Start Up No.1582: Intel’s next chip is delayed (again), bigger iPads coming?, the mystery of the Apple bodycams, WD’s bad code, and more

An Israeli company is producing “industrial cultured” meat, but it might be a while before it can meet even modest demands. CC-licensed photo by Isriya Paireepairit on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Intel delays new chip in first setback for new CEO Gelsinger’s turnaround effort • WSJ

Asa Fitch:


Chip maker Intel is delaying production of one of its newest chips to improve performance, the first significant product setback under new Chief Executive Pat Gelsinger as he seeks to rebuild the company’s competitiveness.

Intel now is planning to start producing the next generation of central processing units for servers—the brains of those machines—in early 2022 after previously saying it would be ready late this year, Lisa Spelman, the company’s corporate vice president, who manages the server-chip business, said in a Tuesday blog post.

The additional time, Ms. Spelman wrote, would allow Intel to improve the chips’ performance, in particular around the highly prized metrics of data handling and artificial-intelligence processing. Production is now set to begin in next year’s first quarter and ramp up in the second quarter, she wrote.

The delay of the new chips is the first under Mr. Gelsinger, who became chief executive in February following major delays in chip-making advances under his predecessor, Bob Swan. Intel almost a year ago said the following generation of even more advanced chips with super-small transistors wouldn’t be ready until late next year, about a year later than initially expected. 

Mr. Gelsinger has vowed to make Intel more reliable in producing new chips. At his first shareholder meeting as the company’s CEO in May, he said Intel was aiming to deliver a “steady cadence of leadership products that our customers can depend upon.”

The server-chip market is one of the largest, fastest-growing and most competitive in chip-making. Intel generated $5.6bn in revenue from its data-center business in the first quarter, roughly a quarter of all sales.


“Ramp up in the second quarter” probably means “volume production in the third quarter” and “appearing in machines that are sold in the fourth quarter”. Intel’s a long way behind the game in this, and AMD isn’t going away. Plus companies like Google, which uses a lot of server chips, might find it useful to have its own chip team which could develop ARM-based chips for its colossal number of servers. Oh, Google does have its own chip team working on ARM-based chips? How interesting. And Amazon..?
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Big iPads, Apple car changes, Amazon AR glasses: inside big tech labs • Bloomberg

Marg Gurman:


You’re reading Mark Gurman’s Power On newsletter. Sign up here to get the inside scoop on the latest gadgets and product reviews in your inbox weekly.

This week: Apple explores larger iPads and reshuffles its car team, Amazon eyes augmented reality, and Peloton takes on the Apple Watch.

Hey everyone! Welcome to Power On, a weekly newsletter where I’m going to write about my passions—Apple, new devices and Silicon Valley secrets—with the occasional riff about my non-work obsession, the NBA. This is the inaugural edition, and be warned, I’m just getting over the Lakers playoffs loss.


I had ignored this, but as John Gruber points out the newsletter format frees Gurman from the stilted language of formal Bloomberg articles. Instead, he can just write sentences like


I’m told that Apple has engineers and designers exploring larger iPads that could hit stores a couple of years down the road at the earliest.


Which is how it would appear in any publication that wasn’t obsessed with some bizarre faux objectivity. And Gurman is well connected, so the newsletter is good value.
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Walmart rolls out a cheaper insulin • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:


Insulin is expensive. Really expensive. Like hundreds-of-dollars per vial expensive. Expensive enough that some diabetes patients can’t afford their monthly dose. And now Walmart, of all companies, is stepping in to make the drug a bit more affordable.

The retailer announced on Tuesday that it would be rolling out a budget version of analog insulin under its ReliOn label to adults and children with a prescription for the drug. Per Walmart’s announcement, these private-label insulin vials will be available for about $73 each—and pre-filled FlexPen needles for about $86 each—at any Walmart pharmacy starting this week, with a wider rollout to Sam’s Club pharmacies planned for mid-July. Considering how vials can cost anywhere between $150 to nearly $400 a pop, this could provide some relief for Americans.


This is a modern insulin (you can buy a cheap, less effective form for less). Still a ridiculous price, but less ridiculous than it was. Maybe those biohackers we heard about yesterday won’t have to bother after all.
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Exclusive: Apple making employees wear police-grade body cams in response to leaks •

Corina Garcia:


For the first time ever reported, Apple is making some of its employees wear what we were told were “police-grade” body cameras similar to the #1 law enforcement camera, the Axon Body 2. “Similar,” if not the same.

As a response to an ever-expanding Apple leak culture, and staying true to their brand, the company has taken this new dramatic step to ensure that its hardware trade secrets stay out of the hands of leakers like our very own, Jon Prosser.

I say “new,” but according to our sources, Apple has been rolling out this compliance to their teams for at least the last few weeks. To clarify, specific Apple teams only. Not all Apple employees are being made to wear the sophisticated tech.

This falls in line with the company’s latest stint to target well known Apple leakers like Kang, on the popular Chinese microblogging website Weibo, and even concept artists like Concept Creator, Jermaine. An exceptionally talented concept artist we’ve personally worked with in the past.

That’s great and all, except…Apple’s effort to arm its employees with police-grade body cams, effectively warning them about leaking…got leaked. We leaked it. This is that. The leaking of the warning to Apple employees not to leak.


But which employees, exactly? Security guards? (Which seems likely.) They don’t know, but it makes an arresting headline. Or, of course, it could be a planted story which they’re using to flush out a leaker.
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Hackers exploited 0-day, not 2018 bug, to mass-wipe My Book Live devices • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


Last week’s mass-wiping of Western Digital My Book Live storage devices involved the exploitation of not just one vulnerability but also a second critical security bug that allowed hackers to remotely perform a factory reset without a password, an investigation shows.

The vulnerability is remarkable because it made it trivial to wipe what is likely petabytes of user data. More notable still was that, according to the vulnerable code itself, a Western Digital developer actively removed code that required a valid user password before allowing factory resets to proceed.

The undocumented vulnerability resided in a file aptly named system_factory_restore. It contains a PHP script that performs resets, allowing users to restore all default configurations and wipe all data stored on the devices.

Normally, and for good reason, factory resets require the person making the request to provide a user password. This authentication ensures that devices exposed to the Internet can only be reset by the legitimate owner and not by a malicious hacker.

As the following script shows, however, a Western Digital developer created five lines of code to password-protect the reset command. For unknown reasons, the authentication check was cancelled, or in developer parlance, it was commented out, as indicated by the double / character at the beginning of each line.

function post($urlPath, $queryParams = null, $ouputFormat = 'xml') {
// if(!authenticateAsOwner($queryParams))
// {
// header("HTTP/1.0 401 Unauthorized");
// return;
// }

“The vendor commenting out the authentication in the system restore endpoint really doesn’t make things look good for them,” HD Moore, a security expert and the CEO of network discovery platform Rumble, told Ars. “It’s like they intentionally enabled the bypass.”


It’s like they put test code used so they wouldn’t have to authenticate endlessly (more precisely, production code downgraded for test purposes) into production without having any regression tests, which doesn’t say anything good about WD’s internal systems.
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Where there’s a grille: the hidden portals to London’s underworld • The Guardian

Oliver Wainwright:


A gas lamp still flickers on the corner of Carting Lane in the City of Westminster, adding a touch of Dickensian charm to this sloping alleyway around the back of the Savoy Hotel. The street used to be nicknamed Farting Lane, not in reference to flatulent diners tumbling out of the five-star establishment, but because of what was powering the streetlamp: noxious gases emanating from the sewer system down below.

The Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp, to give the ingenious device its proper patented name, was invented by Birmingham engineer Joseph Webb in 1895, and it still serves the same purpose today. As a plaque explains, it burns off residual biogas from Joseph Bazalgette’s great Victorian sewer, which runs beneath the Victoria Embankment at the bottom of the lane. It is the last surviving sewer-powered streetlamp in London, but it is one of many such curious vents, shafts and funnels scattered across the city, servicing the capital’s underground workings in all manner of unlikely disguises, now brought together in a fascinating gazetteer, titled Inventive Vents.

“We were led to the topic by Eduardo Paolozzi,” says Judy Ovens, cofounder of Our Hut, the architectural education charity behind the project. “We had always admired his robotic metal sculpture in Pimlico, but never realised it was actually designed as a ventilation shaft for an underground car park.”

Paolozzi’s striking metallic totem pole set the team, and their army of volunteers, off on a subterranean treasure hunt. Listening for unusual hums emanating from statue plinths, looking out for wisps of steam rising from kiosk rooftops, and consulting engineers’ maps, they have charted a plethora of hidden portals to the secret worlds that rumble away below the streets of the capital, compiled using the Layers of London website.


Amazing archaeology that you can conduct right now in the modern world.
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Oklo planning nuclear micro-reactors that run off nuclear waste • CNBC

Catherine Clifford:


Oklo will build reactors “far smaller” than the ones TerraPower is building. TerraPower’s main nuclear reactor, the Natrium, will have a capacity of 345 megawatts of electrical energy (MWe), where the first Oklo reactor, called the Aurora, is expected to have a capacity of 1.5 MWe, making it a true micro-reactor. A 2019 report prepared by the Nuclear Energy Institute defined micro-reactors to be between one and 10 MWe. Other companies in the space include Elysium Industries, General Atomics, HolosGen, NuGen and X-energy, to name a few.

Oklo plans to own and operate these micro-reactors, Cochran said, and customers could include utility companies, industrial sites, large companies, and college and university campuses, DeWitt said.

“Today’s large reactors fit the bill to meet city-scale demand for clean electricity,” Jonathan Cobb, senior analyst at the World Nuclear Association, told CNBC. “But smaller reactors will be able to supply low-carbon electricity and heat to remote regions and other situations where gigawatt-scale capacities would be too much.”

Because of their small size, micro-reactors are faster to build than conventional reactors. “Less than a year to construct the powerhouse is a conservative estimate,” Cochran told CNBC.


Except.. they’re “fast reactors” which breed fuel from spent fuel, which can be considered a proliferation risk. However, I think this is more likely to succeed than our next offering…
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Inside Neeva, the ad-free, privacy-first search engine from ex-Googlers • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:


about 30% of the roughly 60-person staff they’ve assembled at Neeva consists of ex-Googlers, including Hall-of-Famers such as Udi Manber (a former head of Google search) and Darin Fisher (one of the inventors of Chrome). They’ve also secured $77.5 million in funding, including investments from venture-capital titans Greylock and Sequoia.

At its highest level, Neeva represents a bet that the way Google monetizes search and other services through advertising—as it’s done for more than two decades to wildly profitable effect—has hampered its user experience, thereby opening up an opportunity. “I tell people that Neeva is as much a social experiment as it is a technological experiment,” says Ramaswamy, the company’s CEO. “It’s looking for the answer to the question, ‘If there was a high-quality product that clearly benefits you in multiple ways, would you pay for it as opposed to having it be free, supported by ads?’”

Whatever the answer to that question, Neeva’s creators understand what they’re getting into. “Sridhar and Vivek, with their depth of knowledge on everything from technology to what people actually need and do, are probably the only people in the world where I would go, ‘Okay, I’ll go on this journey with you, because you know how to go on this journey,’” says Greylock partner and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman.

(Which is not to say there aren’t other ambitious privacy-centric search engines on journeys at least somewhat similar to Neeva’s. DuckDuckGo has been on its own for 13 years; once a one-man operation, it now has 129 employees and $100m in annual revenue from ads that don’t involve tracking individual users. And Brave, the browser company founded by web pioneer Brendan Eich, is beta-testing its own privacy-first search engine and says free and for-pay versions will be available.)


McCracken can’t say it, of course, but zero chance any appreciable number of people will sign up for this. The idea that you might segment the market for search into premium, valuable payers and cheaper payers as Apple has for phones just doesn’t wash. How many months before they pivot into something that works with personal data?
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Future Meat Technologies launches world’s first industrial cultured meat production facility • PR Newswire

Future Meat Technologies:


 Future Meat Technologies, an industry-leading company developing innovative technology to produce cultured meat, has opened the world’s first industrial cultured meat facility. With the capability to produce 500 kilograms of cultured products a day, equivalent to 5,000 hamburgers, this facility makes scalable cell-based meat production a reality.

“This facility opening marks a huge step in Future Meat Technologies’ path to market, serving as a critical enabler to bring our products to shelves by 2022,” says Rom Kshuk, CEO of Future Meat Technologies. “Having a running industrial line accelerates key processes such as regulation and product development.”

Currently, the facility can produce cultured chicken, pork and lamb, without the use of animal serum or genetic modification (non-GMO) with the production of beef coming soon. Future Meat Technologies’ unique platform enables fast production cycles, about 20-times faster than traditional animal agriculture.  

“After demonstrating that cultured meat can reach cost parity faster than the market anticipated, this production facility is the real game-changer,” says Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientific officer of Future Meat Technologies. “This facility demonstrates our proprietary media rejuvenation technology in scale, allowing us to reach production densities 10 times higher than the industrial standard. Our goal is to make cultured meat affordable for everyone, while ensuring we produce delicious food that is both healthy and sustainable, helping to secure the future of coming generations.”

The facility further supports Future Meat Technologies’ larger efforts to create a more sustainable future. The company’s cruelty-free production process is expected to generate 80% less greenhouse emissions and use 99% less land and 96% less freshwater than traditional meat production.


OK, but that’s a drop in the ocean. McDonald’s sells about 6.5m burgers per day across 39,140 restaurants, or 1,660 burgers on average per franchise. As with everything technological, the question is: will it scale? Notice there’s no mention of price here either.
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Now on sale: Social Warming, my latest book.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1581: Facebook wins FTC antitrust trial, what’s after AMP?, ‘SafeDollar’ gets hacked to $0, a political wife writes, and more

A group of (American) biohackers reckon they can make insulin in quantity, cheaply. But can they really? CC-licensed photo by Sprogz on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Hot in here? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why biologists like Carl Bergstrom are warning that social media is a risk to humanity • Vox

Shirin Ghaffary:


Social media has drastically restructured the way we communicate in an incredibly short period of time. We can discover, “Like,” click on, and share information faster than ever before, guided by algorithms most of us don’t quite understand.

And while some social scientists, journalists, and activists have been raising concerns about how this is affecting our democracy, mental health, and relationships, we haven’t seen biologists and ecologists weighing in as much.

That’s changed with a new paper published in the prestigious science journal PNAS earlier this month, titled “Stewardship of global collective behavior.”

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields, from climate science to philosophy, make the case that academics should treat the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.” A crisis discipline is a field in which scientists across different fields work quickly to address an urgent societal problem — like how conservation biology tries to protect endangered species or climate science research aims to stop global warming.

The paper argues that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress. For example, the paper says that tech companies have “fumbled their way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, unable to stem the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation” that has hindered widespread acceptance of masks and vaccines. The authors warn that if left misunderstood and unchecked, we could see unintended consequences of new technology contributing to phenomena such as “election tampering, disease, violent extremism, famine, racism, and war.”


There’s an interview with Carl Bergstrom, who is a smart presence on Twitter. They’ve independently pointed to the same things that I do in Social Warming.

Or you can look at the latest XKCD.
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Good news: Google no longer requires publishers to use the AMP format. Bad news: what replaces it might be worse • The Register

Scott Gilbertson:


Programmers hate HTML. It’s messy, vague, imprecise, and user agents must deal with that, which is a huge pain for programmers. It’s a valid criticism in many ways, but it also misses the fact that these are exactly the qualities that have enabled millions of people to use HTML. It’s messy, vague, imprecise, and perfect for creating the web. What’s more, it is developed very slowly, by many people, representing many points of view, many needs. AMP is a set of programming guidelines shoved down your throat by Google.

The third problem with AMP is that it disrupts the web’s decentralised design. This is really an outgrowth of the two things, but important in its own right when we start considering Google AMP’s ostensible replacement, “Core Web Vitals.”

Decentralisation means that no one entity controls web content. With AMP, Google gets total control of the content. Google hosts it, and Google alone knows who visits it.

The final point is either ironic or, if you lean towards conspiracy, proof that Google knows exactly what it’s doing here – namely, locking up content where Google can control it and mine users for data. Are you ready for it? Google AMP pages aren’t any faster than regular HTML pages. Worse, they’re often slower. Nope, not kidding. When AMP pages are faster, it’s because Google is pre-loading them, which Google could do for any page on the web.

Still, getting a spot in the Top News carousel of Google News is a powerful carrot, and it worked. Nearly every major publisher on the web (including this one) publishes AMP versions of their pages.

Now AMP is no longer required of publishers, those of us shouting about how this is bad can just shut up now, right?

Unfortunately, there are problems with AMP’s replacement as well. And those problems go right back to what was wrong with AMP in the first place: Google is in charge of it.


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An announcement about the comment section • In the Pipeline: Science Magazine

Derek Lowe:


Not too many people come in blazing with ad hominem attacks about someone else’s opinions on mass spectrometry, cellular counterscreening assays, or the other sorts of things that have made up the bulk of the postings here.

The pandemic changed that. The readership here increased, but that’s not the main problem by itself. I’m sure that many people will drift off – or already have started drifting off – as this site stops becoming a daily stop for coronavirus news and commentary. Some will stay around, and I’m happy to have them. But – and you know where this is going – there have also been several commentators here who have for some time been abusing this site’s hospitality. I have mentioned to these people that they don’t have to be here, that starting constant wrangling arguments about vaccines, pandemic statistics, etc. in the comments section does not have to be a regular feature of their day. No one’s taken the hint. I’ve also been hoping that these folks would just go away on their own, as fewer and fewer coronavirus posts get written, but that’s not happening very smoothly, either. I will still be writing about the pandemic from time to time, naturally, which sets things off again. And even the posts that aren’t on that topic tend to get their comments sections diverted all too quickly.

So after much thought, here’s what’s going to happen. Longtime readers will know that I have kept a very light hand on the comments here over the years, but starting today I will be deleting whatever I feel are tendentious comments meant to keep the coronavirus arguments going. I’ve actually canned a good number of comments over the last few months that are full of outright misinformation, and I’m going to lower my cutoff for that stuff, too. Complaints about censorship, freedom of expression, and so on will be allowed to stay up on this post, but only this one. I’ll be deleting those as well if they show up in the comments to other posts, and after an interval the comments to this post will be closed as well. Update: my job will be easier if people refrain from responding to obvious troll comments before I can get to them.

To the people who have been abusing the system: you are of course free to have your own opinions, and you are free to express them on your own site or anywhere else that will have you, but this is a warning notice. Do what you like but don’t do it here.


As you’d expect. It’s Gresham’s Law applied to comments, as ever.
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SafeDollar ‘stablecoin’ drops to $0 following $248,000 DeFi exploit on Polygon

Liam Frost:


The price of SafeDollar (SDO), an algorithmic decentralized finance (DeFi) stablecoin based on the Polygon (MATIC) blockchain, has plummeted to literally zero as a result of what appears to be an exploit today.

While details are yet scarce, block explorer Polygonscan shows that 202,000 USDC and 46,000 USDT stablecoins were suddenly drained from SDO’s smart contract today—worth around $248,000 in total.

As a result, SafeDollar’s price—which was supposed to always be equal to $1 since it’s a stablecoin—has plummeted to zero, according to the protocol’s own website.

Stablecoins are a special type of cryptocurrency tokens that are pegged to certain fiat currencies, usually the US dollar. They are designed to always retain the value of their corresponding assets and—in theory—should always be tradeable or redeemable in a one-to-one ratio.

In SafeDollar’s case, the stablecoin uses a combination of “unique features of seigniorage, deflation protocol and synthetic assets” as its basis.

The attack was also confirmed in a Telegram channel called “SafeDollar Announcements” today, with developers urging users to stop all operations with SDO and ostensibly promising to come up with a compensation plan in the future.

“SafeDollar has been under attack. We have paused activities on SafeDollar and investigating the matter. IMPORTANT: PLEASE STOP ALL TRADING RELATED TO $SDO. We will announce the post-mortem after the investigation done with compensation plan for Liquidity Providers,” said the announcement.

Notably, this is not even the first time SDO was exploited. Just a week ago, SafeDollar developers published a “Postmortem Analysis” about an exploit that resulted in the loss of the protocol’s 9,959 SDS tokens—worth around $95,000 at the time.


Still, at least they can’t lose any more actual money through being exploited again. “Smart contracts” seem to be anything but.
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Biohackers figure out how to make insulin 98% cheaper • Freethink

Jack Berning on attempts to route around the US’s crazy pricing for insulin:


A group of dedicated biohackers believes that making insulin more accessible requires taking the monopoly away from the big three pharmaceutical companies that produce it. So they’ve started the Open Insulin Foundation, a non-profit with plans to develop the world’s first open-source insulin production model.

The team consists of dozens of volunteers led by founder Anthony DiFranco, a type I diabetic. They’re now able to produce the [genetically engineered] microorganisms needed for insulin with a bioreactor. They’re also working to develop equipment that can purify the proteins produced by the bioreactor.

With open-source hardware equivalent to proprietary bioreactors, the foundation hopes to give labs across the world access to the equipment needed to produce the insulin protein on a small scale.

“Very few people really have any concrete ideas about how to solve these problems,” says DiFranco. “At the level of the technical fundamentals, it’s clear that we can do this. And if we can, we must.”

But the process hasn’t been easy. For six years, DiFranco’s team has attempted to reverse-engineer the production of insulin with volunteer-led experiments at their community labs in cities like Oakland, Baltimore, and Sunnyvale, CA.

Today, they’re beginning to see hopeful signs of a major breakthrough — like getting an FDA-approved protocol for making injectables. The team estimates that costs will be 98% cheaper than big pharma, reaching prices as low as $5-15 per vial. The best part? They’re willing to give away their plans for how to make insulin for free.


Not really much use, unless someone has their own bioreactor, and that’s more likely to go wrong than right. It’s really not like brewing beer.

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Judge dismisses FTC and state antitrust complaints against Facebook • CNBC

Salvador Rodriguez:


The FTC sued the company last December, alongside attorneys general from 48 states, arguing that Facebook engaged engaged in a systematic strategy to eliminate threats to its monopoly, including the 2012 and 2014 acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, respectively, which the FTC previously cleared. 

However, the court ruled Monday said the FTC failed to prove its main contention, and the cornerstone of the case: That Facebook holds monopoly power in the US personal social networking market.

“Although the Court does not agree with all of Facebook’s contentions here, it ultimately concurs that the agency’s Complaint is legally insufficient and must therefore be dismissed,” reads the filing from US District Court for the District of Columbia. “The FTC has failed to plead enough facts to plausibly establish a necessary element of all of its Section 2 claims – namely, that Facebook has monopoly power in the market for Personal Social Networking (PSN) Services.”

The court found the FTC did not provide enough detailed data to prove Facebook has market power in the loosely defined market for personal social networking services.

“The Complaint is undoubtedly light on specific factual allegations regarding consumer-switching preferences,” the court wrote. “These allegations – which do not even provide an estimated actual figure or range for Facebook’s market share at any point over the past ten years – ultimately fall short of plausibly establishing that Facebook holds market power.”


That really is a colossal failure on the FTC’s part. “Wait, I thought you were putting in the numbers in the introduction that would establish market dominance!” Could have just used the Pew Internet page on it. (69% of American adults use Facebook. Of those, 70% (or 48% of all adults) say they use it daily.

Possibly related: Facebook’s market capitalisation hit $1 trillion post-judgement.
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The Big Tech business model poses a threat to democracy • Global Witness

The team at Global Witness decided to see what they could do with political ads targeted across Northern Ireland’s flammable social divide:


We looked at the potential for stoking divisions and inciting violence along sectarian (Protestant/Catholic) lines in Northern Ireland. When we were devising these ads, tensions in Northern Ireland were increasing, making it a good context in which to test the extent to which Facebook would allow ads that are targeted in a polarising way. 

In fact, not long after Facebook accepted our ads, violence broke out on the streets with masked youths rioting and a bus hijacked and set on fire. We’re not suggesting that religiously-targeted ads contributed to these tensions; we’re demonstrating the harm that could be caused when political ads are targeted to narrow groups. This sort of material has the potential to further inflame tensions and lead to real-world violence, not just in Northern Ireland, but anywhere our differences can be exploited by those who wish to divide us. 

Facebook says that during its ad review process one of the things it checks is how an ad is targeted. Yet they allowed us to target inflammatory political ads across the sectarian divide by: 

• Targeting people in Northern Ireland that Facebook has profiled as having an interest in Protestantism
• Targeting people in Northern Ireland that Facebook has profiled as having an interest in the Catholic Church
• Targeting people living on the predominantly Catholic Falls Road side of the peace wall in west Belfast by using postcode targeting
• Targeting people living on the predominantly Protestant Shankill Road side of the peace wall in west Belfast by using postcode targeting

In the wrong hands, there’s a lot of damage that can be done by ads targeted in this kind of way – they’re perfect for inflaming tensions.


Again, the problem with Facebook is that it’s just not sensitive enough to the way its platform can be misused. Its argument for allowing political ads is that it lets small politicians compete with big ones. But in countries which limit election spending more seriously than the US, the limit is easily reached with standard media.
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Windows 11 will create heaps of needless trash • NBailey

Noah Bailey:


The latest announcements for Windows 11 have revealed that the next version of the Windows operating system will have very stringent hardware requirements. Some of them are, in my opinion, quite reasonable. For example, they’re finally dropping support for 32 bit X86 and legacy BIOS boot. These make sense, because almost every PC manufactured since 2011 has supported X64 and UEFI. It also sheds a substantial amount of technical debt and cruft, and simplifies the system slightly. Those are good things, and make sense from a technical perspective.

Even the very controversial TPM requirement could maybe make sense. If Microsoft truly believes that encrypting your drive is going to stop Moldovan teenagers from hitting your PC with ransomware, maybe a TPM is the solution. After all, security is all about feelings rather than safety. If “encryption at rest” makes consumers feel at ease, so be it.

Alas, the truly problematic requirement for Windows 11 is that it will create an unbelievable amount of electronic waste because of its arbitrary CPU specs.

A modest Intel Skylake laptop from 2016 meets all the core requirements. It is 64 bit, supports UEFI, and even contains a hardware TPM 2.0 module on board. Practically nothing has changed in five years when it comes to PCs and laptops, aside from power consumption and battery life. And if Microsoft gets their way, that machine is going straight in the trash.


It would be useful to see some sort of analysis of what proportion of PCs now in use will be able to run this. Though of course, they’ll still run Windows 10 just fine, and that will be supported with security patches etc until at least 2025.
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An algorithm that predicts deadly infections is often flawed • WIRED

Tom Simonite:


A complication of infection known as sepsis is the number one killer in US hospitals. So it’s not surprising that more than 100 health systems use an early warning system offered by Epic Systems, the dominant provider of US electronic health records. The system throws up alerts based on a proprietary formula tirelessly watching for signs of the condition in a patient’s test results.

But a new study using data from nearly 30,000 patients in University of Michigan hospitals suggests Epic’s system performs poorly. The authors say it missed two-thirds of sepsis cases, rarely found cases medical staff did not notice, and frequently issued false alarms.

Karandeep Singh, an assistant professor at University of Michigan who led the study, says the findings illustrate a broader problem with the proprietary algorithms increasingly used in health care. “They’re very widely used, and yet there’s very little published on these models,” Singh says. “To me that’s shocking.”

The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. An Epic spokesperson disputed the study’s conclusions, saying the company’s system has “helped clinicians save thousands of lives.”

Epic’s is not the first widely used health algorithm to trigger concerns that technology supposed to improve health care is not delivering, or even actively harmful.


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The problem with the political wife is she knows you’re not Master of the Universe • Daily Mail Online

Sarah Vine (who is the wife of disappointed Tory leadership hopeful and current Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove):


[Samantha Cameron] made sure [PM and husband David] cooked, took care of the children, did his fair share. She never allowed the job to consume him, and she certainly never allowed it to consume her. And when she had had enough of living in the fishbowl, they left.

Yes, he resigned over Brexit but in truth the decision to leave No 10 had already been made. And it was, in large part, hers.

Of course, there are many who would argue that Cameron’s ability to switch off – his famous ‘chillaxing’ – made him a less effective politician, and I’m sure in some ways they would be right. But it also depends on what you want from a leader: someone who prioritises power at all costs – or someone who has a wider set of interests.

The other problem with top-level politics is that, inevitably, you start to believe your own hype.

Ministers are surrounded by people telling them how brilliant they are. Their departments treat them like feudal barons. Their every whim is treated as law. No one ever says No to them. They certainly don’t get asked to unload the dishwasher. And after a while, it changes them. It becomes increasingly difficult for anything to compete with the adrenaline of power.

How can anyone be expected to put the bins out when they’ve just got home from a day saving the world? Domestic life can seem dull and dispiriting by comparison. And so they begin to avoid it. So much easier to stay late or say Yes to a fundraiser, or show your support at a fellow MP’s drinks party.

Westminster is a place of myriad distractions for the politician seeking refuge from his or her home life.


I found this piece, and its analysis of how a divide grows between the non-political wife and the very political husband, insightful for what it tells us about Matt Hancock – who last Thursday told his wife of 15 years (and three children) he was leaving her. He forbade the children from using social media. I wonder if they’ll stick to that.
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You can order Social Warming, my new book.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1580: TikTok’s factory of factory videos, Covid hypotheses examined, awful data viz, why concrete goes rotten, and more

In London’s Oxford Street, you can find a lot of shops selling American sweets. But why? CC-licensed photo by byronv2 on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

You can order Social Warming, now in print! Also in ebook and audiobook formats.

The Chinese content farms behind Factory TikTok • Rest of World

Andrew Deck on the “factory” videos that are so popular on the viral video platform:


Across dozens of short-form video apps available in China, this type of labour content has become widely popular. Produced not only by factory workers, but also traditional craftsmen and agriculturalists, it usually caters to the curiosities of middle-class urbanites, who Wang argues are alienated from the labor that goes into their everyday purchases — whether a cosmetic cream, a pack of tissues, or a new pair of sneakers.  “We don’t know where [these things] come from, it is just presented to us as the perfect industrial product. But now we see the process, and because you see the human labor, it is no longer a cold product,” Wang said. “That is the reason it went viral among middle-class people who know nothing about industry.”

But when you visit the comment section of Factory TikTok, you won’t find messages from middle-class users in cities like Guangzhou — TikTok isn’t accessible in Chinese app stores. Instead, there are often messages from people who speak a wide array of different languages, like English, German, Japanese, Arabic, Thai, and Russian. The videos, set to trendy song clips, feel as if they’ve been manufactured to go viral in as many markets as possible. While many of the videos mimic the aesthetics used by amateur factory workers, some digging into their origins revealed that Factory TikTok doesn’t fit neatly into the same domestic social media trend in China. Instead, it’s part of a larger business enterprise.

Look closely at many of these clips, and hints emerge that corporate actors are hiding in plain sight. Some factories directly promote the goods they make, like the account run by a silicone factory, which links to an AliExpress page selling the fidget toys it produces. Other accounts publish content entirely unrelated to the products they list for sale. One went viral for a series of clips depicting a man injecting stuffed animals with polyester fiberfill, which were spun off into a subgenre of reaction videos and memes. The link in the account bio, however, briefly led to an e-commerce shop called Moda Island, which sells knockoff designer bags under a Swedish domain name. (The link has since disappeared.)


China’s hubbub often feels like the insistent background roar of the internet, insisting that if you aren’t keeping up, you’re falling behind.
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The facts – and gaps – on the origin of the coronavirus •

Jessica McDonald:


Jesse Bloom, a computational biologist who studies viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the lead author of the letter in Science calling for a more rigorous investigation, told us in an email that he found natural zoonosis and lab accident scenarios involving a researcher being infected with a “natural collected virus” or “experimenting on and possibly growing or modestly modifying a naturally collected virus” all plausible.

“I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to estimate relative probabilities for these scenarios,” he said.

But to many others, the existing data tilts strongly toward a natural spillover.

“[W]hile both lab and natural scenarios are possible, they are not equally likely — precedence, data and other evidence strongly favor natural emergence as a highly likely scientific theory for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, while the lab leak remains a speculative hypothesis based on conjecture,” Kristian G. Andersen, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, told the New York Times.

“There are still gaps that have to be filled, but I think the evidence we do have right now points to an animal-to-human scenario,” Stephen Goldstein, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Utah who has studied coronaviruses for most of the last decade, told us.

We’ll run through some of the arguments of the lab leak hypothesis and explain why most scientists still suspect a natural origin.


This is really, really, really the best piece that I’ve read on the whole topic. If you’re trying to understand the warring (more than competing) hypotheses around this, then McDonald’s is the one to read. You can also read Zeynep Tufekci’s piece in the NY Times, but it’s slightly less informed than McDonald, who has the better contacts. Tufekci’s piece makes the important points about the need for better biosecurity. But that’s going to be the case no matter what.
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The inner life of the cell – protein packing [Narrated] [HD] • YouTube

David Franco:


Protein Packing strives to more accurately depict the molecular chaos in each and every cell, with proteins jittering around in what may seem like random motion. Proteins occupy roughly 40% of the cytoplasm, creating an environment that risks unintentional interaction and aggregation. Via diffusion and motor protein transport, these molecules are directed to sites where they are needed.


Included because there is a lot of talk about cells and proteins at the moment, of course, and has been for the past 18 months. But what is generally not appreciated is how crowded cells are. The idea that they’re big wastelands of nothing much turns out to be totally wrong. They’re incredibly crowded. This video gives an indication; for another, see this paper and just scroll to Figure 7, which gives a “here’s what it looks like” view of the protein packing in the cell. It’s like what the London Underground used to look like at peak rush hour.
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Collapsed building near Miami had serious concrete damage • The New York Times

Mike Baker, Anjali Singhvi and Patricia Mazzei:


Three years before the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex near Miami, a consultant found alarming evidence of “major structural damage” to the concrete slab below the pool deck and “abundant” cracking and crumbling of the columns, beams and walls of the parking garage under the 13-story building.

The engineer’s report helped shape plans for a multimillion-dollar repair project that was set to get underway soon — more than two and a half years after the building managers were warned — but the building suffered a catastrophic collapse in the middle of the night on Thursday, crushing sleeping residents in a massive heap of debris.

The complex’s management association had disclosed some of the problems in the wake of the collapse, but it was not until city officials released the 2018 report late Friday that the full nature of the concrete and rebar damage — most of it probably caused by persistent water leaks and years of exposure to the corrosive salt air along the South Florida coast — became chillingly apparent.

“Though some of this damage is minor, most of the concrete deterioration needs to be repaired in a timely fashion,” the consultant, Frank Morabito, wrote about damage near the base of the structure as part of his October 2018 report on the 40-year-old building in Surfside, Fla. He gave no indication that the structure was at risk of collapse, though he noted that the needed repairs would be aimed at “maintaining the structural integrity” of the building and its 136 units.


A lawyer for the condo residents says he can’t understand why repairs didn’t start at once. Two obvious answers: it would cost a lot of money while being very disruptive, and the report is written in the passive official-ish language that doesn’t transmit urgency at all. Reinforced concrete is always a problem: if it’s sitting in water, that will rust the reinforcing iron, but invisibly. It’s quite the metaphor for America’s crumbling infrastructure (for which a huge bill is struggling to get through the US Congress for lack of bipartisan backing, apparently).
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Microsoft’s Android app plan for Windows 11 is doomed • PC Mag

Sascha Segan:


In a perplexing swerve, the new Windows 11 is going to run Android apps out of the box, integrating Amazon’s Android app store into Microsoft’s onboard app store. I have been running Windows since 1998 and running Android since the T-Mobile G1, and this seems like a half-fast [half-assed? Ed.] plan doomed to fail.

There are reasons to run Android apps on Windows. Specifically, some popular Android messaging and social-media apps (such as TikTok) don’t have native Windows versions. It may smooth your work- or life-flow to be able to interact with all of these apps using a physical keyboard and a single device.

But Microsoft can’t get around Google’s absolute, crushing dominance of the Android app world in the US. Although Android is an “open” platform (unlike iOS), nearly every Android phone outside China comes preloaded with Google Play. That makes Google’s app store the default and often the only choice for most Android app developers.

I saw this when reviewing Amazon’s most recent line of Fire tablets. The Fire HD 10 productivity bundle got absolutely slated as app after app wasn’t available on the Amazon Appstore—Signal, Slack, Rome2Rio,, Google Sheets, what have you. Those specific apps aren’t a big deal on Windows, which has its own apps or terrific browser-based versions of those services. But when something awesome comes to Android, it often doesn’t come to the Amazon Appstore. At all.

The best possible outcome of this is that the huge new audience of potential Windows users will revitalize the Amazon Appstore and lead app developers to put their products in there. That is a thing that could happen, sure. I wouldn’t put money on that bet.


Microsoft keeps trying to make mobile apps on Windows happen, and they keep not happening.
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Amazon and PetCo both invested in a $150 internet-connected cat feeder — one day it just stopped working • Business Insider

Becky Peterson:


Allen Sampsell knew something was up when his cats started to act out. Freya, a “chonker” born without a tail, and May, a younger tortoiseshell with all of her appendages, were hungry. Sampsell had no idea how many days or hours the duo had gone without eating.

“My cats very obviously kept acting like they weren’t getting fed,” said Sampsell, who works on an Air Force base near Omaha and travels frequently for his job.

Normally, such daily business as feeding the cats went off without a hitch. For the last few years, Sampsell had used the PetNet SmartFeeder, an $150 Internet of Things device which dropped a set amount of kibble into a feeding bowl based on a schedule set using a smartphone app.

But in spring 2020, the feeder started to go offline. Then PetNet asked for more money. In a letter to customers last May, the company said that anyone who didn’t pay a $30 annual subscription fee would no longer have a working cat feeder.

“I am not even sure if people actually fell for that,” said Sampsell, who opted against the subscription. “And then they folded up shop completely.”


This is much the same as the story with Wink, which abruptly pivoted in May 2020 from “smart home router interop” to “subscription for your smart home router interop”. It hasn’t issued a press release for more than four years, though it does at least seem to still be staggering along.
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Revealed: shocking scale of Twitter abuse targeting England at Euro 2020 • The Guardian

Caelainn Barr, Paul MacInnes, Niamh McIntyre and Pamela Duncan:


England’s footballers have been subjected to sustained abuse online during their matches at Euro 2020, an exclusive analysis by the Guardian can reveal.

A study of Twitter messages directed at and naming the England team during the three group stage matches identified more than 2,000 abusive messages, including scores of racist posts.

The research, conducted in association with the anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate, illustrates the shocking levels of hatred, directed by hundreds of individuals at a time, at captain Harry Kane, forward Raheem Sterling, other England players and the manager, Gareth Southgate.

Across England’s three group games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic the Guardian identified 2,114 abusive tweets directed towards or naming the players and Southgate. This included 44 explicitly racist tweets, with messages using the N-word and monkey emojis directed at black players, and 58 that attacked players for their anti-racist actions, including taking the knee.

With parameters set only for the five hours around a match, there were also examples of antisemitic and ableist abuse, with nationalist messages and more insidious racial content also visible.


*whispers* Social warming, innit
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The world relies on one chip maker in Taiwan, leaving everyone vulnerable • WSJ

Yang Jie, Stephanie Yang and Asa Fitch:


As more technologies require chips of mind-boggling complexity, more are coming from this one company, on an island that’s a focal point of tensions between the U.S. and China, which claims Taiwan as its own.

Analysts say it will be difficult for other manufacturers to catch up in an industry that requires hefty capital investments. And TSMC can’t make enough chips to satisfy everyone—a fact that has become even clearer amid a global shortage, adding to the chaos of supply bottlenecks, higher prices for consumers and furloughed workers, especially in the auto industry.

The situation is similar in some ways to the world’s past reliance on Middle Eastern oil, with any instability on the island threatening to echo across industries. Companies in Taiwan, including smaller makers, generated about 65% of global revenues for outsourced chip manufacturing during the first quarter of this year, according to Taiwan-based semiconductor research firm TrendForce. TSMC generated 56% of the global revenues.

Being dependent on Taiwanese chips “poses a threat to the global economy,” research firm Capital Economics recently wrote.

TSMC, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, reported $17.6bn in profits last year on revenues of about $45.5bn.

Its technology is so advanced, Capital Economics said, that it now makes around 92% of the world’s most sophisticated chips, which have transistors that are less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Samsung Electronics Co. makes the rest. Most of the roughly 1.4 billion smartphone processors world-wide are made by TSMC.

It makes as much as 60% of the less-sophisticated microcontrollers that car makers need as their vehicles become more automated, according to IHS Markit, a consulting firm.


The comparison with reliance on oil is a good one – except this is even less diversified, and also at the mercy of another, potentially aggressive country. To continue the analogy, you need to set up oil wells in lots more countries, particularly in the west, and in a hurry.
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May 2017: The nine worst data visualizations ever created • Living Qlik

Aaron Couron:


Every year, the worst movies of the year coming out of Hollywood are “honored” with an award called the Razzie. In an industry that normally pats itself on the back at every turn, the Razzies are a nice way to recognize that not every film churned out of the Hollywood machine is worthy of praise.

In similar fashion, I thought it would be fun to award some of the worst data visualizations coming out of our collective BI industry. Although it is always fun to poke fun at data visualizations that might be lacking in usefulness, it is also an opportunity for us to learn so that we do not make the same mistakes in our own work.


OK, but I think that in fact all of those are outdone, in the worst possible way, by the visualisation used here by CNN. Look at it carefully. The worst thing is not, repeat not, the false y-axis, or the lack of attention to margin of error in the numbers. Look at it again, because you’ll howl when you spot what they’ve done to misrepresent the data here.
CNN awful data visualisation
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Why is central London suddenly full of American sweetshops? • Time Out

Amelia Tait:


‘We were the first people to have a sweetshop in Oxford Street,’ says Alan Wiggett, managing director of Kingdom of Sweets, from behind an imposing mahogany desk in the company’s Soho offices. Framed pictures of sweets line the walls – an unlit and oddly small neon sign reading ‘Welcome to the Kingdom!!!’ distinguishes an otherwise ordinary kitchen. ‘We’ve had people spend over £1,000 before,’ he says. ‘We’ve had to take a trolley up to their house for them.’

The legend of the Kingdom goes like this: 18 years ago, founder Chase Manders started importing American candy to sell on his pick ’n’ mix stand in a Barnsley shopping centre. Customers went wild for it. By 2012, his Oxford Street shop had opened. Then a further five across London. But, as life got sweeter, along came the spies. In 2018, Kingdom of Sweets employees started to notice people sneaking into their stores and taking photographs of the shelves.

‘They come into the shop and they go off and copy us,’ Wiggett says, adding that staff have had to ‘politely’ ask competitors to leave. Since then, Manders has gone from having the only specialist sweetshop on Oxford Street to being merely one of nine. Many copycats used to be souvenir shops. Before that, some housed perfume ‘auctioneers’ with permanent closing-down sales. Wiggett says it’s affected sales. ‘It’s not a competition,’ says Riya, the manager of American Candy World, which has been open a year and which has an 8,000-piece motorised London Eye in the window (it took a week to build). Standing behind his counter next to a gutted bureau de change, he says that every sweetshop on Oxford Street has enough customers walking past to mean that notions of competition are irrelevant. ‘If they’re passing this way,’ he says, ‘they’ll buy it.’

Perhaps competition is irrelevant when the prices are more gut-wrenching than a tub of pickle-flavoured Pringles. An online review for one Oxford Street shop laments ‘Overpriced! overpriced!! overpriced!!!’ – the reviewer posting a picture of a receipt showing they spent £37 on two bags of crisps, a 99g box of sweets, and a jar of peanut butter. Riya says prices are high because of import fees and says his average customer spends between £25 and £30 on six or seven items. Which raises another question: why are so many people prepared to spend so much money on American sweets, and why now?


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Beware, Apple is now targeting leakers! • Pocketnow

Prakhar Khanna:


It is being reported that several leakers have received warnings from lawyers representing Apple. One of the tipsters, known as ‘Kang’, posted on their Weibo account that Apple recently commissioned a law firm to send admonitory letters to a number of leakers. As per the posts, the Apple letter purportedly cautioned leakers that they must not disclose information about unreleased Apple projects.

The letter goes on to say that these leaks mislead customers because “what is disclosed may not be accurate.” Further, the leaks might give Apple’s competitors valuable information. Apple purportedly grabbed screenshots of Kang’s Weibo as evidence. The account talked about problems he experienced with the iPhone, product release dates, and purchase suggestions for his followers.

As a result, Kang explained that since “I have never published undisclosed product pictures” or sold his information, Apple must take exception to “riddles and dreams” about its undisclosed projects. For context, a leaker known as “L0vetodream” has popularized leaks vaguely characterized as “dreams.” Thus, providing a fun mechanism to hint at Apple’s future plans without giving a lot of information.

“Dreaming will violate their confidentiality mechanism,” as per Kang. He said that under Apple’s logic “if I have a dream, Apple’s competitors will obtain effective information.”


Pretty sure those who receive these could just throw Apple’s letters in the bin. It’s not an offence to find stuff out, not to publish it. Of course it can be an offence to bribe (or blackmail?) an employee of the company to release information, in which case prosecute. But there’s no suggestion that the people who received this stuff did that. And if the information isn’t accurate, Apple can ignore it; or correct it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Just as a followup on last week’s item about Google calling someone a serial killer (wrongly), Terry points out that Google has done similar for a few photos: a little knowledge shows they’re wrong, but most people don’t have that.

Start Up No.1579: Facebook drives political divides, Garcia-Martinez on Silicon Valley, are you a serial killer?, crypto “experts”, and more

Your smart TV wants to know whether you’re watching it. How are you going to respond? CC-licensed photo by rickremington on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Is that enough? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Order Social Warming, my new book, and find answers – and more.

After repeatedly promising not to, Facebook keeps recommending political groups to its users • The Markup

Corin Faife and Alfred Ng:


Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill, a member of the “Not My President” Facebook group wrote in a post, “remember, our founding fathers were seen as terrorist [sic] and traitors.” 

A fellow group member commented, “I’ll fight for what’s right, this corruption has to be stopped immediately.” 

Three months later, Facebook recommended the group to at least three people, despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s repeated promise to permanently end political group recommendations on the social network specifically to stop amplifying divisive content. 

The group was one of hundreds of political groups the company recommended to its users in The Markup’s Citizen Browser project over the past five months, several of which promoted unfounded election fraud claims in their descriptions or through posts on their pages. 

Citizen Browser consists of a paid nationwide panel of Facebook users who automatically send us data from their Facebook feeds. 

In a four month period, from Feb. 1 to June 1, the 2,315 members of the Citizen Browser panel received hundreds of recommendations for groups that promoted political organizations (e.g., “Progressive Democrats of Nevada,” “Michigan Republicans”) or supported individual political figures (e.g., “Bernie Sanders for President 2020,” “Liberty lovers for Ted Cruz,” “Philly for Elizabeth Warren”). In total, just under one-third of all panelists received a recommendation to join at least one group in this category. 


Facebook was very sniffy about the Citizen Browser project, but it keeps turning up evidence that Facebook doesn’t do what it promises. (Just try a search on “Facebook ‘citizen browser’“.)
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Are the most influential websites peer-produced or price-incentivized? Organizing value in the digital economy • Alex Pazaitis, Vasilis Kostakis, 2021


The overwhelming majority of the most popular websites are owned by for-profit-maximization companies. One cannot argue against that. However, the extent to which they are organized around price-incentives is highly debatable. On one hand, paid professionals work for maintaining and improving these platforms. Moreover, paid professionals produce content that directly or indirectly contributes value to the platforms. In the currently dominant organizational reality, the price incentive is often considered as a feature that determines the design of our organizations. And, as was discussed, the design may qualify some behaviors over others.

On the other hand, one should consider the amount of value that unpaid users contribute to the most popular websites. The voluntary contribution is a form of peer production utilized by companies with the ultimate goal to maximize shareholder value. In addition, a considerable part of the vital infrastructure of the most popular websites is produced in CBPP, whereas price incentives, where present, are still considered peripheral. Finally, price-incentives alone can neither create nor guarantee the complex relations impelling the digital economy. As Bollier (2014: 175) reminds as, “the commons is . . . a sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted.” Similarly, the contribution of CBPP in the so-called “digital economy” largely goes unnoticed at the level of scholarly and political discussion that can make a difference.

Measuring how much of website content is price-incentivized or peer-produced gets us already in the wrong direction. Any measurement is not neutral, and, in a market-driven economy, measure of value is only reflected in the exchange of one thing for another.


This is an analysis of the Carr-Benkler Wager (don’t worry, there’s a link below), made 15 years ago. That’s long enough ago for something to shake out. In my view, it’s actually a win for Benkler. But see what you think.
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August 2006: What is the Carr-Benkler wager? • The Guardian

Me, a callow youth back in August 2006:

»Though sounding like something out of higher maths it’s much simpler: a bet between two high-profile bloggers about whether in two years (or perhaps five) people will get paid for submitting content to sites like Digg and Flickr.

On the two sides: Nicholas Carr, a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review; and Yochai Benkler, a professor of law at Yale University whose book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, suggests that new types of collaboration let people be more productive than profit-seeking ventures.

Carr, however, thinks the lure of money will prove far more effective in finding top content pickers.

Wrote Carr (at, “the reason ‘social media'”- such as Digg or Reddit – “has existed outside the price system up until now is that a market hadn’t yet emerged for this new kind of labor. We weren’t yet able to assign a value – in monetary terms – to what these workers were doing … We couldn’t see the talent for the crowd. Now, though, the amateurs are being sorted according to their individual skills, calculations as to the monetary value of those skills are starting to be made, and a market appears to be taking shape.”

Benkler then challenged Carr: “We could decide to appoint between one and three people who, on some date – let’s say two years from now, on August 1st 2008 – survey the web or blogosphere, and seek out the most influential sites in some major category: for example, relevance and filtration (like Digg); or visual images (like Flickr). And they will then decide whether they are peer production processes or whether they are price-incentivized systems … I predict the major systems will be primarily peer-based.”


Necessary context from the paper above, of course.
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Bad Apple* • The Pull Request

Antonio García Martínez (yes, him):


Trendy management philosophy’s love for “bringing your whole self to work,” and somehow conjoining the multitude of an individual’s identities—cultural, artistic, religious, political, sexual—with one’s professional persona is a deranged recipe for endless mayhem. Nobody actually brings their “whole self” to work; if you spoke to your colleagues as you do your partner after sex or your friends after the fifth pint, you’d be sacked from any job even faster than I was.

What’s perhaps most preposterous is that these reality checks need to be forcibly repeated to working adults in some of the cushiest and most prestigious companies in the world. In an absurd follow-on to my situation, not only did Apple employees petition their company to issue a statement about the Israel/Palestine situation—as if having a foreign policy position were germane to a public tech company—but they also petitioned to not have to go back to work inside an office.

If people getting paid over six-figures at a two-trillion-dollar company refuse to come into work at the spectacular billion-dollar headquarters where every luxury is provided, then those employees have lost all grasp on reality and have no right to petition anyone about anything.

This unholy trinity—the quasi-religion of wokeness, corporate ingestion of the corrosive social-media machinery and a deluded view of working life—is what bedevils the newest generation of American companies. Once you let the mob accrue influence internally, short of taking a hard stand managerially as Coinbase did, you have no option but concede to their demands and offer the mob the object of their desire (or rage) on a plate. Every company who goes down this path will be limping from crisis to crisis forever (as Google is).


Martinez isn’t exactly patient, nor a model of diplomacy. I note that he doesn’t describe his time at Apple (NDA’d, perhaps?) and talks about the generalities. He’s much more like the hard-charging people of Silicon Valley of the 1970s and 1980s. He thinks Steve Jobs “wouldn’t have lasted a day” in his own company now. Maybe not down in the ranks, but Jobs was pretty handy at firing people.

Hard to take the temperature, but I suspect the future is much more with people like Martinez, because they don’t care who they annoy: they just want to succeed.
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Google turned me into a serial killer • Hristo Georgiev

Hrito Georigev:


As I was scrolling through my inbox today, I stumbled upon an e-mail from a former colleague of mine who wanted to inform me that a Google search of my name yields a picture of me linked to a Wikipedia article about a serial killer who happens to have the same name as mine.

I quickly popped out my browser, opened Google and typed in my name. And indeed, my photo appeared over a description of a Bulgarian serial killer.

My first reaction was that somebody was trying to pull off some sort of an elaborate prank on me, but after opening the Wikipedia article itself, it turned out that there’s no photo of me there whatsoever.

It turns out that Google’s knowledge graph algorithm somehow falsely associated my photo with the Wikipedia article about the serial killer. Which is also surprisingly strange because my name isn’t special or unique at all; there are literally hundreds of other people with my name, and despite of all that, my personal photo ended up being associated with a serial killer. I can’t really explain to myself how this happened, but it’s weird. In any case, I am now in the process of reporting this Knowledge Graph bug to Google.

After sharing the news with some friends and getting a good laugh out of the whole situation, a short rumination on what had happened made me consider how this could have gone down a much darker path. Sure, after taking the time to read the Wikipedia article, one can easily figure out that I’m not a serial killer though one can never be so sure. However, the fact that an algorithm that’s used by billions of people can so easily bend information in such ways is truly terrifying.


But of course: Google isn’t about accuracy or truth. It’s about popularity (maybe he’s the most-linked Hrito Georigev? There can’t be that many).

Sure, it’s just an accident. How many others are there out there? We don’t know. Why don’t we know? Because nobody’s checking, except for the ones accused of being serial killers.
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Microsoft: list of features that are deprecated or removed in Windows 11 • MSPoweruser

Pradeep Viswav:


Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 11 OS comes with several new features and improvements. As you expect from a major OS update, Microsoft is also removing several features that were available in Windows 10. For example, Timeline is gone. Also, the Tablet mode feature. You can find the full list of features that are removed in Windows 11 below.

• Cortana will no longer be included in the first boot experience or pinned to the Taskbar
• Desktop wallpaper cannot be roamed to or from device when signed in with a Microsoft account
• Internet Explorer is disabled. Microsoft Edge is the recommended replacement and includes IE Mode which may be useful in certain scenarios
• Math Input Panel is removed. Math Recognizer will install on demand and includes the math input control and recognizer. Math inking in apps like OneNote are not impacted by this change
• News & Interests has evolved. New functionality has been added which can be found by clicking the Widgets icon on the Taskbar
• Quick Status from the Lockscreen and associated settings are removed
• S Mode is only available now for Windows 11 Home edition
• Snipping Tool continues to be available but the old design and functionality in the Windows 10 version has been replaced with those of the app previously known as Snip & Sketch
• Start is significantly changed in Windows 11…


So goodbye Cortana, essentially? And the cut-down “S Mode” doesn’t seem to have cut through. No Tablet mode? The 2010 attempt to get ahead of Apple is finally dead.
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Why is the Intellectual Dark Web suddenly hyping an unproven COVID treatment? • Vice

Anna Merlan:


Some time ago, a furious debate erupted across the United States: Do people have the right to promote, prescribe, and use an unproven drug for a serious illness? Many asked an attendant question: Was there a vast and sinister conspiracy to keep that drug’s stunning efficacy hidden from the American public? 

The product was called laetrile. It was derived from apricot pits, and throughout the 1970s it was championed by a small but extremely loud group of people as a suppressed and miraculous cancer cure. It was not, as it turned out, a cure at all: Laetrile, also known as “Vitamin B17,” showed little to no anti-cancer activity in a large National Cancer Institute study, and multiple studies also warned that taking too much of it could lead to cyanide poisoning. Still, thousands of Americans, including actor Steve McQueen, flocked to clinics in Mexico for treatment before the FDA declared the product illegal in 1980. Since then, it’s made several comebacks online, each time marked by a chorus of people claiming that its real effectiveness has been deliberately concealed by unscrupulous medical Powers that Be. 

Because everything old is always made exhaustingly new again, during the COVID-19 pandemic the same pattern pioneered by laetrile advocates has played out several times. The first anti-COVID drug to be held out as a secret miracle cure was hydroxychloroquine, boosted by world leaders like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. Now, increasingly, it’s the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, which can be used to treat some skin conditions and is widely used in veterinary medicine.


Merlan does this very neatly – putting it into the historical context. (Ivermectin is part of a number of studies, but some distance from approved.)
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Why we shouldn’t listen to crypto ‘experts’ • Financial Times

Jemima Kelly:


recently I’ve been struck by one increasingly common jibe, because it inadvertently undermines the supposedly altruistic aims of the bitcoin brigade: “Have Fun Staying Poor.”

This meme has become so common in cryptoland that a song has been written in its honour; you can even buy T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase. The taunt is directed at so-called “no-coiners” like me whenever we express scepticism. Whether or not our criticism is warranted is irrelevant. The thinking is that because the price is so obviously going to keep going up forever, those of us who don’t buy into it are going to be mired in poverty while those who invested get filthy rich.

If such a system sounds reminiscent of a Ponzi scheme, that’s because it is. Although some of the traditional characteristics — such as a head or central administrator or the existence of cash transfers — are lacking in bitcoin, others are not. Those who get in at the start must continuously draw in new believers to keep the whole thing going. Many of them market themselves as “crypto experts”, pushing the currencies as a solution to a host of financial and economic issues they often have no expertise in. As prominent bitcoiner Antony “Pomp” Pompliano unashamedly tweeted to his almost 1m followers recently, “Every bull market has to indoctrinate the new class of crypto enthusiasts”.

“Technically it doesn’t work quite like a Ponzi, but you get the same net result,” says Martin Walker, director of banking and finance at the Center For Evidence-Based Management. “The brilliance of the whole crypto scam is that you don’t actually have to generate any income to pay anyone, so you don’t run out of money because you’re making people believe in ‘number go up’.”


Her point, of course, is that they’re not “experts”; they’re just people who got into the pyramid scheme early and now need to unload in order to profit. As she notes, this is a zero-sum game: for someone to cash out, someone else has to put cash in.
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Are you still there? • ROUGH TYPE

Nicholas Carr:


Late Tuesday night, just as the Red Sox were beginning a top-of-the-eleventh rally against the Rays, my smart TV decided to ask me a question of deep ontological import:

Are you still there?

To establish my thereness (and thus be permitted to continue watching the game), I would need to “interact with the remote,” my TV informed me. I would need to respond to its signal with a signal of my own. At first, as I spent a harried few seconds finding the remote and interacting with it, I was annoyed by the interruption. But I quickly came to see it as endearing. Not because of the TV’s solicitude — the solicitude of a machine is just a gentle form of extortion — but because of the TV’s cluelessness. Though I was sitting just ten feet away from the set, peering intently into its screen, my smart TV couldn’t tell that I was watching it. It didn’t know where I was or what I was doing or even if I existed at all. That’s so cute.

I had found a gap in the surveillance system, but I knew it would soon be plugged. Media used to be happy to transmit signals in a human-readable format. But as soon as it was given the ability to collect signals, in a machine-readable format, media got curious. It wanted to know, and then it wanted to know everything, and then it wanted to know everything without having to ask. If a smart device asks you a question, you know it’s not working properly. Further optimization is required. And you know, too, that somebody is working on the problem.


Always a treat when Carr decides to blog.
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BuzzFeed valued at $1.5bn in deal to go public via special-purpose merger • The Guardian

Edward Helmore:


BuzzFeed, the news, digital media and lifestyle company, has announced plans to become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition company (Spac) that could value the 15-year-old New York-based firm at $1.5bn.

The company, initially known for listicles and online quizzes, also announced plans to buy Complex Networks, a global youth network that engages with millennials and Gen Z, from phone giant Verizon and publisher Hearst for $300m.

BuzzFeed has been on an acquisitions spree over the past year, merging with HuffPost in November and following a consolidation trend in digital media startups.

It has has become a contender in the news business, this year winning a Pulitzer for a series on China’s Uyghur detention camps, while simultaneously building what it describes as “identity-driven” lifestyle brands and licensing consumer products including food, cookbooks, Tasty branded cookware and affiliate commerce.

BuzzFeed will join a number of companies this year that have followed the non-traditional Spac path, which does not require the participation of an underwriting financial institution or attract the same level of oversight as a traditional initial public offering.


It had looked as though Buzzfeed wasn’t going to make it over the finishing line (well, the IPO line) after drastic cuts and layoffs. But here it comes. The cash should make its initial venture capitalist backers happy, and it can bounce along as a media entity for the foreseeable future.
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Half the world owns a smartphone • Strategy Analytics


According to new research from Strategy Analytics, half the world’s entire population now owns a smartphone in June 2021. Some 4 billion people use a smartphone today. It has taken 27 years to reach this historic milestone.

Exhibit 1: Global Smartphone User Base: % of World Population(1) (Source: Strategy Analytics, Inc.)

Yiwen Wu, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, said, “We estimate the global smartphone user base has risen dramatically from just 30k people in 1994 to 1.00 billion in 2012, and a record 3.95 billion today in June 2021. With an estimated 7.90 billion people in total on the planet in June 2021, it means 50% of the whole world now owns a smartphone. It has taken 27 years to reach this historic milestone.”

Linda Sui, Senior Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The world’s first modern smartphone, IBM Simon, was launched commercially in the United States way back in 1994. This was followed by other famous models, such as the Nokia 9110 Communicator in 1998 and Ericsson R380 for Europe in 2000. Apple iPhone popularized the smartphone in 2007, while Google Android democratized the smartphone with an affordable software platform from 2008.”

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, added, “Half of humanity now owns a smartphone. The smartphone is the most successful computer of all time. Smartphones today are used by 4 billion people worldwide, from urban California to suburban China and rural Africa. Consumers and workers love the convenience, utility, and safety of having a connected computer in their pocket. Smartphones have become an essential daily tool. We predict 5 billion people will be using smartphones worldwide by 2030.”


Notice how it all took off in 2010/2011: the iPhone 4 and multiple Android models, particularly the Samsung Galaxy S, first launched in 2010. Arguably, Apple lit the fuse, but Samsung provided the gunpowder.

And – once you get smartphones in that many people’s hands, social networks take off too.
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Mystery of the wheelie suitcase: how gender stereotypes held back the history of invention • The Guardian

Katrine Marçal:


Advertisements for products applying the technology of the wheel to the suitcase can be found in British newspapers as early as the 1940s. These are not suitcases on wheels, exactly, but a gadget known as “the portable porter” – a wheeled device that can be strapped on to a suitcase. But it never really caught on.

In 1967, a Leicestershire woman wrote a sharply worded letter to her local newspaper complaining that a bus conductor had forced her to buy an additional ticket for her rolling suitcase. The conductor argued that “anything on wheels should be classed as a pushchair”. She wondered what he would have done if she had boarded the bus wearing roller-skates. Would she be charged as a passenger or as a pram?

The woman in the fur coat [pictured wheeling a suitcase on wheels in 1952, 20 years before the “official” invention of the wheeled suitcase] and the Leicestershire woman on the bus are the vital clues to this mystery. Suitcases with wheels existed decades before they were “invented” in 1972, but were considered niche products for women. And that a product for women could make life easier for men or completely disrupt the whole global luggage industry was not an idea the market was then ready to entertain.

Resistance to the rolling suitcase had everything to do with gender. Sadow, the “official” inventor, described how difficult it was to get any US department store chains to sell it: “At this time, there was this macho feeling. Men used to carry luggage for their wives. It was … the natural thing to do, I guess.”

Two assumptions about gender were at work here. The first was that no man would ever roll a suitcase because it was simply “unmanly” to do so. The second was about the mobility of women. There was nothing preventing a woman from rolling a suitcase – she had no masculinity to prove. But women didn’t travel alone, the industry assumed.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1578: Tim Cook lobbies on antitrust, John McAfee found dead, Tim Berners-Lee on his NFT, and more

How much tuna – and which species – is there in a Subway tuna sandwich? PCR testing might tell us. CC-licensed photo by Like_the_Grand_Canyon on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Hello, caller, what’s your query? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s out today! Find a bookshop, or take the shortcut and order Social Warming, my just-published book. Scissor statements, polarisation, Myanmar, and much more – including suggestions for how to fix the problem.

Tech giants, fearful of proposals to curb them, blitz Washington with lobbying • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang, David McCabe and Kenneth P. Vogel:


In the days after lawmakers introduced legislation that could break the dominance of tech companies, Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, called Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress to deliver a warning.

The antitrust bills were rushed, he said. They would crimp innovation. And they would hurt consumers by disrupting the services that power Apple’s lucrative iPhone, Mr. Cook cautioned at various points, according to five people with knowledge of the conversations.

The calls by Mr. Cook are part of a forceful and wide-ranging pushback by the tech industry since the proposals were announced this month. Executives, lobbyists, and more than a dozen think tanks and advocacy groups paid by tech companies have swarmed Capitol offices, called and emailed lawmakers and their staff members, and written letters arguing there will be dire consequences for the industry and the country if the ideas become law.

…Amazon’s top lobbyist, Brian Huseman, rarely speaks publicly about bills before there is a vote. But with the House Judiciary Committee expected to vote on the bills on Wednesday, he warned in a statement on Tuesday that the legislation “would have significant negative effects on the hundreds of thousands of American small- and medium-sized businesses that sell in our store and tens of millions of consumers who buy products from Amazon.”

Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, Kent Walker, has also made calls to lawmakers in recent days, and the company’s top lobbyist, Mark Isakowitz, has weighed in on how the bills would alter how people use the internet. “American consumers and small businesses would be shocked at how these bills would break many of their favorite services,” he said in a statement. A spokesman for Facebook, Christopher Sgro, said that antitrust laws “should promote competition and protect consumers, not punish successful American companies.”


Obviously Pelosi’s office leaked all this; it’s part of the PR effort against the tech companies. The tech firms should be capable of better on the PR front, though possibly it’s going to happen behind closed doors, at lunches and meetings.
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Antitrust posturing • Benedict Evans

He’s been reading the US antitrust bills so you (or I) don’t have to:


[the 2020 Congressional] report [from tech antitrust hearings] was also, to be charitable, very rushed, with great chunks of advocacy pasted in without any scrutiny, and with significant errors of fact every few pages. Perhaps the worst example of this was the claim that tech startup creation has ‘sharply declined’ in the last decade. This is an important claim, and if it was true we would obviously need broad and urgent intervention – but in fact, it was based on a data set that ended in 2011, which was both nine years out of data and just at the end of the financial crisis. People in tech agree on very little, but everyone would agree we’re in the hottest market for tech startup creation in history – any relevant data would tell you that tech startup creation has actually risen by three to four times in the last decade.

This report has now been followed by five proposed tech antitrust bills, published on Friday. Given the background, and the current US political environment, these are aggressive. However, like the report, they contain a mix of real concerns, good ideas, and some pretty questionable logic.

…Unfortunately, the ‘Ending Platform Monopolies’ law is impossibly broad. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft would be banned from doing anything on their platforms that anyone else might do, and from anything that might be a conflict of interest. They would not just be banned from favouring their own products – they’d be banned from having any products at all that they could theoretically favour.

This of course comes from a framing that ‘if you own a platform you can’t compete on it’ – Apple or Google should not have any products or features that compete with companies on their platforms. That sounds very clear – Elizabeth Warren made it a mantra. But what if I want to sell a camera app for your iPhone? OK, so Apple can’t include a camera app – or a clock, or an email app, or indeed a user interface or a file system. An Android phone has its own TCP/IP stack (in the 90s Windows did not, and you had to buy one), but other people would like to sell you that if it wasn’t there, so that’s a clear conflict of interest and has to go.

There’s a very basic misunderstanding at play here – you can’t ban a platform from having ‘any’ feature, service or product that someone else might want to make, because that describes literally every single thing that a platform does.


It’s a hopeless mess, and the expectation is that three of the four main bill will die so a single main one can go through with bipartisan support. Sounds like they could kneecap all their companies in the process.
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Algorithm of harm: Facebook amplified Myanmar military propaganda following coup • Global Witness


After Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup on 1 February 2021, imprisoning the country’s democratically elected leaders, Facebook banned the armed forces from its platform. The company cited the military’s history of exceptionally severe human rights abuses and the clear risk of future military-initiated violence. But a month later, as soldiers massacred hundreds of unarmed civilians in the streets, we found that Facebook’s own page recommendation algorithm was amplifying content that violated many of its own policies on violence and misinformation.

In the lead up to the annual Armed Forces Day celebration on 27 March, the bloodiest day since the coup (see graph below), Facebook was prompting users to view and “like” pages containing posts that incited and threatened violence, pushed misinformation that could lead to physical harm, praised the military and glorified its abuses.

Offline that day, the military killed at least 100 people in 24 hours, including teenagers, with a source telling Reuters that soldiers were killing people “like birds or chickens”. A 13-year-old girl was shot dead inside her home. A 40-year-old father was burned alive on a heap of tyres. The bodies of the dead and injured were dragged away, while others were beaten on the streets.

What happens on Facebook matters everywhere, but in Myanmar that is doubly true. Almost half the country’s population is on Facebook and for many users the platform is synonymous with the internet. Mobile phones come pre-loaded with Facebook and many businesses do not have a website, only a Facebook page.


This is so depressing. I devote a whole chapter of Social Warming to how the internet – really, just Facebook – came to Myanmar, and how many times people on the ground warned Facebook that it was having serious effects on existing ethnic tensions, in a country where people didn’t understand “Likes”. And still it goes on.
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Tim Berners-Lee defends auction of NFT representing web’s source code • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


The creator of the world wide web announced his decision to create and sell the digital asset through Sotheby’s auction house last week. In the auction, which began on Wednesday and will run for one week, collectors will have the chance to bid on a bundle of items, including the 10,000 lines of the source code to the original web browser, a digital poster created by Berners-Lee representing the code, a letter from him, and an animated video showing the code being entered.

“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links.

“I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.

“If they felt that me selling an NFT of a poster is inappropriate, then what about me selling a book? I do things like that, which involve money, but the free and open web is still free and open. And we do still, every now and again, have to fight to keep it free and open, fight for net neutrality and so on.”

…Although this sale is the first time Berners-Lee has openly embraced the cryptocurrency community, the underlying technology has much that appeals about it, he said. Berners-Lee has settled on similar solutions in his own project, Solid, which aims to decentralise the web. “The blockchain world is pretty separate from the web, except where they connect in different places. But one of the problems with the web’s design is that it uses it uses domain names, which are at core a centralised system.

“Solid and the blockchain both attract people who want sovereign identity, sovereign power as a person.


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Scientist finds early coronavirus sequences that had been mysteriously deleted • The New York Times

Carl Zimmer:


The new analysis, released on Tuesday, bolsters earlier suggestions that a variety of coronaviruses may have been circulating in Wuhan before the initial outbreaks linked to animal and seafood markets in December 2019.

As the Biden administration investigates the contested origins of the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, the study neither strengthens nor discounts the hypothesis that the pathogen leaked out of a famous Wuhan lab. But it does raise questions about why original sequences were deleted, and suggests that there may be more revelations to recover from the far corners of the internet.

“This is a great piece of sleuth work for sure, and it significantly advances efforts to understand the origin of SARS-CoV-2,” said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the study.

Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who wrote the new report, called the deletion of these sequences suspicious. It “seems likely that the sequences were deleted to obscure their existence,” he wrote in the paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

Dr. Bloom and Dr. Worobey belong to an outspoken group of scientists who have called for more research into how the pandemic began. In a letter published in May, they complained that there wasn’t enough information to determine whether it was more likely that a lab leak spread the coronavirus, or that it leapt to humans from contact with an infected animal outside of a lab.


It is very clever work – Bloom spotted that though index links were gone, the data wasn’t removed from the cloud, and pulled back a set of SARS-Cov-2 sequences from a number of early patients. Yet the “variety of coronaviruses” points, to me at least, to a greater likelihood of a zoonotic (not lab) origin. It’s as though the virus was initially like a radio trying to tune into a faint station: the genome jumps all over. Then it suddenly stabilises on the properly infectious form. So why did China get the sequences deleted? At a guess, paranoia, and its continuing desire for control.
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John McAfee: Antivirus software entrepreneur found dead in Spanish prison cell • Sky News

Tom Gillespie:


Antivirus software entrepreneur John McAfee has been found dead in his prison cell after Spain’s National Court approved his extradition to the US, the Catalan justice department has said.

Prosecutors in the US state of Tennessee had charged the 75-year-old with evading taxes after allegedly failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consultancy work.

The British-American businessman, who was born in Gloucestershire in the UK, was also charged with evading tax in relation to income from speaking engagements and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary.

In a statement obtained by Reuters news agency, the Catalan justice department said “everything points” to suicide.

Security personnel at the Brians 2 prison near Barcelona tried to revive McAfee before his death was confirmed by the jail’s medical team, a statement from the regional Catalan government said.


He lived about four or five lives. The entrepreneur part, the wild living. His Wikipedia entry is probably sufficient obituary for now.
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How Reddit turned its millions of users into a content moderation army • TechRadar

Joel Khalili:


When it comes to content moderation, which has become an ever more high-profile problem in recent years, Reddit opts for a different approach compared to other large social platforms.

Unlike Facebook, for example, which outsources much of the work to moderation farms, Reddit relies in large part on its communities (or subreddits) to self-police. The efforts of volunteer moderators are guided by rules defined by each individual subreddit, but also a set of values authored and enforced by Reddit itself.

The company has come under criticism for this model, though, which some have interpreted as laissez-faire and lacking in accountability. But Chris Slowe, Reddit CTO, says this is a total mischaracterization.

“It may seem like a crazy thing to say about the internet today, but humans on average are actually pretty good. If you look at Reddit at scale, people are creative, funny, collaborative and derpy – all the things that make civilization work,” he told TechRadar Pro.

“Our underlying approach is that we want communities to set their own cultures, policies and philosophical systems. To make this model function, we need to provide tools and capabilities to deal with the [antisocial] minority.”


The suggestion that you should let users police Facebook, rather than paid-for moderators, has been made quite a few times. Facebook disagrees.
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[headline omitted so Gmail doesn’t dump this in spam] • ESPNFC


The supporters of Young Boys Bern have not had too much to celebrate in the 19 years since their team last won the Swiss league title.

Long since eclipsed by the likes of FC Basel and Grasshoppers Zurich, the club from the Swiss capital has even got a reputation for enjoying its status as a perennial loser.


Following yesterday’s headline about a moray eel, this story (from 2005) was offered by Matt F. I’m afraid you’ll have to go and read it yourself for the headline. But it’s worth your while.
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The big tuna sandwich mystery • The New York Times

Julia Carmel sent some tuna from Subway (which is being sued over a claim that its tuna isn’t tuna) to a lab for a PCR test:


Finally, after more than a month of waiting, the lab results arrived.

“No amplifiable tuna DNA was present in the sample and so we obtained no amplification products from the DNA,” the email read. “Therefore, we cannot identify the species.”

The spokesman from the lab offered a bit of analysis. “There’s two conclusions,” he said. “One, it’s so heavily processed that whatever we could pull out, we couldn’t make an identification. Or we got some and there’s just nothing there that’s tuna.” (Subway declined to comment on the lab results.)
To be fair, when Inside Edition sent samples from three Subway locations in Queens out for testing earlier this year, the lab found that the specimens were, indeed, tuna.

Even the plaintiffs [suing Subway, claiming it isn’t selling tuna] have softened their original claims. In a new filing from June, their complaints centered not on whether Subway’s tuna was tuna at all, but whether it was “100% sustainably caught skipjack and yellowfin tuna.”

With all testing, there are major caveats to consider. Once tuna has been cooked, its DNA becomes denatured — meaning that the fish’s characteristic properties have likely been destroyed, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify.

All of the people I spoke with also questioned why Subway would swap out its tuna.

“I don’t think a sandwich place would intentionally mislabel,” Mr. Rudie from Catalina Offshore Products said. “They’re buying a can of tuna that says ‘tuna.’ If there’s any fraud in this case, it happened at the cannery.”

Peter Horn, the director of the Ending Illegal Fishing Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts, agreed that it would be difficult to place blame on Subway if this were the case.


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Fight over hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate ends with 153 workers out of a job • Ars Technica

Beth Mole:


Houston Methodist hospital system had placed 178 employees on a two-week, unpaid suspension on June 7 for failing to meet the hospital system’s vaccination mandate, which it had set on April 1. The unpaid two-week suspension was essentially the employees’ last chance to get vaccinated before facing termination.

During that time, some of the workers “became compliant with the policy,” a hospital spokesperson told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday. But 153 did not and either quit during their suspension or were fired on Tuesday. Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom had previously noted in a letter to employees that 27 of the 178 suspended workers had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine going into the suspension.

The resignations and firings end weeks of public protest by the small group of workers who objected to the mandate, which was otherwise largely successful. According to numbers released by Boom, about 97% of the hospital’s nearly 26,000 employees are fully vaccinated, while about 2.4% received a valid exemption or were granted a deferral for pregnancy or other reasons.

Still, the minority fought back vigorously against the mandate. They staged protests outside hospital facilities, and 117 of the workers filed a lawsuit in federal court. The employees claimed that the mandate is unlawful and forced them to be “human subjects” in a clinical trial of an “unapproved drug.” Among their more startling claims, they alleged that the mandate violates the Nuremberg Code, a set of 10 ethics principles for conducting human trials written in response to Nazi atrocities. In making the claim, the hospital staff likened the vaccine requirement to horrifying medical experiments carried out in concentration camps during World War II.


The judge’s ruling is pretty brutal (against them). Seems to me though that the staff owe a duty of care to the people in the hospital. It’s the same as the hospital demanding that they don’t juggle chainsaws on duty.
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Google faces antitrust probe in India in smart TV market • Tech In Asia

Kul Bhushan:


The move comes after two lawyers in India filed a case against the US-based search giant last year.

According to the complainants, Google – in agreements it made with TV companies – bars these firms from developing their own operating systems (OS) based on “forked Android” code. The complainants allege that the rules set by Google restrict freedom of action for manufacturers of all smart mobile devices and TVs and not just devices on which Google’s Play Store or Android TV operating system (OS) is pre-installed.

Google, however, has denied the charges.

“The emerging smart TV sector in India is thriving due in part to Google’s free licensing model, and Android TV competes with numerous well-established TV OSs such as FireOS, Tizen, and WebOS. We are confident that our smart TV licensing practices are in compliance with all applicable competition laws,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

India’s smart TV market has grown exponentially in recent years. About 8 million smart TVs were sold in the country in 2019, out of which three in five smart TVs in the country run on the Android operating system, according to a Reuters report.


Not sure why the smart TV makers wouldn’t be able to fork Android. OK, they wouldn’t have any Google services on them – just like happens in China – but they’d be able to offer what they want. And as the article says, there are plenty of competing TV OSs. But hey, it’s Antitrust Season everywhere.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1577: Google faces new EU antitrust trial, Brave gets into search, Iran halts crypto miners, the missed lockdown, and more

You might think that the sea animal capable of grabbing food from the land is a pizza pie, but in fact it’s… CC-licensed photo by Richard Ling on Flickr.

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Just one day to
preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. After that, you’re just “buying” it.

Google faces EU antitrust probe of alleged ad-tech abuses • WSJ

Sam Schechner and Parmy Olson:


The European Union opened a formal antitrust investigation into allegations that Google abuses its leading role in the advertising-technology sector, the most wide-ranging case yet to look at that pillar of the tech giant’s business.

The European Commission, the EU’s top antitrust enforcer, said Tuesday that its investigation, which has been under way informally since at least 2019, will look at a broad array of allegedly anticompetitive business practices around the Alphabet unit’s brokering of advertisements and sharing of user data with advertisers across websites and mobile apps—one of the newest areas of antitrust scrutiny for the company.

Some of the EU’s investigation will cover similar ground to a case filed last year against Google by a group of U.S. states led by Texas. Similar areas include Google’s allegedly favoring its own ad-buying tools in the advertising auctions it runs.

But the EU probe will also cover complaints that haven’t yet been the subject of formal inquiries anywhere, including Google’s alleged exclusion of competitors from brokering ad buys on Google-owned video site YouTube.

…“Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetize their online services,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s antitrust chief. “We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack.”

…The EU said Tuesday that it estimated the overall online display advertising business in the EU to have totaled €20bn, equivalent to $23.8bn, in 2019, with a major role for Google as an intermediary.


Antitrust. Antitrust everywhere.
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Malware hides inside Steam profile pictures: what you need to know • Make Use Of

Ankush Das:


SteamHide is a form of malware that hides within Steam profile picture’s metadata, warns security company GDATA.

Technically, the PropertyTagICCProfile value of an image is changed to encrypt and hide the malware, which normally stores information to help printers detect the colors of an image.

This value is a part of the EXIF data that exists in an image to help you identify the camera used and other related information. The profile picture or the image is not the malware itself, but it is a container for the malware.

So, if you are using Steam or have downloaded or accessed an image from Steam, this does not affect your computer. That’s because the malware is inactive until it’s decrypted by a separate malware downloader.

The image or the profile picture helps in the distribution of malware to an infected computer without getting detected by any antivirus software.

The infected computer in question must have a downloader (a malicious file downloaded via email attachments or websites) which extracts the malware from the Steam profile image, which is publicly accessible. In other words, it downloads the malware by connecting to the image hosted on Steam platform.


Quite clever: a sort of binary malware, where the individual pieces aren’t dangerous, but the combination is. And, crucially, can slip past antivirus – because it’s a form of steganography.
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When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray • The New York Times

That’s all. Just the headline. The reporter Sabrina Imbler wrote it as the “dek” (aka subheading) but the section editor Michael Roston determined it should be the headline. It deserves some sort of prize, standing alongside “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious” in the all-time pantheon of headlines you can sing.
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Stewardship of global collective behavior • PNAS

Elke Weber, Joseph Bak-Coleman, Carl Bergstrom and 14 others:


Here, we build on our understanding of disturbed complex systems to argue that human social dynamics cannot be expected to yield solutions to global issues or to promote human wellbeing without evidence-based policy and ethical stewardship.

The situation parallels challenges faced in conservation biology and climate science, where insufficiently regulated industries optimize profits while undermining the stability of ecological and earth systems. Such behavior created a need for urgent evidence-based policy in the absence of a complete understanding of the systems’ underlying dynamics (e.g., ecology and geosciences).

These features led Michael Soulé to describe conservation biology as the “crisis discipline” counterpoint to ecology—an analogy to the relationship between medicine and comparative physiology (20). Crisis disciplines are distinct from other areas of urgent, evidenced-based research in their need to consider the degradation of an entire complex system—without a complete description of the system’s dynamics. We feel that the study of human collective behavior must become the crisis discipline response to changes in our social dynamics.


Delightful. As Adewale Adetugbo pointed out, they’ve written the peer-reviewed scientific-language version of Social Warming. Great minds… (well, theirs are, at least.)
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Brave Search beta now available in Brave browser, offering users the first independent privacy search/browser alternative to big tech • Brave Browser


Starting today, online users have a new independent option for search which gives them unmatched privacy. Whether they are already Brave browser users, looking to expand their online privacy protection with the all-in-one, integrated Brave Search in the Brave browser, or users of other browsers looking for the best-in-breed privacy-preserving search engine, they can all use the newly released Brave Search beta that puts users first, and fully in control of their online experience. Brave Search is built on top of a completely independent index, and doesn’t track users, their searches, or their clicks.

Brave Search is available in beta release globally on all Brave browsers (desktop, Android, and iOS) as one of the search options alongside other search engines, and will become the default search in the Brave browser later this year. It is also available from any other browser at


According to Techcrunch,


the company acquired technology and developers who had previously worked on Cliqz, a European anti-tracking search-browser combo which closed down in May 2020 — building on a technology they’d started to develop, called Tailcat, to form the basis of the Brave-branded search engine.


And Techcrunch also concludes that “The market for privacy consumer tech is growing.” Which has a lot of truth to it. Brave’s search looks OK; you’d really need some sort of continual comparison to see how it matches up against DuckDuckGo.
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Facebook and Google quietly bankroll a new tech policy battle • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:


A coalition of 13 different think tanks and advocacy groups penned an open letter to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Monday warning lawmakers about two major antitrust bills that lawmakers are set to vote on later this week. Instead of wrangling Big Tech, the letter says, these bills would “dramatically degrade” if not outright break the gizmos and gadgets we love using every day.

“We believe that voters want Congress to fix things that are broken—not break or ban things that they feel are working well,” the letter reads. “We strongly encourage you to reject these proposals.”

What that letter (naturally) leaves out, however, is how every org that signed this letter is, in some way, being funded by the same companies that would be subject to the provisions of the bills in question.


Notably missing from the funders is Apple. Wonder if it is going to start some lobbying now.
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Iran seizes 7,000 cryptocurrency computer miners, largest haul to date • Reuters


Iranian police have seized 7,000 computer miners at an illegal cryptocurrency farm, their largest haul to date of the energy-guzzling machines that have exacerbated power outages in Iran, state media reported on Tuesday.

In late May, Iran banned the mining of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin for nearly four months as part of efforts to reduce the incidence of power blackouts blamed by officials on surging electricity demand during the searingly hot and dry summer.

Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi said the 7,000 computer miners were seized in an abandoned factory in the west of the capital, the state news agency IRNA reported.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are created through a process known as mining, where powerful computers compete with each other to solve complex mathematical problems. The process is highly energy-intensive, often relying on electricity generated by fossil fuels, which are abundant in Iran.

According to blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, around 4.5% of all bitcoin mining takes place in Iran, giving it hundreds of million dollars in revenue from cryptocurrencies that can be used to lessen the impact of US sanctions.


Quite the dilemma: do the mining and the lights go out; stop the mining and you don’t get the asset that can be silently swapped for hard currency.
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Mathematicians welcome computer-assisted proof in ‘grand unification’ theory • Nature

Davide Castelvecchi:


Mathematicians have long used computers to do numerical calculations or manipulate complex formulas. In some cases, they have proved major results by making computers do massive amounts of repetitive work — the most famous being a proof in the 1970s that any map can be coloured with just four different colours, and without filling any two adjacent countries with the same colour.

But systems known as proof assistants go deeper. The user enters statements into the system to teach it the definition of a mathematical concept — an object — based on simpler objects that the machine already knows about. A statement can also just refer to known objects, and the proof assistant will answer whether the fact is ‘obviously’ true or false based on its current knowledge. If the answer is not obvious, the user has to enter more details. Proof assistants thus force the user to lay out the logic of their arguments in a rigorous way, and they fill in simpler steps that human mathematicians had consciously or unconsciously skipped.

Once researchers have done the hard work of translating a set of mathematical concepts into a proof assistant, the program generates a library of computer code that can be built on by other researchers and used to define higher-level mathematical objects. In this way, proof assistants can help to verify mathematical proofs that would otherwise be time-consuming and difficult, perhaps even practically impossible, for a human to check.

Proof assistants have long had their fans, but this is the first time that they had a major role at the cutting edge of a field, says Kevin Buzzard, a mathematician at Imperial College London who was part of a collaboration that checked Scholze and Clausen’s result. “The big remaining question was: can they handle complex mathematics?” says Buzzard. “We showed that they can.”


This is a deep topic, but illustrative of the way that computers are becoming woven into the frontiers of everything. (If you don’t like it, then obviously you’ll say that the rot started with a computer proving the four-colour theorem in 1976. Which, honestly, still feels like cheating.)
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Key epidemiological drivers and impact of interventions in the 2020 SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in England • Science Translational Medicine

Neil Ferguson, Anne Cori and 29 others:


We fitted a model of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in care homes and the community to regional surveillance data for England. Compared with other approaches, our model provides a synthesis of multiple surveillance data streams into a single coherent modelling framework allowing transmission and severity to be disentangled from features of the surveillance system. Of the control measures implemented, only national lockdown brought the reproduction number (Rteff) below 1 consistently; if introduced one week earlier it could have reduced deaths in the first wave from an estimated 48,600 to 25,600 (95% credible interval [95%CrI]: 15,900–38,400). The infection fatality ratio decreased from 1.00% (95%CrI: 0.85%–1.21%) to 0.79% (95%CrI: 0.63%–0.99%), suggesting improved clinical care.


It’s the lockdown point that’s critical: one week earlier could have saved 23,000 lives through the knock-on effects of delayed or averted infection.

Of course this will be dismissed by lockdown sceptics because Neil Ferguson is a co-author. Such is the attitude of some of the public to science.

The other key point:


The estimated cumulative proportion of the population ever infected with SARS-CoV-2 ranged from 7.6% (95% CrI: 5.4%–10.2%) in the South West to 22.3% (95% CrI: 19.4%–25.4%) in London


“Herd immunity” by infection would have killed a colossal number of people.
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Apple Watch accessory maker Wristcam raises $25m • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:


Other wearable makers have flirted with video and images on wrist-worn devices, but the feature is far from mainstream.

Industry leader Apple certainly doesn’t seem to be rushing into the idea, so Wristcam went and did it for them with the launch of a band sporting its own camera capable of shooting 4K images and 1080p video. The product launched late last year, following a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Now its makers are going a more traditional funding route, announcing a $25m raise led by Marker LLC. “We will use the funding to scale our team, Wristcam production, go to market, and R&D of our computer vision engine for wearables,” CEO Ari Roisman told TechCrunch.

Part of that funding involves effectively doubling the company’s headcount by early next year and helping deliver updates to some of the demands and concerns that have arisen since the product’s “public beta” launch in December.


Pebble started as a crowdfunder on Kickstarter; this too. I’m not sure that the market for “cameras on your wrist for when you’re making video calls” is really that big, though. Yet the company says it has sold “thousands” of them, retailing at $299 each. Fine, but expanding that to tens of thousands is the hard part.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1576: Google’s culture under the microscope, TikTok’s beauty problem, does spatial audio squash vocals?, and more

From sitting cross-legged on the ground, can you get up without using your hands? That might predict your lifespan. CC-licensed photo by Michael Coghlan on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. What sort of riders exactly? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google executives see cracks in their company’s success • The New York Times

Daisuke Wakabayashi:


a restive class of Google executives worry that the company is showing cracks. They say Google’s work force is increasingly outspoken. Personnel problems are spilling into the public. Decisive leadership and big ideas have given way to risk aversion and incrementalism. And some of those executives are leaving and letting everyone know exactly why.

“I keep getting asked why did I leave now? I think the better question is why did I stay for so long?” Noam Bardin, who joined Google in 2013 when the company acquired mapping service Waze, wrote in a blog post two weeks after leaving the company in February.
“The innovation challenges,” he wrote, “will only get worse as the risk tolerance will go down.”

Many of Google’s problems, current and recently departed executives said, stem from the leadership style of Sundar Pichai, the company’s affable, low-key chief executive.

Fifteen current and former Google executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering Google and Mr. Pichai, told The New York Times that Google was suffering from many of the pitfalls of a large, maturing company — a paralyzing bureaucracy, a bias toward inaction and a fixation on public perception.

The executives, some of whom regularly interacted with Mr. Pichai, said Google did not move quickly on key business and personnel moves because he chewed over decisions and delayed action. They said that Google continued to be rocked by workplace culture fights, and that Mr. Pichai’s attempts to lower the temperature had the opposite effect — allowing problems to fester while avoiding tough and sometimes unpopular positions.

A Google spokesman said internal surveys about Mr. Pichai’s leadership were positive.


As I mentioned before, the restiveness within the company is both a symptom and a cause. This is going to be an uncomfortable few years for Google – US antitrust is looming, and it still can’t break out beyond being an advertising company.
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Google’s messaging mess: a timeline • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:


Here’s a breakdown of Google’s major messaging offerings over the years, with currently active services in bold:

Email: Gmail

Messaging services: Google Talk, Google Plus Huddle, Google Hangouts, Google Allo, Google Chat, plus innumerable chat features built into other Google products we won’t mention here

SMS/RCS services: Google Voice, Android Messages app with RCS chat integration

Video conferencing services: Google Talk, Google Voice, Google Plus Hangouts, Google Duo, Google Meet

Collaboration software: Google Wave, Google Plus circles, Google Docs chat, Google Chat
Within that mess of product names are two core issues: Google’s apparent love of launching new services and its inability to combine products under one umbrella.

Competitors like WhatsApp demonstrate what the opposite approach could be: a chat service tied to a user’s phone number that allows for video and voice, all from one app. Or there’s Apple’s iPhone approach, which ties email addresses and phone numbers to two services: iMessage for text and FaceTime for audio and video.

Google keeps falling into the same cycle, though, one that has repeated itself throughout the years. It’ll build out new services, integrating them into more areas of its product lineup, then try to wipe the slate clean, launch new services that (eventually) replace the old set, and start the cycle anew.

Here are the four eras of Google messaging so far…


Amazing to have already had four such eras, and it’s no wonder nobody can understand them. If Google had to compete without being able to hang their messaging offerings off Gmail and Android, nobody would use them.
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You may not want to get your beauty tips from TikTok • The New York Times

Jessica Schiffer:


“I always know when something is trending on TikTok because I’ll have an influx of patients coming in and asking me about the same thing,” said Dr. Niket Sonpal, a gastroenterologist in New York.

Most of the time, that “thing” is a beauty or wellness tip that’s gone viral on the video-sharing platform, without evidence that it actually works. The advice may be ineffective or outright dangerous, from drinking chlorophyll to induce weight loss to using sunscreen only in select areas to “naturally” contour your face.

“We talk about TikTok all the time in my office,” said Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in New York, “and I think it might be worse than other platforms because people are really looking to create content with that wow factor, the thing that will go viral, even if it’s not grounded in science.”

It’s not surprising that the app that brought us the “Benadryl challenge” (taking large doses of the antihistamine to induce hallucinations) and “the Everclear test” (doing shots of the high-proof alcohol) is not a fount of doctor-approved beauty guidance. But many consumers throw reason and caution to the wind when faced with these trends, underscoring a growing subversion of authority in which an influencer’s word is replacing that of experts.
“It’s funny because patients are often so timid in our office about trying treatments,” Dr. Engelman said. “But when they see something done on Instagram from an 18-year-old influencer, they’re like, ‘Sure!’”


It’s a microcosm of scientists’ experience in the past 18 months. “That wow factor, the thing that will go viral, even if it’s not grounded in science.”
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Spatial Audio • Lefsetz Letter

Bob Lefsetz (who often comes across as one of the grouchiest men in the music business):


I fired up Apple Music last night on my iPad. There’s Zane Lowe’s dog and pony show linked to above, but there’s also 127 demo tracks, as in Apple is trotting these out to demonstrate the greatness of Spatial Audio. I pulled up ones I was familiar with.

Now I was listening on wired Sennheiser headphones, which retail for about $300, far better than what most punters are listening on, never mind the bass-heavy, distorting of the music Beats, talk about a marketing job.

And the tracks were, as I said, definitely different. Not radically different, but there was more space…

But then I started getting reviews e-mailed to me.

And just now I went back. Now I’m listening via my computer, with $700 Audeze headphones with a separate headphone amp. And what I’ve learned is…the Spatial Audio and stereo versions are not only different, the process affects the punch, the essence of the originals!

I compared Spatial Audio tracks to their HD equivalents on Amazon Music and I found exactly what one writer said: the vocal gets lost. Instead of being up front and in your face, it’s buried more in the mix.

Let’s start with Apple’s demo track, “What’s Going On.” In the stereo mix Marvin Gaye is up front, the band is backing him, in the Spatial Audio version, the band is surrounding him, on the fringe, background vocals popping up way up to the right, Marvin is just an element, not the essence, it’s a cornucopia of music, but it’s not the legendary track, it’s absolutely different, a sacrilege.

Same deal with the Doors’ “Riders On the Storm.” Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”


Every new audio format is always, always demonstrated using Riders On The Storm. It’s also pretty much always the kiss of death. I wonder how many people will be able to tell the different with spatial audio.
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Towing a Tesla at 70 mph replenishes battery at fast charger rates • Inside EVs

Andrei Nedelea:


The fact that you can charge an electric vehicle by towing it in gear is common knowledge among those with knowledge of how EVs work – you’re basically just relying on regen to put juice back into the battery, using the motor as a generator. Many have attempted it as more of a gag and more often than not in order to make a YouTube video that will attract a lot of views; this latest attempt is no different.

We’re pretty sure very few people actually charged their EVs in this manner, even when they completely ran out of juice and stopped on the side of the road. Calling a tow truck seems like a safer bet than towing your dead EV behind another vehicle to charge it back up again…

Rich, the guy behind the Warped Perception YouTube channel, known for many crazy perception-warping videos about cars and engines, had his very own Tesla Model S towed behind another vehicle (a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, no less) at a constant 70 mph and drew several important conclusions.

Firstly, the vehicle did not display any error messages or any warnings that what was being done to it was harmful to the vehicle or unsafe in any way. It looked like it could take many more miles of what it was being subjected to without issue.

Secondly, while towing the Model S at 70 mph, the battery was being replenished at an accelerated rate. He had the car towed for some 25 miles, putting back electricity into the batter at a rate of 65 kW – not quite Supercharger speeds, not even V1 or V2 Superchargers that could muster up to 150 kW, but still pretty decent.


So… if your electric car runs out of charge, all you need is for the tow truck to tow you quite fast and you’re good again?
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Can the sit-rise test really predict longevity? • The Washington Post

Erin Strout:


The test requires you to lower yourself to the floor, crisscross style, without bracing yourself with your hands, knees, arms, or sides of your legs. If you can stand back up, again without the aid of those body parts, you’ve scored a perfect 10 (five points for sitting, five points for standing). You lose a point every time you support yourself with a forbidden joint or appendage.

The researchers tested 2,002 adults 51 to 80 years old, and then followed them until a participant died or until the study concluded, which was a median of 6.3 years. In that time, 159 people died — only two of whom had scored a perfect 10. Those who had the lowest score of zero to three points had a risk of death that was five to six times higher than those who scored eight to 10 points.

“It is well known that aerobic fitness is strongly related to survival, but our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities, but have a favourable influence on life expectancy,” Araújo said in a 2012 news release.

Sure, the test is a good measure of leg and core strength, as well as balance. Older adults who have such muscular strength and flexibility are less likely to fall. And falls are the leading cause of unintentional-injury-related deaths for people ages 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But what if you can’t do it? Are you doomed? Should you plan for an early demise? If so, a test of about a dozen 35 to 40-something friends at a recent dinner party revealed that more than half of us should probably get our affairs in order, pronto.


I tried this, and apparently I died five years ago. Fine going down, pretty well stuffed coming back up. (Gets better with a bit of practice, but you need flexible hips.)
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Soviets once denied a deadly anthrax lab leak. US scientists backed the story • The New York Times

Anton Troianovski:


“We all have a common interest in finding out if it was due to a laboratory accident,” Matthew Meselson, a Harvard biologist, said in an interview this month from Cambridge, Mass., referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “Maybe it was a kind of accident that our present guidelines don’t protect against adequately.”

Dr. Meselson, a biological warfare expert, moved into a spare bedroom in the home of a friend at the C.I.A. in 1980 to study classified intelligence suggesting that the Soviet anthrax outbreak could have been linked to a military facility nearby. Six years later, he wrote that the Soviet explanation of the epidemic’s natural origins was “plausible.” The evidence the Soviets provided was consistent, he said, with the theory that people had been stricken by intestinal anthrax that originated in contaminated bone meal used as animal feed.

Then, in 1992, after the Soviet Union collapsed, President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia acknowledged “our military development was the cause” of the anthrax outbreak.

Dr. Meselson and his wife, the medical anthropologist Jeanne Guillemin, came to Yekaterinburg with other American experts for a painstaking study. They documented how a northeasterly wind on April 2, 1979, must have scattered as little as a few milligrams of anthrax spores accidentally released from the factory across a narrow zone extending at least 30 miles downwind.

“You can concoct a completely crazy story and make it plausible by the way you design it,” Dr. Meselson said, explaining why the Soviets had succeeded in dispelling suspicions about a lab leak.

In Sverdlovsk, as Yekaterinburg was known in Soviet times, those suspicions appeared as soon as people started falling mysteriously ill, according to interviews this month with residents who remember those days.

Raisa Smirnova, then a 32-year-old worker at a ceramics factory nearby, says she had friends at the mysterious compound who used their special privileges to help her procure otherwise hard-to-find oranges and canned meat. She also heard that there was some sort of secret work on germs being done there, and local rumors would attribute occasional disease outbreaks to the lab.


So there’s a point that authoritarian states tend to cover up their accidents, and that a plausible story will get backing from all over. This story has been known for ages, of course (it has its own thorough Wikipedia entry, and plenty of past writeups), but we’re now at the stage where anything that seems congruent with malfeasance will grab people’s interest.

Contrast that to the reasonable point I saw made on Twitter by a virologist the other day: given that Covid mostly looks like a cold or flu, might the reason why Covid-19 was first identified in Wuhan be that it’s a city, and where they have a lab capable of sequencing novel viruses? Trouble is, that doesn’t involve a conspiracy.
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One-million-litre biological weapon test sphere at Frederick, Maryland • Atlas Obscura

Tony Dunnell:


Back when it was operational, “The 8-Ball” looked like something the Red Skull would build in a cliff-top Nazi fortress before Captain America came in and smashed it all. Test Sphere 527, as it was also known, was a 40-foot-diameter steel sphere with a one-inch-thick carbon steel hull and a one-million-litre total volume. Total weight: 131 tons.

For most of its operational existence, which stretched from 1951 to 1969, it was enclosed within a 60-foot cube-shaped building sheathed in metal. The sphere itself was gas tight and climate controlled, and the entire complex routinely rated on a slight negative pressure so that any leaks would only allow clean air to enter, rather than allowing contaminated air to escape.

The point of all this was for the aerobiological study of “agents highly pathogenic to man and animals,” including nasty airborne biological weapons. “Hot” biological bombs were detonated inside the sphere, and the pathogen-filled munitions were tested in various ways.


Which is a totally astonishing thing to do. You’d need to be really, really confident about your one-inch metal sphere. Then they would hook volunteers up to it and get them to breathe the “infected” air. Happily, none died. (Thanks G for the link.)

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Canon uses AI cameras that only let smiling workers inside offices • PetaPixel

Michael Zhang:


This may sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but Canon has rolled out new AI cameras that use “smile recognition” technology to ensure that only happy employees are allowed into its offices.

Back in 2020, the China-based Canon subsidiary Canon Information Technology introduced an “intelligent IT solution” for corporate offices that includes 5 different functional modules, one of which is “smiley face access control.”

“In addition, based on the corporate culture of ‘moving and always being’, Canon has always advocated the concepts of ‘laughing’ and ‘big health’, and hopes to bring happiness and health to everyone in the post-epidemic era,” Canon wrote in a press release. “Therefore, in the […] intelligent IT solution, a new experience of smile recognition is specially incorporated. It is hoped that smiles can let everyone relax and get healthy, so as to create a more pleasant working atmosphere and improve efficiency.”

In a new report about tech workers in China being subjected to surveillance tech, Nikkei Asia writes that Canon Information Technology has deployed these AI cameras at its Beijing headquarters to only allow smiling employees to enter the offices or book conference rooms.

Some workers, however, are speaking out about the intrusiveness of such technology.

“So now the companies are not only manipulating our time, but also our emotions,” one worker wrote on Weibo (the popular Chinese microblogging service), according to the report.


I guess it would create a unified working atmosphere where everyone hates the cameras.

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Open for business? The trouble with bringing down mainland China’s coronavirus travel barriers • South China Morning Post

Zhuang Pinghui and Simone McCarthy:


When the coastal province of Fujian announced at the end of April it would cut the quarantine required for some Taiwanese visitors, authorities hoped the example could test the water.

The idea was to reduce the time in isolation from 14 days to just two as part of a pilot programme, but a week later, the plan was abandoned.

After months without incident, an outbreak of local cases of the coronavirus in Taiwan forced Fujian to put reopening on hold. The about-face highlighted the uncertainty and difficulties for the country as a whole to bring down the border barriers and restart international travel.

China’s great wall against transmission of the coronavirus from overseas had been in place since the early days of the pandemic.

For anybody trying to get into China, there are strict measures, including allowing only business travellers, and requirements for multiple negative Covid-19 tests and mandatory quarantines of between 14 and 21 days. 

The aim is to keep imported cases at bay while authorities press on with a vaccination drive at home to reach herd immunity, the point where enough people are inoculated against the disease that transmission becomes very limited.

A top World Health Organization (WHO) official estimated on Tuesday that at least 80% of the population would have to be vaccinated to significantly lower the chance that an imported coronavirus case could generate new cases or spawn a wider outbreak.

So far, 878.5 million doses have been administered in the country’s mass inoculation drive and China should reach its first phase target of vaccinating 40% of the population, or 560 million people, by June 30.


It’s easy to have forgotten that China’s still very worried about further Covid outbreaks.
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Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. Comes out Thursday.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1575: the G7 superspreaders, hacking USB sticks for cryptowallets, GPU prices ease, social media soft power, and more

Everyone’s saying that… Joni Mitchell’s album Blue is 50 years old. And still amazing. CC-licensed photo by Elyse on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Should not have got on this flight without a PCR test. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

G7 summit was ‘super spreading’ event for Cornwall as cases rocket after Johnson and Biden visit • i

David Parsley:


Britain’s recent G7 summit of world leaders was a superspreader event that has led to a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections in the surrounding communities, according to the latest data.

Cornwall business leaders, politicians and residents are calling for the Government to “save the summer” following a huge rise in Covid-19 infections following the visit from world leaders, their entourages, the world’s media and thousands of police last weekend. 

Areas of Cornwall where G7 events were focused saw infections rise more than 2,000% in the seven days leading up to the end of the meeting between global leaders .

The freshest exclusives and sharpest analysis, curated for your inbox

One concerned local told i: “It looks like a superspreader event to me, and now it’s spreading.” 

The area around Carbis Bay, where the summit took place, and Falmouth, where the world’s media were based along with many of the 6,000 of officers policing the event and protesters, are now suffering some of the highest rates of infection in the country. 

The rate of Covid-19 infections in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly during the week to, and including, 13 June has risen from 2.8 per 100,000 people on the Sunday before G7 began to 81.7 per 100,000. This compares to a national average of 77.4 per 100,000. 

But it is in the areas most closely linked to G7 events where rates are of particular concern to local health chiefs.

The rate of infection in St Ives and Halsetown has risen 2,450% in the seven day period to 733.2 per 100,000 people in the seven days to 13 June, when the summit came to an end. In the council ward of St Ives East, Lelant & Carbis Bay the rate has risen by 800% to 294.9 per 100,000 people in the same period. 


Bet it all comes down to time spent indoors in big groups, one way or the other. Covid really loves them. Quite a contrast to open-air events such as football matches or gigs, which haven’t shown any evidence of contributing to spread.
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Criminals are mailing altered Ledger devices to steal cryptocurrency • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:


Scammers are sending fake replacement devices to Ledger customers exposed in a recent data breach that are used to steal cryptocurrency wallets.

Ledger has been a popular target by scammers lately with rising cryptocurrency prices and the popularity of hardware wallets to secure cryptofunds.

In a post on Reddit, a Ledger user shared a devious scam after receiving what looks like a Ledger Nano X device in the mail.

As you can see from the pictures [in the article], the device came in an authentic looking packaging, with a poorly written letter explaining that the device was sent to replace their existing one as their customer information was leaked online on the RaidForum hacking forum.

“For this reason for security purposes, we have sent you a new device you must switch to a new device to stay safe. There is a manual inside your new box you can read that to learn how to set up your new device,” read the fake letter from Ledger.

“For this reason, we have changed our device structure. We now guarantee that this kinda breach will never happen again.”

Even though the letter was filled with grammatical and spelling errors, the data for 272,853 people who purchased a Ledger device was actually published on the RaidForums hacking forum in December 2020. This made for a slightly convincing explanation for the sending of the new device.

…Based on the photos, security researcher and offensive USB cable/implant expert Mike Grover, aka _MG_, told BleepingComputer that the threat actors added a flash drive and wired it to the USB connector.

“This seems to be a simply flash drive strapped on to the Ledger with the purpose to be for some sort of malware delivery,” Grover told BleepingComputer in a chat about the photos.


That’s quite a bit of sneaky. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of an operation with such detail outside a state-sponsored attack. (Maybe I’ve just overlooked a few?)
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Falling Europe GPU pricing suggests shortage is easing • Tom’s Hardware

Aaron Klotz:


According to ComputerBase, graphics card prices have begun to drop as much as 50% in Europe. Availability has also improved significantly, with sales of most GPU models from both AMD and Nvidia doubling month-over-month. This report comes on the heels of ASRock, a GPU maker, noting that GPU pricing is easing as demand from Chinese cryptocurrency miners wanes. 

More budget-oriented cards like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 and AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT are seeing the most positive results, with a near 50% drop in price compared to last month. For flagship cards like the RTX 3080 and RX 6800 XT, however, prices haven’t moved as much. They have dipped a respectable 10-15% which is still a very positive change considering the shortage issues plaguing the technology industry.

In the United States, GPU pricing is slowly catching up to Europe, but it’s still going down nonetheless. A Redditor named ‘u/xclm’ has created a chart comparing GPU prices of cards sold on eBay with the amount of mining horsepower it’s capable of, over the course of the past month.

He found that prices are dropping reasonably well with a 20% average price drop for all cards this month compared to May, and the higher-performing cards like the RTX 3090 have seen an even higher drop of 32% in price.

This change in market behavior is mostly attributed to China regulating crypto mining, and the big drop in the value of large cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Bitcoin.


Everything’s connected. The bitcoin hashrate chart is half what it was at its high in May.
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Why PCs are turning into giant phones • WSJ

Christopher Mims:


Perhaps the single most useful feature of our phones is their near-constant connection to the internet through a cellular network. That missing piece might not come to our laptops as quickly as other elements of mobile computing.

The challenge isn’t getting LTE and 5G modems into our PCs—that has been possible for years. It’s that carriers have yet to figure out their end, says Patrick Moorhead, president of the technology consulting firm Moor Insights & Strategy. They’re concerned about potentially data-hungry devices like PCs overwhelming their networks, he adds. (Imagine a cell tower designed to handle occasional bursts of data traffic lighting up with a few dozen laptops streaming “The Avengers” in 4K.)

The good news is that 5G represents a chance to align incentives so that it is easier for individual buyers of laptops to easily get data plans. “All these carriers are making all these capital expenditures, and they need to make a return on their investment in spectrum and equipment,” adds Mr. Moorhead. “We’re going to be in an oversupply of connectivity.”

Windows laptops for some time have had the ability to connect to cellular networks without consumers having to buy the kind of physical SIM card that smartphones rely on, says a Qualcomm spokesman. Currently, the Microsoft Surface Pro X supports such “e-SIM” technology, and allows purchase of data plans through an app, he adds.

Despite the connectivity challenge, analysts predict that the recent uptick in sales of PCs will persist. Reasons for this include unfilled demand in the education market, a shift to people buying new PCs every four to five years instead of the usual six to seven, and the way that “work from home” has meant employees need their own devices, rather just sharing them as they have in some workplaces such as call centers, says Jitesh Ubrani, an analyst at IDC covering smartphones, tablets and PCs.


The revival of the PC has been quite the surprise: we didn’t think our home PCs were good enough for the job, so we replaced them? Companies splurged lots of money making sure that people could Zoom contentedly? Sure would be good to know who, precisely, splashed the cash. Corporate or consumer?
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Big tech, startups race to cool data centres around the world • Bloomberg

Ivan Levingston and Will Mathis:


All those videos, emails, bank statements, photos, shopping carts, airline reservations, and so, so, so much more sluicing around the internet eventually end up in the millions of data centers scattered across the globe. With all that stuff coming and going, those places are getting crowded—and hot. David Craig can’t do much about the congestion, but he says he’s got a fix for the heat: A liquid that bathes the cores of processors to keep things at a relatively chilly 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). “As we process much more data, the chips are becoming three, four, five times hotter,” says Craig, chief executive officer of Iceotope Technologies Ltd., a U.K. startup focused on cooling strategies for computing.

Data centers consume 2% to 4% of the world’s electricity, and almost half of that power goes to cooling, according to the Uptime Institute, a consulting firm in Seattle. Early on, most data was kept on-site at the banks, universities, or corporations that generated it, where cooling often meant little more than opening the window. Today, a growing share of the world’s data is consolidated in megacenters with thousands of processors, and the vast majority of them use traditional air conditioning. While some heat is good for computers, too much can cause systems to crash, and with each generation of computer chips running faster and hotter, the systems will soon be too hot for even the most efficient air conditioner. Finding better ways to keep temperatures down could save the industry some $10 billion a year on electricity alone, according to Uptime. “Air just isn’t a very effective medium for transferring heat,” says Rabih Bashroush, global head of IT advisory services at Uptime.


So we should use water, or at least liquid? Got it.
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Drought-stricken communities push back against data centers • NBC News

Olivia Solon:


On May 17, the City Council of Mesa, Arizona, approved the $800 million development of an enormous data center — a warehouse filled with computers storing all of the photos, documents and other information we store “in the cloud” — on an arid plot of land in the eastern part of the city.

But keeping the rows of powerful computers inside the data center from overheating will require up to 1.25 million gallons of water each day, a price that Vice Mayor Jenn Duff believes is too high. “This has been the driest 12 months in 126 years,” she said, citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We are on red alert, and I think data centers are an irresponsible use of our water.”

Duff was the only Mesa City Council member to vote against the development. But she’s one of a growing number of people nationwide raising concerns about the proliferation of data centers, which guzzle electricity and water while creating relatively few jobs, particularly in drought-stricken parts of the United States.


OK, so don’t use water. Got it.
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Social media are turbocharging the export of America’s political culture • The Economist


Take Brazil. Its political scene is full of YouTubers and Facebook influencers. These include supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, the president; critics of the government such as Felipe Neto, who rose to fame making videos for young people; and a vast market of political content-makers in between. “There is a lot of influence, even unconscious, of the [American] discourse. What’s happening there, comes here,” says Mr do Val, citing debates on face masks or race. This is not as simple as copying and pasting American arguments, he cautions. Rather, America provides the templates that anyone anywhere can apply.

According to Whitney Phillips, a media researcher at Syracuse University in New York, America’s role in shaping political debates comes not just from the norms it promotes. It also “flows from its cultural production—the actual stuff of media and memes”, she writes in “You Are Here”, a new book examining global information flows. One reason America’s influence is greater now, she says, is that “social media is global. And there are way more people outside the United States who use Facebook than in the United States.”

Consider the Black Lives Matter (blm) protests which erupted in America in 2020. They inspired local versions everywhere from South Korea, where there are very few people of African descent, to Nigeria, where there are very few people who are not. In Britain, where the police typically do not carry firearms, one protester held aloft a sign that read, “demilitarise the police”. In Hungary, where Africans make up less than 0.1% of the population, a local council tried to install a work of art in support of the blm movement, only to earn a rebuke from the prime minister’s office. Last year the Hungarian government released a video declaring, “All lives matter.”


Social media has enabled more spread of “soft power” than ever before. In that context, the rise of TikTok (and its suppression of Hong Kong-related and Uighur-related content) is significant.
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My life in the Apple ecosystem (and more): 6FPS • Chuq von Rospach

Chuq worked at Apple (on mailing lists, from what I used to see) and then at Palm on developer relations:


when I talk about App Stores and developer programs and how developers should be treated, I point all this out to show that it’s not exactly theoretical for me, it’s personal. I’ve lived that life, fought those wars (and at Palm, more or less lost at every opportunity, but that’s a sad story for another time). And to a degree, it’s why I’ve always hesitated talking about Apple and their developer programs and App Store. 

Because to me, Apple does an absolute crap job of taking care of their developers. The defining word that comes to mind to me is “arrogance”. An expectation that the developers need Apple, so Apple doesn’t have to reciprocate. 

And with the IOS App store, Apple is absolutely correct. Developers need to be on IOS. It’s far less true on MacOS, and if you’ve ever taken a look at the Apple TV App Store, you can easily see how ludicrously poorly that platform is considered by developers. 

Apple has never been that interested or great at relationships with developers, and I say that with great respect for many members of Apple’s DTS/Devrel teams, some of whom are friends and who have spent years fighting the good fight internally as well.

It’s gotten worse over the years, and while I will cut Apple some slack — I don’t think people remotely understand the complexity and difficulty of doing things at the scale Apple has to do them — but where Apple has over the years had opportunities to improve things for developers and make these platforms more appealing, they have consistently chosen to not take those opportunities. There’s zero reason the App Store cut is still 30%, other than Apple believing it can get away with it. 

…Apple drove its developer relationship for decades based on attitudes of entitlement and arrogance, and never invested in creating a developer community that wanted to work with Apple, and instead just expected them to always have to work with it.

We are now at the start of a time where I think Apple will come to regret doing that, but it’s far too late to fix or to stop what I see as the inevitable shift towards regulations aimed at Apple’s App store policies. And because Apple has spent so long believing it can bully and bluster those around it — and mostly succeeding because of its size and scale, I think the next few years as the regulators gear up adn get going it’s going to be interesting, and ultimately, Apple will learn some hard lessons.


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June 2020: Beware! iCloud backups are deleted after 180 days • TidBITS

Adam Engst:


TidBITS reader Walter Ian Kaye had a simple question: “Did you know Apple deletes iCloud backups over 180 days old? I didn’t. 😭”

I’m always bemused when I discover myself adopting one of my son’s expressions, and my immediate reaction was a teen-speak refrain from his high school years: “Wait, what?”

I had no idea that Apple deleted iCloud backups after 180 days, and a quick poll in the TidBITS Slack channel showed that it wasn’t common knowledge among other TidBITS staffers and contributing editors.

But a quick Google search revealed that the policy is far from new—I see perturbed iCloud users complaining as far back as 2014, and Take Control author Kirk McElhearn mentioned the fact in a 2013 Macworld article.

Apple does document this fact in various places, including in the iCloud User Guide, the Manage Your iCloud Storage support document, and the iCloud Terms and Conditions. But if you were expecting that you might be warned about such a limitation in the iOS interface, such as on the screen where you enable iCloud Backup or learn more about what’s backed up, you’d be disappointed.

Apple’s acknowledgment of the deletion policy is not quite as hidden as the plans for demolishing Arthur Dent’s house in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But the effect is roughly the same if you were planning on restoring from your iCloud backup, only to discover that Apple had deleted it, with the only warning being in support documents you’ve never read.


That’s not iCloud documents, but whole-device backups. Resurfaced on Twitter this weekend, as someone had backed up their iPad with their drawings on it to iCloud, then tried to restore it more than six months later. No backup. As Engst pointed out, it might make sense for Apple to warn people that a backup is about to be deleted. Hasn’t happened. (If this might happen, back it up on your computer.)
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Joni Mitchell talks with Cameron Crowe about health, ‘Blue’ • Los Angeles Times

Cameron Crowe on Mitchell’s wonderful album, 50 years old this week:


Q: You take off for Greece in early 1970, and thus begins your adventure of living in the Matala caves. Matala becomes the setting for some of the most beloved songs on “Blue.” Why Greece?
JM: I was ready for an adventure. Penelope was a girl I knew and she was going, and I asked if I could tag along. We were both friends of Leonard (Cohen), so we wanted to see his island (Hydra). I brought a flute and my dulcimer. In Hydra, I climbed to the top of a mountain and played among the goats and sheep with my flute. In Athens we went to this place where the poets hung out, it was like a moving crap game because the Junta were busting up public meetings. There was a kind of an apple-crate guitar there that some of the poets played. I bought it off them for $50. I was so missing my guitar. We went into the Athens underground and I sat on the ground down there, like a busker. I played, and people threw money at me.

Q: Was anybody keeping tabs on you? Had you cut ties with everybody back home?
JM: Nobody knew where I was back home, or how to get hold of me. Eventually I found a phone to let everyone know that I was still alive and kicking. [Laughs.] But everywhere we went in Greece, people would say to us, “Sheepy, Sheepy, Matala Matala!” We didn’t know what that meant. It meant, “Hippie, hippie, go to the caves of Matala! That’s where your kind are!” So we rented a car and took a ferry boat and we arrived there. It was dark. We went down to the water’s edge. And when we were looking out towards Turkey, Penelope started thinking about her namesake, you know, Penelope, the wife of Ulysses. Just as we were talking, we heard an explosion, and when we turned around we saw Cary (Raditz) being blown out the door of a restaurant. He was a cook, and he had been lighting the stove and it exploded. I said to Penelope, “What an entrance! I’ve got to go and meet him.” So we walked over there and he was dressed in a white turban and white shirt and white baggy pants like gauze. He’d come from the city of Banaras, in India. The explosion had singed all the hair on his arms and legs. It went right through his clothes. And that’s how I met Cary. He exploded into my life, just like that.


I love knowing the stories that go with the songs: that Cary is a real person. And of course little Green was too. And Blue is on a par with a Picasso masterpiece. (I’m told the article is behind a paywall, but the Javascript on my browser broke so I couldn’t see it. Same when I tried to read it on Apple’s Reader.)
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Out this week:

preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1574: half of ads on fake news via Google, the ‘green vortex’ saving the US, airlines may drop a pilot on long-haul, and more

Groundskeepers are the unseen force in football, able to alter how quickly or slowly a pitch plays, to the home team’s advantage. CC-licensed photo by Daniel Novta on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. It’s Friday, after all. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Less than a week to preorder Social Warming, my next book.

Nearly half of all ads on fake news sites come from Google, study finds • Morning Brew

Ryan Barwick:


Fake news is a problem. Yet the sites that publish it keep surviving because ad servers keep sending them advertisements.

According to a white paper published last month by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Information, 48% of ad traffic on “fake” news publishers is served by Google. Nearly a third (32%) of “low credibility sites” like Breitbart, Drudge Report, and Sputnik News were delivered by Google.

The researchers analyzed more than 1,700 publishers, identifying 545 as either “fake” (sites filled with pseudoscience and straight-up lies) or “low credibility” (hyper-partisan), using a data set compiled by Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor at Merrimack College.

Additionally, the researchers found that the “top-10 credible ad servers,” like Lockerdome and Outbrain, make up 66.7% of fake and 55.6% of low-quality ad traffic. Even so, the researchers said that the dollars these firms make from such placements represents a “negligible fraction” of their overall revenue.

Using digital emulators that mimicked browsing behaviour on the sites, the researchers could identify which ad servers were supporting misinformation sites.

The researchers didn’t reach out to Google, but the search engine told Marketing Brew in a statement that the company removed ads from “more than 1.3 billion pages that breached” its policies in 2020.


They’re not a problem for Google. It’s in the position of not caring what adverts appear where; it just wants those that appear to be served by it, so it gets paid. One of the key elements of social warming: indifference caused by a conflict of broader ethics with corporate aims. (Corporate aims pretty much always win.)
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China isn’t the issue. Big Tech is • The New York Times

Shira Ovide:


Here’s what an official at NetChoice, a group that represents Google, Facebook and Amazon, told The Washington Post about the crop of Big Tech regulation bills: “At the same time Congress is looking to boost American innovation and cybersecurity, lawmakers should not pass legislation that would cede ground to foreign competitors and open up American data to dangerous and untrustworthy actors.”

And this is what the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a policy group that gets funding from telecommunications and tech companies, said this week about the appointment of Khan as FTC chair: “In a time of increased global competition, antitrust populism will cause lasting self-inflicted damage that benefits foreign, less meritorious rivals.”

Sounds bad! You might notice that these statements don’t name China, which is the magic word to make stuff happen in Washington. But that’s what they mean by referencing unnamed foreign rivals.

Yes, it’s reasonable for Americans to want strong US companies in a competitive global economy. But making a handful of tech kings play fair isn’t likely to break them.

As for the security arguments, the logic doesn’t work if you think about it for more than two seconds. Does preventing Amazon from selling its own brand of batteries — as one congressional bill might do — hold America back from fighting foreign cyberattacks? Nope. How do proposals that might restrain giant companies from doing whatever they want with our personal information weaken America on the world stage? They do not.


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The ‘green vortex’ is saving America’s climate-change future • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:


That 2009 climate bill, the one that President Barack Obama couldn’t pass? It required the US to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 17% by 2020 as compared with their all-time high. Yet last year, our emissions were down 21%. The same bill said that the US had to generate 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Last year, we met that target. We will surpass it in 2021.

These numbers are not a mere fluke. Last year was a singular, awful moment in economic history, but even accounting for the effects of the COVID-19 recession, America’s real-world emissions last decade outperformed the Obama bill’s targets. From 2012 to 2020, real-world U.S. emissions were more than 1 billion tons below what the bill would have required, according to my analysis of data from Rhodium Group, an energy-research firm. (Of course, had the bill passed, the U.S. might have done even better.)

Meanwhile, across the economy, companies are learning how to decarbonize. Ford is already producing more electric Mustang Mach-Es than gas-powered Mustangs; General Motors, Honda, Volvo, and Jaguar have promised to stop selling gas cars altogether by 2040. Royal Dutch Shell was court-ordered last month to cut its emissions, and shareholders just forced Exxon to replace a quarter of its board with climate-concerned activist investors. Most important of all, the costs of solar and batteries have declined in the United States by a factor of 10 over the past decade, and the cost of wind has fallen 70%. Ten years ago, virtually no analyst thought they would fall so low. The International Energy Agency made headlines this year when it called solar “the cheapest electricity in history,” but the entire apparatus of renewable energy has seen cost declines.

What gives? America is supposed to be doing nothing right. Yet we’re making progress anyway. How? Why?


Meyer’s argument is that there’s a virtuous cycle (though he calls it the “green vortex”). I’m not sure I buy it. (Also: why do subs allows phrases like “declined by a factor of 10” through? “Fell by 90%”, they mean.)(Thanks G for the link.)
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Amazon is blocking Google’s FLoC — and that could seriously weaken the system • Digiday

Kate Kaye:


Most of Amazon’s properties including, and are preventing Google’s tracking system FLoC — or Federated Learning of Cohorts — from gathering valuable data reflecting the products people research in Amazon’s vast e-commerce universe, according to website code analyzed by Digiday and three technology experts who helped Digiday review the code.

Amazon declined to comment on this story.

As Google’s system gathers data about people’s web travels to inform how it categorizes them, Amazon’s under-the-radar move could not only be a significant blow to Google’s mission to guide the future of digital ad tracking after cookies die — it could give Amazon a leg up in its own efforts to sell advertising across what’s left of the open web.

“This move is in direct correlation with Google’s attempt to provide an alternative to the third-party cookie,” said Amanda Martin, vp of enterprise partnerships at digital agency Goodway Group. She called Amazon’s choice to block FLoC on most of its sites another example of the chess moves Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are making as data privacy pressures force the destruction of the foundation of data tracking across the internet: the third party cookie.

With the help of three technologists, Digiday watched last week as Amazon added code to its digital properties to block FLoC from tracking visitors using Google’s Chrome browser.


The post-cookie world is getting so, so complicated. Though one could always hope it will mean the end of those bloody cookie consent popups.
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Nuclear energy: fusion plant backed by Jeff Bezos to be built in UK • BBC News

Matt McGrath:


A company backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is set to build a large-scale nuclear fusion demonstration plant in Oxfordshire.

Canada’s General Fusion is one of the leading private firms aiming to turn the promise of fusion into a commercially viable energy source.

The new facility will be built at Culham, home to the UK’s national fusion research programme.
It won’t generate power, but will be 70% the size of a commercial reactor.

General Fusion will enter into a long-term commercial lease with the UK Atomic Energy Authority following the construction of the facility at the Culham campus.

While commercial details have not been disclosed, the development is said to cost around $400m.
It aims to be operational by 2025.

…A major international effort to build a fusion reactor is underway in the south of France with the Iter project. But this $20bn venture has been hampered by delays and isn’t likely to be working effectively until after 2035.

Frustrated by the slow progress, private companies across the world have been following their own approaches, and General Fusion’s effort is seen as one of the most advanced.


“Significant” amounts of government money supplied to make Culham attractive. Good way to keep those who used to work there re-employed.
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Airbus, Cathay ‘Project Connect’ plan to ditch two pilots in cockpit for long-haul flights •


The programme, known within Airbus as Project Connect, aims to certify its A350 jet for single-pilot operations during high-altitude cruise, starting in 2025 on Cathay passenger flights, the sources said.

High hurdles remain on the path to international acceptance. Once cleared, longer flights would become possible with a pair of pilots alternating rest breaks, instead of the three or four currently needed to maintain at least two in the cockpit.

That promises savings for airlines, amid uncertainty over the post-pandemic economics of intercontinental flying. But it is likely to encounter resistance from pilots already hit by mass layoffs, and safety concerns about aircraft automation.

…Proponents suggest single-pilot operations may be accepted by a flying public used to crew leaving the cockpit for bathroom breaks. They also point to higher error rates from human pilots than automated systems.

Both arguments miss the point, according to a source close to Lufthansa – who said the airline’s executives were advised last year that the programme could not meet safety goals.

Flying solo for hours is a “completely different story”, the source said, citing the 2009 AF447 disaster as an example of malfunctions occurring in cruise. The Air France A330’s copilots lost control after its speed sensors failed over the Atlantic, while the captain was resting.

“Airbus would have had to make sure every situation can be handled autonomously without any pilot input for 15 minutes,” the source said. “And that couldn’t be guaranteed.”


But the AF447 crash was caused by too many pilots, or one too many. It’s not an argument against having fewer (better than the unfortunate one who triggered the crash) pilots.
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Aliens wouldn’t need warp drives to take over an entire galaxy, simulation suggests • Gizmodo

George Dvorsky on a study from Columbia University:


Things start off slow in the simulation, but the civilization’s rate of spread really picks up once the power of exponential growth kicks in. But that’s only part of the story; the expansion rate is heavily influenced by the increased density of stars near the galactic center and a patient policy, in which the settlers wait for the stars to come to them, a result of the galaxy spinning on its axis.

The whole process, in which the entire inner galaxy is settled, takes one billion years. That sounds like a long time, but it’s only somewhere between 7% and 9% the total age of the Milky Way galaxy.

Another neat aspect of the video is that it shows a civilization transitioning from Kardashev II status—in which it harnesses the power of entire star systems—to a full-blown Kardashev III civilization, which has tapped into the energy output of the entire galaxy (more about the Kardashev scale here).

That a civilization might want to embark on such an ambitious enterprise might seem implausible, but it’s important to remember Steven J. Dick’s Intelligence Principle, which states that the “maintenance, improvement and perpetuation of knowledge and intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution, and that to the extent intelligence can be improved, it will be improved,” as the science historian wrote in his 2003 paper, “Cultural Evolution, the Postbiological Universe and SETI.” Our civilization keeps pushing the envelope of what’s possible, and we have no reason to believe this urge will cease any time soon. Hence the assumption that advanced civilizations will eventually seek to occupy every corner of the galaxy and set up camp around precious energy sources, namely stars.


Don’t know whether to be worried or not now. Are they just about to arrive? After all, we’re near the edge of the spiral arm. Or are we being overlooked intentionally or by accident?
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Players take turns to select and color a tile. At the end of a turn, each tile will influence its neighbors by imparting some of its color.

If a tile gains enough color to pass the threshold, it can no longer be selected and will have a dark border. Conversely, a tile can lose its dark border and become selectable if it loses enough color.

The game ends when all tiles pass the color threshold. The player with the most colored tiles wins!


Like a watered-down version of Go, but it’s Friday, enjoy yourself!
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‘The Silicon Valley of turf’: how the UK’s pursuit of the perfect pitch changed football • The Guardian

William Ralston:


When it comes to sports-turf management, the UK is a talent factory like no other. “We’re 10 years more advanced than anywhere else in the world,” Richard Hayden, author of Fifa’s official handbook on pitch maintenance, told me. “If you want to work in technology, you go to Silicon Valley. Well, the UK is the Silicon Valley of turf!”

The English grounds-management sector alone is valued at more than £1bn and employs more than 27,000 people, with specialists in every area, from seed enthusiasts who can breed grasses that grow in the shade to scientists who develop chemicals to make grass greener. In West Yorkshire, the Sports Turf Research Institute is an R&D powerhouse, studying everything from how quickly water passes through different types of sand to how the fineness of a stem of grass influences the roll of a golf ball. In hardware, too, the UK has no rival. Bernhard and Company in Warwickshire make the world’s best sharpening systems for mower blades; Allett, in Staffordshire, provides elite mowing and maintenance equipment, as does Dennis, based in Derbyshire. Dennis mowers are used across the world’s top sports arenas, from Wimbledon to Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Manchester United’s Old Trafford. Calderwood uses them at PSG, too.

The turf-care techniques developed in the UK have been applied in tennis, golf, rugby and just about any professional sport that takes place on grass. But it is football, with its vast wealth and global fanbase, that has powered the revolution. No groundskeeper would claim their work was the main reason for any team’s success, but, just as Olympic swimmers don’t compete in beach shorts and professional cyclists shave their legs, top football teams obsess over tiny details that can be the difference between winning or losing. When Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in 2016, he asked for the grass to be cut to just 19mm, in line with the ultra-fast pitches he had demanded at his previous clubs, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. (In the end he had to settle with 23mm, because short grass is more vulnerable to wear and Manchester’s cold climate means it can’t recover quickly.


Now I really want to know the grass length of each of the pitches that each Euros match is played on. The speed of playing surfaces matters in every sport (that has a playing surface…), yet it’s so overlooked.
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In token crash postmortem, Iron Finance says it suffered crypto’s ‘first large-scale bank run’ • Yahoo Finance

Kevin Reynolds:


A near-total collapse in the price of a share token of a decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol was “the world’s first large-scale crypto bank run,” the people behind Iron Finance said in a blog post providing a postmortem. The run brought the worth of the protocol down from $2bn to near zero on Wednesday.

A “negative feedback loop” was created when a series of large holders tried to redeem their IRON tokens and sell their iron titanium (TITAN), the token of the Iron Protocol, the post said. That, in turn, caused more TITAN holders to run for the virtual hills, leading to what the team labeled “a classic bank run.”

“What we just experienced is the worst thing that could happen to the protocol, a historical bank run in the modern high-tech crypto space,” the post said.

The run was enabled by the fact that Iron Finance is only partly collateralized. It had enough for normal day-to-day operations, but just like in the bank run depicted in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” if everyone wants their money all at once, the bank can’t pay up. Unfortunately for Iron Finance, there was no George Bailey around on Wednesday.


The blogpost itself is pretty much incomprehensible. In essence, as they say, it’s like the bank in Wonderful Life, and the trigger was an arbitrage opportunity – if you sold the token when it was below a certain price, you’d get more than that price in real money. So of course everyone did, which drove the price lower, which increased the arbitrage opportunity. (There’s another writeup here.)

*First* large-scale bank run, demonstrating that cryptoassets have zero inherent value. The folk at Tether, which essentially underpins most crypto exchanges but it only 3% backed by real funds, might be worried.
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Start Up No.1573: antitrust laws would stall Apple apps, Facebook plans ads inside Oculus VR, Spotify copies Clubhouse, and more

Under a new rule, the Associated Press won’t name people arrested for minor offences. You may be able to think of one. CC-licensed photo by Andrew Feinberg on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Face the camera. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Obligatory book promo for
Social Warming, my forthcoming book. Out June 24. (Premature bookjaculations still welcomed.)

Apple pre-installed apps would be banned under antitrust package • Bloomberg

Rebecca Kern:


Apple Inc. would be prohibited from pre-installing its own apps on Apple devices under antitrust reform legislation introduced last week, said Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who is leading a push to pass new regulations for U.S. technology companies.

Cicilline told reporters Wednesday that a proposal prohibiting tech platforms from giving an advantage to their own products over those of competitors would mean Apple can’t ship devices with pre-installed apps on its iOS operating platform.

“It would be equally easy to download the other five apps as the Apple one so they’re not using their market dominance to favor their own products and services,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

The proposal is part of a package of bipartisan bills that would impose significant new constraints on how tech companies operate, restricting acquisitions and forcing them to exit some businesses. The House Judiciary Committee will mark up the five bills in a hearing next week, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee’s chairman, said.

Cicilline said the self-preferencing prohibition would also apply to Inc.’s Prime subscription service because it disadvantages some sellers who rely on the e-commerce platform.

When asked whether Microsoft Corp., which was subject to an epic antitrust case in the 1990s, would be subject to the measures, Cicilline said it would be up to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to make that determination.


Totally bonkers. Here’s what would actually happen: you’d go to buy a phone in a carrier store (as many people do) and they’d preload their own App Store and a ton of intrusive tracking junk apps.

Is there any evidence that people who are not developers are dissatisfied with how Google and Apple set things up right now? If so, I haven’t seen it.
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Facebook to begin testing ads inside Oculus virtual reality headsets • CNBC

Salvador Rodriguez:


Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will begin testing advertisements that will appear within the company’s Oculus virtual reality headsets.

In May, the company said that it would begin running ads within the Oculus mobile app, but the announcement on Wednesday is the first time the social media company says it will show ads within its VR headsets.

The Oculus headset ads will first appear in the shooter game Blaston from Resolution Games. Ads will also begin appearing in two other Oculus apps over the coming weeks, Facebook said.

Oculus headset ads could be a significant step for Facebook, which derives more than 97% of its overall revenue from advertisements. Currently, those ads are primarily shown to users within the company’s Facebook and Instagram social networks.

Facebook also said these ads could provide new ways for software developers to generate revenue.

The ads will follow Facebook’s advertising principles and give users the same controls they have on Facebook. This includes the ability to hide specific ads or hide those from specific advertisers. Users can also select “Why am I seeing this ad?” to access more information about the ads they are shown.


Why are you seeing this ad? Because, Smith, if you want a picture of the future, imagine an ad being shown on two screens inches from your eyes – forever. Definitely, as Aaron Levie of Box noted wryly, “what VR was missing for mass adoption.”
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Covid doom predictions that never happened • Noahpinion

Noah Smith:


Unfortunately, many of the bad predictions about COVID-19 came true. The people who saw cases ramping up exponentially, and warned that this was going to be a mass death event, were right, while the people who minimized the threat and waved it away were wrong. And a lot of people are dead because we didn’t listen to the former.

But economic predictions are a different story. When unemployment spiked to Great Depression levels in the early days of lockdown, it seemed to me — and to many, many others — like this downturn was destined to turn into a decade of mass economic hardship. Fortunately, that was completely off the mark! I got it very wrong and Paul Krugman got it right — with no financial crisis and no big overhang of debt, the economy simply wasn’t destined for a repeat of 2008-12. Though the recovery has proven bumpy thus far, but most economists still forecast a relatively swift return to the pre-pandemic growth trend.


Pretty much everything that was feared economically didn’t happen – except for (only US?) universities, where roughly 1 in 8 jobs vanished and enrollments for next year are down. Smith admits that Paul Krugman called it correctly, perceiving that this wasn’t a financial crisis, and there was no debt overhang, so things could snap back quickly.
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AP says it will no longer name suspects in minor crimes • Associated Press

David Bauder:


The Associated Press said Tuesday it will no longer run the names of people charged with minor crimes, out of concern that such stories can have a long, damaging afterlife on the internet that can make it hard for individuals to move on with their lives.

In so doing, one of the world’s biggest newsgathering organizations has waded into a debate over an issue that wasn’t of much concern before the rise of search engines, when finding information on people often required going through yellowed newspaper clippings.

Often, the AP will publish a minor story — say, about a person arrested for stripping naked and dancing drunkenly atop a bar — that will hold some brief interest regionally or even nationally and be forgotten the next day.

But the name of the person arrested will live on forever online, even if the charges are dropped or the person is acquitted, said John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president for standards. And that can hurt someone’s ability to get a job, join a club or run for office years later.

The AP, in a directive sent out to its journalists across the country, said it will no longer name suspects or transmit photographs of them in brief stories about minor crimes when there is little chance the organization will cover the case beyond the initial arrest.


A form of the “right to be forgotten”, which has been implemented in Europe since May 2014. Good to see that the AP has finally realised how this “internet” thing works, though.
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Creating a trustworthy reviews experience • About Amazon

Amazon says it blocked more than 200 million fake reviews before they even got onto its sites, but:


Due to our continued improvements in detection of fake reviews and connections between bad-actor buying and selling accounts, we have seen an increasing trend of bad actors attempting to solicit fake reviews outside Amazon, particularly via social media services. Some use social media services on their own; in other cases, they hire a third-party service provider to perpetrate this activity on their behalf. However, bad actors regularly try to take this transaction outside Amazon to obscure our ability to detect their activity and the relationship between the multiple accounts committing or benefiting from this abuse. As a result, we use a number of techniques, including advanced machine learning, to try to detect groups of connected entities—customer accounts, selling accounts, products, brands, and more. However, it’s also clear that this is an industry-wide battle, and we need to work together to make faster progress.

When we detect fake reviews that may have been perpetrated outside Amazon, we regularly report the activity to the social media company where it occurred. In the first three months of 2020, we reported more than 300 groups to social media companies, who then took a median time of 45 days to shut down those groups from using their service to perpetrate abuse. In the first three months of 2021, we reported more than 1,000 such groups, with social media services taking a median time of five days to take them down. While we appreciate that some social media companies have become much faster at responding, to address this problem at scale, it is imperative for social media companies to invest adequately in proactive controls to detect and enforce fake reviews ahead of our reporting the issue to them.


Basically blaming Facebook, without naming Facebook. Part of the big problem is that the “fake” reviews often come from people who have effectively been bribed to give a good review. (Possibly the motive behind the removal of a few brands from Amazon recently.)
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The COVID-19 lab leak theory is short on evidence and long on guesswork • Foreign Policy

Justin Ling:


The lab leak theory says the furin cleavage site, a tiny enzyme dangling from the virus, is key to understanding the novel coronavirus’s origin.

Goldstein agrees. But, he said, that cleavage site actually points toward the virus’s natural origin.

“You cannot, in a normal cell culture, maintain the furin cleavage site,” he told me. When the COVID-19 virus is replicated in a cell culture in a lab, he said, the furin cleavage tends to delete itself. A peer-reviewed paper, published in late April in Nature, noted that habit and identified seven other papers that found a similar deletion.

So if researchers were using traditional methods and their preferred cell lines to try to force the virus to replicate, mutate, and change, the furin cleavage site would likely disappear.

The gain-of-function proponents say this furin site is too well adapted for humans to be an accident. But Goldstein said the opposite is true. The cleavage site is imperfect, so odd, that it could have only been a freak of nature. “No virologist would use that cleavage site,” he said.

It is possible to replicate the virus in a lab while preserving the cleavage site, Goldstein added, but it would “require doing things differently than everyone does them.” And, crucially, it would require them choosing cell cultures that replicate the virus more slowly.

So the researchers would have had to make a series of inefficient and strange decisions to preserve a tiny, novel, odd enzyme. Indeed, the researchers at Imperial College London behind the April Nature article found that the addition of four amino acids in the virus’s spike protein “occurred during its emergence from an animal reservoir and created a suboptimal furin [cleavage site].” Another study published in January in Stem Cell Research demonstrated how these furin sites naturally evolve in many coronaviruses.


Sure that we’re going to see the Daily Mail and NY Post and WSJ write up that research real soon now. (Thanks G for the link.) We all became epidemiologists, and now we’re all becoming virology genomic experts.
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Segmentation faults: how machine learning trains us to appear insane to one another • doxa

Jon Stokes:


Imagine a world where the following things are true:

1. Big Tech platforms make money by micro-targeting ads to their users, so that ads that are more accurately and narrowly tailored are more valuable to platforms and advertisers than ads that are more general.
2. Following on the above, the more fine-grained segments you can slice your audience into, the better you can service the long tail of advertisers. So there’s an ad-driven market for audience segmentation that the platforms want to meet.
3. Advertising works, and in general, a human’s behaviors, preferences, values, and even basic tenets of their worldview can be modified by the media they’re exposed to.
4. Our society is getting more fragmented and polarized, as existing groups splinter apart online and new, often smaller groups and clusters form around different ideas, claims, worldviews, and identity characteristics.

I understand there are legitimate objections to each point above, but just go with it for a moment. Imagine that the above accurately describes our present social reality in 2021.

If I’m right, then it seems quite possible that the first items in the list above — i.e., tech platforms have created a lucrative advertising market for an atomized, segmented audience — is leading directly to the last item in the list — i.e, to our increasingly atomized, segmented public.


In the “great minds thinking alike” category, I’d offer this as Jon coming up with the same realisation about how (some elements of) social warming emerge as me. Though he chose a different name for the phenomenon.
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Spotify’s Clubhouse competitor Greenroom is here • The Verge

Ashley Carman:


Spotify’s live audio app, Greenroom, formally launched on Wednesday on iOS and Android, marking the company’s first real attempt at creating a social media platform. The social audio app, which is similar to Clubhouse, allows users to host live conversations about sports, music, and culture.

Today’s launch doesn’t come with a marquee creator announcement or specific event planned, but instead, the company is taking the opportunity to encourage people to sign up and figure out how they’ll want to use the app. Some of its core functionality, a person close to the situation says, will eventually make its way to the actual Spotify app, so the team will monitor what happens in Greenroom closely.

The app is built on Locker Room, which Betty Labs created and Spotify acquired in March. That app focused solely on sports content, so users who have been logged on since the start will have to get used to seeing more than just sports talk, which is likely the biggest change. Other noticeable changes to the app are mostly visual. It now has a Spotify green-and-black color scheme, as well as a new logo and font. Functionality-wise, it also now features native recording, which will allow users to save their shows and distribute them as podcasts. (Of course, Spotify owns Anchor, so one could easily imagine shows eventually being natively moved to the creation software for further editing and publishing.)


This seems like a better idea than Clubhouse, inasmuch as it’s about sports – and people like talking about sports, which also gives it a structure by default, based on the time of events.

Anyway, remember Clubhouse? If these Statista figures are reliable, it’s not quite dead. Interest is biggest in Asia, while in the US it’s totally fizzled.
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Cryptocurrency miners bought 700,000 GPUs in Q1 2021 • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


According to JPR, component prices for GPUs have increased by as much as 70%. I’m perfectly willing to believe that board manufacturers have boosted their own prices to compensate for that, but the current GPU market remains ludicrously inflated. Component prices may be up 70%, but GPU prices have been up 2.5x – 4x.

The data below does not include the notebook market. “DT PC w/o WS” means “Desktop PC without workstations,” meaning Quadro and Radeon Pro shipments are not included here.

Attach rates — the percentage of PCs that ship with a discrete graphics card — have trended downwards in the desktop market, with a very clear bump towards the end of 2020. Note, however, that even as the graphics attach rate has dropped once more, the total number of AIB (Add-In Boards) being sold has skyrocketed. In other words: we’re not seeing a huge demand spike because OEMs like Dell, HP, and Lenovo are suddenly selling lots of systems with high-end graphics cards. We’re seeing a huge spike in AIB shipments because of cryptocurrency mining. The last time AIB shipments sparked like this was 2017-2018. That time period corresponds to the second cryptocurrency bubble.

JPR estimates that miners bought 700,000 midrange and high-end GPUs in Q1 2021, accounting for about 25% of the AIB market and roughly half a billion dollars in cash. None of that revenue flows to Nvidia or AMD; it’s all being captured by the channel partners. JPR notes that electricity prices in Mongolia are around 4.5 cents per kW, explaining how these farms remain profitable (and why it’s impossible to compete with them if you have to pay residential rates for electricity).


Compared to the PC market, of around 70m units per quarter, that… doesn’t feel that big?
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Now the UK is investigating the Apple and Google duopoly • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced that it’s investigating both Apple and Google over its smartphone operating systems, app stores, and web browsers (h/t: Android Central). More specifically, the authority says it’s checking whether the two companies are stifling competition across a variety of digital markets.

“The CMA is concerned this could lead to reduced innovation across the sector and consumers paying higher prices for devices and apps, or for other goods and services due to higher advertising prices,” read an excerpt of the announcement. This investigation will also look at the power Apple and Google have over businesses like app developers.

This announcement doesn’t name any specific third-party apps or companies, but the likes of Spotify, Tinder owner Match, and Tile have all criticized Apple and Google’s business practices in recent months. These criticisms center on the app store holder’s cut of sales, changes to app store rules, and competing products by platform holders.

Google has already been slapped on the wrist over its Android-related practices. The firm was previously slapped with a $5bn fine by the EU in 2018 for requiring OEMs to bundle specific apps, incentivizing the use of its products, and preventing OEMs from running Android forks. Meanwhile, Apple is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Epic that could have major ramifications for its App Store and iPhone business practices.


Views from anyone welcome to July 26, and the CMA would particularly like to hear from app developers. CMA is giving itself 12 months to conclude the study.
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