Start Up No.1562: Twitter plans ‘wrongness’ markers, China’s coming pensioner boom, why UFOs aren’t aliens, more on Osaka, and more

Time to brush on your Greek alphabet – important Covid variants will now be assigned letters from it. The first four are already taken. CC-licensed photo by Dunk %uD83D%uDC1D 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. Just play the effing chord. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Preorder Social Warming, my book coming out June 24. Also available as an audiobook (the first 200 pages, definitely).

Twitter may start labeling your tweets based on how wrong you are • Gizmodo

Alyse Stanley:


Twitter is one of many social media companies that’s struggled to keep misinformation from running rampant on its platform over the years. Its latest attempt to move the needle looks to be a tiered warning label system that changes based on how wrong you are, according to app researcher Jane Manchun Wong.

So far, there are three levels of misinformation warning labels: “Get the latest,” “Stay Informed,” and “Misleading,” Wong tweeted on Monday. How accurate a tweet is determines if Twitter’s systems tack on one of these three labels, each of which includes a prompt directing users to additional information. Ostensibly, these would link to a Twitter-curated page or external vetted source, as is the case for Twitter’s covid-19 and U.S. presidential election misinformation labels.

Wong, who reverse engineers popular apps to uncover features still in development, shared a screenshot of her efforts experimenting with Twitter’s new system. For example, she tweeted, “Snorted 60 grams of dihydrogen monoxide and I’m not feeling so well now,” which triggered a “Get the latest” label with information about water.


I wonder if it’s going to be automatically appended by machine learning, which would create all sorts of problems, or by some sort of fact-checking system, which would be slow and out of date by the time it was implemented.

Worth nothing that there’s a cottage industry in watching Wong dissect apps to find out what’s coming up next. She’s rarely wrong.
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Why Beijing has resisted raising the retirement age • Macro Polo

Houze Song:


Why hasn’t China raised its oddly low retirement age yet? After all, a key solution to its rapid aging problem is right under Beijing’s nose, and it knows it too. As early as 2013, Beijing made it clear that the official retirement age (60 for men and 55 for women) would be raised by 2020—a priority that made it into the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). Yet so far, no move has been made on the retirement age.

The short answer is that the Chinese government cannot afford to delay retirement at the moment. In the near term, postponing retirement will actually be negative for the economy. For one, since job creation is paramount amid the post-Covid recovery, Beijing needs retirees to vacate their spots that can then be filled by the unemployed, including many of the nearly 9 million recent college graduates.

In 2018, those between the ages of 55 and 59 accounted for 7.3% of China’s total urban labor force (see Figure 1). If Beijing had raised the retirement age by one year to 61 for men and 56 for women, a quick estimate suggests that would’ve translated into 5 million and 4.5 million fewer job vacancies and raised the unemployment rate by more than one percentage point in 2019 and 2020, respectively. And given the necessity of solving the unemployment problem during the current economic slowdown, delaying retirement has to be put on hold.


There are also budgetary reasons why it’s actually good, for now, for China to have lots of pensioners. But there’s bad news for men born in 1964 and women born in 1969 coming up: the retirement age is probably going to rise in 2023, as a colossal number of boomers come to cash in their pensions. That in turn could lead to big restructuring of the state. Mark it in your calendar.
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If the lab-leak theory is right, what’s next? • The Atlantic

Daniel Engber:


Instead of calling for a new and better inquiry into origins, let’s stipulate that pandemics can result from natural spillovers or from laboratory accidents—and then let’s move along to implications. One important question has already gotten airtime (from right-wing media, at least): should scientists be fiddling with pathogenic genomes, to measure out the steps they’d have to take before ascending to pandemic-level virulence? Should the National Institutes of Health be funding them? This was the subject of a fierce, unresolved debate among virologists that started back in 2012; it still isn’t clear to what extent such research helps prevent devastating outbreaks, and to what extent it poses a realistic risk of creating them.

Other questions include: Should coronavirus samples gathered from the wild be studied at moderate biosafety levels, as appears to have been the case at the Wuhan Institute of Virology? Is there any significant cost, in terms of preparing for the next pandemic, from slowing down surveillance work with more demanding safety regulations? And should China end the practice of transporting virus-laden guano from sparsely populated regions to population centers, as appears to have been the case in Wuhan? (One might also ask: Should studies of Ebola, or other outbreak-ready pathogens, be carried out in Boston?) As Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute, told me this week, we may yet discover that the COVID-19 story is a variation on “a small-town virus brought to the city, and suddenly becoming a star.”

Or we might be due for a far more substantial inquiry into the risks of scientific research. If we’re ready to acknowledge that a lab-induced pandemic is possible, and that we may be seeing the result, then “we’ll need to understand that the next major threat to public health could come from something else in biology—something that destroys crops, or changes the ocean, or changes the atmosphere,” Sam Weiss Evans, a biosecurity-governance scholar, told me. “This could be a moment of reckoning for the much wider biological community.”


This is the far better way to deal with this possibility. There’s no proof (and nothing in the past few months has changed that), but it’s worth asking these questions and being sure of the answers.
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Return to office: employees are quitting instead of giving up work from home • Bloomberg

Anders Melin and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou:


A six-minute meeting drove Portia Twidt to quit her job.

She’d taken the position as a research compliance specialist in February, enticed by promises of remote work. Then came the prodding to go into the office. Meeting invites piled up.

The final straw came a few weeks ago: the request for an in-person gathering, scheduled for all of 360 seconds. Twidt got dressed, dropped her two kids at daycare, drove to the office, had the brief chat and decided she was done.

“I had just had it,” said Twidt, 33, who lives in Marietta, Georgia.

With the coronavirus pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, the push by some employers to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.

While companies from Google to Ford Motor Co. and Citigroup have promised greater flexibility, many chief executives have publicly extolled the importance of being in offices. Some have lamented the perils of remote work, saying it diminishes collaboration and company culture. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said at a recent conference that it doesn’t work “for those who want to hustle.”

But legions of employees aren’t so sure. If anything, the past year has proved that lots of work can be done from anywhere, sans lengthy commutes on crowded trains or highways. Some people have moved. Others have lingering worries about the virus and vaccine-hesitant colleagues.

And for Twidt, there’s also the notion that some bosses, particularly those of a generation less familiar to remote work, are eager to regain tight control of their minions.

“They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us,” she said. “It’s a boomer power-play.”


If this really goes wider than just an example, this will be a fascinating shift in how people work. (Also, it’s that time of the month when Bloomberg definitely lets you read articles.)
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The UFO sightings don’t impress this physicist • The New York Times

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, and works on detecting signals of alien life:


If we are being frequently visited by aliens, why don’t they just land on the White House lawn and announce themselves? There is a recurring narrative, perhaps best exemplified by the TV show “The X-Files,” that these creatures have some mysterious reason to remain hidden from us. But if the mission of these aliens calls for stealth, they seem surprisingly incompetent. You would think that creatures technologically capable of traversing the mind-boggling distances between the stars would also know how to turn off their high beams at night and to elude our primitive infrared cameras.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll read with great interest the U.S. intelligence report about U.F.O.s that is scheduled to be delivered to Congress in June; I believe that U.F.O. phenomena should be investigated using the best tools of science and with complete transparency.

But there may be more prosaic explanations. For example, it’s possible that U.F.O.s are drones deployed by rivals like Russia and China to examine our defenses — luring our pilots into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus revealing our electronic intelligence capacities. (The United States once used a similar strategy to test the sensitivities of Soviet radar systems.) This hypothesis might sound far-fetched, but it is less extreme than positing a visit from extraterrestrials.

What’s most frustrating about the U.F.O.s story is that it obscures the fact that scientists like me and my colleagues are on the threshold of gathering data that may be relevant to the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. But this evidence involves subtle findings about phenomena far away in the galaxy — not sensational findings just a few miles away in our own atmosphere.


It’s the banality of his points that seems to have eluded so many people for so long: they’re able to cross vast distances, but then they’re not able to stay out of the way of this traffic? They leave their lights on to cross the unfathomable void?

The puzzle is why people didn’t consider more quickly that these were weapons systems of some sort, either home-grown or from other countries. Perhaps it’s the timing: the first reports came about the same time as the space age was on the rise, and alien life was where the fun was. Not the Cold War and the prospect of being annihilated in a nuclear blast.
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Philips Hue Wall Switch Module review: smart-ish, at last • The Verge

Thomas Ricker:


Many smart home fans can trace their obsession back to the very first Hue lightbulbs launched back in 2012 as an Apple Store exclusive. But Hue bulbs, like all smart bulbs, come with a few catches. First, they require a constant source of power to function. That means you’ll lose control over that fancy Hue bulb hanging above your kitchen table just as soon as someone flicks off the light switch. To solve this, many people disable the switch mechanism with tape or a dummy wall plate, only to realize that physical controls are useful when you or your housemates and guests can’t be bothered to yell a command or pull out a phone. So they buy a Hue remote control and tape it to the wall. This comedy of errors is then repeated over and over until they have a house full of mismatched wall switches and legitimate concerns about life priorities.

There’s a small cottage industry of aftermarket solutions for this, including Lutron’s Aurora dimmer that sits on top of a light switch. But Philips has never addressed it directly, until now. The new $39.95 Hue Wall Switch Module solves these issues by making most existing wall switches Hue-smart.

Note that I said Hue-smart, not smart. That’s because the switch you rewire to the Hue Module can only control Hue lightbulbs, not regular inexpensive lights like other smart switches. Nevertheless, it caters to fans of both smart lights and smart switches by offering the benefits of both, so long as they can stomach the cost and ecosystem lock-in.


Benedict Evans pointed to this in his newsletter and says it “unintentionally makes the case that smart lighting, and a lot of other smart home, is a waste of time only good for hobbyists”.

I disagree. I’ve got a ton of IKEA smart bulbs, and they are great – connect with HomeKit (and Google, and Amazon), can work to times, available in single or multi-colour, eminently controllable. And leaving them on all the time uses pretty much zero energy if they’re not lit.
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Naomi Osaka’s complicated withdrawal from the French Open • The New Yorker

Louisa Thomas:


[Tennis post-match] Press conferences, as a rule, are tedious and outdated. Nobody really likes them—not reporters, who would prefer to speak to athletes privately and at length, and not players, who are asked the same questions repeatedly, sometimes by people whose main motivation is to encourage controversy. Press conferences can seem particularly pointless to players who don’t need the press to promote themselves or reach their fans, which they can do more efficiently, and perhaps more effectively, through social media.

The press, particularly at the Grand Slams, can include people who are not well versed in tennis; tabloid reporters; and, not infrequently, people who ask ham-handed and offensive questions, particularly of Black women. Just the other day, a reporter who wanted to get a quote from the seventeen-year-old star Coco Gauff about the possibility of playing Serena Williams began by saying, “You are often compared to the Williams sisters. Maybe it’s because you’re Black. But I guess it’s because you’re talented and maybe American, too.”

Press conferences also typically offer reporters their only chance to ask players questions on any subject, including difficult ones. Without press conferences, it seems quite possible that Alexander Zverev would not have been asked about the allegations of domestic violence against him. Without press conferences, reporters might get to talk to players only under terms established by the brands that sponsor them, or in exchanges that are heavily mediated by layers of managers and agents.

And, for all of their obvious problems and weaknesses, press conferences do sometimes yield original insights into both the technical aspects of matches and the people who play them. That often seemed particularly true when Osaka walked into the room—until she declared that she would stay out.

…Shortly after her announcement, the president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, read a statement wishing Osaka a speedy “recovery.” Without any apparent awareness of the irony, he did not take questions from the press.


Thomas makes a good point: that sometimes, these pressers are necessary to ask harder questions. Plus: it’s not the press obliging Osaka to attend. It’s the tournament organisers. I find it very hard to know quite where to place my sympathies. These days, doing press conferences is as much part of the job as actually turning up on the court. Is Osaka’s stance more like the woman Bloomberg found above, who didn’t want to turn up at “the office” because she could do her job fine from home? Or is it one that leaves her fellow pros labouring in the question mines, while she gets to pick and choose? (As ever, Marina Hyde guides you through the thickets. She’s not a fan of the organisers.)
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Covid-19 variants to be given Greek alphabet names to avoid stigma • The Guardian

Edna Mohamed:


Coronavirus variants are to be named after letters of the Greek alphabet instead of their place of first discovery, the World Health Organization has announced, in a move to avoid stigma.

The WHO has named four variants of concern, known to the public as the UK/Kent (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1) and India (B.1.617.2) variants. They will now be given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta respectively, to reflect their order of detection, with any new variants following the pattern down the Greek alphabet.

The decision to go for this naming system came after months of deliberations with experts considering a range of other possibilities such as Greek Gods, according to bacteriologist Mark Pallen who was involved in the talks.

The organisation said the labels do not replace existing scientific names involving numbers, Roman letters and full stops, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.

The WHO said: “While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall and are prone to misreporting … As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatising and discriminatory.

“To avoid this and to simplify public communications, [the] WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels.”


There are people who believe that the “Indian variant” only affected people of Indian heritage. So this naming system makes a lot of sense. Except when they come to the 25th variant. They’re already on four after, what, one proper year, but we’re already hearing about variants in Thailand and Vietnam. The virus is coming under a lot of evolutionary pressure.
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Android 12 will spell the end of third-party share sheet replacements • Android Police

Scott Scrivens:


It’s no secret that Google has struggled to implement a satisfactory share sheet in Android — you could say it’s been one of the platform’s weakest features. Even now, when I attempt to share something with a friend, I’m greeted by direct share targets of no use whatsoever. Either that or you get an app’s custom sharing menu instead, with varying degrees of usefulness. Because of this inconsistent experience, many users like to replace the default share sheet using a third-party app like Sharedr. Unfortunately, as of Android 12, that’s no longer going to be possible.

With the Android 12 beta, the ability to set a third-party service as the default share dialog was seemingly being blocked as it would no longer show the prompt necessary to select a default app. The developer of Sharedr took to the Android IssueTracker (via XDA Developers) to complain but Google’s response clarifies that this is the intended behavior going forward:


It’s a long time since I used Android, but the share sheet that’s pictured with this post is quite the mess. Apple’s implementation has the virtue of not including every single app that might possibly want to share whatever you’re sharing, whether or not it’s capable of handling that content.

Very gradually, Google keeps on closing Android off. I’m not aware of any part where in the past five years it has become less rather than more restrictive.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1561: Amazon gets meshy outdoors, Winslet on Instagram, US laws restrict police DNA trawls, cloning WordStar, and more

Pretty soon you’ll be able to get a Raspberry Pi to emulate all your guitar pedals. But will that be as satisfying as a big pedalboard? CC-licensed photo by ArtBrom 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. Testing, 1-2. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Still some time to
preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book. Also available as an audiobook – only the first 100 pages so far, though.

Amazon devices will soon automatically share your Internet with neighbours • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


If you use Alexa, Echo, or any other Amazon device, you have only 10 days to opt out of an experiment that leaves your personal privacy and security hanging in the balance.

On June 8, the merchant, Web host, and entertainment behemoth will automatically enroll the devices in Amazon Sidewalk. The new wireless mesh service will share a small slice of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbors who don’t have connectivity and help you to their bandwidth when you don’t have a connection.

By default, Amazon devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will enroll in the system. And since only a tiny fraction of people take the time to change default settings, that means millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they know anything about it or not. The Amazon webpage linked above says Sidewalk “is currently only available in the US.”


The maximum bandwidth that it will “share” is 80kbps, to a maximum of 500MB per month. From briefly reading the white paper from Amazon, this looks like a scheme where only Amazon devices will have access to these connections, and they’ll essentially be used to keep devices connected that might be just outside Wi-Fi connectivity, or where it might fall off and you want those surveillance devices to stay active. This isn’t really a privacy concern – unless you’re worried about those surveillance devices, which is a different question.
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Maureen Dowd talks ‘Mare of Easttown’ with Kate Winslet • The New York Times

If you haven’t seen the series (which just concluded), you’ve got a treat in store. No spoilers in this article. But I was struck by this remark by Winslet, 43:


Ms. Winslet has been known to warn young actors on a set not to confuse social media fame with the hard work of acting.

“I have certainly heard, twice, of certain actors being cast in roles because they have more followers,” she said. “I’ve actually heard people say, ‘She’s not who we wanted to cast, but she has more followers.’ I almost don’t know what to say. It’s so sad and so extraordinarily wrong. I think the danger is not just for young actors but younger people in general now. I think it makes you less present in your real life. Everyone is constantly taking photographs of their food and photographing themselves with filters.”

She leans her face close to the camera, and noted her lack of filters, with an expletive.

“What worries me is that faces are beautiful. Faces that change, that move, are beautiful faces, but we’ve stopped learning how to love those faces because we keep covering them up with filters now because of social media and anyone can photoshop themselves, and airbrush themselves, and so they do. In general, I would say I feel for this generation because I don’t see it stopping, I don’t see or feel it changing, and that just makes me sad because I hope that they aren’t missing out on being present in real life and not reaching for unattainable ideals.”


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Two new laws restrict police use of DNA search method • The New York Times

Virginia Hughes:


Beginning on Oct. 1, investigators working on Maryland cases will need a judge’s signoff before using the method, in which a “profile” of thousands of DNA markers from a crime scene is uploaded to genealogy websites to find relatives of the culprit. The new law, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, also dictates that the technique be used only for serious crimes, such as murder and sexual assault. And it states that investigators may only use websites with strict policies around user consent.

Montana’s new law, sponsored by a Republican, is narrower, requiring that government investigators obtain a search warrant before using a consumer DNA database, unless the consumer has waived the right to privacy.

The laws “demonstrate that people across the political spectrum find law enforcement use of consumer genetic data chilling, concerning and privacy-invasive,” said Natalie Ram, a law professor at the University of Maryland who championed the Maryland law. “I hope to see more states embrace robust regulation of this law enforcement technique in the future.”

Privacy advocates like Ms. Ram have been worried about genetic genealogy since 2018, when it was used to great fanfare to reveal the identity of the Golden State Killer, who murdered 13 people and raped dozens of women in the 1970s and ’80s. After matching the killer’s DNA to entries in two large genealogy databases, GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, investigators in California identified some of the culprit’s cousins, and then spent months building his family tree to deduce his name — Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. — and arrest him.


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Instagram giveaways promise cash and cars, but who wins? • Vox

Allie Jones:


In 1851, the inventor and entrepreneur Benjamin T. Babbitt began traveling around the United States in a wagon, offering consumers free lithographic prints with the purchase of baking soda. According to historian Wendy A. Woloson, this new mode of marketing inspired enterprising salesmen to launch their own prize giveaways, many of which ended up being scams. We can trace the history of the giveaway from the 1850s right up through March 23, 2021, when Kris Jenner, the matriarch of the Kardashian family known fondly for working harder than Satan, posted a photograph of herself on her Instagram page sitting on a grand staircase surrounded by thousands of dollars’ worth of Louis Vuitton luggage.

“Who wants a 20k USD preloaded credit card + the luxury purses pictured here with me,” she asked, adding a credit card emoji, four exclamation points, and two notices that the post was an #ad. (An ad for what, exactly? It’s complicated.) All entrants had to do, said Jenner, was follow a few dozen other Instagram accounts and comment on Jenner’s post.

Peering at the display, I wondered: Who wins these things? The answer has been difficult to ascertain.

I started paying attention to Instagram giveaways such as Jenner’s last year, when I was spending [redacted] hours per day on my couch, scrolling through Instagram. All of the Kardashians, save for Rob, have participated in one at some time or another, tempting their followers with Saint Laurent handbags, luxury baby strollers, and credit cards “preloaded” with thousands of dollars. (“Girl this looks like a scam,” said one commenter on a Kylie Jenner giveaway post from November 2020. “No one ever wins these,” said another.)


The lack of documented winners is always suspicious.
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How bad is Google Photos’ compression anyway? • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:


Google Photos has long offered one of the best deals in all of photo storage: it’ll back up your entire library for free, so long as it can compress the images a bit. But as of today, June 1st, that deal goes away, and you’re now eating through Google storage (which you may have to pay for) whether your images are compressed or not.

With the change looming, I’ve been wondering how bad Google’s compression actually is. Does the compression leave my photos in “High Quality,” as Google has claimed for years? Or does the compression degrade my photos enough to make it worth using more storage by switching over to “Original Quality” backups?

I ran some quick tests this morning to find out. I took some photos and videos from my Pixel 5 (one of a few phones that will continue to get free compressed storage) and a photo from my Fuji X-T30 and uploaded them to two separate Google Photos accounts, one with compression turned on and one that maintained original quality.

The results were mixed. For photos, the compressed versions were often indistinguishable from their uncompressed counterparts. But once you’re losing resolution, the compression really starts to show.


Have to admit.. I really couldn’t see the difference on my retina screen. I expect the difference is there but somehow hasn’t been transmitted.
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Space debris has hit and damaged the International Space Station • Science Alert

Michelle Starr:


The inevitable has occurred. A piece of space debris too small to be tracked has hit and damaged part of the International Space Station – namely, the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The instrument is still operational, but the object punctured the thermal blanket and damaged the boom beneath. It’s a sobering reminder that the low-Earth orbit’s space junk problem is a ticking time bomb.

Obviously space agencies around the world are aware of the space debris problem. Over 23,000 pieces are being tracked in low-Earth orbit to help satellites and the ISS avoid collisions – but they’re all about the size of a softball or larger.

Anything below that size is too small to track, but travelling at orbital velocities can still do some significant damage, including punching right through metal plates.

Canadarm2 – formally known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), designed by the Canadian Space Agency – has been a fixture on the space station for 20 years. It’s a multi-jointed titanium robotic arm that can assist with maneuvering objects outside the ISS, including cargo shuttles, and performing station maintenance.

It’s unclear exactly when the impact occurred. The damage was first noticed on 12 May, during a routine inspection.


Not quite the opening sequence of Gravity, but worrying nonetheless.
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Neural networks emulate any guitar pedal for $120 • Hackaday

Adam Zeloof:


It’s a well-established fact that a guitarist’s acumen can be accurately gauged by the size of their pedal board- the more stompboxes, the better the player. Why have one box that can do everything when you can have many that do just a few things?

Jokes aside, the idea of replacing an entire pedal collection with a single box is nothing new. Your standard, old-school stompbox is an analog affair, using a combination of filters and amplifiers to achieve a certain sound. Some modern multi-effects processors use software models of older pedals to replicate their sound. These digital pedals have been around since the 90s, but none have been quite like the NeuralPi project. Just released by GuitarML, the NeuralPi takes about $120 of hardware (including — you guessed it — a Raspberry Pi) and transforms it into the perfect pedal.

The key here, of course, is neural networks. The LSTM at the core of NeuralPi can be trained on any pedal you’ve got laying around to accurately reproduce its sound, and it can even do so with incredibly low latency thanks to Elk Audio OS (which even powers Matt Bellamy’s synth guitar, as used in Muse‘s Simulation Theory World Tour). The result of a trained model is a VST3 plugin, a popular format for describing audio effects.


Possibly only a saving if your time has no value, but the Elk Audio OS seems interesting. If you want a faintly breathless (and largely incomprehensible if you’re not acquainted with guitar synth tech; have a search tab at hand) account of how Matt Bellamy’s guitars got their own OS, that’s on this Elk page.
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China allows three children in major policy shift • BBC News


The latest move was approved by President Xi Jinping at a meeting of top Communist Party officials.

It will come with “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure, fulfilling the country’s strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources”, according to Xinhua news agency.

But human rights organisation Amnesty International said the policy, like its predecessors, was still a violation of sexual and reproductive rights.

“Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than ‘optimising’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions,” said the group’s China team head, Joshua Rosenzweig.

“If relaxing the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have proven to be effective too,” Hao Zhou, a senior economist at Commerzbank, told Reuters news agency.

“But who wants to have three kids? Young people could have two kids at most. The fundamental issue is living costs are too high and life pressures are too huge.”


After the census last month showing India catching up, the problem of the one-child policy has come home to bite China. But there’s a generation which now thinks you need to spend so much on education to get your child ahead that they won’t countenance having two, and surely not three. China may have put itself into a demographic trap.
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WordTsar: a Wordstar clone

Now it’s possible that you may be too young to remember (or have ever seen) WordStar, in which case congratulations. It’s also possible that you actually used it to create documents, and remember it a little fondly (especially because you’d reached the level where you didn’t need any of the permanent onscreen menus).

If you’re in the latter, and want to remind yourself why you gave up WordStar, you can get a cross-platform download from this site.

Alternatively, if you want to read a really quite old but still entertaining piece by a writer about why he keeps on using WordStar, your wish is fulfilled.

Old software never dies, it just gets emulated or rewritten in open-source form.
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We’re not the good guys: Osaka shows up problems of press conferences • The Guardian

Jonathan Liew:


On Monday night, after being fined and threatened with expulsion, [four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi] Osaka quit the tournament altogether. Meanwhile her stance has been universally scorned by the print media, who as we know have traditionally been the best people to judge standards of behaviour. An “uppity princess”, one newspaper columnist wrote. Others have more soberly pointed out that for any athlete, facing the media is simply part of the job, and that by seceding from the process entirely Osaka is setting a “dangerous precedent”.

At this point, it’s worth considering exactly what this “danger” consists of. All over the world, the free press is already under unprecedented assault from authoritarian governments, tech giants and online disinformation. In many countries journalists are literally being killed for doing their job. Meanwhile in Paris, tennis journalists are facing the prospect of having to construct an article entirely from their own words. One of these things is not like the others.

The real problem here, it strikes me, is not Osaka or even the impressive self-importance of the written media. Rather, it’s the press conference itself, which when you think about it is quite a weird idea, and one that essentially fails at its central function. The great conceit of the press conference is that it is basically a direct line from the athlete to the public at large, that we humble scribes are but the people’s faithful eyes and ears in the land of the gods.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this hasn’t really been true for a while. Athletes now have their own direct line to the public, and spoiler: it’s not us. Hard as it is to believe, Osaka’s function as an entertainer and corporate billboard is contingent on her playing tennis at an appointed hour, rather than being forced to sit in a windowless room explaining herself to a roomful of middle-aged men.

And so the modern press conference is no longer a meaningful exchange but really a lowest‑common‑denominator transaction: a cynical and often predatory game in which the object is to mine as much content from the subject as possible. Gossip: good. Anger: good. Feuds: good. Tears: good. Personal tragedy: good. Meanwhile the young athlete, often still caught up in the emotions of victory or defeat, is expected to answer the most intimate questions in the least intimate setting, in front of an array of strangers and backed by a piece of sponsored cardboard.


I used to cover tennis, a long time ago, and I can tell Liew that it’s not just the modern press conference that fits that description. It’s been that was for at least 40 years. The amount of pointless media question answering that players have to do, though, has risen substantially.
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All those pub apps you’ve downloaded are a privacy nightmare • WIRED UK

Chris Stokel-Walker:


It’s been a long 15 months and now people are heading back out into the world. Lots of people are understandably ready for a drink. Pub spending is up seven% compared to the equivalent week in 2019, according to data from Barclaycard. But the pub experience is a little different now. 

Rather than sidle up to the bar, you’re cemented to your seat. Table service is the new normal, at least until lockdown restrictions lift further. And small talk with the bar staff has been replaced with ordering through an app. Each pub, or chain, seems to have its own app that you need to download to book a table or make an order – and each of these collects information about you.

“When hospitality started to have an obligation to take contact details last year, there was no obvious privacy-preserving tool to do this with,” says Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights and regulations at University College London. “In many hospitality venues, they are still using the technology from the earlier part of the pandemic last year to fulfil orders and table service, which collect unnecessary information.”

So which apps collect what – and should you be worried?


The essential problem, as always, is that these companies don’t let you delete your accounts. It’s well-nigh impossible with any company these days: surprisingly it’s the big tech companies that make it (relatively) easy. All the others? Bah.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified