Start Up No.1519: Myanmar military cuts mobile internet, Biden to cut carbon from US power, 2025 internet forecast, warp drive flops, and more


the British government is giving strong backing to ‘Covid passports’ – five weeks after saying they wouldn’t be needed. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Papers, please. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Myanmar’s military shuts down Internet, two months after coup • The Washington Post

Miriam Berger:

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Myanmar’s military government ordered broadband Internet shutdowns Thursday amid ongoing violent suppression of opposition to its ouster of the country’s democratically elected government.

The escalation came as the country marked two months since the army’s toppling of the civilian-led government, which has faced widespread public resistance despite the military’s lethal response: More than 500 civilian protesters have been killed and more than 2,000 arrested since Feb. 1, according to local activists.

The United Nations’ special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, on Wednesday warned that “a bloodbath is imminent” if the international community did not act to quell the violence.

Last Saturday marked the bloodiest day since the coup, with troops reportedly killing over 140 protesters in more than 40 locations across the country.

As Myanmar death toll climbs, a soldier’s wife is caught between protesters and military
Reuters reported Thursday that official orders to halt wireless broadband services did not provide any explanation. Myanmar’s military previously shut down mobile Internet access and slowed service.

A lawyer for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s deposed leader, also Thursday said that the detained opposition leader had been charged the week before in Yangon with breaking the country’s secrets law, the most serious allegation against her yet. The lawyer told Reuters that he had heard about the charges against Suu Kyi and several other members of her National League for Democracy only two days ago.

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It really is a calamity: hundreds dead, and Myanmar has essentially rewound to 2005 or so. This is a pretty good explainer of why: Aung San Suu Kyi could have been in a position to change the constitution so that the military wouldn’t have had any political power.
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Biden’s infrastructure plan would make electricity carbon-free by 2035 • Scientific American

Scott Waldman:

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The backbone of President Biden’s plan to use infrastructure spending to advance climate policy is a clean electricity standard for the power sector that has the potential to be the most aggressive ever enacted by the federal government.

Tucked into his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal is the aim of “achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035,” according to a fact sheet released yesterday by the White House.

“If we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say: ‘This was the moment that America won the future,'” Biden said during a rollout of the proposal in Pittsburgh.

While details are vague about how the “energy efficiency and clean electricity standard” would be enacted, it remains — at minimum — a significant symbolic milestone in the U.S. push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And at best, it could be a transformative measure that loosens U.S. reliance on fossil fuels in less than 15 years. The United States is currently at about 40% clean energy on the grid.
The difference depends on whether the 2035 goal is mandatory, or simply aspirational. Congress will have a big role to play in determining how much power is behind it.

“This really will be the backbone for decarbonizing the power sector,” said Lindsey Walter, deputy director for Third Way’s Climate and Energy Program. Previous iterations of a clean energy standard have set a goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2050 so Biden is significantly advancing the timeline, she said.

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Involves tax rises, so of course it’s completely opposed by Republicans. The Democrats are looking to find a way to finagle it so they don’t need that.
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It took the Suez Canal crisis to highlight the scale of the polluting shipping sector • Climate Change News

Madeline Rose:

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Today there are around 60,000 ships carrying 11 billion tonnes of cargo every year — around 80% of world trade.

Most of everything we own – clothes, shoes, food, technology – at one points sits on a giant container ship like the Ever Given that rose to fame last week.

Every single one of these ships in operation runs on fossil fuels, but not just your everyday petrol or diesel. Container ships run on the world’s cheapest, dirtiest liquid fossil fuel – known as “heavy fuel oil”. This is the gunky black tar-like substance that comes out the bottom of an oil refinery once all the transparent road fuels like gasoline and diesel have been separated out.

Heavy fuel oil contains up to 500 times as much cancer-causing sulphur dioxide than the legal maximum allowed in road fuels. Sometimes even chemical waste and melted car tires, that companies don’t want to pay to dispose of safely, are just blended into shipping fuel.

…Even after somewhat improved sulphur standards finally came into effect in 2020, decades after equivalent rules for power plants, shipping’s dirty air pollution is still linked to 250,000 deaths and 6.4 million childhood asthma cases every year — just the cost of doing business, apparently.

Meanwhile, shipping continues to emit one billion tons of climate-heating greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. That’s more than all but the top five largest emitting countries in the world, we just never talk about it. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is right — governments typically exclude shipping emissions from their climate action plans, pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

Just like other sectors, shipping is capable of running on renewable energy — there are over 100 pilot projects for zero-emission shipping underway. But consumers and governments have not yet demanded that ships make this energy transition.

The shipping industry is in bed with the fossil fuel industry (40% of the sector’s global cargo consist of coal, oil, and fossil gas) so transitioning ships off fossil fuels will require sustained pressure, action, and outrage.

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The Greta Thunberg tweet is quite something. A very cutting meme for a big problem.
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Social distancing changes things we have seen • Stray Reprints

Ben Greenman:

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NOTE: These are all things I made during quarantine from the coronavirus pandemic in March of 2020. Some are funny but almost all are, once you think about them, sad.

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Reimagined pictures: American Gothic, Creation of Adam, Wish You Were Here (the best, I feel), Meet The Beatles, Abbey Road, Forrest Gump (close second), E.T. and plenty more.
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Scientists just killed the EmDrive • Popular Mechanics

Caroline Delbert:

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The crux of the EmDrive is if you bounce microwaves around inside the tube, they exert more force in one direction than the other, creating a net thrust without the need for any propellant. And when NASA and a team at Xi’an in China tried this, they actually got a small-but-distinct net force.

Now, however, physicists at the Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden) are saying those promising results showing thrust were all false positives that are explained by outside forces. The scientists recently presented their findings in three papers at Space Propulsion Conference 2020 +1, with titles like “High-Accuracy Thrust Measurements of the EmDrive and Elimination of False-Positive Effects.” (Read the other two studies here and here.)

Using a new measuring scale and different suspension points of the same engine, the TU Dresden scientists “were able to reproduce apparent thrust forces similar to those measured by the NASA team, but also to make them disappear by means of a point suspension,” researcher Martin Tajmar told the German site GreWi.

The verdict:

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“When power flows into the EmDrive, the engine warms up. This also causes the fastening elements on the scale to warp, causing the scale to move to a new zero point. We were able to prevent that in an improved structure. Our measurements refute all EmDrive claims by at least 3 orders of magnitude.”

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Damn you scientists with your facts and tests! I guess they’ll have to call the EmDrive something else so they can start hyping it again.
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Survey XII: Digital New Normal 2025 – after the outbreak • Imagining the Internet

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Nearly half of experts worry that changes in the ongoing evolution of digital life tied to the COVID-19 outbreak and societies’ responses to it may make digital life in 2025 mostly worse for most people. Threats they cite include inequality and injustice; security risks and privacy’s fall; automation; misinformation and worsening mental health. Their hopes are for improved social relations and social justice; that tech and government may come to more highly value the needs of people and planet over profit and power; and that smarter and fairer human and technological systems will emerge.

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There’s plenty more, in quite a lot of depth. I read the summary and thought “Sure, but surveys like this are easy to do, and who’s going to hold you to account for them? What did they all forecast for 2020, back in the day?”

Fortunately, the website goes back with predictions from as far back as 2004. So to give you an idea of how seriously to take the predictions from III, below is what the 2020 predictions, made in 2008, said.
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The 2008 Survey • Imagining the Internet

Looking forward to the world in 2020:

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Among the quantitative results from the expert group:

• Some 77% said the mobile computing device (the smartphone) with more significant computing power will be 2020’s primary global Internet-connection platform.
• 64% favored the idea that 2020 user interfaces will offer advanced touch, talk and typing options and some added a fourth “T” – think.
• Nearly four out of five respondents (78%) said the original Internet architecture will not be completely replaced by a next-generation ‘net by 2020.
• Three out of five respondents (60%) disagreed with the idea that legislatures, courts, the technology industry, and media companies will exercise effective intellectual property control by 2020.
• A majority—56%—agreed that in 2020 “few lines (will) divide professional from personal time, and that’s OK.”
• 56% said while Web 2.0 is bringing some people closer, social tolerance will not be heightened by our new connections
• 45% agreed and 44% disagreed with the notion that the greater transparency of people and institutions afforded by the Internet will heighten individual integrity and forgiveness.
• More than half (55%) agreed that many lives will be touched in 2020 by virtual worlds, mirror worlds, and augmented reality, while 45% disagreed or did not answer the question.

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I’d say those are pretty good, actually (apart perhaps from the “few lines divide professional from personal time”?). The smartphone in December 2008 was a shadow of its current incarnation.
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Boris Johnson gives backing to domestic use of Covid passports • The Guardian

Jessica Elgot:

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Boris Johnson has given firm backing to the use of Covid passports after the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, suggested the measure would be against “British instinct”.

Johnson, who has faced criticism from his own party over the proposed use of Covid certification in small venues such as pubs and restaurants, has noticeably warmed to the idea in recent weeks. Government sources have suggested the certificates could be used by businesses as a way to relax social distancing measures inside venues. An interim report into the measure is due to be published on Monday.

Speaking on a visit to Middlesborough, Johnson said a certificate could be used to prove a person was safe in an number of different ways – not just vaccination. He suggested businesses would welcome the idea.

“When it comes to trying to make sure that we give maximum confidence to business and to customers here in the UK, there are three things: your immunity, whether you’ve had it before, so you’ve got natural antibodies anyway; whether you’ve been vaccinated; and then, of course, whether you’ve had a test. And so those three things working together will, I think, be useful,” he said.

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February 23: “The UK government reassured people on Tuesday they will not face major restrictions if they refuse to have a coronavirus jab with officials considering a recent Covid-19 test result as an alternative to ‘vaccine passports’.”

April 1: Johnson gives firm backing to Covid passports. Five weeks.

Though this does set up the possibility that the “libertarian” end of the Tory party will team up with Labour to defeat the measure in Parliament. A strange situation where the right-wing end of the right-wing party finds common cause with the ostensibly left-wing opposition party.
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Update on campaign targeting security researchers • Google Threat Analysis Group

Adam Weidemann:

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In January, the Threat Analysis Group documented a hacking campaign, which we were able to attribute to a North Korean government-backed entity, targeting security researchers. On March 17th, the same actors behind those attacks set up a new website with associated social media profiles for a fake company called “SecuriElite.”

The new website claims the company is an offensive security company located in Turkey that offers pentests, software security assessments and exploits. Like previous websites we’ve seen set up by this actor, this website has a link to their PGP public key at the bottom of the page. In January, targeted researchers reported that the PGP key hosted on the attacker’s blog acted as the lure to visit the site where a browser exploit was waiting to be triggered.

The attacker’s latest batch of social media profiles continue the trend of posing as fellow security researchers interested in exploitation and offensive security. On LinkedIn, we identified two accounts impersonating recruiters for antivirus and security companies. We have reported all identified social media profiles to the platforms to allow them to take appropriate action. 

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Claims to be a company called “SecuriElite”, an “offensive security company”. Quite the turn of phrase.
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A French route to Europe’s EV future • Bloomberg

Colin McKerracher:

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The latest vehicle sales data for France tell an interesting story about the future of the auto sector in Europe.

The obvious point is that the pandemic and related lockdowns are still affecting European auto markets in a big way. Overall vehicle sales were down 21% year-on-year in February. The other big story is that sales of electric vehicles continue to rise quickly. The plug-in vehicle share of new sales is now running at around 13%. That’s up from of 11% in 2020 and just 3% in 2019. Sales of plug-in hybrid vehicles rose a remarkable 134% in February.

There are two big factors driving this. The first is Europe’s tightening automotive CO2 regulations. Automakers across Europe pushed a record number of EVs onto the market last year to drive down the average emissions of the vehicles they sold and avoid paying large fines. The EU targets effectively tighten again this year, since automakers are no longer allowed to remove their 5% of worst-performing vehicles from the calculations – a carve-out they negotiated years ago.

The other factor at play is taxes. France recently updated what’s known as the bonus malus vehicle taxation scheme, which punishes buyers of high emitting vehicles and rewards those choosing electric or low emissions options. The updates make the program even more stringent and are a big part of the buoyant EV sales on display in the latest numbers.

The highest taxes for the bonus malus scheme are for vehicles that emit 220g or more of CO2 per km. This can include models like the Land Rover Discovery and BMW X7, depending on configuration. Buyers of these vehicles face an additional tax of a whopping 30,000 euros ($35,300). At the other end of the spectrum, buyers of vehicles emitting 0-20g CO2 per km benefit from a 7,000 euro ($8,240) rebate. All battery electric vehicle models fall in this latter category. That’s quite an incentive.

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Making ICE (internal combustion engines) much more expensive than EVs (electric vehicles) seems like a better path to “banning” them.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: apparently managed to get through a day without screwing things up.

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