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.

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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:

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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 .

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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. 

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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

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