Start Up No.1571: valuing our content-driven lives, fake chips boom, the shipping container crisis, how graphs got started, and more


A few days ago, Mark Zuckerberg offered Roger Waters a lot of money to use Another Brick in The Wall in an advert. The response, was, well… CC-licensed photo by AleBoSS 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. That’s not how you play Breakout. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Still a few days to preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. Apparently WH Smith has had at least one premature bookjaculation, with one reader (👋 JoeOC) receiving theirs. Other reports welcome.


How memes become money • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:

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What counts as user content—and is thus for sale—can be defined more broadly still: Some of the biggest IP disputes on the social audio app Clubhouse, for example, have been over general premises for interaction. In February 2021, a group of friends who’d been gathering in an Asian-diaspora chat set up a new chat room where people pretended to moan like whales. Then a bunch of influencers heard how popular it was and made rip-offs. Around the same time, a group of white NYU students were accused of stealing the idea of a “shoot your shot” dating-show room from the many Black creators who had been hosting similar rooms for months. The students have now signed on with a major talent agency, with the goal of creating a “cross-platform franchise.”

At this point, when most of our interactions happen in this handful of highly commodified spaces, who could be blamed for feeling like everything they do is—or at least feels like—commerce? “I’m actually very torn on this,” says Stacey Lantagne, a law professor at the University of Mississippi who researches copyright in the digital age. She’s seen white influencers steal ideas from people of color who never see any compensation, and she wants this to be corrected somehow. Yet it’s difficult to advocate for fairness without perpetuating the logic that all human expression can and should be for sale. “I’m really resistant to the idea that everything we do needs to be owned,” Lantagne told me.

…Selling an NFT of a tweet isn’t about fostering an audience or creating a sustainable source of income to support a creative life. It’s the newest, most direct way of converting attention into money, and of plucking a unit of content out of its cultural context—the conversation it was part of, the historical moment that made it significant, the people who saw it and got excited about it—and presenting it for purchase.

It’s appropriate to give credit to people for their creativity and compensate them for their labor. It’s empowering to siphon value from the social-media companies that have been making billions off our personal lives. But it’s also a kind of giving up.

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(Thanks G for the link.)
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Heatwave scorches the Middle East • NASA Earth Observatory

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With meteorological summer just underway, some parts of the Northern Hemisphere were already feeling the heat in early June 2021. In particular, the early-season heat has been scorching countries across the Middle East.

The map above shows air temperatures in the region on June 6, 2021. The map was derived from the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model and depicts air temperatures at 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above the ground. The darkest red areas are where the model shows temperatures around 50°C (122°F).

The GEOS model, like all weather and climate models, uses mathematical equations that represent physical processes (such as precipitation and cloud processes) to calculate what the atmosphere will do. Actual measurements of physical properties, like temperature, moisture, and winds, are routinely folded into the model to keep the simulation as close to observed reality as possible.

Indeed, local ground stations recorded temperatures that climbed above the 50°C mark in at least four Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to news reports, Sweihan in the UAE hit 51.8°C (125.2°F) on June 6, 2021, which was the country’s highest temperature on record for the month of June. Countries in Central and South Asia were also reported to have seen extraordinarily high temperatures for the time of year.

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YouTube is ground zero for fraudulent election audit advocacy • Media Matters for America

Olivia Little and Kellie Levine:

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YouTube has become the epicentre of fraudulent election audit advocacy, even though this content seems to violate the platform’s election misinformation guidelines. Fifteen right-wing YouTube channels are spreading videos that promote the Arizona audit — and sometimes advocate for more such audits in other states — in a push to justify the illegitimate process. 

By housing this extremist election misinformation (which is reliant on the debunked claim that the 2020 election was stolen, an idea that led to the January 6 Capitol insurrection), YouTube has become complicit in its rapid spread. Some of these videos also run ads, meaning both the creator and YouTube are benefiting financially.

Arizona is conducting an audit of ballots in Maricopa County in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. The Arizona audit is rooted in baseless conspiracy theories about the outcome of the presidential election and has sparked interest in similar efforts in other states, including Michigan, Georgia, and New Hampshire. 

There are at least 15 active YouTube channels that are sharing videos and livestreams with “updates” on the right-wing push for election audits, sometimes relying on right-wing media sources known for spreading misinformation. This content appears to violate YouTube’s election misinformation policy, which prohibits “content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of any past U.S. presidential election.” Despite this policy, the 15 channels had accumulated over 54 million combined views as of June 10.

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Faintly related, from Reuters:

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YouTube will no longer allow political or election ads in its coveted masthead spot at the top of the site’s homepage nor ads for alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs, it said on Monday.

In an email to advertisers, seen by Reuters, YouTube said the change built on its move last year to retire all full-day masthead ads.

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ERCOT calls on Texans to conserve power amid high summer demand, forced outages • KUT Radio, Austin’s NPR Station

Mose Buchele:

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Monday asked people to conserve energy throughout the week as the supply of electricity on the Texas grid ran the risk of falling short of demand.

Texans should reduce their electricity use through Friday, ERCOT said.

It is the second time the state’s grid operator has made such a request since devastating blackouts gripped Texas in February.

In a media release, ERCOT blamed the tight grid conditions on more electric generators than usual being shut down for repairs. The grid operator said 11,000 megawatts of generation capacity — about the amount of energy it takes to power 2.2 million homes on a summer day — is unavailable due to those forced outages. One megawatt of electricity can usually power about 200 homes on a summer day.

According to ERCOT, about 73% of that unavailable power comes from “thermal” generators, typically gas and coal plants, being offline.

…At a signing ceremony last week, Gov. Greg Abbott said that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.”

But grid experts have warned that the risk of big blackouts remains unless the state does more to overhaul its deregulated energy market and provide more backup power in times of emergency. They say that risk will only increase as the temperature rises, unless more electric generators are brought back online.

“I shudder to think what things would be [like] if we were actually having a heat wave,” said Dan Cohan, a civil engineering professor at Rice University.

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This isn’t caused by a heat wave? And they still haven’t confronted the problem.
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Why we are in a shipping crisis that’s sparking shortages • Business Insider

Rachel Premack with a deep look at the many moving (not fast enough, not in the right place) parts in the global supply chain:

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By late January 2021, some 55 vessels were crowded around the LA and Long Beach ports, reportedly sitting in the ocean for up to two weeks. FreightWaves noted that it took longer for some of these ships just to get unloaded than it was for them to cross the Pacific. 

Why is there a delay to unload these ships? The boom in demand is, of course, one leading reason. American ports are also seeing a shortage of labor. There’s an ongoing shortage of the longshoremen who who undertake the critical task of getting these containers off the ship and onto trucks or trains. Dozens were quarantined due to the coronavirus at varying points last year.

Above all, when something goes astray with ocean shipping, there’s a major butterfly effect. A ship that’s unloaded two weeks late in Los Angeles is also going to be two weeks late when it arrives back in, say, Chittagong, Bangladesh to load up on IKEA furniture. The ship before that may have been two weeks late, too, so the carrier might just cancel the ship IKEA was expecting space on, Sundboell said. Then IKEA will have to scramble for another way to move your nightstand — and potentially every order they had after that, which will now be pushed down the road.

Halfway into 2021, the situation has not improved.

There’s another shortage giving rise to our shortages: A lack of shipping containers. Or rather, a lack of containers where they need to be.

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The thing to watch apparently is the Drewry World Container Index: prices per container have risen more than threefold since June last year.
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Five new bills aim to break up Big Tech platforms, force them to play nice • Ars Technica

Tim De Chant:

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“Right now, unregulated tech monopolies have too much power over our economy,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who introduced one of the bills. “They are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers, and put folks out of work. Our agenda will level the playing field and ensure the wealthiest, most powerful tech monopolies play by the same rules as the rest of us.”

“Big Tech companies are stifling American innovation with their monopolistic behavior,” said Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Tex.), who co-sponsored two of the bills. “By acquiring their competition and eliminating alternatives in the marketplace, they are denying fair access to the free market for small businesses across the country.”

While the legislation would not ban the platforms outright, it would subject companies to new regulations that would constrain their ability to provide certain products and services, while leveling the playing field for competitors.

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The analysis of the bills that I’ve seen suggests they’re so far over the top that they’d effectively ban platforms from offering any sort of useful services at all. Don’t expect the bills to survive in this form, but it’s going to be a concern for the companies.
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When graphs are a matter of life and death • The New Yorker

Hannah Fry:

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auto race of the season is looming; it will be broadcast live on national television and could bring major prize money. If his team wins, it will get a sponsorship deal and a chance to start making some real profits for a change.

There’s just one problem. In seven of the past twenty-four races, the engine in the Carter Racing car has blown out. An engine failure live on TV will jeopardize sponsorships—and the driver’s life. But withdrawing has consequences, too. The wasted entry fee means finishing the season in debt, and the team won’t be happy about the missed opportunity for glory. As Burns’s First Law of Racing says, “Nobody ever won a race sitting in the pits.”

One of the engine mechanics has a hunch about what’s causing the blowouts. He thinks that the engine’s head gasket might be breaking in cooler weather. To help Carter decide what to do, a graph is devised that shows the conditions during each of the blowouts: the outdoor temperature at the time of the race plotted against the number of breaks in the head gasket. The dots are scattered into a sort of crooked smile across a range of temperatures from about fifty-five degrees to seventy-five degrees.

The upcoming race is forecast to be especially cold, just forty degrees, well below anything the cars have experienced before. So: race or withdraw?

This case study, based on real data, and devised by a pair of clever business professors, has been shown to students around the world for more than three decades. Most groups presented with the Carter Racing story look at the scattered dots on the graph and decide that the relationship between temperature and engine failure is inconclusive. Almost everyone chooses to race. Almost no one looks at that chart and asks to see the seventeen missing data points—the data from those races which did not end in engine failure.

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I too fell into the cognitive trap. You get shown the proper graph. Then Fry hits you with the real punch: that data isn’t from car racing. A fascinating read – especially if you’ve never seen an Ibry graph of train lines.
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The global chip shortage is creating a new problem: more fake components • ZDNet

Daphne Leprince-Ringuet:

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the current times are opening up a golden opportunity for electronic component counterfeiters and fraudsters to step in.  

“If next week, you need to get 5,000 parts or your line will shut down, you will be in a situation of distress purchase and you will put your guard down,” Diganta Das, a researcher in counterfeit electronics at the Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE), tells ZDNet. “You won’t keep to your rules of verifying the vendor or going through test processes. This is likely to become a big problem.” 

As part of his research, Das regularly monitors counterfeit reporting databases like ERAI, and although it is too early to notice a surge, he is confident that the number of reports will start growing in the next six months as companies realize they have been sold illegal parts. 

The problem, of course, is unlikely to affect tech giants whose reliance on semiconductors is such that they have implemented robust supply chains, and will typically only purchase components directly from chip manufacturers. 

Those at risk rather include low-volume manufacturers whose supply chain for semiconductors is less established – but it could include companies in sectors that are as critical as defence, healthcare and even automotive.

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The last time counterfeiting was a big problem in chips was when cheap capacitors screwed up various PC manufacturers from 2002.
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Facebook asked Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters for “Another Brick in the Wall II” to promote Instagram. He told Zuckerberg… • Boing Boing

Mark Frauenfelder reports what Roger Waters said (at a meeting seeking to get Julian Assange freed):

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This is something that I actually put in my folder when I came out here today, you have no idea what it is. Nobody does because it arrived on the internet to me this morning. It’s a request for the rights to use my song, “Another Brick in the Wall II” in the making of a film to promote Instagram.

So it’s a missive. It’s a missive from Mark Zuckerberg, to me, right? Arrived this morning with an offer of a huge, huge amount of money. And the answer is, “Fuck you. No fucking way.”

And I only mention that because this is insidious. It’s the insidious movement of them to take over absolutely everything you know. So those of us who do have any power, and I do have a little bit in terms of the control of the publishing of my songs I do anyways, so I will not be a party to this bullshit, Zuckerberg.

[Quoting email]: We want to thank you for considering this project, we feel that the core sentiment of this song is still so prevalent and necessary today, which speaks to how timeless the work…”

It’s true. And yet they want us, they want us to join it. They want to use it to make Facebook and Instagram even bigger and more powerful than it already is. So that it can continue to censor all of us in this room and prevent this story about Julian Assange getting out to the general public so the general public could go “What? What? No, no more.”

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What I like about Waters is that even at 77 years old, he’s still a moody teenager who sees the world in black and white. (I bet he doesn’t tidy his room either.) That’s an asset for creativity: always something to grind against.

Also, wanting to use “Brick in the Wall” is the most unimaginative choice. (Yes, OK, it was their biggest single.) Wouldn’t “Money” work better for Instagram? Or maybe “One Of These Days” – the lyrics certainly fit what Facebook’s effects are.
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pOrtal, a seamless sci-fi video link between cities ª Kottke

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pOrtal is a project that allows for people in two different locations to interact via circular video screens. Right now, the link is between Vilnius, Lithuania and Lublin, Poland but there are plans to add more cities (Reykjavik/Vilnius and Vilnius/London to start). The production is a bit over-the-top (e.g. the video), but the idea of fun, seamless, sci-fi presence between two locations is a good one.

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The concept is rather like a Doctor Who or other SF trope: you can see the people through there, but you can’t touch them. It’s simultaneously great and frustrating. (That link goes to the equal best Doctor Who episode ever. The other equal best is Blink. Don’t @ me.)
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AT&T graciously offers free device downgrades for customers affected by 3G shutdown • Android Police

Jules Wang:

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AT&T is shutting down its 3G network next February and is prepared to give its customers a new phone for free lest their current one becomes useless —that is, they can’t place calls over LTE. Just don’t expect the carrier to go to great costs for your replacement.

Mobile subscribers recently received the latest in a string of emails about the 3G shutdown telling them about the free phone offer. All they have to do is head to att.com/AcceptMyPhone, verify their phone number, and then they’ll be able to arrange for the new phone to arrive in a few weeks.

The new phone customers will get is the AT&T RADIANT Core. It was introduced as an option for the comapny’s prepaid customers in October of 2019 with an MSRP of $70 (though it’s half off at the moment) and comes with a 480p display, a single 5MP rear camera, 16GB of storage (it takes a 64GB microSD card, though), 1GB of RAM, a removable 2,500mAh battery, and Android 9 Pie (Go edition). Hey, at least it has VoLTE.

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The word “graciously” here isn’t meant entirely seriously. This is the deal for Android users; for iPhone users (and you’d need to be using an iPhone 4S from 2011; the iPhone 5 introduced 4G) they get the new iPhone SE. Not a bad reward if you’ve managed to survive using a ten-year-old phone, I’d say.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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