Start Up No.1538: how Basecamp’s politics went out of control, Apple M2 “in production”, how to end India’s Covid plight, and more


In future, Olympic rowing medals might be won virtually. No idea how that works for teams, though. CC-licensed photo [of Heather Stanning, Britain’s world rowing champion] by Defence Images on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Named tentatively. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


• What’s a scissor statement?
• How many people warned Facebook about its effects on Myanmar before 2016?
• What’s the role of social media in Ethiopia’s unrest?
• Are small netwroks less toxic than big ones?
• Should do we fix the problems we perceive?

Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.


🚨 What really happened at Basecamp • Platformer

Casey Newton:

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[Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier] Hansson wanted to acknowledge the situation as a failure and move on. But when employees who had been involved in the list [of “funny” customer names collected since 2009 for a jape inside the company] wanted to continue talking about it, he grew exasperated. “You are the person you are complaining about,” he thought.

Employees took a different view. In a response to Hansson’s post, one employee noted that the way we treat names — especially foreign names — is deeply connected to social and racial hierarchies. Just a few weeks earlier, eight people had been killed in a shooting spree in Atlanta. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent, and their names had sometimes been mangled in press reports. (The Asian American Journalists Association responded by issuing a pronunciation guide.) The point was that dehumanizing behavior begins with very small actions, and it did not seem like too much to ask Basecamp’s founders to acknowledge that.

Hansson’s response to this employee took aback many of the workers I spoke with. He dug through old chat logs to find a time when the employee in question participated in a discussion about a customer with a funny-sounding name. Hansson posted the message — visible to the entire company — and dismissed the substance of the employee’s complaint.

Two other employees were sufficiently concerned by the public dressing-down of a colleague that they filed complaints with Basecamp’s human resources officer. (HR declined to take action against the company co-founder.)

Less than two weeks later, [CEO Jason] Fried announced the new company policies.

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Newton with the inside story of the “dispute” (with Basecamp banning discussion of “politics” on company systems) that has had Valley Twitter agog for the past couple of days. It’s very hard to work out how much this is “are you sure this is actually a topic, at all?” and how much it’s “can’t you hear how clotheared the things you’re saying are?”
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Apple’s follow-up to M1 chip goes into mass production for Mac • Nikkei Asia

Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li:

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The next generation of Mac processors designed by Apple entered mass production this month, sources familiar with the matter told Nikkei Asia, bringing the U.S. tech giant one step closer to its goal of replacing Intel-designed central processing units with its own.

Shipments of the new chipset – tentatively known as the M2, after Apple’s current M1 processor – could begin as early as July for use in MacBooks that are scheduled to go on sale in the second half of this year, the people said.

The latest entry in the “Apple silicon” lineup is, like its predecessor, a so-called system-on-a-chip, meaning it integrates central processing units, graphic processing units and artificial intelligence accelerators all on one chip. Sources said it will eventually be used in other Mac and Apple devices beyond the MacBook.

The new chipset is produced by key Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chipmaker, using the latest semiconductor production technology, known as 5-nanometer plus, or N5P. Producing such advanced chipsets takes at least three months.

The start of mass production came as Apple introduced new iMac and iPad Pro models using the M1.

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“Tentatively known as the M2”, aka “neither we nor the manufacturer know”. Though I guess calling it the N1 would make it too difficult to distinguish. Together with the schematics ransomwared from Quanta, we now know roughly when and what we’ll get this summer.

Apple also announced its quarterly results – a blow-the-doors-off $90bn in revenue (only just short of the usual bumper Christmas quarter) – in which profits rose 54% and Mac revenue was up 70% year-on-year. The M1 and the usable keyboards are making a hell of a difference.
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Win a gold medal from your front room? IOC launches Olympic Virtual Series • The Guardian

Sean Ingle:

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The prospect of an Olympic gold medal being won from someone’s living room or garden shed moved a step closer on Thursday after the IOC announced it was moving into esports and virtual sports.

The inaugural Olympic virtual series, which starts next month, will involve five sports – baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and motor sport – as part of a plan to grow new audiences for the International Olympic Committee.

A well-placed source told the Guardian that while medals would not be awarded for now, the possibility of medal events in the future for “physical” virtual sport, such as online rowing and cycling, should not be ruled out. But the source insisted there would never be gold medals for Overwatch or League of Legends.

In a statement the IOC said the Olympic Virtual Series would “mobilise virtual sport, esports and gaming enthusiasts all around the world in order to reach new Olympic audiences, while also encouraging the development of physical and non-physical forms of sports in line with the recommendations of the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020+5”.

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Rowing, eh? *blows on hands, looks at rowing machine*
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Stinson Beach residents must reckon with abandoning their homes as sea levels rise • SF Gate

Andrew Chamings:

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Many residents in one of the Bay Area’s most popular day-trip destinations are being told that they may need to abandon their homes as sea levels rise, KPIX reported this week, and the state coastal commission and county is now battling over the town’s future

Studies show that numerous homes in Stinson Beach will flood with just one foot of sea rise, an unavoidable result of human-caused climate change. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that this will likely happen in under 20 years (the same data set shows a rise of nearly four feet by the end of the century.)

Six years ago, residents in two of the lowest lying neighborhoods in Stinson Beach — Calles and the Sonoma-Patio — received notice from the county informing them that sea level rise would “have an impact on their ability to get permits for improvements on their properties,” KPIX reported.

“Lots of people delighted with their beach house and their one-and-a-half-minute walk to the beach all of a sudden discovered that you wouldn’t be able to get a permit, for anything,” resident and HOA President Mike Matthews told the station. “That equates to ‘can’t sell your house,’ and that equates to loss of the value of it so there was an extreme reaction.”

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I bet there was an extreme reaction. Those houses would essentially go from being worth millions to zero.
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How to end India’s Covid nightmare • UnHerd

Tom Chivers:

»

The US has millions of doses of vaccines which it’s simply not using. I’ve seen the exact number estimated as high as 100 million, but I think it’s widely accepted that there are 30 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses sitting, bottled but unused, in a warehouse in Ohio. There seems to be no short-term likelihood that the US FDA will approve it, over (to my mind misguided) fears about blood clotting, so they’re just gathering dust.

Since Aaronson wrote his post, there has been some apparent good news: the US says it will start releasing AstraZeneca doses, a total of 60 million. But there’s no sense of urgency. It’s waiting for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to complete a “safety review”, which could take weeks, before releasing the first 10 million. Meanwhile, in India, at the very least 2,500 people are dying every day from Covid in an unthinkable, ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

I wanted to remind people of the urgency. Imagine that there are 30 million doses sitting in Ohio; how much good could they do if we could get them into Indian arms straight away? So I thought it would be interesting to attempt a Fermi estimate of that, a sort of first approximation. It won’t be exact, but it might get us to within an order of magnitude, and give us a sense of how much using these vaccines matters.

«

Chivers tries to work out how many deaths could be avoided by sending those doses to India immediately. The number is large. So though are the number of cases every day: though the official figure is around 300,000, best calculations suggest the real number is anywhere between 6 and 10 million per day. India, of course, has 1.4 billion people (close enough), so the numbers could go anywhere – including up.
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Saudi, US net zero oil producer initiative meets sceptical response • Climate Change News

Joe Lo:

»

At Joe Biden’s climate summit on Friday, the US, Canada, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – together responsible for 40% of global oil and gas production – set up a forum “that will develop pragmatic net-zero emission strategies”.

Strategies could include stopping methane leaks and flaring, deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies, diversification from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues, and “other measures in line with each country’s national circumstances”, according to the joint statement.

There was no mention of leaving oil in the ground, an omission climate advocates were quick to criticise.

Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty campaign, said in a statement: “[This] is worrying because all of these countries continue to expand fossil fuel production and pour billions of dollars into technologies to reduce emissions ‘per barrel’ rather than to manage an equitable decline of overall emissions and production. If your house is on fire you don’t add more fuel.”

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The climate writer Alex Steffen has a description for this:

»

We’re winning too slowly because we face a set of interest groups for whom losing slowly is the same thing as victory.

We live within what I call the Interval of Predatory Delay, a time that began over 50 years ago, when a set of high-polluting industries decided it was wiser and more profitable to fight to delay change on climate and sustainability than to invest in lower-carbon and more sustainable systems and processes. Easier to torch the planet and lie relentlessly, they decided, than avoid catastrophe and lose revenue.

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BT Sport up for sale in broadband push • Daily Telegraph

Christopher Williams and Ben Woods:

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BT is in talks with Amazon, Disney and others to offload a stake in its television arm, The Telegraph can reveal, as the pandemic casts doubt over the future of sport.

The telecoms operator has appointed the investment bank Lazard to explore a partial sale of BT Sport as it focuses on upgrading Britain’s broadband network.

It is understood that BT is in talks with potential partners including Amazon, Disney and Dazn, an international sports streaming venture funded by Sir Leonard Blavatnik, the Ukraine-born billionaire.

A British broadcaster is also involved in the discussions and potentially leading the bidding, City sources said.

BT has a longstanding partnership with ITV, although has also worked with Channel 4 and the BBC. Any traditional broadcaster could seek to show more top-flight football on terrestrial television.

The same source said Dazn, which recently agreed a sports broadcasting partnership with BT’s Italian equivalent, was “most keen”.

The discussions pit a traditional broadcaster against Dazn, a streaming upstart, and two global media giants. Potential private equity partners including CVC, a major investor in rugby, and Silverlake, a shareholder in Manchester City are understood to have backed away from talks.

A source said: “The world of sport has been rocked by coronavirus. It’s no surprise that BT is rethinking how best to keep growing the business.”

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BT Sport has never looked like a comfortable match for BT: big bets on how much to pay for content over multiple years is a different game from consultancy services and fibre laying.
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Seven ways Boris Johnson’s Downing Street refurb may have broken rules • openDemocracy

Seth Thévoz:

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The makeover of the prime minister’s flat, reported to have cost up to £200,000, has caused nothing but headaches for the government. Ever since the first carefully phrased denials were issued, this story has kept escalating.

As openDemocracy revealed last month, Boris Johnson has been breaking his own government’s transparency rules by failing to publish an up-to-date register of ministers’ interests. The prime minister’s own former senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, said Johnson planned to “have donors secretly pay” for the work.

Here’s what we do know. The civil service refused to pay £58,000 for luxury designer Lulu Lytle’s June 2020 invoice. There were also concerns about the total bill exceeding the £30,000-limit on taxpayer funds for the project.

In July 2020, with Lytle’s invoice deadline looming and Johnson unable to afford it himself, the Conservatives are said to have used Tory party funds to meet the bill.

In order to cover this amount, Tory donors from the Leader’s Group later dug deep – Tory peer David Brownlow paid £58,000 in October 2020. openDemocracy understands the amount was later repaid back to Brownlow, and that he looked at setting up a Trust with himself as chair, to avoid having to disclose the donation. Lord Brownlow has not commented on this.

The Conservative Party denies currently using its funds to pay the bill – but that was never the allegation. It has refused to be drawn in on whether it had previously used its funds in that way.

Last week, Cabinet Office minister Nicholas True told the House of Lords the extra cost had now been “met by the prime minister personally”. This raises even more questions – Boris Johnson has not declared any income windfall, so how can he suddenly afford a £58,000 bill that he couldn’t afford last July? Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves suggested Johnson was “Possibly breaking the law.”

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The seven ways are listed. For any readers who are confused over what all this is about, and why it matters. (They all matter, but some more than others.)
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India’s genome sequencing program is finally good to go – so what’s the holdup? • The Wire Science

Priyanka Pulla:

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Rakesh Mishra, the director of Hyderabad’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), is frustrated. CCMB has been sequencing SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes since the COVID-19 pandemic began – initially as part of its own research program and since December 2020 as part of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a group of ten labs the government put together to ramp up sequencing across to India.

To do its work, Mishra’s team needs specialised plastic containers and reagents that go into sequencing machines. But buying them has become needlessly complicated in the last year, taking time away from his lab’s core jobs, according to Mishra.

The source of his troubles is a finance ministry order in May 2020 that stopped government labs from importing goods worth less than Rs 200 crore. The order was meant to boost local manufacturing, in the spirit of ‘Make in India’, but had unintended consequences for India’s fledgling genome-sequencing efforts. Several reagents and plastics used by Indian labs come from foreign manufacturers, like the US-based Illumina Incorporation, and have no Indian substitutes.

The ministry’s sudden restrictions threw these labs out of gear. By September 2020, sequencing across the country had come to a near-complete halt, as labs ran out of reagents they needed. Then, in response to their complaints, the ministry exempted reagents from its restrictions in January 2021.

But plastics are now the new thorn in his side, Mishra said. These materials still haven’t been exempted from the ministry’s order, which means his lab can’t buy them in bulk unless it can conduct a market assessment to show that no Indian alternatives exist. Such an assessment is a needless bureaucratic distraction at a time when labs desperately need to sequence more viral genomes – and faster. “It’s like asking us to run a 100-metre dash with our hands tied,” Mishra said. “I can run, but I will run very slow.”

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The import ban has the Modi feel, that Make India Great Again intervention that screws things up. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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