Start Up No.1591: social media abusers miss penalty, Google’s Pichai interviewed, Binance under scrutiny, Intel’s lost plan, and more


You can get Windows 3.1 running on an iPad if you can get your hands on the floppies… or the files they contained. CC-licensed photo by Per-Olof Forsberg on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. OK, contains some football. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


All that football abuse? You’d understand why it happens when you read Social Warming, my latest book.
(If you’ve already read it, please leave a review at that link!)


England players suffer racist abuse and threats on neo-Nazi Telegram channels • Vice

David Gilbert:

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Three England soccer players have been targeted with racist abuse after missing penalties in Sunday night’s Euro 2020 final, including direct threats to their safety, in far-right and neo-Nazi channels.

Racist abuse flooded mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram within seconds of the game ending on Sunday night, but more serious threats against Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were made on alternative platforms like Telegram, in channels populated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

The abuse has been coming from channels based in the U.S. as well as those in the U.K., and groups typically focused on QAnon and COVID conspiracies have also been sharing memes and racist slurs.

Telegram’s hands-off approach to moderation has allowed these racist slurs and threats to spread unchecked, Ciarán O’Connor, an analyst who tracks extremists at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told VICE News.

“The three players have been singled out and subjected to explicit racial abuse—potentially more extremist in tone than other platforms given Telegram’s negligent hands-off approach to content moderation that gives extremist and racist channels a safe space to promote this hate,” O’Connor said. “These same channels have also used the result as a means to criticise diversity and blame it for England’s loss.”

One of the most widespread racist narratives being shared in these channels is that Sunday night’s game is supposed proof that diversity is a failed exercise—and a mocking of the notion that while the English team is viewed by many as a model for diversity and unity, that’s what let them down in the end.

“They are celebrating the victory of ‘white’ Italy against diverse England,” O’Connor said.  “One channel has repeatedly posted ‘racial purity wins’ over and over, and others have shared these sentiments.”

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Ryan Mac, who is about to join the NY Times from Buzzfeed, had a thread about the anger inside Facebook. There was clearly no thought of what might happen. But of course it’s a perfect example of social warming: the amplification through social networks of underlying behaviours, and indifference to moderation.
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Google boss Sundar Pichai warns of threats to internet freedom • BBC News

Amol Rajan did a big interview with Sundar Pichai, and pulls out some of the stronger points. This is what those who watch Google told him:

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The tech evangelists are united on a few points.

First, Google is now a more cautious company than it has ever been (Google would of course dispute this, and others would say it would be a good thing if true).

Second, Google has a bunch of “Me-Too” products rather than original ideas; in the sense that it sees other people make great inventions, and then it unleashes its engineers to improve them.

Third, a lot of Pichai’s big bets have failed: Google Glass, Google Plus, Google Wave, Project Loon. Google could reasonably retort that there is value in experimentation and failure. And that this rather conflicts with the first point above.

Fourth, that Google’s ambition to solve humanity’s biggest problems is waning. With the biggest concentration of computer science PhDs in the world in one tiny strip of land south of San Francisco, goes this argument, shouldn’t Google be reversing climate change, or solving cancer? I find this criticism hard to reconcile with Pichai’s record, but it is common.

Finally, that he deserves tremendous sympathy, because managing a staff as big, recalcitrant, demanding and idealistic as Google’s in an era of culture wars is essentially impossible. These days Google is quite frequently in the news because of staff walkouts over diversity or pay; or because key people have left over controversial issues around identity.

With more than 100,000 staff, many of them hugely opinionated on internal message boards, and activist in nature, this is just impossible to control. There is a tension between Google genuinely embracing cognitive diversity by having people of all persuasions among its global staff, and at the same time really standing up for particular issues as a company.

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The audio of the interview is frustrating, as of course you’d expect, because Pichai glides past so much. What of the complaints that it uses its monopoly? “We design our products to be pro-competitive.” There’s no followup. But that needs to be followed up, in detail. You need some sort of proper inquisition.
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Tesla’s $16,000 quote for a $700 fix is why right to repair matters • The Drive

Rob Stumpf:

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One Tesla Model 3 leasee discovered this first-hand after hitting road debris and damaging his battery pack. After taking his vehicle to a Tesla service center, he was handed an estimate for more than $16,000 to replace said pack. After seeking an alternative solution online, the owner reached out to Rich Benoit and the team at Electrified Garage who got him on the road again for just $700.

The problem started after the rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3 struck some road debris which damaged the electric vehicle’s cooling system. Underneath the car, a coolant line runs sideways along the tunnel where the front drive unit would normally sit and attaches to a nipple located on the battery pack. The debris struck the part and cracked the flange, resulting in coolant leaking from the battery pack.

After the vehicle was towed to a Tesla service center and inspected, the driver was told that he would need a completely new pack since the cracked part was molded into the existing one’s outer shell. And because a Model 3’s pack isn’t serviceable at a standard Tesla service center, it can only be swapped out for another unit rather than be repaired.

To make matters worse, the owner’s insurance policy didn’t cover comprehensive claims from road debris, meaning he would be on his own to foot the five-figure repair bill.

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The fix is amazingly straightforward (once diagnosed), and makes me think there will still be work for auto mechanics even once EVs are everywhere. Also lol at the story’s comment: “Normally, this is where we would ask Tesla about this, but since it dissolved its public relations department, there’s nobody to officially comment.”
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How to install Windows 3.1 on an iPad • How To Geek

Benj Edwards:

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To run Windows 3.1 on your iPad, you’ll need to buy an app called iDOS 2 that’s available in the App Store. Currently, it costs $4.99, which seems like a bargain considering what it can do.

iDOS has a spotty history on the App Store. Way back in 2010, Apple pulled an earlier version of the app because it allowed people to run unapproved code loaded through iTunes. Last year, its author updated the app to pull DOS files from iCloud or the Files app, and Apple approved it. So far, it’s still listed, so let’s hope that it sticks.

After purchasing and installing iDOS 2 on your iPad, run it once to make sure that it creates whatever folders it needs to work in your Files app. It will create an “iDOS” folder in your “On My iPad” area in Files. That’s important.

Before diving into the Windows setup process below, you might want to familiarize yourself with how iDOS works. In a vertical orientation, you’ll see a window near the top of the screen that includes the video output of the emulated MS-DOS machine. Below that, you’ll see a toolbar that lets you load disk images (if you tap the floppy drive), check the DOSBox emulation speed (a black box with green numbers), and take a screenshot or change Settings (by tapping the power button).

At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find an onscreen keyboard that lets you type whatever you want into the MS-DOS machine. If you flip your iPad horizontally, the MS-DOS display area will take over the screen, and you can pull up a toolbar that lets you access the keyboard, mouse, and gamepad options at any time by tapping the top center of the screen.

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This is so utterly mad. Getting Windows 3.1 on it requires having copies of the original disks (or maybe “finding” a copy of the install disks online) and getting them onto the iPad. It’s barmy. Though Steve Sinofsky, ex-Microsoft, has managed to get a version of Office to run.

I wonder how quickly it runs compared to the PCs of the time, though. Also – hey! – it’s Windows running on ARM.
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Pixelhunter — 🧠 AI-powered image resizer for social media

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Cropping each and every image by hand can be tiresome. Pixelhunter utilizes amazing Uploadcare Intelligence API to recognize objects and crop pictures automatically, in a smarter way.

Just upload your image of any size and it will be automatically resized to each and every of 102 sizes we support. AI is there to ensure that your image is resized in the best way that a robot can do.

Other than that, Pixelhunter features real pro-tips that are there to actually help you and not just to fill up the space.

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Useful, I guess, though don’t they mostly do the cropping for you? But this has Upload Intelligence API. How can you turn that down?
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Binance froze when Bitcoin crashed. Now users want their money back • WSJ

Patricia Kowsmann and Caitlin Ostroff:

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Anand Singhal built up $50,000 in savings from the time he was 13 doing freelance coding from his bedroom in New Delhi. It was meant to pay for a dream—a master’s degree in computer science in the US. The money disappeared in seven minutes on May 19.

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, froze for over an hour just as the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies plunged. Mr. Singhal and others, who had made leveraged bets on their rise, were locked out.

As losses steepened, the exchange seized their margin collateral and liquidated their holdings. Mr. Singhal said he lost his $50,000 plus $24,000 he had made in previous trades.

Binance traders around the world have been trying to get their money back. But unlike a more traditional investment platform, Binance is largely unregulated and has no headquarters, making it difficult, the traders say, to figure out whom to petition.

Mr. Singhal has joined a group of about 700 traders who are working with a lawyer in France to recoup their losses. In Italy, another group is petitioning Binance over the same issue. Lawyers representing the Italy group sent a letter to 11 Binance addresses they could find in Europe, and an email to the help desk.

A Binance spokesman said extreme market volatility, like on May 19, can create technical bottlenecks for it and other exchanges.

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Binance is going to continue to be in the news. Not in a good way.
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Crypto scams, rug pulls, bitcoin hacks: billions lost when shitcoins go to zero • Bloomberg

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Charlie Wells:

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Listen to The Money Chant of the Wolves of Crypto.

You remember The Money Chant: Matthew McConaughey thumping his chest, talking fools and money before — sniff! — a little lunchtime “tootski.”

Titan Maxamus has been there. Well, not there, in a “Wolf of Wall Street”-style boiler room. There on the other side — as the mark. Titan Maxamus knows the game. All the brazenly cynical players do. In Scorsese’s cinematic bender of sex, drugs and stocks, it’s called the pump and dump. In today’s cryptocurrencies, it’s known as the rug pull.

Maxamus thinks he got rug-pulled the other month in some sketchy digital token called — wait for it — Safe Heaven. Like countless dreamers in today’s memeified markets, he’s been gambling $50 here, $100 there on what are known as shitcoins, obscure digital something-or-others being minted by the thousands. This stuff makes Bitcoin look good as gold.

One moment, Safe Heaven was flying. The next, it was crashing. Maxamus (that’s his online persona. His real name is Glenn Titus), can’t prove anything. But he suspects what, in retrospect, seems forehead-slappingly obvious: some small-time hustler created Safe Heaven with a few deft keystrokes, hyped the hell out of it — and promptly cashed out. Telegram, a popular instant messaging app that’s become a major crypto boiler room, immediately fell silent. The Safe Heaven Telegram group, once thronging with rocket emojis and Elon Musk GIFs, was deleted. The Safe Heaven Twitter account hasn’t been updated since May 28.

“Everybody I know has gotten rug-pulled,” says Titus, a 38-year-old butcher in Salem, Oregon. “You know, you win some, you lose some. Hopefully, win more than lose.”

It might sound like a joke, given the crypto meltdowns of late, but serious money is at stake here. Billions — real billions — are getting pilfered annually through a variety of cryptocurrency scams. The way things are going, this will only get worse.

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The attraction of cryptoassets to that generation is they’re much easier to get into than property – and offer the possibility of making enough profit to get their hands on something real (such as property). On that basis, you’d tolerate a lot.
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How Intel financialized and lost leadership in semiconductor fabrication • Institute for New Economic Thinking

William Lazonick and Matt Hopkins:

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Why has Intel fallen behind TSMC and SEC in semiconductor fabrication, and why is it unlikely to catch up? The problem is that Intel is engaged in two types of competition, one with companies like TSMC and SEC in cutting-edge fabrication technology and the other within Intel itself between innovation and financialization. The Asian companies have governance structures that vaccinate them from an economic virus known as “maximizing shareholder value” (MSV).[16] Intel caught the virus over two decades ago. As we shall see, with the sudden appointment of Gelsinger as CEO this past winter, Intel sent out a weak signal that it recognizes that it has the disease.

In the years 2011-2015, Intel was in the running, along with TSMC and SEC, to be the fabricator of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod chips that Apple designed. While Intel spent $50bn on P&E [plant and equipment] and $53bn on R&D over those five years, it also lavished shareholders with $36bn in stock buybacks and $22bn in cash dividends, which together absorbed 102% of Intel’s net income. From 2016 through 2020, Intel spent $67bn on P&E and $66bn on R&D, but also distributed almost $27bn as dividends and another $45bn as buybacks. Intel’s ample dividends have provided an income yield to shareholders for, as the name says, holding Intel shares. In contrast, the funds spent on buybacks have rewarded sharesellers, including senior Intel executives with their stock-based pay, for executing well-timed sales of their Intel shares to realize gains from buyback-manipulated stock prices.

…Our policy recommendation for the Biden administration is simple: As a condition for giving the US semiconductor industry $50bn in infrastructure assistance, put a ban on SIA [Semiconductor Industry Association] members doing stock buybacks as open-market repurchases.

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They really hate stock buybacks, don’t they. And I agree. It feels like the least valuable thing that a company could buy. Even paperclips have an eventual use. But buying a stock to retire it? It’s money put to no productive use.
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Using AI to find bias in AI • The New York Times

Cade Metz:

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In 2018, Liz O’Sullivan and her colleagues at a prominent artificial intelligence startup began work on a system that could automatically remove nudity and other explicit images from the internet.

They sent millions of online photos to workers in India, who spent weeks adding tags to explicit material. The data paired with the photos would be used to teach A.I. software how to recognize indecent images. But once the photos were tagged, Ms. O’Sullivan and her team noticed a problem: The Indian workers had classified all images of same-sex couples as indecent.

For Ms. O’Sullivan, the moment showed how easily — and often — bias could creep into artificial intelligence. It was a “cruel game of Whac-a-Mole,” she said.

This month, Ms. O’Sullivan, a 36-year-old New Yorker, was named chief executive of a new company, Parity. The start-up is one of many organizations, including more than a dozen start-ups and some of the biggest names in tech, offering tools and services designed to identify and remove bias from A.I. systems.

…It is also still difficult to know just how serious the problem is. “We have very little data needed to model the broader societal safety issues with these systems, including bias,” said Jack Clark, one of the authors of the A.I. Index, an effort to track A.I. technology and policy across the globe. “Many of the things that the average person cares about — such as fairness — are not yet being measured in a disciplined or a large-scale way.”

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Which has the potential to turn into one of those situations where the systems are so embedded by the time it becomes clear that it’s a problem that it can’t be reversed.

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Engineers: you can disrupt climate change • IEEE Spectrum

David Fork and Ross Koningstein are two Google engineers (writing in a personal capacity) who tried, unsuccessfully, to push the price of renewables below that of coal – the “RE<C” project, which Google gave up on. Now they’re looking at the bigger challenge, seven years on, with a big piece which looks at all sorts of areas, including this:

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We need to sequester CO2, in part, to compensate for activities that can’t be decarbonized. Cement, for example, has the largest carbon footprint of any man-made material, creating about 8% of global emissions. Cement is manufactured by heating limestone (mostly calcite, or CaCO3), to produce lime (CaO). Making 1 tonne of cement lime releases about 1 tonne of CO2. If all the CO2 emissions from cement manufacturing were captured and pumped underground at a cost of $80 per tonne, we estimate that a 50-pound bag (about 23kg) of concrete mix, one component of which is cement, will cost about 42 cents more. Such a price change would not stop people from using concrete nor significantly add to building costs. What’s more, the gas coming out of smokestacks at cement plants is rich in CO2 compared with the diluted amount in the atmosphere, which means it’s easier to capture and store.

Capturing cement’s emissions will be good practice as we get ready for the bigger lift of removing 2,000 Gt [gigatonnes] of CO2 directly from the atmosphere over the next 100 years. Therein lies one of the century’s biggest challenges for scientists and engineers. A recent Physics Today article estimated the costs of directly capturing atmospheric CO2 at between $100 and $600 per tonne. The process is expensive because it requires a lot of energy: Direct air capture involves forcing enormous volumes of air over sorbents, which are then heated to release concentrated CO2 for storage or use.

We need a price breakthrough in carbon capture and sequestration that rivals what we have seen in wind power, solar energy, and batteries. We estimate that at $100 per tonne, removing those 2,000 Gt of CO2 would account for roughly 2.8% of global GDP for 80 years. Compare that cost with the toll of hitting a climate tipping point, which no amount of spending could undo.

In principle, there are enough subterranean rock formations to store not just gigatonnes but teratonnes of CO2. But the scale of the sequestration required, and the urgency of the need for it, calls for outside-the-box thinking.

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The whole article is a serious tour around the current engineering challenges for beating global warming.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: thanks to Paul C for pointing out that it’s either a zoonosis (a human disease that comes from an animal) or a zoonotic disease (ditto) but never a zoonosis disease.

1 thought on “Start Up No.1591: social media abusers miss penalty, Google’s Pichai interviewed, Binance under scrutiny, Intel’s lost plan, and more

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