Start Up No.1602: Facebook plans for the ‘metaverse’ (while its users skip vaccines), ransomware hits South Africa ports, and more

Rhythmic gymnastics might look like a bizarre pursuit, but it’s a tough sport – as a former national champion explains. CC-licensed photo by IOC Young Reporters on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Medalling hard. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook creates exec team to work on ‘metaverse’ • CNBC

Kif Leswing:


Facebook will create a product team to work on the “metaverse,” a concept that involves creating digital worlds that multiple people can inhabit at the same time.

The metaverse team will be part of Facebook’s virtual reality group, Reality Labs, executive Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post on Monday.

“Today Portal and Oculus can teleport you into a room with another person, regardless of physical distance, or to new virtual worlds and experiences,” Bosworth wrote. “But to achieve our full vision of the Metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces — so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next.”

Vishal Shah, the executive in charge of product at Instagram, is among those joining Facebook’s new metaverse group.

Technology companies and executives have started to increasingly discuss building a “metaverse” as a successor technology to smartphones and the mobile internet. Generally, technologists consider a metaverse a virtual world where large numbers of people can gather to play, work and socialize.

The metaverse is closely related to virtual reality and augmented reality technologies currently being developed by Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in addition to Facebook. Roblox, a game targeted at children whose parent company is valued at over $44bn, is often considered an example of a metaverse.


You want to know what a metaverse would be like? Basically, Facebook or Google or whoever writing the rules about what your life is like, how you can spend your money, where you can go – but not on a screen; in three dimensions. Attractive, isn’t it?
unique link to this extract

‘A lesson in loss, humility and absurdity’: how rhythmic gymnastics took over my childhood • The Guardian

Rebecca Liu:


Every four years, the same argument plays out. The Olympics reminds the public of the existence of rhythmic gymnastics and the public scoffs at this ridiculous spectacle, with its “ribbon dancing”, its sequins, its extravagant bending and pirouetting. Where artistic gymnastics – the one with the beam and the bars, the one with triple backflips and the constant risk of broken bones – is dignified and athletic, rhythmic gymnastics is frilly and absurd. How is this even a sport? Why is it part of the Olympics? These are the usual criticisms. In return, embattled admirers will point out that rhythmic gymnastics is extremely difficult, actually. There is immense skill involved in those backbends and leaps; besides, have you tried throwing and catching a ball while holding your foot above your head?

When I first caught sight of rhythmic gymnastics, I knew nothing of this. The reasons the sport is mocked – the sequins, the balletic dancing, the kilowatt-bright, beauty-pageant smiles of the gymnasts – were the reasons I found it delightful. I was six, sitting in my kitchen in Auckland, staring at the television. On screen, a gymnast at the 2000 Sydney Olympics tossed a bright red ribbon high into the air before catching it with astonishing ease. She was, to me, the height of womanly sophistication: beautiful, graceful, and covered in glitter. I dragged my mother into the room, pointed to the television and announced that this was the sort of lady I would like to become.


Her story of how she became a national champion and then fell out of love with it – and what it means to her even so – is wonderful.
unique link to this extract

Facebook users are more anti-vaccine than Fox News viewers, new data shows • The Washington Post

David Lazer and many others:


The White House has been sharply critical of how social media has helped circulate misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. President Biden put it bluntly when he said, “They’re killing people.” The day after Biden’s statement, Facebook posted a blog entry asserting that it isn’t responsible for US vaccination rates leveling off. The company emphasized that, in a large survey by Carnegie Mellon, supported by Facebook, 85% of Facebook users reported being vaccinated or wanting to be vaccinated.

It’s hard to say who is right in this heated debate. Survey data can’t prove conclusively whether using Facebook affects vaccine acceptance and resistance. However, the data can indicate whether people who get their news from Facebook have higher or lower vaccination rates than those who don’t. In the Covid States Project survey we conducted, we find a surprisingly strong relationship. If you rely on Facebook to get news and information about the coronavirus, you are substantially less likely than the average American to say you have been vaccinated. In fact, Facebook news consumers are less likely to be vaccinated than people who get their coronavirus information from Fox News.

…Even after accounting for demographic and other differences, we still find that getting coronavirus-related news from Facebook — especially when it’s exclusively from Facebook — is associated with lower vaccination levels and higher levels of vaccine resistance. That relationship is stronger only with Newsmax, which is a much less commonly used source.«

I guess Facebook can at least say that it’s not as bad as Newsmax viewers.
unique link to this extract

Ships are starting to bypass South African ports as Transnet tells customers and staff of ‘sabotage’ • Business Insider


Ships have started to bypass South African ports, and many more may now do so, after Transnet delcared force majeure at its port operations on Monday.

Container vessels that had been due to call at both Cape Town and Durban had been diverted, shipping agents said, in one case to the Port of Maputo, and in other onwards to its Asian stops, bypassing the continent entirely.

Importers – already struggling with shortages of key goods – will now have longer to wait for containers on those ships. Just how long is not yet clear; a global shipping crisis and shortage of some types of containers already has the industry overall scrambling. Those same troubles have made shipping lines allergic to delays they can not quantify.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Transnet said its force majeure declaration on Transnet Port Terminals ” is expected to be lifted soon”, but provided no other details on its timeline, or the underlying cause.

“The terminals are berthing vessels as planned and facilitating loading and discharge operations with the shipping lines,” it said. “We will continue to work directly with shipping lines in order to facilitate maximum import evacuation and further exports planned for future vessels. Controls have been developed, in conjunction with the shipping lines and SARS’ Customs division to ensure safe clearance and evacuation of each container.”

Logistics operators say the flow of containers had effectively ground to a halt.

Some of Transnet’s computer systems were shut down on 22 July, in what the company described only as a “disruption”.


“Force majeure” is “an unanticipated or uncontrollable event that releases a company from fulfilling contractual obligations”. Short version: they’ve been hit by a ransomware attack. Goods aren’t moving and some companies are struggling.
unique link to this extract

How to create simple Mac apps from shell scripts • Mathias Bynens


Basically, a Mac application has a .app extension, but it’s not really a file — it’s a package. You can view the application’s contents by navigating to it in the Finder, right-clicking it and then choosing “Show Package Contents”.

The internal folder structure may vary between apps, but you can be sure that every Mac app will have a Contents folder with a MacOS subfolder in it. Inside the MacOS directory, there’s an extension-less file with the exact same name as the app itself. This file can be anything really, but in its simplest form it’s a shell script. As it turns out, this folder/file structure is all it takes to create a functional app!

After this discovery, Thomas Aylott came up with a clever “appify” script that allows you to easily create Mac apps from shell scripts.…

Installing and using appify is pretty straightforward if you’re used to working with UNIX.


This post actually dates from 2010, but had it confirmed that it still works on the latest version of macOS.
unique link to this extract

Amazon denies report of accepting bitcoin as payment • Reuters

Reuters Staff:

» on Monday denied a media report saying the e-commerce giant was looking to accept bitcoin payments by the end of the year.

The report from London’s City A.M. newspaper, citing an unnamed “insider”, sent the world’s biggest cryptocurrency up as much as 14.5% before it trimmed gains to last trade 6% higher at $37,684.04.

“Notwithstanding our interest in the space, the speculation that has ensued around our specific plans for cryptocurrencies is not true,” said a spokesperson from Amazon.

“We remain focused on exploring what this could look like for customers shopping on Amazon.”

The company on July 22 posted a job opening for a digital currency and blockchain product lead.

A growing number of companies have started to accept virtual currencies for payment, bringing an asset class shunned by major financial institutions until a few years ago closer to the mainstream.


1) Not going to be accepting it by the end of the year
2) Focused on exploring what this could look like for customers shopping on Amazon. So, 2022?

Though you can bet that you’ll get the lousiest exchange rate imaginable on any cryptocoins – it would be like the foreign exchange outlets in airport departure lounges, famous for their eyepopping buy/sell spreads which could only be worse if you were standing on the end of a plank over the sea.
unique link to this extract

The HART files: inside the group trying to smuggle anti-vaccine myths into Westminster • Logically

Jordan Wildon, Nick Backovic, and Ernie Piper:


Logically obtained the HART chat logs via a tip from someone inside the group. The person behind the leak, who spoke to Logically on the condition of anonymity, said that they had been researching the group after a friend shared links from HART. 

“I tried to convince this friend that that site was not a good source of information,” they said. “I became a bit obsessed with the HART group. I wanted to understand them. I wanted to be able to show people, with evidence, why the HART group should not be taken seriously.”

After discovering that a subdomain on the HART website linked to the group’s Rocket.Chat, a popular Slack alternative, they found that the chat was accessible to anyone who registered an account. Later, realizing that they hadn’t been removed from the group, they began saving the messages, automatically archiving redacted message content every hour and uploading it to the internet.

Among the group’s most active and notable contributors are businessman and political activist Narice Bernard, former Pfizer executive widely cited in antivax circles Dr. Michael Yeadon, pathologist Dr. Clare Craig, export credit specialist and libertarian Baron Bernie de Haldevang, anti-mask activist Jemma Moran, retired pediatrician and UsForThem campaigner Ros Jones, and Anna Rayner, who once described herself as a “homeopath specialising in treatment of Autism and related disorders, Vaccine Damage and heavy metal toxicity.”


“Export credit specialist and libertarian” is certainly one of the better portmanteau job titles I’ve ever heard.
unique link to this extract

‘Doctor Peyo’: the horse comforting cancer patients in Calais – in pictures • The Guardian

Jeremy Lempin:


Peyo and his owner once competed at dressage events. Now they spend their time doing rounds in a French hospital, often staying with sick people until the end.


No, I didn’t expect to be looking at a horse comforting cancer patients when I started the day either, but here we are.
unique link to this extract

See what cities are the furthest away from other major cities • Furthest City

Does what it says on the tin. For the UK, it’s pretty much New Zealand (been there) and places in Australia (ditto).

New York? Australia. (Perth.)

Los Angeles? Ah, that’s rather different. (Have a guess before you try it.)
unique link to this extract

Apple’s controversial Safari redesign is now optional in the latest iPadOS 15 beta • The Verge

Ian Carlos Campbell:


Like in macOS Monterey (and every version of Apple’s desktop OS in recent history), tabs will once again live in their own separate row by default, alleviating some of the crowding that made Apple’s initial compact redesign annoying. The tab experience is now also controlled via a toggle in the Settings app, so if you’re committed to Apple’s original vision, you can enable it with a tap. You can see how the new settings option looks in this screenshot shared by Federico Viticci.

On iOS 15, the fourth beta also includes the return of the dedicated Reload button, one-tap access to Safari’s Reader mode, and a Share button, according to 9to5Mac.

These kinds of changes are what beta tests are for, and this all could entirely change again before the fall, but it is somewhat notable that this is the second major tweak Apple’s made to the new Safari. The company’s dealt with criticism over its design changes in the past (like iOS 7’s flat UI) but making tabs “normal” again by default does seem to suggest that on at least one element of the new Safari, Apple knows it got it wrong.


Linking to this as a heads-up: Apple came up with a radical (terrible) new design for Safari across mobile and Mac, and the evidence suggests that those who hate it inside Apple are gradually arm-wrestling it back to something tolerable. There’s still a worrying tendency in Apple to break things that aren’t broken in the interest of “different”.

What’s more is that Google experimented with exactly this redesign for Chrome, internally in 2016. They decided it was awful and never rolled it out. Wonder if Apple will learn from that.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Anna Kiesenhofer, who won the women’s road cycling at the Olympics, is Austrian, not Dutch – it was the Dutch team that she got away from.

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

Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.