the link.)
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Spotify jumps into social audio, acquires sports-focused live audio app • NBC News

Dylan Byers:


Spotify said Tuesday it has acquired the company behind the live audio app Locker Room, giving the music and podcast platform a new foothold in a space that has seen a surge of interest following the rise of the app Clubhouse.

The company, Betty Labs, launched Locker Room in October as a sports-focused platform for live audio conversations. Spotify said it plans to “evolve and expand” the app “into an enhanced live audio experience for a wider range of creators and fans.”

Locker Room will soon expand and rebrand to become more like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces: a forum for live conversations about music, culture and all manner of topics.

“Creators and fans have been asking for live formats on Spotify, and we’re excited that soon, we’ll make them available to hundreds of millions of listeners and millions of creators on our platform,” Spotify’s chief research and development officer Gustav Söderström said in a statement. 


So they’ve.. bought internet radio? Talk about reinventing the wheel.
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Arm v9 promises ray tracing for smartphones and a big performance boost • PC World Australia

Mark Hachman:


Arm said Tuesday that ray tracing and variable rate shading will migrate from the PC to Arm-powered smartphones and tablets as part of Armv9, the next-generation CPU architecture that the company expects will power the next decade of Arm devices. Chips based upon the v9 architecture will be released in 2021, providing an estimated 30% improvement in performance over the next two Arm chip generations and the devices that run them.

Arm’s v9 will also add SVE2, new AI-specific instructions that will probably be used for the AI image processing used on smartphones, such as portrait mode. Arm v9 will also include what Arm is calling Realms, a hardware container of sorts specifically designed to protect virtual machines and secure applications. 

As an intellectual-property licensing company, Arm enjoys a unique position in the computing industry. Phones, tablets, and servers never include chips directly made by Arm; instead, companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple, and others sign licensing agreements wirh Arm, giving them the freedom to manufacture chips designed by Arm, or tweak them to create their own customized designs. Kevin Jou, the chief technology officer of Mediatek—whose chips typically appear in Chromebooks and low-end smartphones—predicted that his company will have an Arm v9 chip by the end of 2021.


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Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 90% effective in study of essential workers • The Washington Post

Lena Sun:


The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines being deployed to fight the coronavirus pandemic are robustly effective in preventing infections in real-life conditions, according to a federal study released Monday that provides reassurance of protection for front-line workers in the United States.

In a study of about 4,000 health-care personnel, police, firefighters and other essential workers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 80% after one shot. Protection increased to 90% following the second dose. The findings are consistent with clinical trial results and studies showing strong effectiveness in Israel and the United Kingdom, and in initial studies of health-care workers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and in Southern California.

The CDC report is significant, experts said, because it analyzed how well the vaccines worked among a diverse group of front-line working-age adults whose jobs make them more likely to be exposed to the virus and to spread it.

…Among 2,479 fully vaccinated people, just three had confirmed infections. Among 477 people who received one dose, eight infections were reported. By comparison, among 994 people who were not vaccinated, 161 developed infections.

No deaths were reported.


It begins to look like we’ll emerge from this, doesn’t it?
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Fission chain reaction may trigger supernovae • APS Physics

Philip Ball:


A new proposal suggests that when a white dwarf star explodes as a supernova, the initial trigger may be a stellar version of an atomic bomb. This scenario is different from the textbook explanation, which involves an instability resulting from the star sucking mass from a companion star. The researchers suggesting this scenario say that crystallization of uranium during cooling of the stellar core could lead to runaway nuclear fission. This fission “bomb” could in turn trigger an H-bomb-like (nuclear fusion) explosion of lighter elements to produce the supernova. Several key questions about the process remain to be answered, but experts say the theory is worth exploring.

A white dwarf is a very dense star, with a mass comparable to the Sun’s but a size similar to Earth’s. These objects form from Sun-like stars that have densified under gravity after burning most of their fuel. Some white dwarfs end their lives as type 1a supernovae, which are thought to occur only if the star is part of a binary system because a solo white dwarf should be stable as it cools.

But Charles Horowitz of Indiana University and Matt Caplan of Illinois State University point out that heavy elements including uranium are among the first to solidify as a white dwarf’s interior cools. This cooling and solidification process separates the complex plasma-like mixture into its components—a process called phase separation. Even if the initial amounts of uranium and similar elements are very low, “the first solids will be very strongly enriched” in these elements, Horowitz and Caplan write in their paper.

…Horowitz and Caplan carried out calculations and computer simulations showing that a critical mass of uranium can indeed crystallize from a typical element mixture found in a cooling white dwarf. If the uranium explodes, they say, the resulting heat and pressure in the stellar core could be high enough to trigger nuclear fusion of lighter elements, especially carbon and oxygen, and thus a supernova. (Similarly, today’s thermonuclear fusion bombs are detonated by fission bombs.)


So it would be a fusion bomb – aka H-bomb – like the one dropped on Nagasaki. like the US first tested in 1952 and which any self-respecting nuclear power now deploys. (Thanks for the corrections.)
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Kuo: Apple headset to have ultra-short focal length lenses and weigh less than 150 grams • 9to5Mac

Filipe Espósito:


Following a recent report mentioning that Apple’s rumored mixed reality headset will feature advanced eye tracking, reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a research note obtained by 9to5Mac that Apple has been working on hybrid ultra-short focal length lens aiming to keep the weight of the headset under 150 grams.

As mentioned by Kuo, current virtual reality headsets typically weigh over 300 grams and have a bulky form factor, which is something Apple wants to solve for its own headset. Apple’s VR device is expected to adopt Fresnel’s hybrid ultra-short focal length lens that have improved field of view, as well as reduced weight and thickness.

The analyst believes that the new Apple-built headset will weigh less than 150 grams, which will be a big advantage when compared to similar devices that currently exist. The device will be equipped with lenses made of plastic instead of glass, which are lighter — but details about the durability of the material are unknown.


A lemon weighs about 100g, and a kiwifruit about 50g. So imagine those on your face, if that helps. Alternatively: 17 UK £1 coins, which weigh 8.75g each. Or, in the US, 30 nickels – each weighs 5g.
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Steer through the Suez Canal • CNN Interactive

Sarah-Grace Mankarious and Marco Chacón:


Navigating the Suez Canal is a high-stress, complicated feat that requires master piloting skills. To demonstrate, we worked with Master Mariner Andy Winbow and Captain Yash Gupta to produce this simulated passage.

Try your hand at traversing one of the most highly trafficked nautical thoroughfares in the world.

Note: This is a non-scientific simplified interactive experience intended for illustrative purposes only. There are many factors that have not been accounted for, including (but not restricted to): the depth of water; proximity to the banks; interaction with passing ships; the turning circle; availability of tug boats and other weather conditions like visibility. We have also sped up the time it takes to maneuver a ship of this size. Master Mariner Andy Winbow and Captain Yash Gupta have been advisers.


Well, that’s your lunchtime sorted.
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Apple developing new Remote for the next-generation Apple TV • 9to5Mac

Filipe Espósito:


We’ve been hearing rumors about the next-generation Apple TV for a while now, but we don’t know when the company plans to officially announce it. Now 9to5Mac has learned that Apple is developing a new Remote for Apple TV, which corroborates some previous rumors about Apple updating the Siri Remote.

Details about this new Apple TV Remote are still unknown, but 9to5Mac’s sources have told us that this model is being developed under the code name “B519,” which is quite different from the code name of the current Siri Remote — internally identified as “B439.”


All I ask is that you can tell which way up it is if you pick it up with your eyes closed. And that the buttons are sized according to how much you’ll use them. And that you can tell which button is which with your eyes closed. (I wrote about the difference between design built around affordance – the Sky remote – and design built around “here’s a shape, now fit the buttons into it” – the Apple TV remote – a while ago. It’s still true.)
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Intel’s 11th gen Core i9 processor boosts Microsoft Flight Simulator by 20% • The Verge

Tom Warren:


I built a new gaming PC in September to play new games like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Cyberpunk 2077, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I figured that picking Intel’s Core i9-10900K and Nvidia’s RTX 3090 would make this machine last for years and offer top tier performance in demanding titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator. I was wrong. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a notorious beast of a game and is quickly becoming the new Crysis test for PCs.

It has struggled to run smoothly above 30fps with all settings maxed out at 1440p on my PC, and even AMD’s Intel-beating Ryzen 9 5950X only improved the situation slightly for some.

Intel’s latest 11th Gen processor arrives with a big promise of up to 19% IPC (instructions per cycle) improvements over the existing i9-10900K, and more specifically the lure of 14% more performance at 1080p in Microsoft Flight Simulator with high settings. This piqued my curiosity, so I’ve been testing the i9-11900K over the past few days to see what it can offer for Microsoft Flight Simulator specifically.

It’s less than a year after the i9-10900K release, and I’m already considering upgrading to Intel’s new i9-11900K because I’ve found it boosts Microsoft Flight Simulator by 20%.


Though this is still at the 14nm (!!) process. No word on the power consumption, which must therefore still be substantial. Still a long time before we see the fruits of Gelsinger’s new policies, of course.
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Banks face regulators’ scrutiny on handling of Archegos fire sale • Financial Times

Eric Platt, Leo Lewis, Ortenca Aliaj and Stephen Morris:


Archegos founder Bill Hwang on Thursday gathered Wall Street lenders Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo, as well as Swiss rivals UBS and Credit Suisse and Japan’s Nomura, in a last-ditch effort to unwind billions of dollars of markets bets in an orderly manner.

But on Friday banks started selling large blocks of shares that had underpinned Hwang’s trades, knocking $33bn of value off media groups ViacomCBS and Discovery and Chinese tech stocks, such as Baidu. The sales spurred losses for Nomura and Credit Suisse that are expected to run into billions of dollars.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission and the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority have requested information from the banks involved. Finra, Wall Street’s self-regulatory body, has also contacted the banks at the centre of the Archegos trading debacle.

As Archegos’ losses increased last week, several prime brokers that had extended credit to the firm tried to agree to an orderly unwinding of the trades over time, fearing that a fire sale would depress the value of the securities held on behalf of Archegos.

One person said they had hoped to sell Archegos’ book over a period of about 20 days.


This is a bit Inside Wall Street, but last Friday a big hedge fund called Archegos went bust. In trying to recover their assets, banks sold shares (as detailed here). What everyone’s wondering is whether this presages a much bigger problem, rather as the implosion of two hedge funds at Bear Stearns in July 2007 was the first inkling of the credit crunch.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1517: home appliances hit by chip shortage, Spotify buys.. internet radio?, study shows vaccines stop Covid spread, and more

  1. Charles, I believe your comment on “Fission chain reaction may trigger supernovae • APS Physics” is incorrect. While the supernovae may be started with fission of the heavy elements and proceed to fusion of the lighter elements (much as the most destructive bombs of today), both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were fission bombs. They are more primitive and have yields in the range of 13 – 20 Kilotons. Fusion bombs have yields in the range of megatons.

    I cannot even begin to speculate on the “yield” of a supernova -– but I can certainly advise staying away from them.


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