Start Up No.1554: Snap tries Spectacles again, climate denial psychology, chip shortage worsens, Twitter reopens verification, and more


Ever wondered how those CD-Rs you burnt a few years back are faring? CC-licensed photo by Daniel Dreier on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Twenty down, 31 to go. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Snap’s new Spectacles let you see the world in augmented reality • The Verge

Alex Heath:

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Snap’s new Spectacles glasses are its most ambitious yet. But there’s a big catch: you can’t buy them.

On Thursday, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel unveiled the company’s first true augmented reality glasses, technology that he and rivals like Facebook think will one day be as ubiquitous as mobile phones. A demo showed virtual butterflies fluttering over colourful plants and landing in Spiegel’s extended hand.

The new Spectacles have dual waveguide displays capable of superimposing AR effects made with Snapchat’s software tools. The frame features four built-in microphones, two stereo speakers, and a built-in touchpad. Front-facing cameras help the glasses detect objects and surfaces you’re looking at so that graphics more naturally interact with the world around you.

These Spectacles, however, aren’t ready for the mass market. Unlike past models, Snap isn’t selling them. Instead, it’s giving them directly to an undisclosed number of AR effects creators through an application program online. (Another indication they aren’t ready for everyday use: the battery only lasts 30 minutes.)

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They look appalling. Snap has been driving a ton of publicity for these, giving interviews with anyone who will listen. Such as the FT:

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“Nobody else is doing this right now, in the way that we are and in the form factor that we are,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times, adding: “I don’t think people expect us to be this far along. Every other product out there is like a helmet.”

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I’m not sure Magic Leap (remember them?) would be too impressed by that suggestion. Ugly for sure, but not a helmet. Snap keeps trying, and keeps missing. AR spectacles: tech’s real unicorn.
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The particular psychology of destroying a planet • The New Yorker

Bill McKibben:

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What kind of thinking goes into adopting a tobacco-industry strategy to protect a business model as you wreck the climate system? (And it’s not just Exxon—here’s an analysis of how Big Meat is playing the same climate tricks.)

No one, of course, can peer inside the heads of oil-company executives or those of their enablers in the legal, financial, and political worlds. But there’s an interesting explanation in a new book from the British psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe. “Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis” states its argument in its subtitle: “Neoliberal Exceptionalism and the Culture of Uncare.”

Weintrobe writes that people’s psyches are divided into caring and uncaring parts, and the conflict between them “is at the heart of great literature down the ages, and all major religions.” The uncaring part wants to put ourselves first; it’s the narcissistic corners of the brain that persuade each of us that we are uniquely important and deserving, and make us want to except ourselves from the rules that society or morality set so that we can have what we want. “Most people’s caring self is strong enough to hold their inner exception in check,” she notes, but, troublingly, “ours is the Golden Age of Exceptionalism.”

Neoliberalism—especially the ideas of people such as Ayn Rand, enshrined in public policy by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—“crossed a Rubicon in the 1980s” and neoliberals “have been steadily consolidating their power ever since.”

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Apple has ‘lost interest in TV’ claims top analyst • Digital TV Europe

Jonathan Easton:

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Speaking at Freeview’s Out Of the Box event, top analyst Benedict Evans said that “ownership of content has no strategic value to tech companies,” and specifically said that “Apple has lost interest in TV.”

The analyst said that “it is important to remember what the tech players are trying to achieve by investing in video” and suggested that the device-agnostic nature of streaming services is antithetical to the strategy of companies like Apple and Google.

He added that “For tech players, the TV as a device is just another user endpoint like a smart door lock.”

Evans questioned how important the Apple TV+ SVOD business is to the iPhone maker, posing the hypothetical “Does Tim Cook get daily updates on content deals that Apple has done?”

The analyst said that Amazon, while being a prolific device maker, is a different case as it “has this big subscription business” that it needs to maintain and grow, and that the company “looks for things with no marginal cost that they can bundle onto Prime subscriptions.”

One way for Amazon to boost Prime is via the addition of content for Prime Video, with the company reportedly eyeing a US$9bn purchase of MGM. Evans suggested that the purchase of MGM would be a way for Amazon to go from a “secondary-tier” streaming service to a “top-tier” SVOD capable of truly rivalling the likes of Netflix.

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I’d have thought Cook would have been told when TV+ secured the Tom Hanks film last year, or that audience response was positive enough to justify a second season of Ted Lasso. But Apple isn’t a content producer in the same way as Netflix.
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The CDs you burned are going bad: here’s what you need to do • How To Geek

Ben Edwards:

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If you used a computer between 1997 and 2005, you probably burned valuable data to at least one recordable CD (CD-R) or DVD-R. Unfortunately, these have a limited lifespan, and many have already become unreadable. That’s why it’s important to back up your recordable discs before it’s too late—here’s how to do it.

CD-Rs and DVD-Rs store data on a layer of dye that is melted by the laser when the data is written. This dye layer isn’t completely stable and can chemically break down over time, causing data loss. Also, the reflective layer on the top of the disc can oxidize, making the data difficult to read.

As a result, many CD-R and DVD-Rs burned in the late ’90s and early ’00s are now unreadable in modern optical disc drives. And for those that remain, the clock is ticking.

Estimates on the lifespan of CD- and DVD-Rs vary wildly, from between two and 100 years. In 2004, the U.S. Library of Congress sponsored a study that estimated the shelf life of recordable discs available at that time. It simulated the aging of CD- and DVD-Rs stored in perfect environmental conditions (that is, a room temperature of 50% humidity with no sunlight, and no rough handling).

The study concluded that most recordable discs stored in ideal conditions would last at least 30 years, but the results varied wildly by brand. However, it also stated that “discs exposed to more severe conditions of temperature and humidity would be expected to experience a shorter life.”

So, if you store your CD- or DVD-Rs in a hot attic, you might find a higher portion of them have gone bad.

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I’m thinking of all the CD-Rs that I burnt, and I’m worried that I’ve no longer got a disk drive that can read CD-Rs. Seriously: does the average user have any need for their 15-plus-year-old CD-Rs?
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Apple previews powerful software updates designed for people with disabilities • Apple

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To support users with limited mobility, Apple is introducing a revolutionary new accessibility feature for Apple Watch. AssistiveTouch for watchOS allows users with upper body limb differences to enjoy the benefits of Apple Watch without ever having to touch the display or controls. Using built-in motion sensors like the gyroscope and accelerometer, along with the optical heart rate sensor and on-device machine learning, Apple Watch can detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity, which lets users navigate a cursor on the display through a series of hand gestures, like a pinch or a clench. AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch enables customers who have limb differences to more easily answer incoming calls, control an onscreen motion pointer, and access Notification Center, Control Center, and more.

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When I’d only read the headlines and before I’d watched the video, I was very “suuure” about this. Then you watch the video: this lets you control your Watch using your fist (clench twice – a neat echo of the double-click from the first Macintosh) or pinching (like the iPhone). In effect, it adds a mouse pointer to the Watch – but you don’t have a mouse. It’s very, very clever. So follow the link and watch the video.
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Citizen app falsely accuses man of starting California brush fire • Gizmodo

Dharna Noor:

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California’s wildfire season is already underway (well, it may never have actually stopped), and state investigators are looking into what ignited a 1,325-acre brush fire that’s currently burning through Los Angeles’ Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon neighborhoods.

They believe an arsonist may have started the blaze and currently have two suspects detained for questioning. But that’s not before users of the Citizen app led to someone being detained without sufficient evidence. Citizen is a phone app that sends users real-time, location-based safety alerts when crimes and other potentially dangerous events happen in their area. On Sunday, the app sent Los Angeles users a photograph of a man purportedly suspected of starting the fire, along with the promise of a cash reward for providing information.

“Citizen is offering a $30,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of the arson suspect,” the notification said. Cerise Castle, a journalist following along as broadcasters on the app talked about the fire, tweeted that they were “repeating unsubstantiated ‘tips’ as facts and asking people to ‘hunt this guy down’. One of the tips just played out in air as being a lie.”

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Citizen then retracted the posting, saying “it was a ‘mistake’ to have posted the photo, which came from a tipster, without ‘formal’ coordination with authorities.”

Reminiscent in its way of the way that Reddit users “found” the Boston Marathon bomber in 2013. Same mistakes, over and over. (The “Citizen” app was previously called “Vigilante”.)
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Apple wants users to trust iOS, but it doesn’t trust iOS users • The Verge

Adi Robertson on the testimony of Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software engineering:

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Epic Games sued Apple to force its hand, saying that if an open model is good enough for macOS, Apple’s claims about iOS ring hollow. On the stand yesterday, Federighi tried to resolve this problem by portraying iPhones and Macs as dramatically different devices — and in the process, threw macOS under the bus.

Federighi outlined three main differences between iOS and macOS. The first is scale. Far more people use iPhones than Macs, and the more users a platform gets, the more enticing that audience becomes to malware developers. Federighi argued iOS users are also much more casual about downloading software, giving attackers better odds of luring them into a download. “iOS users are just accustomed to getting apps all the time,” he said, citing Apple’s old catchphrase: “There’s an app for that.”

The second difference is data sensitivity. “iPhones are very attractive targets. They are very personal devices that are with you all the time. They have some of your most personal information — of course your contacts, your photos, but also other things,” he said. Mobile devices put a camera, microphone, and GPS tracker in your pocket. “All of these things make access or control of these devices potentially incredibly valuable to an attacker.”

That may undersell private interactions with Macs; Epic’s counsel Yonatan Even noted that many telemedicine calls and other virtual interactions happen on desktop. Still, it’s fair to say phones have become many people’s all-purpose digital lockboxes.

The third difference is more conceptual. Federighi basically says iOS users need to be more protected because the Mac is a specialist tool for people who know how to navigate the complexities of a powerful system, while the iPhone and iPad are — literally — for babies.

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Semiconductor shortage enters ‘danger zone’ as lead times rise • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

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The semiconductor shortage affecting much of the world’s chip production is still worsening, in at least some markets. The average lead time for chip deliveries increased to 17 weeks in April, up from 16 weeks in March. Just before the beginning of the pandemic began, average lead time was running around 12 weeks.

“All major product categories up considerably,” Susquehanna analyst Chris Rolland wrote in a recent investment note. “These were some of the largest increases since we started tracking the data.” Bloomberg notes that Susquehanna referred to this as a “danger zone” for chips as the risk of buyers engaging in behavior that magnifies the impact of the crisis increases.

Auto manufacturers have signaled they expect to lose out on $110 billion in potential sales this year, due to a shortage of parts. The problem with these types of shortfalls is that they encourage behavior like hoarding. A company that can’t ship a $50,000 final product due to a shortage of $5 parts has every reason on Earth to hoard and stockpile said parts, whether they actually need them or not.

…Hoarding now could make the long-term economic hangover worse by depressing demand during what would otherwise have been a rebound. Other factors mentioned include the impact of an ongoing drought on Taiwan, where the annual monsoon rainy season has yet to begin, and the spike in COVID-19 cases on the island, but these are recent developments. Component lead times have risen for four straight months.

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Relaunching verification and what’s next • Twitter blog

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The blue badge is one of the ways we help people distinguish the authenticity of accounts that are of high public interest. It gives people on Twitter more context about who they’re having conversations with so they can determine if it’s trustworthy, which our research has shown leads to healthier, more informed conversations. 

With today’s application launch, we’re also introducing new guidelines for verified accounts on Twitter. These verification guidelines are intended to encourage healthy conversations for the betterment of the Twitter community overall. They follow the philosophy to lead by example, Tweet others how they want to be Tweeted, and serve the public conversation authentically, respectfully, and with consideration. As always, all accounts, including verified accounts, must follow the Twitter Rules. And as we previously shared, verified accounts that repeatedly violate the Twitter Rules are subject to have the blue badge removed.

To qualify for verification, you must fit the criteria of one of the six categories listed below:
• Government
• Companies, brands and organizations
• News organizations and journalists
• Entertainment
• Sports and gaming
• Activists, organizers, and other influential individuals.

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Apparently parody accounts can’t get verified. Ted Lasso is verified. Ergo, Ted Lasso is real. Twitter logic.
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Freenode IRC staff quit after new owner “seizes” control of network • Boing Boing

Rob Beschizza:

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Staff at the freenode IRC network have resigned en-masse after control of it passed to what one described as a “narcissistic Trumpian wannabe korean royalty bitcoins millionaire.” Resignation letters piled up from Fuchs, Ed Kellett, Emīls Piņķis, Jessica Sophie Porter and others, capping weeks of drama in the FOSS world’s biggest chatbox.

Aaron Jones details the sequence of events and concludes that “a hostile entity is now in operational control over the network, and is in posession of your data.” Another resignee, Svante Bengtson, puts it succinctly:

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During the past few months in general, and last weeks in particular, it has become increasingly clear that the owners of the holding company freenode Ltd have been planning a hostile takeover of the freenode network. That takeover is now about to happen, and I cannot in good faith volunteer for this “new” freenode. freenode Ltd’s current owners’ values do not align with the values freenode the network was founded on and operated under up until now.

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Yet another. Marco d’Itri, puts it in still-blunter terms:

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To make a long story short, the former freenode head of staff secretly “sold” the network to this person even if it was not hers to sell, and our lawyers have advised us that there is not much that we can do about it without some of us risking financial ruin.

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Important in the world of open source software: 80,000 users on 40,000 channels, 26 years old.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1554: Snap tries Spectacles again, climate denial psychology, chip shortage worsens, Twitter reopens verification, and more

  1. Regarding old CD’s, I would say there’s a significant population which has material of at least sentimental value on them, as remember storage space years ago was nowhere near as abundant as it is today. Garage-band recording, scanned family photographs, major work presentations, etc. It was once very common to archive to CD (and later DVD), to free up the then-expensive hard disk storage. You may not need any of that in an absolute sense, but people keep diaries and scrapbooks for their own reasons.

    There’s so many DVD/CD drives in the world that at least trying to read an old CD won’t be daunting for a long time. Portable USB DVD/CD drives are still commodity items at commodity prices, and widely supported. It’s nothing like trying to find the hardware to attempt to read a 5.25 inch floppy disk nowadays!

    • Yes, the point has been made that old family photos are going to be very common on those CD-Rs. I should have thought of this as I have quite a few Kodak PhotoCDs!

    • Where there’s a significant lot of them is in academic research. Quite a lot of these discs haven’t been backed up to the cloud (and this doesn’t even get to the problem of software no longer being available to read them). There’s still a poor attitude regarding archiving in science (look at the astronomers throwing out all the photographic plates, then realizing years later that the plates would be useful for observing very long life cepheids).

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